HL Deb 20 July 1900 vol 86 cc621-35


Order of the Day for the Second Reading road.


My Lords, as your Lordships see, this Bill amends the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, and if I do not detain your Lordships at very great length upon it, I trust it will not be attributed to any want of interest in a subject of such immense and vital importance to hundreds of thousands of people living under very uncomfortable, and, I fear, very insanitary conditions in our great towns, and possibly in some cases in villages. I do not think it is necessary for me to detain you at any very great length, because I do not think there is really any serious opposition, or any opposition at all to the Bill. There may be differences of opinion as to whether the Bill might not have taken a larger scope, but so far as the Bill does go, I do not understand that there is any opposition to it. The Act of 1890 deals with three different subjects. It is divided into three parts. The first part, which refers to London chiefly, deals with unhealthy areas, provides for their clearance, and for the erection of buildings for the housing of persons who have been dishoused by the clearance of the area. The second part deals with the unhealthy dwelling houses and their destruction, and also with houses which are obstructive, which interfere with the sanitary conditions of their own neighbourhood. The third part deals with working class lodging-houses. It is with this third part, which is adoptive by the bodies which have the power of adopting it, that the Bill now before your Lordships deals. Under the third part the local authority has the power of acquiring land and erecting lodging-houses for poor people within its area, and it is in this that a difficulty has presented itself. Your Lordships know just as well or even better than I do how extremely difficult it is for a local authority in London or any large town to obtain a site within it? boundaries for the erection of lodging-houses. The expense of the land is very serious, and I believe that one of the reasons that have caused this Bill to be brought forward now is that the County Council of London found themselves unable to accept an offer of a site outside their own boundary. The Bill before your Lordships will enable a local authority to go outide its own area, acquire land, and put up lodging-houses on it for the purpose of the inhabitants of the area which it governs. That is what is dealt with under the first clause of the Bill, and I think I am justified in saying that it is the most important in the Bill. That applies to any council other than a rural district council which has adopted Part III. of the Act of 1890. Clause 2 deals with the rural district council, and the difficulty that has been met with there is not of the same character. The difficulty there is in the matter of procedure. Under the present law a rural district council has to obtain the approval of the county council by a laborious process. The county council has to appoint a committee, and has to inquire very closely in detail upon the spot, and altogether it has been found that that process is so laborious that the district councils have been discouraged from adopting that part of the Act. Clause 2 of the Bill before your Lordships simplifies that procedure. The consent of the county council is still necessary, but it will not be necessary for that county council to go through the same process that it had to take under the present Act. Sub-section 2 provides— (2) In giving' or withholding their consent under this section, the county council shall have regard—

