§ *(3.55.) DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)
I desire to move the Amendment to the Address which stands in my name on the Paper. I wish, with all respect, to express my very sincere regret that we have no promise of legislation in this session upon this appalling problem of the Housing of the Working Classes. The First Lord of the Treasury has made a claim that the record of the Conservative Party is at least as honourable as that of the Liberal Party in regard to the Housing of the Working Classes, and, as far as I am concerned, I am quite prepared to admit the claim. I hold that no Party in this House ought to have any monopoly of interest in this question, and I shall do my best under no circumstances to make a partisan speech on this occasion. I cannot forget that it was the First Lord of the Treasury 17 or 18 years ago who moved, as a private Member, a motion which led to the appointment of a Royal Commission on the Housing Question, and it was the present Premier who brought before the House of Lords a similar motion, with equally satisfactory results. I am willing to admit therefore that the Conservative party's record is at least as honourable as that of the Liberal party. But what I do say is that during the last six years the present administration has had an unrivalled opportunity, with its immense majority, for dealing with this matter step by step. There was no necessity to bring forward any heroic scheme which might 183 have created greater difficulties than it was proposed to remedy. But certainly the Government might have done something to ameliorate the condition of the Working Classes both in the towns and in the country. Yet they have lamentably failed to utilise the opportunity which presented itself to them. I go back to the General Election of 1895. There was, happily, at that time no war issue presented to the people of this country. It is true that the Unionist party won its way into office on a bold comprehensive programme of social reform, a leading point of which was the question of the Housing of the Working Classes. What has been done? In 1899 the Colonial Secretary took over, from a private Member, a Bill entitled the "Small Houses Acquisition Ownership Bill," the object of which was to permit local authorities to lend money to the working classes to enable them to buy their own houses. There can be no doubt that the Colonial Secretary anticipated some very big results from this Bill, for, on the occasion of its Third Reading on July 4th, 1899, he made this statement:—I do not like to be optimistic, so I will content myself with saying that here is a Bill which carries out, one of the most important pledges the Unionist party gave at the General Election. We believe that it will be successful, and that it will be a great advantage to the Working Class population.That was an ambitious forecast of what the Act would be. But I will now endeavour to tell the House what the result of the Bill has actually been. I have never been in any part of the country where I have not taken the trouble to ask how many people have availed themselves of the Act, and have borrowed money from the Local Authority in order to buy their own houses. I have never come across a single case, in any part of the country, where it has been done. I made inquiries, too, as to how the 29 borough councils of London were getting on in regard to this point. I find that only two have undertaken to administer the Act—Fulham and Hammersmith. At the former place, however, no application whatever has been received for a loan of money under the Act, while in regard to Hammersmith but one application was received, and even in that case the solicitor advised that it should not be granted, and the applicant, I believe, as a result of the publicity given to the matter, 184 obtained the cash he required from private sources. The Bill, therefore, in practice has become more or less abortive. There remains the legislation of 1900. At that time the right hon. gentleman, the member of Sleaford, was President of the Local Government Board, and he brought in a Bill to enable Local Authorities to buy land outside their own areas. He evidently had a very ambitious idea of what the result would be, for, on the occasion of the Second Reading, he said—"The Bill I propose to pass will be a very great and a very considerable gain, and a great step in the right direction. "I wrote to the Local Government Board some months ago for information as to what had actually been done, and I was informed that up to that time no single application had been received from any Local Authority for permission to put in force the power to acquire land compulsory outside its own area. That Bill, too, has been practically abortive, and I think it was an almost inevitable result as it is of no use to give a municipality this power unless you at the same time concede prompt facilities for taking people to those areas which it is proposed to erect the houses. I now come to the General Election of 1900, and, although at that time the war was the question which stood out above all others, it is quite remarkable to what extent the subject of the Housing of the Working Classes came before the constituencies. There was scarcely a platform on which the housing problem was not mentioned, and no fewer than forty hon. Members who now sit opposite me dealt with it in their election address, and spoke of it as a matter of great urgency. I do not suggest that they were not quite sincere in the pledges they gave; indeed, I believe that the rank and file of the party opposite are ahead of the Treasury Bench, and all I desire is to brisk up that Bench a little in regard to this appalling problem.
I do not intend to read the forty addresses to which I have referred, but I do propose to give an extract from two of them—one issued by a provincial Member and the other by a London Member. Now, the hon. Member for the Shipley Divison of Yorkshire, with, no doubt, an absolute sincerity of desire to get this matter pushed on, said:—The condition of Housing of the Working Classes is in many districts a scandal. At present the workers must be near their work, 185 but often cannot find accommodation at reasonable rents. Proper provision must be made for such accommodation, and, in the alternative, for cheap and rapid transit to more healthy quarters—distant from the manufacturing centres.And then, again, the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East also promised to place this subject in the very front rank of questions closely affecting that district. He said:—This is a matter which has engaged the earnest attention of Parliament on many occasions, and is one to which I shall devote every possible energy, feeling as I do that it is not an impossible task for Parliament to pass such legislation as shall ensure for every working man and his family in the east part of London decent and comfortable dwellings at fair rents.I am confident that I shall have the sincere and hearty support of at least every one of the forty Members who dealt with this matter in their Election addresses. As to the gravity of the problem, I agree with the First Lord that there is no need now to waste time in the the "barren region of rhetorical description. "The evils we desire to ameliorate are so familiar to this House that there is no necessity to recite them, nor is there any need to submit long screeds of figures to show how relentlessly disease, immorality, drunkenness, and death follow in the train of over-crowding. Some little time ago the Whitechapel Board of Guardians called a Conference on this question of Housing, and the Rector of Spitalfields made some remarkable statements as to the existing condition of affairs. He said that in one alley in his parish in which there were 10 houses with 51 rooms, averaging 8 ft by 9 ft. 6 ins., no fewer than 254 people were housed. In another court, containing 6 houses and 22 rooms, 84 people were housed, and he goes on to give several cases in which there were as many as 6, 7, 8, and even 9 people in a room. Elsewhere, he had found one house with 8 rooms occupied by 45 people, one room containing 9 persons, another 8, and two of the rooms 7 each. He further said that near one of his parochial buildings there were 4 men and 6 women, all of whom he described as hard-working and respectable people, who were forced to live in a single room and sleep on the floor. What chance has chastity of thought and action under these conditions?
I need not harrow the feelings of hon. Members by giving more of these details. 186 We must all agree that if anything can be done to remedy this state of things it should be done as soon as possible. I have here the particulars of a court in Bloomsbury where in one small room of 2,240 cubit feet there were living and sleeping a man, woman and their seven children, whose ages ranged from 18 years to one month, and the medical officer of health said that if that over-crowding continued the children must die. Now, if these poor people had been in gaol or in a work house they would have had twice the amount of cubit space. It is no uncommon thing, as London Missionaries will tell you, for people to have to partake their meals from the top of a coffin containing the body of a deceased member of the family. It is not only that the accommodation is bad and shocking to the last degree, but for these wretched tenements preposterously high rents are exacted, and it is quite a common thing for a man to have to pay a third of his weekly wage in the form of rent. And yet, so keen is the competition for the accommodation that the outgoing tenant exacts a large sum of what is known as "key money "from the incoming tenant. I have listened with sympathy to the statements made at times by Irish Members with regard to the rack-renting injustice experienced in Ireland. But I never yet heard a case from that country which could not be put into the shade by a recital of the miseries of many unhappy Londoners. It is not only London that suffers, for Mr. Rowntree has published a study of life from the working class point of view, and his book describing the state of affairs existing in the Cathedral City of York is from beginning to end an ironical comment upon our claim to Imperial greatness as a people. He tells us that overcrowding and insanitary conditions abound in the slums, that back-to-back houses in which through ventilation is impossible are common, that the water supply is very inadequate and that in some cases the tap which supplies the drinking water is fixed in the wall of the water closet. He finds that more than one-fourth of the entire population of the city of York is housed in property of that description. The rooms are dark and damp, and often there is only one water tap and one closet for a dozen or more tenements. These are not very savoury details, but I think it is well that the House should know the conditions under which these poor people live. I need not labour the matter. 187 Any one who wishes can read for himself Mr. Rowntree's book.
When the Prince of Wales returned from his tour round the world, His Royal Highness made a very remarkable speech in the Guildhall, one phrase of which struck me very profoundly. He referred to the affection, goodwill, and cordiality with which the Princess and himself had been everywhere received by all classes, and he added that everywhere they had been struck by "the conscious pride in partnership in Empire" which the people evinced. I would like to know what sort of "conscious pride in partnership in Empire "these poor people, whose condition I have attempted to describe, can feel, and what sort of heritors for Britain's Imperial greatness we are likely to breed under these conditions. The question is, what can the Government do. There are some things I would not ask it to do, because the time of this session is already pretty fully ear-marked. But at the bottom of all this state of things is the question of the cost of urban land. The preposterous cost of such land in London makes it necessary for the London County Council, in order to conduct their housing schemes on business lines, to charge rents which are practically prohibitive to the very poor people for whom they wish to provide the accommodation. In the long run this question of the land will have to be tackled. I cannot, of course, ask the Government to take up a great question like that now, but I do think there are some things it can do. It seems to me that the more wretched the slum-covered property is the more money has to be paid for it. Take the case of the Boundary Street area. Here is an official description of the nature of that area. It speaks of the filthy and verminous lodging houses to be found there. It says that in the building of these houses no mortar was used, but in lieu thereof a curious substance known as "billy-sweet." It is one of the properties of this substance that it never dries. In a majority of instances the houses were so constructed, that the ground floors were from 12 to 18 inches below the street level. No house possessed such a thing as a front door, no repairs were ever done. All this gives some idea of the state of things which caused the death rate in that particular neighbourhood to mount up to over 40 per thousand in 1889, although at the same time the death rate 188 at Hampstead was only 13 per thousand and at St. George's, Hanover Square, 15 per thousand. The First Lord of the Treasury in debate in 1900, said—If every slum-owner were hanged at the door of his slum it might be thought a very harsh exercise of the criminal law, and he for one would not weep his eyes out at his destiny.But nothing so unfortunate ever happened to a slum-owner. On the contrary, in the case of the particular area he was referring to, the owners got the enormous sum of £333,000 as compensation out of the London County Council which expended something like an average of £300 per family in dealing with this area before they began to build at all.
