§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
I beg to move the following Amendment, at end, add—But we humbly express our regret that, in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne, no Measures are announced for the relief of the agricultural labouring classes. We humbly represent to Your Majesty that these classes are among the most deserving and lawabiding of Your Majesty's subjects; that their present condition is such as to call for immediate attention; that Measures for the amelioration of their condition should be at once adopted; and that such Measures are more pressing and of more vital importance to the best interests of the Country than any legislation having for its object constitutional changes in the Government of Ireland, and should take precedence of any such legislation.775 It will be seen that this Amendment differs from that moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Mr. Wharton). I did not speak on his Amendment, as I did not wish unduly to occupy the time of the House; but, at the same time, I may say that no one has a greater sympathy with the condition in which the farmers now find themselves placed than I have. My Amendment is a more distinct and definite one. It affects the social and domestic condition of a class which, perhaps of all the Labouring classes, most needs attention, and a class which is not in a position to help itself as other branches of labour are. I would point out that the condition of agricultural labour no doubt in a great measure depends upon the condition of agriculture. A similar thing might be said of all branches of industry. So far as the condition of the agricultural labourer depends on the condition of agriculture, we can expect no help from the Government, as they have voted against the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and dismissed it with something like contempt. If it so happens that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) is to answer me, I would ask him not to confine himself to the manipulation of the figures connected with our exports and imports, but to come rather closer to the subject. Some of us have been engaged in trade all our lives, and; although I for one am always glad to hear of increased exports and imports, I would remind the right Hon. Gentleman, if he should reply, that, besides the export and the import trade, there is that best of all trades—the home trade. Our home market is the largest and best we have, and it depends very largely on the agriculture of the country. The existence of our small towns and villages, which it is absolutely necessary for the preservation of this country to maintain intact almost wholly depends on the home market and agriculture. I can easily demonstrate this. If in Dorset or Somerset the proceeds of the agricultural industry should prove to be £50,000 less this year through agricultural depression than they were last, year, the result would be that there would be £50,000 less to be spent in the villages and small towns, and less ultimately in our workshops. Therefore, our home trade is deelining, 776 the answer of the Government is, "Let it decline." The answer given in the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Banbury Division (Sir B. Samuelson) is the old one of an inquiry. I need not labour the point that an inquiry is simply the evasion of the question. No question of an inquiry was put before the electors by the candidates in the rural districts. Something far more positive than an inquiry was promised. I venture to say that you will not find the word "inquiry" in any speech or address delivered to the labouring classes in the rural districts during the last General Election. It was all definite promise, and I do hope that, under the circumstances, the Government will not cut such a poor figure before the country as to rely on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for the Banbury Division (Sir B. Samuelson). They may, perhaps, rely upon the only thing that is named in Her Majesty's Speech—namely, Parish Councils. I shall have something to say on that point directly. All I have to say now is that that would be no answer to the question involved in my Amendment. The Amendment deals with omissions from the Queen's Speech—omissions which, I venture to say, astonish' most of the Gladstonian Members who have gained their seats by promising measures which are totally omitted from the Queen's Speech. Now, my Amendment is one of vital importance to the nation; for although we have heard a great deal about, our trade and commerce, no nation, whether ancient or modern, has ever survived a decaying peasantry and a decaying rural population. That means ruin to a nation. We find that that decay is going on rapidly now, and the consideration of its cause admits of no delay. The young are leaving the industry of agriculture, and the old are dying out; and if no remedy for the existing state of things is found, there will soon be very few good all-round agricultural labourers left in this country. There is another point to which I will ask the attention of the Liberal Party. The present condition of affairs in the rural districts is one of the chief causes of the evil of overcrowding in our large towns; and the great question of the unemployed is at the root of the subject to which I am calling 777 attention and of all those social problems which in recent years have become so acute, and the solution of which, it they are not dealt with soon, will tax the ingenuity of any statesman, however treat. The labourers' exodus from the country is not due to any fault on the part of the farmers, who cannot do more than they are doing to prevent it. I have had an opportunity lately of visiting many friends among the farming class, and that is the conclusion at which I have arrived. The matter with which my Amendment is concerned was described no long time back as vital by the Prime Minister at a Conference which was held in London, and as to which I shall have something to say presently. We have now two Parties in this House. We have a Unionist Party, of which there are two wings, one on this side and one opposite; and we have another Party—I am at a loss to know what to call it. The Members of it object to the designation of Separatists, so perhaps I had better call it the Home Rule Party.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I should not have been surprised if that observation had come from some young politician whose memory did not carry him back to 1885, when the great Liberal ship, filled with every appliance, with the Caucus and with all the other machinery, was put under the command of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, and was by him, in opposition to the advice of his best and most trusted lieutenants, run upon the rocks, where it still remains. It continues in that dangerous position, to the knowledge of the officers who still serve under the right hon. Gentleman, and who dare not remonstrate with him lest they should be dismissed. The ship is now a derelict, impeding navigation; and it is the duty of the Unionist Party, in the interests of commerce and the industries of the country, to blow it away. So much for the interruption of the hon. Member for Argyll. As for this so-called Liberal Government, I must say it did not look happy at the beginning of the Session; and after the heckling they have already received, they look as if they are qualified to enter a political infirmary. By whatever name we call them—Gladstonians,Repealers, or Separa- 778 tists—they constitute what an auctioneer would term a "miscellaneous assemblage." Opposed to them is the Unionist Party, which, recognising the danger to which my Amendment refers, did more during their six years of Office for the rural population than any other Government has done in any six years of the present century. They established county government which the Gladstonian Administration promised in 1883 and 1885, a promise which it never attempted to fulfil. Then, again, they gave free education, which helps to lighten the lot of the agricultural labourer, They gave also allotments and small holdings. These were promised by the Gladstouians, who never performed them, but seemed to be everlastingly sharpening their tools in order that they might begin work. Had the Unionist Government remained in power further remedial measures dealing with District Councils and parochial reform would have been passed. All these things were promised by the Gladstonian Party, but not carried into execution, and now they are in power because apparently they promised at the General Election to do more than their opponents. I am speaking now of what occurred in the rural districts. Were the elections in those districts won on Home Rule? I have here a volume containing some 200 addresses published by Gladstonian candidates in those districts. They form a sort of political boomerang, coming back now to the men who so short a time since sent it forth. It was said that Shakespeare, were he alive, would have been of no use as the editor of a New York journal, because he would lack the necessary powers of imagination and invention. For the same reason he would have been nowhere at the General Election as a Gladstonian candidate for a rural constituency. I am not going to read these addresses to the House, but I assure hon. Members that they will often hear of them. In them Home Rule is referred to no doubt; but in the subsequent speeches of the men who issued them and of their friends it is rarely mentioned. The gist of the speeches is to promise everything to everybody in the rural districts. They, for example, declare that the free education introduced by the late Government is not free, and there is in them the promise to make it free as soon as a Gladstonian Govern- 779 ment got into Office. Why, then, do they not fulfil their promise? We are not on the stump here. Hon. Members are face to face now with their solemn promises; it is their duty to fulfil them; let them redeem their pledges. They told the labourers that the Allotments and Small Holdings Acts were shams, and that when returned to power they would make them realities immediately. Let them do so then, or at least let an indication be given of the Government's intention to do so. A subject which figures in these addresses and speeches more frequently than any other is the necessity of improvement in the condition of labourers' cottages. This is certainly a most. important question; and I believe that if the cottages were made more wholesome, it would help to prevent the labourers flocking into the towns. The subject is not absent, I think, from any of these 200 addresses, and yet there is no reference to it in the Speech from the 'Throne, which hon. Members who have made all these solemn promises are asked to support. The truth is, that the confiding labourer has been, and is again about to be, sacrificed to the question of Home Rule. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Banbury does not suggest an inquiry into the subject of the provision of suitable cottages, and there need be no inquiry into it; for every one of the Gladstonian candidates knew all about it before the General Election, and they all equally promised to put the matter right. I should like to say a few words about the Conference held in the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street just before the General Election, under the auspices of the National Liberal Federation. That Conference was exceedingly well got up; the expenses were paid of those who attended it; and there was a free meat tea. The programme, however, had to undergo a process of winnowing, and instructions were given that nothing was to be said about Home Rule, and consequently nothing was said about it. It was evident front the speeches delivered at the Conference that none of the delegates thought they were sent there to discuss that subject. The instructions were to appeal to the agricultural labourer, to pile everything upon him, to promise him anything and everything, in order that the National Liberal Federation 780 should win the next General Election. As the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Cozens Hardy) said, and said truly, "The vote was at the bottom of it." There were at the Conference the present Postmaster General (Mr. Arnold Morley), the First Commissioner of Works (Mr. Shaw Lefevre), the Minister for Agriculture (Mr. H. Gardner), and the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. G. Lambert). The chairman, in the course of his speech, said that they were there not to discuss generalities, but to decide upon certain things. They did discuss almost everything. The subjects they discussed were all matters which the agricultural labourer demanded should receive immediate attention, such as better cottages and better water supply. One delegate said the houses of the labourers and the water supply were disgraceful. Another said that they intended to put pressure upon the Gladstonian candidates to compel them to push these matters forward, and added that if the candidates would not undertake to do so they would come forward themselves. One delegate said that many cottages were without windows, that others had cesspools in front, and yet £6 or£7 a year was charged for rent.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
We know with whom the responsibility lay for seeing that these things are put right. One of the delegates said that this state of things meant early deaths and orphan children. Is not the question of how to prevent these early deaths and children from being made orphans more important than Home Rule for Ireland? If hon. Members think that the Home Rule Question is the more important of the two, why do they not go to Ireland to get their seats instead of misleading the English agricultural labourer? Another delegate spoke of the importance of raising the position of the agricultural labourer, and said that that could not be done unless his home life was improved. Lots of delegates spoke in the same strain, and indicated that they were looking to the Liberals to improve the housing of their class. After four and a half hours' Debate a Resolution was passed expressing satisfaction that the Liberal Party was earnestly addressing itself to bring about the ameliora- 781 tion of the condition of the rural population, and that legislation in the required direction would be proceeded with early in the next Session. All this had the agricultural labourers' vote at the bottom of it; and, in order to complete this illusion—this Plan of Campaign against the agricultural labourer—the next morning the present Prime Minister appeared upon the scene at a free breakfast, and the Chairman expressed their thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for coming to give his sanction to these various measures of reform. The right hon. Gentleman made a very important and brilliant speech, in which be spoke of the great hardships that the rural labourers had to endure, and said that the question of the redress of their grievances was one of the most urgent matters with which Parliament would have to deal. The right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of the migration of the rural labourers into the towns as being a great national calamity, and said that no effort should be spared to remedy the evil. He congratulated the labourers on being so practical. I am quite aware that the speech contained saving clauses, and I do not say that the right Hon. Gentleman committed himself by pledging himself to carry out all the promises that had been made to the rural labourer, but I am certain that every agricultural labourer who was present left the meeting imbued with the idea that, if the right hon. Gentleman were returned to power, the promised millennium would be brought about at an early date. The Conference, the addresses, and speeches of the Gladstonian candidates have served their purpose. But What has come of them? This mountain in labour with such promises have brought forth the ridiculous mouse of the promise of a measure for the creation of Parish Councils. And even that is to be preceded by a Suspensory Bill dealing with a Welsh question. Now that the Government are safely in Office, what has become of all the other promises made to the agricultural labourer? Will it satisfy the demands of the agricultural labourer if a measure of Home Rule is passed? What a farce such a suggestion is! The labourers know—hon. Members around me know—that if the labourers have to wait until Home Rule is obtained they will have to wait a precious long time. The 782 fact is, hon. Members are sitting upon an addled egg. They should take a lesson from the defeat at Huddersfield, and the Cadmean victory at Burnley. As I have said outside the House I will now say within its walls, that the labourers were deceived in 1886, and that they are about to he deceived in 1893. In 1886 the then Conservative Government went out of Office rather than promise that in favour of the labourers, which they did not feel themselves in a position to perform. Had they adopted the course of the present Government, and brought in Suspensory Bills and Commissions of Inquiry they might have remained in Office, but they chose rather to leave Office than to promise what they knew they could not perform. Then the other Party came into Office promising what they never meant to perform. [Cries of "No !"] Well, "handsome is as handsome does." The other Party never attempted to carry out the promises they had made. The Government of that day betrayed the labourers. [Cries of "No!"] Hon. Members do not agree with me. I may remind them of a story in an old Book where a man had two sons, and he said to one of them, "Go work in my vineyard," and the son said "Yes," but he went not, and he said to the other son, "Go work in my vineyard," and the other son said, "I will not go," but be afterwards repented and went. One of those sons represents the Government now in Opposition, who said that they would not do the work, but afterwards did it, and the other represents the men who said that they would do the work, but who never attempted to do it. Which set of men will the agricultural labourers most approve of in the future—the men who promised, but who did not perform, or the men who would not promise, but who subsequently performed the work in the most ample manner? The hon. Member for North Bedfordshire (Mr. G.Russell) in his address, after filling two columns of a newspaper with promises, went on to say, "My politics are a part of my religion." I should have thought that religion inculcated the carrying out of solemn promises. It seems to me had enough when men attempt to mislead their Peers; but it is worse to say such things to humble hardworking men—men who have not 783 the same advantages of obtaining information—and to serve them afterwards as they are being served. My Amendment merely states what the election speeches of hon. Members said—though not half so strongly—and which was repeated over and over again during the election. Votes were obtained on those promises. If it were a question of obtaining money instead of votes these gentlemen would be in the Law Courts now. Why the Liberator affair would be nothing to it. It is not for me to say whether or not hon. Members will be true to the spirit of their promises; I will wait. Now, what measures might the Government have introduced? Legislation cannot raise wages; that is certain, though I am bound to say that in almost every division the labourers were promised that their wages would be raised, the favourite sum being 20s. I am glad to see the hon. Member for North Somerset (Mr. Warner) in his place, for I want him to hear the story I am about to tell. I was in North Somersetshire a few days ago, and was told on the very best authority that in the hon. Member's Division a poor labourer, on receiving his week's wages of 15s., said to the farmer, "You are making a mistake. We were promised that. if Mr. Warner was returned we would get £1 per week."
