HC Deb 09 July 1866 vol 184 cc757-70

(Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. Monsell.)


Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair. "—(Mr. Milner Gibson. )


said, that his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton had no sooner left office than he became inspired with an extraordinary amount of activity, and he thought his right hon. Friend's unusual activity, if successful, would prevent the proper consideration of the measure, for this Bill was only delivered on Saturday, and Members had thus been deprived of the opportunity of placing any Amendments upon the paper. The Bill, it was true, had been sent upstairs, but it came out of that Committee a worse measure than when it was originally introduced. In 1857 the House transferred the management of the River Thames from Staines to its mouth from the mayor and corporation of London to a new body, the Board of Conservancy. They had powers to create a fund for the improvement of the river, and they levied considerable revenues—they received, for instance,£21,900 for tonnage dues from vessels in the lower part of the river, £6,000 dues from the navigation of the river between Teddington and Staines, and £5,487 from dues levied on small steamboats. To these sources of revenue £22,800 was added last year from the Board of Works. Yet when he appealed last year to the Commissioners to assist in maintaining a floating engine to protect the shipping and the docks from fire they declined to subscribe a single shilling, alleging that the demands upon them were greater than they could discharge. The consequence was that this charge would fall on the inhabitants of the metropolis. The administration of the river above Staines was vested in a separate body of about 600 gentlemen selected from the owners of property in the upper counties, and they elected a committee to watch over the river. This body appeared to have neglected everything they ought to have done. The result was that the revenue had fallen off, and all the works of the navigation had got into such a state of decay that the arrangements for the navigation of the Thames above Staines were threatened with total extinction. The subject was of such importance that it had been considered both by a Committee and a Commission. The Commission appointed by the Government to consider the matter directed attention to certain improvements which it would be necessary to make in order to put the navigation of the Upper Thames in proper order, and the question now was whether the present Bill constituted a fitting and just mode of dealing with the matter. Now, he (Mr. Ayrton) wished to put such Amendments on the paper as might lead to the improvement of the Bill and insure the improvement of the upper navigation. The right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to obtain sympathy for the Bill by stating that it would have the effect of purifying the river and of preventing the sewage and all other defilements pouring into it; but there appeared to be certain words in the Bill entirely defeating this benevolent intention; for all existing drains and sewers were to remain in full operation, and there was a further provision that additional sewage might be turned into existing drains, provided that the outfalls into the Thames were not altered. To provide for the expense of the works to be executed under the Bill, a charge of —5,000 a year was to be imposed on the Water Companies taking water from the Thames, but that charge would, of course, fall ultimately on the inhabitants who paid the water rates, although at present the amount of inconvenience and suffering endured by the poorer classes on account of their inability to obtain a full supply of water was frightful to contemplate. The expenditure of this sum of —5,000 was to be for the benefit of the landed proprietors above Staines, whose property was waterlogged and deteriorated by the present state of the locks; but, before consenting to such an arrangement, the House ought to consider what reasons there were that the people of London should be taxed for the benefit of the proprietors of the upper parts of the Thames, and opportunity ought to be afforded for giving proper notice of Amendments raising the points at issue. Another extraordinary provision of the measure was that large powers were given at the will of an arbitrator, to compensate any persons who might allege that they were injured by the works which the Commission were to undertake. There was a debt of £88,000 due from the old Board of Commissioners, but the Board had been in a helpless state of insolvency, and, as the insolvency increased year by year, the position of the creditors for some time past had not been improving. No interest had been paid for some years, and the debt was now worth nothing to the creditors; but still this Bill contained a provision that the new Board of Conservancy might pay any sum which they thought on account of this debt, and make it a charge upon the Lower Navigation. Thus this whole £88,000 might possibly be made a charge upon the commerce of the port of London. The Bill contained a provision allowing the new Board to settle the claims of the creditors, the money required for that purpose being levied upon the navigation below Staines. The right hon. Gentleman shook his head, but the right hon. Gentleman only showed that he was not conversant with the details of his own Bill, and Members ought to look into its various clauses for themselves. One pleasant feature in the Bill to those concerned was the provision allowing the Board to increase the allowance made to the Commissioners. There were other objectionable things in the Bill, and the more he had examined its provisions the more he was satisfied that it required careful consideration. It was proposed that there should be five new Commissioners, four of whom were to be elected by the Commissioners of the Upper Thames, though he could not see why they should elect these persons. Nobody connected with the Upper Thames was to pay anything towards the expenses of the Commission; the whole additional expenses would practically be paid in the metropolis, but no new member was to be appointed to represent the metropolis; and there was no doubt that the metropolis would under this Bill be regarded as an inextinguishable source of wealth to be applied for the improvement of the estates of riparian proprietors. He thought that they should wait until the President of the Board of Trade was in his place, so that he might join in this discussion; and, therefore, he hoped that the House would assent to the Motion which he would now make, that they should go into Committee on the Bill upon that day week.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do resolve itself into Committee on the Bill upon that day week."—(Mr. Ayrton. )


