HC Deb 27 March 1895 vol 32 cc297-316
*MR. SEYMOUR KEAY (Elgin and Nairn)

rose to move the Second Reading of this Bill. He congratulated the House and the Scottish people on the fact that such an early opportunity had been more or less unexpectedly presented of bringing forward the question of the state of the Housing of Scottish Farm Servants. This was not only an old but a thoroughly admitted grievance. It had been endured by the farm servants of Scotland for the last 50 years. The Scottish farm servant was an intelligent man, but he was also a very law-abiding man, who bore mutely, to a very great extent, sufferings, which in the case of men of a different stamp would have caused then to band together, and make a great deal more ado. A law-abiding, long-suffering class like this ought, however, specially to commend itself to the consideration of the House. It had been said in certain papers, and perhaps would be said by some Members of the House, that the grievances of farm servants in regard to their dwellings had been dealt with by recent enactments. They were referred to the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, and it was alleged that that Act either provided, or was intended to provide, a means of remedying these grievances. In the first place it would not be said in any part of the House that the grievances had been redressed. Whether the Act ought to have redressed them, was, of course, a very different matter. The only sections of the Act which had any possible bearing upon the question were Sections 30 and 31, dealing with buildings unfit for human habitation. The first of these sections prescribed that it was the duty of the Medical Officer of Health of every district to represent to the local authority of the district any dwelling house which appeared to be in a state so dangerous or so injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation. The next section went on to provide the means whereby complaints might be made, so as to put the Medical Officer of Health in motion. If it was held that these sections remedied the grievances of the Scottish farm servants, it would come to this, that a farm servant was to be held as not possessing any grievance unless he was living in a house which was actually so dangerous as to be unfit for human habitation. It was a terrible thing to declare that a large section of the most industrious class of the community should be unprotected with regard to their housing by any legislative enactment, so long as it could be held that their houses were not absolutely so dangerous as to be unfit for human habitation. So that even if it had been found that the Medical Officer had been put in motion, the reference to him and the obligations laid upon him under the Act were not of a character properly to provide a remedy for the present condition of the houses of the Scottish farm servants. But, even supposing suitable cases were brought forward, the Act of 1890 only provided that the Medical Officer of Health should apply to the proper authority, and the proper authority, on his report, would make a closing order. It was perfectly obvious that this was a section which might be very applicable to towns, but it could have no possible application to sparsely-peopled rural districts. What would be the earthly use of attempting to put in motion a machinery which resulted merely in a closing order? Supposing such an order was issued for the closing of a great many of the bothies, and even of the married quarters in which farm servants lived, where would the people go when the wretched shanties in which they lived were closed. You might as well close the farms, because the farm servants would absolutely have nowhere else to go. So far as he read the Act it did not provide any power to compel either the landlord or anyone else to repair a farm servant's dwelling. For these reasons he did not think it would be contended that his Bill was unnecessary. The Bill provided, not only that a house must not be dangerous for human habitation, but that it should be provided with sufficient and suitable accommodation in the way of cubic contents, according to the number of people living in it. He was not aware that any officer of health under the Act of 1890 would be justified in saying that he would apply his closing order to a bothy, however small, and were the cubic contents allowed to each person ever so insufficient. The Bill also provided that there should be, where necessary, fireplaces. Then there was the question of accommodation for each sex, which was a most important question, and almost lay at the root of country life in Scotland. The amount of illegitimacy in Scotland, especially in the sparsely-populated districts, was largely caused by the insufficient separation of the sexes in these country shanties. The leading operative provision of the Bill was Clause 6, which said:— If any person, with the written consent of two householders living in the district in which any building used or intended to be used as a dwelling or sleeping place for farm servants is situated, complains in writing to the medical officer of health of that district that such building is in a condition which does not conform to the requirements of this Act and of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, he shall within eight days after receiving the complaint inspect the same and transmit to the local authority the said complaint, together with his opinion thereon, and, if he is of opinion that the building is in the condition aforesaid, he shall represent the same to the local authority. He was curious to know if the hon. Member for Forfarshire, whom he saw in his place, had won his great, and, no doubt, well-deserved success at the polls at the last election, and had at the same time escaped from giving any pledges during the contest that he would do what he could to remedy the grievous state of the farm servants' cottages in his own constituency. He would refer him to a case which was tried in Forfar two or three years ago. It was a case where two farm servants were sued for deserting their employment, and the reason which they gave, and which was not disputed, was that the bothy was unfit for human habitation. There were no beds to lie upon, the floor was composed of protruding stones, while the rain ran down the inside of the walls and the stars could be seen through the roof at night as they lay upon the floor. With the permission of the House he would quote a few passages on this subject from the articles written by the Special Commissioner of a northern newspaper, who, about three years ago, reported on the state of farm servants' houses in Scotland. An inmate of one these places said to him:— ''When the lads live in the kitchen they must get some attention, but the bothy just looks after itself. You would never gainsay this if you saw one.


