§ 1. £1,470, to complete the sum for the Charitable Donations and Bequests Office, Ireland.
§ MR. A. O'CONNOR
This is a very small Office, yet it is an Office in regard to which there is ample room for economy. If I remember rightly, the Office has only about one bit of business per diem to discharge. It has two secretaries, one receiving £700 a year, and the other receiving £800 a year. These secretaries have between them only one clerk besides some copyists. I ask the Secretary to the Treasury if he will take the trouble to ascertain the amount of work which these secretaries have to do during the year, and whether if there was only one he would be able to occupy his time? We know perfectly well what the work is. It is of the simplest possible description and of the most limited amount. To have two gentlemen, receiving £1,500 a year between them, acting as secretaries, is a perfect farce. I do not know what amount of investigation the Royal Commission on Civil Establishments may have given to establishments in Ireland; but I am perfectly certain this Office, in respect to the work of its staff, would not bear investigation at the hands of such a body. If they have reported upon it, it would be interesting to know what the Treasury intend to do. I rather think they have not reported upon the Office. If I am right in my supposition, will the Secretary to the Treasury cause some investigation to be made, so that reasonable economy may be effected?
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON,) Leeds, N.
I think the request of the hon. Gentleman is a reasonable one, and I will certainly make inquiries.
§ vote agreed to.
§ 2. £111,530, to complete the sum for the Local Government Board, Ireland.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
Anyone who glances at the second and third pages of the Vote will seethe Department is very liberally provided for and exceedingly 138 well manned, and that, therefore, there is every reason to expect it will properly discharge its functions. I am willing to admit the Board has been very prompt and efficient in the matters I have had occasion to refer to it; but in some other matters I find reason to complain of its action. I lately asked a question about a dangerous nuisance which has been allowed to exist on the foreshore at Holywood, Belfast. Sewage has been allowed to accumulate on the foreshore, and we have medical evidence that in sunshiny weather it becomes offensive to a sickening degree and also very dangerous to health. Some years ago there was litigation in the matter. The Magistrates made an order, but the order was dismissed by the County Court Judge. There the matter rested until I lately put a question in the House. The question has had some effect, but not very much. The Belfast Board of Guardians took out a summons against the landlord, but the Holywood Magistrates dismissed it, on the ground that, in their judgment, the Belfast Board of Guardians was liable. The Local Government Board has been guilty of unaccountable inaction. The nuisance has continued throughout the summer season. The summer is now nearly at an end, and the matter is, therefore, not so urgent; but I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to give his attention to the proceedings of the Belfast Board of Guardians on Tuesday last. It appears that there is no way of meeting the case except by an order of the Local Government Board making the cost a special charge and forming a special district in the contributory area. What I would ask is that this order should be issued, and that no time should be lost in forming the special district. Nothing practical, perhaps, can be done this year; but before another year comes round, effective steps should be taken by the Irish Local Government Board to discontinue this nuisance. Another matter to which I wish to allude is one which bears somewhat of a political aspect—namely, the action of the Belfast Board of Guardians in regard to issuing requisitions for the purpose of the franchise to occupiers in Belfast. The Representation of the People Act of 1885 specified a certain form which was to be issued by the Clerk of the 139 Union to all occupiers in the constituency, and in certain cases to the landlords—when the landlords were liable to the rates in tenements below £4 annual value. That form has been found sufficient for all the Boards of Guardians except that of Belfast, and even in Belfast I am not aware that before the Revising Barrister, or at the Board of Guardians itself, or in any shape or form, any objection has been taken to the form provided by the Act of 1885. The Belfast Guardians having used the forms provided by the Act every year since 1885, have this, year taken the unprecedented step of availing themselves of a section in the Poor Rate Assessment Act of 1869—a section embodied in the Representation of the People Act—to issue in Belfast, not to the occupiers, but to the landlords, a certain form allowed by the Act for an entirely different purpose. The Guardians are not entitled to use this fancy form of their own, which cannot be issued under the Poor Rate Assessment Act unless where the landlords are either liable to be rated or agree to pay the rates. No such agreements have been made in these cases, and the Guardians have no power to serve the landlords of tenements over the value of £4. I therefore submit that the Guardians under the Act of 1869 have no power to issue these forms. In the second place, they ask for information unauthorised by the Act of 1869, because that Act only authorises the Guardians to ask the landlords for a list of occupiers, but in this form the Guardians go beyond this, and ask not only the name of the present tenant but the date of the commencement of his tenancy. I say that is information for which they have no legal authority to ask. This is a political movement of the Belfast Guardians against myself as one of the Members for that city. I happen to differ in political opinion from the majority of the Belfast Guardians, and they consider themselves entitled to use the money of the ratepayers for the purpose of obtaining information for landlords, for which they are not entitled to ask by law or by the state of facts in Belfast; and then, that information being supplied to the Clerk of the Union, he compiles his long list upon that, and opposite the name of the voter he places 140 his official objection by reason of the information thus obtained, and which is unauthorised by law. The effect of that objection derived from this information illegally obtained is this: the person officially objected to has to attend the Court, and the official objector is not obliged to show any reason to the objection, but by reason of this tortuous and unjustifiable action the onus of proof is thrown upon the claimant. Why should not the law in regard to the franchise be the same in Belfast as it is in all other parts of the kingdom? I am not disposed to submit to this action of the Belfast Guardians, and to allow advantage to be taken of me by the use of public money, and I shall take every means in my power to compel the Government to take proper steps to put an end to this system. The legal adviser of the Local Government Board receives, by way of fees, &c. £2,300, and as it is his duty to advise on questions of law he ought to have done it in this case, and I shall, therefore, move to reduce this gentleman's salary by £300, which will be about the amount of the poor rates in Belfast illegally employed by the guardians out of political animus in obtaining for political purposes information unauthorised by law. And now I should like to bring before the right hon. Gentleman the case of the refusal of the Irish Local Government Board to allow the North Dublin Board of Guardians to manage their own financial affairs. I would ask the Solicitor General for Ireland whether it is not a fact that every Board of Guardians in Great Britain is allowed discretion as to where they shall transact their banking business? The case of the Local Government Board in this matter is very different to what it was 40 years ago, the banks then being very different to what they are now. Moreover, the old Board of Guardians had to administer only one Act, and under that Act they found it a very simple duty to estimate their Budget and prescribe the rates. But Irish Boards of Guardians now deal with a variety of Acts, relating not only to hunger, but to health, education, and other matters of public importance, and it is difficult for them at the beginning of the year, especially in a place like Dublin, to estimate what the probable expenditure will be. In proof of that, 141 I would remind hon. Gentlemen that an unforeseen expenditure of £8,000 has been incurred during the year on the compulsory slaughter of cattle under the order of the Privy Council. This kind of unforeseen expenditure occurs annually, especially in Dublin, and I maintain that it is unjust and unreasonable to expect the North Dublin Board of Guardians to be able at the beginning of the year to estimate with accuracy the amount of expenditure that may fall upon them before the year comes to an end. That, I believe, is the supposition on which the contention of the Local Government Board is founded. They say the Guardians ought to know at the beginning of the year what they will want in the course of the year. But I say that is impossible. What are the relations between the North Dublin Union and the Bank of Ireland—that bank having been the Treasurer of the Board since it was formed? The Union has always been in credit for about two-thirds of the year, and at the end of the year it has occasionally fallen out of credit. The Bank has allowed the Board 1 per cent on the credits, but when the Board has fallen out of