HL Deb 18 June 1891 vol 354 cc729-55

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, I have to draw your attention for a few moments, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, to the very peculiar condition of things which exists in the salt district in the County of Cheshire, a county with which I am myself connected, caused by the pumping of brine in that district. I will preface my remarks by stating first that a ton of rock salt is equivalent to a ton of white salt, and that the salt in suspension amounts to between 25 and 26 percent. of the whole amount of brine; that no less than 1,200,000 tons of salt were made last year, which, I believe, represents more or less the amount which has been taken annually for some years past. Your Lordships can well understand that so very large an abstraction of brine from a certain depth below the surface of the soil must have a great effect in lowering that surface, and of increasing considerably subsidences in that district. This has now been going on for very many years, but the evil has been increased on account of the increase of pumping during late years; frequent subsidences have occurred, and, therefore, there has been much more damage occurring lately in the district. Now, my Lords, the results of those subsidences are most remarkable, and I have no doubt that those of your Lordships who are acquainted with the salt districts have seen the results of those subsidences. You have many places throughout the entire district converted into lakes; what was once valuable property in the locality has become worth-less from the inflow of water, the houses are tottering and tumbling down, the streets are out of the perpendicular, what were first-floor windows are on a level with the street; and, altogether, the locality presents not only a very remarkable, but an extremely unfavourable and melancholy appearance. Only the other day, on the 11th June, a Wesleyan chapel collapsed; several persons were employed in seeing what could be done to save it, but the whole thing collapsed. One man was killed, and another was injured. That, as I have told your Lordships, only happened the other day. This state of things is, of course, an inconvenience, and even more. It means, in a great many cases, ruin to small proprietors, who are unable to help themselves, for these operations have been carried out, and of late years especially, without any redress whatever to those who have sustained damage, and without any compensation being received from those who derive benefit from the brine pumping by the owners of property which has been injured in the district. The owners of the brine go on pumping to get the salt, and they are under no liability to compensate owners of property which may be affected, or to afford any redress for the grievance which is so justly complained of in this ease. Now, my Lords, there have been many inquiries made into this subject on the part of the Home Office and on the part of the Local Government Board. There have been deputations—I have had the honour of accompanying one myself—to the Local Government Board, asking for a Royal Commission to be appointed to inquire into the subject, but nothing had been done in the way of attempting legislation until eight or nine years ago, in 1881, when an attempt was made by legislation to deal with this grievance. A Committee was appointed, which went into the case most thoroughly, and there is a very thick volume of evidence printed, and of course published, which was then taken. So far as I understand, the reason why the Bill which was introduced at that time was thrown out was, according to the statement of one of the members of the Committee, owing to the fact of the difficulty of defining the compensation districts in the first place, and, secondly, there was this objection, that such a Private Bill as that affected the General Statute law with regard to the abstraction of underground water. On those two grounds that unfortunate Bill of 1881 was thrown out. From that time to this, as I have said, these inquiries have been going on without any practical result. There are two very large firms at present connected with the salt industry in that district. One is the Salt Union, which was established about two-and-a-half years ago with an enormous capital, and which has a very large business; and the other is the firm of Messrs. Brunner, Mond, & Co., who are large alkali manufacturers in the district, and therefore large pumpers of brine, who conduct also a very large business employing thousands of hands, people living in the town of Northwich. Approaches were made to those two firms to endeavour to get them to come to some agreement with regard to this matter of compensation. The Salt Union were not able to see their way to affect any arrangement. Messrs. Brunner & Co. were favourable to such an arrangement being arrived at. Mr. Brunner himself is a supporter of this Bill, which I have now to ask your Lordships to read a second time. There has been a little technical difficulty with regard to the Bill on account of a clause at the end referring to a private trust; that clause brought it within the category of a Private Bill. I do not know what the proper course is for striking out that clause, but it is to be considered as struck out in order to enable this Bill to be in fact what it is essentially, that is, a Public Bill, affecting not only the County of Cheshire, but the other districts in the country where salt is now obtained, or may be found hereafter. It is, therefore, essentially a Public Bill, and I hope your Lordships will deal with it as a Public Bill. The Bill provides that there shall be compensation districts formed, after inquiry by the Local Government Board, on application by the ratepayers, or by Sanitary Authorities under Provisional Orders to be confirmed by Parliament. Then Compensation Boards are to be elected for each district. Those Compensation Boards are to be elected, as described in the Bill, by various electing bodies, and their object is to strike a rate which has been settled by the Bill at 3d. on 1,000 gallons of brine, which is equivalent to one ton of salt. It also prescribes damage for which compensation is to be made limited to pecuniary loss and expenditure for repairs; and it is confined to private property owners. Larger owners are taken care of almost entirely by the rents and royalties they receive from those who pump brine on their own property; but it must be remembered that their profits from those rents and royalties are really as nothing compared with the profits of those two large firms to whom I have alluded. To show the extent of the business that those large firms carry on, I may just mention—Lord Thurlow will correct me if I am not right—that the profits were last year no less than £366,447 for the Salt Union, and the profits of Messrs. Brunner and Company were no less than £284,000. Under Clause 50 the following bodies are excepted from the right to compensation:—Railway or Canal Companies, Gas or Water Companies, County Councils, Municipal Corporations, Sanitary, Highway, or Local Authorities, brine