§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was necessary for him to explain to the House that, owing to circumstances over which he had no control, the Bill was not distributed at an earlier period, as he would have wished. The promoters of the Bill, however, did not intend to take Government by surprise, as, on Saturday last, they sent the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland an advanced copy, in order that he might have an opportunity of considering it. Now, he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) did not propose to make any lengthy observations in moving the second reading of the Bill, for the reason that the evils which it proposed to remedy were admitted on all sides of the House, and by all sections and classes in Ireland. Indeed, in Ireland, the competition had rather been as to who should show themselves the best friends of the labourer—the representatives of the landlord or the representatives of the Land League; and he had reason to believe that, at least, one Representative of the landlord party in that House would support the principle of this measure, while objecting to some of its details. There was a general agreement with regard to the unhappy condition of the labourers in Ireland. Everybody acknowledged that they were in a most unhappy condition, and perhaps there was no part of their hard lot in which they were worse off than the accommodation which their dwellings provided, and the distances which those dwellings often were from the places in which the men earned their daily bread. Not only was the accommodation given in their dwellings miserable, but the men also had frequently to pay most exorbitant rents for them, rents which were far above what they were able to afford, when compared with the little they earned. A second point, and one on which they were all unanimous was, that the efforts 1241 hitherto made by the Legislature to improve the condition of these people—and they had been several—had not been attended with anything like success—he meant the provisions made in the Land Act of 1870 and in the Land Act of 1881. As he did not wish to raise any question of controversy, he did not propose to deal with the reasons why the efforts already made by the Legislature had failed, but would content himself with merely stating the fact, and that new legislation was required, and proceed at once to state the purposes of the measure at present under discussion. Now, the question with which the Bill dealt was a most difficult and a most complicated question. In the Bill he did not profess to solve that difficulty, neither did he profess to have devised a remedy which was complete and exhaustive; but he thought that any person studying the matter would admit that a candid and fair attempt had been made to deal with this most complex question, and it was as such, and not an ambitious attempt either, that he submitted it to the judgment of the House. The only point on which discussion could fairly arise was as to the principle of the Bill, and that principle was contained, he might almost say, in the Interpretation Clause of the Bill, in which it was stated that the sanitary authority for the purposes of the Act would be the rural sanitary authority—that was to say, it was proposed to grant to the rural sanitary authorities throughout the country the same powers that were now exercised with regard to artizans' dwellings schemes by the urban sanitary authorities, and the machinery devised in this measure was the machinery devised by Parliament in the case of urban sanitary authorities in previous Acts of Parliament. The course of proceeding would be this. It would be necessary that a representation should be made by 12 ratepaying residents of a district to the local sanitary authority, setting forth the condition of the labourers' dwellings in the district, and affirming that, owing to dilapidations, the want of air, light, ventilation, or proper conveniences, or any other sanitary defects, the dwellings were unfit for human habitation, and that such deficiency, or sanitary defects, could not be remedied otherwise than by an improvement 1242 scheme for the erection of other dwellings, and so on. The sanitary authorities then, if they saw fit, should pass a resolution agreeing with the representation, after which they should prepare a scheme to be submitted for the approval of the Local Government Board. He might say that, in the preparation of this scheme, provision was made for the protection of the public, and for the protection of the landowners whose land it was proposed to take for the purposes stated. In the first place, the landlord with whose property it was proposed to interfere, might do the work of providing the necessary additional accommodation himself, with the provision that it should be done under the control and superintendence of the local sanitary authority. But, in case a scheme should be adopted by the rural sanitary authority, the scheme should be forwarded to the Local Government Board, who would satisfy itself, by an inquiry, as to the necessity of the proposed grant or Provisional Order, which would then be submitted to the Legislature and passed by it in the ordinary way, the money necessary for the purpose to be obtained from the Treasury, through the Board of Works. In that way, it would be seen that there would, therefore, be three safeguards for the proper administration of the Act, if passed. There would be, in the first place, the Board of Guardians, or the local sanitary authority; then the Local Government Board; and then the Legislature. From what he had now said the House would see that, although not a very exhaustive measure, the Bill was a modest one, and one that made an honest and fair attempt to deal with this question. It would not interfere with the rights of any class in Ireland, and he hoped it was one which would commend itself to the favourable considerations of all sections of the House. He had great pleasure in moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. T. P. O'Connor.)
