HC Deb 24 March 1871 vol 205 cc575-96

said, he wished to bring under the notice of the House and of the Government the condition of the most helpless and hopeless class in the United Kingdom—namely, the agricultural labourers of Ireland. Last year, during the passing of the Land Bill, he had been anxious to make some provision for the encouragement of the erection of suitable habitations for these unfortunate people, but he was unable to do so. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. C. Fortescue), who had charge of the Bill, opposed the proposals made by him (Mr. W. H. Gregory) not on the merits or demerits of the proposal, but that the subject was too large to be fully and fairly entered into in a Land Bill. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that it deserved the fullest consideration, and gave the House to understand that it was the intention of the Government to legislate in the coming Session for the evils which he fully acknowledged. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory) considered that no land-lord-and-tenant legislation could be complete which left the misery of this large portion of the population of Ireland un- touched, and he regarded a Bill for the improvement of the Irish labourers' condition as the corollary and complement of the Land Act. He, of course, did not look forward to Utopian schemes of finding constant employment and high wages for these people; all that he wished to do was, what legislation could without difficulty effect—namely, to encourage the erection of suitable habitations for labourers, and to discourage those habitations which at present were occupied by human beings, but which would not be considered in England as fit for brutes. There was a Report drawn up last year by the Irish Poor Law Inspectors, on the condition of the Irish labourers. Their testimony was almost unanimous, and it was to this effect—that discontent was general among that class, chiefly owing to the miserable habitations in which they were condemned to dwell; that the sense of their degraded condition and their constant privations made them hopeless, and, in some cases, reckless and desperate; and that, almost without exception, they despaired of rising to anything approaching to decent comfort in their own country; and, consequently, that all their thoughts were directed to America. On the other hand, it was stated that where they held directly from the landlord they were generally cheerful and contented. Now, let the House hear the numbers that were included in this class. There were 479,000 agricultural labourers in Ireland. Of these, 336,000 were occupiers of what are called cottages, but of what would in England be called hovels, and 80,000 were living with their families in one room. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory) would quote only one or two passages from these trustworthy Reports, to show the condition and feelings of this large portion of the population. Mr. Robinson, writing of Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow, Kildare, Kilkenny, Meath, Queen's County, and Wexford, some of the most prosperous and civilized counties in Ireland, says— Labourers are discontented, because of the manner in which they are housed. Those who work for owners cultivating their own lands are often provided with suitable well-built cottages. Labourers so circumstanced are contented. Mr. O'Brien, writing of Louth, Armagh, Cavan, Dublin, Fermanagh, Monaghan, and Tyrone, says—"Discontent appears unquestionably to be the prevailing sentiment amongst the class in question." He shows that though wages have risen, prices have largely risen also—the cost of living in the workhouses for the year ending September, 1869, being double that of the year ending September, 1849. But his account not only from his own experience, but from the reliable statements of medical officers of different Unions of the condition of labourers' habitations is lamentable. Here is one testimony— The house accommodation of the labourers is simply wretched. Their houses are seldom fit to keep out the rain; the floors are damp; the windows do not deserve the name—mere holes frequently stuffed with rags; they have very rarely built chimney braces, and in nine cases out often are filled with smoke every time a fire is put on. No matter how large the family, there is never more than one sleeping place off the kitchen, in which they are just huddled together. Nothing can be more miserable than the habitations of the agricultural labourers, for they cannot be called houses. They are a disgrace to the Christianity and civilization of the country. If the farmers have claims for an improvement of their status, the labourers have a hundred times stronger claims. Another medical officer writes— Their cabins are the most wretched in the world, being small and without ventilation or light—some not having chimneys, and all with damp clay floors. Some let in the rain. Their furniture and their bed-covering are on a par with their houses. The atmosphere of these cabins, combined with the other privations they are subjected to, has made this class particularly susceptible to low fever and pulmonary complaints. Mr. Burke, writing of Galway, Clare, Kerry, King's County, Limerick, and Queen's County, says— The labourers are discontented … … The labourer occupies a miserable cabin, for which he pays 1s. a-week to the farmer on whose land it happens to be. When repairs are wanted he must execute them himself, receiving an allowance only in rare instances. In the case of labourers employed by the gentry or higher classes, the service of the workman is lighter, and his relation to his employer more cordial. Moreover, he finds in his master and his master's family sure friends when sickness or misfortune overtakes him. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory) wished this passage to be borne in mind, for it tallied with the reports received from all quarters, and determined him as far as possible in any legislation to place the labourer under the landlord rather than under the farmer; for this he well knew, in spite of all the hard things said of Irish landlords, that there was no discontent on the part of labourers living under them and working for them; and that if all the labourers in Ireland were polled, there would hardly be found a single man who would not pray to be under the landlord in preference to being under the farmer. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory), therefore, would recommend, in the first place, that every encouragement should be given to landlords to erect cottages for their labourers—and one of the first objects was to enable them to construct them with the minimum of expense. The terms offered by the Board of Works were extremely liberal; but, unfortunately, the conditions of that, in other respects, most excellent Act of Parliament, Sir William Somerville's Cottier Tenements Act, were so multifarious and onerous that landlords were unwilling to avail themselves of public loans. The consequence was that only £51,000 had been taken from the Board of Works for labourers' cottages. This was, however, no criterion of what was doing, as many landlords were erecting this class of house at their own expense, and putting other cottages into creditable condition. There was an interesting treatise written by Mr. Kebbel, on the condition of the English agricultural labourer, which throws some light on this subject. He says— One of the difficulties, if not the main difficulty, connected with the building of cottages is that of rent—one-seventh of the labourer's income is computed at what would be a fair rent. If a cottage could be built for £60 in Ireland—and his (Mr. W. H. Gregory's) experience proved that it could be so built—at 6 per cent, the labourer would have to pay £3 10s. a-year. Thus 1s. a-week would go near to give an owner a fair return for his money, though not to a speculator. Mr. Kebbel goes on to say— If the cottager holds from the farmer, he cannot carry his labour to the best market—he must take the wages offered to him, and, perhaps, part of the year be without employment. He quoted Mr. Boyle and Mr. Hunter, who, in their Report to the Privy Council, gave as their opinion, from their experience of that part of England which they inspected— That the worst cottages were small freeholds, inhabited generally by persons too poor to make the necessary repairs. The next in the scale of badness were those of small proprietors and speculators, who invested in them as a money speculation, and who charged a high rent and spent little in repairs. The best were those belonging to large proprietors, who charged a rent without actually looking to repayment of the outlay. And both these gentlemen conclude— That a cottage ought to be considered in the light of farm buildings, from which the landlord expects no return, except in the shape of part of the rent of the farm. All these reasons applied to Ireland; but there were other reasons, too. If the tenants on an estate were allowed to take the initiative in building cottages, you would have a widespread system of division and subletting, against which your legislation has been deservedly directed; and things would be even worse than before, for legislation would be giving encouragement to, and actually affording the means for the propagation of unmitigated evil. There was no doubt also that the labourer would become a mere serf to the farmer, dependent on him for employment, and obliged to accept whatever wages he might offer. The first provision, therefore, should be to encourage the landlord to build the labourers' houses necessary for the property. Cases, however, might arise where a landlord would do nothing. He had been furnished with an instance in the case of Kanturk. That town belonged to Lord Egmont. He had levelled a large number of houses; but he absolutely refused to grant a lease, or to allow cottages or buildings to be erected in the town, as being "contrary to the rules of the estate," and over 400 people evicted from their former habitations were now crowded together in misery and squalor, and to the great danger of the health of the locality. Such was the statement made to him. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory) was bound to add that he heard that the persons ejected were compensated by the agent. In that case it might be permitted to the tenant of a farm of a certain size to build the cottage, under restrictions as to the character of the building, and with clear provisions that it should not be made a vehicle for subdivision and subletting, and encouragement might also be given for the building of cottages in towns. Now, one word as regards subletting. A certain amount of agricultural land should be attached to the dwelling; but a limit should be placed upon it, or the worst state of things would arise by the labourer ceasing to be a labourer and becoming a small farmer; but it would be absolutely essential that this condition should be relaxed so far as a plot of grazing land was concerned, to enable him to keep a cow, the great object of desire to every labourer in Ireland, and which made the whole difference to him between comfort and misery as regarded his own nourishment and the health of his family. The annual value to the labourer in England of a cow is computed at £12. These, then, were his recommendations—that the labourer's cottage should, if possible, be built by the landlord; that the over-stringent regulations of the Cottier Tenements Act should be relaxed—though a check as to the character of the structure should be required; that only a small portion of agricultural land should be attached, but that the restriction maybe relaxed in favour of grass for a cow; that the landlord may grant to an undoubted labourer a larger amount of land than that