HL Deb 27 July 1906 vol 162 cc33-54


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill I shall be obliged to trespass for a few moments on the attention of your Lordships, in the first place because this Bill was one of those mentioned in the gracious Speech from the Throne; and, secondly, because it is the most important Bill dealing with Ireland that will be laid before Parliament during the present year. It came to your Lordships' House in a somewhat unique position, as it passed through another place without opposition from any Party or any section. It received the commendation of all parties and the blessing of Gentlemen so widely apart in politics as the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Walter Long, Mr. Redmond, 'Colonel Saunderson, Mr. Dillon, and many other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who are not usually unanimous in giving praise to any particular measure. With regard to its introduction here, I may say that it has made its appearance rather suddenly in this House owing to its unexpectedly rapid passage through another place, and I have to thank the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition and certain other noble Lords who take a keen interest in Irish affairs, for assenting that this measure should not be unduly delayed, if, indeed, it may not be accelerated, in its passage through this House.

I had intended to say a few words regarding the defects of former Labourers Acts, and how it was hoped the present measure would remedy those defects; but I think I shall be better consulting the convenience of the House if I pass at once to what are, after all, the most important proposals under this Bill— namely, the financial proposals. This Bill proposes to sanction the building of 25,000 cottages in Ireland at a cost of some £4,250,000 sterling. The Chief Secretary has estimated for the purpose of the Bill that these cottages will cost on an average £170— that is to say, £130 for the building and £40 for the plot of land up to an acre which goes with it; but it has been represented to him that the probable cost of the cottages will be rather less, and that he has if anything over-estimated the expenditure under this heading. It is therefore to be hoped that more than the 25,000 cottages named in the Bill— possibly nearer 30,000—may be erected for the £4,250,000 which the Bill provides. To meet interest and sinking fund an annuity at the rate of 3¼ percent, is to be provided for. This will amount to about £138,000, which will be an annual charge that will have to be met. It is proposed to meet this charge in the following way. A certain sum is realised by the reduction in certain judicial appointments. One judgeship is to be suspended, which gives us £3,500 a year; another has already been suspended, and the salary of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland has been reduced from £8,000 to £6,000.


Not yet.


Well, it is proposed that it should be reduced.


It has been proposed for the last 20 years.


It is proposed under this Bill that it should be reduced from £8,000 to £6,000.


It is not done under this Bill; it is referred to as an expectation.


I have no doubt the noble and learned Lord is correct. At all events there is an expectation that the reduction will take place. It is hoped that under the heading to which I have just referred £9,000 a year may be realised. Then it is proposed to take from the Petty Sessional Clerks' Fund in Ireland, which at present stands at something like £170,000, the sum of £150,000, and to invest it and use the interest in the part payment of this annual charge. It is also proposed to take a sum of £70,000 from the Irish Development Grant after the end of March of next year. Up till that time I understand the money is required under the provisions of the Land Purchase Act. These two sums together amount to £220,000 and they will furnish some £7,000 a year. It is then proposed to take £6,000 a year from the grant from the Treasury to Irish County councils, which is for the purpose of building cottages. These three sums together give us a total of £22,000 a year from Irish sources. Then it is proposed that £28,000 a year should be paid from the Treasury into the Irish Development Grant Fund and should be taken from that fund for the purpose of this Bill. That gives us £50,000 a year, and leaves £88,000 to be found.

The task of levying the rent will be left to the rural district councils in Ireland. They will fix the amount of the rent, but the Chief Secretary has calculated that on an average the rent of these cottages will be at the rate of 1s. a week. No doubt in some localities the rent will be considerably more, and possibly in some it will be less; but, taking this as an average rent, it will give a sum of £65,000 a year which we can devote to the part payment of the annual charge. A sum of £23,000 is therefore left to be provided, and the Chief Secretary hopes to get this by throwing it as a charge on the rates. If we compare this charge of £23,000 on the rates with the charges which previous Labourers Acts in Ireland have imposed upon the same source it will be seen that it compares very favourably. Under previous Acts 17,400 cottages have been built and have thrown a charge upon the rates of about £60,000 a year. Under this Bill it is proposed to provide 25,000 cottages at a cost, not of £60,000 but of £23,000. That, I think your Lordships will agree, is a very considerable improvement. Your Lordships will, perhaps, notice that the most striking of these financial proposals is the grant of £28,000 from the Treasury. It was, I believe, foretold by the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Wyndham, that no Chancellor of the Exchequer would ever agree to contribute such a sum from the Treasury. Well, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer is contributing this sum, and I hope your Lordships will argee that a grant of money could not be employed for a better purpose than for ameliorating the lot of this poor and hardly-pressed class of the community. That is a brief outline of the financial proposals of this Bill.

