§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS)
My Lords, this Bill is an extension of the Labourers Act of 1906. The object of it is to extend the financial scope of that Act and to facilitate its working. I hope no complaint will be made that this Bill was only circulated to your Lordships yesterday, because it is in the same form in which it was introduced in the House of Commons on February 16 this year, and it comes to your Lordships' House unamended. It is a Bill upon which no Division was taken. I do not think I need say very much about the Bill, because the provisions of the Act of 1906 are well known to most of your Lordships. You will remember that that Act was for the purpose of building cottages in Ireland for labourers and for providing allotments, and a grant-in-aid was given to the local authorities to help them to repay the loans. I think by general consent that Act has conferred immense benefit on the working and agricultural classes in Ireland. The number of cottages built since the passing of the Act of 1906 is very much greater per annum. Whereas previous to that date only 21,000 cottages had been erected, or at the rate of 1,000 a year, since that Act 12,862 cottages have been built, which, of course, in four and a-half years gives a very much larger proportion.
The reason for the introduction of this Bill is that the funds available under the Act of 1906 are not sufficient to meet the demand for housing in rural districts. There are at the present moment schemes proposed by rural districts for the erection of 3,550 additional cottages and the acquisition of 1,116 plots of land for labourers at an estimated cost, of £679,000. This cannot be done unless an additional capital sum is authorised. The finance of the Act of 1906 was to advance £4,250,000 to the local authorities from the Land Commission at the ordinary annuity of 3¼ per cent, spread over a period of sixty-eight and a-half years. The advantage of that over the previous Acts, starting with the Act of 1883, was that the annuity which the local authorities had to pay for the loan was very much reduced. Whereas it used to stand at about 4½ per cent., the effect of patting the loan on the basis I have described was to relieve the 1126 local authorities to the extent of 1¼ per cent. But the Act went further than that, as your Lordships will remember. It saddled the local authorities with 64 per cent, of the annual annuities, 36 per cent, being undertaken by the Government—that is to say, 16 per cent, was charged on the Labourers' Cottages Fund and 20 per cent, came out of the Ireland Development Grant.
The demand now is for a further increase of capital to enable these schemes to be carried through; but it will be observed that further capital cannot be granted unless further provision is made for carrying out that part of the guaranteed grant-in-aid to the local authorities on the basis of the previous Acts. With a view of meeting this, in Clause 1 of the Bill your Lordships will see that certain sums are set aside for the purpose of increasing the annual grant under the Labourers' Cottages Fund, and money is taken from the dormant portion of the Suitors' Fund in the Supreme Court of Judicature in Ireland to the extent of £36,000 in cash and £30,000 in Consols. This transfer from the Suitors' Fund to the Local Government Board in Ireland is to be invested by them, and the income arising therefrom is added to the Fund which already exists under the name of the Labourers' Cottages Fund. If there should be a deficiency in the Suitors' Fund in the Supreme Court as the result of this transfer, that deficiency will be met out of the Consolidated Fund, but of course it is not expected that there ever will be a deficiency. The cash balance at the Bank of Ireland, out of which the £36,000 cash is taken, stands at £110,000, so that a large balance is left there. The Suitors' Account No. 1, out of which £20,000 in Consols is taken, has a sum of £34,000 in Consols; and the Unclaimed Order and Residue Account, out of which £10,000 is taken, stands at £15,000. Consequently, in spite of this depletion, large balances remain under all those heads.
The second clause extends the capital sum which may be loaned for this purpose from £4,250,000 to £5,250,000, with a proviso that should any deficiency arise, with regard to the contribution of 16 per cent, made by the Government under the Labourers' Cottages Fund, that deficiency shall be borne by the rates—that is to say, the 16 per cent, might conceivably be reduced to, say, 15 per cent. That, of course, is not anticipated, but this 1127 provision has had to be inserted in case of such a deficiency arising. Clause 3 increases the Development Grant—which. as I have mentioned, is responsible for 20 per cent. of the annual annuities—from £28,000 to £34,000 a year, and thus throws an additional charge of £6,000 a year on the Exchequer. That is the only additional charge which the taxpayer will bear in connection with this Bill. Clause 4 deals with the power of investment; Clause 5 with the right of removing insanitary houses; Clause 6 with the payment of purchase money and compensation into Court, and Clause 7 with matters connected with the evidence of Local Government Board inspectors.