credit and the Bank has allowed an over-draft it has charged the Board 5 and 6 per cent. Anybody can see that that is sharp treatment and that the Bank must have made a very good thing out of the Board. In October last the Bank wrote to the Board that their account was overdrawn £350—a very inconsiderate thing for the Bank to do after a connection of 40 years with the Board. At the beginning of January that information was repeated, and the Board was informed that the account would have to be kept perpetually in credit. The Guardians found themselves in a very difficult position. The year had been a very expensive one owing to unforeseen expenditure; the rates were not easily collected; the Guardians owed bankers and others some £4,000, and in order to pay this amount they had to wait until the rate for the new year could be levied. They passed a Resolution asking the Bank of Ireland to give them credit for £4,000 from the beginning of the year to the end of March, by which time the new rate would be levied. The Bank of Ireland refused to do it. Upon this, the Guardians applied to the Mun- 142 ster and Leinster Bank, who agreed not only to advance £4,000 for this year, but to do so every year on condition that the account was transferred, and they also agreed to give, on credits on the account, interest not of 1 per cent, but at the deposit rate, and to charge on over-draft the market rate of interest. That was a very tempting offer to the Board of Guardians. The Munster and Leinster Bank is a perfectly safe Bank, and provided the account were transferred to them they agreed to give these terms. Then, what did the Bank of Ireland do? Their first answer was a non possumus. They would not give credit at all, but when they found that the Munster and Leinster Bank was ready to give it they said, "We will give you credit for £2,000 to the end of March, provided that you undertake, when the Government pay you the money payable under the Probate and Succession Duty, to immediately lodge that amount." The Board agreed to do that for the moment, but the difficulty with them continued. I wish to call attention to the shameful condition of local government in the City of Dublin. The North Dublin Union is partly urban and partly rural. The rates are not collected by the Board of Guardians, but by an official collector appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. The Board of Guardians have, therefore, no control over the collection of the rates. Yet the Local Government Board compel them to keep their account at one Bank, where they have not the accommodation which they can obtain at other Banks. The Guardians, who cannot get the accommodation they require at the Bank of Ireland, wish to change to the Munster and Leinster Bank. But Boards of: Guardians cannot change without the consent of the Local Government Board, which is composed of three gentlemen appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. They have no representative capacity whatever. The Article of the General Order of 1882 provides that the Treasurer cannot be dismissed without the consent of the Local Government Board. I admit that would be a reasonable order were the Treasurer an individual who received a salary. But in the case of a Bank, and where it is a matter of obtaining accommodation, there is no reason why the Board of Guardians, 143 for ordinary commercial reasons, should not be allowed to change from one Bank to another. The Local Government Board have kept the Guardians bound hand and foot to the Bank of Ireland. They say that they do not consider the refusal of the Bank to accommodate the Union with credit is a sufficient reason for taking the account from their hands. Now, you cannot always expedite the collection of the rates, and in a poor country the Guardians must be allowed discretion as to the degree of force they bring to bear upon the ratepayers. To refuse the Board this power to change their Treasurer for the purpose of obtaining better accommodation is an insult to their intelligence and an injury to the ratepayers, on whom it inflicts a considerable money fine. My last question relates to the suspension of Boards of Guardians. I think the Local Government Board are rather disposed to take arbitrary action upon slight cause, especially in a case where the majority of the Guardians are Nationalists. I wish to know what Boards are now suspended. The Local Government Board has suspended the Dungarvan Board of Guardians because they gave a contract for bread to a person whose tender was not the lowest sent in. This action on the part of the Guardians involved a loss of £30 to the ratepayers, but in consequence of the suspension of the Board the ratepayers had had to pay £500 a year to two Vice-Guardians who are sent down by the Local Government Board. They are military men, these Vice-Guardians, and they spend a considerable tins e in training the Militia. I submit that the time has arrived when the Dungarvan Board of Guardians should be allowed to resume their elective functions. There will be considerable irritation if the Estimates for the coming year are determined and controlled by gentlemen appointed by the Local Government Board and not by the Representatives of the ratepayers.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward two or three points of some interest and importance. The first relates to a nuisance in the neighbourhood of Belfast. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Local Government Board will not neglect to use such 144 powers as they have in the matter if on inquiry they find that they can do so with propriety. As to the action of the Belfast Board of Guardians in dealing with certain electoral matters, the right hon. Gentleman indicated that the Board was actuated in the course they pursued by animus against the political party to which the majority of the Guardians happened to belong. If the action of the Board of Guardians has been illegal, the Guardians who are responsible may be punished by being surcharged; but if the action of the Guardians has been legal the Local Government Board can hardly interfere. The right hon. Gentleman next pointed out that a very great financial burden had been thrown on the North and South Dublin Union by the cost of the slaughter of cattle under a compulsory order. I regret that so large a portion of the cost of these compulsory slaughter orders should fall upon the locality where the cattle are slaughtered, but any change in the practice which governs those cases must be by legislation. It is doubtful whether it would be desirable to deal with Ireland separately from England and Scotland in making any such change. I have done all I legitimately can to make the payment easy for the Guardians, and will continue to do so. The right hon. Gentleman complains because the Local Government Board has not allowed the North Dublin Board of Guardians to change their Treasurer. The Local Government Board has not acted in that particular case in any arbitrary or abnormal manner, but according to well-established precedent. In some cases Boards of Guardians are allowed to transfer their account from one bank to another, but the general principle is that no transfer of accounts shall be made unless some solid reason can be shown for it. The competition among banks all over Ireland is so very keen that in some parts of the country it would not conduce to the ultimate solvency of Boards of Guardians if they were allowed arbitrarily to transfer their accounts from one bank to another. I am disposed to allow very considerable weight to the argument that it is very hard to prevent a transfer where the new treasurer is prepared to offer very much better terms than the old one. I do not recollect whether 145 in the present case much better terms have been offered.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I did not know that. I will, however, cause inquiry to be made. I am quite prepared to say that in those cases where the danger to which I have alluded of financial embarrassment does not seem likely to occur, if the new Treasurer offers more liberal terms than the old one, the Local Government Board ought to use very great discretion in exercising the powers vested in them by law to prevent a change. The number of Boards of Guardians who have been suspended is four. With regard to the Dungarvan Board the right hon. Gentleman rather led the Committee to infer that that Board has been supended because they accepted a higher and rejected a lower tender for bread. There are, however, other significant circumstances not mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman. There were two contractors—a Mr. Casey, whose tender was 5¼d.per 4lb., and a Mrs. Armstrong, whose tender was 4¾d. The Guardians determined to take the bread at the higher price. I agree that, under certain circumstances, it may be proper to accept a higher tender, but that would only be when the higher priced bread was the better. So far from that being so in the present instance, while Mrs. Armstrong supplied excellent bread to the workhouse Mr. Casey's bread has on several occasions, in and after 1886, been complained of by the Medical Officer as insufficiently baked; on other days it had been rejected as unfit for use and bad, and on one occasion is was described as being more fit for painters' putty than human consumption. The course which the Guardians subsequently took in accepting the tender of the dishonest and neglecting that of the honest contractor was not a little remarkable, and it was calculated to inflict great hardship on the inhabitants of the workhouse. I think that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman would agree that the Local Government Board has not acted unreasonably in suspending the Board of Guardians.
