§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir JOHN LONSDALE
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
In asking the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill it is not necessary for 735 me to argue the question whether a reform of the Poor Law is required. We are all agreed that in Ireland—as in England—very great and-drastic changes should be made in the present system. There is very general agreement, also, as to the main lines upon which reform should proceed. The whole subject has been thoroughly investigated by two Commissions. In Ireland we have had a most valuable Report from the Viceregal Commission, which was appointed in 1903. The inquiry by that Commission extended over three years, and the Commissioners not only examined 743 witnesses, but personally inspected all workhouses, county infirmaries, fever hospitals and other hospitals in Ireland. The Report which they presented is a document of the greatest interest, and I believe it has settled the principles which should guide us in carrying out a reform of the Poor Law. We have also the Report on Ireland of the Royal Commission—which was appointed in 1905, and reported in 1909. This Report, in many respects confirms the conclusions of the Irish Commission. Parliament, therefore, is in possession of the information—and the expert guidance—which are necessary to enable us to legislate effectively.
So far as I am aware, there is no difference of opinion as to the desirability of abolishing the present general workhouse system. This is the recommendation of both Commissions, and it is completely in agreement with the ideas of all Poor Law reformers. It is recognised on every hand that the poor who require public assistance ought not to be herded together in one institution—the sick with the healthy, the children with the aged, the sane with the insane, the moral with the immoral. In fact, the old system stands condemned, and I do not think it will be disputed, that the only satisfactory way of dealing with the different classes of persons who come under the Poor Law is to treat them in separate institutions. The sick should be in hospitals. The consumptives should be placed in sanatoria. The old people, who need special care because of infirmity, should be brought together in almshouses. The insane should be cared for in asylums. Casuals and vagrants should be under discipline in labour houses. Infants should be placed in nurseries; and children should be boarded out. If we are all agreed that this is the direction in which reform should proceed, it only remains for us to decide as to the best method of 736 bringing about the changes we desire. In my opinion, the first fact we have to recognise is that nothing can be done without the assistance of the Government. I feel that we have good reason to blame the present Government for not showing greater readiness to help forward this reform. We had the report of the Viceregal Commission in 1906. Twelve months later the Chief Secretary made a speech in Belfast, in which he declared:—The country is ripe—ripe and ready—for legislation upon the lines of the Report.And the right hon. Gentleman added these words:—If Irish people would only unite upon questions of this kind, instead of disuniting upon other questions, progress could and would be made.The Irish people have united upon this question. Unionists and Nationalists both accept the recommendations of the Commission; and both parties have urged the Government to introduce the necessary legislation. What has been the result? In the Debate on the Address, at the beginning of the Session of 1908, the Chief Secretary declared:—Ireland cannot afford to have her Poor Law reform delayed.And yet, when my hon. and gallant Friend, the Member for East Down (Captain Craig) presented his Bill for the reform of the Poor Law, on 3rd April, 1908, the Government refused to allow it to proceed. At the same time we were led to expect by the Chief Secretary that a Bill, proceeding upon the same lines, should be the first measure to receive the attention of Parliament in the next Session. But when the next Session arrived, and the Prime Minister was reminded of the Chief Secretary's words—what did he say? We were told that we must wait for the Report of the Royal Commission. It was, I think, the first occasion upon which the Prime Minister used his favourite formula of "Wait and see."
We tried several times during that Session to get the Government to tell us what they meant to do. At last the hon. Member for Kilkenny, the Chief Whip of the Nationalist Party, came forward with a proposal that a Commission should be appointed, as recommended by the Viceregal Commission—so that a thorough reform of the Poor Law might immediately be taken in hand.The hon. Member and his party refused to support our Bill of 1908, which proposed to set up a Commission, and yet, twelve months later, they come forward 737 with the same proposal as if it were a new discovery. What did the Chief Secretary say to the suggestion? He said very much the same as he said a year before to my hon. and gallant Friend. His answer was that it would not be possible for a Commission to do anything until it had been decided whether county rating should be substituted for union rating for Poor Law purposes. That, no doubt, is a very important question, but surely it is capable of solution. It ought not to be permitted to prevent any steps being taken to carry out these reforms. The Government have three alternatives to choose from. They have, first, union rating, as at present. They have, next, county rating for all purposes—as recommended by the English Commission. And they have, in the third place, county rating for some purposes and union rating for others—which is the recommendation of the Irish Commission. I should have thought the recommendation of the Viceregal Commission offered the best method of solving this question. But, in any case, surely the Government have had time during the last four years to arrive at a conclusion on this point! We have had hints from time to time, during the last throe years, that the Government were preparing their own Bill on this subject. I should like to know whether the Chief Secretary intends to give us any information about these proposals this afternoon. Of course, I do not expect him to submit his Bill to the House with any expectation of carrying it into law this Session. Personally, I think it would be far better for Ireland if the Government were to drop the Home Rule Bill and give us a Bill to reform the Poor Law instead. [An HON. MEMBER: "It would take less time."] Yes, less time might be required. But, I suppose, the Chief Secretary, however much he might desire to do that, could not get the hon. and learned Member for Waterford to consent to such a change of programme.
