HC Deb 04 December 1908 vol 197 cc1764-6

To ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland if he will state in how many cases the Local Government Board have proceeded for surcharges against presiding chairmen of local public bodies in Ireland for the years 1905–6–7; what was the amount claimed in each year named; in how many cases were proceedings prosecuted outside of the district where the alleged offence took place; has his attention been drawn to proceedings last week against Thomas Shannon, Vice-Chairman of the Bawnboy Rural District Council, in the city of Belfast; were the surcharges sued for two items of 8s. and £1 4s., being for relief granted to a woman suffering from paralysis and to a household in a poverty-stricken mountainous district where there was illness and children starving; did the auditor inquire into the circumstances and did the magistrate refuse to take evidence on this point; and whether, in view of the effect of the prevailing surcharge provisions, he will have the whole matter reviewed with a view to having this matter put right, even by legislation if necessary.

(Answered by Mr. Birrell.) The duties of the Local Government Board in regard to surcharges are confined to deciding upon any appeals duly made to the Board against them. It is upon the auditor that the duty of recovering surcharges is imposed by statute, both in cases where no appeal is taken against the surcharge and where they have been confirmed on appeal either by the Board or by the King's Bench. The Board have no record of the number of instances in which payment of the surcharges has been refused and the auditors have been obliged to have recourse to legal proceedings for their recovery. In the majority of cases, however, in which surcharges are made upon members of local authorities the members surcharged are those who authorised the expenditure surcharged, and the presiding chairman would be included among such persons. As regards the case of Thomas Shannon, the surcharges of 8s. and £1 4s. were in respect of the cost of outdoor relief afforded to the wives of two farmers who were each in occupation of twenty acres of land. The auditor, before making these surcharges, fully inquired into the circumstances of the cases. No appeal was made against them, and he proceeded to recover the amounts. Mr. Shannon, however, went to Belfast, where service of the summonses having been effected with some difficulty, the cases were eventually heard. The magistrates made an order for the full amounts with costs. They refused to enter into the merits and, as it has been judicially decided that their functions in such cases are purely magisterial, they appear to have acted correctly in so refusing and merely giving a decree for the amounts of the surcharges. The guardians are prohibited by law from affording outdoor relief to occupiers of over a quarter of an acre of land. They are well aware of the existence of this prohibition, and the auditor had no option but to make the surcharge.