HC Deb 03 June 1889 vol 336 cc1686-736

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [31st May]— That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the improvement of the drainage of lands, and for the prevention of inundations within the catchment area of Lough Neagh, and the Lower Bann; and for other purposes relating thereto."—(Mr. Arthur Balfour)

And which Amendment was, To leave out from the word That' to end of the Question, in order to add the words inasmuch as the proposed scheme of drainage is essentially local in character, and tends principally to the benefit of the landlords owning the land in the districts affected, this House is of opinion that all such works should be undertaken by, and at the expense of, an Irish Local Administration,'"—(Mr. Conybeare,) —instead thereof.

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.

MR. W. REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)

I wish to point out that the opposition to those Bills does not come from the Irish representatives. The hon. Member for Camborne last year, as this year, was, and is, the person who is really responsible for opposing the introduction of these Bills, and while I hope the Amendment oil the Notice Paper of which he has given notice may not be carried, I can quite understand the feeling which has prompted him to oppose the introduction of these Bills, involving as they do hundreds of thousands of pounds of money which will have to be found by the taxpayers of this country, and which money will be expanded in Ireland for drainage purposes, without practically the English having any control over the expenditure. Now, the whole Of the difficulty is how that money is to be expended, and I can fully appreciate the feeling of the hon. Member when, looking back upon the very many blunders committed in Ireland in the past with regard to public works, he thought it inadvisable to allow this cash to pass out of the control of Parliament. I think, however, that the declaration of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the effect that the Irish Board of Works will not have control over the expenditure of the money granted under these Bills will go far to remove the opposition to their introduction. It was an unfortunate thing that it was proposed that the Board of Works should have something to do with the Shannon Drainage Scheme, and I hope the matter will be removed out of their hands, because everything which that Board undertakes in Ireland turns out to he a failure. Under the circumstances, I trust that the hon. Member for Camborne will not press his Motion to a division, but that the Bills may be allowed to be introduced. I know it is said that last year the progress of these Bills was postponed owing to the action of certain representatives from Ireland, but I wish to say that that statement is absolutely without foundation. We did not oppose the introduction of the measure, and I may add that I am rather disposed to agree with the hon. Member for North Armagh, who spoke on Friday, and said that practically there was a unanimous feeling among the people in all parts of Ireland with regard to the passing of these Bills. At the same time, many of the Irish people are strongly of opinion that such works as these can only be properly carried out under a Home Government in Dublin. We feel that there should be some responsible Central Authority in Dublin to superintend and look after the carrying out of these works, and I do not think it is possible that such undertakings could be carried to a successful issue under the present system of Government, a system which is responsible for results equally unsatisfactory to the Irish people and to the English taxpayer. Still, I again repeat that we, the Irish Members, do not offer any opposition to the introduction of these Bills, although we desire at the same time to give expression to the very strong feeling that we hold that these works cannot be satis- factorily completed under the present system of Government in Ireland.

SIR C. LEWIS (Antrim, N.)

I wish to thank the Government on the part of my constituents for thus pressing forward the Bann Drainage Bill, which so much affects the County Antrim. I wish to refer to the unsubstantial but successful opposition of last year to the Bill, which was the cause of losing a whole year in carrying out this necessary undertaking. The renewal of that objection this year has shown by the result how shadowy and unreal such opposition is, and it only rests with the Government to press this and the kindred measures forward this Session. No real opposition can in such a case be met with, at least from the majority of the Irish Members or of any section. The House is frequently appealed to to bring forward remedial measures for Ireland, of which in truth there have been plenty, but this also is practically a measure which has been brought forward at the instigation of an independent Royal Commission, and I therefore hope that the Government will not fail to insist on these Bills being finally dealt with by the House this year.

* MR. LEA (Londonderry, South)

I prefer the old-fashioned practice of discussing details of Bills such as these on the Second Reading, and, therefore, on the present occasion, I only intend to urge upon the Chief Secretary for Ireland the desirability of getting the Second Reading of the Bills over as quickly as possible, and then referring them, not to a Committee of the whole House, but to a Select Committee, which may hear evidence and report to the House. I think it is desirable that questions of engineering and compensation for eel fisheries should be referred to a Select Committee rather than be discussed in this House, and I trust therefore that the Chief Secretary will adopt the course I have intimated.

MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

I take the liberty of assuring the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the House, and especially the hon. Member who spoke last, that whatever may be the course taken by the Irish Members as to these Bills, the hon. Member will find himself very much mistaken if he supposes that they will be allowed to pass into law without strong and strenuous oppo- sition on the part of the Radical Members representing English and Scotch constituencies, and that, not because we doubt the inherent advantages of the plan to Ireland, but because we hold that these remedial measures for Ireland ought to be carried out at the expense of Ireland. At the proper time it will be my duty, and the duty of every one of the Radical Members in this House, to oppose these Bills on the ground that it is unjust and improper that the money of the English taxpayer should be taken in order to carry out these works in Ireland. Still for the present I would suggest the desirability of withdrawing the Amendment which has been moved on behalf of the hon. Member for Camborne.


I was one of those who took objection to these Bills last year, and although I am quite ready to admit that any expression of opinion on the details is not quite in order in a Second Reading debate, still I may point out that we have seen the measure, and at any rate were fully justified in taking objection to the principle which they involved. The principle of these Bills, so far as we are concerned, is that British money is to be spent in Ireland, and it is avowedly the first step in the direction of attempting to govern Ireland by bribes. You are seeking to govern the country partly by coercion, and partly by the expenditure of British money. In pursuance of that policy you are promoting these Bills, and I think that now is the time for us to speak out what we believe, or else we must hold our peace for ever after. Now, I am unfavourable to these Bills because I think that Irish improvements ought to be carried out at the expense of Ireland. I am unwilling to throw good British money after bad Irish money, and believing that Home Rule must come sooner or later, I think it is very doubtful, if we so spend our money, whether we shall get it back again. The Irish Secretary has not attempted to make out a case for granting the British subvention; he has not attempted to show that the districts in which this money is to be expended are particularly congested or poverty stricken. On the contrary, we know that one of the Bills provides for works in one of the most prosperous parts of Ireland—in Ulster—and I want to know why we should make an Imperial subvention to such a prosperous part of Ireland. I speak feelingly on the subject as a Scotch Member. We see that you are lavish in spending your money on Ireland, but you are not so lavish in spending it on Scotland. There is another thing I want to know. How is the money to be found? Is it to be voted as a special Estimate, or is it to be put in the ordinary Estimates? I hope it is not to be given away in the shape of a loan. I hope it will be asked for at the hands of the British taxpayer by a direct Vote, and unless we get some more satisfactory explanation on this point showing that the districts to which the money is to be paid are really congested and impoverished, and requiring Imperial subvention, and unless, also, we are informed how the money is to be obtained, I for one shall feel it my duty to oppose the introduction of the Bills.

MR. MOLLOY (King's Co., Birr)

We have had large experience of drainage and other public works in Ireland, for many millions have been spent on such schemes, and there is nothing but failure and wreck on every side. Only recently the Land Commissioners have been forced to value as flooded lands lands on which two or three millions had been spent for drainage, so there we have an instance of the inutility of many of these works. Now I look upon these Bills also from another point of view. Their inception is entirely due to the Government, who have excluded from the examination of the scheme everybody Nationalist. No Irish Members on the Nationalist benches have been allowed to have anything to do with the schemes, which are to be carried out by people who have no interest in the country, and who have no experience in these matters. Then, look at the Commissioners who are to be appointed. We find that they do not command the respect of the people of Ireland for such purposes as those. I repeat that the whole of the scheme is to be carried out without any reference to the representatives of Ireland and to the opinions of the Irish people, and we have the fact that similar schemes which have been tried in the past have proved failures, so that we may now judge how the money is likely to be squandered. I look upon the whole of this scheme as a political and Party bribe, and I find that already some of the newspapers are seeking to give the Government credit for the action they are taking in these matters. Looking at this proposed expenditure as a bribe, and bearing in mind how the public money is likely to be wasted, and for the reason that we have no hand in the business, but are absolutely excluded from it, I am sorry to say I shall feel it my duty, as at present advised, to offer strenuous opposition to this waste and squandering of public of money, and to the necessary increase on taxation on the people without any equivalent being forthcoming.