§ MR. SEXTON
That is not my question. It was whether, as the Board had been suspended nearly a year, that punishment has not been sufficient.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I never desire unduly to prolong those suspensions which give a good deal of trouble. I will cause inquiry to be made, and as soon as the public interest will allow the ratepayers will again have the right to elect Guardians.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
I am glad to hear the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Dungarvan, for though disfranchisement might continue for two or three months, I do not consider it should last for a year and a half. With regard to the same Union, I see by the newspapers that the Vice Guardians actually accepted a tender which was seat in a day after the time fixed for the receipt of tenders; so that these Guardians do not do their duty any better than the elective Guardians. And with regard to the ex officio members of the Board of Guardians, in the Union to which I belong, out of 50 meetings of the Board held in one year, I find that five only attended twice and five once; eight never put in an appearance. These are the gentlemen who are censorious, and who say we do not know ho w to manage our affairs. I think it right to say that there is one ex officio Guardian in my Union who has regularly attended to his duty. With reference to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Cork, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the reason of his refusal to bring in a Bill which would lead to the work of registration being far more efficiently done than at present. I wish again to call attention to the removal of the poor from this country to Ireland. The Union with which I am connected in Water-ford receives week after week warrants from different parts of England for sending over paupers who have passed most of their lives in this country, which they have enriched by their labour. This grievance, which is admittedly a grievance, still remains. A rather large charge is made for the auditors. As a rule the officials appointed by the Local Government Board are out of joint with the people of Ireland in political views. These auditors have a control over the accounts of the Unions, which are obliged to submit to the surcharges without having any redress. I think the auditors might be better employed in looking after the expenditure of the county rates, which are paid altogether 147 by the occupiers, and to which the landlords do not contribute, although they spend the money. We, the occupiers, are paying at present 11½d. in the £ in respect of a railway which was constructed without consulting us. A large sum is demanded under this Vote for workhouse schools and workhouse teachers. The Irish people are sometimes upbraided for not desiring to promote education. The Union of Water-ford will, however, be prepared to contribute to the payment of these teachers if they have a proper voice in the education of the people of the country. If a duly constituted Board of Education be appointed, in which the people had confidence, it will be found that most of the unions which at present refuse to pay these teachers will become contributors and assist in paying them proper salaries. Considering the way in which Local Government has been withheld from the Irish people, the blunders made by the Boards are remarkably few. It is said to be a significant fact that mismanagement is most conspicuous where the Boards are composed mainly of Nationalists. Yet the Nationalist Boards have carried out the complicated provisions of the Labourers' Act, whereas in unions where the Nationalist members are not in a majority the Act has remained a dead letter. In connection with labourers' dwellings, I would suggest that the Inspectors, who receive large salaries, should be asked to suggest the most suitable form of cottage to con struct for labourers.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)
I have to express my satisfaction at the answer of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the charges in connection with the Cattle Diseases Act, but at the same time I must complain of the way in which slaughtering orders have been issued. The South Dublin Union refused to carry out the order, and then the Privy Council intervened and made an imperative order that the Board should carry out the slaughtering order. This sent up the price of cattle in a remarkable degree. It is a hard thing one district should suffer when cattle have to be slaughtered in such a wholesale way for fear of the spread of disease, and I am gratified the Government have determined that in future the country at large shall bear the burden of it. I am inclined to think it should be 148 an Imperial rate thrown over the three kingdoms. I have before called attention to the Act of last year to give relief to local burdens out of the probate grant, and I have expressed my amazement at the manner in which the money was allocated, and pointed out that the Act was rushed through on Christmas Eve in the absence of Irish Members. I also suggested that it would be a graceful act on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he were to apply part of the money in reduction of the interest on labourers' cottages in the same way as the charges under the Public Works Loan Bill. It is a remarkable fact that throughout Ulster, with the single exception of Nationalist Cavan, not one Board have put up a cottage for their labouring people. Unhappy Connaught has taken action, and even disturbed and lawless Munster has done more than two other provinces put together. The reason is that Ulster is governed entirely by ex officio Boards, with the exception of Cavan. It would greatly conduce to the improvement of labourers' dwellings if the Government were to carry out the suggestion I have made. I really think the Government ought to repeal the Act and consult with the Irish Members as to some better means for the distribution of the money. I would remind the Government that the Bill relating to Scotland was made annual, whereas that relating to Ireland was made perpetual. The allocation of the money according to salaries and superannuation allowances is absurd, and I should like to know who is the genius at the Local Government Board from whom it emanated. As to the suspension of Boards of Guardians, before the right hon. Gentleman came into office it was a very rare thing to suspend Boards of Guardians. I do not say that Boards of Guardians are perfect by any means; but if you want to improve them, I would suggest that you should reduce the qualification of a Guardian, and in that way you would get men more popular with the electors, and you would give the labourers a chance of getting a Representative. From the point of view of freedom, it would be better to let the Local Boards blunder on and spend money, to some extent foolishly, than to send down colonels and majors and 149 generals to annoy them in the management of their affairs. Besides, this is a very expensive method of Government. In addition to their half-pay, these men receive big sums for acting as Vice Guardians. I protest against the class of men selected, and I say that if Vice Guardians are necessary at all, a body of men could easily be found who would be more suitable to perform the duties assigned to them than those selected by the Local Government Board. If you were to investigate the private affairs of those men you would find the Bankruptcy Court and Stubbs's Black List figuring prominently in their history. I would suggest that in the future, if the Government are serious in their expressed desire for local administration, they should, if they insist upon dissolving Boards of Guardians, allow other Boards to be elected in their places instead of appointing Vice-Guardians. Why do not the ex officio Guardians in these cases step in and do their duty? Property, we are told, has its duties as well as its rights. I, myself, should be very sorry indeed to see the Conservative element removed from any Board in Ireland, and I am glad when I see the ex officio members attending to their duties. I may say that I should be glad if the Conservative Party had a larger representation than they have on the Dublin Corporation, and I should like to see this brought about by plurality of voting or something of that kind. At present, the moment the ex officios on Boards of Guardians lose their majority and their power of electing the Chairman—and, in point of fact, in getting the plunder—they abdicate their functions. Because they cannot be masters, they will not work as the equals of the unfortunate elected Guardians. When men, who have had no training in the management of local affairs, step in for the first time and have the responsibility and burden of conducting the work of a Board cast entirely upon them, is it any wonder that they should make mistakes? This was the case in the Dungarvan Union. The Tory Party had had a majority ever since the Poor Law Act was passed. Suddenly the elected Guardians found themselves placed in a position of authority. They make some mistake, and—presto!—down comes an Inspector of the Local Government 150 Board and dissolves the Board, which the ex officio party had boycotted. When has a Local Board been dissolved in England? Never within my recollection. I will give one instance of the partial action of the Local Government Board in Ireland. For seven years we were complaining of the fact that a Board of Guardians would not appoint a Catholic priest to attend to the poor, and the priest of the district was obliged to discharge the entire duties without a salary. I brought the subject before a Liberal Government in the year 1882, and was informed by the present Master of the Rolls in Ireland—then the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Porter)—that the Local Government Board were powerless in regard to it. I brought it before his successors time after time, but nothing was done. After the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) came into office, he sent down a Sealed Order, I think, and insisted upon the Guardians paying the salary. Why was not that Board dissolved seven years ago? Why were the paupers of the Union left in a state of spiritual destitution for those seven years, and why did not the Local Government Board take the action in 1882 which they took in 1889? They have dissolved Boards of Guardians in Donegal, New Ross, and half a dozen other places; and I read the other day one of the most high-handed letters which I think even the Irish Local Government Board ever wrote. It was addressed to the Cork Board of Guardians. It was a most audacious and impertinent communication. It was the kind of letter which Lord Clanricarde used to write to his late agent. The Board were told that because they had adjourned as a protest against the arrest of Dr. Tanner they had misconducted themselves in the most outrageous way, and that they must not do such a thing again. The Board is a most important one, with 130 members, and the Tories are in a majority when they attend, which, however, they only do when a salary has to be voted or the Chairman has to be elected. It is, therefore, only a Nationalist Board of Guardians for executive purposes. I see in that letter the fine Roman hand of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour). His policy is to destroy Irish Local Government, and, with the object of doing so, 151 he tries to show that it has broken down. He generally has an ulterior motive in what he says and does. You, Mr. Courtney, have frequently to call him to order, because he is so fond of descanting upon, not what is really before the Committee, but some ulterior matter. My contention is that if a Board of Guardians is dissolved, the proper course is to allow fresh Guardians to be elected. Before I sit down, allow me to draw attention to some very remarkable figures in connection with the administration of the Labourers' Act by the Local Government Board. I find that the number of cottages actually built in Connaught up to the present time is 46. In Leinster the number actually built is 1,783; in Munster it is 3,524, and in Ulster it reaches the magnificent total of one. That cottage is in the County of Cavan, which is represented in this House by two Nationalists. Under these circumstances, I say that the Local Government Board ought to put pressure on the Guardians to induce them to get cottages erected. There is power under the Labourers' Act giving the labourer a kind of appeal to the Local Government Board when the Guardians refuse to carry out the measure. I myself have advised labourers in two or three cases to appeal to the Local Government Board. Whether they did so or not I do not know, but, at all events, nothing came of it if they did. I say, however, that under the Act there are means of getting cottages erected for the Orange peasantry and yeomanry in the North of Ireland, and I trust the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to get the Act put into force.
