§ MR. D. CRILLY (Mayo, N.)
rose to move the Second Reading of the Boards of Guardians (Ireland) (Constitution and Powers) Bill. He was not, he said, inviting the House to sanction any novel or sensational programme or policy. The question of the reform and enlargement of the constitution and powers of Boards of Guardians in Ireland, with the cognate question of the construction of labourers' dwellings, was one which for years had been submitted to the judgment of the House whenever the chances of the ballot, or the opportunities of the Session, permitted the Irish Members to state their case. He thought he could confidently ask both sides of the House to lend their cooperation in carrying the Second Reading of the Bill. Of course he need not say that he exempted the representatives of Ulster landlordism. It was, however, with that exception the vaunt of the Conservative Party, that, while they repudiated, and were prepared to offer the most strenuous opposition to, any settlement of the Irish difficulty on the lines of the Home Rule Bill, which they described as a treasonable measure, they were willing to welcome and to give to the Irish people a reasonable scheme of reform. He trusted that he would show that the measure which he now submitted on behalf of the Irish Party was such a reasonable scheme of reform, and in that 970 event, in view of their past declarations, he could call upon the Conservative Party for their support. On the other hand he thought he was entitled to look to the Government and its supporters for their hearty assistance. They had already, in the Local Government Act of last year, recognised the equity and the wisdom of most of the leading principles embodied in the present Bill. Surely it was not in the creed of Liberalism to-day that what was given by the Liberal Party in 1894 to the democracy of England and Wales, was to be withheld in 1895 from the democracy of Ireland. And as to the proposals which he submitted with the view of enabling Boards of Guardians in Ireland, in conjunction with other administrative authorities, to improve and ameliorate the condition of the Irish labourer and bring home to him a higher standard of comfort, he again looked to the Chief Secretary for his valuable aid; because, it was only the other day that the right hon. Gentleman admitted that he and his colleagues in the Government believed that the Labourers Acts in Ireland as they stood at present were imperfect and unsatisfactory, and that the Government intended to deal with the question. He, therefore, hoped that to-day he would find the right hon. Gentleman in a position to accompany him along the lines laid down in the Bill, as calculated and likely to make the lot of the Irish labourer a happier and a healthier one. This was a Bill of much moment to Ireland. The Irish National Party held that its effective application to their country would produce wholesome and very far-reaching beneficial effects. The Bill divided itself into four parts. The first part showed how they would definitely frame the constitution of Boards of Guardians in Ireland; the second part indicated the manner in which they would conduct the poor law elections; the third part provided for the presentation and hearing of poor law election petitions and the fourth part showed how in association with the poor law administration they would simplify and expedite the working of the Labourers Acts. Roughly taken, however, the Bill divided itself into two parts; the first dealing with the organisation and status of Poor Law Boards, and the second declaring how Poor Law Boards could 971 help in administering the Labourers Acts and in quickening them into life. Let them reason by analogy, and see whether they could read what was going to take place to-day in what had taken place in the past. On the 21st of March 1893, the present Secretary of State for India, who was then President of the Local Government Board, introduced the Local Government Bill for England and Wales. In giving an indication of what the Bill proposed to do, the right hon. Gentleman used these words:—We propose to abolish, firstly, all ex-officio or non-elective Guardians. We propose to abolish all qualifications for Guardians, and we propose that the electors of the Guardians shall be the same constituency as that I have mentioned for the Parish Council, namely, the County electors and the Parliamentary electors. We propose that there shall he no plural voting, no proxy voting and no voting papers, but voting by ballot and one man one vote. The body so elected will hold office for three years, one third of the members retiring every year, thus securing continuity of administration, and at the same time bringing to bear on the body at short intervals the judgment of public opinion.How were that speech and those proposals received by the Gentlemen who were likely to oppose the present Bill? The Bill to which he referred contained drastic proposals; it revolutionised to a large extent the social, and to some extent the political, life of England and Wales. Yet it was hailed from the Front Opposition Benches, and from the Benches behind, absolutely with anthems of triumph. Everybody brought myrrh and frankincense to the right hon. Gentleman. His was a superb statement! What lucidity of explanation! What kindliness of tone! What did the Leader of the Opposition say in regard to the English Local Government Bill? The right hon. Gentleman said:—That it is desirable in any case to extend the system of local self-government in large areas by county councils, and in small areas by parochial councils and otherwise, we are all agreed.The right hon. Gentleman stated that they wereall agreed that the proposals contained in the Bill of the Secretary for India (Mr. H. H. Fowler), should be accepted by the House. The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster), also said that as far as 972 he could—that was individually—without departing from his own views, it would be a pleasure to him to facilitate the progress of the Local Government Bill. Where did the pleasure come in? The hon. and learned Gentleman was referring to a Bill that proposed to abolish all ex-officio and non-elective guardians and all qualifications for membership; that simply established one man one vote in these elections; that compelled the Constitution to recognize that in future there should be no voting by proxy and no plural voting, and that provided that the voting should be taken by ballot. All the leaders of the Opposition were present then. Their absence to-day showed how much interest they took in Ireland. What would they do to-day if they were present? The great bulk of the Conservative Party simply accepted that Bill, and took no Division upon it. The hon. and learned member for Mid Armagh (Mr. Dunbar Barton) moved no Amendment to the Second Reading of the Bill. Was he going to pursue the same course to-day? On the former occasion, one of the leaders and one of the taskmasters of the hon. and learned Member, had said that the Bill should be accepted, and the hon. and learned Member and the other Ulster representatives of landlordism came to heel very quickly. It would indeed be a wonderful, unique, and curious Parliamentary phenomenon if, when a measure on the same lines was proposed in regard to Ireland as had been accepted for England and Wales, they did not find the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh or one of his friends coming down to the House to oppose it. The reason for this was known in Ireland. In the history of Moslem conquest, the most bitter opponents that their kith and kin then had were those sprung from the loins of Christian people. He would only say that, despite the opposition which would doubtless be shown from some of the Ulster Members, he trusted that the Bill would be carried. But apart altogether from the appeal which he would have made to English and Scotch Conservatives, he recognised their consistency in not being present to oppose the Bill. He wished them, in their absence, joy of their allies. He could appeal with confidence to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial 973 side of the House to act towards Ireland in 1895 as they acted towards England and Wales in 1894. The lines of last year's Act had been followed in the present Bill. [The hon. MEMBER then proceeded to read Clauses 1 to 6 of the Bill, and continued.] Clause 7 simply provided, as in the English Act, that a third of the Guardians should go out each year, and be returned in the same way as they are in England and Wales and in Scotland. It was not necessary for him to refer to Parts 2 and 3 of the present Bill, because they were purely technical and consequential parts of the Bill, and provided for the holding of poor law elections, and for the hearing of election petitions. He would pass now to Part 4, which was one of the most important parts of the Bill, dealing with the Amendment of the existing Labourers Acts in Ireland. He had heard it urged, in opposition to this portion of the Bill, that it was a matter which should have been dealt with in a separate Bill. He said, and those associated with him said, that they were amply justified in grafting on this Bill a clause to amend the Labourers' Acts for two reasons—first, because there was a close association between the Irish Parliamentary Party and the labourers' cause. They had always championed the labourers' cause in season and out of season. On these benches and on platforms they had declared that the lot of the Irish labourer should be improved. They were, therefore, only too glad to take the earliest opportunity of trying to do something to simplify the Labourers' Acts, and make the position of the labourers clearer, higher, and better than it was at the present moment. That was the first reason why, as he urged, this clause should be grafted on to this Bill. They were justified in this by the second reason—and that was the intimate relationship existing between the various unions in Ireland and the Labourers' Acts as they were at present. It was a well-known fact in the social life of Ireland, that the unions were simply the go-between as regarded the labourers and the Government authorities. During all the years which had intervened since the Act was passed, 101 unions had petitioned the Local Government Board to confirm 28,304 cases. He was very glad indeed to hear that the right 974 hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, whose sincerity in these cases they all recognised, had put his hand to this plough, that he recognised the claims of the labourers and was going to deal with them. It was very hard to get a private Bill through the meshes of that House, and he trusted, if he failed, the Chief Secretary would succeed in his laudable endeavours to improve the position of the Irish labourers. The applications through the 101 unions had to pass through the hands of the Local Government Board, and he was sorry to say those of the Privy Council. All he could say was that if the right hon. Gentleman brought in a Measure dealing with this question, the Irish Party would grant the Bill, satisfactory as no doubt it would be, their faithful and undivided support. In urging his own Bill, being first in the field, they were anxious to deal with the question thoroughly. They held that there was no class which deserved more consideration and more kindly treatment than the Irish labourer. Everybody knew that the life of the Irish labourer was one incessant struggle against misery and hardship. He asked the House to imagine what the Irish labourer felt and what his wife and family must suffer, particularly in a period of distress like the present? He therefore appealed to the House in a spirit of humanity to give these men at all events the protection of the little house to which, under the existing law, they were perfectly and justly entitled. Undoubtedly there was urgent necessity for doing something to simplify the existing process. What is the result of the existing difficulties? Only 12,937 applications had been passed, or considerably less than 50 per cent. of the total, which was 28,304. Out of the 12,937 cases, in only 10,352 had cottages been provided. Somebody must be at fault. It might be Parliament, or it might be the officials in Dublin Castle. Why should they not take cognisance of the fact? Why, seeing that they were supreme, should they not disentangle the difficulty and make the path of the labourer easier? Why not take the task in hand? It is worth undertaking. Had there been any loss to the State? Had there been a loss on the houses which had been built? Out of the 10,352 cottages authorised, 10,272 were already 975 occupied. How had the unions been repaid? How had these poor fellows met their liabilities to the State through the intermediary, the union, for the last 15 years, through strife and stress and poverty? Why, at the present moment, although it was a floating population, they found that out of the money advanced there was only something like £6,000 of arrears due at that moment. He reasoned, from the figures and the statements he had mentioned, that it was worth while to deal with this question. It was, indeed, the duty of Irishmen to deal with it because they knew their countrymen; and he was sure that the labourers of Ireland would recognise that they would never lack champions for their cause among the Members from Ireland. Parliament by its repeated efforts had recognised the necessity of passing Acts dealing with the labourers of Ireland; but, unfortunately, the House of Commons dealt with the question in a pettifogging spirit, and by tinkering methods, and thus there was always arising this chronic sore, to which it was called upon year after year to apply remedies. If, on the other hand, the House of Commons had dealt with the question in a broad, statesmanlike way, this social difficulty would have disappeared for ever. The blot of the Labourers Acts in Ireland at present was the interference of the Privy Council. It would simplify matters to get rid of the Privy Council altogether. This was the department of circumlocution, of routine, of waste of time, and of the loss of money; and, while applications from Boards of Guardians were being laboriously considered by the Privy Council, the unfortunate labourers might either die or go to the workhouse. He maintained that once they had entrusted the Local Government Board with power to deal with these applications from Boards of Guardians, the final settlement of them should rest with the Local Government Board. Had not the Privy Council enough to do in Ireland in attending to great Imperial questions without having placed before it a miserable little case as to whether a labourer's cottage in Skibbereen or Rostrevor should be built or not? The 34th Clause, dealing with an Order of the Local Government Board, was intended to get rid of the Privy Council in 976 matters which lay between the unions and the Local Government Board. It was also sought to take advantage of the 2nd Schedule of the Housing of the Working Classes Act, 1890, empowering the Land Commission to advance money to local authorities. The first part of the Bill, dealing with the constitution and powers of the Boards of Guardians, practically embodied the provisions of the Act of 1893–94 applying to England and Wales. That was a Bill which was not opposed on its Second Reading, and its introduction was received by the House in a kindly spirit. No Irish Member on that occasion opposed the Bill, though he was now surprised to find that some Irish Members were disposed to oppose similar provisions being granted as were in force in England and Wales simply because they would apply to Ireland. He was confident that the Conservative Party would support the first part of the Bill, and he thought the Irish Members could also depend upon receiving the support of the majority of Members on the Government side of the House. If the House accepted the Bill, and eventually passed it, hon. Members would simply be giving to Ireland an instalment of that justice which the English people had so long and so unwisely withheld from her. He concluded by moving the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
