§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said that the interval which had elapsed since the introduction of the Bill and an examination of its clauses enabled him to say that he was confirmed in the view which he had expressed on the First Reading, viz.: that, speaking broadly, the measure was a fair and satisfactory one. There had naturally been criticisms upon details, but on the whole he believed the general opinion in Ireland was, in the words he had used on the First Reading, that it was a comprehensive and satisfactory attempt to settle the question. He did not intend to go into details on the present occasion, but when the measure came before the Committee it would be necessary to examine with some care many of the proposals, and he was quite sure the Government would go into Committee upon these matters of detail with a perfectly open mind prepared to accept the decision of the Committee upon subsidiary matters. A careful examination of the Bill would doubtless lead to amendments of certain portions of it and would tend to improve the machinery of the measure. On the Second Reading, however, he would confine himself, as he had said, to the broad general principles which were embodied in the Bill. The conditions of 973 the Irish agricultural labourer had been in the past, and he was sorry to say, still were, to a considerable extent, a disgrace to the Government of Ireland and a reproach to civilisation and humanity. Irish labourers had lived, and still were, to a certain extent, living, under conditions which were absolutely fatal to health and habits of cleanliness. They lived under conditions which in almost any other country in the world would prove fatal to religion and morality. But the Irish agricultural labourers were a remarkable race of men. As a class they were highly intelligent, and they were keen and brave politicians; they had, too, proved themselves most patriotic and self-sacrificing. They had, notwithstanding the conditions under which they had been living, amongst all their poverty, misery, and squalor, preserved a deep religious feeling and the highest possible standard of morality. There was no class in the world where the moral standard was so high as among these men. From a national point of view, the Irish agricultural labourer was the very best of the population in Ireland. During the past twenty-five years their condition had been described in remarkable language by travellers and statesmen, yet less than twenty-five years ago no effort was made by Parliament to ameliorate their lot or change the conditions of misery and squalor under which they lived. One of the first results of the great movement commenced by the late Mr. Parnell was the passage through this House in 1883 of a measure dealing with the agri cultural labourers of Ireland. It was provided under the measure that money should be lent to local authorities in Ireland to enable them to acquire land and build cottages for the agricultural labourer. Originally the land was to be acquired in quarter acre plots, then that was enlarged to half acre plots, and at the present time it was an acre. Not withstanding all these amendments made rapidly in the Acts, the Acts had proved a failure. They had been in operation for twenty-three years, and according to the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary during the First Reading debate on the Bill there had been only 17,000 or 18,000 cottages built throughout the whole of Ireland. What was the reason of the failure of these Acts? The reason was perfectly simple and patent to everyone. The procedure 974 under the Acts had been so blocked, the expense attendant upon that procedure and the delay necessitated by the procedure so heavy, and the burden thrown upon the rates so excessive, that for his part he wondered, not that there should have been so few cottages erected, but that there should have been so many. Money had been lent in Ireland during the last twenty five years for many purposes at a comparatively cheap rate. In 1893 money was given for the purposes of landlords and tenants in Ireland at 3¼ per cent, including interest and sinking fund. They had, however, demanded in vain cheap rates for the purposes of Labourers Acts from successive Governments. The last Government made promises to them, but those promises had not come to anything. Things, however, were worse than that. When they came to the last Government upon the question, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, so far from relieving the burden upon the rates in connection with the building of labourers' cottages, actually increased it. He increased the rate of interest by some 12s. 3d. per cent, upon the loans. And so, whilst the rate of interest for such loans stood in the past at 4½ per cent, they were now at 5 per cent. Thus the precise figures of interest were £4 17s. 6d. per cent per cottage, and this, coupled with the blocked machinery and long delay, had brought the working of the present Act to a standstill. The heavy rate of interest, coupled with the expense and delay of the machinery, meant that for every cottage built in Ireland under the existing system local authorities, after deducting rent, became liable to an annual payment of £6 per cottage including sinking fund. The system was fatal to the rapid, smooth, and satisfactory working of the Acts, and thus the intentions of successive Parliaments to deal satisfactorily with the question had been completely thwarted. The principal reform they impressed upon the Government, therefore, before they could obtain a satisfactory Labourers' Bill, was cheap money for land purchase and simple and expeditious procedure. The present Bill provided that reform. The whole money required for the purchase of land and the building of cottages was to be limited to £4,500,000. This sum was to be provided in the future on land purchase terms, that was 3½ per cent, including interest and sinking fund. 975 He wished to draw the attention of the Chief Secretary to the fact that these terms were not retrospective. The whole amount of outstanding loans in connection with the Labourors Acts was not much over £3,000,000 and certainly under £3,500,000, and some small ameliorations of the terms upon which those loans stood would be of great benefit to the labourers of Ireland. It would relieve the rates and enable the more expeditious building of cottages, while at the same time it would not impose a serious burden upon the Treasury. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give consideration to this point, otherwise the unfortunate result would be that those portions of the country which had used every effort and had tried most patriotically to deal with this question would be mulcted, whilst those portions of the country who for some reason or another had refused to make any effort in the matter would reap the whole benefit. The Government in their Bill went on the basis that £4,500,000 would be a sufficient amount for the settlement of the question; at all events, it would suffice for the building of 25,000 cottages. He contended when the Bill was introduced, and he was still of the same opinion, that that sum was not sufficient to settle the matter. He admitted that is would be sufficient to keep the local authorities in Ireland busy for some years to come, and he would say further that the estimate of the Under-Secretary of £170 per cottage was an excessive estimate; the £4,500,000 would build more than 25,000 cottages. This was of great importance, because the more cottages they built the less would be the annual burden upon the rates. In addition to giving them cheap money the Bill also provided for a grant of £50,000 a year in relief of the rates, and to assist the working of the Act. The Chief Secretary made a most remarkable calculation when he introduced the Bill, and he (Mr. Redmond) preferred to abide by that calculation, because it was made with official knowledge and assistance. His calculation was, that whereas the building of 17,500 cottages in the past had left an annual liability upon the rates of the country to the extent of £66,000, under the now system the building of 25,000 cottages would levy upon the rates a burden of only 976 £23,000. Further than that, the law costs, under the Bill, would undoubtedly be greatly reduced together with the whole working expenses of the labourers' scheme. Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to say that the expenses of the scheme would be reduced by one-half. He believed the right hon. Gentleman, or the Attorney-General, had said that in their opinion it would be reduced by more than one-half, probably two-thirds. However that might be, it was quite clear there would be a reduction. He would pause one moment here before going further into details to say that on the broad underlying principles of the Bill they had undoubtedly an enormous advance upon anything which had ever before been proposed in connection with the subject. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman in having approached the matter in so courageous and bold a manner. They seemed now to be approaching the time when the question would be solved rapidly without any undue burden being thrown upon the ratepayers of the country. By way of criticism, however, he wished to say a few words. He bad mentioned a grant of £50,000. £28,000 of that money was to be given by the Treasury, and the remainder— £22,000—was to come from interest upon certain Irish funds which had really been allocated for the purposes of education. He knew of no possible Irish object to which Irish funds could be more properly devoted than a settlement of the labourers' question. Therefore, it was difficult for him to oppose; it, but at the same time he felt bound to make a protest against such allocation. Knowing, as the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer did, the injustice under which Ireland was suffering owing to her financial arrangements with England, he contended that they should have allowed the whole of the £50,000 to be paid out of the Treasury. He thought it was a monstrous hardship that the fund should be drawn upon for the aid of these objects simply for the purpose of saving the Treasury at the expense of Irish education. There was another fund drawn upon by the Bill, viz., the Irish Petty Sessions Fund. £150,000, as a capital sum, was taken from that fund, and hero he had a serious complaint to make—he did not make it against the Chief-Secretary and still loss against the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 977 because he did not believe either of them were aware of the facts he was going to state. There had been a deception in the matter, which had been hidden from them, and which they had discovered for themselves. There had been what he might call a trick, whereby the local authorities were going to be deprived of £5,000 or £6,000 a year. It did not appear on the face of it, and it was not until after minute investigation that they discovered the trick. He laid the responsibility for that upon the Treasury, but he exempted the Chancellor of the Exchequer who he did not believe had ever heard of it. He would explain the facts. The Treasury were giving a free grant of £28,000 a year, and then they said they must make up the balance by the interest upon a capital sum of money—£150,000— taken from the Petty Sessions Clerks' Fund. The annual interest on the £150,000 amounted to a sum of between £5,000 and £6,000. That sum now formed part of the Fines Fund from which the petty sessions clerks were paid. For the purpose of keeping that fund at a uniform figure from year to year the Lord-Lieutenant was empowered to supplement it every year by such a sum from the Dog Licence Fund as he thought fit, the balance of which latter fund went to the local authority. Already £26,000 on an average was taken from the Dog Licence Fund to supplement the Fines Fund, and that sum must now be increased by the amount of the interest on the £150,000, if the £150,000 was used for the Labourers' Acts. That meant, therefore, that a yearly sum of between £5,000 and £6,000 was with drawn from the local authorities for the purpose of the Labourers Acts. The matter was a little complicated, but he hoped he had, made it clear. That, he declared, was a trick. It really meant that so far as the local authorities were concerned they were getting a grant of £28,000, but they were losing £5,000 or £6,000 a year interest upon the £150,000. It that was new to the Chief Secretary and to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he was certain that it was, he fancied there would be no difficulty in putting the matter right, and it would be nothing less than a fraud to offer them a free grant represented as £28,000 when at the same time £5,000 or £6,000 was taken away. That was a course of 978 conduct which he was sure the Government would never have been guilty of, and it was an eloquent instance of the way in which the permanent officials of the Treasury seized every opportunity to endeavour to perpetrate a swindle upon Ireland. It was provided by the Bill that it should not come into force until April, 1907. Why was that? It was a very serious matter, There were at the