HC Deb 28 February 1865 vol 177 cc926-38

rose to move that it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on the Courts of Justice Concentration (Site) Bill that they have power to make provision for appropriating or obtaining sites, and for the erection of lodging houses or other suitable dwellings for the working classes proposed to be displaced by the said Bill. After the long debate on education he would not detain them with many remarks; but this was really a kindred subject to that which they had just been discussing. After all, it was no use spending large sums on the education of the people unless they also did something to secure them proper habitations. He had not the slightest desire to say a word against his hon. and learned Friend's admirable measure for the concentration of the Law Courts nor had he any objection to raise to the site. He believed the site was very well adapted to the object, and that the erection of the Courts there would open up a neighbourhood which needed improvement. The promoters, however, had been guilty of some neglect towards the poor people who resided in that quarter. Railway companies and other parties who applied to Parliament were now obliged to provide some remedy for any displacement of population which they caused, by running cheap trains or by other means; and the Government, in making a clearance of 7¼ acres, ought to pay some regard to the people who would thereby be driven from their homes. His hon. and learned Friend said that the matter should be left to the operation of the ordinary rules of supply and demand; but he ventured to think that, in this case, something more was required. A Return had been presented to the House of Lords which gave the number of houses to be pulled down in order to make way for the Courts of Law as 151, and the number of persona displaced as 302. This statement was obviously so absurd that another Return was called for, and this was nearer the mark. From the second Return he learned that the number of houses to be removed would be 151, inhabited by 1,812 people. Even this, however, was still less than the actual number, as he was satisfied from having himself visited the spot. He had also obtained from Mr. Abraham, who was, he believed, the architect of the Temple and a connection of the Lord Chancellor's, some trustworthy information on the subject. That gentleman's estimate showed that at least 193 dwelling-houses would be destroyed, inhabited by about 3,070 persons, purely of the labouring class. Moreover, there were lodging-houses in the district, one or two of which accommodated as many as from fifty to sixty people nightly. One of the City missionaries confirmed these figures as being not at all exaggerated; indeed, probably the number of people displaced would not be less than 4,000. Now, it would not do to turn out these persons without making any provision for their accommodation elsewhere. There had been a great and successful resistance to the opening of Hamilton Place in order to relieve Park Lane; but when the poorer classes found that they were treated with such little regard, while that there was so much difficulty in displacing the rich, they would draw their own conclusions, and think, perhaps, that equal justice was not dealt out to all. One of the houses doomed to disappear once belonged, he was told, to Judge Jeffreys, and he wished that that very notorious personage had lived now, in order that his dwelling might be pulled down about his ears. In addition to the dwellings of the very poor, there were in the district now referred to middle class lodging-houses occupied by persons obliged to live near their work, for if they were not at hand when work came, they were apt to lose it. In this category were included law-writers, commonly called "quill drivers." Again, there was a large printing-office close to the site, and he was informed that it would be a matter of the greatest injustice to send the people employed there to live at a long distance from their work. It was a great tax on them, and it would be most unfair to displacethem without making provision for them close at hand. A sad result also of this displacement would be to increase the population of the already overcrowded neighbourhood of St. Giles's. Such evictions were difficult in Ireland, but here the poor Irish submitted to them very quietly. The pauperism thus produced, however, pressed very heavily upon the rates. For the Finsbury Station, and the approaches to it, in one day 1,800 persons were ejected from their homes, and on the following day 200 more, making a total of 2,000 ejections in two days. Nine-tenths of these were poor persons, who were driven into Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. For the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway and its approaches, on the south side of London, it was supposed that about double the above number had been displaced. Now, let the House imagine a town of 6,000 inhabitants with their homes levelled to the ground, followed by the destruction of a second town of 4,000 or 5,000, and then they would realize something of the misery involved in these metropolitan improvements. The subject was well worthy of the attention of the Government. There had been ample time; because the Attorney General in bringing in his Bill told the House that it was no new measure, but one that had been long under consideration; and there were sites that might be pointed out easily attainable. The hon. Member then referred to the evidence of a railway engineer, who declared that the poor who were displaced by one of the east-end railways found accommodation in the overcrowded houses of the immediate neighbourhood, because they were obliged to live near their work. All such misery might be averted by a compulsory clause enforcing the erection of proper accommodation for the families turned out of their homes by these improvements. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Instruction.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on the Courts of Justice Concentration (Site) Bill, that they have power to make provision for appropriating or obtaining sites, and for the erection of lodging-houses or other suitable dwellings for the working classes proposed to be displaced by the said Bill."—(Mr. Kinnaird.)


