HC Deb 01 April 1873 vol 215 cc422-32

rose to call attention to the evidence of the Commissioners of Valuation in Ireland which had been given before a Committee of that House, and to move a Resolution to the effect that the present constitution of the Irish Valuation Department was unsatisfactory, and that it was desirable that an experienced and competent offi- cer should be placed at its head. He frankly admitted that his present motion, if carried, would practically be a Vote of Censure on the gentleman at the head of the Irish Valuation Department. Mr, Greene, the individual to whom he referred, had been examined before a Committee of that House, and the evidence he had then given had proved him not to be a fit person to be at the head of an important public Department. When he had brought this subject under the notice of the House two years ago the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Baxter) admitted that various abuses existed in relation to it—that counties had been wrongly charged, that the expenditure in the office was extravagant, that there was no efficient control over it, and that the accounts were in a muddle. The right hon. Gentleman, while refusing to assent to the re-appointment of the Committee to inquire into the matter which was then asked for, had promised to take steps to bring about a reform in the Department, but that promise had not been fulfilled, nor was it possible with the present administration of the office. Mr. Greene, who had been for 23 years the practical head of the Department, had been unable to give any detailed evidence before the Committee as to the principle upon which the Town-land valuation had been conducted; and he admitted that although the whole of Ireland, with the exception of six counties, had been valued during the time he was in office, he had never read the Townland Valuation Act. The result of the mismanagement of the service up to the present was that instead of the valuation costing one half-penny per acre, the amount of the original estimate, it had cost 6d. per acre, altogether amounting to £325,000, which had to be paid by the counties of Ireland. His right hon. Friend, in introducing his Bill the other evening, stated that a new valuation was necessary in Ireland, because the old had been made at a time when taxes were very high. It was the fact, however, that the taxes had never in any regular form affected the valuation. The evidence of the Commissioner on this point was confused, contradictory, and unintelligible, and in support of his statement that the rate of local taxation had been deducted from the gross value, he was unable to adduce any docu- mentary proof. His right hon. Friend went on to say that the new valuation would apply only to three Provinces; but why a distinction was to be made between Ulster and the rest of Ireland he was at a loss to know. The statements of the Commissioner of Valuations on the subject betrayed, he thought, an extraordinary want of knowledge. But there was a more serious charge against him. There was in Ireland each year what was called a revision of the valuation, which consisted in ascertaining the change of occupancy in the land between one year and another. That work of revision cost £25,000, but on investigation before the Committee it turned out that only about £10,000 or £12,000 of that sum was spent in payment of the salaries and expenses in each union for carrying on the revision, and providing the necessary lists and maps; that was to say, for carrying on almost the entire work. That being so, the question naturally arose, what was done with the remaining £13,000 Mr. Greene said it went in office expenditure, and he entered into an explanation of a course of proceeding which really had no existence. He said that the revising officers who were sent to each union did very little work—that they merely marked on the maps the lines of the new boundaries, and that the necessary details had to be obtained in the office in Dublin by reference to old books and maps—a course which involved considerable labour and expense. The House would hardly believe that the whole of this course of proceeding was purely imaginary. The revising officers did themselves actually perform all the work of the revision in the country, and there were no rules then in existence requiring them to transmit the information to the Dublin Office in order to have the results worked out there. But what did Mr. Greene do after giving his evidence before the Committee? He went over to Dublin and altered the rules previously existing, in order to make them correspond with his evidence. Next year he came before the Committee again, and without a word of explanation he handed in the altered rules, which required that the work should be done in Dublin, and they were now to be found in an appendix to the Report. This was most extraordinary conduct on the part of the head of any public Depart- ment. If that was to go on without censure, or such a man to be continued in his duties as valuator, his (The O'Conor Don's) troubling the House would have only been so much lost time. It was unnecessary to enter into further details of the extraordinary mismanagement of the present head of that public Department; but he might remark that an able officer who was sent over from the Treasury to Dublin to investigate the accounts found them in such a state that he could make nothing of them. In conclusion, he felt it right to call attention to that subject before the new Valuation Bill for Ireland came on, and he therefore begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


seconded the Motion, and expressed his opinion that further inquiries were necessary for the elucidation of this question. As far as he had gone, if the Report had been allowed to be made he was perfectly prepared that none of the head officers should have been allowed to remain in office. At the same time he thought the blame ought not so much to attach to Mr. Greene as to the successive Governments which had originated and perpetuated the whole of the system complained of.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the present constitution of the Irish Valuation Department is unsatisfactory, and that it is desirable that an experienced and competent officer be placed at its head."—(The O'Conor Don.)


