The Marquess of Normanby
said, he rose to put a question to some Member of her Majesty's Government. He understood that the noble Duke who held the Privy Seal was informed upon the subject to which he was about to refer, which was quite distinct from the subject which had last occupied their Lordships' attention. It was a subject which affected, not only the comforts, but also the moral and physical condition of a large portion of their unrepresented fellow-citizens; he alluded to a measure which had three times passed their Lordships' House, relating to the Sanatory Condition of the Lower Orders. He approached this question with grievous disappointment, because he saw that during the last three years nothing had been done upon it, and unless some explanation were given, the nature of which he could not anticipate, blame must attach to the quarter from which the delay proceeded. In alluding to former proceedings, he was afraid that he was transgressing the usual limits upon putting a ques- 221 tion; but, in order to make his question intelligible, he must trespass with a few preliminary observations on the attention of their Lordships. A right rev. Prelate in their Lordships' House, in 1839, moved an Address to the Crown on this subject; a commission was issued by a noble Friend of his who then held the seals of the Home Department, directing an inquiry into the sanatory condition of England and Wales; he (the Marquess of Normanby) in the following year considered it desirable to extend the commission to Scotland also. Perhaps the natural course of things would have been to have awaited the result of that commission before their Lordships had been asked to concur in any measure, but it happened that the next Session, a select committee was appointed by the other House, on the motion of Mr. Slaney, and on reading over the evidence adduced before it, he (the Marquess of Normanby) was so struck with the shameful neglect of the Government and the Legislature, and with the necessity for immediate interposition, that he brought the question before their Lordships in 1841, and stated his reasons for doing so in more detail than would have been justified but for the great importance of the subject. Their Lordships assented to the principle of the bill which he then introduced, but it was suggested that the various details had better be submitted to a select committee. A select committee was accordingly appointed, and he must say there never was a committee which examined into details with greater assiduity, or brought their examination to a more satisfactory issue; in particular, he had received on that occasion material assistance from the noble Lord the present Governor-general of India. The bill which he introduced passed this House; but in consequence of the political circumstances of that year, and the shortened duration of the parliamentary Session, it did not pass through the House of Commons. In the new Parliament, though he at that time knew that the Government of his noble Friend was about to proffer its resignation, yet, looking at the great importance of the subject, and thinking it to be absolutely necessary that their Lordships should show in the new Parliament that they adhered to what they had passed in the old, he again brought in his bill, but that Session was also a short one, and the measure did not pass the Commons. In the first days of the Session of 1842 he again applied to them upon the subject. He 222 told them that though it was a bill that would better rest with the executive Government, and that, as they had already assented to its principle, if it so pleased them he would move it in this House and leave it to the Government to take up elsewhere. That measure again for the third time passed this House; and was only opposed in some of its details by a noble Marquess not now in his place, but who withdrew his opposition upon the persuasion of the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Wellington). The bill with respect to drainage the Secretary of State for the Home Department declared he would take under his own charge, and nothing had since been heard of it. The other was carried to a select committee, which did not conclude its labours in time to take the opinion of the House upon the subject. The Session of 1842 concluded, and then occurred an important incident in the consideration of the question. The Poor-law Commissioners, to whom the subject was originally referred, then made a report; a most valuable report it was; and if there could have been previously any doubt as to the necessity of immediate legislation upon the question, he did not think that any man could, after reading it, continue to entertain a doubt that no further delay should take place in remedying the evils complained of. If there were any fault in the report it was in the vast accumulation of important facts, which had perhaps rendered it less palatable to the general reader. In the very first few pages this startling fact was announced, that at this time, among the town population of England and Wales, there were no less than 56,000 deaths occurring annually, the greater portion of which were proved to be preventable by ordinary precautions. Let any one read the succeeding pages of facts, which were skilfully brought together, and he would find quite sufficient evidence in support of this statement. The deaths caused by diseases which it would be in the power of the Legislature, by adopting these precautions, to remove, he had stated at 56,000; that was, as stated in the Report, as if the whole population of Huntingdonshire or Westmoreland were struck from the face of the earth by diseases which the Legislature might remedy. The details of the report were most important throughout, and he would say that the result of its perusal must be to convince any one that more information was not what was required upon the subject. There 223 might be some doubt as to the conclusion at which the report arrived as to the particular manner of applying the remedies, and as to the agencies to be employed in carrying them into effect. He thought it obvious to any one who paid the smallest attention to the question that the increased power, which by the three bills that had received their Lordships' assent, he proposed to give to bodies already in existence, would have been sufficient; and if not, other measures might have been easily suggested. At all events, it was thought