said, he respected the motives of his hon. Friend, and felt as strongly as any one that the great drawback on public improvements which he had pointed out deserved the most careful consideration. He (Mr. Cowper) felt deeply for the suffering and great hardship which were inflicted upon the working classes whenever a large number of their houses were pulled down, but it was a necessity in the present improvement. He would most cheerfully give his hon. Friend or any other person £100 if he could suggest any means by which this evil to individuals could be obviated. But his hon. Friend had been unable to suggest any remedy. There was a physical impossibility to be overcome. The Bill did not take any more ground or houses than was absolutely required for the courts of law. The number of houses proposed to be taken were 384. His hon. Friend had alluded to the Standing Order of the House of Lords, which was rather difficult to comply with, because in ordering a Return of the houses occupied by the labouring classes to be made the Standing Order did not define what was meant by the labouring classes. When this Bill was under consideration in 1860 the Return gave the number of the labouring classes displaced at 2,300; but the number mentioned by his hon. Friend—3,000—might be the accurate one; at all events, it might be taken to range from 2,500 to 3,000. It had been suggested that the Government, in pulling down the houses that were wanted for the Courts of Justice, ought to erect other houses for the reception of the labouring persons who might be dispossessed. But to do that it would be necessary to buy as much more additional land as would suffice for houses for those poor persons. To clear land on which to erect houses for 3,000 persons to live in, the Government must take 100 more houses. They must turn of 1,500 labouring men for this purpose, and then these 1,500 would require fresh houses to be built for them. And so on till a much larger clearance had been made. There was really no remedy, for the new houses would not be ready for two years, whereas the people who would be dispossessed would want them at the beginning of that period. The proposed plan would inflict upon those persons all the misery and hardship of sending them out to find new residences, and the advantage would accrue to another set of people two or three years afterwards, many of whom would come from a distance. Such a plan would greatly aggravate the mischief. He knew of no vacant land in the neighbourhood available for the houses suggested, except, perhaps, Lincolns Inn Fields and he did not think they would be able to obtain it for such a purpose. The obvious remedies for the inconvenience were to be found in the greater facilities which were now given by railways for carrying working people to the suburbs, as was being done by the London, Chatham, and Dover Company, who were running trains at 1s. per week, and in the further process which was constantly going on by which mansions that had hitherto been occupied by single families of a higher station were now subdivided and let to several families in separate holdings. That was the operation of supply and demand to which his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had referred, and by which the inconvenience would be mitigated. The evil had been long known in connection with the public improvements in London, but no remedy had been devised for individual cases; if there had been, the Government would have been very glad to adopt it. His hon. Friend would not, of course, persevere with his Motion, because, in point of fact, the Standing Orders of the House would not admit of giving the Committee any such power. The Bill was for the purchase of a site, for which notices had been given; and the appropriation of any other sites would be contrary to the Standing Orders.