pumpers, owners of brine rents or royalties for salt, owners of salt and alkali works, and the trustees of a navigation called the River Weaver Navigation. Those exceptions are made mainly on this ground and on this principle, that all those bodies do derive or have derived very direct benefit from the salt trade of the district. The case of the Railway Companies was thoroughly gone into the other day, before the Committee of the other House, and it was shown that it would not be right that the London and North-Western Railway Company and the Cheshire lines, who came into the district knowing perfectly well the danger from subsidence which they were liable to, should have claim to compensation. They derive very large profits from the salt trade in carrying salt, and in various directions, and it seems altogether unjust that, under a scheme of compensation which in the main is to be directed to compensating small owners who have no power to help themselves, those great companies should come in and claim compensation for damage done to their works. What might be claimed would be sufficient to maintain the railway—that is to say, such a provision in their favour would amount almost to maintaining the permanent way of the London and North-Western. I understand their expenses during the last 15 years have not exceeded £7,000; but, of course, they are liable at any time to further subsidences. For instance, they have a magnificent viaduct which crosses the River Weaver at a place in the Northwich District. I believe that viaduct cost something like £300,000. I understand there are to be some workings commenced a quarter of a mile off, and the vagaries of salt are so peculiar that I imagine it is quite on the cards that considerable damage may be done to this viaduct; and it is not altogether out of the question that the whole viaduct may come down. Your Lordships will see how impossible it would be, in such a case as that, that the comparatively small rate of compensation, amounting to only 3d. in the ton, could pay for a thing of that sort where the damage done might be so great as to break up the whole structure. It could not be done. The Gas and Water Companies again have taken their powers and started their undertakings with full knowledge of the risks they are liable to from subsidence in this district, and the breakage of their gas and water pipes and mains, and they have accordingly compelled the consumers of their gas and water to pay a very high rate to compensate themselves for any damage that may be caused by subsidences. I think, therefore, your Lordships will see that those companies also are rather out of court. I need not refer to the other cases, because they are cases of bodies who have derived, or who will derive in future if they are not at this moment doing so, benefit from this salt trade. They will, of course, derive greater benefit as time goes on. I understand that the opposition of the Salt Union rests on several grounds. One of their objections is to the Statute Law being altered, because, in their opinion, brine is to be classed with water for that purpose. They put brine in the same category as water, which I do not think your Lordships will admit for a moment, because, in point of fact, it is a mineral. The makers of salt, wherever they draw their water from, do not want the water a bit. They want the mineral, and, it being a mineral, payment ought to be exacted for the damage caused by the abstraction of the mineral. The proportion in the brine amounts to 25 or 26 per cent. The amount is taken in the water, and therefore it can hardly be considered in the light of water merely, and coming, therefore, under the statutory category of water. Then again, they say these subsidences are owing to natural causes. The scientific evidence upon that point was not gone into very fully before the Committee of the other House because, as the Chairman very fairly remarked, if you have abstraction of the brine beneath the surface, it is a natural consequence that subsidences must occur. The two things are pari passu; the abstraction of the brine and the subsidence of the ground go together. If the pumping of the brine stops, the subsidence ceases and the ground remains quiescent. In fact, the two things go together; you cannot separate them. Then I submit that the proposed toll or rate of 3d. a ton cannot be considered a very heavy one to impose upon these very well-to-do bodies. I understand the Salt Union have raised their prices during the time they have been established very considerably. Their prospectus affirms that there can be no harm in raising their prices upon what they term a moderate scale, and we have the evidence of their own manager at Northwich upon that point, who, in one passage of his examination, states that the salt trade must be in a very bad way if a rate of 3d. a ton would kill it. That seems to me to be very strong evidence against the Salt Union on that point. It is evidence given by their own manager, who thinks that the proposed toll of 3d. would be infinitesimal; and I think that it would certainly be difficult to kill the Salt Union by the imposition of a toll of that amount. Then it is not to be forgotten that all parties are interested in the maintenance of the trade. No small property owner, nor anybody else, would dream of doing anything which would injure the trade of that district, and which, of course, would hurt themselves. The object of the Bill, therefore, is, though coming rather late, to redress a very serious grievance and repair a very heavy wrong which has been done to a number of comparatively small proprietors, who now come to Parliament seeking redress by means of imposing a moderate rate upon those who inflict the wrong for their own profit, and I hope your Lordships will allow the Bill to be read a second time. With regard to the motion of my noble Friend, who proposes, if your Lordships think right to give a second reading to the Bill, to refer it to a Select Committee, I think it should be remembered that the small property owners are not a very wealthy body of men, and that really the expenses which are incurred in proceedings before a Select Committee are very heavy. A suggestion has been thrown out—I do not know whether it can be acted upon—that the evidence taken before the other House should be received, and that the inquiry should be limited especially with regard to the scientific portion of it, because the facts are so patent, as I said before, that the two things go together—where you have brine pumping going on you must have subsidence, and the evidence shows, as I have said, that when the brine pumping ceases the subsidence ceases also. The Chairman of the Committee of the other House took that view, and accordingly cut the evidence very short. I therefore think that some Instruction might be given, if this Bill is to go before a Select Committee—which I am not at all anxious for on account of its expense—with regard to taking the evidence which has been given before the other House, and limiting the scientific evidence to very small dimensions. I beg to move the second reading of the Bill.

