HC Deb 23 August 1895 vol 36 cc753-66

Order read, for Further Consideration of Postponed Resolutions,—

Resolution relating to the Vote for the Survey of the United Kingdom agreed to.

On the Resolution for the Vote with reference to the necessary expenses for maintaining certain harbours, lighthouses, &c., under the Board of Trade.


desired to draw attention to the question of the improvement of Holyhead Harbour. In 1891, the then President of the Board of Trade, who was now Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the contemplated improvements were under the consideration of the Government, and a year later the same right hon. Gentleman said he had suggested a plan and although no definite decision had then been arrived at, he held out the hope that something would immediately be done. Under these circumstances he thought it right to ask the President of the Board of Trade (to whom he had given private notice of his intention to raise the question), what the position of these improvements were. He understood the London and North Western Railway Company had offered to clear the rocks to a certain depth at ebb tide provided that in return they were given a piece of land for their pier. He asked the right hon. Gentleman, in the first place, what improvements were in contemplation; in the second place when the report of the engineers who had been sent down to examine the harbour was expected and when it would be presented to Members of the House. He hoped in determining upon the arrangements and improvements the right hon. Gentleman would not only take into account the interests and convenience of the London and North Western Railway Company, of shipping, and the convenience of Holy-head as a harbour of refuge, but also the trade and commerce of the town of Holyhead.


in reply, said, that in connection with the new mail contract from Holyhead to Kingstown, the Dublin Steam Packet Company required the harbour to be dredged so as to give a draught of 14 feet, the minimum mentioned in the contract. The Treasury had consented to this and a sum of £26,000 was obtained for the purpose of carrying out the improvement. Since that time the London and North Western Railway Company had raised some objection that the works would not leave their vessels sufficient room in which to swing and they suggested an alternative plan to which the Dublin Packet Company did not agree, and which might increase the cost of dredging. The two engineers were being asked to give a report on the subject, they were urged to hurry on at the time of the Dissolution, and he hoped their report might be presented in a few days. The Treasury sanction had been obtained for the improvements, and the only question was whether or not some small alteration should be made in the original plan. The hon. Gentleman need be under no apprehension for the works would be proceeded with at once.


After the very satisfactory answer of the right hon. Gentleman, I will not press the matter. Does the answer, however, refer to the Platter's Rocks?



Resolution agreed to

On the Resolution— That a sum, not exceeding,£126,045, 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, 1896, for the erection, repairs, and maintenance of public buildings in Ireland, for the maintenance of certain parks and public works, and for drainage works on the Rivers Shannon and Suck,''


