§ MR. SLANEY
said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to consider the means of improving the dwellings of the working classes in populous towns, and of obtaining for them air, exercise, and occasional recreation, so as to conduce to their health and comfort. The question was one of the utmost importance to a very large number of the inhabitants of this country, while the present moment, from the absence of party feeling, and the great attention which was beginning to be paid to the welfare of the humbler classes, was peculiarly favourable for the Motion. There could be no doubt that the condition of the working classes in all our great towns had been most lamentably neglected, and the cause of their crowded dwellings was to be found in a large measure in those changes which had proved beneficial to every other class of the community. We were no longer spending, as during the great European war, many millions every year for carrying on hostilities. Since the peace £300,000,000 had been laid out upon railways; but those great works, while they had conferred incalculable benefits on the community, had inflicted a great injury upon the lower classes in London and other large towns by destroying their dwellings, and thus forcing them to herd together within still narrower limits. During the same period no less than £200,000,000 had been spent in buildings for the upper, the middle, and perhaps the third class; but the lowest class of all, so far from reaping any advantage from that vast expenditure, were worse off than ever. Since his recollection, the Metropolis had seen added to it three great cities. The first extended from Camden Town to Paddington; the second was that called Belgravia; 1810 and the third Tyburnia; but of each the same thing might be said—it had covered fields in which the poor used formerly to enjoy air and recreation, and it had swept away numerous dwellings formerly inhabited by the poor. On the north east of London, namely, the district from Hackney to Somers Town, and in the western portion of the district south of the river, similar results had followed; besides all which, recent improvements within the Metropolis itself had greatly tended—as as had been so ably shown by the Earls of Derby and Shaftesbury in "another place" —to increase the discomfort of the humbler classes. For some time past the increase in our town population had been no less than 30 per cent every ten years, while there had been less room for the humbler class of dwellings. The working classes in too many instances had been driven by the overcrowded state of their dwellings into habits of inebriety, and they were now compelled to herd together in places where they were decimated by disease, and where their children were neglected. He believed that the Act for improving the health of towns — passed by the efforts of Lord Carlisle—had done a great deal of good, but the evils of overcrowding had gone on increasing, and up to the present time little or nothing had been done to remedy the mischief. The Report of the Committee on the Health of Towns in 1840, and the Report of the Poor Law Commission in 1842, testified even then to the necessity of something being done. The Report of the Health of Towns Commission in 1845, also showed the enormous evils that had sprung from the neglect of which he complained. Having investigated the state of fifteen towns and a sad part of the Metropolis, he could say that if hon. Gentlemen having a feeling of compassion for their fellow subjects would visit those spots, they would see necessity for endeavouring guardedly but firmly to mitigate those evils. It appeared from the Report of the Commission of 1845 that the Commissioners had visited fifty great towns with a population of three millions, and that the dwellings of the humble classes were destitute of necessary comforts, including ventilation and the supply of water, and that consequently they endured the greatest sufferings. The late Mr. Porter, the author of that well known work, The Progress of the Nation, said that the present defective arrangements of our large towns led to an immense amount of self- 1811 imposed taxation, in the shape of tobacco and spirits, that would otherwise not be consumed, but for which there was now an irresistible craving in consequence of the depressing effects of an unwholesome atmosphere. He had lately had placed in his hands a valuable little work by the Bishop of Ripon, wherein was pointed out with great force the moral, social, and economical evil to which the state of our towns necessarily gave rise. The subject had also been adverted to with great power in a recent debate in the House of Lords; but to that he would not further allude. The report of the health officers of the City of London stated that third class residences were being divided in order to be re-let to working men, so that their condition was worse than before. As to the cost of the system, it had been calculated that of the £4,000,000 expended in poor rates there might be a saving of £2,000,000; in the expense occasioned by crime there might be another saving of £2,000,000; and in the cost of hospitals and charities rendered necessary for this miserable class and their children there would be another saving of £2,000,000; making together an annual saving of £6,000,000. Besides all this, if the improvements he suggested were carried out, they might save £14,000,000 now spent in intoxication. Here, then, was an annual sum of £20,000,000 which might be devoted to improvements, and in the diffusion of the greatest blessings to the greatest number in the