, in seconding the Motion to read the Bill for a second time, said its objects were two—(1) to expedite the working and to cheapen the expenses connected with the Labourers Acts in Ireland; and (2) to reform to some extent the Local Authorities in Ireland. He thought that nothing in our time had done more to improve the general aspect of Ireland than the Labourers Acts, and he maintained that the House ought to do all that lay in its power to facilitate the working of the Acts. No matter how anxious the Boards of Guardians were to put the Acts into operation, it took two years before the Boards of Guardians could erect a cottage. This state of things was largely brought about by the appeal which had at present to be made to the Privy Council. Sometimes applicants had to wait for months before the Privy Council could hear the appeals made to them, and this was one of the great delays in the working of the Acts 977 which this Bill was designed to reform. In 1883, when the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr.T.P. O'Connor) introduced his Bill dealing with the condition of labourers in Ireland, those who framed it were at a loss as to which body should be saddled with the responsibility of working the Acts. There were no popular Boards in Ireland, and for a long time the framers of the Bill of 1883 did not know on whose shoulders the responsibility should be placed. Boards of Guardians in Ireland could not be said to be representative in any sense of the word. Half of them were nominated by the Government, and half were elected on a particularly fancy Franchise. Nowadays they heard a great deal about "one man one vote," but in Ireland, under the Poor Law administration, it was a question of one man possessing 10, 20, 30, or 36 votes in an electoral division. A landlord might hold property in four electoral divisions, bringing his voting strength up to 144 votes. It was ultimately decided, however, to throw the responsibility on the Boards of Guardians. The late Colonel King-Harman, when the Bill was introduced, said that if they gave the elected Boards of Guardians the power to work the Act it would remain a dead letter. There were some persons in Ireland who were always endeavouring to stir up ill-feeling between the labourers and the farmers of Ireland; but he maintained that statistics proved this fact, that if they looked to districts where the Nationalists and the elected Guardians ruled the Board an honest endeavour had been made to work the Acts, whereas, if they looked at districts where the so-called champions of the labourers existed, where the ex-officio Guardians still held power, they would find as a rule that the Labourers Acts had remained a dead letter. He remembered well that an Ulster Member, the late Sir Charles Lewis, often regretted that the Board of Guardians in his district did not do their duty to the labourers. It was only right that the Government should bear in mind that there were Unions in Ireland—particularly in the west—where the poverty of the ratepayers was so great that there would be much difficulty in throwing any further burden upon them in the working of the Poor Law. In round numbers the erection of a 978 cottage and securing the plot cost £130, but no more than 1s. a week or £2 12s. a year could be obtained from the labourer. Interest had to be paid on the £130; and the result was, that a large portion of the cost fell on the ratepayers. Whether by offering money at a reduced rate, or by some other means, he thought something might be done to relieve the poor ratepayers of the West of Ireland of this difficulty. They would probably be told by hon. Members who represented the Conservative interest in Ulster that jobs had been perpetrated by the Boards of Guardians, that they had shown great incapacity, that they were not worthy of being intrusted with further powers, and that but for the ex-officio Guardians there would have been more jobs perpetrated and more incapacity displayed. But that was an exaggeration. In Leinster and Munster, at all events, the Boards receive very little assistance from the ex-officio members; but when this argument of jobbery was referred to, he was always reminded of the administration of ex-officio Guardians and grand juries in his own county, where by a very gross job they had unjustly saddled the ratepayers with a cost of many thousands of pounds a year in relation to a county railway. Allusion had been made to the way in which the Irish labourer paid his debts. Despite his poverty, and the small wage he could obtain, the Irish peasant paid his rent with remarkable punctuality, and he had borne his hard lot with great patience and self-respect. It had been stated that the solution of the difficulty with regard to the poverty of the Irish labourer was emigration. But he wished it to be emphatically known that the whole Nationalist Party would set their faces dead against any proposal for further emigration from the country. They believed that Ireland was capable of improvement, and under fair conditions could maintain her people; and the Irish Party would in future endeavour by all the means at their disposal to stop what had been justly termed the hæmorrhage of the nation's blood. The Bill proposed to abolish ex-officio Guardians, and he saw no reason why they should not be abolished in Ireland as in England. He might be told, in opposition to this proposal, that the landlords in Ireland paid half the rates; and, 979 further, that they paid the entire poor rate in cases where the valuation was £4 and under. That might be so, but did anyone suppose that the landlord did not cover that cost in increased rent? For his own part, he regretted to say—and he spoke free from bias—that gentlemen of birth, education, and wealth in Ireland had not a stronger sense of their duties as landlords and citizens. With the leisure and advantages they possessed they did not take their proper stand among the people and work for their amelioration as they ought to do. It was no fault of the local authorities or of the people that those gentlemen did not occupy the positions which might be expected of them, for the Irish people, who were a Conservative people in the broadest sense of the word, would be only too ready to welcome and respect them in those positions of leading and responsibility which their opportunities enabled them to fill. He did not view the present system with satisfaction, he would be glad to see the gentry of the district taking their proper position and their share in local administration for the benefit of the people. His remark in no way applied to hon. Members who sat in the House whose representative position gave evidence of their constituency, he referred to Leinster and Munster, where landlords, instead of being at the head of the people and working for the people, had little or no interest in popular local affairs. He commended the Bill with confidence to the acceptation of the House. He did not know that they could be sanguine as to the Bill becoming law, because Bills dealing with lesser, though more needed, reforms had again and again been rejected by the House and elsewhere. He remembered the Motion for the Second Reading of a Bill merely to equalise the local franchise in Ireland with that prevailing in England, being made in 1874 by his dear departed friend Mr. Richard Power, who was well known in the House. Every year since had a similar Bill been introduced, and every year rejected. The Bill now offered might not be perfect, but it was a Bill for a good object, and if passed and worked honestly he believed it would do much to alleviate the condition of the poor in his country, to raise them and to enable them to be 980 self-respecting though poor citizens, and with that object he seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
said, he had two faults to find with the able speeches with which the Bill had been introduced. In the first place, he regretted the hon. Members had omitted some matters material to the House to know before forming its judgment upon the Bill, and he would endeavour to supply these omissions; and in the second place, he regretted that the Mover had indulged in some observations of bitterness toward those who differed from him politically, like himself and his friends. He assured the hon. Gentleman that there was no intention to reciprocate that feeling of bitterness, and he would not imitate the hon. Gentleman's tone in anything he had to say. He proposed to consider the Bill in its four parts, and would support his contention that in many respects it was a crude and mischievous measure; and he would rely on some observations of the Chief Secretary, made since he came into Office, which would go so far to show that even he would not be aide to give unqualified support to all the provisions of the Bill. The Bill would tend to increase the already heavy rates all over Ireland, it would tend to remove certain very necessary safe-guards in the administration of local affairs in Ireland, and to the promotion of a great deal of unnecessary litigation. He would make this general observation in reply to what had been said about the English analogy that he was not so slavishly devoted to English analogy as hon. Members below the Gangway appeared to be on this occasion. But these hon. Members were never weary of proclaiming the incompetence of Englishmen to deal with Irish matters; never weary of denouncing English institutions; and yet, when it suited their purpose, they came forward with a servile copy of an English institution to an extent that he, steadfast Loyalist as he was, was not prepared to go. What were the facts, taking them on the hon. Members' own ground? In the course hon. Members were pursuing they were not following, they were inverting, the English precedent. In England the County Council Bill was first introduced, and then, in proper 981 order, Bills dealing with District Councils and Boards of Guardians as subordinate to County Councils. But hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway had refused the County Government Bill for Ireland with contumely—[An hon. MEMBER: "We preferred Home Rule."]—and now they proposed a subordinate measure in improper order, putting the "cart before the horse," a form of progression he did not intend to associate himself with. Taking the first part of the Bill, the democratising of Boards of Guardians, as it had been called, three reforms were proposed—to abolish the qualification for Guardians now existing, to abolish plural voting, and to abolish ex-officio Guardians; and with no sufficient reasons had a case been established. The hon. Member who had just spoken had reminded the House in a casual way that the incidence of poor-rating in Ireland was wholly different from that in England. In Ireland the poor rate on small holdings, or on a quarter of the holdings all over Ireland, is paid entirely and absolutely by the landlords; and on all the other holdings, large or small, half the poor rate is paid by the landlords. With such a different state of affairs how was it possible to argue for the application of the same conditions as the Franchise and the constitution of the Boards as in England? To apply them would be an injustice, and any such application should be mutatis mutandis. But hon. Members said that landlords made provision for the poor rate on the rent they exacted, and on this point he referred the House to evidence given before the Commission which sat last Session. The evidence of two witnesses, Mr. W. F. Bailey and Mr. O'Keefe, afforded a complete answer to the hon. Member for East Waterford. Mr. Bailey said—The rates and taxes have also to be considered in the outgoings. They have to be paid by the tenant and they are considered in the rent and credited to the tenant when fair rent is fixed.And Mr. O'Keefe said—We make an allowance of the cess and rates in favour of the tenant.Therefore the answer was complete—that a tenant, had the right to go into the Land Court, and the Court in fixing 982 the rent, on the authority of the Commissioners legal and lay, it was stated, credited the tenant with the amount of the poor rate. His poor rate, then, was paid for him, and the landlord did not, and could not, charge it in the rent. How, with such a state of things existing—the landlords over three-quarters of Ireland paying the rate, in the remaining portion the whole—could the Bill be justified on the democratic principle and the English analogy? [Mr. BYLES here interposed a remark.] He would refer to that matter now: the hon. Member for Bradford had on a previous occasion intervened, and he then received his answer from the Chief Secretary. The right hon. Gentleman had several times been asked if he intended to introduce a Bill to assimilate the Poor Law Franchise in Ireland to that in England. On February 17th 1893 the question being put to him, the right hon. Gentleman said very properly—It must be borne in mind that the incidence of Poor Law Rating is different in England.The Chief Secretary would bear that in mind when he addressed the House upon that Bill. Then the hon. Member for Bradford rose and asked why there should be that different treatment in England and Ireland, and the Chief Secretary replied that there was also differential treatment in the matter of rates. Such was the answer the hon. Member received from the responsible Minister in the House.