present time a number of schemes being worked out. What was to happen to them? Why should they not get the benefit of the new terms? The result of putting April, 1907, into the Bill would be that all schemes at present being worked out in Ireland would be at once hung up, and nothing whatever would be done for the next year in connection with the Labourers Acts. The moment the Bill was passed it ought to come into operation, so that all the schemes at present on foot should get the benefit of the new terms. There were two other matters of detail to which the must refer for a moment. The question of obtaining a title had been one of the most serious obstacles to the rapid working of the Labourers' Acts in Ireland. When a local district council purchased half an acre of land they had to go just as minutely into the question of title as if they were buying a million acres, and the proving of title became a most costly proceeding. This Bill provided that where the amount of the purchase was not more that £60 the district councils might pay the sum to the vendor on the simple proof that he has been receiving the profits of the land for six years, That was a most valuable provision if it stood unqualified, because it would at once do away with the enormous delay and the enormous cost of the present system of proving title. Unfortunately, however, the provision did not stand without qualification, because it went on to say that for six years anybody claiming to be the real possessor of the title could take proceedings against the district council for the recovery of the amount. That took away all the value of the previous provision. He did not suggest that a safeguard was not necessary, but he did say that a safeguard so sweeping in character as this was not needed. This was a matter of enormous importance, and he therefore hoped the Chief Secretary would take a note of it when he came to deal with the Bill 979 in Committee. Another detail was the question of appeal to the Local Government Board. That was a very debateable matter. The old system of appeal to the Privy Council was monstrous, but that had been abolished, and the present procedure was short and simple. It was proposed in the Bill that on the requisition of three labourers or upon no requisition at all the district council might initiate a scheme for the building of labourers' cottages. It went further than that, because it provided that if a local district council did not initiate a scheme where it ought to do so, the Local Government Board could step in and do the work at the local district council's expense. When a scheme was initiated the Local Government Board inspector came down and held an inquiry, and, having held the inquiry, made an order. If there was no opposition that order was final, but if there was opposition a right of appeal was given. He did not say there should not be a right of appeal. The question was where the right of appeal should be. It used to be to the Privy Council. The right hon. Member for Dover proposed in his Bill that it should be to a Judge of Assize, and they objected to that. Another alternative suggested was a County Court Judge. Personally, he objected to that also. Then the Government proposed an appeal to the Local Government Board from their own inspector, and the provision in the Bill was that the Board, having considered the evidence already given by its inspectors and any farther evidence it might consider necessary, should then make a final order. He did not like any of these suggestions. The suggestion he proposed was that the appeal should be to a judicial sub-commissioner of the Land Commission specially appointed for that purpose. That was of course a debateable matter, and he did not know the view of all his colleagues on the subject, but he thought they all agreed that some sort of appeal was necessary, and he mentioned the matter in order to show the right hon. Gentleman that that was one of the points on which he must preserve an open mind and listen to all that was said by respresentatives of the Nationalist Party and representatives from Ulster. If the right hon. Gentleman did that they would easily come to a satisfactory settlement on the point. The Bill undoubtedly opened up the possibility of the labourers of 980 Ireland rising in the social scale from the position of labourer to that of farmer. The whole future of Ireland lay in the breaking up of the great grass ranches. The English traveller who visited the country for the first time went there having heard a great deal about congested districts. Leaving Dublin, he travelled across the island through uninhabited plains and the most magnificent grass lands to be found in any part of the world, and it was only here and there that he came across patches of congestion. Having travelled for some hours across these magnificent plains, he suddenly came on a bog the cultivation of which would not give sustenance to anyone, and there he found huddled together thousands of people who had been driven off those rich plains which had been turned into grazing lands. There could never be a settlement of the Irish land question or any other Irish question until that system was destroyed, and those grass lands were broken up into moderate sized holdings. Under the Act of 1903 the granting of new holdings with these untenanted lands was restricted to three classes—tenants, sons of tenants, and evicted tenants. The present Bill proposed to include in that category farm labourers. There was no class in Ireland from which a better set of men could be obtained to farm these small holdings than the labourers, and for his part he would not regard any settlement of the labourers' question as satisfactory which shut them out from the possibility of obtaining a foothold on these untenanted lands. He hoped that by this Bill labourers would be able by their own industry and thrift to raise themselves from labourers to farmers. The Bill would undoubtedly pass its Second Reading without a division, because he did not think that the representatives from Ulster were in disagreement with the Nationalist Party as to the main principle of the measure. In Committee all Parties would be represented, and they would have one common object— to fashion this Bill into a really effective measure. If that was so, all the Chief Secretary had to do was to keep his ears open for the suggestions that would come to him from those who represented Irish opinion in this matter, and who had an intimate knowledge of the question, and to accept the proposals that would be made to him 981 on the various details of the measure. He (Mr. Redmond) could only say, speaking for the Nationalist Party, that they would certainly not regret any time given to the Government for the full consideration and perfecting of their larger schemes for dealing with the whole question of the better government of the country if the interval was utilised by the passing into law of this measure, which would give some degree of justice to one of the worst used and most deserving classes in Ireland.
COLONEL SAUNDEKSON (Armagh, N.)
said he must congratulate the Chief Secretary on bringing in a Bill dealing with a question of deep interest to the Irish people in all parts, and for the first time uniting Members below the gangway and Members above the gangway. When he entered the House of Commons forty years ago, and for many years afterwards, he felt that the class of persons most deserving the attention of Parliament were the tenant farmers, and he backed that opinion up by supporting each successive Land Bill brought in by various Governments. There was, however, another class which deeply touched his sympathy, and that was the labouring class in. Ireland, and when he read the Bill on his return from France it gave him great satisfaction to see that its leading characteristics were to do away with those difficulties which had prevented the labourers obtaining the relief and assistance which he believed the House of Commons meant them to obtain. So all through the Bill, whenever it dealt with the removal of these obstacles, it would receive his support, and, he believed, the support of his colleagues. Of course there were details of the Bill on which there might be differences of opinion, but he had no doubt that when the Bill left the House there would be no alteration of any kind made which would render it more difficult for the labourers of Ireland to obtain the relief they deserved. He had no intention to enter into the financial matters so ably dealt with by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, which he confessed he did not under stand. When they came to chop logic with the Treasury he never knew a man who understood the result ultimately achieved. With regard to the general principle of the Bill, he approved the 982 proposal that the appeal should be to the Local Government Board, because he thought such an appeal would be the least expensive, and would have a considerable effect in undermining the profits which that worthy class, the Irish lawyers, hoped to obtain from any Bill passed by the House of Commons. There were points in the Bill to which he took some exception; but these might, he thought, be dealt with in Committee. One thing he wished to congratulate the framers of the Bill upon was an expression in the ninth clause, where provision was made as to insanitary dwellings. He much approved of the provision that the improvement scheme which the Local Government Board might require a district council to make must be adequate. Up to now the erection of two or three labourers' cottages had been supposed to suffice, but a bogus representation of that kind could not be upheld if there was an inquiry as to whether there was adequate accommodation. He feared that the eighteenth clause would militate very much against the principle of the Bill, which was to facilitate the building of labourers' cottages. In that clause it was proposed that the residue of the Exchequer contribution was to be divided between the rural districts in Ireland as nearly as might be in proportion to the number of cottages provided before the commencement of the Act. In the county he represented he had found great fault with the inaction of the authorities. He would only say that in going round his own constituency he had been some times struck with horror at the gloomy hovels in which labourers were lodged, and though he was bound to say that recently there had been a change, that many more labourers' cottages had been erected, yet up to the present nothing like enough had been done to house the labourers. Some of the houses in which labourers dwelt were unfit for stabling cattle. Yet the difficulties in the way were so great that those who dwelt in these hovels were unable to set in operation any method by which redress could be secured. He felt that the clause was not an encouragement to such a county to build houses, but would have exactly the opposite effect. He would throw out as a suggestion which might be considered in Committee, that if local authorities failed to carry out their duty in building 983 labourers' cottages, the money to their credit which it was now practically proposed to take away should be applied by the Local Government Board to carry out the schemes which the local authorities were not willing to undertake. He could only say for himself and his colleagues that their great object in supporting the Bill was to see that it should be effective in carrying out its object, and make the Irish labourer an independent man living in a good house—for how could a man be independent who after his hard day's work lived in a hovel? He congratulated the Government on bringing in the Bill at that period of the session, and again he congratulated them on bringing in a Bill which had on the whole the united support of the Members for Ireland, in whatever part of the House they sat.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said he rose principally for the purpose of eliciting some information from the Chief Secretary as to the proposals of the Bill. He approved most heartily of all that had been said by the hon. and learned Gentlemen for Waterford with regard to the Bill as a whole. The Bill, however, was rather a complicated measure. There were a number of Labourers Acts, and this Bill had to be read in connection with them. It was not until they compared it with those Acts that they could arrive at anything like the meaning of its clauses. First of all, as regarded the expense of the proceedings under the Labourers Acts, every one knew that that had been the great drawback in the past. Lawyers and architects between them had ruined the proceedings under those Acts; but he was not very hopeful that they were now going to get rid of either the one or the other. The lawyer would endeavour to assert himself in these proceedings unless he was more effectually barred than he seemed to be. The question of proving title was the happy hunting-ground of the Irish lawyers in connection with all these questions. He saw a bill delivered by an Irish attorney to a rural district council in the north of Ireland for proceedings in connection with these Acts which totted up to the respectable sum of £1,152.
