§ In moving the (Second Reading of this Bill,
§ SIR ALFRED HICKMAN (Wolverhampton, W.)
explained that any credit which was to be given for the preparation of the Bill was due to his Friend Mr. Wrightson, who, unfortunately, was not a Member of the House. He would not have thought it necessary to say anything in moving the Second Reading but for the notices of opposition which had been given. The Prime Minister had expressed approval of the principle of the Measure; the Leader of the House had spoken of the subject of the Bill as one which demanded speedy legislation; the Secretary for the Colonies had delivered a speech in favour of the Bill with his usual force; the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton had suggested Amendments which had been incorporated in the Bill; and the Right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose, during his recent electoral campaign, alluded with approval to the Measure. The Bill was entirely permissive in character. Local authorities would not be bound to act upon it, but they might, if satisfied as to the security, lend money under its provisions, though even then only under considerable 130 restrictions. The local authority must be satisfied that the applicant for the loan intended to reside in the house he wished to purchase or build; they would not be able to advance more than £150 to any one workman or upon any house, nor to advance money to any workman upon more than one house. It was further provided that the workman should find one-fourth of the sum to be spent, and in the case of assistance being granted him to build a house, he must, at his own expense, first provide the site. One of the objections to the Bill came from the Right Hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean, who was of opinion that, if the ratepayers' money was spent in providing such houses, the ratepayers ought to get the ultimate possession of them—that the ratepayers, in short, ought to be the freeholders. But one of the chief advantages of the Bill was that it would be the means of creating a large number of individual freeholders—a class of men who would have something to lose, and who, by that sense of possession, would be made good citizens. Socialism was extending in foreign countries, but so far we had not heard much of it in this country, and the best protection against it was to increase the number of freeholders. [''Hear, hear!"] But if the security given for the loan was good—and the local authority had to be satisfied on that point before the money was advanced—no portion of the rates would be spent and the extra interest charged over what was paid would cover all expenses. He submitted that the effect of the Bill would really be to considerably relieve the local rates. In most large towns, through the operation of the Artisans' Dwelling Scheme, there still remained large vacant spaces. Birmingham, in a very enterprising way, had filled up such vacant spaces in the city with workmen's dwellings, and the scheme had been attended with much success. Under this Bill, the vacant spaces in other towns might be utilised with advantage to the working classes and the community alike. Intemperance and unthirift were, unhappily, two great faults that attached to working men. There could be no better means of combating the evil of intemperance than helping to provide workmen with comfortable homes. Large numbers of them lived in dark, damp, insanitary 131 basement cellars, and it was not surprising that after their day's work they should be attracted by the comforts provided by the public-house. [''Hear, hear!"] Statistics had shown the startling fact that the mortality of persons living in basements was 20 per cent. higher than among those who lived in the first floors of houses; and the Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor declared that the evils of overcrowding were a public scandal. Then, with regard to the point of thrift among the working classes, the great difficulty was to induce them to make a beginning; that once effected, the very pleasures of possession would lead them to continue, and would irresistibly encourage among them the desire to be the owners of the houses in which they lived. Undoubtedly, the virtue of thrift had been much discouraged of late years among the working classes through the losses that had attended their small investments in building societies and the like. What the working man wanted was a safe investment, and one that he could feel sure was safe; and what safer investment could he have than the possession of his own house? ["Hear, hear!"] It was a disgrace to the civilisation of the country that a large portion of the working classes should be housed worse than were horses and dogs, and in some cases even worse than pigs. This Bill would not provide decent homes for everybody, but it would help those who were willing to help themselves. The experiment of creating freeholders had been tried in Ireland with conspicuous success, and he was convinced that, if this Bill was carried into law, the effect would be to greatly improve the lot of thousands of the working classes. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped, therefore, that the House would assent to the Second Reading.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said, he wished to support the Motion for the Second Reading, because he had had the privilege of introducing a similar Bill this Session, which had been read a First time and distributed among hon. Members, and that Bill was in much the same terms as the one then before the House. He agreed with his hon. Friend who had moved the Second Reading that the whole credit attaching to this movement 132 and to the introduction of this Bill on behalf of the working classes, was due to Mr. Thomas Wrightson, who, in the last Parliament, represented the borough of Stockton-upon-Tees. In 1893 Mr. Wrightson obtained a Second Reading of the Bill—for the present Bill was practically the same—early in the Session, but he was unable to get it carried through the subsequent stages, and in 1894 and 1895 no opportunity was given for bringing forward the Measure again. Mr. Wrightson, with the help of competent draughtsmen, spared no pains in bringing the Bill into conformity with the views of the President of the Local Government Board and in making its provisions known throughout the country. Hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House had given a hearty support to the Bill, and he hoped hon. Gentlemen opposite would join in the effort to get it passed through the whole of the necessary stages in the course of this Session. The National Union of Conservative Associations being always anxious to do everything in their power to improve the condition of the working classes [Opposition laughter], had given a sustained and consistent support to the Bill. It was not too much to say that the provisions of the Bill had met with general support, irrespective of Party, throughout the country. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean and one or two other Gentlemen had taken exception to certain points in the Bill, but he thought those objections applied to matters of detail rather than to the principle of the Measure. It was surely needless to remind the House that the advance of public money to private individuals for purposes connected with the welfare of the whole community was not by any means a novel principle in British administration, nor need he remind them of the satisfactory results that had attended the policy in Ireland of enabling tenants, with the aid of the State, under the Ashbourne Acts, to become freeholders by purchase. What objection could there be to extending similar benefits to the English tenant or workman, in regard to the purchase of his house? In those "circumstances he certainly expected that the Nationalist Members would heartily support the Bill. Advances by the State had been made under other Acts, though, he confessed, to persons 133 above the rank of the ordinary working man; but seeing that this policy under those Acts had been so advantageous, he thought it was time that similar benefits were extended to those among the English working class who deserved this additional help from the State. [''Hear, hear!"] He would explain that under the provisions of the Bill, the local authority would be empowered to re-borrow from the State the amount it had lent to the purchaser, if that authority could show that it had adopted the Act. The loans were not to exceed £150 to any purchaser, and repayment, including interest, must be made periodically within the term of 30 years. A condition precedent to any advance being made was that the purchaser should himself deposit one-fourth of the value of the house to be purchased or to be built, and thus give evidence of his bona Fides. He called the attention of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean (Sir Charles Dilke) to the second page of the Bill, where he would find a provision securing the interest of the local authority to the fullest extent. It was provided that, so long as any part of the advance remained unpaid, it should be subject to conditions that the periodical instalments should be met, that the dwelling-house should be kept insured, and that it should not, except in accordance with rules, be sold, assigned, let, or sub-let by the purchaser, that he should comply with all requirements the local authority might impose, as security for health and against overcrowding, that the house should never be used for the sale of intoxicating liquors, or for any purpose but a dwelling-house for the purposes of the Act. If any of the conditions were broken, the local authority, after giving the purchaser opportunity to remedy the grievance complained of, could sell the property. These provisions of the Bill amply secured the local authority against any risk in adopting the Act, or making advances under it. His hon. Friend had referred to certain unfortunate incidents of which the House would be well aware, in connection with building societies in the country, but the Bill was not in any way intended as an attack upon building societies. There were building societies and building societies; there were many conducted 134 on excellent principles and perfectly secure, while on the other hand, as hon. Members were well aware, because recent events had brought the facts prominently before their minds, many societies which were not properly conducted, and in consequence they had brought misery, desolation and ruin to the homes of many working men. The object of the Bill was to encourage independence, self-reliance and thrift among the working classes, to make every working man feel that he had the power of acquiring possession of the house he dwelt in, and of making, in the words of the proverb, "his house his castle," and this on the most secure, most economical and advantageous terms. Although the Bill was not intended in any way to attack building societies, hon. Members would recognise that it would be impossible for building societies, having to meet the interest of their shareholders, to make advances to workmen on such favourable terms as local authorities could offer. There were few Building Societies able to make advances for building purposes at less than five per cent. Some in a more advantageous position were able to do it at a fraction below that rate, but they were few and far between. If a municipality could advance at 3 per cent. under the Bill instead of 5 per cent., there would be a monthly saving to the working man of 2s. 4d. on a loan of £100, redeemable in 30 years. The most the borrower would have to pay would be 1s. 11d. per week; that was practically 1s. 11d. rent a week, a great saving on the 5s., 6s., 7s. 6d., or a larger sum which, under other circumstances he would have to pay for somebody else's house of inferior build and accommodation, and without any interest in the house, and without the slightest prospect of being able to obtain the freehold at the end of any definite number of years. Two questions arose in connection with the Bill; the first was how to define a "workman," and the Bill accurately set that out, so that there should be no misunderstanding. It was said by some that a working man must be a man who worked with his hands and not with his head, but obviously it was quite impossible to admit such a definition as that into a Statute. The Bill provided expressly that it should be applicable not only to mechanics, artisans, and those 135 who worked with their hands, but to clerks, small shopkeepers, or to any person indeed whose total income did not exceed £150 a year. The second question arising was, would the purchase or building of a house under the provisions of the Bill prevent a working man who had purchased his house from migrating to some other locality, according to the requirements of his family or the circumstances of his trade? Though he shared the opinion of many Members that the more resident the working population the more advantageous to the community generally and to the individual, it would be obviously impossible to attach any specific condition to that and to the