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Ireland—Shannon Navigation—Grant—Committee

Volume 203: debated on Wednesday 27 July 1870

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Order for Committee read.

said, that the Bill, with which the proposed Vote was connected, authorized the advance from the Consolidated Fund of two sums of £100,000 each. The first was to be applied for the improvement of the navigation of the Shannon, and was proposed to be a free grant. The remaining £100,000 was to be advanced on loan, to be applied to the improvement of the lands bounding the Shannon. Now, he thought that the first sum ought to have been placed upon the Estimates, and the second advanced by the Public Loans Commissioners. Further, he objected in point of form to the proceedings by which the Bill had been urged forward. After the Bill had reached a certain stage, it was discovered to be properly a hybrid Bill, as touching private interests, and required therefore to be dealt with accordingly. It was very doubtful whether the Bill ought not to have been dropped at once, as the usual notices had not been given; but the House thought it right to exercise the power which it possessed of ordering it to be referred to a Committee of which certain Members should be appointed by the Committee of Selection. The Order was to have been made on Monday. It was, in fact, made at 2 o'clock on Tuesday morning; but, greatly to his surprise, he found that the Committee of Selection had met on Monday, in anticipation of the Vote of the House, had appointed the Committee, had placed him upon it without his knowledge, and that the Committee met on Tuesday at 12 o'clock, and actually reported to the House at 2 o'clock that afternoon. That was a flagrant instance of hurried legislation, and he thought the House ought not to sanction it. The subject was one on which the public at large had been left almost without information. The whole affair he regarded as a farce, and he would suggest that the Bill should be allowed to stand over until next Session, when the Government might state their reasons for coming before the House. The Consolidated Fund ought certainly not to be charged with the free grant of £100,000. He wished to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury why, if the money was to be granted, it should not be by Vote of the House on the Estimates. With respect to the drainage of the lands, the Public Works Commissioners already advanced loans for the improvement of estates, and there was no reason wiry this matter should be dealt with differently.

said, there had been no desire to prevent fair discussion. He admitted that certain stages had been passed through with great rapidity, as was indispensable if the Bill was to pass this Session. He was not responsible for the stops taken by the Committee of Selection; and it must also be remembered that the Bill, being a hybrid Bill, was in charge of a Parliamentary agent, whose advice in the matter was followed. The usual notices, no doubt, had been dispensed with in this case, but that was because the Bill was practically unopposed. The Committee, to whom the Bill had been referred, dealt with it in the way hybrid Bills were usually dealt with. If the Government were to put a Vote on the Estimates for the object in view, that would not give the House any greater power over the matter than it had by the mode of proceeding by a Bill, every clause of which might be opposed, in Committee. The method which had been chosen was in accordance with the usual practice, and was most respectful to the House.

said, there had been an irregularity in the matter, of which his hon. Friend (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had a right to complain. The Motion for the appointment of the Committee was made on Tuesday morning at a quarter past 2, but the Committee of Selection had named the three Members, by way of anticipation, on Monday. That was very much like stealing a march on the House. It was not the Committee of Selection, but the agent who was really to blame. The hon. Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had not been properly treated; he could insist that the proceeding was bad ab initio, and it was for him to say whether he would waive his right to demand that it should be done in a formal and proper manner.

said, this sum of £100,000 would not be granted for the improvement of any river in Great Britain. The Report in which the grant was recommended was carried by a majority consisting entirely of Irish Members, and by the casting vote of the chairman, all the English and Scotch members of the Committee having voted against it. He hoped the Bill would be again referred to a Select Committee in the regular way, who should consider whether £100,000 should be granted in the manner suggested for the improvement of the navigation. He believed it was not the Shannon that required to be improved, but the drainage, for the benefit of the riparian proprietors.

said, he held that the public had not any right to complain, because the Committee was appointed to consider not the public interests, but the interests of the riparian proprietors.