What the right hon. Gentleman can do, is to give us an outline of the Government proposals with regard to Poor Law reform, so that we may compare them with our scheme and decide which should be adopted. I may say that we are not absolutely tied to the details of this Bill. We want to see something done, and we put this measure forward as a practical step in the direction of reform.
If the Government can convince us there is a better way we shall be quite prepared to adopt it, but do let us get forward 738 without any more delay. It is of no use to tell us that we must wait for this matter to be dealt with by an Irish Parliament. The Government might just as well say that they intend to postpone the question till the Greek Kalends. In the first place, we do not expect to see an Irish Parliament in our time. And, in the next place, a Home Rule Parliament would have no money for Poor Law reform, and would have other things to think about. I think we ought to face the fact at once that no scheme of Poor Law reform will be acceptable to the people of Ireland which does not relieve the rates.
I happen to know that among those who are now responsible for local government in Ireland there is a strong suspicion that the changes proposed would entail considerably increased burdens upon the ratepayers. It will be an indispensable part of any scheme that there should be a large and generous measure of assistance from the State.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
Wait and see. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of expressing his view later.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
Another question which arises is whether we ought to make a clean sweep of our present system. Personally, I do not think we should. So far as I have been able to understand the Reports of the Viceregal Commission and the Royal Commission, I think that would be a great mistake. In my opinion we should retain what has been found to be useful, and endeavour to build it into the new system. Some reference was made in the Viceregal Report of the importance of changing the terminology of the Poor Law. I do not see that any practical advantage would result from changing the terminology of the Poor Law. For example, I do not see why we should drop the name—"guardian of the poor"—and substitute for it the new term—"Public Assistance Authority." Speaking generally, I think the guardians of the poor in Ireland have done their work well, and have endeavoured to combine the kindly office of relieving the necessities of the poor with the guardianship of the public purse. The present Poor Law officials, also, have done good work, and I can heartily endorse the opinion of the Commission, that "in no public department 739 can abler and more zealous men be found than among the Poor Law officials of Ireland." In any change which may be made care must be taken to treat these officials not only with consideration, but with generosity. Their services should be retained as far as possible, their experience should be consulted, and their interests should be safeguarded. These remarks apply equally to the medical men, who are associated with Poor Law administration. I should like to see the longstanding question of pensions for dispensary doctors settled in a way that would be satisfactory to them. With the large question of a State medical service we have not felt ourselves able to deal in this Bill. That is clearly a matter which must be taken in hand by the Government. But this Bill does not prejudice the question in any way.
Let me state, briefly, what it is we actually propose in this Bill. We propose to set up a temporary Commission—and as hon. Members will observe from the memorandum attached to the Bill—we have founded our proposal upon the model of the Educational Endowments Act of 1885. The Commission which was appointed under that Act was able to settle very difficult questions relating to endowed schools in Ireland; and we do not see why a similar body should not be able to deal with Poor Law reform. There would be five Commissioners. Two of them would be judges—and three would be "persons of experience in local administration in Ireland." It is intended that the Judicial Commissioners should be named in the Bill; but the Assistant Commissioners would be appointed by the Lord Lieutenant. The Judicial Commissioners would not receive salaries, under this Bill; but it would be necessary for Parliament to vote money for the salaries and expenses of the Assistant Commissioners and their staff. Hon. Members will find the duties of this body set out in Clause 6 of the Bill. They would be empowered to draw up schemes for bringing into operation the recommendations of the Viceregal Commission. It is suggested that the schemes for rearrangement would be carried out county by county, and, for some purposes, by groups of counties. It is obviously desirable that in any rearrangement that may take place, the co-operation, both of the Local Government Board, and of the local authorities should be secured. We have endeavoured 740 to establish this co-operation by making provision for local inquiries being held by the Commissioners; and for every opportunity being given to the Local Government Board and the local authorities to submit their own proposals for the consideration of the Commissioners.
