HL Deb 08 March 1901 vol 90 cc995-1023

My Lords, I rise to call the attention of the House to a speech delivered by the Lord Privy Seal on 18th December in regard to the housing of the working classes, and to ask His Majesty's Government if they intend to introduce any legislation on the subject. The speech of the noble Marquess at the head of the Government, to which I would call your attention, was delivered at a luncheon in connection with the conference of the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations. It was a political occasion, and the noble Marquess, in congratulating his supporters upon the Conservative victories in London, was tempted into recommending the housing question for valuable political considerations— I am afraid," he said, "that if you look carefully you will find that such Radicalism as still remains attaches to those districts of London, unfortunately still too large, where what is called the great question of the housing of the poor is living and burning. The noble Marquess knows his own party better than I do, but, even if it were true, it seems hardly considerate to his own party for the noble Marquess to state so frankly that the Tory party is only able to contemplate a moral question through the spectacles of political advantage.

But, my Lords, is it true that the middle-class constituencies are the only centres of Conservatism, and that it is only in the degraded warrens of the poor that Radicalism exists? Many, in my opinion too many, villa holders are profoundly impressed with a sublime—almost a touching—reverence for the opinions of London Society, and no political organisation has utilised and manipulated this weakness with more astuteness and ability than the Primrose League; but the great force of Conservatism in the metropolis is not all respectability or gentility. There are a few London constituencies where the villa interest is undoubtedly predominant, but that is not the popular boast of the Tory party. The Conservative party exultantly point to the great array of Conservative Members who come from the populous and poor parts of London. They are sent to Parliament—as any election, agent knew—through the influence of the public-house. Those who live in miserable dwellings are the best customers of the gin palace.

Drink and overcrowding—the slum lord and the liquor lord—are closely allied. How can immoderate liquor drinking be suppressed when people live under conditions which sap vitality—whose discomfort and squalor impel a search for out-side relief? If you look at other countries you will find this corroborated. The most congested districts of New York are the regal domains of liquordom. In one place 148 saloons are situated within a space 514 yards long by 375 yards wide. In Edinburgh, St. Giles' Ward, which contains one-eleventh of the population of the city and one-third of its total crime, has within its limits 127 drinking places. It is upon the gin palace that what is called modern Conservatism rests in London. In the districts where the worst congestion and social degradation exists you have Conservative representation. I do not say, I do not wish for one, moment to be supposed to infer that the Conservative gentlemen who represent these constituencies in Parliament have any sympathy with these social evils, but they are controlled by forces stronger than any amiable intentions of their own. They cannot, without the vigorous support and assistance of their own leaders, confront their most valuable allies. If anything is meant by the language of the noble Marquess when he says, speaking of the housing problem— I would recommend this, that there is no surer guide to the conservative party in trying to maintain and improve their hold on public opinion in London than that they should devote all the power they possess to getting rid of that which is really a scandal to our civilisation. I presume it means that the noble Marquess is prepared to educate his own party on this subject, and for political reasons, and under the threat of political consequences, to interfere with vested interests and monopolies which are as much an incubus as they are a support o the Tory party. If the noble Marquess had not, by a most sublime flight if political imagination, endeavoured to make all the respectable and well-to-do lasses his supporters, and all the disreputable his opponets, I should not have introduced the political element, which I gladly leave.

But let us for a while at least forget party politics. On no question is there more unanimous expression of opinion s to urgency. On 3rd March, 1900, His Majesty, at the opening of the Boundary Street Dwellings, placed the housing question in its true light as a matter of national importance. Speaking on that occasion His Majesty said— It is to be feared that the very Acts designed to combat existing evils may themselves give, rise to results which were not foreseen; out one tiling is certain, that the difficulties have to be surmounted. I am satisfied not only that the public conscience is awakened on the subject, but that public opinion demands, and will demand, vigorous action in cleansing the slums which disgrace our civilisation, in the erection of good and wholesome dwellings such as those around us, and in meeting the difficulties of providing house-room for the working classes at reasonable rates by easy and cheap carriage to not distant districts where rents are reasonable. I do not feel that I need occupy your Lordships time by enumerating the opinions of other no less competent authorities as to the, pressing importance of the matter. The Commission of which the noble, Marquess was a member—I well remember it, for he cross-examined me as a witness—went very exhaustively into the subject in 1884, and brought to light a terrible condition of things. Since then little or nothing has been done by Parliament, and whatever has been done—apart from private enterprise, such as the work of the industrial companies, the Guinness Trust, and last, hut by no means least, Lord Howton—has been done by the County Council.

As to the solution of this problem by private agencies, it would not be adequate. The present cost of building is in London so great that no industrial company having to pay a reasonable profit to its shareholders could erect buildings to let at such rents as the really poor can pay. All that private enterprise can do at the present moment is to level up the standard of comfort of the better class of artisans. This question, of course, touches the great provincial cities, such as Glasgow, Liverpool, and Birmingham; but I shall confine my remarks to London, with which I happen to be practically acquainted.

