HL Deb 13 June 1898 vol 59 cc18-20

My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this small but very important Bill, which has come up from the House of Commons, where it passed through all its stages without any opposition, and to which, I believe, Her Majesty's Government have no objection. The Bill is important in that it is a Bill for the protection of life, and the object of the Bill, which is confined to London, is to secure that there shall be sufficient protection, either by fencing or otherwise, along those parts of the canals that abut on the public highway. The danger of people falling into these canals is by no means an imaginary danger. I do not propose to give your Lordships any lengthy statistics, but I may mention that in 1895, between January 1st and July 1st, there were 31 cases of drowning, and 43 rescues from drowning. Indeed, your Lordships can hardly take up a newspaper without constantly seeing reports of persons, the large proportion of whom are children, having fallen into canals, and probably not one-tenth of the cases which really occur are reported in the newspapers. The state of the law at the present time is that while canal companies can be compelled to put up fencing to protect sheep and cattle from straying and falling into the canal, no local authority has any power to compel them to put up fencing to protect human life. It really seems as if the law had agreed up to this time with what Shylock says— A pound of man's flesh, taken from a man, Is not so estimable, profitable neither, As flesh of muttons, beefs, or goats"— for, while we have taken precaution to protect the lives of sheep and cattle, we have not taken any steps to protect the lives of human beings. I think your Lordships will find, on examining this Bill, that canal companies are protected from any vexatious demands. Section 2 provides that if the canal company refuse to comply with any notice, or fail for one month from receipt of any such notice to comply therewith, it shall be lawful for the local authority to apply to a petty sessional court, to determine, after due inquiry, whether any such danger exists, and whether the works required by any such notice are necessary, and such as the canal company may be reasonably required to carry out; and the court may order whether the whole or any of such works shall be carried out, and may limit a time within which any works shall be executed, and shall determine whether the costs of any such works and the future maintenance thereof shall be borne by the local authority or the canal company, or in what proportions between them. Canal companies have, therefore, full protection against any vexatious demands. Seeing that the Bill applies to London only, and that it applies only to parts of canals which abut on the public highway, I hope your Lordships will see your way to grant to this Bill a Second Reading.


My Lords, I rise not for the purpose of opposing the Second Reading of this Bill, but to ask my noble Friend why it is confined to the Administrative County of London only. There are numerous other populous places through which canals run, where the evil is precisely the same, and where the justice of dealing with it is precisely the same. Is there any special reason why in London it should be necessary to protect human life in this way, and not elsewhere?


These cases have arisen largely in London, and at a conference of vestries in 1896 a Resolution that this kind of legislation should be resorted to was unanimously passed. I hope it will be tried in London, and then extended. I should be very sorry if the Bill had to be amended to include other places, as its chance of passing through the House of Commons again would be very small.

Question put— That this Bill be read a second time.

Motion agreed to.