said, when the right hon. Gentleman professed his readiness to offer £100 to any one who would suggest a remedy, he felt disposed to claim the reward. This was, no doubt, a very serious question. The public improvements which had been carried out during the last four or five years, and which were in contemplation with the sanction of Parliament, had displaced, or would displace, some 50,000 persons. The right hon. Gentleman talked of supply and demand, and seemed to think that ultimately things would shake down into their right places. But who could estimate the enormous amount of misery, the disruption of family-ties, and all the evil consequences attending those improvements? The right hon. Gentlemen had said that the proposal of the hon. Member for Perth would involve the purchase of 200 more houses. But most of those houses were only of three or four stories, and much ground was covered by them, whereas the best builders now proceeded upon the plan of making all houses of the kind of eight, ten, or oven twelve stories, and on an improved principle, and thus as many people might be accommodated upon one-tenth of the space. The Charing Cross Railway had dispossessed a large number of persons, and in the course of its construction many surplus spots could have been found upon which lodging-houses might have been built. How much forethought would it not have shown on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, if, when that Railway Bill was passing, he had made it binding on the Company, as might have been with justice done, that it should provide as much lodging accommodation as that which it pulled down. He maintained with regard to all these public works, that such a course was not only possible, but even economical. But it appeared that in this matter they had another illustration of the proverb—what was everybody's business was nobody's. He could not help bearing his testimony to the enormous amount of misery and suffering occasioned by the want of foresight and attention on the part of the Department of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he had served on a Select Committee which sat to consider one of the prototypes of this Bill in 1862. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) admitted that this improvement would inflict a large amount of suffering and misery, and yet he rejected the instruction of the hon. Member for Perth. The right hon. Gentleman having satisfied himself that the improvements now contemplated were indispensable, ought to have turned his attention to the subject of finding household accommodation for the people to be removed, and ought not, now that the matter was brought to his notice, to answer the arguments of hon. Members in an offhand and jaunty sort of way, by offering £100 to anyone who would suggest a remedy, and by talking about the law of supply and demand being a remedy. The present scheme for imposing an immense taxation and a large amount of suffering upon the metropolis was un- necessary, and arose from the ambitious dreams of architectural enthusiasts. He believed that this suffering might be altogether avoided if a more moderate, more practical, and more economical scheme were adopted. What that scheme might be, he would not go into then, but all the objects which the promoters of the Bill had at heart would be met if the Chancery Courts were left at Lincoln's Inn, Common Law Courts built upon the Thames Embankment, and appropriate sites found for the remaining offices, if it was necessary to concentrate them. The House ought not to acquiesce in the scheme of those enthusiasts, who had a grand idea of architectural improvements, but a very limited notion of the burden they would entail upon the taxpayer, or the suffering and misery they would bring upon the humbler classes. He protested against making a solitude and calling it a metropolitan improvement.


did not at all think that the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken would earn the £100 offered by the Chief Commissioner of Works by suggesting that the Equity Courts should be left at Lincoln's Inn and that the Common Law Courts should be built on the Thames Embankment. He regretted, however, that the noble scheme now proposed should be marred by this one blot—that a large number of the labouring classes should be displaced, while no attempt was made to remedy the evil. But, in truth, as was clear from the observations made on a former evening by the Attorney General, the attention of Government had not been directed to the subject. They thought that the clearing away of bad and unwholesome dwellings would be in itself a benefit. At the east end of London such improvements had greatly aggravated the evil of overcrowding. Mr. Liddle, the medical officer of the Whitechapel district stated in his Report that in consequence of houses being pulled down for the Black-wall Railway extension line the number of houses had decreased by 148, but the population had only diminished, to the extent of seventy-four persons, and he suggested that the inhabitants being driven into already crowded houses in the vicinity, the consequent overcrowding might in some measure account for the increased rate of mortality during the last two years. This testimony as to the effect of the destruction of the dwellings of the poor was confirmed by the Rev. Mr. Trevitt, the incumbent of St. Stephen's, Bethnal Green. In a recent letter, Mr. Trevitt said— The consequences of the destruction of the dwellings of the poor (for the formation of railways) as seen in my district, are additional subletting of rooms, and that to a great extent, and, of course, the crowding of the poor together more dangerously in the same house; then the building of additional rooms in the back yards of old houses—in some cases three additional rooms having been added to the House. The small and wretched spaces unoccupied before being now smaller, and here and there quite filled up, of course there is still less air. It was, indeed, now admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner of Works that this clearing away of overcrowded houses, without the substitution of others, was in itself an evil, and, although he said that he had not been able to devise a remedy, the manner in which this Bill had been brought forward showed that the reason why no remedy had been devised was that the Government had not bestowed any attention upon the subject. In the year 1861 the Earl of Derby induced the House of Lords to adopt an Instruction to the Committees of that House to report, with reference to railways passing through the metropolis, whether any plan could be devised for mitigating the effect of the removal of a large number of dwellings. In consequence of this instruction conditions as to the running of trains for the accommodation of the working classes had been imposed upon several railway companies promoting lines through crowded parts of the metropolis; and inadequate as that remedy might be it was not right that after such conditions had been attached to the passing of Railway Bills, the Government should propose a public improvement involving destruction of dwellings of the poor, without doing anything towards curing what was admitted to be a very considerable evil. He believed that if the right hon. Gentleman would apply his mind to the matter he could devise some remedy. He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had himself given notice of a Motion upon the subject, to which, no doubt, as ingenious objections would be raised as had been taken to that now before the House; but even though this Resolution should be rejected, he did not despair that the present debate would have the effect of conducing to the discovery of some means of at least mitigating the mischief of which he was complaining. If not the Government would have been the instrument of working an injury instead of a benefit to the labouring classes.


