HC Deb 11 August 1911 vol 29 cc1500-4

(1) A petition under Section six of the Labourers (Ireland) Act. 1906, against the refusal of the inspector to confirm the scheme, so far as it relates to any representation, may be presented by the rural district council or by the agricultural labourer by whom or on whose behalf the representation had been made.

(2) The inspector may divide the scheme into two parts, each of which shall thereupon be deemed to be an improvement scheme, and may make an order confirming one part and may adjourn the consideration of the other part, as he shall think fit, and may subsequently make an order confirming such other part, and such inspector shall have all the powers conferred on the Local Government Board by Section six of the Labourers (Ireland) Act, 1891.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Redmond Barry)

I rise to move the omission of this Clause.

The Clause was passed in a very small Committee by a very small majority, but it affects the provisions of the Act most injuriously in the view of those who are interested in the administration of the Labourers (Ireland) Acts. It provides not merely for an appeal by the district council, but it will give an agricultural labourer interested in a scheme a right of appeal either to the Local Government Board or to the county court for the purpose of reversing the order made by an inspector after inquiry on the spot. The whole provision is an absolute departure from the principle of these Labourers Acts. From the very first, under the Act of 1883, a very elaborate and costly system of dealing with improvement schemes was established. Local Government inquiries were held, Provisional Orders were passed, and sometimes an Act of Parliament had to be obtained in order to get a scheme through. The whole process was very cumbrous, and involved considerable delay. An effort was made in the Act of 1885 to remedy it by enabling the Privy Council to deal with bodies connected with a scheme, but that, too, was found to involve delay, and the present system was adopted. It simply amounts to this: If an improvement scheme has been prepared by the local authorities the Local Government Board send down inspectors to make local inquiry and examination of all the circumstances connected with it. They make a full and exhaustive inquiry, hearing both sides, and then practically frame a Provisional Order embodying the scheme. Having done that, they report to the Local Government Board. Under the Act of 1906 authority is given to any one when land is being compulsorily taken to appeal to the Local Government Board or to the county court of the district to have the Order amended by excluding their land. The appeal was limited to that class of case alone. What is now proposed by this Clause is that the Rural District Council itself, or any agricultural labourer who is interested in the acquisition of a site or the building of a cottage, should have the power also to make an appeal to the Local Government Board, and it is felt by those who understand the administration of the Acts that the greatest possible delay and immense complication would be caused. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment in Committee was able to point out that in the course of the long period during which these Acts have been in operation some one or two cases of hardship occurred which he suggested might have been rectified if a system of appeal existed under which a labourer who thought he was hardly dealt with had a right to appeal to the Local Government Board or a county court. The case was of a most exceptional character. If a man is harshly or improperly treated it is within the competence of the local authority to give him on the very next vacancy a cottage, but to give him a right of appeal which will involve very considerable ex- pense and occupy the time of the Local Government Board and its inspectors to a very large extent and delay the carrying out of these schemes seems to the Government to be a very undesirable proceeding, therefore I ask the House to omit the Clause.


I regret very much the Motion that the right hon. Gentleman has made. I am well acquainted with the administration of the Labourers' Acts, and I do not know of any Clause which is more essential for safeguarding the interests of the labouring community, and I hope it will be left in the Bill. You give the right of appeal to a farmer, and the labourers ask for the same right. They have not had it in the past, and they feel it as a grievance that they should not have it. The right hon. Gentleman said it would lead to delay and complication. Nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it would enable the labourer to have his claim decided at once instead of postponing it for a couple of years until some new scheme is formulated.


