HL Deb 16 April 1863 vol 170 cc169-78

rose to move the second reading of this Bill, the object of which was to carry out generally the recommendations of the Select Committee which had been appointed last Session, on the Motion of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby). The main object of the inquiry was, as to the means of preventing the injury occasioned in various ways, and especially to vegetation, by alkali works in the manufacture of soda, by the muriatic gas evolved in the process. This gas had a great affinity for water, and this circumstance afforded a mode, which was adopted in some of the best-regulated works, for remedying the evil. It was very much to the credit of the manufacturers connected with the trade that they expressed a readiness to be subject to legislation on the subject. The Committee, therefore, recommended that the manufacturers engaged in this branch of business should be compelled to adopt such machinery as would provide for the condensation of this gas, and that this machinery should be under the supervision of inspectors, who should have access to it at nil times, both by day and night, in order to see that the machinery was kept in proper working order. In conformity with the recommendations of the Committee, he proposed that all the manufacturers should be required to adopt the necessary remedy for condensing the gas, without deter- mining in the Bill what the particular process should be; that the works should be under the supervision of inspectors appointed by Government, and that in no case should a greater quantity than 5 per cent of the gas he allowed to escape, while 95 per cent at least should be condensed in the process of the manufacture. This, he believed, might be done without any injury to the manufacturers. He did not think it would be desirable to apply to the great manufacturing interests of this country measures which could not be adopted without injury to the success of the manufacture. In this case the manufacturers themselves had given a pledge that they would render every assistance in their power to carry out the provisions of the Bill; but to this they had attached a condition which he considered essential to obtaining their assistance—that they should be the subject of special legislation; and that if in the opinion of Parliament similar regulations were required with respect to other manufactures than the manufacture of alkali, they should be carried out by a separate Bill, and by separate legislation. It was impossible for any one who considered the vast importance of the manufactures of this country not to perceive that the greatest care and precaution were necessary in dealing with the processes of manufacture. The power and position of England depended to a very great extent upon her manufacturing freedom, and he firmly believed her pre-eminence had been created and established mainly through freedom from legislative interference with the great departments of industry. With regard to the alkali manufacture itself, be believed, if in its earlier stages it had been subject to a system of inspection, and constant interference had taken place with its chemical experiment, combinations, and processes, it would have been so paralysed that it never would have arrived at the position in which it stood at present. The amount of capital involved in this manufacture was upwards of £2.000.000, and the annual value of its productions was £2,500,000; 19,000 persons were employed in it, and the wages paid reached £871,000 a year. Their Lordships would therefore regret if any legislation with a view to enable owners of land to recover damages from the manufacturers with greater facility than at present, should be attended with injury to so important an interest. In this case, however, a remedy had been tried; it had been shown to be effective, it had been adopted without inconvenience, and the manufacturers knew that it might, to a certain extent, bring them even a profit, as the condensed gas created muriatic acid, which was a marketable commodity and of great use in many branches of manufacture. The provisions of the Bill were, that every alkali work should be carried on in such a manner as to secure, to the satisfaction of the inspector, the condensation of not less than 95 per cent of the muriatic gas evolved therein. Wherever an alkali work shall be carried on in contravention of this provision, the owner was made liable, for the first offence, to a penalty of £50, and for every subsequent offence to a penalty of £20, or a continuing penalty of £2 for every day in which his work shall be so carried on. Every alkali work was to be registered with the inspector. Inspectors were appointed, to whom powers of inspection were confided; and a penalty of £10 was imposed on every owner who should wilfully obstruct the inspector in the execution of his duty, or fail to conform to these provisions of the Bill. It was, under the existing law, open to any person to proceed by indictment for the removal of any nuisance, and that remedy was shown to be effectual from the fact that many works had been already removed. This remedy would be very much facilitated by the operation of this Bill; for whereas formerly great difficulty was experienced on the part of persons receiving injury in ascertaining the precise works from which the injury arose, under the present Bill, if a previous conviction had been obtained, it would be very easy to recover damages in a court of law. The general penalties were made recoverable in England and Ireland before a Court of quarter sessions, without the intervention of a jury, and in Scotland before the sheriff or sheriff substitute; penalties incurred by infraction of any special rule were recoverable by summary procedure before two justices of the peace in England and Ireland, and in Scotland before the sheriff substitute or two justices. A general appeal in respect of the higher penalties was given to the superior courts. The Committee had recommended an appeal only in case of a point of law. But he felt strongly, that in a case where they were imposing heavy restrictions upon an important branch of manufacture, it was but just to give the manufacturers power of appeal to a court of law, if they thought that justice had not been done them in the inferior court. The only omission which he had made in the Bill was with respect to the manufacture of sulphuric acid and ammonia alum, the gases produced from which were in some part of the process, though offensive to the smell, not very injurious to life and vegetation. He hoped their Lordships would be satisfied to limit the operation of the Bill to alkali works alone; and that if at a future time it should be necessary to legislate with regard to the other manufactures, it would be done by a separate Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2*.


