§ (2.) £22,340, to complete the sum for the Chief Secretary for Ireland Offices.
§ (3.) £1,522, to complete the sum for the Charitable Donations and Bequests Office, Ireland.
(4.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £95,826, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1880, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board in Ireland, including various Grants in Aid of Local Taxation.
§ MR. A. MOORE
said, he had an Amendment on the Paper against this Vote; but he had no wish to detain the Committee more than a few minutes. There were very important questions connected with the Local Government Board in Ireland which, some time ago, he thought it his duty to bring before the House at great length. He understood that during the last year a very eminent official had been promoted to the head of this Department; and at the beginning of his period of office he should be very sorry to cast any reflection upon the manner in which the office was conducted which might prejudice him in his career of usefulness. He only wished to observe that the workhouses in Ireland were built at a time when there was much pauperism throughout the country, and built for the accommodation of young and old, and for a large number of persons who could not obtain any 1420 means of livelihood. The latter class of paupers had now disappeared, and the workhouses had become almost exclusively the home of the young and the old; and, therefore, he thought it proper that, in considering the conduct of the Poor Law administration, their attention ought to be directed to the practice of making these houses suitable for the comfort and happiness of those classes. He could not see why, in Ireland, the French system should not be adopted. Some system of the kind had been adopted in England, and it was proposed to be adopted in Scotland—namely, that old married couples, who had attained 60 years of age, should live together in the workhouse as man and wife. There could be no possible objection to permitting this, and it would only be an act of kindness on the part of the Local Government Board. There was another very great grievance to which he wished briefly to direct the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and that was the question of the hospitals. There was no doubt that the workhouse hospitals in Ireland were managed upon an exceedingly unwise principle. Lately, the Report of a very eminent Commission on Poor Law had been presented; and one of the Poor Law Inspectors, on giving his Report to the Commission, drew attention especially to the question of nurses in hospitals. In many of the Unions in Ireland, simply with a view to economy, proper nurses were not employed to attend, the aged poor and the young children. At a small cost of a few additional pounds per annum the attendance of one regular nurse might be had to attend the sick. As was distinctly stated in the official Report presented to the House, at the present time women of the worst grade were made use of to attend to the sick. This was a most scandalous thing; and if it continued next year, and he had the honour of a seat in the House, he would be persistent in endeavouring to bring about a reform.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the question as to the treatment of aged paupers had been inquired into before a Commission. He regretted that, owing to causes connected with the course of Public Business, upon which it was unnecessary for him to dwell, the Government had not been able at present to take action upon the various matters 1421 dealt with in the Report of the Commission; but this would be done as soon as it was possible; and, therefore, he trusted that the hon. Member would not find it necessary to bring this question forward another year.
§ MR. A. MOORE
, in consideration of the recent appointment to the head of the Local Government Board in Ireland, did not wish to press his Motion to reduce the Tote by £4,000. He thought it only right that when a new official came into power he should have a fair and open field for his labours. The only other question to which he wished to call attention was the habit of overcrowding the occupants in some rooms of the workhouses, while other compartments remained empty. For instance, at Cavan, the conduct of the Guardians deserved the reprehension of every fair man.
§ MR. SHAW
said, that the Local Government Board in Ireland was, no doubt, a most respectable Board; but he had been for some time watching their movements, and he could not understand by what principles they were guided, especially in respect to their interference with Boards of Guardians. Of course, he admitted that, in many cases, interference with Boards of Guardians was necessary, because the tendency of Boards of Guardians was to cut down expenditure wherever the poor were concerned. There ought to be some authority to compel the Guardians to do their duty towards the poor, and to this extent he approved of the intervention of the Local Government Board. But it could not be denied that orders were issued by the authorities in Dublin making all sorts of changes involving taxation, and the Guardians were coerced, whether rightly or wrongly, to carry out those orders. If the proceedings of the Local Government Board were manifestly wrong, it seemed to him that there ought to be some authority to whom the Guardians could appeal. This ought to be particularly the case in questions which involved taxation. Of course, he was told that appeal could be made to the Chief Secretary; but, then, he was a Member of the Local Government Board, and though he did not attend much to its duties he would be prejudiced in favour of its decisions. He had known cases occurring in the West of his county, where the Local Govern- 1422 ment Board had been corresponding for some time with the Poor Law Guardians concerning the establishment of a new dispensary. The establishment of such an institution was against the opinions of the Board of Guardians and the ratepayers of the district, and the action of the Local Government Board had left the arrangements of the dispensary district in the greatest possible confusion. That was only one of a large number of cases of undue interference. In the case of one town in his county, the Local Government Board carried on a correspondence with the local authorities for months with the view of compelling them to become a Local Board of Health, When, if they had looked into Thom's Almanack they would have seen the population of the place was below the required number. In other instances, the Local Government Board had interfered most irrationally. The present state of things was most unsatisfactory, and ought to receive attention at the hands of the Government. It struck him very forcibly that there ought to be some central authority to which the decisions of the Local Government Board could, if requisite, be referred. He did not see why Poor Law Guardians should not be able to appeal to the Judge of Assize. At present, the mouths of the Guardians were closed. Sealed orders came down by which, in one district, the taxation had been increased by something like 5d. in the pound. There was not the slightest need for it; yet there was no power of appeal.
§ MR. P. MARTIN
trusted they would have this subject inquired into. He himself had received remonstrances from several Boards of Guardians, who considered that they had been unfairly treated by the Local Government Board. He was of opinion that the Local Government Board of Ireland, in many respects, conducted their business admirably; but, notwithstanding that opinion, he thought there should be some controlling power, so that in cases where Guardians saw fit to contest their decisions they should have the means of doing so. The Government could not, in justice, object to a power of revision and appeal being vested in some impartial body, which, sitting in the locality from which the complaint came, would investigate and determine what ought to be done. It was rather 1423 for Government than private Members to suggest the constitution of such a body; but, in his judgment, the appeal ought to be made to a more popular tribunal than the Judge of Assize. The Chief Secretary was necessarily absent for lengthened periods, and could not give the personal supervision required on the part of the Board for the more efficient working of the system; and many of those matters in dispute between the Board in Dublin and the Guardians required an examination to be had open to the public. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would listen to the remonstrances now made, and give some assurance that the grievance would be remedied.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
asked how it was that the English Local Government Board acted so differently towards Boards of Guardians to the Irish Board; how was it that, unlike the Irish Board, it worked in perfect unison with the wishes of the people? It was because the English Board was amenable to the House of Commons, while the Irish Board was not. The English Board was represented by a gentleman whose sole duties were connected with the Board; and in the case of Ireland the Local Government Board, and all the other Boards, were thrown on the shoulders of one man, and the Local Government Board was perfectly independent of the House of Commons. He fully agreed that there ought to be the power of appeal against the decisions of the Board, but believed that an appeal to some more popular tribunal than the Judge of Assize was necessary. They wanted an appeal to this House; and the way to give that appeal was to take the charge of the Local Government Board away from the present Chief Secretary, and place it in the hands of a gentleman who would have no other duties to perform. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) had referred to instances in which the Local Government Board in Ireland had overruled the wishes of Boards of Guardians. In the part of the country from which he (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) came this was a matter of constant occurrence. Some time ago, an addition was about to be made to the salary of the chaplain attending the large workhouse at Limerick. It had been resolved, by large majorities of the Board, to make the increase; but 1424 the Local Government Board positively refused to sanction it. In respect to the proposal to constitute the Judge of Assize a Court of Appeal, he might observe that he had always found that the tendency of the Irish Judicial Bench had been to uphold the authority of subordinate officials in Dublin. For this reason, he should certainly prefer that the appeal should be made to the House of Commons; and this could be done by a re-organization of the responsibility of the Irish Departments. He only desired to say, further, that in the confusion which prevailed with regard to the Votes for the Queen's University and Colleges several very important Irish Votes were passed, and amongst them was that for the Chief Secretary's Office. He had an Amendment on the Paper to reduce that Vote by £4,000, which he should have great pleasure in moving on Report.
