§ Order for Second Reading read
§ (12.33.) DR. FOX (Tullamore)
I rise for the purpose of moving the Second Reading of this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, in introducing another measure, stated that the time had come when something of a practical nature might be done for the benefit of the labourers of Ireland, and he propounded a scheme which we who claim to know Ireland a little better than the right hon. Gentleman regard as purely experimental. We object to that scheme because we believe it is not likely to succeed, and we object to the employment of Irish funds for any experiment of the kind. We claim that if the right hon. Gentleman wants to experiment he should experiment not with Irish but with English money, and we also claim that we have proved by the Bill we now propose that we are as ready as he to do something for the labourers of Ireland, though with this difference, that we want to do something of a practical and tangible nature, and to spend the money for the benefit not only of the Irish labourers 879 but the Irish tenants generally—the Irish shopkeepers, and even the Irish landlords. I find from the Report furnished to this House in 1888 the number of cottages applied for amounted to 19,860, while the number authorised up to that date was 9,552. Of those the number actually erected was 3,172, the number then in progress was 1,792, and the estimated cost was £934,480, the amount sanctioned by the Treasury being £820,997. This clearly shows that there is in Ireland a great demand for labourers' cottages, and also that under the existing law those cottages have not been supplied. It necessarily follows that there must have been some grave defect in the mode of procedure, because whereas the number of cottages applied for was 19,860, the number authorised to be built was only 9,552. I will, however, in order to illustrate my argument, take the case of one or two specific Unions. In the Union of Tramore there were 287 cottages applied for. The number authorised to be built was only 83; of these, only 63 were erected, while 12 were in progress. The estimated cost of these cottages was £861, and the amount sanctioned by the Treasury was £8,580. This money was to be obtained at an interest of 3¾ per cent., which would amount to£4 9s. 2d. on every £100 borrowed. I next take the case of Nenagh. There the number of houses required was 262, which were obtained at an average cost of £132, entailing an amount of interest of £1,400 per annum. The income obtainable from the rent was about £630, leaving the largr balance of £770 a year to be met by the taxpayers. Those figures do not include an estimated cost of about £50 per annum for the repair of the cottages. Well, Sir, I think I have shown that there is a great demand for labourers' cottages in Ireland. That has been admitted by all Parties of this House. I have further claimed that the demand for those cottages is not met by the present law. I also claim that there is a grave defect in the law, because there is no compulsory power to do more than lease land in such cases, whereas we contend that there ought to be a compulsory right to purchase land at a fair valuation. Another point I should like to put before the House is this: that 880 while you say you are benefitting the labourer, you are, at the same time, imposing heavy taxation upon the taxpayer. We say that, inasmuch as the money you are proposing to deal with is Irish money, you ought to give us the chance of doing what we like with our own; and I put it to the House, in what better way could the surplus fund of any nation be employed than in benefiting the people? I will not detain the House further, except to say that the admissions already made by the Chief Secretary have rendered it quite unnecessary for me to further recommend this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman admits that his measure is a purely experimental one, and it is surrounded by grave difficulties. That admission he has made again and again. I ask him whether, under these circumstances, we ought to be called upon to pass a measure for the expenditure of Irish funds in a way which we do not believe will be beneficial, but which we do believe will inflict great loss upon the Irish people. On the other hand, the Bill which we now propose, although a small measure, is one which we believe will be devoid of all danger, and of advantage alike to the labourers, the general taxpayers, the shopkeepers, and even the landlord himself. I have great pleasure in moving the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,. "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Dr. Fox.)
§ (12.40.) MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
My hon. Friend has been exceedingly brief in the remarks he thought it necessary to make in introducing this Bill to the notice of the House. I commend his action in that respect and shall follow his example. I shall, therefore, be brief in performing the duty of seconding the Second Reading of this measure, because I believe that the House for the past eight or nine years has heard all the arguments that could possibly be adduced in favour of this measure. Year after year we have felt it to be our duty to introduce measures for the purpose of ameliorating the condition of the Irish people, and year after year those measures have met with the hostility of the Government, and the condemnation of this House, 881 that condemnation having been shown by the rejection of those measures. Hence it is that we have come to the resolution that we ought not to weary the House by prolonged arguments in favour of this Bill. Measures like this we shall briefly introduce; we shall ask the opinion of the House upon them, leaving it to the House, should it think fit, to follow the example of previous Parliaments, and throw those measures into the waste paper basket. I notice that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston) has a notice on the Paper for the rejection of this Bill. In his Motion he points out that the Church Surplus Fund is already hypothecated for the purposes of the Irish Land Purchase Bill, and is, therefore, not available for the purposes of this measure. Now, Sir, Agricultural Labourers' Acts have been passed in this House before, and this Bill is a measure intended to facilitate the operation of those Acts; it seeks to use the National Fund in Ireland for that purpose—a fund to which the Irish people have an undeniable right. Doubtless, the hon. Member for South Belfast will be glad to have the Church Surplus Fund go where so much has gone before, namely, into the pockets of his friends the landlords. It is not many years ago since the leader of the former Conservative Government. Lord Beaconsfield, gave a million of that money to the landlords of Ireland, or rather lent it to them at an interest of 1¼ per cent. The people of Ireland have for many years been relieved of the necessity and burden of supporting that institution, and surely the people of Ireland, and more especially the labourers, ought to be entitled to the residue of that fund, taking into account that the landlords have received so much from us already. I object to the remnant of that fund being devoted to the purposes of the Land Purchase Bill, and I claim it for the labourers of Ireland who are entitled to it. With regard to one clause of this Bill, which states that the price to be paid should not exceed 20 years' purchase, I would point out that that proposition is based on one mode by the Chief Secretary, who has made it the maximum of the price to be paid for the land. This, I think, is quite enough to convince the mind of any reasonable man. I shall conclude my few remarks by 882 stating that the labourers of Ireland are a very improving class of people, and of this I will furnish an illustration to the House. I have the honour to represent a portion of Ireland well-known to the hon. Member for Huntingdonshire. It is not long since, under the operation of the Labourers' Act, the Board of Poor Law Guardians built a number of labourers' cottages in a district with which he is well acquainted. They are sound, comfortable dwellings. The labourers were brought out of the huts and hovels they had formerly occupied on the estate of the hon. Member, and put into these dwellings, where they lived very comfortably. A short time ago, on a fine summer's afternoon, I was driving amongst these people, and I went into a number of the labourers' cottages. Although I was pleased with many things I saw, there were many others that were not very satisfactory to me. I was accompanied by my friend the Chairman of the Poor Law Guardians (Mr Dalton), and I said, "I will give a prize of £5 to the occupier of the best kept cottage of the Union." Well, Sir, that offer was announced in the paper, and the result was that in many cases the manure heap was removed from the front to the back of the dwellings, and the price of geranium pots went up in the district. In point of fact, the houses bloomed internally and externally into flowery warden plots. I claim, Sir, on behalf of the labourers of Ireland, that they are an artistic and floral people if you only give them a chance; and if the hon. Member for Huntingdonshire only paid as much attention to the duties belonging to his position as he does to the enforcement of its rights he might have his estate in Tipperary one of the most beautiful in the three Kingdoms. If he did this instead of enforcing his rights, and encouraging other landlords as bad as himself to enforce their rights, there would not be a more picturesque portion of these realms. If the labourers of Ireland only had fair-play and due encouragement, such as we ask this House to give by the passing of this Bill, we should have among the labourers of Ireland a thriving and prosperous community, and be the means of preserving a very useful class of people. I have great pleasure, for these reasons, in 883 seconding the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *(12.50.) MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast,S.)