Will the hon. Member say what part of Scotland he refers to?


said this passage referred to Aberdeenshire. The Special Commissioner went on to describe the place:— A glance may be taken at what, for the sake of euphony, may be called the interior economy of a bothy—the exterior, as a rule, may speak for itself, being simply a rough view of a shed, standing somewhere near the confines of the steading. Throw open the door and you will find yourself in a long, low apartment, panelled round with box-beds, and having for chief furniture the 'kists' of the inmates, a deal table, and a paraffin lamp. Here the men live, and move, and have what is called their being. At five o'clock all hands turn out on the cold floor, and, having hastily dressed, proceed to 'meat' their horses and clean the stable. Half-an-hour afterwards they return to the bothy for breakfast. One of their number having been dispatched a quarter of an hour previously to boil the kettle, everything is ready for breakfast—that is to say the kettle. To make porridge would be a culpable waste of time; so each man, seizing upon his wooden cup—Scottice, ''luggie''—throws in about three spoonfuls of meal, and upon that, boiling water at discretion. At eleven o'clock comes 'lowsin' time, and at midday dinner—brose again. Then, when the shades of evening begin to fall, or at six o'clock in summer, the ploughman homeward plods his weary way to bothy and brose once more, when down he flings himself on his 'kist,' and waits the boiling of the kettle, for even brose require some making. When asked about the cleaning of the bothies one of the men replied:— There's a lassie comes from the farm house once or twice a-week to clean the bothy. I've known her come three times, but that's something extraordinary.'' With regard to the bothies in Forfarshire, he would give the following quotation on the responsibility of the editor of a newspaper called the Plough:— The young men are herded in these hovels in numbers of from two to a dozen. Now, a bothy is famous neither for expensive furnishings nor for bodily comfort. No one in passing a farm will mistake a bothy. It has an appearance all its own. Some bothies have a heap of ashes at the door, others will be known by a window with a straw or paper pane for glass, while others will be known by the primitive means of access allowed to the light of day. No man who saw a bothy can ever mistake one for a more humane habitation. Inside it does not improve; a broken floor, uneven and dirty, the only thing in the shape of furniture being a few rough-looking beds, along with a wooden form, the pot, pan, ladle, and salt box. There is nothing about a farm that receives so little attention as the bothy, not even the pigsty. He would add a few lines from the Report of this same Special Commissioner upon the married quarters as distinguished from the unmarried quarters:— I found that my friend shared the general horror that all of his class expressed regarding the houses provided for married men, and many, he told me, rather than live in one of them, went into town when they got married. No one may doubt the truth of this assertion who cares to have a look at some of these 'rickle' houses. Let me describe one in a few words. At the corner of a field by the roadside, if you come across a thatched building of loose rubble, sometimes stove in at one end, and blackened by the weather, with an ugly patch of garden ground showing a few cabbage runts, and a half-dismantled wall in front, the chances are that it is one of the 'cottages' sacred to the family life of the labourer. Enter the low-crowned doorway, and in the dismal "but and ben" you may perhaps make out a few pieces of blackened furniture—a deal table, a few chairs, perhaps a meal girnel, and an old trunk, and one or two "creepies," with little gaping children squat upon their tottering frames. If it is light enough you may discover that the floor is of earth, and the windows of nothing in particular; that the fire of peat or logs burns on a bare hearth, and that the smoke which fills the room in vain seeks escape by a 'hinging lum.' This elegant contrivance is a sort of long wooden box, with a bowie or half barrel at the top to serve as stalk. The roofs are covered with divots, then thatched, and finally 'raipit,' but still it is far from watertight, as you would find if you were an inmate for a day or two in winter. Altogether it is a most despicable apology for a dwelling-house, and was probably built a couple of hundred years ago. But here the bright young farm hand brings his bride, and year by year they begin to degenerate. At thirty-five she is an old woman. I shall not readily forget one of these places I chanced to enter one evening. A path of mud led to a ricketty door that creaked on a rusty hinge, and when it was opened, it disclosed the family circle huddled round a fire of peat and damp sticks. That was the only light. Father and mother sat glum and stoical, as if every gleam of happiness had gone out of their lives, while the children flopped about on the floor. In the 'ben hoose' an elderly man, bleared and furrowed, bent over a volume of smoke with a half-eaten speldron in his hand.


