§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That a sum, not exceeding £24,468, 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,)—resumed.
§ MR. DUFFY,
resuming his remarks, asked what had been done by the Board of Works in regard to the port of Kinvara. A sum of £1,100 had been set apart for Kinvara, out of the grant made to the Board of Works to improve the ports of Ireland, while the Board of Agriculture and other Boards had made advances, making altogether about £2,000. But what had been done in improving the harbour since 1902? He understood that the Board of Works had carried out a portion of the work, and undertook to spend the sum of £1,900 on the construction of a pier. They had spent £1,369, but he wanted to know whether they had got value for the money. He had received many inquiries as to whether the rest of the money was to be handed over to the county council to carry out the remainder of the work. When was the Government going to take action with the view of allowing the county council to spend its own money? He was informed that the County Council of Galway had approved of the plans for the improvement of the harbour so long ago as 1905;but he had received complaints from his constituents that nothing had been done in regard to that particular harbour and making it accessible to boats. It was the bounden duty of the Government to step in and insist on the county council spending the money allocated in improving the harbour.
§ MR. J. P. NANNETTI
called attention to the wages paid to the men employed in the public parks in Dublin. These men 1139 were only paid from 14s. to 16s. per week, and the rate of living in Dublin was as high as in London, where the men were paid 24s. or more per week. Of course many men in these times were anxious to accept any wage offered in order to keep the wolf from the door.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said he could assure the hon. Gentleman that inquiry would be made in regard to the point raised by him. He himself considered that a full-grown man should be paid a living wage.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Original Question, "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," put, and agreed to.
§ 3. £46,411, to complete the sum for Local Government Board, Ireland.
§ MR. GINNELL (Westmeath, N.)
said that if the Irish Boards were to be radically improved and put under popular control as the Boards in Great Britain were, they in Ireland were willing to address themselves in the future to the practical work of carrying out the improvement of local public works. If they in Ireland had the making and administration of their own lands there would be sufficient work for them to do and they might be able to draw a veil of decency over the putrid corpse of the past. Many hon. Members had not taken the opportunity of expressing an opinion upon this subject, perhaps because of the coming measure which directly related to the Vote before the Committee. He might be permitted to say in a single sentence that the right hon. Gentleman must not be surprised, or take it as a reflection upon himself if some in Ireland, remembering the past and reading the forecasts and repeated statements that this Bill was in substance only a rehash of the despised and despicable thing concocted a few years ago by Unionist authors, reserved their opinion and their freedom of action with regard to his measure until they had studied it in print. Of 1140 course there was a possibility that his Bill might be found such as the Irish people could accept with safety and honour. In that spirit he abstained from going into the shady details of the Vote before the Committee. He might point out however that the Local Government Board for Ireland cost £92,411 while the Corresponding Board for Scotland cost only £15,887, a fact which was in itself so striking and significant that comment would spoil it Everybody knew and admitted that instead of being governed six times better, Ireland was governed at least fifty times worse than Scotland. The ways in which the Board managed to spend all this money had been criticised, year after year, with no substantial result. The more expensive an institution was, the greater the number and influence of those who drew a living from it, and who would defend it as their very lives, which no doubt it was. Although this horde of carrion had been quartered upon them in Ireland against their will, even if they had the making and administration of their own laws tomorrow He supposed they would be obliged to pension the carrion. So it would be many long years before they could thank Heaven that they were rid of them. Every year the Chief Secretary for the time being promised reforms in some branch of the services. If those promises or even a tenth of them had been acted upon they should have little to complain of to-day. Why, for instance, with an almost omnipotent Government in power, had not the reforms promised a year ago been carried out? Once a Vote was passed either the promises were forgotten or the Chief Secretary found his nominal subordinates were too strong for him and he could not have his own way with them. They might ostensibly yield to throw him off his guard or to escape his strong hand; but that was only to maintain the old rule in the long run and to leave the mechanism running in the old groove. They might stoop; but it always was to conquer. The stock excuses for not carrying out reforms in Ireland were want of time, want of knowledge, and want of power. To expose the dishonesty of the plea of want of time, one had only to remember that it took no more time to do a good thing than to do a bad thing. Want of knowledge on the part of the Minister, not 1141 being their fault, could be no valid excuse for making them suffer. Ministers, ex-Ministers, and future Ministers, were overflowing with knowledge and with beneficial projects for Great Britain: but it was only after he had undertaken to govern Ireland that an English state-man began reluctantly to learn the rudiments of the situation there. He began by adopting the version supplied to him by his subordinates, which version he was unable to teat. If when the truth began to dawn upon him, in spite of those gentlemen, he attempted to assert himself, they soon made the place too hot for him, and he sought peace at Washington or somewhere else. From their standpoint it was, however, all alien government, and they were under no obligation to discriminate between one Chief Secretary or another, whether he had occupied his position for twenty-four years or only twenty-four hours and whether he represented a Liberal or a Conservative Government.