hoped that it would be agreed to postpone the Bill for a short time. The Bill contained ninety clauses; twenty of the most operative of them having been inserted in the Select Committee; and as it was only circulated on Saturday, there had been no opportunity for hon. Members to communicate with their constituents upon this most important Bill. He did not want to oppose the passing of the measure; he knew the great labour that the Committee had performed in framing a Bill of ninety clauses affecting a great many interests. What he would propose was that the Speaker should leave the Chair, but upon the understanding that Progress should be immediately reported, and then the Committee might be taken at some morning sitting. This would allow an opportunity to those interested in the Bill to consider it.


would be sorry that the House should think that he wished to press a Bill of this kind with any undue haste; but from the position which he held in reference to this measure he should have felt that he was not discharging his duty unless at this period of the Session he had given the House the earliest opportunity of considering the provisions of the measure. The Bill had originated in this way. Last Session attention was called to the condition of the Thames, and the Government were called on to take the matter into their immediate consideration. A Committee was appointed to consider the subject generally; and after a long and laborious investigation they agreed to certain Resolutions and made a Report. Upon these Resolutions the Government had during the present Session founded this Bill. The measure, having been read a second time, was referred to a Select Committee, five out of the eleven Members of which were appointed by the Committee of Selection; and he had not heard until that day that any fault had been found with the composition of the Committee. The Committee sat from day to day most sedulously; they heard all parties interested by counsel—no fewer than eleven of whom attended—and they also examined witnesses, and the whole matter, though partaking largely of the nature of a Public Bill, had received the fullest investigation which a Private Bill could receive which affected exclusively particular and private interests. He believed also that all or nearly all the persons representing the various interests were satisfied with the clauses which the Select Committee, after the most laborious investigation, had inserted in the Bill. He had felt it to be his duty to bring the matter on at once, especially as at this period of the Session delay might be fatal to the Bill. At the same time, he felt that there was force in his hon. Friend's objection that there had not been time to give notice of Amendments; but, unfortunately, they had been led to believe that the Session was to last but a short time longer, and if the Bill were not to go to the Lords until a late period, they might perhaps be unwilling to entertain it; and therefore he did not think that he was open to any charge of improper activity, but was only doing his duty in the interests of those whose cases had been considered by the Select Committee. His hon. Friend had by no means correctly described the provisions of the Bill. His assertion that under the Bill no means were provided to stop the flow of sewage and pollution into the Thames only showed that he had taken no pains to look into its provisions, for not only were there clauses preventing the opening of any new sewers for the flow of sewage and other offensive or injurious matter into the Thames or into any river-stream of water course communicating with the Thames at any point within three miles of the river; but there was an express clause empowering the Conservators to give notice to the proper parties in case of any existing sewer or drain into the Thames or draining into any stream within three miles of the river, to discontinue the same after a due interval under penalty of £100 and £50 a day. As to the water companies, they were independent commercial bodies, and they would not agree to pay £5,000 a year unless they thought they should get a quid pro quo in the increased purity of the supply. There was no power to the Water Companies to increase their rates, the maximum of which was fixed by a previous Act of Parliament. He believed they had no such intention—he could answer at least for two of them. But even if it were otherwise, the £5,000 a year would represent only a penny for each 8,000 gallons of supply, and this would not be a large sum for the water consumers to pay for the purification of the river. The evidence of the state of pollution of the Thames above the spot whence the Companies' supply was taken was such as to show that Parliament ought to take steps to clear the river; the Water Companies accepted the proposals that were made to them, and the agreement was embodied in the Bill. There was no question of taxing or imposing burdens on any one. With regard to the navigation of the Upper Thames, the matter came to this—that unless something effectual were done, such navigation would in all probability cease altogether during the next winter. The locks were in a state of imminent danger—indeed the Committee, of