§ MR. SYNAN
did not agree with the remedy which the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Shaw) had proposed. He could understand the wisdom of appeals against the decisions of the Local Government Board; but the proposal to appeal to the Judge of Assize in matters of administration appeared to him simply incomprehensible. The root of the evil was that the Local Government Board in Ireland was not represented in the House of Commons. It was absurd for the Chief Secretary to tell them he represented the Local Government Board. It was impossible that he could attend to the administration of five Departments at one time. It was difficult to comprehend why it was that it had never occurred to the Government of this country to have such a Board as the Local Government Board of Ireland, representing all the local administration in Ireland, directly represented in the House of Commons by some Gentleman to whom appeal could be made in case of irregularity or illegality. There was no doubt that the manner in which local bodies in Ireland were treated was intolerable. Such treatment would not be tolerated by any body in England; why, therefore, should they be subjected to it in Ireland? Because they had no appeal; because there was no one to whom the Irish Members could appeal. If they appealed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, they found that he knew nothing about the matter. When 1425 he was asked questions he had to confer with the Local Government Board in Ireland. If they wanted the present state of things remedied, the Local Government Board of Ireland must be represented in this House, like the Local Government Board in England.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
said, he had a Motion on the Paper having reference to the Irish Board of Works; but, probably, it would be better if he took this opportunity of mentioning to the Chief Secretary and to the House some matters of importance connected with the subject. The Local Government Board and the Board of Works in Ireland had between them the actual material government of Ireland. The Local Government Board, of course, was composed of Commissioners; and he would suggest to the Government that they should adopt, in respect to it, a course similar to that adopted in regard to the Board of Works—namely, to appoint a Departmental Committee to investigate the operations of the Board. In that way they would get a body of reliable evidence, and the public would know what the Board was doing, and what it intended to do. The recommendation which had found some favour was that the Local Government Board and the Board of Works should be so fused together that they would have one responsible head in the House of Commons. If they had a Minister in the House responsible for these Departments they would be able to ascertain what was being done, and to obviate evils which now arose without the possibility of remedy. The Local Government Board, for instance, on its own motion, had the power of fixing the qualification of Poor Law Guardians. In some districts the qualification was very low—from £7 to £8—but in other districts it was very high. In the very poorest districts in Ireland—namely, in the West—the Local Government Board was pleased, nearly 20 years ago, to raise the qualification to a higher figure than that of any other district in Ireland; and this was done because it was said that there had been some corruption about tenders for supply. Whether that was true or not he did not know; but he knew what was alleged to have happened a generation ago. The people in the neighbourhood had begged the Local Government Board to reduce the 1426 qualification to the ordinary amount in other parts of Ireland. He (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had himself taken a great deal of pains in this matter. Before Sir Alfred Power resigned his position on the Board he saw him on the subject, and he promised to take it into serious consideration. Nothing, however, had been done. The object of the increase of the qualification was perfectly plain. It was that the Guardians should consist only of a certain number of rich, and, principally, Protestant gentleman. This was enough to make any people discontented, and, therefore, he hoped the Chief Secretary would give the matter his serious consideration. Another matter there was which was of importance, owing to the great alterations introduced into sanitary laws of late years. The Board of Works in Ireland performed the functions of the Exchequer Loan Commissioners, and had to inquire into the security offered for any loans advanced for sanitary purposes; and the Board of Works had also the function—which, on the whole, they discharged very well—of advancing loans of money for material improvements in various parts of the country, and, for this purpose, had at their disposal an engineering staff. When the Sanitary Act was passed the Local Government Board claimed to be the authority to determine the loans for sanitary purposes. It was unwilling to have its authority trenched upon, and was unwilling to strip itself of any authority which it claimed inherently or secondarily. But the Local Government Board had no engineering staff to examine the plans submitted by applicants for loans for sanitary purposes, while the Board of Works had an engineering staff. There was thus a difficulty here; and then followed a long correspondence, and then the Local Government Board referred the point to the Treasury in London. The Treasury, after hearing the quarrel between the Boards, came to this decision. The duties of the two Boards—the Local Government and the Board of Works—in regard to sanitary loans, were decided to be the Local Government Board to recommend the loans after ascertaining the utility of the project, and to enter into the engineering merits and sufficiency of the plans, but, at the same time, to have resort to the advice of the Board of Works, who 1427 had the engineering staff competent to do the work; and to the Board of Works was allotted the duty of inquiry into the security offered by the applicants. The Local Government Board got leave to supplement their staff with an engineering officer, but they did not avail themselves of it; but it happened they had a clerk who, at some time of his life, was supposed to know something of engineering, and it was made part of his duty to examine the plans. But this examination was never carried out.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
explained, that an engineer had since been appointed to the Local Government Board.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
continued. That was just the point brought forward by the Committee, and it was their Re-port that brought these facts to light—that the Sanitary Laws were construed in the most absurd way, and many of them were utterly useless, and largely owing to the neglect of the Local Government Board. To go into the subject would be to disclose a most extraordinary state of things. The Local Government Board never examined the plans at all when loans were applied for; and, further than that, they objected to share the responsibility. They said—"We are not responsible for the loans; we are not responsible for the plans advised by the local engineers;" and yet they had been told by the Treasury they were responsible, and they themselves claimed the responsibility. When it was asked of them—"Suppose the first instalment has been advanced, and the applicants come forward for a second instalment, what security have you that the first instalment has been properly laid out?"—a sum, perhaps, of £10,000 or £20,000—"Oh," the answer was, "we have no security; we never examine into the question whether the money has been properly laid out; we assume it has been, and the locality, having got the first instalment, when it was asked for got the second instalment also." It might seem unreasonable to take up the time of the Committee with more details; but if hon. Members would take up the Report of the evidence they would find it showed an extraordinary state of things; and it was just those details that were at the bottom of half these Irish grievances. It was of no use giving support here and there, unless, in giving that support, Government would take into considera- 1428 tion the material advancement of the country. References were made from one Board to another, not one of which had sympathy with the popular requirements, who neglected their duty, and were responsible to no one. What responsibility was it to the Treasury? The Secretary to the Treasury was, perhaps, the hardest-worked man in the House; and with his utmost attention, and with all his grasp of mind, he could not master all the questions relating to sanitary loans; and he submitted that a case had been made out for inquiry into the constitution and administration of the Local Government Board in Ireland.
§ MR. VERNER
did not think that either of the two propositions which had been put forward—namely, an appeal to a Judge, or an official directly responsible for the Board in that House, would remedy the matters complained of; nor did he believe it would be advisable to accede to them. The Local Government Board often did what he disapproved of, and he had been nursing his wrath for some time against it on account of some flagrant misdeeds; but after hearing the complaints from the other side of the House, some of them being directed against the Board for following in certain cases a policy which he (Mr. Verner) agreed with and considered to be the right one, he said that there were undoubtedly two sides to the question, and that the Local Government Board had a very hard task before them, which, in the main, was creditably and satisfactorily fulfilled. With regard to the proposal to send another Irish official to sit on the Bench below him, he thought that, looking at the life led by the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General for Ireland, proverbially brave as Irishmen might be, an Irish gentleman would hesitate to accept such a position.
§ MR. CALLAN
hoped that the same course would not be followed in reference to the Local Government Board as was adopted with the Board of Works two years ago. He was himself invited to go before that Departmental Committee; but, knowing something of such inquiries, he refused, and the result had justified his apprehensions. The Committee took a large amount of evidence, and they made their Report; but the Government had done nothing upon the 1429 recommendations of that Report, and absolutely the time occupied in giving the evidence was wasted public time, and money had been expended without any result. He hoped that any mode of dealing with the Local Government Board would be shorter, sharper, and more decisive. With reference to raising the qualifications of Poor Law Guardians, there was a sliding scale provided by the Act; and he, for one, would favour the qualification for Guardians being placed much higher than it was at present. He should say the qualification of voters should be reduced, and that of Guardians raised. He should like to hear the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) explain whether, in the Unions to which he had referred, it was the practice to admit, as ex-officio Guardians, men who had no qualifications? There were too many instances of this, and it conduced very much to the encouragement of jobbery. He did not think that any moderate man would wish to see the qualifications for Guardians reduced at present. With reference to the Local Government Board, he hoped the re-construction of the Board of Works would be an example to follow. At the head of the latter an Irishman had been substituted for an Englishman, a change which had given much satisfaction. In the action of the Local Government Board in refusing to accede to the desire of Guardians to reduce salaries there was much reason to complain. There had been a wave of depression all over Ireland, and in the Union of Dundalk the Guardians had almost unanimously decided to reduce the salaries of their officers all round some 7½ per cent. But the proposition was refused, and the Board in Dublin declined to give a deputation any reason for the refusal; they simply declined to allow any of the salaries to be reduced. But in the same county another Board of Guardians went to the Local Government Board; but, perhaps, because they made the application in more humble form, it was acceded to. In Dundalk, however, in the face of an almost unanimous vote, it was refused. This was a point upon which there should be some explanation, some reason assigned as guiding the Board in its decision. But as to having a representative of the Local Government Board in the House, that would be a most unfortunate ar- 1430 rangement. Such an official would be much better employed doing his duty in Ireland than in sitting in the House and voting en bloc with the other Members of the Government. It would be of great advantage if, during the winter Recess, the Chief Secretary for Ireland went over and attended some of the meetings of the Local Government Board, with a view to make himself acquainted with the manner in which business was conducted. He was certain that if the right hon. Gentleman did so his natural sense of justice would compel them to exercise a wise controlling power, and give reasons for the decisions which he was obliged to uphold in that House.
§ MR. GRAY
said, he was not aware of any reasons for retaining the existing qualifications for Guardians of the poor. The qualification formerly required of Members of that House had been abolished; and if they had abolished it in one case he did not see why they should retain it in another. But with reference to the Local Government Board, it was a question that had engaged attention for years past. For four or five years Irish Members had been pleading for an inquiry into the constitution and management of the Board. For a long time they had urged the same thing with regard to the Board of Works, and the same reasons for resisting that inquiry were made as were now made in regard to the Local Government Board. The Departmental Committee which at last inquired into the Board of Works did its work admirably. It was a most useful Committee, and no blame attached to them because their recommendations had not been carried out by the Government. They had collected, an amount of evidence which must be valuable when the re-organization came. He was convinced that equally good reasons could be shown for re-organizing the Local Government Board; and there was no reason why inquiry should be deferred Session after Session. This Board possessed the most extensive and arbitrary powers. It really had a power of veto over every sanitary authority in Ireland. The entire administration of the Public Health Aot—which was one of the most important Acts ever passed for any country—was subject to the ulterior supervision of the Local Government Board, which had a veto upon every action of every sanitary 1431 authority, and also had the power of initiating, if the sanitary authority did not think fit to carry out certain measures. But the Local Government Board had not a third as much knowledge of sanitary matters as the authorities over whom they exercised control, and sometimes issued the most ridiculous directions. For instance, during the small pox epidemic in Dublin, they insisted that the Dublin authorities should provide extra conveyances, although the latter showed that they were not required, and would not be used. However, they were obliged to submit to a compulsory letter, and cabs were provided at a cost of £100 to the ratepayers, and were not used twice. In many other cases the powers of the Board had been exercised in an arbitrary and a ridiculous fashion. How was the Board constituted up to three months ago? Its President was the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and an ex-officio member of the Board was the Under Secretary. These they might take as two ornamental members of the Board, who did that duty admirably; but neither of them took any very active part in the administration of the Board, and, in fact, they could not be expected to do so. Then there was the Vice President of the Board, Sir Alfred Power, an officer who had done good work in his day; but who, it was admitted, had become incapable of discharging the duties, and, in fact, had only retained his office until he had secured his son in a lucrative position. That having been secured, he retired, and it would have been better had he done so 10 years before. He had served for 40 years, and during the last six or eight years of his tenure of office was unfit to be the head of the Department and for the duties intrusted to him. He was assisted by another member of the Board—the Hon. Mr. Bellew—but who did nothing but sign formal documents and draw his salary. Then there was the Medical Commissioner, Dr. Croker King; but what effective work had he initiated in sanitary reform? The real work of the Board, then, was vested in the Vice President. He acknowledged that the successor of Sir Alfred Power was a gentleman thoroughly competent for that position. He did not think that the Government could possibly have made a better appointment than that of Mr. Robinson, and he had no doubt that 1432 that gentleman would discharge the duties admirably; but even with his advice and assistance the Board was not strong enough to have the public confidence, when they held the power of veto over the Dublin Corporation, and other local authorities in whom the public had every confidence. They might make a good appointment now and again; but there never would be a satisfactory system until the Board was made responsible to the public. The Chief Secretary could do no more than, when questions were put to him, send to Dublin for replies and act as the mouthpiece of the Board. Why, a Secretary to the Treasury could do this quite as well. In the first place, to command confidence, the Board should be composed of gentlemen of high position; and, in the next place, it should be directly represented in the House. This was not merely his own view, but the opinion of the majority who had thought upon the subject in connection with the administration of the Public Health Act; and in view of the appeal made year after year there certainly ought to be an inquiry into the Office. Only after such an inquiry would public confidence be created by the re-establishment of the Board in a position and under a system to facilitate useful reforms. The result of the inquiry into the Board of Works justified a similar inquiry into the Local Government Board.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Verner) was very much mistaken in supposing that it was suggested, or in any way wanted, to add to the number of Her Majesty's Ministers another, charged with the duty of looking after this Board. There was an Irish Lord of the Treasury, the Member for Enniskillen (Viscount Crichton), who had nothing whatever to do; and it was supposed that, in order to occupy his leisure, he would be given charge of the Board of Works—probably at the Greek Kalends. The hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had shown the communication between the two Boards. Now, what was to prevent the noble Lord the Member for Enniskillen taking charge of these two Boards, and coming to the House responsible for its action, and prepared to explain it? This was a way of remedying the grievance, without adding another to the existing num- 1433 ber of Irish places. If they wanted to make these bodies really useful, what they ought to do was to give them an elective character; but, in the absence of this, the best thing they could do was to make use of the noble Lord whom they were keeping in petto here.
