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Shannon Navigation

Volume 49: debated on Wednesday 17 July 1839

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On the motion for the House resolving itself into Committee on the Shannon Navigation Bill,

thought, considering the miserable state in which the Government were placed at the present moment, the House ought not to proceed further with the consideration of the Bill during the present Session. He respected Ireland as much as any man, and he should be glad to see it improved: but he thought the mode in which the money was to be raised for carrying on the work, namely, by Exchequer bills, was most objectionable. So great an objection had he to the Bill, that could he-find any hon. Member to divide with him, he would move, that the further consideration of the bill should be proceeded with that day six months.

trusted, that after consideration hon. Members would, considering the time the bill had been before the House, and taking into account also that not a single petition had been presented against the bill, with the exception of one from an individual which had been withdrawn, allow the bill to go into Committee. The public had been greatly deluded by statements that had been put forth relative to his having an interest in the bill; and it was his intention, when the bill was in committee, to rebut those statements.

thought, that the House were entitled to have an explanation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer relative to the large sum that was required for this work before they went into Committee.

thought, that they ought to go into Committee on the Bill, in which stage any explanation might be given that was required.

said, if the House would only go into a Committee it was his intention to enter fully into the details of the bill.

wished to say a few words before the House went into Committee on the Bill. It had been stated that he had a personal interest in the improvement of the navigation; he had no such thing, his property was forty or fifty miles from the Shannon, and no man had less personal interest in the measure than he had.

must protest against proceeding further with the bill, as no explanation had been given yet of the necessity for so great a sum as was asked for by the measure. He would move, as an amendment, that the bill should be taken into further consideration that day three months.

said, if hon. Members were determined to persevere in this course he must in justice to himself enter into an explanation of the objects and nature of the bill. The interests not only of Ireland, but England were involved in this vote, and if the House were to adopt the proposition of the hon. Member, they would go in direct variance to the decision of Parliament and their duty to the people of Ireland. A bill had passed that House, which had received the sanction of the other branch of the Legislature, in which the whole principle of the Shannon vote had been affirmed. The act to which he alluded was passed in 1835, which recited, that it was expedient, that the expenses of the proposed improvement in the Shannon should be borne out of the public funds. It had been supposed that the measure was brought forward now for the first time, and for private interests. No one who had ever turned their attention to the subject but must know, that it had been under consideration for centuries—that it had been recommended under the secretaryship of Edmund Spenser—also under the administration of Sir John Davis the improvement of the Shannon was considered as a national object, and also in the time of Lord Bacon, who was a high authority. He was almost ashamed to take up the time of the House upon the question, but the object of the bill had been much misunderstood, and he felt it his duty to state the matter fully to the House. The experiment of leaving the improvement of the Shannon to private enterprise had already been tried, but it had entirely failed. Private speculation might do very well for the improvement of a small river, but to improve a river of 170 miles in length required greater resources. The question had been agitated since the time of Elizabeth, and was under the consideration of every government since that time, and in 1831, Colonel Burgoyne, Mr. Mudge, Mr. Rhodes, and Mr. Cubitt made a report, in which they said, it was surprising that so noble a river as the Shannon should be in such a state of neglect; and they further said, the improvement of it would be for the advantage of both countries. Again, in 1834, a Select Committee, composed of Gentlemen of all parties—of English, Irish, and Scotch Members, sat, and having inquired into the subject, they reported that the Government ought to take up the matter—ought to undertake the work. The Government did not proceed upon that report, but, upon his recommendation, they waited until they were aware that the whole of the compensations were settled. The Parliament then passed an Act for the purpose of ascertaining the amount of these compensations, and would be guilty of a fraud if it now turned round and said it would abandon the scheme. They had a report before them of the beneficial effects which the public works, undertaken in Scotland, had been the instruments of. Mr. Telford had stated, that Scotland, through the assistance which this country had afforded to it, in the improvement of roads, bridges, &c., had advanced 100 years. Mr. Loch had stated, that the condition of the peasantry had been improved by it; they were better housed, fed, and clothed; the revenue had been improved; the progress of civilization had been very rapid, and distillation had disappeared; and the hon. Gentleman now turned round and said, that the example of Scotland was not at all to the point, and was entirely inapplicable. No doubt, hitherto, the Caledonian Canal had been a failure, but it must be borne in mind, that that work, which cost one million, was at the sole cost of the Government, whereas the present work would not cost the half, and the half of that was secured upon the Irish county-rates. Would the House say, they were prepared to vote 1,000,000l. for Scotland, 120,000l. for canals in Canada—that they would vote for the payment of the Danish claims, but would not vote for that which would not only benefit Ireland but the whole country? A more despicable—more ungenerous course could not be taken towards Ireland, for the measure would not only increase its resources, but make it more beneficial to England. It had been stated, that he had a personal interest in the measure. He had, and he would tell the House to what extent. The sum proposed to be expended was 500,000l. and odd, and of that sum there was a sum of 52,137l. to be expended on the lower Shannon, or one-tenth part of the whole. In that lower portion of the Shannon, which was about sixty miles in length, and was a most important part of the navigation, opening to the sea, he had a positive interest, owning about a mile and a half, or two miles. It was proposed by the Commissioners, that a portion of the improvement should be made on that part which was his property, but nothing would be done towards the improvement of his property till he had advanced one-half of the sum to be expended on it, namely, 4,000l. He had now told the whole story with respect to himself, and he trusted it would be no detriment to the vote. Considering the sum which he should have to advance before anything was done on his property, he was sure his vote would not be influenced by the prospect of the improvement. When they spoke of the State giving this assistance, it was not Great Britain alone which gave the assistance; it was given out of the taxation of the whole empire, and was to support a public work in which Great Britain, as well as Ireland, had a direct interest.

