§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG (Down, E.),
in moving the Second Reading of the Poor Law (Ireland) Bill, asked the indulgence of the House while he tried to be as concise as he could in bringing forward this measure which dealt with a question of grave importance. Doubtless everyone would be aware that the question of Poor Law reform had agitated people's minds, not alone in Ireland, but throughout Great Britain for many years past, and there could be no question that the verdict of the country had been expressed at all events outside that House, to the effect that the present Poor Law system was bad in very many directions and needed vast reform. In many respects it was quite out of date, and it had proved to be unconsciously 819 cruel in many of its administrative details. Very few of those who paid poor rates in this country were acquainted with the manner in which their money was spent. Very few of them had gone to the trouble of entering the workhouses in order to see for themselves the conditions under which the poor of the country lived in those institutions. He wished to cast no reflection whatever on the officers charged with the administration of the Poor Law throughout the country, for they were a capable and very intelligent body of men; what he was referring to was the system which had grown up in the last seventy years in Ireland, and the conditions under which the officers of the Poor Law had to carry out administrative details. In the Bill which he was bringing before the House they did not pretend to go into details; indeed, they could not formulate a scheme which would meet all objections; nor did they lay down any hard and fast rule, or sketch any scheme to which they asked the House to bind itself, by setting to it the seal of its approval. He made those remarks because what was to follow was merely an outline or an indication of a desire which some of them had for the reorganisation of the whole Poor Law system in Ireland, root and branch. The largeness of the subject precluded him, in the first instance, from dwelling upon its past history in order to set forth and describe the exact conditions under which the Poor Law was administered in Ireland in the present day. He would approach the subject not alone from the point of view of the present but of future generations, and also from the point of view of the appliances, improved scientific methods in all physical branches, from the point of view of the poor themselves, and of the capacity of the people of various localities to bear the rates which would be necessitated under the Bill. They hoped the rates would be no higher than hitherto, but they trusted that they would greatly increase the possibility of securing payment from those who were able to pay, while attaining a sufficient amount of work from all the able-bodied who found themselves in Poor Law institutions. He asked the House particularly to bear in mind that whilst charity must temper their consideration of any such 820 measure as this, they must also bring to bear common sense and business prudence to guide their footsteps. The Bill referred entirely to Ireland; and it would be interesting to know that the first Poor Law Act for Ireland was passed on 31st July, 1838. That Act was the groundwork of all the Poor Law Acts under which they were living. The great famine in 1847 brought untold misery upon Ireland, and numerous alterations were made and extensions effected in the Poor Law in order to cope with that terrible time. About that period, or after the famine, boards of guardians were permitted to give outdoor relief, and he believed that, at present, the state of the law in regard to outdoor relief was exactly the same as when it was first introduced. A Royal Commission on this subject presented a Report to King William IV. in 1836, and he would ask the House, if they had not already done so, to consider what that Report said. Seventy years ago a Royal Commission inquired into the whole matter, and made recommendations which would astonish the House, for they afforded a very interesting lesson on this subject. That Commission recommended land drainage and reclamation on modern lines, the provision of labourers' cottages and allotments, the bringing of agricultural instruction to the doors of the peasant, the improvement of land tenure, the transfer of fiscal powers from grand juries to county boards, the employment of direct labour on roads by such county boards, the sending of vagrants to colonies to be employed or to penitentiaries in this country, the closing of public-houses on Sundays and the prevention of the sale of groceries and intoxicating drink in the same house for consumption on the premises. That Report, was, undoubtedly, far in advance of its time, but they could not but be struck by the fact that, by the flux of time, nearly all those recommendations had been carried out, some of them unwittingly, not by law, but simply by the good sense and feeling of the people. He quoted the Report because he wished to contrast it to a certain extent with the Viceregal Commission's Report, in 1906, which was the basis of the present Bill. Some 821 hon. Members might be inclined to say that, taking the Report as a whole, it was Utopian; indeed, some hon. Members had already expressed that opinion. He could not conceive how any one, knowing that the recommendations of seventy years ago, which doubtless were considered Utopian in those days, had all come to be realised, could fail to give proper consideration to the recommendations of the Viceregal Commission—recommendations which might be considered Utopian, but which had the same chance of realisation as the recommendations made seventy years ago. The Report of the Viceregal Commission which showed that this was a matter of grave national importance for Ireland, had received widespread approval in Ireland, and the Royal Commission now sitting—he spoke subject to correction—on the question of Poor Law reform in the whole of the United Kingdom, had decided to adopt the Viceregal Commission's Report in toto, in regard to Ireland. In his opinion, it was most valuable to see that that Commission had put the seal of their approval to the Report of the Viceregal Commission, and decided to adopt it. It afforded conclusive evidence of what was necessary for the amelioration of the condition of the poorer classes so far as Poor Law reform in Ireland was concerned. He did not intend to go further into the past. If further evidence was necessary he would read to the House a few extracts from what the Commissioners said in their Report of 1906. They said—We have inspected, as far as we are aware, all workhouses, county infirmaries, fever hospitals, and other hospitals in Ireland, maintained wholly or in part out of local rates. Moreover, for the purpose of reporting whether any further hospital accommodation for the sick poor is desirable, we visited and carefully inquired into the circumstances of those localities, including many islands off the sea coast, which are remote from any hospital. The number of witnesses examined by us was 743 and in nearly all cases our inspection of the various institutions concerned took place before we heard the views of witnesses. In this way we were better able to understand the suggestions made, and to discuss the various local proposals with the witnesses.So that they had there, at all events, a most complete inquiry on the spot by Commissioners appointed by the 822 Lord-Lieutenant. And the next short quotation was one which had guided them in framing this Bill. The Commissioners said—It seemed to us that it would be our duty to ascertain how, if at all, a reduction could, without impairing efficiency, be made in the expenditure for the relief of the poor, and at the same time to show, if possible, how all improvement in the method or system of affording relief might be effected.That was the kernel of the Bill—how an improvement in the method of affording relief might be effected, and how, if at all, reductions might be effected without impairing efficiency. He would explain to those who were not familiar with the intricate details of the subject, that in the poorhouses of Ireland, the inmates were gathered from all classes of the deserving and undeserving poor, and they were classified according to law in a manner which lie would explain to the House. With few exceptions the way in which they were classified was as follows:—The sick, the aged and infirm, lunatics and all kinds of insane cases, sane epileptics, unmarried mothers, infants, children between infancy-and fifteen years of age, casuals, or ins-and-outs, vagrants and tramps, and able-bodied paupers. They had to deal with 45,195 of all classes in 1905, and the point which he wished the House thoroughly to understand was that each of those classes which he had enumerated found a resting place in one or another of the workhouses in Ireland. The Commission reported—We think that the present system of keeping so many different classes of persons in the same institution is one that ought not to be continued, and we received evidence throughout all Ireland strongly in favour of changing the system in this respect, provided that the rates would not be increased.They had 159 union workhouses in Ireland, and under the county system there were thirty-four county infirmaries, and fourteen fever or infectious hospitals. A separate and very urgent question was dealt with by the Commission, namely, that of improvements in the treatment and isolation of patients suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis or consumption. Although they could not set up in the Bill a definite, clear, and cut-and-dried scheme which would meet that terrible 823 disease in Ireland, still it had been one of their guiding principles in framing the measure that consumption, one of the greatest evils in Ireland, should be properly dealt with. In. considering the lines which they should adopt, they thought it only right, and he hoped that the House would bear this in mind, to allow local energy and local ideas and the sympathetic feelings of the people to operate in their own particular way, and the Commissioners appointed under the Bill would guide their efforts stamping out that disease in Ireland. They all knew the great effort that had been made to awaken the feeling of the people of Ireland to the proper treatment of the disease, and he believed one of the first effects of passing the Bill would be to strengthen the hands of those who had the idea constantly before them. He would pass from that clause to the question of children who were born in workhouses or who found their way into them in their early years. The Bill would in such cases as were considered desirable extend the power of boarding-out children. He had gone to the trouble of getting sonic information on the subject. The chief committee, had, of course, been the Viceregal Commission, and they, like anyone who had read the Report, must have been particularly struck by the statistics handed to them from Scotland. In 1903, and he believed there had been very little change in the figures since then, there were 7,110 children in receipt of relief in Scotland, of which number 6,195 or 87 per cent. were boarded-out, 1,800 with relations and 4,395 with strangers. The balance of 915, which was a very small percentage, were mainly in poorhouses, some sick and infirm, and others waiting to be boarded-out. The Commissioners had arrived at the view in favour of boarding-out children as far as possible before they saw the figures in Scotland, but they felt much strengthened in their opinion by what existed there. They also said that the system was similar in its plan of management to that adopted in Ireland by the Protestant Orphan Society, whose reports were most favourable as regards the condition of the children. They had there whit he considered to be most valuable testimony from the Commission. 