§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
I beg to ask the right honourable Gentleman whether he has any objection to the procedure suggested in the Amendment being adopted, instead of that provided by the Bill?
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. J. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said the Government could not accept the Amendment moved by the honourable Member for Cork. It was true that the procedure of the grand juries with reference to the making of roads was cheap and expeditious, bur it might be used as a means of causing very great injustice. He did not mean, of course, to say that that power in the past had been abused. Under this Bill the county councils in Ireland would be provided with machinery which was much cheaper, and was based upon much larger powers than were enjoyed by the county councils in England. In England and Scotland, if county councils wanted to make roads or to acquire land, they could only proceed by Provisional Order, which required to be confirmed by Parliament. Under the practice set up by this Bill county councils would no doubt proceed by Provisional Order, but it was not an Order which required confirmation by Parliament at all. The method would be identical with that applicable to the acquisition of land for the purposes of erecting labourers' cottages. It was not contemplated that there would be any difficulty or undue expense. He did not think that the best friends of the county councils could desire to place in their hands almost unlimited powers of acquiring land.
§ MR. J. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
I think there is one clause where the Bill will render matters worse than they are at present. At the present time the process in connection with the making of roads is cheap and inexpensive. Under the procedure set out by this Bill it will be a very expensive process, for where under the old methods we could get a road for £5 law costs, it will cost £50 under the methods set up by this Bill. The right honourable Gentleman has said that he has only followed the procedure of the 268 Labourers Act. Anybody with experience in Ireland knows that one of the difficulties in working the Labourers Act was the excessive expenditure caused by this very procedure. The effect of the Labourers Act shows that if the law is to be administered with regard to the making of new roads, as it is administered with regard to the building of labourers' cottages under the Labourers Act, it will be a very long time before the districts which most require new roads, or require the widening of existing roads, get any relief from the grievances which they have at present. You may ride for 100 miles in Ireland, and you will find that the good roads are in sparsely inhabited districts, and generally lead to the estates of the landlords, whereas people who live in the poorest and most thickly-populated districts have to put up with bad roads. I think, therefore, that if any relief is given this is one of the cases where we should press for it. Under the circumstances, I hope the right honourable Gentleman will see his way to leave the law in no worse position than it was before this Bill was set up.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. J. J. SHEE (Waterford, W.)
I beg to propose, as a further Amendment, to add to page 6, line 6—A county council, with the assent of the Local Government Board, may sell, transfer, or alienate any lands, buildings, or easements for the time being vested in them.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I do not think the Amendment will be necessary if the honourable Member will look at the Order in Council.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ MR. J. L. CAREW (Dublin, College Green)
I beg to move as an Amendment to page 6, line 6, to add at end—A county council may, for the purpose of improving any property belonging to them, 268 whether acquired under this section or other wise, or erecting any buildings thereon, borrow at interest such sum, or sums of money, on the security of such of their rates and revenues as the Local Government Board may sanction, provided that all sums so borrowed shall be repaid within such period and in such manner, whether by means of instalments, sinking fund, or otherwise, as the Local Government Board shall prescribe.I am aware that the voluntary provisions of the English Local Government Bill will be omitted in this Act, but under that Act the power of borrowing is limited to 30 years, whereas some of the Corporations in Ireland can borrow for a much longer period. At the present moment I believe the Corporation of Dublin has borrowed for a term of 55 years, and the object of my Amendment is to safeguard the rights of the Dublin Corporation in this respect, and also to save other similarly situated municipal bodies in Ireland. Then there is the further question of borrowing money for the purpose of improving property. The original section of the Bill, as drafted, only confers powers on county councils to acquire land, but not to improve land already in their possession. It would be desirable, in my opinion, that this power should be given to the local bodies.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I think the powers already given by the Bill are sufficient, and that the Amendment is unnecessary.
§ SIR T. ESMONDE (Kerry, W.)
There is one point in connection with this Amendment which I think is of great importance. I understand that the English county councils have to repay their loans within a very limited number of years. I think it is desirable that the Irish county councils should be allowed to repay their loans over a longer period. I do not see why we should stick to a hard-and-fast rule, but there is no doubt whatever that, if the Amendment is carried, it will enable the Irish county councils to borrow money on more favourable terms than the English county councils.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. GERALD W. BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
I do not think it is possible for me to give my consent to any Amendment which extends borrowing powers to Irish county 269 councils beyond the borrowing powers allowed to English county councils.
§ MR. J. J. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
Perhaps I may be permitted to point out to the right honourable Gentleman that the Amendment was suggested by the Dublin Corporation. They have not the power to borrow money for the purpose of improving any property. In my own constituency there are a number of cottages which the Corporation are anxious to take down and rebuild. They have not the power to do that at present, but this Amendment will give them that power. Is it reasonable, or is it not, to give such a body power to borrow money to take down old and dilapidated cottages?
§ MR. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
The Chief Secretary has given as his reason for opposing the Amendment that English county councils can only borrow money for 30 years, and that, therefore, the same rule should be applicable to the Irish county councils. Now, Mr. Lowther, that would be a perfectly good argument if the arrangement under the Bill of 1888 had been found satisfactory in England. But that certainly is not the case. It is a fact that county councils in England very strongly object to the time limit of 30 years. I venture to say that it is a decided hardship in England, and would be an equal hardship in Ireland, when a large building, such as a lunatic asylum, has to be built at the expense of existing ratepayers. To quote the experience in my own county, we have had to borrow the enormous sum of £150,000 to build a new lunatic asylum. It is very unfair that the whole of that large sum has to be paid in the course of 30 years. A large and substantial building of that description would probably last for 100 years. Why should existing ratepayers pay for their successors? The loan should be spread over a larger number of years, so that those who only derive part of the advantage shall not have to pay part of the expense. I hope the honourable Gentleman behind me will persist in his Amendment, because it is not only an Irish question, but an English question. We shall be told afterwards, when we in England seek an extension of borrowing powers, "That the question already 270 was decided as regards Ireland; everybody was perfectly satisfied, and English Members had no objection to it." I, therefore, think we ought to give Irish county councils the power to borrow for a longer time in the case of large and substantial buildings.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Each case of this sort ought to be decided on its merits. I strongly object to having an Irish Bill made a lever with which to change the provisions of an English Bill. Our general object, of course, is to assimilate the law as much as possible between Ireland on the one side and England and Scotland on the other. In the interests of future ratepayers—in the interests of posterity—I cannot consent to extend to Ireland borrowing powers beyond those given to England.
§ MR. SYDNEY GEDGE (Walsall)
It seems to me that the right honourable Gentleman's argument was a little mixed. One moment we are told that we are making this a lever for altering the law in England, another moment we are told that the law in England is to be a lever for constructing the law in Ireland, and another moment we are told that the question ought to be considered on its merits. I submit that, if English law is to be taken as a binding precedent, the case will not be dealt with on its merits. I prefer to improve upon English law rather than to follow its mistakes. It is exceedingly hard and unjust, in my humble opinion, to fix so narrow a limit—I am taking the question now on its merits—for the repayment of loans effected for the purchase of land, or for important buildings, which will probably last a century without alteration. Some loans, no doubt, ought to be repaid within 30 years, but there are other loans employed for such purposes which should be spread over 50 or 60 years. It is very hard upon the existing generation that they should have to repay the whole of some loans. I submit that this matter may be very fairly treated on its merits. We have the opportunity of doing for Ireland the justice which we have not done for England. For my part I hope we shall do it for Ireland, whatever the consequences may be in England. I therefore 271 hope the Chief Secretary will allow this Amendment, giving the power to the Local Government Board to determine what the limit of years shall be in each case according to the nature of the purchases of land made or buildings erected by the loan, and that after it has been given to Ireland, it will be given to England.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I hope the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary will yield to this Amendment. I think this is a case in which the Committee need not be very jealous of the rights and privileges of posterity. This question of borrowing money must necessarily develop in different parts of the Empire according to the circumstances of those different parts. Though it may be possible in England to borrow money with facility which has to be repaid within 30 years, it may be more difficult in Ireland to carry out that arrangement. The Corporation of Dublin, as has already been observed by one of the honourable Members, who has spoken, are very much interested in this question, because they have a great deal of property which is at present in a dilapidated condition, and they are unable to do anything in the way of improving it for the want of the powers set forth by the Amendment. No reason has been given by my right honourable and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland why this power should not be given to the Corporation except that cast-iron reason, that in the English Act passed so many years ago the limit fixed was 30 years. I am very glad that some honourable Members representing English constituencies have intervened and come to the help of Ireland on this occasion. I trust that the right honourable Gentleman will accept the Amendment. He will have observed that we have it on the authority of Members of English constituencies that the term prescribed for the repayment of loans has proved inadequate even in a rich country like this.
§ SIR THOMAS LEA (Londonderry, S.)
Later on I intend to propose an Amendment that the powers of boards of guardians for borrowing shall be 272 extended from 30 to 60 years. I cannot see why county councils should not have the same privilege. I cannot see that, because English county councils have not extended powers, the House of Commons, when passing a Bill amending the law with regard to Irish local government, should not grant them to Irish county councils. The county which I represent has expended an enormous sum of money in building a new asylum. We have had to spend £150,000; a poor agricultural constituency like that cannot properly afford this heavy charge. They naturally want to cut the expense down to the lowest possible sum. What does this mean? It means that the cheapest possible building will be put up. If, however, the expense were allowed to extend over 60 years instead of 30, it is natural that the ratepayers would be willing to spend rather more money to get better buildings than they can do now. I would certainly urge the Government to take advantage of the present Bill to extend the term to 60 years.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
There are three points to be considered in connection with this question: first, the purpose for which the money may be borrowed; second, the material by which it may be repaid; and third, the period for which it may be retained. The Amendment, I think, ought to be heartily welcomed, because I can see no reason for denying to the Corporation of Dublin or to any county council, the right to put buildings into repair. If the Amendment is necessary for that purpose, it is clear that it ought to be supported. With regard to the question of the time within which the money must be repaid, the period of 30 years is provided in the draft Order in accordance with the English Act. But what is the position of the Chief Secretary? The right honourable Gentleman has changed once more, and now says that the English law as regards borrowing is to be for Ireland, the laws of the Medes and Persians. No matter what the merits of a question are, it must not be discussed on its merits, and the Chief Secretary says that what is the law in England must be the law in Ireland, and he refuses to recognise any change. But 273 that is not the principle upon which the right honourable Gentleman has been proceeding throughout. Only yesterday, when I endeavoured to assimilate the law of Ireland to the law of England, I was told that the circumstances of the two countries were quite different, and that, therefore, the Government had seen fit to change and depart from the law in England. If that be a good enough argument in the case of malicious injuries, and other matters which were discussed recently, it is a good enough argument in the present instance; and if the law in England, after an experience of 10 years, has been found to work harshly and oppressively, is not that a good argument for altering the law in Ireland? In my opinion it is a foolish argument that, because a certain system of borrowing has been found suitable in a rich country like Great Britain, therefore it must be applied to a poor country like Ireland. The proposition is ridiculous, and only requires to be stated in order to refute itself. It is an illustration of the difficulties that will arise that the Government should have dealt with this question of the powers of borrowing, not by the simple process of putting in the Bill a clause which would be open to amendment, but by a draft Order to which we can move no Amendment. That is an extremely inconvenient manner of dealing with an important point. When the Bill was at the Second Reading stage the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary said the Government had taken every precaution to secure that nothing of a contentious nature was placed on draft Orders; but can any honourable Member say that a question like this, of the period in which a loan is to be repaid, is strictly non-contentious? The whole question of the powers of borrowing to be conferred on county councils is contentious, and, therefore, the Chief Secretary would have been better advised not to have relegated it to a draft Order, but to have put it fairly and honestly in the Bill. Anyone, to hear the right honourable Gentleman speak, would suppose that in the case of this draft Order Ireland had exactly the same law as England, but, so far as my memory serves me, that is not the case. The Chief Secretary has taken a clause out of the English Act, and dropped one or 274 two sub-sections. I do not quarrel with that procedure, because I think the subsections were not very applicable. One was a power to borrow for the purpose of emigration. We do not want a power for that purpose, but possibly a power to borrow for the purpose of migration might be inserted in its place. The Government profess that they are bound to follow, with regard to this question of borrowing, the exact precedent of the English Act, but that is an absurd contention; they have not followed the English Act, they have cut and carved it according to their own free will.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
In copying the provisions of the English Act we, of course, were not fighting for any party or any class whatever; but for the interests, in theory at all events, and for the advantage of the ratepayers of the future. And I do not admit that the relative poverty of Ireland ought to be taken into account in this matter. On the contrary, I should say that the poorer a district is, whether a whole county or a particular area, the more careful should we be not to throw upon posterity a burden which is found difficult for the present generation to bear. But it is perfectly true that the House of Commons has sanctioned already in other Acts an extension of the term of borrowing to boards of guardians in England, and, I think, to district councils, subject, of course, to the absolute control of the English Local Government Board. I would, therefore, suggest that this question should be deferred to Report. The Government will carefully consider it, and, if they come to the conclusion that a relaxation in the English and Scottish Acts would be desirable, we shall be prepared, without waiting for that, to introduce the change proposed in this Amendment. But you must allow us time to consider the general bearings of the case. I think it will be felt that the course I propose is not unreasonable.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
The rights of the Dublin Corporation are not affected by 275 this proposal; whatever rights the Corporation have got they retain.
§ MR. CLANCY
The Corporation of Dublin at present have what is called a Borough Fund to draw upon for the improvement of their estate. This fund is derived, not from rates, but from the revenue of the city. It has always been regarded as a matter of doubt by the Corporation whether they could expend any of that money in the improvement of their estate. But some part of it has been expended in that way, and the demands upon the Borough Fund are so large that it is impossible for the Corporation to undertake improvements on either the county or city estates. They have an estate in the city bringing in a revenue of £20,000 a year, and an outside estate bringing in £6,000. On both estates, but particularly on the outside portion, there is a large number of dilapidated houses and cottages. Constant complaints are made about them and they are described as a reproach to the Corporation. This is not a question of the time within which the loan is to be repaid; the question is whether the Corporation have power to expend the money upon these improvements. The Corporation does not ask an extension of time for repayment. The Amendment of the right honourable Gentleman leaves it absolutely in the power of the Local Government Board to fix not only the interest, but the security and the manner and time of repayment, and the Board is to have the final word in all these matters. The question is whether the Corporation can expend the Borough Fund upon this work. I would suggest that the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary should reconsider the matter, and, seeing that a specially strong case has been made out for the Corporation of Dublin, that he should give it his attention.
§ MR. ATKINSON
The honourable Member has raised an altogether different question from that raised on the Amendment. The honourable Member is discussing the question whether it is desirable that the Corporation of Dublin should be empowered to expend part of the Borough Fund on the repairs of certain Corporation property.
§ MR. ATKINSON
That is not the question before the Committee. The Amendment is whether the Corporation can expend the Borough Fund upon this work.
§ MR. CLANCY
May I say that it has always been a matter of doubt whether the Corporation can expend a single penny for this purpose and that the demands on the fund are now so large that they cannot expend it? It is a mere matter of words. They have no money, and they must borrow.
§ MR. ATKINSON
If the Corporation of Dublin are not prepared to apply their Borough Fund to repairing their property, then the proper course is for them to get powers of borrowing.
§ MR. ATKINSON
That is a different thing from authorising them to borrow money repayable within 30 years for the purpose of repairing property.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ On the Question that Clause 10 stand part of the Bill,
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary made a very important statement in reference to the question of taking land. He suggested that the tribunal proposed to be set up, while apparently giving the right of a more extended power to take land, in reality destroys the most ancient right which has existed in Ireland, and which has aroused the admiration of travellers. The Privy Council is a very unsuitable body to deal with questions regarding the taking of lands for roads. It is besides a very expensive body, and I would suggest for the consideration of the Chief Secretary two things—either that this matter should be confined to the judges of the Privy Council, who will not be open to any illegitimate form of pressure, or that it should go to the judges of assize. It is contended that this is a beneficent 277 clause. It is nothing of the kind; on the contrary, I regard it as one to which the strongest objection might be urged. It seems to me that the Government are "worsening" the law; making it in Ireland worse than it is in England. They are giving these powers to a body of a most unsuitable character. The Privy Council is a most unsuitable tribunal for any purpose of this sort. I regard this question of roads as one of the most important; but, as we go on step by step, we find these new bodies being swathed and bound in coils of restrictions, like the Davenport Brothers, by the legal artifices of the right honourable Gentleman—artifices which are not apparent to the general intelligence of the Committee, because they are obscured by a system of repeals. I think the Government might give a pledge to consider before Report the character of the tribunal with regard to roads.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable Member for North Louth has compared the county councils "swathed and bound in coils of restrictions" to the Davenport Brothers; but the peculiarity of the Davenport Brothers was that they were not in the least embarrassed by their bandages. The honourable Member is, I think, exaggerating the difficulties in connection with the county councils. The restrictions placed upon the Irish county councils in this respect are actually less than the restrictions which are placed upon the county councils for the purpose of roadmaking either in England or Scotland. We have substituted the Irish Privy Council for Parliament because we thought the proposal would be more acceptable to the people of Ireland than procedure by Provisional Order. I have not heard anything which has led me to think that we were not right in taking that view. The substitution of the judges of assize for the Privy Council would be to adopt an entirely new procedure, and one to which I am not prepared to accede. With regard to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, I believe there is no such body in law. It might be desirable, if there should be such a body, to refer this question to it, but we should have to create a Judicial Com- 278 mittee of the Privy Council for the first time.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Is there not some provision for the judicial members of the Privy Council sitting alone?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The changes which the honourable Members desire us to introduce in addition to those we wish to introduce in Irish procedure, as compared with English procedure, would involve very considerable changes in the law, and those changes I am not prepared to adopt.
§ MR. TULLY
I wish to know whether under this section power will be given to county councils to lease or purchase land for the purpose of recreation. In England there is hardly a village or town without a common which the youth of the place can use as a recreation ground, and a great deal of the sadness of rural life in Ireland is due to the fact that there are no commons in the villages. The land that did exist in the days of our fathers has been grabbed by the landlords. Something might be struck out of official salaries, and the money applied to providing the youth of Ireland with commons such as are the privilege of English youths.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY (Cork City)
I lament the conclusion at which the Government has arrived in regard to this question of roads, because it will really in many cases render the making of roads impossible. At the present time the law costs involved in constructing a small road are amply covered by a five-pound note; but when this Bill is passed I challenge any county council to make the smallest road at an expense of even £50. I say that after considerable experience of procedure by Provisional Order, and I say that county solicitors are the only persons provided for in this Bill. I congratulate the county solicitors particularly upon this clause. When you substitute for the British Parliament the Irish Privy Council, every farmer or land- 279 owner will harass the board of guardians by appeals, with the result that the cost of the working of these Acts will be enormously increased. There is also this further fact that, when a bonâ fide case is made out before a Committee of this House the costs never go against the body bringing the case; but it is the rule of the Irish Privy Council, when they refuse the application of a board of guardians, to make the unfortunate board, which simply did its duty, pay costs in favour of the opposition. Therefore we may now look forward to every proposal by an Irish county council to make a road being fought out before the Irish Privy Council at enormous cost, and with the liability of having the costs against the council if defeated. That is a most lamentable state of things to contemplate. I do not know whether it is possible to get this matter reconsidered; but there are two points to which I would specially invite the attention of the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary. I do not know whether the Government intended their proposals to have the particular effect to which I shall refer. Under this clause, incorporating Provisional Order procedure, a county council can only proceed to make new roads once a year. Is that the intention of the Government? That is the effect at any rate, and notice must be published in the month of November, in accordance with section 203 of the Public Health Act. That particular procedure is modified by a special enactment in the case of the Labourers Act, allowing boards of guardians to proceed at any time of the year. We must claim from the Government a similar latitude for county councils in this matter. I suppose we must submit to the substitution of the Privy Council for Parliamentary control, but there are oases in which it would be most desirable to substitute the Privy Council for Parliamentary control; I refer to cases in which section 203 of the Public Health Act is to be applied.
§ MR. SHEE
I desire to press upon the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary the desirability of considering the suggestion of the honourable Member for North Louth. Under this section as it stands the Government takes away from the 280 county councils one of the privileges which the grand jury now possesses. For a judge of assize to get authority to review the action of the county council in connection with the acquisition of land for the purpose of making or widening a road is no new procedure, as the Chief Secretary seems, from his reply to the honourable Member for North Louth, to suppose. The right honourable Gentleman must have made that statement under a misapprehension, because that is the law as it now is. The judge of assize is the final authority on this question of taking land for making new roads. The presentment assizes have first to consider the question, and it is not so very easy a matter, as the Attorney General led the Committee to think, to get a new road made. First of all, notices have to be served, a map has to be prepared, the question has to come before the presentment assizes; then it is adjourned to another presentment assize, and finally it comes before the judge, of assize. There are a number of safeguards, but I think that the safeguard of the matter having to come before the judge of assize ought to be sufficient to prevent injustice. Any of the going judges of assize in Ireland is as likely to do justice between man and man as the Privy Council—I say as likely; and that is not saying very much. I maintain that the Government should consider the suggestion of the honourable Member for North Louth that the power at present possessed by judges of assize in Ireland should be still kept in their hands; at any rate, they ought to leave the matter alone for the present, instead of deciding it now, as the Debate has cleared the air, and enables them to revise their proposal.
§ MR. ATKINSON
The honourable Member has referred to the Grand Jury Acts, and he seems to be under the impression that the judge of assize has an absolute protection against any abuse of these powers. The judge of assize, however, has no power whatever in the matter. If the presentment is right upon the face of it, and legal, the judge of assize has no course open to him but to issue his fiat. It is perfectly competent for any ratepayer, or for the owner, to traverse it on the ground that the road is useless. 281 That is not decided by the judge, but by the jury, which the judge is bound to empannel for the purpose of the action, and the jury is instructed, of course, by the judge. There is no power beyond this in any person to review the action either of the grand jury or the presentment sessions. Now, the honourable Member for Cork asked why it was that we had to go to Parliament for a Provisional Order, while the county councils were enabled to go to a judicial body. Well, he must be aware that this applies only to the sanitary authorities of the district council, where they are obliged to have their Provisional Orders confirmed by Parliament. When we were dealing with this matter of the acquisition of land by county councils, we did not think it right to couple that with the Public Health Act of 1878. The practice under that Act will not be interfered with, and until that Act is repealed the sanitary authorities will have to proceed in that way and get their Provisional Orders confirmed by Parliament. It might be desirable in cases where small areas are acquired, but I doubt very much if Parliament would sanction large schemes for making waterworks.
§ AN IRISH MEMBER: We only want two or three acres of land.
§ MR. ATKINSON
That does not arise in this section. The county council buy land for the exercise of their regular powers under section 10. At present, under the Act as it stands, a county councillor would have no such power to buy land under this section. There is an Amendment down, later on, to give them power to acquire land for public parks, and if they get that they will have power to buy land for that particular purpose.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE (Wilts, Cricklade)
I understand that the honourable and learned Gentleman who has just addressed the Committee holds out the hope that the point raised, which is a very important one, is still open for discussion, and, in a certain way, for consideration, and therefore I trust, although we need not take any Division, that I may be permitted to say a word or two. A very great importance attaches to the points raised by honourable Members who represent Irish constituencies in 282 regard to this matter, and I will deal with it from my experience of the English Act. In the first place, I wish to be perfectly fair in this matter, and I desire to thank the right honourable Gentleman, from my point of view, for the great concession he has made in this Act, by enabling a county council to get a Provisional Order confirmed without having to go to the trouble and expense of coming to Parliament.
§ LORD EDMUND FITZMAURICE
I take note of that because I hope, notwithstanding, what fell from the right honourable Gentleman not long ago, it will be possible to transfer that power from Ireland to England in a future Act of Parliament. The English county councils have suffered a great deal of inconvenience from the uncertainty and expense attaching to this branch of the law, and, as I urged the other night, it would be very desirable to protect the Irish local bodies and the ratepayers; and in regard to this particular point I would urge the same considerations. The exact rights and position of an English county in regard to the compulsory acquisition of land for the purposes of roads have been the subject of a great deal of controversy. I will not set my opinion on a point of law against that of the honourable and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, but there has been a certain amount of doubt on the point. The section incorporates a portion of the Public Health Act, which itself incorporates a portion of the Municipal Corporations Act and the Land Clauses Act, and these have given indirectly to the English county councils the power of acquiring land compulsorily. That is the best opinion, but the power must be carried out by means of a Provisional Order, and the expense makes the councils unwilling to raise the question at all. An English county council is unable to do what an Irish county council will be able to do—that is, to go to some judicial body at home. I think that is a very valuable concession, and will tend towards what may be called the Home Rule idea. But with regard to district roads, the power in 283 England which the right honourable Gentleman alluded to has, perhaps, less in it than he seems to think. I take it that the justices in England have practically no power to issue an order compulsorily against owners and occupiers except under certain very limited circumstances. In regard to these the power which the highway authority has is the old power of the parish surveyor, and the district council itself is practically the successor to the parish surveyor. The point raised by honourable Members from Ireland is this: they accept it as a valuable concession that they will not have to go to Parliament, but what they set up is this: that the Privy Council is a wrong body to go to. If I understand rightly, this is a point to which the right honourable Gentleman is inclined to give some further consideration. The right honourable Gentleman who sits near me, who has had great experience, thinks that some power might be given to a judge to decide the question as to whether a county council has the right of acquiring compulsorily particular pieces of land, and that the judge himself might empannel a jury upon the question. That would be carrying out the analogy of the English Act, to which the honourable and learned Gentleman opposite just now alluded. It seems to me that, having started as we did with a very valuable provision, we ought to be able, at some stage or other, to meet the important points raised by honourable Members below the Gangway.
§ SIR T. GRATTAN ESMONDE
I cannot see that this is any improvement upon our old system at all. The old system was complicated enough, but we did understand it; we do not know where we are under the system which is proposed. I think, Mr. Lowther, that the Chief Secretary would be well advised if he accepted the modifications which have been suggested.
§ MR. TIMOTHY M. HEALY
I do hope the House will leave us the grand juries and presentment sessions, for, at all events, if a man wants a bit of a road made he can go to his presentment sessions, and he can get it for a couple of pounds. Here is a proviso by which you must, if you want to make 284 a road, first get the consent of your district council, then your county council; and after that you must get the consent of the Local Government Board as to the expense. And then, when you have got these three boards in harmony and unanimity, you must go to the Privy Council, who won't know anything about the merits of the case at all, and perhaps you will get, in the end, a halfpenny postcard, from some duke or marquess, and out goes your road. You are setting up at Dublin Castle a sort of glorified grand jury, with all the vices of the present grand juries and none of their virtues. Sir, the real country gentleman, at all events, has to live among his neighbours. He sees their hardships, and he knows the necessity there is for a road better than the gentlemen up in Dublin. I venture to say that the people who live on the east coast of Ireland know more of Switzerland than they do of the west coast of Ireland. There is an absolute want of knowledge on the part of the so-called aristocracy as to the necessities of the western districts. At all events, they would not throw dirt at their own judges. I may ask what is the value of Clause 22 as a safeguard? This is the most tremendous so-called safeguard that could possibly be invented. It is not a safeguard at all, but an absolute obstruction. Go to some far-away district, some poor district, and let us consider that you want to make a road up a bit of a mountain. Now, what have you got to do? In the first instance, you will probably consult a surveyor, and he will say that you may get it or may not. You may go to the district council, then to the county council, then to the Local Government Board, and then you have got to go to Dublin, and bring up all your witnesses at the cost of the local ratepayers, in order to do what is, as the present law stands, done by going into the county town before a local magistrate, and saying: "Here is a serious grievance; give us a bit of extra road! "Now, the whole of this procedure is to be reversed. The people need these roads for foot passengers and tourists, and you are practically preventing the development of these wretched districts. If you go down to some of these places you will see the toiling women actually carrying manure on their backs up these mountain sides where there is not a road or a footpath, 285 and this kind of thing I bitterly regret. This clause is a pretentious clause, and I do implore the Government to amend it in the Report stage, and to give some serious consideration to this matter from the point of view of the hard-working people in these mountainous districts of Ireland, for their one necessity of existence is that they should have roads to develop their farms and bring their produce to the market.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
I think there would be a difficulty in leaving the powers of the presentment sessions and the grand juries, with reference to the particular question of roads, as suggested, because you can hardly have presentment sessions, which are abolished by the Bill, and your presentment before the grand jury for these limited purposes. It would involve very great practical difficulties, and would be inconsistent with the general frame of the Measure. But, as I understand this Act of Parliament, its object is not to abolish any existing powers or duties hitherto exercised by the grand juries and the presentment sessions, but to have a new body substituted for the grand jury and the presentment sessions, which new body will enjoy the same powers as before. Now, what is done by this section is to alter altogether the powers and duties which previously existed, and, of course, this very cumbrous machinery of the Provisional Order system is adopted. If anything is clear in this discussion, this is clear, and I, of course, have nothing to say about it; but what I want to emphasise and call the attention of the Committee to is this: that honourable and learned Members below the Gangway have no confidence in the Privy Council as a judicial tribunal. I am not at all saying that that want of confidence is well founded or ill-founded, but we must take the fact as it is; and, however much they may have confidence in individual Privy Councillors, it is quite clear that they have no confidence in the judicial system of what is called the Privy Council sitting in Dublin. If this is a concession to Irish, feeling and aspirations, if this is to be a means of killing Home Rule, why would you, for this very narrow purpose, force upon the Irish people a tribunal in which they have no 286 confidence? Then, again, there is no necessity for doing a thing so repugnant. It appears to me that there is no practical difficulty in adopting the suggestion of the honourable and learned Member for Louth. Suppose now that the county council make the order approving of a road. That is tantamount to a presentment. First the district council, then the county council—there are the two stages analogous to the presentment sessions and the presenting before the grand jury. Now, why not give an appeal direct from the order of the county council to the judge of assize, and then let the judge of assize, either with or without a jury, decide whether the road asked for is a right and proper road. That would preserve the same cheap and simple process with which the people of Ireland are familiar under the existing law. This gets rid of any difficulty of calling them county presentments. It does by an appeal from an Order of the council to the judge of assize establish, by rules, how that Order may be dealt with. Without any embarrassment or altering the scheme in this Act, I do respectfully submit that this clause might be recast and brought up in a renewed form.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
If the Committee will permit me, it might be of some interest to know what is the latest form of procedure in this matter in Scotland. There are three aspects showing a better mode than that adopted in the Bill, which may be at least considered in the Report stage. As I understand it, to some extent, in matters of small detail you do not follow the English Act. Now we are not here dealing with a mere road question, but with the broad question of the acquisition of land, for which purpose powers of acquisition are conferred upon county councils as such. Now, dealing with it in that broad form, there is, indeed, a very important question before the House. It appears to me that in these matters at least, two principles ought to be observed. In the first place, where the acquisition of land is proposed by public bodies in the public interest, the inquiries with regard to it should be as expeditious as possible; and, if possible, should be conducted on the spot. With regard to expedition, I understand that it is not substantially disputed in 287 this case that that is practically blocked by the operation of the Labourers Act, referred to in the section, being to the effect that only once a year shall these applications be considered. That may or may not be so, but I observe that the authority which is ultimately to determine this is, I understand, the Privy Council. Now, what is the effect of that? The effect, Mr. Lowther, is two-fold. In the first place, you are giving to the Privy Council an authority, in the exercise of which they shall not be amenable to the control and criticism of Parliament. Now, I look upon that as a very serious matter. I say that, although I am aware that, technically, it may be argued in the other direction. I may conclude, however, by a reference to the Scotch form of procedure, under which the Local Government Board is the authority. Under that the Government are amenable, day by day, to the control and influence of Parliament, and it is much preferable to the Privy Council, which is a tribunal which fluctuates in accordance with the subject-matter to be considered. Now, what is the procedure which we adopt in Scotland? Our procedure in Scotland under the Parish Councils Act of 1841 is very simple. It provides that land may be acquired for a variety of purposes by the parish council. A parish council desiring to acquire land makes an application to the county council. But where the county council may not be in sympathy with the parish council the parish council has the opportunity of going before the Local Government Board, and the procedure before the Local Government Board is to this effect: if no memorial is presented to the Local Government Board against the proposal of the parish council, which is the local authority, it is provided that the Local Government Board shall, without further inquiry, confirm the Order, and there is an end of it. Then it goes on to provide that—If a memorial has been presented, the Board shall proceed to hold a local public inquiry, and, after such inquiry, shall either confirm that Order without amendment, or disallow the Order.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
I started my remarks by saying that, with regard to this question, I would deal with the Amendment on general principles. It is general in its scope and language, and when the reply is made to me that it does not apply to roads, I ask, why should it not apply to roads? With regard to roads, there are, of course, certain large schemes which have to be put forward by one county authority, but it is absolutely familiar experience that with regard to roads there are certain very small schemes which may be put forward by local authorities, and if the absolute proposition is laid down that roads in general are to be excluded from the operation of such a clause I suggest to the Government whether it would be wise to draw the line here, and put in, with certain limitations, powers for repairs which might be covered by small expenses under the local procedure I have described. I again apologise to the House for interposing, but I do suggest to my right honourable Friend the Attorney General that, although he may distinguish the subject-matter from the procedure referred to in the Scotch Act, he will, I hope, agree that, at all events, there is much light to be thrown upon this question when you are forming a new set of procedure rules in Ireland from what we have done in Scotland. I hope that my right honourable Friend will concur with me that the Local Government Board is an infinitely better tribunal than the Privy Council.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I fear that the honourable and learned Gentleman has not grasped altogether what the procedure is which is sought to be set up. In Ireland, as in England, we propose that county councils, in order to acquire land compulsorily, should do so by Provisional Order. The only exception to that is in the case of Scotland which the honourable and learned Gentleman has referred to, and that is, I think, only in regard to acquiring land for allotments. But our proposal is that, when land is required for roads, they shall not be required to go in the ordinary way of obtaining a Provisional Order, to be confirmed by Parliament, but that they shall apply to the Local Government 289 Board for power to hold an inquiry into the matter on the spot. If no objection or petition is presented against the Order to the Lord Lieutenant and the Local Government Board sanction it, there will be no bringing of witnesses up to Dublin, or any such expense, in dealing with this application. It is only in the event of a petition against the Order being presented to the Lord Lieutenant, either by owners or ratepayers, that there would be any hearing in Dublin at all. I do not think that there is any reason to apprehend that where small pieces of land are required for making or widening roads there will be any necessity in the interests of any person to go to the expense of having an appeal from the Order in Dublin, for the Local Government Board determine the matter, in the first instance, immediately it comes before them, for they investigate upon the spot. If the authorities acquiesce in it there is no appeal to the Lord Lieutenant at all. It is only when a petition is presented that there is an appeal, and in that case the Lord Lieutenant acts merely as a substitute for Parliament.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
Will the right honourable and learned Gentleman permit me to interpose to make this observation? There is a very simple procedure in the Scotch Act. My right honourable Friend is correct in saying that, so far as regards the county council, the Provisional Order system obtains in Scotland and in England, but the point of my observations is that it is a cumbrous, expensive, and useless procedure as compared with the far simpler procedure which was enacted in 1894. This was a matter of extreme contention in the discussion on the Scottish Bills, and the Conservative view of the matter was expressed in a variety of Amendments, the object of which was to retain the old procedure; but the Government of the day was able to oppose them, and by adopting a simpler and less expensive method gave a lead to Parliament in subsequent enactments as to the acquisition of land, in the hope that the example might be followed.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
If I wanted an example of what a curse it is for a poor country like Ireland to be connected 290 with a rich country like England, I should find it in this proposal. The Government now to-day, without one solitary demand from Ireland, so far as I am aware, from any class—because the grand juries have passed resolutions in favour of proceedings by traverse—come down to the House and say—Oh, no! We must get rid of your barbarous Irish procedure, which takes cognisance of Irish needs and necessities, and substitute the splendid English procedure of Provisional Order. And we will do that even in cases where the issue involved must be wholly out of proportion to the cost of the procedure we are setting up.Mr. Lowther, let me emphasise what I mean by a case in the county of Cork I know of, and the right honourable Gentleman opposite will, no doubt, remember it, for it happened within the last 18 months. There was an application from the town of Yarmouth to make a road. Now, when you talk of making a road you will naturally think of miles of roads. This was an application to make 20 yards of road. Now, although it was small, it was not so in point of expense. It seemed an exceedingly small matter, but for the locality it was an exceedingly important and vital matter. Now, Mr. Lowther, suppose that application is made in presentment sessions in Ireland, and made to a grand jury. I do not know whether it was opposed or not, but, at any rate, the whole question was brought out at a cost to the party and the county of a couple of pounds. Now, if that case were tried under this Bill it would cost the county from £50 to £100. Now, I do ask the House to remember that England is a rich country, and Ireland is a poor country, and, therefore, do not place the unfortunate Irish occupier, with his £4 or £5 holding, exactly on the same footing, and apply the same law to him as if you were applying it to a farmer paying, perhaps, £500 a year rent. Now, that is exactly what the Government are proposing to do for the mere pleasure of assimilating and having the laws of the two countries exactly similar; and without any demand from any class in Ireland they proceed to abolish its excellent and admirable procedure, which has been specially devised for the needs of Ireland, and they are substituting this monstrous and 291 cumbrous procedure of Provisional Order, The Scotch Members, when their Bill came before the House, succeeded in winning for their country a procedure which I do not think was as good as the Irish procedure, but, at any rate, it is enormously better than what is proposed by this Bill. Will you give us the Scotch law? I am much obliged to the right honourable Gentleman for calling attention to this point. The point has been made that this does not refer to the taking over of land for roads, and that it applies only to the taking of land for other purposes.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable Member forgets that the grand jury procedure only refers to roads.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
The roads are a matter we want to deal with. In this question the advantage of a road always depends on what you can make the road for. It may be very valuable if you can make it for £20, but if it is going to cost £100, it may be a monstrous proposal to put on the county. The question is, what relation does the advantage you would get from the making of the road bear to the cost to be incurred? The cost in Ireland may be something very small. It may be only the cost of making a road a few hundred yards long, and perhaps £150 will easily make the road. The cases in Ireland in which roads have exceeded in cost more than a couple of hundred pounds are very small indeed. I certainly think that this matter has not been adequately considered by the Government. I do not think it has been adequately considered by the Committee, and I think that it would be possible to adopt another method. I do not myself insist upon preserving the old grand jury system if that is objected to, but I feel sure that any lawyer who chooses to take this matter into his hands will easily devise a simple and cheap procedure which will promote the interests of all concerned, which will not allow the oppression of any class, and which will enable public works of this kind to be carried out in Ireland without an extravagant burden of costs being cast upon the county. I do appeal to the right honourable Gentleman opposite, on behalf 292 of the poor people of Ireland, if they desire to see the poor districts developed, that they will reconsider the matter. It is not a Party matter,—there is no Party question involved in it—and it is a matter in which we are all deeply concerned. This is a question for enabling something to be done by the county councils for the poor occupiers in Ireland, and I do appeal to the Government, as they desire to benefit these poor districts, that they will not impose this intolerable burden upon those poor localities and place a barrier in the way of any locality which desires an improvement in the matter of a new road.
§ MR. J. JORDAN (Fermanagh, S.)
This Bill is so very technical that I almost hesitate to deal with the matter, but if, as the honourable Member for Cork says, this clause will lead to a slow, cumbrous and most costly and expensive procedure, I apprehend and fear that it will prevent improvement in Ireland, that it will penalise improvement; and that instead of improving their roads in the backward districts of the country, the cost will be so much that the people will hesitate to seek to have it done. There has been a tendency, as the honourable Member for Cork has just said, not to proceed with new roads, but there has been a desire on the part of the cess-payers rather to facilitate the improvement of old roads; and, Mr. Lowther, if you saddle the ratepayers on these old roads with a costly and cumbrous procedure, instead of improving the country under your new Local Government Act, you will rather retard the progress of the country in relation to this matter. I think there is nothing calculated to improve the condition and position of the peasants, and other residents in country districts in Ireland, more than the making of fairly good roads to their houses; and now that labour has got to be so costly in Ireland, I think, the poor farmer requires every facility that can possibly be given to get his produce to the market, and ingress to and egress from his farm, so as to diminish the cost of labour. It is absolutely necessary that the county should afford him those facilities, and I apprehend that if, as I said before, you saddle the county with 293 a procedure so costly as this, we shall have no improvement in the county, but we shall rather have retrogression. I greatly deprecate any such state of affairs, and I hope the Government will enable the county councils and the district councils to do these simple things, such as widening old roads for the benefit of the people in the locality, and not impose upon them the costly and cumbrous procedure of having to go to the district council, then to the county council, next to the Local Government Board, and finally to the Privy Council, and so accumulating expense, and inflicting upon the county a burden which would exceed the value of the road that should be made.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
Sir, the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary has given no answer whatever upon this point, and while we do not desire to prolong this discussion, which has now lasted some time, we shall have to put down new clauses dealing with the matter. Do not let the Government imagine that while this Bill is in progress we shall allow it to escape from this Committee until we have thoroughly threshed this matter out. It is really the heart of the Bill, and if I may be allowed to do so, I will venture to give the Committee a cinematograph that will show what happened in the Cabinet when this matter was discussed, and the way in which this proposal was made. I will suppose that what happened was this: When the Cabinet was considering this question of compulsory rates, they would send for some Irish authority, and they would suppose that the grand jury had had full power to take land. Then up started Lord Salisbury—or something like that—and said: "Oh, but in England we have no such power at all. We have to come to Parliament, and we will compel the Irish to do the same." And then some other Member of the Cabinet, with a little better knowledge of the country, said: "England is a country with a £100,000,000 Budget, but in Ireland a question of 4½d. is of some importance. Would it not be well to leave them the existing procedure?" "Oh, no," said another, "we will split the difference. No doubt Parliament is far off, and it would be unfair to compel the Irish 294 people to appeal to it in this matter, but we will send them to the Privy Council in Dublin, in the same way as under the Labourers Act." That is the curse of Ireland—the two systems of false analogies which you set up between England and Ireland: the one, in comparing two countries less alike than any others in the whole globe; and the other, going from one Statute to another, which have no resemblance whatever, except in the merest trifles. Now, I see the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his place, and I challenge him to say whether I have not given a fair picture of what took place in the Cabinet.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
Evidently the honourable and learned Gentleman was listening at the key-hole.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
The right honourable Gentleman has been Irish Secretary himself, and he knows the difficulty of dealing with the matter. For my part I hope we shall have some promise from a Member of the Cabinet that this matter will be reconsidered before the Report stage, for otherwise we shall put down Amendments dealing with the question. It is unfair to the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and it is unfair to the right honourable and learned Attorney General for Ireland, to give them this Bill, saying, "Fight it out in the House of Commons." They are allowed no limits of deviation as in an ordinary engineer's plan. They get this Irish Bill as prepared in the Cabinet Room, and are told to fight it out in the House of Commons, and not to take up much time about it, as an English University Bill, or something about the Budget, must soon be discussed. "We will give you so many days," they are told, "to do it in, and you will be bad boys if you fail to do it in that time." That is not the proper way of dealing with such a question. We have had this Bill before us for more than a week, and I would urge upon right honourable Gentlemen opposite that the interests of the country are not being fairly dealt with unless we have some gentlemen connected with the Cabinet to listen to our arguments, and with some power when a concession shall be made, for so far we have practically had no concession made on this Bill. 295 Look at the different way in which you treated the question in England, and how you modified and improved your clauses. You did not say then that the judges were unfit to act without the assistance of assessors or engineers, but you thought a judge of assize was the proper person to deal with the matter. But when you come to opening up the country districts in Ireland, then you say Her Majesty's judges will be in the future unfit to act by themselves. I believe it will be found later on, if this clause is insisted upon, that the people of Ireland will bemoan the grand juries. One of the chief needs of the country in the backward parts is the making of new roads, and you are practically putting a stop to that source of improvement in the country.
§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
I do not wished to prolong this Debate, but the right honourable and learned Gentleman the Attorney General has said that one of the reasons why the county councils would not have the same power as the grand juries had was that the grand juries consisted of so many landlords, who, to a large extent, owned the land. From that statement it would be imagined that the grand jurors paid all the county cess; but does the right honourable and learned Gentleman imagine that if the new county councils have the same opportunity of making roads in country districts as the grand juries have had in the past, they are going to tax themselves any more than they possibly can? To my mind, the county councils will be most niggardly in making roads, and I would suggest to the right honourable Gentleman, or any other Member of the Cabinet, that no county council would make a rate that would not be very necessary. I have known how difficult it was to get boards of guardians to make a rate for the purpose of labourers' cottages, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that it will be just as difficult, if the county councils have the same power as the grand juries have at the present time, to get them to make or pay a rate unless it is highly necessary. From the experience we have had in the past of boards of guardians, the difficulty we have had in getting labourers' 296 cottages built, and the necessity of having to apply for powers to the Privy Council, I consider this proposed method or making the rate will be very expensive. Owing to the fact that boards of guardians have had to apply to the Privy Council for power to build labourers' cottages, the cost of building 14 cottages in one union in my constituency amounted to over £400, or £33 per cottage. I think that the Government have not studied this question at all, because, to my knowlege—and I am sure every Irish Member will back me up—instead of the county councils being anxious to make, roads, they will be penurious. It is not the county council which will have to pay the rates for making roads. It would be imagined from the speech of the right honourable and learned Attorney General, when making his opening statement, that it was the grand jurors who paid all the county cess in the past, and that the reason why they were not to have the power was that they owned the land. But if the county councils now acquire the land, it is not the county councils who have to pay the county cess for any lands they acquire. Surely the county councils and the ratepayers of the district are not going to acquire land without paying for it. I think the Government would not make any mistake if they left the entire matter in the hands of the county council in the future as it was left in the hands of the grand juries in the past. With regard to expenses, I could mention other cases which have occurred in the past, if it were necessary to do so, but I am sure the right honourable Gentleman was aware that, as I have stated, the building of 14 labourers' cottages involved an expense which came to £400. And not alone under the Labourers Act were such costs incurred, for the guardians had to pay their own costs, and actually the landlord who opposed the building of the cottages got his costs as well. I think the action of the Government must lead to immense litigation and to the heaping up of expenses in the future by the councils, and will impede the usefulness of the county councils in Ireland. I hope it is not the intention of the 297 Government, as the speech of the right honourable and learned Attorney General might have led us to believe, to impede the usefulness of the county councils in Ireland in the future, and I trust that before the Report stage of this Bill the Government will carefully reconsider this matter. If they do, I think they will agree to the proposition which has been put forward by the honourable Members from Ireland, and will not require this clause to be passed in its present form. When the honourable Member for Cork spoke of the possibility of the expenses for making a road 20 yards long being £50, the right honourable Gentleman opposite appeared to dissent from that view. But the procedure under this Bill entails, first of all, that plans and a scheme shall be prepared by the engineers and the district council, that advertisements shall be published extending over a very long period of time, that notices shall be served, of course, on the various parties concerned, and that, after all these plans have been put before the Local Government Board, a local inquiry should be held, including the expense of a Government notetaker from Dublin, the usual cost of his employment being from £12 to £20. He will have to come down from Dublin, and it will be necessary to follow this procedure in every case; so that, I think, if all these things are taken into consideration, it will be seen that, no matter how small the length of the road to be made may be, the costs cannot possibly be anything less than £50, even if there is no opposition to it.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL (Cavan, W.)
I must say, Sir, that I think we are entitled to a reply, at least, from the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the arguments which have been addressed to him. I do not think anybody will argue that the Labourers Act has been cited too much in this discussion as to the effect of appeals to the Privy Council, which I think might, in fact, be well described as the grave of the Labourers' Act in Ireland. That is almost certainly so. My experience has been that the Local Government Board have really a strong desire to carry out the Labourers Act, but that inevitably great expense and cost have been incurred in going that far. When schemes went into the Privy Council 298 Chamber, and were opposed on the slightest ground, they were invariably rejected by the Privy Council. Now if this is to be allowed in future in the case of the smallest road, which it is desired to make by the county councils of Ireland, surely a grave and serious question will be opened by this Bill. The people who have been taught to believe that this Measure is going to put them in possession and control of their own local affairs will be grievously disappointed if this clause as it is now framed, is passed into law. It is only lawyers who can really understand the effect of these entanglements in which we are being involved by these changes, and, therefore. I say that a strong case has been made out for the right honourable Gentleman to give way in the matter. I observe that he has assumed an apparently stone-walled attitude. There is no yielding whatsoever. He has simply placed his back to the wall and will give us no redress. Well, Sir, I am very sorry, personally, because I desire to see this Bill passed with the least possible delay; and I am very sorry that the right honourable Gentleman should take up that attitude, because I think he is only causing that delay of which, no doubt, he will later on make complaint. We are at issue with the right honourable Gentleman in regard to the attitude he has taken up, and at least we are entitled to have some reply to our arguments.
§ MR. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)
In this matter, Sir, Irish opinion is in favour of maintaining things as they are, and of securing that county business shall be conducted by a cheap and expeditious method. Not one of the Conservative Members from Ireland even has given his support to this proposal of the Government, yet the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary seems to think that Irish opinion has no weight in this matter. I beg to remind him that it is the people of Ireland themselves who are interested in this question, and that the interests of Ireland are largely at stake in the decision at which we shall arrive in regard to this question. We are most anxious that this Bill should be carried through with as little delay as possible, but we are not desirous of saddling upon the country a new burden, or of putting on the ratepayers any further expense 299 than they bear at present, because the country is not in a position to bear any increase of the rates. I will, therefore, beg the right honourable Gentleman to listen to Irish opinion in this matter. No one representative of Ireland has supported the change proposed by the Government, and every Member who has spoken on this side of the House has objected to that proposal. Therefore I should like to hear from the right honourable Gentleman what is the reason that he will allow Irish opinion no weight in this matter.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
I think we are entitled to have some reply. Are we to waste our time? Really, Sir, it is only fair, when reasonable arguments have been laid before the Government for their giving some reconsideration to the matter before the Report stage of the Bill, that the right honourable Gentleman should give us at least a reply.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Sir, I do not see my way to say more than I have done already. I have fully expressed the opinion of the Government on the matter, and to do so again would be a great waste of time.
§ MR. P. A. M'HUGH (Leitrim, N.)
It appears to me, Mr. Lowther, that the two right honourable machines opposite—[Cries of "Order, order!"]
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
I cannot allow that expression to be used, and I must ask the honourable Gentleman to withdraw it.
§ MR. P. A. M'HUGH
The two representatives of the Cabinet attach no importance whatever to the opinions expressed in this House by the representatives from Ireland. It was, I think, during last Session that they promised to have the procedure under the Labourers Acts in Ireland simplified. Why did they make that promise? Because it was found that in the working of the Labourers Acts in Ireland there was a great deal of delay and a great deal of expense. My honourable Friend has stated that in the construction of 14 labourers' cottages in his district the preliminary expenses amounted to £400. I have had a similar experience in my own constituency, and I found that for a labourer's cot- 300 tage the cost of which was about £70 or £80, the preliminary expenses amounted to between £30 and £40. Now, Mr. Lowther, the Government have promised to have the procedure under the Labourers Acts Simplified. They will probably, after the passing of this Act, come forward and say, "We must have the procedure for making news roads simplined, because we find that the present procedure is too cumbrous, too dilatory, and too expensive." Why should they not now pay some attention to the views expressed by the representatives from Ireland? Surely for the making of 20 yards of a new road for the benefit of a new district it should not be necessary that you should have a plan made out, and then that you should issue notices, and that you should go to the district council and give the district council an opportunity of publishing advertisements, and afterwards, when the county council had expressed its view, that you should bring down the officials of the Local Government Board to hold an inquiry? Who is going to pay for the inquiry? Is it to be the poor people living in such a district as that described by the honourable Member for Cork, or will the expense be borne by the Exchequer? The poorer the district is the larger will be the amount of money required to be paid on the road rate. Take the case of a proposal to construct a road, say, of 20 yards. Will the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary give the Committee some idea as to the initial cost? I venture to say that my honourable Friend erred when he said that the initial cost in some of these cases would be at least £50. I can conceive cases where, in consequence of opposition before the Privy Council, it will be necessary to incur an expenditure of at least £100 in order to get a road made that would have cost no more than £20—that is to say, £5 a yard for the initial expenses. Now I think the Irish Members are entitled to some concession upon this point; and if no concession is made now because the two right honourable Gentlemen opposite are not in a position to make it, we will put down Amendments, and we will fight this matter out so far as we can in this House, because we look upon it as a vital matter. We 301 say that this is a retrograde step. You are taking away with one hand what you are giving us with another. You are taking out of the hands of the people living in country districts the right that they have hitherto possessed by making a road. It would be far better, in my opinion, to retain the old system under the grand juries—far better, because there could be nothing worse than to put upon the wretched people in these poor districts the cost of having a Local Government Board inquiry and of going up to the Privy Council. Will it be necessary to bring all the witnesses before the Privy Council? If so, how many witnesses in the case of a 20 yards road will have to appear before the Privy Council, and who will pay for their evidence being taken down in shorthand? They will have to pay their own fare and to keep themselves in Dublin. They will not know whether they are going to be called, and may be kept there a fortnight. I say that this is a monstrous proposal, and I am astonished that the right honourable Gentleman, who professes to have gone to Ireland for the purpose of killing Home Rule with kindness, should make such a proposal to this House. I repeat that, under these circumstances, we will resist by every means in our power the imposition of such a fraud upon the people of our country.
§ MR. PINKERTON (Galway)
It is often said that the English people have great difficulty in understanding Irish affairs, and here to-day we have a practical illustration of the difficulty. So far as I am concerned, I am not at all alarmed by the proposed change, though I think it is possible that Amendments may have to be introduced to safeguard the people amid all these difficulties; but I also think that we have had sufficient talk upon this question, and that it is time we were getting further on with the Bill. The honourable and learned Gentleman for Louth has evolved from his inner consciousness a picture of a Cabinet Council, and we have had discussions on everything that might happen in Ireland under every possible circumstances. We cannot, however, suppose that the people in every part of Ireland are so steeped in original sin 302 as to be opposed to all improvements, or that every man in Ireland must be opposed even to the widening of a road. I do not see that the arguments brought forward for improving the poorer districts of Ireland can be met in this way. The land in these poor districts can be got for the proper purpose at a proper price. Take any part of Connemara, for instance. Suppose you wanted to improve or make a road there, who would dream of opposing road extension there? Go to the wilds of Kerry, or to any part of Donegal, and there you would get a thousand acres by asking for them—
§ An HONOURABLE MEMBER: The land lords!
§ MR. PINKERTON
Well, I do not think the landlords are so steeped in ignorance as some honourable Members suppose. The landlords have as much interest as the tenants in trying to develop the country, and for my own part I have found the tenants quite as reasonable as the landlords in any case of importance. I think that this clause shold be allowed to pass without further discussion.
§ MR. E. F. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
My honourable Friend objects to any more discussion, and I confess I think there is a good deal of common sense in what he says. But I venture to think that this is not a Party question, and I sincerely hope that when we come to the Report stage of this clause the Chief Secretary will consider whether, in the interests of all parties concerned, the old procedure should not be adhered to. It is quite true that in England the procedure is very much the same as the procedure of this Bill.
§ MR. KNOX
Very well; but then it is also the case that in London, or in many parts of London, under the Michael Angelo Act there are powers to widen roads without a Provisional Order in a much more simple way than is proposed by this Bill; and, indeed, in as simple a way as that which exists in Ireland at the present moment. I believe there are other local Acts in other parts of England to the same effect, and, therefore, it is not the case that all over England there is such strictness of the law as 303 the Chief Secretary would represent. But that is not all. There is no doubt about it that anyone who has had to go about England, and whose business has led him to be brought into connection with the roads, must know that there is nothing worse in the English system than the difficulty which exists whenever the question of widening a road crops up. Under the English law at the present time there is really no power of widening roads, and, compared with all the other countries in Europe, England has admittedly very narrow roads, and the chief reason for that is because there is such difficulty about taking land compulsorily to widen them. The English local authorities are constantly fighting this question, and I do think that it is much too bad that you are asking us in Ireland to imitate not merely the virtues of the English law, but the vices of the English law—vices in respect of which Englishmen themselves condemn the present system. We have a system in Ireland which has existed for a great number of years, and which has worked well so far as procedure is concerned. It is quite apart from the question of the actual persons who administer it. It is not really a question of grand juries at all, but apart altogether from the question of the persons who administer it, the procedure is a good one, and I venture to hope that before we reach the Report stage the Chief Secretary will reconsider the matter, and see whether he can assent to some modification of this present clause. I may add, perhaps, that a great deal has been said about the difficulty in mountainous districts, but I do not think that that is a difficulty which will very often arise. Of course it is admitted that consent to the widening of a road will often be more difficult to obtain than to the actual making of a new road; but the making of new roads and the widening of old roads is a very great factor in developing districts outside of the towns. I do hope that the Chief Secretary will give us an undertaking that he will, in the first place, consult the English authorities as to whether they do not find the present law in England, in cases where there are no local Acts, a most injurious law; and, in the second place, that he will consult with experienced people who have had 304 connection with the Irish grand juries, and ask them whether the existing Irish procedure has not worked well; and if he finds that the English system is considered to be unduly restrictive, and that the Irish system is considered to be a good system, that he will allow us to keep up the present Irish system, even although the power may be transferred from the grand juries to the county councils.
§ COLONEL E. J. SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
As an old grand juror in Ireland, it is extremely satisfactory to me to hear that the merits of the grand juries are now for the first time appreciated by our friends opposite.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
Very well, then, the procedure. The grand juries have been vilified up hill and down dale within the last 20 years, as being formed of a body of men who conduct their business in the most perfunctory manner.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
The honourable and learned Member says "Hear, hear!" now, but only a short time ago he was asking for the retention of the grand jury system.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
I think the praise which has been given to them is very satisfactory to the grand juries, because I think they have carried on their business very well indeed. The honourable Gentleman rather derided that remark, but on other occasions as well as to-day we have had honourable Gentlemen opposite contending that the grand jury is in every respect the cheapest and best tribunal to which we can appeal. I entirely agree with that. I do not believe that you will ever have a tribunal before which to bring the county affairs which will so well and so cheaply conduct them as the grand juries have conducted their business. I must say that. In this Bill I think it will be seen that if there is an objection to the road there is an appeal to the Local Government Board; if it is not opposed, that appeal will not be necessary.
§ MR. M. HEALY
It is so. Whether opposed or not, you must go to the Local Government Board, and have an inquiry.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
Well, if that is so, I think that is an expense which ought to be obviated; but, as I understand, that is not the case. If the road is not opposed this expense will not be incurred, and that is what honourable Gentlemen opposite are objecting to.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The interjection of the honourable Member for Cork throws some doubt on my mind as to the good which the extraordinarily lengthy discussion of this clause is doing. This proposed appeal only extends in cases where a person is unwilling to sell his land or to arrange for a transfer. The grand jury is no longer to administer the roads, because that power is to be taken away from them, and to be transferred to a popularly elected body, and it has been thought that that popularly elected body might use their power in such a way as to inflict hardships upon individuals, and it is simply in order to protect owners of land or occupiers of land from such hardships that this procedure has been adopted. It is a simpler procedure than that of the English or the Scotch law, and it is a cheaper procedure. We have made the law less strict in Ireland than it is in England or in Scotland; and now, after about three hours' debate, the honourable and learned Member has actually so read the clause as to come to the conclusion that the Local Government Board is to be appealed to on all occasions, and, for aught I know, he may understand that the Privy Council is to be appealed to as well, although there may be no opposition to the taking of the land.
§ MR. M. HEALY
I certainly have so read the clause, and I will prove that that is the case. I may say that I am glad to have heard the speech of the right honourable Gentleman and the speech of the honourable and gallant Member opposite, because those speeches may lead to a solution of the difficulty which has, unfortunately, arisen. The error which the right honourable Gentleman, I 306 think, makes, is in supposing that the only difficulty as between the county council and the owner or the occupier, is on the simple issue, "Will you take my land or not?" But that is not so. The difference will always be a question of price; and observe that when you have to go to the Local Government Board and the Privy Council, it will not be a question of price at all, because the question of price will always be fixed by an arbitrator. The issue there will be, "Will you take the land or not?" There maybe no difference in principle between the owner or the occupier and the county council, as to the taking of the land at all. The owner and the occupier may be willing to part with their land on terms. The county council may not agree to their terms. One would say, "Well, let the terms be fixed under the Lands Clauses Act," or by any other means which the right honourable Gentleman may choose to devise. But what his clause does is this: where the parties differ about the price of the land the owner or occupier will compel the county council to go to the Local Government Board, and they will do that in order to get the price they are asking for the land. The owner or occupier who simply differs with the county council on the question as to whether the land is to be bought at the price of £5 or £10 per acre will, under this Bill, say to the county council, "If you do not give us our terms, we will oppose you altogether. We will resist the taking of our land, and go to the Local Government Board and say, 'This road ought not to be made,' and if the Local Government Board does not agree with our contention, we will go to the Privy Council, and say, 'This road ought not to be made at all.'" If the right honourable Gentleman would do what he says he wishes to do, and enable the parties where the difference is only one of price to come to some means of arrangement without these vexatious and expensive appeals to the Local Government Board and the Privy Council, there would be no Debate on this clause at all—it would not last another minute. But under this clause the right honourable Gentleman compels the county council practically to go to the Local Government Board, because we all know that where land is being taken 307 compulsorily landlord or tenant—and especially the tenant—would demand a most exorbitant price. I was taking an acre of land myself from a tenant the other day, and he asked me £150. That was in a rural district, and he came and swore it was worth all that money, and the arbitrator fixed the price at £10; and that is always what happens in these cases. I admit that the Irish tenant holds to his land with a dogged pertinacity, and when you take it from him he takes care that he makes you pay for it the highest value he can get. And what the right honourable Gentleman does by this clause is to put a gentleman of that kind, who is seeking to squeeze the last penny he can from the county council, in this position, that he can say, "I will not abate my claim at all; and unless you pay me I will put you to all sorts of law costs, and I will do so to such an extent that it will be much cheaper for you to pay my price than to go to law. I will go to the Local Government Board, and then I will go to the Privy Council." I sincerely hope that the right honourable Gentleman will consider this clause, and where there is only a question of price involved he will alter it so as not to interpose this preliminary barrier to the local inquiry.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
If it will satisfy the honourable Member, I am quite willing to put that provision into the Bill, that if they only differ as regards price the reference shall only be to the Local Government Board.
§ On the return of the CHAIRMAN after the usual interval,
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
After hearing what the Chief Secretary has stated, I am quite willing to take the clause as it stands.
§ Question put.
§ Clause 10 added to the Bill.