London presents a fourfold problem. There is the seafaring London, the great and irregularly employed population of the waterside, who serve the shipping; there is the large class who serve the public departments; there are those, great and small, who earn their livelihood in London as a great commercial centre; and lastly, there are those who belong to the numerous manufactures carried on in London. It is to be wished that many, or that some at least, of the London manufacturers could see their way to move their works out of London, and so relieve the congestion; but this must be a very partial and a very slow remedy, for external pressure, if it were to be enforced, would involve most serious questions of compensation, and it is, of course, somewhat idle for outsiders to theorise as to what the effect of removing a particular trade would be upon that trade. Since the Loyal Commission sat, all these great classes of population have increased, and they are still increasing. In all directions of life we see a tendency to concentration, and in no case does this apply more forcibly than in respect to London. Every year, therefore, that the matter is allowed to drift increases the difficulty. The people are every year raising against themselves the value of property. The necessity of the poor becomes the opportunity of the landlord. A house in Southwark let twenty-five years ago for 8s. a week is now let for 15s. a week. Certain I two-roomed cottages in the same neighbourhood have risen within the last twenty years from 3s. 6d. to 7s. per week, in Camberwell there are houses which are let out to three separate tenants, each of whom occupies them for only eight hours out of the twenty-four, and in the same neighbourhood when a house was recently advertised for letting there were seventy-three applications before noon on the morning when the advertisement appeared. It may be said that such instances as these are exceptional. Unless something be done, and done promptly, they will not long be exceptional.

The point is that the rise in rent, though varying in different localities and varying much under different ownership, has been practically universal. Other houses in the districts I have quoted have risen during the last few years 25 per cent. In Soho the rise has been about Hi per cent. In the Isle of Dogs—one of the poorest districts of London—rents for houses have increased 50 per cent. Even the Peabody Buildings have been recently obliged to raise their average price per room about 6 per cent. Exorbitant rents involve and are closely connected with the questions of overcrowding. At least one-tenth, or, say, 400,000 people in London live in single rooms. Between 3,000 and 4,000 live eight or more in a room, and nearly 30,000 live six or more in a room. There is an enormous class—a very poor class—earning from 6s. to 9s. a week—the women who make boxes, artificial flower makers, belt and umbrella makers, paper bag and sack makers, and workers at kindred industries, who live and work and eat and sleep with their children in a single room, and out of that wage their helplessness and necessity oblige them to pay a rent of 3s. to 4s. a week. There a single sordid attic holds the living and the dead; There the smouldering lire of fever creeps across the rotted floor, And the crowded couch of incest in the warrens of the poor. These words do not partake of the nature of exaggeration. I see the right rev. Prelate the Bishop of Winchester in his place to-night, and I feel sure that if he takes part in this discussion he will corroborate me when I say that the numerous devoted clergymen and lay-workers who consecrate their lives to the poor are daily brought face to face with this terrible condition of things.

Taking London as a whole, the average number of persons per acre is 58.76, the death-rate 18.4, and the insanity rate 1.9. Taking individual districts. St. George's-in-the-East has a population per acre of 194.69, a death-rate of 27.4. and an insanity rate of 6.9; Bethnal Green, a population per acre of 171.07, a death-rate of 24.1, and an insanity rate of 6.7; Holborn, a population per acre of 186.24, a death-rate of 27.7. and an insanity rate of 8.2; whilst the Strand, which is quite a preserve of the Conservative party, has a population per acre of 143.26, a death-rate of 30.0, and an insanity rate of 11.0. Perhaps the Strand is one of the most lurid examples, the persons per acre being nearly three times the average of London, the death-rate nearly double, and the insanity rate nearly six times as high. In London we are confronted with the strange and extraordinary anomaly that, under present conditions, as a district grows poorer its rents become higher. The properties in slum neighbourhoods yield a far larger return than the same investment in higher-class residential estates, and I find upon investigation that a six-roomed house in the poorer quarters of South and East London, such as Bermondsey and Bethnal Green, averages 36s. a week—£93 10s. a year—while the rents and rates combined of well built eight-roomed villa houses in the suburban districts, fitted with baths and possessed of small gardens, do not exceed £60 a year.

At the time of the Housing Commission it was ascertained that the rents of the Loudon poor averaged one-fourth of their income. My own cottage rents in the country, as I have no doubt is the case on many other estates, bear a proportion of at most one-eighth, in many cases one-tenth, to the wages of their occupiers. There is no sacred call to encourage private capital to be invested in slum property in London. There are plenty of persons who, fortifying themselves under a partial knowledge of political economy, complacently reconcile their consciences with their desire for high returns for their money so invested. Moreover, these property sweaters, or slum landlords, enjoy in London, under the present system, a happy immunity from the pressure of public opinion. The great estates in the country are before the world and before the public. I do not say that there is no room for improvement, but speaking broadly, and speaking, I think, the truth, public opinion acting upon local authorities would prevent owners of property sweating their tenants as they do in London; and lastly, but by no means least, if a country landlord does not provide suitable cottages for the labourers, he will not be able to keep his tenants, for we all know that farmers have now, like every other employer, to consider their labour if they wish to carry on their business satisfactorily. But these slum landlords are, a subterranean class. Neither the tenants nor the public know who they are and so they are exempt from the only influence which appeals to them—the fear of public opinion and the terror of legislative interference.

The borough of West Ham, conscious of this evil, did apply to the Local Government Board for powers to compel registration of all ownership of house property within their borough, but the Local Government Board—1 think unwisely—refused permission, adopting the attitude they have recently displayed in the singularly unsympathetic replies of the President of the Local Government Board to questions put to him by various Members of the House of Commons. I am glad to see my noble friend the Marquess of Northampton in his place this evening, and I hope that he will join in my appeal to His Majesty s Government to take this matter in hand at once. It would be most unfair to class the great landlords of London with the slum owners. Speaking from my experience as a director of the Artisans Company, I can tell your Lordships that the late Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Bedford, and the noble Lord the Marquess of Northampton's predecessor, have shown their public spirit in selling land below the market value. Indeed, my Lords, it would be impossible for industrial dwellings to be built in Central London unless the great landlords recognised it to be their duty to give facilities for housing the industrial classes upon their properties. I entirely repudiate the idea that anyone but the head of the Government can deal effectively with this question, but with your Lordships' kind indulgence I would venture to make some definite suggestions for legislative action.

