HL Deb 02 June 1862 vol 167 cc225-32

Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee on the Mersey, Irwell, &. Protection Bill, read.

Then it, was moved, That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee.


said, he had to present a petition with respect to this Bill. By a recent Standing Order it was provided that when a Private Bill, which passed through a Select Committee, appeared to partake of a public nature, it should afterwards be referred to a Committee of the Whole House. The present Bill was the first case which had come before their Lordships under that provision. Its object was to inflict severe penalties on any person who should throw refuse into the streams to which it related, and it had this peculiarity—that he could not make out whether it was a Public or a Private Bill. The petition which he had to present against the Bill was signed by about 100 persons, owners, lessees, manufacturers, and proprietors of works on the streams of the rivers Mersey and Irwell and their tributaries. In all cases where a Private Bill affected private interests, the Standing Orders required that notice should be given to the parties whose rights were prejudiced. This Bill, the powers of which extended over an area of 400 square miles, was promoted by the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company; and they rested their case on the fact, that in consequence of the rubbish thrown into those streams, the navigation was impeded. It was possible that might be so; but he apprehended it was the duty of the Navigation Company to remove those obstructions. In any case, however, it was no reason why the Mersey and Irwell navigation should be placed in a different situation from other navigations. Those streams flowed through a large manufacturing district, and he could not understand why the millowners and other occupiers of their banks should be subject to penalties which were not imposed upon persons connected with other rivers. Why was the common law of the land to be altered for the benefit of one particular company? If it required alteration, it should be done for the benefit of all navigable rivers. A curious circumstance connected with the Bill was, that the only part of it in which he found the names of the promoters was a clause which exempted them from the operation of the measure. The petition, which was signed by Mr. Rideout, Mr. S. Blair, and, as he had already said, by about 100 individuals, prayed that the Bill should not be passed into law. Under its provisions, any man throwing rubbish into the streams named, over a distance of twenty-five miles, could be taken before a magistrate and fined,£5 for the first offence, £10 for the second, and £20 for every subsequent offence; and the worst part of it was that half the penalty went to the common informer. Now, the majority of the occupiers had, probably by prescription, or in some other way, the right to throw rubbish into the rivers, and, under the circumstances, he did not think that the Bill, which so seriously interfered with that right, was entitled to the favourable consideration of the House.


said, that when the Bill came before him he had considerable doubts whether it should be proceeded with as a Private Bill; but it was then a much larger measure than as it now appeared. Being a Bill of a novel character, he watched it with great jealousy; but it was a strict rule of the House that no Bill which only affected a particular locality should be treated as a Public Bill. It was his duty to see whether the evil complained of demanded legislative interference, and whether it was a general one or only confined to a particular locality. From the evidence brought before him it appeared that the evil was a very great one, and that large deposits, which were very detrimental to the navigation, had accumulated in different parts of the streams, in consequence of the practice of throwing rubbish into them. The whole district was covered with mills, a large number of which originally used water power; but in many there was now steam power also, and it was a common practice to throw the ashes into the stream. This was not only objectionable as regarded navigation, but it injuriously affected the drainage of some of the towns. The promoters of the Bill said, that notwithstanding all the dredging the evil was increasing, and that some restriction ought to be imposed in order to prevent a worse nuisance ensuing. With regard to notice, he thought that ample notice had been given by the public advertisements, and, besides, the different parties interested appeared before the Committee, by whom the whole subject was fully investigated—in point of fact, the Bill was very severely fought in Committee. The Bill had been considerably amended, so as to remove some of the objections which were first entertained to it; and he was disposed to think that it ought to be allowed to proceed.


said, that it was of extreme importance that these Private Bills, which really affected great public interests, as well as Vested rights, should be closely watched in their passage through Parliament; and that the most minute examinations should be made of the details, whether the measure happened to be opposed or not. He thought this Bill affected numerous private interests very closely, and should not be passed without careful consideration.


