HL Deb 16 May 1873 vol 216 cc1-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." (The Duke of Northumberland).


said, there could be no question as to the evils with which the Bills proposed to deal—indeed the whole subject had already been inquired into and reported upon by a Royal Commission—and the Government were so impressed with the necessity of doing something in the matter, that last year his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board introduced in the Sanitary Bill clauses which were almost identical with those in the Bill which the noble Duke asked their Lordships to read a second time; but so many objections were urged against his propositions, and so great would have been the interference with several branches of industry by the provisions against the pollution of rivers, owing to their necessary stringency and the difficulty of carrying them out, that the Government felt obliged to abandon them. By way of illustration he might mention the difficulty which presented itself in reference to the definition of a "polluted liquid"—definitions had been attempted, but they were so minute that the utmost difficulty would have been found in putting them into practice. Again, one of the most important considerations in connection with the subject of sanitary reform was that of the re-organization of the local authorities. It seemed very questionable that a river should be under the care of so small an authority as a local sanitary authority—it would seem better to place it under a large authority, such as that which managed highways. But as the whole subject of sanitary reform was receiving the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and bearing in mind the fate of the clauses having reference to the pollution of rivers in the Bill of last year, he could not, on behalf of the Government, promise that this Bill would receive their support in the other House of Parliament.


said, he was far from opposing the second reading of the Bill, because there was much that was good in it, and in all these matters it was necessary to make a beginning: but before passing the Bill through a future stage it would be necessary to pause and consider very seriously whether its provisions were such as could be carried out. In his opinion they went too far. At any rate, the fate of the Government measure of last Session showed how necessary it was that the country should have time to consider provisions that so largely affected local and industrial interests. He did not know that even Parliament was in possession of sufficient information to enable them to legislate on the subject.


said, there did not appear to be any objection to the principle of the Bill. The objections that had been urged were rather against precipitancy in consenting to such stringent provisions as were contained in the clauses of the Bill. The pollution of rivers was so great that the interference of the Legislature was urgently called for. Many rivers in the North of England with which he was acquainted were in such a state of pollution as to be absolutely poisonous. He knew rivers which oven at a very considerable distance from the source of pollution were in some cases of the colour of deep indigo, and in others of the colour of dirty sulphurous yellow. The water was thus rendered noxious to vegetation and poisonous to fish, and if poisonous to fish, noxious also to cattle and deleterious to man. The provisions of the Bill might be stringent, but such de- tails could be dealt with by a Select Committee if not by a Committee of the Whole House, and he hoped the noble Duke would persevere with his measure.


thought that before their Lordships read the Bill a second time it would be well that they should do actually what they had already done formally—read it a first time. On reading the Bill their Lordships would find that it enacted the imposition of heavy penalties on any person who caused or permitted any "polluting liquid" to flow into a river. There were very few of their Lordships who were not the owners of a ditch, and all persons who had ditches would do well to look to one of the definitions which Clause 7 in this Bill gave of a "polluting liquid:"— Any liquid which exhibits by daylight a distinct colour when a stratum of one-inch deep is placed in a white porcelain or earthenware vessel. But that was not all. The liquid might be as clear as crystal, and yet under this Bill it would be a "polluting liquid" if it contained In suspension more than three parts by weight of dry mineral matter, or one part by weight of dry organic matter, in 100,000 parts by weight of the liquid. It was his impression that he had often seen ditches the liquid in which would come under the prohibition in this Bill. But what was the case with some of the principal rivers? In the Thames there were 50 parts of the objectionable matter in the 100,000 parts by weight of the liquid; in the Rhine, at Bonn, 20; in the Meuse, 47; in the Mississippi, 80; and in the Ganges, from 20 to 200. He was afraid that those of their Lordships who possessed many ditches would be nigh ruined by the Bill, for it imposed upon anyone who, whether knowingly or negligently permitted any "polluting liquid" to run into any river the penalty of £5 on the first conviction, for the second conviction, a penalty of £10, with a continuing penalty of £2 per diem, and for the third or subsequent conviction £20and a running penalty of £5 per diem. This was rather severe upon the poor land owners, considering that they would incur these penalties if they did not keep their ditches very much cleaner than some of the principal rivers of the world. The two eminent scientific gentlemen who had acted as Commissioners had directed their attention to the stopping of the evil; but there was always the danger of attempting too much by legislation, and before undertaking so large a subject, it would be well to have the question considered by practical men. Such a Bill as that now before their Lordships would have to encounter powerful opposition from manufacturers; and for those and other reasons, he thought it ought to be referred to a Select Committee if their Lordships agreed to give it a second reading.


hoped the noble Duke would not press the second reading of the Bill until after more mature consideration, for if it should become law it would be almost impossible to carry on the mining industry of the country.


said, that legislation on this subject was much needed, and therefore hoped the Bill would be read a second time.


concurred in thinking that legislation was required. There would be no difficulty in detecting noxious matter at the mouth of the drain coming from the factories before it was mixed and diluted by the water of the river. He lived in the neighbourhood of two rivers—the Whitewater and the Blackwater. You might stand on the bridge and see the salmon shooting up the first of those rivers like lightning—without stopping for an instant; but when they got about 20 yards up the other river they suddenly stopped, turned up their noses, and made a rapid retreat. This was the Black-adder or Blackwater.


said, there was no intention on the part of the Government to deny that something ought to be done. There was no question of the extent and mischief of the evil—the only question was whether the Bill before their Lordships afforded the best means of remedying it. He thought that the practical objections to the present Bill wore such that their Lordships ought certainly not to consent to it without careful consideration of its provisions by a Select Committee. What they had to consider was, whether the prohibitory clause of the Bill would not lead to an amount of public inconvenience, which would be even less endurable than the evils which it was desirable to remove. His own impression was that it would be better not to press the second reading; but if the noble Duke (the Duke of Northumberland) thought otherwise the Government would not divide against him.


wished to direct their Lordships' attention to a difficulty which his experience in the Court of Chancery had made him aware of—that nothing could be more inconvenient than to pass a measure which simply forbad people to do certain things, without ascertaining, or enabling them to ascertain, in what manner it would be possible for them to avoid doing those things. Nothing was more familiar in the Court than an application to restrain nuisances on a large scale. Some towns had sent all their drainage into a river—Birmingham for instance—and when an application was made to the Court of Chancery the Court had not hesitated to grant an injunction; but when the injunction was granted the embarrassing question arose how was it to be obeyed? It might occur that in obeying it as best they could the authorities of the town would do something, which would create another nuisance quite as great as that for the putting down of which the aid of the Court of Chancery had been invoked, and then another suit, by other parties, became necessary. In all cases which arose in connection with the pollution of rivers it had to be considered whether any means could be found for abating the mischief, for it would not do to stop manufactories and works offhand; especially in cases where legal rights to discharge refuse matters into streams existed, so far as private persons were concerned, and where, according to the existing law, there was no public nuisance. If prohibitory enactments, such as those contained in this Bill, were adopted by Parliament, a sufficiently long time must be allowed for those whom the prohibitions would affect to devise means by which obedience to the law would be practicable.

After a few words in reply from the Duke of NORTHUMBERLAND,

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.

And, on Tuesday, May 20, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

Ld. Privy Seal. E. Morley.
D. Northumberland. V. Portman.
M. Salisbury. L. Vivian.
E. Doncaster. L. Aveland.
E. Lauderdale. L. Penrhyn.