§ MR. W. P. BYLES, (York W.R., Shipley)
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman had not appreciated the point of his remark, to the effect that the landlords would be equally eligible for election with the tenants, whether the rates were paid by landlord or tenant.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON
reminded the hon. Member that the argument was founded on the English analogy, and it was not until 1894 that ex-officio guardians were then abolished. When County Councils were established in Ireland, of course the argument would have due weight. The same point was involved in the question the hon. Member put to the Chief Secretary, whose answer he adopted; there was a different treatment in the matter of rates, and that accounts for the difference in the construction of the boards. Then, on 983 January 11th last year, the hon. Member for Kerry put a question, and the Chief Secretary replied that in Ireland occupiers paid half the rates, and in England they were supposed to pay the whole; and when in a supplementary question the hon. Member (Mr. Sexton) reminded the right hon. Gentleman of the ex-officio element and plural voting, the Chief Secretary said he did not conceive that that made enough difference. On the replies and arguments of the Chief Secretary since he came into Office, and in full view of the facts and the responsibilities of his position, he relied, and he had told the House that the reason for the difference in franchise and in the constitution of Boards of Guardians in the two countries was the difference in the incidence of rates, and even the fact that there were also ex-officio members was not enough to justify him in admitting there was anything wrong in that state of affairs. That was practically the reply of the Chief Secretary to his own supporters. These hon. Members had said this was a landlords' question, but in that he did not agree. He spoke for his own constituents, and believed he expressed the views of small farmers so far as he could ascertain them, that they had no desire to see a proposal like this carried out. Their opinion on the economy of the rates was that the best way was to have the ratepayers fairly represented, and that those who paid no rates should not have the management of affairs. He believed he represented the opinions of farmers small and great when he said they did not wish to see a change in the constitution of Boards of Guardians, which would tend to give the power of imposing rates to those who paid a very small portion or no rates at all. Would the Chief Secretary say, if, on the whole, the administration of the poor law had been so economical as to justify this extension? He had found it necessary during his administration to suspend one Board of Guardians. Was it expected that the House would consent, with a light heart, to an extension of the powers of guardians, in the direction of placing the whole power and rating and taxation in the hands of those who practically paid no rates at all? With regard to the English analogy, the difference in the constitution of the buildings only corresponded to, and was 984 correlative with, the difference of rating in the two countries. He was not enthusiastic about all the cant they heard of equality of institutions between this country and Ireland. The land laws of Ireland differed essentially from those of England, and if hon. Members below the gangway would not consent to the assimilation of those laws, it was inconsistent on their part to expect assimilation of the laws in other directions. He was not at all satisfied that the proposals contained in this Bill were just, expedient, or opportune. Although the Bill proposed to deal with the Poor Law, yet it failed to touch any of the real grievances which were complained of by the Irish people. A matter of vital importance, like that of the deportation of paupers to Ireland, which the Chief Secretary had admitted the propriety of dealing with, was ignored, and nothing whatever was said about the question of the superannuation of the poor law officers without unduly burdening the rates; in fact, the Bill, while not touching any of the grievances, simply intended to swamp all the existing safeguards against mismanagement. By the second part of the Bill, which was hardly noticed by hon. Members below the Gangway, it was proposed to introduce into every electoral division in Ireland the whole system of Parliamentary Elections by ballot with all its inconveniences. There were 142 electoral divisions in Antrim, 42 in the county which he represented, 45 in Carlow, 89 in Cavan, and 134 in Clare; and in one-third of those places there would be elections by ballot every year, accompanied by all the expense, excitement, and inconvenience which usually attended a Parliamentary Election.
§ MR. JOHN HAMMOND (Carlow)
said, the hon. and learned Member was mistaken. The number of electoral divisions in Carlow was 35, not 45.
§ MR. BARTON
said he had taken the figures from Thom's Directory, but would accept those which the hon. Member had given. In County Carlow then, there would, in all probability, be some 35 contested elections.
§ MR. BARTON
thought the elections in County Clare would require a large number of extra police being sent there. The cost of the register in the electoral 985 divisions—and every member of the public was to be able to obtain a copy of it—would be thrown on the rates, and he thought this part of the Bill would be far from popular in Ireland. Under Part 3 of the Bill he, as a lawyer, could see, looming in the distance, any number of election petitions which would be tried by the County Court Judges, and this flood of litigation, involving expenses to parties and to rates, would give satisfaction to no one in Ireland beyond the county solicitors, to whom it would be a mine of wealth. With regard to the fourth part of the Bill, he would not yield to any man in his desire to ameliorate the condition of the labourers, but he must point out that the Labourers Acts were far superior to the English Acts in the advantages and benefits which they conferred upon the class they were intended to serve. The sneer of the right hon. Member who spoke last at the landlords was undeserved, because, if it were not for the landlords, thousands of labourers would be thrown out of employment and reduced to misery and starvation. The hon. Member for West Limerick, who was entitled to speak on behalf of the labourers, was a member of the Labour Commission which inquired into their condition, and made several recommendations in their favour. That Commission, for example, strongly recommended that loans should be made to farmers instead of to the Guardians; that Labourers' Committees should be established, and many other practical suggestions were made. But not one of them appeared in this Bill. There was a proposal to abolish the right of appeal to the Privy Council. It was an exaggeration to say that that right of appeal was a clog in the wheels of the Labourers' Acts. Oil the contrary, it was a protection against the cases of tyranny and persecution which had, over and over again, been proved before the Privy Council. Down to the year 1889, only 220 appeals were made to the Privy Council, while thousands of cottages had been sanctioned, so that there could not be so very much clogging of the system after all;—196 of those 220 appeals were rejected by the Privy Council. In one case it was proposed to reinstate an evicted tenant on a farm from which he had been evicted. Was that a legitimate use of the Acts? Then there was 986 another case in which it was proposed to put a cottage on the lawn of a landlord, just opposite his hall door, which could only have been proposed to insult him. But it was not only the landlord class which made use of this right of appeal, for the Parish Priest of Tullamore had appealed against an attempt to erect a cottage on a particular part of the land around his parish house, which was to be done for the purpose of annoyance. Farmers, too, had appealed. One because the most convenient means of access to his farm would be blocked, and another because the passage of his cattle to his farm would be destroyed. It was needless to say that in all those cases the Privy Council did justice to the aggrieved parties. But the worst abuse of all, perhaps, was the attempt, in certain parts of Ireland, to erect cottages for old men upwards of 70 years of age, which would practically be making the Acts a substitute for old age pensions.
§ MR. BARTON,
resuming, said, the hon. Member would not suggest that the policy of the Act was a policy of charity. It was distinctly intended for the working labourers, and not for old men past their work, however deserving, as a shelter for them and their children. He wished to mention two or three illustrations of the kind of cases which were brought before the Privy Council. Captain Crosbie, a well-known landlord in King's County, built 70 cottages. When 11 were vacant it was proposed to build others. Then on a farm of 40 acres belonging to Miss Bolton, in Nenagh Union, Tipperary (a relative, he supposed, of Mr. Bolton, who became so unpopular, owing to prosecutions in Ireland), where there were already two cottages, it was proposed to put five more. He admitted that such cases did not frequently occur, and that out of the thousands of cases there were probably only 200 like them; but these cases might occur at any time, and when it did occur it was essential there should be an independent tribunal to which there should be an appeal. He thought the Chief Secretary admitted that it was not expedient or safe to dispense with an appeal in certain cases. But that 987 there was an appeal to the Local Government Board would be the right hon. Gentleman's answer. The Local Government Board had reviewed thousands of cases, but it was necessary to have a further appeal, because he found from a return which was before Parliament, that the cases he referred to were not the only cases of the kind. In an appeal from the Tullamore Union it was shown that parties desirous of opposing the Guardians before the Local Government Board inquiry were intimidated from attending.
§ MR. BARTON
It was before 1889. The names were John and Jeremiah Hand, and the cases would be found in the return. Was it not plain that if such malice and annoyance had taken place in certain places it might go farther and others might be intimidated? It was necessary that there should be in Dublin a high and independent tribunal where Guardians could be represented by counsel which would do justice whether landlords or humbler farmers were concerned. In his humble opinion, the Bill was crude and mischievous. It tried to democratise the Poor Law Boards in a manner which was unjust and contrary to the facts of Irish life, and inconsistent with the Irish Poor Law. In establishing these elections and election petitions it was simply bringing disorder and confusion into country life in Ireland, and promoting the possibility of endless litigation. It did nothing to help the Labourers; it followed none of the recommendations of the Labour Commission, and simply tried, in a political sense, in exceptional cases, to expose to annoyance and persecution those who unquestionably had been proved to be in danger of annoyance and persecution. For his own part he did not despair of the future in reference to these matters. He believed that what would improve local administration in Ireland ultimately, and render the mass of the people fit to be intrusted with the administration of local affairs, would be the expansion of the purchase system, which would make the small tenants owners of their own lands, liable for their own rates, by spreading a spirit of self-reliance and giving them the motive of 988 self-interest, which would be a real safeguard. When they had this, the Government would be able to dispense with the safeguards which at present existed, but which he ventured to think were absolutely necessary in the present condition of affairs.
§ MR. M. AUSTIN (Limerick, N.)
said that, in supporting the Second Reading of the Bills, his duty was to apply himself to that portion of it which dealt with the Labourers Acts, and he should recall some of the incidents that had come under consideration while he sat on the Labour Commission for more than three years. There were sub-commissioners who were appointed to inquire into the working of the Labourers Acts and the social condition of labourers generally. As a member of the Commission who did not subscribe to the majority report, he must bear his testimony to the efficient manner in which the sub-commissioners did their work, and the impartial character of the reports they laid before the Commission. One of the sub-commissioners was a Mr. O'Brien, who had had a long and intimate connection with the Poor Law Board in Ireland. As far back as 1869 he drew up a report on the condition of agricultural labourers.
