§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,), Tower Hamlets, St. George's
rising amid cheers, said: I hope I may interpret that cheer as indicative of a general acceptance of the measure of which I am about to move the Second Reading. I do not think that any lengthy recommendation will be necessary of a Bill dealing with the amendment of the law relating to the housing of the working classes. There is a general concensus of opinion that the amendment and consolidation of the law with reference to the housing of the working classes is required, and there is no doubt that a considerable complication of the law on this important subject exists. Even if the law itself were in a satisfactory condition, the fact that the law can only be discovered after a careful study of many Statutes would be a sufficient justification for the Government to undertake the consolidation of the law. The next Bill on the Paper is the Housing of the Working Classes Acts Consolidation Bill, and the Government might have contented themselves with the consolidation of the law, leaving its amendment to be dealt with afterwards. There is much to be said from that point of view; but, on the other hand, most hon. Members will admit that it is much more satisfactory for the Government to present an Amendment Bill at the same time as a Consolidation Bill. If the House gives its assent to the Second Reading of the two Bills, then the most convenient mode of dealing with the question would be to refer both Bills to a Grand Committee, with the instruction that they should be consolidated at once. Looking to the fact that the law is complicated, and to the technical nature of the discussion which will be raised, the machinery of a Grand Committee would be much better adapted to deal with the Bills than a Committee of the whole House. A number of hon. Members specially interested in the matter will be placed on the Committee. I think there is a general concurrence of opinion that the existing law is most difficult, complicated, 1823 and obscure, and, if for no other purpose, it is urgently required that the procedure under the Acts now in force should be greatly simplified. To show this I will indicate the mode of procedure under Torrens's Acts from 1868 to 1885, and the procedure proposed by the Bill before the House. Under the former Acts the Medical Officer of Health reported to the Local Authorities if he considered any premises dangerous to health and unfit for human habitation. This Report was referred to the surveyor or engineer, who, in his turn, reported as to the cause of the evil and the remedy for it, and as to whether or not it was possible to put the premises into a fit condition for human habitation. Copies of both Reports had to be laid before the owner of the premises, who might object before the Local Authorities. Supposing the objections were overruled, there was an appeal from the Local Authority to Quarter Sessions, and if the decision there were in accordance with the decision of the Local Authorities, plans and specifications of all the work suggested by the Medical Officer and the surveyor or engineer had to be prepared; and then, again, the owner was allowed to raise objections before the Local Authorities and Quarter Sessions. It is evident that all this machinery has the effect of enormously delaying any action with regard to unhealthy dwellings, and provides a loophole through which many owners of insanitary dwellings escape. It cannot, therefore, be wondered at that the Acts existing are, to a large extent, inoperative. The Bill proposes a much simpler method of procedure. It is made an absolute duty of the Medical Officer of Health to report to the Local Authorities any premises injurious to health and unfit for human habitation; and it is also made the absolute duty of the Local Authorities to order proper periodical surveys to be made of their district, with the view of seeing that the Medical Officer of Health fulfils his duty. In explicit terms the Bill imposes upon the Local Authorities the duty of seeing that there are no unhealthy dwellings in their localities. When it is ascertained that there are dwellings unfit for human habitation, there will arise under the Bill no question of the interference of surveyors, or of the provision by the Local Authorities 1824 of plans and specifications of what is wanted to put the premises into repair. The Bill assumes that the owner is wholly responsible, and if the house is declared to be injurious to health and not properly habitable, the owner is bound to find out himself what is to be done, and to do it within a limited time. If the repairs are not undertaken within this limited time, the house may be demolished. Another question dealt with by the Bill is that of obstructive buildings. Some doubt has arisen as to the meaning of the words "obstructive building" in the Artisans' Dwellings Act of 1882. The Bill before the House considerably extends the meaning of the words, and further, gives powers for the forming of schemes which will be intermediate between the larger schemes of the Cross Acts and the smaller schemes of the Torrens Acts. Many areas are not large enough to be dealt with by the Cross Acts, and are too large to be dealt with under Torrens's Acts. The Bill proposes that a Local Authority, when buildings have been declared unfit for human habitation or obstructive, may proceed to take measures, not only for dealing with the obstructive buildings, but to make a scheme taking in some of the surrounding dwellings with the view of the clearing away of courts and alleys, and bringing light and air into the localities so as to make them more fit for human habitation than would be otherwise possible. There is a point in the Bill which I think will render it peculiarly acceptable to hon. Gentleman who represent London constituencies. Great complaints have been made of the unwillingness of Vestries and District Boards of Works to put in force the law with regard to dwellings of this character. I do not think it necessary either to condemn or defend the action of such bodies, but in a town like London every district is interested in the good health of every other district, and the Central Authority ought to have the power to act if they are satisfied that the Local Authorities are neglecting their duty. Therefore, where it is shown to the London County Council that Local Authorities are neglecting to deal with unhealthy areas within their localities, the County Council will have power to take over the duties of the Local Authority. This power has been 1825 asked for by the London County Council for good and sufficient reason, as I think, and we are glad to take advantage of the existence of a body representing the whole of the inhabitants of London and to charge them with this particular duty in connection with the various areas which constitute the Metropolis. The Government have also endeavoured to deal with the question of compensation in the Bill. A good many efforts have been made to reduce the amount payable to owners of property which is to be removed because of its unhealthy condition, and I venture to think there is not a Member in the House who will not welcome any fair and reasonable scheme which will cut down to a minimum the money payable to owners of property who grossly neglect their duty in regard to their property. Of course, I draw a wide distinction between this kind of property and houses taken, not because they are in an unsanitary condition, but because they are required in order to make other parts of the district inhabitable. I will, of course, give every reasonable consideration to the case of owners whose property may be required for the improvment of a locality, but I will have no mercy on those owners who allow their property to get into such a condition as to be a danger to the health of a locality. By Clause 15 it is provided with regard to compensation that the arbitrator is to take evidence on three points, first, as to whether the rental of the premises has been enhanced by reason of their being so overcrowded as to be dangerous or injurious to the health of the inmates; secondly, as to whether the promises are in a state of defective sanitation or are not in reasonably good repair; and, thirdly, whether the premises are unfit and not reasonably capable of being made fit for human habitation. I think it will be found that the Government have gone as far as they possibly can in drawing a line in regard to the question of compensation, but I may add that if hon. Members can suggest additional words which will better carry out this object we shall be prepared to accept them. We have also made some provision with the view of reducing the cost of arbitration, and we further provide for the payment to tenants of a reasonable sum, with a view of enabling them the better to obey the order to 1826 remove from the condemned and unsanitary premises. We have also thought it right to impose penalties on owners who take part in deliberations with regard to premises in which they are interested. It is, undoubtedly, a great scandal that men should be allowed to decide questions of the kind in such circumstances. I think I have said enough to show that the Government have approached this subject with a view to simplifying and insuring the operation of the law, and I hope the House will reasonably consider the proposal to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee. In this way we hope to make the law more operative, and to take precaution that, as far as London, at any rate, is concerned, the Local Authorities shall be made to do their duty by empowering the higher authority to step in where the Local Authority is in fault. I beg, Sir, to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
