HC Deb 10 August 1904 vol 140 cc98-103

Order read, for Further Consideration of Sixth, subsequent, and postponed Resolutions.

Sixth and Seventh Resolutions postponed.

Eighth Resolution—

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution, 'That a sum, not exceeding £63,497, be granted for Expenditure in respect of the outstanding, Services in Class VII. of the Estimates for Civil Services.'"

MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)

said he wished to take the opportunity of making sonic protest against the course pursued by the Government in regard to Irish Estimates during the present session and at this time. This Irish Development Grant was a new Parliamentary departure, based on sound principles in so far as it secured to Ireland a proportionate sum to the Equivalent Grant given to England. Criticism had come from both sides of the House that the plan adopted by the right hon. Gentleman interfered with Parliamentary freedom of action. His contention was that the Estimates should show the amount of balances, and the manner in which they were to be applied from year to year. Now this Estimate was discussed on the Vote on Account on the 16th March, and the suggestion was then made as to the importance and propriety of devoting a large sum having application to the Development Fund to the subject of primary education in Ireland, inasmuch as it was that subject that was the source of the original grant. On that occasion this particular was referred to by his hon. friend the Member for Waterford, namely, what was necessary to enable the attendance to be reduced from sixty to fifty in primary schools in order that an assistant teacher might be allowed for schools with the reduced number of pupils. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary considered that subject, and made a suggestion favourable to it, and it was indicated that it might be favourably dealt with at a future time by a Supplementary Estimate, about which there could be no difficulty. Since that time, until the 4th of August, nothing was done in a Parliamentary sense. There might have been some pour parlers and negotiations for proceeding with this Estimate, but no Supplementary Estimate was produced; a Paper, however, called a revised Estimate was laid upon the Table on the 4th August, and that document altered both the amount of the proposed grant for the year and the character of the application. The original Estimate comprised an item of £75,000, which was only nominally under consideration, because by the Irish Land Act it was expressly provided that what was necessary was pledged out of the Development Grant. What were free from discussion were items in the original Estimate of £39,000. Out of this £39,000, £21,000 was dropped in the revised Estimate, an amount more than half the original Estimate. The new Estimate consisted of £63,900, of which £39,412 was absolutely new so far as the original Estimate was concerned. He should have thought that a Supplementary Estimate was necessary in order to properly introduce this subject in Supply at all. But instead of that this revised Estimate was produced, and then that morning, owing to the operation of the guillotine, the whole Vote was passed through without any opportunity of discussion, and to-night they had but a few moments allowed before the guillotine fell again, during which to say a few words upon this Vote. He protested against this method of dealing with any Parliamentary Vote and still more with reference to this particular Parliamentary Vote. What was the efficiency of the security insisted upon and stipulated for if the original Vote was to be so distorted and changed as this Vote had been? Nearly half of the original Vote was being withdrawn, and a sum equal to the whole amount of the original Vote was being introduced as late as the 4th August without any explanation from the Minister in charge and without any opportunity for discussion. He made this protest now and he would not waste words upon it. It would be a delusion and a share if such a course as this were to form a precedent at all. He protested against such a method of conducting business, and against the security Parliament supposed itself to be possessed of as to the appropriation of public money being absolutely thrown on one side by the course now pursued. All that would have been necessary to do this thing regularly was at some period after the 16th March to have reached some calculations and to have put those calculations upon the Paper so that the views of the country and of Parliament in reference to the old items, the items omitted and the new items inserted might be obtained.

He would say a few words in reference to the substance of the matter as it now stood. He had said what he desired to say so as to prevent this from being turned into a precedent, and to insist that they should have the right to full discussion, and have ample time for discussion, upon this Vote in a future session. What remained of the free part of the old Estimate consisted of the Marlborough Street Schools, upon which his hon. friend the Member for Waterford made a full statement on the 16th March, to which he did not wish to add anything and which might be summarised in this way—that whereas there was a time at which it was said that the building account for this institution and the three other institutions should cease and that they should be put upon a fair footing by arrangements made in 1900 and completed in 1902, that was now being departed from by a grant being made out of this fund to one of these four institutions—Marlborough Street Training College—while the others were placed in an unequal condition by being compelled to build at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church. No provision was made for these institutions, while £50,000 was given to the Marlborough Street College. He would add also, as his hon. friend said upon that occasion, that with reference to the Training College Vote it was an old claim, a claim made before the Development Grant was thought of—and it exemplified the danger they had feared from the beginning, that this might be used as machinery for taking out of purely Irish funds for Irish purposes sums that ought to borne by the Treasury and by the general taxation of the country.

