§ Order for consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."
§ Mr. LONSDALE
moved, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
In moving that the consideration of this Bill be postponed, I think it is only due to the House that I should state my reasons for intervening in a matter which is not connected with my own constituency. I do not, however, think that I need offer any apology for the action I am taking; because I represent in this matter the Unionist or Protestant ratepayers of the town of Sligo. They are a strong minority in that town; and they pay more than half the local rates. They are entirely without representation on the Corporation of Sligo—which is promoting this Bill—and they have to look to the Unionist Members from Ireland to see that their views in regard to this Bill are laid before the House of Commons. I have said that there is no Unionist or Protestant on the Sligo Corporation; but, indeed, Sir, the case is very much worse than that. There is not a single Unionist representative upon any of the public bodies in the county of Sligo.
The corporation—the county council—the Governors of the asylum, the infirmary committee, the rural district councils, and the boards of guardians—each and all of them are exclusively Nationalist. I commend that fact to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are so willing to take at their face value the professions of toleration which the Nationalists are making so lavishly at the present time. In Sligo we have an example of Nationalism in practice, and I venture to say that it is an instructive sidelight on Home Rule. This Bill has been introduced because the town of 1467 Sligo is unable to meet its liabilities. So far as I can understand, it is practically in a state of insolvency. That is the condition to which it has been reduced by the Nationalist Corporation. And that, I venture to think, is the condition in which the whole of Ireland would be placed if the country were under Nationalist control.
The Nationalists of Sligo are great believers in the virtues of a loan—as a means of escaping from financial difficulties. This Bill is neither more nor less than a borrowing Bill, and it proposes to give the Corporation of Sligo practically unlimited powers of borrowing. The history of this proposal—as it is revealed in the Preamble of the Bill itself—is most peculiar. The Corporation have a debt of some £11,700, which is charged on the security of the borough rate. Sligo is governed by a local Act—and in that Act a limit is placed on the amount of the borough rate. It cannot exceed in any year 4s. 6d. in the pound. No doubt when that limit was fixed it allowed an ample margin for meeting all the necessities of the town. But it has proved far too narrow for the Nationalist corporation.
The amount produced by the borough rate—at the full limit of 4s. 6d. in the pound—has been altogether insufficient to satisfy the corporation's thirst for expenditure. Year after year there has not been enough money in the exchequer to pay the interest on the loan of £11,700, and to make the repayments of principal as they fell due. Five years ago—as it is recited in the preamble—there was a sum of £3,000 owing by the corporation in respect of unpaid interest on and instalments of principal of the said sum of £11,719. What did the corporation do? They resorted to a loan. They could not pay the interest on the debt which they were liable for, and so they proceeded to borrow more money and contract fresh liabilities, making their position more hopeless than ever. The corporation borrowed £3,000 on the personal security of certain members of the corporation, and with this money they cleared off the arrears of interest on the original debt.
Since then there has been a further accumulation of unpaid interest and instalments of principal, both on the original loan and on the new debt of £3,000. Consequently we have the corporation coming to this House and asking for power to contract a fresh loan, to enable them to re- 1468 pay the £3,000 which they have borrowed, and to pay the outstanding interest. At the same time they ask for the removal of the existing limit upon the borough rate. They practically ask for unlimited borrowing powers and unlimited spending powers; and I must say that, with their financial record, the Nationalist Corporation of Sligo are not entitled to ask for such wide powers. A very large number of the people of Sligo are of the same opinion. In fact, I am told on good authority that a great majority of the residents in Sligo are opposed to this Bill.
The rates in the town are at present over 10s. in the pound, and there is a very natural fear among all classes of the ratepayers that this Bill will mean a heavy addition to their burdens. The ratepayers of Sligo who oppose this Bill maintain that the present receipts of the borough could be increased without an addition to the rates. They recommend that there should be a re-valuation of the property in the town. This would not be satisfactory to the local publicans, who are strongly represented on the corporation; but it would undoubtedly increase the yield of the present borough rate, and ensure a more equitable distribution of the burden. The corporation might obtain a larger revenue from the thirty acres of common lands which they control if they let them for grazing purposes. They might secure a portion of the agricultural grant to which the borough is clearly entitled. They might reduce official salaries. Instead of making any attempt in this direction, they have recently appointed a borough treasurer, which, of course, is an entirely unnecessary office. The salary paid to this official might be saved. The revenue of the borough could be increased if more attention was paid to the proper collection of the rates. Money might be saved if the debts of the corporation were consolidated.