§ *MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said he was Really it was no joke to the ratepapers or to the labourers, because a rural district council dealt with in such a manner was not likely to be favourable to the working of this Bill. Then there was the question of proving title, There, of course, the great difficulty arose. He watched the Attorney-General for Ireland as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford was catechising him, and he noticed that he did not agree with the position taken up by the hon. and learned Member. As he (Mr. Russell) read the Bill, it was practically the procedure of the Land Act of 1903 adapted to these Acts. Under the Land Act the landlord who desired to sell had to lodge an abstract of title. That was prima facie proof to the Estates Commissioners, but they did not sell the estate upon that abstract of title. Nearly a score of examiners of title had been appointed since the Land Act was passed to go into the question of whether this abstract of title was correct, and the court was blocked at this moment in this very process. The lawyer came in head and shoulders through the Land Act of 1903 in the matter of proof of title, and if Parliament was going to do the same thing here the lawyers would come in hero also. Let them not be under any delusion. The difficulty of title would remain. The rural district council could not compulsorily take land from a man without knowing what they were doing. He agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Waterford so far as this was concerned that no rural district council was going to buy land with the chance of being assailed by a man claiming to be the owner after tho whole thing had been settled. That sort of thing could not be done. He must say that when the Bill got into Committee the whole question of expenditure upon proof of title would have to be carefully watched and dealt with. He quite agreed that title must be proved; the only thing was the expense of proving it. Then there was the question of appeal. He was disposed to agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh in this matter. He had a communication only that morning from a very experienced official in the East of Ireland on this very question. Every body agreed that an appeal to the Privy Council was a monstrous thing. The 985 Judge of Assize was as had. He should he satisfied himself with a county court judge, but that also meant law and lawyers. He thought that upon the whole the Local Government Board was as cheap and as effective a Court of Appeal in a case like this as could be had. He did not see how one of the legal Commissioners under the Land Act would be in any better position to deal with the question than the Local Government Board, and it was not an unusual thing for them to sit in appeal on their own inspectors. On the whole, the provision in the Bill that the Local Government Board should be practically a Court of Appeal was as good a provision as could be found. There was a matter he wanted some information upon, namely, whether Clause 18 was intended to be retrospective, because on that a good deal would hang. Those counties where the Exchequer grants had accumulated because they would not enforce the Act to provide labourers' cottages, did not deserve much consideration. They were defaulters, and were not entitled to the consideration of those counties which had taxed themselves and strained their resources in order to provide cottages. There was another question which affected the north of Ireland in a way in which he did not think it affected the south. There was one reason why those Acts had not been put into operation in the north, which did not apply to the same extent in the south. They all know that tillage farming had continued in the north of Ireland long after it went out of fashion in the south. Tillage farmers in the north had been compelled by the necessities of the case to provide cottages to a certain extent for labouring men. And that was the case at the present time. In his own constituency the Clogher Rural District Council had been in default upon this question. He thought they had been wholly wrong. He had endeavoured to pull them up, but he would say for them that there was something in their case. They appointed a sub-committee the other day to go into the whole question of labourers' cottages. There were two farmers and two landlords on that sub-committee, and they visited the whole of the area. Their report was that a certain number of cottages ought to be built, but they maintained that there were a large number 986 of cottages in the area that might be enlarged and put into proper order, and that the money of the ratepayers would be largely saved if they; were entitled under this Bill to acquire these cottages, repair them, and make them proper cottages. The Bill did, in one of the earlier clauses, speak of the council acquiring cottages. What he wanted to find out was what was to be done in a case like that of the Clogher Rural District Council that had admitted the lack of cottages to a certain extent, and had been fighting the Local Government Board upon this very point. They thought that if a council were empowered to acquire cottages in existence now, they could be made habitable, and so the ratepayers' money could be made to go further. He trusted that the Chief Secretary would give the House a little light upon that matter. He would say frankly that he thought a good deal had been gained by waiting. They had escaped, he thought, a great deal. If they had accepted the Bill before the Grand Committee last session, they would have been in a very different position than they now were. The labourers had gained everything by waiting. The Land Act of 1903 had its drawbacks which were not inconsiderable. They would have to be put right. But the Land Act made it certain that in the near future the Irish farmor would be the owner of his own farm. He thought that this Labourers Bill did for the labourers, and did it better for them, what the Land Act of 1903 was intended to do, and would ultimately do, for the farmers. He therefore rejoiced that they had waited, and he thanked the Chief Secretary for what he had done. Of course, they would have to watch the Treasury all through the Bill as they had to do on every Irish question. What he had to say was that he thought this was a right good Bill in the main, and that he believed that Irish Members aided by the Government would be able to make it in Committee what it really ought to be.
§ MR. HAYDEN (Roscommon, S.)
said that if he read Clause is aright the right hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh was mistaken in his interpretation of it. The complaint made by those counties which had put the Labourers Acts into operation in the past was that 987 they would get no relief whatever. If a county had built a sufficient number of labourers' cottages to supply the wants in the county they would continue, so far as this Bill was concerned, to be "without any relief whatever, whereas the counties in the north of Ireland which had neglected to put the Labourers' Acts into operation could now for a very trifling expenditure of the rates meet all the wants of the labourers in the matter of housing. Instead of having ground for complaint the Ulster Unionist Members ought to congratulate themselves upon the financial terms of the Bill. The counties which had some reason to complain were those almost entirely situated in Leinster and Munster, which had put the Acts into operation in the past. A Return which could be seen in the Library showed that up to March 31st last over 20,600 cottages had been erected in Ireland, 1,600 of them were in Ulster, and 300 in Connaught, so that over 18,000 had been erected in Munster and Leinster. These cottages had been erected at a cost of £3,415,000, and, so far as he could estimate, the average interest on the loans was close upon 4½ per cent. What they might claim here was that so far as possible the system of finance adopted in the Bill in respect of loans should be applied to the loans now outstanding. He was perfectly certain that this could be done without any inconvenience or loss to the Treasury. It was a mere question of book-keeping. It was a mere matter of treating the outstanding loans as having been paid off and opening them up as new loans under the new system of a prolonged period and a reduced rate per annum. The average rate at present was something approaching 4½ per cent., whilst under the new system the rate would be 3¼ per cent. By making the system retrospective it would not be necessary to go to the public to raise additional money, it having been already raised. Supposing that 1 per cent. could be saved to the ratepayers without any loss whatever to the public Exchequer, the saving to the rates would amount to over£34,000 per annum. Many of the rural districts were now heavily burdened with rates for this matter alone—some of them over 6d. in the £1—and this relief would enable the district councils to build additional cottages and really to come to a settlement of the question 988 in their own districts. In this matter the interests of the labourers and the interests of the ratepayers were one and the same thing. By relieving the rates they would enable the ratepayers to build cottages. This was a Bill to make it easy for the ratepayers to provide cottages for the labourers. He would impress upon the Chief Secretary the absolute necessity of urging upon the Treasury the adoption of a new system of finance. It was of vital importance to make the Bill operative in those parts of the country which had shown most zeal in the past in putting the Acts into operation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh had referred to Connaught as being in pretty much the same position in regard to the working of the Acts as Ulster. They were not situated there at all in the same way as in Ulster. They were exactly similarly situated in the sense that the Acts were not operative in either Ulster or Connaught until quite lately when some cottages were built in Ulster. They had been inoperative in Ulster because of the neglect or the default of the district councils and the boards of quardians. It was quite a different matter in Connaught; they had been inoperative in Connaught because the labourers question presented quite a different aspect there from that which it presented in the other provinces. In Connaught with few exceptions the labourers were really small farmers—the people for whose relief the Congested Districts Board had been brought into existence. But even where there was a distinct labouring class it was not easy to compel the small farmers in the congested districts to undergo the burden of the heavy rate which had been necessary in past financial schemes under the Labourers Acts to provide houses for the labourers, and therefore even in Con naught this system of finance would enable a certain number of cottages to be erected in future. For that reason in the main the Nationalist Members desired to express their satisfaction with the Bill. In regard to procedure he thought it would be possible to shorten it even more than was now proposed. The Bill undoubtedly would go a long way to shorten and cheapen procedure, but it was possible to go further. There were, for instance, two proceedings at present—an inquiry held in a rural district as to the suitability and necessity 989 of a scheme when promoted, and later on an arbitration inquiry as to the value of the land. He understood that those intimately acquainted with the working of the Acts saw no reason why these two inquiries should not be held together. There was no reason why the inspector who conducted the first inquiry should not also be the person to ascertain and declare the value of the small plot of land upon which it was proposed afterwards to erect a labourer's cottage. In that way one costly step in the promotion of a scheme would be saved, and so also in regard to other matters which would be brought forward when the Bill was in Committee. There was another aspect of the labourers question which ought as soon as possible to engage the attention of the right hon. Gentleman. When the Land Act of 1903 was going through the House, the late Chief Secretary promised that in the following year he would deal with the labourers question as a whole— agricultural labourers and urban labourers. They were still awaiting the fulfilment of that promise. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to introduce as soon as possible another Bill dealing with the question of the urban labourers, which was equally pressing and important. He heartily supported the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *MR. CHARLES CRAIG (Antrim, S.)
