HL Deb 12 March 1877 vol 232 cc1736-44

rose to call the attention of their Lordships to the operation of the law with reference to the local government of the Metropolis; and to move for certain Returns relating to the expenditure of Vestries and District Boards within the Metropolitan District. He desired to bring this matter before their Lordships, having observed that the discussion which had recently taken place in their Lordships' House with reference to the Metropolitan Board of Works did not embrace some important points connected with that subject. The question as submitted to their Lordships by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Camper-down) was confined to the constitution of the Metropolitan Board and the mode of its election. That was, doubtless, a matter of considerable importance, and he regretted that what was proposed by his noble Friend had not been assented to by their Lordships. The subject to which he now wished to call attention—namely, the operation of the law in the local government of the Metropolis—included, he was aware, many interests, and was one which, perhaps, could not be approached without awakening a certain amount, he might say, of prejudice, as touching upon what might be considered ancient custom and long-existing practice. These considerations threw some difficulties round the question. But at the same time they could not shut their eyes to the fact that changes must sometimes be made in local as well as in other institutions to adapt them to the requirements of the times. Now it seemed to be a want of this policy which had kept back improvements in the Metropolis, which consequently had only been partially carried out. It had been attempted, to unite the ancient form of local government, when the population was counted by hundreds, with what was rendered necessary by the increasing wants of a population almost unexampled in number and in the vastness and variety of its occupations. This work was attempted in the year 1855, when the Act was passed which constituted the Metropolitan Board of Works. Previous to the passing of this Act the Metropolis had been mainly under the government of Vestries—with the exception of the comparatively small area which, as now, was under the jurisdiction of the Corporation of the City of London—and as might be expected, there were hardly two parishes which were governed alike. The object of this Act was to produce greater uniformity of local government. No doubt a great deal had been achieved, but the evil had only been partially cured. Before the appointment of the Metropolitan Board the subject had been for many years under the consideration of the ablest and most practical men; Parliamentary Committees and Royal Commissions had sat and reported upon it; Bills were introduced by the Governments of the day and by private Members of the Legislature, which were afterwards withdrawn; and the question seemed to be beset with difficulties—one of which, and he thought not the least, was the attempt to amalgamate the City of London with the surrounding boroughs and parishes. It was, therefore, wise in the Metropolis Management Act of 1855 to exclude almost entirely from its operation the City of London. He admitted that the City of London had been well governed — for, while the rights and privileges of that ancient Corporation had happily been respected by Parliament, they had adapted their practice to the wants of the present time, and had set an example of local government which was worthy of being followed. But the area and population included within the City boundary were comparatively small and were numbered by thousands, while outside they came to millions. Excluding, then, as he proposed to do in this discussion, the City of London, what did they find existing under the Metropolitan Act? There was a divided jurisdiction in many important matters affecting public interests and public convenience. If they looked outside the City boundaries there was a population approaching 4, 0 00,000. with an area extending into four counties, and inclosing nine Parliamentary boroughs. Under the Act of 1855 this immense district covered with houses was placed under the joint government of 38 Select Vestries or District Boards and the Metropolitan Board of Works. The smaller parishes were grouped together and formed District Boards; the larger ones being divided into wards having members according to their size. These Vestries or District Boards had under their management branch drainage, buildings to some extent, streets, water supply, lighting, and sanitary arrangements. The Metropolitan Board had entrusted to it the main drainage, the control over the construction of sewers by the Vestries, over the forma- tion of new streets and buildings, and general metropolitan improvements. The larger works were carried on by committees: thus there was the Building Committee, the Fire Brigade Committee, the Open Spaces and Commons Committee, the Cattle Diseases Committee, and others. Now he was at a loss to see how it could be for the advantage of the ratepayers or the public that there should be this divided jurisdiction, and these numerous centres of management. He would mention an instance—that of drainage. Could it be a good, or convenient, or economical arrangement that the main drainage should be under the Metropolitan Board and the smaller drainage under Parochial or District Boards? Or to take the water