§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I should like to begin what I have to say by making my acknowledgments to noble Lords opposite who allowed me to put this Bill down for Second Reading to-day. I hope that we may arrange together for some satisfactory day on which to take the Committee stage, because I think it is not unlikely that various important Amendments will be proposed from various parts of the House, and I am sure it would be the wish of your Lordships that plenty of time should be given to the consideration of these Amendments from whatever part of the House they come.
Now, my Lords, with regard to this Bill, I think it is only fair to admit at once that it has not received during the present session of Parliament any very lengthy consideration at the hands of the House of Commons. The Bill, as your Lordships know, was somewhat summarily dealt with in another place; but at the same time I must ask your Lordships to remember that this is really the same Bill as that which was considered last year by a Standing Committee of another place, and that that Standing Committee held no fewer than twenty-three sittings. They went into it very fully, and were able to consider it without the use of the closure, and this Bill is the result of very long and careful examination by a body which certainly contained a number of experts upon this subject. Not only was there the Standing Committee of last year, but the original frame of this Bill was submitted 1141 to a Select Committee of the other House when the Bill was first introduced in 1906. That Committee produced a very valuable Report which I have no doubt is within the knowledge of all your Lordships who take an interest in this subject. Therefore we may fairly say that this subject has been before Parliament for the last three years and has received at the hands of the House of Commons a considerable amount of attention.
Your Lordships will see that this Bill is divided practically into three parts. The fourth part we may dismiss as being supplementary, and, if your Lordships will allow me, I will take Parts II and III first because they are not likely to give rise to so much controversy as Part I. The first clause of Part III—namely, Clause 68—enjoins the appointment of a medical officer of health by each county council. In subsection (5) your Lordships will see the very important provision which affects their appointment. They are to be removable by the county council with the consent of the Local Government Board and not otherwise, and they are not to be appointed for a limited period. Those of your Lordships who have practical experience of the administration of the various sanitary provisions in different Acts of Parliament must know the difficulty which frequently arises when medical officers of health or sanitary inspectors are expected to deal with property belonging to the members of the body which appoints them. It is, I am sure, within the knowledge of everybody who has had anything to do with local government under those circumstances that it is almost unfair to expect a medical officer of health or a sanitary inspector to report very adversely upon property, however bad it may be, if it is possible within the next twelve months that this adverse report will be succeeded by his dismissal from office. It is an unfair position in which to put a medical officer of health, and this demand that he should be irremovable is one that has been made for a long time by a very large number of people.
The next important clause is Clause 71, by which every county council is obliged to establish a public health and housing committee, to which the council may delegate any of their powers as respects public health and housing as they think fit, with the exception of raising a 1142 rate or borrowing money. Your Lordships will see that that will secure throughout the country the appointment of committees charged with the specific duty of looking after public health, and will also secure the appointment of a medical officer particularly well qualified to assist the committee in their work.
Then, may I call your attention to Part II of the Bill, which deals with town planning. Now the idea of town planning, or of dealing with it by Statute, is, I am sorry to say, a comparatively new one in this country, although there have been provisions of a somewhat similar kind very much used in other countries and with very good effect. Your Lordships will see that Clause 54 says—A town planning scheme may be made in accordance with the provisions of this Part of the Act as respects any land which is in course of development or appears likely to be used for building purposes.The object of a scheme for town planning is to secure—proper sanitary conditions, amenity, and convenience in connection with the laying out and use of the land, and of any neighbouring lands.Your Lordships will see that subsection (4) gives the Local Government Board power to approve of a town planning scheme, and without their approval no such scheme will become effective. It is suggested that these are very extensive powers to give to the Local Government Board. Well, my Lords, it, is difficult to say in what other way you could deal with this particular point. I think most people who are concerned with local government are anxious to avoid expense as far as possible, and the insertion of a Provisional Order here would not only add greatly to the expense but also considerably delay the putting into force of any of these schemes.
I should like further to call attention to the proviso in Clause 55, by which if the scheme contains provisions suspending any enactment contained in a public general Act the scheme shall not come into force unless a draft has been laid before each House of Parliament for a period of not less than forty days, so that under this proviso there is a considerable check put upon the Local Government Board, which will not be able to over-ride any public enactment. If your Lordships will turn to Clause 56 you will see that the Local 1143 Government Board are anxious to secure as far as possible the co-operation of the local authority and the landowners and other persons interested in the land in preparing these schemes. Clause 57 gives the Local Government Board power to enforce a scheme, and I should perhaps remind your Lordships that the idea is not that the Board should do the work unless they are obliged to do it, but that their position should rather be one of supervision and of assistance. Clause 58 deals with compensation, and here your Lordships will see that, under subsection (3), where the property is increased in value by the operation of any town-planning scheme under certain circumstances the local authority may recover from any person whose property is so increased the amount of that increase. Conversely, if the property is injured by one of these town-planning schemes, then by subsection (4) the person will be entitled to recover the amount of the injury which he suffers. Clause 61 deals with compulsion, but I do not think that that is a clause to which any of your Lordships are likely to suggest an Amendment.
Now we come to Part I of the Bill, the most important part, dealing with housing. I suppose it is difficult to exaggerate the importance attached by a great many people to this Bill. In the eyes of a great many people housing reform is one of the most important parts of social reform, and, indeed, some think that it lies at the very foundation of that reform. Nobody denies that the problem exists, and this Bill deals with two different departments of the same subject. First of all there is the question of new houses, and there is also the question of insanitary houses and the putting of such houses into proper condition. I think we all admit the difficulty there is in rural districts of building new cottages on an economic basis, and that is why one of the clauses in the Bill provides that the terms on which the loan is to be made to a local authority shall be exceptionally favourable. But the main clause of this Part of the Bill is the first, in which Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes. Act of 1890 is adopted throughout the whole of the country. Up till now Part III of that Act has merely been optional, and a rural district council can only adopt it with the consent of the county council, which has to have regard to various considerations before giving 1144 consent. In point of fact it has been found that that part of the Act has been made very little use of indeed. It has only been adopted by nine or ten rural district councils. Part III of the Act of 1890 becomes operative at once throughout the whole country.
The clause to which I am afraid there may be some objection in this House is Clause 2, which must be read together with the First Schedule. It is the clause which deals with the acquisition of land. Now I may say at once that in this matter the Local Government Board has followed the precedent of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act. That is a precedent to which your Lordships have already given your approval, and we hope that you will give your assent to the adoption of a similar procedure in this case. The object which His Majesty's Government have in this matter is really two-fold. In the first place, we want to simplify procedure, and, in the second place, to reduce expenditure; and we believe that this method—which I think experience has shown, in connection with the Small Holdings Act, has not worked badly—is one which must really be expected to be of considerable value in regard to this Bill. The necessity of simplifying the machinery is proved by a passage in the Report of the Select Committee, in which they say—At present one of the chief obstacles in the way of local authorities who desire to put the Housing Acts in operation is the conflicting nature of the machinery by which land can be compulsorily acquired. Not only does this tend to make a local authority reluctant to take any action at all, but in cases where action has been decided upon it almost necessarily increases the expense of their scheme, since local authorities will often be prepared to pay more than the market value of the land required rather than undergo the delay which the resort to compulsory powers now involves.This particular clause, when read with the First Schedule, simply follows the provisions of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act.
After Clause 3, to which I have already referred—a clause which deals with the making of loans by the Public Works Loan Commissioners and the terms on which the loans, are to be obtained—there are a number of clauses relating to small matters, such as the expenditure of money for housing purposes in the case of settled land, allowing a local authority to accept a donation of land, and so forth. In Clause 10 1145 we come to the clause which gives powers for enforcing the Housing Acts, and your Lordships will see that here the Local Government Board step in. In Clause 10 the Local Government Board are empowered, if on due complaint, amongst others from four inhabitants they find that a local authority have failed to exercise their powers, to declare them in default, and to limit the time for carrying out the works required, and in some cases to direct the county council to execute them. Clause 11 provides that if a local authority fail to perform their duty in carrying out an improvement scheme under Part I of the Act of 1890, or in giving effect to an Order as regards an obstructive building, the Board may make an order requiring the local authority to remedy the default and to do what is requisite. Power is, of course, necessarily given to the Board to enforce their Orders by mandamus.
Then your Lordships will see that in Clauses 12 and 13 provision is made whereby, under certain circumstances, a county council may step in if, in their opinion, a rural district council have failed to exercise their powers. Clause 14 is a clause which increases the implied condition. Your Lordships know that in the case of houses which are of small value there is an implied condition on the landlord to see that they are kept in a proper state of sanitary repair and are fit for human habitation. This clause increases the number of houses to which that implied condition will in future apply. May I say in passing that this clause does no more than carry out what I might almost call a favourite principle of the Liberal Party. We all know of good landlords who keep their houses in a state of sanitary repair, and one of the objects of this Bill is to impose upon bad landlords the obligation which good landlords cheerfully and readily admit and already undertake.
It is just the same principle as that which operated in the case of the Old Age Pensions Act. We know that all over the country there were a large number of good landlords who already gave old age pensions. Now, under the. Old Age Pensions Act, everybody is given an old age pension who is entitled to one, whatever may be the character of his employer. So it is also with the Employers' Liability Acts. A large number of employers throughout the country did, without a doubt, compensate 1146 their workmen probably even more liberally than any employer is bound to do now under the Acts, and the object of the Acts was simply to force the bad employer to do that which the good employer was doing already. Here in this clause we have the obligation put upon the bad land lord to keep his houses in that state of sanitary repair in which a good landlord is always pleased to see his own property maintained.
