HL Deb 21 August 1883 vol 283 cc1481-6

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(The Earl of Dunraven.)


said, the objections to the Bill which he stated on the second reading had been much strengthened since by further investigation. As a cottage builder, and, indeed, a frequent prize winner in cottage building from the County Waterford Agricultural Society, he could sympathize with the proposed object, while protesting against the provisions, of this Bill. In Ireland a measure was seldom moderately employed, and this one would probably be either used very sparingly, as some predicted, or very largely, as others hoped. If sparingly, he would ask whether it was worth while, for the sake of little fruit, sanctioning a measure containing dangerous principles, germs susceptible, as the House had found those latent in the Land Act of 1870 were, of formidable development, possibly not in Ireland alone? If largely employed, he would say the Bill was not only dangerous in principle, but likely to be injurious in practice. It placed very large powers of purchase, sale, and exchange, as well as of building, in elective bodies whose loyalty, discretion and freedom from jobbery were, in many cases, not to be at all depended upon; while the only practical check would be an amount of local examination and superintendence by the Local Government Board not to be hoped for, unless an army of Inspectors ad hoc was to be appointed at the expense of the Treasury, for the protection from Clause 7, requiring Parliamentary confirmation of a scheme, was practically illusory. Land would easily be found purchaseable at a handsome price by consent; while three ratepayers would not easily be found bold enough to risk opposing a popular scheme for the expenditure of Treasury money within the neighbourhood. There was, he observed, no limit placed on the rates to be imposed, or on the area of taxation to be fixed by the Local Government Board for the purposes of this Act, which might be any area, from part of a town-land up to an electoral division in each case. He mentioned these not as details incapable of amendment, but as indications of the inconsiderate recklessness with which the Bill had been prepared and passed through the other House. The dwellings of the agricultural labourers were notoriously, as a rule, worse, where their wages were lowest, their food and clothing scantiest—their general condition worse, where they were most congested and most wanted relieving by emigration. Yet those were the very places where it was most probable cottages would be built with money practically borrowed from the Treasury, in the expectation that, somehow or other, payment of interest might be deferred till it ceased to be demanded; as had been the case with so many former Irish loans for various purposes. Speaking with the experience of 40 years' zealous service in the cause of sanitary reform, he ventured to say that, as a rule, the badness of their usually scattered dwellings, with their miserably defective sanitary arrangements were not, but a deficiency in the quantity and quality of their food was, the chief cause of the generally not very excessive sickness and mortality of the agricultural labourers and their families; though bad structural arrangements were, no doubt, the chief cause of the heavy mortality in the Irish towns—conspicuously in Dublin. And this view expressed by him the other day had been confirmed, nay, conclusively established, by the Report of the Registrar General. He found that in poor Connaught the deaths in 1881 were only about 1 in 70, or about 13¼ per 1,000 of the population, as against about 1 in 57, or about 17½ per 1,000 in Ulster, 1 in 58, or about 17¼ per 1,000 in Munster, and 1 in 49, or about 20 per 1,000 in Leinster, while the deaths from zymotic diseases were full one-third less than in Leinster and Ulster, and not half those in Munster. He found, moreover, the mortality in Donegal, Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Kerry, and Clare, those very poor Western counties washed by the Atlantic, was only about 1 in 68, as compared with that of the two small rich counties with the greatest population to the acre—Dublin and Antrim—of about 1 in 44. On the whole, believing, as a consistent sanitary reformer, that the comparatively slight sanitary advantages to be obtained by the Bill would be dearly purchased by its probably confirming and protracting the congestion of the population in the very districts whence the removal of a great part was most urgent, that its principle was dangerous, and that it must in practice afford great facilities for jobbery and peculation, he would ask their Lordships to save themselves the trouble of going into Committee upon a Bill, which, in his opinion, contained only one good clause, and that a not very efficacious one, while it contained too many objectionable ones to be practically capable of being converted into a good measure. He, therefore, moved that the House go into Committee upon it that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day three months.")—(The Earl Fortescue.)


