THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
, in rising to move—That in the opinion of this House it is desirable to legislate on behalf of agricultural labourers in Ireland so soon as the condition of the country permits such legislation,said, he had no desire to press upon Her Majesty's Government to re-open the Irish Land Question at that present moment; but he could not help feeling that the condition of the agricultural labourers in that country demanded the most careful and earnest attention on the part of the Government. They formed a large body of men, whoso interests ought to have been consulted in any legislation affecting the classes concerned in agriculture, but who had been, practically speaking, entirely neglected. Not only had they reaped no benefit from the Land Act of 1881; but, if anything, they found that their position had changed for the worse since the passage of the Act. They had, in that respect, a grievance that would call for the immediate attention of the Government under ordinary circumstances; but the circumstances of Ireland, he was sorry to say, were not ordinary; they were extraordinary and full of peril, and it was of paramount importance that the country should be allowed an opportunity to settle down into a more natural and healthy condition. Rest and quietness, he believed, were what was wanted at present above all other things. At the same time, he hoped to receive from the Government either a distinct proof that his views were erroneous; that the condition of Irish labourers was not at all what he believed it to be, and that they required no legislative assistance; or an assurance that the Government wore carefull 168 considering the complaints of the labourers, and would endeavour to remedy their grievances whenever, and as soon as, the circumstances of the country would permit. The Land Act of 1881 was an Act affecting landlords and tenants, as far as all its principal provisions were concerned; and it might be urged that labourers had no right to be dissatisfied, because they were practically excluded from it. But when they interfered with such a matter as the tenure of land, it was impossible to confine the effects of interference to individuals or classes. More especially was that the case in Ireland, where there was no real distinction between agricultural labourers and the majority of the tenant farmers. The Report of the Bessborough Commission said—The Irish agricultural labourer and the Irish farmer are not two classes, but one. The labourer is a farmer without a farm.He (the Earl of Dunraven) believed that to be a very true description. The small farmer and the labourer were the same in race, creed, and class; they were animated by the same sentiments, ambitions, and prejudices; and they wore similar in intelligence and education. They were unlike only, in so far as the labourer was infinitely the worse off of the two, and that difference had been accentuated by the operation of the Laud Act of 1881. Compare the position of the farmer holding a few acres with that of the landless labourer—landless as far as the law was concerned, but, in reality, the tenant of a tenant. The farmer now enjoyed fixity of tenure of his little holding, and held his land at a rent which might be fair or unfair, but which was, at any rate, loss than the rent ho had been accustomed to pay, a great deal loss than what a competition rent would come to, and infinitely less than the rent ho probably exacted for the small portion of his holding held of him by the labourer as an allotment. An occupier could not be disturbed so long as he paid his rent; and, even if he failed in that respect, he could not be turned out under six months' notice, and he had another six months during which he could redeem his holding. In the meantime, ho could assign it to whosoever he pleased; and if ho had to leave, he might get the best price he could for his goodwill and what he railed his improvements. The labourer, on the other hand, could be put out of his 169 cabin and potato plot at any Petty Sessions Court on four days' notice, without cause being shown, and without the possibility of redress. The farmer could have a fair rent fixed for him, if he was dissatisfied; but he might charge what he pleased for the labourer's acre or half-acre, and too often he did charge a most exorbitant rent. The Irish labourer had always been very poorly paid, fed, clothed, and housed. In 1870, a Report was made to the Local Government Board in Dublin, by the Poor Law Inspectors, on the condition of agricultural labourers. The Report embraced various counties in every Province of Ireland; and the opinions of the Inspectors, as expressed in it, were almost identical in all cases. They said that wages had doubled since 1849; but, according to the Report, the average daily wages of an able-bodied man was still only 1s. 3d. to 1s. 6d. a-day; and, although wages had increased, it was doubtful whether labourers were much better off than they were 34 years ago, owing to the increased cost of living. Besides, the average rate of wages calculated over the entire year could not be taken as a fair test, because wages ran as high as 4s. a-day during harvest time and in the spring; and, in some cases, labourers were precluded from reaping the benefit of these comparatively high rates of wages, owing to the fact that they held their cottages and allotments on consideration of their giving 60 days' labour