§ Order for Second Reading read.
MR. M'CULLAGH TORRENS
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that he would occupy as little of the time of the House as was consistent with the duty he owed to the many people throughout the country who had signified their adhesion to the principle of the Bill. When he had the honour of submitting a similar measure to the House last year he was careful to state that it was introduced from no predisposition or predilection of his own for any peculiar remedy for an acknowledged evil; and that if the House chose to devote that attention to the subject which it deserved, no doubt in its wisdom it would elaborate something much better than anything which his own limited experience could suggest. Without a division, the draft Bill which he then laid before it was read a second time by the House, and referred to a Select Committee, 667 on whom was devolved the task of elaborating its provisions. Without a division, that Committee directed him, as its Chairman, to report the Bill to the House; and the measure which he now asked the House to sanction was in ipsissimis the Bill which left the Select Committee. That Committee, as usual, was composed of Members from both sides of the House; but what was not usual, it combined a degree of experience and ability peculiar to the subject, which fairly entitled him to claim the favourable consideration of the House for the result of its deliberations. He was quite aware that to many hon. Members around the principle of the Bill might seem novel, and a departure from that rule of non-interference in the ordinary concerns of social life which was considered one of the corner stones of our national policy in these matters, and he frankly admitted that if a case for the necessity of such interference could not be shown, he had no right to thrust the subject on the attention of the House. He would go further, and say that unless there was a general conviction in the public mind of the urgency of the measure, the House would not be performing its duty in giving its sanction to a Bill founded upon such a principle. No objection had been taken in limine to the consideration of the subject. Parliament had recognised the urgency of the evil. It had been said by many that voluntary effort in the way of enterprize, and voluntary benevolence aiding enterprize, would overtake the evil, but he did not then believe that that expectation was well founded, nor did he now, and his opinion was strengthened by the petition which had been presented to the House on the subject. The delay which occurred between the consideration of the Bill in the Select Committee and the subsequent change of Government which prevented it passing its final stage last Session, gave an opportunity for its public reconsideration; and he appealed to every hon. Member who watched the tide of popular opinion upon public questions to say whether there had not been a consentaneity of opinion in favour of this measure. He had had the honour of presenting petitions signed by hundreds and thousands of persons, some being clergymen and ministers of other denominations, others employing great numbers of artizans and labourers, and others again artizans themselves, who were to be primarily 668 benefited by the Bill. On the other hand, it was right to say that the only objections raised to the measure this year emanated from a very small minority of those corporate bodies and local authorities upon whom it would impose additional trouble. Now, let them ask the House to consider broadly this question. They knew that the population was yearly increasing, and that increment was in the great towns, and not in the counties. They knew that the tendency of the day, which the House ought not to attempt to control, was towards the concentration of capital and employment, and the Home Secretary had daily evidence before him that there was a tendency to the congestion of population in a few great centres of industry, in which it required all the vigilance which the Government could exercise to maintain order, keep the peace, and conserve the health of the masses of population. If such were the tendencies of the age, it was not very likely that the evil of which he complained would cure itself. Many of those who on the first blush of the subject were not inclined to agree with him suggested, no doubt in the most disinterested and philosophic spirit, laissez faire principle as applied to this question. They said, "We let commerce alone, we let religion alone; why not adopt the laissez faire principle as applied to the dwellings of the poor, and let them alone?" He had been a member of the great association for the liberation of trade, and all his life a free trader. He was quite willing to give that consideration to others which he claimed for himself in all matters of conscience. Wherever they had a fair field and no favour, and wherever an evil existed which they could counteract by investigation and inquiry, whether it related to trade, or to an unpopular creed, no doubt the laissez faire principle would apply; but he, for one, did not undersand the application of that principle when they had to encounter such evils as fever dens and fever nests. He did not understand how they were in such cases to admit Mr. Carlyle's terrible maxim, enunciated in a moment of sarcasm and scorn (which he feared was literally true), that the doctrine of free competition, carried out to its logical result, meant "success to the strongest, wreck to the weakest, and in the race the devil take the hindmost." Let them ask any man who was in the habit of going amongst the poor to 669 console, to instruct, or to relieve them, what was the universal testimony borne as to the result of their operations? Was it not that it was labour in vain?—that it was sowing the wind; that they were met by the mock of people who had not, literally, a place wherein to lay their heads in peace; who had to work from morn till night, from ten to twelve hours a day; and who on their return had to herd together in places to which not one Member of that House would consign his horse or his dog. How could they expect that a man who found himself surrounded by an infirm wife and sickly children, confined in a dismal den in which all the offices of nature had to be performed, could devote his mind to intellectual pursuits or mental improvement with a view to his regeneration in the social scale? much less could they expect a man under these circumstances to abstain from going to the public-house round the corner and getting three pennyworth of paradise in the shape of gin. The House was not accountable for the acts of Providence; but they were accountable if, having means in their power, they neglected to use them for the purpose of giving these people a chance of moral and physical redemption. Every day they heard it said that our industry was jeopardised by competition arising around them in all quarters. He, for one, did not much fear or much regret that. In that respect he was a free trader indeed. The force of that competition no one could deny, and it was likely to be more or less advantageous or disadvantageous; but what was the greatest interest in this House or of society in this country, in comparison with the performance of that duty which consisted in keeping the skilled classes who lived by labour, in a physically, socially, and morally healthy condition? They had spent two months in debating whether they would enfranchise and give to that class political power. He was ready to go the whole length in that direction; but did they desire the franchise in comparison with a measure that would give them decent homes, without which the possession of the franchise would be a mere mockery, and might become a snare? Everybody who had fought as he had a contested election knew the difficulty and danger of giving political rights to such men. They could not apply the same principle to men in diverse conditions. To men whose extreme poverty had led to the loss of all self-respect, and who 670 were broken down by habits of self-degradation, their patriotic speeches was as idle wind in empty space. He might be told that they could not afford still further to burden the rates, that corporate bodies were afraid to impose any additional rates; but he maintained that it would rather have a contrary effect, and he would ask whether they could afford, in the interest even of the ratepaying community, to leave these evils unredressed? He was prepared to withdraw the Bill, if any Gentleman could get up and say that, as a matter of arithmetic, it would have an injurious effect upon the rates. In the heaviest rated districts the want of such a measure was felt to be greatest. He had presented petitions from the most heavily taxed districts in the borough of Finsbury, where people instinctively knew that if they substituted decent houses for miserable hovels not worth rating, they benefited the general rate. They had instinct or common sense sufficient to know that if for a class of inhabitants living in perpetual fever nests, generating distress