In the first place, I suggest the extension of the time for the repayment of loans. At present thirty years is the period of repayment outside London. It is admitted that the working classes must be housed outside London. At a great Housing Conference at Bristol it was universally agreed that the period for the repayment of building loans, under Part III. of the Act of 1890, ought to be extended to sixty years. Mr. Balfour's proposal of main arteries along which motor powers could bring people in is impracticable, owing to the cost of the compensation, trade disturbances, etc., which it would involve. Secondly, the railway companies should be made to afford their third-class passengers identical commercial privi- leges with their first and second-class passengers in the shape of season tickets. If a third-class passenger on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, the Great Eastern Railway, and the Great Northern Railway, who is not in a position to avail himself of workmen's trains, travels daily to and fro between two stations, he pays by the end of the year as much as a first-class season ticket holder. Thirdly, if the County Council is to make prudent provisions for housing the population, it must be able to acquire laud for housing purposes independently of immediate requirements. Under the existing law, unless building operations are begun by a certain time, the land has to be parted with.

My fourth suggestion is the enforcement of the existing power's of the sanitary authorities to abate overcrowding, which would stimulate the erection of better accommodation. I will give your Lordships a concrete case. The County Council on 14th December, 1897, made a complaint to the Local Government Board against the late vestry of Bethnal Green. They also sent a copy of the Public Health Committee's report. In January, 1898, after the vestry had had an opportunity of sending in their observations on the report, formal complaint was made that the vestry had made default in executing the provisions of Section 94 of the Public Health (London) Act, 1891. The vestry then wrote to the Local Government Board to the effect that one of the bye-laws—No. 2—provided that the bye-laws should not apply to a lodging-house if and so long as the vestry deemed it unnecessary to register such a lodging-house; and the vestry proceeded to state that they did not see that much practical benefit would result from registration. The Council, in reply, pointed out to the Local Government Board that the vestry had registered no houses at all, and that the section which it was the duty of the vestry to enforce was, seven years after the commencement of the Act, entirely inoperative in Bethnal Green, and consequently that they were guilty of a default within the meaning of Section 101. The Local Government Board replied that the vestry were not in default, and, further, when requested under counsel's advice to compel the vestry to make valid bye-laws or to appoint the Council to perform such duty, they announced that the bye-law was not an invalid one, and, further, refused to receive a deputation from the Council on the subject. This action of the Local Government Board practically rendered Sections 94 and 101 of the Public Health (London) Act a dead letter. Section 94 provides that— Every sanitary authority shall make and enforce such bye-laws as are requisite for the following matters, that is to say: (a) 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, and for the separation of the sexes in a house that is so let or occupied; (b) for the registration of houses so let or occupied; (c) for the inspection of such houses; (d) for enforcing drainage for such houses, and for promoting cleanliness and ventilation of such houses. Section 101 provides that— (1.) Where complaint is made by the County Council to the Local Government Board that a sanitary authority have made default in executing or enforcing any provision which it is their duty to execute or enforce of this Act or of any bye-laws made in pursuance thereof, the Local Government Board, if satisfied after the inquiry that the authority have been guilty of the alleged default and that the complaint cannot he remedied under the other provisions of tins Act, shall make an Order limiting a time for the performance of the duty of such authority in the matter of such complaint. If such duty is not performed by the time limited in the Older, the Order may he enforced by writ of mandamus, or the Local Government Board may appoint the County Council to perform such duty. (2.) Where such appointment is made, the County Council shall, for the purpose of the execution of their duties under the said appointment, have all the powers of the defaulting sanitary authority. Those two sections are, therefore, of vital importance in the matter of overcrowding and sanitation.

Fifthly, whichever way we look at it, we cannot ignore the fact that the question of rent is a very practical and serious one. Any way, therefore, by which we can reduce rent legitimately is of first importance. We must look, I will not say for the entire solution, but for very considerable assistance in remedying the evils, to municipal action. At the present moment the London County Council, by a special clause in its Money Act, is enabled when making a great street improvement involving the clearance of a large area, to hold the ground rents created by the leasing of the surplus or cleared land under improvement schemes as security for its sinking fund. The financial effect of this is very great. Take the Holborn and Strand improvement as an illustration. The cost of clearing the site, of purchasing all the trade interests, of making the new street, of rehousing elsewhere the labouring people displaced is estimated at £4,700,000. The commercial value of the surplus land, after making the street, if realised by the sale of the ground rents created at twenty-six years purchase, is estimated at £4,000,000. and in such case the Council would have to pay the sinking fund in the difference if of £700,000. But under the exemption to which I have alluded, the Council will be able to hold the ground rents created on the surplus property as security for the sinking fund. The estimated annual value of the ground rents is £152,000. The interest on £4,700,000 at 3 per cent, is £141,000. Instead, therefore, of there being a loss of £700,000 on which the Council would pay interest in the sinking fund, it will realise the difference in annual revenue of a profit of £11,000 a year, being the difference between £152,000 and £141,000.

In the case of land bought for housing purposes the Council has to pay sinking fund on the purchase money and interest on the cost of the houses erected upon it. I do not see why the Council should pay sinking fund on the property thus bought and built on and let out to tenants any more than on the value of the surplus property bought under the Holborn and Strand improvement, except so tar as it can be shown that in the house property, the houses, being intended for the labouring classes, are subject to depreciation. The land, however, will always he there, and is a reliable asset, probably increasing in value. It would, therefore, appear sufficient, in respect of the buildings, to insist on the payment of a sinking fund on a certain proportion of their value, say one-third or one-half, which would represent this depreciation after a period of years. If this were done, there would be a great alleviation of the charge on the County Council, and the County Council would be able to let the houses at reduced rents.

