HL Deb 29 July 1907 vol 179 cc378-83

Bill read 3a, with the Amendment.


My Lords, I have an Amendment on the Paper to leave out a certain proviso in Clause 49 of this Bill, and I think it will be for your Lordships' convenience that I should explain why I am impelled to adopt this somewhat unusual course. I have no wish to interfere with the object of the Bill. Its object is to enable the urban district council of Armagh to acquire certain tolls and market rights in the city, those rights having been held by a body of trustees since 1821. This body obtained before a Committee of the other House terms with which they were evidently satisfied, as they did not oppose the Bill in your Lordships' House; and in the action I am taking I am not in any way attempting to affect one way or the other the terms of that agreement. The proviso which I object to has been introduced in your Lordships' House, through which this Bill has passed as an uncontested Bill. The operative words of the proviso are that, in the case of the present holder of the office of clerk he shall— Continue to hold his said office until he die, or resign, or be removed by the council with the assent of the Board. This particular provision, the object of which is to benefit one particular individual, is an exceptional provision in an Act of Parliament. The proviso, I understand, has been introduced by the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees at the request of the promoters. I am not proposing to attack the Lord Chairman that is the last thing I should dream of doing, and if the noble Earl rises in his place and states that he would deprecate your Lordships removing this proviso in the interests of the proper working of the Bill I should not think of pressing my Amendment; but I hope he will not take that course. It is impossible to consider this question apart from one or two little incidents in the local political history of Armagh. One party for a long time had a majority on the urban district council. It happened to be the Unionist party, but that point is quite immaterial. On the other party coming into power one of the first things they did was to "worry out" the old clerk, and in his place they appointed a friend of their own. Now they evidently seem to think that, as the triennial election is coming on, there is a danger of their friend in his turn being "worried out." Therefore this proviso has been inserted at the last moment to give him additional security in case the Nationalist party happen to lose at the polls next January. This is a thing which I should object to no matter by what party it was done. The reason is not a sufficient one to justify a change in the general law of the land, and on that ground I ask your Lordships to strike the proviso out of the clause and restore the Bill to the position on this point in which it was when it came up from the other House.

Amendment moved—

"In page 28, line 21, to leave out from '1878' to the end of the clause." —(The Earl of Donoughmore.)

My Lords, the noble Earl is correct in stating that this proviso has been introduced in your Lordships' House. I understand that it was put into the Bill after consultation between the promoters and the Irish Local Government Board, who apparently saw no objection to the insertion of the words which the noble Earl now asks the House to delete. As a rule, it is undesirable that Amendments should be moved on the Third Reading of a Bill. These Amendments generally involve points which ought to be thrashed out before the tribunal upstairs, where both sides can be heard. But, as the noble Earl has told your Lordships quite fairly, this is merely a question of party majorities in the urban district council of Armagh; and therefore I do not think I have any observation to make, except to say that it appears to me to be a case which may very properly be left to the consideration of the House without any expression of opinion on my part on one side or the other.


My Lords, I have only just received instructions regarding this Amendment, which I am asked to resist on behalf of the Irish Office. I am not as familiar as the noble Earl with the political history of the matter, but I am informed that this proviso was inserted with the unanimous consent of the urban district council of Armagh and also with the consent of the Local Government Board of Ireland. I understand that when the Bill went before the Police and Sanitary Committee it was realised that it did not authorise the town clerk of Armagh to take proceedings for breach of its provisions, and consequently the clause now before the House was inserted as an Amendment. I also understand that there is a direct precedent, for in Section 2, Subsection (4), an almost precisely similar thing was'-done in the Act of 1896 in regard to the urban district of Armagh. In these circumstances I trust the noble Earl will not press the Amendment.


My Lords, it is clear that this question has been rather sprung upon your Lordships. I do not in the least complain that the matter has been dealt with very shortly by the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office, because none of us had any idea that it was going to be raised until we saw the Amendment on the Paper. The noble Earl the Lord Chairman, of course, speaks with authority when he deprecates Amendments being moved on Third Reading; but the answer which has been given by Lord Denman has not in the least cleared from my mind the impression that this proviso was inserted by the urban district council of Armagh merely to "job" in permanently one of their own political friends. I do not think that is too hard an expression to use. It seems to me a very remarkable thing that in a Bill of this importance a provision should be inserted merely for the benefit of one individual. The noble Lord who has just sat down informed the House that in the year 1896 the same thing was none by the town council of Armagh, but whether that was so or not it is none the less a remarkable course to pursue. In these circumstances I think my noble friend will be justified in pressing the Amendment.


My Lords, the real meaning of this proviso is to give the appointment to this particular man for the whole of his life. The party in power on this urban district council are afraid of being beaten at the next local elections, and to make the appointment of their friend quite sure they have slipped in this proviso. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees has left the matter to the House, and I hope your Lordships will decide upon it yourselves. The statement has been made by Lord Denman that the Local Government Board gave their consent, but I understood that the Board simply pointed out that the proviso would make the appointment permanent. I do not understand that they gave their consent.


I am informed that they did give their consent.


Then I am very sorry. I protest against this proviso being inserted for a political reason and simply to benefit one person. I hope the House, having heard the arguments, will decide upon the matter.


Might I ask what the meaning is of the part of the clause which precedes the proviso? Does it mean that all future clerks are to be removable? If that is the meaning of the clause, and if this proviso is for the purpose of giving an exceptional position and an exceptional tenure of office to this individual, it appears to me that it is a very wrong thing to do. What I wish to know is this, Is this gentleman to hold his office on a tenure different from that of his predecessor and from that which will obtain in the case of his successors?


My Lords, I enter on this discussion with great hesitation. I only know what has been said to-night on this question, and the proposition seems to me on the face of it to be an extraordinary one. But scarcely any Member of your Lordships' House is really well informed on the subject, and I therefore suggest that it would be most becoming if the debate were adjourned for a couple of days, by which time the Irish Office would be able to tell us what the proposal exactly means, and why they assented to it.


I regard the suggestion which has just been made as very unreasonable. Of course I quite understand the motive, the benches opposite being very sparsely occupied. My Amendment has been on the Paper for five or six days, and plenty of notice has been given. The case is perfectly plain. I do not understand why the Irish Office support this clause, and I do not want to. The proviso itself is quite enough for me, and as a general proposition I object to it.


I do not think the Amendment and the proposal for the adjournment of the discussion are in the least degree affected by the relative strength of the two sides of the House. But I, like other noble Lords, desire to know more in regard to the origin of, and the reasons for, this exceptional and peculiar clause. It is far better that we should know what the facts are, and I think the sensible thing would be, if Lord Courtney will move it, to put the discussion off for a couple of days, so that the Irish Office may have an opportunity of fully explaining the matter.

Moved, "That the debate be adjourned." —(Lord Courtney of Penwith.)


After what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack I would appeal to my noble friend behind me to accept the Motion which has just been moved. I am sure none of us wish to impute any motive in the matter, but it is generally admitted that this is a strange and unusual proceeding.


Might I ask the noble Lord who represents the Irish Office if he can answer the question I put to him just now?


I cannot give an answer off-hand, but I will obtain the information by Thursday, on which day I suggest the adjourned debate should be taken.

On Question, Motion agreed to, and the further debate adjourned accordingly to Thursday next.