said, it was impossible to hear without great sympathy of any inconvenience or evil to the classes who would be displaced by improvements of this kind, or without great regret that these and other public improvements should be attended by temporary injury to those classes. But the House would, he thought, be disposed to take a practical and not merely a sentimental view of such subjects, and to consider them with reference to all the questions which they involved. If any one could suggest a means of carrying out metropolitan improvements, without incidental inconvenience to the classes immediately affected, it would receive the most anxious and careful consideration, but to delay all improvements until such a plan had been devised, would be most injurious to the very classes in whose interests this Motion had been made, as the practical result would be, that such improvements would not be undertaken. It was perfectly consistent in the hon. Member for Worcestershire, or anyone who thought that the proposed concentration of the courts was a mere architectural fancy, and a measure for which there was no public necessity, to support such a Motion as this; but he regretted that those who appreciated the nature of this great public improvement, and desired that it should be carried out, should favour a step the certain effect of which would be to defeat the Bill. It was impossible that this Instruction could be given to the Committee, and the tendency of the proposal was to defeat the Bill. For the rejection of the measure on this ground no sufficient reason had been assigned. During the last forty years great improvements had been made in the metropolis, and every one had admitted, that in the long run their effect had been beneficial, not only to the public interests, for the sake of which they were undertaken, but to the very classes who had been displaced by them. As a consequence of such improvements, there had grown up round London houses adapted to the accommodation of the labouring classes, in much healthier localities than those which they had previously occupied; and thus, although there might have been some temporary overcrowding in the neighbourhoods in which works were undertaken, the final result had been that the poorer population had got into better and healthier localities. Why should the sins of all the other public improvements in London be visited upon the head of this one proposal, and objections thrown in its way which were offered to no other? Railway Bills out of count had passed, and nobody had required the promoters to obtain new sites and build houses for the labouring classes. Yet this was the proposal now made, and made in a form which, if adopted, would tend to defeat the Bill. Such a proposal was totally impracticable, and the best proof of its impracticability was that the House of Lords, when considering the railway Bills submitted to it, only provided not that the railway companies should give sites and build lodging-houses for the displaced population, but that cheap trains should be run for their benefit, to carry them to and from their homes. The Government, of course, could not run cheap trains, and therefore the remedy now suggested was different from that which had been adopted in every other case. It was said that dwellings for the labouring classes might be built on the sites now occupied by law courts or law offices, and that if lodging were not thus provided in the immediate neighbourhood, there would be great overcrowding in the poor dwellings around. This might be so; he could not resist the evidence which had been offered on the point, but there was no evidence to show that this was more than a temporary evil, and that the population would not in the end adjust itself to the altered circumstances of the case, Would not the displacement and the consequent overcrowding which were spoken of, go on even with the very remedy suggested? The new courts could not be completed for three or four years, and until then the present sites would be wanted. Meanwhile, the people who were displaced must find lodgings for themselves where they conveniently could, and they would not afterwards come back and occupy these new houses. By that time they would have found other lodgings; there they would remain; and these buildings would be erected for another population than that which had been displaced. No doubt these suggestions were made with the most humane of motives, but on the face of them it was difficult, if not impossible to carry them out, and they confirmed his impression that you had better trust to the laws of nature, and to the tendency of people to conform themselves to altered circumstances than attempt by artificial means to provide for those who, after all, do what you would, would provide for themselves. No practical suggestion had been made, and he deprecated strongly that, by an unintended effect, the passing of a measure of great public utility which by general concurrence ought to be carried, should thus be obstructed.