said, that he thought it better, as a Member of the Select Committee which had sat on this Bill, to state to the House some of the facts connected with it. It had been proved in evidence, that in 1849, when the inconvenience caused by the deposits in the bed of the navigation first began to be felt, borings had been made in the deposit. These were repeated in 1856 and again in 1862; and it was found that the rise in the bed of the river—. not in all places, for in some it was actually now deeper than it was in 1849—but on the average, was about twenty-two inches, and that it was much more rapid in the latter part of the time than in the former; so that if the present state of things continued, in five years there would be no navigation at all. Under these circumstances the Committee considered themselves bound to pass the Bill. No doubt the powers sought for were very large, and he believed that every Member of the Committee expressed an opinion that it would be right that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees should bring the Bill under the notice of the House. But he was the more satisfied with the course which the Committee on the Bill had pursued, from the circumstance that the counsel for the opponents had called no evidence. He had, however, cited two cases with regard to user. To these cases the counsel for the Bill replied, and commented on them; for no evidence having been called against it, he had no right to a general reply; and, in his (the Earl of Belmore's) opinion, it was shown that one of these cases had nothing whatever to do with the question, and that the other had rather told against it.


said, that the objection to this Bill was raised by those who thought their interests would be affected by it. He contended they had sufficient notice to appear before the Committee by counsel, and might have produced evidence and cross-examined witnesses: but they had not thought proper to do either. It was clearly shown to the Committee this practice of throwing rubbish into the stream had been carried on for some time and to a considerable extent, and even that the manufacturers had produced machinery at their different works to facilitate the conveyance of material into the stream. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Kings-down) had unintentionally stated that the provisions of the Bill would enable any common informer to make a property out of the infringements of the law which would be produced by the acts done after the passing of the Bill. That could hardly have been a correct representation, because the only persons who could lay informations were the corporation, the Mersey, Weaver, and Irwell Company themselves, or the owners and occupiers of lands adjoining one of those streams. He apprehended the present Bill was one which their Lordships should entertain, because it had already received the consideration of a Select Committee, who had unanimously expressed their opinion in its favour.


said, the object of the Bill might be a very right and proper one, but he was very much struck with what had been said by the noble Baron who presented the petition. It seemed that the Bill was originally introduced as a Private Bill, and was treated as such, and that in consequence no notice had been given to any parties whose interests were likely to be affected; but it was now proposed to he treated as a Public Bill. He thought they ought to pause and hesitate before they went on with the measure, and therefore he should move that the Bill be committed that day three three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this day three months."


thought, that although the present Bill had been introduced and treated as a Private one, it was to all intents and purposes a Public Bill, since every manufacturer and every landowner and occupier over the districts affected by the measure was liable to the penalties inflicted by it. He believed this was the first time that powers of such a kind had been sought to be obtained by means of a Private Bill, and he considered their Lordships ought to have an opportunity of discussing those powers before the Bill was finally disposed of.


said, there was no similarity between the case of the Committee for which he had formerly moved, and the question now before their Lordships, because in the former instance he had received applications from almost every part of England, and the Motion had a general application; whereas in the present case a particular locality was referred to. The evil, however, was one of growing magnitude. The manufactories on the banks of those rivers had year after year seriously affected the navigation and drainage, and the matter was now becoming so serious, that unless some legislative interference took place shortly, it was impossible to calculate the amount of injury which would result. The manufacturers themselves admitted that some steps should by taken, and the members of the Committee were unanimous upon the subject. The Bill had already gone through the Select Committee as a Private Bill, and it was now proposed to commit it to the investigation of a Committee of the Whole House; but the proposition of the noble Earl would reject the Bill altogether.


said, that although their Lordships were then asked to go into Committee on the Bill, they had never had an opportunity of considering its principle on the second reading, from the fact that it had been brought forward as a private measure. He would suggest that any further proceeding in the matter should be deferred for a short time, in order that they might be enabled to inform themselves more accurately in respect of its merits or demerits.


