HC Deb 12 July 1872 vol 212 cc1075-83

Order for Committee read.


said, before he put the Question that he leave the Chair, it would be the proper time to call upon the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. W. M. Torrens) to move the Motion of which he had given Notice.


, in rising accordingly to move— That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to provide for the rebuilding of workmen's dwellings in cases where the same shall have been extensively pulled down under or by virtue of any Act of Parliament, said, that he regarded its omission from the Bill of his right hon. Friend with great regret, although he believed it might be supplied even at that late period of the Session. After many years' discussion, that House unanimously adopted in 1868 a Bill to provide better dwellings for the labouring classes in places of large extent, where overcrowding was found to exist. That Bill was sent to the House of Lords, where it was altered in an essential particular. The Preamble to the Bill, in its original form, recited that the objects of the Bill were, to give power to local authorities to compel the repair of dwellings; where they were not sufficiently repaired, to have them taken down; if they were quite dilapidated, instead thereof to build suitable dwellings and to secure their maintenance. The 38th clause of the Bill, not merely by declaration, but by enactment, proceeded to state what were the four objects of the measure in the contemplation of the House of Commons—namely, repair, demolition, reconstruction, and compensation to the owners who were divested. After a Committee of the other House had sat for some weeks, the Bill was sent back to the House of Commons with the latter provisions entirely excised. Since then we had had the advantage of three years' experience, and we knew what had been the effect of the alterations made by the House of Lords. Having taken an active part in passing the Act of 1868, he had felt it his duty to watch closely its operation, and he could state with confidence that all those portions of the Bill which were confirmed by the House of Lords had worked beneficially and steadily, while, on the contrary, the omission of some of the clauses had produced a certain amount of paralysis in the operation of the measure. He would mention the case, well known to his hon. Friend the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson), of a small district in the centre of St. George's, Bloomsbury, which was surrounded by a large and well-to-do population, but which itself was a nest of disease, demoralization, and destitution. The local authorities had endeavoured to put the power of demolition in force, but had been arrested in their course by two very obvious considerations. In the first place, the House of Lords had rejected the clause giving power to compensate, and consequently the unhappy lessees would be left without any compensation if they were driven out of their property. But what was still more important to the public at large was, that the power of compulsory purchase of the site was struck out by the House of Lords, while a clause was introduced under which the remedy of the landlord was made to enure, notwithstanding the fact that the property of the lessee was destroyed. It was clear that by simply digging up the foundations of a particular slum the moral and physical evil would not be got rid of if the old dilapidated houses were not replaced by proper dwellings. Otherwise the inhabitants would spread themselves over the surrounding district and thus perpetuate the evil which the Legislature desired to remove. He would ask his right hon. Friend, therefore, whether he would not, after the experience of three years, present a second time to the House of Lords the clauses which they rejected in 1868, because they, no doubt, deemed them unnecessary. The Bill of 1868 provided that the site of the houses demolished should belong to the local authorities; but the House of Lords objected to this proposal, saying that the local authorities were not the proper parties to hold the land in fee. In point of fact, however, the Proviso contained in the Bill of 1868 was merely to the effect that if within seven years the site was not covered with wholesome dwellings, it should be re-sold to private individuals or a building company; but it was never intended that the local authorities should become either householders or landowners. Every railway company in the kingdom had power to acquire lands, and surely the promotion of public health was of far greater consequence than any speculations of that kind. They ought to consider that the wealth of the country was rapidly increasing, whilst poverty, misery, and the difficulty of living were not decreasing; and it was surely not consistent with their sense of public justice that they should reject any means of doing for the public health's sake that which they were quite willing to do to promote the interests of a speculative company. What he asked was simply that they would re-affirm that which they passed in 1868, and which a large proportion of the Upper House was on that occasion prepared to adopt. In conclusion, he would move the Instruction of which he had given Notice.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee, that they have power to provide for the rebuilding of workmen's dwellings in oases where the same shall have been extensively pulled down under or by virtue of any Act of Parliament."—(Mr. W. M. Torrens.)


