§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that although he had consented to take charge of the Bill in their Lordships' House, he feared he should be unable to do justice to the subject. The intention of the Bill was to improve the comfort of the labouring classes of the community in respect of their dwellings; and the magnitude of the evil with which it proposed to grapple was forcing itself daily more and more upon public attention, and, in the language of a petition recently presented in favour of the Bill, legislation on the subject was not only desirable but had become absolutely indispensable. The measure he now submitted to their Lordships had been thrice read a second time in the House of Commons without a division; and on the first occasion, in 1866, it was referred to a Select Committee, which reported upon it favourably. In that year, however, the pressure of Public Business prevented its passing that House sufficiently early to give hopes of its becoming law; and last year, having been read the second time, and gone into Committee, it was withdrawn for a similar reason. This year, however, it was introduced in the other House very early in the Session, and came up to their Lordships unanimously recommended by the House of Commons; its main provisions had been agreed to by both Bides of the House; it was under discussion in Committee on three days, and various Amendments were introduced, but no division took place, except one on an insignificant proposition with regard to the Metropolitan Board of Works and the City of London. Hitherto, however, all attempts to remedy the evil by legislation had proved abortive. The measure which he now submitted to their Lordships had been under the consideration of the other House during the last three Sessions. The Bill thus came to their Lordships' House recommended by the unanimous sanction of the other House of Parliament. It was not, however, to be expected that a Bill of this description, which must necessarily be of a compulsory character, as it would interfere with the rights of private property, 900 would be unopposed; it would, of course, meet with opposition from owners of the poorer descriptions of property, which he had heard was daily increasing in value, owing to the wholesale destruction of poor dwellings by the construction of railways and other improvements in the metropolis. The unhappy tendency of the present wholesale destruction of small dwellings in the metropolis, and the consequent overcrowding of poor families, could not be more forcibly illustrated than by an instance which lately occurred. A working man and his family, seven in number, were last autumn flung out of the lodging where they had previously lived, the house being doomed to make way for one of the new metropolitan improvements—the erection of the new Courts of Justice. The work by which the man gained his living required that he should not go far in search of another dwelling; but the neighbourhood being already greatly over-peopled, he was glad to get a single room in u house in an adjacent street, the windows of which overlook one of our great Inns of Court. He had, of course, to pay what to him was a high price for huddling-room in so good a situation; but he had no choice, and thought himself lucky to get in there. What happened? There were then in that house fifty seven human beings, eating, drinking, and sleeping, cooking and washing, sickly and well, all stowed together during the sweltering days of autumn. Typhus scented its prey too quickly, and marked the wretched man for its own. While he lay ill his wife and six children had to inhale his pestiferous breath, and communicated involuntarily the contagion to the other inmates of the house. The victim had not a chance for life; and when he sunk in death his widow and six children were removed to the workhouse, while his corpse was interred at the expense of the parish. This was not a solitary, but rather a representative instance of a very large class of sufferers. Many parallel instances could easily be produced. Those of their Lordships who had not attended to the subject could have no conception of the large extent to which filth, disease, and pestilence prevailed, and the commonest decencies of life disregarded. But he would not shock their Lordships by many details; he would refer to as few as he could consistently with the necessity of proving that such a measure as the present was urgently required. He would therefore merely give 901 some illustrations drawn from the three principal towns of Liverpool, Manchester, and London. The Report of the Medical Officer of Liverpool for 1867 stated—It has been mentioned that at the nightly visits the inspectors are required to take notice of the arrangements as well as of the number of the persons in a family occupying a single room. The law does not give us any power to interfere in this matter, except in the case of the rooms of the registered common lodging-houses; but the following facts will show the magnitude of the moral evil belonging to the present single room occupation; and the facts will also disclose, however repulsively, the canker which threatens to blight the most sacred bonds of the family and social system. In 