would readily give his vote for money to be given in aid of public works in Ireland, knowing that the expenditure of money in improvements tended towards the improvement of the country; but he would not consent to the reckless issue of Exchequer bills. He was prepared, as far as he was concerned, to take the proper means for providing a revenue for such a purpose, but he would not consent to incur a debt without providing the means to meet it. Exchequer bills were issued for every deficiency. There would probably be a deficiency in the revenue foam the contemplated alteration in the postage of letters, which would be so met, and he would not consent to this means of raising money. He was quite sure, the course they were taking with regard to the revenue was not only injurious to the credit and faith of the country, but that it was a course likely to involve the country in difficulties they would never be able to surmount.

said, that it was probable the proposed works in the Shannon might not be completed in six, seven, eight, or nine years, so that the intended expenditure would be extended over the whole of that time. Let him add, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member, that the principle of issues of Exchequer bills, and to a very large amount, for the promotion of public works, was not at all a new principle. In a late period of the government of which the late Lord Castlereagh was a member, that noble Lord recommended an issue of Exchequer bills for carrying on public works, not merely of 500,000l., which was the limit of the grant in the present case, but of 7,000,000l.; and so far was the country from being a loser by that issue, that it became a gainer on the whole capital of 370,000l., independently of the advantage which it had derived from carrying on the works.

would object to any issue of Exchequer bills for public works as long as there was a deficiency in the revenue.

admired the generosity of the gallant Gentleman. The gallant Gentleman would be glad, forsooth! to do good to Ireland, but he would vote no money. When he was asked for money to carry out his good intentions, his generosity oozed out, and became a mere caput mortuum. He would be glad if the gallant Gentleman would keep his generosity to himself. For himself, he would prefer that the gallant Gentleman should succeed. It would be one other proof of the disposition of the House towards Ireland, not on one side of the House, but on both sides. One side would not give any franchises or privileges, and the other would grant no money. Indeed, both joined in opposing any grant. Could he forget the fact, and did they think that Ireland would forget it, that at the time of the union Ireland only owed twenty-seven millions of debt, whilst England owed five hundred millions? and was it not as great a wrong between nation and nation as between man and man, to make Ireland thus responsible for a debt which she had never contracted? Why, what would be thought of two men entering into partnership upon such terms, and the man of the largest relative capital and smallest relative debt receiving the smallest amount of profits? When he recollected that the whole Session had gone by without one single advantage being obtained by Ireland; when he considered that the measure of the franchise stingily given in that House would probably be annihilated elsewhere, did the House think that he could go back to Ireland without telling the people of Ireland the truth? Why, one-third of the money was their own. The House had voted 270,000l. for the Thames tunnel. What advantage would the Thames tunnel give to Ireland? how many of the Irish people would use it? yet the people of Ireland had to contribute their share of the grant. The vote for the Shannon would make provisions cheap in Liverpool; it would make provisions cheap in Manchester. The improvement of the Shannon would bring the cattle of the farmers within 36 hours of the Manchester market—not the Liverpool market only, but the Manchester market. That would be the benefit derived from this grant by the English manufacturing districts. Did they refuse, then, this stingy, this paltry, this miserable grant? They had thrown away millions in this country and elsewhere, and Ireland was taxed to pay the debt, yet to this paltry sum for a great national improvement they objected. It was a miserable amount. He hoped they would refuse it.

