HC Deb 08 July 1903 vol 125 cc35-49

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Clause 82.

Amendment proposed— In page 37, line 15, to leave out the words (other than domestic or menial servant).'"—(Mr. Tully.)

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

MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)

said that since he had put down this Amendment the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had brought forward a new clause which went far in the direction of helping the labourers. What he desired to secure was that when an estate was for sale the Land Commissioners should among other things inquire as to the necessity for housing the labourers. Under the circumstances he would not press his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said that with regard to the next Amendment standing in his name, the object was to ascertain if there was power to build cottages for labourers in towns which were not urban districts, and for labourers living on the outskirts of towns. This was a matter of some importance. In some cases the free grant from the Exchequer had been accumulating for some years. In Roscommon, the annual grant was £837, in Leitrim, £445, in Longford, £276, in Sligo, £657, and in Mayo, £944. His contention was, that the labourers living on the outskirts of these towns should not be deprived of the right of getting cottages.

Amendment, proposed— In page 37, line 15, at end, to insert the words 'town under the Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act, 1854, or a.' In page 37, line 16, after the words 'rural' to insert the words 'or urban.' In page 37, line 16, after the word 'district,' to insert the word 'or in an urban district with a population of less than 5,000 at the last census, and."—(Mr. Tully.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said the Acts did not apply to urban districts.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said there was nothing in this Bill which would make anything like a settlement of the labourers question.


Order, order! The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the clause as a whole.


said it was not his intention to do that. All he wished to do was to ask whether it was intended under the circumstances to go on with the labourers' clauses in the Bill?


said he had at an earlier stage of the discussion, made a statement on this very important question. He did not say that these clauses were a satisfactory settlement of the labourers question, which must hereafter be dealt with. Not only was it a large and complicated question, dependent on finance, local government and other questions, but alternative methods of dealing with it were recommended by different sections of the House. He had therefore come, with the greatest regret, to the conclusion that it would not be possible to deal with the subject, as it should be dealt with, in this Bill. It was, however, desirable to retain the labourers' clauses, as they were of some value.


said that in asking leave to withdraw his three Amendments he must point out that the Inspectors of the Local Government Board took a different view of the law from that stated by the Attorney-General.

Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. O'SHEE (Waterford, W.)

moved to leave out two restrictions in the clause—namely, that the term "agricultural labourer" should not include any person working for hire whose wages did not exceed 2s. 6d. a day, and who was in occupation of land exceeding one quarter of an acre. He believed that no fewer than 15,000 houses had been built under these Acts, and of these 4,000 at least were held by persons who occupied more than a quarter of an acre of land. If this restriction were insisted upon the District Councils would have to remove a large number of labourers from the occupation of the cottages.

Amendment proposed— In page 37, line 16, to leave out from the words 'district' to end of clause."—(Mr. O'Shee.)

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


said the hon. Member was mistaken in supposing that this was a complete definition. It was only a supplementary one and would not affect those now held to be entitled to the benefits of the Act.


Time should not be taken up with absurdities of this kind.


retorted that a good deal of time was wasted the other day by the absurd speeches of the hon. and learned Member, and again last night as to whether £500 should be given to a certain Commissioner, and as to the procedure in a Court in which he practised, but of which he appeared to be ignorant. Was he to take it that labourers now entitled to the benefits of the Act would not be excluded by reason of this definition?


They will not.


hoped it would be made perfectly clear. The clause did not to his mind state that with sufficient clearness. He thought that it ought to be made perfectly clear that this was an addition and not an exclusion in the case of any labourer who had obtained, or would be entitled to obtain, a cottage and land under the Labourers Acts as they now are. The incorporation of the amount of wages he thought was a mistake. As a matter of fact, he did not know whether the 2s. 6d. mentioned meant 2s. 6d. for every day in the year, or whether it meant an average daily wage of 2s. 6d.; if it did not mean that they would certainly have many men excluded from the operation of this clause, because although in harvest time many men earned more than 2s. 6d. a day, in other times they did not earn so much.


