HC Deb 15 February 1876 vol 227 cc303-15

, in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the parochial system is unsuitable and inadequate to the reasonable requirements of the inhabitants of the Metropolis; and that the subject deserves the best attention of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to remove by legislation the great evils which at present exist, said, that the Motion differed in some respects from that which he proposed last year. He now went a step further and said that the subject was one which deserved the attention of Her Majesty's Government. The history of the City of London would probably be well known to most hon. Members. Very soon after the Norman Conquest a Charter was granted which created the Corporation of the City of London; this continued to exist down to the present day. Since that time very few alterations were made in it, which showed the wisdom and foresight of those who prepared it. King James I. had a very just impression that the size of London would become so great that it would at last be unmanageable, and he wished to make some serious alteration, with a view to control its size. In the reign of King Charles II. some effort was made to bring outside wards within the municipal enclosure, and Farringdon and Bishops-gate Street Wards were accordingly included. There were also established Bills of Mortality, means of recording the deaths, and of arriving at other statistical knowledge relating to London. But the limits of the Corporation had remained to this day more or less as they were originally established. It was to London outside the walls that he wished to draw the attention of the House. In 1855 a very considerable alteration was made by Sir Benjamin Hall, subsequently Lord Llanover, who created an outside corporate system, in which there was a single body made up of various local Boards. By Sir Benjamin Hall's Act, in addition to a Council selected by the Vestries, there were local Boards which were elected by the ratepayers. How had the local Boards done their duties under the Act of 1855? The following duties were imposed upon them; they had to superintend the paving and lighting of London and the cleansing of streets; and, what was still more important, they had to inspect vaults and cellars; to prevent overcrowding of dwellings; and to appoint inspectors of nuisances and medical officers of health. Those duties, he believed, it would be acknowledged were most imperfectly performed. As regarded paving, hon. Members of the House had ocular evidence of that. If any further evidence were needed, he might quote that given before a Committee of that House in 1866 by Mr. Beal, a prominent vestryman, who said— No one can look at the streets of the metropolis, particularly the back streets, without being struck by their very bad condition. Perhaps the Vestries were not altogether to blame for the lighting, which was a fault resulting rather from the system, under which powerful companies had to be opposed by weak Vestries, so that it was not surprising that the public suffered. As to cleansing, we occasionally saw a watercart, but our roads were allowed to be in a dirty condition, and the dust was sometimes intolerable. It was the duty of Vestries to remove dust and refuse from houses. He was informed that that was extremely imperfectly done; that unless servants gave something in the shape of a bribe to dustmen, dust was not removed at all, and that it was a perpetual source of annoyance to householders. With regard to houses in Southwark, in the parish of St. George, Dr. Rendle, in his letter printed in the Appendix to the Report of Mr. Aytoun's Committee, said—" Most of the houses are, from various causes, too unclean to be safe." They could not be otherwise; water for purposes of cleanliness was almost everywhere deficient. In two houses the people said—"We are in a dreadful state; our rent has been raised from 7s. to 8s. a-week, but we can get nothing done." One woman appeared quite terrified, and assured her landlord, who was there, that she "had not informed." It is useless to expect the poor, lodgings being scarce, to speak out. "The foul smells are scarcely endurable," said one. Another said—" They do the outside, but not the inside." Of the 96 houses visited 30 stood as follows:—The water-closets were entirely without water, and there was not the least attempt at a supply, although the 18 & 19 Vict. c. 120, s. 81, ordered "sufficient water supply to closets." There were water closets with water supply through a straight pipe without valve or tap, and privy gases were admitted easily and directly into the drinking butt. In three places, the, closets not being fit for use, the open yards were used instead. In four places the one closet for five houses was open to the observation of boys in the next street, and the soil was heaped up and running out at the door. Of the 96 houses visited 42 required the inspector; some were without any water supply, some without water receptacles, and some had rotten or broken receptacles; "they let the water out as fast as it runs in." All the houses, with two or three exceptions, were without covers to butts, and so, as one woman said, "every bit of dust and dirt comes in." These, if cleansed, would become filthy immediately, from the atmosphere in these close, filthy places, from drains and dung-heaps close at hand, from refuse, rags, and dead animals wantonly thrown by children into the open butt. In two cases the small open casks were standing in pools of liquid night-soil. In a very large number the supply was quite insufficient—15 houses with 181 inhabitants had water receptacles holding 456 gallons, 2½ gallons to each person. The 25 & 26 Vict., c. 102, s. 77, ordered a supply not exceeding 30 gallons per individual. Prom this evidence it appeared that the Vestry did not order, or the orders were not carried out. This state of things he (Sir William Fraser) ventured to say was attributable in no small degree to the system of government which now prevailed in the metropolis. It was the opinion certainly of some of the vestrymen that in the Vestries there were persons one would not wish to see there if London was to be well governed. Meetings and elections of Vestries were, according to Mr. Beal, not unfrequently held in public-houses, and only a small number of vestrymen attended. For instance, in the parish of St. James, where there were 30,000 ratepayers, he understood, that only 25 ratepayers attended to elect the 60 vestrymen. The election of the vestrymen was conducted by a few individuals, and appeared to be a mere nominal proceeding. He thought it was well worth the attention of the Imperial Government to remove this state of things from London, which as had been said, contained more inhabitants than Portugal, Holland, and Scotland. Various schemes at different times had been proposed for the improvement of this state of things. One was to extend the power of the Lord Mayor and Corporation, and make one vast corporation of the whole of the metropolis, including about 4,000,000 souls. Another was to take the Parliamentary boroughs and make them into municipal boroughs, with mayors and common councils of their own. It was also proposed by other reformers to give the Secretary of State for the Home Department larger powers, and to place the population of London under his control. There were other schemes, but these, he thought, were the principal ones. Although the task might be difficult, he could not help believing that some scheme might be devised, not to create a Utopia, but to improve materially the condition of the inhabitants of the metropolis. He did not ask that we should attempt to make of London Some faultless monster whom the world ne'er saw. At that moment Her Majesty's Government had a very loyal majority, and the present seemed a fitting opportunity for dealing with this question. We found that greater cities had existed than the metropolis in past days. We resembled the Romans, who retained possession of the world for many centuries, not so much by their soldiers as by their admirable method of government. Like the Romans, we had but little public taste; but with regard to the power of organization, he believed no people ever existed in the world who were capable of so much organization as the British. The give-and-take—the power of forbearance must have immense influence in all municipal institutions, and the population of London were most patient and enduring. Perhaps it might be asked, if he thought things were so bad, why he did not bring in a Bill to remedy them? But for any unofficial Member of the House to carry a Bill on that subject was quite impossible. It would require the whole power of a strong Government to accomplish it. He would, however, offer two very humble suggestions, the adoption of which might somewhat lessen the existing evils. The first was to diminish the number of the parochial districts; and the second to have the central body elected, not by the vestries, but by the general body of the ratepayers. He appealed to the Government to take the matter up, and endeavour to remedy the grievances of the people of this great metropolis, who, as he had said, were more numerous than the population of Scotland, and who surely deserved that some attention should be paid to their wants. In that way the present generation might leave the local administration of London in a considerably better state than they had found it. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the Resolution.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, in the opinion of this House, the parochial system is unsuitable and inadequate to the reasonable requirements of the inhabitants of the Metropolis; and that the subject deserves the attention of Her Majesty's Government, with a view to remove by legislation the great evils which at present exist."—(Sir William Fraser.)


