HC Deb 10 June 1895 vol 34 cc818-33

Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [29th March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said that, as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had intimated that he could not assent to any modification of the clause in the Bill which enabled Irish voters to exercise the franchise, notwithstanding the fact that they were receiving outdoor relief, he had no course left but to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. No doubt the Government thought that it would be as well to insert this clause in the Bill in view of the approaching General Election, but he failed to see why the Irish voters should be dealt with in this respect upon a different footing from that occupied by the rest of the voters of the United Kingdom. He was not aware that at the present moment there was any exceptional distress in Ireland which would justify any different treatment of that country in this respect. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said, that he did not rise to second the Amendment.


, in seconding the Amendment, said that the Bill sought to make a great difference between the pauper voters of Ireland and those of England and Scotland. The question of poor relief in England had been the subject of inquiry upstairs, and at the commencement of this Session an unusually large Committee, consisting of 25 members, had been appointed to receive evidence upon the subject. If the Irish voter receiving out-door relief were to be allowed to exercise the franchise, why should not the same privilege be extended to pauper voters in England, in which the working population were suffering in consequence of agricultural depression and other causes. He had a strong opinion on the subject of pauper voting, but he did not desire to raise that question on that occasion. He wished to protest against any difference being made between the Irish pauper and the English and Scotch pauper in this respect. He was aware that he should be told by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that this Bill was based upon one that had been introduced by the late Government, but that did not affect the propriety of the present proposal, seeing how greatly, circumstances had changed since the previous measure was introduced. He thought that that part of the United Kingdom which the Prime Minister had described as "the predominant partner," ought to be treated fairly in this matter, and that if State aid were to be given to the Irish pauper, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to find a little money for the relief of the English pauper also. The policy of this measure had regard to votes, and from that point of view the unfortunate peasant farmer and agriculturist in England, who was suffering from great depression, was not so important to the Government as the Irish voter. He thought the question of the relief of distress ought, to be treated as a whole. The relief of distress in England and Ireland was similar, and the Report of the Committee to whom this subject had been referred, which he hoped they would produce before long, would be of some use in regard to distress in Ireland. Ireland had many advantages and privileges over England, and he protested in the interests of England against this unfair treatment.


said, he did not propose to discuss the Bill from the standpoint of his hon. Friends opposite. He understood that the law in regard to the receipt of poor law relief in ordinary cases was the same in Ireland and England. He wished to elicit some information from the Chief Secretary in regard to this Bill, which had been some time before the House, and which provided that Poor Law Boards should be authorised before the 1st September, 1895, to grant fuel and food on the authority of the Local Government Board. He had very considerable doubts in regard to the whole system of outdoor relief in Ireland, which, he thought, had been granted on many occasions to evicted tenants, and others who had nothing to do with evicted tenants had had to bear most of the burden. There was no ground for saying that there was any exceptional distress in Ireland at the present time. He never paid the slightest attention to any demand for relief works from hon. Members opposite, because the moment any work of that sort was set on foot by the Government other districts were certain to hear of it, and to think that they had as good a right to it. All these applications required to be most closely sifted if open fraud was not to be perpetrated on the ratepayers. What was true in regard to relief works was true in regard to outdoor relief. He did not oppose the Bill in any way if the Chief Secretary could make out a good case for it. The third clause of the Bill seemed to assume that Boards of Guardians had been authorised in some way to act at a time when distress did prevail. If the Chief Secretary had authorised them to so act without the authority of Parliament, trusting to receive an indemnity, he was very far from denying that that was necessary. He wanted the law in Ireland to meet the necessities of Ireland; if it harmonised with English law, so much the better, but if it did not, why should they be tied to a similarity with English law?