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he had put down a Notice of opposition to the Bill; but he merely did so, in consequence of the fact that it was not in the hands of hon. Members at an earlier date, so that they might see what it con- 1243 tained. However, as he found the delay occurred through a mistake, he would not persevere in his Motion. Now, however, that he had seen it, he must say that it appeared to him to be a Bill of a very complex character; and, while he did not wish to pronounce it absolutely unworkable, still he thought there would be great difficulty in working it. However, the Preamble of the Bill was so essentially true, that he did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill. There could be no doubt that the condition of the labourers of Ireland was most deplorable. In fact, he believed that there were few countries in the world in which the condition of the labourers was more deserving the commiseration and help of those who desired to assist their fellow-creatures. The condition of the Irish labourer was always bad; but, of late years, it had gone from bad to worse, inasmuch as a few years ago there were a large number of resident landlords, who gave considerable employment to the labourers throughout the country; but many of those landlords had been driven out of the country in consequence of recent legislation, and in consequence of recent agitation. Before the recent land law legislation, the landlords were quite able to give sufficient employment, and build labourers' cottages. [An hon. MEMBER: Never.] Frequently. He (Colonel King-Harman) knew it himself, though he would admit it was not so often as he could have wished. That power was taken away through the operation of the Land Act, which contained a clause enjoining the Sub-Commissioners to provide that in certain cases, when a fair rent was fixed, that the farmers should provide a suitable dwelling and a small plot of land for the labourers. He had been in constant communication with the Sub-Commissioners, who had done their very best to carry out the Act in a manner most friendly to the tenant; and he was informed that in every case where the tenant had been ordered to build a cottage, he had refused to do so, or had evaded it in some way. He believed that the position of the labourers was certainly worse than before the passing of the Land Act. He believed there could be nothing better for the welfare of Ireland, than that the labourer should be provided with a decent dwelling and a plot of ground, to be cultivated in his 1244 spare time; and if that was done for him, he thought the man would be in a position to rear his family more comfortably than at present, and there would not be the same rage for getting hold of what was called a farm on some miserable mountain side, where lives were worn out in almost useless labour. The improvement of the dwellings of the Irish agricultural labourer would have a beneficial effect in an economical point of view, because it would prevent members of that class from falling into the state of lawlessness that was engendered by extreme poverty. Whether the Bill was actually workable, he would not say; but he was afraid, if it was not very much improved in Committee, it would be found to be unworkable. He should, however, support the second reading, reserving to himself the power to move the necessary Amendments in Committee. He feared, however, there was one serious blot in it, and that was that the sanitary authorities in the rural districts in Ireland were not, as a rule, the class of men who would go much out of their way to do anything for the agricultural labourers. They were mainly composed of farmers of small means; and, in his experience, there was great difficulty in getting them to do much in the direction indicated. He did not wish to find fault with them; but they had not shown themselves very careful of the labourers' condition during the past two years, and he merely wished to throw out a hint as to whether the duty of dealing with these matters could be handed over to other bodies more fitted to deal with them. Then, he thought the amount of land to be given to the labourer should not be fixed, as it was, in the Bill; inasmuch as half-an-acre of good land would be very useful to a labourer, but half-an-acre of bad land would be utterly worthless to him. Then, how did the Bill propose to deal with the resumption of the land, in case the labourer getting it turned out to be a worthless, thriftless character? [Mr. PARNELL: That will be part of the scheme.] In that case, he thought it ought to be put prominently forward in the Bill. There were no places in which the Bill would be of more use than in those parts of Ireland where cottiers had congregated upon commons, and were living in a most miserable and wretched and squalid manner, and ut- 1245 terly unable to benefit themselves or provide better accommodation. That was a matter which would have to be dealt with, and he presumed the intention of the promoters of the Bill was to take powers, according to the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, of laying out commons; but, from his knowledge of the people who usually squat upon those commons, he thought such a proceeding would be absolutely impossible. They were ignorant men, and would only know that some person with authority had come down to them, with powers of purchasing their common, and they would think it a gross fraud, and resist by all the means in their power. Perhaps the difficulty could be got over, but it was only by surmounting it that the Bill could make way. The remaining clauses were for the consideration of the Treasury, and he regretted not to see any Representative of the Treasury present. While he had tried to point out a few of the blots which appeared to him to stand out most strongly in the Bill, he was himself as anxious as anybody to assist in passing this or any other suitable measure for the amelioration of the condition of the labouring class of the people of Ireland.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