I will now touch briefly upon one or two other matters which, though they are not of such magnitude in themselves, are nevertheless points of considerable importance. I will first of all take the question of appeal. This is a question which has received the very earnest and careful consideration of the Chief Secretary. Under the existing law an appeal can be made from the Local Government Board to the Privy Council, but it is considered essential to abolish this appeal so far as this Act is, concerned on account of the delay and expense, which would be entirely out of proportion to the small sums and the comparatively small area of property dealt with. His Majesty's Government have very carefully considered the matter, and have come to the conclusion that the most reasonable course to pursue is to follow the precedent of the English Local Government Act of 1894, where, in the case of Orders conferring power to acquire, land compulsorily for the purpose of the Allotment Acts and other local purposes, the decision of the Local Government Board is final. It is proposed to follow a similar procedure with regard to the present Bill.

It may possibly interest noble Lords if I state what the exact procedure under this Bill will be. An inspector of the Local Government Board will hold a preliminary inquiry and will consider all objections made by persons interested. He will then make a Provisional Order confirming the scheme, but, if an appeal is lodged, the Local Government Board will consider a full report of the evidence taken at the original inquiry and they may make such further local inquiry as they think necessary, and may then confirm or disallow the Order of the inspector. It is hoped that by this means a decision may be come to by an impartial authority, which will have the advantage of speed and economy, as compared with the costly and somewhat lengthy procedure of the old system of appeal to the Privy Council. As in these cases the question will be one of fact rather than of law, it is obviously unnecessary that the authority of such a high judicial tribunal, as the Privy Council should be invoked for this purpose.

Amongst other reforms contemplated in this Bill, I might mention the simplification of title to land under Clause 11, which it is hoped will considerably reduce legal procedure, and the expenses attendant upon the building of cottages, by the furnishing of model schemes from the Local Government Board to rural district councils. I think I need not dwell at any length at this stage of the. Bill upon these particular points. I may mention, in passing, that it is proposed that the Act should become law on November 1st of this year. Among other provisoes in the Bill is one which it is hoped will effect a great improvement—namely, that which provides for the compulsory registration of all land taken by the district council for the purpose of the Labourers Acts. These, I think, are the chief points in the Bill.

I will only say, in conclusion, that if this Bill, when it becomes law, succeeds in realising the hopes which have been founded upon it in Ireland, it will do much. It will substitute decent dwellings where hitherto frequently only hovels have existed; it will introduce new methods of sanitation; it will help to check the spread of disease, and it will contribute, to what degree of course it is impossible at present to forecast, but to some degree at all events, to the general well-being and prosperity of Ireland. And if it is possible for it to achieve so much, I think that in doing so it may achieve even more. It may tend to stem the tide of emigration, which has been ebbing steadily from the shores of Ireland to other countries for more than forty years. It may serve as some inducement to this class of Irishmen to live their lives in the land they love instead of leaving it, and it is in the earnest hope that in its passage through this House the Bill, far from being weakened, may rather be strengthened to meet the purposes for which it was framed, that I now beg to move the Second Reading.

Moved, "That the Bill be read 2a."— (Lard Denman.)


My Lords, your Lordships will have gathered from the clear statement which has just been made by the noble Lord what are the main provisions and intentions of this Bill. I am sure there is no one in this House who does not entirely concur in the aspiration that the passing of the measure will achieve such good results, for I do not think there is in any part of the House the slightest difference of opinion as to the propriety of passing any measure who will tend to the improvement of the condition of Irish labourers and give to them better and more sanitary homes. I know, from a very wide experience in Ireland of administering such legislation, that there is a very urgent need, in the interests of the health and general well being of our population, for providing better dwellings.