said, the hon. Member for South Tyrone had not made a single observation of which he had the slightest reason to complain. In his remarks upon the inexpediency of a rash authorisation of outdoor relief in Ireland he thoroughly concurred. He agreed also as to the risk which any Government ran which once undertook open relief works. He had had some experience in regard to the matter in 1886, when it was his unfortunate lot to bring in a Bill for the relief of distress, and had found that a rush was made the moment it was known that there was any public money going. He had been carefully on his guard during the time that he had had the administration of the funds that Parliament had already voted since last December, and though he had been charged by some Gentlemen opposite with being one of the most parsimonious Ministers that Ireland had ever had, he did not regard the charge as a very serious one. He agreed with the hon. Member for South Tyrone that a Minister with money to dispose of in relief works had very wisely to keep his eyes open. The hon. Member, however, had done what he conceived the hon. Mover and Seconder had not done, he had read the Bill. [Mr. BANBURY: "I have read it."] The argument of the hon. Member for Peckham and the hon. Member for Islington fell to the ground; the argument that now it was summer and that therefore this Bill was not wanted had no application. He had been obliged to do what his predecessors in his present Office had had to do before, he had to authorise Boards of Guardians to give outdoor relief under conditions which, in the ordinary way, it was not legal to do without the authority of Parliament. He had been obliged, as other Chief Secretarys before now had been obliged to do, to take the responsibility of authorising that irregular form of outdoor relief, trusting to Parliament to indemnify him. He had taken the responsibility upon himself of authorising the boards of guardians in various unions—there were about 15 or 18 of such unions—to give outdoor relief in circumstances where, under the ordinary law, they would not be empowered to do so. He had been very careful to direct the Local Government Board, before authorising the boards of guardians to take these steps, to be vigilant, so that the money should not be given in a reckless way, or for irregular purposes, and from the conversation which he had had in Dublin last Saturday with the officer of the Local Government Board, to the best of their knowledge, this power, which he now asked Parliament to indemnify the boards of guardians for exercising, had only been used to meet cases of exceptional distress. He believed when the Report of all that had been done was before them, and for which this Act would indemnify the Boards of Guardians and the Local Government Board in Ireland, it would be found that there had been no extravagance and no misuse of the powers which the Government had taken upon themselves. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill took up the extraordinary position of opposing it because, as he remarked, he was not aware that there was now any exceptional distress in Ireland; but the hon. Member forgot that Parliament had already voted £35,000 in the form of a Supplementary Estimate, and would, he hoped, vote £35,000 more when, some day or other, the Estimates again came up for the relief of exceptional distress. Hon. Members moved the rejection of the Bill in ignorance really of what had been done in that House. It had been suggested that the Government had brought in the Bill because an Election was probably near. They would be very curious persons if that were so, because all the powers to be exercised under this Bill would extend only to the 1st of September. The hon. Member who seconded the rejection of the Bill thought the Measure was going to alter the law in Ireland and make it different from the law in England. But they were not altering the general law in Ireland; they were only taking an exceptional power for a very short period of time to meet exceptional circumstances. The hon. Member talked as if the money to be given for outdoor relief in this irregular way in Ireland came out of the pockets of the British taxpayers. But not a penny of it did. This was not a Bill for enabling the Boards of Guardians to relax the rules of outdoor relief, but to enable them to dispense with that outside assistance which the hon. Member in a general why very properly deprecated. The Bill was one to empower the Government to authorise Boards of Guardians to grant outdoor relief where, under the Gregory Clause, it would not be legitimate or lawful to give outdoor relief. The Gregory Clause for made the granting of outdoor relief to small landholders holding land above a quarter of an acre. It was, in the long run, far cheaper for the State and for the Union, and far better for the people concerned, that, where exceptional distress arose, those poor people should be enabled to remain on their land instead of being turned out on the roadside. What they were authorising Boards of Guardians in Ireland to do under this Bill would not in the least affect that great, broad and most important question which gentlemen were considering upstairs. The receipt of outdoor relief in those exceptional circumstances under this Measure was not to impose electoral disability upon the recipients, as was the case under the ordinary law alike in Ireland and England. The Government were not thinking of the General Election when they introduced this provision. They introduced it, partly because it was the right thing to do, and partly because it was in the Bill passed by the right hon. Member for Thanet when he was Chief Secretary, partly because it was in the Bill which he (Mr. Morley) brought forward in 1886, and because Parliament in 1880 and 1886 took the commonsense view and said it was not fair to impose an electoral disability for the receipt of some small measure of outdoor relief, the power to grant which was to extend over a period of four or five months only, though it might be perfectly fair in the case of a regular pauper receiving outdoor relief. He hoped, in view of what he had said, that hon. Members would withdraw their objections and agree to the proposal for the Second Reading of the Bill.


