HL Deb 29 June 1896 vol 42 cc221-7

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said it was a Measure with which they were familiar, as although it had not been discussed in that House, it had passed through a Second Reading on two occasions in the House of Commons. The Bill would enable local authorities, where they thought it advisable, to advance money to working men in order that they might become the owners of the houses in which they lived. The Bill was originally drafted and brought into the House of Commons by his Friend and neighbour Mr. Wrightson, in 1893, and it passed the Second Reading, but owing to circumstances which occurred last year, Mr. Wrightson was not able to reintroduce it this Session. In March that task was undertaken by Sir A. Hickman and Sir H. Vincent. The Bill could do no harm to anyone, and it would very considerably benefit the working classes in large towns. The Bill was of a purely permissive character; there was no compulsion of any sort or kind about it. If there had been he should not have presented it on that occasion, nor would the Bill have received the approval of the noble Marquess at the head of the Government. The first condition was that the man who applied to the local authority must be actually resident or intended to reside in the dwelling he wished to purchase; the second condition was that he must prove that the purchase was bonâ fide; and the third condition was that the dwelling house must be in a sanitary and tenantable condition. The local authorities had their interests closely safeguarded. The first restriction was that they must not advance more than one-eighth of the full rateable value of their district; the second restriction was that not more than £150 should be advanced to one purchaser; and the third condition was that no money whatever should be advanced where the lease had not 70 years to run. When these conditions were complied with it would be in the power of the local authorities to advance not more than three-fourths of the sum required, and in no case was more than £150 to be advanced. It would be necessary for the purchaser to maintain the house in thorough repair and insure it against ordinary dangers. So far he had dealt with the Bill introduced by Mr. Wrightson; but the present Bill, while embracing these provisions, went a little further, because it proposed to give the local authorities power to advance to working men money to build their houses where advisable. Certain conditions were laid down. It might be said that, with regard to Clause 5, they were somewhat overloading the Bill, but if that was their Lordships' opinion he should not regard that clause as of vital importance. He believed the Bill would encourage thrift, self control, and independence, and all these were qualities which were essential to the making of a good citizen. Having quoted some remarks made by Mr. Wrightson on the Bill, the noble Lord said he had always advocated the principle on which the Bill was based, and he had given practical proof of his desire to see working men become the owners of their dwelling houses. The Land Purchase Act introduced by his noble Friend the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, which was based on the same principle, had been a signal success in Ireland. If there was any fear as to the irregularity of payment, he could only refer to the working of that Act, where, out of nearly two millions sterling due, there was now in arrear only £3,625. He doubted very much whether the great ground landlords in London had their rent paid with greater regularity and punctuality than were those instalments paid by the Irish tenants. That allusion to Irish affairs might, perhaps, be thought out of place; but he, as well as the Government, had had experience of the honesty and integrity of the Irish tenants in paying the instalments of the advances made to them; and, therefore, he had no doubt that the working men of our big towns would pay with the same punctuality. He generally tried to take a broad view of the questions which he brought under the notice of the House, and he admitted that some objections might be raised to this Bill. He noticed that Sir Charles Dilke had declared on the Second Heading of the Bill in another place that it was a. Measure of a socialistic character. He joined issue with that assertion. He did not consider that Socialism was promoted by making individuals the owners of their own houses. On the contrary, he thought Conservatism was promoted by such a course, for once an individual became the owner of his house his aim would be to conserve and keep that property. In any case the Bill was not as socialistic as the Amendment which Sir Charles Dilke had moved in another place. Sir Charles Dilke was anxious to vest the ownership of the houses built under the Act in the public bodies and not in the individuals. If that Amendment had been carried the working men would have been, to a, great extent, the slaves of the local authorities, except at one time—that was at the time when the corporations or other local bodies in possession of the houses were being elected. He wars sure that the candidates for membership of those bodies would receive a bad quarter of an hour from the working men occupying the, houses who were anxious to obtain reductions of rent, or extract something else which they considered would be to their benefit. Another objection which had been raised to the Bill was that it was objectionable for an individual to acquire the ownership of his house, which might be a profit to him, by which he concluded was meant that the value of the property might increase. But when a working-man had paid down 25 per cent. of the sum advanced to him, he was absolutely justified in sharing in any profit that might accrue to the property. It might be said—and he considered this the greatest objection that could be raised to the Bill—that after money had been advanced by local authorities to working men to purchase their houses the trade of the locality might fly elsewhere, and the houses might, consequently, be left derelict. ["Hear, hear!"]" It should, however, be remembered that there was generally a great tendency in towns to add to the population, which, of course, meant an increased demand for cottages. Besides, as the local authorities were responsible for the advances, it would be their duty to convince themselves that the trade of the district was not a declining trade, or one that might be removed, but a trade that would last at least for 30 years, which was the time allowed by the Bill for working men to repay the money advanced to them. He appealed to their Lordships to give their sanction to the principle of the Bill by reading it a Second time, and to reserve the discussion of its details till the Committee stage. He hoped especially that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Kimberley)—whose masterly grasp of the details of every Bill laid before the House he heartily recognised, would aid him with his advice and assistance in carrying this Bill—the first of the kind he had ever taken in hand—through the House. If their Lordships passed the Bill they would send down to another place a Measure which would add materially to the happiness and prosperity of the working classes.


