§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
understood that this money had already been expended by the guardians in the relief of distress last winter. While it was not for him or his colleagues to oppose the granting of the money, there were certain matters connected with the question that they desired to discuss. As he had already stated, he did not think the Relief of Distress Bill, which had been introduced for the purpose of regularising the relief of distress last winter and of indemnifying persons for their action in connection with it, ought to be proceeded with now, and if the Chief Secretary would give an assurance that that Bill would not be pressed at a time when it could not 1032 be discussed it would be unnecessary to debate this Vote at length. He noticed that of the sum asked for 30 per cent, was required for salaries, a fact which seemed to show that there was something wrong in the system under which this work had been carried out. He really thought that they ought to have some explanation upon this point, and in view of the recurring distress year after year in Ireland, the wasteful expenditure of the past, and their desire to discuss this matter and find out how the waste occurred, he thought the right hon. Gentleman ought to give them an opportunity of discussing the Bill by postponing it until next session.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
asked the meaning or a foot-note to the Vote, which state that the expenditure out of these grants-in-aid would not be accounted for in detail to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. This was a most extraordinary thing. Why was this money not to be accounted for in the usual way? He wished to emphasise the protest which had been made by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford in regard to £6,000 being paid to officials for the administration of £20,000.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. Walter LONG, Bristol, S.)
said he had listened with amazement to the statement made by the hon. Member for South Tyrone in reference to this footnote, because not only did the hon. Member claim to know something of what took place in Ireland, but he had been for a time associated with 1033 the administration of the Local Government Board, and surely he was aware that this remarkable foot-note followed the precedent of 1898 when similar work was done. This money went in a multitude of small payments, many of them weekly, and if detailed statements of all these payments were required it would so greatly increase the cost of administration that there would be an end of relief works.
He agreed with the hon, and learned Member for Waterford that it was not absolutely necessary that the Bill should be passed this session in order to give the necessary indemnity to the Treasury on the one hand and to the guardians on the other. The works had to be undertaken unexpectedly in November, 1904. The harvest of that year had been on the whole a good one, and it was not till towards the end of the year that there was any failure in the potato crop, which brought in its train financial difficulty in, he was happy to say, a smaller number of unions than had been the case in previous years. In order to deal with that difficulty it was necessary to enable the guardians to act under Section 13 of the Local Government Act, and for the Irish Government to go to the relief of those specially distressed unions in the congested districts where the low rateable value and the pressure of distress made it impossible for them to deal with the difficulty under the powers conferred under that Act. His predecessor, therefore, determined to take action and to rely upon the indemnity of the House for the advances made by the guardians on the one hand and by the Treasury on the other. It was true that that indemnity did not absolutely press for the moment, but it was also true that unless the indemnity were passed before March 31st next year the proceedings would not be legalised. It was also necessary to legislate then in order to prevent the recipients of relief from being disfranchised.
He did not wonder that the hon. and learned Member for Waterford had called attention to the large proportion of money spent on salaries. He had looked very carefully into the work, in which, having had previous experience of it, he took special interest, and was able, he hoped, 1034 to bring to it some useful experience, and he thought it would be seen that the expenditure was necessary if they were to avoid those difficulties into which they had fallen before and into which they would no doubt fall again unless hey could find some solution of the enormously difficult question of the relief of special districts.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
said his was an extremely difficult problem, as everybody knew who had looked into it even in the most perfunctory manner, and previously there had been a great deal of waste owing to the work, however well done, not being of a permanently beneficial character, and the object of the Government in spending, as it would seem, large sums in salaries was to enlist the active co-operation of the various local officials. The relief works were only carried out in seven unions as compared with eleven and thirteen in 1895 and 1898; and seed loans were applied forty fifty-eight unions and were actually granted in fifty-one unions. The seed question, of course, meant a very considerable addition to the engineering, supervision, and other expenses. Although he admitted that t ere was still room for improvement, he believed it would be found that the work had been more satisfactory in its character than in previous years, and he hoped in the special circumstances the Committee would sanction the Vote and that they would get the indemnity they ought to have.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
said that notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman had said he was satisfied that so long as they went on giving relief and not subjecting the expenditure to the public audit in the ordinary way they would have bad work. He always distrusted the right hon Gentleman when he assumed that high and mighty tone which he had no right to assume in Irish affairs.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND
said that at the commencement of the session they were promised that the Bill would be introduced early and that they would have an opportunity of dealing with the very difficulties to which the Chief Secretary had alluded, and it was because, if they passed it now they 1035 would have no such opportunity, and because when there was another period of distress they would go back to the old rotten expensive system that he objected. He would not oppose the Vote, however, so long as they understood that the Bill would be left till next session, and they would have an opportunity of discussing the extravagance and the bad principle upon which the whole proceeding was based. If that was understood he should not oppose this proposal.
§ MR. AINSWORTH (Argyllshire)
asked the indulgence of the House to say a few words upon this subject. He wished to speak from the point of view of a taxpayer. Under this Vote they were finding £20,000 for the relief of distress in Ireland, and it was highly probable that similar expenses would be incurred in the future. They were all aware that these eleemosynary payments were most unsatisfactory. Supposing this money had been paid in interest on capital under the Land Purchase Act, how much would it have represented? It would have paid the interest upon £500,000. He understood that the whole system of land purchase in Ireland was hung up for want o capital, and here they were voting £20,000 for the relief of distress. He thought that showed that money could be got in Ireland when it was required. The first satisfactory settlement of the Irish land question was based upon recommendations made by a body of Irishmen.
§ MR. AINSWORTH
said that all he wished to point out was that the only way out of the difficulty was to pay more in interest on capital for land purchase instead of wasting £20,000 upon purely eleemosynary purposes.
§ MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Staffordshire, Lchfield)
said he did not quite understand why there were no accounts kept of this expenditure. It was very strange that £20,000 should be spent without any account being kept. To say that this money was paid out in very small sums was no reason why some sort of an account should not be kept and placed 1036 before the Auditor-General. It was gross mismanagement of public affairs if £20,000 was spent without any sort of account being kept. They ought to be given some further explanation as to why these accounts could not be audited in the ordinary way.
§ Vote agreed to.