Can the hon. Member give the name of the estate and the family?


said, he could not. The remedy suggested by the Bill was the very natural one of putting upon the landlord the statutory obligation of keeping these farm servants' houses on farms in repair. [An hon. MEMBER: "Why the landlords?"] He would tell his hon. friend opposite why the landlord should do it. It might be asked why the farmer should not do it. He would tell the House. Any structure erected by the tenant ipso facto became the property of the landlord. It was no matter where the material or the labour came from. He admitted that the stones, and the turf, and the wood might have been the property of the tenant, but he also pointed out that every structure in Scottish law, and he believed in English law as well, erected by the tenant became, as already said, ipso facto the property of the landlord. He held, therefore, that the tenant could not be expected to keep these houses in repair, for the obvious reason that whatever money he laid out upon them became an asset of the landlord. And not only that, but the farmer would probably have to pay twice over, that is to say he would not only have to build and keep these houses in repair, but his rent would very probably be raised on him in consequence of the improvements which he had effected. It was only equitable, therefore, that the landlord, who was the proprietor and who received the rent of the holding, should be legally bound to keep the houses in a reasonable state of repair and comfort for his toiling men. He knew cases in his own constituency in which large farmers had not only to keep the roofs of their bothies in some kind of repair, but had even to expend large sums in repairing their farm buildings in order not to risk the lives of their stock. And all this was done at the risk of having their rents raised upon them in consequence of their having done so. Living under such circumstances, therefore, it is surely only reasonable that the landlord, and not the tenant, should be made responsible for the provision of healthy dwellings for the agricultural labourers. He need not enter into the details of the Bill, the nature of its sanitary provisions, the method of inspection, the nature of the penalties, and the mode of appeal. These were matters which could be considered or modified, if need be, in Committee. He would only now appeal to the House to pass the Second Reading of the Bill unanimously, and thereby to assert the principle, which he thought would be assented to by both sides of the House, namely, that the same amount of protection to the health and life of the country toilers should be given as was already possessed by workers in the towns.

SIR W. WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)

, in seconding, said, that this was a question which had been pressed on his attention in his own constituency, and he thought that the only reason why it had not hitherto been so much considered was because the people affected, though a large and deserving class, were so much scattered that they had not an opportunity of combining and forcing their needs on public notice. The conditions of the Scottish farm labourer were somewhat different from those in England. The hiring of the farm servants in Scotland was for a year, and the hiring was arranged at hiring fairs; so that the farm labourer, when he entered service had no opportunity of seeing the condition in which he would live during his period of service. But having engaged himself, he might go to the farm and find that the accommodation was extremely bad, and yet for a year, or at least for six months, he had no escape from the accommodation without incurring a penalty of some kind. Another difficulty was that there was no hiring agreement for house accommodation, and the servant, therefore, had no remedy. In some cases the tenants had done what they could to improve the servants' accommodation, but they could hardly be expected to do much when the money they expended was lost eventually to them. The landlord, therefore, ought to be looked to in order to make this accommodation good. In many cases the landlords had done their duty in this matter, and they wished to see the law altered so that the careless and indifferent landlords should be compelled by law to do what the good and conscientious landlords already did for their servants.

*MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrewshire, W.)

moved the following Amendment:— That this House, whilst recognising the desirableness of amending and rendering more effective The Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1867, considers it undesirable to legislate on this subject without conferring the benefits equally on all classes of the community. He said that he had listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn, and during a residence of nearly 29 years in Scotland he must say that he had never met with any class of buildings of the character described by the hon. Member. Sad as some of those descriptions were, he did not believe that any hon. Member thought that they correctly described to any considerable extent the actual state of affairs with regard to the houses of farm servants, or any other class of the community in Scotland. If, however, it was the case, then the fact reflected very considerable discredit on hon. Members who belonged to the Liberal Party, because they had enjoyed a substantial majority of the Scottish representation for a long time. The hon. Member had referred to the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, and had pointed out the difficulties of bringing those portions of it which bore on the subject now under discussion into practical effect. He held that the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 was unnecessary in order to provide a remedy for the state of matters which the hon. Member would make the House believe largely prevailed throughout Scotland. In the first place, there was no reason to suppose that any particular class in the community ought to be dealt with differently from other classes of the community. He could see no reason whatever why, if it could be shown that any houses in Scotland continued in an insanitary condition, some change in the general law of the country should not be made. Its operation would have the effect of remedying any existing defects in the case of houses occupied by the agricultural population or any other class in the community. It seemed to him that the provisions which existed in the Public Health Act of 1867 were, to a large extent, quite sufficient to meet the difficulties of the case, even if they arose in so acute a form as that which had been described by the hon. Gentleman. In the 16th Section of the Act of 1867, with regard to nuisances, very considerable powers were given to the local authorities; there was a provision as to insufficiency of size, defect of structure, ventilation, want of repair, proper drainage, suitable water supply, cesspool arrangements, rendering any inhabited house, building, premises, or part thereof, injurious to the health of the inmates or unfit for human habitation, and constituting a nuisance. Very considerable powers were given, by which local machinery could be set in motion, which would have the effect of compelling anyone who neglected his duty in respect of these matters to respect and obey the law. The Local Government Act of 1894, and the Local Government Act of 1889, had made considerable changes with regard to local powers under the Public Health Act of 1867; and those changes had been in the direction of placing, in the first place, under the Act of 1889, on the District Committee of the County Council, in place of the old Parochial Board, the re-responsibility of administering the Public Health Act in Scotland. That had made an enormous change in regard to the administration of the Act. He did not think that anyone who had been following the course of administrative work in Scotland could have failed to observe that, since the responsibility of the administration of the Public Health Acts had been devolved on the District Committees of the County Councils, there had been a distinct advance in regard to the manner in which those Acts were administered. They had been more effectively administered, and the Executive had been strengthened by the change. The Act of 1894 provided that the Parish Council would now be able, on any application to it, to apply to the District Committee. The District Committee needed no longer to wait on the application of a certain number of householders; but the Parish Council, on its own initiative, or, if moved, could take action; so that a farm servant in any part of Scotland could appeal to the Parish Council and so set the machinery in motion with regard to defective sanitary accommodation of bothies. If in any part of Scotland such buildings as the hon. Member had described existed, the new Parish Council should be urged, on every occasion that necessity arose, to put in force the full powers they enjoyed, and in that way to secure, as everyone wished to see secured, for all classes of the community, the very best possible accommodation that could be provided. Turning to the Bill itself, it seemed to him the hon. Member had had two things in his mind, the bothy system and the question of ordinary houses occupied by the agricultural population. The provisions of the Bill, however capable of application they might be to one of those classes of occupancy, were probably little capable of application to the other class. The Bill provided that every building on a farm used or intended to be used as a dwelling or sleeping place for farm servants after the passing of this Act, shall be provided with sufficient and suitable accommodation in the way of cubic contents, fireplaces, sanitary arrangements, and fixtures. That seemed to him to be an entire departure from anything yet provided by Legislation with regard to any class of houses. What did the hon. Member mean by fixtures? It might mean anything from a hat peg to a telephone. The Bill went on to provide that— And also where persons of both sexes inhabit, or are intended to inhabit such building, with proper separate accommodation for persons of each sex. He would like to know what the agricultural population of Scotland had done that in future separate accommodation was to be provided for a man and wife, and that they were no longer to be permitted to live together.