Now I come to the things I think the Government might do. First, they might agree to permit municipalities to extend the period for the re-payment of loans. That has been unanimously pressed on the Government by the municipal authorities, and it formed the subject of an admirable Bill introduced last year by an hon. Member opposite. I hope it will again be introduced this session. I should like to point this out, that the periods for the re-payment of loans were not fixed in connection with housing schemes at all, but they were fixed in connection with other municipal affairs in regard to which there is no such asset as there is in the case of housing schemes. This reform has been pressed on the Government by many if not most of their own friends, and it is cordially endorsed by the great bulk of, if not all, the municipalities throughout the country. Another little reform that might be agreed to by the Government is that when a municipality buys a piece of land it should be permitted to take the cost for a period of years out of the Sinking Fund altogether, and let it remain an undiminishing asset against the debt. That is the policy adopted by the Local Government Board, I believe, in respect of sewage farms. Local Authorities are permitted, when they set up a sewage farm, to take at least 75 per cent. of the cost of the land out of the Sinking Fund and put it on one side as an undiminishing asset against the debt. These two little reforms, I understand, from statistics which have been prepared by men best qualified to speak, would enable the local authorities to reduce the rents by at least 6d. per week per room. Another little thing which the Govern- 189 ment might do is in regard to the model clause, and I hope that the Home Secretary will be prepared to assent to an alteration in this clause in Provisional Order Bills granted to public authorities or railway companies so as to enforce the obligations in respect of re-housing. I confess I am a member of a body, the London School Board, which for years absolutely evaded its obligations in this respect. But at the time I was not aware of the existence of those obligations. I do not see that there need be any difficulty in making the model clause more rigid. It provides that a public authority or company should re-house the people when it takes more than nineteen houses. But why stick at nineteen? Considering the lack of proper housing accommodation, I think we might be prepared to go the length of saying that whenever land is compulsorily acquired and houses swept away, an equal number of buildings should be put up.
There is one other matter to which I wish to draw attention, and that is one which affects the Board of Trade. I should be very glad if that Department were a little more expeditious in carrying out its obligations, and a little less wrapped up in red tape. I am referring now to the necessity of increased facilities for cheap transit for the working classes. We have the Cheap Trains Act of 1883, which embodies a bargain made between the public and the railway companies, under which the latter obtained certain remissions of passenger duty on condition that they provided a certain number of workmen's trains up till 8 o'clock in the morning. Now, I submit that the Board of Trade has never done its duty in regard to that particular Act. The Royal Commission on housing laid it down specifically that it was for the Board of Trade to take the initiative and to insist upon the railway companies carrying out their part of the bargain. But the Board of Trade have done nothing of the kind; they have always waited until complaints have been made, and taken a long time to make up their minds. As a result very few of the companies have carried out their obligations. There has, too, been the greatest diversity in the policy adopted by the companies themselves. The Great Eastern, for instance, runs 106 workmen's trains daily into its London termini, the Midland run only 5. In the matter of fares too, there is a like 190 diversity of practice. The Great Eastern will run a man 10 miles out and in daily for a sum of 1s. per week, while the London and South Western charge 4s. weekly for the same service. We want another Cheap Trains Act altogether. Eighteen years have elapsed since the present Act was passed, and although at that time 8 o'clock may have been a sufficiently late hour in the morning to stop running their cheaptrains, conditions of life have since greatly changed, and many girls and young people who need to use these trains, do not begin their daily work till 9.30.The last workmen's train on the Midland reaches St. Pancras at 12 minutes past 7, and even on the Great Eastern many unfortunate people, if they are to use half-past five or six o'clock to be at their places of employment at the proper time; consequently, many young people have to hang about the streets in the winter mornings when they might very much better be in bed. So pressing is this evil, that the Rector of Allhallow's, London Wall, and the Rector of St. Catherine's, Fenchurch Street, have opened their churches at half-past six in the mornings—and all honour to them for having done so—to keep these people warm and sheltered until they go to their work. I ask for a new Act which shall connote the social changes of the past eighteen years, in consequence which many people commence their labour at a later hour.
I must apologise for having occupied the time of the House so long, but I have only one word more to say. Whenever I have addressed meetings of working men, I have endeavoured to pitch a high conception of the importance, authority and dignity of this Empire. But I cannot help feeling often, when I remember the condition of these people, that it is a bitter mockery for me to talk about the transcendental greatness of the Empire to people living under conditions, in the heart of the Empire—the homeland of the Empire—such as these people do. I feel frequently the bitter irony of the situation, and I wonder at the unconcern of Ministers, upon whose lips, in public, are ever flamboyant references to the greatness of the Empire and its responsibilities. If a man lives in Park Lane, and has at his caprice, between his thumb and the pressure of an electric button, every- 191 thing that luxury and comfort could desire, it is a very simple thing for him to lay his hand upon his heart and say to himself, "Behold, I am a member of a great Empire. "But I want to see some of the attributes of Imperialism around the condition of these poor people, so that they, too, can claim that they are members of a great Empire. I want this problem touched with the hand of Imperialism, as well as these other problems upon which we lavish so much care. If we are to make our people love their country, as I desire they should, we must make their country lovely, and we must learn, above all, that true Imperalism begins at home. I beg to move.
§ (4.34.) CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)
I rise to second the Amendment. I think my hon. friend has convinced the House of the great urgency of this question, but I should like to call attention to what has been said by others whose words ought to carry great weight in this House and in the country. Upon the last occasion when His Majesty received the members of the London County Council he specially asked them not to slacken their efforts with reference to this question, "in which he had always taken the deepest possible interest." The Prime Minister said that "it ought to occupy our attention more than any other subject." And the First Lord of the Treasury spoke of it as "the all-important Housing question." The President of the Local Government Board said it was "probably more pressing and important than most of the social questions of the day." In spite of this concensus of opinion, we have no reference to the question in the King's Speech, while, moreover, we have the question of education placed in the forefront. In my humble opinion, the healthy existence of the individual is of much greater importance than his mental culture. It is said that you cannot reason with a hungry man. I think it is equally true that you cannot teach much to a hungry child, and the children who dwell in these homes are invariably hungry children, as this question is closely bound up with the question of wages.
This is not only a social question, but it is a great national, and at the same time, a very complex problem. Two- 192 thirds of the entire population of this island dwell in urban homes. More than one-eighth of the population live in London alone, and of that population, as many as 800,000 dwell in unsanitary homes, nearly 200,000 of them living in one-roomed homes. It has been shown by the greatest authority on this question that, whether in town or country, the death rate increases in exact proportion to the density of the population. I have said it is a national question. Between 1881 and 1891 the Germans, Poles, and Russians who entered this country, most of whom were practically pauper immigrants, increased from 60,000 to 95,000, and I have no hesitation in saying that the rate of increase has been kept up. In London—and it is with the London aspect of the question I am mainly concerned—we have also to deal with the influx from the country. The cause of the influx is that no attempt has been made to ameliorate the conditions under which the rural population live. We have in an adjacent country an illustration of what can be done by the better administration of the land laws. In Denmark they have been able to bring about an exodus from the towns to the country, with the result that Denmark exports annually to this country 100,000,000 cwts. of butter, 100,000,000 cwts. of bacon, and 200,000,000 eggs. Again, at the present moment, we have a great scheme on foot for the cure of consumption and tubercular disease. What is acknowledged by the highest medical authorities to be the only cure? Fresh air. What do we do? We draw people towards the towns, where, owing to the conditions under which they live, they develop consumption or tubercular disease, and we spend vast sums of money, partly out of rates, partly out of taxes, and partly out of charitable funds, to draft these people back to the country, there, alas, to die. This does not touch London alone; it is almost equally important in Liverpool, Glasgow, and other great centres; but it is emphasised in London more than elsewhere. My hon. friend gave some thrilling details with regard to Spitalfields, where there is a population of 330 to the acre, as compared with an average of 57 for London as a whole. But he omitted to state that, according to the Rector of Spitalfields, there were in that district no fewer than 1,100 homeless children who 193 went to no school at all. Yet we have education placed in the fore front in preference to the housing question. These unfortunate people are inefficients, so to speak, by birth or by degradation, and, as a result, they go to swell the numbers in the workhouses, or, more frequently I fear, in the cemeteries of this country. My hon. friend alluded to the Boundary Street area, and the immense cost it had been to the public body which attempted to deal with it. The reason that area cost so much to clear was that special trade interests had to be dealt with. If the various public bodies had the powers they have repeatedly demanded, and were backed up by the Government so that they might have an opportunity of carrying out the various schemes they have in hand, many areas, not so bad perhaps, but of the same type as the Boundary Street area, could be successfully dealt with at a very much lower cost.
Another aspect of the question with which I am very familiar is the way in which the sweeping away of these areas affects not the poorest of the poor, but the well-to-do mechanic and the badly paid clerk. When these areas are cleared, the persons who originally inhabited them are pushed into the surrounding districts, with the result that the rents there are raised. During the last fifteen years I have visited thousands of these men in their homes, and I know, as a positive fact, that whereas it was possible, twelve or fifteen years ago, to obtain with comparative case houses in the centre of South London, the rents have now increased to such an extent that it is almost impossible for a respectable working man to obtain house-room for less than about 3s. per room per week. In other words, he pays from one fifth to one third of his entire income to obtain decent house-room for his family.
I hope we shall not be told that this is an academic discussion. It is nothing of the kind. It is a practical and an urgent question, which cannot be pushed aside, like that of old age pensions, with the statement that it is beyond the power of Ministers to deal with a question of such magnitude. The question has been dealt with in other countries and by certain communities, of which I will quote one. In the town of Leicester the population increases at the rate of 10,000 194 a year, but, owing to a proper system of communication between the suburbs and the centre, coupled with other measures, overcrowding is not so bad as in many other centres.
What remedies do I propose? I would suggest, in the first place, that something should be done to enforce the law in rural districts, and I venture to suggest that to the hand of a Ministry wishing to deal with this question in London there is ready the possibility of dealing with it by means of the taxation of ground-rents. Under this head there is in London an annual increase of £300,000 which is practically unearned increment, and I say that a large proportion of that ought to go back to the community. Again, I am greatly concerned with regard to this question because I have long taken an interest in the question of a "living wage. "I ask the Government to stand by their pledges, and also to stand by the pledges of former Governments. The question of the housing of the poor is closely connected with this question of wages. The Government are not even giving to those they employ the current rate of wages in the locality. They are willing to listen to all that is said about this desperate condition of things in consequence of the bad housing of the poor, and yet we find them increasing this state of things by failing to carry out the resolution of this House in regard to the rate of wages which was passed in 1891. The hon. Member who introduced the resolution will be interested to know that recently the members of the leather trade have stated that the Government has given contracts for military accoutrements, and placed them at such a low figure, that many London firms have been obliged to dismiss their men and import foreign labour at sweating wages, in order to carry out the Government contracts. That state of things ought not to exist. Imperialism has been alluded to, and I have never denied that I am a warm Imperialist; but the honest British workmen who have been earning honest wages, and getting only the standard rate when a great war is on, which bears directly upon Imperialism—when he finds himself displaced and reduced to beggary, and unable to house his family, by the employment of foreigners, in the teeth of a resolution of this House to the contrary, I can quite understand that his Imperial- 195 ism begins to slacken off. I hope that I may have some assurance from the Government that inquiries will be made into this particular trade.
