HC Deb 19 May 1886 vol 305 cc1413-40

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would not go through the stereotyped formula of claiming the indulgence of the House in addressing it for the first time; but he felt, at the same time, that the House would be indulgent to any shortcomings which he might display. This Bill, the second reading of which he now proposed, extended merely to Ireland, for the simple and plain reason that it principally concerned Ireland, and also that its necessity existed in Ireland more than elsewhere. The salient features of the Bill were—first, that in future in elections in the Poor Law in Ireland to the position of Guardian there should be voting by Ballot; second, that in these elections there should be no voting by proxy; and, third, that there should be a better balancing of the representation of property by the reduction of the number of ex officios who were at present entitled to sit on these Poor Law Boards. At present the number of ex officio Guardians entitled to sit on the Boards equalled the number of Guardians elected by the ratepayers; and when it would be remembered that, in addition to this privilege, there was in Ireland a scheme of voting in Poor Law matters according to the amount of property held by those entitled to vote, it would be seen that property had an undue and overwhelming preponderance in the Boards of Guardians as at present constituted. In the proposal they were now making the Irish Party were not asking the House to affirm any new principle. They were not going in for any of those radical changes and wild notions which were now so readily ascribed to them. They were merely asking the Legislature to revert to the better wisdom which it exhibited in a former time. He had in his hand an Act passed in the first and second years of the Reign of Her present Majesty, and he found that in that Act the number of ex officio Guardians in Ireland was limited to one-third of the elected Guardians, and one-fourth of the whole Board. This Act was, unfortunately, repealed 10 years afterwards, and the number of ex officios raised from one-fourth to one-half of the whole Board in Ireland, while in England, he believed, the old custom of limiting the ex officios to one-fourth of the whole Board was still maintained. To better balance the representation of property at the present time, they proposed, not that there should be one man one vote, but that each man should be entitled to vote according to the amount of property he represented, and that the ex officio representation of property should be reduced to the limit of one-third of the elected representation. If, as hon. Members above the Gangway from Ireland said, property and intelligence go together, and loyalty was a natural concomitant of both, then he thought that under this system these things received their due, and even more than their due, share of representation. The backbone and essence of the measure, however, was the principle of vote by Ballot. The tendency of the age, under every system of representation where it was possible to adopt it, was in that direction. The system at present in Ireland with regard to voting for Poor Law Guardians was a sort of "free-and-easy, go-as-you-please" arrangement. A policeman took around a bundle of voting papers to the houses of the different ratepayers, and sometimes he would leave them at one house and tell a youngster to deliver them to the neighbours. It was not this irregularity, however, that was the danger to the system of representation. The danger lay in the fact that the policeman was followed in his rounds by a number of harpies representing, it might be said, both sides, and the moment the voting paper was delivered it was pounced upon either by a smart bailiff on the part of the landlord, or an equally smart boy on the part of the National League, and filled up by either of them. He would ask the House whether it was decent—whether it was in the interest of the growth of a system of real Constitutionalism—that such a state of things should continue to exist? Another feature of the matter was that the majority of the Clerks of the Unions, who were the Returning Officers in these elections, were the creatures of a certain Party, and it was only a natural consequence of men's present imperfect human nature, even in the 19th century, that a person should favour those gentlemen who gave him his position. Now, in this Bill they did not seek to influence the Returning Officers to one side or another. They merely wished to make it impossible that they could be so influenced. This Bill had an interesting history. It was in a small way, in miniature, a reflection of Irish history. The Bill had been before the House several times. It passed through the House in the Autumn Session of 1884, and where did it go? It went to that mystic region with the symbolic name called "the other place." There was an infernal suggestion about the words "the other place." Well, "the other place" sent it to "another place." It was referred by "the other place" to a Select Committee. This was the traditional policy of the House of Lords regarding Bills dealing with justice to the masses of Irish people, and he might add, indeed, with regard to the masses of English people as well. The House of Lords dealt with Irish Bills by what he might call a political system of baby-farming. They sent out Irish Bills to such baby-farmers as Select Committees, and kept them there until by dint of nursing they killed them. He had in his hand a big volume containing a Report of Evidence of the Select Committee of the Lords on this Bill. He honestly confessed he did not bewilder himself by reading it. It did not in the slightest affect the matter now before the House. The House had already affirmed the principle of the Bill, and he presumed it would do so again today. One would imagine that, instead of dealing with the question of the Poor Law in Ireland, the Lords' Committee was investigating something concerning Woolwich, something concerning an arsenal, or the Soudan Campaign, so great was the number of captains, majors, and colonels examined before it. In the Poor Law system in Ireland, from the Local Government Board down to the most minor grades, the whole system was saturated with the presence of those dilapidated, disused, and misplaced military men, whose military ardour only found vent in thwarting all the efforts of the people to get themselves properly represented on these Boards. They had gallant colonels, gallant majors, and, of course, equally gallant captains. In fact, they reminded him of a facetious poet who wrote— Captains who never yet in battle Wielded pistol, sword, or wattel. One of those gallant colonels—the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman)—had given Notice to read this Bill six months hence; he presumed he meant six centuries hence. [Colonel KING-HARMAN: Hear, hear!] "Hear, hear!" said the gallant Colonel. Well, all he could say was that there was not in the world a country more be-coloneled, be-majored, and be-militia-manned than Ireland, and yet Ireland was to have an Arms Act to prevent the people from carrying arms, and he supposed before long even rotten eggs would be proclaimed. These military men might be wonderful at military tactics, and have great military experience, and have distinguished themselves somewhere, though as a humble student of history he had not been able to discover where. The hon. and gallant Member was no doubt consistent in his Motion, and he was the consistent opponent to popular representation in the Union of which he was Chairman. Only the other day an honest Englishman who visited the Union told how a certain person deprived a certain people of a certain quantity of turf because they had the audacity to oppose a certain nominee of a certain hon. and gallant Colonel.