Attention being called to the fact that 40 Members were not present, the House was counted, and, there being 40 Members present,
In his final Report of 1893, Mr. O'Brien said—It will probably, I think, be accepted as a fairly well established position that in few, if any, of the countries, with the affairs of which we are conversant, has the condition of the class of agricultural labourers, in regard to house accommodation, ever been known to sink to a lower level of general wretchedness than that very largely reached in Ireland in this respect in even comparatively modern times.In a subsequent paragraph he noticed a counterpoise to this in the remedial Legislation of the past ten years; but he added that, in spite of the Acts that had been passed, there was still an immense amount of work to be done. Mr. Macrae was one of the s5ub-commissioners appointed to travel through the north of Ireland.He directed attention to the little use made the powers conferred upon rural sanitary 989 authorities, and he said this inaction was not attributable to the satisfactory condition of the cottages, for he described them as bad. In Ballymahon, 'the accommodation of the majority is still poor, and that of many simply vile.' There was 'a cabin, 11 feet by 9 feet, with no chimney, window, or furniture, occupied by a man and his wife, who had taken in as lodgers a women and her five children.' At Ballymahon there was 'a cabin of one apartment, l5 feet by 12 feet, into which was crowded a man and his wife, six boys, and three girls, or eleven persons in all.'Up to July 1892 the Local Government Board had sanctioned schemes for building 11,774 cottages, and of this whole number nearly 99 per cent. were in the provinces of Leinster and Munster. That was highly creditable to the farmers in the south of Ireland. They had performed their duty conscientiously, and it would be well if the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh and his friends were to take a leaf out of their book. [MR. W. JOHNSTON: "God forbid!"] A representative from the North of Ireland said "God forbid!" but he trusted that that exclamation would not be endorsed by any hon. Member who took an interest in the welfare of the agricultural labourer. In the last few weeks there had been meetings in the north attended by the Protestant tenant farmers of Ulster, who had declared that it was high time that the condition of the labourer should be taken into consideration by that House. The Liberal Unionists from the north of Ireland had been warned that they would meet with difficulties unless they supported the Land Bill before the House for the improvement of the condition of the tenant farmers, and if they opposed the present Bill they must be prepared to face as well an agitation on the part of the labourers. One of the objections raised by the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh was, that the Bill would take away the present right of appeal to the Privy Council. But the series of records put in by the sub-commissioners pointed to this, that the Privy Council was the principal obstacle in the way of the practical working of the Labourers Acts in Ireland. By removing this barrier the Irish Party would do a good service to the labourers of Ireland. There was no doubt that the operation of the Acts had been retarded by the interposition of the Privy Council. It was owing to its possible interposition that a great 990 many Boards of Guardians had refrained from taking the initiative, and they were now waiting in hopes that remedial Legislation would be carried through Parliament. Two years ago he had travelled through the south of Ireland with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University, and the right hon Gentleman said that he could not have believed that there existed in any part of the Empire such dwellings as he then visited, and that he would support any measures likely to remedy such a deplorable state of things. The House was now given an opportunity to remedy it. Let them give the local authorities power to extend their operations, and let them do away with the system of constant reference to the Local Government Board. When once a local authority had approved a scheme there ought to be much less delay in carrying it out than there was now. At present, in some cases, eight months elapsed before a Local Government Board Inspector was sent to the locality. Why should he not be sent within a month? The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh had referred to the relations of the Irish Party with the labourers. He would tell the hon. and learned Member that the Irish Party had always advocated the claims of the Irish labourer, both in the House and out of it. It was they who first took action on the labourers' behalf, and little support did they get from hon. Members who came from the north of Ireland. There was this difference between the position of the agricultural labourer in the north and the position of the labourer in the south; to the labourer in Ulster no sympathy was extended by his Parliamentary representatives, whereas the labourers in the south, at any rate, had the Home Rule Party to voice his cause. As the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh had taken such deep interest in the working of the Labourers Acts, he would show the hon. Member that there was need for a change in the law. Mr. Richards, a Sub-commissioner, comparing agricultural labourers cottages in Ireland with those in England, said—Monmouth was by far the worst of the English Unions visited, and, in describing what I had seen there, I felt it my duty to draw attention to the lamentable condition of 991 the cottages, and the absolute joyless condition of the agricultural labourers. Were it possible to translate the Loughrea labourers into the Monmouth cottages, bad as they are, they ought to be happy. I have, of course, regarded these cottages from our English standpoint and made comparisons in my own mind with English models.If there were faults in the parts of the Bill dealing with the constitution of Poor Law Boards, let them be remedied in Committee; but let them not refuse to extend to Ireland the principle that was embodied in the English Parish Councils Bill. He feared that no appeal from him would have any effect on hon. Members from the north of Ireland, who had always opposed schemes for the political and social elevation of the people of Ireland. He trusted, however, that the House would not reject a measure that was likely to improve the social condition of a class with whom they could not fail to sympathise deeply. As the right hon. Member for West Birmingham once said in his Radical days, there was no more pathetic picture in our whole social system than that presented by the agricultural labourer. If that remark was applicable to the agricultural labourer of England it could be applied with ten times more force to the condition of the agricultural labourer of Ireland. It was unnecessary for him to go into the causes that placed the agricultural labourer in the position he was in. The bad legislation of this country spoke the cause. For the past 25 years this House had been engaged in an endeavour to make the Irish tenant happy, but still his condition left much to be desired. The wages of an agricultural labourer in Ireland ranged from 7s. to 9s. a week, whereas in England they varied from 11s. and 12s. to 15s. The disparity of conditions pointed to a still greater issue, and that was the necessity of allowing the Irish people to govern themselves according their own ideas. Speaking especially as the representative of an agricultural constituency, knowing that the agricultural labourers were permeated with a desire to elevate their condition, and seeing that that desire could not be accomplished without the aid of this House, he would appeal to the House to give a second reading to the Bill, as a measure calculated to bring comfort and peace and a better 992 prospect in the future to the agricultural labourers of Ireland.
§ MR. W. E. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
claimed that, in regard to Legislation affecting Irish agricultural labourers, no side of the House had a monopoly. He was the last person to withhold from Nationalist Members from Ireland the credit they certainly deserved for initiating measures which had been of great value to the agricultural labourers, but at the same time he claimed recognition from them of the fact that those initiatory measures had been supported by Members who represented Ireland in the Conservative interest, while subsequent Acts had been passed on the initiation of himself and other hon. Members who represented different political opinions in Ireland. The hon. Member had used language of a highly-contentious character, and absolutely unwarranted, and not at all tending to promote the interests he had at heart. Having carefully examined the present measure he was bound to say that a more crude and undigested set of provisions was never offered to the consideration of this assembly. It was said the provisions relating to poor-law guardians were moulded on the District Councils Acts in England and Scotland, but he contended there was no analogy whatever between the duties of the District Councils and those which devolved upon Boards of Guardians in Ireland. Having been a member of the party which set up Local Government in England and Scotland, he should have no Parliamentary position in opposing the establishment of similar Local Government for Ireland. He had always been an advocate of the extension to Ireland of the system of Local Government recently established in England and Scotland, and if this Bill were likely in any way to accomplish that object he should be prepared to follow the hon. Member into the Lobby. But the Bill would do nothing of the sort. It simply was an attempt to tinker with one portion of the Local Government of Ireland, and it would place a very important portion on a basis which would be very undesirable, one for which no precedent could be found, and which would not be advantageous to Ireland. For those reasons he could not support the Bill. If the Bill could be amended 993 in Committee in any hopeful way he should be prepared to reconsider his decision, but having carefully looked through the clauses, he thought it, absolutely hopeless to make this a measure adequate to the circumstances of the case, or one which could afterwards be worked into what he hoped to see established in Ireland—a system of Local Government founded, like that of England and Scotland, on popular representations. The hon. Member had alleged that in certain parts of Ireland the Labourers Acts had been practically a dead letter. The Mover of the Bill said that they were not necessary in Ulster, and to a certain extent he agreed with him. In some of the Ulster counties there was not the population which would be affected by these Acts, but, of course, there were other counties, especially in the north-east, where there was a large agricultural labouring population, and where the Acts might, or might not, be necessary. He thought, certainly, that the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Bill went beyond the facts when he stated that the cause of the Acts not being in operation was the action of the ex-officio Guardians or the land owning classes. No one who knew the Unions in the North of Ireland—no one who knew the composition of the Boards of Guardians—could doubt that these bodies were beyond the control of the landowning classes. He had a pretty large acquaintance with the counties in Ulster, and he could not put his hand on a single Union in which there was an operative majority of ex-officio Guardians who could carry the Board with them in all matters. The hon. Member who had denounced the action of the ex-officio Guardians would be surprised if he went down to one of these Boards of Guardians in Ulster on a day when there was a paid post to be filled up. He would find, generally, that the candidate of the elected Guardians would in all, or nearly all, cases be carried, against what was called the candidate of the ex-officio Guardians. It was perfectly absurd for anybody to argue that the fact that the Labourers Acts were not in operation in North-east Ireland was due to the action of the land-owning class. He might take one Union in his own Division. It was a notorious fact that the difficulty 994 in that Union was owing to the opposition of the elected Guardians. But there were reasons apart altogether from the views of the elected Guardians for the Unions being reluctant to put the Acts into operation. The report of Mr. W. Little, the senior Assistant Agricultural Commissioner, pointed out good reasons for these Acts not being so largely availed of in Ulster as in the rest of Ireland. [The hon. Member then referred to page 28 of the Report in support of his argument.] The fact was, the proportion of fourth-class houses in Ulster was much smaller there than in the other three provinces. There were also other reasons which had operated, which were to be found stated in Mr. Macrea's report. One reason was, that the Boards of Guardians were reluctant to burden the ratepayers, in view of the prevailing agricultural depression. When the Mover of the Bill denounced that House and the authorities in Ireland who were connected with the Administration of these Acts for their delay and their circumlocution, he seemed not to have appreciated the bearing of the statistics which he had himself quoted. The hon. Member told the House that up to the 31st of March last year, there were 10,352 houses built, and of these there were 10,272 houses let. When they found that with an average rent of 9d. per week there were arrears to the extent of £6,548, they must not be surprised if some Unions viewed with alarm the extension to their Unions of a system which would entail a heavy burden.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
