HL Deb 18 May 1886 vol 305 cc1263-71

House in Committee (according to order).

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Definition of "agricultural labourer").


said, that since the second reading of the Bill he had considered the objections that had been raised to the clause; and he now proposed that the definition of "agricultural labourer" should be modified, and that the term should apply to agricultural labourers proper, and to include within it hand-loom weavers and fishermen who ordinarily, during any period or periods of the year, did agricultural work on the land of another for hire. He hoped that the Amendment would meet with the sanction of the House.

Amendment moved, In line 18, to leave out ("repealed") and the remainder of the clause and insert ("amended to this extent that the expression 'Agricultural labourer' in said twenty-third section shall include hand-loom weavers and fishermen who ordinarily during any period or periods of the year do agricultural work on the land of another on hire for payment by wages.")—(The Lord FitzGerald.)


said, that there was no doubt that the clause as introduced was open to very considerable criticism, since the definition of agricultural labourer was wide enough to include any man, woman, or child, who had worked for half-a-day on another person's land. That could not have been intended, and was certainly an unsatisfactory state of things, and the Amendment was unquestionably in the right direction. He did not say that any hard-and-fast line could be laid down; but he thought some words might be inserted to indicate that the period of work should be a substantial one.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 struck out.

Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 (Power of Local Government Board to dispense with advertisements and notices).


said, he objected to the proposal to give the Local Government Board a discretionary power to dispense with notices and advertisements. He held that a man whose property would be affected by the execution of a scheme sanctioned by the Bill ought certainly to receive adequate notice of the proposed transaction. There might be little objection to the exercise by the present Local Government Board of this discretionary power to dispense with notices; but, nevertheless, it would be well to pause before vesting such a power in the Board, because, having regard to the present condition of affairs, it was quite impossible to forecast what kind of Body it would be in a year or two.


said, he would suggest that the discretionary power of the Board should not extend to schemes authorizing the purchase or taking of any land otherwise than by agreement.


said, he would undertake to bring up on Report an Amendment to give effect to the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 9 and 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 (Extension of powers of compulsory purchase).

THE EARL OF LONGFORD moved the omission of the clause, which gave the local Sanitary Authority power to compulsorily purchase land for the purpose of providing allotments for persons living in towns or villages. The existing power of purchase by agreement was sufficient. He had no desire to oppose or delay the Bill, which was for a good purpose; but he did object to that compulsory power of purchase.

Amendment moved, to leave out the Clause.—(The Earl of Longford.)


said, this was the most valuable clause in the Bill, and he could not consent to its omission. The alarm that it created in the noble Earl's mind was quite unfounded, for there were ample safeguards. Before the power could be exercised a scheme would, in every case, have to be drawn up and submitted for the approval of the Local Government Board; and if there was a Petition against the scheme it could not be carried out until it had been confirmed by Act of Parliament. He hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would accept the clause. No body of men had greater claims on that House than the Irish labourers, for until three years ago they had been systematically neglected, and the evidence taken before the Royal Commission showed that their habitations were most shameful. This compulsory power was not aimed at the landlord, but against the farmers, who had always been the enemies of the labourers, and who, in very many cases, would not make due provision for the dwellings of their labourers.


supported the Amendment.


said, he thought that the noble and learned Lord, in what he had said as to the dates and position of the legislation on that subject, had hardly made out a case, after the experience of only a few months, for Clause 11. Under the Acts of 1883 and 1885 Boards of Guardians, acting as Sanitary Authorities, were enabled to erect labourers' dwellings, with half-an-acre of ground, wherever they thought needful. That provision was a wise one, and it had not been proved to be inadequate. The 16th clause of the Act of 1885 also had given power to take land by agreement for the purpose of distribution in allotments; now it was sought to alter that, and enact that there should be compulsory power. The Act had hardly been at all appealed to, and any experience that had accrued since the 14th of August last certainly had not been such as to show that it had failed to secure any of the objects for which it was intended. This was entirely a different case from that of a railway or tramway referred to by the noble and learned Lord (Lord FitzGerald). There the line went between two termini, and it was necessary that there should be a power of getting over the opposition of any cantankerous person who might wish to stop the line. There was, however, no analogy between that case and the one now under consideration. In the present state of Ireland a power such as that now proposed might be used for the purpose of annoying a man who was disliked. He opposed the clause on the ground of common sense, because he considered it premature to invoke compulsion and alter the element of agreement which had been adopted as recently as last August, and which had hardly been tried at all, and which certainly had not been proved to have been a failure.


