HC Deb 21 May 1880 vol 252 cc279-86

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

  1. 1. Resolved, That it is expedient to authorise the remission of all interest which has or may become due before the 1st day of January 1892 upon a loan of £16,500 made by the Public Works Loan Commissioners, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, to the Commissioners of Anstruther Union Harbour, and to authorise the suspension of payment of instalments of principal of the said Loan until the said 1st day of January 1892.
  2. 2. Resolved, That it is expedient to authorise the remission of certain instalments, amounting with outstanding interest to £1,539 14s. id. of a Loan made by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom for the execution of works for the improvement of the water-power of certain mills on each side of the River Corrib, in the county of Galway.

Motion made, and Question proposed, 3. "That it is expedient to authorise further advances out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, or out of moneys in the hands of the National Debt Commissioners held on account of Savings Banks, of any sum or sums of money, not exceeding £5,000,000 in the whole, to enable the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and not exceeding £1,100,000 in the whole, to enable the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland to make advances in promotion of Public Works."—(Lord Frederick Cavendish.)


said, he should like to know for what purposes these advances were to be made. Were they, amongst other purposes, to enable loans to be made under the Sanitary and Public Health Acts?


said, that in 1875 the Public Works Loan Act was passed authorizing advances to the Public Works Loans Commissioners to execute works in Ireland. The local authorities were required to send, before the 31st of December in each year, to the Commissioners estimates of the amounts they would require. It had been found that those estimates were usually largely in excess of the amounts actually required. With respect to the question of the hon. Member, he could inform him that the sum of £1,100,000 to be advanced to Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, for the purpose of making advances to pub-lie bodies in promotion of public works, had nothing to do with the Relief Vote authorized by the Relief Act of last Session. The general purposes of these loans was to provide for advances to be made under the Sanitary Acts. It was not proposed that these advances should be made for the relief of the distress in Ireland.


