§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now considered."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
*(5.39.) EARL COMPTON (York, W.R., Barnsley)
I believe it will be more for the convenience of the House if I make those remarks I have to make now rather than later on. I have no wish to impede the progress into law of a measure that will, I believe, be useful both in London and the country. At the same time, before we proceed further I should like to have an assurance from Her Majesty's Government that they do not consider this a final measure as regards the reforms so urgently necessary for the better housing of the working classes. We have had a Consolidation Bill and an Amendment Bill now amalgamated, but the Amendment Bill only touches the fringe of the question, and it is impossible to convince anybody who is interested in the question that this is a great legislative achievement. It is only now that we have this Bill before us that it is possible to amend it 387 so that we can approach the solution of a question that has long been exercising our minds. Thanks, however, are due to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has met various Amendments, and to the Government for bringing the matter forward at all. I mention some of the points upon which the Bill is wanting, in order that the right hon. Gentleman may give us an assurance that these matters will be dealt with before the And of next Session, which is likely to be a long one. This is not much to ask, for into the question with which the Bill deals no Party feeling enters, and if the Government will undertake a further Amendment Bill they will find the Opposition ready to cooperate with them in doing what is necessary for the subject. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Part I of the Bill, or "Cross's Act," has been but slightly amended, and the process under it is still complex, tedious, and expensive. At the present moment the London County Council have under consideration an application made 13 years ago under Cross's Act, and the area concerned is pretty much in the same condition now as when the application was made. We wish to have a simpler machinery, and until we have that it is not possible that much good can be effected under the Act. First comes the representation, then inquiry, the preparation of maps and plans, the public notification during the months of September, October, and November, and then the notices served upon owners. At present a visit to a locality by the officers of the London County Council immediately becomes known, and local owners, fancying that something is going to happen, at once begin to patch and repair, so that when the question of compensation arises they may make a larger claim. I may also mention that the Bill does nothing as regards amendment of the re-housing difficulty. We have the right, under Lord Shaftesbury's Act, to erect buildings within a certain area, but we have not the right to erect buildings outside the metropolitan area. This is a matter that requires to be taken in hand. Then as regards unhealthy dwellings we have actually less power under this Bill than we had before the Acts were consolidated and amended, owing to the repeal of 388 some of the clauses in "Torrens's Act." I think the right hon. Gentleman said he is going to introduce some Amendment in regard to sanitary measures next Session, but I hope we shall not again commence to have other Bills incorporated with this, and that we shall have to refer to the Nuisances Removable Act and other sanitary measures to complete operations under this Bill, but that the Bill itself will be amended. Then as regards the acquisition of land under the Land Clauses Act the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has said that he does not consider the clauses of the Land Clauses Consolidation Act satisfactory. I hope, therefore, some steps will be taken to amend those clauses, so as to make them more workable. There are also two different systems of compensation, one under Part I. and another under Part II. of the Bill. I think it would be infinitely better that the same system should hold in both. Then we have to consider whether the Home Office or the Local Government Board is the authority. I do not know whether there is any jealousy between the Departments as to which should have the more work, but I do think it would be better that we should know which Government Department is the authority in all these matters. The Government have given us a small Amendment Bill, and we are not ungrateful, though, for my part, I say it is but a crumb where I should have preferred a whole loaf. I do not desire to offer any opposition to the Bill, which is a useful Bill so far as it goes. I only want now to get some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government do not look upon this measure as final, and that they will do their best to introduce a further amending Bill next Session which may be incorporated in the present Bill. That, I believe, would satisfy thousands of people in the country. Since this question has been before the House I have received letters from all parts of England, and from various people who have been working hard in this matter. These people ask me one question, namely, whether they will be able in the future to deal with small unsanitary areas which are not actually unfit for habitation. My answer has been that this Bill will hare no effect 389 whatever in that direction, but that I am in hopes that before next Session is passed Her Majesty's Government will have earned our gratitude by putting it in our power to deal with such areas. I have not put down any Amendments, I have not started any great principle, because I know that at the end of the Session it is impossible to go into the whole question. I shall be glad, however, to have some assurance that this is not, in the eyes of the Her Majesty's Government, a final measure.
