HC Deb 20 February 1882 vol 266 cc1204-17

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make better provision for the Superannuation of the Officers of Poor Law Unions in Ireland."—(Mr. Herbert Gladstone.)


suggested that before leave was given for the introduction of the Bill, the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) might briefly explain its objects.


, in reply, said, that the main object of the Bill was to regulate and improve the position of Poor Law Union Officers in Ireland in respect to retiring allowances. According to the present system, Poor Law Guardians were empowered to grant pensions to Onion Officers under certain conditions; but that system had not been found to work satisfactorily in some respects. The object of the Bill was to transfer to the Local Government Board in Ireland the power of granting pensions on a new scale, to establish a general superannuation fund, and to extend the benefits of the Act to all Union Officers. The Bill had met with the strong approval of Union Officers in Ireland, and he trusted the House would grant permission for its introduction.


said, he was sure the Irish Members were very much indebted to the enterprise of the hon. Gentleman; but they were not aware that the Union Officers had sought the intervention of the hon. Member. It was somewhat strange that a Bill dealing with the improvement of the position of Union Officers should not be brought before the House through the legitimate channels—namely, the Representatives of Ireland. They were under the impression that the hon. Member (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) had been so fully occupied with a different class of subjects while in Ireland, and this diligence on his part had come upon them with some surprise. The special object of the Bill, to place Union Officers still more under the power of the Local Government Board—a Board which was synonymous with jobbery in Ireland—rendered it incumbent upon the Irish Members to oppose the progress of the Bill. The Local Government Board had distinguished itself by the dismissal of Dr. Kenny—an act of shabby tyranny which was not known even in the English administration of Ireland. It was quite evident that the hon. Member had not consulted opinion in Ireland, or he would not have proposed to increase the powers of the Local Government Board. He was very sorry that when the hon. Member undertook to clean the Augean stables of Ireland—he believed that was the Herculean task to which he had devoted himself—he had not chosen a more suitable locality for the exercise of his well-intentioned efforts.


thought the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) had not sufficiently explained the Bill. Had there been an expression of opinion from any Boards of Guardians on the present system? The Boards of Guardians in Ireland, having had certain officers in their employment for a certain number of years, were at liberty to vote them superannuation pensions, not exceeding fixed amounts, subject to the approbation of the Local Government Board. This Bill proposed to take away that power from the Boards of Guardians, and centralize it in an alien establishment in Dublin. The Boards of Guardians in Ireland were elected half by the ratepayers and half by the Government. Had any complaints been made that the Boards of Guardians had abused their present powers? Had any complaints been made, except by discontented officers, that the Boards of Guardians had not exercised their powers justly? Why, then, should they adopt the system of centralization at the very time they were being told the Government were going to bring in a Local Government Bill for Ireland, unless it was to give employment in Ireland to the immense powers of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herbert Gladstone), and to afford some excuse for the payment of his salary? ["That is far fetched!"] That might appear far fetched to some hon. Gentlemen; but it did not do so to one who had had some experience of the working of the Poor Law in Ireland. He did not believe there was any one section of the Poor Law Act in Ireland that had given more satisfaction than that under which the local Guardians had worked out the system of superannuation The Guardians were the paymasters; and in a matter of this kind they ought to be consulted. He decidedly objected to leave being given to introduce the Bill.


