HL Deb 29 June 1847 vol 93 cc1052-7

House in Committee.


briefly stated the objects of the measure, which he anticipated would be productive of much benefit. After sketching the history of legislation upon the subject, from its having been taken up by a right rev. Prelate near him, and by Sir Henry Dukenfield, the rector of St. Martin's, to the passing of the Bill in the other House, he stated that an alteration which had produced much inconvenience, had been made in the measure as originally framed by the Act of last year for the establishment of public baths for the poor in any parish, with the consent of two-thirds of the ratepayers, allowed only one charge for baths—viz., 1d. for a cold, and 2d. for a hot bath. But it was desirable to have another sort of bath, not with a view to benefit the rich, but a less humble class of the poor. This was proposed to be accomplished by the present Bill, one clause of which would allow treble those charges for baths of a higher class. There were many little tradesmen to whom cleanliness was a great object, but who did not like to go into the same bath that had been used by coalheavers or porters, or their own menial servants. A profit would thus be obtained in relief of the rates, and it was a great object to make the baths remunerative to the parish, and acceptable to the poor. He had no wish to disparage the petitioners against the clause (the owners of private baths); but ho thought that they laboured under a false alarm. Their baths were meant for the higher orders, and ho believed that they never charged less than 2s. 6d. for a warm bath, and 1s. for a cold bath. Therefore, the baths proposed to be established under the present Bill would enter into no competition with them. But, oven granting that their interests would suffer, that would not be a sufficient reason for abandoning a great public advantage. By the establishment of railways, many innkeepers and postmasters had been ruined; and yet no one on that account contended against the system of railways. He believed that there were not above eight or nine petitions against the clause; and would their Lordships, on account of this small number, prevent the establishment of baths which were likely to be of so much advantage to the poorer classes of the community? Besides, there was in the Act a power reserved to the Secretary of State of interfering, on satisfactory cause being shown; so that if any person felt that his property would be injured by the establishment of any particular bath under this Bill, he might make a representation of the circumstances, and his case would be heard. Under these circumstances, he trusted their Lordships would agree to the provision.


said, that the principle involved in the Bill was one of great magnitude; and, if adopted, might be applied in a variety of instances contrary to every just doctrine of economic science, and contrary to the interests of the payers of the rates, and the possessors of property. He maintained, that the proposal was not a proper application of the rates. No one quarrelled with the proposition to provide this accommodation for the poor; but why should the rates be charged for the accommodation of those above the poor? As well might they provide in workhouses superior accommodation for a certain high class of the inmates. The noble and learned Lord said, that the parties for whom this superior accommodation was intended, would not condescend to bathe in the baths used by their menial servants; and that, therefore, it was ne- cessary to have two classes of baths. Would their Lordships then give power to burden the rates for the sake of those who only required this accommodation, not from distress, but because they would not condescend to bathe in the baths provided for their menial servants? He trusted that their Lordships would not allow the rates to be misapplied in this way. The noble and learned Lord said, there was power reserved to the Secretary of State to prohibit the establishment of these baths in such cases as ho thought fit. What then became of the whole principle of the Bill, when it was apprehended that it would lead to such abuses that it was necessary to give the Secretary of State a suspending power? That was an admission of the danger of the measure. The noble and learned Lord referred to railways, and said no one dreamed of stopping them, though they might injure the interest of other parties. Railways, however, were the spirit of private speculation; but the case was quite different with these baths, for which the money was to be raised by rate, levied, too, on the very property with which they would come into competition. Skill and capital had been employed in the establishment of private bathing establishments in the metropolis; and the invested capital perilled by the present Bill amounted to upwards of 50,000l. He moved the omission of the clause in question.


