§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
My Lords, I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government whether their attention has been called to the action of the London School Board in respect of the site for a proposed school in Bethnal Green, known as the Wood Street site, whereby, although more than twenty houses occupied by persons belonging to the labouring classes are taken, the Standing Orders of the House of Lords as to the re-housing of persons displaced are evaded; and, if so, would Her Majesty's Government, in view of the growing seriousness of the overcrowding problem in East London, take steps to prevent such evasion in the future. The question I have ventured to put on the Paper raises considerations which, I think, are worthy of your Lordships' attention, and I trust Her Majesty's Government will be able to satisfy me and your Lordships that they will take some action in the matter. My question in effect suggests—in fact, it states—that the London School Board have deliberately—I, personally, think wilfully—ignored the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. The Standing Orders to which I refer provide that, when the London School Board acquire land compulsorily, or otherwise, for the purpose of erecting a Board School, there should be in the Bill which they submit to Parliament a clause compelling them, if they acquire more than 20 houses, to submit a scheme to the Home Secretary for the re-housing of the labouring classes displaced. I will, with your Lordships' permission, read the clause to which I refer:The Board shall not, under the powers of this Act, purchase or acquire in any parish in the Metropolis, as defined by the Metropolis Management Act, 1855, 20 or more houses which, on the 15th of December last were, or have been since that day, Or shall hereafter be occupied either wholly or partially by persons belonging to the labouring class as tenants or lodgers unless and until:—(a) They shall have obtained the approval of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to a scheme for providing new dwellings for such number of persons as were residing in such houses on the 15th day of 1398 December last, or for such number of persons as the Secretary of State shall, after inquiry, deem necessary, having regard to the number of persons on or after that date residing in such houses and working within one mile therefrom, and to the amount of vacant suitable accommodation in the immediate neighbourhood of such houses, or to the place of employment of such persons, and to all the circumstances of the case; and(b) They shall have given security to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State for the carrying out of the scheme.It seems to me perfectly clear by that clause that if the School Board acquire more than 20 houses, the Standing Orders compel them to submit a scheme to the Home Secretary for re-housing the people displaced. A question was addressed in the other House to the Home Secretary in nearly the same words as my question, which I had intended to ask on Friday last, but which, at the request of Her Majesty's Government, I deferred until to-day. The Home Secretary, in replying to the question in the other House, said he had been informed by the School Board that the facts were as stated in the question, and that no obligation to re-house arose under the Statute. I contend that the necessity did arise. The interpretation which the School Board have put upon the Act is that, if they acquire a site consisting of more than 20 houses, and do not take in any one year the whole number, they by that means can evade the Act. The instance which I am going to refer to is known as the Wood-street site, in the parish of St. Matthew's, Bethnal Green. It contains 21 houses, and prior to 1895 the London School Board acquired the whole of these houses. They did not, however, schedule the whole of them in the Bill which they promoted in that year. They scheduled 13 in 1895, leaving the remaining eight houses to be scheduled in 1896. As your Lordships will see by the plan, this is a square block of buildings, and the Home Secretary, when the Bill of 1896 came before him, obviously did not notice that the 13 houses scheduled in the Act of 1895 were part of the same site as that upon which the eight houses stood which were scheduled in the Act of 1896. The property was taken over in the early spring of this year, and all the tenants were ejected at one given moment. I think that is an important fact, because it shows that there was no special reason why the School Board took 13 houses in one year 1399 and eight the next. If this was an isolated case there might be some explanation from the London School Board which might be satisfactory, and which would show that they had not deliberately tried to evade the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House. It is not, however, an isolated case. I could quote many instances to your Lordships which would show that this is a policy which the London School Board has adopted in order, in my humble opinion, to evade the Standing Orders of this House. In 1896 they acquired a site for a School Board consisting of 46 houses. It that year 11 houses were scheduled in their Bill. In the following year they scheduled 19 houses, just the number to escape the notice of the Home Secretary, and they had so far succeeded in deceiving the Home Office that when the Home Secretary replied to a question asked in the House of Commons, he said he understood there were no reasons why the School Board should rehouse the people displaced, because they did not acquire twenty houses. There is no problem which is so difficult to deal with as the housing of the working classes, and there are no evils of so grave a character as the evils resulting from overcrowding. It seems to me that Her Majesty's Government should be able to answer this question and tell us whether the action of the London School Board is legal, and, if it is legal, whether it is a fair and equitable interpretation to be put by a public body upon the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House, and whether in the face of the facts which I have ventured to put before them, they will take steps to prevent the recurrence of such a proceeding.