Well, then, there was £1,000 for the Bann, which he supposed the right hon. Gentleman would expend. He thought they all understood that it did not serve its purpose. They saw what the purpose was, and how little it was served, but it went. Then there was the question of the Tralee and Dingle Railway, which appeared not to have been satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman's own mind, since in the interval he had dropped it. In the new Estimate he was delighted to see the Vote for the half-year for the assistant teachers in the national schools for the purposes to which he had already alluded. He only wished that a much larger proportion of this part of the Development Grant had been reserved for the purposes of primary education in Ireland. Considering the needs of primary education it was deeply to be regretted that any subject with which Parliament was free to deal should be given a preeminence over education. The provision of a dredger was open to the same observation, and it had also to be noted that needs of this description had hitherto been met by the Treasury out of general taxation, so that this was another instance of a purely local fund being applied to a purpose which had hitherto been provided for otherwise. It was not only the initial expenditure, but the permanent running charge of £3,000 a year which had to be taken into account. With regard to the railway grant, that was a dangerous kind of thing to meddle with, as the right hon. Gentleman knew, but he had made a better choice of railways in taking the Newry instead of the Tralee and Dingle line, and in that sense the present proposal was an improvement. He could only repeat that his main purpose in rising was to prevent in mother session what the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have been successful in doing this year, and against which he had entered his protest.


said that so far as the hon. Member's protest was against the form of this revised Estimate he agreed that it ought not to be a precedent, but he would remind the House that the Estimate presented at the beginning of the year was introduced under wholly exceptional circumstances which could not recur. The principle of this Development Grant was instituted only last year, at a time when attention was absorbed in the passing of the Land Bill. During the autumn he had to enter into very complicated financial arrangements with the Treasury in order to start the Land Bill and the Department, so that it was physically impossible to have an Estimate at all at the beginning of the year. He therefore adopted the device of introducing a skeleton Estimate, promising that it should be revised in the course of the session in accordance with the opinions of hon. Members from all parts of Ireland. He could not quite accept the suggestion that the whole of the sum was to be given to education. Upon the original Estimate in its exceptional form he put two items which ought not to be placed upon a normal Estimate, viz., a sum of money for the Tralee and Dingle Railway, stating at the time that no money could be spent this year unless a satisfactory arrangement was arrived at with the Great Southern and Western Railway, and a sum of money for the Bann drainage. The arrangement with the railway was not completed, and unless it was completed before December he would proceed on alternative lines. As to the Bann drainage, he must consider the very important report which had been presented on that subject before he could frame any scheme for dealing with the matter. He thought these considerations justified the omissions from the revised Estimate. As to the additions, the reduction from sixty to fifty for attendance was, he believed, the unanimous desire of all hon. Members for Ireland, and the same was true in a substantial degree with regard to the dredger. The provision of a dredger would enable greater attention to be given to the eastern portion of Ireland than hitherto, but it would, of course, go round the country. In the same way the selection of the Newry Railway was supported by a very large body of Members. The dredger and the railway represented capital charges which in no way prevented the money ultimately going to educational objects when some proper method of allocating the money had been devised. So much of this money as was not expended in the year passed out of the range of the burdens imposed in respect of the Land Bill; it went into the capital account, and could be distributed at leisure. It was evident, therefore, that it would be possible to devote a great portion of the money to education when the proper time came. He might point out that the hon. Member was unduly sanguine if he thought he could get all these moneys upon the ordinary Votes. These were purposes to which money was not devoted in England; therefore money peculiarly Irish had to be devoted to them, or the purposes could not be served at all.

And, it being Ten of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 15, proceeded to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Report of the Resolution then under consideration.

Question put, and agreed to.


then proceeded, in pursuance of Standing Order No. 15, to put forthwith the Questions, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the outstanding Resolutions reported in respect of each Class of the Civil Services Estimates, the Navy Estimates, the Army Estimates, and the Revenue Departments Estimates.