HC Deb 08 June 1899 vol 72 cc699-731

Order read, for resuming adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed [6th June] on consideration of the Bill, as amended:— And which Amendment was, in page 12, lines 32 and 33, to leave out the words 'the inhabitants of the parish,' in order to insert the words 'such inhabitants of the parish as shall have obeyed that rubric of the Book of Common Prayer which is printed at the end of the Order of the Administration of the Holy Communion, and which requires that every parishioner shall communicate at the least three times in the year, of which Easter to be one.'"—(Lord Hugh Cecil.)

Question again proposed— That the words 'the inhabitants of' stand part of the Bill. Debate resumed.

*MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts,) Mansfield

While I very much admire the courage which the noble Lord has shown in bringing this matter forward, I must say I think there will be a general agreement on both sides of the House that in submitting this Amendment he has allowed his zeal to outrun his discretion. We are dealing with a Bill for the better government of this ancient metropolis, and the noble Lord calls on us to so shape the measure as to involve a re-construction of an ancient Church establishment. The noble Lord, in fact, seeks to make this a Disestablishment Bill; but it is a piece of disestablishment beginning at the wrong end, for he proposes to disestablish, not the Church, but the parishioners. Further, he proposes not only to disfran- chise all Nonconformists, but also a number—probably a majority—of members of the Church of England, who are non- Communicants. What are the grounds on which the noble Lord makes this suggestion to the House? First, he urges that it is only right and reasonable that a body which has to deal with Church affairs under the Act should be composed, not of the general public, but of Churchmen and communicating members of the Church. His second point was that it would be decidedly improper to allow those who disobeyed the law of the Church to exercise any government over Church matters. A very large number of Churchmen would stoutly deny both propositions of the noble Lord, but I would remind the noble Lord that these are not the principles on which the Church establishment in this country is based. He has to deal with facts as they are, and not as they ought to be. The parish church is the church of the parish and of all the inhabitants of the parish, and all inhabitants can claim the right of having free seats and of availing themselves of the services of the incumbent, whether they be communicants or not. Nonconformists, in common with Churchmen, can claim to be baptised, married, and buried with the Church's rites; they have the right of electing churchwardens, and if they happen to be on the Parliamentary roll they have the right of deciding who shall, as their representatives in this House, act as supreme governors of the Church. Does the noble Lord intend. this Amendment to be a beginning of a very much more extensive scheme? Will he presently insist that no Minister of the Crown who does not communicate three times every year—once at Easter included—shall be allowed to administer the Church patronage in the hands of the Crown? And then with regard to the large army of private patrons, will he insist that they all shall be communicants? What is he going to do with this House? Will he hereafter insist that none of us shall have a right to sit here and legislate for the Church unless we are communicants of that Church? The noble Lord says the laity of the Church of England do not exercise their proper share of influence in relation to the affairs of the Church, and he suggests that the reason for their not doing so is that they are an indeterminate body. He proposes that they should cease to be indeterminate by depriving them of their existing rights. He proposes to increase their interest in the affairs of the Church by banishing them from the parish church, unless they happen to be communicants of that church. The truth is this Amendment, in principle, seeks to convert the National Church into a sect, and not only into a sect but into a section of a sect. It proposes to make the Church as narrow as it can be made. I do not wonder that the noble Lord was haunted by the ghost of the Test and Corporation Acts—those infamous Acts, which were scathingly described by the poet Cowper as Making the symbols of atoning grace An office key, a picklock to a place. The noble Lord denies making the Communion a test in the same way as it was used in connection with the Test and Corporation Acts, but he proposes it as a qualification for entrance into the parish vestry, and thereby seeks to re-erect a barrier which the good sense and religion of the people of this country banished more than half a century ago. I have no doubt that the great majority of the members of the Church of England would strenuously object to the proposal of the noble Lord, and I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University and the hon. Member for St. Albans were quick to dissociate themselves from the Motion, although they have put forward Amendments equally objectionable. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University proposes to substitute for communicating a declaration of bonâ fide membership of the Church of England, while the Member for St. Albans supplies a double-shotted test, for he not merely requires a declaration—

MR. VICARV GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)

Is the hon. Member in order in discussing my Amendment?


No. That Amendment can only be discussed in the event of the Amendment of the noble Lord being carried.


I am content with the fact that the Amendment of the hon. Member is on the Paper, and the House must draw its own conclusions from it. My view is that both the Amendments should be re- jected, and I think it will be time enough for the noble Lord to come to this House with a proposition of this character when Churchmen themselves are agreed. There is another point, and that is what should constitute membership of the Church? The noble Lord told us on a former occasion that he is anxious to maintain the independence of the Church and also its position as an Establishment. But the two things are incompatible, and the noble Lord knows that he will not secure their conjunction.


Order, order! The hon. Member is now not merely discussing the general question of disestablishment, but he is also referring to a statement made in another Debate earlier in the session. He must confine himself to the Amendment.


I need not pursue that argument any further. I think I have said enough to prove the absolute futility of this discussion.

*MR. GEDGE (Walsall)

It seems to me there is no necessity whatever for this Amendment or any other Amendment. The inhabitants of the parish have hitherto had certain powers, partly ecclesiastical and partly secular, and I can see no reason why because the secular powers are now taken away the others should be taken away also. No doubt representative bodies will be appointed to deal with ecclesiastical matters. The only money they have to spend will he supplied by Churchmen. Those who pay the piper can also call the tune, and we may be quite sure that the inhabitants, unless in exceptional cases, will always elect Churchmen to attend to Church affairs. Without disparaging religious work done by Nonconformists, it has been the glory of the Church that she is answerable for all the parishioners. They all are entitled to her ministrations. I anticipate no danger whatever for the Church, and I cordially associate myself with what the hon. Member for Mansfield said as to the clergyman being the clergyman of the whole parish, and not of a section of the inhabitants.

