HC Deb 22 February 1900 vol 79 cc838-41

, who was very indistinctly heard, in asking leave to introduce a Bill to amend Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, said that it dealt with one of the most important social questions at the present time. What was wanted with regard to the housing of the working classes was not so much fresh legislation as a more effective administration of the laws at present in existence. There were, however, two defects in the law at present about which complaints were constantly heard. The first defect was the difficulty by which in towns, and in the larger towns in particular, especially in London, local authorities were invariably confronted, namely, the difficulty of providing space and sites on which to build within the limits of their jurisdiction. This difficulty arose solely because among the powers placed in the local authorities there was no power which enabled them to acquire land beyond the boundaries of their own area. That was a power which he thought the local authorities ought to possess, and although the change would be small and extremely simple, he thought the effect would be very great indeed. Nothing which could be done would be more beneficial to the well-being of the working classes. It was impossible to suppose, in London for example, with a growing population, that the whole of the working population could ever be housed as they would like to see it within the limits of London itself. But, given a reasonable distance in the country outside London, with the modern means of transit, the improvement in the tramway service, now in the hands of the County Council, and, above all, an adequate service of cheap trains, he believed that the problem would be to a great extent solved.

MR. TULLY () Leitrim, S.

Will the provisions of this Bill extend to Ireland?


said not at present. The experiment was one which the Government thought ought at least to be made. The Bill provided that where any council other than a rural district council adopted Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, it might supply the needs of its district by either establishing or acquiring lodging houses for the working classes under that Part outside its district. It was also urged that the restrictions which were placed on Part III. of the Act in respect of rural districts were so cumbersome and intricate that in many cases it was practically a dead letter. In the first place, they had to obtain the consent of the county council, then the county council was bound first of all to hold a local inquiry, to grant and publish a certificate, and even then, except in cases of what was termed an emergency, the proceedings had to wait until after the next election of the local authority concerned. The Bill proposed to simplify that procedure. The consent of the county council would still be required, but the granting of their consent would be at the discretion of the county council subject only to this provision—that they must have regard to the area for which it is proposed to adopt the Part, to the necessity for accommodation for the housing of the working classes in that area, to the probability of such accommodation being provided without the adoption of the Part, and to the liability which would be incurred by the rates, and to the question whether, under all the circumstances, it was prudent for the district council to adopt the Part.

* SIR WALTER FOSTEE () Derbyshire, Ilkestone

said he had listened to the opening of the light hon. Gentleman's speech with a feeling of fume which he regretted had been completely dissipated by his closing remarks. This was a question which, in the opinion of the country, was most important, and one which required the gravest consideration. It struck at the conditions of overcrowding under which hundreds of thousands of the people of this country lived, conditions which made decency impossible and morality a miracle. The Bill was satisfactory so far as it went, but in respect of the rural districts it did practically nothing. Indeed, the Bill could not be looked upon as in any way an adequate method of meeting a great national emergency. Any Bill which attempted to grapple with this problem ought to afford opportunities to the local authorities to reach the real owner of bad house property—to reach the man who was fattening on the miseries of his fellow creatures. It should also give power to local authorities to take over by a simpler and cheaper method all property declared to be insanitary at the bare price of land and materials.

Further, it should provide simple and inexpensive methods of taking land by purchase or by hire for this great public purpose in which the ordinary expense of taking land compulsorily ought not to be allowed. Power should also be vested in a central authority, or in a, large local authority, to supervise local areas and to force local authorities to do their duty. Means should also be provided by which money should be granted at the lowest possible rate of interest for the longest period in order to enable local authorities to carry out this work of housing the people without unduly adding to the rates. The measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman was, in his opinion, totally inadequate to meet the demands of the country.

Bill to amend Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chaplin, Secretary Sir Matthew White Ridley, Mr. Ritchie, and Mr. T. W. Russell.