(1.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £68,688, 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 1887, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board in Ireland, including various Grants in Aid of Local Taxation.
§ MR. GILHOOLY (Cork, W.)
I wish to direct the attention of the Committee to the action of the Local Government Board in reference to some irregular proceedings on the part of the Bantry Board of Guardians. I think it is important that some responsible member of the Local Government Board should define the duties of Chairmen of Boards of Guardians. Some Chairmen seem to think that they have absolute power to receive or reject any resolution that may be handed in to them, although it may 497 happen to appertain to the business of the Board. To illustrate what I mean I will mention a case which relates to the conduct of the Chairman of the Bantry Board. For a long time a number of notices of eviction, have been served on certain poor tenants upon the Bantry estate, and on other estates belonging to local landlords in the Bantry Union. Although it is the duty of the relieving officer to direct attention to such notices of eviction, it has not been the practice of that official to do so, and on several occasions the attention of the Chairman of the Bantry Board of Guardians has been directed to the matter, and notices of motion have been given in regard to it, with a view of compelling the relieving officer of the Bantry Union to lay these notices of eviction before the Board. The Chairman, however, has refused to receive such notices of motion, although some of them have been given even a month before the time it was proposed to bring them forward. I may say that the refusal of the Chairman of the Bantry Board of Guardians to accept the motion appears on the minutes of the Board; but, notwithstanding that fact, the Local Government Board declared that they had no cognizance of the action of the Chairman in this matter. I may say that the Local Government Board have had their attention directed to this subject, and they have been requested to compel the Chairman to receive these resolutions, as it is undoubtedly his legal duty to do. I believe that the Local Government Board did intimate to the Chairman of the Board of Guardians that it was his duty to do so; but even after receiving that intimation the Chairman still persisted in his refusal. I then, myself, wrote to the Local Government Board, and requested them to send down a sealed order to compel the Chairman to do his duty in the matter; but the Secretary to the Local Government Board wrote to say that it was not intended to take any further action in the matter, and that the Board would not compel the Chairman of the Bantry Union to receive these notices of resolution. Now, I submit that it was the duty of the Local Government Board, or, at any rate, of someone in Dnblin Castle, to see that the Chairman did his duty, and that he received all notices of motion tendered to him in a legal manner in connection with the Bantry Board 498 of Guardians. I asked a question to that effect in this House, and the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary for Ireland told me that the Local Government Board had no power to compel the Chairman of the Bantry Board of Guardians to do anything of the kind. I have here a copy of a communication which the Clerk of the Bantry Union received from the Local Government Board, in which it is stated that it was the duty of the relieving officer to receive these resolutions, and that it was the duty of the relieving officer to render an account of the notices of eviction received by him at the next meeting of the Board, in addition to which it was the duty of the Clerk of the Union to make a record of them. On the 28th of August the Local Government Board issued a Circular calling attention to the fact that as early as the 21st of May 1877 they had required to be informed of all notices of eviction that might have been served within the Union, and the relieving officer was instructed to return to the Board of Guardians from time to time all such notices received by him, of which he was directed, in addition, to keep a record. The Board of Guardians were also requested to notify at once what arrangements had been made, and how the relieving officers of the Board were prepared to discharge their duties. The Local Government Board must have been thoroughly cognizant of the fact that the relieving officer had not done his duty for several months; but, nevertheless, they took no further notice of the action of the Chairman or of the relieving officer. I cannot reconcile the course pursued by the Local Government Board with the statement which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, that the Board of Guardians did their duty in the matter. I have myself communicated directly with the Local Government Board directing their attention to the illegal action of the Chairman of the Bantry Union; and on some occasions, instead of sending communications to the Clerk of the Union asking for information from the Board, I believe that the Local Government Board communicated privately with the Chairman of the Bantry Board, who has refused to produce the letter of the Local Government Board to the Board of Guardians. Now, I submit that it is the duty of the Secretary to the Local 499 Government Board to communicate directly with, the Board of Guardians, and not with the Chairman of the Board. Attention has been directed to a case which concerned the property of Lord Bantry. It is alleged that Lord Bantry had served notices of eviction signed by his own agent, such agent being also Chairman of the Board of Guardians. The case is a peculiar one. It was an attempt to obtain payment from tenants who are in a position of under-rated tenants, but who were sought to be made responsible because their rentals had been aggregated together. In order to empower the rate collector to take legal proceedings in the matter, it was necessary that the Chairman, together with two other Guardians and the Clerk of the Union, should sign a notice empowering the rate collector to sue the tenants. In this case I believe that the notice was sent without the knowledge of the Board of Guardians, and that Lord Bantry's agent instructed the rate collector to sue the tenants instead of Lord Bantry himself; and although the rate collector gave receipts to the tenants in his own name, counterparts of the receipts were signed in the name of Lord Bantry. I maintain that this was a grossly unfair proceeding on the part of the rate collector, and that it is the duty of the Board of Guardians to take cognizance of the matter, and to see that Lord Bantry's tenants are not unfairly dealt with. I wish, further, to direct the attention of the Committee to the mode in which resolutions are received at the meetings of the Board of Guardians; and I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary whether it is within his province to define whether it is the duty of the Chairman of the Board to receive such resolutions, or whether it is competent for that gentleman to decide what resolutions shall be received, or what shall be rejected; and, further, whether it is competent for him to say what course he ought to take in such a case? Of course, I am aware that it is the duty of the Chairman of the Board of Guardians to receive any resolution which may be presented appertaining to the business of the Board; but what I want to find out is, what is the business of the Board? For instance, in a case where evictions are pending, and the ratepayers are to be taxed for the maintenance of the victims of landlord op- 500 pression or cruelty in a particular district, and a resolution relating to such evictions is presented, is it or is it not the business of the Board of Guardians to take such resolution into consideration? Everyone is aware that when an eviction takes place the persons who are evicted will, in all probability, become a burden upon the ratepayers, whether they become the recipients of outdoor relief or have to enter the workhouse; and I should like the Committee to express some opinion as to what is the duty of the Chairman of the Board of Guardians in regard to any resolution which may be submitted in such a case. Some time ago I made a complaint that the tenants on the Bantry Estate were being unfairly mulcted by Lord Bantry and Major Spaight. The Local Government Board Inspector was sent down to inquire; but Major Spaight, instead of holding an open and fair inquiry, entered into a private investigation. He was closeted in a hotel at Bantry with the Clerk of the Union, and he conducted his inquiry without receiving any evidence from the members of the Board of Guardians themselves or any individual who was not a personal friend of Lord Bantry's agent. I maintain that such an inquiry was a pure farce, in the absence of evidence to substantiate the case of Lord Bantry's tenants. I shall be glad to receive an intimation from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that in future the Local Government Board, when they observe that there has been irregularities in the proceedings of Boards of Guardians, will immediately communicate with the Clerk of the Union instead of the Chairman, and ascertain whether any illegal action on the part of the Chairman of the Board of Guardians has taken place. If they find that irregularities have been committed it will be the duty of the Local Government Board to remonstrate and to take action, without requiring private individuals to intervene. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see whether in the case of the Bantry Board of Guardians any illegal action has taken place or not, and to require that in future a communication shall be addressed to the Clerk of the Union requesting that the action of the Board of Guardians shall be in accordance with the law and the statutory regulations which govern 501 their proceedings. I will only add that it is monstrous that the Local Government Board, represented by gentlemen who draw large salaries, for the payment of which the public are taxed, should overlook such transactions as these, and that it should be necessary for private individuals to occupy their time in writing letters remonstrating with the action of Government officials in regard to a plain course of procedure which their own duty ought to dictate.
§ MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)
Very frequently it is found exceedingly difficult for a Board of Guardians to obtain legal advice as to the course they ought to pursue when they are of opinion that irregularities are being committed, and I think that some endeavour ought to be made to satisfy the fair and just demands of all persons who have any transactions with Boards of Guardians. I notice here an item of £3,425 for the Legal Adviser of the Local Government Board. Now, I do not know who the Legal Adviser of the Board is, and am not acquainted with the character of the legal advice he gives. What is it that he does? I have been a member of a Board of Guardians for a long time, and when any vexed question has arisen in reference to the action of the Guardians we have again and again applied to the Local Government Board to give us legal advice, and the invariable reply has been that we must obtain the advice of the Legal Adviser of the Board of Guardians—that we could not have legal advice from the Local Government Board. They simply advised us to seek advice from our own legal officer. Under such circumstances, I cannot see of what use the Legal Adviser to the Local Government Board is; and as I have no doubt that he receives a large salary—probably £2,000 or £3,000 a-year—for giving legal advice, I confess that I cannot see what use his services are if, when Boards of Guardians seek legal direction, they are told that they must obtain it from their own local attorney, an individual who cannot possess general experience, and whose advice may very likely lead the Board of Guardians in the wrong direction. If this individual does not advise a Board of Guardians directly, neither does he give advice in any cases of dispute that may arise between the Local Government Board and any particular 502 individual. I have myself had occasion to come into contact with the Local Government Board, in relation to the law of elections for members of Boards of Guardians, and the Secretary to the Local Government Board refused directly and point blank to give the opinion of their Legal Adviser. They refused to give the legal opinion upon which they grounded their objection to my claim. On that ground, as far as the question of the Legal Adviser of the Local Government Board is concerned, I maintain that the salary paid to him is a waste of public money, and ought to be disallowed. Then there is a further question which has reference to the Inspectors of the Local Government Board. I see in the Estimates a large sum of money for the travelling expenses of those officers, amounting in all to £4,250. I believe that the best part of that sum is wasted, and that 13 or 15 Inspectors are far too many for the work they are required to do in Ireland. Personally, I do not know exactly what they do; but they travel a good deal about the country, and they get £1 1s. per day for travelling expenses while on duty; and, of course, they make it their business to travel about the country as much as possible, in order to increase their salaries by the allowance they receive per day. Now, I have seen Inspectors attend meetings of the Board of Guardians, and sit there during the progress of business; and I know that they are of no kind of use whatever in directing the affairs of the Board. In point of fact, we should altogether repudiate any interference on their part, and I think that no respectable Board of Guardians which knows its duty would tolerate any meddling from them. In fact, it appears to me that the office of Inspector is a kind of sinecure appointment given to some hanger-on of some other office, or to some person who happens to have a friend in court. Upon this point I would make a suggestion. I think that if these Inspectors, who have very little work to do, were appointed by the Local Government Board to be the Returning Officers in the case of the election of Guardians, instead of the Clerk of the Union, it would be of some advantage in the popular administration of Poor Law affiairs. At present the Clerk of the Union has charge of the election of members of the Board. It is 503 his duty to make up the list of voters, and, as in the North of Ireland the Clerks of Union are generally partizans acting to a considerable extent in the interests of the landlords and of the Conservative Party, I maintain that it is most undesirable that they should continue to act in the capacity of Returning Officers. One part of the duty of the Clerk of the Union is to make out a list of proxy votes; and I know, as a matter of fact, within my own cognizance, that these officers have themselves suggested to the landlords and others the propriety of registering proxy votes. In more cases than one proxy votes have been manufactured in the interests of the landlords, and the Returning Officer has utilized the votes so manufactured when a contest in an election of Guardians has taken place. In March last I underwent a contest myself, and in that case the Clerk of the Enniskillen Union had all the proxy votes in his own custody, in addition to which he sat as the Returning Officer for the election. He admitted the whole of the proxy votes he had himself placed on the list, although in three cases the Local Government Board disallowed votes that I objected to at the time. In one case the proxy was of this nature—a gentleman was agent for what was called the school lands or the school board, and he claimed seven proxy votes.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! I do not see how the conduct of the Local Government Board, which is the subject of this Vote, is concerned in the transaction referred to by the hon. Member. The statement of the hon. Member appears to relate solely to some alleged dereliction of duty on the part of a local
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)
Upon the point of Order I wish to point out that the local clerks are under the control of the Local Government Board; and the Local Government Board, in the case mentioned by my hon. Friend, did not do their duty, because they did not discharge the clerk for his default.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I do not see how the Estimate now under the consideration of the Committee can have anything to do with the particular case referred to.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I have been Chairman of two Unions, 504 and my experience is that whatever we do the Local Government Board have complete power to over-rule, and if we do not immediately submit to their directions they have sent down paid Guardians to take the business out of our hands. As a matter of fact, Boards of Guardians are completely under the control of the Local Government Board, who exercise the power of over-ruling all the actions of the Local Boards and their officials.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
If the observations of the hon. Member really touched the action of the Local Government Board they would be perfectly in Order; but, as I gather, he admits that the Local Government Board, in this particular instance, had discharged their duty.
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)
Perhaps, Mr. Courtney, you may not be aware that the Board of Guardians have no power to dismiss any of their officers. A dismissal can only come from the Local Government Board.
§ MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)
My argument is that the Local Government Board should have censured the Clerk of the Union, and prevented any such action on his part. I may add that there has scarcely been any contested election in this Union in which the election of a Conservative candidate has not been secured by resorting to such practices as these—that is to say, that the Clerk of the Union has so managed the list as to register fraudulent votes—votes which ought to have been disallowed. With your permission, Mr. Courtney, I will direct attention to another feature of the case in which the action of the Local Government Board will be fairly seen. One requirement of the law, in accordance with the Statute and the Orders of the Local Government Board, is that the notices relating to proxy votes should be left at some house within the division. The form by which proxy votes are allowed requires a declaration to be made by the proxy in a certain manner, and in the form it is directed that the paper shall be left at some house in the division. Nevertheless, in the contest which I underwent last March at Enniskillen there were 29 votes which were not so left, but which were left, by the direction of the Returning Officer, at his own office.
505 Now, I maintain that those proxy votes were bad.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! It will not be regular for the hon. Member to enter into this transaction, unless he is prepared to go further and say that it was brought to the notice of the Local Government Board, and that they took no steps in the matter. Irregularities committed by a local officer cannot in themselves be the subject of debate on this Estimate.
§ MR. JORDAN
I was going on to say that I myself wrote a series of four letters to the Local Government Board, drawing their attention to this point, and that I also endeavoured, although a layman, to discuss the law of the case with the Local Government Board. That is why I now complain of the Local Government Board—namely, that in refusing my interpretation of the law they did not give me the opinion of their Legal Adviser, to whom we are paying £2,000 or £3,000 a-year. I have made repeated applications to them, and for a period of three or four months the correspondence has been going on; but I have been unable to get any satisfactory explanation of the allowance by the Returning Officer of these 29 votes. I quoted the Statute and the Order of the Local Government Board themselves, together with the form in which the Order was sent round; and all the Local Government Board say is that the direction about leaving proxy papers at some house within the division is not binding. Nevertheless they used part of the form, and they refused to use the other part. If the Local Government Board had given me the legal opinion of their own Legal Adviser I should have been perfectly satisfied, and should have been saved from any further feeling in the matter. These 29 votes, when they were jotted up by the Returning Officer, I objected to, and I wrote to the Local Government Board on three separate occasions claiming that they should be struck off; but the Local Government Board decided that they should be allowed to my opponent. I feel very keenly with regard to the very arbitrary manner in which the Local Government Board have treated me. There were three or four cases of error in which the Local Government Board did disallow the votes; but in this particular case, which interested me personally, they re- 506 fused to disallow the votes, and the consequence was that I lost the election by two votes. My opinion is that if the Legal Adviser of the Local Government Board had done his duty I should have been retained upon the Board of Guardians, and so keenly do I feel that I have been treated, not only in an arbitrary but in an ungentlemanly manner, that I propose to move the reduction of this Vote by the amount of £1,000, which represents the salary of the Secretary to the Local Government Board, and also a further sum of £2,000 for law expenses. I do this to mark my disapprobation of the manner in which I have been treated by the Local Government Board. As a matter of fact, the Secretary to the Local Government Board is himself the Board. This occurrence happened during the time that the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench was Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, and I sent a copy of the letters I had written to the Local Government Board to the right hon. Gentleman at the Irish Office here. I found, however, that the Secretary to the Local Government Board was not only master of the Board itself, but that he was also master of the Chief Secretary, whose reply to me was simply a re-echo of the reply I had received from the Secretary to the Local Government Board. My opinion, therefore, is that the Secretary to the Local Government Board himself constitutes the Board. He not only has the Chief Secretary, but the Inspectors in his hands, and always at his command, and he is not only an autocrat, but a supercilious, arbitrary, and domineering person. I do not expect to be treated by any Board in a manner different from that in which any other person is treated; but I believe that the treatment I received from the Secretary to the Local Government Board is part and parcel of the system he pursues regularly towards all who are brought in contact with him. He refuses to take the slightest pains to investigate any case that may be fairly placed before him. I think the Secretary to the Local Government Board should be taught to pay respect to all persons who have legitimate claims for consideration at his hands. I had already been a Guardian for the division, and, as a candidate at the election to which I refer, I maintain 507 that I had a claim upon the Local Government Board for due consideration. I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by the sum of £3,000.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £65,688, 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 1887, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board in Ireland, including various Grants in Aid of Local Taxation."—(>Mr. Jordan.)
