§ Order for Second Reading read.
said, he rose to move the second reading of this Bill, which was promoted by a public body in the interests of the ratepayers, who, in consequence of the legislation of 1867, had been formed into a board consisting of 33 members elected by the ratepayers of the districts they represented. They had been brought into existence by an Act of Parliament, and had been created for a very urgent purpose—namely, the purpose of making a satisfactory disposition of the sewage to a large extent of the suburban districts and the western parts of the Metropolis. The necessity for the existence of this public body had become very urgent in consequence of the legislation of Parliament 12 years ago. All the parishes between Staines and the limits of the Metropolis were, previous to that Act, allowed to discharge their sewage into the River Thames. The Act of 1867 prohibited this; and as they were now cut off from the power of discharging their sewage into the River Thames, these various parishes had become involved in greater and graver difficulties; indeed, they had had proceedings taken against them to such an extent that in the parish of 376 Chiswick they had incurred fines and penalties, in consequence of being unable to dispose of the sewage, which amounted to £98,000. Parliament was, therefore, applied to on behalf of all the parishes between the western limits of the Metropolis and Hampton Court. They thereupon formed into one sewerage district, presided over by a board consisting of 33 members, and comprising justices of the peace and persons of position connected with the district. This board was intrusted with the duty of providing satisfactorily for the disposal of the sewage of the district within three years. So urgent was the necessity of the case that Parliament only gave this body that limited period to make provision for the disposal of the sewage. Perhaps he ought to say that Parliament, although it had created this body, had subjected it to two very important restrictions, to which he should like to call the attention of the House. In the first place, this public body were not to create a nuisance in disposing of the sewage. They could not do anything that would cause a nuisance to the public at large or to any private person. In the second place, they were not allowed to pollute the River Thames. They could not discharge into the river any matter that would pollute the Thames. In their desire to carry out the duties intrusted to them, the board had obtained 23 competing schemes from different engineers, and out of them they had selected the proposal embodied in the Bill which he had the honour to move at the present moment; and all he asked was that the body created as he had described should now be allowed to submit this scheme they had selected to Parliament, and that it should go before a Select Committee, before whom the promoters were prepared to produce evidence to show that it was a scheme calculated to dispose, satisfactorily, of the sewage with which they were bound to deal. They would further be able to show a Select Committee that the adoption of this scheme would enable them to carry out the work without creating a nuisance or polluting the River Thames. The board were careful in the Bill to preserve the restrictions imposed upon them by Parliament with regard to the exercise of the powers intrusted to them. These restrictions were maintained in the Bill, 377 and they did not seek for any power to do anything that would create a nuisance or enable them to pollute the River Thames. That was the scheme they wished to carry out. He dared say the House would be astonished that he wished to say so much in introducing the Bill to the consideration of the House, because if ever a scheme were submitted that ought to pass a second reading and go before a Select Committee, by whom its merits would be properly considered, it was the one which he was describing. But unfortunately this scheme was opposed by a very influential opposition. Who were the opponents? The opponents of the scheme were the constituents of the body who were promoting the Bill. Certain disaffected and disappointed constituents who were in a minority on the board itself, and who came to the House to ask it to reject the scheme. These opponents he was bound to say were animated by personal and selfish motives. They did not like the personal superintendence of the board over the locality. They had circulated among hon. Members all sorts of statements, which had even found their way into the newspapers. Some of those were very deliberate statements upon facts which ought to be determined by a Committee upstairs. He could not ask the House to listen to evidence which applied to the merits of the scheme, and he was satisfied that if he proposed to lay that evidence before them now they would decline to listen to him. It was impossible in the House to discuss or examine the facts and motives which had induced the promoters to bring forward their scheme. Therefore, in moving the second reading of the Bill, he at least would have so much regard to the Rules and regulations of the House, that he would not attempt to say one word in praise or blame of the scheme itself. He wished, however, to refer to some of the statements which had been circulated, and especially to one without a name, which had been sent broad-cast among hon. Members of the House, and a copy of which he now held in his hand. It contained no name, and it appeared, as far as he could judge from the plan that accompanied it, to have been circulated by persons who were interested in Sandown Racecourse, and by a Mr. Pugh, who lived on the Sandown Park estate. 378 This circular contained a number of statements which he was in a position to contradict as being without foundation in fact; and he hoped that no hon. Member would allow himself to be misled by statements every one of which was the direct reverse of the true facts of the case. The question was in reality a ratepayer's question, and the opponents of the Bill talked as if the promoters themselves had created this sewage, and as if they were the persons who had made the enormous amount of sewage which had now to be disposed of. They had done no such thing. The sewage was created by the inhabitants of the district, and the unfortunate promoters of the present Bill were charged by Parliament with the unpleasant duty of, somehow or other, disposing of it. The question was one of great urgency. Parliament two years ago only gave three years in which the work was to be done. The health of the district was at present seriously compromised by the imperfect drainage, and yet Parliament was now asked not to pass this Bill, or to allow the scheme to be considered on its merits, when there was only one year left in which the work could be done. He asked hon. Members, who were generally somewhat tender of the rights of the ratepayers, to consider the expense with which they would saddle the ratepayers of this important district if they rejected this Bill and no provision was made for disposing of the sewage. If the sewage was not disposed of, the district would come under the rule of his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, and the ratepayers would be liable to have all sorts of works executed by the Local Government Board at their expense, and moreover they would be liable to the infliction of heavy fines from the Thames Conservancy Board and other public bodies for discharging the sewage into the river; and all this time the ratepayers and their representatives would have been doing their best to carry out the wishes of Parliament. Parliament themselves had created this body to deal especially with the drainage and sewage of the district, and it would be an unheard-of thing, two years afterwards, to refuse to refer their scheme to a Select Committee. He confidently appealed to hon. Members for their votes in favour of the second reading of the Bill. It 379 was a Bill brought forward in the interests of the ratepayers of the district; and the interests of the ratepayers, both financially and in a sanitary point of view, demanded that the scheme should at least be examined by Parliament. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Gorst.)