said, the conversation that had taken place must have suggested already to the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) that it would be injudicious to endeavour to proceed with the Bill at the present moment. He was not aware that the principle of superannuating Union Officers was objectionable; in fact, he regarded with favour any scheme which would make provision for old age and for the recognition of long service. But a forcible objection had been taken by the ton. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) to leave being granted that night to introduce the Bill. The hon. Gentleman asked for evidence as to whether the hon. Member for Leeds, in drafting the Bill, had consulted the Irish Boards of Guardians. They naturally had strong opinions on the subject, and their opinions were, no doubt, shared by a great body of ratepayers in Ireland. It was, therefore, desirable that, before they assented to the introduction of the Bill, they should be informed how far the Boards of Guardians had approved of the provisions of the measure sought to be introduced. Another and a still more powerful objection, in his mind, to the introduction of the Bill, was that proposed to grant an additional power to the Irish Local Government Board. The Irish Local Government Board was, of all the Boards that misgoverned Ireland, the most hateful to Irish sentiment and feeling. The last act of this Board was one of persecution unapproachably mean with regard to one of the most respectable professional men in Ireland (Dr. Kenny); in fact, upon the Board rested the gross discredit of having given the most powerful lie to the public pledge of the Government in Ireland, because the Local Government Board had made the Coercion Act an act of persecution. He lately endeavoured to induce the Government to allow him to introduce a Bill to repeal the Coercion Act of last Session; but permission was refused him. He was inclined to believe that they were entitled to have some time granted them for the consideration of this Bill; and, therefore, he now moved that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Sexton.)


said, the Bill was framed to remove grievances which admittedly existed, and after, at all events, two deputations had waited on the Local Government Board or Chief Secretary. He was under the impression that the law at present was that a medical officer of a Union, or other Union Officer, might be superannuated, provided he had given his whole time to the Union. The consequence of that was, that if a man had spent the best part of his life in the service of one Union, and then had been appointed or promoted to another, he could not properly be compensated by either Union, because he had not given his whole time to it. Was not that a grievance to be redressed? At present the law was that superannuation should not exceed two-thirds of the entire salary as a maximum; but there was no fixed rule upon which officers could be superannuated, and it was felt to be a necessity that there should be a scale according to length of service. All that was asked now was that the Bill should be allowed to be introduced. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would have full opportunity of considering and discussing it when introduced, and. he was sure they would not deny a deserving class of officers the opportunity of having their grievances redressed.


considered the Government were not acting in a consistent manner. They objected to a Bill being introduced by the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) a few nights ago for a particular reason. Now, the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Callan) had given very substantial reasons why this Bill should not be introduced at the present moment, yet the Government persisted. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Callan) had pointed out that no evidence had been offered that any application had been made by the Representatives of the ratepayers in favour of the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. W. M. Johnson) had told them that some deputation had waited upon the Local Government Board; but he did not tell them that the deputation was in favour of the particular change in the law now proposed. It would seem to him (Mr. Biggar) very odd if the Government were to propose an alteration of the law of this nature without consulting the ratepayers or the Representatives of the ratepayers. It would seem to him, also, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) was taking a very long step in the direction of personal government if he introduced a Bill of this sort on very slight ground; he was taking a leaf out of his father's book, for he evidently thought that if his father could dictate to every section of the people of England, he could dictate to the ratepayers of Ireland. The hon. Gentleman had recently taken lessons in the superintendence of the war-hogging department of the Government, and had gone through the country in the capacity of a superannuated bailiff. If his father could not find him better occupation than that, it would have been very much better for this infant Hercules if he had stayed at home. He (Mr. Biggar) begged to support the proposition for the adjournment of the debate, and hoped they would hear less of this amateur statesmanship.


asked the Government, whether the Local Government Board in England was vested with the power which it was proposed to give to the Local Government Board in Ireland?


said, the Local Government Board in Ireland had, like the Local Government Board in England, the power of controlling any application made by the Guardians for superannuation.


asked, why the law should not be the same in both countries? Why should they give a power to the Local Government Board in Ireland which the Local Government Board in England had not? If it was right and proper to take away a particular power from the Poor Law Guardians in Ireland, surely it was equally right to take away the same power from the Poor Law Guardians in England. His experience was, that the Irish Guardians were liberal and discreet, while the English Guardians were narrow-minded, mean, and penurious.


