§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. MOLLOY
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, 937 that the alterations in the existing Act proposed by that amending Bill were very few and simple. They related— first, to the confirmatory Act of Parliament; and, secondly, to cottages. The present Act, introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), as they all remembered, was passed last year in a great hurry, in order that it might be sent up in time to the House of Lords; and the consideration which it received was, therefore, not of a very satisfactory character. Their experience of the working of the Act was very large, in as much as applications had been made for it to be put in operation in every part of Ireland; and it was found that, without the Amendments which were now proposed, the Act would be absolutely futile, because of the difficulties in the way of carrying it into execution. Under Clause 7 a considerable number of preliminaries had to be gone through before anything could be done. For example, when it was proposed that labourers' cottages should be built, a representation had to be made by 12 ratepayers to the sanitary authority. By the Act, it was also necessary to come to Parliament for a confirmatory Act, before the Provisional Order granted by the Local Government Board could come into operation, and that involved waiting for another Session of Parliament. Now, that confirmatory Act was absolutely useless; and the only effect it had, as he had shown, was to considerably delay the carrying into effect the schemes adopted by the local sanitary authorities. It might be alleged that it was necessary for the protection of the owners of land, whose ground would be then under the Act; but he did not think that would be found to be the case, because there was no secrecy about the taking of the land—it was advertised in the local journals, and inquiries were held at which the landowner could appear. These confirmatory Acts, therefore, were entirely unnecessary. They were passed without attracting the attention of anybody. That day they had had two.of them introduced as Bills, and nobody appeared to take the least interest in them. The present measure, therefore, was intended to get rid of the necessity for a confirmatory Act to give effect to the Provisional Orders made under the Act 938 of last year, and so to tenable those Orders to come into force without delay. The next point in which it was sought to amend the Act was in giving power to the sanitary authorities to repair the houses erected when necessary, and this it was proposed to carry out by means of the 4th clause. The same provision existed in the Artizans' Dwellings Act, and it was clearly a slip to omit from this Act. There was also a Proviso, that the sanitary authority might alter and repair cottages at present existing which were inhabited by labourers, where they considered such repair and alteration necessary, and charge the cost on the owner of the premises. That provision was already in existence in England, and he saw no reason why such a power should not be extended to Ireland under this Labourers' Act. Another Amendment wasthis—There were a large number of cottages in Ireland which were perfectly capable of being used as labourers' cottages; but there was no plot of ground attached to them. By the Bill it was sought to enable the sanitary authorities to purchase that plot of ground—not to exceed the usual half acre—and attach it to these cottages as garden ground. It was also found that many necessary witnesses were unwilling to attend the inquiries held under the Act, and, by the Bill, the Inspector sent down to hold the inquiry would have power to issue summonses and compel such attendance. An important provision of the Bill also was this—that if the sanitary authority rejected the scheme put before it by the ratepayers, or if it declined to take any steps in the matter, the Local Government Board, on proper representation from the ratepayers, should have power not only to inquire into the scheme, but to follow up that inquiry by granting the usual Provisional Order, after drawing up and approving of a scheme. At present the Local Government Board had power to inquire, but had not the power to go further; and, unless they got the power to follow their inquiry, the inquiry held would be a mere useless expenditure of money. The 8th, the most important clause in the Bill in his opinion, was that which gave power to a leaseholder or a tenant, holding under a statutory term under the Land Law (Ireland) Act, to lease land for the purposes of this Act just as if he were a life tenant. There was no 939 doubt the purchase of land was attended with great expence, involving, as it did, heavy costs as to the examination of titles. To obviate this very heavy cost, it was proposed, by the Bill, to enable a leaseholder or tenant holding under the Land Act to grant a lease of a plot of ground for the purposes of the Act for a term of 99 years, just as if he were a life tenant. This was a matter on which lie believed there was no divergence of opinion between them and the Representatives of landlords. Under the circumstances which would be created by that clause of the Bill, the position of the landlord could not be injuriously affected, as, in case of non-payment of rent by the tenant, he would have the security of the tenant's crops, and would in addition have the security of the local sanitary authority, so far as the particular plot on which the cottage stood was concerned; and beyond that, the provision, while enabling something valuable to be done for the labourers, would also obviate the heavy expenditure in costs which made the present Act almost prohibitory, and it was to it that he looked for the successful working of the Act. By Clause 9, they endeavoured to lessen the heavy expenditure attaching to the purchase of sites. By the present Act an examination of title for 40 years was required. Now they proposed that that examination should be reduced to 12 years, considering, as they did, that 12 years would provide sufficient precautions in the matter. If it was possible for the Government to suggest a bettor way of meeting this difficulty, he need hardly say they would be very glad to accept any proposal the Government made in the matter. It was, moreover, essential that the cost of putting the Act into operation should be reduced to a minimum. Men who were paid at the rate of 8s. a-week in winter and 12s. in summer could not pay any very high sum for expenses; and it was also found that the costs attending the purchase of land, in many cases, induced landlords to oppose the schemes; and they therefore proposed that, in all cases, such costs should be charged on the sanitary authority. This clause, he might say, had been taken from an Act already passed, by which the costs incurred in the purchase of land for public purposes were charged on the local authority. Clause 11, which extended the time for 940 repayment, was another very important clause; and the object of it was the same as that of all the other clauses—namely, an endeavour to reduce as much as possible the expenses of bringing the Act into operation. The larger the interest charged by the Treasury, the larger the charge of rent on the unfortunate labourers. Now, the charge made by the Treasury for money advanced under this Act was £5 7s 6d. per cent, actually more than what was charged on money advanced to the landlords and tenants. So long as the Treasury was secured in the repayment of the capital and interest, he did not see what objection they could have to the alteration proposed in the Bill—namely, the lengthening of the period of repayment to 52 years, and the reduction of the annual charge to £3 16s. 6d. per cent. Under the Bill, also, it would be left to the discretion of the local authority, whether the cost of carrying the Act into operation should be charged on the electoral division, the dispensary district, or the Union at large. These were the whole of the provisions of the amending Bill which he had now the honour to move, and which he hoped would meet with the approval of the Government, and with no strong opposition from any quarter of the House. It was a Bill which simply aimed at supplying and amending the defects in the Act of last Session; and, if it were desired to make that Act efficient and economical, it was absolutely essential to carry a scheme similar to the one he now had the honour to place before the House. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. VILLIERS STUART
I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion for the second reading of the Bill now before the House. It would not be too much to say that without it the Labourers' Act of last year will be of little use. I am qualified to form an opinion on the. subject, for I am a member of an Irish Board of Guardians which did its best to utilize the existing Act. We held special meetings; we appointed committees, to form schemes, to select sites, and to choose plans of cottages; owners and occupiers gave every facility for acquiring the land; but we were met by the following difficulties:—first, while no labourer could afford to pay more than from 1s. to 1s. 6d. per week, we found that the lowest sum for which 941 we could supply a cottage and half-an-acre of land was £100–105: the annual payment to the Board of Works on this would be 105s. or 2s. per week— namely, from one-fourth to one-third more than the tenant could afford to pay as rent. The elements in the cost were the cost of proving the title, so as to comply with the too high standard of perfection required by the Board of Works in details of cottage and offices; the cost of meeting the comparatively high rate of interest imposed by the Board of Works, coupled with the limited period within which it is repayable; cost of local inquiry; and cost of surveyors and architect. The minimum net cost of cottage and offices is £70, of half an acre of land £11, together £81. The expenses I have enumerated make up the rest. This estimate is made where, as in our case, no opposition is offered; but it would be greatly increased if compulsory powers had to be resorted to. We were finally defeated by the intricate technicalities of the Act, and by the very limited time it allowed. I have been in correspondence with a large number of Boards of Guardians on the subject of the Act of last year. There is a general agreement amongst them all as to its virtual failure, and also as to the alterations necessary to make it effective. Without a single exception, they are unanimous that nothing approaching the rent rendered necessary by the expenses of working the Act could be paid by the labourers. They all agree that the interest payable on the advances of the Board of Works must be diminished, and the time for repayment extended to 52 years. Most of them agree that the Act of last year is of little benefit, and must be amended in a thorough-going manner. Some of them consider half-an-acre of land too little, when the land necessary for house, offices and fences is deducted from it. They consider that the half-acre should be in addition to the surface required for these. In a large