country. He now came to the remedies; and first as to improvement in dwellings. He suggested that a block of dwellings fitted for the humbler classes should be placed by different railways, and within a few miles of great towns, these classes being conveyed to and fro in say eight minutes, at 1s. a week, which would effect to them a saving of 2s. per week. The moment was propitious, because there was an immense amount of capital seeking investment at every side. During the last fourteen or fifteen years — particularly during the last ten—a great improvement had taken place in the condition of Ireland, and, comparatively speaking, very few Irish now came here to undersell the people in the labour market. In consequence of discussion, education, and of increased intelligence, the working people were ready for the most part to take advantage of any reasonable proposition to elevate their condition. They were willing to help themselves, and should enjoy as well as other classes the accommodation afforded by 1812 railways. If they were taken out only a few miles oh the different railways they would be able to have gardens and playgrounds for their children. They might have Sunday services, and on Sunday evenings enjoy the walks about their dwellings. It was also necessary to have some improvements effected within the towns. They should have a number of model lodging houses, properly divided and fitted and managed in a way to ensure the enjoyment amongst the inmates of all the comforts and decencies of life. He knew the site was a matter of difficulty, but let them carry up the buildings six stories, which would afford enormous advantages in a limited extent of space, and above all there should be a hoist or lift to save both time and cost in ascending to the higher floors. If the roof was flat covered with cement or lead and railed round there would be an airy playground for the children. Again, public wash houses were a modern invention, and the extension of them would be of the greatest use to women. Now, with regard to the means by which these improvements in the dwellings of the working classes might be carried out, he thought it could be done by means of that greatest of modern practical discoveries—namely, the combination of small sums for a great end, on the principle of limited liability. They had many recent examples of it among the rich and middle classes, and even the railways throughout the land had been carried out by this means. That magnificent hotel close by had been raised through this means, and he had seen in the enterprising cities of America some magnificent hotels, devoted to the accommodation of the middle classes, all of which had been raised by small shares combined with limited liability. Then why should not working men, with proper facilities afforded them, join in such a movement for the improvement of their own condition? He had received a communication made by Mr. Hill, the Recorder of Birmingham, in a letter to Lord Brougham, and which had been published in the transactions of the Social Science Meeting. It was there stated that in Birmingham, Rochdale, and many others of the large towns, a great number of working men, under the sanction of the Co-operative and Provident Act, 15 & 16 Vict. c. 30, which he had the honour of introducing into that House, were joining together, and under limited liability, and with small means at the commencement, were forming stores, 1813 buying in provisions, and then selling them again at good weight for ready money. They had also erected mills for the purpose of grinding corn, which ground per week many thousand sacks of wheat; and, lastly, they were turning their attention to erecting manufactories by means of joint capitals. One had been lately erected at a cost of £40,000, which had been paid by the working men. Further encouragement ought to be held out to those who had done so much for themselves; and if the wealthy and benevolent would invest their capital in the erection of improved dwellings for the labouring classes, they would obtain without risk a net return of at least 4 per cent, while they also conferred an incalculable boon on the humbler orders. He did not advocate that scheme as a mere charity, for his object was to hasten the day when the working men would become part owners, at least, of their own houses. To facilitate that end an enabling Act ought to be passed, empowering the holders of property that was strictly entailed to sell portions of their land in order to afford sites for all such improvements. Care might be taken in such measure that the proceeds of these sales should go to benefit the entailed estates. The Government ought likewise to turn its attention to the framing of a General Building Act, which should prohibit the construction of such human habitations as must be injurious to health, decency, and comfort. He thought, also, there should be some mode of regulating the outlets of towns, that there might be good avenues for the sake of health and of comfort. In the New Road for example, there were many places which within his memory had only gardens in front of them, but where now there were shops and dwellings rising up, narrowing the space, and that, as he believed, against, the law. There remained one other point, and that was, as to the means which should be adopted for affording to the humbler classes opportunities of taking more air, exercise, and occasional recreation. In this respect the condition of the children and parents in our large towns was most lamentable. Now, the Temple Gardens were open to the public at certain times, and he did not see