contemplated by the Land Act, without constituting him a tenant under the Act; that the tenant, in case of the landlord's refusal, may be allowed to build, but only on holdings of a certain size; and that he should be obliged to give ample proof that the transaction was of a bonâ fide character, and not with a view to evade the law, and subdivide the holding. There was, however, one more recommendation, even more important than all these, without which, in his (Mr. W. H. Gregory's) opinion, legislation would be absolutely hopeless, and that was this—that all rent-paying cottages should be subject to inspection, and that no rent should be recoverable from any habitation till it was fit for the housing of human beings. Who was to do this? The relieving and sanitary officer might be called on to report to the Board of Guardians of each Union on the condition of the houses in each townland, and a notice might be served on the landlord and receiver that, unless the habitation be placed within the shortest period in habitable condition, no demand for rent should be valid. It was impossible to reach the existing state of things without some such remedy. Good houses might be erected for many labourers; but it would be impossible to get at those horrible hovels which made a stranger's heart grow cold within him, and which were a disgrace to our Christianity and civilization, and which were, moreover, the propagators of pestilence throughout a district. He would detain the House a few minutes while giving an example of the horrible misery which was allowed to exist, against every remonstrance, on some estates in Ireland. On a property in the Union to which he (Mr. W. H. Gregory) belonged in Ireland, there were two or three villages which were reported by the relieving officer to the Board of Guardians to be in a shocking condition of misery, and the hot-beds of fever. The medical officer, a most trustworthy, conscientious gentleman, sent in his report. He described the houses as devoid of thatch—that the rain poured in upon the floor—that the unfortunate inhabitants had not even a bed, but were lying on wet straw; and that in one village alone there were over 30 cases of typhoid fever and eight deaths during a short period of the commencement of last year. The estate was in Chancery, and the Guardians requested, in more than one communication, the receiver to do something to assist these poor people to put their houses in order; but no reply came. He (Mr. W. H. Gregory) did not blame the receiver, who had the character of being a kind, humane man. His hands were clearly tied. In last September the disease again broke out, and the medical officer again reported the condition of these villages to the Board. His report was forwarded to the Master in Chancery, and this was the answer— Let the receiver call on the Guardians to state precisely what they require him to do, and state also the Act of Parliament under which they claim authority to interfere with the property of the minors in this matter, and with the receiver acting under the Court. The Guardians sent the following reply: A copy of the Master's ruling with reference to a letter forwarded by this Board to him having been brought before them, they have to state they did not ground their application on any Act of Parliament, under which they could claim authority to interfere with the property of the minors, their only desire being to alleviate the painful state of things brought under their notice by the medical and sanitary officers of the Union; and if the Master and receiver cannot be influenced by the feelings of humanity which have prompted this Board to appeal to them, things must, of course, remain in their present scandalous position. The Master's reply was to return the resolution, with this comment— I have to inform you that I do not consider it consistent with my official duty to exercise feelings of humanity at the expense of minors, whose property is, by the Court, placed under my official care, without any legal right or authority to incur such expense, and that my refusing to do so until a proper authority was first obtained, as expressed in my ruling, does not appear to me a justification for transmitting to me, what I am sorry to be obliged to regard as an impertinent communication, which I return. It is well the House should know the name of this official, "who does not consider it consistent with his duty to exercise feelings of humanity," who says he has no legal right to incur any expense in the case of these unfortunate tenants. His name was Master Fitzgibbon. This was the same Master who recently, in his management of the property of Fagan's Minors, insisted on the tenant signing agreements that he would not avail himself of the provisions of the Land Act; and he (Mr. W. H. Gregory) considered his conduct as disgraceful to his private character as to the high and responsible position which he occupied. It was notorious that this correspondence was the result of obstinacy and ill-humour; for he (Mr. W. H. Gregory) never knew of a case in which a Master did not order necessary works to be done on a property; and he wished most cordially that Master Fitzgibbon might be forced to occupy, for one rainy night, one of these hovels to which he had condemned so many of his fellow-creatures to abide in till fever and ague removed them to a better and a happier world. Now, bear in mind that these poor wretches were not squatters, but payers of rent. Here is an authentic account of them— There are 14 houses in the village where fever existed, and of these 13 paid rent, one only being occupied by a squatter. There were 36 cases of fever altogether in Shehanagh village, and of these 11 are dead. The great majority of the houses are in wretched repair, and, to my own knowledge, rain falling down on the bed of a fever patient was not uncommon. This was from the medical officer of the district. If his proposals for