LOCAL GOVERNMENT (TEMPORARY PROVISIONS) BILL, 1923.—SECOND STAGE.

In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not know whether it is necessary for me to say very much in addition to what I said when the Bill was being introduced. The Bill is of a purely temporary nature. Its chief purpose is to regularise certain things that have been done without legal sanction. It deals with a number of minor matters, but the principal clause in the Bill is Clause 2, which legalises the existing county schemes, with their amendments, and which gives retrospective legality to the things which have been done under these schemes. The schemes are not perfect. They are very varied in character. Power is taken in the Bill to amend all these schemes, but they are included in the schedule in the form in which they have been approved, simply because they have been acted upon since their approval. If we look at Schedule 2 of the Act, we shall see that most of the schedules have been a year or more in operation. I think only about three of them were approved during the year 1922. Some of them were approved as far back as June, 1921. Since they have been approved they have been acted upon. It is necessary, therefore, to prevent a tremendous amount of confusion, that the schemes should be legalised in the form in which they were approved. In fact, that is the main necessity for bringing in this Bill—to prevent litigation, to prevent Councils and officials from being the subject of lawsuits, to prevent loss of money and energy, and to prevent the confusion that would result from these schemes being challenged. So far they have no legal basis. From the point of view of legality, the condition of the Poor-Law is chaotic. There is no record whatever or any statutory basis for the carrying on of the work of those bodies. To bring that to an end it is necessary that the schemes be legalised, and be legalised retrospectively, so that acts done by a person in good faith under the schemes that were approved of by the Minister for Local Government of Dáil Eireann shall not be subject to challenge. Payments made by Dáil Eireann shall not be subject to surcharge. For that purpose it is necessary that the schemes should be legalised in their present form as adopted by the Councils and that that legality be made retrospective from the date of the coming into effect of these schemes. It is not intended, however, that the schemes should remain in their present form even during the twelve or thirteen months which this Act will be in force. Power is given by Section 5 of the Bill to alter the scheme, and schemes will be altered and brought, so far as possible, up to a standard form. We will try to incorporate in the various schemes the best features of each. Is has not been possible to do that up to the present simply because there was no legal basis for anything done in the matter. The schemes were adopted at the instance of the Ministry of Local Government of Dáil Eireann, but there was no power to force local authorities to make schemes, and in many places schemes have not been made at all. As there was no power to force the making of schemes, so there was no power to bring about an alteration of schemes, and from lack of any consistency or general order or form the whole thing was done voluntarily, and on extra-legal pressure, and the passing of this Act will be necessary to alter and modify the schemes and bring them up to a standard. Meantime while this is being done and the schemes are operating on a legal basis the preparation of a comprehensive Local Government Bill will be gone ahead with, and it is my hope that on a date long before the date fixed for the expiry of this Bill, if it becomes an Act, it will be repealed by the permanent law.

Now that is the main purpose in view in bringing in this Bill. A great number of other matters in the Bill are consequential. There is, for instance, the provision that the duty in connection with vaccination be referred to the Rural District Councils because for the enforcement of the law the first step was taken by the Board of Guardians, and in most cases they have disappeared and there is no machinery by which the law can be enforced. There may be a difference of opinion as to whether the law, in regard to vaccination, should or should not be changed, but while it remains some provision should be made for its enforcement. With regard to Section 10 which deals with Superannuation, the purpose there is to remedy an abuse that has arisen. Section 8 of the Local Government Act of 1919, laid it down that existing whole-time officers were entitled to a pension of which the minimum was on the basis of the Civil Service and the maximum two-thirds of the emoluments of the office. That Act, and particularly that Clause of the 1919 Act, was a penal provision. It was passed by the British Government in anticipation of some form of self-government being put into operation in Ireland. It meant that an official might be given a pension which he could not on any grounds of equity lay claim to. For instance, there is one case where a man, with only 12 years' service on retirement, was given 28 added years, so that he might secure a pension amounting to two-thirds of his salary. But, in any case, the 1919 Act did not contemplate the wholesale abolition of offices such as occurred in connection with the amalgamation schemes. When these very numerous abolitions took place there were cases in which the Boards of Guardians, feeling that they were being abolished and would not later on be called to account and that another body would be responsible for footing the Bill, awarded the full two-thirds pension. Now, under these Acts there was really no power for the Local Government Department, acting upon the British Statutes, to revise the Superannuation granted, but in point of fact we did revise it. A very large number of pensions were reduced extra-legally by the Local Government Department when an excess of superannuation was given. Now, it is necessary that what was done in these cases should be legalised. It is necessary also to give power to meet the matter by giving power to the bodies who will be responsible for footing the Bill to discuss superannuation so that superannuation may be legally reviewed by the Ministry of Local Government. Previously there could be no disputant except the person getting a pension, and when an excessive pension was being granted that person was not likely to dispute the amount. There is power taken to dissolve local authorities, and to appoint commissioners in such cases as will be necessary. There are certain local bodies not functioning at all. There is one County Council that is not functioning at all, and in that county at present moneys are being paid out again extra legally by the County Secretary on his own signature with the approval of the Minister for Local Government. There was no means of carrying on the business of the county except to authorise the doing of that thing. That is a position that could not be allowed to continue and it must be provided for in that respect as well as in regard to the schemes. This Bill has something of the character of an Act of Indemnity. It is to legalise things and prevent action in respect of matters which were done without formal legal sanction. There are other matters, like those in Section 13, which prevent a member of one local authority being employed by another. That embodies the provisions of a Decree of the Second Dáil. Section 15, which gives power to strike a rate for the teaching of Irish also embodies a decree of the Second Dáil. Section 16, which gives power to the County Council to strike a rate for scholarships to Secondary Schools, also embodies the provisions of a decree of the Second Dáil. It may or may not be the desire of the Dáil that the provisions of these Clauses should be embodied in permanent legislation, but at any rate they have been acted upon. Rates have been struck and money has been spent under those Decrees, and until the whole question of Local Government law can be dealt with by the Dáil it is expedient that the provisions of these Decrees should be continued. The whole Act will expire on the 31st March, 1924, just as the schemes will expire. What the Dáil is asked to do is to pass this temporary measure, a measure that is in the nature of a stop-gap measure, a measure to regularise and reduce to order things that have been done owing to the abnormal conditions of the past two or three years. Most of the work has, I think, been beneficial and the changes on the whole have been very good, but they were carried out with difficulty and in a manner which was somewhat irregular, because a great deal of work was done before there was a formal Decree of the second Dáil. If the Dáil were not to pass this Bill or some such Bill all the work that has been done in connection with Local Government during the past couple of years would fall to pieces. There would be the greatest possible confusion; there would be almost endless prospects of litigation, and I feel that the situation is such that no matter what the intention of the Government and the intention of the Dáil might be in regard to the future of the Poor Law it would be disastrous not to recognise and to legalise what has been done. We cannot start off from the foundation of what was before 1920. Even if we were, which is not likely, to go back to pre-1920 conditions the only way to do it satisfactorily would be to legalise what has been done since, starting off from the conditions as they exist at present. I do not think, looking at it in broad outline, that anything has been done which will be necessary to go back on. I believe that the new system that was introduced in regard to the amalgamation schemes will greatly improve the administration of Local Government. I believe that in carrying out certain changes that follow logically on changes already carried out we will be able to get a concentration of authority in one county body. We will be able to abolish a number of small and part-time officers, the work of which was very inefficiently carried out, and we will be able to effect a permanent saving to the rates and get much more effective administration of the whole of Local Government. We will also have abolished the hideous and demoralising and costly workhouse system, which has been objected to by everybody who has had any interest in the welfare of the country for a couple of generations at least.