(6.55.) SIR WALTER POSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I have to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the introduction of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has said that the law is difficult, complicated, and obscure, but, what is worse than all, the law is practically inoperative. The evil which arises from the defects in the law affects not only great communities like London, but also rural districts. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to amend the law as well as to consolidate it. But I think it is to be regretted that this Government, who have been wasting the time of the House in the consideration of the question of the endowment of public houses, should not have earlier brought before the House a Bill which is likely to be of so much more advantage to the community at large. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee appears to be the quickest way of getting the Bill forward at this period of the Session. I do not think the Bill ought to stop at the demolition of unhealthy houses. There ought to be some provision in the Bill to force the owners to put up other houses, as I think people ought not to be driven from the districts in which 1827 they live. This is especially necessary in rural districts, because it is most undesirable that people should be driven from rural districts into the already over crowded towns. We want to keep them in the country. There ought to be some power compelling the owner where insanitary houses are demolished, to put up other houses in their place, in order to keep the people in the same locality; and I am sorry to see that the clause for the demolition of insanitary houses is not accompanied by some such provision. In some cases the owners of these bad houses prefer to see them demolished, because they say it will not pay them to repair. If cottages are reported to be unfit for human habitation, it should be the duty of the Local Authority to order the building of proper dwellings, either at the public cost or at the expense of the owner. The sum of £350,000 has been mentioned very often of late in this House, and there seems to be considerable difficulty in disposing of it. I would suggest to the Government that they could hardly do a more popular thing than to make it the nucleus of a fund for the better housing of the poorer people in the rural districts as well as in the towns. With regard to obstructive buildings, I think the Government are taking a wise and beneficial course in asking for power to remove obstructions; in most cases, the obstructions are not to be got rid of by little peddling and tinkering arrangements such as have had to be resorted to in the past. The proposal of the Government will be very valuable in decreasing the mortality of the districts in which it is applied. It will enable the authorities to deal with blocks of insanitary dwellings—rookeries as they are called, and which are the centres from which disease spreads. In the crowded parts of the Metropolis, and of other large towns, the mortality is considerably greater than in the parts of towns where there are more open spaces. What we want for the benefit of the younger growing population are open spaces. We want playgrounds for the children nearer the blocks of buildings in which they dwell. Under such a scheme as sketched out in a few words by the right hon. Gentleman a great and salutary reform might be effected in this direction. I hope in the 1828 discussion of this Bill in Grand Committee other points may be incorporated which will make this a great measure for the well-being and sanitary improvement of the condition of the people.
§ (7.2.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I wish to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the serener atmosphere in which we find ourselves on this Bill. We are really like storm-tossed wayfarers, struggling through clouds and darkness, and thunder and lightning, and, at last mounting the hill, finding ourselves under the blue sky. Of course, we shall do what we can to assist the right hon. Gentleman to carry this Bill, and, if it needs improvement, to improve it. This and similar measures are useful Bills to occupy the attention of the House of Commons and of the country, and I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should give the preference in what remains of the Session to measures of this character rather than to those of a more controversial nature. I have no objection to controversy myself; I rather like it. But there are times for all things, and the month of July being a hot month is not suited to controversy. When you want to have highly controversial measures it is more convenient to take them in the early part of the Session. Therefore, I hope the Government, in the re-consideration of their position, will remember that besides this there are other measures which are not of a controversial character, but largely beneficial to the country, to which they might devote their energies. That is a course I have long advised. There seems a favourable opportunity of taking that course, and I hope it will be pursued. I have nothing to say upon this Bill except to give my assent to the proposal it makes. I do not imagine that it raises any great conflict of opinion. It is a subject upon which many Gentlemen on both sides of the House have had large experience, having taken great interest in it for many years. They may be able to offer the Government assistance and suggestions of various kinds, and which I have no doubt will be gladly accepted. In that manner I hope a most useful measure will be passed that will be of benefit to all classes of the community.
§ (7.10.) SIR R. LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
Sir, I desire to join the two right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have just addressed the House, in congratulating the Government and my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board in particular, on the Bill which he has introduced with so much ability and clearness. Though the Bill interests all classes of the community, it is especially interesting to Metropolitan Members. There is no part of the country, I suppose, which will derive greater benefit from this measure than will London, where there are "rookeries," the unsanitary condition of which is such that the people living in them have no fair chance of thriving. I join with the hon. Member opposite in especially calling the attention of the Government to the importance of providing under this Bill for 4he establishment of open spaces or playgrounds for the children of the poor in the more crowded parts of the Metropolis. That is a question which has long attracted the attention of all who live in the Metropolis and who care for the well-being of the people in it. I would venture to suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be well, for the purpose of elaborating the provisions of the Bill in this and any other particular, if he would consent, whenever this Bill comes to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, to add to the Committee some of those Metropolitan Members who are especially interested in this question.
(7.15.) EARL COMPTON (York, W. R., Barnsley)
I should like to say, on behalf of the London County Council, of the Housing of the Poor Committee of which I am Chairman, that we welcome the action of Her Majesty's Government with regard to this question. I daresay the House is not aware that the County Council, after due deliberation, approached Her Majesty's Government, and placed before the Home Secretary their views with regard to Torrens' Act. They were received, and their arguments were listened to, and, so far as I can judge, the suggestions then made have been adopted and put into the Bill. Therefore, I wish to express thanks, on behalf of the County Council, for the action taken by Her Majesty's Government. It must be evident to 1830 those who have studied the question of dwellings for the poorer classes in London and throughout the country that there exists a kind of chaos in the law which cannot be described. I am well aware that it is usual to complain that the Vestries and Local Authorities have neglected their duty, and that that is the reason why this question has become a burning one. Although I have taken some part in the abuse of certain Vestries and Local Authorities, I have never held them up to public censure, for I cannot blame them for not understanding the very complex law on the subject. I am extremely glad that this Bill is going to be submitted to the Standing Committee on Law. It is much the best plan the Government can pursue, and both the Amendment Bill and the Consolidation Bill should be before that Committee. It would be extremely difficult for the Committee to incorporate the Amendment Bill into the Consolidation Bill until the Amendment Bill has been passed by the House.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I have prepared the Consolidation Bill, which will be submitted to the Committee with the Amendments in the Amendment Bill included. The Grand Committee will first have the Amendment Bill, and then it will have the Consolidation Bill.