I now come to another point, in which I take a special interest. I believe, in company with the First Lord of the Treasury, that one of the solutions of this question is cheaper means of transit. I introduced last year a Bill for the cheapening of transit by railway. When this question was under discussion, the First Lord of the Treasury emphatically stated that in his view, the principal solution of the question was improved means of locomotion, and in a letter which the right hon. Gentleman published, he pointed out a means by which this could be done. But has any attempt been made to carry it out? Local Authorities have not been given the power to run these great causeways to outlying districts, and no attempt has been made to deal with factories in certain areas. When new factories are started in London areas, they are invariably started in those districts where labour is cheap, and where people live under the worst possible housing conditions, and this only intensifies the evil. We have in London at the present time an epidemic of smallpox, and where do we find that the largest number of cases come from? Why, from those very districts where the housing question has been neglected.
There is another illustration which will come home to many and that is the case of the Boer concentration camps. We find that these Boer people when dwelling in their natural state on the veldt were practically free from disease. Now we find complaints made that the Government has not made these camps as healthy as the open veldt, and when these people were got together in large numbers disease was rife. The same thing takes place here in London, where we draw people from the country into the most crowded centres, thereby intensifying the evil. I observe that there is an hon. member present who takes a great interest in the temperance question, and this subject of housing has a very strong bearing upon the temperance question, and it is in a great measure the cause of intemperance. Where do we find the largest amount of drink consumed and the greatest amount of intemperance? Why, in those districts where people have to live under bad hous- 196 ing conditions, and where they fly to drink because they have no other excitement of any kind. I do hope that we shall not have a Royal Commission upon this question, for we had one some sixteen years ago. Since the year 1851 we have had seven Bills upon this subject and one Royal Commission, and, taking London as a whole, the state of affairs now is far worse than it was in 1851. It may be said that all these matters cannot be dealt with now, and I am well aware that it is difficult to deal with a great and complex question such as this. Perhaps I might venture to suggest that there is also a means of attaining this, and that means is devolution. By granting certain powers to local bodies and by giving them everyassistance, I believe that much can be done in the shape of the bettor housing of the working classes, and I venture to say with my hon. friend who moved this Amendment that if this question is not tackled in some shape or form things may go on smoothly for a while and for many years; but if by any misfortune the epidemic raging in London were to increase, and if, in conjunction with this we were to have a bad state of trade, and thousands of children were dying throughout the metropolitan area of a foul disease with poverty staring the population in the face, I say the state of affairs would be far worse. I was very much struck with a statement made to me the other day to the effect that if the present state of things continued, as soon as we had bad times in trade, he felt confident that those who lived in the lowest parts of London would smash tradesmen's windows and create a general riot. What I am speaking of occurred not very many years ago and it might occur again, and if it does occur again the result will be much more disastrous than it has ever been before.
Amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,—
But we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the greatest hardships are inflicted upon many of your working-class subjects by reason of the lack of proper housing accommodation, and that immediate Parliamentary attention to this evil is one of the most pressing of the necessities of domestic policy:"—(Dr. Macnamara:)—
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."197
§ *(4.57) MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
No one will dispute for a single moment the importance of the question that has been raised by the hon. Member. But notwithstanding this fact, I should not have intervened in this debate, but for the references which have been made to myself by the hon. Member opposite, in the course of his observations. Indeed, I am placed somewhat at a disadvantage in discussing this question, because—although it is my own fault no doubt—it is a fact that I was not aware that the hon. Member opposite had secured the adjournment; and consequently I am not in a position to furnish him with the details in reply to some of the statements he made in the course of his speech, and which it would not have been difficult to deal with. The hon. Member blames the Government, because in this matter they have not proceeded step by step in the way that they might have done in dealing with a very important and crucial question, and he supports the allegation by referring to the Bill of 1899 which was introduced and carried into law under the auspices of my right hon. friend. I do not propose to dwell upon the part of the speech of the hon. Member, for, of all men of my acquaintance in this world, I know of no one more capable of taking care of himself than my right hon. friend the Secretary for the Colonies, and I shall leave him to make any defence of the Bill which he may think necessary. Then he referred to the humble individual who has now the honour of addressing the House, and complained of the Act of 1891, which he said was also practically an abortion. I do not follow the hon. Member in this, nor do I perceive that he was able to say much in support of the charge, and indeed it would be rather difficult for him to do so. What are the facts with regard to the Act of 1891, and the consequences which followed almost immediately upon it? As a matter of fact the Bill had hardly become law when the London County Council took measures for proceeding with the two largest schemes that they have ever attempted hitherto to carry out for the purpose of improving the dwellings of the working classes directly under the Act, and directly as a consequence of the Act which the hon. Member opposite, without one word in support of his charge has been pleased 198 to describe to the House this afternoon as practically an abortion.
I am not in a position to supply the House with the particulars of these two great schemes, which I believe are undoubtedly the largest advance hitherto made in dealing with this question of the housing of the working classes. Of course I am well aware that after all it may only be a drop in the ocean, and that there remains an immense deal to be done. When the Bill was passed it was denounced by people who bad never studied the question, as one of the most futile and ridiculous measures ever submitted to the House. We heard a great deal in those days about Amendments which were going to be moved by hon. and right hon. gentlemen opposite, but as the debates proceeded, and when they began to learn how enormous and wide spread were the powers possessed by the local authorities already, and how little in addition there was that could be done by legislation, we heard no more about these comprehensive Amendments; and not one was proposed from either side of the House. An hon. friend of mine has kindly handed me the particulars of one of those schemes, which immediately followed upon the passing of the Act. In Tottenham 250 acres were purchased to house 40,000 people. That scheme was proposed and agreed to, like the other that I have referred to, immediately after the passing of the Act, and they are both of them, I understand, rapidly proceeding under this abortive Act. And when the hon. Member so severely criticises the Government what has he got to propose himself? I have listened to all he had to say and he had to fall back upon the extension of the time for the repayment of loans. I have given attention to that question, and come to the conclusion that the objections to be urged against it far outweigh any advantage to be gained. You cannot limit the extension of the principle to loans for the housing of the working classes. [An Hon. Member: Why not?] You would have had demands for every conceivable purpose, for which loans are wanted by Local Authorities, and it would be extremely difficult to refuse them. But that is the smallest objection. There is another infinitely greater. Suppose you departed from this principle, which has been so long in practice, it would have done practically nothing in the 199 way of assisting the housing of the working classes. The proposed extension of loans is a species of cheap generosity at the expense of posterity which, I know, is very attractive to many hon. gentlemen, but its effect would be trifling, and I, at all events, adhere to the view I expressed formerly. The hon. Member pointed out that the necessary complement of the Bill passed at that time was that there should be prompt and cheap facilities of transport, in order to enable the dwellers in the new buildings to be conveyed quickly from their homes to their work, and from their work to their homes. That is perfectly true—the Act is incomplete in a material point without it, and on the third reading of the bill I gave a promise on behalf of my then colleagues in the Government that that should be done. It was to be done by giving greater facilities for the creation of tramways in London and that has a very important bearing on the subject, because unlike other local authorities in the country, the County Council of London are not the road authority. The consequence is that whenever a new tramway is desired in any part of London, a bill on the subject cannot be even introduced unless the consent of all the other local authorities whose territory it may pass through has been already obtained. That has led to abuses of every sort and kind, and, personally, I think the time has come when the question ought to be dealt with. It is very easy to deal with it because the law on the subject is laid down by the standing orders in this and the other House of Parliament. At the time I speak of the question was very carefully considered, and after a conference with the Chairmen of Committees in both Houses we were agreed that a very trifling alteration in the Standing Orders could be made to give effect to this purpose, and although the undertaking given at that time, and which would have been carried out then but for the period of the session, has apparently escaped the memory of the Government, I hope it may still be done—after all, what the Government have to do is not so much to introduce fresh legislation as to urge upon the local authorities the more effective administration of the powers they already possess. If there are further facilities wanted—I am not aware of them—give to them by all means anything that is 200 reasonable and can properly be demanded, and then encourage and stimulate them to use them to the best of their ability. It is in that direction I expect that any real progress will be made on this question.
The hon. Member said that this was not an academic debate; but in one sense it is. What is the work of the session we have before us already? When the address is over we are to deal with the rules of procedure. This is not so much a question for the Government, but one which concerns every individual member of the House of Commons. If we are to have a change in the rules of procedure—and there are great changes which ought to be made—I should be very sorry to forecast when the discussion will come to an end. Will they conclude before Easter? I shall be agreeably surprised if they do—and after the Easter recess there will be all sorts of questions to follow. There will be the Coronation and all it involves. Shortly afterwards we come to Whitsuntide, and what is there besides, that must be done? There is the question of the Budget, and I fancy that will not be a particularly simple matter. Then we have the Education Bill and how much time will be left for that great measure after all this has been done? I venture to think, although this is a question which may very properly be discussed in the House of Commons, and with regard to which there is no monopoly on either side in the desire to see a great improvement in the condition of the working classes, yet I do not believe it is possible for the House of Commons to deal with that question by any considerable measure during the present session.
§ * (5.15) MR. CAINE (Cornwall, Camborne)
said that there was no question which the social reformer could approach that was of more interest than that before the House. This was a question which wanted to be settled. Unless the home was sound the whole national life was unsound; and anything which affected the homes of the people ought to be pressing indeed on the representatives of the people. The mover of the Amendment had relieved them of nearly all necessity of pressing on the House the very terrible evils that existed in London and other great towns from inadequate housing. They were nearly all aware of the terrible overcrowding and of the evils 201 which resulted from it in the life of our great cities. The excuse offered for the overcrowding was that it was quite impossible for the people to obtain houses at a less rent than was charged, and it was constantly pointed out to them when the local authorities attempted to build houses for the working classes they were unable to supply them at any less rent than that charged by the owners of the slums. It was a well known fact that those who lived in good houses paid actually less per room than those who lived in the worst and dirtiest slums of London. He knew something of this question. He had been a guardian of the poor in one of the worst and poorest districts of London, and had been in constant touch with the inhabitants of a district with a population of 24,000. He was acquainted with every street and nearly every inhabitant in the area, and he knew that in practice the poor paid more per room in rent than the rich. He himself had lived in two houses since he came to London. One was at Clapham Common which had comfortable rooms, good air, with a garden at the back; and he actually paid less per room than the population in a chronic state of poverty. He now lived in a house facing the river, in Grovsenor Road, and there also he paid less per room than the poor of the slums. But taking the cubic space of his own house, compared with the average size of the room in the poor districts, the rent was only one half. If he could get cubic space at half the rent of that demanded and paid in the poorest districts, surely some provision ought to be made by which the poor should pay less rent than at the present moment. There was no doubt that the rents of working men's houses were very extortionate because there was no competition. If investigations were made, it would be found that within two miles of Charing Cross not a dozen workmen's houses could be rented; and if any decent working man, from loss of work or other cause, had to move, he had to begin at the very bottom before he could get another place. In the worst slums the charge was from 20 to 25 per cent. higher for a dwelling than for a better class of houses in the immediate neighbourhood. This was an important question from many points of view. One reason why the slums were bad was that the houses were at the far end of the leases. He knew one street which 202 was known to be the worst in London—he was glad to say it was coming down—where all the property was at the far end of the leases. That property was of course neglected and rack rented because the property would soon be handed over to the ground landlord.
