HC Deb 10 May 1900 vol 82 cc1259-350

Order for Second Reading read.

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

MR. ROBSON (South Shields)

I think that, having regard to the promises of social legislation which we are accustomed to hear from Her Majesty's Ministers, we are entitled to reproach the Government with not having taken up this subject and dealt with it in a comprehensive and thorough going way, although it is quite conceivable that they may have some reason for postponing a task of such considerable magnitude. However, they laid themselves open in this Bill to that reproach, and I venture to think they will find it hard to meet. Not only have they omitted to deal comprehensively with this urgent subject, but even in the one small proposal they have selected for legislation they have omitted—I may say they have refused—to accompany that proposal, excellent in itself, by any of the obvious, practical, and simple provisions which might make it a measure of real service. They could have been proposed with very little difficulty indeed on the part of the Government, without the risk of introducing any of those principles which hon. Members regard as dangerous. I hope it is yet possible to make this small measure into one of the most useful measures of social legislation passed in recent years. The right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the measure has not indicated his sense of its importance by any very lengthy explanatory statement. The proposal in the Bill is that local authorities shall be empowered to go outside their districts for the purpose of establishing working men's dwellings for those who work inside their areas. I apprehend that the measure has been thought necessary on account of some legal opinion expressed on the part of those who advise the Ministry. For my own part it seems to me that it was not really necessary at all, because under Section 175 of the Public Health Act, and also under Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, local authorities have already powers to go outside their districts to purchase land on which to erect workmen's dwellings. However, if the Ministry have been advised that this Bill is necessary, then the proposal is one which by itself is not likely to meet with opposition on the part of any section, or indeed any individual Member, of this House. But it is a proposal which, standing alone is, as I have ventured to say, of very little value indeed. What was the old method of trying to deal with this great national evil of overcrowding? We have hitherto tried to deal with overcrowding in the overcrowded district itself. We have given to local authorities this, that, and the other power to deal with the state of things within their own borders, whereas it has long been obvious to those interested in this question that the true remedy lay in inducing either the local authority or the people themselves to go beyond that district, and to seek their homes elsewhere. In so far as the Bill is an indication of that policy it is good. I venture to submit to the House that there are only two methods worth speaking of—two alternative methods—by which the question of overcrowding can be dealt with in this country. One method is familiar to all of us in the proposals of land taxation. Under that principle the owner of the ground which is unbuilt on would be required to pay rates not upon its agricultural value—which, of course, is inconsiderable—but upon a fair percentage of the capital value, so that the owner of the land would find it not to his interest to hold the land back until it reached a famine price. Of course, a great deal could be said for that proposal, but I am not going to discuss it or urge it now. Whether the principle be good or bad, it would undoubtedly settle to a very large extent the question of overcrowding. I do not dwell on that principle because I understand it to be a method to which the Ministry and hon. Members are very strongly and indeed almost unanimously opposed. Then there is another method which is suggested by this measure—that of inducing working men to go out from the industrial centres to live in cheap and healthy houses provided in the rural districts. With regard to this measure it is really very important that there should be cheap means of communication. Cheap means of communication are absolutely vital to the success on any considerable scale of the principle which is indicated by this Bill. What is more, the means of communication must, as a matter of fact, be either supplied or arranged for by the local authority. Where a town is extending its buildings, no doubt the means of communication will follow the increase of the streets; private enterprise in the shape of buses or trams will provide ample means of communication between the suburbs and the centre; but where you desire that an increase of buildings should take place by advantage being taken of this Bill, where you desire that an increase of buildings should take place not in the immediate suburbs, but on the cheap land beyond the immediate suburbs, then private enterprise finds itself unable to provide the means of communication. On the one hand, it cannot undertake to supply the means of communication to some district to which as yet there is no traffic, and, on the other, it cannot undertake to build houses until it is absolutely certain that there would be adequate means of communication, and therefore, as I say, cheap means of communication are the first essential, and indeed the one essential, of any attempt at what ought to be done—namely, to relieve the overcrowded centres by taking the people right beyond the urban boundaries. These means of communication ought to be in some way arranged for by the municipal authorities. It is not in the least degree likely that the tramway accommodation would be sufficient for the conveyance of the people, for such great distances as this Bill will ordinarily contemplate, and for this very practical reason, that if any local authority proceeds under this Bill to buy land well beyond its boundaries, it will not be very readily induced to run tramways beyond its boundaries, because first of all the operation would be speculative. It would involve a risk to the ratepayers at the very time when the local authority is parting with a very considerable number of its ratepayers. Therefore, if you leave it to private enterprise to provide tramway accommodation, or if you leave it in the hands of the municipal authority to run its own tramways, the arrangement will not be very effective. But there is already an admirable means provided by an existing statute to which I desire to draw the attention of the House. That is, the Cheap Trains Act of 1883. It is the application of that Act to the proposal outlined in this Bill on which I seek now to lay stress, and that is what I refer to in more general terms in the Amendment, when I urge upon those in charge of the Bill to provide means of communication between the working centres and the places where the workmen's houses are to be built. What is the Cheap Trains Act of 1883? It enables a Local Authority, and others also, to go before the Railway Commissioners, and to represent to them that there is need for special working class accommodation between various crowded districts. If the Railway Commissioners think that the need is made out, they order that trains shall be run at certain hours in the morning, before eight o'clock generally, and at certain hours in the evening for the convenience and accommodation of the working classes. That is no confiscatory measure, and it is a consideration which has cost the railway companies nothing. There need be no apprehension on the part of the railway interest, or fear on the part of hon. Members against a legitimate application of that Act. Where does the Act fall short in its application under this Bill? What I seek to do is to induce the President of the Local Government Board to make, by way of an Amendment or an enlargement of his Bill, the Cheap Trains Act of 1883 apply as between the crowded centre and the working class settlement in the cheap district which he proposes to set up. At present it does not do so. If my Amendment were accepted the result would be that if a town council in a rural district desired, it would have the right to go before the Railway Commission for an order, subject to reasonable restrictions, entitling the new district to powers for providing accommodation, so that such accommodation could be kept just sufficiently in advance of the population in the new settlement to make it safe on the part of either corporations or private enterprise to build on these now centres. That proposal involves no new principle, and if adopted the effect would be this: It would enable the local authorities to settle the overcrowding question in a very large degree without entering into any speculative building of their own at all. Private enterprise has been checked now by want of the very proposal I have made. Once my proposal is carried, I believe private enterprise will take up this Bill so enlarged, and it will undoubtedly produce a great and beneficial effect upon the overcrowded centres of our large towns. There is another suggestion in my Amendment which meets with a very large amount of sympathy on this side of the House, and I know many Members opposite are in agreement with me upon this point. It involves no new principle, and it is one which the Government may very easily adopt. It is a suggestion that there should be a slight, but very effective, reform in the law of compensation with regard to insanitary areas. Hon. Members are probably familiar with the attempts which have been made by this House—very carefully and admirably devised attempts—to prevent inordinate compensation being given to those who own insanitary dwellings, who ought, in fact, to be somewhat penalised rather than over-compensated. But, singularly enough, the very attempts which the Legislature has made to prevent inordinate compensation have resulted, in some cases, to the advantage of the house sweater or the middleman who trades on the overcrowding of the poor. For instance, in Section 21 of Part 1 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act it is enacted that whore a house is declared insanitary and condemned, it shall be valued upon the basis of its real worth as land and material. In many cases that suits the owner. The house is generally in some very crowded situation and is generally capable—or it is said to be capable—of being used for other purposes. Therefore, when the compensation comes to be assessed, the owner of the insanitary property comes forward, or else sends some skilful representative, and appears with a fanciful reconstruction scheme, and on the plans for this property appear breweries, factories, warehouses, and everything to indicate that this land is of the greatest possible value. The owner is rather disposed to say, "I wish you would take the material in with the compensation." Upon that basis see what happens as regards the local authority. The local authority taking the land under the compulsory provision of the Housing of the Working Classes Act does so knowing that it cannot be used for various other purposes. When the local authority has paid compensation upon that basis it cannot cover the land with breweries, factories, or warehouses, but it has to build on that land dwellings for the working classes which have to conform to all modern requirements. What I venture to ask with some confidence is, that when compensation for insanitary dwellings comes to be assessed, it should be assessed on the footing that the owner seeking compensation is to be treated as though he were under the obligation to use that land for the proper accommodation of the same class of persons as those who lived upon it before. Hon. Members are aware that that is the obligation attaching to the land in the hands of the local authority, and if that is an obligation cast upon the local authority, why should it not be taken into account by the landlord, and treated as being subject to that obligation when compensation is assessed? If that were done there would be an end to many of these arbitration cases and all these ridiculous reconstruction schemes which mislead juries and arbitrators, and put fictitious and extravagant values upon land which is intended to be used only for working class dwellings. It was clearly intended by the Act of 1890 that the owner of insanitary property should be in some degree penalised. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that compensation should be narrowed by every strict and fair rule, so that the owner of house property who has bought it as house property shall not be allowed to value it as though it was something else. Those are the two plain practical proposals at which I aim in my Amendment, and I shall await with interest to hear whether arty member of the Government objects to these proposals, or can give any valid reason why they cannot be embodied in this Bill. I feel it would be very little use to talk to the House about particular features of the existing law, or particular remedies for overcrowding, unless I can convey to the minds of hon. Members some vivid impression of what I mean. When the country does really come to appreciate what is meant by overcrowding I venture to say that this question, which is now treated as little short of a local government question, will take its place as being the most important question within the whole sphere of modern legis- lation. Depend upon it that when the country has once appreciated the meaning of this great evil, Governments will no longer venture to deal with it in a piecemeal and trivial fashion of which the measure now before us is no illustration. When people come to understand the magnitude of this evil this question will be put first in every political programme. In London overcrowding has become a most appalling scandal, and the causes which are operating in London are also operating in other places. What always strikes me as a remarkable circumstance about this question is that overcrowding is very often looked upon as a social problem unsusceptible of a remedy. But it is quite the reverse. The remedies for overcrowding are known, and they are both simple and practical. The evil of overcrowding is not like intemperance or other vices which will evade any statute. No one claims to be overcrowded, and overcrowding arises from conditions which are under social control. That is a fact which, if impressed upon the mind of the House and of the country, would be worth almost anything to social reformers in this country. When we come to appreciate this, and also that all those evils which arise from overcrowding are under social control and within the legitimate sphere of practical legislation, then overcrowding will be effectually dealt with. The alteration which I am suggesting now is consistent, if not with the principles of the Conservative party, at all events with the precedents which the Conservative party have laid down. Whom does overcrowding affect? It used to be thought, and there is still an idea abroad, that the overcrowded are the destitute. That is, of course, largely true, but it is a most inadequate description of the overcrowded class. The evil of overcrowding has long since extended beyond the destitute or the improvident, and beyond those who cannot, or will not, earn enough to keep their families in decent dwellings. It is very well put in a recent report issued by the Bethnal Green Vestry, which says— It is no longer within the means of working men earning ordinary labourers' wages, to provide decent house accommodation. That is speaking, of course, with regard to the Bethnal Green district. That is a fact on which one may well pause in order to realise its appalling significance. It has given rise to a phenomenon which is new in English social life—the phenomenon of industrious, honest, hard-working men being driven to send, in some cases their families and in other cases themselves, to the workhouse, because there does not exist any other house accommodation for them in the district. That has now become no uncommon case. But very few instances of it are enough to confirm the allegation I have just made that the question of overcrowding now concerns classes which are far above those who are destitute and improvident. It is said that you ought not to encourage the local authority to go in for speculative building enterprises, but already the local authorities have thrown upon them the obligation of seeing that the people in their districts are housed in some way or other. You have told them that they must not allow overcrowding, and you have made overcrowding penal; and it has become the duty of the local authority in numerous districts to unhouse a great number of their people. If you make it their duty to unhouse people you must give them the right and the means of rehousing them. The law enacts that there shall be at least 400 cubic feet of space for every adult, two children under twelve counting as one adult. The House will get some idea of what that 'means when I point out that 1,000 cubic feet of space is required by law for two adults and a child. That would be equal to the space in a room ten feet square. Nobody can say that that is an extravagant air space. Therefore anything less than that is a punishable offence. How many persons, according to that standard, are overcrowded in London? I have found it difficult to verify anything like the exact figure. It is impossible to tell to a few thousands, but going by the reports—the admirable and exhaustive reports made to the London County Council—the figure generally accepted is that there are no less than 900,000 people in this metropolis living in an overcrowded condition. That means that nearly one-fifth of the population of London are living in illegal occupation of their dwellings. That is an appalling truth. Of course it covers many of the worst cases, and it includes all those numerous instances of single-room dwellings of which we hear so much. Generally speaking, when people are talking about overcrowding they seem to think that it is confined to cases of single rooms, but that is by no means the case. Although you may find the worst cases of overcrowding in single rooms, yet you do not find there most of the cases of overcrowding. You find a very fair number of single-room dwellings passed into the statistics as proof of overcrowding when there is no overcrowding at all. The worst cases of overcrowding are to be found in two-roomed and three-roomed dwellings. You have these cases of over-crowding often occurring in the most respectable-looking streets. I remember reading with some astonishment not long ago the Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes in 1885. It mentions three streets in Newcastle which are very well known to me, and a more respectable-looking street you could scarcely wish to see; and yet the Commission reported that in those streets there were thirty-four four-roomed houses containing 140 families of all sizes. In another street there were fifty four-roomed houses standing together containing 230 families; and in another street there were sixty small houses containing 310 families. And yet a stranger walking down those streets would think that they were the dwellings of the artisan class, and he would have no conception of what was going on behind those brick walls on either side of him. Along with the single-room system there is another which extends even beyond that, and that is the single-bed system. Take the vestry reports, which afford painful and terrible examples of the most shocking character. We read of twelve and seventeen people in one room, of thirty-one people in one small house, forty-two people in another small house, and so on. I hesitate, however, to give instances of that kind to the House from vestry and other reports, and for this reason. When one gives instances of this character they are accepted as though they are isolated and exceptional. They are nothing of the kind. They happen to be mentioned in vestry reports because of some special circumstances connected with them, but they may be taken as fair ordinary types of whole streets—aye, and of whole districts in London. It is not a mere question, of course, of people living in these rooms. They live in them and they sleep in them, but in many cases they also have to work in them, and some of the trades carried on in these rooms are peculiarly deleterious to health, such as rag-picking, sack-making, and matchbox-making. Trades of that kind are extremely injurious to health when carried on in small rooms. It is quite needless to dwell on the physical and moral results of such a system as that. Indeed, one may say to-day, as Lord Shaftesbury said fifty years ago, when things were not as bad as they are now, that the results of overcrowding in our great cities are absolutely beyond description. It is not a question of rent—that is to say, if a working man were able to pay any rent you like, the houses simply do not exist, and there is no space available in these crowded districts to build houses upon. My hon. friend the Member for Stepney, who is competent to deal with the subject, will I daresay refer to the question of rents, but I would wish to give one illustration from the Report of the Royal Commission of 1885. I should like to press on the minds of hon. Members the date of that Report—namely, 1885—and the mischief has been growing steadily worse ever since. Mr. Marchant Williams gave evidence before that Commission. He was an inspector of the London School Board, and he conducted an inquiry in certain poor parishes in London, such as St. Lukes, St. Giles, and Marylebone, into the rents paid by the poorer classes. A thousand houses were taken at random in these poor districts, and Mr. Marchant Williams gave various figures as a result of his investigations. He said that 46 per cent. of the industrial classes in the houses which came within the scope of his inquiry paid from one-fourth to one-half of their incomes in rent. That shows that the people who suffer are in receipt of decent wages, and it is not as though they were suffering in consequence of their own vice, improvidence, or idleness. They are hardworking, industrious, decent people, and pay an enormous rent for accommodation they do not get. Two or three days ago, in one of the London papers, a correspondence appeared with reference to the raising of some rents in Bermondsey as a result of the Budget brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As we all know, the right hon. Gentleman added fourpence in income tax. Some of the slum landlords in Bermondsey immediately proceeded to raise the rents of their tenants, and the reason they gave was because of the tax imposed by the right hon. Gentleman. There was no reason why they should have given any reason for raising rents in a poverty-stricken district. It was wholly superfluous. The landlords can raise rents in the same way and for the same reason as years ago in Ireland landlords could take in rent what they pleased over and above the subsistence amount necessary to keep the tenant alive. There is no limit whatever to the power of the landlord to raise rents, apart from his own sense of humanity, which, no doubt, operates in many cases. The causes which have produced this position are still in operation. It is not merely that I am asking the House to have regard to a stationary evil—that is to say, an evil that can wait. No, the numbers of the overcrowded are already enormous and are also increasing at a rate that is enormous. We all know if we stop to think about it what are the causes that bring about this situation. I am not. going to attempt an exhaustive enumeration of them. I will merely take railway demolition and public municipal improvements. As regards railway demolition we had an instance lately of twenty-one streets having been wiped out by the Great Central Railway, and in doing that accommodation could not be found for a, tithe of the people displaced. One official instance is given where a railway was put under an obligation in its Bill to provide housing accommodation for the people it displaced. All it did, however, was to buy out a building scheme from a builder which was promoted before the railway extension was thought of, and the company regarded that as a fulfilment of its obligation. Then again, public municipal improvements are increasing, and ought to increase, and must go on increasing, but as they go on increasing they will, under existing conditions, enormously increase overcrowding. And, it is not merely railway demolition and public improvements that have to be considered. It is necessary above all to consider the transformation of dwelling houses, especially in the poorer districts, into workshops and shops. I have no statistics as to that, but undoubtedly it is a most potent cause of overcrowding in the poorer districts. Suburban buildings, which may be miles and miles away, are wholly inadequate to make good the displacement that is being caused, and it is idle to suppose that suburban buildings can really have any effect on the question. Then with regard to block dwellings, I think they must be pronounced hopelessly--I was almost going to say ludicrously—inadequate, although I do not wish to use a term which may imply disrespect to the honest efforts which have resulted in their erection. We know that the County Council, than whom no body is more earnest or more capable in dealing with this problem, has displaced 24,000 persons and only replaced 10,000. These are figures for which no person can reproach the County Council, because, ex hypothesi, if you pull; down houses in a crowded district you cannot erect the same number on the site as formerly. I know some of my hon. friends believe that a non-legislative remedy would be provided by the discovery of new methods of traction. That is a very plausible and tempting suggestion, but just lot the House consider it for a moment, and it will be seen how very delusive it is as a ground for hope. No more striking improvement in locomotion was ever introduced into this country than when railways wore introduced; but have railways dispersed the population? They have on the contrary concentrated the population. [An HON. MEMBER: No, no!] The hon. Member says, "No, no." It is quite, true that railways have dispersed some of the population, but they have concentrated more than they have dispersed.; This is the important point to remember, and if we have fresh inventions and improvements in traction one sees no reason why the same result should not follow in them as followed the introduction of railways. The fact is that improved locomotion means increased manufacture, increased wealth, and increased prosperity, but under existing conditions all these desirable things mean also increased overcrowding. You cannot escape it. You cannot avoid the two alternatives I have put before the House; you must either cheapen that dear belt of land which surrounds every city, or else you must carry your working classes beyond that belt. Well, now, instead of adopting this remedy, what has Parliament done up to the present moment? It has passed law after law to make overcrowding illegal. We say by statute that hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children who are living in the conditions I have described should be liable to penalties because they do not live under better conditions. We know perfectly well that these unfortunate people are the victims of social conditions which they are powerless to alter, and yet by way of remedy, and for their benefit, I suppose, we say that they will be punished if they overcrowd. Well, you might as well try to cure poverty by making it a penal offence. That would be just as reasonable. The various measures which have been passed in regard to overcrowding certainly ought not to be spoken of lightly, because of the admirable motives which prompted them; but when we look at them broadly as an attempt to remove evils of such magnitude they are altogether inadequate. Take, for instance, the Public Health Act of 1875. It provides that the local authority shall be able to fix the number of persons who occupy tenement houses, and, of course, makes it penal for any number of persons beyond that number to live in those houses. Suppose that law were adopted and enforced all over London to-morrow, what would happen? You would have hundreds of thousands of people sleeping, or dying if you like, on the pavements of London tomorrow. But that is the law which we think is adequate to meet the case. This little measure will take rank with some of its less important predecessors, but standing as it is now, it will be utterly frivolous, and it will share the fate ultimately of another admirable little measure, the Labourers' Dwelling Houses Act of 1881, to which Lord Shaftesbury referred in his evidence before the Commission. He said that that measure had been a dead letter from the commencement. That is what I am afraid this measure is going to be, unless it is amended in the way I have ventured to suggest. In the meantime overcrowding is going on until it has become a national scandal and peril of the first magnitude. I have certainly no desire to exaggerate the evil in any way. The subject scarcely admits of exaggeration. No one needs to be told that overcrowding of the sort I have mentioned must be a fertile source both of intemperance and sexual impurity. I think, and all my hon. friends near mo will agree with me, that from a temperance point of view this question is of the first importance. No one needs to be told either that unless this evil is checked and driven back—at present it is driving us back—a very large portion of our race will suffer for generations from weakened constitutions and broken character. Already we have more than two-thirds of our population in our towns, and less than a third in the country. The proper proportion ought to be two-thirds in the country, and one-third in the towns. And more and more people are coming into the towns within the scope of this evil. Therefore, I venture to say, it is no longer a mere municipal question; it is a national danger in the very fullest sense. You may expand or consolidate your Empire as much as you like; you may increase your defence forces; you may add to your wealth and excel in every external sign of national greatness; hut if you let this question alone, if you leave it to be cured by Bills of the kind before us, you will allow the foundations of all national greatness to be sapped. I think that each political party should be called upon to define its attitude in regard to this question. Already we are entitled to ask the Government their position on it. The day is, I hope, not very far distant when this question will overshadow all others. I shall be glad to see the day arise when it will swallow up all others. This Government gave large promises of social legislation. We commiserate the Government on the fact that many of these promises have been submerged. Old age pensions are not very practical just now. The money seems to be going in other directions. But here we have a matter of far greater importance, to my mind, than even old ago pensions, a matter which demands and is capable of receiving solution without any call whatever on the national purse. A little trouble, a little courage, a little sympathy on the part of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, and he may turn it into a measure which will be of enormous service in the arrest of the evils I have been speaking of. Of course the two suggestions which are made in my Amendment are merely a beginning. They have been cut down to moderate dimensions in the hope—I trust it will not be a futile hope—that they form a ground which both political parties may occupy on this matter. I am certain that these proposals are acceptable to many hon. Members on the other side of the House, and if accepted by the Government we shall have made a practical and hopeful start in the solution of this problem; but if not accepted by the Government it will be for the Government to say what they are going to do. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.