I said with regard to a Bill yesterday that it was a good Bill, but I am not ready to say that in regard to this Bill, because, so far as I have been able to understand it in the limited time we have had to read it, I am inclined to think it is in parts good, in more parts bad: I will not, for the satisfaction of the Minister for Publicity, refer to the curate's egg. I would appeal to Ministers to let us have these Bills in print more than two or three days before the Second Reading stage in future, because it does not give us time to look into the clauses with any care, and we are not able to pronounce any considered judgment on the merits of a Bill, even on the Second Reading, on such short notice. The Minister has told us that the Bill is purely temporary, and that its chief purpose is to regularise what has already been done with regard to Poor Law. I wish it had been considered possible, and I hope it still will be considered possible, to restrict this Bill to legalise acts that have been committed; but I think it does a good deal more than that, if I have read it rightly. I was tempted to think that the Minister had been sleeping with the Army Council, and had been trying to do for Local Government what the Army Council find it necessary to do—to act entirely on its own. This Bill practically says that county schemes may be presented; but once that has been done, then "all power with the Ministry." There is no reference to the Dáil, there is no reference to the Legislature, and no indication of the principles upon which the Minister is going to act. Now, this question of Local Government, and Poor Law particularly, has given rise to a great deal of discussion in the past in Ireland and in other countries, and there are different currents of thought in regard to how these necessary matters of administration should be dealt with. The schemes that have been adopted more or less conform to two or three main ideas, but they vary so exceedingly that it cannot be said there is any general principle running through them. Responsibility for one operation rests with one person in one county, and in another county rests with another person, and there is, as the Minister has indicated, a great deal of divergence, and we are not treated by the Minister in the Bill to any indication of the general principle that is going to guide his Department in sanctioning these schemes. We have the preamble, no doubt, but it is rather indefinite, and I submit that we ought to have for discussion here some plan embodying the principle which is going to guide the Minister, in the sanctioning or rejection of schemes that may be put forward, under which he is going to amend the existing schemes. He tells us that he will amend in such a way as to bring the various schemes to a standard, but we do not, and the Dáil and the country do not know, what is going to determine the standard, and what are the lines of thought of the Minister and his advisers respecting the standard. We are to be left entirely to the discretion of the Minister. Something might be said for that in the circumstances, inasmuch as these schemes have been adopted, and must be legalised, and that they will only exist for one year or so. But he has told us the main lines are acceptable, and I have no doubt that in the course of the year a good deal of stabilisation will take place, and it will be difficult to make any change in another Act to be passed this year. All that leads to this conclusion, that we are going by passing this Bill to allow of a great revolution in the Poor Law system without any legislature, either this Dáil or previous Dála, having had an opportunity of thoroughly discussing the principles on which Poor Law shall be administered. It is to be left almost entirely to the discretion of the Minister in charge of the Department. That is bureaucracy in excelsis, and we ought not to allow without protest a proposal of that kind to go through. There are several County Councils which have not adopted schemes. I do not know whether I am right in saying, but it seems to be indicated in the Bill, that the Minister intends that these County Councils shall promote schemes.