and pauperism, they substituted a class living on their own skilled labour in healthy dwellings, they created customers for the small shopkeepers, and by that means diminished the chances and incidences of pauperism. They saw well enough that every skilled man who was prostrated by preventible disease was so much capital withdrawn from the stock of the community which they could not supply by any Act of Parliament. It was not the rent of land or the interest upon money, but the wages of the labourer day by day, out of which the taxation of the country to the amount of some £60,000,000 annually came, and every hand struck down by fever or disease was so much destruction of capital; for he could appeal to hon. Gentlemen in that House, great authorities on political economy, whether the destruction of every hand that could construct a machine, a watch, or an article of commerce which entered into home or foreign competition, was not the destruction of so much capital, which was to be deducted from the aggregate amount devoted to the employment of labour? Therefore, as a mere matter of arithmetic, he believed that this Bill was not calculated to add to the incidence of rating. The machinery of the Bill clearly indicated that in the opinion of the Select Committee it would not increase the burden of the rates; because one of the clauses provided that 671 whenever the local authorities of any district considered that it ought to be cleared of houses unfit for human habitation, and that no others ought to be erected owing to the crowded state of the buildings upon that particular site, they should in that case be subject to such demolition as they would be by law subject to under the provisions of the Act of last Session, which was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the then President of the Privy Council. He thought he was not stating the matter unfairly when he said that that Act was brought in with a consciousness that a proper complement to it would be found in some such Bill as the present; and when the present Government assumed office last year, he had the satisfaction of hearing from at least one Member of the present cahinet the acknowledgment that the operation of the Public Health Amendment Act alone would rather tend to aggravate than to cure the evil complained of. He believed that in many cases that Act had been wholly inoperative on account of the officers of health shrinking from the performance of the terrible duty of wholesale eviction. He had been through crowded districts in the heart of London where public improvements had been contemplated, and where with that view it had been sought to bring the Public Health Amendment Act into operation for the purpose of removing the miserable dens and hovels of the poor, and where the whole thing had come to a stand-still; because, in the event of the houses being pulled down, the inhabitants would have no refuge but the street, and the officers of health shrank with horror from reducing them to that alternative. They talked about the necessity for public improvements, and the impropriety of making any resistance to the law; but they must remember that the plough-share of improvement had been driven remorselessly through the homes of hundreds of poor men living on the process of their labour, and contributing to the wealth of the State. Was it a question beneath the notice of the House how they were to be dealt with? Was it a matter of no importance to secure contentment among that great class? They might possess generosity and benevolence; but were they to content themselves by telling these poor classes that law and order must be preserved, and that when they receive a notice to quit their homes, miserable though they might be, they must obey 672 without complaint, although the only alternative was being turned into the streets? He would give one instance of eviction that came under his own notice last autumn. Union Court was in that way doomed to demolition last autumn, and scores of families were told they must find other shelter where they could. A deputation of the poorer inhabitants waited upon the President of the Board of Works, and pointed out that the effect would be to turn them into the streets, and accordingly asked what they were to do. The right hon. Gentleman, of course, deplored the hard necessity under which they were placed, but he could suggest no remedy; they must, he said, find other places where they could. What happened? One man, an honest industrious artizan, who was able by his labour to earn 25s. a week, and who supported his wife and a family of several children on the produce of his industry, was driven from his home. It had been said that the railways provided facilities for persons so situated, and pleasant pictures of beautiful little cottages, the doors and windows covered with honeysuckle and wild roses, had been drawn by ardent imaginations, where the tired artizan might rest from his labour and breathe the pure fresh air of the country; but he could tell the House that such things were a frightful mockery and delusion, and that the necessity for workmen to live near their work precluded them in most instances from availing themselves of those facilities were they never so great. It was a melancholy thing to reflect that the hardest things to convince people of were those which were most obvious, and it was no wonder that when this class of men found themselves turned out of their dwellings they should manifest some impatience. In the case he was alluding to, the man was turned out of his home. He looked about him a long time in vain. He was, however, necessitated to live near his work, and at last he discovered a single room, overlooking a dirty court-yard, in the neighbourhood of one of our great inns of court. He paid a heavy rent for permission to lay his head in that room. It was in the sweltering days of autumn. Fever watched his victim, tracked him to his new abode, and laid him down on a bed of death. His wife and six children had to remain in the room, breathing the pestiferous fever-laden atmosphere. Why did fever make sure of its victim? I will tell you: 673 it was because there were in that eight-roomed house no less than fifty-seven living human beings. After the man's death, his wife and six children were thrown on the rates, so that morally, politically, and in every way it was bad economy to allow a state of things to continue by which such results were brought about. The house in question was so full that the officers of the parish shrank from the responsibility of clearing it. It remained, the fever spread, and the great evil to be dreaded in this country was, he believed, not so much the recurrence of the cholera as the prevalence of typhus and the pauperism which, day after day, it was generating. The corporation of Manchester objected to the Bill because they said it might lead to an increase of the rates; but, on the other hand, petitions had been presented from ministers of religion, and others in that town, praying that the measure might be allowed to pass. He held in his hand the last number of the Journal of Social Science, where he found a paper by the medical officer of Chorlton-on-Medlock, in which it was stated that in the first eight weeks of this year there were in Salford and Manchester 137 deaths from fever; that in some places the deaths exceeded the births, and that the town might be said to be built over one vast cesspool. Similar testimony was borne by Mr. Reece, the secretary to the Sanitary Association of Manchester, who said that multitudes of the people had their dwelling-places, or he should rather call them their dying-places, amid the scenes which he mentioned. He had, indeed, been told that at Leeds objections were entertained to any interference there such as the Bill might bring about; but he could very well understand that corporations, which in legal phrase were said to have no soul, might in individual instances have no conscience, and he was informed by the consulting physician to one of the great institutions at Leeds that all that was most valuable in the public opinion of the town was in favour of the Bill, and that but little could be accomplished by voluntary efforts, compared with what was required to be done to meet the necessities of the case, adding that he himself was a member of a building society by which a capital of £50,000 had been raised, but that he nevertheless felt the expediency of resorting to the compulsory system proposed. As to the machinery of the Bill, he would only say that he was 674 prepared to welcome any suggestion by which it might be made more workable. He had no parental feeling with regard to any of its clauses, and he invited hon. Members to change them if they thought well, provided they only entered into the discussion in a spirit of criticism favourable to the object which he had in view. There were those who criticized to damage and those who criticized to mend, and it was in the spirit of the latter, admitting the magnitude of the evil, and pointing out how a remedy might be provided, that he