§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £21,773, be granted to His 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, 1905, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland."
§ SIR THOMAS ESMONDE (Wexford, N.)
said it was six years since the Committee had an opportunity of discussing this particular Vote. The Board of Works was one of the most important institutions in Ireland and at the same time one of the quaintest of administrative curiosities. The Chief Secretary, who was supposed to direct its policy, had no control whatever over the Board—the source from which its inspiration was derived being the Treasury, a Department upon which little pressure could be exercised, and consequently Irish representatives had not been able to get much satisfaction with regard to the Board. It was really a most extraordinary institution. Its ramifications extended in almost every direction; it had its finger in practically every Irish pie. Nobody had a good word to say for it. The Board of Works was not peculiar among Irish Departments in that respect, but the unanimity with which it was denounced was surprising even for Ireland. The only matter with regard to which any satisfaction was felt was its action in the matter of ancient monuments. He agreed that the Board of Works 1018 might do very much better, but in respect of the care of ancient monuments its work at any rata was on the whole satisfactory. The public sentiment in Ireland on this question had greatly improved of late, and a general feeling prevailed that the Government should see that Irish antiquities were preserved as well as respected. Through the operation of the Land Act it was expected that a large number of ancient monuments would in course of time come under the care of the Board of Works. For example, there was the Hill of Tara, and he was anxious to know whether Tara, or any portion of it, had come under the care of the Board, and what had been done with it. He suggested that a Return should be presented to Parliament annually giving the number of ancient monuments inspected and acquired by the Board under the Land Act and the expense of keeping them in a proper state of preservation.
He wished now to allude to a matter in connection with the upkeep of Phoenix Park, which was in charge of the Board of Works. There was a storm in Ireland last year, and a number of elms originally planted by Lord Chesterfiel were blown down. He did not know whether the remains of those elms had been removed yet. [An HON. MEMBER: No; they are still there.] His hon. friend informed him they were still there. He thought it was time that the remains of those trees were removed and other trees planted in their place. He also wished to ask a Question in regard to the administration of the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal was one of the most important of their waterways in Ireland, and 1019 one of the most valuable. For a number of years this method of transit had been very much neglected, but, thanks to the late Mr. McCann, that canal now promised to be of the greatest possible value in the conveyance of farm produce. He understood that the Board of Works had got at loggerheads with the Canal Company upon the question of tolls. The Grand Canal Company published a statement upon the question and the Board of Works published an answer. There had been a further answer from the Canal Company, who seemed to have come out best. It was of the greatest importance that this canal should be used, to its utmost capacity for the benefit of the farmers and producers in that part of the country, and he urged the Chief Secretary to investigate this dispute, and see if something could not be done to adjust matters so that the canal could be used in the future to its utmost capacity.
The Board of Works was also concerned with the contracts for supplies to the public departments in Ireland. This was a question which had hitherto escaped notice. There had been rather numerous complaints about the unsatisfactory system under which contracts for supplies in the Irish public departments were advertised in local newspapers. He thought that this matter required investigation, and he suggested that the Chief Secretary should inquire into the whole question of these contracts. The contracts for supplies to these institutions were controlled by the Board of Works, and he understood there was a regulation that advertisements for contracts should be inserted in newspapers circulating in the district. Enniscorthy was a town in county Wexford, but that apparently was news to the Board of Works, because the contracts were advertised for in interesting little newspapers published in county Waterford, which did not circulate in Wexford. He would suggest that when the Board of Works were advertising for contracts in relation to Wexford the advertisements should be inserted in newspapers circulating in that county. It was not as if the county had not newspapers of its own, for it had half a dozen which were well written and widely read by the people in the county.