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


My Lords, as a local man and a proprietor of salt, I have been asked to make a few observations in support of the Bill. After the very able and exhaustive speech which your Lordships have just heard, I need not say much for my own part; but I want to emphasise what you have already heard, that this Bill is promoted by poor men with very slender purses, against two great corporations with very long purses. It is therefore a great object with them that they should be spared the expenses of a reference to a Select Committee, more especially as the matter has been very exhaustively discussed during seven days before the Committee of the other House. As your Lordships have heard from the noble Duke, it has been maintained by the chief opponent of this Bill, the Salt Union, that the brine pumping is not the cause of subsidence. But no one, I think, who has ever lived in that neighbourhood, or who has any knowledge of it, can for a moment maintain any such theory as that. The area of subsidence follows the area of brine pumping, as, I think, anyone will be convinced who knows the neighbourhood, and who does not shut his eyes, and it appears certain that if the brine pumping ceases the subsidence would cease also. No one can pity the case of a landowner like, I may say, myself, who had sold or leased land to one of those large corporations, and who have received money value for what we have given in the way of rents and royalties, but the case of the small man is very different indeed. It is a great hardship to, say, a small tailor or shoemaker, who owns his little freehold shop in the High-street of Northwich, when he wakes up one morning to suddenly find his house cracked from rooftree to basement, and sometimes with the lower storeys sunk into the ground, so that he has to have his kitchen on the upper floor, or in the attic, with no compensation obtainable for the damage done to him. In such a condition of things a remedy ought to be pressed forward with all reasonable speed, and there can be no doubt that this Bill is a matter of urgency. I trust, therefore, that the House will allow the Bill to proceed to Second Reading, and that your Lordships will not insist upon a reference to a Select Committee.


My Lords, speaking upon this matter without having any direct interest either as a salt proprietor or as holding shares in the Salt Union, I desire to confirm the facts which have been so well and clearly stated by the noble Duke opposite. It certainly seems a great anomaly that for so many years, under the Common Law, a man should have been able to pump water as brine from under his own property though he may cause damage to others—that he should, in doing so, be at liberty to let his neighbour's house down, or break all the gas and water pipes in a large district, and even though one of the effects may be, as I know has been the case, of causing the county bridges to be repaired every five or six years. I remember that the town-hall at Winsford had to be screwed up six feet in order to keep it going at all. Obviously, my Lords, that is a great anomaly. There is now an opportunity of remedying these complaints. Formerly, when the pumping was in a number of hands, it was impossible to fix the responsibility upon one person, and the consequence was that no successful action could be brought against any one for doing damage to his neighbour. But now that the whole trade is practically in the hands of two great companies, who make very large profits out of this monopoly, which is, in itself, a thing that is very questionable in the public interest, because, undoubtedly, the price of salt has been very largely raised, not only for eating purposes, but for chemical and agricultural requirements, it is possible to fix the responsibility. Evidence was given before the Committee of the other House, as the noble Duke has stated, that 3d. a ton would not in any way materially affect their profits, and I think now that the responsibility can be fairly put upon those great firms, it is high time that Parliament should affirm the principle that those who cause damage should pay for it, even though to so limited an extent. I may perhaps add, as some reference has been made to the character of the Committee, that if it is desired to refer the Bill to a Committee I quite agree in what has been said that this is not a Bill for large landowners, but for small property owners and shop-keepers who would be greatly prejudiced if any expense had to be incurred by them in putting their case before a Select Committee. Inquiry after inquiry has been made before Committees since 1881, and it is therefore desirable, I think, that the evidence should now be limited, and that no scientific evidence should be taken such as was taken in 1881. Anyone who knows that district knows perfectly well that it is impossible that these subsidences should have taken place unless they were caused by the brine pumping, and I therefore cordially support the second reading of this Bill.


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to make a few-remarks upon this subject, as I represent the Local Government Board in your Lordships' House. This Bill, as I think your Lordships know, is confined to a very small district. It is confined merely to the district of Northwich and Winsford.


And Droitwich and other places.


