HC Deb 13 June 1865 vol 180 cc132-9

in rising to move an Address for the Appointment of a Commission to inquire into the operation of the Act 18 & 19 Vict. c. 120, so far as the same relates to the paving, lighting, and cleansing of the Metropolis said, that the Act in question contained numerous clauses, but it might be divided into two parts for the present purpose—one relative to the government of the metropolis as a whole by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and the other the government of the districts of the metropolis by Local Boards, known as vestries. It was the latter of these only to which he wished to refer. The Metropolitan Board of Works had begun and had partly carried out works of considerable importance, such as the main drainage and the embankment of the Thames; what he had to complain of was the manner in which the Local Boards discharged their duties. The Act, in addition to constituting the Metropolitan Board of Works, continued these Local Boards for local purposes. There were forty-six of these districts, twenty-three of which were parishes, and the rest were combined parishes. It was the duty of these Boards, besides electing the members for the Central Board, to attend to the Paving, Lighting, and Cleansing of the Metropolis. Now, with respect to Paving, what had been the result of their labours under the Act? He asked hon. Members who had an opportunity from their residence in London of observing the state of the streets of the Metropolis, as well as the humblest member of the community, whether they were at all in a satisfactory condition; and whether they were not in a worse state than the High Street and even the back streets of the Boroughs which they had the honour to represent. Certainly, he could say, having had some experience of boroughs, that he had never seen a street in one of them that was not superior to Pall Mall, St. James's Street, and Piccadilly, which were looked upon as the aristocratic streets of the Metropolis. He would take St. James's Street as the via sacra of the Metropolis, and he would ask any hon. Member who had walked through it if he considered it was a fit street for a great metropolis? On the right-hand side was one sort of paving and on the left-hand side another; and when an explanation was asked of this extraordinary anomaly they were informed that it arose in consequence of one-half of the street being in one parish and the other half in another. He asked if that was a satisfactory state of things? He had found in the streets of London five different sorts of paving, and some were one-half paved and the other half macadamised. There was a parish in which there were two great leading thoroughfares, which, in order not to be invidious, he would distinguish as A and B. He had found that the vestrymen who inhabited A street and its neighbourhood were opposed to the amelioration of B Street, because it would improve the traffic and increase the custom of B Street and diminish that of A Street. Surely that could not be a satisfactory state of things. Lambeth district afforded a good illustration of his argument. If any hon. Member would take a walk into Lambeth, within a quarter of a mile of that House, he would find streets that had been newly built, and where persons of wealth resided, in a wretched state; and he asked if it was possible to find in any back street, in any other city or borough in the kingdom, a street in such a horrible condition as the High Street of Lambeth—a street leading from the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the establishment of a Member of that House. He had no wish to speak in particular of Lambeth as being worse than the rest of the metropolis, but he must say that the state of the streets in Lambeth, both old and new, was very disgraceful. By Section 9 of the Act to which he had referred it was clearly the duty of the Local Boards to keep them in a better state. He would next refer to the Lighting of the streets of the Metropolis. They had heard enough about gas in that and the other House of Parliament, and he would ask any one if he considered London was properly lighted? All he could say was that, having visited various continental cities, he had seen no gas so bad as that which was supplied in London. The lamp posts appeared to be such as were used in the days of our grandfathers when oil was burnt, and he believed an attempt had been made to adapt them to their present purpose. Besides that, the metropolis was supplied with the worst sort of gas. What was everybody's business appeared to be nobody's business, and the gas consumed in the streets seemed to be the refuse of that which was supplied to the houses. There was another thing connected with the subject which it might be considered trivial to allude to in that House—with regard to the lampposts there appeared to be a suspension of the laws of gravitation so beautifully expounded by Newton. There were not five consecutive lamp posts in London that were not out of the perpendicular. They were leaning in every direction, possibly affected by the intoxication of gas. The lanterns were constructed as if it was never intended by the original projectors that they should give out light, one-half—one-third certainly —of the light being absorbed by the sky, where it was not wanted, instead of being shed and diffused around on the streets and pavements. The next point was that of Cleansing the streets, and he asked hon. Members whether, during the last ten years, the streets had not been in that respect worse than anything that was to be found in the country. He could say that he had never seen a town so grossly neglected as was the Metropolis. Not only were the streets so constructed that it was almost impossible to cleanse them, but the gutters were so formed that the water would not run off except when there was an extraordinary fall of rain. When there was snow, as was the case last year, and as would probably recur every winter, the roadways and pavements were so completely covered with slush, mire, and wet, that foot passengers were covered ankle deep. In dry weather they suffered