MR. HARWOOD (Bolton)

Did I not know the undoubted earnestness of the noble Lord, I should have thought that he had brought forward this Amendment as a sort of grim joke, for it certainly carries us back to the days of the Inquisition and of the Star Chamber—times in our history which we would gladly forget. I regret that the matter has been brought forward. We know that all kinds of tests have been tried and have failed, and I do think that the re imposition of this test would be a retrograde step of a most pitiful kind. I do not think the country has yet recovered from the shock inflicted upon it by the operation of the Act which turned a most sacred rite in the service of the Church into a mere qualification for voting power. The Church, in one sense, is a collection of those who are bound together by a common faith and a common love, and history teaches us that we have never been able to find any sure method of making such a faith. The Church of England is not a testing Church, and it has distinctly repudiated the idea of applying these tests as a final mark of membership.


Order, order! The hon. Member is going beyond the scope of the Amendment.


I will simply say, in conclusion, that those who glory in the Church will regard nothing with favour which is calculated to narrow the liberties of that Church, and I therefore trust that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.


I do not propose to put the House to the trouble of a division on this question, but, by permission of the House, I would like to express my dissent from the views of the hon. Member for Mansfield, and to state that I regard this purely as a matter of law, and not as arty test of obedience.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

*MR. J. G. TALBOT (Oxford University)

Notwithstanding the criticisms which have come from the other side of the House, I will venture in a few words to ask the House to agree to the Amendment which stands in my name. I think I can show that my grounds for doing so are reasonable. My Amendment, which proposes to insert the words "who shall declare themselves bonâ fide members of the Church of England," ought not to offend the conscience of anyone or to raise any bitter controversies. The framers of this Bill have distinctly raised the question of withdrawing Church matters from the jurisdiction of the new bodies which are to be established—this is shown by the words of this clause—and the only question is, by what sort of bodies shall they be administered in future. It surely cannot be considered fatuous, old-fashioned, or absurd that Churchmen should manage Church matters, and I think we are bound to secure the introduction into this Bill of words which shall enable them to do so. I do not know what view the Government may take of my Amendment, nor am I aware what is the opinion of the House upon it, but I do ask hon. Members not to be led astray by any plausible arguments, such as the allegation, true in a certain sense, that the Church is the Church of the whole nation. I only wish by moving this Amendment to show that we, as members of the Church of England, while anxious to acknowledge the service which the Government has clone by preserving the management of the affairs of the Church from the control of the borough councils, are anxious to ensure that they shall be administered only by those who declare themselves to be Churchmen.

Amendment proposed— In page 12, line 33, after the words last inserted, to insert the words 'who shall declare themselves bonâ fide members of the Church of England "—(Mr. Talbot.)

Question proposed— That those words be there inserted.


I quite admit that this Amendment is not open to some of the objections urged against that of my noble friend the Member for Greenwich. But it is not a very opportune moment at which to discuss such questions as the reform of vestries. This Bill is a Bill for the reform of London municipal government. To make it a Bill for dealing with ecclesiastical matters would be throwing on our shoulders a burden which we neither desire to assume nor which ought to be thrust upon us on an occasion of this kind. On the abstract merits of the proposal I say nothing; on the face of it the suggestion contained in the Amendment is an extremely plausible one. But any ecclesiastical reform of the vestries should take the shape of a measure applying to the whole country, and not to London alone. I am informed that the late Archbishop of Canterbury had very much at heart the question of the reform of the vestries, and I believe I am right in saying that what stopped all further procedure on his part in dealing with the question was the very problem touched on by my right hon. friend, namely, whether for vestry purposes the Church is to be regarded as a sect or as the Church of the whole nation. Is it practicable or tolerable that we should attempt to discuss, on such a Bill as this, a controversy we should find difficult enough successfully to tackle alone? While I do not complain of the action of my right hon. friend in moving the Amendment, I do protest that he has chosen a most improper time for raising this question.


My right hon. friend has rebuked those of us who have thought fit to intrude ecclesiastical matters into a debate on the London Government Bill. But this is the point I should like to draw attention to. It seems to be suggested that there is something inherently absurd and unreasonable in the proposition that the affairs of the Church of England, where they arise in connection with vestry business, should be managed by members of that Church. But surely it is not altogether unreasonable to bring before the House by means of this Amendment the fact that under the clause, as it now stands, persons who have no interest in the Church will be granted the power to interfere in purely ecclesiastical matters.


In the few words I wish to say I would point out that the terms of this Amendment are much less rigid than those of the one proposed by my noble friend the Member for Greenwich. It was pointed out on a previous occasion by the First Lord of the Treasury that the test proposed in the last Amendment was stronger than that which prevailed in the Church of Scotland. But, as I understand the position in the Scottish Church, the members consist of communicants and those whom the body of Churchmen recognise as such, whereas the amendment proposes that a man who bona fide declares himself a Churchman will be accepted as such on his own word. I believe my right hon. friend has stated that this Bill makes no change in the position of the Church in these matters. It is very evident that he ought to be the chairman for ecclesiastical purposes, yet under the scheme or method by which this clause will be carried out there is no guarantee of anything of that kind. Sooner or later this question must be faced; you cannot come up to the House of Commons and say that laymen are to have control over the Church of England, and not define what a layman is. One hon. Gentleman says that we must wait for a large Bill to deal with these matters; but will any Member of the Government or of the Front Opposition bench presume to foreshadow the time when we shall have a Bill to deal with ecclesiastical vestries? In the meantime the question has to be dealt with. Here is a simple example, which shows that this is the very opportunity, when we are reconstructing a public body which has exclusively to deal with Church matters, to take this matter into consideration. This is a very practical matter. Who ought to have control over Church matters? Why, evidently the Churchmen. The proposition before the House is a most reasonable one in my opinion, and it is for this reason that I cannot regret that my right hon. friend has proposed his Amendment. This proposal does not represent the view of a small body of Churchmen, but of the whole. There is no subject on which Churchmen as a whole agree so much as upon their having greater control over the Church.