We propose that the public should be fully informed as to the details of every proposal; and the Bill provides for ample opportunity feeing given for suggesting amendments to the schemes drawn up by the Commissioners. The object of the Commissioners would be to carry public approval with them every step of the way, and we think the machinery of this Bill is designed to accomplish that object. I do not think I need explain all the procedure through which schemes would have to pass, but I may say that, finally, they come before the Lord Lieutenant in Council for approval. If that approval is given, then the scheme has all the force of an Act of Parliament and the local authorities concerned are bound to give effect to it. Clause 23 makes an important change in the law. It provides that poor persons, after six months' residence in Great Britain, cannot be removed to become chargeable to the rates in Ireland. This is a change which has long been demanded, to redress the one-sided arrangement, under which Irish-born destitute persons could be removed from Great Britain into Ireland: while the Irish authorities were unable to send back to Great Britain, inhabitants of England. Wales, or Scotland, who became chargeable to the rates in Ireland. The chief objection which was raised to this Bill in 1908 was that the machinery was impracticable. Personally I do not attach very much importance to that criticism—in the absence of any alternative scheme. But there is another objection which I think is entitled to some consideration.
It is suggested that the powers given to the Commissioners of framing schemes which will be compulsory upon local authorities, are too wide. It is held by some—to whose opinion I personally attach great importance—that the duties of the Commission should be limited to preparing schemes for each county in Ireland with an estimate of the cost in each case, and it should be left optional to the ratepayers of each county to say whether the scheme should be adopted. In other words the ratepayers in each locality would have a power to veto any scheme if they did not regard it as satisfactory. 741 It is quite possible that in some counties the new system might be more expensive than the present one. Take my own county, for example—the county of Armagh. It is probable that in that case—if the recommendations of the Viceregal Commission were carried into effect, it would be necessary to build two new and expensive buildings, and provide staffs of officials for five institutions, instead of three as at present. In other counties, of course, there might be no difficulty in showing that the new scheme would result in greater economy in the rates. But it would be a hardship upon the ratepayers if they were to be forced to embark on a much more expensive scheme; therefore I think this is a point which should receive very careful consideration. As I said before, we do not put this Bill forward as one which should be adopted as it stands without alterations. We are quite willing that it should be amended in Committee; and we hope that the Government will join with us in taking a step forward in the direction of carrying into effect this great reform, which is so urgently required in the interests of the people of Ireland.
§ Mr. MOORE
I beg to second the Motion.
I do not think I have ever come across a Bill so small, so very non-contentious, so very harmless in its scope from beginning to end, which would bring about such disproportionately splendid results. This is not an experiment. Many private Members' Bills brought forward on Fridays are in the nature of experiments, but this Bill deals with a matter which has been fully and carefully investigated by a Viceregal Commission. They held sittings throughout the country; they went carefully into the matter at local inquiries, which are the best of all inquiries; they heard the evidence for and against; and they have summarised at the end of their report the recommendations they have made. The important thing is that they agree—and any Member conversant with the subject will concur with them—that for practical purposes none of those recommendations can be carried out unless you have a temporary commission appointed to set the scheme in working order. You cannot have by private bill legislation here an Act for every poor law union or for every county in Ireland saying what workhouses are to be closed or what areas are to be arranged. That can be done only by inquiries on the spot, and those in- 742 quiries can best be carried out by a temporary travelling commission which will hear all parties for and against. All this Bill proposes is to carry out the practical as distinguished from the theoretical recommendations of the Viceregal Commission and to set up a Commission. Nobody will be bound to accept the findings of that Commission. Provision is made in the Bill that if the report or the scheme of that Commission meets with opposition that opposition can be heard. It can even be heard in this House. The appointment of the Commission does not involve the House in any way in the acceptance of any single scheme until it comes forward to be considered in the proper way on its merits. I suggest, therefore, that not only is the object of the Bill non-contentious, but that the Bill provides non-contentious machinery for carrying out that non-contentious object. Irish Members below the Gangway frequently accuse us Irish Unionist Members of never doing anything and of having no aspirations for the social progress of our country. They are the paragons, the owners of all the virtues. We have taken this subject up year after year. Since the year 1907 we have always put this subject first in the ballot. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about 1906?"] We had to wait for the Report of the Viceregal Commission. There is an instance of the tone adopted by hon. Members below the Gangway.
§ Mr. MOORE
We got an early place in the ballot in 1908. Let the House notice what happened. The Bill was moved by the hon. and gallant Member for East Down (Captain Craig). He stated his case, dealing with it as an uncontentious subject, with excellent force and clearness, upon which he was complimented in the Debate. But hon. Members below the Gangway bitterly resent the idea that Irish Unionist Members should be allowed to do anything in this House. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. J. Redmond) paid the usual lip-service: "This is a splendid Bill; we all agree with its objects; everybody in Ireland wants Poor Law reform; but unfortunately I cannot go into the Lobby in support of the Bill"—why? All this praise for the object of the Bill and his tribute to the public spirit of the Irish Unionist Members went by the board when the hon. and learned Member stated 743 that he could not vote for the Second Reading because the Commission was to contain two judicial members. That was the ground of principle on which he objected to the Second Reading.