said words would be introduced to show that it was the average daily wage that was intended.


said that would satisfy him so far as the agricultural labourers were concerned, but the case of rural tradesmen was not met by this provision, and he therefore thought that the limit should be extended so far as they were concerned to 3s. 6d. a day; that would cover the case of the rural tradesmen, and unless that were done he should suggest that the whole of the restriction should be left out.


said the position of those who, like himself, had a large number of labourers in their constituencies was most unsatisfactory, and he would like to know how the Chief Secretary intended to deal with this matter. He did not wish to waste the time of the Committee by discussing an Amendment which would not be accepted, but it was important that the labourers question should be settled, and he asked whether the subject would be dealt with by further legislation, and whether the Chief Secretary would give an undertaking to introduce such legislation early next session.


said he was of opinion that a Labourers Bill must be passed, and he would devote part of the autumn to considering this subject. It would be a mistake to deal piecemeal with the question. He therefore asked that this Amendment should be postponed.

MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)

said the labourers had been expecting that their case would be dealt with in any Bill relating to the distribution of land in Ireland. He felt that certain clauses which would carry out the views of the labourers ought to be proposed, but, after the Chief Secretary's statement, he supposed it would be useless to propose these clauses.


said it would be satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman would give an assurance that a Labourers' Bill would be brought forward and pressed through the House next session. In many cases the labourers were a defenceless class. Their position in the North was probably worse than in the South. If a labourer, living in a hovel not fit for a pig, petitioned to have a house built, he would be instantly turned off the farm; consequently, however much the Irish tenants disliked the Irish landlords, the labourers disliked the tenants more.


expressed his gratification that these clauses were in no way to be regarded as a settlement of the question. It was well to remember that this question was of tremendous importance for the future peace of Ireland, and an hour or two was by no means wasted if spent in coming to some sort of understanding with regard to it. He joined in pressing the right hon. Gentleman to give an assurance that a separate Labourers Bill would form the principal part of the Irish business of next session if he was then in office. The new clause was excellent so far as it went, but the frightful stream of emigration of agricultural labourers would never be stopped until the labourers were placed in the same favourable position as the small holders of the West hoped to be in under the present Bill. The two classes were really one, and deserved the same treatment. They both lived principally by wages, and the labourers once possessed land from which they were driven into the present wretched hovels by eviction or famine. Except for a few weeks in spring and harvest-time, the wages were not sufficient to counteract the temptation of a passage across the Atlantic, and the result was that practically the whole of the vigorous young labouring population of the South was emigrating. If that emigration was to be checked the promised Labourers Bill would have to go much further than any of the existing Labourers Acts. These men would have to be given some opening on the land, so that they could many and settle down with better prospects than they had at present. It always seemed to be one of the little ironies of life that, whereas in England a premium would almost be given to people to live on the land, it was rendered almost impossible for the small farmer or labourer in Ireland, whose predominant passion was to possess some land, to do so. He hoped that as soon as the pressure of the present Bill was over the Chief Secretary would apply himself to this question with as much success as he had undoubtedly done in regard to the Western question, and that he would see whether something could not be done in the direction he had indicated in order to keep the labouring population at home. He believed the right hon. Gentleman would find the difficulty was not want of land, because in all the southern and central counties there could be bought, without inflicting injustice upon anybody, plenty of land which would afford comfortable homes for double the present population.

MR. CREAN (Cork Co., S.E.)

urged that the limit of 2s. 6d. should be increased to 3s. Many labourers got as much as 4s. per day for two or three weeks, while their average for the whole year would be only 2s. If the right hon. Gentleman would make the amount 3s. he would go a long way towards meeting the views of the Irish Members on the point.

MR. SHEEHAN (Cork Co., Mid)

, while appreciating the promise of the right hon. Gentleman to introduce a Labourers Bill next year, thought it would be a misfortune if the present measure were allowed to pass without dealing with the question to as large an extent as possible. Great dissatisfaction would be felt among the labouring classes if their moderate and just claims were not in some way considered, and he urged that, at any rate, the 2s. 6d. limit should be increased to 3s. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would make an explicit statement as to when he intended to introduce the Labourers Bill.

