Page 29, line 33, leave out from Provided that,' to end of sub-section, and insert—
A county council may, with the approval of the Local Government Board, in the pre
scribed manner order any road which may appear to them to be useless to be stopped up."—(Mr. Serjeant Hemphill.)
§ * MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said that the object of the Amendment was to simplify the proceedings by which county roads could be closed up. The clause, as it stood, would not work. After this Bill became law, there would be no road sessions in Ireland, nor would there be any means of presenting the matter to the grand jury. His Amendment followed the language of clause 60 of the Grand Jury Act. It substituted for that, that the county council, with the approval of the Local Government Board, and in the prescribed manner, might order any road which might appear to be useless to be stopped up. This was not a matter of principle, but a matter of procedure.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
desired to point out to the right honourable Gentleman that if the words suggested by him were adopted, the direct result would be to prevent the district council having a voice in the matter.
§ MR. M. HEALY (Cork)
thought there was something in the point raised by the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Tyrone; and, subject to what the Chief Secretary had said about the district councils having a voice in the matter, he thought it would be desirable to make some such change as the right honourable Gentleman had suggested. So far as he understood, proceeding by presentment was wholly abolished. In the order regulating procedure under the Grand Jury Act, there was no such thing as presentment at all. On the wording of the Bill they would have to go to the grand jury if they intended to stop an old road. He would like some information from the right honourable Gentleman as to whether or not the new county councils would have to make a presentment. So far as he had read, there would be no such thing as a presentment if this Act passed.
§ * MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said he might explain that they could not have a presentment sessions for a single iso- 420 lated purpose like this. The sessions consisted of a certain number of cesspayers, and they had also a certain number of magistrates associated with them. It would answer any object he had to allow it first to come before the district council and then go before the county council in the shape of an appeal, and then, with the approval of the Local Government Board, have an order made. It would be very easy to have a clause to that effect.
After some further conversation, Mr. HEMPHILL withdrew his Amendment.
Page 29, line 35, after 'effect,' insert 'if the prescribed objection is lodged.'"—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)
MR. T. M. HEALY
said there was no need whatever for bringing in the Local Government Board unless some objection were made. On another matter he desired to say that as to the complaint made on Friday he thought it right to acknowledge—after inquiry from one of his colleagues—that the right honourable Gentleman was entirely right in the statement he made, and that he intended in no degree to pass a slur on any Member of the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 29, line 36, at end, insert—
Provided that nothing herein contained shall be held to compel a county or district council to keep a particular road in repair if both the county and district council consider it, for any reason, unnecessary or undesirable to do so."—(Mr. M. Healy.)
§ MR. M. HEALY
said that at present there was no sort of obligation on the grand jury or presentment-sessions to keep a road in repair. As he understood the practice of the grand jury, it was, in some cases, where the traffic was small, to let it temporarily go to contract on the ground that putting it into repair occasionally was sufficient, and answered all the purposes of having the road attended 421 to. The grand jury of county Cork at the last two assizes were given a great deal of trouble by a particular road whose condition came before them, which communicated with a brickyard. The sub-soil was particularly bad for road-making purposes, and the owners of the brickyard had, for the purpose of transporting their bricks, a heavy engine and two trucks, which they put on the road and kept running continually between the yard and Cork. It was absolutely impossible to keep this road in repair with this engine constantly passing over it, and the contractor had to give up his contract. No one could be found to keep the contract; and no money the grand jury could have spent on this road would have sufficed to keep it in repair. To do anything effectual would have cost at least £200. The grand jury spent days in considering it, with the result that the people who had this engine running had themselves to see to the repair of the road. There was the case of a remote locality in which it might be proper for the grand jury to keep it in proper repair by putting it under contract at intervals, so as not to let it altogether lose its character. There was also the other case which he had indicated, where there was extraordinary traffic on the road, and in which the ratepayers were asked to be put to a large expense because a particular industry required the use of the road. In that case the grand jury was under no obligation.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
said there had been no provision or no means of compelling the grand juries in Ireland to do their duty, namely, to keep the roads in repair. They had now altered the law in that respect. There were two alternatives—either to stop a road which was useless and relieve the county from the expense of keeping it in repair, or to keep in repair every road that was required. The Government could not possibly accept this Amendment.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
asked whether it would be possible under this clause to compel the county Down to do 422 what they considered the county Armagh had done illegally in regard to keeping certain roads in repair.
