HC Deb 27 July 1866 vol 184 cc1644-52

(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."

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 (Supply of Water to District of Sewer Authority.)


objected to power being given to make waterworks a charge on the poor rates, which would impose a heavy burden on the land. As, however, the late and present Government had combined in framing the Bill, it would be idle for him to divide the Committee.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 12 and 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 (Proceedings where Sewer Authority in Default.)


said, it was proposed to strike out this and several of the subsequent clauses, substituting a proviso that complaints against a local Board should be made to the Home Secretary, instead of to the justices. He regarded this as a very unsatisfactory mode of appeal.


pointed out inconveniences attending a complaint against a public Board being heard by the local justices, who, moreover, in some cases had not adjudicated in a satisfactory manner.

Clause struck out.

Clauses 15 to 17 struck out.

Clauses 18 and 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 (Police power with respect to nuisances.)


said, it was undesirable to mix the police up with these matters. They were not the proper persons to judge of what was and what was not a nuisance. This function should be left in the metropolis to the local authorities, whose officers hitherto had discharged their duties efficiently. He therefore moved the insertion of words exempting the metropolitan district from the operation of the clause.

An Amendment moved, after "authority" to insert "except within the district of the Metropolis as defined by the Act for the better local Management of the Metropolis."


said, that there were great complaints of the manner in which the Nuisances Removal Act and the Public Health Act had been carried out within the metropolis. At this moment the police were largely used in London to report upon smoke nuisances and to carry out the provisions of the Common Lodging Houses Act, and their powers in these cases had been satisfactorily exercised. He regarded the clause as of the greatest importance for the preservation of the public health. Thousands and tens of thousands of persons were at present dying unnecessarily, and he knew no means so effectual for limiting that number of preventible deaths as the employment of the police in the removal of nuisances.


supported the Amendment. The clause, as it stood, placed every private house in London at the mercy of any policeman who might choose to enter it, in order to sniff about for nuisances. It was most unwise in this way to throw contempt upon the persons who had been specially appointed to watch over the public health; nor was it expedient to cast upon those whose primary business it was to preserve the public peace the invidious duty of finding out nuisances. The result of passing by the local authorities and not acting through them, could only bp to make bad worse; whereas the object in view was to make bad better.


concurred with the hon. and learned Member in thinking that the local authorities should not be put aside in order to give power to the police; but be objected to the principle of excepting the metropolis from the country at large.


also objected to the manner in which it was proposed to employ the police, than whom he considered no class of men more incapable of looking after nuisances; and he was particularly apprehensive that in Ireland the agency of the police would prove obnoxious to the people.


said, he had understood that an Amendment of which he had given notice would remove objections to the clause. Where the local authorities neglected to remove nuisances there must be some one to put them in motion. He admitted that it would be objectionable to leave it to the chief of the police to take the initiative on his own responsibility; but the ground of objection seemed to be taken away when the chief of the police could be put in motion only upon an application being made to the Secretary of State, supported by proof of the necessity for interference. It was in this way that the Smoke Act had been put into operation with beneficial result.


also deprecated the weakening of local jurisdiction. The distinction between London and the country had been already made by the law, the Metropolitan police not being responsible to any local authority. The Secretary of State, in assuming the same relations towards local bodies that the Poor Law Board sustained towards Boards of Guardians, should not do more than that analogy suggested. He was of opinion that the reasons against the clause as amended were far more weighty than those which had been urged in its favour. Nothing could be more injurious to a proper state of feeling in society than to vest in the police the right of making domiciliary visits to the houses of the people. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State would be prepared to adopt the suggestion of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Chambers) in preference to his own Amendment.


said, he was glad to hear that his right hon. Friend intended to propose the Amendment spoken of by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, because, as the section now stood, every common policeman in country villages would have to carry out the provisions of the Act. They had a good object in view, but it might be defeated by bad machinery, and if enactments of this kind were to be carried into effect, it was better to lead the people than endeavour to drive them. It was no use to have a good object in view unless proper means were taken to attain it. If his right hon. Friend liked to take upon himself the duty he proposed, it could not devolve upon a more proper and responsible person.