§ MR. ISAAC
, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he felt the very great responsibility which he had taken on his shoulders, and more particularly because he had to follow his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) who sat in front of him. He was afraid he could not use the power of special pleading like his hon. and learned Friend; but he should endeavour to show to the House that he did not represent a body of disaffected and disappointed constituents of the board named by his hon. and learned Friend. He should endeavour to show that the board had opportunities for carrying out the works that were necessary under the powers already conferred upon them by Parliament, by applying to the proper tribunal—namely, the Local Government Board — instead of introducing a Bill into the House. He felt an equal regard for the value of an investigation by a Committee upstairs, as that which his hon. and learned Friend professed to have; but he thought that his hon. and learned Friend had dealt very hardly with one of the papers which had been circulated against the Bill, when he attributed interested motives to a gentleman named Pugh, and also suggested to the House, with a view of damaging the case of one of the opponents, that he might be the proprietor of the Sandown Racecourse. His hon. and learned Friend was perfectly aware that, at the present moment, the racecourses in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis were regarded as very objectionable, and probably that was the reason which induced him to make that a particular statement in his argument. He admitted that, as a general rule, it was imperative that they should studiously avoid refusing these Private Bills a second reading. There was a great deal to be said in favour of re- 380 ferring them to a Select Committee; but Parliament, as well as its Committees, had duties to perform, and they had privileges, also, which they must uphold; and this was one of those cases in which, in his opinion, the duties of Parliament and the Privileges of the House should be upheld on the responsibility of hon. Members. He did not intend to ground his opposition to the Bill upon the principles and ideas suggested by his hon. and learned Friend. On the contrary, he opposed it on public grounds, although he admitted that there were also private and financial grounds upon which he should oppose it. He should not go into the history of the formation of this board. There might, he had no doubt, be a necessity for some scheme or another; and he was ready to admit that the board was constituted for the purpose of carrying out a scheme agreed to by Parliament. Under the scheme, a very large area was covered, extending from Barnes to Molesey, and including an area of 30 or 40 square miles. Within the boundary there were a very large number of parishes and several incorporated bodies. Each of these bodies was capable of dealing with the sewage question by themselves; but if each had set themselves to deal with the matter, there would, no doubt, have been many bad schemes introduced which would have involved very expensive methods of carrying out a perfect sewage scheme. He was further ready to admit that it was possible that some of them had already failed in attempting to undertake the work. Having regard to this state of circumstances, it was, no doubt, found necessary to apply to the Local Government Board in order that there might be some combination. He was told that it was generally intended to have a combination of a small number of the parishes, something like six or eight in number; but eventually that number was increased to something like 22 within the Thames district. Application having been made to the Local Government Board, Colonel Cox was sent down, at the instance of the Local Government Board, to hold an inquiry at Kingston for the formation of a district. Under these circumstances, it was necessary for him to point out to the House the grounds upon which he now moved the rejection of this Bill. 381 There was a distinct promise and a pledge given to the occupiers as to the mode in which the sewage question was to be dealt with by the board. Colonel Cox, at the time the inquiry was held, refused to consider any question of dealing with the sewage, and confined the inquiry entirely to what places should be included in, or excluded from, the district which it was proposed to form. But Colonel Cox further stated that opportunities would be given to the ratepayers of the district to raise any question with regard to the action of the board when the question arose of dealing with the sewage. It was quite evident that Colonel Cox favoured the idea that the Local Government Board was to deal with the question not by a Bill brought directly before the House, but by a Provisional Order of the Local Government Board. He would ask whether this had been done, or whether it had been attempted?—and, answering his own question, he might say that it had not. There was a Bill introduced which went to the House of Lords, who took evidence before a Select Committee, and after reading the evidence taken before that Committee, he believed the House would be of opinion that the ground of opposition now made was a perfectly valid and fair one. The present board were represented before that Committee, and they stated, in answer to questions put to them, that they would be unable to get the money without a Provisional Order and a local public inquiry. He would ask the House if that inquiry had been held?—and, again answering his own question, he might say that it had not. No application had been made to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order, and if the House passed the second reading of this Bill, that inquiry would never be held, and they would shut out entirely from the Committee all the views of those who were opposed to the carrying out of these expensive operations. He contended that the Bill entirely ignored public opinion, the public themselves, and, above all, the Local Government Board. He would read to the House what was said by the counsel representing the gentlemen who were promoting this scheme when they were before the Committee of the House of Lords. In answer to a question put to him, Sir Edmund Beckett said — "We cannot 382 get the money without a Provisional Order or a local inquiry," showing quite plainly that a Provisional Order and a public inquiry were necessary in his opinion. Sir Joseph Bazalgette was called by the promoters, and gave evidence before the Committee. His evidence, from beginning to end, was an utter condemnation of any scheme involving sewage works either within or in the neighbourhood of the combined district, and in favour of the sewage being sent into the sea. Mr. H. Law, another engineer, also called by the promoters, was asked in Question 357—Now, first of all, will you state upon what grounds you come to the conclusion that it would be impossible that each individual district