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of moving the Amendment which stands in my name, namely,That, inasmuch as it appears from a Return laid upon the Table of the House that the present value of the Church Surplus is insufficient to cover both the charge imposed on it by 'The Land Purchase Bill, 1890,' and the additional charge of £1,500,000 for the purpose of erecting labourers' cottages, and as the Land Purchase Bill, which has been read a second time, provides special facilities for improving the dwellings of labourers, this House declines to sanction a proposal which will deprive the population of the poorest portion of Ireland of the funds requisite for ameliorating their condition.In moving this Amendment I shall follow the example of brevity set by the Mover and Seconder of the Bill. I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite should be allowed to pose as the only friends of the labourers. The Members who sit on these (the Ministerial) Benches are just as anxious to promote the comfort of the labourers as any of those who sit opposite, and in the Resolution I have the honour to move I desire to manifest no hostility to the labourers of Ireland. What I want to affirm is that the provisions of this Bill cannot be carried out concurrently with the Land Purchase Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. As hon. Members are aware the Land Purchase Bill provides, through one of its clauses, for the erection of labourers' cottages; but if the Irish Church surplus, whatever it may be, is to be appropriated by this Bill, it is quite impossible that the benevolent intentions of the Chief Secretary can be carried out. Those Members who are opposed to the whole policy of the Government, who are opposed to land purchase, and who are hostile to the whole of the scheme of the Chief Secretary, are consistent in pressing forward this Bill, and in accusing the Government of want of generosity towards the labourers; but those who desire to see a practical scheme carried out—and the Bill of the Chief Secretary is a practical one—are consistent in supporting the Land Purchase Bill. Believing that the latter Bill is a masterly and statesmanlike measure, and 884 that its operation will benefit the class of people this Bill professes to serve, I have great pleasure in moving the Amendment which stands in my name.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "inasmuch as it appears from a Return laid upon the Table of the House that the present value of the Church Surplus is insufficient to cover both the charge imposed on it by The Land Purchase Bill, 1890.' and the additional charge of £1,500,000 for the purpose of erecting labourers cottages, and as the Land Purchase Bill, which has been read a second time, provides special facilities for improving the dwellings of labourers, this House declines to sanction a proposal which will deprive the population of the poorest portion of Ireland of the funds requisite for ameliorating their condition,"—(Mr. Johnston,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (12.55.) MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. J. O'Connor) that measures of this description have invariably met with hostility on the Government side of the House. I am confident the hon. Gentleman will on reflection admit, that since the inception of legislation on behalf of the labourers of Ireland such legislation has always been received with cordiality by hon. Members on the Conservative side of the House, and so far as I and some of my hon. Friends are concerned, the present Bill will not be received with hostility. I do not intend to vote for the Amendment, but to vote for the Bill. I cannot, however, give the measure very much praise, because I cannot see that any clause of it will really do anything to promote the legislation which right hon. Members opposite have at heart. I rather imagine that, until quite recently, hon. Members have not been quite sure what they would put in the Bill; indeed, the revelation made by the Chief Secretary, to the effect that the Church surplus amounted to £1,500,000, must have been a God-send to them. However, I prefer to devote that £1,500,000 to the purposes of this Bill rather than to the purchase of land, and therefore I propose to join hon. Members opposite in support of this measure. But I totally 885 differ from hon. Members opposite as to the mode in which they propose to apply the money. The Bill is brought in by hon. Members opposite under the guise of advancing the interests of the labourers of Ireland, but really to save the pockets of the ratepayers in certain districts; and if I vote with hon. Gentlemen opposite in favour of the Bill, it will be with the intention of moving in Committee such amendments as will make the Bill a real Bill for the benefit of the labourers all over Ireland—amendments which will enable the labourers of Ulster who are now deliberately excluded from the benefits of the Bill, to obtain some advantage from the operation of the measure. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill got up the most recent statistics as to the progress of the Labourers' Acts in Ireland. I will admit that, having regard to the clauses of the Bill, it does not matter whether he took the statistics of last year or of the year before. He laid great stress on the fact that there was a demand for labourers' houses which had not been complied with, and that that demand had not arrived at a satisfactory solution. But whose fault is it that labourers' houses have not been provided? Undoubtedly the fault is altogether to be attributed to the action of the Poor Law Guardians themselves. In one of the Unions specified just now as being insufficiently supplied, I find that over 55 of the houses applied for have been abandoned by the Sanitary Authority who had charge of the carrying out of these schemes. ["No, No!"] I have the statistics here, and that certainly is the case. In the North of Ireland the Labourers' Acts have proved nearly abortive owing to the action of the elected Guardians. In the Union of Ballymena, for example, no action would have been taken but for the strenuous exertions of the ex officio Guardians. This Bill will do nothing to remedy the difficulty under which the labourers in Ulster suffer at the present moment. While I shall vote for the Second Reading, I intend, if the Bill reaches the Committee stage, to move Amendments which will enable those on whose behalf this class legislation is promoted to take, at all events, the initial steps by which they can secure a discussion of 886 their scheme by the Boards of Guardians. I intend also to move the insertion of clauses giving the Local Government Board control over the action of the Boards of Guardians, which is at present dictated solely by a regard to their own interests and not with a view to remedy such defects as may substantially exist. I have now only to express my regret that hon. Members opposite, having been fortunate enough to secure the first place on a Wednesday, should not have taken a little more trouble over a Bill of this class and should not have endeavoured to make it a little more effective. I have no doubt that if they desire seriously to benefit the labouring class in Ireland they will be prepared in Committee to receive such. Amendments as will make the Bill a satisfactory piece of legislation. I regret that I cannot follow my hon. Friend who has moved the Amendment, and I shall vote in favour of the Bill.
