§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the condition of inhabited dwellings in crowded districts of large towns; and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the evils of overcrowding cannot in all cases he adequately met by the enforcement of purely sanitary regulations, and that it is therefore expedient that, in the case of certain public Trusts and Corporations having for their object the improvement of the dwellings of the working classes, some relaxation should be made in the rules under which loans are at present granted by the Public Works Loan Commissioners,510 said, he would make no apology for bringing this important topic before the attention of the House, for it had profoundly stirred public opinion out-of-doors, and it had been considered, although not, he thought, fully discussed, in "another place." It would, however, in his opinion, be a grave dereliction of duty on the part of that House if they were not to make some contribution to the solution of a question which was of such great importance to those whom hon. Members were sent into that House to represent. Neither did he think that the appointment by the Queen of a Royal Commission was any argument whatever—indeed, it was rather the reverse—against having a debate in that House on this subject. The Royal Commission had been appointed to make inquiries; and, no doubt, further inquiry was urgently called for. A vast mass of information, however, had been already obtained, and it would be useless to keep on heaping Blue Books on Blue Books and Reports on Reports without trying to extract from the vast collection of facts which they already possessed some kind of conclusion which might serve as a guide to the Royal Commission in the prosecution of their inquiries. It was unnecessary for him to say that he brought forward this question in no Party spirit. It would, indeed, be an exhibition of almost criminal perverseness to try and extract Party capital out of a question which was, in some respects, the most difficult, complicated, and delicate that Parliament had ever had to deal with. But if he did not propose to approach it from a Party point of view, neither did he intend to approach it from a sentimental point of view. It would be easy, by merely giving a realistic description to the House of the horrors which were to be found not many steps from the place where they were sitting, to excite the pity—and, he was afraid, the disgust also—of those who heard him; but he thought that enough had been done to arouse the interest of the public; the problem now was to direct it into the proper channels. That House ought to approach this question neither in a Party nor in a sentimental spirit, but in a critical spirit, as physicians rather than as rhetoricians. Inflated rhetoric was not only useless, but it was calculated to give the country a very false impression 511 as to the state of things that really existed at the present time compared with what had existed in the past. He believed that the present condition of the people in London and in the other large towns was far better than it bad been 40, 100, or 200 years ago. To go no further back than 40 years ago, he might remind the House that in Liverpool at that date the working classes numbered 175,000, of whom 135,000 lived in the old-fashioned Lancashire courts, which consisted of long tunnels only 9 feet wide and closed at both ends, without the possibility of ventilation, and without any proper drainage. The remaining 40,000 lived in cellars. And what did the House suppose a Liverpool cellar was like? It consisted of an underground apartment, having no communication whatever with the outer air except through the door, the top of which was on a level with the pavement of the streets. In such cellars the people lived, without ventilation, without drainage, without any possibility, he would not say of comfort or of health, but of common decency or morality. But though, perhaps, much still remained to be done in the improvement of the dwellings of the working classes in Liverpool, still these scandalous evils were swept away, and the people now had the advantage of a complete drainage system and of an excellent water supply, while the cellars and courts had been abolished, or, at least, were in process of abolition. The state of Glasgow some 30 years ago was enough to make the blood run cold. In a pamphlet recently published by Mr. James Morrison, the late Sub-Convener of the Glasgow City Improvement Trust, with regard to the state of Glasgow in 1860, the writer said—At about that time, and for a period of two years, I had occasion to visit people in those localities at all hours of the day and night, and frequently to spend several hours in their houses, and the scenes then and there witnessed were of such a nature as can never he effaced from the memory. The conviction left upon my mind was that the only possible destination of the generation then and there being introduced into the world was the prison, the penitentiary, the hulks, or the gallows. There was then no hope before them, no hand stretched out to save. It was also apparent that there was an urgent necessity for a Coroner's Court in Glasgow—that is to say, if there were any propriety in preventing or punishing the crime of infanticide; but cynics may say that it was better for children to be put into the tub or choked in infancy than to be strangled at 512 maturity by Calcraft at the public expense. The thieves' houses were tolerably comfortable; but the state of the common lodging-houses and the cellars especially beggars description, the floors thereof being packed at night with human beings—men, women, and children—like so many bundles of rags, and the walls and roof black with vermin.What was the result of this state of things? The death rate in some of those parts was 34 in 1,000, 38 in 1,000, and 52 in 1,000, and in the year 1871 it actually amounted to 70 in 1,000. He had another caution to give to the House in considering this question. He believed it would be folly to seek for the causes of the present state of things in any peculiarities either of our time or of the social conditions under which we lived. These festering spots in big towns were not a peculiarity of England in the nineteenth century. They were to be found under Oriental despotisms, and under the system of Western freedom. They were to be found in countries where the land in general was held in large masses, as was, unfortunately, too much the case in England; but they were to be found also in countries where peasant proprietorships existed; for they were to be found in Paris. They were to be found in the crowded populations of the West of Europe; and they were to be found in countries where there was a boundless and inexhaustible provision of unoccupied land; for they were to be found in New York. They were to be found not only in towns where the practice was to let out the land on terminable building leases, but also in towns like Manchester, where the practice was to build upon perpetual leases, and in Scotland, where it was the practice to build on feus. Now, the first step towards curing the evil was to make some analysis of the complex causes which had produced it. And the first proposition he would lay down was this—that not only were the crowded and unwholesome districts of the big towns the cause of demoralization among the people, but that they were in part the result of existing demoralization. And this, it must be recollected, was a cause which could never be entirely removed. The population of the country was 35,000,000. It was idle to suppose that any system of education or police would entirely prevent the existence among them of a considerable residuum; and this residuum, consisting of the criminal 513 classes, and of all who, from any cause, desired concealment, naturally gravitated towards the Metropolis chiefly, and in a secondary degree towards the large Provincial towns. Undoubtedly it always would be so. There always would be a population which would come into the Metropolis for purposes of concealment, for purposes of crime, to make use of the charities of the town, or to minister to its vices. He had no remedy to propose for dealing with a population of that kind. He did not believe that, except in the very slow progress of civilization, any remedy whatever was to be found. Therefore, he altogether dismissed from his consideration that particular cause of the evils which he was asking the House to consider. He now came to the second class of causes, which, in fact, consisted in the carelessness and ignorance of our ancestors. We did not make our towns; we, in the main, inherited them; and we could not remake them on the improved system advocated by the Local Government Board. We had come into a heritage of vast areas covered with buildings erected in the most insanitary manner possible. In Loudon, in Glasgow, in Liverpool, Newcastle, and other old towns we were suffering from evils which we found, but did not create. But if only the existing law were put in force, he believed that the particular cause of which he was now treating could, on the whole, be met. Let him here put in a plea with the Government, and especially with the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Local Government Board, in regard to the construction of suburbs. London increased by about 50,000 souls a-year. Every year a vast town as large as Northampton was added to the Metropolis. Now we had, at all events, the power to see that these new towns were built according to the most approved rules of sanitary science, and we ought not to be guilty of handing down to posterity evils such as those which we had inherited from our ancestors. Might not, also, something be done in the direction of providing more open spaces and parks? When land was already thickly covered with population its value became so prodigious as almost to amount to a prohibition of any such scheme. In his opinion, the construction of streets of less than a certain width, with drainage of a certain quality, walls of a certain 514 thickness, and sufficient air-holes in the shape of open spaces should not be permitted. But was sanitary science capable of coping with all the difficulties of the situation in the districts in the centre of big towns which had long been built over? His contention was that it was not. Some people said these questions ought to be left to the free action of competition. They said that the working classes, when they found that by the growth of warehouses or manufactories, or from other causes, they were being forced closer and closer into insanitary habitations, ought to refuse to accept such dwellings, and to leave such centres of industry until by the mere action of supply and demand wages had risen to such a point that it would be to the interest of speculative builders to provide them with buildings which were adequate for their necessities. No doubt it was greatly to be desired that the working classes should have sufficient independence to act in such a manner, but we had to remember that they had not hitherto done so. In point of fact, the first thing which the lower class of the labouring population were prepared to give up was proper accommodation in their dwellings. It almost seemed as if the taste for proper accommodation was an artificial taste. The working classes would combine to prevent a diminution of wages, and there were many other things to which they would not submit; but they would not combine to avoid being packed together in houses so closely that all proper conditions of health were violated. The system of free competition which some people advocated could not be worked unless there were a strong and effective desire on the part of the working classes themselves to live under better conditions than they did at present. We must deal with facts as we found them. The Report of the Committee on Labourers' Dwellings showed that these people would often consent to live in worse rooms at higher rents, rather than go into better rooms at less rents. We were all too ready to assume that the mere size of towns necessarily produced overcrowding. But it was not so. Overcrowding, in its more obstinate forms, depended on other conditions, which were found in London and Liverpool, but were not found, for example, at Manchester, or were found there only to a smaller degree. 