HL Deb 01 August 1907 vol 179 cc1138-45

Order of the Day read for resuming the adjourned debate on Amendment moved after Third Reading.


My Lords, I do not know whether it would be convenient that I should first of all make a statement with regard to this Amendment. I should like to say that I am grateful for the consideration which the House showed us in allowing this matter to be postponed until to-day. On Monday when it came before the House I was certainly not very well posted in the facts with regard to it. I am not going to make any apology for that, because I think it would have been very difficult for me to have foretold that on the Amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Donoughmore, to leave out part of a clause in an unopposed Bill, charges of political jobbery and corruption were about to be made. I confess that when first my attention was drawn to it it appeared rather a trivial matter—a parochial matter, I might say—and not one of very great importance. However the action of Lord Donoughmore has given it a considerable degree of importance, because he has asserted that the clause as introduced in this Bill was a rather glaring instance of political jobbery.

I was unable on Monday, when the matter was before the House, to express any opinion on this point, and I was very chary of doing so, for I am aware that there have been a good many cases, since the Act of Union, of political jobbery in Ireland; but I am now in a position to give definite information on the matter. But before I do so I should like to define what the position of the Government with regard to this matter is. This is a private Bill. It is the result of an arrangement between two parties. As such it is not the actual concern of the Government. The Government are indirectly concerned in it because the matter has come before the Vice-President of the Local Government Board of Ireland in a certain capacity. I will deal with that point later. But it is not our business to be responsible for measures of this kind, and the concern of the Government, so far as it is concerned, is mainly to see that justice is done between the different parties to the arrangement; and if, in spite of the investigations of the Committee before whom this Bill went in the other House—I presume it was fought by counsel—political jobbery or something of that kind is contemplated under this particular clause, I am sure that noble Lords on this side of the House are just as anxious as any noble Lord belonging to the Party opposite that such a possibility should be averted. Since Monday I have endeavoured to obtain all the information with regard to this matter. I have seen the promoters of the Bill; I have seen the Vice-President of the Local Government Board of Ireland, and also the Chairman of the Police and Sanitary Committee of the House of Commons, before which Committee this Bill went.


I think the only point between us is this proviso, which has been introduced since the Bill reached your Lordships' House— the proviso was not in the Bill when it was before the House of Commons.


I agree that it has been introduced since the Bill left the House of Commons. But I thought I would see the Chairman of the Police and Sanitary Committee in the other House to inquire what his views of the matter were. From what I have been able to ascertain I have come to the conclusion that it would be unfair to describe the insertion of this clause as a political job or anything in the nature of a political job. I understand that the charge which is made is two-fold. First of all, it is asserted that under the latter part of this clause the town clerk of Armagh receives practically a tenure for life. If you will glance at the clause you will see that that is not the case. It says that he shall hold the said office until ho die, or resign, or be removed by the council with the assent of the Board—that is to say, with the assent of the Local Government Board. Therefore, in case of any misconduct, the Town Council of Armagh would bring the matter before the Local Government Board of Ireland, and that Board would certainly take such action as they deemed fit.

But the more serious charge, I think, was this. It was said, "Why do you put this particular clerk in a different position from that which most of the town clerks of Ireland enjoy?" The answer is really a very simple one. He is placed in this position because under this Bill you put upon him new duties, and to a certain extent these new duties are invidious duties and such as would be likely to bring him in conflict with his fellow townsmen. Some of his new duties, for instance, will be under the Public Health Act, and for all practical purposes he will be in the position of a sanitary officer. Under the general law of Ireland a sanitary officer does receive almost the exact protection which it is proposed to afford to the town clerk of this district. This official's duties will be two-fold. He will have to perform the duties of town clerk and also the duties of a sanitary officer, and if sanitary officers generally are protected by the law of Ireland surely it is only fair and reasonable that this town clerk should be protected on account of the duties he may have to perform as a sanitary officer.

There is ample precedent for such a course being taken with regard to sanitary officers. It is, as I have said, the usual course, and I will proceed to quote what the precedents are. The tenure of sanitary officers is regulated by Section XI. of the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878, and the Local Government Board have made orders under that section, the last of which are dated May 3rd, 1900, under which no sanitary inspector can be removed except by or with the consent of the Local Government Board. Then there are many other precedents almost identically similar, or, at any rate, analogous to this particular one. For example, Section 83 of the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898, provides that no secretary to a county council and no county surveyor shall be removed from office without the consent of the Local Government Board; under Section 33 of the Poor Relief (Ireland) Act, 1838. Poor Law officers can only be removed by or with the consent of the Local Government Board; and there are also precedents with regard to English local government. Section 119 of the English Local Government Act, 1888, provides that no officer transferred to a county council can be removed without the consent of the Secretary of State or the Local Government Board, and that such consent shall be part of the tenure of his office. Then, again, subsection 18 of Section 115 of the Act which established county councils in Ireland—the Act of 1898—provides that every existing officer transferred under the section shall hold his office under the same terms and conditions as heretofore. Then there is another case—I do not quote it as a precedent in any way—in which there is a certain analogy to what it is proposed to do under this Bill. There is a Committee, of which, I think, the noble Karl, Lord Donoughmore, is the chairman, sitting at present in the Committee Rooms of this House—




Then I have been misinformed on that point, and I will not refer to it further. But quite the most striking point with regard to this is that identically the same thing as it is proposed to enact in this Bill has been enacted before—namely, in 1896. I should like to read the particular clause— The clerks and other officers of the Commissioners holding office at the passing of this Act shall continue to hold the office……and while performing duties similar to those which they have previously discharged, shall receive not less salary or remuneration……and shall not be dismissed from their offices without the sanction of the Lord-Lieutenant. That applies to the town clerk of Armagh who was appointed in or before the year 1896, and if you substitute the Local Government Board, as is proposed in this instance, for the Lord-Lieutenant, you have an almost exactly similar case. There is this difference, that in the year 1896 there was a Unionist majority on the council of Armagh and there was a Unionist Government in power; but it seems to me that if it was right to do this particular thing in 1896, surely it must be equally right to do it at the present day.