their own authority, feeling confident that Parliament would sanction what they did, had authorized the Conservators to repair a breach, which, if it had not been repaired, would have put an end to the navigation of the Thames. The Commissioners in their Report, speaking of last winter, said that the condition of the valley of the Thames that winter had been disgraceful; thousands of acres of land, with many roads and footpaths, vast areas of urban land, and even streets, had been for several weeks under water; lands had been deluged, traffic interrupted, and human health lowered: and an estimate of the loss during this winter, if fairly and fully made in money, would show that the construction of the necessary works would be true economy. They had to the best of their ability contrived a plan for accomplishing the repair of the locks. They had found the funds, and the governing body was the Conservancy of the Lower Thames, into whose hands they proposed to transfer the government of the Upper Thames. He believed the expense of putting the locks into repair next year would be much greater than if the duty were undertaken now. He hoped that under these circumstances no attempt would be made to throw the Bill over until next Session. He also thought that the time was come when they could not afford longer to postpone dealing with the disgraceful state of the Thames, caused by pouring sewage and other polluting substances into it. They had had evidence sufficient to show that if the navigation of the river was put into a proper state of repair, and if the various improvements suggested were executed, the traffic that would be created would be ample to meet the expenditure that would be required and perhaps to yield a surplus. But be that as it might, he was sure that Parliament would never allow the water above Staines to continue what it would be if left in a state of nature, a mere rivulet in a dry summer, and a most unsatisfactory artery for carrying off floods in the winter. They were not asking Parliament to provide any funds, for the necessary money would be found, without coming on the Conservators of the Thames, out of the legitimate income arising from the tolls when the works were put in sufficient repair. Besides, there would be a certain income guaranteed by the Water Companies. He therefore hoped that the Speaker would be allowed to leave the Chair, with the view of proceeding at all events with those clauses to which there was no objection.


said, he wished to offer a few observations as he had been pointedly alluded to by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) as an inexperienced Member of the Committee. He could bear full testimony to the fact that the whole of the clauses of the Bill had been fairly and fully considered by every Member of the Committee. Notwithstanding what the hon. Gentleman had said, he (Lord Eustace Cecil) believed that the Bill would confer incalculable benefit upon all classes, especially upon the poorer inhabitants of the metropolis—indeed, he did not know who were most interested in the success of the measure—the landowners, the upper commissioners, or the people of London. It appeared to him that the measure ought to be called the Thames Purification as well as the Thames Navigation Bill, the former being a far more important matter than the latter. When they heard the evidence as to the foul water which the people had been for years in the habit of drinking, it was absurd for any person to say that the Bill was not one in the interest of the inhabitants of the metropolis. The proposed improvements were to be carried out chiefly at the expense of the Water Companies. He hoped that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets would not press his Motion.


said, he did not understand the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets to oppose the Bill, but only to ask for time for its consideration, and he (Mr. Candlish) certainly thought there were good reasons for postponing the Bill for one week. He dared say that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets was as anxious as any Member of the Committee for the purification of the Thames; but the question was, whether the House generally should not have a fair opportunity of considering the provisions of the Bill. Not only the inhabitants on its banks, but every shipowner that entered the Thames was interested in the question. If the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets should deem it his duty to divide the House upon this question, he (Mr. Candlish) would certainly divide with him.


said, he forgot to mention that he had received a letter from the present President of the Board of Trade stating that he was desirous that the Bill should be proceeded with, and that it should be advanced a stage that day.


said, that as the real discussion would begin on the third clause, he was willing to adopt the suggestion that the House should go into Committee upon the Bill, and that the first two clauses should be agreed to.


said, the House might fairly pass the clauses transferring the governing powers from the old body to the new Commissioners, leaving the mode of their election for further consideration.