Another aspect of the question was well worthy of consideration, namely, the effect of the bad housing of the poor on trade competition. We were threatened with foreign competition. He had been spending six months in America investigating the question. He was not afraid of German competition. Germany dealt mostly in rubbish, and they couidhave that trade. Moreover he was not afraid of the competition of any nation which had conscription. But he found that, wherever any employer of labour was able to house his own workpeople comfortably, he could compete successfully against any manufacturer who depended upon casual dwellings for his workmen. There was the case of Mr Lever, the soap manufacturer, who had spent a quarter of a million for the benefit of his workmen, The result was not only success in his own business, but that he had been able to absorb two of his greatest competitors. The same was the case with the Messrs. Cadbury, the chocolate manufacturers, who could by the same methods or means meet all foreign competition. The whole question of competition with America rested on the improvement of the working people. There were in Regent Street seven shops paying high rents, selling goods manufactured in America and imported into this country, and with great success. He happened to know the village in Connecticut where some of these goods—boots and shoes—were made, and the condition of the workpeople there, compared with that of the same class of people in London and the Midlands, was as heaven to hell. The workmen were paid £3 a week, and the machines were worked at 25 per cent. higher speed than in Northamptonshire. One reason why they were able to compete was because the American workman demanded a high standard of living and comfort, and, getting that, he was able to earn the necessary money to pay for it. And, as the one acted and reacted on the other; so also they turned out better and cheaper goods: In that village in Connecticut to which he had referred every workman 203 had his house of six rooms, with a quarter of an acre of garden, and a beautiful recreation and literary institute was provided. But there was not a single liquor shop in the village. Lately he had visited a small shoe-making town in the Midlands of England of about the same size as that in Connecticut, and he found there no fewer than twenty-six public houses. The principle manufacturer told him that £60,000 of the workmen's money in that village went into these liquor shops. Now in America that £60,000 would have gone into the homes of the workpeople—which made all the difference in the world. This question of housing was complicated with that of the drunkenness of the people who lived in the slums. The seconder of the Amendment said that drink alone made them content to live in the slums. He (Mr. Caine) maintained that it was drunkenness that took these people into the slums, although he admitted the force of the argument that the one acted and re-acted on the other. In a district in London in which he was interested there was a Nonconformist church, and in that church there were 500 families, only ten of which had houses to themselves. They were all teetotallers, but except these ten none had a home of more than two rooms, the average rent of which was 7/- a week, or 3/6 for one room The wages of these sober, steady, working men was on the average 21/- a week, and when 7/- had been paid for rent there was only 14/- left for the family to live upon, unless the wife and children also earned money. This question of a living wage was a very large one. He supposed that, there were millions of people in this country who did not get a living wage. Irregularity of employment was a great curse. In Liverpool, which he knew well, there were from 35,000 to 40,000 people who did not know, when they had finished one day's work, where they would get the next day's work. The labourers and porters who worked on the great American liners were often three, four, or five days in idleness before they got their turn again. These men, mostly uneducated, had no place to go to except the public house, where they spent the greater part of the money earned when in work, the wife only getting the small amount left. Inquiry had shown that out of every 100 children born in the district of Liverpool where these men lived, 50 died before they were 204 12 months old, a death-rate with which that of the Concentrated Camps was hardly comparable. He knew an area of a quarter of a mile square in London, where there were 38 liquor shops, and these did a better trade than all the other shops together. It was a sad fact that the best house; in the Metropolis in which poor people lived were the workhouses, where they were well fed and well housed. In face of all the contentiously causes of this bad housing of the poor, it is with wonder that there should be a round million of paupers in the United Kingdom.
A great deal had been done by social effort and social example, and a great deal might be done by legislation. He did not intend to dictate to the Local Government Board the measures they should take, but he would press on them the necessity for doing something, and also the absolute futility of a Royal Commission, for a Royal Commission could not obtain any information beyond that which was already in the possession of the Local Government Board. He had been on Royal Commissions himself, and he had never known one that brought out anything that was not known previously. He hoped that the difficulty would be grappled with energy and determination, and he trusted that the Department would stimulate the Government to take adequate action.
§ (5.22.) SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.),
said he desired to say a few words on the Amendment as he had the adventtage of being in communication with the Local Government Board with regard to the feeling which existed in large municipal boroughs on the subject. He would wish to take the opportunity of saying that the President of the Local Government Board had given in conference a very ready ear to the protests and suggestions which had been made to him, and he was quite sure that his right hon. friend realized the great importance of the subject and that he had given indications of a desire to meet as far as he could by administration, and he hoped also by legislation, the views of those who in municipalities and elsewhere had to apply the law. There was need, in the opinion of those men, for some measure which would remove the difficulties and the obstacles which at present barred the way to the accomplishment of the intentions of Parliament. After 205 the speeches which had been delivered, he did not intend to dwell on the extent of the evil of overcrowding, and he quite agreed with what the hon. Member for the Camborne Division had said, that even commercially it was desirable to make the homes of the poor as comfortable and healthy as possible. He also wished to acknowledge that in the King's Speech there was a very wise recognition of the importance of Local Government. A Bill had been promised for improving the water supply of London, and he agreed with his hon. friend, who said that pure water was a very material element in the healthfulness of the home. Whatever else might be accomplished, he hoped that, at any rate, they should have a public authority dealing with the water supply of London, and that the temptation would be removed from private undertakings to prefer dividends to disease and death in the ranks of the people. Then, again, the promise of a Bill for the improvement of valuation should be acknowledged. It would be a great step in the improvement of Local Government, from the point of view of finance, to have an accurate assessment, both absolutely and comparatively, established, and if his right hon. friend succeeded, he would have accomplished an improvement which had been attempted for fifty years, which had been proposed in eight of the ten Bills which, had been examined by Commissions and Committees, but which had not yet been carried out. The recent Royal Commission had indicated a very open way to a great reform, and he was very glad his right hon. friend had rapidly seized the opportunity by the Bill he proposed to introduce. There was no greater obstacle to improved Local Government than the existence of the provisions of the Borough Funds Act which enabled one dissentient rate-payer to stop a great public improvement, and which prevented a part of a Bill being adopted unless the whole were accepted. These were great impediments to public undertakings, and also the cause of great cost and delay, and he hoped that the Bill which had been presented to the House several times, which had passed the other House, and which had been supported by the Government, would be passed, and that the Government would themselves do what private Members had 206 attempted to do in vain. With reference to the Amendment, he would remind his right hon. friend of the deputation—representative of all parts of the Kingdom—which waited upon him, and which consisted of the Mayors and the very men who had worked the Acts for the housing of the people. It included the Mayor of Plymouth, the Chairman of the Housing Committee of the Great City of Liverpool, and the Mayor of Hull, in which town his right hon. friend had the opportunity of seeing not only what was being done, but also the obstacles and impediments which hindered the operations of the Acts.
What was the effect on the present condition of affairs? Parliament intended by those Acts to help the poorer classes, not as a matter of class legislation, because facilities for better housing and sanitation were in the interests of the whole community. Therefore, if those facilities were obstructed, it was the community and not a particular class that suffered. It was not merely the personal inconvenience and danger to the class that was overcrowded that was concerned. The whole of a great city ran a risk from the part that was over-crowded. The Mayor of Plymouth informed has right hon. friend, that they could not serve the class intended to be served because they were compelled to charge rents which could only be paid by the better-class artizans, and that the very poor, whom Parliament had contemplated in passing the Acts, could not be served at all. The Local Authorities felt that they must either charge unduly low rents to the poor, and thereby inflict a tax, to a very serious extent, upon the other part of the community, or else charge rents which would repay the outlay at reasonable interest, in which case they could not let to the class intended by the Acts. The result was a fiasco from almost every point of view. The members of the deputation gave records of street after street, and they knew the law and how far they could apply it on economic lines. He hoped then that there would be at least a Borough Funds Bill.
The hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the length of the term of loans. The Department itself could make some improvement in that respect without legislation at all. At present the Department granted loans for a term of 40 207 years, but the Act itself provided for 60 years. Why did not the Department at least carry out the feeling which animated Parliament when it decided that the maximum term should be 60 years? It was said that the term was merely a factor, and that if it were increased it would not solve the question. Of course, it would not. There were many other difficulties and obstacles, but if the rents of small tenements were reduced by even a proportionate fraction, a part of the present difficulty would be reduced. It was all very well for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division to say that it would make no practical difference. He preferred the testimony of the very men who dealt in those questions in their own localities, and who had to erect the buildings and to negotiate with the Department the terms of loans. When they spoke with one voice their views were worth listening to.
If his right hon. friend took the same stand as his predecessor, and said he was a "trustee for posterity," he would remind him that although posterity might have to pay some proportion of the cost of these works, yet posterity got a benefit in the form of better health, and they ought to pay for it. He would invite his right hon. friend to appoint a Select Committee to take evidence. If his right hon. friend held the official view that the term was sufficiently long, in other words, that the life of the works would not admit of a longer term, he would remind his right hon. friend that he himself had seen many buildings which were ample for 60 years. Let him, however, appoint a Select Committee and they would accept its decision. But let them not have such continual wrangling as to whether there was room for lengthening the term or not. He hoped that would be the course which his right hon. friend would adopt. Again, if the land on which the buildings were erected was left as a permanent asset, and no man allowed to remove an acre of land, however disposed, and he ventured to assert that there would be very few cases of depreciation or any material loss. He would strongly urge that the term for land should be 100 years, and that if the term for buildings could not be 100 years, it should be at least the 60 years which was asked for by the repreentatives of municipalities.
208 There was a further point, which though only a small factor went to the solution of the whole problem. There was first an enquiry as to the scheme and then one as to the loan, which meant additional cost and additional delay. It was suggested by the right hon. Member for Sleaford that, in the case of the Housing of the Working Classes, if the Government granted what they would have to grant there might be something in it, but it was well known that terms were more favourable in the case of other houses; the exception was made in this case because of the danger of overcrowding. The law of Prussia made a distinct exception in favour of the Housing of the Working Classes, and, in a city like Dusseldorf and in other parts of Germany advances were made for this purpose with great benefit for the term of 100 years. He could not, having regard to what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman, give a vote upon what would really be a Motion of no confidence, but he urged that the best way for the Government to gain the confidence of the people in this matter would be for them to listen to what had been said on both sides of the House, and that it was their duty to get evidence before some public tribunal, and then make rules which would enable the Local Authorities to do their duty.
§ *(5.42.) MR. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)
desired to say a few words from the rural point of view, as he could do so as well upon this as upon the Amendment which stood in his name a little further down on the Paper. It was quite true that in the country towns insanitary areas and overcrowding were not so great as in large towns, but at the same time there were great hardship, suffering, and physical deterioration in rural districts. From all sides there was the complaint as to the depopulation of country districts, and it had been pointed out what a serious effect that was having upon our national life. It was indeed a question of the most vital interest to both town and country. The condition of the country districts led to the condition of the town populations being made still more intolerable, and the depopulation of the country was certain to go on until some means was arrived at to make it worth the while of the agricultural labourer to stay upon the land. The condition of the housing accommodation was one of the reasons of the people 209 not remaining on the land, where they were badly wanted, and migrating to the towns, where they were not wanted at all.
