HC Deb 25 July 1831 vol 5 cc308-10

On the Motion of Lord Althorp, the House went into a Committee to consider of the propriety of issuing Exchequer Bills, to encourage Public Works in Great Britain.

The noble Lord stated, that the object was, to move that his Majesty be empowered to direct an issue of Exchequer Bills for carrying on public works in Great Britain. It was unnecessary for him to remind the Committee of the state in which a great part of England was placed towards the close of the last year, or to observe, that much of this arose from the distress which prevailed amongst the working classes. He was aware, that any measure such as that he was about to propose was only a slight palliative to the evils to which it was to be applied. It would require a much more extensive remedy to cure such evils as those of last year. It would require a revision of the state of the laws affecting the poor, in order to see whether they could guard against such disastrous consequences; but if they looked to the state of the Poor-laws, for it was by a careful revision of those laws that some effectual remedy might be devised, it would be found that an amelioration of those laws would, at the present moment, rather increase than diminish the pressure upon the people. He would not say, therefore, that Government were prepared with any such measure, seeing that its effect must be, to increase that pressure which was already felt so heavily. He was afraid, that if any alterations were made, they would take a wrong direction, and would rather tend to relax than strengthen the operation of those laws. Under these circumstances, it appeared to him, that the lesser evil would be, to advise that an issue of Exchequer Bills be made, to be granted in loans, for the purpose of carrying on public works in Great Britain. He would not say, that the whole sum proposed to be issued would be called for; but if they looked to the experience of former years, they would find, that there had always been a demand for such issues in times of difficulty, and that they had been productive of much public benefit. There were grants of this kind made in 1817 and in 1823, and on each occasion with considerable advantage, where the money had been applied to proper objects. Where the aid of such grants had been resorted to, to promote private speculation, it had failed, and had tended to injure that class to which the parties belonged, as it only increased the evil of over-production. This, however, would not apply to the cases of roads and bridges, canals and rail-roads, by which public advantage would be derived, independently of the means of employment thus afforded to the labouring poor. The machinery for the application of such grants was already in existence, and his proposition was, to issue 1,000,000l. of Exchequer Bills, for the purpose of promoting such works as he had alluded to. It would, of course, be the object of the Commissioners to make such grants where the works were most necessary, always preferring those parts of the country where distress was known to exist. He knew it might be said, that where necessary works were to be carried on, money might be easily obtained on good security. That was true; but it was also known, that individuals were unwilling to embark their money or time in works which, however necessary, afforded a prospect of only a very small profit; but, by money advanced in this way, many useful works might be undertaken, with great advantage to the country. Experience had shown, that the public had not lost by such grants as this. Good security was always taken, and the money was repaid, and with rather more interest than could be obtained on Exchequer Bills in the market; but that was not the object: the great object was, to promote the public good by useful works, giving, at the same time, employment to the labouring classes in districts where distress might prevail. The noble Lord then moved, that his Majesty be enabled to direct Exchequer Bills, to an amount not exceeding 1,000,000l. to be issued to Commissioners in Great Britain, to be by them advanced, under certain regulations and restrictions, for the completion of works of a public nature, or for the encouragement of the fisheries, or for the employment of the poor in the parishes in Great Britain, on due security being given for the repayment of the sums so advanced, within a time to be limited.

Mr. Warburton

said, on a former occasion, when a grant of Exchequer Bills for a similar purpose to the present had been made, the money, when repaid, was carried to the general service of the country, instead of being applied to take up the securities on which the money had been raised. This was, in his opinion, improper; and the money, as repaid, should be employed in buying up Exchequer Bills.

Mr. George Robinson

regretted to learn, that the noble Lord found the country to be not in a satisfactory condition. He would not object to the grant, for he thought it would do neither harm nor good.

Lord Althorp

said, that the present proposition had the recommendation of giving relief, without interfering, in any degree, with the administration of the Poor-laws.

Mr. Paget

said, the great cause of the existing evils was, the sudden abstraction of capital from the hands of the middling classes, caused by what was called Peel's Bill; and he thought, that neither the present measure nor any measure would do good, unless it was one which had the effect of increasing the capital which employed the labourers.

Vote agreed to.