could deal with its drainage separately?He said—The first fact that was patent to everybody was the difficulty that was encountered by an authority when they attempted any scheme. We have ourselves brought forward two, and have had very heavy fights upon them, and we have seen that all our neighbours, in any attempts that they made, either to acquire lands in their own district or in districts outside of them, were always met with the greatest possible opposition, an opposition, in fact, that was successful; and it was not to be wondered at when it was considered that the Thames Valley, from its proximity to London, and from its character, is especially suited for residential purposes, and, therefore, for that reason alone, irrespective of any engineering reason, it was felt that it was not the right place to establish sewage works, which must be a nuisance in themselves, however carefully carried out.Then, in the following Question, 358, he stated—"We felt that it was only by combination that the expense could be borne." That was the statement made to the House of Lords, on behalf of the promoters, by their own engineer. In Question 362 the witness was asked—Do you agree with Sir Joseph Bazalgette in considering that every scheme for taking a large tract of land in the residential district of the Thames Valley is practically out of the question?The reply was—"I have a very strong opinion upon it. "He was further asked—"A very strong opinion that it was out of the question?" The answer was—"No doubt of it." "If it was attempted it would be merely to encounter great opposition and to incur great expense?" Answer—"No doubt of it. I think the plan would be your safeguard against that." The House would see, consequently, that there were 383 two engineers of great eminence employed by the gentlemen promoting this scheme, who gave evidence before the Committee in relation to the sewage of the district which was altogether in opposition to the plan now proposed. He would not trouble the House with any further reference to this evidence, except to mention that another engineer employed by the promoters—Mr. Grover —gave evidence to the same effect, and almost in the same words. Most of the witnesses called before the Committee stated distinctly that any scheme for taking any tract of land was out of the question, and he could not find that any one of them spoke in favour of it. Had the ideas of those gentlemen—had their suggestions been acted upon? He answered again—No, they had not. But Parliament was now applied to to give its sanction to a scheme prepared by an engineer, almost unknown, to create a sewage farm right in the midst of the Thames Valley district. He would not go into all the details; but he would simply say that after a large meeting that was held in October, 1878, all the plans that were submitted were referred for analysis. The scheme adopted was reported upon by Colonel Jones, of Wrexham—It sought powers to pump the sewage of 118,000 people, amounting to, at least, 5,000,000 gallons daily, to land situate in East Molesey, and in the adjoining parish of Walton, surrounded by valuable residential property, about one mile from Hampton Court Palace, three-quarters of a mile from Claremont Park, and within 80 yards of Sandown Park Racecourse. The effluent sewage was to flow into the Thames exactly opposite to Hampton Court Palace, close to the spot selected in 1873 by the Chelsea Waterworks Company for the construction of reservoirs, the Bill for which was rejected. The ultimate population to be provided for was estimated at 300,000 persons.The reasons given for the scheme were three—First, that the farm would be wholly in the district; secondly, that the farm was suitable, as reported upon by Colonel Jones; and, thirdly, that it would cost less than any other scheme. Now, as regarded these reasons, it appeared that two-fifths of the land would be in the district of Walton-on-Thames, and the scheme met with very much opposition from the neighbourhood, who bad petitioned against the second reading. With regard to the second reason, it was land that was constantly flooded 384 by the Mole, Ember, and the Thames, and it was always water-logged. Then as regarded the cost, which was a most important element, there was a great defect somewhere. The estimated cost was £280,000, but he was told that there were omissions and errors which would bring it up to £600,000; and the board itself admitted now that it would cost £500,000. That was an important element for the consideration of the House. Another important question was, where were they to get the money from? They asked for power under the Bill to borrow £300,000, and the scheme would cost £600,000; and when the £300,000 was expended, where were they to get the other £300,000? They would, therefore, be compelled to apply to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order. And the Local Government Board would be placed in this position—they would be compelled to complete the works; they would have no power to make inquiry; and with a half-finished sewage farm would be obliged to come to Parliament for a Provisional Order, that should, in the first instance, be asked for. He thought these were very strong reasons why the Bill should not be read a second time, unless the promoters went first to the Local Government Board to obtain a Provisional Order, in which case the public would have some little control over it. He had very little more to say. He had been simply desirous of showing the House the effect the adoption of this plan would have upon the whole of the surrounding country. He would tell them, however, what the hon. and learned Member proposed to do. They were going to lay down large deposit tanks to contain this sewage that would hold 2,000,000 gallons. The sewage would remain in these tanks for some time, and then be run over the land in a state of decomposition. He asked the House if that was not likely to do considerable damage to the surrounding country. His own opinion was that very few people would be able to live within a mile of it. The River Thames was close by, and they had people resorting to it constantly for bathing, fishing, and boating purposes. He would only say, in conclusion, that he thought it would be most unwise to collect this sewage in the middle of a populous residential locality; and it was upon the 385 grounds he had mentioned that he asked the House to reject the Bill, rather than to send it to a Committee upstairs, where they would put the owners of property to an enormous expense in opposing the Bill, and deprive many owners and others, materially injured by the proposed scheme, from being heard. He begged, therefore, to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Isaac.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GILES