said, the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) did not apply to the alteration suggested by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. If the local authority neglected his duty power ought to be given to the Secretary of State to compel him to perform it. It might be thought from the present discussion that there was no necessity for the Bill; but it should be remembered that they were threatened with a severe visitation of the cholera, and every possible means should be adopted to avert the danger from houses whose condition was calculated to spread contagion throughout their neighbourhood. This principle ought certainly to be established—that if the local authorities did not perform their duty somebody ought to have power to compel them.


said, he would accept the Amendment.


observed that it must be extremely satisfactory to the House to learn that in Marylebone the administration of affairs was so complete. But with respect to Marylebone and all other parishes it was only in case the local authorities did not discharge their duty the proposition of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would have effect.

Amendment negatived.


moved an Amendment the object of which was to omit those words in the clause which give the chief officer of police the power of instituting proceedings for the removal of nuisances.

Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 36, to leave out the words "the chief officer of police may," and insert the words "such nuisance authority shall."—(Mr. Bazley.)

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 78; Noes 24: Majority 54.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Clause 22 (Requisition of Ten Inhabitants equivalent to Certificate of Medical Officer) Clause A.


asked for some explanation of the provision that a requisition of ten inhabitants should be equivalent to a certificate of the medical officer.


said, it sometimes happened that a nuisance might exist which a medical officer would not certify was actually injurious to health, but which, at the same time, for the comfort of the residents it might be highly desirable to remove. This clause gave facilities, for the purpose.


said, that for the sake of preserving health stringent measures might be submitted to; whereas if the comfort of the inhabitants merely were interfered with, they ought to be left to their common-law remedy. It must be a very queer nuisance which doctors would not certify to be injurious to health. As far as his experience went, they were by no means mealy-mouthed in such cases.


said, the case in contemplation was one where the medical officers omitted to certify.


pointed out that, according to the section of the Nuisances Removal Act referred to in the clause, the certificate was only to enable two justices to inquire into the matter.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 23 (Definition of the word "nuisance.")


hoped that no poor man's family, which might happen to number ten members or more, would on that account, and because it happened only to occupy two rooms, be disturbed on the ground of being a nuisance.


said, the definition ran thus:—"Any house, or part of a house, so overcrowded as to be dangerous, or prejudicial to the health of the inmates." What constituted the nuisance—the inmates or the house? and, if the latter, how was it proposed to remedy it? By pulling down a house which might otherwise be in excellent condition?


said, the nuisance was neither the house nor the inmates, but the overcrowding. The House had already dealt with two great causes of disease; it had done much towards improving the supply of water, and something also towards the removal of ordinary nuisances by drainage; and they ought not to overlook the source of evil the most difficult of all to struggle against—the overcrowding of houses. All evidence received went to show the gigantic nature of this evil in every large town; and deputations had waited upon him, not only from different parts of the metropolis, but even from Newcastle, on this subject. The deputations had urged, in the first place, the physical evil resulting from the crowding of large numbers into single rooms, but still more strongly the effects upon the morality of the people. In every large town thousands of persons were brought up in a state of moral degradation, which could only end in a great national danger. In Scotland the law was the same as in England until 1862, when the Scotch Police and Improvement Act was passed. By the 11th clause of that Act the word "nuisance" was taken to include any overcrowding of an inhabited house or part of a house He wanted to have a similar law passed for England. In the year when the Scotch Act was passed the city of Glasgow contained some of the filthiest wynds and alleys in the world; but the authorities set to work, they discovered the overcrowded houses, ticketed them, and fixed the number of persons who should be allowed to live in them. Had the Act been inoperative? Far from it, for the Glasgow authorities were now proposing to expend £1,250,000 in buying up the worst parts of the city and improving it. That circumstance proved that the possession of powers such as this Bill would give, and the exercise of them, would bring to light the existence of evils and inspire people with a desire to remedy them. He admitted the proposed innovation would be a serious one; but he believed it would be most beneficial to the working classes, and he therefore entreated the Committee not to shrink on account of an occasional hardship from doing what would be a great and permanent good.


