HC Deb 31 May 1888 vol 326 cc752-9

Resolution [17th May] reported.

Resolution read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


said, he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) to the manner in which the Ballinasloe Board of Guardians had been treated by the Local Government Board in Dublin. The Board of Guardians seemed in some way to have incurred the disapprobation of the Local Government Board, who had declared them incapable of discharging their duties, and had superseded them by paid officials. This was a very serious step for a large Government Department to take, and could only be justified in a case of extreme necessity and on good cause being shown. The action of the Local Government Board might or might not be justifiable in the present case; but it was a strong thing to ask the House to pass a Vote on Account, which, if granted, would enable the Local Government Board to go on without any further Vote until the fag end of the Session, when any practical discussion in regard to the proceedings of the Irish Local Government Board could scarcely be hoped for. Under these circumstances, he would move that the Vote which had just been put from the Chair should be reduced by a sum of £10,000 on account of the Local Government Board in Ireland. It was, however, a Motion which, of course, he should not press if the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary could show that there was substantial grounds for the serious action taken by the Local Government Board in reference to the Guardians of the Ballinasloe Union.

Amendment proposed, to leave out "£4,205,300," in order to insert "£4,195,300,"—(Mr. Arthur O' Connor,)—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That '£4,205,300' stand part of the Resolution."


said, the hon. Gentleman was, no doubt, entirely within his right in raising the question; but he was sorry the hon. Gentleman had not given him Notice of his intention to do so.


said, that he had had no opportunity.


said, that if the hon. Gentleman had communicated with him by note he would have been able to come down to the House prepared to deal with the matter; whereas, being unprepared, he was unable to give any information except in the most general way. What had occurred in regard to the Ballinasloe Board of Guardians was this. The Union had been, for a long time, distinguished for disorderly conduct, and remonstrances had been addressed to them by the Local Government Board, but no improvement took place. On the contrary, the Ballinasloe Board repeated their offence, under aggravated circumstances. The hon. Gentleman would be aware that by Statute not only the right, but the duty was conferred on the Local Government Board of seeing that Boards of Guardians discharged their functions; and there was no choice in the present case but to take the step which had been taken. It was with very great reluctance that the Local Government Board had felt themselves obliged to supersede the Ballinasloe Board, and to substitute for them paid Guardians. He would be happy to-morrow to give full and detailed account of all that had taken place, so far as he could within the limits of an answer to a Question; but, at the present moment, he was afraid he could not give the House any more complete information than that which he had given.


said, he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was unable to give the House more complete information in regard to the supersession of the Ballinasloe Board of Guardians. He thought the House ought to have something more than vague generalities as to the disagreements which had occurred—some of them attended, he was given to understand, by acts of personal violence. He had, however, been reading newspapers in this country which gave accounts of the proceedings at Vestry meetings and others which were set up as the morals of what local government should be in Ireland. He found that scenes quite as disorderly occurred in some of them as those which had taken place in Ireland. In fact, the Government were in the habit of using the telescope from different ends, and in viewing matters in Ireland and in England they minimized English affairs and magnified whatever might take place in the way of disorder in Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had made a very lame excuse for the action of the Local Government Board. He (Mr. E. Harrington) could say, from experience of what the Local Government Board was doing in reference to the Boards of Guardians in Ireland, that it was within his knowledge that the grossest partiality was practised. Wherever there was a popular Board, the Local Government Board were ready to come down on them on the slightest dereliction of duty; whereas grave scandals were not only permitted, but fostered with reference to other Boards which did not represent the popular majority. He might mention the case of a man who had recently received an appointment in connection with the Listowel Union. This man, because he was supposed to belong to the popular Party, had his previous record inquired into, and it was found that some years ago, when he held a public-house licence, he had been convicted for an illegal sale of liquor, and on that account the Irish Board of Guardians refused to ratify the appointment, and by so doing got rid of one whom they looked upon as an opponent. In another case a man held the position of clerk of a Union; he went drunk to the office every day, and there were even more gross charges against him. It was only, however, when he stayed away altogether from his business, that the Local Government Board consented to dismiss him. He maintained that the action of the Board in Ireland was simply an illustration of the way in which the government of that country was carried on generally, and in order to render the job more perfect it was now proposed to place the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the head of the Board. [Mr. A. J. BALFOUR dissented.] The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary shook his head; but he wished to know whether the Licensing Clauses of the Local Government Bill would not have that effect? Was he to understand that by a shake of the head the right hon. Gentleman desired to convoy to the House that all idea of placing the Parliamentary Under Se- cretary for Ireland at the head of the Local Government Board had been abandoned? At the present moment the right hon. Gentleman was himself at the head of the Board, and was responsible for those things which the Irish Members had complained of from time to time. If the Ballinasloe Board of Guardians had been guilty of any misappropriation of funds, or of serious neglect of duty, how was it that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary was not able to come down to the House with facts? The right hon. Gentleman had not stated a single charge against the Board, although it was quite possible that, on behalf of the Local Government Board of which he was the head, he had signed the order for superseding the Ballinasloe Board. Nevertheless, although the Local Government Board superseded this Board of Guardians, the Head of the Irish Office was unable to give one tittle of information as to the reason. It was well known to the people of Ireland that the grossest scandals could be carried on in Ireland as long as they were confined to one Party, whereas the slightest slip on the other side was visited with the direst punishment. The right hon. Gentleman had been pleased to say that to-morrow he would give ample information to the House, although he limited the offer by saying "such information as could be conveyed within the limits of an answer to a Question." They know very well what the character of the answers given by the right hon. Gentleman to Questions was. The right hon. Gentleman invariably attempted to score from the Irish Members every time they asked a Question. Whenever they spoke about the maladministration of Irish affairs, the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to make them look as ridiculous as possible. The right hon. Gentleman had promised the hon Member for East Donegal (Mr. Arthur O'Connor) to give detailed information to-morrow; but he (Mr. E. Harrington) failed to see why he had not come down to the House that day in full possession of all the facts of the case. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would give directions for an ample search to be made, so that the House should be informed why these Boards of Guardians had been superseded, and why paid Guardians had been appointed. The appointment of paid Guardians would saddle the unfortunate ratepayers of the Union with the sum of £1,000 a-year. It was all very well to say that the Irish Members were constantly raising imaginary grievances because they were Representatives of a popular Party; but there was this question of £1,000 a-year which the poor people of the locality would have to pay. It was important that the whole facts of the matter should be laid before the House, in order that hon. Members might be able to arrive at a correct and distinct opinion as to whether the Local Government Board had been within their right in superseding the Ballinasloe Board of Guardians.

MR. J. O'CONNOR (Tipperary, S.)

said, the hon. Member for East Donegal owed no apology to the House for having raised this question, because there was reason to suspect that the Local Government Board were determined to discredit and discourage Local Boards in Ireland. There were some 276 Boards of Guardians in Ireland, and in no instance had one of them been dissolved until recent years on account of the maladministration of its affairs. A change seemed now to have come over the spirit of the dream of the Local Government Board. Only a very short time ago a Board of Guardians in the county of Wicklow was dissolved because it insisted on the free exercise of its powers. There was no occasion on which an hon. Member rose in that House to maintain that the Irish people were unfit to carry on the local government of their own country when the action of the Boards of Guardians was not cited. A few days ago he had risen in his place in that House to defend a Board of Guardians which he had the honour to represent. On investigating the matter, he found that the Board of Guardians in question managed its business so well that it had reduced the expenditure of the Union per head, and largely reduced the amount of rates imposed on the people. The only thing that could be brought against the Board was that there was a large outstanding debt which it was impossible to collect owing to the state of the country. So long as Members of the National Party had seats in that House it would be their duty to regard with great jealousy the character and the action of the Local Government Board in Ireland in reference to the Boards of Guardians. So far as the Ballinasloe Union was concerned, there had undoubtedly been disgraceful scenes there. He had read of some of them himself, and he regretted them exceedingly; but he protested against the course pursued by the Government. He also regretted the ignorance of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in the matter. If the right hon. Gentleman attended properly to the duties of his Office, he ought to have had at his fingers' ends all the information necessary for the satisfaction of Members who might question him on the subject. Not only was it the duty of the House to regard with jealousy the character of the administration of Irish affairs by the Local Government Board, but it was their duty also to protest against the representatives of the people being superseded and removed in an autocratic manner by an irresponsible Board, at the head of which stood the right hon. Gentlemen himself—a right hon. Gentleman who was supposed to know everything, but who was actually ignorant of the orders given by the Board over which he presided. He was glad that his hon. Friend had raised the question, and he trusted that he would press it to a Division, in order that it might have the effect, at any rate, of imposing some check upon the arbitrary exercise of the power of the Local Government Board. No doubt in the past there were many jobs perpetrated by Local Boards, but at present the Boards of Guardians were performing their duty well. If they were in difficulties it was not their fault, but it was owing to the circumstances of the case. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would take warning and seek some other means of rectifying any error that might arise in the administration of affairs. He (Mr. J. O'Connor) had had some experience of the administration of affairs in Ireland, having been a member of Councils and Boards, and he knew how carefully those who were elected to such responsible positions performed their duty. For that reason he felt it right to support his hon. Friend in resenting the indignity put by the Local Government Board upon the Ballinasloe Union, and he should vote for the Motion his hon. Friend had moved, with a view of impressing upon the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary the necessity of being firm in the exercise of his powers, and of warning those who were engaged in the administration of the law under him that it was their duty to be careful also. He sincerely hoped that his hon. Friend would carry the Motion to a Division, unless the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary rose again in his place and promised to investigate the matter closely in order to see whether the grievances complained of could be remedied, and whether the people, who were already much overtaxed, should have their money squandered by the appointment of paid officials.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution agreed to.