That particular district, at all events, is only ten miles long and five miles broad. Complaints have been received by the Local Government Board for some years past with regard to the subsidence of land, both from owners and from Local Bodies at Northwich and Winsford, and there can be no doubt that legislation has become necessary to deal with the state of things that has arisen. This Bill, the Second Reading of which the noble Duke has moved, passed in the other House with the concurrence of the President of the Local Government Board and his advisers. As the noble Duke has stated, the opponents of the Bill object on the ground of interference with the Statutory Law, as they are of opinion that brine comes under the same category as underground water, that it belongs to the person who occupies the land, and that he has the same power of pumping it as he has of pumping out water. Where this has been done at more than one station in the district there is great difficulty in tracing any particular subsidence of the land to the action of any particular person in pumping up the brine. It is practically impossible to say from how great a distance or in what direction the brine flows when it is pumped up in any particular place, and in consequence of those difficulties it has been almost impossible—it is, in fact, quite impossible,—to obtain any compensation from the brine pumpers for subsidence. Owners not only have to bear the loss of the abstracted salt from beneath the land without payment, but they also have to bear the damage which is done on the surface by such abstraction of the brine. In ordinary mining that is not the case. As your Lordships, no doubt, quite understand—and many of your Lordships know much more about the matter than I can profess to do—that is not so in coal mining, for instance. There it is comparatively easy to trace to what particular action of any particular coal mining company, or coal proprietor, the damage is attributable. It is contended by some that if there were no pumping of brine, by the the operation of natural causes—the continual overflowing of the brine into the water courses and natural springs of water—these subsidences would be equally caused without pumping of any kind. But the consensus of opinion of those who have gone into the question very carefully seems to point most particularly to this, that the subsidence is chiefly, if not wholly, due to the continual pumping of brine in this particular district. Your Lordships may know, and perhaps the noble Duke is aware of the fact, that there was a report in 1873 by a Commission, and a memorandum in 1879 by Colonel Cox, of the Royal Engineers, an inspector of the Local Government Board, who took this point of view, that the subsidence was, as a matter of fact, entirely caused by the continual pumping of the brine, but in those two reports the view was not excluded that it was possible that some damage might occur by natural causes. It is not necessary for me to go into the details of this Bill, except to point out that by it a landowner or a number of landowners holding not less than £2,000 worth of land can send a memorial to the Local Government Board to establish a Compensation Board, and this can also be done by a rural sanitary authority. As I have said, they must apply to the Local Government Board by a memorial, and if the Local Government Board think there is a primâ facie case for establishing a compensation district under Clause 4, they can establish it. Then they are to make an inquiry in the district, and they have then to bring in a Provisional Order, and a Provisional Order Bill to confirm that Provisional Order. Then, again, if the Local Government Board at any future time thinks that a compensation district ought not to be kept up, they can dissolve it. There are many other safeguards provided, but I have mentioned the principal ones, and I think surely they are sufficient to make this Bill one that it is desirable to pass. I have thought it necessary to trouble your Lordships with these few remarks so as to justify what I have said, that the Local Government Board fully concur in the provisions of the Bill, and that Mr. Ritchie, the President of the Local Government Board, is anxious that it should pass. As I am addressing your Lordships, I should like to say a few words with regard to the proposal of my noble Friend as to referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The Bill has been before a Committee of the House of Commons, and it was very carefully considered by that Committee. It was gone into with the greatest possible care, and received the fullest consideration. I believe the inquiry was limited to a certain extent, as far as was considered right and proper. That is to say, it was fully gone into as far as was necessary. That Com- mittee came, I believe, to an almost unanimous conclusion in favour of the Bill, and Mr. Ritchie and his advisers think that after that inquiry it would perhaps satisfy everybody concerned in he matter if it were to go before the Standing Committee to be investigated there. Of course, as far as this Bill is concerned, there is one Clause which is a very important one, Clause 50, which introduces a novel procedure, and it may be worth while that this Bill should be sent on that account to a Select Committee; but as far as the Local Government Board are concerned, they are fully of opinion that sending it to a Standing Committee would satisfy all demands. As far as the Local Government Board are concerned, I have no objection to offer, if your Lordships wish that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee; but I hope that if it is sent to a Select Committee, your Lordships will limit the reference most distinctly, as has been pointed out by the noble Duke, so that no time may be wasted, but that the Bill may pass without delay.

On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.