said, that he thought he should be in order in calling attention to the system under which advances authorized by the Sanitary and Public Act were made by the Treasury in Ireland and in England. His attention was more particularly called to this subject by an application from the City of Dublin for an advance under the Public Health Act of 1878. The Corporation of Dublin applied for an advance in the usual manner, but were refused by the Treasury. He was anxious to call attention to the circumstances under which that refusal was given. The Public Health Act of 1878 purported to extend to Ireland the same means of making sanitary improvements that wore conferred on England by the Public Health Act of 1875. That Act provided inter alia for advances to public bodies for paving purposes. The English Act provided for advances for similar purposes, and the Irish Act purported to be drawn on the same lines, and to extend the same advantages to Ireland. When that Act was intended to be put into operation, it was found to be so clumsily drafted—whether intentionally or not he did not know—that the facilities for obtaining the advantages were practically denied to Ireland. The attention of the late Government having been called to the matter, and other defects having been discovered in the Act, special provision was last Session made for meeting the case of loans for paving and sanitary purposes in Ireland. The moment that the power was given them, the Dublin Corporation applied to the Treasury for a loan for paving purposes. The Treasury refused that loan, notwithstanding that all the preliminaries had been complied with. There had been an investigation in Dublin by the Local Government Board Inspector, who had recommended the Board of Public Works to grant the loan, and the Public Works Commissioners had recommended it to the Treasury. The Commission sitting in Dublin which investigated the matter was strongly in favour of the loan, and one of the most eminent sanitarians, Dr. Rawlinson, also advocated it. The necessity of giving employment in Dublin was also very severely felt. A deputation of working men waited upon Her Grace the Duchess of Marlborough, with respect to the necessity of giving relief work in Dublin. It was remarked by His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant to the working men forming that deputation, that the Corporation of Dublin was the proper body to provide relief works. The loan, therefore, came before the Treasury with the sanction of the Board of Public Works in Ireland, and with the necessity of providing relief works urged upon the Corporation by the Viceroy. The Corporation of Dublin, never dreaming that the Treasury would stop the way, actually entered into contracts for carrying out these works. Then came a note from the Treasury, informing them that the loan could not be granted. Dublin, it was said, was already so over-burdened with debt, that the Treasury could not think of adding to that debt by sanctioning another loan. Under those circumstances, they thought in Dublin that they would like to know what was done in English towns, and what proportion the advances bore to the rates. They found that in some English towns the advances under the Sanitary Acts and under the general Municipal Acts amounted, in some cases, to four times the valuation, sometimes to three times, and, in many cases, to twice the rateable value. In Dublin, on the other hand, the advances which they had received only amounted to a small decimal over the single value of the property. They were also able in Dublin to show that the greater portion of their debt was secured, not as in the case of Manchester and Liverpool and other English towns, upon the rates, but upon property which actually yielded a surplus of revenue greater than the amount of interest payable from it. Thus it would be seen that the debt of the Dublin Corporation was, practically, next to nothing. Notwithstanding, therefore, that the debt of the Dublin Corporation was not secured upon rates, and that they were perfectly free to offer as security for the loan required, the Treasury discredited them by saying that their financial condition was so bad that they could not grant them an advance. Dublin was in a position to prove that its financial condition was perfectly sound, and the purpose for which the loan was required had been sanctioned by the Commissioners. The refusal of the Treasury was a discredit upon its own Commissioner, and was a direct hindrance to the Corporation giving that employment in the relief of distress which the Government officials had said that it ought to give. The Treasury had caused the Corporation to break its contract, and had interfered with its discretion in the disposition of its fund through, as he believed, an utter and crass ignorance of the whole case. Doubtless, if they had condescended to go in deputation to Sir It. Lingen they might have been able to persuade his mightiness to change his decision; but he, for one, had no idea of doing anything of the kind. They had a right to the advance, and they wanted to know why it had been refused. He would ask the noble Lord whether he could state anything with regard to this particular case; and, further, whether he could inform him if it were the intention of the Government to give Irish towns the like facility for obtaining loans as was enjoyed under the same circumstances by English towns? During the last Session the Public Loans Bill was forced through the House by the Government. Anyone who was present then would know that the Government determined to force it through owing to the efforts, successful in its earlier stages, of some Irish Members to obstruct it. That Bill limited very much the facilities enjoyed for obtaining loans from the Treasury, under the Sanitary and similar Acts. At the time, he complained very bitterly that in 1875 an Act was passed for England, by means of which Birmingham and other towns had borrowed enormous sums of money, and then it was proposed to pass a law restricting the advances, before Ireland had had any benefit from them. On that occasion he stated that so far as Dublin was concerned, if facilities were only given them for borrowing on their own credit, they would not come to the Treasury at all. If they enjoyed the same power of borrowing as the Metropolitan Board of Works in London possessed, they would not require to come to the Treasury. If they were able to issue a consolidated debt secured upon their own property, in the shares of which trustees would be permitted to invest, they would not have to apply to the Treasury at all, because their own credit was sufficiently good to enable them to obtain all the money they required from the Irish market. Some promise was given them on the occasion to which he had alluded that they should be enabled to issue such a debt; but whether the present Government intended to carry out that promise he did not know. As it was, the Treasury had so obstructed them in obtaining the money they required that they wanted power to borrow upon their own credit. Through the passing of the Public Health Act great responsibility was thrown upon public bodies in Ireland, and it was not right to refuse them facilities for carrying out the Act. He thought that the matter was one which concerned not only Dublin, but the whole of Ireland; and he hoped, therefore, that the House would excuse him for occupying its time upon this question. He should like to know whether the Government would state whether it was its intention to give the same facilities to Ireland in the matter of obtaining advances as was possessed by towns in England?