number of instances, the Guardians state that they had failed to carry out the provisions of the Act, owing to its complicated character, and also to the limited time allowed. Another serious difficulty mentioned was the cost of proving title, and cost of complying with the conditions imposed by the Board of Works; their standard of the 942 minimum qualifications for granting a loan being too high, and making the cottage too expensive. With regard to the expense and difficulty connected with the proving of title, the Guardians suggest that the conveyance by the reputed owner should be held valid. They recommend that the Board of Works should obtain powers to dispense with title, and to accept conveyance from the reputed owner, if he is willing to execute it. It is no uncommon thing, even in London, to take title for granted. Miles of streets have been constructed on building leases, from owners whose title the builders are precluded from investigating. Another Amendment urged by the Guardians is, that power should be given them to repair or improve existing cottages, and to attach lots of land to them, not necessarily adjoining, provided they be sufficiently near. I may mention that I have allotment lands for my labourers, in some instances, a quarter of a mile distant from their cottages; and no complaint is made of inconvenience. This arrangement would often enable existing cottages to be turned to account. It frequently happens that the walls are good, and that a new and improved roof and offices is all that is required; but the existing Act gives no power to the Guardians to do this. They must, if they intervene at all, build entirely new cottages. The Bill before the House provides for most of these points; and I earnestly hope that Her Majesty's Government will give it a favourable reception, unless they contemplate bringing in a Bill themselves on entirely new lines. I shall venture to remind them, Sir, of the urgent need there is for effective legislation upon this subject. The miserable condition in which the labourers live is the most fertile source of pauperism, and of the maintenance of a pauper caste in Ireland; while the disabling of breadwinners of families by fever and other ailments caused by unhealthy dwellings imposes most serious burdens upon the ratepayers. I may quote, in illustration, one of the cases which came to my notice in the course of my inquiries. The Guardians of a large Union in the South of Ireland assured me that, although there were 5,000 labourers within its limits, there was scarcely a single labourer's dwelling fit for human habitation, or even fit for animals to be 943 housed in. They stated this in reply to my question, whether, in their case, any advantage would be derived from empowering them to repair or improve existing cottages. Now, mark the consequences. The average doily number of paupers in this Union throughout the year was 668; the population 32,000; cost of pauperism for the year £13,354. I will now take two other Unions, nearly the same in size and population, and I find as follows:—Dundalk, with 43,000 inhabitants, had a daily average of only 267 paupers, and a total cost of £6,124; Antrim, with a population of 32,000, had a daily average of only 216 paupers, costing £4,224 for the entire year. Here you have in the Union, distinguished by specially defective dwellings, a proportion of pauperism three times as great as that in other Unions with larger populations, but better circumstanced as regards labourers' dwellings; and this principle will be found to hold good throughout. If those who claim that the Irish labourers' condition is steadily improving, because they are now getting higher wages than formerly, should undertake a special tour of inspection through the counties of Ireland, and visit the homes of the labourers, and see for themselves the conditions of their existence, their optimism would sustain a shock from what they would witness which would silence them for many a long day. It is true that wages have risen; but not to such an extent as even yet to furnish proper food and clothing; and they would expend the increase on improving those before doing so upon, their dwellings. It appears, from the latest Census, that there were no less than 40,665 mud hovels in Ireland containing only one room. When a starving man gets a shilling he spends it in filling his belly, and not in improving his house. They have been so accustomed from infancy to these wretched homes, that it will be long before they expend any surplus they may have in raising their homes to a higher standard. Unless aided from without, they will long continue to reside in their degrading hovels, and disease and pauperism will long continue to result if the question be not effectively dealt with. One evil, the consequence of the wretchedness of Irish labourers' houses, is the development of pauperism. It is no hardship for those who live amid 944 such squalid surroundings to migrate to the poorhouse, whenever employment becomes scarce. Another consequence, not less serious for the ratepayers, is that fever often strikes down the labourer and his family, and they then become a heavy burden upon the rates. In every Union there is a certain proportion of crippled individuals who are a lifelong charge upon it. This proportion is largely, if not entirely, caused by the squalid hovels in which they live. It is generally taken for granted that the condition of Ireland is improving; but I grieve to say that, if the Poor Law Returns are any indication, that is not the case. The pauper totals for the five years including 1879 and 1883 are as follows:—
To those figures must be added the amounts which medical charities cost the country. That is a head of expense peculiarly affected by unhealthy dwellings, for most of that outlay is for cases of families stricken with fever, owing to unhealthy dwellings, as I well know, having been for some years Chairman of a Board of Guardians. Now, the bill for medical charities which, in 1879, stood at £144,912, has been rising steadily as follows:—1879, £144,912; 1880, £146,030; 1881, £153,375; 1882, £157,244; 1883, £159,028; and the total cost entailed upon the ratepayers of Ireland for pauperism in those successive years, including medical charities, was—1879, £990,520; 1880, £993,985; 1881, £1,083,342; 1882, £1,122,372; 1883, £1,126,511; and the rate per head of the population rose within the same period from 3s.8d. per head to 4s. 6d., a truly alarming rate of increase. From the above figures it appears that there were about 25,000 more paupers in 1883 than in 1879, and that they cost the country £236,000 a-year more in the latter year than in the former; and that, not with standing that 1879, the first year of the series, was, to a considerable extent, a year of famine. The figures I have quoted, therefore, are inconsistent with the theory of progressive improvement in the condition of the labouring classes and of higher wages. There is no doubt that the cost of labour is 945 higher during seed time and harvest than it was formerly; but these occupy but a limited portion of the year, and the advantage is counter balanced by less employment being given during the remaining months. In any case, we are confronted with the fact that pauperism is increasing. It represents an addition to the local taxation of an already overtaxed and poor country of £ 236,000 a-year more than was the case five years ago. I regard it to be a matter of urgent necessity to check this alarming increase of poor rate; and I am convinced that no step we can take will be more effective for this purpose than to give the labourers healthy and decent habitations, and suitable allotments of land for gardens at fair rents, such as the farmers themselves pay. I have made an estimate of the annual amount to be found, in order to supplement the maximum rent which can be expected from the labourers. I have calculated that it would be about £250,000 per annum. I have shown that the increase in poor rates within the last five years is £236,000 per annum, or little less than the sum required. Therefore, even the restoration of the poor rate to what it was in 1879 would nearly repay the balance of £250,000 a-year required, as shown above. But I maintain that we should not be too sanguine in anticipating that the improved condition of Irish labourers would result in reversing the process of the last five years, and in reducing the poor rate as much below the standard of 1879 as it has, under existing conditions, risen above it. That is to say, the country would gain the difference between £250,000 a-year and £472,000 a-year directly; but that would be insignificant compared with the indirect gain to the nation in the contentment and improved condition, and in the increased value of the labour of so large and important a class of its population. It is taken for granted that, because the Irish labourers have borne their hard lot so patiently hitherto, they will continue to do so; but the reason why no serious agitation has taken place in the past is because they had no leaders, and no political power to tempt agitators to take up their cause. But the situation is about to undergo a very important change. This ill-used class will soon be invested with political powers, and their cause will become worth taking up. At 946 the last Election, scarcely a single Irish Election address except my own contained any reference whatever to them; but, at the next Election, they will occupy a prominent figure in almost all. Funds will be collected, associations formed, and mass meetings held, and there will be a duplicate of the campaign of 1880–1. Let the Government, therefore, be wise in time. The claims of the labourers are moderate now, and to meet them in advance will disarm agitation. They may become much more difficult to deal with later on. The labourers feel that, while benefits have been flung with a lavish hand into the lap of the class above them, they themselves, the cultivators of the soil, have been mocked with sham legislation, which has failed to give them any relief worth mentioning. To them it must seem that the obstacles which hitherto tripped up all attempts to turn the Labourers' Clauses and Acts to account have been purposely flung in the way to insure failure. Since the Land Act of 1882 two amending Acts have been passed dealing with the labourers' question. I had the honour of introducing one of them; but it was so altered in its way through the House of Commons, and, subsequently, the House of Lords, that its value was greatly impaired; and since then, another Act was passed last year, but that also has practically failed, owing partly to the complicated nature and partly to the conditions attached to carrying it out. Their patience will not last for ever. Despairing of getting them relief in any other way, I rejoice that they will now have political power enough to compel attention to their just cause. Let not the Legislature, therefore, shut its eyes to consequences; let it be wise in time; let it take up the labourers' question in earnest; and let it, moreover, exercise a prudent liberality. I beg to second the Motion for the second reading of the Bill now before the House.
