§ (12.37.) Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. FOLEY (Connemara)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill I should state that it is substantially the same as a measure of a similar character which has been before the House Session after Session for the last 15 years, and therefore ought not to require very much from me in the way of explanation. On several previous occasions the Bill has passed its Second Reading stage in this House with, I believe, a considerable majority; and on one of those occasions, which, if my memory serves me rightly, 1255 was in the year 1885, it not only passed a Third Reading in this Assembly, but also went through its different stages in the House of Lords, and was passed with only slight alterations. I am sorry to say, however, that on that occasion it came back to this House at too late a period of the Session to be re-considered, and consequently failed to receive that assent which was necessary to render it-effective. I trust, therefore, that-under these circumstances, and taking into consideration the fact that on one or two occasions when the Bill was before this House some of the supporters of the present Government actually assisted in promoting the Second Reading of the measure, the House will think there ought to be no difficulty whatever in accepting it in the form in which it stands to-day. The alterations or amendments which the Bill proposes to make in the Poor Law of Ireland as it at present exists are restricted to two or three matters which we, who are its promoters, consider would be improvements on the present system. With the permission of the House I will state what the proposed alterations are. In the first place, instead of the open voting which prevails under the existing arrangement, the Bill proposes to substitute voting by ballot. Taking into consideration the success which has attended the adoption of the ballot in Parliamentary elections, there is hardly a Member of this House who would be disposed to return to the system of open voting, as formerly practised; and I trust, therefore, that no one will be found to object to the amendment of the present law as proposed by this measure in regard to that particular question. The next important feature of the Bill is the proposal to abolish the systam which now appertains in Irish Poor Law elections of voting by proxy. Sir, this method of voting by proxy has been the cause of great trouble in Ireland. It has been the means of enabling individuals who have neglected their duties as landlords on their own estates to send batches of proxies to such persons as they might have felt disposed to select, and thereby to swamp the votes of the resident electors, in which endeavour, but for these proxies, it would have been 1256 impossible for them to have succeeded. At the same time, I am bound to say that I have heard and read with considerable astonishment that whenever a job was to be perpetrated in any of the Irish unions, those gentlemen who are so anxious at other times to be relieved of the duty of personal voting have been known to travel hundreds of miles, and in some cases even thousands, in order to assist in the accomplishment of the jobbery, whether it has been the bestowal of a contract or the appointment of some one who has been nominated for a particular situation. I trust, therefore, that by passing this Bill the House will compel those who, under such circumstances, take so much trouble to attain the object they have in view, to present themselves at the poll like ordinary electors and to vote in the ordinary way. The next important improvement proposed by this Bill is that the proportion of ex officioGuardians shall be reduced to one-third of the number of elected candidates. I think, Sir, there are very few Members of this House, who are disposed to deal fairly with the mode of ensuring the proper execution of the work which has to be performed by Boards of Guardians in Ireland, who will feel inclined to oppose this Amendment. At the present moment the law enables those gentlemen who exercise their right of sending in proxies to give in some cases as many as 36 votes. I, for one, am of opinion that they ought to be satisfied with the power they now have as voters without insisting on their claim to such a multiplicity of votes. Their position under the present law enables them to hold half the seats on each Board of Guardians. This Bill, however, proposes that instead of their monopolising one-half of each Board the proportion shall be reduced to one-third. I trust lion. Gentlemen opposite will see that in promoting this measure hon. Members on this side of the House have not deemed it necessary to go to extremes; and this being so, I sincerely hope they will not oppose the Second Reading of this measure. I beg, Sir, to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."1257
§ (12.47.) MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I rise, Sir, for the purpose of seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Connemara, and in doing so I desire to draw attention to the fact that this Bill, as well as others that have been introduced by hon. Members on this side of the House, may be described, in the language of an hon. and gallant Member on the opposite Benches, as a "hardy annual," although it may sometimes have been nipped in the bud, as was the case last year and the year before. It fared somewhat better, however, on several previous occasions, when it received a kindly hearing from the right hon. Gentleman who now sits on the Front Opposition Bench during his term of office in connection with Ireland. Not only did it receive his support on that occasion, but it passed its Second Reading in this House and was put through Committee. In the following year the same Government, but with a different officer as far as Ireland is concerned, gave the measure a generous consideration; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Stirling Burghs (Mr. Campbell-Bannerman) said the Government regarded this Bill with a, sort of benevolent feeling. On that occasion the Bill had the good luck of passing through its several stages in this House and of being sent to another place. It came back, however, as usual, so mutilated that it could not be accepted by hon. Members from Ireland, and so late in the Session as to preclude any attempt to alter or-amend the provisions made in the other House. Now, Sir, we are curious to know what is the attitude of the present Government in regard to this Bill. Noble Lords and hon. and gallant Gentlemen on the other side of the House have discussed this question on previous occasions, and have marked the Bill with the impression of their energy and zeal. They have altered? it in accordance with their views, and in the form in which it has been so amended it is now presented to this House. We are, therefore, very curious to know what reception the Government will give it on this occasion; and whether they will receive it, as it was received by the Liberal Government in the past, in a kindly spirit; or whether they mean to oppose it, as they seem to be disposed to 1258 oppose all measures that have for their object the curtailment of undue powers placed in the hands of their friends the landlords of Ireland. I should here state that one of the first provisions of the Bill proposes to retain in the hands of the Local Government Board of Ireland its present powers. We have no desire to destroy those powers, and have never done aught in respect of that body except in so far as we have endeavoured to reform its character and its personnel.We know that at some future time, which we hope is not far distant, Members for Ireland will have a greater voice in the selection of the personnelof that Board, and we have confidence in it, knowing that the time will soon come when we may have much more confidence. We are willing to leave to it that power which may be necessary to restrict and curtail, if necessary, the undue use of the powers of the Boards of Guardians. We are not at all afraid of extending the power of the Guardians in Ireland, and why? Because the history of those bodies is such as. to inspire the greatest confidence in the minds of the Irish people. There are 127 Boards of Guardians in Ireland, and, except on one recent occasion, the Local Government Board have not felt it necessary to suppress one of those bodies. Many years ago the Mill Street Board of Guardians was suppressed; but at that time its affairs were conducted, and its meetings attended, mainly by the ex officioGuardians, who so mismanaged their business that the Local Government Board were obliged to suppress them for a time. Recently, also, in the town of Dungarvan it was found necessary to suppress the Board of Guardians because of the mismanagement of its affairs. True it is that other Boards have been suppressed, but not for mismanagement. They have been suppressed for political reasons. The Boards of Guardians in Wexford, Wicklow, and New Ross were suppressed because they provided, according to the powers they possessed, the necessary accommodation for evicted tenants—because they set apart wards in their establishments for the purpose of providing for the comfortable housing of evicted tenants. Very recently the Cork Board of Guardians was suppressed, and no one here will deny that it was suppressed on purely political grounds. 1259 Therefore I say that the history of the Poor Law Boards in Ireland, since their establishment and down to the present moment, has been such as to encourage us in the hope that it will be useful and safe to extend their powers and make them, if possible, more popular than they are at present. The next important provision of this Bill is the extension of the ballot to the system under which Poor Law Guardians are now elected. I am quite certain that even hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, if they will vote in accordance with their convictions, will make no objection to this Bill on account of the Ballot Clause. The Ballot Act since its passing has been a great success both in England and Ireland. I am sure it will not be denied, even by hon. Members on the other side of the House, that in no part of these Kingdoms has that Act been so great a success as it has been in Ireland. Certainly in no part of the Kingdom was there so much necessity for the adoption of that Act as existed in Ireland, where the landlord and his agents, together with the bailiffs and understrappers, all combined for the purpose of intimidating the electors into voting for the landlords' nominees.
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR
An hon. Member opposite makes use of the word priests, and I hope he will allow me to point out to him that, whatever may have been the power of the priests, the Ballot Act has from the commencement been successful in its operation. Therefore, if any tyranny could have come from that quarter, the Ballot Act has proved a sufficient remedy. I have also to point out that as in the old Parliamentary elections it was necessary for the people if they desired to vote according to their political convictions, to fly in the face of their landlords, to brook the danger of such a proceeding, and thus place themselves at the mercy of the understrappers, so also it is necessary at the present day to protect the voters at the elections of Poor Law Guardians against the influence of landlords and their agents. It often happens that those flections at the 1260 present time are conducted on local party lines, and very often a little on national principles; and the landlords and their agents, because they wish to sustain the present régimeas long as possible, put forth all their powers to intimidate electors against voting according to their convictions. Therefore, I hold that if it were necessary in the past to protect the Parliamentary voter against the undue influence of the landlord and his employés,it is equally necessary at the present day to protect the voter under the Poor Law system. The next important provision of this Bill is that which proposes to abolish voting by proxy; this is, and has been, a very vexed question in Ireland. I remember some years ago having been engaged in a Poor Law Guardians' election. On that occasion, I walked from house to house with a friend of mine, who afterwards became Chairman of the Cork Board of Guardians. He was a man of powerful intellect, who had been mixed up with local government in his part of the country since he was a boy—a man of great experience and great intelligence; and he pointed out to me, and thus brought very forcibly to my mind, how it was the vote by proxy swamped the election of some of the best candidates. Among the many things he then told me of was the necessity he was under of going to his constituents once a year, arid on this point I wish to say just a word or two. There can be no doubt in the world that it is a great hardship for Poor Law Guardians, who know their business and possess the confidence of their constituents, to be obliged to go for election once a year. We feel the necessity of altering the Septennial Act. While I believe there are many persons in the country who would gladly see the Septennial Act altered, no one, with any experience of Parliamentary life, would care to see a Parliament elected for less than three years. There is no one who would like to see Parliament elected for less than three years who knows the great advantages to be derived from men attending closely to the business of the House, from men becoming thoroughly acquainted with all the details of Parliamentary business, and being able to transmit their knowledge to others who may follow them. Well, just in the 1261 same way, I maintain it is necessary that Poor Law Guardians should be elected, in Ireland and elsewhere, for a series of years. It should not be necessary for a Guardian to have to seek the confidence of his constituents year after year. But my friend who pointed out this great hardship also impressed on my mind the grievance experienced by men who walk from house to house soliciting votes, and are only returned by a small majority, if returned at all, owing to these proxy votes being sent to their agents by persons who do not live in the district, and who very often spend their time in gallivanting about the Continent of Europe. As a rule, these people who send proxies do not reside in the district, and even when they do, they exercise their power, not for the purpose of returning good and useful Guardians, but for the purpose of returning their own agents and understrappers —men who watch the interests of the landlords rather than the condition of the poor. If these proxy voters do not live in the district what earthly interest can they take in the district? As a matter of fact, all they do is to thwart and obstruct every thing that is attempted by the elected Guardians for the alleviation of the condition of the poor. No doubt the landlord who does not reside in the district has to pay a large amount of taxes; but he is not concerned for the poor or the sanitation of that district, or interested in carrying out that latest useful and beneficent measure of Parliament for the erection of labourers' dwellings in Ireland We have in operation in Ireland an Act for the comfortable housing of labourers who formerly dwelt in mud cabins and hovels; but it is our experience that whenever the landlord can obstruct the carrying out of the Act he does so. He never willingly grants land for the erection of these dwellings, and the Poor Law Guardians are obliged to invoke the powers of the Act to compel him. The only desire of non-residents is to save their pockets, and therefore I say it is absolutely necessary to destroy this power of proxy voting. It was proposed on a former occasion by a noble Lord, who would be sitting with the Government were he in this House, that proxy voters should vote personally at one 1262 election, and if they found it impossible to be present at two or three, or four other elections, as the case might be, they should be allowed to send their proxies by registered letter. That principle we oppose, because we believe that the same principle which applies to Parliamentary elections should also apply to elections for Boards of Guardians, namely, one man one vote. Until that principle is firmly established in Ireland in connection with elections of this kind I believe that justice will not be done to the poor. Coming to the 5th clause of the third part of the Bill, which provides that the ex officioGuardians should not exceed one-third of the number elected by the ratepayers, I would urge in its favour that the poor belong to the poor—that the elected Guardians, being closer to the poor people than the landlords or their agents, are better disposed towards them. They know their wants, and are more likely to know their wants than people who do not dwell amongst them. We do not object to property being represented, but we desire that it should not have an undue representation; and we maintain that while the ex officios are equal in number to the elected Guardians we cannot have on the Boards a sufficient proportion of men who know the wants of the poor and are interested in protecting: them against the evils of human nature and the chances of time. I would, therefore, urge the House to accept this measure, for the reasons stated by my hon. Friend, which I have endeavoured to support by what I know of the Poor Law Guardians. I appeal to the House and to the Government to accept, as former Houses and Governments have accepted, the principles of the Bill for the benefit of the Irish poor and the settlement of a vexed question.