The hon. Member has not placed in the provisions of of the Bill any proposal for improving the system of collection. The reasons of these arrears, so far as he knew, was this: in many cases the houses were derelict. They had been left by the labourers who had gone away, and when the houses were not let the loss fell upon the Union. Arrears also arose from the fact that the tenants of Boards of Guardians, like many other tenants, declined to pay on the ground that the rent was unreasonable. Hon. Members, therefore, must understand that the example which was set in Unions in the South of Ireland had a great effect on Unions in 995 other parts of the country in intimidating them from applying the Acts. On the other hand, he admitted that some of the Boards of Guardians displayed an absolutely unaccountable and foolish reluctance to provide necessary accommodation for the labouring population. He believed that in Ballymena Union a great deal of natural excitement and irritation among the labourers had been caused by being deprived of the advantages of the Acts—excitement which would have been avoided if the Guardians had taken a sensible course, and at once entered upon the scheme. Apparently the information obtained by the Assistant Agricultural Commissioners in Ireland had had a strong effect upon Mr. William Little. In presenting his views to the Commission, and in dealing with the extension of the Irish Labourers' Acts to England, he gave as a reason for opposing the extension, that any general application of the principle of providing house accommodation by local popularly elected bodies would open the door to any amount of jobbery, favouritism and corruption, He added that it was only as a last resort that this plan should be adopted. These views of Mr. Little were not taken from any action of the Boards of Guardians in Ulster; and therefore they must be drawn from experience of the other three provinces. There was nothing in Mr. William O'Brien's report which could be brought with any success against the view expressed by Mr. Little, and that view would be sustained by anyone who had investigated the actions of some of the Boards in the south. What was the real reason that the policy of these Acts had not commended itself to the Boards in the north? Mr. MacRae stated that a highly representative authority had informed him that the farmers did not wish to create a new order of labourers who would have the control of the situation. That was the fact. He agreed with the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading, that something ought to be done to increase the effectiveness of the Irish Labourers' Acts, but he defied the hon. Member to point to any provision in the Bill having that result. It was alleged by an hon. Member, who quoted the 996 authority of Mr. William O'Brien's report, that the Privy Council's jurisdiction caused a delay of two years. If Mr. O'Brien had been quoted in full, it would have been found that the action of the Privy Council had very little to do with the delay. It was owing, on the one hand, to the procrastination of the Boards of Guardians, and on the other to the procrastination of the Local Government Board. Mr. O'Brien, in his report, referred to the statements made by three Clerks of Unions, and nearly all the recommendations referred to the machinery of the Acts which operated long before the Privy Council came in. They stated that nine-tenths of the delay was due entirely to the prescribed forms of procedure. It was against the machinery of the Acts, as worked by the Boards of Guardians and the Local Government Board, that Mr. O'Brien brought the most serious charges. With 90 per cent. of the schemes under the Acts, the Privy Council had nothing to do. Their jurisdiction only operated where compulsory powers for the acquisition of land were taken, or where the ratepayers petitioned against the provisional order sanctioned by the Local Government Board. Did anyone propose to do away with any appeal from the Local Government Board? Mr. O'Brien himself did not propose to have the Local Government Board as the final authority. He suggested the County Court or the Court of Appeal to the Irish Land Commission for the position. Did any hon. Gentleman from Ireland really believe that if the appellate jurisdiction in these cases was given to the Land Commission, any step of procedure would be taken an hour earlier? The Appellate Court of the Land Commission had as much work to do as any court in Ireland; while, on the other hand, the Privy Council exercised their appellate jurisdiction in a manner injurious to the interests of the ratepayers or to the principle of the Labourers' Acts? In the year 1889—the last for which detailed returns were available—the Privy Council had 162 of these petitions against schemes before them. Of that number, 72 were presented by owners who were also occupiers of the land, and 78 were presented by occupying tenants. Therefore a majority of the whole number were presented, not by the 997 land-owning class, but by the tenants. Nine joint petitions were presented by owners and occupiers, and three petitions were presented by cess payers. What was the result of these 162 petitions? Seventy-six of the schemes were abandoned by the Boards of Guardians. That alone was a very strong confirmation of the necessity for having an authority like the Privy Council to supervise these provisional schemes. Eight petitions were withdrawn, and the Provisional Orders confirmed; 12 schemes, though opposed, were confirmed by the Privy Council, and the remaining 66 schemes were amended. In 99 per cent. of the cases in which schemes were amended, it was only in regard to one or two out of the 30 or 40 colleges dealt with in the Order, that objection was taken, and in many instances other sites were substituted when the evidence justified taking that action. He therefore submitted that the action of the Privy Council in dealing with these schemes was absolutely justified by the merits of the cases and by the facts discovered in connection with them. He urged in these circumstances that the clause in the Bill abolishing the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council could not be supported by evidence. The hon. Member who preceded him forgot to inform the House that the assistant commissioners who had studied the question were themselves of the deliberate opinion that some appellate jurisdiction was required. Nothing would have a more injurious effect upon the extended operation of the Labourers Acts in Ulster, than the abolition of the appellate jurisdiction which now existed. The confidence of the ratepayers would be materially diminished, and the result would be to make Boards of Guardians, who were now reluctant to put the Acts in operation, still more reluctant to do anything to ameliorate the condition of the agricultural labourer. No Member had produced one tittle of evidence to show that the Privy Council had improperly exercised their jurisdiction or that their action had in any way put a clog upon the operation of the Acts. He should like to have some explanation of Clause 31, which substituted for the present system of arbitration that provided under the 998 Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890. He could not conceive what advantage would arise from the change. It seemed to him that neither the Mover nor the Seconder had taken the trouble to make themselves even superficially acquainted with the provisions of that Act. Then he could not understand for what reason it was proposed to reenact in Clause 40 the provision of the Labourers Act of 1885, which was repealed in 1886, on the Motion of Lord FitzGerald, the representative of the Government. Clause 41, which practically repealed Section 14 of the Act of 1886, was most objectionable. Hon. Members from Ireland took great credit for introducing the 14th Section of the Act of 1886. It was the Section which existed in the Grand Jury Act, and which gave power to a contractor to enter and take materials, provided compensation was given to the owner and occupier. It also provided that a labourer's cottage should not be built in orchards or demesne lands or home farms, or other specified areas in Ireland to which, in 1886, the House deliberately decided the Acts should not apply. Hon. Gentlemen supporting the Bill would have the greatest possible difficulty in showing a single case in which the interests of the labourers had been damnified by this provision. In every case in which schemes were rejected on the ground that they came within the exceptions contained in the 14th Section of the Act of 1886, it was shown that there were other available sites. The proposal to repeal this Section would introduce considerable prejudice to that portion of the measure which dealt with the Irish Labourers Acts, and he thought hon. Gentlemen would be well advised in withdrawing it. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading said the Bill would confer immeasurable benefits on the labouring population of Ireland. If he believed that to be the case, his general position with regard to the Bill as a whole would be considerably altered. But he did not see any single provision in that part of the Bill which dealt with the amendment of the Labourers Acts which would hasten in any degree the operation of these Acts. He did not see any proposal which would give any impulsion to the policy of these Acts in those districts in the North of 999 Ireland, where be believed the labourers had just reason to complain of the present action of Boards of Guardians. The clauses of the Bill dealt with matters entirely outside the present obstacles to the operation of the Acts in the north-eastern counties. If he could see any possibility of improving the measure in that respect he would give it his cordial assent. But the only proposal of the Bill was to do away with very beneficial provisions in the existing law, and in his opinion, so far from benefiting the labouring population, that would very considerably prejudice their interests. Those parts of the Bill dealing with the reform of Boards of Guardians were, he believed, entirely defective in the machinery which they proposed; and though he was strongly in favour of the adoption in Ireland of the principle of local government which now existed in England and in Scotland, he did not see that that principle would be advanced by this Bill. There were, he believed, strong reasons for differentiating between Boards of Guardians as they existed in Ireland and the District Councils which the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading held out as their natural counterpart in England. The Boards of Guardians under the Bill would be entirely confined to the administration of the Poor Law, whereas in England the District Councils had a far larger and more extended operation. If it was possible by any method of amendment to create in Ireland under this Bill District Councils similar to those existing in England and Scotland, he would look upon the Bill in a totally different spirit. But as that was quite impossible, and, as he believed the Bill would prejudice their local government machinery in Ireland, which he desired to see altered, he was forced to withhold his assent to those portions of the measure dealing with the reform of the Boards of Guardians.
§ MR. P. FFRENCH (Wexford, S.)
remarked that the last speaker had said that he was not opposed to the establishment of County Boards in Ireland. He hoped the time was not far distant when they would have such Boards in Ireland. The hon. Member had also said that the Irish Members were fishing for the votes of the agricultural labourers. He thought, however, that the Conservatives were also fishing for those votes, and 1000 they had spread their nets very wide for that purpose. He had been for some years a Poor Law Guardian and Chairman of the Wexford Board of Guardians. As such, he could bear testimony to the fact that a great many useless and unnecessary delays occurred in the working of any scheme for the erection of labourers' cottages in Ireland. By far the larger portion of the present Bill dealt with the constitution of Boards of Guardians, and, as far as his personal experience went, he asserted that the efficiency of a Board of Guardians was not impaired by the absence of ex officio members. For many years the ex officio members of the Wexford Board, with one or two exceptions, did not attend, and the whole management of affairs had devolved upon the elected members of the Board, with the result that they had devised a system which practically did away with jobbery, and the Board was in a sound financial position. That Board was the first to work the Labourers' Acts. It was now working its fourth scheme, and when that was accomplished they would have erected more cottages than in any other union in Ireland, and within 17 of the total number erected in the whole province of Ulster. The hon. Member told the House that the labourers in Ulster did not require cottages as in other parts of Ireland.
