HC Deb 02 May 1907 vol 173 cc1113-38

2. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £24,568, 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, 1908, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland."

* MR. DELANY (Queen's County, Ossory)

said he rose to move the reduc- tion of the Vote by,£100 in order to call attention to the conduct of the Board of Works in regard to several matters. First of all, he had to complain of the constitution of the board secondly, of its inefficiency; and, thirdly, of the way in which it dealt with its employees. The board consisted of three members, the chairman receiving a salary of £1,500 a year, and the two Commissioners £1,200 each, while the secretary also received a substantial salary, lie did not know that these gentlemen had any special qualifications for the posts they held, and he hoped the Government would inform them what their qualifications were. He did not know of any qualifications being possessed by the chairman except that he happened to be the brother of the, Treasury Remembrancer, while another member of the board was an importation from this country who had been "dumped down" in Dublin, and no doubt left his country for his country's good. The qualification of one of the Commissioners was that he happened to be private secretary to the right hon. Member for Dover when He was Chief Secretary for Ireland. Of course he knew it was the privilege of private secretaries of Ministers to be placed in fat positions in Ireland, but he objected to it. The Board of Works was a purely nominated body, non-Irish in its sympathies, wholly irresponsible, and beyond the control of the Irish Government. There was positively no body in Ireland that could call the Board of Works to account. The Chief Secretary himself had no control over it, nor had any other Irish authority, and the board was represented in the House by a junior member of the Government, who declined to answer Questions on this or any other subject. The Estimates provided for this extraordinary board a sum of £40,568, an increase of £630 over last year. Duties had been entrusted to this body of the most important and far-reaching character, including the maintenance and erection of piers and harbours, Government buildings, and other public works, the care of public parks, arterial drainage, the administration of the Labourers Acts, and the preservation of ancient monuments. The fishing industry was of far-reaching importance to Ireland, but it was languishing, and those engaged in it were half starved and carried their lives in their hands while getting in and out of harbour. Those who visited Clew Bay would see that Mulranny Pier could be approached neither from the land nor from the sea by the fishermen; and the same sort of thing might be seen all round the coast of Ireland, north, south, east, and west. The harbours and piers were standing monuments of the blundering incapacity of the Board of Works. He had mentioned Mulranny Pier, but they had only to go to Arklow, Wicklow, and Greystones, and all round the coast, to see the evidence of failure on the part of the Board of Works. Arklow and the harbours he had mentioned were silting up. No vessel of any size could enter or leave them except at certain states of the tide, and then only with great risk. The piers were crumbling into the sea; and all this was through the pig-headed attitude of the Board of Works. Money had been laid out on those harbours, but without reference to local opinion. It was this disregard of local opinion in reference to local wants which made the people of Ireland despair. The Department consulted experts, made measurements, and obtained estimates and plans, but it omitted to do the one thing essential, and that was to consult the local fishermen, who were acquainted with every turn of the tide, and knew where they wanted protection and where a pier ought to be erected. Then with regard to the question of arterial drainage. There had been a report of the Commission on Arterial Drainage; it had been signed unanimously by the members of the Commission, who wound up by saying that they endorsed what had been stated by previous Commissions, one a Royal Commission, that the state of the rivers and waterways of Ireland was deplorable. Hon. Members from Ulster knew about the Bann. His own interest in the Bann was this. Whenever the Barrow drainage was mentioned, the question of the Bann was always introduced as a bone of contention, or drawn as a red herring across the scent. So far as he was concerned he had not the slightest objection to the land around the Bann being drained; he would like to see it as dry as the floor of the House of Commons; but he objected to the name of the Bann being introduced when the interests of Barrow drainage were being discussed, as a reason for not carrying out the Barrow works. He did not want to see the Battle of the Boyne fought over again between the Bann and the Barrow. There had been £150,000 laid out upon the Bann, and, as far as his information went, the money might as well have been thrown into Lough Neagh, so far as any benefit had accrued from the expenditure. They meant to persevere in their demand for a Barrow drainage scheme which the Commission had pointed out was reasonable, and they meant to see whether the position could not be improved with State assistance. But there was one thing remarkable about the district of the Barrow, and it was that the people there steadfastly refused that a single sixpence I of the money to be granted should be laid out by the Board of Works. They had at present a machinery in the local county councils, who could carry out the work satisfactorily and in a manner that would meet the views of those in whose interest the work was undertaken and who would have to pay a large portion of the cost. Then there was the question of the schools. The hon. Member for East Mayo had been asking questions for the last two years as to the plans for schools, and the reply had been that the plans were not yet complete. It meant that plans of only ordinary schools were required, plans such as a local architect would get out in twenty-four hours; yet it had taken the Board of Works two years, and the plans were not yet forthcoming, though the