HC Deb 01 May 1848 vol 98 cc556-60

House in Committee on Public Works (Ireland).

The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER moved the following resolution:— That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury be authorised to direct the issue, during the term of three years next after the 5th day of April, 1848, out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland, of any sum or sums, not exceeding in the whole 945,000l., to be applied by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland for making Loans for the purpose of completing any of the Public Works commenced under the Acts 9 Victoria, cap. 1, and 9 and 10 Victoria, cap. 107, or of carrying on other Works of public utility in Ireland; provided the total sum so to be issued from the Consolidated Fund shall not at any time exceed the amount which shall have been paid into the Exchequer in repayment of the advances for Works carried on in Ireland for the relief of Distress under the said Acts.

The right hon. Gentleman said, he need hardly remind the House that the public works which, for two years previously and up to last summer, were carried on in Ireland for the purpose of relieving the distress prevailing in that country, were so carried on to a very considerable extent. Last year provision was made for the repayment of that portion of the public money advanced on account of those works which was not included in the Parliamentary grant. The repayments were to be made by twenty half-yearly instalments. The works, the House would remember, were undertaken not for the sake of the works themselves, but for the sake of affording relief to the people. In preceding years that system had been adopted to a certain extent and within limited bounds, and had been found to answer the purpose intended. But early in 1846, it was announced by the Government that the works would not be carried on beyond a certain period, and only for the purpose of relieving the destitute poor of Ireland. The consequence was, that a certain portion of the works was stopped. Great complaints had been made on that score; and also on the ground that the works which had been performed were not in themselves those which would have been the most beneficial to Ireland. But he had already answered that objection by reminding the House that the primary object was to relieve the people, and not to promote any particular description of public works. To accomplish that object it was desirable to bring the work as near as possible to the doors of the persons wanting relief. Other works might, perhaps, have been undertaken; but then it would have required those who performed them to have gone many miles for the purpose. The utility of the works was considered to a great extent, and he believed, in the wilder parts of Ireland, the works had proved very beneficial. No doubt the benefit might have been extended; but if the question were asked, how far had the system succeeded in affording relief to the people, he thought the answer would be, that upon the whole it had produced a satisfactory result. It could not be denied that many persons were placed upon the works who ought not to have been employed; while others were omitted who were entitled to be on the lists; yet it must be admitted that by means of the expenditure of the public money on those works, the lives of many thousands of persons were preserved in Ireland. By a statement before him, it appeared that the largest proportion of expenditure was in the county of Clare. Upon an average of the whole expenditure in that county, from November, 1846, to June, 1847, the pay was about one shilling a day for each person's relief. Now, considering the price of provisions, he did not believe that it was possible to support a person upon a less sum. The amount, therefore, of the charge which would devolve on the country on account of the relief works carried on in the county of Clare would not exceed sixpence a head per day for the persons so relieved, being one half only of the expense; the other half having to be repaid by half-yearly instalments. The question which had been since raised was, how were the works to be completed? A Bill had already been introduced by private gentlemen belonging to Ireland to enable them to proceed with the completion of such of the works as they might think proper; and it had received the Royal assent; but some delay had taken place in certain parts of Ireland in carrying out that measure. He had recently communicated with a deputation of Irish Members who had requested that the powers given by that Bill might be extended, especially with regard to the period for making presentments for new works at the sessions; and it was also proposed that he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should readvance for a certain time the sums that might from time to time be repaid on account of the monies which had already been lent for the public works in Ireland, in order that those works commenced in 1846 and 1847 might be completed, and that Ireland might have the full benefit of them, at the same time that the people of that country might be employed during the ensuing autumn and winter. Her Majesty's Government had taken the subject into consideration; and what he now had to propose was, that the Government should have the power, for three years, to readvance such sums as should in that time be repaid on account of the money already advanced for the relief works in Ireland, giving a preference to those counties, in the readvancements, which should have made or should make any such repayments.

Resolution agreed to. House resumed.