§ (1.10.) COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
I rise to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. I would say, at the outset, that I was rather startled by one observation which fell from the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. He seems to assume that the accptance of the proposal of the Bill as to ex officioGuardians would leave vacancies on the Boards to be filled 1263 by elected Guardians. But the Bill does not propose anything of the kind; and it would, therefore, seem as though the hon. Member has not read the Bill, the Second Reading of which he seconded.
§ COLONEL WARING
I understood him to say that the proportion would be inceased because others would be elected, his argument being that a reduction in the number of ex officioGuardians would leave room for the election of others.
§ COLONEL WARING
Then I do not wish to pin the hon. Member to the exact phraseology he used. The history of this Bill seems to be a little mixed in the minds of hon. Members opposite; for whilst the Mover said it had on one occasion passed through this House, and had come back from the House of Lords with very little alteration, the Seconder, on the other hand, declared that, on the only occasion on which it reached the House of Lords, it came back so mutilated that it was impossible for hon. Members opposite to recognise it as their own child at all. If hon. Members opposite have such imperfect recollections, or have such different ideas, as to the effect of the alterations made in the Lords, they must not wonder if we are somewhat puzzled as to what the effect of the measure would be if passed in its present shape. I do not suppose, however, that hon. Members would be satisfied with the Bill if it came back in the form in which it was returned before; therefore, I think it advisable to save the other august House the trouble of making amendments, which would only lead to discussions lie re at a time of year when everyone is anxious to get home and turn his attention to his own private pursuits. I must confess that I have no objection to the first and larger portion of the Bill — namely, that which applies the Ballot Act to Poor Law elections—and I hope that I shall have the support of the hon. Member for South Tipperary for a Bill which I myself have on the Books of the House for the improvement and extension of the Ballot Act, which will also come in extremely handy. The introduc- 1264 tion of the ballot will neutralise the influence not only of the landlords and their agents, but also of the money-lender and the publican at the elections; though I should insist that the principle of the ballot should be so adapted as not to exclude proxy and plural voting. "One man one vote" is all very well when the burden of the rates is equally borne; and I should not object to surrender my plurality of votes if I could be relieved thereby of the three-quarters of the poor rate for every tenant on my property. No doubt on those parts of an estate divided into large farms the proportion paid by the landlord is only half; but where there are a large number of cottages and allotments the rates are entirely paid by the landlord. But I am not alone in my view that the landlords should have a plurality of votes, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Sir G. Trevelyan), in June 1883, took that line, pointing out that the proportion of votes in the hands of owners was infinitesimal as compared with those in the hands of occupiers. And not only was that so, but the influence of owners on the Boards of Guardians has been steadily decreasing for some years. At one time the magistrates who sat as ex officioGuardians were to a large extent landlords; but now, owing to the policy of successive Governments, a very small minority of local Magistrates are landlords. I do not exonerate the present Government from having followed very much in the footsteps of Governments from the opposite side of the House in selecting for the Magistracy gentlemen having no connection with the land, whose only desire is to have a couple of letters added to their names. Proxy voting ought to be retained; and I hope that, even supposing the Members of this House should be so much misled as to agree to its abolition, that portion of the Bill, at any rate, will be "mutilated" when it gets to "another place." It is urged against proxy voting that it only benefits absentee landlords, who. as the hon. Member opposite says, "go gallivanting about the Continent of Europe." As a matter of fact, only a very few Irish landlords are absentees, and it is only a very small minority who go gallivanting about the Continent of 1265 Europe. I deplore their conduct, and nobody feels the consequences of it more than the resident landlord, who tries to do his duty. But the sins of the few ought not to be visited on the many, who, in spite of every persecution on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite, have remained at their posts. At present half the Boards are constituted of ex officio Guardians, but they are never all present. Many of them have property in several Unions, and some never come to the Board at all, so that they do not swamp the elected Guardians.
§ COLONEL WARING
My experience is that the jobs are on the other side. I have had considerable experience on Boards of Guardians, and I say that if the ex officioGuardians are reduced to one-third, as is proposed, they will be deprived of all power to uphold their interests, and I cannot see how the interests of the poor or of the Union would in any way be benefited. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading told us that the elected Guardians were kinder to the poor than the ex officioGuardians. I would say to the hon. Member: "Ask the poor themselves whether that is so, and I think you will receive a very different answer." My experience, at any rate, is to the contrary; and so far as the instance which he gave to prove his contention is concerned, namely, that the power given by Parliament for the improvement of labourers' dwellings is opposed by the landlords, my experience is that the opposition comes almost entirely from the tenant farmers, who object to giving the smallest corner of their newly acquired possessions to those who have tilled them for centuries. And I can assure hon. Members opposite that if this question is allowed to be agitated much longer, there will be a much stronger demand made by the labourers for some of the spoils the tenants have been so anxious to secure from the unfortunate landlords of Ireland, and the landlords and their friends will not be backward in acknowledging the justice of the demand. The hon. Gentleman 1266 opposite said he had great respect for the Local Government Board in Ireland, and that the Bill did not propose to interfere with the functions of that Board. But I see a provision in the Bill which alters the entire mode of appeal in regard to Poor Law elections. The law which allows the Local Government Board to decide questions as to the legality or illegality of elections is to be abolished, and the decision of such matters is to be handed over to the already overladen and overworked County Court Judge. Everybody knows that recent legislation has increased the work of the County Courts. Those Courts sit four times a year, and unless it is proposed to summon a special Court to sit for the purpose of hearing election appeals there would be grave inconvenience in adopting the principle of the measure; and I need hardly point out that this would mean additional remuneration to the County Court Judges and officials. For these reasons I think that, in all probability, the proposed alteration in the law will not meet with the approval of the House. I move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ 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 Waring.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ (1.28.) MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
I hardly think it appropriate, Sir, that the hon. Member (Mr. Johnston) should second the measure by a nod, but I think at the same time that the hon. Member was quite as argumentative as the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the measure. We are asked now to go back 10 years—to take a retrogade step utterly inconsistent with the development of local government, which forms one of the leading features of modern history. If this is not retrograde policy I fail altogether to understand, what benighted Toryism means. I will deal with the statement the hon. Member opposite has made—in regard to the subject of the preponderance of the landlord element on the Board of Guardians 1267 —that the opposition to the Labourers' Dwellings Act comes from the farmers as represented by the elected Guardians and not from the landlords. How can, he reconcile that with the fact that in that portion of Ulster where the" landlords have a preponderating influence on the-Boards of Guardians, an attempt has been made in the case of only one cottage, to take advantage of that legislation on behalf of the labourers. In the Limerick, Tipperary, and Kanturk Unions, many cottages have been built under the Labourers Act, which are creditable to the Boards and most beneficial to the labourers. The hon. and gallant Gentleman failed to make any reference to the fact that all the clauses of this Bill received a Second Reading in 1884, and that a number of those to which he now takes exception were in Committee passed unanimously, and without any Comment. Included in the list was the clause relating to the appeal being made to the County Court Judge. Let us examine the provisions of the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is in favour of the principle of vote by Ballot being applied to Poor Law elections, and yet he moves the rejection of the Second Reading. I do not suppose there will be much opposition to that portion of the Bill; if there is, it can only take the shape of a nod of the head, by which the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston), seconded, the rejection of the Bill. The Bill does away with proxy voting, and, in my opinion, very properly so, because such voting does not conduce to the good working of the Poor Law Relief Acts and the Medical Charities Acts in Ireland. But then the Bill provides that no ratepayers shall have more than 18 votes in any electoral division. Does it not seem that that is a very fair proportion of votes to give any ratepayer? These are property votes, and surely 18 votes will give property-holders a very fair share of the representation. When we object to proxy voting we object to a system which is a disgrace to the Poor Law system of Ireland. We object to that which is opposed by the popular sense all over Ireland, and opposed by those who have any experience of the Poor Laws, in Ireland. Proxy-votes are only used on behalf of laud-lords' agents, on behalf of those who, as 1268 the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the rejection of the Bill said, are there to guard their own interests. Not a word about the interests of the poor, or the proper administration of relief; they are there to guard their own interests, and as to the practical operation of proxy voting, we find that proxies: are cast for one set of people only; not for the set of men who have given proof of their efficiency in the work of the Board, or who have shown a sympathetic interest in the condition of the poor; but for the men who are there to represent the landlord's interest and whose chief aim is at all costs to keep down the rates to the lowest possible minimum. In addition to this, recollect what an overwhelming vote the landlords of Ireland have at the present moment on Boards of Guardians. At present the ex officio Guardians number half of the entire Board, and the landlord party generally manage to secure the election of a certain number of their nominees. Thus you have popular representation entirely swamped. The hon. Member for South Tipperary in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill referred to the principle of one man one vote. But in this Bill we do not resort to that principle. This Bill provides that a ratepayer may have 18 votes, his exact number being determined by his rating. That in itself will admit of a large representation of property, but nevertheless the measure- allows that there may be ex officio Guardians to the number of one-third of the elected Guardians. I think the Bill is moderation itself, and I am fully persuaded it will receive the support of hon. Members who have had any experience of the working of the Poor Law in England. Now, we are very anxious to know what action Her Majesty's Government intend to take in regard to the Bill. The measure is one which has been demanded for years back by the popular voice of Ireland, and it is only resisted by a small clique of the community. Perhaps the Government may tell us they are going to introduce a Local Government Bill, but we prefer a bird in the hand to a Local Government Bill in the bush. Even if they have the intention of dealing with the subject of local government in Ireland there is no reason 1269 why a Bill of this kind should not pass, because it deals only with one feature of the system of local government in Ireland. The Boards of Guardians in Ireland have to deal with very important features of the social life of our people. It is essential that our people should have representation on these Boards. In many districts, owing to the smallness of the towns, we have no Bodies such as Corporations or Town Commissioners, nor have we any local Bodies of any importance or standing whatever. It is, therefore, of the greatest importance that the Rural Sanitary Authorities, who have to deal with questions concerning the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of the rural population of Ireland, should represent the people, and be in touch and sympathy with the people. My hon. Friend who seconded the Motion referred to the fact that it is on only a few occasions that the Local Government Board have come into collision with Boards of Guardians, and that on those few occasions the collisions have been due entirely to political considerations. There cannot be a doubt on this point. On the occasion when one Poor Law Board was suppressed by the Local Government Board for having acted ultra viresin passing apolitical Resolution, the entire business of the Board was got through, and when the Guardians rose that evening there was a clean sheet, so that they could not have been suppressed because of any neglect of business. I noticed that when my hon. Friend referred to the efficient administration, as a whole, of the Poor Law Guardians in Ireland somewhat of a sneer came from one of the hon. Members opposite. In this connection I have to say that the ex officio Guardians in Ireland attend the meetings only when jobbery is about to be perpetrated. The entire business of the Boards is done by the elected Guardians, but whenever an officer is to be appointed, or a chairman or vice-chairman elected, or anything large in the way of spending money is to be done, the ex officioscome in from all parts of the Union—some of them sometimes even cross from England to Ireland—in order to swamp the elected Guardians and to perpetrate jobs. I hope this Bill will pass, and that the 1270 unreasonable opposition of hon. Gentlemen opposite will not receive the approval of Her Majesty's Government.