presumed he was not singular in having been flooded with solicitations on both sides, both for and against this measure. The principal ground on which he was asked to vote in favour of a second reading was that it would be very hard upon the promoters to throw the Bill out without having investigated its merits. Now, he wished to say, in answer to that statement, that it was equally hard for an opponent to have to waste his time and money in opposing a Bill in Committee when the demerits of the scheme were such as to make it palpable to everyone that the Bill would never pass through Committee. He had looked at this question from an engineering point of view, and he could not help feeling that, in the first place, the sewage on the North side of the Thames had no business to be brought to the South side of the Thames, so as to become a nuisance there. He would also say that the plans showed that the ground proposed to be formed into a sewage farm was within a very few feet of the level of the Thames—he believed it was only 3 or 4 feet above the flood level—and a great part of the land was occasionally flooded by the overflow of the river Mole. He had himself seen the land proposed to be made into a sewage farm frequently flooded; and he would ask what would be the state of this sewage farm under these circumstances? His own opinion was that the objections to the Bill were of such a character that it would be impossible to carry it through Committee; and therefore he was anxious to save the opponents of the Bill the 386 expense that would be incurred in taking their opposition to it upstairs. He must also add that he had seen the Parliamentary plans; and when he asked how the floods were to be got rid of, he was told that it was proposed to widen and enlarge the channels of the Mole and Ember. He believed, however, that no power was taken in the Bill to carry out such works. It was therefore an incomplete scheme; and, under such circumstances, it would be better to stop it where it was, and thus save the opponents the expense of carrying their opposition further. For these reasons, he should vote for the rejection of the Bill.
§ SIR ANDREW LUSK
said, he hoped and trusted that the House would not refuse to read the Bill a second time, and send it to a Select Committee. He was not at all prejudiced in the matter, but he had a strong direct interest in the Bill, as all hon. Members had who lived in the West End of London. He thought their principal object should be to get rid of the sewage of the district in some satisfactory way, so as to prevent it hereafter from being passed into the Thames. In the present case, they had before them as promoters of the Bill a body of gentlemen who were trying to do all they could to fulfil the obligations imposed upon them by Parliament and the Board of Conservancy of which he was a member. He had been a member of that Conservancy for some years, and the board had been very much found fault with for not compelling gentlemen who lived on the borders of the Thames to do something to get rid of the sewage without discharging it into the river. The Board of Conservators had the power, and they were going to exercise it, of compelling the owners of property to dispose of this sewage; and if their injunctions were not complied with, they intended to impose all the fines they could upon those who did not get rid of the nuisance, for it was a frightful nuisance indeed that the sewage of 108,000 inhabitants should be passed into the Thames, and the water delivered into the houses at the West End of London to be used for domestic purposes. It was a horrible idea, and therefore he hoped the House would assist the promoters of the Bill in doing all in their power to meet the difficulties of the case. All the House was asked to 387 do now was to send the Bill introduced at the instance of the Sewerage Board to a Committee upstirs. The board were doing the best they could to remedy the evils that were complained of. Hon. Members were taking a very extraordinary course indeed when they told them that they would not even read this Bill a second time and allow it to go into Committee. It was all very well for Northampton and Southampton to throw cold water upon the Bill, but those who lived in London and knew more about it were anxious that some remedy should be found. Some day, when they had a dry summer, they would find it a very serious matter if they continued to compel the discharge of the sewage into the river. He appealed to the House to look at the question from a practical point of view, and to allow the Bill to go upstairs. He should vote for the second reading, and he trusted the House would not reject so important a measure until it had undergone full inquiry before a proper tribunal.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
said, he should not detain the House for more than a few minutes; but he thought the House ought to recollect that they had had a Bill before them, not precisely similar but somewhat similar, a year or two ago—namely, the Birmingham Bill. The House threw out that Bill, and one ground upon which they did so was that they did not wish to delegate powers of compulsory purchase until those powers of compulsory purchase had been better considered than they had been up to the present time. What he objected to in this Bill was not that there should be a remedy found for the evils that were complained of, because he admitted that the want of some proper plan for disposing of the sewage was a crying evil throughout the country; but he thought that the Government ought to take the responsibility of laying down in what way this great and difficult question was to be dealt with. If they passed this Bill, and allowed it to go to a Committee, they would place in the hands of 33 gentlemen, composing the Sewerage Board, the absolute powers of compulsory purchase, and they would prevent all those who might be interested in the district, except those who owned the land proposed to be taken, from having a locus standi before the Committee. They would have no locus standi what- 388 ever, and that was his great objection to the Bill. He thought it would be an unfortunate thing if they were to sanction, by a second reading of this Bill, the principle that compulsory power should be conferred in this loose sort of way. The whole question was one that deserved serious consideration, and he was of opinion that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board was bound to tell the House the views of the Board and also of the Government upon it. Not only must his right hon. Friend have considered the matter, but he was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman was one of those who was not going to allow a body of this kind—who might, under a Provisional Order, have appeared before the Local Government Board, when all parties might have been heard — to have absolute powers of compulsory purchase by this Bill intrusted to them. It was because he believed it would be a fatal mistake to give such powers as those proposed to be conferred upon the Board by the Bill that he, for one, must vote against the second reading.
