HC Deb 31 March 1887 vol 313 cc39-52

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time"—(Sir Charles Forster.)


I rise to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a third time on this day six months, and I do so with the greatest confidence that this House will not refuse to listen to the bitter cry of the large and dense population in my constituency, who are absolutely unanimous in objecting to this measure. And when I speak of the objection of my constituents, I can assure the House, from personal know-ledge, that that term is altogether inadequate to describe the local feeling which exists throughout North Kensington. That feeling is one of absolute terror and panic, and in a very few words—because I fully appreciate the importance of the Public Business which will follow this discussion—I will endeavour to justify that feeling on the part of my constituents to the House. The first thing I would ask the House is, why should Parliament force on an unwilling people that for which no one is particularly anxious now, and that which the persons who are affected by it absolutely loathe and detest? It is admitted by the promoters that those in favour of the Bill in the Kensington Vestry have, by the recent elections—at any rate, as far as regards the representation of North Kensington.—dwindled almost to the vanishing point. Those who still persistently cry out for the passing of this Bill are mainly resident in South Kensington, far away from the site where it is proposed to erect the refuse destructor under this Bill. An obvious answer to those gentlemen who seem to think that the erection of this destructor will be such a delightful and agreeable thing is, why do they not keep it themselves, instead of bringing it to North Kensington? It is asserted in a statement of facts which was put into my hands as I entered the House, bearing the name of the solicitors to the Vestry, that the Bill was a permissive Bill. Well, Sir, technically speaking, I suppose it is a permissive Bill; but, practically, it is not a permissive Bill. If the Bill passes the Vestry of Kensington will, I believe, be legally bound, and if not legally they will certainly be morally bound, to incur a very large expenditure, probably, at least, to the extent of purchasing the land on which this destructor is to be built. There is, however, this peculiarity about the constitution of the Kensington Vestry—namely, that it consists of only 48 members from North Kensington, while there are 72 members who are returned from South Kensington. This is not because North Kensington is not equal in population; but because North Kensington is not equal in wealth and rateable value to South Kensington, to which, for parochial purposes, it is tied up. Now, Sir, if this great expenditure is incurred under the Bill, I will put it to hon. Members of this House, most of whom are probably familiar with the working of Local Bodies of this sort, would it be possible for Vestrymen representing South Kensington, who form the vast majority of the Kensington Vestry, to go back to their constituency and to propose that, although the land has been bought and this enormous expenditure has been in- curred, yet the intentions of the Bill itself, as permitted and sanctioned by this House, should be neglected and thrown aside? My own opinion is that it would be impossible for them to go to their constituency with such a story as that; and, therefore, I ask the House to believe that this Bill is in no way whatever a permissive Bill. It is quite true that it would have been made a permissive Bill if the Amendment suggested by the hon. and learned Member for the Barnstaple Division of Devonshire (Mr. Pitt-Lewis) had been carried when the measure was last under discussion; and I believe that that was the consideration which was dwelt upon by the hon. Member for the Bodmin Division of Cornwall (Mr. Courtney), and by many other Members, in the debate which took place on that occasion—namely, the consideration that that Amendment had been accepted by the promoters, and that the fact would influence many Members in declining to vote for the rejection of the Bill. But when the Amendment was actually proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Barnstaple it will be remembered by the House that the great authority of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) was adduced to show that the Amendment itself was in principle un-Constitutional. Of course, the Amendment, after such a statement as that, was rejected by the House without a Division, and this fact, I think, ought to embolden those hon. Members who are opposed to the Bill to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian, and those who voted with him the other day, to reconsider their attitude with regard to the Bill itself. There is another consideration which very likely influenced hon. Members in the opinion they formed with regard to the Bill, and that is a sort of vague idea that the scientific evidence adduced before the Select Committee had proved distinctly that a destructor was a very excellent mode of getting rid of the refuse and offal of populous neighbourhoods. We do not dispute that for a moment. We never have disputed the scientific evidence We admit that if a destructor can be so well managed that there will never be any negligence on the part of those employed in the work of cremation, that there will be no break down in the machinery, and that nothing will happen to impede the regular course of the destructor— under such circumstances we admit that it is possible a destructor