§ 1. £114,389, to complete the sum for Local Government Board, Ireland.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said that he regretted to hear of the impending retirement of Mr. Cotton, one of the inspectors of the Board, under the "65 Rule." Mr. Cotton was a most faithful, zealous, and experienced public servant; he was the author of several works on local government and engineering questions; and it would be a great misfortune to lose his services under the "65 Rule." He hoped that the Treasury would arrange for an extension of Mr. Cotton's period of service.
§ CAPTAIN DONELAN (Cork, E.)
desired again to direct the attention of the Chief Secretary to a matter which was of very considerable interest to a large number of ratepayers in Ireland, especially the ratepayers in the south of Ireland, namely, the unequal and inequitable manner in which the Exchequer grant in aid for the erection of labourers' cottages was allocated, by limiting its application to schemes carried out subsequent to 1891. He asked the Chief Secretary to reconsider his unfortunate decision, announced last Monday, that he would 1062 take no steps to remedy the injustice, for he ventured to say that in the annals of English administration in Ireland it would be difficult to discover a more palpable case of injustice than arose from. the present arrangement. One would imagine that the application of the grant had been deliberately designed with a view to punishing those unions which had promptly taken advantage of the Labourers' Dwellings Act for the purpose of building cottages. In the province of Minister, which had set such an excellent example in this respect, no less than 60,192 cottages were built previous to the year 1891, or nearly twice as many as in all the rest of Ireland, and yet the majority of the Unions in the province would receive no relief whatever, because they had put the Labourers' Act into operation long prior to 1891. Two unions in his own constituency, Middleton and Youghal, were amongst the first to take advantage of the Act for the purpose of providing decent cottages for the labourers; and between the years 1883 and 1897, 206 cottages were built in Youghal at a cost of £26,000, and 198 in Middleton at a cost of £25,000. And yet because those unions carried out their schemes before 1891 they would not receive an allowance of one penny from this Exchequer grant, while those unions which in those years left the labourers in hovels unfit for human habitation were to be handsomely rewarded by receiving substantial aid from the grant. He felt confident that the mere statement of these plain, unvarnished, and undeniable facts could not but convince the Chief Secretary of the absolute necessity for taking some steps to remedy this very serious grievance by making the Act retrospective.
§ *MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)
said he desired to support very strongly the appeal of his hon. and gallant Friend. He found from the Returns of the Local Government Hoard that in the whole of the north-east of Ulster there was not one single labourer's cottage erected, while in the south and south-western districts very large numbers of cottages had been erected. From Clones to Larne and from Omagh to Newry not a single cottage had been erected, while in the union of Tipperary 435 had been erected; in Cork, 348; in Limerick, 461; in Waterford, 435; in 1063 Kanturk, 336; in Cashel, 310; In Trim, 300; in Callan, 352; and in Navan, 305. It would be a great injustice, indeed, if the unions which had put the Labourers' Act into operation early should be deprived of the advantage of the grant-in-aid, and he appealed to the Chief Secretary to supply some retrospective provisions which would extend the relief to those unions that had erected cottages prior to 1891. He desired to discuss the general policy of the Local Government Board in Ireland. The announcement made that evening by the First Lord of the Treasury made it to some extent difficult for the Irish Members to discuss the matter at any great length, because they were promised changes in the system of Irish local government which would go a long way to remedy many of the things of which they had long complained. At present, Ireland was governed by three or four gentlemen who sat in the Custom House, Dublin, in different apartments, and who rarely, if ever, consulted the right hon. Gentleman who in virtue of his position as Chief Secretary was President of the Local Government Board. He had had occasion to approach the right hon. Gentleman on matters of Local Government Board administration; and he was astonished at the ignorance of the right hon. Gentleman in respect to things which were probably done in his name The right hon. Gentleman had no idea of the very serious orders, many of them sealed orders, issued by his subordinates in Dublin, if they were his subordinates, very vitally affecting many sacred interests in different parts of the country. Last week he had to complain to him of the compulsory closing of the Ardagh (Co. Longford) Cemetery against the wishes of the inhabitants, and of the Longford Board of Guardians; yet, when he came to question him about it, the right hon. Gentleman knew nothing of the matter. He did not blame the right hon. Gentleman. He thought it was impossible for him to fulfil the many duties which were cast upon him in his diverse capacities in that House, and accordingly he did not blame him in the matter. He was there as the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and also as the President of the Local Government Board, and he did not seem to be consulted by the other Members of that Board with regard to the onerous 1064 duties which he was supposed to perform in connection with it. He hoped one result of the promise which had been made to them that evening would be that the present centralised system of management would be radically altered, and that something in the nature of popular control in connection with the central management would be inaugurated. He hoped that instead of half-pay colonels, or retired officers and navy captains, men would be appointed in whose interest in regard to the Poor Law the public had some confidence. He complained of the class of inspectors who were appointed under the system of the Local Government Board. Men more eminently unsuited to the discharge of the duties they were supposed to perform it would be almost impossible to find, and sometimes they treated the guardians with whom they were brought in contact with very little courtesy. He did not wish to pillory anybody, but his idea, was that these gentlemen were simply wage earners, and did not care a straw about the grave duties they were called on to perform. He took the instance of the union of Belmullet, the people of which were recently brought face to face with starvation. The Local Government Board were wired to, written to, and memorialised on ever so many occasions to do something to relieve the distress, but it would scarcely be believed that the only sympathy they received from the central authority was that an inspector was sent down, who rode into the district on a bicycle one morning and left the next day. He took no pains to ascertain the actual condition of the people or to make a thorough inspection of their grievances, and made a report which was entirely opposed to the state of facts that existed in the locality. When the right hon. Gentleman was called upon to make a statement on the subject he said that the report was a confidential document. He thought it was a public scandal that in a matter of vital importance, where the lives of thousands of people were at stake, the right hon. Gentleman was not in a position to have the Inquiry which was called for openly and above board, and had to rely upon such a report as could be got in this haphazard way. If the inspector in that case had been a man 1065 who sympathised with the people there would have been no necessity for the Chief Secretary to have been ashamed of publishing the Report, and relief might have been brought where it was most sadly needed. He could mention other cases in which trouble had arisen, owing to the friction which had taken place from time to time between the guardians and the arrogant inspectors of the Local Government Board. He hoped in the promised reform some effort would he made to appoint these officers, not by political or Party favouritism, but according to their qualifications as proved by examination. With reference to the present workhouse system he cited the case of the county of Longford, in which there were three workhouses. These workhouses were built in 1837, the population of the county in 1841 being 126,000. The population to-day, however, was only 52,000, but there were still the same three workhouses, while the taxation had doubled or trebled since 1841. Nobody who had rend the statements in the Irish medical Press last year and the year before would say that the condition of the inmates of the workhouses was a happy one. He repudiated the statement that their condition was due to a desire on the part of the guardians to treat the inmates harshly for economical reasons. The average Irish Poor Law Guardian was not disposed to be inhumane, but he was compelled to administer certain rules framed for him by the Local Government Board, and if harm was done it was the system that was at fault. He complained of the system of dietary in the workhouses, which was in most cases entirely un-suited to the unfortunate inmates. For the most part the food consisted of coarse bread and milk and a kind of greasy water called by politeness soup. The average cost of this food was 2s. 6d. to 3s. per head. At the same cost a scale of nourishing food could be substituted which though smaller in quantity, would be more suitable and nutritious. Then the so-called infirmaries in average Irish workhouses were little better than death traps. He had visited them, so did not speak from hearsay. The rooms without light, the hard, coarse kind of plank beds which the paupers had to he on, and the want of proper ventilation and attendance, constituted a crave scandal. The 1066 Chief Secretary might say all this was the fault of the Poor Law Guardians. But when the guardians, from motives of humanity, tried to remedy it, the Local Government Board pounced upon them, disallowed the expense, and made them pay it out of their own pockets. According to the last report of the Irish Local Government Board in 1875, on a, valuation of £13,500,000, £975,000 was collected in poor rates, averaging 1s. 5¼d, of which 1s. 5¾d. was spent in relief. In 1885 the valuation had gone up to £13,878,000, and the rates collected to £1,260,000. In 1895 £1,44.5,000 was collected for poof rate purposes being an increase of nearly £500,000 in twenty years. While between 1875 and 1895 the population of Ireland had decreased by more than a million, the taxation of Ireland for poor law purposes had increased to the extent of £500,000. The Irish Local Government system was undermanned and overworked. Duties had been cast upon it which did not rationally or properly belong to it, and proper machinery had not been provided for the proper discharge of these duties. At the present time, under the existing Poor Law system, they had to look after the relief of the poor, the administration of the Labourers' Acts, the Public Health Act, the Registration of voters (franchise), Registration of births, deaths, and marriages, the Towns Improvement Act, the Housing of Working Classes Act, and many minor matters which required separate attention. He agreed that some things must necessarily be neglected where so many had to be attended to. But some of the matters entrusted to the Poor Law Guardians were of the greatest importance. Nothing could be of greater importance than the public health of the country. The Public Health Act was worked in Ireland principally by dispensary medical officers. He did not complain of them. In many cases they did their work with a desire to benefit the community. But the Act required considerable amendments. There were many cases which could not be brought within its scope, which should be attended to, while, I hardships were inflicted under it with which their hide-bound system of officialism did not know how to treat. Then the Franchise Act struck at the 1067 root of our representative system. It was according to the discharge of the duties under the Act that election to this House took place, and elections to Boards of Guardians and Town Commissioners. How were the ordinary duties peformed under the Act? He asserted on his responsibility as a Member of Parliament, that to his certain knowledge in two cases out of five no franchise forms were served at all, and if served and collected, so inefficient was the system of registration that in a great many cases men were on the list who had been dead and gone for the last five or six years. The Nationalist Members from Ireland were certainly deprived of some portion of their grievances by the statement made earlier in the evening by the Leader of the House. But the poor law system in Ireland was a very antiquated system. It did not perform effectually by any means the duties entrusted to it by Act of Parliament. The very poor of the community were not properly relieved; whilst by the way in which the system was worked officialism took more than its due share of the money, and great changes must therefore be made before the Local Government Board system in Ireland would commend itself to the Irish people. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. JAMES DALY (Monaghan, S.)