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
pointed out that the hon. Member was not speaking to the Question before the Committee, which was a vote for the expenses of the Irish Local Government Board. The hon. Member seemed to be making general observations as to the administration of Ireland, but he must confine his remarks to the Local Government Board Vote.
§ MR. GINNELL
said he had been endeavouring to explain the action of the President of the Local Government Board, who was the Chief Secretary, and he thought what he said was relevant to the Vote. He did not think it was irrelevant in this connection to deny that no outsiders, good or bad, had a right to control their affairs. For the reason already stated he would deal with only one detail of the working of the Local Government Board, namely, the failure, at the bidding apparently of, his subordinates, of the right hon. Gentleman to allow district councils to avail themselves of the excellent opportunity afforded by the Labourers Act for breaking in upon desert green ranches and sprinkling them with small holdings and with a class of people who were certain to be actually needed as soon as those green ranches could be broken up. This was a class of work which was recognised in England and Scotland to be undoubtedly 1142 of a beneficial character, but it was far more urgently needed in certain parts of Ireland where agriculture was the only industry. If the Chief Secretary were strong enough to favour and promote, as the law enabled him to do, the creation of such temporary holdings as were suggested within the limits of the councils' borrowing powers, a means of living in comparative comfort in Ireland would be found for many who must otherwise leave the country. After they had worked and paid for these holdings for some years they could easily be made purchasers of them under the Land Acts, and the district councils would be relieved of so much of the burden. It was not too late even yet to do this. The only outstanding question was one which the Chief Secretary, as President of the Local Government Board, and no one else could answer. That question was whether he would consider this suggestion with an open mind and exercise the power which the law gave him to put it into operation in spite of the antipathy of his subordinates in the Department.
§ MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)
warmly supported the suggestion of his hon. friend that the right hon. Gentleman should allow the district councils to satisfy the hunger for small holdings. He also urged encouragement of direct labour in road making—the result of which had been that bettor roads had been produced than under the system of contractors—and the extension of the system of boarding out children. He hoped both these systems would be extended, because, in many cases, the results had been most gratifying. In three cases the children did not know they were Poor Law children; they adopted the names of those who brought them up and became useful members of society. He thought an extension of the system would be most beneficial, because everybody must recognise that the atmosphere of a union was not one in which children should be brought up. While he read with pleasure some of the paragraphs in the Report he considered it on the whole the most dismal document he had ever read. He had always thought that poverty in Ireland was decreasing, but the Report on the contrary showed that poverty and distress were increasing, while the population was; decreasing. The statistics 1143 showed that the daily average of those in receipt of indoor and outdoor relief, including the people being treated in the hospitals, was 106,051 last year as against 101,251 in the previous year; in other words, one in every forty-one of the population were in receipt of relief. He did not think a more damning condemnation of the government of a country could be found. He hoped a better state of things was in store for Ireland, and when the Treasury and those responsible for the Treasury spoke of the demands that were made upon the Treasury purse, he hoped they would bear these figures in mind, and remember that a great deal of the pauperism complained of was the direct result of the system of government to which Ireland was subjected. He ventured last year to suggest that in the working of the Labourers Act it would be of great advantage if the Local Government Board informed the different unions and district councils of Ireland that they had plans of various types of cottages which were at the disposal of the local authorities. Thousands of cottages had been erected under the Labourers Act. Some were good and some were bad. Every man must be interested in seeing that when money was laid out for such purposes it should be well expended, that the cottages should be good, sightly, and at the same time comfortable for those who had to inhabit them. The Local Government Board had seen cottages erected under their plans, and were in a position now to say which in their opinion was the best plan and what class of house was most suitable. He made the suggestion that the Local Government Board should place themselves in communication with the different councils and unions in Ireland offering them access to these plans, because in his opinion it would be much bettor for the local authorities to use these plans than to erect unsuitable cottages.
§ * MR. BOLAND (Kerry, S.)
