HL Deb 31 March 1892 vol 3 cc305-13

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


My Lords, after the observations which fell from my noble Friend the Prime Minister upon the last occasion when this Bill was before your Lordships' House, I should like to say a few words before your Lordships go into the Committee stage of the Bill. My Lords, I am afraid that the Committee which my noble Friend was kind enough to promise to support is not likely ever to come into existence. It was not the inquiry which I ventured to suggest to your Lordships or which I hoped to obtain; but I have done my best to adopt the suggestion of my noble Friend and to get such a Committee together. I find however, my Lords, that I am met at the outset by the very serious objection that your Lordships did appoint a Committee not above four years ago to inquire into a kindred subject, if not the exact subject with which I proposed to deal: that that Committee has reported after a great deal of valuable evidence, all of which I have read very carefully, was taken; and that the outcome of the deliberations of that Committee is the Bill of which my noble Friend opposite (Lord Stratheden and Campbell) has taken charge. That, my Lords, is a very fair objection to make to your Lordships being asked to go over the same ground again with very little difference. But another objection which is even more fatal is that since that Committee sat the whole subject has been, I think most unwisely, delegated to the London County Council. Now my experience of the London County Council in the past (and I very much fear it will be the same in the future) is that it is engaged in discussions as it seems to me very unprofitably on many subjects with which the Legislature has not empowered it to deal, and that it entirely neglects a great many of those subjects with which the Legislature has especially entrusted it. The London County Council is very largely represented in this House. I have a strong impression that if a crucial Division were ever challenged by the Opposition, they would draw at least one-sixth of their support from the ranks of the London County Council. However that may be, the opinion of the London County Council, or of those members of it in this House, was distinctly challenged by the Prime Minister when I first mentioned this subject, and no member of the London County Council has risen in his place to say whether they have taken any account of this matter, or propose to do so,—the oracle has been dumb, and I must suppose that at present, at all events, other subjects occupy the minds of members of the London County Council, and that they do not intend to turn their attention to this subject. Then, my Lords, there comes the question of the Bill now before your Lordships. I confess I object to it in one sense, because I believe that since the Committee sat over which my noble Friend opposite (the Duke of Westminster) presided, further light has been thrown by science upon many of the points which were suggested before that Committee; and that we might have been able, either through a Royal Commission or through a Committee of the two Houses of Parliament, to throw more light on the subject than we have got now. Another objection which I have to the Bill is that I am not perfectly certain that the machinery provided by the Bill will work smoothly. But, my Lords, as I have no better plan to propose myself, or, at all events that I can give effect to, I feel that half a loaf is better than no bread, and I shall certainly give my humble support to the measure of my noble Friend, hoping that in some shape or another it may shame, either the London County Council or the Local Authorities, to take some effective action in the matter which is their special province and with which it is their duty to grapple.


My Lords, in moving that the House go into Committee I should not add a single word but for some peculiar circumstances which have recently arisen, and to which the noble Viscount in his statement has referred. Her Majesty's Government leaned to the opinion some weeks ago that there ought to be a fresh inquiry under the auspices of the noble Viscount, but, as he has ingenuously explained to us, he has not felt disposed to give any notice for the appointment of a Committee. He is fully justified in so repudiating his intention because Her Majesty's Government discouraged the two methods of inquiry that he proposed, and suggested one which it would not be easy for him to initiate. My Lords, I make no reflection of any kind either on the noble Viscount or upon Her Majesty's Government. I wish only to deprecate obstruction to the measure. The noble Viscount, as he has himself declared to-night, and on previous occasions, is an enthusiast for the object of the measure. The noble Marquess, the First Minister, and his friends long ago supported it in a critical Division by which for the first time its principle was ratified. Since then a Select Committee of the House has examined amended and indorsed it, and the shape which it now assumes approximates as far as possible to that which the Select Committee had so authorised. The actual clauses, as the Bill now stands, have been sifted by a distinguished barrister and well known draftsman, who has this year for the first time, assisted me in framing it. There is only one further point that I wish to mention. The London Public Health Act of last Session gives the Bill a more impregnable foundation than it would otherwise possess; for that Act, which is the entire emanation of Her Majesty's Government, adopted Vestries as the agency for sanitary purposes like the Bill before us, and also designates the Local Government Board as the machinery for supervising Vestries in the way that this Bill has done. Indeed, my Lords, I may add—and it ought I think to be a conclusive vindication of the Bill, and to smooth the way to all its clauses passing—that there is not a single one that may not be defended, either as to authority or analogy, by reference to the London Public Health Act, 1891. Should the Bill pass this stage, it may reach the House of Commons before Easter, and there, I perfectly admit, some new inquiry in the shape of a Select Committee may be possibly legitimate; but, as the noble Viscount has explained to us this evening, here there is not any scope for it. We have, as he has candidly admitted, sufficient evidence before us to show that domestic smoke and industrial smoke must both be combated together, in order that London may reach at least as much daylight as other capitals enjoy, the point to which the framers of the measure had confined their aspirations. I will not detain your Lordships, as there are some clauses to go through, although I trust it may not be necessary to defend them. I now move that the House go into Committee.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee upon the said Bill."—(The Lord Stratheden and Campbell.)