515 At Manchester the chief part of the population was engaged in large mills, and as rents rose in the city itself, the millowners, as machinery wanted renewing, took their mills from the interior to the outskirts of the town. The population followed the employers thither. But at Manchester the problem was much easier to deal with than in London, because in London industries did not depend on large mills, which could be moved, but on large centres of industry—such as the Docks, the City warehouses, or the West End shops, which could not be moved. Thus, the centres of industry being stationary, it was not possible to avoid overcrowding, if the workmen were to live, as they must, near their work. Accordingly, it was found that the evil existed most intensely in towns which, in that respect, were situated like London—in Liverpool and Newcastle, where the mass of the people were engaged in the docks and the neighbourhood of the river. On the other hand, the problem was comparatively easy at Glasgow. At one time the working people often lived in the interior of the city, and actually went to the outskirts to their work, and any relief to the overcrowding in the city itself brought the people nearer to their occupations. But the problem was so difficult in London and other places, where, under the conditions he had indicated, the evil had grown to great proportions, that it could not, in his opinion, be solved without the assistance of something which he could only describe as charitable aid. It was objected that such help demoralized the people. But, in fact, almost all the benefit which had been done to the working classes in the matter of improved accommodation had been done from charitable, not commercial, motives. There was, for instance, no class of the labouring population whose dwellings had so much or so rapidly improved as those of the agricultural labourers. That improvement had chiefly occurred on the estates of large proprietors, whose outlay on the dwellings of the labourers was not, and was not intended to be, commercially remunerative. He knew of a district in the Highlands where at this moment they could see three gradations or strata of buildings. First, they saw the original mud hovel, with a hole in the roof to let out the smoke, and in which the majority 516 of the Highland population had lived not so long ago; then they would see the cottage, much superior to the hovel, that had been substituted for it, on no commercial grounds, some 25 years ago, and into which the landlord had with difficulty induced his people to move; lastly, they had another step—cottages as superior to the second class as the second class were to the first. Less difficulty, but still some difficulty, was experienced in moving the people from the second class to the third; but when it once came to be known how far superior these new cottages were to the old, then the taste spread, the standard of living was raised, and a vast and permanent improvement was effected in the habits of these people by aid, which, though charitable, had not, he ventured to say, an atom in it of demoralizing influence. What had been done by philanthrophic persons in the country was being done largely in towns by charitable agencies. He could not pass this matter by without mentioning the name of a lady who had done more than anyone living to ameliorate the condition of the labouring people of London. The efforts of Miss Octavia Hill had reached the very lowest of the population; and although she made 4, and in some cases 5, per cent on what she laid out, still he would recall to the House that hers was really a charitable agency. She gave her time for nothing, her assistants gave their time for nothing, and she had stated in evidence that, in order to induce the people to take two rooms, she frequently gave two rooms at less than twice the price of one. That, in its essence, was a charitable aid. No doubt charity might be demoralizing; and much charity was so at this moment. He knew of a district in London into which a large population flowed for the purpose of getting a share of the great parochial charities. Rents rose in consequence, and in the end the rich house-owners succeeded, indirectly but effectually, in getting all the money of the charities, while the poor got all the demoralization. Then the work of the Peabody Trustees was, in effect, charitable—perhaps the most charitable of all organizations of this kind, as the return was only 3 per cent. But the effect of that work was not so much to reduce rents as to give better accommodation for the same rent. A single 517 room in a Peabody building cost 2s. a-week; but it was a much better room than could be obtained elsewhere for the money. He thought he had now sufficiently shown that the problem could not be effectually dealt with by mere sanitary legislation, or by purely commercial enterprize, and that something in the nature of charity was absolutely required. What he asked was that the Public Works Loan Commissioners should aid such bodies as were able and willing to carry on the work he recommended. He might be told that, in making a proposal like this, he was promoting Socialism; that it was no business of the State to provide cheap lodgings, and that for the State to provide cheap lodgings would be as absurd as the State providing cheap bread. But those advocates of non-intervention were very one-sided. They objected to the State interfering with the question of housing the poor. But what were we doing, not only in London, but in all the large towns? By State interference we made large streets and new railways, and cleared districts of unsanitary houses. It was too late then to say that the State ought not to interfere, for the State already interfered in the most direct manner. The Glasgow Improvement Trust, for example, which, for the purposes of his argument, might be considered as the State, had cleared out, with great benefit to the community generally, a very large population, and had allowed that population to find houses for themselves; but they had taken pains to follow, if not the whole, at all events a large percentage, of that population, so that we could observe exactly what had happened. What had happened was, firstly, that the people had greatly improved dwellings; and, secondly, that they paid more for them. They formerly lived in those wynds to which he had referred, and they now lived in houses far better from a sanitary point of view, far better from a moral point of view, but more costly from a financial point of view than those they had left. So that the result of State action—for that was what it amounted to in this matter—had been to compel those people to lodge better and pay more rent. That that was a state of things highly beneficial to the community at large he freely admitted, and that it had worked great improvement was shown 518 by the fact that, whereas, in 1871, the percentage of persons occupying one room only in Glasgow was 30, it was now only 24; whereas, in 1871, those occupying two rooms were only 41 per cent. they were now 44 per cent; and whereas, in 1871, only 13 lived in three rooms, now the percentage of residents in three rooms was 16. But though the action of the Glasgow Corporation was undoubtedly beneficial, it was equally undoubtedly inconsistent with the doctrine of non-intervention. Was the House prepared to go the whole length of saying that the State should not interfere in any public work? If not, could any public work be suggested more advantageous to the community? If he was told that the course he recommended would foster Socialism, he admitted frankly that he thought there was a certain danger of that. He did not, of course, admit that the principle of Socialism was involved in his proposal; but it might, perhaps, among the ignorant population which existed too much in our big towns, foster the idea that it was the duty of the State to get them out of every trouble. While he did not underrate the magnitude of this danger, still, after all, he considered that the danger was in this case worth running. He did not ask that a single sixpence should be taken out of the pocket of the taxpayer. All he asked was that the State should, under rigid conditions as to security, lend its credit to certain charitable trusts. He was perfectly aware that when the State was asked to do that, it was said that the proposal meant, in fact, giving money, and that these charitable trusts could borrow as cheaply as the State, if their security was as good. But this was inaccurate. The State could borrow cheaper, not because the national credit was safer than a first-class mortgage, but because the funds were a more convenient investment. It was this convenience he asked the State to lend—at no risk to itself; at no risk, therefore, to the taxpayer; and with great advantage to the nation. He would only say, in conclusion, that if the evil was not so acute as it had been in previous times it was more important than ever to deal with it. The result of the abolition of the Corn Laws and the introduction of Free Trade was that England must become more and more 519 a great manufacturing country. Whether they liked it or not, it was inevitable that relatively to the inhabitants of the country districts the inhabitants of the town districts would largely multiply. If that were so, did it not be-hove them to make every effort to improve the sanitary and moral condition of that ever-increasing population? Millions were annually spent—he might almost say squandered—upon education. Was it, then, too much to ask the House to lend, without spending, some money, in order to promote the growth of a state of things without which mere book learning was useless or worse than usless? The question affected not us merely, but our posterity. The moral and physical evils which now existed in our large towns were evils which did not die with those who suffered under them. They went in sure succession from father to son. If they would have a posterity capable of continuing the traditions of the great English race they must do something soon and something effectual to remedy the condition of things he had described. Whether the particular remedies he had proposed would meet with the approval of the House he could not, of course, say; but, at all events, he was sure that he had done well in bringing before the attentive consideration of the House this great and difficult problem, and his own imperfect proposition for its partial solution he must leave to their kind indulgence. He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name.
