HC Deb 15 April 1896 vol 39 cc951-92
DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, said that after spending 10 years in that House he rose for the first time for the purpose of introducing a really important Measure. The Bill which he had the honour to put before the House was no new Bill. It had of course, undergone certain modifications from year to year, but it was no new Measure; in fact, the present Bill differed only in one Clause from the Bill of last year. The Bill of last year was introduced by his hon. Friend the Member for North Mayo in an exhaustive speech, in which he pointed out all the particulars and details of the Measure, and was thoroughly debated and thrashed out. Without criticism nothing could be perfected, and even after the criticism of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, the House agreed to read the Bill a second time last year without a division. The experience of those who had been Poor Law Guardians in Ireland had materially helped them to come to the conclusion that the existing state of affairs in connection with boards of guardians in Ireland was intolerable. What was intolerable in Ireland had been found intolerable also in England, and in 1894 an English Bill was brought in which dealt with many of the points dealt with in the present Bill. The promoters of the Bill had tried to the best of their ability to fashion it on the lines of the English Bill of 1894. Last year the hon. Member for Mid Armagh said that it was, perhaps, too slavish an imitation of the English Measure. Nationalist Members did not believe in slavery. They believed in freedom and to try and adapt to Ireland what happened to be good in an English Measure could never be slavish. What was good for one must also be good for another. Not only was this Bill desired by the people of Ireland properly so called, but from his own experience he could say that there were numbers of ex-officio guardians themselves in Ireland who recognised that this Bill would do practical justice and help to put them in a better position than they occupied at present. All that the House was asked to do now was to carry out for Ireland what had already been granted to England. If any objection were taken to minor points, they could be dealt with on the Committee stage. How often was that said from the Treasury Bench? Most Measures that were brought in by the Government were very materially altered when that stage was reached. He would, therefore, respectfully urge that the House should not that day be captious about minor details, but should try to recognise the broad principle of a Bill which would, to a certain degree, bring Irish local government up to a level with English local government. This Bill was divided into four parts, three of which dealt with boards of guardians in Ireland and one with the working of the Labourers' Acts. Part 1 dealt with the constitution of Boards of Guardians, Part 2 was Poor Law Elections, and Part 3 was Poor Law Election Petitions. Parts 2 and 3 were taken direct from the English Bill of 1894. Part 1, in the first place, did away with ex-officio Guardians. Ex-officio Guardians were an anomaly, and nobody knew that better than these gentlemen themselves. He might be reproached in the course of the Debate, perhaps, with some little episodes which might have occurred in his early existence, when he did take a very strong course with respect to some ex-officio guardians; but at that time there was very considerable friction in Ireland and he had the experience of going to gaol for his opinions, an experience which he never should regret. If there was an election of a chairman, or a doctor, or a rate collector, a long stream of ex-officio guardians entered the boardroom, and having voted for their ticket, one of them would look at his watch and say "it is nearly time for lunch," and they would all return to their club and the place knew them no more. [Laughter.] The real work of the boards was seldom dealt with seriously by ex-officio guardians, though occasionally ex-officio guardians were found who were very capable guardians. If an election took place on a good hunting day, they would even neglect to vote for their ticket in order to enjoy themselves. This he had seen very often, and frequently the business of boards was hindered by the neglect of ex-officios to attend. Therefore, speaking for the Party to which he had the honour to belong, he said— Let us take unto ourselves what has been given to England. Let us abolish ex-officio Guardians, and let those who would be valuable factors in the working of poor law administration, present themselves for election. If that were done, he felt absolutely certain that instead of the services of those gentlemen who were really working ex-officio guardians being lost, most of them who were worthy of it would come on again as elected guardians. So much for the proposal to abolish ex-officio Poor Law Guardians, a proposal which had been warmly eulogised by the hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight when the Bill of 1894 was under discussion. That hon. and learned Gentleman had then said that it was just that such a proposal should be accepted. He trusted therefore that the hon. and learned Gentleman would now use his great influence with hon. Members opposite to induce them to give their support to the proposal which was embodied in the present Measure. In connection with Part 1 of the Bill he must point out that it proposed that the term of office of a Poor Law Guardian should be three years, and that one third should go out each year, which would make that part of the Bill identical in that respect with the English Act of 1894. He passed now to that part of the Bill which dealt with the question of property qualification and plural voting. Was it right that a gentleman living in London should have half a dozen or more votes for a Poor Law Guardian through property qualifications in Ireland? He had been informed that it was possible under the existing circumstances for a man to have 144 votes for Poor Law Guardians in Ireland. Why should one man, because he happened to possess a great deal of property, have more votes for a Poor Law Guardian than a less fortunate man? If the principle of "one man one vote" was good enough for the Parliamentary franchise, surely it ought to be good enough for the election of Poor Law Guardians. They had all heard of the advice to "vote early and vote often," but it was a fact that a man of property in Ireland could, at all events, vote often. He hoped, therefore, that as the property qualification and plural voting had been done away with in the English Act, they would also be abolished in the case of the elections of Poor Law Guardians in Ireland in accordance with the provisions of this Bill. He also desired to call attention to the necessity for doing away with voting papers in these elections, and to substitute for them the system of voting by ballot which had been adopted in England. Hon. Members opposite were well aware that voting papers were usually left upon the hall table among a lot of tradesmen's advertisements, with the result that they usually found their way into the waste paper basket, unless, indeed, some little job was to be done, when a gentleman interested on one side or the other came round and asked them to give him their proxy vote. He therefore asked the House to agree to the proposal in the Bill to do away with voting papers. This, practically speaking, exhausted the proposals in the first part of the Bill. The second and third parts of the Bill having been as he had already stated taken bodily from the English Act of 1894, it was unnecessary that he should occupy the time of the House by referring to them in detail. It might, perhaps, be objected by some hon. Gentlemen that the Bill ought to have been cut into two, and that the fourth part, which related to the construction of Irish Labourers' Dwellings, should have been brought forward as a separate Measure. The two Bills, however, had been joined together in the bonds of holy matrimony, because Measures relating to labourers' dwellings had always been administered by the Poor Law Guardians. The cause of the Irish labourer had unfortunately been made use of by certain politicians in Ireland, in order to set farmers against labourers and labourers against farmers, and long before he thought that it ever would be his fate to enter into public life or to sit in the House of Commons, he had heard it said by certain politicians that they were sure to win because they had succeeded in setting the labourers against the farmers. The object of the present Measure was, however, to unite the labourers with the farmers and to reconcile their interests. He could not help congratulating himself that in 1891–2, it had been his pleasing duty to carry out some points in favour of the Irish labourer, in a way that had gained for him the sympathy and the approval of hon. Members opposite. The result of his efforts might, like the baby in "Midshipman Easy," have been "a very little one," but at all events it was better than nothing at all. At present the Irish Labourers' Dwellings' Act was hampered on every hand by delay and costliness. It took two years at least before a workman's cottage could be built and inhabited. It was therefore proposed that the appellate jurisdiction of the Privy Council should be abolished, and that the Poor Law Board should be substituted for that Tribunal. If the Local Government Board would manage its own business, and do away with the appeal to the Privy Council, it would of necessity lessen the cost and shorten the time. Clause 35 was the only new clause in the Bill of this year, and that had been introduced in order to give the owner or occupier of the land the power of appeal against local inquiry to the Local Government Board, principally in consequence of some criticisms which were made against the Bill of last year by the right hon. Member for the Montrose Burghs. If the taking of lands under the provisions of these Acts was not compulsory it would delay the working of the Act, and it would not be carried out in its entirety. The greater number of landowners and landlords in Ireland did not object, and had not objected in the main to the promotion of the Labourers' Acts, and he sincerely trusted they would continue to act on the same lines in the future. Their object was the extension of principles which they all had at heart. There must be differentiation between the town and the country; the labourers who lived nearer the towns had greater facilities for the building of cottages, and had a better market for the produce they might raise on their half acre, than had their less favoured brethren living in the country. The elected men would be more responsible to the people, and would be better able to deal with the object of the Poor Law, and if they failed to do so they could be got rid of at the expiration of their three years' limit. He appealed to hon. Members to imitate what was good in the English system, and to promote to the best of their ability the working of the Acts to which the House had devoted so much care and attention. There ought to be no spirit of animosity in dealing with what would benefit the poor, and in that spirit he commended the Bill to the House. He begged to move the Second Reading.