My Lords, I rise, in accordance with the notice of Motion that appears on the Paper in my name, to move that this Bill, which has just been read by your Lordships a second time, be now referred to a Select Committee. In doing so, I am afraid I shall have to trouble your Lordships to some extent by going over some of the ground that has been gone over already; and I should like to preface my remarks by disclaiming one or two suggestions which have, I think, been thrown out. In the first place, I would beg to assure your Lordships that I myself, and, as far as I know, all those with whom I am acting on this occasion, certainly entertain the fullest feelings of sympathy for those who have been suffering hardships from subsidences in these districts in precisely the same degree as that sympathy is naturally entertained for them by others. It is also my duty to say that, although this has been laid before your Lordships as a poor man's Bill, I come here also before your Lordships as the advocate of poor men. I represent if I may venture to say so, perhaps 30,000 people who are dependent upon the salt trade. Before the formation of the Salt Union these men were not earning good wages. They were working four days in the week, and very often only seven hours a day, and their wages had become reduced to a pittance which was inconsistent with the proper support of themselves and their families. You are aware that this limited district which has been referred to, the salt district of Cheshire, and which the Noble Lord just now described, I think, as being only seven miles long and a few miles wide, at any rate a very small area, comprises practically the valley of the Weaver and the surrounding lands. There can be no doubt that within that district, and it is a populous district, there are many tens of thousands of poor people, or comparatively poor people, working men and their wives and families, who owe everything they have in the world to this industry of salt making. And I say there can be equally no doubt that before the formation of the Salt Union their lot had become a very hard one, and the whole industry was threatened practically with bankruptcy. The actual legality of the formation of the Salt Union was questioned at the time. The matter was submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown, and the Law Officers of the Crown slated, after due deliberation, that the Salt Union was a legal combination, and could not be interfered with. It is in no sense a monopoly, and it is perhaps less so now than when it was first formed. As might have been foreseen, and was indeed predicted, there has been an actual rise in the price of salt, which has been already referred to, resulting from the formation of the Salt Union. The Salt Union was established indubitably to raise the price of salt, and to improve the lot of these hard-working men and their families, who are engaged in the salt manufacture. It would be perhaps difficult to give figures, but I have no hesitation in affirming that there are a greater number of really poor, hard-working, industrious men who would benefit by what I am about to propose, than would be benefited by this Bill passing through your Lordships' House without being referred to a Select Committee. Your Lordships have heard of the Bill which was introduced in 1881. When the Bill of 1881 was brought in, it was referred to a Select Committee, before which scientific evidence was taken at great length. Now, the scientific evidence which was taken before that Committee was of a very remarkable character. As has been mentioned, the Committee of the other House of Parliament to which this Bill was referred in the present year, did not think it necessary to receive, and declined to receive, any scientific evidence. They rested satisfied with the evidence that had been taken in 1881, but they omitted, it appears, one very important fact, and that is that it was owing to the taking of the scientific evidence in 1881 that the Bill introduced at that time was thrown out. It was really on account of the scientific evidence which was then taken, and nothing else. I have the evidence which was then taken, which has been referred to by the noble Duke. I am entirely in sympathy with him that a Bill of this kind is absolutely essential; but while I feel the fullest sympathy, as do others, with the object which the noble Duke has in view, I think we should not let our symathies for a certain number of people run away with us altogether, to the detriment of a still larger body of persons. One portion of this remarkable evidence to which I have referred was given by Mr. De Rance, the noted geologist and expert, and it was part of the evidence given on that occasion, and he says conclusively that— There is no question about the operation of natural causes; there is no doubt but that brine finds natural outlets when it is not pumped, and that in many cases the damage caused by the natural outlets which it will find may very reasonably be greater than the damage which is the result of pumping. Now I will give one reason for that. We have all heard of the case of the boy who stopped the little hole in the Haarlem Dyke with his finger, because he knew that if the water had been allowed to percolate through the little hole it would soon have become a very large gap, through which the water would have rushed, and the whole country would have been ruined. In the same way, if brine is allowed to store itself up and then finds a natural outlet, that natural outlet has a tendency to grow larger and larger; the result is that the rock salt will become brine more rapidly, that brine will escape more rapidly, and the subsidence of the surface will occur more rapidly than it would with any reasonable pumping. Now, there is one fact with regard to the Salt Union to which I will call your Lordships' attention. You know that the Salt Union has a great many brine shafts. Before the formation of the Salt Union the shafts and pits were mostly pumped separately, and they were pumped very often at a very low point of saturation. The result of that was that they were often pumped practically dry. Then they were shut up for a certain time and allowed to re-fill by the operation of the natural causes. The rainfall was allowed to percolate into the salt bed, and then the pits were re-opened, and they were pumped dry again. Now the course of pumping is very different. The whole of our brine shafts are connected by pipes, large 8 or 10 inch pipes, and they are pumped from central stations. We pump so as to preserve as nearly as possible full saturation all over these brine shafts, and I maintain that it is scientifically provable, and would come out if scientific evidence were allowed to be taken, that the pumping system of to-day is much less detrimental to the surrounding country, and much less pregnant with the risk of causing subsidence, than the mode of pumping which existed before the formation of the Salt Union. A great deal has been said about the poor man, the industrious man who has saved money, and perhaps invested the fruits of his labour during a long life of toil in the purchase of his own dwelling. Suppose he buys his own house for £200 or £300. I know many such cases in Northwich and in Winsford—cases of industrious men who are living in their own freehold houses. But that man would not have had the £200 or £300 to invest in purchasing this dwelling if it had not been for this industry which has now been set upon its legs again by the formation of the Salt Union; and what is more, supposing this poor man had had £200 or £300 with which to buy his dwelling, had it not been for the subsidences, or the fear of subsidences, or the possible danger of injury occurring to the structure, and his knowledge of the necessity of having, perhaps, to prop it up again, or to spend