inspection, and that no rent should be exacted in such cases as these, which were too common, alas! such men as Master Fitzgibbon would not be entreated in vain to indulge in feelings of humanity—they would be compelled to do their duty. They were now holding an inquiry as to the state of Westmeath and Meath. The Reports of the Poor Law Inspectors had informed the House that the miserable condition of the labourers of Meath was one of the causes of discontent and outrage in that district; and he was determined, for one, to ascertain from every competent witness whether this statement was not correct, and whether remedies for, as well as repression of, crime were not still essential. Were the legislation which he now advocated to involve a great consumption of time, he would not feel justified, after the kindness of English and Scotch Members in permitting Irish business to occupy the whole of two Sessions, to press this subject amid so many other claims on the attention of the Government. But a Bill embodying all the provisions he had alluded to would involve no protracted deliberations. He was sure that if the hon. Baronet the Member for Londonderry (Sir Frederick W. Heygate), and the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Whitwell), and the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire), were to meet together with the noble Lord, they could in half an hour frame the heading of a Bill. It was urgently required. These poor men, so helpless and so hopeless, had no particular power; they commanded no votes; they had not the self assertion, the means of co-operation, or the education of a town population. All the more reason, then, for Parliament to listen to their cry. The old saying of "Qui laborat orat" was, indeed, true with them. They pray you to do something to raise their condition, and their habitations above—aye, or even equal to—that of the cattle of the field; they pray you to be allowed a seat at Nature's table in their own land, and that their gaze may not ever be turned from Ireland to America as the only chance of changing that which is now but existence into life and hope; and if you grant that prayer, you may rely on it that their prayer in return will be not for anarchy and confusion, but for peace, plenty, and employment; and that, in return for good treatment, they will give you the best return in their power—namely, good conduct and honest work. The hon. Member concluded by moving the Resolution.


said, he had great pleasure in seconding the Resolution. He could not agree with everything the hon. Gentleman had said; but, still, his object must commend itself to the common sense of everyone interested in the welfare of Ireland. The question was not, in any degree, a political one; for, as the hon. Gentleman had stated, that part of the population who would be benefited by a measure of this kind had no votes. They numbered, however, 400,000, so that this proposal involved the happiness, with those connected with them, of more than 2,000,000 persons, or about two-fifths of the whole population. Their condition was in no way improved by the legislation of last year; but he understood that a positive promise had been given by the late Chief Secretary that a measure would be brought before Parliament to ameliorate their condition. When he (Sir Frederick Heygate) last year had given Notice of a clause in the Irish Land Bill, which he was convinced would have had a most beneficial effect, he was met by the Government by a point blank refusal to consider it, and the Prime Minister said that the question had nothing to do with the Land Bill, and that it was not the duty of the Government to provide a nostrum for agricultural labourers. If this were a nostrum it was an important one, for much of the disaffection in Ireland was due to the miserable houses in which a large portion of the population lived. Improvement had been made in their education, their food, their wages, and their clothing; but in their habitations there had been little or no improvement. According to the Census Returns of 1861—which, it was true, were somewhat old—there were 377,742 families living in first and second-class houses; 593,496 in third-class houses; and 197,062 in fourth-class houses, or nearly double the number of those dwelling in first and second-class houses. The description given in the Census of these dwellings was that a third-class house was a mud cabin of one, two, three, or four rooms, with a door and windows; a fourth-class house was a mud cabin with a door, but without a window; and there was a total of 750,558 families living in these two classes of houses. It might be that the number had slightly diminished since these Returns were made, but still it was not materially reduced; and it was almost useless to try to raise the condition of the country while the people occupied hovels of so miserable a character. The matter was a most difficult one to deal with. He could not go so far as the hon. Member for Galway in proposing direct legislative action against this evil, because there was danger lest they should reverse the natural order of things, and make the habitation of the labourer better than that of the farmer who employed him. He (Sir Frederick Heygate) was never able to obtain anything like a return from these cottages; because when he had paid rates, repairs, and taxes, and exercised humane considerations, there was very little, or none, of the rent left. It was said that loans for cottage improvement were advanced on very reasonable terms under Sir William Somerville's Act; but there were many objections to applications for them. The total amount wanted must be applied for all at once; it must be stated where the cottages were all to be built; the application must be accompanied by complete plans; and the cottages must be built within a certain time and under certain conditions; and when all the conditions had been complied with, you