§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [10th May], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was—
To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'no Bill dealing with the Housing of the Working Classes can be regarded as adequate which provides for the amendment of one part only of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890; which omits to amend the law relating to the assessment of compensation for unhealthy dwelling houses; and which makes no provision whereby the councils establishing dwelling houses outside their districts may, where necessary, be enabled to obtain adequate railway or other communication between their districts and such dwelling houses,' instead thereof."—(Mr. Robson.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ * MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)
When the debate was adjourned on Thursday last I was questioning the tact of the London County Council owing to an interruption by the hon. Member for Stepney. Whilst I in no way withdraw what I then stated as to the want of business tact on the part of that body, I am prepared to give it credit for honestly endeavouring to carry out the wishes of the Legislature. Now, I want to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to incorporate in this measure a proviso that, in future, before there is any destruction of property, either by the London County Council or by any of the new municipal authorities for any public purpose, temporary accommodation should at least be provided for those about to be displaced. Since Thursday last I have received a large amount of correspondence from different parts of the metropolis and from 428 bodies representing working men, in which, while some objection is taken to the position I hold, there is a general agreement that in the interests of all classes, some proviso of the kind should be inserted so as to secure, when an insanitary area is being got rid of, that either temporary or permanent accommodation shall be ready for those who are unhoused. I urge this with some amount of vehemency, if I may use the expression, because within the last few months I have witnessed the sufferings of those who, in a contiguous district of the City of London, have been turned out of their homes in order that these public improvements may be effected. Their houses have been taken in considerable numbers, for the purpose of building factories and other large establishments. The hon. Member for Hoxton has complained of the cost to which the County Council are-put in clearing insanitary areas, and I think there is some basis for his complaint. The County Council have undoubtedly been hardly hit by the verdicts; of juries. To a great extent that is their own fault, for they have not acted as businesslike men in dealing with these matters. Take, for instance, the Boundary Street scheme. We have been told that there has been a loss of £200,000 upon this clearing. I say that a large portion of that loss is due to the lack of businesslike treatment which ordinary men dealing with their own property would have applied to it. The hon. Member for Hoxton said it was impossible for the County Council to provide three rooms at less than 9s. per week. I only know that by the Guinness Trust a single room is provided for 2s. 9d., double rooms for 5s. 6d., and three or four rooms for 7s. 6d. per week. Why is it that Lord Iveagh and those who administer his beneficent trust can do so much better than the London-County Council? It is simply because they deal with the matter as businesslike men. Look at the Boundary Street site. I would like hon. Members to go down and see the place for themselves. I venture to suggest that the County Council ought to have utilised the ground floor for shops. Here you have a large population being brought together in the upper portion of these buildings, and surely if the ground floor were reserved for shops it would fetch very high prices, and the London County Council would thus be enabled to recoup itself some 429 portion of the money which it has expended and which otherwise will be thrown away. I think we are justified in attacking the method in which these things are carried out by the London County Council, and as another instance of their lack of business qualification I would point to their recent action in connection with the tramcars which they have acquired— their action, I mean, in throwing away, at the expense of the rate-payers the large income to be derived from advertisements. I appeal to any hon. Member who does not think it beneath his dignity to travel by a tramway car, and has seen these advertisements to say whether there was any reason why the London County Council should have sacrificed some thousands of pounds a year simply by clearing out these advertisements. The London and General Omnibus Company secures £7,000 or £8,000—I am not sure whether it is not £9,000 a year—for the advertisements in their omnibuses. That shows at once how foolish the London County Council are in giving up, for no other reason than that of a fad, this way of meeting some of their expenditure. It is said that they have done so from æsthetic considerations, but why should aesthetic considerations prevail as against the benefit of the ratepayers? There is one portion of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which I hope we shall not lose sight of. The President of the Local Government Board gave to the House a list of a large number of statutes which confer powers on the local and municipal authorities to deal with this question of overcrowding. I am very sorry to say that they do not act up to these powers. I am most anxious that the London County Council, who certainly are not afraid of public opinion, should have the power of looking after this question for themselves where the local authorities fail. I am most anxious that they should come on the scene and see that these Acts are carried out. If that were done, although cases of individual hardship might arise, yet the gradual accumulation of persons on an insanitary area would be prevented. I am sure we all miss from this debate one who from personal observation and devotion to the interests of the working classes could have given us great assistance in these discussions. I mean my hon. and gallant friend, now serving in South Africa, the Member for the Chippenham Division of Wilts, and who 430 was chairman of the Committee of the London County Council on the housing of the working classes. My hon. and gallant friend gave me a great deal of his experience in regard to four areas which the London County Council proposed to deal with. It was only an illustration of how, little by little, and step by step, this overcrowding had taken place, really behind the knowledge of the local authorities, and it justifies some departmental or other review of these local authorities. I should like to allude to a statement made by a Metropolitan Member, who is not here to-day, in regard to the different procedure under the Smoke Nuisances Act since the administration of the Act came into the hands of the local authorities. It used to be in the hands of the Home Office, and then the vigilance was much more steady and regular; but a metropolitan magistrate told me that under the local authorities from one year to another there was not a single summons taken out. I am confident that we ought to have somebody behind the local authority, such as the Local Government Board or the London County Council, with separate inspectors, to prevent what is going on all round the metropolis. When last discussing this question, an hon. Member alluded to the over-crowding that was going on in the West End of London. And I think the hon. Member for Stepney said that Whitechapel was the very centre of this evil, and that the rents of small houses there had gone up to 13s. and 14s. a week. That is absolutely true; and the cause of it is the influx of the foreign immigrant. Now, when we attempt to deal with foreign immigration we are laughed at on the other side of the House, but I hope when they hear from an hon. Member on their own side of the House that this evil is growing in the East End, instead of talking of rent courts they will deal with the real root of the matter. I am not dependent on the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes for my facts, nor do I rely on sensational statements or pleas for funds, in the religious newspapers. I have gone into these houses in my own constituency and other parts of the East End and made investigation for myself. It is absolutely true that in Whitechapel and Spitalfields when a house is coming into the market the agent is pursued for what is called the "key," and offers of as much as £5 are 431 made for it. In this way whole streets have been cleared out of Englishmen, Scotchman, and Irishmen, and the whole place given into the hands of these foreign—I will not say paupers, for they work for some kind of wage—but foreign sweaters. The most filthy conditions prevail in these districts, from the lack of a knowledge of the laws of sanitation amongst the people. I am sure that every Member who represents an East End constituency knows that this is one of the chief causes of the high rents which prevail, and of the filthy condition of the dwellings. The immigration is principally from Russia and Poland, and unless the London County Council or the Home Office undertakes a thorough inspection of these premises, which are used during the day as manufactories and during the night for—I won't say rest, but of "dossing," for that is the only word that fits the case—we are breeding for ourselves a pest-house and a perfect centre for cholera infection if it were brought from any other part of Europe. I say unhesitatingly that this is a question which we London Members know is all-important. There are two questions which interest the public at the present moment. I do not say that people are not interested in the war, for we can get always large meetings to hear lectures or addresses on the war. But when we go into the homes of the people and speak with them across the table, and not from the platform, we learn that there are two questions which profoundly interest them. They ask, "Can nothing be done to improve the housing of the working classes?" and "When are the old age pensions coming into operation?" These questions are much more interesting to them than the abolition of the House of Lords. The social policy is what claims their attention. Now, I appeal to the President of the Local Government Board to help us in this matter and see whether the local authorities cannot be urged to take the steps which they have it in their power to do to remedy some of the defects in the sanitary condition of the houses and to give to these local authorities that encouragement in dealing with the matter which I am sure the Department would like to do. I cannot think of voting for the Amendment of my hon. and learned friend the Member for South Shields, because it practically blocks this measure of my right hon. friend, and 432 because I know the dire necessity that exists for carrying this portion of the reform through. I think the learned Member for Hoxton was justified in calling attention to the enormous cost of the present mode of assessing compensation under the Act. I think the London County Council have been very unjustly dealt with by juries; but there is a very easy way out of the difficulty, and yet one which would in no way do injustice to owners of property. All questions of compensation for property taken over in insanitary areas should go before arbitrators. A list of these arbitrators should be prepared by the Surveyors' Institute and approved of by the Local Government Board, and in that way we should do away with such preposterous verdicts as was recently given in the case of the Holy well Street premises. There was one the other day where the London County Council were acting most honourably towards the property owner, but where the jury were most unjust to them in assessing damages. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields reminded me of what Lord Salisbury had said in addressing a great public meeting at Newcastle—Our friends," said the Prime Minister, "are anxious to magnify the defects of our institutions in order to destroy them: we are anxious to remedy the defects of our institutions in order to preserve them.The practical suggestion which I would make to the President of the Local Government Board is that he should deal with the local authorities and establish a new method of obtaining the awards for compensation, and secure that these local authorities should be animated not only by aspirations for better sanitation but by a little more businesslike spirit in dealing with the acquisition of sites and the erection of new buildings. One of the societies who have addressed me on the subject complained that I approved of the block dwellings. Now, I think these are absolutely necessary. I go further, and say that they are much better managed, more comfortable for the working men, and better kept up than five or six roomed houses, which soon degenerate by being farmed out. It is all very well to hear of what has been done in Nottingham and Norwich and Sheffield, which have the country all round them. When we speak of the outskirts of London we have to go ten or 433 twelve miles in order to build decent houses of a small character. The greatest amount of overcrowding in London takes place in the districts five miles or so from the City. There you have houses of five, six, seven, or eight rooms, and I had one instance given me of a house seven miles from town where the back kitchen was let to one family and the front kitchen to another, where the ground floor was let to two families, and the first floor to another two families, and the second floor to one family. These are houses rented at from £45 to £48, and they look outwardly like respectable middle-class dwellings. Directly you get away from the leading thoroughfare and into the cross or back streets the houses are farmed out, and the unfortunate tenants are in a much worse position than those living in two or three-roomed houses in the Peabody Buildings. Something was said about the increase of the rents of these houses. I am not going to encourage landlords of slum properties to put up rents, but the Peabody trustees were bound to raise their rents slightly a few weeks ago to meet the increase in the rates, and they put up their rents 6d. a week in order to recoup themselves, and 550 tenants of one block of model dwellings paid the increased rent without complaint because they knew that the expense had been forced on the Peabody trustees by the County Council. Mr. Torrens, who was my predecessor in this House as Member for East Finsbury, was the pioneer in this House of this question; and what does he say? Who was the one man who supported it? He tried Lord Granville and could get nothing from him but sympathy with regard to it, and then he went to Mr. Benjamin Disraeli, and he tells us that Disraeli, after he had put before him the growing evil which he had discovered in the constituency he represented, spent the greater portion of September driving about London and seeing for himself the condition of things which Mr. Torrens had described, and not only gave him sympathy, but something far better. Mr. Disraeli asked him how much he required, and Mr. Torrens said £100,000. Mr. Disraeli then said, "You can have £200,000 if you want it." And it is rather extraordinary, after the attitude of the then Prime Minister, that nothing further was done. There is only one more point to add, and that is, Mr. 434 Torrens, after sitting for Finsbury for some years, tells us he was driven out of the House by the action of his own party Whips, who told him he was not sufficiently advanced, and his comment upon that is that after the redistribution of seats Finsbury sent five Conservatives out of seven constituencies to this House. I hope no part of the Bill will be modified, or damped in any way. It is a question which touches the comfort of the poor, and is not of less importance than temperance reform. The first thing is to insure that the working man shall have a. healthy home. We must deal with London as we find it, and the working man asks that he shall be allowed to live near the work in which he is engaged; and to drive him ten or twelve miles out of London means, as the right hon. Gentle man knows perfectly well, that the working man will lose two hours a day in travelling, or more. Therefore I say if this matter is to be dealt with, it must be dealt with in a businesslike way, and not in a spirit of political partisanship. I hope a Second Reading will be given to this Bill, and then, when the County Council has been able to cover the land which has been offered to it, next session, when we have more time and energy to devote to it, I hope some real attempt will be made to grapple with this important question of the housing of the people.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
I hope I may be excused for offering a few remarks upon this Bill, although I am not a London Member, because the question is one which affects the whole of: the country. I am not going to follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in any of his references in this debate, but I am surprised that anyone who knows any of Lord Beaconsfield's works, "Coningsby" or "Sybil,'' could doubt that he had sympathy with questions of this kind. Now, I am not going to oppose this Bill. My only regret is that it does not go further, and therefore I propose to offer one or two suggestions, which I think are not unreasonable, with the hope that the Government may be prepared to listen to them. It is unnecessary to describe the evil which this Bill proposes to remedy. The hon. Member for South Shields found it was quite indescribable. It is one of the worst evils; it leads to 435 drunkenness and every social evil which exists. But this evil has this peculiarity —that it is an evil which is preventible by legislation. That you cannot make people either moral or sober by Act of Parliament I quite agree, but the social habits of the people can be improved if you improve their surroundings. This is a question of supply and demand. As my hon. friend said, you have not to fight against human nature; all you have to do is to take trouble, spend money, and deal boldly but, at the same time, generously with vested interests. I recollect perfectly the immense interest taken in the Royal Commission in 1884, which inquired into this great subject, and reported and, I think, laid bare the evil which existed in the worst form possible. The recognition of the evil was very complete, but the recommendations for its prevention were very few. This evil is very much worse now than it was then, so far as London is concerned. Although Acts of Parliament have been passed and a real effort has been made, I believe, by many people to probe this subject, and although the London County Council has certainly done its best by spending money and being enthusiastic in the attempt to supply better houses, things are worse now than they were in 1884. The population of London is about four and a half millions, of whom 850,000 live in overcrowded districts. I know that the figure includes those who live two in one room, and some deduction, no doubt, must be made for those, but nothing in comparison with the enormous total, which amounts to something like one-fifth of the population. One-fifth of the population of London live under conditions which are most dreadful, and which produce evils it is impossible to imagine—drunkenness and disease, and other evils which impair both the physical and moral fibre of the people. There are some parts of London so overcrowded that if all London were to live under similar conditions the present area of London would contain 29,000,000 of people. What is the result of the progress we are making at the present time? We have got the County Council, energetic and desirous of doing its duty, which during the last nine years, according to the evidence of its late chairman, has provided for 37,000 people not new but improved accommodation, which means improved accommodation for 436 about 4,000 persons every year. I do not know how many persons have been displaced in the course of these improvements, but I believe none, so that improved accommodation has only been supplied for about ½ per cent. of the population in the course of each year. It is, therefore, clear that something different must be attempted to remedy the evil. I look upon this as almost, if not altogether, the first public question of the day. I do not think anyone desires to make party capital out of the miseries of the people; and if the present Government endeavour to improve the state of things I for one will give them the heartiest support. What is the remedy? There are some which have no measure of justice at all, and could not be tried by the State, and never ought to be tried. One is the remedy suggested by Mr. George, which amounts to the confiscation of the annual value of the property, which would be a great wrong, and Parliament would never be troubled with such a proposal unless the evil reached such a stage that the people became desperate and lost their sense of justice. I hope there will be a general raising of the condition of the people. Their present condition is not associated with any delay or hesitation of the House to provide for the social elevation of the people. It is no use looking, in my humble opinion, to the extension on any great scale of the work which was done by Miss Octavia Hill, a lady whose name, in connection with this question, can never be mentioned without reverence, and who has indeed been a pioneer in the noble work. So far as that lady and others who have gone on the same lines are concerned, it is impossible to overestimate their work. So far as they take an interest in the work, and accompany it with supervision and friendship towards the people whom they come across, it reminds one of the best relations between rich and poor in some of the happier parts of the country districts. Miss Hill and the other benefactors of society cannot face this evil, as I have endeavoured to point out, and as abler and better informed men than my myself have pointed out over and over again. What are the causes of the evils as they affect honest and industrious persons? There are certain persons one knows for whom good housing is as important as for others, but who contribute by their disorderly habits to 437 the very evil we are dealing with now. But these are not the chief persons, and not the most numerous by any means. They are a comparatively small portion of those who suffer by overcrowding in London. What, then, are the causes as they affect the honest and industrious? They arise, I think, from the fact that a great number of people must live near their work. These are estimated to number a quarter of the people who live under over-crowded conditions. Estimates of that sort must be approximate and somewhat inaccurate, but it is not very far from that. The remainder, one would say, should live within a half or three-quarters of an hour of their work. Some might live further off. The only remedy, in my opinion, is in the direction of this Bill. The remedy is to tempt these people out by offering cheaper dwellings or better dwellings for the same money accompanied by cheap transit. It is necessary that they should have the means of going to and from their work with protection from the weather, and in order that they may not lose a day's wages by not coming in time. The point is this: these facilities do not exist in London at the present time to the extent to which they ought to exist. I do not, of course, mean that no cheap trains are run, and I do not mean that no buildings have been erected for the benefit of the poorer classes outside London, but I mean that they are inadequate. I think the Government will not say that they are otherwise than inadequate. The object of the Bill is to provide more of them. It is quite right to go in that direction. The consequence of the absence of proper facilities for dwellings and also for transit is that people huddle together in crowded areas. The dwellings in those areas are gradually being diminished, at exactly the same time that the population is being increased partly by railways and partly by the change of dwellings into workshops. There are few people who have not come across experiences of that kind. What is the consequence of that? All these things are capable of being approached with mathematical certainty. The demand is increasing and the supply is diminishing. Rents, as a matter of course, are largely on the increase. What is the consequence? The Royal Commission of 1884 reported in the strongest possible manner about the inadequacy of the wages of the people in London to meet 438 the rents which were charged. There is no question that rents are higher now than then, and I do not think anyone will say that wages have risen in proportion to enable people to pay these high rents. It may be that they have in some cases, but not all round. That being the case, I believe this is one of a combination of steps that are required to grapple with this question. First of all, let a Bill of this kind be passed. I did not understand the Member for South Shields to manifest hostility to the Bill so far as it goes, but he said it did not go far enough. He said it was a good Bill so far as it goes. Let a Bill of this kind be framed; let the local authority purchase land compulsorily to erect suitable houses, or to allow other persons to erect them, always keeping them under their own control. You have legal machinery at present which is not suited to the circumstances of the case. You have possibly a little lawsuit about every house; and if you do not have a lawsuit, why is it? It is because of the fact that the owner of the house knows that the local authority will be bound to pay, except in minor cases, all the costs of the litigation. Knowing that, he knows that he has really got the purchasing authority under his hand, and that they are obliged to pay a larger price than the place is worth, even allowing 10 per cent. compensation. The consequence is that the existence of these compulsory powers and the dread of a lawsuit of itself enormously increases the value of these houses. [An HON. MEMBER: They do not pay 10 per cent.] I am not talking of houses declared to be insanitary, I am talking of the ordinary case of buying land. I am supposing a case of the County Council wishing to buy land. I am speaking as to cost of litigation, and the fact that, little or big, a lawsuit in reference to these houses necessarily exaggerates the value of the houses or the land, and a larger sum is required. I have been before juries in many cases of this kind, and I have found that they are inclined to take into consideration any speculative value attached by the highly-paid valuers who come forward for the purpose of expressing their opinion. Anyone who has gone through it and seen it knows that the cost of litigation in these matters is almost penal. I shall suggest a remedy, which I hope will receive the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the 439 Local Government Board. Let there be a rating valuation upon the capital value. Let there be a rating valuation, and let the owners put the valuation on their own property. That property you may buy at their own figure at any time. That is a scheme by which every man shall rate his own property and pay a fair rate. If he puts too much value on his property he will have to pay higher rates than he ought to pay. If you do that, the County Council will very soon be able to say, "Here is so much property, and the exact value of it we know. We will pay that and 10 per cent. additional if you like." I should deprecate the payment of the 10 per cent. Another provision, I submit, ought to be for cheap trains and tramways. That subject was discussed yesterday. The President of the Local Government Board in the course of a speech the other day on this Bill made reference to an aspect of this question which I venture to make an appeal to him to reconsider. He said you cannot ask cheap trains to be given by railways until there is a population. But if you do not make arrangements, or have some statutory powers for the making of arrangements, before you get the population, you will never get the population at all. Take the case of land