My Lords, in not opposing this Motion I trust I shall not be supposed to subscribe to the remedies the noble Lord proposes; but, as everybody agrees that the evil is a very great one, I think perhaps it would be an extreme measure to refuse the Motion of the noble Lord to go into Committee. What the fate of his Bill will be in the Standing Committee I will not venture to prophesy.

Motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly.


There is no doubt that this is an extensive power committed to the Sanitary Authority, and I would invite the attention of the Chairman of the Standing Committee to it, because I am going to submit that perhaps the best way of dealing with it will be to send the Bill to the Standing Committee, to see what their view of it is, before we deal with it in the House.


My Lords, I quite feel with the noble Marquess that the matter can be best dealt with in the Standing Committee; but I would call the attention of the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to this: that on the last occasion when a Bill of this kind was before the Standing Committee they spent two Sittings upon it, and put it into shape, upon which the noble Lord abandoned the Bill, and it went no further. That of course is not very encouraging to the Standing Committee to take trouble on another occasion with a Bill if that is to be its fate.


Perhaps I ought to remark in reference to this clause, first, that it may be entirely defended by referring to Section 24 of the London Public Health Act of last Session, extending it only so far as to include the smoke of private dwellings. With reference to a remark which fell from the noble and learned Lord, I have already in a previous Session thoroughly explained my view of what occurred before the Standing Committee to which he alludes. I regret that any reiteration of the subject should be forced upon me. The circumstances were, briefly, that the Standing Committee, misapprehending their position, as I hold, eliminated all the clauses bearing upon domestic smoke, and thus entirely reversed the decision at which the House had previously arrived upon the Second Reading. But I need not dwell further upon that subject, which might lead to acrimonious contention. The wish of the noble Marquess that the Bill should be referred to the Standing Committee is not a wish with which I can at all sympathise; but the question before your Lordships now is merely whether Clause 4 should be adopted,—Clause 4 being the essence of the Bill, viz.: that bye-laws shall be within the power of Vestries to arrange. And I would here remind the House that the alternative suggested is between the Vestries and the London County Council. If the House concurs with, or participates at all in, the strong impression as to the deficiencies of the London County Council that we have heard to-night from the noble Viscount, your Lordships will agree with me (although I pass no judgment on the London County Council) that on the whole it is more desirable to entrust the authority to Vestries, as you have done by the Public Health Act, 1891, than to any other imaginable power.

Clause 8.


I think, my Lords, Clause 8 ought not to be allowed to pass, even at this stage of the House, in its present form. It seems to be a very strong measure, to give this enormous power to the London County Council. I hope the noble Lord will be content to leave this clause out at the present stage, and to bring it up before the Standing Committee at some future stage. I cannot think that this House will pass this clause in its present form at this stage of the Bill; therefore I shall move the rejection of the clause.

Moved: That Clause 8 do not stand part of the Bill.—(Viscount Cross.)


This clause, my Lords, is of course a permissive clause; it gives permission to the London County Council to do this, that and the other; and the object and reason of putting it in is perhaps to stimulate invention. Now inventions are being made every day; people are trying, in every way they can, to devise and invent some simple remedy for consuming smoke in domestic grates, and in some cases that has already been done. As it is a permissive clause to the London County Council I hope it may be allowed to stand. I do not think their action will be of a very despotic nature.


