HC Deb 09 March 1866 vol 181 cc1792-804

Standing Order No. 52 read.


said, he rose to move certain Amendments of Standing Orders and certain new Standing Orders of which he had given notice. His Motion related to the destruction of the dwellings of the labouring classes consequent on the construction of railways and public works. His object was to provide a remedy for the great evil of overcrowding in the metropolis and other large cities consequent on the destruction of the houses of the poorer classes through the compulsory powers given by certain Acts of Parliament. He would not dwell on the evils of overcrowding and the urgency of the case, because these were facts which were universally admitted. There were now two Bills before the House acknowledging the evil and at tempting to provide a remedy, their object being to enable local authorities to build up as many houses as might be destroyed by the companies. But though good as far as they went, it was quite necessary to supplement them by a compulsory enactment, providing that those companies which did the mischief and destroyed the houses of the poor without giving them compensation should be compelled, as a part of their scheme, to restore the dwellings and to calculate the cost of the restoration as part of the cost of their line, just as they would calculate the cost of making a cut ting or a tunnel, or building a viaduct. He felt bound to say that he had been met in this matter in a very creditable spirit by the companies chiefly affected. He had seen representatives of the chief companies in the metropolis, and they stated that they were ready to accept the obligation, and that it was only putting the saddle on the right horse to make those who were responsible for the overcrowding provide a remedy by erecting fresh dwellings for those whom they displaced. They quite admitted the principle, and were ready to adopt it. The only question was how it could best be carried out. He admitted it would be impossible to impose on the railway companies these compulsory obligations this Session, but they might be very easily carried out in subsequent Sessions. To enable the House to see to what the evil was growing he would quote some information which a friend of his who had access to all the statistics had furnished. The number of persons who by the admission of the companies would be dispossessed in the present year was 17,815. These were actually admitted, and when they added a percentage which were never included in such Returns, he might safely say, and be within the mark, that 20,000 persons would be evicted. He had no idea when he first undertook the question of the difficulties with which it was surrounded; but having consulted persons competent to judge in these matters, he had prepared the Amendments and Standing Orders which were on the paper, and if the House should think fit to adopt them they would, he believed, provide the remedy which they were seeking, and which all believed to be necessary. He first proposed to move an addition to Standing Order 52 as follows:— And shall specify by a denoting mark against each name which, if any, of the persons named in such book of reference as owners or reputed owners, lessees or reputed lessees, and occupiers, belong to the labouring classes; and all weekly tenants and lodgers shall be deemed to belong to the labouring classes. Of course, a difficulty arose in defining who "the labouring classes" were, but it was one more in appearance than reality, and of which it might be said solvitur ambulando. Hon. Gentlemen sitting upstairs would not find it very hard to settle the persons to whom the rule should apply. He should, however, at the suggestion of the railway companies, ask to add the following words:— And whose rent shall not exceed 10s. weekly. Then came a few words, which were merely formal, to be added to Clause 62—namely— Including the building of dwellings for members of the labouring classes, as hereinafter provided. Of course, it would be necessary that the lists to be provided should be tested in some way, and therefore he proposed to add to Standing Order 133 the following:— It shall be competent to a Committee to admit any inhabitant of a parish in which lands and houses are situate which are sought by any Bill to be taken, to be heard on the question whether the book of reference deposited in relation to the Bill specifies correctly which of the persons named in such book of reference as owners or reputed owners, lessees or reputed lessees, and occupiers belong to the labouring classes. He proposed to leave out clauses which related to Bills now before Committees, and which were likely to pass this Session. He did that upon the suggestion of the railway companies, who said they could not possibly meet his views in detail in the Bills before the House this year, but even with respect to these Bills they were willing to accept a general clause, providing that they should be hound by any legislation which might be hereafter passed on the subject. Therefore the difficulty as to this year was, in fact, removed. Then came the general provisions for the future as to the carrying out these Resolutions, and they were marked on the paper from A to F, The first provided that— The company, person, or corporation to whom the power is given shall not exercise the power hereby given to them of taking lands or houses of which any persons belonging to the labouring classes are owners, lessees, or occupiers, until the company, person, or corporation shall have built one or more dwellings sufficient for the accommodation of such persons, and have obtained the certificate of two justices, or a metropolitan police magistrate, that such dwellings have been provided to his satisfaction, and in accordance with the provisions hereinafter contained. The object of that was to provide that new buildings should be erected before the old ones were taken down, and thus to prevent the breaking up of neighbourhoods, by which small shopkeepers were often utterly ruined. The next clause merely defined what sort of dwellings should be built—that there should be proper sewerage, lighting, and ventilation, and a certain space of cubic feet for each person. Clause C provided that— The proposed site and the said plans of the dwellings so to be built shall in every case be submitted for the approval of Her Majesty's Chief Commissioner of Works, who shall have power to fix the site and to enforce the conditions laid down in the last clause, but not otherwise to alter the proposed plans. It was desirable that there should be some public officer, whether the Chief Commissioner of Works or another was immaterial, who should have charge in this matter, but it was not necessary that he should have further powers than the clause proposed to give. He proposed by Clause D to give the companies compulsory powers to take land for the purpose. At present they had only power to take land for the purposes of their line; but if they were to be obliged to restore houses they must be enabled to take land with that object. Clause E provided— If the company, person, or corporation shall offer to any owner, lessee, or occupier of any lands or houses to be taken under the provisions hereof, one or more room or rooms in the dwellings to be provided as aforesaid at a specified rent, and for a specified time, the bonâ fides of such offer shall be inquired into by the tribunal, persons, or person who, under the provisions of 'The Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845,' shall fix the compensation to be paid to such person, and the said offer shall be taken into consideration in fixing the amount of such compensation. The reason of the clause was this. It was quite possible that many persons evicted might not be disposed to occupy the new houses, and might clamour for compensation instead, and this clause was to protect the companies against unjust demands. By the next clause he proposed to bring all persons who might be dispossessed under the protection of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845. The clause provided that— All persons occupying lands and houses to be taken under the provisions hereof, being members of the labouring classes, shall be entitled to compensation under the provisions of 'The Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845,' although the company, person, or corporation may, after having purchased the interests of the owners or lessees thereof, have given notice to such persons to quit, and the term fixed by such notice may have expired. That was no new principle, it was only returning to an old usage of the House, for before the passing of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act the House was much more careful of the wants and comforts of the poor than it had been since. He trusted the House would see its way to pass the present Resolutions and amend the Standing Orders, or would, at any rate, take the matter into its most serious consideration. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had stated that a remedy already existed in the Standing Orders of the House of Lords, but on examining them he (Mr. T. Hughes) found that they merely provided for a few week's notice to quit, which, of course, was of no use in dealing with the evil complained of. The railway companies had met him in a fair and candid spirit, and if, as it had been stated, he used strong language on a former occasion he was sorry for it. He begged to move the addition to Standing Order 52.

