HC Deb 18 April 1866 vol 182 cc1611-5

Order for Second Beading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Milner Gibson.)


said, that there was much of the measure of which he could not approve. It appeared to him that it afforded no sufficient guarantee for the protection of the rights of the inhabitants of the towns and of the private residences situated along the river. The state of things in the upper part of the river was such that he believed that if something were not done soon the whole thing would revert to a state of nature. A Commission had been inquiring into the state of the river, and they had lately presented a Report, but had not favoured the public with the evidence on which it was founded. The inquiry carried on by the Commission was carried on principally in relation to what was called the pollution of the river, which was a matter not connected with navigation, except so far that they both concerned the river. The Report of the Commission recommended that every town should be compelled to buy so many acres of land over which the sewage should run; and they said that when the sewage had run over the land it became innocuous. But they subsequently said it did not follow because only a certain proportion of organic matter could be detected in the water of the Thames at Teddington that the sewage should be innocuous. Surely, the same observations applied to the sewage water which had run over land, and in which only a small proportion of organic matter could be discovered. He thought the Commissioners should have made some inquiry as to whether sewage running into a river six or seven miles above a certain point did not become innocuous by the time it had flowed down to that point. There was at present a Conservancy Board of eighteen gentlemen, some of whom represented the corporation of London and others the Admiralty, the Trinity House, and other great public bodies; and those gentlemen were naturally little prepared to attend to details affecting the interest of comparatively obscure individuals. It was proposed by the present measure that three new conservators should be created; but those gentlemen would, he feared, be wholly powerless among the eighteen colleagues with whom they were to be associated. He doubted whether, considering that we had spent £3,000,000 in getting rid of a nuisance in London, this body was an impartial tribunal to determine questions affecting the river above London. It was not his intention to oppose the second reading of the Bill, but he thought that points connected with it still required the attention of the Government. He doubted whether the body to whom it was intended to delegate these various powers were equal to their discharge.


said, he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill, although his own judgment told him that this new body would not be found able to discharge the trust it was proposed to impose on them. He objected to the scope of the Bill, which ought to have included not only the navigation but also the management of the Thames. This matter was looked at differently now from what it was sixty or seventy years ago; then the important point was the navigation of the river, and the sewage question had not arisen. Now the important point was the sewage. The upper part of the Thames was not useful at all for the purposes of navigation; but it was very useful for the purposes of land drainage and irrigation, and he did not think the conservators knew much about the latter objects. Irrigation was a new thing, and was attracting great attention. It was possible the conservators might have to resort to a rate to carry out the object in view. When the Commissioners went to Oxford he (Mr. Neate) gave them a scheme for regulating the government of that part of the river, but it had led to no result. He knew a gentleman who used a weir, in order to enable him to throw back the water which had come by rainfall over his land, and this Bill would take away his weir among others, without giving him any compensation.


said, that if this Bill should become law it might be found desirable to place fresh power in the hands of the conservators of the river for regulating the traffic on days like that of the University boat race. If this were not done probably some terrible accident would occur, and many lives might be sacrificed, and then perhaps Parliament would be called on to interfere. He found there was no body which had a right to make rules respecting the manner in which steam-boats should proceed along the stream on occasions of great aquatic festivals; for the Thames Conservancy Board had only a right to determine how vessels should be placed at their moorings, and to make minor regulations as to the navigation, The Commissioners had not a right to stop the progress of steamers even for a quarter of an hour. If fresh powers were; to be granted to the Commissioners, he thought it would be well to invest them with authority that might be exercised usefully on an occasion like that he had referred to, and on similar occasions. He thought such a body ought to be competent to deal with a matter of that sort. If a Select Committee were called upon to deal with the question he hoped there would be an instruction to them to frame proper regulations to insure the public safety and convenience.


thought that the subject referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman was purely a question of police, and had better be committed to such a body as that proposed for regulating the traffic of the metropolis. The Bill proposing to grant fresh powers to the police to regulate the metropilitan traffic would soon come under consideration, and as there were police on the river, they would be the persons best fitted to determine what measure of inter-ferenee was necessary when there was a large collection of steamers and boats on the stream. He thought that it was a matter of serious question whether the same body should control the port of London and also the Upper Thames; and whether there should not be a line of division drawn between the Upper and Lower Thames in reference to jurisdiction. No doubt the matter was very much one of detail, which could be best discussed before the Select Committee; but he was quite convinced that if there was not an unequivocal distinction made between the finances of the two parts of the river, the commerce of London would ultimately be saddled with a number of expenses which belonged entirely to the upper waters and the districts through which they ran.


observed, that it should not be forgotten what was the real state of things they had to provide for. He explained that the Commission found the Thames Commissioners, from no fault of their own, to be an entirely bankrupt body, quite incapable of keeping up the locks and other works on the Upper Thames. Unless the water were kept up by locks the river would revert to its original state—at times, it would be so dry as to enable people to walk over, at others so flooded that a great deal of injury might be sustained by millowners and others, and therefore it was necessary to devise some scheme to do this work. The Commission were asked to find some means of revising this state of things, and their attention was naturally attracted to the Thames Conservancy, who had funds which might be applied to that purpose. The Conservancy Board were themselves very unwilling to take this extra duty upon themselves, and only agreed to do so in the event of their being asked. Under these circumstances, he thought the best plan was to place the control of the upper waters in the hands of a well-known body, who had well and economically managed the river as far as Staines.


had reason to believe that those who were especially interested in the subject were perfectly satisfied with the Bill, with the exception of one point, and that was relating to the number of Commissioners, which they did not consider to be sufficient.


said, that he also did not feel inclined to join in the chorus of objection to the Bill, no complaints having been forwarded from Reading, the town he represented, which was a place of some importance on the river. He must say, however, that the landholders appeared to have been dealt with in a somewhat summary manner.


said, he, for one, had never entertained an idea that he was one of 800 persons having a voice in the regulation of the river Thames. Now the question had been raised, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would be very wrong to sanction the creation of a divided authority, or to give to persons in the upper districts the power of determining the amount of water supply that should be given to those at the lower extremity when the interests affected were so immeasurably greater. He was himself in favour of placing the whole government of the matter in the hands of the Thames Conservancy Board.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee of Eleven Members, six to be nominated by the House, and five by the Committee of Selection.

And, on May 10, Select Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. MILNER GIBSON, Mr. NEATE, Sir GEORGE BOWYER, Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH, Mr. YORKE, and five Members to be named by the Committee of Selection.