HC Deb 24 July 1866 vol 184 cc1376-84

(Mr. Bruce, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, Sir George Grey.)


Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, that the more convenient course would be to postpone for the present Session the first part of the Bill, relating to sewage and water supply. The second and more material portion of the Bill, providing for the removal of nuisances, it would be well to go on with. There was a third part which having treated de omnibus rebus, went on to consider quibusdam aliis; and which might well be dispensed with altogether. The first part took powers so large for the execution of works of drainage and water supply that it would require more time and consideration than it could receive at the present period of the Session. The Bill was first ordered to he printed on the 6th of June, at a time when public attention was occupied with other matters. It was referred to a Select Committee of seventeen Members, and it went through Committee in two days. [Mr. BRUCE: Three.] Clauses had been "pitchforked" into the Bill from other Acts of Parliament, and great care and consideration would be necessary to secure the proper relation of these clauses to each other, and to provide sufficient checks and safeguards for the protection of the rights of the public and of individuals. The clauses in reference to the water supply were of great importance, and would require amendment before they would work properly. For in the case of a speculator in an agricultural parish of 10,000 acres who might erect forty or fifty cottages for labourers without making provision for the water supply, the enactments of this Bill might render the district liable to rates for the supply of water to these cottages. In the Local Government Act and Public Health Act, there were stringent provisions to guard navigation and canals from being injuriously affected by the exercise of the powers under these Acts for providing a supply of water; but in this Bill any such provision was totally omitted—at least, nothing could be found to guard them. The clauses also in regard to the "summary process" for enforcing the provision of the Bill, which some of the daily prints had pronounced to be beyond all praise, were extremely defective, and would lead, he believed, to an indefinite measure of vexatious litigation and consequent expense.


said, there was a strong need for an Amendment of the Nuisances Act. The object of the present Bill was to enable the local authorities in rural districts, as well as in towns, to execute sewage and other works necessary for the public health, and, in case of their neglect, to compel them to exercise the powers conferred by the Bill. The main powers to which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) objected were already supplied by the Sewage Utilization Act, to which the authority now proposed to be given was but supplemental. He had intended to introduce a Bill for consolidating all the nuisances removal Acts and conferring on local boards and vestries additional powers and responsibilities, which the good of the country required, but the question was so large, and Parliament was so much occupied with other important subjects, that he thought it best to confine the measure entirely to matters demanding immediate attention. The effect of adopting the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman would be practically to postpone legislation for twelve months, and the sacrifice of hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives would be the consequence. The public mind had been a good deal excited by accounts of the state of the workhouses in London, but in almost every country parish there were scenes quite as horrible, and daily deaths from want of draining and water supply. He heard a gentleman say at a public meeting that if there was as much mortality among the calves born in this country as among the children there would be a Royal Commission and a demand for the fullest inquiry into the matter. The mortality among children in this country, in the rural districts as well as in towns, was in a great degree owing to the pernicious sanitary conditions under which they lived; these evils were to a great extent preventible by judicious legislation, and it must rest with the House to apply a remedy or assume the responsibility of declining it. For these reasons he could not consent to postpone this necessary measure.


said, that notwithstanding the great confidence which he reposed in the judgment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley), he thought that the question was of such importance that immediate legislation was necessary. The general feeling of the Committee to whom the Bill was referred was, that immediate and decisive steps ought to be taken to supply a remedy. The former Act relating to this subject had proved almost inoperative in the country districts. He hoped the Bill, some modifications being inserted, would pass into law this Session, and be believed it would prove one of the most useful measures which had ever been passed by that House.


