HC Deb 06 April 1877 vol 233 cc702-23

In rising to ask the attention of the House to the state of the water supply in the villages and rural parts of the Country, and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to confer upon the local authorities further powers in order to remedy the existing evils, said, I feel that I have undertaken a task of great difficulty, and must ask the indulgence of the House on my shortcomings in the matter. The subject is of great magnitude, and I think I shall be able to show that it demands the serious consideration of the Government. But, first, I must explain that it is no part of my purpose to enter into that vexed question, the supply of water to large towns, or to say anything against any existing water company. Indeed, the Pollution Commissioners say that there is not much cause to complain. My point is the supply of water for domestic purposes in the villages and hamlets of the country. I must say a word upon the evidence which we have to show the state of the country in this matter. It appears to have been rather an odd arrangement that the Royal Commission on the Pollution of Rivers should have been the body chosen to undertake an inquiry into the state of the water supply of the whole country. But such is the fact, and to their last—the sixth—Report I must now draw the attention of the House. That Report is an exhaustive Blue Book, of over 500 pages, which deals with the water supply of the whole country. The Royal Commission have been five years at work upon the subject. One part of their Report has been dealt with by the Pollution of Rivers Bill of last Session, and I hope that the other part will now receive attention. The practical way to deal with the question is to see, in the first place, from what sources the supply is taken for the wants of the country. These are, as pointed out by the Commissioners, first, river water; second, surface water of two sorts; third, deep well water; fourth, spring water; fifth, rain water; and, lastly, shallow well water. The first three are the sources, speaking generally, from which water companies draw their supplies for the large towns. The last three are the sources from which the villages and hamlets of the country are supplied, and I think I may say that the last two—rain water and shallow well water—are the principal supply. What is the condition of this supply? Is it wholesome and good? and what effect has its condition upon the diseases of the country? Let me read what the Commissioners say as regards shallow well water— It is stated that about 15,000,000 of the British population live in towns and urban districts. Even if we assume, which is not yet the case, that all these people are supplied by waterworks, the remaining 12,000,000 of country population derive their water almost exclusively from shallow wells, and these are, so far as our experience extends, almost always horribly polluted by sewage and by animal matters of the most disgusting origin. The common practice in villages, and even in many small towns, is to dispose of the sewage and to provide for the water supply of teach cottage or pair of cottages upon the premises. In the little yard or garden attached to each tenement or pair of tenements two holes are dug in the porous soil; into one of these, usually the shallower of the two, all the filthy liquids of the house are discharged; from the other, which is sunk below the water-line of the porous stratum, the water for drinking and other domestic purposes is pumped. The contents of the filth-hole or cesspool gradually soak away through the surrounding soil and mingle with the water below. As the contents of the well are pumped out, they are immediately replenished from the surrounding disgusting mixture. That is a strong statement to make, but let us see if it is borne out by the analyses which have been made in such great numbers by the Commissioners. To give a complete analysis of all the constituent parts of water would be a long and profitless undertaking, and I may put it shortly and say that the Commissioners report that the three principal parts in solution are—first, organic carbon; second, organic nitrogen; and, third, an estimate of the previous sewage or animal contamination of the water, and they further lay down standards which ought to be the limits beyond which the water ought not to be used as potable water. With regard to organic carbon, they say that potable water which contains organic matter, even only partly derived from animal sources, should not yield much more than 0.1 part of organic carbon from 100,000 parts of water. With regard to organic nitrogen, no standard can be laid down; but the previous history of the water must be known. With regard to the third point, the column, headed "Previous Sewage or Animal Contamination" in the analytical Table of the Commissioners, expresses, in terms of average London sewage, the amount of animal matter with which 100,000 lbs of each water was at some time or other contaminated. Thus 100,000 lbs of the water from pump in No. 5 Court, Hurst Street, Birmingham, had been polluted with an amount of animal matter equal to that contained in 151,000 lbs of average London sewage. The Commissioners divided the water under this head into three classes:—1. Reasonably safe water; 2. Suspicious or doubtful water; 3. Dangerous water. Now, let me quote a few of the cases analysed. At a well in King's Head Yard, at Kendal, in Westmoreland, there was 3½ times more organic carbon than the Commissioners laid down as the limit, and 100,000 lbs of this water showed evidence of being derived from a source which was polluted with an amount of animal sewage equal to that contained in 29,000 lbs of average London sewage. This water, according to the