The facts were well-known, reports had been furnished as to the condition of the rural districts, and although it might be that there were parts of the country where there was no particular need for better accommodation—and there were some estates where the owner took great pride in maintaining the dwellings on his estate—there were many places where the housing accommodation was insufficient in quantity and miserably so in quality. That arose from many causes, one of which perhaps was that the Medical Officers of Health throughout the country were local medical practitioners. There was a law which had recently been amended which enabled the rural sanitary authorities, the new District Councils, to build, under certain sanction, new cottages when required, but the unfortunate thing about that was that it was so exceedingly difficult to make use of that Act. Building under the new Act was not impossible, but extremely difficult, and in point of fact, since 1889, there had been only two cases in which the Local Authorities had succeeded in surmounting all the difficulties, and building under the Act. In both cases there had been an enormous outlay both in time and money, much more than the Local Authorities ought to have incurred in erecting cottages; but ultimately there was a good result, because although they were not able to build cottages to let at a rental which would enable the labourers to live in them, they put up cottages which did come into competition with the others in the neighbourhood; as those cottages which the better class had inhabited and vacated for the new, came in their turn into competition, and their owners were enabled to let them at ordinary rentals, allowing the labourers to obtain accommodation which they otherwise would not have had at all. What was wanted was an alteration in the law to enable the Local Authorities to have a good chance of building. It might be said that in the rural districts the person who got the greatest benefit out of good cottage accommodation was the landlord himself. Primarily that would be the case, as if there were no house accommodation he could not let his land, whereas if there were plenty of cottages, and good cottages, 210 he would be able to let his estate to far better advantage; but unfortunately, although it was directly to the interest of the landowner to build good cottages, and although a good many landlords undoubtedly did make good cottage provision on their estates, the country was full of landlords who were not in a position to build cottages. The old generation of landlords, with plenty of money, who lived on their estates, had largely passed away, and the present landowner had to look closely into facts before he attempted to build, and when he found the return for his building was only 2½ per cent. he reluctantly decided to go on with insufficient cottage accommodation. The only other class which had any interest in keeping up and housing the population in the rural districts was the rural sanitary authority, who had a distinct pecuniary interest in the matter because a good supply of labour meant better rentals for the land and a higher rateable value, so that it made everything better. The difficulty was that Parliament in its wisdom had not regarded the District Council as being a sufficiently responsible body to entrust with building operations. In his opinion, it was a body which could be reasonably trusted with any reasonable expenditure for that purpose. Although the recent Act had stripped away some portion of the red tape, there was still a good deal enveloping this subject. The District Council had now to go to the County Council and get its leave, which meant delay, expense, and difficulty, and sometimes definite refusal by a Local Authority which did not understand the subject so well as that which made the application. He thought the Local Government Board should make the necessary inquiry. That body had to make an inquiry in the ordinary course, because that was the Board that had the lending of the money, or who got it lent; it was necessary that they should inquire into the value of their security, and it would save time if they also inquired into the reasonableness of the scheme. It might be quite proper that one superior Authority should overlook the District Council, but there should not be two, because that meant delay, expense, and very often the abandonment of schemes which otherwise would be undertaken. In the majority of cases, the District Council would, he believed, be perfectly willing to undertake what it believed to be for the benefit of 211 the district, if only it saw its way fairly clear, but under existing circumstances the Council knew that there would be delay, struggles, and expense connected with the scheme, and that ultimately, if they did build, there would be Local Government Board advice, resulting in the building of cottages at a cost nearly half as much again as it should be. He knew that suitable cottages could be built for £125 a piece, because he himself had had some erected. It was perfectly true that at the present time a little more might have to be paid, but, after a conversation with the builder, he had reason to believe that he could get similar cottages built now in the same neighbourhood at a 10 per cent. increase on that price. Even then the figure would not be anywhere near the extravagant prices paid by unfortunate District Councils which had undertaken building schemes. But, whether the cottages were to be cheap or expensive, the District Council was quite competent to consider the question. Not only was the Council a competent, but it was a very good authority, being composed of men who were not accustomed to pay lavishly for things, and who, as a general rule, knew the prices ruling in the neighbourhood. It was not desirable, but very much the reverse, to have any Court of Appeal over the District Council, other than the Local Government Board.
Probably the House would be told, as usual, that the Local Government Board already had a great deal too much to do. Undoubtedly it was a very hard-worked Department, and of recent years had become infinitely more important than it was before supposed to be. But if the work was too much it was always possible to increase the size of the Department. Additionally, most excellent people could be engaged, and, such was his thorough belief in the right hon. Gentleman, that he knew that, if he had satisfactory subordinates, the President of the Department would perform the supervisory work with the greatest ability, no matter how wide might be the area he had to supervise. At any rate, he asked that the Department should undertake a little more than at present, and that its inquires should not be limited to the question of the loan, but that it should include the whole subject of whether the erection of the cottages was necessary, prudent, and desirable, and possibly whether anybody else was likely 212 to build them. Anything more cruel than the present system of holding inquiries could scarcely be imagined. County Councils were not particularly anxious to take the responsibility of recommending the erection of cottages which might turn out unprofitable; and they jumped only too eagerly at any remote chance of an individual investing his money. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would, during the session, so amend the existing law as to enable the District Council to go straight to the Local Government Board instead of to the County Council.
As to the length of time for which a loan should be granted, surely it would be admitted that a well-built cottage would last more than 40 years. He knew of many that had been built 100 years, and were still in very decent condition. If these extra burdens were thrown upon the Local Authorities by the Local Government Board regulations, an extension of the period of repayment was only reasonable. While it was not desirable to load posterity with debt, yet there should not be handed over, absolutely free of expense, a very large asset for which the present ratepayers had paid in advance. The happy mean should be struck between the two extremes. Forty years was not an adequate period; sixty might be, but seventy was really nearer the mark. He hoped the division to be taken would be of a sufficiently satisfactory character to induce the President of the Local Government Board seriously to consider the question.
§ *(6.11.) SIR J. DICKSON-POYNDER (Wiltshire, Chippenham)
I am glad that an Amendment has been proposed by which we can have a debate upon this most important question, but, at the same time, I have no intention of supporting that Amendment if it is pressed to a division; in the first place, because I am not in favour of being the means, however humble, of making possible the substitution of any body of Gentlemen from the other side of the House for the present Government, and secondly, because the King's Speech gives us an ample programme, and one which the Government will find it difficult to carry out in its entirety. Even if effect is given only to that portion relating to Procedure and Education, the Government will have done a great deal for the benefit of the country, and therefore I think it would be un- 213 reasonable to ask them to bring forward any large and comprehensive scheme dealing with the housing question. But while I say that, I yet have hopes that in the course of the session there may be introduced and passed a measure extending from 60 to 100 years the period for the redemption of debt. I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford Division that this is a purely academic question, not within the range of practical polities. It is peculiar with what lethargy the subject seems to be regarded in this House, as compared with the extreme interest—I might almost say excitement—with which it is considered by large numbers of people outside. Whilst not for a moment posing as a financial export, I am prepared to admit that in extending the repayment period from 60 to 100 years there is a slight infringement of what may be regarded as ancient economic principle. All I say about it is that if there is a slight risk, the gravity of the problem fully warrants that risk being taken. But the risk, if any, is very small indeed. It must not be assumed that this extension will impose any additional cost on posterity. It simply means that there will be a liability on the ratapayers for an extended period, because very careful provision is being made by public authorities. I speak particularly of the London County Council, with which I am connected, who provide in all their building operations that no buildings shall be erected or commenced without first due care being taken that the rents in every way cover all the outgoings, in which out-goings is included the sinking fund for the buildings and the land. So that the risk merely means a liability, and will not, or need not, involve any cost to the rate-payers of the future.
The County Council and the public authorities in dealing with this housing problem find greater difficulty from day to day in complying with this regulation. I think every Member of this House will agree with me that it is important at all costs to maintain the principle that these buildings should be self-supporting, but there is grave danger that, unless some relief be given, in the future public pressure will become so strong that it will be impossible to maintain this principle. It is far more important that you should run this slight risk and give this 214 help rather than run the risk of the greater danger of an economic fallacy being introduced such has I have indicated. My right hon. friend the Member for Sleaford says—what is the good of doing all this if you are going to gain nothing by it? As a matter off act it is a considerable gain. We are dealing with small tenants, and, of course, the sums are of a small character. But small though these sums may seem, they are of immense importance to those who have to pay them. You may look at this from two ways: (1) The position in which the authority will be placed with regard to the capital at their disposal, or (2) from the point of view of having to erect those houses at a lower rate. This matter has been carefully calculated by the officials of the London County Council, and they feel sure that if this extension was given, and the land was allowed to be a permanent asset, there would be an increase of the capital sum at the disposal of the County Council for the erection of dwellings of 16 per cent., which is a very considerable increase indeed. I have been working for some years upon this question, and I have no doubt my right hon. friend will endorse what I say when I speak of the immense difficulty the London County Council has had in arranging plans for buildings which would comply with the regulations under the present system. If you give this extension you will give a great help to the County Council, which will enable them to devote a large capital sum for the erection of these dwellings.
Then the difficulty arises with regard to the rents. We have had speeches this afternoon showing how, in this vast Metropolis, many of the poor people are totally incapable of paying the rents now being asked in different parts of London. I believe the lowest rental is something like 6s. per week, but every hon. Member knows that there are many persons who will find it totally impossible to pay that sum of money. It is generally computed that a man can only pay one-fifth of his income in rent, and it will be found that upon that basis only men earning the high rate of wages of 30s. can pay such a rent. We want to get comfortable houses, with good sanitary arrangements, that will come within the means of a man who is earning a much lower wage than 30s. a week. If this extension is given it will be possible for 215 the County Council, having erected their dwellings, to place those buildings upon the market at a lower rate than what they have hitherto been obliged to ask. It has been calculated, and we are assured, that with this extension, dwellings can be let at a lower rent to the amount of from 6d. to 10d. a week, and this would be a very considerable help to the artizans in this city, who are earning the lower rates of wages. I, therefore, sincerely hope that my right hon. friend and the Government will be able to see their way to pass some small measure this session, for I feel certain that by so doing they will be conferring a great boon upon the working classes in our cities.