during the year for nothing, at any time the farmer might select. The Inspectors further reported that the young men were anxious to emigrate, and that discontent was universal. Since that Report was presented, remedial measures had been passed for Ireland; but the discontent of the labouring class had not diminished. Why should it, when legislation had overlooked them? In fact, it would have been strange if it had, for their condition had never been satisfactory. They were always badly off enough; but it seemed to him (the Earl of Dunraven) that they had been worse off than ever since the Bill of 1881 became law. They were worse off in three respects. In the first place, because landlords did not, and could not, employ as much labour as they formerly did. That might be a comparatively small matter; but still it had an appreciable effect. Secondly, because landlords could no longer afford them any pro- 170 tection whatever against harsh treatment on the part of tenant farmers. Thirdly, because the natural hardships of their lives had been embittered and largely intensified by a keen sense of injustice. They had as much to do, they said, with obtaining the Land Act as anybody else, and it was hard that they should be practically excluded from any share of the benefits to be derived from its operation. He did not wish to commit himself to the opinion that the authors and supporters of an agitation should in any way be rewarded; but, as a matter of fact, some of them had been, while others had not. It must not be forgotten that a Cabinet Minister, speaking in public some time ago, declared that the agitation was good, because the Land Act could not have been obtained without it. But the Land Act had concerned itself solely with the welfare of one class that helped by agitation to obtain it. Was it strange then, or to be wondered at, that under these circumstances, and in view of what was publicly stated by a Member of the Cabinet, another class, that had an equal share in obtaining the Act, should feel aggrieved because it was given no share in the results? Labourers remembered very well the arguments that were so eloquently urged during the discussions on the Land Bill about the injustice of allowing a tenant's improvements—his reclamation of waste land, for instance—to be confiscated through a rise of rent: and they knew very well that the men whose hands wrought a large proportion of those improvements had not gained so much as the value of a blade of grass in them. He was not going to enter into the question as to whether it was wise or unwise to allow a landowner to let land at a low rent, on consideration that a certain quantity was to be reclaimed, and that he was to be paid by an increased rent in the future. That question was settled on the general principle that the tenant was to reap the full benefit of his improvements. That rule might be just; but, if so, why did it not apply to those who had actually made the improvements? A good deal of waste land was brought under cultivation by the manual labour of the tenant; but a good deal also was reclaimed by the hands of the labourer. It was not an uncommon thing for tenants who had mountain land attached to their holdings, for which they paid a 171 nominal rent, to let an acre, or perhaps two or three acres, to a labourer for three years free of rent, on the stipulation that he reclaimed the land. The labourer did all the work; he carried the limestone up the hillside, broke and burnt it; he cleared and grubbed up the ground, dug it, rendered it fertile, and he took one crop of potatoes off it, and handed it over to the tenant, to whom Parliament had given the right to enjoy the fruits of another man's labour for ever. Did they suppose the labourer saw no injustice in that law? He was at the mercy of his employer. He reclaimed his land for him, and was paid by a crop of potatoes! Were terms like those ever exacted of tenants by their landlords? And yet it was considered necessary to interfere between them. As he (the Earl of Dunraven) had before remarked, the labourer was frequently compelled to give 60 days' labour without wages, at the time of year when labour was most valuable, as payment of what was often an exorbitant rent, and was not allowed to compound by a money payment. Were tenants ever so evilly treated by landlords? Yet they had legislated for them. He was liable to be turned out of his house, and off his plot of ground on a few days' notice, and he had no redress. Tenants were never in such an insecure position, and yet it was thought necessary to give them greater security. If these were hardships before the Land Act of 1881, they were doubly hard now, seeing that landlords could do nothing to protect the labourers; and the inequality between their condition and that of the small farmers was immeasurably greater than it was. That Act had done much for the farmer and nothing for the labourer. It was true, he was aware, that in the Act passed last Session to amend and extend the Land Act, there was supposed to be provision made for the building of suitable labourers' cottages, and the allotment of plots of ground not exceeding half-an-acre in extent. The Land Commissioners might also, in cases where a fair rent had been fixed between landlord and tenant, order the tenant to improve existing cottages or build new ones, and they might order him to assign to any such cottage or cottages an allotment not exceeding half-an-acre in