HC Deb 02 April 1903 vol 120 cc924-56
MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said that, in moving the Resolution which stood in his name on the Paper, he wished at once to state that he did so in no spirit of personal hostility to the Minister charged with the administration of the Housing Acts; on the contrary what he proposed to endeavour to show was that the Acts, as far as they had been administered, had not worked unsuccessfully, and he desired to urge upon Parliament the importance of carrying them out more effectively. The question was one of national importance, because the character of the new century would be largely decided by the kind of houses out of which the children came. Housing was no longer a mere question of clearing slums. It was not a matter of the dwellings of the working classes alone; it threatened to be a question of the housing of the people generally. Legislation became a farce if its express injunctions were not enforced by those entrusted with the administration. The obvious intention of the Acts was that when a dwelling-house became unfit for human habitation there should be no delay in obtaining a closing order. Since 1885, from the Central Government downwards, the authorities had had all the powers they needed for this purpose; but that the state of things in town and country was grave they had a reminder in the fact that the Alien Commission had unintentionally largely resolved itself into a housing inquiry. How came it, then, that the Housing Acts had to a large extent remained a dead letter, and that the very effective powers given to the authorities for the abatement of nuisances had failed? The fact remained that large numbers of the working classes had been driven from houses declared by the local authorities to be insanitary to overcrowd other houses hitherto sanitary. In both town and country cases had occurred in which families had not merely been driven into the street, but had had to go into the workhouse for shelter, because they could not get a house to live in. That was not all, for there was an acute housing problem in all the large villa districts near London, as well as in the most fashionable watering places. He could not help thinking that the reason for this state of affairs might well be explained by the old proverb that what was everybody's business was nobody's business.

Practical men, who had to deal with housing were met with an obstacle on the threshold, viz., the absence of any single central housing authority. It was true that both the Local Government Board and the Home Office had some part in the administration of these Acts. But the Local Government Board, which was the Department that Lad most to do with housing, had not a single officer whose sole duty it was to look after the administration of the Housing Acts. There was no person or department in existence, in connection with either the Local Government Board or the Home Office, which studied the housing question as a whole, which looked after the housing needs of the country, which inquired into the deficiency of house room, which investigated the extent of overcrowding, or which sought to put an end to the evils of insanitation. Had any effort been made to carry out the obvious intention of the Housing Acts that when a dwelling house was unfit for human habitation there should be no delay in closing it, whether in connection with a housing scheme or not? The fact was, neither the Local Government Board nor the Home Office had a Housing Intelligence Department, and had such a department existed the census definitions as to a house would not have been so misleading, for the department would not have allowed returns to be made which represented a single house as several houses, according to the number of people living in it. Even with this imperfect method of computation, the census of 1901 showed that the general conclusions drawn from the census of 1891, as to overcrowding, had not been upset, and that the improvement in this matter in ten years had been hopelessly inadequate. The figures of the 1901 census were not all available, so I must use the figures of the census of 1891. Taking England and Wales as a whole, the census of 1891 showed that there were 3,250,000 people living in overcrowded dwellings. The census of 1891 showed only:!,000,000 rooms for 969,318 families, including all classes. In Glasgow not less than one-fifth of the people live in one-roomed dwellings, and over half had houses with not more than two rooms. In Edinburgh more than half the homes consisted of one and two rooms, and in Hull, during two years, the population had increased by 9,000 but there were only 1,200 more dwellings, thus showing a deficiency of 4,000 buildings. An official report on Dublin in 1900 showed 10,000 persons in want of accommodation and 6,000 families improperly housed. In Birmingham during the last ten years the number of dwellings rented at 5s. per week had been reduced from 57,000 to 54,000 including the worst slums. In the counties of Northumberland and Durham one-third of the total population, urban and rural, lived in overcrowded houses. Surely these figures justified him in demanding that there should be a highly organised Government Department to deal with this subject. No fresh legislation was required, because Section 29, Sub-section 3 of the Public Health Act, 1890, empowered the Local Government Board To make such inquiries as it might see fit in relation to any matter concerning the Public Health in any place. Under Sub-section 2 of Section 31 of the Housing Act, 1890, the Board had power to take steps to put the Act in force if the local authority neglected to do so. What he complained of was that the administration of the Acts by the Central Government had neither aided active local authorities nor had it stimulated inactive ones. He admitted, however, that when a scheme had been brought before either the Local Government Board or the Home Office, both the Ministers responsible and the permanent officials had given it sympathetic consideration and had facilitated its progress through the Department.

He wished particularly to press upon the House the fact that the question of overcrowding was an administrative one. The evils of over-crowding might thus be described. First it enabled high rents to be obtained, secondly it rendered insanitary houses which were sanitary when not overcrowded, thirdly it created new slums faster than old ones could be removed, and, fourthly, it established among young people a low standard of home life and sanitation. One result of that was that 8,000 men from Manchester were rejected out of 11,000 intending recruits for the Army, on the ground of physical unfitness. Durham, the most overcrowded county in England, was at the head of the list for drunkenness. The death rate in Sheffield from zymotic diseases doubled the average for the whole country. Pauper lunatics were the most numerous where the houses were most overcrowded. The local authorities were busy building isolation hospitals and asylums instead of decent homes for the people, and it was an interesting fact that, while appeals were being made right and left for funds for our hospitals the local authorities never seemed to be aware that such appeals were rendered necessary by the low standard of health which resulted from ill housing. The best way to reduce the cost of the hospitals was to take away the insanitary conditions which so greatly increased the number of preventable cases of sickness. There was another result of overcrowding which very closely concerned the administration of the Local Government Board. It was referred to even fifty years ago by Lord Shaftesbury, when he estimated that, owing to being cooped up in hovels unfit for human habitation, the labouring man was incapacitated by sheer exhaustion during thirty days of the year, and this, at 1s. 6d. per day, represented an annual loss of £2. 5s. It had been noticed that the vitality of men at fifty-seven in Manchester was not equal to that of men at sixty-five in England generally, and that striking fact had been brought out by Dr. Tatham, who pointed out that over-crowding had shortened their lives by eight years. The Royal Commission reported, in 1885, that the general tone of the health of the people was a worse feature of over-crowding than was the encouragement by it of infectious diseases. Those who took an interest in this subject had never yet been able to ascertain the ground upon which the administration of these Acts had been partially entrusted to the Home Office, and partially to the Local Government Board. Surely it would be in the interests of the country as a whole that there should be some guide given by a central Department to the local authorities in the performance of their duties under the Act. Hitherto, unfortunately, there had not been any such arrangement, and, as a consequence, they had but very imperfectly coped with the evils of overcrowding.