§ MR. SHAW LEFEVRE
remarked that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just addressed the House referred to the Birmingham Bill. Now, he (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) did not think that that was a precedent the House would like to follow. No case of a Private Bill being thrown out had given rise to so much discussion out-of-doors. He was able to describe another precedent, and one which he ventured to predict would be followed by the House in the present instance. He referred to the case of the town he had the honour to represent. Some few years ago the borough of Reading was in exactly the condition in which this sewer board now found itself. It was compelled to withdraw its sewage from the River Thames by Act of Parliament; and it was obliged, in consequence, to come to that House with a scheme authorizing the compulsory purchase of a farm in the adjoining district. Although that scheme was opposed violently before the Committee, the Committee gave the compulsory powers of purchase asked for, and they were similar powers to those now asked for by the present Bill. He knew nothing about the details of this Bill, nor whether it was a good measure or not; but he imagined the question now for considers- 389 tion to be, whether such a measure should Le allowed to go before a Select Committee. As the promoters of the Bill were a public body trying to perform a public duty, and as they had been compelled by Act of Parliament to withdraw the sewage from being discharged into the River Thames, he believed that they would be put to the greatest inconvenience and trouble and be subjected to heavy penalties under the provisions of the Act of Parliament, if they were not allowed the privilege of having, at any rate, their scheme inquired into. Under these circumstances, he ventured to hope that the House would at all events allow the Bill to be read a second time, with the view of referring it to a Select Committee.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he did not feel called upon to answer the appeal which had been made to him by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) to state the views of the Government upon this question, and particularly in regard to the scheme which had now been brought to the attention of the House. The difficulty of disposing of the sewage of the Metropolis without allowing it to fall into the River Thames was very serious and great indeed, and it had long been an object to get the local authorities to combine themselves in one district in order that they might act together in the matter. After considerable negotiation, in which the Department he had the honour to represent took an active part, the present board had been formed, and any proposal, representing after a very recent election so large a number of the ratepayers of districts adjacent to the Metropolis, was entitled to very careful consideration. The question was, whether the House would take upon itself on mere ex parte statements to put a stop to the measure, which was a bonâ fide attempt to perform the obligations cast upon the promoters by Parliament. The matter was one which deserved very serious consideration. He wished to avoid expressing any opinion upon the details of this Bill. His hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) said that a body like this ought not to be allowed to become, by compulsory purchase, the owners of a large sewer farm; but Parliament had the whole matter in its own 390 hands. The promoters had not come to the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order for reasons that were well known, and that had already been stated, and with which he did not quarrel. They preferred to come to Parliament for a Private Bill; and the question was, whether the House would, on the second reading of their Bill, take upon themselves the responsibility of stopping what they had every reason to believe a bonâ fide attempt of this recently elected body to carry out the provisions of an Act of Parliament? If they rejected the second reading of the Bill, the House would take a grave responsibility upon itself. It would be quite competent for the House, after the Bill had passed the Select Committee, to say, if they found on examination that the power would seriously interfere with private rights, that the Bill should not be permitted to pass into law. That would be a very different question from stopping it before it went into Select Committee. His own opinion was that, primâ facie, there were sufficient grounds to justify the House in permitting the matter to be sifted in Committee. He had no wish to state any views on the part of the Government; but, as representing the Local Government Board, who had been much concerned in the constitution of this district, and had assisted in its creation under the powers of the Public Health Act, for his own part, he should feel it his duty to vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HERSCHELL
said, it seemed to him that this was a question involving an extremely important principle which, from some circumstances that had occurred of late, had been very much forced upon his attention, and to which the hon. and gallant Baronet who had spoken a few moments ago (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) had alluded. Under this Bill, if it were to pass into an Act and become law, there was no doubt that private rights must be most seriously prejudiced, and that that which before the passing of the Act would be a nuisance, and which would give the right to compensation, would be, after the passing of the Act, a right against which no complaint could be made, on the ground that the Legislature had thought fit to subject the aggrieved parties to it, and had ignored their right to compensation. It would be said that the proper 391 course to have taken in the matter was to have appealed to the Legislature not to have passed the Act, and that it would be useless, after the Act was passed, to appeal to the law against the Legislature which had passed it. Now, if those persons whose rights would be affected, and whose property would be damaged if this Bill passed into law, could be heard to state their case before the Committee to whom the Bill was referred, if they had any locus standi to be heard against the Bill, no doubt a great deal might be said in favour of sending the Bill to a Committee; but as they all knew, the law as to locus standi had been so laid down and limited, that persons most vitally and deeply interested in the question whether or no a Bill should be passed into law, perhaps much more interested than the only people who had a locus standi to oppose it, were not permitted to appear in opposition to it. The result was that they shut the mouths of the only people who were really interested in the measure, because they had no locus standi to oppose it. Those who had a locus standi to oppose it might find no reason for fighting the promoters of the Bill. What was the result of such a state of things? The promoters, of course, laid their statement before the Committee, and produced evidence in favour of their scheme; those who had a locus standi had no great interest in opposing that which the promoters were doing; the Committee had no means of sifting the scheme, and so they passed it; the result being that they created a plan which might diminish by 50 per cent the value of the whole of the property of the district. Yet that Act passed into law, and