HC Deb 17 August 1857 vol 147 cc1767-73

Order for Committee read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he felt obliged to oppose this Bill as being against the fundamental principles of liberty in this country. He thought that it trenched on the principle that private dwellings ought not to be interfered with, except on very grave causes. The Bill itself was most imperfect, and the second clause could be understood by no one, nor could it be referred to common lodging-houses. There was no machinery for carrying out the Bill, and he thought that it ought not to be proceeded with at so late a period of the Session. Unless the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) would consent to its being withdrawn, he should move that the House go into Committee upon it that day three months.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof: Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he also should oppose the measure as being one of a most imperfect character. The 2nd clause might be read by itself for a week, and magistrates could not make anything of it; but if they read it in connection with the preamble, it gave the police power to enter the house of any poor man. Why should the police have power to enter a poor man's house more than that of a rich one? The Bill also gave power in the 3rd clause to enable the London police to act for the whole kingdom in the most objectionable manner, for it empowered them to set in motion the local authorities, when it must be remembered the Nuisances Removal Act expressly provided against such interference by the London police. It had been said that it was to be confined to common lodging-houses, but in point of fact the preamble extended it to all the dwellings of the poor.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not listen to the arguments urged against proceeding with the Bill, for whenever they had any measure of public advantage brought forward, they found hon. Members oppose it upon the old hackneyed political ground—a regard for the liberty of the subject. If London were polled, the vote of every poor man would be given in favour of it. The state of the lodging-houses in London was terrible. Not long ago he went with one of the police to visit some of these lodging-houses, when he was surrounded by persons who begged that the provisions of the existing Act might be extended to houses which did not now come within their operation. There were many places which, though not technically, were practically lodging-houses, in which several families were crowded together. In one tenement he saw thirty or forty miserable Chinese so crowded together as to breed all kinds of filth and abomination. The crowding of 3,000,000 of persons into a single city was a highly artificial arrangement, and it required some special enactments like those now proposed to get for the poor some measure of air, water, and other matters required for healthful and convenient living.


said, he felt bound to give this Bill his most decided opposition. Instead of being a beneficial and popular Act, it would render the Nuisances' Removal Act a most unpopular one. If they passed this Bill they would be taking the same course as they did upon the Beer Bill last year, and they would be obliged to amend it by a measure next year. The definition of relationship in the Bill was most absurd.


said, that he was not responsible for the framing of this Bill, but he should not be doing justice to those who introduced it into the House of Lords if he were now to withdraw it. If they went into Committee he could show that the measure was not open to the objections which had been raised to it. The 2nd clause did not, as had been alleged, apply to private dwellings, but only to lodging-houses or parts of dwelling-houses. In the 3rd clause it would be desirable to introduce words limiting the authority of the Police Commissioners to their own district.


said, he would beg to remind hon. Members representing places north of the Tweed that the Bill did not apply to Scotland. Speaking as a Metropolitan Member, he maintained that this Bill was a step in the wrong direction; and that it interfered injuriously with the freedom of the poor in the management of their own dwellings. The poor were not more anxious than the rich to live in overcrowded dwellings, but they were compelled to do so by the improvements, which, while constructing large and fine streets for the rich, had driven the poor to reside in districts which consequently became overcrowded. He did not think that it was just to drive the poor out of their present dwellings until they had pointed out were they were to go to, and had provided other dwellings for them.


said, that the House did not appear clearly to understand the nature or the principle of the Bill. Hon. gentlemen got up and said that the Bill proposed an interference with the dwellings of the poor, but the fact was that it was not with the dwellings of the poor that the Bill proposed to deal. The fact was, that the unfortunate wretches for whose welfare the Bill provided did not live in their own houses. A number of capitalists had built tenements which were occupied by the poor as lodging-houses, and from a sordid love of gain they kept the inmates of those tenements in a state of misery, of dirt, and disease. The main object of the Bill was to compel these monopolist builders to provide the means of common decency and cleanliness, in which he believed, so far from being damaged, they would ultimately find their account. The Bill might require amendment, or it might not; but that was a question to be settled in Committee. He trusted, therefore, that the House would not be lead away by misrepresentations, and retard the progress of a measure which would be productive of great benefit to the labouring classes.


