HC Deb 08 June 1893 vol 13 cc493-504

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

* MR. PAULTON (Durham, Bishop Auckland),

in rising to move "That the Bill be read a second time upon this day six mouths," said, his opposition was directed only against the first of the two Provisional Orders included in the Bill, for with the merits of the second Order he was not cognisant or concerned. He did not see why it was necessary that two Provisional Orders—the one distinct from the other—should be included in the same Bill. But it seemed it was the practice, and he regretted that in opposing the Coventry Sewage Provisional Order be endangered the Shevington Provisional Order. In venturing to oppose the Second Reading of the Provisional Order Bill he was not asking the House to decide between the rival merits of the different schemes. His contention was that the interests involved were such as should not be interfered with by Parliament unless it could be shown that a necessity existed, and that there was no alternative. That, he believed, was a reasonable and proper Second Reading objection. At present the sewage of Coventry, with a population of 50,000, was conveyed to tanks at Whitly, a mile from the city, chemically treated there, and the effluent discharged into the River Sherbourne. The Corporation of Coventry found a difficulty in disposing of the sewage by this method at present, and they proposed that the sewage should be carried for a distance of three or four miles to Ryton Bridge, and there discharged in a crude state on lands along the banks of the river according to a system that was called "broad irrigation." He would remind the House that the system of broad irrigation had been found in many cases unsuccessful and objectionable, as in the case of Wolverhampton. The land in question consisted of long, narrow stretches running for three and a half miles on both banks of the River Avon. Confessedly, much of the land was unfit for the purpose for two reasons: first, because of its impervious nature, for it was composed of clay and hard marl; and, secondly, because it was subject to flooding. It must be apparent to the House that, as the land was subject to flooding in all seasons of the year, the sewage would be swept into the River Avon, polluting it to a great extent. He could quote from the evidence given before the Local Government Board inquiry to show that that would be the effect of the system. He assorted that it was contrary to public policy to divert the sewage of a great city like Coventry from its natural easement area or watershed to another distinct and even distant watershed; and he also asserted, on the authority of an eminent counsel, that to take compulsory powers for such a purpose was unprecedented, and could only be justified by a clear and absolute necessity or in the absence of an alternative, neither of which reasons existed in this case. He could quote from the evidence taken by the Local Government Board inquiry that there was no necessity for this particular scheme and that a suitable alternative did exist. But he had another strong reason to urge against the Provisional Order, on the ground of public interest. He did not stand there to defend the private interest of any individual, though Lord Leigh's name had been mentioned; but this he should say: that it would indeed be a very strange illustration of the irony of fate if, of all men in the world, Lord Leigh was subjected to injury at the hands of the followers of the present Prime Minister. The scheme would injure Stoneleigh Park, one of the most beautiful public parks in England. He said "public park," because it was at all times frequented by the public. It was the admired resort not only of the residents of the neighbourhood, but of English visitors and travellers from all parts of the world who come to visit the birthplace of Shakespeare. The park was also used for many public purposes, such as a camping ground for the Volunteers and Militia during their annual training. It was used, too, for the more peaceful purposes of public oratory, as his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary was aware; and it was also constantly and daily used for picnics and school treats. If anyone were inclined to smile at such purposes being described as of great importance, he asked them to remember that to the artisan population of the town and the hardworking schoolmasters such events were of real importance. He said emphatically that to run the risk of polluting the Avon, which flowed through the whole of this district, and to create a public nuisance by establishing a large sewage farm adjoining the park, was a thing he believed the House would not sanction if it could possibly avoid it. The scheme was opposed by the County Council of Warwickshire, and by the Avon riparian owners, and they had spent some thousands of pounds in their efforts to set aside the scheme. He would not go into the alternative scheme. It was, the enlargement of the present sewage premises and the filtering of the sewage through land suitable for the purpose; and the Corporation of Coventry had, on the advice of that eminent engineer, Sir Robert Rawlinson, purchased sufficient land for the purpose of carrying out the alternative scheme. It was not enough for the Corporation of Coventry to say that the present scheme was the cheaper scheme. Cheapness was not everything where the public interest was involved, and an absolute necessity for interfering with the public interest should be first shown. It was sufficient for his purpose to say that the engineer of the Corporation himself admitted that the alternative scheme was an efficient, a sound, and a feasible scheme. That fact had been practically admitted by the Local Government Board itself, for it was no secret that the Local Government Board, after the inquiry, asked or suggested to the Corporation of Coventry that it should give favourable re-consideration to the question of adopting the alternative scheme as opposed to the scheme now before the House. He would further say, as an indication of public feeling in Coventry—and he hoped he would not shock any hon. Members by saying it—that amongst the betting fraternity the odds were 4 or 5 to I against this Provisional Order being confirmed. He had asked to see the Report of the Local Government Board Inspector who conducted the inquiry, and he was told it was a confidential document. He made no complaint of that, though he understood it was not the uniform practice to refuse to show the Inspector's Reports—