seconded the Motion. His hon. Friend had dealt so clearly and fully with this Measure, that it would not be necessary for him to speak at any length in seconding the Motion. The Bill was a moderate Measure of reform urgently required for the better rural government and rural economy of Ireland. There were several grounds upon which he thought they could ask the House with confidence to assent to the Second Heading. His hon. Friend had pointed out that the same Bill was practically adopted by the House 12 months ago, not without criticism, but still without a Division. Again, the Bill proposed no change in the system of electing the Poor Law Guardians in Ireland which had not already been sanctioned and applied in England, while the object of the second part of the Bill—namely, the better housing of the agricultural labourers of Ireland, was in line with the declared domestic policy of both sides of the House. For these reasons he trusted they should have the cordial support of the whole House in their efforts to pass this much needed Measure into law during that Session. The need for a reform of the Poor Law system of elections in Ireland was, he thought, admitted on all hands. The right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury concluded a somewhat sympathetic speech on this subject last year by saying that— He was prepared to range himself on the side of those who thought some great modification was necessary in the existing system, and that large portions of the machinery of local government in Ireland wore really contemptible. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman said, he would not go into the Lobby against the Second Heading of the Bill, nor would he advise any friend of his who might agree with the general principles he had laid down to put the House to the trouble of a Division. He sincerely trusted that this sympathetic support 12 months ago of the main principles of their Measure would be imitated by the right hon. Gentleman's supporters in the House that day. He did not think the Bill was the best that might have been drafted, but if the main proposals of the Measure were assented to they could easily mould the Bill into shape in Committee. The hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh had pronounced against the Measure last year, but he, did not class the hon. Member amongst those known in Ireland as Anti-Irish Irishmen, and hoped that on the present occasion they would have a little more sympathy and support from him. He did not think the contention that because the landlords paid all the poor rates for holdings of £4 and under, and half the poor rates of other holdings, they should have a special representation on Poor Law Boards, would bear examination. He contended that if this class of holding was rated fairly upon what the Chief Secretary would call the inherent worth and capacity of the soil, and not upon the improvements put into the holding by the tenant, instead of being rented at £4 a year they would be justly and equitably rented at 4s. That being so, he held that the Irish landlords, who derived thousands a year in rent from holdings of this character, ought not to complain when the community at large insisted upon putting on their shoulders a fair share of the support of that pauperism which, he contended, sprung from the Irish laud system. The existence of many miserable dwellings in Ireland was universally recognised. The late Mr. Forster, speaking of the Labourers' Bill in 1883,said— He hoped the Second Reading would be accepted by the House, because there could be no question that, of all the causes of the misery in Ireland, none were greater than the poor accommodation given by the wretched cabins of the labouring people. In his Report to the Labour Commission in 1893, Mr. O'Brien practically said that with regard to house accommodation, none had sunk to a lower level than the peasants of Ireland were in modem times. The Bill of 1883 had attempted to remedy this great evil. It had only partly succeeded, owing to defects in the law which this Bill would remove. Some 29,000 cottages and plots had been agreed upon by various boards of guardians since the Bill was passed 13 years ago, but only 11,000 had been provided and occupied by the labourers. They appealed with confidence to Members on both sides to give support to this Bill and to help them to provide decent and comfortable dwellings for the agricultural labourers of Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"]

*SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)

desired, as an English and Unionist Member, to offer his support to the principle of the Bill. In one sense, such Members had not a direct interest in an improvement of the laws of Ireland, but he conceived that the whole country had, indirectly, the greatest interest in that result; and, when they found improvements had taken place in this country in local administration capable of being applied to Ireland, as they thought with advantage, then he considered it was their duty to support such proposals, and endeavour to give to Ireland the same benefits which England and Scotland had already had conferred upon them. He thought this, first, because it seemed to him to be a question of right; and, secondly, because it seemed also highly expedient. He could not help thinking also, that each step they made in assimilating the laws of the two countries was a step towards the solution of some of those Imperial questions which had been so frequently discussed in that House. His own view as the determining principle in this matter, was that equality was equity, and, unless the Imperial Parliament showed it had not only the capacity, but also the will, to take care that the laws of Ireland were placed upon a proper footing, and that all real grievances were redressed, then he was quite sure, if that condition finally failed, there were many who heartily approved of the Union, and who supported it, who would feel, under such circumstances, the necessity of allowing Ireland herself to attend to affairs of which the Imperial Parliament had shown herself neglectful. He thought, under these circumstances, that this Bill, which was based upon both English and Scotch precedents, was one which should commend itself to the House, and that in the interests of the landlords no less than the tenants. Similarity, it was true, was not always possible in all cases; but, when changes of the law had been made, and such changes had been found to work advantageously in one part of the United Kingdom, that raised the presumption that, if another portion desired those changes, they ought to be conceded, with a view to the advantage of that portion of the Kingdom. There seemed to him that there was a special obligation on Unionist Members to support this Bill. The word "similarity" was used with reference to a promise made from the Unionist Benches that Ireland should be treated justly with similarity and simultaneity. Simultaneity was not now possible, but similarity was possible. As a Unionist Member, from his entrance to this House, he had therefore always given his support and voice to proposals in favour of wide local government for Ireland, as in establishing County Councils, and enlarging the municipal franchise, and now that it was proposed to give a representative character to the Boards of Guardians he felt it his duty to give the Measure his hearty support. The First Lord of the Treasury, when in Opposition, did not oppose the principle of this Bill, but allowed the Second Reading to pass without a Division. That seemed to him a reason why his side of the House were more than justified in giving their support to the proposal of to-day. There were principles and precedents involved. What were the precedents? The Local Government Act of 1894 was passed with the practical assent of both political Parties in England, much having previously been done for local government in Scotland. By that Act the franchise for local government elections was assimilated and based upon the Parliamentary and parochial register. That was what was proposed to be done by this Bill. Plural voting was abolished by the Local Government Act, and this Bill made exactly the same proposal. By that Act proxies were not to be available for voting, and under this Bill the same system was proposed to be established in Ireland. Voting papers were to be put an end to, the same system of election as prevailed in this country was to be adopted, and, lastly, the ex-officio members of local governing authorities in England having been disestablished by the Act of 1894, the same precedent was to be followed in Ireland. He was glad to hear the frank testimony that there had been many good ex-officio members of Boards of Guardians in Ireland. He could conceive no duty more obligatory, no privilege greater than that of a country gentlemen attending, to the best of his ability and at the sacrifice of much of his leisure, to the interests of the poor in his neighbourhood. He was afraid in both countries the attendance of ex-officio Guardians had not been so good as it might have been. But though there had been good ex-officio Guardians among them, that did not save them in England with one slight and only temporary exception. They passed away in the representative character of their institutions, and if that were so in England he did not see how a similar change was to be resisted in Ireland. He had heard local government much discussed lately, and he was not quite sure there had not been some reaction against County Councils. But he was bound to say from close association with them, and much observation, he believed the reformed local government of England, which he had himself heartily supported, had quickened the life of their local institutions, given greater energy to the administration of their local affairs, and, so far as he had been able to judge, he did not believe the personnel of these institutions had been disadvantageously affected. On the contrary, he thought a very large amount of active sympathy had been enlisted in local administration, and he hoped, at any rate, the same attempt would be made to give better life to local administration in Ireland. If ex-officio members of Boards of Guardians in both countries had not been so attentive as they might have been, let an effort be made to apply to them the stimulus of necessity. It was quite true they had to bear their share of taxation; let it be coupled with interest in the performance of public duty, and he did not doubt—as had been shown in this country when it was prophesied that the administration of counties would fall into the hands of a less wealthy class—that if the gentry of Ireland would lead they could lead. If they would make the sacrifice involved, they would be welcomed in local administration, and it might be, instead of what were often illusory, namely, artificial safeguards, they would gain by the change a real and distinct advantage to all the interests concerned. He believed that ex-officio guardians might be replaced under an elective and representative system with advantage, as they had been in this country. Such a change would make the Boards of Guardians in Ireland what they could not now be said to be, namely, representative institutions. He believed part were nominated by the Government, the franchise was very restrictive, and that one elector was capable of recording in one election as many as 36 votes.


