HC Deb 10 February 1831 vol 2 cc371-6
Lord Althorp

was understood to say, that two notices of his stood for discussion that evening. One of them related to a Motion for referring to a Select Committee the papers and accounts relating to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. As those papers were not yet ready to be laid on the Table, he should postpone his Motion regarding them till the 15th instant. His other Motion was connected with the papers and accounts relating to the water communications in Canada, along the Rideau and Granville canals. The noble Lord stated, that the original estimate for the latter was 116,000l., and for the former 169,000l., which were to include the whole expense. In 1828, it was found out that the Rideau canal could not be completed for less than 558,000l., nor the Granville canal for less than 176,580l., making the estimates for the two, in 1828, 734,000l. That sum astonished the House of Com- mons, and the vote was opposed; but since then a fresh estimate had been received from Canada, making the expense of the Rideau canal 693,000l., and of the Granville canal 250,000l., and making a total of 943,000l. instead of 734,000l., at which the etimate had been calculated in 1828. He believed that these water communications were valuable, not only for the internal trade, but also for the military defence of the country. We had already expended on these works 572,000l. It was hard to give up so large an expense as we had already incurred; yet, when it was recollected that this was little more than one-half the expense which was to be incurred, and that there was still more than 400,000l. to be provided for, and he could not pledge himself that even the present enormous estimate would not be exceeded, it was matter for consideration, whether we should not rather abandon these works than embark in fresh expense. He should, therefore, move to refer these papers to a Select Committee.

Mr. Warburton

said, that his hon. friend, the member for Middlesex and himself had objected to the votes for the Rideau canal when they were first submitted to Parliament, on the ground that they were works commenced without the sanction or authority of Parliament. He thought that Ministers had taken the only proper course that was open to them, by determining to refer the papers relative to this canal to a Select Committee. If there were any trade ever carried on along this canal, it would be a forced trade; and if so, it would be a loss to the mother-country. He did not mean to assert that the colony would not receive benefit from the formation of this canal; but the benefit which it would receive would be a loss to the parent State. He was quite certain, that if 250,000l. were expended every year on the roads in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, a greater national benefit would be conferred on the country than any which could ever accrue from the formation of this expensive canal in Canada.

Sir John Newport

said, that seven years ago the propriety of forming this canal had been considered in a Committee above-stairs, and at that time he had opposed the formation of it with all the arguments in his power. He thought at that time, that the estimates of the expense were fallacious, and he had since been confirmed in that opinion by the experience of facts. When this matter came under the consideration of the Finance Committee, he expressed an opinion, which he repeated now, that it would be better to sacrifice all the money which had been already expended, than to proceed in involving the country in still greater expenses at a time of general distress like the present.

Mr. Labouchere

said, that he had voted for the original grant to make these canals, and that he was not prepared to shrink from the responsibility attached to it. The principle on which that grant was made, was a wise and statesman-like principle. He was glad that these papers were to be submitted to the consideration of a Select Committee, for he was sure that nothing but good could proceed from such a course. It was quite consistent in the hon. member for Bridport to object to the grant, because he wished to get rid of colonies altogether; but that not being his wish, he had as consistently, he hoped, supported it. He agreed with his noble friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the colony should assist the mother-country in the completion of these works. The mother-country had, undoubtedly, a great claim upon Canada, and he believed that the colony would endeavour to take its share of the burthen. Indeed he, for one, should be greatly disappointed if such were not the case.

Mr. Spring Rice

supported the Motion, but felt called upon to condemn the practice of lavishing the public money on works without the consent and approbation of Parliament. He hoped that the hon. Member, who on a former night had so strenuously defended the privileges of that House, would on the present occasion come forward to assert the impropriety of any public works being erected without its previous consent. He believed that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer had behaved with the most perfect candour when he laid his statement on this subject before the Finance Committee; and he was quite certain that at that time the right hon. Gentleman was not aware that 400,000l. more than his estimate would be wanted for the completion of these works.

Mr. Gonlburn

said, that the hon. Gentleman opposite had only done him justice in saying, that when he (Mr. Goulburn) had made his statement before the Finance Committee, he had no notion that so large a sum would be required. It would be unnecessary for him to enter into any de- tails on this subject now, because the Committee would be better able to investigate the grounds of the enormous excess over the sum originally proposed. The motives which had induced the hon. member for Taunton to express a wish that the work would not be abandoned, were precisely the motives which had produced the original grant. He believed there would be no backwardness on the part of the Canadian legislature to assist the work, and certainly the colonists themselves had already displayed that disposition.