And he was flatly contradicted.


said, he would prefer to see a man contradicted intelligently instead of flatly, and he thought the hon. Gentleman referred to well established his case in his retort. But, to pass away from personalities, it was said that they wanted to place by this Bill the Boards of Guardians in the hands of the National League; but the answer to that was that nearly every Board of Guardians in Ireland had declared itself already in favour of national principles. That was not what they wanted. When political feeling ran neck-and-neck, it was impossible to keep political matters out of the administration of such Boards as Poor Law Boards, and what they wanted was to obviate the necessity of introducing political tests into the election of Poor Law Guardians, by giving the people the representation to which they were entitled. He would readily admit that at present unfit men were elected to these Boards on both sides. When he said unfit men, he meant that more capable men, but who might not have strong political feelings one way or the other, were not chosen. It was their desire, not alone in this matter, but in every other effort at serious legislation which they made in that House, to so frame their measures as to obviate the necessity for the continual exercise of political feelings on both sides, and to give a chance to men of evenly-balanced minds to come in and administer such Boards as Poor Law Boards. It would, he thought, be hard for those who opposed this Bill to show that the Irish Party had any other object in view in introducing this measure. He had some experience of the present system. He knew that sheaves of voting papers were taken and filled up on both sides on behalf of certain men nominated to represent certain political principles, and who would not be nominated if they did not represent these political principles. Now, under this Bill there would be room for useful men, who might not lean to one set of political principles or the other. Under the old system the people had no representation. The Land League and the National League set itself to attack that system, and, of course, in attacking a bad system there could not be perfection in the attack itself. In former times it was the custom that the landlord, the lord of the soil, should be Chairman, that his agent should be Vice Chairman, and that the deputy agent should be Deputy Vice Chairman. He was stating facts, and the rest of the Board was made up of the bailiff, the rent-warner, the driver, and the few lick-plates who surrounded the "big" house. He would appeal to the Tory Members above the Gangway whether that was a system to which they desired the country to revert? He had known men, under that system, to go against their political principles and their consciences, and even their faith. He would not dwell further on that part of the subject beyond saying that he thought it would be found that all the principles which he said they desired to enforce were amply provided for. In the Bill they also provided for triennial elections, so that a man who, although he might be a good, sound, and useful man, might have momentarily incurred popular disfavour, could not be immediately swept off the Poor Law Board. Another satisfactory and sufficient reason for substituting triennial for annual elections was that the expenses of the elections came out of the rates levied for the relief of the poor. There were also provisions regarding the trial of election petitions. The measure, in fact, was word for word, letter for letter, and comma for comma, with the provisions of the Bill which had already passed the House. By an error the qualification of candidates was fixed at £12, whereas it was intended to allow the matter in blank, so that the House might fill it in with a figure which they might think proper. For his part, he did not think there was any necessity for this double-barrelled reservation regarding property. When they had property represented on a sliding scale gradually increasing in ratio to the value of the property there was no need, in his opinion, for this property qualification of a candidate. If property was sufficiently represented—and he thought the House would agree that it was sufficiently, and more than sufficiently, represented, when one man could outvote 18 others if he had property enough—he did not see what need there was for a reservation on the class of candidates. Indeed, it was their experience that in certain electoral divisions it would be expedient that the occupier of a cottage and a few acres of ground, but who might not have sufficient to cover the necessary qualification, should be the Guardian of the district. At present the rate varied in Ireland from £30 and £25 in some districts, to £10 in other districts. But they would be prepared to allow the House, in its wisdom, to fix the figure if they considered that there should be any figure at all. With these observations, he would now conclude by asking the House to read this Bill a second time.

MR. DWYER GRAY (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)