money had been granted. The clashing of authority between different Boards was quite extraordinary. There was a case in Clare where the Board of Works claimed the right to lay out certain money; another Department claimed an equal right, and so, in presence of this cat and dog existence, the work was not carried out. With regard to ancient monuments they had fallen on bad times when they were handed over to the tender mercies of the Board of Works. These ancient monuments were relics which the Irish people regarded with pride and veneration. They were indications of the culture and civilisation which existed in their country many centuries ago, when England was merely emerging from the darkness of barbarism, and when Birmingham was only a squalid village. He now came to the last phase of the subject. He had put questions to the Secretary to the Treasury, who had not answered some of them, and it was not in his power to force the hon. Gentleman to give replies. The questions were as to the religious creeds of the staff. He had been informed that the Board of Works never asked about the creed of members of the staff. Oh, no; no one knew anything about the religion of anyone else in a Government Department in Ireland. He had some facts and figures to which he would direct the attention of the Committee. It showed something about the general working of the Board of Works in respect of its dealing with the staff. In the first place, in the Boards of Works, of which Mr. Henry Williams was Secretary and the ruling spirit, the number of nominated appointments filled by Catholics was fifty, and their salaries amounted to £9,793. The number of nominated appointments filled by members of other denominations was eighty-four, and their salaries amounted to £26,609. The nominated appointments were in the hands of the Secretary, Mr. Williams, and his triumvirate, and of course, they were told that these gentlemen knew nothing whatever about creeds. If they took the question of open competition and appointments on merit, they found that the Catholics took about two-thirds of the posts and more than half the salaries. In regard to appointments by open competition the Catholics held thirty-seven places, the salaries of which amounted to £6,712, whilst other denominations held twenty-three places, the total of which amounted to £6,465. That was a clear indication that the nominated appointments were made not by merit but by favouritism. Religion ought to be set aside in all these matters, but they could not close their eyes to facts and figures of this kind when they saw their countrymen being deprived of their rightful share of these positions. He would not be doing justice to his fellow countrymen if he did not demand that they should get their fair share of appointments under the Board. In the case of nominated appointments the average Catholic salary was £189, whilst the non-Catholic salary averaged £309. The manner in which the Board dealt with Catholics in Dublin was notorious. If a member of the Catholic body holding a position under the Board happened to be ill and was laid up, an old pensioner was despatched to see whether he was malingering or telling untruths. On the other hand, if a member of another denomination said he was ill no such inquiries would be made, and he might whilst off duty go to Phoenix Park or attend the races, and nothing would be said about it. That kind of thing was well known in Dublin, and He did not need to press the matter further. Whilst this Board would not allow a piece of ground for the Gaelic Football Club or the Gaelic League, they were quite willing to set apart thirty acres of the most beautiful part of Phoenix Park to be used by the Polo Club. The figures he had given were incontestable and could not be denied. This autocratic non-representative body was not satisfied with the large nominating power it now possessed, and they had applied to the Civil Service Commissioners for extended powers. He wished to enter his protest against the penalising of any official who might have given information to a Member of Parliament. It would be a horrible state of things if this intimidating of the staff was allowed to be continued without being exposed. What were the facts? No sooner did the information he alluded to reach the public than a threatening note was posted up in the Board of Works Offices in the following terms— It has been observed by the Board that an article concerning promotion in this Department appeared in two Dublin newspapers on Thursday and Friday last. ''So far as this article relates to matters of public knowledge the Board are not concerned. It contained, however, certain statements which were based upon information that could only have been furnished directly or indirectly by persons within the office. It will therefore be necessary for the Secretary to bring again to the notice of all Divisions the stringent Treasury Circular on the subject of giving information to the Press. The communication referred to is calculated, as the Board think most undeservedly, to cast a stigma on the staff, but they wish to take this opportunity of stating that they have every confidence in the loyalty of the officials of the Department, and they feel sure that the latter will share their great regret that there should be any individual or individuals among them who should have proved themselves untrue to the rules and traditions of the public service. That Board would become another Chamber of Horrors and nothing would be allowed to come out of it if hon. Members of this House were not permitted to receive the information which was necessary to expose this notorious Board. They had no less than sixty-seven Boards in Ireland, and the late Mr. Davitt used to call them the forty thieves, although he under-estimated their number at the time. There were now sixty-seven Boards in Ireland and therefore there must be sixty-seven thieves, and the Board of Works was the worst. So bad was the system that it was past mending, and for the sake of administration and civil and religious liberty in Ireland the Board should be abolished. He moved the reduction of the Vote by;£100.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £24,468, be granted for the said Service."—(Mr. Delany.)