said, he would be more than willing to see the Instruction of his hon. Friend carried out, were it not for the reason which actuated his own conduct in discarding a number of clauses which he was desirous of seeing passed—namely, to afford the present measure the greatest possible chance of becoming law within the short period that remained of this Session. He therefore appealed to his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion, and to rest satisfied with the assurance he was prepared to give him, that it would receive the utmost attention of the Government next Session, when they proposed a general measure upon this subject.


said, for the last six or seven years he had been one of the managers of the Association for Improving the Dwellings of the Working Classes, and whilst discharging his duties in that capacity he had become acquainted with one very serious evil which demanded an immediate remedy. He alluded to the power often conferred upon private companies—such as railways and others—to remove the dwellings of the poor, without any corresponding liability being imposed on them of erecting other houses in their stead. During that very Session a Mid-London Railway Bill was initiated, which would, if it had passed, have authorized the removal of a number of those dwellings, which had been found capable of accommodating 20,000 persons. That appeared to him to be an evil of great magnitude, entailing a large amount of hardship upon the working classes. A similar demolition of small houses took place on the now vacant ground near the Holborn Viaduct. The dwellings in the immediate neighbourhood, in consequence, had become enormously overcrowded, and the rents had risen from 30 to 50 per cent; and this was always the result of such demolitions. Consequently, whilst fully concurring in the object of his hon. Friend's Motion, he considered it of far too great importance to be disposed of satisfactorily at that late period of the Session, and for that reason he joined in requesting his hon. Friend not to press it at present.


referred to the ground to be occupied by the New Law Courts, where, he said, 5,000 poor persons had been turned out of their homes. He concurred in the observations which had just fallen from the hon. Member (Mr. Goldsmid).


said, that the present Bill for the formation of local authorities throughout the country would, when taken in connection with the Act of last Session, form a good basis for a Consolidation Bill next year; but it was undesirable to discuss all sorts of topics upon the present occasion, upon a restricted Bill of this kind, which was merely intended as a small foundation for a general measure next Session.


asked, whether the President of the Local Government Board intended next Session to deal with all the nuisances to which the clauses left out of the present Bill related?


replied that he had distinctly stated so.


thought that no hon. Member ought to be constrained, because the Bill was limited in its character, from raising a discussion on any point which he thought important. He would ask whether it was worth while to go into what his right hon. Friend called this small foundation for a general measure at that late period of the Session? He, for one, demurred to such a proceeding. The foundations might turn out to be rotten, or incapable of bearing the weight of the larger measure referred to. He, however, thought, under the circumstances, that the hon. Member for Finsbury was fully justified in moving the Instruction which he proposed. There were already 15 pages of Amendments, and if it were really known that the measure would be discussed that Session, he believed that those 15 pages would have extended to 40.


said, that the Motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury only showed the unfortunate position in which the House was placed in consequence of the Government bringing forward such an important question at that late period of the Session in its present shape. The hon. Gentleman opposite only asked to add one more subject to seven or eight other subjects which were mixed up with this Bill. Various Acts of Parliament, involving important and conflicting powers, were jumbled together in a curious hodge-podge fashion, and all the business arising under them was to be tumbled into the hands of the rural and urban sanitary authorities, without any directions as to how they were to administer them, and with no very moderate prospect as to expense. The salary of the medical officer was a mere drop in the ocean, and after all that officer might turn out to be a mere agent of the Government, to force on matters which the local authorities might or might not consider prudent. He urged the right hon. Gentleman not to press on this Bill, but rather to employ proper men to consolidate the various statutes, and then with a consolidated Act they might reasonably hope some good might be effected for the country. As to the proposition of the hon. Member for Finsbury, his own experience should have taught him that it was vain to expect them at that period of the Session to undertake such a job. Were they to pitchfork the Liverpool or some other Act into this Bill, by way of seeming to do something? He hoped the Government would have more mercy on those who had to administer the law, and also upon the ratepayers, who would have to pay all the expenses incurred. If the Government wanted to do the proper thing in a workmanlike manner, they must begin by consolidating the law, and then there would be some chance of effecting some good work at last.