1020 In regard to loans, the Board of Works were concerned with the advances made for various public purposes in Ireland. The Committee would be pleased to know that they did excellent business for the Treasury in that connection. The money advanced up to the present amounted to something like £45,000,000 and the interest charged varied from 4 to 6 per cent. It was only lately that the rate had been reduced to 4 per cent. The Board had been charging on the major portion of the loans 5 per cent. That was a very good investment for the Treasury. He thought the time had come when the rate of interest on these loans should be reconsidered, there being a general complaint that it was too high. There was at present under discussion a Labourers Bill. If the difficulty in regard to the labourers was to be solved, advances would have to be made to boards of guardians at a reasonable rate, and he would suggest to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that consideration should be given to the question whether money could not be advanced at a more reasonable rate of interest than 5 or 6 per cent. It was a matter of universal complaint that great delays took place in dealing with applications from people who wished to borrow money, whether for hay barns, outhouses, or labourers' cottages, and he would suggest that some steps should be taken to expedite the work of the Board in that connection. The same remark applied to the important question of loans for the housing of the working classes in towns. The rate of interest on loans for that purpose was too high. Another difficulty which was experienced by urban authorities carrying out schemes under the Public Health Act arose from their borrowing powers being limited to double the net amount of the valuation of the sanitary district. He would illustrate this by a concrete case. In his own county there was a progressive urban council, who were anxious to provide proper housing fcr artisans. They had already completed an extensive scheme of artisans' dwellings, and they wanted to go on with another. But if they went on with it their financial resources would be greatly crippled. The net annual value of Enniscorthy was £7,500, and under the rule of the Board 1021 of Works their borrowing powers amounted to £15,000. He suggested that this matter should be inquired into, and that the Board of Works should consider whether it would not be possible to widen the borrowing powers of the local authorities in respect of the erection of houses for the labourers and the working classes. It would be perfectly safe to allow borrowing powers up to the extent of five or six times the annual value of these houses. Further, he did not understand why the Board of Works did not allow the urban authorities to raise money on the security of the labourers' and artisans' dwelling already erected. This was a most pressing question indeed in some parts of Ireland; and what he complained of was that they were not given even treatment all round.
He would like to ask what were the relations between the Board of Works, the Board of Agriculture, and the Local Government Board? These seemed to be rather hazy and obscure. Not so very many years ago the harbour authorities on the south-east coast of Ireland were able to obtain from the Board of Works one-third of the cost of harbour improvements, and under these conditions the harbour of Ardmore had been improved, to the great satisfaction of the local fishermen and others. But, for some reason or other, the Board of Works had declared lately that no more money was to be spent for that purpose. He would like to ask the Financial Secretary why it was that these sums of money, to which they were entitled, were no longer available. There was no reason why the fishermen on the southeastern coast should not be placed on an equality with the fishermen in other parts of Ireland. The fishery in the South-east of Ireland should be encouraged by any reasonable Government. That and boatbuilding were the oldest industries in Ireland, and had been fostered by the Irish Parliament for 300 years. All the harbours on the south-east coast were connected with the Board of Works. In the case of Wicklow, another loan had to raised to repair the work of the engineer of the Board of Works. He, himself, crumbled some of the cement with which the pier was constructed 1022 with a walking stick. Then, again, at Greystones the harbour works collapsed; but the ratepayers had to pay the loan. The Arklow Harbour was a monumental case of the incapacity of the Board of Works. The pier was built in the wrong place by the Board of Works against local advice, with the result that the harbour silted up. Arklow was the centre of the fishing industry in Ireland; and had the best appointed fishing fleet of any port. As a result of the action of the Board of Works, however, in connection with the harbour, the fishing industry at Arklow was diminishing. There was a good claim for compensation in the case of Arklow and of other harbours. For instance, Arklow wanted a dredger as a result of the mistakes of the Board of Works; and after a tremendous delay the dredger was sent down at a cost of £20 or £30 a week. Then the dredger stopped working; and an engineer was sent down. He sent it away for a change of air to Wicklow, where it was found that it had a rock in its inside. All the time, however, the people of Arklow were paying.
§ SIR THOMAS ESMONDE
said that the hon. Gentleman should not incite them to unconstitutional practices. The Board of Works were making a lot of money out of the Irish taxpayers; and the least they could do was to provide a dredger which would work. The fishing industry had practically doubled in a generation; and it was perfectly monstrous that it should be neglected as it was. Opportunity should be given to the harbours on the south-east coast as was given elsewhere. He begged to move the reduction of the Vote by £100.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,; "That Item A (Salaries) be reduced by £100."— (Sir Thomas Esmonde.)