§ *(6.12.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
My hon. Friend was good enough to give me notice that he would make some remarks upon this Bill, but I was under the impression he would make them on the Motion for the Third Reading. However, I do not complain of any observations he makes at any time with regard to the Bill, because I recognise freely the desire he and those who act with him have shown to push forward as well as they can this Bill which they regard as useful legislation. My hon. Friend wants an assurance from me that Her Majesty's Government do not regard this Bill as a final Bill. I do not know whether any Government is ever prepared to use the word "final" with regard to any proposal made, but I certainly will not use the word in regard to this Bill. I agree that the Cross Acts were not largely dealt with in this Bill. The Government thought that the pressing needs were best met by an improvement in the machinery of the Torrens Acts, because, if properly worked, they will do away with a great many of the evils complained of. With regard to the Torrens Acts, I agree that a very large amount of time is necessary before the Acts can be put into operation. That, no doubt, is to a considerable extent owing to the notices that have to be given with regard to the taking of land under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Acts. The hon. Gentleman asks me whether we will be prepared to deal soon with the Cross Acts, and also with any imperfections which are acknowledged to exist under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Acts. Having taken this matter in hand I shall feel it a great privilege to be able to deal with the whole question, so that there may be one 390 measure dealing with the subject generally. But so far from this, as the noble Lord seems to think, being only a small measure, I think that anyone who looks carefully into it will consider it an important step in the direction in which the noble Lord looks. Even if the Bill had done nothing but consolidate existing Acts in relation to the dwellings of the working classes, it would be a most valuable measure. But the Bill also deals with a matter which has been found to be one of the greatest difficulties in the way of Local Authorities—namely, the undue amount of compensation which, under the law, has hitherto been payable to persons whose property is taken. The Committee to whom this Bill was referred will acknowledge that, so far as the question of compensation is concerned, we have gone as far as it was possible with justice to go in order to grapple with this difficulty. We have reduced by every means in our power the amount of claim to compensation, and we have provided that no compensation whatever shall be payable in respect of profits derived owing to the premises being used for a greater number of people than they can legitimately accommodate, or in respect of profits derived through the premises being used for any illegal purpose whatsoever. It will also be acknowledged that the amendments we have made in the Torrens Acts will be of enormous value to Local Authorities. The procedure has been very greatly simplified, the principle on which the Committee proceeded being that where an owner does not, after notice, place an insanitary dwelling in a proper state, the building shall be demolished. The noble Lord referred to the provisions of the Torrens Act, which made it necessary in the case of an unhealthy dwelling for the Local Authorities to consult a surveyor, and after this is done, there might be an appeal with regard to the works suggested by the surveyor. It seems to me there has been an endless hedge of appeals and counter appeals in regard to the work done, which has not only added to the cost of carrying out the law, but has prevented the law from being carried out in many cases. I think it will be found that the provisions of this Bill are much more workable. The Local Authority will be able to say to the owner of an 391 insanitary dwelling, "We intend to apply for a closing order, it is for you to do whatever works are necessary in order to put the house in a proper sanitary condition." The noble Lord complained that certain provisions of the Public Health Acts with regard to nuisances have not been incorporated into this Bill, but this measure deals with dwellings which are unfit for human habitation, and the provisions of the Public Health Acts, to which the noble Lord refers, are inapplicable. The noble Lord alluded to a statement I have made that we hope next Session to do for the Public Health Acts that which we have done this Session with regard to these Acts. I repeat, that I hope that next Session we may consolidate and amend the Public Health Acts, and that the Amendments which we will propose will meet with the same cordial acceptance at the hands of the noble Lord and his friends as the proposals of the Government with regard to the housing of the working classes. The noble Lord seems to take exception to different principles of compensation being applied to different parts of this Bill. But it would not be fair to apply the same principle of compensation to all cases in which premises are compulsorily acquired. My noble Friend omitted to say that we have in this Bill provided for the adoption of a scheme which we regard as one which is likely to be fruitful of the greatest good—we have provided for what we may call an intermediate scheme. Under the scheme a Local Authority will be able to deal with crowded alleys and courts. The houses individually may not be unfit for human habitation, but, owing to the want of air and light, these alleys and courts may be rendered insanitary areas. The Local Authorities may, if they choose, pull down the houses and make open spaces, and in that way contribute largely to the health of the community. We have provided against the owners of property taking part in any decision which may be arrived at by a District Board or Vestry with regard to the property in which they are interested, and we impose heavy fines upon the owners of insanitary dwellings. The power of the London County Council is much enlarged by this Bill, and I feel sure that when the Bill comes to be put into operation it will be found to be 392 enormously beneficial in securing what we all desire—namely, an improvement in the housing of the people. I have to thank the noble Lord and his friends for the way in which they have met this Bill, and for the assistance which they have afforded, without any Party bias, to the consideration of the Bill in the Committee.