§ SIR. C. LEWIS (Antrim, N.)
I have been endeavouring the whole of this Session and last Session to get an opportunity of drawing attention to the very facts which the hon. and learned Member has so much emphasised in his speech. I have to complain, on behalf of my constituents, that the Labourers' Dwellings Act is an entire dead letter. The Act has not fair play on account of the expense and the cumbrousness of the process by which it is in force. The initial expense is very great, and there is the greatest objection on the part of Boards of Guardians not only in Ulster, but in other parts of Ireland also, against putting the Act into operation. In regard to the consti- 152 tuency I represent, it is not my duty to decry or defame their social arrangements or their dwellings, but their case is by no means different from cases in. other parts of Ireland, and there is urgent need for the passing of some Act by the Legislature for providing an inexpensive machinery to carry out the reforms required. I have been gravely disappointed with the answers I have received from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) on the several occasions on which I have put questions to him on this subject. We have his sympathy I am sure, but I think the non possumus tone he always adopts has not been satisfactory to my constituents. Unquestionably the root difficulty, after all, is that the Boards of Guardians as a body to put the Act into operation is, in most instances, perfectly useless. Those Boards are comprised of elective and non-elective Members, the former belonging mainly to the farming class and the latter to the landlord class, and the farmers are even more out of sympathy with the labourers than are the landlords. The consequence is, that the working of the Act is blocked. While Parliament has in recent years loaded the Irish farmers with gifts, the labourers have been left entirely in the lurch. But in the near future the labourers will, I believe, combine against the farmers, as the farmers have combined against the landlords, and in their agitation against the farmers the labourers will probably improve on the methods they have learnt from their masters. On behalf of the unfortunate labourers, who have no advocates, at all events in Ireland, to speak for them, I do most humbly represent to my right hon. Friend that this question cannot be delayed. It is a question on which I am receiving the most piteous complaints from my constituents, and it is positively disgraceful not in one part of Ireland only, but in many parts.
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
The affecting regard which the hon. Baronet has displayed for the labourers must be rather a surprise to the House. There was a Motion on the Paper on the subject in the name of the hon. Baronet some time back; but as to the means he took of bringing it forward, most Members are entirely innocent. I think I should not be incorrect in describing his speech as a speech to 153 the labourers among his constituents without reference to the rest of the question. If difficulties in the way of the enforcement of the Act exist in Ulster they exist in other parts of Ireland to an equal extent; but, in my own constituency, the Nationalist Boards of Guardians have erected 600 labourers' cottages, and I do not look forward, at any rate in the near future, to a general advance of the insurrectionary body of labourers upon the farmers. I have no doubt that when the time comes we shall see the hon. Baronet at the head of a surging crowd of labourers leading an attack upon the farmers. The hon. Baronet has used language almost identical with that for which the hon. Member for the Harbour Division of Dublin underwent two months imprisonment. With reference to the main question, we wish to protest on this Vote against the continuance of a bureaucratic system of cast-iron rigidity, a system over which popular opinion in Ireland has no control whatever, and which seems to pride itself upon sitting itself up on every possible occasion against popular opinion. I think there can be no answer to the able argument of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) in reference to the dissolution of Boards of Guardians. I can quite conceive, however, that the right hon. Gentlemen (Mr. A. J. Balfour) thinks it his duty to throw discredit generally on the local administration of affairs in Ireland. A great many extraordinary things sometimes take place in Local Boards in England. But we have not heard that the Local Government Board jumps down on them and dissolves the Board, and sends two or three highly-paid officials to administer the affairs of the union; and why have we not heard that? Because the Local Government Board in England have some respect for local opinion, and know that the people are very tenacious of their rights and privileges. It is quite otherwise in Ireland. Take, for instance, the case of the Cork Union. A very short time since the Irish Local Government sent a most audacious communication to the Cork Board threatening it with suspension and with the appointment of paid Guardians. Personally, I should have rejoiced if the Local Government Board had carried 154 out their threat. I should not have paid my poor's rate. I should have subscribed the amount of it to some charitable society for the relief of the poor, and, I believe, in taking this action I should have been supported by at least five-sixths of the ratepayers, and then I should like to know where would your paid officials have been? Why, of course, you would have had to fall back upon distraint, but it would have taken you at least 12 months to distrain for one month's poor rates, and I believe that the people of the district would have gladly subscribed to any fund for defraying the costs incurred in resisting the demands of these paid Guardians. Why was this threat made against the Cork Board? Simply because at one of their meetings, after the correspondence had been real, and after nearly all the ordinary business had been disposed of, a Nationalist member proposed a resolution sympathising with Dr. Tanner in his imprisonment. The resolution was passed, and nothing else was done, but a Tory Guardian happened to hear of the matter. He wrote to the Local Government Board on the subject, and because of this utterly insignificant incident the affairs of the Union were threatened to be thrown into disorder and paid Guardians appointed at a very heavy expense to the Union, while there would have been a general state of revolution and agitation against what was going on. At present I believe the Cork Union is as well conducted as most of the Unions in England, and I believe the Guardians, both Nationalist and Tory, endeavour to carry out the work in an amicable spirit, and with a due regard to economy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, though he does usually disregard expressions of opinion coming from these Benches, is not yet sufficiently foolhardy to permit the Board, of which he is the President, to persist in this course, and I do trust that he will allow even the faint echo of my voice to be conveyed to the Local Government Board in reference to this system of arbitrarily and unnecessarily dismissing local bodies in Ireland, and appointing paid officials at high salaries. And now I should like to say a few words with regard to the auditors. I believe that at present there are no fewer than 10 auditors, and they make very frequent 155 surcharges in the course of their audits. This may be attributable to a desire on their part to show the country that they are doing work. I have no doubt that if we had a smaller number of auditors we should have fewer surcharges, and the Vote for them might be very greatly reduced. I hope that the short discussion we have had will not be unproductive of good, and that it will prove to the right hon. Gentleman that the Irish people are examining more and more closely this autocratic system by which two or three officials in Dublin, appointed nobody knows how, interfere with local bodies which are honestly, fairly, and conscientiously discharging their legitimate duties and giving satisfaction to the public at large. It is time that this impertinent officialism of these nominated bodies and highly paid officers was put a stop to, and I hope that this Debate will have the result of ending it.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork)