§ MR. ATKINSON
replied that whenever a road was presented it became a public road, and as such it ought to be kept in repair.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
was not sure that they were not going further than the English law in this section. In England there must be a formal adoption of a road by the local authority before it became a road to be repaired, but he understood that without this Amendment, if any grand jury at any time in the past had had a presentment for the repair of any road, it must be repairable by the county for ever afterwards. For instance, in regard to the Giant's Causeway, about which there had been some litigation, a road had been presented to the grand jury some 30 years ago as a repairable road, and, as he understood, however remote the period of presentment might have been, in the case of any road in Ireland, under this sub-section it became a road which the public authority were bound to repair for ever after, and they would be liable for any accident which might happen through any default of theirs in fulfilling that obligation. If that was so, it was going a great deal farther than the English law, and he thought it was a matter which required some more consideration.
§ MR. M. HEALY
wished to say, before the right honourable Gentleman replied, that, of course, if the Government would not accept his Amendment, he could not press it, but he thought the discussion had shown that there was a blot in the Bill, and he feared the right honourable Gentleman had not fully grasped what would follow if the Bill passed in its present form. What was a public road? A public road, it appeared, might be any passage dedicated to the public. What did this section say?
It shall be the duty of every county and district council, according to their respective powers, to keep all public works maintainable at the cost of their county or district in good condition and repair.423 Now, what was a public work? According to the definition clause of this Bill the expression "public work" means any road or work for which, under the Grand Juries Acts, a presentment might, but for this Act, be made, and so on. In other words, a public work under this section would not require to be a road which had been presented to the grand jury, but it would mean any kind of road which had been dedicated to the public. That was the effect of the definition clause, which said: "any road for which a presentment might have been made but for this Act," and such a road must, after this Act passed, be kept in repair by the county. It was not necessary in order that this liability should be cast upon the county to keep a road in repair that it should have been previously adopted by a grand jury; and if any landowner had chosen for his own private interests to dedicate to the public a passage to his own house, or a passage to any street or any part of the property which he owned, it would immediately become a public road under this Bill.
§ MR. ATKINSON
did not think that was meant to be the effect of the definition clause. The intention was that this Bill should merely apply to such roads as might have been presented to a grand jury, and it never was the intention to apply it to paths or passages such as the honourable Member indicated.
§ MR. M. HEALY
said that after the explanation of the right honourable and learned Gentleman he would ask leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 29, line 37, omit sub-section 2."—(Mr. Flynn.)
§ MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
thought the sub-section conveyed an undeserved reflection upon the local bodies concerned. It provided that—If any district council complain that a county council, or any council complain that a district council, has failed to perform any such duty as aforesaid, the complaining council may, without prejudice to any other remedy, appeal to the Local Government Board.424 It further provided that section 15 of the Public Health Act of 1896 should apply, but he presumed that it referred to cases where matters seriously affecting the public health were under consideration, and therefore this would be a very drastic sub-section, which they ought to be very chary of putting in the Bill. He believed that a county council properly constituted would have due regard to any case presented by a district council, would do what was right for the benefit of the locality and the public at large, and would be actuated by public spirit. But under this subsection, whenever there was a difference of opinion between the smaller body and the larger body, the smaller body would have the right to appeal over the head of the other, and, irrespective of the merits of the case, the Local Government Board could compel the county council to do that which, in its own judgment, it thought would be inexpedient.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
did not think the clause was open to objection in this respect. In its first sub-section it provided that it should be the absolute duty of every county and district council, according to their respective powers, to keep all public works maintainable at the cost of their county or district in good condition and repair. If a district council persistently refused to do its duty in that regard, or, to take the opposite case, if a county council persistently refused to undertake the maintenance of a public road, work submitted by a rural district council, it would be the duty of the council concerned to represent the facts to the Local Government Board, whose powers to act in the matter were not too drastic. They would be empowered to make, after due inquiry, an order, fixing a limitation of time within which the work must be done, and he very much doubted whether it would ever be necessary for the Local Government Board to go beyond making that order; but, if it were, they would have the power to appoint some other persons to perform the duty. Some power to complain to the Local Government Board, and some correlative power on the part of the Local Government Board to enforce the duty, he thought, was necessary.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 30, line 1, leave out 'quarterly' and insert 'half-yearly.'"—(Sir T. Esmonde.)