standard laid down, is dangerous water. Again, in the well of a Mr. Nicholson, at Gainford, near Darlington, there was 6½ times more organic carbon than the Commissioners laid down as the limit, and 100,000 lbs of this water showed evidence of being polluted with an amount of animal sewage equal to that contained in 48,000 lbs of average London sewage. This water, according to the standard laid down, is very dangerous water. In the case of one well, near Darlington, and the other at Leamington, the water showed evidence of even greater pollution from animal sewage; and in the case of a pump at Allen's Cottages near Wokingham, in Berkshire, there was nearly 13 times more organic carbon than the Commissioners laid down as the limit, and 100,000 lbs of this water showed evi- dence of being derived from a source which was some time or other polluted with an amount of animal sewage equal to that contained in 184,000 lbs of average London sewage. This water, the Commissioners say, was at least double the strength of London sewage, and a correspondent says—"You are quite right in saying that the water of this pump is derived from a source 84 per cent worse than London sewage. In other words, if London sewage soaked through a few feet of gravel and supplied the well entirely with water, that water would be 84 per cent better than the water of the pump was at the time it was analysed. If this is not cannibalism it is an approach to it." The Commissioners examined 25 samples of water from shallow wells in Cornwall and Devonshire on Devonian rocks. They say—" Many of them are frightfully contaminated with sewage, and only 8 out of 25 samples could be used for domestic purposes without serious risk to health; and out of the 8 not one could be used for drinking with reasonable safety." Nearly all the samples were palatable, and many were clear and sparkling. Again, 44 samples of water from shallow wells in Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, and Scotland were examined, and the Report says — "A large number of these samples are of very filthy origin." Sir, I could multiply case upon case, but I must not weary the House. I think the facts in this book boar out completely the Report of the Commissioners that the water supply from shallow wells of the country is of a highly disgusting and dangerous character. Nor, Sir, do we find that any geological strata are exempt. Water from shallow wells from all the various strata of England is more or less polluted, although some are worse than others; but I must now expose a fallacy which exists in the minds of some people, though probably not in the minds of hon. Members of this House, and that is that polluted water can be detected by taste or smell; for, Sir, if we look down the long Tables which are given in the Report of the Commissioners, we shall at once see some of the most highly polluted waters are clear and palatable. The water at Allen's Cottages which I have mentioned as being double the strength of London sewage, was palatable and only slightly turbid. Let me mention a few instances. There is a well at Hill Morton which is palatable, yet highly polluted. The same was the case in a well at Fountains Inn, Mile End. The same at Pryse Yard, near Cheltenham, and at a well at Newent, Gloucestershire, &c., &c. But I must turn to the second portion of my subject, which is, What has this dreadful state of affairs to do with the health of the population? Let us take the cholera cases, and we find that dirty water is at the root of the evil. We find that typhoid fever is propagated by polluted water. The Commissioners say— Nevertheless, after careful consideration of all the facts accessible to us, we are of opinion that the existence of specific poisons capable of producing cholera and typhoid is attested by evidence so abundant and strong as to be practically irresistible. But for further details I must refer hon. Members to the third part of the Report of the Commissioners upon the water supply. In addition to this evidence we have the evidence of the officers of the Local Government Board itself. The Local Government Board has been in the habit of sending down to any neighbourhood an Inspector when there has been an outbreak of fever. Now I have here the summarized Reports of those officers—and what do they show? From the year 1870 to 1873 there were 142 inquiries, and out of them in 125 water was mentioned as one of the causes of the fever. Again, in another series for the year 1873, out of 42 inquiries, chiefly on account of fever, in 32 it was found that bad water was one of the causes. Again, in 1875, out of 27 inquiries, in 15 it was reported that bad water was one of the causes of the fever. The cases were from different parts of the country, and a large number of them from small villages and the rural parts of the country. But I pause for a moment to say that I hope hon. Members who represent large constituencies will not think that this matter does not concern them. They must not forget that a large part of the food supply comes from the country, and I must now show how typhoid fever and other diseases from the country are imported into towns, and which can be directly traced to the fact of polluted water in the country. The Marylebone milk case will illustrate what I mean:— This Marylebone fever outbreak is an illustration of the way in which the water supply to country places may affect the health of town populations. Chilton Grove Farm, on which it is believed to have originated, was one of the farms whose milk had been sent to Marylebone; and here alone of all the farms which supplied the milk company, whose customers had been attacked, had there been a case of typhoid fever. The farmer had fallen a victim to this disease shortly before the