HC Deb 03 June 1892 vol 5 cc521-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order of the House of the 17th day of March, 1892, 'That, in the case of Bills reported from the Committee on Police and Sanitary Regulations, three clear days shall intervene between the date when the Report of the Committee is circulated with the Votes and the consideration of the Bill,' be suspended in the case of the Mersey and Irwell (Prevention of Pollution) Bill, and that the Standing Orders 84,214, 215, and 239 be suspended, and that the Bill be now taken into consideration, provided amended prints shall have been previously deposited."—(Mr. M'Lagan.)

(2.15.) SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

I have to oppose this Motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders, though I am afraid there are not many Members present whom I can hope to influence in opposition to the Motion. The Bill has been considered by the Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee, and if the Standing Orders are suspended now, and the Bill is carried through its stages now, it will not receive that attention which, under the peculiar circumstances, it ought to receive. The Bill is promoted by the Lancashire County Council, which has certain powers conferred upon it by the Rivers Pollution Act of 1876; but without any attempt to put those powers into execution, the Committee of the Council have introduced this Bill, which is of a very exceptional character. Of course, I cannot go through the evidence given before the Committee, which goes to show that the River Irwell does require relief from pollution. That something should be done to relieve the river from pollution there is no doubt; but the Rivers Pollution Act of 1876 gives the power to deal with it to the Local Authority under the authority of the Local Government Board. The Board is the impartial authority in the interest of the public, but this Bill seeks to get rid of this impartial tribunal in reference to these rivers, leaving the matter entirely with the County Council. The Local Government Board has reported on this Bill that it is of a very exceptional character in many respects, and that it proposes to put in force in this area to which it relates provisions altogether differing from those in operation in other parts of the country; that it proposes to confer powers of a very stringent character far in excess of the ordinary powers of County Councils and. Sanitary Authorities under the general law, and that it removes the safeguards Parliament has provided under the Rivers Pollution Act of 1876 in the interest of manufacturers and others, transferring the powers of the Board under that Act to a Joint Committee of the County Councils of Lancashire and Cheshire. The Police and Sanitary Regulations Committee, though they had this Report of the Local Government Board, yet have sanctioned this Bill; so far as I can see, the only reason they have for saying that this Act of 1876 is inefficient is that a long period has elapsed since 1876, but I scarcely think this is sufficient to alter the general law for a particular district. I wish to speak with the greatest respect of the judgment of the Committee, and I am sure the Chairman (Sir Francis S. Powell) acts on that Committee with the greatest impartiality, but I think he naturally is disposed to regard with favour the views of the County Council of Lancashire. Now it happens that we are asked to set aside the general law, and that hurriedly, in the absence of the President and Secretary of the Local Government Board and of the Chairman of Committees. So we have not a single representative of those who are specially entitled to speak on a matter of this kind. I do not know that anything is to be gained by pressing forward the Third Reading now, and. I ask the House not to suspend the Standing Orders, because I think Members should have due notice of what is proposed to be done. On a Motion for dealing with the Standing Orders, I cannot, of course, discuss the merits of the Bill, but I may say that my constituents are anxious that the river should be secured from pollution, but they wish that this should be done under the general law; and with the mitigating authority of the Local Government Board. They do not wish that legislation should be hurried through, and they fear that the incidence of the rating under the Bill will throw an undue proportion of the burden upon the occupiers. No doubt the hon. Baronet the Chairman of the Committee (Sir Francis S. Powell) will insist on the necessity of something being done, seeing that the river is in such a bad state; but while I assent to that, I am bound to say the feeling among my constituents is so strongly against this exceptional mode of dealing with the question that I shall, if I get a Member to tell with me, take the sense of the House on this Motion.


As Chairman of the Committee I may be allowed to say that I did not in Committee say that the Act of 1876 was to be condemned because it was passed sixteen years ago; but I did say that the defects in that Act were well known, and had been remedied partly by the passing of Local Acts and partly by the Public Health Act of 1890. The latter Act limits the restrictive features of the Act of 1876. It has been adopted by the authorities of various areas, including within their jurisdiction nearly 14,000,000 of people, among others, by the Corporation of Bury. More than that, there is a representative of the Corporation of Bury upon this Joint Committee, and to that extent the Corporation of Bury sanctioned the Bill. This fact was not without influence upon my mind when we came to a conclusion in favour of this Bill. My right hon. Friend has referred to the Report of the Local Government Board, and I think it is scarcely a proper use of those Reports to bring them thus before the House of Commons. Such a Report is not a mandate; these Reports are written for guidance and suggestion. They are often couched in strong language, and I have had on other occasions to soothe the susceptibilities of Members of the Committee who have taken exception to the departmental phraseology, which, I know, means far less than is said. It is the duty of the Committee to investigate all the circumstances of each case, including the suggestions in the Local Government Report; and this we did in the present instance. The Report says the Bill is of an exceptional character in many respects, and no doubt it is; but the whole circumstances are of an exceptional character, and require an exceptional remedy. The health of large populations is affected by the state or the river, which existing legislation has not been found effective to deal with. I sincerely hope the Bill will not be lost, for it is a matter of the greatest concern to Lancashire. It has the unanimous support of the County Council and of the Joint Committee, who have found the Rivers Pollution Act ineffective owing to its restrictions, and, indeed, that Act may be almost said to be a dead letter. It is the strong opinion of all having any local responsibility that the state of the river is dangerous both to the health and moral condition of the people near it, and that no time should be lost in dealing with the danger. The Bill does contemplate some diminution of the power of the Local Government Board, but the power it will confer on the County Authorities will, I believe, enable them to deal effectually with the evil, avoiding in this urgent condition of things long controversies with the Local Government Board. I am anxious not to occupy the time of the House, for time under present circumstances is precious. I am most anxious that this Bill should not be lost. I speak with a full sense of the urgent need of this legislation; I speak on behalf of the County Council, of the Joint Committee, and I am glad to speak on behalf of thousands—aye, of millions—of that working class whom I represent here, and whose lot I desire to ameliorate. I am quite sure that the Bill will be of the greatest benefit to the poorer populations, and that it will be regarded as a calamity if the Bill should be lost for this Session. I hope the House will, by a suspension of its Standing Orders, allow the Bill to pass its remaining stage, and it will, I believe, lead to a speedy removal of the evils under which the people have so long suffered.