Clause 17 deals with the duty of the local authority as regards the closing of houses which are unfit for human habitation, and here it would, perhaps, be most convenient to deal first of all with the law as it stands at present under the Act of 1890. At the present time it is the duty of the local authority to inspect these houses, but the obligation does not go beyond mere inspection. Then, if it is considered necessary to close these houses, they are closed by the local authority upon an order made by the magistrates. The alteration proposed by this Bill is that the inspection should in future be made in the same way as before, but that the local authority should also keep such records as may be prescribed by the Board. That will mean that probably the inspection will be done more carefully than it has been in the past. The second point is that the local authority will be able to make the order without referring to the justices for the power to close, as they have to do at the present time before they can act. It is obvious, I am sure, that this must result in a great simplification of the system of making closing orders, and that it will render it easier for the local authorities to shut up insanitary houses, while it will also increase the amount of inspection. This very important clause—Clause 17—which deals with existing insanitary houses also prohibits underground sleeping rooms; and in subsection (8) your Lordships will see that very careful regulations have been drawn up to deal with this particular subject. Clause 18 allows an order for the demolition of a house to be postponed if the owner undertakes to carry out the work necessary to render it fit for human habitation. Then come a number of comparatively unimportant clauses such as those which deal with the vesting of water pipes and the modification of schemes.
The next important clause, which is 1147 likely, I am afraid, to meet with some opposition in your Lordships' House, is one which deals with back-to-back houses. That is Clause 44. Your Lordships will see that this Bill deals with Scotland, but not with Ireland, the latter country having been dealt with last year under a special Bill. It is, however, the intention of the Local Government Board, if your Lordships pass this Bill, to introduce next year a General Consolidation Bill dealing with the whole subject, which will, I think, be a matter of considerable convenience to all who are concerned in the work of local administration. I think your Lordships will agree that if the Local Government Board were to use the powers given them under this Bill too drastically there would be so great a danger of reaction that it would be impossible for the Board to proceed so far as they would wish in this direction. I hope, therefore, your Lordships will think that you may fairly trust the Local Government Board not to go too far, or to use the powers conferred upon them unfairly, but to do their best to make this Bill, if you agree to its passage through this House, a real success. I beg leave to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (Earl Beauchamp.)
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, the noble Earl has given us a very clear and concise outline of the provisions of the Bill. I am sure he will expect that I shall be able to offer him an assurance that on this side of the House any measure for improving the housing of the working classes is likely to be most favourably received, because that has always been the policy of the Conservative Party, and the Act which is known as the principal Act is the Act of 1890, which was brought in by my noble friend, Lord Cross, who, I am sorry to say, is not here to-night. Notwithstanding that Act and the Acts which have been passed amending it, there are difficulties still surrounding the question of housing, and these mainly in the rural districts.
The noble Earl has stated that the intention of the Bill is to make the bad landlords do what the good landlords always have done. He drew what I thought was not quite a fair analogy, and compared this Bill with the Old Age 1148 Pensions Act. I think he must have forgotten that the Old Age Pensions Act does not make the bad landlords pay pensions to their workmen, but enables the State to give pensions to aged workmen all round. If a similar proposal were contained in this Bill I do not think that great objection would be taken to it, because the charge would be laid on the taxpayer and not, as will be the case, on the ratepayer. The real difficulty is not to get the bad landowner to fulfil his duties but very often, where working class dwellings are insanitary, to find out the actual person to whom they belong. The rents are collected by middlemen and agents, and it is sometimes most difficult to know who are the real owners.
The noble Earl said that Part III of the Housing Act has only been adopted in nine or ten rural districts. I dare say that is perfectly true. What is the reason? Is it not that there has been a. fear, amounting, I might say, almost to a certainty, that if that Part of the Act is put into operation it cannot be done economically and a charge on the rates is certain? I venture to think that is one of the main reasons why the Act has not been put into operation to a greater extent than it has been hitherto. I must say that I congratulate the noble Earl on having persuaded the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend most liberally the period over which loans can be spread. I think that is a very valuable part of the Bill. The period for which a loan is made by the Public Works Loans Commissioners may be extended to eighty years, and this may enable local authorities to make the problem of carrying out a housing scheme economically sound.
As regards the town planning part of the Bill, we all, I think, agree that in many cases towns, and the suburbs of towns, are most unsuitably laid out. That is not only a disadvantage and a drawback to those who have to live in the houses, but it often happens that one landowner by laying out his land badly is able very seriously to damage the value of the land belonging to an adjoining owner. Everybody would welcome some scheme by which a common plan could be laid down for the benefit of both. I think the existing evils especially those of overcrowding, of which we see far too much in our great towns, are largely due to 1149 the inelasticity of by-laws. I for one am not prepared to quarrel with the provisions in the Bill that the Local Government Board should have power to set aside under certain circumstances hard and fast by-laws. It sometimes happens that a landowner would be perfectly willing to put a comparatively, small number of houses on an acre of his land, but he cannot afford to do so because the by-laws require him to make a road of enormous width, metalled on both sides, kerbed, channelled, and drained. That is an expense which can only be recovered by covering the land to its utmost capacity with small houses. Therefore I welcome that part of the Bill.
I am also glad that there does not seem to be any indication that urban corporations are to be encouraged to go in for land speculation. I was told the other day that the council of the City of Sheffield wanted to raise a loan for the purchase of an estate outside the city, but the Local Government Board refused their sanction. The granting of a loan for the purpose of a housing scheme is quite a different thing from making a plan with which other people will have to comply if they desire to lay out their land. Now, my Lords, I am afraid that the result of this Bill may have the effect of increasing the burden of the already overburdened ratepayer. Under the existing Act, before the county council give consent to the adoption of Part I of the Act, they have to consider the liability which will be incurred by the rates, and the question whether it is, under all the circumstances, prudent for the district council to adopt the provisions of the Act. That is swept away entirely, and, whether it is prudent or imprudent, whether it will involve a charge on the rates or will be conducted on sound economic principles, the Act is to be adopted throughout the length and breadth of the land. I hope I may be wrong, but I have grave misgivings on this subject, because I know that even where housing schemes have been undertaken under the most favourable circumstances—and I think they cannot be undertaken more favourably than in London—there is still a large burden on the rates. It is said to be a fluctuating burden and one which will in time yield a return to the ratepayer. But I cannot help remembering that something like 1150 £90,000 has been spent out of the rates of London for housing schemes and that about £50,000 or £60,000 is still outstanding. So much for the general provisions of the Bill.
There is a peculiarity of the Bill which runs through it from one end to the other to which I feel bound to draw attention. That is the proposal to put in the hands of a Government Department a number of duties which hitherto have always been left either to the local authority or to Parliament. That is a practice which I am afraid under His Majesty's Government has been slowly and steadily growing. It is not a practice which I for one can look upon with satisfaction. May I point out what are the duties which the Local Government Board will have to undertake under this Bill? They are very numerous, but I will deal with them as shortly as I possibly can. Clause 2 takes land compulsorily by order of the Local Government Board. The price is to be decided by an arbitrator appointed and paid by the Board. The local authority concerned are not to be allowed to appear by counsel or to call expert witnesses. By Clause 3 the period for the repayment of a loan is extended. By Clause 5, money paid into Court is to be applied as the Board direct. By Clause 9 it is provided that the Board may institute certain legal proceedings. By Clauses 10 and 11 the Board may declare an authority to be in default. They may order schemes to be carried out and enforce that order by mandamus. I do not know whether the Government have carefully considered what are the precedents where there has been proceeding by mandamus, but I think I am right in saying that they have not, as a rule, been very successful. It is not very easy, I imagine, to put into prison all the members of a county council who refuse to carry out an order of the Local Government Board, and therefore the proceeding is not likely to have much result.
By Clause 15 the Local Government Board are to be a court of appeal against the order calling on a landlord to execute works. Clause 19 enables the Board to settle the sum at which certain annuities shall be redeemed, and Clause 23 enables them to dispense with by-laws. Clause 24 enables them to dispense with the confirmation of an Order for a reconstruction 1151 scheme by Parliament. Clause 29 enables the Local Government Board to appoint an arbitrator to settle what compensation shall be paid for the demolition of what are known as obstructive buildings. Clause 32 provides that the Board may declare expenses to be special expenses chargeable to any contributory place. Clause 38 enables the Board to call for reports from different local authorities. Clause 40 provides that the Local Government Board are to be a court of appeal against Orders even in a dispute in which the Board themselves may be the makers of the Order. Clause 42 states that the Local Government Board may prescribe the form of notices, and may dispense with the publication of those notices.
Clause 54 enables the Local Government Board to approve of town planning schemes, including taking land already built upon. They are to decide whether land is likely to be built upon or not, and if a scheme is once approved by the Board it is to be as if enacted in this measure. Under Clause 55 the Board may prescribe general provisions and stop up private rights of way. Clause 56 empowers the Board to make regulations for dealing with matters in the Fifth Schedule, including the hearing of objections by persons affected. Clause 57 authorises the Board to decide whether any person has or has not contravened a scheme. Clause 58 allows the Board to determine whether property has been injuriously affected or whether it has been increased in value and is therefore liable to a betterment charge. Clause 61 enables the Board to compel a local authority to make and to execute a scheme. Under Clause 62 the Board may themselves determine certain matters as arbitrators. Clause 68 empowers the Board to prescribe the duties of the medical officer of health, who is to be appointed by every county council and who is not to be removable save by the consent of the Board.