824 They said that independently of any other inquiry, they went into the whole matter as regarded Ireland alone, and no sooner had they arrived at their conclusions on the matter than they were informed that Scotland hid discovered after actual trial that the scheme worked admirably in every part of the country. That was testimony of the thoroughness and care with which the Report was prepared. Then he had obtained a few details from the City of Belfast with regard to the expense of keeping children in the workhouse, and he found that during the half-year ending 31st March, 1902, the number of children receiving indoor relief in that city was 3,860. It was practically the same in 1907. The education of those children showed a very considerable waste of money. The average attendance of children in Belfast workhouse for 1907 was 160. There were seven teachers, three male and four female, who received annual salaries amounting to £505. They received first-class rations, which amounted to about £40 a year, and their bonus brought it up to £93 11s. Thus the cost of educating 160 children was £878 11s., or roughly, £5 10s. per annum per child. If those children were boarded-out, there was no doubt that they could be educated at much less cost. By the boarding-out of children, they would remove them from the influence of hardened criminals in workhouses, and place them with chosen families, not necessarily the very best families in the district, but in families of such respectability, at all events, that by associating with the children of the family, they might grow up and become creditable citizens, whereas now in the workhouses they were shut out from a great deal of the human side of life, and went from bad to worse, and being born and bred iii the workhouse, were very apt to live the greater part of their life there and to die there. By being taken from the workhouse and placed in families where they could be properly looked after, and have some home life and associations, they were prevented from becoming criminals and probably being put on the rates for the whole of their natural lives. There was economy in the boarding-out principle outside the question of education altogether. Taking 825 education alone they found that it saved a considerable amount of money to the rates. Provision was made in the Bill to safeguard the interests of any of the old loyal servants of the Poor Law in Ireland, because it was only fair that in any readjustment every care should be taken that an officer should not suffer in any way by losing his appointment or by being transferred from one part of the country to another, it being no fault whatever of the schoolmaster or mistress, or the workhouse master or any of the various staffs, that they had either changed their occupation or lost it altogether. The next point to which he wished to draw attention was the desirability, at all costs, of having labour homes established in Ireland, for the able-bodied who sought refuge in Poor Law institutions. The Commissioners recommended that four labour homes should be established for the whole of Ireland where these able-bodied men might be sent to contribute something towards the rates, and also to prevent such vagrants wandering through the country, finding it more pleasant to go into the workhouses and subsist on the rates than to work. An amount of work suited to their capacity, would be imposed upon them which would prevent them, at all events, seeking shelter there unless they were prepared to do a lair day's work. Of course, that would undoubtedly require a little alteration in the law. It was not as if one was advocating any harsh proceedings against innocent people, but those who habitually wandered from one union to another, and did no good to themselves and less to the community, should be placed in some such home as he had described. The details might be worked out later on. The scheme proposed in the Viceregal Commission provided that the sick should be provided for in county or district hospitals, that the aged and infirm should be placed and classified in most conveniently situated disused workhouses, that the insane of all kinds should be removed to the county or district asylum, that two or three disused workhouses might be set apart for insane epileptics, that mothers of illegitimate children should never be admitted or retained in any workhouse or institution where they would have freedom of ingress or egress, 826 that all children should be boarded-out, that casuals and vagrants should be sent to labour houses, and that all other able-bodied should be put with the casuals and vagrants. So far as he could ascertain, the Report was unanimous with the exception of the hon. Member for Mid. Tyrone, and his exception was of a very trifling nature and he hoped could be met. Anyone would appreciate his difficulty, and great divergence of opinion would undoubtedly exist when any scheme was being framed as to the size of the area to be included under the scheme. He felt confident, however, that the hon. Gentleman assented to the whole of the Report, with the exception of what he had just stated, and they would do their utmost to meet him in that respect. The hon. Gentleman himself had said:—Save upon this point and as regards the mode of admission to county district hospitals I am glad to say we find ourselves in harmony in our views upon all matters as sot out in this Report.He had done now with that part which dealt with the Commissioners' Report, and the Royal Commission which reported seventy years ago. Then he wished to point out how it was intended to bring all into the Bill, the suggestions in the Report which were not of a highly contentious nature. The basis of the Bill was the Educational Endowment (Ireland) Act, 1885, which settled the whole matter of educational endowments in Ireland, which was a wider and more vexed question. All parties agreed that something must be done to remedy the Poor Law, and he thought the best thing to do was to take as a model a Bill which had proved successful in a much more difficult case in former years. They felt compelled, while touching on all the vital points dealt with by the Viceregal Commission, to leave out the controversial question of the State Poor Law service, because that would arouse considerable feeling in individual localities where the ratepayers were anxious to have complete control of the local appointments. Although the Bill left out of consideration what steps might be taken to develop the natural resources of Ireland, it did not prevent their being dealt with later on. They decided to eliminate such matters, because they were desirous of appealing 827 to the sympathies of the great Liberal Party to assist them in passing the Bill. This was not a party question, and he would be ready to hand the Bill over to any hon. Member if he thought the matter would be brought to a conclusion on the lines laid down by the Commission. The Bill was divided into four compartments. The first compartment contained the Interpretation Clause, Short Title, and the date of commencement of the Act, and the next compartment, Clauses 4, 5, and 6, dealt with the constitution of the Commission, their salaries, expenses, and powers. Clause 6, which was practically the whole Bill, showed that the Commissioners would have power to prepare draft schemes suggesting the area to be assigned to various institutions other than hospitals. Every safeguard they could think of had been put into the Bill, and it followed the idea of the Judicial Commissioners, and also gave power to consult every local authority in Ireland as to their desire to agree to a scheme which would enable many of those gathered in one workhouse to be distributed and classified in a number of other workhouses. Instead of having children, ne'er-do-wells, and decently respectable women who, by the hard circumstances of life had fallen upon the rates, the epileptics, the insane, all together in one institution, they would be placed in homes of their own under conditions which would suit the particular classes dealt with. In those homes they would receive as humane and as judicious treatment as was consistent with a proper regard for economy, and that would be a great triumph, if nothing else resulted from the measure. They wanted to sort out all classes and have the rogues and vagrants put into labour houses by themselves where they would not contaminate others. The young children were to be boarded-out. The Local Government Board was called in in every instance and full liberty was given to every association, local authority, and individual to appear before the Commissioners and make out their case, and. they would be allowed to arrange schemes either for a county or a group of counties. Clause 7 provided that—In framing schemes the Commissioners shall save or shall make full compensation for 828 the interests of individuals holding any office, place, employment, pension, compensation allowance, or emolument, under or arising out of his or her employment by any local authority or governing body for the purposes of the Poor Law service at the date of the passing of this Act.Clauses 10 to 23 dealt with procedure as to the manner in which power was to be held, and the only part he wished to call attention to was Clause 23, which was as follows—On and after the passing of this Act it shall not be lawful for any board of guardians or other authority in Great Britain to remove into Ireland under the Acts relating to the relief of the poor, any person who shall have become chargeable to the rates after a residence in Great Britain of a period of six months continuously, and Section 1 and Subsection 1 of the Poor Removal Act, 1900, and Section 4 of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1898, are hereby repealed.There were other provisions which would appeal to those in Ireland who had to pay rates in an unfair way, and another clause provided for the termination of the Commission on 31st December, 1913. That would allow five clear years to elapse, after which the Commission would cease altogether, except in the instances mentioned. During that period it was hoped that the whole of Ireland would have fallen under schemes suitable to the various localities. Under the Educational Endowments Act there were two Judicial Commissioners who were Judges of the Supreme Court, but they felt it would be more convenient to make a departure from that, and provide that Recorders and County Court Judges in Ireland should be able to exercise the same powers. He was sure that there would be no objection whatever to the making of such a change. That was a matter which could be arranged in Committee. The financial clauses of the Bill would necessitate an urgent appeal to the Government, but he was perfectly convinced that the members of the Government were as fully alive to the importance of the question as he was. It was impossible at present to give any indication as to the cost of the scheme, but he believed it would in the end prove efficient and economical. There was an enormous waste of money and energy at present in connection with the Poor Law system, and though at the outset a sum of money would have to be 829 advanced, he believed that in the long run the scheme would, from the economical point of view, satisfy every Member of the House. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had taken in the past considerable interest in this subject, and in Belfast last November, speaking on the Report of the Viceregal Commission, the right hon. Gentleman said—I have in hand the Report of the Poor Law Reform Commission in Ireland. I wish everybody in this room would read that Report. It is better reading than all your newspapers; it is better reading than most of your novels; it is more moving than a thousand sermons. It goes right clown deep into the very life of the people. It is concerned with matters that arc going on at this moment, day by day and night by night. It describes the conditions of hundreds of thousands of poor people; it enters into the question how their status can be raised; it enters into the question how disease may be averted; it enters into the question how old age can be protected; it enters into the question how honest people can be saved from associating with the debased—all these questions it enters into and discusses… Here are only a few of its principal recommendations: '(1) The poverty of Ireland,' it says, 'cannot be adequately dealt with by any Poor Law relief such as that of 1838, but by the development of the country's resources, which is, therefore, most strongly urged. (2) The English and Scottish Removal Acts, so far as they relate to Ireland, should be repealed. (3) The present workhouse system should be abolished. (4) The various classes of inmates, except children, should be segregated into separate institutions. (5) The existing hospitals, whether Poor Law or county, should, except in a few cases, be retained in their present localities, but all should be placed under the management of county or district committees. Such hospitals should, as far as possible, be used only for the acute sick, and a sufficient number of consumptive sanatoria should be established. Additional cottage hospitals should be established at certain places in Ireland, and the system of home nursing for the poor extended.' I say the country is ripe—ripe and ready—for legislation upon those lines. When it is to obtain its opportunity I don't know; but all I can say is, If Irish people would only unite upon questions of this kind instead of disuniting upon other questions, progress could and would be made.On Monday last, in the Home Rule debate, the Chief Secretary said in this House—Ireland cannot afford to have her Poor Law reform delayed.Members on the Unionist Benches cordially endorsed that remark, and when successful in the ballot they, after careful consideration, decided to introduce a Bill on the subject. As to 830 the drafting of the Bill, everyone must have been struck with the care with which it had been prepared. Needless to say, he did not himself draft the Bill. Credit for that was due to the hon. and learned Member for North Armagh, who had taken infinite pains and trouble in putting their ideas into legal phraseology and presenting to the House a Bill which, whether passed this session or not, would, he was fully convinced, be for years to come the groundwork of the future Poor Law of Ireland. He begged to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Captain Craig.)