said, he objected to going into Committee on a Bill of this gravity at the very close of the Session. It was very desirable that a distinct statement of the effect and bearing of the various clauses of the Bill, and the circumstances which rendered it necessary, should be presented to the House, in order that a proper opinion might be formed regarding them. The first part of the Bill did not affect the metropolis, inasmuch as it was not included in it; and with respect to the rest of the country, he believed the public was not aware of what was to be accomplished by the measure. The second part of the Bill was quite unsuited to the circumstances and conditions of the metropolis, and would be quite inoperative. Its provisions would place the great body of London dwelling-houses and offices at the mercy of the police. When the police had reason to suppose that too great a number of persons were collected in the same dwell- ing-house, the police would have power to enter and turn them out. He admitted that there might be cases in which it was necessary to turn people out of their houses; but he contended that this provision should not be enacted until measures were taken to find suitable accommodation for those so turned out. With regard to the definition of nuisances, He thought it a very serious matter that the police should have the power of interfering vexatiously with the occupation or property of the poorer classes. He had not beard a single reason why the powers vested in the hands of the local authorities of London should be transferred to that of the police. He would remind the House that the metropolitan police were not appointed by local authorities as they were in the country, and they had had an illustration no later than last night of the strong repugnance entertained against the interference of the force under Sir Richard Mayne. He knew there were some who thought, so long as they had got a regiment of Guards, they might do as they pleased; but even these should be reminded that the time was rapidly approaching when those things could no longer be. This was not all. There were provisions in the Bill by which local authorities were to be brought up for judgment before police magistrates. Anybody who knew the feelings of the population of London, and the respect they entertained for local authorities, could hardly conceive a proposition more outrageous or extravagant. In fact, the whole supervision of the local authorities would be transferred by the Bill to stipendiary magistrates of police. The Bill had been proposed hastily, and its provisions were likely to prove ineffective, and he had expected that before going into Committee that the House should have had an ample statement of facts, circumstances, and reasons, to show the necessity and expediency of this Bill; but no such statement having been made, he, for one, must object to going into Committee on the measure.


said, that no person who had read the Reports and Returns laid before the House could deny that the present law as to the public health was in an unsatisfactory state, or that the means for enforcing it were at all adequate. He thought the effect of the Bill had been entirely misrepresented, and if the House went into Committee, it would be possible to consider and remove the objections to the various clauses. The objections of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last were, in a great degree, founded on the second section of the twenty-third clause, which gave the police power of interference with manufactories in certain circumstances. Now, the whole effect of this clause would be to transfer to factories not hitherto introduced in the Factory Act the powers granted by that measure in reference to those comprehended under it. If his views were carried out, and the police magistrates not allowed to enforce the law with respect to smoke and similar nuisances, there would be no chance of the public ever getting rid of them. In the same way, it was absolutely necessary that the police should have a power of inspecting lodging-houses, with a view to the removal of sanitary nuisances. With regard to the action of the police, he reminded the hon. Member that it was through their agency that the Smoke Act was enforced in London, while it was neglected in towns like Manchester, Leeds, and Newcastle. The police in this country were not the absolute despots the hon. Member had represented. It was their duty to report facts upon which action might be taken by the Secretary of State. He believed that, if they went into Committee upon the Bill, they might, even at this late period of the Session, so amend the law as to conduce to the general health and comfort of the public.


said, he considered that the various Reports which had been presented to the House amply proved that there was an urgent necessity for legislation on the subject, and while he admitted that some of the clauses might be improved in Committee, he hoped they would not allow so useful a Bill to drop and leave the present terrible state of things to continue.


said, that this measure received the hearty approval of the town of Liverpool, where mortality, from preventible causes, had reached a great height, and he believed it would receive similar approval from other large towns and districts of the country. It was most desirable, for the sake of promoting the general health of the country, that there should be no delay in considering the provisions of the Bill.


said, there could not be a doubt that grave and serious objections existed to this Bill in its present shape, and he particularly objected to the metropolis being handed over to the tender mercies of the police. This, in a place where there were medical officers of health, was, he thought, an ill-advised measure. It was most injudicious to bring the police into such disagreeable collision with the people, and so far as the Bill gave power of house-to-house visitation by the police, he should give it his opposition.


said, that the previous legislation of that House had been most defective in dealing with that class of subjects, and he was in favour of going into Committee with a view to providing a remedy. He thought the Bill was so important that it would be worthy of the House to have a special Session in order to fully consider its provisions and pass it into law.


submitted that, as there was no objection to the principle of the Bill, they ought to waste no time in going into Committee, where whatever was objectionable in the clauses might be removed. So far from the subject being a new one, it had been before the House in different shapes for the last twenty years; but though there had been much legislation, it needed simplifying, and it would be absolutely necessary to deal with the existing law in a consolidating Bill next year. He denied that the power given to the police was unduly extended, and it was only of an initiatory character. There were, however, parts of the present Bill which were most urgent and might well be passed this Session.


