HC Deb 18 February 1896 vol 37 cc629-32
MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

moved the Second Heading of this Bill which he explained, was to extend to women in Ireland the same privilege now enjoyed by their sisters in England and Wales of acting as Guardians. There were 887 lady Guardians in England. Ladies, he contended, were eminently qualified to deal with the questions which occupied the attention of Boards of Guardians, and he hoped therefore the House would agree to the Second Reading of a Measure which, he believed, had the support of all sections of Irish Members.

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)

I object.


seconded the Motion, saying he was quite sure that the Poor Law Boards in Ireland would be greatly strengthened by the admission to the ranks of Guardians of ladies who were well qualified to deal with the questions that came before such Boards. There were lady Guardians in England to the number of over 800, and why should there not also be lady Guardians in Ireland? While he objected to separate legislation for Ireland, he wished to see all Bills applicable to England extended to the sister country.

MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)

objected to the Bill on the ground that no general desire had beer expressed in Ireland for such a change as that, which it proposed to effect. He was sorry that the hon. Member who had proposed this Measure had not first turned his attention to an effort to reform the present mode of election and extension of the franchise applicable to the Poor Law Boards in Ireland, before moving in the direction he had done. For his part he considered the presence of ladies on Boards of Guardians instead of tending to facilitate, would rather have the effect of embarrassing the proceedings of those bodies, and at any rate other grievances in connection with the whole subject should be remedied before they embarked upon the legislation to which they were invited by the hon. Member.


said he intended to vote for the Bill, if it were pressed to a Division, because he considered that with regard to the treatment of women in general, it was desirable that they should have some chance of dealing with matters which they were quite capable of undertaking, such as the method of tending to the poor, and the treatment, of women and of children. If it were a fact that women talked more than men at these Boards of Guardians—which he doubted—he thought the time would be extremely well employed in listening to them, and he did not think they should grudge them this appointment of speaking on the limited subjects that came before such Boards, seeing they had bottled them up for so very many years. At the same time, he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for the Harbour Division, that this question of the Guardians in Ireland required more than the treatment proposed to be devoted to it by the hon. Member for South Belfast. In Ireland the franchise which England enjoyed with respect to the election of Guardians did not exist. In Ireland they had ex officio Guardians. In Ireland the Chief Secretary by a stroke of his pen could abolish Guardians altogether and send his agents to appoint, in their place persons who were considered locally to be most offensive partisans. There was now an opportunity to effect some real reforms in the Irish Poor Law Guardian system; with that object he suggested that the Bill should be referred to a Grand Committee.


observed that the Bill had come upon them as a surprise in consequence of the collapse of the Opposition and the consequent collapse of the Debate on the Address. The Measure, apparently, was not supported unanimously by Irish Members. His practice was to support his Party always when it was right, often when it was wrong, and invariably when he did not understand the question at issue. That being the case he asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland to give the House some indication of the course which he thought ought to be taken with regard to this Bill, He did not understand the measure as he would like to. One clause began "Any female person having the qualifications which make the male person eligible," &c. For his part he could not conceive that a female person could have the qualifications of a male person. Unless the Chief Secretary expressed an opinion favourable to the Bill he should not support it, for he was as much opposed to bisexualism in public life as he was to bimetallism in finance. His view was that the business of the world and even that part of it performed by Boards of Guardians could be transacted better by men than by women. He was, however, open to conviction, and admitted that Irish men and women had claims to be treated with special consideration in matters of this kind. One remark had fallen from the introducer of the Bill, from which he must dissent. The hon. Member had said that the Measure should be passed as quickly as possible. For his part, he did not approve the practice of rapid legislation. Measures ought to be considered without undue hurry and ought not to be pressed forward at the end of a sitting when other business had come to an untimely end in a fashion unforeseen.

DR. KENNY (Dublin, College Green)

said that he did not often find himself in disagreement with the hon. Member from the Harbour Division of Dublin and in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member from North Down. That, however, was his position in the present occasion, for he gave the Bill his full support. He spoke from the point of view of a visiting surgeon to a large union, and knew well the amount of good that women Guardians would be able to do. The wants of women in unions must be understood better by members of their own sex than by men.


rose to address the House at the same time as the Chief Secretary for Ireland.


The hon. Member for West Cavan has already spoken.


No, Sir, I have not.


The hon. Member said, "I object." [Laughter.]


said, that the hon. Member for King's Lynn had asked for the guidance of the Government with reference to this Bill. He had no idea that his hon. Friend was so anxious that he should receive indications from the Government as to the way in which he should act. [Laughter.] He might, however, say at once that, as at present advised, the Government saw no objection to the Bill. It merely assimilated the state of things in Ireland, so far as the measure went with the state of affairs already existing in England. The general policy of the Government was to assimilate the state of things in Ireland to that which prevailed in England so far as it could be safely done. He thought that this policy of assimilation could be safely arrived at in this case, and he expressed surprise that the only opposition to the Bill came from hon. Members opposite.

The House divided:—Ayes, 272; Noes, 8.—(Division List, No. 7.)

Bill read a Second Time, and committed for To-morrow.

Adjourned at Twenty-five minutes after Eleven o'clock.

In pursuance of Standing Order No. 1, "Sittings of the House,"

I hereby nominate:—

The Right Hon. Charles Beilby Stuart Wortley,

to act during this Session as temporary Chairmen of Committees when requested by the Chairman of Ways and Means.