HL Deb 28 July 1881 vol 264 cc2-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, that after the statement he had made on the introduction of the Bill he need say but little; but there were misunderstandings which he desired to clear up as to the object of the measure. His main object was, if possible, to bring the agricultural classes into accord with the habits and civilization of the period, for it appeared to him that in certain important particulars those classes had not as yet attained that level. Something had been done in that direction by the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act, and subsequently by the Public Health (Ireland) Act; but the principle of action in past legislation was wanting in promp- titude and efficiency. He had no desire to interfere in any way with the forward march of the Bill which now engaged the attention of the other House, and which, in a few days, might be expected to reach their Lordships' hands. There was some disappointment that that proposal, as originally brought forward, made no mention of the labourers of Ireland; but the claims of that class had, he was happy to say, since been recognized, though only to the extent of such provision as might benefit the agricultural labourers through the operation of fiscal laws and regulations. He could not help seeing that much might be done for the advantage of dwellers in cottages by reasonable supervision of a more direct and prompt character than that which at present existed. It had been suggested that his proposal would, if carried, involve an expense which no landlord could be expected to bear; but that was not part of his intention, and he did not admit that it would be the consequence of the measure. In parts of Ireland the agricultural classes had enjoyed comfortable accommodation; but even in those cases there was a deplorable ignorance of sanitary conditions. The Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act, which extended universally to the rural districts of England and to certain urban and rural districts in Ireland, provided, in some degree, a remedy for that state of things; but no equivalent provision had been made for Scotland, and where the Act did apply the remedies were always slow, and, in some cases, impossible of application. He had made it his business to inform himself on the spot as to the views of the local Boards of Health or Sanitary Boards, which would have the administration of the provisions of the Bill; and he found that their opinion was, that a power should be called into action which would represent the decisions of the Sanitary Board. He, therefore, provided in his Bill that the dwellings of persons paying rent for occupation in Ireland, and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, should be submitted to periodical inspection by an officer to be appointed by the Poor Law Commissioners in Ireland, and the Board of Supervision in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Under Section 150 of the Public Health Act the duties of the Board of Guardians, in regard to the spread of epidemic only, became active and pressing after the rules and regulations of the Local Government Board had been received. He proposed that the power for the cleansing of unhealthy dwellings and the carrying out of proper sanitary arrangements should be exercised through a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, but subject to an appeal to the Courts of Session. As a desire was manifesting itself in an extraordinary way for assimilating Irish and English law, a hint, perhaps, might be taken from the working of the Local Sanitary Board of England. In the district in which he lived cottages were condemned without reservation, and remained uninhabited, as there was no power to compel rebuilding; but, as a matter of public policy, it was not desirable that in Ireland the house accommodation should be diminished. The multiplicity of families and the overcrowding of the accommodation in the Irish cottages were constant sources of complaint, and additional accommodation was not provided, because the occupiers were unable to pay such a rent as would remunerate the landlord for the outlay. He would suggest that a better rent would be obtainable if garden allotments were attached to the dwellings. In some cases he gave to Boards of Guardians power to spend money in the rebuilding of cottages; and though he admitted it was not consistent with public policy to give to those bodies the initiatory power of expenditure, still he thought there were cases in which the strict rule might be overstepped. The Poor Law system, which was originally adopted for the purpose of ascertaining the extent of poverty in the land, the requisite sum necessary to relieve it, and the most efficient modes by which that relief might be applied, had become a machine of a larger character, performing a great variety of functions, and therefore it was that he did not hesitate to impose upon it additional duties provided for by this Bill. With regard to Scotland he could not fail to remember what he had seen and read of the sad poverty, notwithstanding the exertions of the proprietors, which prevailed in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, resulting from the small croft system. He hoped their Lordships would reject the idea that this was class legislation, and allow the Bill to be read a second time; because he believed, considering the great attention now being paid to the agricultural community, that it would confer a great been upon them.

Moved "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Waveney.)


said, that but for the gravity and solemnity of the noble Lord he should have thought that this proposal was intended as a practical joke. He listened very attentively to the noble Lord's speech the other day in introducing the Bill; but he could not for the life of him make head or tail of anything the noble Lord said as indicating what the measure was to be. The noble Lord said something about the cottiers of the Highlands of Scotland, whose condition, the noble Lord said, was analogous to the cottagers of the very poorest parts of Ireland; but he really had not the slightest conception of what the noble Lord intended to do. In the first place, he must say that the attempt to combine the provisions for Ireland and Scotland was in itself ridiculous. In point of fact, the circumstances of the two countries were quite different. He gathered from the observations which the noble Lord had made that he had obtained his information on this subject entirely from some observations of Sir John McNeil, which were 25 years old, and from the report of a newspaper commissioner sent out to make inquiries on the subject. The object of this measure professed to be to prevent epidemic diseases by compelling proper sanitary arrangements to be provided in cottages; but he did not believe that, except in times of famine, epidemics were prevalent amongst the cottier population. It was well known that the cottiers of Ireland were a most healthy class of people. In the Bill there was provision for large powers being given to the sanitary authorities of Unions and parishes. That, however, must refer to Ireland alone, as it was absolutely absurd to have such a provision for Scotland, as there were no unions or parishes, except for the purpose of building poorhouses, and it was absolutely absurd to put that in the Bill. He asked their Lordships to look at the powers which the Bill proposed to give to sanitary authorities. They were to have the power to compel the carrying out of proper sanitary arrangements in any cottage or number of cottages which they might consider to be unfit for human habitation; and what were the sanitary authorities to be authorized to do? They were not authorized to compel the person who lived in the cottage to keep it clean, but were authorized to go to the proprietor and compel him to remedy the barbarous mode of living of the people.


