HC Deb 02 February 1846 vol 83 cc428-32

moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Drainage (Ireland) Bill.

On the Question that the Bill be now read a second time,


said, the impressions which he entertained relative to this measure when it was first announced were fully strengthened and corroborated by a careful perusal of the provisions of this Bill, which had only been printed that morning. He conceived that the landed proprietors of Ireland had great reason to complain of this Bill, which took a good deal of responsibility and discretion, with regard to local improvements in Ireland, out of their hands, and transferred them to a Public Board. A former measure, which had been introduced into the House of Commons, giving an unreasonable power to this Board, had been thrown out in consequence of the unreasonable power which it proposed to give. Now the present Bill, he contended, instead of giving employment to the people of Ireland, as it was supposed, and as he gave the right hon. Gentlemen the Members of the Government opposite credit for intending to do, would do no such thing. He believed it would rather lie as a dead letter, or, if operative at all, it would be so injuriously. Much as he might think of the character and intelligence of the gentlemen who composed the Board of Public Works in Ireland, he did not think—and he made the observation without meaning any disparagement to them individually or collectively—they could carry out the provisions of the proposed Bill; and that House was asked to place a large sum of the public money at their disposal. The Commissioners were taking advantage of the famine impending at this moment over 4,000,000 of the people of Ireland, to endeavour to get from the House of Commons and the Irish Members powers that never would be listened to under other circumstances. He contended for it that the landed proprietors of Ireland were those most calculated to take upon themselves not only the improvement of their own estates, but the employment of their poorer fellow countrymen. But by this Bill the Board of Public Works in Ireland was to take upon itself all questions relative to the employment of the people and the expediency of carrying on such or such a work. Would the Gentlemen of England sanction in their country the giving of such powers as were proposed in this Bill to any public board? All they asked in Ireland was to have the same power intrusted to the landed proprietors there, as was given to the same class in every other part of the Empire. Let them have the power to borrow money at a reasonable interest—at so much per cent., and with as stringent regulations for the repayment as they pleased. Let them employ their fellow countrymen—they were more interested in the employment and comfort of the people, as well as the improvement of the country, than any public board could possibly be. He had some experience of the operations of this Board, and he had to observe that its interference was generally unsatisfactory and uncalled-for. He hoped the Government and the House would consider the question fully before those objectionable powers to which he referred were granted by this Bill.


said, it had been the wish of the Government to obtain the best possible information as to the working of such a measure as that proposed, as well as to consult the opinions of such Gentlemen connected with Ireland as wonld be most likely to form a just and fair conclusion of its probabilities of success. But with respect to the opinion expressed upon the measure by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, he (Sir T. Fremantle) did not think that any one in the House would take precisely the same ground as the hon. Member for Roscommon. He believed if any works were undertaken by any other parties than those authorized in the Bill, a much greater degree of expense would be incurred in their construction than would otherwise be the case. Now, if there was a certain duty imposed by this Bill which they were then discussing, upon the Board of Works, the Board ought to have conferred upon them a power to discharge that duty which was imposed upon them. It was a duty which they neither desired nor sought for. But it would be quite impossible to carry out the works which might be undertaken under the provisions of the present Bill satisfactorily or usefully without the authority given in the Bill. As to the reduction of the required number of consents from two-thirds to one-half, he (Sir T. Fremantle) had formerly been very much of the hon. Member's opinion; but so many representations had been made to him, when in Ireland, that works were stopped, not from active dissent or opposition of proprietors, but from indisposition to come forward, that that opinion had been changed. He considered this measure of great importance as regarded the improvement of the large rivers—they were the highways of the country; and the Legislature had a right to step in, if the proprietors did not see their own interests in reference to them. The hon. Gentleman said, the proprietors would see it their own interest to drain their lands; but it should be recollected that it was necessary to the drainage of private estates that they should look after the rivers which supplied the means of carrying off the surplus water; until this was done it was altogether vain for any one to attempt the drainage of their land. He would be ready to consider the details of the Bill in Committee. But he hoped there would then he no objection to its second reading; and he would give his best consideration to any alterations that might be suggested to them.


said, one great cause of complaint was the enormous preliminary expense incurred, and the extraordinary powers possessed by the Drainage Commissioners, who in their proceedings prepared no estimates, and were guided by no plans or estimates, nor indeed by anything else. The whole effect of the present Bill was to increase the powers of the Board beyond all precedent. It was, perhaps, the most objectionable measure ever introduced in reference to Ireland. The power of compulsory levy in Ireland had now got to such an enormous extent, that it ought to be checked instead of being extended. He hoped that the Government would consider well before they pressed the present measure; and he would ask why did they not bring over the Chairman of the Commissioners of Public Works here? He objected to the manner in which that Board exceeded all ordinary estimates, and, instead of letting the works to others, kept them in their own hands. In conclusion, the hon. Gentleman referred to the immense improvements which had taken place in agriculture in Ireland, particularly during the last ten years, in proof of which he referred to the reports of the Irish Agricultural Society.


said, he meant to vote for the second reading of the Bill; and it appeared to him that the discussion of its details ought to be reserved for the Committee. He had no complaint to make of the Board of Works, although Irishmen were supposed to be ready enough to make complaints. The only proceedings of the Board of Works of which he thought there was any reason to complain, were the enormous preliminary expenses; and those expenses were not attributable to the Board. In his opinion a great improvement would be ensured by the provision requiring that the measure should be carried into effect with the consent of one half of the parties whom it would affect. The right hon. Baronet would have ample time to consider the details of the subject; for the Bill could not be carried into effect for some time, as the waters were at present high in every part of the country, and no draining oould be commenced until the lapse of a considerable period. He heartily concurred in the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, but he hoped it would be deliberately considered before it was brought into operation.

Bill read a second time.