or lighting. Was it desirable to leave important matters like these, which required unity of action, in the hands of different Boards, with perhaps more or less different interests. It was argued" You will interfere with the parochial system if you take away the jurisdiction of Vestries." But was not that done already? They had District Boards formed by the union of parishes instead of Vestries, and it was but a small step further to unite these in one central Board, to be elected by the ratepayers, who would thus be directly represented, and would exercise more the rights which they were intended to have than they did under the present system. He came now to the practical results of this divided authority as existing in the Metropolitan Board of Works and the 38 Vestries or District Boards. And here he wished distinctly to state that in the remarks which he might offer ho desired in no way to attribute maladministration either to the Metropolitan Board or to the different Vestries and Local Boards. He regarded the defects in practice to which he might ask their Lordships' notice as the natural and in many instances unavoidable consequences of the existing divided authority and jurisdiction. Take the street question. The Metropolitan Board of Works had no control over many of those matters which materially affected public interests and public convenience; but in the work of the Local Boards streets were continually disturbed and broken up in different districts for gas or drainage pipes or other reasons at inconvenient seasons of the year, new paving was sometimes laid down in one street and not in another which equally required it; the paving of one street was often of a totally different kind from that in the other adjoining—so that horses suddenly passed from a macadamized street to a slippery wood or asphalte pavement; large masses of broken granite were laid down in some streets at a time when the carriage traffic most required an even road. Now, if they had one central authority there would be one kind of paving for all alike. Again, steam rollers were worked at all hours of the day: streets in the summer were frequently imperfectly watered; and he had heard of an instance where one parish insisted upon watering its side of the street in the morning, while the other watered it in the evening, thereby having dust all the day. These, he believed, were the words of the Act giving power to the Vestry to water the streets —"as often as they think fit." This, of course, admitted of very wide interpretation. So also as regarded crossing-sweepers to be distinguished by their dress as public servants, the Act allowed them to be appointed, but did not make it compulsory; consequently it was never done. And with reference to clearing the streets of dust or snow, the Act required it to be done at "such hours as fixed by the Vestry." It was too well known how imperfectly this was carried out; and as to cleaning the streets it was frequently done by aged and infirm persons instead of by the improved machinery now in use. And here he could not omit to notice the subject of the gas and water supply of the Metropolis. These were, as their Lordships knew, in the hands of Companies, and consequently Vestries and District Boards were dependent upon those Companies, both as regarded the quantity and quality of what was supplied. The gas of London, as was well known, was inferior to what was used in many other large towns; and there were instances of successful management, as in Manchester, where the gas was made a source of income to the town. In like manner, the quality of a considerable portion of the water as now supplied was not what it ought to be, and what it might be, in such a City as London. He believed both would be better if the supply was in the hands of a central authority. Then, what an unfavourable contrast did London and other large towns of England afford when compared with towns on the Continent with regard to markets? Where were our meat markets, our fish markets, our general markets? The few which we had were frequently small and ill-managed, and were not accessible to a large portion of the population, and the poor as well as the rich had often no choice but dealing with tradesmen at a disadvantage. These were some of the inconveniences, and others might be enumerated, which arose from the divided jurisdiction of so many Vestries and District Boards; and he could not but think that what he had ventured to suggest would in a great measure afford a remedy—that was, if the management of the Metropolis were placed under the control of a central Board such as or similar to the existing Metropolitan Board, and to be elected in a direct manner by the ratepayers. He believed it would be more economical, that the work would be better done, and that it would be greatly to the advantage of the public. He had to thank their Lordships for listening to what he felt was but an imperfect statement of a large question, and which he trusted might be supplemented by other remarks, in the hope that Her Majesty's Government might be induced to give their attention and consideration to that important subject. As he proposed to move for a Return of the sums expended by Vestries and District Boards of the metropolis during the past three years, he might mention that there was, he believed, a Return of the period between 1856 and 1870, showing a total expenditure of upwards of £7,000,000.