Your Lordships will, of course, consider, if your attention is invited to them, the different clauses of the Bill. I am not sure how far it may be competent for your Lordships to review the financial proposals that were so clearly stated by the noble Lord, but a good deal of money is required to carry the Bill out. Whether 25,000 houses with an acre of land attached can be provided at the moderate figure suggested I do not know. I only hope that the money mentioned will, be adequate. I do not propose to discuss any of the financial proposals now, although I believe extreme dissatisfaction has been expressed in Ulster on the ground that the Bill will remove from that province and send to other parts of. Ireland money deliberately appropriated to certain portions of that province.

It is necessary to bear in mind, in considering this question, that you have not only to provide the money for the erection of the cottages and the acquisition of the plots to go with them, but you have to consider how you are to get the land. So long as it is a matter of agreement there will be no difficulty; but it is a different thing when it comes to the taking of land compulsorily. That is a matter which will have to be very closely watched in the interests of those whose property may be affected. It may be, and often is, necessary in the public interest—before which everyone must bow, but bow under just, fair, and reasonable conditions—that land should be acquired compulsorily for certain purposes. But this is a matter which should be adequately safeguarded. The question is of importance to every one of your Lordships, even to those who have not the privilege of coming from Ireland, because a prominent member of His Majesty's Government has recently stated in the House of Commons that he contemplated the extension of the provisions of this Bill to England at an early date. That may possibly induce a wider and closer attention to the observations and criticisms that may be nude with regard to the compulsory taking of land.

The Irish Labourers Code is not a Code of yesterday; it is a very old one —it started in 1883. I well remember its introduction. Mr. Gladstone was at that time Prime Minister, and so jealous was Parliament about taking away a man's land compulsorily against his will that the full machinery of Provisional Orders that had to be laid before Parliament and passed as Acts of Parliament was invoked as a safeguard. It was thought, and I assented at the time, that that was too long and too expensive a machinery to be applied in the case of land that might be required for purposes of erecting labourers cottages, and another mechanism was substituted to meet the case. A hearing before the Privy Council was substituted where an owner was dissatisfied with his land being taken compulsorily. I have had the honour of sitting at the hearing of 19 out of 20 of those appeals, because the president of that tribunal is the Lord Chancellor of Ireland assisted by Judges of the High Court. That is the tribunal now in existence. I admit that it is too strong for the purpose of this Bill, but I contend that there must be a judicial tribunal to consider under what conditions the compulsory taking of land should be sanctioned.

The points to be decided here are not points which can be dealt with off hand. The Code comprises a great many Acts of Parliament. It is not legal to put a cottage where it would interfere with the amenity of residence, and it is not legal to erect one in a demesne or home farm or on lands usually enjoyed with them. There are other legal points to be considered, and there are also facts as to the site. A site might be selected owing to the unpopularity of a certain person or for other indirect motives. Sites have been selected in the past in some cases in a way which did not commend themselves to impartial persons. Therefore there will be many points to be considered by the appellate authority. Originally Parliament decided these points. At present the tribunal in Ireland is the Privy Council. For that it is now proposed to substitute an inspector of the Local Government Board, who shall have power to make a Provisional Order. The like of it was never known before in any legislation.

At present this is in the jurisdiction of the highest legal tribunal in Ireland. Under this Bill it is proposed to substitute an inspector of the Local Government Board, from whose decision there is to be an appeal to his own Board. I have every respect for the Local Government Board—I have the honour of knowing all its members —but it is not stated in the Bill that there is to be an appeal to them. As I understand an appeal, the tribunal should hear the parties and see the witnesses. The Local Government Board will not see either of the parties or hear any of the witnesses. They will be given for perusal a copy of the evidence and the report of the inspector. But is that an appeal? If they do not like what they read they can send down an inspector to make another report; they may have a cartload of reports, but they will not see either of the parties or hear any of the witnesses. In no sense of the term can that be called an appeal. I wish to be perfectly frank upon this question, and I must say it is impossible to regard any appeal as satisfactory which does not give the parties the option of getting at a judicial mind, of going before some persons accustomed to weigh and balance evidence. I do not now take any absolute stand as to the form the tribunal should take, but I shall not be satisfied if an opportunity is not given to the parties of submitting their case to some judicial mind.


My Lords, I fully concur in what has fallen from my noble and learned friend as to the excellent objects of this Bill. I am sure every one would desire to see the labourers of Ireland living in proper sanitary houses instead of the miserable hovels in which in some places they are still condemned to live. But it sometimes happens that a measure of this kind, which may have originated with the best intentions, is diverted from its ordinary course and made to assume one which was never anticipated and which the originators would most strongly deprecate.