He had quoted statistics in regard to overcrowding in towns, but the mischief was not confined to large centres of population. It was quite as bad in rural districts, and it was remarkable that where in a rural district the population had been stationary or diminishing, the supply of houses had been unequal to the demand. Fresh law was not so much required as the enforcement of the existing law. It was strange that in the rural districts, where the capacity for rent paying was lowest, the obstacles in the way of cheap municipal dwellings were greatest. The rate of interest on loans was higher, and the Local Government Board regulations were unsuitable and unnecessarily restrictive. Only two District Councils had actually built cottages, namely, Ixworth and Penshurst. Ireland was ahead of England in rural housing. In that country something like 15,000 municipal cottages had been erected for labourers. These houses were generally built by skilled workmen whose wages ran from 30s. to 33s. per week. The cost of erection was £150 per cottage, and the rents varied from 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. per cottage per week.

He might be allowed to show by way of illustration the way in which red tape and apathy prevented the Housing Acts from being carried out. He ventured to think that the Local Government Board could have done a great deal to remove that apathy if they had shown more activity in the administration of the statutes. In November 1895, a motion was made at the Parish Council of Penshurst in favour of building cottages. The motion was rejected; in April 1896, a parish committee was appointed to consider the subject; in July 1896, the Committee reported that twenty cottages were needed for workpeople working within a mile of the village; in October 1896, the Parish Council called upon the District Council to put Part III. of the Housing Acts into force; in March 1897, the District Council held an inquiry; in July 1897 the County Council held a public inquiry, granted the necessary certificate to put Housing Acts in force, and declared urgency; in December 1897 a Parish Council and District Council Joint Committee was formed; in November 1898, builders' tenders were accepted by the District Council; in December 1898 plans were sent to the Local Government Board; in March 1899 the Local Government Board held an inquiry—the third public inquiry; and in September 1899 the Local Government Board sanctioned a scheme and a loan. These facts proved that it took five years to build twenty cottages under the Housing of the Working Classes Act. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board would say that he had no power to prevent that. He himself felt, and a great many outside of the House felt, that "where there's a will there's a way," and that if the Local Government Board had had even one mind devoted entirely to the study of the Housing Question throughout the country they would have been able, under the law as it now stood, to create a businesslike system which would not have allowed the ridiculous string of dates which he had unfortunately had to allude to, and which illustrated the difficulties which surrounded the best will of the local authorities to carry out the law and to deal with the evil which lay at the root of the whole social system. His case did not finish with the illustration he had given from Penshurst. The Local Government Board issued model bye-laws with regard to buildings, and these were of a very cast-iron character. His right hon. friend had in the last year or two appointed a committee which had done something to mitigate these verity of these regulations. He might be allowed to instance some of the regulations. Adding an attic bedroom to a workman's cottage involved, according to the Local Government Board regulations, an increase of 50 per cent. in the thickness of the walls up to the first floor. This meant an uncalled for extra outlay of £20 per house. Another irksome Local Government Board restriction required party-walls of cottages to be carried through the roofs. These regulations were not enforced at Manchester or Richmond, but they were enforced at Hornsey with the result that they in-involved a cost of nearly £10 more per house. Surely what was good enough for Manchester, which was a town where special precaution must be taken in these matters, owing to fire risk in a big city, was also good enough for Hornsey. The observation he would venture to make on these regulations was that there was general lack of uniformity, and at the same time lack of elasticity.


I am quite unable to follow my hon. friend. If he refers to Local Government Board regulations I don't know what he means. If he is referring to by-laws, I would say that they are issued as a model form to local authorities. If he is referring to Local Government Board regulations with regard to loans, that is another matter.


said the model by-laws were the basis of the regulations adopted by the local authorities. His contention was that if there had been, as there should be, a governing principle in the action of the Board to produce uniformity they would not have the condition of things which made a cottage at Hornsey cost more than one at Manchester. He would emphasise his point by reminding the right hon. Gentlemen that the bye-laws issued by the Local Government Board prevented the use of many commodities or materials in the erection of these cottages. No doubt a great advance had been made by two things—firstly, by the Local Government Board having comparatively recently allowed buildings to be erected in agricultural districts, and secondly by allowing in the case of Richmond the application of sinking fund moneys for new borrowings, thus enabling Richmond to convert its workmen's dwelling loans from 3¼ per cents. and 3½ per cent. temporary loans into 3 per cent. permanent loans. This made a very considerable difference in the finance of these buildings. This was a great public and national question, and yet it was a question which involved nothing but bricks and mortar and money. He would earnestly appeal to the House to apply itself to the removal of what was a very grave reproach upon the country as a whole. The question of housing was not like temperance, or habitual criminality, or religious education, inextricably mixed up with unfathomable secrets of human nature which rendered it absolutely impossible to know whether the best intentioned legislation must not hinder rather than promote its object. It was a mechanical question and it did not involve the difficulty of trying to make a man temperate by Act of Parliament, which was ten thousand times as difficult as to make twenty people live in two houses instead of one. While intemperance and other evils had been distinctly decreasing, overcrowding had been distinctly increasing. One of the first ways of removing the evils was not to demand fresh legislation, but to enforce the existing law. In order to enforce the existing law they should study the condition of things throughout the whole country through the central Government, and having done that, the public and the legislature would know the true dimensions of the subject, and they would be able to remove what was not only a slur upon this House but what was in his humble judgment a mortal injury to the whole nation. He moved: "That in the opinion of the House, the administration of the Housing Acts by the Departments concerned is unsatisfactory and defective."

Amendment proposed. To leave cut from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'in the opinion of this House, the administration of the Housing Acts by the departments concerned is unsatisfactory and defective,'—instead thereof."—(Mr. Claude Hay.)