said, he was very glad his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the county of Dublin (Colonel King-Harman) had not opposed the Bill. He (Colonel Colthurst) looked upon the Bill as valuable, not so much for the provisions which it contained, as for the principle which it asserted—namely, that Boards of Guardians, as sanitary authorities, were responsible for the well-being and comfort of the inhabitants of their districts. Whether they would, without being compelled, be disposed to carry out this measure was a matter, of course, upon which everybody must hold his own opinion; but, judging of the future by the past and the present, and considering that they had had for many years very large powers of borrowing for sanitary purposes, for the provision of water supplies, the disposal of sewage, and other purposes, and that the cases in which they had exercised those powers were very rare, he thought that they must feel that they were likely to make very scanty use of the powers to be conferred by the Bill. Nevertheless, he thought the hon. Member who had brought for- 1246 ward the Bill (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) had acted rightly in not making the Bill compulsory. It was worth while to try the experiment, and he hoped the pressure of public opinion would induce the Boards of Guardians not to shirk the responsibility which would be cast upon them. He thought it was well to remember, however, that there was a large class of labourers whom the Bill did not touch—namely, the labourers living on farms where they worked. After all, it was a far more desirable position for a labourer to be living on a farm, than in a village or town. They knew that in the Land Act there were clauses for the purpose of enforcing the erection of suitable cottages, or of improving unsuitable cottages, where the rent was to be fixed by agreement in Court. His hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Villiers-Stuart) suggested, at the passing of the Act, the putting of strong penalties on those occupiers of land who did not carry out the orders of the Court in the matter. But, unfortunately, owing to the action of the Treasury, he was obliged to withdraw from the Bill a provision which enabled Inspectors to be appointed, who should be responsible to the Commissioners to see that their orders were carried out. Consequently, that Act had been absolutely a dead letter. He (Colonel Colthurst) did hope that, in this Bill, some attention might be given to that subject. Possibly, however, those who were responsible for the Bill considered it wise to confine it to one subject. He could only say, further, that having always advocated the extension of the powers of Boards of Guardians, in order that they might do in Ireland what Boards of Guardians had to do in England and Scotland—namely, assist in relieving the poor—he looked upon this Bill as at least a tribute to that end, and would vote for its second reading.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he fully agreed with what had been said by several speakers as to the experimental character of this measure, so far as the probabilities were concerned that the Boards of Guardians as the sanitary authorities in rural districts would make sufficient use of it. Still, at the same time, in considering the local authority they should name in the Bill as the authority to put the provisions of the Act in force, 1247 they were bound to take advantage of the only materials which existed. It might, or might not, be that the sanitary authorities were not the best authorities which could be constituted for the purpose of the Bill; but, at the same time, they were, practically speaking, the only authorities which existed in the Irish counties at the present moment within the rural sanitary districts; and he and his Friends, therefore, felt compelled to make the best use of them they could. He himself thought that, in a great many cases, the sanitary authorities would take suitable action for the benefit of the labourers; while, of course, there could be no doubt that, in other cases, they would be remiss in their duties, as public bodies very often were. He did not attach very much importance to the analogy drawn by the hon. and gallant Member for the County Cork (Colonel Colthurst), in directing attention to the subject of the neglect of the sanitary authorities hitherto to take adequate advantage of the powers intrusted to them, because, he thought that, probably, Boards of Guardians, composed as they largely were of farmers and others, who did not attach very much value to drains of any kind, so far as their own houses were concerned, were the last persons who would institute the works of sanitary importance in the towns under their charge, which they were hitherto empowered to make. But as regarded the question of the erection of labourers' dwellings, he anticipated, to a great extent, an entirely different result. He thought the farmers would be anxious to see the best use made of available sites for the purpose of housing their labourers. He knew that many farmers objected to have labourers living on their farms in separate dwellings. The reasons they gave were various; but, as a matter of fact, he knew that the objection very largely prevailed. It might not, however, take place where sites might be found obtainable in fields and towns within the area of the sanitary authorities, or where it might be possible to purchase waste nooks of land, the loss of which would not inconvenience anybody, for the purpose of forming clusters of little houses for the benefit of the labourers. He himself had always felt it would be of great importance to give the labourer a house to live in, and a small garden 1248 plot, apart from the immediate influence of his employer. He thought that every person who sold his labour was entitled to have a house to dwell in, and that he should not be compelled to look for shelter for himself and his family to the success of his exertions in coming to an agreement with the man who employed him. In other words, he thought the employer of labour was given an unfair advantage over the labourer in this respect, that when a dispute as to wages or any other subject arose, it should result in the loss of shelter to the labourer and his family. So far as a roof-tree and a small plot of ground went, the Government ought to place the labourer in an independent position. That was the principle taken up in the Artizans' Dwellings Act as regarded the artizans in towns. They now simply asked that the principle which had been worked out successfully, by Corporations in towns of 25,000 inhabitants and upwards, should be extended to rural authorities in Ireland, who governed much larger numbers of people. They excepted from the operation of the Bill urban authorities, who did not come within the operation of the Artizans' Dwellings Act. He thought they ought not to be entitled to the permissive powers given by this Bill, should it be passed. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time, and, speaking for them, he said that himself and his Friends, who were responsible for the Bill, would do their best to make it workable in Committee. Indeed, he thought it was workable already, because its provisions were all adapted to suit the special circumstances of the case from the Artizans' Dwellings Act; and he did not think, so far as any alterations in Committee went, that it would be possible to add very much to make it workable. The chief doubt, in his mind, was the doubt expressed by many speakers, as to whether it would be possible to get Boards of Guardians to carry out the provisions of the Act satisfactorily. He thought some would do so, and more would make no effort to do so; but, in two cases, the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881, the House had legislated in a different direction for the benefit of the labourers, and both these attempts had been failures. They, therefore, asked the House now to go in the direction indicated by this Bill, the prin- 1249 ciple of which had already proved most successful in the operation of the Artizans' Dwellings Act in the large towns of England and Ireland; and they believed it would go, to a very considerable extent, to redress the sufferings and evils under which a patient and long-suffering class in Ireland had laboured for so long. He felt sure that the law-abiding qualities which had been exhibited by the Irish labourers as a class would commend their case to the attention of Parliament, and that the House would not think the time occupied in Committee, in shaping this non-contentious and non-political Bill, had been lost, and that something might be done to benefit this meritorious class of Her Majesty's subjects.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he only wished to make a very few remarks. He must be allowed to confess that he saw great difficulties in the working of some clauses of the Bill. He agreed with the fear expressed by several hon. Members that they would be disappointed at the extent to which the sanitary authorities would make use of the Bill. He hoped the second reading would be accepted by the House, however; for there could be no question whatever that, of all the causes of misery in Ireland, none were much greater, or, rather, one ought to say, there was no more evident effect of poverty and misery in Ireland, than the very poor accommodation given by the wretched cabins of the peasantry. He thought it quite possible that, in this direction, some good might be done by the Bill. He would not detain the House with any further remarks, because it was very important that the second reading should be taken that night. And he trusted, if that were the case, there would be a wish on the part of all hon. Members of the House, even considering the pressure of Business, to allow it to get through the remaining stages by taking it rather late at night, or whenever opportunity arose, in order that it might pass this Session.
§ MR. BRODRICK
said, he was glad to see that a measure like the present had been brought forward, and equally glad to find that it had the support generally of hon. Members. He was also glad to hear the desire of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) that the Bill should pass, remembering that he opposed a previous 1250 Bill for the erection of labourers' cottages, which he (Mr. Brodrick) had brought forward himself on the passing of the Land Act in 1881. However, putting aside what had been done hitherto, he hoped the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill that evening. However desirable the Bill was in principle, he thought, judging from past experience, it would not be worked to any great extent. He would suggest to the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the measure (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) whether it would not be desirable to include also the provision of the Artizans' Dwellings Act, which had taken effect in many places—namely, that in the case of isolated houses of very unsanitary condition, and which were reported upon by a competent officer as unfit for human habitation, Her Majesty would have the power of ordering them to be summarily closed. Beyond that, he hoped Her Majesty's Government would give them an assurance, if they supported this Bill, that they intended to enforce the clause in the Land Act enabling Sub-Commissioners to call upon tenants to build suitable cottages for their labourers. In dealing with a country like Ireland, he thought it absolutely necessary that the existing law should not be allowed to slide, because fresh legislation had been set on foot. In Committee it would, he thought, be necessary to consider whether some better authority than that of Boards of Guardians might not be established; whether some authority should be added to the Boards of Guardians as a sort of spur in dealing with this question; and he was quite certain that, whatever differences of opinion there might be in Committee, there would be a general feeling that any measure honestly desiring to ameliorate the condition of the labouring classes in Ireland would receive the support of the House.
§ SIR HERVEY BRUCE
said, he fully agreed with previous speakers that the Preamble of the Bill merited their sup- 1251 port; and if there was a division he should certainly vote for the second reading; but he thought the Bill required much alteration before it became law, as many of its provisions were unworkable. He wished, however, to point out to the promoters of the Bill what seemed to him to be a fatal omission. A great majority of the labourers' cottages in Ireland were in the hands of tenants. He had not been able carefully to study all the clauses of the Bill, since he had received it only that morning; but, so far as he understood it, there was no provision for that class of labourers at all. Provision was made only for labourers where the landlords could put them into better houses. ["No, no!"] He might be wrong in that idea; but, however that might be, if any provision was inserted in Committee that the labourers under tenants should have better accommodation, in Committee as well as on the second reading the Bill would have his most hearty support. The labourers of Ireland, he believed, had not been in a happy state for many a day. He hoped the Bill, when amended, would promote their prosperity.