§ MR. C. T. WARNER (Somerset, N.)
Mr. Speaker, this is a matter that requires contradiction. I have never promised such a thing, or lent my name to such a promise. It is absolutely false that I ever spoke words that could be interpreted that the wages of the labourers would be increased if I were returned.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I have never said the hon. Member did so. I have not said that the hon. Member made these promises. I am stating as a fact what this poor labourer understood was promised. I have the story from the best authority, and I have not yet got to the end of the story. [An hon. MEMBER: Who told the labourer to ask the question?] I only say that this labourer, shortly after the General Election, came back and put the money into the hands of the farmer and said, "I understood that when Mr. Warner was returned we were to get 20s. a week." I believe the labourer was wrong; but that is what he understood was promised. The man re- 784 fused to keep one situation because he did not get the increase in his wages, so he lost his place. He understood that he was to get his wages increased from 15s.to 20s. a week, and after reading the speeches of hon. Gentlemen I do not wonder at it. Now, I have referred to labourers' cottages. That is one thing certainly which the Government might have dealt with, particularly as it was asked for by all and promised by everybody. The Unionist Party are agreed about these cottages. The Act of 1890 way a very great step in advance. Anyone who has gone through the country during the past 20 years must have noticed that there has been a great and satisfactory improvement in estate cottages. I believe no one will deny that. I have seen everywhere cottages with good gardens, good offices, and good bedrooms put up by the landlords with rents at ls. 6d., and in no case more than 2s. per week, which does not represent one-tenth of the out lay. But all that has been stopped, though much remains to be done, and stopped for the reason that the landlords find themselves short of money. On the other hand, the cottages of small owners in the villages. are disgraceful, and the rents are very high. Take the Devizes Division, for instance. In the villages the cottages are in bad repair; there is a bad water supply, and the rents are high. But if you go on the estate, say, of the President of the Board of Trade in the late Government (Sir Michael Hicks Beach) you will find the cottages put in as good repair as the old nature of them wilt permit, and let at rents of 9d. per week—in no case did I find the rent more than is. 6d. per week—out of which the landlord pays rates and taxes, which practically absorbs all the rent. Therefore, it is not the landlords who are to blame for the bad condition of labourers' cottages. The hon. Member for the Stowmarket Division of Suffolk (Mr. S.J.Stern)—in his election address—it is all in red—says—I am anxious to see good cottages built in all parishes in which there is a demand for them, and a proper supply of water provided for every labourer.But that is nothing to what was said in the speeches in support of the hon. Member. I say the cottages in the villages are a disgrace. The rents 785 are intolerably high as compared with the accommodation offered—little boxes of some of them only a few feet square, with the water supply bad and no drainage. How can men bring up their families decently in such surroundings? But if you go on the estates in this division you will find a different state of things prevailing. There was an inquiry conducted by the Lord Francis Hardy under an Act passed by the late Government in 1890, and the Report states—The cottages can scarcely he called houses, much less homes. They are over-crowded homes.I want to know what is the good of hon. Members holding out to those men hopes that they would be relieved from their depressing surroundings when the so-called Liberal Party was in power, when now that they are in power not one word is said about them by the Government. The hon. Member for and Oxfordshire (Mr. G.R.Benson) issued a card— the same as that for which Lord Salisbury was drawn over the coals—"Big Loaf and Tory Loaf. Mr. Benson respectfully solicits your vote." Is that the way to treat, the labourers— men in receipt of low wages, who believe that when a man with a black coat and a man of education tells them anything it is going to be done? I appeal to the consciences of hon. Members, is it not unfair and unjust? I have said that this question is of more importance than Home Rule. I have always said that we owe a great debt to Ireland, and I, for one, will hold up both hands in support of every instalment, of the payment of that debt. Since 1881 we have been paying it, and paying it in the best form, paying it in order to provide decent cottages for the labourers to live in. I agree with the Prime Minister that we are not waging war against the people of Ireland. We are waging war for the people of Ireland, to relieve them from an intolerable state of things. In 1883, 1885, 1886, and 1891 Acts had been passed to better the condition of the Wailing's of Ireland. Why should we not do the same thing for the labourers in England? Up to March 31st, 1892, applications for money for the purpose of bettering the condition of the Irish labourer amounted to £ 1,500,000, and the amount of loans to private 786 persons was £335,000 issued to 700 persons. I amt not against advancing public money for the housing of our poor classes. I do it on the same principle that I would advance money for fortifications, for the building of ships; I would advance it on the principle that it is necessary for the safety of the Empire that we should keep these people in decent comfort. In Ireland 25,000 cottages are to be built. According to the same proportion, we should have in England 220,000 cottages throughout our rural districts. About 9,000 of the cottages have been finished in Ireland, and with good gardens they are let from 7½ to 2s. per week. If that be good for Ireland—and it is good for Ireland, and we take no exception to it—why should our English labourers be denied the same advantages, especially as they have been promised these advantages and have sent Members to this House to procure these advantages? The hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer) turned on me last night and said he liked the gerrymandering legislation of the Government in preference to social legislation. I like the social legislation instead of the gerrymandering, legislation. Before I sit down I would appeal to the Labour Party in this House. I would point out to them that so long as this influx of our rural population into our industrial centres continues you may have your strikes, your eight hours day, your limitation of output, but you will never solve the labour question, because you take the labourers from the soil where he is producing our food supplies and where he is your customer, and send him into the towns to compete with you in your labours. I do not, however, expect much assistance from the Labour Party. They are bound to the Government. The Prime Minister has engaged them for certain promises given, and he has sublet them to the Irish Nationalists. Why, Sir, they are the sweated Party at this moment. Home Rule they must vote for, and then talk as they like afterwards. Who are these men for whom I speak? They are not men who burn writs; who commit outrages; who maim cattle; they are men who feel their discomfort, and who rely on the promises of English gentlemen to relieve them. I have seen a book written in America, written for the consumption of the 787 enemies of our country, a book written for the disparagement of our country, and supply arguments to our enemies against us. I have seen a letter from the Prime Minister, in which he speaks of the value and importance of that work. [An hon. MEMBER: What book?] I am reluctant to give its name, because I do not want to increase its circulation. [Cries of "Name!"] Well, I will give its name. It is The Puritan in Holland, England and America. I do not refer to it because it belittles England generally. I refer to it because it speaks of the agricultural labourer in these terms—The agricultural labourers of England are a race of peasants, well-known as the most ignorant and brutalised amongst the so-called civilised peoples of the globe.That is not a book that should be praised by an Englishman or Scotchman either. The man who wrote that wrote a disgraceful slander. The man who wrote that was either totally ignorant of the subject on which he was writing or he lied. I speak strongly about this, because it touches a people with whom I am connected by the holiest ties, and any abuse of them, come from whom it may, I will indignantly resent and east oil, even though it receives the imprimatur of the Prime Minister of England. I turn with pleasure to the description of the agricultural labourer by a far more eminent man, by a man who lived all his life amongst them, Edward Jesse, who says—I will venture to say that a more orderly, careful, or a better conditioned peasantry cannot be found on the surface of the globe.I have received a letter from a country clergyman, in which he indignantly repudiates the aspersions cast upon the agricultural labourers, and calls them "fine samples of the English race." These, then, are the men for whom I plead, and I ask hon. Gentlemen who have been returned by their votes to support my Amendment. A seat in Parliament is valuable, but there is a price at which it should not be purchased. I shall, as I said before, look through the Division List to see who have attempted to redeem the pledges on which they were returned, and who, though they promised the agricultural labourer bread, is ready to give him a stone—to see who have been faithful to their promises, and 788 who are about to betray the simple, generous confidence which has been placed in them by the agricultural labourers of England.
At the end of the Question, to add the words—"But we humbly express our regret that, in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne, no Measures are announced for the relief of the agricultural labouring classes. We humbly represent to Your Majesty that these classes are among the most deserving and law-abiding of Your Majesty's subjects; that their present condition is such as to call for immediate attention; that Measures for the amelioration of their condition should be at once adopted; and that such Measures are more pressing and of more vital importance to the best interests of the Country than any legislation having for its object constitutional changes in the Government, of Ireland, and should take precedence of any such legislation."—(MR. Jesse Collings.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ *SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
said, time right hon. Member who had just spoken told the house the story of an agricultural labourer who was under the impression that if the Liberal Party came into power his wages would be raised from I5s.to 20s.per week. He thought something similar had happened with respect to the British farmer. He did not say that the British farmers were told that if he Conservative Party were returned to power they would have protection, but there was no doubt that that hope had been entertained by the British farmer, and he (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) was not surprised at all when he read the speeches made by Members of the Conservative Party during the Election. To return to the speech or his right hon. Friend, he regretted that he had not heard the beginning, but he heard the greater part of it, and if he had not heard it, at, all he thought he might have imagined what it would have been. He knew there was no man in the House who sympathised more entirely with the agricultural labourer than his right hon. Friend; all his sympathies were with him, and before he came under the influence of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J.Chamberlain) his exertions were all in the direction of improving their position. He (Sir B.Samuelson) was afraid he could not say so much for the right hon. Member's present position. He had said he could imagine what the speech of his right 789 hon. Friend would have been; it would have been full of sympathy for the agricultural labourer, and he also knew it would have been an attack, and not altogether a fair attack, upon Her Majesty's Government. But another thing he knew, and that was that the right hon. Member would not point to anything the late Government had done in the direction for which he was so anxious. That the right hon. Member would not do, because he could not. There was one partial exception, and that was the Small Holdings Act of 1892. They (the Liberals) at that time did endeavour to make it clear that that Act would be absolutely without effect, unless full powers were given to the County Councils to purchase land which they could let to the agricultural labourer. They said the agricultural labourer was not in a position to buy land, that he could not pay the deposit, and that he could not pay the instalments. What they said on that subject was vain: and what had been the result of the Small Holdings Act? At the meeting of the Oxfordshire County Council, held to-day, a Report would be presented from the Committee appointed under the Act—the Small Holdings Committee. In that Report it stated that seven petitioners in the parish of Spen sbury applied to the Committee for five pieces of land, comprising a total of five or six acres. These pieces formed part of a holding of 1,000 acres, held by two of the Oxford Colleges, and those Colleges were prepared to grant the land to these seven petitioners, who said they were not in a position to purchase, and wished to rent the land. By the section of the Act the County Council were only empowered to let land when they were satisfied that the applicants were actually unable to buy on the terms fixed by the Act. The Report went on to say. The Committee—Are thereby impressed with the fact that the Act is intended for the creation of small ownership owners, and they cannot recommend the Council to enter into any scheme of purchasing land, so as to let it for various small tenant holdings.That was exactly what they feared, that the interpretation put upon the Act would be that there must be absolute proof that the applicants were unable to purchase, otherwise the County Council would be obliged to decline to 790 purchase land to let for small holdings. That is the only thing which can be claimed as having been done in favour of the agricultural labourer by the late Government. ["Oh, oh !"] An hon. Member said "Oh!" If he would be kind enough to say what else had been done the House would be glad to hear it. With regard to the Act for giving power to rural authorities for sanitary purposes, introduced in 1890, his right hon. Friend himself admitted that was only a step. But why could they not have a still further step? The reason was this: because all the. Acts for the benefit of agriculturists that were passed by Conservative Governments were not compulsory but permissive Acts. So long as that was the principle on which they proceeded, all their Acts, like that for giving compensation to tenants and various others, would be non-effective, and require amendment. He did not know whether he could move the Amendment of which he had given notice, but perhaps many sitting on those Benches would agree with hint that it would be as well, instead of proposing any Amendment, to give a direct negative to the Amendment of his right hon. Friend. But however that might be, he might say something on the substance of his proposed Amendment, to show that it went to the root of the question. What did the right hon. Gentleman say in his Amendment? He claims thatMeasures for the amelioration of their condition should be at once adopted: and that such Measures are more pressing and of more vital importance to the best interests of the Country than any legislation having for its object constitutional changes in the Government of Ireland, and should take precedence of any such legislation.It seemed to him it was the business of the Government, and especially of the Prime Minister, to say what Bills should take precedence, and that they should defer to him so long as they had an assurance that if not pari passu, at all events as speedily as possible, other subjects of importance should have full consideration, and he was ready to grant