§ Mr. MOORE
It was a Committee point. The hon. and learned Member was told, "If you do not like the judicial members, get them from somewhere else. That is not vital to the Bill. Appoint your own Commissioners." That was the excuse of the Nationalist party for not supporting the Bill. Then the Chief Secretary got up and, taking his cue from the Nationalist Members then as he does today, said that it was an excellent Bill, but an expensive one, and he would not feel justified in incurring the expense. What is the expense? A temporary Commission with three paid Commissioners. If you paid them £600 a year each and gave them a secretary with another £600, the whole cost, including the rent of offices and travelling expenses, would not exceed £3,000. That was the ground on which the Chief Secretary refused to support the Bill.
§ Mr. MOORE
It was the main ground. But even the right hon. Gentleman felt the pinch, because he said that he would undertake, as far as he possibly could, if we did not press the Bill, to bring in a Bill in the next year to deal with the whole subject. That was the second Member of the Coalition. All that was then wanted was a Member from the Labour Benches. The representative of the Labour party said, "It is a most excellent Bill; we quite concur with its objects; but inasmuch as the Chief Secretary has promised to bring in a Bill next year, if you go to a Division we shall vote against you." And so we lost our Bill. The Nationalist Members walked out rather than support Poor Law reform when brought forward by Irish Unionist Members; the Chief Secretary voted against it on the ground of expense, promising to bring in another Bill next Session; and the Labour Members voted against it because the Chief Secretary had promised legislation for the next year. That was the beginning of it. We did not get legislation in the following years, notwithstanding the almost explicit, indeed 744 the explicit, promise of the Chief Secretary that he personally would use his best endeavours for us. I do not know whether or not he did this; we know we did not get the legislation. We were in 1910 again successful in the ballot. This Bill was put down for a day, I think the third Friday in April. When that April day came the Government of the day found it absolutely necessary that it should be taken from private Members for Government business. There was no protest from Irish Nationalist Members below the Gangway against that day being taken away from Poor Law reform for Ireland to suit the convenience of the Government. A Labour Member had a Motion for the preceding Friday, and he was allowed to keep his day. I do not know what the Chief Secretary did, or whether he was consulted, but he should have drawn the attention of the Prime Minister to the importance of this matter, so that he might have had his personal pledge redeemed. But the Coalition seemed to acquiesce, and we lost our day again. That is the treatment of the three sections of the Coalition of this Bill.
To-day we shall have the same professions of lip-service for the objects of the Bill. We shall be told what a beautiful Bill it is. I am perfectly satisfied we shall either have hon. Members in the Lobby against us, or a number of hon. Members will walk out. The result will be the same, the carrying out of the Government's principle, and the principle of the Coalition, to see to it that Irish Unionist Members are not allowed to carry remedial legislation for Ireland in this House lest they should get a particle of credit for it in their own country. That does not deter me from action. I should like to see this Bill brought forward every Session. The Chief Secretary will now give as an additional reason against the Bill that Ireland is going to get Home Rule, and that a Home Rule Parliament can settle this matter for themselves. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Well, you will not have Home Rule for two years on 9th May. This is a clamant matter; and it will have to wait for two years. And that carries with it the assumption that the very first thing the next Home Rule Parliament will do is to appoint a Poor Law Reform Commission. I concur in what the hon. Baronet said that the new Parliament would have their hands quite full of other matters—
§ Mr. MOORE
I cannot go into them for it would not be relevant, but I think the hon. Member knows what my views are, and has little doubt of what I mean. As we stand to-day this Bill is the touchstone practically of the sincerity of hon. Members when they profess their desire to have Poor Law administration altered in Ireland. My hon. Friend has made some reference to this Bill as being in the nature of a revolution. I do not look upon it at all in the nature of a revolution. I do not look to this Bill as making sweeping changes, and altering the whole existing state of things. Perhaps I might give a practical illustration of what I think this Bill will be useful for. In a certain district in Ireland there are, in an area of fifteen square miles, three workhouses, all with their separate staffs—master, matron, labour master, medical officer, etc., and separate administrations. Each have their various wards for children, old folk, etc. In the case of one of the workhouses, owing to the changes in the population, there is little to do; still the staff is kept there. The Bill would put these three existing workhouses into the scheme, with a process of segregation and separation of the vicious from the unfortunate; would put into one of the houses the poor people there through no fault of their own, put the vagrants and the tramps into another house, the infirm into another portion, and you might turn some of the buildings into sanatoria, use other parts for the feeble-minded, and so on. You would only need one schoolmaster for the children instead of three, one labour master for the tramps and vagrants, and the general result would be a great local economy through the lessening of the staffs. For it is much better, say, for the children to be brought up together, just as it is much better to have a big school instead of a small one. The whole effect would be better. It would be good for the inmates, a great saving in administrative expenses, and a great saving to the ratepayers. The administration would be carried on, too, in practically the same way and by the same people as are carrying it on to-day. There are proposals in the Bill that the county council should be treated as the chief unit in the county. There is no reason why the county council should not, by their committees, composed of local people on the spot, and who run various institutions, do the work suggested by the Bill. That is a practical instance which occurs to me which would enable you under the scheme of this 746 Bill to have great savings effected and to give great comfort and advancement to the well-being of those unfortunate people who for one cause or another find themselves dependent upon