HC Deb 23 May 1898 vol 58 cc473-7

Amendment proposed— Page 32, line 33, after 'cess' insert other than the chaplain and medical officer."'—(Mr. J. H. M. Campbell.)


This Amendment proposes to omit from the operation of this very drastic section the medical officer and the chaplain. Apparently the burden and scope of this section, which seems to be unnecessarily strong, and certainly could be used as an instrument for pressure and hardship against particular officers, is to place any officer, whether the county surveyor, the medical officer, or the chaplain, who has omitted to perform any duty—to make any return, or to give any information, or to do anything whatsoever that he is asked to do, in pursuance of the Act, or in pursuance of the orders of the council—at the mercy of anyone who chooses to go to the petty sessions to take a summons out against him, and to recover a penalty of 40S. I think that is a very great indignity to put upon a professional man like this medical officer, or the chaplain of a workhouse. I would suggest to the Government that they could hardly have intended that this power should be entrusted to anyone to be exercised in the way in which it would be exercised according to the terms of the section. The existing power which the Local Government Board have over medical officers is very wide. They can hold inquiries into any complaint which is made against them. They can punish them in a variety of ways. As far as I have been able to ascertain, although, of course, I may be wrong, there is no analogy to this section in the English Bill. The whole section seems to me to be much too severe and much too drastic, and certainly I would ask the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary to accept my Amendment in so far as it would exclude from the operation of this section men filling the highly responsible position of medical officers or chaplains.


I think the Chief Secretary might reasonably exclude chaplains from the order; otherwise I think it is one of the most useful clauses of the whole Bill. It is the only one which gives any protection to the boards and enables them to secure the performance of their respective duties by their officials. I know several cases where boards have been terribly hampered because the officials have refused to obey the reasonable orders of the boards. I hope the Chief Secretary will adhere to the clause.


I have an Amendment to the same effect as the honourable and learned Member, and I cannot help thinking that this sub-section was not in the clause originally, because if you look at the section it does not seem at all to be apposite to the duties either of chaplain or of medical officer. I quite agree with the last speaker that it is quite right that, generally speaking, the officers of the county councils or of the district councils should be properly subjected to the drastic penalties of this section, but if an officer is required to perform any duty, make any return, give any information, or do any other thing, it appears to me to be very insulting to apply that to a chaplain or to a medical officer. I know as a matter of fact that the medical profession in Ireland, represented by the Irish Medical Association, have been very much insulted by its being supposed that if some official omitted to make a return within a given time, or omitted for some reason or other to perform some trifling service, he should be subjected to be prosecuted before the petty sessions, and subjected furthermore to a fine not exceeding 40s., or, in the case of a continuing offence, to a fine not exceeding 40s. a day during the continuance of the offence. Now, the unfortunate chaplain or the unfortunate medical officer might find himself fined to the extent of £100 for the most trifling thing. But I do not think the county councils would get anyone to undertake the office of chaplain or the office of medical officer if this clause were to remain as it now stands. For that reason, and at the instance of the Irish Medical Association, I have put down this Amendment, though I was anticipated by the honourable and learned Member for St. Stephen's Green. I trust that the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary will accept it.


The right honourable Gentleman who has just spoken says that he has moved his Amendment at the instigation of the Irish Medical Association. I put Amendments down at the instigation of nobody. If I put an Amendment on the Paper I put it down because I think it is right.


I have not such a good opinion of myself.


I should be very sorry to say anything that would offend the right honourable Gentleman, but at the same time I think this is a very useful clause. Any person who does his duty need not fear it. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will stick to the clause, because, as I have said, I think it is one of the most useful clauses of the whole Bill.


This clause has been introduced mainly because all through the Bill several officers have been given duties to perform for bodies which neither appointed them nor were required to dismiss them. There need be no apprehension that persons will not be ready to take up these duties.

MR. T. D. SULLIVAN (Donegal, W.)

It seems to me that this clause is of a very sweeping character. It puts extraordinary powers in the hands of the authorities. I observe that there is a penalty attacked to any person who omits to perform any duty, make any return, give any information, or "do any other thing." This reminds me of the Coercion Acts of former years. I do not understand the phrase "doing any other thing." Where penalties are being imposed we should have some more definite phraseology than that contained in this clause which is now before the House.


I think the Government are right in resisting the Amendment, but at the same time it seems to me to be a question whether the operation of the clause should not be confined to "wilful" neglect of duty. I am always interested to hear gentlemen say that a clause is a "good thing." Nearly all the Acts that have been passed by this House have been "good things," but when they come to be administered in Ireland they become very bad things. I will tell you what will happen under this clause. There will be a prosecution at petty sessions; if a man is "true blue" the magistrates will let him off; if he is not he will be convicted. Practically, therefore, the operation of this clause will depend solely upon the political colour of the bench of magistrates having the execution of the clause. We all know you can never get a conviction against any gentleman of a particular colour in Ireland. I think it would be sufficient if the word "wilful" were inserted in the clause, but it is entirely too strong as it is. I move as an Amendment the substitution of the word "wilfully."


I have no objection to insert the word "wilfully" before the word "fail" in the clause.


Will the Attorney General for Ireland say what person or body is entitled to sue for the recovery of these penalties. I should like some information as to whether a similar provision of this kind is inserted in the English Act.




I confess that I am not at all satisfied with the Amendment of the honourable and learned Member for North Louth. My objection to this clause will not be met by merely inserting the word "wilful." The Attorney General seems to think that if a medical officer or a chaplain is ordered to do some duty, and he disregards that duty, there would be no means of enforcing the performance of the duty. I apprehend that, upon either the chaplain or the medical officer refusing to obey the reasonable directions of the council who appointed him, that council would be at liberty to dismiss him, and that that would be a better way of punishing him for that dereliction of duty than the very contumacious way of summoning him before the petty sessions. What is to prevent the county council dismissing either the chaplain or the medical officer who has refused to obey reasonable orders? I submit that there is nothing.

The Amendment was negatived, and Mr. HEALY'S Amendment to insert "wilfully" before "fail" was agreed to.

Amendment proposed— To insert 'the power of suing for the penalties to the county council or the Local Government Board."'—(Dr. Clark.)


I cannot accept the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58, as amended, agreed to.

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