that a measure for improving the condition of the agricultural labourer was one of the most important. But his right hon. Friend said a Committee was promised, and asked what it was to do. That was not the only thing 791 promised. He believed the Committee would do something for the farmer, and much for the agricultural labourer, though it might not do so much for the farmer as it would have done had it been introduced earlier. There was no reason why an inquiry should not have been initiated by hon. Gentlemen now on the other side. If that inquiry had been initiated, he believed it would have been found that many farmers had been ruined because their rents had not been reduced in time. One of the hon. Members for Lancashire said last night that many landowners were obliged to turn away gardeners and other servants because, owing to the agricultural distress, they were no longer able to employ them. That was a very sail state of things, and it would have been better if those servants—butlers, gamekeepers, and gardeners—had been dismissed a little sooner, and that rents had been reduced, so that farmers had thereby been continued in a position to give reproductive employment to the agricultural labourers. He read recently a speech of Lord Carrington, in which he showed how, by reductions of rent, he had been able to maintain his tenants in relative prosperity, whereas where this had not been done the farmers had got into a state of bankruptcy; but no reduction could be of avail when matters had gone so far as they had gone now. An Inquiry he believed would show what an immense amount of good might be done by the extension of the system of small holdings and allotments. Anyone who had gone through the country and seen the wonderful crops raised on some of these allotments would confirm what he had no hesitation in asserting—namely, that there could be no greater benefit to an agricultural labourer than an allotment or a small holding such as he could conveniently cultivate, situated not too far from his dwelling, and held at a fair agricultural rent. The Government proposed to establish Bodies which had been very much ridiculed, but which, he thought, had been very improperly ridiculed—namely, Parish Councils. Until they were established he did not believe it was at all possible for the system of allotments to be carried out to the full extent to which it was desirable they should be carried, and that was one of the measures announced in the Gracious 792 Speech of Her Majesty. With regard to these allotments, there was the best evidence that by their means, in the case of agricultural labourers, wages were supplemented to the extent of 2s.and 3s., and in some cases 4s. a week. His right hon. Friend talked about keeping the labourers on the land, and there could be no better means of keeping them on the land than by enabling them to live on the land in comfort. But there was another measure, or rather a series of measures, spoken of in the Queen's Speech—measures for the improvement of the condition of the labouring class. He did not think it was to be expected all these measures should be described in detail, but he might say, on his own behalf, he believed they had confidence in the Government that the measures they would introduce would improve the condition of the labouring classes, and when presented would be such as would receive the acceptance of the House, or, at all events, of those on that side, and would be thoroughly good working measures, and not such as those which, he regretted to say, had often been passed by hon. Gentlemen now in Opposition. If they wanted an earnest of that it was to be found in the composition of the Government itself. He did not speak of the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. H.Gardner), they all knew what his sympathies were, and that he was perfectly alive to the interests of the agricultural population, but there were other Members, his hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Derbyshire, his hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Devonshire, and they all knew that when there were gentlemen of their zeal and interests in the Administration, that all that could be done would be done to further the interests of the agricultural population. His hon. Friend spoke of the improvements in the cottages of the labourer, buy he (Sir B.Samuelson) thought it was much better they should put the agricultural labourer in a position to pay a fair rent rather than that these cottages should be built at the expense of the ratepayers, who, many of them, were in but a little better position than the labourers. He thought he had now shown that both as regarded the Select Committee of which the Government had given notice, and as regarded the measures which they had partly distinctly speci- 793 fled, and partly shadowed forth, there was evidence that they were alive to the necessity for the improvement of the position of the agricultural labourer, and that they were prepared to deal with the question thoroughly. He should not move his Amendment, but should vote against that of his right hon. Friend, and in doing so, he felt sure that he would have the approval of his agricultural constituents.
SIR E.LECHMERE (Worcestershire, Evesham)
said, that but for the fact that he was unable to catch the Speaker's eye, he should have risen immediately after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings) had concluded his remarks in order to second the Amendment. As he had the good fortune to represent a large agricultural constituency, he could bear out all that had been said by his right hon. Friend as to the promises made by the representatives of the Gladstonian Party during the recent Election, and which created hopes in the agricultural mind that were impossible of realisation. Thought he made no complaint of the extent of those promises, which were difficult of realisation, he did complain of the manner with which the beneficent legislation of the late Government with respect to the agricultural classes was entirely ignored. With regard to the question of allotments and small holdings, they had been told that the allotment system carried by the late Government was not worth the paper on which it was produced, and that the small Holdings Act was a mere delusion and a, snare. But more than that, one of the most admirable and beneficial Acts for the agricultural classes was the work of the late Government—namely, the Housing of the Working Classes Act. That measure was initiated by the late Premier, Lord Salisbury, carried by the ate Government, and its administration had been secured by agreement with the Local Government Board and the Local Authorities. If the County Council did not do its duty then there was power in the hands of the labourers to put in another Council, who would be more ready to do so. With regard to the realisation of the promises made by the Government, he thought there was but little doubt the labourers would be very greatly disappointed. He did not think the creation of Parish Councils would be a sufficient remedy of 794 the difficulty, nor did he think the Parish Councils were really necessary in any way. He was not one of those who appreciated the principle of Parish Councils, though he maintained they had already the basis of Parish Councils in their vestries. He thought the Government might make the system of vestries a real, active and thoroughly practical means of supplying the labourer with the power of discussion and the administration of his own local affairs. Every labourer who was a householder could attend the vestry, and they might permit every vestry to appoint its own chairman, a duty which now fell upon the clergyman of the parish, who was exofficio chairman of the vestry. They might do away with the plural vote, and meet at such times when the labourer could attend, and thus go back to the old common law of the country, by which every householder could attend and had certain powers. It had been rightly said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division that upon the prosperity of agriculture depended the position of the agricultural labourer, and until they could improve the position of agriculture, it was very difficult to see how even the very best cottage and allotment could improve the position of the labourer and secure him a weekly wage. When they considered the present position of agriculture throughout the country what could they expect but a further exodus of the labourer, and an increase to the already large mass of unemployed. He could not hut hope that even now Government would do something more than give them the Inquiry promised. They had had Inquiries and Commissions before, and all they had given them was a vast amount of information, which, no doubt, was valuable, but he hoped they were to have something more substantial. The agricultural question was agitating the whole country, and in his opinion, and the opinions of very many others, the question of agricultural distress took precedence of Home Rule, and he therefore asked for some more important instalment in regard to agriculture than the promise of an Inquiry.
§ *MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
said, he should not attempt to follow the right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Collings) in his 795 criticism of the election addresses of Members on that side of the House. But as the right hon. Gentleman had referred to him, he might mention that in the Division he had the honour to represent the Conservative candidate carefully waited until his (Mr. Logan) election address was published, and then whatever promises were made in that address he endeavoured to go one better. There seemed to be an impression that the agricultural labourer was a very innocent person, and the Member for the Bordesley Division seemed to share that opinion, for when a Liberal Government was in Office he was virtuously indignant at what he seemed to consider the absence of any promise to legislate on behalf of the agricultural labourers, but when a Conservative Government was in Office the right hon. Gentleman joined with his friends and left the agricultural labourer out in the cold; and so poor an opinion had he of the agricultural labourer as to imagine he did not understand the right hon. Gentleman's game. The agricultural labourer might not be able to read and write with the facility of many of his more favoured countrymen, but he could be trusted to know who were his friends in that House. To-day the right hon. Gentleman regretted that no measure was specifically mentioned in the Queen's Speech for the relief of the agricultural labourer, yet in 1892, when it was proposed to add, as an Amendment to the Small Holdings Bill, powers to Local Authorities to lease lands for small holdings for agricultural labourers, the right hon. Gentleman spoke as follows:—There is an attempt to turn this into a Bill for creating small tenants. I hope the Government will not make this their leading idea, but resist the Amendment, which I regard as one most damaging to the main intentions of the Bill.That was in regard to a Bill which was claimed by the then Government as having been promoted in the interests of the agricultural labourers, the great majority of whom could never hope to rise beyond the position of small tenants, and indeed could only hope to reach that position by exceptional good fortune. When the Conservative Government were in Office the agricultural labourer must stand on one side, while the right 796 hon. Gentleman made things comfortable for his political friends; but when the Liberal Government was in Office the agricultural labourer became a most useful weapon with which to assail them. He believed the agricultural labourer was anxious above all for a real Parish Council Bill, which would give him a share in the government of his native village, and which would allow him, in the words of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, to call his soul his own. Such a pleasure was promised in the most Gracious Speech from the Throne, and he was bound to say the agricultural labourers of England were most anxiously expecting the fulfilment of the pledges which were given to them on this subject at the General Election. They desired and expected from the Government a Parish Council Bill, which would give them power to acquire land for allotments and small holdings, and they demanded with no uncertain voice that their Representatives in that House should press their claims upon the Government. When that time came would the Member for the Bordesley Division be found supporting the Agricultural Representatives? He hardly expected it, because he remembered that last April the right hon. Gentleman opposed an Amendment brought in by the Member for the Rugby Division, to create Parish Councils with power to deal with land for small holdings, and opposed it, no doubt because it was calculated in his opinion to embarrass the Conservative Government. Then he found the right hon. Member for Bordesley was a Member of the Select Committee on Small. Holdings, which sat in 1890, and it was on record that when the Liberal Members of that Committee proposed that the total cost of a small holding to an owner should not be more than the fair agricultural value of the land, the right hon. Gentleman, who to-day was so concerned as to the welfare of the agricultural labourer, recorded his vote against that proposition; and, further, when it was proposed under the Small Holdings Act to give the Local Authorities power to acquire land compulsorily, the right hon. Gentleman had not even the courage of his convictions, and he did not record his vote. Going a little further back, he found that in 1885 the right hon. Gentleman wrote as follows:— 797What we want now in Ireland is the widest system of self-government consistent with the unity of the Empire. The Irish have a right to demand that they shall manage their own local affairs. The experiment we have tried for so many hundred years lets failed, and it is time a new system was adopted.In 1885 it was time a new system was adopted, but eight years later the right hon. Gentleman was convinced that the measures which he opposed in 1890 and 1892 should have precedence over any legislation for Ireland. He felt sure that House and the country would have no difficulty whatever in understanding the object of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, against Which he (Mr. Logan) should most assuredly vote, although he claimed to be as concerned as the right hon. Gentleman was as to the condition of the agricultural labourers of England. Indeed, he should not wonder if he were to be found prepared to go to greater lengths than the right hon. Gentleman in pressing the claims of the agricultural labourers of England on the attention of the House, and he hoped that in doing so he should be supported not only by right hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House, but also by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side. He was convinced there was an ever-increasing number of people in this country who were beginning to realise what it was to have to exist on 10s., 11s., or 12s. a-week, and so miserable pittance as that was not a certain income with the agricultural labourers, but a precarious one, which ceased at the very time when money was most needed, for should sickness incapacitate an agricultural labourer his wages, in a great many cases, ceased altogether, not only depriving him of the means of providing food for his family, but also of the wherewithal to obtain those little dainties which were absolutely necessary for anyone who was prostrated on a bed of sickness. It was true the agricultural labourer had been taught to apply, in his trouble as a tumble mendicant, at the back door of the big house, but he, in common with many others, desired, indeed demanded, to see the labourer placed above the degrading influence of charity; and as a first step towards the consummation of that, very desirable end he, as a Representative of some portion of the agricultural labourers of this country, welcomed the expressed 798 intention of the Government to bring in a Bill which should provide for Parish Councils, which would give to the labourer a voice in the management of his own affairs, and help him to help himself. When a measure of that kind left the House he was convinced that the much neglected long-suffering agricultural labourer would be on the highway to achieve his independence and assert his manhood.