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman and his friends seriously expect or hope that this Bill can be treated as a practical legislative measure in this session of Parliament. I do not think myself that it is possible, and I think it will be found on examination of the Bill that the subject dealt with is of so vast a character that it will be practically impossible for it to be dealt with by a private Member's measure. But if the object of the hon. Gentleman and his friends is simply to raise a discussion upon this matter, I entirely sympathise with him. From my point of view it is another reproach to this Parliament that, although the Report of the Viceregal Commission was issued as far back as October, 1906, there has not been found time in Parliament to consider that Report or its recommendations. There is probably no grievance connected with Ireland of a more serious character than that dealt with by this Bill. For my part I have the utmost sympathy with those who desire to remove that grievance. The system of Poor Law in Ireland is extravagant and demoralising. The cost of the Poor Law is enormous. It costs about £1,250,000 a year, and the rate per head of the population is about 5s. 8d. So far as the demoralising character of the system is concerned it is enough, I think, to point out that there are congregated together in the same institutions, under the same roof, all sorts of classes of people who have met with reverses in the struggle 831 for life. The sick are there, the aged and infirm, innocent children, helpless mothers of young children, the insane, tramps and casuals, and able-bodied paupers, all congregated together in the same institutions, and all subjected to the same workhouse stigma which, hateful as it is in this country no doubt, is, if possible, more hateful still to the feelings of the people of Ireland. The number of people so congregated in the Irish workhouses—taking the figure given in the Report—was 45,195, but I ask the House to note this significant fact, that out of that number only a little over 4,000 consisted of casuals, tramps, and able-bodied paupers who were there through destitution brought about by idleness or laziness and so forth. All the rest of the 45,195 inhabitants of these workhouses are people who are there from no fault of their own, who are simply the unfortunates in the struggle for life, and who ought to be dealt with in separate institutions, and not subjected to this horrible stigma of the workhouse system. I think there is no reform demand d in Ireland on which public opinion in that country is so unanimous as it is upon this. If I do not vote for the Bill of the hon. Members above the gangway—if they indeed think it wise, and no doubt they will consider the point, to push it to a division—it is simply because I am convinced, as I will show in a moment, that the machinery they provide for carrying out the reform is inadequate and unsuitable. It is not that I differ in the smallest degree from them in their view as to the necessity of a drastic dealing with the matter. I would like to call the attention of the House a little more precisely than the hon. Member 11s done to the history of this question. I suppose it will be said—I do not think it a matter for reproach—that I look at every Irish question from the point of view of Home Rule, and there is, in my opinion, no more dramatic and conclusive argument against the system of governing Ireland by this House since the Union than is to be found in the history of the Poor Law question. What occurred? In 1833 an Irish Royal Commission was appointed to consider the question whether or not it was desirable to extend the English Poor Law system to Ireland. That Com- 832 mission was presided over by the Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Whateley, the Catholic Archbishop was a member, and the whole body consisted of able and representative Irishmen. They sat for three years and investigated the whole question fully, and in the end they unanimously reported that the English Poor Law system was entirely unsuitable to Ireland. What did they say? The English Commission had been inquiring into the question of the Poor Law system for England, and the English Commission declared that the English problem required the provision of a system which would deal with ignorance, improvidence, vice, and refusal to work. The Irish Commission declared in their Report that that was not the problem to be dealt with in Ireland, and that, so far as Ireland was concerned—The labouring classes there are very eager for work but no work could be got for them.So that the two problems, English and Irish, were essentially different, and the Irish Poor Law Commission unanimously recommended that the problem in Ireland should be dealt with in the first instance by schemes for the development of the resources of Ireland, and in the second instance that the question of provision for the sick poor, aged and infirm, lunatics, tramps and casuals, and able-bodied paupers, should be dealt with by separate institutions. I would like to emphasise this a little he recent Viceregal Commission the Chairman of the Commission says—The Report of 1836, made just seventy years ago, must be read with great surprise when one carefully notes the recommendations made then, and at the same time observes how almost all the suggestions were, as time passed on, unconsciously acted upon. This shows how well and truly the Commissioners understood the requirements of the country. It would probably surprise most of those who study the condition of Ireland, and who have considered how to improve it., to find that a Commission that sat seventy years ago recommended land drainage and reclamation on modern lines, the provision of labourers' cottages and allotments, the bringing of agricultural instruction to the doors of the peasant, the improvement of the land tenure, the transfer of fiscal powers from Grand juries to county boards, the employment of direct labour on roads by such county boards, the sending of vagrants to colonies to be employed or to penitentiaries in this country.833 Those were actually the very objects of the Commission seventy years ago. What was the fate of the Report of that Irish Commission? Why, every one of its recommendations were over-ruled. Lord John Russell, who, I think, was the Home Secretary, when he read the Report, sent over to Ireland an English Poor Law official, called Nichols, to investigate the matter afresh, and after spending six weeks in Ireland—and the means of transit were not then as efficient as they are now, and he could not have moved much about in Ireland in the course of six weeks—this English official, who was never in the country before, came back to England and submitted a Report to Lord John Russell to the effect that the Irish Commission were entirely wrong, that they knew nothing about the subject, that they were entirely mistaken, and that the real thing Ireland wanted was an extension of the English system to that country. Lord. John Russell threw the Report of the Irish Commission into the waste-paper basket, never referred to it again, and introduced a Bill into Parliament forcing the English system upon Ireland. That Bill was opposed vigorously in this House by the English representatives. It was opposed by O'Connell on the floor of Parliament and in Ireland. His opposition to the Bill was participated in by all the Irish Members of all parties in that day, the Lord Castlereagh of that day joined hands with O'Connell, and yet these omniscient governors of Ireland, who always know better what is good for Ireland than Ireland does herself, forced this Bill upon the country, and now, seventy years afterwards, a new Commission is appointed, and they unanimously report that the Commission of seventy years ago was right in every particular; that the system you forced upon Ireland seventy years ago was radically wrong and unsuitable for the country; that it has been a failure from that day to this, and they recommend its complete abolition. I do not want to turn this into a Home Rule debate, but it is fair, at any rate, that I should direct attention to the fact that there is no more dramatic, startling, and sensational proof of the incapacity of English statesmen to govern Ireland 834 than is to be found in the history of this question. This is really an enormous question—a question which, in my opinion, it would be hopeless to deal with in a private Member's Bill. Let me just quote for the House shortly what the recommendations of the Commission would amount to. Like the Commission of 1833 they say that Irish poverty can only be removed by schemes for developing the industries of the country and giving employment. They recommend the total abolition of workhouses in Ireland, the segregation of the different classes of inmates into separate institutions, the deserving and decent sick folk to be put into workhouses and hospitals where there will be no taint of the workhouse upon them; the aged and the infirm to be put into other institutions; the insane to be put into asylums under the regular lunatic authorities; the vagrants—a small class, being 4,000 in all Ireland—the vagrants and the ne'er-do-wells who are destitute through indolence, vice, and the refusal to work to be put into separate institutions for themselves and not to be any way herded with the deserving poor. They recommend the repeal of the English and Scottish Removal Acts under which an Irish man or woman who spent a life of labour in England or Scotland, but who, at the end of their days become chargeable upon the rates, can be deported to Ireland, whereas Ireland has no such power to return English and Scottish paupers to their native places. These recommendations mean the total abolition of the system of Irish workhouses and the creating of new institutions for these separate classes. I do not think I agree with the view of the hon. Member