said that owing to the fact that this Bill was put down for Second Reading to-day, and that it was not expected for another week or ten days, he had not had as great an opportunity of studying its details as he would have liked. But while he said that he would like to add that he welcomed the Bill and he thought it contained—with the exception of a few points here and there with which he did not agree—practically everything which had been expected by Members who had espoused the cause of the labourers for some years past. The question of the labourers in Ireland had been discussed so frequently that he thought every person in the House who had taken any interest in it had long ago come to the conclusion that any improvement must be along three lines. The first and most important point was the cheapening of the money to carry out the Labourers Acts; the second was the simplification and cheapening of the procedure 990 for obtaining a cottage; and the third was the provision of some means by which rural councils which had not up to the present done their duty in carrying out the Labourers Acts should be compelled to do so, or if they refused to do so the powers which were vested in them by the Labourers Acts should be transferred to some person—either a permanent official or a person appointed temporarily for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of the Acts in reference to the particular district. He was glad to see that the Chief Secretary and the draughtsman of the Bill had worked on those well-known lines. In fact it would have been absurd and quite futile to introduce a Bill which did not proceed upon the lines he had indicated, for, undoubtedly, such a measure would have met with the fate which the Bill of 1904 received. They were promised in 1903, when they were asked not to press the labourers clauses in the Land Act of that year, that in the following year that question would be fully dealt with. Irishmen knew how that promise was kept. A Bill, it was true, was introduced in 1904 which achieved absolutely nothing. Even the hon. Member for South Tyrone admitted that they had done right in not allowing that Bill to become law. With reference to the cumbrous nature of the proceedings which led up to obtaining a cottage for a labourer in Ireland he agreed with the hon. Member for South Roscommon that, those proceedings, although they had been very materially simplified in this Bill, could be still further simplified. Those who had read the various Labourers Acts knew that there was an enormous number of operations to be gone through, many of which could be perfectly well done without. Labourers cottages did not cost very much money. The whole of the land and the cottage together cost from £150 to £200. It was evident that dealing with a cottage of that size was not the same thing as dealing with an entire estate, and although it might from a legal point of view be equally necessary to safeguard the title of the one as of the other, it was often the case that they had to spend a sum of money in proving title almost equal to the value of the land itself. Thus the money and the energy they were spending was altogether out of proportion to the object which they had 991 in view. He had always maintained that the procedure ought to be simplified in the following manner, and even if a mistake did occasionally happen, and it was found that the money was paid to the wrong person, such an accident would be so rare that it would not materially affect the question at all. In Section 2, it said that—Where the compensation payable to a person claiming any interest in land does not exceed the sum of £60 and the claimant gives prima facie evidence that he is a person having power to sell under the Land Clauses Acts, and satisfies the district council that for not lees than six years immediately preceding he, or his immediate predecessor in title, has been personally, or by an agent, in receipt of the rents or profit of the land, the claimant may be dealt with by the district council as the absolute owner of the interest in respect of which he claims," etc.In this case they should leave out all reference to "prima facie evidence. "He thought a very great advance would be made in this matter if they took the fact that money had been paid for a specified number of years as sufficient evidence of title to a plot of ground. If they had to get prima facie evidence they would be just in the same position that they were in at the present moment. It had been suggested that the money which at present stood to the credit of several counties of Ireland and which unfortunately had not been used would not be touched by the Bill. If so, some of his objections to Clauses 17 and 18 would fall, but he still thought every inducement ought to be given under the altered conditions to those counties to make up the leeway in the future as to the building of labourers' cottages. If they took away a penny under this Bill from those counties which had not built many cottages, they would be hitting the wrong man. The farmer would not be affected in any way. It would be the labourers who would be affected, and it would be un just to punish them for the faults of other people, a fault which Ulster Unionists had always done their best to remove It had been pointed out that in some counties there was no necessity for the expenditure of large sums of money. That was not the case in his county, county Antrim. There was great necessity for it in that county, and a great deal of leeway had to be made up in that respect there. He welcomed very heartily the 992 improved facilities given by the Bill, but he still objected very strongly to any of the facilities which existed at the present moment being taken away. He did not see any necessity for it. It seemed to him that by taking away the sum of £2,468 from his own county and converting it into a few hundreds owing to the small number of cottages which had been built in that county, they were doing an unjustice. With regard to the question of appeal there was a very considerable difference of opinion amongst all sections of Irishmen. He personally thought that an appeal of some sort should be had beyond the Local Government Board. He did not want to say anything against the Local Government Board, but he believed that in most country districts in Ireland the persons interested in transactions of this sort were the tenant and the landlord. The feeling amongst them was that there should be an outside tribunal to which appeals might be made. He thought either the assize court or the county court was the proper court to go to. The procedure of the county court was not very expensive. These courts were always fairly accessible, and they sat with sufficient frequency to meet all the necessities of the case. When the Bill went to the Committee he should certainly endeavour to have an Amendment to that effect introduced. The advance of £4,250,000 out of the Land Purchase Fund, at 3¼ per cent. instead of at a minimum of £3 9s. 4d. was a great advance on the present condition of things. That was the greatest benefit which the Bill would confer on the rural district councils and the labourers in Ire land. He would be the last person in the House, although he belonged to the Party opposed to the right hon. Gentleman, to withhold his small meed of praise from him for the Bill. He saw before him a future for the labourer which he had been long looking forward to. He fully admitted that the larger question of land purchase had up to the present blocked the way, but now that the land question had been settled in a satisfactory way and that this question of labourers' cottages had come to the front, he was very glad that the Irish Executive had lost no time in tackling it, and, he thought, tackling it in a very proper and statesmanlike manner.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY (Limerick, W.)
said the Chief Secretary for Ireland deserved the thanks of the labourers of Ireland for introducing this Bill and for the liberal grant of money he was making for the erection of labourers' cottages. Undoubtedly the giving of the grant-in-aid from the Treasury would be a great boon to the labourors and to the rate payers of Ireland. While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the Bill, he regretted that the Chief Secretary had not seen his way to give relief to those councils which had done most and had taxed themselves most heavily to luring the old Acts into operation. He hoped that the Chief Secretary would make Clause 18 retrospective so as to give some relief to those rural and district councils which had done so much in the past. If Clause 18 were made retro spective, it would undoubtedly afford some measure of relief to the ratepayers. He thought, moreover, the Chief Secretary should give to those councils who had worked the Labourers Acts fairly and honestly a bonus or a premium in the way of an additional grant in order to encourage them to continue to carry on the public work which they were doing, and which tended greatly to the national good. Under the Bill if those councils continued this philanthropic work they would tax themselves still more heavily than they had done in the past, and some assistance should be afforded to them, especially when it was considered that the councils in the North of Ireland had done nothing in this matter, and would get the same benefits under the Bill as the councils who had acted. The additional rate would press rather heavily upon the ratepayers, and he was not pre pared to object to it, but he expected that the Chief Secretary would give them some additional relief. He trusted, in addition to making Clause 18 retrospective, the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to have the conditions as to the repayment of outstanding loans made retrospective. That would help the district councils to continue to work the Labourers Acts and to build cottages at a comparatively small cost. Those were the only points to which he now desired to direct the attention of the Chief Secretary but he intended in Committee to deal with the simplication of procedure, the question of reducing the clerical and legal expenses, and other 994 matters. He believed that on the whole the Bill was a good one, and that, as the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had said, it was an honest attempt to settle the labourers question. For that reason he heartily supported it.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said he desired to associate himself most heartily with what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. In its main features he thought this was a most satisfactory Bill. It was a large and generous attempt to settle the question. With regard to Clause 18, he did not understand how there could be any doubt as to its meaning. It loft all moneys now standing to the credit of the counties for Exchequer contributions untouched, but it provided in the future what really would be a substantial measure of relief to those counties which had spent large sums under the Labourers Acts. All those counties in future would draw an increased share in proportion to the number of cottages they had erected. That provision would undoubtedly be a hardship on the county of Mayo. That county had standing to its credit an un expended balance of the Exchequer grant larger than any other county, namely, £9,558. It was not the fault of the county; it was derived from the condition of its population. The small farmers were labourers who made use of their liberty to work over in England as labourers under circumstances of hard ship, and therefore labourers' cottages had not been erected in Mayo because the people did not need them so much. An appeal was made that the county of Mayo being a poor county ought not to be deprived of its share of the grant because they could not share in the benefits of the Act. He felt so strongly on the labourers question that he was quite prepared to surrender their share so far as it was taken from them by Clause 18, and to make that sacrifice for the good of the labourers, although it would not be a fair thing to take away from them that which already stood to the credit of the county. The finance of the Bill had been dealt with very lucidly by the hon. Member for Waterford. Irish finance had been brought to such a condition of muddle and confusion that he was not surprised that the Irish Secretary should not know what he was doing when dealing with it. The experts 995 to the Treasury were the only persons who were fully acquainted with it. He wished to direct attention to two points. He thought that on the whole they had every reason frankly to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary for the grant of £28,000 a year. They had been fair and frank, and he entirely acquitted both of them of having been privy to the various devices and tricks by which the supposed contribution from Irish funds had been swollen. He wanted to know why the £28,000 was to be passed through the Irish Development Grant under Sub-section 2 of Clause 14. The effect of that provision would be that the whole burden of the £28,000 a year would fall on the Development Grant. It would always be taken out of the grant before it was recouped by Parliament, with the result that the fund would be always £28,000 short, and the recoupment by Parliament would, so far as it remained for Irish purposes be a perfect figment. The fund would always be out of the £28,000, and, practically speaking, for Irish uses it would be taken out of the grant and not out of the Treasury. That was a point to which the Chief Secretary ought to direct his attention, and if the Government thought it was necessary to pass the money through the Development Grant it ought to be voted to the Development Grant at the commencement of the financial year. He was bound to say, although he did not like looking a gift horse in the mouth, that the observations of the hon. Member for Waterford as to the £150,000 taken from the Fines Fund applied in a minor degree to the £6,000 taken from the Exchequer contribution. The £6,000 would come in any case, and how they could maintain that by taking it out of one pocket and putting it into another they were making a free grant he could not understand. As to the question of the simplification of procedure, he though the hon. Member for North Antrim could hardly have studied the Bill enough when he made light of the simplification of procedure. He thought they had to thank the Government for a great deal. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member for South Roscommon in the valuable suggestion he made. It was enormously important to have as few investigations as 996 possible, because in every investigation they must employ lawyers. He had a letter from a lawyer which showed that they sometimes had a sense of decency. It was all very fine to talk about lawyers, but even the hon. Member for South Tyrone himself, if he was engaged in an arbitration, would scurry off to the best lawyer he could get. They must have lawyers as they must have doctors, but what they must do was to mitigate the evil by minimising the number of occasions on which they required these useful but expensive people. Therefore, let them examine the Bill with the view of reducing the number of occasions on which lawyers must be brought in. He was told that one great cause of the cost was arbitration. As the Bill stood at present arbitration must take place by separate inquiry from the inquiry as to the merits of the scheme. He did not know why the two things should not be merged in one, but a rough and ready system would be quite sufficient when they are buying only an acre of land. Enormous costs were incurred in these transactions, and he appealed to the Attorney-General to make every exertion to get round that difficulty. One great advantage in this matter was that the right hon. Gentleman could act boldly, for there was practically no opposition, and he (Mr. Dillon) believed that some simple system could be devised which would have the effect of reducing these costs and doing no injustice to anyone. There were two of the clauses in the Bill to which he attached great importance. Under the Act of 1903, when the labourers clauses were with drawn, there was a special provision to meet the case of the labourers put in Clause 4 under which the Estates Commissioners were authorised in the case of the sale of untenanted land to give without expense of any kind a portion of the land into the hands of trustees for the purpose of the Labourers Acts. That provision had, however, been inoperative, because owing to some legal difficulty when the clause was put into operation the whole thing was found to be unworkable. The Attorney-General had dealt with this matter by Clause 20 in a workmanlike manner. It was open to the Estates Commissioners under that 997 clause wherever they had untenanted land—and they had 60,000 or 80,000 acres of land in their possession—to take a portion of that land and hand it over to the district council, and this would be effected without the expense and difficulties of the present system. That was a most valuable clause. There was another point to which he wished to refer. He thought it ought to be made perfectly clear that the labourers should be entitled to get advances for the purchase of small plots of land where, in the discretion of the Estates Commissioners, it was desirable so as to make them small farmers. He did not think it would be either useful or possible to turn all the labourers of Ireland into small farmers, because, in the first place, the state of a small farmer was not always compatible with that of a labourer, and in the second, the area of land in Ireland was not sufficient for that purpose. He attached, however, great importance to the fact that there should be held out to the labourers of Ireland, not only this great boon of giving them in the near future the opportunity of living like civilised human beings, but the prospect that by sobriety and industry they could improve their position and become small farmers. Such a thing as that must redound to the benefit of Ireland, because while during the last-twenty years large farmers in all parts of England and Ireland were becoming bankrupt, the small farmers never gave way. The storm passed over their head, and no matter how great the depression was they hung on to their homesteads, and despite all disadvantages raised up a family. The small farmers and labourers, therefore, were the source to which they must look to build up a vigorous nation. Clause 19 was a good clause, but he did not like the qualification attached to it of only making advances to a man who had been a tenant of the district council for five years. He thought the qualification ought to be frankly removed, because in many of the districts which he knew, where large tracts of untenanted lands were coming into the hands of the district councils, there were hundreds of men waiting for holdings on those un tenanted lands who were not tenants of the district council, but who should not for that reason be barred out. He re- 998 minded the Chief Secretary that the Estates Commissioners two years ago in their discretion, to the best of their judgment, interpreted that provision of the Act of 1903, and held that even without this section they were entitled to give land where they thought the need of the small farmers had been met—they were entitled to give advances to the labourers and even to the artisans of the towns for the purchase of farms. They were, however, checked in this by the late Government. He did not know how the law now stood, but he knew the Land Commissioners had exercised that view and that there were now small tenants who had been made farmers under the Act of 1903 because the Estates Com missioners held that they had that power. Unfortunately that practice had been stopped, but he hoped the Chief Secretary would look into that clause so that he might on the division of these great grass ranches see that the claims of the labourers were considered as well as the claims of the small farmers. The right hon. Gentleman might congratulate himself on his great success. He had introduced a very radical and sweeping measure which had met with nothing but warm approval from all the Irish Members in the House. He would not regret that they had abstained from forcing the Government to take up the larger question of Irish government if an opportunity were given them after twenty years of disappointment and fruitless endeavour to lay the foundation of a settlement of the difficulties of the labourers of Ireland. This would be one of the greatest steps ever taken in the direction of elevating the Irish labouring population from the degradation and misery into which they had sunk through the passing of unjust laws. He hoped his success would encourage the Chief Secretary to further efforts in the same direction, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman himself would admit that his success was in some measure due to the new departure he had taken in consulting the Irish Members before he introduced his Bill.
§ *MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
congratulated the Chief Secretary upon the bold lines upon which he had framed this measure, which was designed to 999 benefit a large and deserving class of persons who were unable to pay the rent usually demanded for sanitary houses such as they all desired they should occupy. He regretted certain omissions from the Bill, but he hoped they might be remedied in the Committee stage. One of those omissions was the absence of any encouragement, to deserving labourers to look forward to the time when they might become the owners of the cottages they occupied, and the plot of land attached to it. He thought that decent honest labourers in rural parishes who had paid rents steadily were entitled to expect that the Government which was doing so much for them should go a little further, and enable them to purchase their cottages. He regretted that there was no reference in the Bill to a movement in that direction, but he hoped the Chief Secretary would favourably consider the question of including a provision of that kind. He was not overlooking the fact that in the Bill facilities were given to enable deserving labourers, who had paid rent regularly for five years, to become owners of plots of land adjacent to their cottages. He was glad to see that provision, and he hoped many labourers would avail themselves of it. They had in Ireland an increasing number of hardworking fishermen, who were practically labourers, and were not able to pay the market value of a sanitary house, and he thought it would not be an unreasonable broadening of this legislation if that deserving class were given the benefits of the Bill. Another class deserving of consideration was the rural labourers who live in small urban areas. They got their employment on the land adjacent to the towns, and were in all respects rural labourers, and they should be provided for in a measure of this kind in exactly the same way as labourers living in rural areas. He confessed to a feeling of discouragement when the Chief Secretary answered a Question recently on this point in a manner which, though not intended to be discourteous, was remarkable for brevity. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman might yet see his way to moderate the terms on which at present advances for providing houses for the working classes were granted to the smaller urban areas. Where an 1000 urban area decided there was a necessity for improving the housing of the working classes—which included many rural labourers—the cost of the advance, including sinking fund, was practically 5 per cent., and they found that when land had to be obtained compulsorily, no scheme could be carried out except at such a loss to the ratepayers as to prevent progress being made. As a member of an urban district council for several years, he had done his best to get the dwellings of the labouring classes improved. His council had carried scheme after scheme, but when they found the Local Government Board insisting upon the building of comparatively expensive houses, and the whole of the loan with sinking fund had to be repaid in forty years, they had very reluctantly been obliged to abandon their schemes. In all similar areas the class of houses erected for working people were deteriorating with a consequent development of conditions which favoured the spread of disease, and he urged the Chief Secretary to extend the Bill in the direction he had indicated. Another objection which he had to the Bill was that it was proposed not to be operative until the 1st of April next. The result of delay in bringing the measure into operation would be the hanging up of all schemes on which rural councils were now engaged. He knew the reason for the delay was the indisposition of the Exchequer to find the money until the next financial year. The Government were going to get immediate credit for their good intentions, but were going to delay finding the money as long as possible. The result would be that all over Ireland rural councils would decide to suspend schemes. After the touching references to which they had listened from the Chief Secretary as to the pitiable condition in which many of the labouring classes lived and the immense amount of unhealthiness which prevailed amongst them, he put it to the right hon. Gentleman whether he should insist upon the date named in the Bill. The principal objection which he entertained to the Bill in its present shape relate I to Clause 18. He spoke on behalf of a county which had done its duty in this matter, and which would, as regarded the richest 1001 part of it, be a gainer by the new financial arrangement which was proposed. But in some parts of the division where the population was not so prosperous the rural councils had not been able to display activity in cottage building. He found that in the county of Londonderry 232 cottages had been built, and the county had no balance standing to its credit on the Exchequer Contribution Account. Under Clause 18 Londonderry would be entitled to get consideration for the progress they had made in cottage building. But there were other counties in the north of Ireland who had not seen their way to go forward in cottage building. He found that Antrim had built up to date or had received sanction to building schemes covering 274 cottages, and it received last year £1,722 as the Exchequer contribution. Armagh built thirty-seven cottages, and had £4,418 to its credit. Donegal, which was one of their poorest counties, built 305 cottages and the whole of its grant had been exhausted. In County Down 211 cottages were built, and there was at present £3,264 standing to its credit. In Fermanagh, eighty-one cottages had been built, and the whole credit had been exhausted. Londonderry built 226 cottages, and the whole credit was exhausted there. In Tyrone the total was 232 cottages, and at present that county had no balance remaining. As he read the proposal under Clause 18, it would work out as regarded Ulster generally that the share, of which the Exchequer grant for 1904–5 was £12,410, would, if this scheme were carried, fall to £2,000. In Munster the grant in the year 1904–5 was £11,066, but in that province it would go up to £15,500. In Leinster the share was £9,419, but under this clause it would go up to £12,000. Connaught's share was £3,913, but if this clause were passed without alteration it would fall to £500. Those inequalities were sufficient to show that some re-consideration of the financial terms of the Bill were absolutely necessary, and he suggested to the Chief Secretary that as all parties representing Ireland were anxious to facilitate the passing of the measure he should take into consideration the advisability of adopting some plan by which he would put matters upon a fairer basis in this 1002 regard. He did not see why a district which had very largely met the need for labourers' cottages already should have any cause, or still less, should expect to receive additional grants for the work which it had done in the past. Connaught had not been able to move forward for the reasons which had already been given, and why should she still suffer and increasingly suffer, and her advance be made so difficult that the rural councils of the province in company with those of Ulster, who had not yet moved, would find the path of progress absolutely barred? He submitted that it would be quite impossible for Connaught to go forward under this Act.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said he was not quite sure how the advances in regard to the £4,500,000 out of the Irish Land Purchase Fund would affect the issue of the money for the main purposes of the Act of 1903. There had in the past been great difficulty in connection with the issue of this money, and it constituted one of the hindrances to the working of the Act of 1903. He wished to know what would be.the precise effect of this proposal, which he hoped would not interfere with the provision of money for the main purposes of the Act. They were all agreed as to the desirability of making proper provision for the labourers in regard to cottages and holdings, but it should not be forgotten that the Act of 1903 had for its object the provision of funds by which a transfer of land should take place, and nothing should be done to increase those difficulties. With regard to agricultural depression, he thought it had been more severely felt by the larger than by the smaller farmers. In England during the last fifteen or twenty years they had gone through a transition period during which the larger farms had been turned into smaller ones. But although they had been doing that in this country they had also been turning arable land into pasture because it was more profitable. He hoped that nothing would be done without grave consideration which would result in the breaking up of grass lands which were very productive, and which, once broken up, could not be brought back again to their original state for a great many 1003 years. The fact that they were divided by keen Party differences did not prevent him offering his congratulations to the Chief Secretary upon the reception which his measure had received; it was quite evident that from no quarter was there any desire to do anything but further its progress, and they would all endeavour to make the measure as near perfect as possible.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BRYCE,) Aberdeen, S.