* MR STEADMAN (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

In rising to second the Amendment that has been moved by the hon. and learned Member for Shields, I should like to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board, who introduced this Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule, that there was one thing alone in which I agreed with him, and that was when he stated that the Bill was of a very modest character. Compared with the magnitude of the subject, I do not think that the Bill could be more modest. Three months, nearly, have now elapsed since the Bill was introduced, and I was in hopes that this afternoon we should have had a speech from the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading, and that in that speech we should have been able to learn that he himself had come to the conclusion that this Bill was one that would not at all grapple with or solve the problem. I understand that during the Easter vacation the right hon. Gentleman has done a little slumming in the East End of London. I am only sorry that he did not call at my modest residence, because within a few hundred yards of that residence I should have shown him some slums that I consider would have startled him as to the places in which the workers of London are living at the present moment. It was my hope that the right hon. Gentleman would have put his own Bill on one side, believing that it was useless, and would have accepted, on the part of the Government, the Bill introduced by myself, as one more likely to deal with the subject than his own. Now, the subject under discussion this afternoon is no new one. On 8th May, 1847, The Times came out with a very lengthy and able leading-article on the question of the housing of the people. Parliament has been trying to deal with it by Acts passed during the last fifty years. In 1851 we had the Act of Lord Shaftesbury; in 1868 we had the Act of Mr. Torrance; in 1875, 1879, and 1882 we had three Acts passed by Mr. (now Lord) Cross. In 1884 the present Prime Minister—and that is the reason why I am surprised that the Government have introduced this very modest Bill— moved in the House of Lords for a Royal Commission, and on that occasion he was supported by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. In the same year in the House of Commons, the late Mr. Gladstone appointed the most powerful Commission that has over been appointed by any Government to go into this subject, and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales was a member of that Royal Commission. In 1890, when Lord Salisbury and his party were in office, as the result of the Report of that Royal Commission, Parliament passed the Housing Act. But what was that Act? It was merely a consolidation of the previous Acts which I have already referred to, with perhaps one or two slight amendments. It was divided into three parts—Lord Shaftesbury's Act being Part III., Mr. Torrance's Act Part II., and Lord Cross's Acts Part I. Well, under Part III., municipalities are allowed to acquire land to build workmen's dwellings upon that land. Under Part II., municipalities or county councils can, in conjunction with the local authority, clear an area at joint expense—the county council getting one portion and the local authority the other portion. Under Part I, county councils can themselves clear an area and pay the whole cost of that clearance. Now, although these Acts have been passed, yet at the same time the question is more difficult to solve now than ever it was. The mover of the resolution has referred to the question of overcrowding, and I am going to deal for a moment with the question as far as it affects London. I take my authority not from any books or pamphlets or articles that have been written, but from Dr. Shirley Murphy, the medical officer of health to the London County Council, and in doing so I consider I can find no higher authority on that question. He tells us we have no less than 400,000 human beings in the City of London to-day living in one room only. [An HON MEMBER: Not in the City.] Well, in the county, and is not the City part of the county, and is it not shirking its responsibilities upon this housing question, and throwing them on the county? If it is not part of the county why has it representatives on the London County Council and the London School Board. Nine thousand people are living seven in one room, and 3,000 are living eight in one room. This state of things is not con- fined only to the East End of London. The Reverend Hugh Price Hughes—a gentleman who, at the present moment, should have some weight and influence with Her Majesty's Government—one Sunday afternoon preached a sermon on this subject at St. James's Hall, and stated that one of his colleagues knew of a case not very far from where he was preaching where one house was occupied by forty-three people. In one room was a man and his wife and eight children; in another a man and his wife and seven children, and the eldest son was married and lived with them. In St. Pan-eras, not far from Regent's Park, 2,370 persons live in overcrowded one-room tenements. The medical officer of health in Kensington—the aristocratic part of London—states that he knew of a case where five adults, females, all occupy one bedroom—three sleeping on the bed and two underneath; and another case of five persons—one man and two children, and two women who in this case also slept under the bed. One of the vestrymen—and I place some reliance on our vestrymen in London in these matters, because I consider they are, above all, the persons who know-exactly how and under what conditions the people live, even better than Members of Parliament—one of the vestrymen of St. James's Vestry declared that he knew a case where a room was let at,£1 a week where there were twelve persons living and sleeping together. In Camberwell, which is on the south side of the river, there is a case where no less than seventeen people live and sleep in one room, and in another case two families occupied one room, a sack forming the partition which divided the room into two But in the East End of London there are even worse cases, because there in many cases the beds are let out on eight-hour system. A man has to get out a certain hour. Some men start their work at ton o'clock at night; and when they go to work somebody else goes to bed who has to be at work at six in the morning, and when he goes to work another man occupies the bedroom; and in some cases, in consequence of the want of house accommodation, working men, in employment, are obliged to take their wives and families into the workhouse, and pay for them until such time as they are able to find accommodation for them outside. That has been done in Poplar. My colleague on the London County Council has told the.president of the Local Government Board of circumstances coming under his notice where this has been rife. Rev. Mr. Jephson, a member of the Nowington Vestry on the south side of the river, could toll you of cases that occurred in that direction. There never was a time in the history of this country when house accommodation was harder to get or rents higher. Such a state of things has never been known since the Great Fire. Where formerly six people occupied a house we have now on an average twenty-four people, and in order to accommodate the number of persons who to-day are living under conditions contrary to the provisions of the Public Health Act we should want to build something like from 400,000 to 500,000 rooms, or 50,000 to 60,000 eight-roomed houses. Does the right hon. Gentleman assume, because he is going to give powers to the London County Council to purchase land outside the County of London itself, that we are going to find accommodation for this great number, one-fifth of the total population, living in overcrowded tenements? The mover of the resolution referred to the cubic space, but that is not an Act of Parliament, but a bye-law under the London Health Act, and refers to London alone, and all it lays down is that every person should have 100 cubic feet of space in the room in which he lives. Professor Huxley, himself at one time a medical officer of health, stated that at least 800 cubic feet of space was necessary if people were to grow up in health. In the Army you allow 600 cubic feet, and 450 for the police, and the poor in the workhouses, according to the law, are entitled to 500 feet. I have referred to the medical officer of health for Kensington, but he is not the only one. The right hon. Gentleman in his Department is supplied with all this information, Let him look at the reports of the local medical officers of health for Islington and for Lambeth, and he will find they are equally as strong as that of the medical officer of health for Kensington. A woman, the wife of a working man, some month or two back, applied to the Lambeth County Court, She had been living in a house, and the landlord wanted to get her out; neither she nor her husband had been able to find a suitable place to which to go, and the landlord, in order to get them out, took down the door and removed the windows. She applied to Judge Emden and asked for protection, and he was so struck by the hardship which they had endured by the harsh action of the landlord that he immediately consented to allowing them a month longer in which to find accommodation. In answer to a question he put to this woman, she stated that not only was she not in arrears with her rent, but when she tendered it her landlord refused to take it. But, Sir, there is even a worse case than that: a case of suicide. An inquest was held in the month of November last year, and at that inquest it was stated by the husband that he had been married fourteen years and had eight children. For very nearly four years he and his wife and family had lived in a first floor front room, but of late only his wife and himself and four children occupied the room, the three younger children having been removed. The wife was confined, and during her confinement the landlord told her that they would have to clear out, that they were living contrary to the provisions of the Public Health Act, and not being able to find accommodation elsewhere it so preyed on the poor woman's mind that she committed suicide. The local authorities have the power in their hands at the the present time under the Public Health Act to prevent overcrowding it is true, but I maintain that under the Act you may hunt the poor from pillar to post, turn families out of one place and drive them into another, and still you will never sweep away the overcrowding problem. As a member myself of a vestry in the East End of London, I am opposed and shall always be opposed to putting into operation the provisions of the Act against overcrowding because I know it is useless to do so until such time as we can find proper accommodation for the people we shall have to turn out. Now, Mr. Speaker, there is another side to this subject, and from my point of view a very important side, namely, the death rate among the working classes arising out of this overcrowding. What has the Government had to do? I do not know from memory how many years, but during a certain number of years on two occasions you have had to reduce the standard of height for men entering the army. Does it stand feasible that the sons of working men born and bred in these slums which we have in London to-day are going to grow up healthy and sound, and with fine physique, in order that they may undergo the severe strain which our soldiers are put to at the present time in South Africa? It is a matter of impossibility, and the Government have recognised that when they have reduced the standard height for the Army. The late Sir Benjamin Richardson once laid it down that no city could be healthy with more than twenty-five persons living to the acre. In Wandsworth there are eighteen persons living to the acre, while in St. George's-in-the-East we have no less than 256 persons living to the acre. Now we will take the death rates in those places. In St. George's-in-the-West the overcrowding is 10 per cent., in St. George's-in-the-East it is 40 per cent., and in St. George's-in-the-South it is 35 per cent. In St. George's-in-the-West the death-rate per 1,000 is 13.2, while in St. George's-in-the-East it is 26.4, so that you see the death rate in St. George's-in-the-East, where there is overcrowding, is just double what it is in St. George's-in-the-West. According to the returns of St. George's-in-the-West there were 1,064 deaths in one year, and 264 of these were children. In St. George's-in-the-East there were 1,259 deaths, and 661 were children. The medical officer in Central London stated that the death rate in one house was equal to 129 in the 1,000. Dr. Shirley Murphy, the medical officer of health for the County Council of London in the last report issued, states that the mortality from phthisis at each age increases with overcrowding. Then lunacy is on the increase in London, so much so, that the County Council is spending thousands of pounds to build lunatic asylums. If we take the average over the whole of London the increase is 1.9, but if we take it in the densely populated districts it is 10.1. The total number of pauper lunatics admitted into our asylums from overcrowded districts is something like 2,700, all told, and the cost to the ratepayers 10s. per week for each lunatic. I have dealt with the subject so far as public health is concerned with overcrowding, Now, I want to deal with another subject which bears upon this question— namely, the increase in rents. On 17th March last year—and I am sorry the First Lord of the Treasury is not in the House—I called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman by a question to the fact of the increase of rents in London. His reply to me was that he had no information on the point, nor had he any means of obtaining it. I followed that question by another on 24th March.* I asked him whether, in order that he might have full information of how rents had been in- creased in East London, and of the results of overcrowding thereby, he would appoint Commissioners, whose duties should be to investigate to what extent rents had been increased during the last two years, and the causes and results of such increases upon the working classes. The right hon. Gentleman replied— I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the question of overcrowding is one of the most important that can be considered in connection with the urban problems that face us, but I do not think that much is to be gained from the course suggested by the hon. Gentleman. If the First Lord of the Treasury was in his place now, I should give him some facts from my own personal investigation as to where rents had increased in East London only during the last two years. The figures are not taken from anything I have read, but from my own personal inquiries addressed to the tenants on the spot. I find that in some cases in my own constituency rents have increased within the last two years from 13s. to 18s. per week; in another street from 11s. 6d. to 16s.; in another street from 9s. 6d. to 16s.; in another street from 5s. 6d. to 10s. 6d.; and from 9s. 6d. to 15s. This morning, not a hundred yards from where I am myself living, a widow stopped me. She has six children to support, and the rent of her house was 14s. per week. She gets her living by letting the house to lodgers and doing a day's washing or charing. That woman, with tears in her eyes, told me that the landlord had increased the rent from 14s. to 18s. What could the woman do? There is no accommodation in Stepney. Every place is taken up and overcrowded. The worst cases we have of increasing rents are in Whitechapel, where five-room houses have gone up from 15s. or 16s. per week to 21s.; two-room houses, which fetched 10s., have gone up to 16s. to 21s.; six-room houses, which were let at £4 4s. per month, are now fetching 42s. per week. Other houses have gone up from 16s. to * Refer to The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], vol. lxviii., page 1151; vol. lxix., page 340. 20s., from 19s. to 30s. In another case the rent was £45 a year, and is now no less a sum than 30s. per week. The rents have increased all over London. Whether you go east, west, north, or south, you will find the same talc told, that rents have gone up. At Plumstead, Bermondsey, and other parts of London, the increase is 50 per cent. How do the landlords work this dodge of increasing the rents? First of all, they know that there is a greater demand for accommodation than there are houses to put the people in. I do not say that every landlord is a bad landlord. I know estates in the East End where the landlords have not increased rents a farthing for years past. The landlord I have lived under for seventeen years has not increased my rent a farthing, while rents all round the district have increased. I believe in speaking of people as I find them. I am not here to attack good landlords or good employers, but the bad landlords and bad employers are my line of attack. A young follow, a friend of my own, who has written some very useful articles on this subject and published them in a pamphlet entitled "No room to live," in order to ascertain how certain landlords took advantage of the great demand for accommodation, got up early one morning and went to a house agent in the East End of London, who was advertising a house to let. When he got there, there were a number of people at the place before him. He let them go in one after another, and at last he went in and asked the man the rent of the house. The agent told him that the woman who had just gone out offered 15s. per week, but if he liked to give him l6s. per week he could have it. The agent admitted that he had allowed these people to bid up against one another until he got 15s. for a house which was previously let for 7s. 6d. A certain section of men had come to be so unscrupulous as to practise legalised robbery —robbing working men of their wages by demanding such exorbitant rents—and working men had a right to step in and ask Parliament to protect them against unjust landlords. There is only one way, in my opinion, of solving this problem, and that was a system of fair rent courts. I am told that the time is inopportune to discuss the question of fair rent courts in London, or in any other part of the country. I never knew yet when the time was opportune to dis- cuss legislation that had for its object benefit for the working classes of this country. Some politicians are termed opportunists. They sit on the fence and wait to see which way the cat is going to jump. When a question becomes a popular one, they drop down on the side of popularity. I hope I am not one of those politicians, and never shall be. It is immaterial to me whether the question is popular or unpopular if it is just and right to take it up, for the interest of my own class is paramount with me over the interests of all other classes. Why not? Working men may be deluded by some of your promises for a short time, but they find you out. The question which is not popular to-day may be some day, and perhaps there will be many more Members of Parliament prepared to take it up than now. Five and twenty years back the land question and the rent question in Ireland was unpopular. The Irish Members in this House were denounced when they advocated fair rent courts for Ireland, but to-day they are a reality. I hope they will be reality so far as we are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board when he replies to-night may turn round and accuse me of being one of the members of the London County Council, who could do more in reference to this problem than they had already done, but I have an answer to that. The London County Council is restricted on all hands by your Board and the Home Office. What has been our experience? In ten years we have spent no less than £2,000,000, and housed 42,000 people with it. The schemes we have carried out under Part I. have cost £851,450, and out of that sum no less than £282,406 has gone into the pockets of men who, instead of being compensated for their rotten property, should have been prosecuted. At the present moment if we undertake a scheme under Part I. we have to build in accordance with the regulations of the Home Office and the Local Government Board. Personally I do not object to that. I believe if a municipality is going to build, it should build well or not at all. We have to make the land a charge upon the buildings. We have to borrow money in accordance with the fluctuations of the market. It may be 2⅞ 3, or 3⅛; per cent. We have to take into our calculations the cost of the land, the cost of the clearance of the buildings, etc., and we have to base our rents to provide a sinking fund of 3 per cent. in order to repay the capital and the interest of the loan. What happens? The result is that our rents are so high—["Hear, hear!"] It is not our fault. It is the fault of the law and not the fault of the municipality. Our rents are so high that the places rebuilt do not come within the purview of the poor unskilled worker or general labourer, and therefore we are accommodating people to-day who could find not better but other accomodation elsewhere, and the poor people are entirely neglected. That is our own experience. What is the remedy? I maintain that, in the first place, the Government should give us facilities for borrowing money at a lower rate than 2⅞ or 3 per cent., as the ease may be. Why, not? You can find money to carry on the war. Is not this question equally important to you as the war in South Africa, if not of more importance? Where do you get your soldiers and sailors from? Why, you get them from the ranks of the workers. Aye, and, what is more important still, where do you get the industrial workers from who produce the wealth without which neither this or any other Government could go on? From the workers. That being so, you have a right to protect them in every shape and form, and to find them better accommodation than we are able to find them now. Then we should have opportunities for borrowing money at the lowest rate possible. Instead of having to repay the money in sixty years the time should be extended to a hundred years. Our property is not slum property. I was a member of the Housing Committee myself for five years. I inspected some of the houses we built. We had timber enough in the roof to frame a ship. Our houses will last 200 or 300 years. At the end of sixty years all the money we have expended will have come back ten times over, and that will be a great relief to the ratepayers of that period. If our houses are going to stand 200 or 300 years, surely it is no hardship to extend the period for the repayment of the loan from sixty to a hundred years. If that was done the County Council could do more in the way of providing house accommodation than they are able to do at present. It is no use saying was have no opportunities of building in London. We have 14,000 acres of land to-day in London which could be built on provided the County Council had bettor opportunities than now. We have a little patch here and there and all over the place, and if we cannot build it is because the patches are so small that the rents would be three times as costly as are charged to the tenants now. You compel the County Council to charge such rents. The poor tenant has to pay rent not only for the cost of the land on which the house is built but for the building also. If all London is going to reap the benefit of our housing policy in fifty years time, then all London ought to pay for it, and the land ought to be an asset instead of being, as now, a charge on the building. There is another difficulty the London County Council has to contend with. If the owner comes to know that it is the County Council who are going to purchase, what does he do? He doubles his price in a moment. The result is that we have to negotiate through some outside gentleman in order that the owner of the land should not know it is the County Council who are anxious to purchase. We had a case only last year where negotiations were going on for some land. A question was asked in the Council about it, and from the answer it leaked out that the County Council were negotiating for the purchase, and up jumped the price at once, with the result that the Council had to drop the negotiations. We have not only to pay the value of the land, but we have to pay an extra 10 per cent. over the value. [Cries of "No!"] Yes, Sir, we have to pay 10 per cent. for compulsory purchase under the Land Clauses Act. I am referring to Part III. All vacant land should be taxed, and if that were done the owner would then be very ready to sell his land for the first offer he could get for it, whereas now, through vacant land being untaxed, he can keep it as long as he likes. It becomes the more profitable the more years he keeps it, and the result is that he gets a price for the land that he really is not entitled to. The slum owner, as I have already stated, under the existing law is allowed full compensation. Take Boundary Street—one of the worst in London, where the death rate was double that of any other part of London. It was well known that the owners of property in that area were prepared to sell the property for a bagatelle, but the moment they found the County Council was going to purchase they demanded their full pound of flesh—they demanded the full price for their rotten bricks and morter. A few weeks back an inquest was held on the death of an infant child which took place at 10, Windsor Court, Strand. The father admitted that three children had died in his two-room house, and that an inquest had been held on each one. The law allows the slum owner to go free, while it allows the local authority to prosecute the fishmonger for selling bad fish, and the butcher for selling bad meat, and all tradesmen for; selling adulterated food. If it is right to prosecute the fishmonger and the butcher, the same thing should be done in the case of the slum owner who is responsible for the deaths of little infants in his rotten slums. I am fortified in this opinion by a speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Colonies. He once stated in a speech that the law should make it an offence punishable by a heavy fine to let property not fit for human habitation, but instead of having such a law as that today we are compelled by the law to compensate the owners. Mr. Blashill, for twenty years chief architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and with vast experience and knowledge on this subject, states that at least the slum owner should be compelled to pull down and rebuild at j his own expense without any compensation at all. With reference to your Bill, he says it is not worth the paper it is writ- ten on so far as solving this problem goes. We had during last autumn many speeches delivered on this subject. I i maintain that it is a very serious problem, and I also admit that it is a very difficult one. At the same time I consider that it is a problem that deserves, above all things and all parties, the serious consideration of Her Majesty's Government. We know that working men and women are stunted in their growth, that consumption is on the increase, and that disease and death lurk in every corner and every street where there is slum property. Lord Rosebery in a speech stated— The facts that are presented to us are daily coming to the minds of the people, and, they hope, ultimately to our statesmen. Lord Carrington stated that he welcomed the fact that the working men were: waking up on this question, and that it was unjust to them to have to pay such excessive rents. Lord Tweedmonth stated that London had grown according to the sweet will of the ground landlord and the jerry-builder, and London was now faced with a problem infinite in its magnitude and most difficult to deal with. Above all, the Prince of Wales, in opening the Boundary Street area in March last, said— There is no question at the present time of greater social importance than that of the housing of the working classes. I hope Parliament may be able to deal with the case of those who are responsible for insanitary property. In dealing with this matter it is not my desire to deal with it from a party point of view, or as a means of attacking Her Majesty's Government. I admit I have referred to speeches delivered by gentlemen belonging to this side of the House. If I have not referred to speeches delivered by gentlemen on the other side of the House, the fault is not mine but theirs, because they have made no speeches on the subject. I know that the Government have a very difficult task on their hands in the war in the Transvaal, but, at the same time, they have no Bill before the House of Commons of any magnitude whatsoever, and I fully expected, when the housing of the working classes was referred to in the Speech from the Throne we should have a Bill which would deal with the problem from its very roots. Instead of that we get a paltry Bill, which, so far as we in London are concerned, consists of one clause, enabling the London County Council to purchase land outside its own area. This measure will no more solve the problem than a glass of water will float one of Her Majesty's battleships. The longer the problem exists the more difficult will the solution become. I trust the Government are serious in this matter. After all, the working classes do not care a rap whether it is a Conservative Government or a Liberal Government which deals with the question; they only require that it shall be dealt with effectually and practically. At the last Trade Union Congress, representing 1,250,000 working men, a very important resolution on this matter was passed, and a mass meeting was held in Hyde Park last autumn on the subject, at which something like 100,000 men were present. It is in their name, not in my own, that I speak on this subject, and I voice their grievances and desires that something practical should be done to remedy and solve this important problem. Amendment proposed— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'no Bill dealing with the Housing of the Working Classes can be regarded as adequate which provides for the amendment of one part only of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890; which omits to amend the law relating to the assessment of compensation for unhealthy dwelling houses; and which makes no provision whereby the councils establishing dwelling houses outside their districts may, where necessary, be enabled to obtain adequate railway or other communication between their districts and such dwelling houses,' instead thereof."—(Mr. Robson.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