Sir R. Peel

said, that as he had understood the noble Lord, the Committee were to report their opinion as to whether the advantage of the works, if completed, would compensate for the expense of completing them. He wished, however, to observe, that the opinions of military men must be constituent elements of a calculation respecting the advantages of the works; and, although the Committee would have to report facts as well as its opinion, yet that its opinion must obviously be formed principally upon grounds which it might be dangerous to publish.

Lord Althorp

said, he was desirous to give the Committee every possible information.

Motion agreed to. On the nomination of the Members of the Committee,

Mr. Warburton

said, that he had been misunderstood, and had never expressed a wish to get rid of all our colonies. What he had objected to was, taxing the people of this country for the purpose of extending a territorial empire which could not be maintained.

Mr. Labouchere

was glad to find that he had mistaken the sense of the hon. Member's observations, in which light he had deprecated them. He thought, that the subject of the colonial policy of Canada ought to be made one of formal discussion.

Mr. H. Twiss

protested against the practice of debating a subject of so much importance as the principle of our colonial policy on an occasion like the present. If any Gentleman thought that policy bad,— and much more, if any Gentleman thought that we ought to abandon our colonies,— let specific motions to that effect be brought forward. In his opinion, the abandonment of the Canadas was quite out of the question. They had ever been useful to the mother-country, and had amply repaid the protection and support received, by diverting, in return, the approach of war from England, and serving as a field whereon to fight our battles.

Mr. Robinson

said, that be had always understood the hon. member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton), and the hon. member for Middlesex (Mr. Hume), to express a wish, that all our colonies which cost us any thing might be got rid of; and, like the hon. member for Taunton, he was glad to be undeceived by the explanation just given by the former hon. Member.

Mr. Baring

had always been of opinion, that some of our colonies ought to be got rid of. Such were the Ionian Islands, which he should be glad to see given to Greece. The colonies now in question were not of this character. He thought them very valuable, and though he cordially approved of the present Motion, yet he could not help recollecting that the money had not been altogether thrown away, since it had given employment to so many emigrant labourers from this country. It must not, however, be supposed that the Committee was appointed to save us the 400,000l. or 500,000l.; for that money he was afraid, and a considerable sum besides, had already been expended.

Sir G. Murray

said that, concurring entirely as he did in the motion of the noble Lord, he would not detain the House with many observations now, though he thought it would not become him to preserve silence altogether upon the subject. He took it for granted that it was not intended to abandon the colonies, and that the object in appointing the Committee was principally an economical one. He agreed that a Committee would be the best place for investigating that subject. Allow him, however, to observe, that if it were not intended to abandon the colonies, the completion of the canal was highly important in a military point of view; for he was of opinion, that without it we could not, in time of war, keep up a communication between Lake Ontario and Montreal.

Mr. Maberly

thought, that the noble Lord had now taken the only proper course that had been taken throughout the affair. The whole subject ought to have been brought before the House in the first instance; but they had been lured into the first vote, and then, on every subsequent vote, the answer to those who opposed the grants was—"You have begun the works, and you must go on with them." The House, however, had been more to blame in this than the Government.

Mr. Guest

said, that estimates on a subject like this were a farce, as must be evident from the extra money that had already been expended. The enormous sums that had been laid out on this and on similar works, would, he was sure, have been much more advantageously employed at home. He understood that no less than 1,000,000l. had been expended on fortifications, and he trusted that the noble Lord would have this part of the subject thoroughly investigated.

Lord Althorp

did not know how much had been expended upon fortifications, but he had no hesitation in saying, that he thought it highly desirable the whole subject should be looked into by a Committee.

Mr. Hunt

said, that he had been, on a late occasion taunted with having said things out of doors which he had not repeated in that House. Now he had always, out of doors, expressed it to be his opinion, that no colony ought to be retained by this country which could not keep itself. Perhaps he had spoken upon this subject without that degree of information which was necessary to form a correct opinion upon it; and if the opinion was incorrect, he should be glad to be better instructed. However, while the people of this country were suffering so dreadfully, he must protest against their being taxed to support the colonies. The hon. member for Callington had talked about the number of emigrant labourers which had been supported by these works; but did not the hon. Member think it would have been more humane, and more advantageous to the country, to have employed those labourers at home in draining the Irish bogs? The only reason for keeping the Canadas, and a great many other colonies, was patronage —patronage—patronage. He was glad, however, to hear from the noble Lord, that he was of opinion that the system ought to be put an end to.

Committee appointed.