I think that will be an excellent plan; but I would point out that until the Amendment Bill is passed, I do not see any particular necessity for passing the Consolidation Bill even this Session. Until we are quite satisfied as to the Amendment Bill, I do not think it would be practicable to pass the Consolidation Bill. The effect of the Amendment Bill is practically to amend Torrens' Act. It does not touch Cross's Act at all. Torrens' Act has been left rather on one side for a long time. The reason of that was that the Local Authorities in trying to enfore it found difficulties. Appeals were carried against them, and nothing was done, and the Act has been more or less a dead letter. I am personally of opinion, having looked into this question, that if we can get this Amendment Bill slightly altered, we shall be able to deal with every small unsanitary area throughout the whole of London within a short space of time. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the subject of appeal to 1831 Quarter Sessions, and that was one of the subjects brought before the Home Secretary, and it will have to be decided in Grand Committee. In my opinion, the appeal should be to the County Councils, and not to Quarter Sessions, and when the County Council is the Local Authority under the Act, that appeal should be to the Local Government Board. But the important part of this Bill is Clause 2, as to buildings unfit for human habitation. One of the most difficult questions medical officers have to deal with is the definition of the phrase "unfit for human habitation." They have, first of all, to obtain proof that there had been fever or death before they can condemn a building. What I would suggest as a more convenient definition is "unhealthy dwelling." I noticed that that phrase was used by the right hon. Gentleman throughout his speech.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will bring forward the Sanitary Law Amendment Bill as soon as possible, and that he will pass it this Session. I am sure the House will be glad to have it so; but Amendments will be required in this Act under discussion, in order to include dwellings which are, or are liable to be, injurious to health. I see, with regard to the Medical Officer of Health, the words allude to the Medical Officer of Health of the district. I think it would be advisable, for London, that "Medical Officer" should mean either the Medical Officer of the County Councilor of the district. I wish to point out that this will not be a final solution of the housing of the poorer classes of the Metropolis. I agree that the Bill is a step, and a valuable step, forward, and that it will do an enormous amount of good that has been sought for years past. I am glad to hear the decided views of the right hon. Gentlemen with regard to offenders, not only those who have made a profit out of the poorer classes of property, but the landlords. There are landlords who look well after their tenants in villages, but who neglect their property in London and the large towns. I should be glad if we could bring home 1832 to these landlords the enormity of their sin and the evil which they have inflicted upon the poorer classes. I do not wish such offenders to be merely fined. I should like to see one of them imprisoned for three or four weeks, for one of the greatest sins a responsible man can be guilty of. I again thank the right hon. Gentleman for having brought in this Bill.
§ (7.20.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
Sir, I noted that the noble Lord said he wished to lock up the unfortunate landlord.
§ MR. BARTLEY
Fortunate, then; though they would not be very fortunate if they were locked up. No doubt some of these men are trading on the misery of the people—are crowding them into unhealthy dwellings and are making large profits. But those who have studied the habits of many of the poorer classes must know that a large amount of the unsanitary condition of the houses they occupy is due to a want of education and knowledge amongst the people themselves. What I am afraid of is that if it goes forth to the world that the responsibility will rest solely with the landlord, you will really, to a certain extent, undermine the interest and personal action of the tenant in respect of maintaining healthy conditions of living. It is difficult to induce these persons to make use of sanitary appliances in the best possible manner. I remember going over a block of property and finding that not only had the sanitary appliances not been made use of, but had been disarranged and put out of order. What I am afraid of is that if you make the penalty on the landlord too severe you destroy the active interest of the tenants in their surroundings. I believe in many parts of London the present state of affairs is most unsatisfactory, notwithstanding the enormous strides of the past few years. But what I wish to point out is that, after all, the sanitary condition of the people depends not entirely on the action of the landlords, nor of persons who are described as house farmers, but also upon the better education of the people, and upon their improved ideas. I should be extremely sorry if any legislation sought to impose the sole responsibility upon the landlord. We should do our utmost to 1833 induce the people themselves to improve their sanitary condition, and so elevate their mode of living.
§ (7.25.) MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)
Sir, the London Liberal Members, of whom I am one, will not pass this Bill altogether without Amendment, though we think it is more than might have been expected from the right hon. Gentleman, who used to think that everything turned upon vices in administration. We think the Bill will be a useful step in social reform. We hope that it will be amended after discussion in Committee. I suppose arrangements will be made whereby in Committee Metropolitan Members will have an opportunity of making suggestions. On that understanding we are thoroughly in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill. We hope in Committee we shall have the attendance of a certain number of lawyers on both sides of the House, because I do think a great improvement could be effected by a simplification of the procedure under the different Acts for the housing of the working classes. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries, has made a suggestion which would be valuable if incorporated in the Bill. It is notorious that bye-laws have not been framed under the Sanitary Act of 1866 in many parishes and divisions of the Metropolis. I do not think in this Bill there is any provision as to that point. I do not think the County Council obtains, under Clause 6, powers to make the Local Authority draw up bye-laws under the Sanitary Act. That would naturally come into the Sanitary Law Amendment Bill, and, therefore, it is most important that the Committee should have all these Bills before them at the same time. Nobody recognises more than we do the immense importance of uniformity of administration and unity of control in London. That is what we are wanting. The County Council has hardly been able to do anything for want of power; they have no power to give their Medical Officer of Health, one of the ablest throughout the length and breadth of the land, the supervision over Local Authorities which he demands. I believe a good deal could be done in this Bill to reduce the cost of action. Something would be accomplished if this clause passed into law, to which the 1834 right hon. Gentleman alluded and which, would prevent some scandals in the administration of the Artisans' Dwellings Act. Still, that would not be sufficient. I can conceive other cases than those enumerated in the clause. I will point out one—it does not contemplate the increased profit to be made by using a house for immoral purposes. There are a great many cases in London which do not fall under the present law, and in which, when the property owner is bought out, he puts in his, pocket money which does not properly, belong to him. I hope we shall have no repetition of cases like that of the black spot in Whitechapel, where it was, impossible to buy out the owners in consequence of the enormous sums they, were able to make because they were putting illicit gains into their pockets. I admit it would be difficult to insert words that would exactly meet these cases; but I think that, with the assistance of the legal ability that will probably be represented on the Committee; we ought to be able to reduce the costs, which is really the great point at issue. The Local Authority will not move as long as they find that 50 per cent. of their, expenditure is thrown away, or, worse, goes into the pockets of the owners of unsanitary or evil property of some kind, or other. I quite sympathise with some of the District Boards in London, in their unwillingness to do so, though I admit they have shown lamentable apathy in some cases. I believe the Mansion House Council will be prepared, to submit to any Committee a good many valuable suggestions, and I have no doubt, considering the valuable work done in the Metropolis, such suggestions will receive due attention. I do not fancy any provision of the Bill will do more good than that which prevents, members of Local Boards voting on those bodies when their interests are at stake. I think it may be difficult to carry it out; but it is conceived in the right spirit, and will, I hope, prevent some of those disgraceful scenes which have taken place both in the Metropolis and in the country. I would suggest that all the Bills should be submitted to the Grand Committee, and that, at the same time, there should be a fair representation of the London Members on the Committee. I would 1835 particularly urge that my noble Friend (Earl Compton), who can represent the London County Council in this matter as no other man can, inasmuch as he is the Chairman of the Housing of the Working Classes Committee and should have a place on the Committee. I join in the congratulation which has been offered to the Government, and I do hope that, when these Bills come back to us from the Committee, we shall have some opportunity of carrying them through their final stages.