had no desire, after the speech of the Chief Secretary, to refer to the objections taken by the two hon. Members who had spoken against the Bill, and he hoped they would respond to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman and allow the measure to be read a second time. It should be remembered that the Bill had been blocked for a considerable time, and it was now absolutely necessary that it should become law. One thing that had struck him in the short discussion that had taken place was, that the hon. Member for Islington, who was so well informed about things in general, should have displayed such great ignorance on this matter. He only hoped the constituents of the hon. Member would appreciate the fact. The hon. Member claimed that this was exceptional legislation for the Irish people, and he actually found fault with the Bill because he said the money of his constituents was being so spent. It was a very astonishing thing to find that an hon. Member, who posed as one fit to legislate for the Irish people, should deliberately obstruct the Bill on those grounds, when really the effect of the Bill was simply to give the Irish people and their Poor Law representatives the power to deal most effectively with their own money. With regard to the 3rd Clause on which one of the hon. Members who opposed the Bill founded his objection, he must say that no comparison could be drawn between people who wore compelled to seek temporary relief for exceptional distress and those who might be considered ordinary paupers. The cases were not at all similar, and it would be monstrously unfair that the people of a whole country side should be disfranchised simply because exceptional distress compelled them to apply for a short period for a certain amount of outdoor relief. The system of outdoor relief, instead of maintaining people in the workhouses, was an economical one. Distress could be relieved more cheaply and more directly by it, and it did not force the poor into the workhouses—of which the Irish people had an abhorrence—and compel them to break up their homes. He repeated that the. Bill was absolutely necessary, and he would appeal to hon. Gentlemen to withdraw their objection, for this reason if for no other—that one of his own Leaders, the right hon. Member for Thanet, when he had to deal with the matter as Chief Secretary, made a proposal precisely similar to that which was now submitted. He was surprised to hear the hon. Member for South Tyrone say that he would never dream of granting relief to the; Irish people if hon. Members on the Irish Benches asked for it.


I never said any such thing. I said it was necessary that all those applications should be carefully sifted.


said, if the hon. Member did not make exactly the remark he had quoted, he certainly said something very much like it—that he would never grant any relief on the representation of the Members on those Benches. [Mr. T. W. RUSSULL: "No, No"!] He could not understand what object the hon. Member imagined he could have in coming there and asking for relief for the people in the County of Clare for instance, on insufficient grounds, when nothing could be easier than for the Chief Secretary to ascertain by inquiring in a very short time whether such an application was warranted or not. He thought he was right, in saying that in the County of Clare some of the Poor Law Guardians had acted on the authority of the right hon. Gentleman to give outdoor relief in the Union of Kilrush and others, and he contended that the remark of the hon. Member for South Tyrone was not justified.

SIR RICHARD TEMPLE (Surrey, Kingston) rose not so much to continue the Debate as to give some explanation on behalf of his hon. Friends the Members for Peckham and Islington. The hon. Member for Peckham laid great stress on the fact that at the present moment there was no distress in Ireland; on the contrary, the demand for labour was greater than the supply. They were compelled to fall back on the conclusion that this was an indemnity Bill.

MR. C. DIAMOND (Monaghan, N.)

["Hear, hear!"] Certainly it is an indemnity Bill.


retorted, that it was all very well to say "hear hear,' but it would have been better if the House had been informed that such was the case, because it would have prevented any apprehension or misapprehension on the subject. His hon. Friend the Member for Peckham took the Bill as it stood. The hon. Baronet gave a summary of what he had already said, as a matter of courtesy to the Chief Secretary, who had just re-entered the House.


took exception to the statement that this was an indemnity Bill. If, he said, the hon. Member had read the Bill—


I have read the Bill. Of course I have.