§ (1.45.) CAPTAIN VERNEY (Bucks, N.)
I am glad to recognise in this Bill a revival of provisions which I supported as long ago as 1866. It is my intention to vote for the Second Reading with the view afterwards of moving that it be an instruction to the Committee to extend the Bill to England. I cannot say I am altogether satisfied with the Bill, but it is very well as far as it goes. Like many other Members, I have only during the last few years had my attention called earnestly to the state of local government in Ireland. I confess I am amazed at the extraordinary moderation of this Bill, and cannot understand why any opposition should be offered to it by the Government which has brought in local government measures for England and Scotland.
§ (1.46.) MR. GILHOOLY (Cork, W.)
A previous speaker told ns that he would be in favour of abolishing proxy votes. But he did not tell us that a gentleman with a sufficient property qualification can have 36 votes for each candidate in every electoral division in a Union. In the Union in which I have the honour to be a Guardian I have known gentlemen residing in England and America send home their votes to their friends. Thus gentlemen who take no interest whatever in the Union have the power to swamp the number of votes given by the representatives of the ratepayers. It has also been the custom and practice recently of gentlemen who hold property in Ireland to give deeds of assignment to their friends and relations so as to secure proxy votes for them. I know a man owning land rated at £20. By dividing it among 10 of his friends he can increase the number of votes from two to 20. It has been said that an appeal lies from the Returning Officer to the Local Government Board. As a matter of fact when an election has been declared by the Returning Officer, the Local Government Board has no power to interfere. As regards the principle of the Ballot, I wish to give some experience as to how a few elections are conducted in Ireland. 1271 It is the practice of the friends of both candidates to go out accompanied by their friends and by mobs, and it is a question of physical force as to which party will get the votes which have been handed to policemen. I have known men get their workmen to close the doors on the policeman and so prevent him from laying down a voting paper with which he had been entrusted by the Returning Officer. I can assure the House that the friends of the lion, and gallant Member for County Down (Colonel Waring) use more intimidation at elections than the Party we represent. I have known a man who was in gaol on a charge of assault, being visited by the agent of Lord Bantry and asked by him how he was going to vote at the Poor Law Guardian Election. Thinking he might obtain his release, the man said he would vote for the agent's nominee. The agent did not, however, believe him, and got his case adjourned for a fortnight to see how he would vote. When he found that the man did not vote for his nominee he had him committed for trial. I know of another instance in which it was said openly: "If you vote for Mr. Barrett's nominee you will have a friend at Court." The gentleman had a seat on the Petty Sessions Bench, and, without doubt, the position is used to advance political interest and crush political opponents. There is every reason why we should put an end to this intimidation by landlords and magistrates. The right hon. Gentleman says the majority of ex officio Guardians are not landlords, but my experience in the south of Ireland is, that as a rule, they are both landlords and magistrates. When the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the proportion of payment of rates, lie must have forgotten that these gentlemen pay no part of the county cess except where they allow it to tenants who have taken holdings since 1870. The system under which Poor Law Elections are conducted in Ireland is a scandal and a disgrace to the Government of the country. [An hon. MEMBER: And so it is in England.] The sooner this House recognises this fact the better for the peace of the country, and the cause of law and order in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman tells us of his intention to bring in a Local Government Bill; but we are so accustomed in Ire- 1272 land to Government promises never fulfilled by legislation, that we prefer to rely only on practical proof of good intentions. If he is anxious to convince us of his willingness to concede legislation in a fair spirit, let him accept this as a small instalment in that direction.
(2.20.) Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ (2.24). MR. TUITE (Westmeath, N.)
I think the vicissitudes through which this Bill has passed fully demonstrate the unfitness of this House to deal with Irish matters. It has passed this Legislative Assembly several times, once without Division and on another occasion by a very large majority. On the last occasion I believe the majority was 98, and in that majority I have noticed the names of some prominent Unionists who supported the Bill. It will be interesting to see how those Unionist gentlemen will vote to-day. However, the history of the Bill gives ample proof of the unfitness of any but an Irish Legislature to deal with such matters. In reference to the question of open voting I see that a Select Committee appointed by this House to inquire into the system of elections of Poor Law Guardians in Ireland in 1878, expressed disapprobation in the most unmeasured terms of the existing system. If the Committee did not go so far as to admit that the Ballot system was necessary, it condemned voting papers very strongly. This is what the Committee said—On the other hand it was shown that the abuses and inconvenience of the voting paper system were very grave, that under it intimidation and obstruction, tampering with and forging of papers is practised, that frequently voters do not receive their papers at all, and in other cases they are invalidated for the most trivial technical reasons.The Committee also went on to show that under the triennial system the Ballot system would be cheaper, though attended with inconvenience to voters. The statements in the Report of that Committee have been conclusively proved by the hon. Member for West Cork to-day. The facts, indeed, are well known. The agents and hangers-on of the landlords in the different Unions follow the policeman engaged in the distribution of 1273 voting papers, and as soon as the paper is left they try to intimidate the voter into voting as they desire, and if the voter refuses that they insist on the voting paper being destroyed. These facts are so well known that I cannot understand how any Member can vote for the rejection of this Bill. As to the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords, appointed to examine this Bill in 1884, we on this side of the House regarded that action on the part of the Lords as tantamount to an effort to shelve the Bill altogether, and consequently the supporters of the Bill refused to give evidence before that Committee. I do not remember that any prominent opponent of the existing system gave evidence regarding it. In 1878 the only witnesses who supported the existing system were the officials; all the lay witnesses condemned it. And, now as to the property qualification. It seems absurd in the last degree that for a Board of Guardians in Ireland it should be necessary to have a property qualification, while to this House a Member can be elected without any qualification at all, except the qualification of intelligence. My knowledge leads me to think that in many cottages in Ireland we can find men quite as capable of discharging the duties of Poor Law Guardians as among the inmates of the castles. In this particular the Bill does not meet my wishes, for I would have the property qualification swept away altogether. I think, also, the Bill goes too far in allowing a number of votes to a single individual. Why should any one person have 18 votes? It is a remnant from the feudal times to have anything of the kind. In this proposal I think my hon. Friends have gone too far, and if the Bill reaches Committee I shall certainly do my best to get this clause eliminated. The system of ex officio members of the Boards is a monstrous state of things, that ought to be abolished, and with it the system of proxies. Under this system see what an enormous influence the ex officio members have when they enter the Board Boom. Except on special occasions they do not attend, but when there is a chairman to be elected, when there is an appointment to be made, when there is a job of any kind to 1274 be perpetrated, then these gentlemen come from all parts of the world. I have known them come from Switzerland to vote for the appointment of a chairman or a doctor. See what they do in the South Dublin Union; see the spirit of intolerance which obtains when the case of one of the poor little waifs found in the streets of Dublin has to be considered. Look at the force in which the ex officio Guardians attend, and for what purpose? To vote down the elected Guardians, to vote that the infant be registered as a Protestant though the chances are a hundred to one that the mother was a Catholic. I do not think that a single instance can be cited in which the ex officio Guardians have not been successful in carrying out their purpose of having these children registered as Protestants; that fact alone onght to be sufficient to show the intolerance of the ex officio Guardians and to call for some limitation of their power. My own opinion is that it ought to be sufficient to require that at the most they should constitute no more than one-third of the Board of Guardians. In the first year of the reign of Her Majesty an Act was passed limiting the ex officio Guardians to one-third of the entire body; at the end of 10 years that Act was repealed, I do not know for what reason, but it was before Household Suffrage prevailed, and now with Household Suffrage we have an entirely different House of Commons. I trust, therefore, that the present House of Commons will consent to undo the Act of an Assembly which was constituted before the people had a vote. On the last occasion that this Bill was before Parliament, I remember that the then Attorney General for Ireland, now one of Her Majesty's Judges, pressed very strongly upon the late Member for the Isle of Thanet (Colonel King-Harman) the propriety of withdrawing his objections to the Bill, seeing that hon. Members on his own side of the House were agreed upon the main principle and that the measure could be amended in Committee. I shall watch anxiously what the Government propose to do with the Bill, having regard to that statement of their late Attorney General. We were told at the last General Election that we were to have local government in Ireland, and 1275 that the people were at any rate to have the management of their local affairs. If that is so, there can be no difficulty in giving to the Irish people this small crumb of justice which the Irish Members claim. We know that the day is not far distant when the return of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) will sweep away these relics of the past in Ireland and give real Home Rule to the Irish people. But I await with some anxiety the verdict of the House upon the present measure, in order that we may know whether their intentions in regard to Ireland are founded on honesty and justice.