MR. FLYNN (Cork Co., N.)

was greatly disappointed at the announcement that no scheme for dealing with this question was to be included in the present Bill. A measure was promised for next year, but, with all his good intentions, the right hon. Gentleman might not then be in the position he now occupied. A bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, and a future Chief Secretary might not feel himself bound by the pledges of his predecessor. It would have been extremely easy for the right hon. Gentleman or his advisers to have drafted a clause enlarging the powers of the local bodies, and facilitating the operation by which a labourer could get a decent cottage, and he was very sorry that nothing of the sort had been done.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said he understood that the 2s. 6d. limit applied to country workers and men who were not really agricultural workers. He could not accept the view taken by the Member for Cork when he said that the average earnings of an agricultural labourer amounted to 3s. a day, for he never came across such a specimen. The question was not a very large one, but it was, nevertheless, important, because, if they excluded these men from all chance of getting better houses, they would be simply compelling them to live in hovels in towns and wretched little villages where accommodation for them was bad, and where they would have to walk great distances to their work. The limit should be raised to some reasonable point, or else done away with altogether.

MR. KILBRIDE (Kildare, S.)

contended that if they maintained this limit many of those men who desired to reside in country districts would be prevented from doing so. The village rate of wages for carpenters or masons was considerably more than this limit, and therefore they would be excluded. Upon these grounds he pressed upon the Chief Secretary the necessity of at least raising the limit to 3s. 6d. or 4s. per day. By doing that he would be in eluding to a larger extent the very class that he was endeavouring to bring under the Labourers Acts who were now excluded by the definition of "labourer" in the Labourers Acts. He had great pleasure in supporting the Amendment of his hon. friend the Member for West Waterford. He hoped that if the Chief Secretary could not agree to exclude the limit altogether he would at least consent to raise it to 3s. 6d. or 4s.

MR. CULLINAN (Tipperary, S.)

said that as one who had had a good deal of experience of the working of the Labourers Acts he must say that this limitation would be very detrimental. Instead of imposing more restrictions they ought to give more latitude to encourage the authorities to be more generous upon this question. In many districts they had a great number of artisans who were not able to get employment the whole year round. Those men were earning more than 2s. 6d. a day, and if they meant to bring them under the scope of the Labourers Acts they should increase the 2s. 6d. limit to at least 4s. He strongly urged the Chief Secretary to accept the general view expressed by hon. Members from Ireland upon this subject.


assured the Committee that he was quite aware of the importance of this question, but he was not prepared to make any change in regard to this problem at present, which involved many fiscal elements. He was not prepared to accept Amendments without examination as to the ultimate fiscal bearing of such proposals, and it was not in his power to do so. He was not in a position at the present time to deal with this question on a larger scale than that which now appeared in the Bill. In this clause he had only tried to do what could be done whilst they were passing the Land Bill, and he had not attempted to deal with the labourers' question because time did not permit. There was not time this session either for the Chancellor of the Exchequer or for himself to take up another great question. He agreed that it was an important subject, but he was not in a position to deal with it now. He would undertake to give the matter his consideration during the autumn.


said there was an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Mid Cork which would not take the Committee one minute to adopt. There was no objection taken to it, and why on earth the Government could not agree to it he could not understand.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