said, he was induced to join in that discussion only because he had for several years past taken an active part in reference to two of the points mentioned by the hon. Baronet—namely, the supply of gas and water. He had listened to the hon. Baronet, and thought his complaints were very small and trivial in comparison with the magnitude of his Motion, and the only suggestion the hon. Baronet seemed to have to make was, that they should diminish the number of the parochial authorities. There were at present 23 parishes carrying on local administration with an average population of 100,000 each. There were and must be complaints at all times of local government, and both last year and this year the head of the Local Government Board had given notice of intended measures for its improvement. But he maintained that there were no bodies who were making greater progress than the constituted authorities now existing, and there were no Petitions from the inhabitants of the Metropolis complaining that the vestrymen were improperly elected or failed in their duty. Water had been supplied with great care to every district. He did not think that any great abuse existed if nothing more could be said than that some old lady had been called on to pay sixpence on account of her water-butt on entering upon her property. Was that a sufficient reason for coming forward to ask for a sweeping change in the government of the metropolis, a subject which had puzzled some of their greatest legislators during the last 20 years. He was satisfied that every measure that was brought forward for the improvement of the condition and comfort of the inhabitants of the metropolis would receive proper consideration from the Metropolitan Board, who had performed their duties in a very efficient manner, for the benefit of the metropolis generally, especially as regarded the supply and purity of gas. Unless more distinct complaints could be brought forward he did not think the hon. Baronet could hope for success in the prosecution of his Motion.