drew attention to the action of the Local Government Board in Ireland. He said he considered it was a most out of date and unsympathetic body, and endeavoured in most cases to flout the wishes and desires of the Boards of Guardians throughout the country. For instance, the Board of Guardians of the Dundalk Union wanted to carry out a main drainage scheme. A large sum of money was necessarily required for the scheme, and the Board desired to carry it out as economically as possible. The Hibernian Bank offered to advance the money at 3 per cent., whereas the old bank at which they kept their account wanted 5 per cent, as well as a mortgage on the property of the Union, and also to charge interest on the overdraft. The Board thought they could do nothing better than take the money from the cheapest source and save the ratepayers 2 per cent, thereby. They accordingly informed the Local Government Board that they proposed to take the money from the Hibernian Bank and to transfer their 1068 account to that bank; but the Local Government Board said "No !" The result was that they could not borrow from the cheapest source. It was surprising to think that such a thing could occur in any country. Another matter of which he wished to complain was the unwillingness of the Local Government Board to allow pauper children to be nursed outside. His point was that by placing the children out to nurse with families, they gained a good idea of industry, and it would be found that in most cases in which servants, whereas the children who were turned to the workhouse. They became part and parcel as it were of the family with which they lived, and became good servants, whereas the children who were retained in the workhouses seldom or never came to any good, and were only fit for the gaol or some other such place. He would therefore urge the Chief Secretary to consider seriously whether the Boards of Guardians ought not to have the power to send children out to nurse. In the end it would be found that it was cheaper to do so than to keep the children in the workhouses. ["Hear, hear !"] He had a further complaint to make on the subject in the appointment of Local Government Board inspectors. The gentlemen who were now appointed knew nothing of the work they had to perform, and nearly always had to seek instruction in their duties from some workhouse officials. There was at the present time a competition amongst the inspectors as to who could send in the longest report, and the Boards of Guardians were invariably put to great trouble and pressure in connection with their reports. He would suggest to the Chief Secretary that if possible there should be promotion from amongst the ranks of Union officials. If that were done the work of the Unions would be carried out much better than it was under the present system of appointing half-pay officers, or men who, owing to political influence, were put in the position of Local Government Board inspectors. ["Hear, hear!"] The next point he wished to call attention to was the question of the erection of labourers' cottages. He came from Ulster, and, so far as this question was concerned, he was sorry to belong to that part of Ireland. In all the counties of Ulster only eight or nine cottages had been built 1069 under the Act, while in Munster as many as 6,000 had been erected, and in Con-naught 91. In Ulster the unfortunate labourers lived in hovels, in a state of dirt and misery. In answer to a question of his, the right hon. Gentleman said that there remained in the Treasury a sum of almost £12,000 that had not been used for the erection of cottages, and the greater portion of that sum should have been used in Ulster if the Boards of Guardians had done their duty. He would like to know why the Local Government Board did not compel the Boards of Guardians to do their duty in this respect? The right hon. Gentleman was responsible in that House for this state of things, and he hoped he would see that the Boards of Guardians in Ulster erected cottages when application was made to them. ["Hear, hear !"] If the right hon. Gentleman went through Ireland he could not fail to notice the vast difference between the condition of labourers who lived in cottages erected under the Act and those who did not. The difference that was to be noticed in the children of these two classes of people was extraordinary. The representatives of the tenant farmers in Ireland had been fighting in that House to obtain for them the possession of their own holdings, and while they did that it was also their duty to try and get for the labourers their own houses, as it enabled them to dispose of their labour to the best advantage. ["Hear, hear!"] There was another matter which very much affected the ratepayers of Ireland, and that was with regard to the deportation of paupers. He had for a long time past been questioning the light hon. Gentleman on this subject, but, he was sorry to say, with very little result. He could not help giving the Government credit for the reply—which he attributed to the hon. Member for South Tyrone— with regard to deportation. They were perfectly satisfied with that reply, which was that the Local Government Board would invite a conference on the subject with the Scotch and English Votes, so that they might arrange some way of preventing the deportation of Irish paupers. It was then found out, after long looking for, that it was owing to the Scotch Office, which declined to interfere in the matter. Anyone who heard the answer from the Scotch Office would 1070 think that it was the Concert of Europe that was proposed, instead of a conference of the three Local Government Boards. It was impossible that this matter could go on. It was so great a grievance in 1843 that Englishmen and Scotchmen protested against there being one law for them and another law for Irishmen. Lord Londonderry, of the time, and no one would doubt his politics, opposed heart and soul that paupers who had spent the best of their days in England and Scotland, should be deported back to Ireland to districts which had never profited by a farthing from them. But it was the same thing now with regard to financial grievances—the Irish Members were voted down. In 1843 a remarkable thing happened. It was the Liberals who passed the law which allowed Irish paupers to be sent back to Ireland, and in 1897 it was a Tory Government which would not give the relief due to Ireland on the financial relations question. Whether the Government was Liberal or Tory, it was prepared to defraud Ireland. He hoped they were going to have a brighter future for Ireland, and that after the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury he hoped this would be the last time that Irishmen would have to complain of a grievance which had been going on for 45 years. They were 45 years behind England and Scotland. Surely, as they paid an equal share of the taxes for Imperial purposes, they ought to have an equal share in the grants. If they went to a Division, he should, if necessary, move the reduction of the Vote by £10,000. This was no Party question. Besides affecting English ratepayers, it was an insult and a stigma on Ireland. He would mention ! another matter on this question. If a pauper removed from one part of Ireland to another, not a farthing of money could the Guardians spend to remove him back to his own union. If an Englishman or Scotchman became chargeable on any union in Ireland, not one penny of the ratepayers money could be used to send him back; but from Great Britain the rates could be used to send a man back to Ireland. Now this was an injustice.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
said the hon. Member could not discuss English and Scotch matters on this Vote. That was not the proper time to discuss this grievance.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
called attention to the subject of dispensary doctors, who were not now of a character on which the remote districts could be congratulated. He did not insinuate that the right hon. Gentleman or his Department were in any way responsible for the present state of things, because everybody knew that the appointments of dispensary doctors were vested in the Dispensary Committees of Boards of Guardians. Often local and family prejudices prevailed and good men had little chance of appointment. He hoped that in any scheme of local government for Ireland the question of the appointment of dispensary doctors would not be overlooked, and that it would be placed in the hands of the County Councils or some larger bodies than the present Dispensary Committees of Boards of Guardians. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken that the tramp question was as difficult a one in Ireland as in England. He could not help thinking, however, that some, at least, of the difficulty would disappear in Ireland if the Guardians enforced the rules more stringently.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
thought it would be found that in the appointment of dispensary doctors in Ireland much the same condition of things prevailed as in England. In opening the discussion his hon. and gallant Friend drew attention to the way in which the money allocated to Irish purposes was given to the different Boards of Guardians. The reply the Chief Secretary gave the other day on this point did not commend itself to any man of justice. The Labourers' Cottages Act was passed in the early eighties, and many Boards of Guardians undertook to erect cottages under the Act. A grunt was now being given to Boards of Guardians according to the number of cottages being erected. No heed, however, was paid to the cottages erected prior to 1891. That was manifestly unfair, indeed it amounted to the putting of a premium upon Boards doing little or nothing. The machinery of the Act was complicated and cumbersome, 1072 and it was only just that those Boards who undertook to put it in operation, should have some benefit from their enterprise and that the ratepayers of the localities should not be fined on account of the Act being administered. As to the working of the Act he noticed from the Estimates that there were a certain number of inspectors employed by the Local Government Board, and also a certain number of engineering inspectors. When money was advanced, on loan to the Boards of Guardians, the Local Government Board insisted that their inspectors should visit the cottages and see that the money had been fairly laid out. At present there were only two engineering inspectors, and the number of cottages erected, particularly in Munster and Leinster, was very great, with the result that the different Boards of Guardians were asking month after month that inspectors should be sent down to see the cottages, but were being informed by the Local Government Board that they had not sufficient staff. He was not anxious to increase the staff of the Board, but means should be found by which the cottages erected could be officially inspected. There was another point connected with labourers' cottages which he desired to mention. Several Boards of Guardians, especially in Munster, had been anxious to be empowered to give-small prizes with a view to encouraging labourers to keep their cottages and garden plots in order. For some reason or other the Local Government Board had always set their faces against the idea. He did not mean to say that the cottages were badly kept now, but the offering of such prizes would, he was sure, do good. In Connaught many of the ratepayers were as poor as the labourers, and, therefore, he thought the Treasury might do something to lessen the rate of interest on the money lent. In connection with the Vote there was another matter he wished to call attention to. One of the duties of the Poor Law Commissioners was to prepare the Parliamentary and other registers. The present system of preparing the Parliamentary register in counties was absurd. In towns and cities the register was prepared by sheets, and alphabetically by sheets the system I worked well. He had already brought in a Bill providing for the preparation of: the Parliamentary register by townlands. 