§ MR. FFRENCH
thought that the facts which he had stated proved that a Board of Guardians could get on very well without ex officios. One good feature in the Bill was that it would help to expedite matters in regard to the building of cottages. In Part 4 it was provided that an order should no longer be a provisional order, but should take effect forthwith. That would save much time, and would do away with the necessity of going before the Privy Council. As matters now stood, if only one cottage in a scheme were opposed, all the others had to wait. Such a case had actually occurred within his own knowledge. Another wretched feature in the Labourers (Ireland) Acts, which this Bill did not deal with, was this. When an order became absolute, the law enabled the Guardians to go on and build, but the Guardians, after complying with everything required by the 1001 Acts, could not do so because the price or the rent to be paid for the land must be fixed, and, if the Guardians and the owner or occupier of the land could not agree as to this, another great delay and much expense was incurred before the Acts could be worked, the parties having to go before an arbitrator or the Land Commission to fix the price to be paid for the land. A delay of 8 or 12 months was thus incurred, during which time the unfortunate Irish agricultural labourer was left shivering in the cold in some hovel, and, perhaps, abusing the Guardians for what they were not at all to blame. He therefore suggested that there should be some clause providing for the adoption of a standard price for land until such time as the arbitrator or Land Commission could deal with the matter, when any difference in price could be paid or refunded, as the case might be; and that, meanwhile, the building might be proceeded with. There were also some other delays to which this Bill did not refer and to which it ought to refer. A good deal of time was now lost in advertising. That time should be shortened, and so much interval should not be allowed between the advertisements. Another grievance related to the matter of proportionate divisional charges. He appealed, in conclusion, to the Chief Secretary to allow the Bill to pass its Second Reading now, and to allow the requisite Amendments to be made in Committee.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
said, that the last speaker appeared to be thoroughly acquainted with this subject, and had made some sound suggestions, which, however, were not to be found in the Bill. He had heard, for the first time, from the Mover of the Second Reading of this Bill, that the Ulstermen were descended from the Moslems. However that might be, he doubted whether the speech of the hon. Member would appeal to the House. They were all agreed that county government in Ireland would undergo considerable change, probably in the near future. He had always advocated treating Ireland in a similar way to that adopted by the House in treating other portions of the Empire; but this Bill was proposed to run on parallel lines with the Local Government (England and Wales) Act, to accomplish an entirely 1002 different object. Roughly, speaking, this Bill proposed to take away from the cess-payers of Ireland the power to decide how the rate was to be employed. He thought, though it might be an old-fashioned view, that the men who paid the rates ought to be the men who were to dictate how the rate should be spent and applied. If this Bill were allowed to pass, the majority of the Guardians in Ireland would be persons who paid no rates at all. He thought hon. Members below the Gangway were perfectly aware of the fact that there was no class in Ireland more opposed to an excessive expenditure of the rates than the farming class, who would look upon this Bill, when they dispassionately considered it, as one which had been introduced with the object of increasing the rates. It was a Bill which was palpably brought forward, not for any object really beneficial to the welfare and prosperity of the Irish people, but for party purposes. It altered the whole method of election of Guardians, placing such election, not on a ratepaying but on a party basis. It made the man who elected the Guardian, the same man that elected the Member who represented the division in the House of Commons; therefore, it was a party election, and they all knew how party elections were conducted in Ireland. The hon. Member for East Waterford, who seconded the Bill, said he longed to see the Irish landlords taking their proper place. The Irish landlords were always ready to take their proper place if they had a clear definition of what that proper place meant. Perhaps the hon. Member meant that that proper place would be one of honour and dignity, but after the speeches which had been made from time to time by the hon. Member's colleagues as to the proper place to which to relegate an Irish landlord, he should say that no Irish landlord would be so deluded and insane as voluntarily to occupy that favourable situation. They were told by some leading Irish politicians that the Irish landlords should be treated as doormats, to be jumped upon, and by others that their proper place was at the bottom of the Irish Channel. They were not ready to occupy these positions without, at any rate, making a protest. He contended that under this Bill, an Irish landlord, no matter how 1003 good a landlord he might be, would stand no chance at all. It was said they had the option of election, but he denied that the Bill gave any option, and although the landlords paid the major portion of the rates, they had no more chance of being elected in the majority of the Unions than they had of occupying distinguished positions in the seats below the Gangway. It might not be out of place if he drew attention to what an Irish Board of Guardians, when it was not annoyed by the presence of ex officios, really meant. One illustration of this kind was worth a ton of argument and rhetoric. At Tulla, in the county of Clare, a meeting of the local Board of Guardians was held for the purpose of electing a medical officer for the Tulla Union Workhouse. It would be admitted that was an important function, and that the Guardians who made the election should be in a dispassionate, calm frame of mind, and should elect the gentleman of their choice simply and solely on the ground of his qualifications. The report in the newspaper said that the proceedings were characterised by confusion and disorder. Twelve out of 13 elected Guardians were present, but only one ex-officio Guardian put in an appearance, and he left before the Board sat.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
replied that he was quoting from an account published in the Dublin Daily Express. This report has never been contradicted. Personally, he knew nothing about the matter, but if the hon. Member for Clare, as Member for the Division, told them there was not one word of foundation for the statements, they would accept his assurance. He thought, however, it would be found that the hon. Gentleman would not contradict the report. The Chairman of this remarkable Board of Guardians was a Mr. Matthew Clew. The usual hour of meeting was 12 o'clock, but the Chairman did not take his seat until half-past 1, although a quorum of Guardians was in the room all the time. The report stated—The scene in the room at this time was perfectly indescribable. A gentleman of the name of Thomas Kennedy treated the audience which 1004 crowded the board-room with a series of popular songs, which were rendered in capital style and received with tumultuous applause.If Boards of Guardians never did anything worse than this there would not be much to complain of. But now came the business part of the matter. The candidates for the post of medical officer were Dr. Molony, who seemed to have the popular voice in his favour, and Dr. Stephen Scanlan. When Dr. Scanlan appeared—he was treated to a torrent of invective by one of the crowd, who jumped on the Board table and, evidently labouring under intense excitement, hurled a series of allegations against Dr. Scanlan, who was smilingly smoking a cigarette with the utmost composure amidst the shouts of the crowd. When the chairman took his seat there was not the slightest effort made to clear the room.It appeared that the Boards of Guardians assembled at Tulla required a considerable force of police present in order to ensure anything like order. On this occasion there was "a force of 40 police outside"—they ought to have been inside—specially drafted for the occasion. After transacting some ordinary business, the chairman found it impossible to proceed.Several members of the crowd jumped on the Board table, amid the correspondence and books, and shouted that there should be two doctors in the union.The Resolution in support of Dr. Molony was declared to be carried, though it turned out that no one proposed and no one seconded him. The chairman in vain called for order, and then the clerk, Mr. Murphy, who evidently appreciated the situation,snatching up his books, beat a hasty retreat, while a man was executing a war dance on the table. In the closing scenes one of the crowd caught the vice-chairman, Mr. Corbett, by his coat, and immediately two young fellows jumped on the Board table and struck the man a violent blow in the face.That Report was made some time ago, and it had never been contradicted. If the House further increased what was called the popular element in these Boards of Guardians this scene would be the predominant order of things in many Board meetings. What the hon. Members from Ireland professed to desire by this Bill, but which they did not attain, 1005 was economy in the administration of the Poor Law in Ireland. The Bill wanted a more popular representation on these Boards, especially of those who paid no rates. A man who paid no rates would have far less desire than the man who did to carry on the management of the union to which he belonged, at any rate with economy. He maintained, therefore, that the clauses of the Bill which dealt with elections of Guardians were simply a certain method to render the expenditure in the unions of Ireland probably fivefold or sixfold greater than it was at present. As to the housing of labourers, he said that there was no subject in relation to Ireland which more entirely enlisted his sympathy. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion cast certain aspersions on the landlords because they had not done their duty in the position in which they had been placed. He should like some information as to the number of cottages erected for labourers in Ireland by hon. Members who sat below the Gangway or above it on the other side. The Irish landlords themselves had done more in the direction of housing the labouring classes than any other class in the country, and to that statement he defied contradiction to be given. He trusted that when a County Government Bill for Ireland was introduced and passed through the House (he hoped before long) it would contain a provision giving far larger facilities than at present existed, in order to give Irish labourers better houses, their own homes, and a certain portion, at any rate, of their own land. Dealing with the appeal which at present existed to the Privy Council, and the argument of hon. Members that there had been a change of opinion in Ireland, he said that public opinion in Ireland had a way of asserting itself and of going far beyond the ordinary rules of argument. The man who founded his hope on the continuity of Irish affection would some day find himself sadly deluded As an example of this, he pointed to the Chief Secretary. In 1889 there was no more popular man in Ireland than the right hon. Gentleman. At that time he could go all over Ireland without police protection; could he do so now? The Nationalist Press used to say that the right hon. Gentleman's name was a very popular one; but the other day he read 1006 in a Nationalist paper with a great circulation a description of the right hon. Gentleman. It summed up the right hon. Gentleman's character thus:—He has the cruelty of a Caligula and the unbridled vice of a Heliogabalus.