If he has read the Bill he will see that the powers are to extend until 1st September next. I have never said there is no occasion now for a resort to those powers. Never.


Either there is distress now or there is not. If not, then it must be an indemnity Bill, to give the sanction of Parliament to what the Chief Secretary, in his high discretion, has authorised to be done in Ireland. His hon. Friends, in the circumstances, objected to these extraordinary grants for the relief of distress being given in Ireland, when no such grants were made when similar distress arose in England. His hon. Friend the Member for Islington also objected that whereas any kind of out-relief caused disqualification in England it did not cause disqualification in this Bill. He had listened very carefully to the speech of the Chief Secretary, and he understood him to say that this Bill was brought forward to meet certain sudden and extraordinary distress to which Ireland was more liable than other parts of the kingdom, mainly owing to the precariousness of the potato crop; and that unless the small tenements and occupiers got such relief as would enable them to tide over the crisis their property might be sold up, which would result in their being ruined altogether. That, as the right hon. Gentleman had said, would be a matter of grave national regret, and it was to obviate such a calamity that this relief was to be afforded. That, as he understood it, was the Chief Secretary's answer as to why there should be this difference of treatment as between England and Ireland. He did not say that answer was insufficient, but the House ought to be informed whether it was the real answer or whether there were other and better answers. He thought his hon. Friend had done good service in calling attention to this question of differential treatment, which was one of grave principle, and in pressing it on the Government, so that a full and sufficient explanation might be given to Parliament.


remarked that the hon. Baronet who had last spoken had found it necessary to explain what the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Bartley) meant in his speech. The speech of the hon. Member for Islington did not display much knowledge as to the scope and object of this Bill, and it was indeed a speech as far away from the point as the speech they had last listened to. There was a rule which was sometimes applied in that House which dealt with tedious repetitious and irrelevant arguments, and he thought if that rule had been vigorously enforced on this occasion the Debate would have been very materially shortened. The Gentleman who moved the Rejection of the Bill was equally at sea with regard to its principles. He would like to appeal to the hon. Member for South Tyrone, and ask if exhibitions like that which they had just witnessed in connection with simple Irish matters, permitting the Irish people to spend their own money for the relief of their own neighbours amongst whom they lived, would not be enough to convert fair-minded Unionists to the necessity of permitting the Irish people to deal with their own affairs? He did not say that the speeches displayed want of capacity. It was not that, but it was absolute indifference to the merits of the question at issue, seemingly for the purpose of talking round the subject and expending an amount of time for the purpose, he presumed, of preventing other business of the Government coming on. He hoped the House and the Members of the Government present would note what kind of thing they had to put up with, and take some practical step to shorten discussions of this kind. As an Irish Member he felt a certain amount of humiliation in having to sit and listen to pure absurdities of this description in connection with Irish affairs. They had had an exhibition of gentlemen talking on Irish Poor Law, who had some knowledge, perhaps, of Stock Exchange matters, but who knew as much about the condition of Ireland—and cared less—than he knew about the condition of the inhabitants of Mars. He declared, of the Unionist exhibition of that evening, that if it had been possible for the people of this country to have seen and heard it, it would have had a good moral effect, and that the fairplay and fair-mindedness of Englishmen would have been so influenced by it, that they would for the future be allowed in that House to escape such an absurd waste of time on any similar occasion.

MR. PIERPOINT (Warrington)

said, the hon. Member for Monaghan had spoken of the Members of the Opposition wasting the time of the House as if hon. Members for Ireland had never wasted one moment of their times. The Chief Secretary had met the objections of the hon. Member for Kingston on the good old plan of accusing him of not having read the Bill, an assertion which he presumed the right hon. Gentleman did not believe for one moment when he made it. [Cries of "Order!"] He thought he was in order in suggesting that his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston had read the Bill, and that it was obvious he had read the Bill when he was speaking,


The hon. Member is not entitled to state of another Member that he said something which he did not believe to be true of another Member. The hon. Member must withdraw that expression.