§ (6.26.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I rise for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman if he will during the recess be good enough to turn his attention to two particular points. The first is the machinery for assessing compensation. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether it may not be possible to set up a Special Commission, or some other authority, by which the question of compensation may be cheaply and readily settled. The second point to which I desire to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention is the incidence of cost. This consolidated Bill makes no attempt to adjust the incidence of cost, although the cost is the crux of the whole case. We have gone on year after year piling burden upon burden upon the shoulders of one particular class, namely, the unfortunate occupier. It is high time that something were done to shift part of that burden, at all events, to the backs of the ground landlords.
§ (6.29.) CAPTAIN BETHELL (York E.R., Holderness)
I trust it will be possible next Session for the right hon. Gentleman to take the Public Health Acts in hand for the purpose of consolidation. And while congratulating the President of the Local Government Board upon this general Bill, the value of which I recognise, I feel obliged to express regret that the principle of including the County Council as the authority to take part in matters connected with the public health is not more jealously guarded than in the Bill before us. One principle which is not very satisfactory is, allowing the County Council, when District Authorities cannot properly do the work they are expected to do, to take the burden on their own shoulders. I have some Amendments on the Paper to meet these points, but it has been represented to me that at this period of the Session it would be inconvenient to move them. I, therefore, do not intend to persevere 393 with the Amendments save on one or two small points.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill, as amended, considered.
§ (6.32.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
The right hon. Gentleman appealed to the Committee not to interfere to a great extent with Cross's Acts, because, he said, if they were thoroughly dealt with it would be impossible to pass this Bill this Session. As the Bill contains so many valuable provisions, to say nothing of its feature of consolidation, which is very important, we all thought it would be a great public loss if the measure did not go through this Session, and, therefore, we avoided amending these particular Acts—the General Housing Acts. But the right hon. Gentleman amended them himself by the insertion of the words which I now move to leave out. My Amendment will simply restore the Acts to? the position they occupy at present.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I understand the right hon. Gentleman agrees to accept the Amendment. I am much obliged to him, and will not detain the House by any further argument.
§ Amendment moved, Clause 24, line 12, leave out from "shall," to end of Sub-section, and insert "be supplied out of the Local Rates or out of moneys borrowed in pursuance of this Act."—(Mr. Jesse Collings.)
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause," put, and negatived.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.
§ *(6.34.) MR. RITCHIE
I move to leave out Clause 29, for the reason that Clause 93 provides for the same thing.
§ Amendment moved, page 16, "To leave out Clause 29."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ Question, "That Clause 29 stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.
§ Another Amendment agreed to, Clause 32, page 18, lines 4 and 5, leave out "shall thereupon direct an inquiry, and," and insert "after causing an inquiry to be held."394
§ (6.36.) MR. PICKERSGILL
I beg to move, in Clause 3, page 18, Sub-section 3, at end, to add—Provided that the Local Authority may make to every such tenant a reasonable allowance on account of his expenses in removing, and the amount of the said allowance shall he a civil debt due from the owner of the dwelling house to the Local Authority, and shall he recoverable summarily".