said his first and most gratifying duty was to express his cordial thanks to the Members who had spoken well of the Bill and had addressed their congratulations to him upon having succeeded in framing a measure which appeared to have given a good deal of satisfaction in Ire land. For the note which was struck in very kind terms by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and continued by the hon. Member for East Mayo, the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and the Members for Ulster, he offered his sincere thanks. He wished also to thank them for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was very sensitive of what had been said on this point, and he ventured to assert that it had not often happened that an Irish Secretary had found a colleague so ready to enter into his views, and to help him in carrying them out. It was a great satisfaction to the Government to find that the Bill had given so much satisfaction, in Ireland. It was a good omen for the future, and one which would encourage the Government to persevere with other remedial measures which were intended as far as possible to remove, and he hoped would remove, the economic evils from which Ireland had so long suffered. It was a very great pleasure no doubt to find that any Bill brought forward by a British Government was received with equal cordiality by Irish Members sitting in different parts of the House and holding opinions greatly opposed one to another. It made one think one was living in some happy region peopled by some Irish poet of far distant date. It was very agreeable to the Government to find Irish Members coming together with open minds and he hoped open hearts, 1004 to make the Bill one really fit to attain its objects. He hoped this would be more the case, and that the more remedial measures were brought before the House the more occasions would be found on which Irish Members of different political opinions might be able to co-operate for the good of their country. The hon. Member for Waterford had asked him to go into Committee with an open mind in regard to the Bill. He hoped he should bring an open mind with regard to it. His only cause for hesitation was that when a Minister adopted an attitude of that kind he was told on every Amendment that he ought to adopt it because he had said he had an open mind. He must guard him self against having an argument ad hominem of that kind brought to him. He would go into Committee with a desire to profit by any suggestion from whatever quarter it came. He should be glad to have it shown that some of the provisions of the Bill might be improved, or other provisions introduced better calculated to attain the desired ends. He was aware, as every Minister who had not lived in Ireland must feel, how difficult it was to understand the country for which they were legislating. As to the preparation of the Bill, he had profited by the suggestions of the Member for Waterford and some of his colleagues— suggestions which he always received gladly from any Irish Member of what ever views—and the Government would be very glad to profit by any suggestions made in Committee. He now came to the criticisms passed upon the Bill, or rather to such of them as admitted of being dealt with shortly, for some of them turned upon matters so complicated that they would take a long time to explain, and it would hardly be prudent to enter upon them at this stage, lie began with that made by the hon. Member for Water ford and the hon. Member for Londonderry with regard to the date for the commencement of the Act. The Government were anxious that the work should begin as soon as possible, but it would be much more convenient if the financial provisions were to take effect from the beginning of the financial year. It would be difficult—he did not say impossible—to begin on the 1st of January rather than the 1st of April. the beginning 1005 of the financial year. The matter was one, however, which would have his consideration. There was also another difficulty. The Act could hardly take effect immediately, because a number of regulations would have to be issued; a great deal of time would be required to frame those regulations in proper form, and lie thought this could hardly be done before the 1st of January, Moreover, there was nothing at all to prevent a Rural district council from beginning its arrangements so soon as the measure received the Royal assent. The council could begin making its schemes—could, indeed, do anything except apply for money. All the other steps under the Act could be taken, and they were steps which would occupy some time. For that reason he thought the inconvenience would be much less than the hon. Member apprehended. How ever, he was quite ready to consider the matter.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
asked if the new procedure as to inquiry by the inspector would come into effect when the Act was passed.
§ MR. BRYCE
Of course, it was a matter in which he must not be taken to commit the authorities at the Treasury, because they knew these matters better than he did, but speaking ex improviso he did not see why that could not be done. A question was asked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin as regarded the additional stock to be issued and the addition which this would make to the loans under the Land Purchase Act. It would be an addition, but the amount of loans issued as an addition to the loans floated for the Land Purchase Act would be comparatively small. The loan would be issued gradually, and there would be no interference with the issue of land purchase, stock. He saw no reason to apprehend that the progress of land purchase would be delayed. The suggestion of the right hon. Member as to 1006 the clerks to the rural councils should have his consideration. Now he came to the point which had received most attention, and that was the financial relations under Clause 18. The hon. Member for East Mayo had explained the meaning of that clause correctly. What was meant was that after the commencement of the Act the amount of money which would be paid out of the Exchequer contribution should be paid to each rural council in respect of the number of cottages which it had built at the time of the commencement of the Act. That would give a very considerable and substantial relief to those rural councils which had been hitherto most active in completing cottages, which had been bearing the burden for some time, and which he thought were specially entitled to relief. Of course it was impossible, as funds were limited, to give relief to A. and B., without giving less relief to C. and D. He would be very glad if it was in their power to satisfy the north as well as the south. But the members for the north must be reminded that the ratepayers had had a very easy time hitherto. They had done very little in the way of building cottages, and in future they would have at any rate this advantage, that they would be able to build cottages upon far easier terms than they could have done hitherto. He hoped, therefore, that they would not think that the Government had been at all indifferent to their claims. They had left them the money now standing to their credit, which in the case of two counties was a considerable sum. They had tried on the whole to hold the balance as fairly as possible between the different parts of the country, and their course had been taken not from the wish to deal hardly with them, but only because they had fixed their minds on the supreme and paramount object of endeavouring to get as many labourers cottages built as possible. If there was any means of easing the thing off with out retarding that main object the were quite willing when they got into Committee to give fair consideration to it. Now he came to the question of petty sessions clerks. Let him say at once that the hon. Member for Water ford's suspicions with regard to the 1007 Treasury clerks in this matter were really quite unfounded. He must acquit the Treasury clerks of having any share in the results complained of. The matter was rather too complicated to go into at full length now, but he would point out that the total loss of the local authorities in Ireland would be a very small one.
§ MR. BRYCE
did not think it would exceed £5,000, and it was only one-eleventh of a penny. It would really be imperceptible to each county, and he thought it was, under the circumstances, not too much to ask that a very small sacrifice of that kind might be endured. When he came to the question of the court of appeal, he must say once more that he would be extremely glad of any suggestions that would provide a plan satisfactory to everybody. But no part of the Bill had caused him more trouble and difficulty than this, in which he endeavoured to find a body to whom the appeal might be entrusted. He agreed that the High Court was quite out of the question. It was much too costly. He did not think that either the judge of assize or the judge of the county court would be a quite satisfactory court of appeal, and he was still inclined to the belief that the plan embodied in the Bill, which had several precedents, both Irish and English, in its favour, would be found to be the most accept able and, on the whole, would be most likely to give a cheap and prompt issue, the main thing to be aimed at. It was necessary that the procedure should be quick and cheap, and he believed that would be better secured by the Local Government Board than in any other way. The hon. Member for South Antrim had asked a question with regard to the proposal that 16 per cent, should come out of one fund and 20 per cent, out of another. All that that meant was that the amount of the whole £50,000 which was to come out of the direct Treasury grant, com pared with that which was to come out of the various Irish funds that were grouped together, would be in the pro- 1008 portion of 20 per cent, to 16 per cent. The hon. Member for South Tyrone, among other criticisms, had observed that one of the great causes of expense in working the Labourers Acts hitherto had been the charges paid to lawyers and architects. He quite agreed with him, and the more they could diminish the costs paid to lawyers and architects the better. But it must be remembered that they could not take away a man's bread without considering what his rights were. And this was a difficulty which was constantly recurring whenever operations in land and houses had been carried on on a small scale. They had tried in the Bill to reduce that expenditure to the lowest possible point. If anyone could show him a way of reducing it further he would be happy to do so, but at the same time they must have some security that the rural councils were getting the title. It was no use giving them land for some body else to come in afterwards and dispute the title. On the other hand, if a mistake was made and a man's property was taken without notice to him, and if he came afterwards to show that he had a good claim and that land was taken from him without any compensation, he thought he must be allowed to establish his case. There must be some means given to him by which he could recover what he wanted. He believed that that would be an exceedingly rare case, and therefore he was not afraid of any serious trouble, but still they must provide for some sort of inquiry and for some sort of remedy for a man whose land had been improperly taken. If they could, however, further cut down in any way the lawyers' cost he would be very glad to do it. The hon. Member for East Mayo had commented upon the clauses which were intended to enable labourers to become tenants. He would be very glad to consider the suggestion which the hon. Member had thrown out for enlarging the operation of that clause. He agreed that it was a very important object, and it was one which unfortunately had not been attained under the clauses of the Land Purchase Act which were meant to secure it.
§ MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)
I should like to know whether money 1009 will be advanced for the purpose of stocking farms, as in the case of Denmark?
§ MR. BRYCE
said he was afraid that he could not go into that now. It was a point which really did not belong to the Bill. Whatever powers were given would be given to the Estates Commissioners and without knowing what their view was he thought it would hardly be prudent for him at present to express an opinion on that matter. Another point of importance was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Tyrone. He referred to the case in which the object was not to build a new cottage but to enlarge an existing one. If the hon. Member looked at Clause 2, he would see that it was not necessary to make a new scheme. A new scheme was a matter of time and cost, and it was provided in Clause 2 that where a rural district council had acquired a cottage it might enlarge that cottage without the necessity of making a new scheme. He believed that in man cases that would be found to be the cheaper method. Reference had been made to Clause 18 with respect to the application of the residue of the Exchequer contribution. The truth was that the labourers housing problem in many parts, and particularly in the Co. Mayo and the congested districts of Galway, was very much less acute than in the south and centre of Ireland, and he was glad to hear the hon. Member for East Mayo say that in the interest of Ireland generally he would not take objection to the Bill if Connaught received rather less. The same thing was no doubt true in regard to Co. Sligo. The charge on the rates for the building of cottages would not be heavy, because there were few cottages required there. The remedies needed in these counties were of a different nature. A question was also raised as to applying this Bill to the case of labourers in towns. He did not deny the importance of the question, but it was a new and large question and entirely different from the one dealt with in the Bill. He believed himself that the question of housing labourers in towns did not need to be dealt with on the particular lines laid down in this Bill. He believed it could 1010 be dealt with on different lines, more like those which had been applied to the housing problem in the towns of England. He thought that in most of the Irish towns it might be dealt with without involving any loss to the ratepayers. He was told that there were companies in some of the Irish cities, and he knew there were companies in London and he dared say in other cities of England, which had succeeded in making a respectable profit. There were companies which provided housing for the very poorest, and paid 5 per cent., and he saw no reason why that should not be done in Ireland. Therefore the problem in regard to the urban labourer was different from that of the rural labourer. He was not saying that the case might not be met by a Bill dealing with the housing of the urban labourers, but he did not think that it belonged to this Bill. He was not prepared to deal with it on the lines laid down here. He thought he had now covered the criticism which had been offered in regard to the Bill.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
said the hon. Member for Londonderry had raised the question whether fishermen were included in the Bill. His own impression was that they were, and he was amazed at the construction placed on the proposal by the hon. Member. His idea was that fisher men were included in the definition of "agricultural labourers" in the Bill.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
asked whether the outstanding loans would be granted the same terms as the new loans under this Bill.