said he cordially agreed with his hon. friend that the system of boarding out Poor Law children should be widely extended It was extremely hopeful that the system of boarding out in Ireland was being taken up more and more, because the result had been to merge the Poor Law children in the population of the country, 1144 to remove the stigma of pauperism from them, and to allow them to grow up and take their rightful position in the population of the land. There were many points which the Nationalists would like to discuss in reference to the Local Government Board, but naturally under the present circumstances they felt this was hardly the occasion to refer to them. He would, therefore, confine his observations to one point. For several years past the industrial movement in Ireland had been growing in importance, and it was unfortunate that the Local Government Board had exercised its power over the unions and district councils of the country in a manner which, he thought, detrimental to the efforts now being made in Ireland to recover their lost industries and the efforts of the Irish to run the country for themselves. The action of the Local Government Board in surcharging the guardians had been on occasions shortsighted to a degree, and would not be credited in this country. The Local Government Board seemed to a great extent to have made a fetish of the lowest tender and had surcharged boards of guardians because they had accepted tenders of Irish traders for goods of Irish manufacture at a higher price. The fact that a contractor had put in the lowest tender was sufficient for the Board to say the contract must be accepted, and no allowance was made for the reasons put forward by the guardians for accepting higher tenders. He would call attention to a judgment given in the High Courts recently to show how the question of low tender was regarded in this country. It was reported in The Times of May 1st. In that case the Highways Committee of the Westminister City Council, who had been surcharged for not having accepted the lowest tender, denied that they had been negligent and pleaded that they bad accepted the tender most advantageous to the city. The Lord Chief Justice, in his judgment, said—The next surcharges were those made against the Members of the Highways Committee, and those rested entirely upon the fact that the Committee had not accepted the lowest tenders. While the duties of an auditor under the Act they were considering were much more important than those of an auditor of a company, he was not entitled to question the judgment of honest men who had come to a, bona fide decision on these matters. Perhaps there was no better illustration of that than in 1145 the acceptance of tenders. Any one with knowledge of these matters knew that the greatest mischief sometimes came about by the acceptance of the lowest tender; and, in his opinion, it would be most dangerous to say that, given honest Members of the committee (against whose character or position in the present instance not a word had been said), simply because they had not accepted the lowest tender that was prima facie evidence that they had not discharged their duty. He could well imagine that there might be the acceptance of a higher tender under circumstances that would give rise to suspicion of corruption or want of good faith; but for an auditor to have assumed the responsibility of saying that the tenders in this case ought not to have been accepted, and others ought to have been accepted, because on a hypothetical calculation the council would have saved so much, would be opening the door to a most dangerous practice.Mr. Justice Darling and Mr. Justice Phillimore also gave judgments in which they concurred in that given by the Lord Chief Justice. He had quoted this to show that the acceptance of a tender which was not the lowest, if it was done for good reason, was borne out by the judgment of the High Court. Now, in Ireland boards of guardians had to deal with tenders from Irish contractors whose prices were a little dearer, but whose tenders wore accepted not on grounds of mere sentiment, but because the goods were of better quality, and because the extra service which was got out of them more than made up for the difference in cost. He instanced the question of clothing and of medical supplies. Big English firms tendered at lower prices than the Irish firms. They were able to do so because they were big organisations, and were therefore in a position to cut prices, and compete unfairly with the Irish firms. Though these English firms quoted low figures to begin with, it was perfectly well known that once they established a monopoly prices would go up, and the ratepayers would have to pay higher prices in the future. The Irish firms reduced their tenders, but not to such an extent as the English firms; yet there were advantages to Irish boards in making their contracts with the Irish firms for medical supplies. If there was an outbreak of disease or an epidemic occurred, say in his own county of Kerry, it was convenient that they should be able rapidly to obtain supplies from a medical supply company in Cork, but it would be very inconvenient if the contractor was in 1146 Liverpool or in London, or in some other distant part of the United Kingdom. When they came to the question of clothing, economics played an important part. They might have a low tender for an article which was not pure wool; but the board would give the Irish contractor the contract for the reason that his goods wore wool throughout. Would it not be ridiculous to interfere with the Board on the ground that the English tenderer's price was lower than that of the Irish contractor, when the real consideration was that the English contractor had tendered for goods which were not all wool, whereas the goods of the Irish contractor were wool throughout and had double and treble the lasting value? He read a short time ago that in 1881 the experiment was tried in North Dublin of getting only Irish clothing. They paid a little more for it, but the result of one or two years experience proved that because of the excellence of the goods they were actually making a saving for the ratepayers. They wanted to be able to give a. preference for their own goods, a preference which was demanded by their excellence. It was not a fiscal question, a tariff question, or a free-trade question. They said that though Irish goods were a little bit more expensive yet they were of such excellent quality that a public body was justified in accepting a slightly higher tender from the contractor for Irish goods. The question of industrial revival in Ireland was spreading through all classes, and he was very glad that a number of their public bodies were doing what they could to promote Irish industries. But in any event Irish ratepayers were not fools; they were not going to pay continually for goods which were not of better value than the Irish ones. They were asking for no undue preference in this matter; they merely said that the Lord Chief Justice had decided that when a body honestly accepted a tender which was not the lowest, it was not fair that the auditor should be able to upset contracts simply because a higher tender had been accepted. The importance of this matter was such that a conference of public bodies and boards of guardians had been held, at which they arrived at the conclusion that the best way to further Irish industries was to standardise, as regarded public contracts, the various articles which they 1147 required, so that if in all unions they accepted standard articles, Irish manufacturers would be able to manufacture on a larger scale and be able to tender at lower prices than at present. He hoped that in these matters the right hon. Gentleman would see that the Local Government Board did their best to further the industries of the country. That, unfortunately, had not been done in past years, for often the initiative of the Irish people had been crushed, and instead of having been helped their efforts had been stultified. He trusted that the question would receive the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Department, and that the interests of Irish industries, wherever possible, would be furthered.