said they must all agree that the object; the noble Marquess had in view in introducing the Bill was an excellent one, but he had grave doubts as to whether the Bill would, if carried, bring about the results the noble Marquess desired. He was glad to find that the noble Marquess was willing that considerable modifications might be made in the Bill in Committee. It seemed to him, indeed, that unless great changes were made in it the Bill ought not to be passed into law. It was a curious circumstance that Mr. Wrightson, who had carried the Bill through the House of Commons in the last Parliament, was rejected at the General Election at Stockton—where the Bill was prominently before the electors—in favour of a man who was against the Bill. Therefore, in the place of its origin, this Bill was by no means popular. He entertained grave doubts as to the result of the local authorities being vested with powers to do the work of building societies. He would do anything in his power to lessen the rents of houses occupied by the working classes, but it appeared to him that anything that would at all hamper the operations of the building societies would, in the long run, increase instead of cheapen the rents of such dwellings. There was another objection which had not been met by the noble Marquess. The Bill would do nothing whatever in favour of those who most required help. The provision that a working man must declare that it was his intention to live in the house before an advance was made to him would make the Bill inoperative in all big towns. It was calculated that in London not more than 2 or 3 per cent. of the working classes would be able to take advantage of the Bill. Therefore all the Bill would do was to create a privileged class of working men, who would get their houses under value or under competition rent, and, though those persons might be perfectly honest in declaring that it was their intention to live in the houses, circumstances might occur which would make it impossible for them to carry out that intention. He knew that there were restrictions against assignment, but he did not think the local authorities would be in a position to say to a working man, "You may be in difficulties, but you shall not get out of your difficulties by assigning your interest in the house." He thought the best way to deal with this question of rent of working men's dwellings was to carry out the suggestion of the Report of the Commission on the Housing of the Poor, which was that unoccupied land should be rated at its full value. If that were done more land would come into building, and under the stress of competition rents would come down. He looked upon the Bill as an experiment, but it was the duty of their Lordships sometimes to make legislative experiments. He sincerely hoped that the experiment might succeed, and did not offer any opposition to the Bill at that stage; but in Committee he would do his best to improve it.


said that the noble Lord opposite, in referring to the danger that when a trade migrated from a particular locality it might leave the local authority saddled with a security that had become valueless, had remarked that the guarantee against loss so occasioned would be found in the fact that the local authority would be able to judge of the likelihood of the trade continuing in the locality. He, however, would put two cases that would not be covered by the noble Lord's guarantee, the one being where a coal mine was suddenly closed, and the other being where workmen in a town obtained unexpected traffic facilities which enabled them to migrate from the town to the country. It was impossible that the local authorities could provide for such contingencies. He, however, was of opinion that whatever difficulties might arise in carrying out this proposal, they ought to be resolutely faced, because the experiment ought to be allowed to be tried in the interests of our working population. He suggested that the difficulties he had referred to in the two cases he had mentioned should be met by Amendments in the Standing Committee of that House, which was likely to be more business-like than a Committee of their Lordships' Whole House, and which, curiously enough, was in proportion more largely attended than the sittings of their Lordships' House were. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.]


thanked the noble Earl who had just sat down, for the kind manner in which he had treated this proposal. He quite agreed with the noble Earl that the cases he had referred to would require careful consideration in Committee, although he thought they were exceptional ones. The proposals in the Bill would be very acceptable in the northern towns in the interest of the working classes. He felt assured that the local authorities would fully appreciate the responsibility that the Bill threw upon them, and would not advance the money necessary to carry out the proposals of the Bill unless they obtained adequate security.

Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.