HC Deb 31 May 1911 vol 26 cc1166-83

Order for Second Reading read.

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


This is a supplementary measure which was prepared and settled and ready for becoming law last Session, but, unfortunately, events prevented it becoming law, as I had hoped it would do then. I now ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is purely supplemental and following entirely on the lines and adopting the principle of the Labourers (Ireland) Act of 1906, which was passed when my right hon. Friend, Mr. Bryce, occupied the office which I now hold. It was passed by common consent, and I will not enlarge upon the subject, as I might easily do. By common consent the erection of cottages under that Act has been one of the greatest benefits which Ireland has received for many years. Anybody travelling in Ireland, as it is my good fortune very often to have the opportunity of doing under the rapid method of motor cars, must have observed the change made on the whole face of the country. I think we must all agree that the labourers are deserving of consideration from the Imperial Parliament, having regard to the great advantages conferred by the Land Acts passed by different Governments. The Act of 1906 enabled the district councils to obtain advances up to the sum of £4,250,000 for the erection of cottages out of Irish funds. It is an advantage to them to take the credit of the nation, but, of course, the annuities are calculated at the same rate as land purchase annuities and, therefore, they have to be repaid in the ordinary process of time, which is taken to be 68½ years, although that period may vary a little, according to other conditions. But 68½ years is generally taken as the time at the end of which the advances will have been entirely repaid. The Act of 1906 also gave certain other advances out of certain funds whereby the charge upon the rates was very much reduced, with the result that, although there was a Labourers' Cottages Act prior to the Act of 1906, the speed of building has enormously increased, and cottages were erected under the Act of 1906, at three times the rate per annum at which they had ever been erected before. The sum of money set apart under the Act of 1906 has been exhausted, and this Act, which I call a supplementary Act, simply provides another £1,000,000 on the same terms as the £4,250,000 was pro vided under the Act of 1906. In the same manner we appropriate certain Irish funds to go in reduction of the amount charged upon the district councils.

I notice that there has been a mistake in some parts of Ireland in supposing that the provision in the Bill we are now reading a second time which lays hands on £36,000 cash of the dormant suitors' fund and another sum of £30,000 Consols from the same Irish money, does something which the Bill of 1906 did not do. That is a mistake, because under the provisions of the Bill of 1906, the sum of £150,000 was transferred from the Petty Sessions clerks' fund and the sum of £70,000 from the Ireland Development Grant. Then there was a sum equivalent to the reduction of the salaries of the Lord Chancellor and various judges. These were Irish funds, which I think were very usefully employed in the reduction of the rate charge upon the ratepayers of Ireland concerned in the building of these cottages. We follow that scheme in this Bill, taking from the dormant suitors £36,000 cash, and £30,000 Consols. Of course, the Treasury under the provisions of this Bill undertake to make good the money in the extremely improbable, I might almost say impossible, event of the dormant suitors' fund requiring the money which is taken from it for the purpose of enabling cottages to be built. Therefore no dormant suitor need be alarmed if he awakes from his long sleep. He will find that there is a solvent guarantor able to make good the sum. We leave balances of £112,198 and also £85,373. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland, who is the guardian of the funds, is satisfied that they may be very properly taken and applied in the same manner as these as well as other Irish funds were applied under the Act of 1906.

The case is really so clear that I do not know that I need enlarge on it any longer; but I should like to give the number of cottages built under the Act of 190G. I am not going back on the old Acts prior to that. Three thousand seven hundred and ninety-one cottages have been built in Ulster; 3,829 have been built in Munster; 2,992 have been built in Leinster, and 1,160 in Connaught. The number of cottages at this moment in course of erection is 894 in Ulster, 1,974 in Munster, 1,844 in Leinster, and 460 in Connaught. The total built under the Act of 1906, therefore, is 11,772, and there are 5,172 now in course of construction. The total number built under all the Acts—because they began at an early date in the eighties—is 34,370. We have now come to the end of the money set apart for our purposes by the Act of 1906. It has been a great misfortune that there should have been any arrest in this beneficent process, because the money is safe, it will be repaid, and the general condition of the people has been enormously improved, and in no respect more than in the care and loving attention bestowed by those in possession of these new houses. Some of them, I am sorry to say, are very ugly, while others are very pretty. I wish they were all very beautiful, but, so far as these cottages are concerned, beauty is expensive, and when anybody suggests that you should have a gable here and a window there, it is found that that will add £10, £15, or £20 to the expense of building a cottage. We have tried, very rigorously, though not always very successfully, to keep down the prices of these cottages, but we have had to pay a very high price for the land, and I may be permitted to say that all landowners are alike in this matter, the small landowners as well as the big landowners, that when the public comes along and wants to take a few roods for building cottages, the price demanded is rather higher than what one would expect or quite believe it ought to be.

