HL Deb 26 May 1884 vol 288 cc1265-73

, who had given Notice to call attention to the means of abating smoke in the Metropolis; and to present a Bill upon the subject, said: My Lords, it would take up too much time and verge too much on egotism to explain all the circumstances which have led me to this Notice. It may be enough to say that during many Sessions I have been on the point of giving it, whenever the moment seemed to be propitious. It occurred to me some time ago to suggest to a few persons the formation of a society for abating smoke in the Metropolis. Although my efforts were not of much value, the same impressions afterwards led others to organize a body in the very sense which I had contemplated. It exists under the auspices of the noble Duke the Master of the Horse. It is sustained by various distinguished Members of the Legislature. A considerable movement has grown up under its auspices. At the South Kensington Museum the best contrivances for abating smoke have been exhibited. An extraordinary stimulus has been given to invention with regard to them. Last year, on the 16th of July, a public meeting to abate smoke was held at the Mansion House. The support of the late Lord Mayor was obtained, and the whole subject powerfully ventilated. The upshot is that many propositions, which ten years back it would have been necessary to establish slowly and minutely, may now be rapidly submitted to the House without much fear of having to contend with them. For instance, it is now widely known that so early as 1300 a Royal edict against smoke was promulgated by one of the most enlightened as well as the most active of our Sovereigns. In the Reign of Queen Elizabeth the matter occupied the Legislature. In the Reign of Charles II., Evelyn, the author of the celebrated Diary, brought the question before the King, who urged him on to prosecute it further. During the present century there have been various inquiries—in 1819, in 1843, and in 1845. They led on to the measures of Lord Palmerston just before the Crimean War, when he presided at the Home Office. Reduced to what might seem for him an insignificant Department, he took advantage of obscurity to promote the interests of daylight, and, unable to act upon the world abroad, conceived a germ of Metropolitan improvement of which the fruit may long survive the Treaties he originated. However, the essential point to be remarked is that these Acts were but preliminary in their character. They are imperfect for two reasons. They do not reach the aggregate of smoke arising from domestic houses. They are but partially enforced, in consequence, if I am not mistaken, of that very limitation. It is in some degree invidious to proceed against furnaces, which at least contribute to the public wealth, and leave untouched the ordinary fireside, which only burns for the advantage of the circle who surround it. Although, perhaps, it ought not to exist, there is a lurking conscience in executive authority. Inspectors, constables, and others, in theory machines of State, are not devoid of an unconscious sensibility, which makes them rigorous or lax, according to the estimate they form of laws intrusted to their maintenance. The Acts of Lord Palmerston, as a first step, have been invaluable. But they will not be thoroughly enforced till something more is done, and if they were enforced in every case, would leave an intolerable residue of evil to be otherwise disposed of. So much is commonly admitted, and there are other points, which, owing to the labours of the movement, are deemed to be beyond the range of controversy at this moment. It has been shown by the Hon. Mr. Russell, in a striking pamphlet which the Society under the noble Duke the Master of the Horse has circulated, that fogs which must, in. any case, arise from exhalations of a tidal river, derive their yellowness, their blackness, and their odour from the smoky or carbonic particles which mingle with them; that if these particles were absent the fogs would not be graver than those which now exist at Eton and at Windsor, or than the mists which frequently repress the latent sunshine of the Highlands. It has been shown that the actual type of fog is deadly in its consequences, not only fertile of disorder, but conducive to mortality. In the week ending February 7th, 1880, remarkable for fog, the number of deaths, above the average, was 1,657, of which 1,118 were put down to complaints in the respiratory organs. Without statistics, we are well aware that, from the atmosphere which smoke involves, London is avoided more than otherwise it would be; that after Parliamentary Divisions, which bring men from a distance, there is a rush into the Provinces; that down to the beginning of the Session the Metropolis is nearly empty; that when the Session closes no one will remain more than a week, who has the power to absent himself. We know also that many hundreds who are prosperous and educated prefer the heavy inconvenience of daily locomotion to their offices and warehouses by railway to the evil of residing altogether in the capital, thinking it better to shorten life, which probably they do, than to depress vitality, the solo alternative presented. It is not necessary either to insist with much detail on the advancing nature of the influence which smoke exerts over the atmosphere of London. It is calculated in the works which the Society distribute that every year adds more than 25,000 houses. If we allot three chimneys to a house, 75,000 chimneys increase the aggregate of smoke during the twelvemonth. Even in 1819 it was shown by medical authority to the Select Committee of the House of Commons to what injurious extent the atmosphere was vitiated. Let such a process be permitted to go on till the end of the century to adopt another and a smaller capital will be a probable necessity. It is true that if you glance over the world, or think of St. Petersburg, Madrid, or Berlin, capitals have frequently been altered. But there are many risks in the transition. Public