Question proposed.

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

DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)

said the House was under an obligation to the hon. Member for Hoxton for having brought this matter of housing accommodation before them. There was no need for him to rehearse the figures the hon. Member gave as to the gravity of the problem. They were all agreed as to the evil, and they were all anxious to remove it if possible. He need not go into the misery, destitution, immorality, and drunkenness which followed in its train, but he disagreed so far with his hon. friend, if he suggested that they could remedy this without any great difficulty by improving administration. They could peddle with the question, but the rules of the House would not enable them to do anything more. They must all agree that legislation of a sweeping character was necessary before they could deal adequately with this problem. He must confine himself absolutely to questions of administration at present, but he might be permitted to say he was grateful to the President of the Local Government Board for having promised to deal this session with one or two matters recommended by the two Select Committees which reported last year.

His hon. friend referred in the first place to what was a very real and great inconvenience, and that was the fact that in respect to the country the Local Government Board dealt with all questions o housing administration, and that in respect to London the Home Office was the authority which administered the law. As a member of one of the two Committees last year it was pretty closely brought home to him that there was a conflict of view, a differentiation of interpretation, and different rates of expedition in respect of administration resulting from the system of dual authority. He could quote from the Report of the Joint Committee a great many instances of what he had said, but it would suffice if he gave one. In passing, he would say that he was profoundly impressed with the enthusiasm, the spirit of devotion, and the ready knowledge shown by the officials of the Home Office and the Local Government Department who were called before the Committee. They seemed to him to be inspired by a desire to do their best with the work they had in hand. The Committee called before them Mr. Byrne, the principal Clerk of the Home Office, to give evidence in respect of that duty of rehousing the population cast upon railway and other public companies which demolished dwelling-houses in the course of their operations; and he told the Committee that it was the invariable practice of the Home Office, in respect to the new houses, that they should have a veto on the rental which should be paid for each tenement. Indeed, when the hon. Member for Hoxton asked: "In effect, the Home Office claims to be in practice a 'fair rent' court?" And the answer was: "Yes, with regard to this extremely limited class of dwellings." On the other hand, the Committee had before them Mr. Kershaw, an equally assiduous and clever officer, and assistant secretary to the Local Government Board. He referred Mr. Kershaw to what Mr. Bryne had said as to the practice of the Home Office insisting on a right of veto on the rent, and asked him: "You observe that the Secretary of State considers it essential that he should have a veto over the rent?" And his answer was: "Yes, in London." "Quite so; and that if it should ever be held that the provisions of the Model Clause do not enable him to exercise that power, he would strongly recommend to Parliament that the Act should be strengthened so as to provide for it?" "Yes." "That is not the view of the Local Government Board?" "No, because we are not dealing with London, and Mr. Bryne restricted his answer to London." That was scarcely a relevant discrimination, and he only gave it as an illustration of the conflict of authority. If the Home Office thought it desirable to have a veto on the rental of the new houses in London, why should not the Local Government Board have the same veto in the provinces? He should like to ask the right hon. Gentlemen opposite what they had to say to a couple of small—he would not say peddling—but practical recommendations which the Committee on the Housing of the Working Classes made— We recommend that the new houses to be provided be suitable for persons of the labouring class and not too ambitious in character and design; we attach much importance to these conditions. Perhaps the President of the Local Government Board would tell the House what he proposed to do in respect of that recommendation. It was not a matter of legislation here, for the Local Government Board had general powers under the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890. The President of the Local Government Board stated that all the Local Government Board did was to issue model by-laws. That was so. But supposing the local authority in its discretion did not think it was necessary to live up to these model by-laws and proposed a scheme to provide housing on a little less ambitious scale, what was the position of the Local Government Board then? Would the Board reject that scheme or sanction it? Was it true that the Local Government Board would not permit any material deviation from their model by-laws?


Not in the manner described by the hon. Gentleman. The regulations to which he refers deal entirely either with matters of sanitation or what may be called the social comforts of the people occupying the houses, such as the requirements of space for each inhabitant, the proper provision of sanitary arrangements, and such things as had been referred to by His Majesty the King the other day—the provision of cupboards in the rooms and lockers for keeping food. These regulations are all to be enforced; but when it comes to buildings of a more ambitious character and design we would not withhold our sanction from any scheme, provided there were proper sanitary arrangements.


Then all I can say is that many local authorities are under a serious misapprehension in regard to that matter.


This is very important. Statements like that made by the hon. Gentleman have been repeated often and often in this House, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having mentioned the matter, so that I can answer them. I have asked repeatedly in this House and in communications to local authorities for them, but no specific instances have been given to me in which my Department has interfered in order to enforce a more ambitious or a more extravagant class of buildings. The only cases that have ever been brought before me are those to which I have referred, or the case of which the hon. Member for Hoxton spoke, where it is obvious to anyone that the walls which would bear a cottage of one floor would not usually be strong enough to bear a second storey. All the other cases of interference of my Department have been concerned solely with the requirements of public health, or what may be called public safety.


said that that was a very proper interference. But be believed it was a fact that in the case of Darwen the local authority, under their own by-laws respecting sanitation, could have provided houses to be let at about 5s. per week; but in order to comply with the Local Government Board's regulations they could not erect the houses on a business basis at a less rent charge than 6s. or 7s. a week. And his hon. friend gave another case where the carrying out of the Local Government Board's regulations ran up the rent more than a shilling a week. It was not desirable that the Local Government Board should insist in these matters in going beyond the question of general sanitation. He asked the right hon. Gentle- man whether it was proposed to carry out the recommendation of the Committee he had read as to the necessity of the houses for the labouring class not being too ambitious in character and design. There was another matter which could be dealt with—the question of the area within which the rehousing must take place. The recommendation No. 6 of the Committee was:— It will be observed that the area within which the new houses may be provided under a scheme is left by us wholly to the discretion of the central authority. It may be and we think will be found expedient in some oases to erect the new houses at some considerable distance from the houses demolished, and not necessarily within the jurisdiction of the same local authority. That applied, in particular, to London, in consequence of the great movement of population from the City to the suburbs. He should be glad to have the views of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the recommendation.