said, it happened that the other day he was at Dublin Castle. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen opposite need not express their surprise and indignation, for he was there endeavouring to secure the release of some of the "suspects." As he was coming away he saw a very influential deputation, and asked what their business was. He was told their object was to represent to the Government the necessity of some alteration in the law in regard to better provision for the superannuation of officers of the Poor Law Unions in Ireland. If the Government would inform them that such a deputation did wait upon them, and would really give them some information upon the matter, it was very likely they would not have so much opposition to the introduction of the Bill.


hoped the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds would consent to postpone the introduction of the Bill for a couple of nights. His hon. Friend (Mr. O'Shea) had referred to his being at Dublin Castle. He (Mr. R. Power) was happy to say he had never been there, for he had never believed in the method of legislation adopted in that establishment. The right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland had said two deputations had waited upon them in reference to this subject; but he had not stated by whom those deputations were composed. They might have been deputations of two or three gentlemen from Dublin, or from London for all they knew. What he and his hon. Friends were anxious to know was whether the feeling of the country was in favour of the Bill. As a rule, it was very injudicious that Bills down for first reading should be opposed. He had always held that opinion; but, at the same time, he must remind the House that an example was set by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The other night the hon. Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton) asked leave to introduce a Bill for the repeal of certain provisions of the Coercion Act. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland opposed the Motion, and in doing so might have thought he had good grounds. He (Mr. R. Power), however, did not think the right hon. Gentleman had good grounds. But the Chief Secretary for Ireland went a little further, and he opposed the Bill which he (Mr. R. Power) had the honour to introduce, and about which the right hon. Gentleman could not possibly have known anything, for the Bill was never drafted. The example was one which they ought not, as a rule, to follow; but in this instance they were entitled to receive a satisfactory explanation from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds. By this Bill it was proposed to throw extra power in the hands of the Local Government Board, which was the most unpopular Board in Ireland. This being the case, they ought to hesitate before reading the Bill even a first time. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would consent to the postponement of his Motion for a couple of nights.


said, one deputation which waited upon the Chief Secretary for Ireland represented the most eminent members of the Medical Profession in Ireland, the other deputation represented the Union Officers in Ireland. He thought, under the circumstances, the hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House might now return good for evil, and allow the Bill to he introduced.


said, they were now having an admirable illustration of the difficulty under which they laboured in Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General for Ireland) could not assure them that any persons representing the ratepayers of Ireland had waited upon him in reference to this matter. Neither could he assure them that he had taken counsel with the Representatives of Ireland in this House. As an English Member, he (Mr. Storey) could not help contrasting the method in which they proceeded with Scotch legislation and with Irish legislation. If they wished to legislate for Scot-land, some of the Members of the Government representing Scotland took counsel with the Scotch Members, and if those hon. Gentlemen did not happen to be favourable to the proposed legislation it was dropped. But under the grandmotherly system which was applied to Ireland, a Member of the Government came down to the House—and in his short experience of the House it had been done not once, but several times—and proposed something which he told hon. Members from Ireland was a very good thing for Ireland. What did it matter, if it was good or bad, if the Members from Ireland had not been consulted in a reasonable and manly fashion? He told the Government from his standpoint, although that did not mean much, that the whole method of dealing with Ireland would have to be altered. If they wanted to have legislation for the country, let them have legislation which the Irish people wanted; and if they wanted to know what the wishes of the people were, let them consult the Irish Members. Where were the Liberal Members from Ireland now? Where were the Conservative Members representing Ireland? There were a few of the latter present; take them for what they were worth. He wished sometimes those hon. Gentlemen had not the qualities they exhibited, and at other times he wished other hon. Gentlemen had some of the qualities they exhibited. He said here they were, whatever the House thought about them. They were the Representatives from Ireland, competent to speak for the people who sent them to Parliament; and he maintained that the Government would have done well on such a matter as this to have taken counsel with the Irish Party. He had never sympathized himself, nor did he believe the people who had sent him here sympathized with the system under which Irish legislation was carried on. The proposition which the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) had now put before them, to the effect that more power should be given to the Local Government Board of Ireland, was, to his (Mr. Storey's) way of thinking, a very questionable one. The measure meant increased centralization; and it seemed to him that hon. Gentlemen from Ireland, whose constituents were interested in the matter, and had not been consulted, although they would have to pay the cost, were justified in resisting the introduction of the Bill. He would not himself join in any obstructive tactics. He had voted with the Irish Members many times; but he had never taken part in Obstruction, and, on the present occasion, he really thought that the request made by the Irish Representatives was a reasonable one, and one to which the Government would do well to accede. Some further consideration should be given to this matter.