62 instances adult sons and daughters slept in the same room with their parents, and in three instances in the same bed. In 152 instances adult daughters slept in the same room, and in 56 instances in the same bed with their parents. In 99 instances adult sons slept in the same room, and in 37 instances in the same bed with their parents. In 214 instances adult sons slept in the same room, and in 158 instances in the same bed with their mothers. In 37 instances adult daughters slept in the same room, and in 27 instances in the same bed with their fathers. In 59 instances the mother with her adult sons and daughters slept in the same room, and in 21 instances in the same bed together. In 12 instances the father with his adult sons and daughters slept in the same room, and in six instances in the same bed together. In 7 instances a mother, adult eon, and a female lodger slept in the same room, and in two instances in the same bed together. In 64 instances a man, his wife, and a female lodger slept in the same room, and in three instances in the same bed. In 12 instances a man, wife, and male lodger slept in the same room. In 39 instances adult brothers and sisters slept in the same room, and in 20 instances in the same bed. The overcrowding which we find in sub-let houses is generally connected with, or caused by, these bad arrangements of a family. Thus, for example, in one room of the cubical dimensions of 900 feet, a mother and her two sons, aged 18 and 20, were in one bed, and a man, his wife, and his daughter, aged 18, in another bed.The space allotted to each person was 150 cubic feet, or less than two-fifths of the measurement allotted to the inmates of our prisons—In another room, of the cubical dimensions of 800 feet, there were found sleeping a father, two sons, aged 18 and 20, a daughter, aged 22, and a female lodger, aged 30. In another room, of the cubical dimensions of 800 feet, there were found sleeping in one bed on the floor two brothers, aged 24 and 26, and four sisters, aged 28, 20. 18, and 16.The Medical Report for Manchester furnishes similar instances—Paradise Court, 40 yards by 30, contains 43 families, and consists of back-to-back houses, and on one side back-to-back cellars; contains seven privies, situated in the centre of a court, in a very filthy condition, with large ashpit between.902 In one place in Manchester, with an area of about 3,000 yards, there were 106 houses and cellars containing 154 families, and 546 persons. One district alone had furnished 200 cases of typhus during a period of nine months. Turning from Manchester to the metropolis, a similar state of things would be found to exist. The Rev. Mr. Andrews, incumbent of St. Luke's, King's Cross, said—At the last Census my incumbency contained a population numbering 8,050. The Midland Railway Company have demolished 275 houses, and in consequence the population, which was 8,050 at the taking of the Census, has been reduced to 3,800, a reduction of more than 4,000.In Old St. Pancras and the adjoining parishes not less than 750 houses have been pulled down, whereby an estimated population of 18,000 have been ejected. Mr. West, the district missionary, stated that, in consequence of the curtailment of supply, the rent of rooms in the neighbourhood had risen 20 per cent; overcrowding, as a natural result, was intensified, and nine-tenths of the families whose circumstances required residence in the neighbourhood, and who had therefore taken refuge in the surrounding districts, were said to live in one room. Mr. Eldridge, the missionary of the Clare Market district, said that 206 houses, inhabited by the labouring classes, had been demolished for the site of the new Law Courts. These houses contained 1,120 families. Out of 1,000 families in his district, four-fifths live in one room, generally very small. The effect of this was very shortly and strongly described by the incumbent of Trinity, St. Giles's, who said—You have no conception of the state in which people are living in part of my district. They are crowded together, and live like vermin.And, almost in the same words, the curate of St. Peter's, Regent Square, says, "Part of our district is greatly overcrowded, and the people live like animals." The Registrar of the Evicted Tenants' Aid Association, in his Report referring to the block of buildings between Cow Cross and Peter's Lane, in the East Central district, said—The whole of these rookeries, inhabited principally by the lowest characters, are in every respect totally unfit for human occupation, and for this reason I believe they have been already condemned; if so, the eviction should be proceeded with at once; for, besides the dilapidated state of the whole, the pest-breeding stench arising from the accumulated filth and the overcrowded state of every house are such that it is no wonder that cholera and fever reign supreme. In Broad 903 Yard, which consists of 17 houses, inhabited by 45 families, eight persons sleeping within a yard of the only closet in the court were attacked by cholera; of these eight but one recovered. In Rose Alley, where 32 families dwell in 14 small houses, having again but one closet for the common use, Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 