I mention these points to show that this Bill is unnecessary. I submit that with proper and more efficient administration and the exercise of reasonable economy, there should be no need to increase the rates of Sligo. I may point out that in 1905 the Corporation of Sligo applied for increased rating powers. There was a Local Government Board inquiry, at which the ratepayers pointed out the various ways in which the corporation could save money. As the result of that inquiry the application of the corporation was refused. Nothing has happened since to justify a 1469 reversal of the decision of the Local Government Board on that occasion. The corporation have not effected economics; they have not utilised the resources of the borough, and the ratepayers view with alarm the present proposal to give unlimited powers of rating to this Nationalist body in whom they have no confidence. At all events, when the Bill was submitted to a meeting of the ratepayers on 1st March, it was there and then rejected by a large majority. The promoters of the Bill demanded a poll—as they were fully entitled to do—and they obtained a nominal majority in favour of the Bill. They accomplished this result by making the question a party one. According to the posters which they issued—and which I have seen—the issue was between Nationalism and Unionism. The ratepayers were reminded that the Sligo Corporation is a Nationalist body, and that the opposition to this Bill was simply a device by the Unionists to discredit the corporation. One of the councillors, speaking at a public meeting on the eve of the poll, introduced, I am sorry to say, the religious element into the controversy. He—thanked God fervently that he had lived to see the day when the Sligo Corporation was composed of twenty-four Roman Catholics.I may say that no less than twelve of the councillors are publicans, in addition to one representative of a brewery. This member of the corporation, who I am informed is vice-president of the Hibernian Society, invoked the name and authority of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford in support of the Bill.John Redmond (I am quoting the words of Councillor Jinks) is in favour of this Bill, and, if you strike a blow against the corporation, you strike a blow against John Redmond.He went on to say:—Vote for the Bill ! By doing so, you will return one vote for Irish nationality, a vote for Irish independence and for Home Rule.He taunted the Unionists with having no voice in Sligo to-day. He said:—Their days are done in Sligo, thank God, and the days are coming when Nationalists shall adorn every public Board in Sligo.These appeals by members of the corporation to political prejudice and religious animosity can have but one meaning. They indicate that the Nationalists of Sligo, having got the Unionists into the position described by the Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon) as the "under dog," are determined to use their power with absolute intolerance. I do not think there can be the least doubt that, if voting had been secret, and the ratepayers had been 1470 free from party pressure, the Bill would have been rejected at the poll as it was at the public meeting. Even with all the pressure which the Nationalists were able to exercise, they could not induce anything like a majority of the ratepayers to vote for the Bill. There are 2,474 ratepayers on the register, but out of this number only 744 actually voted for the Bill, that is to say, less than one-third of the total electorate. More than one half of the constituency did not vote at all; and we are entitled to assume that most of those who abstained did so because they were afraid to vote against the Bill.
I oppose the further progress of this Bill on three grounds. In the first place, I do not think any public body in the position of the Sligo Corporation should be given practically unlimited powers of borrowing and spending money. In the second place, I maintain that the Nationalist Corporation of Sligo have proved themselves incapable of managing the affairs of the town, and are not entitled to any extension of their existing powers. And, in the third place, I contend that this Bill does not command the approval, not only of the Unionists of Sligo, who are the largest ratepayers, but of the majority of the people, irrespective of politics or creed. I may point out there has been no opportunity for a thorough examination of this proposal at an earlier stage. Owing to a misunderstanding, the Second Reading was obtained without opposition; and it has passed through Committee without that thorough investigation which is given to an opposed Bill. I think I am justified therefore, in asking the House not to proceed further with a Bill which will certainly increase both the rates and the rents of Sligo, but will not place the finances of that borough upon a sounder basis or confer any benefit upon the inhabitants.
§ Mr. CHARLES CRAIG
I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend. I think the House will have seen from what fell from him that the Unionists of Sligo are very much interested in this Bill. He has pointed out that, although the Unionists and Protestants of Sligo pay at least one-half of the rates of the borough, there is not a single representative of their number upon the borough council. The House will, I have no doubt, recollect the repeated statements which have been made by Nationalist Members that it was their desire and wish that the Unionists should have proper representation on these boards to which a 1471 large proportion of the rates was paid by them, although they were not numerically strong enough to ensure the election of one of their own number. We all remember the promises made by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford in 1898, when the Local Government Bill was passing through this House. He said that in exactly similar cases to these the Nationalists would see to it that Protestants and Unionists would have proper representation, and yet, in the case of a borough like Sligo, where a large part of the business of the town is conducted by Unionists, who pay at least one half of the rates, they are not allowed a single representative on the corporation.
The object of the opposition which we are presenting to this Bill to-night is that the Sligo Council should not be allowed to extricate themselves from the difficulty into which they have got through rotten finance, through extravagance, and through not attending to the affairs of the borough in a businesslike and a proper way. There are many ways by which this comparatively small sum asked for by this Bill can be raised. My hon. Friend has mentioned the question of the re-valuation of the borough, and that, I think, would be the most natural, as well as the easiest way to get over the difficulty. The information at our disposal indicates that the corporation property is not managed as it ought to be, and that a larger income might well be attained from it. Again, we are led to understand that, in the relations between the borough council and the county council there has been a lack of businesslike qualities, and, at this moment, Sligo is paying far more in the way of county charges than it ought to do. We are told, for instance, that the Sligo Corporation are paying for the maintenance of the roads from thirty to forty miles outside the town, and that, on the last occasion on which an effort was made to regulate the relations between the borough and the county councils, that important point was not dealt with. The difficulty which this Bill is to remedy might in quite a short time be overcome by an adjustment of the entire financial relations between the borough and county councils.