said, he regretted very much that the hon. Member for Roscommon (The O'Conor Don) had thought it his duty to rake up the ashes of this old controversy, and to bring before the House a squabble of a personal nature which he had thought was dead and buried in the archives of the Committee. As he admitted in the discussion two years ago, no doubt many things were done on false principles in former times, but all that had since been remedied. Mr. Vine, than whom no more competent and fearless officer could have been sent over by the Treasury to investigate the matter, found defects in the former system of keeping the books which could not be defended; but he stated that the Government would commit a great mistake if they parted with Mr. Greene, the present head of the Valuation Board. He had no interest except in getting the best man for the place. His hon. Friend had called upon him and asked him to look into the question of the management of the office. He had accordingly gone over the Report of the Committee, he had got the best information possible, and communicated with gentlemen far and wide, in whose judgment he placed the greatest reliance, and the result was that the opinion he had come to was very different from that of his hon. Friend. The present First Commissioner of Works, moreover, a Member of the Select Committee, while recognizing errors in management such as an experienced financier like Mr. Vine could point out, held that the Department had been honestly and efficiently conducted, and that the charges had not been proved. The President of the Local Government Board had come to the same conclusion, these opinions forming primò facie ground for holding that Mr. Greene could not be so incompetent an officer as he had been represented. As to the alleged promise of the Government to make a reform, what he stated on a former occasion was that they had in preparation a Bill for the re-valuation of Ireland, and that it would be necessary to consider what changes in the Department were necessary. This promise had been performed this Session by the introduction of that Bill, which proposed the appointment of an Assistant Commissioner to assist Mr. Greene. Mr. Greene's evidence before the Committee had been described as confused and contradictory, but the questions put to him went back 40 years, and some of them would have puzzled Sir Richard Griffith, and it was easy to make a witness appear in an unfavourable light, especially if he was rather nervous and excited, and unusually anxious to do his duty. When two years ago the hon. Member renewed his Motion for a Committee, the Members of the original Committee deprecated the re-opening of the question, informing him that they had never been so bored in their lives; and that though Mr. Greene might have occasionally given confused answers, they deemed him a straightforward, honest man. The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir F. Hey-gate) who had gone upon the Committee, expecting to ascertain the principle on which the valuation of Ireland was conducted, had stated that the whole time of the Committee was taken up in investigating personal complaints and charges, some of them of the most trivial kind. They were preferred by a few retired clerks, whose evidence was in the teeth of that given by their chief, and who, in 1865 and again in 1868, addressed Mr. Greene in terms of fulsome adulation, declaring his appointment the highest compliment that could have been paid to the Department. Mr. Greene was chosen as his assistant by Sir Richard Griffith, a distinguished man who held the Commissionership till 84 years of age, and was one of the most remarkable men living. He (Mr. Greene) began life as apprentice to an eminent firm of valuers, was employed by Mr. Brunel in valuing the Great Western Railway, and had been unanimously elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Ireland. The testimony, moreover, before the Committee of the agents of Lord Lansdowne and Lord Pembroke was quite contrary to that of the retiring clerks. The hon. Member for Roscommon had sent circulars over Ireland respecting the state of the Board, and he had been favoured with an account of some of the meetings which had considered the matter. At Armagh the Board of Guardians refused to entertain the proposition contained in the circular, which was denounced by a resolution as an unwarrantable attack on the Commission dictated by political motives. At Tralee not a singe Guardian took up the Petition; and at Downpatrick the same thing occurred. Inquiries conducted through official and private friends led to a like conclusion, and the testimony was unanimous on all hands that Mr. Greene was an excellent public servant. On these grounds he (Mr. Baxter) hoped the House would not adopt the Motion.


