HC Deb 04 August 1876 vol 231 cc556-61

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a third time."—(Mr. Sclater-Booth.)


in moving that the Bill be read a third time on that day month, said, he thought it ought not to be passed at that time of the Session, for it was not at all like the measure originally brought in by the Government. He thought the Bill as introduced, though not a very strong one, would have done some good. Since then, however, material modifications had been introduced, the effect being that the manufacturing interests, who at first opposed it, were now in favour of the Bill. He complained of the insertion, without adequate Notice, of the 16th clause, by which a manufacturer might continue to pollute a river for three years, if he had received a certificate from the Local Government Board, without being subject to interdict or injunction. He protested against such a clause as perfectly monstrous. He should have been glad if the Bill had been re-committed with a view to the withdrawal of that clause, for the Bill on the whole was a good one; but, as the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill would not consent to that suggestion, he was obliged to oppose the third reading. He therefore moved the rejection of the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day month."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now'stand part of the Question."


supported the Bill. He was surprised at the inconsistency of the hon. Member for Swansea in protesting against what he called Lobby legislation, and then stating that he had himself privately endeavoured to make arrangements with a Member of the Government as to the form of the Bill. The measure was not such a dreadful one after all, for the clause to which his hon. Friend referred only enabled a manufacturer who had procured a certificate from the Local Government Board to carry on his works for three years free from injunction and interdict, but still as much as ever exposed to an action for damages. In other words, the clause only took away the extreme remedy of stopping the works and driving the people out of employment. The idea was that, much as they desired the purity of the river, they considered that the welfare of the great manufacturing interests, by which the people lived, ought not to be lost sight of, and was of greater national importance than even the purifying of the streams.


said, the Bill certainly had not been prominently before the House, but it was discussed on the second reading and in Committee. As soon as it passed through Committee it was reprinted for the information of those hon. Members who had placed Amendments on the Paper. He denied that the clause had been inserted in the Bill without adequate Notice. On the contrary, full Notice had been given of it, and it had been accepted by the House. The House was tolerably full when this clause was added to the Bill, and it had the support of several hon. Gentlemen of authority and eminence in the House. It was to the effect that procedure by way of injunction should not be had recourse to during the existence of one of these certificates, but they were not to be granted for more than three years, and only where works of purification were actually in operation; while any person aggrieved might appeal to the governing authorities to cancel the certificate. He looked upon that as a reasonable proposal, and if it were desirable that the language of it should be reviewed, there could scarcely, he contended, be a better tribunal for the purpose than the House of Lords. The clause had been carefully drawn, and did not seem to him to be likely to produce any mischief.


adverting to the fact that the Bill had been on a former occasion, by a slip of the tongue, described by right hon. Gentleman as a measure for the better pollution of rivers, suggested that the description was prophetic of its real character as it now stood, for yielding had gone so far that in order to secure the passing of the measure, the Government had conceded so much that it had become the manufacturers' Bill instead of the Bill originally introduced by the Government. If the design was to carry the Bill now, and to follow it up with another next year, the better way would be to throw the Bill out at once. The opposition to the Bill chiefly arose from manufacturers, who set their own private interests up in opposition to those of the general public. Their interests should not stand in the way of the purity of rivers. The streams were poisoned by the refuse of the manufacturing ingredients discharged into them. By the absence of proper means of prevention, the pollution of rivers that ought for sanitary purposes to be pure, was allowed to go on, and he held that it was a dangerous principle to give an Inspector power to prevent the local authorities from putting a stop to a nuisance. The purity of their water must be an object of great anxiety to every hon. Member of that House.