are full of fever—5 cases were taken this week to Bartholomew's Hospital; other cases at home. Fryingpan Alley, containing 12 houses, with but one closet for the whole, is inhabited by 28 families. Pit Alley, having 12 houses, and, as usual, but one closet for the whole, shelters 26 families. The water in all these tenements is supplied through a hole in the wall for one half-hour daily. There is one house where the water has been entirely cut off for the past two years. On the authority of the missionary consulted by me, and who most kindly gave me every facility for obtaining information, I have to state that the whole of this property belongs to only two persons—one a most influential vestryman of the parish, and the other a lunatic. The missionary solemnly assured me that these places were never entered by either a clergyman or a policeman; the only visitors to these wretched domiciles being the doctor and himself.He could multiply indefinitely those cases, and he trusted their Lordships would consider those he had given as merely specimens of what was too general; because, even if they considered them all that could he adduced they would have but an imperfect idea of the wretchedness and demoralization which existed in all those places where this terrible overcrowding existed. It would be a reproach to the Legislature and to the country if no attempt were made to remedy, or at least to mitigate, such an evil by legislative interference. Their Lordships would naturally ask whether there was in existence no legislation calculated to carry out in any degree the object of this Bill? In 1851 the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury) introduced a Bill empowering the local authorities to exercise certain powers with regard to lodging-houses for the poor. It was unnecessary that he should state the details of that Bill, as it was merely a permissive measure, and had failed in carrying out the object in view. By the provisions of the Public Health. Act of 1866, the Secretary of State might empower the nuisance authority of any city or town of not less than 5,000 inhabitants to make regulations—1, for fixing the number of persons who may occupy a house or part of a house which is let in lodgings or occupied by members of more than one family; 4, for enforcing therein the provision of privy accommodation and other appliances and means of cleanliness in proportion to the number of lodgings and occupiers, and the cleansing and ventilation of the common passages and staircases; Penalties not exceeding 40s. for any one offence, with an additional Penalty not exceed- 904 ing 20s. for every day during which a default in obeying such regulations may continue.Where two convictions for overcrowding a house, or the occupation of a cellar as a separate dwelling-place occurred, two justices might direct the closing of the premises for such time as they might deem fit, and in the case of cellars permanently close the same. He believed that Act had not answered the purpose for which it was passed, chiefly because the Local Boards of Health shrunk from putting its provisions in force; and it was in consequence of the necessity being strongly felt for the passing of an effective measure upon this subject that he had been induced to lay this Bill before their Lordships. The Local Boards had shrunk from applying the regulations of the Act with stringency, because the effect of doing so would have been to render homeless multitudes of families who were compelled to find shelter in these unhealthy dwellings. The general provisions of the present Bill were these—Its operation was limited to the City of London, the Metropolis, boroughs not within jurisdiction of Local Boards, towns under Commissioners constituted by local Acts, and places with Local Boards under Public Health Act and Local Government Act. The Bill provided for the appointment of an Officer of Health in any place where none already exists. If the Officer of Health (whether on representation or otherwise) found any street or premises unfit for human habitation, or in a condition to be injurious or dangerous to health, he was to report to the Local Authority. That body, designated in the schedule as being the Local Authority, was to send a copy of the Report to the owner of the premises, together with plans and specifications of the works necessary. The owner, within fourteen days after notice, might state objections to the plan, &c., which the Local Authority might alter. An appeal would lie to the Quarter Sessions. Within three calendar months after the order was made, within one month after determination of the Quarter Sessions, the owner was to state, in writing, whether he would execute works or not. If he elected to execute the necessary works and did not do so, the Local Authority might order the premises to be closed, or execute the works themselves. If he did not elect to do so, the Local Authority might shut up the premises or purchase them; and if the purchase money were not agreed upon, a valuation was to 905 be made of the market value of the property as being unfit for human habitation; where the Local Authority was entitled to acquire premises they might empower a building company to act on their behalf, on