three-quarters of a mile from a railway station, five or six miles out. If I were thinking of building there working-class dwellings, would I ever invest my capital unless I knew that I could rely on some Government authority to insist upon proper railway accommodation in order that the population might be conveyed to and from their places of work? If I were a working man and asked to change my home and go into the country six or seven miles off, would I ever make the change if I did not know that there was a Government Department, or some authority, able to insist that I should get the necessary train accommodation? It is a matter which, I think, ought if possible to be made the subject of negotiation and of settlement with the railway companies. I know there are some who say that the railways have done their duty already, while there are some who say they have not done their duty. I am not going to enter into that. If the President of the Local Government Board were to appoint a small Departmental Committee to sit during next winter in order to see what the railway companies 440 were prepared to do, and what the London County Council was prepared to do, either by tramways or railways, I believe we might be able to come to a just conclusion, and before the Bill now under discussion became operative in the shape of bricks and mortar we would be able to accompany it by some measure providing for the transit which is indispensable for the proper carrying of it out. I want to say a word about tramways. By this means overcrowding might be relieved in the great central area of London. I think that then, and not till then, you can approach in a thoroughly practical spirit the consideration of Parts I. and II. of the Act of 1890.. Those powers are very drastic in some respects, and they are very useful. But do consider this. Suppose you shut up a house or demolish a dwelling. It is perfectly necessary, and has to be, and very often is done. But when you do that you diminish still further the accommodation which is already so restricted within that crowded area; you put the man to the expense of building a new house, and you increase the rent. The fact is, it is not so much the difficulty of the house itself; it is the accommodation. If the houses were palaces paved with marble, the condition would still be the same, because unless you reconstruct the house in the shape of a great block of dwellings there is not enough area to house the people better. That, of course, is the real motive of the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in the Bill he has introduced. There is one other thing I wish to say. It ought to be made impossible except in the rarest possible cases for any further encroachment to be made upon this already crowded area. I am going to propose a thing which may seem to some Gentlemen to be a strong proposition, but I will leave the suggestion for their candid consideration. Is it not time to prohibit the erection of new workshops within this central area? Think of it for a single moment. It is a nuisance to shut off a man's light and air; it is injurious to the health of the individual, and it is injurious to the health of the whole community. What are you doing by allowing these workshops to be created in the place of old houses? They are, in the true and wide sense of the word, nuisances in the district. There is no room for any more workshops in this 441 area consistently with the health and well-being of the community at large. I venture respectfully to recommend that point to the consideration of anyone who wishes to give an impartial hearing to these matters. The result of prohibiting such erections would be that anyone wishing to start a new workshop would have to go further into the country, and would thereby help to disperse the industries of London—the very thing which one way or another must be done if you are going to preserve the health of London. Then there was the recommendation of the hon. Member for Stepney, who spoke in favour of fair rent clauses for these tenements in London. There are many who say that ought to be done, and I, for my part, as I voted for the Fair Rent Act of 1881, and have voted for other proposals of a like character since, am not particularly shocked by the theory, but I roust say in this case it is impracticable. "Fair rent" is a familiar term, which means fixity of tenure, free sales, and ultimately culminates in a process of purchase. It also means a large expenditure in providing courts for fixing the fair rents, which when fixed are not always satisfactory, and there is a constant atmosphere of litigation. I prefer another method, which I also hope will receive can did consideration. Overcrowding is an offence at law. For a landlord to overcrowd his house is not only a cruel thing, but it is an offence; it is morally wrong, and it is legally wrong. To have an insanitary house is not only a cruel thing, but it is a wrong thing, both legally and morally. To charge too great a rent for rooms, wringing it out of the misery of the people, although it is not illegal, is a grossly despicable and wicked thing to do. I submit that it is time to make this proposal, namely, that wherever a tenement is either persistently overcrowded, persistently kept in an unsanitary condition by the owner, or persistently overrented, the County Council or the local authority should have the power to come in and say, "We are going to put this dwelling into proper repair; we will manage it; we will charge the rents which are right and reasonable under the circumstances, and the balance we will hand over to the owners." That really is not unfair. It does not go nearly so far in principle as the fair rent proposals of 1881, and the proposals in Ireland and this proposal are 442 based on the absolute necessity for society to defend itself. There are some evils, and this is one of them, which have grown to such dimensions that society has the right to defend itself against them. I would be perfectly prepared to agree that there should be some independent person, nominated, say, by the Local Government Board or the Home Office, with whose consent it should be determined whether there was persistent overcrowding, over-renting, and so forth. But you have got to choose between allowing a population which has done nothing to deserve it to be gradually degraded physically, morally, and mentally—lunacy to be increased, and disease to be increased—and preventing a man who is guilty always of cruelty and sometimes of illegality practising what is in amount and in effect extortion. If such a step as I suggest were taken, I believe the moral sense of the public would recognise it as necessary and just for the protection of society against the flagrant evil of which we complain. There are many good landlords, I admit, but who will deny that there are many bad ones? It is the bad landlords who bring the whole class into disrepute, and bring misery to many people who are oppressed by their extortion. In regard to the Bill itself, I think it is a great pity but if the House will look at the Bill they will find that it is a Bill to amend Part III. of the Act of 1890. The Bill is so drawn in order to prevent Amendments or Instructions being moved dealing with anything except Part III. of that Act. I grant that the step, so far as it goes, is a right step, and one deserving our support. But here we are asked to deal with a subject of the greatest importance, and, by what I call the chicanery of the law, the House is prevented from dealing with the two most important parts of the subject, simply because of the title of the Bill. The Bill is intituled "A Bill to Amend Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890." I say that that is not the way a Bill should be introduced, and it is a great pity it has been done. It is not as if it was a subject upon which there really could be among gentlemen and men of honour on either side of the House the least wish to do anything other than to further the removal of this great evil. I should like very much to have moved clauses which would have dealt with the subject of the housing of the working classes as relating 443 to Parts I. and II. of the Act of 1890, and I might have moved an Instruction to deal with cheap trains as a part of the whole scheme. But, no; it cannot he done. I do not believe you will find in the history of Parliamentary proceedings such a course as this. Until quite recently there has never been in the mind of anybody such an idea as to bring in a Bill to amend a part of an Act in order to prevent the other portions of that Act dealing with the same subject being discussed. That is not the way to strengthen the reputation or to maintain the dignity of the House of Commons. I do not wish to say anything harsh, but I do think this is an instance of which note ought to be taken, so that it should not be repeated. I can only express the hope that the view I have put forward, and the suggestions others may have offered or will offer, with regard to this most grave subject will receive attention from the Government, proportionate not to the importance of the Members who addressed the House, but to the importance of the subject.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
As a London Member, and one who has taken a very great interest in this question, I should like to say a very few words on this very important subject. We all agree that the subject of improving the homes of the people lies at the bottom of all social improvements, and it is very little use talking about education and other matters, unless the homes are much better than they are at present in very many instances. When we hear such speeches as the one to which we have just listened, I think we are led away rather from some of the ordinary common principles which have built up this country. We seem to be growing more and more to depend upon outside measures, relying upon local and district authorities and other bodies for many things which, after all, in other respects have been supplied by local enterprise. What really are the facts to a great extent of this important matter? It is the fashion to run down landlords, and to say, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said just now, that there are many bad ones. So, too, there may be. But there are a great number of good landlords. [An IRISH MEMBER: Where?] I do not speak for Ireland, but many of the land- 444 lords among the poor of London are very good landlords, and they do their best to promote the welfare of the poor. We do not think it is an evil for a man to enter into a trade to supply bread, or books, or any other article, and we do not regard him as a criminal if he asks to be paid for goods delivered; but directly a landlord supplies what is, after all, as necessary as food, namely houses, some people regard him as if he was altogether outside the pale of any consideration. My whole theory of improving the dwellings of the people in great cities is that we should encourage in every sense the efforts made by such persons as Miss Octavia Hill in this direction. It seems to me that nothing would tend more to do away with overcrowding and with the insanitary condition of these houses than by doing our best to induce people of this sort to come forward and live among the people in the way that Miss Octavia Hill does. But the law is such at the present time that you cannot expect anybody to undertake such work. The law between landlord and tenant is very unsatisfactory. It may be all right in certain cases where you have got tenants who are substantial persons, but when you have got a bad tenant the law is so extraordinary and so very bad that it renders it almost impossible for any person of the class I have alluded to undertake the management of this sort of property, and thus the opportunity of living amongst these people, humanising them, and doing good in the way I have suggested, is lost. There are some large owners of houses—and I know of one or two large corporations in London—who own a great number of these houses, and in order to get out of the difficulty of dealing with bad tenants they allow individual tenants to "farm" these houses. That, to my mind, is a very mischievous system; it is contrary to the spirit of the day, but it arises because the relations of landlord and tenant are so unsatisfactory that you are preventing private enterprise from trying to provide good homes to a great extent in our great cities. I have had the pleasure of endeavouring to deal with the question by building several blocks of these houses, and although everything was done that could be done to improve these dwellings, I am sorry to say that all the efforts in this direction come from the landlords. Many tenants are 445 extremely troublesome to manage, and the drawback of the law is that if you get a troublesome or mischievous tenant who is a great nuisance to all the others, it is very difficult to get rid of that tenant. Nothing would more tend to promote the well-being and the progress of better housing than to amend the law of landlord and tenant, to enable troublesome and dirty tenants who destroy everything to be got rid of with very much greater ease than can be done at the present time. Another matter which also prevents and hampers the enterprise of private individuals in trying to meet this great want is the growing difficulty of satisfying the requirements of the local authorities. I can only give my own experience, which I think is satisfactory as far as it goes. I was instrumental in having built a block of buildings at a considerable cost. The result of this enterprise was that the building returned barely 2 per cent. interest on the outlay. These buildings were put up not in order to produce a dividend, but simply as a philanthropic; movement. We took great trouble to have the drainage and the sanitary and water arrangements of these buildings done as well as they could be done. A few years afterwards the local sanitary authority came in and condemned the whole system of water and drainage. We had fixed up cisterns at considerable expense. Part of the building was above the high-water pressure, and we had to pump the water up there. This local sanitary authority ordered every one of these cisterns to be removed, and they were removed at a cost of something like £500 or £600, and everything was done as ordered. In less than three years after this the same sanitary authority and the same inspector came and insisted upon the reinstatement of the very same appliances which three years before they had ordered to be taken out. We went to the magistrate, but he said he had no power to deal with it, and at a cost of about £300 the very things which the inspector had condemned three years before had to be reinstated. I do not suggest that there was anything corrupt, but this shows one of the difficulties in the way. How can you expect, under these circumstances, people to embark upon this sort of enterprise? The local authority changed their opinion as to sanitary arrangements, and the result was that this institution, which was paying 446 its way, had all this expense put upon it. Again, it has come to my knowledge in many cases that in crowded districts where rooms are very scarce there are rooms which are not let simply because of the extraordinary conditions which the local authorities put upon the various entrances and exits to these buildings. Although I should be the last to say that proper precautions should not be taken in this respect, it does seem unreasonable that a house which is good enough for any number of people to live in, if let to one person, if it is sublet then the same house is at once made subject to a number of restrictions which are so onerous that the owners prefer not to let it rather than go to the expense and trouble which the alterations would involve. It is said, and said very truly, that rents are increasing. That is, of course, one of the great evils we have to contend with. But it is no use shutting our eyes to the fact that one of the items which tend to increase the rent of small houses especially is the great increase of rates in those districts, and although we know that those rates must increase it is idle to say you are bound to increase the local expenditure for all purposes and then not to see that it must fall, to a certain extent, upon the rents in the district. We are very apt to think that we can habitually increase the local rates without remembering that the increase must also fall upon the rents of the poor. My hon. friend referred to overcrowding, and I may say that I have had something to do with that question. It seems always to be spoken of by some persons as if overcrowding was entirely the fault of the landlords. I do not say that in some cases it may not be so, but I may point out that in the very building with which I have had to deal the rooms have been let expressly upon certain conditions as to the number of persons who are to be allowed to live in them. But if you go to these rooms a short time afterwards you will find very often that a greater number of people are living in them than the conditions allow. I do not see how you can possibly prevent this. If a man goes to visit these rooms you cannot be expected to sit at the door to see if he comes out again. In the cases I have had to look after myself, I have found it absolutely impossible to prevent extra persons living in the rooms over and 447 above the number stipulated for on the form of conditions agreed upon when taking the house to prevent overcrowding. Therefore, it will be seen that there are very great difficulties in the way of preventing this evil. My hon. friend opposite referred to the very great cruelty of charging too much rent. Of course, we all agree with him in that, and no doubt it is an evil which exists. I could not help being struck with the statement of the hon. Member who complained of some person who had had her rent raised, and he described it very graphically, and said that she came to him with tears in her eyes to say that her rent had been raised. But the hon. Member let it out by accident that she had sublet the house to a lot of other tenants. She got her living by subletting, and if you go into the item of subletting there is no doubt that in this particular case it will be found that the landlord charged more on account of the premises being sublet. I must say myself that I think one of the evils of the present system is that nearly all these houses are sublet in this way, and the persons who sublet generally make very exorbitant charges. That is part of the system which prevents any efforts such as I have made from being successful, and it prevents those who want to promote the well being of the people from occupying and owning such houses. I do not wish to speak at any length upon this matter, and I agree that it is a very important one. I am not in any way interested in landlords, but I do say that I think it is only fair to show that some of these great evils which exist are due to the causes I have mentioned, and I believe the very best way to promote the erection of a large number of small houses for the poor would be by encouraging private enterprise to provide them. Private enterprise has already done a great deal by erecting these large blocks, and if we could, by some alteration of the law, encourage persons like Miss Octavia Hill to purchase and live upon these premises we should do an immense deal of good. With regard to overcrowding, after all London is not going backwards in this respect. Some of the hon. Members who have spoken have talked as if things are worse to-day than they have been at any previous time. I am proud to say that I am a Cockney; I was born in London, 448 and I have lived and worked among London people all my life, and I say emphatically that there is an immense improvement noticeable in the present generation. I think there is one conclusive fact which shows that things are not as bad as hon. Members point out, for if things were getting worse the death rate of London could not have decreased as it has done. In spite of all the difficulties, still the fact remains that the death rate of London has decreased from year to year during the last forty years, and now the average death rate is under twenty per thousand. Although I hail this Bill as a step in the right direction, it is not so large a measure as I should like to have seen. There are many provisions I should prefer to see introduced in order to deal with the points to which I have referred, and to facilitate private enterprise. But still I shall support this Bill because it is a step in the right direction, and the House could not do anything better than take in hand at once this serious problem and. do everything that is possible to improve the homes of the people.
§ MR. F. W. WILSON (Norfolk, Mid)
This is a question which is not confined to the metropolis, and I desire to direct attention to the needs of the rural districts also. It is beyond doubt that the Act of 1890 is a dead letter in country districts There is only one district in which it has been put into force, and that is In worth, on the borders of Norfolk and Suffolk. A parson came there from the Black Country. He found an open village with many owners and bad thatched cottages. The cottages were of all kinds; one broken down barn was divided by a wooden partition into two cottages, and one bullock shed was divided into three cottages. The clergyman had the temerity to call a meeting of labourers only, and when the meeting was held the farmers tried to gain admittance, but the promoters got rid of them, and the result was that the Act of 1890 was put into force. It created a great stir in the village, and the squire actually followed the parson down the street and told him he was a disgrace to his cloth. The Farmers' Club met soon afterwards and at their festive proceedings declined to drink the health of the clergy. Negotiations took place with the rural authority, and finally an order was 449 issued for the closing of some of the worst cottages. It was discovered that eviction was impossible, as the labourers naturally objected to be turned into the streets, and the local authority applied to the County Council to hold an inquiry into the condition of the cottages. The inquiry was held by a former Member of this House, who, after an exhaustive investigation, declared that the need for new cottages was urgent. But the obstructionist party had not yet exhausted all their opportunities for delay. They raised the question as to whether the cost of the new cottages should be borne by the parish or by the union. A further inquiry had to be held, but the energy of the Labourers' Association was exhausted; they did not produce as much evidence as they did at first, and the result was that the second inquiry failed. The Member of Parliament who held the first inquiry came back to this House and found a very different atmosphere. He again used his influence with the Local Government Board, and finally eight new cottages were built at a cost of £1,700. I believe that is the only case in the whole kingdom where the Act of 1890 was really put in force in a rural district. May I tell the House something which occurred only last Monday? An hon. Bart, who sits on the Government Benches, fired probably by the proceedings which took place in this House a day or two previously, went down to the County Council in which this very district is situated, and made a speech, in which he said that no one who went about the country could fail to notice the condition of many of the houses and cottages in the villages, and the crowded parts of the small towns, they being in an extremely unsatisfactory and insanitary state. Then the hon. Baronet, who is well-known in this House for the purity of his intentions, made a proposal for the Appointment of a medical inspector by the County Council, who would be independent of any fear or favour, and whose clients would not be members of the local bodies with which he would come into contact, and who might be trusted to put the Act into force. But the hon. Baronet was sat upon all round in the County Council, and his proposal was practically laughed to scorn. The master of the staghounds asked had the rural districts failed in their duty, or had the medical officers failed, and the end of it was that 450 the hon. Baronet was not even allowed to withdraw his proposal, and it was defeated by a large majority. That is the condition of affairs at the present time. There is no doubt that the agricultural labourer is rising in the world; he is better paid, better fed, and better clothed than ever before; his house only is worse. The main reason is that it does not pay anyone to build cottages. The frequently charming old thatched cottage is charming no longer; the thatch is falling into decay; the clay walls are bulging out, and dissolution or the condemnation of the medical inspector threatens the edifice. The old rule was that a cottage could be built for £100; it now takes £150. No one ever dreams of building a cottage as a speculation or investment; the work is undertaken as a duty to be discharged either by the individual or the community. Yet there is a plan by which private enterprise might be very greatly assisted, and by which the building of cottages might be made to pay with advantage to the labourer and the country. That plan is a reform of the land laws, which would enable people to get hold of pieces of land cheaply. I have a letter here from a working-class member of a county council, who is held in great esteem in his own county. He writes—There is no doubt that the housing of the working classes in our country districts is a very important question. The hovels in which many of them have to live are partly the cause of their leaving. The village in which I live is an exception to many others. The population has not decreased, and if it had not been for the land monopoly it would have increased during the last twenty years. In October last my carter had to leave me because his house was wanted for the large farm to which it belongs. He had a large family, and no suitable house for them could be obtained. I engaged another man, who hired the only empty house in the village, situated in a backyard and adjoining some stables, without a garden of any kind. He is now leaving me because of the cottage and its surroundings, and I cannot blame him, as I should not like to live in the house myself. I would build a cottage; but cannot buy the land to build on, as it is nearly all monopolised by one man, and strictly entailed. I have known other people who would have built cottages, but they could not get the land. If the laws of entail, etc., were abolished and the land set free, some of the evils which exist could and would be dealt with by private enterprise, and when that failed district councils should have power to erect suitable cottages.If we could add to each cottage an acre or half an acre of land, then there would be such a demand for cottages that all 451 difficulty would be removed. The ideal of the labourer is to get a cottage with a bit of land, running even up to five acres, where he can work after his ordinary labour. I welcomed the suggestion of my hon. and learned friend that public bodies should have power to obtain land at so many years purchase of its rateable value. That would give great facilities for the purchase of land, and if the local authorities had these facilities we would have gonea long way in surmounting the difficulties which exist. Simplify the sale of land, and you will bring into operation the laws of supply and demand with regard to the housing of the working classes, and I would rather trust to supply and demand than to any amount of philanthropy, however benevolent. Building societies have been very successful in doing this sort of work in provincial towns. I know one Society which bought land, got rid of the lawyers altogether, and gave a fresh title, and people rushed at once to buy up that land. If the villages could get good cottages with little holdings attached, we would soon see a very different state of things in this country. It is impossible for one man to ask for land for a cottage. The local authority must take up a large portion of land and divide it out in lots. There is one other important question which should not be overlooked. If it were provided that in future cottagers should have six months notice to quit where there was no agreement in writing to the contrary, the working classes would be greatly delighted.
§ * MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board did no more than justice to the speakers in this important debate, when he said the other day that it had been instructive and useful; and the discussion this afternoon has not forfeited the right to be so described. We all feel that the subject has received a very powerful and interesting contribution from the exceedingly able speech delivered by my hon. and learned friend the Member for Dumfries. I think it is true that all the speakers have applied themselves to the discussion of this, the most pressing question almost of the hour, with-out any party spirit whatsoever, although one hon. Gentleman imported a somewhat gratuitous reference to party. I cannot remember any speech from either side of 452 the House which has not shown a sincere desire to secure the solution of this important problem. Although I pay this very humble tribute to the speeches delivered, I do not find it possible to agree to some of the suggestions proposed, especially those of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields. He regrets that this is so small a Bill. So do I; but I disagree with him in saying that because it is too small, he would rather have no Bill at all. Now, I regard this Bill as a concrete and even very substantial contribution to the solution of that particular branch of the problem which at present sadly fetters the hands of the London County Council, with which I am more particularly concerned. The hon. Member for Derby said that he wanted a Select Committee to inquire into the housing question. Well, in my opinion, the nostrum of a Royal Commission, or a Select Committee, is the most unsuitable by which the housing question, could be solved. I think it was General Booth who said that if the construction of Noah's Ark, which was wanted for an emergency, had been referred to a Select Committee, it would not have been built to this day. The housing question is also an emergency question; it cannot afford to wait. I am sure my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board was right in saying that this-question will not be solved in one session of Parliament, or even perhaps, in two; it will have to be taken in hand in instalments, and only by the method of solvitor ambulando. Therefore I differ in toto with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Shields, when he says he will not begin to tackle this question unless he gets a Bill which will amend the law relating to the assessment of compensation for unhealthy dwelling-houses, and which makes provision whereby the councils, establishing dwelling-houses outside their districts may, where necessary, be enabled, to obtain adequate railway or other communication between their district and such dwelling-houses. I say that a Bill which was introduced into Parliament for the purpose of doing all these things would not be a contribution towards the solution of the question so powerfully exposed by the Daily News; because it is certain that by the end of July the whole Bill would be thrown over. I think, on the contrary, that my right hon. friend the President of the Local 453 Government Board has done exceedingly wisely in bringing in a Bill which is not complicated, but which provides for the; solution of one particular part of the problem. I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will not press his motion to a division; but if he does, I shall certainly vote against it, because, in my opinion, it will frustrate instead of contributing to the progress of the housing of the working classes. We have seen a trial made of these tactics in the temperance reform movement, with a result which surely should not encourage anyone who is anxious that this much more important problem should be taken in hand in some way or other. You must begin by adopting something which will give us some hope of relief from the pressure in Lon-don, although not more in London than in some parts of London. My hon. and learned friend the Member for East Fins-bury let fall some not very kind or friendly remarks about the London County Council, of which I have had the honour to be a member ever since it existed. I should be the very last to say a single word reflecting on the London County Council. My hon. friend opposite knows that although I differ from him on some questions, I never said anything which in any way reflected on the Council; and if there is any subject on which I consider the London County Council is less open to reproach at this moment than another, it is this question of housing. I think that in the old days the London County Council did not do so much as it should have done, and the result of that is that they are, unfortunately, only able now to make very little headway. The London County Council is very unfavourably placed in connection with the housing question. I hold in my hand a Report prepared for the London County Council at the close of the year 1898, in which a comparison is made with the building operations and the cost of building between London and Liverpool. I will only quote two or three figures to the House in order to show that when fault is found with the London County Council how troublesome, how insuperable, are the difficulties which we have to contend with. It must be remembered that the discrepancies between London and Liverpool have, since 1898, become greater and not less. At the close of 1898 a foreman was paid £3 10s. a week in London and £2 10s. in Liverpool; a joiner l0d. an hour in London compared 454 with 9d. in Liverpool; a labourer 7d. an hour in London compared with 5½d. an hour in Liverpool. Bricks cost £2 2s. per thousand in London and £1 6s. in Liverpool; ranges cost £1 16s. in London and £1 6s. in Liverpool. I would be the very last to find fault with the hours and conditions of labour which the trades unions try to get for their members, provided they do not tyrannise over workmen who are not in their body. I recognise the right of the men to combine for higher wages, but it is not in wages or in the men's hours that the London County Council experience the most insuperable difficulties. It is the inability to get land. It is this inability to buy land on reasonable terms which makes it impossible for us to house the poor. It is true that we do house people, but, as Lord Rosebery said, when he opened the Shoreditch houses the other day, we have housed 472 persons and have displaced 533. Well, that is a remarkable way of housing the poor. Then, of the people whom we do house there are few of the very class whom we have displaced. They cannot pay the rents which we are obliged to demand. I make no reproach to the London County Council; it is not their fault; they are compelled to demand them. Although a member of the London County Council, I personally ask for no privileges for that body which cannot be defended on sound economic grounds. I do not want money to be lent at 2 per cent.; I do not want even the extension of the period over which we can repay the borrowed money for these houses. I think sixty years is a very reasonable term, and quite as long as these houses will bear; but I do say that on their freeholds there is an absolutely irresistable right to borrow money for 100 years. The very ground landlords are obliged to give leases for ninety-nine years or 100 years to their tenants; and I do not see why the London County Council should not be allowed to borrow money for 100 years on their freehold land, which will be worth more at the end of that period than now. Again, we cannot build houses for the poor when we are obliged to buy land at prohibitive rates. From the extremely luminous statement made by the chairman of the finance committee of the London County Council in introducing his Budget yesterday, hon. Members may have learned that in connection with the Strand 455 improvement we had to buy one important property, Reid's Brewery, for £200,000, and another property in Bloomsbury for £40,000. Before we put up a single tenement we had to write down these properties to their housing value—the £40,000 property to £7,000 and the £200,000 property to £45,000. It is idle to reproach the London County Council for not having done all they would like to do, and ought to do, for the housing of the working classes, when it is weighted and handicapped in that way with the land, which alone can enable them to solve the problem. Therefore I think this Bill is a substantial contribution towards the solution of the question, for it gives us the land we want. The hon. and learned Member for Dumfries said he wanted some proposals made in regard to rating. He speaks with so much authority, and I so little, that it is difficult to combat him; but again I say that to weight the Bill with proposals of that kind, very complicated and not universally acceptable, would not be a substantial contribution to the immediate solution of the problem. We want room to live, and I believe that the power which the Bill gives us will enable us to put up a great many houses which I hope will be tenanted by the poor, instead of middle-class houses for artisans, to which the London County Council have too much confined their attention heretofore. There is one still greater reason why I advocate these poor people's houses, because in my judgment it will prove the most direct and infallible remedy for these rapacious landlords, about whom the hon. and learned Gentleman spoke with so much just severity. How are you going to bring the rents down? Not, in my opinion, by making it penal to charge too much. There are many both good and bad landlords, and they cannot be distinguished in the eye of the law, at least I should have thought not. I would say it would be unjust, certainly it would be unprecedented, if the law laid down a line beyond which rents could not be charged. But I would come down on these rapacious landlords by destroying their business, by offering at cheaper rents better houses, better appointed, and in much larger numbers; so that they would not be able to command the rents which their elastic consciences seem to permit them now to exact. The hon. and learned 456 Gentleman says that you cannot get the people to go to the houses if no means of transit are provided. That is a plausible argument; but how does he expect that the railway companies are going to run trains, or the London County Council to build tramways on which there will be no return for the capital expenditure. Personally, although I think it is very desirable that a large number of poor men's houses should be erected, I do not want to see the poor men housed out of the rates. I know very well that the Lon-don County Council rates have a tendency to go up, and that the small shopkeepers who form a larger class than many hon. Members are aware of, find it is as much as they can do at the present moment to pay their rates and earn a decent living. But I do not want to see these people housed out of the rates. If you put up houses in the country they would get better tenements at a smaller rent, and in a more healthy atmosphere; and the few pence a week which they would have to pay to get to and from their work places would be much more than compensated by the low price they would have to pay for the superior accommodation they would get at far lower rents. I do not believe you will solve this housing problem by one great enactment; you must apply, as I have said, the solvitor ambulando method, and the right way to begin is to put up houses outside, but near London. I may be forgiven if I refer to a subject in which I take a deep interest, and which was touched upon by the hon. Member for East Finsbury. That hon. Gentleman said that the houses round about Whitechapel were tenanted by large numbers of Russians and Poles. I probably know about this subject as much as any Member in the House. He spoke of the insanitary condition of the dwellings, and I am sorry to say there is some truth in that, but the responsibility is that of the local authority. I happen to be the president of the Jewish Board of Guardians, and we have applied ourselves zealously, and successfully, to inculcating in the poor of our community habits of cleanliness. We have a sanitary committee of our own, and I, for one, should be only too delighted to see the local authorities putting into operation in the districts where these poor Russian and Polish people are housed the ample powers they 457 possess under the Public Health Act of 1891. I think the local authorities have been lethargic in putting into operation these powers, and the superior authority, the London County Council, has also been remiss in not compelling the local authorities to exercise these powers. At least, by passing as rapidly as we can this measure we enable the London County Council to go outside their area and erect those houses for the poor working classes which they have so long wanted. One word as to the warehouses. There is no doubt that the warehouses and workshops have displaced a large number of the poorer class houses. I do not regret that. I think it is even an advantage. I know a little about the north side of the Marylebone Road, where the Great Central Hotel now stands. All the old buildings there were pulled down, and a large number of insanitary and nauseous places have been removed. It is true that contributes to the congestion that is going to be redressed by the Bill of my right hon. friend. The same thing is going on in the north and east of London, and therefore I very respectfully differ from the hon. Gentleman in deploring the substitution of these large, healthy warehouses for insanitary slums, but I hold that these places should not be erected without corresponding accommodation being afforded for the poor whom they displace. I am afraid I have detained the House too long, and I thank hon. Members for having listened so patiently to me. In conclusion, I thank my right hon. friend for what I believe to be the first concrete contribution to the solution of this great question.
§ * MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken showed a great deal of faith in this Bill as providing a solution for all the evils of which he spoke. Personally, I think the Bill will do some good, but that it will cure overcrowding requires more faith than I possess. It has been very properly pointed out that the Government, by an accident, no doubt, have so brought in this Bill that we shall hardly have the power of extending its provisions. That is a great misfortune. However, I am charitable enough to believe that the Government will give us an opportunity in Committee, if the forms of the House will permit, to extend it in the direction adumbrated in the motion of my hon. and 458 learned friend the Member for South Shields. This debate has made it perfectly clear that the evils arising from overcrowding are not only numerous but variable. We have almost had exclusively to-night the London aspect of the question. It is by no means an exclusively London question. The hon. Member for East Islington suggested that local enterprise—although he was speaking from a London point of view—would be sufficiently adequate to put all those evils of which we complain in order. I want to give, in as few words as I can, a specimen of what local enterprise has done for a particular locality outside and far removed from London. The locality about which I desire to speak I have the honour to represent in this House. The House will probably remember that this is not the first time we have ventilated the evil state of affairs which exists at Devonport. Nevertheless, as this subject is apposite to the Bill before the House, I venture again to go into some details. Now, Devonport differs from London in this respect, that it is not overwhelmed with an enormous population. The population is relatively very small, but, nevertheless, the percentage of overcrowding is much larger than in London. The reason for this is simple; land in Devonport is an absolute monopoly. It is all in the hands of one man, who by hoarding it has put upon it a fictitious value. There is no free market in land, so much so that it is an unknown thing in Devon-port for a freehold house over to be put up to auction. The result of this is an unparalleled state of affairs; three-quarters of the town is rotten and dilapidated—so much so that if a stranger visited the town he would think it had been visited by an earthquake, or had suffered from a recent Boer bombardment. And that is the state of affairs in a town in the midst of beautiful surroundings with any amount of available land; but in this particular case it is under the thumb of one man, and hence there is a greater amount of overcrowding there than in any other town in Great Britain. But although the houses are so bad, they are nevertheless occupied because the people have nowhere else to go. If the Government were to face this question in the way in which I hope they will be compelled to do sooner or later, the system under which land- 459 owners are able to hold their land, to the detriment of the whole community, would be brought to an end. The hon. Member for Dumfries suggested a remedy for this state of things; but what I want to see is legislation by which the possession of these insanitary and overcrowded areas, instead of being lucrative, shall be dangerous to the owner. I will quote a few figures to illustrate what this cruel monopoly means to the health, happiness, and morale of those who are its victims. The proportion of dwellers in single room tenements per thousand inhabitants in England and Wales is 47; in London, 184; but in Devonport 244. The number of people occupying one, two, three, and four room tenements in Devonport are: one room, 11,301; two rooms, 19,835; three rooms, 12,000; four rooms, 7,000. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade appealed to the powers of the various statutes, and said if local authorities would only put their provisions in to force they had the remedy in their own hands. But they cannot put them into force in a district like this under the domination of one man. The Government should take action. They should come down and condemn the whole thing, and having done so, should throw the whole responsibility to rebuild the houses 'and to rehouse those who are temporarily displaced upon the owners. It is complained that in London a fictitious value is put upon the land, because it is said by the owners when these insanitary properties are demolished that the land is going to be used for the erection of warehouses and factories. That cannot apply to Devonport, where there are no warehouses, and where the land is exclusively utilised for housing. I rather gathered from my hon. friend that he desired to attack this question on the principle of compensation. I did not gather how he intended to do it, but I hope he does not intend to take the land at its fictitious value. If that principle is adopted it is impossible to deal with this matter, but if by some means a fair value could be established so that the land could be cleared of its rookeries and reoccupied by sanitary working men's dwellings, the evil would be cured. The remedy of taking the people into the country districts will not benefit the poor. It is the very poor who are the victims of overcrowding, and who are compelled to live in these hovels. The man receiving decent wages is able to go 460 out into the country districts, but there is a class in all towns whose wages are less than £1 a week, and whose wages will not permit them to live away from their work. They must live in these overcrowded areas so as to be near their work, and if it is left to the chance of making a favourable arrangement with the monopolist the prospects of removing the evil are very slight indeed. In my opinion in that case the evil will continue. The Bill, as far as it goes, will do good in some communities, but I doubt whether it will benefit others at all. If the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is going to speak on this matter perhaps he will tell us whether in Committee we shall be allowed a free field to put down such Amendments as we think proper. I understood from my hon. friend that we were to be shut out from moving Amendments on the general question, but I hope that is not so. This is not a party question, and I hope it will not be treated as one, and that, in Committee, we shall have every opportunity for moving Amendments. The House is not busy just now, and I think this would be an excellent opportunity for considering the whole question.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
I desire to call attention to only one particular aspect of this question, which is not hostile to the Bill in any sense of the word, but which seems to me to deserve some consideration. The idea of the Bill is that the local authorities are to have the power to provide houses for working people outside their own area, because their own area is overcrowded, and the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Shields is that this can only be carried out by improved railway communication. The two things go hand in hand. I do not deny that the Bill is a good one so far as it goes. It is very desirable that local authorities should deal with this matter, and also that railway facilities should be increased. But I want to represent to the House that this remedy of building houses outside and of improving railroad facilities is at its best a very imperfect treatment of the question. It would only take London further out into the country, and would not bring the people into the country. I remember in the east of London districts which many years ago were practically in the country, giving the people who went to live there 461 the advantages of a country life, which are now parts of London, with the result that the centre of London is further removed from the country. And it has become more difficult for those who live in London to get into the country except by taking a long railway journey. It is impossible to get green fields and pure air unless you go ten or fifteen miles out of it. And though you give improved facilities, there is this point to be considered—the waste of time which is involved in taking people away from their work. Over an hour is taken away from the workman in the morning in going to his work, and an hour at night in returning, and often more than that. And what with the risk of delay through fog, and the fatigue of an hour's travelling, the man is not in the same condition to go to his work as if he resided near it. He is no longer fresh, and when he returns home at night he is fit for nothing at all. Yet we have been holding up to the working classes the advantages they will receive, with better wages and more time to themselves, and improved education. Therefore, I say it is unnatural to remove them further from their work by railway, and that such a remedy will never get rid of the evil. The conclusion I draw is that all the remedies we have for bringing the men to their work are imperfect, and I suggest that instead of attempting to bring them to their work we should take all these larger industries into the smaller towns or into the country, and create villages for their workers, as has been done in the north; and although this may be considered a Utopian remedy, I do not think it is one that it is at all idle to call to the attention of the House on an occasion like this as a remedy we might enforce. I hope the owners of warehouses and workshops and large industrial undertakings will, as the leases of their town property fall in, turn their attention to other parts of the country, where conditions are favourable and land is cheap, for the erection of works and dwellings for their workpeople, and consider whether there would not be savings to more than compensate for the disadvantages of removal from London, the great centre of consumption. It is a great economic question which affects great industries, and though there are difficulties in the way, there are many industries which might be removed—such as jam factories and others—which would do a 462 great deal to relieve the overcrowding in great towns. A good suggestion has been made, and that is to prohibit the erection of factories and workshops within a given area, but the tendency of such a regulation would, I think, be merely to enlarge the borders of London, already, in my opinion, disproportionately large.
§ * THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. T. W. RUSSELL,) Tyrone, S.