having passed into law, the private property of individuals was taken away from them without one penny of compensation, and they were unable in a Court of Law to question the legality of the Act. That was a very serious and unsatisfactory state of things; and if they were to be told that those who had really the most vital interest in the measure were not to be heard, but that the question was to go before the Committee in the absence of those who were really interested, and who were not to be allowed to say—"You must not pass legislation of this kind that will affect my property without my being heard against it," the; question came, what was the proper time for objecting to the Bill? When 392 the matter came to be inquired into before a Committee, according to the regulations of the House, the locus standi Committee decided that those who had no locus standi were not to be heard. So far as he could see, the only opportunity afforded in this case to the opponents for opposing a Private Bill was upon the second reading. The question was one which had been brought under his attention in one or two cases recently wholly unconnected with the present Bill, and he alluded to it because he considered it an important matter of public interest. He had been interested in one or two cases where an individual's property was vitally and prejudicially affected. Under ordinary circumstances, the Legislature would not allow this to be done without granting compensation to the person who sustained an injury; but, in these particular cases, the aggrieved persons had no power to go before a Committee in order to insure any alteration in the Bill, or to claim compensation for the injury they sustained. If the persons so situated could show that, having regard to the position of their land and the position of this proposed sewerage farm, and also of the position of their neighbours' property, they were likely to be prejudiced by the plan submitted to Parliament without the possibility of obtaining compensation, he thought that would be a great case against the second reading of the Bill, and the only way in which their case could be laid before the House at all. It was said that the Bill would prevent the Thames from being polluted, and that it would save the inhabitants of London from, annoyance; but it was not stated in the scheme where the measure did anything of the kind, and it was doubtful whether it would not seriously affect the sources from which the Chelsea Water Company got their supply of water. That might not be a matter in which the hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury (Sir Andrew Lusk) took much interest, as he lived in another locality; but it was one in which he (Mr. Herschell) took a very serious interest, and which afforded to him a measure of serious consideration. He thought it was a matter of great importance, if this allegation were true, that the Water Company itself should have a locus standi. If the persons affected by this Bill were not to be heard on the second reading, how were their 393 rights to be protected? It was a very important question whether or not the owners of property situate around the proposed sewerage farm should have a locus standi before the Select Committee; and he submitted to the House that there ought to be very grave reasons given in support of the scheme, showing that it was the only practicable one, before they sanctioned such an injury to private property. Under all the circumstances, he should vote against the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. RAIKES
remarked that, as the House had already heard, this was a very singular and exceptional case, and one which was exceedingly likely to become a precedent of no small importance in dealing with similar matters hereafter. He had no doubt the House would allow him its indulgence for a minute or two while he endeavoured to point out one or two points in the matter, although he would be saved from inflicting upon them some of the matters involved, as they had already been referred to by other speakers, and especially by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell). He thought the House understood that the Bill was promoted by a public body appointed for a public purpose, that that body was a representative body, and that they had come into existence in consequence of an Act of Parliament passed in the year 1877. Those facts formed a reason why the House should regard with great consideration and respect a Bill emanating from such a source, especially when they were reminded, as they had been by the worthy Alderman the hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir Andrew Lusk), that the great question of public health was involved, although he (Mr. Raikes) did not quite agree in the views of the hon. Baronet on the matter. In dealing with the sewage of this very large district, he had no doubt the House was particularly anxious to come to a right decision with regard to the scheme which ought to be adopted. He did not think as a rule that the House was a most convenient place for discussing the merits of Private Bills. It was almost always better, as they knew, that the merits of Private Bills should be sifted by the ordinary tribunal of the House, where the parties could be heard much more in detail than was the case in the House 394 itself, and where plans would be submitted to the Committee, by which they would be greatly assisted in arriving at a just conclusion. There were, however, a very few cases, and he did not wish to include amongst them the case to which already reference had been made—namely, the Birmingham Sewage Bill, which was introduced a few years ago—there were a very few cases in which the House would only do right to exercise a veto of its own before a Bill wont to a Committee upstairs. He did not wish the action of the House in such a case as that of the Birmingham Sewage Bill to be passed into a precedent. With regard to the present Bill, there were special circumstances which had not occurred before, and might not occur again. There was also one very important circumstance that was sure to occur again; and as this was perhaps the first occasion on which it had come before them in any important shape, he desired to call the attention of the House to it. He referred to the public question in relation to the compulsory acquisition of a very large tract of land amounting, in this case, to 600 or 700 acres for the purposes of a sewage farm. There could be no doubt that when they came to deal with so large an area of land they were raising an important question with regard to public health, and it specially behoved the House to have an opinion of its own upon that point, that should, as far as possible, guide those who came afterwards as to the caution and care with which matters of this description should be considered. In regard to this particular Bill, as had been very well pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell), and also by his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), and by other speakers, there were very peculiar and exceptional circumstances, and they had those considerations which generally induced the House to send a Bill to a Committee existing in a much smaller degree— if, indeed, they existed at all—than was generally the case. The main reason for sending a Bill upstairs to be inquired into by a Select Committee was that the parties concerned might be heard and plans be submitted that