The Government do not appoint them.


observed that what he meant was that where they had not performed their duties properly they were superseded by the Government, and he hoped that under a morn largely representative system there would be no need of such a process of nomination. He believed that if, not only the sympathies, but the active work of the people was enlisted in local administration, there would be very great improvement, and it would also be an instalment of justice, and at least one grievance the less. There were other improvements which he noticed in this Bill, some of them small, but extremely desirable. He warmly welcomed the clause for the abolition of all reference to sex, if this had not been already effected, recognising the advantage that would result in Ireland, as it had done in England, from the presence of women on their Hoards of Guardians. There was one disability which was not removed, but which he hoped would be. At present in England they had women owners who were deprived of the parochial vote, and he drew attention to this casus omissus in the English Act in the hope that when this defect was remedied in another part of the United Kingdom, and the change was found to work with advantage, those in England who were entitled to the parochial vote would have it conferred upon them. He did not see, however, that it was provided for in this Bill, and he hoped such would be the case. He wished now to refer to what had been stated as the cardinal objection to the proposals of this Bill, and that was that there was a different incidence of rating in Ireland to that which existed in England—in other words, that in all cases the landlords paid half the rates, and in many cases, viz., below a £4 rating, paid the whole. Of the fact there could be no question, but he did not accept the conclusion from the fact. It was said that because the rates were paid by the landlord, a different system should exist in Ireland to that which existed in this country, He could not come to that conclusion for this reason, that he believed, notwithstanding many differences of opinion, that if the landlord paid the rates he was recouped in the rent. He knew perfectly well that this was a much debated subject, but he ventured to say that an increase in the rent was an economic result which must ultimately follow from the increased burden placed upon the landlord. In this country exactly the same tiling took place, in the existence of the compound householder, and that had not prevented the passing of the English Bill. That system had prevailed to a large extent in England with great advantage and economy, with benefit to the local bodies and with great saving to the people themselves, and it was one, the results of which he thought might well be imitated. He would also point out that there were very large ratepayers in London who had no ex-officio representation upon the London County Council, and who had very great interests involved, but who under a representative system were found to be amply protected. All artificial systems of this character were; more or less misleading, and the real security was the enlistment of personal and practical interest in the administration of local affairs. He had a word to say as to the clauses governing election petitions. These allowed that an election should be decided by an appeal to Quarter Sessions. He had no want of sympathy with Quarter Sessions, but he very much doubted whether that was the best tribunal. He would suggest that an appeal to the County Court Judge would be a more proper tribunal.


That is the Quarter Sessions.


said, he must apologise for having misapprehended the difference in the system owing to the verbiage of the Bill, and if this were so, his suggestion was already met. He hoped some drastic steps would be taken to prevent incurring of charges which were prohibitory to candidates in many cases, and that some means would be adopted to prevent the disadvantages which had occurred in the matter of prolonged election trials in their own country. In one respect Ireland, as in the case of its farmers so in the case of its labourers, had enjoyed a considerable advantage over the people of this country. The Acts which had been passed for their benefit, and which were contributing greatly to their welfare and happiness, and to that contentment which they all so greatly desired, had existed with the very greatest advantage, but delay and cost could not but greatly mar their administration, and, as he thought, one great obstacle to obtaining justice was the multiplicity of appeals. That was the great defect of their own laws in his opinion, and if some system could be adopted by which there should be but one appeal, whether it was to the Local Government Board or elsewhere and if, by this means, the proposals for allowing labourers to obtain facilities for getting their cottages without delay, that in itself would be a very great reform. He recognised the great disadvantage of dealing with this matter piecemeal, but he hoped that at a very early period it would be taken in hand by the Government with reference to local government generally, and that those of them who felt they were under lasting obligations to perform those promises of similarity which were made from the Treasury Bench would see them fulfilled, with honour to the Government which did it, and with the best advantages to the country which obtained such improved local legislation and administration.


said, they desired to fully recognise the sympathetic efforts of the hon. Baronet who had just spoken, and they would be glad to see those efforts more largely supported by those who sat with him. The first portion of this Bill was based on the Bill which was accepted by the House in 1894, and in this connection he would like to direct the attention of the House to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton in introducing that Bill. He said:— 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, local electors, and Parliamentary electors. We propose that there shall be no plural voting, no proxy voting, and no voting papers, but voting by ballot, and one man one vote. The whole of that paragraph was embodied in the Bill now before the House. He recognised that the Bill of 1894 was loyally supported by the Opposition then in power, and notably by the Members from the North of Ireland, and he wondered what action those Members would take that afternoon on the Bill now before the House. Clauses that were embodied in the Local Government Bill for England and Wales were embodied in the present Bill, and the appending clauses were only the machinery necessary to make the Bill work. The Bill for England and Wales was received with enthusiasm, and he could hardly conceive that there would be any opposition to the Second Reading of the Bill they were now considering. His principal object in rising was to deal with that portion of the Bill relating to the working of the Labourers' Act. Unfortunately, when that Act was passing through the House, necessary Amendments were lost sight of, and although a great effort had been made by various Boards of Guardians to push forward the applications that had been brought before them from time to time, owing to the hampering conditions surrounding certain of the clauses they were unable to bear the attendant expense at the present time. Up to the present time 12,000 cottages had been built in Ireland, and possibly 99 per cent. were in constituencies represented by Nationalist Members. An application for a cottage had to pass through 14 stages, and a period of from three to three and a half years would elapse from the inception to the completion of the scheme. The first stage was that the labourers had to carry round a representation form and have it signed; secondly, 14 days' notice must be given to the public at large and to the guardians before the Board could take the representation into consideration: thirdly, when the scheme was approved, plans, maps, etc., had to be prepared; fourthly, the scheme had to be advertised; fifthly, notice must be served during the next following month on the several persons who had any interest in the lands proposed to be taken; sixthly, a local inquiry, of which at least two weeks' public notice must be given; seventhly, a Provisional Order Bill, embodying the scheme, was prepared by the Local Government Board; eighthly, copies of the Order had to be served on the several persons interested in the lands; ninthly, the making of the Order had to be advertised; tenthly, the Order, if passed, had to go before the Privy Council for confirmation; eleventh, the value of the land to be purchased was to be ascertained by the Government arbitrator. The twelfth condition was that the titles of the parties interested in the land had to be investigated, and the covenants perfected; the thirteenth, that the cottages must be built; and the fourteenth, the tenants had to be selected. Here, then, was a most extraordinary piece of legislation, devised apparently for the benefit chiefly of the shorthand writers and the lawyers. But surely it was never the intention of the Legislature that all the expense this involved—much of which expense was altogether unnecessary—should be applied to the working of the scheme. It was one of the objects of the Bill, then, to abolish a part of this procedure, and thus to avoid much of the present expense. With this view it was proposed to enact that if an Order was sanctioned by the Local Government Board it would become a substantial Order, and take effect as a Provisional Order. This, he thought, was a fair course to adopt, and it would do away with unnecessary expense, and would enable a scheme to be placed before the Board of Guardians on a tangible footing. When the Order had been duly recognised, the Board of Guardians should be allowed to enter on the land as soon as possible, and the Bill provided for this. The various Acts from 1883 to 1891 in relation to the land had not been strictly defined under the Labourers' Acts, and this had caused some difficulty. He certainly thought the machinery of the Land Court should be brought nearer home to the people, and therefore approved the substitution of the County Court for the Land Court in those cases as ensuring a better and less expensive method of procedure. The County Court would be more accessible to the Boards of Guardians interested, and the work would be expedited by the change. Other causes of complaint in regard to the application of the Labourers' Acts were the delay caused through the existing mode of official inspection, and the unnecessary expense incurred by the taking of shorthand notes of the proceedings whenever a Local Government Board Inspector held an Inquiry. All this expense was entirely in opposition to the real object of the Act, which, while not intended to be exactly of a charitable nature, was meant to assist the labourer in obtaining a reasonable dwelling. ["Hear, hear!"] Taking into consideration the circumstances of the labourers in Ireland and the rate of taxation, he thought it must have been an oversight on the part of the Legislature to permit the imposition of all this expense in the working of the Act. With regard to the rate of interest charged on the money borrowed from the Treasury—which was 3½ and often 3¾, per cent. he said he thought it never could have been contemplated that such a rate would be charged, and contended that the only effect of it, in addition to the heavy cost incurred in carrying out a scheme, was to hamper the action of the Boards of Guardians in carrying out the Acts. Some of the points to which he had referred had been previously brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and he had expressed his sympathy with the efforts of the Irish Members to remedy them. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would now give practical effect to that expression of sympathy by assenting to the Bill. It was time that the Legislature recognised that there were defects in the existing Acts, and made an earnest effort to remedy them. ["Hear, hear!"]