§ MR. MELDON
said, that the general complaint was not that the Local Government Board had too many powers, but that it exercised the powers it possessed in a very arbitrary manner. There was nothing more demanded of Irish Members than that they should insist upon a reform of this power. It not only put aside, in the most peremptory manner, the wishes of all who wore carrying on the work of the Poor Law, but it actually endeavoured to set itself above the law. For instance, while the Public Health Act of 1878 was before the House, a question arose as to the insertion of certain provisions. Sir Alfred Power strongly objected to these, and fought out his case with the late Chief Secretary and the Attorney General. But the House, after giving full consideration to the matter, approved of the statements made by himself and other Irish Members, and inserted them in the Act. There were two things of which great complaint was made. First, the mode of payment of medical officers, which was by scale, the result being that men got exactly the same whether they had no duties, or whether all their time was taken up. That was very irregular, and very wrong, yet Sir Alfred Power wished to adhere to that provision; and, though he was beaten, he refused to alter the scale of payment or to carry out the provisions of the Act. Now, he wished to know whether the Local Government Board, under its new Vice President, would still insist on thus setting the law at naught, and acting on the provisions of the Act of 1874, which had been repealed. There were one or two other points in which he took great interest. First, there was the Vaccine Department. He had brought this question before the House in 1874 and 1875, when he pointed out that although, for the purposes of the Vaccine Lymph Institution, the Local Government Board in England had a Vote of £20,200, in Ireland but £600 was voted. He admitted that, owing to persistent agitation, the £600 had been now doubled; but even that was a very 1434 small sum, and complaints were frequent that the supplies of lymph in Ireland were not sufficient, that the means for vaccination were inadequate, and that the number of applications refused were considerable, as they had recently had an epidemic of small-pox in Dublin; and, therefore, he hoped that this matter would be attended to, and that in future, at any rate, the supply would be unlimited, and that every medical man would have all he required. Beyond the £20,200.given to England for the gratuitous distribution of lymph, £16,000 was given by way of bonuses for successful vaccination, and the consequence was that in England the system had been brought to great perfection. There was no public vaccinator in England who did not do what he could to prevent small-pox. No similar sums were given in Ireland. It was surely as important to prevent small-pox in Ireland as it was in England, and he asked how they could account for the marked disparagement in the different grants? They had received a promise that the new Vice President would look into this matter, or, otherwise, he certainly should have felt inclined to move a reduction of the Vote. The matter deserved the immediate attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER,
in reply, said, the Government had this Session introduced a Bill which they were most anxious to pass dealing with the question of vaccination in Ireland. The hon. and learned Gentleman had an Amendment against that Bill, which he very considerately withdrew, and if others imitated his example he believed they would be in a fair way of getting their Bill. However, if hon. Members availed themselves of their right to move Amendments, it would not be the fault of the Government if the measure did not pass into law. As regarded the medical officers, he believed a satisfactory arrangement had been concluded. His experience as Secretary of the former Poor Law Board of England would not justify the comparisons which had been drawn between the administration of local government affairs in England and in Ireland, and it frequently happened in England that the central authority did run counter to the decisions of the local Boards of Guardians. The President of the Local Government Board, 1435 like his Predecessor, the President of the Poor Law Board, was the head of the Office, and those influential gentlemen whose names figured as belonging to the Board did not exist for purposes of administration. The President had his secretary and staff, and was, for all practical purposes, the Board. Then, it had been said that the Chief Secretary-was merely the mouthpiece of the Board in Dublin. Well, first of all, it had been said that the Board in Dublin did not exist, and then that he was merely its mouthpiece. He would remind the Committee that it was his duty, when inquiries were made, to represent the Department in Parliament, and very often, where he had no personal knowledge, he could not make statements to the House unless his information were derived from the Department in Ireland; and that information, in turn, was derived from references to localities in different parts of Ireland. To that extent he was the mouthpiece of the clerk collecting the information. Nevertheless, as he was President of the Local Government Board, he considered himself responsible for that Department. Then it was said the Board was arbitrary. Well, it was true that they did object to children suffering from cutaneous diseases being placed together in one bed; and when their attention was called to a matter of that kind they did think it their duty to make representation to the local authorities. Again, they thought it was a very undesirable system to transport small-pox patients in ordinary hackney carriages; and when they were asked about it the Board did think it was a very proper matter to represent to the local authorities. As to sanitary works, the Local Government Board had recently appointed an engineer, who was a gentleman of some eminence in Ireland; and though he would not forestall the discussion on the Vote for the Board of Works, it would be found, when it came on, that a general re-organization was contemplated.
§ MR. A. MOORE
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had given no assurance that he would look into the case of the local hospitals.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, the discussion had taken so wide a turn that he had overlooked the question of the hon. Member. He had done so quite unin- 1436 tentionally, and he could assure the hon. Gentleman the matter should have his best attention.
§ MR. SHAW
said, he did not believe any change could be made in the Local Government Board which would be satisfactory. It did not matter what head was put on it, if its body and whole constitution remained the same. If, however, the new Vice President, who was to investigate it, were to enlarge it in some directions, and limit it in others, they might get a really good Board. The right hon. Gentleman had not said whether he would grant the Commssion of Inquiry. He was himself no opponent of Parliamentary representation of Departments, because it brought those Departments under the control of public opinion; but he did not believe that that House was a very good place for the redress of grievances which arose in the administration of Local Government Boards. They were too far off the people of Ireland in that House to hear the voice of their complaints; and even if it reached them there they could not interpret the complaints to the House, and even if they did the House would not take it as the public voice of Ireland. The things referred to might seem small; but they were very considerable matters to the ratepayers, and they interfered very greatly with the working of the Boards and of the Poor Law Guardians. They caused constant and endless irritation and friction, and they brought about a waste of time and correspondence which ought never to be initiated. He suggested that there should be some mode of appeal—some outside body—to whom the Guardians, if they thought they were aggrieved, could go in matters of discussion. He did not, as a general rule, like lawyers; but when barristers did come to be Judges they somehow managed to put off a great part of the evils which beset them during their career, and became, on the Bench, men of remarkable common sense, and with great knowledge of the country. He suggested, then, that there should be some power given to make a presentment to the Grand Jury; and, if they endorsed it, that the matter should come before the Judge. At any rate, if the right hon. Gentleman would not accept this, he hoped he would institute some sort of outside body to which the Guardians could appeal.
§ MR. MELDON
pointed out, that the Vaccination Bill which the Government had introduced had nothing whatever to do with the question he had raised. Here, in England, medical men were paid from 1s. 6d. to 3s. from the local rates; while up to the present time in Ireland the uniform fee was Is. Besides this contribution from the local rates, there was a grant from the Imperial Exchequer of £16,000, which also was given to the medical officers. He might be told, of course, that that was done under an Act of Parliament; but he did not see why the Chief Secretary could not introduce a similar Bill for Ireland.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
remarked, there was not one of them who, when they went home to their district, did not hear of some differences which had arisen in the Poor Law administration which had been referred to the Local Government Board, about which great discontent had arisen. He would put it to the Government whether, when such a feeling existed, they should not attempt to remove it in the fairest possible way by full, complete, and independent inquiry? He could conceive nothing more desirable than to remove the sense of grievance widely spread among the people, even although there was no grievance to justify it. As to what had been said with reference to Sir Alfred Power, he had had the honour of enjoying his friendship for many years; and though he did not say he was infallible, yet, having watched his action on the Board for many years, he did believe that the people of Ireland owed him a debt of' gratitude for Ms care in the administration of the Poor Law, and his desire to do what was right and just to all classes of society.
§ MR. GRAY
explained, that he made no attack on Sir Alfred Power, and what he had said did not prevent him agreeing with the remarks of the hon. Baronet (Sir Patrick O'Brien). He thoroughly recognized his services, and believed he was an admirable Poor Law administrator for a long time; he did not think it was any imputation on his character or ability to say that, after serving 35 years in a very laborious office, he might, with advantage to himself and his office, have retired. He might, if he had chosen, have retired long before; and what he maintained 1438 was that Sir Alfred Power kept his post in order to get his son nominated to a very lucrative office. Since that was done he had retired, and he believed, that was why he had not retired before.
§ MR. RYLANDS,
without interfering in the discussion, would just remark that Irish Members had not a monopoly of grievance with regard to centralization, and that this complaint of the central administration over-riding local boards was by no means creating irritation in Ireland alone; it was creating great irritation in England also, and it was a matter which, the House of Commons would do well seriously to consider, whether, in some way or another, there could not be a system of decentralization adopted which would secure in these localities the exercise of public spirit, and the fulfilment of public duties by many gentlemen who at present shrank from office in consequence of the interference of the central body. It seemed to him that the request for an inquiry into the complaints of the Boards of Guardians was not an unreasonable one. He gathered, from the statement made by his hon. Friend (Mr. Gray), that the inquiry into the management of the Board of Works had had the effect of bringing under the notice of Government some important information; and he should, therefore, certainly be disposed to support his hon. Friend in urging the Government to inquire into the administration of the Local Government Board.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
could fully endorse what had been said with regard to the important services rendered by Sir Alfred Power. During the great Famine crisis, as was well known, he rendered signal services to the country, and he was very glad that it should go forth that there was only one opinion as to the extent to which they were indebted to him. It had been suggested that an inquiry, analogous to that which took place in regard to the Board of Works, might be held with regard to the Local Government Board. He thought, however, that the circumstances of the two Departments were very different; and as a new Vice President of the Local Government Board had just been appointed, he would ask him at once to turn his attention to the various matters of which complaint had been made, while the effect of an inquiry would merely be to hang the whole matter up 1439 for a very considerable time. Instead of waiting for an inquiry outside the Department, therefore, it appeared to him that the Government should conduct an inquiry itself, and the result of the consideration of those matters had already been that improvement in certain directions had taken place—for instance, the appointment of an engineer, which would enable them to exercise a far more efficient superintendence over the advances to Local Boards than was formerly the case. Various minor grievances had also been engaging his attention, and he hoped they would be satisfactorily dealt with. A general revision of the respective duties of the two Boards had also occupied attention, and he would not forestall the discussion by stating all that was proposed to be done. The appeal from the Local Government Board to some unnamed tribunal did not appear to satisfy anybody, and it only showed the difficulty of forming such a body, with reference to which he might point out that there was no such tribunal in England. He was induced to agree with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. Rylands) with regard to decentralization. He was himself very shy of interfering with local self-government, and never approved of so doing whenever it could possibly be avoided. He hoped, however, that the Committee would not, on an Irish Vote, propose to go into a general discussion on a subject of that sort. If there wore any practical abuses they were prepared to deal with them, without the assistance of any Committee of Inquiry, which assurance he trusted would satisfy the Committee.