On Monday last, Lord Donoughmore asserted that the clerk who was appointed in or before the year 1896 had been hounded out of his office, I think he said, by the Nationalist majority on the council. I have good authority—I have not sifted the authority, but it is good authority—for believing that the noble Earl has been misinformed on that point. What happened, as I understand, was this. The former clerk, who was a man of considerable age and was protected by the Act of 1896 in almost the identical manner in which it is proposed to protect the present clerk, served under successive councils up to the end of 1903. He wished to resign sometime previous, but was concerned as to the amount of his pension. He served under the council with a Nationalist majority from 1899 to 1903; and he was perfectly satisfied with the pension which the present council gave him. He was over 70 years of age when he gave in his resignation, and I am informed that it is incorrect to state that he was hounded out of office. But suppose he was? Surely that is an argument that cuts both ways, because if in Armagh it is the custom of a majority on the council immediately to worry out all the officials who were appointed by their predecessors, it is obviously very necessary indeed that you should give protection in this particular manner.

I pass on to another point. This matter came before the Vice-President of the Local Government Board of Ireland and he gave his assent to it. I do not suppose for a moment that any noble Lord from Ireland would allege that the Vice-President would be a party to a political job or to favouritism of the character suggested. I do not think that would be suggested for a moment. This clause was sent to his office; he considered the matter and the clause was to a considerable extent redrafted in his office with his sanction and approval; and I do not think that the Vice-President of the Local Government Board would have given his approval unless he had considered that it was a fair and proper provision to insert in an Act of Parliament. I also have to cite the fact that this particular clause was considered by the Urban District Council of Armagh and was approved unanimously by them, and I should have thought that if there had been opposition to it that opposition would certainly have made itself heard. I also cannot understand why, if this were an undesirable thing to introduce, the matter was not brought before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House and thrashed out in the Committee Rooms upstairs, which I submit is the proper place for the discussion of a parochial matter of this kind, rather than in the body of the House.

To sum up briefly the points which I have endeavoured to make, I think I have shown—and this is, after all, the principal point—first, that having been appointed sanitary officer it was surely reasonable to give this clerk the protection which it is customary by the law of Ireland to give to sanitary officers in similar positions; secondly, that the previous clerk was given practically the same tenure of office as it is proposed to give the present man, although in his case he was not called upon to perform some of the invidious duties which I understand the present town clerk will, by reason of this Bill, have to discharge; thirdly, that the assent of the Local Government Board of Ireland was obtained and that this clause had the approval of the Vice-President of that body, who assisted in the drafting of the clause; and, fourthly, that if there is such a strong case to be made out against the clause it ought to have been heard in a Committee Room upstairs.


There was no chance.


With regard to Lord Donoughmore's accusations, I do not, of course, know from what source his information comes. Possibly he has more evidence which he will give to the House to show that this was a job of a political character, and, if so, we shall, of course, give our earnest attention to what he has to say in that respect. But from what I have been able to find out, it seems to me that this is rather in the nature of a mare's-nest and that the noble Earl has been misinformed in the matter. It is a truism that all great men have their enemies, and it is perfectly possible that some opponent, political or otherwise, of the town clerk of the urban district council of Armagh may have obtained the ear of the noble Earl, and that he may have been misinformed on this point. But from the evidence I have obtained it does seem to me that there is a good case for the insertion of this clause in the Bill, and I would ask the noble Earl either to produce some new facts which we have not heard or to withdraw his Amendment.


My Lords, this is an adjourned debate on a matter upon which both the noble Lord who has just sat down and myself have already spoken, and therefore, except with the leave of the House, I do not think that either of us is entirely in order in again addressing you on the subject. I was not aware that the noble Lord was going to make a prolonged explanation of the attitude of the Government of Ireland, because I was anxious as early as possible to say that, having looked into the matter with some care since the debate on Monday, doubts have arisen in my mind whether your Lordships ought not to order that this clause should go to the Examiners of Standing Orders. The noble Lord quoted the opinion of the Chairman of the Police and Sanitary Committee of the House of Commons, and also stated that, in his opinion, if the question was to be raised at all, it ought to have been raised on petition, and should have gone to a Committee of your Lordships' House for consideration. The facts are these. The Bill, having been considered by the House of Commons, came up to your Lordships' House, and the parties who are interested were wholly in ignorance of the fact that the clause in question was going to be proposed here. The Bill went before the Unopposed Bill Committee. The clause was not opposed by the Local Government Board for Ireland; I was informed that it had received the unanimous approval of the Armagh Urban District Council, and therefore the clause was inserted in the Bill. But no opportunity was afforded to the Examiners to consider whether the Standing Orders had been complied with, and after careful inquiry I am of opinion that your Lordships would be well advised, before proceeding further in the matter, to order that it should be referred to the Examiners to see whether the Standing Orders have been complied with, as to which there is, in my mind, some doubt. I beg to move in that sense.

Moved, "That the Bill be referred to the Examiners to report whether the Standing Orders have been complied with in respect of the Amendments made in Committee of this House."— (The Earl of Onslow.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.