HL Deb 22 July 1881 vol 263 cc1604-8

, in rising to present a Bill to provide sanitary supervision and sufficient accommodation in the dwellings of the cottiers and cottier tenants of Ireland and of the cottars, crofters, or sub-tenants of the Islands and Highlands of Scotland, together with an adequate amount of ground cultivable as allotment or croft, said, he had to request a larger amount of indulgence at their Lordships' hands than was usually given to a noble Lord moving the first reading of a Bill, in order that he might explain the reason which had induced him to bring in a measure on the subject. The subject itself was one of the highest importance, and his Bill was a development of legislation of which their Lordships would probably receive the results in the course of a week or 10 days. He did not wish, however, to suggest alterations in the legislation which had originated in "an other place" until the Bill was fairly before their Lordships' House for discussion. What he proposed by the present measure was to direct attention the sanitary condition of the dwellings of of the cottier tenants and cottiers of Ireland, and of an analogous class in the Islands and Highlands of Scotland. He would in due course state the reasons which had induced him to combine both classes in one effort at legislation; but at present he would confine his remarks to the Irish cottiers. It was a matter of surprise to him that when the great effort was made to adjust the relations of the agricultural classes in Ireland no mention was made of the rights and position of the labouring classes except by one Member of the House of Commons—Mr. Philip Callan, the Member for Louth. The matter was brought under the notice of Her Majesty's Government, and their opinion was that, the Land Law Bill being of so much importance, it should not be overweighted by the introduction of any extraneous matter, as the question of the Irish labourers was at the time considered to be. But as time went on, it appeared that the labouring classes and their rights in Ireland had received a larger attention at the hands of the Government, which had resulted in special clauses being introduced on the subject of the accomodation of the agricultural labourers. This, however, was only a portion of the question. It was, doubtless, of the first importance, and the labourers had a right to expect, no less than the tenant farmers, that their dwellings and means of carrying on their industrial occupation should be satisfactory, and that they should have homes suitable to the high civilization of the present day. But there was another consideration, and that was to what the labourers were placed by the circumstances under which their houses and accomodation were arranged. The means of health, life, and existence should be afforded so far as legislation could insure them, not only for the comfort and happiness of the poor and most helpless, but also as a matter of security and protection for the general benefit of the community at large. What he meant was this—that if a class were so unfortunately situated that means of decent existence were not extended to them, it was clear that they would gradually form a class amongst whom would be found the seeds of disease, and such had been the condition of the labouring classes in Ireland in respect of their dwellings. The result had been that in Ireland a fever of an endemic character had become general. Some attempts had already been made with a faltering hand to meet the difficulties in Ireland. In Ireland there was but one specific Act on the subject, extending to all the labouring classes, and that was the 19 & 20 Vict. c. 65, which provided the means of recovering the rents of tenements which had certain sanitary advantages. That was an acknowledgment of evils; but it came at a stage later than it ought to have done. There should have been an initial process, by which it would have been possible to compel sanitary arrangements being made. There was a remarkable difference between England, Scotland, and Ireland in respect to this matter. The Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act applied to England, and in every English Union frequent visits were paid to the cottages by the officer of the local sanitary board. In Ireland the powers of the corresponding Act which were given extended originally only to towns having Town Commisioners, such as Dublin, and in Scotland only to Edinburgh and a few other burghs. His object was to carry that power still further, and apply it to rural as to urban authorities. They wanted prompt and determined action on the part of the local sanitary authorities to carry the Act into effect by the aid of an independent officer. In Ireland he thought that was especially necessary. Since he had the honour of addressing their Lordships some weeks since, he had made it his duty to ascertain the position of the cottiers in that part of Ireland with which he was connected, and the result had been to show him that all who had a desire to see the condition of the peasantry improved were agreed as to the necessity for some such legislation as that which he proposed. Therefore it was that he brought forward this Bill. The reason why he had included the Islands and Highlands of Scotland in the operation of the Bill was that in the year of the Great Famine of 1846, which was so devastating to Ireland, there was also a considerable amount of distress in Scotland. Finding that to be the case, he conceived that as this was a general Bill he thought it was better to deal with the sanitary condition of the cottiers and cottier tenants of Ireland and Scotland in one measure. The Scotch cottier or crofter, so long as he paid his rent, did not expect to be removed, and there was in a sense something like the Ulster system of fixity of tenure; but there was a system among them known as club farming, where a holding was divided among a certain number of proprietors. They each contributed towards the cultivation of the farm, and it was not for want of endeavour on the part of the occupiers of these districts that they failed. The sources from which he had derived his information induced him to believe that the state of the same class of people in Scotland was very much like that which prevailed in Ireland. A great deal of money had been expended in Scotland on the improvement of the crofters. As much as £810,000 had been expended at Stornoway; but it had not produced those good results which had been anticipated, nor had it improved the morals of the people. It was stated that a piece of ground of from four to six acres of arable land on which £6,000 had been expended, and it was able to maintain the cottier for only six months. He knew a district of a mile and a-half long and half-a-mile wide, where the health of the people suffered for want of sanitary arrangements. A house in that district stood on a rocky knoll; but for the want of sanitary care the house had become a den of fever. He had known cases where fever, to use a scriptural expression, had burned into the walls of the people. Now, he would like to direct their attention to similar dwellings in the Highlands of Scotland, where, although the air was clear and bracing, and there was an absence of that melancholy main of which they heard so much in connection with Ireland, there was also a low state of health which nothing but the absence of sanitary regulations could account for. His Bill was simply intended to secure inspection of the dwellings of the cottier class, and to insure that it would be per- manent and perpetual. He could not say how much he was indebted to their Lordships for the hearing they had given him; and he would not further delay them by dwelling on other parts of his proposal, which, when the Bill came on for second reading, he would be prepared to explain.

Bill to provide sanitary supervision and sufficient accommodation in the dwellings of the cottiers and cottier tenants of Ireland and of the cottars, crofters, or sub-tenants of the Islands and Highlands of Scotland, together with an adequate amount of ground cultivable as allotment or croft—Presented (The Lord WAVENEY); read 1a; to be printed. (No. 174.)