9.0 P.M.

At the same time I am sorry to say that legal costs are very high and, unfortunately, although I have been very rigorous in that matter too, and, as an old poacher turned gamekeeper, have been rather successful in cutting clown the legal expenses in this matter, still, of course, you cannot say that legal expenses are necessarily small because the amount of land transferred is small. That depends on title, and title is a personal thing which affects a rood of land just as much as it does a great landowner's estate, but we have done the best we could to keep down the cost, and when this Bill becomes law the million of money which is provided for this purpose will build 6,000 more cottages, and bring the total up to a very satisfactory figure. The only observation I wish to make about it is this—that this is a Bill to build cottages, and it is not a Bill to add more land to existing cottages. It is not a small allotments or small owners Bill. It is money which Parliament votes for the purpose of getting rid of the scandal and disgrace of too many of the labourers' cottages in Ireland. We want 6,000 new cottages, and when we have got these, in the good time coming, when money is plentiful, you may adopt a new policy, and turn all these new cottages into demesnes. But as things are at present we want 6,000 more cottages. We cannot wait any longer for them, and I hope when the House has gone into Committee on this Bill that it will support, us in that contention.

There is another thing upon which I feel very strongly, and that is the necessity in many cases of destroying the insanitary and bad old cottages of a past time. I hope that that also will be carried out, because it very naturally happens that they say, "We want this for a pig, or a horse, or a cow," or something of that sort, just to keep simply as a stable, though even in such cases as that these houses are very often a danger to the community. But it sometimes does happen that when an inspector goes into that district again, he finds out that the cow has been evicted and that there are people living in these abandoned, discarded cottages. It is never an easy thing for a Chief Secretary to see that these places are not inhabited, and therefore it is best to remove them from the face of the earth.

They exist in water-colour drawings and etchings, and the minds of men will be able to dwell upon them as picturesque and not unpleasing objects. But let them exist only on the walls in pictures, and let us rid them from the face of Irish soil. The only other remark I wish to make is that the Irish District Councils should be very careful in the employment of clerks of works. An enormous lot depends on that. The Local Government Board inspectors make inspections, but that is after the thing is more or less built. The inspectors are very clever men—all inspectors of the Local Government Board are clever—but it requires a man whom you cannot find either in Ireland or in England to check this work. It can only be done from day to day while the cottages are being built by astute, keen, and conscientious clerks of works. Some of the cottages have turned out not very successful, and I am sorry to say present some of those interesting features of extreme antiquity which certainly ought not to belong to them. The only way to meet that is to see to it that you have really a clerk of works who will look after these cottages and see that not a single hit of dishonest work is put into them. If that is carried out, I am sure that this Bill, which proceeds entirely on the lines of the Bill of 1906 and simply makes it go on for a year or so longer to secure the erection of 6,000 more cottages, will be only one of a very beneficent series of Acts of Parliament which have done a work which we have the satisfaction even in our own day and generation of seeing before our eyes. I beg to move.


I would be a very poor Irishman, of course, if I made any proposition to-night which would prevent my fellow countrymen from getting any more money, especially as a portion of that money, at any rate, comes out of the Imperial Exchequer, and it is not my intention to make any such proposition or to oppose the Bill; but I desire to criticise it in one or two details, and I hope that the effect may be, when we come into Committee, that we may have Amendments made in the direction which I desire. When I say "I hope"—of course, hope springs eternal in the human breast—I do not know that I have got any very strong hope that it shall be clone, but, at any rate, I shall do ply best. Every Member representing an Irish constituency welcomes the Bill in so far as it provides another million of money for Ireland. My objection to the measure is that it does not do anything to remedy the state of things which exists in certain parts of Ulster. I know that hon. Members below the Gangway will object to those who sit above the Gangway on this side as Unionists stating that they represent Ulster, but there are certain counties in Ulster that we Unionists do represent, and in those counties they rightly consider that they have a grievance under the Act of 1906. This Bill makes no attempt to remedy that grievance, and it is on that ground I am compelled to make some reference to it. Before the Act of 1906, in the county of Antrim, the distribution of grants under the Labourers Act was made in a certain way. Whether that was right or wrong it is not my place to inquire at the present time. But the result of that distribution was that in Antrim we got, roughly speaking, £2,500 a year. Since the Act of 1906 that amount has been reduced to between £400 and £450.