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)
I desire to express my regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland was not in his place when the hon. Member for West Cork (Mr. Gilhooly) called attention to the irregularity of the proceedings of the Bantry Board of Guardians.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
I was in my place during most part of the observations of the hon. Member.
§ MR. J. O'CONNOR
So much the better, because I think there are monstrous evils and blots in the operation of the Poor Law system in Ireland, and the way in which the benefits of the law are frustrated was very clearly put before the Committee by my hon. Friend. I do not think that there is any case that could be brought under the cognizance of the Committee which could illustrate these blots better than the one which has been brought forward by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend has a very intimate acquaintance with the Bantry Board of Guardians. That Board of Guardians is presided over by Mr. John Warren Payne, who is the agent of the Earl of Bantry, and is noted for the tyrannical manner in which he rules that Board. As the agent of the Earl of Bantry he has used his official position at the Board of Guardians to cheat the tenants and evade the law. Now, the Earl of Bantry has a number of very poor tenants who are rated under £4, and according to the law they are not liable to pay poor rates. But what did Mr. John Warren Payne do? He aggregated these tenants together, made one of them lessor to the others, and by this means he took from the tenants their right of exemption from the rates and gave receipts to the collector in the Earl of Bantry's name; while, on the other 508 hand, he gave receipts to the tenants themselves in their own names. Now, Sir, I look upon that as a most elaborate system of cheating the tenants and evading the law in order to save the Earl of Bantry from making his proper contribution to the rates. But that is not the worst of it. This matter was brought before the Board repeatedly by my hon. Friend; but so powerful was Mr. Payne on the Board, and so much influence had he with the Local Government Board, that for years he defeated the efforts of my hon. Friend to rectify this state of things. I will not trouble the Committee with the Parliamentary Returns and Correspondence which were entered into between the members of the Board and the Local Government Board, and which extended over a considerable period. For the time every effort was fruitless; but finally the matter was brought before this House by my hon. Friend, and an Inspector was then sent down to Bantry to investigate the actual state of affairs. The Inspector was immediately waited upon by Mr. Payne, and so influenced was that official by Mr. Payne that he actually altered the manner of the rating so as to make one tenant liable for the rates of all the others, by that means saving the Earl of Bantry's pocket. My hon. Friend the Member for West Cork (Mr. Gilhooly) was, however, not contented with that decision, and he appealed to a higher quarter, which had the effect of inducing the Government to send down Sir J. Vaughan Green, the Commissioner of Valuations, to Bantry. The Commissioner took evidence and held an inquiry, at which both sides were heard. What was the result? The decision of the Inspector was immediately reversed, these tenants have been saved the unjust imposition which had been placed upon them, and the Earl of Bantry has been compelled to place himself on all-fours with the law and contribute his proper quota to the expenses of the Union. Now, I think this is a very proper subject for investigation. It is a typical case of many others that occur all over the country, and it shows how the landlords of Ireland and their agents, backed up by the officials of the Local Government Board, have been able to defeat and evade the law in every particular that can be devised by the fruitful ingenuity of the 509 landlords and their agents in Ireland. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary is Chairman of the Local Government Board, and I think he will do well to inquire into this matter. He cannot be too strict in his investigation of the conduct of the officials who are immediately under him. He cannot be too precise and exacting in looking into the Reports of the Inspectors who go down into the country, who are attended by the agents of the landlords, and who are surrounded by every influence at the command of such agents, so that they may assist the landlords in evading the law. There is another way in which these gentlemen endeavour to prop up the rotten system of which they are the representatives, and to procure the assistance of officials in so doing. My hon. Friend has very properly brought before the Committee the manner in which resolutions are proposed and received by the Chairmen of Unions. The system is one which has led to a great deal of contention, and much disagreeable controversy in the Land Courts of Ireland. Although I have never had the honour of being a Poor Law Guardian, I have had occasion to observe from time to time the way in which these resolutions have been brought forward and received, and I have often deplored the manner in which the Chairman of the Poor Law Board has broken up a meeting of the Guardians, retired from his position as Chairman, and then defied the Board to pass resolutions of which the majority were in favour—resolutions affecting the rates and the condition of the country. In more than one case the Chairman has in this way left the proper work of the Board undone in order that he might defeat the proposers of these resolutions. Now, I do not know anything that could more properly form the business of a Poor Law Board than that they should bring their opinion to bear upon the subject of evictions in Ireland. What has been the case in the Bantry Board of Guardians, of which my hon. Friend is a distinguished member? In the case of that Board the rate collector has failed to lodge the necessary notices of eviction. These notices of eviction ought to be placed upon the table of the Board of Guardians; and what can be more proper than that the Board of Guardians should 510 pass resolutions in regard to such notices of eviction? Can it be said that they do not affect the rates? Do they not affect the poor? Do they not affect the Union over which the Board presides; and is it not almost certain that the unfortunate people who are evicted for the non-payment of rack-rents will eventually become the recipients of parochial relief? Occasionally—in fact, very frequently—throughout the whole of Ireland resolutions have been brought forward by humane men expressing a strong opinion upon evictions that were about to take place. Some of these resolutions may have been couched, perhaps, in the language of entreaty to the landlords and their agents, asking them to stay the evictions, and not place upon the rates already over-burdened a number of evicted tenants who would have no other resource than entering the poorhouse. Surely that is a very proper subject for the Board of Guardians to entertain; and I think it was a very proper subject for the hon. Member for West Cork (Mr. Gilhooly) to introduce here today, in order that an expression of opinion may be obtained from some person in authority as to how far a member of a Board of Guardians is justified in bringing forward such a resolution, and how far the Chairman of the Board is justified in refusing to accept it as far as it affects the rates which the district may be obliged to pay and the position of the Union. Many disagreeable conflicts have occurred in certain Boards of Guardians from time to time arising out of the introduction of these resolutions, and we are very anxious that the matter should be disposed of once for all. On some occasions the Chairman of the Board, in a passionate and heated moment, leaves the Chair, and on other occasions disagreeable scenes arise in consequence of the conflicts which are entered into between the members of the Board and the Chairman, and the refusal of the Board to accept his ipse dixit. I admit that in many respects the Chairman of a Union may be the most suitable person for the position. We are sometimes accused in Ireland of being intolerant; but in Ireland the public positions at the disposal of the country are all of them placed in the hands of a privileged class. This gives rise to constant bickerings; and can there be 511 any wonder, when we find a gentleman filling the chair at a meeting of a Board of Guardians, who is otherwise eminently suited to occupy the position, but who places himself at right angles with the public by refusing to put these resolutions in the interests of the ratepayers—can there be any wonder, under such circumstances, that the Irish Members avail themselves of the first opportunity to ask Parliament to review the position occupied by the gentlemen who fill that post, and who at present study only the interest of the one class to which they themselves belong? I rose to take part in this discussion simply because I was under the impression that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was not in his place, and I wished to emphasize the matters which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for West Cork. I trust that these important questions will receive careful consideration at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and that the several points that have been brought forward by my hon. Friend will be satisfactorily answered. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will carefully inquire into the conduct of the Inspectors—that he will see that they hold an even hand and steer an even keel between the people and those who, in the performance of the duties of Chairmen of Poor Law Guardians, interfere with the operation of what might otherwise be very carefully drawn regulations and very just provisions of the law.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
There was one observation which fell from an hon. Member who addressed the Committee to which it is very difficult to give a reply. I quite agree with the proposition that it is the duty of the Local Government Board to watch very carefully, through its Inspectors and the Reports it receives, over the proceedings of Boards of Guardians in Ireland; that it is bound to keep an even keel between the various conflicting interests; and that if it observes any infraction of the law, or any improper administration of the law, no time should be lost in putting in force, without fear or favour, the powers at its disposal to check irregularities. That being so, on the other hand, I should entirely deprecate any persistent or continual in- 512 terference with Boards of Guardians on the part of the Local Government Board beyond the lines laid down by the law. It appears to me that this would be absolutely contrary to any progress in that system of local self-government which I understand it is universally admitted we should endeavour to sustain and extend in Ireland as in other parts of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for West Cork (Mr. Gilhooly) has called attention to certain conduct on the part of the Chairman of the Bantry Board of Guardians, and he has been followed in that course by the hon. Member who has just sat down. My own opinion is that it is obviously the duty of Boards of Guardians to take cognizance of the evictions which may happen in their Union in order to prevent any hardship or suffering to the poor from them. The law imposes on them and on their officers certain duties in that respect, which, of course, they ought to perform. The Local Government Board intimated to the Bantry Board of Guardians what the duty of the relieving officer was in this matter; and they added that, in their opinion, the Chairman had not acted properly in declining to put a certain resolution. But now the Government are asked to go further. They are asked to take some action, as I understand, with reference to the conduct of the Chairman of the Board. To that I reply that I am not here for the purpose of laying down—and it would be impossible for anyone to lay down— precisely what resolutions the Chairman ought or ought not to put from the chair, or what kind of business ought or ought not to come before the Board. I am afraid that a good many subjects are discussed by Boards of Guardians in Ireland, and possibly in England, which are certainly not within the ordinary administration of such Boards. But the Local Government Board were advised that in this case the conduct of the Chairman did not justify the interference by sealed order which was asked for by the hon. Member for West Cork. In my opinion, those who have a local interest in the matter, and who consider that the Chairman exceeded his duty, have the remedy in their own hands if they choose to exercise it. When the time comes for re-electing the Chairman, if he has failed to discharge his duty, they possess a 513 remedy by replacing him by someone else. [Home Rule cries of "No, no!"] If that were so, then obviously the Chairman has the support of the ratepayers of the district.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
He is elected by the Board of Guardians to be Chairman of the Board; and if hon. Members can furnish me with an instance in which the Local Government Board, either of England or of Ireland, have removed a Chairman of a Board of Guardians, by a sealed order, for declining to put a resolution, I should consider the suggestion for such interference on the part of the Local Government Board in this case with more favour than I am disposed to extend to it at present. With regard to the action of the Chairman in this particular instance, as I have already stated, it is the opinion of the Local Government Board that he was not justified in the course he took. The blame which has been cast on the Local Government Board for declining to go beyond the expression of that opinion is in strong contrast to the observations which have been made by the hon. Member for West Clare (Mr. Jordan) as to the arbitrary conduct of the Board and the action of its Secretary in certain other matters which have been brought under the notice of the Committee. The Local Government Board are charged, on the one side, with non-interference; and, on the other, with arbitrary interference. I can only say that I am as anxious as any hon. Member below the Gangway that the action of the Local Government Board should be fair between all parties, and that it should deal with any infraction of the law, no matter by whom it may be committed. Some information has reached me as to the condition of certain Unions in Ireland which inclines me to believe that a little more action on the part of the Local Government Board might have stopped certain evils that have occurred. However that may be, I will promise hon. Members not to lose sight of the matter, but to do the best I can to secure that the law is carried out, and not evaded. The hon. Member for West Clare put two points, the first of which had reference to the action of the Inspectors of the Local Government 514 Board. He spoke of the Inspectors of the Local Government Board as if they were of no use, and he went so far as to move the reduction of the Vote in order to get rid of them.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
The hon. Member seemed to think that the Inspectors did not discharge their duties satisfactorily. He spoke of their attendance at the meetings of the Board of Guardians, and I certainly understood him not only to say that they were useless, but that any interference on their part would be resented by the Board of Guardians. Now, I understand that the Inspectors of the Local Government Board do not attend the meetings of the Boards of Guardians for the purpose of directing the course of procedure, but simply to observe what goes on, and to report to the Local Government Board how the affairs of the Union are conducted. Of course, if the Board of Guardians asks for their advice, they would be perfectly willing and ready to give it.
§ MR. JORDAN
The experience we have of the Inspectors in Ireland is that their services are nearly altogether: useless.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
That has not been found to be the case in England, and I do not think it will be found to be the case in Ireland. I believe that without the assistance of the Inspectors it would be impossible for the Local Government Board to perform their duties. The Local Government Board, however, have no desire to take out of the hands of the Boards of Guardians their proper administrative duties. Generally speaking, I do not believe that the Inspectors of the Local Government Board are fairly open to the charge which has been made against them, and without some such system of inspection it would be impossible for the Local Government Board to go on. An hon. Member has suggested that the Inspectors should do the duty of the Clerks of the Union in revising the List of Voters, and conducting the election of Boards of Guardians. Now, I should like to know how long it would take the 13 Inspectors of the Local Government Board to perform the duties of Returning Officers at elections, and what time they would have left to devote to other and more import- 515 ant duties? Such a suggestion is also directly in antagonism to the extension of local self-government or the granting of greater freedom to the Local Authorities of Ireland. As to the Legal Adviser of the Local Government Board, he has very important duties to perform, and his services are largely called into requisition. He gives advice as to the general action of the Board, and the remuneration he receives is included in the Estimate for the year. I do not think that any point which has been raised in the course of this discussion remains unanswered, and I trust that hon. Members will believe me when I say that my desire is to see the working of the Local Government system made thoroughly efficient, and carried out as far as possible by the Local Authorities themselves.
§ MR. DEASY (Mayo, W.)
I and my hon. Friends are also anxious to see local self-government thoroughly established in Ireland; but we do not consider that the present system of local government which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded to is at all satisfactory, or that it is in reality local government in any sense of the word, for the simple reason that the Boards of Guardians in Ireland are composed, to a large extent, of the landlord class, elected on a fancy franchise, and that the Chairman is, as a general rule, nominated and elected by Justices of the Peace who are ex officio Guardians. The right hon. Gentleman informs my hon. Friend the Member for West Clare (Mr. Jordan) that there is nothing easier, if the majority of the Board are dissatisfied with any decision the Chairman may give, than to refrain from electing him again. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware what the composition of a Board of Guardians really is in Ireland? In the first place, you have half the Board composed of ex officio Guardians, who are magistrates, mostly resident within the Unions of which they are Guardians. They are the highest rated Justices in the Union, and are nominated by the Clerks. Those men are landlords and their agents; consequently, nothing like fair-play can be expected from them. In the next place, the landlords exercise an enormous power at the annual Elections by means of their proxy votes. As a matter of fact, when a Board holds its first meeting more than one 516 half of the Guardians have been nominated without a single ratepayer having had a voice in the nomination. It will, therefore, be seen that they are able, almost in all cases, to elect their own Chairman, and as a general rule the Chairman is a political partizan, placed in that position for the purpose of preventing Guardians of Nationalist sympathies, who represent the ratepayers, from expressing opinions which do not coincide with their own. It is the landlords who place the Chairman in that position on the 25th of March every year, and it will be found that they pay no attention to the business of the Board until the 25th of March following. They permit the work of the Union to be carried on by the representatives of the ratepayers, unless there is some job to be effected, upon which special occasions they are whipped up. The ratepayers in Ireland have not the slightest control over the action of the Chairman of the Board of Guardians, and they have very little influence, practically speaking, in the administration of the Poor Law itself, owing to the system of nomination and election which prevails. Nothing can be more absurd than to impute to hon. Gentlemen on these Benches that they are pressing the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to exercise his authority, as Chairman of the Local Government Board, in order to interfere unduly with local representation. The members of the Poor Law Board are in no sense of the word the representatives of the local ratepayers. We do not ask the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his authority in an unfair or an arbitrary manner. All we ask is that he will compel the Local Government Board to see that the law is administered in the spirit in which it was intended to be administered. All we wish the Local Government Board to do is to observe the minutes and proceedings of the Boards of Guardians, and if they find that any illegality has been committed by the Chairman of a Board, or anyone else, at once to take notice of it, and write to the Board, and have any illegal decision reversed. That is all we ask of the right hon. Gentleman; and as to the emoval of the Chairman, surely it is nor argument that if no Chairman has yet been removed by a sealed order, that course should not be commenced now. If Mr. Payne, the Chairman of the 517 Bantry Board of Guardians, persists in acting contrary to the law, I do not see why the Local Government Board ought not to step in and use their authority. The reading of notices of eviction at the meetings of Boards of Guardians is certainly a matter of serious consequence, because, under the law, the relieving officer is compelled to be on the spot when an eviction takes place. How is the relieving officer to be on the spot, or how is he to be directed by the Board of Guardians as to the steps he ought to take with regard to the relief of an unfortunate family who may be cast on the roadside, unless public notice is given at the Board that the evictions are about to be carried out? It is said that in the coming winter the landlords intend to evict by wholesale, and surely the matter is one of vital and urgent importance. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his serious attention to this question of evictions in Ireland, and to the manner in which Chairmen of Boards of Guardians may deal with eviction notices. There is another matter which I also desire to bring under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and it is one with which I believe he is personally acquainted. He was a Member of the Royal Commission of 1878 which inquired into the operation of the Poor Law in Ireland. At that time it was hoped that the result of the inquiry would be to secure lunatic paupers from the treatment to which they had previously been subjected, and that a separate establishment in each county would be set aside in which they would receive proper care and attention. The present system in Ireland in this respect is probably the greatest blot upon the whole Poor Law administration of the country, because, mainly on account of the helplessness of these unfortunate individuals, who are unable to do anything for themselves, they are absolutely at the mercy of the Board of Guardians and the people the Board employ to look after them. I am quite aware that many Guardians in Ireland would do something to alleviate the sufferings of these unfortunate people; but they are afraid of the ratepayers, and the majority of them are not inclined to lend a willing ear to any story of what goes on in the lunatic wards. The result is that hundreds of these unhappy people are huddled together in the workhouses, two 518 or three in a bed, without any proper medical treatment, or skilled nurses to take charge of them.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I am afraid that the hon. Member is travelling beyond the question before the Committee. The Local Government Board have nothing to do with the arrangements which the hon. Gentleman is condemning.