If it was permissible with the householders I should appreciate the argument of the noble Lord more; but if it is permissible on the part of the London County Council to put what fire place they like into my house for the purpose of stimulating invention, my experience may be exceedingly various and disagreeable. We shall have people in the street meeting each other and saying that they are unable to get their dinner or to live in their houses because their chimneys smoke. "What is the difficulty with you?" "Oh! the London County Council is stimulating the invention of Captain A. in my house," or "Oh! the London County Council is stimulating the invention of Mr. B. in my house," and so on. I am afraid with that strong sympathy with intellectual experiments that the London County Council has shewn, we may be in a very terrible condition with the various grates which in various parts of London we shall use. The noble Lord of course has other sympathies with London property than those which are experienced in the use of a grate; and I daresay he does not feel so keenly as the ordinary householder will feel if he is handed over to the London County Council in this summary way by your Lordships' House. I would urge therefore that the clause, at all events, be struck out now. If the Standing Committee can think of any other way of introducing a reformed kind of grate, with due consideration for the liberty of the subject, I will not offer any objection.


My Lords, I cannot help observing that this clause as it stands is anything but permissive. The only thing it permits is that the London County Council may make bye laws. When made, those bye laws will be absolutely compulsory. And there seems to be an inconsistency between such a clause and the proviso at the end of Clause 4 which your Lordships have passed, that they may not go into any dwelling to see whether the bye laws are complied with or not. How you can observe from the outside whether a particular form of grate is in a fire place or not I do not know.


My Lords, I am a great advocate of the Standing Committee; but the questions raised under this Bill are really hardly questions for the Standing Committee to deal with. They are questions of policy and questions of knowledge of what can be done, and, without any evidence on the subject and more information than we possess, which I am sorry to hear we are not likely to get in the form of a Committee, I am rather at a loss to know how the Standing Committee can effectually deal with such a Bill as this. We can practically destroy the Bill by omitting all the stringent provisions in it; but that will not be a very satisfactory operation; and I do not think anyone has yet suggested a practicable means by which the thing can be done. If anyone can suggest such practicable means I suppose there is no noble Lord in this House who would not be eager to adopt and facilitate the passing of the Bill. But in our present state of knowledge on the subject I think we should be exceedingly ill-advised if we get into the Standing Committee.


I must apologise to your Lordships for speaking again; but I want to explain why I think the whole Bill should go to the Standing Committee. This clause, at all events, I think we had better reject; but, apart from this clause, the Bill is wholly a Bill directed against black smoke: and I should be very glad that the Courts should exercise their ingenuity upon a discovery of what black smoke is. But I do not believe that there would be much interference with the ordinary householder who emits grey smoke and not black; and those powerful manufactories that drive black smoke into the London air may I think be fairly required to consume their own smoke.


I have not looked recently into the matter; but I thought that manufactories and steamers were dealt with by an Act already existing; but that is not what my noble Friend behind me aims at. I do not say it is not a proper subject to be considered. What the noble Lord aims at is the black smoke that comes out of large institutions like clubs and large hotels.


My Lords, although I hope to be able to concur with the view of the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India, I should wish the House to be under no misapprehension as to this clause. It relates merely to future constructions; it will give no right by any bye laws to the London County Council to enter an existing domicile. It is merely to give them supervision over houses in the course of being erected: and that is the answer to the charge of inconsistency suggested by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Selborne). I wish merely to explain to your Lordships that this clause originated in one by which it was proposed to give a power of that sort to the Metropolitan Board of Works. During the existence of that Body it was thought that they might, without much hazard, exercise a function of this sort upon buildings in course of construction, and, when the Metropolitan Board of Works wholly disappeared, the power was merely transferred to the London County Council, which I think was originally created, not for some of the great purposes it aims at, but simply to replace the vacancy caused by the disappearance of the Metropolitan Board of Works. I concur entirely with and accept the language of the noble Duke; but in spite of doing so, as I certainly never held that this clause was essential to the purpose of the Bill, which is to restrain the smoke of actual houses, I will not venture to divide the House against the conclusions of Her Majesty's Government upon it.

Motion agreed to.

Clause 8 negatived.

Bill reported with Amendment, and re-committed to the Standing Committee.