§ *(1.10.) MR. MULHOLLAND (Londonderry, N.)
I think I am right in regarding the 3rd clause as the central point of the Bill. Concurring as I do with the views expressed by the hon. Member opposite, and also by my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney), as to the method there proposed for spending the Church surplus, I feel bound to support the Second Reading of this Bill. As has been represented by the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading, the Church surplus is essentially Irish money, and ought to be devoted to the benefit of all parts of the country. I am bound, however, to dissociate myself from the proposal winch has been made with regard to the distribution of this money. Hon. Members opposite propose to devote about £500.000 for the benefit of what I may call the Nationalist parts of Ireland, and the remaining £1,000,000 is to be held up for the remaining Boards of Guardians to scramble for on the principle of "first come, first served." I think I shall not be very far wrong in stating that the result will be that hon. Members opposite and their friends will secure nine-tenths of it. I think this affords a good illustration of the way in which Ulster would be treated by a Home Rule Government. I differ from 887 those who assume that this Bill if passed would be in any way a final settlement of the question. The Boards of Guardians in Ulster, at any rate, have not shown the smallest inclination to carry the Acts into effect, and even when they are stimulated by this sum of money the Acts will still remain a dead letter in many parts of the country. The fact is, that the farmers, who are paramount on the Boards of Guardians in Ulster, have not shown the smallest disposition to act for the benefit of the labourers. It is a matter of extreme regret that the Land Commissioners have not dealt with the question by exercising the powers conferred upon them by the 19th clause of the Act of 1881. I hope my right hon. Friend (Mr. A. J. Balfour) may suggest some method by which the Land Commissioners may be encouraged to exercise those powers in the future. Members below the Gangway on the opposite side will, no doubt, say that the landlords are responsible for the failure of the Labourers' Acts in Ulster; but I assure them, from my personal knowledge of several Unions in the Counties of Down and Derry, that they are altogether misinformed. The labourers know very well that the landlords, as a rule, are in favour of giving a fair trial to the Acts passed for their benefit. I am surprised that this question has been left so long in the hands of private Members, and that the House has had as yet no indication of the course which the Government in tend to pursue. I think hon. Members hardly recognise the extreme importance of the labourers. A great deal has been done for the farmers, and very little for the labourers, who number, with their families, about 1,500,000, as against 2,500,000 farmers. The labourers in my constituency are looking forward with great interest and anxiety to the speech which the Chief Secretary is going to deliver, and if, on account of the clause in the Land Purchase Bill the right hon. Gentleman is unable to support this measure, I hope he will give some distinct assurance that the Government intend to deal with the question before long in a thorough and practical manner.
§ *(1.20.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
If this Bill were what it professes to be—a Bill to benefit the labourers—I should be 888 the very last person to vote against it. But the title of the Bill is most deceptive. It has nothing to do with the agricultural labourers, and will not put a shilling in their pockets in any part of Ireland. If it had been introduced from these Benches it would very properly have been called a Bill for the relief of landlords. It is simply because it is impossible for Members opposite to devise means for relieving labourers out of the rates that the measure is brought in at all. The present Acts, if properly put in force, are amply sufficient to supply labourers with cottages where they are required. No doubt those Acts have not been as operative as we could have wished; but this Bill would do very little indeed towards mending matters. It is meant to benefit labourers in the agricultural districts. A very large proportion of the agricultural labourers in Ireland live in the small towns, and to them the Bill offers no assistance towards getting their dwellings improved. I object to the appropiation of the Church surplus in the manner proposed. If the Church surplus be applied to anything it ought to be applied to the reduction of the enormous tithe rent-charge annuities amounting to 22½ years' purchase, a sum out of all proportion to the value now fixed upon Irish land. But if not applied to that purpose it ought to be applied to the solution of the most pressing and important of Irish problems—a problem which has hitherto proved insoluble—the relief of the congested districts. Whether the sum available will be sufficient to produce any effectual results in the congested districts I am unable to say. It will largely depend upon the manner in which hon. Gentlemen opposite deal with the question, and whether they encourage their constituents to accept the boon offered to them in the spirit in which it is tendered. I shall vote for the rejection of the Bill.