who moved the Bill that this operation need not necessarily be an expensive one. I think the whole of this could be done, and whatever the initial cost might be it would, in the end, prove to be an economic transaction, but it is an enormous operation, and I fully realise that it could not be carried into effect by a private Member's Bill. Let me say what I conceive to be the duty of the Government. The Chief Secretary said the other day that there are enough great and vital problems affecting Ireland to occupy the whole of a session 835 That is quite true, and this is one of those great vital problems. Even with your present system of Grand Committees the examination of a measure to deal with this reform would take a considerable time. These great problems are waiting for solution, and the Irish people are suffering all the time, and my view is that it is the duty of the Government to act promptly in this matter. The Chief Secretary promised in Belfast that this problem was engaging his attention. How long is it going to engage his attention? When is he going to get his opportunity of dealing with it? He may say that he cannot do it this session because of the University Bill. What about next session? Will he give a promise that he will introduce legislation on the subject next session and send his Bill to Grand Committee and see what can be done? So far as the present Bill is concerned, I welcome it, from the point of view of its affording us an opportunity of ventilating the matter. But as a piece of practical legislation, I cannot vote for the Bill if a division is taken. The machinery is entirely inadequate, and, indeed, is preposterous in its character. The Bill proposes to create a Commission consisting of two Judges. Then there are to be three lay assistant Commissioners to be associated with them, but they have no power at all. Their duties are to be assigned by the Judicial Commissioners, and apparently the intention is that they should hold inquiries, but all the judicial and administrative acts are to be performed by the two Judges, and their powers, therefore, would be enormous. They would have powers to abolish local bodies in Ireland, to amalgamate them, and to create new governing bodies—in fact, to interfere all over Ireland with the whole system of local government. If that is a right thing to do, surely the tribunal appointed to do it ought to be one in some sense representative of the Irish people. But to set up a tribunal consisting of two Judges without any representation of the regular public bodies elected by the people, is simply a preposterous proposal, and for my part, I could not dream of supporting it for one moment. I will not go into the other objections against the Bill; although they are 836 many I am not anxious to pull the Bill to pieces. I welcome the opportunity of discussing this matter. I fully recognise the difficulty of private Members in drafting a Bill at all upon the subject, and I take up the position that while I cannot vote for this Bill because of this preposterous proposal which would throw the whole system into the melting pot, yet so deeply do I sympathise with the object the hon. Member has in view in trying to bring about this reform, that if he goes to a division I will not vote against him, though I cannot vote with him. We regard this matter as a most urgent grievance. In the main we agree with the recommendations of the Viceregal Commission. Some of them will no doubt lead to differences of opinion, such, for instance, as the recommendations as to the method in which the new medical service is to be created, and matters of that kind. These are matters about which there would be difference of opinion, and a good deal of discussion. But putting on one side four or five matters of that kind, in the main we on these benches approve of the recommendations of the Commission. We say that the present Poor Law system is a scandal and is injurious to Ireland, that it ought never to have been forced upon the country, and that it is a standing reproach to the Government. The Government ought to deal with the matter. We are in agreement upon the point that the grievance is an urgent one, and in the main we agree with the recommendations of the Commission. But if this Bill goes to a division it will be impossible for us to vote for it, and I for one, will walk out of the House.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. BIRRELL,) Bristol, N.
I have listened with great interest to the exceedingly clear, sensible, and able speech made by the hon. Gentleman opposite, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I can assure him, for the present at least, I am at one with him in the object which he has at heart. We are all agreed about this subject. I will not follow the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down in the very interesting remarks which he has made, but certainly nobody can 837 make himself acquainted, as it has been my business to do, either with the past history of Poor Law administration in Ireland, or any such subject, without discovering that on such points agreement has usually existed among Irishmen, whatever may be the colour of their political opinions, and that in the early days they had their own plans and their own views of the soundest character and description, not only on the Poor Law question, but also for dealing with the vexed question of the land. Their views were disregarded and put on one side in obedience to the overwhelming opinion of England. That, certainly, is perfectly plain with regard to this Poor Law question and many others. The union of O'Connell and Castlereagh is to-day repeated, and we find hon. Gentlemen above and below the gangway united in urging that the Poor Law system as it now exists and has existed for so many years in obedience to English wishes and opinions, shall be set on one side. I scarcely need to say that I entirely concur with that view. I rejoice very much that this question should have been discussed to-day on the floor of the House. There are in Poor Law questions one or two things upon which both in England and Ireland there is an unusual agreement of opinion. One relates to classification of inmates of workhouses, another to the boarding-out of children. Any legislation that we have, either for England or for Ireland, dealing with Poor Law administration will, we know, proceed upon these two rational and humane principles. How they came to be overlooked for so long must be a matter of surprise, but then we all know with what little wisdom the world is governed. The necessity for the removal of children from workhouses to proper homes outside is one of the obvious things which must appeal to every really humane man. Nobody who has seen the different spirit and temper of poor children living in proper homes and moving backwards and forwards to schools where they meet the children of the neighbourhood—the different tone, temper, and spirit which enters into their lives, cannot but be overwhelmed with sorrow that the children of either England or Ireland have been 838 submitted so long to a different state of things. Happily a child's lightness of heart prevails over almost everything, but the dullness, degradation, shame, and misery of workhouse life it is not strong enough to contend with. Therefore, on this point we are all entirely agreed. I do not want to say a word against the measure which has been introduced in so excellent a speech by the hon. and gallant Member, but I must point out—and I think the hon. Member will agree with me—that this Bill proposes to set up a different kind of Commission from that suggested in the Poor Law Commission's Report. It proposes to set up a Commission before the Bill has been passed which really enables the reforms to be carried out and before Parliament has laid down the lines upon which those reforms are to be carried out. I am sorry that that should be so. If this were a thing which could be done piecemeal and if a Bill could be passed which would in no way interfere with a subsequent larger measure, and only do a little bit of work, that would be an excellent thing; but the Commission it is proposed to set up will of necessity be a costly body. It will have all sorts of duties; it will in fact have the very duties which the Poor Law Commission suggested should be conveyed to a temporary Commission if a Bill were passed before that Bill has been passed and before anyone knows what shape or form the Bill will assume. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to the very vexed question of the areas. That vexed question of the areas and rateable authority lies at the very root of the whole question, and until we determine what those areas are to be and upon whom the charges are to be made—whether they are to be the union or county areas—it is impossible to set loose a Commission travelling about the country to determine what institutions shall be set up when they will not know to whom they will be chargeable.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I am afraid not. I quite agree that in this Poor Law matter there is no question outstanding, and, no controversy introducing the least bit 839 of party spirit, but I know enough about the matter to know that there is a very considerable difference of opinion. It found expression in the Minority Report signed by the lion. Member, and there are many reasons pro and con to determine with regard to the question whether they shill have large or small areas. The Viceregal Commission suggested different areas in different cases, and proposed that the expenditure in regard to sick, aged, infirm, lunatics, and unmarried mothers shall be defrayed out of the county rate, but that the area of charge for children in industrial schools and other purposes shall be the electoral division, and until we have determined these things it will not., I think, help but rather hinder to set up a Commission.