This question is no party question; it is a national question; and the hon, and learned Member who proposed this Amendment truly stated that the feeling in the country upon the matter was growing day by day. I believe that at the present moment there is no question which is of deeper interest to the people of the country than the difficult problem of the housing of our working poor. We have had to-day many interesting statistics and several facts which have confirmed that which we knew of our own knowledge and experience. No man, whatever his politics or position may be, can blind his eyes to the fact that around him are living thousands of toilers who, from no fault of their own, are residing in dwellings where they are overcrowded, where health must be interfered with, and where evil must often arise. The more we think of this question the more we realise—and I think we realise it even more after the able speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite—the immense difficulty of dealing with that problem. It is constantly growing, and no one can advance what may be a solution which will last for a great number of years with our constantly increasing population. But though the difficulties are great, I consider that it is the duty of the House to do what it can to meet those diffi- culties. I consider that time spent in this House, however long, on the question of how best to house our working classes is time spent on a question of the most vital importance to our countrymen. I have heard with regret the remarks of both the mover and the seconder of this Amendment, the one saying the Bill is a trifling one, and the other that it is not worth the paper on which it is written.


I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I was not giving my own opinions then; I was quoting the opinion of Mr. Blashill, the late architect of the London County Council.


To misrepresent the hon. Gentleman is the last thing I desire to do, but I thought he alluded to the Bill in his own words as useless; but perhaps I took that down wrongly. At any rate, the whole of his argument was based on his impression that this was not the way by which this great difficulty should be mot, and I quite respectfully admit that his views are matter for discussion. But I cannot take the same view with reference to the measure before the House. I cannot but believe that some of the difficulties would be remedied if even a smaller Bill than the present one was carried into an Act of Parliament. In order that I may explain my views I should like to ask the House to consider where past legislation has failed or where it does not meet the present requirements of the case. Allusions have been made to the cost and the great outlay required under previous legislation. I think it is summed up very well in a few words which I received in a letter from a gentleman well qualified to speak from municipal knowledge as to why the 1890 Act and previous legislation had not done what was required— Hitherto the action of public bodies has been concentrated in acquiring slums and erecting on the sites better buildings, a most costly operation, in most cases resulting in a contraction of the accommodation on account of the rents and the inability to provide dwellings for the very poor who have been de-housed. The 1890 Act made provision for local authorities acquiring insanitary areas and erecting dwellings for the poor. There is no doubt that those areas have often been acquired at very great cost indeed, and one of the difficulties in many cities and towns has been that to acquire these areas and to erect suitable buildings involves a very heavy and serious cost, and where land is valuable it could not be otherwise. This Bill, small as it is, suggests, I think, a solution of one of the difficulties with which we have been constantly met. By acquiring land outside the municipal area it is possible to acquire it at a very much cheaper price than within the town or city. I believe there are many cities, where it is impossible to acquire land within the borough area except at a very great cost, which will take advantage of this Bill to acquire land three, four, or five miles away, where the people can live and enjoy the fresh air and a liberty which it is impossible for them to enjoy in their present circumstances. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment seems anxious that the Government should introduce into the Bill provisions for railway or other means of communication between any colony which may be started outside the borough area and the work to which the people have to attend. I should have thought myself that the provisions of the Cheap Trains Act and the conditions under which we allow legislation with reference to railways and tramways at the present time were almost sufficient to meet the hon, and learned Gentleman's wishes. In the first place, I cannot suppose that the municipal council would select a spot for the building of their houses for the working-classes at a place inaccessible to the town and inconvenient for the men who had to attend the town for their work. If they did so, they would find a considerable difficulty in getting tenants, and probably their scheme would prove, at any rate, not so useful as it might be. In all the tramway and railway Bills which now come before the House, we are most careful to see that provision is made for the proper accommodation of working people, and I am somewhat disappointed, to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman state that these clauses which we have again and again interposed into Bills practically do very little to solve the difficulty. I am at a loss to know what would be our position in London at the present time with our congested areas, terrible as they are, if we had not had the advantage of the cheap trains and trams. Those who see the thousands of working men who day by day enter Liverpool Street and the other great stations cannot but wonder how we should have managed to house these vast numbers of people if it had not been for these cheap railway trains. And the same applies to the tramways. It was suggested by the hon. and learned Member that this new traction power of electricity would very likely be of little use. I must say that that is not the view of the members of the London County Council at the present time, because it is only a few weeks ago that it was my lot to be serving on a Committee considering a Bill by which the London County Council applied for powers to have electric traction on their tramways, and certainly it was put before us that it would be of very great advantage to the working people of London. For that, amongst other reasons, the Bill was accepted. I believe, if there is a solution at all of this difficult problem, it is that as far as possible we should find not merely healthy houses, but healthy areas for our working people to live in. It does not follow because unhealthy buildings are pulled down that that area is a healthy area in which to erect working men's dwellings. It may be, and it often is, that it would be better to go further a field and allow the working people to enjoy that fresh air which we all value, and which I think they should have. In the centre of cities, where there is necessarily a congestion of houses, it is difficult to get that space which ought to be obtained; and I think, therefore, that the attempt to get land outside is most valuable. I only hope that my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board will be able to tell me that municipal councils need not necessarily be bound to a small amount of land, just enough for the buildings, but that they may acquire land sufficient, at any rate, to last for some years to come, so that we may not get again congested areas not inside, but outside our cities and towns. It would be desirable that they should be allowed to acquire certain space, so as to have a reserve in case of necessity. If these buildings are erected they must, of course, be erected so that the workers can get to their work possibly easier than they get to it now. But if these houses are erected where there is easy access to the work, should we not find some of those difficulties which have been suggested to the House at any rate less difficult to deal with? The question has been alluded to of the heavy cost and the compensation which is paid and has to be paid to those who own insanitary areas and dwellings. There is nobody, I think, who is interested in the position of our working people who can feel that a man under whose landlordism tenants have suffered should be heavily compensated for being the owner of that which the law condemns. But after the passing of this Bill would it be necessary to acquire these insanitary dwellings, to pull them down and re-build upon the site? If the Council are able to build proper dwellings outside their boundaries suitable for the working people, it would not be necessary for them to carry out those clauses of the Act of 1890 by which a scheme has to be propounded, put before the Local Government Board, considered, and then the purchase of the buildings and so on carried out. On the contrary, they would be able, under the 1890 Act, where there are insanitary dwellings, to have those dwellings condemned, and, if they thought necessary, pulled down, and sanitary dwellings erected in their place. Under that procedure there is no compensation to be paid. At present, there is compensation to be paid, because the municipal authority is compelled to make a scheme to acquire the insanitary areas and to build healthy buildings for the people who are de-housed. Therefore, I think that that question— although I quite admit it is an important one, and one well worth the consideration of the House—will to some extent be solved when the working people have better dwellings outside the municipal area. Then there is the question of rents. We are all well aware that in London and in many towns and cities the rents the working people pay are enormous in proportion to the amount of their earnings. We fully realise it. But these poor people are obliged to live in these ofttimes wretched tenements and to pay these heavy rents because they cannot get a habitation anywhere else. If dwellings are provided for them outside the area of the municipality I believe that many of them will rejoice to leave immediately these wretched buildings. Moreover, as now buildings are erected, the rents of these places should be materially reduced, or, at any rate, there should be great alterations. Therefore I think the power of giving our working classes an opportunity of living under more favourable circumstances should solve many of the difficulties which naturally cause us some doubts when we consider this question. Small as the Bill is, I believe it will be of great advantage if we pass it even as it is now. There is one point to which the hon. Member for Stepney alluded on which I should like to say a few words, namely, the question of loans—at what rate and for what periods loans should be raised for these undertakings. I feel that the money for this national work should be raised on the most favourable terms possible. It is a matter of the greatest importance to the country and the welfare of the nation that the working people should be properly housed, and facilities should be given for borrowing at the cheapest possible rate. I should be glad if the rate could be 2 or 2½ per cent. Then as to the period of repayment. The question of the repayment of loans for public works is one we have often before us in this House. In this matter I think we might relax the strict rules which have been laid down for other purposes. I cannot see why when land is acquired, whether in towns or in the country, we should look upon that as so uncertain a property that it must be paid for in our and the next generation, and handed over to our grandchildren as a property without any charge whatever upon it. In reference to land, there is really no necessity for having any limit whatever. One hundred years has been suggested, but I do not think it makes much difference whether you make it 100 years or allow the land to be treated as an asset of the corporation. The hon. Member alluded to the fact that the loans of the County Council in London are for sixty years. According to the Act of 1890 the borrowing powers are for fifty years, but the London County Council are under special Acts of their own and have special advantages. But I do think that fifty years is too short a time if substantial buildings are erected, and it would be well if that period were somewhat lengthened. If for the buildings the period of repayment was lengthened to sixty years, and for land to one hundred years or more, it would be a great help to carrying out the provisions of this Bill. It is necessary to make it easy, or, at any rate, as little difficult as possible, to municipal authorities to carry out the Act. Allusion Has been made to the fact that it is through no fault of their own that the poor are so badly housed in many places. No; it is through no fault of their own; they would willingly enjoy those comforts of a home such as those in better positions enjoy. A poor man's home is usually to his own mind just a little bit of furniture which he moves from tenement to tenement. I believe that is the universal description of a man's home. It is well that we should facilitate as far as possible the giving of opportunities for him to have a real home in which to live and bring up his children. No work that we can undertake can be greater or more important, but it is not a work that should be undertaken for a moment as a party work; it is merely a work of justice to our working classes. At the present moment they, with us, are sharing in the anxieties and the losses which rich and poor alike are bearing and experiencing in connection with the war. From them we draw many of our gallant defenders both in the Army and in the Navy, and in those dark alleys and courts there are many who deserve all that we can do to brighten their homes. This Bill may be a small one, it may be a trifling one; but at the same time if it does something to solve this difficulty —and perhaps the discussion this evening will help to solve it -it will have been useful. Amendments are proposed and suggested. I have always a fear of weighting a Bill, the principle of which is probably unanimously approved by the House. There are many of us who would wish to see something more put into the Bill; there are many of us who would be glad to go into the questions which have been alluded to and touched upon so ably this evening; but at the same time, it seems to me that a great step will have been taken in this matter if we give the power which is proposed in this Bill. I believe also that under Clause 2 there will be an encouragement given to provide better houses for our working classes in the country. This Bill is worthy of the support of this House, though, as I say, Amendments may be suggested. I can only hope that this question, whether now or at any future time, will never be treated as a party question. It is not a question of party at all. There may be points of a party character suggested as solutions, but the real question we have at heart is not a question of party at all; it is a question of the country; it is a question of everyone living in this land. The question is, can we brighten and make more healthy the lives of those on whom we are so dependent, and to whom we owe so much of the welfare of this country? If we are able to do that, even by a small Bill and to a small extent, we shall feel that some real movement has been made, and it may be that some of us will live to see working men's colonies growing up outside our cities and towns, and we shall be able to rejoice in that we have had a share, however small, in rendering more healthy, more contented, and more happy the lot of many thousands of hard-working people.