A great deal of this indebtedness has been brought about by reckless extravagance and want of businesslike qualities on the part of the council of Sligo, and we suggest that they should get proper finan- 1472 cial advisers and should elect on the council business men who will find it quite easy to extricate them from the difficulty in which they find themselves without the necessity of passing a Bill of this kind. My hon. Friend has told the House that the ratepayers, when first consulted, absolutely refused to let this Bill proceed, but the promoters, being determined to get their £3,000, asked for a poll, and from that time onwards the struggle was conducted on political and religious grounds. My hon. Friend has referred to a meeting held on the day before the poll, and I have here a, copy of the "Sligo Independent," which gives a full report of the speeches. I should like to read a few extracts. Councillor Jinks was apparently the principal speaker. The meeting was heralded, I should say, by the Nationalist bands in the town being turned out to beat up the Nationalists and to assemble them in front of the Town Hall. I want to give a few extracts from the speech of Councillor Jinks to prove that this matter was made one entirely of religion and politics, and that it was that fact alone which secured for the Bill a majority of votes among the ratepayers. Councillor Jinks said:—I would advise you to support the Bill and to back up the Nationalist Corporation—not to hack up your enemies of yesterday who are your professed friends of to-day. … Are the Tories of this town to walk on the Catholics of Sligo?…I am proud to see such a demonstration of intelligent public opinion, I am proud to see men of intelligence in a town like Sligo here to-night backing up the Bill of the corporation. (Hear, hear, and a Voice: To Hell with the Tories).I submit that that is not exactly the way in which to approach matters of this kind. Councillor Jinks went on to say:—Men of Sligo do not be cajoled by threats. You have twenty-four members on the corporation, twenty-four Catholics, thank God; twenty-four members who are prepared to do their best to govern the town of Sligo fair and square.I think that is a most disgraceful reference to the religious prejudices of the people. Again he said:—I believe to-morrow, when the votes are counted, they will be found solid for the corporation, an Irish Nationalist body. I appeal to you men of Sligo, as men of integrity-and honesty, as Catholics, and as Irish Nationalists to vote for this Bill. Fellow townsmen, there is more at the back of this than you are aware of. John Redmond, the Leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, who claims to voice the opinions of Ireland, is in favour of the Bill. If you strike a blow against the corporation, you strike a blow against John Redmond. Are you going to follow the dictates of Capt. Craig, of Belfast, or of Tod Sloan? Mind you vote in the first column on behalf of the Corporation Bill, as in doing that you will give a vote for Irish independence, for Irish-nationalism, and for Home Rule.I submit that in the face of these expressions it would be ridiculous to say, after 1473 having refused to allow this Bill to go forward, that the decision at a poll brought about by the methods employed by Councillor Jinks and others can be regarded by this House of Commons as a proper decision. Let us examine the figures of this poll. There are 2,474 voters on the register, and out of that number only about one-half voted on this Bill, although it was a matter which, according to Councillor Jinks, was of enormous importance; 744 voted for the Bill, and 433 against. I have been unable to find out the exact numbers of Nationalists and Unionists in Sligo, but I do not think I shall be challenged when I say that 433 Unionist ratepayers represent a very much larger proportion of the Unionist ratepayers than 744 do of the Nationalists. I say, therefore, there is a very strong expression of feeling on the part of the Unionists that this Bill should not be proceeded with, and it is a very extraordinary thing that the Nationalists themselves were unable to make the total poll half of the number of the people on the register, and that when they maintain that this is a matter of first-class importance, and that without this Bill being passed the affairs of Sligo will be reduced to chaos and confusion. As a matter of fact, it would be impossible to reduce them to a greater state of chaos and confusion than they are in at the present time. I submit that my hon. Friend has made out a clear case in favour of a, small minority which has very little opportunity of making themselves heard in this House. It was impossible for them, owing to the smallness of their number and the comparative smallness of the amount asked for in the measure—it was impossible to expect that they should petition this House against the Bill, and so might be heard in Committee, because, as we know, in the House of Commons a Bill of this sort costs a considerable amount of money. It would only be exposing themselves to further expenditure if they had done so; but they have asked my hon. Friend and myself to state their case to the House. This is why we are raising our voices upon the subject of the Bill, instead of their taking the course of appearing against it before a Committee.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I am sure the House will agree with me that the speeches made by the Mover and Seconder of the Motion are directed rather to arouse in the House political and religious bias—the old object of hon. Gentlemen who sit above the Gangway—than to discuss the merits or 1474 demerits of this Bill. Let me point out that from the speech of the hon. Member who has moved this Motion it is quite clear that either he has not read the Bill or, if he has read it, he does not understand it. He falls into the initial error of saying that under this Bill the Sligo Corporation seeks unlimited borrowing powers, and several times in the course of his remarks he repeated that error. He was corrected by the hon. Member for Down, who pointed out that all that the Corporation of Sligo seek for in this Bill is power to borrow a comparatively small sum, and I think that when a question upon a private Bill of a small Corporation is being raised in this House and its valuable time wasted hon. Members who take this course should at least take the initial trouble of learning what they are talking about and what is the nature of the course they are asking the House to pursue. It is pointed out, and this is the great grievance that underlies this whole matter, that the Corporation of Sligo, as at present constituted, is exclusively a Nationalist body. Both of the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have read extracts from the speech of one member of the Sligo Corporation, and I regret that they did not read the whole of the speech of that councillor, or, indeed, the whole of the speeches delivered, because I am sure the House would have derived as much pleasure from listening to the eloquence of the councillors as they did from listening to the speeches of the hon. Members. It is true that the Unionists of Sligo are gentlemen who are called Protestants, and they cannot talk politics without introducing religion.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