, in seconding the Motion, said, that whatever might be thought of the merits of the particular Bill under discussion, he did not think there could be any difference of opinion as to the ability displayed, or the manner in which it was proposed. He believed that this Bill was before the House for 15 years. To his knowledge, it was before the House for 10 years, and it was quite correct to say that, in this respect, it was a kind of epitome of Irish history. It passed the House of Commons several times, and when it was sent to the House of Lords it was treated in the manner which his hon. Friend had described. On the last occasion it was referred to a Select Committee by the House of Lords; but those who supported the Bill declined to give evidence before a Committee appointed for the palpable purpose of obstructing the passage of the Bill. There were several hon. Members in that House sitting on the Benches opposite who were constantly advising the Irish Nationalist Party that they ought to trust to the goodwill of English Members, and that they had nothing to do but to bring Irish grievances forward in the House of Commons in order to have them remedied. Well, here was a Bill of a third or fourth-rate importance, and, although it was before the House for 15 years, it had not yet been dealt with. This was not a question of the goodwill of the House; it was a question of its power; and he doubted the power of the House to insist on having its decisions carried out when Irish matters were under consideration. For that reason Irish Members declined to even discuss this question of good will. He had no doubt some Tory Members would not object to the provision regarding the Ballot; but that reform without the others contemplated in this Bill would, in his opinion, make the present state of things even more mischievous than at this moment. These were the provisions regarding proxy voters and the number of ex officios. Ex officios rarely attended except when elections of officers were to take place, or when some job was to be done, and, he should add, when the religion of some deserted child had to be decided. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] It was quite true. He did not think that anything more lamentable could occur in civilized life than a meeting of the South Dublin Board of Guardians when the religion of some poor little waif found in the streets had to be decided. It was found that the ex officio Guardians had the power to outvote the Catholic Guardians. The chances were 50 to one that a waif found in the City of Dublin was born of Catholic parents, certainly of a Catholic mother, and yet the chances were 100 to one that the Guardians of the Union would vote so as to make that child a Protestant. When any official was to be elected then the ex officio Guardians were to be found on the spot—every one of them. He knew of one distinguished Gentleman, formerly a Member of this House, and at present a Member of the Upper House, who was in the habit of coming over from England in order to vote at the election of officials, and back he went again. But as to attending to the business of the Board, of course, he was far too great a representative of wealth and of intelligence to do anything of that sort. An examination of the books and records of the North Dublin Union would show that that particular Gentleman never attended a meeting of the Board convened for merely business purposes. But when an officer, a clerk, or a medical doctor was to be elected—when the committees were forming and manipulated, then, and only on occasions of that kind, ex officios of that complexion were to be found present in their full force. That was the way the ex officio element worked. The hon. Member for South Londonderry (Mr. T. M. Healy) had moved for a Return of the attendances of ex officio Guardians and elected Guardians, and the Return showed some very remarkable results. But could it have been shown in that Return what the particular business on the paper was when the ex officio members attended, it would have demonstrated what he (Mr. Gray) asserted of his own knowledge—that they never attended except when there was an election of an official, the religion of a child to be decided, or some contract to be given away. Now, in England the representation of that class being restricted to one-third, it was in the power of the elected Guardians to protect the interest of the ratepayers and the public. But in Ireland, inasmuch as the representation of their ex officios was one-half, and as through these the proxy property vote and various other matters were introduced into the Irish system, some of which, no doubt, existed in the English system, they always, or nearly always, had a working majority of the Board—a majority which never did any work except of the class he had described. The result was that the elective force and power in the Boards of Guardians was ineffective for useful work, except to a certain extent. It was allowed to do the routine business of the Board, but had no voice when anything of importance was to be decided. It was for the House to say if that was a system it approved of. He did not think they would approve of it. The proxy system was one involving abuse of the grossest character. He knew himself of cases which proved that fact. The proxies could be held by one man, for five years—practically for six years—and he knew of a case in which a man, who for a long time was the agent for a political Party in Dublin, held a large number of proxies for each electoral division of the particular Union in which he was concerned, and this resulted, practically, in his returning a large number of Guardians in his own interest, and they appointed him Clerk of the Union at a very large salary. Such cases could be multiplied by his hon. Friend; but the possibility of one was enough to condemn the system. It would not do merely to establish vote by Ballot without accompanying it by the abolition of proxy voting. He had much pleasure in seconding the proposition.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Edward Harrington.)

COLONEL KING-HARMAN (Kent, Isle of Thanet)

said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Gray) had made a rather startling statement—that the ex officio Guardians at present in Ireland possessed by their own votes a power able to influence and to produce a workable majority at almost all the Boards in Ireland. If that were so, and if it was also a fact that these ex officios only attended at the election of officers, &c, how came it that in five-sixths of the Unions the Chairmen elected were members of the National League, returned by the elected Guardians? He thought that fact disposed of the statement as to the overwhelming power of the ex officios. The hon. Member who moved the Bill (Mr. E. Harrington) made a speech of much force and ability, and one with which he had not much to quarrel. But in that speech he spoke of the Bill as though it contained one principle, and one only—vote by Ballot. I But the hon. Member who seconded the Motion informed the House that it would be no use unless other principles were affirmed. Now, as to the question of; vote by Ballot for Poor Law Guardians in Ireland, he, for one, did not in the slightest degree object to seeing the secrecy of the Ballot extended to Ireland. He agreed that there had been intimidation practised in the Poor Law elections in Ireland. He did not deny that in some cases the influence of the land lords and agents had been extensively used; but, on the other hand, the hon. Gentleman who moved the Bill did not deny that intimidation of another character had been very largely practised. Large gangs of men went round the country, broke into houses, took the voting papers, and——


I beg the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pardon. He is giving a most elastic and fanciful interpretation of what I said.


I had no idea just now of quoting the words of the hon. Member, but was merely stating what actually occurred. The hon. Gentleman simply stated that the landlords and agents and the "prime boys" of the Land League ran a neck-and-neck race. But there was no need to go further into the question. He and those who acted with him would be glad to accept the principle of Ballot; most likely it would cut one way as well as another. He believed that intimidation in general worked so as to make the voter vote for the National candidate. In their own interest, therefore, he and his Friends were prepared to accept the principle of the Ballot. But there were other principles in the Bill to which they objected, such as taxation without representation. They maintained that Poor Law Boards should not be the arenas of political strife. The duties of the Guardians were to raise taxes for local purposes, and to spend the money thus raised for the relief of the poor; those who had the largest stake in respect of property, and who paid the largest proportion of the rates, should have a larger voice in the election of Guardians than those paying only a few shillings. He contended that the system by which the proportion of ex officios was one-half in Ireland worked well. No sufficient cause had been shown why the proportion of ex officio members should be reduced from one-half to one-third. It was an absolute fallacy to say that the law in England was that the ex officio representatives should be only one-third, because the number of ex officio representatives in this country was practically unlimited, and there was no law fixing it at a third or any particular number. He was not opposed to the principle of triennial elections. It was said that the Bill was shelved in the Lords by re- ferring it to a Select Committee, which bristled with colonels and captains.


