HL Deb 13 May 1853 vol 127 cc294-8

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, which was intended to make further provisions with respect to common lodging houses, said, the Act which was now in operation had produced results that had far exceeded his most sanguine expectations when it was introduced. In calling the attention of the House to the beneficial effect produced by the Act now in operation, he need do nothing more than quote the Report by Captain Hay, the admirable Police Commissioner. His statement showed both the evil and the improvement; and it was mainly on his experience and suggestions that the present Bill was grounded. It must also be observed that this was the first successful effort that had been made to reach the very dregs of society; the first to penetrate to the deepest dens of vice, filth, and misery. Often had they been half taunted with the insinuation that they were doing vast things for people of a better sort; but where, it was asked, were their operations on the great masses? The reply lay in Captain Hay's Report, from which he would quote two extracts. Captain Hay said— In the occupation by families of single rooms all the evils incident to the crowding of persons together without regard to age or sex are produced. On visiting a house in Church-lane, St. Giles's, soon after midnight, there were found in a room measuring 14 feet 6 inches by 14 feet 6 inches no less than 37 men, women, and children, all lying together on the floor like beasts, with scarcely any other covering than the clothes taken from their persons, which they had worn throughout the day. On opening the door leading into this loathsome place the heat was so great, and the odour so offensive, as to make it nearly insupportable. No means whatever were employed to ventilate the room except the chimney. The same evils were found in a large number of houses, varying according to the respective dimensions of the houses. In an ordinary eight-roomed house in Pheasant Court, Gray's Inn Lane, were living 17 families and lodgers, numbering 78 individuals. In an adjoining house, containing the same number of rooms, were found 21 families and lodgers, amounting to 103 persons; in an eight-roomed house, 18 families and lodgers, making 69 persons; in a house of similar size adjoining, 16 families and lodgers, numbering 77 persons. Husbands and wives, with their children, brothers and sisters, men and women, were found in the foregoing rooms indiscriminately huddled together, without regard to age or sex. He cited that description merely as an illustration of the evil which had existed; for he feared it was only one instance of hundreds and thousands of the houses formerly to be found; and let their Lordships contrast with that statement the present state of things, which was the result of the operation of the existing Act. Captain Hay reported— Previous to the introduction of the Common Lodging Houses Act, it is scarcely possible to describe the filthy condition of houses—the loathsome beds filled with vermin, the overcrowding, which caused fever to be rarely absent, the abandoned inmates, comprising the lowest classes of vagrants, thieves, and prostitutes. These are matters upon which abundant testimony could be obtained, if necessary, but even by eye-witnesses no adequate description could be given of the filth and misery they constantly exhibited. That the Act is working well, it will also be possible to show from unquestionable testimony, for, in addition to the statement of our inspector, and the observation of myself and other officers of the division, which go to prove that the houses are now well cleaned, the walls and ceilings whitewashed, the ventilation improved, the numbers admissible regulated, the bedding better, both in quantity, cleanliness, and quality, and the consequent liability to fever and other contagious disorders considerably reduced. Captain Hay then gave a great number of medical certificates, testifying to the good results of the existing Act; and Dr. Arthur, parochial surgeon, Deptford, stated— I feel much pleasure in informing you that since the Common Lodging-houses Act came into operation in this district, I have only had three cases of contagious disease in the lodging houses, which I attribute to the very efficient manner in which the Act is carried out. Many other similar testimonies might be adduced. He wished to call their Lordships' attention to the important fact of the great number of persons who had experienced the advantage of the operation of the Act. The common lodging houses registered up to the present day—and there were many more still to be registered—contained not less than 80,000 inhabitants. Now, they could not have better evidence of the benefits of the Act than the testimony of the lodgers themselves; and Captain Hay's supplementary report would show how they appreciated the benefits they enjoyed from it. The evidence of the police inspectors of different districts was to this effect:— The regulations have given general satisfaction, particularly to married couples. They (the lodgers) consider them excellent, and much conducive to their comfort; many poor persons have told me they have enjoyed more cleanliness and better accommodation since the lodging-houses had been inspected by the police than ever they had in them before. They express their satisfaction at the improvements in cleanliness and accommodation. The lodgers generally express their entire satisfaction at the regulations, and the comforts derived through them, by cleanliness, partitions, numbers reduced, &c. Much superior in every respect. They are in every way