said, that day was a private Members' day, and therefore the discussion in which they were engaged would be more or less of an academic character. Like most Motions on private Members' days, too, the present Motion would lead to nothing. They would spend several hours in debating the Bill, and then it would be heard of no more—at least for a year. [Laughter and cries of "Oh!"] A Bill very similar to this had been introduced in the beginning of every Session for some time past. It was brought forward last year, and probably it would be brought forward again next year, and perhaps in other years to come, with a similar result. Now, the Bill before the House contained some very important proposals. The hon. Member who introduced it said that one of its most important points was the clause that dealt with ex-officio guardians, and that one of the objects in view was to improve their position. Well, he presumed hon. Members opposite would desire to improve the position of ex-officio guardians in just the same way that they would improve the position of the landlords in Ireland—they would sweep them away. [Laughter.] Then the hon. Member went on to say that the present position of the Boards of Guardians was intolerable. He agreed with the hon. Member that this was so in some parts of Ireland, in the south and west, but there was a way out of the difficulty, and it had sometimes been tried with considerable success—to sweep away the existing Boards, and to put paid guardians in their places. ["Hear, hear!"] He fully agreed with the statement that the present position of the Labourers' Acts in Ireland was unsatisfactory, but he differed with hon. Members opposite as to the advisability of dealing with the Labourers' Acts in a Bill of this kind. There were, undoubtedly, difficulties now in the way of a labourer obtaining a dwelling, and he recognised that they were all desirous of seeing those difficulties removed. ["Hear, hear!"] But the object aimed at would not be attained in the way proposed in this Bill, by tacking on an Amendment of the Labourers' Dwellings Act to a Poor Law Guardians' Bill. The difficulties in the way of Irish labourers securing proper dwellings were not alone due to the action of landlords. In the great majority of cases it was not the landlord who offered opposition, and he would give an instance proving this. His hon. Friend (Mr. Smith-Barry) offered 10 sites for labourers' cottages in Tipperary on condition that his tenants offered no objection, free of expense, but every single tenant did offer opposition and so the project fell through. Nobody in that instance could blame the action of his hon. Friend. From his own experience he knew it was not usually from landlords that opposition came to the erection of labourers' dwellings; the opposition came from the farming classes. He hoped that in the future, when a Local Government Bill was given to Ireland, as he supposed it some day would be given, the power of erecting labourers' dwellings and the housing of the poor generally would receive the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. In England, Scotland or Wales the duties of Poor Law Guardians were usually understood because they were clearly defined; but that was not so in Ireland. The ordinary duties of Poor Law Guardians were to watch over the rates which they expended and the poor whom they relieved, but another duty was expected from a Poor Law Guardian in Ireland. While he was supposed to keep one eye on the rates and the poor, he was expected to keep the other open, roaming around and taking in the general policy of the Empire, and observing the characters and peculiarities of public men. The reason he pointed this out to the House was because there was a most important clause in the Bill, placing the guardians' electorate on the basis of Parliamentary representation. He ventured to say that meant that in the future Poor Law Guardians all over Ireland were to be elected on purely political grounds. One of the interesting peculiarities of an Irish Board of Guardians was this. It was not only a Board for looking after and distributing the rates, but, over a considerable part of Ireland, and especially in the south and west, a Board of Guardians was a political debating society. It was an oratorical school in which he believed most hon. Members from Ireland graduated before they came into the House. He found no fault with that, because all knew and appreciated the oratorical powers and ability of hon. Gentlemen who came from Ireland. No wonder, considering the school in which they had graduated, he could readily recognise the style. The result of placing electors for Boards of Guardians on a strictly Parliamentary basis would be to make every Poor Law election political and every Board of Guardians a centre of political action. Let the House consider whether this would be a good or a bad thing. Was it well that whether a man was a Unionist, or a Separatist, or a Nationalist, or any other class of politician, should determine his qualification for a seat on a Board of Guardians? He should say it was wrong to introduce any such qualification, and should think that common sense, ability, and capability of looking after the rates and the poor were the requirements for a guardian. To illustrate his meaning he took the recent history of a Poor Law Union in Ireland, distinguished above other things for its political activity and acuteness. He did not choose a union in the extreme west or in the wilder districts of Ireland; he selected the union to which the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Hill belonged. The union of the third city in Ireland. Cork was a very charming city; a city where political opinion runs high, and is very volubly expressed. It was a city, at any rate, where the affairs of the union might be expected to be conducted in a typical Irish manner. The history of that union would bear him out when he said that to place Poor Law distress on a purely political basis would be a misfortune, not a blessing, to Ireland. Taking this union out of many examples he might mention, he gave a sketch of four years' history. In 1886 the amount of out-door relief in the Union of Cork was £10,000 a year, in 1889, this out-door relief had increased to £17,000, that was at the rate of £100 a week. By the 13th of June, 1889, the Local Government Board Inspector, in his report, called the attention of the Local Government Board to the condition of affairs in the Cork Union, mentioned the rapid increase of out-door relief, and the demoralising effect upon the people in receipt of it, and he said that some of the smaller ratepayers were worse off than some of the recipients of this relief. Such a warning, it might have been imagined that the Board of Guardians in so distinguished a city, might have taken—would have taken to heart, and given the time they had sometimes occupied in political discussion to careful and economical administration of the affairs of the union. But nothing of the kind! The warning of the Local Government Board was entirely thrown away. The idea of damming up the eloquent expression of a patriotic Cork Guardian with a sealed order! [Laughter.] Such a thing could not for a moment be accepted in Cork. The Board paid no attention whatever to the warning; they persevered in their career, and in October 1889, the Local Government Board pointed out to the guardians that the legitimate business of the union had been neglected to the detriment of the poor and injury to the ratepayers, and they said that the unsatisfactory conduct of the guardians had been due to the introduction of heated controversy, arising out of the introduction of a resolution improperly proposed on the occasion alluded to. That was a resolution proposed at a meeting of the Guardians, and this was the sort of Union, and this the sort of action that would be found all over Ireland if guardians were elected on purely political motives. Possibly in the district of Ireland where he resided very strong political resolutions might he passed. ["No, no!"] Possibly—he would not say probably, but certainly that would be the universal practice in other parts of Ireland. It might have been imagined that a Board of Guardians threatened with insolvency and bankruptcy would have been induced to have diverted its intelligence from great matters of State policy, and would have given attention to dealing with mere matters of fact affecting their position. No, not at all. A Resolution was proposed expressing confidence in Mr. Parnell and denouncing the divorce proceedings that had taken place. The Chairman of the meeting would not put the Resolution and the result was another meeting at which the "heated controversy" took place. Did English and Scotch Members know what a heated controversy under such circumstances meant? There was a heated controversy at the meeting of the Cork Board of Guardians on this Resolution about Mr. Parnell not being put by the Chairman, and this was the sort of rhetoric to be heard during the proceedings of an Irish Board of Guardians. A guardian told another guardian that he was a "disgraceful creature"—that he was a "hound"—and that he was a "degraded wretch." The gentleman who used this language was the Irish Member who introduced this Bill, and the gentleman to whom these words were applied was another guardian, the hon. Gentleman now sitting below him (Mr. Smith-Barry). [Laughter.] Well, that was quite enough for the House of Commons. When this heated controversy took place, this Board of Guardians had £6,000 dishonoured cheques on hand. What was the result? The Board was dissolved, and paid guardians were appointed. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill insisted on the necessity of representative guardians to manage the affairs of a union. These representative guardians so managed their affairs that they had £6,000 dishonoured cheques. They were dissolved, and paid guardians were appointed; and two months after their appointment there were no longer £6,000 of dishonoured cheques—there was an amount of £18,000 to the credit of the union, and rates were reduced 20 per cent. This was effected, not by representative, but by paid guardians. At length the ratepayers of Cork found that a Board of Guardians that entirely devoted its energy to heated controversy and political affairs, was a very expensive body. He maintained that if this Bill passed, and if Guardians in Ireland were elected simply on a political basis, what happened at Cork would be the characteristic of most of the Boards of Guardians in the south and west of Ireland. Politics entered into the smallest transactions. In Dungarven, for instance, the Guardians would not accept the tender of Mrs. Armstrong for loaves at 4¾d., because she was not of the right colour, but accepted that of a gentleman at 5¼d. because he was of the right colour. The ex-officio Guardians had been attacked; ex-officios practically represented the landlords of the country, and the landlords paid all the rates under £4. Surely, therefore, they were entitled to have some voice in Poor Law matters. Let him give an instance of what happened where the ex-officios had no influence. When he was Chief Secretary the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Montrose Burghs advanced the sum of £20,000 for the relief of six unions in the extreme west of Ireland, Belmullet, Clifden, Galway, Oughterard, Swineford, and Westport. In those unions the ex-officios had practically no voice. The effect of the advance was that in those unions there was more rejoicing than there ever was in the days of Brian Boru. [A laugh.] Before the money was advanced there were not quite 1,000 persons in receipt of out-door relief; within six weeks there were 100,000—[Laughter]—including some of the Poor Law Guardians. [Renewed laughter.] In the Belmullet Union relief was given to Martin Conway, whose holding was valued at £10, and who owned thirteen head of cattle, and to two men named Howard, who had a lot of sheep, and who expressed themselves proud to get relief. [Laughter.] In the Clifden Union a man who had sold 13 bullocks at a fair, a workhouse contractor, as well as Owen Macdonald, who held 1,075 acres of land, and who had recently paid £6 county cess, got relief; and at Oughterard a man with eight head of cattle and 70 sheep received out-door relief, and an ex-member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, who was in receipt of a pension of £60 a year, also received relief. [Laughter.] The great mistake his right hon. Friend the Member for the Montrose Burghs made was that he went to Tipperary; if he wanted a triumphant reception he ought to have gone to Belmullet. [Much laughter.]

MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)

asked his hon. and gallant Friend whether the Committee or Commission appointed to inquire into these transactions did not censure the ex-officio Guardians for not attending to their duties. [Irish cheers.]


remarked that if his right hon. Friend had ever acted as an ex-officio Guardian in the south or west of Ireland he would have found that ex-officios were not very much inclined to participate in heated controversies. [Laughter.] It spoke well for the financial ability of the Irish that when they found the £20,000 would not go far enough they immediately gave the £20,000 as security for the £36,000. [Laughter.] Again, another difficulty which occurred was that there were not names enough to fill up the lists requiring relief, and so, in the case of the seed money, they absolutely gave the seed to a person who had died several years before. [Laughter.] The fourth part of the Bill dealt with the provision of labourers' cottages. As he pointed out last year, the power to provide labourers' cottages was often used in a punitive sense. It was rather strange how the eyes of the Poor Law Guardians were inclined to fasten on the fields of those opposed to them. Near his residence three labourers' cottages had been erected on grass land where labourers were not required; whether that had been done to improve the prospect for his sake he did not know. It had been openly avowed by Boards of Guardians that no labourers' cottages would be granted to men who did not hold the right political principles, the principles which obtained below the Gangway opposite. To grant Boards of Guardians the power of making use of the erection of cottages as an engine to be wielded by them for political purposes and objects would, he maintained, be a curse instead of a blessing. He hoped that before long the question, as a whole, would be dealt with by the Government. Home Rule was as dead as a door nail, and to revive it there would be required another Parnell and another Gladstone. Therefore, they must look to some other way of bringing Ireland into line with the rest of the Empire. He believed that when this Government set to work to deal with the whole Irish question, including Local Government, a method would be found which would be acceptable to the Irish people. There were a great many Irish people who now felt it was quite possible for them to get justice and generosity from this Government. He regarded the Bill as a purely academic Bill. The House had passed a very pleasant day. Indeed, the Irish were the only people who could make a private Members' day pleasant. [Laughter.] But he believed that the decision of the House would be that a great and many-sided question like the question of Local Government in Ireland could not be dealt with by a Bill such as the Bill before the House. It could only be dealt with by a great and comprehensive Measure that would bring Ireland, in this matter, absolutely into line with the rest of the British Empire.

MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)

thought the attitude the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh had taken up in regard to the Bill was strangely inconsistent with his generous sentiments, his kindliness towards all Irishmen, and the desire he had expressed of arriving at a broad settlement of the question. There was nothing in the Bill that could possibly stand in the way of any future Measure of County Government for Ireland. He presumed that if County Government was proposed for Ireland it would follow on the lines of County Government in England and Scotland, and every proposal in the Bill followed exactly the lines of that system. The hon. and gallant Member had said that if the Bill had been an English Bill the Debate would have been exceedingly dull. That was largely due to the fact that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not take that part in the discussion of English Bills which the House desired; but unfortunately reserved all his sarcasm for his native country and the people amongst whom he lived. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke of the dishonoured cheques of the Cork Union, he touched upon a subject which added force to the arguments advanced in favour of the Bill. The cheques were dishonoured at the time when the financial position of the Union was sound, and they were dishonoured for a political motive. How was it possible for the paid guardians to get in the £22,000 in ten months, without the assessment of a new rate, if the money were not already available amongst the ratepayers? The hon. and gallant Gentleman also complained that the Cork Guardians had distributed a large amount in outdoor relief. He admitted that outdoor relief was sometimes given to persons who did not need it. But the general principle on which it was given was to enable persons in temporary distress to tide over their difficulties—persons who, if they had to go into the workhouse would have to break up their families, and perhaps never again be able to make a home for themselves. There were many people in Ireland not confined to one side of politics who believed that if outdoor relief were more generally availed of, the Poor Law system would be more economically worked, because most of the rates were swallowed up in the salaries of workhouse officials. He challenged the hon. and gallant Gentleman to contradict him when he said that so far at least as one department of the Poor Law system was concerned—the administration of the Labourers' Acts—it was infinitely better worked in the south and west of Ireland than in the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own province of Ulster. There was not a single Union in the whole province of Ulster where the political principles of the hon. and gallant Gentleman were in the ascendant, and where the elected guardians and the ex-officio guardians were of the same political complexion, which had treated the labourers generously in the application of the Labourers' Acts. He admitted that there might be cases in which Boards of Guardians had wrongly exercised the power they possessed of placing labourers' cottages upon the lands of their political opponents, or of others against whom they had a grudge; but those instances were exceedingly rare, and there was ample machinery for preventing them from taking such a course. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not wish to incur unpopularity by opposing the erection of the three cottages which he said had been placed near his house; but the hon. and gallant Gentleman, had two alternatives if he chose to take action in the matter—he could have proposed to build the cottages in another portion of his lands, or he could have opposed the scheme before the Local Government Board Inspector, and thus prevent any injustice being done him. As an instance of the anomalies of the Poor Law franchise in Ireland, he might mention that there was recently a close contest for the election of a guardian in one of the urban divisions of Dublin. The Unionist organisation had claimed votes for everyone who contributed to the support of the rooms in which their meetings were held; so the Nationalists, finding that a community of nuns had a small middle interest in a holding, were able to establish 82 votes by simply drawing up a deed of partnership between the nuns according to their common interest in the holding. That example showed the perfect absurdity of the system of voting. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had misled the House as to the position of ex-officio guardians in the west of Ireland. He had endeavoured to make it appear that for the maladministration of the funds given by the right hon. and learned Member for Montrose to distressed Unions, the elected guardians were responsible. But the ex-officio guardians might be equal in number to the elected guardians, for they included the magistracy that had property in the Unions as well as the magistracy resident in the Union, and no one could believe that there were not in the Unions referred to sufficient ex-officio guardians to control the action of the Boards of Guardians, or at least to call the attention of the Local Government Board to the manner in which they were applying the money. The fact was, that most of this money found its way into the pockets of the landlords for rent, and they kept silence on the subject. [Nationalist cheers.] The proposal of the Bill was to assimilate the Poor Law Franchise to the Parliamentary, and to introduce the ballot. Many of the disturbances in these elections had been caused by the voting being open. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was in favour of dealing with the question as a whole; but that was no reason for denying this instalment of much-needed justice.