* MR. BOND (Nottingham, E.)

Perhaps I am able to approach this subject from a more practical point of view than either of the hon. Gentlemen opposite succeeded in doing. I hope I shall not be considered egotistical by the House if I venture to say I have had some experience of this matter which justifies me in offering a few remarks upon a subject of this sort. I have been for sixteen or seventeen years chairman of a dwellings company, which I may say has not been an unsuccessful company, and I have also been concerned to a very considerable extent in the buying and selling of land in and near London and in other parts of the country. I think, therefore, I have at my disposal some of the elements for forming a good judgment upon the question. I will ask the House to bear with me while I put before them some views which perhaps may not be altogether palatable to the majority of those present. The importance of the question we are discussing can hardly be overrated. There can be no doubt whatever that there is a tremendous pressure on house accommodation in London. There is no doubt whatever that during even the last ten years the price of that accommodation has risen to a distressing extent. What are the causes of that rise? I can recollect that when first the company of which I have spoken began operations we were able to build a room of the accepted normal size occupying about 150 feet superficial area, and from 8½ feet to 9 feet in height, at from £55 to £60 apiece. We cannot build such a room now for less than from £85 to £95. The reason of that is that the wages in the building trade have been forced upwards and onwards to an almost unprecedented extent. I am not complaining of the trades unions or of the workmen for that; they are as well entitled as the most grasping landlord to get the most they can for that which they provide. We should all rejoice to see wages rising if the rise were general; but the rise in the building trade has been out of all proportion to the rise in wages in other departments of labour. The result is that not only is it more difficult, I might say impossible, to build new houses and to let them out at rents which the members of the working classes can afford to pay, but the fact that that is so and that no new houses can be built on remunerative terms, has enabled the landlords of the old houses already in existence to force up their rents to the level of those which have to be demanded for the new houses. Is there anything in this Bill which will tend to alleviate and mitigate this condition of things? I confess that neither in the Bill, nor in the vague proposals put forward in the Resolution we are now discussing, do I discover any glimmer of hope. It is suggested that land in the outskirts is cheaper than land in the centre of the towns. That is a fact which is patent to us all. It is suggested that if you take land in the outskirts of a town, say at £300 an acre, as compared with £10,000 an acre for land in the centre of the town, that you can afford to put up houses and let them at a cheaper rent than if you built them in the centre of the metropolis. That may be so, but there are other things which tend to make living in the suburbs as dear as living in the centre of the town. I have had some inquiries made as to the average ground rent which a workman would have to pay for the room he occupies. I find that such ground rent in the town would be about 15s. 3d. per room per year. Supposing you build a cottage on land at £300 per acre. The ground rent upon such a cottage will be a mere bagatelle, and will perhaps be only 3s. or 4s. a year per room. But this is the point I wish to urge upon the consideration of the House. Assuming that a man pays 15s. 3d. ground rent for his room in the centre of the town where he is near to his work, and where his expenses of going to and fro from his work will not mean more than 2d. or 3d. per week. If he lives in the outskirts he may have to pay 4d. a day for travelling. That means 2s. per week, or £5 4s. a year as against the larger ground rent which he would have to pay for the accommodation he requires in the town. To suggest to us that to make provision for municipal bodies to buy lands in the outskirts of the town outside their district in order to provide accommodation for the working classes in the metropolis or in our large towns is, I venture to say, another example of what I call the wooden nutmeg legislation of which we have always had a good deal, and of which we appear to be having a great deal more at the present time than has been noticeable for some time past. This question cannot be solved in that manner, nor can it be solved by increasing the facilities for cheap transit. Make your transit as cheap as you please, there will still have to be enough provided to pay the expenses of interest on the cost of construction, and to pay for rolling stock, and a reasonable sum for wear and tear. If you take all these expenses into account you cannot hope to get from that source any effective help in meeting the great question which we have to face. The cost of going to and fro daily will be far more than would, in my judgment, be saved in ground rent. Why should we encourage municipal bodies to go in for house speculation, for disguise it as you may, it will encourage them to do that? They cannot be bound to confine the occupation of their dwellings to men whose employment is in the town, and if that be so then you will find municipalities building houses which will not have the effect of relieving the congested population in the district from which the money comes to build the houses, and they will be merely providing houses, probably at considerable cost to the rates, for the inhabitants of a district quite outside that which finds the money. That cannot be the object which my right hon. friend has in view in bringing forward this Bill, but I am afraid that would be the result, supposing this Bill were put into operation in any large number of cases. It is very curious to observe the change which has passed over the spirit of this House in dealing with this matter. In the Consolidation Act of 1890 you will find provision made that a municipal body putting those Acts into operation and demolishing slums should not, in the first instance, build itself, and even if it did build itself it is to be under the obligation to part with the land after the lapse of a certain number of years. The legislature then in framing Acts dealing with this question, were alive to the mischiefs which unquestionably might follow the holding of a large amount of house property by municipal and popularly elected bodies. A change has come o'er the spirit of the dream, and it now seems the object of this Bill to push on municipalities not only in the direction of demolishing the slums, but after taking land and building houses to remain the owners of the houses they erect. That may be a change for the better, but in my judgment, it is a change in the direction of imprudence. The difficulties which this system would tend to produce in the case of a body such as the London County Council; the wrangling which it would cause, the tendency which certainly exists to make political capital out of this programme when an election comes on, and the pressure which I feel certain will be some day brought to bear upon candidates to pronounce themselves in favour of a reduction of rent in the buildings belonging to the locality, although such a reduction may involve a loss to the general ratepayers; these are considerations which should make us pause before we extend the area of municipal enterprise. These considerations apply with full force to the Bill which is now before the House, and it is because I attach great weight to these considerations and because I feel that, if the Bill is passed, it will do next to nothing to remedy the evil of overcrowding of which we are sensible, that I think the Bill had better not be passed into law. The mischiefs which we all recognise and deplore arise from economic causes, and are the result of economic laws which we cannot alter, and the effects of which we can only hope to imperfectly modify and alleviate. I know great progress has been made with regard to what is known as the social condition of the people during the past fifty years. Wages are higher at the present moment, and homes on the whole are healthier. There is, however, at the present moment, a recrudescence of that great difficulty of overcrowding which was noted by Lord Shaftesbury as one of the chief evils with which the poor of London had to contend. But even that evil, I believe, may be overcome in the long run as wages rise, as the standard of life improves, and as people become more and more capable of earning wages which will be sufficient to enable them to pay the economic rents which must inevitably be charged whatever palliatives and expedients the Legislature may resort to.

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

I will not criticise the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, but I desire to allude to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich, who preceded him. Everyone, I am sure, will recognise the sympathetic tone of that speech, and I think upon this side hon. Members will cordially re-echo his desire that this subject should not be treated as a party question. I was glad also to hear him say that he and many of his friends on the other side desired to put more into the Bill. It is very obvious that what he and his friends desire to do they can go a long way to effect by supporting this Amendment. We shall hope, therefore, to have their support in considering the Bill which is now before us. I heard with particular pleasure what the hon. Member for Norwich said about the repayment of loans in connection with the erection of dwellings. I think the present system is absolutely indefensible. What are we doing? We are compelling the tenants of these houses to pay not only rent, but also to pay, by instalments, the capital expenditure; and, therefore, in fairness it would seem that they or their successors at the end of sixty years ought to be the owners of the houses which they occupy. We know that that will not be the result, but they or those who succeed them will go on paying rents as before, whereas at the end of sixty years the community will come into possession of this valuable property. So far as the land is concerned, I understand that the hon. Member opposite, the Member for Norwich, whom I have always regarded as somewhat of a purist in these matters, is willing that the land should go as a kind of asset against the debt. With regard to the building he is also willing and is desirous that the period of repayment should be extended. For my part I think that period ought to be, at least, extended to one hundred years. Competent men tell us that, having regard to the manner in which houses are built by the London County Council, they will last, at, least, for one hundred and fifty or two hundred years, or oven more, so that it would not be unfair to the community that the period of repayment should be very considerably extended. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich said this was a national question. I admit that it is so, but as a London Member naturally I regard it specially from a London point of view, and anyone acquainted with London twenty years ago, and who is acquainted with London now, will be disposed to agree with me—I do not say over the whole of London, but over considerable areas — that the condition of the housing problem is more deplorable today than it was when the Housing Commission reported fifteen years ago. It is more deplorable in certain districts, and in comparatively large districts. It is very deplorable in these respects; first of all the rents to the poorest are much higher, and the area of high rents has extended. In the second place, overcrowding seems to be extending further from the centre of London towards the suburbs, and we have seen—as speakers who have preceded me have said— skilled and sober workmen in good employment and earning high wages absolutely unable to find housing accommodation, who have been reduced to taking their wives and children to the workhouse, leaving them there, and offering to pay for their maintenance. My hon. and learned friend who opened this debate referred to the constituency which I have the honour to represent. I should like, if the House will allow me, to give two or three words from an official report of the existing state of things in Bethnal Green. This is the report of Mr. Foot, the Chief Inspector to the Bethnal Green Vestry. He says— There are absolutely no empty houses or empty rooms to put the people into, and the only result of serving notices for the abatement of over crowding and following them up with proceedings will be that a large number of people will have to be put into the street, there being insufficient housing accommodation for them, even in their overcrowded state in the parish. … I have made inquire respecting the. increase of rents, and I finds that the houses in these streets originally let at 9s. and 9s. 6d. per week. Some time ago the rents were increased to 11s. and 11s. 6d. per week. Soon after the present owners took possession these were again increased to 18s., 19s., and 19s. 6d. per week. This increase of rents has now become general in the district. The question appears to be fast approaching a climax, as, what with the alien emigration, the insufficient housing accommodation, and the enormously high rents, it is no longer with in the reach of working men earning ordinary labourers' wages to [provide decent housing accommodation. That is the official authoritative account of the present condition of things in Bethnal Green, and I think a very similar condition of things would be found to exist in the neighbouring parishes in the East of London. In my own constituency the London County Council has made a great experiment in the housing problem upon a very large scale, and I think that that experiment in the Boundary Street area shows in a most remarkable manner the shortcomings of our present housing-legislation. In my hand I hold the document which was issued by the London County Council upon the occasion when H.R.H. the Prince of Wales formally opened the Boundary Street area a few weeks ago. In this document the London County Council describes in glowing colours what it has achieved in that part of London. It describes first the condition of the Boundary Street area when the London County Council took it in hand. It describes the rotten houses in an area reeking with filth and disease. In one sweeping phrase it describes the place as "a sink of iniquity and forcing-bed of crime." Then in the same document the London County Council tell us that for what they describe as a "sink of iniquity and forcing-bed of crime," they had to pay no less a sum than a quarter of a, million sterling. That amounts to about £300 for every family removed. Is that policy to continue? I am afraid that unless more effectual steps are taken than are proposed by this Bill, that policy will continue with the same unfortunate results. I find on page 15 of this Return that the London County Council has in hand six more schemes of this kind, and that in respect of these schemes it is going to pay the owners of insanitary property upon what appears to be an even more lavish scale than the Bethnal Green owners received. There is the Garden Row (St. Luke's) scheme, the net cost of which is estimated at £145,000, or over £600 per family. There is the Aylesbury Place (Clerkenwell) scheme, where the net cost is to be £190,000, or £675 per family. The Webber Row (Southwark) scheme will cost £153,000, and this works out at £845 per family. It must be remembered that these totals do not include a single sixpence to reimburse the cost of rehousing these poor people. What will be the result of all this, judging from what has occurred in Bethnal Green? The result will be that the people turned out will crowd into the neighbouring districts, and they will make places which are already overcrowded still more overcrowded in the future. As the Member for Stepney said a moment ago, the people housed in the Boundary Street area are not the class of people we desire to help the most. This experiment has been attended with a most unfortunate result. A few years ago there was a great movement of the working classes from Bethnal Green and the neighbourhood out into the country around Leytonstone and Walthamstow. I know from my own personal observation that many of the people who a few years ago went out into the country to those districts, as I thought very much to their advantage and to the advantage of their families, have now come back to the Boundary Street area. I inquired from them why they came back, and they said that they could not stand the jerry-built houses in the suburbs, and consequently they came back to Bethnal Green, because the houses of the London County Council are so well built. I have ventured to describe to the House the character of some of the schemes for clearing insanitary areas, which will have the result of throwing a very large, and I submit a most unjust, burden upon the ratepayers of London. But there is one scheme which is about to be taken in hand by the London County Council which I regard with great satisfaction, and which I think points in the direction towards which we should look for a remedy. That scheme is the Nightingale Street scheme, Marylebone, and deals with the property of Lord Portman, who is the freeholder. The area is to be cleared by an arrangement between the London County Council and Lord Portman, under Section 6 of the Housing Act of 1890, which provides that a scheme may be carried out by the freeholder under the superintendence and control of the local authority, and on such terms and conditions as may be agreed. Lord Portman, very much to his credit, came under this section, and he and the London County Council working-together are to effect the clearance. The London County Council is to use its statutory powers, and Lord Portman is to defray the cost, and the result of this will be that you will have this insanitary area cleared and decent houses erected on it without costing the ratepayer's sixpence. That is done by voluntary arrangement under Section 6 of the first part of the Housing Act of 1890. But what I should like very respectfully to impress on the House is that what a good landlord and an honourable man is ready to do voluntarily a bad landlord ought to be compelled to do, and that we ought to make the substance, at all events, of Section 6 compulsory, so that it may be possible to compel a landlord to do what Lord Portman is now doing by voluntary arrangement. There is, perhaps, one other suggestion to which I might refer, not because on the face of it is a very large question, but it is one which I think would be very useful. It has been advocated by a gentleman who knows the East End of London well—the Rev. Samuel Barnett. I do not know whether the suggestion emanated from him, but he strongly supports it, and it is that we should have in London a registration of owners. At the present time there are many cases in which it is absolutely impossible to make the owner responsible. An inquiry was recently held with regard to some property off the Strand, and one of the tenants was asked to whom he paid his rent. He said he did not know, and it afterwards came out in evidence that the tenants had no idea who their landlord was, but that every week someone came round and signed for the rent with in pencil in an ordinary penny rent - book which was given to each tenant, and there was absolutely no means of ascertaining who the landlord was. That is a very common state of things in London, and several cases have come within my own personal knowledge where owing to rotten flooring a tenant has suffered personal injury for which he would have a right of action against the owner but where it has been found impossible to obtain any remedy for the injured person, because no one could ascertain who the landlord was. Under the circumstances which have been described to the House, the Bill which the Government introduced seems to me to be scandalously inadequate to deal with the enormity of the mischief. My hon. and learned friend suggested that under the existing law it is competent for a local authority to go outside its area, but I do not know whether it is desirable that the London County Council should build outside London except in connection with clearance schemes. A clearance scheme is carried out under Part 1 of the Act. It requires a Provisional Order in each ease, and therefore it is quite possible for the London County Council to get Parliamentary power to build outside London in such cases. I have said this is not only a London question, but a national question. I have, although I will not trouble the House with them, details of the enormity of this mischief in all parts of the country, such as Chester, and other large towns, where people are often housed under conditions in which a decent man would be unwilling to kennel his dog. There is one part of the country which I wish specially to refer to, and which has special claims on the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary—I mean the present condition of the housing question in Birmingham. In a leading article recently a Birmingham paper stated that— in Birmingham men, women, and children were herded together like cattle in a truck, with every encouragement for disease and crime. Custom will do everything in time, and gradually the moral fibre of the people is sapped, self-respect is destroyed, and all regard for morals is lost. These statements ought to appeal to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I express the hope that he will recognise that this question is of vital importance and a matter which ought to be first in our considerations in the interests of the welfare and prosperity of the people of these islands.

MR. MIDDLEMORE (Birmingham, N.)