Those are very wide powers indeed to place in the hands of a Government Department. I know that the right hon. gentleman who presides over the Local Government Board is a man of great strength of character. He is a man with great confidence in himself, and I am bound to say he inspires that confidence in other people. I have had the honour of the acquaintance of the right hon. gentleman for a good many years, 1152 first upon the London County Council and afterwards in Parliament, and I have always thought he has been actuated by the highest motives and the greatest desire to discharge the duties of his office with perfect fairness and perfect justness to everybody concerned. But, my Lords, the right hon. gentleman will not always be at the Local Government Board. We hear talk of an impending General Election, and perhaps the right hon. gentleman may find that his attention will have to be more closely confined to Battersea than it has been hitherto, or he might be moved to a higher Department of State, and, if he is caught up, upon whom is the mantle of Elijah to fall? Whatever good opinion I may have of the present President of the Local Government Board, I for one should shrink from entrusting these powers to any and every possible successor of his in that important office.
We are told that in this respect we ought to take example by what is done on the Continent. We are told that in Germany, Austria, and Holland the local authorities are all required. to make town planning schemes. Most of you who have travelled on the Continent would be somewhat loath to see a town laid out even like Vienna or Berlin, with their rings and their rectangular streets. I think travellers visiting some of those cities may look back with affection to the times when we threaded the tortuous labyrinths of Threadneedle Street. Whether that be so or not, at any rate we in this country are not accustomed to be, and do not wish to be, governed by a bureaucracy. Our principles are totally different from those which govern foreign nations. We have our local authorities and our supreme Parliament. I am told there are no fewer than 26,000 local authorities in this country, and I am always filled with amazement and satisfaction when I reflect upon the enormous amount of unpaid labour which citizens of this country are willingly giving in order to look after the affairs of their neighbours. I know it is sometimes said of this House that noble Lords might be more regular in their attendance, and indeed I think I have heard the expression "Wild Peers from the Woods." I do not quite know what it means, but I take it that it refers to those Peers who attend our debates comparatively seldom. Why is that? Is it not because those noble Lords are engaged in the administration of affairs in their own localities? I venture to think 1153 that anything which tends to diminish local patriotism will be a very grievous blow to local institutions generally.
There is another liberty which people in this country have long been accustomed to, and which I think they will be reluctant to give up. That is the right of access to Courts of Law. More than once measures have been before Parliament diminishing the right of the citizen to appeal to the Courts of Law. We find that again in this Bill, and I sincerely hope that before the measure leaves your Lordships' House that blot, as I consider it, upon the Bill may be removed. We are told by the noble Earl that we should follow the precedent set by the Small Holdings Act in the matter of the acquisition of land, and the noble Earl has said, or, if he has not said it, at any rate it has been said elsewhere, that no injustice has been perpetrated under the provisions of that Act enabling a local authority to take land for the purposes of small holdings from those who are at present in occupation of it. I venture to say that is a mistaken opinion, and that there have been cases of very great injustice. There is a case in Norfolk known as the Ringer case. I will not go into the details of it, but I merely say this: The man whose land was taken thought he had the right that everybody ought to have of appealing to a Court of Law. He went to a Court and asked that Court to say that the taking of this land from him compulsorily was unfair and inequitable. But the answer the Court gave to him was that a scheme so made was as if it were enacted in the Act; that ousted entirely the jurisdiction of the Court and the man had no remedy at law whatever. I venture to think that is an unfortunate state of affairs, and I think each man ought to have a right of appeal to the Courts of Law of the country. I suppose the noble Earl will not be surprised to hear that a large number of Amendments are likely to be put down to this measure, and they will, I think, probably deal with some of the points with which I have ventured to trouble your Lordships.
We have received this Bill at a very late period of the session. If we had had it a little earlier it might have been possible carefully to consider the whole question and to have tried to arrive at some tribunal which would have been supreme over the decisions of the Local Government Board in 1154 respect of parts of this Bill. But the time is. I think, too short for that. I should have liked to have seen something similar to what His Majesty's Government have already suggested in another place and in another Bill. I refer to the Finance Bill, where I understand provision is made that a Court of Referees shall be appointed to decide certain questions in dispute. In the present case I think there would have been an advantage in adopting that course, because a Court of Referees, such as is suggested, would have laid down certain principles upon which they acted, and those principles would gradually have grown into the accepted case law of the country. But in the absence of that we have to consider, I think, in what way we can amend the Bill in accordance with existing precedent. With reference first of all to taking land compulsorily, as provided by Clause 2, I am willing to admit that the procedure under the Lands Clauses Act, where you want to take a comparatively small area of land, or land of comparatively small value, is cumbrous and expensive. It is not, perhaps, the best machinery for the purpose, and I think I have had occasion to say that more than once in this House. Now the question is, Is there any alternative between the Lands Clauses Act and the arbitration of the Local Government Board? Your Lordships had a Bill before you last session which came up from another place, and I think I am correct in saying that the original proposals in that Bill for taking land compulsorily were the same as that proposed in the Bill now before your Lordships' House. It was the Port of London Bill. But before the Bill reached your Lordships' House that procedure had been altered, and in lieu of small holdings procedure it was proposed that a single and independent arbitrator should be appointed who should decide the compensation which ought to be paid. The most important part in the clause in that Bill, however, was that if, in the opinion of the arbitrator, the matter was one involving so large a sum of money or was of such great importance that it ought not to be removed from the ken of Parliament, then he was to recommend that it should go through the ordinary course of a Provisional Order. If some such procedure were adopted in the present case it would be an improvement in the measure as regards the taking of land.
When you get to town planning schemes I venture to think you are there dealing 1155 with what may be a matter of very great value indeed. I do not imagine for a moment that there will be very many of these town planning schemes in a year, and I cannot see why for that purpose we should not adhere to the existing practice of taking land by Provisional Order. The noble Earl objected to Provisional Orders because he said they took a very long time to get through and were also very expensive. Is that really the case? After all Parliament sits every year, and it could not take more than twelve months to get a scheme through Parliament by means of a Provisional Order. But what of the cost? I have looked into the cost of Provisional Orders and I see, though I cannot refer to any very recent dates, that a Committee on Private Business of the other House reported that the average cost to a local authority of an unopposed Provisional Order was only £80. I think your Lordships will admit that that is not much for a large town to pay. Even supposing that a Provisional Order is opposed the cost is not excessive, and I should like to give your Lordships a few statistics to show that the number of Orders opposed is an infinitesimal proportion of the whole. In the six years from 1892 to 1898 the average annual cost of opposed Provisional Orders was only £233. I repeat that that is not a very large sum for a wealthy community to pay. I find that in 1907 there were 106 Provisional Orders introduced into Parliament, of which four were opposed in your Lordships' House and 102 passed through the House unopposed. In the House of Commons seven of those Orders were opposed, and ninety-nine were unopposed. Then I come to the following year, 1908, and I find that the total number of Provisional Orders introduced was ninety; of these six were opposed in this House, and eighty-four were unopposed. In the House of Commons only one of those Provisional Orders was opposed and eighty-nine were unopposed. I give these figures because I think there has been a general opinion outside Parliament that the Provisional Order was a very costly, difficult, and lengthy method of procedure. I do not think that really is the case. I believe not merely that it is less expensive than most people think, but as a matter of procedure I gravely doubt whether your Lordships would be right in removing entirely from Parliament these great town planning schemes, which may be made to affect in a material degree the near future of our great towns all over the country.
1156 There may be some other Amendments to be proposed with which I need not trouble your Lordships now. I will only say, in reference to them, that I hope the Government will pardon us if on this side of the House we do put down a good many Amendments. I think we are, as your Lordships will admit, justified in doing so. The noble Earl who is conducting the Bill has stated that it passed through the other House with great rapidity. I think he said that fifty-two clauses were dealt with in a day. He also observed that although it passed through the House this year with great rapidity it was very carefully considered in the previous year by one of the Grand Committees. That may be perfectly true, but I would remind your Lordships that we have no access in any shape or form to the proceedings in Grand Committee on Bills which are under discussion by the House of Commons. Those proceedings are not reported, and all we know of the views entertained by these expert gentlemen—I am not for a moment calling into question their capacity to deal with the subject—is gained from the bare record of the way they have voted on Amendments which are submitted to them. Then I would point out that there are clauses which we been introduced this year and which have, owing to the operation of the guillotine, not even been mentioned during the discussion in the House of Commons. There is one which I do not know whether His Majesty's Government have really considered at all, or reflected as to its full meaning.