said there was no such provision in the Bill.


said, that that seemed to him the simplest and most natural interpretation of the language of the Bill.


said the provision of the Bill was that where both sexes inhabited a building, separate accommodation for each sex should be provided. There was no compulsion that a man and wife must live in the separate accommodation. Separate accommodation was merely to be provided, and, of course, would be used when propriety demanded.


understood then that if there were two rooms in a house one was to be labelled "For men," and the other "For women," that one should be the husband's room and the other the wife's. That seemed a very extraordinary provision. Then the Bill went on to provide that the local authority was to have power to make bye-laws in respect of matters contemplated in the section. The Lord Advocate knew very well what difficulty there had been in regard to bye-laws under the Local Government Act of 1889. In this Bill, however, it was proposed to enact that bye-laws were to be made without any limitation whatever, as to what the bye-laws were to be about, or without any general guiding rule as to the fixing of them. It was further proposed that— Where it appears to the Local Authority, on the report of the Medical Officer of Health, that the provisions of this Act are not complied with in the case of any building, the Local Authority shall by written notice, to be given within one month after receiving such report, require the landlord to make such alterations and additions therein as may he required to give such sufficient, suitable, and proper accommodation as aforesaid. What was the position of a landlord in this matter? Take the case of a farm under lease. The landlord might under this provision be compelled to build entirely new cottages without any consideration whatever in the matter of rent. Take the case of a tenant farmer who applied some rooms, which had been erected for other purposes, to the accommodation of some of his farm-servants. The machinery of the Bill might be set in motion, with the result that the landlord might be compelled to erect entirely new buildings for the accommodation of farm servants. There was one other grave defect in the proposals of the hon. Member, and that was that they did not deal with one of the most difficult problems in sanitary administration. They might require good and sanitary buildings to be erected, but how were they going to secure that those buildings should be kept in thoroughly good order? He was aware of the fact that under the Act of 1867 there was great difficulty indeed in the public authority compelling occupiers of houses to keep them in good sanitary condition. He considered this Bill was unnecessary, because it proposed to deal with one particular class of the community in a different way from that in which other classes were dealt with under existing Legislation. He held that what was necessary and desirable was more vigorous action on the part of the existing local authorities, and a general Amendment of the Public Health Act, which would apply, not to one class, but to all classes of the community. They might then expect to see the public health laws carried more effectively into operation, and the happiness and the comfort in the homes of all classes secured. He begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.

*CAPTAIN T. HOPE (Linlithgowshire)

supported the Amendment. There was a general feeling on the part of those interested in local administration in Scotland that it was very desirable to have a thoroughly good Act, amending and improving the Public Health Acts, so as to bring them more up to date; but there was, he submitted, a very great objection to taking up the case of one particular section of the community, and especially to taking it up on such poor grounds as had been stated in support of this Bill. He failed to recognise a description either of the Scotch farm-servants or of the Scotch farm-servants' houses in the somewhat vivid passages which were read by the hon. Member for Elgin. He imagined that those who wrote those passages had been accustomed to visit very different parts of Scotland to any he was familiar with. He had no desire to stand in the way of any improvement it was possible to make in the dwelling-houses or in the means local authorities had of insisting that dwelling - houses should be kept in a sanitary condition, but he did desire to see a question of this kind approached as one affecting the whole community. There ought not, in a matter of this kind, to be any piecemeal Legislation. The hon. Member laid great stress upon what he (Captain Hope) believed was practically the custom in certainly all well-regulated farms, namely, to keep separate the labourers of the two sexes. The hon. Member opposite said the Bill provided for separate accommodation, but that there was to be no compulsion to use that separate accommodation. That seemed to him to be a curious provision. He thought it quite right to provide separate accommodation for the sexes; but he did not see the advantage of providing it if there was to be no compulsion to use it. He noticed that Section 6 of the Bill provided that two househoulders should send notice in writing to the medical officer that a building in their district was in an unsanitary condition before the medical officer could take action in regard to that building. But if a building were unsuited for habitation, why should a written notice from two househoulders be necessary in order to put the sanitary officer in operation? Surely it was the duty of the medical officer to inspect such buildings, and if he found them unsanitary to insist on their being put into a state fit for habitation. If a necessity existed for an improvement in the public health Legislation of the country, the matter should be dealt with as a whole, and not piecemeal, and in relation solely to one particular class, or a portion of one particular class of the community. He begged to second the Amendment.

*DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)

said, the Report on the Housing of the Rural Population of Scotland was a sufficient justification for the Introduction of the Bill; and, besides, the Bill was a necessary corollary to the Local Government Act passed last year. Under the existing law, houses could be inspected and could be condemned by the medical officer if unsanitary; but in many instances it was found impractical to give full legal effect to the medical officer's report, because it would mean that the unfortunate occupier of the condemned house would be flung out on the roadside without a proper substitute being provided for his accommodation. What was wanted was, that the medical officer should be allowed to dispose as well as propose; that he should be able to say that not only that a particular house should come down, but that another, fit for habitation, should be built by the proprietor. As a landlord in Aberdeen, he was not afraid of the Bill, for although it might entail additional expenses on the owners of land, he felt sure that the local authorities would deal leniently with existing proprietors, and would not attempt to put the provision of the measure into operation with anything like a revolutionary rush. As a rule proprietors were compelled to set the houses on their estates in order. If they did not provide fairly good cottages for the labourers they would not be able to let their farms. But there were some landlords whose impecunious condition did not permit them to erect proper cottages on their farms, and he thought they should be assisted in carrying out the excellent object of the Bill by being allowed to borrow money from the State on easier terms than was now possible. The argument of his hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill was simply that, if they could not do everything, they must do nothing. He thought the question the House had to consider was, whether a strong and overwhelming case had been made out that one section of the community should have priority over the other sections in the treatment of their grievances. Such a case for special action in regard to the farm servants of Scotland had, he thought, been fully made out. Never mind the details of the Bill. No doubt, some of its provisions should be amended in Committee; but, looking at the Bill as a whole, he unhesitatingly supported its Second Reading.


said, that, according to the hon. Member for West Aberdeen, the House was not to mind the details of the Bill. For his part, he desired to protest against the growing practice of introducing Bills, and passing them to a Second Reading, irrespective of the nature of the provisions of those Bills. It was to the details of the measure that he took exception. They all wished to see the agricultural labourers better housed, but he doubted whether the Bill provided the best means for securing that desirable object. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill said the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 had been proved to be utterly inadequate for the purpose in view; and in support of that contention he quoted descriptions of the state of things in certain districts of Scotland, which were very deplorable. In the part of Scotland with which he was best acquainted, he was glad to say that the bothie system did not prevail. It had been given up long ago, and the sooner it was given up in other parts of Scotland the better. But he thought the houses described by the hon. Member were fit subjects for the Act of 1890. Was there any medical officer who would pass as fit for human habitation houses in which, according to the hon. Member, the labourers had to lie on the floor, looking out at the stars through the broken roof, through which the water also poured when it rained?


said, the difficulty was, that the absence of power to compel repair and the erection of new dwellings, restrained the medical officers from condemning existing dwellings even when unfit for human habitation.


