HL Deb 01 June 1883 vol 279 cc1462-6

, in rising to call attention to the present state of the law regulating arterial drainage in Ireland, and to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Go- vernment would consider the propriety of modifying the existing system to suit the altered circumstances of the country with regard to the ownership and occupation of land? said, that it was unnecessary to remind their Lordships that this was an important question, and that it had been rendered more important still by recent events. One had only to look at the map, and at the peculiar nature of the country, to recognize its importance; and to him it was one of the most practical questions that could engage the attention of Parliament in relation to Ireland. He had endeavoured, on more than one occasion, to urge on the House, when considering remedial measures for the evils of that country, that there were practical questions that might have wide permanent influence on the course of events in the future. They had often discussed the question of emigration; and he had ventured to express the opinion that emigration, though of the greatest possible importance and necessity, could not be regarded as anything approaching the nature of a panacea for the evils of Ireland, or as likely to produce any permanent results, unless it was accompanied and enforced by other measures. This question of arterial drainage appeared to him to be one of those practical measures which were required for the development of the country when all had been done that could be expected from emigration. He was anxious to point out that the question was not brought before the House as a landlord's grievance, nor was it at all a question of a Party character. That being the case, it was the more deserving of the attention of their Lordships. Although the question was a very wide one, he should confine himself chiefly to a consideration of the smaller districts that would be affected. The principle that seemed to govern the whole history of the question was that corporate action was necessary in the public interests. By the Act of 1842 the power of initiating drainage schemes was given to the Board of Works. During the famine years, in order to relieve the distress, extended powers were given, and a number of schemes were carried out hastily. Then complaints arose among proprietors that the works were not properly carried out, and that they had not got value for their money; and by an Act of 1853 remissions wore made of the sums that had been expended. In 1863 a new departure was made, and an Act was passed based upon the English Act of 1861, and giving the owners of property the power to form Drainage Boards, with the consent of two-thirds of those affected. In 1874 an alteration was made in the terms upon which money was lent. In 1878 the consents required were reduced to one-half the value, provided one-third of the owners did not dissent. All these changes showed that the subject had engaged a good deal of the attention of Parliament. The result of experience was to show that if individual initiative was to be depended upon in the future, it would no longer be that of the landlords. It might be possible to intrust the initiative to the tenants, in the same way that they could make improvements under the Land Act of 1881. Landlords were not likely to undertake drainage works in the future, or to co-operate with tenants in carrying them out. But occupiers would have a strong motive to do so, supposing they were likely to become owners of the soil. But, again, with a multiplicity of small owners, there might be difficulty in getting anything done, and then the only alternative would be to fall back upon some properly constituted local authority. He did not approve of the power being given to the Boards of Guardians, and he was not prepared with any suggestion; but the matter was sufficiently urgent to occupy the attention of the House, with the view of ascertaining whether the Government intended to consult other countries, in order to obtain information which would enable them to remedy the present deadlock.


said, that a few months ago he reminded their Lordships that a recent change in the law would subject landowners to a larger proportion of the cost of drainage works than it had been originally intended they should bear. He had lately attended a meeting of a Drainage Board in Westmeath, formed some years ago. Its works were estimated to cost £42,000, as approved by the Board of Works engineer; and on this basis proprietors concerned had consented to the scheme, but they had cost nearly £100,000; and the result was that the district had been saddled with a charge of £5,000 a-year for 35 years, exclusive of a further charge for maintenance, amounting to nearly £1,000 a-year more. The works were finished, and the awards made, in 1881, when the Land Act came into operation. It was then found impossible to place the proper proportion of the charge upon the tenants, and the landlords had to bear a much heavier burden than they had contemplated. He thought this was a matter which the Government might fairly take into consideration, somewhat on the system on which it was understood that the Government incline to reduce the interest on loans advanced to railways. The noble Lord had mentioned some possible mode of action by a local authority, or by a Government Board, with reference to drainage; but he feared that, under the present tendency of legislation, the noble Lord's hopes would scarcely be realized.


said, the question was certainly one of very considerable importance to the interests of Ireland; and he was glad to be able to inform his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) that the Irish Government, fully recognizing that importance, had had for some time past the draft of a Bill under their consideration for dealing with the subject of arterial drainage in Ireland. The Bill had now nearly reached its complete form; and his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had informed him that he expected very soon to introduce it in the other House of Parliament. Its object was to consolidate and amend the Land Improvements Acts; and its provisions would cover the whole subject of drainage in Ireland—both farm drainage and the general arterial drainage of the country. As to what had been accomplished in the way of arterial drainage, the noble Lord knew that nearly all the great works of arterial drainage had been accomplished; but he (Lord Carlingford) was informed that there still remained a large number of minor, yet very useful and important, works which might be brought about. The hope was that the provisions of the Bill of which he spoke would adapt the law upon the subject more or less to the changed condition of affairs in Ireland consequent upon recent legislation, which had led his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) to bring this matter before the House, and which also had inspired, as it so often did, his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Longford). It would not be proper for him to go into any details of the Bill, which was not yet introduced; but the intention was to make certain changes, which, it was hoped, would render the working of the system of arterial drainage in future practicable, under the changed condition of things in Ireland. For instance, there was the question to be considered as to whether the assent of the tenants could not be in some way brought in in deciding these questions, so that the scheme would be binding upon them. There was also the important question of finding a means of charging upon the tenant a fair proportion of the drainage charge, which had hitherto been added to his rent. There was, as the noble Earl had implied, a doubt—and he did not know that it was more than a doubt, because legal opinion was divided upon it—whether, under the provisions of the Land Act of 1881, in any cases where a fair rent had been fixed by the Court, or by way of agreement, and registered in Court, it would be possible to impose a portion of the drainage charge by way of addition to that rent. The matter admitted of doubt; and it was proposed in the Bill to be introduced to clear that matter up. As to obtaining information of the mode of dealing with this question in other countries, he was endeavouring to obtain such information through the Foreign Office; but with respect to the Irish Government and the legislation to be promoted by them on the subject, he hoped that their Lordships would, before the end of the Session, have an opportunity of considering the Bill he had briefly described.