No; I said that the evidence before the Committee was mainly supplied by colonels, captains, and so forth.


said, that of the 17 witnesses examined only two of them had any military title, and it was not true that no Nationalists were examined, for there were three. He did not see why this Bill should not refer to England and Scotland. He strongly objected to Clause 9, which did away entirely with proxy voting. It was hard upon invalids and women that they should be obliged to go out and face a crowd at the poll if they desired to have their vote recorded. At the same time, there was something in the objection which was raised to persons residing away from their property altogether having as much voice in the fixing of the rates as those who lived at home. But how could a man whose property was situated in two or three Unions, and, perhaps, in nine or ten electoral divisions of those Unions, record his vote at each polling place? Voting for Poor Law Guardians meant, purely and simply, voting for the fixing of taxation; and if an owner of property was prevented from delivering his vote on the question as to how his property was to be taxed, and how the taxation was to be administered, it amounted to nothing more or less than taxation without representation. Any man who had delivered a vote at any one polling place in any division should be allowed to record his vote in respect of property held by him in any other Union by means of a registered letter. With regard to the question of qualification, it was only fair that a man who was to have the management of taxation, and, what was more important, the care of the poor committed to his charge, should be a man who had some stake and some responsibility in the country, as he was much more likely to be careful of the rates than the man who had no responsibility and nothing at stake. He ventured to say that the best managed Unions in Ireland were those in which the qualification stood highest and the ex officio Guardians attended most. The taxation in those Unions was lower than in others, and the poor were looked after very much better. There was more jobbing in Unions where the ex officio members did not properly attend. Boards of Guardians were now divided into political Parties; the election of Guardians was a political contest simply, and to further a political purpose was the object of the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Colonel King-Harman.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N., Buckingham)

said, that Irish Gentlemen were always getting to windward of the English Members. When they got hold of a good measure they introduced a clause that it should not apply to England or Scotland, and a former speaker had proceeded to denounce "captains and colonels." Now, he, as a captain, stood up to show that a good man might be found even among that obnoxious class. He rose to ask hon. Members on the Liberal side of the House, if they had any sympathy with the suffering lower classes of England, to join hands with the Irish Members, to show that in this case at least there was no opposition of race, and that there was a real and earnest desire to help those who could not help themselves. He was personally acquainted with men who were teetotallers, who led self-denying, righteous lives, who could point out how hopeless was their chance of rising in the world, with no prospect but the workhouse, and who saw nothing before them but ending their lives almost like the beasts of the fields. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] He was sorry to hear hon. Members say "Oh!" because that showed that they were not in touch with these people in the agricultural constituencies of the country. Let them try to do something to raise the man above the animal. Now that they had come back fresh from their constituencies, and before the feeling of sympathy wore off, they wanted to ask the House of Commons for some practical measure which would help to alleviate the condition of these poor people. They did not want to wait for a Local Government Bill. Here was a thoroughly practical measure which had passed the House before, which started no new theory, and which did not wait for any new application of local self-government. The principles of the Bill were more trust in the people and the lowering of the property qualification. He should wish to see that qualification altogether abolished. If men were fit to sit in that House without a property qualification, surely they were fit to sit at Boards of Guardians, nor should ex officio Guardians be ashamed to sit among them. It would be more dignified for ex officio Guardians to abstain from voting when appointments were to be given away to a relative. Something had been said about the influence of the landlord. It was enormous, and was not to be weighed by the vote he gave at a Board of Guardians. A landowner might have great influence among his tenants if he understood their feelings and lived among them, and might lead them anywhere; but why he should want to have more than one vote he (Captain Verney) could not understand. The landlord ought to be content to vote for one Guardian; and voting by proxy should be done away with. He was in favour of vote by Ballot, application of the Corrupt Practices Act to these elections, the abolition of the property qualification, and having labouring men able to sit on the Boards of Guardians. When the Bill got into Committee he should move an Instruction that it should apply to England as well as to Ireland.


