§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. HOGAN () Tipperary, N.
The Bill to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading to-day deals with a subject of immense importance to Ireland and of the greatest possible urgency. It is high time that Ireland had some consideration and attention given by Parliament to its housing problem. No one who understands the cities and towns of Ireland and the conditions under which the working classes and the poorer classes live in them will deem it an exaggeration when I say that a state of things exists there which it would be a crime to allow to continue any longer. Let this House pause for a moment in its warfare of parties and endeavour to do some material good to Ireland by passing this measure. It is purely a domestic problem, and cannot in any circumstances jeopardise the Union or touch upon the higher flights of politics, except that it will tend to better the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland. I cannot imagine that any Member of Parliament desires to throw any obstacle in the way of bettering the condition of the Irish people and by so doing perhaps lessening the volume of discontent in my country. I am quite aware and my colleagues of the Irish Party are quite aware that the problem is a big one and will take considerable time to solve. But a beginning must be made and the sooner the better. The principal thing to secure is that when we begin we shall not set about the work in a peddling fashion, but shall take means to enable the local authorities to do something on a comprehensive scale within the next few years so as to remove 929 one of the worst blots on our civilisation. I am usually a silent member of this House, representing an innocent and agricultural constituency; even the hon. Members from Ulster would acknowledge this. My hon. and learned friend who will second the Motion I make will explain in detail the exact proposals of the Bill. It is his business to talk, and he can do it well. It is my business to vote, and I can do that as well as anyone in this House. But, speaking as the representative of North Tipperary, which is so typical of the greater part of Ireland in so many of its conditions, I have no hesitation in saying that if this Bill passes it will in the next ten years change the face of a great part of most of the cities and towns of Ireland, and so bring advantages to every class of the community in that country. The bettering of the condition of the people in Ireland is desired for its own sake by those who love Ireland, whilst even our opponents on other questions should be the first to realise that the objects sought by this Bill are those which should receive their abundant support. I could give to the House many samples and illustrations of what I see myself. I will only trouble you with one which I saw last January in a town not far from where I live. It was a very wet day and walking along one of the ordinary streets I saw a poor old man sitting by a scanty fire in his own house and he had to have an umbrella up to do that which the roof ought to have been doing for him. With these few observations I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill now before the House.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
I rise to second the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill. My hon. friend who has just sat down said that the subject with which the Bill deals was one of the greatest urgency. It is hardly necessary to say anything in proof of that allegation, for, in truth, everyone admits it. It was admitted by the late Government, when the then Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Member for Dover, promised legislation at an early date regarding the housing question in Irish cities and towns. But if proof were needed, it is to be had in abundance. I assume, of course, that slums are bad 930 things and that proper habitations are necessary for the poorer classes of the community as well as for those higher in the social scale. Starting with that assumption one is appalled by the state of the housing accommodation for the working classes in nearly all the cities and towns of Ireland. If I take the state of things in Dublin as an illustration, I do so not because forty or fifty other urban districts would not afford striking illustrations also, but because the magnitude of the blot on the capital city of Ireland amounts in itself to a national scandal. I find from a paper read in 1903 by Sir Robert Matheson, the Registrar-General for Ireland, that there were then 21,747 families out of 59,263 families, or 36.70 per cent., living in one-room tenements. Surely it is not necessary to go further to justify immediate legislation on this subject. But, in view of the character of our proposals, it may be well to see how the Irish case stands in comparison with the case of England and Scotland. Much has been said, and I have no doubt with perfect truth, about the need for further legislation to meet the case of Great Britain. But a few figures will show that, bad as is the state of things in some of the towns of Great Britain, it is Elysium itself in comparison with what meets the eye in Ireland, and especially in Dublin. Take the number of one-room tenements having five or more occupants each in every 100 tenements of all classes. According to Sir Robert Matheson—for it is to his courtesy I am indebted for these figures, which may, therefore, be absolutely relied upon—Manchester has 0.04 such tenements; Liverpool, 0.22; London, 0.57; Edinburgh, 1.80; Glasgow, 4.28; and Dublin, 8.69. In face of such figures as those, while I do not in the least desire to minimise the case of Great Britain for better housing accommodation for its workers, I shall not be going too far when I say that there is no urgency about it when you compare it with that of Ireland. As to the moral evils resulting from the state of things I have described, I am on common ground with everyone, but if I were to refer to any testimony on the point I would direct the attention of the Chief Secretary in particular to the remarkable deliverances which the Recorder of Dublin recently 931 thought it his duty to deliver from the bench upon this point. It will be sufficient to say that from the misery and squalor of those abodes spring nearly all the vice and nearly all the crime in the urban centres of Ireland, which, nevertheless, we are proud to be able to say are amongst the most peaceable and orderly communities of the kind in the whole world. What about the physical evils? We hear a good deal nowadays—and not a word too much—about the ravages of consumption, and the necessity of fighting that terrible disease with appliances of the most approved sort, no matter how costly. But what earthly use is it to try to stamp out consumption by building sanatoria when you have those thousands of dens breeding tuberculosis at the same time? It would be folly not to admit that something has been done by legislation to mitigate this great social evil. The Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 especially was a considerable step in advance, and advantage has been taken of that Act by most, if not by all, the Irish municipalities. In Dublin especially the corporation has done very considerable work in clearing slum areas and replacing the rookeries with which they were studded by comfortable dwellings. But, after all, only the fringe of the difficulty has been touched both in Dublin and the provincial towns. From a Return granted on the Motion of my hon. friend the Member for East Mayo, in 1906, it will be found that since the first of the Housing Acts was passed—thirty or forty years ago—only 4,565 houses were built to accommodate about 4,600 families, and 700 other persons at a cost of about £790,000. If to those figures be added those for last year, only about 4,806 houses have been built to accommodate about 4,650 families and 1,000 other persons at a cost of £830,000 in the long space of time I have just mentioned. Such attempts at reconstruction can hardly be dignified by the name of progress, and if the work of housing the people be no more rapid in the future the prospect is enough to make the heart of any lover of his kind sink within him. But the explanation of the little advance made is perfectly obvious. It lies in the terms on which the necessary funds have been obtainable. 932 For many years past the rates of interest on loans for housing schemes have varied from 3½ per cent. for a period not exceeding thirty years, to 4¼ per cent. for a period not exceeding forty years. At the present moment the rate of interest for a period not exceeding fifty years is as high as 3¾ per cent. The average annuity, to put it otherwise, payable in respect of a loan for forty years has been for many years as high as £4 17s. 6d. Is it any wonder that Irish municipalities, already burdened with high rates, hesitated in the past, and still hesitate to embark on housing schemes? Schemes carried out on such terms would necessarily mean either impossible rents or impossible rates. We think that the time has at last come when some other alternative in this matter ought to be presented to the Irish municipalities, and hence we offer this Bill for the acceptance of Parliament. To the provisions of the measure other than the money clauses I do not suppose that objection will be taken from any quarter. In those provisions we have made a studious effort to keep clear of controversy. In point of fact they are almost all taken from enactments already existing in England. I shall not, therefore, trouble the House by explaining any of them except two. One of the greatest hardships from which we in Ireland suffer is the necessity of coming to Parliament to obtain legislative sanction to every little clearance scheme we undertake. Even when those schemes are not opposed they cost a sum of money which to the smaller municipalities is a positive terror. We think the decision of the Local Government Board in Ireland ought to be final and conclusive, and we propose to mike it so in every case. That is one of the two proposals to which I have referred. The other is to offer inducements to philanthropic associations and to private builders to join in the work of re-housing the people. I confess I have not much faith myself in the existence of the private speculator anxious to risk his fortune in the effort to benefit his fellowmen. It would not be reasonable, after all, to expect a private business man to do anything of the kind without some inducement, though I am bound to add that there are to be found in several towns in Ireland business 933 men who have been wise enough to build dwellings for their workmen at their own expense. As a matter of fact, the chief philanthropist whom we have had is Lord Iveagh, whose housing work is deserving of the highest praise. What we propose to do is to offer to private builders an abatement or a total remission of rates for a period not exceeding ten years on houses built by them for the working classes, on condition that the houses are kept for working men and that the rents charged shall be approved of by the local authority. We offer to associations formed for the purpose of providing working-class dwellings, not only a remission or abatement of rates, but sites at abated rents for a definite period on similar conditions. Whether these inducements will be sufficient to achieve the object in view remains to be seen, but we are hopeful that they will have some effect, as they have had effect on the Continent and particularly in Germany, and in so far as they are effective it is plain that they will relieve the strain on the pecuniary resources of the local authorities. Now I come to our financial proposals. They are, broadly speaking, three in number. First, we propose that the period fur the repayment of loans shall henceforth be eighty years. When I mention that this provision is already the law in England, I suppose I need say no more about it, except that we propose to make the enactment effective, which it is not in England as yet, by directing the lending authority to lend for the period mentioned should the Local Government Board so recommend. This direction was omitted in the English Act of 1903, whether designedly or not I do not say, but we, take care to put it in our Bill. In the second place, we propose that £5,000,000 of the £10,500,000 of deposits in the Irish Savings Banks shall be earmarked for housing purposes in Ireland and shall be lent as required to the local authorities at the same rate of interest as is paid upon them—namely, 2½ per cent. I am, of course, aware that some objections may be taken to this proposal, but it seems to me that they may be all satisfactorily answered. It may be thought, for instance, that the security of the depositors for their money may be endangered. The answer is that we do not propose to touch that security. 934 If the money is lent as we suggest, the State will be as responsible as before to the depositors. Is the security of the State for the repayment of the money by the local authorities sufficient? It will be the very same security as it has now for even loan it makes for local purposes. It may again be said that to lend £5,000,000 of those deposits would involve the selling of the stocks in which the deposits are now invested, and that such an operation might disturb the money market. That might be the case if the £5,000,000 were to be advanced at once; but inasmuch as it is utterly unlikely, if we may judge from the past, that more than £250,000 will be advanced in any one year, for some years to come at least, and as the annual increase in the Irish deposits is nearly £500,000, it is plain that not a single pound need be raised by selling consols. For the same reason there could be no loss in charging only the same interest as is paid to the depositors. I am aware that there has been a loss to the Exchequer on the income account of those deposits, and that some persons complain that that loss should be borne by the general taxpayer. But that is because of the present way of dealing with the deposits, and in this case, moreover, there need be no loss, because I do not think we should object, if it were shown that a loss were certain to occur, to a fraction being added to the interest to cover the loss. I think I have now exhausted the possible objections, and all I shall add on this point is that as those deposits are Irish money, the expression of Irish wishes in regard to the use of them ought to have some weight with the Government if there are no insuperable obstacles in the way. Our third proposal is that there should be a grant-in-aid, and if I am not wearying the House I should like to explain how such a grant becomes necessary and how it may be made without touching on any but Irish funds. The figures I am about to give are, I assure the House, the result of careful inquiry, and I think they may be taken as broadly correct. Different sorts of habitations will be built. Some will be large buildings with flats, some will be two-storey houses; some will be one-storey cottages; some will be built in places where land and labour will be comparatively dear; some in places where 935 they will be comparatively cheap. Taking an average, I believe £200 would be the cost per habitation, everything included. At this cost, 25,000 habitations could be provided out of the £5,000,000, apart, of course, from those erected under the inducements to which I have referred. Now, I shall suppose the whole £5,000,000 expended and in course of repayment. How is it to be repaid? Although we propose to make the period of repayment not exceed eighty years, it is more than probable that the lending authority will land for that period only when the purchase of land is in question, and that the loan for building will be only for sixty years. The proposal on which this Bill is based is that the time of repayment for both purposes should be that already fixed by the last Labourers Act for rural cottages and plots, namely, sixty-eight and a half years. If this suggestion be adopted, the annuity which would have to be provided to repay £5,000,000 lent at 2½ per cent. would be about £153,000. To meet that amount there would be in the first place rents of the habitation. Here again I have made careful inquiry, and I submit the result with some confidence. The present rents vary from 2s. 6d. to 6s. and 7s. 6d. a