HC Deb 11 June 1877 vol 234 cc1585-97

in rising to move— That, in the opinion of this House, it would conduce to the better administration of Irish affairs if a department, such as the Local Government Board and the Commissioners of Public Works, were presided over, as is the case of corresponding departments in England, by a responsible Minister not incapable of sitting in Parliament, said, that a great deal was done in Public Business by Departments. He did not wish to say anything about Education as a change was to be made; and it would be well to wait for that. But the Local Government Board in Ireland exercised a great deal of control over the Poor Law and municipal government in Ireland, and he wished to show the necessity of establishing a system such as in England brought the control of Parliament directly to bear on the management of the Board. The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary was only nominally a Member of the Board, for it could not be supposed that he could take an active part in their work. He (Mr. Butt) wished for a responsible Minister who might have a seat in the House. The House would never have an efficient control over Irish affairs until some such official was appointed. Again, the Board of Works had many very important functions, and had the control over a great deal of money and other property. One of its duties was the regulation of the Royal Parks. As an instance of the want of proper controlling power, he would refer to the lamentable conflict which took place in Phoenix Park some seven years ago between the police and the people. He would not go into the affair, except so far as to show how divided was the rule and responsibility of such affairs in Ireland. Some persons determined to hold a meeting in favour of obtaining the release of the Fenian prisoners, somewhat in the style of the London meetings in Hyde Park in favour of reforms in England. The Law Officers decided that if the people got into the Park, it would be impossible to prevent a meeting being held; but in the Phoenix Park, the people were allowed to assemble, and then they were violently disturbed by a body of police. The property was, no doubt, that of the Sovereign, but the management was invested in the Commissioners of Public Works, who alone had power to prohibit the meeting. The Chief Secretary admitted no responsibility for the affair when he was examined at the trial, and had not thought it his duty to give the Under Secretary the necessary instructions. Here, then, was a very strong illustration of the want of responsibility, and it was plain that these Boards were nothing more than shields for the higher officers of State, who really ought to be responsible. Even the Commissioners could do nothing without formal instructions. Their Secretary had been examined, and it appeared that there were three Commissioners who never consulted together or any of recorded their proceedings. No minutes had been taken for two or three years of a Board supposed to administer the whole of the Irish Land Act. Now, in a matter such as an illegal meeting, it could not be right that both the Chief Secretary and the Commissioners should repudiate all responsibility. A Minister having a seat in Parliament, as he had said, should be at the head of the Department of Public Works, and if there were such an official, public opinion would be brought to bear upon the de- tails of Irish administration. He believed the worst government in the world was government by Boards, and he trusted that the authorities would, by the change he advocated, help to educate and stimulate public opinion. The number of officials in the House of Commons was surprising. There were, he thought, 37, but of those only two were Irish officials. There would be no difficulty in finding the official required. He could himself suggest several hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House who would be perfectly qualified for the position; and it was his opinion that if they had these administrative Departments to which he had alluded, presided over by men who were Irishmen and whom they could question in the House, it would materially improve the tone of public opinion in Ireland. He had also to complain that the Government did not give Irishmen a chance of being trained in subordinate offices, so as to fit them for the higher offices of State. They had an Englishman at the head of the Local Government Board, a Scotchman at the head of the Board of Works, an Englishman at the head of the Constabulary in Ireland, perhaps the most important office under existing circumstances in the Irish Administration, and an English Commissioner of Dublin police. In fact, wherever they went, they found Irishmen excluded from sharing in the administration of the affairs of their own country. He thought that the strongest reason he could adduce in favour of his proposition was the unhappy affair in the Phœnix Park. He begged to move the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it would conduce to the better administration of Irish affairs if a department, such as the Local Government Board and the Commissioners of Public Works, were presided over, as is the case of corresponding departments in England, by a responsible Minister not incapable of sitting in Parliament,"—( Mr. Butt,) —instead thereof.