Then there was the recommendation of the other Select Committee which dealt with the question of the repayment of loans by the Local Authorities—not only housing loans but all loans. The period of the repayment of loans was fixed by a number of Statutes under which it might be from ten up to the maximum of sixty years—the latter period being fixed in 1875 with reference to housing and land. Now, the Select Committee made this statement— This being the general character of the public statutes dealing with the subject, it is obvious that the discretion left to the Government Departments which fix the actual period for the repayment of each loan, is a very wide one. Although some other Departments have duties in respect of certain loans, by far the greater part of the work of controlling the borrowings of local authorities falls, in England and Wales, upon the Local Government Board. The Select Committee examined the practice, and they thought that the period in respect of the repayment of certain loans might be reduced: that the maximum period for the repayment of loans contracted for covering the expense of promoting Private Bills ought not to be more than five years; but when it came to the question raised by this Motion, the Committee having regard to the durability of the asset, had no doubt whatever that the period of repayment ought to be extended. It said that— In regard to these loans, there is a widespread feeling amongst municipal authorities that the periods allowed for their repayment should be extended. The Committee recognise that there are certain considerations which differentiate the case of housing from that even of public water supply or sewage works, without which the population, even of towns, have contrived—and in some cases still contrive—to exist. If it is true that the supply of houses for the working classes by private enterprise has failed, generally or in certain places, or in regard to certain classes of workmen, to keep pace with the demand for such houses, caused either by increase of population or by demolition of dwellings, the matter appears to be one of exceptional gravity …. Therefore, the Committee feel that it is with regard to loans for rehousing purposes that the strongest claim for a revision of redemption periods can be established, and they proceed to examine what is the strength of that claim. And finally it was said that there should be an extension to eighty years. The Committee pointed out that under the existing practice it was sixty years, but that the Local Government Board, in its discretion, did not allow in many cases provincial authorities to have that period, but that they could do that at once now. He asked the President of the Local Government Board to give his view of the desirability of extending the period for repayment up to sixty years, whore the asset was durable. That would be a great consideration to many municipalities, and would enable them, with a modification of the by-laws in regard to dwelling houses, to reduce the rent of tenements by a few pence, which even would be a great boon. There was another recommendation by the Committee that some postponement of the repayment of the first instalment should be allowed in the case of certain works. These were small matters, and would not carry them very far. But he should be glad to have the views of the right hon. Gentleman upon them. He supported the Motion; but he dissociated himself entirely from the suggestion that the London County Council, particularly, had not done all it could under the present law. It had overcome a mountain of difficulties, having regard to the state of the law, and if the Government would assist in mitigating these difficulties by referring the small matters to which he referred to a select Committee, the debate would not have been raised in vain.

MR. MIDDLEMORE (Birmingham, N.)

said he did not feel disposed to support this Motion, because it was such an insignificant way of peddling and tinkering with what seemed to be by far the greatest national question that they could deal with. As the hon. Member who proposed the Motion travelled rather widely over the question, perhaps he might be allowed in a very few words to state what he thought was the question. He had some right to make a statement, as some years of his life had been voluntarily spent in "Slum-land," and he thought he had a knowledge equal to that of the average Member on the question. This was not one question—it was a great congeries of questions; in fact, he might say that almost every social question was directly or indirectly associated with it. The housing question proper—if indeed there were such a question as the housing question proper—bore on such questions as the drink question, the land question, the education question, the general industrial system, and the aggregation of the population. It was almost like treating the matter with irony to propose such a resolution as that of his hon. friend. To illustrate what he meant he remarked that once he visited every house in "Slum-land" in one of our large towns and became acquainted with every house in it—so well acquainted that he could measure every room with his eye as well as his measure. One of the facts which struck him most—except perhaps, the fact that after every Christian holiday a great number of women had black eyes—was that in a very large number of houses where there were three bedrooms only one was occupied; the occupants were passing their lives in what was termed a "living-room." Of course the explanation was very simple—the drink bill, the sale for rent, and the pawnbrokers' shops. The economic pith of the question surely was that the population was increasing, and the rents of the houses were increasing quicker than the rate of wages of the people inhabiting them. There were only two ways of dealing with the question—one by decreasing the population, i.e., by decreasing the birth-rate, and emigration.


Order, order! I am sorry to have to interrupt the hon. Member, but he is now opening up the general question of the Housing of the Working Classes. That would not be admissible on the question that I now leave the Chair. The only subject that can be discussed is one arising on the Estimates. The hon. Gentleman is now discussing the general question, and he can only do so if he can connect it with some action on the part of a Government Department. That he does not appear to me to be attempting to do. It is important that the discussion should be confined to its proper limit.


said he had at the back of his mind that he was travelling beyond the limit, and he apologised. But his hon. friend made such wide expressions that he was hoping to follow in his footsteps. He should be very pleased to support a more drastic and effective measure than the present proposal, which was altogether too small and trifled with the question. He wanted some great measure to turn the people on the land and multiply the proposal of the hon. Member for the Hoxton Division 500 times.

MR. AUSTIN TAYLOR (Liverpool, E. Toxteth)

said be thought that on a question of this kind where the conditions were so complex, even merely as a matter of Government administration, it was quite natural that public attention should be directed to it; and his hon. friend the Member for Hoxton had taken the only course open to him to call attention to the matter, by framing his Motion in the form in which it was before the House. Of course the Motion might not be in the form which would be most acceptable to his hon. friend or to the Department on whose administration it appeared to reflect. There was always something exhilarating in attacking a Department, because of the animation which it produced. He should, however, like to say on behalf of the municipality which he represented that, as far as the actual administration of the Housing Acts was concerned, there were no complaints. He held in his hand one of the highest tributes to the Local Government Board which it had ever been his good fortune to come across. An official in a northern town connected with housing operations informed him that he had no difficulty at all with the Local Government Board and had always found the Board quite willing to be educated in the matter of housing. That was a unique tribute; and so far from a Department which was willing to be educated by the local authorities being the object of attack, it should be the object of praise, and should be held up as a pattern to other Departments. The administration of these Acts by the Local Government Board could not be complained of for the reason that, according to the Acts, the initiative should come from the local authority; and the Acts were so framed that the onus was thrown on the local authority. If the local authority did not move itself, or move its medical officer, power was given to two Justices of the Peace, or to any twelve ratepayers, to force the medical officer to make the necessary representations. Therefore, the initial responsibility for dealing with the matter rested not with the central authority but with the local authority, or failing them with the ratepayers who elected them to the position they occupied.