said, he thought that all the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member who had just spoken were in favour of the extension of the principle of the Bill to England and Scotland; but, in discussing the question as far as it concerned Ireland, it was well to consider by whom the contributions to the rates were made. He (Colonel Waring) hoped to see labouring men sitting at Boards of Guardians. When the labouring men contributed in a larger proportion to the rates which were expended he thought it would be fair and right that they should have a voice in their administration. He did not know how low the range of the poor rate in England was, but in Ireland, however, no person living in a house rated at less than £4 contributed anything to the rates expended under the authority of the Boards of Guardians; the landlords always paid as much as half the entire amount, and in some cases they contributed five-eighths or three-quarters of the rating of the whole division. He had no objection to the suggested vote by Ballot, which would probably be found to act quite as much in favour of the landowners as against them; but as to proxy voting, he thought the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonol King-Harman) was a fair one. He could not see any reason why a person holding property and largely contributing to the rates in one Union should be disfranchised in another Union in which he held property. The vote did not in this matter represent a man's individuality, but his property; and he did not see why he should be called upon to select for which Union he should vote. They had heard something said about ex officio Guardians appearing on great occasions to vote for the election of officers, and for what was said to be a job; but, as a member of another body, in which jobs were sometimes said to be perpetrated — namely, the magistrates and associated cesspayers — his experience was that the jobs that were perpetrated were never assisted by the class of gentlemen to whom they had been attributed in the present discussion. He had himself frequently driven in Ireland many a weary mile in bad weather to prevent the perpetration of a job, and he had no recollection of a case in which he or his brother magistrates had gone in order to perpetrate one. He could not think that £12 was a sufficient qualification in many instances to secure economy of expenditure. In the Union for which he sat the argument had over and over again been made use of—especially in questions touching the medical relief, half of the contributions to which were paid out of the Consolidated Fund—that it did not much matter what was done, because only one-fourth of the charge fell upon the occupiers, and that was frequently the cause of the most reckless expenditure. Therefore, he held that the £12 qualification was not sufficient to obtain for a man the confidence of his brother ratepayers that he would narrowly look after the administration of the funds and see that they were not wasted. But the strongest objection he had to the Bill was the proposed reduction in the number of ex officio Guardians entitled to attend the Board. As a mat- ter of fact, the number of ex officio Guardians who did attend never came up to the limit proposed; but the diminution of the number on the list would very much further reduce the attendance, because gentlemen who held that position were frequently called by their avocations to various parts of the country, and could not always be on the spot where the cultivators of the soil must necessarily be. He thought it would be found that the Unions where the ex officio Guardians attended most regularly where those in which the funds were most ably and economically managed. In his own Union his experience was that the attendance of ex officio Guardians was pretty steady, but not excessive, and that they enjoyed the confidence of the ratepayers in the district to a very large extent. To the vote by Ballot he had no objection; but he thought it necessary to enter his protest against the reduction of the qualification to £12, and against the abolition of proxy voting.

MR. ARCH (Norfolk, N.W.)

said, he supported the recommendation made by the hon. and gallant Member for Bucks (Captain Verney) that the Bill should be extended in its application to England. He had taken a considerable interest in this question of Poor Law, and had watched with interest its administration in rural districts; and he was able to testify that some such measure was sorely needed in the rural counties of England. He was glad to hear the Chief Secretary for Ireland state that the Government would soon be able to introduce a Local Government Bill which would benefit that class. On behalf of the poor agricultural constituencies in England, he desired to press upon them the importance of such a step. As to the property qualification, the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Waring) had said that a qualification of £12 was too low for candidates for seats on the Poor Law Boards, and he considered that it should be higher. The hon. and gallant Member had spoken as if only property holders had anything to do with the payment of rates; but it was a fact that there were thousands of labourers who were paying indirectly, their rates being incorporated in their rents. There were many men who engaged with farmers to work for a certain wage per week, and to live in the farm cottages, the rates for which were paid directly by the farmer, but were taken into consideration in the amount paid to the labourer. A man in the humbler walks of life was, in his opinion, better fitted for the consideration of questions affecting the requirements of the poor, labouring classes than a wealthy man. He was himself debarred from offering himself as a candidate for the Board of Guardians in the Union where he resided. He and his father had paid rates in the same parish for 40 years; but if he offered himself as a Guardian, he would at once be told that he had not the requisite property qualification of a £20 rating. When he sought a seat in that House at the last Election he was never asked what property qualification he possessed, but was simply asked by his constituents what his politics were; and it was a monstrous absurdity that a man who was qualified for a seat in Parliament should not be considered to possess the necessary qualification for a seat at a Board of Guardians. Then, as regarded ex officio Guardians, he failed to see the wisdom of the present state of things. The hon. Gentlemen who, having had a seat in that House, and who, on seeking re-election, were defeated, did not come back and say—"We ought to be admitted as ex officio Members." They would not admit them on that ground; and be wanted to know what the justice was of admitting to the Board of Guardians persons who had not been elected by the ratepayers to fill the office of Guardian? He believed that the poor suffered keenly, because they were not directly represented on the Boards of Guardians. He had had some painful experience of Boards of Guardians; and where Guardians of the higher qualification meted out justice to the poor, injustice was done. He asked the House to pardon him if he mentioned his own case. His father had paid rates in a Warwickshire Union for upwards of 32 years without asking a farthing from the parish. He himself, seeing now many of his class found themselves in old age with no other dependence than the Union, insured himself at the early age of 17. After he was married and had a family of six children depending upon him, his father's health gave way, and he had nothing to fall back upon. He wrote to the Guardians stating the case, and he received, in reply, an offer to take his father into the Union if he would pay 1s. 6d. a-week for his support. There were many cases harder than that. During the last 14 years, when men and women had applied for relief, the Board of Guardians had forced their children—the poor labourers who were scarcely able to make ends meet—to maintain them in the Union by paying 1s. or 1s. 6d. a-week out of their small earnings. Not from any want of love for their parents, but from their inability to find the money, they had been unable to meet the demand, and they had been sent to gaol. Was it not, then, time that working men had seats on the Boards of Guardians? He contended that the time had come when such a Bill as this should be brought in for England, and when the Poor Law should be placed upon a sounder basis—a basis more Christian and more humane.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Tipperary)