  1. (a) To the area for which it is proposed to adopt the said Part; and
  2. (b) To the necessity for accommodation for the housing of the working classes in that area; and
  3. (c) To the probability of such accommodation being provided without the adoption of the said Part; and
  4. (d) To the liability which will be incurred by the rates, and to the question whether it is, under all the circumstances, prudent fur the district council to adopt the said Part."
The 3rd Clause of the Bill will enable the now Metropolitan Borough Councils to adopt Part III. as amended, and to exercise powers under the Act as amended for the acquirement of land and the putting up of houses for the purpose. Then, my Lords, at present the law insists upon expenditure upon one part of the Bill being accounted for under that part. Clause 4 of this Bill will enable the local authority to account for expenditure under Part III. under any one of the other parts. For instance, if an area has been cleared under Part I., and if a site for lodging-houses has been acquired under Part III., and a profit can he made by the scheme under Part III., that profit may be set against the expenditure under Part I. The only condition is that there shall be a separate account. Then, under Clause 5— (1) The local authority, if not a rural district council, with the consent of the Local Government Board, and if a rural district council with the consent of the county council, may lease any land acquired by them under and for the purposes of Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890 (in this section referred to as 'the Act,') to any lessee for the purpose and under the condition that the lessee will carry the Act into execution by building and maintaining on the land lodging-houses within the meaning of the Act. That was an Amendment put in during the course of the Bill through the House of Commons with a very practical argument behind it that it might very possibly he that some person perfectly competent and anxious to do work of this kind might be very much better able to do it than the county council itself, and therefore this provision has been made, that the local authority, with the consent of certain higher authority, may for the purpose of carrying out the intention lease the land. Sections 61 and 62 of the Act will not extend to any lodging-house to which this Act applies. For this reason: that those sections refer to the local authority where the land has been acquired—that is to say, the land outside the area administered by the local authority which has acquired it. Let us take the case of the London County Council. If they had acquired some land outside their own area they naturally would not want the local authority in that area to manage their lodging-houses for them. The intention is to retain the management of those lodging-houses in the hands of the authority that has acquired the area. Under Clause 6, on the complaint of a parish council where a district council has, in the opinion of the parish council, failed to adopt the Act when it ought to have adopted it, or failed to carry out a scheme which might in the opinion of the parish council have been advantageously carried out, the county council is empowered to examine into the arguments pro and con., and, if it thinks right, to take over the powers of the rural district council, and to adopt the Act with regard to that particular scheme. Under Clause 7 a cheaper form of arbitration is provided for, whereby a single arbitrator will be called in instead of, as has been the practice, two arbitrators with an umpire in case of disagreement. These, my Lords, are the general provisions of the Bill. The main objections that have been taken to it are as follows: It has been objected that the Bill does not contain provisions for securing convenient railway and tramway facilities. It was thought by some Members of the House of Commons who I am sure have a very wide knowledge of the conditions under which people live in these very crowded areas, that this Bill should have taken a wider scope and should have provided for, I think I may say, the compulsion of railway companies to run convenient workmen's trains to those areas before the lodging-houses were built. Well, in the opinion of the Government, the powers of the President of the Board of Trade are already sufficient to secure that convenient workmen's trains shall be run to these areas when there is some indication that there will be a population there requiring those trains. That is so far as trains are concerned. With regard to tramways I understand the difficulty to be this: that a local authority wishing to project a tramway not only through its own area, but through the area of, we will say, a neighbouring local authority, is unable to obtain the ear of Parliament because the local authority which intervenes or is outside the particular area, if it objects, can prevent the first local authority approaching Parliament at all. A deputation waited upon Mr. Chaplin, the President of the Local Government Board, and Mr. Ritchie, the President of the Board of Trade, with the object of placing before them their views upon this particular point. Having considered very attentively the representations put forward by that deputation, I believe the intention of the Government—I do not know that I am authorised to say that they intend to do it, but I am sure that I am authorised in saying that they are considering most sympathetically the proposal to omit the present Standing Order No. 22, with a view to insert a new Standing Order providing that where a local authority desires to run a tramway through the area of another local authority, the first local authority shall be entitled to be heard by Parliament. I understand the difficulty at present is that they are debarred from being heard before Parliament in such a case if an objection is raised by a neighbouring local authority. If the Standing Orders are amended as suggested then the local authority desiring to project the tramway will, at any rate, be heard by Parliament, and I am given to understand that the members of the Government who have given their consideration to this are prepared to support it. I do not know whether it has at present come before the Chairman of Committees in this House, but I believe it has come before the similar authority in the other House, and has been approved there. Those are two of the objections that have been raised to the Bill. Another objection is that the Bill ought to have provided for the power of a local authority to hire land outside its own area. That the Government have opposed—I personally think upon thoroughly sound grounds. I can imagine most serious injustice being done to very deserving people and people who are by no means in very affluent circumstances. If such a power did exist one can conceive this—I do not say injustice, because it would be the law, but I think it would be rather unfair—that a man having invested his fortune in a piece of land would be under the risk of its being acquired by a local authority and his not receiving even the purchase price of the land, but only such an amount of rent (in perpetuity, I believe, is the intention) as somebody or other—not the local authority, I presume, but some arbitrator—might decide was at that date the value of the land. How the individual would ever re-acquire the real estate I am not sure. However, there was a proposal in some such form as that which the Government opposed in the other House, and it was not pressed. My Lords, the general complaint in the other House was that the Bill was not of a large enough scope, that it might have been a very much more heroic measure altogether. Well, there is a different opinion, which is that in this matter—an extremely difficulty one, affecting the rights of property—it is on the whole better to go slow than to take a very long time poring and arguing over the merits or demerits of a large measure, and perhaps in the end not producing out of the argument anything very valuable. At any rate, if this is not a very long step in advance, I honestly believe that it will be a useful one. It endeavours to remedy at any rate one serious difficulty, the difficulty which the local authority has in obtaining land at a moderate price. There is one other objection, I remember, which was raised, and that is that the Bill did not contain any provision for the length of time within which a loan obtained by a local authority for acquiring land should be repaid. The suggestion was that the term of sixty years should be extended to seventy, or even up to 100 years. That was resisted by the Government in the other House on the ground that it is impossible to say now what may be the demand for houses sixty years hence or longer, and that sixty years is a sufficient period during which it is safe to allow those loans to be repaid. My Lords, as I say, the Bill does not profess to be a great scheme. It follows on the lines of those Bills that have been at various times introduced, and which were consolidated in the Bill of my noble friend the noble Viscount behind me (Viscount Cross) in 1890. It endeavours to meet a distinct difficulty which has been experienced by the County Council of London amongst others, and I think your Lordships will see for yourselves that if the Bill, when it becomes law, is as effective as the Government believes it can be made to be, it does solve one of the most difficult problems which we have to face in the case of these overcrowded areas—that the local authority can take the people concerned out of a crowded area into one in which the sanitary conditions are far better. Those are the main reasons with which the Bill has been introduced. It has, on the whole, I think, been received by thoughtful people even on the other side of the House in the House of Commons with approval, although I admit that there have been these criticisms; but as a whole it has been received with approval, having regard to the divisions and the speeches. I have read every speech that has been made in the other House, and I think I am perfectly justified in saying that the Bill has been received with approval there where it has been debated at consider- able length, and I hope it may receive the same approval from your Lordships.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Lord Harris.)


