§ Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Bill be now read a second time.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'in any Measure for facilitating the acquisition of the ownership of small houses public money should not be advanced except upon the terms that the freehold should vest in public bodies and not in the individual, and that it is undesirable to discuss any such Measures until the recommendations of the Local Taxation Commission on the subject of the taxation of ground values shall have been received.'".—(Mr. M'Kenna.)
§ * MR. MCKENNA (Monmouth, N.)
I rise to move the Amendment which stands in my name. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, in speaking of this Measure at Birmingham in 1894, said—The primary object of the programme which I am putting before you to-night—one to which I attach as much importance as to any other item—is the House Purchase Act.I think anyone who reads, this Bill cannot fail to agree that this is a somewhat exaggerated estimate of the importance of this Measure. In the first place, there is no compulsory power of purchase of land about it. Tenants may buy if they can, and landlords may sell if they wish to, and local authorities may lend money if they are so disposed; but that is all, and there is nothing compulsory in the Bill from beginning to end. It may be held to be some justification of the Measure that it may prove innocuous because it will be inoperative, but I hardly think that that can be considered sufficient ground for passing it into law. The Colonial Secretary has endeavoured to justify the introduction of this Bill on the analogy of the Irish Land Purchase Acts. Now, if the right honourable Gentleman really intends to use the Land Purchase Acts as a precedent for legislation in England, I do not know that on this side of the House we shall be very much opposed to him. But, in the first in- 1288 stance, we must have judicial rents established in this country. The Irish Land Purchase Acts would never have been passed at all but for the existence of judicial rents. The Colonial Secretary further justified this Measure on the ground that it would encourage thrift, and that the local authority would make a profit out of it. In this speech, which was delivered at Birmingham, and not in the House of Commons, he showed that the result would be that local authorities would be able to make about 4s. per cent, upon any sums which they lent. Now, the right honourable Gentleman, in introducing this Bill to the House of Commons, has abandoned the idea of making a profit, for he estimates that the cost of this Measure to the local authority will be 1d. in the £1 on the rates for expenses.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN, Birmingham, W.)
Exactly, that is so. But, in order to meet a possible objection, I have put in a clause which says that the expenses shall in no case exceed 1d., and my own belief is that in no case will there be any expenses at all.
§ * MR. McKENNA
That is not what the Bill itself provides, as far as I can understand it. It limits the expenses to 1d., but the Measure surmises that the cost may exceed 1d., and it provides that if the cost should exceed that amount, the Bill is not to be put into operation again for another five years. That 1d., I take it, is to meet the expenses incurred in connection with the various items of expenditure concerned with the valuation of the house, the examination and registration of the title, the inspection of the property, and the collection of the instalment of rent and interest. That is, I think, a very fair reading of the Measure, and of what the expenses of administering this Bill will come to, and I do not think the right honourable Gentleman is underestimating it when he puts it down at the maximum of 1d., which must not be exceeded. If any losses occur to the local authority on account of the houses falling into their possession and the instalments not being paid that loss will come out of the rates over and above the 1d. charge, for that 1d. is only in respect of expenses, and not 1289 necessarily on account of any loss beyond 1d. Now, upon the question of the improvement of the homes which is to be accomplished by this Bill, and the question as regards the encouragement of thrift, does the right honourable Gentleman forget that there are already in this country institutions carrying on operations of enormous magnitude which do provide directly for every purpose which this Bill proposes to satisfy, and, especially as far as the encouragement of thrift is concerned, provide for it far better than this Bill can do. The building societies of this country have now, either as share capital or as deposits, no less a sum than upwards of £40,000,000 sterling at their disposal, and their investments are mainly in small properties under £500 in value. I have had some figures supplied to me by the Association of Building Societies, in which it appears that, extracting the figures for 13 counties only, there are 52,688 outstanding mortgages, of which 47,853 relate to properties under £500 in value, and the average amount of money advanced on these properties is £188 13s. These figures relate to exactly the kind of property upon which advances are to be made under this Bill. The House must not forget that the Act of 1894 considerably attracted the attention of building societies to small properties, and their efforts during the past five years have been directed to lending money upon small property as being less likely to loss. We find those building societies, which are very solvent at the present moment, have their capital largely invested in small properties. There is one other view of the question which is of the greatest importance. It must be remembered that the persons who invest their money with building societies are themselves the thrifty poor. This £40,000,000 of capital now employed by these societies serves a double purpose in the promotion of thrift, for it not only encourages the ownership and building of houses by would-be tenants, but the money lent itself represents the savings of the thrifty poor. Therefore, if we put an end to these building societies, we shall be destroying one of the best outlets which the thrifty poor have for the investment of their money. Now I pass from the question of the building socie- 1290 ties to the details of the Bill. I will observe, in the first place, that there is no definition of what is meant by small houses. I suppose that a definition will be inserted in Committee, because, as the Bill now stands, it does not appear clear whether money can be lent on houses of greater value than £300 or not, and, therefore, some definition of small houses is absolutely essential. The first provision I wish to call the attention of the Committee to is that providing for the repayment of the advance with interest within a period not exceeding 30 years. Now, the experience of the best building societies is that such a period, with only a margin of one-fifth of the total value, is too long for safety. I do not suppose that any well-conducted building society would allow on such a margin a period of more than from 15 to 20 years for repayment of principal and interest. Then there is the 1d. rate for expenses, to which I have already referred, and which will hardly appeal to honourable Gentlemen on that side of the House, particularly those honourable Members who represent rural constituencies, and who, from time to time, have made their influence felt in this House in opposition to any increase in the rates. Those honourable Members who represent urban districts will also find the greatest difficulty in justifying their support of an increase of the rates, possibly limited to 1d., and possibly exceeding it. This increase is to be deprecated, and must be deprecated by everyone who is familiar with the excessive pressure of the rates at the present time upon the very poorest of the poor. It must not be supposed that it is only the rich and well-to-do house owner that feels the pressure of the rates, for it is felt more by the very poor, who have to pay the larger proportion of their income in rent, than any other section of the community, and it is upon them, who cannot possibly get the least advantage out of this Bill, that this increase in the rates will fall with the greatest hardship. Then I turn to the provisions which relate to the compulsory conditions imposed upon would-be purchasers. Except by permission of the local authority any person who has bought his house under this Bill may not use it for any other purpose than 1291 that of a dwelling-house. That is to say, that small shopkeepers, unless they can get the consent of the local authority— who, possibly, may number amongst them certain rival shopkeepers—are not able to make use of this Bill, although they will have to bear the extra rate. With the consent of the local authority the house may be let for four months in the year, but not for any period exceeding four months. The tenant may not, without the consent of the local authority, be absent from his house, and his leave of absence has to be on account of requirements arising in the natural course of his employment. Any person who consents to these conditions will get a house possibly at a slightly-lower rate than is afforded him by building societies, but I cannot help thinking that the conditions as to occupation and restraint are so onerous that, in my opinion, a wise would-be tenant would prefer the operations of a building society than such facilities as this Bill offers. The Measure provides that the tenant may, with the consent of the local authority, transfer his rights, but he can only transfer to some person who will come under the same conditions under which he: himself is placed. That is to say, there is no open market for his house, and the consequence would be that the price he would get on a transfer would not be a satisfactory one to himself. I wish to call the attention of the Committee for one moment to clause 6, and I ask honourable Members to consider how this clause, as it now stands, may be used. Six months is allowed to any would-be tenant before he goes into residence. That is to say, any person who wishes to buy a house under this Bill may not only buy it. but he may-build it. Now, I will point out, in the first place, that from inquiries I have made, building societies find that lending money on houses before they are built has proved to be so unsatisfactory and likely to lead to loss that they have given it up. I do not know whether the right honourable Gentleman proposes that this practice shall be undertaken under this Bill.
§ * MR. McKENNA
If the Bill remains as it is, I believe it could. But I am glad to have the right honourable Gentleman's assurance. Next, suppose a breach of conditions takes place, what is the result? The house may be sold by auction or it may be taken over by the local authority at a valuation. Now, I do ask the House to seriously consider what is likely to be the effect upon local elections if this Bill is largely put into use. Pressure is likely to be brought to bear upon candidates for the local authorities to induce them to take over the houses at agreed prices, as they have power to do under the Bill, rather than to sell the houses by auction after the conditions have been broken. I think such pressure would be irresistible, and the agreed price under these circumstances would inevitably be the cost price. We should have our local authorities confronted with the direct question of profit and loss to individual electors in a new form, and I hardly think that that is desirable. I now come to the terms of my Amendment to the Bill. What is the kind of district in which this Measure is likely to be put into operation? It is quite obvious that no person will make use of the Bill unless with a desire for his own personal gain; consequently, in the main, this Bill will be used in districts where the land is supposed to be rising in value. But this will not be the only case in which you will find that this Bill will be made use of. In mining districts, and in districts where new industries are springing up, such as shipbuilding, for instance, you will find that strong pressure will be put by employers on their workmen to get them to make use of this Bill to buy their houses.
§ * MR MCKENNA
The right honourable Gentleman looks incredulous, but there is nothing in this Bill to prevent employers advancing the necessary one-fifth of the price in order to induce the local authorities to advance the remaining four-fifths of the value of the cottages. Take the case of a mining dis- 1293 trict in which a new mine is being worked. There it is very usual for the employers to put up their own cottages. Now, under this Bill it will be quite possible for the employers to induce the local authorities to do this for them if they advance one-fifth of the price. When the mine is worked out the whole of those cottages become practically worthless, and the money advanced upon them, so far as it had not been repaid, would fall very heavily and would be a terrible burden upon the local parish. It is impossible to avoid such a state of things under this Bill. Now I submit that if the local authorities are to bear the burden of loss in cases in which loss will arise, surely they ought to get the advantage when there is any increase in the value of the freehold. It would be only common fairness to the public, if a Bill of this kind is allowed to pass, by which new freeholds are created at the public expense and at the public risk, that any improvement in the value of such freeholds should go to the public as well as the loss. There is a further question which complicates this matter very much at the present moment, and that is the question of the taxation of ground values. Is it conceivable that the right honourable Gentleman would have introduced this Bill at all if we had the principle of taxation of ground values established by law? He would not have been able then to offer this as a tempting morsel to the electorate of this country. The Royal Commission on Local Taxation, I hope, is soon about to report upon this very question, and from the evidence which has been given before that Commission, particularly by the Scotch witnesses, we have strong hopes that they will report in favour of the principle of the taxation of ground values. And certainly it would be unwise to complicate the settlement of this question by inviting and facilitating the creation of a large number of small freeholds at the public expense. On the question of municipal trading, I ask honourable Members on both sides of the House who object to municipal trading on principle, what they are going to say to this Bill? I do not object to municipal trading on principle: I like it when by such trading we open a new source of profit to the municipality, and when we serve by it some real in- 1294 terest which cannot otherwise be served. But here we have municipal trading of the worst form. Here we have municipal trading which cannot produce anything but loss, and which is going to interfere with large and successful undertakings which are established at the present moment all over the country. It is municipal trading which is going to create and tend to private advantage and not to public good. It is municipal trading which is supposed to encourage thrift, but will not encourage thrift as well as do the building societies which this Bill will supplant. Therefore, all those in favour of sound municipal trading, and those opposed to it on principle, must combine in opposition to this Measure, and I am bound to say that I am surprised that the right honourable Gentleman should have been so misled upon this question that he should not have taken time to inquire the opinion of the municipal authorities and building societies before he introduced this Bill. We have a very real problem connected with this subject to deal with, and that is the problem of the housing of the working classes. When we indulge in the ordinary hyperbole of the platform we may talk of the expansion of our Empire under our rule, and I do not know that very great harm is done. There are no very definite ideas connected with grandiloquent language of that kind; but when we talk to popular audiences about relieving the distress of the working classes and the amelioration of their unhappy condition by doing away with insanitary dwellings, then we tell them of something with every detail of which, they are thoroughly familiar, and we raise hopes in their mind as to which they have got themselves tangible realisations. Does the right honourable Gentleman imagine that this Bill is going to justify the words he used in reference to the homes of the poor, and do away with the disease, misery, and distress which crowd our cities? Why, Sir, I cannot help thinking that when language of this sort is used and such a prospect is held out to the working classes as the result of this Bill, I cannot help thinking that Parliament by passing it will be guilty of something like a fraud upon the electorate. I am convinced that if this Bill is passed— and I sincerely trust that it will not be 1295 —there will be nothing produced throughout the length and breadth of the country but a feeling of deep dissatisfaction and disappointment.
§ MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)
The objections which the honourable Member who has just sat down has raised this afternoon are similar to those which he raised upon a former occasion. We on this side of the House who support this Bill supported its principle at the last election, and we cannot help but be amused at the extraordinary disparity which exists between the various speeches of the honourable Members of the opposite Party in their objection to this Bill. I remember the Second Reading of a similar Bill which was moved by my honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Sheffield last Session, and I remember the right honourable Gentle-man the Member for East Fife taking objection to the Bill on two grounds—-first of all, because it was a belated attempt to fulfil election pledges which he had given; and he objected, secondly, to it because no Minister's name was on the back of my honourable and gallant Friend's Bill. Those two objections have now been removed today, and we shall hear no more of them. The honourable Member who has just eat down took other objections, and he objected to the Bill, first of all, on the ground of cost, and said that the Measure was going to cost the local authority not only this penny in the £ rate, but also a large sum of money in addition, and he seemed to think that there could be no other result from the Bill but that the rates in all districts would immediately go up. Now, I understand from the speech of the right honourable Gentleman in charge of this Bill that he takes a very different view of the working of this Measure. We do not believe that there will be of necessity this rise of a penny in the rate which the honourable Member opposite fears. I remember that when this Bill was up for discussion before honourable Members opposite, one after the other got up and said that the cost to the rates was going to 1296 be enormous, and that it would be impossible to estimate the cost which this Measure was going to entail. The right honourable Gentleman has provided for that contingency, and now they object, I understand, because the protection which is afforded under the Bill is not sufficient to meet all the emergencies which may arise. The honourable Member opposite went on to say that this Bill would interfere with the operations of the building societies. That, Sir, is a new objection, and I have not heard of it before. It is one which I cannot admit, for I fail entirely to understand in what way they will be affected. In regard to some of these societies we have had some very deplorable results, but how this Bill is going in any way to interfere with building societies I am bound to confess that I cannot understand, and the honourable Member opposite did not give us any information upon that point. Another of his objections was an old one, which I have heard him put before this House on former occasions. Take the case, he said, where a new industry springs up, and he instanced at once the case of a mine. When we hear an objection of this kind one would imagine that we were dealing with some new country where mines were being continually found, instead of with an old country where the mines are already discovered and are in working order. He also instanced the shipbuilding industry, but does anybody suggest that that industry is continually springing up in different places at the present time? Why, the industries of this country are, for the most part, at this moment developed, and they are being worked successfully and well by the people interested in them, and, in my opinion, this objection is one which exists only, I believe, in the imagination of honourable Members opposite. The honourable Member, in supporting his case, mentioned as an instance a new district where a mining or shipbuilding industry sprang up where, he said, the employer would advance a sum of money to the local authority for the erection of these houses. Now, I do not see what reason he has for advancing such an argument or for saying that if the employers agreed to do this the local authority would be willing to advance the rest of the money. At all events, if 1297 that be so, it is idle to contend that the loss to the working man would be very-great, because under the Bill it is limited to one penny in the pound. There are, however, one or two points in this Measure to which I take exception, although, perhaps, they are points for the Committee stage. I desire, however, to ask one or two questions upon them. The honourable Member opposite said, and said rightly, that the Bill was permissive. For my part, I hope that will be rectified in Committee. [Cries of "Oh, oh 1"] I know this point may lead to disapproval on this side of the House as well as on the other, but, for my part, I do think that the usefulness of this Bill would be largely increased if it were made compulsory upon the local authority rather than permissive. In the first section of the Bill it says that any resident within the area is to be able to acquire the ownership of his house. Now there may be, and I believe there will be, a great many districts where there will be a large number of applicants under this Bill to acquire the ownership of their houses. Now I want to know how those residents are going to be selected. Supposing there are a larger number of applicants than are provided for under the Bill, because the local authority can only use so much money? In this case I want to know how those residents are to be selected? Is it to be left entirely to the discretion of the local authority and are the names to be drawn out one after the other? It does seem to me that, unless some method of dealing with this question is provided for in the Bill, we may leave an opening for jobbery among our local authorities, which I think it would be well to avoid. Then, in the previous Bills which my honourable Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton and my honourable and gallant Friend the Member for Sheffield introduced, the amount which the local authority might advance was not £240, but £300. Now, I listened very carefully to the speech of the right honourable Gentleman who introduced this Bill, and I was not quite clear how that £240 was arrived at, and why it was taken. It would, to my mind, have been better to have chosen the sum suggested by the honourable Member for West Wolverhampton—namely, £300.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
What I said was that a reasonable limit would be £300, but the one-fifth would be included in the £240.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
Upon clause 2 the question of total comes in, and that seems to me a most important clause in the Bill, which, for my part, I heartily welcome. It seems to me that this question of the total has always been a costly and difficult one, and I do hope, now that we have got in this Bill a simplification of this very difficult question, that we may have it extended throughout the whole of titled property in this country. Then there is the question raised by the honourable Member for West Monmouthshire with regard to shopkeepers. Clause 3, subsection (e), provides that the house shall not be used for the sale of intoxicating liquors. Everybody will, I think, agree that that is a very proper provision, but I do think that the clause might provide for many other deserving persons who may desire to obtain possession of their dwellings. There are many cases of working men earning good wages, and who have saved money, who would, I believe, desire to take advantage of this Bill, who, if this sub-section remains as it is—and they are often men whose wives keep a shop and attend to it during the time their husbands are at their work—who would be unable, owing to this sub-section, to take advantage of this Bill. I do hope that, in Committee, the Government will see their way to make provision for allowing these persons to take advantage of the Measure, because the small shopkeepers are seriously affected by the working of the Bill, and the advantages offered by the Measure would be of the greatest advantage to them. Now, there is one other question which I want to ask the right honourable Gentleman, and it is this—is this Bill going to be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House, or by a Grand Committee?
§ MR. GALLOWAY
I am sorry it is going to be sent to a Grand Committee upstairs, and I shall certainly vote against such a course. This Bill is one in which we on this side of the House have taken the greatest possible interest. It is one which we advocated during the last election very strongly, and I cannot believe that by sending it to a Grand Committee that the Measure will receive the same adequate consideration as it would receive in a Committee of the whole House. I do hope the right honourable Gentleman will see his way to leave the Bill to be considered by a Committee of the House, where, I am sure, it will receive more favourable consideration than it is likely to get from a Committee upstairs. We support this Bill because we believe that it will promote, above all, thrift. My honourable Friend took exception to this plea, but I am sure that there is no way to promote thrift among the working classes in this country better than encouraging them to acquire their own houses, and offering them facilities for saving money and investing it in the houses in which they live. The intention of the Government to fulfil this part of their programme, to which we are all pledged, will, I am sure, meet with hearty approval from every Member of this House, and we all hope that this Measure will soon become the law of the land.
§ * SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I purpose at this stage of the Bill to make a few remarks, and if, in criticising this Measure, I have not read it aright, I am sure the right honourable Gentleman will correct me. This seems to me to be a Bill for which there is no actual demand. I have had some experience and knowledge of large and increasing populations, and I myself represent a very large constituency, and it seems to me that this Bill breaks in upon good rules and wholesome political economy in a way which no other Bill of so comparatively small a character could do. It sets up a State competition with the ordinary course of supply and demand, which I think is very dangerous in its effect. The ordinary channels of supply and demand seem to me, at the present time, quite equal to the occasion. It makes a charge upon all property to lend money to one special class of property, and this is one of my great 1300 objections to the Bill. I think my right honourable Friend will almost admit that its principle is an error, for I think the question of whether a man should build his own house with the help of the State, or whether he should use his own money and get assistance where he can is a matter which I should certainly leave to the man himself to decide. In many cases with which I am most familiar the workmen would hesitate to build houses of their own. Take, for instance, the case of the railway servants. We remove a stationmaster from one place to another. He gets his promotion periodically, and that means six or seven promotions sometimes along the entire line. Now, those men, if they are attached to a house as this Bill would attach them, would be at a disadvantage in having a house to look after when they had been promoted. Then there is the case of the miner. His house is found for him in Northumberland and Durham in 99 cases out of 100 by the owner of the mine. In the case of men employed in shipbuilding, quarrymen, and contractors' men, they are all bound to follow their work, and it is not necessary or desirable for them to be encouraged to build a house in places where it would be a trouble to them to look after them, as they would have to do if they invested their money in the ordinary process of buying and selling houses. I think that to trust a local authority with the choice of a place in which they should invest the money of the ratepayers in house property, is a very dangerous discretion to place in the hands of any local authority. There are within five miles of my residence no less than three villages, partly in ruins, not more than 30 years old, and through circumstances which no surveyor could foresee, one mine was flooded, one was exhausted, and in all three of them trade was bad. The risk in such cases would be very great, and I do not think it is wise that we should lay it down as a duty upon local authorities to see whether the money is properly and wisely invested. As a case in point, I may mention that the Durham miners are now buying a row of colliery houses for their own sick and aged and infirm at a decreased price of about £23 apiece. Then with regard to the selection of the locality for the erection of 1301 these houses in which the experiment is to be made. No doubt the Public Works Loan Commissioners are the only people who could exercise a discretion as to the amount of money which a locality could borrow. Doubtless, their discretion is generally a very wise one, and so far the public interests may be considered fairly safe. But I am not so sure about the ratepayers in my district getting any benefit where the rate charged on public works by the Commission was thought to be excessive by the Public Works Loan Commissioners. The local authority has to determine who are the public to be favoured by granting this money. A friend of mine who is chairman of a board of guardians used to ask when a guardian recommended a contractor, "What relation is he to you? But where the fault of this Bill lies is that of the liability when the property falls back into the hands of the local authority, for they have the power of keeping it. They only get it into their hands in bad times, but still they are in possession of property which they have to do the best they can with, and in letting they would have to compete with their own ratepayers who possess similar property, and thus the ratepayers generally would be at a greater loss than the loss of a penny in the £ in a speculation of lending out public money for private purposes. I do not know what is gained to anybody by this Bill, and I have carefully read the figures. Supposing a house costs a man £250— that is about as low a figure which I will put upon a workingman's house without a charge for the ground rent. If the Government advance four-fifths of £250, he gets £200, which is advanced at 3½ per cent., and that amounts to £7 interest. The man has to find £50, which at 2½ per cent, amounts to £1 5s., therefore, it costs him £8 5s. interest for his £250 house. Now, what is the natural process? A building society will advance him money to the extent of two-thirds of the whole at 4 per cent., that is, they would advance him £166, and the interest upon that at 4 per cent, would be £6 13s. The man has to find £84, which at 2½ per cent, amounts to £2 2s. Therefore, the cost per annum with the building society would be £8 15s., on the assumption that the Public Works Commission 1302 lends at 3 per cent, and the local authority at 3½. It will be seen that the only difference between the two is a matter of 10s. per annum, which is something like 3d. a week, for which difference a man who is going to purchase a house under this Bill will be encumbered by all the restrictions under the residential clauses, will be troubled by all the notices, all the inspections, and by payments under this Bill which have to be made for 30 years; whereas with the building society he would probably have to pay upon the ordinary mortgage as long as the premises are occupied and do not decrease in value, and he keeps the house without having to pay off the money upon it. I do not think that for 10s. per annum, or 3d. per week, any workingman would put himself under this Bill and ask the local authority to grant him money at the risk of the rates. I say again that in most cases I know, where a working-man desires to build a house he can do it for himself at the present time. In the North of England—and I am only speaking of a district which I know thoroughly well—I know of one practical illustration, which I think is better than a great deal of argument. Not very long ago I had to lay a foundation stone—as many of my colleagues in this House have had to do—of a Primitive Methodist Chapel. After the ceremony I was taken into a workingman's cottage where I was supplied with some excellent refreshment, and I had a very good lunch indeed. I said to the man, "You seem very comfortably off, are you an overman (in the mines)?" He replied, "No, I am a working miner." I said, "Times have been bad with you, have they not" He replied, "They have not been very good. I made 12s. last week, and not much more the week before, and not so much this week. This house is my own, and it cost me £240, and I have paid back every penny which I borrowed from the building society, and I get 2s. a week as an allowance from the colliery for finding my own house. Therefore, I get 14s. a week. I have a daughter and son, both married, and they have their own houses, and we are a very comfortable family." Now, if a man can do that by his own energy, who was at that moment only earning 12s. a week, 1303 is there any great need to pass an abnormal Measure of this kind in order to get men to build their own houses. I think if holidays were not so numerous it would be better both for employers and employed. Take the district in which I live—there are the Bank Holidays which are forced upon us, and which some of us do not like at all. Then there is the race week and the fair week, and a little while ago all works were idle in a large district because there was a life-boat exhibition along the North East Coast. Now, I do not object to the men taking their legitimate holidays, but working-men take far more holidays now than they used to take some 30 or 40 years ago. Now, how much do these men work, and how much do they refuse to work? The Clyde shipbuilders, I find, work four and a half days a week on the average. The Durham miners work 11 days a fortnight occasionally, but the average is nine and a half days. Now they have plenty of work, and surely they have enough money to make themselves comfortable without any of this abnormal legislation. The other day I saw a reference to a trades union where the men wanted an advance in wages. The employer's answer was," You agreed after the strike to work 52 hours per week. "There had been a great deal of overtime, and the men admitted it, and the steady men worked it, but with that overtime the whole average throughout the whole trades union of that district was only 48 hours a week. Therefore, they actually lost 3s., or between 3s. and 4s., a week per man upon the average of the trades union, compared with what they had undertaken when the strike was settled. Those men if they wanted houses for themselves could easily obtain them, and it would be no hardship for them to pay the little difference, which I have already shown exists between the open market and the Government market, of something like 10s. per annum. There is another thing which requires a good deal of consideration, and that is the drink expenditure of this country. Some friends of mine, whose book has just been published, have gone very carefully into this question, and I think the House ought to know before it legislates how the greatest com- 1304 forts can be produced for the working-man without special legislation. My two friends, whose book will soon be in the library of this House, sent out 12,000 inquiries, asking what was spent per man per week in various trades in drink. I know the process they adopted, and I think it was a careful and a wise process. Now, out of these 12,000 replies, 2,000 were thrown aside because they thought the quantity of drink shown was utterly in excess of that which could be reasonably supposed. Out of the 9,600 which they kept, 16 per cent were total abstainers; 31 per cent, had an expenditure of 2s. a week in drink, 30 per cent, between 2s. and 5s. per week; 15 per cent, between 5s. and 10s. per week; 5½ per cent, between 10s. and 15s. per week; and 2 per cent, over 15s. per week. The average according to the best calculation they could make was, that the expenditure per head in these trades was 3s. 8d. per week. Therefore, I say that there is no occasion whatever for the State to find the small difference there is between the open market and what I may call the Government plan of helping the workingman to buy his own house. Opposite Armstrong's Works at Newcastle-on-Tyne there is a very old public-house called the "Crooked Billet," and that house was sold two years ago for £15,000. Another house in the same district was sold for £28,000. What I say is, that if those men who desire houses of their own would keep away from the "Crooked Billet," and other public-houses they would have a large amount of money to enable them to tide over any difference there may be between Government assistance, and their own self-help, which is the best thing a working-man can do. I said that there is no limit but the discretion of the local authority as to the amount. I do not raise the question of cost, because I think the country is pretty safe with the Public Works Loan Commission, and I cannot for the life of me imagine why a Bill of this character has been brought into the House. The Government have handed money over to other people without any security, for they have given the landed classes £2,000,000 per annum, and they have also given £600,000 to the Voluntary 1305 schools. In this case, however, they propose to raise money on the security of the rates which may have to pay up to a penny in the £, and I do not think that this is a wise policy. Now, I would remind the House that of Imperial taxation, 47 per cent, is said to come out of the pockets of the working classes. It may not be a very formidable risk to run to be taxed at the rate of a penny in the £, but let the House look at the number of houses that are now being supplied by the natural process of supply and demand, and then it will come to the conclusion that there is really no occasion at this moment for this very exceptional class of legislation. In the borough of Stockton plans have been passed for 80 houses during the past year for working men. In West Hartlepool the figures were 700, and in Darlington 296, whilst in Middlesbrough upwards of a thousand plans were passed. Now, I have not heard any where of a demand for this Bill. It is a dangerous Measure, because it takes the responsibility off the shoulders of those men who, as I have already shown, if they want houses, are well able to supply themselves. I very much doubt the wisdom of the policy contained in this legislation, and I trust the House will seriously consider this question before it adopts the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ * SIR A. HICKMAN
I think we may congratulate the right honourable Gentleman upon the introduction of this Bill. It seems to me to be an excellent example of that domestic legislation which the present Government have received a special mandate to introduce. With reference to the remarks of the honourable Gentleman opposite, he objects to the Bill because it would give power to workmen to build houses or assist them in building houses. Now, I venture respectfully to object to it, because it does not give that power. I say that the evils of overcrowding cannot be over-estimated, and I think that anything which would tend to increase the number of houses for working men would be an inestimable advantage. This overcrowding is one of the greatest blots upon our civilisation. How on earth are women and young girls to be brought up modest and chaste under conditions only fit for wild beasts? How 1306 is a man to be kept from going to public houses and wasting his money in a manner which has been so graphically described by my honourable Friend opposite under such circumstances? He has no comfort at home, and he must go somewhere where he can have life, and air, and cleanliness, and some sort of comfort. The mortality of persons living in the basements of houses in London exceeded by 20 per cent, the mortality of those who lived above ground. In view of these facts, I hope that my right honourable Friend will permit, in Committee, provisions to be introduced into the Bill which will facilitate the giving of assistance to men who are disposed to build their own houses as well as to those who desire to buy houses already built. I remember that when a similar Bill to this was introduced on a previous occasion, the honourable Member for Battersea objected to it because it would not apply to London. Now, it is well known that it is impossible to build single houses suitable for the working classes in London, but there is no reason why a number of working men in London should not combine to build blocks of houses.
§ * SIR A. HICKMAN
Certainly, for there is nothing in this Bill to prevent 50 people from combining together, or to prevent the local authority advancing en bloc sufficient money to enable such a scheme to be carried out. If that is not so, I hope my honourable Friend opposite will, in Committee, introduce provisions which will enable that to be carried out. We have been from the proceedings of the Peabody trustees what has happened in regard to building houses in blocks for the working classes. In this case the rental is £53,000 a year, and the annual loss from bad debts is under £40. The honourable Baronet opposite said that these houses might, under certain conditions, come into the possession of the local authorities. Now, we have in Birmingham a very large number of cottages in possession of the corporation, which they let, and their gross rental exceeds £1,500 per annum, and the loss from bad debts amounts to less than I per cent. of the rental. I think this proves 1307 that in large towns investments in workmen's houses are good investments, and the great merit of this Bill is that it will encourage them to build such houses. My honourable Friend below the Gangway said that a great merit of this Bill was that it encouraged thrift, and with this I most cordially agree. One of the greatest blots of our English industrial system is want of thrift. To encourage thrift there must be security for the investment of savings. In many of the building societies workmen have lost their money. In my constituency a building society broke up about two years ago, and the men received only about one-eighth of what they put into it. Now, not only are those men discouraged from again joining building societies, but all their friends are also discouraged, and they say that they cannot distinguish between one building society and another, for they have not the necessary means of making inquiries. They say," We trust our friends, and here is the result, "and they afterwards come to the conclusion that they had better spend their money and be done with it rather than lose it in a building society. There was a very notable instance of this not long ago—the Portsea Building Society—in which the working classes lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, and which caused a great amount of misery amongst the poor of this country. Now, under this Bill, the working man would not only be safe, but he would see the investment he had made; he would live in it, and by the certainty of a return for his money, he will be encouraged in saving. It is objected by one honourable Member opposite that there are difficulties about removal. That, however, is an objection which my right honourable Friend has provided for by a provision that a transfer shall be made at the small cost of 10s. Coming to the Amendment which my honourable Friend the Member for North Monmouth has moved, he objects to the Measure on the ground that the freehold should be vested in public bodies, and not in the individual. The great advantage of this Bill is not only that it provides a satisfactory security, but that it induces men who are willing to help themselves to make some provision for the future. Then again, it has been objected that the house could not be used for any 1308 other purpose except as a dwelling-house, and also that it could not be let for lodgings. Does the honourable Member suppose for a moment that a public authority, after having lent money to build these houses, will withhold their consent unreasonably in such matters as these. This is absolutely absurd to suppose, because the members of public authorities are like ourselves, with like sympathies, and surely they can be trusted to do what is fair and reasonable and right among themselves. The honourable Baronet opposite said that nobody would avail themselves of this Bill, but if that is so, why does the honourable Baronet object? If nobody is going to avail themselves of it, it cannot do any mischief, and if only a few wish to avail themselves of it, why not let them do so? It appears to me that the best answer to the honourable Baronet is the argument which he himself has furnished in a speech which he made in 1893 when a similar Bill was before the House. He then said—He sympathised heartily with the objects of the Bill, because in popular districts working men were driven into the houses of the jerry-builder, and into bad houses which were deficient in their sanitary arrangements; the principle of the Bill that the funds of the State might be used had already been admitted in regard to allotments and small holdings, and surely it was still more necessary that the working classes should be comfortably and well housed.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
I think if the honourable Baronet goes a little further he will find that I said there were so many difficulties in the way that it would take all the right honourable Gentleman's time to get over them.
§ * SIR A. HICKMAN
Certainly, the right honourable Baronet did suggest that there were some difficulties. He said, however—That though there were difficulties to face, he trusted the House would give the Bill a Second Reading, leaving the details to be thrashed out at a later stage.So much for the honourable Baronet. Now, Sir, the honourable Member for North Monmouth hinted that there would be a great desire to take over the houses; I think that that is a difficulty that we might well run the risk of. Then the honourable Member said, in the case of miners, that houses might be 1309 built near mines, and that they would become valueless when the mines were worked out, and the right honourable Gentleman said that he knew of a case where a village had been forsaken which had been built for 30 years. It had been forsaken through the flooding or the working out of the mines. But, Sir, in the 30 years the money which it had cost for these houses would all have been repaid, and the Government, therefore, would not be the loser. Nor would the workmen be the losers, because they would have paid more in rent than they had paid for purchase, and, therefore, there would be no loss to anybody. Then another honourable Gentleman said that he hoped that the Bill would be considered by a Committee of the whole House, and not by the Grand Committee. My experience does not go with the honourable Member. I think a Bill has a better chance of being thrashed out and examined in detail in Grand Committee than in a Committee of the whole House, and honourable Members not upon the Committee will have an opportunity when the Bill comes back of suggesting any alterations which they may desire. I do hope, therefore, that the House will not only pass the Second Beading of this Bill, but will pass it by such a majority as will stamp their opinion of it upon the Bill. Any man availing himself of the provisions of this Bill will be more self-respecting, he will be more sober, his family will be better cared for, and he will be a better citizen altogether if he is given an opportunity of becoming his own freeholder.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
This is a Measure which, if it goes to Second Reading, will have my very strong support. I have always advocated in the strongest possible way that facilities should be given to the poorer working classes, and the poorer among the so-called middle class, to obtain possession of the house in which they live or carry on their business. It makes a man contented, and better socially and physically, and in every other sense, if he has something to strive for in his home, and as the present Bill has that tendency, so far it has my support in that sense. But when considering this matter, if I may say so, this Bill has a somewhat remarkable and considerable 1310 extension of the Colonial Office in this way. I am surprised that a Measure of this description is not brought forward by the Ministers whom we should naturally expect to have charge of it, having regard to their interest in the subject. In considering this question, we must consider this Bill not only from this standpoint, but a very much larger one. We have an immense number of building societies, some of which are good, and some of which are not, but the great bulk of them are doing excellent work. They are very large, and in many cases are managed by the people themselves, which is always a good thing. They are always extending, and it is the fact of depending less upon a paternal Government and more upon individual efforts which has been the strength and backbone of friendly societies generally, and which has been the strength and backbone of these building societies. And this is the objection I have to this Bill. I think it may be dangerous to these societies, and it would not be wise to do anything that is likely to injure them. If this Measure is to pass, there is no doubt that it will inflict a great blow on building societies. I do not see how you can help that; you cannot get out of it, because every municipality or local board will be going to build houses which the people could get now through the building societies, and one cannot help feeling that if the Bill does pass a certain number of these useful societies will be destroyed. If you take the statistics of the building societies for 1897, which is the last report issued, you will find that the receipts of the building societies in this country in one year were £38,000,000, so that taking the £240 unit the receipts of these societies in one year were enough to build 160,000 houses. That is a very startling fact, and it proves conclusively that there is a very large question to be considered, and it would be an unfortunate thing to bring about the injury of the industry of a great many of the people, and I look on this Bill as being somewhat disastrous to the well-being of soma of these societies. I also object very much to encouraging localities and municipalities to embark in what might be called land speculation. No doubt there are places where benefits would accrue, but it is fraught 1311 with danger, and if this Bill is fully taken advantage of it will give a locality a new character of work to do, which I think will not tend to the happiness of the locality. My honourable Friend referred to over-crowding as one of the greatest evils of the day, the over-crowding of small houses. But I would ask how could this Bill prevent that? I do not raise any objection, but I do ask how can this Bill really be supposed to help to mitigate the great evil of overcrowding? This is a permissive Measure. Not only permissive to the locality, but you have to get hold of the people who wish to build in an over-crowded district to come forward, which is the one thing they will not do. They will not come forward and build houses in overcrowded districts under this or any other scheme. Then, I think that 30 years' purchase is a great deal too long; it is a great deal too long for the loan to be made; 15 years is the usual time, and the difference in the annual expense is so small that if it is to encourage thrift 15 years will be found quite enough. But the suggestion of throwing this sort of scheme upon the rates seems to me to be a matter for grave consideration. The rates in my district—and I am sure in other districts—and all the poorer parts of the country are acknowledged to be in great danger at the present time, and an increase in the amount of local rates brought about in this way would be of serious account. I think it is not reasonable for us to embark in this sort of scheme in any district where there are ample means of doing it by private enterprise. If it is to be done by localities there are all these restrictions as to occupation. Now, if there is one thing more than another which men object to in this country it is being hampered by restrictions in any way, and I say that that will lead to great friction, and that I believe that local politics will enter into the matter very largely, and for that reason I think there is some danger. But I would say this, that there is another matter more closely allied to this—I should venture to move a Motion upon it, but I cannot—and that is the great question of how the people are to get hold of the land on which they are to build their houses. Now, I have for some years sat upon a Commission called the Towns Holding Commission, and the 1312 great question which that Commission investigated was how the people should get hold of the land on which to build, or get hold of the houses which had been built upon the land. The result arrived at by the Commission, this Bill cannot further. There is no difficulty in getting money. Money is so cheap that building societies will lend it at 3¾ per cent, or 4 per cent. But the crux of the whole question is the easy transfer of the land upon which to build these houses. If the Government Measure had touched upon that question we should have made a great step in the right direction. I do not Know the opinion of the right honourable Gentleman upon this subject, but it is a matter which some years ago was greatly discussed, and some of us in the election in 1880, and other elections since, were pledged to facilitate in every possible way the transfer of land, so that the working men and other persons of the poorer class should be able to obtain their own homes. I shall support it now, but I think this Measure at present tends to prevent it. I regard it and acknowledge that it is a Conservative effusion in the truest sense of the word. If it enables men to become their own freeholders it will do good work, because it will make them more solid and better men; but what will be found in, most parts of the country will be that the difficulty will be, not to obtain the money, but to get the land, and I feel that the result of this Measure, its ultimate result, will be to discourage and rather retard the extension of healthy, useful building societies. It will give facilities for obtaining money which is not required, and it does not touch the real crux of the question by giving facilities for getting a piece of land, and enabling the small tradesman or artisan to build his own house, and become a better citizen. And feeling as I do very strongly that that is one of the great wants of the present day, I am sorry that the Government, while to a certain, extent redeeming their pledges by bringing in this small Bill, have not availed themselves of the opportunity of dealing with the great subject of the occupying tenant, and made the Bill one of the most important means of improving the great mass of the community.