§ MR. BRYCE
said that the district councils would get considerable relief under the terms of the Bill, because they would get relief out of the Exchequer contribution in proportion to the number of cottages they built. As to outstanding loans, he was afraid that he could not give the hon. Member any answer. He did not think, at any rate, that he ought to hold out any hope. He did not wish to say that he would not consider the question, but the hon. Member must not take it from him that he was holding out any hope that what was suggested would be done.
§ MR. MEAGHER (Kilkenny, N.)
asked whether the question of providing artisans' dwellings in the rural districts would be dealt with in this Bill.
§ MR. BRYCE
said he did not think the definition of "labourer" could be extended beyond the definition given in the Land Purchase Acts. The whole question of that definition would have to be considered. As to fishermen, his impression was that the definition given in the Land Purchase Acts included fishermen, and if that was so it would be the definition adopted. There was one more point. He was very glad that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had confirmed an impression which was very strong in his mind, that these cottages could be built at an average cost of £130. He himself thought it was prudent to take an out side estimate, and therefore took £170 as the sum, though he believed that with care and prudence, which he hoped the rural and district councils would exercise, and with the model schemes which the Local Government Board was prepared to give, they would be able to build for a good deal less. If that were so it was probable that they would be able to build a good many more than 25,000 cottages, and he should not be surprised if, with economy, they succeeded in getting 30,000. At all events, he hoped the rural district councils would do their utmost to work economically, and so enable the money to go as far as possible. He might add that he thought it would have been difficult to have induced Parliament to make so large a grant if it had not been for the extreme importance of the object in view, and he desired to associate himself with what had been said as to the immense importance to Ireland of improving the position of the labourers. He did not believe there was anything at the present moment which the country needed more. This Bill, if properly worked, ought to secure three things. In the first place, so far as housing was concerned, it ought to secure health, without which there could be no progress and very little moral or intellectual development, because ill-health was one of the things which drove men to despair and recklessness, and the solace commonly resorted to under such circumstances. In the second place, it ought to give 1012 them independence. There was nothing that affected a man more than to feel that he was living in a cottage to which he had a right, with the possession of a small holding of an acre of land which he might cultivate in his leisure hours; and that he might attain to that higher measure of manhood which they all desired to see in the citizens of a free country. In the third place, it would give hope—the hope of bettering his condition, of being able to save, to improve his position by the exercise of industry and intelligence, and to take the position of a tenant farmer and then acquire a holding under the Land Purchase Act. He trusted also that this Bill would give a more hopeful prospect not only to the individual labourers but to the country as a whole; because it would enable a very deserving and important class to turn their minds to the idea of living in their own country and improving it, instead of leaving it derelict. He never could forget the impression made upon him when passing through a railway station many years ago in the county of Roscommon. There he heard the melancholy cries of wives and mothers, of brothers and sisters in taking leave of their dear ones, who were departing as emigrants for America. He felt then that nothing better could be done for Ireland than to retain the people on the land and make Ireland a country which its native inhabitants wanted to live in and not to leave. If this Bill contributed in a small degree to the attainment of that object the grant would be justified.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
said that every Member from Ireland must have appreciated the spirit and tone of the speech of the right hon. the Chief Secretary. That speech demonstrated that in introducing this Bill the right hon. Gentleman was doing something which was absolutely necessary for the welfare of Ireland. It was sad to think that a measure of this kind had not been introduced twenty or twenty-five years ago. The right hon. the Chief Secretary had referred to the said scenes which he had witnessed in Roscommon years ago on the departure of emigrants to America. By a strange coincidence when he came into the House that afternoon the latest returns of emigration from Ireland were placed in his hand. 1013 These showed figures which were simply deplorable, and this year there had been a great increase. In April and May this year the emigrants from Ireland numbered 5,600 and 8,500 compared with 4,800 and 6,000 in the same months last year. He was sure that every Irish Member must feel, in considering these returns, that if a Bill of the kind now before the House had been introduced in the same free and friendly spirit twenty-five years ago, it would undoubtedly have had the effect of staying that vast emigration from Ireland and keeping tens of thousands of people in their native land. He was glad that the Bill had been received with the unanimous approval of all sections of the House, and it was gratifying to find that the right hon. Gentleman felt the absolute necessity for it. Representing, as he did, with his hon. friend the Member for West Mayo, large counties in which there were thousands of agricultural labourers who were miserably housed and most unfortunately situated, he could say that this Bill would be accepted as a very great blessing and boon, and that it would be put in operation by the local authorities as soon as it became law. He regretted, however, that the Chief Secretary had not seen his way if not to do so in this Bill, at least to promise the introduction of some legislation for the benefit of the artisan population in the small towns of Ireland. No one representing a constituency in which there were considerable urban areas could be blind to the fact that there was a large class of the working population who were most deplorably and miserably housed; and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would soon see his way to introduce legislation which would enable urban authorities to put up decent houses for the artisan population in the towns of Ireland. It was true that a commencement had been made in this direction by some local authorities, but the difficulties in the way of obtaining money and in working the machinery of the existing Acts prevented much being done; and it was a perfect disgrace to go through the back slums of the small towns of Ireland and see the conditions under which the artisans there were obliged to live and bring up their families. He believed that the Bill now before the House would pass rapidly and work satisfactorily; that everybody in Ire- 1014 land would acknowledge that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Chief Secretary had met the demands of the Irish Members fairly; and those right hon. Gentlemen would find their reward in the fact that they had secured the amelioration of the condition of the vast majority of the people of Ireland. It was almost impossible for an Irish Member who had been in the House for any length of time not to express regret that the present condition of things in regard to the attitude of the Government had not existed long ago; if it had it would have been better not only for Ireland but for Great Britain. Twenty years ago the agricultural labourers of Ireland had a grievance in the same way that they had one to-day, but bit by bit and year after year the Irish Members had pressed their claims upon the House. Sometimes attempts were made to deal with the position, but at other times they were told that the House of Commons had no opportunity of dealing with this large class in Ireland. To-day, however, there seemed to be a general recognition all round that there were grievances in Ireland, that large classes in that country were in a miserable condition, that it was the duty of the House to listen to the reasonable demands of the Irish people and to give them what they would have had long ago if they had had an opportunity of dealing with these matters themselves. He hoped the Bill would pass through Committee as rapidly as it would pass through the House, and he was sure that the Chief Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be repaid for what they had done in this matter.
§ *MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)
said the statistics in regard to Irish emigration and former depopulation were appalling to anyone who read the history of Ireland, and still the depopulation—he had almost said the extermination—of the people went on. As his hon. friend had said, fresh statistics had appeared within the last month, showing a continued increase over the corresponding period of last year. It was almost a case of a country being "bled white," and if anything could be done to keep the people of Ireland in their own country and to give them an opportunity of remaining there it must be welcomed by this House. The population in the 1015 last forty years had been diminished by nearly 50 per cent., and if a people so patriotic and so intensely fond of their own country as the Irish were found to be leaving it in hundreds and in thousands, it argued that there was something rotten in the state of Denmark. This face stood out for observation to anyone who had gone across Ireland. The traveller went over large and fertile tracts of grass country in which there were no men, women or children, and then he arrived, say, at the begs and rocks of Connemara to find human beings herded together under conditions of great discomfort. This simply showed that men, women and children had been swept away in order that cattle might be put in their place. The cattle were kept on these lands because it was thought they might pay a little better or cause less trouble than men, women, and children. An hon. friend who had now left the House had expressed the opinion that it would be a great pity to break up these grass lands into acres, but if every labourer had an acre of land it would not absorb one-tenth of the land available, and he should like to see a larger quantity of land devoted to this purpose than even one-tenth. He hoped the Bill would be read a second time unanimously and go through Committee rapidly.
§ *MR. PATRICK WHITE (Meath, N.)
said that in the few words he had to address to the House he would confine his remarks to the clauses which affected his constituency. In Meath the land was all in pasture, there was no employment, and a labourer could not support his family on an acre of land. The labourers demanded that the grazing ranches should be cut up into economic holdings and divided amongst them. He thought Clause 19 was not fair inasmuch as it provided that a labourer must, to reap the benefit of the Bill, remain in possession of his cottage for five years. The necessity for providing cottages in the county of Meath was one of extreme urgency. This House owed reparation to the people of the country for the foul crimes of the past, when human beings were swept off the land to make room for sheep and oxen. The depopulation of Meath for the past fifty years had no parallel in the worst governed European country. The following statis- 1016 tics told a sad tale. The county contained 579,320 statute acres and its population in 1841 was 183,828, while in 1901 it was 67,497, which meant a reduction of 116,331 in sixty years. That was the great clearance. In 1851 the population was 140,748, a reduction in a decade of 43,080. In 1841 the number of inhabited houses was 30,785, while in 1851 it was only 24,044, a decrease of 6,741. Clauses 19 and 20 of the Bill would not meet the emergency. No doubt Clause 19 contained a provision for the creation of a new tenancy, but it would be slow in operation, and it was necessary to take active steps to alleviate the difficulties which now existed, and to solve the problem. He thought arrangements should be made so that when land came into the market the district councils could act in conjunction with the Estates Commissioners for the purpose of buying and distributing the land. Everyone would admit that there was plenty of land to go round, and at all events men should be placed upon economic holdings. If the land were equally divided among the families in Co. Meath, the total number of which was 15,163, 34 per cent, of which occupied one room, or were in receipt of outdoor relief, there would be forty acres for each household. The people were huddled together in small spaces, while the land was given over to cattle and sheep. This was in his opinion a disgrace to civilisation, especially when it was considered that if the land were cut up into small holdings it would produce three times as much as it did by feeding cattle and sheep. It was deplorable that strong men should lack employment and children pine for food in a land teeming with plenty. Unless Clauses 19 and 20 were amended so as to give extended powers to districts councils the Bill was foredoomed to failure. If the local bodies were willing to pledge the security of the rates for the planting of the people on the soil the Government should assent, and not stand between them and the performance of that beneficent work.