might be rendered, to some extent, innocuous. But, at the same time, we cannot help remembering the old axiom that one ounce of fact is worth a ton of theory is a case like this. Hon. Members who supported the Bill relied very widely on the experience which had been derived from the Whitechapel destructor. One hon. Gentleman, the Member for South Kensington (Sir Algernon Borthwick), told us that he had visited Whitechapel in order to inspect the destructor, and that he had hardly been able to find it, so innocent an erection was it. Now, I hold in my hand a report of a meeting this month of the Whitechapel District Board of Works, and in that report I find a letter from a well-known clergyman in the East End of London—the Rev. S. A. Barnett, the Vicar of St. Jude's, Whitechapel—and I will ask the permission of the House to read one or two lines from that letter. Before I do so, however, let me ask the House to remember that it was an admitted fact that the Kensington destructor was to be erected close to a place where there are several very large schools, attended by no less than 6,000 children. Another fact, also admitted, is that the staple industry of the locality in which it is proposed to put up this destructor, in North Kensington, is the laundry industry, which, at any rate, requires a certain amount of reputation in connection with cleanliness and health. After that premise I will read a short extract from the letter of the Vicar of St. Jude's about the Whitechapel destructor, the operation of which has been so much relied upon by those who are in favour of the Bill. He says— Dear Sir,—When the destructor was started in this neighbourhood, I refused to take any part in opposing your plan, holding it to he my duty to support you in a reform…. Now, however, after some months' experience, I do make a formal complaint, that the chimney deposits a large amount of light, partially consumed paper-ash. This falls so thickly as to cover the ground, and in one case to stop a gutter. Such accumulation of dirt is bad for us who are able to use water and employ service; it is much worse for the poor in the neighbourhood, whose health and wealth are alike affected, Now, I put it to the House if it is reasonable that such a state of affairs as this, which is acknowledged to exist in the case of the destructor which has been put forward as a typical destructor, and which has been relied upon in support of the Bill—I put it to the House whether it is reasonable to suppose that such a state of affairs as is described in this letter is calculated to improve or to injure the trade of those employed in the laundries, to improve or to injure the health of the children who may have to play about under the shadow of this chimney? I will ask the House to consider this one fact. Granting that all the scientific merits of the destructor have been fairly stated; granting that it produces no nuisance whatever, still I venture to maintain that it cannot be denied by anyone —call it prejudice, or whatever you like—that very few fathers and mothers of families would not refuse to send their children's clothes to be washed next door to a destructor of this kind. For the same sum of money they can send their clothes to South Kensington, or West Islington, or any other locality in which laundries are to be found. It seems to me perfectly inhuman to make scientific experiments like this in a locality where the poor people who inhabit it have mainly to depend upon this laundry industry. It has been stated that the erection of the destructor will be a saving of something like £3,000 a-year to the ratepayers, and gradually the saving has teen worked up to something like £6,000 a year. I would ask the House to remember that these figures come from an entirely ex parte statement, which has never yet been verified by the Kensington Vestry, or by any other responsible authority. I would, therefore, ask the House to receive the figures with, at any rate, a certain amount of doubt. They are figures which are not borne out by the expenditure incurred in this very Whitechapel destructor of which so much has been said on the other side, because I find that at the very meeting at which Mr. Barnett's letter was read there was also read a Report from the Surveyor, in which he states that there have been repairs and alterations required in connection with the Whitechapel destructor, and therefore that the saving originally anticipated is not borne out by the actual facts of the case. Indeed, it would appear that any saving at all is very problematical in our case, where the ratepayers of North Kensington are asked to sink a large amount of capital in the purchase of land and the setting up of bricks and mortar in the erection of furnaces and a large chimney. But will anyone hold for a moment that the question of the disposal of the refuse and offal of London is absolutely settled at this moment in favour of destructors? Why, Sir, we Metropolitan Members, at any rate, know that at any moment a scheme may be devised for the utilization of all this refuse; and directly such a scheme is brought forward, at that very moment the whole of this large capital which the ratepayers of Kensington are to be forced to expend against their wishes will be lost. For these reasons I implore the House to listen to what the ratepayers of Kensington urge in their own behalf. And, in conclusion, I beg to move that the Bill be read a third time on this day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Sir Roper Lethbridge.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)