said, he was astonished at the charming description given by the last speaker of the admirable way in which those who supplied the public with gas and water did their duty. If everything was really so satisfactory as the hon. Gentleman said, the consumers must be very ungrateful, for they found considerable fault with those articles from time to time. He did not, however, quite understand what the hon. Baronet (Sir William Fraser) wished, for he had not pointed out any mode of setting things right if they were wrong. He was not aware that the persons whom the hon. Baronet wished to seek were not there already. There were a great many persons appointed to look after them, and to set them in a proper condition, but he did not see that his hon. Friend had shown any mode of setting things right if they were really wrong. He had looked into these matters some years back, and had considered whether by a different division of the metropolis its condition might not be improved, but the plan he had approved had not been taken up. For himself, he did not say that the Metropolitan Board of Works had not performed their duty to a certain extent, but he thought that the metropolis would be better governed if the City were extended, so as that one body should embrace the whole of London, and perform its duties without any clashing between one authority and another. The hon. Baronet had said that everything was very wicked, very shocking, and very uncomfortable, but he had not made any suggestion for remedying the evil. He left all that to the Government. It was sincerely to be hoped that whatever the Government might say or do in the matter would redound to the advantage of the community.


, speaking as the Representative of a metropolitan constituency, maintained that the work of cleansing, lighting, &c., in the metro- polis was very well done indeed, considering the difficulties the Vestries and district Boards had to contend with. If any one went to his borough, he hoped not as an intending candidate for Parliamentary honours, they would find it as well paved and lighted and cleaned as the City of London. In that respect London was certainly better off than Glasgow, Manchester, or Liverpool. It was all very well for the hon. Baronet to find fault with vestrymen; but they gave much valuable time from day to day in discharging the duties of their office, and they were men, many of them of good ability, and discharged these duties in a way creditable to themselves and useful to the public. The hon. Baronet spoke slightingly of vestries because some old woman had had her water-butt empty, and some other, old woman was grumbling about her dust-hole; but what scheme had the hon. Baronet to propose for the better government of the metropolis? None. The government of London was a work of immense difficulty, and for his part he would say it was— Better to bear the ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of, It was easy to grumble about the way in which vestrymen and others did their work, but he should like to see any Lord or Baronet who complained of this maladministration on the part of vestries and district boards, looking after the sweeping of the streets, the dust carts, and nuisances themselves. Instead of attempting to upset the existing state of things, for which it would not be easy to devise a better, he hoped the hon. Baronet would withdraw his Motion, and leave the matter to the Government, who would no doubt do what was proper.