§ *CAPTAIN CRAIG (Down, E.)
said he wished to draw the attention of the House from one part of Ireland to another. He thought that to discuss the question of emigration, and that of the housing of the working classes in 1017 large towns was to go away from the subject matter of the Bill, but he did hope that the Chief Secretary might possibly be able to do something in the way of extending the statutory term of "labourer." It was quite impossible for the Government to go far afield and touch upon economic questions quite outside this Bill in regard to the overcrowding of large towns, but there were classes which approximated so closely to the statutory term of "labourer," that he knew the Ulster Unionist Members and other Irish Members would gladly see them included in the Bill. The difficulty raised by the right hon. Gentleman as to the date upon which the Bill should take effect when passed into law might, he thought, be met in the manner foreshadowed in the right hon. Gentleman's statement a short time previously. He had stated that they had large amounts of money lying idle in the precincts of Dublin Castle in connection with land sales, owing to the slackness of solicitors who did not attend to their work, and send in the estates which were in their hands to be dealt with. That money was to be used for practically the same purpose, or for an analagous purpose, and he suggested that some of it might be temporarily appropriated on loan and thus allow them to get the benefit of this Act at the earliest possible me merit. He did not agree that large numbers of Irishmen left the country entirely owing to the condition of the dwelling-houses there. The evil which resulted in this emigration was far more deeply rooted than the housing of the labouring classes. Everyone admitted that the grievance of the labourors was a real one, but one difficulty up to now had been to get the farmers and labourers to act together for their common good. The farmers employed the labourers, and the labourers looked to the farmers in this matter of better housing when it came to requiring support in the district councils. The farmers in some parts of Ireland up to quite recently unfortunately seemed inclined to leave the matter where it was, and not to take advantage of the Labourers Acts. Hon. Members were struck with the disparity of progress in two counties like Down and Armagh under the old Labourers Acts. As a golden rule he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would bear in mind that the sins of the local district councils should not 1018 be visited on the labourers. The vital note of the Bill was to assist the labouring classes. It would be a great misfortune if the Bill, which undoubtedly bristled with good points, should be overshadowed by the fact that the local district councils raised insuperable difficulties, owing per haps to the troublesome Acts they had had to deal with in the past, and that anything should occur to prevent the labouring classes getting the full advantage of this particular Bill. It would be a real benefit to a large section if the term "labourer" could be extended under this Bill. There was a large class who, although they did not actually labour with their hands in the agricultural farms, were labouring in scutch mills and in lime works and so forth. They were, to all intents and purposes, labourers, and therefore they should be included. He and his colleagues from Ulster heartily welcomed this measure, and he rose not for the purpose of criticising it adversely, but to throw out a few suggestions to the right hon. Gentleman which would facilitate the passage of the Bill when it came to the Committee stage. There was one point in Clauses 3 and 20, which might possibly claim the right hon. Gentleman's attention. A great amount of expense was incurred in proving title to an acre or half acre, and that had always been the fatal error in former Acts. They gladly welcomed the cheapening of procedure and he thought it would still more be cheapened if the Estates Commissioners could acquire the farms as they fell vacant instead of the district councils. This would be of great benefit to the labourers and would prevent unnecessary expense. He thought also there was a slight hard ship involved in Clause 11 where no additional allowance would be made if a particular plot of ground was acquired from a farmer by compulsion, and they were not to take into consideration the question of compulsion in arriving at the price. It would be a hardship if a farmer who had lived all his life on a farm and had worked it into a prosperous condition, was compelled to hand over perhaps the best portion of the farm to the district council for building labourers cottages. He thought that clause could be softened in Committee. Another point to which he wished to direct the Chief Secretary's 1019 attention was the medium of investing the funds mentioned in Clause 13. It would be within the power of the right hon. Gentleman to do a great service to two departments, and confer a great benefit in Ireland, if permission was granted to invest the funds not only in trustee stocks, but in land stock. If the funds were invested in land stock it would increase the dealings in it and create a greater demand for it. He thought this matter would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman and he asked him to give it his earnest consideration. He thought it would be entering into a questionable realm to provide facilities for taking over cottages built under other Acts, or by private enterprise. Some of the cottages in existence were not so sanitary as they should be. He hoped the cottages to be built under this Bill would be better and more substantial than many of those which he had examined. Very often in these matters there was an exercise of false economy, and it was particularly necessary that cottages built in Ireland should be sound in the foundations and weather-proof. It would be a great mistake to strain after building an enormous number of very cheap cottages, which lasted but a few years; and he hoped the Chief Secretary would do his best to ensure that the buildings erected under this valuable Bill would be a lasting tribute to his energy.
§ *THE ATTOENEY-GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. CHERRY,) Liverpool, Exchange
said reference had been made to the extension of the definition of agricultural labourer, and he would explain how the law stood in that matter. In the Land Act of 1903, an agricultural labourer was defined as any person other than a domestic or menial servant working for hire in a rural district whose average wages did not exceed 2s. 6d. a day. That definition included artisans of all kinds and fishermen; in fact, any person who worked for hire, whatever the nature of his work might be. The question was before the Government when the Bill was being framed, and they came to the conclusion that it was really impossible to extend that definition without bringing in classes to whom it was not desired to extend the benefits of the Act. That definition would apply to the existing Bill when it became law. One of the main objects of the Bill was 1020 to cheapen the procedure by reducing the costs. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had referred to one point which he thought would have the effect of increasing the costs. Under the existing law if the amount of compensation was under £20, the money might be paid to a person not absolutely entitled to it, that was to say, a tenant for life or limited owner; but it was necessary for any person who received money, no matter how small the amount might be, to show title to it. It was only in cases of lands under settlement that this provision with reference to amounts under £20 was in operation. The hon. Member for East Mayo had referred to a case where the total amount of compensation was only £9, and yet four sets of solicitors were engaged, and the costs must have amounted to four or five times the amount of the compensation. They hoped by Clause 11 to put an end to that state of affairs, by providing that a prima facie title such as would be accepted by the Estates Commissioners under the Act of 1903 might be accepted by a rural district council, and when that title was shown, then, though there should be some error, the receipt for the money would operate as an absolute conveyance of the land. The land could never be taken away from the objects for which it had been vested in the council. If the wrong man were paid the rightful owner might afterwards recover the money from the district council, they having their remedy against the person to whom they first paid the money.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
said this measure was a great act of historical justice. Three-fourths of the labourers concerned were the descendants of men who were the old 40s. freeholders of Ire land, who gave their votes in the time of open ballot for Catholic emancipation, but were immediately after deprived of their votes and exiled. For two generations they and their descendants had been in destitute circumstances on account of that action, and anything to restore them to their own land should be regarded as a great act of restitution.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
said he desired to join in the congratulations to the Chief Secretary and the Attorney-General for Ireland, who was associated 1021 with the Chief Secretary in the preparation of this Bill, upon the very hearty reception that it had met with from all parts of the House. His only regret about the Bill was that it was not introduced in the late Parliament by the Unionist Government. This was a question of social reform that appealed to all sections, silenced the discord of Party warfare, and united them to work on behalf of a large and deserving class. There was no more deserving, long-suffering, and patient class than the labourers of Ireland. Something had already been done on their behalf under the present Acts. He was glad to say that in his own constituency, under a very able Chairman, whose whole heart was in the work, and a sympathetic council, a very large number of cottages had been built, and it was a delightful thing, as he had experienced, to visit these cottages and to see how proud the new tenants were of them, and how clean and well-kept the cottages were. As the Chief Secretary in his very sympathetic and eloquent speeches had said, what fresh hope and interest sprang into the lives of these hard working men and women ! But although much had been done under the present Acts, he hoped and believed that a great deal more could be done under this Bill. At present the most earnest and enthusiastic council was hampered by all kinds of unnecessary conditions, especially by the enormous legal charges. This Bill, he believed, would very largely remedy those defects. There were possibly a few Members of the House who might feel that this legislation was rather too socialistic. They might say,.Why not leave the provision of these labourers' cottages to-private enterprise 1 the fact was that private enterprise had absolutely failed in this matter. Men and women were living in hovels which were a disgrace to our civilisation. Private enterprise was still more certain under the conditions in Ireland to meet with failure in the future. In England and Scotland, whatever their views on the land question might be, there were happily a large number of landlords who were proud of, and took an interest in their estate and the model cottages which, they built. But in Ireland there would soon be no landlords. The land would belong to the tenants who tilled the soil. He was not complaining of that for a moment. He was one of those who for 1022 many years past had worked hard to get this reform. Every reform had its danger, and it was very clear that the tenant farmers, even in the most prosperous times, were not men of much wealth. They had a hard struggle to make both ends meet, and they had not the means, the training, or even in some cases the inclination to deal in a large and generous spirit with the needs of the labourers. They might deplore these things, but, after all, they were facts. So far as Ireland was concerned these circumstances seemed to him to make this Bill a necessity. The large towns, with all the attractions and excitement of town life, tended more and more to draw young men and young women from the country. The best chock to that was to make country life more attractive, and he thought that this Bill went to the very root of the matter by making real homes for the labouring people instead of the wretched hovels they now used. The Chief Secretary had had a long, distinguished, and honourable career, but he did not believe the right hon. Gentleman had over put his hand to a piece of work which gave him more satisfaction than the introduction of this measure, which he would pass into law with the unanimous support of every Irish Member of the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.