§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. WALTER LONG, Bristol, S.)
411 said that in moving the Second Reading of this Bill he had to explain that it was an unfortunate fact that no provision was made in Ireland, similar to that existing already in England and Scotland, for afflicted children. The Bill dealt with children who were blind or deaf or physically defective. It made it compulsory on the local authority to provide for the education of blind and deaf children, and to defray the cost out of the rates, subject to a State contribution, the amount of which would be dependent upon the provision to be made by the Central Board of Education with the approval of the Treasury. Roughly speaking, that would be about one-third of the cost. At present if the local authorities desired to deal with these children they could only send them to the workhouse or to existing institutions, paying the whole cost out of the rates. The Bill applied to the county councils, the town commissioners, and also to all those rural districts which had adopted the Education Act, so that it would apply to a considerable part of Ireland. It would enable local authorities to contribute out of the rates to such existing institutions for their enlargement and improvement so far as was necessary for the reception of the children so afflicted. There were, it appeared, a sufficient number of them to which children could be sent; and it would not, therefore, be necessary for local authorities to provide institutions. The rates out of which the cost would be borne would be the poor rate in the case of the county council, the borough rate in the case of the borough council, and the Towns Improvement Act—or the local Acts—in the case of the urban districts. He expressed the hope that as the Bill was regarded as uncontroversial it would find acceptance in the House. It was obviously desirable that there should be an opportunity given to local authorities to make some decent provision for children who not only required education but who, from their mental and physical infirmities, commanded their sympathy.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
said he did not oppose the Second Reading, but he pressed for time in Committee for the consideration of the Bill, stating that some of the provisions required discussion. This was a compulsory Bill, and he did not know whether the Bill had been brought before the local authorities in any way.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said a great many recommendations had been received from various bodies in Ireland that the powers should be conferred, and in the Bill they tried to faithfully carry out the expression of opinion in many quarters in Ireland.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said he thought they should have some evidence of that opinion, and in its absence he did not desire to pledge himself. He understood that the contribution from the Government was to be an additional grant to the existing educational grant in Ireland and that it was not to be put on the Development Grant.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said he was glad to know that it was not to come out of the existing educational funds in Ireland.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
asked if the right hon. Gentleman would undertake to provide some time for consideration of the Bill in Committee. Anxious as they were to promote the objects of the Bill, which did not seem to be a very objectionable Bill, he would not consent to the Second Reading unless they had some opportunity of laying before the Government the views of the local authorities and the public in Ireland on the subject.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said it was obvious he could not give an undertaking as to the time that would be available for the Committee stage of the Bill. Surely the hon. Member would not enforce such a demand until he had seen 413 the Bill and ascertained whether there were any changes he desired to make in it. He, however, would do his best to obtain some time to enable hon. Members opposite to make any suggestions they thought would be desirable. The Bill was not a new one. It had been on the stocks for a considerable time.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said what he meant was that the subject of the Bill had been the object of considerable discussion in Ireland for some time. The local authorities had discussed the question, and in carrying out the objects of the Bill the Government had accepted the suggestions of the people of Ireland and of hon. Members opposite. As far as his information went, the Bill was the result of expressions of opinion in many directions in Ireland, and the Government had endeavoured faithfully to give effect to those expressions of opinion.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said the Bill was a long one, and, though the subject with which it dealt was one of which they all approved, it was one that they could not allow to pass without some consideration. He had only read the Bill very hastily, but he had found three clauses which he could not imagine the Irish Party allowing to go through without some examination. Clause 15, for instance, provided that—The Commissioners may give aid from moneys provided by Parliament for public education in Ireland to a school in respect of education given to afflicted children, to such an amount and on such conditions as may be directedThe wording of the clause did not carry out the intention of the Government. Then Clause 10 provided that the local authority should send a child, if possible, to a school under the management of persons of the same religious persuasion. Who was to be the judge in that regard? Clause 7 was the most contentious clause of any he had seen. It said—If the local authority fail to fulfil any of their duties under this Act, the Commissioners may, after holding a public inquiry, make such order as they think necessary or proper for the 414 purpose of compelling the authority to fulfil its duty.It was a compulsory Bill.
§ MR. DILLON
said that, nevertheless, that was an enormous power to give to the Board of Education, and he doubted whether the local authorities of Ireland would agree to giving that Board a blank cheque of that character. It was therefore plain that the Bill required very careful consideration.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
said some of them had been endeavouring for many years to get assistance for this class of children, and he welcomed the Bill most heartily. It was not a measure that would be opposed on Party grounds. Every Irish representative, whatever constitutency he represented, was anxious to see it carried; but at the same time it was impossible to let this. Bill or any other Bill through in the dog days without careful examination. The National Board in Ireland was not so highly respected that they could commit to it any power without careful examination. While nothing was done in Ireland for this class of children much was done in England and Scotland, and he could assure the Chief Secretary that the Irish Members were prepared to make any sacrifices so that this Bill could be considered, but the Chief Secretary must not ask them simply to accept the Bill without any consideration at all. They did not want much time, but he hoped the Chief Secretary would secure for them some little time in which the provisions of the Bill might be carefully examined.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin County, N.)