would probably have cottages out of all proportion to the means of the labourers, and, perhaps, better than the house occupied by the farmers. Easy as the terms were, it was difficult to find labourers at all anxious to pay additional rent for additional accommodation. In fact, old people did not like to live in better houses than they had been used to; but their children generally appreciated improved dwellings; and this was an illustration of the gradual way in which the condition of the country in this respect could be ameliorated. People could not be forced to adopt a mode of living foreign to their habits; but, at all events, they might be tempted to make improvements, and in order that they might be encouraged to do so, he would suggest that loans should be offered in such a manner as to make it to the interest of both landlord and tenant to obtain them. The Amendment which he proposed last year in the Land Bill would have enabled the landlord and tenant together, or the tenant with the consent of the landlord, to borrow small sums from the Board of Works for purposes of improvement of farms, draining, and building; the interest being charged upon the farm and repaid by the landlord or the tenant, or both jointly. Such loans he recommended should be accompanied by a condition that a certain proportion of cottages must be built out of the money advanced. It was with this object that he attempted unsuccessfully to introduce provisions for the building of cottages into the Irish Land Act. However much landlords were respon- sible for the condition of labourers, he would remind the House that their position was very much altered by the Act of last year. In taking from landlords much of the power over their property, Government had, to a certain extent, assumed responsibility, which formerly devolved on the landlords, with reference to the habitations of labourers. A measure of the kind now advocated was a matter which exceeded all political measures—he had almost said all religious measures—in its effect upon the loyalty and contentment of the people, for nothing could have a greater tendency to make a people contented and loyal than an improvement of their comfort and condition. He hoped the Government would not regard this as a question interesting one party more than another; and if they took it up with the view of devising a remedy, he would gladly afford them all the assistance in his power.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is expedient that measures should be taken, in the present Session of Parliament, to improve the condition of agricultural labourers' habitations in Ireland,"—(Mr. William Henry Gregory,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, he concurred generally in the views of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory); but it was important to avoid doing anything which should destroy identity of interest and feeling at present existing between tenants and labourers; to separate them would be to sow the seeds of discontent, particularly upon the estates of absentee landlords, who could not do justice as between labourers and tenants when differences arose, and which an agent might not be able to settle to their satisfaction. The conditions of Sir William Somerville's Act were such that few proprietors availed themselves of it. Reference had been made to the rents which might be imposed upon the occupiers of cottages, and it was said that, to induce the building of cottages, they must return a rent of from £2 10s. or £3 10s. a-year; but he knew of no class of agricultural labourers in Ireland who could afford to pay out of their wages of from 5s. to 10s. per week such an amount of rent as was paid by the like class in England. If the Government lent sums of money for 35 years at a low rate of interest, farmers who desired that labourers should live on their farms would borrow the money, and be able to give cottages to their labourers rent free. The labouring class in Ireland had been divorced from the land, and driven into the towns and villages, where four families might be found living in a small cottage of only one or two rooms. He did not concur in the opinion of the hon. Baronet (Sir Frederick Heygate), who seemed to think that the Land Act of last year had relieved landlords from all responsibility, nor did he think that the landlords themselves took that view, for he believed they felt as strongly as ever the duty they owed towards their tenants. The question of labourers' cottages was before the Devon Commission; and they recommended a system of out-door relief and increased employment to raise the condition of labourers. The agricultural population of Ireland numbered 988,529, and the number of those who were interested in the subject now before the House was 479,000. He therefore asked the Government to legislate for those who were unaffected by the Act of last year. The right hon. Gentleman, now President of the Board of Trade, but then Chief Secretary for Ireland, said last Session that— Legislation on this subject ought to be positive, and there were several ways by which the condition of labourers in Ireland might be improved. What the right hon. Gentleman then said was taken as an assurance of legislation on the subject at the earliest possible opportunity, and he asked the noble Lord, who was now Chief Secretary for Ireland, to redeem the pledge of his predecessor. Let hon. Members consider how the want of cottages affected the agricultural interest. He knew instances where agricultural labourers lived four or five miles away from their work, and he knew one instance where a farmer had to go with a horse and cart six or seven miles to fetch his labourers. Now, such a state of things must seriously retard the development of agriculture in Ireland. He gave the Motion his heartiest support, and hoped the Government would immediately bring in a Bill to protect the interests of the labourers.