§ SIR PATRICK O'BRIEN
did not intend to go into the question of decentralization, but wished to say that he did not agree with the action of the Government in making a departmental inquiry. What they wanted was that a full, searching, and public inquiry should be made into the allegation that the people were hardly treated. He did not say that they were so treated; but what he wanted to impress upon the Government was that the case was such that a general and independent inquiry should have been made. He hoped the Chief Secretary would consider whether an inquiry of a public character could not be carried out.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, that the remarks of the Chief Secretary did not contain any satisfactory answer to the complaints that had been made. At the same time, he admitted that there was very great difficulty in suggesting any scheme which would meet the want. The question was—what was to be the appeal from an important Department of that sort? The appeal could only be to Parliament. There was really no other body which could decide upon appeals from so important a Department as the Local Government Board. But those appeals could not come to that House, because the vast majority of the Members were so utterly out of harmony with Irish opinion, and were necessarily so ignorant with regard to local circumstances in Ireland, that the appeal must be quite nugatory. He would not enter on the Home Rule question by a side wind; but they could not shut their eyes to the fact that there could be no appeal worthy attention from that Department, except to Parliament. While there could not be an appeal from the Board to the Imperial Parliament, because this House had neither the faculties nor the power, to say nothing of the inclination, to deal with these local affairs. They could, therefore, have no appeal except to an Irish Parliament, which was the only solution of the question. Hon. Members, before long, would be taxing their ingenuity how to provide a proper body to which appeals might be made on matters of Irish local interest; and he did not care what they called their plan, as they would have to come to the scheme of an Irish Parliament in the long run. He had a very grave complaint to make as to the decision of this Irish Department, and he was compelled to bring it before that House, although it was notoriously incapable of dealing with the subject, and they knew the opinion of that House was not worth the turn of a halfpenny, and that the vast majority of the 658 hon. Members did not know too much about England and Scotland, to say nothing of Ireland. He was obliged to take the only course open to him, and was obliged to raise this very important question on this Vote. He was quite aware that nine-tenths of the Gentlemen listening to him did not know anything about it, and did not want to know anything about it, and that when he had done the Chief 1441 Secretary would not be much wiser than he was at the present moment. The Chief Secretary depended on a number of officials for his information, these very officials being the gentlemen against whom he was appealing. It was all very well to talk about obstruction; but just look at the way in which his business was obstructed. He was bound to bring this matter forward, although his clients would get no satisfaction whatever, and the Office in Dublin would go on unrebuked, unchecked, and unconvicted. It would be a legislative farce, and yet he must go through the farce. He complained of the Department for refusing to grant a fuller and more impartial inquiry when the first inquiry was challenged on the very strongest grounds. He should, therefore, propose to reduce the Vote by £700, the salary of the Inspector of whom he complained. That gentleman, Mr. Hamilton, recently conducted an inquiry into a disputed election in Cardendonogh, Inneshowen, in the county of Donegal. There were two candidates, Mr. B. O'Doherghty, and Mr. Ackland. The result was to return the former by a large number of votes. Complaint was made that the majority was fictitious, and that of a very large number of votes entered there was not the least guarantee that they were given. Mr. Ackland had been the member for several years; he was a general favourite, and a careful and economical Guardian; and they had every reason to believe he would be re-elected. The Local Government Board ordered an inquiry, and Mr. Hamilton was sent down. He certainly gave satisfaction to a very considerable extent, for he struck off a great number of votes; but it was contended that he conducted the investigation in such a manner that, notwithstanding the deductions, he still allowed many invalid votes to remain. It was pointed out that in several of the cases where pluralist votes had been wrongly given, instead of condemning all as illegal, he would strike one or two off out of the number, although, surely, if a vote was illegal, the whole paper was necessarily invalid. It was utterly incomprehensible how Mr. Hamilton was able to discriminate between these votes. In a lot of six, for instance, he would eliminate two, and not invalidate the other four. Again, a large number of illiterate votes were objected to, because 1442 they were illegally marked, and the Inspector allowed some to be illegal, but permitted others to remain. It was very clearly and distinctly provided that in the case of illiterate votes a mark must be placed on the paper and attested by a witness. In a multitude of these cases no such attestation had been made. Yet Mr. Hamilton, in the most extraordinary manner, allowed some of the votes, but also refused to allow some of his own mistakes to be corrected. Again, other witnesses showed that the marks had been entered in their absence, and without their consent, yet Mr. Hamilton refused to hear those protests. There were other circumstances of this kind, all of which showed that a further inquiry was necessary, and he could not at all understand why it had been refused. This complaint had created great public indignation in the county, and had excited much attention, but he did not suppose hon. Members cared about it one penny. It was, of course, a solemn sham to bring this matter before the House of Commons; but as long as the present system continued, he was obliged to do so.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Item of £4,200, for Salaries of Inspectors, be reduced by £700."—(Mr. O'Donnell.)
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, in reply to the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell), that Mr. Hamilton, who conducted the inquiry to which attention had been called, was a very able member of the staff of the Local Government Board. The hon. Member had said that the same amount of disappointment would be felt by a person who was unsuccessful in his endeavours to obtain the appointment of Poor Law Guardian, through the decision of Mr. Hamilton, as would be felt by any gentleman who might unsuccessfully aspire to Membership of the House of Commons. The answer to that was that the gentleman selected to inquire into this election was in every way fitted for that duty. There was no doubt that every attempt had been made by him to arrive at a just conclusion, and that substantial justice had been done in this matter. He had no objection to the hon. Member bringing before the House any matter with which it was competent to deal; but he thought it desirable that the Committee 1443 should confine itself to questions of general supervision. The Petition for the re-hearing of the case referred to was, in his opinion, uncalled for.
§ MR. BIGGAR
thought the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland was unsatisfactory, inasmuch as it did not, in the slightest degree, go into the merits of the case, nor explain upon what grounds the action of Mr. Hamilton was to be defended. He (Mr. Biggar) regarded it as a matter of very serious importance that persons should have denied point blank that the signatures to the voting papers were not theirs, and that Mr. Hamilton had not attempted to find out the names of the parties whose names appeared upon those papers as witnesses. He had known of a case of election as Poor Law Guardians, in which certain persons were prosecuted and severely punished for forging the names of persons on the voting papers. For these reasons, he could not help thinking, that if the statements of the hon. Member for Dungarvan (Mr. O'Donnell) were correct, Mr. Hamilton had thoroughly neglected his duties in the matter of the Cardendonogh election of Poor Law Guardians, and he considered the hon. Member was bound to divide the Committee on his Motion, unless some satisfactory explanation were forthcoming. The point raised by the hon. Member was a vital one, and ought not to have been decided by an irresponsible person. And if the allegation were true, that the person whose name appeared on the voting paper declared that he had not signed it, the Government should certainly not attempt to screen the guilty parties.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
said, he intended to take a Division upon this Vote, although he knew that he should be opposed by an overwhelming number of hon. Gentlemen who knew nothing, and cared nothing, about the Poor Law election in Cardendonogh. The Chief Secretary for Ireland himself knew nothing about it, and, very naturally, had given no anwer whatever to the complaint made. If such a case had occurred in England, and, upon reference being made thereto in the House of Commons, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had returned an answer similar to that which had just been given by the Chief Secretary for Ireland—namely, that the 1444 officer whose conduct had been complained of was a very valuable member of the staff—such a fire of indignant eloquence would have followed as would have perturbed that singularly calm and composed official. Even if the Chief Secretary for Ireland knew more than he did about the case in question, his observations upon it would be thrown away upon the hon. Gentlemen by whom he was surrounded. He felt that in dividing the Committee the division would be taken in the dark; that not five Members would understand anything about the point raised; and that his Amendment would be thrown out in a way that would be typical of all legislation relating to Ireland. He would remind the Committee that the satisfactory working of legislation as a whole depended upon the proper working of its parts; and that, although the complaints brought forward by him might be sneered at by hon. Members as microscopic, the Government which was not fitted to endure microscopic examination was undeserving of support. He was almost inclined to hope that he should get no following into the Lobby, because that would be a result typical of the utter uselessness of bringing before the British Parliament complaints which it was never constituted to deal with.
§ Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 8; Noes 141: Majority 133.—(Div. List, No. 196.)