extent, and the Commissioners might fix the rent; but, practically speaking, those provisions had been of no effect whatever. Some 172 orders might have been made under that rule; but it was not sufficient to merely make an order. He should like to know how many orders had been carried out? In theory, the provision sounded very fair; but in practice, and taken in connection with the regulations under which money was advanced by the Board of Works for building cottages, it was a dead letter. It afforded no protection to the labourer. In the first place, there was some considerable expense involved in attending the Courts and obtaining an order—an expense the labourer could not afford. Moreover, the Courts were not constantly sitting, the labourer's time was not at his own disposal, and there were many other difficulties in the way. Those were minor considerations. The one real and fatal obstacle was that the unfortunate labourer was a mere weekly tenant, and he dared not make use of the provisions of the Act to move the Courts to interfere in his behalf; or, if an order was made, he dared not take the necessary steps to compel the tenant to carry it out. What use was it for him to appeal to the Court to make an order, directing the farmer to give him an allotment at a fair rent, when, if he opened his mouth, lie could be turned out of the cottage and off the allotment on four days' notice at the nearest Petty Sessions Court? The amendment to the Land Act did not mend the matter one atom; it was almost an insult to the men it was intended to benefit. It should be borne in mind that he (the Earl of Dunraven) was not speaking of a small number of men, and, even if he were, their case should be attended to, for justice ought not to stop to count heads; but the matter he had called the attention of the House to affected a large body of men. He had seen the number of agricultural labourers in Ireland estimated as high as 600,000 and as low as 400,000. He believed the lower estimate to be the more correct; and he thought that deductions must be made even from that estimate, to account for the sons of farmers who laboured on their fathers' farms, and who were included among labourers. But, in any case, the numbers were very large; and when they considered that many of these labourers were married, and generally were in a position not to feel the least ashamed to speak with their enemies in the gate, he did not 173 think he should be overstating the case in assuming that not far short of 1,000,000 of human beings were deeply interested in the question. They could not do much to help themselves, because they had no votes; therefore, they could not force the attention of a Party by influencing the results of elections. All they could do, then, was to rely upon the wisdom and justice of Parliament and upon the kindness and forbearance of the tenant farmers, who were their absolute masters, or resort to violence. He need hardly say he sincerely hoped the latter alternative would not be resorted to. It was, of course, to the true advantage of farmers to treat their labourers with kindness and consideration; and, no doubt, many would do so on that account, and on account of a natural and proper love of fair play and just dealing. But facts were stubborn things; and there was, unhappily, no difficulty in finding facts to prove that, in many instances, farmers exacted the uttermost farthing, and took every advantage afforded by the strength and security of their position and by the weakness and insecurity of the position of the labourer. Such was the state of the case in the present; but they must look to the future also. As time went on, and the effect of the unlimited, unmitigated competition for land allowed and encouraged by the Land Act of 1881 made itself felt, the tenant's margin of profit would become less and less, and he would be driven to bear harder and harder upon the class below him. He dared say he should be told that he took a morbid view of the situation; but he must submit to be considered morbid, if the only alternative was to borrow the rosy-tinted glasses which the Government used when they directed their gaze across St. George's Channel. The Government might possibly rely upon a hope that labourers would be benefited by the increased prosperity of farmers; but even supposing that the Land Act did eventually and permanently increase the prosperity of tenants—which he denied—he did not see any solid ground for such hopes. The Report of the Bess-borough Commission concluded with a hope that—The tranquillity which will follow upon a well-considered measure of land tenure reform will be a blessing alike to all classes, and especially the poorest.174 There was not the faintest sign to show that the Land Act had proved a blessing to the poorest—that was, to the labourers; on the contrary, there was not wanting evidence, as he had endeavoured to prove, that it had done them more harm than good. Perhaps it was too much to 'expect that such a measure as the Land Act could produce results anticipated from "a well-considered measure of reform." Those who expected to gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles were apt to be disappointed. If anything could be done to improve the condition of agricultural labourers in Ireland it should be done from motives of both justice and prudence. The same Report to which he had already alluded twice said—The subject (that is, the condition of the