§ MR. H. R. FARQUHARSON (Dorset, W.)
had great pleasure in supporting the Amendment, being convinced that the condition of the agricultural labourers demanded attention, and that the Government intended to do nothing for them. He was confirmed in that conviction by the fact that the Member for Midlothian was the same head of the Government as in 1885, and who then made great protestations of his desire to assist the farm labourers, whilst his Government did nothing for them. Farm labourers could not be in a prosperous condition unless something were done to make the agricultural interest generally prosperous. But the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. Gardner) had told them that, nothing was to be done to put the agricultural interest in a better position until that interest was united in demanding certain reforms, and as the agricultural interest was never united, and never would he, that time would never arise. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt), in his speech the previous night, had told them that the wages of the agricultural labourer were better than formerly, and he seemed to be of opinion that they were in a generally prosperous condition, more or less adducing that as an argument for doing nothing whatever for the agricultural interest in the present crisis. He was very well acquainted with the counties of Dorsetshire and Wiltshire, and he would call attention to some figures regarding the population in certain districts of those counties. In certain districts of Dorset the Census of 1871 showed a population of 144,000; in 1881 it showed in these same districts only 133,000; and in 1891 only 127,000, or a loss of 17,000 people in 20 years. The case of Wiltshire was even more striking. In 1881 certain districts showed a population of 175,000, and in 1891 of 161,000, or a loss of 14,000 people in 10 799 years. When they remembered of that population probably not half were labourers in a position to migrate, it showed they had a loss of 14,000 people out of a total migrating population of only 87,000. It was all very well to talk about Parish Councils assisting the farm labourers, but if remedial measures were not soon forthcoming there would he no farm labourers in those districts to take part in these councils. It was clear that the farm labourers in Dorset and Wiltshire at all events were a vanishing quantity, yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed jubilant over the supposed fact that the wages of the agricultural labourers in Dorsetshire 40 or 50 years ago were only 7s. 6d. a week, whereas they were now 12s. 6d. The fact was that they received very much less than 12s. 6d. Thirty or 40 years ago, in a Debate in this House, Mr. Cochrane referred to the rate of wages paid in Dorsetshire, and, replying to the question of the then hon. Member for that county, spoke of his labourers receiving 8s. Per week, and described them as being the worst paid of the population of the country. They had it, therefore, that at that time the lowest wages in the country were 8s. per week. Yet the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day asked them to believe the labourer was only getting 7s. 6d. per week. That, however, was not the full extent of the mis-representation. A certain Society, which had done more to add to the misery of the working classes than any other that he was acquainted with, issued a pamphlet a few years ago entitled, The Old Poor Law and the New Socialism. It spoke of the old Poor Law and employer and employed, and of a parish allowance as part of the remuneration of labour, and they were told some interesting facts with respect to the masters in Sussex in 1830, and the rates of payment which they made then. The wages of farm labourers had not increased by 50 per cent., as they had been told. If they inquired into it they would find that there was no increase at all. They would find also that the number of the population of farm labourers had very much decreased, and that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong in persuading the House to take his argument as an instance of the prosperity of the farm labourer. He would like to call atten- 800 tion to the state of matters abroad as connected with the condition of farm labourers. They learnt from the Consular Reports, furnished in the Appendices to the Report of the Commission on Trade Depression, that in Denmark wages had nearly doubled, and that in the Netherlands there was an immense increase, while in Germany they had gone up from a rate of 5 per cent. In 1846 to 14 per cent. Yet in this country wages had scarcely increased at all, but the numbers had decreased to a terrible extent. That showed the very urgent importance of something being done to better the condition of the farm labourers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) wrote a letter the other day, in reply to one which had been addressed to him on the subject of wages in Wiltshire, and he expressed surprise that the rate was so low as stated; but anyone acquainted with the state of agriculture in those districts would not be surprised at all, as the employment of labour there depended on the amount of tillage, and as tillage had decreased very rapidly, so the number of farm labourers required had also decreased. He had no hesitation in saying that, if a careful. census were taken, it would be found that wages were not 12s. Per week, and that even with a diminished population there was something like 5 per cent, out of work at the present moment. It was curious, notwithstanding these facts, that Her Majesty's Government should address the Opposition and say, "What are your prospects?" After all the Government promises, some right hon. Gentleman might rise in his place and lay out a programme for assisting the agricultural interest. But they had no proposals except that very small one—of Parish Councils. Those were one or two suggestions which he would venture to make on behalf of the labourer. A word with regard to the aged poor in those rural districts: They had been promised a Poor Law Commission; but by the time the Commission reported, and by the time legislation followed, many of the old farm labourers and their wives would be dead and buried. He ventured to suggest to the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler) that a wise Administration would enable the Guardians to 801 give some more liberal outdoor relief to the aged poor, not confining it to certain age. It would be asked at this point,—What about the labourers? They were saddled with an enormous burden of rates for new houses which were partly empty, and their conditions of living in their houses was miserably low. He had been horrified by the sights he had witnessed in rural workhouses, and he thought they ought to establish at once a system of local infirmaries in connection with the workhouses. Another suggestion, if the House would allow him—and he regarded it as the most important of all—was in reference to the fiscal system connected with farm labourers. They had heard of the comforts of the rural workhouse. A man could not find employment owing to the low prices of agricultural produce. He was obliged to go there. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had told them that, although he was not callous, if insensible, to the suffering that was being endured, he would not consent to the necessaries of life being taxed to relieve them, and he twitted the Members on that (the Opposition) side of the House that Lord Salisbury had said the same when speaking on the question of fiscal reform. Leading statesmen had often before found it convenient and wise to change their minds, and, for his part, he saw nothing to discourage them in the fact that the leaders of neither Party would have nothing to do with them. They talked of the taxation of the necessaries of life. Why, where did the revenue of the country come from? He pointed to the millions that were supplied from taxation on the necessaries consumed by the working classes. An hon. Member said that the profits of agriculture went entirely into the pockets of the landowners. He did not think it was necessary to prejudice this great question of yielding to the vulgar prejudices of the ignorant. Supposing that a protective duty was imposed on articles connected with agriculture, and supposing the persons connected with the duty were to care and provide for the aged poor, would they be told then that the whole of the profits of the land were going into the pockets of the landowners? If they had wheat at 40s. per quarter and more groundx2014;the ground at Present going to waste— 802 brought into cultivation, and a greater field and a greater demand_ for produce, and, therefore, for labour, did they think that all the benefit would go into the landlord's pocket? The imports of wheat had increased from 34,000,000 bushels in 1854–the time of the Crimean War— to 150,000,000 bushels; and he argued that by some careful fostering of the industry of agriculture, the people would not be led into the belief—and would not agree—that agricultural profits went entirely into the pocket of the landlord. So far as the farm labourers were concerned, they never would have any real remedies applied to them except those which were applied to agriculture generally. In conclusion, he asked the President of the Local Government Board to devise some means to enable the aged poor in rural districts to have a greater share in outdoor relief, instead of waiting for the Report of the Poor Law Commission. If he did this, he would have done something to assist the farm labourers, and to earn the gratitude of those who had their welfare at heart.
§ MR. DIAMOND (Monaghan, N.)
said he was sorry he did not see in his usual place the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings) who had moved this Amendment, as he had taken the trouble to investigate some of the figures which he had brought forward with regard to the erection of labourers' cottages in Ireland. He found that there hall been 9,000 labourers' cottages erected in the Provinces of Ireland which had been referred to, whilst scarcely 40 had been erected in Ulster. The Guardians in Ulster could not see their way to carry out the Act; but in the rest of Ireland the Nationalist. Members had used their influence to induce the Guardians to put the Act in operation. Surely that fact alone would convince any man who was desirous of assisting the labourers of Ireland that they could not do better than allow the Irish Members, legislating at home, to compel the Boards of Guardians in Ulster to apply the Act there also. Sneaking as at Ulster Member, he thought the facts he had quoted were a reply to the Ulster Loyalists, who objected to Home Rule on the ground that they (the Nationalists) might pass and make com- 803 pulsory such useful and beneficial measures as the Act indicated.
§ MR. G. R. BENSON (Oxfordshire, Woodstock)
said, he had not intended rising thus early but for the allegation that had been made against him by the Mover of the Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings) produced a card which was undoubtedly used in his (Mr. Benson's) constituency. On that card a charge had been founded that he or his supporters had endeavoured to mislead the labourers as to the intentions of the late Government. He was absolutely unaware that such a statement had been made. In regard to the card, he was not going to say that he admired it as a specimen of election literature, but he absolutely denied that the card could be made the basis of such an accusation as the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to establish upon it. He was not going to dwell upon the matter for the reason that similar charges had been made against himself and his supporters in his constituency. He had denied the charges, and he was willing that those who preferred them should substantiate them in a full public inquiry, to the judgment of which inquiry—which he trusted would soon be held in his constituency—he would cheerfully leave them. Before leaving the subject of the labourers, he must say that they had appealed, and should continue to appeal, to the history and traditions of both Parties in the House. The recollection of what happened under Protectoin had been burnt into the memory of many an old labourer in the country, and the Party opposite must expect that they would be attacked upon the question. The right hon. Gentleman charged him with being extremely lavish of promises. Well, he had to say in reply to that that any promises he had made he was perfectly prepared to stand by at the present time and hereafter. He welcomed the Queen's Speech with the greatest satisfaction, because he knew that the Government would introduce a measure which would be a fundamental reform on behalf of the labourers—the reform involving the establishment of Parish Councils—a reform for which the country called, and which was greatly required. But no section of his constituents claimed that they alone should receive the at- 804 tention of Parliament. Were they expected by the right hon. Gentleman to be callous as to other interests—great national interests —which were at stake? If the right hon. Gentleman went among the labourers he would find many who were anxious for the vast national interests, as well as for their own interests. He (Mr. Benson) went before his constituency as an extreme candidate— extreme Home Ruler—if there was one pledge he gave upon which he should be firm, it was the pledge as to Ireland; and as to the Poor Laws, he was satisfied his Party would not be backward in dealing with it. Whatever measures Parliament might pass, the important point was the spirit in which they were likely to be administered. He saw no reason why the principal points in the Allotment Acts should not be entrusted to the bodies it was proposed to create. No one could say that the Boards of Guardians, as now constituted, were satisfactory Authorities to discharge the necessary functions or commanded the confidence of the agricultural labourer. He did not wish to say anything against Boards of Guardians; but they consisted largely of class representatives, and of persons not popularly elected, and they could not be expected, therefore, to be energetic and thorough in administering the Acts. Nor could it be said that the popularly-elected County Councils, administering the affairs of so large an area as a county, would be capable of seeing that the special needs of each individual village in the matter of allotments were attended to. Therefore, the greatest help that could possibly be given to an administrative movement that was made for the benefit of the agricultural population, and an indispensable help, was, that every village, so far as practicable, should have in it a body charged to attend to the interests of the people of that village, and those alone; and that that body should have represented on it not only the lauded gentry and the farmers, but also the labouring class. He was not going into detail as to what he thought necessary for the reform of Local Government; but he was, above all things, desirous that such legislation as was proposed should help to make the labourers more independent, and give them greater power of making their 805 wants and wishes felt in the management of their village concerns. The village clergymen and country gentlemen would not suffer—or those of them who were interested in the wants and needs of the villagers—for they could still take their share in local government. If they were competent to deal with local affairs their position would be much stronger, much more influential and agreeable, if they were elected representatives of the people, chosen by themselves to look after their business as members of a popularly-constituted Board. He believed that in addition to the points he had mentioned where Village Councils would be beneficial, there were small abuses and evils in the villages which a popular system of Local Government would speedily put an end to. The direct benefit which would accrue to the labourers through such a change could scarcely be over-rated. There would be an indirect benefit also in teaching the rural population to think more for themselves and to feel more independent than they did at present. He had not intended to-day to intrude his remarks On the attention of the House; but having been challenged, with other hon. Members who stood in the same position as himself, to repeat in the House the things they had been saying to their constituents during the General Election, he had taken up the challenge. He desired to say—and he could say it, he believed, on behalf of those who had supported him in his constituency—that while they were anxious that due attention should be paid in future legislation to matters which would be beneficial to them and their class, they desired equally that the interests of the whole country should be attended to by Parliament. They did not desire the labouring class to be, as the Amendment would seem to proclaim it, the sole recipients of the attention of Parliament to the exclusion of their fellow-countrymen in Great Britain, or of the people of Ireland. It happened to be the opinion of every thoughtful man amongst his supporters—labourers included—that the one thing first desired in their interests was that as speedily as possible the administration of local affairs in rural districts should, as the Queen's Speech promised, be placed on a sound and popular basis.
§ MR. CUST (Lincolnshire, Stamford)
said, and although he admired the pluck and the manliness which had induced the last speaker to rise and rebut the charges levelled against him and other Members of his Party by the right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings), he did not think the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Benson) had fully dealt with the gravamen of those charges. He had very properly expressed his distaste for the vermilion placards or advertisements which had been referred to, but he load not explained by whose authority they were issued. He had not explained on what data the Tory loaf and the Liberal loaf had been pictured of different sizes to the advantage of the latter. The hon. Member load shirked the real issue, and had made no effort to explain the effect the placards had had on his constituents.
