HC Deb 18 March 1850 vol 109 cc1064-9

On the Motion of the CHANCELLOR of the ECHEQUEE, the House resolved itself into a Committee.


said, he rose to propose a resolution, to authorise the Lords of the Treasury to make advances, for the purpose of drainage and other improvements of landed property in Great Britain and Ireland, to the amount of 3,000,000l., either from the Consolidated Fund, or by means of Exchequer bills, such advances to be repaid within a limited period. He did not think it necessary to detain the House, the numerous documents in his possession proving the advantages of drainage all over the country; he would, therefore, at once move his resolution.


wished to know, if they agreed to the resolution in its present form, whether they would be prevented from proposing the extension of the grant for other purposes at a future stage?


replied, that the terms of his resolution were so large as not only to include drainage, but for improvements of landed property generally; therefore the hon. Gentleman would not be precluded from making a Motion on the subject at a future stage of the measure.


was anxious to learn how the instalments were to be repaid. They had been told that three millions were to be raised, Was this money in hand, or was it to be borrowed, and repaid within a limited period? If it was to be repaid by instalments, were they at once to be carried to the credit of the country; and thus, if there was a deficiency in the public revenue, it would diminish the apparent amount; and if there was a surplus, it would help to swell it up. The right hon. Gentleman had not explained whether this was the case, nor had he stated whether the repayments were at once to go to the reduction of the public debt.


said, his answer to the questions of the hon. and learned Gentleman was, that no repayments would at once be carried to the credit of the revenue, nor be applied to the reduction of the debt—the amounts would be carried to the credit of the Consolidated Fund. He hoped, when the repayments exceeded the advances, some future Chancellor of the Exchequer would be called upon to apply the amount to the reduction of the debt.


pointed the attention of the House to the system which compelled landed proprietors in Ireland to bear the burden of expenses in the expenditure of which they had no control. One half of a district could compel the other half to proceed with works upon an estimate furnished by the Board of Works, the officers under which were paid, not by the job, but by the time they employed, which was always excessive. As an illustration of the system, he observed that he had undertaken and completed a work for 1,500l. which the Board of Works had estimated at a cost of 4,000l. The officers under the Board of Works were nearly all relatives of the commissioners. These works ought to be subjected to public competition, otherwise half of the money would be wasted.


thought the money might be more beneficially applied under the Land Improvement Act.


suggested that some precautions should be adopted in the distribution of the loan, otherwise the persons who most required assistance might not obtain it.


could only say that of the 2,000,000l. for England and Scotland, 1,500,000l. would be applicable to English purposes. It was thought advisable that the money should not be advanced in such large sums as formerly. He also proposed that the advances should be repaid in twenty-two years, capital and interest, at the rate of 6½ per cent per annum; and he had the satisfaction of saying that the late advances had been repaid with great punctuality.


hoped precautions would be taken against the abuses which existed in Ireland in the application of the late advances—abuses which hon. Members for Ireland had pointed out, and which ought to be avoided.


said, the hon. Member for Stirlingshire lamented the misapplication of Irish advances, but had not said a word about Scotch jobs—the Caledonian Canal for instance. The money already expended in arterial drainage had been productive of great advantage in Ireland. He also advocated the application of a portion of the advance—say half—to the promotion of railways. Immediate advances for public works were necessary to keep the people from starvation and the workhouse.


did not know what abuses existed with respect to carrying out arterial drainage in Ireland, but he would suggest, before the question again came before the House, that any memorials which had been presented to the Government from the proprietors of land which was charged with the expense of arterial drainage, complaining of abuses as to the carrying on the works, should be laid on the table, and be printed.


said, it would be utterly impossible for the Treasury to examine into all the cases, or to exercise control over all the works in detail in every part of Ireland. Complaints had been made in that House, but except in one or two instances they had not been received at the Treasury. The proper place to apply to, in case of an alleged cause of complaint, was the Board of Public Works in Ireland. Every care, however, had been taken to exercise a proper control, and for this purpose he had sent over an engineer officer, unconnected in other respects with Ireland, to superintend the other inspectors of public works there, and this officer was still there. This was all the Government could do in the shape of control.