There are several other points, which, if the House will allow me, I should like to touch upon. I have already stated that I do not consider we should be justified in voting for the Amendment brought forward upon this occasion, because there is no comprehensive scheme before the House of Commons or before the country. It is impossible to bring forward any great dramatic scheme of legislation upon this subject in this country. What can be done is to bring forward a collection—a very considerable collection—of small amendments to existing Acts of Parliament. I hardly think it is just to the Government that an attack should be made upon them before they have had put before them exactly what the public authorities require. I will only deal with one or two of the points which I think are well worthy of the consideration of the Government. The suggestion I am going to make is one which evidently does not find favour with the previous speakers. I want to have as far as possible, complete harmony of opinion upon this question, and I was going to suggest that the Government should be asked to appoint a Royal Commission. (Opposition cries of "No, no.") Hon. Gentlemen opposite object to that course, but I am anxious that a Royal Commission should not be a weapon of delay, for in the case of an urgent question like this, it is most important that you should have the very closest and most ample consideration by a competent body of men, and it appears to me that the broader you can make that body, the stronger it will be. There are hundreds of men outside the walls of this House who are 216 most anxious about this question, and who have a deep and intimate knowledge of the subject, and whose aid would be most valuable to constitute a Royal Commission. I cannot help thinking that it would be a good thing for the Government to appoint such a Commission, with a most urgent Instruction that they should report upon certain cardinal questions before the end of this session. There is not the slightest reason why this should not be done, although this may be an unprecedented Instruction.
If the House does not agree to a Commission, I would suggest that there should be a Committee of this House. I will mention three of the questions which might be considered. The first is the one which was dealt with by the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, and that is the question of the standing order which governs the Model Clauses in cases where property is taken for the public convenience. Those Model Clauses at present lay down the obligation, that where more than 19 houses are demolished there should be provision made for those who are displaced. I agree with my hon. friend in this, that there seems to be no necessity in the future for that limit being imposed. I know it is a difficult question, and it is a matter which requires very careful consideration, and it is one which would be quite worth the while of a Committee to investigate. Whilst upon this subject I would make a further suggestion, which is, that the clause should be amended in such a way that it would be made possible in future for the companies—they may be Gas or Railway Companies—who are responsible for the displacement of people, to transfer their obligation to the London County Council upon making a pecuniary payment. That would have to be done by an Act of Parliament, because it is necessary that it should be sanctioned by this House, and it is a question worth while taking evidence upon in order to obtain the opinions of directors of Railway and other companies. In many cases it is naturally the aim of companies to evade the duty of re-housing people who are displaced, and it is very important that the County Council should have some power of this kind, for the Council already has complete machinery at its disposal, and competent officials who are well qualified to take over work of this 217 kind which they are now carrying out so successfully. I think that is a suggestion which might be well worthy of consideration, and which I cannot help thinking, if looked into, would possibly result in useful legislation.
I take another point, and that is the question of the compensation allowed to owners of insanitary property. Of all the duties which at present devolve upon the London County Council there is none more onerous than that of clearing insanitary areas, and wiping them off the face of London. There are a good many foul spots, with all their tendency to disease and degradation, but these great clearances of insanitary areas have been made in the past and are now being made at vast expense to the ratepayers, owing to the scheme of compensation at present in existence. In this respect the London County Council is doing what is obviously its first duty, but under the administration of the present law it is being done in such a manner than vast irrecoverable loss is placed upon the ratepayers. It seems to me that the time has come when some alteration in that portion of the Housing Act should be made, because there seems to be something fundamentally wrong with a law which lays down, as is done at present, that a man who owns insanitary property, upon the intimation of the public authority that his property is unfit for human habitation, should receive compensation for that property upon the improved value of the land. It does seem to me that the time has come when less advantage should be granted to the owners of insantary property. That would have a most far-reaching effect in the future, because it would impose the responsibility on the ground owners in London to take care that the repairing clauses in their leases were no longer a dead letter. I know this is a complicated and thorny question. Before legislation can take place on it, involving as it will the whole question of land tenure in London, it would be right and just that a careful examination should be made. This subject might well be placed before a Committee, who should have ample opportunity of examining witnesses. I have no doubt they would be able to present a Report as to the lines on which legislation might be based. Part II. of the Housing Act deals with the closing of individual houses. There are hundreds of in- 218 dividual houses which are not demolished, but ought to be. That is due to the lack of uniformity of system in the different districts where the law is administered. It seems to me well worth consideration, whether an amendment might not be made by which you should have some general comprehensive tribunal for London to deal with these cases. The initiative is now taken by different bodies, and they interpret the law in different ways. The law lays down that a house must be "incapable of repair, "but there is not a house that is incapable of repair according to the idea of some people. I should suggest that instead of the magistrates dealing with the cases as they do now in their own localities, there should be a central tribunal instituted permanently which would deal with all these cases. Time will not permit me to go into the big question of locomotion, which, to a large extent, underlies this housing question. That also might be brought before the Committee, and they might give useful advice with regard to future legislation in that direction. Personally, I do not agree with some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite, who suggested an amendment of the Cheap Trains Act. I do not believe that in the future the great trunk lines can play an important part in the locomotion of London. I believe you will have to introduce a system of subways, and electric tramways under the surface of the roads. You will have to rely, to a large extent, on tube railways. You cannot ask the trunk railways to dislocate and disorganise their traffic by undertaking what is, after all, a local and metropolitan service. Every one knows that large masses of the people are anxious to see some solution of the housing problem. I believe myself that it will only be by dealing with the smaller items—small by themselves, but taken collectively they are very large—that you will get a remedy for the question. I ask my friends to support the appeal I make for the appointment of a Committee of competent Members to take up this question and report upon it before the end of the session.
§ (6.35.) MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said the debate had taken the direction of dealing with the case of London only, but there were other parts of the three kingdoms which were interested in the housing question. One of the 219 curious problems existing in Ireland was, that although the population was decreasing, overcrowding was increasing in Dublin, and, in a lesser degree, the same conditions existed in many towns and even villages in Ireland which cried for some kind of remedy. He was of opinion that the House had failed to grasp sufficiently the situation, because the trend of events went to show that the population was leaving the land and coming into the towns and villages, and the municipalities did not appear to be ready to meet the economic changes which were going on. Some hon. Members thought the time wasted in discussing this matter, but he held that this was a national social problem that demanded the gravest attention from every man who desired to see the Commonwealth prospering. It was not a question of the housing of the poor; it was a question of accommodating the workers. The housing of the very poor was done inthe workhouses. The obstacle in this matter was mainly the land laws. He happened to be on an Urban District Council, and the difficulty they had was in the acquiring of slum property. They had to buy it, and had then to build houses. Parliament not given them sufficient powers to grapple with the financial aspects of this problem, and the result was that the ratepayers were obliged to contribute unduly to the housing of the workers. Under present conditions moral decencies could not be properly observed, and undoubtedly drunkenness was largely the product of the slum dwellings. If civilisation was to be preserved in its true sense, they must tackle this housing question. He believed it was one of the most urgent that could be dealt with by the House. In the urban districts the value of land was going up, and local authorities had to face that difficulty. The system of land transfer in this country was very expensive. It would not be tolerated in any other civilised community. There were no cheap workmen's trains in Ireland, so that the people were in a worse position in that matter than in this country. There was no such provision made in regard to the artizans in Irish towns. The whole circumstances in connection with the transfer of land, the price of land, the difficulties of obtaining land, and the rates that must be charged in order to repay the ratepayers, formed a 220 great difficulty. The result was that precisely the class for whom cheap, decent dwelling-houses were required, was that very class for whom they were not provided. He generally approved of what had been said by the hon. Gentleman opposite, but it was almost impossible for the great majority of Irish workers to pay from 6s. to 10s. a week rent. Their wages would not enable them to pay such fancy rents.
This was a question that ought to be approached in the most solemn spirit by the House. There was this extraordinary position in the three kingdoms, that there were millions of workers—the wealth-producers of the country—who could be evicted from their homes at the whim of the landlords, at 10 days notice, even if the tenants were willing to pay an increased rent. It was the duty of the House to protect these workers. It seemed almost paradoxical and impossible, but it was the positive fact that paupers, lunatics, and criminals were better housed than the wealth-producers of the nation. He had seen that from personal inspection and investigation when he was visiting some of his political friends who were in prison, and he was acquainted with the arrangements of lunatic asylums and workhouses. That was a condition of affairs that ought not to continue. An hon. Member suggested that the Housing Acts should be simplified, and he hoped the President of the Local Government Board would approach the matter in the spirit of intelligence and action characteristic of him. He did not agree with the hon. Member for South Islington that the President of the Local Government Board was afraid of work. He knew from experience that the right hon. Gentleman liked work, and he was quite sure that this was a subject on which he would endeavour to make his mark. There were, no doubt, difficulties in every direction, but a Select Committee should be appointed, not necessarily of lawyers, but of men in sympathy with the question, and who knew the conditions of the housing of the working classes in municipalities and district councils, which could codify the Acts and bring about the needed amendments to cheapen and facilitate the working of the Act. With this question there were mixed up larger problems—those of terminable leases, the transfer of land, the taxation of land 221 values and other matters; and the time had come when they ought to be considered seriously by the House. He happened to be a Member of the National Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis in Dublin, and he was told that the principal source of that disease, in the great majority of cases, was the want of fresh air and comfort in the houses of the poor. The lamentably high death-rate in Dublin was due to the fact that the workers were obliged to live in ill-ventilated and overcrowded tenement houses, and the same thing had been proved by the hon. Member who introduced the amendment. Very little had been done to improve matters since the report of the Royal Committee on the Housing of the Working Classes 16 years ago, although promises had been made by all parties at every General Election, but he trusted that the result of this debate would be that something practical would be done, that the Select Committee would be appointed and report this Session, as the subject admitted of no delay.
§ *(6.53.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (MR. WALTER LONG,) Bristol, S.
I do not mean to occupy the time of the House at any length on a subject, which, I agree with the hon. Member for North Camberwell, is one well worthy of our attention, and of the general interest expressed in it. I welcome the speech of the hon. Member in so far as he described a state of things in many of our towns which ought to be known and condemned; and I welcome it also so far as it adhered to the promise of its opening that it should be of a non-partizan character. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he thought the party opposite to him were entitled to as much credit as his own for what they had done to forward this question. This was a very moderate meed of praise indeed, in view of the facts and of the history of the case; for while I frankly admit that the hon. Gentleman and others associated with him have made many speeches in and out of the House on this subject, I must remind the House that the party on this side have not been contented with making speeches. The whole of the legislation in which provision has been made for the housing of the working classes in various parts 222 of the country, with the exception of the Shaftesbury Act, which itself was carried under a Conservative administration, is due to Conservative Governments. Therefore, I do not think that I am saying more for the party to which I belong than is the case when I maintain that that party does not deserve the condemnation which it has received from some of the speakers to-day. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's assurance that he and his friends are anxious to deal with this question in the future, in so far as they can, in a non-partizan spirit. I do feel myself that these great social problems, like the housing of the working classes, which affect the moral condition of the people, might well be so treated.