§ MR. BIRRELL
I am afraid in that case nothing will be done. I do not think it will be easy to ask me to go to the Treasury, and I do not want to do it unless I am asked, for the great expenditure necessary in setting up machinery of this sort, unless we can satisfy them that it is going to end in doing something, and not in doing nothing. The matter has to be faced and we have to determine the principles on which the country is to be marked out for rating responsibilities in respect of all these most important subjects. When that has been done, I do not doubt that it will be found necessary to appoint a Commission as suggested in the Poor Law Report in order to go over the country and arrange the admirable things set oat in the clauses of the Bill. I am certain that at present no good result will follow from reading the Bill a second time. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Waterford has naturally asked me what I am going to do. I fully recognise the justice of that question. I am always sorry when I hear anyone say that he is going to read extracts from my speeches, but I am not in any way ashamed of the remarks I have made with regard to the Commission's Report, and which the hon. Member has quoted. It is only fair, 840 however, to remember that one has to choose between subjects in the House. You cannot have a King's Speech in which there is nothing but Ireland from one end to the other, and as I cannot arrange that, I have to make choice between pressing subjects and I believe that the majority of those I have attempted to legislate upon—although one or two of the measures no doubt have given rise to angry feelings—will after discussion and full deliberation receive the general support of hon Members from Ireland irrespective of Party. Controversial subjects have a knack of pushing themselves to the front; and having, in addition to such subjects as I have already attempted to legislate upon, the embroglio of the land question and the necessity of land reform staring me in the face, I cannot admit that I have been neglectful in my duty in getting time for Irish affairs. I am, however, prepared to say that I see no reason whatever why in the next session of Parliament a Bill proceeding upon the lines of the Bill just moved and carrying out the purport of the Royal Commission's Report should not be the first measure to receive the attention of Parliament and to be sent upstairs to a Committee after its Second Reading to be considered in all its details. All I can say in the absence of everybody from the Treasury Bench is that if hon. Gentlemen opposite, on both sides, continue to press these points upon me, as no doubt they will, I will do my very best so far as I am personally concerned to secure that a Bill, carrying out the reforms recommended in the Report of the Poor Law Commission and proceeding on the lines of the Bill discussed this afternoon a d which has received general support on both sides of the House and from all parties in Ireland, shall be made a Government measure. Such a measure kill, I conceive, be one of the first importance, and there is none next to the University Bill I introduced the other day with which I should better like to have my name however slightly connected and which will receive my more enthusiastic support.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
I confess that we must all feel a little 841 disappointment that the Chief Secretary has not been able to make a reply of a somewhat more gratifying character than that to which we have listened. This is a subject on which I may claim to speak with some knowledge because I was for many years at the English Local Government Board where the same question incidentally arose, and I can go back to the earlier days when it was not only a question of the rearrangement of areas for Poor Law administration, but we had to deal with English counties which had detached portions of areas all over the county, which led to the utmost confusion in the incidence and collection of rates. The Chief Secretary admitted that the question of area was, if not the most important, probably the one which underlies the settlement of this whole question, and he said with great force—and I have myself used the same argument—that Parliament ought not to create a Commission and lay upon them a certain duty unless Parliament has first of all laid down the lines upon which that Commission is to proceed. Up to a certain point I entirely agree with the Chief Secretary, but he has not had what I have had, viz., practical experience in trying to deal with this question as a Minister in Parliament, and I do not believe that until you have set up this Commission you will make progress. It is probable that what is proposed by the Bill of my hon. and gallant friend, the Second Reading of which he moved in a speech which I was glad to hear the Chief Secretary speak of in such generous and well-deserved terms, as it seemed to me to be admirable, may be open to some of the criticisms passed upon it by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford. It may be thought that the Commission in its constitution would not meet with all the confidence it should meet with if it is to do good work in Ireland, but I am convinced that, if the Chief Secretary had seen his way to let the Bill be read a second time on the clear understanding that it went to a Select Committee and that the only object was to set up a Commission with certain powers, it is only by some method of that kind that you you can get this vexed question settled. 842 I have read the interesting Report of the majority of the Commission, and also the minority Report of the hon. Member for Mid. Tyrone, and I may be pardoned for saying that. I do not suggest anything improper when I say I am able to read between the lines of the Report. I know the sources from which many of the criticisms in that Report have come. They have come, not from the people who pay the rates and whose condition would be worsened, not from the people whose position would be improved if the areas were enlarged, but from those who are connected with the municipal bodies who are always able to advance arguments of a most potent character when any particular principles are involved. It is a class of vested interest which makes it almost impossible to proceed with reforms of this kind. What is the hope held out to us by the Chief Secretary? I accept it with the utmost gratification so far as it goes. It is that the Government hope to be able to deal with this question in a Government Bill next year. My hon. friends behind me who are interested in this Bill would be the first to admit that between the chances of this measure and those of a measure in the charge of the Government there is no comparison, and they have no doubt as to which they ought to accept. But by the admission of the Chief Secretary, and all those who have had to deal with this question, it is almost certain that unless some preliminary steps are taken by setting up a Commission, the Government will be unable next year to bring in a Bill of such a non-controversial nature that it would not raise a great discussion. The Chief Secretary said that the Commission recommended not one principle for the extension of the areas, but various principles adapted to different parts of the country. But in Paragraph 263 of the Report the whole centre of the difficulty is pointed out. It is pointed out that a rate of 1d. in the £ in a Poor Law union in Ireland only produces £45 11s. 10d. That is the crux of the question. But take the case of England where you have a union like the Toxteth Division of Liverpool and the old City of Liverpool Union. There you find that without any 843 change in the law, the guardians have been able to carry out every one of the recommendations of this Report in regard to separating the classes, separate provision for labour homes, separate provisions in the workhouse for those who have come to a state of pauperism from no fault of their own, and others. Not only do they live in the building under different rules, but have different hours, and wear their own clothes. The children are not only boarded-out, but in many cases are living in separate houses, where twenty-five are boarded-out under the charge of a foster-mother. You can have exactly the some change with regard to the insane. But that is not the general condition of things in England. It is true that in other unions you find the same melancholy condition of things that has been described by my hon. friends. What is the reason of that? You can erect splendid buildings and make most admirable provision for the poor. But while you can do these things in the big towns where the high rateable value for the district allows it to be done, you cannot do it in small areas where the result of a 1d. rate produces only £50. In those cases the only thing to be done is to get Parliament to make up its mind that there shall be a rearrangement of areas, and you must have regulations which shall apply to county areas whether large or small. I believe there is no reform wanted so much in England, Wales, and Ireland at this moment, and there is no shame so great to our civilisation as the workhouses of the country. I myself brought in a Bill having for its object the rearrangement of the representation of the areas of the country. What was the result? Many Members who, if they had acquainted themselves with the subject, would have supported it, were constrained to oppose it because of the agitation raised in their constituencies. That may be an immoral state of things, but hon. Members will admit that when a constituency has become fully roused, a Minister has great difficulty in persuading his friends to risk that agitation and support him. It is not until you get the support of a Commission that you will get Parliament to adopt the proposal. The Act of 1888 which we carried, it is true followed the recommendations of the Commission, in the 844 redistribution of areas. But that Commission was in actual operation, and its recommendations were in the hands of Parliament before the Act was passed. We were able to set up in 1888 an Act which gave effect to the Report of that Commission which could not have come properly into force for many years to come. It is, therefore, inaccurate to say that advantage has not been taken on this question to make a step forward. The Chief Secretary at Belfast said that this was one of the most pressing needs of Ireland and he has told us that they had not the time to pass such a Bill. But there is an answer to that. Although there is no time to pass this particular Bill, Ministers went through the country last year saying they had carried sixty-five Bills that year, and seventy the year before. The answer is that in connection with a great many of the measures brought in it would be well if the Government considered how far they could be made as little controversial as possible rather than how much they could be made in the interests of one Party. The Chief Secretary could have done much and relief could be given—if Irish Members were united great things could be done. Although the hon. and learned Member for Waterford told us he could not support the Bill he spoke well of it, and said he would not oppose it. What advice I ought to give to my hon. friends behind me I do not know. They are certainly interested in this Bill, which does contain recommendations based on the Report of the Royal Commission. I would advise them to do their best to meet the hon. and learned Member for Waterford, and see if this Commission is to be started that some further consideration is given to its composition. It would be worse than useless unless the Commission commanded support in Ireland. I myself care very little how much of the Bill remains after it has been before a Select Committee, so long as that part of it is adopted which I consider of the greatest importance, namely, the establishment of a tribunal which could inquire and report and give the Government some definite plan. With the authority of such a Commission behind them the Government could come to Parliament next session and bring in a Bill which 845 would be of such a character as to avoid much of the controversy which may otherwise arise. I do not want just now to recall the advantages of the legislation proposed in this Bill. I know that many questions of reform in Ireland are considered of the utmost importance by hon. Members, but surely this question must come before all others. Just take the boarding-out question, for instance, take the children out and educate them in the national elementary schools, or, if there are too many, in separate establishments, and you get rid of that difficulty. Then there is the herding together of people whose pauperism is the result of vice or of physical and mental inferiority, that is a cruel hardship which should be terminated with the least possible delay. Any change of this kind must take time, even though the Bill were allowed to go through this House practically without any opposition at all, for you have to rearrange your areas, make new provisions for buildings, and bring your new law into operation in all the areas, and all the it takes time. If a Bill of this kind were passed without opposition this session, it would not be possible to give effect to these reforms under a period of two years. If Clause 6 alone, amended in what way you like, were taken over by the Government, and rearranged so as to make the Commission one they could rely upon, and if they said: "We will send it to a Committee, and insist on such alterations as are necessary, and then we shall at all events prepare the way by this Commission for a large measure of reform for which we will be responsible in another session,"—if that had been the course adopted by the Government, I should have no hesitation in advising my hon. friends not to go to a division on the Second Reading. But they are keenly interested in this question, and I for one deeply regret that our Parliamentary system makes it often the case on a Friday that a question vitally affecting the welfare of our people should be discussed in such an empty House, but that we cannot help. This discussion, such as it is, has been marked by a much greater unanimity and agreement on the common principles of the Bill than you often hear in this House on Irish questions. There has been evinced a profound desire 846 that some definite step should be taken to secure a reform on which we are all agreed, and if my hon. friends decide to press the Second Reading of their Bill, I shall most certainly support them in the lobby, because I believe they will be giving by their votes the only practical effect open to them to their conviction that unless you take some steps, however small, and unless Parliament sets up some tribunal which can give Parliament the information required, you will make no advance on this question, which I regard as one more nearly connected with the happiness of our people—the poorer and more suffering among them—than any other to which the attention of Parliament could be given.