HC Deb 22 July 1901 vol 97 cc1219-34

Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question [8th July], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)

said that there had been no attempt on the part of the Government to explain the Bill. In 1863 Parliament for the first time passed an Act with a view to protecting the public against the discharge of noxious gases from alkali works. In 1874 the law was extended to additional works. In 1878 the matter was the subject of a Royal Commission, and in 1881, on the Report of that Commission, an Act was passed which practically the present Bill sought to amend. In 1892 a number of additional works were put under the Act of 1881, and with the exception of the Act of 1892, the Act of 1881 remained without alteration. The present Bill sought to amend the law in some very important particulars, and he noticed that it was very peculiar in its construction. It was drafted in a most unusual and most unbusinesslike fashion. It sought in one clause to amend four different sections of the Act of 1881, two of which related to Part 1 and two to Part 2 of the Act. That was not a practical method of dealing with the matter. There was no reason whatever why each section should not be amended separately, and the Government had introduced a certain amount of confusion, because they thought they could get a single clause Bill more quickly through the House. He recognised at once the importance to the country of manufactures of this kind, even if they might give off obnoxious and offensive gases, because it was good that we should have varied employment for the working classes of this country; but on the other hand, the State had its duty to perform towards the general public. He laid down the general principle that while the State should protect these manufactures so far as it was necessary to ensure the working of a particular manufacture, yet on the other hand everything should be done that could be done consistently with commercial profit to protect the public from obnoxious or offensive fumes. The present Bill was to amend Clauses 3 and 4 of the Act of 1881, and it further amended Clauses 8 and 9 of the same Act, which related to sulphuric acid works. With regard to alkali and other works embraced in Section 3 of the Act of 1881, the Bill did not in any way alter Sub-section A of that section, but when they came to Sub-section 2, which amends Sub-section 4 of the Act of 1881, muriatic acid was mentioned for the first time. The Bill did not really intend to make any change in the existing law with regard to the escape of muriatic acid into the atmosphere, and the introduction of Sub-section 2 in the clause of the Bill did not, so far as muriatic acid was concerned, inflict any hardship whatever upon the trade. The amount of condensation by statute was fixed at 95 per cent., but if they looked into the reports of the local inspectors they would find that the average condensation was only 90.53, so that the requirement of the Act was by no means a stringent requirement, as the working of the Act for the last twenty years had shown. As regarded the amount of muriatic acid which escaped in the coal and other gases, the amount was fixed by the statute at one-fifth part of a grain, but the average as shown by the inspectors' reports was one-fourth below the statutory limit. From that it would appear that the statutory limit which was introduced into the Act of 1874, and retained in the Act of 1881, and which it was not now proposed to alter by this Bill, was an exceedingly low one, and he suggested that advantage should be taken of this amendment of the law in order to raise the limit, for this reason, that when Parliament introduced restrictions in the process of manufacture it necessarily took a low average, but as the work of manufacture went on, it was generally shown that the limit stated in the Act might be considerably raised.