It is the uniform practice.


said, he accepted the assurance of his right hon. Friend on the point. The reason he was anxious to see the Report was because he had been assured on very good authority that the Inspector had expressed himself as favourable to the alternative scheme in preference to the scheme contained in the Bill. Still, he was willing to assume—indeed he should assume—that in confirming this Provisional Order the Local Government Board were acting strictly in accordance with the Report of their Inspector. But he did not know that the Inspector reported specially in favour of the scheme contained in this Bill. He did not know that it was the duty of the Inspector to do so. So far as he was aware—and if he was wrong the President of the Local Government Board would correct him—it was no part of the duty of the Local Government Board, in considering or confirming a Provisional Order, to do more than to take care that the statutory conditions were complied with. The responsibility for the merits of the scheme and the successful carrying out of the scheme fell not on the Local Government Board, but on the Local Authority. The Local Government Board is not bound, and could not be held to be bound, to declare that any particular scheme was the best and only scheme. All that the Board had to do was to decide that the scheme submitted to them was a feasible and a fair scheme. It could not, therefore, be contended that it would be any reflection on the Department if, in the case of a Provisional Order involving serious questions of public importance, and affecting injuriously a beautiful and historic locality, the House of Commons refused to sanction it. There were absolutely no Party or political considerations involved in this matter. If he had chosen to import Party arguments into the discussion in favour of the rejection of the Provisional Order, they would certainly not be adverse to the Government of which he was a follower. He sincerely hoped that the question would be left an open question by the Government, as all Private Business should be; and he appealed to hon. Members on both sides of the House, who were mindful of the preservation of a district of historic interest from pollution by a public nuisance, to support him in the Amendment which he now begged to move.

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. Paulton.)

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

MR. FREEMAN-MITFORD (Warwick, Stratford)

said, there was an injunction which was laid in equity upon every individual, and which he ventured to think applied equally to Public Corporations—"Sic utere tuo ut alienum non Iædas." Now, in this case the "tuum" was the sewage of the City of Coventry; the "alienum" was the River Avon, and one of the most beautiful districts in the County of Warwick. The injury which would thus be inflicted upon a whole neighbourhood would only be justifiable in a case of the direst necessity. No such necessity existed here. Mr. Mansergh, the eminent engineer employed by the Corporation of Coventry, admitted this in his evidence at the inquiry held by the Local Government Board. He only preferred the pollution scheme on account of its cheapness. Major Fosberry in his evidence went a step further. He condemned the proposed scheme, firstly, on the ground that a sewage farm should not have more than one, or at most two, outfalls, as it was the manager's imperative duty to see the state of the effluent every day—perhaps two or three times in a day. Secondly, on the ground that there was great temptation to turn the sewage into the river when the crops did not need it. He had known this happen frequently. He went on to say— Open ditches or watercourses, as well as outfall drains, are a source of danger that, in my opinion, condemn the scheme absolutely. MR. Baldwin Latham, another civil engineer, admitted that a Corporation should not take its sewage to another watershed where it could be avoided. Mr. Mansergh admitted that, as far as he knew, such a course was unprecedented. Mr. Purnell, the city surveyor, cross-examined on the plan recommended by Sir R. Rawlinson, condemned it, and then was compelled to admit that be had no experience of sewage schemes. What, in these circumstances, justified carrying this unpurified sewage by open channels and drains on to land liable to flooding, so that the filth must be distributed on land not proposed to be acquired by the Corporation? All Warwickshire was up in arms against the scheme. The riparian owners wore opposed to it on account of the injury which it would inflict upon their property. The County Council were opposed to it on purely public grounds. The proximity of this mass of sewage on land liable to floods would render the village of Bubbeshall practically uninhabitable, while the amenities of several public roads and paths would be destroyed. Stoneleigh Park, which bad never been used for the selfish purposes of its owner, but had been thrown open to the public in the most generous way, would be ruined. Lord Leigh had a private rifle range, which was used by the Volunteers and by the Militia,, who were encamped there often—indeed, he believed annually—and the very water which was now filtered by them for drinking purposes was the water which this scheme proposed to befoul. One word more as to the sentimental aspect of the question, and it was one which they could not disregard. In these days, when so much care was expended to protect our ancient buildings and monuments, surely some respect was due to those natural features—not less interesting in the matter of history and tradition—in which our country was so rich. He made so bold as to say that if the River Avon were to be treated in the way proposed by this scheme, there would be a cry of indignation from every English-speaking country. What would the Americans say if they were told that the best use to which we could put the River Avon was to turn it into a common sewer? He thought that this question might safely be left to the justice and sense of the House of Commons, and he looked with confidence to the action of his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board, knowing well what a calm and judicial mind he brought to bear upon every subject that was committed to his care.