labourers) appears to demand speedy consideration for the sake of the country as well as for the labourers themselves.As yet no consideration had been given to this matter, or, at any rate, no satisfactory results had ensued. He had no desire to deprive the tenant farmers of anything they had obtained, for he did not, in the slightest degree, grudge them the rights and privileges the law had given them. All he wanted was to see the law sufficiently extended, if it were possible, so that some slight measure of protection might be afforded to the labourers. The question what ought to be done was a very difficult one for him, at any rate, to answer. It was a complicated problem; for as the agricultural question, as far as landlord and tenant were concerned, became, in the main, a matter of rent, so, also, it became principally a question of wages as far as the tenant and labourer were concerned. As long as the employer commanded the market, it was difficult to secure to the labourer the enjoyment of benefits intended for him. The State, however, had thought it fit to interfere in one case, and fix rents, thereby introducing a dangerous precedent, to his way of thinking; and they must not be surprised if some day they were called upon to fix the wages also, for when once the State interfered to determine questions of value, which had hitherto been settled privately and freely by individuals, it was difficult to find a point at which it could logically hold its hand, and refuse to interfere. He should not enter upon the subject of 175 the reclamation of waste land or any kindred topics; but if any such scheme was taken in hand by the State, the claims of the labourers should not be forgotten. Neither would he embark upon the sea of controversy, as to the relative advantages of Union rating, or rating by electoral division, or as to whether the present property qualification for Poor Law Guardians was advisable. Some good might possibly be done by reconsidering these matters; but they; were too important to be incidentally discussed. Three things, at any rate, he thought, ought to be done; indeed, they ought to have been attended to! during the passage of the Land Bill of 1881 through Parliament. He thought that in cases whore a rent had been fixed for a farm employing a labourer or labourers, a half-acre or acre allotment should be given to each labourer or family at the same rent that the tenant paid. The tenant should have no right to ask a farthing more. He should have no power to recover a farthing more. Some steps should also be taken to provide better house accommodation; and when a tenant turned a labourer out the labourer should have a right to compel him to show cause. It would, of course, be wrong and absurd for a labourer to continue to occupy a cottage and allotment, if he failed to give reasonable satisfaction to his employer, or ceased to work upon the farm. That was not his (the Earl of; Dunraven's) intention; it would defeat the objects he had in view. But the labourer should have some protection against the caprice of his employer, and against being ejected for refusing to give his labour for nothing, or having to pay rent a great deal higher than that which had been adjudged to be exorbitant as between landlord and tenant. He thought good could be done in that way. Beyond that he (the Earl of Dunraven) did not feel he was called upon to make suggestions. It was not his duty to do so. The responsibility lay with the Government; it was for them to devise a remedy. They had interfered between the different classes engaged in agriculture in Ireland—a most dangerous undertaking. They had legislated in deference to clamour, and with a view to satisfy one set of men. In doing so, they had, he believed, rendered dissatisfied another set of men, inferior to the first, in so far as they 176 were powerless to affect a majority in the other House of Parliament, but equal in intelligence and numerically strong. The responsibility of finding a remedy for that dissatisfaction, therefore, devolved upon the Government. He should have thought that an inquiry into this matter would have been useful; but be saw no object in suggesting one, as the Prime Minister said, last Session, that the Government had all information, and that the researches of a Royal Commission could produce no good results. He hoped that, as the Government had all information at their disposal, they would neither fail to give it proper attention, nor neglect to make good use of it. There was no agitation at present in Ireland on this question; and it would be well, for once, to anticipate agitation. Ho could not but fear that there was a danger that, in the future, a serious conflict of interests might arise, based on something more solid than the political aspirations and feelings that brought about the late agitation. He trusted Her Majesty's Government might be able to see the condition of Ireland as it was, and not as they wished it to be; and he most earnestly hoped that the danger he dreaded might be averted by careful consideration and wise and timely action on their part, as soon as ever the circumstances of Ireland permitted. It was in that hope he now moved the Resolution of which he had given Notice.Moved to resolve, "That in the opinion of this House it is desirable to legislate on behalf of agricultural labourers in Ireland as soon as the condition of the country permits such legislation."—( The Earl of Dunraven.)