I confess I deeply resent the direct charge of the hon. Member for North Camberwell against the administration and myself that we have displayed absolute unconcern in the face of the existence of this evil in the country. The hon. Member bases that charge solely on the fact that there is no mention in the King's Speech of fresh legislation; he ignores altogether the fact to which the hon. Member for South Islington referred in his speech, that the Department with which I am connected has been in constant, and I may say without exaggeration, in laborious communication with the men in the country who are best acquainted in a practical way with this question; he entirely ignores the fact that the Act which my right hon. friend passed in 1900 could not possibly have had the effect which we all desire to see it have in so short a time. What was the great change that that Act brought into the Housing of the Working Classes Act? It enabled the Local Authorities for the first time to go outside their own areas; to remove the people from the congested districts and insanitary areas to the outside, and it is manifestly impossible that an Act of 1900, which has only been running fourteen months, should have had sufficient time to deal with this difficult problem. The hon. Member said that the Act of 1900 had been an abortion.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
No; I think he went further than that; he referred to the working effect of the Act of 1900, 223 and said that it was nil. I think he said that under the amending Act practically no scheme had been carried out. I would only point to the fact that the London County Council have already embarked in two large schemes outside their area.
I am not going into the details of the work which ought to be done, and which it is right should be done by the Local Authorities. I have seen a great deal of Local Authorities, and have examined more than one of their schemes on the spot, and I know that the Local Authorities are striving with all their heart and might to deal with this great problem; therefore, it is in no disrespect of them, and certainly not with any desire to hinder the work which I believe they are doing, that I say that some of them, notwithstanding their desire to do well, are attempting to do that which is impossible. They have been endeavouring to provide dwellings for people in the congested districts on land which is of such a value that it is impossible to let them at a rental within the reach of the people it is sought to benefit. I believe that the true solution of this great problem is to remove the people from the crowded parts of the cities to the free country outside. In many places this has already been well done. I recently paid a visit to Hull, where admirable work has been done both in the work of clearing the slums and provision for the future. There I found the Local Authority have dealt with the slum areas, and have constructed a fine broad thoroughfare leading to the less populous parts of the town, and then private individuals have come forward and put up houses on property adjoining, the Local Authority doing the draining and lighting and so forth. The Local Authority having done the clearing, private enterprise has done the rest. Where this is possible, I venture to say that is the best solution of the difficulty of providing houses for the working classes.
What, after all, are the suggested remedies the honourable Gentleman approves? They are four—or rather three, because with regard to the fourth the reform of the land laws, he said he would not ask the existing Government to deal with that, and therefore it is not necessary for me to deal with it, and I do not think it is the least probable that any Government of which I am a member will 224 ever propose a scheme in that direction which will meet with the approval of the hon. Gentleman and his friends. Something has been said with regard to the question of the extension of the period for the repayment of loans, and something has been said about "model clauses. "Well, my hon. friend the Member for Hoxton secured last session the appointment of a Committee, agreed to by the Secretary of State for the Home Department and myself. That Committee, unfortunately, did not sit owing to some delay in its final constitution, but it is the intention of the Government to ask for the appointment of a similar committee this session to deal with this problem. But these clauses must form a separate matter by themselves to be dealt with by a separate Committee, and therefore I suggest the appointment of last session should be repeated this session, and I hope the Committee will soon be appointed, and be able to dispose of the work which will be placed before them. The hon. Gentleman also made reference to the question of cheap transit. He appealed to my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade to give greater facilities in that direction. That is a matter for which I, as an individual, am in no way responsible, and I do not intend to enter into the question, because there is a great deal to be said on both sides, and it would not be possible to deal with it within the limit of time I have at my disposal; but I cannot help thinking and hoping that by improvements in locomotion and train service, or by quick tramcars, or by other means, it will be found possible in the future to take the workmen out of the crowded centres where they would get better houses and better air for their children to enjoy, that they may grow in strength and health. This is what we must look to, and I hope science will help us with fresh discoveries which will, if they do not settle this question, bring the solution nearer than it appears to be at present.
My hon. friend, the Member for South Islington, referred to a deputation which he did me the honour to bring to me some time ago on behalf of the Municipal Corporations Association. He referred to some of the suggestions made by that Deputation and to my reply to that Deputation. I hope it will be possible during the session to deal with the question of the Borough Funds Act, which does, no doubt, put difficulties in the way of 225 some municipalities, and there are some smaller matters where amendments might be made in the law, which, as it affects Local Authorities now, does impede them in their usefulness. Those amendments I hope I may be able, with the assistance of those who represent the Local Authorities in this House, to pass this session. They are not controversial questions. My hon. friend suggested that the vexed question of the extension of the period of the repayment of the loans should be referred to a Committee. This, after all, is the great practical question to which everything else comes back. My hon. friend, the Member for the Chippenham Division, also referred to it, and told us that sometimes when a Local Authority put into force the powers which they undoubtedly possess, to deal with insanitary or overcrowded areas, even though they may issue closing orders and avail themselves of the existing powers of the Acts to get the value of the land reduced when closing an insanitary area, they have to pay a great deal more for the land than they ought; but there is insanitary property and insanitary property. In some cases the property becomes insanitary by the gross neglect of the owner to keep it in order, and clearly in those cases, the owner ought not to get more through the action of the Local Authority than the actual value of the land. Then there is the other class of property which becomes insanitary and undesirable for habitation through no fault of the owners. The figures which have been given to me show that there is often a confusion between these classes of property, and I do not think the majority of this House would ever consent to the confiscation of property, solely because it was desired to make provision for the working classes who want better houses. I have been engaged in the examination of this question, and I will look further into it, but I cannot agree with my hon. friend that it is necessary to refer it to a Committee of this House, and certainly not to a Royal Commission. My hon. friend cannot have the experience of a Royal Commission which I have, or he would not suggest that a Royal Commission should sit and report this session, or that I should direct them to report at once. I am afraid they would treat such directions with scant courtesy, and they would have no effect upon their deliberations. My experience is that a Royal 226 Commission has to sit a considerable time because of the mass of matter it has to enquire into. At the same time, if I find, either with regard to the question of valuation or any other part of the administration of the Act that I require the assistance of a Committee, I shall not hesitate to ask the House to consent to its appointment.
With regard to the question of the repayment of loans, I feel that we are in a different position. We had a debate upon the subject last year,†and I think I expressed my views very much on the same lines as those expressed to-night by my right hon. friend the Member for Sleaford, and I then ventured to point out that the effect of an extended period for repayment would mean a very small relief indeed to the Local Authority incurring the debt. It was not difficult to show that local indebtedness had increased enormously, and that its growth has been quite out of proportion to the growth of the local revenue. Thus in the year 1874–5 the local debt was £92,820,100, and the Rateable value of England and Wales £115,646,631; in 1898–9 the debt had grown to £276,229,048, the Rateable value only to £180,406,420. The figures show a very grave disparity, but I am not one of those who, looking at the growth of local taxation, believe that the Local Authorities have done wrong. There is no doubt that the Local Authorities have a very great deal of lost ground to make up; that the extraordinary growth of population, and its concentration in very limited spaces in great towns has taken place with such great rapidity, that it has been almost impossible to keep pace with it, and a great deal of work which ought to have been done years ago, and which might have been done, has now to be done by the Local Authorities who are now spending money on four or five important matters at once. Their water supply may be bad in quantity, and insufficient in quality, and there are other local needs pressing upon them, the condition of the houses of the people living in the midst of the towns and other evils may require to be remedied, and when they are brought face to face with all these facts, we cannot blame them if they spend money freely in order to get rid of some of these evils.†July 16th, 1901. (See (4) Debates, xcvii., 602; refer also to Vol. xcviii., 1320.)227 But although I do not believe or suggest that this enormous growth of indebtedness is due to extravagance or unreasonable expenditure on the part of the Local Authorities, I do say that having regard to this fact, and also to the very small relief an extension for the repayment would give, it is impossible for the President of the Local Government Board to assent to a change in the policy which has been pursued for so many years, unless there is a clear expression of opinion in that behalf on the part of Parliament.
The hon. Member for North Camberwell is so rapid a mover and worker himself that he thinks everybody should be ready immediately, and he blamed me last year, and now blames me again, for not having sanctioned the extension of the period for the repayment of loans. Let me remind him that for years this policy has been maintained by the Local Government Board. Upon whom will the liability from any change in that policy fall? It will not fall upon us or our supporters, but upon those who cannot now be consulted as to whether they approve of what the present generation of legislators is doing. I do not think a minister with my experience would take such a responsibility as that without the full sanction of Parliament. I am bound to confess that owing to the differences in the law in London and the country, it is a very difficult matter to deal with; Parliament itself has not been consistent in the matter. It has invariably condemned every proposal for an extension of the period in the House of Commons itself but when you go from the House of Commons itself to the House sitting in Committees upstairs, the policy is quite different to that which the House formulated here. You find Committees giving Local Authorities borrowing powers which the House has refused. So that you have a conflict of ideas which is very confusing, and with regard to which it is difficult for anybody to take up any immovable attitude. When the deputation from the Municipal Corporations Association waited upon me, I promised I would consider whether the best and wisest course would not be to ask Parliament to appoint a Committee to examine the whole question of the repayment of loans, and as to whether land is to be treated as an asset and not as part of the debt, and generally to review the whole question and pronounce 228 an opinion which would be a guide not only to the Government but to the country generally. I am prepared to ask the House to appoint such a Committee, and I listened gladly to the assurance of my hon. friend, the Member for South Islington when he told us that if that course was adopted those he represented would be prepared to abide by that inquiry. That is the course which I am prepared to recommend with regard to "land as an asset, "and that part of the question generally known as the extension of the period of loans.
These are two questions about which there has been a great deal of controversy. My hon. friend and many others believe that the financial question is the root of the evil. With regard to the housing of the working classes, I do not share that view, but I think a view so strongly and generally expressed is entitled to courteous and careful consideration, and I am prepared to ask the House to appoint a Committee, and refer the whole of these questions to them.
I have now dealt with all the points raised generally. With regard to one or two minor suggestions which have been made for an alteration in the law I agree that a collection of small amendments might be made which would form a useful addition to the law. For instance, at the Local Government Board we think that the central authority should be in one office, and not divided as at present between the Home Office and the Local Government Board. That is, I think, a useful suggestion because it would throw the whole administration into one Department, and after all the question of housing has more to do with local government than any other department. Then there was a suggestion that Local Authorities would carry out their schemes more successfully if they were able to establish shops and build club-rooms as part of or attached to the buildings they propose to erect. At present they are not able to do anything of this kind under Part III of the Act, though it has been done under Part I. That is a suggestion which has been frequently urged by Local Authorities and I think its adoption would be some benefit to them. I have dealt with the various points raised by the hon. Member for North Camberwell but the general answer is, I 229 think, given in his own speech. He is one of the strongest advocates we have of the cause of education, and he knows very well that there are education and other questions to deal with this Session, and I certainly think it is a little unreasonable on his part to blame the Department to which I belong, which has already two measures in the King's Speech, because it is not ready with a great measure on the subject of Housing. All I need say further is this, speaking for my colleagues as well as myself, we are all anxious that every possible assistance should be given to Local Authorities to carry out their difficult work and to deal with this most difficult task, and we will certainly not throw any impediment in their way. If it can be clearly shown that amendments of the law are necessary, I shall be prepared to consider them, and, if possible, to give effect to them. But I believe that rather in administration than in new legislation will be found a remedy, for in most respects there are ample powers if only they are vigorously exercised.