supported the Bill. From the noble Lord's commencement, one might have imagined that this Bill was to create nothing less than a general disturbance of the rights of property; but ho thought that their Lordships might now feel relieved of all apprehension on that score. If there were any objection in point of principle to the Bill, it came too late; for their Lordships had already sanctioned the principle in a much more objectionable form. Far from encumbering the poor rates, the very object of the clause in question was to lighten the pressure on them. The Legislature had already sanctioned the principle of the establishment of baths for the poor at the public expense; and the recommendation of the clause was that the profit derived from the better sort of baths would tend to provide for the expenses of the baths for the poorest. Therefore, unless this clause were agreed to, the burden on the rates must be increased to maintain the baths for the very poorest classes. He maintained that the clause was necessary—that it was consistent with the sound principles of political economy and financial justice. It was proposed that there should be two classes of baths, both of them for the poor people; one for the poorest, and another class for people somewhat above them—such as mechanics or poor tradesmen. He could not believe that these baths could ever enter into competition with those frequented by persons who were accustomed to pay 2s. 6d. or 3s. 6d. for a single bath. The effect of the petitions against the clause was this, that because the petitioners had invested certain capital in private baths, not for the benefit of the poor, therefore the poor throughout the metropolis were to be deprived of the advantage of the establishment of baths under this Bill; because, though all these baths were meant for the poorer sort, yet it was necessary to have one class of baths to defray the cost of the baths intended for the very poorest. A public bath, at which two classes of baths at different rates of charge were maintained, had been established for some time in the north-western district of the metropolis; and within twelve months no less than 80,000 persons had enjoyed the luxury of bathing in that institution. He would ask their Lordships whether they would interfere with the establishment of such institutions merely for the sake of protecting the interests of a few individuals, who could not be under any apprehension of sustaining serious loss from the extension of public baths? They might depend upon it, that if the practice of bathing became general among the poorer classes, the example would be followed by the middle and higher classes; and, in the end, the proprietors of private baths would be considerable gainers by the establishment of public baths. He held in his hand an Act which had recently received the Royal Assent, and which embodied the principle to which the noble Lord (Lord Monteagle) now objected; he referred to the Towns Improvement Clauses Act. The commissioners to be appointed under that Act were empowered, by the 136th Clause, to purchase, rent, or otherwise provide suitable and convenient lands and buildings, to be used for public baths and wash-houses, and public open bathing places and drying grounds, the use of which was to be allowed to the inhabitants of the respective districts at such reasonable charges, and under such regulations, as the commissioners might deem expedient. The principle of the Bill now before their Lordships had, therefore, already received their sanction; and he trusted that they would adopt the measure in its present form.


said, it appeared to him that the principle of this Bill had already received their Lordships' approval in the Act which had been referred to by the right rev. Prelate. The principle had already been admitted, that baths should be provided for the lower and labouring classes at prices below those at which they could be furnished by the owners of private establishments; and, considering the immense advantage which the lower classes would derive from being afforded easy access to baths and washhouses, he thought it most advisable that such accommodation should be provided for them without any unnecessary delay. This Bill proposed that a higher class of baths should be instituted, from which some profit might be derived to assist in maintaining the lower class of baths, and thereby relieving the parochial rates. It was complained that this higher class of baths would interfere with the profits of the proprietors of private baths. Now, considering the very small amount of capital which appeared to have been invested in such establishments, he was not inclined to think—even if the competition should be more extensive than was anticipated—that such a consideration ought to induce their Lordships to reject a measure of so much importance as the present. He considered that the best mode of affording protection to the parties who apprehended that these public baths might come into competition with their private baths, would be to fix the charge for the superior class of public baths sufficiently high to guarantee the private bath proprietors against being injured by the competition of a better class of public baths at very low prices, He would suggest whether it might not be advisable to fix a minimum rather than a maximum charge for those public baths which might be established avowedly for the purpose of realizing a profit. He thought that, instead of providing that the charge for the superior class of baths should not exceed, in any case, three times the charges for the inferior baths, the better plan would be to provide that the charges for the higher class of baths should not be less than three times the rates charged for the baths provided for the labouring-classes.


was understood to say, that he considered, if the noble Lord's suggestion were adopted, the effect might he to render the superior class of public baths fashionable, and to bring them more into competition with private baths than would otherwise be the case.

Amendment withdrawn. Clause to stand part of the Bill. Bill reported.

House adjourned.