MR. MOORE (Armagh, N.)

dissociated himself from the grossly unfair attack which had been made on the Board of "Works, and, so far as it was based on information which appeared to have been purloined from a Government office by a clerk in its employment, he disclaimed all sympathy with it. He hoped this kind of leakage would be discovered and punished as severely as the rules of any healthy Civil Service demanded. It was intolerable that there should be prying into these matters for the purpose of advancing a man's personal interests and making through Parliament or the Press or otherwise unworthy or cowardly attacks on his superiors. He hoped it would be discovered who had done this, and the Secretary to the Treasury would have the most cordial support of his hon. friends in maintaining the honourable traditions of the Civil Service, which ought to be carried out in Ireland in the same way as in England. His experience of the Board of Works was that they were not infallible. That had never been claimed for them, and he did not feel called upon to defend them. He assumed that the Ministry under which they were at present serving would see that justice was done to them. He knew from per- sonal experience that the Board of Works had an exceedingly able and obliging staff of inspectors, who went through the country making advances for the improvement of the land. He did not think that any man who had had dealings with the Board of Works had any reasonable complaint to make. He certainly thought that the Government should take one matter into consideration, viz., the enabling of the Board to make smaller loans than they could do at present. He understood that at present they could not advance less than £50. That was measured by a certain number of years rental of the farm on which the improvement was to be made. Many small holders would often be glad to avail themselves of smaller loans—say £35—but the Board had no authority to make such advances. If they could not do it as the law stood it was a matter for which they could not be blamed the hon. Member had complained of favouritism and bigotry of the Board of Works, and said that these complaints were common property in Dublin. If that were so, they were common to a particular class, and he could not say that he shared in them. He wished again to call attention to the Bann Drainage question which had been pressed on the attention of the Government for many years. The counties on the seaboard had had a great deal done for them in the way of piers and grants. He and his friends were not grudging that expenditure, which had amounted to about £400,000. But the Bann stood out from what might be called these marine questions. The question of the Bann affected five inland counties. While places on the seaboard had had their share of money—he did not say that they had had enough yet—those inland counties, which were all vitally affected by the flooding of the Bann, had not yet received adequate consideration. The money already found for the draining of the Bann had been found through Imperial credit which was only possible under the present Constitution, and would be impossible if they ever arrived at separation. That money was found in the days before the internal drainage of the country was so largely developed, as it had been in the last two generations. Formerly the Bann was adequate to bring down drainage from the whole watershed, but now the same quantity of water reached the river in twenty-four hours, whereas formerly it took a week or ten days. He was not suggesting that the original works were completely adequate, and, as a matter of fact, the original design for the Bann had never been carried out. What had been done for the Bann in the past had been done by borrowed money, and every penny had since been repaid by the people who got the benefit in their districts, and they were still paying maintenance charges. There had been no loss to the Treasury for any sum expended on the Bann. He recognised that this question was in a sense sub judice at present, because since the last Bill dealing with the matter—a Bill which passed the Second Reading, but failed to pass through Committee—there had been two different inquiries and reports as to the state of affairs. The first of these reports proposed an expenditure of£150,000, of which £100,000 had to be subscribed locally. That was an absolute bar to the scheme, because only the people interested would consent to raise the money, and it was impossible for them to raise so much. His right hon. friend the Member for South Dublin when Chief Secretary, sent down Sir Alexander Binnie, a distinguished engineer, who reported on the state of the lough and the river in 1905. He estimated the cost at £75,000—just half of the previous estimate. He understood that the present Government were prepared to deal with the question when fuller inquiry had been made. He admitted that the pledge given was a general one, and he did not wish to push it further than that. During the last six months inspectors, on behalf of the Board of Works, had been through the district making a valuation of the lands, extending to sixty miles of territory which would be benefited by the drainage operations. He wished to ask in no controversial spirit if these inquiries had terminated and what had been the result. He wished also to know if the Government were now in a position to say what action they proposed to take. He and his friends were quite prepared to wait a reasonable time in order that the Government might make 1 all necessary inquiry into the matter. The population in the districts concerned was growing, and he was sure that the Government would not minimise the importance of the matter.

MR. O'DOWD (Sligo, S.)