My Lords, the great interest that has been taken in this Bill and in the question of the housing of the working classes generally must be my excuse for troubling your Lordships with a few words upon this motion, first as a member of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, and also as an elected Member for St. Pancras, which is one of the most congested parts of the whole of congested London. I have listened with great attention to the very lucid speech of the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading. With two points brought forward by him I entirely agree. He says this is not a great scheme. Indeed it is not. He also says that there will be no opposition. Naturally there will be no opposition from this side of the House, or, at any rate, there there will be no opposition from the Liberal party, but I am bound to say that the scheme has been received by the whole Liberal party with very great and grievous disappointment. The noble Lord did not say much about the circumstances that led up to this Bill being brought forward. I will for one moment refer to them, and if I say anything that is not the fact there is Lord Cross, who has the whole thing at his fingers' ends, and he will correct me if I fall into any error. From 1851, when Lord Shaftesbury's two Acts were passed, up to 1870, there was no desire on the part of municipalities to take action in this matter of the housing of the poor. Then the noble Viscount opposite brought in his Acts of 1876, 1879 and 1882, and those, with Mr. Torrens' Acts of 1866 and 1868, produced a little improvement; but I think I am only speaking the absolute truth when I say that mainly owing to the expensive machinery required to put those various Acts into motion the activity that was shown was short lived and spasmodic. Then in 1884 the noble Marquess (Lord Salisbury) moved for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole subject. We sat for two years and issued a unanimous Report. I cannot say that there was anything very—to use the noble Lord's language—heroic in that Report, but it had the effect of leading to the Bill of 1885, which was put forward by the noble Marquess, and on the Report of this Commission I think I may fairly say that the consolidation and amendment of the foregoing Acts with Lord Salisbury's Act of 1885 were effected by the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890, which simplified and cheapened the machinery involved in municipal action. In 1889 the Conservative Government created the London County Council, and the Metropolitan Board of Works ceased to exist. The Metropolitan Board of Works, as the House well knows, used to clear away insanitary areas and sell land to building companies, and I believe during the whole of its existence it housed a little more than 27,000 persons up to the year 1889, when it ceased to exist. The London County Council then came into operation, and they began to build them selves in 1892, and in eight years we have housed 10,000 persons. What we have in hand now and what we have completed in the last sixteen months amounts to an additional accommodation for 25,000 more people, at a cost of £1,500,000, and we confidently expect that schemes that we are considering will enable us to house an additional 24,500 persons, making a grand total of 60,000 persons rehoused within the next five years. But, after all, we have been told that this is only touching the fringe of the question. That I admit, but I say that we could have done a great deal bettor, and we could have really—if I may be permitted to use the expression in this House—tackled the question in sober earnest, had we had greater facilities for housing the working classes. The noble Lord opposite said there were very few objections that had been made to this Bill in the House of Commons, and he mentioned some of them, but I venture to think that he forgot some of the most important ones. There are five propositions of what is really wanted for housing the poor in urban districts. First of all, the period within which loans for building purposes must be repaid, should be considerably extended. As the noble Lord said, it is now up to sixty years, and we ask as a matter of justice that it should be extended to 100 years. If noble Lords would be kind enough to go round to the Millbank site, and see the building being put up there by the London County Council for the housing of the working classes, they will, I am perfectly certain, agree that it is absolutely preposterous to imagine that those buildings will not last 100 years. Then the next thing we want is the compulsory registration of the real owners of all property, so that those benefiting from insanitary slums and illegal overcrowdings could be immediately and drastically dealt with. Your Lordships know that the Land Transfer Act of 1897 is not compulsory, except in a few parts of London. The third thing we require is power to the local authority to have destroyed without compensation, and at the cost of the owner, insanitary slums which are injurious to health, where the owners fail to make them really habitable after being called upon to do so, and if then the owner refuses to rebuild, the local body should have the power to do so on equitable terms. Fourthly, we want power given to the local authorities—this point was mentioned by the noble Lord—to insist on a much better transit service to and from the suburbs of the great towns. At present the cheap transit follows the peopling of a new district. If overcrowding is to be really prevented, cheap transit must be used largely in the development of new districts, and must not be left merely to follow their development. Then, fifthly, what we have always asked for, and what this Bill no doubt gives, is that local governing bodies in our great towns should be empowered to acquire land compulsorily outside their own jurisdiction for the erection of workmen's dwellings. The Bill on the Table gives us this last concession, but it refuses to entertain the other points which we consider so essential to the welfare of the community at large. I have spoken of the disappointment with which this Bill is received by the party to which I have the honour to belong, and I maintain that we have cause to complain that so little has been done for the working classes only at the end of five years by this all-powerful Government to try to put an end to a condition of things which is a danger to the State and a disgrace and a stain to our civilisation and our Christianity.