I have sometimes tried to clear my mind with regard to the many intricate problems connected with the housing of the poor, and I have endeavoured to remember that there are two forms of overcrowding; I mean that form which is imposed by the habits of the people who are overcrowded, and that form which is imposed by circumstances which they cannot possibly control. The two are, of course, associated, but perfectly distinct, and they can easily be distinguished by persons who have studied the question. Let me illustrate what I mean by my own personal experience. I have visited houses having three bedrooms, only one of which was occu- pied; I have visited houses with two, three, and even four bedrooms, and no bedroom at all was occupied. The whole family was congregated in what is termed the living room. Of course, that is easily explained. There has been drunkenness, there has been improvidence, there has been imprisonment, there has been desertion, there has been illness, and there has been death. That is a condition in which there is overcrowding, but not over-peopling, and people live year after year and decade after decade under such circumstances, and, with their perverted tastes, they really prefer insanitary squalor, and certainly do not appreciate the advantage of better housing. There is no scheme—not the scheme which is now proposed, not the Guinness scheme—that can possibly effect that particular class. You cannot touch that residuum that really prefers foul to fair conditions, and they can only be dealt with in one way, and that is by pulling down the rookeries in which they live. They are the criminal and hopeless class who inevitably shun light, shun air, and shun space, and if the conditions under which they live were destroyed we should undoubtedly destroy also that which makes them a distinct and separate class. The present Bill, of course, increases the powers of the municipalities. The all important fact to recognise is that the supply of decent homes for the working classes is utterly inadequate, and we know that humanity cannot develop under the conditions in which millions live in this country. We know what these conditions are. There is the pall of smoke and the dingy glimpse of sky between brick walls, and people who live in these houses are out of touch with nature. There are houses in which many of us would not stable our horses, and the people who inhabit them must necessarily undergo degeneration. Whether one is a Socialist or an Individualist, one must recognise two conditions that are affirmed as clearly as circumstances can affirm them. The first is that the accommodation is inadequate, and the other that the rents are too high. It must be recognised also that the ordinary law of supply and demand has failed in this particular, and has landed us in great disaster. The supply is less than the demand. One thing mentioned by the hon. Gentleman opposite was that the infant mortality in these crowded areas was frightful. Juggernaut himself might have been guilty of it. One has only to compare the mortality in other districts and it will be found that the infant mortality in these areas is more than fourfold. I think the present Bill is a good Bill as far as it goes, but I cannot help agreeing with hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is a very little Bill. Well, I am thankful for it. It imposes duties on the municipalities and others, but it gives them very inadequate means of carrying out these duties. In a circular issued by the Local Government Board the housing question is referred to as a great and pressing question, and the circular proceeds— We cannot avoid the conclusion that a large number of the working classes of this country are at the present time housed in houses either unfitted for human habitation or in such a condition as to be distinctly prejudicial to the health of the inmates. I think that after such unimpassioned words the Government should urge on the local authorities the necessity for using the power conferred on them. I should wish especially to refer to one point in connection with the Bill. Under the Local Government Act the law only sanctions loans for the period of fifty years, and according to the provisions of the various Housing Acts, a loan cannot be sanctioned for more than sixty years. My contention is that interest and sinking fund should extend to ninety-nine or one hundred years. Why should it not? The municipalities can offer good security. They have land of increasing value, and they have houses which will he kept in good repair; but, even if the security were less admirable, the nation is now becoming conscience stricken, and security not so good would probably be accepted. Let me explain this matter. It has cost us in Birmingham £200 to build a decent dwelling for a working man. If the period of repayment is fifty years, the rent we have to charge simply to cover the charge for interest and sinking fund is 3s. a week. But if the period of repayment was ninety-nine or one hundred years we could reduce the rent to 2s. 5¼d., and so save 7d. a week to the working man, to whom even a penny a week makes a considerable difference, at any rate in the provinces. I am going to appeal to the Government to give the municipalities a somewhat freer hand in this matter, and to give them a better opportunity of carrying out their duties. I am going to ask them to accept an Amendment which I shall move if it is not moved by any other hon. Member, to provide that the period of repayment of interest and sinking fund for loans under the Act shall be increased from fifty years to ninety-nine.

* MR. STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

I would not have risen now had it not been that I see the President of the Local Government Board in his place, and I wish to address a few remarks to him. Taking that particular view of my functions for a moment, I will not enter into the grievous circumstances which we have to deal with. They have been admirably described by previous speakers, and I am sure are viewed with the deepest sympathy by the whole House. There can be no doubt whatever that we are all agreed that we have to deal in overcrowding with one of the most grievous circumstances which at present afflict humanity. As to the present Bill, I have no doubt whatever that the proposal to give power to municipalities or councils to purchase land outside their own boundaries for the purpose of exercising Part 3 of the Housing of the Poor Act is right and proper. I wish to say that distinctly, but when I have said that I must say I do not think it is a step which deals with the root of the matter. It is a useful and proper step, and I therefore should be glad to see this Bill as it is passed into law, but so little do I expect from its operations that as an alternative I should rather prefer to see the House lose the Bill by assenting to the proposal of my hon. and learned friend. In other words, I believe that the adhesion of the House to the general principle embodied in the amendment of my hon. and learned friend would be more valuable in procuring good results as regards the housing of the people than if this Bill were passed as it is. I agree entirely with the proposal that where buildings are good the period of repayment of the loan should be 100 years; I believe that would be a right and proper reform. I believe also that another right and proper reform would be that the value of the land taken as appropriate for working men's dwellings—which is not the same as the value of the land in the open market—ought not to require a sinking fund. But these reforms, right and proper though they be would give very little relief indeed as regards the housing of the poor. The housing question, so far as we are treating it just now is largely a question of rent. What would be the effect on the rent of the changes that are now suggested, and which I hope and earnestly trust will be embodied in the present Bill? Let us not imagine that we are doing very great things towards the solution of this problem. If you take the schemes of the London County Council, and if you ask how- much of every 20s. charged as rent to the tenant is for the sinking fund in connection with the buildings, and how much is for the sinking fund in connection with the land, taking the general result of the London schemes, and taking more particularly the Boundary Street scheme at Bethnal Green, the figures I am now about to give are correct in either case. Out of every 20s. of rent 2s. only are necessary for providing the sinking fund. You will see that there is no room for any great alleviation. There is a certain alleviation to be got from that point of view, no doubt, but a greater is to be obtained from a reduction of the interest generally. Now, take that 2s. which, out of the 20s. of rent, is attributable to the sinking fund—how much of it is required for the sinking fund and the land? In the Boundary Street Bethnal Green scheme only 4d. would be required, because the price of the land is to be cleared off in sixty years. While the principle is thoroughly good, therefore, it is no solution of the difficulty. Still from that point of view I shall propose Amendments on the Bill in Committee which will introduce these savings. I want the House, however, to understand what are the limits both of the Bill and of these Amendments. There is no greater mistake when dealing with a question such as this than to go off on a general declaration as to the evils of society. We assume these; we all admit them; we thoroughly feel them. But we do not want to extend the glamour of misrepresentation about what is to be effected by a certain class of reforms and the principles which we strongly support. There is another point, which has not been touched upon, which I should like to bring before the right hon. Gentleman, but which is of very great consequence to London and to some large provincial towns if it were only looked into. We in London have undertaken a number of improvements and erected working class dwellings under various parts of the Act. It is not uncommon that when, under the first two parts of the Act, we have made a clearance of insanitary dwellings, or have made a street improvement and thereby have removed a certain number of the working classes from their houses, we have found ourselves unable to re-house them on the area where they formerly lived and have had to go, under Part III. of the Act, to a certain distance from that area. I shall certainly be glad if under the present Bill we are enabled to go not only to another place within the county, but on the margin, or even beyond it. But in either case there is another difficulty. Under the Clare Market scheme and the clearances for the Strand improvement we were unable to erect houses required for the dispossessed tenants on that area for certain reasons. Had we been allowed to erect the workmen's dwellings in that area we should have had the power to include in that scheme all the expenses of clearing the area, and would have been able to recoup ourselves under the street improvement scheme for a large portion of the expense. But when we go away under Part III. of the Act, and substitute Milbank for Clare Market for building the work men's dwellings on, we are not allowed to set against the price of the land at Milbank the price of the land we leave behind us at Clare Market. Now, the Milbank land cost us £60,000 but we have to leave behind us the Clare Market land, which is worth £20,000 for the same purpose of building workmen's dwellings. I say that we ought to be allowed to set aside that £20,000 as an asset to reduce the price of £60,000 which we have paid for the Milbank site. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow us, as a matter of accounting, to place the saving we make in the street improvement as an asset to relieve the cost of the housing scheme. That is an extremely important matter. I turn to another point—and here I am dealing rather with the Amendment than with the Bill. We shall never by this Bill get at the root of the business, until you throw the responsibility upon the different classes of landlords—either freeholders, leaseholders or rent-holders— of insanitary property. I do not want to speak at large on this question; I do not want to declaim against the wicked landlord. There are good landlords as well as bad landlords. I want to bring this matter to a question of figures. We are all familiar with the Boundary Street scheme at Bethnal Green, opened by the Prince of Wales the other day. Well, the London County Council, in order to procure the complete property in their hands and clear that insanitary area, had to pay in round figures £350,000. After the insanitary houses were cleared away and the area made a tabula rasa the value of that ground in the open market was only £150,000. They dropped £200,000 straight with having to compensate freeholders, leaseholders, and other persons interested in that insanitary property. The next step was to clear the area, for which £350,000 had been paid, and which is worth £150,000 in the open market. But with the obligation of erecting workmen's dwellings on it it is only worth £60,000, and the whole difference between £60,000 and £350,000 has had to be put upon the general rates of London. In other words, about five-sixths of the whole is swept away in procuring that site. What we are asking is not to put any sinking fund upon it in consideration of the rent we ought to charge for the houses. The houses we are erecting on the site will cost £250,000, and thus there is a total expenditure of £310,000 for which the County Council must recoup itself by means of rent. It is a very heavy rent. We cannot give a, three-roomed house for less than 8s. or 9s. per week. Compare that with 4s. 3d. for a five-roomed house and garden, which a workman may obtain in a country town, and see the terrible trouble and expense which the London workman is put to. He has to pay a double rent, and his higher wage presents itself to the country at large as an attraction to London, and poor countrymen only think that if they could get up to London they would be so much better off. It is by that false position that workmen are attracted to London in large numbers, and yet find themselves worse off when they get there. I want to come to the point as to how we could better the situation. I want to save the ratepayers of London the £300,000 which have been dropped altogether before the land was made fit for workmen's houses—a sum equal to the whole capital value of the land and new houses. I speak from many years experience of this matter, not only in connection with the London County Council and in provincial centres, and in my private capacity as well as a public representative. I hold, then, that we must bring home in some way responsibility to those who get the rents originally out of insanitary property. In the first place, we ought to allow, indeed to compel, the freeholder to enforce those clauses in his lease which relate to keeping the houses in good substantial repair and sanitary condition. Then we ought to put the same obligation on each landlord under the freeholder, for everybody knows that in London there is a succession of landlords. To impose and enforce that obligation alone on the superior landlord would be an extremely effective means of securing the sanitary state of the houses, and of avoiding the necessity of the County Council, or of any other public authority dealing with the matter at all. This would meet the objection of some hon. Members who do not want the interference of the municipalities in housing projects. But supposing the landlord does not adequately fulfil that obligation, or neglects it entirely, and the area is declared under the Act of Parliament to be an insanitary area. Then the freeholder should have the right at once to re-enter upon the whole property. That would be a means of keeping in order the other landlords. Then the freeholder should be under the obligation, which may fairly be put upon him (because the whole state of things could have only arisen from his neglecting his obligations), of himself erecting workmen's dwellings upon that area. Again, if the freeholder does not choose to carry out that obligation the county council or municipality should then have leave to enter upon the place, paying him the sum which the land would be worth for workmen's dwellings, and take upon itself the obligation of erecting workmen's dwellings on the area. I commend these proposals to the right hon. Gentleman as well worthy of careful consideration. There is nothing wild or impractical about them, but I feel that they require serious consideration, and I offer them as my contribution towards the more effective solution of the housing problem than can be achieved by the Act, or even by the Bill with the Amendments proposed to be introduced in it. We cannot expect in this closely packed nation to solve the housing question all at once. I am glad, on an occasion like this, that we try to solve it with no party feeling. I have avoided any reference to party considerations, and I would scorn to make any political capital as to whether the right hon. Gentleman's Bill is too little or too modest. We ought to be constantly moving towards the solution of the question. We have hung fire far too long. An hon. Member has asked me why it is that the covenants in the leases are not enforced. I leave that for others to clear up; all I say is they are not enforced. I know of nothing which is more disturbing to the economic conditions of the country, as well as to the social life, the moral well being, and the physical health of the country than the present bad condition of the housing of the working classes. I am glad that the misery of London has not yet eaten into the vitals of other cities, although such misery is to be found in many of them, and even in some of our country villages. In London more particularly are we the victims of economic conditions. We cannot reverse economic conditions, but we can do what has been the glory of the human race for thousands of years, we can struggle to improve economic conditions, and to mould nature to our own requirements. Nature's laws are unalterable, but we can mould the operation of these laws.

MR. DRAGE (Derby)

I desire earnestly to support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for South Shields, which embodies the view I have already supported at the International Congress at Brussels. I hold the opinion that the two reforms proposed in the Bill are important, but they only cover a small part of the ground which I venture to think Her Majesty's Government ought to have tried to cover in dealing with this question. I suppose the Amendment rests on the idea that with the present Act, if properly administered, much more good could be done. It rests further on the idea that the conditions of the working classes are improving, and also that there is a desire, which is no doubt always foremost in the minds of administrators, not to go too fast in this great work. We can admit at once that the Act of Parliament which the local authorities are administering is excellent. At Brussels I recollect foreign representatives had no expressions too strong in which to commend the Act dealing with the question of the housing of the working classes in this country. But there are administrative difficulties which I think the Government might have attempted to cope with in the present Bill. The chief and foremost difficulty in the administration of the present Act lies in the fact that the local sanitary officers in town and country are insufficiently paid, and are removable at the wish of the local authorities. I have here a number of Reports, both public and private, with which I do not desire to trouble the House. There is, among others, the Report of the Local Government Board of July, 1897, pointing out the very small and inadequate salaries of from £15 to £30 a year which are paid by the local sanitary authorities, and which are too little to enable the medical officer of health to be independent. It is not the fault of the sanitary authority. It is a fault which will remain until the Government insert in their Bill some provision to make the medical officer entirely independent of private practice. I venture to suggest another point of great importance in this connection. We have not got any opportunity of reviewing the working of this most important Act. On more than one occasion I have tried to bring this matter up on the Estimates, that course being really the only one we have, but the question is so narrowed down that it is only possible to touch the fringe of it. I think provision should be made whereby we would be enabled from year to year to discuss the administrative difficulties to which I have referred, and to bring before the House some of the abuses we desire to see remedied. I will not go into the details referred to by the hon. Gentleman who preceded me in the debate. I deprecate with him any attempt at exploiting the sensational aspect of this question; it is enough for | me to quote, with respect to houses in the country districts, the words of the final Report of the senior assistant commissioner of the Labour Commission, Mr. William Little, who is perhaps the greatest authority on this question in the country. He uses the following words— A large proportion of the cottages are below the proper standard of decency, and many of them are vile and deplorably wretched dwellings. There are even stronger words by another official, Mr. Wilson Fox, who conducted an inquiry extending over many districts in England, Wales, and Ireland. He writes— Many of the houses are more fit for animals to inhabit than men and women, and in them no human being could be either happy or contented. We hear a great deal about the sensational writing in the press. I doubt whether, in the articles that have appeared in one of the great London newspapers, any stronger language has been used, or any language that has been more thoroughly proved to be true than that. The inquiries made have now extended over ten years, and show the following defects in the country districts. In the first place the houses are inadequate in number, and too distant from the work the labourers have to perform; the repairs are in bad condition; the overcrowding of which the hon. Gentleman opposite complains with respect to the towns is also bad in the country; the sanitary accommodation is as bad as it can be; and the water supply is so deficient as to be a disgrace to a civilized country. On all these points there is conclusive and voluminous evidence— and I doubt whether the representatives of the Government are prepared to deny it—that reform is urgently called for. In the Report of the Labour Commission, Mr. Wm. Little and Mr. Wilson Fox, who is now at the head of the Labour Department, lay the greatest possible stress on the importance of obtaining a Return of all houses in country districts let at rentals of less than £10 a year. The Return was to be made compulsory on owners, and it was to give details as to overcrowding, the number of persons in each room, the sanitary accommodation, the water supply, and the state of repair. A year or so ago I moved for such a Return in this House, but the Government said they could not grant it. If that Return was made as suggested by the Labour Commissioners, and if it was compulsory, the expense would be infinitesimal. As hon. Members on both sides of the House are aware, it is easy for a private Member to get up and propose this, but unless the Government is willing to grant the Return the motion is not likely to be adopted. There is a further proposal which I am afraid will not be altogether approved of by hon. Members opposite, but which I hope may have some approval on this side of the House. That is the proposal contained in the final Report of the senior Commissioner of the Labour Commission that loans should be granted to landowners for the purpose of building cottages. As the House is aware, cottages are bad at present. You practically invest £130 in a cottage. That is the lowest amount for which a fairly good cottage can be built, and if lot at 1s. 6d. a week to a farm labourer, the rent of the dwelling would be about £4 a year. This includes no expenditure for rates, taxes, and insurance. It is suggested that loans should be granted to landowners for the purpose of building these cottages. I would suggest to the House that good security could be obtained from the landlord by insuring his life or otherwise. One of the great difficulties we are face to face with in the country districts is that we are not sure where to place the cottages. So much for the question of housing in the country districts. Now one word with regard to the question in boroughs. Here, again, I do not propose to give any sensational details to the House. I do not think the picture has been painted in too lurid colours. If a local authority is to build houses in outside districts, it appears to me that some greater travelling facilities are necessary. I should prefer them to be undertaken in the form of tramways rather than by laying a greater burden on the railways. I am neither a shareholder nor a director of a railway, but it seems rather hard that in some of these problems, which are national problems, we should lay the burden of having to pay the piper on small bodies of shareholders. I submit that in this case, where a municipality could undertake some part of the work, it is fairer that, by tramways or by some other means, rapid transit should be organised by them. I support the proposals made on the other side with regard to the registration of the owners of insanitary property. I believe that in town as in country districts landlords of insanitary property are often ignorant of the conditions under which their tenants live, and that they would make greater efforts if they were publicly notified of the condition of their property. I am aware that there are serious difficulties in the way of such administration, but I do not think these difficulties are so great that they cannot be overcome. I thoroughly agree with the proposals made on the other side of the House in regard to the expropriation of certain owners. I cordially agree with the proposal that loans should be issued at a cheaper rate. But, after all this has been said and done, there comes another question, which has been raised by one of the Members for Nottingham. If we carry out a proposal of this kind, how far are we likely to discourage that great and definite source of reform—private enterprise? It seems to me the time has come for careful inquiry by a Select Committee, and I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board that, if he is unable, in the form in which this Bill has been drawn up, to incorporate some of the reforms we urge, he should appoint a Select Committee to go into the subject, with the view to having introduced, either this session or next session, an extended Bill. Reference has been made this evening to the subject of the wages of the working classes, and to the rise which has occurred in those wages. I should like to point out that with regard to casual labour there has been actually no rise in the monetary value, though it is perfectly true that in what is called "real" wages—that is, not only the monetary value but the purchasing power—there has been some rise oven in regard to casual labour. But that rise has been more than counterbalanced by the rise in the amount the workman has to pay as rent. Reference has been made to the fact that workmen in London and the large towns and cities pay far too large a proportion of their wages in rent. I need not go into figures with regard to that, but there is one point which has not been raised. Every year labourers who live in bad houses lose a very large number of their days for work. It is calculated that at the very lowest computation a casual labourer who is badly housed loses twenty days work in the year. I need not go further into that, but I may remind the House as a justification of the proposals I have put forward that it is idle to educate the children, idle to have advanced forms of primary education, if when the children leave those magnificent buildings which have been provided for education, they have to go back into the slums which have been so well described in the House to-night. Moreover, with bad houses you have an enormous increase in the death rate, of pauperism and vice. Proper housing means economy in hospitals, economy in prisons, economy in poor houses, so that a large expenditure in this direction repays itself. I feel I have trespassed too long on the indulgence of the House, but this is a subject to which I have given a great deal of attention for many years past. I never approach these questions from a party point of view, but I have given pledges to my constituents on the subject, and whether it is a party question or not one must stand up to one's pledges in this House.