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
said, that the subject might be more advantageously considered if their Lordships had before them reliable statistics of the number of these agricultural labourers. The noble Earl had stated that there were 400,000 labourers in Ireland, with something like 1,000,000 persons dependent upon them; but the noble Earl had given no authority for that statement, and in the West of Ireland, except in the small towns, the small landholders and their sons were the labourers. Again, the noble Earl had seemed to argue that, because freedom of contract had been done away with between the landlord and tenant, the same principle should be carried out 177 between the farmer and the labourer. He agreed with the noble Earl that that part of the Land Act which touched the labourers had as yet fallen a dead letter; but he did not think it would be desirable for some years to come to make any change in the Land Act, for the disturbances which had been going on in Ireland must go on until the tenants saw some settled line would be adhered to. If Her Majesty's Government were obliged to carry out this principle of compensation on the same lines as in the case of the tenants, they would have a very heavy business on hand, because the next few years would show a vast number of landlords in an absolute state of ruin. As it was, all the poorer landlords were in a pitiable state; but as to what number would be ruined it was impossible to tell. The case of the smaller tenants in Ireland was always exaggerated, for this reason—that the very small tenants evidently did not attempt to live on their small holdings, but were migratory labourers. He had seen a calculation made in a speech in "another place" that £400,000 was earned annually in this country and taken over to Ireland. Most of these very small tenants lived partly on his holdings and partly on money earned in this country, and was better off than was supposed, for he had a house and five or six acres of land during the whole year for about £6; whereas, if he remained in England, he would not get two rooms for double the money he paid for his house and holding.
LORD OAELINGFOED (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
said, the noble Lord was perfectly right in saying that there was a large class in Ireland which could not be reckoned as a purely labouring population, but who occasionally earned something by labouring for others. But, although that was the case, he was quite unable to agree with the noble Earl who made the Motion when he said that the labouring class and the tenant-farmer class were practically the same. There was an expression which the noble Earl had quoted from the evidence before the Bessborough Commission, which he (Lord Carlingf'ord) did not quite understand; but, after making allowance for a large class of small holders, there was a large and important class of real labourers; and, unfortunately, a very large proportion of them could be nothing but labourers, "jobbing" labourers, as 178 they were called, from the circumstance that they did not live upon the land, and had been, by a most unhappy series of events, driven and crowded into the small towns and villages of Ireland. As to that labouring class, he would like for a moment, before he followed the noble Earl a little through his remarks, to say something upon the brighter and better side of the question. It might, after all, be safely stated that, low as the standard was, the condition of the labouring class in Ireland, at all events in many parts of Ireland, had improved. The Government had every reason to believe that, low as the state of the labourer was, it was better than it was 20 or 30 years ago. He did not wish to treat things in a couleur de rose fashion; but it was still a satisfaction to recognize what he believed to be the truth of the case, which was as he had stated. It had been ascertained by the Poor Law Inspectors 10 years ago, and repeated by the evidence before the Bessborough Commission, that wages, at all events, had greatly risen in Ireland, constantly 50 per cent; and it was quite clear the cost of living had not increased in the same proportion. But the fact remained, after all, that in many parts of Ireland, at this moment, the condition of the labourer was a very deplorable one indeed, and one which called for attention and for every effort that could be made by the Government or the Legislature to deal with it. His noble Friend considered it a great reproach to the land legislation of 1870 and 1881 that it had not dealt efficiently with the condition of the labourers. He (Lord Carlingford) had read many speeches on the condition of the Irish labourer, in which the first thing that the speakers availed themselves of was the opportunity of attacking the Land Act. He did not imply for a moment that that was in the mind of the noble Earl; but he denied the justice of these attacks. He admitted that the Land Acts of 1870 and 1881 had done but little for the labourer; but they had been very careful to take care that the landlord should not, by the operation of these Acts, be crippled or hampered in anything he might choose to do for the labourer, and enabled him to provide for labourers' houses, and so on. The latter Act also made those provisions which his noble Friend treated with great contempt, but which would 179 not be without the effect of providing a considerable number of improved labourers' houses in those districts where the Act took effect for the benefit of the tenant. He did not mean to say that the Act of 1881 had done much directly for the benefit of the labourer; but it must benefit him indirectly by stimulating the industry of the farmer, and increasing the employment given. But why should his noble Friend think that an Act for the reform of land tenure should necessarily deal with the question of labourers, their wages, and their houses? The two questions were totally distinct; the things were not in pari materiâ; there was a