If that is the intention I hope it will be altered, and I hope we shall confine the Bill to regularising things that have already been done, and before imposing any new scheme upon Councils and authorities which have not formulated schemes hitherto we shall not impose upon them or even allow them to promote new schemes until we know what kind of scheme is going to be the standard form, and what principles are going to determine the lines of that scheme. Under the Bill, I think I am right in saying, that while existing schemes may be amended by Orders which have been laid before the legislature—laid on the table— it is quite possible within the provisions of the Bill to issue any Orders respecting schemes without laying these Orders upon the table, retaining as I say all power within the hands of the Minister. The provision respecting power to levy rates for certain educational courses should normally of course be included in an Education Bill, or at least in a Bill dealing with education in general rather than such a Bill as this, but in view of the fact that it has been done and that it requires to be legalised I accept that as a justification. But I would stress this objection to the Bill in so far as it goes outside the legalising of Acts which have been committed: that we are giving power to the Ministry to do things without having any indication of the lines on which these things will be done, and without having the plans laid before the Dáil. I, therefore, press this, that the Bill should be strictly confined to legalising and regularising Acts which have already been committed. To that extent I am prepared to support the Bill or to refrain from opposing it, but, in so far as it goes outside that I think the Bill should be opposed, and I hope the Minister will agree that it should be confined within these limits. I would say that in reference to the standard scheme which the Minister hopes to evolve and to bring the remainder of the schemes in conformity with, that so far as one can judge, while defined as schemes intended to improve the administration of relief of the poor, and, at the same time, to economise in the administration, the schemes in general seem to be directed towards economy only. They have the effect, perhaps, of economy, on paper, but it is doubtful whether there has been any real economy, and almost invariably, if not invariably, they have failed in the first intention to improve the methods of administering poor relief. It was suggested to me that if you wanted to introduce humane methods of killing an invalid the schemes provide these humane methods. You abolish the local hospitals, but provide an ambulance of sorts to carry a sick patient from one end of the county to the other, and in these days with roads such as the Minister complained of yesterday, that is an expeditious way of bringing economy to a county—by removing the patient from the purview of the doctor and handing him over to the undertaker.

Yesterday when another Bill was before the Dáil, I protested against Bills being brought before us and submitted for consideration when they had actually been in our hands for such a short time. This Bill is open to that criticism. It came into my hands only the night before last. It contains 51 foolscap pages. I grant that a great part of them is occupied with schedules, but this is one of those Bills where the substance of the Bill is contained, not in the text of the Bill itself, but is postponed to the consideration of the schedules, and it has been quite impossible to read the schedules. One could but glance hurriedly through them and digest the Bill in the short time available, and I do think that it is not a right method to proceed with in matters of this kind. As I understand the Bill after the Minister's explanation of it, substantially the general principle of it—that is to say, the matter we have under consideration at the present moment—is this, that a number of acts had been done by Dáila before this Dáil which are now practically in operation, and which need to be legalised under the Free State, and that it is not proposed to make this Bill anything more than a temporary provision Bill. It actually states in the preamble: "Until a comprehensive reorganisation of the whole law of local government in Saorstát Eireann can be prepared and submitted to the Oireachtas it is necessary that temporary provision be made." That is all very well, but as has already been indicated by Deputy Johnson, temporary provisions of this kind embodied in what presumably will transpire to be eventually an act of substantial proportions do in effect and fact postpone that final consideration that is required. It is acknowledged that in the special and pressing circumstances of these times every Dáil before this Dáil did have to proceed by a method of legislation that was not the best method; that is to say, instead of keeping matters within the control of the legislature these matters were placed in the hands of the Executive by large decrees, and the Government of the country was not strictly a legislative Government at all. It was a bureaucratic Government in so far as it was a Government that was a practical fact, and it was very largely a practical fact with regard to local affairs. But it did happen that Decrees were passed and matters were placed entirely in the charge of the Executive and it is these Decrees that it is now intended to make of a semi-permanent character pending, of course, their final consideration. The method was bad then, though perhaps necessary. It is bad now and unnecessary. Matters should not be put completely thus into the hands of the Executive, because it is not only bad for the legislature itself but it is bad for the Executive too. We want, not to enlarge their powers, but to enlarge the powers of general law-making and for that reason, which I take to be the essential principle, we have this matter under consideration at the present moment. This Bill, it seems to me, is not to be commended, but in so far as it is likely to be merely a provision of a temporary nature, in so far well and good. But if that were the case, then I would urgently suggest to the Minister —he will agree with me, I think—that procrastination is not merely the thief of time but it is very largely natural to human nature, and if this were to be passed, as it will be passed eventually in some form, the tendency will be to say "Well, that much has been done and the consideration of the whole matter can be very definitely postponed to a very much later date." Therefore I suggest that a new clause could be added to this Bill by which it would be brought into effect only for three months or six months at a time, so that if it passed out by the mere efflux of time it would have to be re-enacted and there would be a constant reminder that it was what it purported to be, a temporary provisions Bill, and that it was the duty of the Ministry, whatever the Ministry of the time might be, to lay before the Dáil some alternative proposals that go to the very root of local government in this country, and especially in the matter of poor relief and care of the sick, and that the whole matter might be completely reorganised—reorganised on a permanent basis—by the legislative instrument under which all these details could be thrashed out before the Dáil and before the Seanad. So far, therefore, as the powers given by this Bill—in so far as they deal with temporary provisions—are concerned, it is inevitable that a Second Reading should be given, and that the Bill should be passed as hastily as possible, only I urge upon the Ministry that they take at least some measure of the kind I have suggested, by which they would emphasise the temporary nature of the Bill not only for themselves in the future, but also emphasise it for any possible successors.