After the sympathetic reception which my proposal has had from my right hon. friend the First Lord of the Treasury, I beg to withdraw my Amendment. (Cries of "No, No.")

Question put and negatived. Other Amendments made.

MR.W. F. D. SMITH (Strand, Westminster)

I think the Amendment which stands in my name is desirable, because there are cases which may arise in which officers are simply transferred from the vestries to the borough councils, for whom they would perform the same work, and it is only fair that past services should be reckoned for the purposes of calculating the compensation to which they are entitled. With these remarks I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— In Clause 26, page 15, line 27, at end, to insert—'Provided that the borough council may, if it thinks fit, take into account continuous service under any authority or authorities to which this Act refers, in order to calculate the total period of service of any officer entitled to compensation under this Act."—(Mr. W. F. D. Smith.) Question proposed "That these words be there inserted."


The particular form in which the hon. Gentleman put his Amendment on a former occasion made it compulsory in its character, and thus rendered it obligatory for one municipality to pay for services performed for another municipality. The objection to such a clause was obvious. The hon. Member shows his appreciation of that fact here by making it voluntary. In this form it is not objectionable, and of course there are cases in which the change might be extremely hard upon the persons concerned. This proposal only gives the borough councils liberty to exercise the power, therefore I suggest to the House that we should accept this Amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Further Amendment proposed.


I think that one word of explanation as regards this Amendment is desirable. The object of it is to bring within the scope of the compensation clause the case of officers, such as registration officers whose powers and duties are not transferred by this Act. The duty of that class of officer has been transferred to the town clerk, and this Amendment is inserted to remove a doubt which may exist as to whether these persons come within the scope of the clause or not.

Amendment proposed, in page 15, after Sub-section (1), to insert— (2.) Sub-sections 4 and 7 of Section 89 of the Local Government Act, 1894, shall apply to the existing officers affected by this Act, as as if references in those sub-sections to the borough council, and all expenses incurred by the borough council in pursuance of those subsections shall be paid out of the general rate."—(Mr. Solicitor-General.) Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

After what has been said by the hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not think any exception can be taken to the proposal. I only regret that the Solicitor-General was not able to put his Amendment down upon paper.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

I go further, and say I see no reason whatever for the Amendment of the Solicitor-General. We have accepted the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Strand Division, and it seems to me that we have gone quite far enough. The Amendment of the Solicitor-General seeks to include officers who are not regularly employed, and who, because they are not regularly employed, are paid a higher rate of remuneration.


At the end of the clause it runs— A scheme under this Act may make such provisions as may appear necessary for carrying this section into effect, and if necessary for determining the authority to whom any existing officer is to be transferred, and for applying the provisions of this section to any officer who suffers pecuniary loss by reason of anything in or done under this Act, although he is not transferred to a borough council. To that I wish to add my Amendment. The object is not to bring in officers not regularly employed, but to remove a doubt which exists as to whether registration officers are officers in authority, and as such come within the scope of the compensation clause.


We are much indebted to the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but that does not remove my objection to this Amendment. We do not object to the registration officer who is constantly employed being brought within the scope of the clause, but I do trust that the clause will be so drawn that it will not include men who, because they have been precariously employed, have been paid a very much higher rate of remuneration than if they had been employed under the town clerk as permanent officials. I do protest against those registration officers who are only partially employed throughout the year being brought in. I regret that we accepted the Amendment of the hon. Member for the Strand Division, and I still more regret that the Solicitor-General is dipping his hand again into the public pocket. I strongly protest against it.

Amendment agreed to.

SIR SAMUEL MONTAGU (Tower Hamlets, Whitechapel)

I hope the Com- mittee will accept the Amendment I now rise to move. Since the Second Reading I have had many communications with my constituents, and, quite irrespective of party I find there is a universal opinion against the creation of this large municipality. They think that the municipality so created would be so large as to be unmanageable. Both Whitechapel and St. George's suffer from rack-renting and overcrowding, and have to be specially treated. At three meetings which were lately held by separate organisations unanimous votes have been passed against the proposal to have so large a municipality, and proposing as an alternative to unite the two Parliamentary boroughs of White-chapel and St. George's. I find that there is no objection at all to this; that Mile End, Stepney, and Limehouse would be willing to be united into one borough, leaving Whitechapel and St. George's alone. The only case of difficulty is Wapping, which is a strip of land running round St. George's on the water side, which ought to be united with St. George's. It is in the Parliamentary borough, and ought to go into that division, but it is a very small area, containing less than 2,000 souls, and a rateable value of about £50,000. But as the feeling is so strong in favour of small boroughs, my friends are quite prepared in this case, if the Solicitor-General says that Wrapping ought to remain with Limehouse, to waive its being in-chided in St. George's. We are all in agreement that Mile End, Stepney, and Limehouse should go together, leaving Whitechapel and St. George's without Wapping as a separate municipality. I can assure the First Lord of the Treasury that there is no difference of opinion in this matter, either in St. George's or in the constituency which I represent. I have represented Whitechapel ever since it has been a Parliamentary borough, and as I do not intend to seek re-election after this Parliament, I have no further interest in the matter than to do what I consider my duty.

Amendment proposed— In Schedule 1, page 18, to leave out lines 10 and 11, and insert the words, 'The area consisting of the Parliamentary division of Whitechapel, consisting of all the areas included in the Whitechapel District Board of Works, together with the Parliamentary division of St. George's-in-the-East (including Wapping).'"—(Sir Samuel Montagu.)

Question proposed— That the words proposed to be left out to the word 'Limehouse,' in line 11, stand part of the Bill.

