HC Deb 19 April 1875 vol 223 cc1231-9

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 15 (Formation of improvement fund for purposes of this Act).


in moving as an Amendment, in page 8, to leave out from lines 40 to 42, inclusive, said, his object in that and subsequent Amendments depending on it, was that the City of London should bear its fair share of taxation for the general improvement of the metropolis, and contribute towards the common purse for that purpose. By the Amendment under notice the Commissioners of Sewers would be struck out of the Bill as one of the bodies to whom power would be given to levy rates for the purposes of this Act within the City. In proposing that, he was actuated by no feeling of hostility to the City or its Go- verning Body; but he felt that if the City were to remain as it was placed in the Bill, it would not bear its proper burden of taxation. There were very few unhealthy areas within the City; as large numbers of the working classes had been turned out into the surrounding districts, and the unhealthy rookeries in which many of them lived had been destroyed, so that the City would really have little or nothing to do under this Bill. He had been told that between Ludgate Hill and the River some thousands of people had been turned out; and that the poor rate had dwindled down from 8s. in the pound to one-fourth. He was aware that a considerable portion of this decrease was owing to other causes than the removal of the poor, but this had also contributed to the reduction; that in consequence of the improvements in Farringdon Street and near the Viaduct 40,000 of the poor had been turned out; and that large numbers had been removed from Clerkenwell and Moorfields. Indeed, it had been computed that the number of the working classes turned out of their dwellings in the City during the last 15 years was not far short of 100,000. The accommodation provided for the same class of persons within the City was little or nothing, and, for the most part, the people had to go to the surrounding area of the metropolis where localities hitherto healthy were rendered unhealthy by overcrowding. It was unjust, therefore, that the City should be relieved from its fair share of taxation which must necessarily arise under the Bill, and that injustice was still more striking when it was recollected that the rateable value of property in the City was about one-seventh of that of the whole of the metropolis. If that one-seventh escaped taxation of course the other six-sevenths would have to make it up. In his opinion, if there were one part of London more than another which should assist in providing healthy dwellings for the poor, it was the City, because the City was the head-quarters of business transactions; and he should like to know what class contributed more to business transactions than that immense number of labourers who lived about the Docks and in the borough which he represented. The poor were not the poor simply of the locality in which they lived; but it was justly considered that the whole metropolis had an interest in and ought to provide what was necessary for, the poorer classes. What did the City say in defence of their position under the Bill? They objected to the Metropolitan Board of Works coming into the City and invading their independence by levying any rates; but it was too late in the day for the City to bring forward such an argument, because the right had been recognized in many instances already under several Acts of Parliament, and there could be no doubt that the metropolis had gradually been treated as a whole for all sanitary purposes, and on all questions affecting the poor. Neither could it be said that the City would in this case be submitting to a Board on which it was not represented, because it formed a part of that Board, and returned three Members to that Body. Further, it was for the general good that, in respect to sanitary legislation, London should be treated as a whole, and beyond that, there was yet another claim which the metropolis had on the City of London. When the City wished to make an improvement within its borders, it came to the Metropolitan Board of Works, laid its plans before them, and submitted estimates, and asked for a contribution towards the expense of carrying out the scheme; and invariably the Metropolitan Board of Works contributed largely—as a rule, one-half—towards the expenses of those improvements. In fact, he found that within the last four years the Board of Works expended on widening and improving streets in the metropolis £403,878, of which the City of London got £202,400, and under all the circumstances, unless the City contributed towards the general purse, it would not contribute its fair share towards taxation under this Bill. He asked the Committee to look at the matter from a just point of view, and he felt sure that if they did so they would arrive at the conclusion that what he proposed was a fair proposal—that it was only in justice to the ratepayers in the surrounding part of the metropolis that the City should be called upon to pay its fair share towards carrying out what he regarded as one of the most beneficial measures we had had for many years. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment.