I desire to say that I entirely agree with everything that has been said by my colleagues on the subject of the letter addressed to the Cork Board of Guardians. It was an audacious and injudicious letter, and calculated to produce results the very reverse of what were intended. I can conceive nothing more impudent than the manner in which these gentlemen addressed one of the largest and most popular Poor Law bodies in Ireland. But the immediate object of my rising is to call attention to another matter in which the Cork Board have, I think, serious reason to complain of the blundering and mismanagement of the Local Government Board. I refer to the action of the latter body in regard to the Queenstown intercepting hospital, and I do not think this is a matter which has previously been brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. I venture to say that if any other Irish body had blundered and mismanaged its business in the way in which the Local Government Board have done in this case, the right hon. Gentleman would have dissolved it long since. But, unfortunately, we have no power to dissolve the Local Government Board. Two old Sanitary Acts, which have been repealed, give Boards of Guardians bordering on ports certain sanitary jurisdiction over ships arriving in those ports. An Act passed in the 156 year 1873, also since repealed, enabled the Irish Local Government Board to appoint some one riparian Union to have complete jurisdiction over the port, not with standing there might be several other Unions abutting on the port. The Public Health Act, 1874, also since repealed, enabled the selected Union to build a hospital for the reception of persons, afflicted with contagious disease, who might arrive in the port. In pursuance of that power, the Cork Board of Guardians, which was appointed the Sanitary Authority for that port, proceeded to build an intercepting hospital at Queenstown. The Act of 1873 further provided that any special expenditure incurred in this way should be borne jointly by all the Unions which abutted on the port, and everyone will admit that that was a fair and equitable provision. Consequently, the cost of this intercepting hospital was intended to be borne, not by the Cork Union alone, but by all the three Unions abutting on the port. Well, Sir, the Local Government Board, when the Act of 1873 was passed, declared the Cork Board of Guardians to be the Port Nuisance Authority, and ordered that all expenses which might be incurred should be contributed jointly by such Unions as the Local Government Board might fix upon. The Cork Board, acting under that authority, and believing that any expense they incurred would have to be borne, not solely by the Cork ratepayers, but by the various Unions, expended a sum of £2,000 in building an intercepting hospital, and when the hospital had been erected, the Local Government Board issued a Sealed Order declaring that no fewer than five Unions should contribute to the cost. That order has since been proved to be absolutely ultra vires. As a fact, only three Unions abut on the port of Cork; but the Local Government Board Order directed that, in addition to those three Unions, the Clonakilty and the Bandon Unions should contribute to the expense. The Cork Board, relying on the Sealed Order of the Local Government Board, and believing that that body knew what it was about, proceeded against the Clonakilty Union in order to recover their share of the expenses. Litigation was the result; it continued for a considerable time, and ultimately the Clonakilty Union suc- 157 ceeded in getting an order of the Court declaring that the Sealed Order which the Local Government Board had taken upon itself to issue was absolutely ultra vires. Now, Sir, owing to that blunder of the Local Government Board, the Cork Board of Guardians have had to pay about £400 in law costs, and I wish to ask what steps the Local Government Board propose to take in order to reimburse the unfortunate ratepayers of the Cork Union for that enormous expenditure incurred through no fault of their own, but through the blundering and incapacity of the Local Government Board itself. There is no reason why the ratepayers of the Cork Union should be saddled with this expense, seeing that the Local Government Board have since admitted their mistake and have issued a fresh Sealed Order excluding the Clonakilty and Bandon Unions from the list of contributory Unions.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
My immediate purpose in rising was to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom I am glad to see present. I wish to know when the next payment will be made to the Poor Law Union Boards out of the Probate Fund. Last year the payment was very much delayed as compared with the time that it was made in England, and I think it ought to be expedited this year. I now wish to say a few words with regard to the treatment of workhouse children in Ireland. I find fault not so much with the Irish Poor Law system as with the manner in which the children are managed, and I do not think that this complaint is attributable to the action of the Guardians, for I do not see how those gentlemen can give the children more attention than they now do. But my point is that the treatment which the children have does not fit them for their struggle in after life, and the result is that they very soon return to the workhouse, which they practically look upon as their home. What is desirable is that these children should get the best possible substitutes for home influence, and for the care of parents of which they are now deprived, and I do not think that the present workhouse system gives them that. These children may be divided into three classes. First, there are the children sent to reformatories for real crime; secondly, there are the children sent to 158 industrial schools for nominal crime; and thirdly, there are the children kept in workhouses on account of their destitution. The reformatory system, I admit, is a very good one, but the industrial school system is both foolish and illogical, because if anyone wishes to send a child to one of these schools, he first induces that child to commit some petty crime.
Order, order! The hon. and gallant Gentleman must direct his remarks to matters connected with the Local Government Board. I do not think he is doing that now.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
My desire is to impress on the Chief Secretary, as President of the Local Government Board, that some different system should be adopted in dealing with these children, and inasmuch as this Vote includes the salaries of Poor Law officials, I think I am entirely in order. What I wish to urge is that there should be some machinery which would enable Boards of Guardians to place their children in industrial schools, where they would be very much better brought up than they can possibly be in workhouses. The number of industrial schools in Ireland is, I admit, too limited; but I think that difficulty might be easily overcome. We all know that there are too many Unions in Ireland, and it has long been urged that some of these Unions should be amalgamated. By this means, I hold that the number of Unions might be reduced by 30 or 40. I do not blame the Government for not having taken steps to secure this amalgamation, because we know that public opinion, both in and out of this House, has not yet been concentrated upon that question, and we also know that some difficulty arises from the fact that it would be necessary to supersede a good many Poor Law officials, and these officials naturally object to supercession unless they get their salaries paid to them for nothing. Now, my suggestion would be that every eighth or tenth workhouse in the country should be used solely for the maintenance and training of the children from the other workhouses in Ireland, and I believe that if that were done you would have the means in your hands of making these children good and useful citizens. I do not want to have new schools erected; there is no necessity for that, 159 but I do think if certain workhouses could be set apart for these children, the little ones could be trained in the same way as juveniles are trained in industrial schools. I do not, of course, contend that no children at all should be admitted into the workhouse. Where they only go in temporarily with their parents for the purpose of getting lodging and food, it would be necessary to keep them in those Unions, but my proposal is to deal with the majority of the children who are now reared in workhouses from the age of three years and upwards, and whose tendency is at present to stay too long in those institutions. Possibly it would be better if some religious organisation would take charge of these institutions of which I have suggested the creation, and I have no doubt that there are a good many Protestants in Ireland who would be only too anxious to take care of the Protestant children. I take it that one of the greatest blots of our Poor Law system in Ireland is that we are rearing up in the workhouses a very large number of paupers, whereas by a little organisation and attention to detail we might produce a very great improvement in this respect. Let the Government bring in a Bill to that effect next year. I do not mean to increase the expenditure upon the Unions. The schoolmasters and mistresses could be transferred or some of them to the central schools, and there the children could also be taught such trades as shoe making and tailoring, which are now most inefficiently taught in the workhouses. I am not speaking of large Unions such as those of Dublin. I mean the smaller country Unions. Whatever project is entertained it should be in connection with the amalgamation of Unions, and having the buildings it would simply be a case of transfer.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY (Donegal, N.)