money in repairs upon it, it would not have been in his power to buy the house for less than £400 or £500, and he might not have been able to buy it at all. There are a great many things to consider in this matter. For my own part, I do object to this Bill being laid before your Lordships as a poor man's Bill. I say that really the Salt Union are endeavouring to do what is for the benefit of these poor, hardworking men. Then, again, this Bill, as I have said, comes before your Lordships in rather a curious shape. It professes to be a public Bill. We are told that it extends to all England and Wales—not, of course, to Scotland or Ireland. At the same time we have heard from the lips of the representative of the Local Government Board that it really is only to take effect on two very small areas: the small area of the Valley of the Weaver, and the small Droitwich area. As to its applying to Middlesbrough, that is quite out of the question. If your Lordships will allow me for a few minutes, I should like to explain the position of these salt-beds. The rock-salt in Cheshire is comparatively near the surface, that is to say not more than 400 or 500 ft. below, whereas at Middlesbrough the rock salt is at a much greater distance below. Not Only is it from 1,000 to 2,000 ft. below the surface, but there are intervening strata of very strong beds of rock through which the surface water cannot percolate, and which also, it is supposed by scientific men, will remove all possible danger of subsidence in the future. Let me refer to what the practice is at Middlesbrough. At Middlesbrough they bore a hole and insert a pipe or tube; it is practically a double pipe, and they pour water artificially down the outer rim of this pipe, and then pump up the brine after it is sufficiently saturated from the same pipe. In Cheshire there is nothing of the kind. In Cheshire there is no intervening bed of strong rock to hold up the land. There is nothing but an intervening stratum of marl or clay, and that naturally gives way from time to time, and the rain water, the natural rainfall, percolates through that subsidence, and thus gets into contact with the salt, and dissolves it as a natural consequence. Therefore the two things are quite distinct. I say that the solution of the rock-salt in Cheshire has been caused by the agency of natural consequences, and has not been caused by the hand of man; whereas, in Middlesbrough, if ever there are any subsidences, it will be a far more serious matter, because they will be due distinctly to what has been done by the hand of man, because there it is necessary to make holes, insert pipes, and pour down water. I am ashamed, really, to have taken up so much of your Lordships' time, but I am anxious to dispel the erroneous impression which I think may have been produced upon your Lordships' minds by the speeches of the noble Duke and those noble Lords who followed him. Those speeches, though strictly accurate in statement, may have produced a wrong impression. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Lothian) was anxious to show that there were two sides to the question of the mussel beds, and I say that there are two sides to this question, and that the other side cannot be brought out into prominence without scientific evidence in connection with this matter being taken which up to the present, time has not received any consideration from the Committee of the other House of Parliament. I think that is almost a sufficient reason for the action I have taken on this occasion in venturing to come forward and suggest that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. There are one or two other points to which I should like to refer. The argument has been used, and I have seen it in some of the papers which have been sent to me upon this subject, that one of the actual results of salt making and the salt industry has been to prevent other industries from planting themselves in Cheshire, because of the liability to subsidence, for it is argued that nobody would build factories upon lands which may subside at any time, and which in fact have subsided. Well, that is not accurate, because there is no difficulty in finding, even within the limits of the Weaver Valley, bits of land which do not subside. I know of old churches which are intact in Northwich and in other places. I know of railway viaducts besides the one to which the noble Duke has referred. I know of private houses built of stone, and which have stood for 200 years, though within half a mile of the Weaver in which there has never appeared a crack or signs of subsidence, and probably never will. The course of the brine is perfectly well known, and if anyone wanted a spot of ground upon which to erect a factory in the Weaver Valley, there is not the slightest difficulty in finding a suitable site. Then there is one clause in the Bill, Clause 44, to which I wish to call your Lordships' attention. Clause 44 is to provide for the creation of a Reserve Fund. That strikes me as being a very peculiar Clause, and one which would require very careful consideration. As far as I have been able to ascertain it is without precedent in a Bill of this description. It proposes to raise a certain sum of money before the money can be wanted, and in the meantime local bodies are to be appointed to deal with the question of compensation. I do not entirely agree with the composition of those bodies as the Bill is at present framed. The members of those bodies are to be allowed to fix their own salaries and to do a good many other things, and I think it is only human to suppose that they will be tempted to do something to justify their existence; they cannot draw high salaries and receive money from time to time without justifying their existence by perhaps doing a good deal which they ought not to do. Then there is one other circumstance to which I will allude. It has been mentioned to your Lordships that this Bill has been brought up here by poor men. That is not strictly accurate. This Bill has been brought up here by rich local bodies and prosperous bodies in Cheshire who are defraying the expenses out of subscriptions. I believe the Salt Union, as ratepayers, has largely contributed to the expenses of promoting this Bill, and therefore the Salt Union must be held blameless, I think, in this respect. I am not opposing the Bill, or intending to say anything against it. I should be delighted to see it pass; but I do not think that it ought to be passed by your Lordships without it being considered before a Select Committee. Then there is another point which I ought to mention. Last year there was a suggestion, which came from Messrs. Brunner, Mond, & Co., and which is very creditable to them, that they and the Salt Union should join together to raise a fund for paying compensation for subsidence. Messrs. Brunner, Mond, & Co., were willing to do this, and to tax their shareholders to a certain extent, whether large or small, as the case might be, for that purpose. Well, we took the advice of counsel upon the matter, and were advised by counsel that it was not in our power to do so; that the application of the shareholders' money to such a purpose would be ultra vires, and that the directors would be entirely responsible for it. That was the sole reason which prevented the Salt Union from joining Messrs. Brunner, Mond, & Co. last year. Therefore I hope your Lordships will not leave the matter in dealing with this Bill with too hard an opinion as to the want of generosity shown on this occasion by the Salt Union. I really do not know that I have anything further to say. I might trouble your Lordships with many more details, but I think they are probably superfluous, and I will now, with your Lordships' permission, move, on the terms of my motion, that this Bill be referred to a Select Committee.