Let me give your Lordships an illustration of how these things may be allowed to slip through. I am informed by those who are competent to pronounce on the wording of the clause to which I refer that the effect of it would be that your Lordships would never be able to have a manservant to sleep in the basement of your house. I cannot believe that to be the intention of His Majesty's Government, but undoubtedly it was passed through the House of Commons without a single word being said upon it. I was glad, at any rate, to learn from the report of the speeches of the right hon. gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that he, at any rate, has some use for your Lordships' House, because in his hurry to get the Bill through the final stages in another place he made certain promises that when the Bill got 1157 up here he would propose some Amendments to meet objections which were taken there. That is a valuable admission that in your Lordships' House some of the errors allowed to slip through in another place may be corrected even by His Majesty's Government. I welcome this measure as a complementary measure to the Acts which stand upon the Statute Book, and which have had their inception and their initiation on this side of the House. I object to the tendency to remove matters from the control of Parliament. I think there are many details in which the Bill is ill-considered and ill-digested, but I think it offers an excellent opportunity for your Lordships' House to exercise its powers of revision, which are the most important of this Chamber, and I hope that the result of the Bill may be a solution of the difficult problem on which depends the health and comfort of the urban and rural working classes of this country.
THE LORD BISHOP OF BIRMINGHAM
My Lords, I will ask you to listen to me for a few moments on this Bill, but what I have to say is entirely with reference to what concerns our great cities, and not to what concerns the rural districts. I suppose there could be no assembly in which there are so many people qualified to speak on the details of rural affairs, so many people versed in the management of rural affairs, but I suppose there are not quite so many who have an intimate knowledge of the concerns of our great and still rapidly growing cities. We are all of us proud of our own city, and certainly I am very proud of the city in which I live. It is one of the very many which have grown up out of a number of villages in which factories were established, which grew together and have grown and become a vast city, altogether without what one might call any guiding mind or plan or scheme.
The noble Earl who has just sat down confessed that he became very easily wearied with the monotony and regularity of a city laid out like Vienna, and that a little experience of a German-planned city made him long for the tortuosity with which we are familiar in London. I venture to think that if any one of your Lordships were to set about the task of learning your way about Birmingham you would indeed feel that tortuosity and complication and absence of plan had been allowed to run to 1158 excess. I do not think it would be possible for any one to make a survey of many of our great cities, even of that in which I live, without feeling that the condition of things was in the highest degree disastrous to social and public welfare. You may pass vast areas in which there is no open space—for your Lordships must know that London stands, in respect to open spaces, as compared to a great many of our provincial towns, in a position of quite infinite superiority—and this is due, no doubt, to the fact that the city grew up totally without planning. There can be no one acquainted at all with the sanitary condition of the poorer parts of our cities who does not know that reform on a very large scale, and of a very drastic character, is necessary. I venture to say also that no one can be acquainted with the condition in which the suburbs are still being allowed to grow, and the extraordinary rapidity with which the new suburbs of our cities degenerate into slums, without knowing that a very careful, and, indeed, a deep-rooted and far-reaching plan and method of town planning is quite essential.
This Bill is designed, I presume, to meet those two particular evils; it is designed to meet the evils inherent in our slum dwellings, the small houses in the poorer parts of our cities, and also to limit, as far as can be limited, the evils due to the total absence of plans with which our cities are still being allowed to grow up. I was heartily glad to hear the noble Earl who has just sat down say what he did as to giving a general welcome to this Bill, though I do not exactly feel sure how much of amendment he intends to propose. At any rate, for my own part I heartily welcome the Bill as being on the whole a thoroughly beneficial measure entirely in the right direction. The noble Earl said what indeed is true, that it has not been our manner to encourage centralised government and bureaucracy. Is it not the case that any one acquainted with our English life must realise that there is a very large opportunity for us to limit the go-as you-please policy which Englishmen delight in without by any means speedily or easily arriving at the point of completely centralised bureaucracy? I do not think it would be possible for any one who knows the history of the efforts made in the last thirty years to remove the appalling evils with regard to housing, who knows the difficulties which those efforts have met 1159 with or has realised how often those efforts have been unsuccessful, to fail to see that we do need a great deal more of what we call central control.
I was glad to hear the noble Earl who introduced the Bill speak of the clause about the appointment of medical officers of health. What the noble Earl said upon this subject touches a point which must be familiar to any one acquainted with local politics—namely, the extreme need of giving a far greater measure of independence to the medical officer of health. I heartily welcome that particular clause. But there is one other clause with regard to which I should like to say a word. Those who in my neighbourhood are specially interested in this matter are profoundly impressed by the fact that we must rely to a great extent, not only on municipal efforts, but also on the efforts of public-spirited individuals and voluntary societies for the promotion of public utility. Therefore they are very urgent about Clause 61, subsection (b), which, I believe, was threatened in the House of Commons and survived with difficulty, and which would give the Local Government Board the power of interference. The clause provides that if the Local Government Board are satisfied on any representation, after holding a local inquiry, that a local authority have failed to adopt a scheme proposed by owners of any land in a case where the scheme ought to be adopted, the Board may order the local authority to prepare and submit for the approval of the Board such a town planning scheme and to adopt the scheme, or to consent to the modifications or conditions so imposed. The persons to whom I refer earnestly hope that His Majesty's Government will adhere to that clause, which gives the Local Government Board power to intervene where it appears that local public bodies have not been sufficiently willing to assist and co-operate with public-spirited individuals.
My Lords, there is one clause which was in the Bill but which is not in the Bill as it now appears, the absence of which some of us deeply deplore. I would earnestly ask this House whether it is not possible to restore, even at this stage, Clause 30. Clause 30, as it was, instituted a quinquennial survey and register. It made it the duty of every local authority to cause to be made in every parish an 1160 inspection survey as regards certain property; and the things which had to be registered included the addresses of the rated occupier and the beneficial owner. Those of us who have been interested in this matter for some time have cause to attach extraordinary importance to such a register. In part there is already an obligation upon the local authority to make a survey of the property within their region, but inquiries made by the National Housing Reform Council led to the recognition that this duty was being very widely neglected. It appears there were only sixteen, I think, out of 112 urban and rural district councils which effectively carried out the requirements of the law. Now I observe that in Clause 11 as it stands in the Bill there is power given to the Local Government Board to intervene to cause the local authority to be more efficient in the fulfilment of what is already their statutory obligation, but that falls very far short of the proposal in Clause 30 as it did stand in the Bill. An important deputation—introduced, I believe, by the most rev. Primate—laid great stress upon the importance of this survey and register, and I think I am right in saying that the late Prime Minister specially recognised the importance of that point. I should very much like to know from His Majesty's Government why it was that that clause was dropped out of the Bill. In part it may be on the plea of expense. It is not for me to estimate what the expense would be; but I venture to say that even considerable expense would be thoroughly justified in order that, we might have this register and know who owns, with the different degrees of ownership, the worst kinds of property to be encountered. in parts of our cities.
It was once my lot in London to have something to do with a society for the buying up of slum property in order to get it into better hands, and my experience of the extraordinary difficulty of ascertaining the name of the owner rooted in my mind the necessity of all information with regard to occupation ownership being accessible. I very much wonder whether the influences, which I have reason to believe are very strong influences, leading to a desire to conceal the ownership of the worst properties, have not had something to do with the resistance to what was Clause 30. There is no consideration which Parliament ought to entertain 1161 which makes it in any way desirable or excusable that the real ownership of the worst properties should be a matter difficult to ascertain, and I very seriously ask His Majesty's Government whether they will afford facilities for the restoration of Clause 30. I thank your Lordships for having listened to me, although I know there are very large parts of this Bill with regard to which I have no experience or knowledge to justify me in speaking; but I am quite sure that no one could be acquainted with the actual conditions of our cities without becoming alive to the fact that trenchant and wide reforms are necessarily and primarily required for the welfare of the poorer parts of the population—reforms so trenchant and far-reaching that, human nature being what it is and the interests involved being what they are, no one can hope that they can be carried through without having to encounter resistance and overcome opposition.
§ LORD BELPER
My Lords, I have no intention, in the few remarks I desire to make, of taking objection either to the principle of the Bill or to the policy which has induced the Government to bring this measure forward. I agree with what my noble friend the Chairman of Committees said, that we on this side of the House are quite as much in favour of the policy of housing the working classes as noble Lords opposite, and we see in any success this Bill may have a very valuable amendment of the law. But, as has been pointed out by Lord Beauchamp, this Bill has not received full discussion in the other House, and the reason I wish particularly to allude to one or two points is that Amendments which it was intended to be moved on behalf of the County Councils Association, and which would have been supported by Members conversant with local government on both sides of the House, had no opportunity of being brought forward, and there was no discussion in the other House on the points involved. Although the points which I speak of were not dealt with, yet I recognise that the position of the county councils under this Bill is considerably improved as compared with what it was in the Bill as originally brought forward. They are now more or less recognised as the main sanitary authority in a county, to whom there should be an appeal in cases where the minor authority neglects its duty before that 1162 appeal goes to the Local Government Board. In many cases the county councils are conversant with the circumstances of a particular district, and they may be able to arrange the matter satisfactorily in a case of default without its going to the Local Government Board.
The points to which our Amendments refer are points which have been dealt with rather fully by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees. We take special exception to some of the claims that are made for the Local Government Board to certain powers, many of which I believe are at all events quite unusual, and some quite unprecedented. Beyond that we feel that there are parts of the Bill which, if passed into law, would seriously affect the position of the local authorities, would be a distinct blow at local government, and would form a very dangerous precedent. In Clause 40 the Local Government Board are made the final court of appeal in all matters. With regard to matters of fact, and with regard to whether or not an authority has made default, we must recognise the Board as the final court of appeal; but I join my noble friend Lord Onslow in urging that the Local Government Board ought not to be made the final court of appeal in cases of law, and especially not in cases of law where they are parties themselves to the question that arises. Where there is a difference between the Board and a local authority as to the interpretation of the law or whether the view the Local Government Board takes is strictly within the Act of Parliament, it seems clear to me that the only satisfactory decision can be by a Court of Law.