said, the House had listened to the very able speech made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, which might have been more appropriately made in Committee. He was inclined to think from his speech that the hon. and learned Gentleman had not read the Bill, or, at all events, that he had not understood it. If he had, he would scarcely have spoken of it in the terms which he had used. There were three great questions in connection with river pollution. First, there was the question of the introduction into rivers of solid matter. Secondly, the pollution of rivers not only by solid matter, but by sewage; and, thirdly, there was a pollution by manufactories, and on this last point especially they had to consider existing interests. For dealing with these evils various Bills had at different times been introduced. All of them had failed, because they attempted too much; and his right hon. Friend, in view of that fact, had wisely confined his measure within certain limits. The hon. and learned Gentleman's description of it, however, was not quite accurate, as he himself would see if he condescended to study its provisions. No one who visited the North of England could fail to notice that the rivers there were gradually becoming choked up with the solid refuse thrown into them, and the injury thus caused to the people living on their banks was incalculable. In the neighbourhood of some of the large towns in his own county the expense incurred in dredging these rivers was enormous. Now, if the hon. and learned Member had made himself acquainted with the clauses relating to that part of the subject, he would have seen that they embodied most important provisions, and that the remedy was absolute and complete. The Bill also dealt completely with that great source of the pollution of rivers arising from sewage; and if there were nothing else in the measure but the means of preventing that great cause of injury to the public health, and also to the cattle feeding on the banks of rivers, it would be well worth the House's while to pass it. With regard to the pollution produced through manufactories, it was a great step to stop, as the Bill would do, the further pollution of rivers by manufactories to be hereafter established. With respect to that part of the evil created by existing manufactories, and as to which they had to deal with vested interests, they must proceed in these matters by degrees, and he believed that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had gone as far as the late Government or any other Government could, or as the public would allow him to go.


said, it might be true that the Bill went as far as public opinion would sanction at that period of the Session; but it should be remembered that they had as yet had no discussion on that important measure except at the small hours of the morning, and that if it became law it would have been settled by arrangements made in the Lobby. The House could not now pass a Bill such as they would wish to pass, and an imperfect measure like the present one would not really facilitate the further work of legislation which would have to be done on that subject. He would not recommend the House to divide, but he would remind the Government that they could not claim to have done all that was necessary for the prevention of the pollution of rivers. The Bill was a paltry and hesitating one, and was passed at the end of the Session as a shift to enable the Government to say that they had carried a measure on the subject.


said, the speech they had just heard was a difficult one to understand. They had now a Bill which, it was admitted, would do a great deal of good, and yet the argument seemed to be this, that if they could not now deal with the whole matter it would be better not to touch it. That, however, was not the ordinary rule that human beings adopted. The Bill was founded upon this proposition that we should go as far as we could in the right direction. The Bill would have ample field for action in Wales, which, though a very beautiful country, had no fish in its polluted streams. He thought the Bill, as far as it went, was one which should be passed, and that they ought not to wait until more could be done. Well, then, his right hon. and excellent Friend (Mr. Goschen) said it was too late in the Session to pass this Bill. If that was a reason for not passing the Bill, he was afraid they would have very few Bills passed. There was an opportunity now of setting things right and of giving the people pure water to drink, which he hoped would not be lost.


said, that during the summer and autumn of last year he was engaged in investigating the sewage question. He then found that the rivers of the North of England were polluted to an enormous extent by solid matter put into them and by sewage. This Bill would effectually meet those two points. The pollution of rivers by manufactories with dye was not one quarter so bad as the pollution by sewage. This was by far the most practical, the most simple, and most straightforward measure that had been proposed on the subject. If anything remained to be done further in that direction this Bill would have laid a good foundation for further progress.


said, he would much rather that the Bill had been recommitted, for the purpose of striking out the objectionable clauses, than that it should be rejected. He thought it was most unfair that common law rights should be taken away as they were by one clause in the Bill, but he hoped the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) would not press his Amendment for its rejection.


said, the interests of the manufacturers in the rivers were very great, but a great deal might be done to purify the rivers without detriment to the manufacturers. The Bill, though it did not go far enough, would to a certain extent satisfy, not only the manufacturers, but the riparian owners, and it would go a long way towards the suppression of an intolerable nuisance in Lancashire, where, as in his own case, they had been obliged to keep all the windows of the house closed in order to keep out the unwholesome stench of the river Kibble.


said, this was a Bill in the right direction. He hoped it would be read a third time.


supported the Bill, though he was not altogether satisfied with it. He thought the manufacturers had a right to a certain degree of consideration.


thought it would be a hard thing if after manufacturers had gone to a great expense to get a certificate it should not stand them in good stead.


said, the House seemed to be in favour of passing the Bill, and he would not, therefore, give it the trouble to divide.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.