MR. H. S. SAMUEL (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)

The way in which the hon. Gentleman moves his Amendment entirely gets rid of my objection to it. My constituents have the very strongest objection to parting with the richest portion of the district of Limehouse. The population of Wapping is extremely small, and the rateable value extremely high, and if it were taken away it would mean a great increase of rates of Limehouse. The hon. Gentleman has now removed my objection, and is practically proposing the exact Amendment which I put down at the Committee stage of the Bill, when I proposed that the Poor Law districts of Mile End Old Town and Stepney should be joined together. From the first I have always objected to the creation of this large borough, and have always suggested that the best way to deal with the matter would be the formation of three boroughs of equal size. That being so, I accept the suggestion of the hon. Baronet, and I earnestly hope that the Government will agree to the suggestion which I believe is put before them with the unanimous assent of all the electors concerned.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

This particular scheme was put into the Bill conditionally, and subject to discussion and agreement when we came to this table. If the whole area were divided into two, having regard to population and rateable value, there would be two boroughs of almost equal size. I hope the Government will see their way to accept this Amendment.


I am 10th to intervene in the discussion, but I feel confident that if the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley were here he would take a different view.


I did speak to the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, and he said he was ready to accept the Amendment.

MR. STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

On the Committee stage of this Bill I moved an Amendment, and took some trouble to rake out some historical records in reference to Mile End. Seeing that it sends two Members to Parliament and four members to the London County Council, I thought it had a just claim on the First Lord of the Treasury. But evidently my historical records had not the desired effect. On that occasion the First Lord of the Treasury laid clown the principle that either the Tower Hamlets should be divided into two, or the whole thing should be referred to the Boundary Commission, but, seeing that he has made no provision in the Bill for the matter going to the Boundary Commission, the matter ought to be decided by the House. I may say that my own Vestry have passed a resolution in favour of the amalgamation of Lime-house and Mile End; but if you look at the map you will see that that is not a good geographical area, because with the exception of the north-east of Wapping it is surrounded by St. George's-in-the-East. Therefore it would make a long straggling borough, and would be rather awkward to get at. That is the difficulty I am placed in in supporting the Amendment of the hon. Member. As the five parishes are now scheduled in the Bill, although they would make a very large borough, it would be a more uniform borough than the amalgamation of Mile End and Lime-house.


Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman does not approve of the proposed division?


Well, it would make a very awkward borough.


There are five Members representing this area in the House of Commons. Two have spoken strongly in favour of the new proposal, and I understand the other two take much the same view, while the fifth thinks that one division is better than two. I am very reluctant to diminish the size of the areas already agreed to. There must, of course, be a certain amount of objection to changes of this kind, and which cannot be entirely removed. As the House in Committee unanimously came to an agreement on the matter, and as the Members interested are not unanimous in any of the proposed changes, I think the House had better adhere to the original decision of the Committee.

*MR. LOWLES (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I quite understood that the Government were prepared to accept the proposal. I believe that the proposed division is most acceptable to all parties in the division, and I feel very strongly that there are many circumstances which justify it. The First Lord of the Treasury would be consulting the consensus of opinion on both sides of politics if he listened to the voice of the whole of the Members for the district, except the hon. Member for Stepney.


I hope that the First Lord of the Treasury will still favourably consider the division proposed. When he agreed to put the whole of these five boroughs in one division on the Committee stage, it was not by any means that that view prevailed in the Committee; it was simply that hon. Members felt that something should be put in the Bill at that stage in order that the matter might be discussed. It has been very much discussed, and I venture to say there is more unanimity than the First Lord recognises in the desire to divide the area into two. The hon. Member for Stepney is the only Member of this House who has really said anything on the other side; but I would point out that he himself is in favour of two boroughs, his only difficulty being that if Wapping is to he attached to Stepney it would not look well on the map. Then, I would point out that the hon. Member for Stepney admitted that his own representative Vestry is in favour of the proposal now before the House.


Several conversions seem to have taken place in regard to this matter, and the names of three hon. Gentlemen are mentioned as being converted to the division into two boroughs. The hon. Member for Mile End discussed this question with me over and over again. He was particularly keen as to this area being made one borough. Now we hear he has changed his mind. Then we are told that the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley had also changed his mind, but I found him very keen in having this large area made one borough. There is a great deal to be said as to the area nearest the City being very narrow and unworkable as a borough. I certainly had not the slightest idea that the Government had the intention of altering the area. I have heard distinct approval from people in the district of the arrangement the Government came to on the Committee stage of the Bill, and I have received no memorials from vestries or other public bodies against the proposal of the Government.


I do not know why the hon. Member for Haggerston understood that this Amendment was to be accepted by the Government.


A large deputation waited on the Government; I believed that they were given some encouragement.


The deputation was received with courtesy, as usual, but the gentlemen seem to have jumped to the conclusion that the Government were going to accept this Amendment. We are told there is a general agreement on this proposal amongst the Members for the district, but it is unfortunate that some of these Gentlemen are absent. I cannot help thinking that, if these hon. Members entertained this view at all strongly, they would have been here to support it. We are in this difficulty, that we are asked to make a change of this kind without strong reasons of administrative con-

Arnold, Alfred Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham) Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick
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venience being adduced to the House for it. On the other hand, we have had some good reasons given the other way, which, to my mind, were convincing. If you look at the map it will be seen that, geographically speaking, the proposed division would be awkward. You would have Mile End and Limehouse, and then a long strip along the shore of the Thames which ought to belong to St. George's-in-the-East. That view was strongly presented to us by a deputation Which was accompanied by the hon. Baronet who made this motion. Under these circumstances it is desirable that Wapping should belong to the other four districts, and the whole made into one borough.


By leave of the House I may say I have no very strong feeling in this matter; and, seeing that I am in the minority, I am quite willing to withdraw any objection I have to the proposed division and to support the hon. Member for Whitechapel.

Question put—

The House divided: Ayes, 133; Noes, 55. (Division List No. 181.)