1879 91,814 costing £845,608 1880 100,856, costing 847,955 1881 109,655, costing 929,967 1882 112,829 costing 965,128 1883 115,684 costing 967,483
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Molloy.)
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he had intended to have seconded the Motion for the second reading of the Bill; but he rejoiced at what was then the mischance, of his place being taken by the hon. Gentleman the Member for County 947 Waterford (Mr. Villiers Stuart), because the hon. Gentleman made it a great deal more difficult for the Government to oppose the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was as well entitled to speak on a question of this kind as—if not more than— any other Member of the House; and the reason why he (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) said the hon. Gentleman would make opposition by the Government more difficult was, that the hon. Gentleman, besides the large interest he had taken in this question, had every reason to oppose anything like an unfair or unjust treatment of the question. The hon. Gentleman was a large holder of land, and had been intimately associated with Local Boards which had the carriage of such measures as this under their control, and the hon. Gentleman was a faithful follower of the right hon. Gentleman who at present occupied the Treasury Bench. Turning to the Bill itself, like every other Bill introduced into the House, it had provisions of diverse importance. There were some clauses of the Bill which he would consider as the very centre and core, and the rejection of which he would regard as fatal to the Bill; but there were others upon which, of course, they were open to suggestion. Although he must say that he thought the Bill had been very carefully drafted — and certainly the intention of those who drafted it was not to put one line inside the Bill which could endanger its passage through the House—with regard to the question of repairing cottages, he had got representations from several parts of the country—and he might take this opportunity of thanking the gentlemen who had been kind enough to send him their views on the question—agreeing in the statement that no larger sum than £10 or £20 was frequently required to repair cottages; whereas the erection of a cottage would cost, on an average, £100; and, in the most economical circumstances, would cost £70. In face of the fact that £10 or £20 would do all that was required, was it not manifestly absurd to insist that £70 or £100 should be expended? He knew that objection was raised to the clause which allowed a plot of land to be attached, though not adjacent; and objection was also raised to the power given to the Board to make a charge upon the owner of the house. Nobody knew bettor than the right hon. 948 Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, or the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland, that this clause only applied to rural districts provisions which were already enacted by the English Artizans' Dwellings Act with regard to urban districts. He know that that was a very strong proposal; but he wished to put it, especially to hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, that the Artizans' Dwellings Act should long' ago have been, applied to rural districts in Ireland. For Ireland was essentially a rural country of villages and small towns. With regard to the summoning of witnesses, he said that, in a great many cases, schemes had fallen through because witnesses had not attended. Under the Act as it stood, the person appointed to investigate the circumstances had a right to summon witnesses, but not to compel their attendance; and the result was that a person who was opposed to a scheme like this could actually nullify the scheme by the very simple expedient of not appearing to give evidence either for or against it. The House must appreciate the unfortunate fact in reference to the Act that it met with a great deal of passive resistance, and passive resistance from, he was sorry to say, more than one class of the community; and it would be one of the necessities in making the Act effective that there should be some means provided for defeating that passive resistance. That led him on naturally to the next clause, which gave the Local Government Board the power to carry out the scheme which the Board of Guardians had failed to do. This might appear a very strong measure; but he did not see it should meet with any opposition from, at least, the Government. It was a proposal not to take away power, but to add to the power of the central authority at Dublin. If they were to face the resistance to the Act, and make it work, it was necessary that there should be a reserve power of compulsion. With regard to the power of giving a lease, he must say there was one point, above all others, against which he had the right to protest, and that was the point of view of the dry-as-dust lawyer. They must get rid of the cant and of the obsolete traditions and shivering and feminine fears of any novelty which distinguished the legal mind. It would be said that the tenant, at present, had only a statutory 949 term of 15 years, and that they proposed, under the Bill, to give him the power of leasing for 99 years; but the objection to that was a mere technical objection; because, for all practical purposes, the tenant was a tenant in perpetuity as long as he paid his rent. Therefore, being a tenant in perpetuity, surely he had a right to give a lease for 99 years. A life tenant could give such a lease, the argument being that the life tenant represented not only his own interest, but that of the person who followed. Had the life tenant as large a representation of the interest of those who succeeded him as the farmer who had fixity of tenure, and who was destined to give his farm, if he could possibly manage it, to his children? Before many years were over, he did not suppose there were many tenants in Ire-laud who would not be absolute owners of their land. At present there was a sort of competition between the Government and the landowners, as to who should be first to make the tenant in Ireland absolute owner; and therefore any objection on the point was a mere technical objection. The clause, moreover, was important in this way—that it would save a good many of the Boards from the necessity of buying up the freehold, leasehold tenure being just as good. There were differences of opinion as to the degrees of importance of the various sections of the Bill; but, by general consent, the three first points were these—First, simplification of the proof of title; second, reduction in the rate of interest; third, the power of extending the charges over the whole Union. Not a single person had written to him with regard to this subject, who had not stated that the expense of conveyancing and proving title was absolutely prohibitory. Indeed, in a memorial which he had received from one Board of Guardians, and which represented the general feeling now existing in Ireland, it was stated that the Union had determined not to spend a single penny in proof of title; and that, in case the Government did not come forward with some amendment of the Act on that question, Boards of Guardians all over the country would not proceed one step further, but would agree in allowing the Act to remain a dead letter. He would ask hon. Members above the Gangway, of what advantage it was to them that 950 the expense in this matter should be so great? Not a penny of it went into the pockets of the landlords; and- the fact was, that, practically, there was not a sod of land in Ireland the ownership of which was not as well known as was the ownership of Windsor Castle. This question of the search for title was, after all, a matter which interested one class—the lawyers, and the lawyers only; it put money into their pockets, and their pockets only. And, what with the Land Act and the Arrears Act, and the rest, oven the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Gibson) would admit, that the lawyers had got enough. This expense of conveyancing and proof of title had actually in many cases cost as much as the land itself. [Several hon. MEMBERS: More.] That, in his opinion, was a monstrous and absurd state of things, good for nobody but the lawyers, who were being gorged with fees as the result of past legislation. He had no doubt that the House would have the interesting spectacle of the hon. and learned Gentleman the present Solicitor General and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Gibson) getting up and embracing each other, and denouncing every encroachment by the lay and practical mind on legal technicalities as an interference upon their preserves. They would say, doubtless, that conveyancing was a very difficult subject, and that to dare to touch it was sacrilege. Let the Government make any objections they liked to the plan of the Bill; but let them save the landlord and tenant and the labourer alike from this grievous and most unnecessary expenditure, or the Act of last year would remain a dead letter. He wanted the House to consider this most extraordinary state of things—that the labourers of Ireland, who were the more impoverished class of the community, were yet charged more money by the Treasury for advances than any other section of the people. When the landlords, some four or five years ago—in 1879 and 1880—wanted money, they got it on very reasonable terms—1 per cent—and for the first two years they had to pay no interest whatever. He was not going to revive the dead controversy of the fairness of the course then pursued, or to blame the Government for the handsome 951 terms given to the landlords; but the fact remained—and he wanted to enforce it on the mind of the House—that while the landlords were charged 1 per cent for advances, the tenants were charged 5 per cent, and the labourers £5 7s.6d. per cent; or, in other words, the rate of interest was in inverse proportion to the wealth of the person paying it. He maintained that unless the Government consented to a reduction of those two items of charge—the rate of interest, and the charges required for searches into titles—they might just as well repeal the Act as continue to mar the hopes of the Irish labourers with it, for it was useless. A shilling a-week was the most they could expect the labourer to pay, amounting to £2 12s. a-year, leaving a balance of about £3, taking into account the charge of 4s. for expenses. He need hardly say that that was almost prohibitory. A Board of Guardians which erected 1,000 cottages would find themselves with a deficit of nearly £3,000. As long as that state of things was allowed to continue, the Act would remain a dead letter. He did not want the Government to say that they objected to some small point or other in this Bill, and that, therefore, they objected to the Bill itself. Let the Government propose means of their own, if they would not accept those now put forward; but, at all events, let the Act be workable. There was no doubt that this question of the labourers was one of the greatest dangers to Ireland at the present moment. There was not a man who had the interest of that country at heart who did not wish that the reasonable demands now made should be complied with at once. At present everything—their destitution, the want of and the unsanitary condition of their house accommodation—tended to make the labourers of Ireland a danger to the State, and a blot upon the condition of the country itself. So long as they were not properly housed, and not otherwise improved in their condition, no one could expect anything like prosperity and peace and social order in Ireland. Another point which he would impress upon the Government was that before long—it did not matter whether in this Session or the next, or from this Ministry or another—these men would undoubtedly have the franchise; and he, therefore, appealed to the Government 952 to do them this justice now. Would it not be well for Parliament to show them, before they compelled it to do justice, that it was willing to do it voluntarily, and without any other compulsion than the urgent demand of the consciences of its Members, or the still more urgent and kind demands which were now made by those who promoted the Bill? For these reasons, he hoped that the Government would either accept the Bill, or, as he had said, carry out its objects by means of their own.
