Motion made, and question proposed—
That a sum, not exceeding £27,479, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st day of March, 1900, for the salaries and expenses of the Local Government Board in Ireland.
§ MR. T. D. SULLIVAN
I rise to move the motion standing in my name, and I desire to draw attention to the fact that certain action taken by the Local Government Board has resulted in putting a great financial burden on the Glenties Union in the county Donegal, and I wish to ask whether a remedy cannot be found 1195 by the right hon. Gentleman. I shall state the case very briefly. In January, 1898, in the Glenties Poor Law Union there arose some cases of virulent typhus fever. A family of the name of Ward, a man, his wife, and thirteen children, were stricken by the disease, and the wife died in the little cabin. The medical officer saw that it was essential to the lives of the rest of the family that they should be removed from the cabin, and brought to the Glenties Poor Law Hospital. That was effected, and the doctor then wrote a letter to the guardians advising them that for the safety of the whole district the thatch and furniture of the cabin from which they had been removed should be burnt. He declared and certified that there was no other way of disinfecting it than by burning it. This advice the guardians followed, and they burnt the f[...]rniture and the thatch of that particular cabin, and another one in the same condition. When the persons whose lives had been saved by the action of the Glenties Guardians were convalescent, the question was asked where they were to go to, and it was suggested that two cottages should be built for them under the Labourers Housing Acts. The guardians having looked into the question saw great difficulty in complying with that suggestion, but they had the good sense to agree to pay some compensation. This poor man Ward was perfectly willing to accept the compensation from the guardians to the amount of £20, and he had gone to a neighbouring town or village and was actually engaged in buying the wood to set up a roof to his cabin, when the Local Government Board declared that any money voted for the purposes proposed would be illegal, and the guardians would be liable to be surcharged. Under these circumstances the guardians went no further with the matter. There was the alternative of building two labourers' cottages, but the Glenties Union is a poor union, with a debt of about £1,200, and rates amounting to 8s. 6d. in the £1, and as these buildings would cost about £200 the guardians felt unable to incur the expenditure. They were also informed that the families would have to be charged a rent for these new cottages. "Why," said the guardians, "should these people be charged this rent? They did no wrong; they are the victims of a great 1196 calamity, and they are entitled to be rehoused without being charged an additional rent." So for a time nothing more was done. Then the two families were legally advised that they had good cause of action against the board of guardians for the demolition of their houses. Actions were brought, and damages to the amount of £150 were awarded in each case. The damages and costs have landed the Glenties Board of Guardians into a liability of about £500, which the union is absolutely unable to pay. Judge Murphy, who tried one of the cases in Dublin, in addressing the jury reminded them that in awarding compensation they should not forget that the lives of the plaintiff's family were probably saved by the action of the guardians; while the judge who tried the other case said he was sure the gentlemen in the box would be obliged to the guardians for what they had done in destroying this den of filth; it was a mercy to the people themselves, and the doctor had said that the only way of getting rid of the germs of the disease was by burning the house. It is therefore perfectly evident that the guardians acted not simply according to their lights, but according to what they conceived to be their absolute duty in the matter. No doubt the burning of the houses was an illegal act, but the whole thing has turned out in such a way, and has brought about such hardship and burden upon the ratepayers of that union that I think they are entitled to some consideration from the Local Government Board—that is to say, from the Government. I hold in my hands a letter which has caused me some astonishment, and which contains a statement of a fact of which I was utterly unaware, and of which I rather think the Board of Guardians had no knowledge. If that is so I think the Local Government Board are much to blame for not having informed the guardians of the fact. The letter, which is from the Chief Secretary, states:The expense of building the cottages would no doubt have been £200, as the guardians point out, but it has to be borne in mind that of this sum £179 would have been defrayed out of the Labourers' Cottages Grant by the Government.The letter concludes by stating that the Chief Secretary cannot give any hopes of the Chancellor of the Exchequer providing for the expenditure of £500 out of public 1197 funds. We see the Chancellor of the Exchequer here night after night absolutely sporting enormous amounts of money. Recently millions have been voted, and the heads of some Irish Members have been made dizzy by the prodigious amounts which are so lightly treated, and under the circumstances I do not think it would hurt the British Exchequer or call forth any protests from the Members of the House if the Treasury agreed to relieve the Glenties Board of Guardians of this unfortunate burden.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The facts of the case are these. There was a case of typhus fever in the Glenties Union, and the sanitary authorities were advised that the proper and only way of disinfecting the houses was to burn them. Burnt they accordingly were by the Guardians, who then proposed to spend £40 or thereabouts in compensating the owners. The Local Government Board were asked to sanction the expenditure, but replied that it was not in their power to do so, that it was an illegal payment, for which, if made, those who signed the cheque would probably be surcharged. As the action of the Board was simply to safeguard the Guardians against having to pay the money themselves, it is hardly fair to say that the Guardians were landed in this expenditure by the action of the Local Government Board. Seeing the difficult position of the Guardians, the Board advised them that they might build cottages under the Labourers' Acts, and they sent down an inspector to recommend them to adopt that course. I understand that the Guardians were fully aware of the fact that if they adopted the proposal they would be entitled to £179 out of the Labourers' Cottages Grant, but they were not inclined to accept the suggestion. As to being forced to charge the families a rent, I cannot regard it as a very serious burden that a labourer should pay a small rent for a new cottage. The owners of the cottages which were burnt brought actions at law against the guardians, and damages were awarded to the amount of £150 in each case. The Guardians, not content with the decisions, appealed and against lost, the expenditure ultimately amounting to £500. Then the Guardians come to the Local Government Board, and ask the Board to be good enough to help them. But, in the first place, the Local Govern- 1198 ment Board have no funds out of which this money could be granted. The only way in which the Guardians could be recouped would be by a Vote in this House, but having regard to the circumstances of the case I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would accede to that. The circumstances of this case are undoubtedly hard, but it would be impossible every time guardians made a series of mistakes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should take into consideration the question of reimbursing the expenditure thus incurred.