better not to adopt a centralisation system. What happened then? If more information were required, surely a commission ought to have been at once appointed. With this fact staring in the face of the Government, that the mortality was every year caused and aggravated by the neglect or inattention of the Legislature and Government, what took place? Why from that time to the conclusion of the late Session of Parliament, not a single step was taken on the subject: at this latter period, however, a commission was appointed and placed, with great propriety, under the noble Duke opposite, the Lord Privy Seal. It was that delay of which he now complained. He did not wish to press the matter further at present, but he did say that that delay required explanation. The Government of his noble Friend (Lord Melbourne) used formerly to be attacked for appointing commissions; it was supposed that the Government often postponed measures through the medium of those commissions. He (the Marquess of Normanby) had the misfortune the other night to express his dissent from the appointment of another commission by the existing Government; but, in reference to this commission, he never knew one, in a case where further information was required, the appointment of which was so long delayed. The principle for which he contended had been three times recognised by their Lordships, and in times of public interest, when nothing but public considerations could have induced them to pass the measure, which was deemed necessary for the preservation of the health of a large portion of their fellow-subjects. He would not go further into details now, but if they pursued the report in other points they would see that the evil was not confined to the actual deaths annually caused by want of proper precaution. It was clearly and most convincingly stated, and proved to a demonstration by the report, that the duration of life, even among the upper classes, 224 in some towns, was considerably shortened. As an instance, in contrasting the county of Rutland with certain of the manufacturing districts, the increase of mortality in the latter among the upper classes, who were of course much better off than the lower, amounted to one-third more annually whilst the duration of life in the parish in Manchester cited as an example was amongst the middling and lower orders, only one-half that of the parish in Rutlandshire with which it was compared. He feared there was also evidence in the report that in those places where, by the creation of new employments during the last half century, the people had been crowded together without due precautions being taken for their health, the next generation would in every respect be inferior to the last, and that the evils we are likely prospectively to suffer in the great sources of our national strength, are not over when we calculate the number of actual deaths. If he should unfortunately hear from the noble Duke opposite that such was the state of the commission that it was not likely, in the present Session of Parliament, that a measure would be introduced, he should feel it his duty again to call upon their Lordships to assent to that measure of which he had already secured their approbation. But whether a bill was brought in this Session by Government or not, he could not, without explanation, exonerate the department of Government with which the subject rested from blame, in the first place, for not taking up the bill which passed this House, and amending it, if necessary, in the other House. In the next place, if they felt that more inquiry was wanted—the necessity for which, however, he could not see—it was for them to account why one whole year, during which it was clear that this dreadful mortality had continued unabated, had been allowed to pass without a single step having been taken to remdy the evil.
The Duke of Buccleuch
said, the noble Marquess who had just sat down had addressed their Lordships at some length, and had found great fault with her Majesty's Government, because they had not adopted immediate measures with regard to the sanatory condition of the people; and the noble Marquess had afforded as a reason for so finding fault that the bill he had introduced, and which passed their Lordships' House, and was sent down to the House of Commons, bad not been since taken up by the Government. Now he 225 begged to observe that bill had been drawn up at a time when the report of the Poor-law Commissioners, to which the noble Marquess had alluded, was not made. In 1841, however, before that report had been made and was upon their Lordships' Table, a bill had been introduced for the improvement and drainage of the town of Leeds. Into that measure the leading clauses of the noble Marquess's bill had been incorporated, and such was the difficulty arising in the way of bringing that bill into operation, that it was now a dead letter, because it had been found impracticable to act upon it. With regard to the delays in the appointment of the commission referred to, he (the Duke of Buccleuch) believed the commission was dated the 9th of May, 1843, and he could state, that as soon as possible afterwards the commissioners therein named met together—many of them were men of science, and others were actively engaged in other pursuits, and it was necessary for them to make arrangements with reference to their own occupations. The commissioners, however, met on the 1st of June, and continued to sit three days a week until the end of July, when they separated for the necessary relaxation, and with a view to attend to important matters of their own. But during the recess, at a time when relaxation was much more necessary, they again engaged in their duties under the commission, and were called upon to enter on inquiries, some of them of a most disagreeable character. They had visited during the recess fifty-one towns. The noble Marquess thought the report already before Parliament contained ample information for immediate legislation. No person who read that report could doubt that there were dreadful particulars of misery and wretchedness laid before the public; nobody could doubt that the state of many parts of the metropolis, and of many towns in the kingdom, was miserable and disgraceful; still less could it be doubted, that disease was great and prevalent. There was no one possessing the feelings of common humanity but would say, "Ought we not to adopt measures to remedy