HC Deb 28 May 1906 vol 158 cc107-16

said the Bill which, he asked leave to introduce endeavoured to deal in a final and complete manner with a question which had long been agitated in Ireland, and which had given rise to discontent there. As far back as 1883 Parliament endeavoured to provide better houses for the labouring class in Ireland, but neither that Act nor several Acts which followed, attained more than a very imperfect success. Since 1883, a period of twenty-three years, less than one-half of the number of cottages which were estimated to be necessary had in fact been built, and the building had been very unequal in different parts of the country; particularly in some northern counties very few had been erected. The causes of this want of success had been three. First, the costly and tardy procedure which had hitherto been taken under the Acts; secondly, the failure of a certain number of rural district councils to build the cottages; and, thirdly, the want of funds, the heavy charge which the building of cottages had imposed upon the rates, and the consequent disinclination of some rural district councils to incur the necessary expenditure. The present Bill proposed to remedy the defects and to provide a better method by three principal changes. In the first place the Bill made a number of provisions for reducing the cost of procedure under the Acts. There had hitherto been an appeal to the Privy Council which had given rise to great delay and had been a very costly procedure. It was proposed to put an end to the appeal to the Privy Council and instead to enable the Inspector of the Local Government Board to make an order and to give an appeal to the Local Government Board, if necessary, in cases where land was compulsorily taken. Precedents might be found for this proposal in the Alkali Acts, and also in the way the Local Government Board dealt with the question of surcharges made by their auditors. By this means and other improvements in the procedure it was expected that a very great reduction of cost in the process by which cottages and land were obtained would be secured. It was also intended to reduce the periods during which notices had to be given where land was not taken compulsorily, and it was proposed to cheapen and to simplify the transference of land and the proceedings for obtaining title. He might add that the Local Government Board proposed to make matters still simpler by issuing uniform forms which the county and district councils could use, and also to issue model plans of cottages, under which architects' charges might be greatly reduced. The second way in which it was proposed to remedy the existing defects was to provide against the omission of district councils in many cases to prepare schemes for the creation of cottages, and it was proposed, where the rural district council was admittedly in default, that the Local Government Board should itself have the power of appointing an officer to perform the office which otherwise would devolve upon the district council, and in that way to improve the methods of procedure prescribed by the Act of 1891. Some changes were also to be made in the provisions of the Land Purchase Act so far as they contemplated labourers. It was proposed to strengthen the hands of the Estates Commissioners where the estate was sold, and they proposed to make provision for labourers' cottages by amending Section 96 of the Land Purchase Act. They also proposed to amend Section 4 of the Act by enabling the Land Commissioners to make advances under the Labourers Acts in a more workable and practicable form than at present existed under that section. He might note in this connection that he had introduced a clause containing a provision for enabling the labourers to pay punctually the rents they owed to the district councils, and to acquire holdings under the Land Act, and in that way to become themselves the owners of land. The most important part, however, of the remedial measures were those which had a financial character. He proposed to explain shortly the system by which they proposed to find the money to enable the Acts to work efficiently. There would be a very great cheapening in the initial cost of providing cottages by the economies he had described, but beyond that better terms for obtaining money would be needed, and they proposed three principal changes. In the first place it was proposed to allow loans up to the amount of £4,250,000 to be made to the district councils, for the purpose of erecting labourers' cottages and providing them with plots of land. The land charges terms meant the repayment in sixty-eight and a half years by an annuity of 3¼ per cent., covering interest and sinking fund.

SIR E. CARSON (Dublin University)

was understood to ask where the money would come from.


