§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir Harry Verney)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I wish to say a word in regard to this Bill. It is an emergency Bill of a temporary character to deal with the unforeseen contingency of unemployment arising out of the War, and I hope it is entirely non-controversial. The only point I wish to refer to is the application to Ireland and Scotland. I think my hon. Friend the 526 Member for North Kildare (Mr. John O'Connor) will believe me when I say that the whole system of land rating in Ireland is so different from that in England that probably the best way of dealing with the matter as regards Ireland would be to introduce a fresh Bill. I have no objection to the Bill applying to Scotland. If hon. Members representing that country will bring forward Amendments to meet the case I have no objection, but I am told that the system of rating there is also so different that probably a fresh Bill to apply the proposals to Scotland would be the better way.
§ Mr. JOHN O'CONNOR
I quite agree with the hon. Baronet that this Bill ought to commend itself to the House. It is probably a necessary Bill, and certainly it will provide for much employment directed in a proper manner and to a proper purpose in this country. But I do complain that no proposal whatever is made to extend the beneficent provisions of the Bill to the country in the three Kingdoms that wants it most. There are in the House hon. Members who have sat here for many years, and who will remember that year after year Motions have been introduced from the Irish Benches directing attention to the awful necessity that exists in Ireland for arterial drainage. These Motions became hardy annuals. Now there is proposed a measure which has got for its object the facilitating of drainage in the country that least wants it, while the country that most wants it is omitted from the Bill. What are the provisions of the measure? The Bill is to enable the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to "Make better provision for the execution and maintenance of Land Drainage Works." That is a most desirable thing, but I am not quite sure that it is so desirable in England as in Ireland. About Scotland I know nothing, but Scotland is sufficiently well represented in this House to make its own claim felt. It is quite possible that in England works will be promoted that are not absolutely necessary at all, and which the country could go without. The Bill is merely for the purpose of giving employment and directing it to a proper end. What are the means suggested? One of the Sub-sections of Section I states that a Provisional Order may, amongst other things, providefor the manner in which any expenses incurred by the body constituted by the 527 Order are to be raised by conferring on that body such powers as to rating and borrowing as are exercisable by Commissions of Sewers, or by requiring contributions from other drainage authorities exercising jurisdiction within the area defined by the Order, and may for that purpose vary and extend any rating and borrowing powers of any drainage authority so required to contribute.Here is the provision I have craved for years in this House. I have asked that the various local authorities through whose jurisdiction various rivers run should be allowed to constitute a board among themselves to do the things proposed by the Bill. Time and again that request has been refused. I must say that more than once the House has passed the Motions made from this side of the House, but nothing happened. Take, for instance, the River Barrow. In the thirty years I have been in this House the Irish Members have tried to impress upon the House the necessity for something being done. During the 114 years since the Union not a penny has been spent to prevent that river overflowing its banks, and four times a year regularly it submerges no less than 48,000 acres. Is it not with reason we complain of the differential treatment which gives this measure to England that does not want it and refuses it to a country that does want it? I know that the hon. Baronet has sympathy for the cause I am endeavouring to urge here to-day. He suggests that there is not in Ireland a commission of sewers which might exercise the powers of borrowing, and so on, but there are other bodies in Ireland that exercise borrowing powers. You need not be tied by the fact that there is not a commission of sewers. I see my right hon. Friend the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture in Ireland. His powers might be enlarged for the purpose and he might take the place of the Commissioner of Sewers in this respect. I have more than once pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman himself that I believe he has the powers already and that he has the money which might consistently with the law as it exists be applied for this very purpose, but he has contended otherwise and he has been backed up by the Government, and therefore nothing has been done. It is a very cruel fact for 528 an Irish Member to recall that the very day the Union was carried—the very day on which the Parliament of Ireland was extinguished—it was discussing the ways and means of draining the River Barrow and preserving this land, and no money has since been found for it, while money has been spent in other parts of the country. Take for example the River Bann in the north, which after all is in Ireland. A great deal of money has been spent on that and the whole job has been botched, and the River Bann still overflows its banks. The provisions of this Bill are the very provisions for which I have been asking for thirty years. Nothing has been done. I am almost tired of complaining. The opportunity now presents itself at a period when money is overflowing, when money is being given to meet unemployment and for the purpose of development, and I must express my complaint that nothing has been done for Ireland in this respect. This is differential treatment which we have always complained about, which is still continuing, and which will still continue until this House surrenders its right to legislate for Ireland at all.
§ Mr. WATT
I am much obliged to the hon. Baronet for his observations with reference to the extension of this Act, should it become an Act, to Scotland. He must remember that his Department has jurisdiction in Scotland in some respects, and that he is not altogether irresponsible for that country. In this matter Scotland differs from Ireland, but I understand that the provision is this, that the hon. Baronet has promised that if the Scottish Members will draw up Amendments which will make this measure suitable for Scotland, he, on his part, is quite willing, on behalf of the Government, to accept these Amendments.
§ Sir HARRY VERNEY
I did not say so.
§ Mr. WATT
I understood him to say that he had no objection whatever to this being applied to Scotland if we could draw up Amendments which would make the measure suitable for Scotland. If he has made that promise, we, on our part, can set ourselves to elaborate Amendments which will have the desired effect.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow.
- LAND DRAINAGE (EXPENSES). 60 words