§ SIR LYON PLAYFAIR
Sir, I have pleasure in seconding the moderate Motion of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour). The public conscience has recently been so startled as to the state of many of the poorer dwellings in London that the facts seem to have come in the light of a discovery. But the facts, and even legislation upon them, are of a very old date. Queen Elizabeth was so shocked at the rapid growth of London and the state of the dwellings of the people that she acted, both by Proclamation and Statute, in her usual high-handed way, to prevent the continuance of the evil. Although in her time there were in all England only 15 houses and 82 people to the square mile, while now there are 90 houses and 446 people, she thought London with its 150,000 inhabitants was 520 such a huge city that she forbade any more houses being erected within three miles of London and Westminster; and to prevent overcrowding in the City, she prohibited the division of a house into various tenements, giving reasons which sound singularly like those which we hear at the present day. She said—Inasmuch as that great numbers of poor people inhabiting small rooms, and those of a very poor sort, and such as live by begging, or worse means, being therein heaped together, and in a sort smothered, with many families of children and lodgers in one house or small tenement, it must needs follow that if plague or sickness came among them, it would presently spread through the whole city and confines.When good Queen Elizabeth so acted, the workmen's dwellings were without glass windows, were unheated by coal fires, while their inmates slept on straw beds. About a century after this action, at the period of the Restoration, the dwellings in England were so bad that Macaulay describes them in these words—When men died faster in the purest country air than they now die in the most pestilential lanes of our towns, and when men died faster in the lanes of our towns than they now die in the coast of Guiana.Macaulay was right, for the death rate in London from 1660–1679 was 80 per 1,000 of the living, while now it is only 21½, or nearly one-fourth. It will thus be seen that during along period of our history there has been a gradual but great amelioration in the state of the dwellings of the poor. It is fitting that in the reign of Queen Victoria—not now, but all through her reign—there have been persistent efforts to continue this amelioration. There have not only been important inquiries as to the condition of houses, but also very effective legislation for their improvement. First there was the remarkable Sanitary Report of Mr. Chadwick, which exposed the evils in a striking way. Then there was the complete and exhaustive Inquiry into the state of large towns and populous districts, in 1814, by Sir Robert Peel's Commission, to which I will again allude. Then there was the Royal Sanitary Commission of 1870, presided over by Mr. Adderley. Lastly, there was the Select Committee of 1881. Each of these Inquiries had legislative fruit, beginning with the great Health Act of 1848; then with the Consolidated 521 Act of 1875; and specially in relation to dwellings, we have Torrens' Acts for small areas, and Cross's Acts for larger areas. Numerous collateral Acts bearing on the same question in regard to public health, to nuisances, to loans of money, &c, have passed both Houses and have become law. It is not so much new law that is needed as a more vigorous administration of existing laws. Many towns have obtained local Acts for themselves, and have administered them with efficiency. All this the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke) and the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) know as well as myself. Nevertheless, a Royal Commission has been issued, and, unless care is taken, will be used by supine authorities as a warrant for delay. But neither Government nor local authorities will be justified in delaying the more efficient administration of existing laws. They are now backed by a great force of public opinion, though this may subside. This is not the first time that I have seen a rise and fall of public sentiment on this subject. Perhaps I may make the most useful contribution to the debate by taking a general survey of our successes and failures over a period of years. I venture to do this because I was an active Member of Sir Robert Peel's Commission of 1844, and spent two years in inquiring into the state of our large towns and populous districts in every part of England. During this Inquiry I visited hundreds of the squalid dwellings in all our large towns, and passed many nights within them, so that I might see the overcrowding in its worst forms. The country at that time was as thoroughly aroused by our Reports as it is at the present day, and the great Health Act of 1848 was their legislative fruit. This gives me a line of knowledge which is useful as a base for measuring our successes and failures since that time. At the beginning of this century London was the only town in the Kingdom with more than 100,000 inhabitants; but owing to the unexampled growth of manufactures, great cities have sprung into existence, and there are now 29 with more than that population. Indeed, hamlets have grown into villages, villages into towns, and towns into great cities. Yet till 1848 there was no general sanitary law. Under the growth of 522 manufactures wages rose rapidly, and on the abolition and reduction of taxes on necessaries their price fell. Though, therefore, the working man had greater ability to pay for better house accommodation, he did not care to meet the rapid rise in rents, which are now one and a-half times greater than when I reported on Sir Robert Peel's Commission. Thus dwellings have lagged behind the general advance in prosperity, both as to accommodation and sanitary appliances. Still, as a general result, great improvements have taken place, while mortality and sickness among the people have largely lessened. Queen Elizabeth, in her laws, confounded two things—massing and density of population, the latter always attended by increased mortality, the former not necessarily so. In the present century the massing of population has rapidly proceeded; but, on the whole, the cities have improved in health more quickly than the country districts. Thirty years ago the mortality of English towns was 27 per 1,000 living; now it is 22. Of course, this reduction is not entirely due to improved dwellings, for better drainage and water supply must also be taken into account. The important fact, however, is certain, that improved civic administration is steadily reducing the mortality of towns, and that now it is not much greater than was the mortality of rural districts 30 years ago. The towns are, in fact, rapidly gaining upon the country. A generation ago the country in regard to health was 23½ per cent better than the towns; now it is only 15 per cent. Then rural districts had a rate of deaths about 21 in 1,000 living; now it is 18½, or just the mortality of Bradford last year. There will be quite as much work for the Royal Commission to inquire about as to the dwellings in rural districts as in towns. I think that I have said enough to show that the question of dwellings is not a new one, and that, bad as is the condition of many of them now, there has been a great and sensible amelioration during a long succession of years. Many towns, like Edinburgh and Glasgow, Birmingham, Bradford, and others, have not been contented with general legislation, but have obtained local Acts which have produced marked amelioration in the dwellings of their poor. As a general result of this action everywhere, 523 I find a great improvement in the towns, all of which I visited in 1844, and most of which I have seen in recent years. Cellar habitations have nearly vanished, and the new houses built are not in gross violation of all sanitary rules. I had registered the mortality of all of them in 1844, and it is now greatly lessened. Zymotic diseases—that is, diseases arising from filth—are less common; typhus is now rare, though typhoid is still prevalent. Typhus sometimes re-appears to warn us of gross sanitary neglect, as it does in Liverpool at the present moment. The most discouraging feature in the comparison is that deaths from consumption and lung diseases do not decrease, and they are, in my mind, a surest index of overcrowding. They still attack the adult males of our large towns in a frightful ratio. The rate of mortality from lung diseases in the country districts at the ages of 45 to 55 is a little above 2 in 1,000 living at these ages; but in Liverpool, Manchester, and the Potteries it is actually four times as great, being nearly 8½ per 1,000. In London and in Birmingham the mortality varies from 7 to 5. The mortality among females at these ages from lung diseases is a great deal less. The explanation of this startling fact I take to be this—Both males and females breathe the same air of the town vitiated with smoke; but the males are exhausted by their work during the day, and perhaps also by their dissipations, and when they return to their overcrowded homes they do not get that proper rest and good air which is so necessary to restore their exhausted bodies, and so they succumb more than females to the unhealthy surroundings. Until the towns reduce their consumptive rate to that of the country they have not attained to the proper conditions of civic life. Nottingham has nearly attained this point. Looking at the whole question, there is much to encourage us in the progress of the last generation. Many towns have acted with the greatest energy in improving the dwellings of the poor. Sometimes this very energy aggravated for a time the evils which they were trying to remove. In Scotland we found that the destruction of the slums of the cities proceeded more rapidly than the construction of new dwellings, so that increased overcrowding was the consequence. 