§ MR. BIRRELL
said he was much obliged to hon. Gentlemen opposite for their criticisms and the moderation of their remarks. The Local Government Board of Ireland was under the able Vice-Presidency of Sir Henry Robinson, who was one of the most devoted servants that Ireland could hope to have under any form of government. Sir Henry Robinson was a man whose acquaintance he had made only since his short tenure of office, and, if nothing else came of it, he would be glad that he had been brought into contact with so able and devoted a man, whose interest in Ireland had struck him forcibly every time it had been his great advantage to converse with him. He was quite sure that hon. Gentlemen opposite would, if they could enjoy the privilege of knowing and conversing with Sir Henry Robinson, share the opinion which he now unhesitatingly expressed of that distinguished public servant. The Local Government Board of any country had difficult duties to perform, and it could not always be popular if it performed those duties properly. No public department could do its duty properly if it did not aim at the popularity which followed after long years of good work rather than the popularity which was sought after by 1148 making easy the path of everybody with whom it was brought into contact. The hon. Member for East Waterford had made a number of interesting observations with which he, as President of the Local Government Board, and the Vice-President entirely sympathised. He had referred to the question of getting the work on the roads done directly rather than indirectly. Experts not only in England, but also in Ireland, entertained the view that it was advantageous to get the work on the roads done directly rather than by contract. Everybody agreed with the observations of the hon. Member for East Waterford in regard to the boarding-out of pauper children. That work could only be done—he was going to say lovingly—with great knowledge of the character of the people to whom the children were sent, and by personally calling upon the children in their cottage homes. He knew of no country where this system of boarding-out was likely to be more successful than among the kindly population of Ireland. The guardians were the authority for this work; but the Local Government Board would do all they could to encourage efforts in this direction. The figures which had been quoted relating to poverty and pauperism in Ireland were of a lamentable and melancholy character, though he thought they were not worse than the figures for England. The Irish Government would do all they could to prevent any increase in pauperism, but the Local Government Board could not be made responsible for the increase in outdoor relief. He thought it was desirable that the Local Government Board should supply to the district councils model plans for the erection of model cottages, which had been proved to be efficient, economical, and convenient in other parts of the country. He would undertake to look into the matter to see exactly how things stood. If he might allude to his personal intercourse with Sir Henry Robinson, that was a point upon which the Vice-President held strong views, and they were quite in accord with the views expressed by the hon. Member. The hon. Member for South 1149 Kerry had made an interesting speech upon an important subject, namely, the question of always being bound to accept the lowest tender. He quite agreed with the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice of England as to the folly of laying it down as an absolute rule in all circumstances that fiduciary bodies should be bound to accept the lowest tender irrespective of their own opinion of the articles supplied. The cheapest articles were not always the best. They should aim at getting the most suitable article at the cheapest price. In such a matter as clothing, no doubt, the solution was for public bodies to determine by sample the sort of thing wanted, and make it known, and when those interested in Irish industries were able to produce that kind of article he was sure they would have the preference. Medical supplies were somewhat different, because half the cost of drugs supplied to workhouses was paid for out of Imperial funds, and there was not quite the same check on the guardians. In that matter, therefore, it was desirable to take a somewhat strict view. It had sometimes been brought to their notice that some boards of guardians preferred to buy their drugs from Irish firms; but it seemed to be overlooked that many of those drugs wore not of Irish manufacture, and really the Irish firms were only middlemen, and in no sense of the word could they be said to be supplying Irish goods. He did not think, however, that it would be advisable to relax their hold upon boards of guardians. He was not casting any imputation upon Irish boards of guardians, who did their work as well as the English boards of guardians, but they did require looking after, because irregularities had been proved against them—not acts of dishonesty, but acts of favouritism, which cast a burden on the ratepayers which ought not to have been so cast. Whoever controlled the Local Government Board would be playing a very unpatriotic part if they did not maintain a very high standard and keep a sharp control over boards of guardians. He did not think that the Local Govern- 1150 ment Board had in any particular instance exercised their control partially or unwisely.