Moved, "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee."—(The Lord Thurlow.)


My Lords, I should have been glad, especially at this time of the evening, to leave this matter to those noble Lords who are interested in the district or districts affected by this Bill; but having some knowledge of it, I think it right to say a few words. Let me, before I go on, at once correct several noble Lords on both sides of the House, who seem to be under the impression that this Bill will only apply to the Cheshire salt district. It so happens that the first personal experience which I had of these drunken-looking buildings and these subsidences was in Worcestershire, where I was staying with the late Lord Justice Amphlett.


I mentioned Droitwich.


Yes, I believe you did. They lived in daily fear of the house coming down, and I remember Lord Justice Amphlett showing me large holes in his garden and cracks in his drawing-room, and yet he was five miles from any pumping place. I do not agree with all the remarks which were made by the noble Lord (Thurlow) with regard to the Middlesbrough district, but what your Lordships have to consider is only whether this is a matter which ought to be dealt with in a Select Committee rather than in the Standing Committee. The first thing that occurs to me is this—having read all these papers at the request of both parties, and the reason, I may say, why I was requested to do so was that I was counsel against the Bill of 1881—that the only questions now involved are questions of principle, and not of detail at all: namely, first, whether the Common Law should be altered, and next, which is a question relating mainly to the 50th clause of the Bill, whether it is right to exempt—if that is the right word—all kinds of public bodies, municipal corporations, gas companies, water companies, railway companies, with such viaducts as that which the noble Duke spoke of from having any claims to compensation. That is a question of principle which is too large to be determined by the five Members or any other number who may constitute a Select Committee. That is a question which it would be for this House to deal with in full Committee according to its own views, with such assistance from our own lawyers as the Select Committee would not have. Then, my Lords, I desire to say a word or two about the Salt Union, who are practically the only opponents of this Bill, because, as has been already mentioned to your Lordships, their colleagues in the salt trade, Messrs. Brunner & Company, are actually supporters of the Bill, whether from a sense of justice or not I do not know. The noble Duke, in making the statement he did about the profits of these two Companies, did not mention what is necessary to complete the story—that is to say, the capital of both these concerns. The capital of both together is £5,000,000, and the profits of the two together are £650,450 a year. I think it will be admitted by your Lordships that this is not a bad profit, being exactly 13 per cent., and when my noble Friend says he represents a great number of poor men I am almost inclined to wish I was one of them. That being the case with regard to the Salt Union, I must now ask your Lordships' attention to the course they have taken in this matter throughout. First of all I may say it was they who specially applied to me to look into the question, taking it for granted that, as I opposed the Bill introduced in 1881, I should be inclined to join them now, and I was obliged to give them this answer—I will first say in the hearing of some noble and learned Lords that one does not always become quite convinced of one's brief in the course of a case—and I was obliged to tell these good people that after the lapse of so many years I did not remember all the details of the Bill of 1881; but I did remember that, as the case went on, the scientific opposition to it became utterly and totally hopeless, and I recollect wondering what on earth I was to say, when, very luckily for me, the matter came to an end before the time arrived for me to deliver my speech. That was the first thing I said to them when they wrote to me, and the second thing is this: From the Minutes of what took place before the Committee on this Bill, it appears the clauses were discussed at very considerable length, and it is hardly an exaggeration to say that they were agreed upon by everybody except the Salt Union, except as to the 50th, which I said involves an important question of principle. I do not say the parties were all quite agreed, but they were all so nearly agreed that I am sure any Select Committee which might take them in hand would be slow to re-open questions which were settled with such an approach to unanimity as happened in the House of Commons' Committee. I go further, and say there is a special reason for not sending the Bill in this case, having regard to the course which the Salt Union took. They were represented by the most able counsel, who I am sure knew the most judicious way to manage his case, and I find from the minutes that he said this just before the Committee went into the material clauses—he said "there was something which he wanted to get upon the Notes in order to show what was the position of the Salt Union and others for whom he appeared. I am not quite sure whether the others were Messrs. Brunner or not. Of course in the ordinary way one does not appear on Clauses. In other words, the whole course here he thought would be open, and he would not prejudice himself in the least by calling witnesses." All the legal members of your Lordships' House, and anyone who is experienced in Committees, knows, I think, that we do not call witnesses if we think the case is clear without doing so, and if we want to avoid a reply from the promoters of the Bill; but that did not apply here. On the contrary, they complained of the remarks of the Committee being unduly against them. Besides that, they had this very Mr. De Rance, whom the noble Lord has referred to, sitting in the room prompting the counsel, having presented a Report which was sent to me, and having been their leading witness in 1881, stating that all this notion about the Salt Union pumping down the surface of the district was nonsense. All that being so, in the exercise of their discretion, they said they would reserve themselves for the second stage of the Bill in this House. What business had they to reserve themselves for the second stage? What business had they to expose people to all that expense merely because they thought it a good piece of tactics? I will go further and say that if I were sitting upon the Select Committee on this Bill I should say, although we are bound to inquire into this we are at liberty to limit the scope of the inquiry, and we are not bound to waste our time in throwing out what has been thrown out before when you refused to call your witnesses. Whether this House should think proper to give instructions to the Select Committee if the Bill be sent before a Select Committee or not, I should hope that any Select Committee would do that, because I do not think it is fair in any case, always excepting those cases where counsel thought they had no need to call witnesses, but found they had been mistaken. But here it was not so. The very witnesses whom they are parading as scientific witnesses were there for the purpose of explaining what was always referred to in the House of Commons' Committee as "Mr. De Rance's theory," not facts. They had no facts, as I know from my experience of what occurred in 1881, but they had an excellent theory, and three experts to swear to it, and I have no doubt they could have got thirty if the poor people of the Salt Union could have afforded it. Therefore, on that ground, I do not think they have any claim to re-open that discussion. Then my noble Friend said they were rather frightened by the Committee saying, "What is the use of inflicting all this upon us over again? We have heard every word that has been said upon the matter; we have heard the scientific evidence, so far as it was stating facts and not theories; there you are, are you going to give us your evidence? But we intimate to yon beforehand that it will take very strong evidence to convince us; still, we are open to hear you." On that ground, I say again I do not think the people who are promoting this Bill ought to be put to the unnecessary expense of this matter being sent to a Select Committee, when everything that is wanted can be done just as well without it, and a great deal better. I merely desire to say that upon the question of principle, and there I leave it to be discussed if necessary. I do not think, my Lords, that there is anything I need say more, but I should be sorry if it were thought I had omitted anything intentionally. There is, however, one thing more which may be said. The noble Lord opposite said that the Committee in 1881 threw out the Bill on account of the very valuable scientific evidence which was given then by the parties, or by whoever was in the position of the Salt Union at the time; but by good luck, and of course by arrangement, the only survivor of the Committee of 1881 was put upon the Committee of the House of Commons this year; and at an important period of the proceedings he said this, which, I think, the noble Lord could hardly have read when he made his speech—I will not read the preliminary parts of it—"the Committee came to its conclusion, not upon the grounds supposed, but solely upon two grounds as far as my memory carries me. One was that we did not consider we could divide the districts in the manner suggested; and the other ground was that the Bill brought in then was a Bill applying to a special district, and we did not consider it right that the common law of England should be subverted when prescriptive rights are recognised all over the country." There is not a word, therefore, about my noble Friend's scientific evidence, but you see what is implied by that. Their scientific evidence evidently made worse than no impression upon the Committee, as it did upon me when I was counsel against the Bill. Now, one word about the common law point. What is the common law of England about this underground water question? You cannot trace such water, you cannot do anything with regard to it, and by the common law all this may be done, you may pump the wells of a whole district dry. You may draw the water from under a man's ground and sell it to him back again. The power seems so outrageous and unjust that in several cases I could mention the water companies have been put under various restrictions from doing so, and it is quite right they should be put under restrictions. The common law of England is the law that had grown up to the time of Richard II., and I imagine there were not many water companies in existence then or brine pumping companies either. If the ground was solid and I went down and dug under it I should immediately have to pay; but because modern science has enabled me to do it in an untraceable way I am to be at liberty, and the Salt Union coming here in formâ pauperis, as it were, are to be allowed to go on causing unlimited damage, because that is what they distinctly say in their documents they are to be at liberty to do; that is, to go on pumping, and then boldly stating, in the face of all evidence and common-sense, that the subsidences are not caused by the pumping. If so there is an end of the Bill, you know; and yet my noble Friend comes here and says he is not against the Bill. Yet this circular, which I suppose they have sent to all your Lordships, says directly the contrary. He knows a great deal too much on this subject to avow complete opposition. He knows there are photographs enough to decorate the walls of your Lordships' House of fallen and falling buildings. I said in my letter to the Salt Union Company, "If your object is to hamper this Bill you need not look to me to help you." That is the conclusion I have come to, and that is the conclusion which I take the liberty of expressing now, having not the smallest interest myself in the matter, unless, perhaps, a very remote one through the Railway Companies.


