§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ (11.20.) MR. LOUGH
said that the Prime Minister had stated this afternoon that it was not usual to treat the Public Works Loans Bill as contentious; but contentious was a very strong word. He was sure, however, that the Secretary to the Treasury would answer a few questions regarding the Bill. He noticed that the amount required this year was £6,000,000, whereas last year it was £7,000,000; and be thought it desirable that before the House was asked to pass the Bill it 756 should be afforded some opportunity of judging whether the money previously granted had all been used. Then, again, the loans granted under the Colonial Loans Act were for the first time included. The second part of the Bill dealt with loans which were now declared to be bad debts; and power was sought under the Bill to write them off. That was a matter which required constant attention. There was one loan mentioned in the present Bill, which was granted to Laurence Cosh, and which appeared to be a flagrant example of carelessness on the part of the Commissioners. Cosh was an enterprising young builder in Stepney, and he borrowed, in 1887, the large amount of £12,000 for the erection of dwellings for the labouring classes. The buildings were to cost £19,000. Cosh only paid one instalment, and it was now proposed to write off the remainder as a bad debt. He thought that there ought to be some explanation as to the circumstances in which the loan was granted.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
said that it was true, as the hon. Gentleman stated, that the amount asked for in the Bill was a million less than the amount asked for last year, but the sum was fixed after communication with the various lending Departments as to the amount which it was expected would be required in the period now about to commence. The hon. Gentleman asked for information as to the amount still in the hands of the Public Works Loans Commissioners. They had about £700,000, but that was only enough for two months, without taking into account any fresh loans that might be granted. The Irish Commissioners had about £60,000 remaining, but that was only sufficient for about two months. If, therefore, Parliament did not pass the present Bill before the Recess, the Commissioners in Great Britain and Ireland would be unable to meet the demands upon them. The colonial loans had nothing to do with the present Bill, and to discuss them would not be in order. The hon. Gentleman also referred to certain bad debts which it was proposed to write off. He quite agreed that the Commissioners should exercise every precaution and every care in making loans. There 757 were two loans to Irish railways which it was proposed to write off; and in these cases all the Bill proposed was to make good to the Fund what previous Acts of Parliament had declared should be written off. Then in the case of the Wick Harbour, it was proposed to relieve the trustees of the debt they still owed. A few years ago it was written off as a bad and irrecoverable debt, but it still remained an obligation; and the trustees would be unable to raise money to improve the harbour as long as that obligation existed. It was now proposed to excuse them the debt in order that they might be in a position to develop the harbour, and open up for it a future of great prosperity. As regarded the loan to Cosh, that was a very regrettable case. He could not pretend for one moment that it was satisfactory. In that case the Commissioners lent to a man who had not sufficient financial resources to carry out the task he undertook; and the security in which the loan was granted proved insufficient. He would only beg the House to remember that of all objects for which loans were urgently demanded, there was none more important than the housing of the poor in the congested districts in the great cities of the country. Upwards of £500,000 had been lent for that purpose, and the case referred to by the hon. Gentleman was the only bad debt which had been incurred. In such circles the hon. Gentleman would agree that it could not be said that the Commissioners had been lacking in care or attention. The case mentioned by the hon. Gentleman was the first bad speculation of the Commissioners, and it had received the very careful attention of the Commissioners and the Treasury, with the result that fresh precautions had been taken which it was hoped would make it impossible for such a case to recur. There was no other case in which even the interest was in arrear, and, in the circumstances, he hoped the House would not attach undue importance to a very unfortunate incident. He would be ready to answer further questions in the Committee stage; and he hoped that, in view of the general desire of the House to proceed 758 with other business, the Second Reading of the Bill and the Committee stage of the Resolution would be taken.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for tomorrow.