1073 No question of Party was involved, but the change proposed would relieve the clerks of unions of a, great deal of trouble, simplify the preparation of the register, and make the register more exact. The hon. Member for South Leitrim had tried his best to get the Bill through, but it was always blocked, and he believed that the Attorney General for Ireland was opposed to the Bill. What the right hon. Gentleman's reasons were for opposing it he did not know, and he trusted they would be stated.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
The hon. Gentleman is now discussing an alleged grievance that could only be remedied by legislation, and, as I have repeatedly reminded the Committee, subjects for legislation cannot be discussed in Supply.
§ MR. P. J. POWER
said that there was no more dismal reading than the statistics published by the Local Government Board, because they showed that the population of Ireland was decreasing, while taxation was increasing. In England there was, on the contrary, an increasing population and decreasing taxation. Allusion had been made to the question of the boarding out of children. He had some experience in Poor Law administration, having been chairman of large Board of Guardians for some 15 years, and he could corroborate what had been said by the hon. Member on that subject. The system prevailed to a large extent in his union, and he could hardly call to mind a single case of a child's returning to the union after it had been sent out to nurse. Of course, supervision was necessary, and the people to whom children were sent must be respectable. He believed that in 99 cases out of 100 the child was regarded as a member of the family to which it was sent, and in many cases it was given the family name The system had worked well in Waterford Union, and he hoped to see it extended. The administration of the Poor Law in Ireland compared favourably in many respects with its administration in this country. He had often heard it said that Nationalist and Catholic Board of Guardians in Ireland behaved with intolerance towards the Protestant minority, but he did not believe that the allegation could be substantiated. In the Waterford Union there were only some 12 non-Catholic inmates. 1074 They had a ward and matron to themselves, and a respectable salary was paid to a clergyman of the Church of England who administered to their spiritual wants. A room had been specially prepared at a cost of about £100 for the Protestant services. An example of that kind might, he thought, be imitated with advantage in English unions in which there were Catholics. In conclusion, he asked the Chief Secretary to do what he could to facilitate the working of the Labourers' Act, and urged that it was desirable to appoint more inspectors to superintend the erection of cottages and to see that the money devoted to the purpose was properly expended.
§ MR. JASPER TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
said that they had all welcomed the announcement made that day by the First Lord of the Treasury, to the effect that a new system of local government was to be established in Ireland. The antiquated machinery, as it had been called, that now existed had been the means of debasing public life in parts of Ireland. In consequence of the system of proxy voting, and of ex-officio members, the local boards in Ireland were not under the control of the majority of the people in a district. They were in the hands of cliques, and were ruled by the officials of the Departments. He knew some Boards in which the Clerk to the Union was paramount. In these Boards if any independent member tried to remedy abuses the Clerk managed to get rid of him by playing upon the prejudices and partisan proclivities of the landlords and others. That was possible, because under the proxy system one landlord had more than 30 votes, while the ordinary ratepayer had only one. They wanted a system through which the fresh air of public opinion could blow. The hon. Member for Yarmouth seemed to think that there ought to be further restraints upon public control, and that in remote districts the people, through the Dispensary Committees, ought not to be allowed to select their own medical officers; but when, matters had been taken out of the hands of the people's representatives and transferred to the Local Government Board, the change had always been for the worse. The administration of the Franchise Acts in Ireland illustrated his objection to the retrogade proposals of the hon. Member 1075 for Yarmouth. By these Acts it was provided that once every year forms should be issued to every ratepayer, so that a return might be supplied of everyone entitled to be put upon the register. The officials were formerly paid according to the number of notices they issued and the number of names appearing upon the lists. In places where the people were all of the same way of thinking politically, there was really no necessity for sending out these forms, and the Guardians did not insist that the notices should be served. The Local Government Board, however, influenced by the representations of their officials, who wanted to make more money and who thought it a hardship that they should have to go to the Guardians for payment under the Franchise Acts, and that the Guardians should be entitled to refuse payment when no work had been done, instituted a new system, under which these officials were paid very highly. What was the result? In districts in Westmeath, Longford, Roscommon, and Sligo the officials, knowing that their salaries were fixed, issued no new notices at all, and allowed the registers to remain neglected. The Guardians and ratepayers were, therefore, now paying for work that was not done. He urged upon the Chief Secretary to inquire into this matter, in the interests of the ratepayers of Ireland and of the British Treasury. There was another matter to which he wished to call attention. The gentlemen, who were appointed as Poor Law Inspectors varied their policy under different Governments. When a Liberal Government was in power they were as mild as sucking doves, but when a Tory Government was in office they acted like autocratic pro-Consuls determined to wipe out from existence Boards of Guardians that were not very civil and humble. The Athlone Union, for example, was dissolved because the Nationalist chairman of the Board was not sufficiently respectful to the Poor Law Inspector, but in the adjacent Union of Mullingar the Inspector was treated deferentially, and the consequence was that things were done in that union which would not be permitted elsewhere. He had put a Question to the Chief Secretary that day with regard to affairs in that Union, and he was sure the right hon. 1076 Gentleman would admit that his reply was a practical admission of the grave charges he embodied in that Question, and demanded some sort of inquiry or action on his part. Take the medicine contract. The Clerk of the Union issued two classes of advertisements, one in the local papers and another in the Dublin papers. In the advertisement published in the local papers it was made a condition that the firms tendering should send in a letter saying they were tendering. There was no such absurd condition mentioned in the Dublin papers, and, consequently, when the tenders from Dublin or Cork, or Sligo came in, the clerk held that they wore informal because they had not complied with this condition, and they were never opened. The contract was given to the local contractor, in whose employment was the brother of the Clerk of the Union. The attention of the Local Government Board Inspector was called to the matter, and a sworn Inquiry was held. It was then found that, while the local contractor had charged £71 1s. for some of the items, the price given by Messrs. Leslie in their tender for the same items was only, £40 10s. 11d. The result was that practically £300 or £400 was simply given away to the local contractor. What else happened? "Extras" had to be charged according to the ordinary Dublin wholesale houses' list. There was no wholesale list in this case, and the local contractor made up a wholesale list of his own and charged accordingly; and this clerk passed it. The Local Government Board, in their Report, found that the local contractor had been paid large sums for "extras" which he was not entitled to and they decided that he was unfit to have the contract. Advertisements were again issued last year, and again Dublin, Cork, and Sligo houses tendered, as well as this local contractor, and again, through the friends of this clerk, the contract was voted to the same person, in spite of the finding of the Local Government Board that he was unfit to hold a, contract in that Union. In their Report last year the Local Government Board said that—After a careful consideration of all the facts of the case, and having regard to the gross system of overcharging practised, they have come to the conclusion that the local contractor should not be entrusted with the supply 1077 of the medicines, and the Board must accordingly request that the Guardians will forthwith give notice to cancel the contract.In face of these facts the right hon. Gentleman said the Local Government Board had no power to dissolve the contract.