§ (2.35.) MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I rise for the purpose of saying that I cannot support the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for South Down (Colonel Waring). I cannot support it for two reasons. In: the first place I do not approve of it, and there is another reason, namely, that as he has moved that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months, it is very likely that the House may be sitting on that day. I trust that the Government are not about to commit the mistake of supporting the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member for South Down. I am far from saying that I approve of everything that is contained in the Bill. It is hard to discover what the real principle of it is. If it is to establish vote by Ballot in Poor Law elections I see no reason why the proposition should be objected to. But I do not think that is the real principle of the Bill. On the contrary, I think the real principle is the abolition of the proxy vote and the cutting down of the representation of ex officio Guardians. As to these two propositions, I cannot get over the fact that Ireland does not stand in the same position as England in regard to this question. In a great part of Ireland the landlord pays the entire poor rate where the valuation is under £4, and in Donegal, Mayo, and other parts of the country the valuation, as a rule, is under £4. Therefore, if we are to go on the old Liberal principle that representation and taxation are to go together we must make some reasonable allowance for the rights of property.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
It is not a mere question of the landlords alone. The hon. Member for Westmeath (Mr. Tuite) has referred to the City of Dublin. How does the principle operate in Dublin? All I can say is that if you abolish the proxy vote the owners of property will very often not be represented at all. The result will be that you may put the vote in the hands of men who do not pay the rate, and take it out of the hands of those who do pay it. I intend to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill. I think that there is a great deal of good m it, and that the Government may well consent to accept it. But while I vote for the Second Reading I think there are many things contained in the measure which are objectionable, and which, I think, will require amendment in Committee.
§ (2.45.) MR. SEXTON
I think that the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House had no option but to support the Second Reading, because I can recollect that when the measure was last before the House, some four years ago—since which time the Government have been too busy in adopting a policy of coercion, and considering its results, to devote any time to minor subjects—every Member of the Party now known as the Liberal Unionist Party supported the Second Reading of the Bill. At the same time I dare say that the speech which has been delivered by the hon. Gentleman will command and draw more attention from the Chief Secretary than any speech which could be delivered by any Member representing the vast majority of the British people. But the speech deserves more attention on another ground. The hon. Member for South Tyrone (Mr. T. W. Russell) has just been admitted to the dignity of a Justice of the Peace, and from that circumstance he is entitled to become an ex officio Guardian of the Poor. His testimony, therefore, as to the untenable character of the administration of the Irish Poor Law must be regarded as of particular value. I think that any impartial person who has observed the course of this debate must admit that there can be no wonder that the Irish 1277 people are heartily tired of coming to this House for measures of reform. This Bill for the reform of the constitution of the Irish Boards of Guardians has experienced the ups and downs of fortune before this House for the space of nearly 20 years, and it is still a Bill and not an Act. It has several times passed this House, and on one occasion it passed the House of Lords after an exhaustive inquiry by a select Committee and the examination of witnesses who represented, without exception, the landlord class in Ireland. I must, therefore, express surprise that any Member of the Tory Party—even an Ulster landlord—should desire to be more Conservative in 1890 on the question of Poor Law reform, considering the rapid development of the theory of popular rights, than the House of Lords in 1884. I would also call to the recollection of the House, that when the Bill was last under discussion in 1886, a very distinguished Member of the Irish Conservative Party (Mr. Holmes) Member for the University of Dublin, afterwards Attorney General for Ireland, and now one of Her Majesty's Judges, intervened in the debate and used his influence, although unavailingly, to induce his friends to forego their opposition to the measure. It is, therefore, with surprise and regret that, four years later, I find the Tory Members for Ireland opposing this Bill. There are important provisions in the measure to which no objection is taken. It contains provisions for the better inspection and for the due and orderly revision of the list of voters. No Member of the House will contend that the present system in regard to the revision of the list of voters is one which ought to prevail, and I should be much surprised to hear the Chief Secretary say one word against our proposals in that respect. Then, again, no objection worth listening to has been made against the proposal for an appeal before the County Court Judge without a jury. The Local Government Board, with whom the appeal now lies, feel that they are an agency entirely unfitted for such a purpose. It must be manifest that a Department of the State created for the performance of executive duties is not fitted for the performance of judicial functions, and I believe that the 1278 Local Government Board would be very glad to be relieved of this duty. The County Court Judges of Ireland, considering the amount of the salaries they receive, are very moderately and lightly worked compared with other public officers. The petitions in regard to the administration of the Poor Law are not numerous, and I venture to anticipate that in the event of a change in the system taking place they will become even more rare, and that the amount of additional labour thrown upon the County Court Judges will be very considerable. Another provision of the Bill is to provide for the presentation of appeals in disputes as to law. At present the decision really rests with the Clerk of the Union, who is the Returning Officer, and there is no adequate appeal on any question of law. It is not only improper, but even grotesque, that the decision should rest with a person who is the nominee of the dominant section of the Board. Then, again, as to the qualification, we propose that a magistrate shall not be qualified to be an ex officio Guardian unless he is a ratepayer. Surely it will not be contended that a gentleman, merely because he is made a magistrate, is entitled to control the administration of the poor rates in a Union to which he does not contribute. We further provide that a £12 rating shall qualify for election. At present there is no general rule on the subject. The Local Government Board by a general order define the amount of the qualification, and it varies in different parts of Ireland, being in some parts as high as £30 and in others as low as £6. The result is to shut out from the service of the people in every Union many men of the highest qualification, who are among the most competent men who can be found. I now come to the three main provisions of the Bill. The first is that vote by Ballot shall be applied to Poor Law elections. Vote by Ballot is applied to every election except that for the Poor Law Board, and several of my hon. Friends who have addressed the House to-day have given conclusive reasons why it should be also applied to the election of Poor Law Guardians. The present system, is for the police to leave voting papers; an interval elapses before they are collected, and in the case of a 1279 contested election the humble voter in Ireland is exposed for several days to intimidation and undue solicitation by the agents of one or other of the parties, and in the end he is induced to fill up the voting paper against his will. I think that a system of voting should be adopted which would enable the voter to give a free vote according to his conscience. I trust that the spokesmen of the Government, who are so ready to charge us with intimidation, will be ready to accept from us a suggestion in this sphere of local government that will definitely put an end to intimidation in the future. We propose also the abolition of the proxy vote. If persons do not choose to live in the country or the district they cannot have an accurate knowledge of the affairs of the Union or take an active interest in them. It is high, time to put an end to the scandals which have marked the Poor Law elections in Ireland, and by which the opinions of those who live on the spot, and are acquainted with the condition of the Union and the state of the pool, are continually over-ruled by proxies imported from Boulogne or Spain on behalf of impecunious landlords, and even from China and Peru, and the ends of the earth. It is a gross scandal to find the opinion of those acquainted with the district regularly overborne by the lodgment of proxies retained from year to year by one individual, who, by the systematic use of them, becomes, in fact, a dictator. I might call attention to a case in which an enterprising gentleman of the dominant political Party possessed himself of the proxies of all the landlords of the Union who were absent from the country, and, by the use of those proxies from year to year, succeeded not only in nominating the Board but in appointing himself Clerk of the Union, thus becoming the practical controller of it. As to the argument of the hon. Member for South Tyrone that men may be absent on professional business, my reply is that such casualties must be borne for the sake of the general principle. Now, upon this question of the representation of property let me show you how they blow hot and cold, how they make principles to suit the facts. What about the county cess in Ireland? The landlords pay none of it, yet they 1280 control it, through the Grand Jury, which administers every penny of it. The tenant farmer has no chance of being admitted to the Grand Jury in Ireland.
§ MR. SEXTON
I am not forgetting the associated cess-payers. Their power is illusory. These cess-payers are nominated by the Grand Jury; they have no seat upon the Grand Jury itself. Therefore, the Body which has effectual control is a Body to which no tenant farmer ever finds his way, and I submit and insist that the whole of the valuation of the county cess in Ireland lies in the hands of those who do not contribute one penny to the funds. In the presence of that fact, I say it is absurd for the hon. Member to raise in the case of Ireland the principle of taxation and representation, as if that principle had not been duly observed. Upon that question of taxation and representation I would go very much further than this Bill, which is inadequate. Property is extremely over represented in respect of these Poor Law votes. In the first place the landlord may have 36, and rarely has less than 18 votes; the occupier has rarely more than two. The landlords possess one half of the Board without the trouble of electing any candidate, and where there is a property rate, of course they determine the elections. The element of property has the controlling influence upon the Poor Law Boards of Ireland. It is no longer pretended that property ought to have that influence in the Imperial Legislature. In regard to the Imperial revenue, many a man contributes as much to it as 10,000 others, yet each one of that 10,000 has as much power as he has in nominating a candidate for membership in the Imperial Parliament. I fail to see why that principle should not be applied in the local administration of the Poor Law Boards of Ireland. Formerly those Poor Law Boards simply raised funds for the relief of the poor. But, within the last 20 years, by different Acts of Parliament, various other functions have been cast upon those Boards. They have to deal with the important questions of burial, public health, and education—questions in which every 1281 man, with or without property, has an equal interest, and which demand, it is clear, an elective franchise. We have in this House the direct representation of labour, and working men have been admitted to the Magisterial Bench; and I certainly think that the time has come when, in the administration of the Poor Law, we should have a direct representation of the labouring classes, who are certainly concerned in that work. I am quite in favour of abolishing the property qualification altogether in the election of Poor Law Guardians. I think neither poverty nor humble condition should prevent a man from administering relief to the poor. I believe the labouring classes are more interested than any other in the due administration of relief to the poor. Whilst it is important that there should be economy in the administration of the rates, and whilst, therefore, there should be a substantial representation of the property element, it is equally important in a Christian and civilised condition of society, that the administration should be characterised by a liberal and generous care for the necessities of the poor. While the landlords have to contribute to the poor rates in every case, and to pay the whole where the valuation is under £4, the tenants who earn the rents and pay the landlords are the persons who contribute the rates, and I decline to consider that the fact of the landlord being the medium or agent entitles him to special representation. Then, as to the proportion of ex officio members. An Act was passed by Parliament, when the whole subject had been freshly considered and examined by a powerful Committee, and Parliament decided that the proportion of one-fourth for ex officio members was sufficient. That was the law for 10 years; but the Act was repealed in that respect, and repealed in the darkest and gloomiest time of the Irish history of our century, the famine period, when the Irish people had no diligent guardians of their interests in this House, when their representatives were elected under a system of the most rigid and terrible boycotting, and when a tenant who ventured to vote against the nominee of his landlord, whether that landlord was Liberal or Tory, did so under the pain of eviction. 1282 There is nothing more painful or terrible than that, during the last half century, not thousands but millions of poor Irish people should have suffered eviction from their homes by expulsion from their country, because they voted in obedience to their conscience and in the interest of their class, and against the dictation of their landlords. At the time of the repeal of the Act of 1837 the Irish people had no guardians of their interests in this House. What I ask is, that we should return to the proportion of one-fourth ex officio members. I cannot anticipate what reply the right hon. Gentleman is going to make, but, from the fact that his late Attorney General supported the Second Reading, and from the fact that the House of Lords have already passed the Bill, I should hope that the reply of the right hon. Gentleman will be favourable to the Second Reading, and the main proposals of the Bill. At the same time, I frankly tell him that I do not greatly care. The country takes note of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman, and his Party obtained power four years ago upon formal and solemn promises to the country of not only a large but a generous extension of the powers of local government in Ireland. The Party opposite is the Party of broken pledges, of violated faith. Four years have passed since the General Election. The cold shadow of another General Election is already falling upon that Party. And I must say that I do not feel greatly concerned, knowing the chilling influence of that shade, whether the right hon. Gentlemen accepts the Bill or no. If he accepts it we shall be prepared to go forward and to pass it into law. If he refuses, I for my part shall deem the rejection useful, because I am certain that, either by a Local Government Bill in this House or an Irish Chamber, the Poor Law and other Departments of the Public Service of Ireland will be placed upon a basis far more democratic, and, therefore, far more just and satisfactory and more permanent than the basis proposed by this Bill.