thought the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) must have seen by this time that there would be some advantage in postponing the measure, and giving the Irish Members some time to consider it. They all appreciated the interest the hon. Member took in Ireland; but, still, this was his first attempt at legislation, and it would be well for him to allow them a little more time to think over it. He (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) had never even heard of this legislation until now, although he represented an Irish county in which there were a large number of Boards of Guardians. This stroke of reform was not a national necessity, or, if it was, it was curious that Irish Members had heard nothing about it. The hon. Gentleman was good-naturedly endeavouring to do some good to Ireland; but it was a pity that he did not proceed more publicly, and give the Irish Members an opportunity of aiding him. As he had not done so, and had failed to give them reason why this measure should be introduced, it would be advisable to allow the thing to rest where it was for a while. Let hon. Members have an opportunity of thinking it over, and of endeavouring to discover its beauties; and perhaps, after that, they might be able to support it and devote their energies to making it worthy of the great source from which it came.


I would point out to the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. Justin M'Carthy) that if he wants to think over the proposal, he can do so with more advantage when he sees the proposal before him, than he can possibly do before the measure is presented. The Bill has the second reading stage to go through after this; and as it is of considerable length, it will, in all probability, occupy a long time in Committee. I do not think there is any likelihood that it will be passed with undue haste, if introduced; in fact, I believe the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) will give ample time for it to be considered, before the House is asked to give an opinion upon it. With regard to what fell from the hon. Member for Sunder-land (Mr. Storey), the hon. Gentleman ought to consider the little encouragement we get to approach the Irish Members in the spirit he points out, If the Bill is allowed to proceed, I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman in charge of it will give every attention to the suggestions of hon. Gentlemen opposite.


said, the arguments the noble Marquess had now addressed to the House to facilitate the introduction of the Bill did not seem at all to occur to him when his right hon. Colleague the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Mr. W. E. Forster) declined the other day to allow an Irish Bill even to be introduced. It might have been just as well said on that occasion that the Government and its Supporters could fully consider that Irish measure after it had been introduced, and could make up their minds what action they would take. But the noble Marquess's right hon. Colleague had preferred to prevent altogether the introduction of the Bill, and there was no protest whatever from the noble Marquess. Quite apart from all considerations of Home Rule and local government, he contended that in this House all Bills relating to Ireland—just as Scotch Bills were laid before Scotch Members—ought to be first laid before a meeting of the Irish Members, without distinction of Party politics. The 103 Members from Ireland, Conservative, Liberal, and Home Rule, ought to be consulted with regard to measures brought in by the Government dealing with Irish affairs. It would still remain with the Government to reject the recommendations of the Irish Members; but this system of "Boycotting" the Irish Members adopted by Her Majesty's Ministers was a direct provocative of those retaliatory measures which had been resorted to in the past, and which might be resorted to in the future. Without denying the sincere wish of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) to be of use to Ireland, he (Mr. O'Donnell) would venture to say that it did not become the hon. Member's standing in the House to undertake an important Irish reform, and totally neglect the opinion of Irish Members with regard to it. Pitt was Prime Minister at 23, and the hon. Gentleman might have deserved similar distinction at a similar age; but they must look to the fact that he was perfectly new to Ireland, and not very old in the House. Someone wiser than the hon. Gentleman amongst his Colleagues ought to have pointed out to him the propriety of not being quite so forward without any authorization. ["Oh, oh!"] He used the word "forward" in no sense individually or disrespectfully. He was treating the hon. Gentleman as a would-be legislator for Ireland. The hon. Member ought to have consulted the Irish Members, and no Irish Member, however extreme his political views, would have refused to give a fair and full consideration to the measure. In this matter the Irish ratepayers had been entirely ignored. Some "hugger-mugger" deputations, who had called in at some of the whispering galleries of Dublin Castle, had been listened to, to the total neglect of the opinions of the Irish Members.


