§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Birrell)
This is a Bill of two Clauses which was rendered necessary by the action of the War Office as soon as the War broke out in requiring from the Irish Local Government Board the possession and use for the accommodation of troops of Irish workhouses. The one thing of which Ireland enjoys a plethora is empty workhouses. We were able to furnish the War Office with a list of thirty workhouses in different parts of the country with less than 100 inmates, and to place them at their disposal without any hardship to the poor. In anticipation of the provisions of this Bill, the paupers have already been boarded out or placed in other workhouses. That is an illegal proceeding. Under an Act passed in 1847 no pauper can be placed in any union except his or her own, and consequently I have 1259 to come to the House with this Bill to get an indemnity for illegalities already committed, and also security that I shall not be guilty of an illegality in allowing this action to be continued. I am glad that by this means one difficulty in the way of Poor Law union reform in Ireland will be removed, because we have far too many workhouses, and it is desirable that we should allow some workhouses to be used as lunatic asylums, and the like. But the immediate object of the Bill is that, notwithstanding Section 9 of the Act of 1847, the action which I described should be carried out.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I must disagree with the right hon. Gentleman that that is the sole effect of the Bill, though it is its sole object, The Bill goes a great deal further than that. I have no objection whatever to the Bill as outlined by the right hon. Gentleman, but have considerable objection to the Bill as drafted. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the object of the Bill is to allow the workhouses which are unoccupied to be handed over for the housing of the troops, and to provide that the paupers, who might possibly have been in the workhouses, should be lodged in other workhouses. To that I have no objection. The Bill goes much further than that. It gives power to the Local Government Board for Ireland to modify or repeal for any purpose in connection with the present War, or for the better administration of the Poor Law Relief Ireland Acts, 1838 to 1900. That, I maintain, gives power to the Irish Local Government Board to alter the whole of the Poor Law in Ireland without coming to this House. Further, Sub-section 2 provides that an order under this Section may contain such consequential, incidental and supplementary provisions, including provisions as to remuneration and superannuation of officers—what has that got to do with the War or the moving of troops into workhouses?—as the board may deem necessary, and shall have effect as from any date subsequent to the 1st day of August, 1914, which may be specified therein for the purpose. This is a Bill which must be amended to bring it into conformity with the right hon. Gentleman's description, and therefore I shall put down an Amendment to leave out Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 and also to leave out all those lines of Sub-section (1) which give power to the Board to modify or repeal anything which they deem necessary or expedient for any 1260 purpose in connection with the present War or for the better administration of the Poor Law Relief Ireland Act. After what the right hon. Gentleman has said as to the object of introducing this Bill I am sure that it will be quite impossible for him to refuse to accept my Amendment.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The hon. Baronet has listened to one half of my speech and not to the other, for I said that I was very glad that the result of bringing in this Bill would be to enable us hereafter to deal with the workhouses which had been disused and handed over for other purposes, and after the paupers had been removed we should be able to deal with them in a rational and sensible manner hereafter. Though we can deal with the hon. Baronet's Amendment when it is put on the Paper, still in the course of this midnight reflection I would ask him to bear in mind that, if we are to take the paupers out of these workhouses, and remove them to other places, after the War is over it would be perfectly impossible to restore those paupers to the practically abandoned workhouse, and it would be most desirable to avail ourselves of that opportunity for the purpose of making a reform which has been the subject-matter of absolute agreement in a Poor Law Report to this House, which was fully considered, and which recommended that this course should be adopted.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I quite understood, from what the right hon. Gentleman said, that he was going to make an alteration in the law as regards workhouses, because of something rendered necessary by the present War. But I did not understand that after the War was over he was going to take advantage of emergency legislation passed because of the present War to make some other alterations.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
What are you going to do with these workhouses? The paupers would be removed in other workhouses.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
That is a nice economical suggestion. There are many better ways in which they could be used. I am astonished at such an advocate of economy objecting to make an economical use of what is a by-product of the present situation.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
The point is, whether or not powers should be given 1261 to a Government Department beyond what is necessary for the purpose of the War. If no further powers are given, nobody on this side of the House would object.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
It would be very much better that the Government should consent to the Bill being restricted so that no powers should be given beyond what are absolutely necessary for the War at the present time.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Gulland.]