HC Deb 10 March 1847 vol 90 cc1114-26

On the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Drainage of Land Bill,


wished to make a few observations connected with the rate of interest in this Bill. That rate of interest was to be six and a half per cent for twenty-two years, when principal and interest would be extinguished. That was calling for a rate of interest not exceeding three and a quarter per cent. [An Hon. MEMBER: Three and a half.] Well, if the hon. Member had made the calculation, he would not dispute it with him; but at any rate he wished to remind the House that this was a less rate of interest than the Government paid for their loans. He thought that the people of this country ought not to be taxed for noblemen and landed proprietors, whom this Bill was intended to benefit, particularly as in all probability the interest or money would reach a still higher rate. He, therefore, thought that a higher rate of interest ought to be introduced into this Bill.


said, the hon. Member was rather late in making his objection, as there was no alteration now in the Bill passed last year.


said, the faith of Parliament was pledged to this measure last Session, and it could not now be violated.


agreed with the hon. Member for Coventry that the people ought not to lose by this measure, and wished to know if it was the intention to make those parties who had borrowed money under the Bill pay the difference of interest between the rate at which it had been lent, and that at which money now was. When the interest of money was likely to become higher, he wished to know if there would be any objection to insert a clause in the Bill compelling persons to pay a higher rate of interest for the money to be advanced than was now contemplated? He hoped the Government would take some measures to limit loans to individuals, and allow time for people to make their applications, and that they would not make any payments until all the applications had come in.


stated, that many landed proprietors, particularly in Scotland, relying on the faith of Parliament, as pledged last year, had expended money in this way to a very large extent; and it was remarkable that the measure which had at first been proposed as a boon to the landed interest, had been found most available for the relief of distress in Scotland; so that there had not been more than 300l. or 400l. granted by Government for the relief of distress in Scotland, the remainder having been advanced out of the pockets of the landlords, on the faith of the money being repaid under this Bill. With regard to the limitation of grants made to individual proprietors, he proposed to introduce a clause which would meet the hon. Member's views.


thought this was a subject much better to be discussed in Committee; and, although there was a good deal of truth in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Montrose, yet it would be counterbalanced by a breach of public faith.

House in Committee.

On Clause 1 being proposed,


stated, with regard to the proposal to limit the amount granted to individuals, that an hon. relative of his own, who had advanced a large sum on the faith of this loan, was willing to restrict his claim to 15,000l., and give up 25,000l. Whether this measure was enough to relieve the distress in Scotland it was not for him to say; but he trusted that if it were not, the chieftains would not be indifferent to the sufferings of their people.


objected to the plan to extend the advantage of the loan from its original purpose of draining, to fencing and other agricultural purposes. The very lowest estimate made of the money required for a thorough draining of the lands in England and Scotland was from 20,000,000l. to 25,000,000l.; and if the sum of 2,000,000l., to be actually granted, was extended to fencing as well as draining, its usefulness would be frittered away.


explained, that in many cases, unless means of fencing were afforded, it would be useless to drain. That was the reason for extending the Act of last Session, so as to include fencing.


wished the Government would give precedence in this Bill to the Highland proprietors, who were struggling with severe distress in their districts without asking for Government grants, and who were, therefore, entitled to the full benefit of the present measure. There was another reason for confining the measure to the Highlands, because he could state for that part of the Lowlands with which he was connected—he meant the county of Forfar—that wages in that county were fifty per cent higher now than they had been for several years past. He could not help thinking, that if the Government would relax the law of entail in Scotland, the proprietors, instead of borrowing at the Treasury, would borrow from ordinary sources, of course the consent of the heirs of entail being rendered obligatory. That, he thought, would give great satisfaction to Scotland.


