Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act 1875
The Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act 1875 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom designed by Richard Cross, Home Secretary during Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's second Conservative Government, which involved allowing local councils to buy up areas of slum dwellings in order to clear and then rebuild them. It formed part of Disraeli's social reform initiative aimed at the "elevation of the people" (the working class), a policy stated in his 1872 speeches at Manchester and Crystal Palace, and associated with his doctrine of One Nation Conservatism. Also, key individuals, such as the philanthropist Octavia Hill, helped pressurise the government into passing the Act.
- Compel owners of slum dwelling to sell to councils, who must provide compensation.
- Take advantage of lower than normal interest rates from the Government.
- Demolish the areas of slum housing to be redeveloped by commercial builders.
Considered one of most significant acts of Disraeli's administration (he said it was their "chief measure") the act was a classic example of permissive legislation that typified Disraeli's social policy. Councils were not compelled to take action and, due to the obvious cost involved, few did. In fact by 1881, only 10 out of 87 towns in England and Wales used their permitted powers. The most notable major redevelopment occurred in Birmingham under the Prominent, Radical Liberal Member of Parliament, Joseph Chamberlain, founder of the National Liberal Federation. There, it led to the creation of Corporation Street; overall however, it proved ineffective.
There are several reasons why the act was permissive, the main one being the protection of property rights. Many felt the act was an infringement of such rights, including many within the party, who pressurised Richard Cross against making it compulsory. Also, it may have been seen to be an attack on landlords, traditional Tory voters. As well as this, it was passed in a time where the Government adopted a predominately laissez-faire attitude to politics. Disraeli proclaimed in June 1875: "Permissive legislation is the characteristic of a free people".
- Robert Blake, Disraeli (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966), p. 554.