would assist the judgment of the Committee; but, in this case, the parties most interested could not be heard—there was no 395 opportunity for the inhabitants of the district affected to appear before the Committee. Persons interested in San-down Park and other portions of the district were ratepayers, and consequently constituents of the promoters; although they were, in point of fact, only indirect constituents, because the drainage board was not elected by the ratepayers, but by the different corporations and local authorities, who, in their turn, were elected by the ratepayers. The ratepayers had, therefore, no opportunity of saying "aye" or "no" to the policy of the board, because the board was the indirect result, though not the direct outcome, of popular election. So far as the present plan was concerned, the Standing Orders of the House required that, in any Drainage Bill where there was a cut to be made exceeding 11 feet in width, plans should be deposited. He presumed that the promoters of this Bill did not propose to make a cut of that width, because no such plans were at present accessible to the House or to the opponents, and there was no certainty that such plans would be submitted. In point of fact, the opponents of the Bill were fighting the Bill entirely in the dark. They were quite unaware of the particular form which the distribution of sewage over this area was to take, and whether 700 acres of filth were to be thrown over the whole area, or whether it was only the centre of that property to which it was to be applied, nor did they know whether the river was to be polluted, or whether some new process was to be adopted to purify and cleanse the river. All they knew was that a great tract of land, in the very garden of Surrey, was to be devoted to this purpose, and that two rivers in the most interesting and picturesque part of the district were to be seriously affected. Under these circumstances, he thought the opponents of the Bill were justified in coming to the House to oppose the second reading. He was certainly of opinion that these were circumstances on which the House was as well able to form a judgment as any Committee. There was, however, above all, one point to which he wished to call the attention of the House. The drainage board of the district consisted of 32 or 33 members appointed under the Provisional Order Act of 1877, and it was brought into existence 396 mainly as the result of an understanding come to with the inhabitants, that they were, if practicable or possible, to carry this sewage outside the district. The main allegation put forward in support of the creation of the board in the first instance was that it would be able to represent a very large district, and thus secure the necessary funds for enabling them to carry out the works that would be necessary for carrying the sewage to a distance, and constructing the works that would be necessary to dispose of it. He was quite certain that all the gentlemen who were connected with the board were acting solely from a sense of public duty, and that they had adopted what they believed to be the best plan. But it must not be forgotten that the board had submitted to their judgment no less than 25 plans, and out of that number they had selected the present one; and it so happened that the scheme they had selected was the only one which it was necessary they should bring to Parliament, because it touched certain rights that could not be reached by a Provisional Order. If they had adopted any of the other 24 plans submitted to them, they would have been in the position of carrying it out, as Parliament intended they should do, by going to the Local Government Board for a local inquiry, in which case they would have obtained the assistance of one of those Inspectors of the Local Government Board, who were so well qualified to pronounce an opinion on this question by their experience and knowledge. He would have been sent down by the Local Government Board to hold an inquiry in the district which would be affected by the scheme, and before that inquiry every one of the ratepayers and residents would have had a locus standi. The House was now asked to carry the second reading of a Bill in order to shut out these persons, and to use the Forms of the House as a means of closing their mouths in opposition to the Bill. In point of fact, they were asked to use the Forms of Parliament in order to do that which it was the policy of Parliament to prevent. He had been somewhat amused at the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), who appeared there on this occasion as one of the champions of the measure. Now, he should like to know if it had been pro- 397 posed by the promoters of this scheme to take some obscure common—a corner of some out-of-the-way waste, where some half-a-dozen tipsy gipseys held a pic-nic two or three times a year— whether his hon. Friend would not have used all the Forms of the House to oppose it? The present Bill proposed to destroy an immense amount of valuable property, to diminish the case and comfort of a large portion of Her Majesty's subjects, and his hon. Friend appeared in his place to give them excellent constitutional advice as to the propriety of not rejecting the Bill. He (Mr. Raikes) trusted that he might be permitted to quote the authority of his hon. Friend on some subsequent occasion when he might have to meet him again. He thought he had now shown the House that there were special reasons why they should depart from their usual practice of reading a Private Bill a second time. He did not know in his experience, since he had held the Office of Chairman of Ways and Means, any case that had arisen which appeared to him to deserve more the decisive judgment of the House than the present. The House was in possession of every information to enable it to decide upon the principle which the Bill involved; and, for his own part, if the Bill went to a Division, he should feel it his duty to vote against the second reading.
§ MR. CHILDERS
hoped that, after a rather warmer speech from the Chairman of Committees than they were accustomed to hear on a Private Bill, the House would allow him to say one or two words on the case as it had been laid before them. Parliament would, of course, do what was just. They were told that this Bill, of the merits of which he knew nothing, would affect the interests of a very large number of persons, and yet, if the Bill went to a Committee, it had been ruled, according to the Chairman of Committees, as to locus standi, that those whose property was affected could not properly come before them. He was not prepared to admit that the House had not provided for cases of this kind; and, therefore, he would suggest to the House that the Bill should be referred, after it had been read a second time, to a Hybrid Committee. If it were referred to a Hybrid Committee consisting of a certain number of Members selected by 398 the House, and the remainder by the Committee of Selection, all those who were affected by the Bill and petitioned against it could be heard. The whole of the objections which had been raised by his hon. and learned Friend behind him (Mr. Herschell), and by the Chairman of Committees, could be laid, with the arguments of the promoters, in a proper way before the Committee, and justice would be done. He would therefore ask the House to pass the second reading of the Bill, and when it was so passed, to send it to a Hybrid Committee.