That is a very serious loss. The Chief Secretary who was responsible at the time the Bill of 1906 was passed said that the future method of distributing the money would depend upon the number of cottages built in each district at the date of the passing of that measure. It so happened, I am sorry to say, that in my county of Antrim a comparatively small number of cottages had been built. Our contention was that that fact was not due to the labourers not desiring to have cottages, for after all the labourers are the people who were to get the benefit under the Act, but it was due to the fact that the district councils had not seen their way up to that time to put the Labourers Act in force. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I agree with hon. Members below the Gangway that there is no great substance in that particular point. I also agree that it has been always very unfair to make the labourers responsible for what the district council did, because, of course, in the election of that body the labourers had comparatively little to say. The effect of the Act of 1906 was to handicap and penalise the very persons whom the Labourers Act was intended to benefit. Because a small number of cottages were built up to that date does not at all mean that labourers cottages were not necessary. They were as necessary in the counties of Antrim, Down, Derry, and Tyrone, all of which have suffered under the Act of 1906, as in other counties of Ireland. Still, in spite of the demand of the labourers in those counties cottages were not built; but I submit that you ought not, therefore, to penalise the labourers because of the action of authorities over which they bad no power or control. Mr. Bryce, who was then Chief Secretary for Ireland, in Committee on the Bill of 1906, when an Amendment was moved to remedy that state of affairs, admitted that the labourers in those counties deserved cottages just as much as; the labourers elsewhere in Ireland: but, owing to the fact that cottages had not been built in those districts, in future the labourers employed there must suffer in regard to the distribution of money under the Act.

So that was the state of affairs under the measure of 1906, and instead of getting about £2,500 a year, we are now getting from £400 to £450 year. The county of Cavan, which is a smaller county than the others which I have named, gets £571 a year. The county of Cork gets £6,249; the county of Limerick, £3,793; Waterford, the constituency of the leader of hon. Members below the Gangway, £1,430—four or five times as much as. Antrim obtains; Kildare, £964. Kildare, I may mention, is a county largely in grass. It is not an agricultural county in the sense that Antrim is, and it therefore employs a very much smaller number of labourers compared with the county that I represent. Nearly every county in Ireland, with the exception of some of the counties in Connaught, where labourers practically do not exist, has got more than the counties of Down, Antrim, Derry, and Tyrone. The hon. Member laughs. I do not think that is at all right.


It is due to your guardians.


I submit that these unfortunate labourers ought not to suffer for the fault of any authority. The Act of 1906 is now five years old. During that time we have suffered very considerable loss, and I think that the Chief Secretary, or whoever is responsible for this Bill, should at least consider the question of reinstating to some extent—I do not ask him to put them precisely in the same position as they occupied before—the labourers in those counties in regard to the distribution of this money. In Antrim in five years we have lost £10,000, which represents a very considerable number of labourers' cottages. Having lost that amount, I think the time has arrived when the system of distributing the funds under the Act of 1906 should be reconsidered. In the Local Government Board Report, for 1907–8 the number of cottages sanctioned in any particular county is given. In Antrim there were 142 houses and labourers' cottages sanctioned. The last, Report, that for 1909–10, shows that the number has been increased to 367. Hon. Members below the Gangway may not consider that a very large increase, where they are dealing with thousands of cottages. But I submit that it is a very considerable increase compared with the number built before the Act of 1906, and it shows that progress is being made in the building of cottages.

