§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
LORD DE ROS
I venture to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this Bill. I confess that I regret it did not come up to your Lordships' House a little earlier in the Session, when more Irish Peers would have been here to discuss its merits. I may say it passed through another place without any opposition being offered to it, and that the Amendments made by the Government were accepted. The object of the Bill is not to enlarge the powers of Boards of Guardians, but merely to remedy the grievance resulting from their inaction, particularly in the Province of Ulster, in reference to the Labourers' Acts. The operative clauses are strictly controlled by the Local Government Board; and I think, the tenant farmers having received so much lately from legislation in their favour, something should be done for the labourers; the labourers are naturally desirous that 1228 something should be done for them, and they feel that they have been left out in the cold. These clauses, I think, speak for themselves. The operation of the Labourers' Acts in Ulster is almost a dead letter, on account of the difficulty of getting 12 labourers to initiate the proceedings. Clause 3, therefore, provides for this being done by not less than 12 persons, but they need not be ratepayers. Then the 4th clause is on account of the Boards of Guardians having repeatedly rejected representations made to them, a course which has caused great agitation. The 5th clause is necessary, simply because of the fact that although the powers of the Land Commission are in operation there is no one capable of enforcing those clauses; but this enables the Local Government Board to enforce them. The other clauses I do not think I need comment upon, except the 6th clause. That is to save the expense caused by technical errors in carrying through any improvement scheme. The 8th clause gives discretion to the Local Government Board in cases of wilful neglect by Boards of Guardians. I may say that the last clause has been struck out on the representation being made that it was a money clause. I hope your Lordships will give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord de Ros.)
*THE EARL OF ARRAN
My Lords, I rise according to notice to ask your Lordships to read this Bill a second time this day three months. I will say at once that I am in considerable sympathy with the objects of the Bill, but it seems to me sufficient time has not been given for its proper consideration. The Bill only passed the other House late on Friday; it came up to your Lordships' House yesterday, and it cannot possibly have been in the hands of noble Lords who do not happen to be in London to-day, as it was only printed in time to be put on your Lordships' Table this afternoon. I believe there is considerable difference of opinion as to how the Bill will work in the South and West of Ireland, and therefore I think it is hardy reasonable to ask your Lordships to pass the Bill through all its stages this evening.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this day three months.")—(The Lord Sudley [E. Arran].)
My Lords, there is one point which ought to be noticed in this Bill. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) has pointed out a dangerous principle in a former Bill, and I think attention should be called to a very dangerous principle here. I do not enter at all now upon the question of policy involved in providing houses for people, whether labourers or others, out of the rates; but hitherto the ratepayer has had this protection, as I gather from what the noble Lord (Lord de Ros) has said in introducing the Bill, that it has required the consent of the ratepayers before these Acts can be invoked. If the ratepayers put the Act in motion, then it may come into operation; but this Bill does away with that, for the 3rd clause says—Notwithstanding anything contained in the fifth section of the Labourers (Ireland) Act. 1883, a representation in pursuance of the said Acts shall mean a representation signed by not less than twelve persons, whether rated for the relief of the poor within the sanitary district or not.Now that, it seems to me, is a very marked step in advance, and an absolute departure from the security which the ratepayers had under the former Act. I certainly do not think the House ought to depart from such a principle too hastily.
§ EARL CADOGAN
My Lords, the Government have no actual connection with this Bill beyond the fact that they allowed it to pass through the other House of Parliament, and that some verbal Amendments were made in it by the Attorney General for Ireland. The noble Lord on the Cross Benches (Earl Wemyss) has alluded to what in my mind is the main point of the whole Bill, namely, that it adds to the number of those who were previously able to initiate proceedings, in whom lay the power of calling the Act into operation, that is to say, the ratepayers; but my noble Friend, I think, put it rather too strongly. It merely gives them power to join in the representation, and they have no further power in the matter; as proposed by the Bill they have no power 1230 of decision. But I confess I feel some difficulty in reference to the course that has been taken, and by the Motion of the noble Lord (the Earl of Arran). I must leave it to the House to say whether they will accept the Bill or not. As far as the Government are concerned, they consider the Bill is certainly harmless in its objects, and that its passing might be advantageous.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
It seems to me, my Lords, that rather different treatment has been meted out to this measure than to the last. I am not going to argue against this Bill, except on the ground which has been already put by the noble Marquess, namely, that we ought not to pass a Bill without examining it. It may be an excellent Bill, but I certainly have not had an opportunity of examining it more than I had in the case of the other Bill. With regard to the acquiescence which it received from the Government in the other House, I had that plea in my favour with regard to the other Bill. At the same time, the Bill does not seem to be one of a very serious character, and though I feel the force of the objection to passing Bills hurriedly at this period of the Session, and that it is an objection not lightly to be put aside, I hope the noble Lord will act with some magnanimity in not dividing the House, because if the House is divided now the Bill will be assuredly lost.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I can only say the maxim de minimis non curat lex may be applied here. It is a very small Bill indeed.
§ On Question whether ("now") shall stand part of the Motion, resolved in the affirmative: Bill read 2a accordingly: Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX. having been dispensed with) Bill read 3a, and passed.