I have listened to what my hon. Friend has said in regard to the injury the erection of this destructor is likely to inflict upon the poorer inhabitants of North Kensington. A similar statement was made on the last occasion when the Bill was under discussion. Now, I sympathize as strongly as anybody with the poorer inhabitants of the Metropolis; but I am bound to say that, having presided over the Committee appointed by the House to inquire into the merits of the Bill, I do not think there is the smallest shadow of foundation for the fears which have been expressed. I should certainly be the last person in the world to force upon a locality an erection of this kind against the wishes of the inhabitants if I believed that it could, by possibility, injure either their health or industrial pursuits. But as to the merits of the Bill, neither I nor any other Member of the Committee ever entertained the smallest doubt, and I am still of opinion, that if this destructor is put up no injury will ensue to the inhabitants, but that, on the contrary, great advantage will be conferred upon them. The Committee believed that this was the best, the cheapest, and the most satisfactory way of accomplishing the object desired; and, having heard all the evidence and carefully considered it, we arrived at the conclusion that the site selected is the best site upon which this erection could be placed. My hon. Friend has referred to the destructor at Whitechapel, and he spoke of it as a typical example of destructors in general, and the example which is going to be followed in the case of Kensington. He then went on to contend that the destructor at Whitechapel has altogether proved a failure, and to urge its failure as a reason why the House should reject the present Bill. Now, the Committee had a great deal of evidence in regard to the Whitechapel destructor, and I wish to point out that the two cases were not at all identical. Conclusive reasons were given to the Committee to account for the failure in Whitechapel, and one was that there was no catch. In this Bill a special provision has been inserted to supply that omission. I will only add that, having made the Bill a subject of careful and prolonged consideration, and having come to the conclusion that the provisions contained in it are satisfactory, I think it is only reasonable on my part that I should ask the House on this occasion to support the decision unanimously arrived at by the Committee.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I do not propose for a moment to enter into the merits of this destructor. It is obvious that that must be a matter which can only be decided by a Committee. The Committee over which the right hon. Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolshire (Mr. Chaplin) presided no doubt inquired into the matter. They formed their conclusions according to the evidence submitted to them; but that, Sir, is not the point. The point is this. This Bill was promoted by the Kensington Vestry; but the Kensington Vestry have themselves, on further consideration, turned against the Bill. Now, in 1886—on the 14th of July—the Kensington Vestry passed a Resolution against the Bill. The only reason why the Bill was not withdrawn in consequence was that in a Vestry, when a Resolution has been passed, it is necessary to have the assent of a two-thirds majority in order that such a Resolution may be rescinded. On the previous occasion, when the Bill was brought up from the Committee, and I moved that it should not be accepted, I presented a Petition from 55 members of the Kensington Vestry. The Kensington Vestry consists of 112 members, of whom eight are official members. Probaby hon. Members will say that 55 is not one-half of 112; but, as a matter of fact, a good many of the Vestry were not able to sign the Petition, and, practically, the 55 who did sign it represented the majority of the Vestry. At the time the hon. and learned Member for the Barn-staple Division of Devonshire (Mr. Pitt-Lewis), who was also a member of the Vestry, was desirous of moving the insertion of a new clause in the Bill, which would really have had the effect of settling the measure. It was because some of the Vestry were of opinion that if the Bill was to be killed it had better be killed in that manner than by the open rejection of the House that the Bill is now before us. It would otherwise have been thrown out on my Motion. All parties, however, are now pretty much agreed, and I have very little doubt that the Bill will be thrown out to-day. So little doubt have I, indeed, that I would suggest to the right hon. Member opposite (Mr. Chaplin), whom I believe to be one of the strongest opponents of obstruction in this House, that, having in view the important Business which is to follow, he should not put the House to the trouble of a Division.