MR. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)

said, he was thoroughly acquainted with the district, and while he would not go so far as to say that the carrying out of this scheme would be a national calamity, he held that it would certainly be a Warwickshire calamity. Knowing as he did almost every foot of the locality, he had no hesitation in saying that the establishment of the sewage farm would be the greatest possible mistake. The River Avon, as had been stated, was continually subject to floods, and he had often seen the water extending for half a mile over the area in the locality of the proposed sewage farm. How anyone could have suggested a sewage farm in such a district he was at a loss to understand. He could not help feeling strongly that all that was required to meet the requirements of the Corporation was the enlargement of the tanks and the development of the present, system. It had worked, he believed, satisfactorily for many years, and he failed to see why the necessary extension could not be carried out at a comparatively slight expenditure of money. With regard to Stoneleigh Park, he could not refrain from saying he endorsed every word that had been said. Lord Leigh had placed his park almost entirely at the disposal of the public, and it was one of the places most habitually resorted to by the inhabitants of Birmingham and the district. It would be a great hardship upon the inhabitants and upon Lord Leigh if this scheme, which to his mind was quite unnecessary, was carried into effect.


said, he should like to state briefly the position of the Coventry Corporation. Coventry had of late years enormously increased, and the drainage system was absolutely inadequate to meet the wants of the population. The present system resulted in the pollution of a stream, called the Sherbourne and another stream, both of which were tributaries of the Avon; and the position the Corporation took up was that the proposed scheme would entirely free the Avon from pollution, which was the necessary outcome of the present system. In August of last year an injunction was obtained against the Corporation prohibiting them from discharging the city sewage into the Sherbourne, but the injunction was suspended for 12 months in order to give them an opportunity of formulating some new scheme. The Corporation thereupon consulted with the best advisers procurable, and Mr. Mansergh laid before them a scheme of broad irrigation which would, in his opinion, entirely prevent the pollution of the river. A Provisional Order was next applied for, and, as the result of a Local Government Board inquiry lasting nine days, the Provisional Order was granted. He concurred in every word that had been said with reference to Lord Leigh, who was one of the principal opponents of the scheme, and he was sure the Corporation felt also that he had acted with great liberality in throwing open his park for the use of the inhabitants of the district. They would not have undertaken this scheme, had they not been satisfied that Lord Leigh would not be affected in the slightest degree, and in support of that opinion he would read an extract from a letter written by the Town Clerk of Coventry to Lord Leigh. The Town Clerk wrote— I am desired to assure your Lordship that when the details of the scheme come to be considered, should it be found possible to remove your Lordship's objection by an alteration or modification, no effort will be spared consistently with the proper working of the scheme to meet your views. That extract sufficiently showed the attitude of the Corporation. In this matter the Corporation had the work forced upon them by a Court of Law, and in undertaking it they had had the best scientific advice with a view to protecting the rights and liberties of every inhabitant in the district.


I assure my hon. Friend (Mr. Paulton) that I shall not regard any decision of the House on this matter as a reflection upon the Department, or upon myself. This is a question in respect of which, as the House has already observed, there is a great deal of conflicting and contradictory evidence. It would require many hours to read the evidence submitted to me by both sides. The plain facts are these: The City Corporation have, in consequence of the injunction which has been mentioned, selected, under the advice of an eminent engineer, a plan which they think feasible. This plan has been carefully investigated by the Local Government Board, and the Corporation now ask for an opportunity of proving to the House whether it is not such a scheme as should in the ordinary way go before the Committee upstairs. The House, I think, will see that it is not a fit tribunal to undertake a judicial inquiry, and I therefore advise that the Bill should be read a second time, and be sent to the Committee, who will determine upon it in the ordinary way. I cordially concur with everything that has been said as to Lord Leigh, who is one of the most patriotic and public-spirited noblemen not only in the County of Warwick, but in all England. I do not say that it would not be well for the House to pause before inflicting upon him the slightest unnecessary injury. I am informed, however, by the Corporation that the scheme they propose will in no way injure Lord Leigh or affect his property. It is said we shall commit a crime against the civilised world by permitting the sewage to run into the Avon. I5ut it is running into the Avon now.