thought that if the Government were to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord the Member for Bath, and lay it down as a principle that they would entertain no application either from England or from the Lowlands of Scotland, they would be guilty of a breach of faith as great as that which had already been adverted to. He thought that the provisions of the Bill proved that the case of the Highland proprietors was foremost in the minds of Her Majesty's Government, and they had taken the best means to secure attention to their claims by being the first to move in this matter. It would be found, in point of fact, that of the whole amount of 2,000,000l. to be advanced under the Bill, about three-fourths would go to Scotland. On the other hand, the noble Lord the Member for Falkirk need not fear that the amount voted would be frittered away in other improvements than that of drainage, because, in fact, it would not be advantageous, either in the Lowlands of Scotland, or in England. Its benefits would be exclusively confined to those wide pastoral districts where arable land bore a high value. In fact, no applications for money to trench or fence had yet come from England; and no one need fear that such would come in future, as he feared that more than a sufficient margin of application had already been sent in, and that they would not be able to entertain more applications. With regard to the Highlands, he might state that he had seen returns regarding an estate in Inverness-shire, that the expense of draining and fencing there would amount to 18l. per acre; and before any money could be granted, they must prove that the works would add a clear additional value of 1l. 5s. per acre. It was of course hopeless to expect that this additional value would be gained in ordinary operations.


Sir, I cannot at all concur in the dismay with which the noble Lord the Member for the city of Bath sees the rise of wages among the labouring classes in Forfarshire. I must confess that I heard with great surprise sentiments of this kind proceeding from the noble Lord the liberal Member for the city of Bath, who appears to desire to grind down the labouring classes to the lowest possible amount of wages. I must confess that I heard with great pleasure the fact that wages have risen in Forfarshire, in proportion to the rise of the price of food in this country; and if it be that the effect of this measure, in lending 2,000,000l. for the drainage of land in Great Britain, should be generally to raise the amount of wages throughout Great Britain, I shall greatly rejoice in it. Neither can I concur with the sentiments of the hon. Gentlemen the Members for Coventry and Montrose, who wish to raise the amount of interest on the loans afforded by Government. The hon. Gentlemen have expressed great alarm lest the interest on the Exchequer-bills should be raised, and lest the interest upon money should rise to 4 per cent. But, if I am not greatly misinformed, the money market is not yet so greatly exhausted but that in the late competition for 8,000,000l. the amount offered was nearer to 80,000,000l. sterling than to eight. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may, perhaps, be able to inform us on this point; but the report in the city has been, that the bidding for shares in Messrs. Rothschild and Baring's loan exceeded 80,000,000l. sterling. Is it not so? [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER: Not that I heard of.] I heard that the applications for shares in the loan exceeded 80,000,000l. sterling. If so, I think we need be under no alarm that we shall exhaust the money market in seeking to borrow the sum of 2,000,000l. sterling for the improvement of land. I am sorry to hear that there is to be a restriction in the amount to be advanced. I really do not understand how a measure intended to operate as a compensation in some degree for the repeal of the corn laws, can be so limited and restricted. I confess that at first sight it does appear inconsistent that any portion of the money advanced for the purpose of draining should be expended on fences; but as a Scotch proprietor I can state from experience that, in many instances, as much advantage is derived from fencing as from draining. In many districts the erection of stone walls for sheep is as necessary as draining, because the greatest difficulty is found in keeping sheep from going adrift in winter. I find that my tenants pay as high a rate of interest for money expended in erecting "stone dykes," as they are called, as they do for the construction of drains.


said, that the Bill did not authorize an outlay for fences but in cases where the land had been drained.


begged to explain. He could assure the noble Lord the Member for Lynn, that he had no wish to grind down wages. His wish was that every labourer, whether working under a Ten Hours Bill or not, should have a fair day's wages for a fair day's work. What he stated was this, that at the present rate of wages in that part of Scotland to which he belonged, he thought it would be injudicious in the Government to encourage the landlords to borrow money for the purpose of draining their lands, because he did think that at the rate of wages which existed, the improvement would not repay them in the same mode it would have done were the wages lower.


hoped the Government would take up the subject of a drainage Bill, giving power to enter upon any lands to complete the drainage of others; for land could not be thoroughly drained without a proper vent for the water. He was afraid the money granted by this Bill would be frittered away, though in the present state of Scotland he would not object to the Bill.