said, he would not at that late hour trespass long upon the attention of the House, but there were certain facts with which he thought hon. Members ought to be made acquainted. The condition of the lodging-houses did not regard the poor alone, but being, as they were at present, nuclei of disease and pestilence, they affected the whole community. A Report which had been drawn up for the Statistical Society of London, and part of which had been prepared from his own personal experience, disclosed a state of things with regard to the condition of the poorer classes almost incredible. He would not trouble the House by quoting many passages from that Report, but there were one or two which he thought that it would be advisable to refer to, and he would confine himself to London. There were, however, many cases mentioned in that Report illustrating the deplorable condition of the working classes, with regard to lodging accommodation in the manufacturing districts. It appeared, from the Report, and he could confirm it from personal observation, that in Church Lane, St. Giles', in London, the population examined was 463, the number of families 100, and the number of bedsteads amongst them ninety, the average being above five souls to a bed, and many rooms were inhabited by as many as twenty-two souls, without water, or drainage, or privies, while in one of the rooms containing twenty-two souls there was a dead body. The condition, in fact, of those people was so revolting that the committee of the Statistical Society of London concluded a Report, which they were called upon to make as follows:— Your Committee have thus given a picture in detail of human wretchedness, filth, and brutal degradation, the chief features of which are a disgrace to a civilized country, and which your Committee have reason to fear, from letters that have appeared in the public journals, is but the type of the miserable condition of masses of the community, whether located in the small, ill-ventilated rooms of manufacturing towns, or in many of the cottages of the agricultural peasantry. In these wretched dwellings all ages and both sexes, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, grownup brothers and sisters, stranger adult males and females, and swarms of children, the sick, the dying and the dead, are herded together with a proximity and a mutual pressure which brutes would resist; where it is physically impossible to preserve the ordinary decencies of life; where all sense of propriety and self-respect must be lost, to be replaced only by a recklessness of demeanour which necessarily results from vitiated minds; and yet with many of the young, brought up in such hotbeds of mental pestilence, the hopeless, but benevolent attempt is making to implant, by means of general education, the seeds of religion, virtue, truth, order, industry and cleanliness; but which seeds, to fructify advantageously, need, it is to be feared, a soil far less rank than can be found in these wretched abodes. Tender minds, once vitiated, present almost insuperable difficulties to reformation; bad habits and depraved feelings gather with the growth and strengthen with the strength. The hon. and learned Member for Southwark (Mr. John Locke) had talked about erecting buildings for the accommodation of the labouring classes. This was the ultimate object of the proposed Bill; and some benevolent individuals had already made a commencement in the erection of a building in Old Pancras, in which there was accommodation for nearly 100 families, and so well arranged were the sanitary measures of that establishment, that during the cholera not a single case of that disease appeared within its walls, although it was prevalent in the immediate neighbourhood. For his own part, he thought that the Bill was one which would, to a great extent, remedy a serious evil, and he would, therefore, feel it his duty to support it.


said, that the report of the Police Commissioners, on which this Bill was founded, expressly claimed for the police the right to interfere with every poor man's residence. If it did not mean that, it meant nothing, for common lodging-houses were already dealt with by the existing Act. That, however, was a claim to which he could not assent, and he hoped, therefore, that the House would not assent to this measure.


said, in spite of what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Southwark, he would maintain it to be his right as an Irish Member to take part in the discussion of a measure by the operation of which a large number of the poorer classes of his fellow countrymen would be affected. He should give his hearty support to the Bill.


said, that if the Bill had been introduced here, instead of in the other House, a perfect storm would have been raised against it. The Bill handed over the Metropolis bodily to the police. It gave them the power to break into any house with which they might choose to interfere,


said, the discussion with regard to the Bill, had as yet been mainly directed to the question of its operation within the Metropolis. He should support it on the ground that it was required, no less for the rural districts than for the towns. The evils of crowded dwellings prevailed equally in both, and in each case required a legislative remedy.


moved the adjournment of the House.


expressed a hope that the hon. Member would not persevere in his Motion, but would permit decision to be taken at once upon the principle of the Bill.


said, there were several hon. Members who wished to take part in the discussion, and he himself was one of them; but then he did not wish to enter into the subject at that late hour of the night (half-past one o'clock). Well, as the House wished him to proceed, he would state that the Bill appeared to him to be framed in complete ignorance of the principles of political economy; for, notwithstanding what had fallen from the noble Lord at the head of the Government with reference to its operation with respect to capitalists, he could not help thinking that the practical result of the measure would be to turn the poor out of their houses, and to compel them to seek refuge in the arches of the Adelphi or some such wretched locality. Again, in the rural districts, the poor were driven into all kinds of hovels, because many of them were unable to pay as much as £2 10s. or £3 a year for better accommodation. He contended the House would not afford an effective remedy for the evils the poor suffered in those respects by emasculated legislation like that which the Bill under consideration sought to effect.


said, he would remind the House that this was a question which affected the whole of the country and not the Metropolis alone, He did not feel himself justified in supporting a Bill which was most obscure in its general character, and the provisions of which, where they were defined, were most despotic. He added that he should have thought, at first sight, the measure had emanated from the Tuilerics; but there, he admitted, the comparison ended; for whenever that great man, the Emperor of the French, saw an evil, he always sought to apply a remedy, which this Bill did not do. He should therefore oppose the Motion for going into Committee.


said, he also should oppose the Motion for going into Committee as he thought the Bill was a piece of prying, meddlesome legislation, and that under the pretext of remedying a difficulty which had occurred in the Metropolis, an attempt was made to apply its provisions to the country at large, whence no suggestion had ever come that such a measure was wanted.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 44; Noes 23: Majority 21.

Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


objected to going into Committee at that hour (ten minutes to two o'clock), and moved the adjournment of the debate.


said, he would have no objection to report progress if hon. Members would consent to go into Committee.


said, he trusted the House would not go into Committee at that hour.


said, that he would express a hope that the Bill would be extended to Scotland. He thought also that if it were applied to workhouses they would find people sleeping much more than three in a bed.


said, that after the House had divided it was unreasonable to oppose going into Committee. All that was required was to bring the Bill to that stage of progress.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to: Bill considered in Committee.

House resumed; Committee report progress; to sit again To-morrow.

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.