wished to express his sympathy with the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt), inasmuch as the inconvenience felt in Ireland was also felt in Scotland. Their Boards were not properly represented in that House, and he hoped the Home Secretary might be able to clear up some doubt which still existed as regarded the responsibility for Scotch Business in that House. In former times, it was supposed that the Lord Advocate was the Minister for Scotland; but at the beginning of the Session the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was pressed a good deal about the responsibility for what was done, or rather, he thought he might say for what was not done, with regard to Scotch Business, and then the right hon. Gentleman distinctly and entirely took the responsibility upon himself. He said that with regard to Scotch Business, hon. Members were to apply to him, and he understood him to lead them to suppose that the Lord Advocate was in reality simply in the position of Attorney General for Scotland. He was therefore rather surprised when the other day he put a Question to the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Local Taxation Returns for Scotland, to find that he referred him back again to the Lord Advocate. Now, although he was not himself in favour of trusting all Scotch Business to a lawyer exclusively, yet if it were the fact that the Lord Advocate was not in reality an Attorney General, but a Minister under the Secretary of State, responsible for Scotch Business, they would have the advantage of knowing where they were and to whom they were to look in regard to Scotch Business. If the Lord Advocate was not to be something more than an Attorney General—if he was not in reality something of the nature of an Under Secretary of State for Scotland, then he would wish to suggest that at the present moment Scotch Members were somewhat ill-used in this respect, because formerly a practice existed whereby a Scotch Member of the Treasury took a very active part in Scotch Business, and did this work as a Minister responsible for Scotch Boards and Scotch affairs, such as was now demanded for Ireland. He understood that was an arrangement which was at one time made, but which had to a great degree ceased. He understood that the office of Scotch Lord of the Treasury was now held by an hon. Member whom he saw opposite (Sir James Elphinstone), but his functions were not generally very active in that House, and he was not a very constant attendant. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] If he had clone an injustice to the hon. Member, he readily apologized; but he understood that the hon. Member opposite did not make himself responsible in any degree for the active conduct of Scotch Business, and that the arrangement which formerly subsisted, by which the Scotch Lord of the Treasury was practically an Under Secretary of State for Scotland, had ceased to be the practice at the present time. Therefore he did hope that the Secretary of State for the Home Department would tell them whether the Lord Advocate was really a responsible Minister for Scotch affairs in all Departments, as well as in his own legal Department; and, if not, whether the Government would take an early opportunity of considering the question whether the conduct of Scotch affairs might not again be conducted through an officer who, drawing a salary as Scotch Lord of the Treasury, should act in the capacity of a quasi -Under Secretary of State?


said, he would remind hon. Members that they were talking just now of an Irish subject, and not of Scotland, and thought it would be well that they should confine their attention strictly to Ireland. He would only observe that what he said the other day was that, as Secretary of State, he was responsible for the Scotch Business in that House. Any Scotch Member who had any grievance to coin-plain of had only to come to him, and he would do his best to see that measures were taken to put it right. That the Lord Advocate gave him the most material assistance was quite true. The Lord Advocate was intimately versed in all the details of administration, and that he received the greatest possible assistance from him he most readily acknowledged, but he (Mr. Cross) was responsible practically for the conduct of Scotch Business in that House. With regard to the particular question of local taxation, he was responsible for seeing that he got the Returns. All he said upon that matter was, that the Lord Advocate would show the hon. Gentleman (Sir George Campbell) at once how easy it would be to obtain the information, and not put him to any trouble. He (Mr. Cross) would under- take that the hon. Gentleman got the information for which he asked.


said, he did not consider that what the hon. and learned Member for Limerick recommended was the best course to adopt. He thought that the real remedy would be for the Irish Secretary to pay more deference to the opinion of Irish Members.