thought the hon. Member showed his want of acquaintance with agricultural matters in putting forward such an objection. Everyone who knew anything about agricultural land knew that farms could not be worked without dwellings for the labourers, and if the dwellings were unfit for human habitation, and were pulled down, they must be replaced by others, or the lands could not be worked, Besides, the tenant had his remedy against the landlord. ["No, no!"] There were very few landlords, indeed, who would hesitate for a moment to replace a building that had been condemned by the sanitary authorities. In some cases, he admitted, the building was not replaced. The hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn said that the powers of the Medical Officer were not sufficient at the present time. He must come before the hon. Member in a white sheet. Two years ago, on his own property in Scotland, a cottage was condemned by the local authority. But what was that cottage? It was extremely interesting from an antiquarian point of view as a relic of a past state of things altogether, and the ancient dwelling had been allowed to stand for generations by the roadside. It was a dwelling for which he, as landlord, got no rent; it was not included in any farm, but had been taken possession of by an aged crippled man of, he was sorry to say, very irregular habits. This man was permitted to live in the shanty, and the sanitary authorities condemned it as unfit for human habitation. Nobody disputed that, and least of all himself. It was, accordingly, pulled down. But what was the end of the old man? He was taken to the workhouse, and within six months he was dead, his death being generally attributed to his having to give up his free and easy and somewhat disreputable style of life. Even now the sanitary authorities had considerable powers under the existing Acts. He found that in the County of Renfrew, last year, no fewer than 40 dwellings were pulled down, having been condemned as unfit for human habitation. So, although he was prepared to admit that the words of the Act of 1890 were somewhat rigid and ought to be made more elastic so as to put an end to houses not dangerous to, but unsuitable for human life, still he said that if the present Act was administered with a little more spirit and diligence by the local authorities, landlords would be stimulated to take prompter means for improving the state of matters. He ventured to say that few hon. Members would corroborate the picture that had been drawn by the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn. He did not deny that in some districts, especially those verging on the Highlands, there were dwellings which it was deplorable to see in any civilised land. But it was also the case that these dwellings were steadily disappearing. This improvement could not be effected in a single year, and the landlord had often difficulties to encounter in the matter. As an instance of this he mentioned that two years ago he visited three labourers cottages on his own property, which he had built about seventeen years ago, and while two of them were now in a perfect state of repair the occupant of the third had by neglect allowed it to become so dilapidated and so filthy that had it stood alone many a man would have said it was unfit for human habitation. It must not be forgotten that, while undoubtedly there were duties incumbent upon the landlords, and very heavy responsibilities for making this provision, there were also duties incumbent upon the tenants and labourers in order to take advantage of this provision and maintain their dwellings in suitable repair. He trusted the Lord Advocate would express some opinion upon the merits of this measure as compared with the suggestion he had ventured to lay before the House as to amending the original Act.

*THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR,) Clackmannan and Kinross