§ MR. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)
I desire to call the attention of the Committee to the action of the Local Government Board with regard to interference in the management of local affairs. Instead of assisting the new bodies which have been created under the recent Local Government Act, many members of which bodies are not experienced in matters of local government, the Local Government Board raise a series of barriers against those local bodies of carrying out their duties by making demands which have not hitherto been made. In a union with which I am connected, there was a vacancy for an assistant in one of the wards. The person required was a sort of domestic, to look after the cleaning, washing, scrubbing, and the rough work of the ward, at a salary of £15 or £20 a year. The guardians advertised the post, but upon applying for the appointment to be sanctioned they were informed that the Local Government Board could not give their sanction, as the person had not the necessary qualifications. If boards of guardians are to have to ask for the sanction of such appointments as that, is it not turning the whole thing into a farce? The requirements of the Local Government Board are making it really impossible for any man who has any regard for his own dignity to go upon these bodies and merely register the views of a body which knows nothing whatever of the local wants or needs. What business has a body of salaried officials, who know nothing of the local requirements, to say to men who give their time without remuneration, and are the best selected men that can be found in the various districts, that they cannot sanction these appointments, but this or that must be done? I think the proper thing 1199 is not to pay any attention to these objections, but to allow the matter to go for a month or so, by which time the Local Government Board have forgotten all about the incident, and the thing is then sanctioned and nothing more is done about it. But I am earnestly anxious that local government in Ireland should have a fair chance, and it is only right that I should protest against this meddlesome interference, for it is nothing else, on the part of the Local Government Board. If local bodies are going to be entrusted with the management of their local affairs they should not be interfered with in this way. If they are fit to pay these officials they are fit to appoint them. Since the system of local government has been changed the interference from Dublin has increased.
§ MR. MURNAGHAN
The right hon. Gentleman says "no," but I am chairman of the Board and of the District Council, and it is no use for the right hon. Gentleman to say "no," because I have my own experience. Unless these local bodies commit some gross error why should they be interfered with at all in this manner? It seems to me that within the last few months a different spirit has come over this body, for there has been nothing but confusion and meddlesome interference on the part of the Local Government Board. I say that it is not right to try and hamper these local bodies, and they should be allowed to have proper freedom. The local bodies feel that the responsibility rests upon them, and they ought to have the freedom and liberty to do what they think is right. There seems to be a desire on the part of the Local Government Board to create expense, so that the new bodies will become unpopular with the people, for they are doing all they possibly can to thwart the growth of local government in Ireland and impede local work. One of the local boards took counsel's opinion upon an order of the Local Government Board, and they were told that it was ultra vires. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will be able to translate that into Anglo-Saxon. The Local Government Board seem to be moved by a desire to impede the beneficial results which were expected to flow from the Local Government Act; and I think 1200 the wings of that body will have to be clipped, and I shall make an effort to do it. As a representative of the people, I object to the will of the people being thwarted in this way. The right hon. Gentleman opposite is lord and master of the Irish people. His will is paramount, the Local Government Board is the central authority, and the elected bodies are mere trifles. As one who believes that from the people all power is derived, and that the people themselves are the best authority to control the affairs of the country, I protest against the methods of interference adopted by the Local Government Board.
§ * MR. WILLIAM JOHNSTON
I do not think I need offer any apology to the Committee for bringing forward the case of Miss Magill, who was appointed rate-collector by the Clogher Board of Guardians last year. The matter has been brought under the notice of the Chief Secretary by questions in the House, and his attention has also been directed to it in other ways. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that in May, 1898, Thomas Magill, who had filled the position of rate-collector in the Clogher Union for a considerable number of years, died, and that his daughter, Miss Ann Eliza Magill, who had discharged the duties for five years during her father's lifetime, was appointed to succeed him on the 11th of June, 1898. This lady had effectively and efficiently discharged the duties during the last five years her father held the office. There was no difficulty in the matter of distraint, and there was a sort of an agreement on the part of the ratepayers to pay their rates when called upon to do so by this lady. One would have imagined that the Local Government Board would, on this occasion, have sanctioned the action of the Board of Guardians, unless they are distinctly and particularly hostile to the employment of women in any capacity whatever. But I regret to have to recall to the committee that an order was issued by the Local Government Board on the 22nd of July, 1898, directing that Miss Magill should not exercise any of the powers or perform any of the duties of the office to which she had been appointed. This course of action astonished the Guardians and disgusted the country. Irish newspapers of all shades of opinion were for once in agree- 1201 ment in condemning it, and no hostile voice came from any portion of the country. On the 2nd of August I had the honour of presenting a petition to the House from the Clogher Board of Guardians praying the House to make an inquiry and to provide a remedy. In pursuance of that petition, and in accordance with its prayer, I now ask this Committee to cause such an inquiry to be made as will place Miss Magill in the position that the Clogher Board of Guardians desired she should occupy, and the duties of which she had faithfully discharged for five years. But the Local Government Board did not approve of the action of the Clogher Board of Guardians, and they took what I think was the rather high-handed course of dissolving the Board and appointing two paid Guardians to discharge their duties. The Irish press was unanimous in support of the Clogher Board of Guardians, and condemned the action of the Local Government Board. On the 20th of October, 1898, the Dungannon Board of Guardians passed a resolution requesting the Local Government Board to reconsider the case. But the answer which was given was in accordance with the whole course of action taken by the Board. I think lawyers will bear me out when I state that the Petty Sessions Act 14 and 15 Vic. Chapter 93, which deals with the enforcement of the payments of poor rate, county rate, and other public taxes, does not require that the rate collector should distrain in person or that the warrant should be directed to the rate collector specially. The whole question came before the full Court of Exchequer, and the unanimous judgment of the Court delivered by the Chief Baron was that the 152nd Section of 6 and 7 William IV., which directs that the warrant shall issue to the collector of county cess, is inconsistent with the Petty Sessions Act and had been repealed by it. Therefore the decision of the Local Government Board was not founded on law, and this House is entitled to revise it. I may mention that the whole question has been dealt with amply from first to last in two extremely interesting articles in the westminster Review, one in September, 1898, the other in February, 1899. The Women's Local Government Society, of which the Countess of Aberdeen is president, brought this matter under the notice of counsel, and counsel's opinion 1202 was adverse to the Local Government Board, and sustained the view that there was neither legal nor moral right to discharge this lady. I have also the same counsel's opinion with regard to the General Order which has been issued regulating the qualification, security, remuneration, and duties of the collectors of poor rate. Article 8 of this Order disqualifies a woman from acting as a collector, and Mr. Macinerney, the counsel consulted, was asked:Is it within the power of the Board to impose a disability on all women without the sanction of Parliament?Counsel's reply was:I am of opinion that it is not within the power of the Local Government Board (Ireland) to impose a disability on women nor on any other class of Her Majesty's subjects without the sanction of Parliament. The power of making regulations, orders, or byelaws given to subordinate bodies or boards are limited by the Acts conferring such powers. They should operate as part of the Acts. If inconsistent with the Acts by the authority of which they are framed they are clearly ultra vires.The next question submitted to counsel was:Is such power conferred by any of the Acts referred to on page 1 of the General Order?The reply was:The power to make general orders and regulations was conferred on the predecessors in office of the Local Government Board (Ireland) by the Act referred to in the General Order in question—namely, the Poor Law Act of 1838. It provides that words imputing the masculine gender shall include females. Neither this Act nor any other of the numerous Acts in relation to Poor Relief in Ireland confers on the Local Government Board any power such as is suggested in queries one and two.The third question was:Is the General Order a general rule that needs to be submitted to Parliament before becoming valid?The reply was:The Act of 1838, Section 4, provides that all general rules (which would include orders) should be sent by this body to the Secretary of State, and that if Her Majesty should with the advice of her Privy Council disallow such order or any part of it the same should cease to operate. The 10th and 11th Vic., Chap. 90, substituted the Lord Lieutenant in Council for the Secretary of State and Privy Council, but in my opinion the mandatory direction that all such orders should be laid before both Houses of Parliament (Sec. 5) still remains.1203The order would be valid if duly sanctioned or if not disallowed until determined otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction.The next question was:How can it be ascertained (if the necessity exists) that such General Order has been so submitted?Counsel replied:A record of all orders submitted to Parliament is kept by the Librarian, and can be examined by any Member of Parliament.The conclusion of the whole of Mr. Macinerney's reply, which is dated 2nd June, 1899, is as follows:I am very clearly of opinion that this matter should be raised and discussed in Parliament either on the estimates or by a question. The fact that the Local Government Board resorted to the expedient of making this Order is very good evidence that they were at least doubtful of their action in the case of Miss Magill.Sir, I claim the right to raise this matter before this Committee of the House of Commons. I feel that an injustice has been done, not only to Miss Magill individually, but to the whole of that large class who would be excluded from public appointments if this decision were to pass unchallenged, and I confidently appeal to this Committee to bring its influence to bear on Her Majesty's Government, and to express without distinction of party a unanimous opinion that the action of the Local Government Board was harsh on Miss Magill and unjust to women generally.