said, he did not complain that hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House (Radicals) followed their example on this question. They had no desire to prevent them from "taking leaves out of the book" of the Irish Members in their endeavouring to obtain an amelioration of the Poor Law system. They hoped they would, however, obtain their support in trying to obtain further measures of popular self-government for Ireland. He had occasion recently to investigate another branch of local government in Ireland, and found that the hon. and gallant Member for the Island of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman) had opposed almost every measure of such a kind proposed for Ireland. He had made one charge which he believed should be met—that was with regard to the mismanagement of Poor Law Boards except where ex officios predominated. The fact was that out of the 163 Unions in Ireland it was only found necessary by the Local Government Board to suspend one since the year 1845, and that was one in which ex officios predominated. He also made another charge with regard to intimidation in regard to Poow Law elections. This Bill had, however, been introduced for the purpose of stopping that intimidation—not only the intimidation which the hon. and gallant Member said proceeded from what he termed the "prime boys of the National League," but also the much more serious intimidation by the bailiffs of the landlords. The first principle of the Bill was that Guardians should hold office for three years. He had a good deal to do with elections of Poor Law Guardians in the South of Ireland, and their great complaint was that they were compelled to proceed to election every year. He did not care whether the Guardians were Conservative, Liberal, or Nationalist—he did not believe that it was necessary to elect the members of the Poor Law Boards every year. Politics might change every week, or even every hour, but the cause of the poor was the same at all times. They had a high authority for this in the verse which stated that "The poor are always with us." Another principle of the Bill was that elections should be conducted by Ballot. If there was to be proxy voting, he held that open voting was necessary; but if they abolished proxy voting, the voting by Ballot, which had been so successful in all other matters, Imperial and National, should be adopted in regard to Local Boards. The principle of representation for taxation had been greatly abused in Irish Poor Law elections; and if they had to choose one of two evils it was best that they should choose the lesser, and abolish proxy voting. The hon. Member for St. Stephen's Green (Mr. Gray) stated that he knew of a case where a gentleman had a sufficient number of proxy votes to vote himself a salary of £800 a-year; and he also knew a case of a family in Cork who were able to sign 150 proxy votes, some for persons as wide apart as the West Indies and Ceylon. These, however, were placed in the hands of a local landlord, who used them for his own purposes. The principle might be amended in Committee; but the people desired that some limitation should be placed upon the exercise of this proxy system in regard to Poor Law government. He had also a word to say with regard to the ex officio Guardians. In 1882, when it was said "Irish discontent was driven beneath the surface," and many hon. Members on the Benches near him were under lock and key, they knew how the ex officios had acted. When his hon. Friend the Member for West Waterford (Mr. Pyne) sought the position of Chairman of the Lismore Board of Guardians, to his (Mr. John O'Connor's) knowledge, ex officios came from Switzerland and Italy who had never been known to attend the Board before to vote against him. Another such case occurred in the case of the election of a Chairman of the Clonmel Board of Guardians. One ex officio Guardian came from Italy to vote who had not been within the walls of the Union before for 20 years. They were told that the Nationalist Guardians mismanaged the Unions; but he could tell the House that the Local Government Board Inspector congratulated his hon. Friend the Member for North Tipperary (Mr. P. J. O'Brien) upon the good management of the Nenagh Union since it got into the hands of the popular Party. A similar state of things existed in Clonmel, for the Tipperary Unions which, under the management of the ex officio Boards, were in a state of bankruptcy, were now in the most flourishing condition under popular control. In conclusion, he thanked the House for the way in which the measures of the Irish Party had been received in the present Parliament.


said: Mr. Speaker, I quite agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that this Bill is not likely to receive less favourable consideration from this Parliament than from the Parliament of 1884 and 1885. We have heard the objections of the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Colonel King-Harman), who recapitulated most of those used in the last Parliament. But nothing which has occurred in the interval from the consideration of the Bill in the last Parliament to the present day makes any difference in the weakness of his objections or the strength of the arguments by which they were met. The Bill contains principles which have been found already to meet with substantial agreement in all quarters of the House. The proposal that elected Guardians shall hold office for three years instead of one year, is one that commends itself to all of us. That elections should be conducted under the Ballot Act is a point that was practically settled years ago, and nothing has been said from that—the Tory—quarter of I the House to-day to show that another opinion should be held upon that head. Not so many questions have been put to me since I became Chief Secretary as to my Predecessor in the last Parliament with regard to the Poor Law elections, but enough have been put to show that there is a very considerable abuse under the existing system. The preparation of the Register is another important practical point upon which there has been a complete agreement. The Bill provides that the Lists and Registers of voters shall not be extempore lists made out, almost casually, immediately before the election. The Local Government Board of Ireland feel very strongly the necessity for another proposal—namely, that, in cases where the validity of an election is questioned, the petition ought to be heard, not, as at present, by an Inspector sent down by the Local Government Board, but before the County Court Judge. There is one point upon which opinion seems to be divided—that is as regards the property qualification for an elected Guardian. The Bill provides that the qualification should be a fixed one—namely, a rating of £12. I have listened to all that has been said as to the existing practice in regard to the matter; and the House should know, as a matter of fact, that the average qualification is at present about £20. Of course, the qualification varies, and is sometimes as high as £30, and sometimes as low as £6, as fixed at the discretion of the Local Government Board. They exercise that discretion in view of the average wealth of the district and other considerations, and the result is a qualification of £20. That does not materially differ from the average in England. The Government entirely approve of the reduction of the qualification to the figure named in the Bill. There are two points upon which there is a distinct division of opinion, and there always has been that division—first, regarding the retention of the proxy voting; and, secondly, regarding the number of ex officio Guardians. Well, the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel King-Harman) did not, under the circumstances, over-ingenously quote the opinion of my Predecessor, the right hon. Member for the Border Burghs (Mr. Trevelyan). No doubt, in 1882, he did express to the House an opinion adverse to the change; but in 1884 the then Chief Secretary, the right hon. Member for the Border Burghs, stated in the course of a debate that he had been led to change his views; and after a speech, in which he laid down the principle that proxy voting might be altered, he was taunted with his change of views by a right hon. Gentleman who is now Lord Ashbourne, and of this the hon. and gallant Gentleman must have been aware.


