HC Deb 25 February 1886 vol 302 cc1342-4

My object in giving Notice of the Motion which appears on the Paper in my name was to call attention to the existing law for the prevention of pollution in rivers, and the defects therein with reference especially to the River Lea; and to move— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the condition of the River Lea, and to make such recommendations as may appear necessary. But I am glad to say it will not be necessary for me to trouble the House at any length upon this subject. I prepared this Motion as a private Member, and then had an opportunity of consulting the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) and President of the Local Government Board (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and I received the assent of these right hon. Gentlemen, who agree in the desirability of this Committee being appointed. Similar assent was given by the present Homo Secretary (Mr. Childers) and President of the Local Government Board (Mr. J. Chamberlain), and, with the permission of the House, seeing that there is a general concurrence as to the desirability of the Committee, I am content to move for its ap-appointment without further observations.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the condition of the River Lea, and to make such recommendations as may appear necessary."—(Mr. Attorney General.)


It would be ungracious and unreasonable to complain of the statement of the Attorney General being short and unsatisfactory. At the same time, I would venture to remark that, according to my experience, the duties of a Select Committee on a particular subject are facilitated very much if something like guidance and light is given to them in the discussion accompanying the Motion for their appointment. This appointment is in connection with the River Lea. I should like very well to see the provisions of the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act examined by a Committee, especially in connection with such an important matter as it proposed to refer to this Committee. However, at present, I only wish to guard myself in this way by saying that whenever a subject is brought before a Select Committee without any particular guidance on the part of the House, there is apt to be a little confusion or delay, and perhaps some unsatisfactory result, which might have been prevented by more full and complete discussion.


I would venture to occupy the time of the House for one moment on this subject. I submit that it is most desirable that this Committee should be appointed. I represent the Division of Hackney through which the River Lea takes part of its course, and I have been communicated with by my constituents on the subject of the condition of the stream. I also have had the honour of presenting a Petition on the subject.


I wish to say, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth), that I am obliged to him for not being hard on me for my reticence, as the Motion was unopposed. I desired to save the House the trouble of listening to a statement hardly necessary under the circumstances. I trust that this Committee may have the benefit of the services of the right hon. Gentleman, who took such an important part in the legislation on the subject, and in connection with the Bill of 1876. Any- one with experience of the working of the existing law and of the condition of the River Lea, must see that the law requires considerable amendment.


It is rather unfortunate that the subject actually referred to this Committee is so restricted. I am aware that the River Lea is in a bad condition, and that it is urgent that something should be done; but I think there are other rivers which require to have something done to them. The river that flows through my own county —the River Severn—is being more and more polluted every year by the amount of sewage poured into it. It seems to me, therefore, that the Committee should not be entirely restricted to the Lea. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) must be well aware that while the Act, the passage of which he facilitated, is excellent, so far as its provisions go, there is this great defect in the state of the law—that it is exceedingly difficult to put it in force. What is wanted is something to enable the law to be put in force, and if the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General) should be able to throw some light on that question, so far as all rivers are concerned, I, for one, should be glad.

Motion agreed to.