I was one of those who supported this Clause in Committee, because I think, notwithstanding what the Attorney-General said, that a case exists for making this change. I do not agree at all that only a few cases have occurred in which wrong has been done through the labourer himself and the representatives of the district council not having had an opportunity of appeal, therefore I should have liked this change to be made even on an earlier occasion than this. If on this occasion we had an opportunity for a general debate dealing with the Labourers' Acts, I should certainly advocate this change, and if an opportunity occurs I shall certainly advocate it. But the question is now whether or not this Bill is going to pass. I want it to pass before the adjournment for the Recess. Inasmuch as it is a Bill merely for providing an additional sum of money for the completion of schemes already undertaken, I certainly will not undertake the responsibility of supporting a Clause which would undoubtedly be regarded as contentious in another place and lead to the wrecking of the Bill. I have no right to advise my colleagues in the matter, but this is my own view, and I fancy I speak for them also. Although we have supported this Clause in the Committee, and are prepared on a suitable occasion to endeavour to induce the Government to insert it in some other Bill, we will not on this occasion take any action which will prevent it from becoming law before the Recess.


I supported this Clause in Committee, and I have not heard to-day any good enough cause to disturb the opinion I formed on that occasion. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are, of course, better able to judge than I what ought to be their action on this matter. My own disposition is certainly to support the Clause as it stands, and I think a strong reason has been given from the Ministerial Bench in support of the Clause. If it be that there are only a few cases of hardship, on what ground can serious disturbances be anticipated in connection with the administration of the measure? As I understand the Clause, it is that in regard to representations respecting the necessity of labourers' cottages, the rural district council, or the agricultural labourers affected shall have a right to petition, or that there shall be a further right in the hands of those acting on behalf of the labourers or the district council to make representations. That liberty to make known fully the necessity for cottages cannot be a serious danger to the working of the measure. The measure itself I like, and I hope it will not be long before the Government will be disposed to make corresponding provision of a financial nature for the erection of cottages for many labourers, both agricultural and industrial, who are in need of better housing facilities in this country.

Question, "That Clause 8 stand part of the Bill," put, and negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


Whilst I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the Chief Secretary on having introduced the Bill, I believe it does not go far enough to satisfy the demands of the labourers. The Chief Secretary thinks that £1,000,000 will be sufficient to complete the housing of the working population. I am satisfied, from my own experience and knowledge of the labouring population, and the numbers who are still unhoused, that it will require far more than this before you will complete the beneficent work of housing our workers in happiness and comfort on their native soil. I should have wished a larger amount of money could be secured. Anybody who, like myself, lived in the country twenty-five or thirty years ago, and who knew the wretched conditions of the labourers' dwellings at that time, must feel pleasure and gratification in knowing that at the present time we are in a fair way of having 50,000 labourers in happy homes, where they will be able to rear their families in comfort and cheerfulness. I hope it is not too much to expect that in this Session or next Session we will be able to introduce an amending Bill to correct many of the defects which exist in previous Acts. The way I look upon the matter is this: For every house you build you are keeping a family in the country and rooting them to the soil. The labourers in this matter owe their salvation to themselves and to their organisation when they won the Labourers Act of 1906. The transformation effected in rural Ireland has been of the most marvellous kind. Anyone who remembers the state of things in the country ten years ago, and who now sees the rural districts dotted all over with happy homesteads—the squalid cabins in which the people formerly lived having been removed—and who sees the bright and happy conditions which have replaced the griminess and misery of other days, must feel that we have made a great advance all along the line in this matter. I am glad to say that, under the schemes which have been lately promoted by district councils village communities are being formed more and more. The labouring people are in this way brought together, and they are enabled to enjoy social amenities and an environment which they had not before. I believe this measure will be the means of extending that practice in many directions. In that way this House will have assisted in laying the foundation of a sturdy and independent working class in our country, who will work with cheerfulness, knowing that they have a stake in the land. We take this measure for what it is worth, and to me it is worth a great deal in the increased comfort and happiness it will bring to our people. You are not only building cottages, but you are building up the national character of the people. You are not only increasing the material comfort of the people, but you are lifting up the tone of their home life. I welcome the measure, and I wish it God-speed, because I believe it will add a great deal to the happiness of the labouring poor.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.