§ LORD GEORGE HAMILTON
said, it was with great reluctance that he took part in the debate, because he knew the House had a just and natural prejudice against ex parte statements made by individual Members on behalf of their constituents. But this case was of such an exceptional nature that he trusted the House would allow him to say half-a-dozen words. He appreciated the spirit of the objection which had been raised by the Chairman of Committees, and if it was true, as he stated, that those whose property would be affected would have no locus standi before an ordinary Committee, it seemed to him that the whole objection would be met by the House reading the Bill a second time, and then accepting the proposal of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Watney), and appointing a Committee of 11 Members, six to be appointed by the House and live by the Committee of Selection. Such a proceeding, as he understood it, superseded all ordinary rules of locus standi, and would give those who were in opposition to the Bill a locus standi. If that was the principal objection of his hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees, he hoped the course he suggested would remove it. The House would allow him to point out what injury would be done if this Bill were rejected on the second reading, and were not allowed to go before a Select Committee. The whole time he had had the honour of being a Member for Middlesex the question of sewage had been one of great difficulty. The reason was entirely through an Act of Parliament passed many years ago, which prohibited all local authorities on the Thames between Staines and London from allowing their sewage to pass into the River Thames as hitherto. The House would at once see the difficulty 399 in which every local authority in Middlesex was placed. The sewage must be got rid of, and the only outlet of sewage in the Thames Valley was the Thames. The local authorities, therefore, were in this difficulty—they were either liable to have an injunction served upon them to dispose of their sewage, or to a heavy penalty if they did not otherwise dispose of it. That difficulty went on year after year; and at last, in order to meet the special difficulty created by that Act of Parliament, the local authorities came to an agreement, after some consultation, and a special Act was passed, by which all the local authorities in the Valley, excepting two, combined together to meet the direct result of the Act. They met together, and formed a board, and they obtained an enormous amount of evidence; they had evidence from engineers, surveyors, sanitarians and others, and this board, which was the direct offspring of an Act of Parliament, had now deliberately selected one out of 23 schemes as that most likely to meet the requirements of the case. Now, he wished to ask the House, was it an encouragement to this board, which was the direct result of the legislation of this House, if, after a long and deliberate inquiry had been made by the board, this House ignominiously rejected the proposal which, in their judgment, was the best qualified to effect the desired object? He quite agreed that they ought to do nothing which would affect unfairly the rights of property, and he quite admitted it must be very unpleasant to those gentlemen who resided on the other side of the Thames, who might be in proximity to the sewage farm; but it seemed to him that on that account it was all the more necessary that this measure should be referred to some tribunal which would have the power, if necessary, and would have the opportunity of hearing all those statements pro and con.
§ MR. WATNEY
wished to say one or two words before the House divided. Two or three of the speakers had treated the matter as though the promoters of the Bill were bringing the sewage into the district. That was not so; the sewage was there; the sewage was now in the district, and was finding its way into the Thames. The great difficulty was how to deal with it; and he contended that it could not be better met than by 400 the proposition now before the House. At Croydon there was a large sewage farm, which had been in existence some years, and was going on satisfactorily. At any rate, if the House would not adopt this plan, the only way was for the sewage to find its way into the Metropolitan sewage, and so go down to the Thames. That was almost impossible, and he hoped the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill, and allow it to go before a Committee, before whom everyone could have a hearing.
§ MR. SERJEANT SPINKS
said, he could quite understand that his noble Friend the Member for Middlesex (Lord George Hamilton), acting for his constituents, highly approved of the course of bringing Middlesex drainage into Surrey. The Surrey people, of course, were not so much pleased at that state of things. But when the noble Lord referred to those 33 gentlemen who had looked at all those schemes, and had come to such an excellent conclusion, he would remind the House that they were not to be led away, and to suppose that those 33 gentlemen were unanimous. He thought he heard his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) state that there was a minority of 12 on that board, and a majority of 15; and there was this remarkable fact—that there being 33 members on the board, there were only 27 who voted, and the 15 who carried the scheme were absolutely not a majority of the board appointed for this important purpose. Therefore the House was asked to sanction this important scheme, when at the beginning they had notice that there were 12 men on the board who were opposed to it. What hope could the board have that they would bring any such scheme as that to a proper conclusion? Then the House were told they were to refer this Bill to a Hybrid Committee, and that would give all the public who had objections a locus standi. He pitied the Hybrid Committee, if it should be appointed under those circumstances. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people who were interested in this matter, and there was only one bar to their all appearing before the Hybrid Committee. He was sure their feelings would take them there, but for the misfortune which happened to so many peojde— that their pockets were not sufficient. 401 And they were to have, instead of the proposal that they now made—namely, that the House should decide the question—they were to have this herring of a Hybrid Committee trailed across the path, just when they they were about to come to a conclusion. And for what? What real question was there to be decided by the Committee? The House had the facts put before them. They had the fact that the sewage brought from a vast distance—the sewage of 118,000 people—was to be brought in a quiet and retired village, where people went for purposes of health, retirement, and comfort. All their comfort and the amenity of the place, would be entirely destroyed. The House had nothing more than that to decide upon; and what would be the result? There were cases before Committees where clauses might be introduced for the protection of one or two landowners and householders; but could clauses be introduced in this Bill for the protection of the hundreds of landowners and householders in this neighbourhood? And, therefore, it would be putting undue labour and trouble upon the Committee, and be, in fact, entirely and utterly unsatisfactory, because the people for whom they were appointing the Hybrid Committee would not be able to come there for want of funds. He did not propose to go further into the matter. All he would say was this— that he would beg the House to reject this Bill, which, if passed into law, would endanger the health and ruin the property of an indignant population.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 146; Noes 168: Majority 22.—(Div. List, No. 38.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.