MR. ISAACS (Newington, Walworth)

If the Amendment proposed by the hon. and learned Member for the Barnstaple Division of Devonshire (Mr. Pitt-Lewis) had not been rejected by the House, those who, like myself, are opposed to the erection of this destructor would not have felt it necessary to occupy the attention of the House in asking it to review the decision which has already been arrived at. It has been by no means settled as yet what the best mode of dealing with town refuse may be— whether the mode suggested in this House, or some other. I would venture to call the attention of the House to the case of a large and important parish in London—the parish of St. Mary's, Newington—one Division of which I have the honour to represent. The whole of the refuse of that parish, so far from being destroyed, is dealt with and sent into the country, where it becomes an article largely sought for by farmers. The parish authorities, by the mode in which they deal with this refuse, have been able not only to defray the cost of collection, but to effect a considerable saving to the ratepayers. That being so, I say emphatically that, in regard to this question, the parish of Kensington is decidedly in the wrong, and that it would be impolitic to erect this destructor. Why not consent to treat the dirt and refuse of Kensington in the same way as the dirt and refuse of 8t. Mary's, Newington, have been treated? In St. Mary's, Newington, it is sent into Kent down the River Medway; and if the stable and road refuse of London were collected and sent to the agricultural parts of the Kingdom, so far from it being necessary to destroy such refuse, I am satisfied that it would be eagerly sought after, and become not only an economical but a paying mode of dealing with the matter. Then, again, the parish of Kensington is admirably situated for carrying on operations of that kind. It has water communication with the Thames, a canal runs through it, and it also has the advantage of an extensive system of railways, by means of which the whole of this refuse may be conveyed into the country. Therefore, I would ask the House not to allow material of this nature, which is so valuable when properly treated, to be put into a destructor and lost to the ratepayers of the parish. I also object to the Bill because, as I said on the last occasion, the site selected for the erection of the destructor is eminently un-suited for the purpose, and I cannot help saying that the Kensington Vestry seem to be animated by a selfish motive in the selection of this site. The Kensington people, not content with destroying the refuse in their own parish, have selected a spot for carrying on the work of destruction which is situate on the confines of the borough of Hammersmith, and I ask the House not to inflict so grievous an injury upon another parish as would be involved in the erection of this de- structor In common justice to Hammersmith, the inhabitants of that district ought to be relieved from the prospect of being subjected to such a nuisance. We have heard something about no scientific evidence having been adduced on the part of those who object to this Bill. Surely it is an insult to the poor people whose interests are at stake to ask them why they have not been able to find the money that would have been necessary to oppose the Bill. If the promoters had selected some other site— if they proposed to erect this destructor in Kensington Palace Gardens, where the land lying between the houses and the Park is open, I have no doubt that we should have had many hon. and right hon. Members who would have found sufficient expert evidence against the measure. If an attempt had been made to place the destructor on Campden Hill, which, considering that it is the highest point in the district, would have been the most suitable site, we should have had the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for England (Sir Richard Webster) and the hon. and learned Member for the Barn-staple Division of Devonshire (Mr. Pitt-Lewis) ready to give evidence in favour of the rejection of the scheme. I trust that, considering all the facts of the case, the House will be prepared to say that the inhabitants of Kensington, and especially of the adjacent borough of Hammersmith, are not to be afflicted with the grievous nuisance proposed to be created by the Bill.

SIR HENRY ROSCOE (Manchester, S.)

I believe the difficulty the Committee had to contend with in considering the case of the opponents of the Bill was not so much the scientific evidence which was produced as the fact that no scientific evidence whatever was forthcoming. Now, it appears to me that this is the very best method of dealing with the refuse of largo towns. In all the large towns of the North of England this process is adopted and satisfactorily carried out, and if the arrangements are complete and proper, I do not see how there can be any difficulty in dealing with the matter. I would remind the House that the merits of the Bill have been fully investigated by a Committee upstairs. Therefore, I trust that the House will support the Bill, and I shall certainly give my own vote in favour of the third reading.

SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

I do not profess to know anything about destructors; but I know what the requirements of the parish of Kensington are, and I have seen the ground upon which it is proposed to place this erection. Now, so far as it is proposed to devote a part of that ground to purposes of recreation, I think it is impossible to find ground better suited for the purpose. It possesses a considerable variation of level, and could without much difficulty be converted into ornamental gardens. I would, therefore, suggest to the House that as the Bill has gone so far, having already passed through Committees of the two House3 of Parliament, and seeing that we have been told, on the highest authority, that it is a permissive Bill, "we should now allow it to pass, so that the Kensington Vestry may be able, hereafter, to decide upon purchasing the land. I think they would do well to buy it, and, having bought it, then to come to a conclusion whether it should be devoted altogether to the purposes of recreation, or whether part of it should be utilized for the erection of a destructor, and the other part devoted to purposes of recreation. I confess myself that I should not raise any objection if the conclusion arrived at were to devote the whole of it to purposes of recreation. My only point is that we should give the Kensington Vestry the opportunity of obtaining possession of the land, and then leave them to settle among themselves how they would utilize it.

SIR EDWARD GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)

The main reason which has been assigned by hon. Members for refusing to adopt the Report of the Committee is that the Kensington Vestry is not now in favour of erecting this destructor. Now, I may say that the Kensington Vestry have already on four occasions, whatever their present opinion may be, decided in favour of putting up a dust destructor, and it is not improbable that they may so decide again. If this Bill is thrown out, the Vestry will be put to the trouble on a future occasion of promoting a fresh Bill, and of incurring a very considerable amount of expense, which the passing of this Bill will render unnecessary. The whole case was fully gone into before the Com- mittee, who considered various plans for getting rid of town refuse. It was proved that the destructor would reduce the refuse to one-sixth of its bulk, and having been reduced to ashes the refuse itself, instead of being dangerous to health, would become perfectly innocuous. It was also proved that the site at South Kensington is the most satisfactory site for the erection of a dust destructor that can be selected, and it was further shown that there would be a positive saving to the parish in collecting and disposing of its refuse in this way. If the destructor is not erected, the refuse cannot be disposed of by sale, but must be carted away and placed on open spaces where it must necessarily become dangerous to the health of the surrounding population. In addition to that evil I may remind the House that the open spaces which now exist in the Metropolis are every year being built upon, and any houses built near such deposits of refuse will be most unhealthy. It was upon these grounds the Committee considered that the erection of a dust destructor would be the most satisfactory way of getting rid of this refuse, and they inserted a provision in the Bill to insure that it should be properly managed. I therefore appeal to the House to support the decision of their Committee and consent to the third reading of the Bill.