§ (7.34.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)
I am delighted these Bills have been introduced, and I am glad to fall in with the arrangement that they should be referred to a Grand Committee. The Consolidation Bill must necessarily be of great utility to all those who have studied this question. Those who are interested in the subject have hitherto had to ramble over a series of Statutes, extending back for 40 years, and many of them overlapping one another, so that it has been very difficult to ascertain what the law on the question really is. Consolidation, however, is not all that is required, and we are pleased to receive the Amendment Bill. I agree with a great deal that is to be found in this Bill, and especially in the part which deals with those persons who have allowed their property to get into an unsanitary condition. For my part, I do not want to subject to penalties landlords who have attempted to do justice to their tenants and whose tenants have neglected the sanitary condition of their houses. The men we want to get at are those who obtain large portions of property in the Metropolis, and simply neglect to do any repairs whatever, having only one object in view, namely, to extract the highest rent they can out of the unfortunate individuals who are compelled to inhabit the houses because they happen to be near their places of employment. These Bills do not do all that is required, and, whilst we accept them as a very good instalment of what is required, we must guard ourselves against any supposition that they do all we think necessary to meet the difficulties of the question of the better housing of the people in the Metropolis. If you want to grapple with the question in a broad and 1836 general manner, you must find some means of getting the necessary finance to carry out the improvements, and I do not think it can be done by throwing any more burdens on the unfortunate ratepayers. You must find other sources of revenue. No measure can comprehensively meet the requirements of the case that does not tap sources of revenue that are untapped at the present time—I mean, of course, by dividing rates between owner and occupier and making the owner pay some of the rates for this particular purpose. The hon. Member for North Kensington (Sir R. Lethbridge) made a suggestion as to the provision of playgrounds for new buildings. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie) whether something cannot be done in the case of huge blocks of dwellings for providing playgrounds, other than the concrete playground that is generally just a mere forecourt. I have gone over many of these dwellings on a hot summer evening, and have been able to see the unfortunate position, in which the people are placed. There is nothing but bricks, and mortar, and concrete, without a bit of green to relieve the eye except such as may have been provided by the people themselves in the shape of window gardening. I think that, wherever these barracks are erected, the companies who erect them ought to be called on to provide something in the way of playgrounds. A man when he comes home has no where outside his house where he can sit in the hot weather, and he is, therefore, driven elsewhere to seek rest and comfort. There is a great moral feature in this question; and I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman that he should make provision for dealing with it on the Grand Committee. But, under any circumstances, I think we should all desire to make the measure as perfect as possible.
§ (7.42.) MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
This is about the most satisfactory Bill that the Government have introduced this Session, it is gratifying that Members on all sides are able cordially to support it. We, on this side, are especially able to do so, as the Bill embodies many points that we have consistently urged. It will affect London infinitely more than any other part of the United Kingdom, 1837 and therefore I strongly support the suggestion that London Members on both sides should be fully represented on the Grand Committee. The hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division (Sir W. Foster) regarded the measure from a country point of view, and expressed a fear that by bringing about the demolition of working men's cottages in our villages a large part of our rural population would be driven into the towns. There are, however, provisions in the Bill, as I understand it, which enable the Local Authorities to exercise their discretion in the matter of erecting new working men's dwellings when unsanitary ones are demolished. Therefore, from a London point of view, we not only cordially support this Bill as improving the dwellings of the working classes in London itself, but we also cordially endorse it because we believe it will tend to keep the agricultural population in the country districts instead of driving them into the towns, where their presence has a tendency to bring about overcrowding and a reduction of wages. The principle of the Bill is to give greater power to representative County Councils, as well as to throw greater obligations on them—and I may say it was gratifying to hear the words of cordial appreciation in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the work the London County Council has already done in this matter of housing. He can rely upon it that when the opportunity arises, they will do a great deal more in the same direction. We hear a great deal said in disparagement of the London County Council, and constant protests raised against adding to its duties, so that we were glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman's expressions of approval, and his declaration that larger powers should be conferred upon them in the future. One of the chief advantages of this Bill is that it will do a great deal to improve the dwellings of the working classes and to get rid of unsanitary dwellings. It will also impose a penalty on Vestrymen who vote in respect of those questions in which they have a personal or pecuniary interest. I think it is high time that such men should be entirely prohibited from taking any part in the discussion and settlement of these questions. In addition to those points, there 1838 is the great and vital question of compensation—a question of "compensation" on which the Opposition can, at least on this occasion, agree with the right hon. Gentleman. This Bill goes farther on this point than any other measure has ever gone. In future, where compensation has to be paid, it will only be assessed and paid on what ought to be the normal rent of the dwelling, and not on the excessive rent obtained through overcrowding. But I agree with my noble Friend (Lord Compton) that this Bill cannot be in any way regarded as a final settlement of the question, because, in addition to compensation, there arises the important question who is to pay when compensation is given. The Bill, indeed, raises, without attempting to settle, the question of the incidence of taxation in reference to the ground landlords and others interested in property in London. So far as the Bill goes, we thank the President of the Local Government Board for it, and we consider that we shall be in a better position to urge our views on the subject of the incidence of taxation, now that these minor questions will have been cleared out of the way.
§ (7.49.) CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)
I have very great fear, lest this Bill, which is evidently intended to be productive of great good, should in the rural districts be fruitless. I am sure, if that proves to be the case, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will regret it as much as we shall. There is no authority in those districts behind the Sanitary Authority—no power to compel the Sanitary Authority to put their powers into execution. In the case of the Allotments Bill power was given to the Sanitary Authority, who did not put it into operation, and the right hon. Gentleman was obliged to bring in an amending Bill to give an appeal to the County Councils. Well, I will ask the right hon. Gentleman to insert in this Bill a power to enable the County Councils to put pressure on the Local Sanitary Authority if it neglects its work. In our rural districts this is a great question. In Buckinghamshire, for instance, I know of a case where a man and wife and their five children are living in a two-roomed cottage, and the reply made to every attempt to remove them, both by the Local Authority and 1839 the Magistrates is, they have nowhere else to go to. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of such cases as those to give the County Councils power to require the Local Authority to take action. Then it sometimes happens that the members of the Sanitary Authority are the owners of houses in a disgraceful condition, and, of course, in such a case the Local Authority does not wish to put its powers into force. I know of a case of this kind—I think in Winslow—where the owner of houses which have been reported on again and again is the Chairman of the Sanitary Authority, and under one pretext or another the matter has always been allowed to slide. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, to see that someone who is interested in the condition of the labouring classes in our rural districts is put on the Committee to whom this Bill is to be referred.