trusted the Bill would be dealt with. He earnestly invited the Government to lend their valuable aid—since they could not find time to take up the subject themselves—to render the measure workable. It had been agreed to as it now stood by a Committee upstairs, who concurred in pronouncing it to be a safe measure. In it due care was taken to protect the legitimate rights of property. It was proposed that, as in the case of Liverpool, to which an Act had been granted for the purpose four years ago, which had proved to be most salutary, the officers of health should be enabled to prosecute places unfit for human habitation as evils and nuisances, and that pro hac the scope of that Act might be extended to the metropolis. He should not recapitulate the details of the Bill, and if any of its provisions were deemed to require explanation that explanation would, he was sure, be readily furnished by his hon. and learned Friend near him, the Member for Southwark, who had so ably and cordially co-operated with him in the task which he had undertaken. In conclusion, he might observe that a general desire appeared to prevail on both sides of the House to give this Session, by some means, increased political power to those who lived by labour. He would then beg of the House in this, the last hour of the old system of representation, not to refuse its sanction to what he might term a parting blessing, and to show to those on whom they were about to confer the franchise, and who were desirous of improving their own position, that it could do as well for them, while still directly unrepresented within these walls, as they could do for themselves when they possessed the power with which it was proposed to invest them. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. M'Cullagh Torrens.)675
§ MR. SELWIN
said, the House owed a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Finsbury for the manner in which he had grappled with this important question, and for the spirit in which, not only upon the present, but on previous occasions, he had brought forward the claims of those who, whatever might be their prospects for the future, had at least in the past found too few who were willing to advocate their cause. The subject introduced by the hon. Member for Finsbury was one which not only vitally concerned the interests of the poorer classes, but of necessity materially and intimately affected every other class of society. Any one who had visited the dwellings of the labouring classes in the metropolis, or who had read the reports of the medical authorities, must be aware of the fearful overcrowding, bad drainage, imperfect ventilation, and lack of convenience which characterized them, and rendered them almost uninhabitable. Such a state of things stood in great need of a remedy. It was their duty to do all in their power to prevent diseases arising from bad air and polluted water. The reports of the officers of health showed that what might be called the inevitable deaths were eleven in every 1,000 of the population; but the average mortality was as high as twenty-two in the 1,000. The preventible deaths, therefore, were as high as eleven in the 1,000. A Report by Mr. Graham Smith and Dr. Lyon Playfair was published some time ago, in which it was stated that 113 preventible deaths in the 1,000 had occurred in the town of Lancaster, and that these deaths represented a loss of labour to the extent of £16,000. Taking that calculation as a basis, it would easily be seen that as the preventible deaths over the whole country amounted to 220,000 there was thus a total loss of labour to the almost fabulous extent of £32,000,000, the amount in London alone being something approaching to £4,000,000. The evil was a crying one, and demanded instant remedy. He was aware that vast sums were annually expended by charitable individuals for the relief of the poor in the metropolis; but however laudable these efforts were, they only dealt with the evil by mitigating it as much as possible after the mischief was done. What was wanted was a sweeping reform to avert the evil altogether, and this could only be done by an extensive legislative measure. Every day new sites were devoted to public improvements, and 676 the inhabitants of the houses which remained were consequently more densely packed than ever. It might be urged that in advocating special legislative enactments to meet this case, he was overlooking and ignoring the efforts made by private persons, such as Miss Burdett Coutts, Alderman Waterlow, and our great American benefactor; but such was not the case. He accorded to these philanthropic people all the praise which they so well merited; but he could only regard them as pioneers in this great work. To make their labours properly effectual they would require to be invested with compulsory powers for the purchase of sites. There was a class of landlords who traded profitably upon the miserable overcrowding of their bad dwellings, and they would only sell their tenements to charitable persons who desired to erect improved houses at prices far above their value, so that the expense entailed upon the benevolent considerably limited their action, by preventing them doing as much as they desired. As long, therefore, as compulsory powers of purchase were wanting, the good accomplished could never be sufficient to meet the necessities of the case. The Reports of building societies and of model lodging-houses clearly indicated the incalculable advantages which improved house accommodation had conferred upon the working classes, by improving both their moral and physical condition, and largely reducing the rate of mortality among them. The societies were paying an average dividend of 5 per cent, and were immensely improving the localities where they were conducting their operations. The model lodging-houses afforded accommodation to 10,000 persons, among whom the death-rate was only seventeen in 1,000. When, therefore, they remembered, as he had stated, that the average of general mortality was twenty-two in 1,000, and that these model lodging-houses were built in some of the worst localities of London, where the death-rate was sometimes as high as thirty-five, they would acknowledge how vast were the benefits to be derived from good dwellings. The only thing to be regretted was that the sphere of the operations of these model lodging-houses was so limited. It must, however, be borne in mind that the poorer classes of the metropolis amounted to very nearly 500,000 persons, of whom about 250,000 might be set down as living in houses which urgently demanded improvement. 677 The hon. Member for Finsbury proposed to deal with the evil by applying to Government for a loan of £1,000,000, and be calculated that by means of that sum he would be enabled to provide dwellings for about 35,000 persons. The only fault he (Mr. Selwin) had to find with the proposal was that it was not large enough. Even if the proposal of the hon. Member for Finsbury were fully carried out, there would still remain over 200,000 poor people for whom no adequate provision of that kind would be made. There must therefore, in his opinion, be some more elastic system resorted to of meeting the difficulty. Why should not the Government adopt, to some extent, a principle similar to that which was acted upon in the case of India, where a percentage was guaranteed on the capital invested in railways? He would suggest, therefore, to the hon. Member for Finsbury, to ask for a minimum guarantee of 4 per cent, by which means a large amount of capital might be attracted to the investment he had in view. Such a guarantee might very well be given with a very small amount of risk; because experience showed that a return of 5 per cent was, in those cases, almost certain, and, if a power of compulsory purchase were added, there was every probability that that rate of interest would be increased. The advantage to the public of such a guarantee as he proposed was, that it would attract the sound capital which the commercial crisis of last year had frightened away from commercial speculations; and it was requisite that it should be attracted for this purpose, for he believed that the sum that would be needed would amount to something more like £7,000,000 than £1,000,000, if the wants of the whole population were to be met. He was of opinion that at that moment when the House was talking of reforming itself they should strive to accomplish this great social reform which was so intimately bound up with the interests of so large a proportion of their countrymen. Should the Bill be received with favour by the House he would make a suggestion in Committee that Government should give a minimum guarantee of 4 per cent, and that the amount of money to be borrowed should be largely increased.
§ SIR JERVOISE JERVOISE
said, he thought it was not so much of the premises themselves, as of the mode in which those premises were occupied that there 678 was reason to complain, and he suggested that some amended definition of the words "contagion" and "infection" should be introduced into the Bill.