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Cameron, Sir Chas. (Glasgow) MacAleese, Daniel Smith, Samuel (Flint)
Carvill, PatrickGeo.Hamilton M`Dermott, Patrick Steadman, William Charles
Charrington, Spencer M'Ghee, Richard Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Colville, John Maddison, Fred. Trevelyan, Charles Philips
Crombie, John William Morgan, J Lloyd Carmarthen Tully, Jasper
Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Wedderburn, Sir William
Davitt, Michael O'Connor,James(Wicklow,W. Weir, James Galloway
Donelan, Captain A. Oldroyd, Mark Williams,JohnCarvell(Notts.)
Doogan, P. C. Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.) Wilson, Henry J. (York,W.R.)
Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan) Pickard, Benjamin Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)
Fenwick, Charles Pickersgill, Edward Hare Woods, Samuel
Flower, Ernest Power, Patrick Joseph
G1adstone,Rt.Hon.Herb.John Price, Robert John TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Goddard, Daniel Ford Richardson, J. (Durham, S.E.) Sir Samuel Montagu and
Harwood, George Rickett, J. Compton Mr. James Stuart.
Hayne,Rt.Hon. Charles Seale- Robson, William Snowdon

Other Amendments made.

Amendment proposed— In Schedule 1, page 18, to leave out lines 14 and 15, and insert—'The area consisting of the parishes of St. George the Martyr, Christ Church, St. Saviour, Southwark, and Newington"—(The Solicitor-General.)


I think the Solicitor-General should give some reason for this change.


The alteration has been made for this reason. If anyone looks at the map he will see that this area forms a projecting tongue, which, in the Parliamentary Division, is in Bermondsey, and not with the rest of the parish along with Newington and West Southwark. It is admitted that it would be very inconvenient to divide the parish. A resolution has been sent to me which was passed by the vestry of Rotherhithe, St. Thomas' Board of Works, and the Vestry of Bermondsey, in support of the resolution passed by the Vestry of St. George the Martyr, in favour of the retention of that part of the borough. I hope that the House will not cut the area of the parish and the Poor Law Union in the way the original schedule will do.

Amendment agreed to.

Other Amendments made.


We have passed a clause which says that every portion of the county of London shall be in some borough. Now, so far as I can make out, the Collegiate Church of St. Peter's, Westminster, is not so included.


I have handed in an Amendment to meet that case. The reason why it was omitted before was that there was some question as to the right boundaries. I now beg to move that Amendment.

Amendment proposed— In page 18, line 30 to add 'and including the Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, and the Liberty of the Rolls.'"—(The Solicitor-General). Question, "That these words be there inserted," put and agreed to.


I think there is another part of London that we have hung up, and that is the Tower. I think the Tower will have to be added to the White-chapel district.


I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The matter will be considered.

Other Amendments made. Another Amendment proposed— In page 19, column 2, line 20, before the word 'subject,' to insert the words 'subject to bye-laws and regulations matte by the County Council and '"—(Mr. James Stuart.)

Question proposed—" That those words be there inserted."


I had an interview with some persons of experience in regard to this matter. I am unable to see the necessity for these words, and I do not think any clear reasons were adduced in support of them. The matter will, however, be considered.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments proposed— In Schedule 2, page 19, column 2, line 23, after 's. 100,' to add 'and s. 101'; and and in Schedule 2, page 19, column 2, line 23, after 's. 100,' add 'subject to the requirement that borough council shall send annually to county council a copy of the register.'"—(Mr. Stuart, for Captain Sinclair.)


The first of these Amendments is already dealt with by an Amendment made at my instance.


As to the second Amendment, I do not see how, without it, the County Council can obtain a copy of the register.


I hope the hon. Member will not press this. I do not see the necessity. for the duplication of these registers. The register kept by the borough council may be inspected.


I do not wish to press it, but I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider the matter when he is inquiring into other points.

Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.

SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wilts, Chippenham)

I have to move to leave out lines 26 and 27 on page 20. It will be convenient, I think, that I should briefly call the attention of the House to the history of that portion of the Act with which we are now dealing, and which is embraced in the schedule of this Bill. Part III. is a consolidation of an Act which was passed by Lord Beaconsfield in 1851; but that Act, which was in vogue from 1851 to 1890, was seldom, if ever, brought into operation in the metropolis. It was framed by Lord Beaconsfield with the idea that if dwellings were required over and above those dwellings which were formerly acquired under Part I. and Part II., they should be acquired under Part III. There may have been individual instances here and there where Part III. was brought into operation, but, practically speaking, it was a dead letter from 1851 to 1890. In the year 1890, when there was a general consolidation of all the different Housing Acts, Lord Shaftesbury's Act came into operation. With the exception of one or two instances, between 1890 and now, Part III. has not been put into operation very much in the metropolis. It was exercised in the year 1893 on a considerably large scale for the acquisition of the Millbank Estate, and it was also put into operation in 1895 in what is known as the Falcon Court Improvement Estate. But in both these cases Part III. was exercised more in the sense of an addition to the scheme under Part I. and Part II. The House may know that the Milbank Estate, which is being rapidly developed, is to go to those persons who have been displaced, under the schemes known as Part I. in this Act, in other parts of London. Up to this point Part III. has been more or less excluded, and has not been brought into operation. Within the last few months, however, the London County Council and the Housing Committee of that body, recognising the extremely grave condition of affairs in London, the fearful state of congestion, the continuous increase of population, and the difficulty of accommodating the people, have taken what may be termed a new departure, and that a very drastic one. The result has been that the London County Council have committed themselves to a new and very extensive policy, which is not merely to continue to clear the areas and rebuild under Part I. of the Act on a large scale, and under a smaller scale under Part II., but, finding that they have been unable to replace entirely the number of people they have displaced under Part II., they have now committed themselves, for better or worse, to a very extensive exercise of Part III. of the Act. Part III empowers a county council to purchase—

Attention called to the fact that there were not 40 members present. House counted, and 40 members being present, Debate resumed.