I think that the time has arrived when the Government might out of compassion, or decency, or from any other consideration of the kind, endeavour to put us on a more equitable footing in regard to the distribution of this sum of a million pounds which is provided under the Bill. The Bill does not make any alteration in the method of distributing the money, but after we have been penalised during a period of five years, and seeing that we are giving evidence of our desire to work this Act in the manner intended by the d House, I do ask the Government to do something for us by way of remedying the method of distributing this money. Although, perhaps, we cannot, expect much indication of I hat tonight Amendments will be moved from these benches in Committee on this Bill. I will not say now what direction those Amendments shall take, but I press the Government to consider those Amendments, remembering that we have been penalised for a considerable length, and that we have mended our ways and that we are now doing our duty by those labourers, which, I am sorry to say, we did not do before 1906. I hope when the time comes that the right hon. Gentleman will see that. some slight alteration will have to be made in the provisions of Clause 5, which I think is too drastic. That is a detail of small importance which I need not worry the House with tonight. I shall simply hope that the Government will see the justice of making a reference to the northern counties and introducing some reform at a later stage of the Bill.


I desire, on behalf of the Irish party, to thank the Chief Secretary for moving the Second Reading of this Bill to-night, and to endorse every word he has said as regards the enor- mous improvement in the condition of the labouring classes that has been brought about by the Labourers Acts. The Labourers Act of 1906 has done as much in five years, I think I am right in saying, as all the preceding Labourers Acts did in more than twenty years. The whole code commenced in 1883. In the twenty-three years that elapsed before 1906 there was a considerable number of cottages built, but in the five years that have elapsed since the Act of 1906 I think the number of cottages has been as great, if not greater, than in the twenty-three years preceding. No Act that was ever applied to Ireland did more for the country and did more for that class of men who in the past had been so shamefully and horribly treated. I feel bound to say a word or two by way of reply to the criticism that has just been made of certain provisions of the Act of 1906 by the hon. Member who has just spoken. He complained that certain counties in Ulster were penalised by the Act of 1906. I protest against that statement. What happened? There was a certain Grant of £40,000 per year, which had been set aside for many years as Grant-in-Aid to the ratepayers who bore a large proportion of the cost of those cottages. Certain counties in Ulster built no cottages, practically speaking. They took no advantage of the Acts, and this money, which had been set aside by Parliament for this purpose, was piled up by those counties in Ulster. They declined to use it for the labourers, and the money was accumulated.

When the Act of 1906 came to be introduced what was the condition of things that was found to prevail? Whereas in Minister, and in Connaught, though not to the same extent, and in Leinster, and, let me add, in certain Poor Law unions in Ulster, where the Nationalist party had a majority, as for instance, Downpatrick District Council, they did fully take advantage of those Acts to such an extent that in some divisions a shilling in the pound had been added to the rates, while in Ulster they added nothing to the rates, and actually would not take advantage of the grant voted by Parliament, but allowed it to accumulate. Then the Government, imitating a historic example, said: "Since you have made no use of the money, we shall now redistribute that money in proportion to the use made of it throughout the country." I ask the House to say could anything he more just? In some districts of Limerick they had actually added to the rates more than 1s. in the pound in providing cottages. The contention of the hon. Member is this, though I quite admit that it was against his advice, and the advice of many other Members, that the district councils declined to build any cottages, that they should be allowed to pile up this money uselessly, and that ratepayers in other places who were bearing enormous burdens ought to be subjected to those burdens.


My request is that as we show ourselves willing to fall in with the spirit of the Act of 1906 our position ought to be recognised by the Government, and that we have proved the position, and that we ought to get a greater proportion of the grants.


Allow me to observe that they did not show this willingness until the money was taken away from them. That is the whole question. They would never build any cottages, practically speaking, and the hon. Member admits it.


expressed dissent.


Or hardly any cottages in those particular portions of Ulster until the Act of 1906 woke them up by taking away this grant. I think the argument points all the other way and that this thing has had an excellent effect and has induced the Ulster counties to build cottages. The hon. Member himself admits it. He says that under the Act of 1906 they have built more cottages than ever they did before. Therefore I think the Act of 1906 in its application to those parts of Ulster has been fully vindicated, and nothing could possibly ha more just. Let me remind the hon. Member of what occurred during the Debates of 1906. I represent a county which is very nearly as large as Antrim, and a very poor county—county Mayo. We built very few cottages, and we had a considerable sum accumulated under the old grant. We did not build cottages for different reasons, because we had not labourers. We are a county of small farmers who are really labourers themselves, and, except in certain parts, the necessity does not exist.