§ (3.15.) SIR J. COLOMB (Tower Hamlets, &c.)
I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact, that this Bill was only circulated this morning. ["Last night."] I can only say that I received it 1283 this morning along with my Parliamentary papers, and I have really not had time to study the Bill. But I may say at once, that this is a matter well deserving of the attention of the Government, and well deserving of the consideration of the House; it is a pure matter of business, and I deprecate and protest against dragging other matters before the House into discussions of purely business matters. I would point out, in the first place, that this Bill proposes to do in Ireland, in regard to Poor Law administration, what is not done on this side of the water. It would establish certain new principles in the Poor Law system in Ireland, which have not been accepted and which have not been tried in England; and, therefore, if we who sit on this side of the House examine the arguments for the Bill very closely, I consider we are only doing what is our plain and business-like duty. From some speeches I have heard on the other side, I question very much if any of those who made the speeches have ever sat, for any length of time, on Boards of Guardians at all. ["Many of them"]. I question that very much indeed, and I question very much indeed if the proposer of this Bill has ever been on a Board of Guardians at all, or knows anything of the practical working of Boards of Guardians. I gather that from the nature and tenour of his speech; his information appeared to be entirely second-hand. I regret very much that a great deal of almost every speech has been based on an assumption that the landlords have been guilty of intimidation. I happen to be a tenant in Ireland as well as a landlord, and my interests as a tenant are perhaps greater than my interests as a landlord. Therefore, I have an opportunity of speaking from personal knowledge on this question, and I say-that when hon. Gentlemen opposite ask us to pass this Bill because of intimidation practised by landlords, they are talking of a condition of things which long ago passed away. Why, the tenant cannot be intimidated, and no landlord under the Acts of 1870, 1881, and 1887 could prejudice his interest as a tenant. Let the tenant absolutely defy any intimidation by landlord or agent in a Poor Law election. How can a tenant be evicted because he does not vote the 1284 way the landlord wants? He cannot be evicted so long as he pays his rent, and if he does that he may defy any amount of pressure from the landlord, whether in a Parliamentary or any other election. I may point out to you this, that the Irish people are somehow or other certainly the easy victims of intimidation, but that intimidation is not all on one side; and when the Irishman gets a little more moral courage to resist intimidation of all sorts we shall hear less of Irish questions and more of the prosperity of Ireland. Let me give an instance very à propos to my argument of intimidation in regard to Poor Law elections, showing that it is more likely to be on the side of political agitators than upon the side of the landlords, because the landlord is powerless under the law to punish, or in any way prejudice the position of the tenant on account of the manner in which he votes so long as he pays his rent. The tenant is open to the influence of popular pressure, and that he is intimidated for political purposes we know is really possible and exists, and here is a statement made in this House, and officially confirmed, which illustrates what I say:—The townland of Doora, near Ennis, was on Tuesday night the scene of a serious moonlighting raid. The houses of a number of farmers in the district, to whom Poor Law voting papers had been distributed the previous day, were visited by a party of men, partly disguised, carrying sticks, who demanded the papers. The houses of two farmers named M'Inernay were first visited, next that of John Heffernan, from all of whom the papers were taken. Pat Lawlor's was next visited, but here Lawlor and his son were prepared for the moonlight visitors, who promptly decamped. At the house of Michael Lawlor the raiders met with a stubborn resistance, and in the melée Lawlor got a deep cut on the head; the raiders were here baffled in their object. In all, the papers were taken from six houses. A very bitter contest is being conducted in the electoral division of the Poor Law Union of Ennis. The candidates are Mr. Paul Skehan, secretary to the branch of the National League formerly existing at Doora, and Mr. John Lynch, and the houses which were raided belonged to the supporters of the latter.I am merely pointing out the fact that, on the one hand, the assertion as to landlord intimidation is a mistake, and under the law impossible, but that unfortunately, where in some places the law is defied by political agitators, intimidation 1285 is practised in Poor Law elections by the side opposed to the landlords. For my part, I would say, the only objection to applying the Ballot to Poor Law elections is the increased cost which it would entail upon the ratepayers. How is it proposed to deal with those expenses in the case of Poor Law elections? We must look at the matter from a business point of view; and from personal knowledge and experience I maintain that a Poor Law election under the ballot, if the Ballot be conducted with due precaution, and is real and not a sham, it will be a very expensive matter. Are you going to deduct the money from the poor rates—a considerable sum of money which ought to go for the relief of the poor? I have endeavoured to give to this subject a fair and impartial consideration, and I say the Bill ought not to have been introduced unless the supporters of it are prepared to give us information upon the real financial aspect of the case. I am rather struck by the fact that all those who are in favour of this Bill represent the South and West of Ireland chiefly, and all the Members who are opposed generally to this Bill, although they accept many of its provisions, are from the North of Ireland. That certainly has some weight with me, because, by looking at the statistics, I find that, if you compare Ulster with Munster, the statistics give you some very broad facts which show, I think, that the Poor Law business in Ulster is better done than the Poor Law business in Munster. I see in the Ulster Returns there were over 83,000 paupers, six-sevenths of whom were indoor, out of a total population of 1,743,000 persons; and in the Munster Returns I find, where the population is only 1,300,000, that there are 190,000 paupers and upwards in receipt of relief, two-thirds of whom are indoor paupers. You see how much greater the proportion of pauperism is in the South than in the North, and I think that fact shows that probably, at all events, it is justifiable to draw a conclusion that the Guardians in the North of Ireland understand and do their business better than the Guardians in the South of Ireland. I say that is a reasonable argument to bring forward as accounting for the broad state of the facts. But, if I take 1286 the typical towns of Cork and Belfast, I find the same result. In Belfast there were under 23,000 paupers, ¾[...] of whom were indoor, out of a total population of 240,000. Now, if we turn to Cork, I find there were over 23,000 paupers out of a population of 145,000. That, I think, sufficiently indicates that where people attend more to business and less to politics, the interests of the poor and the interests of the population are better looked after. It is because I think that we have to look soberly at all these questions of Irish administration that I, for one, am perfectly prepared to look at them fairly and squarely, but I am not prepared to vote offhand in support of the Bill when I have not had sufficient explanation of the business aspects of that measure, or what is likely to be the financial result of its proposals. I do not disagree with all the arguments put forward in favour of the Bill, but I do say that we are entitled to deal with the subject as a matter of business, and I must also say that, if the Bill ever passes a Second Reading, it will require considerable excision.
§ (3.26.) COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has said that some Gentlemen who have spoken have very little or no practical acquaintance with Boards of Guardians. I do not think I am open to that reproach, for during the last six or seven years I have attended the Poor Law Board of my constituency, of which I am a member, and which I always attend during the recess. I believe the hon. and gallant Member has been once charged with standing on "no coercion." If that is so, he certainly ought to support the Bill, the main feature of which is to introduce the Ballot into Poor Law matters.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I accept the statement of the hon. and gallant Member, but I can assure him that, while in many districts there is not this intimidation, at all events in some it does exists I would point out that the cost of the Ballot would really be less than is the outlay incurred at the present moment, by the fact of constabulary having to go round to distribute the voting papers, 1287 and again, to go round to collect them. In the case of Galway, for instance, intimidation is practised in some parts, and the only way to get rid of it is to adopt the ballot. It is a great evil to give a man a vote, and then not to enable him to vote as he wishes. As to the objection to the number of ex officio Guardians fixed upon in the Bill, the Government have a majority, and backed up by the 70 Unionists can fix upon any number they like. Proxies are terribly abused in their use in Ireland, not in the case of the landlords who may be in London performing their duties in this House, but in the case of men who totally neglect all their duties both in England and in Ireland. These men ought either to be made to reside in Ireland or to be deprived of the power of voting by proxy. I hope the Government will assent to the Second Reading of the Bill, and introduce any desired modification in Committee. We must all admit that the present system of electing Poor Law Guardians is a most imperfect one, and that it ought to be amended.
(3.34.) THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUK, Manchester, E.)