To sum up, therefore, it would appear that the following improvements in the law might be taken in hand at once:—(1) To extend the time for the repayment of loans; (2) to enable the County Council to acquire land for housing purposes, independently of immediate requirements; (3) to exempt the County Council from the obligation of providing a sinking fund, except upon a portion of the cost of houses erected for the working classes; (4) to enforce Sections 94 and 101 of the Public Health (London) Act; (5) to compel registration of owners: (6) to compel railway companies to provide third-class tickets on the same scale as they grant them to first and second class passengers.

I must apologise for having trespassed so long upon the attention of your Lordships: but I cannot sit down without saying that in my opinion the responsibility for the continuance of the present evils connected with the housing of the working classes must rest upon the noble Marquess at the head of the Government. I do not say that any legislation can be devised which will completely stop these evils; but I do say that legislation, especially in the direction of strengthening municipal action, would largely alleviate them. The noble Marquess stands in a unique position, having in this Mouse a permanent majority and in the other an exceptionally large majority. Although I am loth to appeal to party, yet I am bound to call your Lordships' attention to a singularly pregnant, and, in my opinion, profoundly true, admission which the noble Marquess made in the course of his speech on 18th December. The noble Marquess said— I am aware that these matters, deeply important as they are, are not the matters which at this moment occupy our attention in the first rank. With that statement I am in complete accord. Social questions never have claimed, and they never can claim, the first attention of the Government. I do not question the sincerity of many Conservative Lords opposite; I do not question the sincerity of the motives of the noble Marquess; hut the attention of his Government is absorbed in a singularly profitless and unproductive war. It is not very difficult to understand that at the present moment they must be preoccupied—I might almost say haunted—by the awful contrasts between the results of their policy and the loss of life and the burden of taxation which it involves. The burden of taxation must be increasingly heavy. At the same time, that policy will not afford a reason to the country for inaction in this matter. When the reaction comes it will attain greater intensity when the people learn by experience and by fact that the present policy of the Government stands between them and these great social measures which in reality and not in theory touch the happiness and welfare of the people.


My Lords. I venture to respond to the appeal of the noble Earl who has just sat down, and to take part in this discussion. The subject of the housing of the working classes is one in which I have taken the deepest interest for many years, as a member of the London County Council, as a Member of the House of Commons, as son of a ground landlord, and now as a ground landlord myself. During all that time I can honestly say that I have done my best, although, like so many others, I am a party politician, to keep outside of party politics one of the gravest social problems that this country has ever had to meet. It was therefore with dismay, and I may say with strong indignation, that I read the speech of the noble Marquess the Prime Minister, which he delivered on 18th December last. In that speech he recommended the Conservatives-—he did not use even the word Unionists—he recommended the Conservatives to try and maintain their strong political position in London by pressing forward the question of the housing of the working-classes. It was a political speech, made, if I may be allowed to say so without offence, for party purposes. I do not think it is either unjust or unfair to impute that to the noble Marquess, considering the circumstances and the time in which that speech was delivered.

It was a speech of congratulation—well-merited congratulation—to the Conservative party and those who had taken strong steps in London to secure the return of Conservative Members to the House of Commons, and it was delivered within two months of another election in connection with the London County Council, on which body there was at that time a majority of those who I were opposed in politics to the noble Marquess and his followers. The time I will not say was specially chosen, but it seems to me that it is not at all unlikely that those who were anxious for the success of the Conservative candidates—they call themselves Conservative candidates now, but we used to call them Moderates—at the County Council election asked the Prime Minister to say something which would give a helping baud to his party at that election. He may, perhaps, have asked what subjects were most important in the view of Londoners, and he would have been told that the two most important questions were those of water and housing. As regards the question of water, the noble Marquess wisely left that on one side; but he did address himself to the question of the housing of the working classes, in which he has taken an active part in the past, and with regard to which, in my opinion, he has already done, if I may be allowed to say so, a vast amount of good.

It cannot be denied that, at all events in the eyes of a vast number of people who read the speech, the housing question was lifted out of those questions which are regarded by all parties as common subject to work at, and made, by the action and by the words of the Prime Minister, distinctly a party question. The Prime Minister said the question was a living and a burning one. If it was necessary to impress upon the Conservatives of London that the question is a living and a burning one, and one that must be settled, I would venture to ask. Whose business is it to put out the fire? Surely it is that of His Majesty's Government, under the Prime Minister. The noble Marquess used strong language in regard to this question, and I thoroughly agree with what he said. He remarked that the present state of affairs was a scandal to our civilisation. Well, whose business is it to remove that scandal at the earliest possible moment? If the solution of the problem is a difficult one to find, whose business is it to bring before the country the solution that is necessary? And if we require education, whether we be Conservative or Liberals, is it not for the Prime Minister, of all men, to place before us what in his opinion is necessary, so that we may unite to remove the scandal to which he alluded?