also pressed for a Bill with powers to make outlets for the water. A great drawback to improvement was the copyhold tenures and the manorial rights and fines on death and alienation; ecclesiastical leaseholds were another obstacle, as the fines were payable on the improved value; and he wished for an equitable adjustment of these matters, to the improvement of the interests of all parties.


said, with respect to entailed estates in Scotland, there was a power under the Montgomery Act to charge three-fourths of the money spent for improvements on the entailed estates; what he wished to know was, whether there was any intention to extend the powers of that Act, or to give powers of sale?


said, that the powers under that Act had been so much used, that if they were extended, the proprietors would soon be in a condition that they would not be able to go on, for if they charged the estates to the full extent of two-thirds, there would be only one-third left for the heir, and to bear all public burdens; and the great object contemplated was to give a power, not of making additional charges, but of making sales, and by these means disencumbering the property.


said, that if he thought there was the slightest chance of getting rid of the Bill, he should detain the House at greater length than he meant to do at present, as he knew that opposition would be hopeless. He thought that the Bill was one of which all the landlords in the kingdom might feel considerably ashamed. It was the result of an arrangement entered into between the late Government and some other parties. The object of the Bill was to put money into the hands of those who did not need it. The owners of land were well off at the present moment, and stood in no need of compensation. If money was to be advanced to such parties, similar favours ought to be shown to persons unconnected with the land.


said, that the hon. and learned Member seemed to make particular reference to him when he spoke about the Bill being the result of an arrangement between the late Government and some other parties. He entirely repudiated any such arrangement. What he said was, that the faith of Parliament was pledged, seeing that it consented last year to the principle of advancing certain sums of money, at a certain rate of interest, not to raise that rate of interest to parties who had applied for advances.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 2 being proposed,


moved, as an addition— Provided always, that correct plans or tracings of the drainage, as finally effected, he deposited with and preserved for public use and inspection by the Commissioners.


thought that the adoption of any such rule would be productive of much delay, inconvenience, and expense. In the case of Macleod, of Macleod, whose property extended to 150,000 acres, the operation of such a clause would be exceedingly burdensome, and the same inconvenience would apply to similar tracts of land. Besides, it should be borne in mind that the Bill provided that, during the currency of the twenty-one years over which the payment of the advance was to extend, an annual inspection of the drainage was to be made.


thought that the utmost discretion, compatible with the security of the money advanced should be allowed to the Scotch proprietors in the way of conducting their operations. Unless care were taken, the preliminary expenses connected with the advance would form an enormous percentage on the sum borrowed.

Amendment withdrawn. Clause agreed to.

Clauses 3, 4, and 5, agreed to.

On Clause 6,


said, he had an Amendment to propose. The Bill, as it stood, provided that the works should be completed in three years from the time of granting the certificate, with a discretionary power to the Commissioners to extend it for one year. The object of this limitation was to prevent the money being locked up, to reduce the number of large applications from individual proprietors, and to diffuse the grants as widely as possible. It had been suggested that this object would be more directly obtained by limiting the pecuniary amount of the grant. It was therefore proposed, in ordinary cases, that no provisional certificate should be granted for a larger sum than 15,000l., and that the period for its being expended should be enlarged from three years to five. In order to meet the case of the Highland proprietors, a discretionary power was given to the Commissioners; where there was a large unemployed population, and it could be shown that a larger amount would be expended in three years, a larger advance should be made.