Let me take another case. In Clause 10 power is given to the Local Government Board to make an order on the county council directing the county council to do the work themselves in cases where the minor authority makes default. This is not work which has been given to the county councils by Statute, and it does not seem to be within the discretion of the President of the Local Government Board, who has to administer the law, to decide that the county councils shall undertake work which they are not compelled by Statute to do. It may be desirable in certain cases that the county councils should undertake this work with their own consent, but if they are not willing it seems to me outside the powers of the President 1163 of the Local Government Board to require them to do so. Those are instances of the powers claimed for the Local Government Board in this Bill. But there is a much more serious claim which has already been alluded to—namely, the question whether in any of these schemes an Act of Parliament can be over-ridden. I am aware that at the last moment a clause was inserted in the other House which provided that in cases where an Act of Parliament was altered the scheme should lie upon the Table of the House for forty days; but I would put it to your Lordships whether the matter has been fully and deliberately considered by Parliament, and whether even in that case an Act of Parliament ought to be set aside by the scheme being laid upon the Table of the House. Although in many cases attention would no doubt be called to it, and probably there would be some security, there might be a number of small matters in which small people might be injured who would not have the power to get attention called to it in Parliament. The matter is, at all events, a very serious one. This is the first time, I think, that the head of a Department would be given power to over-ride an Act of Parliament. Although I am grateful for the Amendment inserted in the other House, it should certainly be considered whether it is sufficient, or whether the provision ought not to be struck out of the Bill altogether.
My noble friend the Lord Steward, in referring to the latter part of the Bill which is almost non-controversial, made a short reference to one particular point on which the County Councils Association feel very strongly indeed. The county councils are perfectly willing to take up the share of the work which falls to them under this Bill. They have not the least desire in any way to appear as interfering with the Local Government Board. They wish to cooperate with the Board with regard to that work; to assist, as far as they can, as the principal sanitary authority of the county, with the principal medical officer of health; and to do everything in their power to expedite the satisfactory operation of this Bill. They take no exception to the important provision—I do not think the clause was referred to—that every county council shall appoint a medical officer of health. County councils who at present possess medical officers recognise the great advantage of having a skilled officer of the highest class at the head of the county, 1164 not only in making reports to the council, but in using his influence in public health matters with the minor medical authorities.
But while entirely approving of that, we take the strongest possible exception to subsection (2) of Clause 68, which gives power to the Local Government Board to prescribe the duties of the medical officer of health. The county council appoint the officer; they have to pay him, and if it is necessary to say what are the duties to be carried out under this Act they ought to be laid down in the Act, and the county councils would direct their medical officers to carry out the duties so prescribed. But the Local Government Board have no right to interfere and prescribe the duties of a medical officer of health for a county. If this is done it is certain to lead to friction and misunderstanding, and as the medical officer of health, under subsection (5) of Clause 68, "shall be removable by the county council with the consent of the Local Government Board and not otherwise," of course, he will look upon the Local Government Board as his master and not the county council. I sincerely hope that the Local Government Board will see the desirability of leaving out both of these subsections. I know the noble Earl, in introducing this measure, referred to the fact that it is very necessary to guard, so to speak, the medical officer of health, for fear he should be interfered with by those who might be interested themselves in the housing schemes. Let me remind him that the county council have not the power of initiative under this Bill at all. I quite recognise that in the case of a small rural and urban district council carrying out sanitary work of this sort it may be necessary to protect their medical officer, but the county medical officer is in a totally different position. I hope I shall be able to show, when the Amendment is moved, that such a subsection is not necessary.
I have referred to these matters because they are of vital importance as far as the position of the county councils is concerned. We look upon them as matters which would really interfere with the due carrying out of their duties by the county council themselves. I have no wish to use threats with regard to any action which I, or those whom I represent, wish to take on this Bill, but I must say that if the principal part of our Amendments is not accepted, we would far rather see the Bill lost, however 1165 serious that might be, than that there should be provisions contained in it which we believe would be a serious blow at local government, and would form a dangerous precedent. All I can say, in conclusion, is that we have not the least wish to see that done. I hope the Bill will be passed, but I do appeal to the right hon. gentleman the President of the Local Government Board and to the Government that they will consider the points which I have brought forward, and that they will try and meet us in a reasonable manner, for I believe if our Amendments are carried they will not do harm to the efficiency of the Bill itself but will really contribute to its smooth working.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I join in the general welcome which has been given to the Bill to-night by every Member of the House who has spoken, and not least by those noble Lords who, with exceptional knowledge and authority, have criticised weightily and in a manner to awaken the interest of all of us some of the detailed provisions which the Bill contains. It is simply impossible for any of us who, like many who sit on the Episcopal Benches, have worked for years in the darker parts of our great cities, to regard without profound thankfulness the substantial part of the enactments embodied in this comprehensive Bill. It contains undoubtedly many details which are open to controversial treatment and in which it is possible that modifications may be desirable, but those who have drafted each part of this Bill and carried it through the other House seem to me to have an aim with which we ought all to be ready to sympathise, and with which I think every one who has spoken to-night does sympathise.
As to the first part of the Bill, relating to the housing of the working classes, it is, I suppose, the desire of every one that the main purpose of what is there set forth shall be given effect to—namely, that the houses in which the poorer members of our community are forced to dwell shall not only be, as the law requires, fit for human habitation when they are first entered upon, but that they shall, by some means or other, be kept so under proper authority from the beginning to the end. For example, Clause 44, to which some exception is likely to be taken, refers to back-to-back houses. I should be surprised if any one having 1166 personal knowledge of the difficulties consequent upon the erection of such houses would be prepared to stand up in this House and defend a system of construction which runs counter to every principle of wholesome comfort and even of decency, as well as of sanitation. Many of us have taken a prominent part in this House in advocating temperance reform and licensing reform, but I say unhesitatingly that if the purpose which this Bill sets itself to achieve can be wisely given effect to, it is more valuable than anything that we have endeavoured to aim at and accomplish by any Bill that I have had cognisance of with regard to either temperance or licensing reform. This question of the people's homes lies behind and below those particular endeavours, and we should effect very much by means of a Bill of this kind which we have endeavoured to effect in other ways.
Legislation of this sort cannot have its value fully gauged at the moment it is before the House. Thirty years hence people will be able to say that what we are doing now was a wise course of action to pursue. There has been some allusion to-night by the Bishop of Birmingham and by others to the section which has disappeared from this Bill, the section which was known in the House of Commons as Clause 30. There are many details with regard to that clause, as to the processes and cost of inspection, and so forth, on which I am not prepared to challenge the decision of those who have decided to withdraw the clause. What I do desire to learn is whether, if that clause is not to be persevered with, there is any connection between its abandonment and the cry which has been sometimes raised that if that clause were persevered in we should be gibbeting or making public in some offensive manner the names of the owners of the worst class of property. My Lords, to make those names public is exactly what we want to do. I maintain that a man is doing a distinct wrong to the community who endeavours to conceal his identity and his name, and yet is earning money out of property of which he is ashamed to acknowledge the ownership. I cannot conceive that that reason, at all events, ought to have influence upon the question of the retention or otherwise of such a clause as this, and I should be surprised to learn that that is the ground upon which the clause in its old form was withdrawn.
The second portion of the Bill, that which 1167 relates to town planning, is one, of course, in which the problems are less controversial than are the matters I have already referred to; but there, again, those of us who are acquainted with what in the large suburbs round our towns is the present condition of matters, the way in which houses are being pushed forward, the manner of the construction of the houses and the planning of the streets, know very well that in a few years the haphazard system now allowed will result in our having, not old slums, but new slums. Some control is absolutely necessary as to the manner in which land is to be covered with houses so as not to cause future difficulty. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees spoke as to his interest in our old streets. It is a very interesting thing to thread our way through the old streets of an ancient town, but to say that for that reason it is desirable we should repeat what we see in the old towns as regards narrowness and darkness, picturesque as these may be, and should run up houses in a way people are running them up now, seems to be a burlesque or distortion of the principles which ought to guide us. Nobody suggests, I imagine—certainly this Bill does not—that it is practicable for us in most of the great English towns to emulate the streets of a great Canadian city, making them sixty yards broad, with lines of trees and stretches of turf, and so forth. Those are possible where land is obtainable for the asking and the area covered is not likely to be crowded as our areas are. No one suggests, again, that we should place ourselves under a system of bureaucratic control such as is prevalent in Germany, but there is a wide difference between such results as that and what we are asking for when we say that there should be some control over the way in which our streets are being hurried and huddled forward in the suburbs of our great towns to-day. I believe it is true that modern experiments have shown it to be perfectly possible to make the plannings of new streets both profitable and convenient, and I hope that the main clauses of that kind in this Bill will be given effect to without hesitation or doubt.