remarked that they were, of course, only now on the Second Reading, and were not considering whether every clause of the Bill was so worded as not to admit of amendment. He might say at the outset that the objections taken to the Bill were by no means of a consistent or harmonious character. They had been told in some speeches that there was no need for the Bill, and he rather understood the suggestion was that the Bill was not required, because there was no necessity for having the kind of improvements in agricultural labourers' cottages proposed by it. In the second place it was said there was no need for the Bill because the existing Acts of Parliament, and particularly the Public Health Act of 1867 and the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, were adequate to meet the case. But that did not consist with the Amendment which had been moved by his hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire, which was that— That this House, whilst recognising the desirability of amending and rendering more effective the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1867, considers it undesirable to legislate on this subject without conferring the benefits equally on all classes of the community. So that the position of those who approved of this Bill, as they on the Government Bench did, was that they were between two fires. The suggestion was—on the one hand, that the Bill was unnecessary; and on the other, that it was desirable, but that it was too restricted in its scope, and should be made universal. He left these arguments to destroy each other, and he would state very briefly the views of the Government. Something had been said of the condition of agricultural labourers' cottages in Scotland. That, he should say, was a varying condition, there being great difference between agricultural labourers' dwellings in different parts of the country and on different estates. Having known Scotland all his life, he said there had undoubtedly been in many parts a great improvement, but at the same time no one who knew Scotland would say there was not room and necessity for a great improvement in many other places, and on many estates. And so without going into the question as to how far there was a necessity all over the country or over all estates for such a measure, he thought they should be agreed that it was not a superfluity to demand, in the case of agricultural labourers' cottages, some safeguards of the kind proposed by the Bill. It had been asked—Why deal differently with agricultural labourers dwellings from others? He should be glad to see the Public Health Act, and other acts amended, but everyone who had had anything to do with these Acts was well aware that probably no class of statutes was so full of contentious matter or so certain to raise controversies. Wherever they encountered medical gentlemen and sanitary inspectors they got into questions of the greatest difficulty, and on which there were the sharpest differences of opinion. Successive Governments had long been looking forward to amending the Public Health Act, but the Amendments required would be so numerous, and the controversies upon some of the subjects so bitter, that, to accomplish the object in view, must occupy a serious amount of time. But in this Bill there were definite proposals with respect to a particular class of dwellings. What was the position of the agricultural labourer in most parts of Scotland as regards his dwelling? He had to live beside his work, either in the farm-steading or near it, and very often the steading was far from any village or town. Accordingly he was not in the position of a workman who had the choice of his dwelling. If, therefore, there could be special reason for taking up the case of a class which was homogeneous in itself, and which could be dealt with in all parts of the country by a similar remedy, such special reason was established in regard to agricultural labourers' dwellings. It was quite true that under the 16th Section of the Public Health Act of 1867, there were important powers for dealing with insanitary or even inadequate dwellings, but the case had to be proved under the name of a nuisance, which threw a very heavy onus upon the prosecuting party. Again, the words "dangerous to health" under the Act of 1890 also, it was felt, involved too heavy a burden of proof. Some legislation was wanted which should not go the length of demanding proof of nuisance or danger to health if the dwelling was disadvantageous to or unsuitable for human habitation. Now the Bill proposed three things, all of them of a positive and simple character. The first was, that in the case of houses to be occupied by agricultural labourers, there should be sufficient and suitable accommodation. That was the very thing which the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Herbert Maxwell) desiderated, because it described something short of a nuisance or of being dangerous to health, but still disadvantageous or inappropriate for human habitation. The second head provided for the separation of the sexes—a provision which was levelled at the bothy system. No one who had known Scotland as long as he had could contend that the bothy system had not been a source of moral mischief, and, although the system was disappearing, it was not so in all cases, for sometimes unmarried persons of different sexes were still thrown into such proximity that great evil resulted. The third provision was not the least valuable of all, and that was the power to local authorities to make bye-laws relative to what should be required in such dwellings. No one could object to that, because it was in accordance with the whole tendency of modern legislation. Those bye-laws would gradually give a standard to which agricultural labourers' dwellings should come up.


Varying in every locality?


thought they would vary very little, because the value of bye-laws was that they tended to uniformity of standard, though he could conceive differences of local circumstances would make bye-laws suitable for one locality unsuitable for another. There was wanted for the rural districts what in Scotland was called a "Dean of Guild" or ædile jurisdiction to direct and regulate buildings somewhat similar to that which had long existed with much public advantage in towns. In regard to the position of the landlord, of course it must be at his cost that the improvements required for health and decency should be made, and he would get the benefit of that at the expiry of the lease in increased letting value. The tenant paid his rent for what was let to him, and the hypothesis of improvements being added must be that the houses let were not fit or suitable for the occupation of the labourers. He hoped the House would give a Second Reading to this moderate and desirable Bill, while leaving it open to amendment in Committee.


said the only difficulty he had about assenting to the Bill was the speech of the Mover, whose description of the state of the housing of the working classes in the country districts of Scotland was altogether exaggerated, and his condemnation of the manner in which landed proprietors performed their duties utterly undeserved. Still, he recognised that it was very desirable the law should be further strengthened in order that houses which were unsuitable for the occupation of decent people should be put into proper repair. He should be sorry to stand in the way of such improvements. From that point of view he ventured to suggest to his hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, than whom there was no more earnest reformer, not to press his Amendment, so that both sides might combine with the Government in endeavouring to make this an adequate and proper measure for the great object in view.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read 2a.

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