I regret that neither Deputy Johnson nor Deputy Figgis sufficiently appreciate the great compliment paid to their comprehensive abilities by the Ministry. Bill after Bill, some of the highest complexity, has been poured in for their consideration and criticism, and so far, I think, the Dáil has no reason to complain of the result in their regard. They have been able, or seem to us to have been able, to deal with these measures quite as effectively and as exhaustively as if the measures had been submitted to them, not for hours, but for months. I have not read through all the details of this measure. I have been able to read portions of it that appeal to me, and because of the character and substance of these clauses, I have read them with satisfaction. Deputy Johnson spoke of the Bill in its entirety as a curate's egg. If I may pursue the culinary metaphor, I should prefer to say that, inasmuch as it is a temporary measure which promises a larger and fuller measure, we might select for our special delight these portions which more particularly appeal to us. What gratifies me is the announcement of doctrine, if I may call it so, in the recitals. I read just now a declaration that an amendment in Local Government was necessary and long overdue, and that among the proposals that this Government are determined to carry through is one for the entire abolition of the existing system under which the poor, as the Bill goes on to say, were relieved in workhouses established in each Poor Law union. A great deal had already been done as we are all aware, in this direction by the boarding-out of children and the granting of moneys which enabled the aged poor to live outside the precincts of the workhouses altogether. That was the beginning which this Bill heralds the termination of in the way of remedy and reform. There is another excellent item in the Bill—that with regard to exhibitions, scholarships and bursaries. Deputy Johnson considers that the provisions of (15) and (16), I think they are, would be more appropriately found in a Bill introduced by the Minister for Education. But some of us have in vain, though I would not like to say in vain, but we have thundered at the door of the Minister for Education, and we have not found him in. There appears to be no Bill forthcoming with regard to Education—at least it is not above the horizon, and surely it is a thing to be pleased with, that in a measure such as this, the mind of the Ministry on these matters should be so far revealed. One of the great wants in the provision for education hitherto was just this very item, the provision of bursaries or exhibitions by which the deserving student either in the higher divisions of the primary schools or in what are called the secondary schools, should be helped forward. Now, I take the opportunity of reading through the Bill, from these two sections (15) and (16). One is to provide moneys, a penny in the £ on the rateable value in aid of instruction in the Irish language, and the other (16) is to allow of any County, or County Borough to "assist by means of exhibitions, scholarships, bursaries, payment of fees" (a very useful form to give it), "or otherwise any students, or intending students, at any approved school" (not as heretofore forcing the student at once into the University) "in Saorstát Eireann who are ordinarily resident in such County, or Borough, and who satisfied the Council that they are qualified to profit by instruction in such school, and are in need of assistance." ... "An approved school shall be such school, either extern or residential, for the giving of secondary education, or the giving of instruction or training in agriculture, forestry, trade, commerce, domestic economy, teaching or any other subject of a vocational character, as may be approved of by the Minister for Education." I have already spoken in this Dáil on two occasions in favour of the reform of the training college system for teachers. Deputy Gorey, I think, not only on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Farmers' Union protested against the threat of expenditure which my remarks involved. Here is an effort, a most excellent effort, to come to the aid of the training college reform, to put, or at least to recognise, the provision, shall I call it, or the avocation of teaching in the school on a level with those other useful productive avocations, such as agriculture, forestry, trade and commerce. I have only to say just this, though this is rather a remark for the Committee Stage than for the Second Reading, that there is one thing that calls for emendation here. The Bill speaks of such approved schools as either extern or residential. The draughtsman has probably overlooked the fact that "residential" is a technical term which does not necessarily mean residing in the sense of being a boarder. Some of the Deputies were very much amused at a definition clause in another Bill which declared that a "dwelling-house" was to mean "any portion of a dwelling-house." Not at all an absurd statement, because there are legal decisions establishing what a "dwelling-house" shall be deemed to be. Well, similarly, in the jargon of the teachers' profession, "residential" understood to mean attending lectures following a course of instruction, rathe than being a boarder; and I take it the intention here is to refer to day school or continuation schools, which may be evening or night schools on the one hand, or boarding schools on the other hand. These are the only portions of the Bill that I have had an opportunity to read and to consider, and that Bill, to my mind, is a measure, or portion of a measure, which ought to have the support of this Dáil. My friends who have already spoken, or some of them, think that a great deal of the constructive work ought to have been postponed. But one of the criticisms which certain members of this Dáil have had the temerity to urge against the Ministry was that they were so pre-occupied with the restoration of peace conditions that they had not already begun to lay down the keels. This, it seems to me, rather answers those attacks, because there is a considerable amount of keel-laying in the Governmental legislative shipbuilding yard indicated in this.

A yacht and a battleship all mixed up.