week. Such rents could never be paid by those most in need of housing accommodation. We must be prepared for some rents as low as 1s. and 1s. 6d. a week. But again, taking an average, I am assured that half-a-crown a week would be a safe figure to adopt. Such a rent would yield £162,500 a year, from which, however, a deduction must be made of at least 30 per cent. for rates, insurance, and repairs. We thus arrive at a net rental of about £114,000, leaving a deficit of about £39,000. Is that deficit to be thrown on the ratepayers? In my opinion the great bulk of it cannot, without stopping all local improvements. The rates in most of our cities and towns are already very high. They run in many cases up to 8s. and 10s. in the £. In most of them important works await accomplishment. Those works must be postponed to the Greek Kalends if the localities in question are compelled to devote all their available resources to the housing of the poorer classes. We 936 therefore say that a grant-in-aid is necessary, and we suggest two sources from which it may legitimately come. First, there is what is called the Irish Suitors' Fund—a fund consisting of moneys lodged in Court to the credit of pending suits. The greater part of that fund cannot be touched, because it may be called upon at any moment to be paid to the persons to whom it is decided to belong; but there is a portion of it called the Dormant Fund to which no man now" living, or ever likely to be born, can successfully lay claim. It has been drawn upon in the past for the building of the Courts in Dublin, as the similar fund in England has provided the cost of the new Courts of Justice in London, and so lately as the year 1894 a sum of £15,000 was taken out of it for the new Law Library in Dublin. It now amounts to £375,000, of which £171,000 is actually in cash in the Bank of Ireland. We ask that this fund be thrown into an Irish Housing Fund, and we calculate that, if invested in such trustee securities as are authorised by the Irish Land Act of 1903, the income of it might well exceed £13,000 a year. The second source from which we would draw a grant-in-aid is the Irish Crown and Quit Rents. All those rents and the product of the sales of such rents now go into the Imperial Exchequer to an amount considerably in excess of what we ask. We ask that £25,000 a year of that amount should be thrown into the Irish Housing Fund, and if this proposal were acceded to the result would be that the work they contemplated could be carried out without, probably, any loss at all, and certainly without any material loss to the rates. Strictly speaking, we ask not for a penny of British money. The Irish deposits are not British money; the Irish Suitors' Fund is not British money; the Irish Crown and Quit Rents are not British money. These last-mentioned moneys are paid out of the rents paid by Irish tenants or out of the prices paid by Irish tenants for the purchase of their holdings. Is it not too bad if they are not available for the housing of Irish labourers and artisans, especially when, as it appears, they are not available for any other Irish purpose? But, even it 937 this contribution from the Irish Crown and Quit Rents were regarded as practically an Imperial grant, it would not be too much to expect from this Parliament whose legislation is largely responsible for those blots on our civilisation, which we seek to wipe out by means of this Bill. It would not be too much to expect, especially from the present Government, almost all the members of which have in past years admitted the disgraceful over-taxation of Ireland during the last half-century. Such is the measure we present to the House to day. We think it a just, expedient, and practicable measure. But, of course, I will not pretend to say that the financial proposals it contains are the only proposals by which the end aimed at can be attained. We have had to work in this matter without the knowledge which official experience alone can give. We, therefore, shall not be surprised if we are shown that some of the measures which we suggest must be modified or that for some of them others ought to be preferred. In that event, and I think I can speak for my colleagues, all I can say is that we shall be satisfied if the adoption of any other financial proposals would lead to practically the end we desire. For the rest, I am under no delusions in regard to the effect of this measure. We do not expect—at least I do not—that it will completely and quickly solve this housing problem. The problem is far too big for a rapid solution. But it will break the back of the difficulty. It wall change the face of many towns, it wall sweep away the worst of those terrible haunts of misery which disfigure several of the larger centres of population, and it will do this before the present generation has passed away. I hope I am not too sanguine in expecting that this House of Commons will interpose no obstacle to the carrying out of this great operation. I beg to second the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
in moving the rejection of the Bill, said that the hon. Member for North Dublin 938 asked him whether his objection would be towards the financial clauses or towards the principle of the Housing Act. He thought he could set the hon. Member's mind at ease at once by saying that his objection, which he held to be an extremely good one, was against the financial clauses of the Bill and not against the Bill itself. It did not seem to him that the Housing of the Working Classes Act had anything whatever to do with this measure. The measure contained a certain number of financial clauses directed towards that particular Act and it was towards the financial clauses, which he thought were the worst he had ever seen put into a Bill, that he proposed to direct his opposition. He could assure the hon. Member that he was prepared to argue in Dublin or any other place that the turning of local authorities into big landlords was not a good thing and he regretted very much that the Party to which he belonged ever introduced the principle. That, however, had nothing whatever to do with the Bill before the Home, and he should confine himself entirely to the financial clauses. The hon. Member who had introduced the Bill had said that this was not a party question. Of course it was not a party question, and it was not with any desire to be antagonistic to Ireland or to Irish measures that he objected to the Bill. He would object to it equally strongly if it was brought in for England, and he hoped the House would understand that he did not wish to be in any kind of way personal or discourteous to Ireland or to Members below the gangway. The hon. Member had also stated that he had not set about his work in a peddling manner. He (Sir F. Banbury) agreed, because he could not conceive anybody going about in a more drastic manner to achieve the object which he had at heart than the hon. Member had done. The first clause empowered the Savings Bank Commissioners to advance five millions of money to Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland who in turn were to advance the money to the local authority. He believed the money in the Post Office Savings Bank in Ireland at the present moment was £13,000,000, and of that it was proposed that £5,000,000 was to be advanced for this 939 one object at 2½ per cent. interest. He would first deal with the advance of five millions of money to this object. He had been for a good number of years engaged in business in the City of London. Owing to the necessity of keeping a watchful eye upon Members opposite he had been obliged to relinquish his business in the last few years, but he had not forgotten what he had learnt during the thirty-five years that he was engaged in active business in the City. The first thing that a banker had to learn was that he must keep a certain portion of his securities liquid and easily realisable. He defied anybody in the House to say that £5,000,000 invested in houses was a realisable asset. It could not be realised at all. It might be a fairly good security, but it was what was called in banking-circles a "lock-up," and it was locked up for eighty years. It was the custom of bankers not to lend money for more than six months, and here was a proposal to lend money for eighty years. That was a great infringement upon the management of the savings banks in the country. The money in the savings banks was invested chiefly in Consols. When the seconder dealt with the fact that the security for this money would be the rates of the local authorities he forgot that Parliament had always refused to allow the savings banks to invest their money in securities of local authorities. Sir Albert Roll it, who was a Member of that House for many years, had tried to alter the law so as to enable the savings banks to invest their money in the securities of local authorities. He (Sir F. Banbury) was one of a Committee appointed by the House some five years ago to go into the question, and he thought, with the exception of Sir Albeit Rollit, the whole Committee were unanimous—certainly all the banking part of it—in refusing to support the proposal. The reason why it was necessary for the savings bank funds to be invested in Consols was that they were, after gold, the most easily realisable security, and the argument had always been brought forward by those who had contended that it was not necessary for the savings banks to keep a reserve of gold, that as their funds were invested in Consols they were easily realisable in the event of a sudden call being made 940 by the depositors, and that therefore there was no necessity to keep a reserve of gold. He thought himself there was a good deal in that argument. Unfortunately at the present moment Consols were not so easily realisable as they had been, but still they were the only securities which in a panic could be realised, and therefore there was something to be said for the custom of the savings banks to invest all their monies in this sort of securities and not to hold gold. But if £5,000,000, which was something like 40 per cent. of the monies invested in the Irish Savings Banks, were to be invested in an unrealisable security, what would happen in the event of a sudden withdrawal of money by depositors? It was all very well to say that the local authorities could be called upon to pay. They could not be called upon to pay, because the period was for eighty years, and it would be quite impossible to go to them and demand a large sum of money down at a time of serious financial depression—that being the only time when there would be a run of depositors. The hon. Member had also said it might be argued that to realise £5,000,000 of stock would have a serious effect upon the market. At the present moment it would, and no doubt it would have a depressing effect on Irish Land Stock, which they were all anxious to see improve in value. It was true that the hon. Member had said that the money would not be required all at once, but it would at any rate be required in three or four years.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said he did not see how anyone could say how long the period would be, because that depended upon the local authorities in Ireland, and how soon they would be able to get to work. When local authorities could get money below the market value they were not backward in availing themselves of that advantage. The fact that people knew that a large amount of this stock was coming on the market would have a depressing effect, and that was one of the reasons why the Irish Land Stock had been so much depressed. He noticed that under the Bill the rate of interest 941 was not to exceed 2½ per cent. The expenses of managing the Savings Bank came to ¼ per cent., so that if they were to pay only 2½ per cent. there would be a loss of ¼ per cent. to the Savings Bank, which would have to be made good out of Imperial funds. It was quite true that the hon. Member had said he might be willing to consent in Committee to a slight increase so as to reduce that loss, but the rest of the loss would have to be borne by Imperial Funds.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that that made the proposal slightly more reasonable. He would remind the House that four or five years ago an attempt was made to increase the interest on deposits in the Savings Bank, and that was supported by hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House. He opposed it very strongly at the time, and the Committee of which he was a Member came to the conclusion that they could not increase the rate of interest, although there was a very great demand for it. There was every reason to suppose that with the rise in the value of money which had taken place since that time any proposal brought forward to increase the rate of interest paid in the Savings Bank would be harder to resist now than before. If such a proposal were brought forward and carried he did not think Irish Members would be willing to allow Ireland to be made an exception, and Irish investors would naturally want to receive the benefit of the higher interest. But he had another great objection to the Bill. Even allowing the principle that it was right that local authorities should build houses for people to live in, surely they should only be allowed to do so upon economic conditions. They should go to the open market, find their money, and build the houses on the ordinary conditions. Why should they build at less than cost price and ask the State to pay the difference? That was a step towards Socialism and he was quite sure that, whatever other parts of the country might say, the City of London would not agree to it. The hon. Member who moved this 942 Bill had admitted that the rate of interest varied from 3½ per cent. to 4½ per cent., and consequently under this Bill they were proposing to make a present to the local authorities of the difference between 2½ per cent. and 4 per cent. interest on £5,000,000. To that proposal he objected very strongly. It had also been said that a similar measure to this would be demanded for England and Scotland.
§ MR. CLANCY
said he did not say that. What he stated was that a similar measure had been recommended for England and Scotland by the Select Committee of 1906.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said he felt quite certain that the same measure would be asked for for both England and Scotland if this Bill passed, and that was why he opposed it. That was an extremely large order, and it would be extremely dangerous to take the money in the Savings Bank and invest it in small houses. One proposal to which he objected was the extension of the period of repayment from sixty to eighty years. It was quite true that the Act of 1903 contained a proposal of that kind, but there was no provision in that Act whereby the money would be taken from the Savings Bank. They knew that under Clause 5 the money was going to be exhausted. The Bank of Ireland, whether it liked it or not, would take it away. Clause 6 apparently appropriated a portion of the Irish Quit Rent Fund to housing purposes. He did not profess to know what that fund was, but, whatever it was, he did not see why it should be taken for housing purposes. He objected to Clause 9, which proposed to empower local authorities to acquire lodging-houses outside their own districts. He thought that was a very strong order. Hon. Members ought to be satisfied with local authorities looking after their own districts.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that the last Government had perhaps, made a mistake in giving local authorities the power to go outside their districts in this matter. [A NATIONALIST MEMBER: Why ware you not here to look" after them?] 943 Clause 11 provided for the, remission and abatement of rates in certain cases. He did not see why that clause should pass. Was that in any English Act?
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said he would like to know what Act it was. But whether it was in another Act or not he objected to the proposal that a local authority should be empowered to abate or remit rates for a period not exceeding ten years. It was evident from the look of the House that the Irish Party were in a strong majority, and in all probability they would carry the Second Reading of the Bill. He objected to the financial clauses very strongly, and, therefore, he begged to move.