said this, Bill differed in no respect from the ordinary Bills for the protection of harbours, except that it applied to a larger district of country. Ship-owners were not allowed to throw ballast into the Tyne; and the only hardship to the millowners in this case was that they would be deprived of a cheap and easy mode of getting rid of their rubbish at the expense of the public. The Bill had been before a Select Committee, counsel had been heard on both sides, and an unanimous conclusion having been come to by the Committee in favour of the Bill, he saw no reason for refusing to consider it in Committee of the Whole House.


said, he would propose that the further consideration of the Bill be postponed for a fortnight.


concurred with the noble Earl (Earl Grey) that they should so far adopt the recommendations of the Committee as to proceed to the consideration of the clauses of the Bill.


was of opinion, that if their Lordships refused to go into Committee on the Bill, they would make it a very difficult matter for Committees in future to recommend measures to the consideration of the House. He would strongly urge upon their Lordships to go into Committee, when he intended to propose amendments upon some of the clauses.


said, that harbour Bills did not go to Select Committees till all the questions raised by them had been considered by the Admiralty or the Board of Trade; and the Committee were guided very much in their decision by the opinion of an inpartial and responsible Government officer. He saw no way in which questions of this nature could be satisfactorily determined upon by the House; and he thought it would be well if the practice in the case of harbour Bills was followed in regard to such Bills as the one now before their Lordships. He did not think they would be in a bit better position to decide upon the question a fortnight hence that they were now, and therefore there was no advantage in postponing the Committee.


said, he regarded this as a very objectionable measure. A very great public question was brought forward in the guise of a Private Bill, for the protection of the rights of a private company. It was a very serious question, whether there ought not to be some alteration in the law which should prevent the obstruction of tributary streams to navigable rivers. He was not aware of any enactment at present by which the public interest in a navigable river could be protected from having its supplies cut off by the acts of proprietors on the banks of its tributary streams. But, although that great evil was quoted as a reason for the introduction of this Bill, its provisions left the general question entirely untouched, and would amount to nothing more than an invasion of private property. There were a vast number of tributary streams flowing into these navigable rivers, the banks of the streams being the property of private individuals; and the only obligation upon the owners of the property by law was that they should not prevent the flow of water going down to other proprietors of land below them. The law had never gone to the extent of holding that a navigable river fed by the stream should be protected in any manner by the intervention of the Attorney-General. This Bill proposed not to legislate in such a manner as to secure the flow of water down to the navigable river, but to prevent the proprietors from dealing at all with the banks of the river; and throwing anything—even a stone—into the river was made a penal offence. He thought it might be expedient to give power to a court of justice to restrain by injunction any act that might impede the flow of water so as to interfere with the navigation; but their Lordships should be careful not to declare that an offence, which, might not in any degree contribute to the evil which they wished to remove. He thought legislation upon the subject necessary; but he considered that the evil should be met by a general comprehensive measure, instead of by a Bill dealing with a particular interest, and which would prove a petty, trifling, and vexatious procedure, without accomplishing the object in view.


thought this measure a very one-sided one, and that it ought not to be agreed to. He quite agreed with the noble and learned Lord, that the question involved was a fit one for general legislation.


thought there were already in existence powers to prevent the gradual filling-up of navigable rivers. If he were the owner of a stream, and chose to deepen it, throwing the rubbish he dug out into the river, he would be indictable for a nuisance; and the same remedy was open against a person who filled the river in by any other means.


said, he should be satisfied with the postponement of the consideration of the Bill in Committee, and would withdraw his Amendment.


said, no doubt the remedy referred to by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham), of indicting a person who filled the river in for a nuisance, existed, but it could not be carried out, as it was impossible to find out whose rubbish filled the river in. He should suggest that the Bill be postponed till that day fortnight, and that in the mean time the evidence taken before the Select Committee be printed.

Amendment and original Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn; and Committee put of to Monday the 16th instant.