§ MR. SPEAKER
interposed amid laughter, and reminded the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he was not speaking to the subject before the House.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
said, that hon. Members from Ireland assumed that they alone had the cause of the Irish labourers at heart. He did not wonder at any politician being inclined to devote his attention to acquiring the sympathies of the Irish labourer, for undoubtedly the Irish working men would in Ireland, as in England and Sotland, have a hand in returning Members to the House. But those who had most opposed the erection of labourers' cottages in Ireland had, undoubtedly, been the farmers. Perhaps this Bill was brought forward to induce the labourers to believe that the main object of hon. Members was to serve them. He did not believe that such was the main object. Every law required the sanction of punishment following disobedience; and the building of labourers' cottages was intended as the punishment for those who disobeyed the political views of hon. Members below the Gangway. He remembered pointing out to the House three or four years ago that a Board of Guardians in Ireland had come to the distinct determination not to obtain a labourer's cottage for any man who could not show that he was on the right side. If this Bill were passed, any farmer who opposed the policy of hon. Gentlemen would find cottages springing up like toadstools all over his holding, and converting agricultural land into a village. This Bill, far from providing an economic method of administering the Poor Law in Ireland, would quadruple expenditure. It would be the dearest Bill ever passed by the House of Commons; and, with such elections as that in Tulla union frequently occurring, instead of improving Ireland it would turn the country into a pauperised pandemonium.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said, that the hon. and gallant Gentleman had referred to the Tulla Union in 1007 County Clare. The Chief Secretary would be able to corroborate the statement that the proceedings of the Tulla Poor Law Board were conducted as well and as regularly as those of any Poor Law Board in the whole of Ireland. There was undoubtedly some excitement at the election to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman referred, but the report which the hon. and gallant Gentleman had read to the House was extremely exaggerated, and too much reliance could not be placed on it.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork County, Mid)
said that, in spite of the strong remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the supporters of the Bill were only trying to do their best for the Irish labourers, and he hoped that the Chief Secretary would second their efforts. He appealed to all sides of the House to assist the poor and suffering class of labourers in Ireland.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
It must have struck the House, while the hon. and gallant Gentleman was speaking, that there was an extraordinary inconsistency between the position with which he began and that with which he ended. He declared his profound anxiety to give to his own country all those institutions of Local Government which are possessed in England and Scotland. But the most attractive and amusing part of his speech, and that which gave real point to it, was a description of certain proceedings, more or less mythical, at Tulla Union. If that description meant anything, it was meant to discredit Local Government, or any extension of it, in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own country. He said, as he often says, that he is proud of being an Irishman. If I were an Irishman, there is one thing I would not do. I would not pick out of the columns of The Dublin Daily Express exaggerated accounts of every little squabble or squall which arrises in a local body in Ireland, and read it out in the House of Commons in order to expose my countrymen to the ridicule and disparagement of those to whom he ought to show the better side. It has been pointed out that the connection between the two portions of this Bill is not perfectly obvious. I agree that there is no precise logical conclusion between the fourth part of the Bill dealing with labourers' cottages, and the 1008 fifth part dealing with the election of Boards of Guardians; and, though we have had some extremely interesting speeches on the labourers' cottages part of the Bill, I do not intend now to deal with that portion. It certainly is not because I think lightly of the importance of the subject. On the contrary, I think that what was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, and by Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Little in their reports, all shows that the condition of labourers' cottages in Ireland is one of the many deplorable facts in the social condition of that country. At the end of last Session I promised that I would devote some time in the Recess to the condition of the labourers, and the possibility of amending Legislation with respect to labourers' cottages. I have done what I promised, and I have ready for Introduction at the earliest possible moment a Bill dealing with the various defects which experience has brought to light in the Labourers Acts in Ireland. Those defects are mainly two—the loss of time and the largeness of expenditure; and when the time comes—and if it does not come quickly, I shall not be to blame—I shall be ready to lay the Government's proposals before the House. The portion of the present Bill which deals with this extremely important part of the subject strikes me as rather patchwork, and as not dealing thoroughly with the intricate and complex question. I do not think that these proposals would achieve the two great objects I have mentioned—the saving of time and the saving of expense. The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh, who moved the rejection of this Bill, made some remarks on the proposal to abolish the appeal to the Privy Council. I feel with him that it is indispensable that there should be some deliberate consideration of all the objections which may be made to schemes in their final stage. But from all that I have heard since I took Office, I do not believe that the Privy Council—not the Judicial Committee, but the gentlemen who deal with these labourers' cottages schemes—is a tribunal in which you can expect Irish popular opinion to acquiesce as a final tribunal. Whether the final tribunal ought to be the Local Government Board, perhaps sitting with a legal assessor, or whether it ought to be the County Court, I do 1009 not say. But I do not think that any proposal for retaining the appeal where it is now would meet with the assent of the Government. There is one provision in this part of the Bill on which I will say a word. It is the proposal that the Sanitary Authority shall have the power to enter into purchase contracts which the Land Commission shall advance the money to carry out. That proposal was first made in 1892, and on that occasion the present Leader of the Opposition took the view that to do this would be to run a risk of draining away some portion of the funds which Parliament vested for the transformation of holdings into freeholds. I am bound to say, after careful consideration, that I entirely concur in what the right hon. Gentleman said tn 1892, and certainly in our proposals there will be no suggestion of that kind. In giving our assent to the Second Reading of this Bill it must not, be understood that we assent to that proposal, or to any detail in the labourers' cottages part of the Bill. The Bill was described by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading as an exact assimilation of the procedure at the election of Boards of Guardians in Ireland with that provided for England and Wales in the Local Government Act of 1893. I have gone carefully through the proposals in the Bill, and have compared them with the English enactments, and it seems to me that the gentlemen who have framed this Bill have, on the whole, carefully reproduced, or transcribed, and applied to Ireland, the clauses of the English and Welsh Act. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite must have found themselves in a peculiar position. They have said they were in favour of giving Ireland all that local self-government which has been given to local bodies in England and Wales. The hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh did, it is true, decline to slavishly devote himself to following an English analogy, but I have noticed this peculiar thing: that, although hon. Gentlemen opposite say that, short of anything like Home Rule, they were not only willing but eager and anxious in every case to give to Ireland exactly the same local Franchise functions, duties, and privileges which are possessed in corresponding form in this country—again, I admit that the hon. 1010 Member for Mid Armagh said it was cant to say that Ireland ought to adopt the same system as England and Wales—that while others, like the hon. Member for Antrim, said they have always advocated the extension of local self-government in Ireland on the English system, yet—and are we not familiar with the formula?—whenever there is a specific proposal, we find there is, unfortunately, something exceptional in the measure, and then we hear the argument mutatis mutandis. We are told the machinery is defective, or that the Bill is vitiated by some minor defects. We have constant asseverations of the desire and intention to take every opportunity—and I do not know why this afternoon should not be an opportunity—to give Ireland the same privileges of Local Government as England enjoys, but still we find these Bills opposed. There are, I suppose, two really important proposals, or sets of proposals, in this Bill: the one being the abolition of ex-officio Guardians, the other the substitution of the ballot for voting by papers. With regard to the second of these, I have not heard one single objection which would not apply to any proposal of the kind for election by ballot. There would be, it has been said, thousands of contested elections, enormous expenditure, and if against any election there was right of appeal there would be an indefinite number of petitions all involving expense to the ratepayers and a great deal of local turmoil. Every one of these arguments was applied in old days against the extension of local self-government in this country. Can you not trust the Irish people? You say you are in favour of giving Ireland local self-government, though you will not allow an Irish Parliament. Let us assume the existence among the Irish people of local common-sense. Can you suppose, if a local authority becomes invested, as is proposed, with such powers as are contained in the Bill—such as the ballot and the test of disputed elections in judicial form—can you suppose that they would allow all this multiplication of contested elections and petitions, and all this outlay of every kind of which the hon. and learned Member opposite drew such a formidable picture? I have always been told that the Irish farmer and ratepayer is rather sordid than 1011 otherwise—I do not use that word; but my own observation is, that they are not at all men to encourage a multiplication of elections or petitions leading to confusion and an excessive expenditure, a portion of which—I do not want to say more than that—must come out of their own pockets. As to the disorder and turmoil, I can only say that, during my short régime there have come to my knowledge many instances of disorder in connection with the distribution and collection of voting papers, the police having had to interefere in many cases where disturbance and intimidation arose. Well, voting by ballot would put an end to that. I do not know that it could introduce further disorder peculiar to that form of voting. If, as an hon. Member has said, an Irishman is the victim of an universal and deep-rooted system of intimidation, then what better means of delivering him from that intimidation is there than, instead of putting into his hands an open voting paper, in the filling up of which he may be open to influence, that he should go to the poll and vote exactly as he pleases? I do not say that it is possible to prevent all forms of intimidation, but certainly the ballot is a step towards putting an end to disorder and intimidation at these elections. And now to turn to the more important part of the Bill— the proposal for the abolition of ex-officio Guardians. The point is not unnaturally made, and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway must have anticipated it, that in answers I have given to questions put to me the the words I used bind me to the inference the hon. Gentleman quoted them drew— namely, that because the incidence of local rating in Ireland is different to that in England, it is therefore unreasonable to transfer to Ireland that abolition of ex-officio Guardians, which Parliament has thought right to adopt here. The hon. Member for Armagh says that in Ireland the landlords over a quarter of all the holdings in Ireland pay the whole of the rates, and that they pay half the rates over the remaining portion of the whole area of Ireland. I do not know whether that is exactly correct, but, roughly speaking, that is an accurate description of the situation. Is that a reason— this difference in the incidence of rating— why the present system of 1012 ex-officioGuardians should be left as it now stands? At present, I believe, the only limit to ex-offico Members is, that they must not exceed the number of elected Guardians, that not more than half of the Board must consist of ex-officio Guardians. Now, my answer to the hon. Member for Armagh may be called a tu quoque; but it is more when I point out that every argument used by hon. Gentlemen opposite this afternoon about ex-officio Guardians and local rates would apply equally against the system of which they are strenuous upholders—I mean the grand jury system in Ireland. How is it that those who are so sensitive about those who pay the rates being represented on the Boards, which levy and administer the rates, have not a word to say about the county cess which is paid by occupying farmers, but is levied and administered, not by representatives of occupiers, but by the grand jury? I will say nothing as to the administration, but, judging the system as it stands, can you contend that any argument brought this afternoon against the abolition of ex-officio Guardians does not strike at the very root of all your grand jury system?
§ MR. MACARTNEY
, interrupting, explained that he said he was prepared to support a system which provided something equivalent to county government, but his objection to the Bill was that it dealt with only a small portion of the subject.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
What I would say is this— that for 48 years, I think, it has been admitted, and it has been recorded— admitted by both Parties, just as the hon. Gentleman admits it — that the grand jury system ought to be reformed, but there it is; and when the present Leader of the Opposition brought in his Bill for the better local government of Ireland, he did so with a remark to the comparative appreciation of his own legislative proposals which made the House feel that he was not very much in earnest in requiring the particular reform. Another remark I have to make is this: Why should not these gentlemen who now sit as ex officio members be elected? The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite seems to suppose that landlords would have no chance of being elected to the Board. He knows Ireland in some aspects better than I do, but I know of 1013 a considerable number of cases where a landlord has been Chairman of a Board of Guardians, and I know of one instance where a landlord was Chairman for 17 years.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
No doubt; but I believe in the case I have in mind the Chairman was not elected by ex officio members. But, anyhow, what an awful vision does it give us into the state of things, that landlords who have had this power so long should suppose that, if the franchise were extended and ex officio members abolished, they would have little chance of being chosen. That is not a reason for retaining the ex officio system. By way of illustration that those who pay the rates should spend them, there is a large number of men who pay heavy rates in London, but have no ex officio representation on the County Council. I have every desire to be fair to the landlords, but I really cannot see that by removing the ex officio magistrates, and by doing away, as we have done in England and Wales, with the cumulative vote by which a scale of valuation entitles a man to a rising number of votes— I cannot see why they should rely on these artificial devices instead of making it their business to conciliate the public opinion by which they are surrounded. But the effort will never be made so long as these artificial provisions are supplied by this Parliament. There are one or two details in the Bill which seem to me to be open to considerable remark. Its main proposals, as I take them, are—boards are to be entirely elective; Guardians are to hold office for three years instead of for one year, as under the existing law; the proposed changes in the electorate, and that it is to be the existing Local Government electorate in Ireland plus the Parliamentary electorate; the abolition of the cumulative vote—that is, one elector to have one vote for each of a number of persons to be elected in substitution of the ballot; and the contesting of these elections, when occasion arises, before the County Court Judge. These are the main provisions of the Bill with which I concur. Parliamentary time is scarce, but if the Bill progresses I shall be bound to support it, though I must not be understood as going back 1014 one inch from the position which I have held ever since this controversy arose nine years ago—that in altering Local Government in Ireland you are beginning at the wrong end. You will not achieve the same results, so far as my expectation goes, by any extension of Local Government in Ireland as in England; but, so long as this House reserves to itself the power of regulating Irish affairs and prescribing the schemes by which Irish affairs shall be governed, I shall be bound on every occasion to support the proposals which tend in the popular and national direction.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY (Longford, N.)