outbreak of fever in the metropolitan parish, and the water supply to the homestead at Chilton Grove will illustrate the difficulties and dangers which surround the present way of providing water for domestic use in rural clayland districts. The farm-house well, 20 feet deep, was close to the kitchen door, and near to foul drainage from pigsties and from scullery and yard. The house drainage and chamber slops were thrown into the filthy ditch within a few yards of it, and foul water necessarily drained thence into the well close by. It is believed accordingly that matter containing the specific poison of the typhoid fever which had occurred at the farm-house, and been prevalent in the neighbourhood, may have obtained access to the well water, which was used in washing out the milk cans, and that in this way the milk itself had become infected. At Islington there was another outbreak: 70 families were attacked, and 175 people were poisoned. Cases have occurred at Armley, near Leeds, of pollution of the milk supply by water, at Moseley and Balsall Heath, near Birmingham. Sir, I could go on, and give more illustrations of the danger we are running in this from our neglect of our water supply. Perhaps we may go on for some time without any great outbreak; but if an epidemic should arise, we should repent bitterly of our folly in not seeing to this matter before; and I conclude this part of my case by quoting the opinion of the Pollution Commissioners, who sum up this part of their inquiry with the remark that— It is humiliating to reflect on the vast amount of premature death and misery which is thus carelessly permitted to exist in the midst of a civilized community. Now, I think that I have, though very imperfectly, shown that a grave evil exists in our midst, and the question arises—how are we to grapple with the evil? Sanitary legislation in this country is not an old science. Up to very lately we were content to let matters drift along, only doing a little patching here and there. It was only on the Report of the Sanitary Commission appearing that we began to try and bestir ourselves, and the result was the dividing the country into sanitary districts, by the Act of 1872. That Act was amended in 1874 and in 1875, and a consolidating law on public health was passed. That is the governing statute now. When we look at that Act we are struck with its permissive character. A great deal has been done, but more remains to be done. The first thing which strikes one is the absence of any declaration that it is the duty of the builders of houses to provide a proper water supply for the houses which they build. It appears to me that a good supply of water for a dwelling is as necessary as that the dwelling should have a roof. It is as necessary that pure water should be at hand for the inmates of a house as that that house should not be overcrowded with inmates. It does, therefore, appear to me that the first step is to say that houses which are erected in the future should not be inhabited unless they had a proper supply of pure water for them, and that the duty of seeing that this was done should be cast upon the local authorities, for all new houses at any rate. If this were done, the inhabitants would not be compelled to drink the filthy sewage which now passes under the name of pure water. Now I turn to another point of the law as it now stands. The local authority has power to close wells or cisterns, the water of which is not fit for human consumption. Clause 70 gives this power when the case is proved before a court of summary jurisdiction. But there is no power to compel the owner of any cottage or house property to provide a supply in lieu of that which is declared bad, where there is no public supply, and cases of this sort occur— I will merely mention one case which I have before me at this moment. Three adjoining cottages in a large parish belong to three different owners. The only water supply is one shallow much contaminated draw well on the premises of one owner. This is ordered not to be used, and there is no other potable water within half a mile. The owners both singly and conjointly decline to sink a well or wells in a suitable situation, which could be done at a reasonable expense. The only course (as there are no works of water supply in the neighbourhood) is for the sanitary authority to provide the water at the expense of the parish. This is so manifestly absurd that nothing is done. If the above, which is the general, and I believe the correct, interpretation of the law, is correct, it certainly needs alteration. Now, this is the sort of case which is likely most frequently to occur, and it is one of cost. It appears to me that where the cost is reasonable, and where there is not great difficulty in either digging a well or storing water, the expense ought to be borne by the owners, and that where several owners are concerned the cost ought to be divided among them. The local authority ought to be charged with the duty of seeing this carried out. Now I am aware that in some parts of the country water is difficult to obtain, and the cost could not be considered reasonable. But so important do I think this matter, that I would be prepared to throw a part upon the parish, or on a special district constituted for the purpose; while the balance should be thrown on the owner or upon an estate, as we have charged drainage and other works. The powers of Clause 62 should be enlarged to cover cases where there are not public waterworks. Here, let me quote the opinion of Mr. Caird, before a Committee of the House of Lords on the Improvement of Land— My Colleagues and I would suggest that in the case of charges for the supply of water to a village for sanitary purposes, it will be very advantageous where