Motion withdrawn.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Preamble postponed.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Five Conservators added.)


said, that this clause which provided for the addition of five members to the existing body of eighteen Conservators raised the whole question of the transference of the jurisdiction from the old body of the Commissioners to the Board of Conservancy. He should move that the Chairman report Progress.


as a Member of the Select Committee, wished to say that the Bill was one of a peculiar nature. As to many Bills it might be said that there was no inconvenience in postponing them; but in the present case it was absolutely necessary that something should be done without delay to avoid incalculable mischief during the next winter. If a certain sum were not expended now to put the navigation in a proper condition, a much larger sum would be required next year. In the case of a lock which was breaking down, and the state of which involved a loss of £20 a day, the Committee were so impressed with the necessity of immediate action that they took upon themselves to call upon the Board of Trade to do the necessary repairs at once; and they did so in confidence that Parliament would indemnify them; and evidence was given that if much further work was not done before next November the mischief would increase to a very great extent. He certainly agreed that some time ought to be given to consider the Bill, but that time ought to be as short as possible, for any considerable postponement of the Bill might have the effect of entirely defeating it. In some of the agricultural districts the bed of the river was almost dry, and unless something were immediately done the Thames would in various parts be completely destroyed, verifying with a slight change the well-known passage— Rusticus expectat, dum defluit amnis. The Select Committee had examined the Bill with great care for three weeks de die in diem. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets seemed to suppose that steps had not been taken to insure the thorough purification of the Thames, but he was entirely mistaken. The Water Companies appeared by counsel before the Committee, stating that unless the Bill contained provisions for purifying the Thames they would not be justified in making the promise to advance £5,000 a year. They were, however, fully satisfied the provisions of the Bill were sufficient to insure the purification of the Thames. He had no hesitation in saying that considerable benefit would result to the inhabitants of the metropolis from the passing of the Bill. It would prevent the flow of the sewage of half a million of people into the river, and the inhabitants of the metropolis would thereby be enabled to obtain pure and wholesome water. The longer the measure was delayed the more the Thames would be contaminated, greatly to the detriment of the health and comfort of the people. Now, although the Water Companies had determined to contribute £5,000 per annum they had resolved not to raise the water rate; but even if it were to be raised for the purpose of indemnifying the Companies for this extra expenditure, the expense when divided would be so infinitesimal that it would only be necessary to demand 3d. or 4d. a year more from each house. The hon. Gentleman seemed further to understand that the whole of the expenses of the Upper Navigation were to be cast upon the Lower Navigation; but that was not the case, for he had every reason to believe that the revenues of the Upper Navigation, together with the money paid by the Water Companies, would amply suffice for putting the river in order; and when that was effected the subvention of £5,000 a year would be adequate to maintain it in a proper state. The Lower Navigation would never have to pay anything; what it would do was to give collateral security to enable the Conservators to raise the capital necessary to put the Upper Navigation in a good condition.


said, he thought there should be no difficulty in passing the clause in question. He entirely concurred in the policy of transferring the management of the Thames from the old Commissioners to the present Conservators of the river, with the addition of five members. He hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Ayrton) would not persist in his opposition to the clause, seeing that it had no connection with the peculiar objections he entertained to the Bill.


explained that he objected to the present clause, because the five Commissioners to be added were to be elected by persons who did not contribute one farthing to the funds. The question was, whether those who paid the expense should be overborne by those who bore no part of the burden.


said, he considered it of the utmost importance that this Bill should not be postponed. The whole of the Committee were of opinion that the upper and lower portions of the Thames should be brought under the control of one body; and, with the single exception of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, he had not heard of a single person who did not agree in the principle of bringing the whole of the Thames under unity of management. The number of five new members was unanimously decided upon by the Committee, and was the result of a compromise of the different interests involved. If the clause in question were not agreed to now there was little hope of the Bill passing this Session.


