HC Deb 10 April 1877 vol 233 cc842-6

in moving that a Select Committee be appointed "on the Thames Conservancy Acts, to inquire and report what amendments, if any, are required in order to deal more effectually with the injuries inflicted by Floods," observed that floods in the Thames valley had been of frequent occurrence. About a century ago a great flood occurred, when the water covered Palace Yard to the depth of two feet, and access to the House of Commons was a matter of considerable difficulty. Again, in 1821 there was a most extraordinary flood, and since then the floods had been of much more frequent occurrence. That frequency was attributable, in his (Mr. Coupe's) opinion, to three causes. In the first place, the drainage of the surface water had prevented the land from acting as a sponge and retaining the water for a considerable time, for the surface water was now immediately carried away by means of drainage pipes, and in times of heavy rains floods were caused. The frequency of floods had also been increased by the removal of the old London, Blackfriars, and Westminster Bridges, which three bridges having but small openings impeded the upward flow of the tide. The tide now went much further up the river than it did when those three Bridges existed. The third cause to which he referred was the contraction of the channel of the river by that vast and splendid work the Embankment, and works in other parts of the Thames Valley, by which some 50 or 60 acres had been taken away from the bed of the stream. The only public body that could control these floods was the Thames Conservancy Board, constituted by private Act in 1857, by which the jurisdiction of the river, which had been possessed by the Corporation of London, was handed over to a Board of 12 Commissioners, of whom seven were members of the Corporation. In 1864 the powers of the Board were enlarged, and then their jurisdiction extended all the distance from Yantlet Creek to Staines, while its Commissioners were at the same time increased in number to 18; and in 1866 the whole upper valley of the Thames as far as Cricklade, 40 miles above Oxford, came under their charge, with powers to prevent pollution of the river, six water companies being bound to contribute £1,000 per annum each towards the expense. The power to control the floods, was, he believed, admitted by engineers. The question was whether the Thames Conservancy Board had used due diligence in the matter. His object in moving for a Select Committee was to obtain a re-constitution of the Thames Conservancy. That body at present represented the Admiralty, the Trinity House, the Corporation of London, the shipowners of the port, the owners of lighters and steamers, and the Board of Trade, for whom two members sat. He desired that power should be given to the Board to take such steps as would prevent the repetition of these serious floods; and in order to carry out that efficiently it would be desirable that the riparian owners and also a number of local authorities along the Thames Valley should be represented on the Board. Oxford, Staines, and Windsor were at present altogether unrepresented; and it was most desirable that, as they would have to contribute to the funds which would be required, they should be represented on the Conservancy Board. The result of this Committee, if appointed, would, he trusted, be to control the floods in the river at a cost not at all equal to that contemplated by the Thames Conservancy, as shown in their Report made in February. If it were decided that amongst other modes of meeting this difficulty reservoirs should be constructed, they could be so placed as to meet, in some degree, the wants of villages to which attention was drawn the other night by an hon. Member opposite (Mr. A. Brown), and also to aid in supplying the ever-growing wants of the Metropolis. It was true that at present the Thames River (Prevention of Floods) Committee was sitting; but it only affected the district contained within the area over which the Metropolitan Board of Works exercised jurisdiction. A Committee, appointed on the Motion of the Duke of Richmond, was also sitting in "another place" to consider the general question of drainage, sewerage, and the prevention of floods throughout the country. But he would appeal to the House whether it would not be right and proper to appoint a special Committee to consider the question of floods in the Thames? The Thames was an exceptional river; it flowed through this great metropolis, past the walls of the House in which they were then assembled; on its banks were to be found our grandest and greatest University; one of the largest and most celebrated of our public schools; and the majestic residence of the Sovereigns of England from time immemorial. Under these circumstances, he thought a Special Committee ought to be appointed to inquire into floods in the Thames, and he therefore begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


said, he had no objection, on the part of the Government, to the appointment of the Committee, and he only rose to explain why when there was a Committee of the other House of Parliament sitting to consider the general question, it was considered desirable to refer this particular case to a separate Committee. The Committee "elsewhere" was charged with a general inquiry, would gather together an ample fund of facts, and would have quite as much work as it would be able to get through. Their business, however, would be to inquire into the flooding of rivers generally and the storage of water supply, and he looked upon the latter as quite as important a topic as the former, and the general result of their labours might be that certain points should be sifted out upon which it might be necessary to appoint a Royal Commission. They had been asked to grant a Royal Commission in the first instance; but he had objected to that course on the grounds that it might have wandered from the special subject, and that it was, in his judgment, better that a preliminary inquiry before a Committee should be held. No doubt this Committee had to inquire into floods generally; but in the case of the Thames there was a Conservancy Board, and Acts of Parliament both for the Upper and Lower Thames; and the consideration of how these Acts might be improved, and how the funds of the Conservancy Board were expended, and other matters relating thereto, involved an inquiry of a totally different character from that involved in the general question with which the Duke of Richmond's Committee had to deal. He, therefore, assented to the Motion of the hon. Member for the appointment of a special Committee to inquire into the Thames Conservancy Acts.


said, he was glad that the Government had acceded to the request of his hon. Friend. He believed that the flooding in the Thames arose from the improvements that had been effected in the river during the last 50 years, and that the true remedy was to deepen the river higher up and widen its area so as to allow of a greater volume of water being stored.


said, this was rather an important question, but he thought the composition of the Thames Conservancy Board had not been too generously dealt with. It very fairly represented the interests of the river, and there were representatives from the higher parts as well as from those more adjacent to town. The only real complaint that could be made against them, so far as he was aware, was that they did not prosecute with sufficient vigour those who higher up the river poisoned the water with their sewage; and it would be well for the Committee to have instructions to inquire into this matter at the time they were investigating the cause and cure of the floods. The inquiry, in fact, should cover the whole of the ground over which the authority of the Board extended. Select Committee appointed, "on the Thames Conservancy Acts, to inquire and report what amendments, if any, are required in order to deal more effectually with the injuries inflicted by Floods."—(Mr. Coope.) And, on April 30, Committee nominated as follows:—SIR TREVOR LAWRENCE, Mr. SAMUEL- SON, Mr. RICHARDSON-GARDNER, Mr. WALTER, Sir CHARLES RUSSELL, Mr. WILLIAM CART-WRIGHT, Mr. HALL, Mr. WATNEY, Colonel CARINGTON, Mr. CHARLES PRAED, Mr. ALGERNON EGERTON, Mr. WILLIAM HENRY GLADSTONE, and Mr. COOPE:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.