MR. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)

I think that all will agree that the debate this evening has been an extremely valuable one. We have had many weighty speeches from both sides of the House, and I should think the Government, after listening to those speeches, must almost have come to the conclusion that the Bill is too small a one. The point upon which I particularly wish to speak is with regard to the rural districts. We have had many speeches upon the urban side of the question, but the rural side is also very important. I believe that a comparatively small amendment in this Bill would result in some real value being given to it as regards the working classes in the country districts. The problem there is a very difficult one. The movement of population is not very great, but still it does occur. In districts which have been arable, but are turned to grass land, the population tends to diminish, while in other places, where some small rural industry arises, you get an increase of population. Our immense difficulty is that cottage property does not pay the private individual, and consequently in almost every rural district there are places which are under-housed, and where proper cottage accommodation cannot or is not provided by voluntary effort. The fact was perfectly well recognised before, and the Act of 1890 was passed in some measure to supply the deficiency, and it was the intention of that Act to enable the rural sanitary authorities to supply the deficiency by building under certain precautions and conditions cottages in those districts where such accommodation could not otherwise be obtained. The practical result of the Act of 1890 has been that, although there are hundreds of villages where cottage accommodation is badly needed, and where the district authorities thoroughly appreciated the position, and had every wish to build if they conveniently could, the machinery has been so cumbersome that in only one instance— or, at any rate, in very few instances— have the provisions of the Act been put into force. There are too many authorities to be consulted. If some one authority had the matter in hand without any appeal to another authority, there would be a very good chance of the Act being put into force in districts where it could be done economically and properly. My own experience has been that district councils are sufficiently near to the electorate to be moved by the popular wants, and to be willing to incur the risk, whatever it may be, of building houses where they are wanted. In every case which has been brought under my own notice, very excellent intentions have been frustrated by the appeal which now exists to the county council. When this Bill was published I looked with the greatest anxiety to see if anything was proposed to remove the incubus of the county council from the shoulders of the district council, but to my great sorrow I found that practically no change was contemplated. Clause 2 simplifies the language, and to that extent it is an improvement. It does away with a certificate, and with the necessity of renewing the certificate. But the appeal to the county council is here in its integrity as before. It is a positive insult to the district councils, which are important bodies, to have to go to the county council in this way. They know quite as well as the county council can know whether new dwellings are required, whether there is any probability of them being built by private enterprise, and whether it is prudent for them to undertake whatever liability or risk there may be on the rates. But the burden on the rates would not be very great. I have had some experience of building cottages in Norfolk. At a place called Roxham there was a call for cottages, and the district council was perfectly prepared to undertake the risk of providing accommodation for the very numerous cottagers for whom it was required. The county council sent down their chairman to investigate the matter, and although he was, I believe, satisfied as to the facts, that inquiry was terminated by somebody appearing willing to build some cottages, but which, in point of fact, were never erected. Some £15 or £20 houses were built, which, of course, were of no use for the working classes. The matter grew so serious that I felt bound to do something and I built six cottages to relieve the congestion. The financial results were such as might encourage the district council to do likewise without incurring much loss. Any Member of Parliament who is building in his own constituency does not, as a rule, get the work done more cheaply than other people. The total cost to me of those six cottages, including the purchase of land and the sinking of a well, was £850—£120 apiece for the cottages and £100 for the land, legal expenses, and sinking a well. For those cottages I get £5 10s. each, that is, £33 per annum; they are five-roomed cottages, with small hall and proper accommodation at the back; and I have never had an empty cottage. I calculate that I get 2½ per cent. on my money, which is £21 5s., and after paying rates and taxes I have a balance of £6 15s. towards empties and repairs. I think that is a fairly sound financial position.


Is that recently?


Quite recently—three or four years ago—the prices of buildings have, I suppose, slightly increased since then. [An HON. MEMBER: Enormously.] They have not increased so much in that particular district. But precisely the same argument used to be used four years ago as to the utter hopelessness of building and letting at a profit. If the district council, instead of myself, had built those cottages, they would have made a much better return, because they would not have had to pay any rates. I do not think they are exempt from income tax. And further, when they build in a place they pro tanto increase the general value of the whole place. If there is a good population of labouring workingmen the general condition of the neighbourhood is improved. The farmer has a better supply of labour if there is a good supply of cottages in the neighbourhood. He can then afford to pay more rent, and that means more rates, and if the neighbourhood is well supplied with cottages it adds to the freedom of the position, and on the whole the place is worth more rateably than it would be at other times. Consequently, I say that a rural district authority would do better than I have done with my cottages, because they would get very nearly something under 3½ per cent. It would cost them, perhaps, a little bit more, and in all probability they would be slight losers on the transaction. The loss, however, would be infinitesimal, and if you take it on those cottages the loss per annum would have been very small indeed. There are, of course, other considerations which must appeal to any district council in building. It would not be wise for them to build cottages for a population which may be quite ephemeral and disappear. I do say emphatically that the very small pecuniary risk is one which they are perfectly able to take without any fear of stupid things being done. If you are going always to assume that your local governing bodies are going to be composed of a lot of noodles who do not know that two and two make four, you will never get that principle of local government which nearly all of us want to see established. If the Government would make this Act simpler by giving the district councils in the urban districts this power unfettered by the county council, as they are under the Act of 1890, we should really have a perceptible improvement in our cottage accommodation in the rural districts. I am conscious that this proposal does not end the matter, and it will not redress all the evils. It does not account for the bad cottages and insanitary dwellings, but what I have suggested would be a very perceptible improvement, and I trust that before this Bill leaves the Committee the Government will see their way to meet us in that particular. I hope the Government will accede to the request made by the last speaker for a Select Committee. If the Bill was a large one I should not ask for a Select Committee, and it is only because I think such a Committee would widen the scope of the Bill that I suggest it. If we can, while we are not so busy in Parliament, do something to improve the condition of the houses in rural as well as urban districts, then Parliament will not have laboured in vain.


I have taken a. great deal of interest in this sub- ject, and the question has been very frequently under discussion. I think the London County Council, for the last ten years, have rather neglected this housing problem, and although they have acquired insanitary areas, I believe that only about five per cent. of the original dwellers have ever come back to the new houses, and this policy has rather increased overcrowding among the poor people than alleviated it. They make the excuse that they cannot get land in London. They say: "Give us the power to go outside London, where we can get land in greater quantities and much cheaper." This Bill has been brought in to meet a want expressed by the London County Council itself. Power to build houses of this kind was given to the borough councils, and I believe they will put the Act into operation if they have land in their borough. If they have it not already, I think the borough councils also ought to have the power to go into the adjoining parishes outside the county.


Yes, they have that power under the Bill.


At Woolwich, for instance, there is a place near (the parish of Erith) where land is cheaper. I understand, then, that according to the provisions of this Bill, Woolwich could build houses for the working classes in the adjoining parish. The London County Council are anxious to find land, if possible, in London to accommodate this want. The Government express themselves heartily in sympathy with the supplying of this requirement. It has been the theme of election addresses of even many Cabinet Ministers that this housing question deserves the greatest attention. In the parish of Eltham, within my constituency, there is only one and a half persons to the acre, and Eltham is in London. Let me emphasise this point. In that parish there are 1,700 acres of land belonging to the Crown. That land is now let at about £2 10s. per acre as agricultural laud. Here there are 1,700 acres of land in London beautifully situated on the southern side of Shooters Hill. The parish is well drained, has two railways running into it from London, with three railway stations, and it is a most eligible place for building these houses. Why should not the Crown and the County Council come to some reasonable terms by which that land might be acquired? At £200 an acre at 2½ per cent. interest the income of the Crown from that land would be doubled by the transaction, and they would, at the same time, solve a most important social problem. Taking 1,700 acres, and estimating twenty-five houses per acre, that would provide 42,500 houses, and taking the average of each set of occupiers at six per house, a population of 255,000, or over a quarter of a million people, could be accommodated on this Crown land. I do not think that the London County Council have ever approached the Government on this subject. This scheme would solve the problem at once as regards a quarter of a million of people, and it would be better to have that property rated in London for the benefit of London rather than outside. I hope the Government will consider this suggestion as a practical means of solving the question.

* MR. HAZELL (Leicester)

I do not want to make any remarks of a party character; but, in common with many other Members, I must express my disappointment that this Bill is such a small one. It is, in fact, only something to hope for, and I trust that it will be considerably enlarged in its passage through the House. I do not think anything has been said so far which can be called exaggeration. The fact remains that, in London alone, about half a million people are living three persons or more in one room; and when we speak of a room I think we are apt to think of rooms very much larger than those used by enormous classes of the population. I saw myself a case in very good model dwellings. There were two persons living in the one room, which was about eleven feet square, and for this space, with a very small scullery, the rent was 5s. 6d. a week. In the neighbourhood where I live working people have to pay as much as 10s. and 11s. per week for two moderate-sized rooms. With regard to the spreading of the repayments over a longer period, I was glad to hear hon. Members opposite say that they saw no reason why the repayments for land should not be spread over 100 years. I cannot go as far as the hon. Member for Stepney, who has said that the buildings erected by the London County Council were calculated to last for 200 or 300 years. I hope before that time comes that the working men will not be content to live in such barracks as they live in at the present time. We cannot foresee the movement of population for so long a period, and it would be unwise to attempt to spread the payment over such a long period. I should like to say a word as to the action of the Local Government Board. I do not wish to say a word against the President of that Department or the Under Secretary, but I am inclined to think that there is a power behind them which sometimes makes it difficult for the local authorities to exercise their powers. I understand that the repayment for loans may be spread over sixty years, but the Local Government Board has issued a circular limiting the time to fifty years, and I believe that in very rare cases indeed is that time exceeded. I think the Local Government Board might simplify matters by extending repayments as far as the Acts permit. But Parliament should go further, and give local authorities power not only to buy land for this particular class of buildings, but to hold it until the growing population requires it. Why should we not look at the housing question in connection with tramways and light railways? Take, for instance, my own constituency of Leicester. At the present time it is one of the best towns in the country for the housing of the people. There are fewer people overcrowded there than in almost any large town, though Leicester is increasing at the rate of about 10,000 persons a year. At the present time the Corporation is contemplating setting up a system of electrical tramways by an improved method. Why should they not at the same time have power to buy land in the outskirts of the town, at almost agricultural value, and be empowered to offer sites to the people as the population increases? Why should the Corporation make the outlay on a tramway system to enrich the owners of the land outside? One hon. Member, who threw cold water on this Bill, referred to the cost of travelling to and fro. I have known of very many cases where lads coming into London to work have had to spend nearly the whole of their wages in travelling. I hope the question will be thoroughly threshed out, for I admit that it is a very difficult and complicated one. We are only now upon the fringe of the subject, and sometimes even the very best schemes do not produce the results anticipated. I believe this measure is a very small but an honest attempt to deal with a very difficult problem.