With regard to breaches of the Act, it would be generally found that any breach which arose was entirely due to preventable causes; it was simply a question of carrying on the process of manufacture with a proper amount of plant, and keeping that plant in proper order. With regard to muriatic acid, four serious difficulties had arisen. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laughed, but if they lived in localities where these noxious fumes were escaping they would find that this subject affected a great many more people than they imagined. Under Sub-section B, Section 3, of the Act of 1881, which it was proposed to amend, the test was the escape of the acid gas into the atmosphere; the Bill proposed to make a new test. He would like the President of the Local Government Board to say what benefit the people were supposed to receive from the proposed change in the law. Theoretically it might be said that the Bill was an improvement of the law in the public interest, in the respect that, when residual gases were tested before their admixture with other gases, the test was more severe than if made after those residual gases had escaped into the atmosphere. But there were other escapes from these factories. In the process of the manufacture of sulphuric acid there was the escape of coal gas. The law at present made no restriction with regard to that, but the sulphur in the coal going up the chimney and mixing with the other acid gases produced sulphuric acid, and it was a well-known fact that sulphuric acid produced in that way might be carried considerable distances from the works, according to the currents of air it met, and that fact was not taken into account at all. With regard to sulphuric acid gas escapes, the standard fixed in 1874 was necessarily a low one, and experience had shown that it did not interfere in any way with the manufacture. He submitted that that standard could be very well raised with benefit to the public; that was a point he thought he was entitled to bring before the President of the Local Government Board. [Loud laughter.] If hon. Gentlemen opposite took the same interest in this matter as he did, and endeavoured to master the provisions of this Bill, he did not think they would see so much to laugh at. There was this point also to be considered. Sulphuric acid did not diffuse, it was carried out of the chimney and fell down in a solid form, and was not in any way modified. He was surprised that the President of the Board of Trade had not taken a little bolder course in attempting to amend Section 4 of the Act. He had only amended it in a few unimportant particulars, so much so, that the Alkali manufacturers did not regard it as any restriction at all, because by the provisions of the Bill they could not be proceeded against, unless they had first of all violated Section 3 of the Act. He thought that, so far as legislation had hitherto been concerned, there had been great consideration shown by Parliament towards the owners of these works. Only provisions had been enacted with which in practice there was not the smallest difficulty in complying. Any breach of the law which had occurred had been owing entirely to the misuse of machinery, or the use of inadequate machinery. The inspectors had the most ample powers vested in them, and those powers had not been increased under this Bill; the inspectors were, in fact, held down by this Bill, because if an escape did not exceed the statutory limit the inspector had no power to interfere. Such was the nature of this Bill. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman had had several conversations with the alkali manufacturers, and had come to some arrangement with them, which was not embodied in the Bill as printed, and he considered it very hard that the House should be forced to consent to the Second Reading of the Bill without some explanation being given as to what the Amendments were which the right hon. Gentleman had arranged to bring in. Amendments of that kind ought to be explained to the House at an earlier period. The right hon. Gentleman thought that if he consulted the manufacturers he would get his Bill through very much more easily than otherwise, but unless proper explanations were forthcoming the right hon. Gentleman might find that exactly the opposite was the case. What was the use of inspectors reporting annoyances when there was no power to deal with them under the present law, and when the President of the Local Government Board did not provide any remedy for them in this Bill? It might be twenty years before another amending Act was passed, and he thought there was a great want of courage in the right hon. Gentleman, when inspectors were reporting nuisances at these works, which there was no power to remedy, in not dealing with that matter. If an amending Bill dealing with this subject was to have been brought in at all it should have been of a comprehensive character. In any case, the House was entitled to know the terms of the compromise arrived at with the manufacturers. It was not a proper way of doing business to bring on a Bill of this sort, affecting an important interest in the country, at a late period of the session, in the hope of rushing it through just before twelve o'clock.


The hon. Member has found great fault with the Government for not having explained the Bill which is now under consideration. The Government have had no opportunity of making any explanation, because the hon. Member has occupied the whole of the time, not only to-night, but also on the previous occasion when the Bill came up for consideration.


pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman was not present when the Bill was called on. If he (Mr. Caldwell) had not then risen, the Bill would have gone through without comment.