equally from dust; for the same evils which resulted from miasma were produced by the dust, and the same obnoxious materials were wafted into the lungs of human beings in the shape of dust as when diluted with water. Medical science told them that London dust mixed with water produced animal-culse, and no doubt when they inhaled London dust into the lungs a considerable quantity of these wa3 taken into the system. Besides, the furniture in their houses was covered with dust, and the housemaids were kept at work dusting morning, noon, and night to remove it. These evils being admitted, the question was how to remedy them. Had the Local Boards been prevented from doing so owing to the state of the law or from their own neglect? He had no wish to run a tilt against the Local Boards, because he believed they had been prevented from doing what the Act intended by the difficulties which the Act imposed upon them. By the Act a certain number of Vestrymen were elected by the Ratepayers, and met at certain times and under certain circumstances to discharge their duties in that respect. The election of vestrymen had been described to him over and over again as a mere farce. A certain number of intelligent men were elected, and also a certain number of men to whom the word intelligent was not, in any degree, applicable. The majority sat silent at the meetings, being incapable of expressing a sensible opinion upon what was brought before them; the result was that the management of these Local Boards was left entirely to the few intelligent men; the latter naturally leant towards their own interests, and as the apathetic members sat still and silent, and the energetic members kept their eye on the main chance, the consequence was that the unfortunate ratepayers were left in the lurch, and very little was done for them. That was a fair representation of the present state of things, so far as he had been able to ascertain them. And now, as to the remedy. He was not prepared, like the Abbe Sieyes, with a constitution for every country ready drafted in the pigeon-holes of his bureau; but he ventured to suggest a means for more effectually carrying out the provisions of the Act and getting rid of the present disgraceful state of the streets of the Metropolis. It had been suggested that one great Corpora- tion should be elected for the metropolis, which now contained 3,000,000 inhabitants, and would probably shortly contain 4,000,000—somewhat on the model of the corporation of London; but he thought there would be some difficulty in doing that, on account of the jealousy that might probably exist against it. It had been suggested that instead of having one great corporation, the Parliamentary boroughs should be made into Corporations, each of which should have power over its own particular district. If five or six Corporations existed in London he believed they would never unite to obtain such power as could be detrimental to that House or the Country: but in such a case it would be necessary for the good government of London that a Minister should be appointed who would be responsible to Parliament for the administration of those Corporations, He believed that under such circumstances a most excellent administration might be obtained. He did not, however, pledge himself to any positive theory on the subject. In the appointment of the Board of Works a new principle had been introduced, that of enabling the ratepayers to elect Local Boards, who in turn elected a central body. This principle, of course, was capable of great extension, but that extension should be made with great deliberation and care. It was a favourite assertion by many persons in and out of that House—he had even heard it repeated by noble Lords and hon. Gentlemen sitting on his own side of the House—that London governed and taxed itself, and that the State, therefore, had nothing whatever to do with the Metropolis. In that opinion he had never been able to agree, nor to see the justice of it. London was rich and powerful, and "a favourite has no friends;" and it was a city which could not be compared with any other either of ancient or modern times. Nineveh and Babylon were great, but never had their inhabitants so closely packed together. London was more than a city; it ought to be treated like a province, and, if properly governed, its taxation ought not to be limited to one description. In the opinion of many persons direct taxation was odious, and London if left to govern itself would, no doubt, raise a large revenue from indirect taxation. To take an instance, the revenue derived from hackney carriage licenses was £87,812; but if hackney carriages were taxed according to the principles acted on in other parts of the coun- try, they would only pay the sum of £41,147; leaving therefore a revenue of £45,865 to be appropriated by the Imperial Exchequer. The rating of London, exclusive of the poor rate, was £1,263,363. At this period of the Session, when hon. Members had so much else to think of and attend to, it would not be reasonable to expect them, in an expiring Parliament, to attend in Committee to the investigation of details bearing upon the cleansing, lighting, and paving of London; but he thought a fair case had been shown for the appointment of a Royal Commission consisting of men of knowledge and experience. No one could have lived in London many years without feeling some affection for the great metropolis, and some regret at the neglect exhibited towards it. The boast of the head of the greatest people of ancient times, of the most able administrator of the Roman Emperors, was that he had beautified his Metropolis; we could not hope to do for London what Octavius did for Rome —we find it brick, we cannot leave it marble; but we may at least make it a city worthy to be the capital of the splendid dominion of the Queen. The hon. Member concluded by moving— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to appoint a Commission to inquire into the operation of the Act 18 and 19 Viet. cap. 120, so far as the same relates to the Paving, Lighting, and Cleansing of the Metropolis."—(Sir William Fraser.)