Before 1890 every local authority that exercised Part III. had first to obtain the sanction of the Home Office. The Act of 1890 did away with that sanction, and every local authority which desires to exercise Part III. now is able to do so without asking any leave whatsoever. That Part enacts that local authorities may purchase land, but it is also laid down that the local authority, having purchased land, is obliged itself to build upon it, and to manage the buildings it erects. The reason why I move my Amendment is that I am quite sure, although in former years Part III. has not been much used, that it is now to be used considerably, and it is not in a properly equipped condition to enable it to be used to the benefit of the metropolis as a whole. If the indiscriminate purchase of land is to be carried out in London there should be further safeguards in one direction, and further extensions in another. With reference to safeguards, a Government authority should be called into requisition to give its sanction, both as regards the purchase of land, and also as to the plan of the buildings to be erected on it. There is, however, another important point in my humble opinion, which is that if this Part is to be exercised very largely throughout the metropolis there should be an extension allowed—namely that, having purchased the land, the local authority shall have full power to sell it as long as it is handed over to some company or society that is prepared to build working-class dwellings on it. In the case of Part I., a clearance having been made, the sanction of the Home Office has to be obtained before the local. authority may build on it, and I should like some such regulation brought into operation with reference to Part Ill. If not, there will be in London in the future many districts in which land will be managed and controlled by the municipalities. In past legislation the principle has been laid down that it is not in the best interests of the metropolis, or of the private enterprise and industry which have made this country prosperous, that municipalities should have the control of property on a large scale in the metropolis. To such art extent has that principle been laid down that Part I. of the Housing Act provides that at the end of 10 years after the clearance, unless the sanction of the Home Office is obtained, the land must be sold by the municipality. Ten years have now nearly elapsed since the Act became law, and I hope the Government Department will stand firm and say that the land must go back to a private individual or to a society. There is great danger in front of us in working Part III. on an extensive scale. Land has enormously increased in value in the metropolis; the price of building materials and labour has also enormously increased, and the result is that the officers of the London County Council have found out that it is practically impossible if land is purchased in the central portions of London to erect on it dwellings according to standard without finding a financial loss at the end. This is a very grave question, and, as I have said, the London County Council is committed to a very drastic policy in this direction. A very large section of its members in, their enthusiasm for meeting this great difficulty, are quite prepared to commit themselves to the principle—which is most dangerous and fallacious—that if you cannot build at a financial profit you should go to the rates for the deficit. That is undoubtedly the policy which the Progressive members of the London County Council contemplate. It is a policy against all the laws of political economy.


The hon. Baronet has not adduced any proof of that statement.


I can adduce my own knowledge of members of the Council who have considerable standing, and who advocate that policy.


There is no ground for saying that that is the policy of the Progressive majority of the Council.


I will not weary the House by entering into a controversy with the hon. Gentleman. If the London County Council exercise Part III. on an extensive scale, they will find it absolutely impossible to do it at a profit. The effect of the proposal in the Bill is that the thirty borough councils in London may have the opportunity of exercising Part III.—in other words, the power of buying land without the sanction of any Government Department, and of erecting dwellings on it. Until the law is amended, this is a very dangerous departure, and I would strongly urge on the Government, in the face of the great difficulties we have to meet, that before they insert Part III. in the London Government Act, they should remodel the Housing Act, especially on the point indicated. The County Council has a very clear and definite policy, which is to buy land in the outskirts of London in order that the people who have been displaced in the central portions may be housed. Particular attention is being given to the purchase of land in proximity to railway stations and tramways, to enable the working classes to get to their work. That policy can only be carried out by the central authority, and I think it is better that the general housing of London should be left in its hands. Even if the Government will not give way on this point, I would ask them to give some kind of pledge that Part III. of the Housing Act will be amended in the direction I have indicated.

Amendment proposed— In page 20, to leave out lines 26 and 27."—(Sir John Dickson-Poynder). Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

As the hon. Baronet has moved an Amendment which stands to my name, I would like to state why on reconsideration I decline to proceed with it. The question is a difficult one, and one on which it is quite possible that two opinions may be held. At present the London County Council has power under Part III. of the Housing Act to provide houses for the people, and the proposal in the Bill is, not that that power should be taken away from the County Council, but that while it remains with the Council concurrent power should be conferred on each of the new municipal bodies. From one point of view that may he regarded as a somewhat dangerous proposal, but my point of view is different from that of the hon. Baronet. The difficulty I saw was that if the proposal were carried there would probably be a tendency in each district to provide dwellings for its own poor, and there would be less pressure on the central authority to carry out the power it now possesses. I am strongly of opinion that the provision of dwellings for the poor is a purpose the cost of which ought to fall on the whole of London. These poor are not the poor of Bethnal Green, or Battersea, or Shore-ditch, but of London, and therefore the cost of making necessary provision for them ought to come out of the common purse. At one time I felt so strongly that I was inclined to vote against the proposal of the Government. There are, however, graver considerations on the other side. I do not desire to belittle the work of the County Council in regard to the Housing Act. The Council has undoubtedly done good work in clearing away rookeries, but it is only fair to say that it has done more in pulling down than building up. The Council has made provision for a considerable number of persons, yet it has not solved the great difficulty. It has not provided accommodation at a rent which a workman earning 20s. or 21s. a week can afford to pay. The housing question in London at present, I do not hesitate to say, is a gross scandal which earnestly presses for a satisfactory settlement. We have a condition of things under which a man in employment and earning fair wages has not been able to get accommodation, and has been obliged to send his family to the workhouse. That is a scandalous condition of things, and reflects the greatest discredit on the community. Considering that the question is a burning one, and in view of the communications that have reached me to the effect that the poorer localities of London desire to have this power, I decline to accept the responsibility of depriving them of the opportunity which the Government proposes to put in their way. For many reasons I shall support the Government proposal.