[Mr. Pierpoint withdrew the expression.]


said, of course, he must respectfully withdraw, and he ventured, with very great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, to tell him he did not for one moment intend in the least to accuse him of having made an assertion which he did not believe. He desired to emphasize the point raised by the hon. Member for Islington—namely, the part that England not unnaturally, but, he thought, very properly, played in this matter. They objected to Clause 3 of the Bill, because it applied a great principle to an exceptional piece of legislation. The right hon. Gentleman said this was exceptional legislation for exceptional distress, but was there never exceptional distress in England? In his own part of the country, in the recent great coal strike, they had very exceptional distress. Was there then any proposition on the part of the Government to allow the franchise to be exercised by those unfortunate people who, through no fault of their own, were compelled to draw upon the rates? He thought they were right in protesting against such exceptional legislation, even though it only affected a very small Bill, and in demanding that whatever was extended to Ireland should at the same time be extended to England.


hoped the hon. Member for Monaghan would not consider he was talking round the subject or endeavouring to obstruct Government business, because as far as the business of the Government went, they were all waiting for the Light Railways Bill, which they were anxious to see brought on. He had lived some years in Ireland; he was aware that chronic distress did exist in that country, and hon. Members were perfectly right in coming there to ask for relief to be given to men who had sent them to Parliament. But there were other places besides Ireland. Distress existed in the east of England just as much as in Clare or Kerry, and the fault they found with the Government was that they did not recognise this fact. This Bill was supposed to be for the relief of distress, but did hon. Members opposite think there was no distress in England? Their own Commissioner, Mr. H. Pringle, in his Report published last year, referring to Essex, said that the distress in the East of England was so great and crying that the Government should at once take exceptional and extraordinary measures in order to relieve it. The Government thought the distress in Ireland was of an acute nature at the present moment. He did not deny it, and if that was so they were quite right in bringing in this Bill. But why leave out all thought for that part of England which was suffering as much as Ireland at the present moment. He spoke from the agricultural Members' point of view, and he thought they might enlist the Chief Secretary on their side and consider him as an agricultural Member, because in April 1892, the right hon. Gentleman came to Braintree, in Essex, and told them if they voted straight at the next General Election, he, in conjunction with providence, would cause the prairies of Essex to wave with golden grain. The Chief Secretary, not long ago, said ho objected to this system of sops and loans when applied to Ireland. How very inconsistent the right hon. Gentleman was, because he was now promoting a Bill, not for doles out of the English pockets, but what was practically the same kind of thing when applied to Ireland, whilst he left those in England who needed relief just as much as the Irish farmers, entirely out in the cold. Why should they in Essex, when they needed relief, not be tarred with the same brush with which the Government were going to tar the people of Ireland who also wanted relief?

* SIR E. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT (Sheffield, Ecclesall)