The previous Labourers Acts have undoubtedly done great good, but proceedings under them have been taken from unworthy motives. My noble and learned friend has had great experience, having presided at the meetings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and he has pointed out that what he described as indirect motives have very often actuated the promoters of schemes for labourers cottages. I have had the honour of sitting once or twice on the Judicial Committee, and it is in my recollection that cases have come before us where sites for cottages have been chosen from purposes of spite, owing to the farmer or the owner having become unpopular in the neighbourhood, possibly through not adhering to the policy of the United Irish League or something of that kind. I remember great surprise being expressed on one occasion that such a scheme had been sanctioned by the Local Government Board. It is therefore most necessary that there should be some court of appeal where such matters would be thoroughly scrutinised, and were all the legal aspects of the case would be considered, so as to prevent the chance of a measure intended for the benefit of one class of the population being turned into a sort of engine of oppression on other classes.

Apart from motives such as I hive described, it often happens that unreasonable representations are made for cottages, and increased facilities will now be given for making these representations. In the original Act the representation that came before the board of guardians, the body whch then had the conduct of those matters, had to be signed by 12 persons. By the Purchase Act of 1903 that number was reduced to six, and now it is, by this Bill, to be reduced to three. The greater the facilities given for these representations the greater will be their number, and the more unreasonable it may be anticipated will be some of the demands. As it is, the Act has not been always worked in the most reasonable manner and mistakes have been made. I have heard of cases where labourers cottages are now standing vacant owing to difficulty in finding occupants. I have heard of a cottage being occupied by a fiddler, and of a case where it was attempted to give a cottage to a coachman on the ground that he might be considered an agricultural labourer because his wife had planted a crop of potatoes. I must, I however, add that in the latter case I do not believe that the application was attended with success. But it shows how carefully all such matters should be scrutinised.

My noble and learned friend the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland alluded to the provision respecting the taking of land by compulsion. There is a very remarkable sub-section in the Bill which prohibits the question of compulsion being taken into account in fixing the price of the land. It has always been the custom, in taking land compulsorily for any purpose, to make allowance for the fact of its being so taken. Whether or not the fact of compulsion ought to be taken into account in every case, it certainly seems to me to be a very strong measure to fetter the hands of the arbitrator and prevent him taking this course where he thinks it necessary.

It may be said that these are small plots of land and that the difference in the amount awarded by the arbitrator, whether he took compulsion into account or not, would not be material. But it is a most dangerous precedent in view of future legislation; and I commend this to the attention of all noble Lords, whether they come from Ireland or not, because we are told on high authority, as my noble and learned friend reminded the House, that a measure drawn on the lines of this one is to be introduced at an early date for England. I would impress upon the House the danger of laying down that no allowance shall ever be made in respect of the purchase being compulsory. There are several other points in regard to which Amendments will be proposed. But these Amendments will not affect the structure of the Bill, and will, I hope, have a favourable reception at the hands of His Majesty's Government. If they are adopted the result may be a Bill which will confer great benefit on the class concerned without inflicting injustice on any other class.


My Lords, I think it is a matter for congratulation that even at this late period of the session a first-class Government Bill has at last come up to this House, and a Bill which in its character is likely to commend itself generally to noble Lords on both sides of the House. Speaking personally, as an Irish ex-landlord, or a limited occupying owner—I am not quite sure exactly what I am—but speaking as an Irishman, I would like to express my personal satisfaction that a Bill has come up to your Lordships' House which, if passed, will, I am sure, be capable of adding materially to the prosperity of Ireland.

It has been mentioned both by my noble and learned friend Lord Ashbourne and by the noble Lord who has just sat down that legislation of a similar character will probably be undertaken as affecting Great Britain, and that being so it is quite proper that your Lordships should look at the provisions of this Bill rather with a view to the effect that similar legislation may have in this country. But I would ask your Lordships at the same time to remember that the circumstances of Ireland in every respect, financial, social, and economical, are quite peculiar, and that this Bill is only applicable to that portion of the United Kingdom. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be considered by your Lordships on its merits, and with a view to seeing how its provisions will meet the peculiar requirements of that portion of the United Kingdom to which it applied.