1313 *MR. URE (Linlithgow): After careful study of this Measure, I have reached the conclusion that, the provisions of the Bill are futile, and that if they were practicable the Bill would be positively harmful. It is not, Sir, that I deny for one moment the gravity or extent of the problem that confronts us in the housing of the people, because, in my humble judgment, it is the most difficult and appalling of our social questions. It has been with us for generations, each year becoming more acute. From time to time startling revelations, such as we have seen recently in the columns of an enterprising daily newspaper, impress our imagination, and the attention of the House and the country is arrested by the graphic but by no means over-coloured account of the squalor and wretchedness in which great number of our countrymen pass their lives. But the impression soon wears off, and long periods of apparent apathy follow, not because the picture has been overdrawn, or that we feel we have been made the victims of a passing gust of sentimentalism, but rather because any man who considers the problem carefully is stunned by the magnitude of the difficulty. If I thought that this Bill was calculated to take one step in this direction, it would have my humble but ready aid, and it is only because, in my judgment, it will not touch and does not approach the fringe of this difficulty, and does not take us one step in the direction that we desire to travel, and because I think it professes to supply a want which has never yet been felt, by a method which, if practicable, would be positively injurious, that I shall support the Amendment. Now the Bill appears before us to-day under a somewhat new guise. It is no longer a workmen's dwellings Bill; it is a Bill which professes to enable local authorities to advance money to any member of the community who desires to become possessed of the house in which he lives, provided that the house and the ground on which it is built does not exceed in value £300. The Bill is entirely voluntary. No compulsion is put upon anybody; the owner need not sell, and the tenant need not buy, unless they are pleased with the price; and the local authority need not lend unless the conditions are satisfac- 1314 tory to them. This does not appear to open a brilliant prospect of brisk business, and experienced legislators of this House, who have their memories stored with innumerable examples of permissive shipwrecks, would confidently say that any time spent on this Bill is time thrown away. But I propose to discuss the Bill upon its merits, if it has any merits at all, and to examine the position of the three parties to this hypothetical transaction— The owner of the land, the tenant and intending purchaser, and the local authority. I take the owner first. His position is extremely simple; he holds the key to the situation. He finds himself with a tenant who is anxious to become his own landlord, and is ready to lay down a sum of £50, and has managed to secure the assistance of the local authority to pay the balance. The locality is a thriving one, because nobody wishes to build a house in a back-going neighbourhood. The owner asks what is a reasonable and perfectly fair price as things go, but a price which is mainly determined by the industry of the intended purchaser and the class to which he belongs. That is the price which, under this Bill, the local authority is entitled to advance to a member of the community to the extent of four-fifths of the amount. Now, one of the things which the people of this country seem to have made up their mind upon is, that they will not pay for that which is the creation of their own industry; they are determined that, by some means or other, they will get for their own benefit what they honestly believe to be the genuine product of their own industry and enterprise. And, if this Bill became operative, every transaction which took place under it would put an obstacle in their way. Now, passing to the local authority, what is the inducement which this Bill holds out to the local authority for lending this money? They are offered one-half per cent, above the rate at which they themselves can borrow, or will have to pay to the Public Works Loans Commissioners. Now, at first sight, this margin does not seem munificent, even if it is safe, because let us see what is to be done for it. First of all, they have to see that the resident intends to reside on the property, and is able to provide one-fifth 1315 of the purchase price. Then they have to see that the house is in good repair and worth the money, and that the title-deeds are unexceptionable. Now, how many half per cents, on £240 mortgages will be required in order to pay the skilled valuator who values the property, the sanitary man who sees to its drains, and the conveyancer who is to conveyance the deeds? That work will be required to be done, and it will be required to be done well. But I am only considering the preliminary expenses; but the local authorities' difficulties are only just begun; the trouble commences after the transaction has been concluded, because the local authority then must see that the instalments are promptly paid, that the man continues to reside in the property, and that it is kept in good repair and sanitary condition, and that none of what you call in your Bill the "Statutory conditions," are neglected, and they will require further men to see that the moneys are paid. This will all involve expense, supervision, and control, and if these conditions or any of them are broken, the local authority must enter into possession, or order the property to be sold. What would the result then be? That the local authority will be left with unsaleable property on their hands, because the very cause which has brought about the breach of the "Statutory conditions" will have tended to diminish the value of house property in the vicinity. If this happens, then the local authorities will have to sell at a loss. Their position will be well recognised by those on the hunt for a good bargain. For, indeed, they must needs sell; and their necessity will be the buyer's opportunity. I may be told that these are mere details which might be safely left to the Committee stage of the Bill, when it would be licked into shape. They may be details; but there are some details which are vital, which, if you have to tamper with or modify would be fatal to this Bill. I have the advantage of knowing both town and county councillors in my native county. They are men of the average type, and they are all business men, and I can tell the House not one of them would ever dream of putting in operation the power which it is proposed to confer under this Bill. They know that if they did so it would not redound 1316 to their own credit or to the credit of their constituencies. When this Bill was before the House last June, on a motion for Second Reading made by the honourable Member for West Wolverhampton, the views of the Government were voiced by the Under Secretary to the Local Government Board. He damned the Measure with faint praise; but said the Government would assent to the Second Reading on the understanding that it should be sent to a Select Committee—the customary haven of a tempest-tossed administration. Why? In order, as he said, to ascertain the views of the local authorities regarding the Bill. Well, have the Government ascertained the views of the local authorities? I can scarcely believe that after that declaration it is possible that this Bill can be brought forward without the Government ascertaining the opinion of the local authorities, and I am sure the House will be glad to know whether there is a single local authority which has examined these proposals which can honestly say it would make an attempt even to carry them out. I decline absolutely to believe that there is a local authority in the country which would carry out the powers even if we were to confer them to-morrow. Well, now Sir, I will pass to what the House will probably consider the most important personage in the hypothetical transactions—I mean the intending borrower. Who is he? He is a man who is willing to lay down at least £50, and who has so much faith in the future that he is ready to spread the repayment of the loan over a period of 30 years. Furthermore, this hypothetical person must be a person who prefers to have his financing done by the local authority rather than by a voluntary society. Well, now, how many of us have met this hypothetical person? I am certain I never have, and I am perfectly certain that the Government have not. Otherwise the Under Secretary to the Local Government Board would never have given as one reason for the appointment of a Select Committee last June the desirability of finding out the opinions of working men regarding this Measure, and, indeed, it is not very difficult to ascertain what the opinion of the working people is. Their ways are by no means inscrutable if you will take the trouble to find them out. One 1317 of the last things that a working man desires is to expend his slender savings in what he knows to be an investment attended with such great risks as house property. Building societies are calculated to supply a very different want from this Bill, and they apply to a very much wider area. Then the working man has to consider whether or no he will not, by the exigencies of his calling, have to remove from the town in which he lives, or to another quarter of it; and do you not think that he would find this house rather an embarrassment than an advantage? It would hang like a mill-stone around his neck, and he would have the greatest difficulty of getting rid of it. I quite agree with what the right honourable Gentleman said in introducing this Bill, that it is possible to exaggerate the migratory habits of the working people. It is a question upon which it is exceedingly difficult to generalise. There are some trades in which the working people are engaged which are remarkably stationary; there are many others—and I think by far the greater number—which are quite the reverse. This, Sir, by no means exhausts the difficulties of this part of the problem. You have to consider the habits of the working people, and if you do so you will find that they are extremely fond of frequent change of residence. I think I know them pretty well, and what they desire beyond all other things is to get into a brand new house, where the difficulty of keeping things clean is reduced to a minimum. The ideal of every working man being his own landlord and spending his declining years sitting under his own vine and fig tree is a state of perfection which we shall never, I think, see realised, and the advantages of which are capable of being exaggerated. We have been told that the main argument in favour of this Bill is that it will tend to the cultivation of thrift, of independence, and of self-reliance on the part of the working people. If that is the object of the Bill I am not quite sure that I would not desire to lend my money to the National Debt Commissioners rather than embark in house property. Well, now, those are considerations which lead me directly to the view that this Bill is not really wanted by the working people at all. I am perfectly certain that on 1318 the recent occasion when the question was before the House attention was not directed so prominently as it has been to-day to the extent to which the ground is already covered by building societies —if there is ground to cover—and the want supplied—if there is a want to supply. Looking over the Annual Report of the Registrar General of Friendly Societies for the latest completed year— and the figures are very striking—I find that there are no fewer than 2,700 building societies in this country, with receipts of £38,500,000, a membership of 620,000, and accumulated assets of upwards of £57,000,000, and of this no less than 77 per cent, is invested in mortgages. Well, these building societies have nothing in the world to do except to attend to their own business. They are in a very much better position to conduct their business to advantage than a county council or a town council, which has many other calls upon it and many other objects to which to direct its attention. Yet the striking fact comes before us that these societies, which have nothing else to do but to attend to their business, have no less house property on their hands, managed by themselves, than is represented by 5,000,000 of mortgages, and no less than £363,400 of arrears of mortgages to collect. Do you think it is probable that the local authorities, composed as they are of practical business men, would be likely to undertake the business which has resulted in difficulties of that kind? Those difficulties are not due to the mismanagement of building societies, but exclusively to the ups and downs of the property market. Let me remind the House that Parliament has devoted sedulous care to the regulation of building societies. We have passed no fewer than five Acts, the latest in 1894, prescribing rules and regulations, and giving strict injunctions as to the methods upon which to conduct their business, and as to the method of keeping accounts, and the Report of the Chief Registrar of Friendly Societies gives the lie direct to any charge of mismanagement on the part of building societies. Well, these are very striking facts, and should act as a serious deterrent to any local authority attempting to put in force the power which this Bill is designed to afford. Has this Bill, it may be asked, no redeeming feature at 1319 all? Well, Sir, I frankly confess that I think it has. As a piece of electioneering strategy I think it is first-rate. Its very title is captivating. Many people never read beyond the title. The statute book is not attractive reading. "Ownership," "acquisition," "small houses"—these are alluring phrases; but as they figure in this Bill they cover nothing. If the Bill becomes law, which I hope it may not, although I think it just possible, we all know the place assigned to it. We shall number it amongst those legislative jests with which a jaded Ministry seeks to relieve the tedium of a dreary Session.
§ COLONEL SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
The honourable Member who has just made a very interesting speech against this Bill has enjoyed one very great advantage over some of the honourable Members who had spoken before him. He has not spoken on the subject previously. Among the speakers who have preceded him is my honourable Friend the Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley), and I may venture to remind my honourable Friend that he has not always held the view which he gave the House this afternoon upon the subject. My honourable Friend will remember that upon the 22nd of March 1893, when this Bill was brought forward by Mr. Wrightson, who was then the Member for Stockton, and the oringinal author of the idea of the Bill introduced by my right honourable Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies on behalf of the Government, he concluded the Debate on that occasion, and this is what he said—He thought the Bill was a step in the right direction. He felt that there was no better way of promoting thrift and adding to the well-being of the people than by enabling them to become possessed of their own homes on freehold terms. Although for practical purposes freeholders were not much better than leaseholders, there was no doubt a sentimental feeling amongst working men against leaseholds. Some of the points of the Bill would no doubt have to be carefully dealt with in Committee, but he should give the Second Beading of the Bill his strong support.
§ COLONEL SIR HOWARD VINCENT
What I earnestly hope for is that 1320 my honourable Friend will continue, notwithstanding the speech he made to-night, to give the Second Reading of this Bill his cordial support. I grant that this is not the same Bill which was brought forward on the 22nd of March 1893, by Mr. Wright-son, and again in 1894 and 1895, but this is a great improvement on the previous Bills. I myself am well acquainted with this matter, because Mr. Wright-son not being a Member of the present Parliament, I, at his request, have brought forward the Bill every Session since 1895, and I therefore, with accurate knowledge of the facts, can say that this Bill is a very great improvement on that Bill. Now there is one point in which that is specially the case. The Bill of Mr. Wrightson only proposed to admit of an advance of £150. My honourable Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who proposes this Bill on behalf of the Government, has gone very much farther, and proposes to advance amounts up to £240.
§ COLONEL SIR HOWARD VINCENT
This is a matter of detail. In principle it is exactly the same. If that is the point of my honourable Friend's objection, why not reserve it to the Committee stage? The speech that I am looking forward to most is the speech which we shall no doubt hear presently from the right honourable Gentleman opposite, the Member for East Wolverhampton, because I think the speeches which have been delivered on the other side of the House—by the honourable Gentlemen behind him and below the Gangway opposite—must have greatly pained him, and he must be in considerable difficulty at the present time to know what course to take. I do earnestly venture to urge him to read his speech again before he favours the House with his views tonight. He said—I think that the object is a sound one, and that the lending of public money for such a purpose is as legitimate as the lending of money to enable men to acquire small holdings. I shall, therefore, be glad to see the House of Commons endorse the principle of the Bill by reading it a second time.Therefore I feel certain that my right honourable Friend, with that consistency 1321 which I wish to give him credit for, will to-night assist the Government to pass the Second Heading of this Bill. I must say that the Amendment which appears on the Paper in the name of the honourable Member for North Monmouth is a most extraordinary one to come from an honourable Gentleman on that side of the House. I really had some idea that Members on the opposite side of the House were opposed to landlords, and were in favour of the working man becoming his own landlord. But here we find that the pith of the Amendment is that public money should not be advanced except upon the terms that the freehold should rest in public bodies and not in the individual. That is a most extraordinary sentiment to come from honourable Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House, and it varies with many expressions of opinion which have come from leaders of the Liberal Party in times past. Put things have changed very rapidly in this country, and I suppose this is one of them. The desire of honourable Gentlemen opposite to see working men become possessors of their own houses has disappeared altogether, and what they want to see now is the municipalities becoming the landlords. Mr. Speaker, a great deal has been said this afternoon about building societies. Now, I am not going to say that there are not some building societies which have not done most excellent work, and that many working men have not become owners of freehold houses by the encouragement of thrift on the part of building societies. But it is within the experience of every honourable Member of this House that there have been many terrible failures, and those failures are not only bad in themselves and in 'their immediate consequences, but they do more, I believe, Mr. Speaker, to discourage that thrift which we all desire to promote than anybody can well calculate. But the honourable Member for North Monmouth has not told us that it is an undoubted fact that building societies do not exist for philanthropic purposes. They exist to make a profit and to pay dividends to shareholders. By the terms of this Bill it is definitely provided that a municipality may advance money 1o a resident at a rate of interest not ex- 1322 ceeding 10s. above the rate at which the local authority can at the time borrow from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. But it does not say that it shall necessarily be 10s. in excess. A municipality may find itself in a sufficiently advantageous position, in working this Measure, to reduce the 10s. to 5s., or to an even less amount. We all know that the credit of public bodies in this country is increasing very rapidly indeed, and that the rate at which they can borrow is diminishing from year to year. Building societies cannot borrow on anything like the same terms as a great corporation like Sheffield. That body can borrow at the present time at 2¾ or 2½ per cent., and I have very little doubt that in a very short time indeed many municipalities will be able to borrow at 2¼ or even at 2 per cent. That being so they will be able to lend to those who take advantage of this Bill at a rate very much below that at which building societies can possibly advance the money. But even if they have to exact 3 per cent, from borrowers under this Bill it would be a very great advantage compared with the 5 per cent, which many building societies require. (No. 1) What is the amount then?
§ * MR. McKENNA
Three and a half per cent. (Oh!) I understood the honourable Gentleman asked the amount at which building societies can borrow?
§ COLONEL SIR HOWARD VINCENT
That is not the question. I asked the amount at which building societies could lend, and I submit that they scarcely lend under 5 per cent. In conclusion, I only desire to deal with one point which has been pressed once more upon the House in the eloquent speech of the honourable Gentleman who spoke last, and who moves so frequently among the working classes in his constituency, and whose impression is that they are of very migratory habits. I cannot say that that is my own experience of the working classes, and I should have thought that the exact opposite would have been the case. Many of the working classes are hampered by extremely large, if not excessively large, families, and object very much to having to move at all. But I think it is possible that in the cursory study which the honour- 1323 able Gentleman has been able to give to the Bill he has perhaps omitted to notice the power which the proprietor of a house is given to transfer under the Bill. Under clause 3, sub-section 2, the proprietor of a house may, with the permission of the local authority (which shall not be unreasonably withheld), at any time transfer his interest in the house, but any such transfer has to be made subject to the statutory conditions. I do not think that under these circumstances there is anything in this Bill to prevent a working mar, after purchasing the freehold of his house, from disposing of it on advantageous terms. I do not think there is the smallest ground to suppose that town councillors or county councillors would be likely to unreasonably withhold their assent to the required transfer. I think it is a perfect bogey which has been conjured up by honourable Gentlemen opposite to terrify the working classes and to prejudice them against the Bill. Then it has been asked, why has the Bill been brought in at all? It has been brought in by Her Majesty's Government because there is a great and genuine demand for it in all parts of the country. This Bill has been before the constituencies for upwards of six years; it has been divided upon three times in the House of Commons, and the majorities in favour of it have been very large. The honourable Member for Battersea, who, I daresay, will give the House his views upon the subject, has voted against the Bill two or three times. The honourable Member for North Monmouth and the right honourable Baronet the Member for the Forest of Dean have also opposed the Bill, and but for their exertion I do not hesitate to say that this Bill would long since have been upon the Statute Book. Honourable Members opposite have denied the working men of this country the benefit of the Bill. In all parts of the country meetings have been held in regard to the Bill, and the National. Union of Conservative Associations has pronounced unanimously in favour of it. As a Member of this Party I tender to the Government my most hearty thanks for having brought the Measure forward, and at such an early period of the Session.
1324 *MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton): The last speaker asked a very pertinent question—namely, why was this Bill brought in? I will tell him. This Bill was originated by my predecessor in the representation of Stockton. He recently stated that, having contested Stockton, and failed three times in succession to capture a Radical seat, he was anxious to find something to attract the working classes, and hit upon this Measure. He did capture the seat in 1892, but lost it in 1895. The National Union of Conservative Associations have been referred to to-day. When this question was debated before that body last year, at Bristol, one of the speakers, who has taken a very prominent part in the discussion of this Measure in different parts of the country, gave as one of his reasons for supporting the Bill that when a man obtained a substantial position, he generally became a Conservative by instinct, and probably he said a supporter of the Conservative Party. Well, Mr. Speaker, this Government, since they have been in power, have given money to landlords and to other classes, but we had hardly supposed they would propose to mortgage the ratepayers' interests for the purpose of making working men Conservatives. I am not one of those who believe that because a working man becomes possessed of property he necessarily becomes a Conservative, because we have in every town a large number of working men who have acquired their own houses through building societies and by private mortgage, and who are still Liberals and supporters of that Party. If this argument is right, workmen, since the Colonial Secretary has introduced this Bill, will stop at the half-way house and join the Liberal Unionist Party. I have always opposed this Bill since I have been a Member of this House. I must admit that the present Bill is a great improvement upon the previous Bills, and I congratulate the Colonial Secretary upon the introduction of so many improvements. The last speaker pointed out that there had been some changes in this Bill, and the very fact that the Colonial Secretary, in his speech in introducing this Bill, stated that the Government had considered the practical objections against the previous Bills, is sufficient to warrant the 1325 opposition which some of us gave to the Bills previously introduced. The right honourable Gentleman proposes to take a very important step in this Bill. Hitherto, when municipalities have bought water works, gas works, tramways, etc., the property has been vested in the Corporation, but these bodies have never before been in the position of having to advance and lend money to private persons who wish to become owners of their property.
§ AN HONOURABLE MEMBER: Small holdings.
§ * MR. J. SAMUEL
The Small Holdings Act is practically a dead letter. It may be applied to the country, but it has not been applied to our large towns. If this Bill was one that would confer on local authorities in towns powers to deal with overcrowding I would give it my hearty support; but it does not do that. We have had, on more than one occasion, a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the housing of the working classes, and their Report, and the Report of the Registrar-General upon the census of l891, has shown that we have 3,258,000 persons, forming 11 per cent, of the entire population, living under crowded conditions. We have '357,000 persons living in one-room tenements, 1,124,000 living in two-room tenements, and 951,670 living in three-room tenements. It has been said that this Measure will deal with the question of overcrowding, but how can it do so when it does not give any extra powers to our town councils to deal with this gigantic problem? In the same Report the Registrar-General pointed out that in some of our large towns, such as Gateshead, 41 per cent, of the people live in a crowded state. In Newcastle, the percentage is 35; in Sunderland, 33; in Plymouth, 26; and in some of the districts in the county of Durham, we have no less than 55 per cent, of the population living under overcrowded conditions. When we consider that this Bill will give facilities to working men to buy their own property, we ought to consider also that there is a large section of the working classes who will never be able to purchase their dwellings under any scheme such as this, but who would become liable to increased rating 1326 under the Bill. According to Mr. Charles Booth, there are 314,000 persons—30 per cent, of the population— in the East end of London who belong to families whose income is only £1 1s. a week. In South London 45 per cent, are below the poverty line. Now, these figures show conclusively that this Mea-sure will not touch the question of overcrowding in our large cities, and I should think that the Government, before attempting to give extra powers to municipalities and to allow men to borrow money who can well afford to buy their houses from the existing voluntary societies, should bring in a Bill upon the lines of the Report of the Royal Commission, and give more powers to our municipalities to deal with this very important question of the housing of the working classes. From the present Bill, which, as I have said, is a great improvement on the Measure which was introduced last year, the right honourable Gentleman has removed the absurd condition of the limitation as to the borrowing powers, although it was in the opinion of some Gentlemen that that was a protection, and in the interest of the community, but I always thought it was one that was not at all favourable to the Bill. But the fatal blot on this Measure is the provision requiring from the working man purchaser 30 years' residence. The honourable Gentleman the Member for the Central Division of Sheffield stated that in Sheffield the working man did not migrate. Well, I will give him a case in point. Even in the town and district of Sheffield, within the last 20 years, no less than five or six very large mills have become dismantled, and the whole of the working men have had to follow those mills to the north-east coast of England, and to the west coast of Cumberland.
§ COLONEL SIR HOWARD VINCENT
May I point out that the firms who have removed some of their mills have very much increased their plant in Sheffield, and that the number of workmen has also very much increased?
§ * MR. J. SAMUEL
The interruption of the honourable Member is an indication of his ignorance of the habits and customs of working men, because, although the works remaining at Sheffield have been increased, still the men engaged 1327 in the steel rail department cannot turn their hand, for instance, to the manufacture of plates, but follow the department in which they were engaged, and consequently left Sheffield when the works were removed. Therefore, the argument of the honourable Member, that the working men of Sheffield do not migrate, falls to the ground, and I venture to say that if he will make inquiries, he will find that in every industrial centre of this country a large percentage of the working men are migratory; and they will have to make a serious sacrifice should they become possessed of their dwellings. I know that the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary has improved the Bill in some respects in the matter of safeguarding the interest of the investors by a clause giving them the right to arbitrate; but, in my judgment, the responsibility of arbitration, and the cost of legal proceedings should not be placed on working men. Under a building society the working man in vestor—and I am glad to say there are 23,000 investors in the county of Durham—can remove from one part of the country to another with facility and without restriction as to selling his property, but that he should do so at a sacrifice is the greatest objection I entertain to the present Bill. Speaking some time ago, Lord Londonderry, who has taken a very great interest in this Bill, stated that the responsibility upon the town council of ascertaining whether a trade was likely to remain within a district, or whether the conditions were such that the council should lend the money for a period of 30 years, was one that should not be placed upon them. I believe my predecessor in the representation of Stockton stated that town councils ought to be in a position to decide this point, but I would ask any Member of this House who has had any experience of town council work or county council work, how is it possible for a town council to ascertain what is going to be the condition of that town or district within the next 30 years? If they did make such an estimate it would be valueless, and would not be one that anyone could act upon. There are one or two very extraordinary clauses in this Bill, and I can point out one—namely, sub-section 2 of clause 6. If a man or woman invests under a 1328 building society, or by private mortgage, there is no limitation as to what they should do with their property. But in this clause they cannot let their house for lodgings beyond four months in one year, and further on it states that where men, such as railway men, or engineers, are called upon to leave the town to transact duties elsewhere they must ask the permission of the council before they can do so. If I were to draw an analogy, I would say it would be like to the noble Lord, the Member for York asking the permission of the council whether he could go to China or not. It is ridiculous to place working men in the position of going cap in hand to the town council to ask whether they can leave the district in order to follow their employment or to work elsewhere for a period of time. I quite agree with the honourable Member who spoke last on this side of the House, that no county council can put the Bill in operation owing to the diverse interests of the different districts in the county, and practically the same objection applies to the action of the town councils. While I think the Measure a great improvement on the Bills introduced in previous years, I yet believe it to be defective, and that it will become a dead letter. On this ground, I shall vote against the Measure.