§ MR. DAVITT
Hon. Members on this side of the House do not often find themselves in agreement with the hon. Member for South Belfast, but on this occasion we are heartily with him in his efforts to have a rational course adopted with reference to this lady. I will take the liberty of congratulating him on the splendid consistency he has shown in bringing this question again and again before the House of Commons since the Local Government Board, under the inspiration of the Chief Secretary, committed this stupid blunder. I venture to say that this strong conjunction of Members, Unionists and Nationalists, advocating a cause of this kind, ought to be a strong argument with the Chief Secretary. In my opinion the Chief Secretary has committed a double blunder. First, he has either sanctioned the arbitrary action of 1204 the Local Government Board or prompted the Board to take that action, and, secondly, he seems to have failed to imbibe, although he is long enough in the country, some of the sentiment of Irishmen with reference to the other sex. He ought to know that Irishmen regard the other sex with the greatest possible esteem and courtesy. In no other country in the world are women more honoured and respected than in Ireland, and, surely, if the right hon. Gentleman wished for a non-party question on which to make some stand in this House for unanimous public feeling in Ireland, here was an occasion where he could have upheld the action of the Clogher Board of Guardians, inasmuch as that action met with the approval of all parties and the sanction of the country. We have been proud as Irishmen to find Ireland leading the way in this cause of women's enfranchisement as she has led the way in my opinion in every progressive movement for the last fifty years. We have been glad to give a lesson to England with reference to the right of women to be employed in public offices of this kind. In this case where was the wrong? The lady appointed was well known and I believe belongs to a highly respectable family; she was well qualified for the work by education and in other respects, and had the confidence of those who placed her in the position. It is not contended, I presume, by the Chief Secretary that the collection of rates in this particular union would have suffered at the hands of this lady. Why could not the right hon. Gentleman recognise the act of the Board of Guardians as evidence of the growth of feeling in both countries, particularly in Ireland, in favour of women being employed in work of this kind? The right hon. Gentleman smiles at my suggestion, but I hope I am right in claiming him as an advocate for women's suffrage. The First Lord of the Treasury is, anyhow, and I hope the Chief Secretary is also. Let us look at the question in this light. Women in Ireland have to pay rates and are taxed like men, and when a case of this kind occurs in which a local body sees fit to elect a woman to collect the rates, why cannot the right hon. Gentleman see his way to sanction that action? Surely the pillars of the British constitution would not fall if this lady were employed to collect the poor rates in the Clogher Union in the North of Ireland. 1205 We protest against the action of the right hon. Gentleman in boycotting this lady and also the Clogher Board of Guardians for having appointed her. I contend that the treatment to which this lady has been subjected on the authority and by the sanction of the Chief Secretary is absolutely disgraceful, and I trust that the right hon Gentleman, after the expression of feeling from all parts of Ireland as represented by Irish Members here to-night, will see his way to reconsider his action. During this week we have had a Women's Congress assembling here in London, and when I consider the stupid laws passed for Ireland in the present generation by this House, I regretted during the week that we could not all clear out and allow ladies to come in here and try their hand at law-making. For my part I am satisfied that Ireland would benefit by this change of law-makers. Let me appeal to the right hon. Gentleman as to whether this is not a small matter in which to exercise his authority against the wishes of all parties in Ireland. Surely in view of the unanimous feeling throughout the country in favour of this lady being allowed to occupy this position he will see in that fact alone an overwhelming reason why he should give way on this point.