did not rise for the purpose of opposing the Bill, but having heard the speech of the Chief Secretary, he wished to say a few words. The right hon. Gentleman found fault with the hon. Members for Peckham and Islington because they based their Opposition to the Bill on the ground that one measure of treatment had been meted out to England and another to Ireland. He thought that that objection was a very strong and a very valid objection, not only in regard to this Bill, but also with regard to a great deal of the rest of the proposed legislation of the Government. They had, for instance, the Evicted Tenants' Bill. He believed no measure was more unpopular in the country, because it proposed to give a large amount of relief to certain sections of the Irish population, while the English population who were in equal, if not in greater want of relief, had no such consideration shown them. The same argument applied more or less to that Bill. Under that Bill certain advantages were proposed to be conferred upon a portion of the people of Ireland, and certain privileges were to be given to those people. That was to say, that, if they were relieved, the disabilities in regard to voting which still extended to the English electors under similar circumstances were to be removed in the case of the Irish. That special favour, if shown to Ireland, would add to the increasing feeling that existed in England in regard to the exceptional treatment of Ireland. He had had experience of that feeling in various parts of the country, and he found that there was nothing which touched the English people more keenly than the knowledge that the Government were exceedingly sensitive of every complaint from Ireland, while they were neglectful of all such complaints coming from England. That was put down by the people to the belief that Her Majesty's Government depended for existence on the Irish votes. He did not know whether the public mind was justified in holding that opinion, but he knew that it existed and that there was a strong feeling in consequence. There was another point to which he would like to refer, and that was the peculiar way in which relief was often administered by Irish Boards of Guardians. If he had known that this Debate was coming on, he could have fortified himself with a number of very interesting cases to illustrate the extraordinary way in which the Irish Boards of Guardians often administer their relief. He heard of one remarkable story which occurred under the last Radical Government of '80 to'85, when the present Chief Secretary held that office. It was discovered that in one case the number of persons to whom relief was granted exceeded by 700 the whole population of the Union. The case was investigated, and it was found that the relieving officer had made returns in apparently proper form; but when he was asked where he got the extra names, he replied that he got them from the grave-stones. That was an example of the loose way in which relief had on more than one occasion been administered in Ireland. Then when a certain section were anxious to get relief for their constituents, they were told that the first thing necessary was to get up a famine. A famine accordingly was artificially got up, and relief came afterwards. He did not say that was a usual course, but it had been done on more than one occasion. His hon. Friends' main contention was quite justified—namely, that the Government did favour the Irish in all these questions of relief, whereas they left the undoubted distress—and the even greater distress which in recent years prevailed—in England entirely without any attempt at relief, and he thought an argument based on that ground was one deserving of the consideration of the House.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, the chief argument on the Opposition side of the House against this little Bill was, that it was part and parcel of the system of exceptional legislation that Ireland too frequently received as compared with England, when claims for similar benefits were made on behalf of England. He at once admitted the truth of the complaint, but was it not due to the fact that they had denied to Ireland the right to self-government? The responsibility for that state of things was involved in a larger and deeper question than the question now before the House; and a question which the House would have to settle one day—and sooner than some hon. Members seemed to think. But let them discuss from a rational point of view the objection which had been urged against the Bill. If exceptional distress were to prevail in England, by their splendid system of town and county government they would be able to relieve distressed workmen, at the current rate of wages, without involving the disfranchisement from which workmen in Ireland could not escape under the existing law. Therefore the answer to the objection which had been raised against the Bill was not to blame Ireland for the exceptional treatment she received, but to extend to Ireland the means by which, through the initiative of local authorities workmen in Ireland would get that relief which workmen in England, Scotland, and Wales now got in times of exceptional distress. He was not particularly desirous of giving to Ireland that which he was not prepared to give to England as well. But what were the facts? During the past twelvemonth exceptional distress had prevailed in certain districts in Ireland. Relief had been given—not out of Imperial funds, as had been implied, but out of local rates levied by the local authority. In consequence of that relief numbers of voters had been disfranchised; and the simple object of the Bill was to secure that deprivation of political rights should not follow on relief in exceptional—but not chronic—distress. The hon. Member for Islington said that was preferential treatment for Ireland, and therefore an injustice to England. The hon. Member had his remedy: let him move that the provisions of the Bill be applied to England, Scotland, and Wales, as well as to Ireland. But let them not deny to Ireland the justice asked for in the Bill because they, as Englishmen, had not the courage to bring in a Bill on similar lines to meet cases of relief in exceptional distress in England. The hon. Member for Islington also said that this Bill would prejudice the question now before the Unemployed Committee. But if English workmen laboured under disabilities or disadvantages in periods of distress, as compared with Irishmen, two Bills had been brought in for abolishing all political disqualifications through the receipt of relief in periods of exceptional distress and if the hon. Member for Islington was sincere in his protest against Ireland alone getting what England also ought to have let him put his name on the back of those Bills. He sincerely trusted that this little Bill would pass. His only regret was that it was confined to Ireland. But he was sure that the local authorities of England, Scotland, aud Wales would also seek those powers, which all local authorities ought to have, so that honest workmen who received relief in times of exceptional distress should not be deprived of their votes.

Amendment negatived.

Bill read 2°.