HC Deb 08 July 1919 vol 117 cc1770-6

Resolution reported, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the enactments relating to the Housing of the Working Classes and the Acquisition of Small Dwellings in Ireland, it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of expenses incurred by any Government Department—

  1. (a) when acting in the place of local authorities in preparing and carrying out schemes under such Act;
  2. (b) in recouping losses incurred by local authorities; and
  3. (c) in contributing to costs incurred by public utility societies and housing trusts and other persons."

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.


I rise to ask the Attorney-General for Ireland if he can give the House any information as to the nature of the agreement that has been come to by the various groups of Irish Members. I have raised this question once or twice in Committee on the Irish Housing Bill. There seems to have been some series of negotiations going on between the Attorney-General, the Chief Secretary, and the Irish Members. The English Members on that Committee have not been in any way cognisant of those negotiations or parties to them in any way, and they have been kept entirely in the dark as to what is going on. I do not think that is quite fair to the English Members. I think we should have had an opportunity of attending those conferences and of hearing what has taken place. I believe that some of my hon. Friends agree with me that we have not been quite frankly treated in this matter. I do not want to raise any very great complaint, because I always like to see the various sections of the Irish nation united and friendly, in concert and acting together, but when it is a question of getting terms from the British Treasury one has to be a little bit wide-awake, and we like to have full information as to what is going on. Can the Attorney-General give us some information on this point? I understand that various outside agencies have been conferring, and whether they were the representatives of municipal corporations or not I do not know. Perhaps the Attorney-General will tell us what those negotiations have been, and what has been the result, and that will save a great deal of trouble. If a bargain has been made, then the English members of the Committee might just as well stay at home.


Can the Attorney-General inform the House what has finally been decided by the Government as to their estimate of the expenditure involved in this Resolution? The White Paper really gave no information at all. We are without information as to the expenditure that the Resolution is authorising. It comes under two heads—the capital expenditure and the annual expenditure anticipated. I have no doubt that the Government in submitting any estimate will put in a figure which will cover any charges likely to be involved. Of course, the House does not want the minimum, but a sum which will not be exceeded. The matter is of some importance, and the White Paper really gives us no information.


Perhaps I may be allowed to congratulate the two hon. Gentlemen who have spoken upon their newly-born zeal for and interest in Irish questions. They are both English Members, and I cannot remember that either of them has found himself unreasonably excited over the financial provisions of the English Bill, but I am glad to see that the spirit of economy is now permeating the ranks both of the Coalition Unionists and the Coalition Liberals. They are to-night constituting themselves the watchdogs of the Treasury. I can assure them that it is quite unnecessary. Our experience in dealing with the Treasury, spread over a great number of years, has convinced us that no truer word was ever spoken than when the late Colonel Sanderson said that the Treasury never wiped a tear from Ireland's eye without making Ireland pay for the pocket-handkerchief. That was true then, and it is still true. We have had to bring pressure on the Treasury to give us fair treatment on this question. At first they put up a scheme which was an insult to the Irish people. They offered us financial terms which were not in any way comparable with the terms allowed for England or Scotland.


What about Wales?


Wales has got a Prime Minister in charge of the finances and has no reason to complain. Many of the population of Wales have got Government jobs, and those who have not have got knighthoods and baronetcies.


They deserve it, every bit!


No; I do not grudge them it at all. We have had to exert pressure to secure that the terms to be given to Ireland should be at least comparable with the terms given to England, Scotland, and Wales, and I am very happy to say that my hon. Friends from Belfast have made common cause with us. The hon. Member who spoke first (Colonel P. Williams) seems to be afraid that when it is a question of getting something out of the Treasury unanimity between the two sections of Irish Members is very easily obtained. That may be so, but English Members also can be unanimous. I notice that when any question of taxation is on the interests affected coalesce, and Yorkshire is not immune any more than any other part of the country. If my hon. Friend imagines that we shall get anything out of the Treasury to which we are not entitled, he is living in a fool's paradise, and does not know the Treasury. I hope that hon. Members who do not know the Treasury will try to get to know something about it. Personally, I am afraid that I do not know what the Treasury is.


I am not complaining about the bargain at all. I am complaining that I have not had an, opportunity of getting that information which the hon. Member suggests that I should possess.


I can reassure my hon. Friend on that point. He is a member of the Standing Committee, and if he had only attended the meetings and deputations he would have heard all about it.


I was not invited to the deputations.