terms and conditions as to the payment of the compensation, and as to executing the works under the superintendence of the surveyor to Local Authority. The owner, instead of effecting the improvements, might take down the buildings, but might not re-build on the site any house injurious or dangerous to health. If the lessee refused to execute the works the landlord might do it, but the lease would be forfeited, and the value of interest must be paid. The Local Authority was to hold all property acquired under the Act upon trust to provide, by the construction of new or repairing of existing buildings, the labouring classes with suitable dwellings; and for opening out enclosed, or partially enclosed, alleys or courts inhabited by the labouring classes, or otherwise leaving such open spaces as may be necessary to make them healthful. The Local Authority was every year to present, in the form required by the Secretary of State, an account of what had been done and of monies received and paid. The expenses incurred by the Local Authority were to be defrayed out of the local rate. The Public Works Loan Commissioners might make loans for the purposes of the Act, to be secured by mortgage of the buildings erected or to be erected, and by mortgage of the local rate. The Local Authority was not empowered to increase the local rate for the purposes of the Act beyond 2d. in the pound. The Bill applied equally to Scotland and Ireland. Having laid before their Lordships the principal provisions of the Bill, he would proceed to state some of the objections which had been raised against the Bill—their Lordships were no doubt already aware of some of these through the printed papers that had been circulated. In the first place, it was said that this was the first time an attempt had been made to take from private owners compulsorily their property when not required for any public purpose. He did not know in what restricted sense this objection was to be taken; but for himself he could hardly conceive a more important public purpose than that which this Bill was intended to effect. Let them by all means respect private property; but to what species of property did this measure relate? To 906 houses unfit for human habitation, and which were therefore likely to engender disease. Such houses were unfit for human habitation, either by reason of originally improper construction, or from want of proper repair; and in either case, the fault being in the proprietors or lessees, who had promoted an evil which was beyond the power of the law, it would be monstrous that there should be no power to abate the nuisance. Objection had been made by the Vestry of Marylebone to the substitution of the Metropolitan Board of Works for the vestries of the different parishes. Now, he must say the whole of a town was interested in weeding out those nurseries of disease and pestilence, which might spread themselves over the community, and that was of infinitely greater importance to the town itself than even the providing parks for the health and recreation of the people. It was not at all improbable that vestrymen of parishes might themselves be the owners of property of this description—and he had read to their Lordships a remarkable instance where this was actually the case—and therefore he felt very strongly indeed that it was infinitely better that the Metropolitan Board of Works, against whom no such imputation of interest could be alleged, should be placed in a position to control this important matter rather than the vestries of the different parishes. Another objection had been made by the parish of Marylebone with regard to the local rate not to exceed 2d. in the pound for carrying out the provisions of the Act; but as to this great misunderstanding prevailed. It was not a building rate, as seemed to be supposed—it would not be called for unless where the Local Authority undertook the works and required a loan from the Public Works Loan Commissioners—the property would afterwards be sold to reimburse the expenditure, and the rate would only be required to make up any deficiency between the amount borrowed and the sum realized by the sale. This measure was one of essential importance to the comfort, health, and, he might add, decency of thousands upon thousands in the metropolis. It was only the other day that he read a paragraph in a newspaper, which was by no means complimentary to their Lordships, with reference to this Bill. Thu Observer of the 24th of May, said—The Bill of Mr. Torrens to provide suitable dwellings for the working classes has gone up to 907 the Lords, and it is already beset with perils. The great property owners of London, more especially those who have seats in the Upper House, are opposed to the measure. A vast area of London belongs to eminent Members of the peerage, and if such noblemen obstruct the passage of the Bill in their own supposed interest, or that of the leaseholders, it will probably be lost and the evils which so much require remedy will not only continue but increase, until once more pestilence will assail us and all classes, under the alarm that will be excited, will begin again to talk of doing something to mitigate overcrowding and the habitation of unhealthy houses.