said, the end of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech differed very much from the beginning. At first the hon. and learned Gentleman laid about him right and left at everybody who wished to provide for these unfortunate people, as doing so indirectly to obstruct the Bill. Towards the end, however, he threw in a little soft sawder about humane motives, and all that sort of thing. It was quite clear that the Government, thinking this a desirable site, pounced down upon this vast block of buildings, and without any consideration for the unhappy people who lived there were going to sweep them away, simply telling them that in the long run—he did not tell them when—but which might be in twenty or thirty years, when they got to Kensal Green, or some other place of the sort, they would be better off. It was said that a different course had been taken in the case of the railways. Certainly, a railway and a court of law were two different things, and he did not suppose that the lawyers would like to carry these unfortunate people in cabs night and morning to and from their work. But, in requiring the railways to run cheap trains, Parliament had done what was strictly practicable. People liked to live as handy to their work as possible, and the cheap trains which brought workmen back again to the spot from which they were driven formed as good an arrangement as could be made for their convenience. It was said that nothing could be done, unless you pulled down other houses, and that then there would be more displacements, more overcrowding, and so on ad infinitum. But were there no vacant sites? The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper) was not hardy enough to assert that, for then his argument would have been clean out of the running. Would there be no vacant ground on the Thames Embankment? Lodging-houses for these poor people did not take the same amount of ground which was wanted for splendid courts; and in Westminster, for instance, a great many model lodging-houses occupied a very nar- row strip of ground. He was sorry to see the Government laying down the principle that whatever misery might he created by this improvement they would make not one attempt to relieve it, on the ground that it would he better for these poor people in the long run, and that it was a public improvement. His own impression was that a great hardship was about to be inflicted, and he thought it was rather hard lines for the poor that the Government should shut their eyes to all this distress.


It seems to me that if the doctrine embodied in the Motion before the House were to be carried into effect it would prevent any great improvement whatever being made in the metropolis, because no great improvement can be made without pulling down small houses, and thus displacing, pro tanto, the population. The remedy is not in the long run, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman, but in the short run, because it is quite clear that the people thus displaced will find situations for their homes better and more healthful than those they occupied before. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down said it would be a very different thing if the houses were to be pulled down for the construction of a railway, because the railway would take them to and from the place of their labour. But why should not the existing railways carry the people who are now proposed to be turned out to and from their places of labour? But my main objection to the Motion is that my hon. Friend proposes to instruct the Committee to do that which a committee is perfectly incapable of doing. The Committee can no more make the provision he proposes that they can buy an estate in Northumberland or Devonshire, or do anything else that requires an outlay of money, and therefore it is an absurdity to ask them to make a provision which they have no power on earth to make. If my hon. Friend will bring in a Bill to purchase land and will employ the architect in whom he appears to trust to make a clearance on other spots, and then to erect buildings on them, I shall have no objection to his doing so. But his proposal, if adopted, would only aggravate the evils he wishes to cure; for in making room for the 300 or 400 proposed to be displaced he would have to turn out 300 or 400 more, so that there would then be 600 or 800 turned out of their homes instead of 300 or 400. But my chief objection to the Motion is that the Committee really have no power to accomplish what my hon. Friend wishes them to do, and that the Motion, if carried, would only impose upon them the painful necessity of reporting that they were perfectly unable to execute the instructions of the House. The Motion is very useful as enabling hon. Members to express their sympathy for the poor people who are to be displaced, but it is perfectly impossible to carry out its objects.


moved an Amendment that he thought would meet the formal objection of the noble Lord. He moved that instead of the words "have power to make provision," the words "to inquire into the practicability and expediency of making provision" be substituted.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "make," in order to insert the words "inquire into the practicability and expediency of making,"—(Mr. Hennessy,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the word 'make' stand part of the Question."


said, that would also be turning a Committee appointed for a totally different purpose into one of general inquiry.


said, the Bill as it stood was for the purpose of enabling a certain plot to be built upon for the purposes of the New Courts of Justice, but it might so happen that some portion of that very plot might be applicable to the purpose mentioned in the Motion; and there was no reason why the Committee might not have the power of devoting such surplus land to that purpose. He thought the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) got rid of the objections of the noble Lord.


hoped that the noble Lord would assent to the proposed Amendment, as an investigation of the matter would satisfy everybody.


It seems to me that the proposition even so modified would be quite foreign to the purposes of the Committee, and therefore I do not feel at liberty to assent to it.

Question put, "That the word 'make' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 18; Noes 8: Majority 10.

House adjourned at One o'clock.