§ MR. GREENE
said, he was convinced that if some legislation of the kind proposed by the Bill were not proceeded with, this important subject would remain merely a question for declamation at the hustings. He, however, desired to point out to the House that, although the evil of overcrowding was not so great in the agricultural districts as in the metropolis, yet in many districts there was a lamentable lack of house accommodation for the labourers. He had recently gone to reside in the neighbourhood of a village which contained 1,000 inhabitants, and he found that the number of cottages with three rooms each did not bear the proportion of 15 per cent of the whole. The percentage of cottages with two rooms was also very small, and persons of both sexes were consequently obliged to sleep in the same room. The result, in his opinion, of the overcrowded state of the dwellings in the various towns was the production of a greater amount of demoralization than arose from all other causes put together; while it tended also to bring about physical deterioration in a great degree. If better dwellings were provided for the working men, they would the better be able to labour, and for those reasons, not to enter more into detail, he hoped the efforts of the hon. Member for Finsbury would be successful.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, that an hon. Member opposite, who had taken part in the debate, had made some observations conveying an erroneous impression of the objects of this Bill. He regretted that the hon. Member had made so many observations about the metropolis, and so few about the agricultural districts. The fact was that if the number of inhabitants in the metropolis were taken into account it would be found that it contained a smaller proportion of houses of the character referred to in the Bill than were to be found elsewhere throughout the country. In many of the rural districts a worse state of thing in that respect prevailed; but there were undoubtedly within the limits of the metropolis some places which called for the attention of the House, and which must be made the objects of legislation. One merit of the Bill under discussion was, that it did not attempt to go beyond, with perhaps one 679 exception, that which was reasonable and practicable. It was essentially founded on the provision set forth in the 6th clause, which at once showed the distinction by which the whole of its provisions were pervaded. The subject referred to in that clause was disposed of by the Bill of last Session; and the present Bill, therefore, was not what it originally had been. It did not deal with the question of overcrowding, but with property which, owing to altered circumstances, was no longer in a fit condition for human habitation. There was a clause in the Bill—Clause 7—which would undoubtedly require careful consideration in Committee. That clause provided that on the representation of four householders that contagious disease existed in any premises, or that such premises were in a state likely to engender disease, the premises might be condemned. Now, if a house were likely to engender disease, it would be right to condemn it; but it did not follow that a house, because disease existed in it, should be condemned. In his view of the matter, the operation of the Bill was intended to be limited to property the structure and surroundings of which were likely to engender disease; and looking at the measure in that aspect, he did not think it was calculated to excite those alarming ideas which the hon. Member introduced into the discussion. It was quite clear that it was not intended to interfere with the habitations of 250,000 people, or with the erection of new dwellings for them. He was in the habit of walking daily into the back courts and alleys of the metropolis, and he believed that there were very few houses in themselves or in their surroundings unfit for human habitation, provided the number of people living in them was not too great. There were one or two provisions in the Bill which had created some alarm. It was said that if, under the Bill, any premises were declared unfit for human habitation on account of dilapidations or otherwise, the owner would take no further trouble about them, in the hope of forcing the parochial authorities to purchase them, and of getting a jury to award large compensation. Thus the measure, it was said, would enable a man to make his own default of duty the means of extorting money from the public. He trusted that in Committee on the Bill care would be taken that no such abuse should arise. He suggested that the compensation, instead of being assessed under the 680 Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, should be so regulated that the value paid should be only the fair market value at the time, and that no compensation should be given on account of compulsory purchase. There was another point he wished to refer to. He did not think the pretensions of the City of London to exemption from the operation of this Bill could for a moment be entertained. The hon. Member for Finsbury, pressed, no doubt, by the influence of the corporation of London and by the power they seemed to exercise of obstructing useful measures if they did not like them, had been compelled to give way to that pressure; but could anything be more preposterous than that, in a measure for improving the general dwellings of the poor, the most wealthy portion of the metropolis should be withdrawn from the area over which the rate to be levied by this Bill was to be raised? It would be the duty of the House to treat this pretension of the City of London with the indignation it deserved. He believed that the measure, after the removal of certain small errors in it, would tend to get rid of serious evils in the metropolis and other places, and that it would be in no way inconsistent with the improvement of property.
§ MR. POLLARD-URQUHART
said, that he could bear testimony to the necessity which existed for the enactment of some such a measure as this; and he desired to urge upon the House the claims of 100,000 of his Irish fellow-countrymen to better house accommodation than they now had in the metropolis. In many cases a father, mother, and five children all lived and slept in one room, and it was marvellous that more contagious disease did not, under the circumstances, prevail. A good labourer might obtain employment, but the great drawback he felt arose from the miserable dwelling in which he was obliged to live. The measure was one in the right direction, and he trusted it would be carried into law.
§ MR. E. POTTER
admitted that some measures should be taken to improve the dwellings of the working classes, and he would go to any length in the adoption of sanitary regulations; but he was fearful the present Bill proceeded too far. He thought that overcrowding was the cause of all the evil, and he was prepared to assent to any measure which would remedy that mischief; but he objected to the power proposed to be given by the Bill to 681 local authorities to compete with private persons in building houses. The evil of overcrowding could be dealt with without the adoption of any such a measure as that. He would suggest to the House to consider whether it was not desirable promptly to enact some measure prohibiting more than a certain number of persons residing upon a square acre. Corporations might clear spaces, and sell them as sites for suitable houses, but he did not think that they ought, unless when absolutely necessary, to build houses; and if they were forced to erect them, they ought to sell them as soon as possible. Even in the latter case there would be this objection, that such houses would come into private builders' hands. He did not think that this Bill would meet the evil of overcrowding, but he should not oppose its second reading, and should probably in Committee not oppose any clause except that which allowed corporations to become speculative builders of houses.
said, he thought that the importance of the Bill could not be overrated. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had truly stated that the Bill had nothing to do with the question of overcrowding, but only dealt with those dwellings which, from their structure or other circumstances, were not fit for human beings to live in. He did not believe that hon. Members who had not the opportunity of serving upon the Select Committee of last year on this subject could have any idea what a difficult matter it was to deal with. The Bill brought in by the hon. Member last year was first submitted to that Committee, and after some discussion two or three fresh drafts of Bills were brought under consideration, but each succeeding draft seemed to throw less light on the subject. At length the Committee heard that an Act relating to this matter was working well in Liverpool. The Committee obtained a copy of that Act, and the present Bill was pretty nearly identical in all its main provisions with it. He believed that the Bill with the limited operation, which it was now intended to give it, would work satisfactorily in this great metropolis. Whether or no the clauses about compensation should be more guardedly worded, was a question to be considered in the Committee on the Bill. He was quite certain, when he knew that the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had looked into the Bill, that the City of London 682 would not escape criticism. He freely gave his assent to this Bill, because if buildings were unfit for human beings to dwell in, it would be a great advantage to pull them down, and, as they could not be pulled down without somebody paying for them, he thought that the payment of a moderate rate, spread over the whole surface of this great city, was not too great a sacrifice to make for such a purpose. It might be a question, whether the provisions as to the re-building of houses by the local authorities on the sites of those pulled down should be persisted in. That portion of the Bill was not in the Liverpool Act. Of course, if houses were cleared away, and no others were built to supply their place, the evil now complained of would be increased, because people would then be driven to inhabit improper dwellings. It would therefore be necessary to make some provision for the erection of houses in the place of those that might be pulled down. At the same time, he should be sorry to give his assent to any principle so wide and dangerous as that the public was, under all circumstances, bound to provide dwellings for the labouring classes. If the public was once brought into the matter you would stop the private enterprize which was now to a certain extent at least meeting the difficulty. But, as far as he understood the Bill, he thought that it did not go too far, and that the principle was safe. He should therefore give the measure his hearty support.