said that it would be assimilated out of the Land Purchase Fund. In the second place it was proposed to reduce the cost of the loans and to bear a part of the cost of the annuities of which interest and sinking fund would be secured by two sources of income—first, those sources called certain Irish Funds, and savings, viz., to take out of the Petty Sessions' Clerks Fund, which now stood at a sum of about £180,000, a capital sum of £150,000 and to invest it, and to apply the annual interest thereof to reducing the cost of the annuities. Secondly, it was proposed to take out of the Irish Development Grant a capital sum, after January 1st next, of £70,000. Under existing arrangements the sum of £50,000 would be paid up to March 31st next to form a fund for the flotation working balance of the land purchase system. It was proposed after that to draw upon the Irish Development Fund until a sum of £70,000 had been raised, which would be in the course of a little more than a year, and constitute this also a capital sum to be applied to the reduction of the annuities. In the third place, it was proposed to effect certain savings on the judicial establishment in Ireland and to apply the sum of £3,500 which belonged to a judgeship now suspended to suspend or extinguish another judgeship, which would also give £3,500, and to reduce the salary of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland from £8,000 to £6,000. These three savings would give him a further sum of £9,000 a year. And lastly, it was proposed to take out of the Exchequer contribution which was paid to the county councils in Ireland for the purpose of labourers' cottages a sum of £6,000 a year, leaving a sum of £31,000 to help relieve the rural district councils of the charge which they were now under. In that way they arrived at a sum from these Irish sources of £22,300 a year, and that completed his second head of resources. That money would not be enough to enable what was necessary to be done, and he had had to appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to enable the machine to work. He had come forward in what he might venture to say was a very liberal and large minded spirit, and had undertaken to provide a grant for the purpose, a spirit which he appreciated, and which he trusted would be appreciated by hon. Members from Ireland. The grant was to be taken in this form. There was to be an Exchequer grant not to exceed £28,000 a year, which was to be paid into the Ireland Development Grant as necessity arose, and sums were to be taken out of the Ireland Development Grant to that amount, so that that which came out of the Development Grant would be replenished from these Exchequer grants. In that way these Exchequer grants would pay one-fifth of the total amount of the annuity, and these funds would amount altogether to £50,000. They had calculated the sum required under the improved provisions of the Bill at £130 for each cottage, and in addition a sum of £40 for the plot up to an acre of land which it was intended to give. He calculated, therefore, the land and cottage together at an average sum of £170. The loan of £4,250,000 would provide, upon the terms he had mentioned, 25,000 cottages. He believed that with reasonable economy on the part of councils and careful supervision of finance by the Local Government Board, it would be possible to provide many more than 25,000, and he hoped it would be possible to provide 30,000 cottages if necessary, and the annuities upon these terms on £4,250,000 would amount to the sum of £138,000 a year. Taking the rent at an average of 1s. a week—in many places they would no doubt be much higher, especially considering the increase to an acre of land—the rents were computed to amount to about £65,000 per year. Therefore when they added those two sums together it would give them a sum of £115,000 per year to reduce the annuities, leaving only £23,000 a year besides the cost of repairs and administration to be borne by the rates. Under the old plan much less than 20,000 cottages had been built. The total up to the end of 1904 was 17,400, the annuities upon which amounted to £131,000, and the rents to £37,000. The Exchequer contribution was £34,000 a year at that time, and the balance which fell upon the rates under the old system was no less than £60,000 a year. Yet under that system only 17,400 cottages had been built. They now proposed to provide 25,000 cottages at a charge to the rates, not of £60,000, but of only £23,000 a year. To put the matter in a somewhat different way, the charge under the old system on each loan of £200 for a cottage had been £5 12s. 6d., but under the plan proposed in the Bill it would be only £1 6s. 8d. Such were, put in the briefest way, the outlines of the scheme of the Bill. It had, no doubt, certain exceptional features, but he would venture to remind the House that there were circumstances in this case which justified very exceptional measures. In the first place, successive Governments had made promises to the labourers that their needs would be met, and it was undeniable that up to now those needs had not been met. In the second place, after so much had been done for the Irish tenants, and the enormous liability which had been incurred in order to enable them to become owners of their tenancies, it was very natural there should be discontent among the labourers. He thought it might reasonably be said, that when so much had been done for the tenants, they would be greatly failing in their duty to the people of Ireland if they did not give treatment in the same liberal spirit to the labourers. In the third place the condition of the dwellings of those poor labourers was deplorably bad. He did not think if would be possible to overstate the wretchedness and misery in which the labouring population of Ireland lived, and the necessity for removing the evil they suffered from. He would add that what had roused him most to the gravity of the case, and the need for strong and immediate measures, was the sanitary condition of the labourers' dwellings, the spread of disease, especially of tubercular disease, and the alarming increase of lunacy. He thought these facts, which he might have enlarged upon had time permitted, must be viewed by Parliament with sincere sympathy and deep concern. It was in the belief that the House would deem the exceptional provisions of the Bill justified by the urgency of the case, and in the earnest hope that those provisions would arrest the physical decline of the population, and give the labourers, rescued from their present despair, a new hope, and a better capacity for bettering their condition, and of bringing back prosperity to their country, he asked leave to bring in this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Labourers in Ireland, and to make provision with respect to the application of portion of the Ireland Development Grant."—(Mr. Bryce.)