observed that there was no real responsibility to that House. It was impossible to fix responsibility upon anyone. The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary was nominally the President of the Local Government Board; but he took no personal part in its deliberations, and therefore he could not be responsible for it. The real work was left to three gentlemen, who were Poor Law Commissioners, and who were now by virtue of an Act of Parliament members of the Local Government Board; and, without saying anything derogatory to their personal qualifications, he could not admit that they had the confidence of the country. He had known cases in which the Local Government Board had acted in a most arbitrary and unconstitutional manner, but there were no means of getting at them. There was a Bill before that House for the consolidation of the sanitary laws of Ireland, in which the Chief Secretary took a great interest, and there was a great deal of complaint about the obstructive policy pursued with regard to that measure. For himself, he should hesitate to support it, for it proposed to increase the power of a Board in which the country had no confidence and which could not be made responsible. There was a waste of money at the Board of Works, and competent authorities declared that the work could be done for half the money. The Board did things which they would never have dreamt of doing if they had a responsible Member in the House. Take the case of a nice slice of the Queen's Park being given to the nephew of a learned Judge. ["No, no!"] Well, he apologized—it was the son-in-law of a learned Irish Judge. It was a pretty bit of the Park given to him at a rental. Would any Judge dare to ask for a bit of a London Park for his son-in-law? That was a very small case; but it was one of many cases, and, rightly or wrongly, there was in the public mind more than a suspicion that the affairs of these Boards were not well conducted, and it was a serious grievance in Ireland that if there was a complaint, it was absolutely impossible to fix the responsibility. It was useless to have a nominal representation in that House who had more important duties to perform, and whose responsibility to that House therefore practically ceased.


said, he felt himself unable to join in anything like a censure upon the present mode of conducting Irish Business. Judging from some of the expressions made use of, it might almost seem as if blame was to be attached to the Chief Secretary. ["No, no!"] He was glad to hear the disclaimer, as he would otherwise have been compelled to demur to such an assumption. The right hon. Gentleman had never shirked his responsibility; but had always been ready to answer in the House for the manner in which Irish affairs had been conducted. He dissented also from the blame cast upon the public Boards referred to. No doubt, certain acts of those Departments might be found fault with by some persons, but the same thing existed in England. If, however, the Motion was intended to imply that the present head of the Irish Department in this House was a very hard-worked Minister, he entirely concurred in it, because he believed there was no Member of the Government who had more arduous and difficult duties to perform.


disclaimed the slightest or any intention whatever, in bringing forward this Motion, of making an attack on the right hon. Gentleman. It was the system of which he complained.