said the hon. Member who had just spoken seemed to think that they wanted information about the Board of Works. What was wanted was criticism of the Board. They had got enough information. He was one of those individuals who whether as a Nationalist fighting for the Nationalist cause on the hillsides, or in addressing meetings in England, had never made creed or class a question in discussing Irish government. He and his friends did not believe in introducing either Protestantism or Catholicism. They believed that Irishmen should have a full share in the government of their own country, and he hoped that the course of events in the near future would result in the realisation of this view. He did not wish to criticise any official connected with the Board of Works. His object in rising was to deal with the Board of Works as at present constituted, and as one of the numerous Departments which misgoverned Ireland. He made no attack upon any official, but he did say that the Board of Works had failed to discharge the duties and the functions for which it was supposed to exist. The Board of Works was connected with almost all the public works in Ireland. If a national school house was to be erected a Board of Works inspector came down to inspect it. If there was a local drainage scheme to be carried out, a Board of Works Inspector would come down and run the whole concern. If a poor farmer in the North, East, West, or South of Ireland wanted to borrow money to improve his farm—say £100—according to the rules of the Board of Works the money was lent to him to be paid back by instalments as the work proceeded. Very good It was a matter of life and death to the small farmer that he should carry out his improvements, and pay regularly the instalments of the loan, principal,* and interest, within a certain number of years. The inspector of the Board of Works came down with his monocle in his eye, and, supposing the farmer who had spent the whole of his life in doing the best for his land, could not pay his instalment at the moment, this monocled inspector would say, "This instalment must be paid immediately and not indefinitely postponed." Personally, he had never found fault in the House with the officials of any Department. He only found fault with the Department itself. A local contractor tendered for the erection of a National school for a certain amount of money. He might be a poor man without capital, but his brother might be a smith and his son a carpenter, and he undertook the erection of the school-house under the supervision of the inspector of the Board of Works, provided he got periodical payments as the work proceeded. The Board of Works inspector came down, and found some technical objection to a part of the job, and refused to grant a certificate for the money to the poor contractor. All these things were, however, minor matters compared with arterial drainage. In that regard he would remind the Committee that the Unionist Member for Armagh held exactly the same views as those to which he had given expression, when he said on May 24th, 1905, that Ireland was dominated by the incapacity of the Board of Works. He was at one with his hon. friend above the gangway. Could he be blamed, therefore, for putting in a word in favour of the drainage of the Oranmore river, which was not a navigable river but one the drainage of the basin of which affected 8,000 farmers? He spoke in regard to this question on behalf not only of the Nationalists, but of the Unionists and clergy of all denominations in the County of Sligo. He maintained that considerable drainage works would have long ago been done in the West of Ireland if the Board of Works had been efficient. He hoped the Government would devote more attention not to the great navigable rivers, but to the smaller rivers of the West of Ireland.

* MR. HUGH LAW (Donegal, W.)

made reference to a dredger which had been provided under the provisions of the Marine Works Act of 1902, and asked what had been done with it. A number of harbours in Ireland were practically useless for traffic and trade owing to the silting up of sand. In his own constituency there were three harbours of this kind. The question of dredging had been mooted and had been the subject of correspondence between the local authorities and the Irish Government for four or five years, and he would like to know what was the state of the arrangements in regard to this dredger.


thought that all the rivers ought to be drained, no matter in what part of Ireland they happened to be; but while everybody agreed that large districts ought to be drained, that operation was never performed, and apparently the rivers were never going to be drained. They had had seven or eight Commissions upon arterial drainage in Ireland, and yet a Commission was sitting now. Former Commissions had had no result, and he wondered whether the one now sitting would bring forth anything which would lead to action. This Vote was a very important one, as it raised many questions of interest, and he wanted both to ask for information and to criticise it. At present it appeared to him that the Board of Works in Ireland represented the English Treasury, and therefore Irish Nationalists had a great objection to the Vote. If however, the Board of Works represented the Irish Treasury hon. Members for Ireland would not object to it. So much by way of prelude, but he wished to call attention to the question of the preservation of ancient monuments, which to his mind was one of extreme importance. One of his hon. friends was not satisfied with the way in which the Board of Works had taken charge of ancient Irish monuments. He did not agree with that view; he thought that the manner in which the Board of Works had looked after certain Irish monuments was creditable and that they had done a great deal of good work. The only complaint made was that the Board of Works did not extend its sphere of usefulness and deal with a larger number of monuments. He would be glad if the Chief Secretary would find out for him how many ancient monuments had been vested in the Board of Works since the passing of the Act of 1903, and whether there existed any regular means of communication between the Estates Commissioners and the Board of Works, so that whenever a statue was deemed by local antiquaries to be worthy of preservation, steps could at once be taken in that direction. He thought they should follow the example of other countries which showed an admirable spirit in those matters. In certain parts of the country there wore periodical invasions of tourists, and care should be taken to protect those monuments from injury. Then as to loans, he thought that the powers of the Board were too restricted, and that the Chief Secretary might well consider whether a smaller advance than £50 could be made, say £25. The latter sum would he a very useful loan. He thought the rate of interest, five or six per cent., was too heavy and he would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he could not give people who borrowed through this Department the advantages which were given to other people. Again, there was the question of inspectors appointed by the Board. There were only ten or twelve of these gentlemen. They were appointed some twenty or thirty years ago under conditions which had since been modified. Since then other inspectors had been appointed who did nothing like the work which the older inspectors did and had been put under better conditions as regards pay and pension. He asked if something could not be done to better the conditions as regarded the pensions of the ten or twelve inspectors originally appointed, having regard to their long service. With regard to school grants, he 1 asked whether the hon. Member could say when certain schools in his constituency, the preparation for building which was commenced four years ago, would be completed. He hoped the assurances given by the Chief Secretary some time ago would be carried out and this matter brought to an early conclusion. These schools were urgently needed, and it was not creditable to the authorities that so long a time should He allowed to elapse between the preparations to commence them and their completion. With regard to the question of fishing piers, it was interesting to recall the fact that the history of the Marine Works Act was that it was given to Ireland as a piece of great generosity; but the English had intercepted certain funds devoted to marine works in Ireland, and eventually of those funds, £100,000 was handed over for the purpose of building these piers and other marine works. How far had these funds been mortgaged or had they entirely disappeared, and how soon would the money be available for marine works and fishing piers in different parts of Ireland? The operation of the Marine Works Act should be extended, and, in view of the benefits which had accrued whore it had been put into force, other districts should enjoy the same benefits. Would the hon. Member ascertain from the Board of Works whether they had any idea of the amount that would be required to construct marine works in the congested districts of Ireland and outside those districts where such works were required? There was one harbour in which he was particularly interested, and with regard to which He would like to have the information as soon as possible. Whenever the question of fishing harbours came up Greystones had a large claim for consideration, because of the large sums spent by Greystones upon the harbour, which unfortunately, had not been a success. He would also like to know how the Board of Works and the Department of Agriculture in Ireland were getting on, and whether they had settled the differences of opinion that had arisen between them with regard to certain marine works, and particularly with regard to Arklow harbour, and whether the works there would shortly be completed.


