HC Deb 21 February 1906 vol 152 cc352-5

I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland if he can state on what conditions Sir Horace Plunkett continues to occupy the position of Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland; whether he has been reappointed by the Liberal Government since their return to office; and, if so, whether the appointment is permanent or temporary.


I beg also to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, whether he is aware, that Sir Horace Plunkett in 1899 was appointed, as a Member of this House, to the office of Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture, a Ministerial office held at the pleasure of the Crown, whose tenure depends on the existence of the Government of which the holder is a member, while the statute instituting the office provides that the person appointed thereto will not, if a Member of this House, vacate his seat, and will not be required to submit himself for re-election; and that from the time of his appointment to the dissolution of 1900 Sir Horace Plunkett continued to be a Member of this House and to answer Questions with reference to that Department from the Treasury Bench, and has, since the dissolution, several times unsuccessfully contested Parliamentary seats as a member of the late Government; why, under such circumstances, has Sir Horace Plunkett been permitted, alone of all the members of the late Government, to retain a political position and salary in a new administration; and whether there is any, and, if so, what precedent for the position in relation to the Government now held by this gentleman.


In answering this Question, I will at the same time deal with the Question (No. 38) of the hon. Member for South Donegal, to which my right hon. friend, the First Lord of the Treasury, has asked me to reply. The facts respecting Sir Horace Plunkett's original appointment are substantially as stated in the Questions. I can best ex-plain the present position by reading the following correspondence. On 20th December, 1905, I wrote to Sir Horace Plunkett:—Sir, I have had under consideration the arrangements necessary for conducting the duties of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction in Ireland. In that connection I understand that you, regarding your appointment of Vice-President of the Department as having originally had a political character, were desirous of retiring from it on the change of Ministry. On this point I have consulted the Prime Minister, and with his concurrence I conceive that it may be proper for you to treat the matter as being one which lies, for the immediate purpose, outside considerations of Party, and I therefore hope that you will be disposed, viewing the arrangement as one of a purely provisional character, to carry on the duties of the Vice-Presidentship for the present. It is the intention of Government to examine fully into the organisation and working of the Department, and its relation with the other branches of the Irish Administration; and I think that your continuance for the present in the office of Vice-President of the Department would materially facilitate such an examination and help the Government to turn its results to the best account. They retain, I need hardly say, entire freedom as to their future action.

Yours faithfully,


To the Right Hon.

Sir Horace C. Plunkett, K.C.V.O."

Sir Horace Plunkett replied as follows:—

105 Mount Street, London, W.

20th December, 1905.

Sir,—I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of to-day's date. Proceeding on the assumption that the post of which I was the first occupant was one which changed with the Government, I had made all arrangements to vacate it as soon as any successor was appointed. Under the peculiar circumstances mentioned in your letter I shall be glad to meet the wishes of His Majesty's Government by continuing provisionally to discharge the duties of this post until such time as they may see fit to transfer it. During this period I shall regard the office as being non-Party in its character. I may say that in the exercise of my administrative functions I have never allowed myself to be influenced by any political opinions or leanings I may have. But I shall, of course, during my continuance in office consider myself debarred from taking any part in political controversy.

I have the honour to be,


Your obedient Servant,



asked the First Lord of the Treasury whether there was any precedent for a gentleman occupying Sir Horace Plunkett's position—a gentleman who sat on the Treasury Bench as a Minister of the Crown—remaining in the same position under another Government, especially having regard to the fact that he had twice contested constituencies, and that in his election address in, one of them (Galway) he talked about all the patronage that was at his disposal.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the nature of the inquiry to be instituted?


Notice should be given of that question.


My view of the case is this—that the present state of things is purely temporary and purely exceptional. There is no intention, and there never has been any intention, of converting an office which is of one character into an office of another character with the same official serving in it. That has never been contemplated. But, as the whole matter was under review in order to place the department in many respects on a better footing, it was thought that there was no harm in continuing Sir Horace Plunkett in the position rather than make a new appointment which would have to be subject to any change found to be necessary.