I was perfectly aware of it. He changed his mind; but he gave his reasons for one opinion, but not for the other. This was what I stated.


I think I have stated what was the impression left by the hon. Member on the House; but I do not press the matter. It has been said with regard to the extension of the provisions of this Bill to England that it would be well to alter the system of proxy voting. I may state that at the meeting of the assembly of Poor Law Conferences very considerable sympathy was expressed with the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir Charles W. Dilke), who is entirely opposed to proxy voting in any shape or form. I should say that when the present Government bring in their Local Government Bill, I should not be surprised if it is found that proxy voting will disappear in England. It is obvious, therefore, that we cannot disagree with the proposal in the Bill to remove that feature in the election of elective Boards of Guardians in Ireland. The next point is the number of ex officio Guardians. The number of ex officio Guardians in Ireland is at present one-half, while in England the number is one-quarter or one-third of the elective representatives. Now, I have listened very carefully to the arguments from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I must say that I have heard more arguments for this reduction from them than against it. In 1884–5 the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Colonel King-Harman) admitted that in three-fourths of the Unions in Ireland the elected Guardians had already practically the control, more or less, even with the ex officios; and, therefore, this reduction of the ex officios cannot make any substantial difference in regard to the protection of property. It was also admitted by the hon. and gallant Member for Down (Colonel Waring) that the attendance of ex offiico Guardians, except upon occasions when special matters were on foot, was not very constant nor useful when business was of an ordinary character. However all that may be, it is perfectly clear to me that we cannot, upon principle, contend that the proportion of ex officio Poor Law Guardians in Ireland should be greater than it is in England, although the amount payable in rates by the people in Ireland place them at a certain disadvantage in regard to property in respect of rating. I have read the evidence given before the Lords' Committee last year pretty carefully, and it has no more been proved by the witnesses before the Lords' Committee, than it has been proved by any previous speaker, that the power possessed by ex officio Guardians afforded any substantial or effective protection to property. For my own part, I agree with hon. Members representing English constituencies who express the hope that when we extend local government in England we shall also do away with ex officio representation, and with another artificial protection of property which exists in Ireland in a very elaborate form—namely, plurality of voting. I may remind the House of this, in conclusion, with regard to what has been urged against both proxy voting and the use of voting papers, that they have already been condemned by a Committee of the House of Commons which sat, I think, in 1878, under the Presidency of the Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Hibbert). It is clear, therefore, that a Bill which moves so obviously in the direction in which we wish to go is one which we cannot now refuse to assent to; and I, for one, shall give it my cordial support.

MR. HOLMES (Dublin University)