said complaint had been made by the hon. Member who moved the reduction that this Department was represented by him. He assured him that his regret on that head was no greater than his own. He was extremely sorry that he should have anything to do with the government of Ireland under the present conditions. They were, however, in hopes that alterations would be made shortly in that respect. This particularly applied to the Office of Works, because it covered such a very wide field, and when they attempted to find anything analagous to it in England they found that the Office of Works dealt with matters which in England were under the Commissioners of Works, the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Trade (the management of railways and soon), with matters controlled by the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and with a hundred and one other matters which in England were controlled by a hundred and one other bodies. Therefore, it was impossible for an Englishman with a short experience to have a knowledge of anything like all the questions that he had been asked on this occasion. He would try, however, to answer one or two of them as far as he could. As to work done in regard to ancient monuments since 1903, he could give no information off hand, but if the hon. Baronet would put a Question on the Paper he would give him all the information he could obtain upon the subject. With regard to loans, it had been suggested that they should be reduced from £50 to £25. He had been informed that the loans were now as low as £35 and that this was done by a Treasury Warrant. He would see what could be done, but it did not seem to him that the amount of benefit that would accrue from making the loan £10 lower would be very great. The hon. Member had also asked whether a larger amount could be advanced to farmers. That was a matter he would have to consider further. The hon. Member for Donegal had asked about the dredger. He would point out to him that it was the property of the Local Government Board, and if the hon. Gentleman would like to have it sent down to Donegal he would advise him to approach the Board in that regard. Donegal was not the only county in Ireland which would like to have the assistance of a dredger.


said he was not so anxious to have the Board of Works dredger, but a dredger. As he understood, there had been a triangular negotiation going on between the Board of Works, the Congested Districts Board, and the county council, and he was anxious on that account to know if the hon. Gentleman could give any information.


said there was only one dredger, and that was at the disposal of any local authority, and if they would kindly let him know what dredging was going on, he would certainly do his best to facilitate the work. Reference had been made to the amount of money spent under the Marine Works Act. He could not exactly state what that sum was, but no doubt hon. Members would be satisfied if the amounts were stated in the form of a Return; He had also been asked some questions about Grey stones pier, or rather what remained of it. The pier was of zig-zag shape, and was on all sorts of levels; it was of comparatively little use. He was not quite sure that the money had been spent wisely in building the pier, for there were other parts of Ireland which had as great a claim, and where the Government could have spent the money to better advantage. At all events, the pier was in a lamentable condition, and before he could say any thing as to the future he would have to make inquiries of the authorities and advisers of the Board on the subject. With regard to Arklow, all the necessary formalities had been gone through and completed, and he hoped that the work would be pressed toward without any delay. As to Wicklow, the Board of Works were not responsible, for they had been practically told "hands off." He had also been asked as to whether plans for schools had reached anything like the final stage. His right hon. friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had announced some time ago that negotiations had proceeded between the National Board and his own office, and the Treasury had now come to the conclusion that they ought to arrange for new plans to be designed on a basis much more generous than was allowed in either England or Scotland. He was sure that hon. Members from Ireland could not ask for more than that. The claim which had always been put forward was that there should be ten square feet per child on the mean between the average attendance and the number on the roll for each specific school. So far as that was concerned they had now reached a settlement, and there ought to be no delay. He had been asked why the Board of Works did not allow more football grounds in phœnix Park. He was informed that there were no less than thirty-two football grounds allotted by the Board of Works, and he did not know many towns of the size of Dublin which had thirty-two public football grounds allotted by the public authorities. The story of the Bann was a very old one, but before proceeding with that matter he would remind hon. Members that very large sums of Imperial money had been spent on arterial drainage. The whole question of the drainage of the centre of Ireland was a very important one, and was by no means limited to the land which lay about the Bann. He was in Ireland some time ago with his right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board. They saw something of the condition of the centre of Ireland, and the knowledge then gained had been supplemented by much information gained by the Irish Office on this side of the water. That information pointed to the conclusion that unless' something like £5,000,000 was spent on the internal drainage of Ireland, that country would never be thoroughly drained. Five millions was a very large sum, but doubtless the benefits of such a scheme might more than recoup them for a large part of the expenditure. But on such a big question as that, involving a sum of £5,000,000 or any large sum, it would be quite improper to commit the Government. The Bann, however, had one of the first claims on any sum that was to be spent. [An HON. MEMBER: What about the Barrow?] It was impossible for them to decide as to whether the Bann or the Barrow would come first. What had to be done must be done with public money, and at very great expense. This was really a matter that must be dealt with along with others, and he could make no announcement on the subject of the drainage of the Bann except to say that the scheme which had boon put forward had received, and was receiving, very serious consideration, and if it would bear criticism he had no doubt that something might be done upon it.