asked the Government if they would state their views with regard to the general question of the Board of Works in Ireland? It had been known for some time that General Sankey, the present head of the Board of Works, must retire from office in March next. The Board of Works in Ireland had been the subject of considerable controversy for many years past, and the other night he suggested that the time had come for some re-arrangement of the Department. It was really the great spending Department of Ireland, as it practically had to do with all questions affecting the material prosperity of the country. General Sankey was an Indian officer of considerable experience, and when he was appointed, about 1883, the late Mr. Blake, the Member for Waterford, asked him (Mr. Healy) if he would pledge himself not to criticise the administration of the Board. He agreed to make no observations in respect to that administration for at least twelve months. One night Mr. Blake came to him and said, rather sadly, "Say what you like about the Board of Works." He did not think he had ever attacked General Sankey, and he certainly did not intend to do so under present circumstances, but at the same time, the efficiency of the Board was a matter of considerable moment to Ireland. He suggested to the Government that in the first place the Office of Works should be taken from under the control of the Treasury, and placed under the Chief Secretary. The British Treasury promoted its clerks to the Board of Works in Ireland. It found some man with a mind for 2¾d., and sent him across to Ireland. That man took a Treasury view of matters, and trembled whenever he received a letter with the S.W. post-mark upon it. He (Mr. Healy) thought an official in Ireland should look to his own countrymen for inspiration, and should not care a farthing what Englishmen at Whitehall thought about matters. He should regard with contempt, and treat only as matter for the waste-paper basket everything that came from England. He did not think that ideal state of things was possible if they put the Board under the Chief Secretary's Department, but they would would get some way in that direction. No one could say that Mr. Stephenson—who was a weak man in the Treasury, and who was still weaker and flabbier in Dublin—was any advantage to the Irish Board of Works. The third Commissioner of the Board was Mr. O'Shaughnessy—of whom he would say nothing, as he had formerly been a Member of the Irish Party—who was first appointed Registrar of Petty Sessions Clerks, and had been recently removed to the Board of Works. He had a suggestion to make to the Government. They had appointed a Congested Districts Board. He never had time to adequately consider the operations of that Board, and he therefore would make no criticisms upon it. It purported to be composed of an independent and unpaid body of men—to be unpaid, by the way, was a rare circumstance in Irish official life—who administered £30,000 or £40,000 yearly. His suggestion was that the Government should first appoint some independent man as head of the Irish Board of Works, and then associate with him, as in the case of the Congested Districts Board, men who would do something to bring the mind of the country to bear upon the administration of the affairs of the Board. Of course, the Chief Secretary would not select anybody of Home Rule tendencies, or anybody who was by any chance a Catholic, unless it was that rara avis a Unionist Catholic. But let the right hon. Gentleman get for the purpose a body of Orangemen who would act without salary. He would rather be governed by an Orange Lodge, even though the chains of penal laws still clang among the rags of the a Catholics, than be governed by the House of Commons; for he did not believe there was a Grand Master of an Orange Lodge who would not bring more sympathy and more knowledge upon the administration of the affairs of the country than such men as Mr. Stephenson, the Treasury Clerk. All the Irish Board of Works could point to as the fruits of their long career were rotten bridges, wrecked piers, damaged harbours, flooded lands, and pleuro-pneumonia. [Laughter.] It was time that something should be done to bring the mind of the country to bear on the administration of the affairs of the Board. Of hidebound British officialism they were sick. He therefore appealed to the Government to associate with the highly-paid officials of the Board of Works some independent and unpaid men—just as was done in the case of the Congested Districts Board—who bring to bear on the administration of the affairs of the Board the average views of the country. He had repeatedly asked for certain concessions in regard to Phœnix Park. But every new Government excused them-selves on the ground that they were fresh in office, and had not had time to consider the matter. They always had at the Irish Office a man who was the pink of perfection, but the difficulty was that he had only been in office half-an-hour. His inexperience did not disqualify him from receiving his salary, but only for dealing with the particular subject brought forward. Inexperience was a disability only for the execution of duty, and not for taking office. Above all things else, the holder of office must visit Ireland before he could do anything. No Government ever dreamt of appointing a man who had been born in the country, and who knew something about it. What they wanted in connection with Phœnix Park was a very small matter; but no doubt the right hon. Gentleman would require time to consider it, though millions could be voted for Uganda in half-an-hour. The first request that he had to make was that the road by which the market gardeners' traffic had approached Dublin for the last half-a-century should not be blocked by the British Treasury. The second was that, as in the London parks, bicyclists should be allowed to use the Phœnix Park. Only the other day a bicyclist was driven from the park into the Lucan Road, where he was immediately shot by a gamekeeper of Lord Annaly with a double-barrelled gun; and the man was subsequently fined 13s. 4d. at Petty Sessions. He could assure the Chief Secretary that in Ireland cycling was quite uncontaminated by politics. Nobody, indeed, could afford to spend money in cycling who was not a Unionist. Then, with respect to the form of amusements employed by the poor, such as gymnastic appliances, he asked that they should be supplied in the Phœnix Park as they were in the London parks. He had not the slightest expectation that these requests would receive any more attention now than they had done at any time during the last 15 years. If he remained in the House for another 15 years he had no doubt that he should still be calling attention to the same things.


When the hon. Member for North Louth had almost completed his remarks on the constitution of the Board of Works in Ireland, my attention was called to the fact that that is not relevant to the present Vote, which is only for buildings. The Vote for salaries is Vote 37, Class II.


called attention to the removal of a shoal at Drunsheriff on the Shannon, and to the drainage works on the same river. Great dissatisfaction prevailed among the people in the locality with reference to the river Suck Drainage Board and the heavy taxation which their work entailed. He appealed not only in the interests of the Treasury, but in those of the ratepayers whether the Board of Works could not give in future reports more detailed information as to the progress of those works, the amount already spent on them, and the amount levied on the cess payers. Then referring to the tributaries of the Shannon in its northern reaches, he said 600 acres of the lands were flooded owing to the primitive character of the locks, and he should like to know whether he could have any assurance with regard to providing a regulating sluice at the outlet of Lough Key into the Shannon.


wished to associate himself with the remarks which had been made as to the piers in Ireland. He had often called attention to the Bally-cotton pier. Not long ago there was a rumour that it was seen floating off the Old Head of Kinsale. [Laughter] This, however, proved to be incorrect, but instead of being used as a pier it had become a breeding ground for crabs and lobsters of large dimensions. The state of the pier was entirely owing to the neglect of the Board of Works, a fine illustration of the way in which things were done in that House. Mr. Wolfe Barry, the engineer who built the Tower Bridge, was sent over to examine the pier, and he made some recommendations. It was expected the pier would be made a useful work. The pier, however, remained in an unsatisfactory state. At the time the pier was being built it was pointed out by the Roman Catholic curate living in the place, that, instead of filling up the pier with proper hardening, in the absence of those responsible to the Board of Works, hundreds of tons of earth were thrown in, and when a storm came it was completely washed out. He hoped the Secretary of the Treasury would give his attention to this matter. He also wished to call attention to the disproportionate amounts of the grants made to the Queen's Colleges in Ireland. While in Belfast £2,500 was spent, Galway got only £150, and Cork nothing. That was most unfair, especially to the college at Cork, which was a large college, attended by a large number of students, possessing pathological and physiological laboratories. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give his attention to that important item. There was another item to which ho wished to call attention, and that was in connection with the Royal Constabulary buildings. They all hoped that the time had passed for the erection of any more huts, but he would call the attention of the House to the case of some evictions which took place in 1880 at places where the county of Cork joined the county of Kerry. Two families were evicted, each for one half-year's rent only, while the Land Act which was to give them relief was passing through the House. In order that a farm should be kept derelict, a hut was placed there. Four policemen were placed in that hut, arid had been kept there ever since, in order to guard these evicted farms, whose rental was about £60 a year. Each man cost £100 a year, so that the four cost £400 a year and the amount expended in the 14 years was about 12 times the value of the fee simple of the estate. It was intolerable that the taxpayers should be called upon to spend money in this way. When police huts are once erected and occupied, the expenditure went on for an indefinite length of time.


said there was no need to allude to the greater part of the speech of the hon. Member for Louth, otherwise he might have had something to say about his ungenerous allusions to an old public servant. Nor would he do more than briefly allude to the way questions had been addressed to himself. It was assumed that he must necessarily be ignorant of details. Perhaps the hon. Member thought he was addressing a Member of the late Government. That style of oratory would have no effect on himself. Perhaps the most important question related to the Queen's Colleges. It was complained that there was a charge in the Estimates—not those of the present Government, by the way—for the college at Belfast, and not a corresponding charge for the two at Galway. No doubt it was the fact as regarded this year; but he had had the figures taken out in order to show what had been the total expenditure out of Imperial Funds upon these colleges since their foundation. The Colleges were founded in 1845. The Belfast College cost £34,000, Cork £33,000, Galway a little under £33,000. Then there was a yearly grant in aid of expenses. Up to 1868 the charge for expenses and maintenance combined was—Belfast £51,000, Cork £52,000, and Galway £43,000. Since 1869, when the expenditure on new works was separated from the cost of maintenance, Belfast had cost £8,841, Cork £13,450, Galway about £986. There was a private endowment chair of physiology in connection with the latter, for which the Treasury were finding funds. The Government were only finding the shell of the building; the internal fittings had been paid for out of private funds. The real reason extra expenditure was necessary in Belfast was that the number of students was increasing. As to the shoal in the Shannon referred to, negotiations for its removal were expected to be successful. With regard to the Constabulary house the sum in the Estimate was simply for the maintenance of old huts, and no new provision was made. The hon. Member for Louth was wrong as to the railway he mentioned. The line he was thinking of was not the Derry Central Railway, but another, which had been sold to the Belfast and Northern Counties Company for £10,000.


asked what was the amount of the mortgage.


said, he could not say. With regard to the gymnastic apparatus that had been referred to, he was informed that the Commissioners of Public Works had no power to make by-laws for the protection of the apparatus.


asked how the apparatus for polo was protected.


said, that people could always protect their private property. He believed that he had answered all the questions that hon. Members opposite had put to him.

MR. J. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

said, that he knew that the Constabulary themselves objected to these police huts. He considered that the right hon. Gentleman had acted very kindly and fairly in taking so much trouble to get information. ["Hear, hear!"]


asked what was the whole cost of the buildings of all the Queen's Colleges.


did not think it was possible to give the figures, as the amounts expended for buildings and maintenance were mixed up during certain years prior to 1880.


proceeded to refer to the pathological laboratory in Queen's College, Cork, and stated that the pathological museum was built at some expense, but had never been finished. They had now voted a larger sum for Belfast College than had hitherto been passed in connection with the pathological and physiological departments in Queen's College, Cork, which had been endowed with a library and other bequests. Proceeding to criticise some details in the Vote in connection with the Chief Secretary's Office, Private Secretary's Lodge, and other items, he remarked that he could not understand how these and other things could be mixed up in the peculiar way in which they appeared in the Estimates. If the hour were not so advanced, he would press for more information, but he was aware that the right hon. Gentleman could not be acquainted with all the figures in so short a time after his appointment, and he had therefore confined his remarks upon the present occasion within very narrow limits. The important point was this, that the Grand Jury for County Cork had refused again and again to take the matter over. He appealed to the Secretary to the Treasury to do something in regard to the matter. Was the building to be allowed to fall down? If the Treasury were to take the matter up the money already spent would not be thrown away.

MR. JAMES DALY (Monaghan, S.)

said, they had understood that Gentlemen now occupying the Treasury Benches were prepared to take over the Government of the country and have the whole affairs of the country at their fingers' ends. It was not to be wondered at that his hon. Friend the Member for North Louth, felt a little warm at the way in which the Board of Works discharged their duty towards Ireland. With regard to the police huts, it could not be denied that perhaps never in the history of Ireland was it more peaceful than at the present time, and there was no necessity for continuing these things. When the Judges went on circuit it could be seen how peaceful Ireland was, for in assize town after assize town it was not unusual for the Judges to receive white gloves at the present time. The Leader of the House, when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, was, no doubt, responsible for these huts.


said, the hon. Member could not go into the question of how the huts came to be there.


said, he would conclude by asking the right hon. Gentleman if he would consider the advisability of removing the huts.

Resolution agreed to.

On the Resolution relating to the Vote for the Home Department,


said, he wished to draw the attention of the Home Secretary to the great danger caused by the unchecked introduction of unpurified explosive oils—paraffin, petroleum, and other kinds—into the country. The matter was a very serious one to the public, as shown by the number of accidents, many of them fatal, which occurred through the use of the oils. A few weeks since a terrible explosion of oil took place in the town of Elphin, in his own neighbourhood in Ireland, through which several persons were killed and many were injured. This week the wife of a postmaster in the adjoining County of Sligo was killed by the explosion of a paraffin lamp. The attention of the Home Office, he urged, ought to be given to the matter, with a view to much greater supervision being exercised than at present in respect to the importation and the use of the oils. At present a syndicate, as was well known, possessed control over all the oil supply obtained from Russia and America, as well as from Scotland, and little supervision was exercised over its importation. A Select Committee was appointed in July, 1894, to inquire into the question of the supply of petroleum from abroad. The Committee sat for a few weeks, and then submitted the evidence they had taken with their Report to the House, but nothing had been done in the matter. The Home Secretary, however, had been good enough that day to promise him, in reply to a question, that next Session a Committee would again be appointed to inquire into the subject. The vigilance formerly exercised by the people in Scotland, who were interested in the supply of oil, had ceased since a syndicate had assumed control of the business. Before the Committee of 1894, the manager of the Linlithgow Oil Company gave evidence, stating that the delegates at the Scotch conference had not discussed the question of the flash point of oils, and that there was an understanding that the question should not be raised. When the Americans agreed to raise the price, the Scotch agreed to drop the question of the flash-point, and "that was the quid," he frankly said, "which they gave for the Americans' quo." The price of oil having risen from 4d. a gallon in 1894 to l0d. a gallon, the people concerned in the Scotch trade took no further interest in the question of the flash point, and the purification of foreign oils. As a result, oils had been imported which were highly dangerous explosives. That was a matter which affected the safety of the humbler classes. The accident which occurred recently in Roscommon had caused the deaths of two people, and 14 others had been very seriously injured. The accident took place when a number of people had collected for the purpose of celebrating the result of the General Election in Ireland. He had received communications from correspondents, who pointed out that the oil sold to the people in country places for use in lamps was a very dangerous explosive. He submitted that, seeing there was no vigilance by the trade, and that oils were imported which were so highly explosive, it was the duty of the Inspectors of the Home Department to take some action in the matter; because, in many isolated districts of Ireland, the people had to depend for their domestic lighting on paraffin oil. There was hardly a farmer's house in which there was not at any time a quart or a gallon of paraffin oil. If pure oil was supplied to them, the catastrophes to which he had referred would not have happened. He would appeal, therefore, to the Home Secretary that some action should be taken by the Inspectors connected with the Department to examine into, and exercise some control over, the quality of the oils allowed to be sold to the people.


referred to the contemplated changes in the regulations with regard to the cab system of London, and asked the Home Secretary to take some means by which the exact nature of the changes might be communicated to those concerned.


said, the dealing with dangerous and inflammable oils was not one of the duties of the inspectors under the Explosives Act of 1875, and therefore the Home Office had no power to conduct any special inquiry into the subject. He told the hon. Gentleman, in answer to the question put to him earlier in the evening, that he was willing to consider favourably the question on the appointment of the Committee of last year. A predecessor of his in the Home Office endeavoured to deal with this question in 1890 or 1891, and proposed a Bill, but it was bitterly opposed by the trade and had to be abandoned. Since then other catastrophes had occurred and the Inspectors of Explosives in the Home Department and others had urged that it was most desirable to have some legislation in this direction. The subject was a difficult one, and one which the Home Office could not take up with a view to legislation without the sanction and help of a Select Committee. A Select Committee sat and took evidence in 1894, and then recommended it should be reappointed, but unfortunately, from one circumstance or another during the late Session that Committee did not resume its labours. He should be glad to see the Committee on that subject reappointed, so that some practical proposals might be laid before the House with a view to controlling these dangerous oils which had been the cause of many explosions not only in Ireland but in this country also. With regard to the question of cabs which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Islington, if he could discover any easy means of making known to those particularly interested the new regulations which resulted from the action of the Committee to which allusion had been made, he should be glad to do so.


hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consider this matter as to oil quite apart from the appointment of the Select Committee. The danger had assumed the proportions of a great grievance. In London alone, 47 deaths occurred last year in consequence of oil explosions, and the London papers had urged the insistence on a standard lamp for the consumption of oil. The hon. Member for Roscommon was perfectly correct in saying that in Ireland the introduction of oil had really become a very serious question. It was now largely used by both parties in connection with celebrations, and he wondered that a vigilant Government like the present had not put it under the Dynamite Act or the Arms Act, so grave had the matter become. There was much talk about the importation of foreign prison-made goods, but such importations, the value of which must be very small, could not affect anybody. This, however, was a question affecting the lives and the limbs of Her Majesty's subjects, and because a syndicate in America had put up the price of oils and would not take the trouble to have them properly purified, the Government would not interfere in the matter. If there was any subject on which the country was entitled to protection it was one of this kind. The Home Secretary ought certainly to have sufficient courage to insist that oil of a proper standard was intoduced into the country.

Resolution agreed to.

Resolution relating to Colonial Office and Privy Council Votes agreed to.