§ *(6.36.) MR. RITCHIE (interrupting)
I propose in principle to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member, but I think the matter is one which should be dealt with by the Court when the closing order is applied for. Therefore, after communication with the hon. Member, I propose to add—Provided that the Local Authority may make to every such tenant such reasonable allowance on account of his expenses in removing as may have been authorised by the Court making the closing order, which authority the Court is hereby authorised to give, and the amount of such allowance shall be a civil debt due from the owner of the dwelling house to the Local Authority and shall he recoverable summarily.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.
§ (6.38.) CAPTAIN BETHELL
I desire to move, in Clause 36, to strike out "a Court of Quarter Sessions," in order to insert "the County Council." Why has the right hon. Gentleman put in the Court of Quarter Sessions here? The appeal, so far as I can understand the matter, is a purely administrative question to begin with, all that has to be decided being whether a particular house is inhabitable or an obstruction. The question is not a judicial one, but one of administration, and, that being so, it is a mistake to bring in the Court of Quarter Sessions at all. Under certain circumstances the County Council will themselves be the authority for carrying out the particular arrangement, and it would be unsatisfactory to have an appeal from the County Council itself to the Quarter Sessions. Why there should be an appeal from an administrative body to the Quarter Sessions I cannot for the life of me conceive.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 19, line 39, to leave out the words "a Court of Quarter Sessions," and insert the words "the County Council."—(Commander Bethell.)395
§ Question proposed, "That the words 'a Court of Quarter Sessions' stand part of the Bill."
§ (6.39.) MR. RITCHIE
If my hon. and gallant Friend had been a member of the Grand Committee, he would have known that this question was twice thoroughly discussed there, and the suggestion made by the hon. Member decisively negatived, and that by a majority that was by no means a Party one. It was decided to maintain the law as it stands, and the decision was supported by some of the most advanced politicians in the House. My hon. and gallant Friend supposes that this has been put in as an alteration of the existing law, but the Court of Quarter Sessions is in the original Act, and there is a great deal of good ground for it. The question is not one of administration, and sanitary matters do not enter into it. When a house has been closed, the question arises as to whether or not it shall be taken away from the owner and demolished, and the existing law provides that the owner shall have the opportunity of going before the Court of Quarter Sessions, which is a Court of law, and before which witnesses can be examined.
§ *(6.41.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
This Amendment was carefully considered in the Committee, and, after consideration, rejected by a majority of something like five to one.
*(6.41.) EARL COMPTON
I do not think the version we have had of what took place on the Grand Committee is quite correct. I proposed two Amendments. The first was negatived by a large majority. I then endeavoured to meet the views of the advanced politicians, and succeeded, more or less; at any rate, they all voted for me on the second occasion. There was a Division of 16 to 9, which is not quite 5 to 1, as the Chairman of the Committee has stated. I am glad the question has been again raised, but I must assure the hon. and gallant Member that it is raised in vain, for even I have given up the point. It is a good thing to see an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House stand tip and contend that the County Councils should be allowed to deal with these matters without appeal to the Quarter Sessions. It is this appeal to Quarter Sessions which is the great hindrance to 396 the proper carrying out of Torrens's Act.
§ *(6.44.) MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)
This point is one of principle, and should be decided by the House. The County Council is already made a Court of Appeal in certain matters in case of dispute with the Local Authority, or where a ratepayer thinks himself aggrieved by its order, and I see no reason why those powers should not be extended, if by doing so we can facilitate the working of the Act. Appeal to Quarter Sessions seriously interferes with the provision of better houses for the working classes.
§ (6.45.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I do not wish to carry on the controversy as to what occurred in Committee; I only wish to say that if it were proposed in Scotland to give an appeal to the Quarter Sessions—supposing we had such a body—I, for one, should give the proposal the most strenuous opposition.
§ (6.46.) MR. ROWNTREE (Scarborough)
I hope the House will not accept the Amendment. It is said that this is a question of principle, but there is another question of principle which may be involved, and which would create strong opposition on the part of non-county boroughs.
§ * MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
I think the House will admit that I am an advanced politician; nevertheless I opposed the Amendment in the Committee, and shall oppose it now. It may happen that the property is not in an unsanitary condition at all; and I am altogether opposed to the taking away of a man's property without giving him power to go to a Court of Law. There may come a time, as the machinery of the County Councils is perfected, when you may be able to entrust all matters of this kind to such bodies. We have not yet arrived at that period. We have not that absolute wisdom and purity in our Local Government which we could desire—as was evidenced not so long ago in the case of the Metropolitan Board of Works, which is now dead and gone. In some of our municipal boroughs also we have had evidences that it would not be safe to allow them to take away a man's property without giving him a right of appeal to a Court of Law. I stood 397 opposed to the Amendment in the Grand Committee, and I stand opposed to it now; and if we divide on the question I shall vote with the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Other Amendments agreed to.
§ (6.53.) CAPTAIN BETHELL
I would suggest the insertion of the words "of the Local or County Authority" after the words "officers of health." If the local medical officer has a right to point out insanitary conditions he should report to the Local Authority. I am aware that substantially it is the intention they should act, but I think he should report directly to the Local Board.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 30, line 13, after the word "health," to insert the words "of the Local or County Authority."—(Commander Bethell.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ *(6.53.) MR. RITCHIE
I do not quite understand the object of my hon. and gallant Friend in moving the Amendment. This object is amply provided for under Clause 53. He wishes that instead of the Medical Officer of Health of the County Council reporting to the Council he shall report to the Local Authority; but surely the officer should report to the Authority under whom he acts, and it is for that Authority to take action.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 46, line 14, after the word "representation," to insert the words "or complaint."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 46, line 18, after the word "Authority," to insert the words "or to the medical officer of such Authority."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
*(6.54.) EARL COMPTON
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that makes sense of the clause, or if it is good English? Should not the word "as" be introduced to make it read?
§ *(6.54.) MR. RITCHIE
I think for the present it had better go as it is. It 398 is not, I believe, an uncommon thing for an Act of Parliament to be ungrammatical.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Other Amendments made.
§ *(6.56.) MR. RITCHIE
With the object of preparing for the Amendment I shall propose to Clause 56, dealing with areas situated in more than one county, I move the omission of the words from "certificate" to "and" in lines 17.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 55, line 17, to leave out from the word "certificate" to the word "and."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ (6.56.) MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
I understand the right hon. Gentleman has the same object in his Amendment as I have in the Amendment of which I have given notice, but we differ in that he would have the application made to the authority having the larger jurisdiction in the area, and I would have application made to both authorities over the area. I do not see quite why the jurisdiction of one of the County Authorities should be excluded.
§ (6.57.) MR. RITCHIE
It is undesirable that two applications should be made to two County Councils before anything can be done in a particular area, and it is desirable that the action taken should be under one authority. Therefore, I propose in Clause 56 to provide that the authority shall be with the body having the more extended jurisdiction in the area in question.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Other Amendments made.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Brodrick.)
§ (7.11.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I have to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having so much improved the Bill in Committee. He has made it more effective, by accepting my Amendments to make one part of the Bill imperative, and I am glad he has shown throughout such a conciliatory spirit. The Local Authorities now have a measure under which they will be able to work with great efficiency for the improvement of the public health.
§ (7.12.) SIR L. PLAYFAIR (Leeds, S.)
I am glad to join in the congratulations of my hon. Friend in regard to the improvements which have been introduced into the Bill, and I likewise congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having passed a consolidatory measure. The consolidation in itself is an enormous gain to the community, but important improvements of the law have been introduced.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman for the kind words they have used in regard to my action and the Bill generally. I should like to say this final word. Now that the law on this subject has been consolidated and amended in such a way as to remove a great many difficulties, I hope that Local Authorities will feel the responsibility now cast upon them, and take care that the law is put into operation. That will result in an enormous advantage to the public health of the community and the general good of the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.