That the draft of a Special Order proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 1920 and 1929, on the application of the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens of the city of Birmingham, which was presented on the 10th day of July and published, be approved, subject to the following additions:
The provisions of section 55 (Works affecting the London and North Western Railway to be constructed to the satisfaction of their engineer) of the Birmingham and Staffordshire Gas Act, 1864 (27 and 28 Vict., c. ccxxxix), as amended by section 172 (Saving for certain companies) of tho Birmingham Corporation (Consolidation) Act, 1883 (46 and 47 Vict., c. lxx), shall apply and have effect within the added limits as if the London Midland and !Scottish Railway were referred to therein instead of the London and North Western Railway.
That the draft of a Special Order proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 1920 and 1929, on the application of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the borough of Morecambe and Heysham, which was presented on the 10th day of July and published, be approved.
Motion made, and Question proposed.
That the draft of a Special Order proposed to be made by the Board of Trade under the Gas Undertakings Acts, 1920 and 1929, on the application of the Lea Bridge District Gas Company, which was presented on the 10th day of July and published, be approved."—[Dr. Burgin.]
I beg to move, in line 2, to leave out from "be" to the end of the Question and to add:
referred to a Select Committee of Four Members appointed by the Committee of Selection for their Report, which shall state whether, in their opinion, the Order should be approved with or without modifications or additions, and setting out the modifications or additions, if any, which they propooe or should not be approved; and shall be laid before the House, together with a copy of the Order showing the modifications and additions, if any, proposed by the Committee: that the proceedings of the Committee to which the Order is referred shall be conducted in like manner as in the case of a Provisional Order Confirmation Bill under Standing Order 159, and opponents of the Order shall he heard, provided that a Statement of Objection has been deposited in the Committee and Private Bill Office of the House of Commons on nr before the seventh day after the date of this Motion, but an opponent shall only be heard upon objections which have been distinctly specified in the statement.
If no Statement of Objection shall have been deposited within the specified time, or if all such statements so deposited have been withdrawn before the meeting of the Committee, the order of reference to the Select Committee shall be discharged.
I move this Amendment because I had the honour of presenting a Petition to the House, signed by over 750 of my constituents, protesting against. the building or extension of a gas producing plant in one of the most populous wards in my constituency. I want, in the first place, to thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade for his courtesy during the whole of the time that I have been endeavouring to come to some sort of solution of the matter with the gas company. He has been of very great help. Unfortunately, the 750 men and women who live in this ward and have signed the petition, have not been able to obtain the satisfaction which they had the right to expect.
It may be said that certain property owners have had their quid pro quo, and I am not complaining about that. Those who in these days, out of their own pockets, provide living accommodation for the working classes have as much right to the advantages of citizenship as any other members of the community, but when that has been said, I maintain that the conditions of health, the conditions of living, the question of the children attending school and the children in the schools of the locality perhaps in the vicinity of the proposed works, in view of the increased nuisance—I use the word "nuisance" deliberately—that will obtain if we permit this gas producing extension, require very careful consideration. Another point that I desire to make is this. If it were suggested that in this locality the coal gas necessary for Illumination, cooking or heating could not be made in sufficient quantities by the present plant for the township, one would be prepared to consider the position, but when it is a commercial undertaking and the people who live in salubrious areas, with grounds, and all the amenities of luxurious people, are to have their supplies of gas for cooking, heating and light from the centre of a highly industrial population like ours, where 4.87 persons live in each flat or house, it is a matter which calls for serious reflection.
