§ SIR THOMAS FREMANTLE
rose to move for leave to amend the Drainage Acts in Ireland. It would be in the recollection of the House, that in the course of last Session he submitted certain Amendments of that Act; and he stated at that time that he was not prepared to go into the whole question, not having sufficient experience upon the subject; but having had one or two points brought under his immediate consideration, he submitted them to the House, and which were adopted. He was now prepared to submit still further Amendments to the Bill, which he hoped the House would sanction. He had thought it his duty at an early period of the present Session to bring before the House measures of this nature. He had thought that the most effectual way for improving the condition of the people of Ireland, both socially and morally, was promoting measures for their education and their employment. For these objects the Legislature had already passed various measures; it was not necessary, therefore, that he should bring forward any new measure; all that was required to effect this purpose was to extend the law already in existence. This extension might be very 224 beneficially done. The existing Drainage Act empowered the Government to expend money for the promotion of public works in Ireland; but the grant which had been made by Parliament for that purpose was exhausted. He therefore proposed that a further sum should be paid out of the Exchequer, by which certain public works might be carried forward, public companies might be stimulated, and very considerable employment afforded to the people. He also proposed to provide for the further drainage of the land, and the rendering the rivers navigable throughout the country. He found that although the present Act was a very popular one, and that there existed a general desire that its provisions should be carried into operation, yet there were various reasons why a large number of projects brought under the consideration of the Board of Works had failed of being prosecuted. One great difficulty was in the want of sufficient security to parties who might be disposed to advance money for carrying out the works; and another difficulty consisted in the restricted nature of the powers of the Board of Works. These and other difficulties he proposed to remedy. He hoped also to take up the question of building fishery piers. This was by no means a new proposition. It had already been entertained, and he trusted the House would aid him in carrying out the object. By these various ways, in addition to the great number of railroads that were now already being constructed in Ireland, he hoped to give such a stimulus to the execution of great works of public utility in that country as should afford ample employment to the great mass of the people. If that should be the result of the labours he had undertaken, he should be gratified and rewarded. The reason why loans could at present be easily obtained for these works was, that the security had hitherto been considered incomplete. He attempted to improve it last year, and succeeded to a certain extent; he was now prepared to submit further Amendments, and to render the security most ample and complete. He proposed to adopt the provisions contained in the English Drainage Bill, which was introduced by the Duke of Richmond last Session, by which the money lent became a charge on the land prior to other incumbrances; at the same time care would be taken that the interests of mortgagees should not be interfered with. If the Commissioners under the Act were satisfied 225 that a certain amount of improved value would arise from these works from the drainage of them to the extent of that improved value, the lenders of the money for carrying out the drainage would have the right from year to year to receive their remuneration, while the security thus afforded by this improved value would, on the other hand, prevent any injury to any person who had a claim upon the property. It was also provided that power should be given to the party to pay off the whole advance at once if he had the means to do so. A difficulty had been experienced in finding sufficient money for the deposits required for the preliminary expenses arising from surveys, valuations, and so on. Frequently very excellent projects fell to the ground for want of sufficient public spirit to advance the money required for these preliminary proceedings; and considering the extent of the works often projected, no one could wonder at this. It was therefore proposed, in order to obviate this difficulty, that the grand jury should have the power to present a sum of money for the deposit to meet these preliminary expenses. The hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Ferguson) objected to this; but when he reminded the hon. Baronet that this advance of deposit would be in the nature of a loan, he thought the objection of the hon. Baronet would cease. Because, when the works, having been assented to by the landowners, had proceeded, the deposits would be repaid to the country. [Sir R. FERGUSON: If the assents were not obtained, what then?] Why then, indeed, there would be some risk; but he thought sufficient interest would be adduced to encourage the parties to enter upon these works. Besides, it was not probable that the Board of Works would sanction any undertaking that would not be of sufficient value to repay the deposits, which were merely for the preliminary expenses. There was another provision in this amended Bill. It often happened that the amount of the deposits, as estimated by the Board of Works, was expended, and the works came to a stand-still for want of a further small sum to complete the preliminary proceedings. It was therefore provided by this Bill that the Board of Works should have the power, in such case, to advance a sum sufficient for that purpose. Then came a very important alteration of the present law, upon which he might fairly expect some opposition. At present the assent of two-thirds of the proprietors was required to authorize the undertaking. Now, 226 although the recorded assent of two-thirds could not, on many occasions, be obtained, yet it by no means followed that there was a large proportion of dissents, because a large number of proprietors would not give themselves the trouble to consider the proposal, neither assenting nor dissenting; but many of them would never oppose the project. The consequence was, that a majority of proprietors might be in favour of the work; and yet, because there was