said, he should offer no opposition to the second reading of the Bill, because to a certain extent it would carry out the regulations which had been recommended by the Select Committee. Nor did he complain of the noble Lord for proposing to deal with the alkali manufacture separately from the general question of nuisances, although he himself should have preferred to associate with the alkali manufacture the manufacture of sulphuric acid and ammonia alum. The latter manufactures were placed upon exactly the same footing as alkali by Professor Play-fair in the evidence which he had given before the Committee. Professor Play fair said that the manufactures of sulphuric acid and ammonia alum and similar trades were all injurious both to vegetation and animal life; and it was stated in evidence before the Committee that processes of condensation might be applied, and ought to be applied, to all those nuisances. It was true, indeed, with respect to muriatic acid that the manufactured article was of such value as to induce the manufacturer to provide as far as possible for its condensation—it was not therefore of so much importance that it should be introduced into the Bill. But that was not the ease with respect to ammonia alum, with regard to which Professor Playfair's testimony was directly at variance with the statement of the noble Lord. The manufacture of ammonia alkali was not carried to such an extent as to render it indispensable to introduce it into the present Bill. He regretted, however, that the Board of Trade bad not attempted by a distinct measure to reduce into order and system the vast mass of legislation which existed on the subject of nuisances generally. The law on this subject was in a state of utter confusion, vary- ing in different parts of the country; and, at the same time, the evidence taken by the Board of Trade itself showed that the existing remedies were wholly insufficient. He should not oppose the second reading of the Bill. Although it might fail to do all that could be wished, yet it would be valuable as an official declaration of the views of the Government, and as an admission on the part of the manufacturers themselves, as expressed in their evidence, that a real and substantial grievance existed, which might be easily dealt with without interfering imperiously with the interests of trade. The Committee, on the advice of the alkali manufacturers themselves, recommended that Inspectors should be appointed, and that it would be impossible otherwise to deal satisfactorily with the nuisances in question. An association of the manufacturers, proposed to be formed some years ago, recommended that still more stringent regulations should be adopted than those now proposed. They proposed not only that Inspectors should be appointed, but that there should be sub-inspectors, charged with the duty of visiting day by day the various works of the members of the association, and that they should visit those works as frequently each day as possible. The reason why inspection was necessary was, because where the peculiar-coloured vapour which contained the gas was absent, there might yet be an effusion of noxious vapour not visible to the eye, and which could not be proved to have been emitted by the evidence of those living in the neighbourhood. The Inspectors must examine the construction of the works, and see that proper attention was paid to the working of the machinery, so that there was not too great an issue of this noxious gas. It was shown in evidence that it was possible fur the manufacturers to avoid the evolution of gas in the day-time by condensation; yet it was also established, that owing to the negligence of workmen and the want of attention of masters, a large amount of gas issued from the works, to the detriment of the surrounding country. Inspectors ought, therefore, to be appointed, with power to examine and inspect the works at all hours of the day and night, in order that the owners might not be on their guard in expectation of their visits at particular hours. He could not understand by the Bill whether the Inspectors were to be the only persons entitled to sue for penalties. It appeared to him that the personal evidence of the Inspector would be necessary, as the Bill was now worded, to satisfy the magistrate that the offence had been committed. Now, it should be recollected that the Inspector would have the supervision of a large district, and that therefore it would be impossible that he could be present at every part of his district, so as to give evidence in every case where the law might be infringed. It would soon be known when he had gone somewhere else; and then, when his back was turned, an excess of gas might be evolved which might be apparent enough to the neighbours, yet no one would be able to furnish the evidence necessary for the recovery of the penalties, because the evidence of the Inspector was necessary to substantiate the charge. The Select Committee recommended that any person should be allowed to sue for penalties, and that the evidence of others should be supplementary to that of the Inspectors. The Committee further recommended that there should be no appeal from the quarter sessions to the superior courts of law, except in cases where the magistrates might certify that points of law bad arisen. He, however, would go further than this, and say that no point of law could arise rendering such an appeal desirable. The point at issue would be simply whether on a particular day a condensation of gas to the extent of 95 per cent had taken place to the satisfaction of the Inspector. He could not imagine a more simple issue, or that it was necessary to give an appeal to the superior courts in such a case. The only analogous office to that of these Inspectors was that of the Inspectors under the Factory Act. These Inspectors were, however, themselves charged with the duty of taking proceedings against offenders. If that was the intention of the present Bill, that duty would devolve upon the Inspectors; and if the Inspectors were to be responsible for enforcing obedience to the law, there would be no objection to provide for the assistance of private prosecutors; but those parties would probably not be willing themselves to incur the expense and responsibility of instituting such proceedings. The difficulty was very great regarding the question of ascertaining in what particular work the offensive operation was going on. But it would be found extremely inconvenient to take the matter out of the hands of the magistrates and bring it before a superior court, inasmuch us it would throw upon the manufacturing parties immediately concerned an amount of expense which, in many cases, it was impossible they could bear; and then the prosecution must of necessity fall to the ground. Why in so simple a question as the amount of condensation of gas there should be any appeal from the quarter sessions to the superior courts, which would deter persona from coming forward to abate a nuisance, he could not imagine. It was proposed by the Bill that the penalty imposed for the first offence should be a fine of £50, while for the second or any subsequent offence a fine of £20. or of £2 a day, should be inflicted. Now, that was inconsistent with the usual principles observed in regard to punishments. The heaviest penalty was generally laid upon the second offence, and in this case the course proposed might prove wholly inoperative, as many manufacturers would rather pay £2 a day than incur the expense of adapting machinery. In many instances three months must elapse before the ease could be brought on at quarter sessions, and in the interval the offence might have been renewed over and over again, because the Inspector could not remain upon the spot. A single penalty, therefore, would fall very lightly at the end of that time, and the injury would not be redressed. It appeared to him that the main objections to the Bill were, first of all, that it was doubtful who was to carry on the legal proceedings for the purpose of enforcing the law; and next, that the penalties were insufficient to deter certain parties from systematically violating the law; and, as he understood the provisions of the measure, it appeared to him that it would be difficult under certain circumstances to bring home the offence to the guilty parties, although it might be within the knowledge of many persons in the neighbourhood of the place where it had been committed. Those objections, however, were not such as to induce him to refuse his assent to the second reading of the Bill. He trusted, however, that the attention of the noble Lord would be turned to its provisions in Committee, in order to have them so altered as to remove those difficulties which he (the Earl of Derby) had now pointed out. He was quite aware of the vast importance, in a commercial sense, of the particular branch of industry affected by this measure, and he would be the last person to interfere unnecessarily with its profitable working. But the most indisputable evidence had been given that the remedies proposed by the Committee were of a practical character; upon the confession of the manufacturers themselves they could be introduced without the slightest obstruction to their business, and, at the same time, with the greatest possible benefit to the community at large. He was therefore desirous of seeing the Bill made as complete and effectual as possible for the carrying out of the objects for which it was framed.