§ *(1.25.) THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. PLUNKET,) Dublin University
I do not intend to speak at any great length on this Bill, but I do wish to point out to the House the very peculiar character which this Debate has hitherto assumed. This Bill, introduced professedly for the purpose of improving 889 the condition of the labourers of Ireland, has received hardly any explanation. Hut the most remarkable thing is the way in which the Bill proposes to deal with the Irish Church surplus, and the casual manner in which that all-important paragraph of the Bill has been treated by the Members who have brought forward the measure. I wish to say for myself, and I am sure my Colleagues on this Bench agree with me, that any such measure, if it had not contained this particular proposal for allocating and absorbing £1,500,000 of the Irish Church surplus, would have received from them the most careful and friendly consideration. [Ironical Home Rule cheers.] Why should it not? Do hon. Members opposite really pretend that the present Government is disinclined to confer advantages on the Irish labourers? [Home Rule cries of "Hear hear!"] Well, then, to say any such thing is one of the grossest of calumnies ever uttered without a shadow of foundation. The Irish supporters of the present Government who have spoken to-day are so anxious for the advantage of the Irish labourers that they are willing to vote for a Bill which each of them has condemned as almost ludicrously inadequate. I say it is mere claptrap to make such accusations against any Government. It is the exaggeration of absurd partisanship which prompts such a charge. The policy of hon. Members opposite to-day is perfectly plain. Having present a very large number of their friends, their object is to Snap a Division which may seem tote destructive of the Land Purchase Bill of the Government. Hon. Members propose in this Bill to allocate £1,500,000 of the Irish Church surplus to this particular purpose of benefitting the agricultural labourers of Ireland. When did they first think of this admirable scheme of financial policy? How many of their leaders have sanctioned the proposal? I challenged hon. Gentlemen opposite, and especially the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), who was in the House a few minutes ago, and who, if he is not here now, can be informed of what I say, to deny that this proposal is merely an afterthought put forward for no other purpose than to deprive the Government of the use of 890 that sum for the purpose of meeting the great and grave difficulty which presses upon them in the congested districts of Ireland. Why do I say that? The House remembers that the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) used every kind of opposition he could imagine for the purpose of repelling and discrediting the proposals of the Government. And what was his main argument? To-day we are told that the surplus of £1,500,000 must of necessity be applied to the urgent demands of the labourers of Ireland. But what did the hon. Member for East Mayo say the other day? These are the words which he used, and I think I am entitled to ask hon. Members opposite, and especially the hon. Member for East Mayo for an explanation, otherwise the people of this country will believe that this Bill has been introduced with this clause in it mainly for the purpose of defeating the Land Purchase Bill of the Government and to take away this Irish Church Surplus Fund, which is certainly an important portion of the measure. I will read the words of the hon. Member for East Mayo, and I will leave the explanation to hon. Members opposite. On the 28th of April the hon. Member, speaking of the manner in which the Government Bill deals with the congested districts of Ireland, said—It was no doubt true that the sum of £1,500,000 was charged on what remained of the Irish Church surplus for the purposes of this Act. But he protested against such a burden being placed on this fund. This was a purely Irish fund, and it would be wanted when Home Rule was in operation for purposes of education.I call upon the hon. Gentleman to explain what it was that he meant, and to explain also the present action of the Irish Members.
§ *(1.35.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I had no intention of taking part in this Debate. We have had a good many discussions upon the question of labourers' cottages during the present Parliament, and the sum and substance of them is that labourers' cottages have been very few. That is perfectly true; and so far as Ulster is concerned, the Act has practically been a dead letter. The 891 failure has been owing to the unwillingness of the elected Guardians to increase the taxation of the country by adding the expense which the erection of these cottages would entail. That is the real reason why in Ulster the Act has not worked; and, having read this Bill carefully through, I do not see that it contains a single clause that would get us out of the difficulty and facilitate the erection of cottages. I am certainly inclined to describe the Bill as a piece of cheap philanthropy, and I will tell the House why I use that expression. It proposes to take for this purpose £1,500,000 out of the Irish Church Surplus Fund. But that £1,500,000 is already earmarked by another Bill which has already passed its Second Reading. Hon. Members know that if this Bill were carried it could only come in as a second charge, behind the proposal of Her Majesty's Government, and that, so faras practical working is concerned, it can come to nothing. Now, I am not inclined to join in this cheap philanthropy, and I will be no party to an attempt to stab the Land Purchase Bill. I am not in the least afraid to stand up in my place in this House and use that language, and I say that hon. Members, in uniting to try and get hold of the £1,500,000, are attempting to destroy this Land Purchase Bill in one of its most vital parts. Therefore, as I say, I will be no party to the operation. But there is another thing to which I wish to call attention. This is a Bill of 14 clauses, which proposes to amend the various Labourers' Acts. Have we had a word of explanation of the measure? I admit that my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) went into the clauses of the Bill, but did the the Mover offer a single word of explanation? I listened in vain for any attempt at explanation, and I think it is an extraordinary thing for hon. Members to come down here on a Wednesday when there is ample time to discuss the provisions of the Bill, and to find that neither the Mover nor the Seconder attempt to explain the nature of those provisions. We are told that the proposal is a simple one—merely to take the £1,500,000 remaining of the Irish Church surplus; but, as I have already pointed out, it is already ear- 892 marked by the proposals of the Government. As hon. Members who support the Bill appear to have adopted a conspiracy of silence, I beg to move that the Debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. T. W. Russell.)
§ *(1.40.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I think that any hon. Member who has been present in the House during the last hour must feel that the Motion of my hon. Friend for the adjournment of the Debate is thoroughly justified. Two gentlemen only have spoken from the quarter of the House from which the Bill proceeds, and neither of them have thought it necessary to explain the provisions of the measure. I think we are entitled to have a complete and full explanation from hon. Members who support it. I know that on the Motion for Adjournment it would be out of order to discuss the Bill itself, and that the only question we can discuss is whether the Motion is justifiable or not, and ought to be accepted by the House. We are certainly entitled to some explanation of a Bill which seeks to dispose of a million and a half of money, and, therefore, I think that the Motion of my hon. Friend is absolutely justified.
§ Question put.
§ (1.43.) The House divided:— Ayes 68; Noes 94.—(Div. List, No. 82.)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. PARNELL rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Debate resumed.
§ *(1.55.) MR. SMITH BARRY (Hunts, S.)