I would press the advantage of developing the system of boarding out the children with persons of their own denomination. There can be no doubt of the advantage of this system for the improvement of the condition of the children. No human beings are in such an unfortunate position as these poor children. Nothing of the attractions and the social blessings of a home ever touches them. The only place in the nature of a home with which they become acquainted is that where 160 they happen to serve, and whenever misfortune happens to them, and they are knocked out of employment, they gravitate at once to the workhouse or the gaol. I have known many of them from the ages of 16 to 25 return helpless to the workhouse, but if they have gone through the boarding-out system they become self-reliant and get to love their foster parents, and some of the instincts of home are developed in them. But what I rose to mention is the matter, to which the hon. Baronet the Member for Antrim has referred in an impassioned way but not beyond what it deserves, the total neglect in Ulster by Boards of Guardians of the Labourers' Act. My attention has been directly called to this subject as a member of one of the largest Boards in Ulster. I have endeavoured to urge upon my fellow Guardians the adoption of the Act in places where there is evidence of overcrowding, and have even gone the length of getting the feeble support of the sanitary officer of the district, but I must say the force of inertia, and the dead weight of unwillingness on the part of the elected Guardians, the men who employ labour, have prevented action being taken. Speaking from experience I can say that this opposition comes from men who in other matters take an active and intelligent part in the political affairs of the county. I do not say for a moment that it is made altogether a political or religious question, but I have no doubt that the neglect is largely owing to the differences—political and religious—between the farmers and the labourers, and in the district I am particularly referring to, the labourers have no political power. I represent a district where the labourers are but a small fraction, and, indeed, can scarcely be called a class, the farmers and their sons doing nearly all the agricultural work. I do not suppose the labourers make more than 3 per cent of my constituents. But I do say that throughout Ulster and in those Unions where the Guardians have the most sympathy with the labouring class, there is the greatest unwillingness to put the Act in force. I would suggest very briefly to the Chief Secretary what I think should be the leverage in the hands of the Local Government Board to make the measure work. The Sanitary Officers and the Medical Officers get in various ways 161 about £100,000 of this Vote, but do they do their duty in return for this? If these men were inspired by the Local Government Board with a desire to look after labourers' cottages, then they might force the Guardians to make use of the Act. I have taken the trouble to make inquiry, and I find that inspection is carried out in the most perfunctory way, and though it may be reported here and there that such a roof is not watertight, or that such a cottage is not habitable by reason of want of accommodation, really action is not taken except in flagrant cases, when proceedings are taken against owner or occupier to abate a nuisance. But I think out of this £100,000 this helpless misrepresented class might claim some assistance from the Local Government Board. I do not deny that the ex officio Guardians are as much to blame as the elected Guardians; but it is of the elected Guardians I most complain that they seem bent on making the Act inoperative. For the sake of a class which consists of the worst fed, worst housed, worst clothed, and worst paid in the three kingdoms, the right hon. Gentleman might do a great deal of good, he baa the means at hand in his Local Government Inspectors, and a word from him would put that means in operation.
§ MR. BYRNE (Wicklow, W.)
I desire to bring under the notice and consideration of the Chief Secretary as head of the Local Government Board, the difficulties that stand in the way of Guardians obtaining loans for carrying out necessary improvements in workhouse buildings. In this connection I would refer him to the correspondence that took place last year between the Board and the Guardians of the Rathdrum Union, and I would impress upon him the desirability of some clear definition of how far works in relation to workhouse buildings come under the provisions of the Public Works Loans Act. In the matter of labourers' cottages, I think the Local Government Board is to blame for not facilitating the adoption of the Act. Undoubtedly there is no great disposition on the part of Guardians to avail themselves of the Act; but if the Board of Works prepared designs, which being lithographed, could be available all over Ireland for the use of Guardians, professional expenses in relation to the 162 Act would be reduced, and uniformity in providing cottages would be secured. One other point deserves attention in connection with this Vote, and that is the improper and dishonest manner in which votes for the election of Guardians are manufactured by the connivance of members of a family.
§ MR. GILL (Louth, S.)
I think that one of the obstacles to the operation of the Labourers' Act is the part that is played by the Privy Council, which is constituted a sort of Court of Appeal. When a scheme for labourers is sought to be carried out, the first thing is the adoption of the scheme by the Board itself—
The hon. Member will be travelling outside the Vote in criticising an Act of Parliament over which the Local Government Board have no control.
§ MR. GILL
I must apologise for inability to make my point clear. I am going to show that the Local Government Board, who now exercise full right of supervision on this question of labourers' cottages, constitute a sufficient instrument for the purpose, and that the Privy Council is an obstacle in the work, and a considerable reform might be effected by the removal of the restrictions imposed by the Privy Council.
The control of the Local Government Board, but not the action of the Privy Council, can be discussed under this Vote.
§ MR. GILL
It is competent for me to refer to those points in which the Local Government Board exercises their functions in an efficient manner, and do good work. The system of inspection in relation to any proposal for labourers' cottages is exhaustive and efficient, though, perhaps, it might be somewhat less cumbrous. After the adoption of a scheme by the Guardians, the Board send down an inspector and engineer, who visit the proposed sites for the cottages, and satisfy themselves as to this point. They then hold a sort of inquiry, and any person can raise any objection to the proposed erection of cottages, and, if necessary, the ground is visited again. But when the question of site and the requirements of the district are inquired into and determined by the Local Government Board, then comes in the power of the Privy Council as a Court of Appeal.
It is at this point that the hon. Member travels outside matters concerned in this Vote. The powers of the Privy Council are determined by Statute, and the Local Government Board have no control over them.
§ MR. GILL
I will not attempt to press the discussion of the action of the Privy Council, but I apprehend the right hon. Gentleman, as President of the Local Government Board in Ireland, has appreciated the drift of my remarks, and will see where it is possible for a practical reform to be effected. I can conceive no fitter opportunity for raising this question than in connection with this Vote, but having suggested it I do not wish to press the point. I will only say further that I hope the right hon. Gentleman when next he makes a speech in England will kindly take notice of the extent to which the Labourers' Act has been used in the Southern and Western parts of Ireland as compared with Ulster. In Munster some three or four thousand cottages have actually been erected, and in Leinster some 1,500. Considering the difficulties which have been thrown in the way of the Boards of Guardians by the Local Government Board in regard to the adminstration of the Act, I think great activity has been manifested by the poorer Boards of Guardians in carrying out the Act, but the one spot where the Act has not been carried into effect has been the province of Ulster, where all the wealth, all the intelligence, and all that is laudable in the public life of Ireland are supposed to exist. I trust that when next the right hon. Gentleman is comparing what are called the two nations of Ireland he will not neglect this comparison.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I would ask the Committee whether, in view of the very important business that has yet to be discussed, it will not be convenient to bring these conversations to an end. I do not think it necessary to deal at any great length with the various speeches that have been made. However one province may compare with another in respect of the advantage taken of the Labourers' Dwellings Act; it is a matter in which neither initiative nor encouragement rests with the Local Government Board. Neither directly nor indirectly is it their function to encourage or dis- 164 courage recourse to the powers given to localities by the Act of Parliament, and no blame attaches to the Local Government Board in the matter. The hon. Member for Cork City (Mr. M. Healy) called my attention to a matter of which, I confess, I was not cognisant when I came into the House, nor am I able to give him any information on the subject. All I know about the matter is derived from the hon. Member's speech. It appears that a legal error was made by the Local Government Board, and in consequence the Cork Union was put to certain law expenses, which he estimates at £400. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman has accurately represented the facts, which I have no doubt he has done, it was unfortunate that the error was made, but I do not think the Local Government Board have power to pay out of the funds at their disposal the costs which have been incurred by the Local Authorities. With regard to what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan), I entirely agree that there cannot be a more unfortunate method of dealing with pauper children than that of educating them in the workhouse. The matter came prominently before me when I was Secretary to the Local Government Board in England; and no doubt in Ireland the same evil consequences have ensued that have been experienced in England. As to the suggested remedy, that certain workhouses should be appropriated as District Schools, one difficulty would probably arise from the distribution of the disused workhouses, which might not always be found where they were wanted. I propose to appoint a small Committee to investigate the question of the amalgamation of Unions in Ireland and I have great hope that, aided by the advice which such a Committee will be able to furnish, the Government will be able to do something material in the direction of increased amalgamation.