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
, in supporting the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, said, he would not blame any class; but still there had undoubtedly been resistance to the operation of the Act of last Session. Besides the three points mentioned by the previous speaker, he attached the very greatest importance to Clause 4, which gave the sanitary authorities power to execute repairs themselves, and compulsorily to acquire premises requiring repair. It would be frequently found, as had been said by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), that an expenditure of £10 or £20 would make a cottage completely habitable and decent to dwell in, although it might not come up to all the requirements of a theoretically perfect labourer's dwelling. There was no new principle in this clause, which merely carried out the 31st section of the Land Act, under which the Sub-Commissioners were authorized to order the erection or repair of dwellings where they thought it necessary, or to advance public money to the occupier for the purpose of improvement. This clause, like the Act of last year, had been inoperative, the reason being that it was left to persons who were unwilling to carry it out. The tenant farmers had thrown every obstacle in the way of the working of the clause; but if the sanitary authority had the power to enter upon any place, whether a judicial rent had been fixed or not, and order repairs to be executed, or do the repairs themselves, then there would be a chance of the labourers getting some attention. The cost in most cases would be very small, and the comfort of the labouring population would be enormously increased. He quite agreed with what had been stated regarding the reduction in the rate of interest, and the extension of the period of repayment, and with the provision that the 953 tenant under a judicial rent should be empowered to devise land for the purposes of this Bill, for they were all equally necessary in order to insure the working of the measure. In short, he looked upon it as being fair and reasonable; and he trusted that, although Her Majesty's Government might not approve of all its details, they would, at all events, give the Bill their favourable consideration, combined with a general support.
§ MR. MOORE
said, they were all waiting with anxiety to hear what the Government were going to do in this matter. He (Mr. Moore) had, he would confess, somewhat adversely criticized the Labourers' Act of last year, and rather severely, because he looked with some misgiving upon its provisions; but he had since been converted, and had come to a different conclusion. This Bill embodied the principle which was put before the House by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), when the Land Act of 1881 was being discussed; and the question was now, seeing that everybody was agreed as to the principle, how the Act of last year was to be made workable. That Act was undoubtedly difficult to understand and to work. Even Members of Parliament, accustomed to the technicalities of Bills, found some difficulty in mastering the details of the measure; and if that were so, how much more difficult would it be for the elected members of Boards of Guardians—men very often in humble positions in life—to understand and administrate it? The thing to be done was to simplify the procedure of this Bill; for he was afraid it was too complicated to be easily workable, and it would be of little real value unless it was made more expeditious in its operation, and cheaper as a system. Above all, it was necessary to reduce the cost, not only with regard to the expense of conveyancing, but also as to the rate of interest to be charged. The present rate was one which it was beyond the power of the labourers to pay. Probably, the provision for giving an half-an-acre plot would seem a terribly Radical proposal to some hon. Members; but it could not be denied that one of the most distressing features of the labourers' question was the way in which they had been driven off the land, and made to congregate in villages, 954 where the house accommodation was of the most wretched description, and the possession of this plot of land would undoubtedly raise the labourer in the social scale—in comfort and self-respect. There was no objection in itself to the labourers living away from their work and congregating in villages—that was done in France; but then look at the difference of the house accommodation. Where in Ireland would they find snug, warm cottages covered with creepers, and the broad roads which were the rule in France? Of course, it could not be proposed that, in Ireland, the sanitary authorities should buy land and turn the labourers out of the villages; but there was no difficulty in securing plots for them in the neighbourhood of those villages. The Irish labourers were a thoroughly deserving class, who worked much harder, and for longer hours, than the English agricultural labourers. During the last harvest, labourers were at famine prices. It had been impossible to get men to carry on the harvest work; and that difficulty was becoming greater and greater every year; and if these men were not afforded some degree of comfort in their humble way, lamentable consequences might ensue, for they would, in increasing numbers, join their relatives on the other side of the Atlantic. He hoped that this question of the housing of the labourers would meet with attention. It was quite as important a question as that which was involved in the Artizans' Dwellings Act for small towns. He endorsed every word that had been uttered by previous speakers; for, indeed, there was practical unanimity on the subject; and he therefore earnestly trusted that the Government would support the Bill, or bring in one of their own which would make the Act of last year operative.
§ MR. O'SULLIVAN
said, he also cordially supported the Bill. No people in the world were so badly housed as the Irish labourers; and he wondered at the absence of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis), who talked so much about the mud cabins in Ireland. When a Bill having for its object the doing away with these mud cabins was before the House, the hon. Member stayed away. He thought that if the hon. Member were earnestly desirous of improving the condition of the Irish labourers he would be in his place, and 955 support the Bill of his hon. Friend (Mr. Molloy), which would go a long way towards replacing the mud cabins by comfortable homes. The Bill would simplify the Bill of last year, which, though a very good measure, was unfortunately so complicated and so hard to understand that many Boards of Guardians gave up the effort to understand it, as being more than they could accomplish. They could not carry it out; and, therefore, the great object was now to amend it, so that they could do so. They particularly wished to curtail the legal expenses—the cost connected with the deed of conveyance, and so forth. On what ground did the Government wish to charge the unfortunate labourer £5 7s. 2d. per cent for the repayment of loans, when they would grant loans to the purchasers of land at £5 per cent for 35 years? He wished the Government to agree to this Bill, so that leases of 99 years might be entered into, as was the case in the cities and towns. The Government should recollect that this want of houses in Ireland was a great cause of pauperism. As a practical Guardian for many years-, he knew that there were innumerable cases in which labourers, after years of hard work, were compelled to go into the workhouse, because they had no other house to go to. The providing of houses for the labouring population, therefore, would be a very great step towards the extinction of pauperism. He, and his hon. Friends, asked the Treasury to reduce the rate of interest, and to extend the payment over a longer period. Surely, when the Government could borrow money at £2¾ per cent, it should be sufficient for them to charge £3 7s. 2d. per cent instead of £5 7s.2d, and to advance the loans for 50 years. He would appeal to the Government if they could devise any better plan for simplifying the Bill of last year, to bring their plan forward; but, otherwise, he hoped they would not stand in the way of this Bill, which was brought forward to reduce the rate of interest and costs, and to secure a longer period for repayment.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that the discussion up to that point had disclosed a certain amount of unanimity, and had been, in many respects, very interesting; though he thought a considerable amount of pessimism had been introduced into the speeches of hon. Members, The Go- 956 vernment had taken the responsibility for the provisions of the Act of 1883, but none of the credit. That credit belonged to the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), and those who acted with Mm in pressing the Bill upon the attention of the House; and he (Mr. Trevelyan) thought that those hon. Gentlemen had much underrated the benefits which they themselves had conferred upon Ireland in passing it. He feared that the sanguine hopes of hon. Members-from Ireland must have been unduly raised, since they were so generally disappointed as to the operation of the Act. The hon. Member for King's County (Mr. Molloy) said that the Act had been rendered futile, and that he did not see how it could prove beneficial to labourers in Ireland. The hon. Member for Waterford (Mr. Villiers Stuart) also talked of the failure of the Act; and the hon. Member for Galway, speaking of his own child, had descanted upon the necessity of turning it into a reality instead of a sham. Now, he (Mr. Trevelyan) would appeal to hon. Members to say whether it was fair to apply those words to the Labourers' Act and to its operation? The Act had only been in force for a year, and that a very short year; but in that brief period 70 Boards of Guardians had inaugurated upwards of 700 schemes, and of those Boards of Guardians 60 had carried the schemes so far as to present Petitions; there had been inquiries by Inspectors in 50 Unions with reference to 574 schemes; and in 38 Unions Orders had been actually made. There had been 34 non-compulsory Orders, including 216 houses, and 35 compulsory Orders, including 2,601 houses—that was to say, in the short period of less than one year, upwards of 2,800 houses would be erected under the operation of the Act up to the present time, and that was only a first instalment. The cost of these houses was, on an average, about £70 odd.
