HL Deb 17 August 1883 vol 283 cc925-30

Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was intended to remedy what was believed to be a very great evil; and that was the absence of proper sanitary conditions in the cottages of agricultural labourers in Ireland, and the absence of a due regard for reasonable decency and comfort in their homes. He did not say that evil was confined to Ireland; but, at the same time, it was more intense in Ireland than in any other portion of the Kingdom. The Bill provided that the sanitary authorities should be empowered to obtain and lay out monies on the security of the rates to improve sanitary deficiencies in existing dwellings; and, if necessary, to erect new buildings for agricultural labourers. It gave the sanitary authorities very full powers, and amongst them that of taking up land compulsorily if necessary. The powers granted, however, were very carefully guarded, and there was not the slightest possibility that there could be any infringement of private rights or damage to private property. In the first place, the sanitary authority must be moved by a petition signed by 12 ratepayers; and their Lordships would see that the petition precluded the possibility of any rates being levied except for this purpose—where one or two landowners paid the whole of the rates of the district. The sanitary authorities then, on this petition, could go into the matter; and if they found it desirable and necessary that the dwellings should be improved or additional ones erected, they could formulate a scheme for that purpose. That scheme had to be submitted to the Local Government Board in London; and they, having inquired into the matter, and being satisfied that all the requirements of the Bill had been fulfilled, and also of the necessity of the case, could make a Provisional Order confirming the scheme of the sanitary authority. That was so when it was sought to put the Act in force under ordinary circumstances; but in the event of there being any objection to the scheme—that was to say, any objection lodged by any ratepayer of the district against it, or in the event of its being contemplated to take up any land compulsorily, then the Provisional Order of the Local Government Board would require an Act of Parliament to make it valid. He thought, under these circumstances, their Lordships would see there was not the slightest risk under the Bill that private property would be interfered with in any way, especially as it was also provided that demesne lands should not be interfered with. The only objection he could conceive to the Bill was that it was feared it would not do much. He did not think it could be shown by any possibility that it would do any harm, and the only doubt was whether it would do as much good as it was anticipated and hoped it would do. The labourers themselves would have no power to put the machinery in motion or take any part in the matter. That was an objection; but he could not see any possible way of avoiding it, or, under existing circumstances in Ireland, any other machinery that could be substituted. His own impression was that if the Poor Law Guardians acted as they should do, and if the landlords and gentry of the country districts themselves looked after the operation of the Bill, it might do a great deal of good, and might possibly be of great service in ameliorating the condition of the agricultural labourers in Ireland. Under those circumstances, he hoped their Lordships would give a second reading to the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Dunraven.)


said, that all would sympathize with the noble Earl in the object he had in view. So much had been said and so little done up to the present time for the labourers of Ireland that he thought this Bill should not pass through the House under false pretences. The title of the Bill as it stood was the Labourers (Ireland) Bill, but in the body of the Bill its effect was strictly confined to agricultural labourers. He would, therefore, suggest that the title should be changed to the Agricultural Labourers (Ireland) Bill, so that it might be clearly understood what the object of it was. One point to which the noble Earl had referred was the exemption of demesne lands. He thought it would be more satisfactory if the words "or home farm" were added to the clause. There were other Amendments required which he hoped would be proposed in Committee.


, as one who had taken an interest in sanitary matters for the last 40 years, considered the Bill unsound in principle and practically dangerous. He did not place implicit confidence in the discretion of the Boards of Guardians, for he had observed that there was far greater readiness in Ireland to borrow money than to pay regularly the interest accruing upon the loan. As it was, he apprehended considerable danger from cottages being erected in over-populated districts where it was important that people should not be encouraged to remain, and where there was a poor soil with a surplus population. It would be a great misfortune if the moderate amount of money available in that country was to be employed in building cottages in places where labourers were already too numerous, and ought, as soon as possible, to be removed to places where they would be likely to earn better wages, and become a source of profit to the community, instead of, as at present, under the slightest pressure of bad seasons, being liable to become a heavy charge upon the rates. He was glad to see that the Bill contained a clause giving facilities to Boards of Guardians to enforce the provisions of the Land Act in respect of building and improving labourers' cottages and making allotments of land thereunder. Cottages had been repeatedly ordered to be erected by the tenants when the Commissioners reduced their rents; but in the execution of those orders the most scandalous neglect and delay had been permitted. Hence the necessity for further powers.


said, he considered that it was impossible not to see that if the principle of the Bill that a sanitary authority, which meant the State, should erect cottages for the labouring classes in Ireland was sanctioned, its extension to England and Scotland was only a matter of time. This seemed to him a wild scheme, and one which their Lordships ought to be cautious not to sanction. If the State built houses for the working classes, he did not see why they should not undertake to clothe them also. He must enter his protest against the principle of the Bill.


said, that with this Bill the Artizans' and Labourers' Dwellings Act was meant to be, and ought to be, concurrent. He thought that this Bill was applicable to other dwellings than those of agricultural labourers. In England the General Act authorized, when any houses in towns were unfit for habitation, that the sanitary authorities could call upon the owner to put them in repair; and, on his refusing, they might undertake, by purchase or otherwise, to do the work themselves, and levy the expense on the local rates; but they were bound to get rid of any property which they might have so acquired afterwards. In this Bill permission was given to the sanitary authority to let or sell; but they were not com- pelled to do so, and might retain any property taken in hand. The latter he thought a questionable proceeding.


said, he must complain that their Lordships were really so pressed by a plethora of legislation that Members of the House had not a moment given them to consider the principle of the Bills placed before them; and he must protest against that method of conducting the legislation of the House. He was quite aware of the difficulties which the Government had to encounter in the other House; but it was partly the fault of their Lordships that they should consent to be so pressed at the eleventh hour of the Session with a mass of Bills, some of them involving the most important principles. He had really not had time to go into this Bill; but from the cursory glance he had given it he thought it was a Bill on which they ought to have the guidance of the Government. The Bill was introduced into their Lordships' House by a Nobleman for whose judgment he had a high opinion; but he (the Duke of Argyll) looked upon it as a measure full of objection and danger. One comfort he derived from the Bill was that, in his opinion, it would be wholly unworkable, owing to the great complexity of its machinery. It was, no doubt, the duty of the owners of estates generally to spend money largely in building labourers' cottages; but it should be remembered that under the Irish Land Act all the powers of administration in regard to property were destroyed, and one consequence of that Act would be that the State would be driven, as it was hourly being driven, into the necessity of doing that which would otherwise be done by private funds and private enterprize. He had been told that morning on good authority that all outlay in the shape of improvements upon Irish laud had absolutely stopped, because, under the provisions of the Irish Land Act, no landowner could count upon getting an ordinary return. That applied much more to cottages; and he could understand that in those circumstances they would be obliged to proceed more upon what wore called socialistic principles, and to insist on local authorities building cottages. Therefore, he was not prepared altogether to object to that Bill; but they ought to have had more time to consider its complicated details. There was, however, at least this security—that where compulsory powers were exercised, and landlords or others were compelled to give up their property for the erection of cottages, then nothing could be done without coming to Parliament for a special Act. That would, no doubt, prevent any injury being done; but he was afraid it would also prevent anything of a practical nature being done in the way of erecting cottages.


said, he believed that the Boards of Guardians would endeavour to see that the provisions of the Bill were carried out, as they had control over the rates. He was, of course, not responsible for the lateness of the period at which that Bill came before their Lordships, and he much regretted that it had not reached them earlier. He offered to postpone the Committee stage till Monday or Tuesday, in order to meet their Lordships' convenience as far as he could.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.