said, he must express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman had deemed it his duty to bring forward that tail-end of a measure at so late a period. After the long period of gestation he did hope a general measure of Consolidation would have been brought forward next spring, when after all organic changes were, as he trusted, at an end, they might apply their whole strength to concoct one general good measure. He had paid some attention to this subject, but the more he considered it the more difficult it appeared; there were so many Acts of a conflicting character, and he was afraid they were going to have another. His own constituency had spent £500,000 in obedience to one Act of the Legislature, and they would now have to spend another £500,000 in obedience to another Act. It would be much better if this Bill were passed over this year and taken up next spring. The municipal authorities would then have time to look at the Bill, and the House would also have time to con- sider so important a matter. He had received remonstrances against the Bill from his own constituents, and he believed every borough in England had some fault to find with this measure.


said, he was one of those who had expressed approval of the Bill on its second reading, having regard particularly to the improvements introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for North Staffordshire (Sir Charles Adderley). At this period of the Session, however, he felt bound to join in urging the postponement of the mutilated measure till next Session.


said, he approved the Instruction proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury, believing it was a great pity that the Bill had been shorn of an important feature, because there was not time to deal with it. But he thought that if the Bill was such as had been graphically described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley)—if all the pith and marrow of it was to be put off till another Session—it would be much better that the whole subject should be postponed, to be dealt with in its completeness next year. He could hardly look upon this as a complete Bill at all, but rather as a "remnant to be left," and as such it would be matter for unmitigated regret if it failed to become law.


defended the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Stansfeld) in determining to pass, if he could, even this portion of the Bill, which might become the basis of a most useful reform. He trusted that the House would assist the Government in making progress with the measure, and that in Committee a clause would be introduced in reference to the question of working men's houses.


complained of the impediments now offered to the progress of part of a Bill which passed the second reading without opposition.


said, the Bill would at least establish sanitary authorities all over the country, and the Government ought to be supported in their effort to carry it.


hoped that in Committee an enactment would be introduced to remedy the deficient supply of water from which so many districts have suffered.


urged the Government to persevere with the Bill.


, in compliance with the wish expressed on both sides of the House, said, he would withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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


, disclaiming any intention to impede the Bill, and stating that his sole object was to gain a better opportunity for the discussion of an Instruction of which Notice had been given by the hon. Member for South Devonshire, said, he would move the adjournment of the debate.


hoped the hon. Baronet referred to (Sir Massey Lopes) would speak for himself, and say whether the matter could not be discussed in Committee.


hoped the hon. Baronet (Sir Massey Lopes) would not accept that suggestion, because the subject-matter of the Instruction was one of the greatest importance to the agricultural interest. He (Sir Lawrence Palk) would support the Amendment of his hon. Friend (Mr. Pell). The Bill would have a deep influence on the value of land in England, and on the future of the agricultural classes, and it was right that it should be thoroughly discussed in the House.


said, he hoped to show the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), when the House got into Committee, that the Bill was not "a jumble"—that it was of very considerable practical importance, and that its passing this Session would simplify the method of dealing with the whole subject. At the same time, he was not disposed to throw any difficulty in the way of hon. Members expressing their opinions, and if the Bill were allowed to go into Committee, he did not see why the discussion should not be taken on the 1st clause.


said, that he, and no doubt other hon. Members, was anxious to have an opportunity of expressing their opinions on the general provisions of the Bill, and that could not be done clause by clause. The Bill of the Government was open to very grave objections, and it was very doubtful whether it ought to be passed this Session. He hoped his hon. Friend would press his Amendment to a division.

Motion agreed to.

Debated adjourned till Monday next.

And it being now ten minutes to Seven of the clock the House suspended its sitting.

The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.

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