§ MR. BENSON (interrupting)
said, that through inadvertence he had failed to make his meaning clear. He absolutely disbelieved that the issue of the placard to which reference was made could have had the effect of spreading amongst his constituents any false ideas, unless backed up by speeches. Placards of this sort were frequently distributed at General Elections by Members of either Party. The placard had an old established and well understood significance. He would add that he had not thought it necessary to go into detail in regard to these matters, because he believed and hoped that the whole question of his conduct, and that of his agents, would shortly he made the subject of very careful inquiry.
§ MR. CUST
said, he quite accepted the explanation. He could not, however, help asking why the placard was published if the hon. Member did not believe it would produce any effect on the constituency. Was it that the hon. Member's expenses were so small and his command of wealth so great, that these placards were indulged in merely for the sake of plastering up the walls and hoardings of the division with a Party-coloured advertisement dealing with fancy bakery prices? The hon. Member said the placard would only have load effect if it had been backed up by speeches. Surely, in common sense, if at a Tory and Liberal election they put before labouring men a picture of "The 807 Tory loaf," with ls. 4d. marked over it, and "The Liberal loaf," with 4d. over it, it would have some effect in influencing their suffrages.
§ MR. BENSON
said, his point was that he considered the placard to have no more than a historical meaning.
§ MR. CUST
said, he would only ask the House to mark this singular case of devotion to historical research of the hon. Member, even in the fever of a General Election, sparing no trouble to educate those whose suffrages he was seeking. The point of the whole matter was this: the right hon. Member for the Bordeslev Division spoke of a rise in wages having been promised to the agricultural labourer in the event of the present Government being returned to power. An hon. Member had risen to deny it. There again they had the big loaf and the little one; but they could make promises by implication, and that was exactly what hon. Members opposite had done. He had gone through this question of a rise in wages himself. How was it dealt with? His opponent had not said to the agricultural labourers, "I promise you £1 a week." Nothing of the sort; but he had said "You, under a Conservative Government, are getting 5s. a week less than decency and comfort require. Put me in and see what happens." What labourer would leave the room in which he had heard those words spoken without carrying away with him the idea that they were intended to imply that the return of a Liberal Government would mean a rise in wages of 5s. a week? That was only one instance, but it covered the whole ground, and was similar to the card representing the big "Liberal loaf" and the little "Tory loaf," to which reference had already been made. He deeply regretted that this Amendment had been separated from that which had been under discussion for the past two days with reference to the question of agriculture. The question was, Were the Government going to help the agricultural industry or not? The only indication as to the intentions of the Government they had received was an academical allusion in the Queen's Speech, from which allusion it was clear that the Government only thought there was agricultural distress in the country when they drafted the Queen's Speech. That was em- 808 phasised by the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir B. Samuelson), who had expressed an ecstatic formula of gratitude to Her Majesty's Government. They were at present hanging on the lips of the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. H. H. Fowler). The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) had told them three things, so far as he (Mr. Cust) could follow his speech. He told them first that the Government had avoided the agricultural question, because it was an extremely important one; he had told them next that they had avoided it because agricultural distress had existed before; and he had told them, lastly, that the Government had avoided it because they had an infinitely remote, and, as far as they knew, unformulated, scheme for instituting Village Councils, which, he need hardly say, had nothing on earth to do with the agricultural question. The right hon. Gentleman justified the proposal for a Committee by digging up some initiative of Lord Melbourne and Lord John Russell, by whom, he said, a Committee had been appointed, which had formerly sat for some 30 years without result, which was scarcely the way to encourage the House to look forward With satisfaction to the present proposal. The right hon. Gentleman wished to know why the Amendment had been moved, and asked them why the late Government had not done all that was necessary. The reasons for bringing forward an Amendment on the subject or agriculture were obvious. Remember that for the last 40 Years agriculture had never been in such a distressful condition as it was at present. One of his own constituents had put it in this way: Thirty years ago it took 40 measures of wheat to buy£ 100, and now it took 80, showing that in 30 years prices had gone down by one-half. As to why the late Government had not taken measures to relieve agriculture the answer was plain. They had done all they could, and in common honesty let right hon. and hon. Members opposite remember how their efforts had been received by the Radical Party. They had begun by establishing a Minister of Agriculture. Hon. Gentlemen opposite laughed at the office, and scorned it, and said it was useless. It had done good work, how- 809 ever; and the moment the Radical Party got hold of it, and could have turned it into even a. more powerful instrument if they had thought such a step necessary, they had appointed a man in whom, no doubt, the House had confidence, but had removed the post from Cabinet rank, in that way indicating that they put agriculture amongst not the major, but the minor interests of the country. The late Government brought in an Allotments Bill, which hon. Gentlemen opposite called a sham. [Ministerial cheers.] They called it a sham Bill. He hoped the responsibility of Office would educate them. In the five years shire the Act had been in existence, through its action, directly or indirectly, 150,000 men had got allotments. If any hon. Gentleman opposite would introduce a few "shams" of that kind they would be doing a great deal more for the agricultural labourer than at present he had any reason to expect from them. They had laughed also at the Local Government Bill. They had talked of such a measure for years; but the first chance the country had had of getting it was from a Conservative Ministry. The present Government tried to bribe the country into supporting them by offering in the Queen's Speech a development of the Local Government Act, which the country would have had four years ago if it had not been for the opposition of the Radical Party. ["Oh, oh!"] He trusted he had not gone beyond the facts of the case. The Party opposite laughed at the Small Holdings Bill, and said that was a sham too. It had been the ambition of the Liberal Party for 30 years to get the agricultural labourer into touch with the land. Well, that had been done. If hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, now that they were in power, thought that they could improve that Bill, let them do it. They had a majority, let them, by the aid of that majority, now make the improvements which they had spent the whole of last Session in suggesting. ["Hear, hear!"] Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen said "hear, hear," but why did they not do it? Lastly came the Free Education Bill. This the Party opposite had characterised as a crude piece of Socialism Still it had only done that which they themselves had promised, and if they found fault with it, why did they 810 not make one little effort to improve it? What were they going to do now they were in power and a majority—or thought they had a majority? The only Bill which he had as yet seen promised by the Government directly dealing with the land question would increase the burdens upon land. [An hon. MEMBER: On the landlords.] Oh! That is another case for the education of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Do they imagine that the interests of the labourers and tenants are not bound up with those of the landowners? If so, I can refer them to one from whom they will, perhaps, more readily accept education than from me. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his speech last night that the hierarchy— the farmer, the labourer, and the landlord— sank or swam together, or stood or fell together. I forget which was the expression he used.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER(Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
What I said last night was, that when the price of corn and rents were the highest, wages were lowest.
§ MR. CUST
said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman had said that there was a community of interest in all classes living by the land. If the Government thought that the only Bill of which they had given notice to deal with agriculture would satisfy people living in the rural districts, all he could say was that they would not get agriculturist to agree with them. They had made a thousand promises to the labourers during the Election. They had promised them relief in regard to their tea, their tobacco, their beer, and their rent. Were they going to carry out these promises? The Conservative Party doubted their ability to do these things which they had promised so riotously when irresponsible. But were they going to attempt to carry them out, or was the only thing to be expected of them this Bill for Village Councils which could hardly be seen through the cloudy horizon of their Home Rule Bill. That Bill would not come on for practical discussion; it was only suggested as a sort of magiclantern slide, to come on when Home Rule was being talked about. The labourers had believed the promises of the Radical Party. It sounded incredible; but they did. What was their pro- 811 gramme? There was the Home Rule Bill and the Registration Bill and the Bill for the payment of Members. What could these or any of the other proposed measures do towards filling the stomachs or the pockets of the agricultural labourers? Nothing; and he regarded the pledges of the Radical Party as one of the greatest pieces of deception ever practised on a trusting electorate. He wanted the agricultural labourers to understand how bravely they had been fooled by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. One argument the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had used with great force last night—and one which he (Mr. Cust) would like to deal with now to the best of his ability—was this, and it sounded plausible—if landowners or tenants or agricultural labourers come to you for special relief from rates the next thing will be that the cotton industry, the lace industry will come and ask for similar relief.If agriculture stood on the same footing as all other industries this argument would be sound, but it did not. What were the burdens on agriculture from which relief was sought—how were they founded? Almost the whole of their rates and local taxation originated at a time when land represented the property of the country. Land was their wealth. It was taxed as property, because it was practically the only property, or by far the greater part of the property, which existed. Since then other property had grown, and the relative value of land had enormously diminished. The tax on land was regarded as a Property Tax, and if they stuck to the property basis in levying local taxation, no one would be more delighted to welcome the scheme as himself. Land did not now amount to one tithe of the property of the country, although it was condemned by old definitions to bear the whole burden of rates and taxes, except the grants to local taxation, which came from the Imperial Exchequer. He had been told that a person had no right to criticise unless he made suggestions; and though he did not suppose that his remarks were likely to fall in very fruitful soil, still, as one little seed might take root, he would put before the Government the measures which he thought best calculated to relieve distressed agriculture. In the first place, let 812 them put land on the same footing as all other property. Give it a fair start. The first thing to do that was to free its transfer. That could be begun by a measure of compulsory registration, which it would not take half an hour to pass through the House, the principle of such a pleasure having been accepted by the House of Commons in the last Session of Parliament. A Land Transfer Bill, such as the House had already accepted, and such as the Government had it in their power to pass, could afterwards be passed. In this way not only would they help the agricultural interest, but free the land from the stigma of being a monopoly, which hon. Members opposite were never tired of throwing into Conservative faces. If the Government had not time or power to remodel the whole scheme of local taxation, they had power to follow the excellent example set them by the late Government, and make personal property bear a fair share of the burdens which now fell on real property. In this way they would remove the anomalies which now fell on one class of property. If they identified personal and real property as largely as they could, they would have done something to help the agricultural and landed interest. And this also they had got to do: they had to add to their grants in aid, the Unions at present being unable to secure the payment of the rates. Thirdly, they could bring in a Housing of the Labouring Classes Bill, which would necessitate a supply of air, water, and light, such as was proposed by Sir E.Birkbeck when a Member of the House. For such a Bill they would have the universal support of the Conservative Party. They need not fear that the present Opposition would treat them as they themselves were treated when in power. There were some, at least, on the Opposition side Who cared more for the people they represented than for a big or a small majority in a snap Division. At any rate, they were sufficient in number to keep the Government in Office if they brought in such a Bill for the Housing of the Labouring Classes. The next thing he would ask the Government to do would be to extend the Merchandise Marks Act to every form of imported goods. That would not be Protection. Merely insist that a thing should be sold 813 for what it really was, that both the consumer and the producer would know exactly where they were. A measure of that kind would receive support from the Conservative Party. Finally, do away with the Land Tax. [Cries of" Oh !"] He knew hon. Members would say "Oh," because this sounded so much whilst it really meant so little. The Land Tax was a direct tax upon the raw material of a large industry. If they put a tax on wool or cotton, or anything of that kind, they would not be in Office 20 minutes. Land was the only thing the agricultural people had to labour on. It was a tax put upon land at a period of the nation's history when land was the property and wealth of the country, and when there was no personal property to draw on. The revenue had to he arranged for. Now there were all forms of property, and the products of the land had largely diminished, and the time would come when the Government might add to their Liberal laurels a real popularity by removing the Land Tax and insisting on the burden falling upon personal property. He did not expect that any of these suggestions would be adopted, but as he had offered criticisms so he put forward suggestions. If the Government adopted these suggestions they would have done something to justify themselves in the eyes of the agricultural labourer, and to justify all that riot and chaos of election promises they had squandered a few months back. If they did not do anything for the agricultural labourer they would have the reputation of being a Party which got into Office on false pretences—a reputation which they probably would not much mind so long as they remained in Office. But when they went out of Office they would find that, like curses and boomerangs—as an hon. Member suggested—broken promises had a nasty habit of coming home to roost.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD(Mr. H. H. FOWLER,) Wolverhampton, E.
I am sure the Government are very much indebted to the hon. Member opposite for the frank promise he has made that he will support us in passing the measures he has indicated, though he doubts that they will ever see the light of day. I can assure him we shall remember his 814 promise when measures affecting agriculture and the agricultural labourer are before the House. The hon. Member at the commencement of his speech was exceedingly indignant at the card used in the election at Mid Oxfordshire, in which were set forth the respective merits of the Tory little loaf and the Liberal big loaf, and he rather scoffed at the idea that the hon. Member for Mid Oxfordshire was dealing with a matter of history. But I think the hon. Member was not in the House when the Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Farquharson) addressed us a few minutes before the Adjournment, or after the Adjournment. If he had heard that speech he would have heard a respected Member of the Agricultural Party pointing out what advantage would arise to the agricultural community if a duty, which he put at £15,000,000, were levied on the import of corn. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman opposite has carefully studied the difference between a Revenue Duty and a Protective Duty, but I would ask him, and those hon. Members who are so indignant with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Oxford, if this duty were put on corn, who would have to pay it? It would have to be paid by the people who buy and the people who eat the loaves.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I know the hon. Member did not, but I was referring to a speech made by another hon. Member opposite.
