HC Deb 10 September 1909 vol 10 cc1667-73

Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890 (in this part of this Act referred to as the principal Act), shall, after the commencement of this Act, extend to and take effect in every urban or rural district, or other place for which it has not been adopted, as if it had been so adopted.


moved to omit the Clause.

We had considerable discussion upon this question, and I very much regret I was unable to move the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Burns) from the position he took up. The argument which I used, and in which, after careful consideration, I fail to see any defects, was that the local authorities in the urban and rural districts should be able to gauge the wants and requirements of their districts, and that having come to a proper conclusion as to the wants and requirements of the ratepayers and voters in the particular district, that they should act accordingly. We have always considered that the creation of local authorities elected by the people on a particularly wide franchise—from my point of view a franchise which is very much too wide—was one of the chief platform planks in the platform of the party opposite. It was in their opinion a good thing that the in- habitants of a district should elect from amongst their own body certain people to guide them in the administration of the district in which they dwelt. This Clause is a complete reversal of that policy. Unless this Clause is omitted the local elected bodies will not be able to exercise their own discretion as to whether Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, shall or shall not be adopted. They will be compelled under this Bill to adopt that part of the Act of 1890. The Act of 1890 was passed by a Conservative Government, and was meant to deal chiefly with urban districts. The conditions between urban and rural districts are very different. This Bill compels the adoption of an Act in rural districts which was intended to apply to urban districts. It is not at all, I believe, for the welfare of the people in a rural district that the proceedings and the bye-laws and regulations, which are good and proper in an urban district, should be adopted. I will give an instance. A short time ago some cottages were built in the country, and, in accordance with the conviction of the owner that drains in the country are bad things, earth closets, and not drains, were provided. The cottages stood in three or four hundred acres of land. The experience of the owner showed that drains were always getting stopped or clogged. Of course, that could not be done in an urban district, but in the interests of sanitation it was thought to be the best thing in the rural district. Down came the district authorities, who had adopted bye-laws made for the town, and they said, "Oh, no; there must be a drain. We recognise it is much better not to have it, but the bye-law says a drain is to be made." When the drain was made it would probably be blocked up and unused, and much more offensive and insanitary than if there was not a drain. That is a good example showing the great mistake of passing these hard and fast rules which may be good in one instance, but which are not good for every case. The only result is that evils must arise because you cannot alter the mind of the official. He knows there is a set of regulations, and he acts by those as a sort of automaton. He has no freedom of action, and is not able, apparently—and I do not blame him—to depart from the rules and regulations laid down.

There is another strong reason for moving the omission of this Clause, because, later on in the Bill,' it is provided that any four inhabitants of the district may petition the Local Government Board, and may induce them to compel the local authority, which has adopted these particular provisions, to put them in force. If, after the local authority had adopted these provisions, it was left to them to decide whether or not they should act upon them, I do not know that I should have had very much to say against this particular Clause. I still think it is a great mistake, because I do not believe in putting compulsion upon the local authority to do such things. This Clause, taken in connection with the rest of the Bill, provides that four people may go to the Local Government Board, and the Local Government Board may hold an inquiry. After having held the local inquiry, which has been instituted by those four people, the local authority practically disappears and the Local Government Board practically takes its place. I think that is agreed. Earlier in the Debate to-day the President of the Local Government Board refused to accept a proposal on the ground that it would subject the local authority to the whims of the President of the Local Government Board for the time being. This particular Clause does exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said earlier ought not to be done. Therefore I have hopes that the right hon. Gentleman has seen the errors of his way and will be logical and consistent, and will continue in the attitude which he took up previously in the Debate. I fail to see what is to be gained by this Clause. Its omission would not interfere with the carrying out of Part III. Local authorities could still carry out its provisions if they wished to do so; but there would be no compulsion, which is apparently so dear to the hearts of the party opposite. They are always saying, "Trust the people." I do not remember a Government who did not justify their deeds on the ground that they were desired by the people, that the people ought to be masters in their own house, and that you should trust the people. But that is exactly what this Clause does not do. It says, not "Trust the people," but "Trust the President of the Local Government Board." That may be a very excellent thing to do, but it is not democratic. The present President of the Local Government Board is a Radical, but it does not follow that he will always be a Radical. In fact, if he remains much longer in office, I am not at all certain that he will not adopt in their entirety the views held on this side of the House. I am glad to Kay that he is tending that way, and I give him every credit for it. But this Clause does away with all the professions the party opposite have made. If the right hon. Gentleman denies that, let him accept the Amendment, and then the will of the people, as exemplified in their own elected authorities, will prevail. I beg to move.