I may say that I welcome this Bill as going at least part of the way to do away with that system which has disgraced this country for a long number of years. We have been crying out, during my time, at all events, for the abolition of the Poor Law system. This Bill, while it does not, perhaps, go as far and as comprehensively into the matter as it should, being only of a temporary nature, is, I believe, on the right lines. There are one or two things in it that, perhaps, can be improved, and, I am sure, will be improved when the Committee Stage is taken. Taking the measure as a whole, I think it deserves the support of this Dáil. Listening to some of the speeches here, a thought came into my mind that at least one of the Deputies, I think it was Deputy Figgis, might have been a Poor Law Guardian leaving the Board Room for the last time, by the melancholy note which he struck. I do not know whether he is a Poor Law Guardian or not, but the note he struck reminded me of a Guardian making his exit. However, there are provisions contained in this Bill, which if put into practice will, I believe, materially assist in putting things on the right lines. Apart altogether from the provisions of the Bill which go to legalise things that have been done for the past year or two, there are other provisions in the Bill with which I am in thorough agreement, although there are one or two things which, in my opinion, require amendment. I believe the Dáil and the Minister, when these amendments are put forward, will look into them in a careful manner, and, perhaps, accede to the requests put forward.

Like the other Deputies who have spoken I have not had time to read through this Bill. There is one thing I have been closely in touch with, and that is the amalgamation of Unions. I was glad to hear the Minister saying that these schemes were not perfect; everybody knows they are not anything like perfect. As a matter of fact they are very little better than the old system that prevails. I am sorry to say that, because I have been in favour of Union amalgamation, but, I think, it ought to have come slowly; that we ought to have had amalgamation of administration first. So far as I can see it could be described as panic legislation or something approaching that. Mr. Johnson drew attention to the word "shall" in the Bill. I do not know what the intention of the Minister is now, but certainly during the period when Wexford County Council was considering amalgamation schemes it was the word "shall" that was served up to us. Time after time different resolutions were passed approving and rescinding amalgamation. As a matter of fact the matter was going on for six months, until eventually the Minister for Local Government, Mr. Cosgrave at the time, sent down word that unless the County Council were prepared to put the scheme into operation, the Government would. In view of the fact that that was merely a Departmental move at that time, I think it was very arbitrary on the part of the Minister. I do know that amalgamation has not worked out in Wexford as we thought it would have worked out. For instance, the question of transport, which I know the Minister has no control over at present, is a great obstacle in the way, especially in view of the bad roads in Wexford. I remember during the time the amalgamation scheme was under consideration in Wexford, coming up here to Dublin along with the other three T.D.'s of the County, as part of a deputation to Mr. Cosgrave. At that particular time there were certain objections in the New Ross area in connection with the hospital. We were promised that in the event of certain parts of the county not being satisfied with amalgamation, that if we were to give it twelve months' trial—I forget whether it was six or twelve months' trial—that an inquiry would then be instituted, with a view to having the thing perfected. Although New Ross has asked for that inquiry it has not yet been granted, and I think Ministers ought to fulfil their promises in connection with matters of that kind. I think that before this Dáil is asked to pass this Bill, without limits in connection with amalgamation, that we ought at least to have some standard set whereby amalgamation shall be set up in every county in Ireland.

I do not think it is altogether right for a Government to set down different schemes as a schedule, and expect the Dáil to pass a Bill of this kind. I think there ought to be some standard scheme set up, and the Ministry should submit it to the Dáil before the Bill is finally dealt with.

I take a particular interest in this measure. I cannot, and would not for a moment, claim that these amalgamation schemes are my own children, but I was present at the birth of a great many of them, and I know the circumstances and the conditions that prevailed at the time they were inaugurated. They were inaugurated under the Local Government Department of the second, or outlawed, Dáil, and they more or less were born of the necessities of the time. When the local authorities of the country were invited to break off relations with the British Local Government Board, one and a half millions went out the window. The British contribution by way of grant-in-aid of local administration amounted roughly to one and a half millions per annum, and the break with the British Local Government Board involved the loss of that. The break was not precipitate. It was not taken in an ill-considered way, and there was considerable hesitation before we issued an instruction to that effect to the local authorities. On the one hand you are mounting up against the local authorities millions of pounds worth of decrees for what were termed criminal and malicious injuries. In reality it was war damage to person and to property— to person in the nature of casualties amongst the British military and police, and the property mostly consisting of the little fortresses which the police occupied throughout the country. Altogether, I think at the time of the break there were decrees amounting to about ten or twelve million pounds outstanding against the local authorities, so that financially it was not bad business. The rates of the country were held liable to meet these decrees, and the decrees ran as an order "To pay out of the first monies of the Council coming into your control —— pounds to such a person." That was an order on the treasurers of the local authorities. Now, a circular went out at that time to the local authorities from Dublin Castle and from the British Local Government Board stating that the annual grants-in-aid would not be forthcoming unless each local authority undertook to submit its accounts to audit, and in all other respects to obey the rules and regulations of the British Local Government Board. One of the rules and regulations would have been to honour and foot these decrees and pay the amounts. The rate money was struck for specific purposes, for vital public purposes. If that particular guarantee, that explicit and cold-blooded guarantee, had been given by the local authorities, they would in fact have bound themselves to pay away in compensation for war damage the money that was needed to maintain vital public services in the country. It was only when that circular by the British administration was issued that we ordered the break with the British Local Government Board, and ordered the local authorities to function thenceforward under the auspices and supervision of the Local Government Department of Dáil Eireann. The one and a half millions went out the window, and we could not carry on as if nothing had happened. We had to cut our coat according to our cloth, and drastic schemes of retrenchment and economy had to be entered upon. We looked around to see whether or not there was scope for retrenchment and economy, and we found a good deal of waste and a moderate amount of corruption existing in the local administration of the country. It had not been worth the while, probably, of the British officials to fall foul of vested interests in different places through the country, and a great deal of waste and a certain amount of corruption had apparently flourished under their regime and under their nominal supervision. There were Unions in the country where the staff outnumbered the inmates, and there were many other abuses which I only remember in outline rather than in detail. We started these amalgamation schemes at the time, and we more or less put the onus on each county of producing its own particular scheme, and naturally we did fall foul, as we had to fall foul, of vested interests in particular localities. It may be that that particular financial stress and that particular situation was a blessing in disguise. Certainly, any Government in normal times, and without the genuine excuse which the financial shortage provided, would have found it very difficult to carry out these schemes. There was, of course, intense local dissatisfaction where a particular institution was being closed. "Are you going to rob us of our only remaining industry?" The Union was regarded as a kind of local industry. That was the cry, and we had to stand up to it, and, of course, with the high standard of selfishness and self-imposed discipline prevailing at the time, it was possible to carry schemes of that kind, and it was possible to show up the position to them in its true light as really short-sighted and very far from disinterested. We put them through in what might be called a rough-and-ready way, but in a way that did result in the local authorities being able to carry on and being able, approximately anyway, to maintain the public services of the country with the money at their disposal, in spite of the loss of the one and a half millions grant-in-aid from the British.