said, that though it might be necessary for the Government directly to interfere in the matter, still indirect legislation was also a matter of the greatest importance. It was necessary to hold out inducements to the owners of property to build labourers' cottages. There was a large factory five miles from Cork, the proprietors of which being desirous of preventing their operatives having that distance to walk morning and evening, desired to obtain some land near the mill on which to build cottages for those whom they employed; but the owner of the land, though a most amiable man, for a long time refused, fearing that if the mill should fall out of work, and the occupiers of the proposed cottages should become paupers, he would have to pay for their support. The obvious remedy for this was, that they should follow the example of England, and have Union rating. In Ireland they had electoral divisions of rating, and this system had inflicted upon the people great evils. He looked upon the Land Act of last Session as one of enormous advantage; for the tenants now felt a new security that the law would protect their industry and their outlay, and this would inevitably cause more energy in cultivation, and more speculation in outlay, and furnish increased employment for labour.


protested against the statement of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Gregory), that the cottier tenants had no advocate in that House; and, indeed, the hon. Member's own speech disproved his statement. The debate on the Land Bill of last year also showed that hon. Members on that side of the House were most anxious that the condition of the labourer, and the means for his improvement, should be most fully considered. The hon. Member for Galway recommended that the labouring classes should hold their cottages direct from the landlords and not from the farmers; but that was a question of the greatest difficulty. If the labourers were made to hold direct from the landlords, that would frequently saddle upon the latter the disputes which might arise between the farmer and his labourers. He quite admitted that labourers preferred to hold direct from landlords; but, still, he thought that farmers were entitled to retain some control over their own labourers. He was happy to say that the condition of labourers in Ireland had very much improved of late years; for the rate of wages had been considerably raised, and the cost of living had not increased in the same proportion. He hoped that the restrictions in reference to giving facilities to tenants to build would be strictly enforced; for otherwise a state of things would probably arise in which the labourer would be worse off than he was at present. He generally concurred in the recommendations of the hon. Member for Galway, and he hoped that the Government would speedily direct their attention to the subject.


joined the hon. Member for Carlow in hoping that, although there was much difficulty in the case, the Government would take into consideration the best means of fulfilling the hopes that were held out last year. He fully agreed with the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) that the limited area of Poor Law rating had tended to prevent the erection of labourers' cottages, and that an increase of the area of taxation would greatly tend to promote them. For the last 10 or 15 years there had been a steady improvement in labourers' cottages in some parts of Ireland, and he did not think that there was now any large proportion of fourth-class houses occupied by families in Ireland, though in the South and West there would be found most miserable abodes. In the county of Louth there were in 1861 large numbers of these wretched fourth-class hovels; but now, in the whole district in which he lived, he only knew of three or four such, and they were in the centre of a bog, and were occupied by squatters. He discovered them with some difficulty, and he now showed them to visitors as a specimen of a past state of things. There were active causes at work throughout the country to which we might with confidence look forward for improvement. He believed the legislation of the last year, which had done so much to improve the position of farmers, and given them greater wealth and greater interest in the improved cultivation of their farms, would induce them to give better wages and to provide better cottages for their labourers; while, as the labourers became more independent, they would be in a better position to insist upon that accommodation being supplied them. He wished to correct an impression conveyed by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Frederick Heygate) that it was impossible to get rent out of an Irish labourer for anything like a decent habitation. He knew Irish labourers could not be expected to pay rent on an expenditure of £60 or £70 or £100 for building a house. They were able to pay a rent from 9d. to 1s. a week; which, taking into account the taxes on the land, was sufficient to allow of something like a reasonable habitation being provided for them without any loss to the farmer. He and many others thought that the solution of the difficulty of getting rent from the labourer in Ireland lay in adding to each cottage a small portion of land. The only further suggestion he would make was that in any loans to be given for the improvement of labourers' cottages too high a standard of accommodation should not be put up as the condition of their erection. It might be that this standard was very desirable; but the practical question for the Irish labourer was, whether it would not be better for him to have a second-class house, something like a human habitation, than to leave him in one of those wretched fourth-class habitations in which he resided at present. And the assistance to be given should not be confined exclusively to the erection of new dwellings, for it was often better to renovate an old than to erect a new one.


said, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) had done good service in calling attention to this subject. He had listened—as, indeed, the House had done—with great interest to the discussion which followed, and were it not for technical reasons he did not know that he should think it necessary to ask his hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion. However, as it had taken the form of an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, he hoped, in the event of his being able to give a satisfactory assurance on the subject, his hon. Friend would withdraw the Amendment and be content to leave the matter in the hands of the Government. He had no difficulty whatever in promising on the part of the Government that legislation on this question should be undertaken in the course of the present Session. The measure which was known as Sir William Somerville's Act, which had been frequently referred to in the course of the debate, would expire this year, and it would be absolutely necessary that it should be renewed; but, instead of asking simply for its renewal, it would give him the greatest pleasure to take advantage of the offers which had been made to him that evening by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory), and the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir Frederick Heygate), and consider what Amendments might be introduced into the Act in order to make it more useful than it had hitherto been. Not that he wished to suggest that the Act had not been of considerable advantage. He found from the Report of the Commissioners of Public Works that loans amounting to £66,000 for the purpose of building labourers' dwellings had been advanced. On that sum loans to the amount of £23,355 had been closed, and of the remainder, over £31,000 had been authorized and was in course of expenditure. There was no doubt, however, that, owing to certain causes which had been pointed out by the hon. Member for Londonderry, the Act had not been taken advantage of to the extent that was desirable, and it would give him the greatest possible pleasure to receive any suggestions in order to make the Act more valuable. His hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) had recommended, in the first place, that assistance should be given to landlords for the erection of cottages; and, in the next place, in case the landlord was not willing to come forward, that assistance should be ex-extended to the tenant. Here they had probably come on some difficult ground. His hon. Friend himself had given several reasons why it was not very desirable that the question of housing the labourers should be left in the hands of the tenants; and, certainly, it was very doubtful whether, where the landlord did not consider himself bound to provide proper habitations for the labourer, the tenant would be in such a prosperous state, or would feel such confidence in the relations subsisting between himself and his landlord, as to make him willing to do so. Still, if any practical suggestions should be made for the advance of money to the tenant as well as the landlord, or to the landlord and tenant jointly, with a view to provide labourers' dwellings, he should be glad to consider it. His hon. Friend had next suggested that there should be an inspection by certain local authorities, such as the sanitary or relieving officers of the Poor Law Unions of all the labourers' dwellings, and that where such dwellings were not certified fit for human habitation there should be no power of recovering any rent. He (the Marquess of Hartington) was sorry he could not agree as to the desirableness of that suggestion. If it came to be worked out in practice he did not think it possible to intrust to any local authority such a responsibility as that of deciding whether a tenant should pay rent for his cottage or not. Although he would be unwilling to pledge himself on the subject, he thought it possible that some inspection should be made; that there should be a power in the country districts, as there was now in the towns under the Local Government Act, of summoning the owners of houses which were unfit for human habitation, and that there should be some authority for inflicting certain fines upon them. As had been well remarked, the process of improvement must be gradual, and would be more effectually carried on by tempting landlords and tenants to improve these cottages than by any coercive measures whatever. Before sitting down he wished to say that, though he attached as much importance to this question—as much importance as had been attached to it by any previous speakers—he did not think it would be right for the House to look to any legislation or any Government assistance which could be given for permanent and extensive improvement in the condition of the labourers. He quite agreed with what had been said by the hon. Member who had just spoken, that in this, as in other respects, we must look to the general improvement in the condition of the labourers. Let their wages be raised, their education improved; let the social standard among them generally be elevated, and improvement in their dwellings would ultimately follow. But as long as labourers in Ireland received—as they were told they sometimes received—only 4s. or 5s. a-week, as long as they were in such a state of dependence and wretchedness that they were unable to transfer themselves from a district where they were unable to obtain work to another, at a short distance, where there might be a demand for labour, no real and permanent improvement would be effected, even if legislation should secure that they should be lodged in very much better cottages. It would be nothing but a mockery to build good and substantial cottages for labourers who had scarcely the simplest article of furniture to put into them. Let the improvement of the labourer be a general one. He believed that the legislation of the past year would have a certain effect in improving the condition of the labourers, as well as in improving the condition of the tenant-farmers themselves. He would not believe that the distrust and dislike which were said to exist between the tenant-farmers and the labourers in Ireland could be anything but temporary. After all, their interests were the same, and as the condition of the farmer improved, so would he be able to spend more capital in promoting the welfare of those in his employ. That must be an advantage to the labourer. There was one other observation which he wished to make, and it was this. He did not think that the remarks which had been made by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire), and by another hon. Member (Mr. M'Mahon), upon what the hon. Member for Cork called indirect legislation on this subject, were altogether out of place. As to the merits of the proposal for Union rating, he did not wish to say a word, but whatever opinion might be entertained on the subject, whether Union rating or electoral division was the better system, it was very closely connected with the question at present under the consideration of the House. In the Report from which the hon. Member for Galway had quoted relating to the county of Waterford, it was stated that labour had not as yet found its level in that quarter, and that the labourers were obliged to resort for shelter to the towns. If that was so, it was extremely likely that the system would have the effect of depreciating the quality of the labourers' dwellings remaining in the country. He had simply to add that he would have great pleasure in consulting with Irish Members on the subject before the Bill, which must be brought in, would be laid on the Table.


said, he was anxious as anybody could be that the labourers should have proper dwellings, but he very much doubted whether the adop- tion of such a proposal as that of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) would lead to any great improvement in that respect. We had been lending money for years to landlords to enable them to improve the labourers' dwellings, and as yet not the slightest improvement was visible. He hoped it would be different in the future. Farmers were allowed to build cottages on their holdings under the operation of the law of last year, and when they found that their interests were protected against the landland they would not fail to do so. The Westmeath Committee and its results were, he was afraid, likely to occupy no small portion of the time of the House during the present Session, to the exclusion of such questions as that of Union rating; but he wished to take that opportunity of giving Notice that he would, on the 26th of April, take the sense of the House on the subject.


said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Galway had made a most eloquent speech depicting the misery of the habitations of the class who were generally termed squatters, more than even the circumstances of the case would justify. He deprecated these constant attempts, in and out of Parliament, to render the peasantry of Ireland discontented with their present position; they were daily rising in the social scale, and if let alone their progress would be a rapid one. He himself had built slated houses, and had assisted in building thatched houses; but it had never entered into his imagination to charge house-rent from a tenant for a cottage, nor did he, in all his experience, know any person who had done so. He protested against the unfounded attack made by the Mover on so able a lawyer and so distinguished a man as Master Fitzgibbon, and must declare his opinion that his hon. Friend, and the Board of Guardians over which he presided, richly merited the reproof they received from the learned Judge. He was, however, quite satisfied with the statement of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and was content to wait with patience for the measure he intended to propose; but he must decline to enter on the subject of Union rating, which was not before the House.


said, the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) had not in the least exaggerated the condition of these dwellings in Ireland, and the necessity of improving them. There was scarcely any subject which excited more interest throughout Ireland than that of the dwellings in which the poorer classes of the population were compelled to live. There had been a decided advance in the character of labourers' dwellings, and an improvement in their general condition, but much remained still to be done in the way of improvement. Sir William Somerville's Act had confessedly been, to some extent, a failure—it would expire this year; what was to replace it? As the Act of last year had given to the tenant a right of occupation of merchantable value (the tenant-right having been in one case recently sold for 28 years' purchase), why should not the tenant have the same privilege in receiving advances as the landlord himself, seeing that he could now give the same security as the landlord? He congratulated the House, and especially the Members representing Ireland, that a subject so important had been so well discussed, and he hoped the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland would find a mode by which the object in view would be carried out more satisfactorily. He thought it was an object to be kept in view to see if a more real use could not be made of the tenants' right of occupation. A number of works upon which money was advanced were at a standstill because labour could not be found, there being no fit dwellings for the labourers to occupy. It appeared from the Returns that the recent emigration from Ireland reached 73,000, of whom not less than 53,000 were able-bodied labourers; and he had no doubt that much of this large emigration was owing to the sad condition of the labourers' dwellings in that country.


thought that if the clause which was in the Land Bill when introduced last year, enabling a tenant-farmer to give his labourer a cottage and half-an-acre of land, was retained, there would have been little if any need for further legislation. Such an enactment would be more satisfactory than any other that could be proposed. He did not see why, if a labourer's cottage were unfit for habitation, the occupier should not be able to cite the tenant-farmer before the magistrates at Petty Sessions, the Court being empowered to order the cottage to be put into proper con- dition, and, in default, deprive the tenant-farmer of the power to recover any rent. Taking an interest in the condition of the labouring population of Ireland, he should feel bound to give all the assistance in his power to enable the Government to give satisfaction to the country on the subject.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.