said he understood from the right hon. Gentleman that the contribution from the Treasury would be one-third. He asked whether that was the same as the contribution which was made to England. Before he assented to the Second Reading of this Bill he would like it proved by figures that the contribution to England for the last eleven years had only amounted to one-third, because his recollection was that the sum voted was much larger, 415 and for Scotland it was larger still. He asked, before this Bill was put on the Paper again, that the right hon. Gentleman should take out of the Estimates and the Treasury records the amount of the contribution which had been made by the Treasury and that which had been made by the local authorities in England since 1893. In his opinion, Irish Members ought not to be content unless an assurance was given that a Parliamentary Paper would be issued giving that information.
§ MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
entirely agreed with what had fallen from members of the Irish Party. He only desired to say that, so far as he was aware, the local authorities of Ireland had received no notice of this Bill, which, so far as he could gather, had only been printed some seven or eight days. He thought the people of Ireland, upon whom the duty would be thrown of administering this Bill, ought to have an opportunity of considering it, and that every local authority ought to receive a copy of the Bill. He would not delay the House further than to say that he hoped those who would have to administer the Bill would be given an opportunity of considering the matter in detail.
§ MR. HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said that while Irish Members would be glad to give all reasonable support to the Bill, they had to remember that local taxation in Ireland was very heavy indeed, and they were anxious that no additional burdens should be placed on the ratepayers unless they were absolutely unavoidable. So far as the burdens likely to be imposed by this Bill were concerned, the House was completely in the dark. He agreed that it was highly objectionable to give the Commissioners of National Education power to compel the county councils to carry into effect the provisions of the Bill. It had not been stated in what proportions the burden was to be borne by the local rates and the Exchequer, and it was doubtful out of what fund the grant was to be made. He thought these were points which ought to be explained before the House committed itself to the measure.
§ MR. COUETENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
asked whether the Bill simply extended to Ireland the powers already existing in England and Scotland. He understood that that was so so far as the financial part of the measure was concerned, but the right hon. Gentleman seemed to express some doubt as to whether many of the other powers in the Bill were quite the same.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said that in asking why no statement had been made as to the burden which would be thrown on the rates, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had overlooked the fact that this Bill actually proposed to lessen the burdens which now existed. Under the law as it stood, if boards of guardians desired to provide for these unfortunate children, and did not send them to the workhouse, the whole of the extra cost fell upon the rates. The Bill proposed to reduce that cost, not increase it, because if guardians took advantage of these powers to send the children to suitable institutions, two-thirds approximately of the cost would be borne by the local rates, and one-third by the Exchequer. As to whether the cost would come out of existing Votes or out of s Vote for the purpose, it was a well-known principle that when a power of this kind was put into a Bill the cost came out of the money voted for the purposes of the Bill. If, however, there was the smallest doubt as to that under the Bill it would be amended. The hon. Member for North Dublin had asked him for information as to the basis on which the calculation had been made. The Government had taken the results of the English and Scotch Acts, and as they had determined to extend the same powers to Ireland they had gone on the assumption that similar results would follow. He thought a fair estimate of the cost to the local rates would be£10,000, and the contribution out of the Imperial Exchequer£5,000. He quite admitted the force of the suggestion that there should be more information as to the precise figures, and he would be very glad to obtain any information he could for the benefit of the House. He recognised the friendly and non-controversial spirit in which the Bill had been received by 417 hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was obvious that they could not pledge themselves as to the details of the Bill until they had had time to examine them, and if it were necessary to deal with them by Amendment he would do his best to meet them. The criticism already made did not offer any probability of prolonged consideration in Committee. He, on behalf of the Government, put the Bill forward in an entirely non-controversial spirit, having the same object in view as most hon. Members opposite, and he did not anticipate any difficulty in coming to an arrangement upon the points which had been raised.
§ MR. T. HARRINGTON (Dublin Harbour)
pointed out that many of the schools in Ireland dealing with deaf and blind children were not in any sense connected with the National Board. This Bill proposed to give the National Board power to audit and inspect the accounts of those schools and that was a distinct departure from the principles upon which those schools, were governed at the present time.
§ MR. CULLINAN (Tipperary, S.)
said that during the passage of the Local Government Act of 1898 through the House of Commons the attention of the Government was drawn to this subject. In his opinion this was not the proper time to introduce this Bill, because the tendency of all the numerous boards in Ireland at the present time was to raise their expenditure in every department. There was at the present time a Poor Law Commission inquiring into the Poor Law system with the intention of seeing whether it would not be possible to reduce the number of workhouses in Ireland. To take up a matter like this at the present moment would be only adding one more torture to the ratepayers of Ireland. This Bill would establish a new class of officials, and there were many other obstacles standing in the way. The proper way to deal with this question would be to wait until the Report of the Poor Law Commission was issued, and then they might be able to find some way of economising instead of tinkering in this way with such an important subject.