said, he did not want to stop the measure, nor did he object to the present clause, but he objected to going on with a Bill of ninety clauses, of which twenty were new, which had been printed only on Saturday. The Members of the Committee might feel competent to discuss it, but he did not. He had no objection to the 3rd and 4th clauses being passed, if it were understood that when they were passed the right hon. Gentleman would consent to report Progress.


had only seen the Bill that morning and had had no opportunity of communicating with those who were interested in it; and unless the assurance which his right hon. Friend had asked for was given, he should divide the Committee on the Motion to report Progress.


said, he had been informed that morning that it was the wish of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to give every facility for the discussion of the Bill, and no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer would concur in that view. He felt that if any objection was taken they ought not to proceed with the measure that evening. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman opposite would accede to the proposition which had been made, for he felt sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give every opportunity of considering the Bill as soon as possible.


thought the Committee might take the 3rd, 4th, and 5th clauses, which were connected together, and then report Progress.


said, that his right hon. Friend gave a distinct assurance before the Speaker left the Chair that he would not proceed with any clauses to which objection was taken. Whether the Commissioners should be five or more would depend on a great many considerations. He objected to the number five until the President of the Board of Trade should say whether he would consent to forego his right to appoint one of the number. If the right hon. Gentleman insisted upon exercising that power he should propose to increase the number from five to seven, in order that the metropolis might have the opportunity of being represented on the Commission.


concurred in the suggestion that the 3rd, 4th, and 5th clauses should be passed, by which the Committee would affirm the principle that the navigation of the whole of the Thames should be under the Thames Conservators.


understood most distinctly that it was agreed that whenever the Committee should come to a clause which might lead to discussion they would consent to report Progress.


said, that the hon. Member for the Tower hamlets appeared to wish that the metropolis should be represented and nothing else. It was of great importance that this Bill should be allowed to pass as soon as possible, because the interests of a great many persons were affected.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Tower Hamlets seemed to think that the Conservators of the Lower Navigation would be overborne by the Conservators of the Upper. But as they would be in the proportion of eighteen to five he did not understand how that could take place.


said, what he feared was lest the representatives of those who contributed the funds for the Lower Navigation, who would only number six, would be overborne by the other Commissioners, who would be eighteen.


supported the proposition to report Progress. No one could answer for the President of the Board of Trade in his absence.


bore testimony to the zeal, ability, and anxiety displayed by the ex-President of the Board of Trade in the endeavour to remedy the great grievances arising from the present state of the Navigation of the Thames. The Bill was of great importance. It had been thoroughly examined by the Committee, and if it were now delayed it would have no chance of passing this Session.


regretted that there should be any unnecessary obstruction of the measure, but thought as the Member for the Tower Hamlets had allowed the Bill to go into Committee upon the understanding that no opposed clauses would be taken, that that understanding should be honourably adhered to.


said, that he was the last person in the world to desire to depart from any engagement or understanding with the Committee. What he said about going on with the Bill was, "At any rate let us go on until there is opposition." He understood that there was a desire to take these clauses, which sanctioned the principles of the transference to the Thames Conservators of the jurisdiction over the whole of the river, and of the addition to that body of a certain number of members to represent the Upper Thames; and if that principle was affirmed, and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets wished to alter the number of Commissioners, he could do so on the Report. The Committee did not commit the House to the number of five, and if the hon. Member preferred that it should be six or seven, he could propose the alteration at a subsequent stage. All that he asked the House to affirm was that there should be some addition to the present number of Conservators to represent the new districts placed under their charge.


suggested that if the Committee agreed to a clause fixing the number of Commissioners at five, no subsequent clause could be moved to alter the number.


said, it appeared that the real question before the Committee was not whether the number of the Commissioners should be five or seven, but whether the principle of a metropolitan representation should be introduced into the Bill. The sooner this question was fought out the better.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Ayrton.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 10; Noes 60: Majority 50.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.