I beg to second the Amendment.


It is impossible for the Government to accept this Amendment, as its acceptance would strike a serious blow at the Bill. When that view is confirmed, as it was unmistakably by the House a week ago, by 132 to 19, it is superfluous to adduce many arguments against the Amendment.


Why have a Report stage?


I agree. When the hon. Member submitted his proposal through his Friends on the Standing Committee, that body unanimously declined to have anything to do with it.


That was last year.


When the Committee of the whole House confirmed that decision by rejecting the Motion to delete the Clause by 132 to 19, it seems to me that that is sufficient evidence against the Amendment. If the hon. Baronet's views in this matter prevailed, I am afraid the conditions of the housing of the working classes would be infinitely worse than he, to his credit, would like them to be. He spoke of leaving local authorities alone. That is not a case of leaving them alone; it is a case of enabling all local authorities to have what at present only a few of the larger authorities have. By our proposal we confer upon the 671 rural district councils of the country a power which many other authorities at present possess, and in exercising which they do a great deal of good.


Could not these 671 authorities adopt Part III. of the Act of 1890 if they desired to do so?


Yes; but the hon. Baronet ought to ask further, why, having the power to adopt Part III., they do not do so. Out of 671 rural district councils who have power to adopt that part of the Act, only nine or ten have done so. Why? Because they have to get the consent of the county council, and they are deterred from adopting that dilatory course. Many of these councils have to look after areas where cottages are more needed than in districts whose authorities enjoy this privilege. If there is a case to which Part III. ought to be extended, it is the case of these 671 authorities, of whom only ten have put it in force. The hon. Baronet suggested that if the power to build new cottages were conferred upon, and Part III. applied to, rural district councils generally, these bodies would be interfered with in the exercise of their local judgment, knowledge, and experience, in the making of bye-laws. Let us put that to the test. What have these authorities done in the matter of bye-laws, regulations, and inspection? Two hundred and fourteen have no bye-laws at all. That is a position of things we cannot allow to go on any longer, especially as in some rural areas we find, relatively speaking, worse housing conditions than exist in the slums of our great cities and towns. When out of 671 rural district councils, 214 have no bye-laws at all, and 208 have only the rural model, in many cases the most elementary of regulations, it seems to me that we ought to insist upon these provisions applying generally. I believe that these authorities will use the powers reasonably, so far as owners of both land and houses are con-

cerned, and by so doing do a great deal to remove the scandal which now exists in regard to rural housing. The existing condition of things can be best met by the authoritieis building more and better cottages, under proper sanitary conditions, in accordance with new bye-laws with which it is the intention of the Local Government Board to provide them.


I am in general agreement with what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman, but may I point out one not quite accurate suggestion, that the state of things which undoubtedly exists is due merely, or mainly, to the fact that the rural councils at the present time have to get permission from the county council before they can adopt Part III. of the Act. There have been singularly few applications to county councils, but to these permission has been given. There is really, therefore, no need in this controversy to reflect upon any local authority. It is sufficient to support, as I trust every Member of the House, except, perhaps, the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) will do the insertion of Clause 1 in the Bill. It makes universal what is now partial, and it is a step in housing reform on which I trust we are all agreed.

Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 120; Noes, 27.

Division No. 631.] AYES. [2.35 p.m.
Adkins, W Ryland D. Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter Macpherson, J. T.
Alden, Percy Fullerton, Hugh MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)
Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch) Harcourt, Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale) M'Kenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald
Ashton, Thomas Gair Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose) M'Laren, Sir C. B. (Leicester)
Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.) Hardy, George A. (Suffolk) Maddison, Frederick
Barker, Sir John Harmsworth, R. L. (Caithness-shire) Markham, Arthur Basil
Barnard, E. B. Hart-Davies, T. Massie, J.
Beale, W. P. Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth) Micklem, Nathaniel
Boulton, A. C. F. Haworth, Arthur A. Molteno, Percy Alport
Bright, J. A. Hedges, A. Paget Mooney, J. J.
Bryce, J. Annan Higham, John Sharp Morgan, G. Hay (Cornwall)
Burns, Rt. Hon. John Hobhouse, Rt. Hon. Charles E. H. Morton, Alpheus Cleophas
Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas Hogan, Michael Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.)
Byles, William Pollard Howard, Hon. Geoffrey Myer, Horatio
Carlile, E. Hlldred Illingworth, Percy H. Nicholls, George
Carr-Gomm, H. W. Isaacs, Rufus Daniel Norman, Sir Henry
Channing, Sir Francis Allston Jardine, Sir J. O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R. Jones, Leif (Appleby) O'Kelly, Conor (Mayo. N.)
Cloland, J. W. Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Parker, James (Halifax)
Clough, William Jowett, F. W. Partington, Oswald
Collins, Stephen (Lambeth) Kekewich, Sir George Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Condon, Thomas Joseph King, Alfred John (Knutsford) Pointer, J.
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow) Laldlaw, Robert Powell, Sir Francis Sharp
Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead) Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester) Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (Gloucester)
Cotton, Sir H. J. S. Lambert, George Rees, J. D.
Crossley, William J. Lamont, Norman Ridsdale, E. A.
Cullinan, J. Layland-Barratt, Sir Francis Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)
Dewar, Sir J. A. (Inverness-sh.) Lewis, John Herbert Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)
Dickinson, W. H. (St. Pancras, N.) Lupton, Arnold Roe, Sir Thomas
Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P. Luttrell, Hugh Fownes Rogers, F. E. Newman
Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness) Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester) Schwann, Sir C. E. (Manchester)
Elibank, Master of Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs) Shipman, Dr. John G.
Everett, R. Lacey Mackarness, Frederic C. Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, E)
Findlay, Alexander Maclean, Donald Soames, Arthur Wellesley
Stanger, H. Y. Walters, John Tudor Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)
Stewart, Halley (Greenock) Waring, Walter Winfrey, R.
Straus, B. S. (Mile End) Warner, Thomas Courtenay T. Wood, T. M'Kinnon
Summerbell, T. White, Sir George (Norfolk) Young, Samuel
Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton] White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)
Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander Williams, W. Llewelyn (Carmarthen) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Sir
Verney, F. W. Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.) E. Strachey and Mr. Gulland.
Anstruther-Gray, Major Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Randles, Sir John Scurrah
Banner, John S. Harmood- Feil, Arthur Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel
Baring, Capt. Hon. G. (Winchester) Fletcher, J. S. Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.) Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West) Stanier, Beville
Beach, Hen. Michael Hugh Hicks Gretton, John Staveley-Hill, Henry (Staffordshire)
Brotherton, Edward Allen Guinness, Hon. W. E. (B. S. Edmunds) Talbot, Rt. Hon. J. G. (Oxford Univ.)
Castlereagh, Viscount Lane-Fox, G. R. Valentia, Viscount
Cecil, Lord R. (Marylebone, E.) Moore, William
Craig, Captain James (Down, E.) Morpeth, Viscount TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir
Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott- Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington) F. Banbury and Mr. M'Arthur.