524 On the whole, however, houses arise in proportion to the demand. In the last decade the number of persons to a house rose very slightly in London, but in the other large towns it was less in 1881 than in 1871. The attention of the country has recently been directed, by powerful appeals, to the condition of the poorer dwellings in London, which in certain districts has a greatly overcrowded population. As a whole, London is a healthy city with a moderate mortality. This is satisfactory, as showing that massing of a population is not necessarily unhealthy. More than 500,000 persons have been added to the population of London since 1871. Indeed, its population has doubled since Sir Robert Peel's Commission of 1844, and yet its health has largely improved. In the two last decades the increase of London has been peripheral, for the central districts have decreased 8 per cent. while Outer London has increased 28 per cent. But London is a huge Province, constituted of parts still possessing a rural death rate, and of other districts intensely unhealthy. The rate of mortality everywhere is influenced by the density of population. For instance, Hampstead and St. Giles happen to have the same population of 45,000. But the area of Hampstead is nearly 10 times greater than that of St. Giles. Each house in Hampstead contains seven persons, while each house in St. Giles contains 11 persons. The mortality of Hampstead varies from 13 to 16 in the 1,000; that of St. Giles from 25 to 30, or nearly double. We cannot console ourselves with the general fact that London, as a whole, is a healthy and not overcrowded city, when we know that it contains districts like St. Giles, St. George's-in-the-East, and some parts of Westminster, which have populations equal to large cities, and with mortality greater than the worst of them. It is trifling with statistics to say that London is not densely inhabited because it has only 25,000 people to the square mile, when there is a district within five minutes' walk of this House with 278,000 to the square mile. The whole of Inner London has 107,000 people to the square mile. We have to recognize the fact that London contains rookeries in which men and women are herded together like savages, without the advantages of savage life. The American Indians on 525 the war-path have remarkably small mortality, for the bullets of the Whites strike them less surely than do diseases in their permanent wigwams. In peace they die rapidly, but when things become very bad they change their encampments, and the mortality lessens. When the Christian missionary comes among them they are doomed, for, becoming fixed in villages, with the traditions of uncivilized life, the effects of overcrowding and filth tell upon them terribly. All this is experienced in a less degree by the inhabitants of country districts who flock into our towns. This is a necessary consequence of the overcrowding of the dwellings. Mr. Williams has recently shown that 58 per cent of the families in St. Giles live in one room—a condition of things worse than Glasgow before its recent improvements. His statistics, recently published in The Times, show that in London there is a state of overcrowding in certain districts which it would be difficult to equal in Liverpool or any other unsanitary town. The cry of Outcast London has not been limited to the good men and good women who are labouring for the amelioration of the poor, but it is an expression of an examination of economic results on a large scale. These, so far as regards mortality, may be summed up in a sentence. Overcrowded districts have a high death rate both among children and adults. Between 15 and 30 years of age the youth seem to be able to resist the depressing influences of overcrowding. From 30 to the end of life the mortality becomes excessive in our large towns, and, what is very serious, it increases from decade to decade. It is balanced by a diminution in the mortality of children. Increased mortality of adults at productive ages is not the whole evil. Deaths represent only the wrecks which strew the shore; they do not show the misery or loss produced by the many storm-tossed barks. The numerous and prolonged cases of sickness in these crowded districts sap and undermine the general health, so that the members of the community lose their manly health, and with this their morality and spirit of independence, while a heritage of suffering and debility passes to a succeeding generation. Fortunately, the remedy is known, though there is difficulty in applying it. Numerous building societies, such as the 526 Peabody Trust, Sir Sydney Waterlow's, Lord Shaftesbury's, and Mr. Noel's Companies, have shown that it is possible and profitable to build good sanitary dwellings. Some of these Companies, like that of Sir Sydney Waterlow, have 25,000 tenants, so that they have a large experience. The death rate in these is less than in country districts, for it is only from 16 to 18, while it is 18½ in the country. Encouragement may be given without any violation of economic laws to go on more rapidly with this great sanitary work, and this is the limit of the Resolution of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour). The blessings of such houses are not to be measured by death rates, but by the higher improvements in the morality and decency of the occupiers. A house which can only be occupied if rules as to order and cleanliness be obeyed is in itself a strong reforming agency. As Shakespeare truly says—If the ill spirit have so fair a house, Good things will strive to dwell with it.The important question for the Commission is how to apply a more rapid and efficient remedy than past efforts have produced. The rural population have no specific laws as the towns have. Torrens' Acts for small areas and Cross's Acts for large areas give to the towns laws sufficient, if administration be efficient. But country districts are lagging behind in the march of sanitary improvement, and possess no Acts to better the condition of the dwellings of the poor. That is a subject which will go far to justify the issue of the Commission. I trust that even as regards towns its scope will be wide enough. One of the most difficult questions is in regard to the tenure of building land. At present it seems impossible, at least in London, to fix responsibility on the beneficial owner of, house property. A ground landlord has given a lease for 99 years, and had covenants in the lease suitable to the house and its surroundings when it was built. But in course of time the district is lowered, and the orginal covenants have no application, even if the first lessor could be found. In fact, the fixing of responsibility upon the ground landlord is impossible, for the original lessor may have a weakened and undefined interest in the property. The Commission will find useful work in inquiring into the conditions of the 527 tenure of land and of houses, so as to fix a sharp responsibility upon the beneficial landlord. In London there is a far greater difficulty than this. How is it possible to apply unity of administration of laws in themselves good, with the Metropolis split into diverse authorities, who have the most diverse ideas as to the need of improvement at all? Even the Metropolitan Board of Works, to which we have already given large powers, do not exercise them; and if they have faith in their powers, and in the needs of the poor, I fear it is faith without works. Some of these subjects cannot be delayed till a Commission of Inquiry has reported, but may soon occupy the attention of the House. The conscience of the nation is aroused, and will hold us responsible if we do not. The working men cheered a Prime Minister when he said that the true policy of a Government was comprised in the words, "Sanitas sanitatis omnia sanitas;" but they will be no longer content unless this phrase is carried into action. Undoubtedly, even efficient local government will find the question of improved dwellings surrounded with difficulty. Property must have full responsibility as a condition for its possession. No one has a right to let a house so as to be a source of danger to its occupants or their neighbours. Still, it would be most dangerous for a community to undertake the supply of one of the primary wants of individual life. The conditions for the health of a community, as of an individual, are that it should be well-housed, well-fed, well-aired, and well-watered. If the wealth of the community be applied to one of these conditions, why not to all? If we are to spend the money of the provident that the improvident may have better homes, why not also extend this aid to their food? Some towns have already fallen into this dangerous error by building houses with money from rates. The Resolution before us avoids this error. It simply asks that greater facilities should be given to borrow money under existing powers by Companies and Corporations who can give ample security for repayment. When we have done ail that legislation can do, an immense difficulty remains. You may improve houses, and yet find that there is a large residue of the people whose habits of life will render any house insalubrious. This 528 residue, through the influence of education, is rapidly diminishing, but it is still large. We see this amelioration in a higher moral sense of the community, for crime and pauperism is decreasing, at least in Great Britain. But there is much that is still appalling in the habits of the outcast in our large cities. To ameliorate these a higher influence than more legislative powers or civic administration is required. To these people friendly counsel and sympathy will alone be of avail. The landlord or his lessor may threaten them with ejection for their filthy habits; but ejection only intensifies the evil in another place. The Sanitary Inspector may go and whitewash the room or burn the bedding of the inmate who has died of fever; but his act is looked upon as the barbarous power of an invading enemy, and leads to no amelioration. As Miss Octavia Hill says in her evidence to the Committee of 1881—You may hunt the poor from place to place, but you will never reach them except through people who care about them and watch over them.These are the true friends of the outcast poor. They are missionaries of civilization who hold out a helping hand, not containing a dole of money, but a firm hand to sustain the poor when they are falling. By their wise and friendly counsel they aid in the improvement of the home and raise the social condition of its occupants. They prove to them that their physical surroundings are the causes of the disease which has brought them to the verge of ruin, and by teaching thrift and economy inculcate the great truth that cleanliness in person and in heart is a direct portal to godliness. After this civilizing mission produces fruit, increased effort arises to obtain less squalid homes, and if the demand is made, increased supply will follow. We have first to persuade the poorer classes that squalid homes undermine health and morality. When we see the dens in which many live, Shakespeare's warning is not too strong—" This house is but a butchery—abhor it, fear it, do not enter it." Numerous missions of this kind are doing noble work in improving the habits of the poor, and fitting them for those better dwellings which the law and private efforts are providing. The work is great and noble, and is indispensable as a 529 Supplement to public agencies. There would appear at first sight to be a deeper difficulty even than the habits of the outcasts, and that is their poverty. But this poverty is often the result of thriftless and improvident habits, and will be lessened as these are improved. Besides, as a fact, the evils of overcrowding dwellings are found chiefly in prosperous and not in adverse times. When times are bad, and the demand for work is slack, there are many vacant houses, and lodgers are not taken in by poor families. The striking result follows, that mortality lessens in times of national poverty. This has been especially noted in Glasgow when times are bad and public relief has to be given. I once constructed curves representing poor rates and death rates over a long period in Manchester, and they were in inverse ratio, for when poor rates rose death rates went down. The whole question under consideration is surrounded with difficulties and anomalies; but a sufficiently large experience has been obtained to encourage efficient and wise administration of existing law, and to induce us to improve the local government which is entrusted with the administration. There is one striking fact, which proves to us how much may be effected by any measure that decreases the over crowding of the poor, while it indicates, at the same time, that evils still exist on a large scale; juvenile mortality under five years of age has lessened from improved sanitary arrangements since 1870 by about 7 per cent. But in that year the Education Act passed, and a most marked improvement has come over the mortality of children at school ages. From 5 to 10 years mortality has lessened 30 per cent; from 10 to 15 by 32 per cent; and from 15 to 20 by 30 per cent. I see no other explanation of this striking improvement except one—that children have been gathered into the schools from their crowded and unsanitary homes, and have thus escaped the perils of disease. Ratepayers grumble at increased taxation for local improvements and education; they would have had to pay much more without them. Since I took up this subject, 40 years ago, the chances of life have been gradually improving. Then the mean duration of a man's life was 39.9 years. Now it is 41.9 years, or it has advanced by two years. In the short 530 span of man's life this is a great addition, and it is a reward for the exertions of local government.