It is not so. It is not we who seek to introduce religious topics; it is hon. Members below the Gangway.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
As far as that interruption is concerned I am sure the House will agree with me that hon. Members above the Gangway, especially the hon. Member who moved this Motion, never intervene in any Debate, except with the object of villifying their fellow-countrymen and raising religious prejudice. I am sure that the House is sick to death of this prejudice and that in the present instance they will appraise it at its proper value. One of the hon. Members says that the Unionists and the Protestants of Sligo represent the entire wealth of the town. Does he mean to represent that this small and wealthy portion of the population earn their living and accumulate their wealth 1475 by taking in one another's washing? I have lived in Sligo and belong to the place and there is no feeling prevailing there between the Protestants and the Catholics. The Protestants of Sligo are a thriving body of traders. With whom do they trade? Why, with their Catholic fellow-citizens, and I think that is an excellent tribute to the absence of bigotry among the people, as it appears that in Sligo the minority are allowed to thrive and prosper and produce wealth by trading with their fellow Catholic townsmen.
Let me call the attention of the House to the real meaning of this Bill. There is no proposal in this Bill to seek unlimited borrowing powers, but the corporation ask Parliament for authority to borrow a capital sum of £7,000. Part of this has been incurred already, and for one portion of it a sum of £3,000, the credit of a number of the citizens of Sligo who have served upon the corporation, has been pledged; and these gentlemen stand responsible for the payment of this sum. The first object of this Bill is to enable the corporation of Sligo to repay the principal of this sum with the interest which has been paid for five or six years by those private citizens who have become responsible for the payment of this sum. On reference to the schedule of the Bill it will be found that the only other proposal in it is to give the corporation power to borrow an additional sum of £3,745 and any interest which may be due. Therefore, in the main, the object of the Bill is to ask for power to borrow money which the corporation and the citizens themselves have already paid. How is this Bill promoted? In the first place, and this is a necessity by the municipal law of Ireland, two successive meetings of the corporation were held in November last and in January of this year, and they decided unanimously to petition Parliament for these borrowing powers. Then a small clique of Sligo Tories, disguising its politics under the name of the Ratepayers' Association, protested against the action of the corporation, with the result that, as happens when a proposal for legislation is opposed in this country, it was necessary to take a poll of the ratepayers. In the poll more than half of the ratepayers on the roll voted, and the number who voted for the Bill was 744, and the number who voted against was 433. Therefore a very substantial majority of the citizens of Sligo voted in its favour. Not only that, but 1476 before proceeding with this proposal for. legislation, the corporation of Sligo took the precaution of approaching the Irish Local Government Board and got their sanction to borrow this sum, and the Board approved of the Bill. It comes before this House as an unopposed Bill, It goes through all its stages, including the Second Reading, and for some reason best known to hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, they do not oppose it at that stage, to which this Debate would be more appropriate than the Report stage.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I have not the least idea of what induced my hon. Friends below the Gangway to absent themselves from the House when, if they had been present, they might effectually have taken part in the Second Reading Debate.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I do not wish to pursue a personal matter of this kind with the hon. Gentleman, but his statement is quite inconsistent with the facts.
§ Mr. CHARLES CRAIG
I beg to ask you, Mr. Speaker, if the hon. Member has any right to say that my statement is absolutely inconsistent with the facts?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a very guarded way of saying it is not true. Perhaps I could throw light on the incident to which the hon. Member refers. The fact was that the Second Reading came on after the time at which hon. Members on my left thought no further opposed business could be taken.
§ Mr. SCANLAN
I quite acknowledge that statement, but the hon. Gentleman states I know perfectly well why he was absent. That statement I absolutely contradict. It is a statement as to the state of my mind, and I know at least as much about that as he does. When this matter came before the citizens of Sligo at this Referendum, the proportion of the citizens of Sligo who came out to vote was larger than the proportion of the citizens of other countries who take part in such matters. What happened? The passions of the people were inflamed by the Ratepayers' Association. The gang of slum landlords who compose that association represented that if this Bill were passed the rents of the poor 1477 people in Sligo would be doubled. The fact is that the amount asked for in this Bill is an amount which cannot possibly entail more than an additional rate of 6d. in the pound.