§ SIR T. ESMONDE (Kerry, W.)
said he knew that there was much difference of opinion about this proposal, but he thought that some Amendment in the nature of his proposal was called for in the interest of some county councillors. It was quite easy for county councillors who lived in towns or near towns to attend the meetings of the county council as often as they thought proper to do so, and the council might sit all the year round so far as they were concerned; but when the councillors had to go a long distance, and when, as was often the case in Ireland, the railway communication was not all that it might be, this enactment of quarterly meetings would lead to a great deal of inconvenience on their part. It would also cause a certain amount of hardship to these men, because, after all, probably the majority of the new county councillors would not be very wealthy men. They would have business of their own to attend to, and it would be a very great hardship to them if they had to leave their farms for a fortnight in the year in order to go down to the county town and live there while the county council were sitting. Under the grand jury system that was only done for about four days twice a year. He thought that this question was one which required to be further considered. He knew there was a diversity of opinion upon it on both sides of the House, and if the Chief Secretary did not approve of his Amendment he hoped the right honourable Gentleman would consider the advisability of leaving the number of times of meeting and attendance for each council to decide for itself; for, obviously, while in some counties four meetings a year might be required, in others they would be unnecessary.
§ MR. T. H. ROBERTSON (Hackney, S.)
hoped the Chief Secretary would see his way not to stereotype quarterly meetings as being absolutely essential. So far as the grand juries were concerned, as a rule there was no necessity for more than two meetings a year, and it had always been found in regard to such public bodies, not only in Ireland, but in this country, that if they were called together more often, instead of increasing the number of attendances they decreased the number of attendances very materially. Therefore he hoped that the Chief Secretary and the Committee would see their way not to compel the councils to hold four meetings a year. It might be that in some counties they would want more than quarterly meetings, but there was no reason why they should be compelled to have quarterly meetings in all cases.
§ MR. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)
thought the proposal of the Government was justifiable, for the duties undertaken by the members of these councils ought to be performed in a proper and businesslike manner. The new members of them would be comparatively inexperienced, as compared with the grand juries, who, however, did their work in an automatic manner, and did not look after the interests of all localities. The new county councillors would be men living in a scattered way throughout the whole country. They would be interested in their own localities, and they would think it worth while to spend a day or two in looking after the interests of their neighbours. He therefore thought it would be a step in the wrong direction to provide that there should be less than four meetings a year. He certainly thought that the Chief Secretary was right in his suggestion that the county councils should meet at least four times a year, and he trusted the right honourable Gentleman would insist upon retaining that provision of the Bill.
§ MR. W. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
wished to call attention to the fact that the alteration proposed by the Amendment might prevent a road being sanctioned for a whole year.
§ SIR T. ESMONDE
said he had only put down his Amendment now because this was the first occasion on which the question could be raised, though he understood it could be substantially raised at later period.
MR. T. M. HEALY
submitted, in the interest of saving time, that the Chairman should rule strictly upon points of order.
§ * LORD E. FITZMAURICE (Wilts, Cricklade)
hoped the Chief Secretary would adhere to his proposal. He thought it would be found that very few county councils could manage their business in fewer than four meetings, and if they diminished the number of meetings they would thereby encourage the tendency to delegate duties to the executive committee. If they did that they would take away from the control of public business by the whole county.
§ MR. M. HEALY
thought there was some inconvenience in the form of the proposal in the Bill with regard to the county councils, as it did not enact that there should be only quarterly meetings, but simply assumed it. While, therefore, he was in favour of the clause, and hoped that the Government would stick to their point, he did not think they would lose anything by accepting the Amendment.
§ MR. J. JORDAN (Fermanagh, S.)
hoped that the phrase in the clause sufficiently indicated that quarterly meetings should be held, and trusted that the Chief Secretary would stick to his Bill. In his opinion four meetings in a year were too few rather than too many for the proper conduct of the business of a county. The honourable Baronet had said that many of the new councillors would be poor men having businesses of their own to attend to. Well, all he could say on that point was that if the new men had so much business of their own that they would not be able to attend properly to the business of the county, let then not come forward as candidates or seek to be elected as councillors. He held that any man who allowed himself to be elected to a post of public trust ought to discharge that trust faithfully and honestly, and therefore he gave his hearty opposition to the proposal of the honour- 428 able Baronet, and would earnestly support the Chief Secretary in adhering to quarterly meetings.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
held that quarterly meetings would be a fair average, and that, therefore, he must adhere to this proposal.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ MR. M. HEALY
feared that sub-section 4 of the clause repealing the Grand Juries Acts with respect to memorials other than memorials by a grand jury would have a wider effect than was contemplated by the Government, and hoped they would further consider the matter before the Report.
§ Clause 54, as amended, agreed to.