said, he felt bound to say a few words on the subject, though he did not propose to follow the hon. Baronet into the history of the Corporation of London, which had nothing to do with the present question. The hon. Baronet contended that the parochial system was unsuitable and inadequate to the requirements of the metropolis. He (Sir James Hogg) must confess he had some difficulty in understanding what was meant by the parochial system of London, and he could not conceive how anyone who took the trouble to prepare speeches for that House could fall into such a mistake as to speak of the local management of the metropolis by that name. He was bound to take exception to much of what the hon. Baronet had stated in support of his Motion in saying that the parochial and district Boards had not fulfilled their charge in respect of paving, lighting, and cleansing. As regarded the paving, in attempting to make out a case against the authorities, he did not even bring up his statistics, but had contented himself with quoting from a Report dated as far back as 1866, and relying upon the evidence of Mr. Beal, who had made himself notorious in connection with the subject. As for the charge that some of the back streets of London were not kept in such admirable order as could be desired, it was no doubt true, and he (Sir James Hogg) hoped the Vestries concerned would do their best to improve matters. As to lighting, the hon. Baronet had some complaint to make, but said he did not blame the Vestries or district Boards. Why, then, did he bring up the question at all? The quality of the gas was not under the control of those bodies, and all they could do was to endeavour to get it as good as possible. The Metropolitan Board, for their part, had done and would do their best, in conjunction with the City of London, to improve the gas supply, and to have it placed under better regulations. Last Session he ventured to bring in three Bills, backed by the Corporation of the City and the Metropolitan Board, to deal with the subject, but, unfortunately, he did not meet with as much support as he should have liked. Two of the Bills had, therefore, to be given up, but one—the Regulation Bill—was read a second time and went before a Committee. The alterations then made upon it had been accepted by the Corporation and the Metropolitan Board, and were embodied in a Bill which he should bring before the House on the earliest possible day for the second reading. It was futile to say there was no central authority, because the Metropolitan Board was really a central authority to all intents and purposes; and although he did not wish to speak in any laudatory spirit of the work of that body, yet as a simple matter of justice he wished to show that they were striving to do their duty to the metropolis at large. The question of dust was no doubt of some importance. He had himself received many complaints about it, and he thought more attention ought to be paid to it by the various Vestries and district Boards. Whenever he received complaints of that kind, he invariably sent them to the authorities concerned, and at the same time brought them under the particular notice of the representatives of those bodies sitting at his Board. Those complaints, he believed, had received every attention, and he hoped the evil would gradually diminish. He remembered, when he held the position of a vestryman, the medical officer had reported that there were cellars and places inhabited by poor people, and in which human beings ought not to live; but if those poor people were turned out, the question was, where were they to go? Under the admirable Artizans' Dwellings Act he hoped this evil, too, would be greatly mitigated, if not entirely removed, by the combined action of the various bodies concerned. The water supply of London had been complained of. Well, it was at least a question whether it was not superior to that of many large cities and towns in England, and reports which had been made on the subject showed that, at all events, it was not the detestable compound it was said to be. The hon. Baronet said he had been informed that Vestry elections were often held in public-houses. Though he (Sir James Hogg) had himself been several times elected as a member of local Vestries, he had never heard of any such elections taking place, except at a large public building hired for the purpose. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet that a large number of people did not attend to these matters, but that was the fault of gentlemen of intelligence and standing, who, instead of going on the local and district Boards, and giving attention to local affairs, contented themselves with finding fault with those who had to discharge that duty. The hon. Baronet proposed to diminish the parochial areas, and that the members of district Boards be elected by householders directly and not by the ratepayers only. He also suggested that members of the Central Board, meaning the Metropolitan Board, should be elected directly instead of being chosen by the Vestries and local Boards they represented. With respect to the first point there were Returns showing that the local areas were at present sufficient to ensure fair elections, while as to direct representation on the Metropolitan Board, the members who were sent there by the various local Vestries and district Boards brought with them a large amount of practical knowledge and varied experience, and did honour to the districts which sent them; and he could personally testify to the admirable manner in which they discharged their duties. Of course, it was for Her Majesty's Government to say whether a certain portion should be brought in by direct representation. The hon. Baronet said the City of London did not wish to join the Metropolitan Board on account of the debt, but he was not aware that the City had no debt. The debt of the Metropolitan Board was consolidated, and with regard to that consolidation, it was clear that it was a great public advantage in every way to have one stock at 3½ per cent, instead of having one part at 4, another at 4½, and another at 5 per cent, and all running for different periods. Since the Report to which the hon. Baronet alluded was made many of the evils referred to had been ameliorated, others were being ameliorated, and he could assure him that whenever any evils or defects were pointed out they would be attended to, and would receive full consideration, not only from the Vestries and district Boards, but from the Metropolitan Board, who would endeavour to exercise their powers for their removal or amelioration.


said, the hon. Baronet who had brought this matter forward had it greatly at heart, because many years ago he had it under his consideration, and had brought it before Parliament more than once. The hon. Baronet called everything he could to his aid; for, unlike the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), who brought the subject forward in the sunshine of June or July, he took advantage of the wet and snow of February. He hoped, however, he would be excused if he did not enter into any lengthened statement on the question at present. He did not gather that it was the wish of the House that they should just now discuss what would be the best form of government for the whole of the metropolis. The Motion referred to the parochial system; but the original parochial system had, to a con- siderable extent at all events, been changed by the legislation which led to the formation of district Boards. No one could say the present system was perfect; no one could say it might not be amended, but it was more difficult to say the best form of government to adopt. They would have in the course of the present Session several very practical points brought before them bearing on this question. If he understood rightly, they would have the great question of the water supply to the metropolis brought directly before the notice of the House, and they already had notice that they would have to discuss the whole question of the gas supply; and, further, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire would again bring forward his Bill and invite discussion upon it. When those schemes were put forward in a practical shape, he should be prepared, on behalf of the Government, to discuss them, to raise objections to them, or to say what he could in their favour, as the case might be. With all these particular schemes before them, he thought it would be better to postpone any lengthened discussion until other opportunities occurred. The hon. Baronet might be quite sure that the attention of the Government must necessarily be directed to the subject by those various measures, and he hoped, therefore, that the Motion would not be pressed to a division. It would, no doubt, be embarrassing that there should be a Resolution that this question deserved the immediate attention of the Government, and he hoped the Government would be allowed to wait until the schemes to which he referred were brought forward.


said, although the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department was satisfactory as far as it went, yet it would have been much more satisfactory to have heard something approaching a promise not only that the attention of the Government would be directed to this subject, but that the House might hope to have something approaching to a measure dealing with the grievance. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Truro (Sir James Hogg), he did not think there was much to argue. He regretted to hear expressions used which they were not accustomed to, such as "futile," applied to the remarks of a Member. Although, no doubt, there was an assembly in Spring Gardens where language of that description was sometimes heard, he trusted it would not be imported into that House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.