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)

No doubt it is an exceedingly pleasant thing to spend other people's money. Under this Bill a very large sum belonging to the British taxpayer is to be spent, and while it is being spent, things will go on with the greatest smoothness. But nobody on whom the money is expended will give the smallest thanks to Her Majesty's Government. Until the people are called upon to pay the taxes which will be necessary to recoup the Government, all will go on very pleasantly, and no one will object to the way in which the money is squandered. But as soon as the taxes are wanted, those who are the most complacent now will protest and shout the loudest. Forty years ago there was a scheme for the navigation and drainage of the Bann, and large sums of money were foolishly wasted in mixing up those two objects. I do not see why the present taxpayers should be called upon to pay for the money which was thrown away then. The Government seem to me, in dealing with this question, to have commenced at the wrong end. If we had a Local Government Act in operation in Ireland, there would be somebody with local knowledge who would be able to say what works were desirable, and whether the proposed expenditure is discreet and proper. The Bill proposes that the taxpayers should have power to veto the scheme, but it provides no machinery by which an expression of the opinion of the people can be obtained. For these reasons I regard the measure as objectionable, but there is also another, and that is that the people who reside in the valley of the Bann are not badly off. The valley is an exceedingly wealthy one, and if they are willing, the tenants are perfectly well able to bear the expense of draining the land without coming to this House for assistance. Of course they are backed up on this occasion by certain Members of Parliament, who want to make a little capital by posing as their friends and saying, "See what fine fellows we are, and what a good thing we have got for you out of the British taxpayer." But I do not think that the Government ought to buy support in that manner. When a Local Government Bill has been passed it will be time enough to say whether there shall be a drainage scheme or not, and what parts of the country shall be taxed for the cost of it. I shall certainly support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Camborne.

MR. W. HARRIS (Galway, E.)

I entirely differ from my hon. Friend who has just spoken, and I think that £380,000 is the smallest sum which the Government could propose for drainage works in Ireland. I have given great attention to this question of drainage, and I believe that a sum of —20,000,000 will be required before the necessary works are properly carried out. I am certainly astonished at the opposition which has been given to the expenditure of so small a sum of money, especially when it is known that it will give employment in the neighbourhood, and be beneficial to everybody. I should not have thought that the English Radicals would have been so exceedingly anxious about the expenditure of this small sum. Mr. Giffen told us at the time the Home Rule Bill was introduced, that Ireland was paying £6,000,000 a year more than she ought to pay in the shape of Imperial taxation. If that statement is true, it is absurd to say that the small sum of money involved in this scheme will come out of the pockets of the general taxpayer. I am glad to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) that the tenants who live on the banks of the Bann are prosperous. At the same time, I am afraid that a good deal of nonsense is talked about the prosperity of the North of Ireland. There are a great number of persons there who are very poor indeed, and I think it would be most undesirable to spend money on the Shannon and the Suck, and leave out the North of Ireland. So far as the prosperity of the North is concerned, the more prosperous it is the better I shall like it. Hitherto there has been a considerable amount of bungling in regard to these drainage questions by the engineers and the Board of Works, and I should be glad if the Government would consent to the appointment of a Committee to ascertain the best way of carrying this scheme into effect. At present we have only reached the first stage of the Bill, and I sincerely hope that no obstruction will be given to its progress on this side of the House. I do not understand why we should hesitate to accept from the Government any measure that is likely to increase the prosperity of the country. I shall certainly vote for the Bill, and I hope that the Party of which I am a member will do the same.

MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)

As I represent a county which is much affected by this Bill, I desire to say a word or two upon it. No doubt the money formerly granted was entirely thrown away. The works were carried out in such a way that tens of thousands of acres were flooded. Instead of being of service to the people they were disastrous, and the tenants were taxed for having their lands flooded. I should like, therefore, to know what security the Government propose to give that their present performance is not to be a repetition of the former wasteful one. What assurance have we that after the money has been squandered the people of Ireland will not be taxed to repay it? We have certainly no confidence in the machinery by which it is proposed to carry out these works. Are the persons who are to expend the money and to carry out the works elected by the people? Not a bit of it. There is not a man who will not be nominated by some clique at Dublin Castle. For instance, one of the persons who will control the navigation of the Bann is a gentleman who resides 400 miles from its mouth, who knows nothing about it, and is merely a retail draper in the City of Dublin. We do not believe in him, we do not trust him; and I maintain that he is not a man to entrust with the spending of the public money. After a year or two, when failure stares us in the face, and complaints are made that the money has been spent to no purpose, we shall be told that the blame rests upon us, because we had a band in voting it. If anything goes wrong, to whom are we to appeal? Are we to appeal to this House? So far as I can make out, there is not machinery for an appeal in the event of anything going wrong. Not long ago I was in a place where the Board of Works, who will probably have a good deal to do with the spending of this money, had built a breakwater within a reef at a point which the water very rarely reached. As a rule, the money which has been granted for the improvement of Ireland has been spent by an irresponsible body, whom neither the ratepayers nor the Irish would trust. For these reasons I cannot fall in with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Harris) that it is desirable to vote this money, and I think that no public money ought to he expended without very careful supervision. For my part, I would not sanction the expenditure of one farthing of the public money unless I felt assured that satisfactory results would accrue.