while complimenting the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie) on the way in which he had brought the matter forward, regretted to have to differ from him in the conclusions at which he had arrived. Hon. Members must bear in mind that the Committee had already settled by an overwhelming majority that the City of London was to manage its own concerns under the Bill. In the whole of the metropolis there were to be two authorities, who were each within their own jurisdiction to act for themselves, the Metropolitan Board of Works and the authorities of the City of London. He put the question on a broad ground. He admitted that there were a great many Acts of Parliament which enabled the Metropolitan Board not only to levy rates all over London, but also in certain cases to interfere actually in the City itself. In some instances, however, that was not the case; and the sum and substance of the matter was, that practically no rule existed, every case being judged with regard to how the particular improvement could be best carried out. Great improvements had been effected in the City of London, but assuredly much remained to be done. It must be remembered, however, that the land and buildings which would have to be purchased for those improvements would cost much more than in almost any other portion of the metropolis; and by the proposal now under consideration, the City would be involved in unlimited expense. He had in his possession a resolution passed by the authorities of the City of London, that if the Bill became law they were prepared fully to carry it out; but he did not think they ought to have an unlimited purse placed at their disposal for the purpose, which would practically be the case if the Amendment of his hon. Friend were carried. If they said to the City of London—"You may make as many new streets as you like, and you have only to apply to the rest of the metropolis to assist you out of its funds," that arrangement would not be satisfactory. Having decided that the Corporation of the City of London were to do this work, the Committee ought to give it that advantage which every other municipal body in the country would enjoy. It was the greatest Corporation in the world, and if its hands were left unfettered, he had no doubt it would set an example not only to the other corporations of the country, but also to the metropolis itself.


supported the Amendment. He differed from the conclusions of the Home Secretary. It was true that the Committee had by an overwhelming majority decided that the City should be allowed to manage its own affairs, and he had himself voted that the City should be its own local authority; but it was a totally different thing that it should be exempted from the operation of this measure. A process had been going on by which the poor had been gradually excluded from the City, and the way to rectify that was clearly not by allowing the City to exempt itself from the operation of the Bill. The last piece of land which he had known to have been sold in the City fetched £3,000,000 per acre, and as ground was so valuable there, the City authorities could not apply to the rest of the metropolis for any unreasonable contributions. But they would do what they had been doing so admirably for the last 10 or 12 years—they would pull down dilapidated houses, and build in their place, not dwellings such as were contemplated by the Bill, but warehouses and offices which would make the ground ten times more valuable than it was at present. From a Return moved for by the hon. Member for Hastings (Mr. Kay-Shuttleworth) it appeared that the contributions of the Metropolitan Board to the improvements in the City had been nearly one-half of the entire cost, while the contributions to the other parishes of the metropolis had been only at the rate of about one-third. No one could say, therefore, that the City had been unfairly treated. Nor would there be any fear for the future that the City would not obtain its full share, for it was represented at the Metropolitan Board, and had its full weight with that body. His fear was, that they would have if anything more, rather than less than their full share of the general fund. The representatives of the City at the Metropolitan Board would have a voice in deciding on improvements affecting other parts of the metropolis, and that would be unfair if the City were not to make any contributions. He trusted, looking at the circumstances of the case, that the Home Secretary would give more consideration to the Motion than his remarks had seemed to promise.


said, that it was a mistake to suppose there was no part of the City to which this Act would be applicable. There were 39 places within the City of London which would fall within the scope of this Act, and in which the City would have to improve the dwellings of the poor. In these places there were close upon 16,000 inhabitants; of these 3,944 were in receipt of relief, 764 able-bodied, 796 not able-bodied, and 1,364 children. The City had no desire to escape from its responsibilities; but it was necessary for the purposes of the Bill that the City should be allowed to carry out its own improvements co-existently with the Metropolitan Board. He felt sure that if there should be any rivalry between the City and the Metropolitan Boards in reference to carrying out improvements, it would be an honourable rivalry, tending in both cases to the public advantage. Since 1858 the City had contributed to the Metropolitan Board of Works not less than £584,000, and having performed so many great and important works in the past, they desired no exemption for the future; all they asked was to be allowed not only to pull down, but to build up, as they had hitherto done, on their own responsibility.


said, that what had fallen from his hon. Friend who had just spoken sounded all very well as far as it went; but supposing the City should do exactly as it liked, and, unless compelled, would not build houses for working classes at all, though the spaces were cleared whereon such houses might be built? We had been told that the City had already built a great many houses for the working classes; but he had seen many large spaces where there were no houses, excepting a very few, and these were very large and handsome dwellings, not at all suitable for the working classes. Looking at all the circumstances, he did not see that any case had been established at all for making a distinction between the City of London and the other parts of the metropolis, and he should certainly give his vote in favour of the Motion of his hon. Friend opposite.