notwithstanding the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, should give his vote against the principle of the grant. In the present state of the finances of the country, and with the discontent which prevailed amongst our population from the pressure of taxation, the Government ought not to propose such grants. Hon. Members might talk of the distress which prevailed in Ireland, but they should also consider the distress, and its consequent discontent, which prevailed in England. By the bill before the House, he did not see how the proposed advance was to be repaid. The bill provided that certain tolls should be levied on the navigation of the Shannon, but then he perceived that any surplus, after defraying expenses, was to be applied by the commissioners as they should think fit; but he saw nothing about the repayment of the advance. If there was to be a remunerating profit on those tolls, it would be another thing; but there was no reason to expect anything of the kind. The outlay required in such works was always far beyond the first estimate. The first estimate of the expense of the Caledonian Canal, as made by the late Sir John Rennie, was 350,000l., but that sum was expended long before its completion, and then it was asked, "Will you stop here, after the outlay already made?" Well, the work went on until it cost the country 1,000,000l., and then it was found that the tolls were not sufficient to keep the canal in repair; and, in fact, a sum of 39,000l. was taken from the public funds of the country to make up the difference between the amount of the tolls and the cost of the repairs. So it would be in this case. The sum now proposed would not be found sufficient. If the counties on the banks of this navigation should be benefited by the proposed plan, they ought to bear part of the cost, and the rest should be made up by a toll on the navigation. No man was more anxious than he was to support measures which would benefit Ireland, but when a large grant like the present was proposed, he could not consent to it in the present state of the finances of the country.

said, that the surplus of the tolls, after the payment of expenses, would be carried to the public account. This however was a matter which would more properly come for discussion in the committee, and he had no objection to make the clause for that object more stringent.

said, he thought the Government was not justified in proposing a grant of such an amount for such a purpose as this, in the present falling state of the revenue.

said, he had thought that the hon. Member for Coventry belonged to that party which was called "Liberal;" but it appeared that they were only liberal towards Ireland when it cost them nothing; for when the money of England was to be voted for Ireland, they were just as great monopolists as the hon. Gentlemen opposite. This was, in his opinion, one of the strongest arguments for the repeal of the union, and all men who had the honour and good of Ireland at heart, ought on that ground to join the hon. and learned Member for Dublin in agitating to attain that object.

said, the hon. Member who had just sat down had spoken of the liberal feelings of certain hon. Members always stopping, whenever a grant of money was proposed for Ireland; but he had never understood that liberality in politics consisted in giving away the public money. It consisted in giving the people free and good Government, and franchises which they had never enjoyed before. If he considered that this was brought forward as part of a general and new principle for making grants for the public benefit, he should be content to go into committee on this bill, and to see there whether the present proposition was reasonable and commensurate with the object in view; but, unless that were shown to be the case, he must oppose it.