I am not quite certain that even if the hon. Mem- ber had not risen any great misfortune would have occurred. On the evening in question I was just outside, and if all the hon. Gentleman desired had been an explanation of the views of the Government he could have obtained that information when the Bill was first brought on. I, however, accord him the fullest meed of praise for the length of time he has spent in descanting on the operations of this very modest Bill. We have had a very interesting dissertation on the various processes affected by the measure, and I am bound to say that, having taken some trouble in the preparation of the Bill, and having seen some of the great chemists of the country in connection with the matter, I had never realised until I heard the hon. Gentleman speak that so much could be said on the different points of view from which the Bill could be approached. I will tell the House exactly what the Bill proposes to do. We have heard a great deal about standards, the process of manufacture, the escape of gases into the atmosphere, the escape of gases from the flue connected with the process of manufacture, and the chimney which conveys the gases into the atmosphere. This Bill proposes to do a very simple thing. The hon. Member said that the interests of the public are concerned. Yes, they are, and the hon. Member may be surprised to learn that most of our great corporations, many of our county councils, and many of our urban sanitary authorities have memorialised the Local Government Board that this Bill should be passed into law as rapidly as possible. So far, at all events, the hon. Member is the only person, either inside or outside the House, as far as I know, who has offered any objection to this change in the law. In the Acts to which the hon. Member referred power is conferred on the Local Government Board to deal with the subject of scheduled manufactures, and hitherto the inspectors of the Department have interpreted the law as enabling them to test the gases during the process of manufacture, instead of having to wait until the gases escaped into the atmosphere. The damage, of course, is done to the public when the gases escape into the atmosphere, but there are some processes of manufacture which are not subject to limitation, and if gases from two different processes meet in the same flue or chimney it is obviously impossible for the inspector to tell whether the obnoxious gases arise from the process which is or from the process which is not under limitation. All that this Bill proposes to do is to legalise what the inspectors have hitherto regarded as being their right. They have hitherto tested the gases at some point in the process of manufacture, but there was a doubt as to their power to do so, and on the question being referred to the Law Officers of the Crown, it was decided that their action was illegal. All the Bill seeks to do, therefore, is to enable the test to be made at such a point as will make it real and of some value. The hon. Gentleman suggests that there has been some unholy bargaining between the alkali manufacturers and myself. There has been nothing of the kind. He complained that the Amendments have not been explained to the House. They have not been explained, because we have not yet reached the proper stage; it is not usual to put down Amendments before a Bill has been read a second time. The Amendments have been arranged in the ordinary way. The alkali manufacturers and the manufacturers of sulphuric acid have been good enough to approach me in the ordinary way, to point out their difficulties, and to explain that if this treatment is to be applied to certain processes of manufacture it might result in the extinction of trade. The manufacturers have been absolutely fair and most considerate in the way in which they approached me. The hon. Member for the Northwich Division of Cheshire acted on behalf of the alkali manufacturers, and the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Glasgow acted on behalf of other people concerned. Their case has been very carefully examined, and we have arrived at Amendments which they believe will meet their case. What we propose to do is to put what is known as the Hargrave process and any new process to be hereafter discovered in the second category; that is to say, that the manufacturers using those processes should be liable only to use the best practicable means. For the rest, all that we do is to empower the inspectors to apply their tests at the process of manufacture, instead of waiting until the gases escape into the atmosphere, and we do this not in the interests of the Department or of the inspectors, and certainly not from the curious motives which the horn. Member has suggested, but solely in the interests of the public health. It is part of the statutory duty of the inspectors of my Department to see that the law is carried out, to see that manufacturers who exceed the legal limit are checked, and the nuisance abated. This cannot be done unless this additional power is given. The change is a simple, but effective one, and I hope the House will agree to the Second Reading without unnecessary delay.

MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny, S.)

said it was evident from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that an arrangement had been come to between the alkali manufacturers and the Local Government Board.


The hon. Gentleman suggests that an arrangement has been come to. He is entirely mistaken. All that I have done is to adopt a course which is quite usual, though it may not be known to him. I have intimated that I am prepared to move, or to accept if they are moved from his own side of the House, certain Amendments which would carry out the objects I have distinctly explained to the House.


accepted the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Although the Bill sought to amend four sections of the Act of 1882 it was a one-clause Bill, and, notwithstanding the fact that it was supposed to have been considered in the House of Lords, the whole discussion in that place extended to only twenty-two lines of Hansard. The Bill was a very important one. No doubt from the flues and chimneys of many manufacturers an immense amount of noxious gases had been issuing for twenty years past. The object of the Bill was a good one, but he could not agree with the method by which it was sought to be attained. The proper place to test the fumes was as they issued from the chimneys. When the gases issued from the process of manufacture they were frequently mixed with smoke, or some other gas, which entirely nullified the injurious effect, so that when they issued into the atmosphere the noxious gases were in such a state that no harm could possibly result. The manufacturers who had been so careful of the public health as to expend large sums in the construction of plant for the purpose of so mixing the noxious gases ought not to be penalised in the way suggested by this Bill. Sulphuric acid had been treated in an extraordinary manner. It had been placed on quite a different basis from all other acids, and accorded markedly preferential treatment. His objection to the Bill was that it was an unnecessary interference with the trade of alkali manufacturers. It was important that the House should realise the importance of the trade concerned, because any interference with that trade would seriously affect the chemical trade of the country. From the port of London alone in 1896 the quantity of saltpetre exported was 161,000 tons, and of other chemicals 752,000 tons; while in 1900—


Order, order! That has nothing to do with the subject before the House.


said he was endeavouring to prove that the Bill would seriously affect this trade, but, in deference to the Speaker's ruling, he would not further pursue that point. The power given to the inspector under Section 3 was a grievous interference with the liberty of carrying on the manufacture in the best way. The Bill was a bad one, and he begged to move that it be read a second time this day three months.

MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)

in seconding the motion said the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to dissipate the objections brought forward by the hon. Member for Mid-Lanark, but he had not dealt with those objects in a sufficiently serious fashion. He was always suspicious of such Bills as the present when they came from Government Departments. Such measures were alalways organised by the officials, with the object of creating a new swarm of officials, so that they might have more patronage at their disposal. One of the objects of the present Bill was to create another tribe of inspectors, and thus to provide more work in that direction. He thoroughly agreed that alkali works should be restrained from poisoning the atmosphere and the people, and if this Bill had been a thoroughly honest measure for that purpose he should have heartily supported it. But there had been secret negotiations and bargaining with certain hon. Members, and the House did not know what had been done in the dark. Moreover, although the Bill would primarily affect England, it had a certain bearing on Ireland, and the peculiar thing was that, while the Local Government Board in Ireland would initiate the prosecutions, the registration of firms would take place in England. Thus, while Ireland was saddled with the cost of the prosecutions, England, as usual, took care to grab the fees for registration purposes. In Committee he should certainly move an Amendment to provide that the fees should be returned to Ireland for Irish purposes. It was necessary that some indication of the scope of the agreed Amendments should be given, because it generally happened that English manufacturers in matters of this sort endeavoured to get the best of the bargain. The Alkali Bill of twenty years ago was resisted by the Irish party, because they saw in it an indirect attack on an Iris industry. Twenty years ago the Irish party obtained certain terms in regard to this question from the Government, and why was that settlement now to be torn up? He had very great suspicion as to what the effect of the Amendments would be. If he were certain that they would have no harmful effect that might regulate his opposition to the Bill. This was a measure which could not be rushed through without discussion, and but for the speech made by the hon. Member for Mid Lanark the House would not have known that so many trades were affected, and they would not have heard of these secret agreements made with English manufacturers. They might discover hereafter that the Amendments brought forward on behalf of the Government would have a very injurious effect upon Irish industries. If the President of the Local Government Board would assure him that the Amendments would not be harmful to Ireland, he would take the right hon. Gentleman's word for it. Unless they had some guarantee of this sort, and unless they were told that this was not an attempt to crush Irish industries, they would have to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. He was in favour of the Bill so far as it dealt with poisoning from sulphuric acid in beer or in anything else.

Amendment proposed— To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. O'Mara.)

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

SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I regret that an engagement in another part of London has prevented me from attending this debate, which I hear has been a very instructive one. I can assure my hon. friends that the President of the Local Government Board has listened with the greatest consideration and patience to the explanations offered to him on behalf of the alkali trade, which convinced him that the Bill as originally brought in would not meet the desires of those who are engaged in the trade. I can assure the House that the Bill in the shape in which I hope it will be in its final stage will do no harm to the alkali manufacturers either in Great Britain or Ireland. I believe the alkali manufacture is carried on in the same way in Ireland as in this country, and what satisfies English manufacturers will also satisfy the Irish manufacturers. If we go to a division upon this Bill, I shall support the President of the Local Government Board. Of course we find fault with the circumstances under which this Bill has been introduced. For many years the alkali trade has been managed by men of very high scientific attainments, who have always treated the Government Department as a friend and not as an enemy, and the manufacturers have been met in exactly the same spirit by the Department for the past forty years. This is the first Bill of the kind ever introduced without a previous friendly consultation with the trade, and I am glad to assure the House that, in my opinion, this will be the last time that such a Bill will be introduced without previous consultation with the trade. Above all things, there ought to be perfect frankness between the Government and the trades affected. The interpretation introduced into the Factory Act some time ago affecting young persons employed in certain dangerous trades caused a good deal of unpleasantness, because it was introduced practically without the knowledge of the trade. I think it ought to be the very first principle in conducting the business of a Government Department to endeavour to preserve perfect frankness between the Department and the trades affected. I tender my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy and consideration, and I hope the Bill as amended by "the dark and secret negotiations" will be perfectly satisfactory to all concerned.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

This is a small, useful, and necessary Bill, which, so far as it goes, has my cordial support. The speech of the hon. Baronet who has just sat down seems to me to indicate that this Bill will not go far enough. He has stated that the trade has hitherto been conducted by men of high scientific attainments. Judging by the appearance of some parts of the country around the factories carried on by these gentlemen of high scientific attainments, they do not seem to have shown that kindly consideration for their rural and agricultural neighbours which, in my opinion, men of high scientific attainments ought to be capable, of displaying; and if this Bill induces these men to cultivate a more neighbourly spirit and develop some more generous regard for those less well situated than themselves in regard to this world's goods, then this Bill will have gone a step in the right direction. The hon. Member who has just sat down stated that the President of the Local Government Board had shown the greatest possible consideration for the trade. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should not show too great consideration for this particular trade.