I am very much disinclined to vote against a Bill of this kind, seeing that it is a Bill which deals with so important a subject, and a Bill which pro-fesses to improve the houses of the 893 agricultural labourers of Ireland I have always been, and I think all the landlords of Ireland have always been, in favour of bringing about some improvement in the condition of the agricultural labourers. I have certainly myself done everything I could, ever since I had anything to do with the management of Irish estates, to improve the condition of the labouring classes. In the very Union of Tipperary, which has been referred to, I built 100 houses. [An IRISH MEMBER: And put a rack-rent upon them.] Those houses are still occupied by a contented and thriving agricultural population. An hon. Member opposite has referred to those houses; I am glad that ho takes such an interest in the labourer and his horticultural pursuits; and so far as the geraniums he mentioned are concerned, I can only say that they were presented to the labourers by my own agent at the end of the season. The reason why the provisions of the Labourers' Act have not been more largely made available in Ulster is that it has been the fault of the tenant-farmers, who are the elected members of the Boards of Guardians in Ireland. What I maintain is, that the landlords have done far more to help in the building of houses in Ireland, under the Labourers' Act, than the tenant-farmers. In the winter of 1884–5, after the first Labourers' Act was passed, I made an offer to the Tipperary Board of Guardians to present a piece of land which would supply from 10 to 20 different sites, on the condition that the farmers, on whose land the cottages were to be built, were content to forego any payment on their part for their interest in the land. The Board of Guardians accepted the offer, and the Board of Guardians of Ennis did me the honour of voting a vote of thanks to me. I do not think that, under the altered circumstances of the present day, any Board of Guardians in the South of Ireland would venture to pass a vote of thanks to me. I am sorry to say that my offer came to nothing, because the tenant-farmers did not look upon the matter in the same light that I did. They were by no means disposed to grant facilities for the erection of labourers' cottages on the condition that they were to forego their share of the price. The proposal contained in the present Bill is that a 894 very large sum of money shall be devoted to the purposes of supplementing the Agricultural Labourers' Act. It is a very important Bill, and it deals with a very important subject. So far as I can see, it seems to be a Bill which has been fairly drafted, and which proposes to deal with the subject in a proper and straightforward manner. But we have had no explanation of the Bill, and without an explanation it is impossible for me to-vote for it, especially as the reason for introducing the measure seems to be the desire to upset the large measure of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. This Bill was ordered to be printed on the 12th of February, but it is evident that the figures which it contains have been inserted from the Government measure, and, therefore, I am not prepared to support the Bill, because I regard it simply as an attempt to destroy the more important measure of the Government for the disposal of the Irish Church surplus. Whatever the merits or demerits of the Government proposal may be—and I am by no means inclined to bless the Bill in every respect—I must say that that part of it which proposes to deal with the congested districts appears to be the best, the most comprehensive, and the most genuine attempt which has been made in our time to deal with a most burning question. Upon these grounds I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ (2.15.) COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
From the condition of the Benches opposite one would not be led to imagine that this is a question of much importance to the Nationalist Party in Ireland. I know that hon. Members on the other side of the House arrogate to themselves the representation of the Irish people; but when a question arises which concerns the condition of the Irish labourer the appeal for a verification of their statements is made to empty benches. If we desire to learn the true meaning of the Bill before the House, I think we might learn it from the singular fact that the leader of the Nationalist Party, who declares that he takes a great interest in the welfare of the Irish people, did not even take the trouble to listen to the opening 895 of the Debate, but rushed into the House with great activity after the Debate had progressed for some time to move that the Question be now put, and when the Speaker declined to put it rushed out again. It is another singular fact that the Bill was not printed until after hon. Members below the Gangway discovered the fact that there was an Irish Church surplus. In fact, many of us doubted, before we learned the fact from my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, that there was any considerable surplus at all. And hon. Members below the Gangway refrained from inserting any figure in their Bill until they ascertained the actual amount of the surplus and the object to which it was proposed to be devoted by Her Majesty's Government. As soon as they made the discovery they proposed to relieve the Chief Secretary of this sum of £1,500,000, to take it away from the object which the Government have in view, and to apply it to objects which, in themselves, are admirable, but which would have the effect, if this Bill were adopted, of preventing the solution of one of the most difficult problems of Irish life. The Bill of the Government is a great measure. In its object I cordially agree, although I object to many of its details. At the same time, I believe it is a measure which, in the future, will largely result in knocking the bottom out of the agitation which for so long a period has destroyed the best hope of securing the peace of my country. So far as I am concerned I shall vote against this Bill, not because I disapprove of its object, but because I disapprove of the spirit with which it has been brought forward. Anybody who knows anything of Ireland will admit that a great social revolution has been taking place in that country. It is now proposed to settle the difficulty by substituting one class of landlord for another. I deny that it would do so. A majority of the Irish people are not tenants, but belong to the working class; and I am persuaded that until a measure of large generosity is brought in to deal with the condition of the working classes, there will always be a, rankling wound left which will be a source of continual discontent, in fomenting which any mercenary or truculent agitator will find a market for 896 his wares. I maintain that there is no tenantry on the face of the land which has ever been treated with such generosity as the Irish tenants, although I am prepared to admit that at the same time very little has been done for the labourers and the working classes In using the word "generosity" it has always struck me when I hear English statesmen descant upon the condition of Ireland, and see tears dimming their eyes, that when they desire to wipe those tears away they always use the pocket-handkerchief at the expense of the Irish landlord. I should certainly prefer to find that their sympathy is manifested at their own expense. When I find a Bill of this kind introduced into Parliament, which