You did not feel the loss.


Yes we did, and we wanted it more than Antrim. I can assure you I was subjected to considerable pressure to hold the money for Mayo and get it applied to some other purpose. I could not feel justified in doing so. I said that this was money set apart for building labourers' cottages, and I think it is just not to object to Mayo losing a part of it, and that those counties which have put large burdens on the rates for the purpose of carrying out the Acts should get a larger proportion. Although the Grant of 1906 hit Mayo just as hard as it hit Antrim, I supported that provision, and we in Mayo suffered that loss, although I was subjected to considerable pressure to preserve the money for Mayo, which was a poor county. I hope the Government will not listen to the plea put forward for the purpose of discriminating in the case of Antrim and other counties. I do not quarrel with the hon. Member, knowing that he and many of his colleagues have denounced the district councils for their conduct. I think they ought to rejoice that the Act of 1906 has aroused those district councils. I daresay they thought that by allowing the money to pile up they would get it for some other purpose. What was the object of leaving it? They could not use it for any other purpose, and they would not use it for the purpose for which it was granted, and so it was distributed to other parts of Ireland most justly. I press the Government to adhere to that principle of the Act of 1906. However, I do not wish to prolong the Debate. I will conclude by saying that this is a measure which every Irishman must enthusiastically support, and I rejoice that the Government have decided to give the small amount of time necessary for its passage.


I think the hon. Member for East Mayo has been a little severe in his criticism of the remarks of my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Craig). After all, my hon. Friend fully admitted, in making his appeal for more money for Antrim and Down, that the reason we had not had our fair share was to a great extent the somewhat tardy action of our district councils as compared with those of other counties. I rise not to offer any opposition to the Bill but to welcome it very heartily in so far as it provides an increased grant of £1,000,000 for the provision of cottages. The Chief Secretary referred to the appearance of the cottages£their ugliness or their beauty as the case may be. We do not wish to increase the price of the cottages, but I believe that for the same amount of money a little more might be done for their appearance. In my part of the country the cottages which have been erected are extremely ugly. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give some consideration to that point. As he knows, there is not in Ireland the class of men that you have in England who will take a personal interest in seeing that the labourers' cottages are given some respectable appearance. Therefore, I ask him to take a fatherly interest in the matter, and to behave as if he were the landlord for the whole of Ireland, so far as taking an interest in the cottages is concerned and doing what he can to improve their appearance.

The first four Clauses of the Bill deal entirely with finance, and I do not propose to make any remarks upon them. Clause 5, which deals with the demolition of the old cottages, raises certain important points which have not yet been mentioned. A part of the Clause reads: "If they are satisfied that suitable house accommodation has been obtained or is obtainable by that labourer elsewhere." The words "obtainable elsewhere" raise a rather important point. You cannot pull down a man's cottage on the ground of being able to tell him that another cottage is obtainable elsewhere. The "elsewhere" is very important. I have been to see labourers in my own Constituency who have had certain difficulties in getting cottages erected for them. In one case a man had been more or less promised a cottage very adjacent to his present dwelling, but for some reason it was not built for him, and he was shown another cottage fully two miles away which he might have if he liked. But it so happened that the class of work in which he was engaged made it impossible for him to go that long distance. These are Committee points, but I think they ought to be mentioned. The Clause refers in some detail to the procedure under which the cottages are to be demolished. First of all, it is by the owner at his own expense. I do not know how that is to be explained. The owner is in most cases the farmer, but in some cases it may be the actual occupier. It would be very hard if the authorities came down and compelled a poor man at his own expense to demolish his old home. I hope we shall hear something further as to how the expense is to be met. If the owner fails to demolish the cottage, it is to be demolished by the council, again at the owner's expense. If the council fails to demolish the cottage, it is to be demolished by an officer of the Local Government Board at the council's expense.