I have said that circumstances in Ireland are pecular. They are peculiar in this respect, as affecting this Bill, that it is absolutely impossible to draw a distinct line, as can be done in England, between the labouring class and the farming class. The two classes merge quite imperceptibly one in the other, and it has always been felt that legislation interfering in any way with the relations of landlord and tenant of necessity required remedial legislation also affecting the other class interested in land—the labouring class, otherwise injustice would be done. I think, therefore, that your Lordships should look upon this Bill as not only a Bill designed for the benefit of the labourers of Ireland, but also a measure which is really a necessary complement of the Act of 1903—a Bill necessary to round off the corners of that Act and complete it. I think that has been generally recognised.

Parliament has occupied itself with this question for the last twenty or twenty-five years. There have been six or seven Acts passed and one Bill dropped dealing with this subject, and not one of those passed has been anything like a complete success for the simple reason that the procedure was too costly, too cumbersome, and too dilatory, and that the financial support given to the Bill was not sufficient. I think all these defects will be remedied under the measure which is now before your Lordships. The financial arrangements, I imagine, will be ample, but there are one or two points which I should be glad if some member of His Majesty's Government would explain a little more fully. After all, the financial part is the most important of any Bill of this sort. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill mentioned the Development Grant. That grant crops up continually in the Bill, and I should like to ask whether the Development Grant is capable of bearing the additional strain that will be put upon it under this Bill. I think there is a lump sum of £70,000 or £80,000 to come out of it, and then there is an annual sum of £28,000 to be drawn from it. The noble Lord who introduced the Bill said, I think, that £28,000 would be placed to the credit of the Development Grant by the Treasury, and that this £28,000 would be drawn from the Development Grant for the purposes of the Act. But it is the other way about. The £28,000 may be drawn from the Development Grant and afterwards the money will be refunded by Parliament It may be six months afterwards, and in the meantime the Development Grant Fund may not be able to find the money. It must be remembered that the Development Grant, which was intended for educational purposes, is applied to every conceivable purpose under heaven except education. It is already hypothecated to meet losses on floating loans to finance the Land Purchase Act; and the losses made on flotation have been heavier than they ought to have been. There are other large demands in this Bill on the Development Grant, and I should like to know whether there is any security that the Development Grant will be able to bear this extra strain without becoming exhausted.

Then there is a capital sum of £150,000 to be paid from the Petty Sessional Clerks' Fund, the interest on which is to be used for the purposes of this Bill, but I understand that this money is already granted to the local authorities for another purpose. If so, it is obvious that it is not in the nature of a grant to the local authorities. It is merely taking the money out of the one pocket and putting it into the other. I imagine that nothing of the kind will take place as regards the lump sum of 4¼ millions that may be provided out of the Land Purchase Fund. I assume that the operations of Land Purchase will not be in any way impeded on that account; that is to say, that sufficient money will be found from time to time, as required, to finance, not only the Land Purchase Act, but this Act; because, however desirable it is that the just claims of the labourers should be satisfied, that would be dearly purchased if it caused any additional impediment to the working of the Land Purchase Act, and added to the disappointment and vexation which already exist owing to the long delay which takes place in completing sales That is all I have to say on the subject of finance.

But there are one or two other questions I should like to refer to at this stage of the Bill. The Bill, as your Lordships know, is not retrospective. In my humble opinion it ought to have been made retrospective, but that is a matter which this House cannot concern, itself with. It is not retrospective, and the consequence is that the district councils who have done their duty and availed themselves of the existing Labourers Acts and built cottages will be placed at a great disadvantage as compared with those district councils which have not done their duty in this matter. In the first case the district councils will be paying interest of 4½ or 5 per cent, and providing a sinking fund, probably 6 or 6½per cent, in all; whereas, in the second case, the district councils will obtain money at 3¼ per cent. It is very hard lines upon those councils which have done their duty that they should be placed at this disadvantage, and it is a very bad example to set to the country. Of course that cannot be remedied by this House. I would only express a hope that at some future time His Majesty's Government will consider the whole question of loans, with a view to seeing if they cannot put them upon some uniform basis. At present the whole of what I may call the internal finance of Ireland is in a confused and complicated condition. There is a clause in the Bill which I imagine to be designed as a relief to this injustice. I refer to Clause 18. Lender that clause I take it that the residue of the Exchequer Grants which remain unexpended in certain counties will be divided among other counties according to the proportion in which cottages have been built. That seems to me an exceedingly fair arrangement. Where these residues have accumulated to a large extent they have accumulated in the counties in which the district councils have refused to build cottages. It seems to be reasonable that in such cases this unexpended balance should be given in relief to the counties where the district councils have done their duty in the matter. I should like to ask His Majesty's Government to what extent that is likely to give relief. Of course it is impossible for me, or for any private member of your Lordships' House, to judge how far those sums will assist the district councils who have raised loans in liquidating those loans. I take it for granted that councils which have raised loans for the purposes of former Acts will continue to have to pay the interest of those loans even after the passing of this Act. Therefore it is important, I think, to know how far they will get any relief under Clause 18.

