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.