Long before I entered this House, and long before I had to consider this question from an official standpoint, I had given a great deal of attention to this matter. I happen to live in a city where the poor are probably housed in a worse manner than in any other city in the world. And, as most people know, I have for many years, had to consider social questions, and now I bring all the wishes that a man can have for a satisfactory solution of this question. But the longer I study it the less I am inclined to drift into the region of despair. The hon. Member for Dumfries started, I think, from the standpoint that things were getting worse rather than better. I do not believe anything of the kind. What I do believe is that a wider knowledge of overcrowding is being obtained. But I also know that tens of thousands of the poor have been lifted up within the last few years, and it is not true to say things are getting worse instead of better. That is a mistake that most earnest social reformers fall into, not only on this question but others. Of the-40,000,000 of people in this country we know that 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 are living under conditions which are not satisfactory, but it is a mistake to look at those 5,000,000 or 6,000,000 of people and not at the majority. They are a minority and not the majority. Private enterprise and municipal enterprise have done a good deal, but the truth is that public attention has been concentrated on these matters, and we are made to feel the misery of them. I am delighted to think it is so but I deprecate the statement that things are getting worse and not better. My hon. friend made an allegation against the Government with regard to the drafting of the Bill, and said it almost amounted to chicanery, that the Bill was restricted to amending Part III. of the Act of 1890. He said that precluded all chance of amending the other parts of the Act I am, unlike the hon. Gentleman, not a 463 great lawyer, but I may explain that if the Bill applied to the whole of the Act of 1890 instead of to one Part, it would not have been possible to have passed any amendment on the subject of cheap trains. Every one of the other points to which my hon. friend alluded are dealt with by the present law, and my hon. friend knows better than I that if any landlord allows a house to become insanitary, the local authorities can compel him to put it in a sanitary condition, and if he will not do so, they can do the work and charge him with the expense. There is one proposal, I admit, which is not in the present Bill. The hon. Gentleman did not go the length of supporting a stipulation for setting up a fair rent court, but he suggested that the Local Government Board might act as such a tribunal. My experience of fail-rent courts (and I have done something to establish them) is that they are not satisfactory. They have been established in Ireland now for fifteen or seventeen years, and nobody in Ireland is satisfied with them. Yet the hon. Gentleman had the temerity to propose to the House that if it was not ready to accept the proposal of a fair rent court, that the Local Government Board should act in that capacity.
§ SIR ROBERT REID
I never suggested anything of the kind. My proposal was that if a house was insanitary, or overcrowded or over-rented, and the fact was proved to the satisfaction of the authorities, someone should be appointed by the Local Government Board to manage the property properly and economically, and that the balance, after the payment of the expenses, should be paid to the landlord.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
And what is the net result of the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal? If the two first conditions are violated the present law can deal with the case. As regards the third, how are the Local Government Board to find out that a building is overrented, unless by an examination of the rents? It practically amounts to the fixing of a fair rent. With regard to the next, the hon. Gentleman said that a great deal of the overcrowding is due to railways and workshops. By the Standing Order of the House, railway companies are bound to provide for the people they 464 dispossess. All I can tell you is that this matter is not under the Local Government Board. My right hon. friend on my left has in London the power to say to a railway company, "If you are going to clear this area there are so many people living on it, and before you begin the work of clearance you must provide for these people." That is the law. The hon. Gentleman asks: Do they use that power?
§ MR. ROBSON (South Shields)
In giving evidence before the Royal Commission on Housing, one of the witnesses stated that the railway companies did not and could not attempt to provide houses for the people displaced. He said he did not know a single case where a railway company had done it.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
That is not so. There are other cases where the duty is placed upon the Local Government Board, and I myself have over and over again insisted that where areas were cleared the population should be provided for before the work was proceeded with. Let me now come to the question of the character of the Bill itself. The tenor of the debate has been to belittle the character of the Bill. It has been said over and over again that the Bill is a small one, good so far as it goes, but hardly even touching the fringe of the question. I don't believe that, and I am going to show what the Bill really does. I am going to quote the authority of one of the first men to call attention to this inability of the local authority to go outside its own area. Lord Rosebery, in a public speech in this city, called attention to this drawback, and suggested that legislation should take place upon it. More than that, the hon. and learned Member for South Shields said in opening the debate that he was not quite sure whether the County Council had correctly interpreted the law. All I can say with regard to that is that the London County Council were offered an area outside, and that they felt themselves precluded from taking it owing to the legal advice they received. That is quite sufficient to authorise the intervention of Parliament. What is the real evil here? Surely the evil is overcrowding and want of space. I heard the hon. Member for Stepney say that there were hundreds of acres of vacant land in 465 London. I hope it will remain vacant. I do not want to see these hundreds of acres covered over. If there is anything London requires more than another it is breathing spaces. Although there are vacant spaces it does not necessarily follow that they should be crowded with workmen's houses. How, then, are you to remedy the overcrowding in London? Do you think you will ever remedy it by pulling down insanitary buildings, clearing insanitary areas, and erecting upon these areas buildings which will not house the number of people you dispossess? Those unprovided for will only go elsewhere and increase the overcrowding. Clearly it is the business of the local authority to get the people out of the crowded area into the country. You are precluded from doing that by the law. This Bill gives them power to do it. The Bill gives them the power, which I think is a vital power they ought to possess, of getting the people away from the crowded areas to breathe fresh air, where they will have elbow room. This Bill is belittled by hon. Members for London, who of all men should be most interested in getting it through. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen said that two points had been made, that we were simply increasing the size of London, and that two hours would be necessary going to and from the country every day. I do not think there are two hours involved in it at all. The Bill aims at giving the people room to live. There are, of course, a large number of people who cannot go to the country. The hon. Member for East Finsbury said the other night that the people in his constituency could not go out. They were porters and labourers, and could not afford the money to go out. But the better class of workmen in these places would go out and leave room for those who are not so fortunate. This Bill does not profess to be a cure for the evil entirely. I do not think any member of the Government would claim that. The hon. Member talked glibly about going to the root of this matter. The root of the matter is much deeper, and involves much more serious questions than are being discussed now. The position of the Government is this. We do not say that this Bill settles the whole question, or that any single Bill is likely to do it, but we do say that this Bill confers upon 466 large cities the very power that is wanted, and we also say that the amendment, whatever it may be possible to say for it in the abstract, would destroy the Bill. Therefore we hope that the Amendment will be rejected, and that the Bill will be carried, so that the people, at all events, will get a chance of going out where they will have room to live.
§ * MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
I have no desire to belittle the Bill in the way complained of by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down; nor have I heard any speech on this side of the House having that object. The Bill is no doubt capable of doing what it is proposed to do, but what we say is that the proposals are entirely and absolutely insufficient to meet the requirements of the situation. If I have any complaint to make at all it is that the Government has not at all realised the importance of this subject. The Secretary of the Local Government Board has told the House that the subject is beyond politicians' understanding, and that the subject is much bigger than the Bill. That is the point, and the line taken by passing a temporary measure of this kind would be much better occupied by considering a more efficient and complete measure. I have never sought to belittle the Local Government Board. On the contrary, I have the greatest regard for it, and have always declared that it does its work in the most excellent manner. What I complain of is that this question, which should have been treated as one of first-class importance, has been relegated to a Department. Why did not the Government take it up as a first-class question? The evil is a growing one every year. The hon. Member for East Finsbury this evening declared that in his judgment overcrowding was becoming less acute. I do not agree with him at all. I was not born in London, but I have known it intimately for forty-three years. I lived in it twenty-five years as a workman having long distances to travel to my work, and earning a comparatively low wage. Therefore I have practical experience of the housing question in London, which the hon. Member for East Finsbury, happily for him, is not acquainted with. He has never experienced it, and I venture to say that I do not believe his estimate of the situation is the true one. I believe that overcrowding is increasing, and, until 467 we have a much larger measure than the one under discussion, will continue to increase. I have had some experience not only as a workman but as a member of the Royal Commission of 1884 on this question. What was true in 1884 is true to-day, only on a much larger scale. The demand for living accommodation has increased enormously, and the accommodation has not increased. Wages will not compensate. Although wages certainly have increased in some cases, the increase has been nothing like in proportion to the increase in rent. Most workmen in London will pay at least one-fifth of their wages for rent. A great number of workmen in London, even thirty years back, paid one-fifth of their wages in rent. That would only apply to a man and wife without family. If a man had a family one-fourth was the amount for rent, and to-day it is undoubtedly true that in many cases one-third of their wages is paid. I am told that in some extreme cases one-half of their yearly income is consumed by the rent charged. The argument based upon a man's weekly earnings in London is a fallacy altogether. Take the best class of artisans. During my working years in my trade I was extremely fortunate. I was accounted a fortunate person in the matter of employment, yet taking the occasional out-of-work period, with the deductions for holidays at various parts of the year, and stoppages by reason of the hard weather, I could not reckon on more than ten months income. That is the experience of even the most fortunate and most capable in the building trade in this great city. If you argue upon animal income and divide the charge for rent by the ten months earning you will find that in a vast number of cases the rent charged is one-third of their income. Well, that is a monstrous state of things. It gives a workman no chance whatever to provide against old age, sickness, or the out-of-work period. Then that is not the only evil connected with the overcrowding of cities and towns. Take one of the next important subjects to rent in the life of a working man's family in London —that of domestic economy. What domestic economy can be practised by a man and woman living in one room, or a man and woman with three children living in two rooms? All their expenditure has to be made under the worst 468 possible conditions. The extravagance is enormous. It is impossible for a wise housewife to so lay out her scanty income at the beginning of the week as to provide for all the week, and thus enable her to buy cheaper and better. That is impossible for this reason: there is no storage for it possible in overcrowded tenements. It is no use purchasing provisions for more than two days at the utmost, and all the summer you cannot go beyond the demands and necessities of your family for more than twenty-four hours. If you do, the goods are spoiled, the articles purchased become unfit for food, and in some cases would be lost altogether by the pressure of heat. This renders the question of the relations between wages and house rent a very serious matter indeed. The less room there is at the disposal of a family the greater is the extravagance necessary in providing the necessaries of life. These are questions of the most serious nature, and I contend that the evils are increasing in all their worst features. As to the evils of overcrowding, I have before me here the evidence taken by the Royal Commission in 1883 and 1884, which reveals one of the most dreadful conditions of life it is possible to conceive. They have not lessened since 1884; they have increased. Drunkenness is inseparable from this overcrowding of the people together. Disease follows upon drunkenness and overcrowding, and many thousands of the victims born in these dens never grow to the full stature of manhood or womanhood. I was only recently in the children's ward of a hospital in London, and I wish the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would visit it and see for himself. I should like to take him if he would allow me the honour of conducting him to the place. Let him walk round the children's ward and see the poor little mites of humanity. Muscle is out of the question; in many cases there is scarcely bone. I have seen the poor little things curled up in their cots as though they had not a muscle or bone in their bodies. I saw only a few days back a melancholy settled upon the face of a dear little thing three years of age as though it were a century old. In those eyes there was no light; in its body, as it were, there was no spirit, and it looked an object that would move the heart of any man. These are the chil- 469 dren from the one-room tenements; these are the children from the overcrowded parts of this great metropolis. There are no children there belonging to the best class of working people, much less of the shopkeeping and middle class. They are all the children of the rookeries, the dens, and the hateful places. How can you look forward to the maintenance of your great Empire if you are going to allow your population to so degenerate that they fall short of the stage of manhood or womanhood ere they have reached twenty-one years of age? A more serious problem I cannot think the Government could have to solve, and that is one of the reasons why I regret that the question has not been made a first-class question, and put in the forefront by the Cabinet instead of being relegated to a mere Departmental Bill, as though it was of no consequence. I do not find fault with the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. I do not join those who reflect upon his want of appreciation. The right hon. Gentleman probably has given us as much as his Cabinet would allow him to give. He told us the other night that we could not look to the Treasury to help the housing movement, the demands at present being such that he dare not ask for that assistance. I regret that that is the condition of things in the Government of which he is a member, but I do say that the Government should look upon this important subject in its true light. If you allow the population to degenerate in consequence of bad housing there are ill times in store for Great Britain and her splendid possessions beyond the sea. You cannot bring your colonists to do work for you and live in these slums. Rent is the burden of life to the people. Work or no work, clothes or no clothes, the rent has to be paid. Schooling and food have to give way in order that the rent collector may be satisfied, and if you are going to meet this question 011 the lines which its seriousness demands, you will have to bring in a measure of a much larger character. To use the words of the Secretary of the Local Government Board, you will have to go to the root of the matter, and until you have done that you are merely as it were "ploughing the sands," if I may use a well-known phrase in politics. I was disappointed that the Secretary of the Local Government Board did not announce that some concessions would be made. I hope 470 we may hear something later on. I wish to call attention to one or two points. The first is the extension of the time for the repayment of loans by the local authorities and the non-charging of the cost of the land against the rent to be paid by the tenants of the municipal houses. If these two concessions were made they would greatly improve this measure. One other concession which would improve it very greatly would be to give the right to local authorities to purchase land and hold it until it was required for building purposes. These three points would be of great value. So far as it is within my power to help the Government in passing the Bill I shall help them. The hon. and learned Member in the early part of the evening discountenanced anything like party passion or party speeches in connection with the Bill. No one had made a party speech until he did so himself. Every hon. Member of this House who knows anything of the subject knows that it is so serious, so pressing, and so enormous in its extent that the last thing he would think of would be to endeavour to obtain any party capital out of a Bill of this kind either on the Second Reading or in the Committee stage. If the Government makes concessions on the three points I have alluded to the Bill would meet with very general approval, and certainly they would facilitate the passing of the Bill. It would lift the Bill up from mediocrity—I do not use the word in a disrespectful sense—to one at least of second-class importance. With regard to railways, I entirely approve of every step taken to increase the travelling accommodation from the centre to the circumference. I cannot help thinking that this is a matter of very great importance. There are two sides to the question. The hon. and learned Member for East Finsbury dealt with one of them. He said that to take the workpeople from the centre to the circumference meant later arrival home at night and earlier departure in the morning. I have experienced all those different phases of life, and in my judgment the purer air, the greater accommodation, the Saturday afternoon, and the Sunday spent within the vicinity of a small garden, if it is possible, or near the fields and upon the roads, wholly compensate from the physical point of view for the later arrival home and the earlier departure in the morning. May I say 471 one additional word with regard to railways? I had a very wide experience of London before the Underground Railway was made—or at any rate, there was only a very small section in existence from Sloane Square to Westminster Bridge— and I have no hesitation in saying that in my experience there is no public work of London which has done so much to save the health and lives of the workers as our various railway systems, particularly—if I may mention two as being superior to the others—the Metropolitan, the District, and the Great Eastern. In my life I have frequently had to be at work at six o'clock in the morning, having three, four, and upwards of miles to walk, wet through, and work in my wet clothes until they were dry. Thousands of other men have done the same. Now, for one shilling a week you can travel all those miles which we had previously to walk, and arrive at your employment at any rate with dry clothes. No doubt there is much overcrowding, inconvenience, and other drawbacks, but in those days, forty years back, I should have been glad to have been one of twenty in a compartment seating ten rather than do the journey on foot, and get wet through into the bargain. It would be difficult to estimate the enormous economy as to the health of the workers of London caused by the railways during the last twenty or forty years; railway companies do not always command my approval in the manner of conducting their work and treatment of their servants, and I often vote against them on these questions; and therefore I think the Local Government Board will do well to adjust their scheme as far as possible to the railway and tramcar accommodation. With regard to rotten property and what should be done with it, I noticed almost a shudder among hon. Members when my hon. friend the Member for Stepney, in one of the best speeches on the housing question I ever heard, suggested fair-rent courts to deal with house property in London. I should have no hesitation in voting for a penal clause of the most severe nature in that connection. The Commission of 1884 was not a revolutionary body, comprising as it did H. R. H. the Prince of Wales, a number of peers, the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Under Secretary for the Home Department, and a number of other important people; and yet many of them were in favour of a fair-rent court. The 472 hon. and learned Member for Dumfries has propounded a scheme not called a fair-rent court, but I fail to see much difference between a fair-rent court and the procedure suggested by the hon. and learned Member. There is a difference in name, but the result will be very much the same. In the recommendations of the Commission, signed by the Under Secretary for the Home Department, Cardinal Manning, Lord Carrington, and the late Bishop of Wakefield, and myself, there is a distinct and definite recommendation of a fair-rent court—It is necessary if the working classes are to be decently housed that protection should be given them against extortionate rents, resulting from a monopoly of a practically limited supply of available land and dwellings, and an intense and increasing competition in the demand for that accommodation.Lord William Compton in his view of this difficulty assents to the necessity of regulating rents by law, "but it is evident that this would be difficult of accomplishment." Surely Her Majesty's Government are not going to be cowed and overawed by a difficulty of that sort. What these poor people could not do in 1884 ought to be easy for the Government to do in 1900. The paragraph is suggestive also of other reforms. The hon. Member for Mid Norfolk said something about the nationalisation of land. This paragraph clearly indicates that there is little hope of complete satisfaction until municipalisation, at any rate, of land takes place. Another curious phase of the housing question was submitted by Lord Shaftesbury. Lord Shaftesbury was a sensible man; he had had fifty years experience as a philanthropist, and he never used words with which he did not agree. He quoted this theory from a most experienced person, that if all the men in London were suddenly to become teetotallers, those now living in one room would want two; therefore, taking a thousand men in any one parish so changing their habits, it would mean a demand for an additional thousand rooms, and rents would go up in proportion. In that argument they go on to show that it is a positive advantage and a help against overcrowding for men to spend their money in drink, so that they do not make a larger demand for house accommodation. I am fully aware of all the advantages under the existing law referred to by the President and 473 Secretary of the Local Government Board, but there are very few local authorities which know of the existence of those powers. That is the fault of the Local Government Board. I really see no objection whatever to the Local Government Board sending round a codified circular—
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Is not the hon. Member aware that at the end of every session such a circular is sent to the local authorities with regard to Bills passed during the session?
§ * MR. BROADHURST
Yes; and it is like this present Bill. We have to go back and dig up from obscurity the circulars of years and years past to know what the powers are. We will have to do the same in the case of this Bill. The present measure can be understood only by lawyers. You must have a competent town clerk. What is the use of issuing this Bill to a poor remote local authority? Very few would understand its meaning, and they certainly would not have the references at hand to argue out the question. This Bill will probably become law this session. Why should not the Local Government Board at the end of the session send out a digest of all these clauses?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
It has already been done.
§ * MR. BROADHURST
I am vice-chairman of a local authority, and I can only say that, so far as I am aware, it has never reached that body. If it has been done there is no reason why it should not be done again. It is an argument in favour of repeating or reprinting the circular, because much of that which has been printed up to the time this Bill becomes law will be obsolete and misleading without a further summary of the additional powers under this Bill. I hope the Government will be able to give us some assurance that they intend to meet the demands which have been made from both sides of the House for an enlargement of the measure. There is no party feeling in the question at all. I am sure Member's on this side of the House will work as heartily and as constantly to secure the passage of an improved 474 measure as any Members on the other side. I would like to see the Government propose Amendments making such substantial improvements that we on this side could say that we would not further discuss the Bill, but would agree to its passing through the House as quickly as possible. I only regret that it is not a larger measure, and that Her Majesty's Government do not seem to appreciate the extent of the necessity for dealing with the question, or be aware of its enormous ramifications. It is not only in London, but in the provinces also; in small urban districts and in hundreds of cases in the villages in our rural counties. In many parts of the country the question is as ripe as in many of the towns, and I feel that this Bill will fall far short of the expectations of the people who road the announcement that the Government intended to deal with this housing question.
