HC Deb 22 March 1894 vol 22 cc880-94

"That a sum, not exceeding £4,199,768, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March 1895, viz.:—[See page 789]

MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)

said, that although he had no desire to detain the House for many minutes, yet he wished to call attention to one or two matters which he was precluded from mentioning on the preceding day by the Rules of the House. In the first place, he wished to ask his right hon. Friend the new First Commissioner of Works if he would consider the advisability of appointing a Select Committee with regard to the offices in Parliament Buildings. He thought the dining, smoking and other rooms might very well be re-arranged, and if the whole question could be systematically considered by a Select Committee having the plans of the building before it, and if, too, some of those now residing on the premises could be induced to give up their residences, changes greatly in the interest of the general convenience might be effected. Many improvements were required, especially in connection with the Reporters' Gallery and rooms. Some sanitary matters also required attention, and he therefore hoped he would receive a promise that this question should be considered even if no definite undertaking were forthcoming that a Select Committee would be appointed. The next matter to which he wished to refer was as to the Commission instituted by Act of Parliament in 1812 for the management of business connected with the House of Commons. So far as he could understand, that Commission had not been in the habit of meeting. Certainly it did not, under these circumstances, do much harm, but of course it did no good, and he would suggest the appointment of a Select Committee to deal with the question. There wore precedents for this course, such Committees having sat in 1833, 1835, 1836 to 1849, and it need not therefore be suggested that the appointment of another Committee would be an undue interference with the Act of Parliament constituting the Commission. Of course, a very different state of affairs to that existing in 1812 now prevailed. At that time there were many offices which were now non-existent. Officers were allowed to appoint deputies to do their work for them, and there were extraordinary methods of paying them. Hut that bad all now been altered, and simple business arrangements were the rule. But the great fault of the present system was that there was apparently no one who had control over or could answer questions in the House relative to these matters. He wanted to know if the Government would allow a. Select Committee to be appointed later on to consider the question? He thought that some of the lower class of officers in the House of Commons— the men at the bottom of the list— were not properly paid at. the present moment. This was a matter that ought to be considered, with the view of paying them a little better for the amount of work they did. He had intended to have a discussion upon the appointment of the Kitchen Committee and the nomination of the Members the other night, and he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised that the Motion for its appointment would be brought on at a reasonable hour. As a matter of fact, it had been brought on exactly at 12 o'clock. He found that a Select Committee was appointed to deal with the subject of refreshments in the House in 1849, although the Kitchen Committee was then in existence, and he did not see why a similar course should not be adopted now. There was, he found, general complaint with regard to all sorts of things. [Laughter.] Hon. Members might laugh; but if they wanted all the things enumerated, from cabbages to champagne, he could enumerate them for them. He had been asking for some years that the Kitchen Committee should issue a balance-sheet. He had placed a Notice on the Paper on the subject, and the late Chairman (Mr. S. Herbert) of the Committee had told him that he would object to giving any balance-sheet. The Committee made a Report about the cud of December, and since then they had not held any further meetings, but had allowed the kitchen and refreshment-rooms to run themselves. He wanted to know why they should not have a detailed balance-sheet. For a number of years the House had been voting £1,000 a year to the Committee, and they were, therefore, entitled to a balance-sheet. But whether they voted money or not, they had a right to an account of the receipts and expenditure of anything connected with the government of the country or the management of the House, with the exception of the secret service. He was of opinion that the Secret Service Fund should cease to be secret, but, however that might be, he wanted to know why the proceedings of the Kitchen Committee should be on a par with the Secret Service Fund. Was there anything that should be hidden or concealed from hon. Members? Was there anything that was wrong going on? His experience of the management of public funds told him that as surely as there was secrecy there was something to conceal. He should like some assurance from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he would allow a Return to be made, whether the Kitchen Committee liked it or not.


I would point out to my hon. Friend that the Kitchen Committee and other Committees do not stand on the same footing as Her Majesty's Government. We are here to be attacked and denounced, and if we conceal things of course it is supposed there is something wrong. That is our mission in life.


I did not attack the Government. I said the Government always gave particulars.