MR. MOORE (Armagh, N.)

Has the local inquiry been concluded?


believed that the local inspection by those who were testing the scheme on the spot had been concluded, but the whole matter was coming under the consideration of the Government. The hon. Member for Queen's County, Ossory, had made some reference to the Board of Works. He only wished the hon. Member had kept out of his speech the name of the distinguished gentleman who was at the head of the Board. However much the hon. Gentleman might dislike him he thought it would be as well in criticising the Board that he should follow the example of one of his hon. friends by criticising the Board as a whole, without criticising particular officials in it. Sir George Holmes had been on the Board of Works for some five or six years and had worked with the greatest energy. Possibly, during the whole of that time, he might have done some things which had not mot with the approval of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. There were few public officials but at one time or another met with the censure of hon. Members, on one side of the House or the other, representing local interests. Sir George Holmes had dealt faithfully and well with the interests of the Board, and all he could say in his behalf at the present time would be quire inadequate as any return for his public services. The hon. Gentleman had made reference to a Question which he had put the other day, and which he (Mr. Runciman) had declined to answer. His reply was shortly this, that in regard to Sir G. Holmes the Question was based on information which was absolutely groundless, and that, as the hon. Gentleman had asked similar Questions on several occasions, he thought it only right, in defence of officials who wore attacked, to say that he deprecated those Questions, and that He thought it most derogatory to the dignity and the honour of those officials that he should have to get uptime after time to say that there was no ground for the accusation made against them. He was sure the hon. Gentleman would agree with him that He was at all times ready to give proper information, and if the hon. Member's Questions were not couched in a form which was really intolerable to those who were serving the public interest, he would be very glad to give all the information he could. The hon. Gentleman had made reference to a letter which he said was received by the Board of Works from the Civil Service Commissioners with reference to the religious beliefs of the staff of the Board of Works. This also had boon the subject of a Question by the hon. Member, and he had told him at the time that no such letter had been received, for the simple reason that the Civil Service Commissioners had never written such a letter. Whatever might be said of them, He ventured to think that the Commissioners took no part whatever in Irish politics, and he was assured by a member of the staff of the Civil Service Commission that no such letter ever was written, nor, so far as he could gather, had such a letter been sent from any other Department of the State. As to the notice which had been circulated in reference to information which had leaked out from time to time on matters concerning the staff, that notice was not peculiar to Ireland; they sometimes had them in England, for the very good reason that those who were serving the public interest must be well aware that any disclosure of what passed in their office was a very grave breach of confidence; and he thought that hon. Gentlemen must see really how improper it would be that communications of a confidential nature passing from one department to another, should become public. If such a thing were allowed to take place it would be impossible to conduct any public department with any sense of security. He did not suggest for a moment that anything improper passed between these two departments. He did not think that anything did; and he doubted that the disclosures would have done any harm to anyone. But he wanted to point out that correspondence pissing between one department and another must be secret. Distinguished servants of the State, who had gone through every department both in England and abroad, would be the first to acknowledge that this was a rule that could not: be departed from, and that any notice which maintained that standard was one which ought to be observed by the staff. The hon. Gentleman had made an allegation against the Board of Works as to the preference given to Protestants in that department. It was always a difficult matter to inquire into the religious belief of those who were serving in a public department. So far as the Catholics were concerned, he would be among the first to deprecate and to punish severely any attempt to handicap them in the public service of Ireland. But he could not say there was any evidence of undue preference of the men of one creed over the men of another. He would like to amplify that. There had been particular accusations against the; Secretary of the Board of Works, who was himself a Protestant. The hon. Gentleman had been good enough to send him some information with regard to the staff of the Board of Works. He had experienced the greatest difficulty in finding out what were the religious beliefs of the staff, and from what he had seen he gathered that there were under Mr. Williams more Catholics than Protestants. He had no means of checking that information. He would venture to suggest that if Mr. Williams was accused of being prejudiced against Catholics, the mere fact that there were more Catholics than Protestants in his office was surely a very good reply.