§ LORD BELPER
I am afraid I cannot give a very complete answer to the whole of the remarks which the noble Earl has made, although I can answer the question placed upon the Paper. The noble Earl has already stated the fact that the attention of the Government has been called to this matter by a question which was put to the Secretary of State for the Home Department in the other House. That question was asked on Friday last, and the answer which the Home Secretary then gave was that he would communicate further with the London School Board in reference to the matter, and, if necessary, with the Education Department. The communications are still going on, and, as the Home Office is not 1400 fully informed of the whole of the details, the House will understand that I cannot express any definite opinion, upon it. I believe the facts were that the scheme of the London School Board was presented to the House in the two Provisional Orders—one in 1895, and the other in 1896—and that in neither of them were twenty houses taken. The attention of the Home Secretary was not called to the fact that these two Provisional Orders might be said to refer to one scheme. It is not, of course, for me to express any opinion, on the imperfect information which the Home Office has at present, as to what might have been the reasons why the scheme was presented in two Provisional Orders instead of one. I can, however, assure the noble Earl that the Home Office is fully alive to the importance of the point which he has brought before the House, and that it will be their duty, after they have had the fullest information from the parties concerned, to form their opinion on the case and to consider what steps may be necessary in the future—if the facts are as alleged—to ensure that the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House should be strictly conformed with. I cannot go further into the matter until the correspondence has come to an end.
§ * LORD REAY
My Lords, the indictment of the noble Earl is really directed as much against the Education Department as it is against the London School Board, because it refers to Bills which have been promoted in Parliament by the Education Department. There are two culprits—the School Board and the Education Department, if culprits they are. The School Board cannot act in this matter without the sanction of the Education Department. With regard to the Wood Street site, I will explain to your Lordships how that matter stands. In 1895 power was taken to purchase thirteen houses, Under the Education Department Provisional Order Confirmation (London) Act of 1895 the rehousing obligation only applies to houses which are purchased or acquired under the powers conferred by the Act. There was no clause in the Act of 1895 such as appeared in the later Act of 1896—that the obligation should also apply to houses which were taken by agreement. Of the thirteen houses for which powers were conferred by the Act of 1895, seven were 1401 purchased by the School Board by auction. Therefore the obligation of rehousing under the Act of 1895 only applies to six houses. Under the Act of 1896 power is given to take eight houses. Add eight to six and you get fourteen. Therefore the London School Board were well within the limit of twenty houses so far as the Wood Street site is concerned. As regards the answer given by my noble friend on behalf of the Home Office, I need hardly say that he will find the School Board ready in every way to meet the just demands of the Home Office for rehousing in these cases.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
I did not quite follow the noble Lord who has just spoken, and who is the Chairman of the London School Board, in his remarks as to there being a difference between the Act of 1895 and the Act of 1896. So far as I can see, they are substantially the same.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
I did not know that the London School Board had acquired eight of the houses on this site by auction; but the point I raised is whether it is legal to acquire a certain number of houses one year and others the next year on the same site, and by that means avoid housing the people displaced. The noble Lord who has defended the School Board has referred to one instance. I have deliberately stated that the School Board has adopted this policy in more than one instance. In the face of this fact, I look forward with some hope to Her Majesty's Government taking action to prevent the School Board, and the Education Department as well, pursuing this course in the future.House adjourned at five minutes, after Five of the clock, to Thursday next, at half-past Ten of the clock.