said, that Irish Business would proceed much more satisfactorily if the general spirit of the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) pervaded the House. It was to be hoped that the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone) would follow the advice which had been tendered to him, and postpone, for a few days, the introduction of this measure. If the hon. Gentleman could show that there was a strong preponderance of opinion in the Irish Unions in favour of this law, the hon. Member's position would be unanswerable; but he had not done so. The right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland had told them that two deputations had waited on the Government in Dublin in favour of this proposal; but when hon. Members came to ascertain the character of the deputations, they found that in no way were they representative of the public. He should have thought the ratepayers should have been consulted first. That day he had presented several Petitions from the Irish ratepayers on different subjects; but he had never heard that there was the least desire on the part of any of the 160 Unions in Ireland for this Bill. He was sorry to see that the hon. Member for Leeds, in his maiden effort, had acted on the old vicious lines of entirely and absolutely ignoring the Irish Members. He gave the hon. Member credit for the best intentions; but he thought, after the full expression of opinion they had had from the Irish Members on this question, it would be only courteous in the hon. Member for Leeds to agree to the suggestions of the Irish Members, and postpone for a few days the introduction of the Bill.


said, that if the hon. Member for Leeds would postpone the introduction of the Bill, he would thereby give the Irish Members an opportunity of consulting with the Irish Boards of Guardians and their constituencies, and ascertaining whether public opinion in Ireland was in favour of the measure. He believed that one of the propositions the Bill contained was made in a measure submitted to the House last Session, and that was the proposition as to the superannuation of medical officers. He did not wish to obstruct the Bill. He was not sure that he should oppose that part of it relating to the amendment of the law as to the superannuation of Union Officers; but, whatever his constituents might say to the contrary, he should oppose any Bill that would give greater power to that contemptible body the Local Government Board.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 11; Noes 98: Majority 87.—(Div. List, No. 13.)

Original Question again proposed.


said, he wished to ask a question on a point of Order. This was a Bill "to make better provision for the Superannuation of the Officers of Poor Law Unions in Ireland." As he understood it, it proposed to make provision for an expenditure of public money on the superannuation of Poor Law Officers—medical officers, for instance. If this money, or any part of it, would come out of the Imperial Revenue, he would put it to Mr. Speaker whether the hon. Member for Leeds was in Order in introducing the Bill in this manner, and whether it was not necessary for him to move for leave to introduce it in Committee of the Whole House?


It is difficult for me to answer the question without having seen the Bill; but, from the discussion that has taken place, I understand that the measure involves a local rate, not an Imperial tax. If that is so, the Rule with regard to the introduction of Bills in Committee of the Whole House does not apply.


said, Mr. Speaker stated the Bill involved only a local rate; but, if he (Mr. Biggar) was rightly informed, it involved partly a local rate and partly an Imperial tax. Poor Law schoolmasters, for instance, got their salaries out of the Imperial Exchequer, and they would, no doubt, be included in the new superannuation scheme. He had not the slightest doubt that the Bill would be one which would take a substantial sum from the Imperial Exchequer, and that would bring it under the Rule.


said, he could assure the House that the fund would come entirely out of the local rates, and not out of the Imperial taxes.


said, the Standing Order said that any Bill for taking money from the Imperial Exchequer, or for imposing "any charge upon the people," must be brought in Committee of the Whole House.


That does not apply to a local rate for local purposes.

Original Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 102; Noes 9: Majority 93.—(Div. List, No. 14.)


Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 75.]