why something of the kind should not be done with reference to Lincoln's-inn-Fields. He would ask if it was not practicable that that place could be open on Sundays under proper regulations; and for, say two hours in a morning early, and two hours in an 1814 evening of week days for all classes? With respect to the public walks in the vicinity of towns, he had the honour, in 1833, to move for the first Committee on this subject. The result of their recommendations was seen in Primrose Hill and Victoria Park, Kennington Green, Battersea Park and elsewhere near many large towns. In the neighbourhood of Birmingham the hon. Member for North Staffordshire (Mr. Alderley) had given space for the humbler people to enjoy themselves. In Manchester and other large places similar things had been done. He hoped something of the same kind might be done with regard to the open spaces which were yet left near London. He had had the good fortune to propose and pass two Acts of Parliament 22 Vict. c. 27 and 23 Viet. c. 30, by which greater facility was given to persons to make giants of land to the public, and by which whenever half the amount required for obtaining such land was raised by donations, the ratepayers might tax themselves for the remainder. But he would appeal to gentleman there who had large and beautiful places in the neighbourhood of great towns, not to do that which was unfortunately too often done unthinkingly, namely, put high close fences round them, but to have open rails for small space with a seat for the humbler classes outside to enjoy the view and fresh air. Then, he thought, something should be done with respect to the footpaths in the vicinity of towns. He hoped that in the Highway Act, which was before the House, some clause would be inserted to compel he keeping of these footpaths in good order. They were as much the highways of the humbler classes as the carriage-roads were of the higher classes. How much they needed regulation might be seen by the state of the footpaths round town and near Hampstead, where the humbler people resorted in great numbers for fresh air on Sundays. They were in such a condition that no one could go on them after wet weather without the greatest discomfort. It would also be a great boon if a few seats were placed along the suburban roads. Then he thought great advantage would be derived from the establishment of pleasure fairs in the neighbourhood of large towns, say for two days at a time, in August or September, under due regulations. At the time of the accession of her most gracious Majesty, a pleasure fair was held 1815 for three days in Hyde-park, and there were no irregularities, or riots, or disturbances. The late and present Lord Dartmouth had lent land in the neighbourhood of Birmingham for such a purpose, and a similar thing was done by the late Earl of Ellesmere. He had thrown out these various suggestions as subjects for the consideration of the Committee if it should be appointed. Those hon. Gentlemen whom he addressed enjoyed the comforts of fresh air and comfortable dwellings, and had the opportunity of enjoying field sports, and he appealed to them individually and collectively to consider these subjects and to assist him to do justice to the labouring classes, whose health was their only property.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the means of improving the Dwellings of the Working Classes in populous towns, and of obtaining for them air, exercise, and occasional recreation, so as to conduce to their health and comfort.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
Everybody who is acquainted with the character of the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House, and who has heard his former speeches on similar subjects, as well as the speech he has just delivered, must agree with me in thinking that the hon. Gentleman is eminently distinguished by benevolence. But when a Motion is made in this House, and we are asked to agree to a practical Resolution, it is necessary we should consider something more than good and kind intentions, and be able to trace a connection between the end and the means. I have listened with great attention to the interesting speech of my hon. Friend; but I do not see that it might not as well have been addressed to a Congress of the Social Science Association with as much fitness as to the House of Commons. It contained very many excellent ideas on the improvement of the condition of the working classes; and if a Bill were introduced, founded upon some of the recommendations, there would be something on which the House could pronounce an opinion. But I confess I fail to perceive how the appointment of a Select Committee would promote the benevolent objects my hon. Friend has in view. In the first place, he laid the basis of his recommendations on statistics that seemed to me somewhat adventurous, and that I must consider as resting more on con- 1816 jecture than proof. He said if the measures he proposed were adopted there would be a saving of £2,000,000 a year in the expense of punishing criminals; £2,000,000 a year more in the expense of relieving the poor, with a further saving of £2,000,000 in miscellaneous expenses; that there would be, in all, a saving of £6,000,000, by improving the dwellings of the poor and other similar measures. He then quoted a statement from Porter's Progress of the Nation, that the annual expenditure of the working classes in this country on spirits and tobacco amounted to £14,000,000, and he calculated that if the working classes were better lodged the whole of this expenditure would be saved.
