§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that in the reign of George IV., the Commissioners 486 of the Treasury were authorized by Act of Parliament to advance out of the Consolidated Fund a sum of £40,000 to construct a bridge over the Conway. The bridge was to be constructed as a part of what at that time was the mail route to Ireland, and the Postmaster General was authorized to charge extra rates of postage for letters going across the bridge. The Conway bridge was vested in the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Works, who managed and repaired it, and received the revenue arising from, the tolls, which, after deducting the expense of collection, they paid into the Exchequer. The expenses of the management, repair, and maintenance of the bridge were paid out of moneis provided by Parliament. There was now a Bill before Parliament for the transfer of the Conway Bridge to Commissioners to be constituted under that Bill, and they would relieve the Commissioners of Works from all liability in respect of the structure. The tolls had much fallen away since the construction of the line of railway to Holyhead, which had diverted the traffic; and, of course, when the Penny Postage Act was passed, the extra amount received for letters foil off also, and hence the local authorities had been for some time unable to meet their engagements. In order to remedy the deficiency, the Bill, the second reading of which he was moving, was one to enable the Treasury to compound the debt of £40,000 and the arrears of interest thereon for an immediate payment of £10,000. It was believed that this composition would be for the interest of the public. The noble Duke concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President.)
§ VISCOUNT PORTMAN
said, he desired to call attention to the Bill, because it commuted a charge of £40,000 on loan from the funds of the public taxpayers for a payment of £10,000, at 5s. in the pound. He wished to warn the House against the excessive increase of debts incurred by occupiers of premises on mortgage of the owner's property, which the owners had no power to control, while the occupiers wore mere pilgrims, who might leave the empty 487 premises to pay the debt. The protection for the owners was supposed to be vested in the Local Government Board; but, in fact, they were the great promoters of every kind of expense, with no regard to the cost of works, generally conducted by schemers who cared nothing for the loss to the parties interested. The result must be similar to the case in this Bill—an appeal to the Government to abate the debt. The Return of local loans sanctioned by the Local Government Board under the Public Health Act alone showed on the five years ending 1876, a debt of nearly £1,200,000, where of nearly £530,000 was advanced by the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and, looking at the places so assisted, he was very much afraid that that debt would grow, and that the Conway Bridge Bill would prove only the precursor of numerous other measures of a similar character. He would not go into the figures which showed the enormous amount of borrowed money in other years, nor into a list of Acts passing almost unheeded every day for sanctioning works to be carried on with borrowed capital, but he would give their Lordships a case to show why he was distrustful of the appointed custodes. A Local Board Inspector was sent at the public cost to inquire into a very frivolous quarrel between an individual and the sanitary board of a district. The Inspector suggested various expenses under some assumed dictatorial power, and advised a borrowing of £2,000 or £3,000, to be charged on a 30 years' loan, which was repudiated by the district as pure waste. He had, however, a much more alarming topic to mention, which he trusted the noble Duke the Lord President of the Council would do his best to avert. In the Bill called the County Government Bill was a clause to enable the Board to mortgage the county property in aid of the debts of the urban sanitary boards and such like authorities; so that, however wasteful they might be, the real property of the county was to be charged with a sort of rate to pay the loan over which they had no possible control. He thought that the Government should take some strong measures to check the system of borrowing by local bodies, and the facilities which the Local Government afforded for such borrowing, and he had, 488 therefore, thus called attention to the subject; for, although contributions were given from the taxes in aid of the rates in certain cases, the new charges encouraged by the Local Government Board far exceeded the relief.
§ THE EARL OF REDESDALE
said, there was a good deal of truth in what the noble Viscount had urged; but it must be remembered that Parliament had imposed upon local authorities the duty of carrying out sanitary and other improvements costing a great deal of money, and it was therefore desirable that they should be assisted in procuring the money at a low rate of interest. If care were taken that a proper sinking fund was provided, the country would not lose, and the locality would undoubtedly gain a great deal by these loans. The great difficulty appeared to be to insure that the locality was capable of bearing the expense put upon it, and this was a question which should be the subject of careful investigation before loans were granted.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.