§ MR. BERESFORD
said, that, so far as the Preamble of the Bill was concerned, he was quite prepared to support it, as he agreed that the condition of the agricultural labourer in Ireland was capable of great improvement. In many parts of Ireland the labourers were in a very poor condition; and as to their residences, some people would not place their animals, their dogs, he might say, in some of the houses the tenants had to habitate. As he had only received a copy of the Bill that morning, he had scarcely time to look into it; and, therefore, he could not say much on the clauses. He was afraid, however, that there would be great difficulty in making Boards of Guardians carry out the provisions of the Bill; for, generally speaking, people in Ireland were against any improvement from a sanitary point of view. He knew a village, the unsatisfactory sanitary condition of which had been reported to the Board of Guardians by the Inspector, and perpetual opposition had been offered to any alteration. It was only when attention was called to its condition in the House of Commons that any measures were taken to improve it. 1252 At present, it was in a very bad condition, and required still further improvement. But what did they find? That the principal opposition came from the very people who might be expected, under this Bill, to carry out the object in view. He would not say more on the clauses, but would support the second reading.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, the debate had been a very remarkable one, and the Government was in a very remarkable position. The hon. Members who their names on the back of the Bill had introduced a measure which might be important, as tending to the benefit of Ireland; but which, if passed exactly in its present shape, might not operate to its advantage, with perhaps the shortest possible notice that had ever been given on any question, it having been only circulated that morning. He was bound to admit, however, that, so far, the shortness of that Notice had produced no element of discordancy. As far as he could gather, it was only on Saturday that the Bill was in shape for printing; and the hon. Members in charge of the Bill took the earliest opportunity of placing the Government in possession of it. But, early as that opportunity was, it was obviously not sufficiently early to enable the Government to give the Bill full, or, indeed, for practical purposes, any adequate consideration. Hon. Members, he thought, forgot that this Bill, important as it was in its relations to Ireland, was important, to a very great degree, also, in its relations to the country at large. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) said that the principle of the Bill had been accepted in two Acts—first of all, in the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act; and, secondly, in the Land Act of 1881. Now, he (Mr. Trevelyan) must say that, so far as this Bill coincided with the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act, it was a very serious thing, indeed, off-hand to extend the Act to the rural districts in Ireland, when they considered that no adequate reason could be given, so far as the sanitary state of a particular district was concerned—and he was not speaking of the labourers' cottages only—for extending it in the same way to England. The hon. Member for the City of Cork must recollect that there were several Departments in England 1253 and Ireland, the opinion of which would have to be very fully taken before that principle could be acted on; because it was quite impossible that they could act in this matter, first of all, without the recommendation of the Irish Government, which could only be given after careful consideration. Then the Cabinet would have to consider and accept the Bill. The English Local Government Board would require, to a great extent, to give its sanction and approval, and a Department which he (Mr. Trevelyan) thought was somewhat overlooked in the debate—the Treasury—would have to be consulted; because, undoubtedly, under the Bill, the funds would have to be provided in the first instance by the Treasury. Then the hon. Member for the City of Cork referred to the principle having been accepted in the Land Act; and in that respect he (Mr. Trevelyan) heartily agreed with him. He considered that the intention of the Land Act undoubtedly was, that the labourers of Ireland, so far as the machinery for giving them the boon could be introduced within the four corners of the Land Act, should have proper cottages and a sufficient plot of land. The Commissioners, as he ascertained by telegraph that morning—everything connected with this Bill was so rapid, that they had to take the rapidest means of communication that science had placed at their disposal—by the orders made by the Commissioners, the half-acre had almost invariably been taken as the extent of land which they thought should stand round the cottage. The hon. Member for West Surrey (Mr. Brodrick) spoke of the very small effective operation that had been given to these powers on the part of the Land Commission; and he said he wished the Government would take the matter into their own hand. It was, unfortunately, true that the action of the Commissioners in this matter had, as yet, been small; but there was no subject which interested the Government more keenly than the very inadequate results of this clause of the Land Act. In order to make it more effective, it would be necessary, he thought, to have further legislation, because the powers the Government had over the proceedings of the Land Commission were, in fact, nil, and ought to be nil;and the Land Commission did not see their way, at present, to make a larger use of these 1254 powers, owing to the very great mass of business at present on their hands. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), who introduced the measure, said it was not an ambitious measure. However that might be, it would be considered a most ambitious measure on this side of the Channel; but it did not follow that, because the measure was ambitious, it should be a measure that was disadvantageous to the public welfare of Ireland; and, therefore, the Government, being in the position which he had described, had listened with very great interest to the debate—a debate which he characterized as remarkable in the first sentence of his speech, and, he thought, not without reason. Four hon. Members spoke who might fairly be taken as the Representatives of the landlords in Ireland; two hon. Members had spoken who might, he thought, with equal justice be characterized as Representatives of the tenants in those controversies which now, he hoped, had been put to sleep, which had occurred between the landlords and tenants in that House; and a seventh, a right hon. Gentleman, had spoken, whom they would all accept as a Representative of the administrative element in that House—a Gentleman thoroughly conversant with the Administration, and perfectly well aware of what could, and what could not, be done by an Administration; and these seven Gentlemen, so representative in a high degree, all agreed in speaking on behalf of giving this measure a second reading. They had all spoken in favour of the principle of the measure; and not one dissentient voice had been raised against it. Well, the Government had proved, by the clause in the Land Act, that they also approved of the principle and the object at which this measure aimed, and after that debate the Government would not oppose the second reading. He could only say, for himself, in the debate which had come upon them so suddenly—every Member of the Government had to speak for himself—he could only say that there was absolutely no question in the rural districts of England in which he had, during the last 10 or 12 years, been more interested than in watching the extent to which labourers were put in the position of improving their condition by labour outside that which they gave for wages. But there was a very 1255 great step between accepting the object of the Bill and accepting, the machinery by which that object was required to be attained. He had used the interval which the hon. Member for Galway gave him to study for his own part, and with the best advice which he could obtain, the Bill, both as regarded its objects and machinery. He had come to some conclusion in the matter, and he had come to the first germs of some other conclusion; and he must say that he thought the machinery was, in some respects, too weak, and in others it might possibly be too powerful. He thought that there were certain large classes of the people whose interests might be extremely and injuriously affected by the Bill as it at present stood. It was most necessary, to begin with, that those persons who were put in possession of the advantages of good cottages and plots of land—for he confined himself to that as the real essence of this Bill—should really and truly be labourers; and that there should be no encouragement to squatters on small farms which could not by any possibility grow more than three or four tons of potatoes a-year, and could only reproduce—and not reproduce, under certain conditions of Irish society—the worst conditions of sub-division in the days when sub-division was at its worst. Then, again, it was extremely necessary to see that anything done under the Bill should be done without injustice to the holders of land, and it was still more necessary to see that no injustice should be done to the ratepayers. There were cases in which one or two great ratepayers might be taxed and mulcted by people who were the representatives of the great mass of the community, to a degree that would be positive oppression and persecution. And, again, must it be seen that the Treasury was not damnified by the operation of the Bill. The preliminary stage must also be gone through of asking the Treasury whether they approved or disapproved of the burden, the responsibilities, and risks that were placed upon them. The practical result that he wished to be drawn from the observations that he had made was this—that the Government would gladly see the labourers in possession of a decent house and a garden of adequate size and adequate fertility. Any measure by which that object could be pro- 1256 moted without private injustice and public inconvenience the Government would, in their turn, be glad to promote; but when the hon. Member for the City of Cork said that he was ready to do anything to render the Bill workable in Committee, he (Mr. Trevelyan) must say that the Government, in acceding to the second reading, would make very large drafts indeed upon that willingness. This was a private Member's Bill; but the Government could not undertake to let it go to any further stage until they had practically accepted the responsibility for what was done under it; and, although the Amendments which they would place on the Paper would convert it into a Government Bill, in so far as the propositions and the safeguards were concerned, he did not say that the Government would not gladly leave the whole credit of it to those private Members who had supported it, who had introduced it, and to those private Members who, during the debate on the Land Act, supported the principle of this measure in whatever part of the House they sat. The Government, then, would accede to the second reading, on the distinct understanding that they would do everything in their power to oppose the next stage until they had had full time to consider how the Bill might be put into a shape that they conceived to be safe and efficient. He did not say it was not in that' shape now; but he said the Government must have full time to consider the matter, with just as much care and attention, and as much sense of responsibility, as if the Bill had been originally their own; but measures to insure that should be taken promptly, zealously, and energetically; and as soon as the Government were prepared to allow the Bill to go forward they would follow the advice of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, and would gladly see it pushed forward at a time of night at which Bills seldom could be put forward, unless supported with such unanimity of opinion on both sides of the House as this Bill had just enjoyed.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had certainly vindicated his right to be regarded as a Gentleman of great literary and intellectual capacity from the way in which he had presented to the House his conclusions, and first 1257 germs of conclusions. There was no one who would not readily concur with the terms made use of in the Preamble of the Bill—that it was expedient to make provision for the building and maintenance of improved dwellings for labourers in Ireland, and better sanitary accommodation for themselves and their families. But it was a great deal more easy to agree with the Preamble than to say by what particular methods they would accomplish their good intentions. It was an immensely difficult question; and the more one looked at it, the more one realized how hard it was in this world to make one's good opinions harmonize with what was really capable of being carried out. He did not think anyone who had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman could complain of its tone or its request. The Bill dealt with a great question. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) had said it was a tentative measure. Of course that, in a sense, was true; but it was an immense experiment, and it was an experiment of a wide and far-reaching character; and, obviously, a debate carried on within a few hours after the Bill had been distributed was carried on under considerable difficulties. There were few hon. Members who could have their thoughts matured in a few hours on this difficult and important subject. He thought, then, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland was warranted in his main contention—that the Government were entitled, upon a Bill of that kind, to a fair and reasonable, not an undue time, for considering how to shape and mould the Bill into what they considered a practical and feasible form. As he understood, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman came to this—that the Government, in assenting to the second reading of the Bill, assented to the principles contained in the Preamble, that it was proper that there should be an improvement in the position of the agricultural labourers in Ireland, but that they would themselves place on the Paper Amendments, which would practically make its proposals the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. There were two broad considerations never to be lost sight of in considering this difficult question, on which he (Mr. Gibson) was glad to think everyone was 1258 substantially agreed. Let them take care that this was a real Bill, and not a sham Bill. Let them take care that it was for labourers. He emphasized that, because he was satisfied that, as it stood, it was not a Bill for labourers. Anyone who read the Definition Clause would see it was a Bill that practically would not include, the labourers, but would include the farmers, large and small, who employed labourers. He was sure that was not the intention of the framers of the Bill; but it was quite obvious that the Definition Clause would require to be stated with more precision when the Government came to deal with the Bill. An agricultural labourer was a man who worked for hire on another person's land; but the Definition Clause stated that it meant persons who were habitually employed in the cultivation of the soil, or who gained their livelihood thereby, including the families of such persons. In other words, the Definition Clause comprised tenants, and the families of tenants, and did not point at the agricultural labourers, properly so called; and under it the members of the rural sanitary authority would be enabled to provide improved dwellings for themselves. Of course, that was a matter to be set right. He made no imputation; but only pointed out the defect so as to prevent this being a sham Bill. His second consideration was as to the machinery. The selection of machinery was one of the greatest difficulties which beset this question; and he was not prepared to say, off-hand, what should be the machinery. The framers of the Bill had selected—and they had warrant in the history of similar matter for selecting—the rural sanitary authority, which really meant the Poor Law Guardians. That was a tribunal which, left unfettered and alone to their own untutored discretion, would not have the confidence of the labourers; and he was not sure that their past history showed that they had particular sympathy with the question of how the labourers lived, and how they were clothed, or anything, except how to get the greatest amount out of them for the smallest possible wages. He could well imagine that the Bill would not be a dead letter in the hands of the Poor Law Guardians, if the clients of the Bill were the persons at present pointed out in the Definition 1259 Clause; because the rural sanitary authority might readily provide improved dwellings for themselves and families, but when the Definition Clause was put right, and confined to real agricultural labourers, they should have independent men as the machinery. He thought hon. Members who had discussed this question had not sufficiently borne in mind what little use this authority had made in the past of the ample sanitary powers they possessed as to many important sanitary questions. It was true that in too many Unions they were only the rural sanitary authorities in name. They had got the widest powers; but, in too many cases, they had left the Public Health Act a dead letter; and in other matters he was doubtful if they had administered statutes in the past in a way to encourage Parliament to confide to them, in the future, the delicate considerations which must influence them in working a measure so important and difficult as the present one. He thought one of the greatest difficulties on this point that would be found by the Government, when they applied themselves to the task of making this Bill workable, and in consonance with Government ideas, was this—that if they built and improved the houses of agricultural labourers, what was to be the guarantee that real agricultural labourers, for whom this exceptional legislation was attempted, would inhabit them? No Act of Parliament could compel a farmer to employ a labourer one day beyond what he felt necessary; so that the man who this week had his house improved, and was in receipt of wages as an agricultural labourer, might next week be dismissed—what was then to be his tenure of the house which they had built or improved? Was he to walk out of it, or was he to have a tenure more durable I than his employment? If so, who was to be his landlord, and who would recover the rent from him? Was the sanitary authority to pres3 him for rent when he was out of employment? They would unquestionably be beset with these difficulties, which everyone must recognize as of the gravest possible character, which many regarded as insurmountable, and which he himself was not at that moment able to solve. None the less, however, would it be the desire of every Member of the House 1260 to see, if it was possible, some Bill pass which might have the effect of improving the condition and the dwellings of the agricultural labourers of Ireland; and he only hoped that the course proposed to be taken by the Government would result in the passing of a practical measure to that end.