the village belongs to an estate that it should be included in the objects of the loan, the improvement being one that is for the convenience of the agricultural labourers resident on the estate. I shall, of course, be told that something has been done in the Agricultural Holdings Act. There, the water supply is mentioned as one of the points for which a tenant can with consent obtain compensation on disturbance of occupancy; but the point is hardly met in that case, for that Act has not come into operation to any extent. For my part, I am sorry that this subject should have been mixed up with what is a disputed question, compensation for unexhausted improvements. I cannot but think also that the powers conveyed in Clause 69 with regard to the pollution of streams are anything but satisfactory; but on this point I feel that we must wait until some experience has been gained as to the working of the Pollution of Rivers Bill of last Session. But I can assure the House that the defects in the law on this point have caused great evils, and are the cause of a great deal of the disease of the country; and I sincerely hope that a simpler mode than an appeal to the Court of Chancery may be found. But I now come to my last point, and that is, the permissive character of the powers conferred on the local authorities. They may do a great many things in sanitary matters; but the duty of doing them ought to be cast upon them. Let me quote the opinion of a Conference of medical officers of health and others convened by the Social Science Association, which passed the following Resolution:— That, in the opinion of this meeting, the powers of the Public Health and other sanitary Acts which are of a permissive character should as far as practicable be made compulsory. And as further proof of the permissive character of the Public Health Act, I would refer to Clause 64. By that clause the authority has the charge of certain public wells; but it is directed, not as one would suppose, to keep them in order for the use of the inhabitants, but only if it choose to do so. There can be no stronger proof of the tentative way in which we have proceeded. But now the time has come when we can safely take a step further, and say that upon the local authority should be cast the duty of seeing that every house has a proper supply of pure water, and that the permissive powers should be made compulsory. At the end of last Session the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Local Government Board, in answer to a Question, told me that a great deal was being done, and in proof told the House the amount of the loans which were being made by the Government for water supply. No one could have been more glad to hear it than I was; but these cases refer to the towns and populous places where large and costly works are required. My Motion is directed at the rural parts, the villages and hamlets of the country, where there is a great deal to do, and as far as I can understand the subject, loans and public works are not applicable to farms, rural villages, and hamlets. The only remedy to cure the evils which exist is the vigilance of the medical officers and the vigilance of the local authorities. Make this matter a matter of duty which they must perform, give them the powers which I propose and compel them to exercise them, and then we have done all that lies in our power. I hear that the Committee in "another place" is about to investigate the subject of storage of water; but I may say in regard to this that in most parts of the country I think the remedy is not to be found in that direction. Of course, I am glad to hear that the matter is to be inquired into; but it appears to me that the cost of storage of water would fall on the ratepayers, and we should again have the cry raised about the burden of rates. I do not believe that this is necessary in most parts of the country. In conclusion, I beg to thank the House for the kindness with which they have listened to me in the imperfect statement I have made. I beg to move the Resolution of which I have given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable to confer upon the local authorities further powers in order to remedy the existing evils affecting the water supply for domestic purposes in villages and rural parts of the Country,"—(Mr. A. H. Brown,) —instead thereof.

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


said, he was very glad that his hon. Friend the Member for Wenlock (Mr. A. H. Brown) had brought the question before the House, as it was a question of the greatest importance, and the evil undoubtedly in the rural districts was one which required a remedy. The present state of things could not be allowed to exist longer, and something ought certainly to be done. In rural districts the water courses were the means by which impure matter was carried from place to place, thereby causing infection. He hoped, with regard to them, therefore, that the Act of last Session would be thoroughly carried out. His opinion was that a thorough system of storing water ought to be adopted. Drainage had been carried out to such an extent throughout the country that water had become scarce, and the only remedy for that was, the local authorities ought to see that it was properly stored and delivered as pure as possible. How much of the disease among cattle might have arisen from an impure supply of water he was not prepared to say, but attention had been recently directed to that question. He trusted that full information with regard to the water supply would be placed in the possession of the Local Government Board through the rapidly multiplying local authorities, and that when this information was concentrated in London it would be followed by proper legislation.


