presented a petition from the Committee of the Working Classes Association, praying the House to pass some legislative measure for the better drainage and ventilation of the houses of the poor, and for furnishing them with a more ample supply of pure water. His Lordship, at the same time, wished to know from the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests whether Government had taken or intended to take any steps on this subject with reference to the metropolis, and especially to the district of Bethnal-green? He also wished to know 938 what steps had been adopted by Government with reference to the Private Water Bills which had come before the House this Session?
§ Lord PORTMAN
said, that before the noble Lord (Viscount Canning) replied to the questions just put, he (Lord Portman) begged to put another question, which he might answer at the same time. It would be in the recollection of the House that an Act had recently been passed called the Metropolitan Buildings Act. Their Lordships probably would also recollect that it was passed in a most extraordinary manner through the House. It was a Bill containing nearly 120 clauses, and it had been read a second time with only two days intervening between that and its first reading, and it had been passed within nine days from the time it was introduced. Well, this Bill, so far from increasing the public safety against fire, or improving the health of the community, as it professed to do, had proved exceedingly inconvenient and vexatious. So multifarious and complicated were its provisions, that it had been thought necessary by a gentleman named Lawes to publish a bulky volume to instruct the people as to the nature of its provisions, many of which were indeed of a monstrous and impracticable kind. His Lordship here quoted several passages from Mr. Lawes's book, which he described as an able work, well worthy the attention of all parties interested in the buildings of the metropolis; and mentioned various cases which had come under his knowledge of a vexatious and annoying character. He hoped the noble Lord would be able to tell the House that there was a Bill preparation to relieve the metropolis from the inconvenience he had mentioned.
§ VISCOUNT CANNING
was understood to say, in reply to the question first put to him by one of the noble Lords opposite (Lord Kinnaird), that the noble Lord must have misapprehended the prayer of the petition which he had presented, inasmuch as it might be difficult to construct any measure more calculated to meet the evils of a bad system of drainage and sewerage than the Act in question. The Government had at present no intention of introducing any measure for the improvement of the supply of water in the metropolitan districts, for their first efforts had been directed with a view, in this respect, to the improvement of the manufacturing towns and rural districts. Last year a Bill had been brought in founded on the report of a Commission 939 issued for the purpose, two years ago, called the Health of Towns Bill, which had been laid on the Table of the House. It was considered, however, advisable that this Bill should circulate through the country during the recess; and it had been since consolidated and amended, and was now ready for the consideration of Parliament. With respect to the better supply of water, the Government had suggested some clauses for that purpose, which had been introduced, he believed, into all the private Bills of pipe water companies, to secure a larger and cheaper supply of good water to the poorer classes, which had been lately passed. He admitted, in reply to the noble Lord who had last spoken, that the Metropolitan Buildings Act required amendment. But, with respect to certain complaints stated against the new Act, he could say that the public had been prepared fully for the notices required by the new Act, by the provisions of the old Act. Within the last few days, the fees had been very much reduced, especially the larger fees, which had been reduced to the extent of seventy-five per cent. The Government meant to bring into the other House four Bills for the separate regulation of the objects of the present Act, and he could say that two of those Bills were in a state of great forwardness.