said, there was nothing in the Bill which would, as in the Scotch Act, determine the number of people that might live in a house, nor was there anything in the clause which declared overcrowding to be a nuisance. The Bill merely declared that if a house was in a state injurious to health the magistrate should have power to get the House repaired, or order it to be locked up until it was repaired. According to his reading of the clause, nothing satisfactory could be done except by turning the inhabitants into the street. Were they prepared to pass a law by which power would be given summarily to turn people into the streets? In order to raise the question, he begged to move that the words—"Any house or part of a house so overcrowded as to be dangerous or prejudicial to the health of the inmates" be omitted.


said, that the law, as it stood at present, was disgraceful. In the town which he represented (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) during the last twelve months there had been 500 cases of typhus fever sent to the Fever Hospital, of whom 100 died, and almost all of these cases had come not from common lodging-houses, but from overcrowded houses. He had a letter from one of his constituents urging the necessity of sanitary measures in the case of the fever dens of the town, and the adoption of steps to prevent overcrowding. He asked why they should not assimilate the English to the Scotch law in this matter?


said, the clause would not only affect houses containing more than two or three families, but cottages with but one family, if the children happened to be too numerous for the size of the dwelling; and he contended that it would be too hard to turn them out until suitable provision was made for them. Until some better provision was made to meet the case of the working class, he should hesitate to support this clause.


hoped the clause would be retained, as something of the kind was indispensably necessary. In the district in which he resided cottages were crowded to a dangerous degree, and he knew of no law to prevent it; while the landlords would do nothing in the matter.


said, he was sorry to hear what had fallen from the Secretary of State, because in his opinion the present clause was the best portion of the Bill. For many years he had been the Chairman of a Board of Health in a large city, and experience had taught him that the provision contained in the clause was absolutely necessary if the health of the inhabitants was to be promoted.


approved the clause, observing that the evidence in support of it was conclusive.


said, that the clause would, in effect, declare large numbers of cottages in the country containing but one family each, though a large one, to be nuisances, and the result would be to make the landlord turn the poor people into the street and pull the house down. Now, turning these people into the street without making provision for them would be a very serious matter. He would, therefore, oppose the clause, unless some proviso was inserted prohibiting the turning out a single family.


said, that a law declaring overcrowded houses to be a nuisance had been in force in Scotland for six years, and during that time whoever heard of a complaint, that any people had been hardly dealt with, reaching the Home Office? A large family inhabiting one small portion of the house would be a source of danger not only to the other people under the same roof, but to the whole district. He suggested that larger powers should be given, and that the authorities should be left to administer them. He thought the House would be satisfied with the Scotch precedent.


said, that the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman did not apply to houses containing but one family. If the powers to which he alluded were to be given to the authorities, they would have no option in the matter, but be compelled to enforce them.


said, that the Scotch law might have worked admirably, but the present clause did not follow the Scotch law.


asked what rule they were going to lay down as to the number of persons who might live in one room without its being prejudicial to health?


said, it was impossible to say absolutely what number of persons inhabiting a house would render it prejudicial to health. That must depend upon the size and construction of the house, its ventilation, and other circumstances. With regard to the matter of definition, the Scotch law was identical with that proposed in this Bill. When they afterwards came to the other clauses they might impose a small fine in certain cases and not in others, so as not to make the operation of the measure oppressive.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bruce) had only held out the slightest hope that he would deal with the matter in the spirit just indicated by the late Solicitor General he should have been quite satisfied.


said, the definition given in the Scotch law might not be different from that contained in this Bill, but there was consequential legislation in the case of Scotland, which did not find its way into this measure. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would bring up a clause, legislating according to the Scotch law.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) seemed to think that if a house was overcrowded and a nuisance to the neighbourhood, he ought to be allowed to remain if the overcrowding was due only to the occupier's own family; but he (Mr. Bruce) did not think that even if the house were the man's own freehold he ought to be allowed to remain there to the injury of the community.


said, that if poor people were to be turned out of their homes, some provision must be made, at least temporarily, to prevent their being left houseless.


would be most happy to consider any modification of the clause that was not inconsistent with its efficiency, but he should be sorry to bind himself to adopt any modification the effect of which he was not able to see.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.