said, the Committee had already decided by a large majority that the City of London should carry out the Act within its own boundaries. It was said that the City would not have sufficient work to do; but if they went to the eastern part of the City they would find there were rookeries enough to engage the attention and absorb the funds of the Corporation, which had already commenced the work contemplated by the Bill, and ought to be left to continue that work in independence of the rest of the metropolis.


opposed the Amendment, on the ground, that even if the City authorities should fail to provide proper dwellings for artizans displaced in consequence of any improvement which might be made, the Home Secretary had the power to compel them to do so.


supported the Amendment, although he had hitherto supported the Government. He thought there was some exaggeration in what had been said with regard to the vast amount that would have to be done in the City under the Bill. Judging from what had already been done by the City Corporation, in respect to the three blocks of buildings they had already provided, it seemed clear that their policy, if they cleared out these 39 places, would be to erect the blocks of new buildings outside the City boundaries and relieve themselves of all, or nearly all, the charge, by selling the land they had cleared at a considerably enhanced price, whilst the surrounding portions of the metropolis were heavily taxed. On these grounds he thought that it was just that they should contribute to the rates for the rest of the metropolis.


supported the Government, on the ground that the House had already accepted, on a division in which he did not vote, the principle that the City was to do its own work under the Bill. He therefore thought the Amendment would be of no use.

Amendment negatived.

On the Motion of Mr. GIBSON, Amendment made in page 9, line 11, after "1872," by inserting "and by 'The Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1874.'"

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 16 (Power of borrowing money for the purposes of the Act).

On the Motion of Mr. GIBSON, Amendment made in page 9, line 36, after "1872," by inserting "or under 'The Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1874.'"


moved, as an Amendment, in page 10, line 19, after "local authority," to insert— Or to any body of trustees, society or societies, person or persons, with whom the local authority shall have engaged to carry the whole or any part of such improvement scheme into effect as provided by Clause 7.


objected to the proposal, on the ground that the Commissioners ought not to be called upon to lend money at a low rate upon any security less certain than that of the rates.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


in moving as an Amendment in page 10, line 26, to leave out the words "three and a half," in order to insert the word "four," said, he objected to the system, which had grown up of late years, of the Government lending money for philanthropic and useful objects at a lower rate than the money was worth. He argued that the Government were not in a position to lend at 3½ per cent. seeing that they were not capitalists at all in the ordinary sense of the word, but had to borrow themselves in the first instance. Besides, the Public Works Loan Commissioners had lent moneys to a number of companies for improving the dwellings of the labouring classes at 4 per cent. and he submitted that it would be a great injustice on the part of the Legislature to sanction loans for similar purposes at 3½ per cent. He should therefore move that 4 per cent. should be substituted for 3½ per cent in the Bill.

Amendment proposed, in page 10, line 26, to leave out the words "three and a half," in order to insert the word "four."—(Mr. John Hubbard.)


defended the proposal of the Bill, on the ground that the country would gain by it.

Question put, "That the words 'three and a half stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 199; Noes 10: Majority 189.


in moving, as an Amendment in page 10, line 30, after "shall" to leave out "not," said, he objected to the unlimited powers which the Act would give them to impose rates, and would move to limit that power to the amount which they had already authority to levy rates.


thought the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Gourley) had hit upon a serious blot in the Bill. It was surely rather a dangerous power to put into the hands of town councils and local authorities to levy an unlimited tax for purposes of town improvements. As the law stood at present, corporations were limited by their own local Acts of Parliament, and when they wished to carry out improvements they were under the necessity of doing so with the money they had, or else they must go to Parliament for new powers. But here was a proposal to enable a town council to tax the people to an unlimited extent. No doubt the individual Members of Council would vote for a higher rate under a sense of responsibility to the ratepayers; but the loss of a seat in the city or town council would not be a sufficient deterrent to prevent some men from voting away people's money under the provisions of this Bill. He was sorry that the Government could not see its way to impose some restrictions, and if the clause were allowed to stand in its present form, he thought it would be almost a fatal flaw in the measure.


refused to accept the Amendment, on the ground that if carried, it would prevent many localities from making the alterations proposed by the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 17 (Audit of accounts) agreed to.