said, he was very glad indeed that this Bill had fallen into the excellent hands of his noble Friend (the Earl of Dunraven) on the Cross Benches. It was not a Government Bill; but he must say for himself, and he said it for his Colleagues, that they should be very unhappy if their Lordships were to allow themselves to follow the lead of his noble Friend who had just sat down. "Whatever might be the merits of the doctrine of laisser faire, to which his noble Friend was so much attached, he ventured to say that for the application of that doctrine Ireland was perhaps the worst country in the world. He knew of no country to which the complacent doctrine of letting ill alone was so unsuited as Ireland; and, perhaps, there was no subject to which it was more unsuited than that of the labourers' dwellings. His noble Friend did not seem to understand the extraordinary difference between the condition of things in Ireland and the condition of things in this country with respect to labourers. Insufficient and bad as the condition of labourers' and artizans' dwellings in England often was, the state of those dwellings in Ireland was infinitely worse. Their Lordships who lived in this country could have no conception of the vile huts and hovels to which the Irish labourers were too often condemned; and in numerous instances not, as his noble Friend said, scattered about the country, where the blessings of fresh air mitigated the sanitary evils, but often crowded into the narrow streets and lanes of towns. He felt so strongly the great evil of this state of things that he was convinced that their Lordships would do well to sanction the effort made by that Bill, and that they should not be frightened by the bugbear raised by his noble Friend, but should make up their minds that it was worth while to run some risk in order to mitigate an enormous evil. He believed that the greatest risk was that the Bill would not be largely acted upon, although he hoped that he might be wrong as to that; but he thought that this attempt to extend to Irish labourers the benefit of provisions analogous to those of the English Artizans' Dwellings Act well deserved their Lordships' support.


said, he hoped that their Lordships would allow this Bill to proceed. He had seen it in print for a good many weeks. It had been considered with great care by Members connected with Ireland who sat on both sides of the other House; and he knew that Irish Members on both sides were very desirous that their Lordships should pass it. Undoubtedly it was open to objections; but he rather looked upon the fact that it would be employed sparingly as an advantage, as it would enable them to see wherein the measure was defective, and they would be able to put it right.


said, he joined with the noble Lord opposite in the appeal to the noble Earl in regard to that Bill. He was not quite sure that this was a fair case for the application of the doctrine of laisser faire, about which they had contended so much in that House. His impression was that according to the precedents which had been set by Parliament, supposing that the security was good, and provided there was nothing in the Bill which conflicted with the principles which both he and the noble Earl maintained, they need not necessarily resist such a proposal as the present. He might quote the measure of Sir Robert Peel, under which large advances were made to landlords to enable them to drain their estates. If they had said that the State never was to advance money for any benefit to a private individual, that would have been a highly improper measure; but it was not resisted at the time, and he believed that it had done a great deal of good. The real question was whether the proposed advance was to be made for a good object of public policy, and whether it would be made upon good security. If those two conditions were satisfied, he did not think, in point of principle, there was any danger to be apprehended. There was another ground why the Irish labourer deserved special consideration. They had destroyed, to a great extent, in Ireland the only person who was in the habit of building cottages—namely, the landlord. The landlord had disappeared, at least to a great extent, and who was now to build the cottages? If they were not built by the tenant they would not build themselves, and if no provision were made for those unhappy people they would have to sleep on the roadside. At the same time, he would urge upon the noble Lord whether it would not be well to introduce some limitation into the Bill. The Irish ratepayer deserved some consideration. There seemed to be an idea in some minds that the Irish ratepayer had a bottomless purse; but it was desirable to protect him by a maximum limit in a measure of that kind. The Bill might not be very largely applied; but if it was applied there should be some safeguard against injustice. He would, therefore, suggest that the rate should not exceed 1s. in the pound, or some such amount, in order to prevent the expenditure going too far; and he should also like to see the duration of the Bill limited to three years.


said, he had no objection whatever to do as the noble Marquess had suggested, and he should be very happy on the stage of Report to introduce an Amendment limiting the rate levied under the Bill to 1s. in the pound. He should also have no objection to limiting the duration of the Bill to a reasonable time; but hardly thought three years would be sufficient, or that the Bill could be fairly tried in less than five years.

On Question, "That ('now') stand part of the Motion?" Resolved in the affirmative.

House in Committee accordingly: Amendments made: The Report thereof to be received To-morrow.