said what He had pointed out was that the Catholics had only £9,000 in salaries, while the Protestants had over £26.000.


said there was in the Department mentioned a very large sprinkling of Catholics, so large in fact that in the higher ranks nearly one-half wore Catholics. It was true that if they added up the salaries they would find that those who were Protestants would be earning more than the Catholics, but there were ways of adding up tables which would make the very best things look uncommonly bad. He would like to suggest one explanation of the facts stated by the hon. Gentleman opposite. It so happened that those in the higher ranks were principally Protestants whilst those in the lower ranks were Catholics. The explanation lie would offer of that was that higher education in Ireland had handicapped the Catholics and placed them at a great disadvantage. When Ireland extended University facilities and a large number of Catholics, and not Protestants only, were able to take advantage of University education, no doubt the balance would be restored, and it would be found that education and not religion was the qualification for admitting men into those positions. Nothing was more lamentable in the history of Ireland than the way that country was divided up by two political parties and by two religious beliefs. This was not understandable by those who had spent all their public life in England. He hoped the time was coming when the Irish people would be able to work together without religious difficulties interfering with their public duties. In conclusion he reminded the Committee of the two statements made by Disraeli, who when asked what his religion was, said— My religion is the religion of all sensible men, and when asked what that was, replied— Sensible men never tell. He hoped the time was coming when in the appointment of public servants, whether under the present or a future régime, it would not be necessary to inquire what were the religious beliefs of any of them.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)

