HC Deb 28 June 1900 vol 84 cc1303-8

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

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

said this was a Bill confirming an improvement scheme under the Housing Act of 1890, to be carried out by the London County Council. The areas dealt with by the scheme were in the neighbourhood of Holborn, and the number of persons of the working classes who would be displaced by the scheme was about 1,400. The Bill provided that new dwellings for the accommodation of at least 1,400 persons should be erected on the area, but there was no stipulation that the new accommodation, or any quota of it, should be provided before the old dwellings were demolished. His object in moving in the matter was to repair that defect in the Bill, and should he be successful he proposed to take the same course with regard to three other precisely similar London Bills which were on the Paper that day. He would like to say at the outset how cordially he recognised the good work done by the London County Council with regard to the housing of the people, bearing in mind the limited powers which the Legislature had conferred upon that body. They were now in a position to review by the light of experience what had been accomplished, and he thought it could not be denied that in certain respects the results were disappointing. It was due to the London County Council to say that it had removed a certain number of plague spots; but, on the other hand, some of their beneficent schemes had been attended by the most deplorable incident that, in securing the removal of existing slums, they had assisted in the creation of new ones in the immediate neighbourhood. Existing buildings had been demolished before new accommoda- tion had been supplied, and there had been a long period between the displacement of the old population and the provision of new buildings. Meanwhile great hardship had been inflicted upon the poor inhabitants, who had been compelled to seek shelter elsewhere, with the result that the terrible problem of overcrowding had been intensified in the district surrounding the improved area. An experience in his own constituency had made him painfully familiar with these results. It had been stated by the chief sanitary inspector for Bethnal Green that the result of the Boundary Street scheme was to turn 3,000 persons into other crowded parts of his district. [Mr. COLLINGS dissented.] Well, he would not bind himself to that exact figure, but that was substantially the number, and he was in a position personally to corroborate the statement. No doubt the fine buildings which were opened in Bethnal Green the other day by the Prince of Wales constituted a great achievement, but it was worthy of note that they were not occupied by the displaced inhabitants, and that to a very large extent they were not occupied by Bethnal Green people at all. They had been let to persons coming from all parts of London, and even from outside the metropolis. He was surprised to find, indeed, that persons who had previously removed their families some miles outside London had come back to Bethnal Green, because they preferred the substantially-built sanitary dwellings of the London County Council to the jerry-built structures of the speculating builder at Walthamstow or Leytonstone. Now, his object was to prevent the experience of his constituents in Bethnal Green being repeated in other parts of London. He understood it would be quite possible to acquire a site available for the erection of a considerable number of dwellings before demolishing any of those which now existed. They knew what had been the policy of the Local Government Board in these matters, and he desired to see that policy adopted by the Home Office, which was the confirming authority as regarded these schemes so far as London was concerned. The Local Government Board was the confirming authority for improvement schemes outside the metropolis, and he found that when such schemes were brought forward for provincial towns the Local Government Board invariably introduced into the Order a clause similar to that which he desired to impose upon the London schemes. Perhaps the House would permit him for a moment to sketch out the general framework of what he might call the model clause approved by the Local Government Board. [The hon. Member read the model clause.] The House would see that, according to this model clause, provision was made that the demolition of the existing buildings should proceed pari passu with the provision of new dwellings for the accommodation of the persons displaced by the scheme. He wished to press this as strongly as he could upon the attention of the representative of the Home Office, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley would consent to the postponement of the motion for the Third Reading of this Order, and put himself into communication with the London County Council, so that, by friendly concert between the two authorities some clause framed on the lines he had indicated might be introduced into this and the other Bills they had to consider that day. There could be no difficulty in carrying it out in the case of the Poplar scheme, because there the new dwellings were to be erected, not on the insanitary area itself, but on land in the neighbourhood. Perhaps the more convenient plan for him to adopt would be to move the adjournment of the debate, but he would not do so then, as the effect would only be to restrict the area of discussion. It might, however, be moved later on, and so for the present he would content himself with expressing a sincere hope that the right hon. Gentleman would give to the point he had raised the careful consideration he thought it deserved.


said he would like to point out to the hon. Member that the postponement of the Third Reading of this Order would delay the scheme for replacing insanitary dwellings by healthy ones, and he did not think the improvement should be put off longer than was absolutely necessary. As to the Home Office entering into communication with the London County Council on the question, he could assure the hon. Member that they were so acting at the present time. If the hon. Member would only look at the Provisional Orders before the House he would find that they were so worded as to give the Secretary of State complete control over the demolition of houses and the building of other houses for the re-housing of the people. That provision was inserted with the express purpose of securing that, so far as was possible, the new accommodation should be provided before the demolition took place. And this was no perfunctory policy on the part of the Department; it was carried out in regard to almost every scheme, and the Home Office was in continual communication with the London County Council in order to secure that end. It was the case that the London County Council were quite willing to co-operate with the Home Office in doing all that was possible in that direction. But in some cases it was physically impossible to carry out such an arrangement; and if the hon. Member would only favour him by examining the details which he would be pleased to hand to him, he would be astonished at the steps the Home Office were taking, in co-operation with the London County Council, to progress in the direction which he desired. It was the case that in most of the schemes which came before the Local Government Board clauses were put in which were far more stringent than the model clause quoted by the hon. Member. But then the cases were entirely different. The provincial Orders dealt with the displacement of far smaller numbers of people than did the metropolitan schemes, and he ventured to assert that there was scarcely a case coming from a provincial town where accommodation could not at once be obtained by the persons displaced. The same could not be said of these great London schemes. With regard to the Poplar scheme 269 people were to be displaced. They were now resident in three small areas, and fortunately the London County Council possessed a vacant area in the neighbourhood upon which they were quite willing to erect houses before demolishing the other buildings. At St. Luke's about 1,000 people were to be displaced. There, however, there were four areas to be dealt with. In the case of one the houses would be destroyed, and fresh ones would be put up before the second area was touched. The same remark applied to Southwark. He thought the hon. Member was singularly unfortunate in selecting the Boundary Street scheme as an instance of the necessity for carrying out his proposal, for he believed it was arranged to divide that scheme into five or six sections, and to complete one section before commencing on another.


Yes; the original design was admirable, but it was not carried out; and, as a matter of fact, the whole of the area was cleared for a year before a single now building was erected.


said he did not think the hon. Gentleman was quite right in his statement of fact, although he was aware that the original design was modified. He could only repeat that if the hon. Member insisted upon the insertion in the London schemes of a clause of the nature he had indicated the result would probably be to indefinitely delay large metropolitan schemes for rehousing the people. He would point out, further, that the object aimed at was very largely secured under the agreement which had been come to in respect of these four particular schemes, and he hoped, therefore, that the opposition to the Third Reading of the Bill would not be pressed.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

said he only desired to affirm, as regarded the London County Council, what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman—namely, that there had been the most absolute cooperation between the Home Office and the London County Council. It was quite true that the London County Council was subject to the control of the Home Office, but it was equally the fact, and that had been acknowledged by his right hon. friend, that they had not sought in any way to obstruct the Home Office or to diminish the obligations incumbent upon them. No doubt, in some cases they had been obliged to demolish old houses before they could put up new ones; but then it was clear that where they only had the one site available it must be cleared before the new building could be erected. He fully sympathised with the object of the hon. Member for South-west Bethnal Green, but he ventured to suggest that if this opposition were persisted in it would retard, if not altogether frustrate, the object which they all had in view.


For the present I will content myself with the assurances I have received that the Home Office will carefully watch this matter, and secure, as far as possible, that no existing dwellings shall be demolished until new ones have been provided.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.