acquisition of a house under the Bill preventing a working man from shifting his habitation, when it might be to his advantage to do so. There was, therefore, introduced into the Bill a provision, in the clearest possible language, and about which no possible mistake could arise, for the transfer of the interest that any working man might acquire under the Bill, subject of course to the approval of the local authority, after requisite inquiry as to the suitable character of the new purchaser. Indeed, he would have the same power of transferring his interest to the new purchaser as any Member of the House would have in transferring his lease of a house in London under the present law. [Several HON. MEMBERS: ''Under what clause?"] Clause 5. ["That is only in case of death."] Clause 4 provided that the dwelling-house should not, except in accordance with Rules under the Act, be sold, assigned, let, or sub-let. It would be provided under the rules that the interest of the purchaser might be transferred. Clause 8 provided that—The Local Government Board may make rules for carrying this Act into effect, as to the manner of applying for and making advances, for the payment of the local authority, for the custody of title-deeds, as to terms of sale, as to settlement of disputes, and for prescribing other matters necessary for carrying into effect the purposes of the Act.If hon. Members did not think the provisions in the Bill were sufficient, it would be perfectly competent for them, and the promoters of the Bill would be glad to have the benefit of advice and experience, to move Amendments in Committee to carry out their views. The 136 question arose, would a locality find itself saddled with an immense amount of cottage property which it might be unable to let or dispose of and would this become a serious burden to the rates? Of course local industries might change, and it was possible an industry might leave a locality, and the population, from this cause, might seriously diminish. It could not be said, however, in regard to such populations, that there was great apprehension in this direction. It applied rather to rural than to urban districts. Representatives of urban constituencies knew that the tendency of a local population was to increase, and with the increase grew the demand for cottage property. At the same time the local authority could keep its eyes open, and there was also the superintendence of the Local Government Board, whose sanction must be obtained before any advance was made. It was impossible that a sudden change could come over a locality in a year. There would be evidence of the coming change, and to this the local authority would pay attention, and, where it appeared prudent to do so, would restrict its advances to a sum that would not constitute any serious burden upon the rates of a locality. It might be said that the payment by a working man of rates, taxes, repairing, painting, and insurance—such expenses as were now paid by the landlord of the house—would detract very much from the benefit the working man would acquire under the Bill. But careful calculation, made by Mr. Wrightson, to whom the credit of the idea was due, showed that for a house of the value of £160, a rent of 5s. 6d. a week, or £14 6s. a year, would be asked. Under the Bill a working man would be required to provide £40 himself, the interest on which at three per cent. would be £14s. Rates, repairs, painting, and insurance might come to £3 19s. a year, a total of out-of-pocket expenses for 12 months of £5 3s. Add to this £5 3s. the interest on £120 borrowed from the Municipality or local authority at 3½ per cent. plus the amount of the Sinking Fund equitably determined, the amount would be £6 10s. The total yearly payment for the house, including all disbursements, would be £11 13s., as against £14 6s., the rent paid to the 137 landlord at 5s. 6d. per week. The advantage then, to the working-man purchaser, would be over 1s. a week, and this would be increased if the local authorities were able, as it was highly probable they would be when the interest on Consols was reduced to 2½ per cent., to advance money at 3 per cent. instead of 3½ per cent. As it was quite evident many Members were interested in the subject, he would not detain the House. Criticism might be directed to matters of detail, but, speaking for the promoters of the Bill, they would welcome any suggestion tending to improve or make the Measure more workable. The objection of the right hon. Baronet, (Sir Charles Dilke) was that he thought that the freehold should vest in the local authority, not in the purchaser. This objection it was a little difficult to understand. He did not quite understand what the objection of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean was. He surely did not want the local authorities to be constituted universal landlords. Surely he would like people to live in their own houses. But if, as he hoped was the case, the desire of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter was to secure the local authority and ratepayers against loss, then he thought he had shown that under the provisions of the Bill there was ample security for the interests of the ratepayers and of the municipality. The local authority was in the position of a mortgagee until the full repayment of the advance had been made; and the House could not be disposed of without their consent. He hoped the Member for the Forest of Dean, whose interest in social matters was well known, would not press his Amendment to the extent of depriving the working man purchaser in perpetuity of the prospect of obtaining that freehold which would be so advantageous, not only to the individual but to the community at large. There was another Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for South Somerset, who objected to any increase in local taxation for private purposes. There was, however, no danger whatever in this direction to the local authority, or if there was, it was at any rate no greater than the local authority ran in numberless cases. The right hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, who was 138 President of the Local Government Board and afterwards Secretary of State for India in the last Administration, said quite truly in 1893, when Mr. Wrightson proposed the Second Reading of this Bill, that local indebtedness was enormous. The right hon. Gentleman further added that it was absolutely essential, in the view of the then Administration, that certain alterations and changes should be made in the Bill in order to facilitate its working and increase the security. The present Bill was the original Bill which was read a Second time in 1893, with the suggestions which were made by the right hon. Gentleman adopted, and he hoped, therefore, the Measure would meet with his support. The Leader of the House, the Secretaries of State for India and the Colonies, and many other right hon. Gentlemen had spoken in favour of this Bill. There was no element of party in it, and he earnestly trusted that the House would evince its desire to do something for the benefit of the working men of this country, by not only giving the Bill a Second Reading, but by passing it rapidly through the Committee stages, so that it might be placed upon the Statute-book.
*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean) rose to move the following Amendment:—
That in any Measure fur facilitating the acquisition of dwellings for the working class by the use of public moneys, the freehold should be vested in public bodies, and not in the individual.
He observed that the Bill before the House was one of unusual interest, as it was, he supposed, to be considered as the first social egg laid by the Tory Democracy. This was not an academic discussion in which they were engaged. It was not one of the ordinary Wednesdays spent on a Bill which had no chance of passing. It would be idle to deny that there was a large body of opinion favourable to the Bill, and it was very possible that on the Division that afternoon it might be carried by more than an ordinary Party majority. The very fact that the Bill was one which had some chance of passing made it the more important that on the first occasion when it had been seriously discussed in Pariament the objections
to its provisions should be at once pointed out. His hon. Friend had told the House that the Bill had met with general acceptance throughout the country. It was idle to take up much time on inquiries of that kind when they were questioned. He did not wish to dwell upon the fact that Mr. Wrightson, who with great ability pressed this Bill upon the attention of the country, fought his own constituency on the question, and having had a large majority in 1886, was beaten by a still larger majority at the last election in spite of the great Tory wave throughout the country. It had been his fortune to mention this Bill to non-political audiences composed mainly of Trade Councils and Trade Societies in the West of England, and many parts of Wales, and Lancashire, and Yorkshire, and he had always found that the view taken by the working people was that which he had ventured to put before the House in this Amendment. The promoter of the Bill had very distinctly shown that he was not prepared to meet that view, and therefore issue must be taken upon it, for although points of detail might be met in Committee, it would be impossible to meet this main objection. The hon. Member said there were precedents for advancing money to a private individual out of public funds for purposes beneficial to the individual and the public, but he thought the hon. Gentleman would hesitate to say there was any Such precedent which was in the least on the lines of the present Bill or in any way resembled the proposal there made. This Bill was no doubt, substantially the same as that which was before the last Parliament, although Clause 5 was wholly new and had been introduced only last week. The first objection he had to make to the finance of the Bill, was that it went on altogether different lines from those which the House of Lords imposed on the House of Commons in the finance of the allotments under the Local Government Act of the late Parliament. A comparatively liberal system of finance with regard to allotments was introduced into that Bill by an Amendment in this House, but the Lords not only cut out the Amendment, but the finance part of the Bill, as it returned to the Commons, was extremely different to the finance of
the present Bill. He hoped if they adopted the principle of this Bill with regard to towns they should also proved to apply the same principle of finance in regard to allotments in rural districts. It might be said that here they were dealing with District Councils and in the other case with Parish Councils, and that the District Council was a more substantial body than the Parish Council. But there were Parish Councils governing districts of enormous size, and large population, and there were District Councils governing districts of small size with a limited population, and if financial advantages of this kind were conferred upon urban populations and District Councils, they ought to be conferred upon at least some Parish Councils with regard to allotments. It was argued that the funds under this Bill would be safe, because the property was not likely to decline in value. He did not know whether the hon. Member who had used that argument had much experience of colliery villages, iron mining villages, and tin-plate villages, or even agricultural villages in some parts of the country. If so, he must know that there were frequent cases in Wales of villages being completely abandoned. The mine was worked out and the village was deserted. Therefore they had to take into account not the case of Westminster, but the case of villages where the provisions of the Bill were more likely to be put in force than at Westminster. In rural districts probably the powers of the local authority might be put in force, but there would be heavy risk of a total loss to the rates of the district. It was quite true that the pressure of the finance of the Bill would mostly come upon the taxes (but he believed also that it would come on the rates)—that was that it would fall on the working classes. There was a proviso that the dwelling-house should comply with the requirements of the local authority as to securing healthiness and freedom from overcrowding. On the breach of the security the local authority, after giving an opportunity for remedying the breach might cause the dwelling-house to be sold. This meant, sometimes, litigation, and in the case of a forced sale they would be hampered by the clause dealing with the matter, and here again was the danger of costly
litigation in which the local authorities would be involved at the cost of the local rates. He was sure under this clause litigation would be involved. He would not deal with any other detail of the Bill except one, and that was a point on which the Seconder of the Bill also dwelt in his speech. He referred to the working classes—those who worked with their hands—and he said, ''You cannot limit the Bill to them.''