Amendment proposed, To add, at the end thereof, the words "and shall specify by a denoting mark against each name which, if any, of the persons named in such book of reference as owners or reputed owners, lessees or reputed lessees, and occupiers, belong to the labouring classes; and all weekly tenants and lodgers shall be deemed to belong to the labouring classes."—(Mr. Thomas Hughes.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, it was unnecessary for the hon. Member to offer any observations as to the merits of the object which he had in view. It bad been an object with that House, but more especially with the other House of Parliament, for many years past to obtain some stricter regulations with respect to dealings with the houses of the labouring classes. There was a Standing Order of the other House much more stringent than any which the House of Commons possessed to enable the Legislature to make any enactments which it might think fit for the accommodation of the labouring classes. He would express his regret that within a short time an endeavour had been made to impress upon the public mind that the interests of the working classes were less attended to by Parliament than those of other classes of the community. Now, he had some experience as Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, and he believed that a grosser libel had never been uttered in that House. It had been the object of both Houses to prevent any unnecessary interference with the comforts of the labouring classes, and if they had not been successful it was because of the difficulty with which Parliament had to contend. He felt the greatest embarrassment in meeting the proposals of the hon. Member, They involved so many changes and gave rise to so many considerations that it was impossible to deal with them in detail. It might be sufficient to say that in his opinion they could not possibly apply to the legislation of that House, and if he might give an instance to show how unsuited they were he would quote the Resolution marked C, which provided that The proposed site and the said plans of the dwellings so to be built should in every case be submitted for the approval of Her Majesty's Chief Commissioner of Works, who should have power to fix the site and to enforce the conditions laid down in the last clause, but not otherwise to alter the proposed plan. The adoption of the proposal of the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. T. Hughes) would give the Commissioners of Works a power which the Legislature had never before delegated to any persons. The Commissioners of Works could order the proprietors of a piece of land to hand it over to a railway company, and the result of such a course would be that the metropolitan landlords would be up in arms against such an infraction of their rights. That was not the only difficulty which would be caused by the Bill, and he asked his hon. Friend (Mr. T. Hughes) to withdraw the Resolutions which he has proposed for the present. It was customary for the House every year to appoint a Committee to inquire into the Standing Orders, and to make such alterations as it might think fit. When the Committee should be appointed the proposed additions could be brought before them. If that course did not meet the hon. Gentleman's views he would suggest to him the propriety of moving the clauses in the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had promised to bring in, and thus make the regulations which he (Mr. T. Hughes) wished to establish a part of the law of the land. But if the Motion of the hon. Member for Lambeth should be adopted, it would introduce an entirely new system of legislation.