§ MR. PARNELL
said, he would ask the right hon. Gentleman, whether law costs were included in that estimate?
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, his impression was that the amount included law costs. The cost of a house would be something over £70, and, including the half-acre and incidental expenses, the entire cost might be averaged at £100, so that considerably upwards of £250,000 would, under the Act, in the 957 first year have been borrowed by the Irish Unions from the Treasury; and it was impossible to say that a great benefit would not thus be conferred upon Ireland. The Act was an attempt to extend to the rural districts of Ireland something in the nature of the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act, which had been extended to the large towns in England, and the terms of the Act were that where cottages were unfit for human habitation the Act should come into force. He did not know what hon. Members from Ireland meant by insufficient; but when 2,600 exceptional dwellings had been dealt with in the course of one year, he thought that could not be called a bad year's work, and that the Labourers' Act of 1883 could be spoken of as a failure. It was always an unfortunate thing, to his mind, that they should pull up legislative plants to see how they grew; and. his desire had been to make the preliminary scheme so complete that it should have the chance of running for a few years without serious alteration, in order that the full effect of it might be produced and understood before any call for serious amendment was made. As to the increase of pauperism to which the hon. Member (Mr. Villiers Stuart) had referred, the hon. Gentleman's figures stopped at the point when things began to mend for the first time for many years, although it was not disputed that, up to a certain time, there had been an increase of pauperism, although opinions differed as to the cause of it. Up to May, 1883, the number of paupers in workhouses and persons receiving outdoor relief steadily, and with only one break of one week, increased; but in May, 1883, the number of people in the workhouses in Ireland fell off by 200 as against the year before, and continued falling off, until in the last week of last year there were 3,810 fewer in the workhouses than in the previous year. The number of persons in receipt of outdoor relief continued to increase down to November last year. Then it showed for the first time a falling-off, and by the end of last year there were 2,400 fewer outdoor paupers than in the year before. And if he could trust to his recollection of the subsequent year, the diminution in both indoor and outdoor poor had been continuous and very satisfactory; yet there was now brought 958 before the House a Bill to amend the Act of last year. He did not dispute that the condition of the labouring classes of Ireland was not all we could wish it to be; and, therefore, he supported the Act of last year. It was a pity that this Bill was not in their hands before Saturday last, because, as it was, the Irish Government had only had three days for its consideration; and, seeing it involved matters upon which the Irish Government would have to consult with the Treasury as to matters upon which the Cabinet would have to decide, it would be seen that the time for consideration had not been sufficient. He would, however, say what he thought of the Bill. The first important clause was the 3rd, which provided that the Orders of the Local Government Board should not require to be confirmed by Parliament; and he must say no sufficient reason had been shown why that should not be so. Indeed, the existing Act provided that confirmation should not be required when no land was taken compulsorily, and where the ratepayers did not petition against the scheme. The cost to Boards of Guardians of the seven or eight confirming Bills now before Parliament would not be more than £5 each; and up to that time no opposition had been offered to any scheme. If opposition was offered, the fact would prove that if Parliament had not been asked to give its sanction great injustice might be done. There was no precedent for the compulsory taking of land otherwise than by Act of Parliament, and to infringe that principle would be to deprive Parliament of one of its most important functions, standing as a guarantee between the private proprietor and the public interest. The Act of 1883 made a concession to Ireland in allowing the Local Government Board to apply the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Acts by special order to urban districts; but it would be impossible to go further, and to extend the application of those provisions to all the districts of Ireland, without doing the same in England and Scotland, and that would require the consideration of the English Local Government Board and of the Scotch Board of Supervision. His first impression was, that it was proposed to apply the provisions of the Act to houses and cottages that could be made good by repairs. As regarded that point, 959 several Irish landlords of well-known patriotism and humanity had, from time to time, made representations to him in this sense—namely, that the Act should be extended so as to give the Guardians power to take over the cottages and put them in a proper state of repair, as well as to take power to buy land and build new ones, in order to save the money of the ratepayers. He did not gather that this clause proposed to do that. This clause only gave the Guardians, or the sanitary authority, power to execute repairs and alterations, and then charge the premises with the burden, leaving the premises still in the hands of the landlord. That was a very different operation from the other.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
No; the Guardians have not the other power. This clause went much further than that, and applied the Artizans' Dwelling's Act to rural districts for the purpose of the repair of cottages, which was certainly too large a power to give off-hand in an Irish Bill. Indeed, it was a power which he would hesitate to extend to Ireland at all, until a very searching and rigorous inquiry was made. That searching and rigorous inquiry he had every reason to believe would be held. The Royal Commission, which was now sitting to inquire into the housing of the poor was, he believed, about to extend its operations both to Ireland and Scotland.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, that in order to enable that Commission to extend its operations in a manner that should command the confidence of these two countries, steps had been taken to place upon it Gentlemen whom, he would venture to say, would carry out satisfactorily the objects which he had named.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, it was not his business to say at that moment who were the Gentlemen who had been invited to join the Commission, and whose names Her Majesty had been pleased to approve; but he was justified in saying that the Commission would extend its inquiry to Ireland.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he was not justified in stating any more than he had 960 done. Until the Commission had brought its inquiry to a close, however, he would venture to say that the Irish Government could not adopt such a proposal as the extension of the Artizans' Dwellings Act to rural districts in Ireland. With respect to the half-acre plot of ground to be attached to all labourers' cottages in Ireland, that was a question on which he must decline also, at the present moment, to make any distinct declaration. It was a point with respect to which it would be absolutely necessary to consult the Local Government Board. He ventured to say that it would be impossible off-hand to decide on the advantages of having half-an-acre of ground attached to a labourers' cottage; but if, in the course of time, the Royal Commission recommended an allotment scheme for England and Scotland, he could understand that, in that case, in any measure that would be necessary to be introduced in order to carry out that allotment scheme, that recommendation would be extended to Ireland; but he could not accept the proposition until the Royal Commission had reported on it. It was not necessary to dwell on Clause 5, in so far as it depended on Clause 3; but any facilities as to the details of advertising and preparing the schemes the Government were perfectly prepared to give, and would carefully consider the other proposals contained in it. With regard to the provisions for summoning of witnesses and requiring production of documents, the clause containing them, Clause 6, was superfluous, as the powers of the Inspectors in that respect were already ample, and any person who refused to obey was deemed guilty of a misdemeanour.