said, he could corroborate the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken, that a greater waste of time had never fallen to the lot of any gentlemen belonging to the House than had been experienced on that Committee. The chief portion of the Committee's time was occupied in making investigations into the most trumpery charges ever brought against a public servant. The witnesses had been either discarded or had ceased to be employed, and the Committee utterly disregarded their statements. The one thing which the Committee did find out was that in the very intricate calculations necessary to distribute the proportion between the Treasury and the different counties, some irregularities had been committed, which it was impossible for the Committee to unravel, and which were remitted to Mr. Vine to investigate. The Committee required that securities should be devised for preventing such irregularities in future. It was quite true that Mr. Greene had been confused in some of his answers before the Committee, which was a common enough thing with gentlemen of the most unquestioned integrity, who were subjected to a keen cross-examination before a Committee of this House, but the hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon, who was on the Committee, had not ventured at the end of the inquiry to submit any resolutions condemnatory of Mr. Greene or any other person or procedure.


said he had proposed a series of Resolutions which were carried by a majority of one in Committee.


quoted the Report to show that the hon. Member had not at the conclusion of the inquiry moved Resolutions condemning Mr. Greene or any one else. In fact nothing occurred in the Committee in the least impugning the honour or capacity of Mr. Greene, and his impression was that he was the right man in the right place.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had forgotten a portion of the evidence which was very material. One of the principal parties in the office, Mr. Irwin, who had been sent to Bandon to revise the list of electors, read a letter to another party who had to come into the town also for the purpose of revision, and desired him to put himself in communication with the solicitor who represented the Conservative party. He did so, and the result was that several valuations of those who were Liberal electors were reduced by some 5s. or 10s., with the view of removing them from the roll, and an addition was made to some on the Conservative side for the purpose of giving them a vote. A representation was made to the office, and he was removed from the district with a reprimand and sent to the North of Ireland. He was subsequently promoted in the office, although he had been declared during the Dublin election inquiry to have been guilty of bribery. That was not an un- important matter. Mr. Greene was as bad a witness as he had ever cross-examined, and his examination showed that he was ignorant of some of the principal duties of his office; besides there was strong evidence that he had been a promoter of an Orange lodge, which was an improper proceeding on the part of a public officer. It was too much to be told that there were no grounds for the imputation brought forward. In his opinion there were grounds, and there was very great dissatisfaction in Ireland upon the subject.


said he had listened carefully to his hon. Friend opposite (The O'Conor Don), but he had failed to discover that he had brought forward a single tangible charge against the office in question. Mr. Greene had only been at the head of the Valuation Office since 1868, and therefore it was unfair to call upon him to answer charges of the most remote antiquity—as far back as 40 years. In one instance the matter about which Mr. Greene was called upon for explanations occurred, as he stated, when he was only six years old. Knowing from the practice of the Courts what was the reputation of the Valuation Office in Ireland, he wished to give his unqualified testimony as to the general confidence reposed in it. It was quite true that the plans on which the Valuation of Ireland had been carried out were not uniform. In his circuit, for instance, it was perfectly well known that Griffith's valuation was 25 per cent under the letting value, while in the North of Ireland it was very near the value. But that created no inconvenience, because the principle on which the valuation had been conducted in each case was well understood. All the Office originally aimed at was that within a given union the plan of rating should be the same, so that one man should not he taxed more than another, but it was never laid down that it should be uniform all over the Island. The fact was that the valuations were made under different rules and at different times, and therefore it was that they required to be revised. He wished also to add that so distinguished a servant as the late Lord Mayo, when Secretary for Ireland, and thus having ample opportunity to judge, had expressed to him (Dr. Ball) the highest opinion of the value of Mr. Greene as a public official.