said they all wished the hon. Gentleman every success in his now office, and they fully recognised that he had made every effort to grasp the complicated situation in Ireland with which he had to deal. Quite recently he had had to master all the finance of the Land Act, and they all knew with what success he had achieved that result, and how he was able to answer any question upon that involved subject. The hon. Member had discoursed quite lucidly upon one of the most complicated problems of Irish government, viz., the Board of Works. Evidently the hon. Gentlemen who usually sat above the gangway were satisfied, because they had left the House. The Bann would in their opinion overflow its banks no more, because the hon. Gentleman above the gangway had spoken. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury had stated that the Government had inquired into the subject, and were still inquiring, and would continue to inquire, but he (Mr. O'Connor) doubted whether the Bann would be any better for that inquiry. It was his lot two days ago to introduce a subject with whish the Board of Works was very seriously concerned. He referred to the arterial drainage of Ireland. They had heard nothing at all about the competency of this Department to deal with the two important subjects of the building of schools and arterial drainage in Ireland. The subject which had been raised by his hon. friend was the competency or the incompetency of the Board of Works. Not one word had escaped the hon. Gentleman's lips as to whether he was convinced that the Department was capable or incapable of executing those works. The Commissioners of National Education had stated in their very last Report that it would take £500,000 for five years to put them in the position they might have occupied if they had been fairly dealt with for the last four years. But not a stone had been laid and not one act of reparation had been done to those schools, because the Treasury had shut up its pockets and closed its purse. It had been said by the Chief Secretary that £1,000,000 was absolutely necessary to put the schools of Ireland in a proper condition. Was the Board of Works a competent body to expend that money? Instead of granting £500,000 a miserable £40,000 a year for throe years was to be granted. That was a most contemptible sum having regard to the admission that had been made. What he wished the hon. Gentleman to answer was whether the Board of Works, about the competency of which He had said not a single word, was competent to expend £40,000 a year for the next three years. He trusted that the hon. Member would occupy many an onerous office in the present Government. He was now qualifying, in one of the most difficult positions it was possible for even a gentleman of his unbounded industry to occupy, for one of those high positions which his talents entitled him to fill in the future. He knew that the hon. Gentleman had a long and brilliant career before him, and he would go from office to office, and before he had scarcely mastered the details of his present office he would no doubt receive promotion and find himself in the Cabinet. He would not grudge his advancement at all, because he desired that every young man of industry who desired to serve his country in honourable occupations should have the opportunity of doing so. With regard to arterial drainage in Ireland the hon. Member had said that when he looked into this Department he found there had been a very great deal of neglect. They had had placed before them the question of the Bann versus the Barrow. If the Treasury and the Board of Works decided to spend more money on the Bann he desired it and he would not object. The Barrow flowed through his constituency and had done so for the past 100 years without any money being expended upon it. During that period it had overflowed its banks four times a year and not a penny had been spent upon it. The Bann had been thoroughly neglected. Report after report had been issued with regard to it and they had not been acted upon. The question was raised by the predecessor of the hon. Member for North Armagh, the late Colonel Saunderson, who had always supported the Nationalist Party on this question of arterial drainage. On one occasion an engineer was sent down to report upon the Bann. The very next year another complaint was made and another engineer was sent down who also reported. Why were all these reports necessary? Because of the incompetency of the Board of Works. One engineer after another had produced schemes for the drainage of the Bann; they had been presented to the Board of Works, and under that body they had proved total failures. When he moved a Motion upon this subject not very long ago he was told that perhaps another authority could be established for dealing with arterial drainage, and the appointment of a Commission was suggested, and the late Chief Secretary the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin jumped at the suggestion. He said, "Let us have another Commission." He did not support that suggestion but the Commsssion was appointed. It was a way of shelving the difficulty. He was invited last year to give evidence before the Commission upstairs. He told Sir Alexander Binnie that he had not supported the appointment of the Commission. He reminded Sir Alexander that he himself had reported on the Bann the year before, and that another engineer had reported on the same subject the year before that. He told him further that the Commission was utterly unneeded, and He produced in support of that statement the Reports which had been presented to Parliament for the last 100 years. The evidence amounted to thousands upon thousands of pages, and he said, "Great Heaven What do you want with another Commission?" They had the Reports of all the Commissions which had taken evidence for the past 100 years, and what was the result? Absolutely no result, except that some money had been spent on the Bann through the influence of hon. Gentlemen above the gangway, money which might as well have been pitched into the Thames for all the good it had done to the Bann. The Bann was in a worse condition today than before a penny was expended upon it. He made that statement on the authority of the Reports to which he referred. They all condemned the schemes carried out by the Board of Works, and that was the Board they were now criticising. It was the Board that would have to carry out the works for the further drainage of the Bann. Hon. Members above the gangway had made their speeches which would be published in the local newspapers, and on the 12th of July they would be cheered because they spoke about the Bann in the House of Commons. The Treasury would still be considering the Report of this Commission, and not a single thing would, be done to give effect to the recommendations. The Financial Secretary had answered all the questions in a perfunctory sort of way, but He had not spoken one word in regard to the Board which the Nationalist Members declared were incompetent to carry out any works with which they might be entrusted. When his hon. friend the Member for the Ossory Division complained of the personnel of the Board he was lectured severely by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.But his hon. friend lived in the district affected by these works, and he knew how the health of the people was injured by the overflowing of the banks. These were the people who would have to bear the cost of the works if carried out, and it was natural that his hon. friend should press his case with as much force and energy as he could employ. The two questions of arterial drainage and education in Ireland had been recognised by the Chief Secretary as calling for attention. In the speeches which the right hon. Gentleman delivered he had dwelt on these important subjects as illustrating the appalling neglect by the British Government of the affairs of Ireland. He read with profit and with hope every utterance of the right hon. Gentleman, whether made in England or in Ireland, and he observed with the keenest delight that He had got a full grasp of the wants of the people of the country. If they could impress upon him and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that the position of the Board of Works called for investigation, this debate would not have been in vain. He hoped the debate would not be lost on the Financial Secretary. He was certain it would not be lost on the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and in another year's time he believed they would have another story to tell than the sad one which had been related by his hon. friends.

MR. DUFFY (Galway, S.)

said he was glad that this debate had taken place, if only for the purpose of calling the attention of the Liberal Party and of the Ministry to the necessity of doing some thing in the way of enabling the Irish people within a reasonable time to have the management of their own local affairs. The hon. Member for North Armagh had stated that no man in Ireland at present had any reason to complain of the action of the Board of Works in dealing with small farmers who applied for loans to carry out useful improvements. He thought he would be able to satisfy the hon. Member that great difficulties were sometimes thrown in the way of small farmers who applied for loans. He had in his possession a shoal of letters which had passed between a small farmer in his neighbourhood and the Board of Works in the past twelve months. That man acquired his holding under the Ashborne Act and applied for a loan of £55. In due course an engineer was sent down by the Board to make inquiries as to the works proposed to be carried out. The farmer informed the engineer that he intended to carry out the works with the aid of his own children. They had been assisting other farmers, and it occurred to him that the loan might be utilised in paying them wages in carrying out the works which he desired. The engineer reported to the Board of Works what the farmer proposed to do, and the Board declined to give the loan because he wished to carry out the works with the assistance of his own children. He thought that was a monstrous state of things. He himself had taken up the case and represented to the Board of Works that it was very unfair not to make the loan, but the Board insisted that they were justified in refusing it. A short time ago they instituted proceedings against this unfortunate man for applying for the loan, and, a decree having been given against him, he had actually to pay for making the application. That was the most extraordinary thing he had ever heard of in connection with the action of any Board.

And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.