§ MR. TREVELYAN
said, he had gathered from the remarks of the hon. Member for Galway that the Inspectors did not make a proper use of their powers; and he would, therefore, undertake to have a prompt and thorough inquiry on that point made by the Local Government Board. Clause 7 was a very serious clause. It was a clause which gave power, where the sanitary authority had failed or refused to make a scheme, for the Local Government Board to make one. This was so arbitrary a proposal that the Government would be quite unwilling to grant it. 961 So far from wishing to centralize, the present Government would be most anxious to extend the powers and responsibilities of local authorities, further, perhaps, than some people thought could be safely laid upon them; and he thought, where operations necessitated local pecuniary guarantees and local knowledge for carrying them out, it would be most unfortunate to give the central authority power to override them. If the local bodies did not do their duty in the matter, the ratepayers had their remedy in their own hands. Then, again, if the local authority did not see its way to adopt a scheme one year, it might do so the next. The clause, in fact, would abolish one of the most valuable parts of the machinery of the Labourers' Act of 1883—namely, that there should be two authorities concerned— an initiating authority and a confirming authority; and, therefore, it was inadmissible. Then came Clause 8, giving power to lease lands. On this clause he had formed a very strong primâ facie opinion. It seemed to him that this clause proposed to cut at the root of the guarantees given by the Labourers' Act of 1883. The Labourers' Act of 1883 gave this guarantee — that the land which was taken from the landlord would be taken by a responsible local authority, which would give a pecuniary guarantee. That local body would, therefore, certainly not undertake the responsibility, unless there was very good reason for it; but, in this case, any tenant might give a lease to any person for a term of years, for a period which would be very little short of freehold possession, and he might give it under circumstances which would make all supervision and guarantee almost nugatory. He thought it would be impossible so to guard the clause, if this proposal were carried into effect, as to prevent the tenant subleasing to his own son or near relative; and the result would be, so far as he could learn, to introduce into and revive again in Ireland that which they were all so eager to discourage and banish from it—the worst social evil from which it had ever suffered—the sub-division of agricultural land. The question of Clause 9 he was very unwilling to argue. He was afraid the matter would take him into deep water; and all he could say was, that the Government was most anxious, as far as pos- 962 sible, to ascertain any means by which the legal expenses of these transactions could be diminished, and he would give hon. Members the very strongest pledge that he would consult with the Law Officers, and see whether there was any process to be discovered for reducing these expenses. But, at the same time. he must confess that he was not so hopeful as the draftsman who prepared the Bill, nor as the hon. Gentleman who had supported it. As far as he could gather, the Guardians could at that moment, if they chose, take a title of 12 years; but if they did take 12 years in-stead of 40, the clause would not indemnify them from the consequences, for he did not gather that it gave them a statutory title in the same sense as the Landed Estates Court. But if it did give a statutory title, he still could not see how the real difficulty was got over—the difficulty of seeing that the previous owners did not suffer an injustice. Of course, it would be quite possible for the Guardians to be allowed to make out a title, and to have the money at once paid into Court; but, then, the question of searching the titles for the purpose of seeing how the money should be distributed would have to be got over, and at somebody's expense. That somebody clearly could not be the landlord. It therefore merely came to this—whether the State should pay the expenses, or whether the Guardians should run the risk of having to pay them. The proposition that the State should pay them was a very serious one, and he did not quite see upon what principle it could be made. At the same time, he felt quite unable to accept the clause as it stood. He was informed it would be of no benefit to the Guardians whatever; and he must repeat, that the only promise he could make was, that the question should be very carefully considered by the Law Officers; and if any human means could be found whereby what now appeared to be an insurmountable difficulty could be overcome, he would see that they were availed of. Now he came to the two concluding clauses of the Bill, which the hon. Member for Galway declared to contain the essential point of the measure. As regarded the present terms of payment, the hon. Member appeared to consider that the Irish labourers—and he (Mr. Trevelyan) was quite willing to accept 963 their definition given by hon. Members — were exceptionally burdened. The Irish labourer had to pay £5 7s. 2d. for 30 years for every £100. But he paid that not under statute, but under the Treasury Minute which regulated the great majority of loans. He (Mr. Trevelyan) had more than once been to the Treasury, on the business of his own constituents, and had always been met with the hard-and-fast rule, and been informed that in England and Scotland people who borrowed money from the Government must borrow it on the terms laid down in this Treasury Minute. Hon. Gentlemen, had referred to a class of persons in Ireland who had been better treated; and, without much hope that the precedent could be accepted, observed that the landlords of Ireland in the winter of 1879–80 were allowed to borrow very large sums at the rate of £1 per cent. Now, in the first place, he (Mr. Trevelyan) had more than once expressed his opinion in the House that that was a very questionable transaction. At any rate, these loans were given in the most perfect good faith, under the pressure of a great fear lest the Irish people should suffer from hunger; and the object of the arrangement was to provide employment for the people; but, however that might be, he had argued pretty often in the House that that was a very bad way of meeting distress. But that advance was made for a special and temporary purpose; whereas this operation of the Treasury lending to Boards of Guardians would be permanent, universal, and constantly recurring, and was applicable to all loans. A much better analogy was furnished in the case of the loans for the purchase of land under the Land Act at £5 percent for a term of 35 years, as quoted by the hon. Member for Galway. In that case the interest was 3½ per cent; while in the case of the Treasury Minute which governed the Act of 1883 it was 3¾. Then there was this difference—in the first place, hon. Members must remember that the tenants could only borrow three-fourths of the sum, and had to find the other fourth themselves; whereas in this case the Boards of Guardians would borrow the entire sum; and, secondly, it should be borne in mind that the terms of interest under the Land Act were quite exceptional— that no such thing as lending money for 964 the purpose of creating a peasant proprietary had ever been known in England at all; whereas loans of the character under the Labourers' Act were frequently granted on the same terms as those applied in Ireland. But if the other provisions of the Bill were such as the Government could approve, the mere fact of its containing a much too favourable proposal of advance—namely, for 52 years, at only 3 per cent—would not, of itself, be insuperable, and a sufficient cause to reject the measure, and he would not on that account be unwilling to approach the Treasury on the subject, if he were not compelled, because of the other provisions, to ask the Government to reject the Bill. He was perfectly willing, however, to see whether the Treasury would give better terms than they were in the habit of doing; but the terms mentioned in the Bill it would be absolutely impossible to accept. Fifty-two years was a period during which, in many cases, the product of the loan would have been exhausted, for the cottage would be worth very much less at the end of that time than at the beginning. Therefore, to lend money for that term at 3 per cent was a step which, no doubt, the Treasury would be slow to take—in fact, they would never think of taking it on any ground whatsoever. On the last point—with regard to the area of chargeability—he could only say that the question was discussed very frequently by the Irish Government, when they were drawing up their Amendments to the Bill of the hon. Member for Galway; and they came to the conclusion that it would invalidate the strict supervision which the local authorities should give to schemes under the Bill, if the incidence of taxation could be spread over the entire Union. Whether the Local Government Board in Ireland had altered their opinion he did not know; but he had no reason to think that they had. He certainly had not heard anything himself to induce him to change his opinion. For all these reasons it was quite evident, after having gone very carefully through it, that it was a Bill to which the Government could not ask the House to give a second reading. But there were three points to which the Government would be glad to give their consideration in order to deal with them. The first was whether, following the provisions and 965 conditions of the Act of 1883, cottages might not be taken over by the Boards of Guardians for repair, as well as plots of ground acquired for building new cottages. Secondly, he was perfectly willing to approach the Treasury with reference to the money terms of the Bill; and, thirdly, he would ask the Law Officers and the Members of the Local Government Board, or the Board of Works, who were half lawyers from their minute acquaintance with these subjects, to look very closely into the question of whether there could be any available diminution in the law expenses of these transactions. Further, and lastly, the Irish Government were ready, and even eager, to receive and consider the Report of the Royal Commission when it inquired into the condition of the rural population of the urban districts of Ireland, in order to see what could be done. It was impossible for him, however, to ask the House to give a second reading to this Bill as it stood, and he had arrived at that determination after a very close and minute consideration of the Bill.