§ MR. M. J. KENNY (Tyrone, Mid)
I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that it is proposed to take some definite step in the direction of closing some of the workhouses in Ireland. There are at present no less than 170 in Ireland, and no doubt many of them could be done away with. I hope the Government will take some definite 165 step to close more than they have done. There is only one workhouse in my constituency. It contains practically no inmates, and the only objections to closing it have been the petty objections of officialism. In Donegal the Local Government Board propose to close the most convenient workhouse in the county, and the consequence of their doing so will be to impose on the poor people the burden of travelling 60 or 70 miles to reach the nearest of the surviving workhouses. I think it would be a mistake to shut up a workhouse even in a thinly inhabited district in Ireland, with such a result as that. I would suggest to the Local Government Board that, whilst in many of the more prosperous parts of Ireland they could close workhouses with great effect, it would be very doubtful policy to make a clean sweep of those in Donegal. I do not believe that at all a good precedent has been created by the dissolution of Boards of Guardians in various parts of the country. More have been suppressed by the right hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues during the last three years than ever before, and for the most trivial and petty offences. In one instance a Board was dissolved because it would not strike a rate to please the Local Government Board, when the district was so poor that it could not afford the rate. The Local Government Board had appointed paid Guardians, and the duty of paying them had fallen upon the ratepayers of the union, which is, as I have said, very poor, and which is pre-eminently one for amalgamation. If the Local Government Board had looked after their business as they ought to have done, they would have amalgamated the Unions years ago. I say that this sending down of paid Guardians is an absurd practice, a shameful practice, and a practice which inflicts grievous injury on a district. There is another matter which needs attention in connection with the Local Government Board and that is the question of Sanitary Inspection The Rural Sanitary Inspectors in Ireland are all a sham. They are usually local doctors who dare not report upon insanitary houses for fear of losing their practice. The fact is that the Local Government Board should appoint Sanitary Inspectors, not for parishes as at present, but for baronies or counties. 166 That is the only way in which to secure a really independent supervision of the condition of the houses in a district. As to the question of labourers' cottages, it is a very remarkable thing that so very few applications have been made throughout the entire Province of Ulster for the construction of labourers' cottages. The fault does not lie more with the ex officio than with the elected Guardians, but I believe that as long as the practical initiative rests with the Guardians the present stagnation will continue throughout the province. I only direct attention to the matter with the view of reminding those persons who are principally concerned that they have a remedy under the Act, though it is not a very good or effective remedy. They can appeal to the Board of Guardians, and I would suggest that in every case in which the local Guardians refuse to sanction these schemes the labourers should appeal to the Local Government Board.
§ MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)
I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has appointed a small Committee to consider the question of amalgamating Unions. It is a very important question, for we have a great deal too many Unions, and the conditions under which they were first formed have in many respects wholly changed. I hope that the decision of the Committee will not be founded upon the evidence of officials and contractors, who, I believe, were opposed to the amalgamation of Unions.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
Well, I hope the popular party will in some way be represented upon it. I should like to repeat the question I have already put to the right hon. Gentleman—namely, when this year's payment is to be made to the Poor Law Unions.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I have not the information here, but if the hon. and gallant Gentleman will put a question on the Paper, I will reply to it.
§ MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
Did I properly understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he would initiate legislation to prevent the recurrence of heavy charges imposed on the Poor Law Board of Dublin for the compulsory slaughter of cattle?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I said the whole question was one which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith) said would occupy the attention of the Government during the recess.
§ MR. MURPHY
I am glad to hear that, and I hope we shall have some legislation next Session which will put an end to this anomalous and unreasonable state of things. I wish, also, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is considering the question of the deportation of paupers into Ireland. There are no Returns later than 1880, but up to that date there was an average of between 4,000 and 5,000 people who had spent the greater part of their lives in England or Scotland sent over to the Unions in Ireland. As to the question of sanitary inspection in Ireland, the present officials seem to regard their allowances as inspectors and medical officers as a sort of perquisite, and I think they will continue to do so unless the Local Government Board call upon them to perform their duties. I should say it would be quite within the power and the duty of a Local Government Inspector, when he goes down to visit a Union, not to confine his attention to the workhouse, but to see whether the sanitary officials have performed their duties. In a great many towns the condition of the lanes and alleys and of the labourers' dwell-lings is simply a disgrace to any civilised community, and I think the Local Government Board ought to insist upon the Inspectors performing their duties.
§ MR. M'CARTAN (Down, S.)
I trust that the Local Government Board will do everything in their power to influence the Belfast Board of Guardians in the matter referred to by my right hon. Friend the Lord Mayor of Dublin (Mr. Sexton), and which affects the health of a large number of the people of Belfast. With regard to the new form of requisition, there is no doubt that, in the opinion of many of the ratepayers, what has been done has been done for political purposes. There is no precedent for the issue of such a form of requisition. The form has been prepared for the purpose of saving certain political Associations in West Belfast from expending money on collecting information. We have no fear that the result will be to affect the representation 168 of Belfast, but we do complain that such a discreditable practice should be allowed to take place in Belfast.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ 3. £23,962, to complete the sum for Public Works, Ireland.
§ MR. SEXTON
In connection with this Vote, there are many matters to which, if time permitted, we should direct the attention of the Committee. The administration of the Board of Works has formed the subject of discussion every year since I entered the House, but no matter what Party has been in power, I cannot say that our efforts at reform have been attended with any important consequences. Our objections to that administration remain as they were. Our coasts are strewn with the wrecks and ruins of piers and harbours, testifying to the neglect and incompetence of a Department which the Secretary of the Treasury has been put to much trouble to justify. I do not think it is incumbent on me at this stage of the Session and on the eve of some great measure of Local Government for Ireland, to go exhaustively into the defects of the Board, with which I think the House must be familiar. There is, however, one small matter to which I will take the opportunity to refer. There is in Dublin City a large space of public recreation ground known as St. Stephen's Green. It became the property of the citizens of Dublin a few years ago through the munificence of Sir Arthur Guinness (now Lord Guinness), and is an agreeable place of public resort in a district but inadequately provided with open spaces. In the centre of this park it has been the custom, as in Phœnix Park, to have a band for the performance of music in the summer evenings, and in June last the secretary of the workmen's club, a respectable and self supporting body of working men, wrote to the Board of Works asking for permission for the playing of the workmen's band in St. Stephen's Green on Sunday evenings. I know the band myself, and can testify to the excellence of its performances. To the application the Board of Works returned a curt, if not uncivil reply, refusing permission, and assigning no reason for doing so. Questions were put to the Secretary of the Treasury a short time ago, and he, in explanation 169 of the refusal, pointed out that the square was not large, and that the band might be a source of annoyance to the inmates of houses and the hospital in the square and the congregations of two churches. Now, I think I am not overestimating when I say the square has an area of 30 or 40 acres. As to the services in the churches, of course it is simply a matter of arrangement that these should not be interrupted, and in one of the churches I know that no service is held on Sunday evenings. As to the hospital and the houses, I can only say that, the inmates being subjected to the painful din of heavy traffic for six days in the week, it is absurd to suppose that there would be any annoyance in the mellow strains of a good band playing appropriate music on Sunday evening. I will not enter into a larger question with which the people of Dublin are much concerned. You want to close the public houses on Sunday, and, not attempting in any way to argue this, I will only say the people must go somewhere, they cannot be expected to pass Sunday in a state of still existence, and surely it is wise to allow such places as this park to become places of harmless and agreeable resort. I trust that the opportunity for consideration that has been given will allow of a more favourable answer being given to the request, which I, as representing the Dublin Corporation, make on behalf of the citizens.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
Before the hon. Gentleman answers there is one point I would bring to his notice which has been made the subject of repeated protest, and that is the difficulty that is put in the way of tenants obtaining loans for improvements on their holdings. It is the custom of the Board to insist on the production of receipts for rent before any application for a loan is granted, although, as is very well known, there are arrears for which the landlords never do press the tenant. It is quite the ordinary practice and well understood, and does not really in any way affect the condition, that the Board shall satisfy themselves that the property is not overburdened with debts. Besides, the Board of Works loan takes precedence of other claims. It is against the interests of both landlord and tenant often that the regulation is enforced, and it is within my 170 knowledge that by private arrangement the landlord has provided the tenant with a receipt in order to enable him to obtain the loan. What is the use of enforcing a condition which is simply an obstacle in the way of a most useful piece of legislation?