Offices and Parliaments might be located elsewhere without insuperable difficulty. But a serious decline in the value of house property would follow. This tendency was shown in Dublin after the Irish Union. Lord Cloncurry, in his Memoirs, has given curious examples of it. Leaseholders would sell at no little disadvantage. Proprietors would lose immensely on the leases being exhausted. The middle classes, in the absence of society, would see their profits rapidly declining. The demand for labour would be in consequence impaired; and although, no doubt, the labour would be wanted elsewhere, you cannot, without a period of much embarrassment, replace it. The conclusion which arises is, that an evil which threatens to impose another capital upon us requires much consideration, and even justifies enactments which would not otherwise be tolerated. My Lords, my first intention was only to move for an inquiry by a Select Committee of your Lordships. Those who are entitled to be heard, and whose support I was bound to aim at, were not disposed to such a method. They may have deemed that the evidence collected before the Acts of Lord Palmerston were carried now suffices; or that the Association of the noble Duke the Master of the Horse is better qualified than any other body to augment it, where deficient. It has, undoubtedly, augmented it, and may augment it further. I have been forced into the position of a legislator on the question. When it is remembered that Governments, with the command of every intellect, of every adviser, of every document they wish for, with Chancellors to warn, Law Officers to guide, the most accomplished Bill-drawers to help them, are often hurried into errors which form the staple of discussion, both in Parliament and out of it, it is not likely that an unofficial person will entirely avoid them. At least, instead of needing, as some do, three hours and three-quarters to explain it, this Bill may be at once submitted to the judgment of your Lordships. It will give authorities the power of directly acting against what may be termed exceptional and aggravated smoke in dwelling-houses by repealing a few words in the Sanitary Act of 1866. But this is not a leading or even necessary feature of the measure. It enables local bodies to form bye-laws, under the revision of the Home Office, by which in all existing houses smoke may be gradually abated. It enables local bodies, who now administer the Building Acts, to form bye-laws, also under the revision of the Home Office, by which in a short time new houses will be rendered smokeless. It extends—but this is an entirely subordinate provision—the area in which the Acts of Lord Palmerston are valid. My Lords, every project has a tendency to arm the mind against itself. Men may be inclined to listen to the proofs of a considerable evil. They may hear with moderate indulgence a train of reasoning to show that some new measure is desirable. But when its character is stated, when its modes of acting are betrayed, antagonism usually and unavoidably suggests itself. It is well, perhaps, that it should do so, otherwise the Statute Book would be more full of crude and mischievous enactments than it is at present. The defence of this scheme resides in the impossibility of all alternative proposals. To compel its adoption at once, directly, universally in London has been objected to by a noble Lord who once presided at the Home Office on the ground of its indicting a whole people. It would not be supported by opinion, the essential basis of all coercive legislation. Again, Parliament might choose a quarter, such as South Kensington, or May fair, or the squares of London, in which trees deserve a vigilant protection, and thus tentatively operate. I have dwelt much on that expedient, and unwillingly renounced it. But it might lead to many controversies as to the quarter to be chosen, and even reclamations from the quarter when preferred. The transfer of the power to local bodies is the only mode of settling the difficulty. If one local body acts the object is attained. Either the example would be followed by the others, or stringent legislation would be based by Parliament itself on the experience afforded. There are many reasons for anticipating that at least one local body will exert the powers which are given to it. I shall not mention them this evening. It is not worth while, by a measure which involves so little hazard and so studiously consults the temper of the age, to prevent London from being abandoned as a capital, which, if the evil is allowed to grow unchecked, is not a visionary prospect. It may, indeed, appear to some that however much the atmosphere deteriorates, that result will never happen. But there are still considerations which may guide them to the necessity of legislative action if the existing capital is certain to remain. The influence of smoke on architecture to those who value London is a melancholy drawback to improvement. Until this obstacle is gone London can never rank with Florence, or even Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg in the approach to classical perfection. Not only colour is important, but light is known to be indispensable to excellence in building. When light is wanting effort languishes, conception fails, and there is a perpetual struggle between beauty and deformity. That struggle is the ruling character of London at this moment. St Paul's excites the admiration of the world, and there is a hideous viaduct in front of it. The Thames Embankment is regarded justly as a Metropolitan improvement, and it is effectually marred by railway bridges which no edile would have sanctioned. St. Martin's Church is allowed to do honour to its great designer, Sir Christopher Wren, and almost in a line we see the long-regretted domes of the National Gallery. The cause of the deficiency is found in the collision of two principles which springs out of the want I have referred to. At one moment it is felt that London exists only for purposes of commerce and of