This Bill deals with two quite distinct subjects. It aims at assisting the district councils to provide decent houses and decent accommodation for the labouring population, and it has a provision whereby certain meritorious and selected labourers can be allowed to obtain conveyances for the purchase of holdings. That is quite a different thing. To the principle I have not the slightest objection to raise. On the contrary, I think it is a very legitimate and good thing to hold out a sort of premium to the labourer to be thrifty and industrious in the hope of becoming the owner of a holding. But I think the way in which that is administered ought to be most carefully considered.

Parliament has been occupying itself, not with any very great measure of success, for a long time in trying to solve what is commonly called the Western problem—the existence of a great number of utterly uneconomic holdings, principally in the West of Ireland. The Congested Districts Board are labouring at it; the Estates Commissioners are labouring at it; and a Royal Commission has been appointed to inquire into the subject. The only remedy is to endeavour to turn these uneconomic holdings into economic holdings, and if the State is to assist in doing that on the one hand it surely would be the height of folly were it on the other hand to create other equally uneconomic holdings. I do not think myself that that clause will have a very large area of operation, because the country is not big enough; but at any rate the labourer must be safeguarded against becoming the possessor of a small and uneconomic holding. The labourer lives practically by his labour hired out. It is quite a proper thing that he should have a plot of land on which to occupy himself when he is not working and at odd hours. But as soon as you give him beyond one acre of land I am perfectly certain that in Ireland the man will cease to be a labourer, and will consider himself a small farmer.

I do not know whether the provisions in the Bill for simplifying the proving of title, conveyance, and so on, are sufficient or not. Your Lordships must remember that the district councils will have to deal with a most peculiar state of things in Ireland. There are, and there will be, absolute owners, limited owners who have not sold, tenants who have bought and tenants who have not bought, and there will be an immense number of landlords and tenants in process of selling and buying, and with all these different classes of people the district councils will have to deal. It therefore seems to me essential that there should be some simple and efficacious means of proving title and conveying land. I wish to impress on the House the great importance of this, because it would be a thousand pities if this Bill were to be in any way marred by delays through difficulties in connection with the proving of title or legal matters of that kind. It would be very regrettable if anything occurred to destroy the value of the Bill, because it is a good Bill, a very good Bill.

This is a Bill which I believe is capable of effecting an immense improvement in. Ireland. It deals, to my mind satisfactorily, with the very just claims of the labouring population, and there is no portion of the population in Ireland who are more deserving than the labourers of the consideration of the State. There is no class in Ireland, either, more capable of availing themselves and making the most of any assistance that the State will give them. Taking them as a whole the labouring population of Ireland are sober, industrious, and intelligent men. Anyone who knows Ireland at all will bear me out in saying that where cottages have been provided for the labourers they have been well kept. In that the labourers have set a very good example to many of those who are above them in the social scale. There is, I repeat, no class more deserving than the labouring class, and I believe this Bill will be of great assistance to them, and, working together with the Act of 1903, will add greatly to the prosperity and contentment of Ireland.