§ SIR C. DILKE
And I agree with him there, but all previous litigation of a kind akin to this has been so limited. [''Hear, hear!"] It was so in the Truck Act and in the Allotments Act—in all cases relating to labour. Those not engaged in manual labour were excluded from the Allotments Act, and as he had said, what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander. He observed that the scale of wages was introduced into the Bill. What was to happen if a man who came under the Bill at one period had his wages raised above the scale? These were, he admitted, though large and weighty matters were involved, points of detail which possibly, or conceivably might be met in Committee or in one of the Standing Committees of the House. But they were difficulties, and he thought they would have to be faced and met. He came then to the general objection to the principle of the Bill, and he should deal briefly with the objection which he had to the Bill as a whole. An hon. Member had said that he (the right hon. Baronet) and others on that side of the House ought not to object, as they could not desire that the local authority should become a universal freeholder. He heard an hon. Friend say at the moment that observation was made, "Better a universal freeholder than a universal mortgagee." [''Hear, hear!"] His right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies had told the country that they had done much in this direction for the rural population in the Allotment provisions of previous Acts, and the right hon. Member added that what they had done for the rural population by the Act of 1894, they ought to do for the urban population by this Measure. He doubted whether it was the urban population that would use the 142 Bill. He believed it would be mainly used in the rural districts, but however that might be, the analogy was a false one, because they had never done for the rural population what was proposed here. He thought the public body which found the rates ought to have the advantage in the long run of the prosperity of the district, and the benefit which that conferred upon them. If they adopted a contrary course, they would set up all around a town a number of small freeholds more difficult to deal with than a large landowner, and he did look forward to the possibility of the local authority acquiring, he would not say all the freeholds, but becoming a larger owner and so facilitating the housing of the working classes. He would take the case of a district where the converse of prosperity was the rule—where things were going down, where there had been prosperity for a time, and where there had been a sudden drop in prosperity. In that case he said they were tempting the local authority, and even individuals into a speculation equally disastrous to both. That was the case for the Amendment which he had placed on the Paper. It had been hinted that political motives under laid the Opposition in the last Parliament to this Bill; Mr. Wrightson had attributed to him that this Bill was opposed by him because it created a Conservative body of freeholders. He never said so. What he did say was that hon. Members opposite, who might not upon the grounds of pure finance and pure local government, and even the interest of individuals, have supported the somewhat dangerous provisions of this Bill, had been tempted into supporting it because they believed that these drawbacks would be overcome by the creation of a great body of Conservative freeholders. He did not believe in that view. He did not believe in the Toryism of small freeholders. His constituency contained 3,000 small freeholders, and they were more Radical than the occupiers. He was not afraid in the least of freeholders. [''Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. REGINALD McKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
Seconded the Amendment. His objection to the Bill arose not only from the principle of the Bill, but also because it did not carry out the object aimed at. He believed that if 143 the Bill was in operation the workman would have to pay more than he would now pay in rent. There were real and serious objections to this Bill on principle. It would be most undesirable to put upon the local authorities the duty of carrying on the business of a building society. They were utterly unfitted for such business. They had not the means of carrying out the necessary inquiries. In fixing the terms of the advance which would repay them, they would have no authentic data to go upon. And if they did fix the proper terms, they would not be better creditors than the building society. They might, perhaps, be able to borrow money at 1 per cent. less than the building society, but that advantage would be more than counterbalanced by the greater capacity of the society for conducting the business. In any advance of public money, the security for the loan ought to be vested in the local authority. The Bill would give a mortgage on the property purchased; but that would only be advantageous if property improved in value; and there was a great risk of decline. The case of advances under the Ashbourne Acts was not at all parallel. There the Irish peasant bought the holding by which he earned his livelihood; and there was no suggestion that he was likely to leave his holding. But the majority of the working classes in this country were migratory, if not from year to year, at least in lives. Then, under the course of their this Bill the land would always have to be bought in a rising market, and at a high price; because it was only when trade was good and the prospects were better that the workman would care to invest 25 per cent. of the purchase money of his house; and in those times, the price of land would be high. Similarly, the workman wishing to dispose of his holding would always have to sell in a falling market and at a low price, because what would make him wish to leave would be low wages and bad employment. The hon. and gallant Member for Sheffield (Colonel H. Vincent) said, that the Measure would only be made use of by thrifty working men because of the provision requiring the purchaser to advance 25 per cent. of the purchase money. But what was there to ensure that the 144 working man himself paid that 25 per cent.? It might, and most probably would, be lent to him by his employer. Suppose the case of a new mine to be opened and a pit village to be built. At present the owner of the mine had generally to put up the cottages at his own expense. Under this Bill he would be able to throw three-quarters of the expense upon the local authority. This opened the way to immense possibilities of jobbery. If any employer could persuade the local authority to take the matter up, all he need do would be to lend a quarter of the cost to his workmen. If the industry succeeded, all would be well; but if it failed, the workmen would lose nothing; the employer would lose only his 25 per cent. of the outlay; and the loss of the other 75 per cent. would have to be borne by the local authority.
§ MR. W. J. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)
said, that the right hon. Baronet (Sir C. Dilke) had disclaimed al political motive in opposing this Bill, and had complained of political motive being attributed to him by Mr. Wrightson. Speaking at Bradford, on February 2, 1895, the right hon. Baronet said that—He could not support Sir. Wrightson's Bill for enabling working men to acquire their houses, because the object of the promoters was to make England as socially Conservative as rural France.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
said, that surely that quotation justified Mr. Wrightson in supposing that the right hon. Baronet's opposition was based on political grounds. It was his own belief that the Measure before the House would very largely prevent that migration of the working class population from the rural districts which was urged as an objection to the Measure. The right hon. Baronet had admitted that most of his objections could be met in the Committee Stage, and he hoped, therefore, that the Amendment would not be pressed to a division, but that the Bill would be allowed to go to a Select or to a Grand Committee. The hon. Member for Monmouthshire seemed to think the Bill would in its operation involve great loss to the local authorities in having to enforce the Act. 145 But the Bill was quite permissive, and it was quite optional whether the local authorities adopted it or not. The local authorities would be one of the best judges as to whether the Bill was likely to be successful or not. The hon. Member also urged that if a local industry became a failure the loss would fall largely on the local authority. He was bound to admit that there was a great deal of force in that. But if the Bill went to a Committee that might be guarded against, in some way or other. He himself believed a Bill of this kind would be a great advantage to the community at large and do much for the cause of Temperance, as had been said by the hon. Mover of the Bill. If there were not quite analogous cases, there were cases in which the House had passed legislation such as the Small Holdings Bill and the Labourers (Ireland) Bill to help occupants to become the owners of land they occupied, and they were not asking too much that the artisan classes of this country should have the same advantages that the House had generously conferred upon other classes of the community. The amount of money allowed, to be advanced was only one-eighth of the rateable value. That provision, he believed, was incorporated in the Bill at the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton. In a locality where there were large works and other rateable property the objection would not hold good, as in a locality densely populated. But, in a largely populated locality, if you allowed the local authority to advance an eighth of the value, the local authority would have to draw a distinction as to who was to be served first. This objection was capable of being met. He agreed with the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean that the great objection to the Bill was that without proper safeguards it would tend to make a man remain in a particular town when it might be desirable for him to migrate to improve his condition. In the Small Holdings Bill of 1892, at the suggestion of Mr. Cust, then Member for Stamford, the Government introduced into the Bill a clause which provided that the transfer and title should be registered, and that in the case of property changing hands there should be nothing for the local authority to do but to register that 146 change. He thought the promoters of this Bill had a similar intention, but it was not quite clear in Section 3, and he hoped that when the Bill came to be considered in Committee this objection would be met. There was another point worthy of consideration. Under the Act the money was to be borrowed from the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and only from them. He suggested that the House might easily be able to confer a boon not only on the artisan class directly, but indirectly through the friendly societies. It would be within the recollection of the House that one of the Bills passed by the late Government enabled friendly societies to invest money with the National Debt Commissioners. That money had to be invested before 1st January, 1896, and whereas the National Debt Commissioners expected a small sum to be applied for, the actual sum was about £3,000,000. Friendly societies would be only too glad to invest money through the National Debt Commissioners. The interest paid by the friendly societies was £3 0s. 10d. per cent. Under this Bill the Public Works Loan Commissioners were entitled to charge £3 2s. 6d. per cent. for the money, and he submitted that the difference between £3 2s. 6d. and £3 0s. l0d. would be quite sufficient to meet any charges which would arise through the brokerage or establishment charges of the National Debt Commissioners. Thanking the House respectfully for its kind indulgence in listening to him in the few remarks he had offered, he should heartily support the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddingtonshire)
said, the discussion on the Bill had been conducted with singular moderation of tone. One was glad of that. But he should be sorry if it went forth to the public that this Bill did not involve any question of principle. To him it involved a grave question of principle. It had been spoken of as though it was a Bill to improve the condition of housing of the working classes at large. If such a Bill were well conceived there would be no difference of opinion about it. But he hoped in a few sentences to be able to show that it was a Bill for the purpose of assisting the housing, not of the artisan 147 class generally, but a small and limited section of that class, and a class better able to assist itself than probably any other that came under the description of artisan. If that objection were true, it was a grave one. They all wished to help the working classes. He for one would be glad if public money were available to bring about a multitude of excellent objects. But, unfortunately, the revenue of the country was limited, the power of raising taxation was limited, and they had to be careful that they did not devote public funds to purposes not urgently called for. In the case of Irish labourers—a very different class from the class sought to be benefited by this Bill, and a class sought to be benefited by different means—there were urgent social necessities for doing something to better their lot. There were other instances in the case of small holdings, which was a distinct type of case from the case they were now considering, because in dealing with the kind of person whom this Bill sought to benefit they were dealing after all with the better-to-do artisans. When a proposal was brought forward to benefit a section of the working classes one would expect two conditions would be fulfilled—that those in charge of the Bill would bring forward figures to show what was the extent and magnitude of the class of persons who were likely to take advantage of the provisions of such a Measure; and, in the second place, they would expect evidence to be brought forward that there were no means at present in existence by which they could better their own condition. The proposal to house the working classes was no new one. In all the Parliaments through which he had sat—and they were now three—the House had been discussing means of assisting the working classes to house themselves. What had been the propositions that