said, if abuses existed with respect to the carrying on the drainage in Ireland to any very serious extent, as they might suppose from the observations they had heard, it was not at all improbable that there would be an animated discussion on the next stage of the Bill. Although some advantages may have resulted from some of those kinds of grants, he never would borrow one farthing from them, as he would not allow the management of his estate to be taken out of his hands. He could not help feeling that the Government was stepping out of its proper province in making these loans, as they appeared to have no control over the expenditure.


repeated it would be impossible for the Treasury to control in detail the carrying out these works. All those petty complaints should be made to the Board of Works, and not to the Treasury. As for the Government interfering, he could only say that appeal after appeal had been made to it by Irish Gentlemen to come forward in this matter. They stated that where there were three parties holding land in the same district they never would agree in the principle of the drainage of their lands unless the Government interfered.


observed that the arterial drainage was carried on altogether under the control of Government officers, and although numerous complaints had been made of the conduct of several of them to the Board of Works they were never attended to.


observed, that from the evidence laid before the Committee, of which he was a Member, on the Miscellaneous expenditure, it appeared that the Board of Works was much overlaid with duties. He was not surprised that Irish Gentlemen should remonstrate when their estates were taxed for works of drainage, although they had no control over the expenditure.


called the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer especially to cases in which arterial drainage was to be effected, by means of small rivers running into larger. He knew instances in which parties had been induced to give the necessary assent for the improvement of such small rivers, and in one the estimate was exceeded one-third. He begged to suggest for the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman, whether means might not be devised, whereby the parties most interested as proprietors and tenants should have it in their power to see that no unnecessary expense was incurred.


felt it necessary to enter his protest against making the grants now proposed. Hon. Gentlemen who supported the measure did not agree among themselves, differing as to the proportion to be appropriated to the different parts of the country with which they were respectively connected. One hon. Gentleman had asked why nothing was to be granted for railways. In short, it was a great communist scheme with which the country was threatened. The Government might act more wisely than individuals in applying the grants, but they ought not to fritter away the wealth of the country in experiments which the Government themselves admitted could not be successful. The Chancellor of the Exchequer offered a most potent argument against the grants, in stating that it was impossible the Treasury could supervise when they came to be applied. If the Government wished to stave off the recurrence of protection by buying the land, they ought to say so at once.


stated, that ample and excellent security was to be obtained for the advances made for drainage in Ireland; and the House, he was satisfied, would be prepared, not indeed to grant, as the hon. Member for Tavistock mistakenly supposed, but to lend the money proposed to that part of the united kingdom which required advances most, which had long suffered from oppression, and on which the hand of Providence had weighed so long, but which had approved its good faith by paying its instalments more regularly than any other portion of the empire. What they wanted in Ireland was money; they were not beggars; and he repeated that they were ready to give good security for the advances which might be made.


said, that before this matter passed through Committee, he would ask to be allowed to say that some months ago he had been in a part of Ireland, where these drainage works were being carried on. He had spent some days in going over some of the expensive works, and he was bound to say that the mode in which they were being carried on was, as it appeared to him, exceedingly satisfactory. He was now talking of Castlebar, Galway, and some other portions of the: west of Ireland. He examined minutely into the system of book-keeping with regard to wages, &c., and the control which the superior office in Dublin had over the expenditure of money, and these matters seemed to him to be exceedingly well arranged; so far so, that it appeared to him to be impossible that there could be any waste of money in the conducting of these works. He saw a large number of persons employed, who were gaining instruction in various kinds of labour, such as they had no opportunity of receiving before. Without defending any particular works, or saying whether they were required or not, he was quite sure that owing to these works, large tracts of land, both at Galway and other parts of the west of Ireland, were now under cultivation; large portions of which would otherwise be lying under water, unproductive. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Tavistock with respect to these loans, and he was bound to say that the expenditure of the Board of Works had in many parts been productive of great advantage.


Sir, I am convinced the assurance just made by the right hon. Baronet the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there is an experienced engineer officer sent over to inspect the work of the Board of Works, will give infinite satisfaction in Ireland. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Board are by no means popular in Ireland, They are very dictatorial and imperious in their decisions, and in many instances the work is shamefully done and neglected. The injury they did during the years of famine can never be forgotten or forgiven—destroying good roads and finishing scarcely anything they commenced. I am happy the right hon. Gentleman has made the selection of Colonel Forster, of the engineers, whose experience and talent I am very happy to bear testimony of.

Resolution agreed to. House resumed.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.