said, the alteration proposed by the right hon. Baronet so much improved this clause, that he (Sir J. Graham) had much distrust in his own judgment in making any observation at all hostile to it. He thought some limitation of the pecuniary amount was indispensable, for it appeared that the sums already applied for under the former Bill amounted to 2,800,000l. The circumstances of the Highlands of Scotland entitled them to the favourable consideration of that House; and he thought it right that some discretionary power should be vested in the Treasury or some authority to allow a deviation from the inflexible rule, which he had feared was to be rigidly adhered to, that the applications were to be taken in the precise order in which they arrived. If that rule were rigidly adhered to, the object of this Bill would be defeated. He did not apprehend that the interests of individual proprietors were sought to be consulted by this measure. The great object of it was to increase, on perfect security, by public aid, within the shortest time, the gross amount of human food to be raised in this country. He very much doubted the expediency of making such large grants to large proprietors of land as under this Bill were proposed to be made. Men who possessed large estates either had the command of capital or possessed sufficient credit to obtain any loans which the improvement of their estates might render necessary; therefore, those who could give security for large loans were precisely the parties who did not stand in need of any assistance from the State. It was the yeomanry and the small proprietors who found a difficulty in borrowing money; their credit did not stand so high as that of their wealthier neighbours, while their estates needed improvement quite as much. It appeared to him that the operation of these loans ought to be diffused as widely as possible; and ho, therefore, should never have thought of fixing the proposed limit so high as 15,000l. If sums so great as 15,000l. were granted, it was quite evident that 3,000,000l. would not satisfy the just and reasonable claims of those who most required assistance. By fixing the proposed amount at 10,000l., a sufficient sum would, in his opinion, be set loose to satisfy all fair claims; whereas, if the Government adhered strictly to the rule of 15,000l., many very fair claims must necessarily be rejected. The object of the measure ought to be, especially as regarded the Highlands, not so much to comply with the wishes of a small body of landlords, as to give efficient assistance to a great number of small proprietors and yeomanry. He trusted that the Government would seriously consider the point that he had brought under their consideration; and, by reducing the sum from 15,000l. to 10,000l., effect a great improvement in the Bill.


thought that an increase in the amount of money to be lent, say 3,000,000l. instead of 2,000,000l., would render the attainment of the objects proposed by the Bill more certain. The objects of the Bill were said to be two: first, to give employment and food to the people; and, secondly, to increase the quantity of the produce of the land. As far as these objects were concerned, it did not matter whether the loans were granted to large proprietors or small ones; and, as it was admitted on all hands, that the security was good, he could not see how the State could lose anything. He thought all the evidence before Parliament went to show that large sums were necessary for the improvements required in the Highlands; and he hoped that if any other plan were pursued, the first comers would always be taken. The Government would otherwise be placed in an invidious position, and might be subjected to the suspicion of showing partiality to their own friends.


said, that the interest of the additional money which the noble Lord (Lord G. Bentinck) proposed to raise, would have to be paid by the working classes, and therefore he deprecated such a course. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham), that the loans to each individual should be limited to 10,000l.


, with regard to the working classes having to pay the interest of the money, thought the noble Lord who had just sat down, who made that statement, could not have read the Bill now before the House, or the Act passed last year, or he would have learnt that every landowner to whom a loan was granted was to pay 6l. 10s. per cent per annum for twenty-two years, by which both principal and interest was discharged. That was his reply to the noble Lord.


said, that the answer of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn did not appear to him to be quite satisfactory. The hon. Member for Montrose had shown that the State would have to borrow at one rate of interest, and would be repaid at another and a lower rate; so that a portion of the interest on the advances would be thrown on the taxes of the country. He rose, however, principally for the purpose of stating that he entirely approved of the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Dorsetshire (Sir J. Graham) for limiting the advances to 10,000l. instead of 15,000l. It was most desirable that the larger proprietors should not absorb more than their fair share of the advances, and that the smaller proprietors, whose resources were necessarily more circumscribed, should receive under that Bill the means of improving their land. He wished to know whether Her Majesty's Ministers had any returns before them, or had been put in possession of any information, by which they could ascertain what portion of the applications hitherto made could be met in case the advances were limited to 10,000l. or 12,000l.?


hoped that the Government would seriously consider the proposition of the right hon. Member for Dorchester. Its adoption would effect a great improvement in the Bill. As to the difference between the rate at which money was borrowed, and that at which it was lent, he rather believed it would not prove to be a matter of much importance, and that the public would suffer very little by the result, whereas a great addition would be made to the future productiveness of the soil. He thought that the Government were entitled to the thanks of the country for the attention which they had bestowed upon this subject; and he felt assured that it would lead to many advantageous consequences, especially in that part of the country with which he was more immediately connected.