I am well aware, my Lords, that it would be impossible for His Majesty's Government during this session to bring forward remedial legislation as regards social reform. The Prime Minister must have known that when he made his speech on 18th December last. We have to pay the war bill this session, and we shall not get much beyond that. We have, however, a little period of time before us during which the question could be considered and discussed, in the hope that during next session His Majesty's Government may undertake the question and propose something to the country. The Government have been approached on the subject of the borrowing powers referred to by the noble Earl, but an official and not very sympathetic answer was returned by the President of the Board of Trade to the suggestion of the London County Council. That brings me at once to what I believe is the real difficulty of the question. Of course, there are many branches of it, to which my noble friend has alluded, but from the experience I have gained. I should say that there is one central difficulty, and that until you have surmounted that difficulty you will be able to do very little in the direction of a solution of the problem. I refer to the financial difficulty. I believe the desire of everyone is that there should be healthy buildings erected, and that the rents to be paid by the inhabitants of those buildings should not be excessive, but in proportion to the wages they earn.

May I put a case before your Lordships which will show what is the real financial difficulty? There has been on my own estate a site which has been partially cleared for some years. The houses were pulled down because they had become so old that they were no longer habitable, not through any fault of the landlord, if I may say so, but through old age. The site has been waiting to be dealt with until the remainder of the leases fall in. The leases have now expired, and I am able to deal with the site as a whole. Then comes the question. How am I to deal with it? In the houses, which are so old that they must be cleared away, 264 persons live. They depend for a living on being near to their work, and there is no other bole or corner for them to go to when they are turned out. The value of the land has been estimated at 9d. per foot super., which I think is an extreme figure, although J am certain I could easily get 6d. or 7d. per foot for it. I have asked one of the great industrial building companies what they will give for the land, and they say they cannot afford to pay more than 2d. per foot if a dividend of 5 per cent, is to be paid to their shareholders. This is entailed property of which I am only life tenant; and there is a question whether legally I could act the philanthropist and make a present to London of 5d. or 6d. per foot. If I am not able to do it, I ask the Mouse—I ask the Prime Minister—who is to pay the difference between this 2d. per foot and the 6d. or 7d. per foot which might be obtained for the land? Some ground landlords have paid this difference; but others will not and cannot, and nothing can be expected from them. There are a great many ground landlords in London who are corporations with a distinct trust, who are bound to get the full value of the property for which they are trustees.

We cannot depend, therefore, for a solution of this question upon the ground landlords of London, however philanthropic some of them may he. Then who is to pay the difference? If the County Council pays the difference it will have to come out of the rates; and as the rates increase, the industrial companies find it more and more difficult to pay 5 per cent. Their desire ultimately will be to get the land cheaper than 2d. per foot. I do not believe the County Council could afford to pay. There remains, then, only one source from which the money can come, and that is the State. I claim the Prime Minister himself in support of this principle. The Prime Minister shakes his head. Well, sixteen or seventeen years ago the noble Marquess introduced into your Lordships' House a Bill, which had our support and our strong advocacy at the time, with regard to the Millbank Prison site, the principle of which was that the site should be sold at cost value and not at market value. That is an admirable principle, and it is only on that principle that a solution of the difficulty can be found. If legislation is to be initiated, let it be drawn on these lines and introduced in the House of Lords.

Much has undoubtedly been done in the last twenty years. I remember the time when I. first went round the slums of London trying to understand the subject, and I go now to the same places and find a real change. Public opinion has been roused; public bodies have been bestirring themselves; the sanitary authorities have been most active, and we owe the deepest debt of gratitude to the London County Council for having been so zealous and energetic in putting the Acts, as far as they can, into force. May I suggest one small thing which could be done, immediately? There might be a conference—not a Royal Commission or a Committee, for we have had enough of them—of leading statesmen of both Houses who are interested in social subjects, and joined with them some of the most eminent members of the London County Council, with power to add to their number, to decide what are the best steps to take as regards the financial difficulty, and the financial difficulty alone. That step might be taken, as I have said, immediately. There is no necessity to wait for another session of Parliament; and the appointment of such a conference would, at all events, be an earnest to the country that His Majesty's Government desires to solve the problem. I have stated to your Lordships what I believe to be the central difficulty of the problem; but I did not rise principally for that purpose. I rose to protest in the strongest possible manner against this question, which affects the health and comfort of hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens and all possibility of decency and morality and of the innocence and purity of children, being made the subject of an appeal to party prejudices and party feelings.


My Lords. I confess that I am a little puzzled by the morality which has been preached to me by the noble Earl who introduced this subject, and by the noble Marquess who has just sat down. The offence with which I am charged is that I have urged my friends to exercise their influence in all departments of life in order to procure the alleviation of that which is admitted to be a very great evil; that I urged, as the chief motive for doing so, that those who served the public best would obtain the greatest influence over the public; and that they would not only he doing the work of the country, but would also be doing the work of their party by supporting a movement so much required at this time. Is that immoral? Surely it is legitimate to use towards those whom you are exhorting any innocent and legitimate motive which may make the exhortations you address to them more effective and more permanent. I cannot conceive such a curious counsel of perfection as that any statesman, going about as we do in these days, exhorting our political friends, should be bound as a matter of morality to abstain from recommending anything which may do any good to the social organism. That is not only a novel, but a, perfectly ridiculous contention.

Our object is to induce all the people we can to do all the good they can; and we are acting up to a well-known course of political wisdom when we represent to all our political friends that the way to gain influence with the people of England is to deserve it. I cannot see anything wrong in the exhortation which I have made; and until I hear it condemned on some higher authority I shall continue to make such exhortations. I am convinced that very, very much of the progress we have made in this country has resulted from mixed motives. No doubt it has often resulted from an earnest and honest desire to do good—a desire in all classes of society to obtain that good and honest influence with their fellow citizens which has been so conspicuous and salutary a mark of public life in England. It is only on account of this unfortunate exhortation, which has sinned against the prescriptions of the new ethics, that I have at all been specially connected with this subject. The noble Marquess seems to have thought that I specially pledged the Imperial Government to interfere in the undoubted difficulties of this question. I did nothing of the kind. If he will read my speech again he will see that I made no reference to the Imperial Government. Whatever you desire, that the Imperial Government should do in the future, it must be as the result of new determinations and new departures.