said, that he understood that the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) was only attacking the system; and, certainly, if he had attacked the way in which his (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach's) own duties were performed, he should not have felt that it would be becoming for him to attempt any reply. However, he desired to express his hearty thanks to his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow (Mr. Bruen) for the opinion he had expressed on that subject. The hon. and learned Member attacked the system on two grounds—first, that the various Departments of the Irish Government were administered rather by Boards than by Ministers personally responsible to that House; and, secondly, that these Boards were not composed of Irishmen, and that Irishmen generally had not a fair share in the Government of the United Kingdom. He did not agree with the hon. and learned Member as to the second objection. The present Vice President of the Local Government Board, and the present heads of the Irish Constabulary and the Dublin police happened to be Englishmen or Scotchmen. But if hon. Members looked to the other persons who controlled those Deparments, he believed they would find that the second in command both of the Dublin police and the Irish Constabulary were Irishmen; that two members of the Local Government Board were Irishmen, and that Irish blood was very fully represented on the Board of Works. He did not think that men should be chosen for such appointments on the ground of their nationality, but on the ground of their being fit for the place; but it had happened that two Irish gentlemen had on his recommendation been appointed, one as a Commissioner of the Local Government Board, and another as the second in command of the Irish Constabulary. But as regarded the composition of the Government, when it was remembered that his noble Friend the Member for Enniskillen (Lord Crichton) and his right hon. Friend the Member for the county of Dublin (Colonel Taylor) were respectively a Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it would be seen that Ireland had as great a share in the composition of the Government as Scotland. And when the hon. and learned Member for Limerick hoped that some day an Irishman might rise to the distinguished position of a Member of the Cabinet, he was astounded that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have forgotten that one of the most distinguished Members of the present Cabinet was Lord Cairns, who was an Irishman, and for many years had been Member for Belfast. As to the objection raised that the Government of Ireland was too much in the hands of Boards, he might say, in the first place, that that objection could hardly be applied to the Local Government Board, as was pointed out by the hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray). He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) was the President of the Local Government Board, and he was, to use the words of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion, a "responsible Minister not incapable of sitting in Parliament." No doubt the whole of the ordinary daily administration of the Local Government Board was conducted, and most ably conducted, by Sir Alfred Power. But why was it that the daily administration of the ordinary work had fallen into the hands of the Vice President of the Board rather than the President? Unquestionably, because it was necessary that matters of this kind should be decided by a person actually on the spot. He was not speaking of important matters of policy; he was speaking of the ordinary details of administration, and he thought that it would be impossible for him, having, as he had, other duties to perform here, to attend to such details; while, on the other hand, it would be an unnecessary multiplication of offices to appoint a responsible Minister capable of sitting in Parliament, only for the purpose of presiding over the Local Government Board. The work of the Local Government Board was performed by the Vice President, after consultation with his Colleagues, and when important matters arose, he had invariably consulted him (the Chief Secretary) and acquainted him with what he proposed to be done; and, of course, in all matters of legislation, he was the responsible head of the Department, and he was prepared to answer any charges that might be made. It had been stated that these Boards were not responsible to Parliament. He denied that statement altogether. As a matter of fact, if anything was done by any one of those Boards it was brought before the notice of the House, and some Minister or other was bound, as the responsible Minister, to answer for that act. The hon. Member for Tipperary (Mr. Gray) had referred to Whitefield Lodge. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) must take exception to the statement that the Board of Works had given a residence to the son-in-law of a Judge as a matter of favour; on the contrary, the place was advertized in the public journals, tenders were asked for, and the gentleman who offered the highest tender was, subject to confirmation by the Government, accepted by the Board of Works. What happened? The matter was brought by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) under the notice of that House. He moved for the production of Papers. The subject was re-considered; and in the end, he presumed, dealt with satisfactorily to the hon. and learned Member opposite, for he (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had never heard of it since. He could not imagine a more striking instance than that of the fact that, if necessary, any Department of the Government could be reached by a Motion made in that House, to which some responsible Minister was bound to reply. Then, with reference to O'Byrne v. Hartington, he certainly recollected that his Predecessor in office (the Marquess of Hartington) had upon more than one occasion been called to account for his share in the action taken to suppress the meeting in the Phœnix Park; and therefore he could not see how it could be said with justice that an attempt had been made to push off responsibility upon the Board of Works. The fact was, that details of local business must be locally conducted; but they were so conducted under the supervision and under the direct responsibility of the Government. If anything was done to which hon. Members for Ireland could take objection, they had always shown themselves ready to bring it forward, they experienced no difficulty in doing so, and if they disagreed with what had been said by the Minister, they could always exercise their privilege of dividing the House against the Government upon the question. He did not see any obstacle in the way of obtaining redress, but he did say that if each and every one of those Departments were all, as he thought the hon. and learned Member would propose, put under a separate Parliamentary official, they would have an infinite and unnecessary multiplication of offices, of which some at any rate would be sinecures; or if they did not have these, they would be all absorbed in English Departments of the corresponding kind. He did not think that the adoption of the second alternative would be satisfactory to hon. Members representing Irish constituencies; and he felt equally sure that the first would not result in any benefit to the country.


said, he did not care much for the appointment of more Irish supporters of the Government to offices either in that House or out of it. It seemed to him that the Government of Ireland was so abomi- nably bad, and so opposed to everything of what a popular constitution should be, that he could have very little sympathy with any attempts to patch it up. It was based on two principles—first, to reward the most unpatriotic Irishmen that could be found; and, second, to find a shelter for the responsible heads of the Government from everything that was done. Nothing could be more absurd than the constitution of the Irish Education Board. It was composed of a great number of Judges and other persons selected by different Governments, and many of these never attended, except when there was something particular coming on in which they happened to feel an interest. He had also to complain of the anomaly of allowing Sir Richard Griffiths to continue a member of the Board of Works when, from his great age and his residence in England, he could not attend to the duties of the office. He objected to the patching up of this anomalous and objectionable system of government in order to weaken the claim of the Irish people to manage their own affairs.