If he had come I am sure he would have given us assistance in getting what we wanted. The reason the hon. Gentleman has not heard in Committee what has taken place is that it is due to our Parliamentary procedure. We cannot discuss the Financial Clauses in Committee upstairs until this Financial Resolution has been passed on the floor of the House. When we get the Resolution through to-night, no doubt we will hear to-morrow a most eloquent statement from the Chief Secretary—as eloquent as a Scotsman can be on Irish matters—explaining how little he knows about Ireland and this scheme. If my hon. Friend could persuade the Attorney-General for Ireland to give us an Irish speech on the subject, he would have a much more intelligent idea of what the scheme is. I could tell him all about it now, but I do not think he would understand it. It is a very complicated proposition. I would like my hon. Friend to grasp the fact that the Treasury is a most mysterious institution. He need not blame us for the wonderful ways of the Treasury. I am not quite sure myself what the Treasury is. I have been there sometimes. It is a mysterious entity to be found in Whitehall. It consists of a second division clerk in a back room, who calls himself the Treasury. It does not mean the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. We are discussing the Treasury to-night, but there is no representative of the Treasury here. They know nothing about it. This second division clerk, who has not a seat in the House, settles the financial terms to be given to Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England, including Yorkshire. I cannot give any more specific explanation than that. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for the Woodvale Division (Mr. Lynn) can enlighten us more on the subject. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that neither he nor I will get anything out of the Treasury to which we are not abundantly entitled. If they can chisel both of us, they will do it.


Hon. Members opposite evidently want to bring in another great Irish question. They blame us when we cannot unite to bring forward a scheme, and when we do unite they also blame us. This is not a political question at all, but a purely business transaction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that hon. Members opposite appreciate that fact. It is purely a housing question. The Treasury are not being asked to be exceptionally generous to us. Any money they are going to give us they will get back, with interest. I hope that hon. Members will allow this Resolution to be passed without any further discussion.


I regret very much indeed that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Colonel P. Williams) should imagine for one moment there is any intention of excluding him or his colleagues from any of the proceedings in connection with this Bill. Perhaps it will be sufficient for me to say that the Chief Secretary for Ireland was asked by a number of Irish Members to receive a deputation, and he did so. It was quite open to every member of the Standing Committee to attend, and, indeed, they would have been extremely welcome at the conference. Hon. Members representing English constituencies do not take so keen an interest in the Bill as hon. Members representing Irish constituencies, who also have the advantage of being egged on by representative men from their respective constituencies. Accordingly the Chief Secretary for Ireland met in conference representatives of the leading cities and towns in Ireland and the Irish Members as well. As already pointed out by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. MacVeagh), there could be no discussion in Committee on the financial Clauses of the Bill until the House had dealt with the financial Resolution now before it. I may say, as regards the question put by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, that the propositions put forward by the Chief Secretary included in the first place a contribution of £1 for every £1 of rent collected by the local authorities. After a great deal of pressure, the right hon. Gentleman has agreed to raise the amount of the contribution to 25s., because figures were submitted to him, not merely by experts representing the Local Government Board, but also by persons for various cities and towns in Ireland, showing that it was absolutely impossible—and tenders were produced to prove it—having regard to the rate of wages in Ireland, to carry out any scheme on the basis of £1 contribution for every £1 of rent collected.


Then the statement that the contribution is to be raised to 27s. 6d. is not correct?


There are certain very large districts in Ireland where it is quite possible to work the scheme out on the basis of a 25s. contribution, but. it was suggested by the Chief Secretary that power should be given in exceptional cases—in the cases of very poor districts—for the Local Government Board to increase the contribution to 27s. 6d. But generally speaking, the contribution will be 25s. The basis of the English proposal is very different, and the object of making the payment in Ireland correspond to the amount collected is to ensure that all local authorities will do everything in their power to collect the rent. If they do not collect it they will get no contribution whatever from the Treasury. That is the basis of the Irish scheme. With reference to the question put by the hon. and gallant Member for Burton (Colonel Gretton), it is difficult to give an accurate idea of the ultimate cost. I quite agree that the information given in the White Paper is vague, but you must bear in mind the difficulties the Irish Government are up against. We cannot say that any particular locality will do anything under the Housing Bill, if we are to judge by many indications, and all we can do is to fix a maximum sum for a maximum number of houses. The number suggested is 50,000, and the annual contribution, based on the number suggested in the first years, comes to about £625,000. But that will be distributed by the new arrangement to the extent of 25 per cent. It will be a considerable time before the houses can be erected. We hope hon. Members will give us every assistance in regard to this Bill, because we feel it will be of very great assistance in conducing to the general peace of the country. We hope, therefore, that the Financial Resolution will be passed.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

It being after half-past Eleven of the clock. Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Nine minutes before Twelve o'clock.