Up to this time the work which has been done to improve the housing of the working classes has been done either by private enterprise or by local authorities. Both one and the other have joined to undertake the work in the past, but, as we know, it has in the main been done by private enterprise. The Act passed in 1886 and other Acts have, to some extent, led to local authorities using the same resources which they possess in order to push forward the same objects. But I cannot at this moment remember any case in which the Imperial Exchequer has been used for this purpose. I am not expressing any opinion as to what Parliament may think right to do in the future. The question is full of difficulties. I only wish to say that nothing in the past justifies the noble Lord in charging us with neglecting our duty. I do not know that I can go into the multifarious points raised by the two noble Lords, for this particular reason. They have in vague language recommended certain alterations in the existing law which they think would be salutary. If they will put those alterations into a Bill and Introduce, it, I may have a chance of confidently expressing an opinion on the subject. But there would be nothing more dangerous than for me to express an opinion on the vague outlines of legislation which the two noble Lords have suggested. When we came to close quarters and tried to improve the law we should find we had been pursuing different objects, and they would be loudmouthed in their condemnation of us for having led them to think they had our support.


My only suggestion was a conference.


It was not the noble Marquess's only suggestion. I hardly know how I can speak with sufficient respect of such a proposal from one whom I respect so much as I do the noble Marquess. But my impression is that it might lie useful in the Garden of Eden, not in this comparatively wicked world. The conference would be filled by people belonging to different political and social schools, some desiring to oppose a political enemy, some desiring to grind their own axes, and I feel sure that, little as has been produced by committees or commissions, a conference would be more fruitless still.

I want to call the, attention of the noble Lord to one subject which I think he and his friends should bear more in mind. He spoke with great clearness and force, resting upon his own valuable experience on the difficulties which we have to face, and I think he naturally pointed out that they are all summed up in one big phrase,—namely, the financial difficulty. First, he most justly asked where we were to get the money. There are speculators outside who say that the existing owners of property in London should find the money. But I do not think the noble Lord joins in that view, and I certainly should not urge him to modify his opinions. Who, then, will do it? Not the County Council. The noble Lord knows too well the state of the rates in London and the height to which they have risen to think that any substantial assistance can be obtained from that quarter. Of the Imperial Treasury I will say nothing, for the reason I have just given, that I do not wish to anticipate anything that may possibly be proposed by my colleagues next year. He will readily see that the present state of the Imperial Exchequer is not one to encourage the undertaking of a perfectly novel enterprise, in a matter of metropolitan expenditure. At present we are practically relying to a certain extent on the local authorities, which I think have behaved very well, and we rely largely, as we have always done, on private enterprise. That has been our reliance from the first, and unless you can find some adequate substitute for it I fear that to the end, in some form or other, private enterprise must be our main reliance. But then I think the noble Lord said that capital does not seek metropolitan investment—that is to say, people are not anxious to invest their money in that way, and the consequence is investment falls into the hands of people who require larger remuneration for I their advances, and are much less subject to the influence of public opinion in the way they carry out their designs. That was a very wise observation. I entirely concur in it, and I think it is one of the most disastrous circumstances of this housing of the working classes question that some of the best friends of the poor who desire the greatest efforts to be made nevertheless cannot restrain from so bespattering with abuse everyone who takes part in this species of investment. That habit of denouncing everyone and calling them slum landlords certainly does revolt, and has the effect of driving everyone away. People prefer to put their money where similar abuse is not the result of their investment, so investors step in of the very worst kind who require the utmost remuneration for their advances, and are not exposed to the salutary influence of public opinion on which the noble Marquess dwelt with so much force and justice.

I am unable to go into much detail on this matter. The Government are deeply sensible of the great importance of the question, deeply anxious to do whatever can he done to remedy this great evil. But two things are necessary: one is time and the other information. With respect to time, if the noble Lord will glance for a moment at the contemporary history of the blouse of Commons lie will see that matters are not proceeding with such absolute smoothness as to induce us to hope that we shall be able at an early period to deal with so complicated a question as this. I am afraid that, as far as lean see, this session is full. Next year I do not know what may happen. I cannot make any pledges, but my right lion, friend the President of the Local Government Board gives me hope that we may be able to do something towards the alleviation of this great evil. We are by no means blind to it. We do not doubt that much may be done, nor are we blind to the enormous and portentous difficulties which surround it at every step. It is not only financial difficulty; that is bad enough, but there are other economic difficulties —the danger by relying too much upon novel, and you may say illegitimate, methods of driving out those who are your natural support and assistance, and finding yourself left at last unable to carry out what you intended by the action of public funds, and deprived by the want of confidence which you have inspired of the support which at all times you have a right to look to from private enterprise. These are great difficulties. We have much in the way of information to obtain that we have hardly obtained yet. We are conscious of all the various obstacles that lie in our path. But the fact that we have not, in the circumstances that surround us, seen our way to introduce any measure this year, cannot, I think, in the mind of any fair-judging person, be proof that we do not heartily share the eagerness of the noble Lord for some remedy in this matter.