said, it appeared to him that it would by-and-by become a question whether they ought not to put a stop to the construction of railways altogether, rather than encourage them on the one hand and beat them down on the other by such treatment as was now proposed. He opposed the proposition of the hon. Member for Lambeth. If the proposal was adopted it would greatly interfere' with the operations of railway companies in London, while it would confer no corresponding benefit on the labouring classes. There was before the House two Bills for improving the dwelling accommodation of the working classes, but he was afraid that those measures would not provide one half or one quarter as many new dwellings as private Bills before Parliament would destroy.


said, his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel W. Patten) had referred to a Bill of which he (Mr. Milner Gibson) had given notice, and he thought the clauses proposed by the hon. Member for Lambeth might be inserted therein. Al-though that Bill contained clauses very fit to be inserted in a metropolitan railway Bill, he (Mr. Milner Gibson) should be very sorry to give any countenance to the principles on which the clauses now proposed must rest. It seemed to him that they might proceed in this direction till they made improvement almost impossible, and the execution of valuable public works so difficult that they could not be undertaken. No class in this country had been so much benefited by the great works executed of late years in London as had the labouring classes. He believed their wages had been raised and abundant employment found for them by those works. If it could be shown that injury was done to a certain class by any particular works executed in London he should say compensate them, let no man suffer injury in order that certain works might be executed. But if railway companies were to have fastened on them the obligation of being builders of model lodging-houses, he had great doubts whether that enactment would be for the benefit of the working classes. If these were to be erected in the town, the result would be to create a greater evil than was sought to be removed. Somebody must remove from the site of the new model lodging-houses. Was there to be a site found for the dis- placed persons, and, if not, why not? Were those who were thus removed not entitled to be heard before a Committee of that House if they were dispossessed of the dwelling-houses they occupied? If it was said that these lodging-houses were not to be erected in the town but in the suburbs, he answered, "Leave the supply of these houses to the ordinary operations of enter-prize and trade." He believed there was no business in which people were more likely to over-speculate than the building of houses. He had heard it continually stated, that in the neighbourhood of this great metropolis builders were constantly overbuilding, and no employment of money was so profitable to its owner as to cover land with houses, for which there were so many customers among the labouring classes. He regarded the clause as involving consequences which they would do well to pause before they sanctioned; it raised the question of tenancy. In most of the cases in which houses would be removed, for whose occupiers the clauses proposed to find sites, the persons living in the houses were weekly tenants. At present landlords could eject weekly tenants at a week's notice, and unless a change was made in the law the landlords could in like manner eject them from their holdings in the new buildings. This would be the case unless the House was prepared to give those tenants a kind of fixity of tenure. The houses were to be built which they might not occupy, and which, if they did, there was no security that they would continue to occupy. If the lessee or landlord, who had the power of getting rid of the labouring man, knew that he would get much more for his property by delivering it up unoccupied to the railway company, because an empty house would entail no obligation on the company, the only difference would be that they would evict those tenants, and hand over the property free from incumbrance to the railway company. Were they going by these clauses to give an inducement of this kind to the, proprietors of lodgings occupied by weekly tenants? If a house was to be built for a man dispossessed, how long must a person have been an occupant in order to have a claim on the company? And how long was he to occupy it? He certainly could not give his assent to the proposal, or any countenance to the principles it involved.