MR. CLANCY (Dublin Co., N.)

I agree, in a large measure, with some of the criticisms which have been passed upon this scheme by my hon. Friends on those Benches. There can be no doubt that many thousands of pounds have been spent in Ireland upon such works as are proposed to be provided by this Bill, and that the money has been absolutely wasted. Indeed, the country is studded all over with monuments to the disgrace of the Governments which planned the works, and of the Boards of public bodies which carried them out. Moreover, a certain amount of demoralization has been produced among the people by the expenditure. I entirely agree with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for King's County (Mr. Molloy) that this is a political bribe. It is only right that the people should understand that the £380,000 to be expended under this Bill is part of the price which Great Britain has to pay for the Union. There is no doubt that Ireland ought to make provision for its own public works as England and Scotland should do for theirs, but so long as you insist on retaining the management of Irish affairs in your own hands, so long, at all events, will my voice never be raised to stop the expenditure in Ireland of these hundreds of thousands of pounds. It is the same with all other expenditure. The Estimates presented every year are perfectly disgraceful. Enormous salaries are provided, and a large staff of civil servants employed, and it is well understood that the system is part of the price which this country has to pay for maintaining the present system of Government. It is said that Ireland ought to provide for its own wants, but it ought not to be forgotten that, although that is a good general principle, yet Great Britain owes a considerable debt to Ireland. Even the Chief Secretary has told us that England owes a large debt to Ireland for the destruction it has caused in past centuries of the Irish industries. That fact ought not to be forgotten, and, therefore, it does not affect my conscience that these large sums of money should be voted for Irish purposes which, under other circumstances, would be provided for by Ireland herself. I rose, however, for the purpose of making a suggestion. I think it will be a great misfortune if, in carrying out these works, precautions are not taken by the Government to prevent a wasteful expenditure, and, therefore, I would suggest that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee not composed in the usual way, but composed wholly or mainly of Irish Members. I believe that this is a matter in which the Ulster Members will sympathize with us, and there are certainly hon. Members on that side of the House who understand the circumstances of the river district of the Bann much better than any English, Scotch, or Welsh Member in this House. I think it would be almost an insult to the Irish people to have a scheme of this kind thrust upon the House without consulting a single Irish Member as to its provisions. I am afraid that no suggestion which comes from this side of the House will have much effect upon the Government; but, at all events, I would suggest that this is a matter which should be sent to a Select Committee composed principally of Irish Members.