There are a great many subjects connected with the Vote to which I desire to refer. However it may be more convenient to deal with this particular subject before proceeding to the general discussion of the Vote. For my part I desire to add my voice to the appeal made by the hon. Member for South Belfast. To my mind there are two aspects to the question which has been raised. First of all there is the aspect as to whether a woman ought to be allowed to be a rate collector in a union. I think every member of the Committee will agree that unless it can be shown that there is some manifest disqualification it is desirable that the sphere of women's operations should be extended. Therefore I say it is for the Irish Government to prove that a woman is unqualified and unfitted because she is a woman to collect rates. That is a proposition which I confess I cannot understand how anyone can maintain. In Ireland a great many women are in business, and in many country towns women are able to compete, and successfully compete, with 1206 men in running business establishments. If a women is able to employ a number of men and to compete with men in the ordinary commerce of the country, why is a woman not fitted to collect the rates? There is absolute unanimity with reference to this particular case we are discussing. Miss Magill's father had been rate collector for several years, and during the five years before he died, and during which he was a hopeless invalid, Miss Magill collected the rates, and there was no complaint. With the full knowledge of the guardians she did the work satisfactorily; and when her father died the guardians, animated by a most proper spirit, continued her in the position. As I have stated, there are two aspects to this question. The first is whether a woman is qualified for this position, and, from the point of view of this particular case, Miss Magill had had the opportunity of proving her capacity, apart altogether from the general view that, as I think, no disqualification of this kind ought to exist. There is a second aspect to the question, which illustrates the power exercised by the Local Government Board in Ireland under the original Poor Law Act of Ireland, a power which is not claimed by the Local Government Board in England. We have again and again complained of the manner in which the Local Government Board tyrannises over the people in Ireland. I was very much struck the other day by the reply given by the President of the Local Government Board, when he was asked what he would do if a board of guardians refused to carry out an order which he had issued with reference to vaccination. I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman fenced with the question, which he regarded as rather unpleasant; but he admitted that the only course open to him was simply a legal process, such as imprisoning the whole board of guardians, which is not likely to be resorted to in this country. I almost ventured to get up and say, "Why not introduce the drastic system which obtains in Ireland." Under that system any board of guardians that does not obey the order of the Local Government Board is simply kicked out, and two gentlemen are sent down from Dublin as a blister on the district, and draw £500 a year between them. It is a monstrous system, destructive of all local liberty. It leads the Local Government Board into 1207 habits of tyranny which they would not resort to if they had not the means of enforcing their authority. Of course, I am not referring to a question of accounts, in which they ought to have authority. In this country the Local Government Board have to have recourse to a very serious procedure, but in Ireland the machinery at the disposal of the Local Government Board is simple, steady, and effective, and they are accordingly tempted to have recourse to it on absolutely insufficient grounds. For a great many years boards of guardians have been suppressed in the south of Ireland, and no notice was taken of it, but the peculiar feature of the case of the Clogher Guardians is that it is the first time that the Local Government Board has come into conflict with a Board of Guardians in the loyal North—in the sacred province of Ulster. I sympathise with the Clogher Board of Guardians. They did a very proper thing, and instead of being allowed to try a most admirable experiment they were suppressed by the Local Government Board. One result of that has been to produce absolute unanimity among the Irish Members, a most unusual spectacle, and one which must be gratifying to everyone except the Chief Secretary. Not one single hon. Member from Ireland will get up and support the Local Government Board, or endeavour to justify its action, excluding, of course, the Members of the Government. This general order was issued in 1899, and that brings me to a matter on which I shall have something to say later on. There has been nothing to equal the number of orders in council, general orders, rules, and rules of Court which has been issued in connection with the Local Government Act. To use an American expression the new bodies have been "snowed under" by them. I have appealed to the Chief Secretary to have them collected into one volume, but that has not been done, and the result is that no one in Ireland knows what the law is. You might innocently imagine that when you have mastered the statute you know the law, but then you find it is lost in a multiplicity of orders. New orders, rules, and regulations are issued every month, and are afterwards withdrawn or altered and then cannot be found anywhere.
§ MR. DILLON
That seems to me to be harping on a word. If they are not withdrawn they are altered and modified.
§ MR. DILLON
I am only stating complaints which have reached me from local bodies which have been puzzled by these orders. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us these orders and regulations in one volume, so that by studying it we can understand what the law is. That is the least we are entitled to. I also hold that these orders should be issued to Irish Members as Parliamentary Papers. It is too much of a good thing to expect us to be hunting over Thom's in Dublin for them. We cannot keep track of them, as they are very complicated. In the general order which has been referred to in connection with the case of Miss Magill, various qualifications are laid down as being required for a poor rate collector. A man must not have been in receipt of relief, or must not be in the retail trade, or have been recently convicted either by indictment or summarily of any crime for which he was sentenced to hard labour. This last condition is what I will protest against on every occasion I can. It places it in the power of removable magistrates in Ireland not only to imprison a man for his politics, but to deprive him of his bread by disqualfying him for a position under these local bodies. That is a monstrous thing. Parliament, and Parliament alone, ought to lay down such a condition as that. It is outrageous that the Local Government Board composed of two or three servants of the right hon. Gentleman, should arrogate to itself the power of adding this further punishment to the punishment given by the removable magistrates to the political opponents of the Government. I think these questions of disqualification ought to be settled by Parliament, and not left to the Local Government Board. Under this rule, a man holding a meeting of the United Irish League might be disqualified from getting a position under these local bodies. Again, I find that the same disqualifica- 1209 tion which attaches to a man sentenced to hard labour is also laid upon a woman because she is a woman. I say the Local Government Board have overstepped the bounds of reason and common sense in arrogating to themselves powers which ought to be kept in the hands of Parliament. It should not be within the power of anybody except Parliament to disqualify women as women. The question is one which turns parties upside down, and leads to very curious results, as we have recently seen in this House. It therefore seems to me that to relegate a question which so interests the electorate and divides parties to the decision of a man who by the mere stroke of his pen has the power to disqualify all the women rate collectors is a monstrous policy.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)
The question of the appointment of this woman to the office of rate-collector is one which appeals to me on more grounds than one. In the first place the occurrence came about at a time when we were discussing in this House the question of extending to Ireland the powers of local self-government which we enjoy in this country. Cases have come under my own observation in which women have been appointed, under almost identical circumstances, by local boards of guardians to perform duties even more important than those of collecting rates. I recollect one particular instance in which a woman, through the illness of her father, had been employed in the very difficult, and one would think for a woman almost impossible duty, of relieving officer of a rural district. In that case the Local Government Board in England, guided by the fact that this woman had performed these duties satisfactorily for a considerable period, recognised the right of the local authority to nominate such a person for the office. In England, in the administration of the Local Government Acts, the whole spirit of the Local Government Board has always been as far as possible to meet the wishes of the local governing bodies, because they recognise that these people understand the local conditions better than any central authority can understand them, and therefore by the Local Government Board, in that particular instance, a conciliatory attitude was adopted, and the action of the local authority supported. Such a decision 1210 gave a certain amount of dissatisfaction in the locality, but if it had ended in the election of a large number of women to those offices, I do not think any serious injury would have been done. It was contended at the time that the post of relieving officer was a very disagreeable and onerous one for a woman to undertake; but when one recollects that a large number of the persons who come under the Poor Law are women and children, it seems to me that this is one of the opportunities for women to perform useful work. In this case you have a woman in almost identical circumstances who has been performing the duties of rate-collector of the district, and, in the illness of her father, performing them so satisfactorily that the local authority was willing to appoint her to the office; but the comparatively