§ * MR. MARKS (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
As the representative of a district in London which suffers as much as, and possibly more than, any other from the evils of over-crowding and insanitary dwellings, I cannot refrain from expressing my sense of profound disappointment with the measure now before the House—a disappointment which I might say takes me a long way towards that region of despair which has been described by the Secretary to the Local Government Board as yawning before us. The debate which has taken place has shown in a striking manner the unanimity of opinion which exists as to the extreme urgency of this question, and we are not limited for evidence of that unanimity to utterances in this House. Every party, and the leaders of every party, in this country have for years past paraded in their programmes and proclaimed upon their platforms a solemn and earnest determination to deal, and to deal effectively, with this question of the housing of the working classes. A study of the election addresses issued in 1895 would prove at this stage a most interesting work of reference on this particular question. The election addresses of every one of the London Members, I think, without exception, contained references to the matter, and emphatic were the pledges put forth as to how it should be dealt with in this House. With such an unanimity one would think that 475 a unique opportunity presented itself for effective legislation. There is no difference of opinion among parties; it is admitted that it is not a party question; and we have in power one of the strongest Governments of modern times, or, at least, a Government with one of the largest majorities of modern times. But we have a Bill before us which, as it seems to me, touches scarcely the fringe of the subject, and touches that fringe at the by no means most important point. We have been told to-day that the evil which is so intolerable is not a growing evil. No one who is acquainted with East London will share that opinion. However, it may be elsewhere in the country, or elsewhere in the metropolis, in the East End of London it is a growing evil, and it is an evil which owes its growth to causes not difficult to explain. In the first place, the influx of foreigners during recent years has, in some districts, practically resulted in driving out of the houses the English dwellers who formerly resided there. These foreigners who pour into our pores and settle in the East End of London are not exactly paupers. Some of them come over with a few shillings in their pockets, and some are aided by philanthropic individuals or philanthropic societies to make a start in London. Strange as it may seem, the j start which some of these foreigners make, even before they have learned to speak a word of our language, is as farmers of houses in the districts of Whitechapel and St. George's-in-the-East. They go down there, and for 25s. or 30s. they buy the key of a house, which is a local practice entitling them to go into immediate occupation. The price of the key is practically a premium, irrespective of the rise in rent which takes place. The foreigner goes into the house, usually with an associate who acts as interpreter, discharges the English family or families residing there, and, living under sanitary conditions in which no English family could live, he proceeds to make of the collar a workshop, of the pavement in front of the house a goods store, and of each floor in the house a nest for any foreigner who wants to come in and get a dossing place. In that way the rents have gone up in the districts of Whitechapel and St. George's-in-the-East from 7s. to 12s. and sometimes to 15s. per week, and anyone who is acquainted with East 476 London knows that whole rows of houses on the east side of Commercial Road are to-day practically depopulated of English residents. To deal with this question we have heard is an object we all have at heart. I do not doubt it for a moment. What I suggest is that we should take that object out of our hearts and carry it in our hands for a time. At the present moment, notwithstanding the promises we have had, notwithstanding the practical unanimity of opinion in regard to the urgency of the question, it cannot be pretended that the Bill which is now under consideration comes even within measurable distance of the expectations which have been entertained, and reasonably entertained, from the utterances not only of private Members on both sides of the House, but of the most prominent leaders on both sides. The measure which the Government have introduced seems to me to keep the word of promise to our hearts, but to break it to our hope. It has been said it is a start. But what sort of a start? It is a start which proposes to answer the cry of the London dweller for a place to live in in London with the somewhat cynical advice, "If you want to live in London go out of town, go to the country." It is very easy for a certain class of people to live twenty miles out of London, but it is not an easy thing for the docker or for the lighterman, or for the man who makes his labour day by day and has to hang about hour after hour to get a job. To tell a man who has been driven out of his dwelling by the conditions which I have endeavoured to describe that he may get a London dwelling by going twenty miles into the country is a mockery. It has been said it is a very healthy thing to go out into the fresh air. It is a very healthy thing when you get there. But how is such a man to deal with the question of fares? It must be remembered that I am speaking in respect of and to some extent on behalf of a class of men who have to go out each day to get their work for that particular day, who have to depend upon the condition of trade on the Thames for the price of their living for that particular day. Most frequently such a man starts out in the small hours of the morning without any money in his pocket, usually hungry; he naturally seeks his work as near as possible to his dwelling. If he manages 477 to get work, to a certain extent his family benefit by his returning home during the day and providing the means for that very day's meals, a thing which he certainly could not do if he lived a long way from his employment. Again, there is the question of economy. It is obvious that in the case of a man with a wife and family, the fares of the family going from the country to London would be a very important item, to say nothing of the additional expense of providing meals in different places instead of providing the meals for the whole family at one time and in one place. It has been said by the President of the Local Government Board, in answer to the objections which have been urged against this Bill, that he feared when he first introduced it that there would be very little time for large measures of legislation. One can well understand how at that time he might have entertained that fear, but it must now have been dissipated by experience. There is ample leisure for large measures of legislation, and that leisure might now be well used for the improvement and extension of this Bill by amendments. But the right hon. Gentleman holds out no hope whatever of such amendments, not even of such amendments as have been urged by the chief supporters of the Bill, as, for instance, with reference to the interest to be paid upon the money borrowed for workmen's dwellings, or with reference to the currency of the loans raised for that purpose. I do not think there are two opinions upon those two points. Whether we go into the country to build workmen's dwellings or whether we stay in London to erect them, the question of the financial conditions under which they are to be built is a question that must be dealt with. We have heard of the heavy expense of building in London as compared with the expense of building in Liverpool. If that is true of London itself, it is equally true of the suburb within ten miles of London, and, if I am rightly informed, the trades union rates of wages which apply in London apply for twenty miles around. With regard to the currency of the loans also, as I say, there are not two opinions. At the recent meeting of the Association of Municipal Corporations, a resolution was unanimously passed in favour of legalising loans for a term of 100 years in the case of land acquired for the erection of 478 dwellings in connection with the housing of the working classes; and Lord Welby, in his speech at the opening of the Boundary Street Dwellings, made a special point of the importance of amending the present regulations under which the loans required for these buildings are raised. Upon these two points we have had no satisfaction from the President of the Local Government Board, and no hint of any satisfaction from the secretary to the Local Government Board. In a word, in respect of the matters upon which even the warmest supporters of the Bill have expressed the opinion that facilities should be given, no satisfaction is to be had. We have heard from the President of the Local Government Board that in respect of the extension of the period for the repayment of these loans we should be putting an undue burden on posterity. I am not one of those who regard posterity as a pack horse which is capable of bearing any kind of burden, but I think that posterity might be expected to reap some substantial compensation for such a small portion of the burden as is proposed should devolve upon them from the improved moral and physical condition of the race of citizens they would have to deal with. We have had some very pathetic pictures drawn of the physical and moral condition of the people, the natural product of the rookeries and insanitary houses which exist. I do not think that any description which has been given has overstepped the mark; it is impossible to overstep the mark. The fact of the case is that the crime, drunkenness, and degradation which are so often brought up as a charge against the people in the crowded districts of this metropolis are the natural and inevitable outcome of the conditions under which they exist. In the experience of those who have laboured in the east end of London, and who know well what the habits and the character of the people are, it is the insufferable condition of their homes; as compared with the allurements, temptations, cheerfulness, and warmth of the neighbouring public-houses, that are responsible for a great amount, if not the chief amount, of the intemperance which prevails amongst them. I do think these are considerations which ought to weigh with the House. I think that the interests of this generation and the generation which will immediately follow it ought to have as 479 much weight as considerations for a remote posterity. We are told that there are already existing powers to deal with some of the evils which have been referred to. These powers are heard of a great deal upon occasions like this, but they are not much in evidence at any other time. We have heard that the vestries have wide powers conferred upon them—yes, but they are only powers to destroy and not to build up; powers to close bad dwellings, not to supply good ones. It is not surprising, therefore, if the vestries hesitate to give effect to the powers they have when they know that, under existing circumstances, the only result of pulling down or closing insanitary dwellings will be to drive out into the streets the people who live in them. Until you facilitate the raising of funds for the provision of the additional buildings required, and increase the powers of the local authorities in that respect, it is scarcely to be expected that their efforts to deal with this evil will take any definite shape. We do not require, in order to deal with this question, the provision of houses twenty miles away. The remedy you want first is to abolish the present system of compensation, which really offers a premium for the creation and maintenance of insanitary dwellings. What is needed is to make it more profitable to keep decent dwellings than rookeries and slums; and next to facilitate in every way the erection of new buildings. If these points are dealt with you will be dealing with the evil at the right end. I am far from saying that this Bill is an entirely useless one. On the contrary, I think there are conditions under which it may become useful and mitigate some of the evils of overcrowding; but it does not touch the chief evil which requires immediate treatment. It is impossible to believe that it is the best Bill on the subject that the combined intelligence, experience and earnestness of the Government could produce. It looks like a merely formal compliance with a public demand which men of all parties are pledged to deal with, and which no Government could afford to ignore altogether. I do feel that I should be failing in my duty if I did not express my profound dissatisfaction with what I cannot but regard as an utterly inadequate measure.
§ * MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
The House has listened with very considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East, who represents one of the districts in London which is peculiarly and badly affected by the great evils of overcrowding and bad housing. I feel sure that he has voiced the feelings of a large number of Members on both sides of the House— certainly of the majority of Members on this side—when he said that this Bill, which attempts to deal with a problem which is generally admitted to be one of the most acute problems of the day, affecting, as it does, the lives not only of the present generation, but of generations to come, is a feeble and quite inadequate effort. I have heard constantly during this debate hon. Members say that, at any rate, this Bill is a step in the right direction, that it is an instalment of the reform which we all admit is urgently required.
Attention drawn to the fact that forty Members were not present (Dr. TANNER, Cork, Mid). House counted, and forty Members being found present.
§ * MR. MADDISON (continuing)
I was attempting to show that the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East, when he very clearly pointed out the terrible evils which result from bad housing, was justified in saying that the Bill now before the House was a very feeble attempt to grapple with these evils. Many hon. Members have said that this is an instalment of reform, but I want to know how it is when the Government have a majority of 140, and when they have had the additional advantage of the unanimous support of the Opposition in carrying out good legislation during the present Parliament, and when all profess to be desirous of dealing with this matter, they have brought in a Bill which I think they will admit is the very minimum of reform. To give us less they could hardly have got any draughtsman to frame the Bill. The measure only deals really with one phase of this question, which I will not attempt to deny is an important phase. It will afford a remedy in certain cases, but the peculiarity of the housing problem is that it is many sided, and that it presents various difficulties which no one remedy can solve. The First Lord of the Treasury made speeches 481 during his election on this housing question, and I remember myself healing him speak in characteristically eloquent terms of the awful evils of overcrowding, and he declared that it was one of those questions which awaited the attention and treatment of high statesmanship. Surely the First Lord of the Treasury cannot be very proud of this so-called instalment. There is one class of question in this House which we hardly ever treat by instalments, and that is when we are increasing our naval and military expenditure. Then we have thorough measures brought before us, and the amount of money is not considered. But when it is a question of looking after the interests not of the Outlanders who find their way to Park Lane, but of the miserable outlanders who live in your mighty city, but have no part or lot in your greatness and in your wealth, the position is different. I admit great progress has been made during the last fifty years. I think to pretend that we are not better off than we were fifty years ago is either to show deplorable ignorance or else to have some rather perverted notions of accuracy. But nevertheless it is a fact, and a sad fact, of our present day life that while the vast majority of the people have grown more prosperous, and are in every way in a better position than they were fifty years ago, there is a section of the community which, having regard to the greater general prosperity and the higher standard of conditions, is actually worse off than it was fifty years ago. If that be true, it is a very serious thing, which, I think, deserves the special attention of Parliament. Any workman earning £2 a week in London, or 30s. or 35s. in a provincial town, has no necessity to live in a slum, but there are men in London who only earn less than £50 a year, such as dockers and others a little grade above them, and they have to live under conditions which are practically a disgrace to our so-called civilisation. I quite agree, and I would be the last to depart from it, that we do not want to make the miseries of the people a party matter or to make a catspaw of them. Pictures have been drawn and figures have been given which have gone straight to the hearts not only of hon. Members, but of the country, regarding the awful condition under which many people in London live, and I think we are all indebted to the hon. Member for Stepney, who, coming 482 straight from the heart of the metropolis, told us with all the freshness of his sympathy and knowledge how the poor live in this London of ours. I had brought before my notice the other day by a most responsible man a state of affairs which exists not more than fifteen minutes walk from the Houses of Parliament. In the Strand Division there is one room where ten men and women live and work and sleep, and for that room they pay £1 per week. I hope the House will not think I am drawing on my imagination, because I believe I can produce incontrovertible evidence of the truth of what I am saying. This is not a solitary instance; it is an example of the evils we are trying to deal with. It may be, perhaps, an extreme example, but for all that a representative-case of what is happening in the midst of this London of ours. How can the people who live and work under such conditions possibly observe the ordinary decencies of life? A very eminent Baptist minister, the pastor of the Shoreditch Tabernacle, who has worked for many long years zealously and faithfully striving to ameliorate the condition of the people around him, told the Baptist Union only a few days ago that he had very few people in his congregation who lived in a house of their own, and that a large number of these people, trying to live godly, temperate, and moral lives, had to live practically in two rooms. When one remembers that this is the fact the only wonder is that the people manage to be as moral as they are. Our refined civilisation having compelled these people to live in the slums, then plants as many public-houses as it possibly can in the neighbourhood. It poisons the people in their own homes, and when they escape from their homes it poisons them in the public-houses, and the worse the slum is the more drink-shops there are placed in it I noticed recently that the housing problem has received some attention and sympathy from a certain type of people who have found out that our slums do not breed good soldiers, and having found that out they have tried to awaken a considerable amount of interest in this question, because in these days of so-called Imperialism it seems to be sufficient to prove your case if you can show that the material for powder will in any way decrease. I admit that if that were the only indictment against the slums I would 483 pray very fervently for the slums to continue. There is a much more economical use for a human being than this. I say, no matter what other questions may occupy our attention, not one of them deserves more thorough treatment and more careful attention than the one we are now discussing, but, unfortunately, the discussion for all practical purposes, as far as the Bill is concerned, is so narrow and cramped and confined as to barely touch, as the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East said, the fringe of this great question. This is not merely a London question. I happen to live in London, but I have sufficient provincialism about me to be able to remind myself and others that London is not England. The question is unfortunately applicable more or less to all parts of the country. In some of the rural villages, where everything is beautiful, and where we expect people to have fresh air, we have some of the worst cases of insanitation and even of overcrowding. The Bishop of Durham, than whom there is no closer student of social questions, speaking at a conference recently, said that in Sunderland two groups of houses were examined. One contained twenty-three rooms with sixty-four persons, the largest number of persons in any one room being seven. I have been in Sunderland myself, and without any exhaustive knowledge of it, it never struck me as being below the average of towns, and yet the Bishop and those working with him found such a condition of things. The other group had sixty-two occupied rooms, with 160 persons, the largest number of persons in one room being six. The bishop also said that he had occasion to make enquiries in one of the colliery villages, and in one case found a man and his wife and five children living and sleeping in a single room, and in another case a man, his wife, three children, and three male lodgers living in a two-roomed cottage. These cases could be multiplied without difficulty. Here we are at the very close of the nineteenth century, with all the marvellous indications of the nation's wealth and prosperity, and yet we are allowing human beings, the most precious asset a nation can have and without which it would become derelict, to be treated in a way that no farmer who knows his business would allow his stock to be treated. When you are dealing with animals, you breed scientifically and 484 you surround them with favourable environments because you have found out that is the only way that healthy animals can be raised. The same law, subject of course to the differences between the human and the animal, exists with respect to the human being. And yet we allow this state of affairs to exist, which makes it almost impossible for a girl to preserve her purity, or for children to grow up into strong, robust, physically fit men, which they should, if we are to hold our own in the great competition, not of the barrack-room but of the workshop, where finally the fate of England will be decided. If that is so, then surely we have a right to demand, and a right to complain because that demand has not been satisfied, a really thorough drastic treatment of this question. As I have already tried to indicate, it is a many sided question I do not wish to occupy the time of the House at any length, but we must look at one or two of these points. In the first place, the Bill asks to allow corporations to buy land outside their area upon which workmen's dwellings can be placed. Well, I say frankly that in many cases this will be a real relief and will solve to a limited extent this most acute problem. But at the same time—and this applies particularly to London and the very large towns, and the hon. Member for St. George in the East rightly emphasised it—there are a large number of people who have not shared in the late great tide of prosperity, and the increased comfort which followed that prosperity. It is no good talking to the very poorest of the people and asking them to go any distance at all practically from their work. There are people, not only the dockers, who have tidal work which obviously and necessarily prevents them from going any distance, who cannot live far from their work. A short distance from this House, in the Strand division, there are a large number of men—shoemakers, tailors, and other tradesmen who work for West-end houses. I want hon. Members to bear in mind—they may get some comfort from it—that Canon Kingsley long ago startled Belgravia when he told them where their coats were being made. Now their coats are being made in exactly the same places still. In this part of London, you have skilled men in that trade, and there are employers who tell them that if they remove any great 485 distance from their shops they cannot guarantee to give them work. The reason is obvious. They want them within easy call in case of misfit, or in case of a special order which may be wanted very quickly. There is no part of London so trying to tradesmen, so capricious in its fashions, and so exacting in their orders as the West End; and that makes it very difficult both for the employers and the men to please them. Hence the employers say that if the men remove to any distance they cannot guarantee them work. It may be argued that the men dependent on work on these terms are paid a good rate of wages. Granted; but a mere hint from their employers is sufficient to glue them to the spot. They cannot go away; their living depends upon their work. Their children and their wives around them are an invincible argument against their removing.
§ * MR. MADDISON
I am always very modest; and it is rather for the hon. Member who receives, not a sufficient salary for his merits, but still a salary, to provide a remedy. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board who has just come in, will be able to find a remedy. He would be jealous of his Department. But I was going on to say that this Bill does nothing for these people; it does not help them one bit; it does no good to them, and yet they form, in the aggregate, thousands of first-class workmen in London. They are not allowed to profit from their good wages, and the same evil applies to them as to the poorest population in the East End. Well, the hon. Gentleman asked me what is the remedy. I have one, but, of course, I shall not fill in many details, and only put it in a Second Reading kind of form, affirming the principle. The remedy is that mentioned by my hon. friend the Member for Stepney, and endorsed by the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries. It is neither more nor less than a question of rent. [An HON. MEMBER: Oh!] Exactly; I quite understand that this is an appalling problem to try to solve. I do not deny that in the least; but it is not more appalling than the evils to which it gives rise. The right hon. Gentleman must not be 486 too readily appalled. He is a statesman and statesmen ought not to be appalled at anything. Well, I know the case of a very intelligent artisan working on similar terms to those to which I have referred. He has been paying £70 of rent, and that was raised the other day to £150. [An HON. MEMBER: Oh!] Yes; this is no exaggeration. Chapter and verse can be given for it, and if it is seriously questioned I have no doubt the man would allow me to give his name and address. [An HON. MEMBER: Nobody does.] All Members are not so charitable as my hon. friend. Now what is this man to do? He cannot move away. I said to him when he spoke to me, "Why do you pay such a rent?" He looked at me with sorrowful astonishment and said, "I cannot get my living in any other part of London. I work for a special trade and if I leave this district I am industrially stranded. I am practically and hopelessly strung." Now, and I put this seriously to the President of the Local Government Board, why should you not attempt to grapple with this question of excessive rents? Is it freedom of contract which stands in the way?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman on the front Opposition bench confessed that the establishment of fain rents in towns was utterly impracticable.