had divided them. On the one side of the House there had been a tendency to advocate the creation of small freeholders. This might be good, but it could only be done to a limited extent. On the other hand, it had been sought to give local authorities—and this was a proposition with which the Liberal Party were identified—to give local authorities power to acquire land, to assist in building houses and providing occupation-places for those not in a 148 position to become freeholders who could not tie themselves, and who constituted a larger class than that to which the freeholder class was confined. There was a distinction between the two principles. In the one case they would enable the local authority to provide the house, and in the other case, a much smaller class, they would allow people to become the owners of property. He said that these propositions related to two entirely distinct classes of people, and he should be astonished if the Government gave their sanction to the principle of the Bill without giving to the House some statistics. These statistics were not to be found in the Report of the Labour Commission, in the various reports on the condition, of the working classes of the country, showing the extent to which there was a class of workmen who would be likely to take advantage of the provisions of this Bill. The only source whence he could get any light was the well-known book on London of Mr. Charles Booth. From materials he had found there he calculated that, distributed over a large area, 13½ per cent. might be able, roughly speaking, to take advantage of this Bill. But then they would have to eliminate a considerable quantity. The Member for Sheffield spoke of the number of small shopkeepers who would take advantage of the Bill, but in looking at the definition clause he found that they were wholly excluded. [Laughter.] It was quite clear that the shopkeeper was not included. [VOICES: "Quote!"] Let them ask any lawyer and he would tell them that the clause did not include shopkeepers. Take this 13½ per cent. They must eliminate 5 per cent. for those who would be excluded. Taking the remaining 8½ per cent. they would find that it consisted largely of workmen who migrate from place to place. They would find men working at the docks one week when there was plenty to do, and the week following away in the north of London when there was a great demand for labour there. There was still another class—men who went out of London altogether and went about to find employment. They would thus reduce the proportion of persons within the area to whom the Bill would apply to probably 2 or 3 per cent. of the artisan class. He did not say that this would 149 be the case in every locality, for undoubtedly there were workmen who would benefit in many places; but the question was not many in the gross, but would there be many in proportion? This Bill was emphatically not a Bill to which the House should give support, if it involved the taking of money away from other purposes. He might refer to the large number of men engaged in shipbuilding, say on the banks of the Clyde. This class of men migrated from region to region where shipbuilding was carried on according as the work offered, and where there was a large demand for shipbuilding. Workmen went down from Glasgow and took lodgings, leaving when work fell off. What would be the position of workmen of that class under this Bill? He was speaking of workmen who earned considerable wages. Then as to the amount to be advanced by the local authority, it was stated at three-fourths, but practically, when the preliminary expenses were taken into account, it would be seven-eighths. Would any prudent investor advance seven-eighths of the purchase-money? On that ground alone he thought that the Bill was likely to be very disappointing. What was the next step? The workman who wished to take advantage of this Bill must become either a freeholder or a long leaseholder. This made it difficult for him to go away to other places where there was more work. In other words, they were making for him compulsory residence for the rest of his life. ["No!" and cheers.] Well, the Bill forbade selling or letting, and Clause 5 provided that the site of the dwelling must be the property of the workman. It was said that the Member for Birmingham, the First Lord of the Treasury, and Lord Salisbury had spoken in favour of this excellent idea as calculated to provide better dwellings for the population. He entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, who said this was not the way to do it. It was not the way in which it could be done. They were familiar with the working of such schemes as the Peabody Trust, the Artisan Dwellings Companies, and there were such bodies as the Corporation of Birmingham and the Corporation of Glasgow. What was the case in every 150 one of them? Did they sell the houses? These bodies knew that to create freeholders was not the way to solve the problem. They knew that the way was to build and own houses and let them out. The Corporation of Birmingham and others had been quoted, and if the hon. Member brought forward a proposal of that kind he should gladly support it; but what he did was to bring forward a Bill in the interest of a few places in the North of England which were already well served by building societies. It was said, however, that there the rate of interest was high. What was the rate of interest? They could borrow money upon first-rate freehold property at 2¾ per cent., which was a great deal less than they proposed in this Bill.
§ MR. HALDANE
I have been more fortunate. This morning I was engaged in a transaction. The sum was £11,000 on freehold security, and the figure was 2¾ per cent. In twelve months' time he believed that would be the common rate. The building societies in the North of England were getting their money at a low rate, and he was not surprised to hear of their borrowing largely at 3 per cent. He felt that this Bill was a proposal to take public money for purposes which were not warranted. The principle of the Bill was bad, and it was not brought forward in the interest of the enormous majority of the working classes. [''Hear, hear!"] The working classes were beginning to distinguish between means and ends. In his opinion the ownership of land ought to be placed under the control of the local authorities. Being convinced that the proposal in the Bill was a bad means to a good end, he felt himself constrained to support the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. J. FORTESCUE FLANNERY (Yorkshire, Shipley)
said, that among the traditions governing the conduct of Members in that House, none was so generous as the custom by which a Member who addressed the House for the first time received special indulgence and consideration. It was under the protection of that kindly custom that he ventured to make a few observations upon this 151 Bill and upon the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean. But, in the first place, he wished to refer to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Haddington. That hon. Member had adduced against the Bill and its principle the usual argument about the migratory habits of the working classes of this country, and illustrated his argument by the statement that in his constituency the workmen in the shipbuilding yards frequently migrated. He claimed to know more than the hon. Member did about the habits of the workmen in shipbuilding and other great industries, for he had had actual experience among the workmen, and he insisted that there was much less migration than the hon. Member supposed. The hon. Member asked the supporters of the Bill to produce statistics to show the measure and degree to which the Bill would benefit the working-class population, whilst the hon. Member himself had not thought right, or had been unable, to cite figures in support of his misleading views respecting migration.
§ MR. HALDANE
observed that he had referred to Mr. Charles Booth's work, of which the hon. Member did not seem to have heard. The author was the only authority on this question.
§ MR. FORTESCUE FLANNERY
said that, of course he had heard of and seen this book. His complaint was that the hon. Member thought fit to charge the working classes with having migratory habits, but did not attempt to support that charge by any figures. In the shipbuilding establishments on the Tyne, to which the hon. Member had referred, there were men who had worked at the machines for 20, 25, and even 30 years. That was true of many other large establishments like the Fairfield Engine Works, the works of Tangyes of Birmingham, and works in Dumbarton. In these establishments there were men who had worked for a quarter of a century, and who had never desired to migrate from the place of their occupation. He believed that the percentage of workers who were fixed in their habits, who remained in the same place, and who continued to work in the same occupation was very large, and that this Bill would benefit thousands and, in time, hundreds of thousands of meritorious 152 hard-working people. He could not refer to the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean without saying how much he valued the earnest and sympathetic efforts of the right hon. Baronet in the cause of labour. That the right hon. Baronet had made his name respected among the workers of the country by his attempts to improve their condition no one could deny. The right hon. Member had accused the supporters of the Bill of taking a step in the direction of Socialism. Yet, his own Amendment was infinitely more socialistic than any results that could possibly flow from this Measure. The right hon. Baronet proposed that the freehold of houses, which were purchased in the manner provided by the Bill, should in perpetuity remain the property of the community. Not one good reason, however, had been advanced in support of this proposal to vest the freehold in the public authority instead of in the person whose earnings had supplied the means for the ultimate purchase of his house. The suggestion that the freehold should be vested in perpetuity in the mortgagee was inconsistent with equity and the practice of the present day. It was one of the chief maxims of equity that a lender or mortgagee, who had received back the money lent and the interest thereon, must relax his hold and release the property. If that was a wise principle to apply to private loan transactions, why should it not be applied in the case of public loans? Possibly the right hon. Baronet would say that, because public money was used for the purpose of creating this ownership, a permanent claim was acquired by the local authority that lent the money. The reply to that argument was that there were cases already where public money was lent for the advantage of individuals, and yet no such claim to permanent ownership was set up. Take the case of the Post Office Savings Bank. Here there was a system of lending, and the whole system or organisation was worked by paid officials in the public service. Was the suggestion ever made that the working people who availed themselves of the advantages of the Post Office Savings Bank thereby put themselves under a permanent obligation to the State, and were bound to resign the ownership of the property 153 dealt with between them and the State? He had never known such a suggestion to be made, and he felt sure that it would not be received with approval by that House. In his opinion, there was a complete absence of reasonable arguments in support of the suggestion made in the Amendment. One objection raised against the proposal of the Bill was that it might be possible for local authorities to involve themselves in large losses by taking action under the Measure. Those who made that objection apparently overlooked the fact that the Bill provided for a cover, to use a financial expression, of 25 per cent. In some cases there might possibly be loss; but the danger was small, because the Bill was based upon the principle that no one could avail himself of its provisions unless, to start with, he possessed 25 per cent. of the money required. Surely, such an amount of cover, in view of the great usefulness of the Bill, ought to be accepted as sufficient to guard the local authorities against any undue risk. The hon. Member who had seconded the Amendment had alluded to the possibility of jobbery under the Measure, saying that a mine owner or mill owner might desire that accommodation should be found for the men in his employment at the expense of the locality. The answer to that was, that if a mine-owner or a millowner desired to resort to jobbery, he would have to deal, not only with the local authority, but also with the Local Government Board. If he understood the Bill, the intention of it was that no loan should be made by any local authority unless, as at present, it was sanctioned by the Local Government Board. ["No, no!"] If such a provision was not in the Bill, he presumed the promoters would have no objection to insert it, for the public safety; for no local authority could now raise a loan without the sanction of the Local Government Board. The temporary use of a public fund for the purpose of assisting private enterprise would, in this case, be a special means of encouraging self-respect among the working classes of this country; and, even if losses were incurred in some cases, the broad general benefit to the working classes would be large enough to compensate for such losses. This was more than the Bill of private Members, 154 because it was almost identical in language with a Bill introduced years ago, which had since been accepted and approved of by the Leaders of the Unionist Party. ["Hear, hear!"] From that point of view, this discussion was of far more importance than would be one on the ordinary Bill of a private Member. The general provisions of this Bill were made clear to the country at the time of and before the late General Election; and the verdict of the country generally, notwithstanding the instance of Stockton-on-Tees, was in favour of this, among other Measures of social amelioration which the country expected to be passed by the majority it had elected. ["Hear, hear!"] He appealed to the House to pass the Bill, not as it stood, but with such alterations as would meet the objections urged, and so secure for the better disposed amongst the toilers of the country the best guarantee of stability—a well-secured if humble home, thus giving effect to that magnificent saying of John Bright, "that the glory of England consists in the happiness of her cottage homes." [Cheers.]
§ MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton)
said, he was the successor of Mr. Wrightson, the original author of the Bill, which had therefore received special consideration in the constituency. From the first he had opposed the Bill as being wrong in principle. He did not wish to make this a Party question; he would rather discuss on its merits a Bill which would have far-reaching consequences; but if anyone was responsible for the Bill being regarded as a Party Measure it was Mr. Wrightson, who had stated in a speech in London that the subject had been taken up as one likely to attract the working classes. Until quite recently, as was well known, he was a working man, and it was only within the last few years that he had been able to earn his livelihood apart from physical labour. He therefore stood there to support any Measure, no matter which side it came from, in favour of the working classes. He did not think, however, that this Measure was of that kind. As one who had been a member of the Stockton Corporation for 13 years, he could say, speaking from experience, that there was a great possibility if that Measure was passed into law that jobbery would become a very dangerous feature in 155 municipalities. That Bill was not regarded favourably in his own constituency, and the reason was due to the fact that the Corporation of Stockton had entered into several schemes of trading during the past twenty years. On one of these they had lost £22,000, and upon another £6,000, making £28,000, and equal to a charge on the rateable value of 4s. in the pound. It was, he was convinced, a mistake for public bodies to enter into trading enterprises, because, if they found themselves losing money they were obliged to go on losing, whereas a trading company could go into liquidation or be reconstituted. He maintained, therefore, that it was a mistake for public bodies to enter into trading concerns. Advanced Radical though he was, he held that there was another side to the question, and a most serious one for the poorer classes of the community. In his own town, they had hundreds of working men summoned before the magistrate to make up losses incurred in these trading concerns. Therefore, it was not altogether an advantage to confer responsibilities upon municipalities in matters of this kind. How would the Bill apply? In his own borough, according to Clause 2, the borrowing powers were limited to one-eighth of the rateable value in urban districts or boroughs. Now, in Stockton-on-Tees, the population was 54,000, and the rateable value £177,000. One-eighth of this sum would be £22,000, and if out of it they lent to persons who were anxious to become owners the sum of £150, which was the maximum, they would only benefit for the first year 147 persons. That was a very small number to benefit out of the large population of Stockton-on-Tees. In that town he knew of large numbers of working men who year by year bought their own houses. They could, by depositing even so small a sum as £20, buy houses of from £200 to £240 value, and that without any vexatious restrictions, the balance remaining on mortgage at 4½ per cent. [Ironical cheers.] But this Bill did not state what interest the Corporation should charge, and they might, to cover their expenses, charge 4 per cent. Take the provision which prevents the sub-letting or re-letting of houses. He did not deny that there were working men who had been 20 and 156 25 years employed in the same works, but the fact remained that all working men were subject to a week or a fortnight's notice, and what might be the result under this Bill? They might be thrown adrift with a house upon their hands, and not be able to sell or sub-let it. Why should such conditions be imposed on the working classes who undertook to purchase their houses under the Bill? Again, the local authority had power, after serving notice, to call upon the owner to put his house in proper sanitary condition to the satisfaction of such local authority, and if this was not done, the sanitary authority had power to sell the house. That was against the general law at the present time, because, under the general law, the owner had the right to take the Corporation or sanitary authority before the magistrate to decide whether the demand was a fair one or not. Under Clause 5, too, in the event of the death of the owner, the Corporation, within 12 months thereafter, would have the power of ordering a re-sale of the house. In the ordinary case of a house acquired through a building society, a man could devise his house to his family, but under this Measure he would be prevented from doing so.
§ SIR ALFRED HICKMAN
The hon. Member is under a mistake. There is a provision in the Bill that all sales shall be subject to rules to be framed by the Local Government Board.
§ MR. SAMUEL
, continuing, was afraid the hon. Member had not read the clause to which he was referring. It was clear, according to Clause 4, Subsection 5, that there was a power of transferring the house, not to a workman, but to a business man or any person who might think fit to come forward and purchase the property. The Bill did not prevent anyone from purchasing the property on the death of a borrower, and there would be cases in which property would have to be sold at serious loss to the family. Why should there be any limitation of the Bill to men earning £3 a week? A family earning more than that might be in a worse and more deserving position than another family earning less. In this respect the Bill was not devised in the interests of the community at large. Under this Bill favouritism would be 157 shown in the selection of borrowers, because the number would necessarily be limited by the restriction placed upon the lending power of the local authority. In Middlesbrough and Stockton companies were being formed with the object of buying land, erecting houses, and selling them to workmen under this Bill; and some of the promoters of these companies were members of the Corporations. The companies would hand houses over to working men, some of whom, in a short time, would be compelled to sell them. He should vote against the Bill because he believed that it would be fraught with great danger to the Municipalities of the country.
§ MR. WALTER MORRISON (Skipton)
said, he wished to state some reasons why he should vote against the Amendment. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean looked forward to the Municipalities and other local authorities becoming owners of land, and of workmen's houses upon it on a large scale; but on the other hand, he and others looked forward to workmen's houses being owned by the occupiers. Let it be assumed that a Corporation possessed a large number of houses occupied by the Corporation tenants; when the elections came round, there would be agitation for the reduction of rents; and, if these were below market value, there would be competition for houses when they were vacant, and the practical result would be agitation and corruption in connection with Municipal elections. The hon. Member for Stockton had told them of mistakes made by the Corporation of which he was a member.
§ MR. MORRISON
said, the hon. Member must admit that those mistakes were made in connection with very different matters from that of advancing money to working men to enable them to build their own dwellings. ["Hear, hear!"] Many hon. Members grumbled at the limit of £150, and he presumed that that sum had been put in the Bill because they who lived in the country knew that they could build a four-roomed cottage for £200. They could build them cheaper than that in the provinces by building in rows, and he had no doubt that under the provisions of the Bill, a number of 158 workmen would join together and build in rows. Even in London houses could be built in blocks at the rate of £60 a room, as he knew from experience gained in connection with a company which had expended a million sterling in building blocks of houses to accommodate working men. He did not agree with some speakers that when a Corporation bought land the price would be greater, as he thought local authorities were intelligent enough to buy land under as favourable conditions, and to make as good bargains as individual working men. Local authorities would also be able to look forward to the probable movements of trade for five or ten years, and supposing that some special trade came to an end, owing to some change in the manufacture or otherwise, they would, at the end of those periods he had mentioned, have received five or ten years' repayments of their loan, and would be in a good position to sell if necessary. However, he was not very much enamoured of that system of making advances for the benefit of private individuals; it was a tendency that ought to be watched with considerable apprehension; but at the same time, for the reasons he had given, it was his intention to vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said, he heartily approved of the principle of working men becoming owners of their own houses, and for that reason he dissented from the Amendment. What they were discussing now was, not the objections of the right hon. Gentleman as against this Bill generally, but his objection as placed on the Paper in the form of his Amendment. In that Amendment he expressed his disapproval of private property in land—it practically came to that—and he ventured to think the House ought not to accept an Amendment which advocated the municipalisation of land. That was only the thin end of the wedge for the nationalisation of land. For that reason he disapproved of the Amendment, and should have to vote against it. On the other hand, he could not say that he entirely approved of the Bill, for the reasons he had stated in the Amendment he had placed on the Paper, but, which, owing to the forms of the House, he would not be able to move. That Amendment was: ''That no Bill to enable persons to 159 buy or build their houses on the guarantee of and partly at the cost of the local rates, can be satisfactory if it involves an increase of local taxation for private advantage." While he welcomed any proposal which would enable working men to own their houses, he disapproved of a proposal such as that contained in this Bill, which would increase local taxation. He took exception to this Bill on that ground, and on that ground chiefly. He agreed with the Member for Sheffield, that local authorities did run some risk of increasing their rates when they embarked on the construction of waterworks and gasworks and other great municipal undertakings, but he ventured to think that was rather an argument why, in these days of agricultural depression, they should abstain from increasing those risks in other directions. He ventured to think that hon. Members who represented agricultural constituencies, on whichever side of the House they sat, would not at all agree with any proposal which had a tendency to increase the burdens on the ratepayers, which were, even now, too heavy to be borne. He gathered that his hon. Friend the Member for North Monmouth seemed to object to any application of the Ashbourne Act to this country, because, as he understood him, the two cases of England and Ireland were totally dissimilar. He spoke under correction, but he thought there were many cases in Ireland in which a working man could borrow money under the Ashbourne Act, and buy a house and small piece of land. If that were so, he did not see why they should not have the same system in England. If it was good enough for Ireland it ought to be good enough for this country. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire entirely accepted the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean. He imagined, from what he said, that he entirely sympathised with State socialism, or municipalised socialism. He ventured to think that it was unfortunate that there should be a gentleman of his importance, and who spoke with authority on that side of the House, who should identify himself with State or municipalised socialism, because he could not help thinking that that was most 160 unpopular in the country generally. In the part of the country he represented, he knew very well that that kind of sentiment would be repudiated generally. On the other hand, there was a very strong feeling in favour of increasing the number of freeholders, and of not throwing any obstacle in the way of creating small freehold properties, and enabling men to own their houses. The reason why he thought this Bill would increase the burden, of the rates was, that not only were the local rates mortgaged under various clauses of the Bill, but a very heavy expenditure must also be incurred every year in carrying out the provisions of the Bill, and in seeing that they were properly looked after. It might be argued that this would be a very small matter indeed, and no doubt the framers of the Bill had not in their minds the difficulties of working it in agricultural and rural constituencies as a whole. If they examined the Bill they would see that the framers had had no practical experience of the working of local bodies in agricultural constituencies. If they had known anything of Rural District Councils they would not have proposed to give them power to put this Bill into force. If a Rural District Council chose to adopt the Bill and to lend money, it would not have the responsibility of feeling that the rates of the whole district would be liable for any default of expenditure under the Act. For under the Bill it was specially provided that in the case of rural districts the expenses should be special expenses under the Public Health Act of 1875. That meant that the Council could charge the whole expense to the particular parish that made the application. If the representative of a particular parish applied for something to be done in his parish under the Public Health Act, the general feeling of the Council or Rural Sanitary Authority always had been to agree at once, because they had felt it was no concern of theirs, for the whole expense would not fall upon the district generally but simply upon the particular parish. The consequence would be that, if the representative of a parish wished to put the provisions of this Bill into force, the Council would agree to it, and the parish would be saddled with a large extra and special expense without there being practically any safeguard in the 161 matter. To his mind that was a very dangerous provision indeed, and it only showed how the authors of the Bill had not fully considered the Bill as it applied to rural districts. He would remind the House that under certain clauses of the Bill a rural sanitary authority would have to undertake duties of such extent and character, in order to carry out the requirements of the Measure, that it would be necessary for them to appoint a special officer for the purpose possessing the qualifications of an architect, and to properly carry out the provisions of the Bill in small rural districts, local taxation would have to be increased. He could not vote for the Amendment, for the reasons he had already stated, on the ground that it increased local rates. He hoped he should have the support of hon. Members from both sides of the House. It had been truly said that at the present moment the rates upon land and houses in rural districts were already too heavy, and though desirable to legislate in the direction of the Bill, the House ought not in the existing state of agricultural depression, to sanction any Bill which would in the slightest degree tend to increase these local burdens.