Those who have listened to this debate must, I think, have experienced some difficulty in coming to a conclusion as to the real object aimed at by the framers of the Bill. The Member for West Donegal told us it was useless for the Government to accept the provision relating to the substitution of the ballot for open voting unless the rest of the Bill was also adopted. The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down has told us the real essence of the Bill is the provision as to the ballot, and that the other pro visions might be modified without destroying the measure. Thus the supporters of the Bill seem to differ as to what are to be considered its vital proposals; and I am not sufficiently in their counsels to decide which of the speakers represents the balance of opinion in the Party. No one will, I think, deny that it would be an important change to adopt the ballot, and it is a change I should be very glad to see made. It is said that the ballot is necessary on account of landlord intimidation; but I think that that contention has been suc 1288 cessfully disposed of by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, who pointed out that, under the existing law, intimidation on the part of the landlord is impossible, but that it might be practised by an organised political party which thought it could gain an advantage by having a majority at a Board. However, I will not press the point, because the debate has been of a very moderate character, and I am unwilling to divert it into controversial channels. I also understand that hon. Members opposite desire to suppress intimidation of all kinds, whether by landlords or by Land League; and, therefore, as far as the ballot is concerned, I offer no opposition. I should also be glad to see an alteration in the procedure by which doubtful votes are decided. The Local Government Board is not the best tribunal for deciding questions of that sort, and as there is adequate legal machinery there would be no objection to substituting it for the Board. I have no objection to exclude from the office of ex officio Guardian Justices who do not happen to be ratepayers. I conceive that the number of them is small, and therefore the operation of the clause would be limited; but whether limited or not, the clause is sound in theory, and would be salutary in practice. As to the limitation of the number of votes that can be given by one individual, I understand that up to 1884 the Local Government Board held that 18 was the maximum. The matter, however, came before the Court of Appeal, which decided that the Board had not rightly interpreted the Statute, and that the maximum was not 18 but 36. I am of opinion that there could be no injustice done by returning to the practice which prevailed before 1884. That, I think, exhausts the last of the minor provisions to which the Government do not object. We now, therefore, come to some of the larger proposals. There is one point which I have missed, however. I take the view adopted by a Committee of the House of Lords, that though a minor should not have votes, it is only fair that those who administer his property should represent him in voting. Now I come to the provisions, the object of which is to limit the representation of property and diminish the number of ex officio Guardians, and I say at once I am in 1289 entire divergence from these proposals of the Bill. We have been asked how it is possible to justify the presence on a body whose duty it is to administer rates levied on the community so large a proportion of non-elected members. The first observation I have to make upon that is that a similar system exists in England, and the House when it has had the question before it has deliberately declined to interfere. It is for hon. Members opposite to show why Ireland is to be treated in a different manner from England.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I cannot answer that definitely, but there is a large ex officio representation in England; and in Ireland, undoubtedly, there is a justification for ex officio representation which does not exist in England. The rates in England are levied on occupiers, but in Ireland one-half the rates are levied on owners, except where they are levied wholly on owners, and these cases are not fragmentary and exceptional, and are found chiefly in the poorest parts of Ireland, where the administration of the Poor Law is difficult, arduous, and critical. The hon. Member for West Belfast has put forward another argument. He says, what is the use of telling us that taxation and representation should go together, when in Ireland you administer through the medium of Grand Juries (which may be truly described as a Landlord Board) the county cess, which is wholly paid by the tenants. That is an anomaly which has always been admitted on both sides of the House, and this is one of the things that has moved the Government to deal with the question of local government in Ireland. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to refrain from using that argument, at all events until he has seen the proposals with regard to local government for Ireland which it will be my duty to lay before the House. The next argument of the hon. Gentleman contains an even more serious fallacy. The hon. Member denies that the landlord pays the rates, even in the case of tenants below £4, because, says the hon. Member, the rates are paid out of the rent. What is really meant by 1290 the principle that representation and taxation should go together is that some responsibility in cases where the rate is increased should fall upon those who vote the increase. The question is, who suffers by an increase of rate in those cases where the rent is below £4? I think the hon. Member will, on reflection, agree that the increase docs and must fall on the landlord, and does not and cannot fall on the tenant; therefore it is a misuse of language to say it is the tenant who pays the rates and should be represented on the Boards of Guardians. In passing from these theoretical arguments I am afraid the agreement, or partial agreement, I have hitherto been able to maintain with hon. Gentlemen opposite with regard to the Bill breaks down. I say plainly and openly to the House that the experience I have had of Poor Law administration in Ireland during the last three or four years has made me absolutely opposed to anything which would diminish the influence of the ex officio Guardians. That administration has in many respects been far from a creditable administration in Ireland; and I think that if hon. Gentlemen will impartially investigate those cases in which it has broken down most flagrantly and scandalously they will find that it has been in those instances where ex officio Guardians have been not over but under-represented. I acknowledge with regret that ex officio Guardians do not attend so often as they ought; but we cannot forget that those Guardians have in many cases been submitted to treatment which it would require the most robust sense of public duty to withstand; and I fear that in too many cases that diminished representation of the ex officio Guardians has been obtained by other than legal or statutory means. The hon. Gentleman opposite attaches, I believe, importance to this part of the Bill; and if I assent, as I am prepared to do, to the Second Reading, I desire to make a statement which will make my attitude perfectly clear. I desire it shall be understood that I shall do my utmost in Committee to resist those provisions of the Bill which propose to diminish the proportion of ex officio Guardians who now have a right to attend the meetings. What hon. Members opposite may think of the 1291 Bill, altered as I desire to see it altered, I cannot say. In 1885, when the Bill came down from the House of Lords, modified very much in the direction in which I desire to see it modified, the hon. Member for West Belfast gave notice that if the Government retained the Amendments he should move that the Bill be discharged. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman still holds that view.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I should have gathered from his speech it was not so, as the hon. Member went over point after point and said he presumed the Government would not resist them, and he then went on to tell the House what a large proportion of the Bill they constituted.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I presume the hon. Gentleman did not mean that, although they covered a large area, they were of little importance. As I am unable to gather from the utterances of hon. Members what is the vital principle of the Bill, I shall not take upon myself the responsibility of resisting the Second Reading; but will do my best in Committee to remove from the Bill all those provisions which I think would interfere with the due administration of the Poor Law in Ireland for the benefit of all classes of the community, and especially for that portion of the community whom the Bill is most intended to benefit—the poor of Ireland.
§ (3.53.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
The right hon. Gentleman, in a speech of extremely temperate character, has come to a conclusion which I extremely regret, following', as it does, upon many admissions which I, in common with other Members of this House, gladly welcomed. Still, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman does not propose to offer any opposition to the Second Reading; and I earnestly trust that hon. Members below the Gangway will persevere in their efforts to bring this Bill in its further stages before the House, so that we may be able to show that the provisions to which exception has been taken are defensible in justice, in reason, and in national expediency. It will then be time enough, 1292 when these vital principles, as I regard them, have been rejected, to consider whether the Bill should be dropped or not. I am inclined to agree with the position taken up by the hon. Member for West Belfast in 1885, when he said that if the Government insisted on accepting their Lordships' Amendment, and keeping the number of ex officio Guardians at the old proportion, we would not be responsible for further proceeding with the Bill. But we have not reached that point yet. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets complained that the Bill had only been before the House a few hours; while the hon. and gallant Member who moved that it be read a second time this day six t months called the Bill a "hardy annual." It is little to the credit of the House that it should be so. When I think how often measures, dictated by the purest sentiments of justice, are brought forward in this House on behalf of Ireland, defended by able arguments and opposed with arguments which will not hold water, but put forward simply on the ground of expediency; when I remember that it is only after many years that grievances thus pointed out are remedied, and then only as part of a great measure of justice to England, Scotland, and Wales; and when I think that this Bill has been twice passed by this House and sent back once from that Chamber in which the Irish tenant is not represented, in a condition in which its authors did not care to recognise it, I come to the conclusion that in these matters are to be found very strong argument on the side of those who hold that great changes are wanted in connection with the administration of Irish affairs. With regard to this Bill, it contains much with which I am glad to say we are all agreed. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said he had found some difficulty in discovering the principle of the Bill; but, as he will remember, the hon. Member for West Belfast said it was not easy to name the principle of a Bill which was a proposal to recast a great system of popular representation. This Bill is a complete re-casting of the system of electing Poor Law Guardians, and hon. Members must all admire the skill with which so many excellent provisions have been compressed into so small a compass. What does it 1293 do? First, it simplifies the system of registration, and then it provides simple machinery by which the right man shall get the vote, and know that he has it. In the next place, it gives an appeal in cases of disputed elections of a cheap and ready sort, which lies at almost every man's door, because the County Court Judge is to be substituted for the authority of the Local Government Board, or for the cumbrous and expensive machinery of the Court of Queen's Bench. Above all, it gives us vote by ballot. Can anyone who has been Irish Secretary forget how as soon as possible after the 25th of March he is bombarded with questions about cases of intimidation? The hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Sir J. Colomb) stated that a moonlight expedition had taken place for the purpose of seizing voting papers. There was a cheer from below the Gangway, in which I joined. Strange to say, the hon. Member mistook the meaning of that cheer. I do not suppose anyone but himself supposed it meant pleasure at the voting papers being stolen. It was merely an expression of surprise and amusement at hearing the hon. Member bring forward a very strong argument in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member, however, gave as an interpretation of its meaning sympathy with moonlighting; and I have very little doubt if this is left to pass without protest we shall be told by the newspapers and in speeches for the next three or four years that Members from Ireland had cheered the fact that moonlighting was carried on at Poor Law elections. If intimidation does not exist on both sides, it is believed to exist. We believe that the only effective method of putting a stop to it is the ballot, and the ballot we will have. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary did not notice the question of proxies. In 1883, as the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, I was obliged to speak at some length on the representation of property in Ireland. I said the landlords ought to have influence, and that that is given in two ways—indirectly by means of ex officio Guardians, and directly by means of votes representing the position of the property which the voter holds. Then I said there was a danger in insisting too much on this point with reference to ex officio 1294 Guardians; because if they are to be the only protectors of the landlord interest the Government would have been justified in appointing none but landlords in the past. I think it very dangerous to lay down the principle that Justices of the Peace ought to be almost exclusively connected with the land. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill said that in recent days men not connected with the land had been appointed Justices of the Peace, and he thinks that is a thing deserving of reprobation.
§ COLONEL WARING
I did not hold it up to reprobation at all. I merely mentioned it in the sense in which he is using it himself.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
I was going to quote the expression the hon. and gallant Gentleman used. He said he did not exonerate his own Government from having done it.
§ COLONEL WARING
I must say I do not consider all the recent magisterial appointments praiseworthy at all.