MR. JACOB BRIGHT (Manchester, S.W.)

It would be a matter of extreme regret if the Bill were lost. As we have been told, the County Councils of Cheshire and Lancashire, and the Corporation of Manchester, and many other important places are in favour of it. The condition of the rivers Mersey and Orwell is an absolute scandal, and the necessity for the Bill cannot be questioned, so that I hope it will be allowed to pass.

(3.31.) MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

I should like to say a few words on the matter from a general point of view. I think it is most unfortunate that a Motion to suspend the Standing Orders should be brought forward in the way this has been brought forward. The House should never agree to any alteration of the general law of the land in favour of any particular district unless the strongest possible case is made out for it. I agree with the right hon. Member for Bury (Sir H. James), and think the people of Bury are entitled to some consideration in the matter. It cannot be said that the people of Bury are not anxious to do what is right, for the fact is proved by their having adopted the provisions of the Public Health Act, 1890. If exceptional treatment is to be dealt out, let it be done after full consideration, and I invite the House, not so much in the interests of the people of Bury as of the community at large, to hesitate before, in a hasty and ill-considered manner, they agree to the action of the Police and Sanitary Committee in setting aside the general law of the land in this case for the purpose of putting pressure on the people of Bury. I shall be pleased to follow the right hon. Gentleman into the Lobby as a protest against what I consider a hasty and ill-considered attempt to force the House to proceed in an unnecessary way in the case of Bury which would establish a dangerous precedent.

(3.37.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)

As I understood the arguments of the right hon. Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) they were in great part based on the fact that, owing to the existing system of rating, the Bill might press unfairly on a certain portion of the population. Even if it be so, as a Member of the Committee which sat on the Bill, I believe the evil is such a great one, that a question like the incidence of taxation in Bury is a small one in comparison. I have no connection with Lancashire, Cheshire, or any of the districts affected, and I say that if the House had heard the evidence it would recognise that the Bill is a necessity. It is no figure of speech, but a plain fact to say that the rivers of the district are open sewers. The population on the rivers' banks is increasing, and manufacturing works are proceeding rapidly, so that the evil is a growing one which must be dealt with. The Committee examined the matter carefully and impartially, and came to the conclusion that the existing law is inadequate to deal with it properly, and that in order to secure the health of the district the Bill is an absolute necessity. I hope the House will allow the Bill to pass.

(3.41.) MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S.E., Eccles)

I believe this Bill is a matter of urgent necessity for the district. I happen to have a certain interest in the Bill, as I believe my works send dye stuff into the river, and so far we may come under the Act. But, whatever inconvenience it may cause to us and other manufacturers, it is of urgent importance to Lancashire. The Manchester Ship Canal cannot be worked unless the Bill is passed. No attempt has been made to put an end to the pollution of the streams, and no hindrance ought to be put in the way of their improvement.

(3.43.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

As another Member of the Committee I listened to the speech of the right hon. Member for Bury (Sir Henry James) with considerable interest, and after doing so and hearing the speech of the hon. Baronet opposite, I have come to the absolute conclusion that nothing remains for the Members of the Committee but to stand by one another. I was unable to be in the Committee the last two days, but the evidence I did hear tended to show that the Manchester Ship Canal would be nothing less than an open sewer unless the Bill were passed. Evidence in support of that was given by the County Councils of Cheshire and Lancashire, and I shall, therefore, support the right hon. Baronet.


I wish to correct one point of fact. The hon. Baronet said that the representatives of the Bury Council before the Committee had agreed to the scheme. As a matter of fact, a very able representative, Mr. Maxwell, dissented from it.

Question put.

(3.46.) The House divided:—Ayes 71; Noes 6.—(Div. List, No. 182.)


After this rather decisive majority, I shall not pursue the matter further.

Bill considered.

Ordered, That Standing Orders 223 and 243 be suspended, and that the Bill be now read the third time.—(Mr. Caldwell.)

Bill read the third time, and passed.

Forward to