said, that in answer to the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), he would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if it were not true, that while the loan of 8,000,000l. for Ireland had been contracted at the rate of 3l. 7s. 6d. per cent interest, the advances under the Bill before the House would be repaid with interest equivalent to 3l. 10s. per cent. Now, if that were so, the public would be a gainer to the extent of 2s. 6d. interest on every 100l. advanced under that measure; and the working classes of this country would not lose, but would benefit by the transaction.


rose to repeat on his own behalf the question put by the hon. Member for Cockermouth. Were the Ministers able to say that, by effecting the proposed reduction from 15,000l. to 10,000l., they could set free so large a sum as would enable them to meet all well-founded claims?


supported the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Dorchester. The large proprietors had made a run at the money, and he thought that the small proprietors ought to be assisted.


said, he believed that the advances under the Bill would be repaid with interest equivalent to 3l. 3s. per cent, and not 3l. 10s., as was stated by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn. But at all events that measure would enable landowners to get money on more favourable terms than any on which they could otherwise obtain it.


supported the proposition of the Government. If Ministers would adhere to the original limitation of 15,000l., and divide the House upon it, he would vote with them. There were many owners of large entailed estates who could not otherwise improve those estates than by taking advantage of the present measure.


, in reply to a question put by Captain Harris, said, that the Highlands formed an exceptional case. If districts were distressed, and the labour intended to be applied in the improvement of estates were to be performed by the inhabitants of those districts, then the Commissioners possessed a discretionary power to extend the limit beyond 15,000l.


said, that from unwillingness to impede the progress of business he had not sooner risen. He did not suppose that the public would sustain any loss from the proposed aid to the proprietors of land; on the contrary, he thought there were very satisfactory grounds for believing that the interest and principal of the money advanced by the State would be fully repaid. With reference to the observations made on the other side, he agreed mainly in what had been said; and he should not say he was sorry, but, on the contrary, he was glad, that large demands had been made; at the same time, they were not to lose sight of this, that requests for large sums were made by parties respecting whom there was every reason to suppose that they did not expect to obtain all that they asked for. He did not by any means deny that the greater the number of individuals to whom the operation of the measure extended, the more beneficial would be its effects upon society at large. He need scarcely say that the Government had no other object but to promote employment and productiveness; and, as there seemed to prevail in the House a very general impression that there ought to be a further reduction of the highest sum to be granted, he willingly consented to take into consideration the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Dorchester. It was almost superfluous for him to add, that all the demands made upon the proposed fund could not be complied with, the more especially as applications were made for enormous sums to drain estates where the extent of land was small. He repeated, that the Government would seriously consider the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet, and make up their minds before the Bill was reported.


was perfectly satisfied with the assurance which the House had just heard from the right hon. Baronet. If the Government inquired into the matter, they would find that the rule of 15,000l. would impose upon them the necessity of rejecting many claims, which adopting that of 10,000l. would enable them to meet.


did not quite agree in the general opinion as to the expediency of this limitation. The Bill had changed its character very much since it had first been introduced; it was then intended to be a compensation to the agriculturists for the removal of certain privileges—by enabling them to improve their lands by means of loans from the State. By the intervention of unforeseen circumstances, the Bill was now made to embrace other objects. The advances were made not so much to the landowners as on the land, and in order that the money might be spent on it. When a proprietor had property in three different counties, it might operate very badly that two of those properties should be left unsupplied because he had gone to the full extent of his claim on the first.


denied that the money was lent to the land. The object was to increase the general productiveness by lending money to those proprietors, especially the smaller ones, who could not obtain it in any other way.


said, that the money proposed to be advanced by this Bill would be put to productive use by those who received it; and it would be well afterwards that more should be advanced, under another Act of Parliament, to the smaller proprietors, who would be ready then to profit by the example already set them by the larger proprietors.


thought that the money should be divided as equally as possible among the applicants. He thought it would be most unfair to exclude the smaller proprietors in the first instance, by allowing the amount of the money to be first absorbed by the larger proprietors. The men of small means were those who most wanted the money.

Amendments agreed to, and clause agreed to.

Other clauses agreed to. The House resumed.

Bill to be reported.