proposes to be generous to the working men of Ireland at the expense of the congested districts of the South, I confess that I very much doubt the bona fides of the action of hon. Members opposite. I am sorry that on this occasion we have not had the benefit of their voluminous eloquence. The hon. Member for North Cork (Mr. Flynn) caught your eye, Sir, before you left the Chair. Where was he, Sir, when you came back? I am unable to say. He was certainly not in his place to explain the provisions of this Bill. Under the Bill of Her Majesty's Government they propose not to sweep away landlords, but to substitute one class of landlords for another. I challenge anyone who is acquainted with the conditions of Irish life to deny that the life and social condition of the labourer in that country are infinitely better on the estates of large landlords than on the smaller estates. Has any Member of the Party opposite built a hundred labourers' cottages at his own expense, as the hon. Member for South Hunts has done? I am aware that you are building a new town at Tipperary; but I fancy that that is at the expense of the inhabitants. I should like to know if you have improved the condition of the Irish labourer in any way, whether you have not made a tool of him, and whether the suffering that ought properly to have fallen on the shoulders of agitators has not been borne by him? I challenge contradiction when I say that the condition of the labourer on a large estate is a thousandfold more pre- 897 ferable to the condition of the labourer under the small farmer. Now, you propose to sweep away the present Irish landlords. ["No."] Hon. Members say "No;" but an Irish landlord must have money to live in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes; the Irish landlord does not possess that facility for living without money which distinguishes other people. It seems that these Irish landlords are now for the first time discovered by hon. Members opposite to be so necessary to the welfare, the prosperity, and the progress of Ireland that the hon. Member for Cork has come forward and informed us that he is far from desiring to banish the Irish landlords, and has found fault with the Bill of the Government on the ground that it will have that effect. I want now to point out what the condition of the labourers will be when the landlords are gone. It is proposed to establish another set of landlords of a much smaller—of a microscopical character. I ask, whether it is not the truth that the Irish labourers on estates of 12 or 30 acres will be far more unhappy and more devoid of the necessaries and the comforts of life than those engaged upon the present larger estates? I am not in favour of doing away with the present landlords, but I am in favour of, and will support to the best of my ability, any proposal of the Government to deal with the question of the Irish labourers in a measure of a far more comprehensive character, which will have the effect of showing us that the generosity of Great Britain to Ireland is not always to be vicarious, but that she will put her hand into her own pocket and show the Irish people that their gratitude in the future should not be founded on gifts from the pockets of the Irish landlords, but from the pockets of the British people.
(2.35.) SIR C.LKWIS (Antrim, N.)
I am sorry that on the present occasion I shall not be able to vote either for the Bill or the Amendment, and I will give my reasons for the attitude I take up. I have long held, and still hold, the opinion that Irish land legislation has taken a wrong direction, and that we are now proceeding to such an extent in relieving the tenant that we not only give away 898 the property of other people, but destroy the opportunity of giving assistance to other classes who deserve it as much, if not more. I believe that when the history of this period comes to be written in the light of events, it will be seen that we have been distributing gifts to the tenants to an inordinate degree. As regards the Ulster tenants, though they have many complaints and grievances, I believe that, as compared with the labourers, they have everything given to them. They have been favoured, whilst the labourers have been entirely neglected, and deserted even, by hon. Gentlemen opposite. I know what the condition of the Ulster labourer is, and I know that he can be represented as living in a miserable house that is not sufficient to shelter him. The labourer has been neglected by hon. Gentlemen opposite because his vote has not been thought of much importance. I believe that the class of labourers has been disgracefully neglected by both sides of the House, and the Chief Secretary will forgive me if I say that I have endeavoured to call the serious attention of the Government to this matter as an evil which is looming closely in the future.
§ SIR C. LEWIS
That seems to me to be about as inane an interruption as could be made. This is a matter which does not depend upon a particular constituency, but is one of public importance. It has been said that this Bill interferes with the measure of the Government. I do not sympathise with that measure. I believe that we have already given the farmers enough, and that we are going in the wrong direction; but that is not any reason for supporting hon. Members opposite in an attempt, by a side-wind, to take away the funds which the Government propose to employ. Reading between the lines, and seeing the conduct of hon. Members who support this Bill, it is plain that they do not want so much to see the Bill discussed, and its principle carried out, as to give a stab in the side of the Government for the purpose of checkmating the measure which the Government have proposed. I do not say that there is 899 anything very objectionable in the general provisions of the Bill to satisfy the necessity there is for altering the mechanism of the existing Labourers' Act; but I think we ought to give the Government another opportunity of dealing with this question on broad lines. I maintain that the Church surplus is not a fit fund for either this purpose or that for which the Government propose to use it, both of them being totally different objects from that for which it was originally provided. While, therefore, I acknowledge that this question is of serious, stirring, and immediate importance, I contend that both parties are in fault, and while I will take no part in the Government Bill, I am not going to create a false issue by giving away the Church surplus as proposed in this Bill without proper safeguards. I quite concur with the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh with regard to the administration of the Labourers' Acts. I have read resolutions published in the acknowledged organs of the Nationalist Party, distinctly prohibiting Boards of Guardians from taking any part in assisting labourers who are not of the true blue Nationalist creed. What is wanted is an untainted body to administer these Acts; a body free from terrorism and intimidation. The Boards of Guardians who have to administer these Acts are, as these resolutions show, under a system of terrorism, which prevents them from using their discretion in selecting the sites, and the labourers who are to have the cottages. I cannot vote against this Bill, because its object is one which I desire to see accomplished; but its mechanism is useless for the purpose, the use of the Church Fund is objectionable, and the Bill is directed to the express purpose of doing injury to the proposal of the Government, and I, therefore, will not vote for it.