§ (7.55.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)
I certainly sympathise with the wish expressed by the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down, that the country districts should be adequately represented on the Committee to whom the Bill is referred. I, of course, am a Metropolitan Member, aid regard the matter from a Metropolitan point of view. Without dwelling on the circumstances under which a Bill detested by the working classes has given place to this measure, which will so considerably advance their interests, I will deal with the plan of the Government itself. I consider that enormous advantage will result from the consolidation of these Acts, and as to the amending portion of the proposal, though I regard it with some satisfaction, my satisfaction is dashed by the fact that the Bill does not contain all it should. The Bill contains some excellent proposals—some being identical with the proposals contained in the Bill produced by the Liberal Members for London. I am glad that the Bill contains proposals dealing with the important point of compensation, because, after all, the question or finance is the key of the position. The main difficulty which has been felt in carrying out the Artisans' Dwellings Act has been the cost incurred, and in the community being required to pay a most exorbitant price for the property necessary to be acquired. I remember 1840 that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham a few years ago made investigations into a large number of clearances in various towns, involving an aggregate expenditure of between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman found that, with regard to the cost of the property so acquired, the community had paid no less than 17s. per square yard, whereas it was calculated that the real commercial value of the property was only 10s. per square yard. But cases have occurred in the Metropolis in which large and exorbitant prices had been paid for property which had substantially become public nuisances. In one case, that of the Bell Lane area in Whitechapel, the Committee of the County Council recently reported as established to their satisfaction, beyond a doubt, that some owners had deliberately allowed their property to go to rack and ruin in the hope that it would be purchased by the community under these Acts. I rejoice, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman has recognised these evils, and has endeavoured to remedy them. But he has not gone far enough. There is an important omission in the Bill—the failure to alter the incidence of the cost. Parliament has gone as far as it reasonably can in piling up rates on the occupier, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to have taken steps, where large blocks are concerned, to see that the burden is shared by the owner. While joining in the chorus of congratulation which has been offered to the right hon. Gentleman, I hope that the Grand Committee to which the Bill is to be referred will carry the reforms much further than is proposed in the Bill.
§ (8.0.) MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N. E.)
I must express my gratification at the introduction of this Consolidation Bill. One of the reasons why the Acts have not been put in operation in various parts of the country is the inability of the Local Authorities to construe them. The simplification of the law is in itself a great mending of the law, and there I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we on this side of the House will do all we can to secure the passing of this Bill. There is one clause of the Bill to which attention has not yet been called; it is a clause of the very first importance, namely, Clause 18. I imagine there is 1841 a mis-print in the description of the clause. The marginal title is "Compensation to weekly tenants for expenses of removal." I am very happy to say there is not the same restriction in the clause itself, for the clause provides that if the house, or part of the house, of a tenant whose contract of tenancy is for less than a year is required by the Local Authority a reasonable allowance on account of the expenses of removing may be made to the tenant. I think many persons will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Government for bringing in a clause to prevent injury being done to persons who are forcibly as it were removed from their tenancies. Some hon. Members have referred to the difficulties of clearing the rookeries of London and other great towns. The difficulties in regard to such clearances have been very small indeed. Numerous areas have been cleared in London and in other towns within recent years. The difficulty has never been to clear the areas, but to provide other dwellings for the people. That is just the very point on which the right hon. Gentleman has done something and will do something to remedy the evils complained of. All the clauses are steps in the right direction. Some of my hon. Friends have referred to the fact that these proposals are only steps. I am not altogether dissatisfied with them as steps. So much will have to be done presently with regard to this question that it would be a false step on the part of the Government to attempt too much at the present time. Considering the size and population, we need some special arrangement with regard to the housing of the poor in London. One of the reasons why the Acts have not been carried out in the past is the condition of the leasehold system. The right hon. Gentleman could not deal with the leasehold system in this Bill with any chance of carrying his proposal this Session, and, therefore, I am content to see the leasehold question left over until a future Session, or possibly until a future Parliament. But, after all, I hope this Bill will be amended in some directions by the Committee to which it will be referred. I presume it will be perfectly competent for the Committee to extend the scope of the Bill, although I hope the Committee will not do any 1842 thing to prevent the possibility of the Bill becoming law. I welcome this as a step in the right direction, and will give the Bill every assistance, even though the passing of the Bill may give some kudos to Her Majesty's Government. (8.10.)
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (8.42.) MR. WADDY
I desire, in the first instance, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having to pilot a Bill as to which he will not meet with that opposition or obstruction of which we have heard so many lamentations during the Session. I congratulate him upon a piece of useful legislation, which will commend itself to the House. The Bill has a very good and great object, and appears to be extremely well drawn; but I cannot help thinking there is one want in it, namely, a want of sufficient provision for the origination of complaints. In large towns, whenever there is a state of things that calls for remedy there is pretty sure to be a complaint, public comment, and application of remedy; but it frequently happens in the country that those who ought to be the first men to start an inquiry under the Acts are the very persons who are largely interested in the maintenance of the status in quo. Now, I venture to suggest that the arrangements which are made here, though desirable, so far as they go, are hot quite sufficient. I am not going into anything of the nature of a clause criticism, but it will be observed that under the Bill, before the Local Authority can act, an official representation has to be made to them by their officer—a man who probably owes his position, in the way of personal and private practice, to the very people it would be his duty to attack. The Medical Officer of Health, who has to make an official representation as to the insanitary condition of any property, will probably have his most lucrative private practice among the people who may be the owners of the property over which he ought to exercise supervision, and which he might be called upon to condemn. There ought to be some provision for putting the law into operation 1843 whether the Medical Officer of Health does his duty or not.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The hon. and learned Member will observe that under Clause 10 it is specially provided that the Report of the Medical Officer of Health for any county is to have the same effect in any district as the Report of the Medical Office af Health for that district.
§ MR. WADDY
I am fully aware of that, and, moreover, there is a subsequent provision with regard to anybody sending a Petition or representation, but I am very doubtful whether that will meet the case. I am not speaking in any spirit of antagonism to the provision, for I am extremely anxious that the Bill should go through and receive such improvements as may be desirable in Committee. I would point out that both the Medical Officer of the county and of the district, who may in many instances be the same person, are not quite sufficient. I am doubtful whether the Medical Officer of either district or county, singly or jointly, would be able to take the necessary action in some cases, and I would therefore suggest that there should be power to obtain a report from an independent person appointed by the Local Government Board to investigate all complaints and put the Act in motion. How far in the long run this may be found necessary I am not prepared to say, but it seems to me there is some little want in the Bill here with all its varied excellencies to ensure that where mischief exists it shall not escape notice and remedy. I wish the right hon. Gentleman good speed with his work, which, I am sure, will do a great deal more good sanitarily and morally than the extinguishing of a great number of licences.