not the number required by law actually assenting, that majority was of no avail. To correct this it was provided that if the positive assent of one half of the proprietors could be obtained, the work should proceed. There was another provision with respect to navigation. Lands were often drained, the water being carried into the neighbouring rivers; and a very small additional expense might render those rivers navigable and useful for the purposes of internal communication; a power was therefore given for parties to unite themselves into a company to improve the navigation of those rivers by means of drainage. There was also one other provision. By the draining of bogs, waste lands, and moors, it might often happen that land hitherto of no value might become capable of cultivation. If so, then in case the land was untenanted, some difficulty might arise as to the parishes entitled to the reclaimed land. It was therefore proposed to give a power to the Commissioners to sell certain portions of such land, in order to reimburse the expense of draining the rest. He trusted the House would agree to these propositions, which, if adopted, must considerably improve the land and afford employment to a large portion of the population of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman then moved for leave to bring in a Bill—To amend the Acts for promoting the Drainage of Lands and Improvement of Navigation and Water Power, in connexion with such Drainage in Ireland, and to afford facilities for increased employment for the Labouring Classes in Works of Drainage during the present year;but again rose, and said there was one very important part of the Bill to which he had quite forgot to allude. It contained a provision by which he had endeavoured to make these works more immediately applicable to the present state of Ireland. He had introduced a clause enabling proprietors to apply for the summary operation of the Bill, by which means certain preliminary forms would be dispensed with, and, by consent, improvements might be carried into effect within a few weeks, instead of 227 having to wait many months. Where parties were willing to apply for that power, they would have it; and by that means he considered that in the next spring and summer a very considerable extent of improvement might be effected. Those were distinct provisions, which were put at the end of the Bill, and it was in the power of proprietors to adopt them if they thought proper.
§ MR. FRENCH
said, that to meet the views of the right hon. Baronet, he would abstain from discussing the merits of this Bill before he saw it in print; but there were a few remarks he might make in reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet. In the first place, this appeared to him to be the Bill of the Commissioners of Public Works, and not the Bill of the Government; and, had the right hon. Baronet turned his attention a little more to the subject, he would have found that it was very undesirable to entrust the working of such a measure to the Board of Works. The right hon. Baronet had stated that very numerous applications had been made, under the Drainage Bill of 1842, to the Board of Public Works, which, owing to certain accidental circumstances, had not been attended to. In this he was perfectly correct. No doubt, many such applications had been made; but the right hon. Baronet had not drawn the right conclusion from this fact. On the contrary, he knew that very beneficial drainages had been executed in King's County, in the county of Westmeath, and one in which his hon. Friend the Member for Kildare was concerned. These had been executed under the provisions of the Act of 1842, and in the most beneficial manner possible. Indeed, the greatest possible benefit had been derived from this measure; and he would state, from his own experience, as well as from conversations he had had with other proprietors, that it was a great mistake to suppose that the measure had been comparatively inoperative. In the case of one drainage in the county which he had the honour of representing, the requisite deposit was paid, and application was made to the Board of Public Works to put the provisions of the Act in force in that district. They sent down their surveyors and other officers: large sums had to be paid in the shape of fees; and the estimated expense of draining the district came to a sum over 6,000l. There were three very large proprietors in the district, and it appeared to their men 228 of business to be so considerable a sum that it was thought advisable to employ the surveyors of the district to revalue the works. They were ordered to follow the lines laid out by the Commissioners; and the result was, that the proprietors themselves were now about to undertake this work; and the entire expense, as estimated by their own surveyors, who were fully competent to the task, was under 3,000l. As to the boon to which the right hon. Baronet alluded, in those cases where the expense was greater than had been estimated in the preliminary survey, and which the Commissioners were empowered to grant in one way or the other, that was very questionable, for the Commissioners had the power of stating what sum they would call upon the preliminary survey, and that sum had to be made up; and it would be a much fairer way for that sum to be made up by the parties interested in the improvement than by the grand juries. He did not see what the grand juries could have to say to the improvement of those districts. The right hon. Baronet would find some difficulty in levying this sum. How was it to be levied? On the county, on the barony, or on the town lands? If in either of these ways, the expense would fall on the occupying tenant; and he did not suppose it was the intention of the right hon. Baronet that these improvements should be carried out at the expense of the tenants. The right hon. Baronet said, he was prepared to afford facilities to the landlords of Ireland for carrying on improvements of this nature by giving greater facilities for raising the money, and by conducting the preliminary surveys. The right hon. Baronet said, he had taken for his model the Bill brought in last Session; but he must be aware that the facilities afforded by that Act were more apparent than real. That Act provided that certain works might be effected, and the expense of them charged to the heritors, provided those works were approved by the Chancellor or the Chief Baron of the district. The Chancellor referred the case to one of the Masters