approved of. One and all speak of them as a great boon—highly pleased with the improvements, feeling satisfied there is greater comfort, and more beneficial to their health. Such were the statements of the metropolitan inspectors; and the reports from the country were equally good. He had favourable reports from Chorley, Portsmouth, Carlisle, and other places. From Chorley the superintendent of police stated:— I consider the Act decidedly beneficial. T. H—, Water Street, a common lodging-housekeeper, said:—'I find the Act good for everybody, but did not like it at first.' He 'loses a little money, as he has had to take another cottage to hold the same number of beds, but gains in comfort. The rooms used to smell very strong, now there is a good vent and does not smell it; windows which were formerly fixed are now made to open.' The house, which used to be very dirty, and the walls dark with filth, is now very clean; the walls are whitewashed, there is no close smell, and the bedding is in a satisfactory condition. J. L—, lodging-housekeeper, said:—'The law has put me to some expense, but I think it is a good law, and would not repeal it if I could. Do not make so much money as formerly, but there is more comfort.' His wife said:—'The tramps come now from clean places, and are in their persons cleaner than they used to be. Have not to strip the beds so often as formerly.' Before the Act, 'they (the tramps) used to come from dirty places, now they mostly come clean; and there is Jar less trouble to keep the rooms and beds decent.' It's worse for those as was always dirty, but best for'em as was always clean. Used to have to strip some of the beds every day; now once a week is mostly enough, except now and then a dirty one comes. When folks is used to tidy places they keeps tidy. It's far comfortabler.' This house is in a very creditable condition, and the above statement was given with great heartiness. All that evidence was not unworthy of their Lordships' attention, and would encourage them to extend the benefits of the Bill. A city missionary wrote to him stating—"It can scarcely be conceived the moral and physical improvement which has taken place. Since the operation of the Act keepers of houses seem to approve of it." There were certain details in the Bill which he thought might best be discussed in Committee, but he would now glance at the principal provisions of it. It was found necessary to introduce some enactment that would be stringent with respect to those guilty of a third offence in disobey- ing the provisions of the law. Therefore it was proposed to disqualify such offenders from keeping lodging houses for a certain number of years. There were next provisions granting power of inspection, and enabling local authorities to remove causes of complaint certified under the Nuisances Removal Act. Clauses were contained in the Bill having reference to the registration of common lodging houses; and there was another provision of great importance, empowering the police, when sick persons were found in these common lodging houses, to remove them to hospitals. The 14th clause required reports from common lodging houses for beggars and vagrants. Those were the principal provisions of the Bill; and, if they were successfully carried into effect, many houses now beyond the reach of inspection would be brought under it, together with a great mass of population. Unless that population were placed in a position suitable for human beings and Christians, he was satisfied that no laws that could be passed would produce any permanent effect. It would be in vain to strive against juvenile delinquency if these common lodging houses were not brought under proper regulation; for it was in them that nine-tenths of the crime perpetrated were plotted. A great deal of good had already been done by previous legislation, and it was to prevent a relapse and to perfect that good that he now proposed the second reading of the present Bill.


took objection to some particular provisions of the Bill, especially that which authorised the removal of persons suffering from infectious disease to workhouses, where there were many children and persons of infirm health; and to the very wide powers of inspection given. It would bring under the operation of the Act not only common lodging houses, but any premises occupied or let out in single rooms to persons receiving weekly wages. Assuming that some alterations might be made in the Bill in Committee, he would not oppose the second reading.


expressed doubts as to the applicability of the Bill to Ireland, and said that it would inflict a serious injury on the occupiers of small houses.


wished to have a definition of the term "common lodging-houses." He thought inspection would be a benefit to a certain class of houses; but as all inspection of this kind was an infrac- tion of the liberty of the subject, and of the English maxim that every man's house was his castle, it was desirable to confine it to lodging houses of a certain class.


thought the Bill would extend in a mischievous way to such cases as a cottage in the country, part of which was let out to labourers. Then, with regard to reports being required from the keepers of lodging houses for vagrants and beggars, it was hardly possible to expect such persons to make any reports.


suggested that the noble Earl, the promoter of the Bill, should put himself in communication with the Poor Law Board, in reference to the provision empowering the removal of sick persons from common lodging houses in rural districts.


having expressed his readiness to consider all objections in Committee,

Bill read 2a.