Now, the schemes were local; there were little conferences in every county; there was considerable time, thought, and energy devoted to them, and they came up to the Local Government Department of the Dáil for criticism and comment. Very often the scheme was held up for a month or six weeks while there was an interchance of views between the local people and the Dáil Local Government Department. But, finally, schemes were agreed upon and sanctioned. They suited the times, and worked fairly well. I have not direct personal knowledge of how they have worked since, but they have not as yet got a chance in normal times. The situation in the country, for instance— the interruption of road traffic by the cutting of the roads, and so on—may have shown them up badly; but that is not normal, that is not natural. The idea was that you would have in each county a County Home and a County Hospital, served by a good ambulance service, which would be on call by wire or telephone, and that should have worked well. It should have worked more economically and more efficiently for the ratepayers than a number of little nests of corruption dotted here and there through the country and administered in a slipshod way. I would put the view forward that these schemes have not yet had a trial under normal, fair conditions. The roads, as I say, have been ill-treated in places, and the rates have not been coming in normally; and generally, conditions have not prevailed that would entitle one to pass judgment on these particular schemes of local administration. People have been slow in paying their rates; rate collectors have, more or less, used as a general excuse for indolence the conditions of the times. They have said, in most cases, the people will not pay, when it really meant that they had not gone about their own duties energetically and made a genuine effort to collect the rates. I do not propose to go in detail into the provisions of the Bill, or into any particular county scheme. I have not sufficient first-hand knowledge of the doings in local administration; but I thought it well that people should understand the conditions that led to the originating of these schemes of amalgamation, and to point out that they have not yet had a fair trial under fair conditions.

As one concerned with the local administration in the county I come from, I happen to know a good deal about local administration in these matters, and I know that what the Minister says is quite true. In many workhouses there were more officials than there were patients or inmates. There is no doubt about that; and, in my opinion, these new schemes if properly worked, will mean a considerable saving. I want to lay emphasis on the word "properly." These new schemes have been in operation in some counties for some time. The scheme has been in operation in my own county, and it has been a considerable success; but that was largely due to the efficiency of the local Public Health Committee which refused, time and again, to be changed in its methods by the head authority here in Dublin. It is not always that the head office knows more about these matters than the local people who have actual practice and knowledge in administration of the kind. In the County Kildare, where they had more of a free hand and where things where done in a more high-flown fashion than in other counties, the old cost of maintenance was about £35,000, if I am correct. Under the new scheme, the cost of upkeep is between £70,000 and £75,000. I say that is a damning argument against the new scheme, but I do not say it is an argument against amalgamation schemes generally. It is due, rather, to the methods of administration, because it is on that that practically everything depends. The Minister is quite right when he says that in some of the villages in which these institutions were, they were looked upon as a kind of industry, and as a kind of upkeep for the little towns in which they were situated. Everyone in the town was having a pull out of them, and, practically everyone in the town was opposed to amalgamation, not for patriotic or national reasons, but for reasons which I need not mention. All these new schemes that are being launched require considerable care, and considerable attention should be given to the men who have administrative knowledge in the several counties. A good deal of the failure in Kildare, and perhaps in some other counties also, is attributable to the fact that some of the local authorities have been over-ridden, and new methods adopted which are impracticable. Administration, I say, is everything, and the scheme is all right if it is properly worked.