I hope fair consideration will be given by the Local Government Board as to what cottages are to be pulled down. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be to the advantage of Ireland generally that many of these cottages should be demolished. But I do not think that that process should be ruthlessly entered upon; it must be proceeded with cautiously. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to these houses being in some cases used for chickens or horses, and no doubt some are quite fit to be so used, if they happen to be adjacent to the newly erected cottages. At present you frequently find poultry using a room as freely as the human occupants. You will find, as I have found, in one part of the room a newly born calf getting the full benefit of the kitchen fire, and in another part of the same room a goose sitting upon her eggs. From the point of view of sanitation, and the modern system of living, it would be better that these various birds and beasts should no longer continue to live with the human occupants. of the house, and should, where the chance arises, be housed in the old cottage instead of the old cottage being pulled down. May I say a word about a Clause which the Bill does not contain, but which I think might be added with great advantage? Those of us who are familiar with the Labourers Acts know what a long procedure has to be followed before a cottage can be built. First of all, a representation, signed by three persons with certain qualifications, has to be made to the sanitary authority. Secondly, the representation is considered by the sanitary authority, who, if satisfied, makes an improvement scheme, which has to be duly advertised in the local paper. Then the council has to present a petition to the Local Government Board for confirmation. After they have approved, the Local Government Board send down an inspector, and they may or may not confirm the scheme. The next step after that is after a certain necessary time has elapsed, for the Local Government Board to confirm, if they are going to confirm, the order of the inspector whom they have sent down. This may be, and possibly is, a necessary step, but it seems to me a very long procedure, and there is what we may call a good deal of red tape about it.

I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that this means a long period of protracted anxiety for the poor man who is looking forward to getting his cottage. That brings me to what I call rather a grievance, not only under this Bill, but under previous Labourers' Acts in Ireland. What I wish to refer to is the following case. As I have said, after this very long procedure, we will say that the application is finally sanctioned for a particular cottage, the site is chosen, and the house started building. The labourer believes he is going to have this cottage. He watches it building, brick by brick, or stone by stone, and fully expects, as he has been given to understand by the rural district council, that that house is going to be for him. Then, without any adequate or good reason—I do not think anyone would call it a good reason, but it often happens—this particular cottage—for reasons which need not be followed now—is never given to the labourer, but is taken away and given to another man.

From whatever point of view it may be—it is human nature only—and human nature, and Irish human nature in particular—on any of these district councils is to be taken into consideration. It may be that the man's crime is that he has joined some Orange Lodge, or, on the other hand, that he has joined, say, the Ancient Order of Hibernians. Whatever it is I ask that some Clause should be inserted, that some steps should be taken in this Bill to make this state of things impossible. If the right hon. Gentleman would give these matters his full consideration we shall be glad and thankful, for it is one of the most important things that might be rectified under this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman will consult with the Local Government Board in Ireland I believe the Government will support this suggestion which I have brought forward, and so mitigate the hardship arising in. many cases which ought not to arise.


I wish only to intervene for a very few moments. I agree with what my hon. Friend, who has just sat down, has said that we should appeal to the artistic and esthetic sense of the Chief Secretary in this particular matter. I think that the question of cottages in Ireland is of the utmost importance, but if Ireland is carved up without any relation to the aesthetic side of the matter, or of beauty, the country will lose a good deal of its charm. I have a certain amount of this cottage property myself. I speak for myself, and I believe for a very large number of Irish proprietors of these cottages, that they are the worst property possible from a commercial point of view. We shall be called upon, and we ought to be called upon, to pull many of them down; but if we are required to pull them down it would be a great thing, I think—I do not care what sacrifice we make of the site value of these cottages—when these cottages are pulled down that fresh cottages should be built on the same site; that cottages should not be dotted all over creation and so spoil the beauty of Ireland. I appeal particularly to the artistic sense of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh !"] I am certain I am saying nothing that is in the smallest degree offensive to my Irish Friends below the Gangway.

Ireland is an attractive country. So long as you have got a site to build upon, so long as you have got a cheap site in the village, build upon it. Put a pretty cottage upon it, instead of dotting cottages all over creation. The beauty of Ireland is one of her assets. It attracts an enormous amount of capital to Ireland each year. My suggestion is that it is quite possible without divesting Ireland in the smallest degree of her beauty to put these cottages where cottages have already existed. This question of housing is of the greatest importance. I find all over the world, and I am sure that hon. Gentlemen behind me will agree, that the Irish emigrant is rather inclined to say: "Well, I will not go back as often as I would like to Ireland because of the discomfort of the old house at home." Look at the position for a moment of the Italian who goes to North or South America in the spring. These Italians earn high wages, and they come back with their pockets full of wages in the autumn to vivify the life of their native villages. The Irish emigrant does not do that. If only the cottages in Ireland were better, if only the building grant was more substantial than the amount the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has suggested, I believe that there would be a great return of immigrants to Ireland each year. One of the most interesting economic factors today in the case of Italy is the enormous return of the emigrants in the autumn. The Italian emigrant knows, just as the Irish emigrant would know, if he had comfortable quarters to come back to.