I have surrendered nothing in principle by the Amendments I have agreed to.


What I am suggesting is that the right hon. Gentleman should stick to the Bill and nothing less than the Bill, and if he can get a little more than the Bill so much the better. In discussing this question with these men of high scientific attainments the right hon. Gentleman must see that their ingenuity does not induce him to whittle this Bill down too much. I prefer the simple general provisions of this Bill expressed in general language rather than the precise, not to say microscopic, terms which have been used by hon. Members to-night, and which they wish to force upon the Local Government Board. The sub-section of the Bill provides that the Local Government Board shall use the best practical means of preventing the discharge into the atmosphere of noxious gases. I prefer that to be expressed in the general language of the Bill, for it will enable the inspectors to generally supervise, and not be diverted off the track of general supervision by these microscopical differentiations which not even the hon. Members who have mentioned them understand. I have risen to ask the President of the Local Government Board to recognise that it is practically twenty years since we had an Amendment of the Act dealing with alkali works. During that time the most profitable works in this particular trade have begun to look upon some form of regulation and restriction as necessary in the interest of the public health, and as being perhaps the best incentive for putting their works in order and for making handsome profits. Any Act of Parliament that compels chemical factories and works to cease to emit noxious fumes and gases from their chimneys will drive them ultimately to utilising what were formerly considered to be waste products. I believe that the utilisation of these waste products by these men of high scientific attainments has made this industry much more profitable. I have risen to point out to the men of high scientific attain- ments that there is plenty of scope for larger profits than they are now making, plenty of opportunities for them to protect the health of those engaged in those dangerous processes, and plenty of scope for them doing something in the interests of the general public who live in the neighbourhood of their works. I wish to ask the President of the Local Government Board whether, under the alkali works included in this Bill, he will protect the House of Commons by adding Doulton's factories, on the Lambeth side of the river Thames. This ought to be done in order to protect the health of members of the House of Commons, and also the health of the ladies who came to the House of Commons to take tea on the terrace in too large numbers—[Ministerial cries of "No, no!"]—yes, in too large numbers, and who are greatly inconvenienced by the emission of noxious gases from over the road, and incidentally to save this splendid fabric of the Houses of Parliament from being slowly deteriorated, as it has been during the last twenty years, by the fumes and gases from Doulton's factories. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot include this factory, I trust that the head of Doulton's firm will read the report of my remarks, which, I hope, will cause that firm voluntarily to set their house in order; or perhaps the raising of this question will induce the Commissioner of Police to see that both the smoke and the noxious gases and fumes which come from Doulton's factories will be dealt with in the interests of the general public.

MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I wish to point out to the House that this Bill was introduced without our knowledge in the other House of Parliament. I make no objection to that course. This Bill is intended to give the inspectors the opportunity of carrying out and enforcing regulations dealing with the noxious gases at their source. Up to the present the practice has been that these noxious gases and fumes have been allowed to pass into the common chimney, where they mix with other gases, and thereby escape the control of the inspectors. The President of the Local Government Board has insisted upon this principle, and he has obtained the consent of those engaged in the trade to this new principle. At the same time the right hon. Gentleman has recognised that it is not advisable to discourage in any way the adoption of new processes. It is in the interest of the public and of the chemical trade as well that no undue restrictions should be placed upon new processes. I hope that the House will not only pass the Second Reading to-night, but also that it will allow the Committee stage to pass through.

MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

, in supporting the Bill, said he had been requested to do so by the Royal College of Physicians in Dublin. He had also received several communications from working men in Dublin in support of this Bill, and he had risen because he understood that some of his colleagues had been opposing this measure. He believed that it was a good and useful Bill, which was calculated to preserve the health of those engaged in the alkali works. He could not see, however, why the fees paid in Ireland should go into the British Exchequer. He trusted that the President of the Local Government Board would appreciate the point he had brought forward in regard to the fees, for in this respect England appeared to him to get the money, while Ireland did the work. He hoped that the Second Reading of the Bill would be carried.


said he wished to make it clear to the Government that they did not promote the progress of legislation by trying to rush measures through just before twelve o'clock without a word of explanation. The President of the Local Government Board had yet to get this Bill through the Committee stage. With regard to the ordinary processes, they were still going to keep the standard at four grains, and they were not going to allow any latitude at all. What did it matter what process it was, if more than four grains of sulphuric acid went up the chimney? He approved of the Bill as far as it went, but it ought to go much further. He hoped his hon. friends would not press their motion to a division.

Forward to