§ (8.48.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
There are a few questions I desire to ask, but first I wish to express my satisfaction, as a county Member, with the 13th clause, which, I understand, largely extends the powers of Rural Sanitary Authorities, and gets rid of two or three stages of procedure, and I wish to express still more strongly the satisfaction that all Members with only the most superficial acquaintance with the subject must feel at the compensation provisions in Clause 15. In relation to this clause I wish to ask a question. Its object is to prevent owners of un- 1844 healthy premises to make a profit out of allowing houses to fall into decay and become unfit for human habitation. I take that to be the pith of the clause. I notice that by the 32nd line of the 3rd schedule that the 4th section of the Act of 1885 is struck out, and the question I wish to ask is this. The 4th section of the Act of 1885 is the section which says that the owners of any premises who are required by the Local Authority under the Act of 1868 to execute any works or to demolish any premises shall cease to have the power to require the Local Authority to purchase such premises. I admit I have but a brief acquaintance with the Bill, but I should like to have an explanation whether the 15th clause does really cover all the cases as to which this 4th section of the Act of 1885 was directed, whether it absolutely bars owners from the power of forcing Local Authorities, to purchase their premises. With regard to this Bill and also the Consolidation Bill, to which I understand the opening remarks of the right hon. Gentleman also had reference, I much regret that the Government have not seen their way to have a more complete clearing of the decks and more thorough-going legislation. The Rural Sanitary Authorities rule, disinclined to exercise the limited powers conferred upon them, and the complexity of the two Bills will furnish them with an excuse for inaction. The 7th section of the Act of 1885 declared the duty of Local Authorities to enforce all sanitary laws and put them in force as occasion arose, to secure the proper sanitary condition of premises within the area of their jurisdiction. But that Act became a dead letter in country districts from the fact that there was no proper power to compel Local Rural Sanitary Authorities, the Boards of Guardians, to carry out the sanitary powers they have. That is the cardinal defect of the whole of this class of legislation. The President of the Local Government Board may take credit for passing the Local Government Act of 1888, and I really think this question ought not to have been touched without bringing it within the sphere of the legislation of 1888, without investing County Councils with those sanitary powers with which it was sought to invest them under the original 1845 proposals of 1888. The right hon. Gentleman may remember that some of us made earnest protests against the withdrawal of the schedule, and offered to sit any length of time for the purpose of investing County Councils with control over unsanitary dwellings and unhealthy areas in the counties. I wish to insist as a County Member on the fundamental defect of this legislation, that we have these County Councils, the obvious authority standing over the Rural Sanitary Authorities, who might put the whole machinery in motion for making villages healthy and carrying out sanitary improvements, and yet these County Councils are excluded from taking action. There is one comment I would make both upon this Bill and the other Bill, which is not technically before the House. The first and second parts of the Consolidation Bill are of very great value; but it seems to me—I do not know how far it can be carried out—but it seems to me a great pity that the rural districts are excluded from those parts dealing with unhealthy areas and unhealthy premises. One further question I should like to ask. The Bill fixes the interest on loans at 4 per cent.; and I should like to know whether that conflicts with the power given under the Act of 1885 to the Public Loan Commissioners to lend money at £3 2s. 6d. per cent. No Bill of this kind can be satisfactory which does not supply, especially for rural districts, a better financial basis for carrying out a thorough programme of sanitation. It would be well if a substantial source of revenue could be set apart for this purpose. I should suggest that part of the Probate Duty or part of the Inhabited House Duty might well be applied to these purposes. While offering these criticisms, I express my thanks to the Government for what is done by Clauses 13 and 15 of the Bill.
§ (9.0.) MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)
There is no desire in this part of the House among any of my Friends to continue discussion beyond the present point. I am very glad to see that, amid the clash of opposing interests and conflict of Party opinion, this House is able to deal with the conditions of life of the most miserable—the poorest—of our 1846 people. No doubt, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, this measure affects London in particular, and to an extent incomparably greater than the rest of the country. It affects the poorest of the people of London, and it deeply affects the social condition of England, and more particularly of the Metropolis. Everyone who knows anything of the conditions of the housing of the great masses of the population, and of the miserable and un-Christianlike condition of the masses of the population, must be impressed by the necessity that some action should betaken as soon as possible by this House to deal with the evil. I congratulate the President of the Local Government Board on the introduction of the Bill. But why does not the right hon. Gentleman go to the root of the matter, and give a right of action by the tenant against the landlord or owner of unsanitary property? Metropolitan Members on this side of the House have no desire to overload the Bill with Amendments. While we feel that it falls short of the necessities of the case, we believe that, as far as it goes, it may be made a useful measure. It will be our endeavour to assist the Government as far as we can in making it a useful and workable measure. There are two points, however, which, though they have been previously referred to, I wish to impress on the right hon. Gentleman. The first is that of re-erection, the provision of accommodation for those people who are turned out of unsanitary houses. One of the greatest difficulties in dealing with the question of unsanitary dwellings has arisen through the failure to provide this accommodation adequately; in fact, it has contributed to overcrowding in many parts of the Metropolis. I would strongly recommend the right hon. Gentleman to accept, in Committee, at any rate, the principle of the 1st section of the 8th clause of the Housing of the Working Classes (Metropolis) Bill, introduced by myself and others, and which provides that no houses shall be pulled down except on the score of safety unless provision shall first have been made by the County Council, to the satisfaction of the Local Government Board, for housing decently all the occupants. We desire that re-erection shall go on pari passu with pull- 1847 ing down. The other point of importance I wish to refer to is that of legal examinations. That question has been dealt with in a Bill introduced by myself and my colleagues, and also in a measure introduced by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. R. T. Reid). In the 7th section of the Housing of the Working Classes (Metropolis) Bill there are provisions whereby the cost of acquiring unsanitary property may be very considerably reduced. There is no doubt that the series of arbitrations which have to be gone through under the existing law is a very great cause of the cost of acquiring such premises. The 16th clause of the Bill meets the question to some extent, but not sufficiently; and I hope the Government will be prepared in Committee to accept some modification of the clause, with a view to make it of a more operative character. Attention has been frequently drawn to the importance of making others than the ordinary ratepayers bear a share of the legal expenses, and I am sorry the point has not been considered by the right hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the difficulty of the problem, but I am certain that the housing of the poor of the Metropolis will never be adequately dealt with until the question of who is to pay the cost is also considered—until property which now escapes is made to contribute towards the local rates. I state this as the mature opinion of those who act with me on this side of the House, and, while welcoming this Bill, I say it will not be a solution of the question, because it does not deal also with the question of local rates. With these remarks, and having warned the Government that this question is not settled by this Bill, I give my hearty support to the measure; and I am sure my colleagues of the Metropolis will join me in doing all that is possible in facilitating its adoption.
§ (9.12.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has reason to be satisfied with the tone in which the Bill has been received, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will have assistance from both sides of the House in endeavouring to make it a useful and an efficient measure within the limits laid down by the right hon. Gentleman him- 1848 self. I think he may rest satisfied that if the Bill goes to a Grand Committee upstairs it will be received in the spirit in which it ought to be received, and that we may hope to make it a good and effective measure. As to the first part of the Bill amending the Torrens' Acts, I have always been of opinion that from those Acts there is more to be hoped for than from Lord Cross's Act. I have always thought that if the provisions of the Torrens' Acts were efficiently worked, they could be made effective without great cost to the Local Authorities. Hitherto the obstacle to the working of those Acts and Lord Cross's Act has been the fear entertained by the Local Authorities of the expenses involved, and I am glad, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman has done something in this Bill to grapple with this difficulty. I had at first some doubt as to whether it was wise to give so great an appeal to the London County Council; but after this discussion, I am obliged to admit that I think the course proposed is a wise one. I am not sure that it will not render some of the Local Authorities unwilling to exercise these duties, and make them inclined to leave to the London County Council the whole of the work; but, on the other hand, there are patent and strong arguments in favour of giving an appeal to the London County Council, and I think we should risk the danger I refer to. With regard to the other part of the Bill, that which deals with the Artisans' Dwellings Act, although the Amendments of the right hon. Gentleman are in the right direction, I do not believe that they will give full effect to those Acts. The real difficulty in working them is the enormous expense of compensation, due in part to the legal costs, and in part to the large compensation which the arbitrators are in the habit of giving, and also the large compensation to which persons are entitled under the law as it now stands. I am bound to say the Amendments do not go far enough as to materially reducing the cost, and I am afraid we must look forward to very little work being done in the future as in the past. My own impression is that the matter must be dealt with in the future in some larger and bolder spirit. We must regard these clearances of unsanitary areas more in 1849 the nature of town improvement schemes: than clearances for the purpose of forming sanitary areas. We must take example by Birmingham and other large towns, and re-consider very carefully the whole question of compensation with respect to improvements of this kind. I must refer to the familiar subject of the Betterment Clauses. It will be necessary to incorporate, in schemes of this nature, the principle of betterment, under which a property will be made to contribute in proportion to the increased value attaching to them from improvements. However, I do not think it would be wise to raise this question in connection with this Bill. It will have to be left to be dealt with hereafter in a broader and wider scheme when the House will have more time at its disposal. It would, perhaps, be a mistake to encumber the present discussion by raising the point. The main improvement which will be effected will be under the first portion of the Bill. I am satisfied that it will be possible to effect considerable improvement, and quietly and without much expense to promote a more efficient action of the Local Authorities in more closely applying the law as it now stands and will be amended by the Bill. I agree with the last speaker that we shall have to consider the whole question of the incidence of taxation, and I hope that that subject will not be lost sight of by the right hon. Gentleman, whom, meanwhile, I beg to thank for introducing this Bill.