MR. J. DALY (Monaghan, S.)

said, that he hoped the Government would accept the Bill, as they would do if they were really cognisant of the state of affairs with, respect to Boards of Guardians in Ireland. The drudgery of the work was left to the elected guardians, and the ex-officios only put in an appearance when there was some job to be done, The provision of the Bill providing for triennial elections was very necessary. A contested election cost ½d. or ¾d. in the £ on the rates, and a guardian elected one year might be rejected the next, before he had had a chance of doing good work. Further, the Government ought to have no difficulty in accepting the provision for the ballot, which had worked so well in Parliamentary elections. In passing the Labourers' Acts, it must have been intended that they should not be work able. In the Carrick-ma-Cross Union there was a scheme for the erection of cottages, and 45 sites were selected. It was 12 months before the Inspector came down to make his award; and he then approved of only 19 out of the 45 sites. The result was that the cost of these 19 was £786. He hoped the Government would take the Bill up and make is workable.


said, that there were reasons why the Labourers' Acts had not been used so much in Ulster as in other provinces in Ireland. Mr. Little, one of the Local Government Board Inspectors, in giving evidence before the Labour Commission, stated that there were fewer inferior houses in Ulster than in the rest of Ireland; and that the guardians in Ulster were alarmed at the great default in the payment of the rent in certain parts of the west of Ireland. Up to March 1894, the default was £6,549 of unpaid rent for labourers' cottages, and that although the rent per cottage was only 9d. per week. According to the report this de- fault was partly due to the refusal of the labourers to pay rent, and partly because some of the cottages had been left derelict. It could not be a matter of surprise that the Ulster Board of Guardians were unwilling to run these risks. Again, in parts of Armagh, at any rate, the labourers were not residential and hired by the year. They were hired at the fairs for the season only, and were lodged in the farmer's house. There was no chance of this Bill becoming law in the present Session, unless the Land Bill were obstructed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose constituents would unanimously prefer the Land Bill. But undoubtedly the procedure of the Labourers' Acts required to be made cheaper and more expeditious. This Bill, however, would not achieve that object. Speaking on the Bill of last year, which was practically the same, the right hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. J. Morley) said that he did not think the labourers' cottages part of the Bill would save either time or expense; and further, that in accepting the Second Reading the Government did not assent to any detail in the labourers' cottages part of the Bill. Therefore he was justified in saying that this part of the Bill, though its motives were excellent, would not be effective for its purpose, and if it was lost this Session there would not be any serious injury to any body. The Bill proposed an appeal to the Local Government Board. That was an ineffective appeal, because it was an appeal from the Local Government Board to the Local Government Board. In his opinion the Privy Council was the best possible appeal m some respects. It was an independent tribunal, though of course it was a troublesome and expensive thing to go up to Dublin for that purpose. However, if the Bill proposed that the appeal should be to the County Court, with an appeal to the Dublin Assize, he admitted that, being cheaper, it would be a proposal well worthy of consideration. With reference to the Poor Law Guardians part of the Bill, it seemed to him utterly impossible to expect that the constitution of the Poor Law Guardians in Ireland could be reformed in a private Member's Bill. It must be done as in England and Scotland, by a Government Measure, introduced with all the knowledge that Government alone could possess of the whole subject, and in connection with other branches of Local Government in Ireland. And, as in England and Scotland, they proceeded to deal with County Government and then with Poor Law Boards and smaller areas, so in Ireland they should proceed in the same way, and not deal with the areas of Poor Law Boards and reform them before they dealt with County Boards, which everybody admitted had to be dealt with when opportunity arose.

MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)

How long are we to wait?


retorted that he was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but he answered—How long would the hon. Member and his friends prevent the Land Bill becoming law? Until that Bill became law they would not be able to clear the decks for further legislation. Irish Unionist Members were not less anxious than hon. Members opposite to improve the Labourers' Acts. They claimed, also, that they were not less prepared to consider proposals for amending the Poor Law Boards. They were willing to join in extending popular rights and popular representation on Poor Law Boards subject to proper safeguards at the proper time, but he submitted that it was impossible that such a large question could be dealt with on a Wednesday afternoon on a private Member's Bill.