said, he thought the House was indebted to his hon. Friend the Member for Wenlock (Mr. A. H. Brown) for the interesting and instructive statement he had just made. The question he had raised was highly important, and worthy the consideration of both Parliament and the Government. The sanitary condition of large towns had greatly improved during the last quarter of a century. It was not so good as it ought to be—not so good as it might be, if the local authorities used the powers they had at their command—but it was better than it was. There were agencies and influences at work, however, that he trusted would make the future as much better than the present, as the present was better than the past. But while there had been a marked improvement in large towns, the condition of rural districts had not advanced, but in some measure had actually retrograded. The increased populations and the gathering of them into large villages had made the state of things not only comparatively, but absolutely worse. There was an impression that the rural districts were abodes of Arcadian bliss. They had been told of— The cottage homes of England, By thousands on her plains, They are smiling o'er the silvery brook, And round the hamlet fanes. This was the language of poetry and fiction, not of fact. It would be more correct to parody Mrs. Hemans's verse, and say— The cottage homes of England, Alas, how strong they smell; There's fever in the cesspool, And sewage in the well. There were three qualifications requisite for a correct sanitary state—First, the possession of wholesome houses, with ample open air and breathing spaces; second, a ready and repeated removal of sewage; third, a good supply of pure water. If he was called upon to give an opinion, he would say that this last condition was the most important. There was nothing conveyed infection more readily than water, and there was nothing that impregnated water more than sewage. Some diseases, such as diptheria and enteric fever, were specially promoted by drinking impure water. The water supply in villages was obtained chiefly from two sources, from rivers or rivulets—or, as they called them in the North of England, burns—and from wells. The water-courses were in many instances simply channels by which the sewage of one village became the drinking water of the next. They did double duty. They acted at one and the same time as sewers for the carrying away of refuse, and as aqueducts for supplying water. In wet weather, when the streams were swollen, the people got more water than sewage, but in time of drought they got more sewage than water. He would only refer to one case which illustrated this point, and that was as evidence which a clergyman recently gave at a sanitary inquiry. That gentleman said— I took a walk about three miles down a certain brook. At its very source is a village, where it appeared to be washing day, for the women were all employed emptying their suds into the brook, a few yards below the spring, while filthy drains were discharging their contents in the same direction. About a mile below, I came to another large village, where the same acts were being repeated on a large scale. After this several farmyards contributed their drain- age to the brook, which had become in colour and smell just like a very bad horsepond. Being by this time got on to the dry clay, where any other source of water is at present unknown, I looked forward with sad interest to see what would be done at the next village. On arriving there I found a dozen men and boys bathing in a delectable semi-fluid, while a large drain was pouring out a sluggish black slime just opposite, and fifty yards or so before this were a number of poor women engaged in dipping out the water, as they called it, to make their tea. It was unnecessary to give further illustration as to the condition of the rural districts with respect to water. That had been already done by the hon. Member for Wenlock. He wished to call the attention of the House to another aspect of the question, and that was the supply of water to the large mining and manufacturing villages in the Northern and Midland Counties. In the Black Country, in Staffordshire, Lancashire, parts of Yorkshire, Northumberland, and Durham a different condition of things existed from that in the southern and agricultural counties. They were not scattered villages there, but one continuous street of houses. Village ran into village, and town into town. From the Tees to Blyth it was almost a continuous population. If you ascended a hill you could see at work from 150 to 200 steam-engines, all engaged in tearing out treasures from the bowels of the earth, or hurrying them away for export by sea, or by some great trunk railway. Around these engines, and factories, and. mines, were gathered villages, varying in population from 200 to 2,000. The ground beneath them was, to a large extent, honeycombed by coal working. All the wells and springs were drained into the mines, and the villages themselves were in many instances absolutely drained of water. There were thus huge lakes underground, containing not millions, but hundreds of millions of gallons of water; but this, however, was not useable for culinary or domestic purposes, as it was impregnated with all manner of impurities. In times of long drought, the suffering for want of water in colliery districts was very great. No part of the country required legislation on this subject more than that to which he had referred. His hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Mr. Burt) could testify to the want of water in the pit villages of the borough he represented. The mode of dealing with two classes of districts must be somewhat different. In agricultural localities the mass of the people were careless as to the water they consumed. They did not know the value of having it pure, and they drank the filthy fluid that came to them without hesitation. The gentry, on the other hand, were in too many instances nonresident. When they did live in the country, they had an abundant supply of good water on their own premises, and they did not, therefore, feel the want. They interested themselves in magisterial duties—in maintaining the highways, county bridges, and the police—but they were indifferent as to the supply of water. The farmers and tradesmen, again, viewed the question purely as one of rates and expenditure, and declined to incur the cost of bringing the necessary supply to their homesteads. The ignorance of one section, the indifference of another, and the selfishness of the third had prolonged the condition of affairs that existed in the agricultural districts. This was not the case, however, in manufacturing or mining places. There the coal-owners were interested directly in the health of their workmen. If they built 100 houses