business; that it is not a home for the Fine Arts; that no sacrifice to beauty is desirable within it; that economy, convenience, and despatch, are the only aims to be considered. At another, it is fancied that as a seat of Government and Empire it ought to assert itself and challenge admiration by its edifices. In this frequent balance of ambition and despondency, wealth is lavished, splendour unattained. To remove smoke is not the only course essential to a different principle arising. It is a requisite preliminary. No Pericles would have succeeded in making Athens what it afterwards became, unless the atmosphere had seconded his effort. The object is not unimportant, or confined to a small number of appreciating judges. The architecture of a city is the only education the grown-up masses cannot possibly escape from. You may have lectures, galleries, and theatres; but it is not compulsory to profit by or enter them. It might be shown easily that men engaged in public, and still more in official life, are deeply interested in this question. But they are a minority, and they may frequently absent themselves from London for a day or two. The burden of the climate falls more heavily upon large classes without the power to escape it. We should reflect upon the distant melancholy suburbs of Islington and Camden Town without the life which Clubs or Courts of Justice, or Legislative Bodies furnish, and which would scarcely be inhabited except by families too much reduced to find refuge elsewhere—their means would not permit them to escape from time to time into the country. We should reflect upon the condition of domestic servants, who must be more stationary than the masters they live under. It well becomes also the dignity of this House to realize the state of men and women behind counters who must be all the year, except a week or two, in the Metropolis. Your Lordships will remember also that the whole female sex, from the highest to the lowest, have not the same facilities as men for moving a short time out of the smoke of the Metropolis. As regards the over-crowded numbers who inhabit Eastern London, whose cause has been so ably and so conspicuously supported, there is something to be added. Do what you will, their mode of life must act unfavourably on the domiciles they enter. To allot space to inmates—the essential change—demands such legal interference that in a free country it is scarcely possible to compass it. But while you can do little for their domiciles, you may do something for their atmosphere. The happiness of these classes must be mainly out-of-doors, because it cannot, from their narrow circumstances and sordid hearths, be indoors. But if out-of-doors they are exposed to darkness instead of light, to leaden fogs instead of purifying breezes, they have no escape from their depression except the public-house, which, in the long run, inevitably aggravates it. The whole tide of recent agitation on the domiciliary condition of the most abandoned class may fairly be directed to the object which this Bill is meant in some degree to forward. It may be asked, however, when the Bill is read a first time, what consequence will follow. It is not easy for anyone, unless the Leader of a Party, to carry a Bill through all its stages in this House, and it would not be possible to do so in another. But it is a maxim, not I think unknown in political society, that if a Bill adapted to an object which requires legislation is launched in either House it never perishes, however great the obstacles it meets, however long the interval which bars its entrance to the Statute Book. It may be but a stitch in legislation, but such a stitch is wanted at this moment. It is not likely to complete itself until the Liberal majority is more awakened to its great responsibility as to measures and to men, and thus more free to act in unison with those who labour for its object. I now present the Bill, and move that it be read a first time.

Bill to amend the Acts for abating the nuisance arising from the smoke of furnaces and fireplaces within the Metropolis—Presented (The Lord STRATHEDEN and CAMPBELL).


said, that it was characteristic of the British public that they liked to grumble at the laws and the administration of them, and especially with local government. It was another British characteristic that when a man had had his grumble he was often content to let the grievance slumber. But his noble Friend, after a good grumble, had attempted to deal with his grievance in a practical manner, though his threat, that a continuance of smoke might drive the Legislature to some other town, was not very alarming. There was no doubt that further legislation was required on the subject. The clumsiness of our mode of warming our dwellings caused a large portion of the fuel to escape unconsumed. It mixed with the air, concealed the sunshine, scattered showers of "blacks" everywhere, and made London dull, unhealthy, and murky. The Smoke Act of Lord Palmerston in 1853 was the best that could be passed at the time; but the area in which it was applied was smaller than the present Metropolis, and its application was imperfect. The fines imposed were frequently below the minimum mentioned in the Act. The overindulgence towards the offenders might have arisen from the circumstance that the magistrates had not the scientific knowledge that might enable them to determine whether the smoke could have been properly consumed. They ought to be assisted by experts or scientific officials, as tinder the Alkali Acts. The river steamers also ought to be brought under the Act. Their smoke might easily be diminished to one-fourth of what it was at present. Furnaces belonging to many trades were not brought under the operation of the present Act. Open grates were still a difficulty, for they had not yet been contrived to burn bright, cheerful coal without smoke. He was grateful to the noble Lord trying to deal with this question, and hoped he might be successful.

Bill read 1a; and to be printed. (No. 109.)