§ LORD PORTMAN
Why do not you read the conclusion of the paragraph? It was in these words, "Do this at your peril."
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, he did not know whether any of their Lordships were unhappily owners of property of this description, but if they were, he was quite confident it would not influence them in the slightest degree; their only desire would be to enter into the consideration of this measure as they would to any other measure. This he was quite sure of—that if they were to "do it at their peril," they would never be deterred from discharging their duty by such a threat as that; but that they would discharge their duty with respect to it as they did on every other occasion which was for the benefit of the country. He now asked them to give the Bill a second reading. The other evening his noble Friend at the table (Lord Portman), rather irregularly, had made some observations with regard to the Bill, and pressed on him the necessity of sending it to a Select Committee. He thought it undesirable that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, because he might be unable to attend the Committee, being engaged in hearing appeals; but he knew very well when suggestions of this kind were thrown out, and with an apparent assent from some of their Lordships, it would not be very hopeful for him to struggle against the proposal. If therefore the noble Lord made a Motion to that effect, he should consent to it and would attend the Committee, and he was happy to add he had secured the services of his noble and learned Friend opposite with the same view. He moved that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(Lord Chelmsford.)
§ THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
said, he could endorse, with great sincerity and truth, all that had been said by his noble 908 and learned Friend as to the evil condition of things both in London and many large towns in the country. The Bill proposed was open to many objections, no doubt; but they were not of such a character that they could not be easily amended, or altogether removed in Committee. He thought it most desirable that the House should give a second reading to the Bill, because it really was an honest and a wise endeavour to remedy one of the most terrible evils that ever afflicted any large community. The evil was growing rapidly in all parts of London, and in all the large towns throughout the kingdom. In London, particularly, where the work of demolition was going on at a very great rate for railways and improvements, there was an influx of from 60,000 or 70,000 persons every year, all coming into competition for houses with the displaced families, and the consequence was a great increase in house rents, a necessity for overcrowding, and an increase of rent into the bargain. It was quite true that the Bill directed attention to only one part of the evil—houses unfit for human habitation—but those who were acquainted with the nature of these dwellings, as he had been for thirty years, would readily understand that such a description involved every evil arising from disrepair, from filth, from want of air, want of light, want of water, and from every other noxious influence. The noble and learned Lord had referred, in reference to Liverpool, to the admirable Report of Dr. Trench, who showed how great were the physical and moral evils of overcrowding. He was, however, afraid that overcrowding would be in some measure the consequence of the present Bill. Demolitions would occur without sufficient preparation being made for the displaced population, as Boards of Guardians would probably be disinclined to incur an expenditure which was to be defrayed by a rate. Nevertheless, the state of things in London had become so serious that he was exceedingly anxious that their Lordships should give a second reading to the Bill, as such a proceeding would prove their Lordships' sympathy for the object in view. He was, however, sorry to confess his apprehension that the powers given by the Bill were so extensive and the means of action so limited, that he feared it would remain a dead letter on the statute book. He was anxious, however, that it should be considered by a Select Committee, who might be able to make such alterations as 909 would render it a better working measure, be as to some extent at least to confer a benefit on that class of the population whose condition demanded immediate consideration.