It is the first time, either by voice or vote, during the de- bates on this Bill, that I have supported any contraction of the powers to be conferred on the local authorities. I think the House ought to know that the hon. Baronet has the honour to be the chairman of the Housing of the Working Classes Committee of the London County Council, a position he fills with credit to himself and advantage to London, and he therefore speaks with special knowledge of the question. I myself was a member of the same committee for three years, and may claim some knowledge of the question also. It is proposed to give this power to the new boroughs, but you limit the exercise of it in each district strictly to its own area, thereby perpetuating the evil which the County Council is now trying to remove, namely the settling down of people in congested districts in the heart of London. The policy which the Council has pursued for years has been to get people to live out in the suburbs, and it has approached railway companies and has obtained possession of tramways in order to induce workmen to live where they can get better surroundings for their families. If we give these local authorities power to erect dwellings and limit its operation to their own districts, we will tempt them to buy land at exorbitant rates. Take that part of my constituency that adjoins the City. Every year land is becoming more valuable; small houses are being pulled down and are being replaced by warehouses which bring a larger revenue to the parish. I venture to say that an enthusiastic local body with perhaps Socialistic tendencies would disregard not only the loss of money but also the considerations of health in putting into force the power it is proposed to give to the municipal boroughs, and I therefore, in the interests of public health and from considerations of economy, support the amendment of the hon. Baronet.


As I am interested largely in the County Council, I support the proposal in the Government Bill, because, at a meeting between the local authorities and the County Council, the Council, after a full consideration of the arguments brought forward by the local authorities, decided that it would be willing to concede to them the concurrent powers now included in the schedule. So far as I can speak for the County Council I say that it adheres to its undertaking. That is the clear and simple position. It does not enter into the arguments; it is merely that, the arguments being considered on a previous occasion and a decision taken, the Council is prepared to abide by it. I admit the great respect in which the hon. Baronet opposite and his work are held by every member of the County Council, and although I differ from him on this particular I have the highest esteem for the work he is doing on the County Council. I must, however, take exception to the position which he incidentally took up with reference to the Progressive majority, and his suggestion that that majority would act in some remarkable manner. All I will say is that the hon. Baronet is himself chairman of the Housing Committee of the Council, and that is enough on that subject. The County Council has carried out Part III. with very considerable success and very considerable advantage to London. The hon. Baronet has pointed out the lines on which the Council is proceeding under his guidance, and I think there can be no hesitation in believing that the Council is endeavouring to house the poor of the metropolis under conditions acceptable to all parties in the Council, and to the views entertained throughout all parts of the metropolis generally. But we have had the representations of the local authorities before us, and, they being desirous of having this power, and the Council having decided to give it to them, that decision must be adhered to. I notice in all the Debates on questions of the transference of powers an underlying mistake. Many Members appear to assume that the new local authorities will be more Conservative and less Progressive than the County Council. I have no doubt that it will be found that their character will be very much the same, and that their method of dealing with the housing of the poor will be on very similar lines. That question is one of the most absolutely important questions for this metropolis, and the spirit in which the County Council is dealing with it is shown by the fact that whereas there is a great Progressive majority on the County Council, the hon. Baronet opposite is Chairman of the Housing Committee. I venture to believe that the new boroughs will deal with this question in a similar spirit, and I have as much confidence in putting the necessary power into their hands as I have in retaining it in the hands of the Council. I wish to support the proposal in the Bill on the main ground I have mentioned.


I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House are thoroughly agreed as to the extreme importance of this question of the housing of the poor, and I am sure also that we all recognise the work which has been done in this direction by my hon. friend who moved the Amendment, and that he speaks with special knowledge on the subject. At the same time I cannot but feel that many of his arguments were directed to the point that the power given under the Housing of the Working Classes Act should be supplemented. There is a great deal of force in many of my hon. friend's observations, and I am perfectly certain they will receive careful consideration. But the question before the House is whether, under the Housing of the Working Classes Act in its present form, the power with reference to Part III. should not be extended to the borough councils. I would remind the House that this power is enjoyed by other municipal boroughs throughout the country, and I would ask why the metropolitan boroughs should not enjoy it also. There is very great cogency in one observation of the hon. Member who has just spoken, namely, that it was agreed at a conference between the local authorities and the County Council that this power should be extended to the borough councils. My hon. friend who moved the Amendment made some criticisms upon the policy of the County Council which I gather did not meet with acceptance in all parts of the House, but I would remind my hon. friend that whatever may be the policy of the majority of the County Council it does not at all follow that the policy of the borough councils will be the same. Under this Bill, when it becomes law, the power of exercising Part III. will only extend to the limit of each borough. My hon. friend said that it was desirable that those workmen should he provided with houses in the suburbs where they could easily go to and from their work. Of course, I recognise that it is very desirable, where it can be done, that we should find them accommodation so near a railway that they could get up to their work with convenience to themselves. But in many boroughs this is not always possible. Where they can do so, well and good; but under the circumstances, where they cannot, the borough council surely may be trusted only to put these powers in force within the borough where there is a legitimate demand for working men's houses within the borough. I do not think myself it would be abused, and I hope the House will agree to give these powers to the boroughs of London.

MR. CAUSTON (Southwark, W.)

I have great pleasure in hearing the right hon. Gentleman express his determination to give this power to the London boroughs. From time to time I have received communications from Judge Addison, of Southwark County Court, giving most harrowing descriptions of the trials that the people of South London have to undergo in respect to want of dwellings. I think that the new local authorities ought to have power to deal with these matters if they so desire, because they know the local requirements and the difficulties which the working men have to contend with, especially those who have to go very early to their work. An hon. Member talks about the working classes being transported to the outskirts of London by railway. But when you talk of transporting the working classes, that means additional expense to them; and the working classes, or certain of them, such as the Borough Market and waterside labourers, are not remunerated by a very high wage, and when you ask them to go outside London by train or tram you impose on them an expense which they cannot bear. I think the local authorities should have power to deal with these matters even in the event of the County Council not seeing its way to do so, because they possess local knowledge which the County Council cannot be acquainted with.


