§ (Mr. Sclater-Booth, Mr. Salt.)
§ [BILL 186.] CONSIDERATION.
§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)
§ MR. LYON PLAYFAIR
I have placed an Amendment against proceeding with this Bill, because it has such important bearings to the public, that it ought to be brought on at reasonable hours, when the public can learn what we are doing in regard to it. That hitherto has not been the case. It was brought on for a second reading at 1 o'clock one morning and then was not discussed, for all the speaking was, as to whether we should then proceed with it. But on the assurances that ample opportunity would be given for its discussion on going into Committee we allowed the second reading to be taken. Nevertheless, the Committee came upon us by surprise on Saturday morning, again at 1 o'clock, when several of those most interested in the Bill were absent. So far as the public were concerned, the only information which they received, through the newspapers, was that the Bill had passed two stages. The Bill originally was not a strong one. Two Commissions and a Select Committee of the Lords had inquired into the Pollution of Rivers, and had given full recommendations as to the course of legislation. Very few of these are embodied in this Bill. Still the Bill, as introduced, tried to deal in a simple way with certain kinds of pollution. It prohibited solid refuse from being thrown into rivers; it dealt with sewage pollutions: and, in a vague sort of way, it treated of pollutions caused by manufactories and mines. It was very tender to past sinners, but future sinners it did not tolerate. Pollution generally was not considered an offence, if the old polluters had used the best practicable and available means to render their 282 polluting liquids harmless. Prosecutions were not to be undertaken, except with the consent of the Local Government Board, and every possible precaution was taken to protect the interests of manufacturers, while the interests of the public were very subordinate even in the eyes of the framers of the first Bill. But now the Bill is so altered that public interests seemed to have vanished altogether in the background, and the interests of the manufacturers are pushed into prominence in every clause of the Bill. Manufacturers are now ardent supporters of the Bill, and well they may be. In Scotland, at least, it interprets the law entirely in their favour. Our common-law was intolerant of pollution, and thought the interests of the public were of more importance than the interests of polluters. But this Bill, in the whole of its spirit, tells the Scotch Judges that they have been mistaken in their view of the law, and that they must always consider the interests of polluters, if engaged in mines or manufactures, as of more importance than the interests of the public. Take, for example, the 8th clause, which forbids even the Local Government Board to give consent to proceedings under the Act, if it will inflict injury on the interests of any manufacturing industry. In the first edition that prohibition was not there at all, then in the second edition the Bill threw its mantle of protection over the textile industries, and now by the third edition the Local Government Board is to protect all industries whatever against the public rights to have rivers free from pollution. No wonder that manufacturers highly approve this Bill of the President of the Local Government Board, and urge that it should be passed with a singular unanimity. Every operative clause in the Bill has thus had its force taken out of it as a means of protecting manufacturing interests against the assaults of public prosecution. But a Bill against pollution was not required at all in the interests of manufacturers, though it was much desired in the interests of the public. And for these interests, at least so far as Scotland is concerned, the Bill had far better not have been brought in. It does, in England, better the law as regards solid refuse and sewage, but for polluting liquids of mines and manufactories it is worth very little. I object 283 also to the Bill because it immensely increases central as against local authority. The powers of the Local Government Inspectors are marvellous. There is no security given in the Bill that the Inspector need be a qualified man, and yet he is to be the sole judge whether a town, village, or manufactory may pollute rivers, for he may give a certificate that they may continue to pollute streams for five years more. He may declare that an old manufactory has no practicable means for preventing pollution, and yet a new manufactory must do what it is said to be impossible, according to the Inspector's judgment, for the old manufactory to perform. The Bill, as a whole, is so little in the interests of the public and so vastly in the interests of polluters, that I see little advantage in passing it. And it so greatly increases central power that I think it is a dangerous encroachment on our principles of local government. But I know how useless it is to divide the House against a Bill at this stage of its progress, and at this period of the Session; and having thus delivered my protest against it, and my refusal to accept it as any efficient measure for preventing the pollution of rivers, I do not intend to trouble the House by taking a division on the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, the right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in supposing that anything that fell from him did not deserve, and would not receive the attention of the House. At the same time, the right hon. Member would be saving time if he had gone into Committee and moved his Amendments. The difficulties of the question were immense, and the enormous capital at stake was not to be lightly dealt with. It was true that the Scotch Members supported the Bill; but it was only just to them to say that their support was given before any of the alterations said to be so particularly favourable to manufacturers as against the public had been made in its clauses. He hoped that in the future a good deal of the centralization complained of would be removed. He agreed that it was desirable that the administration of the Bill should be placed in the hands of the local authorities; but if it was proposed to do so at first there would be a great outcry against it. As to the third part of the 284 Bill which the right hon. Gentleman complained of, all he could say was that the clause to which he referred was but an amplification of language which already stood in the Bill. He denied that the Amendments introduced through his agency would have the effect of destroying the original intention of the Bill.
§ COLONEL MURE
remarked, that although no Bill had ever been so much condemned, there had not been a single Amendment placed on the Paper except by manufacturers. If the interests of the public were so much concerned, surely some one would have announced an Amendment. In the interests of the public as wells the proprietors he was anxious to see the question settled. It was because other Scotch Members were in their places, and the right hon. Member for Edinburgh University was not, that he had not an opportunity of discussing the Bill on the occasion in question.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
thought some explanation ought to have been given of the introduction the other day in the House of Lords of a Suspensory Bill which would have the effect of preventing any pollutions for the ensuing year. He thought a case had been made out for not passing the Bill this Session. He moved that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
§ MR. M'LAREN
trusted the House would proceed with the Bill, as nine-tenths of the public, in addition to the manufacturers, were in favour of the measure.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
expressed a hope that the hon. Member for Chelsea would not press his Motion. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Lyon Play-fair) did not persevere with his Amendment, not liking to take the responsibility of doing so. What the House ought to consider was whether the Bill was not better than nothing. He recognized the force of what the President of the Local Government Board said the other night—that it was a great thing to get the framework of the Bill.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed, to.
§ Bill considered.285
§ Clause (Application of this Act to Ireland,)—(MR. Gibson,)—added.
§ Amendments made.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 13, to leave out the words "at a reasonable cost."—(Mr. Lyon Playfair.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."
§ Debate arising.
§ And it being ten minutes before Seven of the clock, the Debate was adjourned till this day.
§ The House suspended its sitting at five minutes to Seven of the clock.
§ The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.