HC Deb 23 July 1918 vol 108 cc1739-41

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I think we should have from the Minister in charge of this measure some explanation of it before the House is asked to pass the Second Reading. The Bill deals with considerable sums of money. Clause 1 provides for the loan of sums not exceeding £1,000,000, and for the loan of further sums not exceeding £250,000 to Ireland, for public works, the latter sum being a larger proportion than Ireland deserves. Clause 2 is more interesting, and requires some explanation. It provides for the writing off of debts which are owing to the Exchequer. I am sorry to see that one of those bad debts has been incurred in Scotland, and that another has been incurred in Ireland, while there is no sign of a bad debt having been incurred by the Department in England. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain how those bad debts have been incurred, particularly the one due from the Port Ness Harbour Trustees. There is no explanation of that in the measure itself. The Eyemouth Harbour Trustees' case may be explained by some shortage of the Herring Fishery Branding Fund, but no explanation is given of the debt owing by the Port Ness Harbour Trustees, amounting to £1,900 out of a total of £2,100. The items with regard to public loans in Ireland seem to be interesting. The Treasury is losing as bad debts a very large proportion of the money that has been advanced. These are points the House would desire to have explained before passing the measure.

Mr. BALDWIN (Joint Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

In the first place, I would remind my hon. Friend that although in the first Clause of the Bill there is a sum named which seems to him, not unnaturally, a large sum, it does not follow that the whole of that amount is to be expended as a maximum sum beyond which loans will not be advanced. I am sure he will be pleased to hear that out of the £1,000,000 sanctioned last year as a maximum, no obligations beyond the sum of £125,000 have been entered into, and that of the £300,000 which was allotted to the Irish Board of Works, £90,000 only has been earmarked since the passage of the last Bill. With regard to the writing- off that had to be made this year, I am sorry my hon. Friend has not possessed himself of a most admirable White Paper which was issued some little time ago and which gives the fullest details of the Port Ness case. I do not think he would like me to go into them here, because he can read them there. Briefly, that case is one where money was advanced to a harbour very many years ago, where trouble arose at an early date between the contractors and the harbour trustees, where a lawsuit was started between the contractors and the harbour trustees and where the harbour trustees had to surrender their undertaking into the hands of a liquidator before the work for which the money had been advanced had been completed. The harbour since that time was destitute of funds. It silted up and never received a certificate from the Board of Trade, and for the last twenty-four years no money has been received by the Exchequer by way of repayment of principal or payment of interest. There is no income out of which these sums can be repaid, and the only thing, at the expiration of this time, is to write them off as a bad debt. We ask the leave of the House to do that in bringing in the Bill this year.

The Irish case to which my hon. Friend referred perhaps deserves one word of explanation. It is a unique case. It is a case in which under the Land Act, 1885, a property was brought in 1889 subject to a head rent of £30 a year. The head rent was paid for many years, but after the passage of time there came a general rivalry among the tenants as to who should pay it. While they were quarrelling among themselves as to whom should pay it, the time went by when it ought to have been paid. Although they were helped out of their difficulty by the Land Commission once, the second time it occurred events took their natural course. The nobleman to whom the head rent was due, not receiving it at the appropriate time, obtained an order of ejectment against the tenants and they were thrown out of their holdings. The result is that they forfeit the money they have already paid in redemption, which will amount to something like one-quarter of the sum advanced to them, but there is no particular hardship in that, as they have been enjoying the use of the land at a rather less rate than if they had paid rent. It would be monstrously unfair if we had tried to compel them to make further payments on account of land which is no longer theirs. We had no means of obtaining the money from them, and there seemed no other course open to us, after investigating this case, than to remit the balance, which amounts to about £2,600 on this small estate, and to write it off. The case, as my hon. Friend has probably discovered, is quite a unique one. There is no case like it in Ireland, and no similar case is at all likely to arise. I hope the explanation I have given will be satisfactory to the House, and that they will allow the Second Reading of the Bill to proceed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Mr. Towyn Jones.]