§ MR. PARNELL
Sir, the course which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has been pursuing this Session with regard to Bills brought forward by Irish Members, and supported by the unanimous feeling of Members for Ireland sitting on both sides of the House, reminds me very much of the course which was followed in the last Parliament by two right hon. Gentlemen who then held the same office, the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. Lowther). These right hon. Gentlemen, upon every occasion when Bills were brought forward by Irish Members, met them with a refusal or a negative; and the right hon. Gentleman who now holds the same Office seems to consider it his highest duty to imitate the example—the evil example—of his two Predecessors. This is the third Bill this Session which the Irish Members have brought forward, and which were supported, not only by the unanimous opinion of the Irish Members who sit on those Benches, but by those Irish Members who are supporters of Her Majesty's Government. This is the third Bill, I say, so introduced, which has been met with a blank refusal by the right hon. Gentleman; and he cer- 966 tainly cannot complain, since he has chosen to turn himself into a deliberate obstructor of Irish legislation, if he and his Government meet with a little retaliation in these matters. I hope the lesson will not be thrown away on those who have been dubbed by the Prime Minister "nominal Home Rulers," that this is the reward that they, and the more regular supporters of the Liberal Party, receive for their journeys and exertions in coming so industriously, on every critical occasion, to support the Government. I do not know that I ever listened to a speech with more pain than that which I have experienced while listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He seemed entirely to have misunderstood the true gravity of this question. If he turned to the Census of the decennial period, ending 1881, he would find that, of a labouring population of only 247,855, close on 100,000 left the country. In fact, the emigration of other classes of the people, as compared with the agricultural labourers, was a mere fraction. Now, Sir, the hon. Member for the borough of Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) called the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to three vital points in the Bill, and he entreated him to deal with those, and not to base his opposition to the Bill upon minor and unimportant points; but it was not until the end of his speech that the right hon. Gentleman deigned to refer to those three points, although it had been pointed out that they were the vital points of the Bill. The three points to which we attach most vital importance are the diminution of the expense of proving the title where the landlord dissents from the scheme brought forward by the Board of Guardians; the reduction of interest, and the extension of the period of payment; and the extension of the area of chargeability. The right hon. Gentleman devoted a very large portion of his speech to rebutting features in the Bill which were certainly of minor importance, and he paid very little attention to the important and more weighty subjects brought under his notice. He has told us that we are claiming too little credit for the working of the Act; but I should be only too glad if we possibly could, as honest men, claim, in anticipation, that this Act of last Session was likely to work successfully. It was 967 drafted by my hon. Friend the Member for Galway and myself; it was carried with but very little assistance from the Government, and against the passive resistance of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway on this side (the Conservatives), so that we should be only too glad to claim all the credit we could for that Act; but we do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in his estimate of what it has done for the labourers of Ireland. It is a mere illusion for the right hon. Gentleman to suppose that the erection of the large number of labourers' cottages which he read to the House is at all likely to be carried out. According to all the evidence which has been given at the inquiries regarding those schemes, and which must have come under the notice of the Department of which the right hon. Gentleman is President, the cost of the investigation of title in an opposed scheme will be as much as the cost of building the house—that is, the average cost of each investigation will be £50, making every allowance for the fact that many of them will be very simple to carry out. In the estimates which have been made by Boards of Guardians throughout the country regarding the building of those houses, and the obtaining of lands, no sufficient provision has been made for the cost of proving title; because it could not be known in advance whether that cost would have to be borne by the Guardians or by the landlords. I am now convinced that in cases where the landlords dissent, or something like 85 per cent of the whole number of schemes under the Act, the Boards of Guardians, finding themselves face to face with this great expense of proving the title, will probably drop the schemes altogether. The result will be that the great expectations raised in the minds of the agricultural labourers as to the operation of the Act by this course of action will be turned to bitter disappointment. This is a very serious question. It is true these labourers have been a patient and long-suffering class. They have not committed outrages, and they have not houghed cattle; nor have they done any of those numerous things which appear to be necessary to direct the attention of the Liberal Government to legislation for Ireland. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he talks with such confidence of the Report of a 968 Royal Commission, which consists entirely of Englishmen, whether he really intends to wait until the Irish labourers burn the houses over the heads of the dissenting landlords before he does anything? These labourers have been very patient and long-suffering; and it is intolerable we should be told that these people may wait on their mud floors and under their leaky roofs until this Royal Commission has first investigated the grievances of English labourers in the course of the next 12 months or two years, and that then it will go over to Ireland to investigate a question which has been already investigated, until there is no more room for investigation. It is not investigation that is required; but the removal of difficulties that stand in the way of working the measure. We had the Devon Commission 40 years ago, which amassed a vast amount of valuable information as to the condition of the agricultural labourers, and made recommendations which have never been acted upon. We have discharged our responsibility. We have pointed out difficulties in the way of the working of this Act, and on the head of the Government will be the responsibility of obstructing this measure, and of doing what is necessary to render the working of it a reality and not a sham. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister had been in his place he would not have permitted the right hon. Gentleman to have taken up his present attitude. The Prime Minister told us, early in the Session, that the Bill would receive favourable attention, and hinted it would get exceptional facilities for passing, and that, if it were blocked, Government time would be given to it. But the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place now. I can only regret his absence, and deplore that he should be represented by so poor a substitute—a Gentleman with so very poor sympathy for Ireland as the Chief Secretary for Ireland. He said that the ingenuity of the Irish lawyers would be ransacked to endeavour to make these transfers of land less expensive, adding that that could not be done without an Act of Parliament. But the right hon. Gentleman has not told us even that he will bring in any Bill to simplify the conveyancing of the land, so as to prevent the failure of the Act in so important a 969 respect. The result of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman will be to deter the Boards of Guardians from putting the Act in motion unless they are obliged; and, in fact, it has already been found very difficult to get them to do so. I wish to give every recognition to the way in which the Act has been received by the elected Guardians; but in every case it has been left to the ex-officio Guardians to obstruct the working of the measure. They have insisted on inquiries, which causes charges and costs of a useless description, without any convenience or advantage to the public. The elected Guardians have done everything which could reasonably be expected to make the measure a success; but it is out of the question to expect that they will incur those charges and costs for the purpose of filling the pockets of gentlemen of the long robe in Ireland, who have already taken far too large a share of the good things resulting from this land legislation. The right hon. Gentleman, too, refused an extension of the area. I am certainly surprised he should have taken up that attitude; for two years ago, if not more recently, he announced that he himself was going to bring forward a measure for Union rating in Ireland. I suppose that, even in that respect, the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman have been changed by contact with the permanent officials of the Local Government Board. He also says it would be hopeless to approach the Treasury asking for an extension of the period of repayment to 52 years, or to get the rate of interest reduced below 3½ per cent. That augurs very little for the wonderful scheme of land purchase which the right hon. Gentleman expects to introduce, and which I am curious to know how it will work out. The matter stands thus—For your loans to landlords you charged only 1 per cent; for the loans to the tenants 3½ per cent; and you charge the labourers—the most impoverished class in the community— £3 17s.8d., or about 3½ per cent. Now, if there was one thing that public opinion expressed itself clearly upon last winter it was that of the housing of the poor, both in England and Ireland, and the unanimous opinion was that the public Exchequer should make exceptional advances, in the shape of loans, for the purpose of housing de- 970 cently the agricultural and labouring populations of the Three Kingdoms; and it is intolerable, therefore, when we make a request, that we should be met with the poor encouragement the right hon. Gentleman has given us on the present occasion. However, we have taken the responsibility off our shoulders. We have undertaken to present a Bill to the notice of this House of an essentially moderate character—simply confined to meeting obvious defects of the Act which experience of its working has shown to exist. In doing so, we run the risk of being denounced by many of our own friends. But I am glad our Bill is a moderate one. The fact of its being so, and of its being received in the way it has been, will open the eyes of the Irish people to the extreme difficulty of obtaining any sort of justice or fair play even from a Liberal Government, and it will show some of the difficulties that we have to contend with in these matters. The responsibility is now transferred to the shoulders of the right hon. Gentleman; and if the result is as it should be, and as it must be, these schemes brought forward under the Act will hopelessly break down in the working, and the right hon. Gentleman will only have himself to thank for it that it is so.