§ MR. SLANEY
explained. He had stated that a saving of that nature might be expected if improvements of the kind were carried out. Mr. Porter calculated that the saving would be much larger.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
That amounts exactly to what I have said; but limiting the assumed saving on spirits and tobacco to £14,000,000, a total economy of £20,000,000 annually would be the result of the improvements. Now, except in the calculations of Mr. Macgregor on the subject of free trade, I have never heard such large totals presented for the consideration of the House. And I must venture to affirm that the hon. Gentleman has drawn more on his imagination for his statistics than on arithmetical calculation. But what we have to consider is, really, the catalogue of proposals the hon. Gentleman has submitted to the House; and I am at a loss to see the necessity of appointing a Select Committee to inquire into these proposals, inasmuch as they admit of being brought before the House, not by a circuitous course, but in the shape of Bills. My hon. Friend says that one great means of providing accommodation for the poor would be to divert capital from investment in foreign countries, and promote the formation of companies for constructing new blocks of buildings as dwellings. But I do not see that new legislation is wanted for this purpose. In fact, a company is now forming, on the principle of limited liability, having this object; and I am not aware that any additional facilities are needed for its operations. It is clear that no compulsory law can be passed to prevent persons from transmitting their capital to foreign countries; nor can we compel them to invest their money at 1817 home in building dwellings for the working classes. This must be left to voluntary action. Another proposal is to establish large hotels, similar to the American hotels, for the use of working people. If the hon. Gentleman can show that such an investment of capital would be remunerative, and return 4 per cent, he will not have much difficulty in inducing capitalists to enter into the speculation. But the hon. Gentleman said that what he mainly required was an enabling Act to obtain sites for buildings in the neighbourhood of large towns. I assume that what he proposes is that a Bill should be brought in embodying some of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act to be applied to this purpose; but why does not he himself introduce such a Bill to the consideration of the House? With regard to all these plans of improving the dwellings of the poor, the formation of parks, and other suggestions, they are all separate subjects, and I do not see any practical advantage likely to arise from appointing a Committee to inquire into them; all these proposals admit of being laid before the House in the form of separate Bills. Fully recognizing the good intentions of my hon. Friend, and repeating my assurance of it, if the House should think any practical object can be obtained by the Committee, I will offer no opposition to it. But the House will remember that a great many public Committees have been appointed lately; and many of the Members who take the most active part in public business are already nominated on two or three Committees, and there are also many Committees sitting on Private Bills. Not seeing my way clearly to any practical result, I would ask my hon. Friend not to press his Motion; but I would suggest that he should select from his various proposals some of those most likely to meet with success, embody them in the form of Bills, and in that way submit them to the House. I am sure anything that offered a fair prospect of carrying his benevolent intentions into effect would receive a patient consideration.
§ MR. SLANEY
said, that after what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, he would not press the Motion; but he hoped that some of the measures he had proposed would be well considered by Her Majesty's Government, and that some younger men would take up the subjects, and persevere till they were carried.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.