said, that, while anxious to see labourers' cottages erected and decent accommodation provided, he must confess that he could not see how the Bill would secure that object satisfactorily. It seemed to him that the mode pointed out in the Bill to effect that object was rather a singular one. In many parts of Ireland it had been complained that labourers were driven by the effect of the Poor Law from cottages in the country to dwellings in small towns, from which they had long distances to travel to their labour; and he saw no provision in the Bill to secure that labourers' cottages should be on the farm where they laboured. The Bill was not wanted for the benefit of jobbing carpenters and others, who lived on the outskirts of the villages, but for boné fide agricultural labourers; and care must be taken that the rates were not burdened for the benefit of the wrong people. A cottage improved, or built in the manner proposed under the Bill, might, at first, be occupied by a bonâ fide labourer; but how did the Bill secure that, at his departure, it might not come to be occupied by someone who was not of the same class? Compulsory powers of purchasing land also were sought to be given to the sanitary authority; but those powers were open to abuse. Although these were all points upon which Amendments were required he would not oppose the second reading of the Bill. He trusted that the cottages would be properly distributed, and the occupants of them would not be allowed to acquire a right of occupation independent of the continuance of their labour on the farms. He hoped the Government would take the Bill into their own hands, and reconstruct it upon a better basis, and that they would take care that a new class was not created like the miserable cottier class, which had been the cause of so much riot and disturbance in Ireland.
§ MR. MOORE
said, he thought there was no backbone in the Bill. He, there- 1261 fore, hoped the Government would take it up, re-model it, and supply what was wanting in that respect. He did not wish to speak with any hostility of a measure intended to relieve the Irish labourer; but he was perfectly convinced that the Bill would be so much waste paper if it was entrusted to the Boards of Guardians to carry out. As to the sanitary authority in Ireland, which at present was the Boards of Guardians, they were so simply in name, for the manner in which they discharged those duties was simply a farce, and to entrust them with additional powers would be a greater farce still. The position of the labourer, instead of being improved, was positively worse since the Land Act, as the farmers did not carry out the orders made by the Sub-Commissioners in their favour. In the Boards of Guardians, the farmers, instead of attending to the Poor Law business, occupied their time in political debates, which they had neither the capacity nor the intelligence to entertain. Having no care for them, they never would do anything for the labourers; and if the Bill was to have any backbone it should not be entrusted to them, or to the Local Government Board, but to a working Department of the Land Commission. That Commission should have power to appoint Inspectors, in order to investigate the cases which would arise, and to see to the carrying out of the admirable provisions of the Bill. He objected to placing the Bill under the control of the Local Government Board, which he considered was not at all fitted to deal with it.
§ MR. VILLIERS-STUART
Sir, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give their support to the passing of this Bill, even though they may see objections to details in it. There is no class of Her Majesty's subjects who have been more cruelly mocked by recent legislation than the agricultural labourers of Ireland. They were led to expect some relief from the 19th clause of the Land Act of 1881, and from the Labourers' Cottages and Allotments (Ireland) Act of 1882. But what has been the result. How have the promises contained in those Acts been fulfilled? I find that, out of 45,000 farms, on which judicial rents have been fixed by the Land Commissioners and Sub-Commissioners, and 37,000 farms, on which rents have been 1262 agreed upon out of Court—that is, in round numbers, rents have been fixed upon 80,000 holdings under the Land Act—well, in how many cases out of those 80,000 have the Labourers' Clauses been put into force? Why, only in 350—that is, one in 250. Well, but out of those 350 cases in which orders have been made, in how many have those orders been carried out? Why, I have put this question more than once to Her Majesty's Government, and have as yet got no answer. My belief is, that the cases in which the orders have been carried out are so few that they might be counted on one's 10 fingers, and leave several of them idle. I should be simply rehearsing a thrice-told tale, were I to tell the House of the miserable, squalid surroundings of an average Irish labourer's dwelling; of the one room doing duty as a kitchen by day, and a dormitory for all ages and both sexes, combined with a pig-stye and hen-house, by night. Englishmen desire to see Irishmen loyal; but how can they expect the class in question to be loyal, when this is how they fare under English rule? It avails nothing to ask, how can we help it? This House admits its power to help when it passes laws on the subject, but shows itself wanting in will when it permits those laws to be a dead letter in the hands of the officials appointed to carry them out. The Commissioners would bestir themselves fast enough to carry them out, if they believed that there was in high places a resolute determination that they should be carried out. Then, why is there not? Why, because these poor men have no votes. I had hoped that nobler motives might have prevailed; but it is evident that no class, lacking political power, stands any chance in this age of getting its grievances redressed. Sir, if redress cannot otherwise be obtained for the labouring class, it is the strongest possible argument in favour of household suffrage. As for the Bill now before the House, I am well aware how inadequate it is; still, as far as it goes, it is a step in the right direction. I proposed an Amendment to the Land Bill, providing that the sanitary authorities should be empowered to intervene.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read, a second time, and committed for Thursday 7th June,