HC Deb 18 April 1823 vol 8 cc1126-30

The House having resolved itself into a committee of supply, Mr. Lushington moved, "That 449l. 18s. 3d. be granted for the repairs of Henry the Seventh's Chapel."

Mr. Hume

wished to know whether any arrangement had been concluded to facilitate the admission of the public to Westminster-Abbey? The monuments erected in commemoration of public services were defrayed by the public, and that public were entitled to see them without being taxed 2s. per head whenever they wished it. At all events, if the Dean and Chapter of Westminster were so poor, after the numerous grants already made to them, as not to be able to pay the persons who attended to the care of the Abbey, it would be better for the country to give a certain remuneration for such services, than to continue the present system of taxing visitors. In no other country but this did this revolting practice exist.

Mr. Lushington

said, that the fees were now the property of a person who had purchased of the dean and chapter the privilege of showing the monuments.

Mr. Croker

entertained great doubts of the legality of demanding money from persons visiting the abbey. He had searched with some care, but he had not been able to find any authority by which the churches were closed. He was aware that the clergyman was said to have a freehold right in certain parts of the church; but he believed he had no right to shut it up. He regretted to say, that the dean and chapter of Westminster had, on the occasion of the coronation, been so ill-advised, or so greedy, as to cut down some very fine old trees of fifty years growth, with the view of disposing of additional ground for erecting scaffolding. The loss of the ornament to the public was great; while the profit to the chapter did not, perhaps, amount to 10l.

Mr. Wetherell

said, that whatever doubts might exist as to the right of the public to admission to the abbey, it was a question which he should not wish to see pushed to its legal extremity, as the consequences might be mischievous.

Mr. W. Smith

contended, that the dean and chapter had no right to exact money front then public, to defray expences which ought to be met out of their own funds.

Mr. Hume

said, the public either had or had not the right for which he contended. If they had, he had no idea of a compromise. That was a course which might suit lawyers; but he did not approve of it. Was the secretary for the Treasury disposed to try the question. If he would supply the money, he (Mr. Hume) would soon set the affair in motion. If the decision of a jury should be against the public, they would only be reduced to the necessity of buying the privilege; for the dean and chapter who had sold trees and stones, would sell any thing.

The resolution was agreed to. On the resolution, "That 25,000l. be granted towards completing the works of the Caledonian Canal,"

Mr. Hume

expressed his regret, that, session after session, they were called on to grant money for this object. Three years ago 20,000l. were voted; the year following 20,000l. was called for, and he, wishing to cover the whole expense, advised ministers to ask for 40,000l. Last year, however, they called for 25,000l. more, and now a fresh 25,000l. was demanded. From the way in which they proceeded 200,000l. would not meet the expense. He wished to know when there would be an end to disbursements under this head.

Sir H. Parnell

could not concur in the remarks of the hon. member. He could say, from having seen this canal, that he had taken a very erroneous view of this question. No grant had ever been voted for completing this canal. The grants which the hon. member referred to were specially required and given for opening the canal, and this had been accomplished last October. The present grant was for deepening the canal. It was now of the depth of 12 feet, and it was necessary at some places to deepen it eight feet more in order to obtain a depth of 20 feet throughout the whole line. The locks were of the depth of 20 feet, and the whole of the navigation was constructed for the same depth, except at the entrances of the lakes, and along a short part of the summit level. The hon. member had made a great mistake in saying the bottom of the summit lock was stone, and that it would require a very large sum to cut it out. The fact was, the bottom was gravel and mud, and could easily be deepened by dredging. The hon. member had made another mistake in saying that this canal would be of no use, and that only two or three vessels a year would navigate it. In place of this it appears that 218 brigs and sloops had passed along the Eastern division of 22 miles between last April and October; and that between the opening of the canal in October and the present month, 130 brigs and sloops navigated the whole line from sea to sea. Some of these vessels came from the coast of Ireland and Liverpool on the Western side, and from as far as Yarmouth on the Eastern coast. The trade from the Westward consisted of coals, slates, and lime. Flax was also brought from Ireland to Aberdeen. Herrings were sent from the Eastern coast of Scotland to Ireland; grain to Liverpool, and general cargoes to Glasgow. Twenty- six cargoes of Highland wood, formerly of no use for want of a means of carriage, were sent for the use of the collieries of Newcastle and Sunderland, and coals brought back in return; and from the same part of the Highlands 1,500,000 of barrel staves had been sent within a very short period. So far, therefore, as a trial had been made of the canal, it had proved highly useful; and it was fair to conclude that it would become a very great public benefit. When completed there is every reason to expect that nearly all the trade which now went round the north of Scotland would be carried by this canal; for a voyage of 300 miles would be saved, that was exposed to the greatest dangers. It was proved before committees of the House, that the average loss of large vessels was ten or twelve a year, and that the average value of these vessels was 10,000l. a vessel, making an average of annual loss of 100,000l. to which was to be added a great loss of lives. The canal would put an end to all this loss; and certainly this was no small public object. In respect to the execution of the work of constructing this canal, it reflected the highest credit on the nation for the great talent displayed by all those who were concerned in it: the sea locks and the locks at Corpagh and Fort Augustus, were unequalled examples of the perfection of civil engineering. The greatest difficulties had arisen from the nature of the ground in which the locks were constructed, and the expense had unavoidably been very great; but these had been successfully surmounted, and there was every prospect of this canal answering all the expectations that were first formed of it.

Mr. Hume

saw no reason why they should form a canal, at the expense of a million of money, for the benefit of certain Highland gentlemen who now came forward and demanded remuneration for damages alleged to have been done to their estates; whereas, in point of fact, 25,000l. would purchase the whole line of the canal, which was nothing but rocks and bogs. The public had been very badly treated by these Highland gentry; who preferred claims for damage alleged to have been done to their estates; totally forgetting the advantages they derived from the easy mode by which they could now transport their timber and other articles.

Mr. Arbuthnot

said, that the canal was, in reality, completed, but some alterations and improvements were deemed necessary.

Mr. W. Smith

said, that when so large a sum had been already voted, it would be bad policy to stop short now, and refuse a grant which was of comparatively small amount.

Mr. Bennet

said, the House ought to know how long it would be before this work would be completed. He would grant an additional 25,000l. to finish the work; but there was a point at which they ought to stop. The question was, whether they were not throwing good money after bad? It was intended that the canal should be navigable for frigates and sloops of war, but this was found impossible; and but for the invention of steam vessels, the canal would have been totally useless. So much for the original intelligence which dictated the plan!

Mr. Hume

asked, whether there was any estimate of the sum which would hereafter be required.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, he had read the estimate of the engineer with great regret, because, from that document it appeared, that 25,000l. would be necessary for next year. He felt the force of the observations of the hon. member for Shrewsbury: but he differed from him in thinking that they were throwing good money after bad. It certainly would be improper, having gone so far, to leave the canal in a situation next to useless. He pledged himself, however, not to ask for any more money, until a distinct statement of the whole probable expense was laid before the House.

Sir H. Parnell

said, that the tolls on the trade would, in all probability, very soon defray the annual expense of maintaining the canal; and that there was no necessity of having steam-boats, because all the voyages he had already enumerated were made without their aid.

The resolution was agreed to.