§ MR. BARRIE (Londonderry, N.)
said the question of tenders was a very acute one in Ireland, though he did not suggest that there had been any general dereliction of duty in the matter by Irish public bodies, frequently the Local Government Board had had to remind public bodies in Ireland as to what their duty was in regard to tenders. With regard to the Sligo County Council, it would be remembered that the Government had to adopt some very drastic measures in regard to the action of that body in accepting a tender which was at least 50 per cent, higher than the lowest tender, and the Local Government Board had been blamed for declaring that contract null and void. Speaking broadly, he thought public bodies in Ireland had safeguarded the public interest as regarded their acceptance of public tenders. He agreed with what had fallen from the Chief Secretary in regard to contracts for medicines, because there were no more important contracts entered into by boards of guardians. It was extremely important in that matter that tenders should be accepted only from really responsible persons. He knew what he was speaking of when he stated that there were at least three or four firms of the very first standing in Ireland who were fit to compete with any firms in the wholesale drug lineeither in Liverpool or London. He thought the practice of boards of guardians in this matter should be to accept the lowest tender, because there was always this safeguard, that the medical officer was responsible for seeing that the guardians got what they were paying for. Considering that the Chancellor of the Exchequer reimbursed the boards of guardians he thought the Chief Secretary had taken a proper attitude in this important; matter. He was surprised to find from the accounts of the Local Government Board that this Government, 1151 which came into office on a cry of retrenchment, and on the principle of economy, should have presented a Budget promising a largo increase of £12,845 in connection with this important department. He cordially joined in the tribute paid by the Chief Secretary to the head of the department. He had a splendid record of public service. In the item for salaries and wages there was an increase of £5,814. There was an allowance of £252 to an auditor while one of the Commissioners was performing other duties. Referring to the transfer from this important department to another public department of one of its chief officials, he presumed that the Government were strictly within their right, but he thought he would have the sympathy of the Committee when He said it was not in the public interest that a permanent official, who had been for any considerable period of years in a particular department, should be transferred to another department. The principle was an unsound one, and should not be lightly resorted to. The cost of the transfer in this case was £252, and he submitted that the Government would have had no difficulty in getting another gentleman equally or probably better qualified as regarded this particular department, to undertake the work without the prospect of any reward. The Estimate also included £3,000 for temporary inspectors, as against £1,020 in the previous year. That was a phenomenal increase, and he awaited with interest any possible explanation which might be given. He asked also for an explanation of the increase with respect to the clerical staff. There was an item in the Estimates for temporary lady inspectors. He suggested that there should be nothing temporary about the employment of lady inspectors who were fulfilling important and valuable work. He had the utmost pleasure in saying, from personal knowledge, that there was no more valuable work done in Ireland than that performed by the lady inspectors in looking after boarded-out children. As 1152 to the cost of the audit of public accounts, he was sure that hon. Members were aware, from the protests which had been addressed to them, that charges made upon public bodies for auditing their accounts wore a cause of much complaint. He had the utmost sympathy with the protests, and yet he felt that a full and efficient audit was an absolute necessity to public bodies in Ireland. No public body had a right to object to it, but he thought it reasonable to suggest that the large annual increase in the cost of the audit was a matter that required close investigation by the Chief Secretary. Last year the Public Audit Department cost the country £13,825, while the receipts amounted to only £6,500. He asked for further information with regard to that £6,500. He submitted that the organisation of the Department called for close supervision, believing that the total cost involved was entirely out of proportion to the work done and the return obtained for it. He knew that considerable extra cost had been thrown on the department through the inquiries necessary under the Labourers Acts. To that additional cost he offered no objection, because he believed the work was necessary and would be increasingly valuable. There was on the Estimates this year a salary of £800 per annum for an additional assistant secretary. What was the meaning of that appointment? While he valued the work of this important department, and had no desire to offer carping criticism, he thought the Committee was entitled to explanations from the Government of the increases to which he had called attention.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. CHERRY, Liverpool, Exchange)
said the hon. Member for West Meath seemed to be under some misapprehension as to the powers of the Local Government Board under the Labourers Act of last session. The Act gave no increased powers to the Board to acquire unoccupied land for the purposes of the labourer or any other person. He 1153 understood the lion. Gentleman to say that it did. He thought the charge which the hon. Gentleman made had reference to the action of the Board in not seeking to get unoccupied land placed at the disposal of the labourers.