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, the evils of overcrowding cannot in all cases be adequately met by the enforcement of purely sanitary regulations, and that it is therefore expedient that, in the case of certain public Trusts and Corporations having for their object the improvement of the dwellings of the working classes, some relaxation should be made in the rules under which loans are at present granted by the Public Works Loan Commissioners."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that his hon. Friend who had moved this Motion seemed through the whole of his speech to be alluding to some imaginary enemy in the House who would make this, or that, or the other remark in answer to many of his points. He did not know who this imaginary foe might be. The hon. Member might have been referring to a noble Lord (Lord Wemyss) who took part in a recent debate on this subject in "another place;" but he did not think there was anyone in that House who was likely to take the strong line which he indicated. Although he did not complain of the speech of the hon. Gentleman, he had some complaints to make with regard to the terms of his Motion. The speech was an excellent one, but it appeared to have very little to do with the Motion. The hon. Member stated that his preliminary remarks carried him to the very edge of his Motion; but he never got beyond the edge. He never explained the Motion. The Motion stated—That, in the opinion of this House, the evils of overcrowding cannot in all cases be adequately met by the enforcement of purely sanitary regulations.No one, he thought, would deny that proposition. But the Motion went on—It is therefore expedient that, in the case of certain public Trusts and Corporations having for their object the improvement of the dwellings of the working classes, some relaxation should be made in the rules under which loans are at present granted by the Public Works Loans Commissioners.The important part of the Resolution, "certain public Trusts and Corporations," his hon. Friend did not explain. He supposed in using those words his hon. Friend referred in the first place to the Peabody Trustees; but he did not know whether he meant to include the 531 Waterlow and other Companies who had in past times received loans from the Government. There was no explanation of this phrase in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and no light was thrown upon it by the provisions of any Act of Parliament. He imagined that his hon. Friend rather desired to increase the difference which was at present existing between the rates of the loans to the Peabody Trustees and of those to other Companies. At all events, some of his remarks seemed to bear that complexion. He, himself, in the year 1879, opposed the proposal to make those loans to the Peabody Trustees upon more favourable terms than to the other Companies. The Peabody Trustees obtained their loans on more favourable terms, because they were able to take them for a shorter period. They received their money at 3½ per cent. and the other Companies, as a rule, paid 4 per cent. He did not think that the House generally would be disposed to agree with the hon. Member in desiring to increase the difference in those rates; but he fancied they would rather be inclined to go in an opposite direction. His hon. Friend laid it down in his speech, although there was no such limitation in his Motion, that the aid given by the State ought to be given to London rather than to the country as a whole. He made a strong point of the difference between London and the country, and in some portions of his remarks he was disposed to agree with him. But the hon. Gentleman laid it down that more favourable financial consideration should be given to London than to the rest of England.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I hardly go to that length. I think that London is a more difficult problem, and requires more careful treatment; but I certainly should not exclude other towns.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that, in that case, he would not press the point. But his hon. Friend went on to argue that the State ought not to make a loss on the transactions. At present the State lent large sums of money to the Peabody Trustees for terms under 20 years at 3½ per cent. He presumed that his hon. Friend meant that the money should be lent at 3¼ per cent; but that was rather a small Motion to make for so large a speech, and he was disposed to think that the difference consti- 532 tuted a very small and trifling remedy to apply to so large a question. Before he came to other reasons which he entertained against the Motion, he would point out that loans were largely made at the present moment for the purposes of artizans' dwellings. There was a Return in the possession of the House, dated 1874, and there was a Blue Book of the Public Works Commission, dated 1882–3, which gave full information upon the subject. The Public Works Loan Commissioners could lend, under the Act of 1866, at 4 per cent. They could also lend at 4 per cent under the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Acts of 1868–9, and by the Public Works Loans Act of 1879, 42 and 43 Vict. c. 77. Under that Act they could lend money to the Peabody Trustees, or any other Company, for the construction of dwellings suitable for the labouring classes at not less than 3½ per cent. In 1879, he and others who now sat on the Ministerial side of the House offered considerable objection to the proposals then made by the Leader of the House, the present Leader of the Opposition, on the ground that those proposals would form a bar to artizans' dwellings operations in the future. The right hon. Baronet who now led the Opposition, and who then led the House, deliberately fixed, or refixed, the rate of interest at that time after full consideration by Parliament. After the Bill passed, he completed his work by issuing a Treasury Minute in August, 1879. Whatever might have been the views of those who opposed the Bill and the Treasury Minute, that Act still regulated the proceedings of the Public Works Loan Commissioners. Money was lent at 3½ per cent for 20 years, 3¾ per cent for 30 years, and 4 per cent from 30 to 40 years. In 1883, this subject was again considered by Parliament, and the rate of interest laid down in the Treasury Minute of 1879 was maintained after full consideration. If the hon. Member wished the House to re-open this subject, he must remember—and the House would remember—that he (Sir Charles W. Dilke's) reason for moving the Previous Question was that a Royal Commission had just been appointed which must necessarily have this matter, among others, before it. He hardly thought the House would wish to say expressly, without a proper financial discussion, and at the time 533 when a Royal Commission was investigating this, among other portions of the case, that it was expedient to make the difference between 3½ and 3½ per cent. Loans had been granted on a small scale under the provisions of the Labourers' Dwellings Acts, 1866–7; they had been granted on a larger scale, to the amount of nearly £1,700,000, for artisans and labourers dwellings; and they had been granted on a considerable scale, to the amount of £705,000, to the Peabody Trustees, the Waterlow Trustees, and other Companies. This took place under the existing law; but a large number of Companies had never received any loans; they managed to do without them. Flourishing Companies on a small scale, that managed to pay their way without loans, were doing a good work in London; some of these had as Directors Members of that House, including the noble Lord the Member for Barnstaple (Viscount Lymington) and the Surveyor General of Ordnance (Mr. Brand); these Companies got on without State aid; they had a satisfactory past, and apparently a hopeful future. Having thus given the reasons which induced him to move the Previous Question as an Amendment to the Motion, he would proceed to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford, with which he was far more disposed to agree than he was with the Motion. Some of his remarks were directed against free competition upon this subject; but it must be admitted that free competition was doing something to reduce pressure. Although it might not be providing dwellings for the lowest classes of the population, it was diminishing the overcrowding which produced pressure upon the lowest classes. In one case within his knowledge the erection of a great block of model dwellings did not provide homes for the poorest—the residuum; the rents were not within the means of the people who had hitherto been living in single rooms; still the opening of the block removed the pressure from dwellings of an inferior character; the rents of these were lowered, and those who remained in them got better accommodation. This had been effected without State aid by one of these Companies; and it had also been brought about by the Peabody Trustees. In the parish of St. Luke's there was a large block of buildings of the older type, originally 534 erected as a laundry, and containing 183 sets of rooms. On the opening of an improved block in the neighbourhood, those who had the better rooms in the old block removed to the model block; those who had the worst rooms in the old block took the better rooms, and now the worst rooms could not be let. This was an example of the good that might be done by free competition. It was undoubtedly true, as had been said, that the state of things was far better than it formerly was in London and in the large towns; that was undoubtedly true as regarded London, but it was only true in general and not universally, because there were great exceptions in London; there were parts of London that were worse than they were before. Some of the central parts had declined in the character of their inhabitants, and they had become more overcrowded than they formerly were through the system known as "house knacking." Houses that had long been occupied by single families, had been broken up into tenement houses; and thus parts of the town that were once the best had now become the worst; and many of the houses that were still the best houses in point of construction were the worst as regarded overcrowding and the character of their population. It was hard that he should have to defend our ancestors as against the hon. Member for Hertford, who spoke of the carelessness of our forefathers in building; but he had been struck with their carefulness, and some of these houses were admirably built. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR said, he was speaking rather of the arrangement of the streets.] Well, many of these central streets were wide streets; but what had happened to the big houses was that they had been broken up into tenements, and eight or ten families had been put into them. In these large houses many of our ancestors had had accommodation for their servants; they did not treat them as they ought to have done—perhaps we did not ourselves—and some eight or ten families were in rooms that were intended only for one family with its servants. The hon. Member for Hertford did not specify what was required with regard to the building of houses in the suburbs, and the building regulations for nearly all the districts around the Metropolis were better than those that were in force in the Metropolis 535 itself, for most of the outside authorities had adopted the model bye-laws of the Local Government Board. This might not be the case in some of the rural districts, but it was true of all the larger and well-known districts. The bye-laws had been adopted, but he could not say whether they were enforced; if they were not that must be due to that want of motive power which was the main cause of defective local government and imperfect administration. The hon. Member did not attempt to prove the first part of his Motion, "that overcrowding could not in all cases be dealt with by sanitary legislation"—a truism when stated in this guarded way; but if the guarding words were omitted a good deal might be said on the point. Overcrowding, however, was a matter with which it was by no means so easy to deal as it appeared to be at first sight. To begin with, it was by no means easy to ascertain the facts; it was by no means easy to prove its existence. If you went into a notoriously overcrowded district the local authorities would tell you that information on the subject could only be obtained by inspection at night. There were legal provisions with regard to tenements, which were optional, and could be put in force by the local authority. He had acted on the power to put them in force in London; but he could not compel the local authorities to act on the bye-laws. This matter of tenements affected the question very closely, for regulations could be made to provide for the inspection of them by night. As to the difficulty of obtaining information without inspection, it was not merely that there were large families in small rooms, but lodgers were taken in, the occupants of the rooms claiming the right to take as many lodgers as they pleased. Beyond this, beds were occupied by different sets of persons by day and by night. In addition to all this, Lord Shaftesbury, a man whose name could never be mentioned in connection with this subject without a general expression of feeling as to the immense work he had done in the past, had pointed out to the Local Government Board that, to his certain knowledge, in very large parts of London—in great numbers of streets—it was the custom for people to come in from the streets and sleep on the stairs of the houses all night. That was undoubtedly the case, and it showed that it was not very easy 536 to obtain accurate information as to the facts of overcrowding. A great deal of evidence was taken on that subject before the Committee of 1881–2. Much of it was given by the medical officers of health in the various districts of London, and they almost all stated that there was much less overcrowding now than there was formerly. But, gratifying as it might be to hear statements of that kind made, it was not so easy to prove them, and when they came to look to certain special districts, he doubted if there had been a decrease in the evil. Miss Stanley and the clergy of Clerk-en well made statements to the opposite effect—namely, that overcrowding in Clerkenwell had increased; and that was certainly the case as regarded some others of the central parts of London—for instance, Holborn, St. Luke's, and parts of St. Pancras. The attention which had been given to the subject had led some persons to doubt whether the system of long leases in the centre of the town had not something to do with the evils of overcrowding. Some of the very worst properties of London in that respect were to be found on great estates with long leases. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had lately been setting their houses in order; but, up to very recently, some of the worst property in London was to be found on their estates—for instance, Red Cross Square. Perhaps one of the most important points that would come before the Royal Commission would relate to the management of some of the large properties in London. A great deal of evidence upon what might be called the sanitary aspect of the question had been collected by the Committee of 1881–2. Perhaps, also, such questions as the value of land as bearing on the management of great estates might be considered worthy of attention by the Royal Commission. He had lately received a communication from a gentleman who was closely connected with the management of one of those great properties in London, containing statements which he asked him (Sir Charles W. Dilke) to read to the House. [The right hon. Baronet then quoted the advice given by the writer to large landlords to try to get their property out of the hands of middlemen, and then to look alter it actually, as they were bound to do morally. The writer went on to speak of the enormous 537 profits made by middlemen, and recommended, where there were long leases still to run, that the owner should have a strict watch kept over the houses on the land, and not be content with superficial appearances. In the case of small properties which could not afford an overseer, he suggested that the help of the clergy or of charitable societies should be sought; and he observed that if every ground landlord would be really active, a great part at least of the evil would be mitigated. After describing the occupants of wretched dwellings in certain districts, the writer remarked that these poor people feared that if the man whom they called their landlord—the middleman—spent money upon a room their rent would be raised.] These were, he thought, very sound sentiments, expressed in very admirable language by one who had had much experience in connection with that subject. His hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and his right hon. Friend behind him (Sir Lyon Playfair) had both spoken very highly indeed of one whose efforts were always recognized in alluding to that matter—Miss Octavia Hill, a lady whose work was well known to him, because 14 years ago he had some experience of the operations of her system in the early part of her work; but when his hon. Friend quoted Miss Octavia Hill, he appeared to be trying to catch the support of the House by the use of a very popular name. He remembered a previous example of the danger of that practice. In a debate that occurred during the former Liberal Administration, which began in 1868, the present Baron Dowse rose from the Treasury Bench to reply to a speech made by the present Lord Coleridge upon women's rights. Lord Coleridge had mentioned the name of Queen Anne in his speech, and Baron Dowse, replying, said—My hon. and learned Friend has mentioned Queen Anne; but does he mean to say that if Queen Anne were to come hack here she would be favourable to this proposal?That retort was supposed to have some force. Now, he doubted very much indeed whether Miss Octavia Hill would in the least approve the terms of his hon. Friend's present Motion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, he did not even hint or suggest, that Miss Hill would approve of the Motion. On 538 the contrary, he was perfectly aware that she would not do anything of the kind.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, he was rather disposed to agree with the view of Miss Hill's work that was expressed by Lord Salisbury in the article which that noble Lord wrote on this subject; and it was to his mind a certain argument against the terms of the Motion that his hon. Friend was compelled to admit to the House that she and those who co-operated with her were against that proposal. Now, in regard to anything that they were likely to have carried in the form of legislation at the present time and in the present state of public opinion, he was much disposed to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross). He made that reservation as to the present time and the present state of public opinion, because he personally did not hesitate to say that he should be in favour of much more drastic legislation in respect to compensation than that which even now existed. But having made that reservation, he did not believe that the House, after the legislation of 1882 would be prepared at present to re-open the subject in that sense. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite was likely to concur at all with the hon. Gentleman who made the Motion, although he rather doubted if that was the case. At all events, he thought that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would agree with him in asking the House to decline now to entertain the proposal, seeing that the Royal Commission had been appointed of which the right hon. Gentleman was a Member. He concurred with his right hon. Friend behind him, who had, however, said little in support of the Motion which he nominally seconded, in the remark he made in the latter part of his speech to the effect that the real difficulty in that case was defective local government and want of motive power. There could be no doubt that in London various parishes under similar conditions varied very much indeed. Parishes, which judging from their geographical situation, appeared to be about the same in character, differed very greatly. Some of them were good and some were bad, although under similar conditions. That was caused by the great variation in the 539 amount of their staff, and the amount spent on sanitary work, and in the character of the Vestries. Some parishes had a very insufficient staff for the work to be done. Bermondsey, for example, with a population of 86,000, had only one Inspector to do every kind of sanitary work, and he had other work besides. St. Mary, Newington, also a poor district, with a population of 107,000, had only two Sanitary Inspectors. Another great evil was the presence on some of the local Governing Bodies in some districts, but not uniformly, of persons who were interested as middlemen in some of the worst class of property. On the Holborn District Board there was a member who owned houses in Portpool, commonly called Purple, Lane, one of the worst parts of the neighbourhood. Then, again, in St. Pancras some property, which had been repeatedly reported upon by the medical officer and condemned by the surveyor as buildings which ought to be demolished, belonged to a Vestryman whose father was, and whose grandfather had been on the Vestry. On the other hand, he could mention cases in St. James's and the Southern parishes, where, in spite of the presence of such men, the Vestries had, to their honour, taken action. He was sorry to be obliged to speak in such a manner; but it was necessary to turn the public attention to these facts. He was sorry to say that in Clerkenwell the two great dictators or potentates of the parish who had the control of the Vestry and its leading committees, one of them being chairman of the principal committee, were the largest owners in the whole district of Clerkenwell of bad or doubtful property. The Royal Commission would have, perhaps, to go beyond the useful labours of the Committee of 1881–2, and make an inquiry into the question from this point of view—whether, in fact, it was not the case that many leading members of the local authorities were large owners of property of this description. In Clerkenwell there were 14 house-farmers on the Vestry and 12 publicans, who seemed to work very much with them; and that state of things had undoubtedly led to insufficient care being taken by the Vestry for the condition of that parish. There were places, however, far worse even than these, especially in the Italian and other foreign colonies—in Holborn and St. Pancras; and the 540 foreign landlords were far worse than any English ones—in fact, he could only describe the condition of these colonies in the language of the 10th Psalm. He could not leave the subject without saying a little in defence of Whitechapel, in reply to his right hon. Friend (Sir Lyon Playfair). The death rate in that parish was in reality greatly swelled by the returns of mortality from certain hospitals in it. The worst group in London was the central group. St. Luke's was not a parish with house-farmers on the Vestry, as these had been swept out a short time before; but it was a bad parish. The medical officer of the parish had returned a report in answer to the Circular sent out that there were no areas in regard to which official investigation was called for. The Vestry of St. Luke's were now attempting very late in the day, by a sort of death-bed repentance, to take steps under Torrens's Act. The district of St. Pancras was a bad one in spite of its having an admirable medical officer and Vestry official; it was undoubtedly in a most disgraceful state. In the South of London, again, they had a bad state of things, though he hoped that some real improvement had been made by the Committee organized by some Members of that House. This was a subject of such interest that anyone could talk on it for any time. He himself had made personal inquiries into the subject, and there were those outside the House as well who had devoted their lives to it. He joined in a general concurrence with the hon. Member, and still more with the hon. Gentleman behind him (Sir Lyon Playfair); but he thought that the time had not yet come for such steps to be taken as were now proposed. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Previous Question.
§ Previous Question proposed, "That the Original Question be now put."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that he had taken a deep interest in this matter for many years. He was sorry to find the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board bringing forward the Royal Commission as a ground for putting off any action at all. He was afraid that the local authorities would be only too willing to stay their hands until the Royal 541 Commission began, without any example being set to them, as they were not so very anxious to stir in the matter. He would, therefore, very much rather the right hon. Baronet had boldly stated his objections to the Motion, if he really seriously entertained any. He regretted to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Lyon Playfair) state that unity of action was necessary, and that that depended upon the formation of one great Corporation for the whole Metropolis. He hoped they would not delay taking action in these matters until the creation of such an unwieldy body. Nor did he believe that, if such a body unfortunately ever existed, it would pay sufficient attention to, or grapple with, these vital matters. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board had complained of the position of the local authorities at present existing not only within London, where owners of properties were on the Vestries themselves, but also in districts round London where they had not adopted bye-laws. The real fact was that the public attention had now been properly called to this important subject. One of the greatest pleasures to him (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was to find that the temper of the House and of the country was entirely different from what it had been in 1875, when he himself had had the greatest difficulty in arousing the attention of the country, and had to struggle severely against some who were now taking an active part in the work. He believed that the growth of public opinion accounted for this change, and that to that was owing the fact that they were at last seriously considering what remedy could be found for a state of things which was a disgrace to any civilized community. There were places outside London, in the suburbs, where there were no bye-laws; and if they did not allow fresh houses to be built which would produce disease and death, they ought to take care that the houses that were built should comply with all the necessary conditions of health, and that they should be maintained in a proper sanitary state. He had always maintained that property had its duties as well as its rights, and when the rights of property were protected, its duties should be enforced. His belief was that the present was the time for grappling with the evil; and if the local authorities felt 542 that, it needed only that they should put their hands to the plough to enable them to deal with it. There was no doubt that the evil started from many points. He believed that Torrens' Acts, and those connected with his own name, had provided a great weapon for grappling with the difficulty. When the Act of 1875 was introduced, he remembered being told by a gentleman of his acquaintance that the only two characteristics of the Bill were Communism and confiscation. At present they knew that too much compensation was often obtained, and that the Compensation Clause was struck at in 1879, and again in 1881 and 1882, though he did not think the House or the country would allow the question of compensation to be opened again. He was much disappointed at the absence of the hon. Member for Truro (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works, and he hoped that very soon a clean sweep might be made of all buildings unfit for habitation; and he trusted that the Vestries also would see that under the vigilant eye of his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board it was necessary for them to put their houses in order and to prepare themselves for action. The next question was, how were they to avoid, in making this clean sweep, the necessary evils of pulling down? There must not only be pulling down of these houses; there must also be reconstruction. He believed as far as the great mass of people were concerned it might be left to private enterprize and associations to provide the accommodation necessary for housing the people whose old habitations were destroyed. There would be great danger in giving Corporations the power to erect buildings for them, and to hold this class of property. With regard, however, to the lowest class, no doubt something might be done without danger. They could not turn them out into the streets; they did not want to send them into the workhouse; and for such extreme cases he believed it would be necessary to provide temporary accommodation. The authorities of the City of Glasgow, which was a sort of pioneer in this matter, when they made their alterations some time ago, erected some buildings as cheaply as possible, which they were able to let out as lodgings, as 543 low, he thought, as 3½d. a night, to the persons who were thrown out of the old houses. These new buildings were filled immediately in this way, and that answered very well. The City of Edinburgh, on the other hand, put up buildings; but they did not answer, and had to be sold. In dealing with the lowest classes private charity might be allowed some scope. At the same time, the question must be approached with care. To live in wholesome dwellings was acknowledged to be one of the necessaries of life, but it was only one, and it would be just as demoralizing to give the lower classes their houses to live in as it would be to give them food or clothing. Caution was, therefore, necessary; and it was only in dealing with the lowest classes that something like temporary accommodation might be afforded them. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the evil of long leases. For his own part, he had always been astonished that the section of the Act of 1875 was not more utilized, by which the owners of the freehold were enabled to improve this class of property, the bad condition of which was often not attributable to the freeholder at all. He could only attribute its disuse by the owners of property to their ignorance of the existence of the provision. Great thanks were due to the President of the Local Government Board for his research in discovering that many persons on Vestry Boards were themselves owners of objectionable household property and prevented any steps being taken for dealing with it as it should be dealt with. They could not reprobate too highly, or speak too strongly against, such persons who, although they were placed in authority, held their hands because it would be against the interest of their own pocket. The thanks of the House were also due to the hon. Member for Hertford for the way in which he had introduced this Motion to the House, in the subject of which he was deeply and warmly interested. So far as the labours of the Royal Commission were concerned, he was quite sure every Member of that Commission would do all he could to assist the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles W. Dilke) in coming to a sound conclusion on this important question.