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
said, he thoroughly concurred in the principle embodied in the Bill, and had long thought some such measure necessary; and he was therefore sorry to hear the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury) say that, after all, the Bill would remain a dead letter, He, on the contrary, hoped that, when it came out of the Select Committee, it would be found to be an effective measure. It should be borne in mind that two of the great requisites for constructing new and improved dwellings for the poor were cheap materials, and the exercise of strict economy in the employment of those by whom the work was to be performed. Now, during the last twenty years Parliament had done everything in its power to reduce the cost of constructing houses for the labouring classes, having taken off the duties on bricks, timber, and glass. But what had the labouring classes themselves done? The noble and learned Lord had described the state of the dwellings for the poor in Manchester as being most objectionable; but what builder would attempt to build houses there, when it appeared from the Report of the Trades' Unions Commissioners, that the moment a man tried to make bricks cheap, workmen in the trade destroyed 100,000 of his bricks in a night, and shot and murdered him. When the noble and learned Lord spoke of the grievous sufferings of the poor from want of proper habitations, it should be remembered that the evil arose, in no slight degree, from the oppressive conduct of others of their own class. Persons in Manchester were not allowed to obtain bricks made in another district. A brick-making company, which proposed to make better and cheaper bricks than had previously been manufactured, were obliged to give up their business altogether. He mentioned these things because, when considering the state of the labouring classes, it was right to bear in mind how far their condition was due to their own conduct. They did all they could to raise the price of materials, and objected to cheap work and to the multiplying of workmen. It was impossible that the benefits, which it was desired to confer on the poor by this measure, could be enjoyed by them unless they themselves had the good sense to 910 assist in rendering the construction of dwellings cheap.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
said, from the view he took of its bearing on the moral and spiritual welfare of the crowded population of the metropolis, his earnest desire was that this Bill might pass. There was always some danger besetting a Bill which was referred to a Select Committee; but he hoped that if this Bill were sent to a Select Committee its details would be considered with a full determination that it should be made an effective measure. The details which had been mentioned by the noble and learned Lord who moved the second reading of the Bill were very similar to those which had been furnished from various parishes in his diocese, and they showed a state of things which was a disgrace to a civilized country. If such a state of things continued to exist he thought that all efforts to improve the spiritual condition of the population and to extend education among the masses must to a great extent be rendered powerless. He had been told that in one of the metropolitan parishes a person who was questioning the owner of some dilapidated cottage property as to his gross and net returns from the property, found it difficult to make the landlord understand the difference between net and gross, the owner stating that during the six years he had been possessed of the property be had never laid out a penny in the repair of his wretched tenements. There was no doubt, as had been pointed out by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Somerset), that the state in which the labouring classes were too frequently found was partly due to their not endeavouring to rise to a better condition; but it should, at the same time, be remembered that the very fact of their living in the wretched dwellings provided for them in London and other large towns was one of the causes that tended to demoralize them. In many parts of the metropolis the existence of these miserable dwellings was to be accounted for by the difficulty of making out good titles for the sites on which they stood. In the parish of St. James, in the very centre of the metropolis, there was a person recently living on a piece of ground, where he had erected a miserable one-story house, and there was no one to eject him on account of the difficulty of making out a good title. If some power could be devised by the Select Committee for securing the titles of persons who should erect good dwellings for the 911 labouring classes a great service would be done. He hoped the Bill would be so dealt with by the Select Committee that it would prove an effective measure, in which case he was sure it would be of incalculable advantage in the metropolis and elsewhere.
§ LORD PORTMAN