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG (Antrim, S)
said his colleagues and himself regretted that the Chief Secretary could not see his way to support the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford had asked them a definite question, as to whether they looked upon these proceedings as a mere academic discussion of the question or whether they seriously intended to press for the Second Reading of the Bill. He could tell the hon. and learned Member that they did intend to press for the Second Reading of the Bill, if for no other reason than to show how desirous they were that the whole matter of Irish Poor Law reform should be pushed forward. He was unable to follow the Chief Secretary when he informed them that as the Bill was drafted, they really would be gaining nothing if they set up the proposed Commission. The Report of the Commission on which the Bill was founded, on page 76, said that the Commissioners believed that a temporary Commission, working with the Local Government Board and the local bodies, would be necessary for the purpose of carrying into effect the changes incidental to the recommendations made in the Report, and that such a Commission, acting in subordination to the Local Government Board, might discharge the following duties, such as suggesting the areas to be assigned to the various institutions, suggesting the draft scheme for the reapportionment of Parliamentary grants 847 proposals for the employment of Poor Law officials whose services would be retained and compensation for officials whose services would be dispensed with, and for carrying out the adjustment of various other matters incidental to the changes provided for. The Bill, so far as he could see, followed out that recommendation exactly. It set up a Commission, gave it power to draft schemes, prescribed the method by which notice of those schemes was to be given, and the manner in which they were subsequently to be laid before the Lord-Lieutenant, and, in the absence of objection, to have the force of law by receiving an Order in Council. He did not see how the Chief Secretary could contend that it was necessary to have previous legislation before that could be done. It seemed to him that, even presuming the Chief Secretary was right, he had not given them any good reason why the Bill should not be allowed to go to Committee. All the previous speakers had admitted that the matter was one of urgent importance, which could only be benefited by a free and open discussion. Not one of the Grand Committees was at present occupied with any Bill, and there was, therefore, an excellent opportunity to allow the Bill to be referred to a Grand Committee. His hon. and gallant friend had pointed out that when he was lucky in obtaining a place in the ballot, and when it had been decided between him and his colleagues that this question should be brought before the House in the form of a Bill, it gave them all a considerable amount of anxiety and consideration as to how they should approach the matter. The Chief Secretary had informed them that the form of the Bill was such that it would not carry out their objects. When they came to examine the Report for the purpose of drafting the Bill, they found that it covered a very large area, and it became evident to them that if they wanted to introduce a Bill which would deal in a piecemeal way with the recommendations of the Commission they would not, possibly, get further than dealing with one or two, possibly the least important, points in the Report; and to show how that consideration was borne in upon them, it was only necessary to consider the 848 numerous and complicated matters with which the Report of the Commission dealt. If they had attempted to draft a. Bill dealing individually with the various questions considered they would have such questions as the erection of poorhouses and lunatic asylums, the making of areas, the segregation of classes, and outdoor relief; and if they attempted to legislate on those lines it would give them very much more trouble than in legislating for the whole of the case in the method suggested by his hon. and gallant friend. They saw at once that if they were to do anything at all it was necessary to deal with it in a general way, and to set about finding out what was the best way to do so, and his hon. and gallant friend hit upon the precedent to which he had referred. The [question of the endowed schools was more controversial than that with which they were now dealing, yet a Commission was set up and dealt with in a most satisfactory way. So far as he could see, there was really no insuperable difficulty in the way. The labour would, no doubt, be very great, but the main questions of this reform were of such a non-controversial nature, and public opinion had so often expressed itself as to the way in which these questions of the segragation of classes, outdoor relief, lunatic asylums, etc., should be dealt with, that there ought at this stage to be very little difficulty for the Commission in dealing with those points. It seemed to him that the Report of the Commissioners was so plain, and that they had covered the whole area so completely, that, the work of the Commissioners set up under the Bill would be very greatly simplified. The Report, he would remind the House, had been in the hands of Irishmen since October, 1906, nearly a year and a half, and they might be quite sure that it had been criticised, canvassed, and discussed, not only by every person connected with the Poor Law in Ireland, but also by the public Press, and so far as he knew there had been no serious exception taken to the findings of the Commission in any part of Ireland. It had been pointed out that the recommendations of the Commission had been acquiesced in by both parties in Ireland. 849 As had been very properly remarked, this was not a question of party at all, and he was somewhat surprised to find that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was not prepared to support the Second Reading. To him the reasons of the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be very slender ones. The hon. Gentleman rested his defection, so far as he could see, on one point, which, after all, could be dealt with in Committee, namely, the composition of the Commission who were to carry out the recommendations of the Report. But the constitution of that Commission could not in any way be called a principle of the Bill; it was a gallant friend would be glad to receive any suggestion from the hon. and learned Gentleman or from anybody else. They wanted a strong Commission which would have the confidence of all parties. It seemed to him that the question of the composition of the Commission was a matter for arrangement; it was obviously a purely administrative matter. There was no political, religious, or party interest mixed up in it at all, therefore he could not conceive why the hon. and learned Gentleman should feel the slightest difficulty in coming to an agreement as to what the composition of the Commission should be. He thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to have given them his unqualified support in the matter. He had given a certain sort of modified support, but he thought that if the poor in Ireland, and if the consumptives of Ireland who had been so feelingly referred to in the Report, were to be benefited, the hon. And learned Gentleman should have given them his assistance in hastening the passage of what was admitted by all parties to be an absolutely non-political and non-party measure. He had intended to go more fully into the details of the Bill, and particularly he had intended to make some reference to what he considered to be the most pitiable class of persons dealt with by this measure, namely, the consumptives. When they read the Report and found how consumption was increasing in Ireland, whereas it had decreased in the last few years in England and Scotland by 50 per cent.—when 850 they found that in Ireland persons suffering from all stages of consumption were taken to the ordinary workhouses, where they slept in the same rooms with healthy persons and thus spread the ravages of the dreadful disease, he really thought anything which would have the effect of concentrating public attention and the attention of the Government on the question of reform of the Poor Law in Ireland ought to be speedily done. He could not help deeply regretting that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had not seen his way to join them in this attempt to bring the matter to fruition as soon as possible. The Chief Secretary had given them a qualified promise that next year he would bring in a Bill dealing with this question. Of course they thanked him for that promise, but, unfortunately, they knew that a promise in Parliament, unless it was absolute, was not of much value. If a Minister qualified his promise by such phrases as: "If there was time or opportunity," the promise was not worth a great deal. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman might be able to carry out his promise, but he able to carry out his promise, but he could only regret that he had not seen his way to allow the Bill to go through at least another stage, because by so doing any defect that might exist in the measure would have been remedied, and they would then have had more information from the right hon. Gentleman as to the particular line he proposed to pursue when he himself brought in a Bill next year.
§ *MR. SUMMERBELL (Sunderland)
said he could not but regret the smallness of the attendance that afternoon, for it did not encourage the initiation of any proposals so far as private Members were concerned. Of course, this was a purely Irish matter, as the Bill did not apply to England, but, inasmuch as a division was to be challenged, he thought it right to say a few words so far as the Labour Members were concerned. He had the fullest sympathy with all that had been said with regard to the necessity for the reforms which were proposed. He regretted the wasteful administration, and it was certainly a disgrace to the country that so much should go in 851 that direction and. so little reach the poor. He also regretted that honest men who were out of employment should have to mix with wasters in the workhouses; in fact, the whole system required fresh legislation for its reform. They were hoping that the time would come when the boards of guardians would be done away with and the administration of the Poor Law placed in the hands of the county and borough councils. The Members of the Labour Party, however, did not think that the Bill now under discussion would. by the machinery it set up effect the very desirable reforms about which they were unanimous in all parts of the House; but inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman on the Treasury Bench had promised legislation next year—[Cries of "No; qualified"]—he had heard the speech, and he certainly thought that the right hon. Gentleman was definite regarding the promise of legislation next year which would meet all that the promoters of this Bill desired.
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG
If such a promise has been made by the Chief Secretary, I certainly accept it at once.