§ SIR SYDNEY WATERLOW
said, the question was one in which he was 544 much interested, and as the Company with which he was connected had covered 24 acres of land with blocks of buildings for the working classes, he thought his experience might furnish the House with some facts which might be of service to the discussion. He believed there was no matter which could more fitly engage the attention of the House and the country than the solution of the problem—how to provide better houses for the poorer classes of the people, and to determine to what extent, without interfering with the self-reliance and independence of the working-classes, State aid could be furnished in support of private effort. He regretted that the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) did not go into the question of loans more fully, and explain how he proposed that the Government or the Treasury was to render the assistance which he had shown to be necessary. With regard to overcrowding, no one could doubt that it had been proved. It was terrible to think, moreover, what would be the state of things now owing to large improvements which had taken place if legislation had not stepped in. He was afraid this continual inquiry—a Committee one year, and a Royal Commission the next—would have the effect of staying for a time the hands of those who had been doing good work, and also in justifying the tardy movements of local bodies in carrying out the powers with which they were invested at present. There was one point to which he was anxious to refer. To a large number of the working people of London it was an absolute necessity that they should not move away from the locality in which they lived. He referred to those who had "bespoke work." For this class of people to remove from a neighbourhood meant the loss of the whole of their connection. For instance, in such a neighbourhood as that of Oxford Street a room there would fetch more than twice as much as a similar room in the East End or over in Clapham. What what was the cause of the congestion? The difficulty in obtaining sites. Something had been done by the Artizans' Dwelling Act; but more might have been done if it had not been felt by those to whom the Act was in trusted that it would be too burdensome to the ratepayers. A good deal had been done 545 by the owners of large estates. He might instance the Duke of Westminster as foremost amongst them. Within 20 minutes' of that House he could put his finger on seven or eight large blocks of houses, all on the Duke of Westminster's property. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had also offered facilities; they might have done more; but he did not think they ought to blame them. The question of rent was a serious consideration for the working man. It was the wife, who was at home, that managed the business, and she knew well that a good house meant a temperate household. Going into details as to existing buildings, he might mention that the rent per room in the Peabody Buildings was 1s. 11d. per week; in his own Company's houses the rent was, on an average, 2s. 2d.; but the explanation was that the rooms were made brighter with paper, and were worth more money. These efforts had all been made without State aid; and he defied the President of the Local Government Board to say that of all the money borrowed, the State had lost one farthing interest upon the loans granted to these Companies. Upwards of £2,000,000 had been advanced to these Companies, and yet no delay or failure had occurred in the payment of interest. Indeed, the State had been the gainer, for the money was borrowed at 3 and lent at 3½ and 4 per cent. He supported the Motion, because he considered some relaxation should be made in the rules. It was said that some of the small Companies got on well without loans; but they had been unable to avail themselves of them, because the societies could not afford to make the annual repayments. Give them the money at 4 per cent for 40 years and they could afford to do it. He appealed to his hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion, and to the President of the Local Government Board to withdraw his Amendment, as he did not wish to see the matter pressed to a Division. He admitted there was a difficulty in dealing with long leases. There was much property which should be pulled down and better property erected. He desired, from a sanitary point of view, to refer to the experience they had in these buildings of the death rate. The houses were not in one isolated district. They were at Bethnal Green, in the centre, in the West, and in the North, and they had 546 been tested for an average of over nearly 20 years. The last return of the death rate in those dwellings was just over 17 per 1,000, as against 18 over the whole country, and 21 per 1,000 in the Metropolis! This was in the face of a higher birth rate, which meant a higher death rate. He supported the Motion of the hon. Member for Hertford because he believed it was sound and right; but after the valuable discussion which had taken place he hoped the hon. Member would accept the suggestion that had been made, and allow the Motion to be withdrawn.
§ SIR. JOHN R. MOWBRAY
said, that reference had been made to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; and he could not but wish that the Under Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Evelyn Ashley), or the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen), had been present to answer for them. The circumstances under which this property came into the hands of the Commissioners ought to be borne in mind when their action was criticized. It was the object of the Acts which they administered to put an end to the vicious system of leasing which prevailed largely on Church property; and in Southwark, in particular, there was a great complication of interests as between lessees and sub-lessees. So long as the leases and sub-leases subsisted the Commissioners were debarred from interfering, and it, no doubt, might have been said that some of the bad class property was on their land; but, so far as the Commissioners were concerned, that was in course of passing away. Some of the land had been let for building, and many of the worst tenants would soon be cleared. The hon. Baronet the Member for Gravesend (Sir Sydney Waterlow) had borne a favourable testimony to the action of the Commissioners in other parts of London—and no one knew better than he did what their action had been for many years past. At Finsbury and elsewhere the Commissioners had offered every facility for the erection of labourers' dwellings, in connection with the Waterlow and other Companies. The right hon. Gentleman opposite knew that the population could not be displaced at once. Arrangements for their removal must be made by degrees, so as to cause no inconvenience and throw no pressure upon the labouring classes. The question had 547 been under the careful consideration of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for some months past, and the very exhaustive Report of a specially-appointed Committee was on the point of being issued, and would be moved for in both Houses.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Mr. GUILDERS)
said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour) would adopt the suggestion which had been made, and withdraw the Motion, after the very satisfactory debate which had taken place. In that case, of course, his right hon. Friend would withdraw the Previous Question. The hon. Member would see that there was no feeling on the part of the Government adverse to his Motion; but careful consideration would be necessary before he could see his way to lowering the interest on loans made by the Public Works Loan Commission. The first Act under which these loans were made was introduced by himself, when some doubts were expressed as to whether this was a proper purpose to which to apply public money. He had never doubted that it was; but he could not say at the moment whether the concessions asked for could be granted. He would be glad if the hon. Member could enable them to avoid the necessity of moving the Previous Question.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
said, that it was hardly possible for him to resist the appeal which had been made to him, although many Gentlemen were anxious to speak. The debate had been of an extremely interesting character, and he had certainly no reason to complain of it. As far as he was concerned, he accepted the suggestions which had been made.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
said, he did not consider it was the business of the State to erect buildings for the working classes; but he held that they should offer all inducements and facilities. He suggested that much might be done by reducing and removing taxation, which practically increased the rent of the poor, such as the Carriage Tax, and the Railway Passengers Tax, which made it more difficult for the railways to run cheap trains. If such taxes were abolished, poor people would be enabled to go into the suburbs, where 548 cheaper houses might be obtained. He was also of opinion that many local rates ought to be divided between the owner and the occupier.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, he hoped that Her Majesty's Government as a body would take rather a different view of this question from that which had been taken of it that night by the President of the Local Government Board, whose speech was calculated to confirm some of the worst suspicions that had got abroad—that during the existence of the Commission a good deal of the work that might now be done under existing legislation would be allowed to slide. He trusted that before the debate closed the Government would give the House some assurance that they intended to set an example to the local bodies by taking immediate and prompt action in this matter. The right hon. Gentleman himself had taken an active part in this question since Lord Salisbury's celebrated article, and public opinion was in a state of ecstasy with regard to it. Since everything, therefore, was ripe for action, and seeing that the country was willing to approve of any measure which the Government might think fit to bring forward in relation to this subject, he trusted that the Government would give an assurance that they intended to set a good example in the matter.
§ Previous Question and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Nine o'clock.