said, that as his noble and learned Friend (Lord Chelmsford) had consented to the Bill being referred to a Select Committee, he did not feel it necessary to trouble their Lordships with many observations on the subject of the measure; but after the remarks which his noble and learned Friend had read from a newspaper to their Lordships, he felt it would be cowardly of him not to at once state that, as a large owner of house property, he was prepared "at his peril" to oppose in its present form a great deal of the Bill, which, in the paper quoted for the House, was described as "a most salutary and necessary piece of legislation." He would, however, do his best to make a good Bill of what was at present the most crude and dangerous piece of legislation that had for a long period come from the other House of Parliament. He might observe that it would be impossible by any reduction they might make in the cost of materials, and by checking the power of raising wages exercised by trades unions, so to reduce the cost of buildings as to repay in seven years the expenditure which the Bill stated was to be repaid in that time. Then there was this defect in the Bill, that on the ground acquired nominally to build houses for artizans, and on which a vacant site had been made by pulling down dilapidated houses, there was no necessity, according to the terms of the Bill, to erect dwellings suitable for artizans. The requirement was the erection of "human habitations;" but a "human habitation" might be a house suitable for the residence of one of their Lordships. Again, the Bill as it stood would oblige owners who had taken proper care of their houses to pay for the laches of persons who had allowed their houses to get into a state of dilapidation, and become centres of disease. Moreover, the attempt to charge Greenwich, for example, to a rate in aid of St. Giles' could not be defended in such a Bill. He had also to observe that there was no provision enabling tenants for life to charge the estate with the cost of improvements. Now, he submitted that it would be very important to have a clause giving such a 912 power brought before the Select Committee for careful consideration. Then, what was the proper definition of the word "owner" as used in the Bill? If claims to ownership were to be made by perhaps some half dozen parties having different interests, was it to be left to the magistrate to decide which of them was the owner for the purposes of the Act, if this Bill should become law? It is very novel to give the Local Authority power to take the freehold to build houses at a loss, for no such house can pay an adequate interest for the expenditure; but what is even worse power is taken to create building companies. He threw out these few suggestions to show how much the Bill needed careful examination; but he believed that if it were sent to a Select Committee, a good measure to meet the evils which the Bill was intended to check would be the result of the Committee's deliberations. The speech of the noble and learned Lord was much applied to the overcrowding of houses; but in the Bill there is not one word that applies to that part of the subject; it is already provided for by law. He (Lord Portman) believed that the Bill had not been framed with due care, and he asked the House to refer it to a Committee of Peers who really understood the subject, and above all to disregard the threats of the writer in the Daily Telegraph.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
trusted their Lordships would read the Bill a second time. Whatever were the faults of the measure in detail it had received the strongest commendations from parties who took interest in the question and who hoped the measure would become law. He had heard numerous statements corroborative of those which had been made by the right rev. Prelate and the noble and learned Lord who moved the second reading of the Bill, as to the condition of the dwellings of the poorer population in London and other large towns. One of the chief merits of the Bill was that it took up the matter where the Sanitary Act of 1866 left it. Under this Sanitary Act there was no power to remove those nuisances which frequently arose from dilapidated buildings in the centres of large populations. The present measure would therefore, he thought, be a great advance upon existing legislation. There were, on the other hand, some objections of considerable weight which had been urged to the details of the Bill, which 913 ought to be taken into consideration, but which could be best dealt with in a Select Committee. When a similar Bill was introduced two years ago the parishes were constituted the "Local Authority" for the purposes of the Bill. Under the present Bill it was proposed to extend the area of taxation to the whole of the Metropolis (exclusive of the City of London, the Local Authority of which was the Commissioners of Sewers), and to intrust the whole control to the Metropolitan Board of Works. He must say that that arrangement appeared to him to be the first step to the equalization of the rates generally over a large and extensive area. That was a point which would require careful consideration. Another reason for referring the Bill to a Select Committee was the necessity of making its details harmonize with the working of private Acts, Acts which had been passed in order to enable particular localities to effect some of those results which it was sought by this Bill to do for the country generally; and it would be but fair to hear the representatives of those places if they had any objections to urge against the measure. He believed that the Bill was capable of being rendered a most effective and valuable one; and he trusted that when it came back to them from the Select Committee it would be in a shape that would render it much more practical in its operation than the noble Earl opposite seemed to anticipate. He (the Duke of Marlborough) thanked his noble and learned Friend for the extreme attention he had given to the measure, and he hoped it would become, if not a perfect piece of legislation, at all events such a measure as was really needed, in order that those dilapidated and unhealthy dwellings in the centres of large populations might be removed.