§ MR. DEASY
The Local Government Board reports upon the state of things that exists in the workhouses, and their Inspectors have to visit the workhouses, and to make frequent Reports to the Board itself as to the condition of these pauper lunatics. Moreover, a Royal Commission was appointed for the purpose of inquiring into and reporting upon that, among other questions. The subject was raised on the discussion of this Vote last year, and also the year before, and I would therefore submit that I am perfectly in Order in raising it now.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I do not know what may have happened in a former year. The hon. Member is irregular, because the Local Government Board are in no way responsible for the state of things which may exist in the workhouses.
§ MR. DEASY
I am very sorry that I am not at liberty to pursue the subject further. It was one to which I wished particularly to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, and I will take care that on the first opportunity which is afforded I will bring the matter under the notice of the Government, particularly on account of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself is very well acquainted with the subject. With reference to the Auditors of the Local Government Board, that is also a matter which has been brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. Even in the present Session one or two Questions were put upon the subject, and the whole 519 matter was gone into completely on a former occasion. I have no doubt that it was brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman when, some years ago, he occupied the same position he now occupies in connection with the Irish Office. It appears to me to be an insult to Magistrates and Justices of the Peace sitting at Petty Sessions that they should be called upon simply to register the decrees of the Auditor. This is the modus operandi. The Auditor objects to some amount which may have been voted away for some purpose or other, and for which, special authority may not be given by Act of Parliament. The Auditor writes a certificate which has the effect of surcharging the Guardians who may have signed the cheque, and the certificate goes down to the Petty Sessions to be endorsed; but the magistrates have no power to enter into the facts of the case, and they are simply bound by Act of Parliament to issue a decree against the Guardians. This, I maintain, is an insult to the intelligence of the magistrates. I do not know why they should merely sit upon the Bench for the purpose of registering the decisions already arrived at by the Local Government Board Auditor, or by any other persons. They are precluded from taking any evidence whatever upon the merits of the case, and they are obliged to register a decree against the individuals who may have signed the cheque. The Irish Members have asked, on more than one occasion, that this injustice should be remedied—that evidence may be taken by the magistrates, and in case their decision is adverse that the defendants may appeal to the Court of the Quarter Sessions. We had a distinct pledge from Mr. Trevelyan, when he was Chief Secretary some two years ago, that this grievance should be remedied; but since then nothing has been done in the matter. We are very frequently told that the Irish Members have only to open out some specific grievance which they desire to have remedied, and that they have only to give an intimation of their wishes to the Government, in order to secure that the law in some particular direction shall be altered forthwith. Now, here is a matter which has attracted considerable attention in Ireland; it has been made a special matter of debate; but although attention has been drawn to it, year after year, for a 520 number of years, no attempt has been made by any Government to remedy it, although it is a source of considerable irritation. I may add that the change we desire could easily be effected in a short Bill of one or two clauses, and I do not think that any opposition would be raised to it in any quarter of the House. I wish also to draw attention to another matter, in reference to which a Question was asked a few evenings ago —namely, the appointment of Inspectors under the Explosives Act. One of the recent Orders of the Lord Lieutenant made an alteration in regard to the appointment of these officials, and the appointment itself is vested in the hands of the Local Justices. Formerly, it was the practice when a vacancy occurred to give the appointment to a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary, who, certainly, are better qualified persons than any others to carry out the duties of the office. Under the present system, however, the Local Justices come together when there is a vacancy, and they give the appointment to one of their friends, at the same time naming the salary. It does not matter whether they fix the salary at £10 or £1,000, the Board of Guardians are obliged to pay it. A certificate is issued every six months to the treasurer of the Board of Guardians, making a demand for any sum the magistrates choose to name as the salary of the Inspector, which the treasurer must pay. What I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do is to make it compulsory on the magistrates of Petty Sessions to abolish the office of Inspector of Explosives as it at present exists, and to give the appointment to some member of the Police Force, who will carry out the duties more efficiently, while the expense would be disbursed by a different body from that which pays the Inspectors at present. I may add that the matter is one which has given rise to some dissatisfaction among the Boards of Guardians. I do not think it is necessary that I should detain the Committee longer; but I trust the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary will give his best attention to the few points I have ventured to bring under his notice, which are really of much consequence to the Irish people.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary spoke of an inconsistency in the 521 complaints of hon. Members on this side of the House with regard to the Local Government Board. He said that one hon. Gentleman complained that the Local Government Board interfered too much with the action of Boards of Guardians, and that another hon. Gentleman complained that they had not interfered enough. Why, that is precisely our complaint—namely, that it all depends upon the composition of the Board of Guardians—whether the Board is a Tory Board or a Nationalist Board— whether there is too much or too little interference. On the one hand; if it is a Tory Board, the Local Government Board keeps its hands off; whereas if, on the other hand, it is a Board that represents the popular Party, we have the Local Government Board down on it like a shot. The right hon. Gentleman charged us also with another inconsistency—namely, in demanding an extension of local self-government in Ireland, and in the same breath objecting to the present system of local government in that country. But, Sir, we indignantly deny altogether that the system which now exists in Ireland is a real system of local representative government. On the contrary, it is a system of government by Dublin Castle. In the first place, the Boards of Guardians themselves are composed one-half of ex officio members, and the mode in which the election of the representative Guardians is conducted is of such a character that it is impossible, almost anywhere to secure the return of Nationalist representatives in proportion to the number of Nationalist ratepayers. A landlord can have as many as 36 votes, whereas the overwhelming majority of the ratepayers have only one vote each. In the next place, this Local Government Board is a nominated body entirely beyond the control of the representatives of the people. In this state of things it is simply preposterous to pretend for a moment that we are are inconsistent in expressing our desire for the extension of local government in Ireland, and in then finding fault with an imitation of the reality of this sort. I trust we shall hear no more of these taunts. I wish now to draw the attention of the right hon. Baronet to the fact that there are some officials connected with, the Local Government Board in Ireland who are engaged in 522 offices connected with very questionable speculations. I find, from a letter I have recently received, that Mr. R. Jephson, Auditor of the Local Government Board in Dublin, was formerly a Director of the National Discount Company, which recently "came to smash." It was, in fact, something very like a swindle; and it is notorious, in Dublin, that a great many people have been the dupes of the Directors of that Company, and have had their private fortunes utterly ruined. I entertain not the least doubt in the world that many people were induced to invest money in this concern from the fact that they saw upon the Board of Directors persons like Mr. Jephson, a Government official. I want an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that Government officials in Ireland, in future, shall be prevented, by express direction, from taking any part whatever in speculations of this kind, which, to say the least, are very questionable undertakings, and calculated, most of them, to end in financial disaster. There is another matter, not connected with any point which has already been touched upon. I wish to direct attention to the Rules laid down by the Local Government Board with regard to the copying of the rate books for the purpose of the registration of Parliamentary voters. This is a very important matter. The present Rule is that no person except a ratepayer can go into the Board Room and see a copy of the rate books of the Union. That Rule works in this way—when the majority of the Board of Guardians consists of landlords or Tories, any Nationalist Organization which is established for the purpose of revising the list of voters is absolutely prevented from, or has great difficulty thrown in its way in, getting a copy of the rate books. Anyone who is acquainted with the registration of voters in Ireland, will know that no Registration Society can go to work efficiently without having a copy of the rate books before it. That is the basis of its operations. Now, let me mention a case illustrative of the state of things of which I complain. It has been reported in a Dublin paper, within the last few days, that in a Union in a Division of South Tyrone, the Nationalist Registration Society wanted to copy the rate books for the purpose of the 523 coming revision. The Clerk of the Union and the Guardians, all of whom I believe are Orangemen—at any rate, all of them are Tories—objected to let anyone look at the rate books except a ratepayer. Consequently, a ratepayer did attend with a clerk in order to perform this work, but the clerk was not allowed to work, although he was accompanied by a ratepayer; and at last the expedient resorted to as the only one possible under the circumstances was to get a sufficient number of ratepayers to go to the Board Room—I believe they numbered seven—and to sit down there and copy the books. It is said that they were occupied, for several weeks, from 10 o'clock in the morning until 6 in the evening in performing the task. Now, a case like this shows that this Rule is enforced in Ireland for partizan ends; and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that if it is continued to be so enforced, it will lead, and I think it ought to lead, to retaliation in places where the Nationalists are in a majority. Certainly, if the right hon. Gentleman does not consent to alter this Rule, I at least would suggest that for every instance in which a Tory Board of Guardians throws obstacles in the way of a Nationalist Registration Society copying the rate books, the Nationalists in some other district in which they are in a majority should interpose similar obstacles in the way of the Conservative Party. I believe that the adoption of a system of retaliation of that kind would soon bring about an alteration in the Rule. What I would suggest, is this, that wherever there is a recognized Registration Society, whatever be its political complexion, its agents should be allowed to copy the rate books in the same manner as ratepayers are at present. This is the practice at present in Dublin, though in the South Dublin Union, where the majority is Tory and Orange, and where the Clerk is a notorious partizan of the Tory Party, I am sorry to say that, in the interests of the Conservatives, the officials have been in the habit of placing very considerable difficulty in the way of the inspection of the rate books, by the Nationalist agents. I would repeat my suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman that he should so alter the Rule about copying the rate books as to lay down that the agent of any recognized 524 Registration Society shall be entitled to copy the rate books at all convenient times. I do not see that there can be the least objection to that; and I can again assure the right hon. Gentleman, and I tell the Committee, that if this alteration is not made, and if the Boards of Guardians in the North of Ireland continue the tactics they have hitherto pursued, by the foul means I have referred to of preventing Nationalist agents from obtaining copies of the rate books, the time will soon come when there will be a system of retaliation throughout the rest of Ireland.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I wish to bring before the attention of the Committee the subject which is alluded to on page 11 of the last Report of the Local Government Board, somewhat briefly, I admit, but it is also referred to on page 155—I refer to the collection of the advances for seeds which are collected under the authority of the Local Government Board. I asked a Question upon the subject a short time ago, and perhaps I may be allowed to recapitulate briefly the facts of the case for the information of the Committee. A sum of £594,000 was advanced in the year 1880, by the Conservative Government, for the purchase of potato seeds. It was one of the best things the Conservative Government ever did in connection with Ireland. The money was originally proposed to be advanced only for the purchase of potato seed; but as the Bill went on the advance was extended also for the purchase of other seeds as well as potatoes, such as oats and corn generally. In Committee on the Bill, it was provided that the money should not only be advanced to tenants, but that it should be lent to anyone else provided that good security was given. Out of the £594,000 advanced, there is now only a sum of £37,000 outstanding, and that is due from certain Unions. It is to this balance I wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary. Some of the Unions found it very hard to make up their share of the interest on the outstanding debt, and there was great dissatisfaction on the part of the tenants and others with the way in which the money had been advanced. A good deal of the money had been advanced to persons who were not tenants, on the system of con acre— 525 that is to say, that somebody lets out the land, and some other person who is not the tenant sows it with seed; very often the manure is supplied by the man who lets out the land; but it is very difficult to collect the money which has been paid in the shape of advances where the advances has been made to persons who were not the tenants. Out of the outstanding balance of £37,000 there is clearly a considerable sum of money which is not collectable by the Unions, and they will not be able to pay the whole of the balance. As I have stated, there is only this small sum of £37,000 due out of the original amount advanced, and one reason why the balance has not been collected is the action of the Local Government Board themselves. When the Bill was before Parliament, the Local Government Board sent out a Circular stating that seed would only be given for a quarter of an acre of potatoes. Afterwards they altered the limit and extended it to an acre, which was a considerable change—namely, 4 to 1. The Local Government Board, in reply to a letter from me, explained the circumstances; but it is not necessary that I should enter into them now. At any rate, they refrained from issuing a second Circular until the Act had passed the House of Commons. It was altogether a mistake to issue the first Circular at all, but even a greater mistake to refuse to issue a second until the Act passed. The consequence was that Boards of Guardians were left in a state of extreme uncertainty as to the amount they might advance, and nothing was done until the moment arrived for supplying the seed. The Clerks of the various Unions then found themselves quite unequal to the sudden opening of 8,000 or 10,000 fresh accounts, and I believe that a great many Unions in England would, under the circumstances, have found themselves similarly situated. Many of the persons who applied for advances were illiterate, and unable to even write their names. The result was that considerable confusion was introduced into some of the accounts, and it has been very difficult indeed to recover some of the small debts which were incurred at that time.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I fail to see how the hon. and gallant Member connects this subject with the Vote of the Local Government Board.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I was anxious to spare the time of the Committee; but if it is considered necessary, I will read the whole of the correspondence of the Local Government Board on the subject.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
As I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman, he is about to urge a claim for the remission of the balance of the debt. If that is the object of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it is not a question connected with the Local Government Board, and cannot be discussed on this Estimate.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
; I do not intend to urge the remission of the whole debt, but only a portion of it. I will, however, studiously leave out that part of the matter, and put the question in another form either to morrow or some other day, I wish, however, to add that the question is one of very considerable importance, and that it is referred to in the Report of the Local Government Board.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I must ask the hon. and gallant Member to show how he can connect the matter with the Vote now under discussion.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
Perhaps you will allow me to read some of the correspondence under the head of loans in connection with the seed supplied by the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board called attention to the collection of the debt and the necessity of watching how it is collected, and in their Report they go on to say—The collection still proceeds on the whole satisfactory. The sum advanced to Boards of Guardians in 1880 was £598,306; of this sum £496,685 were paid up on the 31st of March, 1885, leaving a balance of £101,621 due at that date. The last instalment of the debt will not become due until next year.On page 155 of the Report of the Local Government Board there is a letter from the Lords' Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury to the Local Government Board, in which the Treasury agrees to reduce the balance of £101,000 to £37,000.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I do not see that the extract which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has read brings this subject in any connection with the Vote. It is true that the loan was originally administered under the supervision of the Local Government Board, who are still charged with the collection of the balance due; but the hon. and gallant Member is not pointing to any 527 difficulty raised by the Local Government Board, nor is he making any criticism upon their action.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I will endeavour, Sir, to follow your ruling. Of course, the subject is one which divides itself into a good many branches. I was anxious to point out to the Committee that some of the difficulties connected with the collection of this debt are exclusively due to the want of action on the part of the Local Government Board. In the first place, the great difficulty in collecting the debt has arisen on account of legal circumstances, and those legal circumstances I think ought to be met by some definite action on the part of the Local Government Board, who ought to supply the Boards of Guardians with the best legal advice. One difficulty in collecting the balance has arisen from the decision of the magistrates in Petty Sessions. They refuse to put the law in motion, and, among other reasons, they say that the debt has lapsed on account of the length of time that has elapsed since the advances were made. Now, in that matter, I think the magistrates are wrong; and I am of opinion that the Local Government Board should supply them with sound legal advice so as to enable them to get over the difficulty. At present, when we go to the Petty Sessions, the case is remitted to the Court of Quarter Sessions, and what does the Chairman do there? He says—"It is all very well for the Petty Sessions to take any action it pleases; it is only an informal Court, and it requires no formal proof of delivery. We do require formal proof of delivery." That is a difficulty which I maintain the Local Government Board ought to show us how to surmount. A large number of persons were supplied with seed potatoes; but there are now legal difficulties in the way of recovery in which I think the Guardians are entitled to assistance from the Local Government Board. It certainly will be impossible for the Guardians to collect the outstanding debts unless they get a large amount of assistance from the Local Government Board, assistance which, I am sorry to say, they have not been able to get up to the present moment. So long as we are dealing with bonâ fide people, and moderately well-off people, there is no difficulty in obtaining the interest upon the advances; but 528 I am sorry to say that in Ireland, unless accounts of this nature are collected regularly, there are a certain number of people who will not pay. Another difficulty in connection with the Local Government Board ought to be pointed out to the Chief Secretary—namely, that the Local Government Board are in the habit of sending out their Inspectors; but I do not see that the services of the Inspectors are of any considerable value in any of the Unions. In most Unions there are five or six Guardians who attend pretty regularly to the business; and in the case of such well-managed Unions there is very little to complain of. The Inspectors I have known have never been the slightest hindrance to the Guardians whom I have been connected with. I have never known them to be objectionable. There is new work for the Inspectors. They might be asked to look into the accounts and see what part of the debts are recoverable and what are not. This is a matter that might well be gone into; and, if not out of Order in doing so, I would ask that the Inspectors should find out which of the debts are recoverable and which are not, and that they should recommend that those which are not recoverable should be remitted. I think they should report to the Local Government Board, and give full information on this matter. Then there is a point raised with reference to the seed rate that merits the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. Chief Secretaries get so much taken up with matters affecting the police and with exciting political questions, that they are sometimes unable to attend to the material development of the country. Well, but it is the want of this material development which throws the country into a state of disturbance, and which doubles the duty of Chief Secretaries in connection with police work. I think if the right hon. Gentleman who at present occupies the position of Chief Secretary would devote a greater part of his time to these economic questions and to the material development of the country, he would very soon find that there would not be so much police work to deal with. I would point out the difficulty he gets into as to the seed rate. It is not a large sum, but it has to be collected with the poor rate, and the collector cannot receive the poor rate unless he receives the seed 529 rate too. That, if not an altogether universal rule, is, at any rate, the rule in the great majority of Unions. The consequence is that some of the poor rates are getting into arrear owing to the seed rate not being collected in certain instances; and it certainly seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman should direct the Local Government Board to settle up this question of the seed rate. Some resolution will have to be arrived at upon it next year. The account cannot be kept hanging on for ever, though it is not of a very considerable amount, except in some 10 or 20 Unions of Ireland. Unless the Government obtain proper Reports from the Local Government Board as to what part of the rates are recoverable, they will not be able to find out a satisfactory remedy; but if all the necessary information is obtained for them, I think the right hon. Gentleman will be able to discover a means by which he will find it in his power to remove a large part of the standing debt, and not leave more than 4 per cent, probably not leave more than 3 per cent, of the whole amount now due as the loss to be borne by the Treasury. This is a question of great importance — of particular importance to 15 or 20 of the Boards of Guardians in Ireland. You cannot have the thing well managed unless you go into this matter. I certainly think if the Chief Secretary would look into this by next year, he would be able to bring about a settlement of the business, and enable a good many Unions to get their accounts into proper order.
§ MR. MACARTNEY (Antrim, S.)
The hon. Member for North Dublin (Mr. Clancy), in the observations he made as to the administration in Ireland, reviewed the conduct of several gentlemen in connection with the Poor Law Guardians. He brought forward a specific charge against the Clerk of a Poor Law Union in the county I reside in in reference to the revision of the list of voters. Well, I myself am very deeply interested in the list and the revision to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. The hon. Member complained that owing to the fact that the Board of Guardians were mainly Tories, and also principally of that most objectionable class of Tories—namely, Orangemen; and owing to the fact that the Clerk of the Union was a partizan, and 530 devoted to the political interests of the Party opposed to that to which the hon. Gentleman belongs, I say he complained that justice was denied to the agents of the Nationalist Party in connection with the inspection of the rate books. Now, I was very much interested in the revision of the lists, and though I was interested on behalf of the Tory Party, and although I could command the influence of the Orange Party, I also was refused the facilities which were refused to the Nationalist agents. [Mr. CLANCY: What year was that in?] I am talking of the present year. The hon. Member impugned the conduct of the Clerk of this Union, accusing him of partiality. Now, I am not prepared, at the present moment, to say whether or not the Clerk of the Union in question has in any way departed this year from the conduct he laid down last year; but I would like to remind the hon. Member that there is a perfectly simple way by which he could obtain the information he wants without applying to the Clerk of the Union for the information afforded by the rate book, which book the hon. Member says it is so necessary for the agents of his Party to inspect. On application to the Registrar General's Office in Dublin he could have obtained, as I obtained last year, a complete copy of the rate book with the latest alterations. It only requires the expenditure of a small sum of money, and I am not led to believe that there was any lack of funds at the disposal of the Party the hon. Gentleman is associated with in connection with the revision in South Tyrone last year. I am disposed, myself, to agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said as to further facilities being given for the inspection of the rate book to properly constituted agents representing the different Parties in Ireland. I am not disposed to disagree with him in that matter, and I think that in all probability neither the administration of the Poor Law nor the Public Service would be in any way hindered by the Clerks of the Unions being permitted, as they are not at present, to allow the rate books of the Union to be investigated by properly authorized agents belonging to both Parties. I do not dispute with the hon. Member on that point; but I would point out that neither he nor his friends in any part of Ireland are precluded by the action of the Clerks to the Poor Law 531 Unions, whether that action is partial or impartial, from obtaining elsewhere the information they desire to obtain from the rate books. [Mr. CLANCY: I gave a specific instance.] I maintain that the hon. Member can obtain identically the same information from an Office in Dublin by the expenditure of no great amount of money, or no more than would certainly have to be expended in securing the information if it were to be obtained through the Clerks of the Unions from the rate books. During the discussion which has taken place hon. Gentlemen opposite have impugned the action of the Chairmen of the Boards of Guardians in Ireland, and, generally speaking, the action of all the Boards of Guardians, the majority of the members of which hold views which are not in accordance with those of hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite. They have treated the subject as though the ex officio Guardians were in no way interested in the well-being of the Union.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to go fully into the question of the conduct of Boards of Guardians. He is only entitled to discuss these matters so far as they are connected with the action of the Irish Local Government Board.
§ MR. MACARTNEY
I regret that I have overstepped the limits of the debate. I wish to allude to an interruption which took place while the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland was speaking with regard to the conduct of Boards of Guardians. An hon. Member on the opposite side of the House pointed out that the Local Government Board of Ireland was precluded from influencing, or was not able to influence, the conduct of Chairmen of Boards of Guardians, and that the ratepayers were not able to influence them, because these gentlemen were, as a rule, elected by voters who had no interest in the Poor Law. Now, I wish to point out that the ex officio Guardians of Ireland have as large an interest as any other portion of the electorate in the conduct of the Boards. It is impossible to suppose that a Chairman who has the confidence of a Board would be permitted to continue in his office unless he retained that confidence with regard to all his action during the year. The ex officio Guardians, to whom hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House ob- 532 ject so much, contribute by far the greater proportion of the poor rate in Ireland.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
I have listened to the debate which has been going on now for some time, and especially to the opening remarks which were made in reference to the general administration of the Local Government Board. The objectionable features pointed out in that administration are not solely to be found in the Department as it affects Ireland, but they apply also to the case of England. The same blots which exist in the administration of the Local Government Board, and which have been pointed out to the Committee, exist also in reference to England. I think the subject would, perhaps, come up better on the Local Government Question generally, whenever that comes on.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM
I was going to deal with the fact incidentally and say that when the question comes up there are two points which have been brought under discussion this morning which I think will have to be dealt with. First of all—
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM
Then I will not go on with them; but I would say that the questions of ex officio Guardians and the cumulative vote are matters—
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN (Kent, Isle of Thanet)
I rise to Order. I wish to know if the hon. Gentleman has any right to go into this question of the election of Boards of Guardians after your ruling, Mr. Courtney?
§ MR.HANDEL COSSHAM
I thought the Committee did deal with that subject this morning; but I will not question your ruling, Sir. I wish to see some change made in the mode by which Guardians are appointed.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM
All I wanted to say was this, that the choice of Guardians in Ireland should rest with 533 the Irish people—the Guardians should have the confidence of the people. That result would be obtained by doing away with the cumulative vote and—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I must take notice of the hon. Member's continued irrelevance, and ask him to discontinue his speech.
§ MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
Some of the points which have been raised in the course of this debate may appear to some hon. Members to be trifling, and of very little value; but I can assure them that to us and to the Poor Law Guardians of Ireland, and also to the ratepayers, a great deal depends upon the careful consideration of some of the points which have been raised. That point of the appointment of Inspectors under the Explosives Act is one to which I should wish to call the serious attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. At present the system prevailing is this— the Justices assemble at Petty Sessions and appoint these Inspectors. In these appointments the ratepayers of the Petty Sessional Districts have no voice whatever. These gentlemen are appointed by the Justices, and, in due course, are presented, and the Guardians have no option but to accept them. The cheque for their salaries is presented to the treasurer and cashed as a matter of course. Now, we maintain that the duties under the Explosives Act could be far more efficiently performed—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I do not perceive the connection between the hon. Member's observations and the Local Government Board of Ireland. I know the subject was gone into at some length by previous speakers; but I could not then see any connection between it and the Local Government Board.
§ MR. P. J. POWER
I bow to your ruling, Sir; but I certainly did imagine that the subject came under this Vote. However, I will not persist in these observations, because I believe that in consequence of what fell from the hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Deasy) the matter will receive the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. There is another matter connected with the Poor Law Board, which I think the right hon. Gentleman would do well to turn his serious attention to, and that is the 534 classification of paupers in particular Unions. We are aware that, according to law, the children, should be separated from the ordinary inmates. That is a rule with which most hon. Gentlemen will agree, as it is one founded upon justice and humanity; but, unfortunately, in many of the Unions that regulation is not carried into effect, and you have in them poor children brought into contact with very questionable characters. It is unnecessary for me to explain to the Committee the injurious effect mixing with the adult pauper inmates has on these children, and I hope sincerely that this matter will engage the serious attention of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not allowed, I believe, by your ruling, Sir, to refer to the condition of pauper lunatics; but anyone who has any knowledge of the Unions in Ireland, will know that that is a most serious question also with regard to the Irish Poor Law. The question of the Auditors is another matter which certainly deserves the attention of the Local Government Board and of the Committee. At present, the Poor Law Guardians, and particularly the Chairmen of the Guardians, are subject to the whims of the Auditors for the time being, who may be sent round. We have little or no voice in appealing against their decisions, and we are altogether in their hands. It is a notorious fact, I am sorry to say, that the Local Government Board is a Board that does not possess the confidence of the Irish people, and I think I may say that the Auditors that they send round to the different Unions are equally without the confidence of the Irish people. The Auditors are appointed by a Board which we look upon as a partizan Board, therefore the Auditors themselves are considered partizans. I wish to just mention a case which came under my own immediate attention with regard to these Auditors. I have had the misfortune to be surcharged in a couple of instances on the Board of the Union in which I reside, and, perhaps, this statement may affect the right hon. Gentleman's decision in the matter. My predecessor in the Chairmanship of the Waterford Board of Guardians was a staunch Conservative. Well, he was in the habit of signing cheques for certain payments, and one of the cheques it was customary for him to sign was for the 535 payment of £50 for school teachers attached to the Union. Whilst this gentleman—for whom, by the way, I have a great respect—was Chairman of the Union, the validity of these payments was never called in question. I was appointed as Chairman in 1882, and when these cheques came up for payment I signed them as a matter of course. Well, the next occasion on which the Auditor came round, I was surcharged £50. I thought it a very extraordinary thing that, seeing that these cheques were signed by my predecessor without objection, I should not be allowed to do as he had done. My predecessor was of the same opinion, in fact, that gentleman came down to a Board meeting and moved a resolution asking the Auditor of the Local Government Board to reconsider his decision, and another gentleman of high standing in the district seconded the proposition. The matter went before the Local Government Board, and in due course this surcharge was rescinded. We maintain that such a state of things should not exist, and that it should not be in the power of an Auditor to act in such an arbitrary manner. Had it not been that this gentleman, my predecessor, from a sense of duty came in and protested against this surcharge, I should have had the misfortune of being obliged to pay the amount in question. Now, Sir, there is no doubt that a great deal of friction does exist between the representatives of the people, the Poor Law Boards and the Local Government Boards. I think that everyone who takes an interest in the well-being of the Unions in Ireland, and in the well-being of the unfortunate inmates of the workhouses, would like to see that friction lessened, and a better feeling—a feeling of cordiality—existing between the elected representatives of the ratepayers and the Local Government Board. We maintain that the Government have a great deal of power in this matter, and that it would be possible for them to bring the Local Government Board into greater harmony with Boards of Guardians in Ireland than at present exists. I no not wish unnecessarily to rake up bygones; but as an instance of the unfortunate feeling that does exist between the Poor Law Board and the popular representatives, I would ask the 536 right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to go back a few years and look into the conduct of the Local Government Board in connection with some of their officers. We know that if the officers of the Local Government Board and of the Poor Law Guardians stand well with the Conservative Party, they are not much interfered with; but if, unfortunately, the doctors or other officers do not stand well with the Conservative Party, they have much to contend against, and their position is anything but a comfortable one. The instance to which I refer was the treatment which my hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Cork received some time since at the hands of the Local Government Board. I will not dwell at length upon the conduct adopted towards him; but I would say that merely because he happened to be a Nationalist in his political views, by most unwarrantable action on the part of the Local Government Board he was deprived of his place under a sealed order of that Board.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I must point out to the hon. Member that the narration of this incident is irrelevant and out of Order.
§ MR. P. J, POWER
I will not proceed with that. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to endeavour to bring this Board, which is one of those alien Boards to which the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) has so graphically referred in some of his correspondence, into greater harmony with the people. If he does, we shall find that the position of the Poor Law Guardians in regard to this Board will be improved, and we shall find that the position of the paupers of Ireland will also be improved, and that a better state of feeling will exist all round. In concluding, I would seriously ask the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the points raised by the hon. Member for West Mayo (Mr. Deasy), and also to the most important state of things that exists in Ireland with regard to the classification of the inmates in the Unions; and I would also ask him seriously to give his attention to that matter of the Inspectors under the Explosives Act. It may not appear to be a very great question to the right hon. Gentleman; but I can assure him that every time the cheques for the payment of Inspectors 537 under this Act are brought up, they give rise to a lengthened discussion. If the right hon. Gentleman will take the trouble to appoint officers of the Crown to perform the duties, all controversy will cease, and a better state of things will be brought about.
§ MR. PINKERTON (Galway)
I must confess that, to a great extent, I am bound to agree with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Baronet. I think it is a pity that Boards of Guardians in every part of Ireland should be turned into political arenas. I think that in every part of the country these Boards should be strictly confined to their legitimate functions; and I am compelled to bear this testimony to the work of Chairmen of Boards of Guardians in the North of Ireland, that they act very impartially and fairly. I have the honour to be a member of the Coleraine Board of Guardians, which is presided over by Sir Hervey Bruce, a gentleman who, although he holds strong political opinions, has—and I myself can bear testimony to the fact —always borne the balance fairly between the two Parties on the Board. I cannot say the same with regard to the other ex officio Guardians. I know several cases in which questions have been decided by the majority of the elected Guardians, and, subsequently, an ex officio member of the Board, who is probably well known to many Members of this House—I allude to Dr. Traill— has brought up other ex officio members, some of them on crutches, some of them from their sick beds, and when by these tactics he succeeded in defeating the elected Guardians—by a majority of one—a mandate was received from the Local Government Board forbidding the re-opening of the question. The occasion which I have especially in my mind was the question of the superannuation of a medical officer. This medical officer, previous to his resignation, had accepted another appointment. I should say that some time previous to this a contest had taken place for the appointment of medical officer, the two candidates being one a Liberal and the other a Conservative. In the first place, the Liberal was elected. This was rather a disappointment to the friends of the Conservative doctor, and, in order that he might not retire from the neighbourhood, the dispensary doctor retired in 538 order to create a vacancy for the disappointed candidate. The elected Guardians thought it unfair that this gentleman, who resigned in this obliging fashion, who had a large practice, who had also accepted another office, and who was in the prime of life, should be provided with a retiring allowance at the expense of the ratepayers. I agreed with that view, and on two occasions brought forward a resolution against the granting of this retiring allowance. We succeeded on these occasions in defeating Dr. Traill and the ex officio members of the Board; but, as I said before, ex officio members were brought from their sick beds, the question came up a third time for decision, and the two previous resolutions of the Board were reversed. The Local Government Board, in a very unfair manner, as soon as their friends won one single fight out of three, permitted no further action in the matter. With regard to Poor Law Inspectors, I quite agree with the remarks which have been submitted to the Committee. I think that, in connection with the majority of well-regulated Boards of Guardians, there is no necessity for Inspectors; but, at the same time, I must say that the Poor Law Board Inspectors have acted, as a whole, very fairly, when I consider the tremendous amount of outside pressure brought to bear upon them. The pressure is all from the one side. It is not an unusual thing for the Inspector to take a week's shooting with the Chairman of the Board. It is not an unusual thing for an Inspector to be the favoured guest of a Chairman. The elected members, of course, are not able to exercise these courtesies; therefore, whenever the two interests clash, the decision of the Inspector is almost always unfriendly to the elected Guardians, and in favour of the ex officio Guardians. As to the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim (Mr. Macartney) that the greater portion of the rates is paid by the ex officio Guardians, I totally deny it. The annual value of the property of one of the ex officio Guardians on the Coleraine Board did not exceed £20, whereas there are elected members on the Board holding property of £200 valuation. As the law stands, if a man happens to be a magistrate within the radius of the Union, if the number of ex officio Guardians do not exceed the elected Guar- 539 dians, he would, of necessity, have the right to sit on the Board. Within the past 12 months a material change has taken place with regard to that. More attention has been paid to the interests of the people, and an influx of new and, I hope, more impartial magistrates has been added to the Magistracy. The official element on the different Boards is now not—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
The subject the hon. Member is now discussing I have already several times ruled to be wide of the question.
§ MR. PINKERTON
I was trying, Sir, to discuss the action of the Local Government Board in reference to the ex officio Guardians. I thought it was necessary to my argument to show how the ex officio element was constituted; but I certainly bow to your ruling. Though I agree with many of the remarks which have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, I am compelled to say that the Local Government Board of Ireland does not command the confidence of the people. It is not right that the action of the elected members should be set aside by an irresponsible Board in Dublin, who have no knowledge of local circumstances.
§ MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)
I remarked earlier in the debate that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had dwelt on a point of some importance. On this side of the Committee we were condemning the Local Government Board, and I would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that under the Local Government Board, or any other form of government, the Local Bodies require to be suited to the condition of the majority of the people. I am very much in favour of local government, and would not like local government or local sentiment to be brought into collision with the national sentiment. My object in rising was to draw attention to some facts connected with the action of the Local Government Board in the town of Ballinasloe, where I reside, and they have reference not to Poor Law Boards, but to the Town Commissioners. The Town Commissioners are an elected body pure and simple. None of the objections that are brought against the Poor Law Boards can be brought against the Town Commissioners. There is an item for 540 Law Expenses in this Vote. Well, on legal questions individual members of the Town Commissieners are very often at sea; and when they make inquiries of the Local Government Board, or when the Clerks to the Town Commissioners make these inquiries for them, the answers they receive are very often very unsatisfactory. I myself, though elected at the head of a list of strong opponents as Town Commissioner in Ballinasloe, owing to the fact of my having removed from one house to another, found that a legal difficulty had arisen, and was informed by the Clerk to the Board—who was a strong Conservative in his tendencies—that I could not sit upon the Board without subjecting myself to a fine of £50. I asked him to communicate with the Local Government Board on the point. He did communicate with them; but they returned an unsatisfactory answer. They left the matter precisely where they had found it. There is an item down here for Inspectors. I should like to know what these Inspectors do? We have in our town a gas-house where gas is manufactured. It is carried on by the Local Authority; and I dare say it will surprise the Committee to hear, and I dare say, also, it will surprise the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to learn, that though Ballinasloe, as represented by its Commissioners, has expended a large amount of money on its gas-house, it has no lease whatever of the works, the Commissioners being merely tenants at will, and, being so placed, that it is possible for them to be cleared out tomorrow.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I do not see any connection between the Local Government Board of Ireland and the subject to which the hon. Member is now referring.
§ MR. HARRIS
Then I shall go to another point, Sir, as I do not wish to enter into a controversy with the Chair. After all, it is on general points that we wish to have reforms introduced. I put a Question in this House not long ago with regard to Colonel O'Hara, who is Auditor for our district. In auditing the accounts he passed over an item which, in my opinion, he should not have passed over—an item allowing the police of Ballinasloe to have gas without payment. I put a Question in this House with regard to it to the late Chief 541 Secretary for Ireland (Mr. John Morley), and the answer I received from the right hon. Gentleman was that it was optional for any taxpayer in the town to question this particular item. But it must be remembered that it is a very serious thing for a person living in a country town in Ireland to put himself in any way in opposition to the police force, and I maintain that it should be the duty of the Auditor to look at such an item as that, and that it should be the duty of the Local Government Board, with their lawyers, and Inspectors, and auditors, and their whole machinery, to put these things to rights, and not be leaving it to individuals to do work which public bodies ought to undertake. Unquestionably, it should be the duty of public bodies to settle the rights of the public and the rights of public officials, and any difficulties which may arise between one public body and another. Now, Sir, I am very strong upon this point, because it is felt to be a very great grievance in the town of Ballinasloe. We have the gas-house and everything connected with it on land of which we do not hold the lease, and then we have this system of giving free gas to the best paid body of men connected with the Public Service in Ireland—namely, the police. It is a great injustice that this unnecessary extravagance should exist in a town in which there are so many people in distress, and where there is such little employment to offer by way of relief. With regard to the Inspectors, I want to know if it comes within their duty to see that the law is carried out in regard to obtaining information with reference to the back-yards in the poorer districts of the town? I contend that the whole Local Government Board system of inspection as established in connection with Dublin Castle is a waste of public money. It is a machine established for the sake of giving appointments, and not in the interests of the Irish public, and this I shall be able to show the Committee. In the town of Ballinasloe there are 1,000 houses without back-yards.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
It is quite outside the Vote before the Committee to discuss such a matter as that. It has nothing in the world to do with the Local Government Board.
§ MR. HARRIS
I would say it would, at all events, be the duty of the Govern- 542 ment to give what information they can within the limits of the Vote to the points I have alluded to. I could quote facts and give names; but I do not care to do so, as I do not wish to be understood as desirous of bringing contumely or injury upon any man. I assume, from what you say, Sir, that it would be out of the range of this discussion for me to allude to local taxation. With regard to the potato rate, I wish to say that the people in many parts must have some further supply of seed to enable them to tide over their difficulties. I think that point is worthy of the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, and I should very much like him to give the Committee some information on the point, and, at the same time, say whether there are any remedies for the state of things I have mentioned. I must say that I believe the right hon. Gentleman's powers on these matters are very limited. The right hon. Gentleman holds as anomalous a position as it is possible for anyone to hold. He is responsible for all the acts of a Department over which he virtually has very little control. One of the highest qualifications for all officials connected with the Castle is ability to divert the attention of the Chief Secretary from a point. They know that he is only there pro tem, and they exercise themselves in trying to humour and mislead him for the time being. They know very well that the power in the various Departments when he has gone away will cease to be in his hands, and that it is out of his power, as I might say, to bring forward any thorough radical remedy for the various grievances that the country suffers through the action of the officials of Dublin Castle.
§ MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN (Mayo, S.)
The case the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) has made out on behalf of those districts which are still indebted under the seed rate, is, I think, worthy of consideration.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I told the hon. and gallant Gentleman that he was not at liberty to enter into the question of relieving the Unions from their indebtedness. That question is outside the Vote.
§ MR. J. P. X. O'BRIEN
I thought, Mr. Courtney, that inasmuch as the matter has been mentioned, I might be allowed to refer to it.
§ MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN
I perceive, from the Report of the Irish Local Government Board, that they say with regard to that seed rate that a very large proportion of it has been paid by the Unions. I find, also, that it is reported that these Unions, in endeavouring to make repayments of that seed rate, have not only done their best to collect it—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to pursue that subject. I have already informed the hon. Member that I checked the hon. and gallant Gentleman for discussing the matter.
§ MR. J. F. X. O'BRIEN
I presume I shall be in Order in referring to the neglect, or the apparent neglect, of the Local Government Board in Ireland in not taking advantage of the highly-paid official who acts as their legal adviser. I perceive that the sum put down for legal advice is rising very rapidly. I observe that in 1885–6 £1,000 is set down for the payment of the expenses of this office, whilst for the current year the sum of £2,636 is set down. The Local Government Board appear not to have consulted their legal adviser on certain important matters. If they have not consulted him, this is a very curious illustration of the extraordinary manner in which they carry on their business; and if they have consulted him, then this highly-paid official does not appear to have given them any advice on the matter submitted to him. It is a point worthy of the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, whether the services of this highly-paid official should not be utilized for the different Boards of Guardians all over the country. In that way a considerable saving might be effected in the rates of the different Unions, in addition to useful advice being given to the different Unions. I feel it my duty, Sir, to make a slight reference to the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the action he appears to attribute to hon. Members on this side of the House in their observations concerning the Local Government Board. He appears to pretend that in commenting on the action of the Local Government Board and its interference with Boards 544 of Guardians we desire to restrict the action of local government in Ireland rather than extend it, as our principles ought to lead us to do. Now, that I believe to be a disingenuous argument, for the right hon. Gentleman must know that the system of local government in Ireland is anything but a system of local government—that it is, in fact, the most centralized system of bureaucracy that exists in the world, that in place of being a genuine system of local government it is a system of irresponsible tyranny. Coming back to the legal adviser of the Local Government Board, it appears to me that he has been guilty of a dereliction of duty with regard to the conduct of the Bantry Guardians. Notwithstanding that they have had the doings of these Guardians brought under their notice in a manner that must have shown them that the Board was guilty of an infraction of duty in regard to evictions, they appear to have taken no notice of the fact; indeed, they appear to have covered up in a most reprehensible manner the conduct of the Chairman of that Board of Guardians. With regard to the action of Chairmen of Boards of Guardians generally, I sympathize very strongly with my hon. Friends who have commented on that action, and I think it very desirable that some means should be devised whereby their authority might be confined within reasonable and proper limits. I certainly think they should not be allowed to exercise the responsible duty they appear to exercise of repressing all resolutions of which they do not themselves approve. In a word, I think it time that the Chairmen of Boards of Guardians should be put in their proper places and made to recognize their proper position, and that they should not have power to overrule the majority of the Boards.
§ MR. TUITE (Westmeath, N.)
I wish very briefly to call attention to the decisions of the Arbitrators under the Labourers' Act. The cost of the awards made by these gentlemen is altogether excessive, and several Unions of Ireland have complained of it. The delay in furnishing the awards is too great, and the Act is encumbered with too many technicalities. Full of difficulties as it is, the Arbitrators help to make it still more difficult to bring it into operation, 545 and I think it would be well if the Government would devote some attention to the subject.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. FINUCANE (Limerick, E.)
I beg to move the reduction of the Vote by £3,490, for the following reason. I dare say the Committee are aware that the Local Government Board are the administrators of the Labourers (Ireland) Act. Whenever the Guardians and the landlords cannot agree as to the value of the landlord's interest in the half-acres to be attached to the cottages, the Local Government Board are directed to send arbitrators to ascertain such value; hence the necessity of appointing impartial arbitrators. Now, what has the Board done? In some instances, to my own knowledge, it has appointed land agents as arbitrators, and, I believe, even landlords. I believe they have so in more than one case—at any rate, to my own knowledge they have done it in one case, and I am prepared to give the Committee the name of that arbitrator. It is Mr. Posnett. He is agent to several landlords in the South of Ireland— for instance, to Lord Hawarden, a gentleman not remarkable for his kindly treatment of his tenants—I do not wish to make this a personal matter against Mr. Posnett. I am dealing with principles and not individuals, and I object to the question as to the number of years' purchase to be given for the fee simple of the land being investigated and decided by a person who is friendly to the landlord himself. Such action is most unfair, and is as dishonest as would be the proposal to leave the fixing of the price of a lot of fat cattle to a Committee of butchers. These arbitrators have in some instances given as much as 26 years' purchase to the landlords, a price not measured by a fair rent, but by an existing rent paid under a lease—a rent that is more than twice the value of the land. What compensation have they given to the tenants? Why, it varies from five to seven years' purchase, and in no instance has it gone beyond seven years. In some cases it has not gone higher than four, though it is well known that in every county in Ireland there are thousands of farms in which, if justice were done, the tenants would be accredited with greater in- 546 terest than the landlords. This question is of vital importance first, and principally, to the labourers, but also to the ratepayers and farmers. It is of great importance to the labourers, for the reason that the higher the compensation awarded to the landlords the higher must be the rent charged by the Guardians to their labourers. It is also of interest to the ratepayers, because the erection of each cottage and the compensation given for half-an-acre costs, on an average, about £105. This must be borrowed from the Board of Works, and an annual instalment must be paid for a period of years by the Board of Guardians—an instalment amounting to £5 10s. annually. It is evident that the labourers cannot pay such a high rent; and the difference between the rent and the annual instalment must, therefore, be paid by the ratepayers. It is to the interest of the ratepayers to see that the cost of these cottages shall not be unduly increased; but this is of greater interest to the farmer. The landlords are moving heaven and earth at this moment to keep up the value of their properties by artificial means. They see that within a very short time there may be a land purchase scheme, probably containing a compulsory clause, which will be administered by the present Land Court, or one similarly constituted. The landlords think it would be to their interest if they could, whilst before the Court, point to the fact that they had got 20 or 22 years' purchase from the Boards of Guardians, especially as it is known that in many cases these Boards are largely constituted of farmers. In Ireland great interest is taken in this subject; and as there has been no satisfactory answer given on this point, I shall feel it my duty to move that the Vote be reduced by the sum mentioned— namely, £3,490.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £65,198, 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 1887, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Local Government Board in Ireland, including various Grants in Aid of Local Taxation."—(Mr. Finucane.)
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
I do not propose to detain the Committee by enumerating any special or particular grievances which 547 might be brought up under this Vote for the Local Government Board of Ireland. I think that, except for the purpose of drawing public attention to the grievances in connection with the Local Government Board, there is very little use in dealing with these grievances, and for this reason—that from beginning to end the Local Government Board in Ireland is a gigantic fraud. In the first place it is a fraud as regards its name, for it is not a Local Government Board at all. It should be called "The Centralized Government Board. It is in no respect — in no sense whatever — a Local Government Board. Day after day, and week after week, the Local Government Board Office in Dublin comes into conflict with the Boards of Guardians throughout the country. The Local Government Board Office in Dublin is presided over by a set of gentlemen who are altogether out of sympathy with the people of the country. The President of the Local Government Board and all the officials of the Local Government Board are appointed despotically through some unknown influence, and some power which is not the power of the people, and the consequence is that the people are totally dissatisfied with the government of the Board in Ireland; and, as a result of this dissatisfaction with the government of the Board in Ireland, there are constant conflicts going on between the Central Government in Dublin and the Local Bodies throughout the country. These conflicts will go on increasing year after year, and will cause still more dissatisfaction and discontent in the minds of the people until a radical change is arrived at. The Local Government Board is in itself, in its constitution, a grievance which can only be met by a thorough revolution. It ought to be abolished altogether, and a proper system of real local government ought to be instituted in Ireland to take its place. But, Sir, if there is one grievance more than another which occurs under this system of so-called local government in Ireland, that particular grievance is the present system of ex officio Poor Law Guardians. These men come in the most arrogant style—
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
I did not know that you had ruled that to be 548 out of Order, Mr. Courtney. I was not here at the time. Of course, I shall not speak upon that. I do not intend, as I said in my opening remarks, to go into any particular grievances, because a very long time has been occupied already by Members from Ireland in stating grievances. But I do not think their statements of these grievances under the Local Government Board by any means concluded as yet. A long time, however, has been occupied in setting forth the different grievances felt throughout the country under the government of this Board, and I think that that itself should be sufficient to prove that a change is necessary, and that it will be absolutely essential, for the proper government of the country, to substitute for the Centralized Body in Dublin a government which will rest upon the will of the people, a government whose officers will be directly responsible to the people; and if I were to advise my Colleagues who have been moving in this matter, I would strongly urge them, as a protest against the existence of the despotic power of the Local Government Board in Dublin, and as a demand for a change, to push the Motion for a reduction of this particular Vote to a division.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
There are some points that have been alluded to since I last addressed the Committee upon which I should like to say a few words. One or two hon. Members have alluded to the system of arbitration and inquiry under the Labourers' Cottages Acts, and one hon. Member has animadverted on the action of one of these arbitrators, and has expressed a strong opinion against the employment of land agents on such inquiries. Well, nothing could be more wrong than the employment as arbitrator, under these Acts, of any person connected with the ownership or agency of land near the district in which the property to be adjudicated upon is situated. The arbitrator ought obviously to be beyond influences of that kind in arriving at his decision. But, on the other hand, I think it would be absurd to say that no man who had ever acted as a land agent, or who was acting as a land agent at the present time, say in the North of Ireland, should hold an inquiry in the South of Ireland. On the con- 549 trary, it is evident that the experience of such a man would be of the greatest value to him in ascertaining the value of the land, provided the inquiry were held in a place with which he had no connection. Then, an hon. Member has referred to a particular case which occurred in the Waterford Union. I am not acquainted with the facts of that case; but I will inquire into them as the hon. Member has asked me to do. The system of auditors has been objected to, and some reference has been made to a promise alleged to have been given by one of my Predecessors in the Office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, as to some change, I believe, by legislation, in the position of these officers. I do not know what may have been said by that right hon. Gentleman; but there, again, I will promise to look into the matter and see what is the precise point upon which it is desired to bring about an alteration. But, I must say, I was not impressed with the instance given, by the hon. Member who referred to his own experience as to a surcharge made against him as Chairman of a Union. I daresay it is possible that in that case the auditor may have been mistaken; but what he clearly showed was, that if the auditor was mistaken there was an appeal to the Local Government Board. The surcharge was remitted, and the hon. Member suffered in no way from the act of the auditor. Auditors do a very necessary work in surcharging improper payments. I do not touch on the points which have been dealt with, with regard to the officials under the Explosives Act, because I understand that is held to be not pertinent to the discussion. There is one matter which was alluded to by an hon. Member who objected to the action of some Boards of Guardians in refusing to allow the rate books to be inspected by persons interested in registration. Well, every facility ought to be given by Boards of Guardians to persons interested in the constituencies to inspect the rate books for the purposes of registration. I believe that as the law at present stands the only person entitled to demand inspection is a ratepayer; and if I am correct in that, it would, of course, be impossible for the Guardians to allow persons who are not ratepayers to demand inspection.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
If it is only a bye-law I will have it looked into, and will endeavour to see in what way it can be modified, so as to secure that the principle which I have laid down shall be carried out. But I think, on the other hand, that the Guardians ought not to be troubled by demands for inspection of the rate books by persons who really have no business whatever either in the district to which these rate books relate, or with anything connected with the rates. I imagine the reason for imposing that limitation was to secure that there should be some real interest in the matter taken by the person wishing to make the examination. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) referred to the question of the seed loan. Here, again, I am precluded from entering fully into the point; but with regard to the particular matters the hon. and gallant Member raised, as to the action it was competent for the Poor Law Board to take in the matter, I have already replied to him as to the difficulties raised by the magistrates in carrying out the law. The hon. and gallant Member suggested that the Inspectors of the Local Government Board should be directed to inquire into the possibility of recovering the arrears of this rate. I am well aware of the difficulties of that subject; but my strong opinion is that it would not be fair to those who have paid to excuse those who decline to pay without very strong proof indeed that they are unable to do so. I trust that the Committee will now be allowed to proceed to a division on the Vote. We have had a discussion, lasting for more than three hours, in which, I am bound to say, I have listened to the reiteration of some points with which I have endeavoured, probably not satisfactorily, but to the best of my power, to deal. And I have listened, also, to constant attempts to enlarge the scope of the discussion. I decline altogether to consider such matters as the production of gas in Ballinasloe and the state of the back yards in that town, as I do not consider them relevant. I cannot conceive why anyone should attempt to introduce such matters into this discus- 551 sion, unless it be from a desire to waste time, bearing in mind that last night hon. Members below the Gangway, when appealing to the Chancellor of the Exchequer not to take this Vote, stated of their own free will that they would do their best to confine the discussion within reasonable limits, and that it would not occupy more than two hours. We have already been occupied three hours on the debate; and I hope that after this waste of time we shall be allowed to proceed.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I think it would be well that my hon. Friends should now allow the Vote to be taken. At the same time, I think the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. Finucane) was quite justified in raising the question whether men in the position of Mr. Posnett should be allowed to act as arbitrators.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I must say that after the concluding remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland we are entitled to a reply. The question which has been raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Finucane) is one of great practical importance; and I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has been led to an erroneous conclusion in regard to it. He threw down a sort of challenge to the Irish Members. Now, we have discussed these Estimates with very great care, and no doubt, in doing so, we have taken up a large amount of public time. [A laugh.] The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North Armagh (Colonel Saunderson) may laugh; but he will have frequent opportunities of talking with the Chief Secretary during the next five months, and discussing privately all these local matters with the right hon. Gentleman. Let the right hon. Gentleman recollect that the only chance the Irish Members who represent five-sixths of the Irish nation have of impressing these matters upon the attention of the Irish Government is afforded us in the House of Commons. We think we are quite justified in taking up a few hours of the public time in discussing questions of this kind. I notice that a good many hon. Members object to what we are doing. Why did they vote against the Home Rule Bill last Session, under which all subjects of 552 this kind would be relegated to a Parliament in Dublin?
§ MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)
I should like to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman in. regard to the selection of sites for labourers' dwellings. I have received a letter from one of my constituents— Patrick Ford — a man who holds only 11 acres of land. This man lives in a district where there are large grass farms, yet his holding has been selected as that from which land must be taken on which to erect labourers' cottages. I should like to know whether the powers of the Inspectors could not be extended so that the sites for labourers' cottages might be taken from extensive farms, and not from holdings upon which already a man has very great difficulty to live?
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS - BEACH
My impression is that the selection of the sites rests with the Guardians, and not with the Local Government Board.
§ MR. FINUCANE (Limerick, E.)
I stated in clear and unmistakable language that I did not wish to make a personal attack upon Mr. Posnett. I said my only objection was to the principle of appointing land agents arbitrators. I cannot regard the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland as satisfactory. I maintain that a land agent living in Ulster is interested in keeping up high rents in Limerick. We know that the land agents of Ireland are not paid by fixed salaries, but by a percentage on the rents they collect. For this reason they are interested in keeping up the rents, and they will do this, notwithstanding the misery which is occasioned. Besides, there is a perfect freemasonry amongst the land agents, &c. of Ireland, which makes it imperative on them to aid each other.
§ MR. NOLAN (Louth, N.)
I have no desire to make a speech on this occasion; but I wish to avail myself of the opportunity of directing the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to a matter that is looked upon as a grievance by a considerable number of people in Ireland. I propose to read two short communications I have received on the subject. One is as follows:—I have been requested to inform you of the delay of the Local Government Board for Ire- 553 land in holding an inquiry into the scheme of the Dundalk Board of Guardians for the erection of labourers' houses in the Dundalk Union. The scheme for the erection of the houses was sent by the Guardians to the Local Government Board on 1st August last with a Petition praying for an Order for confirming it, and signed in the required manner by the Chairman and Clerk of the Board, and up to the present no steps have been taken by the Local Government Board in any direction.The other is from the Ardee Union, and is as follows:—The people in nearly every parish of the Ardee Union are most anxious to erect under the Labourers' Act suitable residences for labourers, and I may add they are sadly needed. After a great deal of trouble and preparation and delay, the Board of Guardians prepared a number of schemes for a large number of new houses. Portions of those schemes they lodged with the Local Government Board as far back as the 17th of May last, and the remaining ones on the 17th of June. Guardians and farmers and labourers are ever since anxiously looking out for the usual notice fixing the time and place for the local inquiry, which by Act of Parliament must be held by an Inspector of the Local Government Board into everything connected with the proposed schemes. The patience of all is worn out. It would seem as if they are obstructing the working of the Act.I think I have only to bring these communications to the notice of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to insure them the attention they deserve.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
This discussion has lasted so much longer than we were led to suppose last night, that I do not propose to make any reference to the point I desired to bring under the notice of the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I will defer my remarks until the stage of Report; but perhaps, in the meantime, the right hon. Gentleman will ascertain if it would be in the power of his Department to institute some system of inspection of the drugs in the dispensaries throughout Ireland.
§ MR. MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
I wish to refer to a matter in connection with the Local Government Board of Ireland, which I do not think has been spoken to as yet in this debate; and that is the sanitary inspections in Ireland. I see the sum of £15,500 in this Estimate for "one-half of the salaries of Superintendent and Consulting Sanitary Officers;" and I merely propose on the present occasion to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to be good enough to take a note of one or two matters.
554 One is the total absence of any inspection at all in the small towns forming the centres of the rural districts of Ireland where the Guardians are the Sanitary Authority. The fact is that the Inspectors receive their salaries, but do not perform their duties. It is absolutely necessary, in order to secure that the public health shall be looked after and the people shall get some value for their money, that some Inspector —a Medical Inspector, or someone in equally responsible position in the Local Government Board—should, on the occasion of his visits to the different districts, see that the sanitary inspections are carried out. Another point I feel bound to urge on the right hon. Baronet and on the Local Government Board is the inspection, in the interest of humanity, of the workhouses themselves. I happen to be an ex officio Guardian of a Union in the South of Ireland, and on a recent occasion I went through the wards of the Union Workhouse. A person acquainted with the working of institutions of this kind in this country, or in large centres of population, would hardly think it possible that such a disgraceful state of affairs could exist. The bedding was crawling with vermin, and the whole place a picture of filth and misery. The workhouse I refer to is in the Bantry Union, where the local landlord party are in the ascendant, and have full control over its management. I hope the Chief Secretary for Ireland will call upon the Local Government Board to see that the workhouse wards are properly inspected. There is another point worthy of notice, and that is the inclusion of stimulants under the head of medicines, half the cost of which should be paid from the Consolidated Fund. The Local Government Board refuse to allow alcohol to be treated as a medicine in the accounts, although it is never given unless prescribed by a doctor. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take a note of this fact. With regard to the question raised by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Finucane), I wish to say I quite agree with my hon. Friend as to the undesirability of land agents, or people closely interested in the keeping up of rents, being appointed arbitrators. At the same time, I must say I am convinced, having personal acquaintance with his arbitrations in railway matters, that a 555 fairer arbitrator than Mr. Posnett could not be found in Ireland.
§ MR. BYRNE (Wicklow, W.)
I do not propose to detain the Committee many seconds. I simply want to protest against the action of the Local Government Board, and of one officer of the Board in particular. The conduct of this gentleman has been complained of over and over again. He makes many mistakes; he makes mistakes at every election. On one occasion it took him three days to count the votes—indeed, politically, he is dishonest; and, physically and mentally, he is stupid. I think that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary should make inquiries concerning this official, and that if he finds my statement is correct he should put another gentleman in the place of the officer of whom I complain.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
(2.) Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £18,559, 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 1887, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
Mr. Courtney, there are one or two questions upon this Vote I would like to put to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, though I do not know whether he will be able to give me an answer now. The right hon. Gentleman is, no doubt, aware that many fishery piers are built in Ireland by the Board of Works, and that a large part of this Vote refers to work connected with such piers. He will see that the estimates of the Board of Works are very considerably over the contracts let. I admit it is prudent in the Board of Works to over-estimate than to under-estimate; but I should like the Chief Secretary for Ireland to look into the matter to see when the money over-estimated will be released. There are several places crying out for piers and harbours. For a long time they have been hoping for these accommodations; but owing to the over-estimates of the Board the money is now locked up. The expenses of the Fishery Piers and Harbours Commission were nearly exclusively those 556 for engineering and surveying, and I do not suppose the other expenses amounted to more than £1,500. The Commissioners estimated that £10,000 would be enough for their expenses; but the Treasury insisted upon allowing £20,000, again a prudent thing to do. But now that the proceedings of the Commission are nearly wound up I think the Government should ascertain what expenses have been incurred. If only £10,000 has been expended, a large sum of money would be released for the purpose of erecting piers. There are one or two questions which I think arise upon this Vote, and to which I will just allude. As long as the Commission has been sitting the Treasury has been saving £8,000 a-year. A certain sum of the Irish Church money was set aside for Public Works; but when the Commission was appointed the Treasury stopped £8,000 a-year for the expenses of the Commission. I think it is high time we should know whether the Government intend to confiscate that amount. If the Chief Secretary for Ireland wished to extend the pier and harbour accommodation in Ireland he could easily do so. The Commissioners were of opinion that another £150,000 or £200,000 could be expended safely enough in erecting small and moderate sized harbours. I am afraid the Chief Secretary for Ireland or the Secretary to the Treasury will not be able to move without fresh legislation; but I should like the matter to be taken into consideration with a view to legislation next Session.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
I recognize fully the value of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I can assure him he had in me a very sympathetic listener; but all I can promise him is that I will look, so far as the time at my command will allow, into the various points to which he has called the attention of the Committee, to see whether it is in my power to meet his wishes. I have noticed, as he has noticed, the large difference between the estimates of the Board of Works for the different harbours and the price at which the contracts were taken; but I think that is easily explained. In some cases, it is feared, the contractors may not be able to carry out the work at the contract price. It is, therefore, necessary to proceed very 557 cautiously. I confess I, to some extent, doubt the usefulness of these small harbours. They are useful to a small class of fishermen who live in their neighbourhood; but I do not think they are calculated to be of as much service to the general population as larger harbours. The desirability of re-lending the money which has been repaid upon loans has been suggested. That, of course, would be but following up with regard to harbours the system already existing with regard to fishermen. Loans are not always repaid; but I will undertake to bring these matters under the notice of the Secretary to the Treasury.
§ MR. MAHONY (Meath, N.)
The desirability of making further grants of money for piers on the West Coast of Ireland has been taken into consideration by the Piers and Roads Commission, of which I happen to be a Member. The class of piers and harbours we dealt with were of a very small nature, not at all so important as those dealt with by the larger Commission; they affected the localities where the people are extremely poor; and our experience was that with the very small sums of money placed at our disposal we have been able to do a great deal of work which is very useful to the poorer people. Our work has been almost entirely in the direction of improving the small harbours that already exist. I hope that the Chief Secretary for Ireland, when considering the desirability of making further grants, will consider the propriety of giving us a small additional sum to spend on these very small works. As a matter of fact we have been unable, through a want of funds, to do many works which would be decidedly useful.
§ MR. O'HEA (Donegal, W.)
I think the suggestions of my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan) ought to be seriously taken into account by Her Majesty's Government. The speech of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) is not altogether an unsatisfactory one, though it cannot be forgotten that frequently assurances have been given that matters in which we are deeply interested will be attended to. I do not quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman as to the inutility—he did not say they were altogether useless —of small harbours. I believe these small harbours are really a very great benefit to the fishing classes. A pier 558 was erected by the Board of Works in the harbour of Portloo, a place situated in West Donegal, the constituency I have the honour to represent. Its construction was so faulty that, owing to the action of the waves and weather, it soon fell away. It has crumbled to pieces, and is only a mass of rubbish in the natural harbour, constituting both a nuisance and a danger. When the pier could be used it was a very great boon to the people. The harbour abounds in fish. Some of the finest lobsters caught in the Three Kingdoms are caught in that neighbourhood; but since the pier fell away the people have not been able to pursue their fishing industry to any great advantage. As a matter of fact they have been subjected to very great inconvenience and suffering. If the pier had stood as it was originally built, the coasting steamers could call at Portloo with the various articles the people of the district require—flour, Indian meal, and agricultural implements—while the people, on the other hand, would be able to send away by steamer the fish they would be in a good position to catch. Some attention should be paid to this locality, where the pier was at one time of such advantage. A Coastguard station was established there three years ago at a cost of £3,000; but I am informed that it would be of as much use if it were in the middle of the ocean. The Coastguards are not able to launch their lifeboat when the wind is blowing from the North or North East. There is a small Island about three miles distant from Portloo. Some time ago several fishermen landed on this Island, and they were unable to get back. They were kept there three days, for the Coastguards, though anxious to go to their assistance, were unable to launch the lifeboat. The pier is now an impediment in the harbour, and had the lifeboat been launched there is every probability it would have been dashed to pieces upon the remains of the pier. I trust the Treasury will be able to see its way to restore the pier of which I speak.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
I do not know how much longer the discussion upon this Vote will last—I do not intend to say much—but I will say that if it continued the whole day it would not be too long, considering the mistakes, blunders, and iniquities of the 559 Board of Works in Ireland. The Board of Works is one of those Boards which have been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) as not having a shadow or a shade of representative authority, and yet it manages a very considerable portion of very important business in Ireland, and manages it in such a way as to cause astonishment and indignation in almost every part of the country in which it puts its finger. I do not think there is an Irish Member who cannot point to an instance of gross mismanagement on the part of the Board of Works. I have already called attention to a piece of mismanagement in my own constituency. The little harbour of Howth is almost useless in consequence of mud and sand blocking up its entrance. Instead of doing anything to clean out the harbour, and making it fit for fishing or other vessels to be in, the Board of Works is now engaged in taking steps to secure that the harbour shall be worse than it has ever been before. They are moving away the big boulder stones which formed a sort of rough breakwater on the eastern pier, and substituting for them a concrete pavement or fashionable promenade. The result is that stones and sand are washed right over into the harbour, making it utterly useless for its original purpose. At this moment the Board are extending this concrete pavement almost up to the verge of the town; and I am informed the result this winter will be the destruction of all the houses in the vicinity. Possibly it may interest the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the matter if I mention that one of the houses so threatened with destruction is the house of his friend, Judge Boyd. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary complains that we have spent three-and-a-half hours in discussing the Vote for the Local Government Board. I do not think nine times that amount of time would have been too much to occupy in discussing the Vote. It is perfectly preposterous to tell us we are not to discuss this business here, and to tell us, in the same breath, that we are not to be allowed to manage it in Ireland. Every Irish Member has his own local grievances to ventilate; and if you will not allow him to ventilate them in an Irish Parliament, he has no other course but to do 560 so here. It is simply on account of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, in reference to the last Vote, that I have risen to make these observations. I counsel all my hon. Friends to follow my example, and not to miss this opportunity of calling attention to any grievance that may exist in their respective localities. There is no local grievance in Ireland that does not deserve the attention of the Government; but there is not one that receives it. Under these circumstances, no apology is due from us for intervening in these discussions.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL) (Paddington, S.)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clancy) will allow me to notice some observations which fell from him, not with the view of prolonging the discussion, but with the view of possibly contracting its limits. The hon. Member has just said that every Irish Member has brought forward local grievances, and that the Government has paid not the slightest attention to them. I think on reflection the hon. Member will see that that accusation is hardly well founded. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and his Irish Colleagues listened with the utmost attention and patience to everything that has been brought forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite; and I am perfectly certain that it is their desire and the desire of the Government that all reasonable grievances which it is within their power to remedy shall be received with the closest attention, and, if possible, the most rapid remedy. The hon. Gentleman is doing the Government a sheer injustice in supposing that what they urge on behalf of their constituents and their country does not receive the most serious and anxious attention of the Government. In regard to what has fallen from the hon. Member (Mr. Clancy) generally, as to the Board of Works and the Local Government Board, the functions of these Boards are matters which the Government consider call for, from them, the most practical consideration, with a view, if possible, of the development of the functions of these Boards in a manner in accordance, as far as may be, with the views of Irish Representatives. The hon. Gentleman and his Colleagues know quite well that it is the firm and decided intention of the Government to make a 561 proposal to Parliament as early as may be, and we hope with a view of placing the control of all these questions of local government and public works more within the hands of the Irish people. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly the limits which have been marked out for us by the last Election—limits which we have no desire and which we have no power to overstep. But within those limits the hon. Gentleman and his Friends may be certain that the Government are desirous to act honestly and to act practically; and I do appeal to the hon. Member, with that sense of fairness which I do not think is ever altogether absent even from the most violent opponent of the Government among the Irish Party, to allow the Government to have time to consider these questions, these large and complicated questions. Then, if the Government, in the estimation of the Irish Members, fall short of their duty by proposals which are inadequate and bad, undoubtedly we shall not be able to urge strong objections against their taking up the line they are now taking. But I must point out that the course they are taking of bringing up in immense detail, and with such incessant repetition, every imaginable grievance which every Member for an Irish constituency can have to complain of is in reality crippling the power of the Government, crippling their physical and mental energies to devote to the consideration of Irish questions that time and that care and patience which it is their highest duty and their highest idea to devote to them. I make this appeal to hon. Gentlemen, and ask them to consider my remarks in a practical spirit, and to believe that they are dictated by no other desire than within the limits of our power, and within the limits of the mandate we have received from the electors, to attempt as rapid a development of the prosperity of Ireland as is possible.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
I desire to say one or two words in reply to the remarks of the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Randolph Churchill). I did not ask him, and no one on these Benches has asked him, to complete in haste, or at all, the proposals for local government to which he has just alluded. What I referred to, and what has made me indignant, and what has made many Members on this side of the House indignant, is that 562 the expenditure of three and a-half hours of the time of the Committee in discussing the Vote for the Local Government Board, should be denounced by the Chief Secretary for Ireland as a preposterous waste of time. The Local Government Board manages, or rather mismanages, a large portion of the most important business in Ireland; and, therefore, it is not at all unreasonable that three and a-half hours of the time of the Imperial Parliament, which insists on keeping these matters within its control, should be occupied in discussing the Vote submitted in respect of it. In past years this expenditure of time upon the Vote has been largely exceeded. The noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) must bear in mind that if arguments and facts have been repeated in this House the reason is very obvious. It is very well known—every Member of Parliament, whether Tory, Whig, or Nationalist, will bear me out in this—that Members of Parliament have grievances of a local character pressed on their attention constantly. It is expected by their constituents that attention will be paid to these local grievances. When the House is in Committee is just the time for the discussion of local grievances; and I have not the least doubt that the constituents of hon. Members on both sides of the House would blame their Representatives severely if they let such an opportunity pass unused. That is the reason why hon. Members sitting on these Benches sometimes repeat the same argument. I think the noble Lord will be very fortunate if he ever succeeds in securing less repetition in debate; and certainly, if he does not cease to make charges against the Irish Members, who are simply endeavouring to discharge their duty to the best of their ability, he will find he has been very fortunate in the present Session, as compared with all future Sessions of this Parliament, in respect of the time consumed by Irish Members in the discussion of Irish Business.
§ MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)
The speech just made by the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Randolph Churchill) is, no doubt, very interesting in itself. It is difficult to test the exact value of the words which he used. He spoke of the intentions of the Government with regard to placing, in the future, all these matters in the 563 hands of the Irish Members, and he told us it was the intention of the Government to introduce a measure having that object in view at the earliest period— probably next Session. Now, that statement may mean very little, or it may mean a great deal; but he added words which induce us to believe it means very little. He said that, of course, the Government must act within the limits of the mandate of the electors. Hon. Members are curious to know what those limits are. I have been unable to ascertain those limits. The noble Lord has asked us not to bring forward any grievances that we may have to raise upon the Votes for the Board of Works and Local Government Board and other Votes, because it is the intention of the Government to introduce this measure.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
I did not say that. I said that certain measures were about to be brought forward, and suggested that hon. Members should exercise some discretion in bringing forward these grievances.
§ MR. MOLLOY
I am quite prepared to take it in that way—discretion should be exercised in bringing forward these grievances. Probably there are no two Members in this House whose discretion would be of the same quality and character. The real point is this. We are asked to curtail what we have to say upon these Estimates, because it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to introduce next Session some measure under which these great spending Departments in Ireland will be under the control of Irish Members. The noble Lord has been in the House longer than I have, and yet I have been in the House long enough to know what value is to be attached to the speech which he has made. He assumes that the measure which he is going to bring in, and on account of which we are to shorten our discussion, is one we are going to accept. I do not think that is very probable from what the noble Lord has said; but I will not go into that point. The appeal made is this—"We intend to do something; we will not tell you anything about it; but we appeal to you not to bring forward your grievances, at least at the rate which you are doing now;" and then the noble Lord tells us that the Government are always most willing to do anything which the Irish Members may require. I will give him 564 an instance of the willingness of the English Government to do what we require. For three years I have been asking for a little work to be done; little as regards cost, because I do not suppose it would entail the expenditure of more than between £10 and £20. You have cut a canal to improve the drainage in one part of the constituency I represent. Formerly there was a footbridge over the canal, but that you have taken down; and now the people have, in getting across the water, to make a circuit of from five to seven miles. For three years I have asked that this bridge should be replaced. The first statement was that it was impossible to get the money. I pointed out then that wood enough for 50 small bridges lies rotting on the side of the stream. For three years I have asked that this work should be done; and for three years I have been told, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us tonight, that the Government are willing to do everything which the Irish Members require. We are told we must have patience; but this is the only opportunity we have in the whole course of the year of bringing forward these grievances, and calling attention to the mismanagement of local affairs in Ireland. You place retired colonels and others at the head of the Public Departments in Ireland, who know no more about the work to be done than they know about ballooning; and when we get this chance, once a-year, of discussing matters which are of vital importance to the Irish people we are asked not to discuss them, and are charged with obstruction if we do. To me it appears that if we do not pound away, year after year, at the mismanagement of Irish affairs we can never hope to obtain an improvement. If the measure the noble Lord is going to introduce is to remedy matters, and to satisfy the national aspirations of the people, we will give him our hearty support; and he and the House of Commons will have the satisfaction and gratification of never hearing again of the mismanagement of the Board of Works.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I must point out that it is irregular to continue this general discussion on the special Vote now before the Committee, which is the Vote for the Public Works Office in Ireland.
§ MR. GILHOOLY (Cork, W.)
I desire to direct the attention of the hon. 565 Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) to the absolute necessity of some small fishery piers on the shores of Bantry Bay. Some time ago a Memorial was sent to the Treasury upon the subject; but, so far, no steps have been taken in the direction indicated. Within my recollection many fishermen have been drowned owing to the want of proper landing accommodation; indeed, in their endeavours to secure a safe landing, 21 lives have been lost in Bantry Bay. To show the absolute necessity for the erection of a pier at this particular spot, I may say that in 1880, when a sum of money was to be expended in relief on the Southern shore of Bantry Bay, the priest of the parish, in conjunction with the rector of the locality, thought it was most advantageous to appropriate the money in providing the means of hauling the boats on shore, in order to save the fishermen going long distances at great danger to their lives. This is only one—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
I must point out that the question of erecting new work does not properly belong to this Vote.
§ MR. GILHOOLY
I will pass from that subject, and direct the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) to the mode of advancing loans to small farmers in West Cork. These men are greatly hampered by the red tapeism of the Board of Works. Before these men can get advances of money with which to drain land or reclaim land, it is necessary that they should produce receipts from their landlords, showing that they have paid their rents up to the customary period of the estate. Now on some estates the custom of hanging gale prevails, and on others it does not prevail; and I may point out that where a farmer has incurred the displeasure of the landlord or agent, possibly for voting against the nominee of the landlord or agent at a Poor Law election, it invariably turns out that the landlord and agent refuse to sign the certificate for the tenant that the rent has been paid up to the customary period of the estate. I consider that a great hardship, and I appeal to the Government to put a stop to it, and, if possible, to make a regulation that where the tenant has paid the rent up to the year previous and is solvent, the Trea- 566 sury will take into consideration his position, and grant him a loan without requiring a receipt either from the landlord or his agent. There are other questions I should like to refer to, but I will postpone reference to them.
§ MR. PINKERTON (Galway)
I will trespass but a short time upon the attention of the Committee. I recognize the very evident desire shown by the Government to act fairly towards Ireland in certain respects. I do not know whether to attribute that desire to a wish on the part of the Government to apply a sort of soothing syrup to the Irish people. The question of public works is one which affects men who have foolishly returned supporters of the Government; and I think that if there are any parts of Ireland which have a strong claim on the Government they are the portions of Antrim and Derry affected by the Bann drainage. The drainage works were destined to discharge a supply of water amounting to 400,000 cubic feet per minute. Since that time the arterial drainage of the district—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
The works to which the hon. Member refers were executed many years ago, and have passed out of the power of the Works Commissioners, who have no control over them at present.
§ MR. PINKERTON
I suppose I am quite within Order, I see there is a certain amount annually granted for the preservation of ancient monuments, and I suppose these works are monuments of the incapacity of the Board of Works.
§ MR. PINKERTON
These works were executed at great cost, and the superintendence of them rests with the Inspectors of the Board of Works. I intend to move the reduction of this Vote by the sum of £500, for I maintain it is simply disgraceful that the Government should ask for time to consider this question.
§ THE CHAIRMAN
The question the hon. Member desires to raise is a question of the total alteration of this very drainage system, which is beyond the power and control of the Board of Works. The question is not pertinent to the Vote at all.
Mr. Courtney, I have taken counsel on this matter, and am advised it would be better to bring it up on this specific Vote. I do not ask the Government to spend a single 1d., at the same time they should remove the obstruction which exists—
§ THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member must be aware that at present these works are not within the power of the Board of Works at all.
§ MR. PINKERTON
Mr. Courtney, the noble Lord the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Lord Randolph Churchill) said the Government desire to get as much information as possible with regard to the benefit that would accrue from the inquiry they intend to hold; and I wish modestly to suggest to the Government that they have within their power the means of conferring a material boon upon this district. I beg to draw the attention of the Government to this particular circumstance—
§ MR.MURPHY (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
I would have liked to give some reasons why the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer do not influence me, as they do not influence other Members sitting on these Benches, as to the length at which they should discuss these Irish Estimates; but, bowing to your ruling that that question must not be gone into, I will not dwell further upon it. There are, however, several matters connected with the administration of the Board of Works to which I wish to refer. For instance, I desire to direct the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) to the erection of married Constabulary quarters in the Phœnix Park. Two acres of land in one of the most ornamental parts of the Park has been taken on which to erect these buildings. The Phœnix Park is one of the most attractive and interesting places in the neighbourhood of Dublin; the people take great pride in it and use it very largely. Four hundred acres of the Park have already been taken for one purpose or another. The appropriation of the two acres for the erection of Constabulary quarters was the subject of a discussion in the last Parliament raised by Mr. Healy, who was then the Member for South Derry. In answer to Mr. Healy the right hon. Gentleman the then Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. H. H. Fowler) said nothing further would 568 be done in connection with the erection of these buildings until additional inquiries had been made on the subject, and I understood him to say that he would communicate further to this House when those inquiries were completed. It was also stated by the right hon. Gentleman that the reason why this particular piece of ground was selected for the married Constabulary quarters was that no other ground was available. I have recently examined the locality, and I have no hesitation in stating that there would be no difficulty in obtaining suitable ground in the immediate vicinity of this site. The only difference between the two sites was that one would have to be paid for and the other would be taken from the public without any payment whatever. As the Representative of one of the Divisions of Dublin, I protest in the strongest possible manner against the filching away of a single yard of the public property in the Phœnix Park. The site on which these quarters are being built is quite close to one of the entrances to the Park; it is one of the most charming parts of the whole Park, which will be greatly disfigured if these buildings are put up. I trust the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Jackson) will turn his attention to this question immediately. The erection of the buildings has reached only a few feet over the ground, and I think it would not be yet too late to put a stop to the project and save the public rights over these two acres. I also desire to direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to the system of contracts adopted by the Board of Works. This question was also raised in the last Parliament, and I do not think that the answers which were put in the mouth of the Secretary to the Treasury were either ingenuous or honest. The practice was for the furniture clerk to make the purchases upon his own responsibility, upon any terms he pleased, for all the Public Offices—for the Vice Regal Lodge, for the Castle, and for every building under the control of the Board of Works. Six or seven years ago contracts were entered into for some items of furniture, but the contracts were not renewed, and they became quite obsolete, and furniture was bought by the furniture clerk, wherever and on whatever terms he wished, without any apparent check. I ask the Secretary to the Treasury to see 569 if these contracts have been renewed since the question was raised in the last Parliament. The administration of Acts entrusted to the Board by Parliament—Acts of the greatest importance to the people of Ireland— have been made the subject of the gravest complaint, and with very good cause. I have had some experience of the mode of dealing with Acts by the Board of Works, and I can say that those Acts were never administered in the spirit in which they were passed by the Legislature. The Board never gave people information as to how those Acts could be availed of; no facilities, or even advice, would the Board offer; but they raised crotchets and obstructions in every way they could in the way of the working of Acts, the administration of which was entrusted to their care. That is the experience of everyone who has had much to do with the Irish Board of Works. Of the works that have been carried out under the Board I do not propose to speak. A great many of them have been conspicuous failures; but, on the other hand, they have sometimes executed good work, and they do not deserve the sweeping condemnation they have received for everything they have done. They were liable to err, as all other engineers are, from want of judgment in forming a plan, want of genius or superior skill on the part of the engineer or architect; but what I specially call attention to is the legal action of the Board— their setting themselves deliberately to obstruct and delay the operation of Acts entrusted to them to administer. One instance I will give of a gross character. The Land Act of 1881, as everybody knows, empowers Sub-Commissioners to order the tenants to build labourers' cottages on farms where judicial rents are fixed; and in order to enable the building of those labourers' cottages there were provisions in that or some subsequent Act authorizing the Board of Works to advance money to tenants for the purpose. Now, if a tenant obtained a farm upon a statutory lease, which is practically a lease for ever, he had a substantial security, and obtained advances for drainage and other purposes, with such restrictions, unreasonable enough in themselves, as those mentioned by an hon. Member a short time since, and on condition that he could 570 show receipt for the payment of his last half-year's rent; but when a tenant applied to the Board, of Works seeking assistance to build the labourer's cottage and to carry out the orders of the Sub-Commissioners, the Board refused that assistance unless the landlord consented and entered with the tenant into a joint bond as security for the loan. That was Board of Works law, for, as far as I can ascertain, there was no warrant for it in Act of Parliament. One case came under my notice in which a man was unable to build the houses ordered by the Commissioners, and he applied to the Board of Works; but the Board refused the advance unless the landlord joined in the security, and this, as I have said, not being forthcoming, the tenant, in the result, was rendered liable to a heavy penalty, at the suit of the Board of Guardians, that might have been enforced against him, and finally he had to borrow the money at a heavier rate of interest elsewhere to build the house, and was saved from the penalties, amounting to £100, only by the forbearance of the Board of Guardians. In another case in the West of Ireland there was another illustration of the difficulties raised by the Board of Works. A Catholic priest was unable to obtain on the estate of Lord Leconfield a site for the erection of a schoolroom for the children of his district, except upon conditions with regard to the control and management of the schools, which the priest very properly refused—the conditions I will not go into, for they have nothing to do with the particular point I am illustrating. An opportunity offered for the purchase of a tenant's interest in a holding for which a judicial rent had been fixed; and, having acquired this, the priest thought that on the security of his holding he could obtain from the Board of Works an advance for the building of his school. But the Board of Works, without giving any reason beyond saying they were advised they could not advance the money, refused the application, and the consequence was that the priest could not provide a school much required in the village. What warrant the Board of Works had for their decision I do not know. But I repeat that the Board and their Law Advisers construed every Act of Parliament in the narrowest possible spirit; 571 and as a result of their policy many useful Acts became dead letters, and many others fell far short of the benefit they were intended to confer when they were passed. I would impress upon the Secretary to the Treasury the necessity of looking into matters of this kind, and of having the legal decisions of the Board of Works in several matters reviewed, and I would also beg to caution him against accepting every statement he received from the Department as gospel, when he had occasion to make answers to Questions in this House.
§ MR. P. MCDONALD (Sligo, N.)
I wish to call attention to one of these pieces of work carried out by the Board of Works, and which have been rightly described by an hon. Member as ancient monuments of the incapacity of the Board. I refer to the harbour of Enniscrone. In 1883 the Report of the Board described the works as in a flourishing condition, as those Reports always did. 65 piers and harbours, the Report said, were in course of construction, and 32 were under contract. Again, in the Report of this year, Enniscrone Pier was referred to as progressing. But how is it progressing? The hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton), a few days since, asked a Question on the subject, and he was told by the Secretary to the Treasury that the works had ceased —temporarily ceased—in consequence of bad weather, and also in consequence of want of labour.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
I have no recollection of having said that. I think the hon. Member has a wrong impression.
§ MR. P. MCDONALD
I am speaking from memory; but, unquestionably, the weather is a constant excuse in Ireland, and I think the Board of Works have made use of it in common with many other people. What the Report for next year may be I cannot say; but probably it will be that the work is progressing favourably, though the work should have been completed last October. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to stimulate the Board of Works, and get their officer to give the necessary attention to the subject, so that before the coming winter the necessary work may be completed, and the fishermen of the district may be afforded the means of 572 carrying on their difficult labour. I also desire to supplement the remarks of my hon. Friend in reference to the furniture contract of the Board. I have drawn attention to the subject in the House, and I have elicited the fact that the practice of the Board of Works is to send round to a limited few—some half-dozen specially favoured contractors in Dublin, and these have the special privilege alone of applying, as they alone have the means offered of tendering for the work. I was pleased to have from the late Government a promise that this practice shall no longer continue, and I hope that the present Government will equally carry out the desirable object that this work shall be thrown open for general contract, all traders in Dublin having equal right to tender. I can say of the Board of Works that they mar and mismanage everything they touch. The Irish are, perhaps, the most Board-governed people in the world; but the worst of all the Boards that govern them is the Board of Works. The hon. Member for Dublin said very truly, awhile ago, that when the Commissioners were entrusted with the carrying out of an Act of Parliament, instead of interpreting that Act according to the wishes of those who passed it in the fullest and most liberal sense, they rather sought to narrow it down to the smallest limits, throwing every obstacle possible in the operation of the Act. It is their endeavour how not to do it, rather than to discharge the duty intrusted to them—rather to prevent than assist the carrying of an Act into effect. I hope the attention which has been drawn to the matter will have some effect on the work on Enniscrone Pier.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I have to call attention to a small matter which arises in connection with the Vote. The Board of Works have taken possession of the revenues of Galway Harbour. That harbour consists of a wet dock; but loaded vessels have to lighten in the roads and reduce their draught of 14 or 15 feet before they can enter. Now the Board of Works, since they have assumed authority, have allowed a sand bank to accumulate outside the dock, to the great inconvenience, as I am informed, of those bringing vessels into port. The cost of removing the sand bank will not be more than from £50 to £100, an expenditure to which I anticipate there 573 will be no sort of objection; and having called attention to the subject, I hope the Board of Works, as the Harbour Authority, will provide the desired remedy.
§ MR. HAYDEN (Leitrim, S.)
I have to complain of the action of the Board of Works in relation to the Town Commissioners of Roscommon, who applied for a loan from the Reproductive Loan Fund, for the purpose of obtaining a site for the building of a Town Hall, and for other purposes. After allowing eight or nine months to elapse, the Board of Works would only sanction the loan on conditions that took away all the advantages conferred by the Act, requiring repayment of the principal within 25 years instead of 35, and charging the maximum rate of interest, 2½ per cent. Under the terms imposed, the yearly payments would be nearly double what they would be if the Board of Works acted in accordance with the spirit of the Act passed at the instance of the Member for North Roscommon (Mr. O'Kelly). When the Act was passing there was a proposal made that the rate of interest should be 1 per cent; but this was resisted on the understanding that only as a maximum rate would the Board charge 2½ per cent. I hope this matter will be enquired into, and that the rules will be relaxed to allow of the operation of the Act in the spirit in which it was framed.
§ MR. JORDAN (Clare, W.)
I feel it my duty to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee to the circumstances of the Ballinamore Canal. This canal, some years ago, was constructed by the Board of Works; they were their own contractors, and when they thought the work was finished they passed the works, sending down an engineer of their own, who gave a certificate from the Board to the Board as contractors. But it turns out that from that time until the present it has been a canal without water in some portions, and the bridges have been built so low that when the canal is full there is not room for the traffic to pass under; and so it remains a memorial of genius and ability, not to say the integrity and honesty, of the Board of Works from that day to now! I notice in the Estimate an item of £200 for Special Allowances. I do not know if 574 that is a similar sum to that given to the Board of Works for the certificate erroneously declaring this canal finished; but I hope the Secretary to the Treasury will see to this, and take care that in any schemes for the development of the resources of Ireland in the future this canal so imperfectly constructed by the Board of Works, and passed by the Board of Works, shall be perfected and put into working order. If, under a different state of affairs, any improvement in the future of Ireland's trade and commerce should take place—and I expect it—I should not like to see the water ways neglected and dismantled. I know that in regard to this canal I differ from my hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), yet I maintain that if Ireland is properly governed there will be no road or water way that will not ultimately have sufficient trade and traffic. The Ballinamore Canal should not be dismantled until it is proved to be utterly worthless and useless. But it has never been put into proper working order, and therefore cannot be said to have failed. Another point to which I wish to call attention is in relation to the light railway from Beturbet to Ballinamore. During the last Administration I asked several Questions in relation to the railway bridges across this canal, and I received an assurance, which I hope the present Administration will renew, that these bridges should be of such a height that the water traffic would not be impeded.
§ MR. DONAL SULLIVAN (Westmeath, S.)
Mr. Courtney, it is well known that in Ireland there is not a more unpopular Body than the Board of Works—no Board more inefficient, or that gives more intense dissatisfaction in all parts of the Island. No individual ever has transactions with the Board who does not complain bitterly of its delay, obstruction, and inefficiency. By way of calling attention to this in an effectual manner I will move that the Vote for Salaries of Chairman and Commissioners be reduced by £1,000.
Motion made, and Question put,
That a sum, not exceeding £17,559, 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 1887, for the Salaries
and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland."—(Mr. Donal Sullivan.)
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 72; Noes 155: Majority 83.—(Div. List, No. 35.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ MR. W. J. CORBET (Wicklow, E.)
I am sorry again to have to refer to the Arklow Harbour works; but I shall be glad to have from the Secretary to the Treasury an assurance that the people of the district shall not be mulcted in further expenses in consequence of the blunders of the Board of Works in connection with these works. I will not detain the Committee at length; but the facts are as follows:— The Treasury gave a grant of £15,000 and a loan of £20,000 for making this harbour, and the works were carried out on the plan of the Board of Works in spite of the very strongly expressed objections to that plan from the people of Arklow. All this has been explained in Parliament. The result is that the pier went to pieces under the first stress of bad weather. The Treasury sent down special engineers, Messrs. Stevenson and Stoney, and from their Report on the matter it appears that a further expenditure of £10,000 will be required. Now, I want to get an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that this extra sum will not be added to the £20,000 which the ratepayers of the district have undertaken to pay. I think it would be exceedingly unfair that when the people of the district have pointed out the mistaken plan upon which the Board of Works are proceeding, and when in the event it turns out that the people are right and the Board of Works are wrong, it would be unreasonable to call upon the people to make up this extra sum. I am glad the noble Lord (Lord Randolph Churchill) is present to hear the appeal; and I trust that such an act of injustice will not be perpetrated under such circumstances.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
I once heard a Government official in Ireland say the Board of Works were inspired and directed by a diabolical ingenuity to do wrong. There has been no lack, in the course of this debate, of illustrations of the perversity, incapacity, and I may say the malignity, of that Board. Yet Irish Members have only succeeded in evoking from the Treasury 576 Bench charges of Obstruction. We are charged with wasting the time of the House because we have devoted the greater part of a Wednesday Sitting to discussing the action of two Boards which have the management of the greater part of Irish affairs. As the most practical protest in my power against this system of meeting the just and well-founded complaints of Irish Members, I beg to move the total rejection of this Vote.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Vote be omitted."—(Mr. Clancy.)
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
I desire to add my voice to that of my hon. Friend in the expression of a hope that injustice will not be done to the people of Arklow by laying upon them the burden of a large sum of money not contemplated in the first estimate of the works, simply because the Board of Works have blundered and acted in defiance of the advice and experience of the people of the district. It was decided that a pier was to be erected, and plans were discussed as to the best method to adopt. The people of the district, fishermen for whom the harbour was to be built, were strongly of opinion that the plan of the engineer of the Board of Works was not the proper plan. They protested again and again against the work being proceeded with on that plan, and yet, in spite of the protests of the people thoroughly acquainted with all the local circumstances, the Board of Works went doggedly on. Then the pier was wrecked, and it was proved beyond doubt that the disaster occurred in consequence of the advice and wishes of the people of Arklow being disregarded. The expenditure of a further sum was necessary; but the outlay should not fall upon the people, who have contributed a large amount which the engineer has wasted. The Board of Works should provide the further sum required. At all events, I hope something will be said from the Treasury Bench by way of assurance that the Arklow people shall not suffer the loss. In reference to the charge of waste of time, I will say that there is not a single Irish Member who has spoken this day who was not actuated simply by the desire to ventilate what the Irish people consider grievances; 577 and to be told by the First Official in Ireland that they, the Representatives of the people, are wasting the time of the House, is insulting language the Irish people will know how to appreciate.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. JACKSON) (Leeds, N.)
I am sure hon. Members who have argued generally and specifically to show that the Board of Works is wanting in efficiency will hardly expect me to follow them in detail. I hope hon. Members will accept my assurance that although upon many points raised I have not answered them, yet I have noted all the instances, and I will, so far as I can, personally inquire into them. At Arklow Harbour work is proceeding. I do not quite understand the present position, and will make inquiries. I can hardly be expected at a moment's notice to state whether the additional expenditure to which reference has been made shall be made a charge upon Arklow or not. But, generally, I may say the Government took the best means at their disposal to ascertain what were the wishes of the people of the district; and, so far as I know, it was in accordance with these that the works for one pier were by my Predecessor ordered to proceed, I have made a note of all the objections urged, and will see that every case is fairly met.
§ MR. BARRY (Wexford, S.)
I should like to call the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury to a promise made by his Predecessor in reference to the harbour works at Wexford. There was a strong feeling of dissatisfaction with the plan of the engineers to the Board of Works, and after the experience of Arklow there was justifiable apprehension that the works at Kilmore would not be durable. The late Chief Secretary said a Government engineer should be sent to make an inspection; and I should like to get from the hon. Gentleman a renewal of the promise that a really competent engineer should be sent to inspect the works during their progress.
§ MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)
I do not suppose that I shall get credit for any such motive, but, as I have no wish to occupy time unnecessarily, I will not push my objection to the Vote to a division at this hour of the day.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)
I would direct the hon. Gentleman's at- 578 tention to the harbour of Newcastle, County Down, which is grossly mismanaged by the Board of Works. By the works undertaken a bank has been created at the mouth of the harbour which prevents the harbour being turned to the purpose for which it was constructed. According to the original designs a thorough system of dredging was to have been carried out; but the neglect of this has rendered the harbour almost useless.
§ MR. JACKSON
Without knowing what the promise is, it would be rash for me to undertake to carry it out. But I will undertake to ascertain what my Predecessor did promise, and then I can say whether I can see that promise fulfilled.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £5,126, 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 1887, for the Salaries and Expenses in the Department of the Registrar General of Births, &c, and the Expenses of the Collection of Agricultural and other Statistics in Ireland.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR (Donegal, E.)
I am rather sorry to have to draw attention to the Vote at this particular time, for I am afraid I can hardly meet the justice of the case within the few minutes left for Business. I should not have felt it my duty to do so were it not for the fact that, during the last Parliament, I endeavoured to obtain the consent of the Treasury and of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the deferring of any definitive decision as to the reorganization of this particular Office until the House had an opportunity of considering the matter. Therefore I feel bound, knowing the interest taken in it in Ireland, to bring the matter forward. It will be seen that for this service the sum taken last year is £16,126, and the Vote in the present 579 year is of precisely the same amount. It will, therefore, appear to anyone casually looking at it, that there has been no alteration in the staff of the Department; but, as a matter of fact, the whole Department has been thoroughly altered and what is called reorganized — reorganized in such a manner that, with the same total sum, yet the manner of its distribution is altogether different, differently distributed, to an extent as to amount to a most flagrant and disgraceful job, a distribution altogether in the interests of a very small number of senior and superior officials, and to the detriment of the great body of the clerks in the Office. The staff of the Office consisted, until last December, or until April of the present year rather, of the Registrar General, the Secretary, who is also Assistant Registrar General, nine Superintendents, and the clerical staff. This clerical staff, consists of two first-class, nine second-class, and eight third-class clerks. That there was need of reorganization is unquestionable. The whole of the third-class are men of long service, ranging from 18 to 23 years, and they have been at the maximum of their pay, which is only £200 a-year, for a great number of years. It is perfectly plain, then, that there was need of reorganization. These junior clerks made representations at different times of the grievances under which they suffered, and Commission after Commission held inquiry and made recommendations all in the direction of improving the condition of the juniors. But, when the work of reorganization was actually taken in hand, the interests of these men were most scandalously disregarded, and the only persons benefited at all were the Secretary and two or three of the superior officials. I desire to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Secretary, who used to have a maximum salary of £600, has been raised to a maximum of £800 in the present year, but to that figure a note is appended to the effect that this salary of £600 as a minimum to £800 as a maximum includes remuneration for Census duty. Now, the Secretary obtained in connection with the Census of 1881 a bonus of £1,000; and, two years ago, in reply to a Question, the then Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Trevelyan) said it was not intended 580 to increase the pay of the Secretary. Now the pay of the Secretary has been increased, and the explanation is that the addition includes remuneration for Census duty. But there will not be another Census till 1891, and it does appear a most extraordinary arrangement that a man who possibly may be retired, possibly may have died before 1891 comes round, should begin now to receive a salary in connection with the Census duty of that date. But it is not in connection with Census duty at all— that is a mere blind, a mere excuse, to enable the Department to escape from the promise of two years ago given by a responsible Minister of the Crown. The reorganization that took place is of a very peculiar character. The first-class clerks and the Superintendents are to be called in future Superintendents. The second-class clerks who are allowed to remain in the Office are to be made Deputy Superintendents; and the third-class clerks are placed in nothing like so favourable a position as that which up to last year they enjoyed. They have been thrown in, listed alphabetically, with a number of men called Lower Division clerks, 14 in number, who have not a status so good as the third-class clerks possess, but who are now to be admitted with them to such vacancies as may arise from time to time on the staff. But in the reorganization scheme it was arranged that the Registrar General should be allowed to till up staff appointments, not from members of the clerical staff of his Department, but from outsiders whenever he thought fit to do so. Now, such an arrangement as that I will take upon myself to say, and I appeal to anyone conversant with the terms of service in the Civil Service, is altogether anomalous in connection with any Department in the country. It vested in an officer of no very great status a power of nomination and patronage which is not to be found in any other similar Department. It not only gives him exceptional power and patronage, but it altogether and very materially injures the vested interests of all the clerical staff. The objections I take to the reorganization scheme are these. The Registrar General and the Secretary are quite adequately paid under the old system; there is no sufficient reason for increasing the pay of the Secretary at all; the colourable pretence that the in- 581 crease of pay is on account of Census duty that will not begin for five years, is clearly nothing but a pretext. Now, all the juniors are underpaid. This has been recognized by Commission after Commission which has inquired into this Department, and not only are they underpaid, but for years they have been at their maximum. Now, while it is proposed to increase the power and patron age of the Head of the Office and increase the salary of the Secretary, the position of the juniors is materially injured. They get no increase of pay whatever, the maximum to which they are entitled to go is not raised, and their prospects of promotion are reduced by the reduction in the number of places to which they might look forward. Such small number of staff appointments as are left are not freely open to them, for they may be filled up, not by promotion in due course from the clerical staff, but by outside nominees of the Registrar General. And not only so, but these third-class clerks, who for so many years have been at their maximum, are not to be exclusively eligible for such posts as are given in the Department; and whereas these posts open to the clerks used to be eight, these eight are reduced to five, and the number of aspirants are raised from eight to 23. These men, who have served for 18 or 23 years—
It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to report Progress.
§ Resolutions to be reported Tomorrow.
§ Committee also report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.