I only wanted to call attention to one or two points mentioned by the noble Lord behind me, but I cannot help being rather amused at hearing my noble friend opposite, as a representative of the Liberal party, talking of their disappointment at the character of this Bill. As far as I know, the whole legislation relating to the curing of these formidable evils, which I fully admit, was carried out by my noble friends behind me; and during the time that the noble Lord opposite and the Liberal party were in office, I am not aware that they did anything towards carrying into the Statute-book any of those reforms that my noble friend has enumerated just now. It is rather amusing, therefore, now to hoar my noble friend expressing bitter disappointment at the small nature of this Bill. However, my Lords, that is neither here nor there—it is by the way. I did want to say one word about a matter that was referred to by my noble friend in moving the Second Reading of the Bill—namely, the question of the consent of local authorities to tramways running through their district from another district. As the House is aware, at present under the Standing Orders of the House the consent of any local authority, or, if the local authority differs from the road authority, the road authority as well, is necessary as a preliminary to the introduction of any Bill. It is what is called an Examiner's Standing Order, and unless the consent of the authority is proved before the Examiner it is impossible for the Bill to come before Parliament at all. Now, I entirely sympathise with the views of my noble friend who has moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and I think they to a great extent fall in with the views of my noble friend opposite. I am strongly of opinion that the local authorities ought to have a very strong voice when tramways are put through their district by persons, either companies or municipalities, outside those districts; but, beyond giving them a mandatory power of being heard before Committees, I venture to think it would be desirable (and I should be very glad, if certain circumstances arise, to move an Amendment in the Standing Orders to that effect) to take away from authorities the absolute power of stopping schemes of this kind. That is the main point to which I wanted to call attention; but I confess that I am very glad to hear from my noble friend that the Government do not look with any favour upon the idea of compulsory hiring in matters of this kind. I think this question of compulsory hiring, which has cropped up in several directions, at present is not a very safe one. If local authorities or companies for public purposes require land, surely they ought to take the land with all its liabilities and obligations upon it, and allow the owner to be absolutely free. I think this question of compulsory hiring is a most dangerous one, and that it will act very unfairly and with great hardship upon owners of land. There is a very important question raised by the noble Lord opposite as to the length of term during which loans for various objects should be repaid by local authorities. I do not like to dogmatise at all on such a question. I quite see the importance that it is to local authorities to get those terms prolonged, but still it ought to be done with very great caution. At present the maximum term is sixty years—that is, two generations; and I think we ought to have very strong arguments before we extend the term very much beyond that. One hardly knows what changes may take place in the surroundings of any undertaking or any scheme in the course of two generations. As I said, I am not prepared to dogmatise on the subject, but I confess that at present very strong arguments should be brought forward to induce Parliament to assent to extending the time beyond the sixty years or two generations that has thus far prevailed.