said, he had listened with great gratification to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire. The Bill undoubtedly involved a slight invasion of the rights of property as hitherto understood; but it was an invasion sanctioned by common sense and approved of by the right hon. Gentleman, whom no one would accuse of being indifferent to the rights of property. This was not a Bill to enable local authorities to build cottages wherever they were wanted; but was simply a measure empowering them to pull down houses which were unfit for habitation, and then, after allowing due time, if the owner neglected to do what was necessary, to construct new habitations in the place of the old. It had been argued that the Bill did not deal with the evil of overcrowding. To a certain extent, however, it would; because no doubt the new houses which replaced the condemned buildings would be more 683 spacious and better adapted to the wants of the working classes than the old ones. Undoubtedly the legislation of last year was very severe; but the House showed its reliance upon the humanity and discretion of the local authorities, and its confidence had been justified by the result. That which had occurred in Glasgow and Liverpool would occur in other places. In Glasgow it was found that no sanitary regulations, no vigilance on the part of the authorities, could expel typhus from many overcrowded parts of the city. The corporation found it absolutely necessary to make wider streets; but they could not effect that object without depriving a large portion of the population of their residences. They came to Parliament and obtained power to raise in the course of a year no less than £1,250,000, to be expended in the removal of old and the erection of new dwellings. Liverpool had done the same thing. Money had been laid out in the purchase of spaces, and he believed that a small sum would be applied to the building of houses. It was competent for any town in which private enterprize did not supply the wants of the population to come to Parliament and ask for powers as great or greater than those which these two places had obtained, and the House would deal with each case according to its own merits. Such powers would in many cases be a very useful supplement to private enterprize; but he confessed that he should in all places prefer to rely upon private enterprize in the first instance. He was glad to see that this Bill contained provisions which were not in the original measure, enabling local authorities not only to pull down houses and to build others in their place, but also to pull down houses and employ the space upon which they had stood for the purposes of general ventilation. That was, in his opinion, a most valuable and a most necessary power; because in the case of a town already overcrowded, to build up new houses on the sites of the old houses pulled down would only be continuing the existing evil. The enormous mortality which existed in many of our towns, was due not to the neglect of any sanitary precautions, but to radical defects in the structure and arrangement of the buildings. Look at Liverpool. The deaths in that town last year amounted to forty-one in 1,000, which meant that one in every twenty-five of the population died. The deaths were 2 per cent in 684 excess of the births. If Liverpool was in a proper state there was no reason why one half of these deaths should not be prevented; and let the House consider what an immense amount of human suffering would be saved if such a reduction could be effected. There was no reason to fear that the powers which would be conferred upon the local authorities by this Bill would be abused. Those bodies were in most cases the representatives of, and elected by, the ratepayers; and as the expenditure to be incurred under this Bill was not likely to be remunerative, it was fair to suppose that it would not be incurred unnecessarily. Under the most favourable circumstances, private societies which had invested capital in the erection of dwellings for the labouring classes only obtained a return of about 5 per cent. In this instance the property was to be taken compulsorily; and as public bodies were always dealt with rather hardly by juries, the purchase money was likely to be excessive. It might, indeed, be necessary to insert in the Bill some provisions to prevent as far as possible the awarding of excessive compensation. The most valuable principle contained in the Bill was that the rights of property were not to be exercised to the detriment of human health and human life. He was happy to say that the sanitary legislation of last year was, as he had heard from various quarters, working well wherever it had been put in force. The provisions against overcrowding had already produced great improvements in some of the most crowded districts; but great inconvenience was still occasioned by the want of proper dwellings in sufficient quantities. This Bill took a step towards removing that evil, and he looked to a great public effect being produced by the eloquent and powerful speech in which the second reading of the Bill had been moved by his hon. Friend. After all, it was not so much by legislation as by convincing the public generally of this want of improved habitations, which existed alike in town and country, that they must look for real improvement; and that was likely to be greatly promoted by appeals so eloquent and so well grounded as that which the hon. and learned Member had addressed to the House.
§ MR. THOMAS CHAMBERS
said, that judging from the speeches made that morning, nine-tenths of the mischief 685 referred to was mischief which the Bill did not touch at all. Notwithstanding the speech of the hon. Member who represented that £7,000,000 would be required to correct the evil which this Bill was intended to remedy, the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets contended that when they came to contrast the metropolis with the rural districts it was not open to the reproach which had been implied; and if the houses in the metropolis were examined, the number of houses to which this Bill would apply would be very few. He contended that there was a twofold reason against the Bill, first because it did not address itself to overcrowding, which was the great cause of the evil in question; and secondly, because the real object to which it did address itself was one of very limited extent. The evil complained of was caused by very special circumstances, caused partly by the introduction of railways into the metropolis, north, south, east and west, and partly by the promotion of great public improvements. If the evil complained of were the result of special, temporary, and local causes, that was a reason why the House should hesitate to take an entirely novel step in legislation. But, further, the list was already in course of being rectified by the legitimate and wholesome operation of private philanthropic enterprise acting on sound commercial principles. More was being effected in large towns to remedy this class of evils than had been done in fifty years before. They would stop the good that was being done by attempting to do it in a way which he thought experience had shown to be highly objectionable. To give local authorities the command of funds for the purpose of effecting such supposed public improvements as were contemplated under the Bill would be highly objectionable. The true remedy would be to give every local authority power to abate nuisances, and when the owner of house property kept it in a state to create or propagate disease he should be treated as a misdemeanant. He earnestly hoped that this measure, if it went into Committee, would be seriously altered, otherwise he should be inclined to give it his opposition.
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, the real question before them was whether the object sought by this Bill—namely, better dwellings for the poor, would be accomplished by its provisions. In his opinion it would not. No one could doubt that the local authority 686 in every town ought to have power, for the public benefit, to restrain the owners of houses, unfit for human habitation, from spreading disease in its neighbourhood. But this was all the power it ought to have, and, as he should endeavour to show, was all that was required to meet the evils complained of. This Bill, however, provides a most cumbrous and expensive process. Every local authority is to appoint an officer of health. The officer of health shall report any premises in a state unfit for human habitation to the clerk of the local authorities, and to the clerk of the peace. The clerk of the peace shall lay the report before the grand jury. If the grand jury make a presentment the local authority shall cause a survey to be made. Notice shall be given to owners of property. If owners will not execute sanitary works the local authority shall do them. For this purpose two surveyors shall value the premises. If owners will not accept the valuation, then the premises to be assessed by a jury under Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. Compensation is to be paid to the tenants for quitting dwellings pronounced unfit for human habitation. The houses are then to be taken down and re-built by the local authority, who are to be entitled to loans from the Public Works Commissioners for this purpose; but the local authorities must sell such houses within seven years, or they will be forfeited to the Crown. This Bill would introduce a system involving new and expensive establishments in every locality, and open the door to extensive jobbery and fraud, while it would fail in creating increased and better dwellings for the poor. It appeared to him that the objects sought could be attained without infringing the principles of political economy. It was no part of the business or duty of a local authority to buy land to build houses. What was wanted was more houses; but how could it be expected that anybody would enter into competition with the local authorities who sought no profit on building them, and whom, we are told, are only to get a return of 3½ per cent on the money laid out? Capitalists, instead of building houses would wait to buy, from time to time, at half price those built by the local authorities, which they will be obliged to sell within seven years. The true remedy to provide healthy dwellings for the poor was to give power to local authorities, when proper ventilation is wanted in streets, alleys and courts, to 687 purchase land for the purpose of opening them out. To prevent the future building of houses, except upon proper principles of drainage and ventilation. They should also have the power instead of buying dwellings unfit for human habitation, to shut them up, and thus force the owners either to render them habitable or to sell them. Thus the objects sought would be attained without violating any economic principle. Unless the Bill could be altered in Committee, so as to get rid of the objections which had been pointed out, he should vote against it.