My Lords, coming from the extreme west of Ireland I should like to state the views which are held in that part of the country with regard to this Bill. The Bill when it first appeared in another place was greeted as any Bill which tends to ameliorate the condition of any class of Irishmen must be, with entire approval. So far as one can see, this Bill aims at, and will succeed in many ways in bringing about, this amelioration, though in some details it may not quite meet with the approval of every class in Ireland. The landowning class in three parts of Ireland are practically unrepresented in another place, and it is only when a measure reaches your Lordships' House that the views of the land-owning class can be fully heard and due weight given to their opinions, which I venture to urge are worth listening to. Any measure which, however indirectly or in however small a way, affects the question of landownership, as. undoubtedly this Bill does, must receive the very gravest attention. There are two points as to which I would venture' to endorse the opinions of Lord Ashbourne and Lord Cronbrock. First of all, there-is the alteration in the Court of Appeal. I will not enter into detail upon that, but I venture to support most earnestly what was said with regard to it by Lord Ashbourne. I venture to think that amongst the landowning and what is called the loyalist class in Ireland the Local Government Board as a Court of Appeal is not looked upon with universal approval. As a Court of Appeal we would urge the appointment of either a county court Judge or a Judge of assize.

The second point is as to the question of compensation for compulsory sale. Although the question of condensation for the compulsory taking of land under this Act must be very small, a very dangerous precedent is involved. I venture to hope your Lordships will alter this clause or even omit it, so that a dangerous precedent in regard to future legislation may not be set up without the point being fully considered upon its merits. The Bill as it stands requires some alterations, but when they are made I believe it will serve the object for which it is intended and ameliorate the condition of the labouring classes of Ireland.


My Lords, I desire at the outset to congratulate the noble Lord in charge of the Bill upon the very lucid manner in which he explained the first Irish measure he has had the pleasure of expounding to this House. We admit that this is a necessary Bill, and, as my noble friend Lord Dunraven said, it follows on the Act of 1903. He will remember that the Land Conference on which we both sat expressed the opinion that the labourers question should be dealt with.

As regards the finance of the Bill, I do not consider it very satisfactory. There are rumours that one of the judgeships is to be done away with, and there are certain parties who do not wish that course to be taken. With regard to the proposed reduction in the salary of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, an endeavour in this direction has been made for twenty years without success. There is, however, one point in the Bill which I consider rather satisfactory. We are to get £28,000 from the British Exchequer. As one who feels that Ireland is excessively overtaxed, that part of the Bill appeals to me very much. This is the cheapest form of Labourers Bill that we have had yet.

As to the question of appeal, it must be quite clear to His Majesty's Government, after the speeches to which they have listened, that we are not satisfied with appeal from the Local Government Board inspector to the Local Government Board. It is not a judicial appeal; indeed, it is no appeal at all. It is an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober, and we are not likely to see the Local Government Board upset the Provisional Order which their inspector has allowed under this Bill. With regard to the compulsory taking of land, the Government must realise that we shall offer an Amendment to that clause. In no other case where land is compulsory taken is the arbitrator precluded from taking into consideration the fact of compulsory purchase. We do not, therefore, consider the provision in this Bill at all satisfactory.

My noble friend Lord Dunraven mentioned the matter of the purchase of other plots of land for labourers, but there is a safeguard in the Bill with regard to that, inasmuch as the labourer cannot get the new plot without vacating his cottage. I am rather glad that that provision is in the Bill. We know that when there is an opportunity of acquiring land the Nationalists take good care to acquire all they can, and it is therefore our duty, as representing the landowners, to look after the interests of those belonging to that class. For that reason we shall put forward Amendments when the Committee stage of the Bill is taken, and I hope His Majesty's Government will see their way to accept our proposals. They will not affect the principle of the Bill in any way, but on the contrary, will render its working more easy.


My Lords, I think my noble friend behind me has every reason to congratulate himself on the reception which this Bill has had at the hands of your Lordships. Its career in another place was also very pleasant, and quite the opposite of stormy, and I hope, although certain Amendments are hinted at by noble Lords opposite, its career here will not be of a very eventful kind. I most thoroughly endorse what fell from my noble friend Lord Dunraven as to the admirable character of the people whom this Bill is intended to benefit. They are a most frugal and hardworking class, and I venture to think that they have no superior among the labouring class in the whole of the British Isles.

This Bill is designed to do three distinct things. In the first place, it is designed to simplify all procedure connected with the acquisition of labourers houses, to reduce charges of all kinds, legal and other, and to simplify matters of title. My noble friend Lord Dunraven, without going deeply into the question of title, expressed the hope that that simplification was carried as far as was necessary to make the Bill work. I am no authority on these matters, but I am inclined to think that the hair of an ordinary solicitor would stand on end at the manner in which titles are dealt with in this Bill, and I think my right hon. friend has gone certainly as far as he is likely to go in that direction. The second object of the Bill is to place pressure upon district councils who in the general opinion have not done their duty in this respect; and the third object is the provision of cheap money to carry out the measure.