With reference to the statement that the citizens of Sligo did not elect the friends of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, the friends of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, Conservatives and Unionists, have kept aloof from the corporation. In 1899, the last occasion before the present system of franchise was introduced, two Unionists who stood were elected by substantial majorities, and held seats in the corporation of Sligo for three years. Since then these gentlemen have kept aloof from the affairs of the town. Because they are wealthy they treat themselves as a kind of patrician nobility, and look down upon the body whom they call the Nationalist corporation, and allow them to do all the work and take all the responsibility for the affairs and the finance of the town. They help them in no way, but throw every possible obstacle in the way of the efforts which they make to govern the town. With respect to a revaluation I think it is very likely that it will take place, and when it does I am sure any fair revaluation will throw a bigger burden of taxation on the shoulders which are best able to bear it—those who have the wealth of the town.
The corporation of Sligo are a very provident body. During the last ten years, as I can show from the audited balance sheet of the corporation, there has been £7,000 of the corporation's debt paid off—£7,000 of the capital expenditure incurred at the time when the friends of hon. Members above the Gangway ruled Sligo and made a mess of the affairs of the town. Let me give one instance, which accounts perhaps better than anything else for the position in which the town finds itself to-day. Over twenty years ago, when the Corporation of Sligo was manned exclusively by the friends of hon. Members above the Gangway, those gentlemen purchased from the feudal landlord the market sites of the town at a cost of about £9,000, and the Sligo Corporation has to pay interest on that money at the rate of over 4 per cent., and in addition to that they have to pay a head rent to the landlord interested in the market sites of the corporation of £289 a year. When the friends of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway had control of the affairs of Sligo 1478 they looked after their own interests and the present generation of taxpayers are not responsible for the misfortunes created by the administration. I resent the attacks made on Sligo. Ever since the Local Government Act was passed the Corporation of Sligo has been run on strictly economical lines. The salaries, instead of being increased, have been cut down, and every effort has been made to effect economies in administration. But at the same time Sligo is hampered by being in a position in which no other town in Ireland finds itself, according to the Report of the Local Government Board. It has a limited rate, whereas there is no limitation whatever on the expenditure which Sligo has to bear.
The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Charles Craig) offered the suggestion—it is very good of him to offer suggestions to the Corporation of Sligo, but I think they know their own business, and are quite as capable of managing it as he is of managing anything—that the proper way to get rid of the difficulties in which the corporation is placed would be to readjust the relationship between the town of Sligo and the county. He talks of the town of Sligo having to contribute to the upkeep of roads throughout the whole county of Sligo. It is perfectly true that this burden is laid on the town of Sligo, but my friend is a lawyer, and he should know something about the municipal law of Ireland. It is the case that the relationship, so far as taxation and contributions from a borough to a county are concerned, are regulated by the public law of Ireland, and no private effort on the part of the Corporation of Sligo can alter in the slightest the incidence of taxation as between the county and the borough which is seeking for the powers contained in this Bill. In asking the House to pass the Bill I would refer hon. Members to the report of the Committee. Let me point out that the Bill was before a Committee which consisted of the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Deputy-Chairman, the hon, Member for Durham, and the hon. Member for Staffordshire, who are colleagues of the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway who are now opposing the Bill, The Bill was carefully considered by the Committee. The mayor of Sligo, the accountant of Sligo, and the solicitor in charge of the affairs of the corporation were examined at considerable length by the Members of the Committee, who devoted most painstaking care to the consideration of the Bill. In their report, 1479 which is now before the House, the Committee state:—That the Bill does not give borrowing powers for any purpose for which such powers already exist or may be obtained under general Acts without subjecting the exercise of the powers under the Bill to the approval from time to time by the proper Government Department.That there are no other circumstances of which, in the opinion of the Committee, it is desirable that the souse should be informed.The Chairman of Ways and Means further reported from the Committee: That they had examined the allegations of the Bill, and found the same to be true, and had gone through the Bill and made Amendments thereunto.In these circumstances, I ask, is it right that a matter which does not concern a soul outside of Sligo should be discussed in the Imperial Parliament? It asks the House to authorise the borrowing of a sum of £7,000 for repairing and cleansing the streets of Sligo alone. Surely it is an abuse of the forms and procedure of the House that the time of the House should be wasted in considering a matter of this kind. Everything has been done in the way of promoting the Bill and the hearing of evidence, and we ought to be able to get what is wanted by local order, but we cannot get a local order. We are compelled to come to this Parliament. If you will give us the opportunity, matters of this kind could be easily settled in Ireland. But as we have to come to this Parliament, having complied with all the regulations, and having obtained for the Bill the approval of a Committee of this House, I ask the House with every confidence to pass the Bill.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I should not have interfered in this Debate but for the fact that I am interested in the town of Sligo as a property owner. At the first blush the Bill is one which I would strongly support. It is in my own financial interest that the Bill should be passed. I have had for a considerable number of years property let to the corporation of Sligo, and unfortunately owing to the financial condition of the town, I have found considerable difficulty in getting my rent. Therefore any proposal for giving a sum of money to the corporation I would be glad to vote for if I considered only my own personal interest. Taking a wider view of the Bill, what I ask the House to consider is whether it is wise to entrust to the present corporation of Sligo a sum of money which they would probably spend, and then possibly come to the House again and ask for a fresh loan. I deprecate, and I am sure most Members of the House 1480 deprecate, the introduction of religion or politics into the discussion of a local Bill of this sort. I do not care whether the corporation of Sligo is Nationalist or Unionist, Conservative or Liberal, Protestant or Catholic, but what I do say is, that the corporation of Sligo in the last few years have not shown themselves capable of running that important town. Sligo is the most prosperous town in the west of Ireland. From its geographical position it possesses the best harbour in the west, and that harbour is the natural outlet of a great agricultural district. It has a considerable maritime trade, and it is a town which should go ahead and will go ahead. Unfortunately at the present moment—I do not say whose fault it is—the management of that town is not carried out in the way that any well-conducted town in England, Ireland, or Scotland is carried out. My point is that if you give the Corporation of Sligo an additional sum of money it will only encourage them in their mismanagement. If they get this £3,000, or whatever the sum is, they will think that they have only to come again and ask for £5,000. If the Bill is rejected they will see whether they cannot retrench or whether they cannot raise the money in some other way. I think we should be doing the corporation. a good turn and acting in the best interests of the town of Sligo if we did not pass the Bill but sent it back to the corporation to see if they cannot find some other means of raising the money.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Redmond Barry)
I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Ashley) in saying that this certainly is not a case where either religion or politics ought to be introduced. It certainly is a very perplexing feature of the Debates in regard to Ireland, and not an agreeable state of things, that such subjects should be introduced in a Debate of this nature. The proposals in the Bill are of a very simple character, and I think if properly understood no reasonable objection can be offered to them. It has been pointed out already, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman who is opposing the Bill now accepts the situation, that it is not the case that unlimited power to borrow is to be acquired under the Bill. On the contrary, very limited borrowing power is being sought for. A restriction is provided that the borrowing power shall only extend to £3,000 to be raised of the £11,700, and 1481 £3,700 due to Board of Works, together with a further sum amounting to some hundreds of pounds, representing the costs of this Bill. Beyond this there is no borrowing power at all. Anyone who will take the trouble to read Clause 4 will see that at once. I should like briefly to state what was the origin of the £11,700. The Local Government Board in 1904 made an order authorising the council of the borough to provide that sum. The Local Government Act of 1902 conferred on certain councils in Ireland power to defray the yearly expenses by means of loans instead of out of revenue. This is by no means confined to Sligo, but is largely extended throughout the country. In the year 1902 an Act of Parliament was passed in which a section was specially introduced for the purpose of enabling the Local Government Board to authorise those bodies to raise sums of money in order to liquidate the liabilities then created. If the hon. Gentleman will took at the first recital in this Bill he will see that there is a section setting out that in the case of liabilities incurred prior to 1st April, 1902, the Local Government Board could, if they thought fit, give borrowing powers to local bodies for the money in order to liquidate the liabilities Accordingly, under the Bill of 1904, the Local Government Board, having made, I suppose, many other orders, made an order in favour of the Sligo council that they should have the power of borrowing to the amount of £11,700 to liquidate these old liabilities. It was found immediately after the order was passed that, though the power to borrow was given, the limit that was placed upon the borough rate, was not taken off, that limit being 4s. 6d. in the £, under the provisions of the two local Acts, which apply to Sligo and to Sligo alone in. Ireland. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, the position of Sligo in that respect is absolutely unique. Under its own local Acts it is absolutely restricted to a rate of 4s. 6d., which under no circumstances can be exceeded. Therefore, the unique position was realised that the council had got an order of the Local Government Board made in pursuance of the Act of 1902, authorising them to borrow £11,700, but, owing to the limit placed by the Acts on the rate, there was no money to pay the interest upon the borrowed sum. Accordingly, between 1904 and 1906, liabilities to the extent of £3,000 accumulated in respect of the sums that were borrowed, and in June, 1906, some of the councillors personally went security with 1482 the bank in order to raise the sum of £3,000 that was necessary to pay the interest accrued up to that time, which there was no money to pay for owing to the limit I have mentioned in the rate. That is the first sum that is sought to be defrayed by this Bill, to raise which borrowing powers are being given. It seems but commonsense and common fairness that as the Local Government Board considered, in 1904, that there was a case for giving authority to raise a loan to the extent of £11,000, it would not be just or fair to the individual members of the body who have supplied the £3,000 out of their own money that power should not be given to repay them.
§ Mr. LONSDALE
Can the right hon. Gentleman explain how they propose to pay the interest on the £11,700, that is, on the £3,000 they have borrowed, and on the further loans?
§ Mr. REDMOND BARRY
That is perfectly simple. What is provided by this Bill is that the limit of 4s. 6d., which I have referred to, shall be extended for the purposes of this borrowing, and until this particular sum of £6,000 that is now going to be raised is paid off that limit of 4s. 6d. will be extended, whether it be to 5s. or 5s. 6d., as the case may be. As soon as that sum is liquidated the old limit at once returns, and cannot be passed for any other purpose except to raise the £7,000 provided for in this Bill. The other sum involved is a sum of £3,700 due to the Board of Works in connection with public works. They are indicated in the schedule,' and consist of loans obtained for water works, sanitary purposes, and the building of artisans' dwellings. These liabilities were all perfectly bonâ fide incurred by the Council in the course of the administration of their office. There is no suggestion that there was any waste of the money. Had there been a waste of the money the Local Government Board never would and never could have sanctioned a loan of £11,000 in order to defray these sums. The very character of the works mentioned in the schedule shows that the moneys were for works legitimately undertaken by the Council; but the Council are in the unique position in Ireland of being absolutely bound hand and foot by that restriction of 4s. 6d. in their rates, and this Bill has no other object in the world than to remove that limit for the time being, in order to enable these particular sums to be discharged. That is the case as we understand it. It 1483 is one which is wholly free from any question of politics or religion. I think it a most deplorable thing that these questions should be brought forward, and I will ask the House to approve of the Bill.
§ Mr. O'DOWD
The hon. Member (Mr. Ashley) who spoke a few moments ago about Sligo and its mismanagement forgot to tell the House that Sligo is one of the few towns in Ireland that have increased in population during the last fifty years. The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill spoke, as usual, of the spirit of bigotry and religious intolerance existing in Sligo. I suppose that their speeches would not be perfect unless the question of religious intolerance came in. As a Sligo man who is intimately connected with the borough of Sligo, and as chairman of the Sligo County Council, which has a financial connection with the borough of Sligo, I may point out that the Local Government Act of 1898 changed the financial relations existing between the Borough and the Council of Sligo. Therefore, to meet the requirements of the time, it was absolutely necessary that improvements neglected by the former Tory body, whether they were grand juries or corporations, had to be carried out in order to bring the county and the borough up to date. Bridges required to be built, roads which were neglected in the good old Tory times had to be made, and there was greater expenditure necessary not alone for the borough but for the county of Sligo. The people, when they got the local government of the country into their own hands, bent themselves to the work of improving what was formerly neglected by their Tory predecessors, and therefore additional expenditure, for which good value was got, had to be
§ undertaken by the county, district, and borough councils of Ireland. Now, so far as the case against the Bill is concerned, there is nothing in it. The borrowing powers are being extended by £7,000 for the purpose of meeting liabilities incurred for works that are absolutely necessary in the interests of the public. We hear a lot about our Tory predecessors as grand jurors, but I can say as chairman of the Sligo County Council that our predecessors handed us down n legacy of £1,570 debt as a result of their economic action, which we had to pay last year. That is the legacy of debt left to us by our Tory predecessors. There is no case against the Bill at all. Every fair-minded man on both sides of the House whose conduct is regulated by fairplay and honesty, should vote for this Bill. The people of Sligo are well able to pay the £7,000, and, really, I am amazed at hon. Members above the Gangway interfering in business which does not in the slightest degree concern them or any one of them. The Ratepayers' Association of Sligo is a gang of narrow-minded Orange bigots, who, I assert from this bench, do not possess the confidence of moderate Conservatives of the county of Sligo, whom we all respect, and with whom, I, personally, live on the best possible terms, although I am against them politically. This gang of narrow-minded bigots could get no person to voice their sentiments—either English, Scotch, or Welsh, and they had to go to Ulster, where, of course, they succeeded in getting the hon. Member for Mid-Armagh (Mr. Lonsdale) to present their case. I hope the House will accept this measure, which I have great pleasure in supporting.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 158; Noes, 75.1485
|Division No. 238.||AYES.||[9.30 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Byles, William Pollard||Doris, William|
|Abraham, Rt. Hon. William (Rhondda)||Cameron, Robert||Duffy, William J.|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Cawley, Sir Frederick (Prestwich)||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)|
|Adamson, William||Cawley, H. T. (Lancs., Heywood)||Edwards, Clement (Glamorgan, E.)|
|Allen, Arthur A. (Dumbarton)||Chapple, Dr. William Allen||Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)|
|Atherley-Jones, Llewellyn A.||Clough, William||Emmett, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Baker, Joseph Allen (Finsbury, E)||Clynes, John R.||Esmonde, Sir Thomas (Wexford, N.)|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Collins, Godfrey P. (Greenock)||Essex, Richard Walter|