§ MR. TULLY
said that he understood it so. Then with regard to the administration of outdoor relief in the same Union. An independent Committee, which inquired into the matter, found that—about £1,000 a year is distributed by the relieving officer in the electoral division of Mullingar, which has put 1s. 8d. in the pound on that division, and that a considerable amount of this outdoor relief is spent in the public houses.The Union was paying 2s. a head for outdoor relief, whereas in Belfast it was done at 1⅞d. per head, and in North Dublin at 4½d. per head. In the adjoining Union of Athlone, with almost the same population as Mullingar, the outdoor relief was only 8½d. per head of the population. The list of those who received outdoor relief showed that in many cases it was given to persons who had absolutely no claim to it. This Committee found that the list of persons who received relief should be printed quarterly and distributed among the ratepayers and posted all over the districts, but that this had not been done for a considerable time past. This was through the default of the Clerk of the Union. He thought these things were sufficient cause for personal inquiry by the Chief Secretary, for he was sure he would not tolerate any such scandal in any Union. Then with regard to the administration of the Sanitary Acts in Ireland, he thought that in any future legislation greater power should be given to the local authorities which might be set up under the machinery promised by the First Lord of the Treasury. At present the Sanitary Acts in very large parts of Ireland were practically a dead letter, owing to the limited powers of the magistrates and the guardians. He welcomed the announcement of the Leader of the House that the antiquated machinery which had produced some of the evils he had put before the House was about to be abolished, and that they were going to 1078 get something in the shape of local government as it existed in England and Scotland, which would let a little fresh air and public opinion into the affairs of Ireland.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that the discussion had travelled over a large and varying area, and he would do his best to reply to the points raised. Complaint had been made that the Exchequer contribution applied retrospectively only to the year 1891. The law as it stood did not allow the application of this money to the case of cottages sanctioned before 1891,and this year had been chosen, for the application of the money because it was the first year when the money was granted by Parliament as being available. He was aware that almost all the schemes carried out by the guardians in the south of Ireland had been carried out prior to 1891. But the purpose of Parliament was to encourage the building of cottages, and if the application of the money had been made retrospective to all the cottages built since the Labourers' Acts began it was clear that there would have been a far less sum of money available to encourage building cottages in other parts of Ireland. Next, complaint had been made of the administration of the Local Government Board, and particularly that the Local Government Board acted in practical independence of the Parliamentary authority of the Chief Secretary. No doubt there were a considerable number of instances in which the Local Government Board considered that it was entitled to act without consulting the Chief Secretary. It must be obvious that if the Chief Secretary was to be consulted by the Local Government Board on every question which arose, however minute and controversial, it would be a very great waste of time of the Chief Secretary. If cases arose where the Local Government Board appeared to have acted without due discretion, and those cases were brought to the attention of the Chief Secretary, they would be immediately inquired into. He did not think that it could be shown that there were many cases, even any, in which the Local Government Board had acted on its own responsibility without consulting the Chief Secretary in a matter of controversial character. As to the Armagh cemetery, he believed that the actual issue of the Order was suspended for a time, but the decision was come to 1079 in the time of his predecessor. The vague accusations which had been made against the inspectors were difficult to meet, but he could not say that he had many, or even any, complaints before the present as to the scant courtesy shown by the inspectors towards the Boards of Guardians. Nor was it correct to say that the inspectors did not take interest in their work. The Belmullet Union and the case of the inspector had been referred to, but the Report which he had received from Mr. Robinson could not be laid on the Table of the House because it was a confidential document. As to the workhouse system, he would be the last to say that he was satisfied with that system in Ireland. He had brought in a Bill the object of which was to make a thorough reform of that system in Ireland possible. It was impossible to pass that Measure this year, but he hoped sooner or later to see an amalgamation of unions which would be likely to form the best foundation for workhouse reform in other directions. The Local Government Board was continually trying to improve its administration, and he could not say that many complaints had come before him to show that the strictures of hon. Members as to dietary, ventilation, and so forth were justified. As to the desirability of adopting the system of boarding-out workhouse children, he thought its extension to Ireland would be of the greatest possible benefit, and he had included it in the Bill introduced by himself this year. ["Hear, hear !"] It was said the Boards of Guardians were overridden by the Local Government Board, and that the inspectors were engaged in rivalry as to who should suggest the most extensive and expensive works. It was absolutely inaccurate to say that there was any desire on the part of the Local Government Board to override the Boards of Guardians, nor could he admit that the inspectors were open to the charge of making recommendations intended to annoy the Boards of Guardians. It was an absolute travesty of facts. He was bound to put on record that he believed the inspectors did their duty,often difficult and delicate, in a most efficient manner. As to the suggestion that the inspectors should be appointed from, the same class as the Guardians, he held that it would be unsound in principle to select men for 1080 positions of authority from the class they were to control, and he did not think that the Poor Law system of Ireland or the public interest would gain, if the inspectors were drawn from, a class below in intelligence and education that from which they were drawn at present. He now came to the question of the deportation of paupers. He was sorry if he had given the hon. Member for Monaghan any occasion to complain of any answer he had given him. He trusted he had never been guilty of anything like intentional discourtesy. But it was just possible that he had got tired of answering questions which drove him to say the same thing over and over again, and if he had unintentionally fallen into any apparent want of courtesy he apologised. ["Hear, hear !"] But when the hon. Member said that in this matter of the deportation of paupers Ireland was 45 years behind England and Scotland, and blamed the Government for not bringing Ireland up to a, level with England and Scotland, he might remind him of what he said when the question was raised in the Debate on the Address—viz., that, in his (Mr. Balfour's) opinion, it was not a question of bringing Ireland up to a level with England, but rather the other way. It was rather the English, and still more the Scotch, system that cried out for alteration. If he received a universal expression of opinion from hon. Members for Ireland that in this matter of the deportation of paupers the law of Ireland should be changed so as to enable English and Scotch paupers to be deported from Ireland in the same way as Irish paupers were deported from England and Scotland—[cries of "No !"]—he should say that in his judgment they were making a mistake. Still, be would carefully consider such a suggestion. But he was helpless unless he had the co-operation of the Local Government Boards of Scotland and England.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
No doubt they were under the same Government. But, as hon. Members knew, the law was not actually the same in the three countries, and no Minister for one part of the kingdom could act as if he was perfectly independent of the Ministers for the others. This matter must rest, in the 1081 first instance, with the Local Government Boards. Unless the Scotch Local Government Board consented to an alteration of the law such as would satisfy Ireland, he was powerless. But negotiations were going on, and he did not despair of their being successful. But it was not the fault of the Irish Local Government Board that the desires of hon. Members opposite were not given I more speedy effect. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nor of the' English?"] Nor of the English. ["Hear, hear !"] A complaint had been made of the deterioration of the dispensary doctors. The alleged deterioration had been denied by the hon. Member for East Waterford. He was not able of his own knowledge to offer any opinion on the matter, but hon. Members might be assured that it should have his consideration. It was impossible, however, to suggest that the appointment of the dispensary doctors should be taken out of the hands of the properly constituted authority. ["Hear, hear !"] The hon. Member for East Waterford made a suggestion on which he should like to say one word. He said that he thought it desirable that prizes should be offered by Boards of Guardians for the best kept labourers' cottages. Well, it might be a very good thing if prizes were offered for the best kept labourers' cottages. But it did not seem to him that that was an expenditure which should come out of the rates. It should be rather a matter for local effort. He thought it would be a very good thing indeed if private subscriptions were raised for such a purpose, as was done in many parts of England and Scotland, for it tended to give the labourers an interest in their cottages, and undoubtedly had the effect of raising their morale generally. ["Hear, hear !"] Coming to the speech of the hon. Member for South Leitrim, who made a series of charges against the Local Government Board, he thought it could hardly be expected that he should deal with them in detail. It was absolutely necessary to have warning beforehand of such matters as he had raised.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Yes; and I answered those questions. It appeared to him most extraordinary that the hon. 1082 Member should have raised the question of the suspension of the Board of Guardians for Athlone. That matter was discussed amply when the Vote was before the House last year. The hon. Member ventured to say that the Athlone Board was wiped out because" it would not submit to the will of the inspector. I He did not know whether the hon. Member was present when that matter was: discussed last year. Had he been present, the did not think he would have made the charge he had now made. The details had to a certain extent escaped his memory; but he did remember this, that the Board of Guardians at Athlone was removed because of their persistent refusal to appoint trained nurses, a refusal which produced disastrous results. He made a most ample and explicit statement of the action of the Local Government Board in connection with this matter last year, and after that explanation he did not think a single Member on either side of the House ventured to rise in support of the Athlone Board of Guardians, and the Motion on the subject was withdrawn. He did not wish to use strong language, but he certainly thought that a great many of the charges which were made against the officials in Ireland, whether of the Local Government Board or other departments, should not be brought forward without more careful inquiry into the facts. Those gentlemen were not present to defend themselves; their case had to be left in his hands. It did not assist officials to discharge the onerous duties which were thrown upon them to know that in this House there were so many Members who came forward and made charges against them which, the moment they were investigated, hopelessly broke down.
