§ Order for Second reading read.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central)
moved: "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ MR. D. CRILLY (Mayo, N.)
trusted that some explanation of this Bill would be forthcoming. So far as he understood the proposals, it was matter of extreme regret, in view of the condition of many Poor Law districts in Ireland, that the right hon. Gentleman had not put his hand to a bolder Measure more worthy of the occasion. It was a small and pettifogging way of dealing with a serious evil, which the very introduction of the Bill proved to exist. Clearly it was recognised by the Government that outdoor relief in some parts of Ireland had become such a necessity that exceptional measures were required to deal with the reduction. For months it had been notorious that exceptional distress existed in Ireland. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman what earthly good could this small Measure do in his constituency, for instance. The barony of Ennis, in the Belmullet Union, was the poorest district scheduled under the Congested Districts Act. The valuation was only £14 10s. and the rates had been over 10s. in the £1, and, according to the calculation of the guardians at the end of the financial year the rate would be 12s. 8d. in the £. This Bill did not bring any relief to the people themselves. It simply gave the Irish Local Government Board power to raise money 837 on the security of rates. It, only proposed that at any time before the 1st of December 1897, the Local Government Board might by order under their seal, authorise boards of guardians of poor law unions to administer relief for any period not exceeding two months. In Belmullet Union that simply meant that this order might be issued before the first day of September and would operate for two months. It meant that relief might be given during September and October, hut that in November, December and January, the bitterest and worst months of the year, they would not get relief. The right hon. Gentleman might say that at the end of the two months the harvest might be coming in, and the people would have some security against distress, and starvation, and fever. But in his constituency it was a notorious fact that the potato crop had failed entirely, and that the other crops were, comparatively, in the same way. The people of Belmullet therefore would have nothing at the end of two months in time way of harvest to fall back upon. The fact of this exceptional distress had been brought to the notice of the Government ever since the beginning of January, but they had gone on doing nothing, and now, at the very end of the Session, the Chief Secretary asked them to pass this innocuous, harmless, worthless, and useless Measure. For himself he could not realise how one case of distress would be helped by the passage of this Bill, which was not worth the paper it was written on.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said the hon. Member complained that although distress had existed for a considerable period the Government had done nothing hitherto, and that now at the fag end of the Session they proposed what he called an innocuous Measure. He would remind the hon. Member, however, that by an administrative act he had permitted the guardians of the congested unions to take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. In doing that he had only followed the precedent which had been set several times during the last fifteen or sixteen years. The hon. Member had described this as a useless Bill. He would point out that unless it were allowed to pass, the effect would be that the guardians who, for the last four months or se had been administering out-door relief under its provisions, would be liable 838 to be surcharged with the expenditure they had so made. The hon. Member had also said that it could only have effect for two months from the 1st September. He must remind him that he had taken the Bill, with the exception of one clause, from the Bill which was passed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Montrose in 1895, which was a year of severer and more widespread distress than had been experienced during the present year. If it was found necessary, later on in the year—in November December—to extend the relaxations of the conditions under which outdoor relief was given in Ireland, that could again be done by an administrative Act of the Local Government Board, and no doubt would be done. When the end of the financial year Came, if the condition of the Belmullet Union was such as to render necessary further measures, the Government would be prepared to consider the situation and, if necessary, to give such assistance as might be deemed requisite under the circumstances.
§ MR. DALY
said he considered it an insult to any board of guardians in Ireland that they should only he allowed to give relief for two months. It was an insult to infer that they were going to squander money that they had a share in contributing. He would recommend the right hon. Gentleman to keep his Bill, for he believed it would be very little use to the poor of Ireland. He noticed that one of the clauses allowed the Guardians to mortgage their own rates. It reminded him of the old saying about feeding a dog with a bit of its tail. The best course for the Irish Members was to scout the Bill out of the House.
§ DR. TANNER
said that the Government who were going to do so much good for Ireland when they entered on their tenure of office, were now trying to hide their disgrace in their administration of the affairs of Ireland by bringing in at Three o'clock in the morning an Outdoor Relief Bill.
§ MR. DENIS KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
appealed to his hon. Friend, in view of the pledge of the Government, to allow the Second Reading of the Bill to be taken.
§ MR.PATRICK M'HUGH (Leitrim, N.)
said he did not intend to object to the Government getting the Second Reading, 839 although he had previously intended to do so, because he considered the Bill was absolutely worthless. It amounted to this, that the Chief Secretary asked the House to give himself, as the President of the Local Government Board of Ireland, power to tax an already overtaxed community, power to tax paupers for the purpose of relieving paupers. These people who were to be taxed were already taxed almost at the rateable valuation. He noticed the Solicitor General for Ireland had his name on the back of the Bill, and he should like to know why he did not say anything on the subject. The hon. Member quoted at some length from the sections of the Bill, and commented upon them. He said there was no Poor Law Union referred to in the Bill. They did not want this Bill in his own constituency.
§ MR. PATRICK M'HUGH
asked what the right hon. Gentleman meant by the expression "class of persons." Why did not the Solicitor General for Ireland tell them what was meant by that phrase? Speaking for his constituents he objected to extend the powers already possessed by the Local Government Board. As to the power to borrow money on the security of the rates, he said that this was an attempt to perpetuate the system of gombeenism, of which the right hon. Gentleman was the representative in the House. He was the gombeen man that represented the Treasury. [Laughter.] If the right hon. Gentleman was going to raise money on the security of the rates of the union, and to treat the ratepayers in the way that he had treated the people of Sligo, he said that the right hon. Gentleman was nothing but a gombeen man.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
asked the hon. Member to address himself to the subject of the Bill, and not to make these irrelevant observations.
§ MR. PATRICK M'HUGH
, after reading the third clause, said that the hon. Member for Mayo had told the House that the rates were 10s. 6d. in the pound and that at the end of the year experts calculated that they would be 12s. 8d.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The hon. Member is now repeating for the third or fourth time the observations 840 made by himself and other Members. I must ask him to resume his seat.
Question put and agreed to; Bill read a Second time, and committed for Monday next.