I should like, my Lords, to say one word by way of explanation. I think I may have been misunderstood, and that I may not have expressed myself plainly when I was speaking of the area of the salt district, and stated that it was 10 miles by five in extent. When I said that I was speaking of the Northwich and Winsford District, and I find that the subsidences were confined in that district to that area. That is; what I am informed, but I have not been there to see for myself. I thought it right to explain this, as I am anxious to be correct.


Perhaps your Lordships would think it right that I should say a few words upon the subject which is dealt with by this Bill. Though a public Bill in form, it is in some respects rather of the character of a Private Bill. It refers to several districts throughout the country. The noble Duke has mentioned the 51st clause, which deals with a private Trust. I felt bound when that Clause was in the Bill to refer the Bill to the examiners, and the Clause was then omitted. The Bill is now a public one, pure and simple, and it rests entirely with your Lordships' House whether it shall go to a Select Committee or not. I have on more than one occasion seen the promoters of the Bill, but I reserved my own opinion upon the question whether it should be referred to a Select Committee, as this question rests entirely with the House. The reason alleged for referring it to a Select Committee is that scientific evidence should be taken as to whether subsidences are the result of brine pumping. The opinion has already been expressed in your Lordships' House, and I must say I think it will be endorsed by the common sense of all your Lordships, that where this pumping of brine goes on there has been, and always will be, subsidences. Therefore I think it would be putting the promoters of the Bill to an unnecesary expense to refer it without any limitation of the inquiry to a Select Committee. If the Bill is referred to a Select Committee, I should hope the House would at least indicate clearly that the causes of the subsidences should not form a portion of the inquiry. The only point which appears to me to require the consideration of a Select Committee is Clause 50, which restricts the compensation which is given by the Bill, and does not allow certain public companies, whether they be railway companies, or gas or water companies, or pumping firms, or local authorities, to participate in that compensation. I confess it seems to me that if they desire it those bodies ought to have the opportunity of fully stating their case. I am not aware whether any petition has been presented by any of those bodies against the Bill. The question has boon already before the Committee of the House of Commons, and I am also inclined to think that there is no necessity, according to the forms of the House, to refer the Bill to a Select Committee. It would, in the regular course, be referred to the Standing Committee, or be dealt with by a smaller sub-Committee if it were thought desirable at that stage of the Bill.


My Lords, I do not rise to offer any remarks upon the question of referring the Bill to a Select Committee, but only to point out that I think the noble Lord who is now on the Woolsack is in error in saying that none of these companies who are mentioned have presented petitions. The London and North-Western Railway certainly have a petition; it was forwarded to me to present, and I presented it.

On Question, resolved in the negative.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.