The immediate lessor.


said, it was the same thing. There was no power to go to the tenant and force him to clean his own house. The noble Lord said he wanted to bring the cottiers of the Highlands of Scotland and of Ireland into accord with the civilization of the day; but if the noble Lord confined the operation of the Bill to Kerry and Con-naught, he thought the noble Lord would find that he had a very severe task to achieve. Anyone who had seen estates in the West of Ireland knew very well that disease there arose from the almost bestial habits of the people. There was frequently a dung-heap just outside the door, and the pigs often lived inside the house, and yet the Bill did not propose to compel the occupier to keep his house clean. All the Bill said was that the sanitary authorities should go to the landlord and tell him to do it. He did not think that that was a proper way of curing the habits of a large population. Then it was proposed by the Bill to give the sanitary authorities the power of ordering the rebuilding of cottages of an equivalent character in cases where there were not proper sanitary arrangements—that was to say, that a landlord should be bound to rebuild every cottage upon his estate. He had gone into a calculation of what the expense of this would be, and he had a case before him of an individual proprietor, the particulars of whose estate would be brought before Her Majesty's Commissioners. On that estate there were not less than something like 4,000 of these poor cottier tenantry, all of them under £8 valuation, and most of them under £4. Now, under this Bill, the sanitary authorities would have the power to call upon the landlord to rebuild every one of those cottages. What would that cost? Professor Baldwin had said that cottages with every decency of life could be built for £13 or £14 each. He could only say that he wished Professor Baldwin would come to Scotland and teach the landlords there how to build cottages at that price. But, assuming that cottages in Ireland containing everything that, according to the Irish idea, was requisite for the decencies of life, could be built for £14 each, the owner of the estate he had mentioned might be called upon to expend £56,000 upon his estate, and that, too, at a moment when the landlords were about to be deprived of the power of managing their property, and the tenants were to have the right of selling the cottages that had been built for them. This was the proposition of a noble Peer, and made to their Lordships with a grave face. He did not himself believe that cottages could be built for £14 each. He had asked some Irish authorities their opinion on the subject, and he was informed that the lowest would be between £50 and £60 each. If the landlord refused to build, the local authority might do so out of the poor rate, and any profit arising might go to the relief of the poor. He thought he had said enough to their Lordships to show this was the most impracticable scheme ever presented to any Parliament, and presented at the moment when they were about to consider, and very likely to nearly abolish, all powers of the landlord. The noble Lord could not expect to pass the measure this Session; but, as a matter of form, he would move that it be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the motion ("this day three months.")—(The Duke of Argyll.)


said, he rather took exception to the Bill of the noble Lord on the ground that it did not go far enough. The noble Lord was a timid reformer. By one portion of the measure it was proposed that large powers should be vested in the local authorities to charge the poor rate for the improvement of dwellings wherever defects were found to exist in their sanitary arrangements. He ventured to point out that not far from where they were sitting, in great streets and squares, there could be found many houses defective in sanitary arrangements; and he dared say in Belgrave and Eaton Squares, and many other fashionable parts of London, there would be found houses so defective. He hoped the noble Lord would not confine the Bill to the poor, but would give the rich the benefit of it, and force the Duke of Westminster to rebuild any of his houses found defective in sanitary arrangements.


said, he should oppose the Bill. With regard to Scotland, it proposed to set in motion sanitary inspectors, who in England were often the greatest nuisances. Those officials would be sure to object to the box beds with sliding doors in use in some parts of the Highlands, on the ground that they were stuffy. The size and strength of the Highland population showed that they did not require the interference of nuisance inspectors. As to Ireland, he knew a case of an Irish landlord who wished to improve the cottages on his estate, and built them of two stories. They had, however, not been working long when the clerk of the works ran away because his life was threatened, and the architect was not sorry when he also was able to get away from the place.


said, this question of the condition of labourers' cottages in Ireland was, in the opinion of the Government, a very serious matter indeed. While heartily sympathizing with the objects of the noble Lord, he agreed with others who had spoken that the Bill was a most startling one, inasmuch as its results apparently would be to make it the duty of Boards of Guardians in Ireland to rebuild all the cabins of that country. If any legislation on. this subject was to be undertaken it would require a great deal of consideration and careful handling of details, such as it would be impossible for the Government or the House to give to it in the present Session. He trusted, therefore, that the Motion for the second reading of the Bill would not be pressed.


said, that although the criticisms the Bill had received had been very severe, he did not admit that they were difficult to answer; but, on the contrary, believed facts would show many of the objections would be wholly without foundation. He might say that he had no intention of bringing forward again the proposals contained in this Bill as an index to the Land Bill now before the House of Commons. The subject had been discussed; and as he did not wish to be the means of giving rise to an impres- sion that there was a difference of opinion among their Lordships in regard to the desirability of legislation for the improvement of dwellings of agricultural labourers in Ireland and Scotland, he begged to withdraw the Motion for the second reading.

Amendment and original motion and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.