irresponsible Local Government Board in Dublin refused to recognise the appointment. They seem to me to have exercised their powers in an ungenerous fashion, if not arbitrarily and unwisely, because at that very time you were passing through this House a Bill to extend the local privileges of the Irish people. Under these circumstances I say it was more than want of foresight—it was a blunder on the part of the central authority in Dublin. When you give the Irish people local government you ought to give them a certain amount of freedom of action, and not tie them up with red-tape centralisation, so as to prevent them exercising their functions in the ordinary liberal manner. I felt myself that this action augured ill for the success of the Local Government Act, and therefore I regretted it; but I regret still more that after this new Act has become law the same narrow spirit of officialism and the same desire for central arbitrary authority still exists; and that it should be represented by the Order which has been quoted by my hon. friend behind me. I think that Order was a blunder on the part of the officials of Dublin Castle. It probably escaped the attention of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who is responsible for the government of Ireland, for I cannot conceive that he deliberately sanctioned a set of regulations excluding from office women who are capable of performing the duties connected with it, not only honourably to themselves, but to the benefit of the community. I hope, now that both sides of the House of Commons have shown their feelings in this matter, 1211 the right hon. Gentleman will modify the regulations in a way which will recognise local feeling and local prejudices so as to bring about a more general confidence in the administration of affairs throughout the country. In that spirit the right hon. Gentleman will do much good to Ireland, both in a material as well as in a moral sense. I therefore hope that he will intimate to-night that this Order will, at all events, be modified, and that Poor Law offices, such as those of rate collector, will not be debarred to women who are fit and suitable to perform the functions.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has suggested that the action taken by the Local Government Board was taken without my knowledge and consent. I beg to say at the outset that that is not the case. This matter was submitted to my consideration by my colleagues during June or July of last year. It was most carefully and exhaustively considered by me, and the conclusion I arrived at was that it was not desirable that women should hold these posts. That conclusion I have since embodied in the Order referred to by the hon. Member for East Mayo. The hon. Member for East Mayo, as well as the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, appear to be unaware that so far as concerns the qualifications or disqualifications of rate collectors this Order is in all respects the reproduction of an Order which has been in force for a great number of years. The particular clause to which the hon. Member for East Mayo objects has, I believe I am right in saying, been included in Orders respecting the appointment of collectors since the Order was first issued, and I cannot conceive what objection there can possibly be to a clause of that sort. The hon. Member for East Mayo says that there should be no disqualification of that kind inserted in an Order of the Local Government Board unless it has the direct and explicit sanction of Parliament. Sir, the hon. Member appears to entirely forget that Parliament has placed the power in the discretion of the Local Government Board to approve or disapprove the appointment of any rate collector. In the first place Miss Magill had no right whatever to act as the deputy of her father. In doing so she was contravening the Order of the Local Government Board. The hon. Member for South Belfast says 1212 that the Local Government Board were perfectly satisfied with the way in which she discharged her duties. That is not altogether the case. It is true that the Local Government Board were not aware that during these five years Miss Magill was acting as the deputy of her father, and, as a matter of fact, they were not satisfied with the collection of the rates during that time. They had to write no fewer than sixteen letters to the guardians pointing out the backward state of the collection. My hon. friend has referred to the Order of the 22nd of July, in which the Board disallowed the appointment of Miss Magill, and declared that this Order astonished the guardians and disgusted the country. I have some doubt in my own mind about the astonishment of the guardians. The hon. Member for South Mayo expressed the view that the appointment of Miss Magill was evidence of the growth of feeling in favour of the employment of women in this capacity. I do not think it represents anything of the kind. There have been, so far as the records of the Local Government Board go back, five cases altogether in which women were appointed by boards of guardians as rate collectors, and in every case the appointment has been disallowed by the Local Government Board. Now, Sir, I say that the natural inference, the true inference, from these facts is, not that the guardians are increasingly desirous of moving in the direction of giving these posts to female collectors, but that where the rate collector of a parish dies, there is a natural feeling of pity for the family, in consequence of which the guardians desire to provide for the bereaved in a way which I have no doubt does credit to their kindness of heart, but is not always to the advantage of the ratepayers. My hon. friend went on to speak of what he called the high-handed action of the Local Government Board in dissolving the Clogher Board of Guardians. I thought I had, in reply to questions put by my hon. friend and others, already made clear the reasons of the Local Government Board for dissolving the board of guardians. Miss Magill's appointment had been disallowed by the Local Government Board. She was thereupon re-elected by the guardians, and of course the appointment was disallowed by the Local Government Board again. It then became necessary for the Local 1213 Government Board to fill the place of rate-collector, and this was done. Thereupon the guardians refused to sign the other collector's warrants, and this meant a paralysis of the poor law in the district. It was not until the guardians had been repeatedly warned of the inevitable result of the policy they were pursuing that we took the final step of dissolving the board. It was with extreme reluctance that I took that course, and as soon as possible I replaced the guardians. I am not the man to be prejudiced against the employment of women in any capacity; and I have been a constant friend of women whenever the question of admitting them to this or that elected capacity has arisen; and I can assure my hon. friend that if I had not been convinced that the post of collector in Ireland was not one which women can properly be asked to fill, I should certainly not have taken the course which I felt it my duty to take upon this occasion. The question I have had to decide is whether the process of collecting rates in Ireland is one which it is suitable for women to undertake. I took the trouble to get reports from the collectors in Ireland, as to the kind of work which frequently devolves upon a rate collector, and I will read some of the reports I have received:In Donegal the collectors report that the favourite method of reseuing cattle and sheep seized by the collectors for rates is by directing dogs to hunt the cattle, the persons directing the movements of the dogs being concealed at some distance. The collectors report that this makes it extremely difficult to make the seizures, as it requires great fleetness of foot and endurance on the part of the collector.Another report states that in a case of seizure of six head of cattle, a large crowd assembled with dogs and rescued the cattle from the collector, threatening personal violence. On another occasion, he seized three cows which were trespassing on an evicted farm on which the rates were due. The owner of the animals and a number of the neighbours came out with dogs and endeavoured to effect a rescue. The collector shot one of the dogs, but not having a licence for carrying arms, he was fined. On another occasion he seized a [...], and a rescue was effected; and again, when seizing some heifers, he was violently attacked, but he succeeded after immense trouble in beating off his assailants and retaining the animals. In the same collection the collector was followed for miles by persons whose property he had distrained, and it was only after great trouble he made good the seizure.1214A further report from the same district shows where the collector had distrained half a dozen sheep, and the neighbours with their dogs came out and attempted the rescue, but failed. The sheep were subsequently sold by auction.In North Mayo a collector, accompanied by his assistants, not long ago went in a boat to make a seizure; a free fight ensued and the people broke the oar over the collector and set his boat adrift. Another collector, accompanied by four assistants, was attacked by men with reaping hooks, and at one place the crowd was so violent that they had great difficulty in escaping. In the same county another collector reports that owing to the manner in which people systematically lock up their cattle, he has to lie out in ambush all night and effect a seizure at day break. Another collector in this district reports having made a seizure of five head of cattle in October. When driving them off, he was attacked by a crowd of fifty women, who threw stones and sods at him and endeavoured to effect a rescue. This collector states that he usually makes a seizure on horseback, and he has often had to gallop his horse for fear of attack when collecting rates.I therefore submit that the work of distraining requires considerable physical strength and courage, and I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that a woman cannot properly be asked to perform it. My hon. friend has challenged the legality of the Order which the Local Government Board with my full concurrence, issued, by which women are made in eligible. I had come to the conclusion that this was not a post to which they could be appointed, and having in view the great expenditure of time and the enormous amount of trouble that this case had caused, I thought it was better to say, once and for all, whether it should be so or not. That was the reason for the general Order.