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow had accurately stated the circumstances of this case. It would be convenient if the noble Lord would lay upon the Table of the House the details of the advances made for Irish works. He thought it would be found that the refusal of the Government to grant an advance in the case of Dublin was made under a misapprehension.


said, that he regretted his inability to give a full explanation of the circumstances of the case alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow; but he had been so short a time in Office that he was unable at that time to afford any information with regard to it. He would, however, take care to obtain full information upon the subject before the next stage of the Bill, and if the question were again raised he would endeavour to go fully into it. He would only say, on that occasion, that he thought the right hon. Gentleman was in error with regard to Sir E. Lingen. He was a most able and excellent public servant; but he was not responsible for the action of the Treasury. It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being who was responsible. With respect to the details of the expenditure of this sum of £1,100,000, he could not promise at present to give any exact details as to the actual manner in which it was to be employed?


said, that he was not aware that this question was to be raised, and he regretted that the circumstances had somewhat slipped from his memory. He could, however, endorse what had been said by the noble Lord, to the effect that this was not a matter which was disposed of by Sir E. Lingen upon his sole authority. He recollected the papers in the case being brought before him, and he was satisfied that the decision taken upon the subject was one which, under the circumstances, it was inevitable that they should take. Of course, in the case of these loans it was necessary for those who were responsible to look at the security, and to satisfy themselves that the loan was one which could properly be granted. Without now going into details, he believed that the report made on this application showed that the amount that had already been raised upon the security of the Dublin Corporation rates was so large as not to render it proper to make any further advance. He should be glad to look again into the papers. He also wished to take that opportunity of stating that he entirely agreed with what had been said as to the desirability of looking carefully into this question of public loans. In his opinion, every facility that could be required should be given to the Corporations in Great Britain and Ireland to borrow upon their own account without coming to the Treasury for advances. He was in hopes that the Act passed recently—namely, the Local Authorities Loan Act, had produced that effect; but up to the present the facilities given by it had not been made use of. When this question came to be considered, among other matters the question of the facilities 'given by that Act would be inquired into, and how far it was necessary to amend that Act, so as to give Municipal Corporations power to use their own credit in the open market. The late Government had intended to appoint a Committee to inquire into those questions; and he hoped that the present Government would see the propriety of appointing such a Committee to look carefully into this subject. So far as he was concerned in dealing with these loans, he had not the slightest idea of making any distinction between Ireland and England with respect to them. Each loan was considered upon its own merits by the Treasury, which granted or refused the application as it thought most desirable. If it were desired in the present case, he should be happy to look through the papers, and to state the grounds upon which the refusal to grant the loan to Dublin were based.


said, that he must be allowed to express his thanks to the Lord Mayor of Dublin for calling attention to this matter. The public officials in Dublin were very skilful in getting hold of the Chief Secretary when he came amongst them; but he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman who now occupied that position was too wide awake to be caught by them. The right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had, with his usual generosity, taken over the whole responsibility of the refusal of this loan, which the Lord Mayor was attributing to his subordinate. He had accompanied his explanation with the statement that there was no intention on his part to treat Ireland different from England. But the allegation was, that whatever the intention the fact was there. The grievance was manifest, and the intimate knowledge of his right hon. Friend with the financial condition of Dublin might be relied upon as absolutely accurate. He thought that it would be well if the noble Lord would state definitely whether towns in the same condition of solvency in England and Ireland were to be treated alike. He should urge his right hon. Friend to press for an answer to that question.


said, he had no hesitation in stating that it was the desire of the Treasury in every respect as regarded these loans to treat England and Ireland in the same way.


said, that very great ignorance existed amongst English officials with respect to the affairs of Dublin. Recently the mistake had been made of confusing the port of Dublin with the Corporation. And in the present case, acting upon information thoroughly inaccurate, they had refused to make the loan to the Corporation of Dublin. In common with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlow County, he was a member of the Corporation of Dublin; and he could state that the inability of the Corporation to execute the works in question would entail very grave consequences upon the Irish Metropolis. One of the most prominent diseases—one which made the death rate in Dublin so exceptionally heavy—was pulmonary or chest disease. That disease was caused, in a great measure, by the absence of good paving and the consequent prevalence of damp exhalations. There was in Dublin a very scanty supply of good macadam to be obtained; and the only remedy was to lay down continuous pavement, and thus to save them from the reproach of being called "dirty Dublin," and still more important to preserve the lives of the people. The refusal of the Treasury to make this loan had, therefore, entailed very grave consequences upon the health of the people of Dublin.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next.

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