concurred in most of the objections of the noble Earl who had just sat down. He did not think it a sound principle to surround a particular trade with certain fixed regulations. What was required was a general law providing some simple and adequate remedy for the evils arising from the present state of the law relating to nuisances. He had ventured to express an opinion to that effect in the Committee last year, and to move a Resolution, but the majority of the Members did not concur with the view he entertained. There were particular trades which inflicted great and preventible injuries upon the property of individuals, towards whom practically there was a denial of justice, owing to the complexity of the existing law, and in some cases owing to the very magnitude of the evil itself, which prevented the nuisance irons being brought home to the works of any particular manufacturer. It was inconsistent with justice that the great losses entailed by the establishment of particular manufactures should fall upon individual proprietors; there ought to be some simple means by which, in a court of law, they could recover justice for injuries actually done. He did not object to the present Bill; but after the evidence given last year before the Select Committee Her Majesty's Government ought to have taken a more enlarged view of the subject, and have framed a simpler and more general measure.


said, that he also had been a Member of the Select Committee of last year, but be must take the liberty of saying that he did not entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Earl who had spoken last. Although the law of nuisances was shown to be very defective, and it was proved that other processes besides those dealt with in the present measure inflicted injury largely upon private individuals, the Committee bad not that evidence before them as to the extent of injury done or as to the adequacy of any suggested means of prevention that would have rendered it safe to propose general legislation on the subject. His noble Friend (Lord Stanley of Alderley) had therefore, he thought, exercised a wise discretion in confining to a single object the Bill he had introduced. At the same time, he must concur with the observations of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) as to the amount of the penalties which the Bill contemplated. It would have a very injurious effect if, by the adoption of a scale of moderate penalties, constant litigation were engendered, instead of imposing a fine at once which would render it imperative on the manufacturer to make the necessary alterations in his works. He thought his noble Friend would do well to take these points into his consideration.


said, he thanked the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby) for the support which he had given to the Bill, and that be would take into consideration the suggestions for its improvement which he had thrown out. As to the various questions that had been asked as to the intention of the present Bill, he thought it was clearly the duty of Inspectors to prosecute, and no doubt hereafter it might be necessary to consider the expediency of appointing sub-Inspectors. The amount of the penalties would probably require some revision; but the advantage of a. penalty lay not so much in its amount as in the assistance which it would afford to private prosecutors in recovering damages for any damage they might have sustained, by showing that the manufacturer had neglected his duty. The general law of nuisances was, no doubt, susceptible of improvement; but so many and such various interests were involved, that if facilities had been proposed for the recovering of damages in every case, often on frivolous or vexatious grounds, a storm of opposition would have been excited which would have utterly prevented the attaining of that moderate amount of improvement which was to be looked for from the present measure.


pointed out, that with regard to the proposed appeal, he did not see that any question of law could arise; it could only be an issue of fact.


said, there might be cases in which the parties affected might consider that the decision was not impartial, and it was desirable that they should have the opportunity of an appeal.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday next.