There is one other point which I wish to refer to. It is in Part III of the Bill. I refer to the question as to the medical officer of health in our boroughs being a man who gives his whole time to the work, and who is not removable by the local 1168 folk whose actions he is often compelled to criticise. Most of us have heard of cases where a man has, in moments of outspoken honesty, said that he would long ago have protested against some of the conditions or facts which came under his notice as medical officer or sanitary inspector but for the uncertain conditions of his tenure of office. In this way the Bill is effecting a great change; and, taking it as a whole, I venture to believe it is a Bill which will, when it stands upon the Statute Book, be found to effect a genuine and beneficent change likely to be fruitful in years to come.
LORD ZOUCHE OF HARYNGWORTH
My Lords, having given some attention to some of the matters contained in this Bill, perhaps I may be allowed to endorse what has fallen from so many of your Lordships regarding the general idea and scope of the Bill as it deals with insanitary dwellings, and at the same time to express the hope that His Majesty's Government will see their way to accept many Amendments which appear to be desirable and absolutely necessary. Otherwise I think that this Bill will fall by its own weight. It is an extremely complicated Bill, and while seeking to remedy one evil we may, unless great care is taken, introduce others which do not appear at the moment on the surface.
Various points have been raised this evening which seem to require revision. I should like to draw attention to two more. There is a very drastic regulation in Clause 17 as to the duty of a local authority in closing a dwelling-house which is unfit for human habitation. This would specially deal with dwellings in what are known as basements in towns. I suppose there are a great many basement rooms where people sleep which are no doubt very unsatisfactory and ought to be rigidly dealt with. At the same time, if carried out too drastically I think it will prove to be a task almost of impossibility. It would practically mean the remodelling of an enormous portion of London and of other big towns. That is one thing which I am sure will be dealt with in a practical spirit by Amendments when the time comes. There is another point in the town planning part of the Bill. I allude to Clause 58, subsection (3), which is as follows—Where, by the operation of any town planning scheme, any property is increased in value the responsible authority, if they make a claim for the purpose within the time (if any) limited by the scheme (not being less than three months after the 1169 date when notice of the approval of the scheme is first published in the manner prescribed by regulations made by the Local Government Board), shall be entitled to recover from any person whose property is so increased in value the amount of that increase.By that clause the Local Government Board may, if they think right, claim the whole amount of what they say is the increased value of the particular property caused by a town planning scheme having been carried out.
Now, we have heard a great deal of discussion out of doors and in the other House about Increment Duties, but this appears to me, if I read the clause aright, to go very much further than anything that has been proposed as to an Increment Duty, because here the local authority do not merely tax the owner of the property upon the increased value, but they actually take the whole of it themselves—that is to say, they may say what is the increased value and may claim an amount of money equivalent to what they say is that increased value. In many cases this would, I am sure, be unworkable. Take the case of certain property worth, in round figures, £1,000. A town planning scheme is put in operation, and the local authority say it has increased that particular property by £500, and it is now worth £1,500. They can then claim from the owner of that property the odd £500, and that can be recovered as a debt. The question arises, How is this amount to be raised? In all probability, if it is a town property, it will be already heavily mortgaged in order to provide for the buildings erected upon it. If the owner is obliged to have recourse to a sale to raise the money it would be in the nature of an enforced sale, and perhaps not even the original value would be realised. Then comes a great difficulty which I have no doubt has not escaped your Lordships' notice and will probably be dealt with when the proper time arrives—namely, whether this will militate against any increment duty, or how you will get over the difficulty of paying on the increased value which, if it ever existed, has been actually taken away. These are some of the many points which require to be dealt with. Some of them are minor matters although of some importance. The proper housing of the people is one of the most important things we have to deal with, and I sincerely hope that this Bill, when properly amended, will prove a useful addition to the Statute Book and get rid of some of the 1170 worst complaints we have to deal with in the body politic. Therefore, I should not be one of those who would resist the general principles of the Bill, so long as these difficulties which I have mentioned are properly and effectively dealt with.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I agree that this is one of the most important Bills which has been brought to the notice of the House, but I am not quite so sanguine as some of those who have spoken to-night, particularly the most rev. Primate, as to the results of legislation of this kind. As far as my experience goes, it is far more because the legislation which is now at our disposal has not been properly used than that the powers do not exist which has made us behindhand in these matters. I am rather tired, after a certain length of experience, of seeing Bill after Bill of this kind, giving more and more power to local authorities, passed into law, for we make very little progress owing to the fact that there is no means of putting the powers which legislation places at our disposal into actual operation. I confess that what I like best, perhaps, about this Bill is that in some directions it does give power to enforce the carrying out of the Act in a way which has never been possible before. I do not, therefore, object to the increased power of superior authorities over the smaller district authorities.
But the strange part of this Bill, just as it was the strange part of the Small Holdings Act, is the extraordinary jealousy of county councils which the present Government always show. After all, the idea of county councils was, I always supposed, a Liberal idea. In the early days of my Parliamentary experience it was always my Radical opponents who were asking me whether I would go in for county councils, and although at last the County Councils Act was passed by a Conservative Government one would have thought that it was a proposal which would have met with the cordial acceptance of noble Lords opposite. Instead of that, when they come into office they curtail and fetter the powers of county councils as far as they possibly can. They are always talking about representative government, devolution, and so forth, and yet in other directions, whether it be education, small holdings, or the housing question, they are, as I say, limiting the powers of county councils and treating them as if they had not hitherto done their duty 1171 properly and were not likely to do it in the future. Broadly speaking, if half the powers which are given in this Bill to the Local Government Board were given instead to the county councils, I believe the Bill would be a very much better one.
I wish to ask His Majesty's Government —and this is the real reason why I venture to address your Lordships now—to tell us, either now or in the course of the Committee stage, what are their grounds for distrusting the county councils. In this particular Bill there is a very strange instance of distrust, and that is in regard to the appointment of the medical officer of health. Both the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, and the most rev. Primate spoke as if the medical officer was interfered with and fettered in the discharge of his duties by members of the county council. I think it was Lord Beauchamp who said that members of the county council were often interested in the very houses and property which the medical officer of health had to report upon, and therefore he did not get fair play. With rural and urban districts that may be perfectly true, but this is a clause which regulates the county councils, and the medical officers under county councils, and. I want to know what authority there is for saying that any county council has interfered with their medical officer. My own experience is that the county councils have for the most part, with some very few exceptions, been so anxious to promote the sanitary condition of their counties that, although they were not compelled by Statute, they have appointed medical officers, and I have heard over and over again laments on the part of the members of county councils that their powers under the Statute are so small to enforce sanitary improvements in their county. And I know that in most instances they have gone to the fullest extent of their powers in trying to remedy the sanitary conditions of the areas under their authority. The truth is, a county council is far too large a body—large in this sense, that it is chosen from too large an area—to have the sort of feeling which Lord Beauchamp seems to think it may have to the medical officer. It is true that you may have that feeling in a small district, and I think you should increase the powers of the county councils over small districts; but I do protest most strongly against such accusations being 1172 made against the county councils of England in introducing a Bill of this kind. I think that if they are made they should be proved to the hilt.
I do not know that I need detain your Lordships further to-night. There will, of course, be a great deal in the Committee stage which we shall have to say about this Bill. But I desire, before I sit down, to mention one other subject. The most rev. Primate hoped that the clause with regard to inspection had not been withdrawn because it would "gibbet" landlords who did not do their duty. I must confess that I was surprised that any one should think so. Those who are of that opinion might be referred to the report of the speech of the President of the Local Government Board in another place when he withdrew that clause. He entered very fully, in an admirable speech, into the reasons for withdrawing the clause. It was withdrawn, not in the interests of the landlords, but of the people whose interests it was supposed to serve. The right hon. gentleman has had considerable practical knowledge of the matter, and he considered it would not serve the interests of those people. I might also suggest that it was a most cumbrous and expensive provision and would have produced the maximum of labour and the maximum of cost with the least possible result. But whether that be so or not, I repudiate at once the idea that there was any thought of shielding bad landlords. I am sure no one in this House would wish to shield bad landlords, and I do not think that the most rev. Primate should entertain the possibility of the idea.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I think His Majesty's Government must be well satisfied with the reception this Bill has met with here. At any rate, it is perfectly clear that in no quarter of the House is there any kind of hostility to the Bill as a whole. There is every desire to co-operate with the Government in dealing with the housing problem, which the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, justly described as perhaps the most important part of social and sanitary reform. But I do not think the Government can be surprised that the Bill has been subjected to a great deal of criticism. I do not suppose there ever was a Bill more important in itself, and containing a larger number of technical and difficult details, which passed through the House of Commons with so little 1173 examination there. We have heard from the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees that practically there was no discussion of this Bill in public in another place, and therefore I was very glad to hear from the noble Earl opposite that ample opportunity would be given for the consideration of this measure in Committee here, and really I think he admitted that it rests with your Lordships' House to place the Bill into that shape in which it might properly become law.