§ * MR. DRAGE (Derby)
Mr. Speaker, I regard this Measure as a small instalment towards the reform of the housing of the working classes, and on that ground I shall vote for the Second Reading. I believe it will be an incentive to thrift, and may be of some assistance in solving the problem of old-age pauperism. One of the great advantages of the present Bill is that it abolishes the distinction between those of the working classes who earn their livelihood by manual labour, and those who earn it by clerical work. Among the latter there is an amount of poverty as great as, if not greater than, that existing among the better paid artisans. Further, the Measure also meets the difficulty as to the mobility of labour by the provision as to registration and cheap transfer. Moreover, it makes provision for the enforcement of the sanitary laws, and all those who have owned model cottages know how difficult it is to prevent the best 1329 cottagers from taking lodgers, and consequent overcrowding. There are two great advantages which result from this class of legislation—the sense of independence, and the sense of responsibility it induces in regard to local taxation. The arguments used against this Bill on the ground that it will interfere with the mobility of labour appear to me overstrained. In the first place, artisans are shrewd men and good judges of their own interest, and as a matter of fact only a small fraction of these are migratory. Further, the difficulty is partly met by what I have called the mobility of transfer. As to the clerical class, if I may so call them, it cannot be said to be serious, and as to the agricultural labourers, we know that it would be most desirable in any way to attach them to the county districts. Up to the present time I believe hardly any bona fide agricultural labourers in England own their cottages. There are those who fear the Bill will injure building societies. If I thought so I should vote against it, but I am informed that it will cater for a poor class which the building societies do not touch. I have here an extract from the last Report of the Registrar of Friendly Societies, and on page 16 it appears that at least half of the money invested in mortgages by building societies is invested in mortgages exceeding £500; that is to say, the Bill will benefit a class of workmen who cannot, by means of the present facilities, obtain their own houses. There are two points which I would suggest for the consideration of the Colonial Secretary. The first relates to the objection as to the danger of jobbery and loss to the rates, and the other is the loss to the poor man who has made efforts to save and to purchase his house. There is a provision in the Belgian law by which the difficulty is met by the insurance of the life of the working man to meet in some respects the price of the house. Should the working man die before the purchase is completed, the widow or heirs enter at once into possession of the property. There is a further provision of the Belgian law which has worked well, and it is the formation of local committees, which would be of great use in selecting the persons to whom such loans should be made. In our case it. would be a great advantage to have represented on 1330 them the building societies, and also the co-operative and friendly societies, which have in some districts embarked in these operations, and which we do not desire to hamper or injure in any way. The most important difficulty with which we have to contend in regard to the Bill is this, that the class to be benefited would be extremely limited. In the first place the money is lent not to build houses, but to buy them by the resident. In the second place, the proceedings are to be voluntary on both sides, and caution and goodwill will be necessary. And in the third place, the Bill will only affect a small class of workers, because a large proportion of the working classes will not have sufficient initial sums to entitle them to the necessary advance. I quite admit that a well-paid artisan will probably continue to invest his property in a house of value, say up to £500, but he will remain with his building or friendly society. A smaller class of the well-paid artisans which is not benefited at present by the building societies may take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. The Bill does not touch the casual labourers, for whom provision will still have to be made by the commercial and philanthropic agencies which erect artisans' dwelling and lodging houses, but it will, I hope, benefit the agricultural labourers of the better class, whose savings are often larger than would be believed. I will not refer to the further question that was raised, namely that of ground values and ground rents. It is undoubtedly an important question, and I hope that some time or other, either in the present or in a future Parliament, it will be dealt with. It is the one black spot in the condition of the working classes. Money wages and real wages have been increased, but in large towns these increases have been neutralised by the rise of rent. As to the application of the Bill to Ireland, the House will regret that the right honourable Member for South Dublin is unable to be present in his place to-night owing to the accident that befell him. I would point out to the Government that if this Bill is carried further, and the legislation is made applicable to Ireland, they would have in the association which had been founded by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Dublin, a body ready to their hands to carry out the 1331 Measure in practice. I welcome the Bill, as I have said, for I do believe that it will provide some persons who have not the money to pay for their houses with the money necessary to do so; and because I think it is a step, though a small one, in the direction of the promotion of thrift, and the promotion of the better housing of the working classes.
§ MR. KEARLEY (Devonport)
I wish to direct attention to how this Bill will affect those localities that are most urgently in need of increased house accommodation for the working classes. In the constituency which I represent we have a state of affairs as to overcrowding which is greater than in any other place in the country. The bulk of the inhabitants occupy tenements, and there has been a long-felt want—a great demand, which seems never to be satisfied—for those very classes of houses which this Bill contemplates to provide. I want to mark as strongly as I can the nature of this local demand; and I cannot do it in a more forcible manner than by quoting the Registrar-General's Census Report. In that Report he states that the proportion of the population of England and Wales occupying one-roomed houses is 47 per 1,000; in London, 184 per 1,000; but in Devonport it is 244 per 1,000. The Registrar-General was so struck with the curiously large figures that he made further inquiry, a d obtained these facts: that in Devonport and Plymouth 11,301 persons are living in one room, 19,835 persons are occupying two rooms, 12,113 are occupying three rooms, and 7,693 are occupying four rooms; while out of a population of 88,000, no fewer than 50,000 are living in tenements. I go into these details because I want to try and make it clear to the House that, at all events, Devonport is one of the places that stands in greatest need of the houses contemplated by this Bill. But I am sorry to say—and that is my complaint against the Bill—that it will be perfectly inoperative there, because the cost of land is so great that the sum provided by the Bill will not be sufficient to build a house which will comply with the other sections of the Bill. The corporation will not be justified, if they are to conform to the requirements of the Bill, in advancing four-fifths of the amount which a house 1332 would cost. Now, why is it that we have this exceptional condition of things; why is it that this Bill will not be operative in the most overcrowded place in the United Kingdom? It is because the land there is a monopoly—in the hands of one man, against whom there is no legislation that can affect his monopoly. The land is held up at a fictitious value, and he has the handling of it entirely under his own control. What is the effect of that? The effect is that the land is never sold at less than a shilling per foot, and then sold not to individuals, but handed over to syndicates, who are then enabled to make 1s. 9d. per foot out of it. I assure the House that it is quite an exceptional things— almost an unheard-of thing—for a freehold house to be sold in Devonport by public auction. There is another aspect of the Bill that will cause it to be inoperative entirely—under these special local conditions. Under one of the clauses.—clause 3, I think—it is proposed to be enacted that the proprietor must reside in the house acquired under the Bill. Now, I understand, if I have read the Bill correctly, that it is intended that the proprietor must occupy the house alone. If that is so, then I say that in Devonport and in other overcrowded districts the workmen would be shut out altogether, because he could not afford to dispense with lodgers, or to take the house solely under his own control with the exclusion of sub-letting. The only people in these localities that could afford to take a house and occupy it without taking in outsiders, would be the men who earn good wages. But that would be not where the evils of overcrowding press most severely. These men earning good wages would probably be men who were acquiring their own houses through building societies. Where the great evil of overcrowding presses is among poor people, who receive no more than 19s. or 20s. per week—men who are herded together under the ban of the land monopoly. These people will get no relief whatever under this Bill. In clause 3, section (d) it is enacted that the house must be in good sanitary repair. I would ask the right honourable the Colonial Secretary if the standard of sanitary repair is to be variable according to locality, or is it to be a fixed standard? In Devonport, owing to the excessive price of land, the houses are 1333 built in the cheapest possible manner, and they have no secondary approaches, which means that all refuse has to be taken out of the ordinary entrance and exit door. Again, houses which under these circumstances would pass muster in Devonport as to sanitary requirements, would not be tolerated in other places, even in the West of England. What is to be the determining factor as to whether a house is kept in good sanitary repair or not? Because, in one locality it may be possible, because the land is cheap, to comply with reasonable conditions of sanitation, but in other districts it would be utterly impossible to conform to reasonable sanitary conditions because the land is so dear. Again, is there to be any limit to the number of houses that can be put up under the Bill in a, particular area? In Devon-port, if you took the existing population and gave it the same number of rooms as are possessed by the population in other towns, there would be a requirement of 5,000 houses straight away, and that would throw a heavy burden on the local authority. If we are to participate in the benefits of any such scheme as is embodied in the Bill, the local authority must be granted compulsory power to acquire land at reasonable prices. At Devonport, for instance, if the people are ever to be released from the present monopoly of land, they must have the power to acquire it compulsorily, at a fair market value. That is the difficulty, and so long as that is denied them, I fear the terrible state of overcrowding will continue. I believe that the House generally is most anxious to try to abolish this overcrowding, but the Bill will not be effective or operative in our large overcrowded towns. In some districts, no doubt, it will be advantageous, but in those districts where the evil presses most, it will be altogether inoperative.
§ * SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Stafford, Handsworth)
I desire to give an uncompromising opposition to the Amendment, and a cordial support to the Bill. This is a very important subject to my constituency, which is growing with very great rapidity. The number of electors has increased since 1892 by 4,000, and in one part of my constituency there are no fewer than 900 houses being put up in one place, and 1334 for one class of people. Why I object to the Amendment is, that it says: If public money is advanced for the purchase of houses, the freehold must be vested in public bodies, and not in individuals, I have made inquiries amongst my constituents, and I find they do not want to live in houses owned by public bodies, but that they do want to live in houses owned by themselves. If honourable Members ask what is to be gained by the Bill, I would say that one thing is, we can, by it, give the pleasure of ownership to some of our fellow-citizens, without any loss. I have observed ever since I have been in this House that when honourable Members on this side of the House want to do anything for the people of the country, we try to do what the people themselves want; but when honourable Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House want to do anything for the people of the country, they try to do what the Radical Party think the people ought to do. I myself want to give the people what they want, and not what somebody else thinks they ought to want. Another gain from the Bill would be, I think, that it will be an educational Measure. At present the working classes take very little interest in all questions of drains, gas, water, police, and other local matters. But as soon as they owned their houses they would have to pay for these things, and their interest in them would increase, and that would be a very good education for these people. Another point is, that they would learn how far the action of trade societies in shortening the hours of labour and in forcing up wages had raised the cost of building houses. They would soon know exactly what they were sacrificing in the shape of rents or the increased cost of buying a house on account of these shorter hours and higher wages. Another advantage would follow if the working classes became their own landlords. At present they are very careless about little repairs, forgetting that a stitch in time saves nine. But as soon as a man had a house of his own he would take very good care not to let it get out of repair, and accordingly he would be much more comfortable. We were told that it would be dangerous 1335 to lend public money, because, as some of the speakers put it, we could not trust public bodies, who would be open to corrupton and robbery in connection with the use of public money. The attitude of the Radical Party on this question reminds me of some savage people I have heard of. When things go right their gods are held in the highest favour, but when matters go wrong they beat them and call them bad names. When the Local Government Act was before the House, and Members opposite thought that it would injure some of those whom they disliked, they bowed down and worshipped it; but now, when they find that the Act is not working exactly as they expected and we are trying to use it for some useful purpose, they abuse the local bodies they have created and call them nests of jobbery and corruption. Now, I am not at all myself afraid of trusting local bodies with the management of public moneys. I think you must allow to the British workmen who will buy these houses, and the local councils who will advance the money to do so, a little average common sense; and I am quite prepared myself to> trust to the common sense both of the workmen and of the local councils.
§ MR. ASQUITH (Fife, E.)
I wish to occupy the attention of the House for a very few moments. I cannot help thinking that those who have taken part in this discussion must have felt not a little surprised that we should be called upon to devote the best hours of a Monday sitting, at the busiest and most critical period of the Session, to debating a Measure which is surely, in point of urgency and importance, as infinitesimal as any ever submitted by a Government to the House of Commons. I say at once, as my right honourable Friend the Member for Wolverhampton said years ago, when he sat on the other side of the House, that I have no objection to what I conceive to be the principle of the Measure—to a permissive Bill which proposes to entrust certain powers to bodies representative of and responsible to the ratepayers of localities, if and when these powers are exercised—on which I will dwell in a moment—they are fettered by very stringent precautions—precautions consisting, on the one hand, of rigid statutory provisions, subject to which alone 1336 the money will be advanced, and on the other hand, to the limitation of the ultimate contingent liability of the ratepayers of the place to the produce of a rate not exceeding 1d. in the £. I, for one, speaking for myself, have no objection to entrust these very invidious and strictly guarded powers to the municipalities of this country. I am one of those who think, and who have often maintained in this House, and outside it, that this sphere of municipal administration ought strongly, to use a phrase of Lord Salisbury's, to be enlarged until local knowledge and local resources can be brought to bear upon certain classes of social problems, which present different features, and which, therefore, require different treatment, according to the special circumstances and conditions of the particular locality. And I disclaim entirely the argument put forward today—that this Bill is conferring upon the municipality of the country powers which it would be unsafe for Parliament to entrust to them—powers which, in practice they are likely to abuse at the expense of the ratepayers. I repudiate that. I cannot associate myself with that argument in the slightest degree. Now, the real criticism of this Bill, it seems to me, is not that it is bringing into existence a new set of formidable powers to be entrusted to the municipalities. The objection to the Bill is that the scope of its operations will be so restricted—that the problem with which it deals is such an infinitesimal adumbration of the real problem—the housing of the working classes—that it is hardly worth while to place it on the Table. Now, let me, in two or three sentences, endeavour to make that good. In the first place, we have this disadvantage, which I state parenthetically, in dealing with this Bill; that there has been, so far as I am aware, no authoritative inquiry by any body of expert persons, such as a Royal Commission or Select Committee, to show what the extent and the reality of the demand for these houses is. It is a purely conjectural and speculative Measure from that point of view, and I, for my part, having made such inquiries as I could—and I find my opinion is confirmed by many—I venture to express the view that over a 1337 very large part of the country, over the greater part of the country, there is no demand for this Measure. I do not think I am exaggerating the facts when I say that mobile labour is the rule, and immobile labour is the exception among the industrial population. It can only, therefore, be among this minority—I believe a very small minority—of the working classes, who are so assured of continuity of employment, that they are prepared to mortgage their own future by engaging in the operations of the Bill —it will only be among this very small section that the Bill will have any practical operation at all. Well then, next, even where a demand exists, as has been pointed out by several honourable Gentlemen, there are in existence and in operation the means of supply. There are the building societies and loan societies, and many other means by which the working man in a comparatively prosperous condition will be able to secure—I do not say on such favourable terms as regards either the rate of interest or the repayment of principal— through the competition of these various societies, which is very keen, as much money as is needed for his purpose. That is the second ground on which I think the operation of the Measure is likely to be restricted. When on this point, I may say that, though the Bill is an enormous improvement on the Bills we have had before us in previous years, I think the Bill does impose a number of restrictions which largely curtail the already narrow sphere of its operation. There is the limit of £300, the maximum value of the house for the acquisition of which money can be lent. Then there are the statutory restrictions, which, for my part, I think are reasonable and proper restrictions to be imposed by the municipalities, as to residence and as to user. And, finally, there is the rate limit, as I may call it, on the total sums to be advanced. On all these considerations I think the House must come to the conclusion that this is a Measure which cannot possibly have, so far as we can forecast the future, anything more than a very limited and partial operation. I confess I should not be able myself to vote against the Second Beading of the Bill. I would be inconsistent in doing that. So far back as 1893 the Government of which I was a Member accepted the principle of legis- 1338 lation of this kind, and I would not be consistent with what has been done in the past, or with my own convictions, were I to vote against the Second Reading. But I cannot help entering my protest in the strongest and most emphatic terms and expressing my deep regret that the Government have not taken the opportunity, since they were legislating on this matter, of going to the real crux, the real touchstone of the problem, that of overcrowding in our large towns. Because that there is such a problem, and that it is one of growing importance, I think it is impossible for anyone to deny. The working classes—that large section of the working classes in regard to whom the difficulty of housing really arises—are not the comparatively well-to-do artisans in whose favour the facilities created by this Bill will be exercised. But the classes for whom legislation is necessary are the men who cannot find—and I am sorry to say that they are a growing number—who cannot find here in London, and in other large centres of over-population, decent habitations under civilised conditions; and who in increasing numbers cannot, it may be said with almost literal truth, find habitations at all. I say that it is deeply to be regretted that the Government did not deal with that most formidable as well as most urgent problem. There is legislation of a complicated kind on the statute book which, if put into operation effectually, might help, or might contribute to help, towards the solution of this problem. But the real difficulty you have got to contend with is, as my honourable Friend the Member for Devonport pointed out just now, twofold. In the first place, our local authorities have not got compulsory powers, or have not got them to the extent to which they ought to have; and in the second place, they have not got the power which in an Amendment to the Address we expressed the opinion ought to be granted, the power—namely, to obtain that new reservoir of taxation for local purposes which consists in the rating of ground values. I regret that the Government have not dealt with that aspect of the question, for in my opinion the time of the House would have been far more usefully occupied in so doing than in discussing the present Bill to-night. I said a few moments ago that I should not vote against the Second Reading of this- 1339 Bill in view of the declarations which we have made in days gone by and of my older convictions on the subject. But last year we had a Measure of this kind, not indeed in the same terms or in anything like the same shape, which I think was brought forward by the honourable Member for Sheffield. I both spoke and voted against the Second Reading of that Bill, and I should do the same again if the opportunity presented itself. But we had one of the most extraordinary spectacles on that occasion I have ever seen in this House. The whole of our Wednesday afternoon was spent in discussing what the solitary representative of the Government—I think it was the Secretary to the Local Government Board—declared to be a clumsy and unworkable scheme; while my right honourable Friend the Secretary to the Colonies, if my memory serves me right, never put in an appearance at all throughout the whole of the Debate.