said he was glad the Chief Secretary had not complained that the debate on this point had taken up some time, and he was glad also that he had recognised the importance of this question. There would be the most widespread disappointment at this Bill going through without valuable clauses dealing with the labourers' question. While he admitted that there was a difficulty in dealing with the question at this period of the session, he must express his deep regret that this Bill was not brought on earlier, in which case it would have been possible to have devoted sufficient time to the consideration of the labourers question to have enabled the right hon. Gentleman to make some valuable improvements in the law. He admitted that under existing circumstances it was difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to afford sufficient time to deal thoroughly with this question. The only satisfaction they had was that the right hon. Gentleman had most candidly admitted that these clauses did not attempt a settlement of the labourers' question, and he had promised to devote himself to the matter during the autumn; and he took that to include a promise to introduce next session a Bill to give effect to the result of his consideration of the subject during the autumn. Mere inquiry by the right hon. Gentleman without the assurance that he would legislate at the earliest possible moment would be of very little value. There would certainly be the gravest dissatisfaction and disappointment amongst the labourers all through the country who had been looking forward to this Bill to obtain some of their rights. Of course, they could not press the right hon. Gentleman to turn this Bill into a comprehensive Labourers Bill, and they must be satisfied with the assurance he had given and press upon him the necessity of accepting one or two of the Amendments which had been alluded to. The hon. and learned Member for Louth had alluded to one Amendment, and there were others on the Paper of a similar character. Without embarrassing himself or occupying too much time the Chief Secretary might at least make the clauses he was proposing as workable as possible. They admitted that he could not turn this into a complete Labourers Bill, but if he would meet the points raised in the Amendments they would accept the inevitable and trust to the right hon. Gentleman, after consideration, introducing a comprehensive and satisfactory Bill doing full justice to the labourers.


said the effect of the Amendment upon which they were now engaged would be to alter the money standard. That would bring in a number of other persons—he did not know how many—but he could not do that because the Labourers Acts rested upon the financial foundations of the rest of the Bill. It was not within his power as a Minister to embark upon an extension of policy which involved unmeasured fiscal burdens. He was willing to accept small Amendments here and there which would not add to the fiscal charges of the Bill. The Amendment which the hon. and learned Member for Louth asked him to accept would change the character of the Bill considerably.

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Longford, N.)

said Clause 82 would really impose restrictions which did not exist at present under the Labourers Acts. From that point of view would not the right hon. Gentleman accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Waterford? The whole prospects of the labourers were rather damnified than otherwise by the proposals in the Bill. While he was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman would propose a Bill in the next session of Parliament dealing with the question of the labourers he felt bound to enter his strongest protest against the refusal of the small and reasonable Amendment proposed by his hon. friend. The Chief Secretary seemed to think that under the law as it stood the labourers were being dealt with at the rate of hundreds per month. That was not the case, for it took years to get a small scheme through. The acceptance of this Amendment would not interfere with the financial arrangements of the Bill, and the whole question would be left open to be dealt with next year.

MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.)

said that all interested in the labourers must feel grievously disappointed He could not understand why in dealing with the land question they should not at the same time deal with the agricultural labourers. The land agitation was due primarily to the condition of the congested districts and the condition of the agricultural labourers, and now they found that the Chief Secretary stated that he bad not had time to deal with the question of the labourers in a full and efficient manner. The right hon. Gentleman had promised to consider the question. He hoped hon. Members would not think that any promise had been made to bring in a Bill next year. Even if there was such a promise he felt a difficulty in relying upon it in view of what might happen in the meantime. The Chief Secretary might be Prime Minister, or the extraordinary trade wind which was blowing might waft him and his Party on to the Opposition side of the House. He could not understand why reasonable provision should not be made for the labourers now. One of the difficulties hitherto in dealing with them was that the Acts were administered by the Local Government Board. There were substantial sums remaining to the credit of many counties at present, and, as the hon. Member for Louth had pointed out, there was not the least possible chance that houses would be built in six weeks or six months. He should like to see a provision inserted in the Bill giving to every honest working man in the country an oportunity of securing a house if he had not already a suitable one. If they allowed the limit in the Bill to stand at 2s. 6d. the result would be that practically every labourer in County Kerry would be excluded, because during the harvest season their wages were 3s. a day. He thought they should have a definite promise from the Chief Secretary that provisions would be introduced dealing with the question of the labourers. They ought also to have a promise from the right hon. Gentleman that his inspectors would not impede the progress of schemes which were at present being carried out.

MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)

said the clause provided— The expression 'agricultural labourer' in the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, 1883 to 1896, and this Act shall include any person (other than a domestic or a menial servant) working for hire in a rural district whose wages do not exceed 2s. 6d. a day, and who is not, in occupation of land exceeding one quarter of an acre.' What was the nature of the employment from which that wage was to be derived. When an inquiry was held a question might arise as to what was the average wage. There were many districts in Ireland where artisans were hired at so much per day including food, and there were other districts where they got a fixed sum exclusive of food. He thought the clause should provide that the 2s. 6d. per day was to be exclusive of food. He urged that immediate action should be taken in dealing with the labourers, because unless strong inducements were given to them to remain in the country they would leave in overwhelming numbers.

MR. GORDON (Londonderry, S.)

said this was not a question in which only one part of Ireland was interested. He did not think any part was more interested in it than the North of Ireland Very great disappointment would be felt among the labourers in that part of the country if nothing adequate was done for them in this measure. He had received resolutions passed by associations of working men asking him to support their views, and therefore he was compelled to enter his protest on their behalf that their position had not been adequately recognised. He could only hope that performance would follow the promise, and that something adequate would be done next year.


said the Chief Secretary had referred to the financial burden which this proposal would involve. He did not think there would be any greater financial burden because they had the security that the union rate should not exceed 1s. in the £.


suggested that the clause should provide that the average daily wage of 2s. 6d. should be reckoned over the twelve months preceding the application. They would have troublesome inquiries on this point unless they fixed some definite time to which this standard was to apply.


said he would consider that matter before the Report stage.


asked whether the Attorney-General would also consider the advisability of inserting the words "cash wages." The invariable practice of farmers was to employ a carpenter or mason for a certain wage and to provide him with food. Unless some definition more strict was introduced on this point there would be a good deal of friction. He wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether a fairly large class of agricultural labourers, who were being excluded in consequence of small towns of over 1,500 inhabitants being converted into urban districts, would now have the benefit of the Labourers Acts. He wanted to know whether the clause as it stood, would cover the case of that class. Although the men lived in the town, they continually went into the rural districts adjoining to work.


said he would consider the point.


asked the right hon. Gentleman for an answer on the point he had raised.


said he did not think it was necessary to deal with that point.


said he would not withdraw the Amendment as it involved a question of principle.

Question put and agreed to.


said that after the very satisfactory assurance of the right hon. Gentleman he would withdraw his Amendment, which would have increased the wages of an agricultural labourer as defined in the clause from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. a day.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said he wanted to endorse what had been said by the hon. Member for Cork City as to the same basis of treatment being given to the agricultural labourers as to the cottier tenants in the congested districts. In the South of Ireland the great question at present was not the amendment of the Labourers Acts, under which a great deal of good had been done, and almost as much as could be expected under the existing costly and tedious procedure, but as to whether the labourers were to get allotments of land.

Clause 82 agreed to.

Clause 83 agreed to.

Clause 84 agreed to.

Clause 85.

Amendment proposed— In page 38, line, 23, at end, to add the words 'the expression "the Public Works Act," means the Drainage and Navigation (Ireland) Acts, 1842 to 1857; the Drainage and Improvement (Ireland) Acts, 1863 to 1892; the Fisheries (Ireland) Act, 1846; the Landed Property and Improvement (Ireland) Act, 1847, and any Act extending, amending, or incorporating the said Acts or any of them or any part thereof; and the Drainage Maintenance Act, 1866.'"—(Mr. Wyndham.)

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed— In page 38, line 23, at end, to insert the words—'(2) The expression "superior interest," in the Land Purchase Acts, shall include any reversion or estate expectant on the determination of an estate tail or a base fee, whether such reversion or estate is or is not vested in the Crown.'"—(Mr. Wyndham.)


said that this was a very great concession, not only in principle, but, what was of more importance, because it would remove many impediments in the way of land purchase.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 85, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 86 to 89 agreed to.

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