I do not desire to detain your Lordships with any real discussion of the greater part of this Bill, but with regard to the town planning schemes I quite believe, with those who have already addressed your Lordships, that the time has come when it is very desirable that local authorities should have something to say in the laying out of new towns. I believe that that kind of interference with the free will which has hitherto guided the operations of owners of property in the neighbourhood of towns will be of great public benefit, and, if properly regulated, will do more good than harm to the owners of property themselves. I will not enter into the details of the alterations of existing Acts with which so large a part of this Bill is occupied, though I must say I agree with what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Zouche, that we ought not to legislate too minutely in matters of detail. Take, for example, that remarkable clause which I do not believe was subjected to any examination whatever in the House of Commons—Clause 17. That clause provides that —A room habitually used as a sleeping place, the surface of the floor of which is more than three feet below the surface of the part of the street adjoining or nearest to the room, shall for the purposes of this section be deemed to be a dwelling house so dangerous or injurious to health as to be unfit for human habitation, if the room either—and then it is laid down in the most minute detail that if such rooms do not come up to a great many requirements in the clause they shall be deemed unfit for human habitation. I believe there are thousands of houses to which this subsection as it now stands would apply and in which these basement rooms, although now occupied as sleeping rooms, would be illegally occupied. I know of a house in which I had the good fortune to reside myself for a good many years in Downing Street which would not comply with all the conditions laid down in this clause. 1174 If noble Lords opposite would be good enough, when they next call upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to look down at the area upon each side of the front door of that house, they would see that it is nothing like four feet wide, and that it has nothing like the area clear of the premises which is required by this clause. I think that all you can do in such a matter as this is to lay down general provisions and trust to the authority to carry out those provisions carefully and judiciously. I hope such proposals will be carefully examined when we go into Committee.
I am anxious to say a few words with regard to the very important provisions in this Bill which relate to rural areas. I do not profess to have any special acquaintance with those large cities of which the right rev. Prelate spoke with such force and knowledge, but I do know something of rural areas, and I confess that, although I am extremely anxious to promote better housing accommodation for the poor, I do not look with any sanguine expectations on the proposals of this Bill. No doubt you may find in very many parishes throughout England insufficient cottage accommodation, and such cottages as exist are in not a few cases not such as you would desire human beings to live in. But it is very difficult indeed to deal with this problem, and I fear that it is not adequately dealt with in this Bill. The great difficulty, of course, is the expense. What has prevented rural districts throughout England from adopting the provisions of Part III of the Housing of the Working Classes Act up to this date? The noble Earl said they had been adopted only in nine such cases. Does not that show that they feel they cannot adequately carry out those provisions? You may make Part III of this Act compulsory in all rural areas of this kind. No doubt that will be done; but when you have taken the rural councils to the water they will not voluntarily drink. That I am absolutely certain of. Rural councils are not constituted for carrying out building schemes of this kind. They are probably not very efficient bodies for the purpose, and have, I think, one great feeling beyond all others in their minds, and that is not to allow an indefinite increase of the rates.
The noble Earl pointed to the provisions of Clause 3, under which these authorities are enabled to borrow money at the cheapest possible rate from the 1175 Public Works Loan Commissioners. I should very much like to know why His Majesty's Government have not extended those favourable terms to other persons. Other persons beside local authorities are permitted to borrow for these purposes and are encouraged to do so by the existing Acts—such as railway companies, dock and harbour companies, companies formed for the promotion of labourers' dwellings, employers employing a considerable number of workmen, and even private owners of land, provided their interest is not less than the leasehold interest of fifty years. Why are such persons not to be allowed the same advantages in borrowing money from the Public Works Loan Commissioners as are to be given to these rural district councils? If these problems are to be solved, they are much more likely to be solved by individual effort, on philanthropic grounds to a certain extent, than by rural district councils. Wherever you find good cottages now in the rural districts of England they have been erected almost invariably by the landowners, I do not say by any means on philanthropic grounds alone, but with a desire that the dwellings for the labourers on their estates may be such as human beings can live in. Although it seems to be fashionable to suppose that nothing can be done by individual effort and that the State is likely to do more efficiently work formerly done by the individual, I believe that by individual effort can this matter best be solved, and I am certain that individual effort will be discouraged if rural district councils are forced by the Local Government Board to increase the rates by building operations.
Then, my Lords, I come to the power of the Local Government Board to compel by mandamus the district councils to put into force the provisions of Part III of the Act. As the law now stands, those provisions can only be put in force in a rural district area where the county council, after a local inquiry, was satisfied that the Act should be put in force, having regard to the necessity for the accommodation for the housing of the working classes in the area and what probability there is of such accommodation not being otherwise provided, and having regard also to the liability which would be incurred by the rates and to the question whether it is, in the circumstances, prudent for the local authority to undertake the provision 1176 of such accommodation. Those words have not been inserted in the Bill as it stands. I want to know, if the Board are to make an order compelling a rural district council to put those provisions in force, whether they ought not to be satisfied on the points on which the county council have to be satisfied under the existing law before allowing the adoption of Part III of the Act of 1890. Then, my Lords, the Local Government Board in England are to be the paramount authority in this matter. Their order is to be final after local inquiry. I entirely agree with what has fallen from several speakers, that there ought to be an appeal to the Courts of Law from the Local Government Board upon all questions of law, though perhaps not of fact.
Why is it that in this Bill His Majesty's Government have treated England differently from Scotland? If noble Lords will look at Clauses 10 and 11 they will see that in England the Local Government Board are supreme in matters referring to Part I of the Housing of the Working Classes Act and Part II or Part III of the principal Act. Their order settles everything. If you will turn, however, to the latter part of this Bill, to page 22, you will find provisions for the application of the Act to Scotland. There we find that Clauses 10 and 11, applicable to England, are not to be applied to Scotland. As regards Scotland all that the Local Government Board can do, if they consider a local authority to be in default, is—to apply by summary petition to either Division of the Court of Session or during vacation or recess to the Lord Ordinary on the Bills, which Division or Lord Ordinary are hereby authorised and directed to do therein and to dispose of the expenses of the proceedings as to the said Division or Lord Ordinary shall appear to be just.As far as I can see, in Scotland that leaves the whole authority in this matter to the Courts of Law. I should not ask for that in England, but I do ask His Majesty's Government why, having proposed these provisions for Scotland, everything in England is to be decided by the Local Government Board, and they are not to be subject to the jurisdiction of any Court at all?
With regard to the compulsory acquisition of land for the purposes of the Act, the noble Earl said that the provisions of the Small Holdings Act had been adopted. Well, that is not quite correct. No doubt the procedure is the same as under the Small Holdings Act, but 1177 there is a very important difference. In Clause 45 your Lordships will find that—Nothing in the Housing Acts shall authorise the acquisition for the purposes of those Acts of any land which is the site of an ancient monument or other object of archæological interest.And there is another Clause prohibiting altogether the acquisition of common lands, which, in these days, appear to be considered much more sacred than private lands. Why is that clause of the Small Holdings Act not incorporated which provides that no land acquired by railway and other companies or which forms any part of parks, gardens or pleasure grounds should be taken compulsorily under the Act? In rural districts land of that character cannot possibly be wanted for the erection of cottages, and it ought to be excluded from this Bill. I would express the hope that before we enter upon Committee these matters which I have ventured to allude to may be considered by His Majesty's Government, and that they will, at any rate, endeavour to meet the views which have been expressed by many speakers on this side of the House with regard to Amendments in this Bill. I am confident that if those views are met on fair and reasonable terms, we shall be able, before concluding our dealings with this Bill, to settle the provisions of a measure which may be of great benefit to the country in many respects, and which may do something to promote—though, not, I fear, as much as I should like to see—the erection of proper labourers' cottages in rural districts.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down believes that His Majesty's Government ought to be satisfied with the reception which this Bill has met with. I can say freely that the reception is quite as good a one as I expected, and perhaps in some respects better. It is true that some parts of the Bill have been subjected to somewhat close criticism, and it is foreshadowed that Amendments, not only numerous but drastic, are likely to be moved. But on the whole I think that the spirit in which we have brought this matter forward has been appreciated by your Lordships' House, and I hope that as the discussion proceeds we shall be able to defend some of those particular provisions 1178 to which exception has this afternoon been taken.
It has been said that this measure has not received a full meed of discussion in another place. Of course, in one sense that is true so far as the whole House is concerned and so far as this session is concerned. It is not, I think, our affair to discuss the methods in which in another place business is conducted. I frankly admit that we here are sufferers from the fact that the proceedings in the Standing Committees are not fully reported. On the other hand, I am told by those who take part in those discussions that the great, and, I believe, the universally admitted, merit of those Committees arises mainly from the fact that the proceedings are not reported, and that therefore no regular speeches are made. I believe that to be the fact, and those who agree with noble Lords opposite have come round to the belief that some of the most valuable work which is done in another place is done in the Committees upstairs. But I admit that it would be more agreeable to us if we had an opportunity of following more closely the discussions which have taken place there.
The noble Viscount who has just sat down alluded not very hopefully to the general adoption of Part III of the Act of 1890, and pointed out that in his view not a very great deal was to be hoped for from rural district councils in this matter. My Lords, we hope that the easier terms on which money is to be lent will have a real effect in encouraging the provision of houses. The noble Viscount asked why it was that if the easier terms were to be given to local authorities they could not be given to building companies, which were of a semi-philanthropic kind, and even to private individuals. Speaking only for myself, I should be glad if that could be done; but I think it was the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees who expressed his astonishment at the fact that the Treasury had been induced to agree even to this degree of extension of loans. I confess I should not go very hopefully to them to ask that loans of public money should be extended to these building companies, from whom in the very near future, in the matter of houses, much may be hoped, but to whom, having regard to the nature of the security, 1179 it might not be so easy to extend the provisions of this Act.