MR. PITT-LEWIS (Devon, Barnstaple)

As I moved last week an Amendment which was rejected by the House, I wish to say that although I have not the honour to be a member of the Kensington Vestry I am a resident in that parish, and have taken great interest in this question. I may say at once that I intend to vote against the third reading of the Bill. No doubt, if it were possible to insure that the site should be converted into a recreation ground if the Bill is passed, that would be a desirable object, and the object I had in view in proposing my Amendment was to obtain the land for purposes of recreation. But what happened? I proposed the insertion of a clause in order to prevent the inhabitants of the parish from being again surprised. I am certainly not satisfied, if the Bill passes as it stands, that the inhabitants may not at some future period be surprised into the erection of this destructor. There is only one point more that I desire to call attention to. I am reminded that even in regard to this House a Committee was appointed last year to inquire into the unsavoury smells which were found to exist in some parts of it; and if that is the case here, where such precautions are taken to insure proper sanitary arrangements, is it not more than probable that the erection of this dust destructor in a crowded district in North Kensington would become a source of injury and danger to the health of the inhabitants? I maintain that the destructor itself stands condemned by the Report of our own Committee last year. The White-chapel destructor was originally approved by the Rev. Mr. Barnett, and I believe he was one of the witnesses who proved that it had not been injurious to the health of the locality. But what does Mr. Barnett say at this moment about the Whitechapel destructor? Let me mention another fact. The Vestry of Richmond put up a destructor in that parish some time ago; but the case went into the Court of Chancery, and, after hearing evidence, the Court pronounced it to be a nuisance and ordered it to be removed. Then let the right hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) go down to Richmond and put up his improved destructor there. If he can convince the Court of Chancery that it is an improvement, and that everything in the shape of a nuisance has been got rid of, it will be an admirable advertisement for the destructor; but if it proves to be a failure, as I fear it would, he will have to pay the cost of the experiment. In the event of success, the Vestry can come to the House again next year, and will be able to promote a Bill which will satisfy everybody. I will not trouble the House further; but I say emphatically that, living in the neighborhood, I know a good deal about this question, and am convinced that the erection of this destructor is not only not desired by the vast majority of the inhabitants, but that it would injuriously affect the health of the population of this densely crowded neighborhood. I am myself the chairman of a committee which has been appointed for taking the matter up, and I know that the greater part of the parishioners object to the Bill. It was only by accident that they became alive to the danger with which they were threatened. We have no wish to give a further opportunity of having this provision forced upon us at a time when we are not aware of what is going on.

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

I am well acquainted with the district in which it is proposed to put up this destructor, but the object of this Bill was only brought to my notice on the morning of the day on which it came on for discussion. The people of the locality have long had an idea that they ought to have a recreation ground, and that such recreation ground ought to be formed upon the very piece of ground which the Kensington Vestry propose to devote to the collection and destruction of the refuse of the parish. I conceive that it would be absolute nonsense to spend a large sum of money in providing a recreation ground, and then to erect a nuisance of this description upon it. ["Oh!"] I am speaking of what I know. The inhabitants of the immediate neighborhood are almost to a man against the destructor being erected, and if it is likely to be so delightful a thing, why does not the parish of Kensington have it placed nearer to the residences of the richer people—why force it upon this poor neighborhood, where the poorest class of the people live? According to the evidence, the inhabitants who will be most affected know nothing about the intentions of the Vestry. I have taken a very active part in the local affairs of that district, and I certainly knew nothing whatever about it. I knew nothing at all about the Bill until it was brought before the House, and how is it possible for the poor people of the district to fight the Bill of the Vestry in circumstances of this kind? I hope the House will reject the Bill by a substantial majority.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 103; Noes 164: Majority 61.—(Div. List, No. 83.)

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Third Reading put off for six months.

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