also opposed the clause.


said, he hoped that before noble Lords opposite dealt with this clause in the unceremonious way which was suggested they would bear in mind the origin of the clause. In the autumn of last year there had been a good deal of discussion upon the subject of this compulsory taking of land for the purpose of allotments; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) had been very vigorously denounced for giving utterance to what were regarded as revolutionary sentiments as to the authority of Parliament to deal with the rights of property. Subsequently, however, the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill), in a speech which he made at King's Lynn, admitted the right of Parliament to make these allotments, and that, under a certain condition, it could safely be agreed to. The condition was that the scheme should be confirmed by Provisional Order. Intentionally or not, that was the proposal of this 11th clause, in which the trainers of the Bill had adopted the suggestion of a distinguished Member of the Conservative Government; and, therefore, he did not see how the Friends of the noble Lord could object to it.


said, he thought that if the noble and learned Lord had had in the practice of his former Profession to cite a case the Judges would have required him not to cite the case from memory, but to produce the actual words; and he believed that in such a case Judges would have acted wisely, because, in referring to the words of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington, the noble and learned Lord had misquoted what had been said. It was an odd way to discuss matters in the House of Lords, but he would pass it by, attributing it to the novelty of the noble and learned Lord's experience in that House. His recollection of what Lord Randolph Churchill suggested was that there might be particular cases in which the thing might be done, and safely done, if each case were separately considered by Parliament itself. But that would not be the case with the measure before the House. It was nominally to work through a Provisional Order; but it would not be subjected to all the safeguards of that procedure. That made a wide distinction in principle, for while a Provisional Order was a safeguard in England it was not so with regard to Ireland. He must, therefore, ask for wider reasons than the assertion that the noble Lord the Member for Paddington made a speech at King's Lynn in favour of the alteration of the law. He thought, with all respect, that was not a sufficient reason for altering a law recently made. They ought to proceed very carefully in this compulsory legislation. Hitherto, they had allowed the compulsory taking of land for public objects—objects which the public distinctly understood. They were now asked for compulsory powers to take land in order to enable the labourer to earn a livelihood. Before doing that let them ask how far they were to go—were they going to extend it to the small farmer, to the moderate farmer, and to the large farmer? He only wished to impress upon them that the principle was a wide one, and that it was of great importance. If they adopted it in Ireland it probably would not be confined to that country; and, therefore, he entreated them to move cautiously in the matter, and not to be misled by the words Provisional Order.


I am curious to know in what respect it is irregular for the Lord Chancellor to refer to a speech made by the Member for Paddington at King's Lynn.


I said it was very unusual to base a change in the law on a speech made at King's Lynn, and I asked for wider reasons than that.


said, that the question was fully discussed in the other House, and met general approval, and complained that their Lordships did not take a deeper interest in the condition of the agricultural labourer of Ireland. Who were the principal supporters of the Land League and the National League? The labourers. He wished to give them the first element of civilization, a home to live in. He would quote to their Lordships an extract from the evidence given before the Devon Commission. The Rev. John Locke stated that— The present condition of the farm labourer, dependent on an unsympathizing class scarcely elevated above him in education and sentiment, is deteriorating to his own condition and perilous to the community. He is not a participant in profits nor property. Daily food is the limit of his expectations; economy is, therefore, never thought of, because unavailing; and if the farmer on whose land he is settled be prevented by fall in price, failure in crop, or any other cause from affording employment, the starving labourer, reckless and unreasoning, with a vague sense of injury rankling in his mind, having nothing to lose, and a chance of gaining by change, becomes the willing tool of agrarian or political disaffection. Poverty is the chronic fever, crimes the delirium of the untended patient.