§ (9.18.) MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
I desire to join in thanking my right hon. friend for the Bill, which will bring the law into a more intelligible state. At present it is almost impossible to obtain a clear grasp of the whole subject. On one occasion I myself endeavoured to master the Statutes bearing on this matter, and I found that it was necessary to obtain a knowledge of 30 Statutes dealing with the question, and that even then I should not have exhausted the list of Acts which would have to be consulted. It must be clear to everyone that a law which is contained in 30 or 35 Acts must be practically inoperative. From my experience of different towns, I believe the problem in the largertowns—putting London aside for the moment—is by no means insoluble. I believe 1850 that the unsanitary areas are by no means large, and that at no great cost these areas can be brought into a sounder and more sanitary state. One danger I fear—the trusting too much to rates, and thus driving away private enterprise. We know that in the matter of education the application of the rates in some instances has driven away voluntary effort, and I trust we shall not expect too much assistance from the rates in the matter of workman's dwellings; for if we do we shall drive away private capital, and not have that increase of improved houses for the poor which everyone desires to see. This question is by no means simple. It has many sides, and we should not rely on the public purse alone. We shall act wisely, I believe, if we look to private enterprise to do for dwellings for working people that which in other branches of the business of the country is done far more efficiently by that means than by recourse to the public funds. I rejoice that there is nothing said about the incidence of taxation, for that is a most complicated question, the interests involved being so many and diverse. My object in rising was to thank the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for what he has done and to assure him that his efforts will be welcomed by all who have at heart the interests of the working classes.
§ (9.25.) MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)
I congratulate the Government on having departed in this Bill from the evil practice of omitting all reference to Ireland in beneficial Acts of Parliament. The Bill will be a most valuable improvement in the law relating to this subject, and will probably prove more or less effective in sucuring the objects for which it is brought in. The Bill, however, proposes to repeal the 4th section of the Act of 1885, and I think a very strong case will have to be made out before we repeal that section. I take some objection to the Bill, because it patches up and amends an expensive and troublesome system. If it were practicable to introduce it, I should very much prefer some Bill which would once for all abolish the existing system, and provide something more simple and rapid, and less expensive. I admit that 1851 when you come to deal with the question of property and the transfer of land, that object is very difficult to obtain, but, neveltheless, I think that something should be done towards this object. May I make a suggestion on that point to the right hon. Gentleman? We have in Dublin more than one company for the improvement and provision of artisans' dwellings. These companies are ordinary limited liability companies; but by their Memoranda of Association the members agree to take no greater dividend than 5 per cent., and I think it would be well to give to such companies a certain locus standi to take on themselves compulsory power to acquire insanitary dwellings, and deal with the sites on commercial principles. These companies have reserve funds, and would, no doubt, be more than willing to apply those funds to the purchase of unsanitary sites in the way I mention. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board whether he could not devise a system, under which, with certain safeguards, these companies could be allowed a locus standi. The Bill throws on Local Authorities the duties connected with the acquisition of land, and I do not see why that duty should be thrown upon them, if you can, by means of a Bill of this kind, get those who would be willing to undertake the duty. The second point I desire to mention is the difficulty of making any system, of this sort self-working. In the districts where improvement is most wanted you will find the owners of the unsanitary property get themselves elected to the Local Board, where they can bring such influence to bear as to impede the working of these improvement schemes. I know instances where they have combined to prevent anything being done. I submit that the solution of this question is very easy. I deny altogether that a man has a right to make a profit out of what is a danger to the public. I deny that he has a right to crowd human beings in the most unsanitary and frightful dens, and risk the spread of infection for the benefit of his own pocket. I recollectin one district in Dublin, happily acquired by the Corporation, where out of three houses there was an average of 20 cases of typhus fever every year. I submit that the solution of the difficulty is to deprive the 1852 owner of the power of making profit out of such a condition of things by inserting a clause which will make it a good defence on the part of the tenant to a demand for rent that the house is not fit for habitation. You in that way deprive the landlord of his profit. You compel him for the sake of his own pocket to repair the premises. All you want is not any arbitrary or harsh method, but the interposition of the Courts of Law—I mean the County Courts and the Justices Courts. I do not make that suggestion as an alternative to the Bill; I do not believe it would be a proper alternative. But I think you will find that, under the Bill, the question of expense will always be before the authorities, and that will prevent them 99 times out of 100 taking action; but if the rent is not paid because of the unsanitary condition of the property, then it immediately becomes the interest of the owner to put it into a proper state of repair.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I hope the House, with whose indulgence I speak, will permit me to express my gratitude to hon. Members in all parts of it for the extremely kind and cordial reception they have given the proposals of this Bill. It is not the least satisfactory point of the case that the hon. Member for South Kilkenny has, with regard to the provisions dealing with Ireland, also expressed himself on the whole in favour of the proposals of the Government, believing they will be productive of considerable good to Ireland. There are hon. Members who very much desire that the Bill should go further, and I greatly appreciate the attitude which they have taken up with regard to this Bill. I know there are a great many hon. Members who desire that other questions of great interest affecting the dwellings of the working classes should be dealt with, but they have recognised, and no one more fully than the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, that it would be undesirable to complicate this simple question with many difficult problems. For instance, the question of the division of rates between the owner and the occupier, the question of betterment, and many points of that description, are extremely interesting and most important. Hon. Members recognise that an attempt to 1853 have dealt with questions of that kind would only have resulted in our being-unable to deal with this part of the subject. It has been recognised, and with great force, that whatever is to be done for the better housing of the working classes should be done quickly, rather than that we should wait for some great general reform in connection with the rates and with the incidence of taxation, which remain to be dealt with, and perhaps in the remote future. Now I will proceed to deal with some of the questions put to me. The hon. Member for North St. Pancras was rather anxious that the Committee should have before them the Bill dealing with sanitary reform in the Metropolis. The reform and consolidation of the public health and sanitary laws in the Metropolis formed part of our programme at the commencement of the Session. And one of the first duties which I set myself in the beginning of the present year was to draw up a Consolidation Bill. But I thought it advisable that we should have the advice of the various Local Authorities in the Metropolis, as well as of the London County Council, and I, therefore, sent round to the whole of the Local Authorities throughout London our proposed Consolidation Bill for the Metropolis. Unfortunately, the replies were a very long time in being returned. There were matters requiring very much consideration, and I do not mean to complain; but it is not long since we received the last of the representations made by the Local Authorities, and we have hardly had time to draw up and amend our Bill in sufficient time to put it before the Grand Committee. I think it would be unfortunate if there were to be any delay in dealing with the Consolidation Bill and the Bill for the amendment of the Sanitary Laws of the Metropolis. I have not entirely lost hope that I shall be able to deal with the question this Session, and I hope the House will not consider that we are in any way departing from our engagements because of the delay caused by the Local Authorities taking a long time to send in their replies. It was suggested by the noble Earl (Earl Compton) that we should not press the Consolidation Bill this year; but I should be greatly disappointed if this Bill did not come oat from the Grand Committee 1854 both amended and consolidated; and whatever may be the composition of the Committee to which these Bills are referred, I can assure the House no effort will be wanting on the side of the Department to put the Bill in such a position as will enable both branches of the subject to be dealt with, so as to present to the House for their consideration the entire Bill amended and consolidated. It has been urged upon me that the Metropolitan Members should be fairly represented upon the Grand Committee to which these Bills are to be referred. I myself, as a Metropolitan Member, am most anxious that this should be so, because the measures will affect the London more than the country districts. I must, however, point out that the nomination of the members of Grand Committees does not rest with the Government, but with the Committee of Selection of this House, who, I have no doubt, will make a fair selection of members to serve upon it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Captain Verney) has reminded me that this is a question which is not solely applicable to the Metropolis and other towns, but the hon. and gallant Member knows that we are taking steps in this Bill with a view of doing what we can for the rural districts. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that the House took the course it adopted with regard to the Allotments Bill, whereby it almost deprived the Government of any power to set up the County Council as the authority over the smaller towns and the rural districts. We were strongly urged on that Bill not to make the County Council a Court of Appeal from the Local Authorities in those districts in regard to allotments, and it is, therefore, upon this House that the responsibility devolves. Of course, it will be a matter for the Committee to consider whether some modification may not be made in this principle as affecting the rural districts. There are some minor points that have been referred to in regard to matters of detail which I will not now deal with, because I consider they will be much more effectively discussed in Committee. In conclusion, I have only once more to express my cordial thanks to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the kind and cordial reception they have given to this measure, and to express a hope that with 1855 their assistance it may, with such Amendments as the House may determine, be speedily passed into law.
§ (9.50.) MR. STANSFELD (Halifax)
I think the House will be satisfied with the introduction of these measures, and with the spirit in which they have been brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman. We have heard from him that he has experienced great difficulty in regard to the question of giving an appeal from the Local Authorities to the County Councils. I wish to say in regard to that question that I have always been in favour of an appeal to a higher authority where an appeal is necessary, because I hold that that is a material part of the Local Government structure, but I do not place too much reliance on appeals. I am disposed to place far greater reliance on the efficient performance of their duties by the Local Sanitary Authorities in dealing with these matters. We are, I think, agreed that the existing Sanitary Authority is not an entirely satisfactory Authority. The right hon. Gentleman knows the reason why. The reason is that its sanitary functions are subordinated to the execution of its Poor Law functions, so that the sanitary functions occupy the second instead of the first place. What is wanted is that there should be areas constituted under Local Government Authorities, whose first duty would be to attend to the sanitary conditions of their districts. For this purpose we must have District Councils, and on this subject we on this side of the House, and I hope also those on the other side of the House, are exceedingly anxious for the introduction of a measure to complete the Local Government Act of 1888. I trust and desire that before long we may proceed with a measure constituting these District Councils, and I venture to say that no measure would be more favourably received on this side of the House. With regard to the Consolidation Bill, two opinions have been expressed on this side of the House. For myself, I agree with the opinion that the Consolidation Bill ought to be regarded as of the first importance, and I do not see in the tone and temper of the House any reason to apprehend difficulty in the incorporation of both Bills—the Consolidation and the Amendment Bill—in one measure. Undoubtedly consolidation is practical amendment, because the law 1856 has become so difficult to understand, administer, and apply that consolidation has become a matter of absolute necessity. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the introduction of these measures, which I have no doubt will be to some extent improved by being submitted to a Grand Committee.
§ (9.59.) MR. KNOX (Cavan, W.)
There are one or two matters to which, without detaining the House at any length, I desire to call attention. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has said that dealing with this subject in a necessarily incomplete way, it is not desirable to enter upon the discussion of principles which many Members on this side of the House would gladly see introduced. There is, however, one point within the limits so laid down to which I should like to call attention. In Clause 8 of the Amendment Bill a provision is introduced for the simplification of the mode of levying expenses incurred under these Bills. Hitherto such expenses might be levied by various rates. Henceforth they can only be levied by one rate. The clause aims at an evident improvement, but in its present form, perhaps, tends rather to jeopardise a valuable provision of the later Acts, which I think might, with advantage, have been applied to all the sets of provisions for the bettering of the housing of the working classes. It is well-known to the House that the principle of betterment has already been applied in one part of the legislation on the subject of the housing of the working classes—I mean that part which deals with obstructive buildings. Under Section 48 of the Consolidation Bill, if the demolition of an obstructive building adds to the value of the neighbouring buildings, part of the expense may be cast by the arbitrator on the owners of those buildings. That is an application of the principle of betterment which I think simpler and better than that contained in the clause dealing with betterment in the London Bill recently discussed in this House. Having taken some pains to gather the effect of American legislation on the subject, I may say I think the mode in which the betterment principle is applied in the section I refer to is more in accordance with American precedents than was the rather curious proposal of the London 1857 County Council. I cannot, however, in the least, see why this provision should be applied only to obstructive buildings. By the Amending Bill the Government proposes to apply the rating provisions hitherto applicable only to certain classes of improvements under the Artizans Dwellings Acts to all improvements under the Acts now to be consolidated. Might not the principle of betterment in the same way be applied generally by the very simple means of making the provision in Section 48 of the Consolidating Bill applicable, not only to obstructive buildings, but also to unhealthy areas, and all other nuisances removed under these Bills? In many cases the deterioration in the value of surrounding property, caused by the existence of unsanitary houses, is extremely large; and surely in such instances it would be well that some part of the expense of removing those houses should be put on the owners of the surrounding property. I understand, from the Memorandum attached to the Consolidating Bill, that it is not anticipated that it will be necessary to insert in the Amendment Bill any provision dealing with the question of registration of charges under the Land Charges Registration Act, 1888. I venture to express the opinion that the same reasons which weighed with the Court in determining that charges under Section 150 of the Public Health Act could not be registered under that Act will apply in the case of charges under the Bills we are now discussing. In each case the charges are not the result of agreement, but are imposed by authority. It seems to me, therefore, to be desirable that some provision for the registration of these charges should be inserted in this Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, &c.