HC Deb 01 June 1865 vol 179 cc1124-30

, in calling the attention of the House to the difficulties connected with the draining and improvement of Landed Property in Scotland, under Drainage and Improvement Acts, from the want of an Architect or Land Surveyor in the London Office of the In-closure Commissioners who is acquainted with the Scotch system of draining and the requirements of and mode of erecting farm buildings and cottages in Scotland, said, Sir, my reason for bringing forward this matter is that there are two important companies which have extensive powers of lending money for the purpose of effecting improvements in landed property in Scotland, and that the action of these companies is impeded by their having to send up their plans to the office of the Inclosure Commissioners in London. The House has heard a great deal about landowners in England pulling down cottages, but I must say to the praise of Scotland the landowners of that country formed themselves into an association for the purpose of improving cottage accommodation as much as possible. They engaged an architect who prepared a scheme of plans and specifications which, if carried out, would have proved most suitable to the wants of the community. Those plans have been quite ignored by the principal Inclosure Commissioners in London, whose sole idea seems to be that bricks in any quantity and at any price can be procured in Scot- land; and they cannot understand that it is essential that where only stone can be got, stone should be used. I may refer to the last Census Report for Scotland, which states that— The style of building houses materially differs in England and in Scotland, and probably the peculiarity of each receives a ready explanation in the fact that the English houses are generally constructed of brick, and are of a slight build, whereas in Scotland the houses are generally built of durable stone, and will last for ages, and, from the greater thickness and strength of the walls, may be run up to any height. The Report goes on to state that— If the Returns for Scotland on the matter of houses are utterly worthless, it must be understood that the blame lies not with the Scottish officials, for they were against their better convictions forced to accept the erroneous definition of a House which had been adopted in England in 1851 and re-imposed in 1861. I went the other day to the office of the Enclosure Commissioners in St. James's Square to inquire the number of plans for cottages which had been sent up this year under the Improvement Act, and I was surprised to find that not a single plan had been sent up; in fact, I understand the association have come almost to the determination to dissolve themselves, on account of the great impediments thrown in their way by the Commissioners. The habits of the people are so totally different from those of England, and the climate itself requiring a different kind of cottage, it is unreasonable in the Commissioners to expect that the same kind of cottage should be erected as they require for England, and I am surprised that the recommendations of the Inspectors, who are most competent men, should not have been received with more respect. I have here a letter from Mr. Walker, the architect of the Association for the Improvement of Cottages, who says— knowing that you as well as the other landowners in Scotland are aggrieved that the Inclo-sure Commissioners insist upon a scale of plan for their labourers' cottages considerably above what they are occupying or what can be afforded on Scotch farms in general, and thus preventing landowners from availing themselves ofthe power of borrowing money of the association; and, being deeply impressed with the vast importance of the subject, I hereby solicit you as one so well acquainted with all its bearings to lay before the Inclosure Commissioners the plans which this association, after years of the most minute and extensive inquiries and deliberation, have found to meet in the best manner all the wants of our agricultural labourers, so as to promote their social improvement; and to state how very much it would forward cottage building in Scotland were the Commissioners to authorize the borrow- ing of money from the Lands Improvement Commissioners for this purpose upon the plans herewith sent or upon any others issued from the office of this association, under the sanction of its directors. Then, in another letter, he says— I have been repeatedly asked to make such plans of cottages and farm-steadings, which have been abandoned in consequence of the Commissioners insisting on much greater accommodation, and a much different and stronger construction than is necessary, or can be, in many cases, afforded in Scotland. Where we have two-feet stone walls, it is quite unnecessary to have joist-ings 12 inches thickness; the walls perhaps not being more than 8 feet high. This adds very considerably to the expense, while joistings 8 or 9 inches would be equally good; and, according to the custom of the country, it is quite unnecessary to put an upper baulk in a roof that may be 16 feet or 18 feet space where the couples and lower ties are 6J by 2| or 2 inches. It is different with their brick walls in England, where they require thicker joistings and stronger roofs, in consequence of the thinness of the walls. I also think that 20 oz. zinc should be allowed for gutters and wall. Iron gutters between roofs should also be allowed. We use them very often here. I have also a letter from Sir John Stuart Forbes, who thinks that greater powers should be given to the Inspectors employed in Scotland, and who says that at present they mot with much obstruction from the rules of the Inclosure Commissioners, Then I have a letter from the Rev. Harry Stewart, who says— I am glad that you mean to bring before the House of Commons the little advantage the landowners of Scotland derive from the Land Improvement Company, from the circumstance that the Inclosure Commissioners and their architect must sanction the plans to be executed with their money. They reside in London, and the habits and the wants of farmers and their labourers in Scotland differ so much from those of the same class in England as to require that one of the Commissioners should reside in Edinburgh, and that he and his architect should be thoroughly acquainted with the peculiarities of their habits and wants; and not only so, but may be able personally to converse with these landowners or farmers who may wish to borrow money under their sanction in regard to their proposed plans. Should you be able to suggest such a change in the present mode, you will do more to benefit the peasantry of Scotland than has been done by any effort yet made for their social improvement. I may call attention to the fact that four years ago an Act, the 23 & 24 Vict. c. 95, was passed to facilitate the building of cottages in Scotland, which was brought into this House by Mr. Ewart, the hon. Member for Dumfries, and by Mr. Dunlop, the hon. Member for Greenock, and Mr. Blackburn, the hon. Member for Stirling, and was supported in another place by the Earl of Airlie and the Duke of Buccleuch, who, I suppose, has done more than any other landlord in the way of improving cottages in Scotland. The remedy which I propose is a very simple one. I ask for no grant of money; I only desire that the able Inspectors who are employed by the Inclosure Commissioners in Scotland shall have greater powers conferred upon them, so that it shall not be necessary to send any plan to London to be thwarted by what I must call the crotchets of a single individual. If there is any objection to the adoption of that course I hope that some arrangement will be made by which reference may be made to some architect in Scotland who understands the wants of the people and the materials commonly used. There are in Scotland two companies, a part of whose business it is to advance money for the erection of cottages—namely, the Lands Improvement Company and the Scottish Drainage Company, and their operations are materially impeded by the requirements of the Inclosure Commissioners. I trust that Her Majesty's Government will pay attention to the wants of the poorer classes in Scotland, and will apply such remedy to this grievance as might be in their power.