public relief. If that was the only good you could do it would justify this Bill. This Bill cannot excite any angry feeling. The Bill provides compensation for anybody who may be affected by the changes made. Of course, you may have to alter the existing areas. If you put the three areas I spoke of into one scheme the existing areas would have to be altered, and of course the Commission, as a local Commission alone can do, would have to say what is fair and equitable. Nothing in this Bill can be arrived at without local consent, and I am free to admit the only thing against the Bill is that if there is no local consent the Bill is useless. I recognise that. I admit that if the local committees do not agree the Bill is waste paper. That is the worst that can be said about it. But why should they not he given a chance of agreeing. If it becomes law the cost is a matter that would not be felt in the Estimates of the year. Run the Commission for a year and see if it justifies its existence. It will cost about £3,000, and I think it is well worth the expenditure when you remember that you will not be able to carry out a single recommendation of the Viceregal Commission until you appoint a local Commission of one kind or another to prepare a scheme under which the Viceregal Commission's recommendations can be carried out. I say this is an eminently simple and practical matter. It does not commit the House to any principle in any of the schemes which may be formulated hereafter. It commits the House to nothing, but it gives a practical chance to work out the Report of this Commission in the only way it can be done. I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill moved by the hon. Baronet.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I desire at the earliest moment to state very shortly to the House the reasons, which I think have already been made clear from speeches made, why the Government cannot support the Second Reading of this Bill. Of course this matter naturally and properly enough raises three questions, the first and the one most immediately relevant to our discussions to-day is the Bill itself—I will say something about that in a moment— 747 then there is the question of the general state of the Poor Law in Ireland, and I may say in this country also, and the great necessity for dealing with it as soon as may be in a drastic manner: that, I think, we are all agreed about; and, thirdly, there is the other point, namely, the lamentable delay—and you may press that point against me personally if you like—which has arisen in dealing with this question in Ireland since the Viceregal Commission sat, and also the Royal Commission with its special Report in regard to Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down made a complaint against me to the effect that when this exact Bill came before the House in 1908 I gave some sort of assurance that that measure and the whole subject treated under this Bill might be dealt with in the next year. I expressed that hope in April, 1908, and when I was held to it more particularly and quite properly by the hon. and gallant Member who introduced the Bill, in a speech which pleased me very much and which I well remember and still desire to speak highly of—when he said, "If such a promise has been made by the Chief Secretary I certainly accept it at once," I replied:—Of course, I am not in a position to make a definite promise, because I have no control over the business of the House. What I said was I would try my very best to accomplish that purpose.And I went on to say:—I am very confident I shall succeed, but further than that I cannot go.I admit that in the circumstances, well-known in all of the year 1909, it was not within my power to press on my colleagues the propriety of devoting, to a highly contentious subject, although a most important subject, the time that would be required to do justice to it, and I am bound to confess that when I put myself into close communication with the Department specially concerned in Ireland with this business, I found that perhaps I had underrated the great difficulties that existed in Ireland itself as to dealing with this question in this happy spirit of agreement.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make my observations without interruption I will go on, and if in the end I do not succeed in making myself plain I shall be glad to supplement 748 them by giving any further information I can. I was saying my advisers in the Local Government Board are very strongly of opinion that whilst everybody in Ireland is agreed that the present Poor Law system does require most substantial alteration, and although most people are agreed in the main as to the recommendations of the Viceregal and Royal Commissions, there is still great difference of opinion upon the one vital subject, namely, the county areas. Are you going to have a county area dealing with the whole of the Poor Law or union areas and union rates? People say of course you ought to abolish the union areas and have a county area, which will enable you to place the burden of the poor upon the shoulders of the whole county, making the rich unions, which at present get off lightly, pay more, and making the poor unions pay less. I agree. But I answer hon. Members that they make an entire mistake if they imagine that that is a matter that would not require to be fought out across the floor of the House, and for hon. Members to get up now and talk not sentimentally but truthfully about the various points on which we are all agreed and to ignore altogether those points on which the most violent disagreement will be found to exist, is to trifle with the question. I do not say because people differ upon this matter we must not press it forward and crush out opposition, but it must be done on the floor of the House.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
From the counties. I dare say the hon. Baronet never heard of it. We have been framing our measures for years and we have found that difference of opinion to exist in the strongest possible way.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
