Motion made, and Question proposed—That a sum, not exceeding £27,479, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending On the 31st, day of March, 1900, for the salaries and expenses of the Local Government Board in Ireland.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
I regret we have not had an opportunity of considering more fully Many important matters in connection with the administration of the Local Government Board in Ireland, particularly in view of the passage of the Local Government Act of last year. Of all the anomalous and ridiculous situations that have been created in Ireland for a lengthy period, probably the most ridiculous was that created by the passing of that Act. No doubt the Act was designed for the benefit of the people of Ireland, and it is also true it could not be put into force without much difficulty, but it could not have been more unfortunately circumstanced than that it should have been put into the hands of the existing Local Government Board to carry out. In the first place, by the passing of the Registration Act, an enormous burden has been thrown upon the people. Every local government area had to change completely its system of compiling the register. In the County of Longford, with which I am intimately associated, the cost of producing the register jumped from £60 under the old system to £940. The blame is entirely with the Local Government Board, because they delayed the issuing of the necessary instructions, and when the printing of these registers had to be undertaken only a limited time was given, so that, practically, carte blanche had to be given to pay any price in order to get the registers printed in time. This at once added 1½d. in the pound to the rates in County Longford. Then came the question of the elections. In the matter of the publication of Orders the Local Government Board "take the cake." There was a fresh set of Orders 359 issued every week, one contradicting the' other.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
The Orders fixing the areas of charge, for one thing. The Local Government Board first ordered certain notices to be issued at a certain date; that date was found inconvenient maul changed. They then proceeded to allot the number of candidates who would be eligible for election in each area, and that eventually had to be countermanded. So that the cost of assembling the County Council in County Longford rose from a very small sum to £980, adding another 1½,d. in the ½ to the rates. In other counties the expenses were enormous, the amount in Cork being £5,420; Mayo, £3,425; Cavan, £1,150; and so on. There may be something in the argument that we cannot expect to get such a great change made without considerable expenditure. The Government may also claim that we get half the Agricultural Grant; I may say with regard to that, that that is one of the great disappointments of the Act. Very considerable expectations were entertained that the sum which was to go in relief of rates would be considerably more than it turned out to be. The Chancellor of the Exchequer practically told us in terms that we should get something approaching £750,000 as the Irish share of the Agricultural Grant, but when the Treasury experts came to make their calculations we were deprived of £25,000 of that amount.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
My impression was, and the impression on the minds of the Irish people still is, that We have been deprived by the Treasury experts of at least, £25,000. Then we have to compensate so many officials that the Act has become a very severe curse. In the olden times the county cess collector was an officer whom it was not necessary to dismiss; he was simply employed from assize to assize; but under the Act he becomes entitled to a gratuity. This gratuity may not exceed the amount of five years of his net emoluments: but that 360 basis has confused and confounded everybody, including the Local Government Board itself. The County of Longford became terrified by the amount which is claimed, and recently applied to the Local Government, Board for information as to the "net emoluments," and the reply was that the Local Government Board "are unable to lay down a specific interpretation of the expression." In the case of the county I am citing the amount claimed for compensation is £3,840, so that the setting of the Act into operation in that county has cost the ratepayers nearly £6,000.
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
That information will be gratefully received by the people who are to pay this compensation. Then we come to the machinery by which these county councils are to work. Under the old system the rate collector had to make up his own books, and so on, and in that way a great amount of labour was performed practically gratuitously for the people. In the book required under the new Act there are 22 columns across, and the county clerk will have to enter up the name of every ratepayer in the county, and all the particulars attached to the rating across these 22 columns. I asked Air. Edgeworth, the clerk in the County of Longford, to give me some data to go upon as to the work involved, and he says:County Councils Order, 1899, Act 23 (4) directs that duplicate rate book should be furnished to clerks of unions not later than three days after making of rate. Longford is one of the smallest counties, but it contains over 15,000 ratings, in respect Of each of which a separate calculation of the rate on agricultural land and of the rate on buildings has he made, to say nothing of calculation for separate charges. Allowing three minutes for the double calculation and entering the same across all the columns, over 30 clerks would be required, working eight hours a day, to get it done in three days. Allowing one-third of the time for making the duplicates, would bring the number of clerks required to 40, The Local Government Board have admitted the absurdity by suggesting, that if enough clerks were employed it might be done in a fortnight.A more damaging statement as to the way in which the Act works could not 361 have been made than that of this -Unionist clerk in Longford. He further remarks that:If these 15,000 collectors' books, 15,000 notices to pay, and 1500 receipts have to be filled up in my office, the clerical staff required for that purpose would be pretty large.The right hon. Gentleman could not, possibly have been aware When he introduced the Act of the anomalies and absurdities which would be set up. Then there is the keeping of the accounts, with regard to which the clerk says:The requirement that a separate ledger account, involving entries in 22 columns, or a third of a million of entries each half year in this one book, alone means a good deal of clerical work.The Act was passed with the assistance of this side of the House in the hope that it would not only take the iron heel of ascendency of our necks, but that it would be an advantage to the people; but what you have given with one hand you have taken away with the other. As regards the next item in the book-keeping arrangements, the County Clerk of Longford says:The books to be kept include (1) a general ledger with 28 heads, of which some have seven sub-heads; (2) financial minutes; (3) financial statement, receipts; (4) financial statement, expenditure; (5) register, separate charges; (6) register mortgages; (7) financial statement book, separate charges; (8) three rate ledgers, which mean a good deal of clerical work.I do not impute to the right hon. Gentleman collaboration in the preparation of this extraordinary set of books, I am sure he was never consulted about it; but it is through the want of system at the Local Government Board that this method has been set up. My proposition is to, go back to the old system. What will be the state of things if the county council refuses to give extra clerical assistance? How will it be possible to set up the proper books, considering that only three days are allowed for their preparation and the enormous calculations in connection therewith?