§ * MR. MADDISON
It is quite a new doctrine that a Minister should take his cue from a Loader of the Opposition. But I am willing to strike a bargain with the right hon. Gentleman. If he will agree generally with this Leader of the Opposition, I will drop rent courts and get something even more substantial. But if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, he has not correctly stated what the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dumfries said. I quite agree that he quoted the exact words of the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries, but not all of them; because the hon. Gentleman went on to point out—I did not agree with him; I know it is high treason to disagree with one's leaders, but on this side of the House we do disagree occasionally with them although such disagreement is not quite confined to this side of the House — my hon. friend went on to point out that the machinery of the rent courts was very defective and could only 487 do good to the legal profession. I am prepared to say that if it is to do any good to the legal profession, that is sufficient to condemn it, and I should abandon it at once. But he went on to propose a still more drastic remedy. What I contend for is that if you are going to deal with this question at all, if you are going to relieve the terrible situation at all, if you are going to deal with those inhuman sharks, who, in the most voracious and cruel manner, tackle their victims just at the moment of their greatest necessity, you should do it in a different manner than that provided in this Bill. London has grown; it has become overcrowded with men, and the owners of land, who have done nothing in the slightest degree to make it more prosperous or to bear the burden of taxation, exact their blood tax from the wretched workers. Hon. Members are afraid of the old bogey of "freedom of contract." It would be so wrong to say to the landlords, "You shall not have the rent which the necessities of the people would enable them to get."
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
The hon. Gentleman was not in his place when I dealt with the question of fair-rent courts. I dealt with actual experience of fair-rent courts in Ireland, and I say from personal knowledge that no landlord or tenant in this country would be satisfied with the system here.
§ * MR. MADDISON
The hon. Member, of course, belongs to the wing of the party opposite that has not been frightened with the bogey of "freedom of contract" so much as some of his colleagues. He is not yet a good sound Tory. He is a Liberal Unionist, and therefore there is a remnant of the old principle left. There are some on these benches, however, who never had any principle in this matter, except the very high and determined principle of never learning anything at all. All I can say is, that if you do not deal with excessive rents, you are leaving one of the most important aspects of the problem absolutely untouched. Sarely it is not outside the ingenuity of man to deal with it, and I venture to say that ultimately, unless you find relief in other directions, it will be dealt with. This is a demand for the right to live, for mere existence, and to possess a roof covering at such a rent as a man can possibly pay. Under the present system the 488 rent is increased not because the house is better, or because more rooms have been added to it. On the contrary, the house is becoming more dilapidated and the comfort is less. Increased rent is. demanded and paid because there are more people, and because there is more industry and toil. I do not hesitate to say that the root trouble is lower down than hon. and right hon. Gentlemen confess; and it seems absolutely hopeless to. appeal to them in the matter. This is a question of landlordism and of land monopoly. You have in this great crowded city comparatively a handful of men who have a monopoly in the land— that is to say, they have their hand upon that which is absolutely essential to life. They are remorseless; they exact their toll, irrespective of the conditions of those who have to pay it. As owners of the land they contribute practically nothing to the common burden. Our municipalities are constantly confronted with the great trouble of increasing rates, and that is the question always advanced when reform is proposed. As a result of land monoply you resort to all kinds of expedients. You build model dwellings. Model dwellings! I cannot conceive how you came to give them that name. You build houses ten and twelve storeys high, which are always crowded with people. It is not only the physical degradation that goes on. There are vast masses of people in London who are never alone. They never sleep in one room alone, but are always crowded together. Now, we know that for mental and moral strength, a man wants sometimes to be alone. And all this because we allow private property in space or land, which is not a luxury, but an absolute necessity, and because no attempt is made to touch it by taxation or any other means, and because when a corporation tries to buy land it is fleeced and robbed. The moment it is known that the land is wanted the price goes up by leaps and bounds. Although there are arbitration clauses, and all that sort of thing, the arbitrators have to take into account what they call the business tenure of the land. I submit that when dealing with the lives of people you must not take a high business line. These landlords have a duty to discharge to the community, but instead of that they have got a great deal out of the community, and have created the very evils from which we suffer. 489 The time has come when they must not be allowed any longer to make extra profit out of a public necessity—not for some sentimental purpose, but in order that we may be a strong people morally, mentally, and physically. I can only say in conclusion, that while, of course, I am not going to refuse this small instalment, and have no intention of voting against the Second Reading of the Bill, I want to tell Ministers opposite that they have not satisfied the demand of the country for drastic reform, and that this Bill in no way fulfils the lavish promises which they made at the last General Election, and which are on record. A couple of sessions ago they passed a Small Houses Act. What has that done? What can it do? It does not touch the people for whom we ought to have primary consideration. It gave ½ per cent. less interest than building societies, but with endless disadvantages; and now Ministers come along with another Bill, which, although they admit the serious gravity of the question, does as little as ingenuity can devise to deal with it. I say, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of workmen, that the Government, with their huge battalions behind them, had a great chance which they ought to have availed themselves of; but they have missed it. This Bill is a mere instalment, a short step in advance, but is not to be taken, so far as I am concerned, as a fulfilment of their election pledges. Their condemnation is all the greater because, as every speech has shown, the Opposition have been desirous to help them. Every leader on this side of the House has approved of the principle of the Bill, so far as it goes, but has said plainly—or if they did not say it, I take the liberty of saying it—that it plays with a great question. I repeat I am woefully disappointed with the Bill, and I believe that the great masses of the people of the country will be equally disappointed that this Government, which can at a word commandeer millions of money for killing in South Africa—there is quite a passion for killing in the House, because we are all such good patriots. The Opposition has given a free hand to the Government on this great housing problem, and has asked for some generosity for the downtrodden outcasts of our land, for the Uitlanders who have the misfortune to speak English; but the only result is this miserable, insufficient, and niggling Bill.
§ * MR. ABEL H. SMITH (Christchurch)
The evils which have been spoken of by the hon. Member who has just sat down have been admitted on all sides of the House, but he and others who have taken part in the debate have been modest in suggesting remedies. I have failed, at any rate, to hear any remedy proposed which could be generally acknowledged at the present time to be in any way practicable. The hon. Member for Leicester, who made an eloquent speech, came to the conclusion that the one thing wanted was for my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board to issue another circular. We all know that the Orders issued by the Local Government Board command great attention at the hands of local authorities; but I hardly think that, however weighty such a circular would be, it could effect any considerable cure for those evils of which we have heard so much. Regret has been expressed that more attention has not been given to the housing problem in rural districts; but I would like to draw attention to the rural side of the question. It seems almost absurd to talk about cottages in the rural districts which have only two bedrooms, and the water supply not up to the mark, when we consider the hideous evils which exist in London and other great cities, and hear of 17 to-20 persons living in one room. Of course—and I speak from some practical experience of local government in the rural districts—we have to work under very different conditions there from those that prevail in great cities, and we have difficulties and anxieties of our own. In the first place, we have a very low rateable value to work upon,. whereas in great cities you have a very high rateable value. On the other hand we have plenty of space, whereas, the great difficulty in London is the impossibility of finding room for the erection of more dwellings for the working classes. I would remark, in passing, that I am very hopeful that this Bill will find a solution of that difficulty. The rural district councils have, as I have said, a very low rateable value to work upon, and many difficulties to meet. If the water supply and sanitation were thoroughly dealt with we would lay as much debt on the ratepayers as they could bear. Even now it is very difficult in some poor rural districts to provide for the bare necessaries of life. The great difficulty in dealing 491 with the housing problem in the country district is that the authorities may issue notices to the owners or closing orders, but the people always give one answer, "Where are we to go to? There are no vacant houses in the district. If you turn us out we shall have to go to the workhouse." And that is what very frequently happens. With one remark made by the last speaker I agree to a certain extent, although I do not draw the same conclusion. He said that this is a landlord's question. In the rural districts you have people who are much more directly responsible for the housing of the working classes than any person in any great town. It must be obvious to anybody who considers this matter that the man who is directly responsible for the housing of the labourer in a rural district is the man upon whose land the labourer works. It is perfectly well known that, under the present conditions, no one would embark upon building cottages in a purely agricultural district as a commercial speculation. It would not pay. Therefore, in order that the land may be cultivated, the owner of the land is the man who has to provide sufficient cottages; otherwise the land will go out of cultivation. I am of opinion that these Acts operate in a wrong direction. The direction to which they tend is the municipalisation of cottages, and the local authority representing the ratepayers will become the owner of cottage-property. That, I think, is a mistake. What we ought to do, and I should like to see the Act amended in that way, is to give power to the local authorities to put pressure on the owners of the land to provide sufficient cottages for the labourers who cultivate the land. The great difficulty, to my mind, is that it is not so much a question of amending or improving the law as it is of devising some means by which the present statutes should be put into force. The Act of 1890 is extremely complicated, but anyone who has studied it must admit that the powers given to local authorities under that Act are very strong indeed. But it is the same in the country as in the towns; you find it is impossible under present conditions for local authorities to put the provisions of the Act in force without great risk, if not the certainty, of creating a greater evil than that which they seek to cure. The question is not so much what drastic remedies are to be 492 found, but whether the Bill as introduced by the right hon. Gentleman is a step in the right direction, and whether it will in any degree tend to cure the evil which we all lament. No doubt one great difference as regards London will be overcome, but many of us regret that this Bill is not a larger measure. I wish the Government had seen their way to introduce a more comprehensive Bill, although, of course, we must admit the wisdom of the Government in only introducing such a measure as they can pass into law during the present session. No doubt it will considerably improve the law, but I hope that Amendments may be introduced in the Committee stage which will widen its scope.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
I am anxious to take part in this debate because for many years past I have brought this question before the House in connection with the question of the living wage of those working in Government employment. In that connection, in dealing with this question, the First Lord of the Admiralty had the audacity to urge as an argument for not granting my request, that it was his experience that if the men's wages were increased the increase did not go into the pockets of the men themselves but into those of the house sweaters. Yet he is a member of the Government which now comes forward with a Bill which barely nibbles at the fringe of this great question, and which does so by a single clause which enables local authorities to go outside their own particular area to purchase land under the Land Clauses Act of 1845, which compels them to buy land at full value and pay 10 per cent. compensation. I will not dwell upon the magnitude of the question or its effect upon the physical, mental, and moral condition of the people, because it has been painted both in the House and on public platforms in the most lurid colours. It affects the well being of hundreds of thousands throughout the country. Some reference has been made to our soldiers, but it is well known that it is not the stunted humanity bred in the London slums who are likely to follow the great Imperial policy, nor are they fit to be progenitors of the race of this great Empire. Fifteen years ago a Royal Commission sat on this question, and since that time the evil has become greatly aggravated with appalling 493 rapidity. Nearly one-third of the London population live in an unsanitary state. One-tenth live over three in a room, and 33 per cent. of the entire population live two or more in a room. In other words, their home is the fraction of a room. It is urged that things have improved because the London County Council, forsooth, have spent £2,000,000 in ten years. That is a mere drop in the ocean when we remember that in the last ten year's our population has been increasing at the rate of 40,000 per year, and at the present moment it is increasing by 50,000 a year. Everything that has been done by the County Council has been done at the expense of an extra tax upon the rates. You relieve the poor living in the slums at the expense of the thrifty working man, who is only a little better off. It is like taking the saddle from a horse with a sore back and putting it on one which is only slightly galled. Speaking from my own experience, I say this evil is infinitely worse than it was fifteen years ago, when I first became connected with the parish of Newington. It was a common thing then to see houses to let, and working men could get a house at a reasonable rent. Now as soon as it is known that a house will be to let, dozens of applicants apply, and rents have gone up in consequence. Something was said by the hon. Member for East Finsbury in favour of model dwellings. I say the lower floors of such places are absolute death traps to infantile life; and when you reach the upper floors, what is the result? The wife of the working man has to drag the food up all these flights and stairs, and when she goes to market must take her infant with her, and the consequence is she is worn out. Model dwellings may be convenient for single men or men without families; but the idea of packing our population one on top of another will only perpetuate the evil. Look at Paris. We know it is impossible for a working man there to rear his offspring in the town, and those they do rear they rear by sending them into the country; but they are not the men who made the greatness of France. The fact is, that these dwellings built up in this way are for the most part forcing houses for phthisis. I am not speaking now of one of the worst districts. In Newington the population is only 191 to the acre, and only nine to a house. It has four and a half Acres of open space, and the infant death 494 rate is 170. What has taken place there? Pressure outwards by the replacing of the cottages and houses and insanitary dwellings by huge warehouses and factories. But there is a remedy for that. That is caused by the concentration of industries, owing to the fact that where slum land is easily bought up a manufacturer plants his factory there in the midst of a teeming population, where he may obtain cheap labour. I say he ought to be forced to take his factory elsewhere. They obtain the labour of unfortunate young girls in their teens at sweating wages, and those are the women who crowd our hospitals when they ought to be in the prime of life, and our cemeteries before they reach middle age. We find that when people can remove from such conditions things at once improve. When one of my constituents removed from Newington to Battersea he came into a place where the death rate was nineteen as against twenty-three per thousand. The Government say that that is what they are doing by this Bill, which is to enable the local authorities to go outside their own area. Yes, but they give them no assistance to do so. They give the power but no funds with which to carry out the operation. Whitelegge, in his admirable work on hygiene and and public health, points out, by means of Dr. Ogle's table, that immediately the population rises over 400 per square mile the death rate begins to increase. In order to carry out this Bill it is necessary to follow on with the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Shields. The President of the Local Government Board, either wilfully or otherwise, misunderstood my hon. friend's contention, and said the Local Government Board had power to compel the railway companies to give further facilities, but no power to compel them to furnish communication to a colony which is being built for working men. What we want is that where the County Council has power to acquire land, and they buy land at a suitable place, they shall have power to compel the railway to furnish communication, so that as soon as the houses are built that colony shall be brought into communication with the centre. We have had no reply to the proposal to extend the time of repayment to from eighty to a hundred years, instead of being restricted from forty to sixty years. It is admitted that anything over a hundred years would be too long, but 495 all local authorities are agreed that sixty years is not sufficient. The hon. Member for Hoxton suggested that the landlord should see that the covenants in his lease were kept; but landlords are only human, and I do not think you can force them to see that the leaseholder acts up to the covenants of the lease. It is nothing to him; he gets his rack rent whether the house is sanitary or not. Then as a last resource it is suggested that the County Council should do it; but a landlord would not permit that. Then it was suggested that the land purchased should be regarded as an asset in order to avoid the necessity of a sinking fund. That proposal the right hon. Gentleman promised to consider, and that is all he has given us. Although on nearly every side the Bill has been pronounced inadequate, no attempt has been made to grapple with the question. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the Act of 1890 could not be or was not put into operation on account of the cost; but he did not show that any steps were taken to minimise the cost. But the reason why the Act of 1890 has not been put into force is because it is permissive, instead of being compulsory. The right hon. Gentleman pointed at the great powers conferred on local authorities under five different Acts. But how are those powers to be put into operation? Four individuals living in the vicinity of an insanitary house can put them into force, but they dare not, lest they also may be turned into the street because their own houses are insanitary. Twelve householders can take the matter into their own hands; but the householders do not live in these districts, and those who do have quite enough to do to keep the wolf from the door, and have no means to fight local bodies. The Amendment has been strongly supported on both sides of the House, and I am anxious to see how the right hon. Gentleman will receive it. The hon. Member for Norwich sought to prove that nothing could be done, and that this evil, like sea-sickness, must go on, whilst another hon. Gentleman said that this Bill would merely encourage municipal bodies to engage in building speculations. But he did not tell us why they should not do so, further than to let us understand that he was engaged in some such operations. Between the lines of his speech we read the word "competition," and we do not con- 496 sider that his argument is a powerful one. The President of the Local Government Board said a more comprehensive measure would not have a chance of passing this session, and we are given this wretched measure because the Government would not take time by the forelock and deal with what all admit is a very grave question at an earlier period. At the eleventh hour they throw us this wretched fragment of a Bill. So long as the land is allowed to remain in the hands of a limited number of individuals who are allowed to enrich themselves and prey on the poverty of the community, so long will this state of things continue, until they are forced to give back some small fraction of the unearned increment, which fairly belongs to the people. With regard to the suggestion to place upon land values taxation sufficient to carry out this scheme, I think that is a fair proposition. The ground values between 1881 and 1891 have improved in value by some £6,000,000 and £7,000,000; and while the working man has been over-rated and always had a house famine before him, the landowners who have come into that amount have not been asked to contribute a farthing to remedying this state of things. In my opinion what you require to do is this: you must put a small tax on land values, you must give power to get suitable land, and you must enable local authorities to buy it at the assessable value. You must extend the period over which the loan is to be repaid, and you must reduce the rate of interest on that loan.
§ CAPTAIN NORTON
The hon. Gentleman knows better than I do what the assessable value is. It is the value at which an owner is assessed for rates. Even then that will not solve the question. You must, in addition, carry out what is recommended in the Amendment of my hon. friend, and you must give cheap and rapid transit to the localities where you are going to build. It is clearly the duty of the Government to make some endeavour to brighten the lives and elevate the hopes of those poor dwellers in one-room homes, instead of endeavouring to palm off on them this paltry measure, which can do very little to ameliorate their lot. It has been 497 well said that you may withhold so as to excite desire, and give so as to excite contempt. This Bill does both. You withhold all that is of real value, and you give that which cannot be utilised. This policy may succeed in times of tranquillity and prosperity, but it will undoubtedly bring retribution in times of danger and bad trade. Let us have but a cycle of bad trade, coupled with a long and severe winter, and I say you will have arrived at the time when no concessions will avail.
§ * MR. WRIGHTSON (St. Pancras, East)
I will not occupy your time many minutes, but I wish to say a few words on the housing question, in which I have always taken a deep interest. I represent a district in the metropolis in which overcrowding is most serious in its effects. I am glad that the Government have brought in this measure. Members on the other side appear to think that the Government should have brought in some kind of heroic measure which would have treated with every kind of possible evil, but I think the Government has shown its good judgment in confining its attention to the most important portion of the problem. In East St. Pancras we have two large termini of railways—the Great Northern and the Midland. They have repeatedly taken large slices out of this district and a great amount of dishousing has taken place, and of course there is a great difficulty in a crowded district like that for the railway companies to find land on which to build houses for the people they dishouse. But you must not forget that the people who are dishoused may be divided into two classes. There are those who are quite willing to go out of their district and those who are unwilling. There is no reason because there is a difficulty in dealing with those who cannot go out of the district that we should leave those who desire to do so without any aid at all. I think the Government have recognised this in bringing in this Bill, and I am glad to hear from the other side that there is not any intention to divide the House on it. I think it would be much worse for those on the other side in their own constituencies if they did attempt to divide the House on an important matter of this kind. In regard to the question of railway accommodation there is nothing at all in 498 that. If a district outside is a suitable area, and houses are built upon it, the railways and tramways which radiate from the centres of population will soon find their way there. There will be a demand and a supply, but to make the supply before the demand arises is nonsensical altogether. I do not like to use the word obstruction, but when we find a shelving Amendment brought forward in this way, as much as to say "We would rather have nothing at all than see the Government treat the matter in a businesslike way by attacking one portion of the problem," we are tempted to look upon it as rather obstructive. I shall vote for the Government in regard to this matter, but I venture to express the hope that they will not forget the legislation introduced last session which became law on 1st January this year. I think the working class should be enabled to build their own houses, in these proposed outside areas, under the Small Dwellings Act. Several hon. Members on the other side have said that this Act has been a dead letter. I do not believe for one moment that this is the case. Building is at a standstill throughout the country. The price of material is 40 per cent. above what it was, and wages also are high. How can we expect people with capital to invest in house building to select a time in order to make their investment when everything is 30 to 40 per cent. higher than formerly? If they build houses now, how can they expect a return for their capital? That is the reason why up to this time the Act has not been effective. I believe that any building operations at the present time are most difficult to carry out. I am a large employer of labour myself where we would gladly welcome any builder to erect hundreds of houses for working men. We cannot get them, and that is accounted for by the enormous increase in the price of everything; but that that should be a condemnation of the Bill passed by the Government last session I cannot understand. I hope that the Government will see their way to give the working classes an opportunity of applying for portions of those areas outside urban districts, so that they can purchase at the same price paid by municipalities on which they can build their houses under the Small Dwellings Act of last session.
§ * MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL (Stockton)
I was rather pleased to hear the speech of the hon. Member for East St. Pancras. I know that he has taken a deep interest in the question of the housing of the poor, and even was the author of the Bill the Government passed in the last session of Parliament —I mean the Small Dwellings Bill. But that Bill has not been adopted by any municipality in the country. I have been on the alert to ascertain, but I have not even read that a single district council or municipality has ever discussed the question whether they will put that measure into operation or not.
§ * MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL
If the hon. Member knows three or four it would be interesting to know whether they have adopted the measure or not, because I do not agree with the hon. Member that the reason why the municipalities have not adopted the measure is on account of the cost of material. I believe it is more due to the fact that the Act is defective, and for that reason they will not put the measure into operation. I am afraid that the measure which the Government is bringing in this session will not remedy the evil, and I am sorry to say we are wasting the time of the House and the country in discussing it, because last session we devoted a great deal of time to the Small Dwellings Bill. That Bill is a dead letter; and this, in my opinion, will be a dead letter for various reasons. I consider that this measure is totally inadequate to meet the pressing demands and necessities of the housing of the working classes. A great deal has been said during the course of this debate with regard to the London question. This measure may have some chance of being put into operation by the London County Council, but I venture to say that no other municipality will, or can, put this measure into operation, and for these reasons. The London County Council is a unique case, but if the twenty municipalities which we created last year are going to look after the sanitation of their districts, then in my opinion they are the bodies to look after the housing of the poor, and not the London County Council, because the London County Council if they do 500 deal with this question must of necessity deal with it to the injury of some of the districts, at the expense of some of the districts, and to the disadvantage of other districts. I have attended meetings of the Association of Municipal Corporations, and I have never heard a single demand made by anyone that a measure should be brought in by the Government to amend Part III. of the Housing Act of 1890, and to give powers to local authorities to build outside of their own areas. I should like to put this practical question to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board: how many municipalities can you find that will undertake to spend vast sums of the ratepayers' money outside their own areas? I have not known one municipality that will undertake to do so, or that is anxious that the ratepayers' money should be mortgaged or spent in buying land and building houses outside the area of the municipality. The fact is that the great expenditure of money that is now going on with our municipalities is to attract people inside the boundaries, and not to take them outside. If you take the town of Leeds, with an acreage of 22,000 acres, you have there an enormous area upon which the municipality could spend money upon the erection of houses. You have also in other large towns such as Sheffield some area unbuilt upon where they could spend their money if they desired to do so without taking land outside the borough. The reason why these municipalities do not spend money in this way is that the crying evil in all our large towns is not the question so much of the building of new houses, but the question of dealing with the insanitary areas which we find existing in every large town. That is the problem we have to deal with. I heard the other evening the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, and he made in my opinion a very strong attack upon some of the sanitary authorities throughout the country for neglecting their duties in reference to sanitation. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman—I say it without any offence—whether he has had any practical experience of putting the five Acts into operation which he cited. I want to know if there is a Member on the Treasury Bench who has really served his apprenticeship in 501 some of our great corporations with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies, who has served with one or two other Members in Birmingham. The right hon. Gentleman cited those Acts of Parliament, but many of us who have served in municipalities know that there is great difficulty in putting them into operation, and it is because of those difficulties and the expense that the corporations do not put them into operation. He said there were facilities, and you could easily remedy the nuisance, the corporation or sanitary authority having power to serve notice upon the owner of the property. I ask the Secretary of the Local Government Board how many cases does he know of where a municipality has served notice upon owners, where the owners have refused to do the work, where they have taken the case before the magistrates, and the magistrates have refused to convict, or refused to enforce the orders of the local authority? That is the great difficulty. The power is not absolutely in the hands of the local authority. The power is in the hands of third parties in the shape of the magistrates, who decide between the local authority and the owners. The fact is that in many cases our local authorities are deterred in their work of carrying out sanitary reform on the very ground that the magistrates decide against them. Do hon. Gentlemen who represent the Local Government Board say that Part I. of the Act of 1890 is easy to put into operation? It is a most complicated part, and I know of more than one of the local authorities who have sat for a considerable time, in fact for twelve months, dealing with this question of the insanitary areas, and then they have come to the conclusion that, owing to the enormous cost of putting that part into operation, it is impossible to deal with that part of the Bill. It is a question of compensation to the owners of the insanitary property. I am not going into the statistics of overcrowding. That is admitted. I will cite two of our large towns which have gone in for putting the Act into operation. In Manchester the corporation found, according to the report of their medical officer in 1884, in one area, that the death-rate was 80 per 1,000. In Manchester I find that the cost of clearing the dwellings off two acres in this insanitary area was in one case £2 2s. 6d. per square yard, and in 502 another case £4 19s. per square yard. How is it possible for any corporation to undertake to carry out improvements by dealing with insanitary property when the cost of paying compensation is so great as this? Take the scheme known as Mr. Chamberlain's Birmingham scheme. The corporation purchased 4,000 houses and rehoused 16,500 people. The total cost was £1,650,000, and I am given to understand on very high authority that the charge to the rates of the town for many years past has been £25,000 a year, although this scheme will become a paying scheme when the leases fall in. How is it possible for a town that is not so large,, and has not the recuperative power, to put Part I. of the Act of 1890 into operation, and to make large clearances of these insanitary areas at such a large cost as this? In a Return presented to the House of Commons last session, dealing with reproductive undertakings, I find that out of 265 municipalities only seven informed the Local Government Board that they had brought the Act into operation, and had made the schemes reproductive and paying. I am more convinced than ever that the Government in bringing in this small measure are simply tinkering with a great and vital question. It is the absolute duty of every municipality in the country to try to improve the conditions under which the working classes are housed, and to deal with slum properties. I am fully convinced that under the measure now before the House, extending the right under Part III. to municipalities and district councils to buy land outside their areas, no municipality will undertake to expend large sums of money outside their own areas. It is because I believe this measure will be like the measure of last year, practically a dead letter, that I ask the Government to take into consideration this gigantic question in a fuller and more complete manner and to bring in a measure which will give facilities to sanitary authorities to deal with the evils in the way they ought to be dealt with.
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
If there is one thing that the debate shows more than another it is the extraordinary difficulty of dealing in a practical manner with one of our great social evils. After listening to the many speeches delivered on this question, one 503 thing strikes me very forcibly, and that is the magnitude of the evil, while the very great and natural desire of those best acquained with the evil to grapple with it, obscures their vision and renders their efforts less practical than they ought to be. Take the action of the temperance party with regard to the drink question. In connection with that great social evil there is a vast amount of ill-directed effort to deal with it. I think it was Lord Randolph Churchill who said that you cannot make the people sober by Act of Parliament. Neither can you make the homes of the people of this country healthy directly by Act of Parliament. The only way is by such practical measures as will gradually make it appear to the people themselves that it is their interest to be sober, and to have homes happy and healthy. I could not have a better example of that than the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, who stated that this Bill was useless, because it was unnecessary for municipal authorities to go outside their own areas, they having plenty of land available within the municipal area itself. He then proceeded to enforce his argument by stating that the land within the municipal area cost no less than £4 19s. per square yard. What more forcible argument could he have brought forward in favour of the scheme than the fact that the price of land within the boroughs was so great and prohibitive?
§ * MR. JONATHAN SAMUEL
I only referred to some boroughs where there is ample room for building. Then I pointed out that the extreme high price was due to the giving of compensation.
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN
No one on the Front Bench thinks that this Bill will benefit everybody in the country. No Act is perfect. If we wait until we have passed a measure in this House which will entirely remedy the overcrowding evil and benefit every part of the country, we shall never pass any legislation at all. There are already five Acts dealing with this question, and what this Bill does is to remove one of the blots on the proper working of those existing Acts. That seems to me to be the only reasonable way in which this question can be dealt with. The subject is inextricably bound up with all the other great questions with 504 which we have to deal in this House— with the questions of drink, morality, sanitation, transport, local taxation, compulsory purchase of land, and even with free trade, because that affects the wages question in the country and the rents. When I was in the Army, and had to study the question of projectiles, I remember learning the well-known rule that resistance increases as the cube of velocity, and I take it that that applies very much to measures of this kind. If you try to go too fast the resistance you will encounter will be so great that you will make very little progress. I do not think any hon. Member would hold to be exaggerated any single word which has been said in regard to the magnitude of this evil, but I should like to deal with one or two of the causes which have been put forward as having led to the evil. One of the main causes urged is the system of landlord and tenant, and the landlords are held responsible as the rents increase. I think that is a direct inversion of cause and effect. It is the desire of the working people themselves to crowd into these towns and particular districts which has put up the rents; it is the action not of the landlords but of the working people. If it were purely a question of the virtue or the absence of virtue and the rapacity of the landlords, how does it come that the very same landlord in many cases is landlord in a country district as well as in a town? The very same landlord is charging £4 a year in a country district, but he is held up in the towns as the actual cause of this overcrowding through the high rents he is supposed to be obtaining. What does that prove? It simply proves that the landlord in the town and in the country will, like everybody else, get what he can reasonably obtain through the ordinary law of supply and demand. There are a great many people who want to live in certain districts, and therefore prices in that district will rise. I should like to say a word with regard to a concrete case which has been quoted. Devon-port is held up as an instance of overcrowding caused by the action of a particular landlord. Many statements have been made, in regard to Lord St. Levan's estate, to the effect that the rents he charges and the terms he exacts are, to a great extent, the cause of the overcrowding in Devon-port. The hon. Member for Carmarthen stated in a recent debate that the income 505 of the estate from ground rents was no less than £80,000 a year. I ventured to say at the time that he was over-stating the case, and since then figures have been placed in my hands. I have the statement of Lord St. Levan's agent, and as these assertions have been put forward it is only fair that his side of the case should be made public. The actual income, so far from being £80,000, has never reached so high as £14,000. That is rather a difference. It has been said that Lord St. Levan has a monopoly, that he restricts the amount of building in order to enhance the value of his property, and that in consequence the town is overcrowded. If that is so this Bill is the very Bill to destroy that monopoly, as it will enable the municipality to go outside the borough, thus bringing others into competition. But it is self-evident that it is to the advantage of every landlord to get as much of his land as possible taken up for building, and Lord St. Levan has offered land to builders at reasonable prices. What it comes to is that the actual ground-rents which he receives upon those workmen's houses vary from 20s. to 30s., and except in the case of thirty cottages they are in no case more than 25s. a four-roomed workman's house. It was stated by the hon. Member for Leicester that the rent amounted in many cases to one-third of the wages earned. A ground rent of 25s. per year may be fairly said to represent not one-third of the wages in the year but just about one week's earnings. For that ground rent not only is the ground provided, but the ground landlord has to make roads and pay for them, give up land for the roads, and bear many other expenses, so that really but a very small proportion of that 25s. goes into his pocket. But there is another consideration. Does any hon. Member really suppose that if Lord St. Levan reduced the ground-rents from 25s. to 10s. the existing tenants—who are not Lord St. Levan's tenants at all, but those of the intervening landlord—would have their rent lowered by one sixpence? The rent to the tenant is not regulated by the ground rent but by the demand which exists for houses. I should like to read this statement—The Corporation of Devonport, under the third section of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, applied to Lord St. Levan for twenty acres of land on which to erect houses. Lord St. Levan acceded to the suggestion with the utmost readiness. The terms of the pur- 506 chase were prepared by two very eminent surveyors (Messrs. Dymond and R. Vigers), and to these no exception was taken. For some reason the site selected was not deemed suitable by the corporation and another of about thirty acres was chosen. Terms were again prepared by the same surveyors, and to these again no exception was taken. Calculations based on these terms were made by the advocates of the scheme in the town council, and the public were informed by them at meetings and otherwise, that profits which were variously estimated to amount to from £G,000 to £2,000 a year would accrue to the ratepayers from carrying out the proposal. The time for deciding on the acceptance or rejection of the offer was enlarged on three separate occasions, at the especial request of the corporation, so as to extend over seven months in all, and ultimately the time of grace was allowed to elapse by the town council without a communication of any sort being made to Lord St. Levan on the subject. No reason has been assigned for the abandonment of the scheme, and the terms were not objected to or discussed.As far as the conditions on that estate are concerned, they do not appear to differ from those on any other well-managed estate in the country, and I do not think it is in any way fair to hold Lord St. Levan responsible for the overcrowding which does undoubtedly exist within the borough of Devonport. The real difficulty arises in trying, in the words of the proverb, to put a quart into a pint bottle. Owing to the high wages and the improved conditions of trade, people will insist upon crowding into the centre, and the only real remedy is that indicated by the first clause of this Bill, namely to encourage the people as far as possible to live at some little distance from their work in order that they may have a little room to breathe. How does this overcrowding arise? Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk of landlord and tenant, but have they in their minds ever tried really to define the difference between a landlord and a tenant? The lesser of a four-roomed tenement sublets two of those four rooms to another; is he a landlord or is he a tenant? That is the way in which this overcrowding has largely arisen. The occupier of a four-roomed tenement, in order that he may live rent free, sublets two rooms, and the occupier of those two rooms, in order that he also may live rent free, sublets one room. Then the landlord, who is probably somebody else's tenant, seeing this large rent being made, thinks, "Why should I not have some of it?" and the next time he lets the tene- 507 ment in three lots instead of one. But with regard to this Bill, I hope it will not be largely availed of, because the natural and proper direction in which this evil should be cured is by houses provided not by the municipality, but by private enterprise. It is far better that, in accordance with the ordinary rule of supply and demand, houses should be built and occupied without legislative interference. It is necessary, however, that municipalities should have the power to set an example to private enterprise, and in certain cases whore there is pressing need, they should be able to provide the remedy themselves. It is the recognition of that fact which will induce us to support this Bill. I cannot see that it is any reason for refusing to support this Bill that it does not cure the whole evil. It has been suggested that we should set up a fair rent court. I should have thought the example of Ireland would have been quite sufficient to cure any hon. Member of the idea that fair rent courts would remedy the evil. Such courts have been in operation for some years in Ireland, and wherever there has been one single change of tenancy these courts have not reduced the rent by a farthing. It is impossible to obtain a permanent reduction of rent through a fair rent court. You can impose a fair rent between only the particular tenant and the particular landlord at the moment. You simply make a present of a part of the landlord's property to the particular tenant, and that tenant is not going to part with it for nothing, so the incoming tenant will have to pay an equivalent for it. When the incoming tenant has paid that equivalent he has to pay the same rent as before, so that there can be no permanent reduction. Working men are led to suppose that municipal enterprise and cheap trains and so on will reduce his rent. It is impossible that they should do so. So long as the people crowd together and demand more accommodation in one particular place than that particular place can provide, so long must the rents be driven up. It is not sufficient to have a warm heart and good intentions. We must be practical and know where the difficulties are. These difficulties must be dealt with one by one as we find them, and they must be met in a practical manner. It is be cause this Bill, in regard to the urban side of the question, does deal with the matter in a practical manner that I think 508 it is worthy of support. In regard to the rural side of the question, having regard to the title of the Bill itself, I do not think it will be possible for the second part to come very largely into operation. One of the conditions of a county council putting the Bill into operation is that it must be prudent for the district council to adopt the Act. I do not think that under present conditions of rural life it can possibly be, at any rate, financially, prudent for any district council to build cottages, because the cost of building cottages in country districts is now largely in excess of the rent obtainable for them. Inasmuch as it costs a landlord something like £500 to build a couple of cottages for each of which he would get £4 a year, out of which he has to pay for repairs, I think if a district council is good enough to build cottages for them the landlords will pass a unanimous vote of thanks to that authority. But under this Bill the local authority have to act prudently, and under present conditions I do not think it would be prudent for them to put this provision into operation. Therefore, though this is a valuable provision in certain cases where special accommodation may be required, and one which under certain conditions might be put into operation, I do not think it will be be of general application. In regard to the first clause of the Bill, I do think it is dealing in a practical manner with part of a very wide question which cannot possibly be dealt with as a whole, and therefore in my opinion it is entitled to our hearty support.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
It is now sixteen years since I as a private Member moved a resolution upon the subject we are now discussing, which was accepted by the House, and which resulted in the appointment of the Royal Commission of 1884, which has thrown so much light upon this great problem. I have always since that date taken a profound interest in the question of the housing of the working classes, and I was particularly anxious to hear what were the solutions proposed by Members of the House when they had the Government Bill before them. We have had two nights of eloquent speeches upon 509 that subject; but almost every speaker, except my hon. friend who has just sat down, occupied at least half his speech in dwelling upon facts which no one denied, in painting in lurid colours pictures the full horrors of which everybody is acquainted with, in denouncing in many cases the inadequacy of the Government measure, but in no single case suggesting any reasonable or practicable substitute for the proposals we have made in this Bill. I have never listened, I frankly admit, to a debate with greater disappointment. Speaker after speaker declared how poverty-stricken was the Government suggestion, how narrow were its limits, how little it would do, and asked why we did not bring forward some big, comprehensive measure. I have listened in anxious expectation for this big, comprehensive scheme—
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
And when that big, comprehensive scheme was put before us, either it was wholly incapable of producing any of the effects which its inventors attributed to it, or it violated some fundamental principle of equity. I do not mean to survey in detail the various nostrums which have been proposed; but it is due to the House that I should attempt a brief survey of them. The first suggestion of the hon. Member who put an Amendment on the Paper and opened this debate dealt with railway facilities. He was of opinion, as we must all be of opinion, that it is perfectly vain for local authorities to buy land outside their area for the erection of workmen's dwellings unless between their area and the land there are adequate means of communication by railway, by tramway, or otherwise. That, of course, is not only true, but it is self-evident. But the hon. and learned Gentleman went on to tell us that the present law was utterly incapable of providing those facilities. I believe the hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken on that point. He desires that before cottages are built cheap trains should be started by the railway companies. He seems to think that cottages will not be built, or that, being built, they will never be inhabited, unless 510 there is first fully organised a system of cheap trains to carry the workmen from the new dwellings to the scene of their labours. But all experience is against the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Board of Trade already have great powers, which the Board have been perfectly ready to put into force, and which they certainly will put into force—I have the authority of my right hon. friend for saying that—to the utmost of their ability, and those powers have proved absolutely adequate for the organisation of cheap train services between London and various places served by our great railway systems. Under these circumstances it is really futile to contend that this Bill, whatever merits it may have, fails because, in addition to all that it provides, it does not also provide for the organisation of train services which our present law, as it stands, is fully capable of organising. If it should be found in the course of experience that the London County Council, or any other county council, are really hampered in their efforts to carry this Bill into effect by the impossibility of coming to an arrangement with the railway companies for an adequate railway service, I have no doubt that a remedy will easily be found. I will now pass to the suggestions of the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries, who I am sorry not to see in his place, for I shall have to comment upon more than one observation he made. He and other hon. Gentlemen seem to think it was necessary to throw the first and second part of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, into the pot of Parliamentary discussion in order that the stringency of the provisions of those two parts might be increased. I venture to say that the stringency of those provisions cannot be increased, and that if they have failed it is duo not to the fact that they are not sufficiently stringent, but to the fact that they are not put in force by the local authorities. And I really was surprised to hear Member after Member on the other side, who declared they were themselves members of local authorities, who not only were evidently ignorant of the provisions of this Bill, but who, as in the case of the hon. Member for Leicester, attributed their ignorance to the fact that the Local Government Board had not circulated information for their benefit sufficiently often, while they admitted 511 that the information the Board have circulated was put into the waste-paper-basket, or else into some receptacle more honourable which completely hid the information from the local authorities concerned.