§ MR. JACKSON
I say at once quite frankly that I think the representations of the citizens of Dublin through their mouthpiece, the Lord Mayor, deserve the greatest consideration, and unless some very strong reason can be shown against it I certainly think that permission for the band to play at the place in question ought to be granted. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Donegal, I imagine that the reason why the regulation was made in the first instance was to afford security against arrears leading to the loss of the tenancy, but if the hon. Member will communicate to me particulars of any specific cases, I hope shortly to be in Dublin and will make these matters the subject of inquiry.
§ MR. P. J. POWER
Can the Secretary to the Treasury give me any idea of what surplus remains on hand of the money allocated by Parliament in 1883 to works in connection with the fishing industries in Ireland? A small Commission appointed at the instance of my predecessor in the representation of Waterford, the late Mr. Blake, had the administration of the fund, and I believe a balance is left for—an unusual circumstance in such cases—considerable savings were effected from the estimates for work undertaken. My reason for asking the question is that I have had many applications in respect of this balance.
§ MR. JACKSON
Speaking roundly I think it may be taken that there will be a surplus of about £20,000. The surplus is not, however, yet available, because some portion of the amount has not yet come in. Until those sums come in it would hardly be safe to undertake fresh works. I shall be glad to give the hon. Member more details if he requires them.
§ MR. JORDAN
There is a small pier at Seafield on the coast of Clare which was recently repaired by the Board of Works. Complaints have been made that after the repairs débris has been left in the channel that causes a great deal of obstruction to vessels. Indeed, there are fewer facilities now for ap- 171 proaching the pier than there were before the pier was repaired. I shall be glad if the hon. Gentleman will direct the attention of the Board of Works to this subject, which is the source of great complaint and causes much inconvenience to the fishermen.
§ MR. JACKSON
I understand from the Board of Works that, it is the duty of the contractor for the repairs, to clear away the débris complained of. I do not think there is any doubt about that, but I will make further inquiry.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ 4. £4,037, to complete the sum for the Record Office, Ireland.
§ 5. £10,777, to complete the sum for the Registrar General's Office, Ireland.
§ 6. £12,088, to complete the sum for the Valuation and Boundary Survey, Ireland.
§ MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
Some time ago the Boundary Commissioners in Ireland took evidence in relation to the extension of Municipal boundaries in various towns, but I have not since heard that they have made any Report. I gave evidence before the Commission, and in doing so strongly advocated the division of Municipal areas into wards, a question with which I understood the Commissioners had power to deal. Taking Armagh as a type, it is possible, owing to the non-division of the town into wards, for one citizen to nominate the whole of the Town Council. The result in Armagh was that one gentleman having nominated 21 Town Councillors, and they being returned, he received the appointment of Town Clerk. If a town were divided into wards abuses of this kind would not arise, for one citizen could only nominate councillors for that ward in which his own residence or property is situated. It is a reasonable proposition, I think, and I would urge the Government to press this upon the attention of the Commissioners for whom we are now voting this large sum.
§ MR. FLYNN
We have to complain of the rather peculiar system of taking valuations, an automatic system founded upon no tangible or comprehensible reason, and against which there is no appeal. For instance, if alterations are made in any premises, the valuator comes round and makes a valuation, and 172 in the great majority of instances the variation in the value is in the direction of an increase. In a case that came under my personal knowledge, and which I only mention by way of illustration, a relative of mine made an alteration in his premises for business purposes, alterations of a structural character which as anybody could see really depreciated the value of the property. In this case an alteration was made, and it actually depreciated the letting value of the property, but the first intimation the owner had of any alteration of the assessment of the property was when he received the next tax papers, and then he found that the assessment for Income Tax, local rates, and poor rates had been increased. The discovery caused him considerable astonishment. He could not understand why he should be called upon to pay on a higher valuation when he had made alterations which had actually depreciated the letting value of his property. It was not a very serious matter certainly, but it was a question of principle which was involved, and in order to test the matter he refused to pay the local rates on the increased valuation. He arranged that a friendly summons should be served upon him, but when the case came on for hearing it was found that the Magistrates had no power to deal with the case. The increase, I may mention, was only from £5 to £10, but the principle was the same as if the increase had amounted to £500. The owner of this property, as a fact, found that the valuation officials were practically irresponsible. The truth is, that when new houses are valued in Ireland, there is a kind of "rule-of-thumb" system adopted, by which the valuation is placed at half the rack rent. It is a rough system, but it is also a very unsatisfactory system. I know that in certain parts of Ireland they are calling; for a re-valuation, and it is a cry with which I have a good deal of sympathy, but before such a re-valuation could be carried out, I think there should be some more scientific or exact principle laid down by which parties, who feel aggrieved at the re-valuation, may have a right of appeal to somebody beyond the valuator who makes it. To my own knowledge, there is property in the City of Cork which is greatly undervalued; indeed, the assessment is about 173 one-third of the letting value, and that property has not been interfered with for a considerable number of years, while in another part of the same city, owing to the annual or biennial visits of the valuator, the assessments have been increased, although the letting value of the property has decreased. Surely some better system could be devised than this rule-of-thumb principle, and surely it would be possible to lay down some scientific and tangible plan upon which the valuations or re-valuations should be made. I think, also, it would be desirable that the owner of the property should receive some notice of any intended visit on the part of the valuator. Now, the owner of the property to which I have referred had no knowledge whatever that the valuator had been to his premises. He did not know whether the visit was a nocturnal or a matutinal one. Probably the valuator surveyed the premises through a telescope at long range, and then disappeared without even letting the owner of the premises have the slightest suspicion that he had been investigating them. My object in making these remarks is to secure that in future the owner of the premises shall receive notice of a visit, and also that there shall be some principles laid down on which valuations shall be made instead of adopting, as at present, a rough and ready rule.
§ MR. JACKSON
I do not know what are the particulars of the case to which the hon. Member has referred. I have always understood that the valuations made in Ireland have given general satisfaction, and that, as a rule, there has been no revision of the valuation unless some alteration has been made in the premises. I take it that in this case, another alteration being made, an opportunity was offered for a revision of the valuation, and that would account for the increase in the assessment, and not the mere nature of the alterations made. If the hon. Member will be good enough to give me the details of the case to which he has referred, I will inquire into them, and I will, also consider whether or not it is desirable to give a power of appeal in these and similar cases. I shall also be happy to make inquiry into the points raised by the hon. Member for South Armagh.
§ MR. M'CARTAN
I rise to support the hon. Member for North Cork (Mr. Flynn) in the complaint he has made with reference to the method of making valuations in Ireland. I do not think it is fair that one of the valuers should go down to make a valuation of property without sending some notification to the person interested in the property. The valuers really make their valuations in the dark. Perhaps they are told by some neighbour, unfriendly to the person whose property is to be valued, something that will give it an increased value; and they possibly do not consult the person who is affected. There is another important matter I wish to bring to the notice of the Secretary to the Treasury. I have received many complaints with reference to the granting of the certificates of valuation. The certificates are required for various purposes in Ireland; but the principal purpose is in connection with the Land Commission. The valuation of the land has to be stated in the originating notice to fix a fair rent, and when the people come to the Court to have their cases tried the only evidence as to valuation is the certificate from the Valuation Office signed by the Commissioner of Valuations in Ireland. It would be well that a person could get the certificate the day he applies for it. I do not see any reason why there should be unnecessary delay. I have known cases in which reasonable time was given to have certificates prepared and delivered, but in which they were not delivered until the cases were before the Court.
§ MR. JACKSON
So far as the certificates are concerned, I am sure the Commissioner desires to meet the wishes of those interested in the matter as far as they possibly can. I will mention the matter to him.
§ Vote agreed to.