I reciprocate the pious sentiment, but from all I have heard, at what people call the Customs House, which is the head centre of the Irish Local Government Board, I am prepared to say if we could assume this matter of county 749 areas was admitted by everybody, by the county authorities and by the electors likely to be effected by that question, I could within a couple of months produce what would be the basis upon which the whole of this important measure of reform and the non-controversial subjects referred to in the two Reports could be introduced in the form of a Bill. I would tell hon. Members opposite they had better go back to Ireland and find out for themselves whether this opposition does exist, and inquire particularly into the matter, and then if they can say it has ceased to exist, that they have never heard of it and that all the wealthy unions are panting to have their rates increased to relieve the poor unions from their heavy rates, then there might be some justification for their position. It is all very well to come here and say "bother finance, nobody's rates will be increased by a single penny." The hon. Baronet said the people in Ireland were panting to carry out these reforms to segregate and classify the inmates of the workhouses and to deal with the poor children—I am happy to say there are very few of the children left, but it is terrible to think that there is even one child living in these workhouse yards—all these things are very well, but these reforms cannot be carried out on the basis that nobody's rates will be increased, and the British Treasury will come forward with an ample grant which will leave everybody in Ireland no worse off in their pockets and a great deal better off in their minds because they will be relieved of the burden of thinking that these things will continue to go on. That is not business. It is no use going on in that way or introducing a Bill on that footing, and you must deal with it on the footing that the rates are going to be increased.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The hon. Baronet created by his speech the impression that the rates would not be increased, and that everything was to be done out of the public purse. On that footing I agree nobody in Ireland need worry a bit about the details of anything. If you are going to carry out that idea you do not need to bother about county or union areas because it is understood that nobody is to be a penny worse off in their pockets at the end of the year. I must now say a word or two about the Bill. It is no pleasure to me to find fault with this Bill, 750 and I repudiate most vehemently the notion that I resent Ulster Members getting the credit for everything they have accomplished. I went out of my way to compliment the hon. and gallant Member for East Down because of his anxious and laborious connection with the heating and cleaning of the schools. I do not think I am so ungenerous as to withhold praise where it is due. I only wish I could compliment hon. Members opposite upon the drafting of this Bill. I imagine from his speech that the hon. Member who seconded this Bill has had something to do with drafting it, and he described it as a small, non-contentious, and harmless measure, and another hon. Member described it as a magnificent Bill. I do not think it is particularly small. I do not think it is non-contentious, and, so far as it would do anything at all, I believe it would do harm. I certainly see no magnificence about it. The hon. Member did not describe the machinery of the Bill, and I do not wonder at it, because it is one of the most complicated bits of machinery that I ever came across in my whole life. Talk about Home Rule, it is nothing to the enormous number of steps and limitations in time that are in this Bill. Look at the whole scheme of the Bill. It is said to be based on the model of the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Act, 1885, a kind of Act I am very familiar with in England. That Act was introduced to deal with endowments for education, to alter the form of administration, and to secure that those ancient endowments should be better administered for educational purposes having regard to the founders' intention. That was very properly a judicial commission. It was essential to have lawyers upon it, and that lawyers should have control over it, and that no report should go forth that had not the sanction of legal minds. Even they had to face enormous difficulties, and it has taken years and years to carry out their schemes. The hon. Member who drafted this Bill comes along and asks us to take up the analogy of the Educational Endowments (Ireland) Act, and declares that there shall be a Commission in which the two judges are to be named. I notice they are left blank in the Bill, and I do not know who is to name them.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
Thank you. I notice there is no salary to be given. Clause 6 of the Bill having established these persons 751 with their clerks and all that, makes other provisions. I am not going to dwell upon the expense, but it would be considerable, although I do not say it would be any very vast sum. The Assistant Commissioners are to be persons who have had experience, that is local experience, in Ireland, but they cannot be persons connected with the Local Government Board, because that Board comes, or might come, into very violent collision with these gentlemen who are to go about the country dividing these workhouses and segregating the inmates and deciding questions affecting the children. Clause 6 provides:—Subject to the provisions hereinafter contained the Commissioners shall have power to prepare draft schemes suggesting the areas which should be assigned to various institutions other than hospitals, that is to say, sanatoria for consumptives, almshouses, nurseries, auxiliary lunatic asylums, institutions for sane epileptics, and labour houses; for the reapportionment of Parliamentary grants in aid of local taxation, for the employment of Poor Law officials whose services would be retained, for the employment of such other officials as may be deemed necessary, and for the compensation of officials whose services would be dispensed with, for the reconstitution of the Poor Law official service, for the closing of any existing institution used for any purpose of the Poor Law service, or for adapting the land or buildings of any such institution for the purposes of such a scheme, for the adjustment of accounts between local authorities affected by such scheme, and for carrying out the adjustment of such other matters as are incidental to the scheme proposed, and such schemes may be prepared either for a single county or for such groups of counties as the Commissioners may determine.[An HON. MEMBER: "Oh, oh!"] The hon. Baronet opposite pooh-poohs that statement.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Baronet to exhibit the same amount of patience that was shown to him while he was speaking.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
I have not the slightest intention of interfering with the right hon. Gentleman, except when he 752 makes a statement which does not correctly represent what I said and what are my views. I think it is only right, and it has always been the custom under such circumstances for hon. Members to get up.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member had limited himself to that, I should not have objected, but ever since the Chief Secretary rose he has kept up a running commentary upon almost every sentence, and that really makes Debate quite impossible. It is not fair. The hon. Member was not treated in that way; he was listened to quite respectfully and patiently, and he ought to show the same courtesy to others.