§ MR. LOCKE
was satisfied that if his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Thomas Chambers) had represented any other part of the metropolis than Marylebone, his feeling would have been to support this Bill. He was, no doubt, right in saying that there were other things besides good dwellings which the working classes required, and that amongst them was good food. But the House had legislated already in reference to food; though in consequence of the strong dislike to rates, the Adulteration of Food Act had not been carried out. The parishes would not go to the expense of having a laboratory and a proper person to test the quality of articles of food. The hon. Member for Marylebone seemed to have shut his ears to the observations which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, and by other hon. Members who had addressed the House during the debate; and when the hon. Gentleman spoke of the overcrowding of houses, he seemed to have forgotten that a Bill for the purpose of remedying that evil had been brought forward last Session. This Bill had nothing to do with overcrowding, from which he said that nine-tenths of the evils complained of arose. Overcrowding was met by the Health Bill of last Session, which he was glad to learn from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bruce) was acting so beneficially in Glasgow and other large towns, many of the provisions of which were opposed by the hon. Member. The Public Health Act, however, gave no power to remove dwellings in which people could not live without incurring the danger of fever, though it gave power to close houses if they were overcrowded. That was a great benefit; but it did not altogether meet the case. The present Bill, consequently, did not propose to deal with houses that required to be closed for a time for renovation, but with houses that were condemned as unfit for human habitation. It 688 proposed simply the abatement of a nuisance upon a large scale, and with higher powers than were possessed under the ordinary law; and it provided that, in addition to the houses which were a nuisance being removed, other houses should be raised in which people could dwell with comfort to themselves and with benefit to the community. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down raised an objection to the Bill upon the score of political economy; but it seemed to him (Mr. Locke) that political economy was a thing which was more abused than anything else. If you wanted to be disagreeable, political economy would fit you for it; and if you wanted to be uncharitable, you had only to say that it was contrary to the principles of political economy to give away your money without receiving an equivalent. He did not say that his hon. and learned Friend wanted to be disagreeable; but he began by opposing the Bill on the ground of political economy, with an energy that would probably lead to his object being defeated. Then he said that he was afraid of the expense; and, indeed, a rate was one of the most painful things known of in Marylebone. But in this city we must have rates, seeing that we had not, as they had in Paris, an octroi duty; and the collection of such a duty in London would certainly be inconvenient, for you could not go down to the Crystal Palace and back without having your pockets searched to see if you had brought back a roast fowl with you. The truth was that rates were at the bottom of the parochial mind; but it was of no earthly use for any hon. Member to contend that the persons who dwelt in these houses would not be benefited by the proposed rate. There was no doubt the measure would be expensive; but he thought that matters of political economy had better come on when they were in Committee, so that they might see whether they could not find some better mode of awarding compensation for property taken. He was no admirer of the Lands Clauses Act, and compensation was to be awarded under the powers of that Act; and it was a very important question whether there could not be found some better mode of awarding compensation, and at the same time of preventing frauds from being perpetrated upon the local authorities. This, however, was matter of detail. The great object of the Bill was to remove those dreadful blots that existed upon the face of our towns—the fever nests, in which infectious and 689 contagious diseases were bred. When the question was as to removing these places, he did not think that they ought to be influenced by the consideration of the cost of the removal. This was a thing which sooner or later must be done, whatever the pecuniary cost might be. It was all very well to propose to take the labourers by railway from their work in the metropolis to dwellings in the country; but the labourers were not desirous of leaving the localities in which their work was performed; and it would be far better to afford them proper accommodation in the neighbourhoods where they now resided than to transport them, like so many oxen, to some place outside the metropolis when they had done their work, in order that they might be brought back again to resume their occupations on the following morning. Working men, like other people, wished to enjoy themselves when their work was done, and they should be enabled to live near to their work as well as their recreation. He hoped that the Bill would be read a second time without a division, and that they might go into Committee with the desire to improve the Bill, and not to evade the operation of the provisions in it.
§ MR. GRAVES
said, he was glad to have it in his power to give some interesting information to the House as to the operation of an Act on which this Bill had been mainly modelled. About three years since, Parliament had passed a local Bill, having for its object the sanitary improvement of the town he had the honour to represent. That measure gave the local authority power to deal with ill-ventilated and ill-constructed courts in the town of Liverpool. The promoters of that Bill knew well they were dealing with a new principle, and did not venture to go beyond the simple act of demolition; but from the operation of the Act he was justified in saying that the House would do well to pass the present Bill, which proposed to complete the work in the metropolis which, in the case of Liverpool, had been only half done. During the time the measure had been in operation in Liverpool there had been only three presentments, embracing 900 houses. There had been no difficulty in settling with the owners of property, for they and the local authorities had mutually arrived at agreements as to the sums to be paid. Nor had there been an appeal in any case from the decisions arrived at. It might therefore fairly be presumed that no danger need be apprehended from this 690 Bill. The machinery of the Bill did not in any way interfere with the rights of property. Over £100,000 had been already expended under the operation of the Act in Liverpool, and a further sum of the same amount was now being applied for in order still further to carry out its operations. He thought rating in such a case might be regarded as simply an insurance duty, or as a premium paid in order to improve the sanitary condition of the town, in which every inhabitant, whether high or low, had the deepest interest. Such a measure as this had become a political necessity. It was as much the duty of local authorities to prevent disease as it was to cure disease, and this prevention was the principle of the Bill. The necessity, therefore, was shown for this measure; but he hoped that in many of its details the measure would be improved in Committee. The hon. Member for Marylebone had thrown out the suggestion that private philanthrophy might effect the purpose of the Bill; but private philanthrophy could not deal with private property in the manner in which the Bill proposed to deal with it. Private philanthrophy could not deal with a strong hand with ill-lighted and ill-ventilated courts; it could build up, but it could not demolish. The corporation of Liverpool had lately voted £20,000 for land to be appropriated to the erection of labourers' dwellings; but not a single builder could be induced, even on the most advantageous terms, to build the houses on his own responsibility, and the corporation had now decided to erect the dwellings on their own account. He believed, however, that in time, when it was shown that it was possible to build up such houses as this Bill comprehended, and to make them remunerative, the whole question might be safely left to private enterprize. After duly considering the whole circumstances of the case, he had come to the determination to give his most hearty support to the Bill.
said, he entirely concurred in the object of the Bill, which he believed was calculated to promote the health of the working classes. Care must, however, be taken that that object was not defeated by the overcrowding of the new buildings it was proposed to erect in the place of those which were to be demolished. The miserable condition of the inhabitants of the present dwellings was not caused so much by the inherent defects of those buildings as by the fearful extent to which they were overcrowded. There 691 was great need for such a measure, for he recollected one occasion when he himself had seen, when inspecting lodging-houses, as Chairman of the Committee to inquire into the condition of the poor, no less than twenty-two persons inhabiting one room in which a corpse was lying.