for their miners, and 10 or 12 out of this 100 were con- stantly disabled by bad health, arising from defective sanitary conditions, it was a direct loss to them. The owners recognized this fully, and the houses and surroundings of the colliery villages had unquestionably been improved of late years. Another difficulty arose with them, and that was the want of authority to bring the water to the villages. The mines, as he had explained, had drained the wells and springs, and the only way to get the water was by bringing it some distance from the hills. They had no existing authority that could accomplish this. He knew a mining village in the North of England that was situated in two Poor Law Unions, three parishes, four townships, and that had, in addition, two Local Boards of Health, two Burial Boards, besides other local bodies. It was impossible to get these different bodies to adjust their conflicting interests and obtain the requisite power for bringing water from a distance. The Government had promised to bring in a Bill to establish County Boards, and one of the first and most important duties it would have to discharge would be to provide machinery for giving a good supply of water. One other point he wished to submit to the House. It was only indirectly connected with the question, but it was worthy of their consideration. In the borough of Tynemouth they had recently utilized sea water for sanitary purposes. They had erected an engine, and utilized an old reservoir into which sea water was pumped daily. This liquid was used for three purposes—watering the streets in dry and dusty weather, flushing the sewers, and supplying the public baths, as well as being furnished to such private individuals as wished to have salt water baths in their houses. This experiment had been highly successful. It was found that the streets moistened with salt water remained damp longer than when sprinkled with fresh water. The sewers were not only flushed but deodorized by the sea water. Much of the offensive smell was removed from them, and the cost had been so reduced that it had almost disappeared, because the persons who used salt water in their houses paid nearly a sufficient sum to recoup the Corporation for the expense they incurred in the work. He mentioned this as a consideration for hon. Gentlemen who lived near the seaside, or on the banks of tidal rivers. The time for making the changes proposed was specially propitious. The Government, too, were under a pledge to do something for the sanitary condition of the villages. The Home Secretary promised, when he introduced the Artizans Dwellings Bill, that it should be extended to the rural localities. That promise had not yet been fulfilled. The Artizans Dwellings Act had been eminently successful in large towns, and doubtless it would prove equally successful in country districts. This was not a Party question. There was no political excitement in the country. Not a movement stirred the placid surface of public life. They lived in dull, common-place, humdrum, Conservative times. The vocation of the Radical agitator was for the present gone. This subject was one that they could all engage in, irrespective of Party. He hoped, therefore, the Government would prepare some measure for dealing with the subject without delay, and would thus earn the thanks of both present and future generations.


said, he could not complain of the manner in which the Motion had been introduced by the hon. Member for Wenlock (Mr. A. H. Brown), who had shown a consistent and very commendable interest in that important question for many years past. No words of his own could exaggerate the importance of a pure and plentiful water supply, and he feared that a good deal remained to be done before that matter could be placed in a perfectly satisfactory position. At the same time the hon. Member had scarcely done justice to the efforts which of late years had been made by Parliament and by local authorities, and through which, in almost every quarter of the kingdom, those elements of sanitary science had been made known which 30 or 40 years ago were unrecognized. The House, he thought, would hardly do well to agree to a Motion of that somewhat general character, as the hon. Member had not brought forward any specific plan for their consideration. He had also wandered somewhat from the strict subject of his Resolution—namely, the condition of the water supply in the rural districts. The hon. Gentleman had relied on a Report of the Rivers Pollution Commissioners. That Report, a very interesting document, was the sixth and last of a series of volumes which had proceeded from the same quarter; but before it was printed and circulated in the country, a great deal had been done by way of anticipation; and therefore much of the evil connected with the water supply of the rural districts had either been dealt with already, or was in process of being dealt with. The hon. Member had referred to the clause of the Public Health Act which provided means for the closing of polluted wells. That clause had been in operation with the happiest results. As to the owner of a polluted well not being compelled to seek another well in the place of the one that was closed, it must be remembered that the pollution of a well might arise from the misfortune rather than from the fault of the owner; and it did not at all follow that he was responsible for its polluted state. With regard to the many cases in which milk had become impure from the uncleanliness of the utensils in which it was sent to market, that important fact had become known through the action of the Inspectors under the Local Government Board, who had made most careful Reports on the subject, and had disseminated valuable information for the service of the whole community. The hon. Member said they had not attended sufficiently to the prevention of pollution in the public stores of water. But they had given ample powers to the local authorities, and they ought to be a little patient when they saw things were going on well, and the local authorities were awakening rapidly to the duties which the law had recently cast on them. He objected to the hon. Member's proposal that the Local Government Board should have power to issue a mandamus for the purpose of compelling local authorities to execute sanitary works. Compulsory powers were vested in various Departments of the Government, and more particularly in the Department with which he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was connected, and he was not averse from exercising those powers when absolutely necessary. But he did not ask Parliament to confer on his office any further powers of that kind than could be shown to be positively required for the public interest, as regarded safety. He would ask the House what would be the