The main provisions of this Bill are financial, and it is nothing more than an extension of the previous Act so that rural districts in Ireland will have an additional £1,000,000 which they can borrow for the purpose of erecting labourers' cottages. This is a Bill which raised no controversy in the other House. The original Act is generally regarded to have benefited the rural population of Ireland to an incalculable extent, and I believe there is a general feeling, which I hope your Lordships will share, that this work should be continued and extended.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ashby St. Ledgers.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the principal provisions of this Bill, as the noble Lord has told us, deal with matters connected with the finance of the Labourers Acts, and, so far as I was able to follow him, they seem to be unobjectionable nor were they provisions with which this House would naturally much concern itself. But the noble Lord passed over without any explanation at all one clause in the Bill which does seem to require a little elucidation. I refer to Clause 5, which permits the demolition, upon an Order from the Local Government Board, of any dwelling-house certified to be insanitary, provided suitable accommodation has been obtained or is obtainable by the inmate of the house elsewhere. It is no doubt the case that there are still a great number of extremely bad houses in Ireland, but, on the other hand, it should not be forgotten that the number of those houses is diminishing at a very great. rate. I looked before I came to the House at the statistics, and I find these remarkable 1128 figures. Whereas in 1871 there were in Ireland no fewer than 227,000 houses of the fourth class—fourth class houses, I understand, are mud cabins with one window—the number had fallen by the year 1901 to less than 10,000. I mention that because it shows, I think, that by a natural and most satisfactory process the number of these houses is diminishing, whereas a corresponding increase in the better class of houses is noticeable in the same statistics.
What I want to ask is this. Where a labourer's house is found to be unfit for human habitation it may be almost summarily demolished provided it is shown that suitable accommodation is available for the inhabitant of that house elsewhere. You may say that if an Englishman's house is his castle an Irishman's cabin is not less his castle, and he might have a very great objection to the demolition of his house, even if it was a very bad one, if the accommodation offered him was not in an equally convenient place. Suppose his work lies in the neighbourhood, it would not in the least comfort him to have his house knocked down and to be told that he must go and inhabit a better house in another place. I should like the noble Lord to tell us what is really the change in the law which this clause makes. The same question is dealt, with in Section 17 Of the Act of 1885, and it would be interesting to know, for it does not appear at first sight, what really is the change which it is desired to effect by means of this fifth clause.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
My Lords, I did not mean to slur over this point, and I have great pleasure in telling the noble Marquess exactly what is effected by this clause. May I say first of all, that if the noble Marquess will look at Clause 5, subsection (1), he will observe that no house can be demolished unless an inspector of the Local Government Board is satisfied that "suitable house accommodation is obtainable elsewhere." It is only in those conditions that, the demolition of a house can be ordered under this clause, and that itself, I think, is sufficient protection against any ruthless destruction of Irishmen's cabins.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Is the noble Lord satisfied that the word "suitable" covers the situation of the alternative house?
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I feel pretty clear that that is the intention of the wording. The present situation is this. Under Section 17 of the Labourers Act, 1885, it is provided that if the inspector of the Local Government Board, at a local inquiry as to an improvement scheme, finds a house occupied by a labourer to be unfit for habitation he may report it to the Local Government Board. It then becomes the duty of the sanitary authority, when they have provided other house accommodation for the occupant, to serve notice on the owner prohibiting the unfit house being used as a dwelling-house, and if the owner disobeys the order a further order may be made to prevent the house being used as a dwelling-house or requiring its demolition; but it has in practice been found impossible to prevent those houses remaining standing and being occupied, and it is desirable to give additional powers to local authorities with regard to this class of property. Otherwise the provisions of the Act of 1906 would be very largely destroyed. It is now proposed that, on the report of the inspector, the Local Government Board may direct the district council to require the owner to demolish the house without option, and if the owner makes default the authority are in a position to carry out the work of demolition themselves and to recover the cost from the owner. There is a precedent for this to be found in the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878, in the Working Classes Act, 1903, and in the Housing Act, 1890. In those cases power is granted to a local authority to recover costs from the owner for work which they have carried out for him in default of his doing it himself. So we are proceeding on precedents already recognised, and it is hoped that by the strengthening of the hands of the local authorities in respect of the demolition of this unsatisfactory class of property the real intention of these and preceding Acts may be carried out.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.