§ MR. ASQUITH
The reason why I voted against it was the reason I explained in my speech. I thought it a perfectly clumsy and impracticable Measure, and I did point out at the same time the absence of my right honourable Friend. I venture to think I may claim some share of the credit for the paternity of this Bill. But for the discussion which we had on that occasion, and but for the notice which was taken, not only by me, but by many others, of the conspicuous slackening of zeal in the original authors of the Birmingham social programme, I very much doubt whether we should have been spending this Monday afternoon in discussing the details of this important item on that programme. However that may be, I will close by repeating that I deeply regret that the Government, on a question of so much urgency and importance, have contented themselves with dealing with the mere fringe of the subject, and have not afforded Parliament the opportunity, of which Parliament would have gladly availed itself, of dealing with the whole of this great problem.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
One thing, I hope 1340 follows necessarily and logically from the speech of the right honourable Gentleman, and that is, that if this Measure be the infinitesimal adumbration which he describes it to be, it is not worth while to take up much longer the time of the House in discussing the Second Reading. When the right honourable Gentleman, got up, I did hope that he was going to throw some light on the mystery which has been distressing me from the commencement of this Debate. When I first introduced this Bill, I did not introduce it as a Party or as a controversial Measure. I relied on the past history of the subject to justify me in anticipating, though, of course, there might be individual Members in a Party so much divided as the Party opposite to me is, who would take a different view—I was certain, at all events, beforehand of the support of the official representatives of that Party. As the House is aware, a, Bill which, although it differed in detail, was absolutely identical in principle, with the Bill now before the House, was introduced in 1893. And, curiously enough, it received on that occasion, not merely the silent support, but the warm and enthusiastic support of some of the honourable Members who have been opposing this same principle to-day. I need not point out to my honourable Friend the Member for Islington that it is absurd to say that because the details of the two Bills differ, that justifies his opposition to the principle of this Bill on the Second Reading. My honourable Friend is too old a Member not to know that on the Second Reading it is the principle only to which Members commit themselves, and the principle of the Bill to which he gave his enthusiastic support in 1893 is exactly the same principle in every particular as that to which he has put down a hostile Amendment. I really cannot understand this rapid change of front, unless my honourable Friend has explained it himself by pointing out that he is astonished to find that a matter which he expected to see in the hands of some other Minister has suddenly devolved into the hands of the Colonial Secretary. What is the explanation of the action of honourable and right honourable Gentlemen on the other side? It is merely that in 1893, when they were in power, a precisely similar Bill, 1341 with the warm support of the then President of the Local Government Board, the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, was allowed to have its Second Reading without opposition. The same thing came up again in 1896 and in 1898, and in the divisions on that Bill which then took place, and in which the majorities were as much as three to one, a number of Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite, and on the benches behind them, voted in favour of the Bill. And yet, to-day, not one single soul is to be found to utter a word in its behalf! I had hoped the right honourable Gentleman was going to explain this mystery: but the only explanation he has given to us is that while he thinks the Bill is so small that he will not hesitate to allow it to go to a Second Reading, yet in 1898, only one year ago, he opposed the same Bill, or practically the same Bill,because, forsooth, the Colonial Secretary did not happen to be in his place in the House at the time of the Debate. The Bill was not in my hands on that occasion; and though I cannot really say, I imagine I was within the House at the time, and took part in the division. It often happens that on a Wednesday Ministers, like myself, who have a great deal of work at their offices, are detained, especially if they have reason to believe, as I had reason to believe, that the Bill before the House would pass its Second Reading without a division. I must confess that the discussion has not been a very fruitful one, because it has dealt so entirely with matters which I think had better be deferred to the Committee stage. There are some small details in the Bill upon which the Government are open to conviction, and which might very fairly be discussed in Committee. But on points of principle, hardly anything has been said by any single Member. The honourable Member, with the first Amendment on which the House is now called upon to vote, did, indeed, indicate a principle in his Amendment, but he hardly said one single word about it in the whole course of his speech. His principle is, that although the Bill might be an admirable Bill, if the freehold were retained in the possession of the local authorities, yet, inasmuch as the free- 1342 hold is to go with the house wherever possible, the honourable Member will oppose it. That is, I know, a part of a Collectivist theory which the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down has taken occasion to denounce. But let me say that whatever opinion may be held by the honourable Member opposite and the right honourable Gentleman who sits next to him, and who has raised the same point on many occasions, I am firmly convinced that they will find the vast majority of the working classes are entirely opposed to them. The working classes desire to have the freehold and full possession of their property, and for my own part, I certainly think it is not to the advantage of the community of the State to prevent them from enjoying it. I cannot understand how honourable Members who profess to be shocked and horrified at the idea of what would take place if the local authorities lent money to enable a man to buy a building are nevertheless willing that the local authorities should become the ground landlords of small properties on a, gigantic scale. I cannot conceive anything which would be worse and which would be more calculated to promote the insanitary condition of things which honourable Members profess to deplore. Another objection on principle was raised by the honourable Member for Linlithgowshire. I should like to give, as near as I can, his own words. He is opposed to this Bill because it involves paying the market value for private property, which he believes is the product of the skill and labour of the community, and which, I suppose, he therefore thinks the community has a right to confiscate. That, I think, correctly represents his views; and I must leave him to settle matters with the right honourable Gentleman the Member for East Fife, who has told us that one thing he dreads in connection with municipal enterprise is the spread of Collectivist ideas.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
I beg the right honourable Gentleman's pardon, but I understood him to say that. A more monstrous — I will not say monstrous, but a more extreme doctrine 1343 of the most advanced Collectivist than that which the honourable Member for Linlithgow gave for opposing the Second Reading of this Bill I have never yet listened to, even in societies which are more Radical than those in which the honourable Gentleman ordinarily moves. What, then, are the objections to the larger points of detail which have been taken to the Bill? I am unable to call them objections in principle, but still they are objections on the larger points of detail. I find different Speakers putting forward inconsistent arguments against the Bill, and even the same speaker using arguments which are inconsistent with each other. I am told, for instance, that there is no need for this Bill, and that no use will be made of it. That is the view of the right honourable Gentleman who has just sat down. He does not think that there will be any number of working men who will, as he said, pledge or mortgage their future by rendering themselves immobile. But, on the other hand, some honourable Members told us that this Bill will be so used by the working classes, that it will ruin the building societies. While I was endeavouring to reconcile these statements, another honourable Member got up and told us that the building societies can beat us in any proposal of this kind. They can, to quote his own words, "walk round" the local authorities, which will be entrusted with these powers. In that case what fear is there that the building societies are going to be ruined? Then, I am told no municipality will carry out the scheme of this Bill. I admit my chief fear in regard to all legislation of this kind is that the local authorities may be too timid, and that they will not be willing to carry out the legislation as I should desire they should But, then, if that is an argument, surely the other argument I heard from an honourable Member, that he is opposed to the Bill because he is afraid that undue pressure will be brought to bear on municipalities so that they will be forced to enter upon economic proceedings of which they disapprove, cannot be true at the same time. Lastly, it was said by the honourable Member for Stockton that this is a piece of electioneering policy; and the honourable Member for Linlithgow in his speech, to which I 1344 listened with much interest, and which I think was hardly well concluded by such a sneer, declared that it is a mere vote-catching policy. What idea has the honourable Member of a vote-catching policy? He tells us this is a Bill which no town council or member of any local authority will look at, which no working man will take advantage of, which no business man wants; and that he considers is a vote-catching policy. And to add to the absurdity of the charge he forgets that his own leaders and the whole of his own Party only six years ago supported exactly the same policy. Then, we are told that this Bill does not do anything to prevent overcrowding. Who said it did? I think in an indirect way it may possibly assist to prevent the evil of overcrowding, because anything which induces or encourages the building of working men's houses tends to increase the supply, and thereby lessens the probability of overcrowding. But I have never claimed that the Bill will do away with overcrowding, and it seems to me one of the most absurd arguments you can be called upon to listen to when discussing a matter of this kind that you are to oppose a, Bill, which may be a good Bill, because it does not do something which it does not pretend to do. You are in fact not to benefit A because B does not happen to be benefited at the same time. As to all these great social questions, those who have given a moment's study to them must be aware that they are too large to be dealt with all at once. No doubt the right honourable Gentleman the Member for East Fife, who speaks of the exiguous character of this Measure, would have liked it better if we had brought in a Bill of 300 or 400 clauses which dealt with the whole question of the housing of the working classes, and he would have helped us to carry it perhaps. No, we cannot deal with matters in that wholesale fashion. We are content—it may be we are modest—but we are content in doing things in our own little way, content to proceed gradually with these great reforms, and we do not, perhaps, take quite so low an opinion of this first step as the right honourable Gentleman does. Then it is said that this Bill will involve heavy cost to the rates. I say again, in passing, that that is absolutely inconsistent with the views of those who think it never will be put into opera- 1345 tion. I observe that the people who speak most confidently about local government are the people who know nothing about it, who have never studied it, who have never been members of any local authority, and who have never had any experience of their work. They are always dogmatic as to what will happen when further powers are conferred on a municipality. I venture to say local authorities will err, if at all, on the side of timidity. They will not be forced, either by their constituents or anybody else, to do what they think is imprudent. If they are invited to lend money on houses, they will take care there is full value and security. In the first place they are to have one-fifth in reserve as security, and, secondly, there will be a constantly increasing sinking fund. I think everybody who knows anything about the commercial part of the question will feel there is very little danger in such an investment. Where is the danger to come from? We have had hawked up again and again the case of a mine which is to be abandoned, apparently, the moment the houses are built and upon which a corporation have lent money. I happen to live close to a district in the Black Country which is one vast abandoned mine. Of course there are many mines there still, but a very large proportion of the coal in that area has already been worked out. What do we find there? Are the houses all abandoned? Is the neighbourhood ruined? If a corporation had advanced money on houses there would they have lost it? Not a penny. It is notorious in that district, as in all the surrounding districts, that house property is continually appreciating, and that when one industry dies out another industry takes its place, and as long as this country goes on as it does that will necessarily be the case. We ask local authorities to place some confidence in their own future. If they have no confidence in their own districts, they would be foolish to lend money, and they would take good care not to do it. There is not the slightest fear a corporation will ever lend money in a case in which it is likely to be immediately lost. It is said, "Look at the expense of these operations!"I take it that the whole of these expenses need not be large. Anyone who has anything to do with the sale and purchase of this class of property knows perfectly 1346 well that the expenses are infinitesimal, otherwise you would not find the class of people who invest in it doing so with so much success. I take it that such expenses that are necessary are part of the purchase-money, and will not come out of the pockets of the corporation. So far as the corporation have any expenses —and no doubt something will be thrown upon them, because they will be obliged to look after the rents in cases where the property comes into their hands and to look after the property—such expenses will be, in my opinion, more than covered by the extra one-half per cent, upon the money advanced which we allow them to take. At first, when I was drafting the Bill, I put only one-eighth per cent., believing that that would amply cover any probable loss on the part of the corporation; but it was suggested to me by a friend of the Bill, and I think wisely, that it would be better to give some little temptation to the local authority in the shape of some slight chance of profit and some certainty that they would not have a loss, in order to induce them to take up the Bill. We are-told it will lead to jobbery. There, again, that charge comes from persons who profess to be friends of local government. If you cannot trust local authorities in matters of this kind, how can you trust them in anything else which you have handed over to them? Here are great local authorities dealing with millions a 3'ear and with thousands of working people, and engaging in gigantic contracts. If they can do that, as practically they have done, without even the suspicion of jobbery or corruption, do you think you cannot trust them to deal properly with this slight addition to their work? Do you think a great corporation, or even a district authority, will be influenced by such paltry motives as those which have been suggested by the honourable Member for North Monmouthshire? The absurdity of the charge is palpable, and shows the extreme weakness of the honourable Member's case. Then there is a rather more serious objection with which I wish to deal, and that is the objection of my honourable Friend the Member for Islington— namely, that we. shall injure building societies. If we were going to injure building societies that would not be a fatal objection. When we advanced many millions of money to the Irish 1347 tenants, what would have been said if somebody had got up and said we would injure the gombeen man, or in other words the moneylender? A building society is a moneylender, and much more a moneylender than a building society. That is perfectly clear from the figures. Even if in the process of some great public benefit any particular interest were to suffer, I should not hold that that in itself was a fatal objection; but I do not believe that this is going to injure building societies in the slightest degree. I have communicated with some of the largest building societies, and today I received a letter from the manager of one of the largest societies in my own neighbourhood, and he tells me he does not fear competition at all, but, on the contrary, he thinks this will help to extend the class of business he finds profitable. It will deal mainly with that class which does not come to him, and that the mere discussion of the matter will be an advertisement for ordinary building societies. Of course, I am speaking generally, and my observations may not apply to particular cases. It is a most common thing for a man when he enters a building society to take two or three shares and to seek to become the owner of two or three houses. He does not build for himself, but in order to become the landlord of small house property. I believe that is so in the great majority of cases. I am very doubtful whether we ought to wish well to that system, because undoubtedly the small owner of house property is the hardest landlord by the necessity of the case. He cannot afford to do what a richer man can afford to do, and accordingly his houses are generally found in the worst condition and his terms are generally the most exorbitant. But I find in looking through the returns that a very large proportion of what building societies are doing is in the nature of investments on a larger scale. For instance, they have got £2,000,000 invested on mortgages of over £5,000 each, and half of their mortgages are over £500. I do not believe that a quarter of their mortgages are for sums such as we are proposing to deal with—namely, £240. For all these reasons I think the House can rest assured that we are not likely to interfere with the legitimate operations of building societies, and that the competition is one which such societies have 1348 no reason to fear. We really shall be on a different track. Then I am told that after all—and this perhaps is the crux of the question—the Bill will not be any advantage to the working man. Let us. see what is meant by that. Is it an advantage to a working man to be the owner of his own house? I think it is an advantage to the community that he should be the owner of his own house. I think that undoubtedly it goes to give him a greater sense of responsibility, to give him a greater interest in local government, that it tends to make him independent and thrifty, that altogether it is calculated to make him a better citizen. In the best sense of the word it tends to make him conservative. Whether that means he will support the Party now in power I am not so sure, but I do believe that the possession of property has in the best sense of the word a Conservative tendency. But is it for the good of the working man? I think it is distinctly. I think every one who knows anything about working men will find that the man who has got his own cottage lives more happily and more comfortably than he does when he is a weekly tenant, and has literally to drag repairs out of his landlord, and does not know whether he will not be turned out at any moment into the streets again. Again, it is said it is desirable that the working men should be mobile. I think this idea of the mobility of labour applies only to a fraction of the working classes. In the majority of trades and in the majority of towns the working classes are not mobile. I could take the honourable Member for Battersea, for instance, to Birmingham and show him scores of courts in which the inhabitants have lived 10, 15, 20, or even 30 years, and if that is the case in Birmingham I feel quite sure it is the case in many other places. It may not be true as regards builders' labourers or the workmen of contractors who have to go about doing jobs in different parts of the country. I do not suppose the man engaged in that kind of work will ever want to own his house, and we are not forcing him to become the owner when he does not desire it. On the other hand, where a man has a. fixed occupation, believes he is going to stay in a place a considerable part of his life, and desires to become the owner of his house, I do not see why we should not assist him to get 1349 it. Then it is said he will be debarred from having the full advantage of this Bill by the restrictions we impose. That is purely a matter for Committee. But let us see what these restrictions are. They are extremely light and are not likely to be resented by the intending purchaser. What are they? In the first place, he has to pay the instalments regularly. I do not suppose he will object to that. He has to insure the house. I do not suppose he will object to that, for it is in his own interest quite as much as in the interest of the local authority. Then he has to reside in the house. Yes, Sir, and the only excuse I can see for the use of public money in this matter is that we are raising up a race of occupying owners, and we believe that to be a matter of such great national importance as to justify national assistance. If you take out that provision, I do not see how you will be helping the working man. But we have fenced this condition round with safeguards. Thus, for instance, if a man has to live for a limited period away— even as much as for four months in the year—for any purpose, he may do so without forfeiting the lease or incurring the penalties attached to it. What other restrictions are there? It is said a working man could not take lodgers. I do not know where honourable Members get that from. There is not a word about it in the Bill and nothing to prevent it. Then, again, it is said he cannot keep a shop. On the contrary, I think it is most desirable to assist small shopkeepers as well as working men; therefore we have not confined the operation of the Bill to any class in the community. But, inasmuch as the corporations and local authorities will be large creditors, we have thought they might very properly have a veto which they might exercise where it was necessary to prevent some objectionable occupation. We do not think that any objection would be taken if the dwelling was used as an ordinary shop in addition to its being a residential house. Therefore, so far as the restrictions are concerned, I do not think they will stand in the way of the use that will be made of this Bill. The House' will ask what will be the practical, definite advantage to working men in connection with the operation of this Measure. The other day I came across some very interesting 1350 facts in a pamphlet which was written by Mr. Stanley Boulter, who will be known to many Members of this House as having taken a great deal of interest in this matter, and who took a great deal of trouble to find out what was the state of things in London and the neighbourhood. He inquired from some of the largest surveyors in London—Mr. Bousfield and Mr. Vigers—for a list of figures as to the average value or price of a workman's house; and he has found from these two great authorities, what I think is confirmed by the information I have received from Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, and some other large towns—that, speaking roughly, ten years' purchase of the gross rent is the selling value of the house. He gives an illustration in confirmation of this, and I was going to take that illustration as an example of the operation of the Bill. He says that four freehold houses in Canning Town were advertised for sale. Each house was let at 8s. 6d. per week and each was sold for £206 5s., or about 9¼ years' purchase of the gross rent. That was rather a favourable purchase, because Mr. Bousfield says that the average all over London would be equal to 12½ or 10 years' purchase. Mr. Boulter, feeling it was a matter of some importance to know the state of repair of the houses, sent a surveyor to ascertain, and he found they were in very good ordinary repair. He also ascertained that one man in one of the houses had lived there for 18 years. He had entered the house at the time it was built and had remained there until the day it was sold. If that man had, under the operation of this Bill, bought his house he would have become the sole and entire owner three years before it was sold. That is to say, in 15 years he would have become the sole and entire owner. Taking the average at something between 10 and 12 years' purchase, the working man would become the owner of his house, paying no more than the present rent, in something between 16 and 20 years, according to the exact value of the house. It is clear that a Bill which will enable that to be done confers an immense advantage upon the working classes.
§ AN HONOURABLE MEMBER: Are the repairs included in that estimate?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
No; and this is a very striking point. The repairs to a workman's house, which are carried out at the cost of the landlord, are very trifling indeed, and in point of money value I believe they will be more trifling to the working man inhabiting the house, who will be able to do a great deal of the repairs himself. At any rate, let every man make his own calculation of the sum he would be willing to spend on repairs, and that must be taken as a sum extra.
§ MR. BARTLEY
Could the man whose case the right honourable Gentleman has cited have bought the house at the beginning of the term?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
I really do not agree with that. I suppose what my honourable Friend means is that the real point is that a working man may not be able to buy the house he wants to. Of course, as long as everything is permissive, that is the case. If the working man wants one house and will not be satisfied with any but that one, and if the landlord of that house refuses to sell it, undoubtedly the transaction cannot take place. But if you go into a working-class district you will find there is invariably a certain percentage of houses which are in the market. There is never a time when the ordinary house which is occupied in the district is not to be obtained by the hundred, and, therefore, I do not believe that any working man seeking for a house will experience any difficulty in 1352 finding one which the landlord will be willing to sell. I ought to apologise to the House for having entered so much into detail, but that was really necessary from the nature of the discussion. I am almost inclined to hope that the honourable Gentleman who has moved the Amendment will be content to allow it to be negatived, or, at all events, will not think it necessary to take a formal division on the matter, because I cannot see anything in what has been alleged that goes to the principle of the Measure. The principle of the Measure is in the interest, not only of the working-class population, but of the community as a whole. We are going to try to do for the occupiers of houses what we have already done in Ireland and elsewhere for the occupiers of holdings. I think it is a desirable matter, and I cannot, I think, conclude in better terms than in the words of Lord Rosebery, who, speaking upon a similar Measure in the House of Lords, said he was of opinion that whatever difficulties might arise in carrying out this proposal ought to be resolutely faced, because the experiment ought to be allowed to be tried in the interest of our working population. Agreeing with that expression of opinion, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ * MR. BURNS (Battersea)
The right honourable Gentleman, as he was perfectly justified in doing, has referred to a certain statement I made on the last occasion when this Bill was before the House. He said that the argument that this Measure would interfere with the mobility of labour had been considerably exaggerated, and that his experience in a large manufacturing town was that by far the larger proportion of the working classes were not more mobile than other classes. I repeat this evening what I said before, that the Bill will interfere with the mobility of labour, and, accepting the challenge of the right honourable Gentleman, I will give a few figures. It will, I think, be admitted that the Hearts of Oak Society's membership is fairly typical of the class of persons most likely to avail themselves of this Bill. I have obtained some statistics from the secretary to the Hearts of Oak Society, which show that out of its 220,000 members, no fewer than 156,000 had removed during the past year. So 1353 much, then, for the suggestion that the arguments as to the mobility of labour have been much exaggerated. I repeat the figure that of the '220,000 artisans and clerks to whom this Bill will apply, no less than 156,000 moved in one year, or an average of 500 removals per day. Now I come from the Hearts of Oak to the officials of a large Railway Union, who have, generally speaking, regular work: and making due allowance for promotion, they are fairly steady. I find that 25 per cent, of the officials of the Railway Union move every year, whilst in London from 30 to 40 per cent, of the men move every year, and the employment of the officials, as a rule, is more permanent.
§ AN HONOURABLE MEMBER: You are mistaken.
§ * MR. BURNS
No, I am not mistaken. No less than 25 per cent, of these railway officials move every year, whilst from 30 to 40 per cent, of that particular union also move every 12 months. I find also that, in five years, half the officers of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, elected for the greater permanency of their position, change their addresses during that period. So much, then, for the statement that the mobility of labour is not a factor in house accommodation. Now I come to another point. I believe, however we may deplore it, that the tendency of labour to move about we cannot, on the whole, resist. It is economic, it is industrial, and it is social, and no pettifogging Bill for creating small house owners will resist or check it. Even if it is to be checked, I am not sure that it would be wise to do it. What do we find? We find, by the nationalisation of trade that manufacturers are not confined to small areas like they used to be, but all industries on a large scale increasingly appeal to a national market, or to an international market, and the growth of trusts, syndicates, and large combinations of manufacturers all tend to a larger number of men being employed by a smaller number of employers, and these are scattered over larger areas. What happens is this: If you take a railway company like the London and 1354 North Western Railway, with 76,000 men employed, permanency is a positive disadvantage to a signalman, an engine driver, or a clerk who justifies promotion, because they can only get that promotion by being able to move about. If he wants promotion, in many cases the fact that he is part proprietor or has solely acquired a house operates as a disadvantage against him. Let us take for instance people such as bank clerks and commercial travellers, whose business demands movement. These are the only people in the big towns who can ever hope to come under the provisions of this Bill, because very few artisans or clerks can ever hope to get £50 or £60 to deposit, and very few' of them will be able to raise £300 in 30 years if anchored to one spot, which sum is necessary to acquire a house. I am opposed to this Bill simply because in large towns it does not apply, for a house in London which would cost £300 is hardly worth having, and, what is more, even if it could be got for £300, the average labourer, artisan, or poorly-paid clerk or warehouseman is positively unable to get that £300 with which to purchase it. But whatever may be said in favour of this Bill, it cannot be said that it attempts to solve the housing problem. It does not touch overcrowding, and it does not deal with those courts in Birmingham of which we have heard so much, and of the ownership we have had no evidence. If the right honourable Gentleman considers the bad sanitary condition of some of the courts in Birmingham, he will find this fact stated in the last Report of the Medical Officer: that in Birmingham the death rate in its poor districts is stationary or rising, whilst in the 15 other large towns the death rate is going down. He will find that death, disease, and overcrowding exist most in the small courts and alleys where the houses are owned by the small property owners whose tenants cannot afford to use this Bill. What is there in this Bill to prevent small houseowners using this Bill as a means of getting at a cheap rate those very same houses in the courts of Birmingham and London?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
Under the Bill the applicant must reside in the house, and as a man can only reside in one house at the 1355 same time, he can only become the possessor of one house under this Bill.