§ MR. CARLILE ( Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
, in seconding the Amendment, said it seemed a pity that this Bill had been brought forward that day in view of the fact that the President of the Local Government Board had in preparation a measure to deal with the whole question of the housing of the working classes. If hon. Members below the gangway had waited for that Bill they would have had the advantage of all the information of statistics which, of course, were available to the President of the Local Government Board. He was quite aware that there were slight differences in localities, but, speaking generally, the conditions of slum areas were practically the same in every part of the United Kingdom. He had entire sympathy with proposals for improving the housing of the working classes if injustice was not done to others in the carrying of them out. In a Blue-book issued the other day containing licensing statistics for 1907, there was an introductory statement confirming the opinion expressed in 1906 that the whole question of intemperance was bound up with the density of the population, and not with the number of licences. Hon. Members from Ireland would not, he was sure, think that the Party to which he belonged would be at all likely to lack sympathy with remedial measures dealing with densely populated districts throughout the country. Under this Bill the period 944 for the repayment of loans was extended from sixty to eighty years, and in regard to that he would point out that the security would, in all probability in a great many cases entirely disappear long before the term was exhausted. The cottages which would constitute the security for the advances would at the end of eighty years be poor security if they were built on the £150 principle so much advocated in connection with garden cities. Here, apparently, the securities were to be hypothecated twice over, and he did not see where the security of the second lender was likely to come in. A second mortgagee generally came off badly, and in this case he was not likely to be an exception to the common rule. The House had already been reminded that the Congested Districts Board was in a parlous state, and in want of money. Why should not that Board annex the various funds which this Bill proposed to appropriate to housing purposes? That Board was now in existence, they had done excellent work, and at present they were handicapped through want of funds. The House ought to know something more than had been stated as to the kind of lodging-houses proposed to be erected, and as to the conditions under which the people would be likely to live in them. There might be lodging-houses which would become mere rookeries just as undesirable as those which were now occupied by the people whom the Bill sought to benefit. The provision in the English Act which enabled an authority to provide houses for the working classes outside their own areas was inserted for a specific purpose. It was to enable this vast Metropolis to go outside its own area, which was already closely covered with buildings of all sorts, in order to provide for the congested population. That seemed to be a reasonable thing, but the conditions which obtained in Ireland, except, perhaps, in Dublin and Belfast, were not similar, and there was no necessity for enabling local authorities to go outside their own areas. It there was to be the competition between local authorities, which might arise from the granting of this power, waste would result instead of economic efficiency in the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill. 945 Then he noticed that the occupants of these dwellings were to be exempt from the payment of rates. It was very desirable, no doubt, that these cottages and lodging-houses should be erected and conducted on the most economic plan; but that would be a great hardship on the other ratepayers, many of whom were poor people living under great difficulties in their endeavour to keep the wolf from the door. It was unreasonable that the latter should have their rates for sewage, lighting, maintenance of roads, and other local charges increased, while the occupants of the houses built under this Bill would be exempt altogether. He did not know whether any hon. Gentleman below the gangway had had experience of having a local authority as a landlord, but a local authority had neither a soul to be saved nor a body to be kicked, they were trustees for the general public and they had often to act in a hard and harsh way which would be disastrous to many tenants. That was undoubtedly a disadvantage which might be got over by the proposition which would shortly be placed on the Table by the President of the Local Government Board. But at all events it was undesirable that this Bill should now be read a second time. He noticed that it was to come into force, if passed, immediately. There were some Acts of Parliament dealing with customs and the like which it was really necessary to make operative the moment they were passed in order that people might not be induced to speculate financially as a result of the Bill being made an Act, but although the housing question was urgent, especially in densely populated districts, it must be manifest to everyone having experience that it would be unreasonable that a measure containing very far-reaching financial provisions should come into force at once. Without lacking any sympathy with those who were suffering from overcrowding, he yet believed that the present moment was ill-judged in which to bring in this measure; and however much it went against the grain, there was no alternative available for him but to second the rejection of the Bill so ably moved by the hon. Member for the City of London.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this clay six months.'"—(Sir F. Banbury.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid.)
said that although the Bill now before the House had not been backed by any Unionist Member from Ireland, it must not be supposed that there was amongst them any feeling of hostility towards the objects of the promoters. On the contrary, he and his colleagues who represented constituencies in Ulster were strongly in sympathy with any well-considered proposal for extending the facilities for the erection of houses for the working classes in cities and towns in Ireland. Any hon. Member on those benches who opposed the principle of legislation such as was proposed in this Bill would, he ventured to say, be acting contrary to the policy of the Party to which he professed allegiance; because it must not be forgotten that all the principal Acts of Parliament which had up to the present time supplied the machinery for improving the housing of the working classes had been the work of the Unionist Party. He need scarcely remind the House that the Act of 1890—which was the chief foundation of all efforts of recent years in this direction—both in Ireland and Great Britain, was passed through Parliament by a Conservative majority; and the amending Acts of 1900 and 1903 were also carried under similar auspices. The two measures of 1900 and 1903 to which he had alluded were, however, not applied to Ireland. He did not propose on that occasion to enter into any examination of the reason why Ireland was excluded from the benefits of the increased facilities which were then afforded to England. He would only say that the fact that Ireland had had to wait for these advantages simply served to strengthen the claim which was now put forward on her behalf—that the amendments of the law which experience had shown to be necessary should now be granted, after due consideration by the House. It was scarcely possible to over-estimate the 947 benefits which had accrued to the working classes from the increased attention which had been bestowed in recent years upon the question of improving the dwellings of the people. It was beyond all question that the condition of the home affected in the most profound mariner both the health and morals of the people. Overcrowded and insanitary houses were productive of disease, and of social evils, which could not be eradicated by any palliative measures that might be taken—whether by the Legislature or by organised private effort. He felt sure he would carry the whole House with him when he said that by giving the people good, sanitary houses they checked many of those evils at the source, and promoted the well-being of the whole nation. In Ireland, he was glad to say, considerable progress had been made in this direction during recent years—both in the towns and in the country. The Labourers Acts—which had been passed in successive years—had effected, or were effecting, a revolution in regard to rural housing; and what was now needed was further assistance from the State towards making a like beneficial change in the conditions under which the working classes in the towns had to live. That there had been a great improvement in respect of housing during the last thirty years was apparent from certain statistics which were included in the last Census Returns. The Census Commissioners of 1841 divided the dwellings then existing into four classes, and that classification had beer retained since. The fourth, or lowest class, comprised all mud cabins or houses built of other perishable material having only one room and window; the third consisted of a better description of house with two to four rooms and windows; the second were good farmhouses and houses in towns having from five to nine rooms and windows; and the first included all houses of a better description than the foregoing. In 1841, the single-room mud cabins numbered 491,278, or more than one-third of the entire number of inhabited houses in Ireland. In 1881, the number of this class of house had dropped to 40,665; and in 1901 it had declined still further to 9,872. There was every reason to believe that by the next census in 1911, this class of house 948 would have been improved entirely out of existence. The figures of the third class of house also showed that progress had been made. The number of houses in this class had declined from 384,475 in 1881 to 251,606 in 1901. On the other hand, the second or better class of dwellings showed an increase from 422,241 in 1881 to 521,455 in 1901. The first class also showed an increase in the same period from 66,727 to 75,225. There was, however, another fact in these census figures which was not so satisfactory. In 1881 there were living in 66,727 first-class houses only 57,673 families; but in 1901 the 75,225 houses returned in the first class contained no fewer than 100,807 families. These facts indicated that there was a considerable amount of overcrowding. The census figures relating to one-room tenements also demonstrated the need for increased attention being given to the housing question. In 1901, there were in Ireland 79,149 tenements of one room, and in 5,587 of these single-room dwellings seven or more persons—in some cases as many as twelve—were crowded together under conditions which could not fail to be detrimental to both health and morals. In Dublin at the time of that census, the degree of overcrowding was shown to be very intense—unparalleled, in fact, by any large city in the British Isles—40.6 per cent. of the population occupying "overcrowded dwellings." In the Report issued by the Board of Trade on the cost of living of the working classes some particulars were given relating to the question of housing in certain Irish towns, and the efforts which had been made in recent years to deal with the evil of overcrowding. In Dublin—where the need for reform was shown to be most urgent, by the Census Reports of 1901—the corporation, amongst other undertakings, had spent £250,000 in clearing insanitary areas; and it had also erected artisans dwellings and lodging-houses. Private enterprise had also been vigorously at work in the same direction, and this Report stated—As the result of the joint activities of the numerous agencies concerned with the housing of the poor, probably more than 20,000 of the artisan and labouring classes are now housed in dwellings erected especially with a view to their comfort and health.949 Belfast was the exact opposite of Dublin, both as regarded housing and other matters as well. The two places were "as the poles asunder." Belfast was the centre of a thriving industry, and its working-class population was generally in a state of comfort and prosperity. The city was continually spreading itself abroad into the country surrounding it, and especially to the southward. There was no lack of building ground, and as a consequence the prevailing type of working-class house was not the large tenement-building, but a two-storeyed house such as was commonly found in English towns. Belfast was, on the whole, exempt from the evils of overcrowding, whereas in Dublin in 1901, there were 40.6 par cent. of the population occupying overcrowded dwellings; in Belfast, only 8.29 per cent. of the population inhabited houses described as overcrowded; and only 5.27 per cent. of the inhabited houses came under that category. The beneficial effect of these measures, and others of a like nature, was reflected by a sensible decline of the death rate, which in Dublin had dropped from 31.9 in 1897 to 24.1 in 1906. The death rate in Belfast was considerably lower than that of Dublin. In 1905 it was only twenty per thousand, and that was only slightly lower than the average of the preceding six years. The fact went to establish the close connection that existed between sanitary dwellings and the health of the community—a fact which might be supported if necessary by, the particulars obtainable from the statistics relating to other towns in Ireland. Considerable attention had been devoted lately to the unfortunate prevalence in Ireland of the disease of consumption. This terrible disease had been responsible for an exceptionally heavy mortality; and the fact was disclosed by the Report of the Registrar-General that in 1905 there were in Ireland no fewer than 12,000 deaths due to tubercular diseases. The death rate from this cause in Ireland stood at a far higher figure than in either England or Scotland. He was glad to say that these facts had impressed the people of Ireland with the necessity of taking vigorous measures to check the progress of the evil. 950 A movement was now proceeding in their country which promised to have the most beneficial results in educating public opinion in reference to precautionary measures, and also in stimulating local authorities to take action in the direction of safeguarding the public health. The extreme gravity of the evil was being recognised; and the question of remedial measures was engaging the attention of sanitary authorities all over Ireland. The Chief Secretary had promised legislation on the subject; and the right hon. Gentleman would be doing a real service to Ireland by introducing and pushing forward his proposals with out delay. In this matter as in the case of every other ill which affects humanity, 'prevention is better than cure'; and it was one of the facts which everybody admitted, that overcrowding and insanitary dwellings were very fruitful causes of this and other diseases. They urged, therefore, that the facts relating to the prevalence of consumption in Ireland strongly supported the claim now made that it should be made easier for local authorities to take steps to improve the housing of the people. As the representative of a constituency which contained several important urban communities, he gave a very cordial support to the principle of this Bill. At the same time, he was bound to say that in his opinion some of the proposals of the measure now before the House would require very careful consideration before they were embodied in an Act of Parliament. For his part, he was disposed to think that, having regard to the novelty of some of the provisions of the Bill, the proper course to adopt in regard to it would be to give it a Second Reading, and then refer it to a Select Committee, who would give it an expert examination and report as to how far it was possible or desirable to give it legislative effect The principal clauses of the Bill were those which dealt with the finance of the question. The chief obstacle in the way of local authorities in their efforts to provide improved dwellings, at rents within the means of the working classes, had been the difficulty of obtaining cheap money. Under the conditions which had prevailed hitherto, it had been found, in 951 many places, practically impossible to build houses of a good class and let them at rents which the people who needed them most could afford to pay, without imposing additional burdens upon the already heavily-burdened ratepayers. The proposals made by the promoters of the Bill to overcome that difficulty would, he ventured to think, require very careful consideration, both in the interests of the depositors in the savings banks, and also in the interests of the taxpayer. The Bill proposed to take a sum of £5,000,000 from the amount on deposit in the Trustee Savings Banks and the Post Office Savings Bank in Ireland, and to lend it to the local authorities for housing purposes at a rate of interest not exceeding 2½ per cent. It might, of course, be argued that the interests of depositors would not be affected if this proposal were carried out. They had the State guarantee both for the interest on their money and for the refund of their deposits on demand; and that guarantee would not be affected by the fact that the money was being used for the purpose of financing housing schemes. It was, however, a matter for careful consideration whether this method of using the deposits in the savings banks would not tend to lessen public confidence in those institutions and lead to the withdrawal of deposits. The effect on the interests of the taxpayer could be estimated with a greater amount of certainty. At the present time the deposits in the savings banks were invested by the National Debt Commissioners in public securities which yielded a higher rate of interest than that paid to depositors, and the difference between the interest received and the interest paid was used to meet the expenses incidental to the carrying on of the savings banks. In former years these institutions were, by this means, self-supporting; but for the last ten or fifteen years there had been an annual deficiency in the income account of the savings banks, which had had to be made good out of public funds. The matter had been the subject of debate in the House on several occasions, and proposals had been made to reduce the rate of interest paid to depositors as a means of getting rid of the deficiency. That 952 necessity had been avoided up to the present time; and the hope had been entertained and expressed by successive Chancellors of the Exchequer that, as the result of arrangements which had been made, the deficiency would, in course of a few years, disappear. The fact was, however, that it had not yet been got rid of, and in the Estimates for the next financial year a sum of no less than £88,000 appeared as a charge upon the public funds, to make good the anticipated loss on the working of the Post Office Savings Banks alone. It must be obvious that if a sum of £5,000,000 was to be withdrawn from securities which yielded 2¾ per cent. or 3 per cent., and lent to local authorities at 2½ per cent. or less, the loss to the Savings Bank funds would be very serious indeed, and would require a considerably larger sum to be placed on the Estimates to meet it. They had yet to hear the views of the Treasury on this proposal, but he would be very much surprised if they regarded it with favour. He believed that those who made the proposal relied upon the experience of a similar plan which had been tried in Belgium. He was not in a position to speak of the results of that experiment, but looking at the present condition of the savings banks in this country, and the charges which had now to be met by the Exchequer in respect to them, he was somewhat sceptical as to the practicability of the proposal now made. Clause 2 of the Bill proposed to extend the period for which money might be borrowed for the purposes of the Housing of the Working-Classes Acts to eighty years. As to that he would only say that while that period might, with safety, be allowed for money borrowed for the purchase of land, he did not think it would be desirable to extend the provision to buildings. The third clause of the Bill was also one which, in his opinion, would require very careful consideration. It was there proposed that money borrowed for the purposes of the Housing of the Working-Classes Acts—whether borrowed before or after the passing of this Act—should not come within the limitations which were placed on the borrowing powers of local authorities by the Public Health Act. He regarded that as a very serious proposal indeed. The debts of local authorities in Ireland had already reached 953 a very high amount, in proportion to the valuation of their respective areas. He found that—taking municipal boroughs and all urban districts in Ireland together—in 1907 the total valuation of these districts was returned at £4,421,020; and the total indebtedness was £8,462,227. That was to say, the total indebtedness of urban committees in Ireland was nearly double the amount of the valuation; and it would be a very serious step to remove all restrictions from these local authorities in respect of borrowing powers for housing purposes. Hon. Members opposite took up a very exalted attitude on the subject of borrowing for military and naval purposes. They had heard from those benches of late many a high moral lecture upon the enormities of the late Government because they carried out large permanent defensive works by means of loans. What were they going to say about this proposal? Was it more unprincipled to borrow money for defensive purposes than to contract loans for building houses for the working classes? For his part, he thought the powers of local authorities to carry out works by means of loans needed to be controlled; and he was not disposed to consent to the sweeping away all the checks which had been imposed by Parliament upon the borrowing powers of these public bodies. The House must have regard for the interests of the ratepayers, who might have absolutely intolerable burdens placed upon them if the unrestricted powers asked for were granted to local authorities. One of the most interesting features of the Bill was the proposal to create a Housing Fund, by taking a sum of £370,000 from the Irish Suitors' Fund, and appropriating £25,000 a year of Crown revenues. It was an ingenious proposal and it could be supported by the attractive argument that Irish money should be devoted to Irish purposes, and for the benefit of the Irish people. It was impossible not to feel a certain amount of sympathy with the idea; but again, he confessed that he awaited with considerable interest the views of the Government. It could not be denied that if by means of such a fund local authorities were assisted to the extent of 25 per cent. of the annual charge payable upon loans contracted by them for housing purposes, the work of improving the dwellings of the people would be very materially advanced. 954 But the financial questions involved in this part of the scheme would, even if the support of the Government could be obtained, make it necessary that very careful consideration should be bestowed upon it. There were some proposals in the Bill which could only be given effect to with safety if they were accompanied by efficient safeguards. There was, for example, the power given to local authorities to establish lodging houses outside their own particular district. He was aware there was a precedent for that section in the Act of 1900 which applied to England and Wales, but he ventured to think it would be necessary in case of such a power being given to urban authorities in Ireland, to protect in some way the rights of the people residing in the districts in the neighbourhood of the towns. Without some measure of protection, it might be possible for a town council to plant a lodging house or a block of working class tenements in the midst of a residential suburb—against the wishes of the residents, and to the detriment of property owners in the neighbourhood. It would be necessary to secure that such a power should only be exercised by consent of the people immediately concerned. There were other details in the Bill which were open to criticism; but he would not detain the House further with an examination of those points. He should vote for the Second Beading of the Bill, but would reserve to himself the right to support such amendments in Committee as would make it a safe and workable measure; and one that would confer important benefits upon the working classes of Ireland without doing injustice to any class of the community.
§ MR. THOMAS O'DONNELL (W.) Kerry,
said he was glad to find that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down intended to support the Second Beading of the Bill. His hon. friends had not suggested that the Bill was not to be changed or improved upon; they were satisfied to have the Bill thoroughly discussed in the House, believing as they did that it was intended to serve a great object in Ireland. It was to be financed, too, solely by Irish money without the British Treasury being called upon in any way for assistance. He apprehended that that suggestion would receive reasonable and favourable consideration from the 955 House. He did not know whether Irish Members should be pleased or otherwise at the sparse attendance. He himself believed that it portended that those who were absent were in favour of the Bill, and that when it came into Committee they would receive the support of all the empty benches opposite. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh in dealing with certain points in the Bill, had appeared to criticise them rather adversely. The hon. Member was somewhat mistaken in a few instances. He had referred to the power in this Bill for doing away with the present limitations for borrowing, and had pointed out that the present indebtedness of the urban authorities was twice the valuation of their area. He wondered if the hon. Gentleman was aware that the law at present was that the capital indebtedness of the urban authorities could not exceed twice their valuation, and therefore it was impossible that the indebtedness of an urban authority should be higher than the law allowed. Did the hon. Member also know that in England there was no such restriction? So far as that matter was concerned, Irish Members would be prepared to admit that they were more Conservative than this Radical country, and would not go the full length in this matter. The one part of the Bill which struck him as most interesting, and the one part that should strike the House and commend itself to its approval was the financial clause. They depended solely on Irish money to finance this scheme. It was a natural and reasonable thing that in order to get money for such a matter they should go to Irish funds, and he did not think any Englishman could object to their using their own money for the purposes of improving the houses of their own people. It would be admitted that the condition of things in regard to the houses in the towns and cities of Ireland was really deplorable It showed that Ireland had suffered as no other part of the Empire had suffered. That the capital of Ireland should have houses in it where people were herded together under such conditions as had been stated by the hon. Member for North Dublin was a thing all must deplore, and one which Irishmen at all events should endeavour to better. They naturally felt, therefore, that a Bill intended to remedy that state of things should receive the kindly 956 consideration of the House. When such unanimity prevailed among Irishmen of all politics and all creeds on such a subject they trusted that English Members would recognise that it was an Irish Bill supported by both parties from Ireland, financed by Irish money, and that it should be passed quickly through the House, because otherwise a strong argument would be furnished to show that the British House of Commons was incapable of legislating for Ireland.
MR. BARBIE (Londonderry, N.)
said he was happy to be able to approach this subject as absolutely non-controversial, and to join with his hon. friends below the gangway in urging the claims of the scheme upon the Government. An uncontestable case had been made out for some measure to improve the houses of the working classes in Ireland. He spoke from the point of view of one who had gone through municipal life and who knew the need there was for improving the lot, not particularly of the artisan but of the labourer in the matter of housing. In one of the towns in his constituency they were able to carry a scheme under which they hoped to build these houses, but the difficulties which beset them were briefly that they found that, no matter how carefully the plans were drawn with a view to economy, they could not run the scheme without inflicting a burden upon the ratepayers. As had been rightly said, there had in recent years been very special burdens resting upon ratepayers in Ireland, and he had always found that while he could carry people with him up to the point of being in favour of such a scheme as this, the support rapidly fell away when it was found that a substantial call for the deficiency which any scheme would cause would be made upon the ratepayers. It had been pointed out that the average rate of interest charged upon loans for the purpose had been something between 3½ and 3¾ per cent. during the last ten years, and that the average period of repayment was forty years. It had also been pointed out that under an Act of a few years ago, the period of repayment had been extended to fifty years, but very few loans had been sanctioned by the Local Government Board with that extended period for repayment. The question briefly presented itself to him in this light, that there was a deficiency 957 that must be met in some way, and he held that, if only on sanitary grounds, it was essential that they should look to the State to help them. What was needed from the Government was a contribution in aid to enable local authorities to tackle this question with the knowledge that the burden put upon the ratepayers would not be unreasonably large. Their difficulty was that they could not possibly finance these schemes on sound lines without making a claim upon the ratepayers, and what had been the result? That ordinary property owners were not anxious to cater for the labouring classes, and he would like to explain that by labouring classes he was not referring to skilled labourers and artisans in steady employment, but to what they had in such abundance in Ireland, the ordinary day or weekly labourer, earning perhaps in the cities from 15s. to 20s., and in the smaller towns from 12s. to 15s. per week. He desired to acknowledge, so far as artisans were concerned, that local builders had met the demand adequately in all the towns with which he was acquainted, and there was no scarcity in his own district of thoroughly sanitary houses at rents of 3s. to 5s. per week; but how they could expect a labourer in a country district, earning 12s. to 15s. a week, to pay that rent was a conundrum that he must leave to be settled by those who said it could be done. They had found in recent years a desire on the part of the artisans to get into better dwellings, and the labouring classes had had, of course, to go into the houses thus vacated, but owing to the low rents secured for the houses left by the artisans, they had not been kept in that state of repair which they would like to see. He felt that in this matter they had not been very favourably considered hitherto by the Government. As he had said, it was not a political question. It would be in the recollection of his friends below the gangway that he, in common with some of their number, had put Question after Question to the Treasury, first with a view to granting the loans for this purpose at a reduced rate of interest. That rate last year was 3¾ per cent., and he hoped at the conclusion of the discussion they would receive a more satisfactory, more lengthy, and more encouraging 958 reply than the usual "No, Sir" that he had received in answer to the Questions he had put, both as regards the rate of interest and the extension of the period of repayment. He was aware that the Chief Secretary in this matter would again be up against the Treasury, but when all political parties in Ireland were unanimous in urging this scheme upon him, he might perhaps be more successful. The case presented that day must be on its merits very much stronger than could possibly have been the case made for giving £20,000 for a harbour recently in Ireland, where the free revenue of the harbour exceeded £8,000 per annum. In this case they were only asking for a grant-in-aid, but the other was a free grant to a harbour that should commercially have been able to finance any such undertaking. They must not forget that a good deal had been done in a quiet way in Ireland, but he wished to suggest to the Chief Secretary that the loss on schemes already carried out by the county boroughs had necessarily been considerably larger than in the urban areas and