Considering the extraordinary severity of the winter in the United States and the cost of living which is prohibitive to the lower classes, the Italian knows that by going back to Italy he can make a better use of the money that he has acquired during the summer. The Irish work not for as low wages as the Italian, but they do work for low wages, and if it were possible to bring them back in the autumn and start them again in the spring, and money could be spent in Ireland during the winter months, it would be a good thing. [Laughter.] I am rather surprised at the laughter of Irish Members below the Gangway. It seems to be carrying party politics a little far. For I venture to think, if the Irish emigrants could do as the Italian, it would vivify the life of Ireland as it does the life of Italy. I should like to hear the views on economics of the hon. Gentlemen on the benches below at the present condition of things in Ireland. I say the Irish emigrant is a very great loss to Ireland, and I say that we should like to achieve conditions of emigration which would link-on the Irish emigrant, and nothing will so link-on the Irish emigrant as a home conditions which would induce him to come back to a comfortable cottage. For that reason I regard the housing problem in Ireland as one of great importance, and I have great pleasure therefore in supporting this Bill.


It was only from the concluding words of the hon. Gentleman's speech that I gathered what he intended to do and that he was speaking in favour of this Bill. He made a number of interesting observations in reference to the conditions of Italians in America and so forth, but they were absolutely all irrelevant to the Bill under consideration. The first part of his speech was occupied, as I thought, with some objection to the system of building labourers' cottages in Ireland. He seemed to think that the dotting of cottages "all over creation," as he said, was against the interests of Ireland, and it was interfering with the aesthetic beauty of Ireland which, he said, was one of our greatest assets. I respectfully give this piece of advice to the hon. Gentleman, that in any further speeches he makes upon the Irish question he ought not to arrogate to himself the right to lecture those who have laboured for thirty years in the cause of Ireland.

So far as the aesthetic view of Ireland is concerned, I know no more beautiful view to be seen in an Irish landscape to- day than that from which the old mud hovel has disappeared and its place taken by decent sanitary dwellings. The Chief Secretary spoke of some of these cottages as being ugly. There have been many thousands of them built in my own native county of Wexford, and these cottages, built by the thousand, where perhaps the design is not as beautiful as the Chief Secretary might desire, have since been covered with creeper and the porches have been lined with climbing roses, and each cottage has its garden of flowers, and order and cleanliness and evident happiness prevails, and I say where these things exist greater beauty cannot be seen in any Irish landscape. It is monstrous presumption for any hon. Gentleman who has come into Irish politics in the last, few days to come down here and lecture us because we desire to interfere, as he says, with the esthetic beauty of Ireland by studding the whole country over with these houses. I hope the country will continue to be studded by them, and I say any man who comes into this house and sneers at the creation of these labourers' cottages in Ireland is guilty of a bad act to the Irish people.


Who sneered?


That is a question of opinion. To my mind you sneered.


It is a question of fact. I did not sneer.


My opinion is that you did sneer. What did the hon. Gentleman mean by saying we were studding the whole of creation with these cottages and interfering with the æsthetic beauty of Ireland? I have really nothing more to say. I did not intend to interfere at all, but I really confess that my patience was exhausted by the speech of the hon. Gentleman.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.


I beg to move, "That this House do now Adjourn."


On that Motion, I desire to ask the hon. Gentleman when the Government hope to take the House-Letting and Rating (Scotland) Bill? We are anxious that that Bill should be brought before the House, and that some progress should be made with it. It is a Bill which is demanded by the whole of the working classes of Scotland, and we should be very glad if it was proceeded with at an early date.


I shall report what my hon. Friend has said to the Prime Minister, and I think we may take it that the Bill will be set down for Second Reading at an early date.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Ten minutes before Ten o'clock.