in Chancery, who reported whether the thing was fairly done; and the same process was gone through in the other cases. But no power was given to raise the money until the works were executed; so that no proprietor could avail himself of the provisions of this Act unless he had the money in hand which it might be necessary to expend. If the object of the Act was really to afford such facilities, power ought to be 229 given to raise the money in the first instance, and this might be done in various ways. He called the attention of the right hon. Baronet to this matter, to show that though the Bill apparently gave power at once to effect improvements, in reality this would not be done, unless the proprietors actually had the money ready to lay out, which, he was sorry to say, in many instances was not the case, so that it would be productive of no real benefit. Then the proposal to reduce the proportion of assents required from two-thirds to one-half was a very doubtful matter. It must be recollected that this provision would give a very extensive power to a certain body of men; it would, in fact, enable one-third of the proprietors of a district to check all improvement in it. Some might deny the necessity of it altogether; and others might differ much as to what was prudent, and what was not. Some might complain of the water being taken from them, and others might urge that as the land had not been meddled with from time immemorial, neither should it now. On the other hand, if they gave one-half the proprietors the power of incurring a certain expense, and compelling the others to contribute their money for the progress of such works, great dissatisfaction would necessarily arise. There might be cases of great public importance, in which it was advisable that such a power should be vested in a body, and where it was not proper that individuals should be allowed to stop the improvement of a district; but it was a power which ought to be strictly guarded; and it was a question of great difficulty how far one person should have the right to say to another, "You shall join in this work, whether you will or not." In the committee on the Bill of 1842, he believed it had been debated whether the proportion of assents required should not be three-fourths. The proposal for charging all the lands within a certain district, and putting a receiver over them, until the whole of the expense was defrayed, was also objectionable. The subject of waste lands was one of very great importance. There were nearly three millions of acres of bog-land in Ireland. In 1834, a scheme had been set on foot for reclaiming them; plans, sections, and estimates had been prepared; but everything had been lying a dead letter nearly since that time; and he should be exceedingly glad if the right hon. Baronet would turn his attention to this point, for the greatest possible advantage might be 230 anticipated from any facilities which were afforded the proprietors for improving this enormous mass of waste land. The whole of it, he believed, was improvable; and, in one district, he had gone over the land, and had taken some trouble to check the estimates of the Commissioners, who reported that 50,000 English acres might be put in a state so as to let to tenants, by an expenditure of about 50,000l., so far as drainage was concerned; and he had no reason to doubt the correctness of this statement. But he very much doubted whether the right hon. Baronet was correct in placing the entire management of this matter in the Board of Works. He had no other tribunal to suggest; but he had hoped that the right hon. Baronet was about to bring forward, as a part of his scheme, some other plan for managing these improvements. He did not think the Board of Works was very popular, either with the grand juries or with the proprietors in Ireland. He did not believe that they would facilitate an improvement, which was at this moment so desirable; and he thought it advisable that some other tribunal should be constituted, which was better approved of, and would be more generally acceptable.
SIR R. FERGUSON
said he was also very sorry to find the measure of the Government gave the management of these improvements to the Board of Works; and this was his greatest objection to the Bill. The board was insufficient in numbers for a work of this nature; their surveys were too expensive; and instead of obliging and accommodating the landed proprietors, they undertook drainage whether the proprietors approved of it or not. Now, surely, drainage ought not to be forced upon the proprietors; especially when power was given to the grand juries to levy the money. He trusted that these points would be reconsidered. But he wished to ask the right hon. Baronet whether, when he talked of securing the money upon the land, he meant that it was to be chargeable on the whole estate, and whether a man's entire estate was to be dealt with in this way, to pay for an improvement on a small part of it?
§ SIR T. FREMANTLE
said, in reply, he certainly did not think it at all requisite to depart from that security which they already had. Where parties had lent money to a landlord, or anybody else, for the improvement of his estates, it was a debt due by him; and it was certainly no 231 great hardship upon him to make any part of his property which was so near as to benefit by the improvement, liable to a portion of the charge. He should propose, as he had already stated, that the amount of the first charge to be levied from the land should not, in any case, exceed the amount of actual improved value which was likely to arise, and by calculation would arise, from the drainage.
SIR R. FERGUSON
There may be a great difference between what is likely to arise, and what is calculated to arise, from the improvement.
§ SIR T. FREMANTLE
said, there might be a difference, but they must trust to the Board of Works to make proper calculations. The hon. Member opposite said that the Board of Works had too much to do, and that they could not undertake the drainage of the whole of Ireland. He quite approved of that; he did not wish them to undertake all the drainage; he should be much better pleased if the country gentlemen of Ireland would undertake the drainage of their own lands. Nothing would please him better than that. The machinery at present in existence did not work well; he should be happy if he would improve it; and if the hon. Member could devise any better plan, nothing would satisfy him more than to abandon this proposal altogether.
§ Leave given.