§ MR. J. P. FARRELL
The right hon. Gentleman is misinformed entirely. They may have next year. Two months are 362 given under the Act, but in consequence of the blundering of the Local Government Board on this occassion only three days were given. I am not making a personal attack on the right hon. Gentleman, but this is the only opportunity we have of bringing these anomalies to his notice, in the hope of getting them redressed. I believe every Member would be glad to see this Act work smoothly, and I, for my part, declare that it is my intention, as a member of a County Council, to do all I can to make it work smoothly. But how can we do it unless assisted by the parent body, which controls the whole thing? If an enormous amount of work, such as this, costing a large sum to carry out, is thrown upon the county councils, does the right hon. Gentleman expect them to efficiently discharge their duties? The right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in throwing upon the county councils an immense responsibility, because it is on their unfortunate heads that the blame will inevitably recoil when it is discovered that this Act cannot be worked either as economically or as efficiently as was the old system. I am not referring to the grand juries at all but I am speaking of the old system of the collection of rates under the boards of guardians. Now, what state of things as regards finance has the Local Government Board precipitated upon the country? By an Order in Council the grand jurors were directed to pass presentments for the payment of contractors lip to the time that the powers of the grand jury expired, and also to pay for those contracts up to next September—that is for eleven months; and they let them go out of office without collecting a penny of this money. In the County of Longford there was a special Order issued. The liabilities which we shall have to meet amount to £11,000 up to the 13th of next September, and we have not got a penny in the treasury. When the money was received there were so many claims upon it that I don't think it lasted more than half an hour. We have £11,000 to provide to pay for the road contracts, to keep the unions going, to pay for the district councils, the election expenses, and the clerical staff. If the proper steps had been taken by the Local Government. Board the grand jury should have found this money before they went out of office. However, they 363 did not do this, for they simply put on the blister and went out of office without doing anything to pay their way, and the County Council will have to borrow this £11,000 at six per cent. interest. I say that if the Local Government Board had taken proper precautions we should not have been forced to undergo this loss, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to provide some means whereby a loss such as this shall be made good from the next grant. I know that I am standing in the way of hon. Members who are perhaps much more qualified to deal with the subject and are much more eloquent than I am. There is another matter, however, which is of very considerable importance. We find, after all the luring hopes which were held out to us when this Act was passed, that our powers are very limited indeed. Having provided for the district councils and boards of guardians, and paid contractors for the contracts left by the late lamented grand juries, we find that the total sum over which we shall have control will be less than £1,000 a year. The action of the Local Government Board in this matter has very largely helped to bring home to the people of Longford, at all events, the object-lesson of Home Rule. As I was very doubtful about the smallness of our spending powers, I made inquiries, and I am informed by a very good authority, to whom I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give credence, that what I have stated is a fact. My informant states:I do not know whether you can go into the general provisions of the Act. If so, you can point out that the whole and sole business over which the Longford County Council have any sort of control is less than £1,000 a year, which is the cost of the roads now actually falling out of contract for new contracts, and these they can veto as they come up to the County Council, and that is all they can touch. All the other payments—to guardians, to district councils, to officials, to contractors under existing contracts, which amount to over £25,000 a year—they can no more touch than you can touch the Lord Chancellor's salary; in fact, the cheques might just as well be filled by me without reference to the Council for any power which they have to deal with them.I think that is a disappointing announcement. These councillors are, no doubt, humble men, and they have, I fear, entered upon a task which will not be grateful in its results. I do not wish to refer to individual members of the Local 364 Government Board, but I do say that a more scandalous and outrageous statement was never made by a member of any governing body than was made by Mr. Richard Bagwell, who, at a dinner in Dublin, declared that the Act was the worst that had ever been passed by any Government.