said the speech of the hon. and learned Member was of a type with which the House had long been familiar from the same quarter. He admitted a grievance, protested his ardent desire for its removal, admitted that the proposals before the House con- tained much that was good, and then he said that "at the proper time" he would be prepared to consider them and press them on the attention of Parliament. But the proper time never arrived, and somehow or other, the admitted grievance remained year after year unredressed. [Nationalist cheers.] And that was the hon. and learned Member's Unionist argument! If he were himself a Unionist, he should think no course of argument could be less calculated to benefit his cause. Judging, too, from the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, some of the hon. Member's Unionist friends were getting rather uneasy at this constant and repeated postponement of demands admitted not only to be unobjectionable, but right and just—only they never found time to bring them into operation. He admitted that if the House insisted on keeping this Bill in Committee of the whole House there would be difficulty. When last year it was proposed, after the Bill was read a second time, to refer it to the Standing Committee on Law, he took some exception to it because he thought there was something in the manner of the proposal which he thought unusual—it was made without, notice. Nevertheless, the suggestion was not treated by the Government at that time as unreasonable in itself, and, if the present Government assented to the Second Reading, he could not see why the Bill, or the Labourers' Acts portion of it, should not be referred to the Standing Committee. If the proposals were to be considered on their merits without reference to the Party passion and feeling which Irish questions so unfortunately aroused, he thought that even the hon. and learned Member for Mid Armagh might, of his own desire, move that the Bill should be so referred, and great benefit would undoubtedly be conferred on the labourers of Ireland. Last year he announced on behalf of the Government that they could not accept the proposal as to labourers' cottages in the form in which they were proposed by Gentlemen below the Gangway. He was glad to observe that since then, and in this Bill, an important alteration had been made in the direction he then indicated. The 34th Section of the Bill made it competent for any body of ratepayers, whether landlords, farmers, or tenants, to lodge an appeal to the Local Government Board against a scheme and this was a considerable advance upon the Measure of last year. If he recollected rightly, this was a proposal he had in view in a Measure he had no opportunity of bringing before the House. He quite admitted it was a matter of great importance that there should be an appeal. The hon. and learned Member opposite still resolutely or obstinately adhered to the Privy Council as the most ideal court of appeal he could think of. He had sat upon the Privy Council before which the hon. and learned Member had practised, and they approached the question from different points of view; but in his own judgment, considering the sentiments, justified or not, that for centuries had prevailed in Ireland with respect to the Privy Council, he thought that that in itself constituted one of the strongest arguments against constituting that body a supreme tribunal of appeal. Anybody who had watched the proceedings of the Privy Council with regard to these schemes must know there was a feeling that prejudice and Party interest, landlord interest, made itself felt in these proceedings. When the House realised that this body, which in theory was a judicial body, had in these matters to deal with executive and administrative facts, he did not believe they would leave this jurisdiction to the Privy Council. The hon. and learned Member forgot that they were not judicial but administrative points that were raised, and they were points which did not properly come before a judicial body. Last year he mentioned, as an alternative, a Local Government inspector sitting with a local assessor of the County Court; but upon reflection, he came to the conclusion that the County Court would not be a desirable tribunal, for the reasons just mentioned—namely, that the considerations when administrative, and not judicial. It might be said that on appealing to the Local Government Board, of which the Chief Secretary was President, you were appealing to the Minister responsible for the administration of Ireland; but he was most likely to do these things in a large and general way from the point of justice as between landlord and tenant. The experience of the Local Government Board, would, he believed, enable it to come to a perfectly satisfactory decision. The hon. Member for North Armagh talked about the unfairness of altering the constitution of boards of guardians, because the landlord pays the rates on assessments under £4 and one half above £4. But in the case of the county cess down to 1881 the whole was paid by the occupier, and since then one half has been paid by him. But was the county cess levied by a body in which the ratepayers were represented? It was notorious that was not the case the county cess was levied by the grand jury, a nominated body in which occupiers had probably no representatives whatever. The two hon. Members for Armagh, in appealing to the English sense of fair play, forgot that it was violated in the case of the county cess. After the speech of the Leader of the House as Leader of the Opposition on this Bill, it would be morally impossible for the Government to refuse their assent now to the Second Reading of the Bill. In the face of the admitted evils resulting from the failure of the existing Acts, he submitted to the Chief Secretary that he should assent to such a reference of this Bill as would give some chance of getting these Acts effectively to work. By this time the right hon. Gentleman would have found out that there was enormous delay between the demand for a scheme and the carrying out of it, and that the costs were exorbitant. Nearly all, if not all, Irish Members would desire that the Government should give not only a perfunctory or mechanical assent to the Second Beading of the Bill, but that would give assurance of their earnest desire to effect one piece of reform in Ireland and to make these labourers Acts operative. [Cheers.]


The right hon. Member for Montrose began his observations by attacking my hon. Friend behind me for the most innocent remark that it was impossible to effect all reforms in Ireland in a single Session, and that each reform must wait for its proper time. I am somewhat astonished that this reproach should come from the right hon. Gentleman, who was in office for something like three years, and in that time, so far as I know, no important Measure of Irish reform was passed. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thanks to the House of Lords."] Even, as regards this Bill, the right hon. Gentleman, who had a majority behind him, practically acquiesced in not insisting that it should be referred to a Grand Committee.


That proposal, I think, was talked out.


In the first instance it was; but afterwards the hon. Member for North Mayo made a statement to the effect that he would not press that Motion, and I presume that he acted with the concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. At all events, if he had chosen to use his majority, he could have had the Measure sent to a Grand Committee; and, as a matter of fact, he did not take that course. Last year the then Opposition did not vote against the Second Reading; they allowed it to be taken without a Division; but it is hardly accurate to say that by taking that course we signified our approval of the proposals and provisions of the Bill.


The main parts of the Bill.


I think that was not the phrase used; but, even so, that is hardly a true account of what actually took place. The present First Lord of the Treasury on that occasion said:— For my part I am not prepared to admit that this is a subject that ought to be dealt with by piecemeal 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 Scottish local government have been always treated by successive Governments as subjects of first-class importance; and a Measure to deal with this subject adequately ought always to be a Government Measure. I do not believe that the Irish question is so much more easy to deal with than the English or Scotch, that a different plan can be adopted with any hope of success. Therefore, I do not think this is a serious effort at legislation. I look upon it not so much as a Bill as a series of abstract propositions affirming that the system of local government in Ireland requires reform and that in the direction of giving a much larger public control to ratepayers than they at present possess. The attitude taken up by my right hon. Friend then is the attitude taken up by the Government to-day. We hold that the present system of Local Government in Ireland is unsatisfactory and that it requires reform in the direction of increasing public representation. But to acknowledge that general proposition is a very different thing from accepting the provisions of this Bill. If we assent to the Second Reading of the Bill we thereby merely signify our dissatisfaction with the existing system of Local Government and our belief that it ought to be reformed, but in acquiescing in the second reading we do not necessarily go further than that. Perhaps I ought to draw a distinction between the two parts of this Bill, which seem to me to have been welded together in a strange fashion. There is no such close connection between the reform of the Poor Law Boards in Ireland and the reform of the machinery of the Labourers Acts as to justify the two things being included in one and the same Bill. The Government themselves have on the stocks a Bill dealing with the Amendment of precedure under the Labourers Acts, and if there was time to introduce that Bill and to carry it through in the present Session we should do it. In the Bill under consideration the two subjects to which I have alluded are linked together in such a way that it would be impossible to separate them. The first part of the Bill would Revolutionise the existing system of Poor Law administration. The operative clauses are the fourth, which abolishes ex-officio guardians; the eighth, which gives the Poor Law franchise to all who are now entitled to vote for Members of Parliament; and the 12th, which makes the qualifications of guardians the same as the qualifications of electors. Those are very large proposals, and they ought to be considered upon their merits. It is not sufficient to say that they correspond to proposals which have been accepted already by this House for England and Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman opposite does not deny that there are in Ireland differences in the system of rating which would certainly have to be taken into account in considering whether we should alter the system of administration which exists at present. But he said:— If it must be acknowledged that the rates are almost entirely paid by the landlords [Nationalist cries of "No" and "One-half"], who would be to a large extent deprived of representation under this Bill; on the other hand we must remember that the county cess is contributed in the main by the occupiers, and that the expenditure of the cess is controlled by the Grand Jury. Well, I do not deny that the Grand Jury system is anomalous, but the fact that one anomalous system exists in connection with local administration does not justify the adoption of another anomalous system. It is essential that we should consider most carefully, not merely whether the change proposed by this Bill is similar to a change already effected in England and Scotland, but also how such a change would work in Ireland. Take as an instance the Union of Belmullet. In the whole Union there are 3,519 holdings, and of these 3,068 are valued under £4. Therefore, the occupiers of these holdings neither pay poor rates at present nor have they a vote in the election of the guardians. Under this Bill you would give the entire power of ejecting the guardians to these persons who pay no rates at all. In this union constant demands are made for assistance either from the Government or from the poor rate, and under the Bill of 1880, which was carried by the right lion. Gentleman opposite, the majority of the occupiers of holdings in the union were actualy in receipt of outdoor relief. The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh has told us of cases of guardians who were themselves in receipt of such relief, and it is easy to conceive a condition of things under this Bill in which not some but all of the guardians would be in a position to demand outdoor relief, If you put the whole power of electing the guardians into the hands of persons who have demanded assistance over arid over again, have you any guarantee that such persons, if elected guardians, will not vote in their own favour? I quite admit that the system of ex-officio guardians has not been a commanding success, but before substituting for it another system which would expose the poorer parts of the country to dangers of this kind, the House ought to consider most carefully whether such a change is reasonable and desirable. The right hon. Gentleman opposite during his tenure of oflice—and I am inclined to think he was right—lowered the qualification of guardians in Ireland to £8. This Bill goes very much further, and makes the qualification the same as the qualification of an elector. Therefore, you might have a whole board of guardians composed of men who pay no rates. It has been found necessary in Ireland to place restrictions upon the administration of outdoor relief which are not imposed in England and Scotland. At present, if the guardians contravene the regulations respecting outdoor relief, it is possible for an auditor to surcharge them, and, therefore, they have a strong motive for keeping within the law. But, if your board of guardians consisted entirely of men of straw, it would be useless for an auditor to attempt to surcharge them. Reference has been made to the Local Government Board's power of substituting paid guardians for the elected guardians—a power which, I am sorry to say, it has been found necessary occasionally to exercise. I am not at all sure that under the fourth clause of this Bill that safeguard of the interests of the ratepayers would not be swept away entirely, for the clause declares that boards of guardians shall consist in every case of elected guardians. Whether it is the intention of the promoters of the Bill or not, T am inclined to think that the clause would take away from the Local Government Board the power of superseding elected guardians and appointing paid guardians in their stead. From what I have said to the House I think the position of the Government as regards this question will be tolerably clear. We are not able to accept the Second Heading of this Bill in the sense that by doing so we accept the principle of its provisions. We adhere to the position we took up last year when we were in opposition—namely, that in accepting the Second Reading of this Bill we acknowledge that the system of local government in Ireland stands in need of reform by an increase in popular representation; and I trust, Sir, although it is difficult to forecast with certainty the future, that before we leave office we shall be able to take up this question, not in a piecemeal way, but as a whole, and that we shall not leave office without leaving behind us a Local Government Act for Ireland as one of the achievements we have been able to accomplish. [Cheers.]


