HC Deb 23 May 1898 vol 58 cc512-9

Amendment proposed— Page 36, line 17, after 'juries,' insert— 'Provided that a county council shall not be authorised to accept any tender for the execution of a public work other than the lowest tender, as provided by section 23 of the Grand Jury (Irland) Act, 1836. Provided that any such order in council may provide that a tender and proposal for the execution of a public work shall be accompanied with such deposit of money as may be prescribed by the Order in Council to ensure that the tender is made in good faith, and for the forfeiture of such deposit in case the same should not have been made in good faith.'"—(Mr. Maurice Healy.)


This clause enables the Lord Lieutenant to regulate the procedure of the district council in connection with the business transferred to them by this Act by the grand jury. One of the great changes which the Grand Jury Act of 1836 made was that, in the first place, it provided that the grand jury should not select the person who was to execute the work, but that they should give it out to contract, and that when they had given it out to contract they should accept the lowest tender, and the proper carrying out of that tender was properly secured. Everybody who knows the working of the grand jury system knows that that change of late has worked properly, and it is well known that when there was a different procedure there was a great deal of jobbery. Now, Sir, the Government proceed by this clause to abandon the principle that the lowest tender shall be accepted, and it is that change in the existing law that I challenge by this. Amendment. On a previous occasion somebody said that the system did not produce good results. Now, I do not deny that there are defects in the existing system, but I think these defects can be improved. I think that, while the existing procedure under the grand jury makes jobbery in the matter of work very largely impossible, there is a great deal of it goes on in road contracts. In fact, road contracts are a synonym in Ireland for everything that is tricky. To such an extent is this believed that a man tried for stealing sheep set up the extraordinary defence that they belonged to a road contractor. No doubt the present system has led to all sorts of devices amongst the contractors for getting the better of one another and the county, and I quite approve of any means for preventing such things. One of the commonest of them is to send in duplicate tenders. They then watch the procedure, and if they see only their own tenders they don't answer. Now, if a large sum of money had to accompany each contract that would not happen, because the money would be a great consideration to the contractor. Now, the course which the right honourable Gentleman has taken to cure the evils of the present system appears to me to be one which is calculated to lead to far greater evils. He proposes that it should be in the power of the county council not to accept the lowest tender, but to discriminate amongst the contractors and to say, "Here is the lowest tenderer, but he is not solvent, and so we will select so and so, or another tender, and we will give him the contract, although he has sent in n tender for a higher amount." Now, there is no doubt that the right honourable Gentleman had in his mini the procedure of boards of guardians, which are not bound to accept the lowest tender. But that is quite a different thing, because in the case of boards of guardians the contracts are for goods. In the case of medicine nothing is more common than for a contractor to send in a contract for medicine at a low figure, and for a contract at a high figure to be accented, because the highest contract might turn out to be the cheapest in the end. But no difficulties of that kind exist in the case of the contracts which will go before county councils. Take the case of a road contract. Anyone can tell at a glance which is the lowest tender, and whether the suggested sureties are good and whether the contractor is able to carry out the work or not. I admit that there are cases where at the lowest tender it would be impossible for the contractor to properly do the work, but that is only because there is no effectual supervision. How can you get effectual supervision when you pay a surveyor £80 a year to look after 800 miles of road, and expect him to keep a horse and trap? This Amendment is, in my opinion, a most important one, because it affects the whole of the county administration in Ireland. We are all anxious that this Bill should pass, but that anxiety should not, and does not, prevent us from bringing this matter forward.


I cordially support the Amendment of the honourable Member for Cork. If county councils are to be at liberty to select any contract at will, it will certainly militate against competition, and keep back that free and healthy competition which is necessary to enable the work to be done at a reasonable figure.


I am in favour of this Amendment. I know in various parts of Ireland it is the custom for a contractor to put in contracts in his own name and in the name of another man. If no competitor appears on the scene when the number of his first tender is called he adroitly skips out of the court-house; then when his second tender is called and no competitor has appeared he skips in again and secures the contract.

SIR J. W. MACLURE (Lancashire, Stretford)

I am very much surprised to hear what the honourable Member for Cork says about contracts. My experience with regard to both large and small contracts is that you cannot always depend upon the lowest price being the best contract.


My opinion is that the lowest tender is often the dearest, especially in the ease of roads, where it sometimes happens that tenders are accepted at rates at which it is impossible to keep the roads in proper condition. Is there anything in this Bill to prevent the county council from doing this work themselves?




Then it ought to be removed. The county council of London and the county councils of Scotland can do this work themselves, and why should not we in Ireland if we wish it? The system of contracts is all wrong. If it pays a contractor to go in and do this work and make a large profit out of it, why should not it be done by the county councils themselves? The county councils ought to be the employers in these contracts, and not give the work out.


I cannot myself exactly see what difference exists between a contract for breaking stones and a contract for supplying bricks. Nobody denies that the abuses mentioned by the honourable Member exist, and the question is, how are these abuses to be prevented, excepting by some enactment which will penalise those persons guilty of them. A man who is desirous of getting a contract does not depend upon his own tender. He gets two or three friends to tender as well as himself, and then he either assiduously remains in court or skips out of it as it suits him. If the Amendment of the honourable Member for Cork is not accepted, the same sort of thing will continue to exist. I shall certainly support the honourable Member for Cork if he goes to a Division.


A corporation may construct works, and so may sanitary authorities and boards of guardians, hence they are not bound to take the lowest tender, but the grand jury are bound to accept the lowest tender, but every precaution that can be taken is taken to see that the offer shall be a bonâ fide one, and that proper security shall be given. Everybody who has had any experience of the way in which these things are done in Ireland, knows that the compulsory acceptance of the lowest tender has by no means given general satisfaction.

Question put.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment proposed— Page 36, line 17, after 'juries,' insert— '(3) A county council may with respect to any public work, the expenses of which are chargeable partly or wholly to the administrative county, or upon the recommendation of the council of the district with respect to any public work, the expenses of which are chargeable wholly to a county district, execute such work without the intervention of a contractor, and the Act of the twentieth and twenty-first years of the reign of Queen Victoria, chapter fifteen, shall in such case apply with the necessary modifications.'"—(Mr. Shee.)

MR. SHEE (Waterford, W.)

said that the Amendment would give the Irish county councils the same power as the English ones possessed. It was, he said, a very important Amendment so far as the work of the Irish county councils was concerned. He had expert testimony in favour of his Amendment, and he proceeded to read to the House the evidence of two county surveyors who favoured his contention, and which testimony was practically endorsed by all the county surveyors of Ireland.


This is a matter in which the opinions of county surveyors should certainly weigh on the House. But as a matter of general principle, are we prepared to allow the county councils to have control of their own work? I think that the proposal to allow the road work to be put out to contract meets with the general approval of Ireland.


I am very much obliged to the right honourable Gentleman, and I hope the is not going to accept this Amendment. I am sure that, while the right honourable Gentleman is doing his best, he is not able to please everybody. If the county councils take over the whole of the roads, that would cause a great deal of increased cost. If the county councils only make the surveyors do their duty, the roads will be kept in good repair. Of course, if after a while the county councils think that they can mend the roads better than by contract by all means let them do it.


No one can deny the zeal with which the honourable Member has advocated this proposal, but in spite of that zeal, I must confess that the pursuit of economy in some cases leads to waste of money. For instance, with regard to the county surveyor, I am in favour of high salaries, because if you want skilled work done properly, you must be prepared to pay for it. I think that the honourable Member by this Amendment has raised a very important question, and I confess that, for my part, I cannot see why the county councils should not have the option. They will have quite enough to do without being called upon to do their own work and employ their own labour. After all, all that the Amendment would do would be to allow any county council who felt inclined to try the experiment to try the two systems; and the ratepayers, who were the best judges, will soon see the result. If this Amendment were passed the way it would work would be this, that certain county councils would take a certain portion of the roads and employ labour, and we can be perfectly certain that if it increased the burdens of the ratepayers it would soon be put a stop to. I think it would be a reasonable thing for the experiment to be tried, and I am therefore in favour of the Amendment.


The experiment has been tried, and what has been the result? Why, that the ratepayers desire to go back to the old system, because the contractor has not given satisfaction, and the roads have fallen into a state of disrepair, and they want the old system so as to got the roads into proper order and repair.


I do think there is something to be said for permitting county councils, in the case of main roads, to take the roads into their own hands and maintain them. May I ask the Government whether it was by a deliberate intention that this contract

system is applied to the county boroughs only? Because the corporations have been maintaining their roads for I do not know how many years, time out of mind. It seems to me to be a very extreme measure that, without notice, without any inquiry, without consultation with any authorities, this system should be forced upon these county boroughs. Thirty or forty years ago the Cork Corporation had transferred to them the power of maintaining their roads, and they have ever since maintained them, and now, in the year 1898, they are compelled to adopt, for the first time, this contract system, whilst other authorities in Ireland are permitted to do as they please in the matter. I cannot believe that the Government have made this proposal with a full consideration of all its bearings, and I am really at a loss to understand what the draftsman had in his head when he drew it up.


It was done in order to put the county boroughs in the same position as the ordinary boroughs.


This would be better for the ratepayers, because they would have greater facilities than they now have in various directions. I hope the right honourable Gentleman will re-establish the power of county boards to execute their own works if they think it necessary.

Question put— That those words be there inserted.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 28; Noes 111.—(Division List No. 119.)

Billson, Alfred Hayne, Rt. Hon. Chas. Seale- Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)
Caldwell, James Healy, Maurice (Cork) O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)
Clancy, John Joseph Healy, T. M. (Louth, N.) O'Brien. P. J. (Tipperary)
Colville, John Jordan, Jeremiah Pearson, Sir Weetman D.
Crean, Eugene Kilbride, Denis Pickersgill, Edward Hare
Dillon, John Macaleese, Daniel Power, Patrick Joseph
Donelan, Captain A. MacNeill, John G. Swift Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)
Doogan, P. C. M'Hugh, Patrick A. (Leitrim) Tanner, Charles Kearns
Hammond, John (Carlow) Mandeville, J. Francis TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Hayden, John Patrick Molloy, Bernard Charles Mr. Shee and Mr. Field.
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Folkestone, Viscount Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)
Arnold, Alfred Galloway, William Johnson Newdigate, Francis Alex.
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Gedge, Sydney Nicol, Donald Ninian
Baden-Powell, Sir G. Smyth Goldsworthy, Major-General O'Neill, Hon. Robert T.
Bagot, Capt. J. FitzRoy Goschen, George J. (Sussex) Phillpotts, Captain Arthur
Balfour, Rt.Hn. G. W. (Leeds) Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Barry, RtHnAHSmith-(Hunts) Greene, W. Raymond- (Cambs) Plunkett, Rt. Hon. H. C.
Barton, Dunbar Plunket Greville, Captain Purvis, Robert
Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M.H. (Brist'l) Hanbury, Rt. Hon. R. W. Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)
Blundell, Colonel Henry Hardy, Laurence Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir M. W.
Brassey, Albert Heath, James Robertson, Herb. (Hackney)
Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord A. (Down) Round, James
Brookfield, A. Montagu Holland, Hon. Lionel R. Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Bullard, Sir Harry Hornby, William Henry Saunderson, Col. Edw. Jas.
Cavendish, R. F. (Lancs, N.) Hutchinson, Capt. G. W.Grice- Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)
Cecil, Lord Hugh Johnston, William (Belfast) Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)
Chaloner, Capt. R. G. W. Kenyon, James Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)
Chamberlain, Rt.Hn.J. (Birm.) Kenyon-Slaney, Col. Wm. Smith, J. Parker (Lanarksh.)
Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r) Lafone, Alfred Stanley, Lord (Lancs)
Charrington, Spencer Lawrence, Sir E. (Cornwall) Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley
Chelsea, Viscount Lawson, J. Grant (Yorks) Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Cochrane, Hon. T. H. A. E. Lea, Sir T. (Londonderry) Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie Thornton, Percy M.
Colomb, Sir John Charles R. Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R. Tollemache, Henry James
Compton, Lord Alwyne Loder, Gerald Walter E. Tomlinson. W. E. Murray
Cooke, C. W. R. (Hereford) Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverp'l) Valentia, Viscount
Corbett, A. C. (Glasgow) Loyd, Archie Kirkman Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent)
Cubitt, Hon. Henry Macartney, W. G. Ellison Webster, Sir R. E. (I. of W.)
Curzon, Viscount (Bucks) Maclure, Sir John William Whiteley, H. (Ashton-und.-L.)
Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh McArthur, Chas. (Liverpool) Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Daly, James McCalmont, Col. J.(Ant'm, E.) Willox, Sir John Archibald
Dane, Richard M. Milbank, Powlett Charles J. Wilson, J. W. (Wore, N.)
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Milward, Colonel Victor Wodehouse, E. R. (Bath)
Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Monckton, Edward Philip Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E. Moon, Edward Robert Pacy Young, Com. (Berks, E.)
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne More, Robert Jasper TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Fisher, William Hayes Morrell, George Herbert Sir William Walrond and
FitzGerald, Sir R. Penrose- Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute) Mr. Anstruther.

Committee report Progress; to sit again this day.

House resumed.