My hon. Friend the Member for North Mayo, who brought in this Bill, has every reason to be satisfied with the reception it has got from the Government. For myself I am quite willing to meet the Government in any suggestion they may have to make with regard to the Bill now, and I find that the main purpose and spirit of the Bill seem to be in accord. With respect to the part referring to the labourers, whatever may be afterwards done as to the division of one part of the Bill from the other, we felt bound, as my hon. Friend said in his speech, to take the very first opportunity we could to endeavour to do something to improve the condition of those labourers for whose cause we have fought so long in and out of the House of Commons. That was why we endeavoured to make the Bill compact for two purposes not naturally coming together. We want to save time in every way, and to get as far as we can in our efforts in order to improve the condition of the Irish labourers. But I have no doubt we shall now be able to meet the ideas of the Government on the subject, as I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will assent to the Government doing all in their power to press this question of the labourers to an early and satisfactory conclusion. I only want now to express the hope that the House will be allowed to Divide on this question so that we may have something to show for the time occupied and the arguments employed on both sides of the House, and so that the discussion may have a definite and a proper conclusion.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)
The hon. Gentleman has just expressed a desire that the House may be 1015 allowed to come to a Division on this Bill, and after what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, I do not see why the House should be put to the trouble of a Division at all. The Government do not seem altogether ready to accept the Bill, and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway seem ready to support the Government in not attempting to support the Bill. The Chief Secretary has made some very interesting remarks upon the subject of Local Government in Ireland, and he seemed anxious to adopt portions of this Bill as being instalments towards the settlement of this question. For my part, I am not prepared to admit either that this subject ought to be dealt with in small instalments, or that the question of Local Government in Ireland should be settled by a Bill brought in by a private Member. The great questions of English and Scotch Local Government have always been treated by successive Governments as subjects of first-class importance; measures dealing with them successfully and adequately have always been Government measures, and I do not believe that the Irish question is so much more easy to deal with than the English or the Scotch that a different plan, with any hope of success, can be adopted, Therefore, I do not think this is a serious effort at Legislation, but it seems to constitute a Wednesday afternoon discussion, not so much on the provisions of the Bill, as really upon some abstract provision underlying the Bill; and that abstract provision, as I understand, is that the system of Local Government in Ireland requires reform, and that that reform should go in the direction of giving a much larger measure of popular control in Ireland than at present the ratepayers of that country possess. Those are propositions with which I heartily agree. They are propositions which I endeavoured to carry into effect—at any rate, which I embodied in the Bill of 1892—and which I would have carried into effect had circumstances not made it impossible. But we must remember that the conditions of social life in Ireland at the present moment are such, that it is impossible that we should not feel the necessity of introducing safeguards which might be unnecessary in England. It has been said, in the course of the Debate, that 1016 the landlords have controlled Irish destinies for centuries, and therefore, if they now find themselves in such a position as to have little or no chance of being elected on these popular bodies, they have themselves to blame. I do not intend to argue the historical question, but there does prevail in Ireland a condition—I will not say of social disease, but rather of social weakness, liable at any moment to disease—which makes it necessary for us to take precautions on this side of the channel. I do not think any section in politics will be prepared to deny that, and, therefore, do not let us, out of pure pedantry, content ourselves by saying that such and such a measure had been passed for England and Scotland, and, therefore, we may apply it without consideration as to the peculiar conditions of Irish life. I am sure, whether this Government or any other Government brings in a Bill dealing with Irish Local Government, they will feel the necessity of weighing well the matters which I have laid before the House. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he does not mean to have anything to do with the last part of the Bill; he has declined to commit himself. He has expressed a general adhesion to certain principles, but I take it from what has fallen from the Government in the first place, and from hon. Gentlemen in the second place, that the discussion this afternoon is practically reduced to a Debate as to whether or not the existing artificial system of Local Government in Ireland does or does not require reform. In my opinion it does. I am prepared to range myself on the side of those who think some modification—some great modification—is necessary in the existing system, and that large portions of the machinery of Local Government in Ireland are really contemptible. Therefore I will not go into the Lobby against the Second Reading of the Bill, nor will I advise any friend of mine who may agree with the general principles I have laid down to put the House to the trouble of a Division.
§ Motion agreed to.1017
§ MR. BALFOUR
Then, speaking for myself, Sir, that proceeding is one that we cannot assent to without consideration. Reference of the Bill to the Grand Committee on Law has the effect of abolishing the Committee stage in this House, and a Grand Committee is emphatically not the machinery that ought to be applied to questions in which Party considerations may lead to controversy. It must be still fresh in the recollection of many hon. Members that when the system of Grand Committees was introduced by the late Prime Minister it was on the whole in favour, but it seemed in favour only on the distinct understanding that non-controversial measures—non-controversial measures alone—would be submitted to it. Now I think this question should be argued apart from the merits or demerits. It should be argued in view of the general propriety of our proceedings. If you insist on referring to a Grand Committee measures of this kind, you will inevitably break to pieces the machine by putting it to work for which it was never intended, never suited, and never constructed. Therefore, quite apart from the merits of this Bill and the necessity of dealing with Local Government in Ireland, I do earnestly beg those responsible for the management of the business of the House—I earnestly appeal to the right hon. Gentleman opposite—not to attempt, at all events without notice, to compel us to such an innovation in our habitual procedure as would be involved by accepting the Motion to refer this Bill to a Grand Committee. Sir, I think the considerations I have laid before the House will appeal to every one irrespective of Party. We had no notice that any such proposal would be made.
§ MR. E. F. VESEY KNOX (Cavan, W.)
said, that notice would have been given had it been possible in accordance with the forms of the House.
§ MR. BALFOUR
I do not so much mean public notice. I mean it was understood by those who act with me that we should not divide on this Bill, and that there was no controversy involved. Many hon. Gentlemen have 1018 gone away on that understanding, absolutely ignorant that a proposal of the most controversial character would be sprung upon us at the last moment, and that by forces diminished by the natural operation of causes with which every one of us is familiar, we should have to meet a proposal which would, if adopted, have far-reaching consequences, going to the very root of the legislative work of this House. I hope the Government will not accept this proposal, or if they think it worthy of acceptance, they will permit us to defer the discussion of it to a time when the House will have full notice that it will be made, and we shall be able to bring such forces as we can into the field on behalf of opinions which we think are of the greatest possible importance, apart from the interest of local Government in Ireland.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman on the Second Reading and the remarks he has just made have been conceived in a spirit with which no one can find fault. What he said about the first invention of Grand Committees, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian was Prime Minister, is, in some respects not to be complained of. It was certainly understood that violently contentious measures were not to be referred to Grand Committees. But then I ask myself whether we can call a Bill violently contentious that has just been read a second time without a Division. Now it occurs to me that what took place last year in connection with the Scotch Local Government Bill is germane to the present situation. There you had a Bill which, in substance and principle, was desired in different quarters of the House, and that Bill was referred to a Committee specially constituted of representatives of the nation which would be affected. On this occasion the only proposal is that this Bill, which has been read a second time, should be referred to a Committee of a perfectly representative and impartial character. Under the circumstances—though I am sorry to resist the views of the right hon. Gentleman after the tone he has shown in respect of the Bill itself, and though I rather deprecate making this Motion without formal notice that it would be discussed—in spite of that, I am prepared to assent to the proposal of the hon. Member.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
I think my right hon. Friend is mistaken, as was also my right hon. Friend opposite, with regard to notice. I am informed that on more than one occasion notice has been given to refer Bills of this kind to a Grand Committee. Certainly, if such a Motion is at any time to be made, it is desirable that the House should know.
§ MR. J. MORLEY
I should have said it is possible to give notice, but it is not necessary. It was a mistake on my part.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I admit it is not necessary, but if it is possible to give notice, this is clearly one of those occasions on which the promoters of the Bill should not have attempted to take the House by surprise. My right hon. Friend gave an unfortunate illustration when he referred to the Scotch Committee. He will recollect that the proposal to refer the Scotch Local Government Bill to that Committee was strenuously opposed, and only carried by a small majority. On that occasion, among many other objections taken to the proposal, was that it would be carrying further than was ever intended by those who created Grand Committees the references to those Committees. The Leader of the Opposition has dealt with the matter on its general merits, but I venture to think there is a particular reason, in the case of this Bill, why it should not go to a Grand Committee. As I understand, the Chief Secretary himself in dealing with the Bill has dealt critically and severely with some portions of it, and, as regards those clauses which deal with the labourers, said that they required alteration, and gave the House to understand that to those portions of the Bill as they stood, the Government would not give their assent. It is extremely important in regard to matters of that kind that the refusal of the Government to assent should be a refusal which will be conclusive as regards those portions of the Bill. It was only on the assurance that the Government would oppose certain portions of the Measure that it has been allowed to go to a Second Reading without a Division. Everyone who knows anything about Grand Committees is aware that, although they may be, in a sense, a microcosm of the House they are not Committees in 1020 which the Government exercises the same authority as in the House. In fact, these Committees have never been conducted on strictly Party lines. There has never been a Government Whip in reference to them, and accordingly the Divisions do not necessarily give to the Government their full authority; and the assurance, therefore, which the Chief Secretary for Ireland has given to us with regard to the intentions of the Government, are assurances which, if the Bill goes to a Grand Committee, I think he is likely to find himself unable to perform. What is the resuit of that? Are we to break down this system of Grand Committees by leaving to the Report stage all the discussion we hoped to raise at the Committee stage? In my opinion the Government will do more than anything else to break down this system, which I entirely support, which is most useful, and capable of further development—by continually referring to Grand Committees Bills which are not proper subjects for them. The understanding at the time Grand Committees were established was not only that strictly contentious measures should not be referred to these Committees, but that no measures which involved general questions of policy should be sent to them. The Government made a deplorable exception in the case of the Scotch Bill, and I think they will make a great mistake if they press their view that the same course should be taken now. I hope, at the last moment, seeing there is strong opposition to the suggestion that this Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee, the Chief Secretary will allow this Bill to be treated in Committee in this House in the ordinary way.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
Moved the adjournment of the Debate, in order to protest against the course to which the Chief Secretary was assenting. The second reading of this Bill would never have been agreed to without a Division if his hon. Friends had known it would be proposed to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee. The Chief Secretary would be unable to show a single precedent for the course proposed to be taken. In 1890 the present Leader of 1021 the Opposition objected to the Police Pensions Bill, which had passed its Second Reading, being referred to a Standing Committee, on the ground that it was not of the class of Bills which Standing Committees were intended to consider. This Bill had an important bearing on Local Government in Ireland. Would the House have sanctioned for a moment a Bill establishing District or Parish Councils in England being referred to a Standing Committee? Of course not! On the Opposition side of the House they had good reason to complain of the manner in which they had been treated. If the course now being adopted were to be pursued to the bitter end it would be a lesson to some of them for the future in regard to measures promoted by hon. Members below the Gangway.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, seeing that the Motion to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee had been made without notice, and had been under discussion for so short a time, he did not think the Motion now made ought to be put.
It being now half-past five o'clock, the Debate stood adjourned.