difficulty of determining many of the questions which would indirectly arise. In the first place, the hon. Member suggested that, in future, no house should be permitted to be inhabited unless it was furnished with a proper water supply; but in carrying that out difficult questions would invariably arise in determining what would be a reasonable cost to put on the owner, and what should be deemed a proper supply. Surely, when they saw the sanitary authorities exerting themselves to perform their beneficial functions in their several districts they ought to encourage them to proceed in that course, but should not harass them by Government compulsion, or interfere with them by more direct action as between the owners and the tenants of house property. The hon. Member showed, in some of his observations, how imperfectly he had considered a number of the difficulties connected with this question. One of his suggestions had been that, as it would be unjust to throw the whole of the cost of a small village supply on the owners of the houses, a portion should be charged against the owner of the estate. That showed that he imagined that all these cottages were owned by the owners of large estates; but some of the most scandalous cases were owned by small proprietors or by the inhabitants themselves. With respect to the Pollution of Rivers Act of' last year, he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had always felt that to put that Act in force in its full scope would require some further legislation. The local authorities would have to be strengthened when they came to deal with the large rivers which were highly polluted by the manufactories aggregated on their banks; but he had stated, as a particular inducement to the House to pass the Act of last year, that it would give the means, immediately it came into operation, of purifying the upper parts of rivers, which formed the sources whence unpolluted water could be drawn. There was no reason why, within a very short period, the upper streams should not be thus purified. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. J. Cowen), that, so far as it had come under his notice, some of the mining and manufacturing districts were worse off than the agricultural districts in reference to water supply. But, on the other hand, the mining districts were more easily dealt with, because they were much more populous, and it ought not to be difficult to make proper provision for the water supply of a large population. It might be fair to consider, when legislation as to the public health was again before Parliament, whether the owners or occupiers of mines, who by their lucrative operations cut off the supply of water from districts, should not be put under some obligation to replace that supply. The difficulty of carrying out these arrangements in the several rural districts was very great indeed. He would re-state for the information of the House some observations on this subject which he made last year. He then showed that this question of water supply, especially for country districts, had been continually under the notice of the Government, and that it had received a great deal of his attention during the three years he had been in office. The subject was also brought under his notice by an important and influential deputation in 1874. He consulted his Colleagues whether it was desirable or not to issue a Royal Commission to inquire into the subject; but, for reasons that he would not go into then at length, it was considered unnecessary, as the Pollution of Rivers Commission had gone fully into the subject and obtained much valuable information in reference to it, and therefore it was thought better to act on the information they had and lose no time in taking steps in that direction rather than relegate the whole subject to a Royal Commission and delay legislation until a distant period. In 1874, Parliament amended the existing Sanitary Acts, by a measure which contained many provisions relative to a better supply of water in the rural districts. That was the existing law. Again, in 1875, the whole of the sanitary laws were consolidated with further amendment in the same direction, and in the last Session of Parliament the Pollution of Rivers Act was passed, to the immediate operation of which he looked forward with some confidence for considerable beneficial results. The passing of the Public Health Acts of 1872, 1874, and 1875 had drawn the attention of the sanitary authorities to this subject. The rural sanitary authorities had not been negligent in exercising their powers in providing water supply. In 1873 the total amount of money borrowed by them for the improvement of water supply was £1,992; in 1874 it was £16,628; in 1875 it was £31,274; and in 1876 it was within a fraction of £40,000. Now, though that £40,000 might not be a very large sum to distribute among not less than 40 different Unions and districts, yet it was not asked for exclusively by the sanitary authorities of the more populous districts—it was asked for, to a great extent, in very small sums indeed. In one case only £350 was borrowed, in another £500, in another £257, and so on. The sums distributed in these 40 Unions and districts ranged from £1,502 to £250. That was a very satisfactory indication of the rapidly growing interest that was being taken in the subject, and that the sanitary authorities of the rural districts were not slow to avail themselves of the powers which they possessed. The rural sanitary authorities had just the same powers of providing for a supply of water as the urban sanitary authorities had. They could authorize the digging of wells, the construction of reservoirs, the buying of waterworks, and the constructing of new ones, and they might require any water company to lay on water if it should be found necessary. Then it might be asked, why did this cry for pure water come more from the rural districts than from the towns? The answer was plain. In urban districts, the population being large, it was easy to lay on a rate and make each occupier or owner contribute to the expense; while it was very difficult to do it in rural districts where the population was sparse. However, the Government had every reason to believe that the owners of property in the rural districts were becoming more and more alive to the necessity of meeting the wants of their tenants, and the tenants were becoming more and more alive to the advantages of a pure water supply. The Sanitary Commissioners undoubtedly went further, and proposed that every house without a water supply should be regarded as a nuisance; but that was a very important and delicate question to deal with. In 1875, when considering the Amendments on the Public Health Act, he informed the House why he thought the time had not come when such an interference