said, that he could assure the noble and learned Lord that that House had not shown any carelessness for the interests of the agricultural labourers; but now the noble and learned Lord came down with a letter written at the time of the Devon Commission, and tried to induce that House to pass this Bill to amend an act of last year which the noble and learned Lord himself had agreed to, and did not at that time produce this letter. During the passage of the Irish Land Act great efforts were made on that side of the House, as well as on the other side, in order to defend those interests; and it had always been felt that in all the discussions for the benefit of the farmer there was a danger of ignoring the interests of the labourer. They had passed the Acts of 1883 and 1885, and in doing so they had not stickled at any difficulties that might have arisen from the want of precedents for such legislation for the benefit of the labourers; and all they now asked on that side of the House was that those Acts should be tried, and that there should be some facts to show that they had failed before it was sought to replace them by unnecessary legislation.


said, that the noble Marquess had expressed sympathy for the labourers; but sympathy that was not transmuted into acts was not very valuable, and the Government wanted the House to show its sympathy by passing this Bill. The measure came up to their Lordships recommended by very strong opinion "elsewhere;" and he should have thought that it would have been very welcome to noble Lords opposite. When, however, it became a question of transmuting the sympathy of noble Lords opposite in acts the clause which would do this was to be thrown out.


said, he would point out that there was a great difference between the year 1845, when they were on the point of a famine in Ireland, and the present time. They had passed Acts to prevent the great sub-division of land in Ireland. The Encumbered Estates Act was passed for the very purpose of enabling landlords to sell their estates, and to induce others to bring in fresh capital for making improvements and extending the holdings. The state of things before the passing of those Acts was far more miserable than anything existing at present.


said, it was an important fact in connection with this matter that when the clause came before the House of Commons there were Representatives from Ireland, Conservative as well as Liberal, present. An Amendment proposed by a Conservative Member was, on the suggestion of the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley), adopted and incorporated in the clause, which now came before their Lordships in its amended form. No objection was taken by any Conservative Member from Ireland to the insertion of the clause in the Bill; and, therefore, when their Lordships had the unanimous opinion of the House of Commons in favour of such a provision, it did afford some indication that a change in the law was necessary.

On Question, That the said Clause stand part of the Bill? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 25; Not-Contents 65: Majority 40.

Resolved in the negative.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 (Sanitary authority or contractor may enter on land and take materials).

On Motion of Lord CLONCURRY, the following Amendments made:—Page 4, line 40, after ("demesne") insert ("home farm"); page 5, line 14, after ("occupier") insert ("according to their respective interests therein").

THE EARL OF LONGFORD moved the omission of the clause on the ground of the annoyance which might be caused to the occupier by giving a vexatious right of entry on his land.

Amendment moved, to leave out the Clause.—(The Earl of Longford.)


defended the clause.

Amendment (by leave of the Committee) withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 14 (Temporary letting of allotments).

Amendment moved, In line 19, to leave out ("within the meaning of that Act,") and insert ("only pending the erection of such cottage and determinable at the end of any month.")—(The Lord Fitz Gerald.)

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

LORD FITZGERALD moved the following new Clause:—

(Exchange of Sites.)

"Notwithstanding anything contained in the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, 1883–85, it shall be lawful for the Local Government Board of Ireland, upon the petition of a sanitary authority, to make an order that any site and plot included in a scheme made pursuant to either of the said Acts may be exchanged by such sanitary authority for another site and plot of equal area; Provided always, that the Local Government Board of Ireland shall not make any order under this section unless they are satisfied that the site and plot proposed to be substituted are as suitable as the site and plot sought to be abandoned, and unless they are satisfied that the proposed substitution is not objected to by the owner, lessee, or occupier of the site or plot proposed to be substituted."

Clause agreed to.

Remaining Clause agreed to.


said, he did not propose to take the Bill on Report until some day next week.


suggested that as their Lordships' minds would be in a great state of excitement next week, it would be as well that the Bill should be postponed till the week after.


I would willingly have assented to that course but for the speech of the noble Marquess opposite on Saturday, which appeared to me to predicate an early Dissolution.


Allow me to assure the noble and learned Lord that I was only judging from the signs of the times. He can get much better information on the subject than any that I can give him.

Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 120.)