§ MR. POWELL
said, that when a Bill similar to the present was introduced into the House last Session it was divided into three branches—the first of which related to sanitary arrangements; the second to the destruction of old and condemned houses; and the third to the construction of new buildings. The provisions respecting the first branch were framed according to those of the Sanitary Act of 1865; but that Act was said to be unworkable. Now, he was a member of the Select Committee to which that measure was referred, and if there were any defects in its provisions he, as well as the other hon. Members of that Committee, would be ready to concur in any measure that would remove every blemish and obliterate every complaint. It was the intention of the present Bill to create a machinery for an extensive system of re-building by the municipal authorities. He, however, thought that the handle by which the authorities were to get hold of those buildings was far too meagre and too weak to accomplish the objects in view. This Bill, as now framed, could only operate where there were houses infected with contagious diseases. Now, the term "contagious disease" was an ambiguous expression, and he would suggest the introduction of the word "dangerous" before "contagious." He confessed he regarded with great jealousy any interference with private property, and he hoped that such checks and safeguards would be provided as would remove any apprehension on that score. Remarks had been made in the Report of the Public Officer of Health in 1865 which were full of instruction. When it was proposed to extend the Liverpool Act to other districts objections had been taken that a measure which was enacted to improve the sanitary state of towns like Liverpool, in which the death-rate was extremely high, was inapplicable to other towns in which no such evil existed. Dr. Hunter remarks with wisdom—When the extension of the principle of the Liverpool Act to other large cities is thought of, it is impossible to avoid a degree of apprehension that officers able to carry it out are not easily found. The officer might be made the instrument in the hands of shrewd speculators.692 In Bills of this character great precautions were necessary to prevent owners of house property wantonly allowing their property to fall into decay and ruin, speculating upon the probability of their being purchased by the corporation of the town, with a view to their re-construction on approved sanitary principles. That was a great and serious danger. In this respect the Bill might create more mischief than its machinery could cure. He did not think that the power of private enterprize with regard to this question had been sufficiently appreciated. It had been proved that the best way of supplying the people with sufficient and wholesome food was to allow to trade its free and unimpeded course. The same argument might be applied to this subject of healthful habitations for the working classes. But if public capital were brought into competition with private capital he believed that the latter would retire altogether; and they would only be increasing the mischief which they were endeavouring to cure. What was the case of Bradford, which was referred to last Session? In the houses of that town there had been great overcrowding—an evil which had arisen in a great degree from the action of the corporation in placing restrictions upon the obtaining of sites for building purposes. An improved state of things having since taken place, a considerable number of dwellings had been built by large owners of property and employers of labour. A friend of his own was at present building no less than 300 houses for workmen, and several other gentlemen were following his example. Notwithstanding his confidence in private enterprize, he wished success to the present measure, after the introduction of needful amendments. He, however, suggested an Amendment in the 7th clause, which as it stood proposed to enact that when buildings were once taken down under the powers of the Bill, no other structure should ever be raised upon the site. Now, it might so happen that in the course of a few years the district where those houses had stood had been wholly re-modelled, and it might be necessary, in order to complete the public improvements in contemplation, to rebuild houses upon the vacant spot for the benefit of the workmen themselves. Surely in such a case no such clause should be allowed to operate. He hoped, however, that in Committee this and kindred blemishes would be removed from the Bill.
§ MR. THOMAS HUGHES
said, he had hoped that it would not have been necessary for him to trouble the House on that occasion; but as he was informed that the opinion of the House upon the Bill was to be ascertained by means of a division, he felt that he could not give a silent vote upon the question under discussion. The object of the Bill was twofold. It was framed, in the first place, to authorize the pulling down of habitations which were confessedly unfit for human occupation; and, in the second place, to enable the municipal authorities to erect upon or near the sites occupied by such houses suitable dwellings for the accommodation of the poor. It was upon the latter provision that it was intended to take the opinion of the House. It was suggested that the Bill should be allowed to be read a second time, and that that portion of it authorizing the construction of new buildings should be struck out in Committee. But he thought that this portion was a most important part of the Bill, seeing that if the existing buildings were demolished their inhabitants would have to squeeze themselves into the remaining houses of the same class, and that thereby the evils of overcrowding would be greatly exaggerated. The hon. Member for Marylebone desired that it should be left to private enterprize to build the dwellings required to replace those demolished under the provisions of this Bill; but it would be many years before private enterprize would build a sufficient number of houses to meet the daily increasing demands for labourers' dwellings; and in the meanwhile the ejected inhabitants would lose all sense of decency and morality, in consequence of being forced to seek refuge in houses which were already overcrowded. Otherwise, they were driven into the villages in the neighbourhood of London to the destruction of their business connection and their morals as well; for the places to which he referred were little better than brickfields filled with a wild and lawless set, whose characteristic was an absence of the civilization supposed to belong to England. They would neither have a church to go to, nor the influence of the higher classes around them; but they would grow up indiscriminately and become blots on our civilization, and a great curse to the metropolis. Therefore, he felt it absolutely necessary that when the houses of the poor were destroyed others should be built in place of them. 694 The Bill did not propose to give the municipal authorities power to rebuild until the owner of the destroyed property had declined to do so; and he thought that no hardship towards a proprietor who refused to do his duty. In view of the noble example of the Marquess of Westminster, and the improved state of public feeling with regard to this matter, he assured the House that in passing this Bill it would only be keeping pace with the spirit of the times, and responding to the most emphatic call made by the present state of the metropolis.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, that if the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down considered this to be a matter to which the rules of political economy ought not to be applied, he dissented from that opinion. Political economy in its true sense, and properly understood, could not discourage any object from being carried out concerning the welfare of the people. In this particular instance no view of political economy ought to arrest the convictions of hon. Members from going entirely with the principles of this measure. The measure was divided into two parts. The first twenty-six sections of the Bill had reference to sanitary objects, and their object was directed to the demolition of houses unfit for habitation. To that portion of the Bill there could be no possible objection; but the sections which followed were of a more questionable character, inasmuch as they interfered somewhat arbitrarily with the rights of property; but the defects of the Bill in this respect could, he thought, be easily remedied in Committee. It should not be forgotten, with regard to the question of re-building, that some houses which should most certainly come down were built upon sites unfit for any dwelling whatever, such for instance as houses standing on the brink of stagnant water, and it would be unwise to insist that the new houses should be built on precisely the same site as was formerly occupied by the houses displaced, for not even if they were to be built of marble, would it be possible to render them wholesome and fit for habitation in insalubrious sites. With regard to the borrowing provisions of the Bill, he thought it would be best if the promoters conferred with the Government with a view to see whether it was not desirable, instead of creating new borrowing powers, to avail themselves of the Act of last Session for the im- 695 provement of labourers' dwellings as a means for raising money. He found that the Bill contemplated the raising of money by seven years' mortgages. Such a mortgage would, he thought, lead to embarrassment in the future, and land the corporate bodies in much the same position as those unfortunate railways who were unable to take up their debentures or prevail upon the public to renew them. In the hope that the promoters of the Bill would be prevailed upon to trust to past legislation for all purposes connected with the raising of money, and would confer with the Government upon the subject, he would promise to vote for the second reading of the measure.