said, he considered that this grant would be a most improvident and improper application of the public money; but, if any measure were brought forward for squandering the money of the people, it was sure to be carried. He knew very well that this measure would be carried. Yes, the propositions would be carried, and the money expended. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had said, that if you improved the Shannon, you then brought those who held farms on the banks within thirty-six hours' journey of Lancashire. But what was it for? Only to convey away the food of the people of Ireland. [Cries of Oh! oh!] Hon. Gentlemen cried out "Oh! oh! For whenever one Member uttered the truth, half the House were in agony. He would say that this proposition was holding out a premium to the absentees of Ireland, who were spending their money in England and on the the Continent of Europe, instead of their own country. Why did they not spend their own money in Ireland? Did we in England ask for money for such purposes as this? He thought that if the money were granted, the damage that would arise to the owners of land connected with the river must be greater than any public profit derived from it would compensate for. It was the principle that was so objectionable, for if money were granted to one part of the kingdom, it must be granted to other parts. Considering the state of the finances of this country, and the difficulties in which the people were placed, he must offer his strenuous opposition to this vote. It was perfectly unwarranted, and if ever there were a time when such a grant ought not to be made, it was the present. The country never was in greater distress, and as long as the House was constituted as it was now, their recklessness would not stop until such dangers arose as would intimidate them as to the course they were pursuing. His proposition had nothing of sense to recommend it, and was calculated to destroy the spirit of all private enterprise in Ireland. He was sure that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin would, on reflection, be satisfied that the money could not do good to Ireland if it were voted. Rents in Ireland were higher than in England or Scotland. He believed it could be proved that, at any rate, they were higher than in England, and yet what were the wages of the labouring men? Much lower than in this country. In his opinion, the only way to correct this would be to keep the landed proprietors of Ireland at home.

said, that when it was objected to this measure, that the people of Ireland did not spend their own money in public improvements, he would say, that had they been allowed to avail themselves of their own resources, they would not now have asked for this assistance from England—no, not from England, but from the British Empire. He saw by returns which were made to this House in 1833, that for several years before 512,000l. had been received from Ireland on account of the woods and forests in that country, and which sum was legitimately applicable to such works as these; but during those years only 3,100l. had been expended for public improvements.

objected to the vote. If any man were to ask for such a sum for the improvement of the Thames, Humber, or any English river, he would be laughed at. Why, then, should they give money in one case, and refuse it in another. He thought that wherever money had been granted in a similar manner the committee had been in error. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had referred to the case of the Thames Tunnel, and said that 270,000l. had been voted for it; but he must say that that was a different thing, and was a public work which excited the admiration of all foreigners. With a failing revenue he thought this large sum ought not to be granted, and he hoped that the amendment of the hon. Member opposite would be pressed to a division.

said, he certainly hoped the hon. Member opposite would press his amendment, which he would cordially support. The hon. and learned Member for Dublin had taunted his (Mr. Ellis's) side of the House with a want of liberality towards Ireland; but by certain returns, which he had moved for some time ago, and which had recently been laid on the table by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, although not yet printed, he found that since the union, there had been voted for Ireland no less than 8,827,141l. He thought that was a pretty good sample of there not being a want of generosity on the part of England towards Ireland. He must complain of the late period at which this important bill had been introduced, and also of more than one half of the maps and plans connected with it not having yet been laid before the House. To him the bill appeared throughout to be exceedingly obnoxious. There was to be a new Board appointed, consisting of three commissioners, one of whom was to be paid, and, no doubt, to receive a very handsome salary. But why should there be a new Board? There was already the Board of Public Works in Ireland, and it was a matter of noteriety, that they had not enough to occupy their time. He did not advance anything lightly in that House; and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked him how he obtained his information, he would say, from the highest authority, and that none could be more satisfactory. The proof of his (Mr. Ellis's) assertion, that the time of the Members of the Board of Public Works was far from being fully occupied, consisted in this—that Colonel Burgoyne, the most efficient Member of that, Board, since his appointment to it, had filled the situation of Commissioner to the Irish Railway Inquiry, and had also acted in the Commission for the improvement of the Shannon Navigation. Mr. Ottley, another Member of the Board of Public Works, had likewise served in the last-named Commission. These were no inconsiderable ditties to perform, and had not these Gentlemen discharged them well, and without detriment to those previously imposed upon them? Then, who so fit as they to work out the objects of the bill before the House? And what could furnish a stronger argument for placing the execution of the proposed improvements under the Board of Public Works than the fact that already two of its members, with sufficient time to give it their attention, had the whole subject at their fingers' ends? Moreover, the heaviest part of the business had already been accomplished. All enquiries are said to have been instituted—all claims to compensation considered and determined—the nature of the works decided—the plans arranged in detail, so that nothing remains but a simple supervision of certain works, every detail of which has already been adjusted after minute and careful examination of the circumstances connected with it. But, instead of availing themselves of the Board of Public Works, established under Lord Grey's Government for the precise purposes named in the bill before the House, they were recommended by the right hon. Gentleman to form a new board altogether—create extensive patronage, with a new secretary, solicitor, engineers, a host of clerks, and a whole corps of placemen, perfectly unnecessary, and subject only to the approval of the Commissioners of the Treasury. The bill also contained a clause for making the awards of the commissioners final. No appeal was given to a jury of the Court of Queen's Bench, nor was any other remedy provided. Such was the tyrannical way in which it was sought to trample upon the rights of private property. He was not indisposed to be liberal with the public money advanced upon a proper basis, and sought to be appropriated in a manner calculated to developed the natural advantages of so noble a river as that of the Shannon, to give increased facilities to commerce in Ireland, and to stimulate a valuable mercantile intercourse between that country and Great Britain; but he thought it did behove the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be more wary, and to become more enlightened in his views, before he submitted measures such as that for the consideration of Parliament, and bearing, as it did, upon a subject of great public import. The right hon. Gentleman had found himself compelled that evening to offer explanations, and to seek to remove a colour of suspicion which had been given to his bill by reason of the questionable manner in which he had framed it throughout. He cautioned the House to be vigilant, and to avoid hasty legislation on a question of such vast interest; and, for the reasons he had stated, he thought they would do well to refuse to go into Committee upon a bill which was not to be held in a more favourable light from having been laid before them under the significant auspices of her Majesty's Government.