I would point out that the Kitchen Committee is a gratuitous Committee, whose Members are kind enough to give their services to this House. We are extremely grateful for those services. They do their work, I am quite sure, as well as they can, and when they have taken a great deal of trouble on our behalf I am not disposed to criticise or interfere with them. If a Return is not made I think it is entirely within their competence to deal with the question. The Government, however, are not responsible for the Kitchen Committee or for the viands which they supply. I disclaim all responsibility for the action of the Kitchen Committee, although as a Member of the House and a Member of the Government I wish to tender my thanks to them for the trouble they have taken. As regards the accommodation in the House, my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works will answer my hon. Friend's observations. On the subject of that celebrated "Commissioner," my hon. Friend has at length got hold of the right Minister by the ear. I am the Minister who am the Commissioner. The real truth is that these matters are substantially conducted by the Speaker, the First Lord of the Treasury, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There have been no formal meetings, but every matter affecting the officers of the House has to be settled by the three persons I have named. I am not aware myself of any ground for complaint. If the House is dissatisfied with the arrangements made respecting the staff of this House they can deal with the matter when the ordinary Vote is taken. I do not think there is any occasion for any complaint of the kind. I think the arrangement satisfactory, and I am not aware that the majority of Members have any reason to distrust the method by which the present system is administered. If my hon. Friend is, however, able to make out a ease for inquiry that is another thing. My hon. Friend apparently has in view a rise of salaries. Of course, he cannot expect the Chancellor of the Exchequer to sympathise with such a proposal.


I only referred to those officers who are at the bottom of the list.


I know nothing myself of any matter in regard to the organisation of the staff of the House which is not satisfactory, and therefore, as at present advised, I cannot see that there is any particular occasion for action.


I came down to the House prepared to answer a question that was to have been put by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Sheffield (Colonel Howard Vincent), and to say that, having regard to the statements made by my right hon. Friend the present President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Shaw-Lefovre) last year, and to what, I think, is the prevalent feeling in the House at the present time, I shall be prepared, on the part of the Government, to assent to the appointment of a Committee to consider the general question of the accommodation of the Members of this House. No doubt, that Committee will be able to take cognisance of the points raised by my hon. Friend.


That Committee will have power to consider the whole question?


Yes, that is so.

MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

said, he regretted that the question of the increased grant to the Kitchen Committee had been raised at a time when everybody was anxious to get away. Some time ago a question was raised as to the advisableness of abolishing the "tipping" of waiters in the dining-room. [Cries of "Oh !"] He was sorry that anyone should express dissent, because to him and to some others the question was of great importance. He had never known a body of men who lived on "tips" who had anything like manliness or independence about them. When a Sub-Committee was appointed a short time ago it was decided that before a serious attempt was made to abolish "tipping" the waiters should have their wages raised. A deputation then waited upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), who promised to grant £1,000 in addition to the £1,000 already annually granted, on condition that the "tipping" system was abolished. The wages of the waiters had since been raised 1s. a day all round, hut the "tipping" system still continued in existence. As the condition on which the extra grant was promised had not been carried out, he felt himself justified in joining his hon. Friend in protesting against any increased grant being given from the Imperial Exchequer until that condition had been faithfully and honourably fulfilled. A body of hon. Members continued to tempt the waiters by offering "tips," and some of the waiters had told abominable falsehoods, to the effect that they had not had their wages raised and that they were being made martyrs of. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say that the extra £1,000 should not be granted unless "tipping" were abolished, he (Mr. Cremer) would be glad to withdraw any further opposition to the Vote. As to the question of a balance-sheet, it seemed to him that when the House voted money for any purpose it had a, right to know how that money was expended, and ever since he had been a Member of the Kitchen Committee he had urged that a financial statement should be made by the Committee. This had not yet been done, but he hoped hon. Members would insist upon having it done, especially if an increased grant were made.

MR. CLARK (Caithness)

said, he did not see why money should be voted by Parliament to the Kitchen Committee at all. Hon. Members ought to pay the full price for their teas and dinners. The Chairman of the Kitchen Committee (Mr. S. Herbert) two years ago when the question was discussed said he would take the money voted by Parliament and spend it as he liked without giving the House any statement as to how it had been spent. If hon. Members voted money to themselves, as they were doing in this case, an account of the way in which it was spent ought certainly to be given. He hoped the Committee would be able to abolish "tipping" by paying the waiters proper wages. He begged to give notice that when the Vote was taken he should oppose the grant of an extra £ 1,000. The Kitchen Committee did not tell Members what the money was for.


Yes they do. The money was asked for to enable us to increase the wages of the waiters and to abolish the system of "tipping." My complaint is that the wages have been increased 1s. a day and yet the system of '"tipping" still prevails.


said, the House had never been told what the money was for; whether it was for wages or whether it was needed because the price of teas had been reduced from 9d. to 6d.