A certain series of questions were sent out by the Local Government Board to various provincial authorities in connection with this matter; and he would advocate that the policy which was indicated in that series of questions might be carried a little further, perhaps in the direction indicated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camber well, with whose general line he did not altogether agree, but who on the question of the class of house to be provided laid down what he thought was a most admirable indication. In that series of questions the Local Government Board asked whether there was a want of proper accommodation for the working classes in the area of the local authority; had it led to overcrowding, and, if so, how many cases had been reported; for what classes of persons was such accommodation required; how far was the demand being met by private enterprise; and in particular, what was the number of houses for each class of such persons which were erected annually by private enterprise; and if action were to be taken under the Act, was it thought that the erection of houses for these classes by the local authority would tend to discourage private enterprise, and, if so, what was the reason for this conclusion? He wished to point out the enormous bearing which that series of questions had on the solution of the problem. It indicated that the central Authority was not going to be the passive recipient of schemes which they would either criticise, remodel, or endorse; but that it recognised that in an administrative sense if it was to do its duty it must survey what was passing in provincial cities in connection with this question. The question of slums and insanitary houses was one thing, and the general question of the deficiency of housing accommodation was another. In London, which was in some respects in quite an unique position in this matter, the practice had been to take a particular slum district, composed very often of houses structurally sanitary, and under Part 1 of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, or under some local Act, to demolish the houses, and imagine that that was solving the Housing Question. It was perfectly clear that by such action so far from solving the housing question they were accentuating the very difficulty and trouble from which these large cities had suffered; and what was imperative, he thought, was that the Central Department in administering the Act should not only require that adequate accommodation should be provided to replace the houses that were pulled down, but should go further and demand that that accommodation should suit the capacities, the pockets, and the other conditions of those who were dispossessed from slums which the municipalities destroyed. The fact of the matter was that those people who were turned out of these slums could not by any possibility pay the rents which were in many cases required by the municipalities, for their buildings, and he thought he might claim for Liverpool that alone amongst the municipalities of England,—to say nothing of London which of course had not attempted to deal with this question at all—Liverpool provided dwellings suitable for those who were turned out of their slum dwellings at rents which they could afford to pay, and within reasonable distance of their work.

He knew perfectly well that other municipalities in this matter were merely making, as they made sometimes in Liverpool, experiments. In Manchester— and this after all was a matter of administration, because the Central Department could, if it liked, put this matter right—they had in the Angel Meadow district closed innumerable houses and left them as a standing eyesore to the whole of the city. People had been turned out into the streets, and they held indignation meetings on account of the pitiable condition in which they found themselves, and the answer of the Manchester Corporation was: "Oh, you must go to Blackley." Well, Blackley was a new model estate which the Corporation was building on the outskirts of Manchester, and these people who had been turned out of Angel Meadow were perverse enough to say that they had no means to pay the cost of getting there, and if they got there they could not pay the rent of the fine new model dwellings which the Manchester Corporation was putting up. Therefore it really came down to this urgent question, that the municipality which undertook the responsibility of abolishing a slum and turning out of the houses—to which these people were accustomed—the slum dwellers, should, when it took this responsibility, recognise it, and recognise further that its first responsibility was not to some superior class of artisan who tenanted the house at an enhanced rent, but to the very people who had been turned out, who were the legitimate objects of municipal enterprise—and doubly legitimate because the municipality which catered for these people would find no competition as regarded private enterprise. It was perfectly true that no Department could coerce local authorities in this matter. They had the previous day a most interesting debate, which involved, to a certain extent, the relations between central Departments and local authorities, or, at any rate, between the House and local authorities. He desired, for his part, to disclaim utterly any trace of that spirit which seemed occasionally to reign on the Benches where he stood, of underlying antagonism to these great municipalities, whose burdens were only known to the men who had to face them, and who, it might be, in facing such problems as they were discussing that day experimented in an ill-advised fashion, but, at any rate, were not apathetic or indifferent to the responsibilities they had undertaken. Might he suggest to the central Departments represented there, both the Home Office, but more particularly the Local Government Board, that they should take a little more responsibility in the matter of the policy which was being pursued by the great provincial municipalities. These municipalities had not arrived at any clear or coherent policy on this question. They had not even decided the elementary question for what class of tenant they were going to cater; they were perfectly willing to pull down the slums.


The hon. Member appears to me to be discussing the question of what is the duty of the local authorities, and how they perform it. That is not admissible on this question. The hon. Member admits that the Government cannot take any initiative on this matter, and he must confine himself, if he is discussing the action of the municipal authorities, to some alleged neglect of duty by the Government in respect of what is done by the authorities.


said he was leading up to this point, that of course the central Department now took this initiative when it insisted upon a certain percentage of accommodation being provided in case a slum was disturbed and the inhabitants thrown out, and he was going to suggest that they might go a little further, as indicated by Dr. Macnamara, and say not only should accommodation be provided, but the accommodation should be allocated to those who were dispossessed. In that sense they would, at any rate, force the municipality to face the question of doing something to bring them a little nearer, not to the solution of the whole problem, but to the practical solution of the slum problem, which was the real problem for the municipalities to deal with. He did not desire for a moment to travel into wider aspects of this question. He quite felt that this was a question merely of administration, though he desired to urge the central Department to exercise a guiding spirit in regard to the large municipalities all over the country. It was really because he recognised on this question, while everybody wished something to be done, each municipality was doing something different. No coherent policy had yet been achieved and he might say that millions were being wasted in experiments which gave no practical result, but which if superintended and collated by the chiefs in London might ultimately be fruitful in building up some saner and wiser policy.

MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

said the hon. Member for Clitheroe had asked him to draw attention to the case of Darwen. The local authorities, there it appeared, had entered into a building scheme; they had certain by-laws and desired to apply those by-laws to the buildings now in progress and those proposed to be erected, but the Local Government Board had insisted upon their own by-laws being applied, with the result that the local authority had had to put the rent up by a shilling a week more than they would otherwise have charged, and a charge had consequently to be made upon the rates. There was no dispute as to the responsibility resting with the local authorities in this matter, but what they complained of was that the Local Government Board placed unnecessary restrictions and restraints in the way. An instance of that occurred in his own constituency where overcrowding had become very serious. There building had been delayed for a number of years owing to a conflict between the local authority and the Local Government Board. At Wellington, at this moment, a similar conflict was going on. There owing to the influx of population, owing to new works being started in the neighbourhood, a building scheme had been entered into, but it was discovered that the rent which would have to be charged was far beyond that which could be charged for houses erected by private enterprise, and the local authority were now asking the central authority to vary the conditions in order that they might charge a rent such as these people could afford to pay. He thought the Local Government Board should give some attention to these matters. In Scotland, loans had to be repaid in from thirty to thirty-four years, but for loans applicable to England the period of repayment might be extended to sixty years. In Scotland, owing to loans for housing having to be repaid in thirty or thirty-four years, the authorities were placed under a serious disability, because it necessitated the rents being 1s. 6d. or 2s. per week higher than would be the case if a forty-five or fifty years limit was allowed. Speaking generally, he hoped the Local Government Board would not relax its regulations concerning the quality of the houses to be built; otherwise slums would simply be recreated. No greater mistake could be made than to pull down houses and build dwellings which in fifteen or twenty years would be as bad as those they had displaced. The suggestion of the hon. Member for the Toxteth Division that the Local Government Board should insist on local authorities building houses only for slum dwellers for whom private enterprise could not provide ought not to be followed. Instead of playing the part of scavenger to the private housebuikler, and taking charge of the refuse, out of whom they could not make a profit, the Local Government Board should insist on the local authorities building houses which would cater for the better class of artisans. By that means housing vacancies would be created right down to the lowest slums, and the competition of the municipality would tend to reduce rents all round.


regretted that this matter could not be discussed as a whole. The housing question was the basis of all social improvements, and all Members were anxious that legislation and the action of the Local Government Board and the Home Office should tend in the direction of promoting the well-being of the homes of the people. The question of loans and the action of the Local Government Board in relation thereto was of considerable importance. The subject was largely affected by cost, and to go thoroughly into the housing question would require millions of money in London alone. The proposal of the hon. Member for North Camber well that the repayment of loans should be greatly extended, and that no repayments should be made for the first few years, would not promote the real object they had in view. It seemed as though they were most anxious to house the people better, but to throw the burden on somebody else. He hoped the Local Government Board would not give way in that direction; it would tend not only to increase the rates, but to increase them out of all proportion to the benefit secured. This was not in any way a party question, and many Members felt that to go on increasing the powers of the Local Government Board, and of municipalities, really retarded the movement by discouraging private enterprise, by which he believed this work should largely be done. He hoped some comprehensive measure would be brought forward, which while promoting in every way the provision of improved and sanitary homes, would not saddle the burden on posterity, but deal with the question in an honest and straightforward manner.

LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)

said there was no proposition which on the surface appeared more natural, and therefore was more popular, than that they should call on the Local Government Board or the Home Office to introduce legislation by which in all cases the repayment of loans for housing purposes should be spread over a longer period. Looking at the question strictly from the point of view of what a Government Department might be called upon to do, he thought these questions should be looked at from a local rather than a general point of view. So far as the Metropolis, and cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh were concerned, there could be no objection to extending the period of repayment, because the tendency was for land in those places to increase in value. But that proposition could not be laid down for the country at large. The position in, say, a mining district was totally different. There the houses would be occupied by people dependent on an uncertain industry, and if a loan were granted for sixty or eighty years, and the principal industry became impaired, the district might be reduced to a position of almost permanent bank ruptcy, being saddled with a debt it was unable to repay. He would not object to there being vested in the Local Government Board or the Home Office a discretionary power to raise the outside limit, but he hoped it would never be understood by the Department concerned that it was to relax that extreme vigilance which he believed was of the utmost importance to the ratepayers both of the present and of the future. They might be piling up a debt upon posterity, affecting them more as householders than ratepayers, heavier than any benefit which might accrue from the houses to be erected.

He wished to touch upon one other point which he thought was germane to this Vote. The hon. Member for North Camber well, and the hon. Member who introduced the Motion to the House, had spoken of very great evils which existed owing to there being a divided jurisdiction between the offices of the two right hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite. He thought one of the first things which ought to be done was to bring into the House some measure for the consolidation of the law upon this subject. One of the greatest difficulties in the small urban communities arose owing to the immense confusion of the law, and however anxious they might be to put themselves into communication with the Local Government Board, they found themselves beaten by the extreme complexity of the laws they had to administer. There was no way of dealing with the housing of the working classes until the present law was simplified. Taking the question as a whole, he thought the consolidation and simplification of the existing law was almost as important as any amendment of the law. They had been promised an alteration of the rule under which the two Departments dealing with this question introduced legislation—he was alluding to the proposal in regard to Consolidation Bills. He did not see how they were to get what they wanted in regard to the housing of the working classes, unless some comparatively simple legislative enactment were carried which he who ran might read, instead of clerks, surveyors, and medical officer's having to find their way through dozens of Acts of Parliament. He hoped that the Cabinet Ministers concerned would do all they could to induce the Government to proceed with the Standing Order which was promised last year, and which appeared to have been dropped because one hon. Member opposite chose to state that he objected to Consolidation Orders, although that hon. Member, he believed, stood absolutely by himself upon the question.

