§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it had already passed the other House. The points of objection to it seemed to him to be rather matters for consideration in Committee than on the second reading, and if it would meet the views of their Lordships, he would post that stage until after the Recess.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Fitzgerald.)
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, he should not oppose the Bill, for he thought the position of the Irish labourer deserved their sympathy. He wished to point out that remedial legislation in Ireland had divorced the labourers from the land—that was, the Land Laws had been beneficial to the tenants, and not to the labourers. But, as regards the principle of the Bill, he wished their Lordships to look narrowly into it, for it had such names as those of Mr. T. P. O'Connor, Mr. Mayne, Mr. Sexton, and Mr. Sheehy on its back; and, therefore, in Committee, he hoped they would carefully examine its provisions. In principle, the Bill was one of those Socialistic measures which enabled Local Authorities to purchase land at the expense of the ratepayers for the benefit of third parties, in this instance, to make largess of it to the labourers. It was an Irish Bill; but if passed for Ireland it would soon be extended 1293 to the rest of the United Kingdom. What was the Crofters Bill but an extension of the principle of exceptional legislation? Therefore, do not lot them imagine, in dealing with this Bill, that it concerned Ireland only. Under the Acts of 1883 and 1885, everything was done by agreement; but, under this Bill, it would be compulsion. Not only that, but it also went a stop in advance of the original Acts by proposing to grant as much as half-an-acre to each labourer. In Committee, he should move certain Amendments to the measure.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
said, he did not wish to enter in detail into the provisions of the measure, neither did he intend to oppose the second reading, because any Bill for the benefit of the labourer, or to improve his condition, would always receive the sympathetic attention of their Lordships. No doubt, as had been urged by his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss), in Committee, the Bill would receive full and careful attention. He could have wished, however, that the noble and learned Lord who had introduced it (Lord Fitzgerald) had entered more into detail, and it would have been well to point out that the Labourers Act had only been in operation for seven months. He (Lord Ashbourne) could well see that some of the provisions of the Bill would have to be scanned closely. There was, for instance, the definition of an agricultural labourer." That was capable of very wide extension in Ireland, and care would have to be taken on the point. It would not be enough, for instance, that a farmer's son, after working one day as a labourer, should be in a position to go to the Sanitary Authority. He wished to point out that, in Ireland, where the people were very domestic, and there were very many families, there would be a tendency for the children of labourers to demand that farms all about them should be cut up into small plots or holdings for them, although some would, only, perhaps, have gained one day's wages for agricultural labour in the year. The clause with regard to "home farms" would also require some safeguards of restriction. These should not be interfered with, except under the pressure of great necessity; and there were some home farms 1294 so small—not exceeding 25 acres—which should not be interfered with at all. This was a point as to which the Bill required great amendment. As to allotments, he would remind the House that the first Act upon the subject was only passed in 1883, and the second—the Amendment Act—last August, and both were stated to be liberal and generous measures. Now, why was this Bill necessary only seven months after the Act of 1885, seeing there was not a suggestion yet that that Act had had a fair trial, or that it had not worked successfully? The Bill was so drawn that a Board of Guardians could apply the compulsory powers in the way of giving allotments to labourers with no house at all. He was as anxious as anyone to improve the condition of the labourer; but he would remind the House that there was no proof whatever that existing legislation for the purposes named in the Bill had failed, and that labourers had been generally met with refusals by their landlords to grant them land. Moreover, if land were granted in the manner proposed in the Bill to labourers having no resources, it might be managed in such a way as seriously to lessen the value of the property of other people. As, however, he was in favour of legislation having for its object to improve the status and surroundings of labourers, and to make their lives more happy and comfortable, he should be sorry to refuse to read a second time a Bill which avowed that object; only, having regard to the possible bearing of the stupendous legislation in reference to Ireland now being considered in "another place," he would suggest that the stage of Committee should be fixed for some date in May, say, the 15th.
THE EARL OF LIMERICK
said, he would call their Lordships' attention to Section 14, which gave power to let any allotment on which a cottage was to be built temporarily while waiting for the erection of that cottage. In the previous Acts there was a limit of two years to the time within which houses might be built. There was no such limit in the present Bill, and he appealed to the Government to introduce one.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
said, that, in his opinion, there were some enactments 1295 in the Bill which would be a fertile source of bad blood in Ireland. For instance, if it were passed, as it stood, it would be the easiest thing possible for any persons having grudges against landholders to take advantage of its provisions. He therefore thought that care should be taken to provide against any such contingency, by introducing safeguards requiring sites appropriated for the purposes of allotments to be placed conveniently, and so as not to interfere with the rights of other people. It would further be necessary, in his opinion, to introduce some limitation and definition of the word "labourer." The Bill had been carried through the House of Commons, for the most part, in the small hours of the morning; and some objections then taken to certain details were not fully considered.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, he wished further to point out that, while the Bill laid down half-an-acre, allotments in England generally consisted of a quarter of an acre; and Sir John Lawes, an expert in these matters, maintained that a quarter of an acre was too much.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
said, he begged to thank his noble Friends opposite for their assistance. He would give their objections the most serious consideration between then and the Committee stage, which he would fix for as late a date as possible.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly.