§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (MR. G. W. BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
I beg to ask leave to introduce a Bill "for establishing a Department of Agriculture and other Industries and Technical Instruction in Ireland, and for other purposes connected therewith." It will be within the recollection of the House that I introduced a Bill two years ago for establishing a Department and Board of Agriculture and Industries in Ireland. The Bill was subsequently withdrawn, upon the announcement of our intention to deal in the first place with the larger question of Local Government. But the policy was not abandoned, only postponed. The present Bill covers, broadly speaking, the same ground, and something more. Its object is threefold: First, to concentrate in one Department, which shall be directly responsible to Parliament, through the Chief Secretary as its President, and a new Parliamentary officer as its Vice-President, the functions already performed by Government in connection with agriculture in Ireland, but at present distributed among five or six different Departments; secondly, to provide machinery and funds for carrying out in other parts of Ireland a work analogous to that carried out in the congested districts by the Congested Districts Board; thirdly (and in this respect the Bill breaks fresh ground), to provide machinery and funds for promoting technical instruction in relation to industries of an urban character in Ireland. In asking leave to introduce the measure, 56 it will hardly be necessary at this stage to offer any vindication of its general policy. I will content myself with a concise statement of its principal provisions, especially of those in which it differs from our former proposals. So far as concerns the transfer to the new Department of existing Governmental functions, the Bill closely resembles its predecessor. But to the powers and duties formerly proposed to be transferred are added those of the fishery inspectors, and also most of the functions exercised in Ireland by the Science and Art Department. As regards the machinery and funds for carrying out the work of aiding and developing agriculture and other industries on the lines of the Congested Districts Board, considerable changes have been introduced, while the corresponding provisions with respect to technical instruction are of course new. The executive and administrative authority for these purposes will be the Department, and there will be placed at its disposal, in addition to the moneys annually voted by Parliament for the discharge of its other functions, a total income of between £160,000 and £170,000 a year for aiding and encouraging agriculture and other industries and technical instruction. The chief sources from which this income will be derived are as follows:—In the first place, there will be transferred to the Department the annual sum of £78,000 now paid to the Commissioners of National Education out of the beer and spirit money. This is a contribution from the Imperial Exchequer, inasmuch as the loss to the Commissioners of Education will, of course, have to be made good out of voted money. In the second place, the Department is to be made the residuary legatee of the Irish Church Fund. The amount which will remain available from this source, after the other claims on the fund have been met, cannot be calculated with absolute certainty or exactness; but from the year 1901 I estimate it at an annual sum of £70,000, or thereabouts, for many years to come, and it is quite possible that the fund may be able to afford this sum in perpetuity. To the £78,000 from the beer and spirit money, and the £70,000 from the Church Fund, there is further added £12,000 a year, representing the savings effected under the Judicature Act of 1897, and £6,000 a year out of voted money, most of which latter sum represents the present cost to the State of the 57 Albert Agricultural Department at Glasnevin and the Munster Dairy School and Agricultural Institute. This makes in all an income of £166,000 a year. There will also be available for the purposes of the Department a capital sum made up chiefly from the residue of moneys paid to the Local Taxation Account, under the Estate Duty Act of 1896, the amount of which cannot be determined at present, although I should hope it would not be less than £100,000. The executive and administrative authority in connection with the application of these moneys is, as I have said, vested in the Department. The Department may, however, use any public body, as defined in the Bill (and the definition is a wide one) as its instrument or agent for this purpose. Moreover, it is not to be inferred that it will have a free hand in the spending of the money. In the first place, a definite sum of £55,000, or about one-third of the whole, is allocated to technical instruction of an urban character, and the portion of this allotted to county boroughs will be administered by the local authorities themselves, snbject to the approval of the Department; £10,000 a year is allocated to purposes connected with the sea fisheries, nnd the remainder to agriculture and other industries of a rural character. Definite provision is also made in the Bill for capital expenditure on the Royal Veterinary College and the Munster Dairy School. In the second place, the Department is to be assisted in the application of the funds at its disposal, and its powers considerably limited, by having associated with it for this purpose an Agricultural Board and a Board of Technical Instruction. Only a minority of the members of these boards will be nominated by Government. The majority will be appointed, in the case of the Agricultural Board, by a body called in the Bill a Council of Agriculture, which itself will consist, as to two-thirds of its members, of representatives chosen by the different county councils, and in the case of the Board of Technical Instruction of representatives of the councils of county boroughs and of various public bodies. As the names imply, the two boards are respectively concerned with the two branches into which the work of the Department is divided, namely, agriculture and technical instruction in towns. Their functions are primarily of an advisory character, but they will occupy a position 58 of much influence and power, inasmuch as the concurrence of one or other of them is required in almost all cases for any expenditure by the Department of the money placed at its disposal. Rating powers to a limited amount are given to county councils and urban district councils, and as a general rule no money is to be spent by the Department on any local object without some contribution from local sources. No attempt is made in the Bill to interfere with the system of national elementary education in Ireland, or with that of intermediate education; but in order to secure greater unity of action between the different educational authorities in Ireland, it is proposed that the Vice-President of the Department should be an ex officio member of the Board of National Education and of the Intermediate Education Board, and that each of these bodies should have a representative on the Board of Technical Instruction. I think it will be found that this short statement comprises the principal provisions of the measure, which I now commend to the favourable judgment of the House. Any further explanation or defence of those provisions I must leave to a future stage. I beg leave to move the First Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
said the introduction of an important Bill like this at the commencement of public business, under the ten minutes rule was a glaring instance of the abuse of that rule by Ministers. On the 12th April, 1897, a Bill on a similar subject was introduced by the right honourable Gentleman, but he did not then take refuge under the ten minutes rule. He brought it in in the usual manner for Bills of importance, when Members are afforded an opportunity of seeking information and of discussing details. It would appear that Ministers, by the operation of the ten minutes rule, were determined gradually to abolish one stage of all their measures, or that in the mind of the right honourable Gentleman this subject had receded in importance since 1897. It was perfectly idle under the ten minutes rule for anyone to attempt to follow the Chief Secretary in his gallop through a complicated measure which dealt with an extremely important subject. In regard to finance, he had followed very closely what the right honourable Gentleman had said, and he regretted to say that nothing could 59 be possibly more shabby and unsatisfactory than the financial proposals of the Bill. Practically speaking, the Government proposed to shuffle off all their financial responsibily as far as the Treasury was concerned. Whereas, in the Bill of 1897, they proposed the sum of £150,000 a year, which was declared to be entirely insufficient by all the Irish Members, and even by Lord Londonderry, when speaking in the North of Ireland in October or November last, they now proposed to give only the sum of £70,000 from the Treasury towards the whole scheme with which the Bill dealt. There might be some misconception in regard to this £70,000, which was to be almost all allotted to technical instruction, but under the Bill of 1897 technical instruction was left out of it altogether, and the right honourable Gentleman at the end of 1897 said it was the intention of the Government to introduce another Bill dealing with technical education, and allotting further funds for the purpose. Practically, then, instead of £150,000, which was allotted under the Bill of 1897, they were to be put off with £20,000 from the Imperial Treasury; that was a proposal which certainly would not be received with enthusiasm in Ireland. He protested against making the new body the residuary legatee of the Irish Church Fund, for it was always believed in Ireland that the Department would be financed from the Imperial Exchequer.
§ MR. DILLON
said that during the discussion of 1897, here and in Ireland, all sections of the Irish people were under the impression that the Imperial Government were going to accept the financial responsibility for the Department. Now the expense of the Department was to be met by seizing the last remnant of the much-plundered Irish Fund, which was to be mopped up and handed over to the new Board to save the Imperial Exchequer from a burden which unquestionably it should have paid. If the Government persisted in their mean policy of financing this purely Imperial body out of Irish funds, it would be impossible for them to adhere to the constitution which they proposed to give to this Board. The chief power and voice in the management 60 of the new Department and the expenditure of money, would be given to Government nominees, and not to the representatives of the Irish people. If the whole of the money had been granted from the Imperial Exchequer, there might have been a strong argument for giving the Government a large voice in the expenditure of the money, but if the Government were to shuffle off their financial obligations and throw them on the plundered Irish Fund it would be impossible to resist the claim that the management of the expenditure should be entrusted to the people who represent Ireland. The Government, he knew, proposed to introduce some slight improvement in the constitution of the Board, making it somewhat more democratic than in the previous Bill. He was not aware that the new Board was to have any substantial power. One of the great faults found with the previous Bill was that while a Board was set up as well as the Department, the Board was to have no power, and the Department all the power. He did not see that this Bill made any improvement on the old one, and if they wanted machinery to work smoothly there ought to be only one head.
§ MR. W. REDMOND (Clare, E.)
asked, on a point of order, whether it was in accordance with practice and usage of Parliament for a Minister to introduce an important Bill like this under the ten minutes rule.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
There is no order of the House against it. It is in the option of a Minister to do it. I do not say there might not be cases in which I might consider it my duty to interpose, but I do not take that responsibility now.