§ Sir J. LONSDALE
This is the first time since I came into the House that I have been accused of showing a want of courtesy to anybody, and I really venture respectfully to say that I have not been interrupting continually during the speech of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It is no use my bandying words with the hon. Gentleman. That is the impression he produced upon me. I have had to call for order at least a dozen times.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The hon. Baronet, if I may be allowed to say so, is in ordinary circumstances one of the most courteous of men, but I am bound to say his interruptions rather did irritate me a little while I was endeavouring to make my reply. There is such a thing as being perfectly courteous and yet a little discourteous in the course of Debate. I should not for a moment imagine he was treating me with discourtesy intentionally. Then the Clause goes on:—Such schemes may consolidate or divide all existing Poor Law institutions or remove any of them to different localities, or authorise any local authority or governing body of such institutions to discontinue their authority or control over such institutions, or alter the constitution of such local authority so far as it is a governing body of such institution, or unite two or more existing governing bodies, or transfer such institution from one governing body to another, or establish new governing bodies for such institutions as may be desirable, and incorporate the governing bodies, and vest property for the purposes of this Act in such governing bodies.753 Here is a Bill which, in my opinion, sets up a wholly unsuitable Commission, roving all over the country, taking upon itself all these duties I have just read, every one of which bristles with local difficulties and the possibilities of local dissension; and then the hon. and learned Member says, "I quite agree the weakness of this Bill is such that it must come to nothing unless these people all agree." Human nature being what it is, Poor Law institutions being what they are, and the jealousies between districts in Ireland being what they are, can any human being suppose you will find that complete agreement which the hon. and learned Gentleman desiderates and admits is an absolute necessity if this Bill is to work? Then he says, "Oh, never mind; do not be so suspicious. Run it for a year and see what happens." I cannot take away judges from their high judicial duties and send them roving all over the country simply on the chance that after a year disagreements may become so obvious that the thing would have to be destroyed. That really cannot be said to be business. I agree that every opportunity is given most punctiliously to everybody to come in and interfere. There is a series of periods of two months between the time the Commission first hold their public examination and inquiry and the preparation of their scheme. Then they make a draft scheme, and they issue that draft scheme and send it to the Local Government Board for their consideration and discussion.
The Local Government Board can differ, and they probably and very likely would differ, from many of these schemes. It then goes back to the Commission to say whether the objections of the Local Government Board are good or bad, and the Local Government Board may find themselves overruled in a matter on which they, at all events, are certain to think they have far better knowledge and better means of knowing than these outside gentlemen. After that, the scheme is sent to the Lord Lieutenant. The Lord Lieutenant, before he deals with it, gives the people two months in which to object, and, after the expiration of that two months, the Lord Lieutenant in Council may, if he thinks fit, provisionally approve the scheme or remit it, back again; and then, as soon as he provisionally approves of it, he must publish a notice that the scheme 754 has been provisionally approved by him, and unless within two months after the first publication of such scheme a petition is presented to him, it is to go before Parliament. It goes before Parliament, and Parliament may, I presume, if it likes, express its own opinion upon the subject. Then, finally, all these several periods, amounting to something like eight months, the thing may possibly, or may not, become law. A petition may be presented finally against it in this House, and I am bound to say I think there will be as many petitions against it as there are counties in Ireland. The whole trouble and difficulties of dealing with a business of this sort are slurred over, and, when one comes to consider such difficulties as these, it is madness to suppose you can get over them by agreement.