§ MR. GIBSON
said, that any measure calling itself either an original or amending measure, having for its object the building or improvement of labourers' cottages in Ireland, was obviously, from the nature of things, entitled to a most respectful hearing, and the kindest and closest sympathy of the House. He was quite sure that every hon. Member who had assisted in the discussion had done so with an anxious desire to see whether or not a good case had been made out for the second reading of the Bill. Both hon. Gentlemen, the Mover and Seconder of the measure, had put the matter in a very persuasive point of view, when they said that the object of it was to make the Act recently passed workable. That, of course, suggested that the Act was not workable, and that if it was not amended it would remain a dead letter. He (Mr. Gibson) had listened attentively to the whole discussion, and the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, who, as President of the Local Government Board in Ireland, was 971 charged with carrying it out, and the record he had given was that a steady and increasing work was being done under the Act; and, therefore, it was obvious that its operation was a substantial one. He (Mr. Gibson) had also seen—as everyone who read the Irish newspapers must have seen—that the Act, although it had attracted a great amount of attention in Ireland, having been brought before the attention of a great many bodies of local authorities, was only now beginning to be thoroughly understood and realized by many of them; and, next year, they might fairly and reasonably expect that, with increasing knowledge and experience, it would come to have a wider operation. The Act had really only been in operation between eight and nine months, and must obviously require a strong case to show that it was necessary to amend an Act so shortly after its passing, as they were now asked to do. If it could be shown, by those who were responsible for its administration, that it had been instrumental in the building of 2,000 houses, and that a great many schemes were waiting to be considered, it was clear that it was an Act which was working, and was likely to work more. As regarded the remarks of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) in reference to the spirit in which the Act had been received when it was presented in August last, all he (Mr. Gibson) could say was, that there never was a Bill introduced at any time into Parliament that was more provocative of criticism, and met with so little criticism of a hostile character. Every hon. Member knew that any single Member could have stopped the progress of the Bill had he so wished; but it was the loyal co-operation of the landlords above the Gangway who practically enabled the Bill to pass into law at all. So that when the hon. Member for the City of Cork, in a sort of "aside," as if he were uttering a mere truism, stated that the measure was resisted by the Irish landlords, he (Mr. Gibson) might also be permitted to have his "aside," and to reply that there was no foundation in fact for the statement. Now, it was noteworthy that the great Department in Ireland that had the administration of this Bill intrusted to it was the Local Government Board there, and the Local Government Board was a Board, 972 of course, of much importance. He (Mr. Gibson), however, was not aware that that body had found it necessary, in its administration of the Act, to ask for any amendment of it this Session; and, in his idea, it would be a strong thing to do to force upon that Board powers which it did not need. [Mr. HEALY: Hear, hear!] Parliament had a right to take into account these matters, when they found that a great measure intrusted to a certain Department was found not to require that Department to have to come to Parliament to ask for further powers to enable it to work the Act properly. Another question, too, was obviously how the Act was administered; but if there were any faults in its administration, of course that was a matter that could readily be corrected, by their being brought under the notice of the Government by Questions in the House. The subject was an enticing one; but he should not be induced to go into it. What was sought to be accomplished, and what he could understand the necessity for, and was favourable to, was the simplification and cheapening of the process of transfer, the proving of title, and the lessening of the cost of conveyancing by some diminution of the Stamp Duty, and otherwise. But he did not think that the measure before the House would accomplish that; and he thought that, possibly, some machinery might be suggested in the scheme which the Chief Secretary for Ireland was going to introduce in a few days, by which the transfer of land and the examination of title, so far as regarded cost, might be diminished and rendered a subject of less trouble. With regard to the first point, the Bill proposed to treat a man as the owner of property, who was not so, and would allow him to grant leases of portions of that property, for the purpose of transferring from him that which might, and actually did, belong to some one else. That, no doubt, would be a simplification of title; but it would be attended with inconvenience to certain persons—the real owners of the property in question. In reference to the subject of the diminution of the amount of interest payable to the Government on their advances, he did not propose to discuss that subject, it being one on which Irishmen invariably sank all differences of Party and 973 endeavoured to approach in a broad and catholic spirit. Accordingly, he was disposed to leave that question where he found it, hoping that the Treasury would find it possible for once to open their hearts and endeavour to do something in the way of liberal and generous action as regarded it in a frank and fairway. The other topic suggested was that of making a change in the area of charge—a subject which he thought a very important one—but he was not aware that there had been anything adduced to show the pressing necessity for a change in that direction. He could not help saying that there were other clauses in the Bill which had not been noticed, or had been passed over lightly; for instance, as regarded the powers enabling the sanitary authorities to appropriate, under certain conditions, half-an-acre of land for the labourer's dwelling and his use, there was nothing which would prevent the labourers on one farm getting half-an-acre on another; and he (Mr. Gibson) could see that there would be great heart burnings and no end of complications between the tenants and labourers on that account, without great care and caution were exercised. He also thought that the clause sweeping away the protection afforded when the land was compulsorily taken, in requiring a Provisional Order, was one which it was quite obvious could not be assented to. He was as anxious as anyone could be to advance the condition of the Irish labourer and improve his cottage. Last year he, and those who acted with him, willingly assented to the passing of the Labourers' Act for Ireland. That Act was now in operation; indeed, he believed it was increasing in operation. It was a good Act, so far as it had been tested, and he did not think a case had now been made out for its amendment. If, however, in the future, it should be shown on questions of detail that it was not working smoothly and well, why then it would be time to come to Parliament, and ask them to consider whether they were not willing to revise the work and make it better.
§ MR. W. SHAW
said, he did not believe that any hon. Member from Ireland who knew anything of the working of the Labourers' Act would think that it did not require some 974 amendment. He said, for himself, that it required a great deal of amendment, so much so, that he had had an expectation that the Government would bring in an amending Bill. In fact, in the Union with which he was most connected the Act was almost a dead letter. It had been brought in last year along with another Bill—the Tramways and Public Companies (Ireland) Bill—at a period of the Session when it was impossible to amend it in any way; and they had been told that if they touched its provisions at all it would come to a speedy end. The consequence was that the Irish Labourers' Act and the Tramways and Public Companies Act passed in a shape in which they were found to be unworkable; for he did not believe that ever two Bills passed through the House that more needed amendment than they did. He was much disappointed at the manner in which the Chief Secretary for Ireland had met the Bill. He (Mr. Shaw) did not exactly know at that moment what course he might take in consequence of that opposition; but, at any rate, when the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill), who now led the Opposition, and who led it very well, brought forward his next Vote of Censure—and he (Mr. Shaw) hoped the noble Lord would keep to what he had said on the point—it would be for the Irish Members to consider whether they should not signalize their disappointment with the conduct of the Government as regarded the matter. That there was reason for its amendment was shown by the fact that every official of the Irish Local Government Board that he (Mr. Shaw) had met admitted it to be unworkable. It was impossible to extend the operation of the Act throughout Ireland; for, with its present cost, it imposed a burden on the Unions which many of them could riot bear, and the whole machinery was too elaborate. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had spoken of the Royal Commission sitting in Dublin. If it did that, it would not do much good. If, however, the Commissioners desired to do some good in Ireland, they should tramp through the country and see the miserable dwellings of the Irish labourers for themselves; and, if they did so, they would raise a cry which 975 would go to the public mind and heart of this country. But they would really do no such thing. He would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, if he would not bring in a measure himself, should refer the Bill to a Committee of Irish Members. The right hon. Gentleman had himself admitted that, in a good many points, the Act should be amended; and if he referred it to a Select Committee there would be an amount of attention given to it by Members on both sides of the House which would make it a perfectly good, workable Bill. If, however, he did not do so, they would have very good cause of complaint.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) spoke of the Labourers' Act having been loyally taken up by the elected Guardians and obstructed by the ex-officio Guardians; but it was his (Colonel King-Harman's) opinion, from personal knowledge, that a more unfounded statement than that was never made. The main cause why the Labourers' Act had not worked better and more extensively was that it had been used by the elected Guardians as an instrument of terrorism, and not in the spirit in which the House had intended it to be applied. In a number of cases with which he was acquainted efforts had been made by the elected Guardians to place cottages on the holdings of tenants differing from them in political or other opinions; and several schemes had teen thrown out, because it was attempted to place the houses not whore they were really wanted, but simply for the annoyance of loyal and respectable men. Although he thought the Labourers' Act required amendment, it was not his intention to vote at all on the question, for the simple reason that there were some points in the Bill which were good. He sincerely hoped that, as soon as possible, the Chief Secretary for Ireland would carry out the promise to do his best to induce the Treasury to modify the cost of procedure. There were, however, other clauses in the Bill which made it impossible for him to support it. He knew a number of hon. Gentlemen who knew nothing about the Bill would support it, and that a larger number who knew nothing about it 976 would vote against it; but he would content himself by simply walking out of the House.
§ MR. MOLLOY
said, he would ask the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether he would consent to remit this matter to a Select Committee, and thus save the House the trouble of a Division?
§ MR. TREVELYAN
, in reply, said, that some of the reasons he had given for the rejection of the Bill had been misunderstood. He had desired to express his goodwill to the object of the Bill, although he wished to say it was such a Bill that the Government could not accept. He had consulted with his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Sir Charles W. Dilke), and they thought that the question of the housing of the Irish poor was one which might very well be referred to a Select Committee. Therefore, although the Bill was not such that he could assent to its second reading, he had no objection to the subject itself being referred to a Select Committee.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 75; Noes 138: Majority 63.—(Div. List, No. 101.)