said, he wished to explain to his right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), who was so great an authority upon such subjects, that it was on Friday that the House resolved that the Shannon Navigation Bill should be referred to a Select Committee; two to be named by the House and three by the Committee of Selection.

said, that the sum of £100,000 was to be granted to compensate the proprietors for damage done to the banks of the river. It would be seen, from what had been said by the Secretary to the Treasury that the Committee of Selection, instead of anticipating, had acted in obedience to an Order passed by the House on Friday.

said, he recommended the Government to withdraw the Bill. He would like to hear something more about this free gift of £100,000 to the people on the banks of the Shannon, before he would consent to such a grant. The Shannon had run on for thousands of years, and could go on very well for another six months without the proposed grant. It was said this was no public matter, but this £100,000 was public money. It was a question if the other £100,000 that was proposed as a loan would ever be repaid.

said, this was not a gift to the riparian proprietors. The fact was, several years ago it was thought right for Imperial purposes that the navigation of the Shannon should he improved. The works undertaken by the Board of Works with that object had resulted in damage to the riparian proprietors; and, after full inquiry, it had been decided that the sum of £100,000 should be given by the Treasury by way of contribution to the cost of the new works which would be required. After a 10 years' delay, a Committee recommended the lending of £100,000; and now the hon. Member for Finsbury opposed the Bill, of which, by his own admission, he know nothing.

said, he had sat on a Committee on the Shannon navigation, and also on a Committee that inquired into the navigation of the Thames, and he must say that there was this difference between the two cases, that it never occurred to the people on the banks of the Thames to ask the House of Commons for a grant of £100,000 for the improvement of the river.

said, there was another river which he could mention, which had been improved without any grant of public money—he meant the Clyde. At the beginning of the present century a lad might wade across where now ships of the largest burden in the mercantile marine of this country could sail up. But the people of Glasgow never came to Parliament for a grant, and now the Customs' revenue levied in that magnificent river alone was far more than was collected from the whole of Ireland.

said, he hoped the Government would take the advice given by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Alderman Lusk), and withdraw the Bill. The object of the Bill was simply to bestow £100,000 on the proprietors on the banks of the Shannon; and they had heard no adequate reason why it should be proceeded with at this period of the Session.

said, that the explanation of the Secretary to the Treasury was satisfactory, and showed that there had been a previous Order for the appointment of the Committee of which he was not aware.

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That it is expedient to authorize an Advance of any sum or sums of money, not exceeding £200,000, in part as a free Grant and in part as a Loan, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom, to enable the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland to carry out the provisions of any Act of the present Session for amending and enlarging the powers of the Acts relating to the Navigation of the River Shannon, and for other purposes relating thereto."

said, he would divide the Committee against the Resolution, of which he hoped some explanation would be given by the Government.

said, he must insist on some further explanation of the circumstances under which the proposition was brought forward, and trusted the Government would consent, at all events, to report Progress.

said, that an explanation had already been given, although, perhaps, many hon. Members now present had not heard it. The proposal of the Government was based on the Report of the Committee which sat two years ago, and which had gone fully and at great length into the question, and had taken much evidence with respect to it. The Government had not adopted that Report altogether; but in the opinion of the Treasury a sufficient case had been made out for some contribution towards meeting the loss of which the riparian proprietors complained. It appeared that several years ago works had been undertaken for the improvement of the navigation of the Shannon, the cost of which was to be defrayed partly out of the Consolidated Fund and partly by the counties through which the river flowed. Those works were executed in such a way as at particular seasons to cause considerable damage by flooding the adjacent lands, and that had been a cause of repeated complaints. The matter was referred to a Committee, which reported that £200,000 should be advanced by the Treasury to improve the works and prevent injury to the adjacent lands in future. Mr. Bateman, the engineer, had given his opinion in favour of the proposed works upon the Upper and Lower Shannon. The matter had been attentively considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who adopted a more moderate scheme, and who had come to the conclusion that it was just that £100,000 should be given out of the Consolidated Fund, and the remainder of the money advanced by way of loan, upon full security, thus meeting the riparian proprietors half-way. He (Mr. Stansfeld) did not look with favour upon grants of public money for objects which were partly local in their character, but the circumstances of this case were exceptional.