§ MR. BIRRELL
Of course, I am not in a position to make a definite promise, because I have no control over the business of the House. But I do not complain of the conclusion come to by the hon. Member below the gangway who heard my speech. What I said was that I should do my very best to accomplish that purpose, and I am very confident I shall succeed, but further than that I cannot go.
§ MR. SUMMERBELL
said that in view of a promise of that character and the sympathy which the right hon. Gentleman had in regard to these many reforms which they all desired, he thought the promoters of the Bill would be well advised not to press it to a division. If it were pressed to a division, they on those benches would be obliged to vote against the Second Reading.
§ MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
said it was with some disappointment that they had listened to the hon. Member who had just sat down. The words of 852 the Chief Secretary had, not without reason, been quoted. Speaking at Belfast on 24th October, 1907, and dealing with this particular question he said—I say the country is ripe and ready for legislation upon those lines, but whether it will be obtained I do not know. All I can say is that if the Irish people would only unite on questions of this kind instead of disuniting upon other questions, good progress for the betterment of the country would be made.He endorsed the comment of the hon. Member for Waterford, who on 26th October made the following remarks—I confess I read that statement with a feeling of some resentment because that statement, if it meant anything, meant this: That the delay in the settlement of these questions, these social reforms, was due to the action of the Irish people themselves and not due to the fault of the English Government. No man living to-day knows better than Mr. Birrell does how false such a suggestion would be.The hon. and learned Member, in the same speech, dwelt eloquently and insistently upon the great urgency of the question, and yet that afternoon they had him taking a technical objection to some part of the machinery, which might easily have been got over in Committee, and refusing to lend his influence in supporting the Bill, and thus practically destroying its chance of becoming law. In another speech the hon. and learned Member, after dealing with the housing of the working classes in Ireland, proceeded—I may remind you the Irish Party has already taken action. We have put before the Government our suggestions for the benefit of artisans in towns…and we will also put in concrete form our suggestions for the settlement of this Poor Law system.He ventured to suggest to the hon. and learned Member that he would have no better opportunity than he had enjoyed that afternoon of putting in concrete form whatever suggestions he might have to offer for dealing with that important subject. He had, up till that day, refused to see any political difference in Ireland with regard to this subject, because from one end of the country to the other the Poor Law administration urgently called for reform. Perhaps he might be allowed to give an illustration of what they were suffering by referring to that county a portion of which he had the honour to represent. The Joint Committees of the Coleraine 853 and Magherafelt Boards of Guardians, and several members of the Limavady Board, came together and discussed the whole subject of promoting economy and efficiency, and he would quote very briefly from the Report unanimously adopted by those three boards of guardians. It disclosed the state of things then existing in the county—The average number of inmates in the last half-year for which the figures have been published, gives a total of only 341 inmates; the buildings being certified as providing full accommodation for 2,342 inmates; or, to put it another way, any one of the three workhouses is certified to hold double the number of inmates presently contained in the whole three. For the half-year ending 31st March, 1899, we find what is called the expenses of establishment, which included the cost of four officials, and the maintenance of buildings for the three workhouses, were £1,789, whereas the cost of food and clothing for the whole of the inmates for the like period is only £1,475. Thus we think our system of relief has been greatly abused through our workhouses being so numerous and so convenient. Take the tramp nuisance, for instance. It is in a large measure the creation of a system which provides them with a good temperance hotel at the end of an easy day's journey. With fewer workhouses we may rest assured there will be fewer tramps. We have another class which periodically pass in and out of the workhouses largely because of their being situated so conveniently. We have quite a number of this class, and in our infirmary there are a good many inmates of a class who are quite able-bodied, and who when out of the workhouse misconduct themselves and use our workhouse infirmary solely for recuperative purposes. We are satisfied that were our workhouses some distance from town this class would decrease very rapidly.He would conclude with a final extract from this Report—And we think the time is not far distant when for the middle and southern portion of the country a small hospital of the most modern type should be erected in an isolated situation with one wing for non-paying patients and with another wing where those who are willing and able to pay for the highest medical skill and nursing would be eared for under the best conditions. Many of us believe many of our county workhouses could with advantage be refitted without much expense as auxiliary ayslums, and that, by this means the prospect of a heavy charge for a new county asylum would be altogether done away with.His object in reading these few extracts from that Report, which was adopted by the three large boards of guardians concerned almost with unanimity, was to give the later history of the movement which he thought showed the urgency 854 for legislation on the subject. The three boards of guardians were practically agreed as to the necessity for closing some of their workhouses, but when the question came to be considered which of the workhouses should be closed, the unanimity was at an end, and until they had legislation such as was proposed by this Bill, they could not make further progress in effecting that great economy The hon. and learned Member in introducing the Bill had referred to it as Utopian, and while gladly supporting it he felt that as regarded some of the minor suggestions that description might be aptly applied. The greatest difficulty in carrying out the recommendations of the Commission would be the admittedly large initial expenditure. He submitted to the House that if the Bill had been allowed to go to a Committee it would have been found practicable to adopt many of the suggestions, the cost of carrying out which would have been comparatively small. Reference had been made, and he was glad to hear it, to the value of the class of cottage hospital which was springing up in different parts of the country. While their county and workhouse hospitals in times past had not been as well equipped, they were not able to do the best medically for their inmates at all times, but a very great improvement in that respect had taken place. He would strongly emphasise that part of the Report which advocated in sparsely populated districts an increase of the number of purely cottage hospitals. He thought that was the most valuable part of the Report. It was not specifically referred to in the recommendations, but a very great improvement, even under the present adverse conditions in Ireland, had taken place since the law gave them lady members of guardians. Their election to the local boards was looked upon somewhat coldly at the start by male members of the boards, but he was bound to say, speaking with practical experience, that the ladies had amply justified the forward movement which had elected them to that service, and they had made their influence felt in many ways; first and chiefly, in ameliorating many of the depressing and unpleasant conditions of workhouse 855 life, and secondly, by bringing skilful attention to the nursing staff of the workhouses and hospitals. In. that connection might he also say that during recent years the class of nurses that had been induced to come forward for those positions had also visibly improved, greatly to the benefit of the patients. Lastly, the question had an important bearing on the great scourge of tuberculosis in Ireland. Many of them were anxious that there should be grants in aid for the provision of the necessary sanatoria in groups of counties. There had been a great revival in the movement on that subject in Ireland during the last six months. He was always glad to acknowledge the impetus which had been given to the movement by the Countess of Aberdeen, and it had been greeted in all parts of Ireland with equal enthusiasm. Branches of the Women's Health Association had been founded in the North and South, and there was great hope that in a very short time those who had been stricken with the disease might get out of their heads the prevailing idea in Ireland that there was practically no hope of recovery. If under such a measure as this it was made permissible for county councils to give a small grant in aid for the provision of sanitoria a most valuable work would be done for the whole country. He regretted exceedingly that they had not had a more definite promise from the Chief Secretary. He hoped, in view of the fact that they were so unanimous in the matter, that the right hon. Gentleman would at least feel it his duty to urge upon the Government that that should be the first legislation for Ireland next session. He said that in all sincerity and with the utmost earnestness. The question of deportment had also been touched upon. Their able-bodied men went to England and Scotland, and if they broke down there, without having secured the necessary settlement, they were packed home to Ireland and had to be supported in the workhouses there. That was a real hardship which would be remedied under the Bill. As regarded lunatic asylums the local boards had been feeling the pressure of the burden of getting them up to the necessarily high standard prevailing in all 856 such institutions. In England, of course, they were conducted at very great expense, but he thought in Ireland they had quite as much efficiency at vastly less expense, and he felt that under a reform such as they were now considering their auxiliary asylums might find suitable habitations in the workhouses and make for still greater and substantial economy. He hoped his hon. and gallant friend would persist in going to a division and he should be most happy to support him.