difficulty in dealing by direct legislation with the condition of the labouring man—a far greater difficulty than stood in the way of dealing with the tenure of land. The tenure of land was a subject of elaborate laws, which were capable of being amended. The evils under which the labourers in Ireland suffered were very different from those affecting the tenure of land. There had been legislation affecting the tenant farmers in this country, and there would be more; but it did not touch the labourers. He was happy to believe that the condition of that class in England had greatly improved; but that improvement had arisen, not from direct legislation bearing on their wages, or even on their houses, but from many causes, such as the increase of the prosperity of the country, and the reform of the Poor Law system. They had the Agricultural Holdings Act, and they were going to have a Tenants' Compensation Act. They had had, further, an important inquiry into agricultural distress in this country; but the condition of the labouring man had not been treated as part of that subject—it had, in fact, been treated as a totally different question from that of the tenure of land. As to the direct remedies for the unhappy condition of many of the Irish labourers, he believed that question resolved itself almost entirely into a question of their habitations. He was not aware that legislation could help them in the matter of wages. It was not, indeed, so much on the question of wages that the Irish labourers had cause for complaint, as on the want of constancy of employment. What should be sought for was the improvement of their dwellings, which, in many cases, were shameful, miserable, and disgraceful. 180 It was impossible to exaggerate the miserable description of house in which the Irish labourers often had to live, though the inhabitants of many of them were not in such a bad condition as the dwellings seemed to indicate, for it was not uncommon to see well-dressed men and women issuing from such hovels. Still, the labouring classes were in a very unsatisfactory condition; and he hoped that means might be found to improve it. Possibly the principle contained in a well-known clause in the Land Act might be carried further; at any rate, if it were carried further, the tenant farmer would have no right to complain. The man on whose behalf the former legal rights of the landlord had been seriously interfered with would have no right to complain if his rights were, in turn, interfered with on behalf of the labouring man. In the case of the labouring man security of tenure was not the thing required. It was impossible it should be so. In the case of a farmer who had invested his capital, his industry, and his hopes in the land, security of tenure was of vital importance. But in the case of the labouring man security of tenure was not the first consideration. His property was his labour; and it might be necessary for him to carry it from one place to another. It would be impossible to require a tenant farmer to provide a house for his labourer with fixity of tenure. It was absolutely necessary that the farmer should have the house for his labourer for the time being. If it was necessary for him to change his labourer he must have the use of the house for the purpose of providing a dwelling for the new labourer. Having said so much as to the efficacy of direct legislation, he would say that he had a strong belief in the possibility of much being done in the way of indirect legislation. There were many ways in which improvement might take place in the condition of the labouring classes. There was, in the first place, emigration. Ho would not go into that question on the present occasion; but it was obvious that emigration, by relieving the congested districts in Ireland, would lead to an improvement in the condition of the labouring men that remained. Then there was I the consideration which the noble Earl regarded with a good deal of scorn— namely, the effect in the future on the farmers themselves of the improved 181 tenure they would acquire under the Land Act. He believed that improved tenure would have the effect of increasing the expenditure of the Irish tenant farmers on their farms, and that could not but be for the benefit of the labouring man. In his opinion, that would have a large effect in improving the condition of the labourer. But there was another direction in which he thought the condition of the Irish labourer might be improved, and which his noble Friend avoided discussing—namely, an alteration in the present law of rating in Ireland. The present law of rating, under which small areas were rated, had had a lamentable effect on the condition of the labourers. It had its origin in the great Irish Famine of former years, the result of which had been to burden the landowners with crushing poor rates. The effect of that law had been to drive the people off the land into the towns and villages; and it was established, by the evidence taken before the Bess borough Commission and otherwise, that the consequences had been most unfortunate. The labouring population being thus driven to take up their abode in the towns crowded with wretched hovels, living often at long distances from their places of work, the effect upon them was disastrous, both physically and morally, and he would add politically, for it led only to misery and discontent. No change of an indirect kind would be more certain to contribute to the improvement of the labourers than providing means by which they could have decent habitations in the country and within reach of their work; but this was not possible under a system which induced the landowners and ratepayers to drive off the labourers from the present small areas of rating, and so relieve themselves from the rates. He believed that the effects of that change in the law—which he trusted was not now very far distant—would be of much more importance than many who had not studied the subject imagined. As to direct legislation for the purpose of raising the condition of the Irish labourers, which the noble Earl so much desired, but of the nature of which he had not given the faintest indication, he could not think that he would ask their Lordships to adopt a Resolution which left them so absolutely in the dark on the subject. He trusted that the noble Earl would be content with 182 the effective statement he had made, and with the assurance on behalf of the Government that they fully felt the importance and seriousness of the question, and that it would receive careful attention on their part.