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

thought everyone concerned in this matter had reason to congratulate himself upon the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover abandoned his Labourers' Bill in 1904. If that Bill had been pressed forward and passed, as it would have been with the majority the right hon. Gentleman had behind him, they would not have seen this Bill, which was, at all events, a remarkable contrast to the Bill of 1904; in fact, a greater contrast between two measures he had never known in all his experience. When the Chief Secretary came into office, and proceeded to consider this question, the Irish Party pressed upon him three main points, and he had dealt in his speech with each of them. The first that they pressed as essential was that money for the purpose would be given at land purchase terms. Secondly, that there should be something, at any rate, in the nature of a bonus, or free grant; and thirdly, that there should be a cheapening, or shortening of the procedure, and simplification of the title which would render the work of the Act more expeditious. At present it was sixty-eight and a half years at an annuity of £3 5s. per cent., covering interest and sinking fund. The present rate for building cottages was £4 17s. 6d. per cent. Now this threw an enormous and unjust burden upon the rates, and stopped the working of the Act all over Ireland. It left a charge so great that it caused the work of cottage building in many districts to be practically suspended. It was not an exaggeration to say that in many districts it caused an annual charge on the rates of at least £6 a year. That was a very prohibitive charge, and when they asked the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dover to cheapen the terms, at least, he not only refused to do so, but in a speech declared that no Chancellor of the Exchequer would ever dream of giving them land purchase terms. They urged on the Chief Secretary and the Treasury that there was no reason to refuse land purchase terms to labourers for building when those terms were given to landlord and tenant, and he was happy to think that as the result of their action the Chief Secretary had been able to do this, and to provide the money for building houses, and for the purchase of the land necessary for this Act at 3¼ per cent. interest and sinking fund. That in itself, if there was nothing else, was an enormous gain. The Chief Secretary had explained that in addition to this cheap money, Parliament proposed that a free grant of £50,000 a year was to be given in relief of rates. It came from two sources, £22,000 from the interest on certain Irish funds, and £28,000 in the shape of a free grant from the Treasury. So far as these Irish funds were concerned, he thought they had some reason to complain that they were touched at all; he thought it would have been more equitable if the whole £50,000 a year were provided as a free grant from the Treasury. They had certainly reason to complain of this constant draining of the funds of the Development Grant, which was intended for education, and so far as the sum from the Petty Sessions Clerk Fund Was concerned, he must reserve his judgment. If his information was correct, this arrangement covered at least £4,000 or £5,000 a year which the local bodies at present got from that fund, and to that extent the allocation of this money would go in diminution of the £28,000 a year granted from the Treasury. Although he felt bound to say this, he had not the heart to make any very vigorous protest against this allocation if it was the only way of providing funds. If these Irish funds should ever have to be used for purely Irish purposes, then there could be no more deserving Irish purpose than that for which they were now being allocated. As far as the £28,000 free grant was concerned, he did not understand, and he did not like, the arrangement by which it was to be paid in and out of the Development fund. He thought unless they were very careful in the agreement with the Treasury, and with regard to the drafting of the clause, that the Development Grant might suffer, and find itself suddenly £28,000 less than it ought to be unless grants from the Treasury were given to it simultaneously with the other grants. The main point of the Bill which he desired to emphasise was the financial proposal of the Chief Secretary to provide £4,250,000 at land purchase terms and to make a free grant of £50,000. That was calculated on the basis of 25,000 cottages at £170. But he spoke of it to-day as a final and complete settlement of the question, and he must take exception, to that. He thought the 25,000 cottages ought to be built in the course of five or six years.


It is an approximate estimate, but I think it would be possible to provide a good deal more than 25,000 cottages.


agreed that the estimate of cost was too high, but he did not think the whole of this question could be settled with £4,500,000. He presumed that was only a calculation, and that in the Bill itself there would be no limit, and that when that was exhausted it would be still possible to go on drawing money on land purchase terms. The Chief Secretary had given some figures which he did not take down, but, as he understood the finance of this measure, it was as follows:—The present annual charge on the rates for one cottage built at a cost of £170, including the price of land at £4 17s. 6d., amounted to £8 5s. 9d. The future charge was to be at the rate of 3¼ per cent. for money; that was to say, the charge would be £5 10s. 6d. In addition, there was to be a free grant of £50,000 in respect of 25,000 cottages. That would reduce the charge on each cottage to £3 10s. 6d., as against £8 5s. 9d., or a saving of £4 15s. 3d. He had left out the rent altogether; if the rent was brought in, then the £3 10s. 6d. would be reduced by 1s. per week which would make the annual charge on the rates something under £1. If that was so, no one could deny that it was a substantial and honest effort of the Government to grapple with the question. On the procedure clauses he could not speak, because he had not time under the ten minutes rule, but he was quite sure, from what the right hon. Gentleman had said, and from what he knew his intentions were, that the cost in respect to procedure and simplification of title would be reduced in the Bill by half or more, so that the reduction in respect to the cottage would go on in that part of the Bill also. He was glad to hear him say also that the provision in the Land Act which provided for certain classes of people, evicted tenants, and the sons of evicted tenants, who were endeavouring to obtain untenanted land and rise to the position of farmers, was to be amended so as to include labourers in future, and he was glad also that the clause which enabled trustees to be appointed to take up land for the purposes of the labourers and had been in operation under the Act of 1903 was to apply. He understood also that the limited rate was in certain cases, where it was found necessary, to be raised beyond a shilling in the £1. There were some other provisions with which he should have liked to deal, but manifestly he could not at present. He, of course, knew that it was not through any fault of the Chief Secretary that the Bill had not been introduced earlier in the session. He knew the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman had to face, and the long and tedious negotiations which had resulted in his being able to do as much as he had done. But as the Bill was introduced late in the session he would urge upon the right hon. Gentleman to obtain the earliest possible date for the Second Reading. He trusted that after that stage the Bill would be examined by a, Committee at the earliest possible moment so that there would be no excuse for hanging over the consideration of its clauses in Committee. He would therefore conclude by saying that he believed this was a comprehensive and honest measure of the right hon. Gentleman. He did not believe, however, that it was sufficient to settle this question completely, but nobody could have any doubt whatever that it would enormously mitigate the evils of the present system and facilitate the rapid building of houses all over Ireland in the next few years.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Bryce and Mr. Attorney-General for Ireland.