said that it was exactly 10 years since they heard the same speech, when it was made by Lord Randolph Churchill. They had all grown much greyer and balder since that time, but there was no sign yet of any Scheme of local government for Ireland.


There was a Bill in 1892.


Yes, there was the "put them in the dock" Bill; but the fact remained, and had remained for the last 96 years, that the monkeys in the Zoological Gardens had as much control over their keepers as the ordinary Irishman had over his local affairs. Every year the Government pretended they were going to reform all this, but every year they found the same English question arise to prevent anything being done. Some racket in the Soudan or in Burmah was started, and of course that was of much more importance. Irishmen wanted hon. Gentlemen opposite to be kind enough to allow them to develop their Empire. It was a poor thing, but it was their own. He must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the plan he had adopted for dealing with Irish Bills. He had always thought it was a good plan for the Tory Party. Hitherto Irish Members had had to complain that the cemetery for Irish Bills was another institution across the Lobby, but the Tory Party had now discovered that the Rules of the House of Commons were adequate for strangling every Irish Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite found that they might allow even a Bill for the Separation of Ireland to be read a Second time on a Wednesday afternoon, and yet go home and enjoy their coffee in the most perfect confidence that no harm had been done. They could go to their constituencies and say "we approve of this Bill and we give it our adhesion. We know that Ireland ought to have local government, but only at the proper time." For 96 years the Irish Members had been coming in supplication to the House of Commons pretty much like Lazarus begging crumbs from Dives. They had been begging the House to do something for their country, but unless there was revolution, or bloodshed, or murder, nothing happened. When outrages did occur, there was a great outcry, but there was always legislation. All Irishmen knew very well, of course, that the adhesion of the Tory Party to this Bill was the merest Parliamentary hypocrisy. They had to do it for their constituents, because Conservative working men liked to have a pretence made to them that the same laws would be passed for Ireland as were passed for England. There was no genuineness or earnestness about this support of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman talked about local government and safeguards, and how in the interests of the ratepayers he had had to appoint paid guardians. What was the case in which he had had to do it? That of Athlone, where the miserable paupers were deprived of the consolation of the nuns by reason of the action of the right hon. Gentleman.


The nuns are in Athlone Workhouse to this day.


I am speaking of them as nurses.


Yes. The nuns are there to this day, and so far as I am aware, they never left.


said, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman was acquainted with the facts. The right hon. Gentleman would bring in Bills about park regulations and matters of that kind, but to any Bill which the Irish people desired, he gave this kind of critical assent. All the right hon. Gentleman desired was to get as easily through his term of office as he could, so as to do as little harm as he could to his friends, the landlords, and to block as much as he could any legislation that would give satisfaction to the people at large. The House had heard the kind of speech the right hon. Gentleman had made, over and over and over again, and they knew what had come of them.


said, that a short time ago a Bill brought in by the noble Lord the Member for Rochester, which vitally affected the property of lay patrons—the Benefices Bill—was allowed by the Government to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law. It was a Bill of great public importance, largely affecting vested interests, and it was now being carefully discussed. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to follow that precedent in this case, and, as he was assenting to the Second Reading of this Bill, to allow it also to be referred to the Standing Committee on Law.


said that of course he should at once bow to the ruling from the Chair. The progress made by the Standing Committee on Law during the period of office of the late Government, as well as under the present Government, had not been satisfactory.


Order, order! I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the question before the House is that the Bill be read a Second time. The hon. Member must confine his remarks to that Motion.


said that he had understood that the question before the House was that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law. If that were not the case he would not trespass further upon the attention of the House.


said that he had not intended to intervene in this Debate, and was, therefore, not prepared to say much that was new upon the subject matter of the Bill. They had to look upon this Measure in connection with the state of things that had existed in Ireland many years ago. He did not think that the hon. Member for Louth had any very distinct recollection of the state of things that had prevailed in that country at the period to which he referred. He himself, however, was old enough to remember what the condition of Ireland was in the days before Poor Law Guardians were in existence in that country. In those days private charity was available to a very large extent, and the consequence was that it was not necessary to apply to the public rates for the sustenance of the poor of the country. That, however, was not the case at the present time. The sources of private charity had been dried up and the poor had to be supported out of the rates.


rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


continuing, said that he was very much obliged to the hon. Member for Cork County for his courteous interruption. He was not speaking merely because he wished to occupy the time of the House, but because he wanted to say one or two words as to certain parts of the hon. Member's Bill. It was proposed by the Bill that the Irish labourer should get an acre of land attached to his dwelling. He was bound to say that he did not think that the labourer required such a large quantity of land to cultivate for his own purposes, and that very few of them would cultivate it with advantage to themselves. He had a very strong opinion that every man who cultivated half-an-acre of land in his spare time would hesitate before he undertook the cultivation of an additional half-acre. He had consulted many labourers upon the subject, and all of them thought that half-an-acre was as much as they could cultivate with advantage. Hon. Members opposite occasionally evinced great anxiety to forward the interests of the Irish labourer in that House, but they did not appear to have endeavoured to induce their constituents to avail themselves of the beneficial provisions of Measures which had already been passed in their favour. It was only a Session or two ago that a Bill had been carried to empower Irish Boards of Guardians to build labourers' cottages, and it was not until an appeal had been made to the Local Government Board that the local Poor Law Guardians could be induced to carry out the provisions of the Act. He could not understand the complaint of the hon. Member for Louth that Irish Members obtained so small a share of the attention of the House. The fact was that Irish Members occupied nearly every Wednesday of the year, and he thought that they might be very well satisfied with the time of the House which they had allotted to them. In conclusion, he desired to say that he was still of the opinion that he had expressed upon former occasions, that the landed proprietors of the country who paid the rates ought not to be deprived of such power as they at present possessed of influencing the Boards of Guardians under the system of ex-officio guardians, property qualification and plural voting. It was in his view only just that taxation and representation should go together. It was not the fact that the whole of the county cess fell upon the tenants, or that the tenants had not a great voice in its expenditure. The Grand Juries of the country could not initiate taxation. They occupied somewhat of the position of the House of Lords, because they might, so to speak, throw a Bill out, but they could not increase the expenditure by a shilling. He was glad to think that this Bill was likely to lead to a general Measure upon the subject being brought in by the Government. It was impossible that such a question could be adequately dealt with in a Bill brought in by a private Member.

Question put, and agreed to; Bill read a Second time.

DR. TANNER moved, "That the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law, etc."


It is too late to argue the point at this time of the afternoon, but in my judgment this Measure, which has been introduced by a private Member, ought not to be dealt with by the Standing Committee on Law, but rather by a Committee of the whole House, seeing that the Measure goes to the root of the Local Government system in Ireland.

Question put, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc."

The House divided:—Ayes, 154; Noes, 207.—(Division List, No. 101.)

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow.