MR. T. M. HEALY
I think that this clause will introduce a very beneficial change into the urban life of Ireland in 1169 those small towns which are scattered throughout the country, but I am trusting that the Government will go a little further than the clause goes at present. The position is a little complicated by the financial question, which we shall have discussed in the next clause, and which I shall not raise now; but, apart from finance, I wish to discuss whether this clause takes a proper course in dealing with these urban areas. The position of the small towns scattered over Ireland is at present most anomalous and absurd. A town in Ireland, having a population of 1,500, was offered local government, as constituted by a towns commission, which gave it the position of a township. The towns commission had comparatively large administrative powers, such as lighting, water supply, sewage, and the power of making bylaws, and a whole series of other matters. Taking advantage of the invitation, a very large number of the smaller towns of Ireland brought themselves within the provisions of the Act of 1854. But since the passing of that Act there has been passed another Act, entitled the Public Health Act of 1878, which rescinded in a very large measure the privileges which the Act of 1854 had conferred, because it transferred from the towns commissioners practically one-half, and in some oases three-fourths, of their whole jurisdiction. It took it out of their hands and passed it over to the local boards of guardians of the areas in which these small towns were situated. That Act had this advantage: that sanitary expenditure, if it were carried out by the urban area itself, all fell on the occupiers, whereas, when the sanitary powers were transferred to these boards of guardians, the sanitary expenditure was divided between the landlord and the tenant, and it is that fact that has reconciled many of these places to the changes which had taken place under that Act. Under this Bill the people who vote the expenditure would have no interest in the sanitary work which has to be done. Every town in Ireland wants a system of sewage, which is extremely 1170 bad in some of the towns in Ireland at the present time. All that involves a great deal of expense under the old Act; the towns would discuss when and how the work was to be done, and what it should spend in doing it. All that they can do at present is to send two or three members to a board of guardians, comprising perhaps 50 or 60 members, the balance of whom are drawn from the rural area, and have no interest in the town, or whether it has a proper water supply or a proper system of sewage, or anything else; and in these small towns there have been continual conflicts between the boards of guardians and the towns. A town wants certain things done for its protection and its improvement, and the board of guardians is utterly uninterested whether it is done or not. In the town of Skibbereen there was for two years a very serious conflict indeed. The board of guardians was induced to go to the expense of instituting a water supply, and while they were doing that and spending all this money the work was being done in such a scandalous manner that there was every chance of the money being thrown away. The board of guardians had no interest in the matter, and the town had to pay for the water supply which was being instituted. The town of Middleton has been for very many years without a sewage system, and in the same way they have only two or three members upon the board of guardians, and the board, as a whole, has very little interest in what becomes of the town. Up to the present the town has not had the advantage of that sewage system. The merit of the clause is that, so far as it goes, it extends the old state of things, and gives these little towns the complete control of their own affairs; but what I object to in this clause is that it proposes to give power to one-fourth of the electors of a town to exclude the town from the benefits of this clause. Now, we have heard of minorities, and the rights of minorities, but a proposal that one-fourth of the electors of a town should be given the power of depriving 1171 the town of the right to manage its own affairs which the Government proposes to give it, certainly, to my mind, requires some explanation. My first Amendment amends that clause in this way: the clause, as it stands, leaves to the Local Government Board the option as to whether or not a town should be constituted an urban sanitary authority. I say that that should not be so, but as soon as this Bill comes into force they should be made urban sanitary authorities. I quite concede that that could be done by an Order of the Local Government Board, but what I object to is that it should be left with that Board to say whether a town should be an urban area or not. I object also to limiting the clause to a town of 1,500 people. It appears that there are six towns in Ireland which, since the 1854 Act was passed, have fallen below that limit, but that does not deprive them of their rights under that Act. I would suggest that this clause should apply to all towns which had towns commissioners, and that they should become urban sanitary authorities. It is certainly a monstrous provision that one-fourth of the electorate should be able to deprive the town of the benefit of this clause, and that should be most certainly struck out of the Bill.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The honourable and learned Member for Cork moved this Amendment, as I understand, in the interest of the small towns; but the provision which he would substitute in place of the clause in the Bill would be a compulsory provision, compelling all the towns, whether they liked it or not, to come in under the Act of 1854, and become urban sanitary authorities, with all the possibilities and expense which that might entail. It appears to me that many of these small places might become urban districts under this Act, and be their own local authority, with all the debts and the obligations which will fall upon them. Our clause is a permissive clause, and I think, possibly, we might impose the obligations upon those towns to become 1172 sanitary districts did considerations of mere symmetry permit it, but we could not venture to go so far as the honourable Member suggests. The honourable Member is speaking in the interests of the towns, and he professes to say the provision is not a fair one. Surely the honourable Member, in making those remarks, forgot that these towns can, by means of a Provisional Order, become at any time sanitary districts. The honourable Gentleman says that no doubt there is a great benefit under this Act, and that any towns commissioners desirous of coming in could do so by a Provisional Order, whilst he bitterly complained of the insertion of a provision that if one-fourth of the electorate should object the town would not be entitled to become an urban sanitary district. That is not altogether a hardship. The reason why Parliament, as a general rule, insisted on a Provisional Order in these cases is that it shall not be entirely in the hands of the majorities. If the majority of a town was sufficient to decide this matter, why should there be a Provisional Order at all? I should very greatly object to that if we did not limit the clause to, say, within 12 months after the passing of this Act. At all events, we ought to preserve some power so as to provide in the clause some protection.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I quite admit that there is an expensive and tedious process by which these towns can become sanitary authorities, but it is not surprising that since the Act of 1878 there has not been a great desire on the part of towns to become, under the circumstances, urban sanitary districts. The great injustice in Ireland at the present time is that the whole charge of the sanitary rules falls upon the occupier, whereas in the counties it extends to both the occupier and the owner. I ask the honourable Gentleman to extend the time given by this clause, and I think that is a reasonable compromise. I would ask him to what extent he proposes to extend the time. There is no 1173 reason why it should not be permanent, but if he limits the time I will accept that.
§ MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)
seconded the Amendment. He said: At present a small town is not an urban sanitary authority. Sanitary work is done by the officials of the entire union. If you compel small towns to become sanitary authorities they would have to employ their own officials, and the expense of that would fall on the ratepayers of the town—the salary of the doctor, the salary of the clerk, and the salary of the sanitary officer. At present the salary of the sanitary officer is borne by the entire union, and the Government have to contribute; whereas, if you compel your small towns to become urban sanitary authorities, you have to begin new salaries for the doctors and clerks at a very considerable expense. There is another question to be considered—this question of the preferential rate that exists in towns under the Towns Improvement Act. At present only one fourth of the rate is levied on land, and I would like to know from the right honourable Gentleman opposite whether this arrangement will continue—whether the landowners will continue to escape from what I consider to be a very fair burden, or whether occupiers will pay the full rate. That is a very important consideration, and we ought to know whether the arrangement will continue that the holders of land will pay one-fourth and occupiers the full rate.
§ MR. HAYDEN (Roscommon, S.)
This must be taken with two other Amendments as one entire Amendment. It will read—Every town shall, after this date, be an urban sanitary district.I take it that the sub-section, as it stands, gives far more local self-government to the small towns than the proposal of the honourable Gentleman the. Member for Cork, because 1174 the proposal of my honourable and learned Friend would assume that there is no option given; they must become urban sanitary districts at the passing of the Act. I know members of the towns would say that a large number of them would object to become urban sanitary districts because of the loss of the agricultural grant. That is a very important point. As the matter stands there is a certain amount of local option, and the Amendment of the honourable Gentleman gives no local option whatever. You would override the opinion of the inhabitants. It would give them no choice; nolens volens, they must become urban sanitary districts and lose the benefit of the agricultural grant. Take the town of Mallow. It is not an urban sanitary district; it has no control over the sanitation of the town; but it is a township—[interruption]—I really cannot hear myself talking. Under the present arrangements the boundary of the town runs about a mile and a half outside the town proper. On this agricultural land the tenants are entitled to the benefits of the Land Act, but they lose the entire benefit of the agricultural grant. They would lose that benefit without being consulted, without having the option of saying whether they were willing to adopt it or not. Thy clause as it stands gives them that option. I do believe that, under these circumstances, a very large number of these towns would be found strenuously objecting to this. At any rate, let them have local option. Under the circumstances, I think that the clause, as it stands, would be far better than the Amendment.
The Committee will be asked to come to a decision as to the first words of this sub-section. If it pronounces in favour of the first words it will prevent the Amendment of the honourable Member from being raised.
§ MR. HAYDEN
I am anxious to see towns with a larger population than 1,500 but with a less population than 6,000 compulsorily made urban sanitary districts. I think that the limit fixed by the honourable Member for Cork is rather small, because it would injuriously affect a few towns; whilst on the other hand towns with a population of, say, 2,000 or 3,000—which in Ireland are fairly important towns—ought to have their own self-government, and be an administrative district in themselves. Now, I think this Act that we are passing might reasonably be applied to such towns as those with a population of 3,000. The amount of agricultural grant which would be calculated within those towns would be very small; and it seems to me there is an Amendment later on in the Paper to try to get the agricultural grant for agricultural land within those towns. It might be left permissive to towns of between 1,500 and 3,000, and made compulsory in towns over 3,000 or 5,000. The towns of over 6,000 are very large ones under the Public Health Act. Perhaps the right honourable Gentleman might take the matter into consideration before the Report stage.
§ SIR T. ESMONDE
On this subject there is, I believe, considerable difference of opinion among my honourable Friends. We speak from our own experience. I have an Amendment following very much the same point that has been raised by my honourable Friend. It is said that if that Amendment is agreed to these small towns will lose the benefit of the agricultural grant. I am not at all sure that these small towns will gain very much in any case by the agricultural grant. I am rather of opinion that, inasmuch as the agricultural grant will only be given to agricultural land, no allowance will be made in respect of buildings on that land. Those counties will gain no advantage from the agricultural grant. We shall hear more about this point. My object is to maintain the independence of these small towns. There, as a rule, the 1176 boards of guardians are so constituted that the representatives of the towns are in a small minority; if, say, a question of sanitation is raised, the representatives of the towns are naturally out-voted by the representatives of the district. I suggest to the Committee that these small towns might be merged into these boards of guardians. These small towns should be made ipso facto urban sanitary districts, unless in a certain period—say three months, which might be a fair allowance—this proposal were petitioned against by a larger number than is mentioned in the clause. I shall be anxious to hear what explanation the Government will have to make with regard to their intentions on this point. I do not wish to continue the controversy as to urban sanitary districts, but I will just refer to the case of urban districts which have not taken advantage of these enactments. That is an important question, and I will call this attention of the right honourable Gentleman to the case of Gorey, a town in Wexford, which has a population of over 3,000 inhabitants. In 1618 it had a charter given it by James the First, and it had a coat of arms authenticated by the Ulster King at Arms, the celebrated Daniel Molyneux, in 1623. This town used to return Members to the Irish Parliament, but when the Act of Union was passed, like so many others, it disappeared from its old position. It has since been governed by towns commissioners who have governed it with success. I submit that regard should be had to places of this kind when we are deciding upon this Amendment, and that their identity should not be lost.
§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
I am sorry I cannot agree with the remarks of the honourable Baronet and the honourable Member for Cork, because the effect of this proposal will be to impose a great deal of expense upon towns of 1,000 to 1,500 inhabitants. I wish to obtain the opinion of the Chief Secretary upon the point. They would have to look after the sanitation of the town, 1177 and they would have to employ a medical officer, as they have not done up to the present time, and if they have to keep the roads in repair it will be necessary for them to have an engineer. I want to ask the Chief Secretary a question to which I hope he will be good enough to pay attention. A sealed order was sent from the Local Government Board to a great many boards of guardians in Ireland about a month since as to creating a number of towns urban sanitary districts. What is the meaning of this sealed order? I do not understand; and I should like to have an explanation or an opinion from the right honourable Gentleman as to what is the meaning of this sealed order being sent down from the Local Government to so many boards of guardians in Ireland. It was sent, for instance, to Castleblaney and Carrickmacross, cutting them off from the rural districts which they were connected with before, and the people in the towns I have mentioned are not at all satisfied, as they believe that in future they will have to do their own sanitary business and to look after the roads. If so, it would involve a great deal of expense, and the charge would come on a small number of the inhabitants under the sealed order for work hitherto done by the grand jury.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I believe there is some misconception on this point. I have made inquiries, and find that there was an order from the Local Government Board as to boundaries, and that is possibly the one to which the honourable Member refers; but unless I actually saw the order I could not express a definite opinion upon the matter.
I do not see how the question of this sealed order having been sent can have any bearing upon the 1178 clause we are now discussing, for, of course, this Bill has not yet come into operation.
§ MR. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)
Mr. Lowther, I object to this Amendment, first because of the shape and form and manner in which it has been proposed. I object to it again because it will injure a large number of my constituents by placing them outside the present financial arrangements and depriving them as to a certain area of the benefit of the Government grant. On these grounds I shall certainly strongly resist the Amendment proposed by the honourable and learned Member. I think if the honourable and learned Member had some experience of rural life he would know a little more of the requirements of rural life; but I think the honourable and learned Member must pass his time in some large city, and that his knowledge of rural affairs is very limited indeed. He instanced a case of boards of guardians who were indifferent to the wants of certain towns. Now, I have had some experience of boards of guardians, and I know this, that whenever any complaint as to a sanitary defect came in there was no desire on the part of the guardians to delay doing their utmost to provide a remedy. They were always most anxious to do so whenever a complaint was made, and I know there was no hesitation in expending money for the purpose, because it would cost the town nothing, and only affected the area. They could tax the area, and these people who desired to be benefited would have to pay the piper; and that being so, I do not know of any reason or inducement to compel the guardians, as the rural authority, to do anything injurious to the people in the town at all. I therefore hold that the honourable and learned Member who has proposed this Amendment is aiming a very serious blow at the rural authorities throughout the country. They certainly ought to be left free to decide what they wish to do, for they know their needs a great deal better than the honourable Member for Cork City can do. And I think that, in 1179 making this proposal, he shows very little of the Home Ruler; for, in the first place, he desires to bring in the element of compulsion, and, in the next place, he would inflict a burden upon people who do not wish for any new burden, because they are pretty well overloaded at present. And therefore, Mr. Lowther, I have great pleasure in supporting the Government on this occasion. It is very pleasant to me to be able to afford to do so at the present time, for it shows that there is some amount of sense in what I have said. I am, in the first place, an advocate of the Home Rule principle, on which I was sent to this House. In the next place, I am trying to prevent a certain number of my constituents from being deprived of the benefit of the agricultural grant, and that is something too. Therefore, I hope the Chief Secretary will not listen to any blandishments from this side. I believe there will be some wily inducements thrown out by honourable and learned Members, who will attempt a solution of this difficulty by asking the right honourable Gentleman to consider a certain limit of population; but I warn the Chief Secretary not to do that.
§ MR. LOUGH
I think, Mr. Lowther, that there is a great deal in some of the objections which have been raised to the Amendment, and that if the Chief Secretary would agree to withdraw the time limit—"within 12 months after the passing of this Act"—I would suggest that the honourable Member for Cork City might withdraw his Amendment, and accept the clause as it stands in the Bill, with the time limit alone removed. I think the right honourable Gentleman in charge of the Bill has already thrown out a hint that he would justify, if not abandon, the time limit, and admit an Amendment of that kind.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I hope the right honourable Gentleman will agree to the proposal not to exclude agricultural land from the benefit of the Act, because otherwise it will inevitably lead to questions relating to these towns being 1180 considered solely, not with regard to the benefit of the people themselves, but as to how they will affect the agricultural grant. I am glad, Mr. Lowther, for that reason, that this discussion has taken place, and I have no doubt the right honourable Gentleman has had representations made to him in this Sense. I am afraid that I am not convinced by the objections raised to this Amendment, for I believe it is in the interest of all towns to have in their own hands complete control of their own affairs. I believe that even if it at first involved some small pecuniary loss to some towns, the gain in having control over their own sanitation, and in having the complete management of their own affairs in their own hands would more than compensate them for any expense which might be incurred. I recognise, however, in view of this discussion, and the various expressions of opinion which have been given on this question, that I could not expect the Government to accept the Amendment, and I shall be prepared to accept the proposal which has just been made by my honourable Friend the Member for Islington, that I should ask leave to withdraw this Amendment, on the understanding that the time limitation will be removed.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Before the Amendment is withdrawn I should like to add one word. I think that when the small towns come to realise the conditions in regard to sharing in the agricultural grant, it is hardly probable that they will desire to become urban sanitary authorities. The Committee will already have gathered that we attach very great importance to the clause dealing with this matter in the financial part of the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 13, line 29, to leave out 'one' and insert 'three.'"—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Amendment agreed to.1181
The following Amendment stood in the name of Mr. Maurice Healy—
Page 13, line 37, leave out from 'order' to 'an' in line 38, and insert 'fixing the day after which a town shall be.'
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I do not propose to move the next Amendment standing in my name, but I would ask the Government not to insist on preserving the provision that the guardians of the union may stop the operation of the clause. That is one of the chief dangers to be apprehended from this clause. The guardians will always be tempted to step in and prevent its operation. Whatever may be said in favour of allowing one-fourth of the inhabitants to effectively object, I think the right honourable Gentleman will see that there is no justification for giving the same powers to a board of guardians, who may have, I will not say a hostile interest, but an interest which is not the same as that of the inhabitants of the town. As I understand the clause, its whole effect can be nullified by the mere presentation of a petition by any board of guardians. I hope the Government will not insist on that. I beg to move to omit that part of the clause.
Page 13, lines 32 and 33, to omit the words 'or from the guardians of the unions comprising the town, or any part thereof.'"—(Mr. M. Healy.)
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not think we can very well leave the guardians out of consideration. The object of adopting the procedure of Provisional Order is really to secure that all sides shall be heard, and certainly I think the boards of guardians, representing the interests of surrounding districts, are entitled to be heard.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I would only suggest that the interests of surrounding districts are not the interests of the town. It is quite right that the guardians should be heard on the question of 1182 boundaries, and so forth, but to say that the guardians should be heard on the question whether or not a town should be constituted an urban sanitary district is, I think, to give the guardians a power which they ought not to have.
§ MR. TULLY
I hope the Government will give way in this matter, because this part of the clause is contrary to the principle we have already adopted, of giving to a local community the largest possible amount of option. It is quite obvious that this power ought not to be given to guardians representing some district 10 or 12 miles away from the town. Instead of regarding the local feeling of the town itself, they would consult some fancied interest of their own. The inhabitants of a small town would not wish to incur the expense of becoming an urban sanitary district unless they thought it their interest to do so, and it is unjustifiable that their wishes should be permitted to be thwarted by some board having no knowledge of local needs and wishes.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
To omit these words altogether would be to deprive rural districts of any voice whatever in the formation of an urban sanitary district which might affect their interests. I do not think that that would be fair. If honourable Gentlemen prefer it, we might substitute for "guardians of the union" the words "rural district council." Beyond that alteration I am not prepared to go.
§ MR. ARNOLD-FORSTER (Belfast, W.)
There is a great deal to be said on both sides of this question from a sanitary point of view. While it is, no doubt, desirable to encourage the small towns to take 1183 greater interest in matters of sanitation, at the same time there are many of them so situated that the interests, not simply of a particular town, but of a considerable surrounding locality, would be affected by the proposal to make the town an urban sanitary district. Therefore it seems to me desirable that the guardians of the union should be given the right to interfere, so that they may safeguard interests outside those of the town itself. We may take, as an illustration, the question of water supply. Cases may occur in which a small town, if it became an urban sanitary district, might set up a water supply of its own, instead of considering, in a general scheme, the necessities of the localities in its immediate neighbourhood. In such cases the boards of guardians should surely have power to protect the interests of its union. For these reasons I trust the Government will not accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 13, line 33, after 'union,' to insert 'or, after the appointed day, from the council of the rural district.'"—(Mr. Gerald Balfour.)
§ Agreed to.
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
ruled that the next Amendment, standing in the name of Mr. Maurice Healy (clause 28, page 13, line 41, at end, to add "and such provisions shall have effect accordingly") was unnecessary.
§ SIR T. ESMONDE
had on the Paper the following Amendment—Page 13, line 41, at end, to add—'(3) All existing town boards, not sanitary districts prior to the passing of this Act, shall, on the passing thereof, become urban sanitary districts.'
Motion made and question proposed—
That clause 28 as amended stand part of the Bill.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I would like to ask the right honourable Gentleman whether he would give small towns applying for Provisional Orders the same powers with regard to the extension of boundaries that the large councils have. At present, applications for adjustment of boundaries can only be made by the county councils, and they, of course, have not the same local knowledge that is possessed by the town councils. Would it not be possible to amend the Standing Orders so as to enable a town to itself apply for an adjustment of boundaries?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I do not see how that could be done. It is true that the county council has to move in the first instance, but the Local Government Board has to confirm the Provisional Order, and they would, of course, hear the representatives of the town before making any change.
§ Clauses 29, 30, and 31 added to the Bill.