§ *(2.48.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I suppose the House will expect to hear from this Bench on the subject of what I had been going to call the Debate, though that term is inappropriate, because, if my memory serves me right, the speeches which we had from the fathers and godfathers of the Bill took up precisely 10 minutes of our time
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Yes; and I shall have to dwell upon the novelty of it directly. The hon. Member for King's County delivered a speech that was brief but not pregnant.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Member's speech, I understand, had very little to do with the Bill. I believe it occupied about five minutes of our time. He was immediately followed by the Member for South Tipperary, who took up another five minutes. And did he devote that five minutes to explaining the provisions of the Bill? Not at all. He devoted them to giving an account of the efforts he had made to stimulate the growth of geraniums in the windows of the cottages that had been built under the Labourers' Act in his constituency. And having done that, he did not devote any part of that rich eloquence, which on the subject of the Liquor Trade is not usually found to flow by any means in a thin and niggard stream from him, to the substance of the Bill before us. He devoted; no more than five minutes to a Bill which proposes to take the whole of the National funds of the Church surplus and devote them to the amelioration of the labouring class in Ireland. Moreover, during a discussion which deals with funds of that importance, and with the interests of the labourers of Ireland, the House has not been favoured with the presence on the Front Opposition Bench of a single representative of the late Government, unless the stray appearance from time to time of one or two gentlemen who act as Whips to that Party, and who look in now and again to see how the Debate is going on, may be deemed to represent them. That is a very interesting and remarkable fact. An hon Member interrupted me just now when I remarked that to-day Irish rhetoric does not seem to flow in the abundant stream that is usually noticeable when matters of such small importance are under discussion. The hon. Member said that was a novel complaint. And so it is, because this is a very unusual occurrence. During the 15 or 16 years I have been in the House I have never known 901 it necessary to make the complaint before. [Cries of "Question!"] This certainly is the question. As a rule, when the judgment of the House is sought in favour of a Bill it is made to depend, as far as possible, on the arguments in favour of the measure; but in this case hon. Members opposite have apparently not thought it worth while to advance any arguments in support of the Bill. About this time last year a whole Wednesday was spent by Irish Members in discussing how some of their colleagues who had had the misfortune to be put in prison should be lodged and treated; but how the labourers of Ireland are to be lodged appears to be a subject of comparatively little interest to them. The hon. Member for South Antrim announced his intention of voting for the measure; but the only reason he gave for that was that, in his opinion, the passing of the Bill would destroy certain provisions of another measure which has been read a second time, which provisions do not meet with his approval.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I do not think I said that. I said I approved for the method of allocating the money in this Bill, which I said had not been explained very fully, and that I thought it would facilitate the working of the Labourers' Acts already in existence. I am perfectly free to vote for any allocation of the £1,500,000 of the Church Surplus Fund, as I have not supported the Government measure.
§ *MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's position; but I think he will not deny that his speech implied that this Bill, if carried, would not have the effect of stimulating the Local Authorities in Ulster or anywhere else in spending money in building cottages under the Labourers' Cottages Acts.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
What I said was that there was no provision in the Bill, as at present drafted, which would enable the labourers to secure a more efficient working of the Acts than there is at present, and that in Committee I should 902 endeavour to carry Amendments which I have proposed on previous occasions.
§ *MR. A.J. BALFOUR
Therefore, I am correct in saying that the Bill, as it stands, does not appear to my hon. Friend to contain any guarantee that the Local Authorities will exercise the powers given under the old Labourers' Acts in a more public-spirited manner than they do at present. My hon. Friend will admit that unless the Local Authorities do use the powers given them under the Act, which expires next year, it would be in vain that we should give them the Church Surplus Funds to aid their operations. But after my hon. Friend's explanation I acquit him of using, or endeavouring to use, this Bill as a means of embarrassing the Government in their conduct of the Land Purchase Bill. But I do not suppose I need extend the same charitable interpretation to the action of hon. Gentlemen opposite. And I suppose hon. Members opposite will not deny that the chief interest they take in this Bill is not so much to benefit the Irish labourer as to embarrass the Government with regard to the Land Purchase Bill. They are now deliberately going to vote to mortgage the Church surplus for a purpose to which the hon. Member for East Mayo openly declared it ought not to be applied, for be said the other day that it should be applied to educational purposes only. [Mr. DILLON assented.] The hon. Member assents to that interpretation, and, therefore, something must have occurred between the Second Reading of the Land Bill and to-day to persuade hon. Gentlemen opposite that the teachers in Ireland do not want the money, and that the labourers ought to have it. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim complained that nothing has been done for the labourers of Ireland, and said very truly that the course of legislation during the last 10 years has been to give advantages, rightly or wrongly, at the expense of the public or of the landlords to the tenants. But when he said that nothing has been done, or is being done, for the labourers of Ireland, he cannot have had before him the full figures relating to the steps that have been taken in their interest. According to the last Reports, which will very shortly be in the hands 903 of hon. Members, it appears that the Treasury has already sanctioned loans to the amount of £1,098,772. I also find that if the whole of the schemes which have been, or are about to be, submitted to the Local Government Board, estimated at about £400,000 more, are considered, it will be seen that £1,500,000, within a few thousands, has been applied, or shortly will be applied, for the benefit of the labourers of Ireland. It cannot be maintained by any section of the House that that is a trifling or an insignificant sum. An hon. Member has regretted that the question of dealing with the labourers of Ireland should have been loft to private Members; but the benefits proposed to be given to the labourers of Ireland under the Land Purchase Bill have not been fully recognised. I should probably be out of order in now discussing the provisions of that measure, yet it is relevant to the Debate that I should remind the House of what they are. Under those provisions one-eighth of all the annuities payable on purchase under the Land Purchase Bill will be given to supply labourers' cottages in parts of the country where they are most required, and I find that the sum thus available for the purpose will be no less than between £75,000 and £79,000 a year; whereas the entire sum available under the present Bill, and that probably subject to a large reduction, cannot be estimated at more than £40,000 or £45,000 a year; so that the boon intended to be given for the Irish labourers, the sum to be granted for the building of labourers' cottages in Ireland by the Land Purchase Bill when it comes into operation, is nearly double that which the present Bill proposes to give. In reality, if the Bill passes and becomes fully operative, it will do far more for the