SIR. J. DICKSON-POYNDEK (Wiltshire, Chippenham)

thought the House was indebted to his hon. friend for having brought this question forward. Although the Amendment was rather formidable, he was sure his hon. friend would be the first to admit that he did not wish to bring any serious charge against the two Departments of the service. Judging from the speeches which had been made, no quarter of the House appeared to entertain any great feeling of antagonism to either of the Departments concerned. As a Member of the County Council who had been in touch with this question for some years past, he wished to say that every member of the London County Council Committee fully recognised the manner in which both Departments and both Ministers had taken up this question, and the sympathy and generosity with which they had treated the Council with regard to housing. This Amendment confined the discussion to very narrow limits, and they could not deal with the wider questions which were connected with this subject. They could only deal with the administration of the Acts themselves, and the power the Ministers had over local authorities. The duty of the local authority had been divided into two branches; first, the administration under the Acts which gave power to purchase land, and secondly that part which dealt with the clearance of slum areas. He did not think anything now stood in the way of local authorities purchasing land and building upon those sites, but it was rather with regard to the latter branch of the subject that the asked for the attention of the Home Secretary. During the last twenty-seven years there had been under the old Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council no less than thirty-four slum areas cleared from London, and they had cost no less than £3,000,000, of which some £2,200,000 was a dead loss to the ratepayers of the Metropolis. He thought the time had arrived when the clearance of these areas should be dealt with by some other means than those at present in practice; and some less extravagant and expensive system should be devised by which London could be cleared of slum areas without this immense imposition of burdens upon the ratepayers. He asked his right hon. friend to use his discretion under the Act in the future with regard to Part 1 schemes, by which he could direct or advise the local authority after clearing an area to sell it at its commercial value, and purchase other land on the outskirts of London for sites to accommodate the people who had been displaced.


Order, order! The hon. Member is now discussing the action of local authorities.


said he was only showing the immense charge put upon the rates with a view to asking the Home Secretary whether in future he could not guide local authorities rather in the direction of selling the central areas and utilising the money to purchase larger areas outside. Undoubtedly it would be very difficult to obtain communication with the outskirts, but every year Bills were being passed for the construction of underground railways, and in a very short time it was to be hoped, as the result of the Commission now sitting, there would be adequate communication with the outskirts to convey people from the centre to the outside of London at a small cost and without undue delay.


Order, order! The hon. Member is discussing a much wider question than the one raised by this Motion. The question is whether the administration of the Housing Acts by the Departments concerned is unsatisfactory and defective.


asked the Home Secretary to devise some mode by which they would be able to clearly define in the future what was sanitary and insanitary property. He knew it was a very delicate question for a Minister in any way to advise those gentlemen who discharged judicial duties. But there was no doubt a great lack of uniformity, due to different tribunals dealing with this question of the closing of insanitary houses.


Order, Order! It is obvious that this cannot be a question of the administrative duties of the two Departments.


said he was afraid the Motion was so very prescribed that it left him very little to say. He hoped that later on when the question of the salary of the Minister came up he should have an opportunity of bringing this subject before the House. He asked the President of the Local Government Board to look into another question. Under the present arrangement, when an area was cleared it was necessary for another site to be appropriated by the Borough Council to house number of people. That appropriation, he believed, came under the individual consent of the President of the Local Government Board if it was taken separately from the scheme. But the Local Government Board insisted at present on taking it altogether, and this necessitated coming to the House for a Provisional Order. If this was insisted on by the President of the Local Government Board, there would be a delay of six or eight months, and building would be stopped during that period. Possibly this had not come under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and if he would give it his favourable consideration he was sure that it would be of the greatest value to the Borough of St. Pancras.


In regard to the point raised by my hon. friend the Member for the Chippenham Division, I have no doubt that I shall be able to find a way to overcome the difficulty to which he has referred. With reference to the general debate, I am not surprised that many speakers on both sides of the House have sought to apologise for the hon. Member for Hoxton, and the form of apology is that the hon. Member's Resolution does not really mean what it professes to mean. One of my hon. friends went further in the excess of his zeal, and sought to show that the hon. Member for Hoxton did not mean what he said. My hon. friend goes a little too far when he give him so much protection, because the Resolution is a perfectly definite one. It is that the Housing Acts have failed because of maladministration on the part of the Local Government Board, though no evidence has been produced in support of the charge. Among the statements my hon. friend made was that the Local Government Board have not shown initiative. He went on to say that there was nobody in the Local Government Board charged with the sole care of the Housing Acts. Those were the grounds on which he rested his statement that the Local Government Board had failed in its administration of the Housing Acts, and he said it was on account of these circumstances that at all events some of the present difficulties were due. I do not wonder that hon. Members found it difficult to continue the debate within the rules of order. It is not only because the rules of order have dogged their footsteps that they found this difficulty; it is because they have not got the evidence necessary in order to prove the charge stated in the Resolution. I do not hesitate to say that the debate has been of a general character. We have heard a great deal about initiative on the part of Government Departments, and about the necessity of some means being found to meet some particular difficulty. When I hear these statements I rub my eyes and wonder whether I am asleep at this period of Parliamentary history. What has been the cry of Parliament ever since I have been here? What has been one of the main propositions on which hon. Members have sought to enter Parliament? Has it been for increased centralisation on the part of Government Departments? Has not the tendency for legislation been more and more to throw into the hands of Government Departments less and less work, and to give more and more power to the local authorities? But if the local authorities are to be clothed with mere power, they must be trusted to exercise initiative of their own, or decentralisation becomes a farce. Initiative must come from the locality which is familiar with the facts and difficulties in a way that no Government Department can be. The local authority, moreover, is spending the money of its own ratepayers, and not the money of the nation; I very much doubt whether suggestions that a Government Department should exercise parental supervision in this matter are likely to-find favour even with the small municipalities, and I am certain they would be rejected with contempt by the larger. It is all very well to talk of a central department exercising initiative. How is it to be done? My hon. friend says the Local Government Board have been apathetic, and have not taken the trouble to administer the Acts with vigour. What evidence has he brought in support of the charge? If, when he tells us that we have nobody at the Local Government Board charged with the sole control of the Housing Acts, he means that we have no one who has nothing else to do but to look after the housing problem, he is perfectly right, and I can assure him that he would find he was profoundly mistaken if he sought to break up the work of the Department in that ridiculous way.


The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I advocated that there should be an Intelligence Department, which would be able to gather information from all parts of the country, and place it at the service of local authorities.