I agree you have to take everybody's views into consideration, but you must first lay down the principles on which you propose to act, and I say those principles, so far as I am concerned, involve county areas, and they involve, I think, the abolition of boards of guardians, and other matters, all of which are stated in black and white in the Viceregal Report and in the very admirable Report of the Royal Commission. We have got to face these difficulties, I agree, as soon as we can find time, and the sooner I dare say the better, but the notion that this Bill would do anything but raise trouble, excite local discord, and eventually come to nothing—the notion that it could by any possibility deal in a satisfactory manner with this vexed question is, it appears to me, utterly impossible to believe. The Bill is an attempt to deal by consultation and agreement with every kind of local authority all over Ireland as to the best mode of destroying their authority and dividing their property, and it can never be done in that manner by a roving Commission, which goes about it before it has settled the main principle upon which any such reforms as these depend. I am therefore very sorry—I should have been very glad if a Bill of this sort could possibly by any degree of amendment have been made one to deal with this question, because it would save me a great deal of trouble—but it is because I am certain it is an absolutely impossible measure that I find it impossible to support it.
§ Mr. DILLON
This is a most extraordinary Debate, one of the most singular I have ever assisted at in this House. It has been opened by two Members from Ireland, who exhibited a most extraordinary ignorance of the elementary facts of the Irish situation, and then comes an Englishman and shows that he knows a great deal more about Ireland than the two Irish Members. It is from one point of view, I confess, a rather painful experience to me, because the two Irishmen made a very strong case against Home Rule by showing how you can live in Ireland all your life and still be extraordinarily ignorant of the elements of the situation in that country, and then, as I say, an Englishman comes along who shows he really does thoroughly understand the difficulties that have to be dealt with. The two hon. Members who introduced this Bill have represented it as an entirely non-controversial, simple little measure that might be passed without any expenditure of time at all and by general agreement. They did that, as was pointed out, by the Chief Secretary, by a very simple process, by stating the objects as to which all parties in Ireland are agreed and slurring over and ignoring the difficulties that lie in the path of obtaining those objects. I think the history of Poor Law reform in Ireland is just one of the strongest arguments that can be made for the necessity of Home Rule, because I take leave to say the two hon. Members who introduced this Bill thought this an extraordinarily difficult subject to deal with. It is a subject which bristles with contentious points, and contentious points of the most difficult character to deal with. They are not party points, but points of principle, which cut across parties and raise every kind of complicated difficulty. It is a subject which has been urgent for a great number of years. There has, for at least twenty-five years, been a general agreement that action should be taken on it. It has long been the opinion that it is necessary to have some revolutionary reform of the Poor Law. We have never in Ireland really absolutely accepted the English Poor Law. It was forced on us many years ago, in spite of our protest. We have never liked it; it has never taken root in Ireland; it has never become an accepted part of our social organisation.
But when you look into the Bill, when you come to consider the method by which these two hon. Members propose to deal 756 with this complicated subject, I must confess my opinion is that a more preposterous proposal was never submitted to the House of Commons. A roving Commission of an unsuitable character is to be let loose on Ireland to do practically what they please, with absolutely no guidance whatever as to the principles on which they are to act. The question of finance has been dealt with by the Mover and Seconder in most extraordinary fashion—one taking one line and the other an entirely opposite line. I will deal with that later on. The Commission, it is proposed, should be composed of two judges, who are to have no salaries. I fear you will have to look a long time for judges in Ireland who will undertake this work without salaries. [An HON. MEMBER "They may have nothing else to do."] In the case of judges in Ireland, according to my experience, it is a case of hard labour—they want an eight-hour day to limit their terrible labours. But suppose you do get two judges, could a more unsuitable body be imagined? They are to rove all over the country and to practically revolutionise the present system without any guidance as to the principles on which they are to act. We have been told that everybody is agreed as to the object in view. We are agreed, no doubt, as to the desirability of doing away with the present system and substituting some thing better for it, but one can hardly call that being agreed upon the principles of this Bill. The Chief Secretary has raised questions of extraordinary difficulty. Let us take one which would have to be faced immediately—the question of the union or the county rate. On that many difficulties arise in connection with local government in Ireland, and there is also the question of the union versus the divisional rate. Then, too, there is the question of medical reform. I have been for thirty years a student of the reform of the Poor Law medical service in Ireland. That reform will, I believe, be greatly facilitated by the National Insurance Act. But the present position of the Poor Law is, in my opinion, a disgraceful instance of the incapacity of this House to deal with Irish problems. There is another side of that question. In some respects the delay has not been without advantage—
Attention called at Half-past One of the clock to the fact that forty Members were not present. House was told by Mr. SPEAKER, and nineteen Members only being 757 present, Mr. Speaker retired from the Chair until Four of the clock, when the House was again told by Mr. SPEAKER, and fifteen Members only being present, the House was adjourned by Mr. SPEAKER, without a Question first put, till Monday next.
§ Adjourned at Four o'clock till Monday next, the 13th instant.