§ SIR G. TREVELYAN
I shall have to deal with that later. With regard to the question of proxies, I think there is some slight difficulty in having the vote by ballot undiluted. I entirely agree with hon. Members who maintain that people who want to manage local affairs ought to live in the district. But there is this difficulty. There may be a man resident in Ireland who really does his best as a resident citizen, and who at the same time may hold property in more districts than one. It is no doubt a small matter, because there are comparatively few men in this position. At one time I thought that the voting might be so arranged as to take place on different days in different districts, but that would be a matter of peculiar difficulty. An idea was, however, thrown out by the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan), who suggested that a man who voted in a Poor Law election as an owner should be allowed, under certain safe methods, to exercise his privilege in another district by means of a registered letter to the Postmaster, or in some other way. In order to get the benefit of vote by ballot for all the occupiers and owners who vote on the spot, I for one would be willing, as in 1883, to purchase that very great 1295 advantage by making an exception in favour of the small number of owners resident in Ireland who desire to vote as owners in other districts. The right hon. Gentleman says that the case for the retention of the magistrates is much stronger in Ireland than in England. The first reason he gives us is that the rates in Ireland fall on the owner. They fall more directly on the owner, undoubtedly, in the case of all the smaller tenancies in Ireland; but I appeal to anyone who knows country life in England to say whether the economical theory of rating, that it falls on the rent, is not borne out by this experience. In our yearly tenures an increase in the rate tells very rapidly on the rent. The grievance about the rate in England is not only in the country districts but in the town districts, where you have long leases, and where the tenant makes a bargain to pay what are called the rates, but what are in truth taxes for education, for sanitation, for the beautifying of the town, and which have been imposed since the 99 years' lease was granted. In the case of the farmer it is a yearly tenure, and the increase, and sometimes the diminution, of the rates shows itself at no long distance in the rent. The right hon. Gentleman pounced upon what was by far the most interesting observation in the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton)—the passage in which the hon. Member stated the theory that the rates came out of the rent, and ought to come out of the rent. I will put it in another way. If you take agricultural rents in England, I believe in the great majority of cases that before a man gets a halfpenny out of that rent everyone who has a part in making it has to be well and decently housed. In the next place, the poverty of the district has all to be paid for out of the rents of that district. So far, I fancy, I have the House with me, and I believe I shall have all English landlords with me, when I say there is a third burden on rent, and that is the education of the district. Directly or indirectly, through the money which he himself dispenses in building schoolhouses, or, in the last resort, through the educational grant, in the shape of Income Tax, the education of the rural districts in England is provided for, generally 1296 cheerfully and willingly by the landlord. In Ireland, however, I fancy the landlord in the enormous majority of cases pays almost nothing for education. In the North, for reasons which I will not give—though many of them are quite honourable—the system adopted is the same as is adopted on good estates on this side of the Channel; but does anyone pretend that over four-fifths of the area and the population of the country the education of the great mass of the people who live on the estates is to any great extent paid by the landlords? English education is paid for out of the rent; but does anyone pretend that, therefore, the landlords should have a preponderating influence on the School Board which does not include ex officio members? All elections—Parliamentary, educational, local, administrative, sanitary—should be on the same principle as those for the School Board—the principle of getting the votes of the greatest number of intelligent and independent men. If the principle of the representation of property is given at all on public bodies, it should be given very sparingly; and yet this Bill introduces it, or recognises it, very lavishly in dealing with Justices of the Peace on the Boards, and in giving large franchises to property. And what are the Justices of the Peace in Ireland? The latest Returns issued—those of 1884—show that many of them are capitalists, and also that out of the 5,065 Justices of the Peace in the country only 437 belong to all other sects and different denominations of the Protestant religion other than the Church of Ireland. I take a county where both the Members of Parliament presumably are largely elected by Catholics; and unfortunately, in this case, I am obliged to take sects, not for any sectarian reason, but because it is to a sect that injustice has been done. In that county there were 74 Justices of the Peace in 1884, and only one of them was a Catholic. In another county with, I think, five Members who sit below the gangway, out of 138 Justices only nine are Catholics. In two counties in the South and centre of Ireland, counties as Catholic as counties can be, namely, Wexford and Wicklow, out of 114 and 104 magistrates respectively, in the one case there are 25, and in the other five Catholic Justices. Well, but we are now 1297 not only dealing with a question of sects, but with a question of class. We want to have all classes properly represented. We are able to judge of the matter by these Returns, through the medium of religion. I remember hearing Baron Dowse say that the landlords of Ireland belonged to the Church of Ireland because it was the most respectable. He gave another reason which does not hold now so much, namely, that undoubtedly it was the Church of the landlords. It may be said that all this has been corrected since 1884; and I know that Lord Chancellor Sullivan did place men of many classes, creeds, and callings on the Bench; but, after all, that is a matter of only 250. The Justices are still a landlord class, and it is idle to tell us that Boards of Guardians, composed to the extent of one-half of those men, can possibly be really representative bodies. Now, I earnestly hope that when the House goes into Committee on the Bill the Government, who have approached the question in a practical spirit and in a spirit of great moderation, will remember that this Bill actually passed the House of Commons four or five years ago. It is not a question which can be put aside on account of local government being a matter of the immediate future in Ireland, because obviously local government in England has been divorced from the District Councils, and consequently we can look on this as an isolated and separate measure. There is a growing feeling in England that Parish Councils ought to be established in order to enlist the interest of the labourers, and of the great mass of the rural population, in the administration of their villages; and I believe that if there is a personal supervision of Poor Law relief by the people, who have a strong personal interest in the objects of that relief, it will not only lead in many cases to a much more humane and kindly way of dealing with it, but to an increase of economy. I believe a like result, under similar circumstances, will follow in the normal and ordinary districts of Ireland. It is impossible to deny that in the last few years some things have been done by Boards of Guardians in Ireland which are exceptional and altogether outside the meaning of the law; but these are exceptional times, 1298 and we are legislating for times that some day or other will cease to be exceptional. In Ireland, as in England and Scotland, the more we popularise the administration of poor relief, the more we make the people understand it, and take a minute and personal local interest in it, the more we shall make it a system tolerably contributing to the real happiness of mankind.
§ (4.25.) COLONEL WARING
If I rightly understand what the Chief Secretary has stated—that he does not accept the proposal to abolish proxy voting, or to diminish the number of ex officio guardians—I will ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ (4.26.) MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
The short speech of the hon. and gallant Member gives us an indication of the concessions made by the Chief Secretary. It seems that the concessions are of no importance whatever. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was such as we might have expected. This is a landlord government, and it is standing by the landlords through thick and thin; and, in refusing to abolish proxy voting, it is once more displaying landlord proclivities in a way that the House and the country ought thoroughly to understand. As to what fell from the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Sir J. Colomb), who asked whether there were any members of Irish Boards of Guardians amongst the Members who support the Bill, I would point out that Colonel Nolan, Mr. P. J. Power, Mr. P. J. O'Brien, Mr. William Abraham, and Mr. Sheehan are Chairmen of Boards of Guardians, and that the following either are or have been members of Boards:—Mr. Pinkerton, Mr. Leahy, Mr. O'Hanlon, Mr. Jordan, Dr. Tanner, Mr. Gilhooly, Mr. Mahoney, Mr. T. Harrington, Mr. Marum, and Mr. Condon. But I think the hon. Member's argument in this respect utterly irrelevant, for it does not require men to be members of Boards of Guardians to discuss this Bill intelligently. The Chief Secretary saw the mistake of the hon. Gentleman when he adduced the moonlighting case in Clare, and gave away that part of his argument altogether. The cheer which went up from this side of the House when the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley was speaking was exactly such 1299 as was described by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton. We are not altogether such fools, even if we had sympathy with moonlighting, to cheer for it in the House of Commons. That is a stretch of fatuity which would only appeal to an Ulster patriot. We cheered because we thought the hon. Member was introducing a most cogent argument in favour of the Ballot. I have not the slightest sympathy with violence, either on the side of the landlord or the people, and would unhesitatingly adopt the Ballot for the purpose of putting it down, both on the one side and the other. The hon. and gallant Member spoke as if he and his friends owned Ulster. He spoke of the comparative prosperity which prevails in Ulster as contrasted with the comparative poverty in the other Provinces of the country. I am glad that Ulster is prosperous. I am glad that Ulster, if it be true, manages its affairs better than the rest of Ireland, but it must be remembered that we have a share in Ireland. It must be remembered that of the 33 Ulster seats we have possession of 17, and that it is probable that after the next Election we shall have more. But if Ulster manages its affairs better than other Provinces, that is no reason for denying to the rest of Ireland reforms that have been pointed out and proved to be necessary. The Chief Secretary declines to abolish the ex officios on the ground that the existing law in Ireland is at present the law in England. I am informed that that is not so. Such a state of things as half the Guardians being ex officios is unknown in England. But even if it did exist, that would be no argument against a reform of the character we demand. Indeed, it seems to me it would be an argument in favour of Home Rule. We have proved a grievance in Ireland; we have proved that the ex officios are a bad set of Guardians; and simply because the ex officio system suits England, we also must be saddled with it. But I understand that if this reform in the Poor Law system of England has not been made yet it will be made in the near future. District Councils are to form part of the legislation promised by the present Government even during the present 1300 Session, and I am aware also that a large body of the Tory and Liberal Unionist Party expect that the subject of the composition of Boards of Guardians will be very soon taken up and pressed to a decision in the House. Now the argument based upon the amount of rates paid by landlords in Ireland seems to be thoroughly futile. The right hon. Gentleman contests the statement that, although the landlords in Ireland really do pay the rates, they come out of the rent. I cannot understand how he makes it out. Suppose there are landlords in Ireland—and there are thousands of them—with all their land and houses let, but living themselves in foreign countries. They never come home, and retain no part of the property in their own occupation. In these cases every penny of the amount they receive comes directly from the rents. How can it be contended that their outgoings come from their own resources? I refuse to admit that a landlord who lets all his land and houses contributes one farthing to the poor rates. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the case of landlords who pay the rates on holdings under £4 a year. These are only a small proportion of the holdings; and I have to call attention to the fact that when the poor rate in Ireland was established, it became the universal practice for the landlords to add the amount, of the rates to the rent. We know that up to 1881, when capricious increases of rent were put a stop to, it was the habitual produce of the landlords to add to the rent from year to year any fresh burdens that might be imposed on themselves. The right hon. Gentleman says he will not do anything to diminish the influence of the ex officio Guardians. It seems to me that the ex officio principle is altogether bad. The system might be tolerable if the men were of the better class—if they were of the more intelligent class, of the class who attend to the business of the Unions; but it cannot be denied that the present ex officios scarcely take any part in the management of the Unions in Ireland. They turn up at stated periods of the year when contracts are to be given away, when an officer is to be appointed, when a chairman or vice-chairman is to be elected, and then you never see them for another 12 months. The Chief Secretary referred to some 1301 cases of maladministration in the Unions of Ireland. We invite him to an examination of those cases, for we can show that it is precisely in those places where the ex officios manage the affairs of the Unions that maladministration occurs. Take the case of the Cork Board of Guardians which was dissolved the other day. What was the immediate cause of the dissolution of that Board? It was that the ex officio or landlord party combined against the elected or popular party, and that a reactionary chairman refused to permit a political resolution to be put to the meeting. The ordinary business of the Board had to be postponed for a week, and the result was that the Local Government Board dissolved the whole Body. If the ex officios had exempted themselves the whole business would have been transacted. The right hon. Gentleman also referred in a mysterious way to some illegal results obtained by the popular party in Ireland. He said we had obtained our way not by statutory or by legal means. I do not know what he means. If any persons have been elected to Boards of Guardians by means that are not statutory and legal, why have not the elections been set aside? His course, he says, is plain and intelligible. It is. I agree with that description of the right hon. Gentleman's policy. His course is plain and intelligible, and it is to stand by the landlord party through thick and thin, right or wrong; and the fact that he here to-day refuses to accept the more important provisions of this Bill, or, that when he gets into Committee, he means to cat out of the measure all that is good, shows what lie means to do when he comes to construct a scheme of local government for Ireland. We have been promised a scheme by which we shall be put on a footing of equality with England and Scotland as regards local affairs. It now seems that we shall have a scheme by which the most important details of local Irish administration will be left as hitherto in the hands of the minority in Ireland. That seems to be a pretty commentary on the success which the right hon. Gentleman thinks he has achieved by the enforcement of the Crimes Act. He himself has declared officially that the greater part of Ireland is now free from disturb- 1302 ance, and does not need the operation of the severe provisions of the Crimes Act; but he is still unable to assent in its entirety to such a Bill as this, because he believes the power it will confer on the people at large will be misused, and the minority will be oppressed. I suppose we shall have once more presented to us the spectacle of a measure of reform demanded by a majority of the people, supported, as it has been for 20 years, by a majority of the Irish Parliamentary Representatives, cut to pieces, and all for the sake of gratifying a small faction in Ireland which insists on retaining all the power in its own hands. I regret that the Second Reading is a mockery and delusion, and if I would be in order, I would be inclined to move that the Order be discharged so as to have the illusory promises of the Chief Secretary exposed in all their hideous nakedness.