in areas not sufficiently large to qualify as urban. They found that in county boroughs something like 12,500 people had been re-housed under the old Act, and the annual loss had been equal to 17s. per head. In urban districts, 11,000 people had been re-housed, and the annual loss was only 8s. 2d. per head; and the Town Commissioners Boards had re-housed only 355 persons at an annual loss of 5s. 9d. per head. Those figures went to prove, he thought, that the cost of land had been a very serious factor in regard to what had happened in the more congested districts. He was glad to hear the seconder of the Resolution refer to what had been done on this side of the Channel, and he thought those who had taken a keen interest in this subject for a good many years would be the first to acknowledge that the great municipalities in England and Scotland had fully appreciated their responsibility in the matter. It was a good many years since he first inspected the model dwellings erected by the great city of Liverpool, and he thought the statistics quoted that afternoon went far to prove what a wonderful sanitary effect those improved model dwellings had had on the lower classes of that great city. Reference had also been made to Glasgow, which had, at 959 great cost, re-housed a very large section of its population. Power was taken under the Bill to depute the responsibility of building schemes to local associations, but he had no faith in that. He believed that all such responsibility should be discharged by a popularly elected body directly in touch with the scheme with which they were dealing. He could recall that in Glasgow, after a large quantity of land had been acquired, the building trade did not see their way to take up the land at the price asked by the corporation, and the corporation stepped into the breach and built the properties in such a way that he thought the statistics quoted that afternoon were the best proof as to the class of dwellings they provided. The rate quoted as to one room residences was still not as low as they would like to see it, but it was almost 40 per cent. lower than ten years ago. Another great remedial agency which had been at work in recent years, was the wonderful expansion of electric trams. In Belfast they had found the operation of those trams in inducing the workpeople to go and live in the suburbs was having a most encouraging effect on the sanitation of the city. The people were induced by the low fares to go to distances previously quite impossible, and they were able to secure sanitary dwellings at lower rents than they could obtain in the more congested central districts of the city. The same thing applied to all the cities, even including Dublin, and in regard to Dublin he admired the frankness of the seconder of the motion in bringing before the House the startling ratio of congestion that still prevailed in that city. To him personally it was a matter of regret that in recent years the corporation of Dublin did not seem to have been so sincere in improving the conditions of the working-people as the previous corporation was, and he thought hon. Members below the gangway who were members of that corporation would hardly gainsay that. They knew they had promoted large schemes. Under one Bill before the House seven or eight years ago, they got permission to make certain purchases of land, and those seven years had gone by, and not one brick had been placed upon another on that land, while the cost of the land was an annual burden to the ratepayers of the city. To him it was a matter of regret that there had not 960 been more enterprise on behalf of the corporation. Deference was made to the great work that had been done in Dublin by a well known philanthropist already mentioned, and he thought he had set a most worthy example to the corporation of Dublin, as to what could be done in the way of improving the habitations of the working people. He gave the Bill his most hearty support, on the assumption that it would go to Committee, while reserving his opinion on some of its clauses with regard to which he did not see exactly eye to eye with his Nationalist friends. He was not quite satisfied with the financial proposals, and he hoped the Government would be able to suggest others, a little less startling perhaps, but equally valuable in providing the funds which undoubtedly would be necessary to induce municipalities to move forward. What they wanted was a direct grant in aid. They did not want it to be ear-marked from any special fund. He knew of no reason why they should not expect this grant to come from the Treasury in the ordinary way. He suggested that some compromise of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member for North Dublin, of loans at 2¾ per cent. repayable under the Land Act term, would be reasonable and at the same time would substantially help the municipalities. There were two proposals in the Bill to which he desired to offer the most strenuous opposition in Committee. One was practically to abolish one of the stipulations of the Local Government Act limiting the borrowing powers of any municipality in ratio to its annual valuation. They had found in different parts of Ireland that municipalities had at times a weakness for outrunning the constable in this direction, and he thought the provisions limiting the borrowing powers of municipalities was a wholesome safeguard that should not lightly be laid aside. The other proposal to which he objected was the power to re-borrow. If a loan was taken for sixty years and the municipality went on annually paying the instalments, he could not see any circumstances that would justify them being empowered to re-borrow. These were not, however, vital matters and he hoped they would have from the Government a reply, not entirely granting their demands, but easing the way for municipalities in all parts of Ireland to meet 961 what was undoubtedly a very necessary work, a work which was of value apart from the number of individuals that might be re-housed annually, and which would have a very important bearing on the problem of sanitation.
§ *MR. J. P. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)
said he regretted very much that the generous speech just delivered should have been marred by a veiled attack on the Dublin Corporation. The hon. Member had charged the Dublin Corporation with not having done all they might with reference to providing housing accommodation for the citizens of Dublin. Perhaps, before he had finished, he would be able to show the House that the Dublin Corporation had done all they possibly could with the limited resources at their disposal. Only last year they introduced a Bill to try and meet the difficulty, but unfortunately the majority of the citizens, in view of the heavy impost already placed upon them, thought it was not advisable to go on with it. They were also, he believed, actuated by the thought that the Bill for the bettor housing of the people, promised in the King's Speech, would be extended to Ireland. They had unfortunately been disillusioned. He was not sorry that some of those who voted against the Corporation Bill had also been disillusioned. They had been told by the President of the Local Government Board that there was no Housing Bill to be introduced for Ireland. He hoped, however, the Bill they had to-day brought forward and which in a great measure covered the points with which the people in Ireland had to deal, so far as the housing problem was concerned, would meet with such a sympathetic reception that, if the Government could not go all the way, they would be able to meet them especially with reference to the monetary clauses upon which depended whether or not the Bill was ever given proper effect. He was unable until the hon. Member for Mid Armagh came to the end of his speech to make up his mind which way the hon. Member was going to vote. He devoted the whole of his speech to a critical examination of the Bill; he instanced what had been done in Belfast, leading them to believe that because Belfast was in the happy position of not requiring a Housing Bill, the whole of Ireland 962 should be neglected. He disputed that. He believed there was no part of Ireland in which the hon. Member's speech would be read with more amazement than in Belfast, where the people agreed with the promotion of the Bill and the proper housing of the people of the whole country. When the hon. Member came to the end of his speech and he found he was going to vote in favour of the Bill, it reminded him of the old saying, "He was prepared to wound and yet afraid to strike."
§ MR. LONSDALE
said the hon. Member had not understood him correctly if he thought he said Belfast would not require a housing scheme. What he did was to compare the conditions which prevailed in Belfast with its two storied buildings to Dublin with its large buildings.
§ MR. J. P. NANNETTI
said the people in Ireland would read the hon. Member's speech and be able to form an opinion of what he meant. He certainly had the idea that while he was supporting the Bill he was doing all he could to destroy it. He wished to remind the hon. Member that Belfast had been lucky enough to extend its boundaries, and the people had been able to get out to the added areas. That was denied to the people of Dublin. One of the purposes of the Bill was the extension of areas, and he was thoroughly in sympathy with it. At present, they were prevented in Dublin from taking accommodation where they could get it at Pembroke, Rathmines, and Kingstown. The Corporation of Dublin were themselves proprietors of land seven miles outside the city, upon which they were anxious to build housing accommodation for the people, but unfortunately they were not allowed to go there. They therefore came to Parliament and drew attention to the conditions under which the people were cooped up in wretched one-room tenements, and asked for the opportunity of giving them proper breathing space. They asked that the people should be able to get out into the open air. The labourer, by the precarious nature of his employment, could not afford the luxury of living in these country places, and they wanted him to be able to get proper housing accommodation in the city of Dublin. Perhaps the hon. Member, who charged 963 the Corporation of Dublin with not doing their duty in building houses, would allow him to point out to him some of the things done by the Corporation. He would ask the House to bear in mind, when the charge of not building houses was levelled at the corporation, whether they, if placed in the position of the corporation, would go on building at the terrible prices he would mention. The corporation had endeavoured, by every means in their power, to meet this pressing difficulty. There was in a report issued by Sir Charles Cameron in 1901, a terrible paragraph which he would commend to the House in view of the statement of the hon. Member for St. Albans that the question was not urgent, and that they ought to wait and see the provisions of the promised Housing Bill for England. He would tell the hon. Member that they were the better judges of their own business, and they thought they could bring in a Bill and appeal to the House to give them justice, and to carry some such measure. Sir Charles Cameron, dealing with over-crowding in Dublin, and speaking of the housing of the very poor, said—At present the Association for the Housing of the Very Poor, Ltd., own houses containing thirty-six tenements. The houses cost £2,807, and the rents vary from 1s. 3d. to 3s. per week.He forgot, however, to mention that these were for the very poor, such as seamstresses, earning very small money; and that that did not relieve the congestion which it was the interest of the corporation to try and accomplish. Sir Charles Cameron, in his report, said—In 1901, there were 59,203 families, having on the average four to six members in each; 21,702, or 36.6 per cent. of these families occupied each only one room, and 13,620, or 23 per cent., occupied each two rooms. No such state of things, or anything approaching to it, exists in any other town in the United Kingdom.He appealed to any hon. Member whether it was any wonder that the white scourge should prevail in Dublin when they considered the condition of these one-room tenements. The Attorney-General would be well aware of what he was saying. These houses were the residences of the old Irish nobility. There were ten to twelve rooms in each of them and in each room there was living five or six of a family—husband, wife and children. These families were in 964 miserable tenements with one w.c. for the lot. He asked the House to consider the case of an unfortunate labourer. He might be out all day in the severity of a wet September, November, or December. He went home, perhaps with a terrible cold, and he might have a good wife and have some little medicine given to him, which perhaps would save him some serious sickness, if it were not for the fact that he had to go from his top back room down to the yard, and thus sowed the seeds of consumption. The House had been engaged in considering a Bill to stop intemperance, but would it not have been much better to have commenced with the housing question and have given working men clean houses in which to live so as to induce them to stay away from the public-houses? It was useless to talk to the unfortunate working man housed in a top back room, with children squalling and crying, and to deny him the opportunity of going to a clean warm house where he could spend an hour or two. He did not advocate their going to public houses, but he did urge that, before attempting to bring in drastic measures to deprive them of the little luxuries that the circumstances of their lives at present permitted, they should deal with the housing question and give them the home to which they were entitled. He had said he would allude to what the corporation had done, and the House would see how wrong the hon. Member was when he talked about the corporation doing nothing, although they had not done all they wished to do. They had only been able to build to house something like 1,042 families. At Bow Lane they had built eighty - one dwellings for the labouring classes at rents of 2s. 10d. per week. What was the cost of building those eighty-one dwellings? They had to acquire a site, clear away whatever was on it, and then erect the dwellings, and the cost was £13,000. At Black Hall Place they had built eighty dwellings costing £13,000; at St. Joseph's Place eighty dwellings costing £26,000; and at Bride's Alley—one of the greatest plague spots in the city—138 dwellings costing £91,000. These were only some of the housing schemes carried out by the corporation. Was it any wonder that the corporation having done so much they could go no further? They had not the power to erect houses to replace those 965 which they had cleared away in insanitary areas, and the result was that a large number of families were huddled together in miserable tenements which were the disgrace of the city. The corporation were alive to their responsibilities, and they asked the House to give them a Bill, the various clauses of which would enable them to go on with the good work they were endeavouring to do, and might induce private capitalists and others to build houses for the accommodation of the working-classes. Exception had been taken to the remission of rates for ten years. The hon. Member for St. Albans had said that it would be a burden upon the existing ratepayers. It would not, because they were not getting any rates from them at present, and, if they waited ten years, they would create ratepayers. Even supposing, how-ever, it was a loss, the ratepayers ought to be willing to bear a little increase for the purpose of the better housing of the people and the better sanitation of the city. The hon. Member had alluded to their going out to the added areas. Dublin was so circumscribed that they had not the accommodation to build not lodging-houses, but suburban villas for the skilled artisan, and those who could afford to pay for them. By going out and erecting dwellings in the added areas they would relieve the congestion which existed in the city, and he could not for the life of him see why any Member should not support the Irish party in their endeavour. The hon. Member for the City of London had taken exception to the Bill, but he had often heard him more strenuous when dealing with Irish matters. He could not help thinking that on this occasion he was only half-hearted and that his opposition was not of a serious character. They were not asking the Imperial Treasury for a penny. They were merely asking that their own resources and funds should be apportioned to this purpose, though it was the State that should be doing it and paying the expenses if necessary, because the State was responsible for the well-being of the community. He would like to give a quotation for the benefit of the hon. Member for Mid Armagh, who he understood was a member of the Taxation of Ireland Committee. His former leader, Colonel Saunderson, whom they all recognised as an honourable opponent and an Irish gentleman, had admitted that Ireland was 966 overtaxed. If they had been overtaxed and came to the House and asked for some portion of the money which it was generally admitted Ireland paid over and above her share, they should not be appealing to deaf ears. The Chancellor of the Exchequer now had the means whereby this money could be got. If the Government found they could not take advantage of the clauses in the Bill, he fell back on the Chancellor of the Exchequer who he thought could not be opposed to the financing of the scheme even out of the British Treasury or from the over-taxation which was unfortunately still levied on their country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had been sympathetic in dealing with the question of over-taxation. Might they appeal to him now that the question came before them on a problem which was so acute, which was ravishing the best youth of their country, which was productive of nothing but sickness, intemperance, and disease—was it too much to ask the Government, if they could not go all the way with them on this Bill, at least to promise to finance the Bill, because finance and finance alone was the means where by to remedy the grievance.