said, he had no desire to prolong the discussion on this Bill, but thought what he had to say might have a tendency to shorten it. He thought it was a matter for regret that there should be introduced into a subject of this kind either attacks upon classes, professions, or individuals. It seemed to him that in dealing with the Bill before the House the subject should be met in a different spirit. Boards of Guardians were not established for political purposes, their objects being solely the relief of the poor, and to impose rates for that purpose, and to expend those rates in as efficient a manner as possible. He was sure that the opposition to the Bill was only upon certain points contained in it which his hon. Friends thought would not render the measure efficient. It had always been their desire that property should be properly represented; and he understood that there was no objection from any part of the House to such a proposition. In Ireland the owners of property paid, taking the entire country together, five-eighths of the rates; but in certain of the poorer Unions, where the property was poorly valued, they probably paid three-fourths of the rates. For the purpose of giving property its due weight and due significance two provisions were made in the existing Poor Law—the one was the plural vote, and the other the system of ex officio Guardians. This Bill did not seek to interfere with the principle that property should have adequate representation, or with either of the modes in which property was represented. The hon. Member for Kerry (Mr. E. Harrington) did not propose by this Bill to destroy the constitution of the Board in so far as the Board was constituted of ex officio Guardians. The Bill did not intend to deprive property of the protection which the plural vote gave it; therefore, it seemed to him that many of the arguments addressed to the House to-day were wholly irrelevant to the subject under discussion, for many of the arguments had been directed against the system of ex officio Guardians, and also against the system of plural voting—matters with which they were not concerned. Those principles were not concerned or affected by the Bill. When they came to examine this measure in detail they found the objections to it were really objections to two or three clauses of it. One of the objections was to the abolition of the system of voting by proxy; and another referred to the change which was made in the number of ex officio Guardians. The objections were to matters of great importance, and were not unreasonable objections; and the observations made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman) were observations which commended themselves very favourably to his (Mr. Holmes') mind. It seemed to him that if they had property representation at all proxy voting in some form—he did not say that the form in which it existed now was a necessary complement of that—must prevail, and that they would interfere in a very material degree with that representation which property now obtained if they destroyed voting by proxy altogether. The other objection was, perhaps, of greater importance still—the objection to the change made in the number of ex officio Guardians. He confessed that the only two arguments he had heard to-day in favour of that proposition were that the ex officio Guardians did not sufficiently attend to their duties, and that when they did attend it was only for the purpose of promoting their own ends. If they did not attend to their duties there might be some reasonable ground for excluding them from the Board, and supplying their place by some other persons who would represent property; but it would hardly be a reasonable argument for reducing their number from one-half to one-third of the Board. The attendance would certainly be less if they were only one-third instead of one-half of the Board. In regard to the attendance of ex officio Guardians at the meetings of the Board, he asked the House to bear in mind that ex officio Guardians were magistrates, and that as magistrates they had very important public duties to perform in addition to their private duties. Generally speaking they were members of other Boards, and it was but reasonable to suppose that gentlemen in such a position had less opportunity of attending Board meetings than elected Guardians, who probably were not so immersed in public duties. Now, if their number upon the Boards were reduced, it was quite plain they would not have the same degree of weight on the Board that their position rendered it necessary they should have. These considerations, so far from forming reasons for reducing the numbers from one-half to one-third, seemed to him to point in the other direction. Now, as to the argument that the ex officio members were very fond of jobs, and that they only attended for the purpose of perpetrating jobs, he was not a person who considered that virtue was a monopoly of any class of the community. He could well understand that an ex officio Guardian might be anxious to carry out some job that would benefit either a friend or relation, such as the appointment of a Chairman, a clerk, or some official receiving pay, and he could imagine a number of ex officio Guardians combining together for the benefit of some particular individual. But if he could imagine that he could just as readily imagine that an elected Guardian would be very anxious to carry out some job, and that a number of elected Guardians would combine together for the perpetration of some job. Just as he believed that elected Guardians were a check upon ex officio Guardians in the jobbery which was said to exist, did he consider that the ex officio Guardians, representing property, might act as a very valuable check upon the elected Guardians in respect to jobbery; and he maintained that if they wished to preserve Boards of Guardians from a disposition towards jobbery the best course to adopt would be to keep up the balance which now existed instead of reducing one portion of the Board to a position which would be very inferior to that of the other portion. It must be borne in mind that Boards of Guardians had two duties—not one only—to perform. It had been suggested in the course of the debate that the great duty of Boards of Guardians was the duty of guarding the interests of the ratepayers. But they had another duty, and that was a duty to the poor. An hon. Gentleman who spoke from below the Gangway said that the poorer classes of Guardians regarded 1s. as of as much importance as the wealthier classes regarded £1, and he claimed a greater amount of parsimony for the elected Guardians. If a Board of Guardians were to act parsimoniously, they would, no doubt, spare the ratepayers, but they would do so at the expense of the poor; so with regard to parsimony and the attention which the Board were bound to pay to the poor, one body of Guardians would be a check upon the other. He was clearly of opinion that the provisions of the Bill in regard to the representation of property were vicious provisions, and in the proper place and under proper circumstances he should offer them his opposition. Something had been said about the history of the measure. It seemed to him that the very circumstance that so much care was taken in investigating the matter before a Select Committee showed that there was a desire to approach the question fairly, and to consider it fully and deliberately. According to his recollection, certain Amendments were introduced in "another place." The Bill fell through last Session by reason of these Amendments not being accepted by the promoters of the Bill. They had now got the Bill in exactly the same terms as before. Probably, if there had been some give and take, his hon. and gallant Friend would not have moved the Motion for the rejection of the measure now standing in his name. He submitted to the hon. and gallant Member whether, as some of the provisions of the Bill were undoubtedly valuable, it would be desirable to divide the House on the second reading, but that they should all endeavour, when it reached Committee, to introduce Amendments which would make the measure a most efficient one for the purpose for which it was designed.

MR. COOTE (Huntingdon, S.)

said, that that was an equally important question to the agricultural counties of England and Scotland. He held it to be monstrous to prevent the labourers from having the right of representation on Boards of Guardians merely because they did not pay the rates directly. When it was alleged that representatives of the labourers were not fit to sit on Boards of Guardians, he should like to know what hon. Gentlemen thought of those Representatives of the labouring class who now sat in that House. His own experience of ex officio members of Boards of Guardians was that they showed up when questions of the election of a Chairman, a clerk, or some other salried official had to be decided, but that they did not attend in anything like proper numbers from week to week, while the hard work of the Board, on the other hand, was done by the direct representatives of the people. He trusted, as a Member for an agricultural constituency, that the Government would take the opportunity of adopting the principle of enabling the labourers to have representatives on Boards of Guardians in England and Scotland, without waiting until it was convenient for them to introduce their expected Local Government Bill.

MR. MARUM (Kilkenny, N.)

, said, he thought that no Justice of the Peace should be qualified to be an ex officio Guardian of the poor in a Union unless he was a ratepayer of that Union, and that no Lieutenant of a county, who might be a strong political partizan, should virtually have the power of giving a particular colour to a Board of Guardians.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 203; Noes 105: Majority 98.—(Div. List, No. 99.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.