Moved, That there be laid before this House— Returns of the sums expended by vestries and district boards within the Metropolitan district, exclusive of the City of London, upon paving, lighting, drainage, water supply, sanitary arrangements, and other works not under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board, during the years 1874, 1875, and 1876.—(The Earl De La Warr.)


said, that, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, there was no objection to the production of the Papers for which his noble Friend had moved. Their Lordships would, no doubt, expect that he should say something in answer to the observations of his noble Friend; but he had some difficulty in doing so, because he had been unable to find from the Notice on the Paper, to what particular point his noble Friend intended to address his remarks. Now that his noble Friend had made his observations, he (Earl Beauchamp) desired to point out that the main proposition of that speech had been, perhaps, sufficiently discussed when the Motion for the second reading of Lord Camper-down's Bill was before their Lordships. No one could contend that there were not imperfections in the present system of managing metropolitan affairs; but he thought that if regard was had to what had been accomplished, since the passing of the Metropolis Management Act, it must in candour be admitted that the Vestries and District Boards had not laboured without success, and that, on the whole, the management of the Metropolis would compare favourably with that of Continental towns. The Metropolis Management Act of 1855 contained the provisions in accordance with which the Vestries were elected and transacted their business. In 1870 a number of questions were addressed to the various Vestries of the Metropolis relative to the sanitary condition of their districts; and the answers to those questions showed that between the date of the passage of the Metropolis Management Act and that year the sanitary condition of the Metropolis had changed very considerably for the better, that the gas and water supply was improved, and that much property of an inferior and insanitary condition bad been replaced by dwellings of a more modern and healthy sort. Rome was not built in a day; but, considering the vastness of the work they had to do, the Metropolitan Board of Works and the Vestries might congratulate themselves on having taken most effective and successful steps in embellishing the Metropolis of this great Empire. He was far from denying that much remained to be done; and those who had done so much would be far from denying it; but still the improvement and beautifying of the City had proceeded to a considerable extent. The death-rate also of the Metropolis had been considerably diminished, but there was no reason why it should not be diminished still more. He could not very well follow the noble Earl through all the details of his speech—there seemed nothing too great, or too small for his criticism. As to what his noble Friend had said with regard to the pulling up of streets for the purpose of laying and repairing gas and water pipes, all that, no doubt, was disagreeable, but the Vestries had no jurisdiction to enable them to prevent it. Then his noble Friend had complained that there were different descriptions of paving in adjoining streets; but in reply to that, it was to be said that as yet no one kind of payment was acknowledged to be the best, and it must be remembered that the sort of pavement which answered very well in one street might not be suitable to another in which, perhaps, there was much more traffic. As to markets, it would be very hard to hold the Vestries accountable in that matter—they had no power over the markets; and if they had, it was not certain that they would act prudently or economically. A noble lady, whose name was always mentioned with respect (Lady Burdett Coutts), had founded a market in the densely populated district of Shoreditch, which, for some reason or other, did not command the approval of the population of the district and had proved a failure; and if they were to take that instance as a guide, they could not argue that the erection of markets for the various districts of the metropolis was the best thing to advocate. The noble Earl complained of the way in which dust and snow were removed from the streets. During the last great snowstorm the possibilities of the various Vestries were strained to the utmost. So that they must not take that as a fair sample of their normal capacities. But Mr. Hayward had shown by statistics, that to make provision for the immediate removal of the snow, after a heavy fall of snow in the Metropolis, would involve an expenditure out of all proportion to the object to be achieved. It was impossible for the very best arrangements to succeed in a season of great emergency; but, if it were found that the general working was efficient, he thought that was all they could fairly ask of any public body. There was, as he had said, no certainty that a central Board such as that suggested would produce more favourable results. The more they inquired into the manner in which the duties of the various local authorities were performed, the more it would be found that they redounded to the credit of those to whom they were entrusted.


thought that if he took his "intelligent foreigner" through the West-end of London, that personage would be very much astonished at the way the public thoroughfares were dealt with by Vestries and by Gas and Water Companies. In dealing with our streets the Vestries ought to act under the control of a central authority, such as the Metropolitan Board of Works. They ought to be placed by law under such an authority; and, if that were done, a great deal of local inconvenience would be spared.


said, that a system could not but be defective, under which, not only the Vestries, but Gas and Water Companies had power to take up streets. The Companies acted independently of the Vestries. Two Companies might be pulling up different portions of a street at the same time; and he had known instances in which no sooner had one Company taken up a street and put it down again, than another Company entered and performed the same operation over again. He was glad to find that the noble Earl who had spoken on behalf of the Government (Earl Beauchamp) did not speak of the management of the Metropolis as being absolute perfection; but he regretted that the admissions of the noble Earl were so very qualified. He could not agree with the noble Earl that things had been done so well. On the contrary, he held that at the present moment the state of the Metropolis was far from creditable to the greatest capital in the world. It was very far from being equal to Paris in its pavements, though, when he first knew the French capital, it was far behind London in that respect, as well as in its sanitary arrangements. He was of opinion that as the duties of the Vestries were administrative, the members of those bodies were too numerous. He must, in conclusion, solemnly enter his protest against regarding the present state of administration in the Metropolis as being either satisfactory, efficient, or economical.

Motion agreed to.