§ MR. CHERRY
said the hon. Member did not mention any specific case. While the Board had no power to acquire unoccupied land, they might refuse under the Act to assent to a scheme brought forward for the purpose of providing labourers cottages or allotments for labourers where cottages had already been built. When schemes were brought before the Board their inspectors reported upon them. After considering these reports the Board sanctioned or refused the schemes, and in respect of any decision come to an appeal lay to the County Court Judge. There was no allegation, so far as he was aware, that the Board had interfered unjustifiably in the way of objecting to a scheme being carried out. Might he remind the Committee what the powers conferred by the Act of 1906 were? One section enabled the Estates Commissioners to sell, for the purposes of labourers, parcels of unoccupied land which they had acquired under the Act of 1903. Another section enabled the Estates Commissioners, when disposing of unoccupied land, to sell to district councils for the purpose of carrying out schemes sanctioned under the Labourers Act. In other words, they had a voluntary transfer of land instead of compulsory purchase, thus effecting a saving of expense and trouble. These were, so far as he was aware, the only two conditions of the Act which affected the question. The Estates Commissioners were given further powers last year in respect to unoccupied lands to be transferred to district councils, and the Commissioners would, no doubt, turn their attention to this matter when the more pressing 1154 claims of the evicted tenants wore disposed of. He was quite sure that in a very short time the whole of the evicted tenants would be dealt with by the Estates Commissioners. As to the increases in the Local Government Board Vote referred to by the hon. Member for Londonderry, N., the whole staff of the Board had had to be increased in consequence of the increase of work imposed upon it by Parliament. Under the Labourers Act of last year, no less than 41,000 cottages had been applied for. Every Act passed for Ireland meant additional expense for administration and clerical work in the different Departments. There was, for instance, £3,000 in this Vote for temporary inspectors who were engaged at the present moment in conducting inquiries all over the country. Then there was a considerable increase in the correspondence with the different county councils, which entailed increased expenditure. The need was not a temporary but a permanent one, and it would not be advisable that some officers in the Department should hold permanent appointments and others only temporary appointments.
§ MR. MOORE
said that those who were interested in the labourers question had watched very closely the first year's Estimates after the passing of the Labourers Act. They had been assured, in the first place, that the result of that Act would be a great cheapening of procedure; but when they came to look at the Estimates they found that every penny of the charges had to be met by the local authorities. This year the expenses had risen from £2,000 to £6,000, and the cost of the arbitration proceedings from £2,500 to £7,000. A very significant note appeared at the foot of the page in the Estimates referring to the Labourers Acts, which stated that the Appropriation-in-Aid had been paid by the local bodies. It was very easy for the Government to put down an increase of expenditure in this large-hearted way, but the ratepayers had to make it good. 1155 It was particularly unfortunate that the Government should have chosen this year to increase the expenditure threefold, because in the same year they had reduced the Grants-in-Aid to local bodies in the north of Ireland. In the county of Antrim the grant had been reduced by £2,400, although in North Antrim they had built ten new cottages. This question affected not only the ratepayers, but the labourers, who were least able to protect themselves; because, when the local bodies found that the rates were going up from 6d. to 8d. in the £, to supply labourers cottages, it made the local bodies unwilling to supply the accommodation wanted.
§ MR. MOORE
said he did not want to boast of what he had done; but when he had been asked by the local authority what he would do, he wrote at once to say that he would give four acres of land for labourers cottages. He was therefore not at all ashamed of his record as to what he had done for the labourers on his estate.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
maintained that the picture given of the results of the Act of last year by the hon. Member was a dishonest one. It had been said that the estimate for inquires was increased. Why? Because more cottages were about to be built in the next two or three years than were built in the previous quarter of a century. A more preposterous and unfounded speech was never delivered than that of the hon. Gentleman. It might be true that more cottages had been built in North Antrim than in Mayo, because in North Antrim there were large numbers of labourers, and in East Mayo there were hardly any. He supported the Bill because he thought the money ought to be spent where the labourers cottages were needed, and therefore his withers were unwrung. 1156 The hon. Gentleman ought to be ashamed to speak on this subject at all. If he had any sense of decency—
§ MR. DILLON
said he was entitled to his opinion. The conduct of the counties in the provinces of Leinster and Munster was most creditable. In most of the counties of Ulster they had been most selfish, and if they had lost money under the Act of last year they had only done so in proportion to the extent which they had shirked their duty to the labourers.
§ MR. CHARLES CRAIG (Antrim, S.)