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he did not think there was any difference of opinion in their Lordships' House as regarded the principle of the Bill. He cordially supported the second reading; but he thought his noble and learned Friend exercised a wise discretion in consenting to have it referred to a Select Committee, because all his (the Earl of Derby's) experience in that House convinced him that when there was a general desire on the part of their Lordships to effect a particular object, that object was much more likely to be attained by the consideration of the details of any measure for the purpose by a Select 914 Committee, composed of persons really interested in the subject, than by any attempt to deal with it in a Committee of the Whole House. It struck him that one great defect in the Bill was its not dealing with the case of overcrowding in dwellings. The Bill proposed to deal with, dwellings that were unfit for human habitation. There were, however, a great many habitations perfectly fit for the occupation of three or four persons, but utterly unfit for the occupation of twenty or thirty. And that was a great and serious evil not touched by the Bill. Whatever, therefore, the merits of the Bill—and he did not deny that it possessed great merits—is failed to deal with one most serious point, depending not so much on the owner as on the occupier of property. Every one at all interested in cottage or small house property of any description knew the great difficulty of preventing the introduction of lodgers. For example, in a cottage built with three bedrooms and a kitchen—and no cottage ought ever to be built with less—they constantly found the occupier, though having a large family of his own, taking in one, two, or three lodgers, and so overcrowding his own family to the disregard of all decency, and in spite, it might be, of the utmost efforts of the landlord. Another point to which he hoped the Select Committee would give their serious attention was the ownership of house property of this particular class. In the Bill the word "owner," in addition to the definition given in the Lands Clauses Act, which was incorporated with this Act, was to mean "all the owners, if more than one, of any premises, or estate, or interest in any premises required to be dealt with under this Act." The definition was important, because the owner, under the Bill, was to be called upon to do certain repairs, and if be failed to comply his property might be taken. Take the commonest case in the world, of the owner in fee granting a building lease. His noble Friend (Lord Portman) had considerable experience of this nature in London, as he himself had in other great towns. Suppose that a long lease were granted—as in some places for seventy-five years, or as in others for ninety-nine years—and that shortly before the expiration of the term it appeared that the property was going to rack and ruin, and that the houses were becoming unfit for human habitation. Under the terms of the Bill the Local Authority would call upon the owner to re- 915 build. But the owner might not be the owner in fee; and even if he were, he would have no right to enter upon the property till the expiration of the lease. On the other hand, it would never be worth the while of the lessee, with only ten or fifteen years unexpired interest, to rebuild. Under these circumstances, the Local Authority might take possession, because the owner did not do what he had no power to do, and what had been rendered necessary by the default of the lessee, Then the Local Authority themselves, supposing they took possession of the property, could be in no better position than the lessee—they could not re-build for the short term unexpired. He did not at all mean to say that if houses fell into utter want of repair, and became unfit for human habitation, there ought not to exist a power of compelling them to be put into decent tenantable condition, or, failing that, of enabling the Local Authority to pull them down and re-build them. All he suggested was, that the Select Committee, in dealing with this measure, should look carefully at the position of the owner, and see that the definition given in the Bill corresponded with what in practice would be found judicious, and also with an equitable distribution of the burden of responsibility. He did not propose to trouble their Lordships by moving any Instructions to the Committee; he contented himself with calling attention to the two points which seemed to him most to require careful consideration. And he felt certain that the measure would receive, at the hands of the Committee, that patient investigation which its importance so eminently deserved.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
desired to say that having taken a deep interest for twenty-five years in subjects of this class, he was unspeakably gratified at the spirit with which a reform so invaluable had been approached by all the speakers. The speech of the noble Earl who had just sat down afforded probably the best measure of the important labours which the Select Committee would be called upon to undertake. If they could not deal effectually with overcrowding, they might still turn their attention to measures which produced this evil. Railways had an immense influence in this matter; and he was of opinion that if the companies were more liberal in reference to workmen's trains, a great deal of the difficulty of overcrowding might be got rid of. Unless the labouring poor 916 were better lodged school instruction would be insufficient to promote the well-being of the people.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly.
§ LORD PORTMAN moved that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill referred to a Select Committee.
§ And, on Friday, May 29, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—
|Ld. Privy Seal||L. Bp. London|
|D. Somerset||L. Sundridge|
|D. Beaufort||L. Foley|
|E. Derby||L. Portman|
|E. Shaftesbury||L. Chelmsford|
|E. Carnarvon||L. Westbury|
|E. Cadogan||L. Meredyth|
|E. Kimberley||L. Penrhyn.|