said, as far as his experience of the feeling of the inhabitants of the metropolis went, it was decidedly in favour of the Bill. It was absolutely necessary that immediate legislation should take place on the subject, and that it should not be postponed until next Session.


said, he concurred with the hon. Member for Southwark as to the feeling of the metropolis with regard to the measure, and he hoped the House would not delay going into Committee. There had been great exaggeration in the allegations made respecting the powers proposed to be given to the police, but that was a question which would most properly be raised in Committee.


said, he hoped there would not be any objection to substitute the Secretary of State as the authority of appeal instead of the local magistracy.


said, he did not think hon. Members had sufficient information before them to warrant such legislation as that which was proposed by the provisions of this Bill, and some of the clauses would require to be very minutely sifted. It was a very serious question whether the remedy proposed was not worse than the disease.


said, the first part of the Bill which related to agricultural districts was most important and valuable, and he would recommend the House to proceed with the measure as speedily as possible. He should oppose some of its proposals, but he was satisfied that the measure, as a whole, would prove beneficial.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Sewer authority.)


moved an Amendment that where a local Board of Health existed it should alone possess "sewer authority."


said, that the Amendment was unnecessary, as the local Boards of Health already possessed the power which it proposed to confer upon them.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 3 and 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 (Formation of a special Drainage District.)


moved an addition to the clause to the effect that the drainage district should, for the purposes of the Sewage Utilization Act, 1865, come under the provisions of the Local Government Act. Unless some such Amendment was made, every village and hamlet might become a corporation for drainage purposes.

After some discussion, Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he objected to the clause as it stood because it would relieve one part of a parish from paying rates for which the poorer part of the parish only would be assessed. The effect of the clause would be to cut off the portion of the parish most requiring drainage into a district. The clause now ran— And any officer or officers who may from time to time be appointed by the sewer authority of such special drainage district for the purpose shall have within that district all the powers of levying a rate for the purpose of defraying the expense of carrying the said Sewage Utilization Act into effect that they would have if such district were such parish as aforesaid, and such rate were a rate for the relief of the poor, and they were duly appointed overseers of such parish. He proposed, as an Amendment, after "rate," to leave out "were a rate for the relief of the poor," and insert "were a district rate, made in the same manner, and assessed on different descriptions of property in the same way, as a general district rate in 'The Local Government Act, 1858.'"

Amendment proposed, In page 3, line 13, after the words "rate were a," to leave out the words "rate for the relief of the poor," and insert the words "district rate made in the same manner, and assessed on different descriptions of property in the same way, as a general district rate in 'The Local Government Act, 1858,'"—(Mr. Henley,)

—instead thereof.


said, that the meaning of the clause was that in a parish composed partly of houses and partly of land they should concentrate the sewage rate on that part of the parish that derived advantage from it. The adoption of the Amendment would introduce an element of dissension into the parishes so circumstanced.


said, he would suggest to the Committee that they should adhere to the words of the clause as it stood, that being consistent with former legislation on the subject.


said, it would be better for the right hon. Gentleman to raise the question by a distinct clause that would apply to the entire case.


advised the postponement of the clause.


said, he must object to the postponement of the clause. This was a collection of supplemental provisions of existing Acts, and it was intended to consolidate these Acts next year. The Amendment could not be carried without altering the existing law, and that was a proceeding to adopt on consolidation.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 82; Noes 8: Majority 74


said, he was of opinion that the clause would be one of the most oppressive ever proposed, and but for the result of the last division he would have divided the Committee against the clause.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 6 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 (Drainage of Houses.)


said, he would propose to the Committee to introduce words for the purpose of meeting a case of nuisance caused by stench arising within a dwelling-house or tenement adjoining thereto, from any drain or pipe being out of repair, thereby causing an escape of sewage or vapour therefrom. He desired by the adoption of his Amendment to give power under the Bill to suppress such a nuisance. He thought that power should be given to the authorities to interfere in such a case.


said, that the object of the hon. Gentleman would be effected by the clause as it stood.


said, it struck him that the law as it stood was amply sufficient to meet such a case as that referred to by the Mover of the Amendment.


said, he would confer with the Government in order to obtain an early day for proceeding with the Bill.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress, to sit again this day.