My noble friend Lord Clonbrock stated that sometimes in the past action had been taken under former Labourers Acts for the purpose of annoyance. That may have happened in some instances, but I hope that it belongs to a state of things which has really passed away in Ireland, and that there is no danger of anything like a general repetition of conduct of that sort. No duobt, too, mistakes have been made, but that is inevitable when minor local authorities are entrusted with duties of this kind. Two special objections, I think, were taken by noble Lords to the provisions of this Bill. The first was in relation to compulsory purchase, that no extra payment was to be made in respect of that compulsion.


That it was not to be taken into consideration by the arbitrator.


That the arbitrator was not to make an additional allowance in respect of the compulsory purchase. That was dwelt on by noble Lords not so much on the ground of the actual effect it would have as of the danger of creating a precedent of this kind in respect to larger transaction. I do not know that the danger is a very serious one, but if it is serious I am afraid it exists already, because in the Local Government Act for England, 1894, a precisely similar provision is added to to the section enabling parish councils and other bodies to acquire allotments.

The other point to which special exception was taken was the question of appeal in cases of land being taken. I am certain that the only objects which my right hon. friend had in introducing that provision into the Bill were simplicity and saving of time. He had certainly no intention of destroying any safeguard which might be really necessary. At the same time there is a similar precedent in the very same Act to which I have just alluded, the English Local Government Act, 1894. In the case where land is compulsorily acquired for allotments in this country there is an appeal to the Local Government Board, but it goes no further. However, I can assure noble Lords that their representations will be carefully considered by the Chief Secretary before the question arises on any Amendment which they may wish to move.

The noble Lord at the Table (Lord Dunraven) asked one or two Questions with regard to finance. I am told that as regards the Development Grant it has to be borne in mind that this money will not be required all at once. The operations of the Act will take some time before they are in full play, and there is no fear whatever in the minds of those who have conducted the finance of this Bill but that the Development Grant will be perfectly able to bear the strain which is placed upon it. As regards the Petty Sessional Clerks' Fund, it is no doubt the fact that n sum of something like £5,000 a year is lost to the local bodies in Ireland, taken as a whole, under the rather complicated scheme of finance in this Bill. But, however, spread over the whole country it forms such a very small fraction that, although noble Lords from Ireland mentioned the fact, I do not think it can tend seriously to interfere with the financial scheme of the Bill. It is, of course, most clearly to be understood that the Land Purchase Fund cannot and must not be allowed in any way to suffer owing to any operations under this Bill. It would be the worst possible policy in regard to Ireland to allow it to be supposed that what we hope will be the valuable operations of this measure should interfere with the equally valuable operations of another


It is only intended to be an advance?


Precisely. The Land Purchase Fund is treated as a bank to be drawn on for this particular purpose, and the money will be paid back, I suppose by fresh borrowing. A word of caution has been uttered by the noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, as to the danger of creating a small class of uneconomic holdings. This is a matter on which I find myself in general agreement with him in so far that it is necessary it should be carefully watched. The distinction between a farmer and a labourer in Ireland is very vague. You see a man described in newspapers as a farmer who would be described in this country as a labourer. It is important that the danger referred to should not be allowed to arise.

Then the noble Earl complained, rather after the parable of the vineyard, that those counties which had done well in the past and borne the heat of the day were not getting the same consideration as those which were coming in at the eleventh hour. It is hardly necessary to attempt to argue here the question of the possibility of making the Act retrospective. It would not fall to us to do so if it were possible; but I must remind the noble Lord that he himself in his following sentence suggested what is the real set-off to that—namely, that the counties which have done the greater part of the building in the past, and have therefore in this matter presumably deserved the best of the community, will get a much larger share of the Exchequer contribution than the counties which only come in now. I am sorry to say I have not the figures which would enable me to reply to the noble Earl's Question as to the amount of relief which particular counties receive, but I understand that it will be very considerable in some cases, and therefore it must, I think, be taken as a set-off to the complaint which the noble Earl made that these counties were not receiving any special consideration. I think I have dealt with all the points raised by noble Lords opposite, and I can assure them that we shall give the fullest consideration to the Amendments they bring forward on Monday, with every desire to meet them if possible without destroying in any way the structure of the Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.

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