said that Members for the North of Ireland had always admitted that the Labourers Acts wore not well administered there, but that was the fault of the local authorities. The labourers in the North of Ireland required cottages, however, just as much as the labourers in county Cork. The hon. Member for East Mayo helped them by stealing the money which would have helped to build these houses, and taking it to the south of Ireland. It was true that money had been accumulated which ought to have been, spent long ago, and that money would have been spent had it not been for the act of robbery to which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite lent themselves last session and which deprived the labourers of the north of Ireland of hundreds of cottages. No doubt hon. Members from Ireland sitting below the gangway thought it good business to take £10,000 from the labourers of the north of Ireland to their own part of the country, yet the hon. Member for East Mayo found fault with 1157 the natural indignation which his hon. friend exhibited when the recollection of what happened last session in regard to this matter was brought home to him. He agreed to the full with his two hon. friends below him, and he agreed with the hon. Member for North Derry that the creation of a new Secretary with a salary of £800 a year, together with the other charges to which their attention had boon drawn, was not likely to help the cause of the labourors in the north of Ireland. They first of all robbed them of £10,000 a year, and then asked them to pay what appeared upon the face of it to be an unusually large charge. He hoped the Chief Secretary would give some explanation with regard to this.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL (Dublin University)
thought it would be desirable before the discussion closed that there should be some further explanation of the enormous increase in the Estimate for the ensuing year. The Attorney-General might be right in saying that to some extent it was due to the additional number of applications that were pending by reason of the Act of last session. At the same time it was impossible that that could account for the enormous increase of £12,000, and it was equally impossible that it could explain the necessity of a new permanent official at a salary of £800 a year. The great increase in the number of applications could not go on. There was last year a very large increase owing to the increased facility, but that increase would every year get proportionately less, and the duties of the Local Government Board in connection with the Labourers, Act would also decrease. Under the Act of last session the increased expenses incidental to the larger demand anticipated was supposed to be financed by an Act of the same session by £9,000;the Government introduced a Bill for the purpose of cutting down the number of Judges by two and of reducing the Lord Chancellor's salary from £8,000 to £2,000, but they never made the slightest 1158 effort to pass it. They deliberately allowed it to remain oven to the end of the session, and they did it without the slightest complaint or remonstrance from hon. Members for Ireland below the Gangway.
* THE DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
Order, order. You cannot discuss this on the question of the Vote. The Local Government Board is not responsible for the failure to pass legislation.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
thought the Deputy-Chairman had not quite appreciated his point. He was calling attention to the large increase in the Estimate in connection with the administration of the Labourers Act for the ensuing year, and He was pointing out that the fund contemplated by the Bill of last year to finance the Act had not been provided. With the greatest confidence he submitted that that was perfectly in order in connection with the subject they were now discussing.
§ MR. DILLON,
on the point of order, said that even if it were in order to discuss this matter from the point of view put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, he would call attention to the fact that that Act abolishing the Judges had nothing whatever to do with the increased expenditure thrown upon the Votes.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said that did not at all get rid of the point that while there was not merely an increased Estimate of over £12,000, but there had also been no provision made such as was contemplated, namely, an annual sum of £9,000, to finance last year's Act.
§ MR. JAMES CAMPBELL
said that it was the Local Government Board which had to administer the Labourers Act, and it was their administration and financial 1159 management that had been the subject of the debate. He had listened with the greatest pleasure to the by no means exaggerated terms in which the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Vice-President of the Local Government Board. He had been officially connected with him for a few years, and very frequently came in contact with him. His experience of Sir Henry Robinson coincided with that of the right hon. Gentleman, that in the Vice-President they had an officer whose whole desire was to discharge his duties efficiently, and with due regard to every interest concerned in Ireland. On the question of the lowest tender, he agreed with the hon. Member for South Kerry, that to lay down an inflexible rule that in every case the lowest tender must necessarily be accepted by boards of guardians, or by any other public bodies, would be a very great mistake; but he could not conceive it possible that the occasion would ever arise, because if boards of guardians were compelled to accept in every case the lowest tender they would be obliged to accept the shoddy goods of an English firm, while they could have got for a slight additional sum pure woollen goods from an Irish firm. But the answer to that was obvious. No sensible board of guardians would ever accept a tender for shoddy goods; they would require a sample, and would contract for delivery according to the approved sample. He had been pleased to hoar, however, the strongly expressed views of the hon. Member for South Kerry in favour of protecting Irish industries. By accepting the higher tender they could encourage Irish industries against English manufactured goods, rather than accept the English tender at the lower price. That was, he thought, the elementary lesson of protection, and he was glad that the idea at least on the benches below the Gangway, among hon. Members from Ireland, was making some headway. He could only say that he thoroughly endorsed what had been said by the right hon. 1160 Gentleman in regard to the question of the lowest tender. He quite agreed that no such inflexible rule should be, or ever had been, adopted by the Local Government Board. But speaking generally, everything else being equal, he thought the lowest tender should be accepted, and the possible danger of getting inferior goods could be obviated by deciding on a sample, and requiring a delivery up to the standard and quality of that sample. Subject to that limitation he quite agreed that the Local Government Board could not lay down the inflexible rule that in every case the lowest tender must be accepted.