§ *MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
expressed disappointment that the Chief Secretary had held out no hope of any immediate remedy on the question of deportation. It was a crying grievance, and it was not sufficient to say that because one Department in the same Government threw some difficulty in the way of other Departments, there could be no legislation. The Government, if they came to the conclusion that the law required reform, could compel the Scottish Local Government Board to acquiesce in the general views of the Administration.
§ *MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
Why? He believed there was a Bill actually prepared, but owing to that unfortunate vote about cordite—[laughter]—there was not an opportunity of submitting that Bill to the House. But unquestionably it was a crying grievance and ought to be promptly remedied. The question of deportation stood by itself and was not involved in the general question of Poor Law administration. A repeal of certain sections of some Acts of Parliament would obviate the difficulty and deprive the guardians of Glasgow or any other large town in Scotland or England of the power of deporting Irish paupers simply because Ireland happened to be the place of their birth.
§ MR. DAVID SHEEHY (Galway, S.)
condemned the reply of the Chief Secretary as very unsatisfactory. At present, some unions were suffering for the diligence with which they had put in force an Act passed by this House. Was that a way to encourage them to diligence? The unions that put the Act in force for the first seven or eight years were to be excluded for that period from all the advantages offered by the Act, and that was an injustice. The question of the deportation of Irish paupers from English and Scotch workhouses was also a crying grievance, and yet, although the grievance was brought forward year after year, nothing was done to redress it.
§ MR. M. J. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)
referred to the large number of labourers cottages which had been built by the guardians in the various unions of Minister, and said he did not think the Chief Secretary had gone sufficiently far in his promise to look into the matter, if he did not take into account the cottages erected prior to 1891, and give some remuneration to the unions which had provided them. In this connection he read a petition from the Trade Union, addressed to the Chief Secretary, stating that under the Labourers' (Ireland) Acts, 1883 and 1885, petitioners erected 156 labourers' cottages, at an expenditure of £17,000, being one of the first unions to avail of the Acts, the district having been greatly benefited by the erection of the cottages. The ratepayers of the district had, at the same time, undertaken large liabilities and heavy yearly 1084 payments which exceptionally increased the rates on the already over-burdened ratepayers:A great deal of public discontent has been caused throughout the entire Union by the announcement that other unions, in which some cottages have been built under the Labourers' Acts, subsequent to the year 1891, would now receive substantial relief by way of contribution from the Exchequer grant of £40,000 a year, towards the erection of labourers' cottages, while this union, where cottages had been more largely built in the preceding years, as well as the other unions—the large majority—that voluntarily availed of the original Acts before the year 1891, would get no relief whatever from this or any other source. Your petitioners believe that the mere statement of this fact, without any enlargement on the inequality of the distribution, or the hardship of the case, will sufficiently justify this memorial. Your petitioners therefore submit that they are justly entitled to relief in the proportion of their expenditure equally with any other union in Ireland, and claim that further legislation, if it be necessary, should be introduced to give effect to their just claims.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
From that statement it appears that further legislation would be necessary, and, that being so, the matter cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ MR. FLAVIN
They do not say that further legislation is necessary, but that if it be necessary. It is a question of opinion.
§ MR. FLAVIN
said he would merely remark on this head that many other unions had adopted similar petitions. The Chief Secretary had stated that England, Ireland and Scotland were the three branches of the one Government, but on the question of the deportation of paupers he did not for the life of him see why Ireland should be treated on a different basis to England and Scotland. He felt as an Irishman that it was a great injury to his countrymen that they were not allowed to send back to England or Scotland the Scotch or English pauper who was living in Irish workhouses at the expense of the Irish ratepayers, while English and Scotch officials were allowed to send back to Ireland a pauper who happened to be Irish born, so that he became a burden to the Irish workhouse.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
That point has already been raised two or three times, and on every occasion I have called the hon. Member so raising it to order, pointing out that this can only be altered by legislation, and, therefore, cannot be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ MR. FLAVIN
did not intend to continue the discussion on that point, and he would proceed to a matter which had been brought to the attention of the Chief Secretary by a dozen and a half or two dozen resolutions, namely, the great distress which existed in the Listowel Union. The first resolution adopted by the Listowel Board of Guardians with reference to the distress was passed in the middle of November last. They then saw that, owing to the failure of the crops, distress must inevitably ensue. They summoned a special meeting to consider the matter, and after duo consideration of the facts they adjourned the meeting and asked for a complete report from the ex officio as well as from the elected members of the Board, from Catholic as well as Protestant clergymen, from Conservative, Liberal, and Nationalist alike. They furnished their report to the Clerk of the Union, who forwarded a, copy to the Chief Secretary for Ireland as President of the Local Government Board. After considering that report, the right hon. Gentleman was asked a question in the House of Commons on the 13th February as to whether, owing to the great distress, some relief works could not be started or assistance given to the Union. In reply, the right hon. Gentleman stated that careful inquiry had been made as to the condition of the poorer classes in the Listowel Union, and the conclusion had been arrived at that it would not be necessary to supplement the resources of the Poor Law by starting relief works. As far as he himself could see, the resources of the Poor Law Board were simply to increase the present rate of taxation, which was already sufficiently heavy, the rate in the Listowel Union, exclusive of a water rate for Listowel town, being 13s. 6d. in the pound. It was true that the inspector of the Local Government Board had reported that there was no practical distress, but this was entirely opposed to the report of all the Guardians, Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and 1086 Nationalist. Ex officio Guardians, like the late Mr. George Hewson, like Major Kidgell and Captain Leslie, reported that there was great distress. He challenged the right hon. Gentleman to contradict the statements which he had read. How could the evidence of an official who had spent all his life in Dublin be set against the evidence of all these persons in the locality?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that the statements read by the hon. Member consisted principally of expressions of opinion from those who would be benefited by the expenditure of the money.
§ MR. FLAVIN
said that he had a personal knowledge of all these questions, or he would not bring them before the right hon. Gentleman. On the 28th January, the Listowel Board of Guardians sent a resolution to the right hon. Gentleman asking that relief works might be established owing to the great distress. On the 4th February and the 25th February they sent other resolutions, and on the 25th March they sent a final resolution urging that a loan of seed oats was of the greatest necessity.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said that he did not decline to make a loan, but pointed out that if such a loan was to be made, legislation would be required. He said that he was prepared to consider the necessity of legislation if there was a general desire for it among the Unions of the West of Ireland.
§ MR. FLAVIN
asked what the unfortunate Listowel Union was to do in the meantime? The right hon. Gentleman had done nothing for the district or the county, and the Listowel Board believed that they had a right to have their case heard on its merits. The right hon. Gentleman had not an intimate personal knowledge of the country. When he visited it, he associated with the wealthier class, and however kind and sympathetic he might be, he could not know how the poor people, lived.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
said that he failed to see how this was relevant to the Vote for the Local Government Board.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
said that the only way of meeting it suggested by the hon. Member was by a grant of money, which would require legislation, and could not, therefore, be discussed in Committee of Supply.
§ MR. FLAVIN
said that his argument was that it was absolutely impossible for the local authority to meet this distress, for the rates were now 13s. 6d. in the pound. He hoped that the Chief Secretary would consider the case of those poor men who had seven or eight children to support, and who did not earn as much as 8s. a week all the year round.
§ [After the usual interval, Mr. GRANT LAWSON took the Chair.]
§ *R. J. PINKERTON (Galway)
appealed to the Chief Secretary that the Exchequer grant of £40,000 for the erection of cottages under the Labourers' Acts allocated to unions in the north of Ireland, where there was no desire evinced to put the Acts in operation, should be spent in unions in the south and west, whore labourers' cottages were being largely built and were much needed. In Ballymoney and Coleraine no applications had been made for cottages. Yet if it were proposed to the guardians of those unions that the money should be spent in the south and west they would strongly oppose it. This was a "dog in the manger" policy. With regard to the conduct of the Poor Law officials in Ireland, he considered that, on, the whole, they acted fairly and squarely in transactions between the guardians and the Government. He did not agree with the hon. Member for West Cavan that the lot of the inmates in workhouses had been made harder by the action of the Poor Law Inspectors. In Ballymoney the inspectors recommended that the paupers should have knives and forks, washstauds and wardrobes. These things would make the standard of comfort in the workhouse greater than it was outside. Many of the ratepayers did not possess knives and forks, washstands or wardrobes. Many of them had not even pegs on which to hang their clothes. As to the appointment of paid nurses, he was anxious that the paupers should be 1088 treated with the greatest kindness, and that everything should be done to improve the condition of the aged and infirm, but it pressed hardly on the ratepayers when three trained nurses were appointed to do the work of one, assisted by the inmates, and when rooms were built and furnished to accommodate the nurses. The ratepayers were poor people and while they were anxious to make the people as comfortable as possible they had no desire that a set of useless officials should be appointed to meet the demands of the medical inspectors. This agitation in favour of paupers did not start with the ordinary inspectors. The doctors throughout Ireland were the first to raise a howl of indignation that the paupers were not properly treated. For his part, he feared the pendulum would swing too far. Money not required for labourers' cottages in the northern unions should be spent in the south and west. But not a single guardian in Ballymoney or Coleraine would release his grasp on a single penny that might otherwise cross the Boyne. There were Poor Law divisions from which not a single inmate was in the workhouse. Yet the rates charged on those divisions fell little short of other divisions when there was a considerable number of inmates in the "house." Money had not been spent legitimately, but upon a system of fostering officials. He had no desire to increase the number of officials or the red tapeism of their Department. Instead of agitating for a system which would entail further expense on the ratepayers, he would prefer to see the system modified in such a way as would entail no suffering on the inmates of workhouses, and prevent the waste of public money. The conditions of life in the southern and western unions were entirely different from those of life in the northern unions. No one who had travelled through the south and west of Ireland could say that labourers' cottages were not required there. Yet the Government were putting a stumbling block in the path of progress as regarded the south and western unions in the interests of a part of the country which did not need a penny of the £40,000 reserved. He trusted the Chief Secretary would reconsider the matter and grant some concession to the southern and western unions.
§ DR. E. AMBROSE (Mayo, W.)
said he would not follow the Chief Secretary in his praises of inspectors of workhouses in Ireland. He would refer to the distress that existed in certain parts of Ireland. No person, it had been said, was in receipt of relief in the Westport Union, But in February last there were 1,320 persons relieved, which, compared with 608 in February 1896, showed an increase of 712. Nothing had been done to relieve this distress. In Achill in February 1896, 46 persons were in the receipt of outdoor relief, whereas the number in February 1897, was 417; a difference of 371. It was not only in the Westport Union that the bunion was felt, but throughout the whole of County Mayo. In 1841 the population of the county was 388,887. In 1891 it was 219,034, a decrease, in the course of 50 years, of 169,853. Yet he found that the Poor Rate had almost doubled. In 1886 it was 9d.; in 1876, 11d.; in 1886, 1s. 3d.; in 1896, 1s. 1d.: and in 1897, 1s. 2d. In the Westport Union the rate was at present 2s. 2d., and in the Achill Island 4s. 6d. A remarkable speech was delivered in Paris the other day by the British Ambassador on the improvement of the condition of the masses, and the decline of pauperism; and he stated that he could give figures to show the decline of pauperism. But he left out Ireland altogether, though he could have shown that in recent years pauperism had doubled in Ireland. This condition of things was not confined to County Mayo. It was also to be found in County Galway. He had a letter in his pocket from a gentleman describing the state of things in that county, in which he said that 20 per cent, of the people for three or four months in the year—except a famine year, which was their best year, because it brought them relief work— lived on food that neither God nor man nor Nature ever meant as food for human beings. Let the Chief Secretary or his right hon. and learned and lackadaisical Friend the Attorney General for Ireland go down to the Clifden Union and see for themselves the condition of things. They would find that in that Union and outside its borders; estates had been bought up by land jobbers. He would not appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in the craving manner of some of his hon. Friends. He would demand in the 1090 name of justice that justice should be done in these localities. Let the right hon. Gentleman send down inspectors who would tell the truth. For his part, he protested against the action of the inspectors who had been sent into Mayo. ["Hear, hear !"]
§ MR. DENIS KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
said he could not agree with the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Galway City. In his speech he dealt not only with Conservative Ulster, but also with Nationalist Ulster. His hon. Friend drew no line of demarcation between the two. He maintained that the two counties of Antrim and Monaghan had done what they could to redeem the character of Ulster in connection with the Labourers' Cottages Act. The reason given by one of his hon. Friends why cottages were not required in the north-east of Ulster was that the agricultural labourers in that part of the province entirely resided in the houses of the farmers. He did not pretend to be as intimately acquainted with the conditions of agricultural social life in that part as his hon. Friend, but he would like to know whether all the labourers in northeast Ulster were unmarried men, and whether married men were boarded in the houses of the farmers? ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. PINKERTON
explained that what he stated was that in North-east Ulster the labourers who required cottages got them from the farmers, and preferred to do so.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
said that if that was so, they must differ very much in disposition from the labourers in other parts of Ireland; because he understood that the reason for introducing the Act at all was, not so much to better house the agricultural classes as to give them a feeling of independence of the farmer. While they had saved the farmers from being the slaves of the landlords, they were equally anxious to emancipate the labourers from their dependence on the farmers. Another statement made by his hon. Friend he took the strongest exception to, and that was that boards of guardians had largely increased their expenditure by substituting trained nurses for pauper nurses. He spoke with some knowledge on this subject and he unhesitatingly said that although this alteration might, in 1091 the first instance, entail some expenditure, it ultimately caused very great saving in the rates, besides offering other great advantages. It was a notorious fact that before the introduction of trained nurses the sick poor were grossly neglected. There was another point to which he wished to call attention. The Chief Secretary had over and over again said, in reply to questions, that no exceptional distress exists in any portion of the west of Ireland.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I never said that. I am quite aware that there are parts of the west of Ireland where there is distress. But it is not beyond the average, and I said there was no reason why it should not be met by the usual means.