§ MR. BROADHURST
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not desire to misrepresent me. I said that many of the local bodies put in force the instructions of the Board with regard to sanitation and overcrowding.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman may have made that remark also, but I did not catch it. I was commenting upon quite another observation, and I think he will hardly assort that I have in any material sense misrepresented him. It is really worth while to recall what the powers of the local authorities are. I am not going into them in detail, but let me remind the House that the local authority has the power to enter dwellings which it suspects are insanitary or overcrowded, and to decide what structural alterations are necessary to put them in repair, to charge the cost of these alterations upon the owner, or, if it pleases, to make those alterations itself, and then to charge them on the owner. If the owner refuses to make his building sanitary he can be charged at the rate of £2 a day for every house that is insanitary, and a small arithmetical calculation will convince the House that in these circumstances it is in the power of the local authority to charge the slum owner at the rate of about £700 a year for every house which he possesses until it is made sanitary. I venture to say that these powers are so great that no legislative alteration can improve them. It is not in the power of the House to make local authorities carry out the powers which have been entrusted to them. That we cannot do. All re can do is to make those powers complete and adequate. That, I venture to say, has already been done, and I do not see that any further change in that direction would be of the slighest advantage. That is the second supplement to our Bill which has been suggested. Now the third is, on the face of it, much more important, and it raises issues of a far more controversial character. Put roughly, it is that some means may be found by which areas 512 within towns may be cheaply purchased for the purpose of erecting thereon labourers' dwellings. Some very interesting facts were brought before the House by the hon. Member for Hoxton, who told us on the first night of the debate that in the case of the great scheme carried out by the London County Council, known as the Boundary Street scheme, £300,000 had been spent on land, the open market value of which was only £150,000, and the value of which for the erection of labourers' dwellings was only £60,000. I wish the hon. Member would take some future occasion of informing us how this difference between £300,000 and £150,000 occurred, because I understand that, according to the law, if a region is insanitary it is the right of the local authority to demolish all the dwellings on the area and to pay compensation for the land at the rate which it would bear without buildings—in other words, the market value of the land.
§ MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
I do not wish to discuss this point across the floor of the House, but a large portion of that money arises from trade interests.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Exactly. I do not know the circumstances connected with this scheme, but evidently the London County Council wont far beyond the provisions of the Legislature with regard to the clearing of insanitary areas. They cleared an insanitary area, but I do not understand from the hon. Member that as far as the area itself is concerned more than the proper price was paid. In addition to that, however, they appear to have taken possession of a great many trade interests. No doubt, under this scheme, or under any scheme, these trade interests have to be dealt with at a fair valuation; but surely it is not seriously suggested on any side of the House that we are going to turn out shopkeepers, workshop owners, manufacturers, or warehouse owners without giving them adequate compensation for the businesses which they have lost? Though I greatly regret that the County Council had to pay so much for the site, it does not appear that any alteration of the law could amend the matter as far as the trade interests were concerned, and it does not 513 appear to be alleged, as far as the really insanitary houses were concerned, that more than the proper price was paid for the land. I go now to particular schemes by which various hon. Members have endeavoured to attain this object of getting cheap areas within the towns for the construction of labourers' dwellings. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hoxton put before the House a plan which, as far as I understand it, amounted to this—that the freeholder was to be informed that, as he was responsible for keeping up in a proper state of repair the houses upon his property, he should be allowed to re-enter compulsorily into possession of his property with the obligation of building houses upon it. I think that the hon. Member has not considered what that scheme means. In the first place, the freeholder is not responsible, either in law or in equity, for the condition into which, in many cases, most unfortunately, his property has fallen. The hon. Member appears to think that in the building covenants which in some, but not nearly in all, building leases are inserted, there wore covenants inserted for the purpose of imposing an obligation on the owner to keep the houses in a state of repair. The hon. Member is mistaken. They wore inserted to compel the tenants to keep the houses in repair; and so little does the law recognise the obligation on the freeholder to look after the property which he has let on long lease to tenants and sub-tenants, that actually the Courts will not allow those penalties to be enforced unless the freeholder's interests are interfered with by the demolition of the house. That is a conclusive proof which I give to the House that the Law Courts have never taken the view of the hon. Member as to the obligation of the freeholder. In the first place, remember who the freeholder is. In the imagination of many hon. Members of this House he bulks as a great landlord receiving £50,000 or £100,000 a year in ground rents. There are such cases, but they are a minority of the freeholders in this country. Most of the freehold interests in house property belong to insurance companies, to the trustees of people who have bought in the middle of a lease as an investment, and to an immense variety of owners who know nothing about the property and who are not expected in law or in equity to know anything about the management of the property, which 514 is let upon long leases, the reversion of which they have purchased. It really is absurd to attempt to throw upon them the kind of responsibility which the hon. Member attempts to throw on them. Supposing that these long leases had run out only a small part of their term, then to give the freeholder the compulsory right of re-entry would be to give him something to which he is not entitled, and a good deal more than he ought to have. Suppose that these long leases are nearing their termination, and that the reversion is becoming much more valuable. When it falls in it will be in the power of the freeholder, in law and in equity, to use his land not merely for workmen's dwellings, but for a more remunerative purpose. Then by what right do you saddle him over all his fellows with the obligation for all time to dedicate his property, and his property alone, to the erection of workmen's dwellings? There is in equity no answer to that argument. It may be right—I am not sure that it is not right—that there should be provision made within the area even of the most crowded municipality for the residence of workmen. But that provision should not be made at the cost of one particular, arbitrarily selected, and innocent class of members of the community. Punish the slum owner if you like. [An HON. MEMBER: Who is he?] He is the man who receives the rents for the slums. Punish him if you please. You have ample power to do so under the existing law, and you do not use it. If every slum owner was hanged at the door of his slum, I might think it a very harsh exercise of the criminal law, but I should not weep my eyes out over his destiny. But it is not the slum owner who is in question, or on whom the hon. Member would fall. It is on the innocent trustees of perhaps some old maiden ladies in the country, or on the freeholder who has never had a chance of seeing his property, that the hon. Member would saddle the perpetual obligation of using their land for a relatively un-remunerative purpose. So much for the arguments of the hon. Gentleman. I think that that answer adequately covers also the case of the hon. and learned Member for South Shields. But there was a third plan suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries. He wants, of all things in the world, as a solution of this question, to upset the 515 immemorial rating system of England, which is based upon the letting value of the property, and to substitute for it the American system of rating, which is based on the capital value of the property. He desires that the capital value of every property shall be estimated by the owner himself, who shall then pay rates upon that value, and shall always be liable to be expropriated at that value by the local authority. I do not think I need argue a scheme which goes far beyond anything touching upon the question we are now dealing with, and which is revolutionary in the sense that it upsets every rating law passed since the time of Queen Elizabeth. If the House adopted such a scheme, it would adopt it as a separate measure, not affecting solely or even principally the question of the dwellings of the working classes, but as touching the whole complicated, difficult, and perplexing problem involved in the collection of rates for municipal purposes. But the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member, and his boldness of conception, did not stop short at the entire destruction of the immemorial rating system in this country. He had another plan. He said, and with perfect truth, that some of the difficulties which we experience in housing the working classes near the scene of their labours arose from the fact that a great deal of the ground was more valuable for the purposes of manufactories and for the erection of workshops than for the erection of workmen's dwellings. He actually suggested to this House that in consequence of that fact we should prohibit within the said areas the erection of any more workshops or manufactories at all.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I observe that the hon. Member has at least one disciple not less audacious than himself in the shape of the hon. Member for Stepney. Are the hon. Member for Stepney and the hon. Member for Dumfries aware of what they are doing? What they are doing is this. They are robbing the owners of certain lands for the benefit of the owners of other lands. They are giving a monopoly value to the happy possessor of manufactories and workshops now in existence, and telling other people, who have 516 just as good a right to have workshops on their land, that for all time their land is to be devoted to some remunerative purposes in order to provide cheap labour in the workshops. I really do think that a more preposterous scheme was never proposed, and I confess that it does a little irritate me—and I think I have a good temper—to find a philanthropist like my hon. and learned friend the Member for Dumfries coming down to this House and telling us that this problem, unlike the drink problem and other problems connected with morals, can be solved by this House, and then, when we are all, as it were, panting with expectation for his solution of the difficulty, presenting us with a scheme like that! Then I come to the fifth nostrum. This plan contemplates the erection of land courts and rent courts in London. That also meets, I know, with the ardent approval of the hon. Member for Stepney. While I am no admirer of land courts or rent courts in any part of the country, I must say that in London the idea is peculiarly objectionable and, indeed, unworkable. We have established rent courts in Ireland. But bear in mind the facts. You have in Ireland a peasantry fixed to a certain extent by affection and tradition to the soil. You have the other fact, that their being so fixed of itself gives the landlord an unfair power over them. Then it was thought that the market value of the land could be fixed by an outside tribunal by the ordinary process of calculation, and that was the remedy applied. How are you, I ask, going to fix the rent of a house in London except by market value? Land can only be used, as a rule, for raising crops. A man owns a house or half a dozen houses. The rent court comes and says the rent should be only so much, but the owner says, "I shall pull them down and use the land in other ways." Are you going to prevent him? Are you going to compel him to keep up the houses although he might be able to use them better for other purposes? If you do that you inflict on him a gross injustice. My opinion, therefore, is that land courts or rent courts would be exceedingly absurd in a town district. Here, however, I noticed that the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries did not show complete reciprocity with the Member for Stepney, for he had not a word to say in their defence. He did not foresee that he had such an ardent disciple 517 in the hon. Member who has just sat down, and he did not return the compliment of supporting his scheme, because he did not foresee that the hon. Gentleman was prepared to accept the full measure of responsibility. There is one other nostrum, and it is, if I may say so, perhaps the most remarkable of all those which have been placed before us during this discussion. We owe it to the inventive genius of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Aberdeen. He proposed his scheme just before dinner, and his plan is to restrict the size of London. He thinks that London is much too big. One of our great monarchs—I believe it was Queen Elizabeth—was much perturbed and exercised some centuries ago by the size of London. It was a time when the City of Westminster was barely connected with the City of London and when Kensington was a remote country village. The Queen was, as I have said, greatly exercised as to the size of London, and she wished to restrict the growth and the increase of the nuisance. The Member for South Aberdeen is now in that position, but how does he propose to restrict the size of London? How does he propose to induce manufacturers to go and manufacture elsewhere? He did not tell us that, and no subsequent speaker has elucidated that interesting and obscure problem. We, however, have our senses roused to the magnitude of the evil, though, perhaps, it is thought we may turn a blind eye to the weak points of these quack remedies which we are inclined at first sight to accept. But I do not think any remedy which has been suggested approaches in magnitude or importance the remedy proposed by the Government. I am quite sure the remedy for the great disease of overcrowding is not to be found in dealings, however drastic, with insanitary areas. The number of overcrowded people in London who live in insanitary areas I believe to be relatively small. I am perfectly convinced that the overcrowding in London and in other big towns takes place in houses which, but for the overcrowding, would be passed as sanitary and not insanitary houses, and which, therefore, cannot be dealt with by this drastic process of demolition. It is not to these processes that I look for any important amelioration of the difficulty in which we find ourselves. The truth is, it is a question simply of time and space, and 518 nothing else. If you can accommodate, by raising the height of your buildings, a larger population on a given area, well and good; you do something towards dealing with the problem; but if you cannot do that, then you must go outside the narrow area at the centre of your congested district, and you must trust to modern invention and modern improvements in locomotion for abolishing time. For my own part, it is in that direction that I look to see the solution of this problem. And recollect how much has been done. This is not merely a question of the poor; it is a question of the well - to - do as well. Sixty or seventy years ago London merchants lived in the City of London, with their clerks and all the staff necessary to carry on their business. The value of land in the City of London for commercial purposes has increased, and the increase of rent is the consequence of the greater economic benefit. Some hon. Members regard this as a misfortune, but that is quite a mistake. The increase of rent is the consequence of a great economic benefit. If it were not that it paid commercially, that it was a benefit to the industry of the country, to that commercial prosperity on which the country depended, of course people would not pay these high rents to come into the City of London. And so with the workshops of which we have heard. Is anybody fool enough to go and build a workshop where he has to pay an enormous price for his land, where he has got to pay more for his labour because the labour itself has got to pay more for its lodgings, unless there is an economic advantage to be got from it? Of course not; and, therefore, it was a great advantage to the country that the business men of London and their clerks went outside to other areas which had not the same commercial value. Of course it is not so simple a problem for the working classes. It is far from being simple, but it is the same kind of problem; and I think it can only be solved in their case, as it has been solved in the case of the merchant and the clerk, by a great augmentation in the number and a great increase in the cheapness of our methods of conveyance from one place to another. It is not, after all, to the inventive legislation of this House that we must look, but it is to the inventive power of men of science and of manu- 519 facturers. Let us give to municipalities all the powers they require to use the inventions of science. But we cannot introduce new methods of traction. All we can do is to turn them to the best account, and I believe myself that we are on the eve of an immense reform, of an immense augmentation of the means of communication. I believe that electrical traction and other forms of traction are going to play a far larger part in the solution of this difficulty than any of the strange schemes which I have analysed to the best of my ability for the benefit of the House. I sometimes dream—perhaps it is only a dream—that in addition to railways and tramways, we may see great highways constructed for rapid motor traffic, and confined to motor traffic, which would have the immense advantage, if it could be practicable, of taking the workman from door to door, which no tramway and no railway could do. Such highways as I sometimes conceive in my mind would, of course, be in connection with the ordinary street system at one end, and the ordinary country road system at the other end, and the vehicles, belonging to private individuals, requiring no permanent charges and no staff, would, I believe, at a very cheap rate and with great rapidity actually convoy from the door of the dwelling to the door of the workshop the workmen who had the good fortune to have their dwellings in the country. I have no right, especially at this time, to develop ideas which may, to some minds, seem fanciful and imaginary. All I will say in conclusion is most seriously and earnestly to warn the House against the danger which I see threatening it on both sides—the danger, I mean, of imagining that you make good legislative progress by introducing big legislative measures. That is not my experience of the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman who spoke on the first night of the debate from the front bench opposite was one of the first to taunt us with the incompleteness of our scheme, and I took down the description which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicester gave of a Bill which should deal with the question of the housing of the working classes. "A complete, substantial, and exhaustive solution" —that, I think, was the description the hon. Gentleman gave. Well, Sir, this is a noble ideal, but the hon. Gentleman 520 opposite will, I hope, forgive me for saying that I think it is a bad one. I suppose it was because the Liberal Government which came into office in 1860 were occupied for six years in framing a complete and exhaustive scheme that no Bill at all on this subject was brought forward, and that it was left to Lord Beaconsfield's Government in 1867 to pass an Act—Torrens's Act—which, though not a complete and exhaustive measure, was one which did some good, I think. Lord Beaconsfield went out of office in about a year, and for the next five years a Liberal Government was again contemplating this complete and exhaustive measure to deal with the housing of the working classes, and again no Bill was introduced until a humbler Government, a Government with more modest legislative schemes, came into power in 1874. I think it was in 1875 that the first of Lord Cross's Acts was passed and in 1879 that the second of Lord Cross's Acts was passed dealing with this question. Again a Government of ideals came into office, and from 1880 to 1885 they were again in a state of contemplative gestation over this complete and exhaustive solution of the housing of the working classes problem; and again nothing happened. Well, Sir, history repeated itself, and my right hon. friend the present President of the Board of Trade passed a Bill in 1890 which in a great measure dealt with this question, and another measure hardly less important for the same end—I mean the end of obtaining sanitary dwellings—the Public Health Act of 1891. Well, Sir, we went out of office, and again the Liberals came in with the same ideals; and then, I believe, the hon. Gentleman opposite, who spoke on the first night of this debate, was in the Liberal Government, and I suppose during the two or three years he was in office he was contemplating and preparing in his mind this complete and exhaustive measure, but not a word during the whole period of his office did he utter, so far as I know, on this subject until he spoke the other night. It appears to me, Sir, that on the whole the modest policy is the best; and I have come to the conclusion that of the two sides of the House, equally ardent in a great cause, the party which proceeds by modest measures and step by step is the party which does something, and that the party which is not content with any 521 measure which does not put forward a complete and exhaustive solution is a party which is predestined from the beginning to do nothing but make barren criticisms on the efforts of their opponents. In these circumstances, Sir, I hope that both sides of the House, learning by experience, will drop this species of rather petty attack on the so-called inadequacy of the measure, and will set themselves to work to pass into law what everybody recognises as a real and substantial advance in the solution of the most important and at the same time most difficult question with which statesmen have to deal.
§ * MR. MATHER (Lancashire, Rossendale)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board declared in his speech that the local authorities throughout the country had the power to put in operation the provisions of the Housing of the Working Classes Act. I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman a practical method by which he could aid very much the local authorities throughout the country in carrying out what they have now, as he says and as I know from experience, the power to do. In order to illustrate what I mean I will relate an experience of my own in connection with the improvement of property practically unfit for human habitation. I have had an intimate connection with an ancient borough in Lancashire, where I have endeavoured to improve the houses of the working classes, and especially to improve a certain property unfitted for human habitation. I endeavoured to move the local authorities to put into operation the powers which I knew they possessed. The local medical officer, who was a very sympathetic and enlightened officer in connection with the improvement of the housing of the poor, directed the attention of the local authorities to the condition of this property, but nothing was done. I then acquired the property on a lease for several years—a whole street of houses standing back to back—from the respective landlords with very great difficulty, for they belonged to owners some of whom lived in the South of England. Finally I acquired this street, consisting of cellared houses, all the cellars being occupied in a manner too disgusting to describe. The 522 other parts of these houses were occupied as we have been told houses in the East End are occupied. Having acquired the houses, I requested the medical officer of health to notify me to improve their sanitary condition, to stop over-crowding, and to close the cellars as dwellings. That was done, and the power which the President of the Local Government Board referred to was put into operation in a most effective manner, and these houses, which at first were only fitted for demolition, were restored, overcrowding was stopped, and good sanitary conditions wore established. If I as an individual was able, through the local authority, to perform such an immense service in that part of this particular borough, why cannot the President of the Local Government Board bring such pressure to bear on the local authorities as will compel, or induce, or persuade them to put that power into operation? I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that the Local Government Board might periodically communicate with the local authorities, especially in large towns, and require them from time to time to furnish a Return of the number of houses in their locality which are unfitted for suitable and sanitary occupation. If this were done, the Local Government Board would find that the local authorities would be immensely strengthened in their efforts to compel the owners of property to improve it and bring it into a condition of conformity with the law. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for this Bill, which will offer working-people facilities to get out of the towns, but there is a great deal to be done between demolishing property and improving property. The local authorities do not feel themselves free to take drastic measures, but if the Local Government Board would bring pressure to bear on the local authorities I believe that property throughout the country would be very much improved, to the great benefit to the working classes.
§ MR. ROBSON
Having regard to the wish expressed on both sides of the House, particularly by those who are favourable to the suggestion contained in my Amendment, I shall not press it to a division, and I ask leave of the House to withdraw it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.523
§ Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.