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, that it was a matter of notoriety that the condition of the Irish labourers was most unsatisfactory. In the Land Act of 1870 there were two or three provisions for the benefit of the wage-earning class in Ireland, enabling landlords to take land for the purpose of building cottages for labourers and giving them allotments; but those clauses were no part of the original Bill introduced by the Government, and were inserted in its passage through Parliament. In 1881, as in 1870, while the Government professed, in general terms, the greatest interest in the labouring class, they omitted entirely any legislation for their benefit in the Act when they introduced it, and inserted none that was not subsequently pressed upon them. It appeared to him that in a Bill dealing with tenancies there was nothing inconsistent in the idea of including provisions with regard to either dwellings or allotments to be rented by labourers. He did not see why it should not have been provided that when a tenant farmer applied to the Land Commission to fix his rent, he should only get the benefit of orders made in his favour till after he had complied with the orders made upon him as to building or repairing cottages for his labourers, on condition that the rent for these and for their allotments was not to exceed a certain sum. With all their fair professions, the Government had disregarded the interests of the labouring classes; and the impression left on men's minds was that their claims were neglected because they were not enforced by intimidation and outrage. From the time of the Clerkenwell explosion down to that of the Convention which had recently been so cavalierly repudiated by the Boers, they had, unfortunately, seen that the arguments which had most weight with the Government were those which were enforced by something like intimidation. So much with regard to the past; but it was no answer to the arguments now brought forward to say that the condition of the labourers generally was better now than it was 30 years ago. The question was, whether the condition 183 of the Irish labourers now was better than it was before the Government commenced their course of beneficent and generous legislation by conferring benefits upon one class at the expense of another. As to the rose-coloured prospects now held out by the noble Lord on behalf of the Government, he must say that all prophecies made by different Members of the Government with regard to Ireland had been so completely falsified by experience that he attached very little value to them. The Prime Minister had publicly stated that land in Ireland would eventually realize much more than 20 years' purchase. The experience of public sales showed that the Court actually in one case had been obliged to accept no more than 11 years' purchase. The noble Lord himself had said that the Land Act would benefit landlords generally—indeed, all except a few bad ones. But, whether as regarded letting or selling, the value of the land had been enormously depreciated. The best source to which the wage-earning classes in Ireland could look for amelioration of their condition was the abundance of capital and the readiness of investors to embark in industrial enterprizes. Any want of confidence, however, effectually drove capital away from a country; and the distress and dissatisfaction which had latterly prevailed in Ireland seemed to him, unless a change was brought about before long, certain to deteriorate the condition of the wage-earning classes in that country, by diminishing the amount of employment to be given. Nothing could more effectually injure the wage-earning classes in Ireland than a diminution in the demand for labour; yet that lamentable state of things was precisely that which, ever since the accession to Office of Her Majesty's Government, had been steadily increasing in Ireland.
said, he was of opinion that if noble Lords would read the Report of Mr. Shaw Lefevre's Committee they would not be long in coming to the conclusion that a substantial increase of small proprietors would give solidity to the social system and promote industry and prosperity amongst the peasantry of Ireland. The noble Lord said he had no particular remedy to propose—that it was the duty of the Government to devise remedies; but he could not help thinking that it would not be out of place for noble Lords to 184 suggest to the Government any points that occurred to them, with the object of benefiting the labouring classes of Ireland. He would venture, then, to remind the Government that there were large tracts of waste and bog land in Ireland which might be reclaimed. That it could be reclaimed they knew on the authority of Mr. Mitchell Henry, M.P., who had accomplished the work, and had rescued land which was now worth £1 an acre. Now, if this could be done by a private gentleman, surely the State could do much more in the same direction. On the land thus reclaimed labourers' cottages could be built, and if pieces of land were given to them round their dwellings the process of reducing the earth to a state of cultivation would still further go on. Thus these small labourers in their numbers would be able to do what large landlords could not do; for it was only by the industry and sweat of the brow of the labourer that land could be reclaimed. Again, Mr. Mitchell Henry had urged the Government to assist him in the construction of