§ MR. FARQUHARSON
I may say that I did not urge that a duty should be put on corn. I merely said that the duties on tea, tobacco, and cocoa amounted to what would he equal to a duty of 15s. Per quarter on corn.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
Did not the hon. Member point out that if a duty on corn amounting to£15,000,000 were raised, we could provide pensions for all the aged poor out of the fund which would thus be obtained?
§ MR. FARQUHARSON
No, Sir. I merely suggested that if we had a Protective Duty on agricultural products we should obtain an amount sufficient to provide for all the aged poor.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I will only say that until Gentlemen opposite—one and all—put away the idea of a Protective Duty on corn they should not complain if the possibility of putting a duty on corn is brought before the constituencies. The hon. Gentleman said he was not responsible for all that was said on his side of the House. I think he must take the responsibility, however, of criticising the observations of those who sit on this side of the House with some regard for historical accuracy. He said that we had laughed at the Local Government Bill of 1888, and done all in our power to prevent its passing into law. All I can say is that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ritchie), who was then President of the Local Government Board, and who carried that Bill through the House, acknowledged, in the handsomest manner, that he could not have carried it but for the assistance given to him by the Opposition, and he especially named some of my right hon. Friends as having assisted him. I can remember that when, in 1888, the Government of the day withdrew the District Councils portion of the Bill, they gave a distinct pledge that they would next Session introduce a District Councils Bill if the Local Government Bill were carried. I am finding no fault with them, as I know what difficulties they had to face; but I would point out that we are now in 1893, and no District Councils Bill has been brought before Parliament. Many of the points that have been raised will no doubt receive the attentive consideration of the Committee. The question of the burden of taxation on land is not one that can be disposed of in a Debate on the Address. If that question is properly brought before the House—and it is a very difficult and involved question, a question that requires to be approached more in a judicial than in a Party spirit—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will be prepared to discuss it in its bearing, not only on the agricultural but on all the other interests of the community. The hon. Member for Dorsetshire (Mr. Farquharson) made some suggestions with reference to the treatment of the aged poor, and found fault with the Government for having advised the appointment of a Commission to inquire into that question. I will put it to the House whether any Executive Go- 816 vernment would be disposed to approach so difficult a question as the disturbance of that great Poor Law, which has been in existence for nearly 60 years, and which, on the whole, has been a very great blessing to the country, without careful and impartial inquiry. I venture humbly to endorse what the late Prime Minister said in another place, when he expressed a hope that the inquiry would extend to the whole system of Poor Law administration. During the short time I have been at the Local. Government Board I have seen that there is room for many improvements in that administration. We have, however, no knowledge of such cases as were referred to by the hon. Member for Dorset, with respect to the treatment of the poor in workhouse infirmaries. We believe that our infirmaries in London and elsewhere are among the very best in the Kingdom. We have tried to induce Guardians to construct infirmaries in separate buildings; and although they have not always carried out our wishes in that respect, I venture to say that the poor people in infirmaries are better treated than when they are in their own homes. If the hon. Member will give me the name of the infirmary in which he says the patients had not the common necessaries of life, I promise that not 24 hours shall elapse before the case is inquired into. As regards the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Collings), I think it is very much to be regretted, in view of the very deep and consistent interest which he has always taken in the condition of the agricultural poor—and I should be the last man to belittle any of the services he has rendered on that question—that he should discount the effect of his advocacy of their cause by indulgence in bitter personal attacks upon his old colleagues and friends. We differ front my right hon. Friend on a great question of public policy. He is as much entitled to his opinion as we are to ours. We have no right to impute motives to him, and he has no right to impute motives to us. The fact that we entertain views which differ from his on the question of the government of Ireland ought not to reduce us in his eves to the immoral, degraded, and unworthy condition which he described. There is not a man on 817 this Bench who is prepared to betray his supporters, or be false to his declaration, or, above all, to buy a Party in order to sub-let it again for other purposes. Sir, I do not think that sort of criticism adds either to the dignity or the efficiency of our public life. Surely the time has gone by for that sort of thing. We are approaching questions of the greatest difficulty, questions on which every man has a right to his opinion, and on which men of the highest honour and greatest ability entertain different views, but that is no reason why we should pollute the controversy with this perpetual imputation of unworthy motives. I have some difficulty in differentiating my right bon. Friend's Amendment from the Amendment moved last night. My right hon. Friend said that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Wharton) was one complaining of omissions from the Royal Speech, it seems to me that exactly the same description applies to the Amendment he himself has moved. The difference between the two seems to be the difference between agriculture and agriculturists. Last night we were discussing agriculture as a whole. To-day we are asked to discuss the question of one particular class of agriculturists. Let me take his Amendment clause by clause. He says—We humbly express our regret that in Your Majesty's Gracious Speech from the Throne no measures are announced for the relief of the agricultural labouring classes.I am justified in saying that that is not an accurate statement. I think it would be impossible to find a larger number of measures in any modern Queen's Speech which are directed to the relief of the labouring class. The promised measures respecting the liability of employers, the condition of labour, the hours of labour for railway servants, the amendment of the Law of Conspiracy, Parish Councils, and the direct control of the liquor traffic—and I believe the last to be almost the most important measure mentioned so far as social matters are concerned—all these measures will, if carried, afford relief to the labouring classes. Then my right hon. Friend asks the House to represent to Her Majesty that—Those classes are among the most deserving and law-abiding of Your Majesty's subjects.818 We are agreed upon that. We are also agreed in thinking thatTheir present condition is such as to call for immediate attention.We are also ready to adopt the statementThat measures for the amelioration of their condition should be at once adopted.My right hon. Friend complains, when Parliament has not sat seven days, that we have not yet introduced a large number of Bills, and, I suppose, read them a second time. Why, Sir, we are not even allowed to introduce our Bills and have them read a first time. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said last night that when the Government mentioned measures in a Queen's Speech it was their duty to accompany that mention of them with an explanatory statement. The right hon. Gentleman's criticism might be just at the end of the Session, but it is not just now, inasmuch as we have not yet had an opportunity of introducing our measures. The sting of this Resolution is in the tail. My right hon. Friend wishes the House to say—That such measures are more pressing, and of more vital importance to the best interests of the country, than any legislation having for its object constitutional changes in the government of Ireland.[Opposition cheers.] You cheer that, but you also cheered the right hon. Gentleman opposite last night when he said it was the bounden duty of the Prime Minister to introduce a Home Rule measure first. The competition last night was for No.2; the competition to-day is for No.1.
§ MR. H. H. FOWLER
I was alluding to the late Secretary to the Treasury (Sir J. Gorst), who certainly gave a very strong expression of opinion, which was very loudly cheered by hon. Members opposite, with reference to the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. Well, the real object of my right hon. Friend's Amendment is obviously to express his objection to Home Rule. But this is not the time or the occasion on which to do so. We have been returned to power upon the pledge and promise that we will submit to this House a measure relating to the government of Ireland.
819 Hon. Members may deplore the spending of so much of the time of this House upon Ireland. I deplore it. The youngest Member of this House must have noticed during the last week that a very large proportion of our time has been devoted to the discussion of Irish affairs. We want to terminate that state of things. We want to get Home Rule out of the way, and the best method by which to get it out of the way is to pass it. In 1886 my right hon. Friend moved an Amendment, which was successful, and grave consequences followed its adoption. That Amendment was one expressing regret that no measures were announced in the Queen's Speech for the relief of the agricultural classes, and especially for affording facilities to agricultural labourers and others to obtain allotments and small holdings. My right hon. Friend said that if there was a demand for it land should be had at a fair price and on a tenure that would not depend upon touching the hat to the landlord or the squire, and he claimed for the labouring population a measure of land reform which, he contended, would be a most conservative measure. I quite agree with every word my right hon. Friend said. But considerable progress. Has been made in land reform since 1886. A Land Transfer Bill was brought in by the Government of that day; but the House of Lords threw it out, though a Conservative Government was then in power. If we have the good fortune to secure the passage of the Bill we have introduced in the House of Lords, I shall be very pleased indeed to see it rapidly carried through this Douse. My right hon. Friend referred to stories told during the election, and to what sonic anonymous person had told him as to an innocent voter, stating that he was promised 20s. A week wages if the Liberals came into power. My right hon. Friend will remember, in 1886, it was said that the election then was won on the promise of three acres and a cow, and a story was told of labourers with halters in their hands going to bring the cows home. He denounced those stories as absurd and ridiculous. Indeed, they are hardly worth the serious consideration of the House. What are the measures which the Government are proposing in the Queen's Speech, to which they are pledged, and which they will certainly 820 bring forward? There is one for the creation of Parish and District Councils. What do Parish Councils mean? They mean the giving to the rural population the same powers of self-government, of local administration, and of local self-help that the inhabitants of the great towns already possess. Hon. Gentlemen say that we want sanitary improvements, in the villages, and so we do. But what has occurred in our great towns? I appeal to the Representatives of a great town on this point. It was the self-government of Birmingham that made Birmingham what it is. It is the self-government of our Municipalities which has enforced those sanitary laws and delivered them from the great evils which formerly existed, and the Government believe that the first step towards improving the condition of the agricultural labourers and the agriculturists is to give them those powers of administration without which such improvements cannot be made. Without such powers it is idle to talk of improving the condition of the rural population. It is idle to say that the labourer can refuse to vote for a County Councillor who will not pledge himself to do these things. It is a palpable illusion to suggest the labourer can force the County Council to, carry out sanitary reform. The Government intend that there shall be a thorough, efficient, complete popular system of self-government. We mean Parish Councils to be a reality and not a sham. We mean District or Parish Councils to deal with every one of the questions brought before the House in this Debate. First and foremost, we are proposing a radical reform in the administration of the Poor Law and its present management. We believe the time has arrived when Local Authorities, locally elected without the plural vote and without any qualification of a class or property character, should be intrusted with the administration of the Poor Law; and I can assure hon. Gentlemen that they need not be under any misapprehension that the Bill to be introduced by the Government, with respect to local government, including Parish and District Councils and dealing with allotments compulsorily, will be a milk-and-water measure, and one which can safely or wisely be laughed at. Then there is another measure, the first of a series, 821 dealing with one of the greatest evils of rural life—the excessive consumption of alcoholic liquors. An hon. Member was discussing just now the various surroundings of an agricultural labourer's everyday life. A short time ago it was my privilege and pleasure to visit a great estate, the landlord of which exercised sole control over the sale of intoxicating liquors. The estate extends over many thousand acres, and on it there is not a single public-house. I went into the cottages of the labourers, and I was positively astounded at the real comfort which prevailed in them, and there was no doubt as to what it was caused by. The cottages were, in fact, better than those occupied by the higher class of operatives in our large towns. I left that neighbourhood with the conviction that there was no measure which could so effectually promote the social wellbeing of the agriculturist, his wife, and children as to put a stop to the facilities for that drunkenness which has been the source of so much misery. The Government are contemplating measures for local self-government in the parishes and in the districts, and measures for dealing with labour in all its aspects, and they are endeavouring to grapple with the most gigantic evil of our time. The right hon. Gentleman says, "Why don't you bring them in?" Well, the first 24 hours after the Speech from the Throne the criticism was that the Government were promising too much: now it is that they are promising too little. It is impossible to please hon. Members. Let us get to the business of the Session and if the Government do not fulfil their promises, if they break their faith to their constituents, their constituents are the supreme and final Court of Appeal. They will deal with the Government, and the Government are quite ready to face that tribunal when the time comes. In the meantime, let us have a fair chance and let the Debate on the Speech from the Throne be brought to a. close. If that is done this week, then the curiosity of hon. Gentlemen will he gratified as to the great measure the Prime Minister will introduce. That measure will no doubt absorb a considerable amount of the attention of the House; but great as it is, it will not occupy the whole time of the House. Let the Government have only fair support from Members sitting 822 in all parts of the House and they will place upon the Statute Book measures which will promote the interests and the happiness not only of Her Majesty's agricultural subjects, but of all other classes of the community.