I should not have intervened in this debate if it had not been for the reference made to myself personally by the noble Lord opposite. He has given a fairly accurate account of the history of this particular kind of legislation, and it is a great satisfaction to me to find that public opinion has grown very much upon this subject, especially of late years. It was in the year 1875 when I had the honour of bringing forward a Bill to enable the authorities in London to get rid of what you may call the unhealthy areas; and if anybody remembers what unhealthy areas there were in London at that time, and were to go to those places and see the fine buildings erected now for the lodging of the labouring classes in their place, he would be perfectly amazed at the change that has taken place. I do not believe that there is one of these unhealthy areas now existing in London which it was the special object of the Bill of 1875 to remove. But so difficult was it at that time to pass a Bill of that kind that I remember very well when I laid the instructions before the noble Lord, Lord Thring, who was then the Parliamentary draughtsman, to draw that Bill he came to mo and positively refused to carry out my instructions. I inquired why. He said, "I can only characterise your Bill, Mr. Cross, in two words — Communism and Confiscation." Well, I do not think there is much confiscation if you look at the amount of money which the City of London and the Metropolitan Board of Works had to pay in order to carry out the Act; while as to Communism, if by communism is meant doing what you can to house the working classes in fit and decent places, not at the expense of the State, but to enable them to house themselves in decent houses, then I am quite willing to be called a. Communist. But it was not till I drew the Preamble of that Act of 1875 that the noble Lord would consent to draw the clauses which were to give effect to it. Public opinion has changed very considerably since then. That Act of 1875 is now embodied in the Act of 1890. The noble Lord opposite has complained that the present Bill does not go quite far enough. At all events, it does make a very substantial step in the right direction. It will enable local authorities, where it is almost impossible for them to obtain land within their area, to obtain equally good land for the housing of the working classes outside the area. If it did no-more than that it would have done a great deal. It will, I believe, promote the building of houses for the working classes, and I sincerely hope your Lord-ships will not only give the Bill a Second Heading but will carry it through as it is. I am bound to say I quite agree with what has fallen from the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. I do not think that the time of borrowing ought to be extended too much. Sixty years, as the noble Earl has said, covers two generations. At all events, if the present generation is not to bear its own burdens, do not go beyond the next generation. If you come to 100 years you come to the third and fourth generations, who will have burdens of their own to bear in dependently of those which you want to place upon them. Therefore I for one should be certainly opposed to an enlargement of the time daring which the money is to be repaid. My Lords, I believe this Bill is a substantial contribution to what we all want to see, and I heartily support the Second Heading.