|Barnes, George N.||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Farrell, James Patrick|
|Barry, Redmond John (Tyrone, N.)||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Fenwick, Charles|
|Beale, W. P.||Cotton, William Francis||Ffrench, Peter|
|Benn, W. W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.)||Crawshay, Williams, Eliot||Fitzgibbon, John|
|Bowerman, Charles W.||Crean, Eugene||Flavin, Michael Joseph|
|Brady, Patrick Joseph||Crumley, Patrick||France, Gerald Ashburner|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.)||Gelder, Sir W. H.|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Gill, Alfred Henry|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Dawes, James Arthur||Goldstone, Frank|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Delany, William||Guest, Hon. Frederick E. (Dorset, E.)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Gulland, John William|
|Buxton, Noel (Norfolk, N.)||Donelan, Captain A.||Hackett, John|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Harvey, T. E. (Leeds, W.)||McGhee, Richard||Richardson, Thomas (Whitehaven)|
|Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Macnamara, Dr. Thomas J.||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Haworth, Arthur A.||M'Callum, John M.||Robertson, Sir G. Scott (Bradford)|
|Hayden, John Patrick||M'Micking, Major Gilbert||Robertson, John M. (Tyneside)|
|Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||Meagher, Michael||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Higham, John Sharp||Meehan, Francis E, (Leitrim, N.)||Rowlands, James|
|Hills, J. W.||Molloy, Michael||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Hinds, John||Molteno, Percy Alpert||Seely, Col. Rt. Hon. J. E. B.|
|Holt, Richard Durning||Money, L. G. Chiozza||Sheehy, David|
|Horne, Charles Silvester (Ipswich)||Murray, Captain Hon. Arthur C.||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Needham, Christopher T.||Taylor, John D. (Durham)|
|Hudson, Walter||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Nolan, Joseph||Toulmin, George|
|Illingworth, Percy H.||Norman, Sir Henry||Verney, Sir Harry|
|John, Edward Thomas||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Jowett, Frederick William||O'Doherty, Philip||Watt, Henry A.|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Dowd, John||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Keating, Matthew||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)||White, Sir Luke (Yorks, E.R.)|
|Kellaway, Frederick George||Parker, James (Halifax)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Kelly, Edward||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||Whitehouse, John Howard|
|Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Whyte, A. F. (Perth)|
|Kilbride, Denis||Pirie, Duncan Vernon||Wilkle, Alexander|
|King, Joseph (Somerset, North)||Pointer, Joseph||Wilson, J. (Durham, Mid.)|
|Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Crickiade)||Power, Patrick Joseph||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.)|
|Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, West)||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rld, Cockerm'th)||Pringle, William M. R.||Young, Samuel (Cavan, East)|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Radford, George Heynes||Young, William (Perth, East)|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Rainy, Adam Rolland|
|Lundon, Thomas||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Lyell, C. H.||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)||Scanlan and Mr. Devlin.|
|Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Reddy, Michael|
|Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F.||Fisher, W. Hayes||O'Neill, Hon. A. E. B. (Antrim, Mid)|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Foster, Philip Staveley||Pole-Carew, Sir R.|
|Balcarres, Lord||Frewen, Moreton||Quilter, W. E. C.|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Gibbs, George Abraham||Roberts, S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Grant, J. A.||Rutherford, Watson (L'pool, W. Derby)|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilts., Wilton)||Hall, D. B. (Isle of Wight)||Salter, Arthur Claveil|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Harris, Henry Percy||Sanders, Robert Arthur|
|Benn, Ion Hamilton (Greenwich)||Hill-Wood, Samuel||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Bennett-Goldney, Francis||Hohler, Gerald Fitzroy||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Bigland, Alfred||Horne, Wm. E. (Surrey, Guildford)||Spear, John Ward|
|Bird, Alfred||Houston, Robert Paterson||Stealer, Beville|
|Boyle, W. Lewis (Norfolk, Mid)||Kebty-Fletcher, J. R.||Stanley, Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||King, Sir Henry Seymour (Hull)||Stewart, Gershom|
|Burgoyne, Alan Hughes||Lewisham, Viscount||Swift, Rigby|
|Carillo, Edward Hildred||Locker-Lampoon, G. (Salisbury)||Terrell, George (Wilts, N.W.)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Lockwood, Rt. Hon. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Terrell, Henry (Gloucester)|
|Chaloner, Col. R. G. W.||Long, Rt. Hon. Walter||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Cooper, Richard Ashmole||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Touche, George Alexander|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.)||Lowe, Sir F. W. (Birm., Edgbaston)||Walrond, Hon. Lionel|
|Craig, Norman (Kent, Thanet)||MacCaw, Wm. J. MacGeagh||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Croft, Henry Page||Mackinder, Halford J.||Wolmer, Viscount|
|Dairymple, Viscount||Mount, William Arthur||Worthington-Evans, L.|
|Duke, Henry Edward||Newman, John R. P.|
|Eyres-Monsell, Bolton M.||Newton, Harry Kottingham||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Captain|
|Fell, Arthur||Norton-Griffiths, J.||Craig and Mr. Moore.|
§ Bill, as amended, considered; to be read the third time.