§ *MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman is full of big promises, but I should like to ask the most sanguine Member present, anyone who is most desirous of passing into law all the measures mentioned in the Speech from the Throne, what possible chance is there of any but one coming to the stage of practical discussion? There is, first, this enormous measure for altering the relations between Great Britain and Ireland and transforming the Constitution of the United Kingdom. There follows close upon the heels of that measure—if, indeed, it be possible for anything to follow close upon it—the various electioneering devices by which right hon. Gentlemen are preparing themselves against a fall during the process of their Home Rule Bill. Then the claims or Scotland have to be met; and as for the Party representing "gallant little Wales," as we are all aware, the Representatives of Wales are in a state of agitation, because their claims appear to them to be neglected. Every Member of the House who has heard the Debate will be satisfied that the right hon. Member for Bordesley, in bringing this Amendment forward, was only doing what it was natural and right for him to do. His object has been to point out that in the agricultural constituencies promises have been made and expectations have been held out, some of which cannot be fulfilled, and none of which are going to he fulfilled. The right hon. Gentleman had not the advantage which I had of being a candidate for an agricultural constituency. I visited many such constituencies during the Election, and I Can only say that the statement of dui right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division as to the expectations held out by Gladstonian candidates is a most moderate statement. I feel confident that he might have culled from the addresses he held in his hand much more curious instances. He spoke of the now buttons cards issued to electors. The hon. Member for Woodstock has given the House an explanation of the election cards used 823 in his constituency. The hon Member said that he did not admire the card as a piece of electioneering composition. But the question is, what was the effect on the agricultural labourer to whom it was addressed? What effect was intended I do not know; but I know what effect was absolutely certain to be produced if such a card were circulated broadcast. The hon. Member asserted that it was only a piece of history. I advise him, the next time he appears before his constituency, to explain that he was quoting from past history, and not put statements upon cards which his constituents will suppose apply to existing facts, and which are, therefore, altogether untrue. I had plenty of experience of the misleading statements made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. There was the common trick of issuing cards on which "Home Rule for Ireland "was printed in very little letters indeed; while on the top and in enormous letters was printed "Home Rule for our Villages." I suppose hon. Members will explain that as a reference to Parish Councils. I noticed the way in which the Prime Minister referred to Parish Councils before the Election. The right hon. Gentleman spoke with a caution becoming one in his responsible position, and most carefully guarded himself from being supposed to intend intrusting Parish Councils with specially wide and extensive powers. He said the division of duties between the Parish Councils nail bodies representing much wider areas was a subject on which he could not then pronounce an opinion, and that it required most careful investigation. But that is not what the right hon. Gentleman's followers did. 'they attributed to Parish Councils the magic power of being able to provide for the labourer everything he wanted; and he was to find in Parish Council alone—towards the working of which he was to pay no rates—the means of extracting from those who did pay the rates everything to improve his material condition. Though we are perfectly well aware that such expectations cannot be fulfilled, we are entitled to call on hon. Members to state how they expect them to be fulfilled, and where in the Queen's Speech, or in any declaration made by any Member of the Government, there is any promise of fulfilment. I should like to 824 discuss in a practical way the case of the agricultural labourer as presented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley. I venture to say there is perhaps hardly any Member of the House who has had such full opportunities as I have had of forming an opinion as to the present condition of the agricultural labourer compared with what it was years ago. Twenty years ago I conducted officially an inquiry into the condition of the agricultural labourers, to which I devoted two years of my life. At the present time, the main danger in the country districts is the migration of the agricultural population, which has already been noticed in this Debate. In a large measure, no doubt, it is due to insufficient employment, but it is also due to the concentration of production in the towns instead of the villages. Formerly there were many village industries; but now articles can he more cheaply produced by modern methods in the towns. How are we to remedy this state of things? What is there we can do to diminish the migration of the population from rural districts? Good and constant employment, with fair wages, form the best means of keeping the labourers in the country; but it is perfectly obvious that those conditions depend absolutely upon the general prosperity of agriculture. Then there is the desire on the part of the labourer to rise in the world—a desire which all of us wish to encourage. Everyone world like to see, where it is suitable, a wider distribution of landed property. When the hon. Member for the Stamford Division alluded to a Land Transfer Bill as the first measure necessary for the accomplishment of this object, the Prime Minister cheered him; but there is no allusion whatever in the Queen's Speech to such a Bill. Then there is the system of Parish Councils, by which it is proposed by some that those who have not land shall be able to obtain it at other people's expense. We shall have plenty of time to discuss these proposals when they are brought forward, but I would warn the House strongly against the danger there is of ruining the system of local government by encouraging Local Authorities to become speculators in land. The success of small holdings must depend on many causes—the variety of soil and the proximity of markets; and 825 if Parish; Councils are to embark in speculation, they will run the risk of disaster. The right hon. Member for Bordesley made some remarks on labourers' cottages which deserve attention. Speaking from a recollection of what those cottages were 20 years ago, I can say that a change amounting to a revolution has taken place. It has been a gradual revolution effected without the direct interference of any Act of Parliament but, none the less, it has been universal and real. It has been brought about, first, by the desire of the landowners themselves to benefit the working classes on their estates. Then there has been the effect of the Union Chargeability Bill, which has led to the provision of cottages at places most convenient for the labourers working on the estate; and there is the pressure exerted by the occupying tenants, who know that to get good labourers they must have good cottages for them to occupy. On the large estates the difficulty has been met, but in some of the large open villages belonging to small owners there is still much room for improvement. The late Government did their best in that direction. In 1890 we extended the Housing of the Working Classes Act to the rural districts, and gave larger powers to the Sanitary Authorities to carry out sanitary improvements. If that Act is not sufficient let it be extended further. Something may be done to keep the agricultural population on the land by improvements of the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board spoke of the Commission appointed to inquire into one branch of the subject. I heartily rejoice that a Commission has been appointed. It is rather late to object to the composition of that Commission; but I would point out that, with possibly two or three exceptions, there is no one who practically understands the administration of the Poor Law in the country districts. We on this side of the House desire that the attention of Parliament should be practically directed to the working of the Poor Laws. It is no new question to me, for 20 years ago I pointed out the unfortunate state of things under which the law did not allow Boards of Guardians sufficient powers to distinguish between the provident and the improvident. The way In which we should proceed to amend the 826 Poor Law is to try to help those who have during life tried to help themselves. If this Debate and the Debate yesterday have done nothing else, I think they have cleared the ground a great deal as to the actual condition of the agricultural labourer. Hon. Members opposite, in their addresses to their constituencies, described the agricultural labourer as a poor down-trodden man whose condition Was deplorable, and whose sufferings were created by the avarice of the landlord, but exactly the contrary to this lots been shown by these Debates. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that during the past 40 years the wages of the agricultural labourers have increased in many places by 50 per cent., and that in all the agricultural districts their position is very much better in that respect than it was 40 years ago. Who can also deny that the prices of everything are much lower? The labourers are better fed, better clothed, told better housed than they were 40 years ago. These things are almost entirely due to the landlords, against whom these attacks have been directed; and though I admit much remains yet to be done, it is only fair that we should take into Consideration the work already accomplished. The landlords have suffered severely loss of income in times of depression; but, nevertheless, they have done their very best to improve their estates, and, as I have said, have done very good work in that direction during the past 20 years. It is rather by assisting those who have done this good work in the past to carry it on in the future; by pushing on those reforms, which are urgently required, without delay, and not to allow ourselves to be distracted by other matters, that we can bring about an improvement in the material comfort of the agricultural labourer.
§ *THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY(Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE, Edinburgh,) Midlothian
Mr. Speaker, I have some difficult in reconciling the language of the right. hon. Gentleman with the course which he has pursued. He began his speech by charging upon the Government what I admit to be a plausible accusation—namely, that they have engaged themselves, as far as in their power, by the Speech front the Throne to do their part in attempting to grapple with a number of important legislative 827 undertakings. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that we have pursued this course to excess, and that we have entered into many more engagements of that kind than it can be possible for us to fulfil. But the right hon. Gentleman, while he does that, gave his vote yesterday in favour of a measure the whole pith and purpose of which was to complain of several engagements that we had not undertaken, and to force upon us a great addition to those labours which we have already contemplated, and which he has declared himself in the most authoritative manner to be excessive. There is another feature of this Debate which is really unprecedented, and so important that I think it may be called historical. For the first time in my recollection, upon the accession of a new Government to Office, while it is admitted that they have prepared for the consideration of the House a multitude of subjects, including social subjects of the greatest importance, the Debate on the Address consists in the main of a series of votes, all of them aimed at putting an immediate termination to its existence. Let there be no doubt about that. There are, or have been, six Motions on the Paper, every one of which begins by expressing the regret of the House that something or other which the Mover of the Amendment thinks ought to have been done by the Government has not been done, or has not been promised. I presume it is understood by all the Members of this House that regret by the House is censure by the House; and that to regret the act or the omission of the Government is the course which the House usually takes when it desires to eject that Government from Office. The hon. Member for South Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie), whose integrity and sincerity are perfectly obvious in everything that he undertakes or says, declares himself to be in a state of anxiety to promote the Government's views in respect of Home Rule in Ireland, and to look with eagerness for the production of their plans. Yes, Sir; but that hon. Member, who was so desirous on Monday that we should produce our Irish policy, proposed a Motion yesterday, which, so far as he was concerned, completely disposed of us and our policy in the interim, and made it impossible for us, to proceed to the fulfilment of his wishes. Votes of 828 Censure in Debates on the Address, on a new Government being formed, are a new Parliamentary precedent in this country. No parallel, no approach to a parallel, can be found in our previous history for such a course of proceeding. I make no complaint of it on the part of the Government. No Government has a right to complain of any number of Votes of Censure that maybe proposed upon it; but it is fair enough to ask hon. Members to consider what is to be the effect of such a course of proceeding on the modes of conducting Public Business in this House if, when a new Government has just been constituted—a Government which, during the Recess of Parliament, has, by many important Executive acts, shown that it is not indisposed to take practical measures in the execution of its charge—if they are to be intercepted before they have had the opportunity of laying any of their plans before the House with the conditions that are deemed to be necessary—if they are to be intercepted by Votes of Censure, not upon what they have done, but grounded upon the opinions of certain gentlemen that they ought to have done, other things in addition to the enormous responsibility they have declared themselves ready to undertake— I say that I do not think that such a change in the course of Parliamentary Debate or procedure will be found to contribute either to the dignity of the House or the welfare of the country. I pass on to the consideration of the Amendment which is before the House, moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). My first objection to the Amendment is that it invites the House to assert what I will not say is false, because that would impute motive, but what is entirely untrue. The right hon. Gentleman is conscious of the fact, for he referred to it in his speechx2014;that in the Speech from the Throne the proposal is announced to establish Parish Councils. He says that is a miserable—what was the word?—contemptible mouse. A mouse is an animal—an animal is a living thing, and I admit that there are other animals which frequent old buildings besides mice. It is quite possible that in reference to this subject the right hon. Gentleman may have a much greater sympathy and respect for those other animals which frequent old buildings 829 besides mice. But this is a measure—he thinks it an insignificant measure; we think it a most significant measure; but that is not the question. It is a measure distinctly for the relief and advantage of the agricultural labouring class. That being so, and we haying proposed it in distinct terms in the Speech from the Throne, the right hon. Gentleman invites the House to declare that there is no such proposal made in the Queen's Speech. It appears to me that this is a very extraordinary method of action to lay before the House and to invite it to follow. I do not think it necessary to discuss the other portions of the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, because I wish to join issue with him in the plainest manner on the question he has raised. He regards us—what shall I say after the speech we have heard from him to-day?—I think, in respect of things in general, but particularly in respect of the agricultural labourer, as political imposters. I will not retort anything of the kind on the right hon. Gentleman, because I have a real respect for the services which he rendered to the agricultural labourer in other times. But, Sir, though I will not use any offensive phrase, I think that the course which the right hon. Gentleman is taking in calling upon us to deny patent facts with respect to the intentions which the Government entertain is a course which, if there be a political imposter inside or outside the House, such political imposter would be inclined to regard with very great satisfaction. I can join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman has referred, I think, specifically, though he was not very specific—for the greater portion of his speech was taken up in describing the merits of the Party opposite and the demerits of the Party with which be was himself once connected—to the improvement of the dwellings of the agricultural labourer. How are those dwellings to be improved? By giving thorough self-government to the agricultural labourer, by making efficient the system of self-government throughout the agricultural districts; and that can only be done by bringing self-government to the doors of the agricultural labourer. County government is an excellent thing; the District Councils may in many cases be requisite—I will not say so precisely, for I do not 830 like the unnecessary multiplication of these bodies—but the Parish Councils are absolutely vital if you wish to raise the physical and moral condition of the agricultural labourer. You must give him both the fact of self-government and the sentiment of self-government. You must make him feel—excluded as he has been until quite lately from the franchise and from almost every active function of a citizen—you must make him feel the change in his position. You must give him a clear and adequate conception both of his duties and of his responsibilities, and you cannot do that except by giving him a thorough system of self-government. There we join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. He declares that there are no measures for the relief of agriculture, and he says—and I believe says very truly—that in many parts of the country the dwellings of the agricultural labourers require attention. We reply that through self-government alone can that attention be adequately given, and we are giving a solemn pledge to the house, and uttering a most earliest solicitation to the House, to take the measure which we consider is of all others the most effective with regard to the system of local self-government, into consideration. But that is not all. I want to join issue with the right hon. Gentleman still more particularly, and to recall to him that the idea, was his, or at any rate was accepted and promoted by him in other days, with regard to the condition of the agricultural labourer. We hold, Sir, that if you wish to improve that condition in a manner at once compatible with his independence, and greatly tending to elevate his material circumstances, the proper course to take is to bring him into immediate and effective access to the land. The land is cultivated by him, we know; but he has cultivated the land otherwise than for his own benefit, and a miserable starvelling pittance until of late years was the share he obtained of the fruits of the soil. Most of those who are now disposed to support the right hon. Gentleman were the advocates of the system that kept him down to that starvation point. We have endeavoured out of Office to do that which we now propose to do, or attempt to do, in Office—namely, to welcome, in the first place, everything good, whether it was great or 831 whether it was small, which was tendered to us by the Party opposite when they were in power, and to carry forward and to complete and give effect to those proposals of theirs which, if sound in principle, were imperfect in scope, and to make them efficient for the purpose to which they were directed. We tried that last year. We are going to try it now. The right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to say that we are evading the question of the agricultural labourer. We are meeting it—we are propounding our doctrine about it—and we say that the two great objects we hope to attain—and they include the means for obtaining every object, or almost every object, for the improvement of the agricultural labourer—are as explained by my right hon. Friend the President or the Local Government Board in his able speech—first, the effective constitution of this system of local and rural self-government which does not yet exist; and, secondly, obtaining for the agricultural labourer easy and effective access to the use of the land in moderation for his own benefit, instead of being doomed, as he has been heretofore doomed, to cultivation alone for the benefit of others. Last year we made efforts in this direction. The then Government had a Bill in Parliament, and I wish to acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman who was in charge of that Bill at various points showed that his mind was open to receive the statements laid before him, and that he did make material improvements in that Bill under the influence of representations which were addressed to him by the Party then sitting opposite to him; but my great disappointment was this: that in our efforts to do these great things we were not assisted, but positively opposed, by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings) He is coming forward as being par excellence—as being possessed of a monopoly—as the friend of the agricultural labourer.