with property in the country districts would be just or tolerated. The House acquiesced in that view, and no communication reached him from any quarter to press the mat- ter further. He admitted, however, that something further was required to be done. He had lately received a communication from an important rural sanitary authority, asking that they might be empowered to make bye-laws by which to deal with every house in the district not properly supplied with water. He was glad to see such an application coming from the public, because it was satisfactory to know how much attention was being given to the subject, and a desire for improvement in that respect, before such a startling proposition was made by Parliament. There was a case in his own neighbourhood of a parish of 5,000 acres, where there had recently been a water supply established, and the expense charged on the rates. Before, however, the proposition could be made general, there were many points to be considered. It was a question whether all the inhabitants of a district should be compelled to take water, because the hon. Gentleman would see how extremely unjust it would be to do so, when a large number of the houses might be supplied by water from their own wells by their own agency, or by their landlords. The rural sanitary authorities having all these powers, and the difficulties such as he had indicated to contend with, was Parliament to interfere with a view to strengthen the law by passing an abstract Resolution committing them to peremptory action, or wait until they saw an opportunity of dealing with the subject in a way that would cause no irritation, and might answer the purpose, without adopting such suggestions as had been made by the hon. Member for Wenlock. He (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had stated very shortly what had been done in this direction since the present Government had been in office, and what he expected would be the result of the Act of last Session. His noble Friend the President of the Council was about to propose a Committee in the House of Lords which would deal with a very important portion of this subject, and his noble Friend, he believed, would himself be the Chairman of that Committee. There was also a Bill before Parliament which he hoped—and, indeed, he saw no reason to doubt—would be passed this Session, to give power to the limited owners of estates to charge them for the expenses incurred in providing storage for water and expenses of that character; and the Burials Bill, which had been introduced in the other House of Parliament, proposed to deal with the pollution of water arising from neighbouring churchyards, and he might mention that since he had been in the House that evening he had been informed of an outbreak of fever directly attributable to that cause. That being the state of the case, and the amelioration of the past being of a very satisfactory character, he was not afraid of being taunted with the permissive character of most of the legislation that had taken place on the subject. He thought they had educated the local authorities upon this subject. The time, however, had not arrived for another amendment of the Public Health Act for dealing more largely with a great portion of this subject, yet the subject would not be lost sight of, neither by the Government nor by himself; and the hon. Member would give them credit for not having under-valued the importance of the question. He could not promise to introduce this year or next a Public Health Bill, and he must ask the hon. Member, under the circumstances, not to press his Motion that evening to a division.


said, he did not think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had satisfactorily disposed of the arguments of his hon. Friend the Member for Wenlock (Mr. A. H. Brown). The right hon. Gentleman was always fair in intention at least, but he had not on this occasion entirely met the statements of the hon. Member. In his (Mr. Stansfeld's) opinion the House was greatly indebted, and for himself he was much obliged, to his hon. Friend for having so lucidly drawn its attention to this very important subject, and the speech he had made in introducing the matter had been distinguished by its moderation of expression and by its felicity of exposition. His hon. Friend had shown the character of the evil complained of, the nature and extent of the danger to which it gave rise, and the remedies that should be adopted to remove it. His hon. Friend had undoubtedly hit a blot in the Public Health Act of 1875, and the right hon. Gentleman had failed to show that the remedies ho proposed would not meet the requirements of the case. It had been clearly shown that the rural water supply was injuriously affected, and that, through the milk supply, the large towns were also affected by it. His hon. Friend had also given instances of the pollution of water used for domestic purposes in various parts of the country, and he (Mr. Stansfeld) was himself confident that the statements had not been exaggerated. His right hon. Friend opposite had complained of his hon. Friend's severe comments on the Pollution of Rivers Act of last Session; but if it was then competent to discuss the measure, he (Mr. Stansfeld) should be much more severe upon its provisions. He put no impediment in the way of passing that Act; but the machinery of the Act was most imperfect, and could not be for a moment defended. His hon. Friend's general proposition was unassailable—namely, that when the supply of water in any district was not fit for domestic use, the local authorities should have power not only to close wells, but to provide an equivalent supply of pure water, and distribute the cost of providing it in the way which might appear best to them. This question was becoming one of extreme national importance, and it might be considered advisable to impose upon all sanitary authorities the duty of providing a proper supply of pure water, as well as an effectual system of drainage. But when the right hon. Gentleman said—"Be a little patient; what we have been trying to do has been to educate the people of the country and the sanitary authorities in sanitary administration, do not let us be in too much of a hurry, but let us encourage them to go on," he (Mr. Stansfeld) entirely agreed with him. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the time would come when something more would have to be done in this matter, and he (Mr. Stansfeld) hoped his hon. Friend would be content with this explanation, and not divide the House upon his Amendment.


said, he would accept the advice of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stansfeld), and would withdraw the Resolution.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 64 Noes 37: Majority 27.—(Div. List, No. 58.)