§ MR. ALFRED HOPKINSON (Wilts, Cricklade)
said, he regarded the Measure as a desirable one from many points of view. That some such Measure was earnestly desired by the country there could be no possible doubt, and the best way of meeting that desire for the benefit of the working classes would be to apply the policy of the Ashbourne Acts to England. Under those Acts the Exchequer had lost little or nothing, and if he thought there was any probability that local authorities would sustain any substantial loss under this Bill, he should vote against, instead of for it. The Measure was not only desired by the country, but it was one which satisfied, in its main principles, every condition which ought to guide the House in passing legislation of this kind. The objects of the Bill were not so much to provide better habitations for working men as to enable them to become owners of their own holdings, and thus to strengthen their attachment to their homes. The Bill would also cultivate thrift among workmen, but what were workmen to do 162 now if they wanted to make an investment? It was difficult for them to do so with confidence and safety outside the Post Office Savings Bank. They all knew that Building Societies had not provided the working classes with adequate security for their savings, and it was, therefore, desirable to provide them with a form of investment which would secure them some return in a tangible form for the money they had saved. It had been said that the Bill was of a Socialist character, but he believed its effect would be in a contrary direction, and that one of the main reasons on which the objections to it were founded was that the Bill was really of an anti-Socialist character. He would admit at once that he did not think this was a Bill which would benefit the great majority of the working classes, because, in his opinion, it was a Bill of which advantage would be taken by that class of people who were able to do something to help themselves. At present there was no reasonable opportunity for a workman in either rural or urban districts to secure a house for himself. For many years past Parliament had endeavoured to encourage Building Societies, but from his experience of those societies five per cent. would be the usual rate charged for advances, in addition to which the members ran the risk of having a levy put on in addition to their monthly contributions. He did not wish to say anything against Building Societies, but were he a working man he would have nothing to do with them in the way of borrowing. The Bill might not be perfect in all its details, but looked at from a practical standpoint, he was bound to say that it was one of the most business-like Bills he had ever seen. It would not involve local authorities in any substantial risk, because the first condition of any advance was that the workman himself should find 25 per cent. of the purchase money. For those and other reasons, he hoped the Bill would pass into law after Amendment in Committee, because it would be the means of benefiting that section of the working classes which was the most thrifty, independent, and self-reliant, and would enable them to acquire what should be a reasonable object of any man's desire—namely, the ownership of the 163 house which formed his home. As he had already said, this could be done without risk either to the ratepayer or the taxpayer, and he cordially joined the mover of the Bill in expressing the hope that it would be speedily passed into law.
§ MR. H. E. KEARLEY (Devonport)
said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had admitted that this Bill could not benefit the large majority of the working classes, and yet, during the last election, the Bill was hawked about as being one that would benefit the whole of the working classes of the United Kingdom. He rose for the purpose of saying that, at all events so far as his constituents were concerned, not one single man would be benefited under the provisions of the Bill. In the first place the house that could be purchased for £200 for a working man was altogether non-existent in the borough he represented. The houses there, as in so many other places, were tenement houses, in which a large number of families lived. He wanted to say one word as to the power of purchasing the leasehold interest before he came to the freehold interest. In the West of England the system of land tenure largely prevailing was that of life leases, and he was confident that the large majority of these leases that were running would be estimated to be worth, from the purchasing point of view, much less than 70 years purchase, which was the minimum limit contained in the Bill. Further than that, these houses were so decayed and dilapidated, and in such an unsanitary condition, that, under Clause 1 of the Bill, no local authority, in districts such as he was speaking of, would be warranted in making an advance. It was expressly, and very wisely, provided that unless the house was in a sanitary condition, the local authority should not make an advance. Section 5 authorised local authorities to make an advance for the purpose of enabling a working man to build his house, always providing that he himself was the owner of the site. Again, as regarded his constituents, this would render the Act mere waste paper. The site was not available at all. They had in Devonport a manorial system of domination the worst in the Kingdom—so much so, that until two years ago, not one single acre of land had ever been granted by the manorial lord for the 164 purpose of working men's houses being erected. Two years ago, as the outcome of many years of agitation, two acres of land were conceded for the purpose, but what was the price that was demanded? £1,200 an acre, and that for the very worst land in the place. Since then another concession had been made. A further plot of land adjoining the particular plot to which he had alluded, had been granted, and when he said that the price for that second plot was no less than £2,400 per acre, hon. Members would, he thought, allow him to say that they had a system of manorial domination that could not be matched in any other part of the United Kingdom. When these two acres of land were granted, the buildings were carried on on a sort of co-operative principle. The working men themselves set to work, and they arranged that these houses should be built for £260. That was on land at the rate of £1,200 an acre, and when they came to balance the thing up they found the venture had not been a financial success. It followed naturally that, if a house could not be built and declared a financial success for £260 in Devonport, the Bill was worthless for that purpose. He might quote one other case, which occurred only a fortnight ago. The Corporation of Devonport desired to buy the only available quay which existed, from which they could cart the offal and refuse of the town. A Local Government Inquiry had just been held, and it was there stated on behalf of the manorial lord that his main objection to the sale of this land was the introduction of a foreign owner in the midst of his property. If the Corporation of the Borough had such a difficulty in getting land, how was it possible for working men, in such a place, to acquire land at a price which would enable them to erect residences in conformity with the conditions of this Bill? This Bill was intended to be the antidote to overcrowding and to insanitary dwellings. It had been proved conclusively that Devonport was one of the most overcrowded places in England, and yet this Bill would be, worthless to that place. He freely admitted that in certain districts no doubt the Bill would have a beneficial effect, but it would not benefit the majority of the working classes. In fact, the large majority of 165 the working classes would derive no benefit whatever under this Bill. Personally, he was in favour of something very much stronger as regarded urban districts at all events. Powers of compulsory purchase should be given to municipalities to acquire land at a fair price, and then they would have no repetition of what was going on in Devonport, of working men being compelled to buy land at £2,400 an acre on which to erect their residences. As far as this Bill was concerned, if it was to be operative at all in his constituency, the financial limitations must be considerably enlarged, and when it reached the Committee stage—for he had no doubt it would reach that stage and be passed—he should deem it his duty, in the interests of his constituency, to move Amendments to increase the financial limitations so that they might be able to get some benefit from it. He had no intention of opposing the Bill, but the sum might be increased by £60 or £70. Then his constituency might get some benefit; but, as at present framed, the Bill would be altogether inoperative so far as they were concerned.
§ SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Stafford, Handsworth)
said, that probably the most interesting speech they had had during the Debate was from the Member for Stockton, who was, as he informed them, well acquainted with the working of municipalities and with the wants and desires of the working man. He gave them some very interesting details of his own experience, and then he came to the question of the Bill, though he very carefully kept off the question of the Amendment, and never alluded to it at all. It seemed to him that nearly all the objections mentioned by the hon. Member could very easily be removed in Committee. They were objections to details, and really the sort of thing that ought to be done in Committee, and not on the Debate for the Second Reading. One thing had struck him very much. He supposed the hon. Member was very much in favour of the Local Government Bill passed by his own side. Before this Bill was passed, so much was said in praise of it that all sorts of extravagant expectations were aroused. We were told that it would lead to a sort of millenium, and that our local authorities would be the pride of the whole world, 166 but now we were told by the hon. Member that jobbery was prevalent in these assemblies.
§ MR. SAMUEL
denied that he said this. What he said was that if power was given to buy and sell houses there would be a tendency to jobbery.
§ SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON
said, he accepted the correction, but it did not affect his point. The hon. Member told them land was much too dear and the expense of transferring it too great. But the hon. Member found great fault with certain individuals who proposed in their private capacity to buy land and resell it to working men—a proceeding which would save much expense—because some of these individuals were members of the Corporation of the Borough, and he suggested that members of Corporations could not be trusted to buy land and sell it under the conditions of the Act. For one acquainted with the subject the hon. Member's arguments against the Bill had been weak. Some years ago he was well acquainted with a shrewd old gentleman in London, a dealer in old curiosities, and he asked him what he invested his money in. He replied, "In leasehold houses belonging to the working classes. That is the only way in which I can get a clear 7 per cent." At present he might not get quite so much, but no man in his senses would invest money in that property unless he could get a good return. The cost of collection was great, and there were bad debts and large expenses for repairs, etc. No doubt a workman who owned his own house could keep it more cheaply in repair than anyone else, and if there was a return of 7 per cent. he wanted the man who lived in the house to have it himself. The hon. Member for Haddingtonshire asked who would buy these houses. In his own constituency—particularly in one district—a large number of working men, without the assistance of a Bill like this, had acquired their own houses, and a great many, if they had the facilities proposed in the Bill, would soon be owners of them. He was glad the Bill was intended to better the well-to-do artisan. In his own constituency, where there were 18,000 or 19,000 voters, there was a large number of well-to-do artisans. With regard to risking capital, surely the risk of buying land and building houses on it was enormously 167 greater than the risk of lending money with a margin of 25 per cent. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean urged that the freehold of land ought to be vested in the local authorities who lent the money, for the reason that, if the land increased in value, the benefit of the increase ought to go to those authorities. He himself differed entirely, for this reason, the person who made the gain ought to be the person who ran the risk. Who ran the risk? Before the local authority ran any risk at all the 25 per cent. of money advanced by the working man was entirely gone, and, not only this, but whatever had been paid in the way of annual instalments. It was said that an eighth part of the rateable value of the district was not enough. This Bill must be considered, to a certain extent, in the light of an experiment, and as soon as the eighth had been exhausted, he was quite sure that that House—which did not, like the Medes and Persians, make any law which "altereth not"—would, on the representation of the local authority, extend the amount to be lent. He heartily supported the Bill. He believed it was ardently desired, and was an honest attempt to solve a great subject, and he should vote for it with a clear conscience.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said, he noticed by the tone of the Debate that the House of Commons on both bides was practically agreed as to the necessity for improving the housing accommodation of the skilled and unskilled among the working classes. The difference between them all was as to the means and methods by which that desirable object could be brought about, and the Gentlemen who had spoken in favour of the Bill had, in his opinion, attached too much importance to the residential condition of the particular constituencies that they happened to or not represent, and, unfortunately for the largest residential part of this country, namely, London, he had not seen a London Member's name on the back of the Bill, nor the name of an hon. Member representing districts of Edinburgh, Glasgow, or Belfast, where the conditions were similar to those in London.
§ MR. J. BURNS
, continuing, said, that may be, he had not yet heard any such Member tell the House what would happen under this Bill in regard to the large block tenement dwellings which were to be found in the East-end of London as well as in Glasgow and Edinburgh. If that class of house accommodation could not be brought within the scope of the Bill—and he did not believe it could be—it seemed to him that the authors of the Measure had neglected to apply it to the very persons who ought to be the first to receive the assistance of the State through the medium of the local authority. He opposed the Bill lock, stock, and barrel, because it would do no good. It helped the wrong people in the wrong way, and if he wanted any proof of that statement he had only to refer to the remark of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hopkinson), who said that the Bill would help those who were able to help themselves. That was just the reason why he should vote against the Bill. If State asistance was to be granted, it ought to be given to the very poorest first, and they would not come within the province of this Bill. He objected to a local authority under bad financial conditions advancing money on the terms laid down in the Bill, and he believed the House of Commons would do more good if they were to strike the shackles off the building and housing conditions under which local authorities and large private companies had to bring themselves. He would, as a last resource, support the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Dilke), because he believed that in any transaction of the kind, under no circumstances should the community which advanced the money allow the freehold to pass out of its hands. He objected to the Bill also because it was inquisitorial. But the chief objection he had to the Bill was, that it asked from the average working man a deposit of £40 or £50. How many artisans or unskilled labourers could deposit such a sum as that required? In a large assemblage of these workers they would not find more than five per cent. who would be able to comply with the conditions required—["Hear, hear!"—and those that could would be put to great; sacrifices, and those who would be able 169 to invest such a sum had already good investments in friendly societies, building societies, and trade unions. The inquisitorial conditions laid down as to sub-letting, etc., would make it absolutely impossible for the men to make the necessary regular payments, and they would have to choose between sacrificing the friendly societies, or trade unions, or abandoning their payments. Another strong reason why he was opposed to the Bill was that it would interfere with municipal agencies for housing the poor, which were doing more good in that direction than the Bill could ever hope to achieve. Then the Bill limited the advance to be made for the purchase of a house to £200. He asked any London Member, representing an industrial constituency, such as Camberwell, Walworth, and Bermondsey, whether he knew of any house that could be had for £200 or less, except the sort of house that ought to be pulled down? The Bill would apply to such towns as Oldham, and Bolton, where he was glad to say 25 per cent. of the workers had through co-operative agencies purchased their own houses. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but they had done that in a far better way than the way proposed in the Bill. [Opposition cheers.] They had done it, not by breaking down the incorruptibility of our Municipal life, but by their own subscriptions. Workers in large cities where employment fluctuated so much, could not pay down a deposit of £50, and could never hope to pay off £200, however long the period for paying the instalments might be extended. But the chief defect of the Bill was that it was based on permanency of employment. No such permanency existed. It made a man's house his determining factor in seeking employment, and that was a great mistake. Of course, they would all like to have their own houses, and to live under their own fig trees; but what they had got to do in forming schemes for the rehousing of the poor was to encourage within reasonable limits the mobility of labour, and not to put any obstacle in the way of a man securing employment 10 or 15 miles away from his present residence. One hon. Member on the Government Benches had said that in Glasgow permanency of 170 employment was more general than was assumed by Members opposed to the Bill. He knew the conditions of engineering employment; and he ventured to say that it was only 10 or 12 per cent. of the skilled artisans employed in the shipbuilding yards on the Clyde that had that continuity of employment which the hon. Member claimed for everybody. Take his own particular district, Battersea, in which workers had as much permanency of employment as was possible in London. He had seen the overseer of the Parish of Battersea that morning and had learned that in that constituency of 13,000 voters 3,000 voters and 1,000 non-voters moved every year. Take the case also of the Shaftesbury estate in his constituency, where a sturdy, sober, educated community occupied 1,200 houses. Of that number only 230 had bought their houses and even that number had diminished to 80 and would still further diminish. The fact was that when a man had work in Chelsea he liked to live in Chelsea; and when he had work in Battersea he liked to live in Battersea; and he will not buy a house in any district when, perhaps, next month, owing to the fluctuation of employment, he would have, to break up his home, sell his house at a loss and transfer his goods and chattels elsewhere. The fact was Capitalism had made the labourer a nomad. The Municipality must provide him a home. The case of Nottingham furnished a striking argument against the Bill. When the lace trade declined at Nottingham, 1,000 workers removed down to Woolwich, where a new Nottingham had grown up. If these men had owned their houses at Nottingham they would have to part with them at a considerable loss. Some Members might say that they could take up houses at Woolwich, but they might be compelled to leave Woolwich as they had been compelled to leave Nottingham and go to some other part of the country. What the House had got to do was to throw on the local authorities the work of seeing that well-built and sanitary houses were erected by private builders, and where this could not be done they must build themselves. At any rate he as a working man, as one who lived himself in a 171 tenement house which he shared with two other families, as the representative of the Shaftesbury estate, where the object of the Bill had been tried and failed; because the Bill established Socialism without security to the municipality, and Communism in liability and not in ownership, and because it was a vote-catching dodge from beginning to end, he would do his best to defeat the Bill.