said, he had not intended to reflect in any degree upon the action of the Committee of Selection. The Secretary to the Treasury seemed to quote the Report of the Committee of 1868 in support of this grant; but he had evidently forgotten that the Committee distinctly stated that the navigation of the Shannon was almost useless. In reference to the present proposal, he (Mr. Sclater-Booth) had to state that Mr. Bateman had testified over and over again that the navigation works already effected were for their purpose excellent. The riparian proprietors, however, said that their lands would be improved by lowering the level of the river; but there was ample room for disputing that point. If a Division was taken he would certainly vote against the grant. It would be a great advantage, both to the public and the riparian proprietors, if the proposed Bill were given up for the present, and brought in early next Session, when it could receive due attention.

said, he thought Scotch Members were not entitled to taunt Irishmen with coming to that House with applications for public money, especially remembering that the Caledonian Canal was executed at the cost of the Imperial Exchequer. He also maintained that in this matter of the Shannon navigation the proprietors of the land bordering on that river, who had sustained great injury from the manner in which the works there had been carried out for the purposes of the navigation, had now a fair claim to have that injury remedied in the way now proposed. That was no grant to the Shannon proprietors. The grant now proposed was for a purely public purpose, and as a compensation in favour of which a Select Committee had, after full inquiry, reported.

said, he was under the impression that the navigation of the Shannon had been made the stalkinghorse to carry the outlay upon the drainage works behind it. The question required a great deal of looking into by competent and responsible persons, before the House was committed to a large expenditure, and the Government ought to take full time to satisfy itself that the project would be useful to the whole nation, as well as to particular localities, before embarking in it. Remembering who sat opposite to them, and recollecting also the questions of local taxation that were "looming in the distance," the Government should be very careful how they set a precedent by sanctioning this expenditure.

said, he held that the case of the Caledonian Canal, instead of being an example to follow, was a beacon to warn them against incurring this expenditure upon the Shannon. The Caledonian Canal was a mistake and a failure from beginning to end; and it having been executed more than 60 years ago, they ought to have grown wiser now.

said, he had never denied that this was a subject requiring considerable examination and discussion, and it would be extremely unwise, in the interests of those who were concerned in the River Shannon, now to press a measure that would be unacceptable to the House, or even to any considerable section of it. There was, he admitted, nothing vital in forcing the measure through at the fag-end of the Session; but he hoped it would be allowed to pass the present stage, and then the policy of the proposal might be discussed on going into Committee on the Bill. If his hon. Friend (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) persevered with his Motion, he should be driven to the alternative of moving that the Chairman do report Progress, in order that they might have a further opportunity of considering the matter.

said, he was rather amused at the suggestion of the Secretary to the Treasury, but he was too old a bird to be caught with chaff. If they allowed the proposal to pass its present stage they would virtually vote away in a hurried manner £200,000 of the public money, without any investigation, without plans, and without knowing what they were doing. Large sums had been spent on the River Shannon, and they might spend millions without ever making anything of it, for it was a mass of sandbanks and swamps. They had better wait till next Session, when the matter could be fairly and properly considered.

said, from personal knowledge, as well as upon eminent engineering authority, he must deny that the River Shannon had been correctly described by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken. All the evidence taken upon the subject proved that great good could be effected by an expenditure of £200,000 upon it.

said, the total expenditure already incurred was some £600,000. True about one-half of that sum was paid by the counties affected; but the remainder came out of the Imperial Treasury, and it was high time to put a stop to such proceedings.

said, he would remind the hon. Gentleman opposite, who now so strongly objected to that proposal, that the late Conservative Government of Ireland had favoured measures like the present, and advocated a policy of promoting the material improvement of that country.

said, he thought it would be more convenient to take a Division on the question now than to report Progress.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.