HC Deb 10 December 1857 vol 148 cc499-502

, in moving for leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Public Health Act (1848), said, it was the same Bill which was read a first time last Session and could not be proceeded with for want of time. Being anxious that the Bill should not be again exposed to the same fate, he had taken the earliest opportunity to introduce it, and he trusted that the House would be prepared to consider it after the Christmas recess. The general object was to provide that every town in England, great or small, should have the opportunity of acquiring, without any considerable cost or difficulty, a local representative government, armed with sufficient powers to provide structural works and to make all such regulations and arrangements as might be necessary for the sanitary improvement of the inhabitants. The tendency of manufactures and the movement of particular branches of industry caused the rapid growth of towns in places which were previously thinly inhabited. The suburbs of Birmingham, Manchester, and the eastern districts of London had rapidly accumulated very large populations, and it frequently happened that houses were built without method and without under drainage, so that the refuse was carried into some neighbouring ditch, where it remained to create noxious vapours injurious to health. The roads also were not in many parts paved, and yet it was hardly to be expected that any private individual would have so much public spirit as to risk the expense, in case of failure, of an application for a private Act, and therefore these places had no organization at all. Many of the older towns were also desirous of acquiring larger powers than were afforded by the Public Health Act. Both the towns which had and the towns which had not representative government wished to be able to adopt the Public Health Act with greater facilities and with provisions more adapted to their wants. He proposed the intervention of the general board only in cases in which it was necessary to call in an impartial authority to decide questions of disputed boundaries, or where some of the provisions of the Public Health Act had to be modified. The powers to be acquired under this Bill would be for making structural works, borrowing money, supplying water, lighting streets, and providing regulations which were necessary for the good government of these towns. There were some who asked, Why such meddling and such unnecessary interference? The purpose of the meddling was to get rid of the refuse of thousands, which had the effect of substituting disease for health, weakness for strength, and death for life. The number of deaths from preventible causes was estimated at 80,000 a-year, a large proportion of which arose from diseases altogether to be prevented if towns were properly cleansed, and possessed proper sanitary arrangements. It was acknowledged by the highest medical authorities that typhus fever was generated by overcrowding and by noxious exhalations; and in blind purlieus, courts, and alleys, typhus numbered among its victims about 17,000 persons. Other diseases, as erysipelas, consumption, and scrofula, were greatly increased by the same causes. It was admitted that cholera was a disease which could be prevented from assuming a fatal form by cleanliness and care. No better illustration was afforded than by the two towns of Tynemouth and Newcastle. In the interval between the last two visitations of cholera sanitary measures were adopted in Tynemouth, and neglected in Newcastle. At the last visitation the deaths in Newcastle from cholera were 2,000, and in Tynemouth 4, though both towns were similarly situated. Similar results were traceable with regard to pure water. It was found, by comparing the deaths which occurred among the population of London served by the different companies, that those who drank the foul water taken from within the tidal area died in a proportion three and a half times as great as those who drank the pure water which was taken from above the tidal area. Cholera, with diarrhœa and dysentery, destroyed 27,000 annually. In the same way the mortality of infants depended greatly upon the influence of the air they breathed, and Dr. West mentioned that infantile diarrhœa, in the severe form in which it prevailed in the ill-drained parish of Lambeth and other districts on that side of the river was not to be found in the well-drained districts of the metropolis. The mortality from typhus varied wonderfully in different localities. In some registration districts it was found to exist in the proportion of 22 to a given number, whilst in other places the proportion was 209, and diarrhœa and dysentery varied from 4 to 385. There was a tendency in this country for population to gravitate to large towns, and the town population was more unhealthy than that of the rural districts. The mortality in large towns was one-third more than in small towns and rural districts. One cause of the unhealthiness of towns was the difficulty of removing refuse, and decomposition rapidly polluted the air and tainted the water, and then those diseases of which he had spoken frightfully increased. It was therefore incumbent on those who were anxious to maintain the health and morality of the country to give their attention to the sanitary state of towns, and to try to effect those objects which this Bill had in view. He hoped that in the ensuing Session, notwithstanding the vast objects of absorbing interest that would press themselves on the attention of the House, some time might yet be given to that which, though not so attractive or exciting, had a great bearing on the real welfare of the people. The preservation of health was the prerequisite for every good that they could confer on the people; and whilst they took such minute care to preserve property, he trusted they would recollect that to the poor and the rich the most important thing was the preservation of life and health. He would, therefore, conclude by moving for leave to introduce the Bill.


said, the right hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension if he supposed that any species of opposition would be offered to any measure that would improve the sanitary condition of the people. No such opposition would be offered provided the Bill were framed in such a manner as would attain the object without infringing on the reasonable liberty of the people of this country. No opposition had been offered last Session to the end which the right hon. Gentleman had in view, but to the means, the indiscreet means adopted. The great objection was to a central authority in London, which should control the free action of the in- habitants of the districts, who were vested with only a moderate power to regulate their affairs, in improving the sanitary condition of the people. If this Bill were consistent with the greatest amount of local power and authority necessary to preserve the sanitary condition of the districts, and with the freedom of the people from arbitrary and despotic interference with their own private action, it would be most cordially supported by those who took an interest in this matter.


said, he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for the clear exposition which he had given of the objects of the Bill. From his own experience, as the head of a local board, he was convinced that it was eminently calculated to further the welfare of the people. It was a poor man's question, for the poor man had no security against the neglect of his landlord to provide for his health and comfort but the law. Though he was a supporter of the principle of local freedom of action, yet he thought there ought to be a power existing somewhere which would set right the wrong-doings of the local authorities, and stir them up when they neglected their duties.

Leave given.

Bill presented, and read 1°.