§ *MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I have heard him to-day assert that position. I heard that speech, and the exuberant zeal of the right hon. Gentleman this year, and I compared it in my own mind with the speeches of last year, which were cold and frozen speeches. He then endeavoured by his vote, or by his 832 absence, or by the withdrawal of his countenance, to defeat the efforts we made to benefit the agricultural labourer. He will recollect that in the case of Baron Munchausen, in his travels, there was a number of excellent tunes in a particular horn which were caught by a long frost and frozen up in the horn. A thaw came, and the whole or the tunes came out the one after the other. All the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman were frozen when the proposals came from us in Opposition, and no support could we get from him; but now that there has been a change in the character of the Ministers of the Crown, all these frozen sentiments have issued forth, and have been presented by him to-day with a fulness and an impetuosity—perhaps I might say, with all acerbity—which leaves nothing to be desired. There is another point on which I am clear. In order to give effect to this great policy of finding fair and reasonable access to the land for the agricultural labourer, two things, in our judgment, are essential, and, above: all things, necessary. One is the constitution of Parish Councils, through which alone the real wants of the labourers, and the real opportunities offered by the neighbourhood, can be made known. The people who have the knowledge now are not united in a body, and have no means of turning their knowledge to account. They must be brought into an organised body, and invested with the means of using their knowledge. But there is another condition also on which we had the misfortune to differ from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. When the Bill or 1892 was before us we contended, and we contend still, that no system of legislation which you can enact will be effective unless you introduce into it, under proper conditions, no doubt, the elements of compulsory purchase. What did the right hon. Gentleman—the champion of the agricultural labourer—do on that question when it was raised on the Small Holdings Bill of the late Government? He absented himself from the Division; and when we proposed the Parish Councils, he was not satisfied with absenting himself from the Division, for on the 4th of April he voted in the majority which defeated that proposition. This is the great champion of the agri- 833 cultural labourer. The fact is, he and his friends were entitled to very great honour on that specific occasion. We in this House are but, after all, individuals—but miserable units—but there are occasions on which the vote of an hon. Gentleman has great influence acting upon his friends, and has an important result, and actually determines the effect of a Division, and the definitive proceedings of the House. On that occasion, when the question was whether Parish Councils should be elected or not, the numbers in favour of electing them were 153, and against electing them i80. The majority was 27, and in that body of 180, constituting the majority, was found not only the right hon. Gentleman but 28 others of his friends, who were wholly led by the magic charm id his reputation to vote, unhappily, against this vital point, and these 29 gentlemen constituted the majority by Which on that occasion the Parish Councils were defeated. Let no Man say that we are shirking this issue. We join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. Shall we have Parish Councils or not? The right hon. Gentleman is a man who On that occasion by his vote, as far as he could, and by his influence apparently, according to the analysis of the Division List, made himself not only the antagonist of Parish Councils, but the person who smashed the proposal. On the occasion of that Bill, when compulsory purchase was on, the right hon. Gentleman took a milder course. He only absented himself. But on another occasion, when the Member for one of the Divisions of Devonshire made a proposal in favour of the compulsory taking of access to the land by lease, then the right hon. Gentleman actually appeared and gave his vote against the proposal. Grateful as I am to the right hon. Gentleman for his former services, I challenge him upon this occasion in having gone against his late opinions and straight in the face of the agricultural labourer, and in having contributed in the most efficient manner to the defeat of a proposal which in other days he had been the foremost to promote. That is the position in which I am content to leave the question. I hope the House will be inclined to decide upon it. I contend that for us to charge ourselves with more engagements when we 834 ourselves admit that we have taken upon us a load as heavy as we can carry—perhaps too heavy, but certainly as heavy as we have any hope to be able to carry—would be a dishonest course. I must say that 1 wonder—such was the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's speech—that he is satisfied with so mild a Motion of Censure as the one which merely expresses the regret of the House. He ought to have imported into the Motion a little of the language of his speech, in order that it might more entirely correspond with the internal state of his mind. We thoroughly understand the nature of the issue which is before us. We contend that more local self-government should be brought to the door of the labouring man. That is the first contention which we put before the country, to give effect to which we only want time. Next we wish to give free access for the labourers to the land, through good institutions and through good legislative provisions which we did all in our power to get last year, and in part we did procure it; and thankful we are to those who helped us then, among whom was not the right hon. Gentleman. We wish to go forward in the same direction, in that kind of socialism especially which promotes the material welfare of the agricultural labourer, without in any way qualifying his independence. The issue on this particular Amendment is, I hope, after the speeches on this side of the House, placed fairly before the House, and we do not shrink from its judgment. On the contrary, we court it; and we are satisfied that the directness of our course will be recognised and approved by the House, and that it will be felt that we are taking the line most calculated to redeem the pledges we have given, and to promote the welfare of that all-important class—for I admit that it is all-important—of that most meritorious and deserving class who form the immediate subject of the present discussion.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I should be very ungrateful if I did not recognise, in the first instance, the opening remarks of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, and the very graceful tribute which he paid to the past service to agricultural labour of the right hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings). My right hon. Friend very kindly said of the right hon. Member for Bordesley that in past 835 times and under different circumstances he had proved himself to be a disinterested, a zealous, and an efficient friend of the labourer. I wonder what were the past times and what were the different circumstances to which my right hon. Friend alluded? I venture to assume that the time of which he spoke—the time when the music was not frozen in the horn—must have been previous to 1886. It must have been, for instance, the year 1885, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley was going up and down the country believing and saying that if the Liberal Government came into Office under the present Prime Minister their first business would he to deal with the interests of agricultural labourers. It was to that time that my right hon. Friend referred.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, I am glad to think that I still have some very good friends among my right hon. opponents. But I was going to tell the Prime Minister that while I rejoice to know he recognises now the good services of the right hon. Member for Bordesley in 1885, I cannot forget that in 1886, at Liverpool, he spoke of the right hon. Member for Bordesley as "a certain Mr. Jesse Collings, of whose policy he did not approve."
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I cannot give the date offhand, but the speech was made at Liverpool during the Election of 1886. Although the Prime Minister is now prepared to recognise my right hon. Friend's past services, he is still in rather a recriminatory frame of mind; and, in effect, what he said in answer to the Motion of my right hon. Friend is, "You are contending that we ought to do more than we are doing; but when we were willing to do more you did not assist us." That is the answer to the Amendment, though it is, after all, purely a tu Quogue argument. It is perfectly true that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and those who sit next to him did move a great number of Amendments upon the Small Holdings Bill, the Free Education Bill, and the Allotments Bill of the late Government. As to some of those Amendments, I think very likely a good 836 deal might he said for them, and we ourselves at all events did not conceal our sympathy with their object—with the avowed object, I should say. But we saw that behind that avowed object was the intention to defeat the Bills, which they were professing to amend, to prevent the policy, which they professed to approve, from being carried out by the Government; and for that reason we did not support them in acts which we thought were not taken in the interests of the agricultural labourer. But what are the Amendments to which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister refers? He says that they endeavoured to introduce Parish Councils into the Small Holdings Bill. Well, Sir, in my opinion if they had done so it would have destroyed the value of the Bill. In the first place, it would have been impossible in the time at disposal for the Government to deal with the question of Parish Councils at the same time as with small holdings. But, in the second place, I said then, what I say now, and shall say again, whenever we see the improvements which the right hon. Gentleman is going to bring forward, that the Parish Council is the wrong body to deal with small holdings. It is an absurd and ridiculous body for such a purpose, and would bring the whole procedure speedily to grief. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister passed from his recriminatory mood he complained of the first part of the Amendment in which the right hon. Member for Bordesley regrets that in the Queen's Speech there is no allusion to measures for the relief of the agricultural labourer. And the Prime Minister says, "What are Parish Councils but a measure for the relief of the agricultural labourer?" Of course, it is to some extent a matter of definition and language; but certainly I should not have described a question of machinery and constitution, such as the question of Parish Councils is, as a proposal for the relief of the agricultural labourer. The other night the hon. Member for South West Ham (Mr. Keir Hardie) proposed an Amendment claiming immediate attention to the case of the unemployed. Why did not the Prime Minister get up and tell him that, for the relief of the unemployed, the Government had in hand a measure for "One Man One Vote"? It seems to me 837 that that would be just as appropriate as the suggestion that the proposal for Parish Councils is a proposal for the relief of the agricultural labourer. But my right hon. Friend has explained that it is not the creation of the. Parish Council which he proposes as a relief for the agricultural labourer, but it is what the Parish Council is going to do, and, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, it is going to do everything. Take, for instance, the question of sanitary reform. The Parish Council is to do that. Take the question of improved cottages—a most difficult question, involving, as every one who has been concerned in providing better homes for the poor in our large Municipalities must know—a very large expenditure; and it is the Parish Council which is to provide this expenditure and to carry out the work. Why, it is perfectly absurd. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board what is to be the average rating of Parish Councils? How would it be possible in the vast proportion of cases to have funds sufficient at their disposal to deal with this great question? Unless you can come to their assistance by grants from the Exchequer, or give them power to draw upon a much larger area, I say the Parish Councils would be perfectly useless to do anything for the relief of the agricultural labourer. My right hon. Friend misunderstands the object and purport of this Amendment. He complains of this and other Amendments before the House—perhaps with some truth—that it is intended to force upon the Government something in addition to the already overburdened Programme which they have undertaken. No, it is not so much a question of the number of points which the Government have put into the Queen's Speech, or have added to their Programme, but it is rather a question of the order in which the Government will deal with those points. What is going to happen for the relief of the agricultural labourer if his position in the Queen's Speech is to be taken as an indication of the order in which legislation will be passed? His position is last, and he comes after Home Rule—after a great Reform Bill involving all the considerations which must be fully discussed and which attend every 838 Reform Bill in this House. He comes after the important questions concerning the disestablishment of two Churches in two parts of the United kingdom. I followed with great sympathy the very able and eloquent speech of the President of the Local Government Board, and my mouth watered at the good things that he promises to the agricultural labourer. Yes, but it is all to come, like the meat that used to be served out to some children at school after a solid pudding, which had taken away their appetite. Reforms for the benefit of the agricultural labourer are not to come until the House has exhausted itself and the Government has exhausted itself in the effort to provide Home Rule and other constitutional changes. That is the object of this Debate, and still more the object of this Division. Whatever may have been said to the agricultural labourers at the last Election—and 1 am not going to make imputations—there is no doubt whatever as to what the agricultural labourers understood. No one will deny that they believe at this moment that very early attention will be given to their wants, and they will not, be satisfied by the mere mention in the last paragraph of the Queen's Speech of a Bill for Parish Councils. They will not be satisfied until they see some practical result of the kind intentions of the Prime Minister and the President, of the Local Government Board. And what we have said to them and are going to say to them now and at the next General Election—which probably is not very far off—is: "Nothing has been done for you, and whatever may have been the intentions of your friends, they will not have the power to do anything for you as long as they put great constitutional changes before those social questions in which you are interested;" and we shall further say: "Those who professed to he your friends voted in this and in other Divisions against what we believe to be, and what, you Will believe to be, your real interests."
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 228; Noes 312.—(Division List, No.4.)
§ Main Question again proposed.839
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(MR. John Redmond.)
§ It being half-past Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till Tomorrow.