§ MR. BIRRELL
said lie had listened with great pleasure to the very high character which had been given of the Vice-President of the Local Government Board by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The increased Estimate for the local Government Board was due partly to the natural increment of great offices of this kind, owing to the desire of officials for higher salaries, but was mainly accounted for by the extra work thrown upon the Board by the new Labourers Act. The number of applications for cottages and sites now amounted to 46,000, and it was felt that things would get into a hopeless muddle unless a separate department with an assistant secretary was organised. These applications caused an enormous increase of work; there were inquiries to be made, sites to be selected, arbitrations, and all the rest of it, and it was found that a separate department to deal with the work was absolutely necessary if hopeless confusion was to be avoided. These cottages were to be built all over Ireland and the money had got to be repaid; so that there would be work for many a long year, in connection with these Acts, for the Local Government Board to do. He, therefore, thought that there was nothing at all improvident in this matter. In regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Derry as to a public audit, it was a matter which he would look into 1161 and ascertain what the explanation of it was. Sir Henry Robinson was to have been present that night, but he was too unwell to leave Ireland. He would look into the matter and see whether any reduction could be effected in what certainly appeared to be a large figure. He did not want to go into the controversy about the cottages in the north of Ireland. They had been told by the hon. Gentleman opposite that his predecessor was a sort of highway robber, who in combination with other persons of the same kidney, inflicted a cruel blow upon several counties in Ireland. He must tell hon. Gentlemen that the object of Section 18 was to secure an equitable distribution. The following example would show the inequity of the former method of distribution—county Antrim, share for the year 1905–6, £2,453, and number of cottages erected since 1891, 212; county Cork, £3,466 and 2,030 respectively; Tyrone, £1,926 and 184; Limerick, £1,553 and 2,647; Down £2,010 and 235. As to the distribution of the Exchequer grants, he pointed out that the money had to be allocated among the various counties, according to their liabilities under the Labourers Acts. If that were robbery, it was one of which he should be very proud.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said he would like to see more equity in dealing with the north of Ireland. His hon. friend would have exhausted the strongest Parliamentary language permissible if he had expressed half of what the hon. Members representing Ulster thought of this deliberate spoliation and robbery, by which money had been filched away from the labourers in the north simply because they were Unionists.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said that it was no doubt only in order to impute motives when one happened to be outside the House. [Cries of "Withdraw."]
* THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Surely the hon. Member knows that it is worse to impute motives inside the House?
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said he knew it was safer to impute them outside, but if requested to withdraw the expression, he would do so at once. The hon. Member for East Mayo had made a more violent and vitriolic speech than usual. He had said that the counties in the North of Ireland were being justly punished by having this amount of money taken away from them for the building of cottages, because he thought those cottages should be erected in the south and west of Ireland, where political opinions were more in accord with his own.
§ MR. DILLON
said that no money was taken away. The distribution had been altered because certain places in the North of Ireland had refused to spend the money on cottages.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said the Ulster Members had never defended the action of certain local authorities in refusing to build cottages, but had brought pressure on thorn to spend the money at their disposal. The Government had deliberately said that, because local authorities had not spent the money at their disposal in the North of Ireland in every case, they would punish the labourers for the fault of those local authorities. ["No," and "Hear, hear."] The money would have been spent if the Government had chosen to put pressure on the local authorities, instead of robbing them as they wore doing now, simply because they were Unionist, and devoting the money to their new allies below the gangway. He joined with the representatives of Ulster in making a most earnest protest against what they believed to be a deliberate injustice to the part of the country they represented and one which, He feared, was dictated by purely political motives.
§ SIR HENRY CRAIK (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)
said there were 1163 certain aspects of this Vote which required more attention. He had had a long experience in drawing up Estimates, and he knew how difficult it was to get them passed by the Treasury and through the House. He was bound to say that he had never before, in any Estimate, seen an increase so little justified by any arguments from the front bench opposite He understood that the money administered under the Labourers Act amounted to about £60,000 a year. If hon. Members would look at the heads A and F for 1907–8, and compare them with 1906–7, they would find that there was an increase of nearly £15,000. That was a very large amount. The increase of expenses on the sum administered had been 25 per cent. Such an increase, so little justified, he had never known. Five or six per cent, of the total cost for expenses of administration was amply sufficient. He could only protest that these Estimates showed that the administrative charges were largely in excess of the proportion they ought to bear to the amounts administered. Some check should be put upon the extravagance in administration. The Departments in Ireland seemed to administer on principles totally different from those applied in Scotland or England. When he was in the Scottish Education Department any increase in administrative cost, however small, was most jealously judged, and rightly so. The Committee should take into consideration the lax manner in which matters regarding Irish salaries were administered.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY (Limerick, W.)
expressed satisfaction at the appointment of additional inspectors to carry out the administrative work of the Labourers Act. It was chiefly in connection with that Act that the additional expense had been incurred. The district councils and the labourers desired that the Act should be administered efficiently. The ratepayers in the county of Limerick taxed themselves up to Is. in the pound, and they thought 1164 it was only fair that they should get a larger share of the Exchequer contribution. When the Bill was going through the House last year he asked the Chief Secretary to give the district council who taxed themselves so heavily an additional grant, but his request was not acceded to the hon. Members from the North of Ireland who had spoken on this subject had no reason to complain of the way in which the Exchequer contribution had been dealt with.
§ Vote agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next; Committee to sit again upon Monday next.