§ * Mr. HEMPHILL
We have heard from the Chief Secretary for Ireland that this is a matter altogether in the discretion of the Local Government Board; that is the reason why it behoves this Committee to see whether that discretion has been properly exercised, because it is most important. The Chief Secretary is the President of the Local Government Board, and he is here to answer for the acts of that Board; but there is a power even higher than that, and that is the House of Commons in Committee, which 1215 is fully competent to say whether that discretion has been properly used or not. Now, it is a remarkable thing that in the instances which, after a good deal of searching through the Local Government Board offices, had been discovered, and have been cited here, the dates have not been given by the right hon. Gentleman, and that they all occurred in the wildest parts of Ireland. I say that with all respect to the hon. Members for Donegal and Mayo, but it does not follow that a woman might not be made a collector for all that. It seems to be most extraordinary that, while here in London and in Greater London women may be created aldermen and councillors—"aldermen" is rather a misnomer, it should be "alder-women"—yet in a quiet and orderly district of Ireland they are held to be incapable of being rate collectors. In the House of Lords I listened to one of the most able and one of the most gallant speeches I ever heard the Prime Minister make in favour of Women's Rights, and now we are to be told by the Local Government Board of Ireland that by a General Order women are to be disqualified, and thus that an Order by the Local Government Board may modifiy and repeal the Act of Parliament.
§ * MR. HEMPHILL
Yes, but I never presumed that the Local Government Board would act in such an autocratic manner. We are told because this lady was the daughter of the late collector and that the other ladies that had been nominated were widows of deceased collectors, that that was the reason for their appointments. I did not know that these matters were governed by what is called the law of primogeniture. I trust the House of Commons will be consistent with itself, and having passed the clause in the London Government Bill, which qualifies women for these important positions, that 1216 it will not stultify itself by saying now that the Local Government Board is exercising a right discretion in not appointing Miss Magill—not because she is not a person of intelligence—but merely by reason of her sex. I trust the House will teach a lesson to the Local Government Board, and say that it was never intended that ladies should be disqualified.
§ * MR. HEMPHILL
I see no shame in a lady being a candidate for such a position in a country where women are held in the highest respect. But whether it is a shame or not that in Ireland women have been elected to positions, and have made most excellent officials, and if a woman is not disqualified from being a guardian I see no reason why she should be disqualified from being a collector. The action of the Local Government Board is absolutely indefensible, and an insult to the Board of Guardians, and I have no doubt from the testimony that has been given by the Member for Belfast, that he would not be responsible for Miss Magill if she were not in every way most exceptionally qualified for the position.
§ MR. T.P. O'CONNOR
A very important question underlies this discussion. I do not think that there is any country in the world where it is more desirable that properly qualified women should be appointed to these positions than in Ireland. I have always stood up in this House in favour of granting to women every right of citizenship. Everybody who has ever visited France and seen the extraordinarily active and useful part which women take in the commercial life of that country must have often wished that the women of Ireland would take an active part in social life there. Now, here is a case where women had an opportunity of obtaining useful and proper employment, but the right hon. Gentleman takes advantage of the power given to him to disqualify them for that employment. With regard to the powers that he possesses under the Act of Parliament, I say he has exceeded them in disqualifying women for these appointments. He says he has full powers under 1217 this Act, and goes the length of saying that we have no right to criticise him.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
Suppose he puts it in this way: that no man or woman who is a Protestant or who is a Catholic should be entitled to be a rate collector; would he not be exceeding the discretion, And in attaching a disqualification to women in the form he has done he exceeds his rights just as much. I do not believe any Minister of England occupying a similar position to that held by the right hon. Gentleman would have dared to issue such an Order. Is it not a grotesque feature of the discussion we have had on the London Government Bill that a question which has taken the collective wisdom of Parliament so long to settle could be settled by the right hon Gentleman by a stroke of his pen? It is an absurdity, and it is an abuse of the powers he possesses. This lady, Miss Magill, had qualified for this position by doing the duty for her father for five years. She has discharged this duty, the noblest duty woman could do of helping her helpless father, and she was allowed to do it, and it was admitted that it was discharged in an admirable manner—so admirable that the Local Government Board did not know that it was she, and not her father, who was discharging it—and now when she desires the position for herself she is disqualified. The right hon. Gentlemen gives a number of instances which led him to take the action which he did. Nobody says that, in the most disturbed parts of the country, appointing female collectors would be the best way to meet the difficulty. But it used to be Ireland's boast that women could go through any part of Ireland without offence being offered them, and now it is said that a woman cannot be established as a rate collector lest she should be insulted. Sir, I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has taken this view, and I can only say that if the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Belfast moves a reduction of the Vote upon this matter I will do all I can to support him.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE
I hope, because I take an opposite view on this question to that of the hon. Member 1218 for the Scotland Division, I shall not be considered as wanting in national chivalry or respect to women. But But I do think that if a lady rate-collector went to seize the cattle or stock of any inhabitant of Ireland, and if that gentleman was unwilling to pay, all the feelings of national chivalry would not prevent him from interfering with the woman. I am talking of a case where the collector makes the seizure in person. However, we are not considering only the case of Miss Magill; that is but a very minor part of the question. What I want to know from the Chief Secretary is whether or not it is the law in Ireland that a woman is eligible for this post. The right hon. Gentleman has not told us whether he has the benefit of the opinion of the law officers upon that point.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
No doubt Miss Magill was eligible, but I have not taken legal opinion on this point.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE
It would have occurred to me certainly that a woman was not eligible, but the Attorney-General for Ireland can possibly enlighten us. There was a case under the English Local Government Act. Lady Sandhurst was duly elected as a councillor, but proceedings were taken to set her election aside. These proceedings were not taken until after the expiration of the statutory period under which such proceedings should be instituted, but the court held that although the attempt to disqualify Lady Sandhurst was too late, she being a woman was never capable at any time of being elected at all owing to the disqualification at common law. It would occur to me that, on the same reasoning, at common law a woman would be equally ineligible to become a rate collector. I am more concerned, however, with the control of the Local Government Board over these local bodies in Ireland. It is very gratifying to find that we have in Ireland a Local Government Board and an Executive who do not hesitate when they are defied by a local body to interfere and assert their authority over a worthless body just as impartially in the case of a body in the West or South of Ireland. To all who wish to see the law properly carried out it is a very satisfactory thing that the Local Government Board had the pluck and courage to send out a sealed Order and stop a state of 1219 things which, if carried out all over the country, would mean anarchy.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I see the Member for South Tyrone sitting at the end of the Treasury Bench. He is Miss Magill's representative in this House, and he is the representative of the English Local Government Board. Would he in that capacity be justified in issuing sealed Orders to destroy such authorities as he thought had acted ultra vires? Under the English Local Government Board women are allowed to hold these very offices, and the hon. Gentleman endorses that policy. In his own constituency, through the autocratic rule of Dublin Castle, women are excluded from the position which he gives them as the head or the chief agent of the English Local Government Board which he administers.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