said, he could not undertake to say whether the plan proposed by the hon. Baronet was the best or not, but he had certainly brought before the House a subject well worthy of its consideration. He did not altogether coincide in the opinion that London was bad in all respects. He scarcely thought that London, although it was certainly behind Paris in the matter of lighting, could with truth be said to be the worst lighted of all the capitals of Europe:—it was much ahead of Vienna, Rome, Berlin, and other cities. But its paving and the watering of its streets were certainly most disgraceful. The streets were repaired by throwing down broken granite stone, and, instead of using rollers, as in Paris, to smooth these down, the authorities in London allowed horses to do the work, at the risk of being lamed, and at great inconvenience to the drivers. The system of watering, also, was so abominably bad —a great deal of water being thrown down at one time and none at all at others, that sometimes the thoroughfares were covered with mud, and sometimes were filled with clouds of dust. In Paris the carts watered all day long, but so gently that the foot would hardly be dirtied in crossing the street. As soon as fresh materials were laid down there a cart immediately followed with sand and fine gravel, and behind this came water carts and heavy rollers, so that in two or three days the street was perfectly fit for use; whereas in London it might be three, four, or five months before the surface of the road was restored. When the Metropolitan Management Act was before the House, Lord Llanover pointed out that great inconvenience arose from one-half of some of the great thoroughfares being in one parish and half in another, and he suggested as a remedy for the evil that London should be divided into districts. He knew a case in which half of a street was four inches higher than the other half, and great danger to horses occurred. He begged to express his satisfaction at the prospect of something being done.


said, that the Metropolitan Board of Works was constituted for the purpose of main drainage, and for the improvement of the metropolis generally. For that purpose certain districts and parishes were empowered to send members to represent them at the Metropolitan Board. But the Board, he regretted to say, had nothing to do with lighting, cleansing, and paving the metropolis. These duties were left to be discharged by the vestries and parochial bodies, who desired to do the work as economically as possible, and by whom these duties were very imperfectly managed and discharged. Almost the only power possessed by the Metropolitan Board of Works was that a street could not be shut up for the purpose of paving, &c., without the consent of the Metropolitan Board. The solution of the question was in giving greater power to the Metropolitan Board, and he saw no use in issuing a Commission. If the Home Secretary would bring in a Bill to give proper powers to the Metropolitan Board of Works many of the evils now complained of would disappear.


would admit that there was room for improvement; but if the House decided that more money ought to be spent in cleansing, lighting, and paving the metropolis, the Imperial Exchequer ought to contribute a portion of the funds. When any improvement, however, was proposed for the metropolis, the country Gentlemen always protested against any grant from the public purse.


said, he admitted that the subject was one of considerable importance, and also of some difficulty. It was impossible to deny that the result of the present system was not in all respects satisfactory. The remedy suggested by the hon. Gentleman (Sir William Fraser) appeared to be one that would not necessarily involve an increased outlay, but might ensure a better superintendence and a greater uniformity of administration. He did not, however, clearly understand what advantage would result from the appointment of a Commission, because they all knew the facts. They were all aware that under the Act constituting the Metropolitan Board of Works, the construction and superintendence of the sewerage was vested in that body, but that the lighting, paving, and cleansing of the streets were left to the parishes and the vestries. These difficulties arose from the regard of the Legislature for the cherished principle of local self-government, and were very similar to the inconveniences felt before the passing of the new Highway Act in the management of the roads by parochial authorities. The remedy provided in that case was to form many parishes into a district, and to place the management of the roads under one superintending body. That would be a great advantage in the metropolis. The real remedy was in extending the powers of the Metropolitan Board of Works, which were, he thought, very usefully exercised. The subject was well entitled to consideration, and the House were much indebted to the hon. Member for bringing it before them. At the same time, he trusted he would not press his Motion for a Commission.


said he was glad to hear the Home Secretary express an opinion that it would be better to place the powers of the present Local Boards in the hands of a Central Board. There was a great want of Ministerial responsibility in that House in regard to the government of the Metropolis. He should bring the subject forward on a future occasion, and he should not fail to bear in mind the opinion expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Grey). He hoped before long to see London become a decent place for folks to live in.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.