(7.32.) Sir WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, but I think something ought to be said with reference to the concessions the right honourable Gentleman has made. He has gone almost further than I expected him to do in that portion of his speech referring to slum property, which is allowed by the owner to continue in a bad state in order that the Local Authority may be forced to acquire it under such terms as enable the owner to make a profit on it. I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has gone so far as to indicate that he is willing, at all events, to support efforts to correct the law in that direction. He has shown a better spirit than was exhibited in the last Parliament, when the Bill of 1900 was parsed. It was then contended on this side that the facilities for acquiring land for a great national purpose like this ought to be increased, and we protested against ten per cent. compensation being given to owners of slum property, but we were then unable to obtain any concession. The right hon. Gentleman has also agreed to a Committee in reference to the extension of the period of loans, and as to the position in which the land ought to stand. 230 In these respects I think the right hon. Gentleman has met the House in a liberal spirit.
I do not wish for a moment to make this a party question. It is a question of such great national importance that it rises far above party considerations. But when the right hon. Gentleman takes credit to himself and his party for having passed all the legislation that has been placed upon the Statute-book in reference to this question, he must also take the responsibility of the inefficiency of that legislation. There is no doubt that, as regards rural housing, the Act of 1890 has been a great failure, and there is every prospect of a similar result in regard to the Act of 1900. The provisions of the Act are not sufficiently drastic, and there are still too many delays and difficulties in dealing with land in rural districts, where this question is just as urgent as in towns, if the people are to live in decency, and have adequate provision made for public health. The defence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division is based on a fallacy which has more than once been trotted out in these debates. He says that what we want is improved administration. All the improved administration in the world would not meet this evil. There are adequate powers all round for closing insanitary property, but the great defect of all legislation is that there are not adequate powers for erecting new buildings in its place. I believe that that defect will never be properly remedied until some of the measures hinted at by the hon. Member for North Camberwell in regard to land reform are carried into effect. The administration of the Acts works in this way: The power of closing houses is stringent, and the Local Authorities are willing to certify property as bad, but they are at once met by the fact that they are dislodging their population and have no place in which to put the people. There are hundreds of thousands of people in this country living in houses which are insanitary and unfit for human habitation, the Local Authorities being afraid to condemn the houses because there is nowhere else for the people to go. The supreme necessity of dealing with this question is shown by the instances which have been quoted of men in receipt of full wages being obliged, in consequence of their inability to obtain houses, to put 231 their families in receipt of the hospitality of local workhouses, and, in some cases, to give up their work and go into the workhouse themselves. Such a condition of things indicates a scandal which most urgently requires legislation. The morality of the people largely depends on the manner in which they are housed. The urgency of the question is reinforced at the present time by the thought of the possibility of a terrible epidemic in the midst of a badly housed population.
The best economy in all these cases is to meet the difficulty quickly, and I am glad the right hon. Gentleman is willing to appoint this Committee this session, but I wish he had shown to the deputations that waited on him a more active sympathy. After all, what the Local Authorities want in this matter is encouragement. The price they have to pay for land for housing purposes makes it almost impossible for them to undertake building operations without serious loss. I think one of the Local Authorities declared that if the period of the loan was extended it would enable them to let their houses at 6d. per week less. That amount would make all the difference to many working men, especially those in receipt of the lower rates of wages, between taking a house and not taking it. If the rate of interest could be lowered, and the period of the loan extended, it would give Local Authorities all over the country that encouragement which is so necessary, and induce them to assist in the solution of this great social question. I hope the Committee, when it is appointed, will have power to consider the question of the rate of interest as well as that of the extension of the period of loan, so that Local Authorities may have the fullest facilities possible.
§ * (7.41.) MR. DUKE (Plymouth)
There is one matter in regard to which Local Authorities generally believe the Local Government Board could give them even more effective assistance than by prolonging the period of the repayment of the loan. The extent to which such a prolongation to the utmost lawful period under present legislation would assist the Local Authorities is about one per cent., so that if a cottage cost £250 that would represent 1s. per week on the rent. That, to a man earning 20s. a week, is a very material matter. My right hon. friend has promised to give consideration to that 232 matter, and I am sure the Local Government Board under his direction will, after the deliberations of the Committee, arrive at the conclusion that the municipal authorities of the country are right in the recommendation they have again and again urged on the Department, viz., that this extension should be made.
But I wish to refer to the practice of the Local Government Board, under which, instead of permitting Local Authorities to build dwellings for the working classes in accordance with the provisions of their own by-laws, which are sanctioned by the Local Government Board, the Department enforce other provisions, either in the name of sanitation, or for reasons known to the inspectors of the Department, and these provisions enhance the cost of the dwellings far more than is represented by one per cent., or even, in many cases, by two per cent. I have had dwellings pointed out to me which could have been erected for £400, the cost of which has been increased by from 50 to 100 per cent., because the Local Government Board inspectors have insisted upon requirements which the Local Authority could not have insisted on if local contractors or builders had been willing to undertake the erection of the dwellings.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
I quite admit that that may have occurred. What I ask for is an instance in which it occurred, and the conditions on which the Local Government Board insisted.
§ * MR. DUKE
I well tell my right hon. friend what was the nature of the condition. It required a class of building far superior to what was required in a building of the same kind under the local by-laws, and it also included, I believe, provisions as to air space different from the conditions of the local by-laws. It cannot be right as a matter of principle that the Local Authority 233 should be prevented from erecting buildings for the poorest class of the community in accordance with by-laws which were sanctioned by the Local Government Board for the whole community. If my right hon. friend will give us some promise of consideration of this, which is felt to be a pressing grievance by Local Authorities whose constituents are crying out to them to deal with a question they cannot deal with because of the financial difficulties at present surrounding it; if my right hon. friend will give us that assurance in addition to the promise he has made in regard to the terms of the loans, I am sure that Local Authorities throughout the country will feel very grateful to him for such a practical result from this discussion.
§ (7.45.) MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
said that in any Committee appointed to consider this most important question of the housing of the working classes, the case of Ireland should be taken into consideration. At the present time Ireland was excluded from the operation of several very valuable provisions in the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and he especially urged that a district like the City of Dublin should be taken into consideration. A distressing picture of the conditions under which the poor lived in London had been drawn, but he could draw a very sad picture of the conditions under which the poor were housed in the City of Dublin. The far more pressing necessity of the housing of the very poor had been neglected owing to the congestion which prevailed in Dublin, and this had caused rents to go up to such a figure that it was impossible to have the poor living under any other but conditions which were a scandal to the community. He thought a much wider scope ought to be given for the clearing of insanitary areas. The Dublin Corporation had at all times been greatly interested in this question, but their powers were surrounded by so many restrictions that they were practically prevented from clearing away a good many insanitary areas. They had to leave many slums and plague spots in Dublin alone because the Corporation could not compel the owners to put them into proper habitable repair. The only thing they could do was to close those houses, but then arose the 234 difficulty of where to put the poor people who were displaced. There was one area in Dublin in which the Corporation could not compel the owners to put the property into a proper sanitary condition, and they had either to turn the people out with only the prospect of the poorhouse before them, or else allow those poor people to continue to live in their present deplorable state. The owners kept this class of property in this condition because they believed that the Corporation would have to come down and pay them a fancy price for it. He was very much surprised that no mention was made in the Speech from the Throne of the intention of the Government to deal with this question.
There was another question which he would impress upon this promised Committee, and that was that there should be some amendment of the Small Dwellings Act. The Dublin Corporation were anxious to carry out their responsibilities by putting the provisions of that Act into operation, but owing to the number of restrictions with which they were surrounded, practically not a single working-man in Dublin had been able to avail himself of that Act. One of his own workmen, who was prepared to put down the sum of money required, made an application to take advantage of the Act. The Corporation found him a most suitable person, but when they sent his title to the responsible authority, because he was not able to show a 40 years title it was ruled out, and the Corporation could not consider his case. The Corporation passed resolutions upon the subject, and he asked questions upon it across the floor of the House, and he was told that it was necessary to have some amendment in the Small Dwellings Act. He hoped that point would be considered by the Committee which was to be appointed. They would have to take into consideration in Dublin the peculiar circumstances of the city. The large houses in the city had been turned into tenements, and in consequence of the ground rents and the high values which had been placed upon the houses the rents were very high. In any settlement of this question it would be idle, as far as Dublin was concerned, to deal with it from a practical point of view unless the question of taxing the ground rents was taken into consideration. It was impossible to house 235 the people in Dublin except in tenement houses. In the street where he lived in Dublin he knew a purchaser who bought two houses and paid £400 for them. He paid £27 10s. ground rent, and taxes up to £20 were added on the valuation. The result was, that what with wear and tear, ground rent, and taxes, he was practically getting no profit, and in letting out in tenements he was obliged to make the tenants pay a higher rental. Why should the ground rents not be taxed? While the value of property in Dublin was depreciating, the same ground rents went on for ever. Therefore, in any measure put forward, the question of the taxation of ground rents would have to be taken into consideration. The Corporation of Dublin at the present time were anxious to house the workers, but unfortunately their experience in that direction had not been of such a nature as was calculated to make them spend more money. They had endeavoured to clear insanitary areas, with the result that they had been compelled to pay such enormous sums for the ground before they could build upon it that it would be impossible for the Corporation to get a penny back at anything like a fair market price. In one case the Corporation of Dublin had to pay some £40,000 for about 13 acres of ground, and then they had to spend another £40,000 upon buildings, out of which there would not be a penny profit. Under these circumstances, it was impossible to expect the Corporation of Dublin to erect houses suitable for the working classes, and unless this promised Committee gave power to Corporations to compel owners of insanitary property to put their houses into proper condition, it would be worse than useless to attempt to give effect to the carrying out of the Housing of the Working Classes Act.
§ The Corporation of Dublin owned property six miles out of the City, but they had not the power to erect dwellings or spend money in the district where the workers could go to live more cheaply, and where there was already easy means of transit. Therefore, he would impress upon the President of the Local Government Board that a question like this ought to meet with the generous consideration of any Committee appointed, and Corporations ought to have power to deal with the difficulties which he had indicated. He had heard with amazement, in the speech of the President of the Local Government Board, that while it was the duty of the Corporation to clear away the insanitary areas, private individuals should be left to build houses. He could not believe that that would meet with acceptance from Members on the Opposition side of the House. That would be to use the money of the municipalities for the purpose of increasing the value of the houses around the districts cleared. Immediately that was done, up would go the rents. He was satisfied that was not a wise way to deal with the question. He was glad to hear on all sides that the question was one which must be taken into consideration. As a worker himself he knew what it was to be deprived of a proper home in which to bring up a family. The prosperity of the country was materially involved in the habitations given to the toilers. He trusted that, in the consideration of the question, the claims of Ireland would not be lost sight of. The Irish Members would claim for their countrymen the same consideration as was given to the workers of England.
§ (8.5.) Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 123; Noes, 153. (Division List No. 2).239
§ Main Question again proposed.