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said he wished to say a few words on the Bill because it dealt with a question which very many years ago he had felt called on to bring under the attention of the Government, when the right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Dover was Chief Secretary. They had from him a most sympathetic assurance on the subject, and the right hon. Gentleman told them the Government were considering the desirability of introducing legislation similar to the present Bill. When the Member for Dover ceased to be Chief Secretary and Mr. Bryce occupied the post, he was also asked whether anything was to be done in order that proper dwellings might be given to the people of the towns and villages of Ireland. Mr. Bryce also gave them the most sympathetic reply and admitted the necessity for something being done. After he went away Questions were put to the Attorney-General for Ireland—he had put two or throe himself—and the right hon. Gentleman had admitted more than once that this was a pressing question and one that the 967 Government agreed should be dealt with. He had always understood that the only difficulty in dealing with the question was the matter of time. This Bill was apparently going to receive the support of the whole of the Irish representation, and he particularly called the Chief Secretary's attention to a fact which he thought was very significant, that the rejection of the Bill, whether it was a serious matter or not, was moved and seconded by two English Members, Not a single member representing any Irish constituency could be found to incur the responsibility of standing up to oppose the measure, and it remained for the hon. Member for the City of London to deliver one of those speeches which they were accustomed to hear from him on the subject. He thought that that alone ought to convince the right hon. Gentleman that if the Government would take up this question they need fear no serious opposition whatever. The hon. Gentleman who had last spoken with so much authority in reference to the city of Dublin, and who was for some years Lord Mayor of Dublin, had said what was very true when he pointed out that the interests of temperance in Ireland were largely concerned in this matter. He quite agreed with him, and every single person who was interested in temperance legislation in Ireland agreed with Lim, that perhaps no more could be done even by any Act of Parliament for the promotion of temperance than by pro viding proper homes for the people. He quite agreed that no matter what legislation was passed in the interests of temperance, nothing could possibly be done which could more promote temperance than the supplying of the people with proper homes. This was not only the opinion of Nationalists, but of representatives of all shades of opinion in Ireland, and all classes and all creeds. In this matter the Chief Secretary would receive, he was certain, the enthusiastic approval and support of representative men in Ireland from all sections of the country, representing all political feelings and all creeds. There was surely no necessity for any Irish Member or for anybody who knew Ireland to impress upon the Government the urgency of this matter. They were all more or loss familiar with the unfortunate position occupied by the agricultural labourers in Ireland, but he 968 had seen in many towns greater hardships endured in the matter of housing by the artisans and workers than he had seen in the country, and the Chief Secretary should bear in mind that the class for whom they were pleading had been somewhat neglected by the House. They had had legislation for the farmers and for agricultural labourers, and certainly it was quite time that something practical should be done in the interests of the masses of the people. He did not know any question that was more urgent. He knew absolutely no question on which there was such unanimity of feeling in Ireland, and he appealed strongly to the Chief Secretary to make a speech which would give great hope and encouragement in Ireland and show that the Government were alive to the necessities of the case. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, in one of his amusing speeches, had gone into very minute and detailed criticism as to the financial proposals of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman might deal with that if he thought fit, but he really thought on a Second Reading debate there was no need to go into any detailed criticism of the financial proposals. What they had to deal with was the great central fact that in the towns and villages of Ireland people were scandalously housed, and everybody agreed that something should be done. In Committee upstairs he had no doubt it would be perfectly easy so to arrange the financial proposals of the Bill that they might easily be put into operation. If the Government were not prepared to accept the special proposals made in the Bill, it was the duty of the Government to substitute other proposals for them. It was an extremely hard thing for a party composed entirely of private and unofficial members to set up, with accuracy, machinery in a Bill of this kind. They had not at their disposal the official information which was at the disposal of the Government. They were not hand in hand with the Treasury, and they could only do their best, and if the funds which they pointed out in the Bill were not considered available, surely it was possible for the Government to substitute other funds for them, and at any rate give them some assurance that the Bill would be passed. In passing the Bill the right hon. Gentleman would be doing not only a necessary and humane 969 work, something to promote the interests of temperance about which this Government seemed so anxious, but also something in the interests of the general peace and tranquillity of the country. They often heard in the House of the crime alleged to exist in Ireland. They knew that those statements were grossly exaggerated, but any crime that existed at all was largely to be accounted for by the miserable dens in which the people lived. He would like any Member of the House to be obliged to live for one week in one of those wretched one room tenements in which so many thousands of the working people in Ireland had to live, and then say if he would feel surprised that people were obliged to go outside at night to public houses and perhaps get into surroundings which might lead them into some disturbance. It was, after all, a hard thing to realise the condition of the people. The hon. Member for Colne Valley, who, the other day, was described as the only Socialist in the House, had spoken in downright terms of the wretchedness and misery of the masses of the people with whom he came in contact. The subject seemed to arouse a good deal of resentment in certain quarters of the House, as if hon. Members did not want to be reminded of some of the realities of life, but he had often thought it would be far better for all interests and all parties if Members realised more clearly the utter wretchedness and misery that existed in the large centres of population in this country and in Ireland. The misery was largely to be accounted for by the fact that the people had not decent places to live in. No man could be expected to be a good citizen and to give his best work to the community and to the country unless he had a decent habitation. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to recognise the extreme gravity of this question and to make a speech which would give hope and encouragement to the hearts of the masses of the people in the towns and villages of Ireland. The matter was above and beyond all questions of party politics. There was no division whatever upon it; it was a question affecting the best interests, the lives, and the happiness of the people, and he appealed to the Government with confidence to deal seriously and promptly with the question. As for the Member for the City of London, 970 he did not believe his Amendment was serious or that he would carry it to a division. If he did he doubted very much if he would get even a dozen Members above the gangway to go into the division lobby with him to say they were opposed to a measure for the better housing of the most miserable and poorest class of the people.
§ MR. SLOAN (Belfast, S.)
said he wished to occupy the time of the House for a very few minutes to try as far as he could to convince the mover and seconder of the rejection of the Bill of the utter absurdity of their position. On that side of the House they were Unionists, and they came to the House of Commons to meet all necessary requirements of Ireland by means of legislation. The moment they came without a single dissenting voice, without a single Irish Member, no matter what place he came from in Ireland, who would go into the lobby and vote against the Bill, they found it was two Unionist Members who said that a united Ireland would not have their support. That was a position in which they could hardly defend the Union. He could have understood it coming from the opposite side. He would say that 75 per cent. of the questions affecting Ireland ought to be considered quite apart from political considerations. Unfortunately they were often divided on small matters to the detriment of a full and proper consideration of larger questions. They had legislation for the tenant farmer and agricultural labourer. This proposal would help to give a healthier existence to the artisans in the towns and add to their physical and moral welfare. He hoped the Bill would therefore be read a second time and revised in Committee to meet the objections that had been raised. It had been said that if the principles of the Bill were applied to Ireland England and Scotland would ask for them also. That to his mind was a strong reason why the Bill should pass. It was certain that if the Bill did pass Irishmen would help English and Scottish Members to pass similar measures for their countries, and they did not care whether they were introduced by the Secretary for Scotland or the President of the Local Government Board. The hon. Member for Mid Armagh in making his very well-reasoned speech, full of detail, did not mean to 971 imply that Belfast did not require better housing. What they wanted to do was to try and prevent disease by a reform in the housing law. It should not be overlooked that temperance reform would be greatly assisted if they had better housing. Let them take the case of a working man earning 17s. or 18s. a week and living in one room with perhaps a wife and four or five children. The man had probably been working all day in an atmosphere not very congenial, and was it to be wondered at if he was not tempted to remain too long in the atmosphere of his own family under such circumstances? Both from an Imperial and from a humane point of view they should not only pass the second reading of this Bill, but they should try to make a good Bill out of it in order that the working classes might be led to believe that after all the House of Commons was capable of legislating for the good of the people as a whole. This was a subject in regard to which political bias should not be allowed to intervene and party politics should be kept out. In the city of Belfast better housing was required just as much as in the city of Dublin, and they were quite prepared to do all they could in that direction. He was sure that if from the Government point of view some alterations in the Bill were necessary none of them would object. He appealed, therefore, to those on his own side to let them have the Bill with as much unanimity and as much good grace as possible.
§ *MR. MACKARNESS (Berkshire, Newbury)
strongly dissented from the view which had been expressed by the hon. Member for North Derry that, because the Liberal Benches were not well filled, therefore members of that Party were unsympathetic to the reform aimed at in the Bill. That was the exact opposite of the truth. The best way of showing approval of measures in that House was to help in the division lobby, and he did not think, when they came to vote, that the Liberal Party would be found lacking in their support of the Bill. It would be a very curious thing if the Liberal Party did not support this Bill, because it was based much on the same lines and framed in the same spirit as the Housing of the Working Classes Bill introduced in that House 972 early in 1906. That Bill had been made part of the Government programme last year, and it was one of the principal measures to be proceeded with during the present session. He therefore desired to assure the Irish Members of the warmest sympathy for them from Liberal Members in their efforts to pass this Bill into law, since it proceeded upon the sound principle that housing reform was a great public purpose, of so much moment to the Community that the State might, and ought to be asked to, step in and help it forward by financial aid, though the form in which that aid should be given was well worthy of discussion. Although there might be some objection to the financial proposals in the Bill, that was no reason whatever why it should be rejected upon the Second Reading. He hoped that the House would approve of the Bill and let it go to Committee in order to have the financial and other details dealt with.
§ MR. GWYNN (Galway)
said it was no surprise to him to find all the representatives from Ireland in agreement in regard to this measure, If a Bill like this which was approved of by all sections of the Irish Members, by the Liberal Party, and by the Labour Party failed to pass into law, then it was obvious that there was an irresistible claim made out against the Union from an Irish point of view. Assuming that an Irish Parliament existed, then this Bill would be passed with the general assent of all Irishmen. He happened to represent the town of Galway, which was one of those Irish urban constituencies where at the present time the population lived in squalor in houses which were once solidly built, but which had now been turned into tenements under miserable conditions and were as bad as could be found any where in the country. The standard of living had been changed and improved in the countryside in Ireland by land legislation, but nothing had been done for the towns; they appeared to have been left behind in the political movement. The standard of living in the towns had not been raised, and the object of this Bill was to raise that standard. He joined in the appeal which had been made to the Chief Secretary to give them some of 973 those smaller measures like the one under discussion, which were so urgently needed in Ireland.
§ MR. GUINNESS (Bury St. Edmunds)
expressed sympathy with the promoters of the Bill. Everybody who had seen the appalling overcrowding and disgusting surroundings of the inhabitants of large towns in Ireland must see the necessity for an amendment of the housing law. He thought the hon. Member for the City of London had spoken without that knowledge which Irish Members and Irishmen possessed in regard to this burning question.