§ * MR. BURNS
The right honourable Gentleman is evidently under the impression that when this Bill is passed there will not be a great deal of ingenuity displayed in evading its clauses. He will find that there will be a number of moneylenders prepared to lend money to a nominal tenant to deposit and buy the house right out. There is no reason why the residential condition of the Bill should not be used by houseowners who could live in a municipal house and draw rents from other houses. I think that of all the Acts of Parliament that a coach and four could be driven through, this is one, and you can rely upon the moneylender driving the coach and six through this particular Act. I come now to one or two things in connection with the principle of the Bill. I desire to say that there is no mandate for this Bill from the class which it is supposed to benefit. The defeat of its author at Stockton, and the overwhelming defeat of Mr. Stanley Boulter at the last County Council election in the East End of London, is proof positive that Londoners do not think a great deal of the Measure. On account of the cost of a house, as I said before, Londoners are not likely to benefit by it, and I am not so sure that it may not lead to employers inducing their workmen to make these deposits for reasons foreign to the Bill. The Act may possibly be used for the creation of nominal tenants in a way that is undesirable for the benefit of labour. What is more, the Bill is defective in this sense, that it is permissive in its operation. I believe that if there is one defect in the Housing of the Working-Classes Act it consists in the fact that the local authorities have not got the power to compulsorily acquire land for building, for that would do more in one year than this Bill is likely to do in 20 years: and it is also a matter for regret that the local authorities have not got the power to clear away houses that legally are not insanitary, but which ought either to be remodelled or pulled down to make room for better dwellings. This Bill does at the expense of the rates that which we have many agencies capable of doing almost as well. I do not believe that it is a wise thing always, whether the people are rich or 1356 poor, to encourage amongst them the practice of borrowing, which is regrettable, and I believe that long before the municipality should take the role of moneylenders—and under this Bill it will be bum-bailiff as well—there are many other phases of the housing problem which municipalities ought to grapple with, such as the acquisition of land and the simplification of the Housing of the Working Classes Act to compel local authorities to build more rapidly than they do, and to reduce the period for which the land and building shall be paid for in the shape of rent; and generally to vigorously interpret the enforcement of the Housing of the Working Classes Act. What is more, I protest against the owner's inquisitorial conditions with regard to a man's residence. I do not believe that any workman can say that he is likely to be in a house for 30 years. It may be to his own advantage that he should move when, he has been there about two years, and I believe that ownership of houses of this type will tend to tie men to certain spots when from the point of view of the health of his family and his promotion in business it would be advantageous for him to move. This Measure increases officialism in a direction where it is not necessary, and I can assure the House that all the big municipal authorities would be better engaged, especially in Birmingham, in rectifying the shocking condition of things disclosed by its medical officer, and in putting into force the existing Acts of Parliament rather than diverting their attention into such questions as the valuation and the title of houses for a class of people who, if they use this Bill, are well enough off to dispense with the law altogether, and to use private agencies rather than creating a lot of people into small house owners, who are generally the worst of landlords, and who will use this Bill in a, direction which the right honourable Gentleman does not contemplate. It is true, as the right honourable Gentleman has said to-night, that he never claimed that this Bill would stop overcrowding, nor that it would interfere with the housing problem. Then why introduce a Bill that leaves this difficulty untouched? It does, however, seem to me that there is a strong probability of this Bill aggravating the housing problem, and I may say that I have had consider- 1357 able practical experience in this direction. I represent a constituency in which there are small householders, very large owners as individuals, and very large owners as companies; in fact, there is a population in the parish that I live in of nearly 40,000 persons housed by two individual landlords and by the Artisans' Dwellings Company. I venture to say that if you were to put it to any of the people who live in that district whether they would prefer to be the tenants of the Artisans' Dwellings Company and the two large landlords, either as to rent or sanitation, or be the tenants of small houseowners, who get their houses either through the building societies or under this Bill, they would select the large landlords in preference to the small house: owner who owns two or three houses. I am positively convinced of this fact, that except to make a few tenants into bad house holders, this Bill cannot hope to do much good. Now, I shall be probably told that it is the duty of everybody to do all they can to enable men to own their own houses. Well, on the ground of following occupation, the ownership of houses is not good. On the contrary, in London and many of the big towns, it is a positive disadvantage. In the country the housing problem cannot be solved by giving agricultural labourers or craftsmen an opportunity of buying a house which they cannot possibly avail themselves of, because landlords, as a rule, are disinclined to sell their property. This difficulty cannot be overcome unless compulsory power is given, and this Bill is ridiculously permissive. If you want to help the rural population, the owners must be forced to sell their land, and if land is accessible to the people or to the builders, then the housing problem will be considerably ameliorated. Now, this Bill makes no provision for compulsory sale, and without it there is no possible chance of the housing question being satisfactorily settled. I believe that what is wanted is an increase in the number of houses, and not of owners. I believe that the only way that this can be accomplished is either through the instrumentality of large companies or through the municipalities. I believe that this Bill will tend to divert the energies of municipalities from carrying out the provision of the Housing of the Working Classes 1358 Act, and in certain cases an excuse for masterly inactivity. I believe its effect will be to add to the multiplicity of inspection and needless inquisition, which in some directions is growing in our local life. I believe that it would be better that local authorities, large companies and large owners of large numbers of houses should have an Imperial grant-in-aid to encourage them to build houses, and to rent them at a certain rent, rather than we should give to individual workmen an opportunity of getting that which, I believe, in other respects, they are able to get elsewhere. I can only say that, for the vast number of people who live in the overcrowded districts in London and elsewhere, that this Bill not only affords no relief, but it is mocking their present condition. What is the good of asking a dock labourer, whose average earning are 16s. or 18s. a week, to provide £300? What is the good of this Bill to a railway porter in the Midlands, who is getting 10s. or 18s. a week? What is the use of this Measure to a railway booking clerk, who has to move from point to point in order to get higher wages. This Act can only be used by clerks and men whose wages are from £3 to £5 or £8 a week. Men earning less than that will not be able to use this Bill to any appreciable extent. I did think that this Government, which claims to have done so much in the way of social progress, would have recognised this fact, that those who are entitled to the first claim upon the Treasury and the rates of the community are that residuum of the population who are the worst off and are the most badly housed. "To him that hath shall be given" seems to be the principle of this Bill, and those living in the squalid slums and alleys are still compelled to continue to live under their present bad conditions. There is another point that I wish to bring before the right honourable Gentleman. The tendency of town populations is to live in blocks and large dwellings. Under this Bill half a dozen people could not co-operate together for the joint ownership of a house to hold two, three, or four families, which is, perhaps, the most popular form of house accommodation in our large towns. Now, why should this be denied to them? Why should they be excluded from doing this simply because the Government have thought fit to minister to the rash promises of a 1359 few of their excited supporters in order to carry out their election pledges, which I really do not believe that half the people who heard them thought would ever be put into operation in this absurd fashion simply on the ground that it was impossible to do so unless the Housing of the Working Classes Act was considerably extended and almost revolutionised, which is the only direction in which the housing problem could be solved. I find the right honourable Gentleman claiming support and asking for the assistance of this House to get this Bill through in the interests of the working man. I can only say, as representing a working class constituency, that I have never received any request for this Bill. I do not believe that twelve months after this Bill has been in existence 500 people in London will avail themselves of its advantages. I believe that it is possible— although I am prepared to trust local government—that builders and house "farmers" may be anxious to unload their undesirable property off on to nominal tenants at the cost of the rates, a thing, of course, that the local authority must be responsible for. But it is not the house "farmer," or the small builder, or the man earning from £3 to £6 a week whom we ought to help. The people this House ought to help are the 11 to 12 per cent, of the total population of England and Wales living in overcrowded tenements simply because the Housing of the Working Classes Act is unworkable to the extent to which it should be carried out, and is not enforced to its full extent. What chance has a peasant in Mayo or Galway, with 8s. or 9s. a week, to get any relief with regard to his housing difficulty from a Bill of this kind when he is asked to deposit £50. With regard to Scotland, we have also there a very difficult problem, for the housing problem in Scotland is infinitely more complicated because the large block dwellings and tenements there are owned by the municipality in many cases, and by private individuals; and the fact is, that, plausible as this statement of the right honourable Gentleman may seem, I do not believe that this Bill will be enforced to any serious extent in Scotland. This Bill, wherever it is enforced, will help the wrong type of people, and it will leave the poor town dweller absolutely 1360 out of its provisions. It is true that this Measure may have been introduced for electioneering purposes, but because politicians have promised bad things, that is no reason why the House should support every rash politician who wants to hold his seat. The Government should force the municipalities of this country to build more largely than they have hitherto done, and not bring in a Bill to give houses to people who can get them by their own private means. It is because I object to the rates being used in the interests of private individuals who can help themselves, and because I object to municipalities playing the role of moneylender with the rates, that I shall vote against, and I hope I shall have, the honour of telling against, this ridiculous Bill.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval—
§ * SIR W, WEDDERBURN (Banffshire)
Mr. Speaker, I wish to put a question to the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies with regard to the application of this Bill to Scotland—
§ Attention having been called to the fact that there were not 40 Members present, the House was counted, when 40 Members being present—
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN (continuing)
I do not see the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his place, but the learned Attorney-General is present, and perhaps he will be able to give me the information I wish to obtain. It is this. Under clause 2, I observe that the powers to be exercised under this Bill are only given, to boroughs which have not less than 7,000 inhabitants. I should be glad to know the principle on which this limit has been based. As regards; England, all county boroughs will be able to exercise these powers, but as regards Scotland boroughs with less than 7,000 inhabitants are excluded.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
May I point out to the honourable Baronet that he is mistaken. If he will look at 1361 clause 11, sub-section (b), he will find that all burghs in Scotland are included.
§ * SIR W. WEDDERBURN
I do not think that I am mistaken. There is a strong feeling in Scotland that the limit of population fixed is. unnecessary. Burghs in Scotland, even with a population of less than 7,000, are skilled in the management of their own affairs, and therefore these authorities would be meat likely to know where the Bill should be enforced. I draw attention to the matter in order that some explanation may be given. I have been asked to bring it forward by various burghs in my own constituency. I do not say that, on that account, they approve or disapprove the Bill, but they do not wish to be excluded from powers given to other authorities, as they consider that it would be a reflection upon them to be excluded from the option of exercising them. As regards the general principles of the Bill, I do not claim any great experience of the subject, but from such experience as I have had I find that the working men in Scotland with whom I have come in contact are not very anxious to obtain the ownership of their own house. On the contrary, they much prefer the freedom of moving about in pursuit of employment, and in this respect they are perhaps more active than working men in England. Moreover, there is, I think, a feeling that the man who purchases his house has a greater tie to the locality, and is put further under the power of his employer if he were not satisfied with his conditions of work. One honourable Gentleman, on the other side, said that the object of the Bill was to give pleasure to those working men who wished to have the satisfaction of ownership. Well, that is a very harmless and beneficent desire, and everyone will sympathise with it. I submit, however, that there is no crying need for the Bill. What there is a crying need for is, not for ownership of houses, but for more houses, for better houses, and for more sanitary houses, for the working people. I am sure that there would be a very strong feeling in support of any such scheme by which landowners were encouraged to build houses for the working classes. In many districts in my own constituency there are not houses enough for the men to work the land. There 1362 is, therefore, a very great need in that direction. We do not want public money for this purpose. We want compulsory power to get sites to build upon. That is the real difficulty. If sites were once obtained even the working men themselves would be able to build houses, or get contractors to build for them. As regards the general scope of the Bill, I do not see that anyone can find fault with it except in so far as it trifles with the great question of the housing of the working classes. If this Measure is intended to gratify a few artisans! who aspire to be the owners of their own houses, it is an amiable and laudable endeavour in that direction, but as a serious attempt to deal with the great difficulty of overcrowding, I think, as has been said by the honourable Member for Battersea, is nothing more nor less than a mockery.
§ * MR. LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
I wish to entirely dissociate myself from those who support this Measure. I am aware that in 1893, 1896, and in 1898 the House agreed to the principle of the Bill, the Government is not therefore to be altogether condemned for having given way to the great pressure there has been placed upon it by its own supporters. It may be asked why I did not enter my protest before. I answer that when amateurs bring in Private Bills it is not incumbent upon serious Members of the House of Commons to protest. It is said that the Bill is approved by a caucus of Conservative associations. I did not attend the meetings at which it was brought forward, nor do I know that I even ought to have been there, because I observe that bad legislation frequently results from political agitation. The object of the Bill is to make thrifty and good citizens by an Act of Parliament, to provide healthy houses for the people, to encourage thrift, to lend public money to people who have saved £60 to buy or build houses—and it is contended that all these benefits can be provided without cost to anybody. It seems almost ungrateful to look at the lips of such a gift horse, let alone to open its mouth and look at its teeth. But, Sir, I believe the Bill will postpone sanitary legislation, prolong the existence of dwellings unfit for human habitation, leave untouched overcrowding, 1363 weaken the sense of independence amongst the industrial classes, discourage thrift, check private' and associated enterprise, and impose neediest, and therefore unjust, burdens on the poor. The method proposed is to lend public money on mortgage, the loans to be repaid by instalments in 30 years, the local authority being the mortgagees with the rights, but without the duties, of landlord. The first assumption is that it would be so popular and prudent to sink the savings of- the people in. these investments that the scheme should be encouraged by Act of Parliament. Let me read to the House the words of the right honourable! Gentleman the Colonial Secretary on the subject—A deferred annuity"—which is the same thing as deferred ownership—is a form of saving universally unpopular with the working classes. If the benefit to be received after 30 years depends upon yearly payments, a very large proportion of the persons who pay will, by temporary misfortune, or some inability, be thrown out of the benefits. Failure may deprive a man of the contributions already made.The second assumption is that a freehold secures good sanitation. Why, Sir, experience proves the contrary. The person with whom it is most difficult for the local authorities to deal in matters of sanitation is not the occupier who is the tenant, but the occupier who is his own landlord. I do not, of course, refer to the rich freeholder. Any man who has money in his pocket will obtain a healthy house. It is poverty which creates insanitation. Of all the dependent and discontented citizens of this country the mortgaged freeholders are the most dependent and discontented. I do not care whether the mortgaged freeholder lives in a castle or in a cottage. Compare the independence of a man who has £60 in the bank with the dependence of a man who, under the terms of this Bill, has mortgaged his property for £240 and has to repay that sum. There is no man more independent than the man with a balance at his bankers. He can go on strike, or meet illness or misfortune, or move from place to place in search of work without lodging in workhouses. The mobility of labour has been very well put by the honourable Member for Battersea. But 1364 the fact is ignored by this Bill. Half the population in the poorer districts move every year. The capital of the artisan in England is his brains and his capacity to work, and in order to get the most out of that capital ho must be able to move anywhere. The artisan of England is a cosmopolitan, not adscriptus glebœ, and he ought to be able to carry his labour to the waterworks in Wales, to the shipbuilding yards in Belfast or Glasgow, to the Yang-tsze Valley, or to the Barrage of the Nile. To try to induce him to stick to his street, or parish, or town is to place a difficulty in his way. This Measure is more suited to a stationary than to a progressive state of society. The workshop of the British workman is the world. It has always been a tradition of English policy not to interfere with the free development of trade and the acquisition of property. That is surely a good Conservative and Unionist doctrine. This Bill, however, constitutes an interference with trade: and with the independence of the working classes. I am not sure that you ought to do for yourselves what you can get other people to do for you; certainly you should not do for other people what they can do for themselves. There are building societies which are doing the work proposed to be done by this Bill and have 50 millions invested in building operations. The Birkbeck Society, for instance, has been most successful. In Oldham, I am told, 25 per cent, of the people have bought their own houses. In Bolton the percentage is the same, whilst in Bradford nine out of ten have bought their own houses through the instrumentality of building societies. The reason of the failure of some building societies is twofold. It is due to the depreciation of property. That has been the potent cause. The next cause is that these societies have been unable always to select suitable tenants. The local authority would suffer from the same disadvantages in greater degree. Let us learn from experience. Take the case of the Shaftesbury Estate. The houses were to become the freehold of the occupiers by annual payments merged in rent upon easy terms, similar to those proposed by my right honourable Friend. What is the state of affairs to-day? Most of the tenants now regret having embarked in this speculation, 1365 and the society has lost money and failed to realise the initial value. But the idea of preventing overcrowding by building single tenement dwellings is wrong. The way to deal with the housing of populous districts is to build houses one on top of another, in storeys and flats —not single houses—therefore this Bill will discourage the settlement of the great question of the housing of the people again. Few people live in the same house for 30 years—they either leave the neighbourhood altogether, or go into a, better or a worse house—and it is a delusion to suppose that you can sell or transfer these houses at a profit. Upon whom is the loss of depreciation to fall? Let the House consider the position of the local authority as a mortgagee. The non-resident landlord is as nothing compared with the resident mortgagee—a monster that cannot be kicked or conscience-pricked. Realise the scene in a street in Birmingham! The occupiers fall into arrears, the rents are denounced as excessive, the deserving tenants are turned out in the middle of winter by the conscript fathers—families of six children, an invalid wife, and an aged mother—cruel and wholesale evictions after the Irish precedents ! Why, Sir, there would be riots, the windows of the great Guildhall at Birmingham would be smashed and the mayor and corporation pelted and hissed. The Bill imposes a difficult task upon the local authorities, and they will probably not fulfil their statutory obligations. And what will be the result? The accumulation of arrears, of insanitary conditions, and of overcrowding, and you will make worse citizens instead of better, and create a public scandal. An Englishman's home is his castle, but how can it be a pleasant castle when he has to be visited by the rent collector, the rate collector, and the nuisance inspector every week, month, and quarter? And if the statutory conditions are not fulfilled, what will happen? The Englishman's castle will be sold over his head! But we are told that this Bill will give the people a "stake" in the country, and thus be a "barrier against Socialism." The Bill will do nothing of the kind. The Bill will only induce people to take £60 out of the savings bank or friendly society and invest it in a house. It will be a blow to those self-managed societies 1366 which already hold £300,000,000 of the investments of the people. The methods of the Bill are not new. They have often been tried before. Has my right honourable Friend the Colonial Secretary ever read the prospectus of the National Land Company? It is a little more highly flavoured than his own speeches in favour of the Bill, but the same, in sense. Workmen were to be placed on small holdings as tenants in the first, instance, and to become freeholders after the payment of 21 yearly instalments. Independence and plenty were to be the reward of those who joined the company, and the happy result was to be effected without costing anybody anything. Among other things the prospectus set forth that—Man should not be the slave of man. He was never destined to crawl at the feet or cringe to the will of his equal. He was never destined to be—'By dire misfortune led,Subservient to the wealthy fool for bread.'But the land has fallen a prey to ruthless monopoly, and man, in the rampancy of irresponsible power, has driven his brother from fields where the reward of his toil would be peace, abundance, and independence.Well, in one decade everyone connected with that society was ruined. A Government inspector was sent down to inquire into the winding-up of the society, and he asked, "Are any of the original allottees on the land?" "Not exactly on the land," was the answer, "but one is on the union and one is in the union." The National Liberal Land Company was afterwards started on the same plan, and I commend its prospectus to some of my honourable Friends, because it shows what a different way people have of looking at the same question—Nothing is better calculated to extend the voting power of the Liberal Party in both boroughs and counties than the encouragement of small freehold tenures, both urban and agricultural.The operation of the Bill will be extremely limited. I do not know whether any honourable Member has ever calculated the figures, but in a town with a population of 10,000 and a rateable value of £35,000, half a house will be built in a year under this Bill. In a town with a population of 30,000 and a rateable value of £150,000, two houses can be built in one year—
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
I am sorry to interrupt my honourable Friend. He is evidently-enjoying himself, but he is entirely mistaken as to the operation of the Bill. There is absolutely no limit to the number of houses which may be built by such a constituency as he has referred to, unless the expenses exceed the penny rate. In my opinion there will be no expense at all, and there will be practically no limit.
* MR, LEIGHTON
My right honourable Friend is under the unhappy delusion that this Bill is to cost nobody anything. I pass by the possibility of jobbery and manipulation in the interests of the speculator and capitalist. I do Bay that the duty of the local authorities is the destruction of insanitary houses, and not the construction or re-construction of good houses, Their duty is to enforce upon owners the obligations of ownership. Wherever the artisan goes he ought to be able to find a sanitary lodging, and this is a legitimate demand which coincides with public policy. No owner has a right to use his property so that it is injurious to others. The local authorities should have power to attach the rent of insanitary property. If I had the right to appoint inspectors and to attach the rent I would undertake to see that there would not be a single insanitary cottage in England in 10 years' time. Take away the motive for keeping cottages in an unhealthy state, and they will soon rise, almost automatically, to the rent earning standard. It may be said that this Bill will do little harm; I do not think it will do much harm. It is permissive, and it may be innocuous, but the principle underlying it is a dangerous one, and I for my part cannot support it. It has been said by many supporters of the Bill that it will be a dead letter. Well, Sir, I do not intend to be a party to making the Statute Book a repository for dead letters. I shall follow the example of an Irish friend of mine, who, in a pregnant bull, after expressing his opinion on a Bill, declared his intention of recording his vote by walking out of the House.
§ MR. BILLSON (Halifax)
I do not think that the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary has 1368 dealt quite fairly with the building societies. There can be no doubt about the feeling of the building societies with reference to this Bill, for in a recent Conference held in the Westminster Palace Hotel it was resolved unanimously that the effect of the proposed competition must be to deprive the building societies, to a great extent, of a legitimate, safe, and satisfactory portion of their business, and that they consider the present Bill unnecessary and dangerous. In the Debate the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary seemed incredulous that the building societies could lend money so cheaply. I do not know why the right honourable Gentleman should feel any difficulty in believing that building societies can lend money at 4 per cent. I know that some of them can lend it at 3½ per cent., and that confirms the objection which I have taken to the Bill in the interest of borrowers. The right honourable Gentleman refers with exultation to the number of working men who will purchase houses under this Bill; and he seems to fancy that unless this Bill is passed, no working man can buy a house. But we all know that if a working man has saved £30 or £40 there are many places where he can get a good building society or a private mortgagee to advance the rest of the money for the purchase of the house without any difficulty whatever. I have no doubt that such property would always rank high, and that there would be no difficulty for money to be found for such a good class of borrowers. There is a requirement in the Bill that in all cases the title to the property must be registered. Well, I am strongly in favour of registration, but if we are to have a compulsion put on a certain class of owners that their particular property must be registered, I do not like beginning with purchasers of this class. To make a requirement that property must be registered, is a very considerable interference with the dealings in property. Then, who is going to give an interpretation of such a title as the mortgagee will take? We know that the title which a town council will have to take will be such that no purchaser of a single house can possibly register, if you are to get it clear of all the restrictions which adhere to the property for 40 years. And it would 1369 require a payment of from £5 to £10 in every case in order to have the property properly put on the register. There are many of us who have no objection whatever to using the credit of localities for the purpose of assisting the classes who most need assistance, but we have always considered that, as a rule, when this credit is used, it should be for the equal benefit of all the community, and not for the benefit of a particular class. I wonder the right honourable Gentleman did not pay any attention to the remarks of the honourable Member for Durham, who talked about the assistance which might be obtained from life assurance. Many assurance companies have a moderate scale by which life policies are issued contemporaneous with the annual payments of the mortgagor. If this Bill is to be carried out to prevent loss to the mortgagee, then life assurance should also be applied to safeguard the interests of the mortgagor and his family. These and many other things should be introduced into the Measure in Committee. I sincerely hope that should this Bill be read a second time, it will be dealt with by Committee of the whole House and not by a Grand Committee. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary and the right honourable Gentleman the Attorney-General rather scoffed at the remark that the Small Holdings Act was a dead letter. Well, I have looked into the matter, and I find that from 1894 to 1897 only 120 acres have been acquired under the Small Holdings Act, scattered over only six different parishes and that 45 tenants were all that were placed on these holdings. That was the result of the Act of 1894. It has been mentioned by my honourable and learned Friend that this Bill was rather an electioneering Bill than one from which great good was to be expected. A similar charge was made against the Small Holdings Act, and it is rather curious that it should have proved true of the Small Holdings Act, for we see how useless it has been. I was present at a bye-election the other day, and I noticed that the walls were placarded with bills holding out to the inhabitants that since the Government have already given the opportunity to small farmers to acquire their farms, they were going at the earliest opportunity 1370 to give the British workman in towns facilities for acquiring their dwelling-houses. I venture to think that when these workmen see that the Small Holdings Act of 1894 is a dead letter, and that it has only been taken advantage of in three years by 45 tenants in six different parishes, they will arrive at the conclusion that as little progress will be made under this Bill in acquiring their houses.
§ COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
I am very sorry that on the Second Reading of this Bill the discussion has been so discursive. The principal opposition seems to me to have come from those who speak on behalf of the building societies. There is no doubt that many artisans who live in their own houses are the best customers of the building societies, but if working men have in so many cases purchased their houses through building societies, managed by their fellow workmen, that only shows that they are trustworthy borrowers. I admit that this Bill when it becomes law will take away some business from the building societies, and that those who have reduced their mortgages to a certain limit will probably pay off the society and obtain an advance from the local authority. If I had to choose between the interests of the building-societies and the working man I would rather vote in favour of the working man, because I do not see why, if he can get his money at 3½ per cent., he should pay 5 per cent, for it for the benefit of those who have invested in building societies. There is no reason why working men who want to have their own houses should not have the benefit of cheap money, through the security the municipalities would offer, and I am quite sure the municipalities, having the power to lend the money only in their own districts, would be very careful to lend it only on good security. It is true that in many districts the Act will be a dead letter, but in many other districts it will not be. In my own constituency there are hundreds of men who already own their own houses through the medium of building societies, but if this Bill passes, there will be a still greater number who will be able to acquire their houses on easier terms. I therefore approve of the 1371 Second Beading of the Bill, and I think the discussion has been too much enlarged.
§ MR. BAINBRIDGE (Lincoln, Gainsborough)
I exceedingly regret that the right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary should, in speaking of the building societies, have used the term "money-lending societies," because these are organisations which have done more than any other bodies in the country to promote thrift among the working classes. Honourable Members should consider the comparative benefits proposed to be conferred by this Bill, and the advantages enjoyed by members of building societies. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary has, I am sorry to say, given a wrong impression as to the building societies. He read an extract from the report of some building society, which generally approves, of this Bill. But at the very same time to which that extract referred, an indignation meeting of the Building Societies Association was held at which a resolution was carried unanimously expressing the strongest dissent from the Bill. That resolution represented £26,000,000 out of the £40,000,000 invested by building societies, and that resolution indicates the strong feeling entertained by the societies in regard to the Bill. I have been trying for the last 20 years to induce my workmen to buy their own houses, and if I were asked to advise them as to whether they should accept this Bill or to go on with their building society, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that my advice would be altogether in favour of the building society. This Bill bristles with difficulties. First of all, a man must have already a large amount of money in his own hands; then, he must reside in his own house; then, he would be in the position that if he dies, and his widow could not keep on the house, the local authority would take it over; and, finally, the burdens of the local authority are misunderstood in a large part of the Bill. There are 620,000 members of building societies in the country, representing a capital of £40,000,000 sterling. They have lent money at 5 per cent., and are now constantly lending it at 4 per cent., and I quite fail to see how anyone can find any advantage in 1372 the scheme of the Bill as compared with the advantages of the building societies. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, unless I mistook his words, said that a man could not be the possessor, under his scheme, of more than one house. That is a great mistake. According to the Bill a tenant may acquire his house in 14 years, but he may extinguish his indebtedness in three years. What is to hinder a man after acquiring a house in the three years, going again to the local authority and demanding another advance to buy his own house. Therefore, instead of this Bill being an advantage to the working man, it will be an advantage to the ordinary house speculator. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary said that the Government were content to do matters in a little way. I conclude by stating that these words graphically and accurately describe the character of this Bill.
§ * MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)
There are four or five points I would like to submit to the right honourable Gentleman before he takes a vote on this Bill. I understand the right honourable Gentleman to have stated that this Bill was a Bill mainly to encourage thrifty men to become the owners of their own houses. One of the conditions that the right honourable Gentleman imposes on the man is that he should have £60—he must have been thrifty enough to have saved that £60—and that he should then go to the local authority and borrow public money at a lower rate of interest than in the natural order he would be able to obtain it. In the first place, I would submit to the right honourable Gentleman in charge of the Bill, whether it is a right application of public money to advance it for the pocket interest of a class who already, presumably on the footing of the Bill, have shown themselves self-denying and self-reliant enough to have saved these £60. That is, the Bill enables these men to get, on the credit of the State and at the expense of the taxpayers, money at a less rate than they would otherwise obtain it in the ordinary course. It is not denied by the draftsman of the Bill or by the right honourable Gentleman that a man who has £60 in his pocket could go and readily obtain the money on not un- 1373 reasonable terms, as has been shown more than once to-night. There is a difference between getting it from the State and obtaining it at the ordinary commercial rates of interest of at least 2 per cent. That is one point. But I also wish to point out to the right honourable Gentleman that while he protects, as he supposes, the public pocket by saying that the public authority shall not advance more than four-fifths of the value of the house, which is, it seems to me, a very small margin, there is another class which, in my opinion, will stand a much better chance of securing the whole profit than the man the right honourable Gentleman wishes to get the advantage. Let me take a concrete case. A jerry-builder takes a plot of ground and builds upon it a block of houses in order to sell them. When this Bill passes the jerry-builder will say, "Oh, this is a Bill which enables public money to be advanced for us. It increases our market. Our customers are the very men the Government intends to help, and to help them too, at a much less cost than they can borrow elsewhere. We shall build accordingly; we shall put up our prices; we shall help the man with the one-fifth of the price of the house, and charge him so much more because he gets his money cheap." Now the Bill does not prevent that, and these men will soon find it out. A man with no cash in his pocket may go to a jerry-builder—I am speaking from an experience of 40 years, and of what has actually been done—and say, "If you give me a deed showing that I purchase this house for £300—£60 supposed my own—you will write on the deed a receipt, and I give you a promissory note besides," leaving £240 to be paid later. Then he takes the deed to the local local authority and says, "This is the deed under which I have purchased my house." The deed, of course, on the face of it professes that the house is worth £300. He adds, "I have paid a fifth of the amount of purchase money and I want to borrow from you the other £240." Now, this is in, say, a small town of 10,000 inhabitants, where the town council are very well known to every other man in the community. Friends of the applicant are, no doubt, in the town council, and the applicant finds that he can easily get his money, 1374 and that he does get the money. The constructional value of the house is not too closely scrutinised; a surveyor is sent to report, and he goes smoothly over the matter. He asks the applicant, "Are you going to live in this house?" and the applicant says "Yes." Then the surveyor says that the house is worth so much a year, and reports that the house is good security for £240. Now, that is one of the dangers which, whenever we have to put this Bill in force, we have to encounter. I understand the right honourable Gentleman to have said that a small freehold house will sell for 10 years' purchase. I should like to ask him 10 years' purchase of what? Because little houses letting at inclusive rents have their rates paid by the landlords and, sometimes, the water rate also. Let us take a house of two rooms and, perhaps, a washhouse, let at a rent of 4s. a week or £10 a year. We assume that if the owner sells it, it would be stated as worth £10 a year. But nobody would pretend for a moment that that is a good investment at 10 years' purchase of £10. A man who purchases it would save £10 a year as rent, but he would have to pay the rates and taxes, do the repairs and pay the water rate also; and he would find that he was left £5 a year net or a 5 per cent, investment of £100. Let us take the case of a workman who has such a house, or even a better one, if you like. The problem before him is, "Shall I buy the house on the terms of the Government, or shall I continue to rent it? He has got a fifth of the money necessary to buy it in the bank—£20, if it is a two-roomed cottage, or £40 if the house is four-roomed. These are considerable sums for a man to have saved. "Shall I rent or buy?" he asks himself, and he answers, "If I continue to rent, I know exactly what I have got to pay; the £10 covers rates, taxes, rent, water. I have £20 in the bank, and I know that if bad times come I can move off looking for work elsewhere, and have enough, at any rate, to guard against two years' rent. But if I pay the £20 to the local authority and become entitled to get an advance of £80 to buy a house worth £100, that is not equal to £10 a year. I have got to pay £5 a year for my advance, and only get £1 a year for my £20, and that £20 is locked up for life —at least for 30 years. Then I have 1375 got to consider what is going to happen to me. I hope to better myself and increase my savings, but I cannot be sure. The biggest manufacturers may go down; even the shipbuilding trade may not continue to prosper." And so, after casting all these arguments in his mind, it is more than probable he would keep on renting. I do not say that is an argument against the Bill, but it is an argument against the man who is going to avail himself of the Bill, and it is an argument that the Bill will be a dead letter. The strongest argument I have heard in favour of the Bill is that it will do no harm, and that it will fail, as other things fail, if it has got no virtue in it. There is another point. I believe that there are nearly three-quarters of a million of these very thrifty men who are members of building societies. These societies form a very favourite investment for working men's savings, because they can put a small sum in at a time and get a very good return on it. The investment members of building societies are very much more numerous than the purchasing members who buy houses. Therefore, while you are favouring the few who want to buy houses, you are doing harm to every one of the other three-quarters of a million who are doing a legitimate trade, and getting 5 per cent, on their savings, which is more than they can get at the Post Office Savings Banks or private savings banks. Again, I ask, why should any particular class be enabled by statutory power to obtain money at less than the market rate for a particular kind of commodity? The commodity which these men are offered is a commodity which fairly commands 5 per cent., and does pay 5 per cent. Why are these favoured working men to be found money at 3 per cent, in order to take 2 per cent, out of the taxpayers, or out of the pockets of lawful traders and the other members of the building societies? Mr. Speaker, I do not wish to discourage any good citizens trying an experiment which is for the benefit of the community, but I do not feel I have sufficient confidence in this Bill to be able to give my vote in favour of it.
§ * SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I think we must all heartily agree with the principle of the Bill, so far 1376 as it was enunciated by the Colonial Secretary. The right honourable Gentleman described it as a Bill which sought to give deserving persons a,n opportunity of becoming possessors of their own homes. If anyone reads the title of the Bill, "The Small Houses Acquisition of Ownership Bill," one's hopes are naturally excited with the anticipation that the Bill will carry out the promise of the words of the title. But I must say when I come to look into the Bill and consider the amount of good it is likely to do, my feeling is one of profound disappointment. That one who has so often expressed good and highly laudable sentiments with reference to the poorer classes of the community, one who is so capable of drafting a Bill as the Colonial Secretary, for the benefit of the whole people of the country, should have missed this opportunity of doing something for the housing of the poor people of the country, is, I confess, to me profoundly disappointing. The right honourable Gentleman has said that this is not a housing Bill. But in the title it is a housing Bill, and if it were not, it should have kept to the old title, and been called a Workmen's Dwellings Bill. As far as the text is concerned the Bill not only applies to towns, but also to rural districts, and even to small urban districts with a population of 10,000. The main purport of the Bill is to provide the opportunity for people in all these districts to become possessed of the houses in which they live. It is very necessary for the well-being of the people as well as for the general progress of the agricultural industry that such an opportunity should be given to rural localities. Not long since I went into an inquiry on this question. I made inquiries in nearly 100 villages throughout England, and I found that in a fourth of them there was insufficient accommodation for the people who wished to live in them Surely that is a reason why we should make an effort to meet this crying want. Again, in all the villages to which the inquiry extended I found that where accommodation was not insufficient a fourth of the houses were bad and were not suitable places for men and women to dwell, or places in which families could be brought up in decency and with a fair chance of morality. That represents a very crying evil, and I am 1377 profoundly disappointed that the right honourable Gentleman, who is so capable of doing good in this direction, did not seize the opportunity of bringing in a Bill to meet such a serious want. That want is one that must be met by a Bill drawn on other lines. It is not to be met satisfactorily by the mere building of houses or the giving of money under favourable conditions for the purchase of houses. The great and crying evil at the bottom of this question, is the question of land, and if this Bill had only given local authorities power to acquire land, if necessary by compulsion, a process which used to be in favour with the right honourable Gentleman, then the Bill might be made what it is not in its present form, a great benefit to the poorer classes of the community. I am surprised that the right honourable Gentleman did not go upon those lines, because when the Small Holdings Bill was under consideration in the Select Committee—and I think the right honourable Gentleman will probably recollect it— it was insisted that what was wanted in the rural districts was not so much the power of buying small holdings as being able to rent them under favourable conditions with security of tenure, and at a fair rent. That opportunity was lost then, and the result is that the Small Holdings Act has become a failure. We have had statistics which show us that in the course of several years it has only been put in force in six parishes, and that only 45 tenants have been placed on some 120 acres of land in the course of six or seven years. That shows that the Bill has become practically a dead letter. In striking contrast to it has been the operation of the Parish Councils Act. In that Act compulsory leasing was introduced, and more than 14,000 acres have been acquired under it, and 32,000 tenants placed upon the land. The land is not required to be purchased by the tenants in this latter case, but is let out on a term of years under favourable conditions, and with security of tenure. In the same way, I believe, if we approached this question of the housing of the people, by enabling local authorities to acquire land for building purposes, we should do much more to meet the crying evil of the bad housing of the working classes 1378 not only in towns, but also in rural districts, and we should have a scheme which would add greatly to the general well-being of the community. I am surprised that a Measure so weak as this, dealing as it does with a very great evil, should have been introduced by a Government with such a large majority. I am sorry that the opportunity has been lost for legislating on a wider and better basis. But at the same time, I do not intend to vote against the Second Reading, because, as the right honourable Gentleman knows, I have never voted against similar Bills in the past. I regret that the right honourable Gentleman has not risen to the occasion, and that he has not produced a Bill worthy of his former reputation.
§ * MR. LOWLES (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
There have been several statements made in the Debate that this Bill will not benefit the small occupier If the House will forgive me, I will give three reasons why I think I may claim to speak authoritatively that it will. In the first place, I represent a constituency of some 60,000 persons, living in 7,000 or 8,000 houses, three-fourths of whom would benefit by the passage of this Measure. Secondly, I sat for three years on the London County Council, during the whole of which time I was a Member of the East End Section of the Housing of the Working Classes Committee. It was my duty, week by week, to visit crowded centres, and I saw for myself the conditions under which the people lived. The third reason will, I hope, commend itself to the honourable Members on the other side of the House. As recently as Wednesday last I attended a meeting at Shoreditch called by the Workmen's Housing Council, and largely attended by members of the Social Democratic Federation. The latter were hostile to me and my principles, but when I explained this Measure and showed the advantages that would be derived from it, the meeting cheered me when I said that I was going to vote for it. Take another statement. It is not true that so large a proportion as 50 per cent, of the population remove every year. I have formed an estimate as to my own constituency, and I find the average about 25 per cent., not, however, of removals out of the constituency, 1379 but from one house to another in the neighbourhood, and the net removals from the neighbourhood itself would not amount to more than 12½ per cent. Of the 7,000 or 8,000 houses in my constituency, the great bulk, probably 5,000, if not 6,000, would come under the operation of this Measure. With reference to the instalment to be found by the purchaser, I think it too much. I think 10 per cent, or 12½ per cent, of the total purchase-money should suffice, assuming, of course, that the borrower is a man of good character. What has been the policy of the Housing of Working Classes Committee of the London County Council? Again and again I went on deputations to the large railway companies asking them to give greater facilities for cheaper trains, so that the people might be able to go to the suburbs and get houses at 5s. or 6s. a week. What was the effect? One company, the Great Eastern, with commendable foresight, reduced the fares to such a low limit that a man can travel to and from Enfield for 2d. a day. The company is also running trains to Walthamstow every half hour during the night, and everyone, whatever his occupation, be he a compositor or an attendant at the early markets, is able to live at a distance out of town which must have an enormously healthy effect upon his family and himself. I visited the houses I have spoken about at Edmonton, Enfield, and Walthamstow. The average number of living rooms is four or five, and there is a bathroom in nearly every house. Indeed, the houses will not now let unless they contain a bath-room. They cost from £200 to £250 to build, precisely the house which would come under the operation of this Bill. The honourable Member for Battersea, who is usually so well-informed, told us that no labourer could purchase a new house under this Bill. He said that a person must be living in the house when it was purchased, but clause 2 says that if a person "intends to reside" in the house that is sufficient. And under clause 6, six months is given in which to go into the house which it is proposed to purchase. It has been said, also, that the payment of the mortgage by instalments would be an incubus. I am surprised at that statement. The small occupier 1380 must pay rent now, and if he can purchase his house by instalments which are practically the same amount as his present rent, it is surely better than that he should go on paying rent for ever, without getting one step further forward. To my mind this Bill will have an important bearing on the Old Age Pension question. Surely if a. man in early life begins to buy his house, when he is past work he can live in one or two rooms and let the others, and in that way secure a pension for himself. Another objection is that this Bill will discourage self-dependence, but I venture to say it will have a very great effect in inculcating that principle. I commend the Government, and I thank them on behalf of my constituents for this Bill, which gives them an opportunity to acquire their dwellings, and: when it comes into operation many of them will take advantage of it.
§ MR. LANGLEY (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Although I intend not to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not rise to speak on it with anything like pleasure or satisfaction. I cannot help thinking it is the weakest bantling ever introduced by any Government into the House of Commons. I cannot imagine the right honourable Gentleman in charge of the Bill introducing such a Measure 15 or 20 years ago, but it is, I presume, a Measure as strong, as liberal, and as democratic as the right honourable Gentleman's political environments will allow. It is a very strange thing indeed that the right honourable Gentleman should have introduced this Bill without dealing with the land question. I shall vote for the Second Reading with the hope that the Bill will be materially altered and improved before it becomes law, and when, in the course of a few months, the Liberal Party are called upon by the nation to occupy the Government benches, I trust they will give practical effect, and carry to its logical issue, the principle upon which the Bill is based. With that view, and in the hope that some few people may take advantage of it, I will vote for the Second Reading. A great deal has been said to-night about the advantages and the disadvantages of building societies. Members on both sides of the House know very well that there are building societies and building socie- 1381 ties. Many building societies have been in existence for many years, and have done a great deal of good, in enabling persons of moderate means to acquire property; but we also know, perhaps, more especially Members for northern constituencies, that building societies have been brought into existence for the benefit of officials and lawyers. This Bill will, in all probability, benefit a few working men, but I do not believe that many working men will take advantage of it. However, I do not think it my duty to prevent even 100 men availing themselves of it if they feel inclined, and, accordingly, I will vote for the Second Reading.
§ SIR J. BLUNDELL MAPLE (Camberwell, Dulwich)
I take an altogether different view from that taken by the honourable Member who has just spoken. I cannot support this Bill, because I feel that it will not benefit the class for which it is intended, and because it will do a great deal of harm to the building societies. Let us view this Bill as it is. The idea is no doubt right, and I should support with all my heart the giving of an opportunity to the working classes to become possessors of their own premises. I believe in encouraging thrift in all ways, but this Bill does nothing of the sort. The right and proper way to benefit the working classes is to encourage them to build their own homes and for that they must rely on the building societies. But this Bill will unsettle the whole of the building societies in England, by offering, or rather pretending to offer, to the working classes a scale of charges better than they now get from the building societies, in the first place, this Bill will not give any facilities to a man to build his own house. It only gives him power to purchase. What we want is to encourage a man to build his house, and to take an interest in it from the very commencement, not to encourage him to buy a jerry-built house, and then ask the local authorities to lend money on it. It is all very well for honourable and right honourable Gentlemen on this side of the House to say that this Bill is going to be of advantage to the working classes. I contend it is not. It will unsettle the building societies of England, and I should have thought that in view of the majority we have on this 1382 side, the Government would bring forward a Bill to strengthen building societies, and not to destroy them as this Bill will. Why should not a house costing, say, £500 be built? The money might be supplied by a building society. Then let the occupier borrow from the local authority £240 on the house, and pay that sum over. It seems to me this Bill is brought in to authorise municipalities to become money-lending societies. I should have thought it would have been much better for the lower classes to have municipal pawn-shops than a Bill of this description. I cannot see how the Bill, from beginning to end, is going to benefit the working classes. Suppose a man buys his own house, what is the result? That man having paid down his sum of money wants to take another situation in another locality, and he cannot go, although he might get £2 instead of 30s., because of the house. If he goes, he has to sell the house and find another investment for his money. There is another side to the question which may not have struck the Government. This Bill is said to be brought forward to encourage thrift. Suppose a man who has invested £70 or £100 in a house has to sell it, what does he do with his money? He hardly knows what to do with it, and he proceeds, perhaps, to break it up and spend it. It seems to me this Bill will do a vast amount of harm to building societies, and I cannot see any good that will be derived from it. If a provision had been inserted under which municipalities might lend building societies money, it would be a very great advantage, but as drafted it is a most unsatisfactory Bill, and unworthy, in my opinion, of the talent we have on the Treasury Bench. Although I assume that a division will not be taken, I certainly should not think of voting in favour of the Second Reading.
§ MR. ALLAN (Gateshead)
I have listened to all the speakers to-night, and while I fully appreciate the efforts of the right' honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State to the Colonies for the amelioration of the condition of the working men of this country, I desire to draw his attention to two facts in connection with this Measure. I should like to ask him, as the guardian of this Bill, can he guarantee the working man who buys his house under the Bill, em- 1383 ployment? The right honourable Gentleman smiles, but perhaps I have a great many more years' experience of the working man than he has. I have been connected with working men for over half a century, and I know their feelings on matters of this kind. I quite appreciate and endorse the principle, and I wish that every man had his own house. Now, let me cite a case. I will take my own town, where a large steel works, employing 1,500 men, was established some years ago, and the employers built houses for their workmen on their own land. Supposing the workmen had deposited £50 each for the purchase of their houses, what would be the result I The works were shut up within three years, the houses are now standing idle, and no one will buy them as they are of no use to anyone. Where would be the money of the workmen in that case? Take another case, which I would bring to the notice of the right honourable Gentleman, whose sympathies, I am sure, are in favour of ameliorating the conditions of the working classes, if only for the purpose of obtaining votes. Suppose for a moment, that there is a large shipbuilding yard or steel works set up. Suppose this Bill is passed, and that the men are induced to buy houses in the vicinity. Grant that every man has £50, which in my experience very few working- men have, and that it is deposited. After all that is arranged, supposing the employers want to reduce wages by 10 per cent., what will be the position of the men? They will be reduced to household serfs, without any help whatever. I am not against working-men owning houses. I have always found, in my experience, that the best means of ameliorating the conditions of the working man is to give him good wages and let him do what he likes with it, either pay rent or buy a house through a building society. This Bill is a gilded bait, and as a member of a Party acquainted with the working men of this country, and as one closely identified with them for many years, I beg to tell the right honourable Gentleman that the Measure will be found to be false and inoperative.
§ MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
Mr. Speaker, there has been one question several times asked during the Debate which has not been answered— 1384 namely, who had demanded this Bill? The honourable Member for Central Sheffield at once rushed into the breach, and in his characteristic style said he would tell the House who had demanded the Bill. I thought we were really going to get some information from the honourable Member, but all he was able to inform the House was that the National Union of Conservative Associations had voted in favour of this Bill. I have some little acquaintance with the Liberal Federation, but I should not have thought of quoting the Liberal Federation as an authority in a Debate of this description for their own Party if they were in power. It would be ex parte, to say the least, and yet the honourable Member had no better answer to give to the House than the statement that a political organisation had supported a Party political Measure. Well, Mr. Speaker, the Union of Conservative Associations is a very peculiar body, and does some very peculiar things. It is impregnated with those Protectionist measures which have given the honourable Member his notoriety, and Lord Salisbury, good, sound statesman, so far as fiscal policy, that he is, generally takes the readiest moment to repudiate what it does, and no one knows that better than the honourable Member for Central Sheffield. Another honourable Member came to the assistance of those who want this question answered, and he was far worse in his reply than the honourable Member for Central Sheffield. I refer to the honourable Member for the Haggerston Division of Shore-ditch, who gave us three reasons why he was an authority on this question. One would have been sufficient, especially if it had been the last one. What was it. He said that at the Shoreditch Town Hall a meeting was called at which this question was discussed, and he said the members of the Social Democratic Federation, after hearing the statement of the Bill, supported it. It would be interesting to know whether it was the honourable Gentleman who made the statement, because, no doubt, like a good politician, he endeavoured to divert attention from the Bill itself to what he thought ought to be in the Bill. But what docs the traditional Tory Party think of legislation which receives the assent of the Social Democratic Federation? I have to admit, Mr. Speaker, 1385 that the right honourable Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill is one of my shattered idols. I have read, sometimes with considerable pity, articles in some Tory papers where they have been describing the lengths to which they have been led by the right honourable Gentleman, and they are right if the honourable Member for Haggerston is correct in saying that the Government's legislation has received the assent of the greatest exponents of Socialism that we have in this country—namely, the Social Democratic Federation. I hope those who have told us about the traditions of their Party will have a look at the bearings and take a cast of the lead to see where they are going. Now, my love for the Tory Party is so little that I had hoped the honourable Member for Haggerston was correct with regard to the support of the Social Democratic Federation, but allow me to toll him he is incorrect. If he will consult the two or three recent issues of "Justice," which is the organ of the Social Democratic Federation, he will find that the Bill, and the principle of the Bill, are riddled through and through. I do not deny that they may see some gleam of Socialist sunshine through it. But are we dependent upon such authorities as my honourable colleague, the representative of Central Sheffield, and the honourable Member for Haggerston? Are there not recognised mediums for obtaining information, and is not the right honourable Gentleman in charge of this Bill master of infinite resources in this respect? And would he not have given us, in definite and clear terms, a long list of representative bodies, which he could have enlarged upon with his eloquence, who had clamoured, demanded, and panted for, and got into feverish anxiety over, this Bill? But where are they? I ask, again, Who are the authorities who have demanded this Hill? First of all. let us have a municipality that has demanded it. My honourable colleague knows Sheffield too well to quote Sheffield. Then, where are these municipalities? The hunourable Member for Dulwich knows the London County Council very well, but he has not quoted the greater municipality in the country, the greatest exponent of municipal policy in this country, in support of this Bill.
§ MR. MADDISON
I have no need to take Birmingham, because I have taken a greater council than Birmingham— the London County Council. If all the municipalities of this country have been silent on this Bill, does it not mean something" Municipalities have passed resolutions about the taxation of ground values and other things, but they know their business far too well to pass a resolution in support of a Bill of this sort. Passing from municipalities, what representative body of working-class opinion has supported this Bill? I know at once, when I mention my first authority, that it will be received with some considerable degree of scepticism as to its value, but some of us on this side of the House, and I hope on both sides, believe in that representative authority, the Trades Union Congress, which is absolutely silent upon this Bill. I follow the proceedings of that Congress pretty closely, and from my knowledge they have not supported the Bill.
§ MR. MADDISON
No, they have never thought it worthy of discussion. When we come to the great Friendly Societies we find they also are silent upon this Bill. There is another great body which honourable Members seem to have omitted altogether in their discussion of this question. I refer to the Co-operative Societies of the United Kingdom who have an annual Congress, and are keenly alive in regard to all questions dealing with land reform, the housing of the poor, and questions of a kindred nature, because their members are intimately associated with, and affected by these matters. The Cooperative Congress is silent upon this Bill. The right honourable Gentleman the Colonial Secretary said it was a good thing for working men to own their own houses. I am not going to traverse that statement at all. I believe that no greater folly could happen than for workmen to become doctrinaires, and merely because in principle they might want this and the other they are to deprive themselves of immediate benefits. Many of my 1387 friends—miners, artisans, and others—have their own houses, and no one wishes to discourage them in the slightest degree, out, Mr. Speaker, the language of the right honourable Gentleman, although I am aware that he knows it is not so, is such at times as to give anyone an impression that it remains for this Bill to be passed to enable workmen to have dwellings of their own. But is he aware that even those largely lighting bodies, the trades unions, are at this present moment dealing with this matter, and in a better manner than that proposed by the Bill, though on a smaller scale? But when I come to the Co-operative Societies, those bodies, without clamouring for a Bill, without taking the trouble to go on election platforms and talk about it, without caring about votes, quietly, unostentatiously, and effectually, are attaining the very end that the right honourable Gentleman says he has in view. The Co-operative Society in Derby own £100,000 worth of property, and in that society 90 per cent, of the members are bona fide working men. Some honourable Member may say that under this Bill they gain I per cent, in interest. I have listened to every speech in this Debate, and this has become a common ground of difference. I do not profess to be a business man—I have never owned a house of my own, and do not know that I am likely to, and therefore I do not speak with any authority as a business man; but I am able to see both sides of a bargain. and if 1 per cent. is the advantage you give a workman, let us look on the other side. First or all, you make it doubtful whether he can keep a small shop. The Bill, indeed, says consent may be given by a local authority, but do honourable Gentlemen know what that means? A working man may happen to have a persevering wife who says she must endeavour to augment her husband's income, and he may be induced to embark on a little concern of this kind, but he will dread nothing more than to have to make application for the permission of the municipality, on whose body there may be men who would impute all sorts of motives to him. My experience is that he would rather gave up the benefit he would be likely to get than undergo the orderl of the application to the municipality. 1388 Then you have inspection. I believe I inspectors have now become the first plank in the Tory platform. The President of the Board of Trade does not agree with me. The right honourable Gentleman is at the head of one of the Departments that has not become susceptible to the new views. Another serious objection is that the purchaser must reside in his own house. The right honourable Gentleman said that was the policy of the Bill, and, so far as I understood him, I agree entirely with the object he has in view—namely, that it is undesirable that men should have two or three houses under the municipality But what happens when he has to transfer his house, supposing be is subject to the vicissitudes of trade and has to leave his employment? Not only is it necessary for him to reside in his own house when he gets the advance from the local authority, but the person to whom he transfers the house has also to conform to the statutory obligation and live in the house. How will that work out? The very force that causes the first man to leave his house will be operating among the very class who would want to purchase the house from him, and therefore he would have the greatest possible difficulty in getting the man who would subject himself to that condition. I would ask the right honourable Gentleman, when he is trying to help the working man to be thrifty, why it is that he should propose to tie hint up with a lot of embarrassing conditions. In launching your municipal building societies you are adopting all that is bad, if there is any-thing bad, in ordinary building societies, and leaving out all that is good. Building societies and co-operative societies so far from making that condition, make it easy for men to dispose of the houses they have purchased. I oppose this. Bill not on a detail, but on principle. The right honourable Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury, a few weeks ago, in language that went home to me, said there was no greater evil than the overcrowded state of the poorer portions of our city, and I repudiate utterly and completely the policy of the Government, which still leaves open the gaping sore of the slums of our great towns, passes over the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, and simply considers the comfortable engineer or the morning 1389 newspaper compositor earning £3 or £4 per week. Is this your Tory legislation? Is this what we have to expect? I have gone into most working-class districts, and also in my own constituency, and have told the people as I am telling the House to-night, that I repudiate this policy. Men earning £4 a week may avail themselves of this Bill, but where will you find a labourer with an odd £60 to spare? It is simply an insult to the very class who need your help the most. We were told by the First Lord of the Admiralty recently that he could not see his way to increase the wages of State employees who get 19s. a week, and I always feel extremely patriotic when I think of these men. Why could he not increase their wages? One reason was that it would be of little avail, because it would go in increased rent. Here you have one of the worst cases you could possibly have. You have the labourers' sore open and gaping, and I ask the right honourable Gentleman how many of the Deptford Victualling Yard men at 19s. per week will be able to avail themselves of this Bill? I am going to vote against the Bill, and would do so a dozen times if I had the chance. You have given the landlords and the parsons your doles, but when you come to the working man what do you do? You offer what the better-to-do of them do not want, and pass by the poor
§ who do want some relief. This is an attempt to convert municipalities into mortgage societies. We have heard that municipal trading may go too far. In my opinion it will have gone a great length when this Bill is passed. You will then be able to take on pawnshops with an easy conscience, promise to feed the people, and take care of them altogether, leaving them no liberty of action whatever, but letting them rest entirely on the beneficence of a Tory Government. You interfere with independent enterprise when there is no need to do it. I used to read that the State should never do anything that could be done as well by the individual, and I have some considerable regard for that philosophy, which is upset altogether by the present Government, who are rushing in and meddling where they were never asked to interfere. The Bill does not touch the housing question in the least; it is a useless and delusive Measure, and a miserable attempt on the part of the Tory Party to redeem their lavish promises at the last election.
That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 249; Noes 69.—(Division List. No. 81.)1393
|Acland-Hood, Capt, Sir A. F.||Boscawer, Arthur Griffith-||Cross, H. Shepherd (Bolton)|
|Allhusen, Augustus H. E.||Bousfield, William Robert||Cruddas, Wm. Donaldson|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Brassey, Albert||Dalbiac, Col. Philip Hugh|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir E.||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Dalrymple, Sir Charles|
|Atkinson, Rt, Hon. John||Burdett-Coutts, W||Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham)|
|Austin, Sir J. (Yorkshire)||Butcher, John George||Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan)|
|Bagot, Capt. J. FitzRoy||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Digby, J. K. D. Wingfield-|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbysh.)||Doughty, George|
|Baird, J. G. Alexander||Cuyzer, Sir Chas. Wm.||Douglas, Rt. Hn. A. Akers-|
|Balcarres, Lord||Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, E.)||Doxford, Wm. Theodore|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r||Cecil. Lord H. (Greenwich)||Drage, Geoffrey|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds)||Chaloner, Capt. R. G. W.||Duncombe, Hon. H. V.|
|Banbury, Fredk. George||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.||Fardell, Sir T. George|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Chamberlain. J. A. (Worc'r)||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.|
|Barry, Rt Hn A H Smith-(Hunts||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r|
|Barton, Dunbar Plunket||Charrington, Spencer||Field, Admiral (Eastbourne)|
|Bathurst, Hon. A. Benjamin||Clare, Octavius Leigh||Finch, George H.|
|Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull||Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E.||Finlay, Sir R. Bannatyne|
|Bentinck, Lord Henry C.||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Fisher, William Hayes|
|Beresford, Lord Charles||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Fitzgerald, Sir R. Penrose-|
|Bethell, Commander||Colston, Chas. F. H. A.||Flannery, Sir Fortescue|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Cook, F. Lucas (Lambeth)||Flower, Ernest|
|Bigwood, James||Corbett, A. C. (Glasgow)||Folkestone, Viscount|
|Bill, Charles||Cornwallis, Fiennes Stanley W||Forster, Henry William|
|Blakiston-Houston, John||Courtney. Rt. Hon. L. H.||Fry, Lewis|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Cripps, Charles Alfred||Galloway, William Johnson|
|Bolitho, Thomas Bedford||Cross, Alexander (Glasgow)||Garfit, William|
|Gedge, Sydney||Loder, Gerald W. Erskine||Round, James|
|Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (C. of Lond.)||Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham)||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Gibbs, Hon. V. (St. Albans)||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)||Russell, Gen. F. S. (Cheltenham)|
|Gilliat, J. Saunders||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Godson, Sir Augustus Fredk.||Lorne, Marquess of||Rutherford, John|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General||Lowe, Francis William||Ryder, John Herbert Dudley|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward||Lowles, John||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Eldon||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Sandys, Lieut.-Col. Thos. Myles|
|Goschen, Geo. J. (Sussex)||Lucas-Shadwell, William||Saunderson, Rt. Hn. Col. E. J.|
|Goulding, Edw. Alfred||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Graham, Henry Robert||Macdona, John Gumming||Seely, Charles Hilton|
|Gray, Ernest (West Ham)||Maclure, Sir J. William||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Green, W. D. (Wednesbury)||M'Calmont, Col. J. (Antrim, E.)||Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)|
|Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury)||M'Iver, Sir L. (Edinburgh, W.)||Sidebottom, William (Derbysh.)|
|Greene, W. Raymond- (Cambs||Malcolm, Ian||Simeon, Sir Barrington|
|Gull, Sir Cameron||Marks, Henry Hananel||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||Martin, R. Biddulph||Smith, Samuel (Flint)|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robt. W.||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W.||Smith, Hon. F. W. D. (Strand)|
|Hanson, Sir Reginald||Maxwell, Rt. Hon. Sir H. E.||Stanley, Edward Jas. (Somerset)|
|Hardy, Laurence||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)||Stanley, Lord (Lancs)|
|Hazell, Walter||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.||Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart|
|Heath, James||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Hedderwick, T. C. H.||Milward, Colonel Victor||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Helder, Augustus||Monckton, Edward Philip||Strauss, Arthur|
|Henderson, Alexander||Moon, Edw. R. Pacy||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Hermon-Hodge, R. Trotter||More, R. J. (Shropshire)||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Hill, Sir Edw. Stock (Bristol)||Morrison, Samuel||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Holland, Hon. L. R. (Bow)||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)|
|Howard, Joseph||Moss Samuel||Thorburn, Walter|
|Howell, William Tudor||Mount, Wm. George||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Hozier, Hon. J. H. Cecil||Muntz, Philip A.||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Hubbard, Hon. Evelyn||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Hughes, Colonel Edwin||Murray, C. J. (Coventry)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Humphreys-Owen, A. C.||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Hutchinson, Capt. G.W. Grice-||Myers, William Henry||Vincent, Col. Sir. C. E. H.|
|Hutton, A. E. (Morley)||Newdigate, Francis Alexander||Wallace, Robert (Perth)|
|Jebb, R. Claverhouse||Nicholson, William Graham||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Jeffreys, A. Fredk.||Nicol, Lonald Ninian||Wanklyn, James Leslie|
|Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez E.||Northcote, Hon. Sir H. S.||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Webster, R. G. (St. Pancras)|
|Johnston, Wm. (Belfast)||Oldroyd, Mark||Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)|
|Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Orr-Ewing, Chas. Lindsay||Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.|
|Jolliffe, Hon. H. George||Pease, Herbert P. (Darlington)||Wentworth, Bruce C. Vernon-|
|Kemp, George||Pender, Sir James||Whiteley, H. (Ashton-under-L.)|
|Kenyon, James||Philipps, John Wynford||Williams, Joseph Powell (Birm.)|
|Kenyon-Slaney, Col. Wm.||Pierpoint, Robert||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|King, Sir H. Seymour||Pilkington, Richard||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Kinloch, Sir John G. Smyth||Prelyman, Ernest George||Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)|
|Lafone, Alfred||Purvis, Robert||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. K. R. (Bath|
|Langley, Batty||Pym, C. Guy||Wortley, Rt Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Laurie, Lieut.-General||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert||Wydham-Quin, Major W. H.|
|Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn)||Rasch, Major Fredk. Carce||Wyvill, Marmaduke D' Arcy|
|Lawson, John Grant (forks)||Rentoul, James Alexander||Younger, William|
|Lea, Sir T. (Londonderry)||Richards, Henry Charles|
|Lecky, Rt. Hon. W. E. H.||Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Lees, Sir E. (Birkenhead)||Ritchie, Rt. Hn Chas. Thomson||Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Llewellyn, E. H. (Somerset)||Robertson, Herbert. (Hackney)|
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.||Donclan, Captain A.||Maddison, Fred.|
|Allan, W. (Newc.-under-Lyme)||Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||Maden, John Henry|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Fenwick, Charles||Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel)|
|Barlow, John Emmott||Ferguson, R. C. Munro (Lcith)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Haldane, Richard Burdon||Morley, Rt. Hn. J. (Montrose)|
|Billson, Alfred||Holden, Sir Angus||Morton, Edw. J. C. (Devonport)|
|Birrell, Augustine||Jones, David B. (Swansea)||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Jones, W. (Carnarvonshire)||O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)|
|Brunner, Sir J. Tomlinson||Leng, Sir John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Lough, Thomas||Palmer, George W. (Reading)|
|Caldwell, James||Macaleese, Daniel||Pease, Alfred E. (Cleveland)|
|Clark. Dr. G. B. (Caithness-sh.)||M'Ghee, Richard||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)|
|Clough, Walter Owen||M'Laren, Chas. Benjamin||Pease, Sir Joseph W. (Durham)|
|Dilke, Rt, Hn. Sir Charles||M'Leod, John||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Pirie, Duncan V.||Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.||Wedderburn, Sir William|
|Power, Patrick Joseph||Steadman, William Charles||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Rickett, J. Compton||Stevenson, Francis S.||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Roberts, John H. (Denbighsh.)||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Robson, William Snawdon||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E)||Wilson, Jhn. (Middlesbrough)|
|Samuel J. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips||Woods, Samuel|
|Shaw, Chas. Edw. (Stafford)||Ure, Alexander||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr. McKenna and Mr. John Burns.|
|Souttar, Robinson||Wallace, Robert (Edinburgh)|
|Spicer, Albert||Warner, Thomas C. T.|
§ Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a second time.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc."—(The Secretary of State for the Colonies.)
§ * MR. MCKENNA
I certainly think it would be extremely unfortunate if this the first Government Measure of the Session, which is not partial or local in its character, were removed from the discussion of the whole House by being sent to a Standing Committee. A great many of us who wish to take part in the Committee Stage will be excluded from the Grand Committee, and the result will be that it will be necessary to discuss the Measure at considerable length on Report.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES
Mr. Speaker, I should be very sorry to put honourable Gentlemen to the trouble of occupying an unreasonable time on the Report stage, but on the other hand, I may remind honourable Gentlemen that they will have the Report stage upon which to raise any matter which they may think may reasonably then be raised. My view is that it would be difficult to find any Bill which comes so completely under the category of those we are accustomed to refer to Grand Committees. It is not a controversial or Party Measure; it does not raise violent controversies between two sides of the House, but is supported by the Leaders of the Opposition, or, at all events, is not opposed. The division showed that by far the larger portion of the House is in favour of the principle of the Bill, and under those circumstances, I think the practical discussion of the clauses could be best undertaken in Grand Committee. Afterwards, if 1394 there remains any point worthy of the attention of the House, it may be raised on the Report stage. As for precedents, let me say that under the late Government a Bill applying to the whole country, and of much more importance, according to its introducers, than this, and a Bill that was hotly disputed, too —the Employers' Liability Bill—was nevertheless referred to a Standing Committee. I confess that I thought that was rather straining the precedents of the House, but in this case there are none of the objections applicable which applied to the Employers' Liability Bill. In these circumstances, I hope the House will consent to a course which will involve a certain saving of time.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
Mr. Speaker, this is a Bill in which all parts of the country are interested, and they cannot be represented by the Grand Committee so as to secure adequate discussion. I would appeal to the right honourable Gentleman the Leader of the House to give some little consideration to the point that has been raised.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
The proposal of my right honourable Friend the Secretary for the Colonies is in accordance with the strictest precedents. Not only was the Employers' Liability Bill, but the Housing of the Working Classes Bill, which was of even greater magnitude than the present Measure, dealing with an analogous subject, was dealt with by a Grand Committee. It passes my wit to understand how any valid argument can be brought against this proposal, which is a most reasonable one.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvon, Eifion)
As a supporter of the Bill, I am strongly of opinion that it will require amendment in Committee, and I also believe that the only chances of 1395 carrying reasonable Amendments, of which the Government may not approve, will be by referring the matter to the Grand Committee. If this course is not adopted, any Amendment proposed of which the Government does not approve will stand no chance, but as the Government supporters on the Grand Committee are more reasonable, I am sure the best interests of all will be served by the reference of the Bill to the Grand Committee.
§ * SIR J. PEASE
I cannot agree with my honourable Friend who has just sat down, and I think his argument is not sound. I prefer that the matter should be discussed by a Committee of this House rather than by the Grand Committee. I have never appreciated Grand Committees, and I asked to be relieved of the necessity of sitting upon them, because it seemed to me that the discussion only fell to very few Members on those Committees. I do not think this is a Bill which would be treated by the
§ House with a view to continue the discussion any length of time in Committee. A good many substantial alterations ought to be made in it, and I would remind the House of the bad draughtsmanship of the Workmen's Compensation Act as the result of a Grand Committee. That Act would have provided plenty of scope for the lawyers had it not been met by employers and employed in a spirit of conciliation.
That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc."—(The Secretary of Stale for the Colonies.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 224; Noes 79.—(Division List No. 82.)