said, he hoped that the hon. Member for Lambeth would adopt the suggestion of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wilson Patten), and not ask the House to come to a decision at present. The question was a most important one. The right hon. Gentleman had laid it down in the roost distinct terms, that whatever the amount of hardship or difficulty might be of sweeping away the houses of these poor men the House of Commons was not to take any steps whatever.


I said distinctly that every person who could show that he had sustained any injury by the execution of railway works was entitled to be compensated.


said, that was true. But the right hon. Gentleman took care to designate pretty clearly who he considered to be capable of receiving an injury. He said, "What is a weekly tenant?" He could be got rid of by the landlord in a week, and he had no legal status to bring him into the magnificent category which, according to the right hon. Gentleman, was to entitle him to compensation. He was not one of those who thought that this difficult subject could be met very easily. He was quite sure, however, that the proposition of the hon. Member for Lambeth would increase the difficulties a thous and fold. Still, he would be very l0th to say that there were not minds in the House which would be brought to bear on the subject, so as, if not to remove the difficulties altogether, at all events to alleviate them to a considerable degree and remove many of the inconveniencies and hardships to which these people must be more or less subjected. He hoped the hon. Member for Lambeth would consent to have the matter referred to a Committee; and although he knew the question was beset with difficulties, he hoped that a Bill would be framed providing residences for the labouring people whose houses were swept away by railway companies. Let them not go into that matter with a foregone conclusion that they could do no good, and must leave these persons to sink or swim as the case might be, when, from the experience of the last few years, it was very plain that they had very little chance of swimming, and that many of them had suffered the greatest possible inconvenience.


said, he thought it was of no use telling a man that he was entitled to compensation for an injury done to him if he had no chance of receiving it. These poor persons had not received any compensation hitherto, and were not likely to do so in future if the House went on in the present groove with respect to that subject. He sincerely sympathized with the objects of the hon. Member for Lambeth, although he thought they could not be attained by the Resolutions exactly as they stood. The Resolutions specified particularly the labouring classes. To that he objected, for before the law all men were equal. He did not like the word "class." The position of the labouring classes in the matter was one of great hardship, but the case of the small shopkeepers, who were just above the labouring classes, and who depended for their living entirely upon the connection they had formed in particular neighbourhoods invaded by railways, was much more hopeless. From the way in which they were displaced they were often irretrievably ruined. The hon. Member for Lambeth would, no doubt, receive in the fairest spirit any suggestions for better carrying out his objects; but the House ought not to be led away by the doctrine that every question of that kind should be left to the Committees to which the Bills were referred. The House itself ought to watch the second reading of Private Bills that were likely to entail great injury on numerous persons, and should not throw the responsibility on the Committees, who generally thought themselves relieved from all responsibility as to matters of principle by the House having given the Bills a second reading. Ninety-nine cases out of 100 were referred to Committee; in many of them the subject was of such paramount importance that the Committee would prefer the House taking upon them the heavy responsibility of giving judgment upon it. Unless such points were to be entertained and dealt with by the House, it would almost be better to give up the form of reading these Bills a second time altogether.