a small railway over his estate—not for the benefit of himself, but for the benefit of the neighbourhood. That was, to his mind, a very important thing; for there was no doubt that about one-third of the produce of Ireland was lost for want of proper means of transit—such as railways and canals. Once more—what was wanted was that engineering skill should be directed to the important work of drainage. Let them take the case of the Shannon. The operations there would be too vast for any private individual to undertake; but if engineering skill could only be brought to bear on the spot it would at once lead to the employment of a large amount of labour. There was plenty of work to be done if they could only get someone to undertake it. It was impossible to appeal to landlords; but the Government might do much in that direction, and he trusted they might be able to see their way to take some action in the matter. He would like to know why the Irish Militia should not be embodied and put on service in this country? It would withdraw a large number of adults from the surplus population, and, at the same time, furnish the Army, if bounties were offered, with good and efficient recruits. The questions he had ventured to suggest should be looked to and duly considered; 185 and he was convinced that they would receive careful attention at the hands of Her Majesty's Government, which had already done so many great things for Ireland.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
said, he considered this a most important question for the Irish landlords. As an Irish landlord, he could say that in many parts of the country the labourers were no better housed than they were a century ago. The first question that arose was, who were to build cottages for them? and the second, where was the money to come from? At one time, if a tenant desired to build a labourer's cottage, he applied for an order for the material and superintended the construction himself. The result was that a comfortable cottage could be built of excellent material for £60 or £70. Now, however, matters were changed. Though certain powers had been given to the landlord with a view to the erection of cottages, the circumstances in which he was situated with regard to his property made it extremely difficult for him to avail himself of those powers. Then tenants were often averse from having labourers' cottages on their holdings. They preferred to procure their labourers from the neighbouring villages and towns, thinking that when labourers lived in close propinquity to their farms a good deal of trespass and pillage occurred. His experience was that a really good cottage now cost £100; and as an agricultural labourer could ill afford to pay 2s. a-week for rent it was hopeless to expect to receive an adequate sum as interest on the money expended. The difficulty could only be met if there was a hearty co-operation between landlords, landowners, and occupiers. That happy condition, unfortunately, did not exist at present. In places where the Commissioners had desired farmers to build cottages for their labourers that direction had not been carried out; in no case had the order been complied with. Either the clauses in the Land Act dealing with that subject were defective, or they had not been properly put into effect. He considered that the terms offered to landlords for building cottages were liberal and encouraging; indeed, repayment in 35 years, or 5 per cent, was a very fair proposal; but the difficulty now existing was that the landlord was a mere rent-charger. He hardly knew what remedy to suggest, for as 186 wages increased labourers began to appreciate the disadvantages of bad cottages. When any class had arrived at the conclusion that their houses were not what they ought to be, it was not surprising that they were not contented. They were not contented because they had no reason to be so. He agreed that the time was an extremely difficult and inopportune one in which to ask the Government for legislation, and that it would be wiser to postpone to a future Session any idea of dealing with it effectually; but he earnestly hoped that the attention of the Government would not only be directed, but fixed, upon that subject, because on it rested the future tranquillity of Ireland. The labourers were in excess of the farming class in numbers. The farming class had been substantially benefited; for the labourers nothing had been done. The labourers, with their present education, well understood their position; and when the franchise was extended so as to reach them they would show their resentment at this neglect.
THE EARL OF DUNRAVEN
said, he thought that if the Government had been able to agree to his Resolution it would have done good; but as he had no intention of forcing his opinion against that of the Government and the House, he would be willing to withdraw the Motion after the discussion which had taken place. With reference to what the noble Lord (Lord Carlingford) had said as to the connection of the labourers with the subject of fixed tenure, all he (the Earl of Dunraven) had wished to remark was that the Irish labourers were naturally incensed that so much had been done for the tenant farmers and nothing for them. He did not suggest that labourers should be given fixity of tenure. That would defeat his object. His ideal was that a labourer should have a decent cottage and a plot of land at a fair rent on, or as near as possible to, the farm on which he worked. Fixity of tenure would not bring that state of things about. It would be absurd to give a labourer a cottage and allotment on a farm or in a neighbourhood in which he did not work. But he saw no reason why the labourer should be protected I against mere capricious eviction, and against the imposition of an unjust rent; and lie thought that in no case should a tenant be allowed to ask a larger rent 187 for the labourer's allotment than he himself paid for the land.
§ Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.