object this Bill professes, on the face of it, to have in view—the better housing of the labouring classes in Ireland. Though that is its professed object the Bill is as much intended to give relief to Local Authorities. The House is probably not aware that the Bill is retrospective in its operation. It is intended to supply half the cost not only of labourers' cottages which have been built, but also of those which may be built, so that, of the £1,500,000 the Bill would deal with, 904 £750,000 would go from this National Fund not for national purposes and not for labourers' cottages, but simply and solely to recoup those Unions which have already spent borrowed money under the Labourers' Act. I think this fact alone will be sufficient to show the House the hypocritical nature of the Bill, and those who advocate it on the ground of using the Church Surplus Fund for the benefit of agricultural labourers, either do not know the contents of the Bill, or are deliberately bringing it in under false pretences. The House will see that merely comparing the two schemes, the scheme we have brought forward in the Land Purchase Bill for the benefit of the labourers with the scheme in the present Bill for the same object, while the latter would provide at the most £20,000 a year, our proposal, should it come into full operation, would provide £75,000 a year. But my hon. Friend the Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) suggests the proposals in the Land Purchase Bill may not come into operation in some parts of Ireland, and so provision may not everywhere be made for building cottages. But granting that, it is to be observed that the part of Ireland where it appears the Labourers' Act has been least taken advantage of is Ulster, and, by universal admission, whatever may be thought of the Land Purchase Bill in other parts of Ireland, in Ulster it is received with great favour, and I do not doubt that the amount authorised to be borrowed in Ulster will be fully taken up at no very distant date in the various counties there. Take Antrim for instance, the capitalised value of the sum available for land purchase would be £1,426,650, and the annual amount available for building cottages, should land purchase go on in Antrim, would be £3,500, or, capitalised, over £100,000. What is true of Antrim applies to a similar extent to every county in Ulster and elsewhere where land purchase takes place. I have no doubt that the sums available will be taken advantage of, and that the labourers will have a fair share of benefits proposed to be conferred on the country by Imperial credit. One hon. Friend of mine has dilated on the injustice of using for class purposes a fund intended 905 to be used for the whole of Ireland. He said we ought not to devote this sum of £1,500,000, intended to be a fund for the national advantage, to the benefit of a particular class of farmers. Of course I admit that, in one sense of the word, the tenants in the congested district are farmers, but they are not farmers in the English sense of the word, and I am disposed to think whatever their legal tenure may be, they ought to be regarded by this House rather as distressed labourers than as impoverished farmers. I have often said they ought to be regarded as labourers, with allotments. A large number of them do eke out their living by labour in England and Scotland, and some, I believe, even by labour in America, while others make a living partially by the cultivation of their allotments, and largely by fishing and other local industries. They are labourers in the strict sense of the word, whatever their legal standing may be, and thinking, as we do, that money may be devoted to the welfare of the labouring class in Ireland, then it cannot be denied that, go where you will, you can find no section of the labouring population more deserving or more requiring assistance, or who have a greater claim on this National Fund, than the poor people who inhabit these congested districts in the West. Therefore, to summarise my argument, this Bill is not so much a Labourers' Relief Bill than it is a Local Rates Relief Bill; secondly, it is a far worse scheme for the labourers of Ireland, far more illiberal in amount than the proposal in the Land Purchase Bill I introduced the other day; and let the House notice this, which I omitted to mention before, though it is a most important consideration—if this Bill passes it will leave it entirely to the Local Authorities to determine whether a single sixpence shall be devoted to the building of labourers' cottages or not. The Land Purchase Bill practically compels or holds out inducements to Local Authorities, in my opinion, of a far more stringent character than anything to be found in this Bill. Comparing, therefore, the two Bills, it is plain, in the first place, that the amount of money under this Bill is much smaller; in the second place, that the inducement to Local Authorities 906 is not so great; in the third place, that part of the money professed to be devoted to the purpose is merely given to Local Authorities; in the fourth place, that you leave untouched that which is not a local but a national calamity, the condition of the population on the West Coast of Ireland. These are reasons which, I think, should be conclusive with those who are moved by consideration for the good of Ireland as a whole, or of the particular class of Irish labourers. We all know that the motives of hon. Gentlemen opposite have nothing whatever to do with the condition of any particular class in Ireland. Their motives may be laudable, may be excellent, but the motive is not benefit to the labouring class in Ireland. I do not complain of their motive. They dislike the Land Purchase Bill, and, finding they are unable to defeat that Bill by argument, they may try to damage it by a side wind. Let them do that, but do not let them pose as philanthropists. They are wire-pullers, and good ones. They have always shown much greater aptitude for that particular occupation than for the calling of philanthrophy, of which, occasionally, they make such loud profession. The object of hon. Gentlemen is tolerably clear, but I do not think it is likely to be successful in the House this afternoon. But whatever that decision may be, of course the Government will certainly not regard it as final, or indeed of any significance whatever. Even if the Bill is carried, which I venture to think hon. Gentlemen opposite hardly anticipate, let me point out that the £1,500,000 the Bill proposes to take is already taken, or will be taken, by the Laud Purchase Bill, and this Bill becomes a dead letter. There is only one other point, and that relatively a subsidiary point to the matter before the House. The Labourers' Act expires next year, and it will be the duty of the Government next year to make; proposals for dealing with the Acts, and probably for reviewing them in some shape or other, and then will be the time for Amendments to the Act to be considered. They were brought in as a temporary measure originally, they were extended to seven years; we have had that length of experience, and the Acts will 907 expire next year, and then will be the proper and legitimate time for I the Government to bring forward their own proposals for amendment, and for hon. Gentlemen to offer what suggestions they may think right for the improvement of those Acts. [Interruptions.] I am sorry that hon. Gentlemen do me the injustice of supposing I have an object in extending my remarks. Personally, I have no objection to a decision of the House being taken, for, as I have said, and I am glad to have the opportunity of repeating it, the conditions under which this so-called Debate has gone on has deprived it absolutely of all significance, and no significance will be attached by the Government to the decision the House may come to. I think every one of the considerations I have brought before the House is deserving of an answer, though it may not be forthcoming. No attempt has been made to meet the arguments, but every man who has at heart an improvement in the condition of the inhabitants on the West Coast or the labourers of Ireland, will not hesitate to declare, at the fitting time, his disapproval of the attempt made by hon. Gentlemen opposite under the guise of benefiting labourers to relieve the rates in Irish Unions.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for to-morrow.