He is a very admirable working member, and he makes his force felt. I think that is a very interesting object lesson. Then I have another question to which to call the attention of the Chief Secretary. The Local Government Board have made a series of orders which seem to be utterly ultra vires so far as the Act under which they are made is concerned. Two years ago waterworks which were to cost £5,000 were established in Bundoran. These waterworks were secured on the security of the town land on which Bundoran is situated. Maps were drawn and estimates arranged, and everything was done on that basis, and one instalment of the repayment has already been made. No one in Bundoran ever suggested that the town should be relieved of this burden, and yet what has happened is this. Since this Local Government Act has been established Mr. Bagwell, of the Board of Works, has an idea of uniformity; he is a theoretical man, who wishes the whole of the local districts to be subject to these charges, and because he desires it possibly to make the Act ridiculous.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
I really must protest against this being attributed to the influence of Mr. Bagwell.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
Very well; I will not touch Mr. Bagwell again. These waterworks were established in Ballyshannon, and the town were quite willing and able to pay this £5,000, but some doctrinaire or philosopher in the Board of Works said, "We want uniformity; we want an enlarged taxable area"; and what does this apostle of uniformity do? He extends the area over which this debt should be collected so that peasants living twelve or fourteen miles away are to be rated for the Bundoran Waterworks, from which they will derive no benefit whatever. The inhabitants have had two public meetings to protest against this action. One meeting was presided over by the chairman of the District Council, and the other by the chairman of the Ballyshannon Town Commissioners, and the meetings represented 94.4 per cent. of the whole ratepaying population of the district. To do Bundoran justice, not a single person has spoken in favour of the town being relieved of a burden, which it is well able to bear, at the expense of the surrounding districts which are not able to bear it, and who will get no compensating benefit from it. It is not just that localities which have undertaken to bear certain expenses for the benefit of the particular locality should have their burdens removed and distributed over an entire area. Why should whoever is responsible act as if his one object in life was to bring the Local Government Board into conflict and antagonism with the popularly elected bodies? Why should he try to make the new system hateful to the people? I should like the Attorney-General, on the mere legalities of the case, apart altogether from the question of justice, to tell us by what legerdemain or jugglery of the Local Government Board it is possible that a locality, which had entered into a legal contract for the payment of a debt which they were anxious and well able to pay, should have that debt taken away from them and distributed over another and a poorer area?
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The difficulty which the Local Government Board have to face in connection with this matter is that the Act prescribes that the public health and its charges should be treated in a certain way in special areas, and in order to simplify the rating and the keep- 1221 ing of the accounts we thought it highly desirable to throw these public health charges over the entire rural district. We communicated with the Boards of Guardians on the subject, and in 94 cases out of the 159 we received answers in favour of the suggestion. In other cases the guardians objected, but after carefully considering the whole matter we came to the conclusion that it would be highly expedient in the interests of local government generally that these charges should be spread over the rural district with the exception of charges which refer to towns under town commissioners. I am quite ready to admit there are a certain number of cases, but not more than half a dozen in all, where such a proceeding is likely to impose a certain amount of hardship. The case of Bundoran is perhaps the strongest of those, but even in that case the amount of additional charge is only something slightly over 3d., while if the debt charge were dispersed over the entire rural district it would be only between 1d. and 2d. In the case cited by the hon. Member for South Mayo the annual charge is exceedingly small. The annual charge in the Claremorris case is only 2d., and when distributed over the entire area would be a very small fraction of a penny. The hon. Member will therefore admit that Whatever may be said on principle as regards the distribution of the charge, the hardship in practice is practically nil. The Castlereagh case is somewhat stronger. The charge there is for sewerage and water supply, but over the larger area it only works out at a halfpenny in the £. I may remind the hon. Member that the larger the number of such charges there are in any one union the greater approximation you have to a just arrangement. With regard to the point of the hon. Member for South Donegal, I think it will be desirable, having regard to all the circumstances, to take the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown upon the legality of the Order. If that opinion should be adverse to the Order I think it will be necessary to secure that the rate which is at present enforced should be legalised for the present year, otherwise obvious confusion would arise. We should take care that an arrangement in accordance with the law and one which would obviate anything like hardship or injustice would be arrived at. I trust after this explanation 1222 hon. Members will not continue the discussion upon this point, as I am sure there are other matters which they desire to bring before the Committee.
§ MR. DILLON
The right hon. Gentleman says that the amount of the charge thrown upon the district in connection with the Castlereagh case is small; but what I am particularly struck by is that the amount of friction and discontent created is extraordinarily great. The district is an exceedingly poor one, and the people come into the towns and say, "Are we called upon to pay for these costly improvements, when we get no benefit whatever from them?" It is not so much the amount of the rates as the injustice. Both the towns concerned have petitioned the Local Government Board to be allowed to pay their own expenditure, because the Order has involved the people of these towns in friction with the country people, which is exceedingly unjust and distasteful to the traders and others. I do trust that the right hon. Gentleman, however the law may be declared will alter all this. There is also one other aspect of the question which I desire to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman, and that is that in all small towns it will be impossible under present arrangements for them to execute any sanitary work whatever, because the cost will fall upon the district at large. I also desire to call the Chief Secretary's attention to the question of the trained nurses in workhouse infirmaries. The circular regulating this matter which has been issued by the Local Government Board is much too stringent and ought to be modified. If the right hon. Gentleman can see his way to do this it will be a great improvement, for the instructions contained in the circular are likely to lead to a good deal of friction.