regretted that the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary had not promised that Sir Richard Griffiths's place on the Board of Works should be filled up by someone competent to discharge the duties of the office, seeing that that gentleman remained on it as a mere puppet. He dissented, however, from the observations of the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) as to unpatriotic Irish Members obtaining appointments from the Government. He had seen Irish Members on both sides appointed by different Governments who, in the conduct of Public Business, had evinced an intelligence and an energy that conferred honour on their country. No doubt, the Irish people were entitled to administer their own affairs; but, in the meantime, he certainly advocated Irishmen having a fair share in the administration of the affairs of the country, and thought the Irish people would be very dissatisfied if that were not carried out.


thought that no doubt the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) had put his finger on a very great evil, and that it would be very difficult in the present state of affairs in Ireland to adopt an adequate remedy. There was no country in the world so much governed by Boards, and everybody who had lived in Ireland must have seen instances where the power of the Local Government Board and of the Commissioners of Public Works had been exercised adversely to the interests of the country, and he (Mr. Parnell) had no doubt that it was equally patent to the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland. The question was, how were they to remedy the present state of affairs? The hon. and learned Member for Limerick suggested that those two Boards should be represented by a responsible Minister in that House. At first sight, it might appear as if such a step as that might increase the patronage and power of the Government, but that was not so. It would only increase Parliamentary patronage, and would transfer to Members of Parliament offices now held by those who were not Members of Parliament. He did not wish to draw any invidious distinctions with reference to the hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who sat behind the Treasury bench, and he would not say that they did not represent the intelligence of Ireland; but it must be remembered that by the past administration of Irish affairs the Government had put the people of Ireland in direct antagonism to the upper classes and the aristocracy of Ireland. There could be no question that the Irish Conservatives were in a position of very great difficulty in obtaining Representatives in that House, and therefore on that account he could not take it for granted that Irish Members on the opposite side did thoroughly represent the ability, education, and aristocracy of Ireland. From the very nature of the case, it followed that those hon. Gentlemen had been elected under exceptional circumstances, and if the Government were to choose from that body there would be a very limited choice, and he did not think that they could select from among them satisfactory occupiers of office. As to the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for King's County (Sir Patrick O'Brien), who had deprecated any attempt to alter the present system, because at some time or other they hoped to obtain self-government for Ireland, he (Mr. Parnell) was one of those who perhaps held rather peculiar views, and he thought that the question of self-government should be brought before the House, and if the Home Rule Members were only true to themselves, they would soon place it in a position of importance which it had not acquired up to the present time. The hon. Baronet had told them that he, for one, was not unwilling to make changes which were required now, but which would not be required under a system of self-government; there would be no doubt that under such a system it would be extended to local self-government and municipal government. The hon. Baronet had also said that Members from Ireland sitting on any side of the House, ought not to be precluded from sharing in the Government of the country, or from sharing in the places at the disposal of the Government. But the position of hon. Members on that side of the House was exceptional, and this had been proved by the manner in which offices had been bestowed by the present and past Governments. Those Governments, instead of assigning the offices as a reward of merit and ability, had deliberately given them to men who had prostituted themselves to the ends and aims which the Government had in view. He did not believe it was possible for any English Cabinet, or any number of English Members, to appreciate and understand the real mistakes they made, and he did not believe those mistakes would be corrected until they had a means of local self-government in Ireland which would be appreciated by the Irish people. He further believed it was impossible for the English Government to govern Ireland with a due regard to the interests, or in conformity with the feelings of the country, so long as they adhered to the system, which was that of ruling the country through a garrison, as it was called.


said, that as he had brought forward the Motion mainly with the view of raising a tentative discussion upon it, he would, with the leave of the House, withdraw it. ["No, no!"]

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.