MR. W. L. SHADWELL (Hastings)
supported the Bill in a maiden speech. The Bill advanced a scheme in which his constituents took a great interest. He believed it would greatly benefit the working classes by facilitating their acquisition of the houses in which they dwelt—an object he had supported for many years and had advocated on public platforms. The right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean had twitted Conservative Members on advocating Socialistic legislation. He was not one of those who was frightened at the name of Socialism. There was much Socialism in the system of Government under which we lived. Our Poor Law system was a species of Socialism. The Bill proposed to help those who helped themselves, and was not in any way opposed to that spirit of individualistic effort which had brought this country to the great position she occupied. Such a scheme as this had been advocated by prominent Members of the Government; and there was nothing surprising in the fact that it was supported by Conservative Members, for they had always given their assistance to any Measure which tended to benefit the working classes. But he confessed he was surprised that hon. Members opposite should offer such uncompromising opposition to the Bill, as they had constituted themselves the special champions of the working classes. He believed that by increasing the number of workers who lived in their own houses they would do much to induce the working classes to realise their responsibility as citizens; they would do a good deal towards preserving those Conservative instincts which as the recent General Election proved, existed among the working classes; and would destroy the pernicious influence of the unscrupulous agitator and demagogue.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
said, they had had an interesting and he hoped what would prove to be a very useful Debate upon a very important subject. The Government approached the consideration of the Bill in cordial sympathy with the object of the hon. Member by whom it was introduced—namely, to assist the working man to become the possessor of the house in which he dwelt. He was glad to say that there were many happy homes amongst the working classes of this country, but there were also thousands of homes which, in spite of our boasted civilisation, were miserable and wretched in the extreme. If they desired to see the homes of the people comfortable, the greatest guarantee they could have of the existence of such a state of things was that the people should possess the houses in which they lived. The main object of the Bill was to secure that end; and therefore he believed that Members on both sides would, with few exceptions, unite in promoting it. But they must not allow themselves in this matter to be guided or run away with by sentiment alone. ["Hear, hear!"] They must remember that what was proposed in the Bill was an entirely new experiment in legislation, and, that being so, they must proceed in the matter with becoming caution. One of the difficulties in the way of a solution of this question was that, to a man who lived by the wages he earned, a house of which he was the owner might possibly become an encumbrance instead of a boon unless it were within reach of the place of his employment. [''Hear, hear!"] He might point, in illustration, to large districts in the county of Essex where land had become derelict, and he asked the House to realise the position that would exist in that county if the labourers had, under such a Bill as this, become the owners of the hundreds, indeed he might say the thousands, of cottages which were now abandoned. Another objection to be considered was—as had been pointed out—that it was quite possible under the Bill for local taxation to be increased for the advantage of private individuals. ["Hear, hear!"] He 173 would, however, point out, as to the danger of increasing the rates, that they had the guarantee that the purchaser would in all cases have to pay down a quarter of the amount; and they had the example of Ireland, which was certainly very encouraging, for under the Acts for advancing money in somewhat similar circumstances in that country there were no serious arrears outstanding. He was inclined to think that the rate of interest on advances ought to be fixed, or at all events the conditions on which advances were to be made should be laid down in the Bill so as to insure that the local authorities who made the advances should be secured against loss. It should also be a condition that the local authorities should not make those advances except in circumstances which afforded reasonable ground for belief that there would be no loss. If these Amendments were made in the Bill the objection that local taxation would be increased for the benefit of individuals would be greatly reduced. Another matter worthy of great consideration was that the Bill proposed to assist the purchaser, not only to a house, but to land for a house. It seemed to him there were objections to such a course. One of two things would happen. Either the erection of the houses would be left in the hands of individuals, when the buildings would probably be inefficient in character; or else there would have to be constant supervision of the erection by the local authorities, with the result that the expenses would be enormous. He agreed that when any legislation was finally passed it would be desirable that the title of the houses should be registered in such a manner that the transfer of them could be readily made. Dealing with the Amendment of the right hon. Member for the Forest of Dean he said that the main object of the Bill was to enable working men to become the owners of their homes. The reasons in support of this proposal were obvious to every hon. Member; but the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment would be entirely to defeat the main object of the Measure. On these grounds he would oppose the Amendment on behalf of the Government. The Government cordially supported the Second Reading of the Bill. [Cheers.] Many difficulties of a more or less serious 174 character had been pointed out in its provisions calling for careful consideration. Though Bills dealing with the same question had often been laid on the Table the principle of them had never been Debated at any length before, and the recommendation he had to make was, believing that it would hasten the passage of a really workable and practical Measure, to read the Bill a second time and refer it to a Select Committee.
§ MR. WALTER HAZELL (Leicester)
supported the Second Reading, although he admitted that the Bill bristled with defects. Some might say that this was the embodiment of Socialism, and others might allege that it was anti-Socialism. He did not care whether it was the one or the other if the Measure effected something to make the homes of our working classes happier and better. He was of opinion that the vast majority of working men would prefer that the freehold of their homes should be vested in themselves rather than in the local authorities. There were two safeguards against loss to the local authority making the advance. First, there was the thrift, care and forethought of the working man who had saved £50. Workmen knew their needs and what their prospects in a locality were, and they could judge whether there was a likelihood of their remaining in a locality or of soon leaving it. The lending authority could also form an idea as to whether or not a local industry was likely to be transitory or permanent. He could not see why the benefits of the Bill should not be extended to persons of either sex with less than £150 a year. The Bill spoke of a prescribed scale of costs, but he could not find it. Unless the costs were a great deal less than the ordinary costs between solicitor and client, the Bill he thought would be almost inoperative. He hoped, therefore, that a moderate scale of costs would be provided both for surveying and legal expenses. He calculated that the possible loss in interest which a locality might sustain, supposing every loan permitted under the Bill was made and none were repaid, would amount to a penny in the pound upon the annual rateable value of the district.
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
thought that there was a general consensus of opinion in the House in favour of the objects of this Bill. When he was at the Local Government Board this Measure in a different shape was brought before Parliament, and he then stated his own opinion that it was desirable the House should give the Bill a Second Reading, approving its principle, and reserving for the Government and the House the fullest freedom as to the details. There were many questions which must be raised and settled before the Bill could be cast into a form which they might accurately describe as workable. It was not a large Bill; indeed it was to be an optional experiment; and therefore he thought it was worth while that the House should see whether it could be made a safe Bill, so far as municipalities and the convenience of working men were concerned, in attaining the objects at which it aimed. He thought that the course which the Government had indicated was the wisest and best in the circumstances. He sympathised with the object of the Bill, and he was not prepared to vote against the Second Reading. He should like to see a Select Committee take the Measure in hand.
§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
, remarked, that building societies in the past had accomplished the purchase of a large number of workmen's houses. Probably a sum of £50,000,000 had been invested in this kind of property, and some of those societies had failed, not because there was anything wrong with the principles of the societies, but because they had gone beyond the legitimate scope of their business, engaged in land speculations or had dishonest officials. The Bill provided an admirable means of allowing working men to obtain money at a cheaper rate of interest. A large amount of money was waiting for investment at a cheap rate, and it could be used for the objects sketched in the Bill, which was worthy of all support. It would be necessary to lend more than £150 for houses in London. He hoped the houses would be built on freehold land, and he would like to see the reference to leasehold struck out of the Clauses. The leasehold system discouraged thrift, 176 because the property built upon leasehold land was forfeited at the end of a certain period.
§ MR. J. KENYON (Lancashire, Bury)
said, that the Lancashire Co-operative Stores, in similar districts to those referred to in the Bill, had built a number of houses for working men which had proved most successful. The houses had been well superintended during their building, and had been built of the best materials, and were fitted with every modern convenience, and he was sure that such buildings would be of great benefit to the working classes in manufacturing districts. The Bill would, in his opinion, do much to secure the independence of working men. He was sure that he was only expressing the opinion of working men when he hailed with satisfaction the introduction of this Measure. In these circumstances, he should be glad to support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)
said, that he did not object to the principle of the Bill, but, having had a large experience in building, he should like to say a few words with reference to the conditions which it was proposed to embody in this Measure. In all large towns it had been found that it was most economical to put one house on the top of another—that was to say, to build them in the form of flats. It would be far better that our artisans should live in flats, where they could be better accommodated, than if they lived in separate houses. He was afraid that the sum of £150, which the local authorities were to be empowered to advance towards the building of a cottage, would be found to be insufficient, because there were but few districts in which a cottage could be built for less than £220, including the site, with a garden attached. If the former sum only were to be advanced the local authorities might find themselves landed in the position of having a number of unfinished houses upon their hands. In many cases where landlords advanced money to builders, the former had to take over the partly-built houses, and had to finish them themselves. If the local authorities chose to guarantee the cost of building these houses under the 177 Labourers' Dwellings Act, they might borrow the money at 2½ instead of 3½ per cent. The cost of building these houses ought not to be thrown upon the local rates if it could be avoided. He had heard it whispered that Her Majesty's Government were considering how they could best relieve local rates, and in that case they ought to avoid placing an extra burden upon them. Although the Bill was advocated and supported by the principal Members of Her Majesty's Government, it had really been brought forward by a few private Members on the Unionist side of the House. He did not think that the Measure was going to do a very large amount of good. He should like to know why Her Majesty's Government could not find time to bring in a Bill of this kind for themselves, which they might make a really good one. He was afraid that the present Measure was an unworkable one. In the first place the vast majority of the working men in this country had not £50 or £60 to put down towards building their houses; and even if some of them were able to provide the money, how were they to ensure themselves against the necessity of their having to remove in consequence of their work coming to an end in a particular locality?
§ The House divided:—Ayes, Noes, 91.—(Division List, No. 27.)
§ Main Question proposed:—
§ And, it being after half-past Five of the clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding:—
§ *SIR ALFRED HICKMAN rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
asked, on a point of order, whether it was possible for a Private Member to move the Closure after half-past five.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Certainly it is. A Division having commenced before half-past five, the next question in order may be put after that hour, and the Member in charge of the Bill may move that the question be now put, just as if he had done so a moment before half-past five. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. DALZIEL
On a point of order, Sir, may I ask whether it is competent 178 for an hon. Member to move the Closure of the question of reference to a Select Committee?
§ MR. SPEAKER
That is not the question. The question on which the Motion was made is that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Main question put accordingly, and agreed to:—Bill read 2a.
§ Motion made, and question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee" (Sir Alfred Hickman); Debate arising;
§ And, objection being taken to further proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.