§ *MR. FETHERSTONHAUGH (Fermanagh, N.)
said the reception of the measure by the Chief Secretary had been a little discouraging. When he was taking the Irish Liberal Party on a personally conducted tour through the North of Ireland last slimmer he advised Irishmen that if they were unanimous on certain matters they would be sure to succeed. Differences were much more common in Ireland than unanimity, but here they had a subject on which, not only were all parties unanimous, but, as was shown by the history given by the hon. Member for Waterford, they had been unanimous for about seventy-five years. It was certainly the only question that he could remember of which anything like that could be said. In 1833 people of such different opinions as the then Lord Castlereagh and Daniel O'Connell were united in their opposition to the Poor Law schemes put forward upon the authority of that execrated individual, Mr. Nicholls. Ever since then every person who had taken any interest in the Poor Law administration in Ireland had been abusing Nicholls, and he had no doubt that had he lived in Ireland he would have been boycotted, but he was wise enough to live in England. Although they had been all the tine objecting to his system a one unsuitable to their country, and although they were now agreed that legislation should be introduced to give effect to the recommendations of the Commission which reported so long ago as October, 1906, when they brought forward a. Bill it did not receive the support which he thought they had a right to expect from the Government. He quite admitted that the Bill was open to considerable criticism. None of them imagined that it 857 was at all perfect or that it would be likely to become law in its present form, but they were not prepared to differ from the views of Gentlemen below the gangway on any mere question of the personnel of the Commission, and that subject might be considered removed from the area of contention. It was necessary to suggest some form for the personnel of the Commission in order that the matter might be discussed, but they had never suggested that it was part of the essentials of the scheme. If any proposal had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford to substitute any other persons for Judges of the High Court they would have been glad to agree to it, and he was certain no opposition would have come from the Judges, because he noticed that the Bill did not provide any remuneration for them. Recognising as he did that the Bill would possibly require very considerable alteration, and possibly that it would be inexpedient or impossible to carry it into law this session, he regretted that the Government did not allow it to go as far as Committee, because by discussing it in Committee they might have learnt a great deal as to the views of different parties in Ireland on matters of detail, and many valuable suggestions, no doubt, would have been made. The Government, apparently, would not take that course, and therefore, although they would go to a division, he supposed there was no prospect of securing the Second Reading. He did not propose to deal with matters of detail, but there was one circumstance which reconciled him to the prospect of the Bill's not becoming law, and that was that he would be glad to see it deal more fully with the position of the Poor Law medical officers, which was a disgrace to civilisation. The matter, which was very fully dealt with in the Report, was one of very urgent importance, and he hoped when the Chief Secretary came to frame his measure next session he would give it careful attention. The conditions under which the medical officers were elected were degrading to medical men, and everyone knew that the best men were not secured owing to local narrowness; what was more serious, they were not free agents, and as a result the administration of the Public 858 Health Acts was in a very miserable condition. They had to complain of the sanitary condition of houses owned by the very people to whom they owed their appointment, two whom they looked for continuance in that employment, and to whom they must crawl if they wanted to get a pension at the end of their service however long and meritorious. These conditions were absolutely fatal to the independence and efficiency of the Poor Law medical officers, and he hoped the Chief Secretary would carefully consider their claims and the interests of the public which were very much sacrificed by existing conditions. They would go to a division to show that they were in earnest in bringing the Bill forward, and he hoped that although the Bill got no further it would not have been in vain that they had called attention to and discussed the matter.
§ MR. MOORE
wanted to say a very few words on the present situation, because undoubtedly there would be very general disappointment in Ireland that no further step had been taken in the matter of these reforms which every section of opinion in Ireland ardently desired. The first and the only practical step that had been recommended by the Commission to which other speakers had referred was the appointment of a temporary Commission, and the only practical step in this Bill was the appointment of such a Commission, and its objects and powers were set out in practically the words of the Viceregal Commission's Report. That Report, which had been so universally praised, stated that nothing practical could ever be done until a temporary Commission had been appointed, held local inquiries, and prepared schemes Whether there was going to be legislation this year or next or in any succeeding year it was perfectly obvious that that House could never pass a cast iron scheme or rules and regulations for schemes in an Act of Parliament which would apply to the varying circumstances in every part of the country. It was perfectly obvious therefore, to any man of experience in the ordinary working of things, that if these reforms were ever to be brought into force it would only be by a local system under which a Commission 859 could go through the country, hold inquiries, and prepare schemes adapted to local needs and approved by local agreement. It being the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega of the Report, that a temporary Commission should be appointed, and that being the practical thing in this Bill, he thought when that was refused they should understand on whose heads the responsibility lay and from whom the objection came. They had heard a good many professions of sympathy for the Bill, and at the same time they found a Member of the Party opposite trying to count out the House. That was a typical example of Liberal sympathy with Irish reform. The objection raised by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford was that no member of the Commission was to be popularly elected. There would have been no difficulty on the part of the promoters in meeting that objection. That was much too small a peg upon which to hang the rejection of the Bill, which was simply proposing to carry out the most practical recommendation of the Viceregal Commission. The Chief Secretary for Ireland did not want the Bill because it came from the Unionist Benches.
§ MR. MOORE
said the only objection the right hon. Gentleman had raised to the Bill was on account of the expense. He did not think the Chief Secretary ought to raise that objection at a time when he was increasing the Irish Estimates by £85,000 and was going to spend another £200,000 on University education in Ireland. The objection taken by the Chief Secretary was that the expenditure under the Bill would be enormous, and that it would be useless. It was true that the period fixed for the Act to remain in operation was five years, but they would in most cases be able to find out in twelve months whether local agreement was likely
§ to be brought about. They might appoint the Commission for one year instead of five, and that might be a perfectly reasonable Amendment to make. As to the objection that it was going to be enormously expensive, he would point out that two out of the five Commissioners would not receive any remuneration at all. He presumed that one member of the Commission would be an experienced Civil servant representing the Local Government Board, and that would leave two members for one year to be paid. If they paid two members of the Commission £600 a year each, £500 to a secretary and allowed £1,000 for expenses, that would amount to £2,700. At any rate, £3,000 would be ample, and that was the enormous sum which the Chief Secretary stated would prevent the Government giving effect to the Bill with the object of which they professed to sympathise. That was a shabby excuse—a flimsy excuse to make for rejecting it, although it was on all fours, and practically word for word, with the Report of the Viceregal Commission. By reason of the attitude of the Government they could not get any farther with the Bill. Disappointed people would still see infirm old paupers herded with an undesirable class, mothers of illegitimate children were still to be allowed to contaminate the virtuous in the same institution, and all the evils about which all those acquainted with the social system of Ireland were crying out would be permitted to go on because this Bill was introduced from the Unionist Benches, and because the Government would not risk a sum of £3,000 to carry out what every thinking man in Ireland desired. They on the Unionist Benches had not been fairly treated. It was one of the many instances in which the Government had turned a deaf ear to an Irish demand.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 35; Noes, 89. (Division List No. 71.)861
|Anstruther-Gray, Major||Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Bignold, Sir Arthur|
|Arkwright, John Stanhope||Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N||Bowles, G. Stewart|
|Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H.||Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Butcher, Samuel Henry|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E||Kimber, Sir Henry||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Corbett, C H (Sussex, E. Grinst'd||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Renton, Major Leslie|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Dublin, S||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Craig, Captain James (Down, E.)||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||MacCaw, William J. MacGeagh||Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||M'Calmont, Colonel James||Younger, George|
|Fletcher, J. S.||Magnus, Sir Philip|
|Gretton, John||Moore, William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Sir|
|Helmsley, Viscount||Morpeth, Viscount||Alexander Acland-Hood and|
|Hunt, Rowland||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens||Viscount Valentia.|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Hudson, Walter||Rowlands, J.|
|Baring, Godfrey (IsleofWight)||Jones, Leif (Appleby)||Runciman, Walter|
|Barker, John||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||Russell, T. W.|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Kekewich, Sir George||Rutherford, V. H. (Brentford)|
|Barnes, G. N.||Kelley, George D.||Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland|
|Barry, Redmond J.(Tyrone, N.)||Laidlaw, Robert||Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)|
|Bennett, E. N.||Lamont, Norman||Scott, A. H. (Ashton under Lyne|
|Bethell, Sir J H.(Essex, Romf'rd||Lough, Thomas||Shaw, Rt. Hon. T. (Hawick B.)|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Macdonald, J.M. (Falkirk B'ghs||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Brigg, John||Maenamara, Dr. Thomas J||Stewart, Halley (Greenock|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Mallet, Charles E.||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Massie, J.||Summerbell, T.|
|Cameron, Robert||Masterman, C. F. G.||Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury|
|Carr-Gomm. H. W.||Menzies, Walter||Torrance, Sir A. M.|
|Causton, Rt. Hn Richard Knight||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Verney, F. W.|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Napier, T. B.||Wadsworth, J.|
|Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doneast'r||Waring, Walter|
|Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Wason, Rt. Hn E (Clackmannan|
|Collins, Sir Wm. J. (S. Pancras. W||O'Grady, J.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney|
|Dobson, Thomas W.||Parker, James (Halifax)||Waterlow, D. S.|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness||Perks, Robert William||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Price, C. E.(Edinb'gh, Central)||White, Luke (York, E. R.)|
|Gill, A. H.||Price, Robert John (Norfolk, E.||Whitehead, Rowland|
|Grant, Corrie||Radford, G. H.||Whitley, John Henry (Halifax)|
|Hart-Davies, T.||Raphael, Herbert H.||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Higham, John Sharp||Rees, J. D.||Wilson. W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Hobart, Sir Robert||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Mr.|
|Hope, John Deans (Fife, W.||Robson, Sir William Snowdon||Whiteley and Mr. Herbert|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Rogers, F. E. Newman||Lewis.|