this?" Every person would say that; but it was one thing to say that a remedy ought to be provided, and another to say how that remedy ought to be carried into effect. He had felt the difficulty increased since he had been upon the commission. He had found it extremely difficult to make up his mind as to the proper mode of curing the evils pointed out. It was said by some, 226 that the first remedy was to be effected by proper drainage, but was this to be done for nothing; were the commissioners to begin without first inquiring into the nature and character of the drainage, and the consequent expense? Take the case of the metropolis itself. The noble Marquess did not know the evidence laid before the commissioners by men of science and experience, and he could have no idea of the extreme difficulty which arose in the matter in consequence of existing acts of Parliament. The same difficulty had presented itself with reference to another point intimately connected with the health of towns—he alluded to the good and sufficient supply of water to the poorer classes. This had been found to be a most difficult and intricate matter; vast interests were concerned, large companies had been established, and the difficulty was to ascertain how a good and sufficient supply of water could be obtained, and the companies adequately recompensed. He, however, had no doubt that it might be possible so to arrange that a good and sufficient supply of water could be obtained for the poorer classes, without any loss to the existing companies. Such was one of the many results at which the commissioners were gradually arriving. With all the information contained in the Sanatory Report, there was not sufficient evidence on which he, on his responsibility, could come down and recommend to Parliament any measure for its consideration. Why, if the very bill which the noble Marquess had himself brought forward was carried into effect the amount of surveyors' fees alone would be 80,000l. In London, in particular those fees would be exceedingly heavy. Now, the difficulty in framing any bill was to provide the manner in which such charges were to be met. Take Leeds for instance, and the drainage and supply of water must not only be provided for, but also how, in what manner, and upon whom, the cost and charges were to be levied. These were serious considerations; and, though a bill had been passed with these objects for that town, it remained, he repeated, almost a dead letter, because it was found impossible to carry its clauses into operation. He could only say, with regard to the existing commission, that the greatest attention had been paid; no time had been lost; there were upon it not only men of science, but others closely occupied ill pursuits of their own; but that all had, with great cheerfulness and earnestness, 227 entered upon the duties imposed on them—none seeking for delay, but, on the contrary, all anxious to push the matter forward. They had everywhere been received with the greatest favour by the working classes, who hailed them as persons likely to bring benefit and comfort to them; there had been everywhere a total absence of party feeling, and from all municipal bodies with whom they had to communicate they had received every assistance; and much information had been acquired that was not contained in the Sanatory Report. He had no doubt, that in a short time it would be in the power of the commissioners to lay the information brought before them, and upon it to suggest, he hoped, a sound legislative measure. When that might happen he could not at present pledge himself. There were many reports which had not yet been presented; important information bad been received from towns on the continent as to their manner of supplying water and carrying these matters into effect. Valuable information had also been received from America on the same subject. Whenever, on all this mass of information, a legislative measure might be introduced, he hoped it would be productive of; all the good their Lordships could wish.
The Marquess of Normanby
said, that with all respect for the noble Duke, he must say, that a more unsatisfactory explanation had never been made in their Lordships' House. The noble Duke had admitted all he (the Marquess of Normanby) had alleged—viz, that the Government had taken no steps in the matter from the presentation of the sanatory report in 1842 until the appointment of the commission on the 9th of May, 1843. The noble Duke had not given the slightest excuse for the delay of the twelve months which had been allowed to elapse. The noble Duke said, that the provisions of his Bill had been tried in Leeds, and had failed. He would not contradict the noble Duke; but information had just reached him from Leeds, that the corporation of that town, were at the present moment putting the Bill into operation, and that they were satisfied with the provisions.
The Duke of Buccleuch
Observed, that the noble Marquess's Bill of 1842 had passed that House and been sent to the other House of Parliament, where it was referred to a select committee, in whose 228 hands it had remained during the whole of that session. The noble Marquess could not charge the Government with doing nothing, because the Bill never came out of the hands of the select committee.
The Marquess of Normanby
repeated, that as the measure of 1842 had failed, the Government were answerable for having taken no steps from the close of session 1842 until May, 1843.
The Duke of Buccleuch
said, the noble Marquess ought to know that measures of that description required great consideration.
§ Earl Fitzwilliam
remarked, that it was not quite so easy to legislate effectually upon the matter as some people seemed to imagine. He thought his noble Friend opposite (Duke of Buccleuch) was mistaken in supposing that the corporation of Leeds had found their Bill impracticable, for he was inclined to believe they were now acting upon it, because he had been told by a very ingenious person, that the plan had been carried into effect, and the result had been to drive the evils sought to be remedied from one part of the town to another. The corporation had not been supine with reference to its Act of Parliament; but they had found, on the experience of physicians of eminence, of chymists, and of men of science, it was much easier to find an evil than to discover a remedy for it.
§ The subject was then dropped.
§ House adjourned.