I agree that no matter how good a scheme may be, its operation may be spoiled by bad administration. That applies even to the very best of schemes. However, I think, with my colleague, Deputy Johnson, I would prefer to see this Bill merely legalising and regularising certain things that have been done. There are, however, one or two things that are objectionable to me, and some things I would approve of in the Bill. I rather object to the tremendous power, it seems to me, that is being given into the hands of the Minister. Sections 3 and 7 are rather wide and vague, and they give a great deal more power into the hands of the Minister than I would be prepared to give. There is something like 20 or 21 schemes in the Bill, and it has not been possible to compare scheme with scheme, and much less possible, for some of us at all events, to tell whether they worked out well. It occurs to me that it would perhaps be a better thing if the Minister had produced something like a standard scheme, or if the Dáil had produced something like a standard scheme, and given power to the Minister, in consultation with the local authorities, to vary the provisions of that standard scheme to suit particular or peculiar local conditions. The scheme then could have been considered purely on its merits, and the Minister, his advisers and the local people would have been in a position to give more of their attention to getting the correct administrators and methods of administration in the county. I think it is quite impossible that the Dáil could spend the time that would be necessary going over all these schemes one by one and comparing them. I do not think that would be possible at all. However, the Bill is to expire in a twelve month or so, and there may be opportunities then to revise the whole thing. No matter how good a particular scheme may be, or no matter how well it may be worked, there are to me certain unsatisfactory things. The schemes and the intention of the Ministry seem rather to have been to improve the machinery, and to get rather better machinery, but that is not sufficient reform to please me. I think the reform should go rather deeper than that. I think that the whole underlying idea of what is called the Poor Law system should be replaced by a new idea. I think that the schemes in principle do not go very much further from a human point of view than the old system. They are directed to the same end as the old system—that is, to the relief of the poor, instead of—as I would have them— being directed to the prevention of destitution. There are some sections, as I said, that I think some objection ought to be taken to. Before I mention them I should like the Ministry to say whether its intention is to economise rather than to produce a revolution in what is called the Poor-Law system. Some people, if they save, as they call it, several thousands of pounds in the year, think they are economising. They are not exactly economising. As we have stated again and again, it all depends upon the use, the value, and the good that is got out of the rates or taxes spent, and economy is not merely a saving of a certain number of pounds. You may be losing very much more in other ways. There is one section—Section 13—which I think shows a big extension of the disabilities of certain members of public Boards. It reads: "From and after the expiration of six months from the passing of this Act no person shall hold any office of profit under or be employed for remuneration by any Local Authority while he is, or within six months after he has ceased to be, a member of that or any other Local Authority." I think that is rather extending the existing law. Unless I am a little bit misinformed, the employee of, for instance, one public body now could be a representative of the people on another public body. This new provision will exclude the employee of any public body from being a member of any other public body. There is an extension, too, of powers in Section 14, and there is provision made by which certain bodies may be abolished; but there is not any indication given of what kind of bodies are going to take their places—the size or numbers, or the principles or methods of working of these bodies, or anything like that. That is one of the vague things which, I think, will tend rather to too much administration from the centre. There are two others, 15 and 16. Fifteen deals especially with Irish—another matter of legislating by decree; a bad method, but now admitted to be improved by this. Those, I think, I would prefer to see taken out of this particular Bill, and rather embodied in a measure more directly coming under the Ministry of Education, although they have a connection, of course, as the money has to be paid by the public bodies. One little point, I should like to ask about in one scheme— that is the Clare Scheme—who, in future, will be the brehons mentioned in this scheme? I presume they will be the District Justices. There is just one other point, which neither the Bill nor any of the schemes, so far as I have read them makes provision for,—the co-ordination of the various duties that fall upon the local bodies. Now, there are two acts in which I am, and those who sent me here to speak for them are, interested; one is a permissive Act—the Feeding of Necessitous School Children; the other is, I think, a compulsory Act— The Medical Inspection and Medical Treatment of School Children. I think that latter Act is practically a dead-letter over most parts of the country. If the Bill, even though it is only to last for 12 months, were to make some provision for co-ordinating the various duties of public bodies, such as the duties either permitted to them or made mandatory on them in the Acts I have cited, the Bill would be improved, but my main argument against it would be the main argument of my colleagues, that it should go no further at the moment except it is to go much further than the Ministry intends. It should go no further than legalising and regularising what has been done and the whole thing should be put in such a form that will not prevent a real improvement from the bottom up. However, we may in the course of the Bill have a public discussion, and it is a good thing that even at this late stage, the schemes and the whole Poor Law Administration should come up for public discussion.