Yes, but it is purified now.


The difficulty of the case is that it is not regarded as sufficiently purified, and it is considered that the present scheme will remove a great deal of the existing nuisance. I am quite of opinion that the Bill should be sent upstairs to the Committee, which is one of the fairest tribunals in the country. Personally, I should be content if the Committee came to the conclusion that the scheme ought not to go forward. I granted the Provisional Order with very great reluctance and very great hesitation; but having come to that conclusion, I shall, if we go to a Division, vote against the Amendment, as I desire to give the Corporation the opportunity of defending their scheme before the Committee.

MR. LONG (Liverpool, Derbyshire)

said, that under ordinary circumstances he confessed that the arguments of his right hon. Friend ought to carry weight with the House. The almost universal practice of the House in the case of a Private Bill was to pass it through the Second Reading and send it upstairs to the Committee, where evidence on both sides could be heard. This case, however, was different from ordinary cases. The Bill was one promoted by a great Corporation, who had the city rates to fall back upon, whilst the opponents of the measure were called upon to provide the sinews of war out of their own pockets. There was little doubt, from what they had heard, that there was a great conflict of evidence on the matter, and it followed that the inquiry upstairs would not only be a long and laborious one, but a very expensive one. The Provisional Order system was a very good one, but he fully believed that a bad impression would be created against it if full justice was not done to the opponents of the proposal before the Order reached the House. It should be remembered that even the purse of a nobleman was not inexhaustible. He thought in this instance a very strong case had been made out why the Bill should not go upstairs, and he should, therefore, record his vote for the rejection of the measure.

MR. COBB (Rugby) Warwick, S.E.,

said, that as representing the Division mainly interested in this subject, he wanted to know why the President of the Local Government Board had not given them any clue as to the effect of the Report of the Inspector before whom the inquiry had been held? What was the use of having Inspectors to make inquiries if they had not afterwards the benefit of their advice?


The Reports are confidential documents, and I take upon myself the solo responsibility of the decision that has been arrived at on the matter.


said, he did not ask the right hon. Gentleman to lay the Report of the Inspector upon the Table of the House, but it was well-known whether the Reports were confidential or not—the main effect of them leaked out in almost every case. He was told distinctly that the effect of the Report of the Inspector in this case was against the scheme comprised in this Provisional Order and in favour of the alternative scheme. He was not there to look after the interests of Lord Leigh—Lords were generally well able to look after themselves—but he was there to look after the interests of his own constituency. He was confident, however, that if the Bill went upstairs it would most unjustly cost Lord Leigh hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds, in addition to his great cost of the preliminary inquiry. As a lawyer he knew something of the expense of these inquiries. He appealed to the House to reject the Bill, for he felt sure that if the alternative scheme was carried out it would, although costing a few hundreds more to the City of Coventry, be found to work satisfactorily, besides removing a great cause of dissatisfaction.

MR. ARCH (Norfolk, N.W.)

said, he hoped the Bill would be thrown out, because 25 or 30 years ago he had had painful experience in connection with the sewage of the town of Warwick, which was turned into the river and gave rise to great trouble. He did not see why some scheme could not be devised which would be of benefit to the public and remove from the neighbourhood any danger of pollution of the river or disease.


said, he would make a suggestion which, he thought, would remove a difficulty. Another Provisional Order was involved in the Bill, and it was hardly fair that that important Order relating to a town in Lancashire should be postponed for another year in the event of the rejection of the Bill. He would suggest to his hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment that he take the sense of the House upon this question by moving the Adjournment of the Debate. He himself should vote against the Adjournment, because he was in favour of the Second Reading; but should the House, by agreeing to the Adjournment, express themselves unfavourable to the scheme, he would withdraw the Order from the Bill.


said, that he would agree to that course on the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that he would consider the Motion for the Adjournment tantamount to a decision on the Main Question.



Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Paulton,)—put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

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