§ MR. BIGGAR
reminded the Chief Secretary for Ireland of a Question which he had addressed to him on a former occasion with regard to the contracts for coals made by the Local Government Board; and suggested that if the right hon. Gentleman would undertake to send down an Inspector to inquire into the circumstances complained of, he (Mr. Biggar) would not trouble the Committee with any further remarks upon the subject of the coal contracts. Failing that assurance, he would be obliged to take a Division with regard to this question.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER,
upon general grounds, thought it desirable to remove any suspicion which might exist concerning the contracts for coal, and would, therefore, promise that an Inspector 1445 should be sent down to inquire into the subject.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
(5.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £23,007, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1880, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
regretted that he would be compelled to move the reduction of this Vote by the sum of £1,500, being the salary of the Chairman of the Board. The subject he was about to deal with was a large one; but he would endeavour to be as brief as possible in the remarks which he had to make. First of all, he would express his regret that the Forms of the House left no other course open to him than to treat this matter, to a certain extent, as a personal one. But he was bound also to state his honest belief that so long as the present Chairman of the Board of Works remained in office it would be impossible that the Department should be efficiently and satisfactorily administered. The Irish Board of Works had been the subject of discussion in the House of Commons for many years; and. owing to the great number of duties which it had to perform, nothing analogous to it existed in this country. Unlike the Board of Works in England, it acted as a body which advanced money for all kinds of works in Ireland; it discharged duties relating to Exchequer loans, and the planning and surveys of railways, as well as numerous other functions. It had also under its control an annual expenditure of no less than £200,000, and furniture of the value of £500,000. Without going into the history of the Department at any length, he would remind the Committee that the Board of Works had grown in a very extraordinary manner since it was first originated, in 1831. The Irish Parliament had been alive to the importance of improving the inland navigation of the country, and the English Government also took up the subject in 1831, and appointed a Board of Works with very large powers, consisting of three Commissioners and a staff to perform duties with regard to fisheries, and the very extensive public works then 1446 going on in Ireland. The Committee had heard of the Shannon Commissioners, a body that was perfectly separate and distinct from the Board of Works, and who, to some extent, had improved the inland navigation. Now, the Shannon Commissioners having reported that their works were nearly at an end, Parliament, in 1846, dissolved that body, and merged them into the Board of Works. That point was very important. One of the Shannon Commissioners was appointed a member of the Board of Works, and two Commissioners of the Board were appointed to see to the conservancy and maintenance of the Shannon. Everyone knew that there had been an enormous amount of trouble connected with the navigation of that river, which was constantly overflowing its banks and inundating large tracts of the adjacent country; and that the works to be executed by the Shannon Commissioners were laid down by Act of Parliament, after an expensive process of inquiry, by English and Irish engineers. But he asserted that those works were never carried out in the way directed by the Act; and that, in some instances, deviations were made of the most injudicious character. The greatest deviation, however, was that the works had never been completed. The Committee would recollect that every two or three years complaints had been made with regard to the state of the River Shannon; and that hon. Members who had to put them forward in the House could never get any satisfactory answers to these complaints, because of the impossibility of fixing any body with the responsibility for what had occurred. The Board of Works into which the Shannon Commissioners merged, in 1851, said truly—"We had nothing to do with the drainage of the Shannon; we are not responsible; and we will not give any information as to whether these works have been properly executed or not." The Shannon Commissioners, in the most adroit manner, evaded their responsibility by constantly making a separate Report, distinct from that of the Board of Works, although they had been dissolved by Act of Parliament. The fact was, that in all the complaints made to the House of Commons Parliament had had to do with a phantom Commission. Originally, the Board of Works consisted of five Commissioners, which. 1447 number at length, sunk down to three, the minimum according to the Act of Parliament. In 1864 the Chief Commissioner—Sir Richard Griffith—a very distinguished man, and who had recently died at the age of 90 years, retired from office; and whilst he was in retirement there remained only two Commissioners on the Board, a number insufficient to fulfil the requirements of the Act of Parliament. In order, however, to keep within the letter of the law, Sir Richard Griffith was made an honorary Commissioner; and since that time, whenever complaints had been made in the House of Commons as to the inability of the two Commissioners to discharge their duties, and as to there being no Board meetings, the answer of the Chief Secretary for Ireland had always been that—"The Board had the inestimable advantage of the opinion of Sir Richard Griffith, that distinguished man who knows everything, and takes an active part in the duties of the Board." Would the Committee believe that Sir Richard Griffith, although he had been vouched for by the Chief Secretaries for Ireland as taking an active part in these duties, had never, since the day of his retirement in 1864, entered the Office, and that he had never been asked a question, or in any way consulted by the Commissioners of the Board of Works? Of course, he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) knew that the Chief Secretary for Ireland of the time thoroughly believed in the truth of his statements to the House in this respect; but the facts were elicited in evidence before the Committee of 1877, that Sir Richard Griffith had never entered the Office since the day of his retirement, and that he had never had one single point put before him. One of the consequences of this was that the Board of Works kept no minutes of its proceedings, for it was found out by the Committee that no minutes had been kept by the Board Secretary for nearly 14 years. When the Chairman of the Board of Works was asked about this, he said that he had never known of any minute book ever having been kept; while the cross-examination of the Secretary as to what had become of the minute book was of the most amusing description. The fact, however, was that, as long as the Board was properly constituted, minutes were kept by the Secretary, and duly signed by him and the Commissioners on the Board; 1448 but for some years after the retirement of Sir Richard Griffith they were kept very irregularly, being in some instances not signed at all. Since then the Board had never acted as a Board of Works; no minutes had been kept; and the Commissioners themselves were actually ignorant that there were any minute books. The Committee was familiar with the complaints made against the Board of Works two years ago, and with the fact that the Chief Secretary, who was himself very much dissatisfied with the state of affairs, had, in consequence of these complaints, promised that a Committee should be appointed to go thoroughly into the question of this administration. Accordingly, in 1877, a Departmental Committee was appointed by the Treasury, consisting of the noble Lord the Member for Enniskillen (Viscount Crichton), the hon. Member for Carlow County (Mr. Kavanagh), the Hon. Charles Freemantle, Deputy Master of the Mint, Mr. Herbert Murray, Treasury Remembrancer in Ireland, and himself (Mr. Mitchell Henry). The Treasury also appointed, as Secretary to this Committee, Mr. W. E. Hamilton, with whose ability he believed every Member of the Committee was deeply impressed. It might, naturally, be supposed that he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) had not entered on the proceedings of that Committee with a strong impression that much good would result from the inquiry; and owing to the official element in it being so large, he certainly did think that there would, be difficulty in making the investigation as thorough as he wished it to be. But he believed that never had there been a Committee composed of men more anxious to elicit truth than that Committee. The hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan) had spoken, some little time ago, very slightingly of the labours of the Committee, and, amongst other things, had charged them with having wasted a good deal of public time; but, certainly, no such charge could be fairly brought, for the Committee sat for considerably less time than three weeks, day by day, and all day, The hon. Member was one of those who were most loud in their complaints against the Board, although he hinted at more than he stated concerning it; but when the Committee, as a first step, asked for the assistance of hon. Members 1449 who made complaints, they could get no answer at all from the hon. Member for Dundalk, who would not come forward. This circumstance was referred to in the Report of the Committee in the following terms:—We should mention that we specially invited two Members of Parliament, who had taken a prominent part in those discussions last Session, to come forward to assist our inquiry; but one declined our offer, and the other took no notice of it.Therefore, he thought that no notice should be taken of what was stated by the hon. Member for Dundalk. The Report of the Committee was produced in June, 1878; and although they were now in July, 1879, nothing whatever had been done in this matter. Hon. Members had stimulated the Government by Questions, and they had been informed that the subject was coming on; but he was convinced that nothing would be done unless the House put some pressure upon the Government. This was not the first inquiry which had been held upon the Board of Works, for in 1871 the Government now out of Office appointed a Committee of Inquiry, at the head of which was Lord Lansdowne, and that Committee made a very important Report. But what became of that Report? That would be seen from the Report of the Committee, of which he (Mr. Mitchell Henry) was a Member, which said—In the course of our inquiries we had occasion to make frequent reference, as was contemplated in our instructions, to the Report made by Lord Lansdowne's Committee in 1872, and we must express our surprise at the way in which it was dealt with by the Chairman. Though your Lordship's instructions respecting it were communicated to the Board in a formal printed minute, which was made an official record, yet the Report itself, upon which the minute was framed, and without which it could hardly be properly understood, was retained by the Chairman as a confidential document. We found that the Report had never been communicated by him to the Assistant Commissioner, or any of the officers of the Department, and that, as regards the general administration of the Office, it has, for all practical purposes, remained a dead letter. We cannot think that this was the intention of your Lordships, or that the course taken by the Chairman has been conducive to public interests.That was the way in which the Report of Lord Lansdowne's Committee was dealt with. But the House had been further bamboozled over this Report; because when it became known that this 1450 important Committee had reported, Questions began to be asked about it in the House of Commons, and the Secretary to the Treasury, in answer to one of them, said—That the Report examined a very wide field, and had been referred to a Committee, owing to a difference of opinion between the Chairman of the Committee and the Chairman of the Board.… but that the Treasury had now come to a decision on the subject, and it was on the point of being carried out.That recommendation had never been carried out at all; it had never even been communicated to the Colleagues of the Chairman; and it had never been communicated to the noble Lord in his Office; and it was found out, by the Committee of 1877, that the Report in question had been allowed to remain a dead letter, and, he must add, treated in a very contemptuous and improper manner, by being put into the pocket of the Chairman and allowed to remain without any notice whatever being taken of it. Under those circumstances, and in view of a great many other points which came before them, the Committee found it to be their duty to make a recommendation, which he was obliged to refer to at some length. When the Committee remembered of whom the Committee was composed, they would see that it was not at all likely that any direct recommendation would be made for the retirement of the Chairman of the Board of Works, unless under a sense of deep responsibility. The Committee, therefore, wrapped up the intimation as delicately as they could at the end of their Report in this way—We hope that the recommendations already made will more effectually secure to the public the advantages intended by the Legislature; and that they will, in great measure, remedy the defects in the administration of the Board. At the same time, we feel that the Head of this important Department should possess unusual administrative abilities; that he should command your Lordships' entire confidence by a vigorous and comprehensive grasp of the subjects with which he is called upon to deal; and that he should be able, both in his recommendations to the Treasury and in his communications with the public, to enforce his views with authority. Nothing can be farther from our intention than to deprecate the merits of the present Chairman, or detract from the value of his long and (we may add) distinguished public services. Nothing can exceed the zeal with which he has applied himself to his work, or the conscientious industry which he has brought to bear upon it. It is possible, however, that after so long a period of service, rendered peculiarly arduous 1451 in consequence of the incomplete constitution of the Board, he may now feel unequal to the strain which our view of the responsibilities, if approved by your Lordships, would necessarily entail, so as to enable him to do full justice to himself, as well as to the Department; and, if so, while regretting that the Board should be deprived of the advantage of his great experience, we think that he should be afforded an opportunity of retiring, and that a special pension should be secured to him.Such was the delicate recommendation that the Chairman should quit office. This portion, however, of the Report was dissented from by the noble Lord the Member for Enniskillen (Viscount Crichton), who appended to the Report the following statement:—I regret I am unable to concur in the recommendation contained in paragraph 324 above, which I cannot but regard as equivalent to an intimation that the retirement of the Chairman is desirable. While I have not hesitated, in the course of the Report, to join in the censure passed on the action of the Board in certain respects, and for which Colonel McKerlie, in his capacity as Chairman, must be regarded as responsible; still, on the whole of the evidence submitted to us, I cannot see sufficient grounds to warrant such a reflection upon his management of the business of the Board, and I should be glad to think that the advantage of his great experience and intimate acquaintance with the duties of the Office should be preserved to the Department in the future.The Treasury, in his opinion, should have taken into account the persons from whom this recommendation in favour of the retirement of the Chairman emanated; and he thought that the Treasury ought by that time to have read their evidence, and to have ascertained whether or not there existed good grounds for intimating to the Chairman that he should retire. For his own part, he was fully convinced, though he regretted to say it, that the Board could not be efficient if the present Chairman was not succeeded by some officer who would take a wider view of his duties. The present Chairman was precisely one of those men who ought not to be at the head of the Board of Works; he was a man who insisted upon the smallest letter, and the smallest minute, passing through his hands; in short, he insisted upon doing everything himself, and was, therefore, without that most essential power in public men of making use of other people. The greatest hardship, inconvenience, and cruelty had been inflicted upon individuals, and upon localities, in consequence of the physical and mental impossibility of the Chairman attend- 1452 ing to all the duties which he insisted upon performing. He could not understand why Her Majesty's Government had determined upon keeping things in their present state. They had not even appointed the three Commissioners required by the Act of Parliament, and the Board was, in consequence, at that moment absolutely illegal in its constitution. It was now necessary for him to give some example to show that the Committee were justified in their complaint. The inland navigation of Ireland cost £5,000,000, and the works were now almost useless, for two reasons. First, they had been very much superseded by railways; secondly, they were useless, because they were not connected with each other. Moreover, they had been imperfectly finished, and hardly one of them was in a fit condition for navigation. The Committee would see, by the instance he was about to refer to particularly, how the public money had been squandered in Ireland. The Ballinamore and Ballyconnell Canal passed between Lough Erne and the River Shannon. The works were undertaken, in conjunction with the arterial drainage of the district, under the Act of 1842. They were executed between 1846 and 1859, at a cost of £228,652, of which £198,652 formed a charge upon the public funds. Now, in 1860 the Board reported that this canal was complete, and handed it over, in the usual way, to trustees, who would have to maintain it, while the inhabitants would have to repay the amount of the loans expended thereon. The trustees, who were gentlemen in the district, after receiving the notice that the canal was complete, unfortunately took possession of it; and—this was the point—afterwards desired the county engineer to examine the works, and to report upon their condition. This Report had been duly forwarded to the Board of Works within a few weeks of the so-called completion of the works; but it was concealed by them, and was only ferreted out by the inquiry of the Committee of 1877. And this was what the Report said—The absolutely useless condition of the canal, indeed, was only made clear in the Report of Mr. Pratt, the county surveyor of Leitrim and engineer to the trustees, immediately after the transfer had taken place. That Report was duly forwarded to the Board of Works; but the facts disclosed in it, which are tolerably conclusive, have never been made public till now. 1453 The Report shows that at the time the banks were giving way, and had been improperly sloped, which was causing a considerable deposit of mud—that the towing path had been badly made—that some of the locks had been so defectively constructed, that the masonry was forced out and the sides leaked—that the gearing and uprights of some of the sluices had worked loose; that the approaches to most of the bridges had subsided; that the lock houses were crumbling down; and that the articles of property handed over, such as dredges and barges, were old, rotten, and worn out.One member of the Board of Works, on behalf of the Government, had made a great deal of the fact that not only had they handed over the works, but also the dredges and barges to the trustees, and said that this was an act of great liberality. Innumerable complaints had been made to the trustees of this state of things; but the canal, to that day, remained simply a mass of mud and vegetable matter. He would now pass to another subject—namely, the Hind River drainage, which, after many complaints had been made to the Board of Works, was found to be perfectly useless. After tremendous pressure had been put upon the Government, an Inspector was directed to go down and examine this particular work. The Board of Works sent down their assistant engineer to see what was the cause of the obstruction, and he very promptly reported that the works had never been thoroughly executed; that there was a great quantity of back water; and that the Board of Works, having undertaken the work and received money for it, were bound to remedy the existing evils. On the return of this officer to Dublin, the Chairman, himself went down to look at the works, and, without taking any measurements, or doing anything but walking about, with his umbrella in his hand, made a counter Report, which left the evil without any redress at all. Subsequently, he might add, the Treasury interfered, and took some steps. Another important matter was with respect to an Act which had been passed, as was well known, with the object of providing for the erection of dwelling houses for the poor. What had been done with respect to that? The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland ought to direct his particular attention to the subject; because it had been found that lodging houses for the labouring classes in Ireland had not been erected, as had been expected. It 1454 had been found that the cause for that had been the action of the Board of Works, or, rather, of the Chairman of the Board, for that gentleman had refused to carry out the Act, because he did not approve of its policy. The reason which had been alleged by the Board for not interfering in that matter was that the applications made were not for a benevolent, but for a remunerative purpose. One man had expended a good deal of money for the erection of lodging houses, and when the Act was passed he asked for a loan from the Board, but it was refused; and it turned out that the only ground for refusing it was that the Board considered that the erection of these lodging houses would produce some profit to the builder. If the matter had been brought before any Board, such an absurd construction of the Act could not have been arrived at; but the Chairman took upon himself to construe the Act of Parliament exactly as he liked, and, in consequence, the Act had become nearly a dead letter. Numbers of cases equally as absurd, and equally cruel, and, in some respects, more ludicrous than the one to which he had drawn attention, had occurred. There was another matter to which he would allude—there was an architect connected with the Board of Works. What happened as regarded him? A loan was applied for to enable dwelling houses to be erected in Belfast; but the architect said that he knew Belfast very well, and that there were too many houses there already. He declined to examine the locality, and simply reported to the Chairman that no grant ought to be made for the erection of lodging houses in Belfast. Another point arose in connection with the architect—but he would not go into it if the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary would give some information as to whether anything had been done with regard to it—namely, the architect was the head of a building society. The architect held a most anomalous position in advising the Board as to grants of money for the erection of lodging houses, while, at the same time, he was connected with a large building society which granted money for the very same purposes. That was directly contrary to the instructions of the Treasury; and in the Report the Commissioners drew the 1455 attention of the Treasury to that fact. He thought that the Treasury ought to take some notice of it, and should take care that it did not occur again. These matters caused enormous irritation in Ireland; and he believed that they were the cause of half the discontent that existed in that country. He would not go further into these matters; but he would distinctly ask what the Government was going to do with the Board and with the Chairman, and whether the various recommendations of the Commissioners, for the better administration of the Board, were to be carried out? Would the Committee believe that the Board of Works had about £500,000 of furniture under its care, and that it had no inventory of it! Since the Report, it was said that something had been done; but he could not speak with certainty. He could not imagine any Board as negligent as the Board of Works in Ireland. In bringing forward the Motion they directly impugned the management of the Board of Works, and the conduct of the Chairman; and in asking the Government whether they insisted upon retaining the Chairman in his present office, with the experience that had been brought out in the Report, he might say that they were thoroughly convinced of the integrity and ability of the subordinate officers of the Department. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by the amount of the salary of the Chairman.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £21,507, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1880, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)
§ COLONEL COLTHURST
wished to bring before the notice of the Committee one point in connection with that matter. He agreed with the general question brought forward by the hon. Member for Galway, and thought that, as the Board of Works was at present organized, nothing could be expected from it. That was abundantly proved by the evidence brought before the Committee. The point which he wished especially to urge upon the notice of the Treasury was a suggestion that had been made, to the effect that power should be granted to the Board of 1456 Works to enable it to make advances to the managers of industrial schools. Up to the close of 1876 over £160,000 had been expended by the managers of industrial schools in buildings. There were no powers in the Irish Act enabling grants to be made to those schools. Some powers had been given to the local bodies in England recently to make advances for furnishing and building those schools, and the school boards had also facilities for getting money from the Treasury, spreading the re-payment over a number of years. What he would ask the Government now to consider was the feasibility of extending to the managers of industrial schools in Ireland the power of obtaining loans from the Board of Works, and, in fact, granting them the facilities that were afforded by the Glebe Land Act. That would enable the Board of Works to make advances to the extent of two-thirds for the building of industrial schools. He would not press the Government for an answer on that occasion; but he wished the subject to be considered.
§ MR. A. MOORE
said, that for the last two or three years he had pressed the Government to permit loans to be made to these schools in Ireland. The proposal fell through, because the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury, after consulting the Treasury authorities, stated that he had come to the conclusion that it would be impossible to do it, because they could not obtain proper security. Of course, if security could not be given, loans could not be expected. But there were many cases where very ample security could be given. In some cases 100 statute acres or more of land were possessed within three or four miles of a large town, and the value of that land for building purposes must be very great. There would be no difficulty, he felt sure, as to the security, if the Government would take the power to grant the loans. Of course, if people could not find security, they could not expect loans. But there were many cases where it could be found; and he thought it would be wise in those cases to grant money to be spent in works of so useful a character.
§ MR. ERRINGTON
said, that there was no Department of the Public Service in Ireland which was so much in want of proper organization as the Board 1457 of Works. His hon. Friend the Member for Galway had touched upon various points into which the Commission had inquired; but there was one point excluded from that inquiry. He did not think that anybody who had been upon the Committee alluded to by the hon. and gallant Member for County Cork (Colonel Colthurst) could help being struck by the remarkable evidence that was given on that subject. They were not inquiring into the efficiency of the Board of Works, but the question came before them indirectly. The carrying out of the Land Act was intrusted to the Board of Works; and it had been shown that the whole action of the Board in respect of it had been most destructive and most useless, and, in fact, of so detrimental a character that it was impossible to find Parliamentary language in which to express his opinion of it. It was shown that, although the Board of Works kept minute books, yet more than one Commissioner was never known to sit. Many curious things of that sort came out in respect to the Board. It seemed to him that the most serious charge which had been made by his hon. Friend the Member for Galway was, that since the Report of the Commission, the Government had done nothing to carry out its recommendations and reform the Board of Works. The object of the Commission was to ascertain and point out those abuses which existed; and unless some assurance were given that the recommendations of the Committee would be carried out upon a comprehensive scale, they could not be satisfied. He hoped that his hon. Friend would elicit some statement from the Government as to what was going to be done in the matter. They would not be satisfied merely with some small insignificant changes of detail, for a thorough re-constitution of the Department was required. He would ask the indulgence of the Committee to state, with reference to a Vote passed in the earlier part of the evening, when he was not in the House, that he should not have thought it his duty to vote for the Amendment, because the Government was willing to agree to the Queen's Colleges Estimates being taken at a later period.
§ MR. P. MARTIN
thought that they were very much indebted to the hon. Member for Galway for the exhaustive 1458 speech in which he had brought that matter before the notice of the Committee. The Report to which he had drawn attention had been before the Government since June, 1878, and he regretted to say that not one single step had been taken to carry out the recommendations contained in it. He could understand it might be alleged that the difficulties which no doubt existed in determining the future organization and constitution of the Board of Works was an excuse for the singular inactivity on the part of the Government, so far as respected the re-constitution of the Department. But it had been very clearly shown that the action of the Commissioners had been much obstructed by the various Acts of Parliament which directed the operation of the Board and controlled its actions. Those Acts of Parliament were of a most complicated character, and many of them were contradictory; many had been long since repealed, and others substituted for them, and the Report had recommended that they should be consolidated. Those interested in the progress of Ireland not unjustly complained that not one single step had been taken since June, 1878, in respect to the consolidation or amendment of any of those Statutes. No Board more widely affected the welfare of Ireland than the Board of Works. The duties of the Board of Works concerned every part of Ireland; and it was incumbent upon the Government to make the law, by which the action of the Board was regulated and controlled, as plain and simple as possible. Was it not a matter in which they, as Irish Members, had cause to complain that, in consequence of the lethargy of Her Majesty's Government, they had been deprived of the benefit of the Drainage Acts in Ireland, inasmuch as they were wholly and entirely unworkable? If the Drainage Acts were properly worked a good deal might be effected in Ireland towards the reclamation of waste land, and very great good might be done for the people. The result of the inquiry instituted by the Commissioners named by the Government was made known so far back as June, 1878; yet since that time no step had been taken to carry out their recommendations. Was it wonderful, under those circumstances, that there should be the widespread demand in 1459 Ireland for Home Rule, when they found the English Parliament unable to grapple and deal with those matters which affected the welfare of Ireland? The suggestions which had been, referred to had been made by gentlemen appointed by the Government itself, and they were of importance to the farming classes, the landed classes, and to every rank of people in Ireland; but they had, nevertheless, been left wholly neglected. He trusted that the entire subject would engage the early attention of the Government; and that they would be prepared not only to give effect to the recommendations in the Report, but to submit some bolder and more comprehensive scheme, as had been so properly suggested to the House, early next Session.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, that the Government had been charged with neglecting to carry out the recommendations made by the Committee appointed a year ago. It was said that it was a scandal that the recommendations of the Committee should have been left uncared for, particularly when, if the Drainage Acts had been carried out, very great benefit might have resulted to Ireland in the present state of affairs. He hoped to be able to satisfy the Committee that the Government were not so much to blame as they had been represented. When the Report of the Committee came into his hands he need scarcely say that, although it was by no means a short document, he made it his duty to ascertain and to examine the recommendations which it embodied. With regard to the recommendations as to the consolidation of the Acts dealing with the administration of the Board of Works in Ireland, the Treasury at once instructed gentlemen competent to deal with the matter to prepare a codification of those Acts. Since that time, a codification had been in course of preparation; but numerous Statutes had to be gone into, and the labour of codification was very great, and could not be done at a moment's notice. So far as the work of codification was concerned, he hoped that the Government, before long, would be enabled to put before the House a complete and sound codification of those Acts. That, no doubt, was a very important item of the recommendations made by the Committee; but 1460 there were various smaller items, and to those attention had also been given. With regard to the case of the Galway Mills, an inquiry into the matter had not, at the present moment, been commenced; but a gentleman had been appointed for the purpose of making the inquiry, and would commence his labours in a short time. There was another point which had been dealt with in the recommendations, and which would also form the subject of the earnest consideration of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer—namely, as to the necessity for further inquiry, by Royal Commission, into the navigation system in Ireland. That Commission had been delayed in consequence of some further matters which his right hon. Friend wished to be inquired into. He thought he might fairly say that the Commission would be issued before very long. But, perhaps, the gravest charge that had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Galway was that the Government had done nothing to carry out the recommendations of the Committee with regard to the re-construction of the Board of Works. Although he (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) quite admitted that, to anyone who had gone so thoroughly into the question as his hon. Friend, it might seem a very simple matter, yet the recommendations of the Committee appeared to the Government to embrace a very wide and difficult field. The questions raised extended not only to the Board of Works itself, but went into other subjects affecting the Local Government Board and other bodies in Ireland. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had postponed the matter with the view of himself making an inquiry into the whole system, and with a view of seeing whether a large part of the duties at present performed by the Public Works Office in Ireland might not be much more properly intrusted to the Local Government Board. The Public Works Office in Ireland performed a great many more duties than the corresponding Department in England. Many of those functions might, it was thought, be very properly transferred to the Local Government Board. Therefore, it was not desirable to make any alterations in the Board of Works until it was absolutely decided whether it should be retained in 1461 its present form. In his humble judgment, the time would have been lost in the settlement of the question by their not having dealt with the matter in a hurry. Under those circumstances, a new history in local government in Ireland might be created, and the local works in Ireland might be brought under the control of the Local Government Board. No doubt the Local Government Office would have to be strengthened, in order to enable it to carry out those additional duties; and the Board of Works would continue to look after buildings, furniture, and kindred details. The staff of the present Office of Works would be transferred to the Local Government Office, and in that way the scheme contemplated by his right hon. Friend would not involve greatly increased expenditure. That was the excuse which the Government offered for not having as yet interfered to carry out that particular recommendation of the Committee. There was one other question which the hon. Gentleman the Member for County Galway approached at great length, and he hoped that he would pardon him if he stated that he could not agree with his opinions. The hon. Member had pointed to the Chairman of the Board of Works, and to the Report of the Committee upon him. The recommendations of the Committee were certainly made in very discreet and courteous language; but those recommendations pointed to nothing less than the retirement of Colonel McKerlie. He would point out that Colonel McKerlie was an officer who had done very great public service, and was a most indefatigable and most energetic functionary. Numerous Acts of Parliament which had been beneficial to Ireland in their results had their origin in his suggestions. After the most careful consideration of the evidence adduced before the Committee and of their Report, he could not help thinking that the suggestion with regard to Colonel McKerlie's retirement was made under a misapprehension of the facts. Colonel McKerlie was placed in a position of great difficulty, from the Board which he was supposed to superintend having been, practically, destroyed. Additional duties had been imposed upon the Board of Works, and therefore upon him, and they had accumulated to an extent which made it utterly im- 1462 possible for him efficiently to carry them all out. Many of the complaints as to the administration of the Office of Works in Ireland he attributed really to that fact. The Commissioners were originally five in number; two of those Commissioners very shortly left the Office, one dying, and another being appointed to another office. The Treasury of the day on each occasion of a vacancy refused to allow it to be filled. Another Commissioner, on his retirement, was asked to continue an ornamental member only; he did so, but, of course, he took no active part in the work of the Board. The Treasury had at length appointed an Assistant Commissioner; arid for some time two Commissioners had done the whole work of the Board. But the work of the Board had increased so enormously within the last two years, that it would be impossible even for the two Commissioners to do the work properly. The whole blame had been thrown by the Committee upon the unfortunate Chairman; but it was his opinion that that gentleman had always endeavoured to carry out his duties to the best of his ability, and that there was no real cause of complaint against him. He confessed that, looking to the past history of the Board, and looking to the way in which the work had been carried out during the whole time of his appointment, he should be somewhat inclined to agree with his hon. Friend that the Chairman had been anxious to do everything himself, and not to allow any other man to assist him; but he thought that arose from having no one to assist him, and that he had really undertaken what no man could be expected to carry out. If the proposed alteration with respect to the functions of the Board were carried, he ventured to think that Colonel McKerlie would be thoroughly competent to discharge the duties of his office. He trusted that the Committee would not endorse the recommendations of the Report with regard to the Chairman of the Board. He ventured to think that what he had submitted to the Committee was a justification for the postponement, by the Government, of any action in respect to the recommendations of the Committee, and that it would be seen that those recommendations had not been neglected, and that the Government were taking steps to carry them out.
§ MAJOR NOLAN
wished to ask a very simple question about the system of issuing loans in Ireland for public works. The system, up to the present, had been where the loans were for arterial drainage, and other purposes of that kind, to pay them off by means of annual instalments which exceeded the interest by about ½ to 1 per cent. That system had been found to work very well; and he wished to know whether there had been any reports protesting against that system? because he found that a Bill was before the House which proposed to abolish that system. He believed the Irish people were very strongly in favour of its continuation, for it worked very well, and its abolition would stop a great number of works altogether. He would like to know whether this was only an idea of the Treasury, and on what grounds the change was based?
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, there had been no such reports as those suggested by the hon. and gallant Gentleman from the Office in Ireland, and in the Bill before the House there was no intention of altering the way in which these loans were made. The clause of the Bill affected another class of loans altogether. As to the question of loans for industrial schools, which had been touched by one or two hon. Members, he could quite understand there would be considerable advantage in the alteration of the law, and that it would be an encouragement of purposes he had always been anxious to assist. He would look into the case to see if any alterations could be made which would give such facilities as had been suggested.
§ MR. SHAW
remarked that there was a little matter of administration which he had once before brought to the notice of the Financial Secretary. In the case of third-class clerks, referred to on page 66, owing to the promotion of the second-class clerks, their prospects of promotion had been entirely stopped. It had been recommended by a Committee that they should be put into the second-class; but though that recommendation had been a very long time before the Treasury it had not been acted upon, and these men had no chance of getting promoted, and might go on as they were until the Office was re-organized. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would carry out 1464 the recommendation of the Commissioners at once. The change would cost a very small sum of money; and as the right hon. Gentleman, whenever he did make any changes, could not help doing this, he might as well do it at once. He should wish, also, to ask whether he had considered how the proposed enlargement of the lending powers connected with the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act could be carried out? At a comparatively early period of the Session he promised to consider the whole matter before the end of the Session, and bring forward some suggestion to enable these loans to be more easily made; but up to the present time they had heard nothing of the question. He was sure that the extensive applications for money to the Board of Works were hindered very much by the red-tapeism of the Office. He knew in his own county that farmers borrowed money at 6 per cent rather than try and get it from the Board of Works at 4 per cent. He did everything in his power to induce them to be more careful of their own interests; but their reply was that it was so roundabout a process and so many returns were wanted, and they only got a small amount of what they applied for, and therefore they preferred to get the money even if they had to pay 2 per cent more for it. There had been a great deal of talk about the re-construction of this Board, and the sooner the Government brought in a small Bill to carry it out the better, for it was the cause of much difficulty and obstruction in Ireland. He hoped, however, before they carried out any extensive changes, either in destroying Departments or amalgamating Departments, they would put their plans before the House, and allow them to be discussed. He did not wish to say anything against the Board; but he had a very simple piece of business to do with them once. He had some property leased from them, and he wanted to give facilities to the fishermen at Howth to get their provisions there, which would have saved them a good deal of time and money. After a great deal of correspondence, however, he was told that the Board could not assent to it, because there was something in the lease against it, although the alteration would have kept the men out of the public-houses, and would have saved 1465 their money. Happening to be in Dublin, he went in to see the Board. He heard what they had to say, and then he put on his hat and went out, determined that he would say no more, for that to talk to them about the matter was perfectly useless. They did not want in Ireland another Board like that. They wanted to bring public opinion to bear on its action, and to mix up with the paid officers men who would be representatives of public opinion. There was no reason why the County Boards or the Poor Law Unions should not elect representatives yearly to go to Dublin and examine the claims of cases which might come before them, as to which they would be guided and assisted in deciding by the officials in matters of scientific knowledge. He did object, however, and he always should object, to pay two or three engineers, shovelling them into a room, and there leaving them to administer the affairs of the county of lending money for public health and building artizans' dwellings, and so on, without anybody overhauling them. He hoped some attention would be given, and some desirable alterations made.
§ MR. BRUEN,
after the observations of the hon. Member, thought it right to say that he had had some experience of this Board, having had communication with it for several years, and he was bound to say his experience of the Office and its working was diametrically opposite. He had frequently gone there, and he had always received the most business-like information on all matters; and, as far as his own experience went, he had no single complaint to make. Though he had not always been successful in his applications, when he had failed, good, fair, and plausible reasons had been advanced why he should not succeed. He was aware that to say the Board had been business-like in one case was not a sufficient answer to another case where they had not been; but he might say, also, that many of his friends who had had business transactions with the Board had had the same experience. He had never heard any complaint.
§ MR. PARNELL
thought the Government should give some answer to the question of his hon. Friend the Member for County Cork (Mr. Shaw) as to whether they intended to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee, which, seemed very valuable recommen- 1466 dations for increasing the facilities for carrying out the "Bright Clauses" of the Land Act. This matter had acquired considerable importance lately, owing to the great agricultural distress existing at the present moment in Ireland. Those clauses authorized the Board of Works to advance two-thirds of the purchase money to the tenants of estates which came into the Landed Estates Court, but they were also clauses which prevented alienation without the consent of the Board. The effect had been to prevent a second charge being placed on the property coming after the charge of the Board of Works; and the result was that when estates came into the Court, half the tenants had made arrangements with the Board of Works for an advance of two-thirds of the purchase money. They were forbidden to make arrangements with any other lender to make an advance of the remaining part. He could not imagine any reason for that. The Board of Works, as owners of the first charge, would not be prejudiced by a second charge; and if the tenants could get banks or other people to lend them money as a second charge, the result would surely be that the Board of Works would have a better security, and, so far from their being injured, the value of their security ought to be increased by this fact. But the result of the clause was that the tenants were not able to borrow money; and, as a consequence, they had not sufficient capital to start their farms, and so forth. The difficulty might be got over very easily. The Act allowed the Board to sanction a loan if it thought fit; but, at present, the Board always opposed it. He had even known instances where landlords had been willing to let the third stand out as a second charge, and to collect the interest from the tenants; but the Board of Works refused their permission, and the consequence was that the matter had to be done in a roundabout way, and the tenants were obliged to give bills, and so on. This was all a very vicious principle; and the Chief Secretary surely might give directions to the Board of Works in future not to oppose the placing of the second charge on estates. The recommendations of the Select Committee went further than that, and wished to make it imperative on the Board of Works to do away with the 1467 alienation sections of the Land Act altogether. He merely wished that the Board of Works should get some sort of general direction from the Government that when a tenant was able to provide the money from other sources to make up the remaining one-third of the purchase money, that the lender should be allowed to have a separate charge on the property coming after the Board of Works. He could not understand what possible objection there could be to that; and it was a matter upon which they ought to have some definite answer, for, at the present time, there were a number of estates waiting to be sold and nobody ready to buy them. He was told the other day, by the manager of one of the largest banks in Dublin, that they had a number of properties in Ireland to sell, and were unable to find purchasers for them. If this went on they would have properties knocked down for a mere song—for 10 or 12 years' purchase. Surely this was a very favourable opportunity for the Government to increase the facilities for becoming proprietors of their homes. There was a great deal of money in Ireland at the present time which could find no employment; and if the Board would only allow bankers, who were willing to advance the remaining one-third, to take a second charge they would have a very large number of properties sold to tenants at prices which would be remunerative to the landlords and advantageous to the tenants. They would then be giving, for the first time, a fair trial to the "Bright Clauses." If, however, the Irish Government retained their obstructive attitude the result would be that they would have a number of properties sold, as was the case in the years of the Famine, for 10 or 12 years' purchase. They would have the owners of these properties ruined, and they would have mortgagees leasing their charges, and they would have the introduction of a class of land-jobbers who had no interest in the well-being of the people, whose simple desire was to abstract the highest rate of interest. These men even were not satisfied with 10 or 12 per cent, but would insist on getting 20 and 25. Numerous instances were known, after the Famine, of men buying land at that rate, and yet not being satisfied. In the present aspect of affairs in Ireland they certainly ought to have attention paid by Government to 1468 this important matter. If it was too late to introduce a short Act to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee, it was not too late to put a liberal interpretation on the original "Bright Clauses," and to give such interests to the Board of Works, and to insure a liberal interpretation of those clauses.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
could promise that, as far as the Treasury was concerned, everything that lay in their power would be done, by instructions to the Board of Works, to soften down the provisions of the clauses with a view to avoiding, if possible, the distress and difficulties mentioned by the hon. Member for Meath. He would certainly look into the matter with the object of carrying out some alterations in the present system, so far as it could be done, without further legislation; but he was afraid, if the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman who spoke last were accepted, that legislation would be required that could not be given that Session. With regard to the clerks, the recommendations made by the Treasury had led to some delay, which he regretted; but the matter should be looked into with a view to another arrangement.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, the Government ought to be the last to insist that land should remain in the hands of persons who had shown themselves to be unable to manage it properly, and that, therefore, doubt existed as to whether the alienation clauses ought to be retained. There was one Department under the Board of Works which had been the cause of a good deal of evil throughout the country. He alluded to the system of drainage which they were carrying out in Ireland. He was not now going into the whole case, but wished to lay before the Committee a state of things which showed that the Board had utterly failed to carry out a proper system of drainage. In the county of Limerick there was a river which flooded the adjacent lands, and since the drainage works were completed the lands had been flooded worse than ever. A tenant who held, originally, 71 acres, had 48 acres affected. To his rent, which was £128, there had been added a sum of £48 for drainage works, and, in return, he had the whole of his land flooded. In another case, out of 1469 70 acres, 50 were flooded, and the man had to pay £65, in addition to his rent, for the damage sustained at the hands of the Board of Works. Another person who held 180 acres had to pay £129 a-year for the damage, or 75 per cent on his rental. The defence made for the Board of Works by the Secretary to the Treasury was that the Chairman of the Board erred through superabundant activity and extreme anxiety to do his duty; in short, that he had tried to do too much. He (Mr. O'Shaughnessy) believed that the Chairman had done his best, and more than it was prudent for him to attempt. But this showed the very thing they complained of, that, through the absence of any responsibility, and an excess of activity or neglect, a man might turn out a very dangerous officer. There was another fault in the management of the Board of Works which, when the whole scheme came to be considered, he trusted would receive attention. The Treasury was largely represented in Dublin by a body of persons; but when the works throughout the country were looked at, it would be seen that there was no proper supervision at all; and that, although the Department in Dublin was, so to speak, well-manned, it was not well-manned by engineers and supervisors, who ought to see that the money expended was properly laid out and the works properly executed. He regretted very much not to have heard one word said on the subject raised by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) with reference to proper Parliamentary control over the Board. However much the interior of the Office might be revised, it would be sure to glide back into the old system of superabundant activity, or of no activity at all, unless a representative of the Department sat in the House of Commons, who should be responsible for the details of the working of the Board. It now turned out that a great many duties of the Board were to be handed over to the Local Government Board; and there could be no greater proof of the affinity and relationship which existed between the two Boards than that of their duties being interchangeable. Surely, there could be no difficulty in appointing a person as Irish Lord of the Treasury in the House to be the representative of these two Boards, and to secure that these two great centres 1470 of administration should be conducted with due respect and due obedience to the wishes of Irish Members.
§ MR. SYNAN
held that it was impossible that there could he any supervision of the Board of Works without representation in that House. It was absurd to tell him that the Chief Secretary could do as much by letter as he could by communication with a responsible Minister in the House of Commons. What had been said with reference to the drainage had taken him entirely by surprise. It was totally incomprehensible to him that the Board of Works, either directly or indirectly, by approving the works executed, should tax the tenants to one-third of their rents, and leave the works in the same condition as they were before. If the works were not properly executed they ought not to have charged the tenants with the interest on the drainage money, but should have looked to the Local Board, and considered the question as to whether the engineer employed had done his duty. He apprehended that the answer which the Government would get would be that the Local Board was responsible, and not the Board of Works, because the former ought not to have approved the works unless they were efficient. He thought the Government ought to send down an engineer at once to ascertain whether the works had been properly executed or not. Whether any relief would be given to the tenants he knew not; but he thought that the Treasury should do everything in its power to relieve them from an amount of debt which it was impossible for them to discharge. It was clear that the additional charge for drainage, added to the rents, which were about £2 10s. or £3 an acre, would raise the rent of the tenants to something over £4 an acre, a rate that meant ruin and bankruptcy. He called upon the Treasury to look to this, and to demand from the Board of Works how it was that they had neglected their duty, and how it was that they attempted to shift their responsibility to any Local Board? He held that the Treasury ought not to be satisfied with that excuse, and that they should do everything possible to relieve the tenants from the injustice to which they were subjected.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, that the Memorial from Limerick, 1471 referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. O'Shaughnessy), had only reached him on the 24th instant. Immediately it came to his notice he had sent it forward for the purposes of inquiry; but as they were now only at the 28th of the month, sufficient time had hardly elapsed for an answer to be returned.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
did not propose to divide the Committee upon his Motion, seeing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised to have the matter looked into, and that sufficient time had not been given for so large an inquiry.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ (6.) £4,425, to complete the sum for the Record Office, Ireland, agreed to.