I think we all agree that reform of the Poor Law was long overdue and that for a very long time no enlightened section of the community was in favour of the continuance of the Poor Law System, which these schemes were evolved to deal with. It was originally an alien system, forced upon this country, and everybody who had made the slightest study of the system had long called for its drastic reform or abolition. It was judged from different aspects and I am sorry that there are some people who are prepared to judge it only from the standpoint of cost. The system was extremely costly, it is true, but, in addition to that, it was wasteful and inefficient and these are aspects often more important than that of cost. When we bear in mind that all these schemes were introduced and carried through under very peculiar circumstances in the year 1921, we can, I think, fully appreciate and agree with the reasons put forward by the Minister for Home Affairs and we are bound to take that into account when passing judgment upon what has been done. It was extremely difficult, as he points out, in these circumstances, to give the care and the consideration to the schemes that would be given if normal conditions prevailed. There was practically no publicity, and the inspectors of the Department had to attend various local authorities under conditions which prevented proper discussion and proper instruction on those schemes. We can, I think, accept that line of reasoning and console ourselves that those schemes are purely temporary, and that this Act will run only for twelve months; but I would like to support what has been said by several speakers in favour of a model scheme being adopted by the Ministry and set up in the country generally, with such local modifications as circumstances may require. Now, on the question of cost, Deputy Gorey has referred to the county of Kildare, where the charges prior to the adoption of this scheme were £35,000, and since have been £75,000. I am not acquainted with the local circumstances to which he refers, but I would urge that it does not at all follow that the scheme is thereby condemned because it costs £75,000 as against £35,000 formerly. It is quite a reasonable thing that £35,000 might have been wastefully and inefficiently spent, and that £75,000 is efficiently spent. It seems to me that it would make all the difference in the world, and it is better to spend one pound efficiently rather than spend ten shillings inefficiently. I would therefore urge the Minister to regard this as a purely temporary measure, and to concentrate upon bringing forward a full and comprehensive measure that will cover the entire ground of Poor-Law requirements. For example, none of these schemes cover very special problems which exist in large urban centres such as Dublin and Cork. I believe these two places are now the only ones in which Boards of Guardians function to any extent, and in both cases they function in a much more restrictive sense than formerly. In Cork we had the experiment of two or three Vice-Guardians whose work is under review; and in Dublin, the largest union in the country, the work has been for twelve months or so supervised by a full-time Commissioner. This is a pressing and a big problem. We would like to discuss it from a broad-minded and human standpoint, and we hope that long before the Bill has run its twelve months the Minister will bring forward a comprehensive measure, laying down an ideal for the whole country. The necessary modifications that are required can be adopted and applied to it.

There are many matters, and even urgent matters, in connection with local government that we would like to have dealt with by legislation, but in bringing forward this Bill we have tried not to overload it by including such matters in it. We have tried to put nothing in it but what was necessary—either specially urgently necessary, such as Clause 11, to deal with the hiatus that has occurred, or matters that had to be dealt with to get over the difficulty created by the passing of Dáil decrees. It may be a question whether those Dáil decrees passed after the ratification of the Treaty had any validity whatever, but in any case they were passed and acted upon, and they certainly should not be ignored. They should either be confirmed or be repealed. I do not want to take up time discussing a particular clause at the moment, but I would just point out that Section 13 which was objected to, embodied the substance of one of those second Dáil Decrees, and that there was a very serious reason for passing that particular Decree. Instances did occur in which two people were officials of different public bodies, and each of those officials was a member of the public body by which the other was employed, and each of them brought forward motions intended to increase the emoluments of the other, and there was very serious reason for passing that Decree.

We are not introducing new matter; it is all part of this regularising of the position. It is not proposed in this Bill to oblige counties, which have not made schemes, to make them. In some of the cases, schemes have gone a certain distance, and if they are completed, it will be possible to approve them and let them come into effect. Deputy O'Shannon referred to the power which sections—I I think he said Sections 3 and 7—put into the hands of the Minister. Well, perhaps the blame might be laid to my door, in not having the Bill a longer time in the hands of Deputies. I think a re-reading would convince them that Section 7 does not put power into the hands of the Minister, but rather restricts power by indicating the lines on which schemes must go, and by limiting the scope of schemes. It would not be possible at the moment to adopt absolutely a type or standard, because if that was going to be absolutely a standard scheme, it would involve changes much greater than are contemplated—changes in the whole system of Local Government which would require very serious consideration indeed. The way to deal with that matter is really to ratify and legalise schemes at present existing, amending them by Orders so far as it can be done without causing unnecessary dislocation or disturbance, and leaving the matter of the schemes which will be adopted finally for the country to be dealt with when permanent legislation comes along.

The Dáil will have every opportunity of seeing that the power of making orders which this Bill confers will not be used to give a bias which the Dáil might regard as undesirable, to the developing of the system. Each order will be laid before the Dáil. Each order will be subject to annulment by the Dáil, if it is thought to be prejudicing proper consideration of the whole matter by the Dáil, when the law that it is proposed to make permanent comes before the Dáil for consideration. The schemes so far have been worked under very considerable difficulties. The representatives who were returned in most cases in a united block to carry out a certain policy have been split. Many of them were people who were very well fitted in the circumstances in which they were elected to be representatives, but not so well suited to carry out administration efficiently in times which we have since had. The circumstance which put these people on different sides has led to a considerable amount of demoralisation, and in many cases one might say that the membership of the Boards at the present time is by no means a good membership, and a great deal of the fault in working out schemes could be traced to that. In some cases the cost is raised by a very large amount of money that has to be spent upon home help. There have been cases in which there has been too much money spent on home help, and where home help is granted without proper consideration and where representatives have not had a proper sense of their responsibilities in giving home help. At the same time the circumstances existing—the unemployment and the distress caused by the state of affairs that existed—made it inevitable that the cost of home help should be very high. As the Minister for Home Affairs said, the schemes have not had a fair trial, and with the trial they have had I think they have justified the action that was taken in bringing them into being. They were brought into being because of necessity, but that necessity was a fortunate necessity, because it enabled reforms to be carried out which organised corruption and organised self-interest might have made exceedingly difficult in normal times.

Question—"That the Bill be now read a second time"—put and agreed to.

We propose to commence the Committee Stage not earlier than Tuesday week.