§ MR. GUINNESS
said the financial proposals would be dealt with in Committee. Even if the financial proposals were fallacious, that was no reason why they should not unanimously support the principle that better housing accommodation in Ireland was required. The great trouble they had in England in regard to the housing problem was the difficulty of borrowing money cheaply, but in Ireland that difficulty was even greater. He believed that this Bill contained the germ of proposals which might remedy that difficulty. The hon. Member for East Clare had said that they ought not to think too much about the financial proposals in the Bill. All he wished to say upon that point was that if a heavy burden was thrown upon the ratepayers, there would be a reaction which would do more harm than the Bill would do good. The most inadvisable proposal he had noticed in the Bill was the proposition to extend the period for the repayment of loans to eighty years. No doubt the framers of the Bill had put that in following the precedent of the Act of 1903, but he wished to remind them that the Local Government Board never allowed a period of eighty years for buildings. They had in certain cases allowed local authorities to borrow money repayable in eighty years for land, but that proved to be a very unnecessary complication of their accounts, and it had been found better to leave the period of repayment at sixty years. He therefore hoped that this extension would not be 974 embodied, because he felt that loans for rural housing ought to be repaid in at least sixty years. If eighty years was too long for urban houses, surely it was far too long a period for rural houses Another important point which had been raised by the hon. Member for Derry was the power of undertaking housing schemes outside the district of the local authority. He differed with his hon. friend on that point, for he regarded that as one of the most valuable provisions of the Bill. In crowded urban areas it was impossible to pull down dwellings except at an enormous expense, and local authorities were often unwilling to make closing orders until they were satisfied that the displaced population could be found suitable accommodation elsewhere. Very often the only way to provide that accommodation without placing an undue burden upon the rates was by going to some undeveloped district connected with the town by means of trams and other means of transit. The London County Council and the old Metropolitan Board of Works had spent over £800,000 writing down the value of areas which had been cleared for rehousing. One way of relieving the rates was to sell the cleared land in the towns for commercial purposes, and erect dwellings on undeveloped land in districts that were connected with the towns by tramways. They would then be able to invest the proceeds in providing cheap and healthy dwellings in the suburbs. As to Clause 11 which proposed that local authorities should be enabled to remit rates for a period not exceeding ten years on new housing accommodation, the hon. Member for North Dublin had stated that that principle was embodied in legislation for England. He himself was fairly conversant with the housing Acts, and he was almost certain that there was no provision of that kind.
§ MR. CLANCY
said he interrupted the hon. baronet the Member for the City of London several times for the purpose of correcting statements made by him. He now desired to modify what he stated as to there being a precedent for the remission of rates. He was alluding to Section 5 of the English Act, and what it did was to enable land to be let on lease to associations, subject to certain modifications with respect to rating.
§ MR. GUINNESS
said he thought the provision in this Bill was rather a dangerous one, because certain sections of the ratepayers who were living in insanitary surroundings and paying high rates might resent having to pay still higher rates to make cheaper rents for people who were bettor housed than themselves. He hoped that proposal would be considered in Committee. He thought there was no greater need in Ireland than for an improvement of the sanitary conditions under which the people lived. If the House would pass' this Bill, or one on the same lines, enabling local authorities to have the advantage of cheap money they would do a very great work for the contentment of Ireland. He appealed to the hon. baronet the Member for the City of London not to press the Amendment.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BIRRELL,) Bristol, N.
I am sure that the House will rejoice at the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, who is taking an hereditary interest in this great question. I hope that for many years the House will enjoy the valuable assistance of the growing knowledge of the hon. Member upon these questions. It would be an insult to my intelligence, which is no great matter, and to the intelligence of the whole House to suggest that it would be possible to refuse a Second Reading to a measure having for its object the better housing of the working classes in Ireland which has received such a happy and such an unusual amount of support from all quarters of the House. About that I imagine there will be no difference of opinion. The state of things in Ireland with reference to overcrowding, and all its terrible consequences, is very bad indeed. I am not going to repeat the figures which were given by the hon. and learned Member for North Dublin. He reminded the House that the great city of Dublin is twice as bad in these matters as the city of Glasgow. Most people in England and Scotland are aware that the city of Glasgow, energetic and magnificent as have been the efforts made by its corporation, has long enjoyed an unenviable reputation in this matter; but I do not think it has yet brought home sufficiently to the minds of the people of England and Scotland that the condition of things in the city of Dublin 976 in this matter is quite as bad. Since the census of 1901 there may have been a little improvement, but there cannot have been very much. The figures of that census showed there were 59,263 tenements in Dublin, and of those 21,747 were tenements of one room each. Such a proportion is, I am sorry to say, most remarkable, and entirely without parallel. I am not going to add to the volume of rhetoric that has been expended on this question. Most of us know of the terrible consequences that follow from such a state of congestion, and nobody can wonder that people brought up in it are sickly and unhealthy. Our bounden duty is surely to take whatever stops we can to remedy such a state of affairs. I came into the House yesterday just before dinner in an exhausted state after an unusually prolonged interview with the Treasury, and I found the House interested, as well they might be, in some very fine dialectical display between the Leader of the Opposition and my right hon. friend, the Secretary of State for War; and, as far as I could understand the question, the Leader of the Opposition was putting a problem of this character: Supposing we were at war, and had just sent out an expeditionary force, and just after the dispatch of that expeditionary force, which deprived us of the services of our regular soldiers, another Power perfectly fresh, and hitherto inactive, effected a landing with 100,000 men upon our shores, and, having thereby been able to secure a right of entry, poured in large numbers of horse, foot, and artillery, at a time when our Territorial Forces, Militia and Yeomanry, constructed on a Volunteer basis, had not had their six months' preliminary training, what was going to happen? I am not under-rating the importance of the inquiry which the right hon. Gentleman was making. Neither I nor anybody else can tell him what would happen, but I am perfectly certain that everything would depend upon the pluck and the condition and the character of the inhabitants of these islands, and that if we were able to respond to the bidding, the exhortations, and the examples of twenty or thirty Gambettas we should be able, in these circumstances, to give a very good account of ourselves. But surely a far more important question than the consideration of a hypothesis 977 of that character, though I do not disparage its importance, is to secure that the people of the country should be in such a state of health and animation as, in the first place, to be worth preserving, and in the second place, of being able to defend themselves against the invaders. I dare say the commercial gentlemen, the men of stocks and shares, scrips and debentures, would be in some room in the City totting up the amount of indemnity that would require to be paid in order to secure our release from the presence of the invaders. Money, we know, has no nationality. It would be the people themselves on whom we should have to depend for our defence, and therefore we are all agreed that it is a preliminary duty, in providing for a remote contingency of that kind, to see that the people of this country are brought up under such conditions as to make them capable of offering a stern defence. I am happy to think that the people will fight for their country, though they live in it under conditions of dirt, disease, and misery, just as people are prepared to fight for a liberty which they never enjoyed, and for a religion which they do not understand. All those things are perfectly true, and it is far better that defence should be carried on by people of health, strength, and character. We are all agreed that there is no more important question than this affecting the housing of our people, concerned as it is with their strength and character. But I will pass away from that;—[OPPOSITION cheers]—yes, but I can assure hon. Gentlemen that I take no pleasure in addressing them, and I am perfectly willing to pass away from that or any other subject, but it is altogether impossible to dissociate the question of housing from its financial aspect, and I agree in some respects with the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. I think he was perfectly entitled to call the attention of the House to the financial aspects of the question. I say at once that there is no use in this House expressing the sympathy which I know is generally felt with the condition of things in Irish towns and villages unless it is willing to show that sympathy in some practical form. We may talk for weeks and months of the evils which arise from overcrowding 978 and from people living to this terrible extent in one-room houses—four, five, six, and sometimes even seven or eight in one room—but there is no use in sympathising over the overcrowding in tenements unless we are able to put forward some practical suggestions for dealing with it. The difficulty arises in Ireland owing to the poverty of the country. The poverty of the small towns is undoubtedly very great. The indebtedness of the Irish towns is £8,806,476, the valuation £4,465,808, and the borrowing powers of the towns is limited by the Public Health Act to twice the assessable valuation. Therefore it will be seen that these towns have already borrowed pretty well up to their legal powers, and that even if they were given power to increase their loans they would find it exceedingly difficult to obtain other similar loans which are undoubtedly necessary to enable them to put into operation the statutory powers in regard to drainage and water supply. You are dealing with towns which are already mortgaged up to the hilt. The rates in Irish towns are already oppressive. In sixty-one out of the 110 towns the rates are over 6s. and in others from 6s. to 10s. in the £. Therefore it is obvious, as everybody will see at once, that there is not much use hoping to excite profound interest in this most vital question if it is accompanied by an assurance that the rates will be heavily or largely increased. You have to deal with that state of things. How are you going to effect, even slowly and gradually, the necessary rebuilding of proper and decent tenements? You cannot divorce this question from finance, and there is no use coming here and saying that you recognise the evil, unless you are prepared to look the financial problem in the face and see how it is to be done. Therefore, I quite agree with the hon. Member for the City of London that the financial proposals of this or any other Bill have to be considered, but they have to be considered with a view to carrying out the reform. Otherwise, all our talk becomes mere empty words, without force or substance. The Bill, apart from the financial proposals, contains most excellent provisions. I agree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds that one or two of them require close examination. I cannot as at present advised 979 agree with the eighty years period, which, I am sure, is too long in anything connected with house property, which is very often badly built. That is one reason for entrusting these matters to local authorities, because in that way you, at all events, avoid the jerry-builder. The figures as to Belfast are, I agree, as compared with Dublin, satisfactory; but I have been told that Belfast, though I have no personal acquaintance with the locality, has suffered very badly at the hands of the jerry-builder. I have been told that a number of the two-storey houses to which the hon. Member referred are badly built on undrained ground, and that, although there is immediate provision for the bulk of the population, the condition in the immediate future will be by no means so rosy as from the figures it appears to be. Even now the jerry-builder, whom one might have thought we had got rid of, is fully at work in our midst. Even in Liverpool, within the last few years, jerry-built, congested houses, badly constructed, have been built without any proper air provision, over entire portions of that city. I am not going to waste time over details. If this Bill passes the Second Beading, as I hope it will, without a division, it will be referred to a Committee which will have power to consider these points. I desire to refer for a moment to the financial proposals. With regard to the proposal that £5,000,000 should be borrowed from the Post Office deposits, I find that the Treasury is strong, and I think there will be an insuperable objection to any proposal of that kind. For my own part I think that that channel is closed to the object which we are all agreed is one of imperative necessity. But still I recognise the good arguments put forward by the Treasury in objecting to these funds which have been deposited with them by the nation being lent upon security which is certainly not easily realisable. The hon. and learned Member for North Dublin said with perfect truth that, so far as the depositors were concerned, they would not mind what use the nation made of the money because the credit of the nation was behind them, and that was good enough for them; but that is hardly the way in which people who take charge of other people's money looked at a question of this sort. The Treasury is 980 bound to look at the position of the taxpayers and the general credit of the country, and to see that these large sums are invested in securities of a high character. The Treasury have never agreed that these Post Office deposits should be invested in securities of this kind, and therefore on that part of the proposal I am not in any way disposed to agree to it. But there must be some other means of finding cheap money. Of course, as things are in England and Scotland, those who desire to embark in undertakings of this sort have obtained their money from the Local Loans Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman has stated the terms on which these loans are made, from three and a quarter to four per cent., having regard to the number of years during which the loan remains outstanding. These terms have been reduced within the last twelve months, and if any further reduction was made in the rates of interest it would have to be practically a general reduction made over all parts of the United Kingdom, and not one made merely for Ireland. And, in fact, the Treasury would much sooner give outright a grant-in-aid than tamper with or alter their present rule as to the lending of money on the Local Loans Account. Then, with regard to the Dormant Suitors' Fund, there is at the moment a slight controversy as to what is the exact amount of that fund. My hon. friend the Member for North Dublin has taken great personal pains to ascertain by inquiry in the right quarter what that fund amounts to, but his figures do not exactly coincide with the Treasury figures; they are rather less. Still, they represent a substantial sum. The Treasury see no particular reason why that fund, so far as it is proved to be available, should not be used in the manner suggested. I do not know what view the legal fraternity may be disposed to take of this matter. I am a lawyer myself, but I cannot for the life of me see why it should be supposed that the unfortunate suitors had such regard for the cause that might have ruined them as to make it essential that the moneys which they wanted to get, but have never got, should be spent on legal processes. Lawyers having got these funds, and the Treasury having got control over them, it was supposed that the money should be spent on legal matters. A very handsome and charming library at the 981 Four Courts, he was delighted to say, had been built out of the Suitors' Fund in the time of the present Secretary of State for India, and in that beautiful room I have seen the right hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Dublin University, pursuing his lucrative calling along with the distinguished County Court Judge for Clare. But I think the time is coming when the rest of Ireland should got a benefit from the fund, and I am glad to think that the Treasury are fully in accord with me in this matter, and do not see why the money should not be invested in trust securities, and the interest from it used by way of easing the burden and making up what I am afraid will be a very considerable deficit between the obligation to pay interest on the loan and the rents from the houses themselves. I do not think we can rely much upon average rent. The hon. Member for North Dublin pointed out quite accurately that sometimes those rents go up to 7s. or 8s. a week, but in order to meet this problem they must go down to as low as 1s. or 1s. 6d. a week. It would, therefore, be hazardous to say what the average rent would be. Nobody knows how much you should deduct for repairs on these houses, empties, and the like. Thirty per cent. is a very considerable figure, but some landlords say that it is not enough for the purpose. We come now to the quit rents. I am not going to say that that is not a question upon which the Committee might not desire a little more knowledge than is already possessed as to what these quit rents are, what they come to and how they are dealt with in Ireland as compared with other parts of the country. We are told that they come to the Treasury now, and are treated as an Imperial sum, otherwise they would be the private property of the Sovereign, and that they are distributed over all parts of the country alike. I am not sure that it will not be found that these quit rents have to some extent been ear-marked for the purpose of the country whence they are derived.