When it is also remembered that there is little or no ground for the erection of more houses in this locality and that this great extension of manufacturing plant for all types of commercial gases is to be erected, I suggest that the Select Committee should have further opportunity of hearing my constituents and sifting the evidence on the matter in order to get further information as to the conditions under which it is proposed to allow this extension to be made, and that when this has been done this House also should have an opportunity of saying the last word on the matter. Let me give one or two facts regarding this locality to the House. There are 125,000 of population in an area of 2,595 acres, it is a very densely packed area. It is impossible to provide new housing accommodation with a proper town planning scheme. I have a whole shoal of letters and communications from my constituents telling a. dramatic story of difficulty regarding health, and if the nuisance is increased and it is necessary I shall not hesitate to place these facts before the House at a later stage. These people are in receipt of low wages and, therefore, are unable to get out of the locality and reside in a more expensive neighbourhood. They have been compelled to live here for 10 and 11 years, in an atmosphere which is not now too good, breathing the coal and coke dust which is at present sent out by the existing plant. I am not complaining about the efficiency of the manufacturing plant which is there at present, but when it is remembered that it is old in its general construction and that this plant may be quadrupled in size the position of these tenants, who may have become acclimatised to some extent after having lived there for 10 and 11 years, will be unbearable if these other industrial manufacturing processes are allowed to be erected. I have been considering the report of the medical officer of health for the area. I do not know of any report of any other medical officer of health which is more efficient or which gives more information. I am not going to inflict on the Committee every feature in that report with respect to the health of this neighbourhood—
The hon. Member has an admirable thirst for knowledge, and privately I might endeavour to increase his knowledge. While that may be useful I do not think it is fair that he should get special knowledge in this matter at this late hour, and, therefore, I hope he will contain himself in legitimate patience. In this report of the medical officer of health, if you take the ward into which this new plant is going to be put, if one takes even a section of the ward where the plant is to be erected, one finds that at the present time certain lung diseases, diseases due to impurity of the air, one deduces to be more prominent than in other sections of the constituency where such industrial plant as this is not to be found. I am not saying that there is a direct connection, but the letters I have received show that coke dust and the type of gas used in the production of coal gas are not helpful to the health of the people. I respectfully suggest that while it is not possible to present the proper and careful evidence here to-day and which a Select, Committee calls for, my Motion offers an opportunity for fair and proper consideration of the position that is presented. If the House were to consider the extent to which this Order may be applied they would find that the manu-
facturing position is almost limitless. You could not set up a cotton-spinning plant in Lancashire, you could not commence weaving silk in the South, you could not lay clown plant for an iron foundry or the making of aeroplanes, with such statutory protection and opportunity as is sought in this Order. Let me read one of the conditions set out in Section 4:
Subject to the provisions of this Order the Company may, upon the lands described in the Schedule to this Order, so long as the company are possessed of the said lands, erect, maintain, alter, improve and renew gasworks, with all the necessary machinery and apparatus, and do all such acts as may be proper for making and storing gas and for supplying gas within the limits of supply, and may also upon the said lands work up and convert the residual products arising directly or indirectly from the manufacture of gas by them or purchased by them under the powers conferred by Section 4 of the Gas Undertakings Act of 1929, for which purposes the Company may purchase from any source and use such material as is required to work up and convert any such residual products.
With such a charter as that to what limits could the company not go? We have not in this Order details of what their purpose is to be in supplying the neighbouring towns, but I respectfully suggest that it is not equitable or right that such a method should obtain whereby these folk, who have been acclimatised to the district, should he faced with a position which would be detrimental, undoubtedly, to their health for some other town.
I do not intend to read all the letters I have received, but I have a selected group which I am sure the House will be interested to hear, as showing what the folk who have lived there for some years have experienced, and also what they fear may happen. My first letter says:
As a result of the present gasometers and the plant which was erected, there is definite proof that the shortage of daylight and sunshine has been detrimental to the children of the neighbourhood.
The same letter—from a working man, I suppose—states that the illuminants in his own house are costing him much more because of the crowded position of the present plant. The next letter makes definite charges about the objectionable sewer gas smells which seem to come from the works. The next letter is from a mother of six children. She says that her children attend a school which is actually
adjoining the works, and that, as a result, these children have definitely suffered, because on occasions, especially in hot weather, there has not been sufficient rain-cleaning of the atmosphere. I say that that is a most important matter. Another letter says:
The atmosphere is unbearable at times.
Another man says:
It is impossible to keep the windows or the doors open. We must have the windows and doors shut, otherwise suffocating gases and dust come in and cause us extreme annoyance.
The next writer says:
More electric light is required because of the cribbed in position of the present plant.
I have here a letter in which the writer says:
Whilst I am for progress and development of industry in general, I do not see why it should be allowed to interfere with the small amount of public pleasure fields which are at the present time at our disposal.
These would be eliminated if the present plan is put into operation. Later on he says:
The allotments are now a refuse heap.
These allotments, which were so helpful to the workers, were taken away when the other plant was put into operation, and what little grass ground is available will be taken over when this extension of plant is permitted. They say that the noise from the present plant is almost unbearable. I am not sure whether we in this House really understand to what extent illness and nerve disease in the present day are the direct result of noise, and we must remember that these folk will be right against this gas-making plant, to which they have become to an extent, it is true, acclimatised. We know that people living near railways and tramways are compelled to get acclimatised, but when it is suggested that this further power should be given to these gas-producing companies, I say it is right and proper that something should be done to prevent it.
One other point and I must leave it there. There is in operation in a part of my constituency what is known as a large cooling well. In these days of water shortage that is a most important matter. I have been amazed to see what has been done in the country in regard to the reopening of wells which have lain unused for years. But this well is used for manufacturing purposes and my correspondent says that it is stagnant and that it breeds flies. It is only in the cold months of the year he informs me that the surrounding neighbourhood is free from this type of parasitic life which is so detrimental to the housewives of Leyton.
I wish to register a definite protest against this order. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to remember these 750 petitioning people, and I ask the House to support this Amendment and to send this Order upstairs to a Select Committee where the evidence can be carefully considered. It may then be found that this gas plant can be erected in some other salubrious district. It might perhaps be taken to the delightful district represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams). It would be a useful and helpful advertisement for that locality. In any case I ask that the matter should be carefully considered and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make an Order which will not put upon the working people of Leyton the serious inconveniences which now threaten them.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I would not like to see my hon. Friend left without a seconder. When we have such an excellent junior Minister in attendance as. the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and when the hon. Member has taken such trouble to get up the case for his constituents, I think it would, be a pity if the House were not given the opportunity of hearing an answer to his carefully thought-out Amendment.