Before the Motion is put, I desire to say a few words. I am afraid they must be words of a general character. Of course, I applaud the action of the Government in bringing forward a measure dealing with what undoubtedly are the very pressing wants and necessities of Ireland. But at the same time I am bound to confess, having regard to the experience of the past, that I do not entertain any great degree of hope. If this Rouse is going to undertake seriously the task of improving the industrial resources of Ireland, we should require to have a separate Minister responsible to Parliament, upon whom the eye of public opinion could fall, and who could be especially charged with the work. There is no country in the world of the same area where there is greater scope for industrial improvement than Ireland. It cannot be said that the Chief Secretary, so far as I have ever heard, whatever his capacity and qualifications may be, has specially devoted himself to the technical questions involved in the Bill under discussion and the larger Bill relating to industrial improvement; hence it will happen that we, or those who desire to follow the progress of these Bills, will be obliged to take hold of the right hon. Gentleman and to ask him to devote a small portion of his leisure to this particular branch of Irish work. I very much fear that the result of this legislation will be disappointment to the right hon. Gentleman and his Party, to the Irish tenants, who hope to benefit, and to the British taxpayers, who, to some extent, are bound to be the losers, and not the gainers, by the transaction. I should like also to say that before you can hope to deal with this question of the industrial improvement of Ireland, it will be necessary to alter the entire system of Local Government in that country, and especially to replace the present Board of Works either by a Minister or an elected body, which would be responsible to public opinion. It is a mere putting of the cart before the horse for the right hon. Gentleman to suppose that ho can construct any offhand system of representative opinion in the localities affected, which would supply the want of a complete system of Local Government. But if I go further afield, and beyond the fringe of industrial improvement, and come to any real development of the resources of that country, I see that you want a great deal more than Local Government—that you want a Parliament, before you can ever hope to develop the superabundant resources which wait for development in Ireland. However, I do not propose to go further into the question of either local self-government or national self-government, except to say that I, for one, desire that the investment of British credit in Ireland may be a remunerative one, or, if it cannot be a remunerative one, that it may, at all events, be a satisfactory one in the sense of being an investment which will result in some good for Ireland, if it does not bring back to the pocket of the British taxpayer interest on the money expended. I fear in the very crude measures under consideration we shall only tread the oft-trodden path of repeated failure under the Local Government Board of Ireland. Our Irish coasts are strewn with monuments of the absurd incapacity of the so called Irish Board of Works in matters of engineering. They seem incapable of dealing with the simplest engineering problem. Whether it is that they desire to make money go a long way, or whether it is that they are removed from observation, the result is the same. Whether the works are fishing piers, the deepening of rivers, or larger operations, the complaint always is that the money has been wasted, and that the works provided are insufficient and useless for the purpose for which they were originally designed. I am glad the Government are spending money in Ireland, however, and glad that they represent a rich nation which is able to afford the expense, and that when the money has been thrown into the rivers or seas, as the case may be, it will not prove an irremediable misfortune for the constituency of the right hon. Gentleman or this great and wealthy nation. No doubt, if the safeguards adopted in other countries where a normal state of public affairs exists could be adopted, expenditure of this kind would be most prudent, but under the present circumstances I can only say—and we desire to deal with the right hon. Gentleman candidly—we do not wish the Government to walk into this expenditure with their eyes shut. Whatever they do let them do it with fore- sight, with a knowledge of the danger and almost certainty of failure. Before I sit down I desire to ask one question. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that in those cases where the tenants are taxed it will not be left to the landlords to charge them any increase of tax in the form of rent on their improvements. I want to ask on what principle that safeguard to the tenants is to be calculated? Is it to be calculated on the principle contained in the Land Act of 1881? An almost identical clause occurs there to the effect that no rent is to be made payable in respect of improvements made by the tenant on his predecessors in title. I wish to know if the same principle is to be carried out in this Bill, because, if it is, it will be a useless one. In the case of the Land Act of 1881, the Supreme Appellate Court discovered a principle called "the improvable capability of the land." The Court held that a tenant was only to be shielded from increased rent, for as far as the amount of money expended on making the improvements went, but that the increased value to the land resulting from the improvable capacity of the land should go to the landlord. Where, at a cost of £20 the letting value of the land is increased from £20 a year to £100, the tenant, according to the decision in the case of Adams and Dunseath, is only entitled to so much of the increment as is represented by the amount expended—that is to say, £20—and the remaining £60 gives to the landlord. In other words, the landlord is entitled to raise the tenant's rent from £20 to £80. It would be absurd under this Bill to confine the tenant's interest in the proposed improvements to the amount of the loan granted for the purpose of effecting the improvements; and if the right hon. Gentleman says this Bill contains a real provision to protect the tenants, then he is on the horns of a dilemma, for he ought at once to remedy the defect in the Act of 1881.


I do not know whether the hon. Member expects me to deal with the various matters he has referred to. He has brought in the problem of Home Rule and our old friend "Adams v. Dunseath." I do not at all admit that the framers of the Bill are on the horns of a dilemma. These works will be carried out largely by Government gift and by Government loan. With regard to the part of the cost for which the tenants are made responsible, the landlord is entirely excluded from the benefits which will accrue to the tenants. There is no parity of reasoning between the case of the tenants under the present Bill and that of the tenants under the Act of 1881. The provisions of this Bill will make the tenants absolutely secure.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Arthur Balfour, Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, and Mr. Jackson.

Bill presented and read first time. [Bill 257.]