Everyone, I am sure, will agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down when he says that this is a most important, and at the same time a most complicated question. We have had, I must say, a most interesting debate, and I cannot recollect any afternoon for a very considerable time on which the time of the House has been better and more profitably spent than it has been to-day. I have listened most carefully to all the criticisms which have been made upon the Bill, the Second Reading of which I have moved to-night. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment, if I may say so, made a most able and temperate speech. His chief objection was that the Bill was such a small one. I need hardly remind the hon. Member that the importance of a measure does not always depend upon its extent. When he complained of that and said the Bill was entirely inadequate, I thought the hon. Member gave himself completely away, because the hon. Member, in almost the next sentence, pointed out that there were only two possible methods by which this question could be dealt with. One was a method to which the hon. Member said that, as far as he knew, the Government was altogether opposed and was entirely beyond the scope of the present Bill. That was a new method of valuation, which the hon. Member acknowledged, and which I myself admit is a question of the first importance. The second remedy—the true remedy, as the hon. Member called it—was to take the population beyond the dear belt immediately around London. That is precisely what is proposed in the Bill which the Government have submitted to the House. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment went a step further and recommended, as one solution of the question, the adoption of the principle of fair rents, and also that there should be powers to borrow money at a much cheaper rate of interest with a greatly extended period for the repayment of the loans. As the hon. Member is not now in the House, and as his views with regard to the establishment of fair-rent courts have found no other supporter up to the present, I do not think I will further trouble the House by saying anything on that point, although it would be easy and simple to say a good deal if I so desired. The hon. Member for Hoxton associated himself entirely with the views of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields. He drew a picture which evidently moved a great many of his audience. He described a landlord who was the owner of slum property in London who altogether neglected his duties. "Make him," he said, ''enforce the clauses which are always contained in agreements of this kind for the purpose of maintaining the premises in a proper condition and proper repair with due regard to the health of the inhabitants. If he fails in doing this, then you have a condition of things which, sooner or later, produces an insanitary area. This will give you the right by law, under those conditions, to re-enter those premises as speedily as possible, and then you can put upon him at once the obligation to build decent and proper dwellings in the place of the houses which are then in existence. If for any reason he is unable to carry out this suggestion, why then give the local authority the right to buy him out of his own property at the value of the property subject to the obligation to rebuild." I think that is not an unfair description of the proposal which the hon. Member for Hoxton suggested and put before the House. I must remind the House, however, that that proposal, as was pointed out by the Member for South Shields, is not within the scope of the present Bill, which deals only with the amendment of the third part of the Housing of the Working Classes Act. As far as I am myself concerned, although I should like to give this rather sweeping proposal a good deal fuller consideration, at all events, with the spirit of that proposal I have a very great deal of sympathy, and I think it is deserving of the careful consideration of Parliament. I have been asked by several speakers why are these larger questions not included within the scope of this measure. I told the House before, when I introduced the Bill, what was at least one of the main reasons of the limits within which it was confined. I was afraid, if I raised the whole question, and raised all the in- numerable points which might be afterwards raised in consideration of this question in a session such as this promised to be at that time, with, in all probability, very little time for large measures of legislation of this nature, that what it would end in would be that we should pass nothing at all. No time would have been found for a prolonged discussion upon a measure of so large a character, and I thought it was much wiser to begin with the moderate proposal we have now submitted to the House, although I have never contended for a moment that what I ask the House to pass this afternoon is to be the final measure with regard to this question. Whatever we may do now, this question will have to be dealt with probably more than once again before it is finally settled. In itself the measure which I propose to pass during the present session would be a very great and a very considerable gain, and a great step in the right direction, as has been acknowledged by many speakers on the opposite side of the House in the course of this debate. With regard to every word that has been said by hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House in reference to the evils of overcrowding and the high death-rate which follows as a consequence, and also in regard to the exorbitant rents which are sometimes exacted, I most entirely agree. But what is the rent? The hon. Member for Stepney gave us some startling instances of a recent great rise in rent. But why is this possible? Because, as we have been told, there is no room at present in which to live. The true remedy, then, is to give more room in which to live, and this we propose to do in our Bill by going beyond that dear belt to which the hon. Member for South Shields referred, by giving the local authorities the power to acquire land at a much cheaper price than it is possible at present to buy it within this belt. While the hon. Member for Hoxton was speaking I noticed the hon. Baronet the Member for Norwich put a question in which he asked, "Why is it that these covenants into which the landlords have entered are not fulfilled?" The hon. Member for Hoxton did not answer him, and I am not at all surprised at it, because one of the peculiarities in nearly all the speeches which have been made on the opposite side of the House to-night has been that they are a sweeping indictment against the local authorities. I am not at all surprised at the hon. Member for Stepney being a little uncomfortable on this point, for he evidently showed that he was conscious of what might be said on the subject. Before anyone had said anything against him, the hon. Member for Stepney began to explain why it was that local authorities had found themselves unable to perform all their duties. I am sure I have every wish in the world not to delay the House for a moment longer than I can help, but, when the Government are so severely attacked in regard to the inadequacy of their Bill, I wonder how many Members in the House, and how many of those who have been attacking us, are really aware of the extent and the variety of the existing powers which the local authorities already possess. In my own self-defence I must ask leave of the House to explain as shortly and as succinctly as I can what the existing powers are. As a matter of fact local authorities are given most extensive powers at this moment under five different Acts of Parliament for the purpose of dealing with this question. They are the Public Health Act of 1875, the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, the Common Lodging Houses Act (London), the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, and the Public Health Act of 1881. It is not necessary for me tonight to enter into the details of those different Acts, but I affirm, without the possibility of contradiction, that powers of the widest and amplest description under these Acts are given to the local authorities already, and if they were used to their fullest ex tent the position of the working classes as regards their housing might be very different indeed to what it is to-day. If they are not enforced, and if these powers have not been enforced in the past as they might have been, it is due to faulty administration rather than to defects in the existing law. Most of the criticisms which have been made to-night relate to urban districts, and some of them to rural districts. It will be more convenient for me to deal with them separately, and I will take the case of the urban districts first, because, in my opinion, they are by far the most important, for it is in the case of the urban districts that there is the greatest necessity and the greatest opening for reform. One of the commonest complaints which has been made against the Bill is in regard to its inadequacy. It is said that the Bill contains no provision for dealing with the owners of unhealthy houses, and that it is unsatisfactory because it does not amend the law relating to compensation for such houses. That complaint occurs in both of the Amendments which have been placed upon the Paper. I thought at the time that this was done probably in. ignorance of the fact that this point is specifically, and—as I should have thought had it not been for the speeches made by the hon. Members for South Shields and Hoxton— sufficiently dealt with in the Act of 1890. The provisions of that Act apply not only to insanitary areas, but to insanitary houses as well, and with regard to insanitary houses the provisions are quite as full. In the first place it is the duty of the medical officer for health of the district to report to the local authorities any house which seems to him to be so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation; that in itself would embracea vast number of the houses which are complained of at the present time; but in case the medical officer is neglectful or unmindful of his duties, then four householders can call upon him, and require him to visit the house; and it is also the duty of the Local authority to see that their district is carefully, properly, and regularly surveyed. If the local authority, in consequence of those powers and in the performance of their duty, find an insanitary house or houses in their district, they may proceed in either of two ways. They may, if they please, take action under the Public Health Act, under which the owner may be required by notice—and I beg the House to observe this when we are told that nothing is done to the owners—the owner may be required by notice to put the house in complete order at his own cost and expense; he can be compelled to cany out any such works as may be notified by the local authority, and take such means as may be necessary to prevent a recurrence of the mischief; if it turns out to be the fault of the owner, or he fails to meet the requirements of the local authority, he can be heavily fined in each case. He can be taken before the magistrate, when his house can be closed by order, and thus occupation can be prohibited, and he is, in London, liable to still heavier fines and an additional fine for each day he remains in fault. Now I commend those powers to the hon. Member for Stepney, who has been so down on my Bill to-night, because he has not only been a member of a vestry for ten years, but a member of the London County Council as well. There has been a great dereliction of duty on the part of the County Council, because by a resolution the County Council can take over all the powers of a vestry, and it then becomes their duty to deal with such matters. But if that is not sufficient, the local authority can proceed under the powers of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, and it is under that Act that the powers of the local authority are most commonly used. The penalties under that Act are still more serious for the owner; not only is he liable to be fined, but his house can be closed and pulled down at his own expense. He can be ordered to demolish the house, but this is not all; because he can be required to make an allowance to his dispossessed tenant equivalent to the cost of the removal from the house which is being pulled down. I think I have shown that the powers already conferred upon the local authority are most enormous, and if the local authority does not exercise those powers it is the fault of the administration of the local authority and not the fault of Parliament which has given them such ample powers. The objectionable part having been dealt with in this summary way, the question of compensation is to be dealt with as follows. In the first place it is to be assessed by an arbitrator appointed by the central authority, whose instructions are definitely laid down by the Act. He is to take evidence on the subject, and if he finds that the rental value of the house has been enhanced by reason of the house having been illegally used or having been overcrowded, then the compensation so far as it depends upon the rental at all is to be based on such a rental only as would have been paid if the house had not been illegally used and overcrowded; and if the conditions are such as to be injurious to health, or the sanitary arrangements are defective, or the house is not in good repair, then the compensation is to be based upon the value of the premises supposing all those repairs and defects had been made good, and the cost of making them good is deducted from the compensation before it is paid to the landlord. Further, if the premises are unfit and incapable of being made fit for human habitation, then the building is to be demolished at the cost of the owner. No other house that is dangerous or insanitary is to be erected on the site or any part of it, and, if the local authority elect to acquire the site, the compensation in that case is to be based on the value of the free land and the materials of the demolished house,' which as a general rule I should say amounts to practically nothing. Those are the provisions with regard to compensation, and [should have thought, but for the speeches of the hon. Member opposite who moved the Amendment, that unless hon. Gentlemen held that a house was insanitary because the drains had gone wrong, or that the ventilation was defective, or because it was overcrowded, and therefore property of that kind ought to be confiscated, either wholly or partially, it was not very easy to see how Parliament was to go much further in that direction than it has gone already; and when we are blamed because we do not deal with the question of owners and compensation, I think I have shown, at all events with regard to these two points, that the powers already conferred on the local authority are very great indeed; and at the present moment are far wider, I suspect, than hon. Members had any idea. Let me add to this that if the local authorities are really in earnest and mindful of their own business in this matter, there is no difficulty whatever, as has been suggested, in getting at the owner of the property, because he is defined in the Public Health Act in this way— The person for the time being receiving the rack rent of the premises in connection with which the work has been assessed, whether on his own account or, and let the House mark this— as agent or trustee for any other person or who would receive the same if such premises were let at a rack rental. Now who is the person who receives the rent? The collector is the person for the time being who receives the rent, and he can always be found because he is there every Saturday [A VOICE: Monday!] An hon. Gentleman says Monday, but I am only repeating what a collector told me himself. He said— I am bound to be there on a Saturday, because if I am not there on the day my tenants get their wages I never get my money at all. So that there is no difficulty in finding the owner. In addition to this the local authority have the power of entering into these premises at any time they please, and also the power to make most stringent byelaws, which it is their duty to see enforced. I have now dealt with the questions of insanitary areas, finding the owners, and the question of compensation. I need not tell the House that there are other powers no less extensive. With regard to insanitary areas and obstructive buildings—the meaning of which is buildings that interfere with the ventilation or are otherwise calculated to prejudice the health of a particular locality—on both of these points also the local authority possesses the widest possible powers. That being so, and these being the powers already possessed for the purpose of insuring that the working classes shall be housed in dwellings which are kept in a proper condition, a question arises which I have been asked over and over again—"How is it that with all these varied and extensive powers more has not been done at the present time in the direction we all desire. You have an enormous plan for better accommodation, you have an immense population, and you have local authorities without number with powers and provisions they are entirely willing to provide. What is the real difficulty that stands in your way?" It is an extremely natural question, and I have tried my best to examine it with a view of finding what might be the real and true answer, and I must say that I think many people are a little too apt to forget one thing with regard to this question, and that is, the immense magnitude of the subject and what has been already done in regard to it. I am informed that in London alone by public and private enterprise within the last few years—and I am pointing this out to-night in answer to the idea which I think prevails rather widely, that little or nothing has been done at present—dwellings have been provided for nearly 160,000 people. Of course that is a very small number compared with the number who need re-housing, but it shows how immense is the problem with which we have to deal. It is a larger number than the whole population of Brighton, or of any of our towns except 12 or 14, and if it is larger than the population of our large towns the problem is immense indeed. We have only dealt with the fringe of this question. A competent judge told me the other day that before the housing of the working classes in London alone had been provided for in the manner that it ought to be provided for, we must be prepared for a further outlay of between £40,000,000 and £50,000,000 at least. Now, to determine the difficulties which stand in the way. The first step, of course, which sets any reform in motion is the receipt of information by the local authority as to the condition of things in their district, which calls for interference on their part. And whether that information is always supplied as promptly and particularly as it ought to be, depends on two things. First, the efficiency of the local authority over that inspection which they are bound by the statute to make; and, second, on the proper discharge of his duty by the medical officer for health. And there is a matter of the gravest importance which I desire to impress on the attention of the House in regard to this. It is sometimes alleged that the medical officer is not supported by the local authority in the discharge of his duties as he ought to be, and the action of the medical officer in bringing to the knowledge of the local authorities the condition in which the poor live does not fill the local authority with gratitude, and if the medical officer persists in his action he is sometimes liable to suffer in consequence. I am not able to say how far these allegations are true, I have no information at my disposal, but the remedy which is proposed is to make the medical officer independent of the local authority altogether; and that the assent of the central authority shall be required for his removal. But if these allegations are true, and I cannot help thinking myself that probably there is something in them, I can tell the House that in this respect the powers of the Local Government Board are very considerable indeed, and that the independence of ninety-nine medical officers out of every 100 I am sure can be assured without any new provision whatever, and when it is proved to me that the intention of Parliament in passing these Acts is to be retarded or defeated by the means that I have referred to, I shall not hesitate to use all the powers at my disposal, and to use them to the fullest possible extent. The really difficult feature, I am convinced, is the question of cost, because it is said that many of the local authorities are at their wits' end to know how they are to provide the accommodation without making some charge upon the rates. I have heard some strong views upon that subject in the course of debates upon various Bills before the House to which I should be tempted to refer, except for the fact that I should be out of order in doing so. But, so far as I am informed upon the subject, this difficulty can only be got over by one of three means. You must erect your buildings in a more economical manner, borrow on better terms, or build where land is cheap. I do not pretend to be an expert on these matters, and therefore pass no criticisms, but I have lately seen buildings erected by the County Council, rows of single cottages two storeys high, which had cost £200 apiece, and in point of economy and accommodation I should say they left little or nothing to be desired. Those buildings reflect great credit on the architect who devised and carried them out. At the same time, the cost of some public buildings which come before the Local Government Board day after day is something absolutely alarming. Only the other day I was asked to sanction a scheme, I think it was for a hospital or infirmary, the cost of which was little short of £500 a bed. With regard to borrowing at better interest, I have been pressed over and over again to extend the period for repayment of loans from sixty to 100 years. I hope the House will forgive me for going into those details, but when we are accused of putting the burden not on our own shoulders but on the shoulders of the generations who come after us, it seems to me to be a very important matter. What docs such a demand mean? It means the transference of the burden of housing the poor of to-day to the shoulders of the coming generations of ratepayers. I am always ready to listen to arguments that are addressed to me, and I desire to examine the arguments for and against that proposal as impartially as I can. The argument in favour is a simple one: that the work would be done more rapidly than at present, and that many schemes which are now impossible without imposing a charge on the rates could be carried out at once, and that it would improve the general position with far greater facility than possible at present. But there is a great deal to be said against it. The first question is, will the buildings last that time—will they be any good at the end of one hundred years? I am not quite sure that they would. It is a long time to look forward to. But, if we are all agreed that they would there is a much more important question. Will they meet the requirements of public opinion fifty or one hundred years hence? It is possible, at all events, to entertain doubts upon the subject. What is the accommodation which is being provided by the County Council at the present time? Huge blocks of buildings in which great masses of people aggregate. I have a very vivid recollection of our experience during the present Parliament in connection with the poor law schools of the metropolis. It is only between thirty and fifty years ago that an enormous change was made in regard to the schools for the Poor Law children of London. Loans to the extent of £1,200,000 were sanctioned for the purpose, and that money was spent on buildings not dissimilar from the huge blocks now being provided for the adult population. Those schools were regarded as an enormous improvement upon anything that had been done before, and were welcomed as a change deserving the approval of all humane and kind-hearted people. They are now described in terms of contumely as barrack schools, but at the time they were erected they were regarded as a great improvement on what has been done before, They were then considered perfection; thirty years have not elapsed, £1,200,000 has been spent, and to-day the buildings are in as good condition as on the day they were built; but opinion has entirely changed, and we are now called upon to alter and change them and put other buildings in their place. What guarantee is there that there will not be a similar change of opinion fifty or a hundred years hence as to the way in which the working classes are to be housed now? And unless there is some guarantee, is it fair, is it wise, or prudent, or just, to cast upon future generations of ratepayers the burden of the great capital outlay which we may think it our duty to make to-day? With the constant increase of population which is always going on from day to day the time will come when future generations must provide new dwellings of their own. They will have their own responsibilities and burdens to meet, and if your buildings are as good as you claim I have no doubt they will be burdened in addition with the maintenance and repair of those build- ings as well. It has been suggested tonight by several different speakers that, whatever course we may think it our duty to take with regard to lengthening or shortening the period of repayment, at all events we should make this concession, that we shall be willing to treat the land which is bought for this purpose as an asset, and that no sinking fund shall be required in that case. That is a question which stands on a somewhat different footing, and without making any promise I will say that I shall be perfectly ready to take the proposal into serious consideration. I am not altogether satisfied upon this point, and I hope before we consider this matter in Committee I shall have fuller information in reference to it. Going through some of the worst slums some time ago I found that for the very worst kind of accommodation for a family you had to pay five shillings a week. Five shillings a week is £13 a year, and when I find that excellent cottages can be built for £200, and when I am told the land is a very unimportant part of the outlay, I cannot understand how it is you are unable to provide a cottage without making a loss at a rental of £13 a year— five shillings a week—which only costs £200 to build.

SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

Not in London.


Yes, in London. I saw some myself in Poplar or Stepney.


Not in Stepney.


I tremble to think of how the municipal debt will grow. It is large enough now, and it is increasing by leaps and bounds. In the twenty-three years from 1874–75 until 1897–98 the outstanding loans of local authorities increased from £92,820,000 to £262,017,000, an increase of £169,197,000, or upwards of 182 per cent. During the same period the National Debt was reduced from £768,945,000 to £634,435,000, or a reduction of £134,510,000. I cannot help thinking that these figures raise a most serious question, and one which the House ought to take most carefully into consideration. The other alternative is what the Government have proposed—the buying land outside the area by local authority. It seems to me that there would be most enormous advantages in that. It would relieve the congestion of the towns, and the people would live in a better atmosphere and under more healthy conditions, and they would have better accommodation than it is possible to provide within the limits of the towns. To make it successful it is essential that there should be cheap and easy communication, as was pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for South Shields. He, however, complained that there was nothing in the Bill to enable the county council to obtain adequate communication. There is no necessity, so far as I know, for putting anything of the kind into this Bill. As regards railway accommodation, the Board of Trade have the most ample powers already to obtain it, and the President of the Board assures me he is ready to use them whenever necessary.


Will the right hon. Gentleman permit me to ask whether the Board of Trade have the power to procure cheap trains under the Cheap Trains Act between a crowded district and a district where there is no population whatever?


No. I cannot conceive that any such power should exist, as to provide cheap trains from a crowded district to a district where there is no population at all. What would be the use of them?


This Bill proposes to take people from crowded districts and to place them where no population now exists. I have pointed out that the poor population will not go there unless under the Cheap Trains Act you can guarantee them cheap communication with the places in which they will have to work.


I can quite understand the position of the hon. and learned Gentleman. The Board of Trade have power to provide cheap trains between two populations, and they will do so the moment the necessity arises. I do not see what can be the necessity for the adoption of communication before the population is there. Certainly I am most strongly in favour of it myself, and my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade assures me that he will exert his powers, and there is every reason to believe that the railway companies are perfectly willing to do it. The Board of Trade have invariably found that the railway companies have been willing to accept any decisions they arrive at as regards train service; and they have never yet had the necessity of making a formal order under the Act. On that point therefore I have not the slightest doubt that the President of the Board of Trade, whenever the occasion arises, will see that proper communication is provided, and if he fails in that task it will be for the hon. and learned Member to attack him. Well, then, as regards the other means of communication—by tramways—that is a matter which is already in the hands of the local authorities; and although local authorities are at present unable to make tramways beyond their own areas, yet the hon. Gentleman will derive encouragement from the fact that in connection with the Huddersfield Corporation Bill the House took the most decided action, and referred that Bill by unanimous consent back to the Committee because the powers of extending their tramways beyond their own area had been refused. Therefore there is no reason to believe that the question of communication between crowded centres and now localities outside the area will not be dealt with in due season. I am afraid that I have detained the House at very great length, but I must say a few words in regard to the rural districts. In the first place I wish to correct a misapprehension which rather commonly prevails. It is not the case that complaints of bad houses in rural districts are by any means universal. There is this great distinction in town and country in that respect. In towns the great landowners who hold property in the slums are quite the exception. In the country, on the other hand, great landowners are everywhere common, and where that is so, as a rule, the supply of cottages is good. That is universally admitted, and will be found in the Report of the Commission. If you come to consider what is the extent of ownership under the heading of great estates, hon. Members will be surprised, as I was myself, to find how extremely large it is. It amounts to one half of the whole land owned in the United Kingdom. Of course there are exceptions to the rule of good landlords of large estates. There are black sheep in every class. Moreover, in these days, when agricultural incomes have often gone down to nothing, it is not always possible for the landlords to repair cottages and to build now ones as extensively as they could wish. But that consideration applies also to the local authorities. It would be absolute madness for local authorities to lay out largo sums of money in agricultural districts in the provision of cottages, which, for aught they know, may cease at any time to be needed. I would direct the attention of the House to a single paragraph in the report of Mr. William Little, a man of whom I would say that to a great deal of the late Sir James Caird's ability he added more practical experience. I knew both well for many years, and always thought that Mr. William Little was so conversant with every phase of rural life that his opinion was always deserving of the most careful consideration. What he said on this point was It seems to me very doubtful whether local authorities are always capable of giving dispassionate consideration to the question whether it is desirable or possible to retain the present number of inhabitants in the rural districts, if corn prices remain at the level now reached, it is certain that large tracts of land will go out of cultivation, and if good houses had been sufficiently supplied in all rural districts twenty years ago, many of them would now be unoccupied. Now, that tallies exactly with my own personal experience. I have known instances of now cottages on farms where new buildings have been quite recently erected, for which tenants cannot be found, even at no rent at all. That is one reason why I think it desirable to retain the supervision of an authority which is not amenable to pressure by the voters, and by that I mean authorities like the county councils. Again, it must be remembered—and here I am sorry to differ in opinion from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Norfolk—that, as a rule, the provision of cottages certainly does not pay. He told us this evening that he had built excellent cottages of five rooms for £125. That is a very much more fortunate experience than I have had. I have built many labourers cottages, and if the hon. Gentleman had not said it I should have thought it hardly possible. But an additional reason why we should be most careful in stopping private enterprise is the fact that the cottages rarely pay. Enormous sums have been spent by landlords in the rural districts without the slightest hope of a pecuniary return. They have done it simply because they thought it their duty and in the interests of the people who live on their estates; and we must be most careful to do nothing whatever to check that. There is a paragraph in the Report which refers to the condition of the houses in the rural districts in England, Scotland, and Ireland. It points out that the cottages are far the best in England, the next best in Scotland, and the worst in Ireland. But in Ireland you have all these Acts and powers in the hands of the local authorities, and you have landlords who have done nothing, and naturally and reasonably so, because the control of their estates has been taken from them. What we have done in this Bill is to remove the hampering restrictions which formerly encumbered the district councils in the endeavours to discharge their duties under the Act. I had a communication sent to me the other day from a gentleman whom I am happy to say must be considered an authority on this question, because he is one of the few people who under the existing law has provided cottages for his labourers. When we are twitted with the insufficiency of the proposals in this Bill in regard to the rural districts, I should like to read a few words from Mr. Perrott's letter in the East Anglian Daily Times. He said that the Bill now before the House does "a great deal." It is quite true that he wishes one or two additions to the Act. He wishes powers under the Act of 1894 for the acquisition of land; including the hiring of land. The hire of land for cultivation is one thing, but the hiring of land for building purposes introduces totally different considerations. I am altogether opposed to the hiring of land for building purposes. Whether it maybe possible to make some alteration in the Act with regard to the acquisition of land by purchase is another matter which I am prepared to consider. All we seek to do seems to me perfectly reasonable, that the position of the county council as a thoroughly independent body should be retained on this question. I have dealt very fully with all the matters raised during the debate, and with the main features of the Bill. I am very pleased and very sensible of the fact that the unanimous opinion on both sides of the House is that this is a matter which ought not to be treated with party feeling. There is no monopoly of a desire to improve the condition of the houses of the working classes on either side of the House. I believe it is an object that we all have at heart, and I cannot conceive it to be otherwise on the part of any man of humane and kindly feeling, or of those who have seen for themselves and who know the conditions under which so many of our poor live at the present time. I hope this Bill will be allowed to go forward, and that we shall be successful in passing it into law this session. I do not pretend for a moment that there is anything like finality about it in dealing with this question. Again and again, and more than once again before it is settled, in all human probability this subject will be further dealt with by Parliament. But this is a step, a long step, and a new departure in the right direction. It is pressed upon us from all quarters outside the House as a thing desirable in itself, and although I shall be willing and ready and prepared to consider with all the attention they deserve any proposals for amendment which may be made by hon. Members on either side of the House, that are within the scope of the Bill, yet I am myself convinced that even in its present shape it will do much to improve the condition of our working classes. And if that be so no one will rejoice more than myself.

SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has in his speech gone over a large extent of ground connected with this great question, and that in the concluding portion of his remarks he has held out a hope that he may be persuaded into a position of sweet reasonableness when the Committee stage is reached, and that upon the question of loans for the purchase of land he is open to conviction. The right hon. Gentleman has also shown a certain amount of willingness to meet suggestions for helping to transfer colonies outside the boundaries of great boroughs; but when he comes to consider this matter he will find that the concessions he offered are not sufficient to meet the demands formulated on this side of the House. It will be necessary, before any great number of people can be transferred from the great towns, that they should have a guarantee of a reasonable means of access to their places of work. That cannot be done without an enlargement of the powers of the Board of Trade. People depending on their daily wage cannot leave the town unless and until they have a certainty that trains will start for town the next day. To wait for the population to grow would mean that the first settlers in the outside area would have to wait for weeks for a train service, and that in itself would be a barrier to the scheme of a colony, and showed the necessity for greater transit facilities, such as my hon. friend suggested. The rural districts have not been Sufficiently discussed, and I hope when the debate is continued there will be expressions of opinion and detailed statements from rural district representatives. I agree that in the majority of cases where estates are in the hands of large landowners there is a commendable amount of consideration given to the housing of the hands employed on them. In some instances you cannot have better. But in many districts there are what are called open villages, and a large amount of the rural population are there crowded together under conditions equally bad with those existing in the slums of the large towns. You will find the Assistant Commissioners giving most appalling examples of overcrowding in these rural districts and the need for better accommodation. I have myself been engaged in an inquiry with reference to the condition in various parts of England of 4,179 individual cottages. In a second inquiry 298 villages were taken as samples of the condition of the houses. It was found that 22½ per cent. of the cottages, or nearly a fourth, were unsatisfactory or very bad, practically unfit for human habitation; 47 per cent. of the villages showed insufficient accommodation for the people of the locality. Not only was the general condition insanitary and bad, but there was overcrowding. The water supply in 15 per cent. of the cottages was very bad; in 27 per cent. the supply was bad. I have seen the only accessible water supply for a row of cottages coming from a neighbouring ditch in which an arable field, manured with town refuse, was forced to drain. We found 75 per cent. of the rural cottages had not more than two bedrooms, and the instances were numerous where there existed the overcrowding of growing families—six and seven persons in one room. Sixty-six per cent. of the bedrooms were without fireplaces— one of the best means of ventilation. That gives a statistical summary of the condition of the people, a record which must make us pause and try to do something for the rural districts. The right hon. Gentleman used words which I think were a little too strong when he said that it would be absolute madness for rural authorities to lay out money in building cottages for the people.


Where they are not likely to be needed.


There are many places in the rural districts where the population is going down, but there are many other places where population might be attracted if decent homes were provided for the people, and with a plot of land of half an acre or an acre for cultivation attached to the cottages I believe they would be found to pay in almost any district of England. At all events, the local authorities would take care, with their ordinary prudence, that they would not overbuild the requirements of the locality. They would have the security of the land and the houses for the money spent. I am sure that any attempt on the part of the local authorities to provide housing accommodation of a decent kind in the rural districts would not be an improper or an unwise speculation, but would redound to the prosperity of the rural districts, and it would supply farms with a better chance of getting good labour than they had at present, and so contribute to the agricultural prosperity of the country. The right hon. Gentleman says he has done a good deal for the rural districts in this Bill. I admit that he has simplified the procedure for the acquisition of land—that is to say, he has made it a less lengthy, tedious and costly process than it was in the Bill of 1890. But what we desire above all, is that the local authority should act in a much more speedy fashion than is contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman. In this Bill are retained, despite the cry of the people in rural England for houses, nearly all those chances of vexatious interference that had rendered the Act of 1890 practically a dead letter up to the present time. And yet, although the Act had been a dead letter in consequence of the difficulties raised with reference to the county councils, the right hon. Gen- tleman, while he takes away from the county councils the duty of holding an inquiry, still gives to them an opportunity, under various heads, of considering and delaying every application made by district councils. The necessity for accommodation for housing, the probability of such accommodation being provided without adopting the Act, the liability to an increase of rates; and whether it is prudent to proceed— all these things are opportunities for delay; they would necessitate it to a very large extent. It is that delay that has choked off local council after local council when trying to put the Act into operation. We want a simpler process between the local authority on the one hand, that is to raise the money and build the cottages, and the Local Government Board on the other hand, which is to sanction the loan. If we had that and also one central authority, we would expedite the method of raising this money and building these cottages, and we should bring the Act more within the grasp of the local authorities. My point is also important in another direction, because the Local Government Board would, I believe, gradually obtain more power to do its work rapidly, and in that way the delays to which I have referred would be avoided. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having made what I think almost amounts to a promise to consider the methods of acquiring land by compulsion for the purpose of erecting cottages in rural districts, with a view to adopting the provisions of the Act of 1894. The Act of 1894 gives a more simple and less expensive process than is contemplated in this Bill or in the Act of 1890, and if he would adopt the process in the Act of 1894, with reference to the acquisition of land, he would take a good step forward in the right direction. I should be glad if he would take a further step forward. I cannot understand why local authorities should not be allowed to lease land for the purpose of building, to take a lease from a local landowner. That would cheapen the acquisition of land by the local authorities. I do not wish to dwell at length on these points with reference to the rural districts, and I go back for a moment to the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman with reference to the towns. He said that there were certain questions which had to be considered. First of all there was the question of the administration of the present Act. The House was well satisfied to learn from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board the powers which already exist in various Acts of Parliament, and I think that was a very instructive portion of his speech, but if you put the existence of those powers on one side and the terrible picture we have had of London and other large towns on the other, the House must be convinced that something is wrong somewhere. The right hon. Gentleman wants to put it down to administration, but it is not the fault of administration altogether. It is said that if these things exist medical officers of health have not successfully carried out their duties. How can medical officers of health be expected to carry out their duties when they have no security of tenure and are not in an independent position to enable them to fight the local authorities which employ them. If you have a local authority interested in small houses and a medical officer of health elected annually how can he be expected to condemn the property of the men who employ him? When I was at the Local Government Board in conjunction with my right hon. friend I had case after case where local authorities dropped too zealous medical officers, and as long as that condition of things exists you cannot expect these men to discharge their duties properly. The right hon. Gentleman says that he would exercise all the powers of the Local Government Board for the protection of these medical officers, but his powers are small. He cannot force a local authority to elect a man against its will; but if medical officers had a tenure of office like a parish surgeon they would do their duty without fear or favour, and would urge the local authorities to administer the Acts more efficiently than they are administered at the present time. With reference to inspection the right hon. Gentleman says that it is not done well enough; that many sanitary inspectors in rural districts are not skilled persons. I hope very soon we shall have some amendment of the law with regard to inspection, and that a person must possess a certificate of efficiency before his appointment as inspector, and that we shall not have broken-down blacksmiths and other persons appointed as inspectors. We want skilled men for this delicate and important work. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is not enough inspection in the administration of these Acts. In one part of London there is only one inspector to 25,000 people, in London as a whole one inspector to 18,500 people. No man under such circumstances can do his duty and know all the houses in his district. We want a larger force for this work than is provided at present. I think also it would be a very good thing if London and other towns would follow the lead of Manchester, and more recently of Birmingham, and appoint women as health missioners to visit the poorer parts and look after sanitary matters. The right hon. Gentleman also said that it was this want of proper local administration, when all these powers which he read out exist, that causes the evils of which we complain. We have had to-night in this debate a lurid chapter of horrors in connection with the housing of the poor in London. Nine hundred thousand people in London are living under conditions not sanitary, not healthy, not good in any sense. That is an appalling indictment of the civilisation of the century, and certainly every thinking man should endeavour to find some means by which at all events it may be modified. The right hon. Gentleman says that plenty of powers exist. If so, why are they not used? They cannot be used because nearly all the powers he quoted to-night are powers to unhouse the people, but not to rehouse them. The London County Council, with all its fervour for this good work, has unhoused 24,000 people, and has only been able to rehouse 10,000. There have been schemes for rehousing, but they have not been carried out. [An HON. MEMBER: They are in course of construction.] Yes, but where are the people in the meantime? If you demolish an unsanitary area you cause the overcrowding in other districts to be still greater, and the last condition of the people is worse than the first. Take the Boundary Street scheme of the London County Council, which furnishes a complete answer to all these statements about existing powers. Let us see what it means. For that scheme the London County Council purchased fifteen acres of land at a cost of a quarter of a million. That area was described as a sink of iniquity and a hotbed of crime. The London County Council lost no less than £200,000 by that scheme. It is true that we have power to pull down these dwellings, to purchase land, and to erect buildings, but how can a body go on doing that when it means a loss of £200,000 over fifteen acres of land? How does that loss come in? It is because the existing Acts are deficient for the purpose of enabling local authorities to take land. That is where the difficulty is. All this compensation for land is what runs up the money. In this case the cost of the land was a quarter of a million. The London County Council said: Here are fifteen acres of houses creating vice and disease; we must get rid of them, we will pull down the old houses and erect new ones. But when the Council comes to acquire the land an arbitrator is called in under the Land Clauses Act. He values the land, not as for the purpose of erecting houses for the working classes, but as if it were to be used for a brewery or a factory, and that is the value which the London County Council had to pay, and they had to pay the highest price and not the lowest. Until you alter that, and have some such measure as was suggested by the mover of the Amendment, you can never hope that great municipalities will be able to meet the demands made upon them in carrying out this great and beneficent work. It is too costly, and you want a cheaper system. [believe that if the scheme which was foreshadowed by the hon. Member for Hoxton were carried out we should be on the right line. At present buildings can be condemned by the local authority as unfit for human habitation, and if the moment that condemnation was uttered the lease or sublease of the land were thereby cancelled and the owner of the land were called on to put up proper dwellings for the working classes, then you would get at once from the leaseholder to the principal holder. The Prince of Wales referred the other day to the difficulties he had with some property on account of being unable to get the lease into his own hands. A simple modification of the law would alleviate that difficulty, and he would be able to take over as the original owner the whole area, and to put upon it proper dwellings for the working classes. I do not think there would often be any necessity for the original owner to step in, because the man who had the lease would take care the local authority would not be given an opportunity of determining it, thereby destroying his profit. A revision of the law in that direction would be the best possible amendment, and if the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to go that far, I hope, at all events, he will adopt the clauses of the Act of 1894, under which the compensation would be less and the process of purchase much easier. I believe if he did that he would give the local authorities fresh heart to carry on this work, and they want it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that much more might be done by the local authorities, but they are afraid to move because of the terrible expense owing to the amount of money that has to be paid for the land, but however costly these things are, the local authorities ought to take steps to carry them out. I want to put an argument before the House which greatly concerns the health and well-being of the people of London. I find that the density of population for the whole of London, as given in the last report issued by the Registrar General, is 60.9 per acre, and that over the whole of that area the death rate in 1899 was 19.3. Remark how the death rate goes up when we come to the crowded districts. In St. Luke's the density of the population is nearly three times that of the average in London, being 172.2 per acre, and the death rate went up from 19.3, the average, to 28.4, so that, therefore, for every 1,000 people living in that area, nine lives more per year are lost than in less crowded districts. In St. George's, Southwark, the density is 213 to the acre, and the death rate has gone up from 19 to 27. There is another point I wish to refer to. Nowadays, when we talk about open air treatment for certain diseases, we are continually pressing the beneficial effects of open air to persons suffering from various constitutional diseases, such as consumption. In Lon-don, as a whole, the death rate from that form of disease is 1.8, but in St. Luke's it is 3.5 and in St. George's, Southwark, 3.5 also. Here are people, in the midst of riches and luxury, dying for the want of fresh air which sanitary defects deprive them of. It is the same with regard to zymotic diseases, and children die three or four times as fast in these crowded districts as in other districts. What does that mean? It means that the death rate in those districts is eight or nine per thousand more than in the rest of London. Dr. Farr, who is the greatest authority on vital statistics that this country has ever produced, made a calculation that the community loses £159 for every man, woman, and child that dies of preventable disease. He estimated that that was the life value of the individual. We have 900,000 people in London living under bad sanitary conditions. I will not take the loss at nine per thousand, but only at four, and I will not take the amount at £159 but at £150, and I find that according to Dr. Farr our loss amounts in London alone to £540,000 a year, and remember that to that loss must be added the amount of crime which is encouraged by this means and the amount of pauperism which springs out of it, so that on all sides the community has to pay for its want of care of the poor people. No figures could be more eloquent than these. We have to-day evidence in abundance of the evil of which we complain, and of the effect of these conditions both morally and physically on our population, and yet we have a Bill brought in by the right hon. Gentleman which is not adequate for the purpose of dealing with this great evil. I am glad that local authorities are to be given an opportunity to obtain land outside their own area. That is a wise and proper provision and we are glad to accept it, but we want other things to make it as useful and valuable as it should be. The right hon. Gentleman says that this urgent reform should be dealt with by two or three Bills instead of by one. We on this side of the House feel that a question of this kind ought to be dealt with at once, and dealt with as adequately and thoroughly as we can. When the Bill was introduced the right hon. Gentleman said that in a session like the present he did not feel that there would be time to grapple with such a great question. The complexion of the session has changed, and I think there is time enough now to consider this Bill as well as the various amendments suggested to it. I hope that in the Committee stage he will give us an opportunity of adding to the Bill with the assistance of many hon. Members opposite who feel with us that this is not a party question but a great social problem which Members of all parties ought to try to solve. I hope we may be able to make the acquisition of land easier, to facilitate the establishment of colonies outside towns, and to take land both in town and country without having to pay an excessive amount as compensation. Local authorities will then be able to carry out the urgent requirements of the people at less cost to the ratepayers and to safeguard the general health of the community.

MR. H. C. RICHARDS (Finsbury, E.)

As Member for one of the divisions of London referred to in this debate, I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board for bringing in this Bill, and in doing so I have a protest to make against the action of the London County Council, especially as regards the way in which they have dealt with the rehousing of the poor. Everything that has been said by the hon. and learned Member for South Shields with regard to overcrowding is, I regret to say, absolutely true, but my hon. and learned friend is quite wrong in suggesting that the real remedy is to go outside the metropolis. He comes from the north of England, but I have been born in London, have lived in London all my life, and have watched the steady growth of bricks and mortar. When I hear about going outside London, and when I remember how very many of my constituents are employed, I know it is perfectly absurd to talk to them about going out ten or twelve miles into the country. Men engaged in the Post Office have to be at work at three o'clock in the morning and railway men at five o'clock or six o'clock, and very often men engaged at Pickford's or Carter Paterson's do not leave their work until nine o'clock or ten o'clock at night, and how can these men live ten miles in the country? In spite of all that has been said against them, those great blocks are providing to a great extent more comfortable homes than the slums they have replaced. Observe, for instance, the good accommodation which has been provided by the Guinness trustees in my own constituency. We have heard to-night a great deal about the Boundary Street scheme. I went down there this morning to see once more with my own eyes what the London County Council have done. The London County Council have not done what the Guinness trustees have done. They have sought for popularity by building very pretty but not sufficiently large buildings, and they have failed to provide for the persons they have displaced. I go further and I challenge hon. Gentlemen opposite who are members of the London County Council to deny that of all the unfortunate people who were removed under the Boundary Street scheme—and I am prepared to affirm on the best authority what I state—less than twelve families have been rehoused in the new buildings. That is what I dread in my own constituency—6,000 of the poorest people are to be displaced, and God only knows where they can go. The London County Council will presently build palatial residences which I suppose will be given to favoured members of the working classes as in St. George's-in-the-East, where people were provided with houses who voted for certain County Councillors. [Mr. STEAD-MAN: Oh, oh!] The hon. Gentleman may say what he likes, but that was given in evidence before two of Her Majesty's judges, and it is only part and parcel of the political system which has been developed by the London County Council.


I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman—


I am not a right hon. I wish I were.


My point is this. The learned Gentleman has brought a charge against certain members of the London County Council.


That is not a point of order.


Is it right for the learned Gentleman to bring a charge without substantiating that charge by evidence?


The fact I allude to was given in evidence before two judges, and was tested in cross-examination by a gentleman well known in this House, namely, Judge Willis, who for some time represented Colchester as a very advanced Radical. Of all the hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this debate to-night for political purposes only one has dealt with the real crux of the question. It is not often that I agree with the hon. Member for Hoxton, but I agree with his suggestion that before any local authority is allowed to unhouse persons living on a particular area, they should provide new buildings for them. That is perfectly possible. I would point out that when the Guinness trustees built these blocks they provided single rooms for single women and single rooms for single men at 2s. 9d. a week. No local authority has ever provided rooms at such a rate as that, or has dealt with the matter in such a satisfactory way as the Guinness trustees. The London County Council have not been successful, because, as I have said, they have sought for popularity. If any hon. Member will visit the Boundary Street scheme, he will see the space which is wasted and which might be utilised for buildings, and when the London County Council say that they have lost £200,000, I say that they have lost it because the London County Council is not composed of business men. They are faddists, and are very often paid by trade societies not to advance the interest of the ratepayers but to try socialistic schemes at the public expense. With regard to what has been said by the hon. Member for South Shields with reference to railway communication, it is most unfair to attack the majority of the London railways. Two or three years ago before a Committee in this House, the Great Northern Railway supported a practically competing scheme—an underground railway under its own line. The Great Northern said that the suburban traffic was so enormous that they welcomed any proposition for its relief. The Great Eastern Railway has done the same. Is it right that the London County Council, who waste our money year by year by engaging gentlemen who have no experience even in running omnibuses, should also be empowered to start ambitious railway schemes at great expense? Who are the men in the London County Council who are engaged in these commercial enterprises? They are men who, as a rule, have never earned £150 a year in any profession to which they belong, and these are the people who are to be trusted with the spending of millions of the ratepayers money.

It being midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Tuesday next.