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Public Works Loans Bill

Volume 181: debated on Friday 23 August 1907

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Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[MR. EMMOTT in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—


moved an Amendment providing that the loans to be issued should not exceed £1,000,000 instead of £3,000,000, for the purpose of obtaining a reply to a Question which he put to the right hon. Gentleman on the previous day, and to which he had received no answer. This Bill, dealing with large amounts of this kind, was an extremely important one. He had not been able to refer to the current figures because they were not yet published, but upon looking at the report for the year 1905-6, he saw that the Government in that year were advancing loans of upwards of £2,250,000, that there was a standing debt of £50,500,000, that £134,000 of principal and £152,000 of interest had been written off as bad debts. He mentioned these figures to the Committee to show that the transactions were very large. He therefore submitted that when they were voting a considerable sum of money in a Bill like this they were entitled to some explanation of the general principles upon which these large sums were applied. Hitherto there had been no very great scrutiny of these items, but he thought notice should be taken of some of the very large sums which great local bodies had obtained from the Public Works Loans Commissioners, when they were quite able to raise the money they required on the market. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would be able to give an assurance that the Government was exercising some economy in the issue of these public loans, and that some check would be put upon the unlimited borrowings by public authorities from the Public Works Loans Commissioners. It had been the practice for many years for local authorities to get these loans without any serious investigation, check, or any careful regard to the way in which money so borrowed was spent. The present stringent condition of the money market constituted a great temptation for them to go to the Public Works Loans Commissioners, and he hoped some check would be put upon them. He begged to move. Amendment proposed—

"In line 9, to leave out '3' and insert '1.'"
—(Mr. Gretton.) Question proposed, "That the word 'one' stand part of the clause."

said that during recent years many restrictions had been placed on the granting of loans to public bodies, and only recently the Treasury had added two or three additional restrictions to those in force. No loans were made to any local authorities with a rateable value of £200,000 or over except in two or three instances, in connection with, the Education Act of 1902, the Housing of the Working Classes Act, and another Act. The loans were made almost entirely to small local bodies not able otherwise to obtain money at anything like decent rates of interest. Every week these small local authorities came for paltry loans, and it was better to deal with them in the bulk by the Commissioners, whose powers were not abused. The restrictions in the last few years had diminished the number of loans they had granted. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

moved to leave out the words "Public Commissioners of Works in Ireland." He said that on the previous day when he stated that these gentlemen were trying to get further power into their hands, the Secretary to the Treasury took exception to his remarks, and now he wanted some explanation as to this £700,000 which was to be placed in their hands. He submitted that the Public Works Commissioners in Ireland were not the proper body to administer any such sum as this. If his Amendment were carried it would not prevent this money being used for Ireland, but would simply ensure its administration by a proper body. The Public Works Commissioners in Ireland were a board of three gentlemen, two of whom were legacies left to Ireland by two former chief secretaries at £1,000 a year each, and the third an Anglo-Indian, who, to use a phrase of the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, represented nothing and nobody. He was not in favour of putting further power into the hands of these three gentlemen. against the actions of whom they had had to protest time and again. It was a most extraordinary thing that the Government should pick out the most inefficient of all Irish Boards to administer the expenditure of this £700,000. Amendment proposed—

"To leave out the words 'Public Commissioners of Works in Ireland.'"
—(Mr. Mooney.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the clause."


said it was not a fair description of an Anglo-Indian to say he represented nobody and nothing.

said it was not his phrase but that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary.


said the Chief Secretary could not have been serious seeing that his distinguished Under-Secretary and one of the Land Commissioners were Anglo-Indians and that Irish legislation owed so much to Indian precedents. It was not for him to express any opinion whether such precedents were or were not suitable, neither was it for every member of the Irish Party to disparage Anglo-Indians. Indeed he thought the Government of Ireland would be much more effective if they had a few more of them.

said that ever since 1878 loans had been made through the 'Commissioners of Public Works for Ireland. So far from this being an innovation it had been the practice for several years. Large sums had been paid by them in connection with all these various purposes. The only effect of the Amendment of the hon. Gentlemen would be to deprive the local authorities of Ireland of the power to borrow during the whole of next year except upon their own security. He suite agreed that the Irish Board of Works was not a very competent body, but as the law now stood it was the only body which could lend money in Ireland for the ordinary purposes of local government. He therefore appealed to the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to. Clause 7:—

said he desired to move the rejection of the clause, and after the hon. Gentleman's own description of this Board he did not see how he could refuse to accept the Amendment. The clause had been inserted in pursuance of a promise made to the House. What he objected to was that when they asked for something to be inserted in the Bill something more was put in than they had asked for. These Commissioners were attempting to get into their hands more power than they had at present, and this was only another instance of that kind of endeavour on their part. In this measure the Commissioners had attempted to get control of money that was voted for another purpose altogether. The work was being done without the intervention of these three gentlemen at all, and he could not see what necessity there was for putting into an Act of Parliament a provision giving them powers which they had not had up to the present time, or the exercise of which did not require a clause in an Act of Parliament. For these reasons he opposed Clause 7 altogether.

said in reference to the navigation works to which the hon. Member alluded, the Bill was introduced by the Irish Office and it was a measure promoted by the Irish Board of Works, the Treasury having nothing to do with it. So far as he was concerned personally, he washed his hands of it altogether. Clause 7 had been introduced at the request of the Public Works Loans Board themselves; he could assure the hon. Gentleman that it had been inserted at their request. The powers under which they might have made loans had been quite obsolete in recent years. They had made no loans whatever, and they had got rid bit by bit under the Acts passed by that House of all powers to make loans in Ireland, with the solitary exception of those mentioned in Clause 7. The Public Works Loans Board were anxious that all the powers should be transferred to the Commissioners of Public Works for Ireland, and it was at their request that the clause was inserted. He did not see why the hon. Gentleman should object in any way; on the contrary, they were allowing powers which had become obsolete in the past some chance of being operative in the future.

said he did not press the omission of the clause, but the hon. Gentleman had made a charge against him of having made an inaccurate statement regarding the action of the Commissioners of Public Works. That statement was founded on Subsection (b) of the Bill before the House, and he merely wanted to point out that the Bill, which was wanted by the whole of Ireland, was dropped when action was taken by these Commissioners.

gave an emphatic denial to every statement made by the hon. Member with reference to the navigation works. This Bill, he said, had been accepted by the Government as a Government Bill, and nothing had been inserted in it other than what appeared when it was printed and circulated.

said that that was not the statement that he had made. What he said was that this Bill gave the Commissioners control over public money which, before the Bill was printed, was vested in other departments in Ireland, and owing to the Commissioners trying to get control of this money the Bill had to be dropped.

That is not so. Clause agreed to. Bill reported, without Amendment; read the third time, and passed.