Much has been said upon the provisions of this Bill for the compulsory purchase of land without having recourse to Parliament, and the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees developed his objections to them at some length. It has already been pointed out that there is a precedent in the case of the Small Holdings Act of last year. There is an earlier precedent in the Local Government Act, 1894, in regard to the acquisition of land by parish councils. I think we must look at this matter from the general point of view of how you are going to make the machine work. I think it cannot be disputed that any other method of acquiring land must be more expensive and also more tedious than that which we propose. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees frankly admitted that in the case particularly of small parcels of land procedure by Provisional Order under the Lands Clauses Act was both costly and cumbersome, and he suggested that some such course might be adopted as that which was taken with regard to the Port of London Bill. Now in the case of the Port of London Bill, the Local Government Board were empowered, if the local authority applied, to authorise the purchase, but they would have to appoint some impartial person unconnected with themselves to hold an inquiry before the purchase could take effect. If that person was of opinion that, owing either to the situation of the land or its value, Parliamentary sanction ought to be required, then it would become a case for a Provisional Order; and in any case the purchase could not take effect until the draft had been laid for thirty days on the Table of both Houses. That provision was, I think, very fairly inserted in the case of the Port of London. In that case it was very likely that the authority would seek to acquire and belonging to those who were, or might be, their rivals in business—people in distinct competition with them. I do not see how any case of that kind could occur in this instance, and I think before suggesting a course which is certainly slower, and also would lead to considerably more expense, the noble Earl ought to establish some closer analogy between the circumstances which affect the Port of London and those which affect local authorities who may seek to buy land for these purposes.
1180 It has been said throughout the debate that excessive powers are given all through to the Local Government Board. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees read out a long list of the powers given. The powers no doubt are considerable, but you have to consider, as I said before, whether you can make your machine work, and it is important to bear in mind that you may produce a scheme on paper extremely complete in all its parts, safeguarding everybody, full of appeals, and altogether admirably correct in all its details, but so correct that nothing will be done under it. And therefore, when your Lordships are preparing or desiring to amend the Bill by multiplying appeals, by making provisions for this, that, or the other to lie on the Table of your Lordships' House or to come before Parliament, you must bear in mind that if you do that too freely you may produce a Bill which will look very well but will suffer the fate of a great many former Acts which have had to do with the acquisition of land for public purposes—namely, that no one will proceed under it. I hope, therefore, that in putting Amendments forward your Lordships will bear this consideration in mind.
After all, this is not a question of the Local Government Board on one side, of what powers they ought to have or what their position ought to be, and of the county councils on the other. Both the Local Government Board and the county councils simply represent a means to an end to do business for the benefit of the inhabitants of this country. Neither of them are institutions which date from Mount Sinai. They have to serve a public purpose, and it is not a question of amour propre on the one hand, or, as I venture to think, of purely abstract considerations of centralised powers on the other, so much as of what in a measure like this will make it really valuable and useful for the purposes for which it is designed. Now, as regards town planning, the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees hoped that we should not fall into the manner of creating towns such as exist in some countries on the Continent of Europe. I think there is no risk of a Vienna arising in these islands. I am almost inclined to wish that there were such a risk, for Vienna has always seemed to me a most beautiful city. Neither do I believe that there is the smallest risk in this country —the fear was expressed by the Lord 1181 Bishop of Birmingham—of our falling under the domination of a hard bureaucracy. On the contrary, the difficulty is, in my opinion, to get those who are interested in local business to be, if I may say so, bureaucratic enough, and not to depend too much upon the mere chances and inspiration of the moment.
My Lords, there are special considerations, which I was glad to see were recognised by the noble Duke opposite, the Duke of Northumberland, in relation to the minor authorities which certainly make some degree of supervision most desirable. It is a matter of common knowledge to us that on district councils, both rural and urban, it is a very frequent thing for those interested in speculative building and in land speculation to obtain seats, and if a census were taken I think it might surprise us to find what a very large number of members of those local bodies are interested in the one trade or the other. Nobody blames those gentleman for going on to these bodies to look after their own interests, but the consequence does undoubtedly follow that the proceedings of those bodies demand close supervision, and that supervision, as I hope and believe, they will receive in some cases from the county councils, and in other cases from the Local Government Board under this Bill.
I need say very little about this question of town planning because it has received, I think, general acceptance from your Lordships. But it is important to remember that there are a great number of owners of building land, not very well off, who are compelled to realise their land as they can, and are only able as matters now stand to realise it through the agency of the jerry builder. That, we hope, will cease to a very great extent by the operation of the town planning clauses of this Bill. Where land is split up into a diversity of ownerships, the development has generally proceeded on the wrong lines, and it would be impossible that it should be otherwise except by some such provisions as we now propose. Here, again, it is said that the Local Government Board have been given too much power, and it has been said that they ought not to be judges in their own case. But there are no cases under this Bill to which the Local Government Board can be said in any strict sense to be party. They do not promote any schemes of their own, 1182 they pass other people's schemes. Therefore it is surely not strictly accurate to describe them as being in any sense parties where decisions have to be made. They are only so far interested—if that is the word to use—that they can modify schemes which are put before them. They are not promoters, and it is somewhat an abuse of language to speak of them as being in any sense parties to the case.
It is said that the powers of county councils are being limited by this Bill. That, again, seems to me to be not a strictly accurate way of describing what is proposed. It is true, no doubt, that provision is made for dealing with default in certain cases. Even those who have the greatest admiration for county councils—and I claim to have as much admiration for them as anybody—must be prepared to admit, however, that they are not all equally meritorious in these social matters. So long as county councils, or, indeed, minor bodies mentioned in this Bill, do their duty generally in regard to these housing questions they will not be interfered with in any way by the Local Government Board. It does not seem to me to suggest any slight to the great majority of those bodies to insert a provision in a Bill to the effect that, assuming they fail in particular instances, they should be subject to the control of the central authority. I think it is carrying sensitiveness on such matters rather too tar to object to such control, unless it is intended to be seriously argued that the control is likely to be misused.
My right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board has received in the course of this debate many compliments to which I have listened with great pleasure. It was suggested by the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Onslow) that the right hon. gentleman might not be in perpetuity in his present office. My Lords, I say without hesitation that whoever may be there and to whatever Party he may belong, whether he be selected from among noble Lords opposite or anywhere else, I should not fear any misuse by the holder of that office of the powers conferred upon his Department under this Bill. It is sometimes said of other Departments that you ought not to confer wide powers upon them because matters of acute controversy affecting the opinions and beliefs of various people which have, unhappily, become the subjects 1183 of party dispute, may have to be settled by administrative action. But, my Lords, in cases of this kind nothing of the sort can arise. All the proceedings under this Act will be of the most cold-blooded character. There is nothing about them to excite prejudice, resentment, or party feeling. The question whether or not a particular 100 acres of land ought to be laid out as a town is not one that stirs the blood of anybody, except, perhaps, that of the fortunate gentleman who thinks he may have a chance of selling those acres. It is a question on which the Local Government Board could be trusted to give an absolutely cool and impartial opinion. This, then, is another matter which I would ask noble Lords to bear in mind in framing their Amendments. When you speak of conferring powers on a central department it is not only important to consider on one side the magnitude of those powers, but also the character of the subject on which they are to be applied.
The only other point, I think, which was raised, and with which I have not dealt, was that with regard to the medical officer of health of the county council being in some degree subject to the Local Government Board. I fully admit that there is a very marked difference, well known to all of us who are familiar with county conditions, between the position of the medical officer of health of a county council and that of the medical officer of the smaller bodies. His position, no doubt, is generally safeguarded by the considerations mentioned, among others, by the noble Duke opposite. The representations of the noble Lord who speaks for the county councils will, I am sure on that point, be very carefully considered by my right hon. friend, although, of course, I am not able to say how far my right hon. friend will be able to meet the noble Lord. I quite agree that this measure ought to have, and I have no doubt will have, very full consideration on the Committee stage, and we shall make a point, so far as we can, of seeing that ample time is provided for that purpose. I have myself the highest hopes on the result of this measure, although, as was said very truly by the most rev. Primate, its results will be seen by another generation far more clearly than they can be by us. I believe this measure is the starting point of a new order of things, but that new order can only come gradually and slowly into operation. I am also in agreement with the most rev. Primate 1184 when he said that he believed that, taking it all in all, this is the most important social question existing.
For I have always felt that, whether it might be in the town, or whether it might be in the country, it is impossible to suppose that all the pains you might take to make your education system perfect could ever be genuinely successful if the children to be taught were living in homes which were little better than pigsties, perhaps worse than cellars. Equally, I have felt, with regard to the drink problem, that whatever you might do by means of Licensing Acts or in other ways it was impossible to cope to the full extent with the evil of excessive drinking as long as people live in intolerable homes. For that reason I am very glad indeed to know that we are trying to do what we can to encounter this great national evil, which has not diminished as one would have hoped to see it do, with the advance of wealth and all the refinements of civilisation which we enjoy in these latter days. All the benefits of cheap transit and of the other social advantages which the poorer classes now enjoy have not enabled them as a class to be very much better housed. It has been said, and said truly, by more than one speaker that there was nothing more depressing or disheartening in this country than the sight of the brand new slums which rise up in the suburbs of our great towns. Anything more depressing than some of the great suburbs to the eastward of London I think can hardly meet the eye of man. I hope, therefore, that the effects of this Bill will not merely be positive and mandatory, but that they will also be very largely educative in the way of bringing home a sense of some of our national deficiences to local authorities and to individuals.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.