said, he quite sympathized with the feelings which had prompted the hon. Member for Lambeth in bringing forward the question, but thought the Standing Orders which he had proposed were liable to very grave objection, and, whether so intended or not, would create something like a new law of property. Under those Standing Orders, if a new railway company obtained power from Parliament to pull down a particular street, for the buildings Be demolished it must not only give compensation to their owners, but must provide new houses for the inhabitants of that street. But the nest street, which might belong to a private owner who thought he could put his land to a better use, could be pulled down by him if he saw fit without requiring the sanction of Parliament, and the tenants would get no compensation. Where was the difference, as far as the labouring man was concerned, between being ejected by a private owner and being ejected by some company which purchased the property? The necessary and logical consequence of the hon. Member's propositions would be that they should prevent the owner himself from pulling down his own property without giving the tenants compensation. That was a new form of tenant-right, and one which the House should hesitate before it sanctioned. No doubt serious injury was often inflicted on the labouring classes by the pulling down of houses on a large scale. Still, the difficulty which those classes experienced in obtaining convenient dwellings did not arise except in the most infinitesimal degree from the operation of the railway companies, but far more from other causes which Parliamentary legislation did not occasion and which it could not prevent. It arose from the immense increase of business in London, from the enormous cost of land, and from the fact that the owners of many houses and streets formerly occupied by labouring men found it more profitable to turn them into shops, warehouses, offices, and the like. If, therefore, they dealt simply with those cases in which the sanction of Parliament had to be obtained before schemes could be carried out, they would only deal with a small part of the question. He agreed with the hon. Member for Lambeth that the problem how working men were to be lodged in London had become one of national importance; and if any inquiry were to take place into that whole subject, such an inquiry would probably do great public good. But the proposed Standing Orders involved a dangerous principle, and dealt with the question in a one-sided and very imperfect manner. It was to be hoped, therefore, that by pressing the Motion to a division the House would not be placed in the position of seeming to reject a proposal the intention of which they must approve, simply because they did not believe it to be the right or the best mode of accomplishing their common object.


said, he hoped that, in endeavouring to prevent the overcrowding of the people in certain parts of the metropolis, the House would take care by its action not to make matters worse. The adoption of too severe a system of interference with the progress of railway enter prize might increase the evils which it was intended to diminish. So far from its being necessary for men to be very near their work, it would be most desirable that the working classes should be lodged in suburban villages, rather than in the crowded alleys of the metropolis. The people should be removed from these overcrowded localities to the suburbs of London. What the labouring man wanted was to have proper facilities for getting from his home to his place of work.


said, the course of that debate had proved to him quite clearly that many seeming difficulties would present themselves in the matter to hon. Members which did not exist in reality. The noble Lord opposite, for instance, (Lord Stanley) had taken an objection on principle which was capable of being answered. The noble Lord said that these Standing Orders would create a new form of tenant-right, and he illustrated that by the case of the landlord of a whole street next to a street bought up by a railway company, remarking that that private landlord might pull down all his houses and deal with his land as he pleased, evicting the tenants without any compensation. That was quite true; but such a landlord did not come before Parliament asking for any compulsory powers. All that he maintained was that when a company made an application to the House for powers to pull down the dwellings of the people, it was their duty, before acceding to such application, to see that other provision was made for their reception. It was surprising that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade should refuse to give any countenance to the principle of the proposed Standing Orders; but, happily, his countenance was not required, because countenance that was much more valuable had already been obtained. Consent had been given to the principle embodied in these Resolutions by half-a-dozen of the great railway companies in that metropolis. If, then, the railway companies were ready to take this burden upon themselves, and thus remove the difficulty which every one experienced in dealing with this question, surely the House would not come forward and say that this should not be done. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had stated that the labouring classes had been most benefited by the construction of railways. The labouring classes fifty years hence might, but in the meantime if the right hon. Gentleman would take the trouble of going into various parts of the metropolis in which railways had been constructed he would find that they had been much injured. It had been stated that the building trade was very active, and that a very large number of houses were being erected, but they were not of a class inhabited by labourers, who were being turned out of their homes by thousands every year. However, on the understanding that certain leading railway companies would come forward and do their best to remove the evils of which he complained, remembering that "while the grass grows the steed starves," he was quite willing to act upon the suggestion thrown out by the hon. and gallant Member for Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten) for the appointment of a Committee, and, with the leave of the House, withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.