informed the hon. Member for Newry, that all the maps and plans he desired were before the House. He was surprised to hear the proposed grant called a profligate expenditure of the public money, for one-half was to be supplied by Ireland, and the other half was to be refunded from the tolls of the river. He never heard a more shabby, illiberal, and disgraceful argument against a national advantage.

The House divided on the original motion:—Ayes 64; Noes 25: Majority 39.

List of the AYES.

Adam, AdmiralAttwood, T.

Baines, E.Morpeth, Viscount
Barnard, E. G.Nagle, Sir R.
Barry, G. S.O'Brien, W. S.
Berkeley, hon. C.O'Connell, D.
Bernal, R.O'Connell, J.
Bridgman, H.O'Connell, M. J.
Brotherton, J.O'Ferrall, R. M.
Browne, R. D.Pechell, Captain
Buller, C.Perceval, Colonel
Campbell, Sir J.Pigot, D. R.
Clements, ViscountPower, J.
Cochrane, Sir T. J.Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Codrington, Adm.Roche, W.
Cole, ViscountRolfe, Sir R. M.
Donkin, Sir R. S.Russell, Lord J.
Dunbar, G.Scholefield, J.
Dundas, Sir R.Smith, B.
Evans, W.Stuart, Lord J.
Ferguson, Sir R. A.Stock, Dr.
French, F.Style, Sir C.
Gisborne, T.Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Grattan, J.Vigors, N. A.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir C.Walker, R.
Hawes, B.Williams, W. A.
Hodgson, F.Wood, C.
Hoskins, K.Wood, G. W.
Howard, P. H.Wyse, T.
Howick, ViscountYates, J. A.
Hume, J.Young, J.
Langdale, hon. C.
Lushington, C.


Lushington, rt. hn. S.Baring F.
Maule, hon. F.Parker, J.

List of the NOES.

Aglionby H. A.Morris, D.
Bagge, W.Pakington, J. S.
Boldero, H. G.Plumptre, J. P.
Bowes, J.Pryme, G.
Broadley, H.Richards, R.
Burroughes, H. N.Sheppard, T.
Eaton, R. J.Sibthorp, Colonel
Ellis, J.Thorneley, T.
Hector, C. J.Turner, W.
Henniker, LordWakley, T.
Hutt, W.Wood, Col. T.
Inglis, Sir R. H.


Lockhart, A. M.Finch F.
Lowther, hon. Col.Williams, W.

House in Committee. On the second clause appointing three commissioners.

said, that only one commissioner was to be paid, and he was to receive the same salary as the junior Member of the Board of Works, which, he believed, did not exceed 600l. a-year.

would move, as an amendment, that there should be two instead of three commissioners, so that there should be no paid commissioner at all.

The Committee divided on the question that the blank be filled up with the word three:—Ayes 58; Noes 18: Majority 40.

Bill went through the Committee.