I wanted to ask one question upon the Hill and its relation to the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890. In the first place we are all agreed that this is not a very large scheme; but I think that the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill is justified in saying that it is a step in the right direction, and on two grounds particularly I should be inclined to support it. One is that I think the ratepayers have a right to some relief. We all know the difficulty in rehousing the working classes in the very centre of the huge population of London. Only a few hours ago in a Committee Room upstairs a member of the London County Council was giving evidence, and he stated that a site had been acquired at the cost of £200,000, and that with the condition upon it of erecting workmen's dwelling-houses it was valued at,£45,000; that is, that the commercial value of the land had been reduced 75 per cent. at least in consideration of the condition attached as to the erection of workmen's dwelling-houses upon it. In fact, he gave us instances more striking even that that. Another one that I may mention was an instance of a site that had been acquired and had been put up to auction, and not one single bid of one single penny-piece did they get from anyone for this land, because of the condition attached to it. Therefore, I say that I do think it is desirable for the sake of the ratepayers that larger powers should be given to acquire land outside the area, so that the London County Council, for instance, can make greater use of the powers which I believe they already have; that is of, in certain cases, selling land when they have taken away the old houses—selling the land at its commercial value, and buying other more suitable laud for the erection of dwelling-houses. My Lords, it is not possible, it is not to be expected, that exactly the same persons who are displaced can be immediately housed in new dwellings. We had an instance of that mentioned in evidence this afternoon before the Committee to which I have referred. A witness for the London County Council told us that on a certain site where tenants had been displaced new buildings were erected, and a certain number of the old tenants applied for these new buildings, but their behaviour has been such that it has been absolutely impossible to keep them; no respectable person would take lodgings under the same roof with them, because they were not amenable to any proper discipline, and such discipline as is absolutely necessary for persons living together in the same building. So that we do not suppose that those persons will be immediately housed, but it certainly will have a tendency to remove the congestion if these dwellings are built on outside areas. The persons who occupy them must at any rate have lived somewhere before—they will have left their own houses and left them empty, or if the houses had been overcrowded before it will have a tendency to remove the congestion. Therefore, I think the noble Lord is perfectly justified in saying that it is a stop in the right direction. My Lords, I wanted to ask what relation has this Bill, under Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, which is mentioned over and over again, with Part I. of that same Act. In Clause 12, Sub-section 3, Part I. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, I road that— The local authority may also engage with any body of trustees, society, or person, to carry the whole or any part of such scheme into effect upon such terms as the local authority may think expedient, but the local authority shall not themselves, without the express approval of the confirming' authority, undertake the rebuilding of the houses. Then in Sub-section 5— If the local authority erect any dwellings out of funds to be provided under this part of the Act, they shall, unless the confirming authority otherwise determine, sell and dispose of all such dwellings within ten years from the time of the completion thereof. Then, turning to Part III., Clause 59— The local authority may, on any land acquired or appropriated by them, erect any buildings suitable for lodging-houses. And further on, Clause 61 says— The general management, regulation, and control of the lodging-houses established or acquired by a local authority under this part of this Act shall be vested in and exercised by the local authority.


That is cut out in. this Bill.


Then I presume it would mean that they are not to rebuild houses other than lodging-houses.


My noble friend opposite, Lord Carrington, knows bettor than I do, but I think the explanation is that the houses referred to in Part I. are not lodging-houses. It is only Pact III. that deals with lodging-houses, and if a local authority builds houses on the area that has been cleared they need not be necessarily lodging-houses; they may be probably houses of any kind or description.


Under, I think, the 13th Clause of Lord Salisbury's Act the noble Lord will find in the definition that "lodging-house" means any house or tenement of any sort or description that is erected for the occupation of the poor. "Lodging-house" does not mean a house kept for lodgers to live in, but it includes every sort of house, whether two families live in it or one, that is erected for the occupation of the poor. I think that is the definition of "lodging-house" in the Act of 1890.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.