said, he wished to make a few remarks on the valuable statement made by his hon. Friend. It was clear to any one that to require these cottages to be built of brick where stone was abundant, and where it was not the habit and custom of the people to use bricks, was most unreasonable, and it was equally absurd to require lead to be used for gutters where iron could be had much cheaper, and was much more suitable to the country. The remedy was plain and simple—namely, that there should be in Edinburgh some authority to inspect and approve these plans, and it was perfectly clear that an architect who had given up his whole time to the peculiar mode of constructing these cottages which were most suitable for Scotland, was much better adapted to approve of the plans than any one who resided here.


said, that all persons must admit that the work done in England under the superintendence of the Inclosure Commissioners was well and efficiently done—he spoke of the inclosure and drainage of land particularly, in respect to which the work was exceedingly satisfactory. But that any rule should be laid down for England and Scotland as to the exact mode in which cottages should be constructed was utterly preposterous. It was well known that the habits and tastes of the people of Scotland were very different, in many respects, from those of the people of England, and that the Scottish people did not like the mode in which cottages were constructed in this country, particularly in reference to the building of bedrooms on the higher floors. If the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. "Walde-grave-Leslie) thought this subject of sufficient importance, he had better move for a Select Committee to inquire into the matter, and to report to the House thereon. Unless such a step as that were taken, he (Sir John Trollope) was afraid that the House would take little trouble about it. He hoped that the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary would inform the House of the reasons why the office in London had laid down this cut and dry plan for the building of cottages in Scotland, as well as in England, and why no other plan but this Home Office plan would be allowed.


said, there was no Home Office plan; the Home Office exercised no control in this matter, nor any power over the Commissioners. The subject, no doubt, was one of importance. It was desirable that no obstacle should be thrown in the way of the building of cottages by the landowners, and that those who desired to borrow money for the purpose should be enabled to do so. The English Commissioners had, however, been constituted by Parliament the judges of the efficiency of the works; they were bound to see that the money was properly laid out, and that there were proper materials employed; but he agreed with his hon. Friend, behind him that nothing could be more absurd than for a Commission established in London to lay down a certain specific plan for the construction of cottages all over the United Kingdom. He was not aware that such a course had been adopted by the Commissioners. In Northumberland he knew that the cottages generally were built of stone. He had never before heard that the plan required them to be built of brick in places where stone was abundant, and that the spouting should be of lead instead of iron. Then, as his hon. Friend had said, the cottages that were good for England might not answer for the Scotch. He had seen them in the north arranged upon different plans, and the most of them with sleeping-rooms upon the ground floor. The cottages ought to be constructed according to the wishes and habits of those who were to occupy them. He would, however, communicate with the Commissioners upon the subject, and invite them to reconsider this matter, if it were really the fact that any such rule as that referred to had been adopted. It was, in his opinion, desirable to have a special Report of the Commissioners upon this subject before they resorted to the step of appointing a Committee of Inquiry.


said, he thought it likely that this conversation might lead to the solution of some difficulties that might exist in the matter. He was quite sure that the persons exercising the trust placed in the hands of the English Commission, who had given great satisfaction to the people of this country, could hardly have intended to lay down such a rule as that referred to. It was quite evident what might be considered suitable for Cornwall would not answer for the Orkneys at all. The plan expected to be followed must be of an elastic character, so as to suit all persons and the peculiarity of the locality. The buildings should be, in the first place, needed, and the fact of their creating a charge upon the remainder-man should be a matter of consideration in respect to them. The buildings to be erected should be of a useful and substantial character. In his own county stone buildings had been raised, he believed, under the sanction of the Commissioners. It appeared to him that there must be something special in the case referred to by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Waldegrave-Leslie). In some localities there might be a difficulty in getting bricks though stone might be plentiful. The right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) had, however, placed the question on a satisfactory footing. The Government had promised to inquire into the matter, and he had no doubt that the inconvenience complained of would be soon got rid of.


said, he hoped that the right hon. Baronet would extend his inquiries to Ireland, where the Inclosure Commissioners would not permit cottages to be tiled, though tiles were plentiful, but required them to be slated. They also would not permit the woodwork to be constructed of timber grown upon the estate, but compelled the use of Nor way deal. The result was that only thirty-three applications for the building of labourers' cottages had been made from that country.


said, although, generally speaking, the practical results of calling the attention of the House to a subject were very slight, yet after the assurance of the Home Secretary he hoped better results in this instance. It was absurd that a Commissioner in London should prescribe what was to be done in Scotland. In Aberdeen there were two societies, one of them a co-operative association formed by the labourers themselves, which were engaged in the building of cottages, and it would be of great advantage if aid could be given to them from this country.


said, he wished to urge upon the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) the propriety of impressing upon the Commissioners the importance of giving enlarged powers to the resident Inspectors in Scotland.