wished to make one or two observations, having sat upon the Committee as the representative of the Treasury, and also to correct an error into which the hon. Member for Roscommon (The O'Conor Don) had fallen when he stated that he had made charges against Mr. Greene which had been sanctioned in Committee by a majority of one. The general impression made on his mind, after hearing all the evidence was that Mr. Greene in speaking of the proceedings of his office, naturally gave his views of what was present to his own mind as to the duties which the officers ought to perform. It was found, however, that there was a great variation in the mode in which the officers, who were employed in all parts of the country had conducted their duties, and that some of them had not acted in the manner in which Mr. Greene supposed was the regular order of proceeding. His hon. Friend (The O'Conor Don) had done injustice to himself in the course he had taken, because he had led the House to suppose that he entered into the question too much with a desire to impugn the character of Mr. Greene, and had forgotten the services which he himself rendered to Ireland in the conduct of this Committee. With regard to the main purpose for which this Committee was appointed, his hon. Friends rendered considerable service in calling attention to the manner in which the valuation ought to be conducted in certain parts of the country, which had led to important results, and, in fact, he had laid the foundation for the measure introduced this Session by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of the Treasury. He (Mr. Ayrton) should therefore be very sorry to sec the hon. Member's efforts diminished in their usefulness by his drawing attention to the very trifling matter which arose during the course of the inquiry. The proceedings in no way impugned the integrity of Mr. Greene, but rather the mode adopted by the Irish Administration for many years past. The explanation was simple. It had been the practice of the Government to ask Sir Richard Griffith to prepare for them a variety of statistical information respecting the character of the holdings in Ireland, as he was best able to give as head of the Valuation Office. Sir Richard Griffith performed those services from time to time, and further considered it his duty to allocate the cost of all those services as part of the business of his office. That was an error which was explained by Mr. Greene, and he then told the Committee he was satisfied those accounts could only be unravelled by an accountant. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) thereupon formalized Resolutions on the subject which the Committee unanimously adopted. His hon. Friend (The O'Conor Don) subsequently proposed certain Resolutions affecting the characters of Sir Richard Griffith and Mr. Greene; but he (Mr. Ayrton) pointed out to the Committee that there was no sufficient evidence to sustain them, and it was resolved they should not be taken into consideration until after hearing such further evidence as the Committee shall determine to receive. The hon. Gentleman would see that he was in error in saying the Resolution was adopted by the Committee, for on the contrary, they took further evidence, and he recollected very well the astonishment of the Committee when they heard the complete answer which was given on the points raised by his hon. Friend. So well satisfied were the Committee with the explanations, and so thoroughly did they understand that they did not impugn the position of Mr. Greene, that it was resolved the Resolution in question should not be printed with the Report lest it should go forth that there was some ground for making these serious charges. He was bound to say that Mr. Greene left the Committee with a character altogether unsullied and unimpeached. He was a man of great care and attention in the performance of his duties and was quite fit to be trusted with the supervision of his office. He was told that the office had been reconstituted and the expenditure diminished by something like £5,000 a-year. This showed an efficiency on the part of Mr. Greene which would entitle him rather to the praise than to the condemnation of the House. Sir Richard Griffith might be said to have built up the valuation from the quality of the soil and the great variety of attendant circumstances, and so to come to what he called an absolute standard of value. But there was no such standard. The only standard was what a man would give for the land as tenant. Therefore the errors were not in any way to be attributed to Mr. Greene, who had only acted upon instructions carefully drawn up.


said, he had known Mr. Greene since 1868, and he was enabled to give an unbiassed opinion in favour of his competency, experience, and integrity in the management of the business of his office. He had no hesitation in saying that Mr. Greene was a most competent and efficient officer. He was surprised that anything like a Vote of Censure should have been moved, and if the hon. Member for Roscommon went to a Division he would vote against him.


also bore testimony to the high character and efficiency of Mr. Greene. He had only been six months in office when this Committee was appointed to inquire more into the transactions of the office than into Mr. Greene's own conduct. The charges against Mr. Greene himself had been sustained by the evidence of dismissed servants and by others who had previously subscribed to a testimonial, which he had, however, declined to accept. He hoped the House would not entertain this Vote of Censure, which would affect Sir Richard Griffith quite as much as Mr. Greene—both most deserving public officers, who had performed a work of the utmost importance in Ireland.


in reply, begged to say his charges against Mr. Greene had not been founded on his confused statements, but on his positive misstatements before the Committee. By the time the Committee had finished the evidence it was so late in the Session that it was impossible to get Members to stay in town to consider the Report. The Committee therefore agreed with a proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hunt) that after the inquiry to be instituted by the Treasury Commissioner the Committee should reassemble in the following Session. The Treasury, however, after that inquiry, refused to re-appoint the Committee. He begged to disclaim all personal hostility against Mr. Greene, and had only taken up this question on public grounds. All he desired was that the re-valuation of Ireland which was about to be made should be in competent hands. It was useless to divide the House against the Government, and he would not therefore press his Motion to a Division.

Question put, and negatived.