My hon. friend says that he wants an Intelligence Department. What proof does he advance that there is not an Intelligence Department now? He was answered by the speech of the hon. Member for Camber, well, who has referred to the circulars issued to local authorities asking for specific answers to specific questions. How does he think those circulars could have been drawn up and issued if the Local Government Department were so lacking in intelligence as he holds it to be? There is a branch of the Department, with a highly competent assistant secretary at its head, which is charged, among other duties, with the supervision of all housing work; and in character and ability the officials of that branch are deserving of all commendation. I was glad to hear the remark that fell from the hon. Member for Camberwell in regard to the enthusiasm of the officials of the Local Government Board and of the Home Office. An hon. Member has brought forward a case at Darwen which is an admirable illustration of the sort of complaint that is made against the Local Government Board in this matter. It is said that in that case the Department refused to allow the local authority to make its own by-laws, and imposed upon it the by-laws of the Local Government Board. The fact is that the local authority had their own code of by-laws, drawn by themselves and approved by the Local Government Board. But when they came to undertake a housing scheme the local authority proposed to disregard their own by-laws, two of which were very important. That means that if the Local Government Board had not told them that they must obey the law so long as the law is what it is, the local authority could have continued to impose their by-laws on private persons engaged in building in the locality, while claiming exemption for themselves. If they think the bylaws are unsound or unsatisfactory, let them ask that a new code of by-laws shall be substituted, but as long as the by-laws are in force, surely it is rather strong to accuse the Department of red tape, because they say that the local authority must obey the law.

MR. SHACKLETON (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

They did not want to make by-laws for their own special benefit. I was a Member of the Corporation at the time, and the only question was whether the by-laws applied to ordinary buildings should be applied to the Corporation buildings.


I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. Although he was a member of the Corporation at the time, there is often considerable misunderstanding as to what precisely occurs on these occasions. I believe it is exactly the same with many other cases which are brought up in this form, and which upon investigation turn out to be as I have described in this case. The Local Government Board have no by-laws, and they have no power to impose any on local authorities. Before by-laws can be put in force they must be adopted by the local authorities. My hon. friend, the Member for Hoxton, referred to this question. He said that many of the by-laws were of an excessive character, and that they imposed great restrictions. He blamed the Local Government Board for it. Will the House believe it? Hardly ever is a set of by-laws submitted by a local authority to the Local Government Board for confirmation without it being necessary to call attention to the fact that many of them are of a questionable character, and may operate severely on the locality and be restrictive of local enterprise.

That brings me to the point raised by the hon. Member for Camberwell who said he hoped we should adopt one of the recommendations of the Committee of which he was a member, to take care that buildings are not of a pretentious character; that they are suited to the purses of those who provide them, and of those who are to live in them. That has been the object of the Department ever since it has been responsible for the Acts. We are constantly endeavouring to cut down the amount which the local authorities are seeking to spend under this head, and to curtail unnecessary extravagance. But I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman himself would be one of the first to advise us not to weaken in the smallest degree those by-laws which are concerned either with sanitary work or what I call the social comfort of the people who are to live in the houses. We have never proposed to impose regulations which would involve work of a merely ornamental character or to gratify an idle fancy. It is perfectly true that we have insisted on a certain cubic space per inhabitant. I do not think the hon. Gentleman would desire that model buildings put up at the public expense should be of such a character as to make it impossible for women and children to live healthy lives in them and get sufficient fresh air. I do not think that he would desire that the sanitary arrangements should be other than satisfactory and of a modern character. These are the kind of requirements that the Local Government Board make upon the local authorities. It is perfectly true that we have more than once insisted that in these small dwellings there shall be properly ventilated cupboards, where food can be kept shut up out of the way when not in use. Will anybody pretend that these are unreasonable requirements to make on the local authorities? We are entirely at one with the hon. Member for North Camberwell that, as far as possible, these buildings should be of the most economical character. It should never be forgotten by those who have to erect them that these buildings are erected at the public expense, and are intended for people to live in who want solid and sanitary rather than ornamental buildings. The hon. Member for Hoxton said there had been apathy in the Department in connection with this housing question, but he did not support his contention with any evidence. I only speak of the time for which I have been responsible, but so far as I know—and I believe there has been no change in this respect—everything that it is possible for us to do has been done within the last three or four years to assist the local authorities in their difficult and responsible duties. I do not think that any charge of negligence can be fairly brought against us.


What about information?


What does my hon. friend want? He tells us that it is matter of common knowledge that no explanation has been given as to the character of all that has been done by the local authorities, and as to the loans that they have incurred; but so far as I know there is no information which we have not given. It is not information in regard to the difficulties connected with housing that the hon. Gentleman wants. He wants, as we all do, information as to the way in which those difficulties ought to be removed. The hon. Member for Camberwell asked some questions as to the Report of the Committee on Housing and on the subject of area and loans. In regard to area the recommendation of the Committee has been the policy of our Department, which has always been willing to deal with the area in the manner suggested in the Report. In regard to loans, as the law stands sixty years is the maximum period, and the Department have interpreted it as meaning sixty years for the most durable portions of the work. It will be my duty to submit proposals to Parliament on this subject in a Bill which will be introduced in a short time, and I must reserve what I have to say on it until that opportunity arises. While I am most anxious to remove any practical difficulty, either in connection with loans or any other part of the administration of the law with regard to housing, it seems to me that the Department in its proposals must have regard to the views of those who believe that there is a necessity for municipal economy, as well as for the opinions of those who believe that there is a demand for a greater opportunity to spend money. I cannot admit on behalf of the Department that there is any justification for the charge contained in the hon. Member for Hoxton's Amendment. Everything the Department could do within the law they have done; and I have asked hon. Members times without number to bring details before me so that no effort should be spared on the part of the Department and myself to help them. It is therefore an unfair charge to bring forward, and it ought not to be made unless there is much stronger evidence to support it. After all, it is not a charge against the Government. Governments come and go, but a charge of this kind is against the public officials, who are men of the highest ability, of the utmost devotion to duty, and who are constantly engaged in the examination of these questions. I venture to say that so far from condemning them we ought to be grateful to them for the prudent and careful manner in which they deal with this grave and difficult question.

Question put, and agreed to.

Original Question again proposed.