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I do not know about that, but it is a little dangerous to go into. I am quite anxious for the inquiry 982 for my own sake, because I do not like to be in a state of confusion and ignorance on such a subject, but I think it is an inquiry which may not necessarily result in a satisfactory answer as far as Ireland is concerned. I am disposed to think, however, that quit rents can hardly for the present be regarded as likely to be a fund available for the purpose we all have at heart. The view that the Treasury and which certainly I have come to is that when you have borrowed the money as cheaply as you can get it, and after you have taken the annual revenue from the Suitors' Fund, whatever it may be—one good thing loads to another, and Treasuries come and go, and new opportunities occur for re-consideration of previous decisions—the great thing is to get a start with this measure—but I cannot conceal from myself and the custodians of the Treasury cannot conceal from themselves that after all there will still be a deficit to be met in some way. The view we take is that, heavy as the burden of rates is, it would not be a wise thing to enter into any bargain which would prevent reliance to some extent, at any rate, on assistance from the rates. That may seem a proposition which amounts to a declaration to doing nothing; but, this undiscovered, unascertained, and at present unascertainable deficit will have to be met in some way between the liability of the ratepayer and the willingness of the Exchequer to come to Ireland's assistance in this matter. The question will not be lost sight of; that is the most I can say, but I feel satisfied that when it really comes to the point, and if a vote could be taken in a crowded House, the House would not be at all indisposed to be generous in its treatment of this great question. That time may come, after this Act has got into operation, and I am sure that the Irishmen forming a united party may rely on the support of a large majority in this House. I hope I have discharged the duties of the Secretary to the Treasury in the matter, and at the same time made it perfectly plain to the House that the Government fully recognise their obligations in this matter. In fact, it is a matter of some little shame to me personally that there is not a Government measure on this subject. I find that more than thirty years ago a Commission was appointed to define new municipal 983 boundaries, it always having been thought that no really successful scheme of housing could be carried on without the areas being extended. Irish towns have unfortunately very restricted areas, although some have areas of very wide extent, and legislation in regard to those areas was recommended as urgent. Thirty years have passed and nothing has been done, and the conclusion has been forced upon me that there are enough areas of work in Ireland for Irish purposes alone to occupy the attention of a separate Parliament—I do not say whether it is made up of Irishmen, or Esquimaux, but of those who would have time to devote themselves to the consideration of Irish affairs. At present there is a hopeless block, but, certainly if there is a measure the Government might have boon expected to take up, it is such a one as this. I am only too conscious of my inability to do so, and I can only express my thanks to the two hon. Members opposite for having introduced this Bill.
SIR F. BANBUEY
said that as the Treasury agreed with him as to the financial proposals of this Bill, he did not propose to put the House to the trouble of a division, and would allow his Amendment to be negatived.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
Before the Amendment is actually withdrawn I wish to say a few words. I am not surprised that the Chief Secretary for Ireland felt some sense of shame that this is not a Government measure. Years and years ago the right hon. Member for Dover promised to introduce legislation on this matter, and Mr. Bryce gave us the same promise, although they always put in the condition "at a convenient time." The Chief Secretary does not now, of course, fully accept all our proposals, but on the whole I am disposed not to be dissatisfied with the speech which the right hon. Gentleman has made. The difficulties in the way of dealing with this question, as the right hon. Gentleman showed with perfect clearness, is the fact that those local bodies in Ireland have their resources so mortgaged and have to borrow at so high a rate of interest that it is impossible for them to deal effectively with the housing problem. We propose to deal with it by enabling them to get money cheap 984 from the Post Office depsosits. We thought, and still think, that that was a most advisable way to proceed, but the right hon. Gentleman speaking for the Treasury—and I may say in parenthesis that I would be glad if he spoke oftener for the Treasury—says that our scheme is impossible, that they cannot agree to it, that we should go for the necessary funds to carry out the housing schemes to the ordinary source, the Public Works Loans Commissioners and that public bodies must get their money at the current rate of interest, which we are told is to be reduced. But if the rate of interest is not to be reduced, the right hon. Gentleman says that the difficulty may be met by a grant-in-aid. From our own point of view it does not matter whore we get the money so long as we got it cheap. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that we should be enabled to meet any deficit by allowing some portion of the liability to remain on the rates. I agree that the people in the country parts of Ireland have shown, and still show their willingness that a proportion of the liability for the provision of houses for the labouring classes should be put on the ratepayers, and the same principle ought to prevail in towns so long as the rate of interest is not prohibitive, and the liability is limited. The right hon. Gentleman also says that the liability might be further met by the income derived from the Dormant Suitors' Fund. We do not know precisely what it amounts it, but so far as it goes the light hon. Gentleman has announced that the Treasury has consented to handing over the income from that fund to be applied to the reducing of that deficit. But the right hon. Gentleman says that even after that there is certain to be some remaining deficit, and I understood him to say that he and the Treasury are not indisposed to consider in a sympathetic spirit the desirability of the Treasury itself coming forward to meet the rest of the liability on the deficit. Now if that scheme is carried out I honestly believe that we shall have succeeded in making a good beginning in this business. I agree we cannot expect to look too far ahead, because even in two years the constitution and the views of the Treasury may be changed. We shall feel satisfied if we have set this machine going, and the deadlock which at 985 present exists is removed, and this blessed work is started. If the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman suggests becomes law, then I believe we shall have succeeded in setting the work in motion. Therefore I am not disposed to be dissatisfied with the speech of the right hon. Gentle-man or the attitude which the Treasury has taken up, though I must say I would prefer the wider views which have been put forward. There is just this I should wish to say before I sit down: this is an urgent matter and there is no reason why this Bill should not pass into law this session. There may be technical difficulties, I have not looked into the matter recently, but I am not sure how far it is possible for private Members in Committee to propose financial clauses. I do not know whether there is any difficulty from the point of view of order. I mention this matter now, because if such difficulties do arise the Government ought to take steps to remedy that state of things and regularise the proceedings of the Committee. It would be useless for our Bill to go to a Committee if we thon found that it could not be passed into law because of some technical difficulty of that kind. There is another matter in reference to the Bill passing into law which I should like to mention. It may be necessary for the Government to give it facilities when it comes back to this House, but of course that is a somewhat nominal thing, because when this Bill has passed through a Committee with universal agreement, and comes back to this House with these financial clauses limited in the direction indicated by the right hon. Gentleman, thon I am sure that even the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, will not be disposed to kill the Bill simply by insisting upon prolonged discussion.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
I am sure from the hon. Baronet's attitude this afternoon that he will not do that; but I want the Bill passed this session, and it is possible for the Government to see that it does by regularising our proceedings and then by giving the time necessary for passing it through all its stages. If they do that they will confer a great 986 boon upon Ireland, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will feel that a load of obligation has been lifted off his shoulders and those of the Government. Under these circumstances I think we have every reason to be satisfied with the debate.
§ MR. BIRRELL
In regard to the request of the hon. and learned Gentleman I will communicate his views to the acting Leader of the House. Of course, I am not in a position to give a promise of that kind.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL (Dublin University)
said he only wished to intervene for a moment to get an explanation of a matter in which he thought there was some difference of view between the hon. and learned Member for Water-ford and the right hon. Gentleman in expressing the determination of the Treasury. It would be a great misfortune indeed if, in connection with a movement of this kind, heartily supported as it was from all sides of the House, and particularly by representatives from Ireland, there should be any misunderstanding as to the position taken up by His Majesty's Government in Ireland, because too often an interpretation was put upon speeches made by right hon. Gentlemen who had to look after the Treasury as well as their own particular Department, and afterwards the suggestion was made that there had been some breach of faith on the part of the Government. He thought they should definitely understand what was said on this occasion. He did not understand the right hon. Gentleman as giving the pledge which the hon. Gentleman for Waterford said he thought had been given. Let him explain. The hon. and learned Member said that he understood the speech of the Chief Secretary as moaning that even assuming that the Suitors Fund was of the magnitude that the hon. Member for North Dublin in his able speech had stated, and that there was a certain liability to be cast upon the rates, there must necessarily be a deficiency, and he (Mr. Redmond) understood the Chief Secretary as giving a pledge that that would be made good by a Treasury grant.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
No; I said that I understood that the question of 987 whether the Treasury should come to the aid of the local authorities would be sympathetically considered by the Government and by the Treasury.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said he thought that that was the correct interpretation, but he could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that he did use language which conveyed to them in that part of the House that he understood that there was a distinct promise given by the right hon. Gentleman that whatever the deficiency was it would be made good by the Treasury.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
, continuing, said that if the understanding was that it was only a pious hope or expression of opinion on the part of the hon. and learned Member that the deficiency would be considered by the Government, he thought that was correct, and he only rose to prevent any misunderstanding arising, because it would be a pity that the success of this movement, happily begun under such auspices, should become another cause of allegation against His Majesty's Government of ill-faith towards the Irish people. He entirely agreed with what had fallen from the Chief Secretary, and recognised that he had dealt with the matter in a generous and liberal spirit.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
thought the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was a little unfair in claiming the entire credit of this measure for his own Party.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
claimed that his colleagues from Ulster were quite as keen for a measure of this kind as the Party of the hon. and learned Member, and the latter might have given them credit for that interest. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated that Irishmen had a certain claim at all events when they were united to make appeals to the Government, but he thought that the 988 right hon. Gentleman and the Attorney-General ought to limit their language in future, because the Attorney-General had described his fellow-countrymen as West African savages, and the Chief Secretary for Ireland had gone a little further and referred to them as Esquimaux.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I did not call them Esquimaux. What I said was that even a separate Parliament of Esquimaux might be very profitably employed in dealing with Irish affairs for six years.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said that as an Irish Member he objected to the term Esquimaux being applied to the Irish nation. That was a picturesque phrase which might suit the literary taste of the right hon. Gentleman, but neither it nor the picturesque language of the Attorney-General should be used in regard to Ireland.
§ THE ATTORNEY - GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. CHERRY,) Liverpool, Exchange
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I did not use the picturesque language he attributes to me. I never said that the people of Ireland were West African savages.
§ MR. R. DUNCAN (Lanarkshire, Govan)
dissociated himself from the attitude of the hon. Baronet the junior Member for the City of London towards this Bill. No doubt he was an authority on finance, but he wished the hon. Baronet would show some greater regard for men, women, and children, and less for the money bags, whether of London, Edinburgh, or Dublin. The Irish experience in this matter had revealed a sore spot in the national life of Ireland, and therefore in the national life of the United Kingdom. It was necessary to devise exceptional legislation for those sore spots in the national life; and where his Party differed in this respect from their Socialist fellow members was in thinking that these were only exceptional measures, the need for which would pass away, and Ireland would become a credit to the country, being restored to 989 its normal health. Long might the dear little shamrock, the symbol of three in one (he used the figure in no theological sense), be the symbol of national unity, and then they could go on wearing the green for ever.
§ Question "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.