MR. CARSON (Dublin University)

said, he desired to call attention to what, as reported, seemed to him to have been a very unprovoked attack by the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. J. Morley) on one of Her Majesty's Judges in Ireland on that day week. The statements of the right hon. Gentleman, which he thought were entirely unfounded, had led to a good deal of discontent amongst many people in Ireland, and were calculated to weaken the administration of the law in that country.


The hon. and learned Member will not be in Order in dealing with that question.


said, he was sorry he could not refer to the subject, but he would call attention to the administration of the law in the County of Clare, out of which the matter arose. Mr. Justice O'Brien, at the last Clare Assizes, pointed to what seemed to be a very alarming state of facts with reference to the administration of the law in that county. The House was asked to vote a very large sum for public prosecutions in Clare, and he (Mr. Carson) wished to point out that those prosecutions had hitherto proved absolutely abortive for the purposes for which they were instituted. Since the present Government came into Office there had been three Assizes held in Clare. At the Spring Assizes in 1893 seven cases were tried—a very small number compared with the amount of crime there had been for the previous six mouths in the county. Out of the seven eases there was only one conviction. Mr. Justice O'Brien, referring to this fact, said that the law had entirely failed to bring the offenders to justice in spite of every care and vigilance used to attain the result. On the matter being brought before the House the Chief Secretary for Ireland made some very disparaging remarks about Mr. Justice O'Brien. He (Mr. Carson) rather thought the right hon. Gentleman afterwards regretted having made those remarks. It must he remembered that Mr. Justice O'Brien was the one Judge in Ireland who, owing to the arduous duties he had had to perform, was obliged to have police protection. It was to be deprecated that a Cabinet Minister, a Minister of the Crown interested in the administration of the law in Ireland, should in any way lend himself—even assuming there were any grounds for so doing—to an attack on a Judge under such circumstances as these. This Assize passed over, and the Summer Assizes came on when the trials were before an entirely different Judge. He had not the figures before him of what took place on that occasion, but in the Summer Assize of 1893, so far as he could recollect, there was not, in any important case, any conviction, and Mr. Justice Gibson said that in trying cases there they were engaged in a solemn comedy, and that such a travesty was perfectly melancholy. At the Assizes which had just closed Mr. Justice O'Brien said that— It was not possible to bring any criminal case into that county without it resulting in open contempt of the law. The net result of these three Assizes at Ennis was that there was no important conviction, and only three altogether. It might be said that he had omitted to mention that at Cork, under the Winter Assizes Act, there had been 11 Clare cases and seven convictions. But what did that prove? It proved that when they had a change of venue and tried Clare cases elsewhere, they got a fair percentage of convictions, and he could not understand a stronger argument for putting in force those powers of change of venue which still existed than the argument that at the recent Winter Assizes at Cork they got seven convictions out of 11 cases, because the cases had been taken from the intimidation that existed in the County of Clare. He thought that when the Judges in Ireland were bold and free enough to draw the attention of the Executive of the country to the failure of juries to carry out the law, which, he said, came within the duty of the Judge—when they had the courage and boldness to do this, and had the manliness to discharge their duty, so far from being met with any opprobrium from those who were entrusted with the supervision of law and order, they ought to receive the commendation of those who were in high quarters. He could not imagine anything more likely to lead to a recrudescence of crime or to disrespect of the law than attacks on Judges, and the right hon. Gentleman would best consult his own dignity and the material welfare of Ireland if, instead of attacking Judges when they were compelled to draw attention to the failure of Juries to do their duty, he would back up the Judges and try to find some method by which crime might be punished and the law respected.


The hon. and learned Gentleman has so concluded his remarks that I have no right to complain in any way; but I say, in what the hon. Gentleman has had to say about Clare, I really fail to see what point he has brought against myself or Her Majesty's Government. He evidently intended to refer to are mark or two which I had occasion to make on the Charge of Mr. Justice O'Brien the other day, but into that we are not allowed to-day to go. The hon. and learned Gentleman has gone over ground which has already, I should have thought, been abundantly traversed ever since the present Government came into Office; the state of Clare has received more attention from this House than almost any other factor in regard to the condition of Ireland. I think there were four or five elaborate Debates on Clare last year, and I do not think the hon. and learned Gentleman has adduced one single new consideration throwing any light whatever on the attitude the Government ought to take up. I have not by me the figures as to the convictions in the County of Clare, but I will take the hon. and learned Gentleman's account as substantially accurate. It is no doubt lamentably true that out of the total number of offences of a certain kind committed in the County of Clare very few persons are made amenable. It is further true that at the Winter Assizes at Ennis, in the County of Clare, there have not been as many convictions as the Crown would desire, or as any impartial person might have hoped for, but, if my recollection is right, the four eases in which the jury failed to convict were not cases of that particular crime as to which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, miscarriage of justice almost systematically occurs. I believe I am right in this. The hon. Member talks of the prosecutions that have been proved abortive since we came into Office, but I believe I should have no difficulty in showing, if I had the figures by me, that we have been as successful in securing convictions in the County of Clare, that we have obtained as good a percentage as was the ease with the late Government.


We never got any in Clave, and gave up trying them there.


Well, I will take my own ground, and that, if I may say so, is the ground on which I lake the liberty of quarrelling with the line taken by the learned Judge at Ennis. It cannot be denied that the state of Clare has since December has: shown a marked and decided improvement. Now, the learned Judge seemed to deny that proposition, and I would undertake to say that there is not a single man of authority and responsibility in Clave, beginning with the Lord Lieutenant of the county himself, and ending with the humblest private constable, that there is not; one person with the means of judging and forming a responsible opinion, who would not tell you that the state of Clare shows a decided and remarkable improvement. In the month of December there were only four agrarian offences in the County of Clare. I do not make any boast of that. I never like to make any boast about Clare, because there might be a recrudescence of crime in Clare next month or the month after; hut what I complained of was, that instead of congratulating the county on the improvement that had taken place, and which had undoubtedly taken place in Clare during the last four months, instead of congratulating the Grand Jury on the position of the county or of saying nothing about it, the learned Judge unfortunately thought it his duty to represent the state of the County of Clare as rather showing no improvement. I say it is not the duty of a Judge going Assizes to express opinions upon the general social state of the county, when those opinions are in entire disaccord with the views of those who are responsible for what goes on, and whom, I contend, from the Lord Lieutenant of the county down to the humblest private constable, will show there has been a marked improvement. The hon. and learned Member made some remarks in vindication of Mr. Justice O'Brien himself. I have nothing to say against those remarks; he is the last Judge on whom I would wish to pass any hostile criticism; hut when the hon. and learned Member says we ought to be careful in criticising the action of Judges hold enough and free enough to express their opinions, and that when we do that we are tending to disparage the administration of the law, then I distinctly and diametrically differ from the hon. and learned gentleman. There are many Judges on the Irish Bench who dislike and condemn these general social Charges, and think that a Judge would do far more to bring the administration of the law into respect if he steered as clear as he possibly could of disputed ground and political controversies. It is the Judge who imports into his Charge, which ought to be cold and judicial, political considerations, and who identifies the administration of the law with a certain set of political opinions which tends to make the administration of the law suspected and disregarded. I do nor think I have passed over anything calling for a reply. If it had been in Order, I should have been prepared to justify every remark I have made, by reference to chapter and verse upon the Charges of Irish Judges.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said, that yesterday he had, by the Rules of the House, no opportunity of referring to matters which he wished briefly to deal with. The first matter had reference to the Fishery Board. It would he in the recollection of the House that the (pies-lion of trawling off Ross-shire and the Island of Lewis had been brought up time after time during the existence of the present Government. He had brought it forward himself, and had been told there was no money in connection with this work. The fishermen had been told that they ought to report any trawlers they might see to the official of the Board at Stornoway. But how could these men be expected to walk 30 or 40 miles? A gunboat, the Foxhound, had been sent, which could steam only six or seven knots, while the trawlers could go at 12; and, moreover, it lay in Stornoway Harbour for weeks because it could not face the weather, which, however, did not keep the steam trawlers idle. Last year he found that £1,400 odd was returned to the Treasury by the Fishery Board, and he hoped that the Secretary for Scotland would this year take care that the whole of the money granted was expended in connection with the work of the Fishery Board, and mainly in connection with trawling. He wished also to refer to the Board of Supervision. A few years ago the Secretary for Scotland admitted it was a very unsound and badly-managed Board, and required new construction. He would like to know whether anything had been done in that direction, or was it going on in the same sluggish fashion. He would also like to know whether Sir Donald McNeil was connected with the Board, and whether he was not the same man who associated himself very actively, two or three years ago, with the colonisation scheme, which was a, scheme promoted by commercial speculators? He would not, however, deal further with the Board of Supervision, which was a very unsound and a very corrupt Board to-day— [Cries of "Oh !"] It was shockingly bad, and so corrupt that the right hon. Gentleman spoke of it in that manner.


No, never.


said, the right hon. Gentleman admitted that it was unsound and badly managed.


But you said corrupt.


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman did not say it was corrupt he (Mr. Weir) did. Then there was a very large item for law charges. When he had spoken on these in connection with Highland matters, the Lord Advocate had shown the greatest ignorance of the geography of the Highlands. When he showed that a man had to travel on foot, in connection with a poaching case, from 30 to 35 miles to Dingle, and the same distance homo again, the right hon. Gentleman persisted in saying it was only a distance of six or eight miles. He would really appeal to the Government to furnish the right hon. Gentleman's Office with an ordnance map, in order that these stupid blunders might not be made. Further, be bad occasion to ask what number of Gaelic-speaking Sheriffs, Procurators Fiscal, and other officials there were in the Highlands; be asked for a Return, and was told it was not in the public interest that it should be supplied. What was there that it was necessary to keep dark? But he had obtained the information in spite of the right lion-Gentleman, though he did not think that Members of the House should be called upon to spend their time, their energies, and their money in getting information that was available to the Departments of the Government. He hoped that the Lord Advocate and the Secretary for Scotland when other appointments were made of Sheriffs in the Highlands would take care that Gaelic-speaking men were appointed, and that Edinburgh advocates should not be pitchforked into these posts by the Lord Advocate, men who bad no knowledge of Gaelic or of the customs of the people of the Highlands. He did not think it was right that the Highland people should be treated in this manner. Perhaps to-day he might get some explanation as to the case of John MacLean. This was an old man who was 80 years of age, and on the 19th of July last he was charged with allowing trout to get into his net. [Laughter] It was not a laughing matter. If the trout was earmarked as the property of the landlord, then the fisherman could give instructions for it to keep out of his net. This man was not summoned to Dingle, a distance of 30 or 35 miles, until winter time, and that could only be in order that he might be convicted in his absence, as it would be impossible for him to walk that distance in the winter. That was bow the Lord Advocate allowed these matters to be conducted in the Highlands of Scotland. He found that three of the Sheriff's received £450 for services to the Board of Supervision —he supposed £150 each—and he wished to know why they were on the Board of Supervision at all, when what was wanted were men with a. knowledge of sanitary matters, and not lawyers? Talk about tipping in the dining-room of the House of Commons! why tipping was carried out by the sanction of the right hon. Gentleman to an alarming extent. Even the fiscals were paid by salary and commission. What did they get commission on; was it the number of convictions they managed to secure, or what was it? Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would tell them what they paid these Commissions for? The whole system, it appeared to him, of the administration of the land in the Highlands was one of trickery and jobbery.


was certainly surprised that any gentleman should have accused him of having' charged the Board of Supervision with being corrupt. He should have as soon expected to hear Mr. Speaker rise in his chair and charge the officers of this House in being corrupt. He never used, with regard to the Hoard of Supervision, any of these adjectives. He said that the members of the Board of Supervision did their duty with great knowledge, experience, zeal and energy, hut that the system was one which was not well organised, and that he intended to alter the system by a Bill which he proposed to introduce on Monday week next. The hon. Gentleman referred to the want of protection against trawing in the Western Highlands. Hut in England there, was no protection at all. In Scotland that sort of protection existed, hut was deficient in quantity. In no case could they expect to have a gunboat, or steam launch, or police launch, every 20 or 30 miles along the coast so as to obviate the necessity of the fishermen keeping their own eves open, so as to report illegal trawling to the ministers of justice, who existed for the purpose of receiving complaints of private individuals on land and sea alike. It was not the ease at all that this system had failed in being efficient, because quite recently a fine of £50 was inflicted on a trawler in these seas, and any case brought. before a Procurator Fiscal would be looked into carefully. It was quite true that a sum of money had been taken to provide an additional steamship for protective purposes this year, but it was impossible for him to break through the well-recognised financial system under which the Government was carried on, and because there was £1,300 or £1,400 unexpended on a Vote of £20,000 or £30,000 to seize that money, and utilise it for a purpose quite different to that for which the money was obtained. As regarded the complaints of the hon. Member about justice in the Highlands, he did not know even what the hon. Member meant. He had no notion what the hon. Member meant by saying that Sheriffs, Deputy Sheriffs, and Procurators Fiscal lived by the process of tipping and pilfering. When he knew that he would inquire into the matter, but until then he should not do the Sheriffs and Procurators Fiscals the ill compliment of defending them against the accusation of tipping and pilfering. His own belief was that the general administration of justice in the Highlands was, on the whole, trusted by the great mass of the population, and to their judgment he left it.

Resolution agreed to.