§ MR. BAZLEY
said, he thought it would be impossible for the municipal authorities of themselves to give effect to all the provisions of the Bill. Two things were needed to bring about a reform in labourers' dwellings. In the first place, labourers must be induced to appreciate good dwellings and to pay the rent; and in the second place, capitalists should be willing to erect such dwellings. Without these two conditions existed the labouring classes would not find themselves adequately provided for; because it was impossible, in his opinion, for private benevolence and corporations fully to minister to the wants of the poor in the matter of dwellings. At Manchester a sum of £100,000 had been accumulated for improved dwellings by a single club; but that was a paltry sum for the purpose, as some millions of pounds would be required for the erection of healthy and commodious dwellings. Corporate authority had certain duties to perform; but he denied that it was the duty of corporate bodies to become dealers in land and buyers and sellers of houses. He desired especially to call attention to one clause in the Bill which provided that in case the owner of condemned property objected to its removal the local authorities were to remove it, and pay compensation to the owner for the loss and damage sustained by such removal. That, he thought, was nothing less than offering a premium to negligent proprietors; many, who would otherwise attend to their property, would, in the hope of getting a high price from the local authorities, proceed to neglect it. With regard to the question of nuisances, he felt that a much more rigid inspection was required than existed at present; he thought even Imperial inspection was ne- 696 cessary to correct the evils that had been spoken of during the debate. He was anxious to see the working classes occupying good houses; but, on the other hand, he did not wish to see the ratepayers oppressed. Altogether he felt the Bill was at fault, inasmuch as it did not go sufficiently on the principle of self-help, the mainspring of all healthy action in the kingdom; still, he hoped the Bill would be committed, and when in Committee, he trusted that his hon. Friend who introduced the measure would consent to certain desirable improvements in its provisions.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, he wished to say a few words upon the Bill before the discussion closed. That something was needed to stop the frightful consequences of overcrowding no one for a moment could doubt; and he felt that it was imperatively necessary that powers should be given to some local authority with a view to get rid of those dwellings which permitted overcrowding, and led to the spread of disease. It was equally undesirable that new houses should be built to replace the old, so that the poor might not be unnecessarily inconvenienced; but it would be worth while considering in Committee whether provision should be made not merely to erect new and better houses on the sites of old ones, but also to secure new sites for labourers' dwellings. However, in pursuing that object, care should be taken not to go too fast, and they ought to be very watchful, as had been pointed out by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, that they did not by one of the clauses of the Bill put into the pockets of those landlords who had neglected their duty anything more than the market value of the property which was taken from them. The clauses in the Bill relating to loans to be granted, as to the security to be taken, would require re-consideration; and he thought it would be better if the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill would communicate with the Treasury upon that point before going into Committee. In conclusion, he thanked the hon. Member for having introduced what he thought would prove to be a very good Bill.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, that as one of the Committee to whom this Bill was referred, he cordially approved of its leading provisions. He thought a misapprehension had taken place on the part of the hon. Member for Buckingham about the objection to the paying off the debentures at 697 the end of seven years. If Members would look at the structure of the Bill, they would see that the local authority were obliged to sell whatever houses they might erect on the sites acquired within seven years. The Committee were anxious to have made the period a shorter one; but if they had fixed the number of years at three or five, parties intending to purchase might have waited until the end of the term, in the hope of making a good bargain. The Committee therefore fixed the period by which all the houses to be erected must be sold within seven years, a period which secured that the property would be in good condition, and that no very extensive repairs would be required. If the property was sold within the seven years it necessarily followed that the mortgages must be paid off within that period. All the Treasury was asked to do was to advance money to the value of the buildings, and not to the value of the site, and there was no possibility of danger as regarded the repayment. He did not at all sympathize with those who thought that corporate bodies would be going out of their province in carrying out the provisions of the Bill. There was nothing more important for the health of large towns than that the corporate bodies should deal with these centres of contagion; and unless the houses were uninhabitable they were not meddled with at all. He held that it was the duty of corporate bodies to take possession of such buildings and pull them down; but it might be better to keep open spaces on the sites of the destroyed property. When new buildings were required, they should be of such a class as would benefit the poor. It had been explained that three or four draft Bills had been drawn up. In one of those drafts a clause existed which he should have liked to have seen incorporated in this Bill, and that was that the local authorities, in place of purchasing the site, and erecting buildings thereon, might require the party to whom they belonged to put them in a proper state of repair, on pain of having the premises shut up, as being unfit for occupation; and being subject to a fine for every day this rule was violated. That was an alternative provision which he thought might still be introduced with advantage.
§ MR. HARVEY LEWIS
said, that the Bill proposed a metropolitan rate of 3d. in the pound, and called the attention of the House to the fact that, although many of 698 the people of London were exceedingly poor and kept their heads above water by means of great economy, the course of recent legislation had been to impose heavy burdens upon them. The Metropolitan Poor Bill would increase the rates, so would the Metropolitan Improvement Bill, and now this measure proposed to add another 3d. in the pound. Where was it proposed to put the poor who would be evicted from the dwellings that were proposed to be pulled down during the process of the removal and re-building of those houses, and how would the new buildings be managed? Was it intended that the Board of Works should have a large staff of agents for this purpose, and was it thought desirable that a powerful body like the Board of Works should be put into competition with private enterprize? He regarded the measure as one that would be exceedingly expensive, and he had no doubt, from what he knew of the tendency of juries to award large sums in compensation cases, that much more than the real value of the dwellings proposed to be taken from the present owners would have to be paid. Notwithstanding the House jealously examined the National Estimates every year, it was content to give enormous powers to the Metropolitan. Board of Works for raising money, and refrain from adopting any means of auditing that Board's accounts to see that the money was not wastefully expended. He was willing to give local authorities full power to condemn any dwellings unfit for habitation, the owners of which would thus be obliged either to sell them or put them in repair; but he objected to making the Metropolitan Board of Works or other corporations great building speculators, with no risk to themselves, but with great risk to the ratepayers, many of whom, by reason of their poverty, were hardly able to keep their heads above water. Private enterprize, which was being more and more directed to the erection of artizans' dwellings, might be safely trusted to provide what was required, whereas if it were exposed to competition with public bodies it would become paralyzed.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
said, there was no intention to compete with private enterprize, for in nine cases out of ten the owners would themselves carry out the necessary improvements, and not throw the property into the hands of the local authorities. Nor would the rates be increased, for what was proposed was in the 699 nature of a guarantee fund, and the money expended would ultimately be recouped. It was rather calculated to lessen the rates; because the mortality which took place in these unhealthy dwellings was one cause why rates were high. He sympathized with the Members for Marylebone, who only represented the views of the particular locality with which they were connected; but the experience of Liverpool showed the fallacy of the apprehensions which had been expressed, and the suggestions which had been offered could be duly considered in Committee.
§ MR. DAVENPORT BROMLEY
said, it was quite time that some interference of the House should take place with regard to the long-continued and uncompensated destruction of labourers' dwellings. If a railway through Grosvenor Square were projected, many hon. Members would assuredly come down in order to upset the scheme; but during several years past Bills had been passed without a single remonstrance sanctioning the demolition of the dwellings of tens of thousands of the poorer classes. He was not prepared to express entire approval of the Bill, but he should certainly vote for the second reading.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday 12th June.