§ (4.48.) MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
I did not intend to intervene in this Debate, as I am more interested in the Bill which stands third on the Paper; but to the statement that the Cork Board of Guardians broke up the other day without having finished the work which was on the notice paper of that day, I wish to give the most unqualified contradiction. No doubt the last sitting of the Board of Guardians was a most stormy one, and one which was protracted for a great number of hours beyond the usual period of sitting; and I have no hesitation in saying that many things took place at that meeting, and many things were said that I would much have preferred had been left undone and unsaid. But it is only right that it should be said here that before the Nationalist Guardians of the Cork Board adjourned upon the day in question they disposed of every item of Poor Law work upon the agenda paper. Great capital has been made by our opponents in politics out of the suppression, or, as it is called, dissolution of the Cork Board of Guardians, and it has been sought to instance it as an example of the incapacity of Irishmen to deal with local affairs. A more misleading use was never made of what I must characterise as an unjustifiable act on the part of the Authorities of Dublin Castle. It was entirely owing to the enormous represen- 1303 tation which the ex officio element have upon the Cork Board that the dissolution took place. According to the present law when a Board of Guardians is formed one half of it is ipso facto constituted of ex officio Guardians and opponents of what is known as the Nationalist Party in Ireland. It then only requires the party representing the landlords and the Tories, which are almost synonimous terms, to carry a single popular seat in order that they may have a majority and control of all matters connected with the Poor Law in Ireland. On the Cork Poor Law Board the non-representative element have been able by the use of their proxy votes and property votes to obtain this majority and put the whole control of the management of Poor Law affairs in the hands of the Tory Party. The Chairman is a Tory, the Vice-chairman is a Tory, and the Deputy Vice-Chairman is a Liberal Unionist. They have the Chair completely in their hands on all occasions, and on the day in question the difficulty which ended in the dissolution of the Board arose simply out of the wish on the part of the elected Guardians to pass a vote of congratulation to Mr. Parnell, one of the Representatives of the city, on his victory over the Times, which had endeavoured to ruin his character and reputation. I do not think any one in the House will deny that the elected Guardians representing the constituency of my hon. Friend were perfectly entitled to put on the records of the Board some indication of their feeling of rejoicing at the victory the leader of the Nationalist Party had secured. The Tory Chairman refused to take the resolution, refused to allow it to be entered on the Minutes of the Board, and the Nationalist Guardians insisted, so far as it was in their power, to place it on record. Will it he believed that because the elected representatives of the City of Cork tried to place on record their pleasure at the acquittal of Mr. Parnell from the abominable charges brought against him by the Times the whole of the Poor Law representation of the city and the Union of Cork has been abolished by the stroke of the pen of three gentlemen who are called the Local Government Board, and that the ratepayers of Cork are for the next 14 1304 months to be deprived of any voice whatever in the management and disposal of their poor rates? Perhaps I may be permitted to acquaint the House that one of the first results of the dissolution of the Board was a public meeting of the citizens of Cork called by the Chief Magistrate. I have never seen a larger or a more representative gathering than that.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is out of order in referring in such detail to questions connected with the dissolution of the Cork Board of Guardians.
§ MR. LANE
I will bow, Sir, to your ruling, and simply add that, individually, I should be very sorry to stand up and support a Bill which recognises the principle of ex officio representation. I should be sorry to support a Bill which recognises the right of proxy voting, and I should be very sorry to support a Bill which recognises the right of multiple voting. I do not see why, in these democratic days, when the principle of one man one vote is becoming universal all over the world, and when that principle is practically applied at the present moment to the election of Members of Parliament, we should adopt a principle of ex officio representation in the case of Poor Law matters. However, the Bill is brought in by my Party, and as a matter of Party discipline I feel bound to support it. At the same time, I should be glad to see Amendments introduced in the Bill which would amend it in the opposite direction to that in which the Chief Secretary intimates he intends to amend it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withrawn.
§ (5.0.) MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
The present system under which Guardians are elected undoubtedly gives by the multiple vote the preponderance of power to property, though I hold that the bulk of 1305 the rates is paid by the workers. Now, when we turn to municipal elections we do not find any such principle recognised; we do not allow plural voting or a property vote except in the case of freeholds. I would appeal to the Attorney General will he not use his influence to get applied to these elections the same principle of representation as is recognised in municipal affairs? The work of municipal government is well carried on, and there is no necessity found for ex officio members. There are merchants who pay many thousands of pounds in reference to certain duties, but that does not give them a multiple vote. If you admit this principle there, I do not see why you should exclude it from other positions in life. The fact is, this ex officio and multiple vote system has been condemned for years, and I have heard even strong Tories in the North of Ireland condemn the system. I remember on one occasion there was an election in an electoral division of Armagh, and the Protestant Primate held 18 votes. The voting papers got as far as the gates of his house, but they never got any further, though they wore returned duly signed, and were recorded. Will not the hon. and learned Attorney General use his influence to put an end to scandals of this kind? He, as head of the legal administration in Ireland, and a prominent member of his party, might use his influence with effect. I do not wish to accept the decision of the Chief Secretary as final, and I think the Attorney General might yet use his influence. I know, of course, how a man's opinions are trammelled by his official position; but I am sure, if it were put to him in his private capacity, the learned Gentleman would admit that there is no more reason for ex officio seats on these Boards than on municipalities or in the House of Commons. In Ireland these ex officio members are all nominees of Dublin Castle; that is to say, that Dublin Castle has as much representation as the whole of the ratepayers of Ireland put together, and not only so, but the influence of these ex officio members is greatly increased by the exercise of the multiple vote. The usual way, as the Attorney General very well knows, is for the landlords with their agents, who are ex officio members and 1306 magistrates, to have proxies left with them. I am sure in future days, when this reform is granted, the Attorney General will have cause to congratulate himself should he have had a hand in bringing it about. We can claim something from the Tory Party. They have declared that, setting aside the great dividing question of the day, all Irish grievances shall be attended to. Now, this Bill embodies a few matters earnestly desired by the ratepayers, and here is an opportunity for the Tory Party to make good their declaration. We cannot be accused of being precipitate in our demands. Eighteen years ago the Ballot was adopted, and it cannot be said its adoption has been attended with the slightest harm, in Parliamentary or municipal elections.
§ (5.10.) MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
The Chief Secretary expressed himself as being at considerable loss to know what the central principle of this Bill is. The central principle of the Bill is to extend in some degree, and only in a very slight degree, popular representation on the Poor Law Boards in Ireland. As I understood the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, the promises he made as to some parts of the Bill he proposes to accept, and his remarks on those parts he proposes to reject, and the unfitness of popular representation in Ireland to conduct Irish affairs—as I understand the general tone of his speech, it amounts to this: that he will not sanction the principle of popular representation extended to Poor Law Boards. These parts of the Bill he is willing to agree to are provisions which, no doubt, would be useful, but they would not have any material effect in extending popular representation on these Boards. He objects to the abolition of the proxy vote and to the reduction of the number of ex officio members; but these are the material parts of the Bill as affecting representation. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to be under the impression that in England the number of ex officio Guardians is the same in proportion to elected Guardians as in Ireland; but I am informed that in this country the proportion is the same as that we propose in the Bill it should be—a quarter of 1307 the total number, or a third of the number of elected Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Liberal principle that representation and taxation should go together; and it is true that principle has been adopted in many cases, but the principle does not go so far as to declare that representation shall be in proportion to taxation. If such a principle were carried oat to its fullest extent, we should have a man who pays £100 in taxation with a hundred times the representation of the man who only pays £1 in taxation. Such a principle as that was banished from our legislation long ago. Ex officio members have, as has been pointed out, enormous power as the representatives of property; but, in addition, they have enormous power under the system of plural votes. In the Union where I happened to be an ex officio member, I am aware of the fact that some time ago, though it does not exist now, there were more property votes than all the occupation votes put together, so that the property qualification outweighed the occupation opinion, and could set it at defiance, while in addition it had the representation by ex officio members on the Board. In rural parts of Ireland, and in small towns which come under the Towns Improvement Act, Boards of Guardians are the Sanitary Authority, who dispense all the medical relief in the district, and the number and extent of the duties and responsibilities they discharge are very great and closely bound up with the conditions of rural life. The people who receive benefit from the administration of these Boards, although not large ratepayers, have a right to a considerable voice in the representation on the Boards. Now, the Chief Secretary gave as a reason why he did not think the extension of popular government in Ireland in the direction of making Poor Law Boards more popular was desirable, the maladministration of some Poor Law Boards. He did not go into particulars, or dwell on this point, and if he had done so, it would no doubt have given rise to a more or less acrimonious debate, for it is a subject upon which much friction has been excited and much comment provoked throughout Ireland. I can speak from knowledge and personal acquaintance with administration of 1308 these Boards, and I am bound to say I take an entirely different and wholly opposite view to that of the right hon. Gentleman. There are cases of maladministration, no doubt, and unpleasant and regrettable scenes occur, but they are few and far between. One of these scenes may occur, and, making amusing reading in the English Press, is placarded from one end of the kingdom to the other, and so an impression is created that is unfair to Irish Boards of Guardians generally. In the great majority of cases where the proceedings at a Board meeting are in the nature of what newspapers call a "scene," they arise from the fact of the chairman of the Board not being in sympathy with the working majority thereon. On the day of election of chairman the ex officio Guardians attend in force, and, combining with the small number of elected Guardians who agree with them, appoint the chairman of their choice. But from that day until the end of the year, unless there happens to be an appointment of a medical officer to be made, or some job to be perpetrated, the majority, who put in the chairman, disappear until the time for another election of chairman comes round. The result is, you have a chairman entirely out of sympathy with the usual business majority of the Board. The chairman has very considerable power in administration and in the arrangement of business, and nearly all these scenes have occurred from the refusal of the chairman to act in conformity with the wishes of the majority of Guardians present at the meeting. But if the Chief Secretary's opinion is such as he has expressed to-day what becomes of the Local Government proposals of the Government? Are they going only to give such a measure of popular representation as is now allowed in Poor Law administration? I hardly think that can be so, consistently with the promise that the Local Government Bill for Ireland shall be on the lines of the measures accorded to England and Scotland. Why not make the small concession asked for in this Bill? If you will not abolish ex officio members altogether, then reduce the proportion from a half to a third. Deprived of this the Bill is not worth accepting, No doubt election by Ballot would prevent many scandals that now 1309 occur. I have seen the policeman going out with the papers, and followed by agents for the landlord party and three or four members of the National Party, and in the house where a paper is left there is a contest over it. It is a scandal that there should be this state of things, but still I say it is not worth proceeding with the Bill unless you deal with ex officio members and proxy voting, and make these Boards more representative of the people for whom the Poor Law is administered.
§ (5.15.) Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ MR. SEXTON
As a matter of order, Sir, is it competent for me now to move the discharge of the Order?
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is possible for the hon. Member to move that the Committee on the Bill be deferred, and it will be competent for him, on the Order for Committee to move that the Bill be withdrawn.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The proper course would be for the hon. Member to move it on the particular day for which the Committee may be set down.
§ Ordered, That the Bill be committed for this day six months.