I am referring to what appeared in the newspaper report, and I think the right hon. Gentleman is getting unnecessarily heated over this official, who has not been particularly polite to him. I do not know that I have very much more to say. What I desire is that this Act should work out fairly well, and give satisfaction, and I give the right hon. Gentleman credit for the very best intentions in passing it. In all sincerity and truth, I say that the management of this Act in its initiatory stages by the Local Government Board has been simply scandalous, for they have imposed upon us an immense burden, and they know nothing about what they are doing, and the country at large will have to suffer very heavily for the folly of the Local Government Board. The right hon. Gentleman has a great many duties to discharge, I know, and he has far too many duties if he attempts to discharge them all. I think, however, that he would occupy himself in a manner that would be more grateful to the people of Ireland if he would institute an inquiry into the scandalous anomalies which have been created under this Act, and more especially if he would take into account, not only the book-keeping arrangements, but also the arrangement in connection with the giving of the Agricultural Grant. In this respect alone the Irish people have lost fully £25,000, which they would otherwise have got. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to some thanks for the passing of this Act, but not for the giving of the money; because it is the money belonging to the people of Ireland, and which is law-fully due to them. I sincerely hope that he will take into his consideration the few points which I have endeavoured to make, and I hope he will see his way to simplify the arrangements for the working of this Act.
MR. T. M. HEALY
I desire to say that this Mr. Bagwell had no particular qualifications which entitled him to be made a Commissioner, and he was just about as much fitted for the post as the doorkeeper of this House. He had never had any experience of official life, and the Government gave him as a clean present £1,000 per annum; and having got his job and his salary paid quarterly, instead of taking it and being contented with his good fortune, and thanking the Lord when every quarter-day came round, he attends, of all places in the world, a dinner of that grateful body the land agents of Ireland who met in Dublin. There Mr. Bagwell, who was in receipt of his first quarter's salary, had the impudence to describe this Act as the worst that had ever been passed by Parliament. This official, with his £1,000 a year in his breeches pocket, goes down to this land agents' dinner and poses as a high authority upon draughtsmanship. If I had had to deal with him, I would have draughted him out of the Local Government Board altogether, and sent him back to look after his bullocks. The attack this official made was not only an attack upon our system of local government, but it was an attack upon the House of Commons and upon the entire Administration. What assurance can the members of these local bodies have of fair and impartial administration from gentlemen animated by a spirit of this kind? Of course, I should be far from making such comments as these upon some of the gentlemen which are the older officials, but I think the Government made a great mistake in parting with Sir George Morris just at the moment when this Act was coming into operation.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
As I have already explained, Sir George Morris's time for retirement came round, and he expressed his desire to resign.
MR. T. M. HEALY
All I have to say, then, is that Bagwell was a very poor exchange for Morris, who had served them for twenty years, and I never remember a single complaint being raised against him. No doubt Sir George Morris would have stayed on if he had been offered four or five years more service instead of being asked to go on for another year. I entirely disagree with die view that it is the duty of the Local Government Board 366 to give legal opinions, because when they do this they are generally wrong. I do not think they have any function of that kind whatsoever. But what we may fairly expect of them is this—that they will keep in stock in their offices in Dublin the whole of the papers and documents to which the new Act refers. One of the chief things dealt with by the Act is the question of compensation, and you will find, if you endeavour to study all the Local Government Act, that the compensation to be given has to be in accordance with the Civil Service rules. I hunted for a copy of these rules through the Dublin library and the library of this House, and then, in despair, I wrote for a copy of the Civil Service rules to the Local Government Board, and the reply was that they haul not a copy in the office, but that I could get them front a bookseller. There is not a single person in Ireland who can obtain these rides. With regard to the new system of keeping accounts the representative for North Armagh has already stated that there they will have to build new offices to hold the clerks required IT the new system. It is no use, however, decrying this Act, awl I congratulate the Government and the right hon. Gentleman upon passing it, although there is a good deal of extravagance in the system imposed. I may say that 40 clerks will be required in Cork to do what two clerks did tinder the grand jury system. There are 110 ratings in the County of Cork, and if you multiply that by the 24 columns which are to be filled up twice a year in the large form which has already been shown by the hon. Member who has just sat down you get some millions of entries, and for what purpose? Why simply to satisfy the Bagwells of the Local Government Board. ft is not merely the question of expense with which we are concerned, but there is also our credit as administrators at stake. When the next Home Rule Government comes in power—which will be very shortly—probably the right hon. Gentleman himself will get up from the wrong side of the Table and quote this as an instance of the horrible system of misgovernment in the County of Cork. I venture to say that every Primrose League in the country at the next election will have this case of extravagance embodied in a pamphlet, and the electors 367 will be asked, "Can you trust the Government of Ireland to the hands of extravagant 'jobbers' like those in the County of Cork?" When they are asked to render a reason for this, they will tell you that it is the law of the land. All I say is, that if it is the law it ought to be changed, and the right hon. Gentleman ought to bring in a Bill to effect this alteration, in the interests of economy. We hear a great deal of the county councils in England, but I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if there is anything in the English or the Scotch systems which will compare with the system of which I complain? If the right hon. Gentleman will make a statement upon this subject it will give considerable satisfaction to the people of Ireland. The matter is certainly one which requires elucidation, and I do trust that he will be able to say, if the system as at present maintained is according to law, that he will consent to bring in a Bill to have it altered.
It being midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make Ids Report to the House.
Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee also report progress; to sit again To-morrow.