§ MR. KILBRIDE
said that the right hon. Gentleman based his answers on the reports of the inspectors, and over and over again it had been pointed out to him that these inspectors who reported to him did not go to the best sources of information. He did not say by any means that the Chief Secretary would not be prepared by exceptional means to prevent deaths by starvation, or to prevent starvation in a modified form; but the right hon. Gentleman had no knowledge of these facts. He could only say that he had visited the districts once or twice, and on those occasions he was met with demonstrations of regard and respect. He thought from that that there was no distress in Westport, Belmullet, or Donegal. The reason he was met with demonstrations of welcome was that the people believed that he would be able to spend some English money which might stave off the evil days of starvation. When the right hon. Gentleman sent down an inspector he should direct him to go to the best sources from which he could find out the exact condition of the country. He would strongly suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should insist upon these inspectors going to the ministers of religion, all the ministers of religion, to inquire as to the condition of the people, and personally visit the houses of the labourers and of the farmers where they said the distress prevailed. Let the inspectors make themselves acquainted with the Listowel Union and other kindred districts, and see the almost absolute starvation in which the people lived. These people 1092 had an absolute horror of the workhouse. These poor districts were never worse than they were now. The prospect of the season was never worse than it was now. The prospects of the potato crop on the moorlands and reclaimed bogs had not been so bad for many years, and unless they had an exceptionally favourable harvest there was no chance of an average potato crop this year. The potatoes put down in the month of March were rotted, and the soil was sodden until after the first week in May. He would say to the Chief Secretary better be wise in time. They had been told by his hon. Friend the Member for North Kerry that the local rates were 13s. 6d. in the pound. If such a state of things existed in England they would have more than words of sympathy. With regard to this £40,000 which, under the Act of 1891, was allocated for the labourers, he thought that it was unfair that they should prevent or debar those unions in the south and west of Ireland who put the Labourers' Act into operation, previous to 1891 from all benefit from the provisions of the Land Purchase Act of 1891. Those unions which had acted before that year were entitled to relief under the Act of 1891, but instead of that he found that this £40,000 was largely used for the purpose of stimulating unions in Ulster and some in the west of Ireland. He thought it was due to them that he should say one word in justice to the inspectors of the Local Government Board who conducted inquiries under the Labourers' Act. They acted fairly, justly, and sympathetically with the cause of the labourers, and endeavoured to facilitate the action of the Boards of Guardians, but he was sorry to say that when an appeal was taken by the local landlords, the Higher Court almost invariably overruled the inspectors. They claimed 43 cottages, and the Local Government Board passed 27. Appeals were taken against 24 of the cottages sanctioned by the Local Government Board, and the appeals were upheld. Thus, after long and expensive litigation, the Union had only three cottages passed. The Government gave no relief under their legislative proposals as they now stood to the Unions which had put the Act in operation, but they did give it to those Unions in the north of Ireland which had refused up to the present to apply the Act. Now no reply had been made to 1093 the point raised by the hon. Member for Leitrim in regard to the Mullingar Union. The medicine contract there was cancelled last year. The Local Government Board cancelled the contract on their own motion because the tender was the highest. This year tenders were again invited, and the tender of the gentleman whose tender turned out to be the highest was accepted by the Board of Guardians. [Mr. JOHNSTON: "He was a Nationalist !"] If he was a Nationalist he was not a fit person to be allowed by the Local Government Board to be the contractor this year. The fact that his tender was cancelled last year was primâ facie sufficient reason why he should not have the contract this year. He noticed under the heading "Travelling Expenses":—Actual expenses of locomotion and £1 a night and 3s. 6d. per day of not less than seven hours, when absent from headquarters on duty, to each of three auditors.He also found: —Travelling expenses, etc., of auditors of Poor Law Unions, etc. Allowance of £100 a year to each of seven auditors, to cover travelling and subsistence.He was, glad to find that the Local Government Board were not alone believers in an eight hours' day, but that they recognised a seven hours' day. What, however, he wanted to point out was that it was an extravagant waste of money to allow a, servant £1 each night he slept out. He had no doubt the seven men were eminently fitted for the posts they occupied, but £100 a year ought to be sufficient for their travelling expenses. He urged the Chief Secretary for Ireland to watch closely the state of things in the Union of Glenamaddy, in Galway. Apparently the number of indoor paupers did not increase very considerably in the year ending March 1, 1897, and there was no very large increase of outdoor relief. Nevertheless, the condition of the people was very precarious in consequence of the condition of the potato crop. The land in the Union was chiefly reclaimed bog land, and the people depended for their food upon the potatoes. That being the case, it was not reassuring to know that the next crop would probably be the worst since the year 1879, owing to conditions over 1094 which the people had no control. Up to May there had been an abnormal rainfall, and during the winter it was impossible to carry on the ordinary agricultural operations preparatory to the spring sowing. In the whole of the Union scarcely two acres of land could be cultivated during the winter, and it was not until the ordinary seed time that the people were able to get on with the preliminary preparation of the land. This had thrown the setting of the crop six months later than usual. Of course, the success of the potato crop in Ireland largely depended upon the time when the seed potatoes were put in, and if potatoes could not be planted until May 1, they would not mature and ripen before October 1. The effects of blight in such a year were greatly to be dreaded, and he hoped that the Chief Secretary would impress upon the Boards of Guardians the necessity of adopting measures to prevent the ruinous effect of blight upon the crop.
§ [The CHAIRMAN of WAYS and MEANS resumed the Chair.]
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
said that he had heard of aboriginal tribes in South Australia who used to select champions to represent them. These champions alternately hit each other on the head, and subsequently a third party stepped in, and with a long spear stirred up both contending parties with perfect impartiality. He felt that he was intervening in this Debate in much the same spirit as that which influenced this third gentleman. With regard to the subject of labourers' cottages, to which reference had been made, he said that he admitted that in the greater part of the northeast of Ireland such cottages were by no means generally required. The reason was that in that part of the country a large portion of the population was employed in the linen industry, and now lived in the towns. The consequence was that there were sufficient cottages available at reasonable rents in the country, and it was therefore unnecessary to erect labourers' cottages at the expense of the Unions. He wished to support what had been said as to the importance of employing trained nurses in Unions. Many of the nurses employed in the past had been quite unsuited to the position. 1095 Much additional cost need not be thrown upon the Unions by the employment of a few trained nurses. In his part of the country the workhouses were not, in the ordinary sense, institutions for the poor. They were infirmaries, and therefore it was of the greatest importance that they should be carried on on proper hospital principles. ["Hear, hear !"]
§ MR. DILLON
thought that no one would deny that there was great room for improvement in the Irish workhouses, and that there were many workhouses in which the treatment of the sick poor especially, and of the able-bodied paupers, was not of a kind to commend itself to any humane man. When he heard the charges made against the Poor Law Boards in Ireland, he felt it was exceedingly unjust to cast any portion of the blame on the Irish people, for the simple reason that at the present time they had no responsibility whatever for the condition of the Irish workhouses. The Irish Poor Law had been administered by the preponderating power of two interests— the ex, officio guardians and the propertied class—and the Local Government Board. If the administration of the Poor Law left many things to be desired—and he admitted it did—those who were to blame were the Government, who, in the words of the remarkable speech of the First Lord of the Treasury that evening, had allowed, in spite of the protests of the Nationalist Members, an antiquated and outworn machinery to exist year after year. Without committing himself in any way to the details of the future policy of the Government, he rejoiced at the extraordinary and revolutionary change announced on behalf of the Government, who had frankly flung over two Bills which were based on a continuation and extension of the old, rotten, and utterly discredited system of governing Ireland by Castle Boards, and had declared that, for the first time so far as local government was concerned, they were practically going to trust the Irish people. [Cheers] If the pledges of the First Lord were truly carried out—and they had been so often deceived, and pledges given in that House had been so often broken or indefinitely postponed that he must excuse them if they waited before they became enthusiastic over the new programme— then it would be really time to test what 1096 would be the local administration under the control of the people, who, for the first time, would have got a chance in this respect. He believed that if the principles laid down by the First Lord were carried out and honestly put into force, they would carry him a great deal further than he expected. He believed that when they set up an honest, democratic, and untammeled form of local government in Ireland, it would be impossible to maintain the present control by irresponsible and unnatural Castle Boards. ["Hear, hear !"] The subject of the treatment of the sick poor in Irish workhouses had attracted a great deal of attention, and, while he gave the Chief Secretary full credit for humane desires, he believed the Government were well advised in dropping the Poor Law Relief Bill. It was a very complicated and, in some of its provisions, even a dangerous Bill, and there was an increasing amount of anxiey and alarm amongst some of the best-administered unions in Ireland in regard to its working. He believed the ultimate goal to be aimed at in local administration was to throw the greatest possible amount of responsibility on the people, and to give the greatest possible amount of liberty consistent with the maintenance of a central Government, to the localities. In proportion as they brought home responsibility to the people, he believed they would promote pure and economical administration. He believed the policy suggested in the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury was the only proper and effective remedy for all those evils which had grown up in connection with Poor Law administration in Ireland. He showed that the Debate had been conducted free from party spirit, and, though some Irish Members upheld the action of inspectors of the Local Government Board and others condemned it, the explanation of the diversity was to be found in the fact that in some districts excellent inspectors were to be found, while in other districts the inspectors were unsympathetic. As to the administration of the Labourers' Acts, he thought that with but few exceptions the inspectors had given satisfaction. The complaints of some of his hon. Friends as to distress in the west of Ireland were, however, well founded. The inspectors of the Local Government Board were officials of 1097 a Department which was not subject to the influence of Irish public opinion; they were responsible to an irresponsible Minister in the matter of local details. The poverty of the people in the west of Ireland was chronic, though at present it might not be widespread or on the verge of starvation. But in the Swinford Union, for example, the condition of affairs was alarming; poverty was increasing, and there was a prospect of starvation at an early date. The rates of the union were now standing at an enormously high figure, and he hoped that the Chief Secretary would keep a watch on these unions in the west of Ireland and examine the rates. He had a few words to say as to the Labourers' Acts. They had heard about the contrast between the Ulster unions and the Southern unions. Roughly speaking, the unions where the popular element was strongest were the unions which had used the Labourers' Acts most. It was untrue that it was the Irish farmers who had objected to the use of these Acts. There might be exceptions; but the rule was this, that where the popular element was in the ascendant and the farmers had the power, there they would find an enormous number of labourers' cottages. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in Ulster!"] Perhaps not—that was a Unionist country. But wherever the Nationalist fanners were in the ascendant, there they would find that the Labourers' Acts had been generally put into operation, and wherever the landlords were in the ascendant there the Acts had been obstructed. It would be monstrous and most unjust to penalise and discourage unions which, as some of the Southern unions had done, had generously saddled themselves with heavy costs for putting up labourers' cottages which were a pleasure to look at. These cottages, which had been graphically described by the hon. Member for South Monaghan, had introduced an amount of civilisation which had been the astonishment of everybody who beheld it. These poor men, who had previously been living in the midst of poverty, filth, and degradation which had excited the horror and wonder of travellers from all parts of Europe, had been taken out of their mud-huts and put into these cottages; and what was the result? One might go 1098 into one of these habitations and find them the perfection of neatness and order. The people had immediately taken advantage of the new situation created for them; and he asserted that they came into honourable competition with any labourers in England—showing what capacity there was in the Irish peasantry for civilisation and for rising in the social scale if they were only given a fair field. [Cheers.] It would be monstrous, therefore, to in any way penalise and discourage those unions which had done so much for the Irish labourers. There had been a good deal of talk about Ulster unions not being in favour of labourers' cottages. An hon. Member had mentioned to him the case of the union of Portumna, a considerable part of which had the singular honour of belonging to the Marquess of Clanricarde. In that union, owing to the property vote and the number of ex-officio guardians, the propertied and the enlightened classes predominated. The result was that the labourers of Portumna, although in the south of Ireland, were still living in hovels. They went to the guardians and asked for a scheme of labourers' cottages; but the ex-officios, who would come from the end of the world if it was a question of electing a nurse or a workhouse clerk, remained away and left the Board without a quorum; and he believed that to this hour the labourers of that unfortunate union, owing to the obstruction of these gentlemen, were left without any assistance under the Act. There was one other point to which he wished to allude, a case in the Union of Strabane, where a poor man had been refused a cottage under the Labourers' Acts. He had forgotten the man's name, but the right hon. Gentleman answered his question on the subject two or three days ago. Three years ago this man, who was a man of considerable intelligence, and was living in a miserable hovel, applied for a labourer's cottage. A Local Government Board inspector was brought down from Dublin 1099 to inspect this hovel, and, according to the answer of the Chief Secretary, he condemned it as unfit for human habitation. What happened? The unfortunate man, after fighting his battle for three years, was refused a cottage, on the ground that he was not an "agricultural labourer." He had assured him (the speaker) that he held his cottage on the terms of giving a certain amount of labour as an agricultural labourer every year. But he was refused because, being an industrious and exceptionally intelligent man, he had taken a contract under one of the road contractors. For that, he was condemned to go on living in a wretched place, where his life was in danger, and which the Local Government Board inspector had condemned. He certainly thought that was a very unjust straining of the definition, and he hoped the Chief Secretary would write the Local Government Board advising them to adopt a more liberal interpretation. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the hon. Member had referred to the case of a labourer who was refused a cottage on the ground that he was a road contractor. That was the information supplied to him. If he was a road contractor in so narrow and technical a sense as not properly to exclude him from the definition of an agricultural labourer, of course he regretted it, and he would do what he could to remedy it. He would call the attention of the Local Government Board to the case, and ask them for further particulars in regard to it. With regard to the question of distress in the west of Ireland, he had never at any time denied that distress, and even severe distress, had existed; only it did not appear to him that exceptional treatment, by which he meant relief works, was called for. Relief works in Ireland, as far as he knew, had never been adopted as a remedy except where the distress had been severe in special localities and also widespread; and although relief works had certain undeniable 1100 advantages, they had also very great disadvantages. They were tried on a considerable scale in 1890 and 1891, and although on those occasions they were successful in coping with the distress, yet they were so profitable to every class of the community where they were adopted, that in every year since then, where there was the smallest excuse, every class, whether landowners or shopkeepers or small farmers, had joined in representing to the Government that the actual state of things was much more serious than he believed it to have been. He had thought it necessary to set his face rigidly against the proposal for relief works. He believed if he had followed the example of the right hon. Member for Montrose in 1894, and had again applied to the Treasury for money for relief works, that the inhabitants of the poorer districts in the west of Ireland would have been gradually taught the lesson that they could not be expected to support themselves by their own efforts—a most disastrous lesson to teach them. While he did not deny that the rates in those districts were very heavy and that poverty was chronic in them, yet he thought it would have been on his part an unstatesmanlike act if he had done what would have been a ready and easy thing to do, namely, to go to the Treasury and say, "In order to keep these people alive, they require the assistance of public funds, and I am not prepared to be responsible for them unless that assistance is forthcoming." That was not the line which, in the interests of the districts concerned, he considered it was possible for him to adopt. As regarded heavy rates, after the announcement of his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Treasury, he need not remind the Committee that considerable relief would in future years be given to those districts, but it would be most undesirable, except in cases of absolute necessity and wide-spread distress, that those districts should continually expect relief from the State. He appealed to 1101 the Committee now, after six hours' discussion, to allow the Vote to be taken.
MR. D. CHILLY (Mayo, N.)
regretted exceedingly that the right hon. Gentleman had delivered the speech he had just made. It was only once a year that Irish Nationalist Members had the opportunity of discussing this Vote in the House of Commons, and he thought that when on behalf of the poverty-stricken districts they appealed at the bar of mercy, the House of Commons ought to listen to them. In the early part of the discussion on that Vote the hon. Member for West Cavan, who knew the west of Ireland better even than the Chief Secretary himself, or the First Lord of the Treasury, made the statement that in Belmullet and Killala the officials of the Local Government Board did not visit any of the houses. The Chief Secretary in reply said that statement was absolutely incorrect. On this point he would quote what was said by the Rev. Father Hewson. Speaking at a meeting at Belmullet on the 18th February, the reverend gentleman said: —The Local Government thereupon sent their officer to investigate the condition of the people, with the view of reporting thereon. But how was this investigation made? He could speak only for his own parish, and he now asked publicly did those who were sent to make the investigation even visit a single homestead or farm within that parish? If passing along on an outside ear, or riding on a bicycle meant investigation, then, indeed, they had made their investigation, and when it was suggested the investigation had not been made, then the relieving officer here was compelled to supply the information that ought to have been obtained by the parties sent down to make their investigation.He had a letter from another gentleman whom the right hon. Gentleman knew, who wrote that he was surprised the inspector had reported that there was no distress, because such a report was in direct conflict with what the inspector had said in conversation. His correspondent added, "He saw the distress till he was sick of it."
§ MR. CRILLY
said that the right hon. Gentleman had done the stereotyped work of the Chief Secretary in defending the officials of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman and his officials had failed to take due note of the distress in Belmullet and Killarney; they should have shown greater sympathy in the application of the Poor Law; but until the Bill which the Leader of the House had foreshadowed was passed, it was useless for Irishmen to expect justice from the House of Commons. They would allow the Vote to pass under protest and with the consciousness that it was the last time that Irish Members would have to protest against the conduct of these alien boards in Ireland.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid.)
complained that the Estimate showed, not a substantial increase, but a substantial decrease in the salaries and expenses of the Irish dispensary doctors, a body of men whose devotion to duty, and whose service to suffering humanity, were beyond all praise. They had to travel long distances, and at night frequently, and yet their demand for horse money was persistently ignored by the Local Government Board. He noticed that year after year the same amount appeared in the Estimates for the supply of vaccine lymph to the dispensaries. He would like to know what became of the lymph. The doctors for whose use it was intended knew nothing about it, for they never used it. Why was it that every year they spent the same money? They were told that everything was quiet and tranquil, and still they found that they had an increase of £2,158 upon this expenditure in connection with the Local Government Board. Where did all this braying of trumpets come in? [Laughter.] The right hon. Gentleman was the master of this Board, and he ought to be master of the subject. [Laughter.] He hoped to obtain a satisfactory assurance from the Chief Secretary upon these points.
§ Vote agreed to.