§ MR. RENTOUL
As one who supported the Chief Secretary in carrying the Local Government Bill through this House, I am extremely anxious that this 1223 Act should be carried into operation in Ireland as smoothly as possible. I may say that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction existing in different parts of Ireland with regard to the manner in which the Local Government Board have interfered with these newly-appointed bodies. Even amongst the Ulster loyalists I have seen letters written by them containing the most vulgar abuse in regard to my action in supporting the Chief Secretary and the methods he has adopted to carry out this Act. I think it is far better for me to tell the Chief Secretary plainly the exact state of affairs rather than say pleasant things here and let him find out the truth afterwards. As the right hon. Gentleman will gain credit or discredit from the success or failure of this Act, which is so largely his own, I do not think I could do him a greater kindness than to point out to him the immense friction which the interference with the new bodies by this Board in Dublin is causing. The Chief Secretary may be good enough to take upon his own shoulders the responsibility for what this Board does, but we know perfectly well that he is here most of his time, and that he is very much in the hands of the permanent officials in regard to what is done in Ireland. Of course, the general impression of all permanent officials is that they have practically reduced our system of government to a fine art. There is one case in particular which I desire to allude to, and it is one in which I have no sort of personal interest. At Downpatrick there are two banks—and this case raises the whole question of whether these local bodies have authority or not to conduct their own local business. The two banks are the Ulster Bank and the Northern Bank, and the Rural District Council of Downpatrick passed a resolution by a majority of forty-one votes to four asking the Local Government Board to transfer their account to the Northern Bank, but the Local Government Board refused to allow them to do so. Now 1224 the Northern Bank has got in Downpatrick three branches and four agencies, whereas the Ulster has only got one branch and one agency. But the Ulster Bank is the treasurer for the Infirmary, the County Asylum, the Urban District Council, and the Guardians. It is practically the treasurer for all the public bodies, and on the principle of fair play and competition on equal terms the Rural District Council of Downpatrick passed the resolution to which I have referred. The Northern Bank were prepared to offer the same terms as the Ulster Bank, but the Local Government Board refused to allow the transfer to take place. I do not think anything will tend more to stultify the action of the Local Government Board than such conduct as this, for it seems to me that this refusal can only have been dictated simply by a desire to interfere for the purpose of showing the power of the Board. The Chief Secretary stated, in reply to a question on this subject, that the reason why the Local Government Board had refused its permission was that the Northern Bank supporters had been canvassing in this matter. With regard to canvassing, I know that has been done in several cases by the different banks, so that the matter of canvassing does not appear to affect the question at all, and I do think that this public body ought to be allowed to choose its own treasurer. I have not the slightest interest in this matter, but I know that it is causing extreme feeling in the district which is concerned.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Several hon. Members have been pressing upon me the desirability of altering the definition of "trained nurse." I may remind the Committee that this definition which we have given is not a new departure, for it is the same as that which has been adopted in Scotland. It will be within the recollection of this Committee that we were urged to extend the system of paying half the expenses of trained nurses out of the Local Taxation Fund. I tried to adopt that suggestion, but I found that 1225 if we actually adopted it undoubtedly there would arise a great difficulty in regard to the employment of nuns in workhouses. Now, I come to the statement male by my hon. and learned friend who has just sat down. He has joined in a general complaint against the action of the Local Government Board in bringing this measure of local government in Ireland into operation. I am bound to say that I am not surprised at hon. Members opposite taking that course, but I am rather surprised that more allowance has not been made by hon. Members on this side of the House for the enormous difficulties connected with the inauguration of a completely new scheme. When the hon. Member spoke while this Vote was under discussion he spoke as if the Local Government Board was a body absolutely inimical to the spirit of the Act. That is absolutely contrary to the truth. In the first place, I have had some share in framing and carrying the Act itself through this House, and I think hon. Members will hardly be likely to take the view that I am anxious in any way administratively to curb those liberties which I have helped to confer upon these new bodies. In inaugurating this new system I have taken an active personal part at every single point of the proceedings, and there has not been a single important principle decided by our orders which I have not personally examined into myself and ultimately approved. Although it is true that in practice the Local Government Board invariably abides by the decision of its President, I take to myself the personal responsibility for all the many important decisions which have been come to. The final decision in every case has been sanctioned by me, and I take the full responsibility. But, Sir, I do not think that hon. Members who have been associated with this work can have any conception of the enormous difficulty and labour which has been experienced in bringing this Act into operation. I suppose the Local Government Board has had to write something like 1226 2,000 letters every week during all the months which have elapsed since the commencement of the new system; and that Board has also issued something like 300 Orders, all of which have been absolutely necessary. Hon. Members have complained of the Local Government Board's interference with these bodies, but let me say that we have had ample testimony borne from numerous local authorities to the value of the assistance given to them in their difficulty by the Local Government Board. Time after time we have been pressed to give our opinion in innumerable cases, and we have done so to the utmost of our power and to the best of our ability. It is difficult for one who knows, like I know, how the Local Government Board officials have had to positively slave to bring this Act into successful operation, to listen with patience to such complaints as those which have been made by the hon. Members for Mid Tyrone and Cavan. It would be easy for me, if I had the time at my disposal, to answer seriatim every one of the charges which have been made against the Local Government Board, but I content myself with making this statement, winch ought to put the assailants to shame. The officials of the Local Government Board have been working overtime day after day—some of them up to midnight—in order to bring this Act into operation, and it is absolutely and entirely false to say that they are anxious that this Act should be a failure. All these officials have done their duty well, and they have strained every nerve in the extremely difficult task which they have had to perform. It would be invidious to single out one official where all have done so well, but I cannot help saying that the Vice-president of the Board, on whom the principal burden has fallen, has shown through all these months a judgment, a capacity, a power of industry, and the power of putting heart into his subordinates when in difficulties, which is beyond all praise. The Act has come into operation with comparative smoothness and almost with 1227 the absence of friction—although a little friction must necessarily attend the introduction of any new system; but taking everything into consideration I am of opinion that the work of initiating this Act, which has been carried out by the Local Government Board, has been a great achievement, and one of which any department of the State, whether English or Irish, might justly be proud.
§ MR. McDERMOTT (Kilkenny, N.)
I think it is a great shame that in one of the unions which I represent the Local Government Board now expect three doctors to perform the services which have hitherto been performed by four. The Chief Secretary said that no one would suffer by this arrangement, but I would like to ask him how three medical 1228 men can efficiently do the work which it used to take four to perform. I think if the right hon. Gentleman fully considers this matter he will see the advisability of preventing a fearful injustice by going back to the old system. In April, 1898——
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee also report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.
§ Adjourned at five minutes after Twelve of the clock, till Monday next.