May I say, with regard to Millbank, that I entirely hold the views f expressed nearly twenty years ago? But Millbank was a special windfall, and there was a special chance of really doing something very effective, I did all I could in this House, but it was a, time of great political trouble, and it was impossible to pass anything in the other House. I do not think the example of Millbank will help us very much in our future difficulties. For instance, it might have been well for us to sell Millbank at cost price instead of actual price, because it belonged to the Government. But am afraid it would be no good for us to take that bit of land belonging to the noble Marquess to which he has referred, saying we would sell it at cost price instead of actual price. We cannot take his property, although we might in 1885 very profitably have j taken the property which actually fell at the disposal of the Government. I deeply regret we could not do that, and I am afraid that that opportunity cannot be regained. I can only promise the noble Lord that we will give our earnest attention to the subject, and I very much desire that it may be possible for the Imperial Government to do something to lighten the efforts of private enterprise and the local authorities to bring this great evil to an end.


My Lords, I am sure the House is indebted to the two noble Lords behind me for their valuable speeches on this important subject. I will not go into the party charges which were made by the noble Karl against the noble Marquess the Prime Minister. I readily confess that for some time past London has been thoroughly in harmony with the views of the noble Marquess, and perhaps for that reason has special claim to have its social needs carefully considered by the Government, of which the noble Marquess is the head. I do not think my noble friend charged any moral offence against the noble Marquess or his party for having urged on the electors, whether at Imperial elections or local elections, the importance of this subject, or for having promised it their early attention: but I think we have some reason to find fault with the noble Marquess and his Government inasmuch as, having urged this important subjects on the electors, and having entered into solemn promises with regard to it, they now face Parliament without making any proposal whatever on this subject. The noble Marquess invited us to put our suggested alterations of the law into the form of a Bill. That is an observation which the noble Marquess generally makes in regard to all suggestions coming from this side of the House. My idea of constitutional practice is that important suggestions of this sort should be brought before the House by the Government, who should make themselves responsible for those proposals. It is clear that no private Members' Bill, even if it does receive the assent of this House, has much chance in these days of going through the House of Commons. Again, the noble Marquess spoke of this difficulty of, and want of precedent for, using Imperial funds for the benefit of London. He admitted that, in the case of Millbank Prison, national property was sold very much below the value which it would have fetched in the open market, and therefore to that extent national money was applied.


What I said was that I proposed that something of the soil should be done, but the House of commons refused its sanction.


At any rate, the noble Marquess proposed that that course should lie taken, and to that extent he then expressed his agreement with the proposal that a certain sum of money from national funds should be applied for this purpose. I would remind the noble Marquess that his own Government took a very different view when they came to deal with the question of assisting the holders of agricultural land in the country. The noble Marquess's Government relieved the payers of agricultural rates of half of their burden out of the Imperial taxpayers' pockets, and I should like to remind the noble Marquess also that by reason of that particular Act there has been thrown on London a burden of £467,000 a year, which goes entirely into the pockets of the agricultural ratepayers, and of which sum London only gets back as its share between £3,000 and £4,000. I think that if the London taxpayers contribute in this large proportion to the rates in the country, it is only reasonable to expect that something should he given out of imperial funds to London, whose pressing needs are quite, as great.

The noble Marquess says there are two things lacking—time and information. I venture to enter a protest against the notion that information is necessary on this subject. You had that most distinguished and hard-working Commission of 1884, which accumulated a vast amount of information and made a valuable Report, many of the recommendations of which have never been given effect to. You have had inquiries on the subject by local authorities in almost every big town throughout the United Kingdom, and a huge amount of valuable information has been amassed which is at the hands of those who choose to seek it. As to the question of time, nobody knows better than I do the difficulties in that respect in the House of Commons, lint here we have plenty of time.


What is the use of that?


At any rate, if the noble Marquess introduced a Bill into the House of Lords the country would have the advantage of knowing what the views of the Government were. We on this side should give it a cordial welcome, and if the Bill met the diffi- culties of the situation and received the approval of the nation, I think it would he found that it would not meet with much opposition or discussion in the House of Commons. This debate has turned rather on London, but this is a subject which does not apply to London alone. It is far more wide-reaching than that. It is perfectly true that terrible statistics may be obtained from London, but I think that from individual places in the country quite as startling figures can be procured. Take the Census Return of 1891, and you will find it there stated that one-ninth of the whole population of England and Wales—11.23 per cent.—were living in overcrowded conditions. In Glasgow 117,000 persons lived in one-room tenements and 322,000 in two-room tenements, that is to say, in Glasgow rather more than three-fourths of the population lived cither in one or two-roomed tenements. The statistics show that of the cases of infectious diseases admitted into the hospitals in Glasgow one-room tenements provided 86 per 10,000 of the population and two-room tenements 72 per 10,000 of the population, whilst the average for the whole city was 50 per 10,000 of the population. That, it seems to me, is a very startling proof of the danger which people run who live in these small and crowded tenements.

Just consider the conditions of living of a family occupying one or two rooms. Those conditions are bound to produce disease, immorality, and distress. If your Lordships would look at the statistics relating to England you would see what a terribly large number of deaths from phthisis occur in these small and crowded tenements. The prescription of any doctor for either a weakly infant or a, consumptive patient would be good food and plenty of fresh air; but it is impossible for these poor creatures, who live in the crowded slums of our great cities, to obtain fresh air. The noble Marquess suggested that the noble Earl should put his proposed alterations of the law into a Bill in the hope that the Government might give them favourable consideration. Last year in the House of Commons a Housing Act was passed which undoubtedly contained, at my rate, one important provision—the one which enabled local authorities to buy land outside as well as inside the areas they governed. On that Bill were raised three if not four of the alterations suggested by the noble Earl to-night; but those proposals were opposed in the House of Commons by the noble Marquess's Government, and rejected in every instance on division by very considerable majorities.