I should like to inform hon. Members that in the County of London there is plenty of room to build houses for double the population. There are numerous districts not yet covered where there is plenty of room. There are 3,000 acres at Plumstead, and there are other places, like Eltham, with 3,800 acres, where the population is only one and a-half persons per acre. As regards the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, I was before a magistrate to-day at the police-court—["Hear, hear"]—on business—and a man was brought before the magistrate charged with living with his wife and family in a disorderly house. The man said he was sorry that his children had to live in such a disreputable neighbourhood, but he was unable to find another house. In another case a man had to put his wife and family into the workhouse, where he paid for their maintenance, because he could not find a place in which to house them. In another case a woman was looking for apartments who had a child with her, and she was asked how many children she had, and she said, "I have one here and five in the churchyard," but when she got the apartments that same night there were six children there. Her statement was quite true, because while she went to look for apartments she. left five children to play in the churchyard. That is the sort of subterfuge to which these people have to resort. We do want the County Council to build in these places where the population is only one and a half person per acre, but if they will not the borough councils can do it themselves, and do it cheaper than the London County Council; we can always get land that we want for our own benefit at a fair price, but directly the London County Council comes along the price goes up enormously. Then there is another thing: the people themselves do not like the barrack system which is adopted by the London County Council, which is undertaken at so large an expense; but you can build cottages in a borough like Woolwich, which has thirteen square miles. There is no difficulty. We have land there, and for the last ten years we have waited for the County Council to build municipal property. They have failed to do it, but in the last few months they begin to see that something ought to be done. The County Council will be able to undertake these buildings, outside boroughs without building land, which the local authority has not power to do; but the local authority can erect these small houses, which in their own knowledge are desirable, where they have land available within their own borough.


It is pleasing to note on all sides of the House a desire to grapple with the housing problem, which is a most serious question. On this occasion I am a devoted supporter of the Government as against some supporters of the Government who sit below the gangway, who consider there is a serious risk in remitting to the local authority this power. I admit the risk, but I believe the housing problem is so serious that that risk must be incurred and undertaken. I believe that the Government have done wisely in putting into their Bill with regard to the housing problem a suggestion that the local authorities should have concurrently the same power as the London County Council enjoys. It seems to me that we ought to examine the argument of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Chippenham Division. It is trite he was chairman of the Housing Committee, and he is to be congratulated on the congenial way in which he discharged his functions, but he has no mandate from his committee for the nervousness which he has shown to-night. He is Under the impression that if the local authorities have these powers they will immediately embark in some wild scheme or other for which there is no justification. But these local authorities are very conservative in their views, and I think we can safely leave this power to them. When the hon. Member for Woolwich says that the County Council procedure is expensive, I venture to tell him that there is not another body in London, not even the Corporation, who could buy the immense number of acres of land which the County Council has bought within 12 miles of London at the price which it paid, which is £38 an acre. It is evident that something should be done to prevent the scandalous overcrowding both on the part of the local authority and the County Council, and I sincerely trust the Government will not listen to its supporters below the gangway, and I trust the borough councils will have the power which the Government desires to give them.


After the observations which have fallen from hon. Members of this House, I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


The last schedule in the Bill, I notice, gives the borough councils power to make bye-laws. Of course, borough councils would have power in the ordinary course to make bye-laws for a specific purpose, but the schedule which we are now considering is something quite different; it authorises them to make bye-laws for the good government of the borough, and it is at once obvious that these words are exceedingly vague. There is given to the thirty local authorities who are to be created by this Bill power to make bye-laws for the "good government" of the borough. It is true that they must not be in contradiction to the bye-laws of the County Council. So far so good. But there is nothing to prevent the bye-laws of one borough being absolutely contradictory to the bye-laws of another. It would be ridiculous to have a bye-law affecting one-half of a street and an absolutely contradictory byelaw the other half. There is a great tendency to make use of this power of making bye-laws for all purposes. The old Court of Queen's Bench was a great safeguard in this matter, but all that has now been completely changed, and the trend is quite the other way. At present it is safe to say that the Judges, instead of scrutinising very closely as they did in old days these particular matters, will sanction almost anything that comes before them in the shape of bye-laws. Considering how serious the result is, it is especially important from the point of view of the poorer parishes, considerably more than in the case of the rich, because a man of good circumstances, in the event of his breaking a bye-law, pays the fine, and there is the end of it, and the poor man earning perhaps a precarious livelihood is unable to do so, and goes to prison. No fewer than 75,000 persons are in prison now, not because they have committed a crime, but because they have done something for which the proper punishment is a fine, and they have not the money with which to pay. Under the circumstances I think you ought not to unduly extend this bye-law making power.

Amendments proposed, in Schedule 2, page 20, to leave out lines 26 and 27, and to leave out lines 28 to 30.—(Mr. Pickersgill.)


I hope the hon. Gentleman will not persist in his Amendment. My objection, in the first place, is that we have in this Bill gone on the principle that the powers that are agreed to be transferred from the County Council to the borough councils shall be transferred under this Bill. I do not see that there is any real force in the objection made by the hon. Member. There are a great many cases in this country where there are two areas which are coterminous with each other and are not easily distinguished, which are under two separate systems, and all those boroughs have the power of making bye-laws. And yet it is said that such a principle would be inconsistent in connection with these boroughs in London. It is absurd to suggest that the borough of Poplar and of Mile End would require the same bye-laws as, for instance, say, Kensington. London north of the Thames and London south of the Thames have different circumstances to consider, and I think they should be allowed to decide the bye-laws which they require for themselves. What I have said applies rather to the first Amendment, but I hope what I have said is sufficient to enable the hon. Member to withdraw both his Amendments.


The bye-laws must be sanctioned by the Local Government Board, and it is very much better that these borough councils should have the same powers as other boroughs have. They do not want to be under the County Council, they want to be under the laws of the country at large, and I think you may fairly leave it to the Local Government Board, and be quite satisfied that they will not allow bye-laws in contradiction to each other. The safeguards are quite sufficient.


When this question becomes merely a local matter, then I think you ought to have elasticity, and under the circumstances I cannot support my hon. friend's Amendments.


Under the circumstances I do not press my Amendments.

Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.

Other Amendments made.

Bill to be read the third time upon Tuesday next.

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