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY (Mr. VICTOR CAVENDISH, Derbyshire, W.)
said that for the short period that he had had the privilege and responsibility of representing the Board of Works he had found the officials of that Department keen 1023 and anxious to do their best. They had given him every possible assistance, and any criticisms should be directed not against them but against their representative in that House. He had carefully looked into the matter of the Arklow Harbour. Its condition was, no doubt, one of considerable difficulty, and was a subject requiring the most careful expert consideration. A dredger had been sent to this harbour and a great deal of work had been done by it, and the Harbour Commissioners had no reason to complain of the charges made for the use of it. These charges wee confined to the days on which the dredger was actually working. On the broad question he might say that, when the Chief Secretary was of opinion that the Board of Works ought to advance money, they would be only too glad to do what they possibly could to carry out his wishes. They were prepared to help and support the right hon. Gentleman as far as they could in conformity with what they considered was their proper duty to the Exchequer. With regard to the question of loans, he thought the interest had been rather overstated and that the charge for sinking fund had been included. They were bound by exactly the same terms for Public Wo; ks Loans in Ireland as in England, with this possible advantage in the case of Ireland, that there was a large number of Acts under which loans were advanced in Ireland in which the rate of interest had been fixed, and that rate, he thought, was an extremely fair one. There was no more delay in advancing the loans than was compatible with the fulfilment of the various statutory obligations. It had been made a matter of complaint, with regard to some contracts, that the advertisements had only appeared in two newspapers in Waterford and not in any London newspaper. He understood that those newspapers were the best for the purpose, but in future they considered it might be advisable not to advertise by this means at all, but to send out the notices to the contractors and people interested.
§ MK. VICTOR CAVENDISH
And then he hoped they would not be accused 1024 of favouritism towards any particular papers. With reference to the question of tolls on the Grand Canal, he was aware there had been some complaint, but it would, he thought, be found that the method of levying tolls which was adopted was the fairest, because they only charged sufficient to meet the necessary expenditure. He pointed out that a sum of a little over £3,000 had been placed in the Estimates for the replanting of trees in Phœnix Park. With regard to the fallen timber, it was being removed as rapidly as possible, and he hoped that before long the work would be completed. With reference to the Hill of Tara, by the Act of Parliament the Board of Works had power only to schedule the monument; the consent of both occupier and owner was required before it could be vested, and the Board of Works had very little power until the monument was vested. The Board were, however, exercising all the powers they had under the Act of Parliament, and he believed he could almost promise that no excavations would be made in the future.
§ SIR THOMAS ESMONDE
said that the hon. Member, although he had not given much satisfaction on the general question, had at any rate supplied some most useful information. He had stated that the Treasury would be prepared to meet the Chief Secretary in connection with proposals for the benefit of the fishing population. The bogey of the Treasury being thus laid, the Chief Secretary would have free scope for his benevolent intentions for the protection of the fisheries on the coasts, and the Committee would be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what he intended to do.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
said that one of the most pressing cases for the provision of a proper harbour was that of the town of Bangor. It might be a local matter in itself, but it afforded an example of the treatment which was making the people of Ulster feel that the Government were always turning a deaf ear to their claims in order to listen to the demands of the Nationalists in other parts of Ireland. The question of the provision of a harbour at Bangor was brought before the Board of Works two 1025 years ago, and at the suggestion of that Department plans and specifications were prepared. After keeping those plans for four months, the Board of Trade told the applicants to turn to the Irish Government for help. Eventually an inspection was held, the justice of the claim admitted, and an offer of £2,500 only out the £10,000 required made. He thought that if the matter had concerned any district other than the Loyalist part of Ireland the claim would not have been so niggardly treated. He appealed to the Government not to continue this method of treatment, but to deal with the loyal Ulster constituencies in as generous a manner as they dealt with Nationalist constituencies in other parts of Ireland.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he noted with satisfaction the prospect held out by the Financial Secretary that if he went to the Treasury for a loan he would not find the coffers empty. There was no justification for the allegation of the hon. Member for North Down that the Treasury had lent money on easier terms to Nationalist districts than to the constituencies in Ulster. There was no time to go into the matter on the present occasion, but on another opportunity he would be able to show that the hon. Member was entirely in error.
§ MR. WYNDHAM
said he did not understand the Financial Secretary to say that the Treasury would be able to give a free grant of money which would be necessary for another Marine Works Bill. The Marine Works Act authorised free grants, but they were attached by statute to the scheduled districts.
§ SIR THOMAS ESMONDE
suggested that another Marine Works Bill should be introduced not applicable to the scheduled districts.