In spite of what the noble Marquess has said, I am going to suggest what seem to me legislative remedies which would facilitate a settlement of this subject. I would first suggest the extension of the powers of local authorities. They should have power to buy land and to hold it for future needs. I mean that when a local authority has the opportunity of acquiring land suitable for the purpose of housing, and at a cheap price, it should be able to buy that land instead of being compelled to wait until the erection of more buildings, and 'the extension of railways or tramways, make it infinitely more valuable, and therefore far more costly to the ratepayers to purchase. That proposal was made in the House of Commons last year and rejected, the voting being 204 to 132. The next proposal I have to make is one which I know will not commend itself to the noble Marquess, because we have differed on this subject on other Bills—I refer to the waiver of the 10 per cent, that is insisted upon for compulsory purchase. I must say that, in my opinion; in cases such as the buying up of necessary land in great cities for the benefit of the public, this is a requirement that should be waived.

I would suggest the extension of the period for the repayment of loans, and allow the local authorities to use the land they acquire as an asset against the debt that may be incurred. There is a considerable hardship under the present system. Take the case of London. In London the money is borrowed for sixty-years. At the end of that period the Loudon County Council will come into absolute possession of the houses and the land on which they stand. That is a very fine thing for posterity, but it is a little hard on the present generation, and still harder on the occupants of those houses, that they should be compelled to pay for the building and the laud in sixty years. It is a very moderate proposal to suggest that, in the case of the land, at any rate, the period of repayment should be extended to one hundred years. That proposal was brought before the President of the Local Government Board only a month ago, and he looked at it with a very unfavourable eye, and, if I remember rightly, suggested to the deputation that it seemed to him a penny-wise and pound-foolish policy.

I would also give local authorities the power of purchasing at something like cost price disgracefully insanitary and bad buildings, where the owner will not put them in good condition. I do not say that they should he purchased at prairie value, but I confess I am getting towards it in that ease. This is a perfectly fair proposal, on the same principle that the vendor of unwholesome or deleterious food has the food confiscated, and has to bear all the loss himself. It is desirable that the local authority should he able to buy the property at such a price as to enable them to build on the land houses suitable to accommodate the class of people who were on it before, and at a rent which those poor persons can pay. It is also very desirable that the owners of this class of property should be registered. They are in many cases absolutely unknown to the tenants, who often do not even know the agent, but only the sub-agent or the collector of the rents. Another remedy is to be found in increased means of cheap transit. Something has been done with regard to that. In l883 the Cheap Trains Act was passed, and from that Act good results have ensued. I will read a passage from a Report of the Housing Committee of the London County Council on that point, which, I think, is very interesting and significant, and also very creditable to the particular railway company mentioned— In 1898 the Housing Committee reported that in strong contrast to the cessation of the building of workmen's dwellings in central London was the very remarkable increase in the number of cottage dwellings outside the county, especially along the Great Eastern Railway, where, owing to low fares and a good train service, many thousands of cottages had been erected. It is interesting to go down into Essex and see the way in which whole districts have gradually grown up owing to good means of transit, By encouraging increased means of transit you distinctly encourage private enterprise. I do not go the length of thinking that the whole housing problem can be solved by an improvement in the means of transit, but that question is indissolubly bound up with it. In any future tube railway or tramway schemes Parliament should see that they connect with one another. I think these are questions in which the Legislature can help very much. Above all, I do say it is most desirable that the tramway system should be under one great central authority, which I am afraid will have to be the London County Council. They are already in possession south of the Thames, and the experience of last year shows that they are likely to conduct that great enterprise with credit to themselves, with benefit to the inhabitants, and with considerable advantage to the employees.

There should also, in my view, be a recasting of the rating system, I am not going into the whole question of the taxation of ground values now, but it has been calculated that the ground values of London amount to no less than £15,000,000 a year, and a shilling in the pound on that would produce £7 00,000. I confess that I am quite prepared to sec a general separation of ground values and a special rate put upon them. It is said that the result would be that the cost would fall on the occupier. It so, I do not see that the owner has very much cause to complain. But it that be not the case I think ground rent are a very fair object for taxation. It is argued that it is impossible to separate the value of the land from the value of the buildings that are upon it. That is a view not held by many eminent valuers in London. I might quote many authorities who are not of that opinion. At any rate, it is a thing which might be tried. There should be a valuation from time to time of unoccupied land. At this moment there are in London 14,000 acres of unoccupied land which might be valuable for building purposes. These lands are held nominally as agricultural lands. They are rated on the agricultural basis, hut the owner are simply holding them over for enhanced prices. There could he no difficulty in valuing these lands from time to time at their actual selling value for the purpose of rating. This would bring a considerable sum into the county exchequer. It would do something more, for it would probably have the effect of bringing some of these lands into the market for building purposes.

These are, roughly, the suggestions I would make for possible legislation in the future. The subject is a very important one to everybody, but it is important, above all, to the woman of this country. The man who lives in a slum dwelling probably has to go a considerable way to his work and can be away from the dwelling the greater portion of the day. But think of the woman who has to do all the work of the establishment—the washing, cooking, etc., and the caring for the sick—all in one room. That seems to me a very terrible thing to contemplate, and it reacts in a further way; for how can women, living in such conditions, produce healthy strong children, and how can children reared under such conditions grow up healthy and moral? We hear a great deal about the Imperial mission of this country, and nobody believes in it more strongly than I do; but the first thing we should aim at in endeavouring to secure the success of that mission is that the children of the country should grow up happy, healthy, strong, and moral citizens.

House adjourned at half-past Six of the clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven of the clock.