The hon. Member has put to the House the case of 7501 of his constituents who are, I gather, tenants at a particular address though that did not emerge from his speech, and who claim to be suffering from the existence of a gas-works in that area, and further that their sufferings will be increased if the gas company is allowed to have this Order. No complaint can be made against the hon. Member for making to this House any representations which his constituents desire him to make, but I am sure that hon. Members listening to him would get the impression that this gas company was desirous of going into an area where they had not been working before and that they wanted to do something wholly unexpected. I hope to show that the real picture is very different. The responsibility for the administration of gas in this country falls upon the Board of Trade and a highly competent and skilled staff at the Board of Trade make it their business to examine the proposals of any gas company when an application for an Order is made. Where the application includes an application for permission to erect plant and utilise land for gas making, not only are all the documents examined, but an inspection is made of the site. On the 2nd March an inquiry was held. The proposal was opposed, in the first instance, by the Leyton Borough Council, the Lea Conservancy Catchment Board, and certain property owners, but seine of that opposition has been withdrawn. On the 2nd March a formal inquiry was held, but none of the occupants of the houses in the area represented by my hon. Friend appeared or gave evidence.
The hon. Gentleman knows that these are working-class people, many of them with under 35s. a week, and that they cannot afford to miss a day's work; and further the inquiry was held between 10 and 4.
I was not making any point except the fact that no objection was raised by any of the tenants of the houses nor were they called by the landlords of the estate. When an inquiry is held formally into.a suggestion that new gasworks should be put up, one would normally expect that if there were any well-founded grievance, some reference to it would be made by somebody. I do not undervalue what my hon. Friend has said, that these are working-class folk who would lose a day's pay, and that the inquiry was held in Whitehall at hours which perhaps were inconvenient, but there is nearly always some friend who can appear and give scale sort of sign that this is not approved of, and I emphasise the fact that the landlords of the estate did not call upon them to appear either. What is much more important is the fact that the land upon which the gasworks are proposing to erect additional plant belongs to the gasworks and was in their possession as a ground for extension of works there long before the houses that, are occupied by my hon. Friend's constituents were built. It is one thing to bring a nuisance to property, but it is another thing to bring property to a nuisance, and the whole attitude of the general public will vary according to whether a gasworks is introduced into a residential area or a residential area is built up round an existing gasworks. I attach the greatest importance to the fact that the existence of this land as the property of the gasworks has been known from the time when the gasworks purchased it, and that the works were there long before Clementina Road and the houses in it were erected.
I think that that substantially disposes of the matter. But among the people whom the Board of Trade have to consider are not merely the 750 tenants of the houses immediately in the vicinity who might or might not be affected in some way, but the 42,000 consumers of gas who are requiring gas as a public service.
All the trouble and expense of making this application for increased plant would not have been taken unless there was a need to increase the supply. Nobody goes to this sort of trouble to enable themselves to build on a piece of land that is already theirs unless there is some demand for the product that is going to be manufactured there.
There are 42,000 consumers in this Lea Bridge Gasworks area, and the Board of Trade is interested to see that the requirements of those 42,000 consumers are borne very carefully in mind, being the assessor as between the two sets of parties affected. After the inquiry had been held, after the evidence had been taken, after the Board of Trade officials had been satisfied that the objections lodged to the Order had been disposed of, the gasworks and the proposed new sites were inspected by the officer of the Board who held the inquiry, and he came to the conclusion, and the Board are satisfied, that the plot at the back of Clementina Road ought to be authorised for gasworks purposes. They made a proviso that certain buildings should not be put upon the land within 50 feet. There is a high wall 28 feet from the backs so that it means there are 78 feet of air space between the inhabited property and the nearest point at which any building of that kind can be erected.
I concede at once that in any area the erection of a gasometer is a matter which gives rise to mixed feelings, but we all know from our ordinary daily contact with areas round London of many cases where there are gasometers much nearer than 78 feet to inhabited dwellings. I have the greatest sympathy for the tenant of a house who finds himself confronted with some wholly new set of circumstances, but I cannot really believe that the building of additional gas works on land owned by the gas company established at a time prior to the erection of any of the houses in question will come within the class of nuisance to which my hon. Friend's speech was directed. Having regard to the fact that this Order has been tabled in the regular way and has been advertised, that the inquiry has been held, that the officer who held the inquiry has visited the premises and made a report, and that report, having been taken into consideration by the authorities, is upheld by the Board of Trade, I cannot believe that this Amendment is desirable or is required nor can I believe for a moment that any select commttee or any other body of people would come to any different conclusion from that which the Board has already reached, and I ask the House in consequence to resist the Amendment.