§ Colonel Leith Hay
moved that the Report of the Trinity (North Leith) Harbour Bill be taken into consideration.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
rose with reluctance to oppose what might be termed a private Bill. He was of opinion that the Government ought not to interfere with the private business of the House as a Government. Such had been his uniform practice during the time he had been in office. There were, however, occasions when it became the duty of the Government to take part in such business, as for instance, when a private Bill touched or trenched upon the interests of the public generally; it was then the bounden duty of the Government to lay the case, as it affected the public, before the House. He was unwilling to lead the House to suppose, that he intended to throw the slightest blame upon his hon. Friends who had the care of the Bill—their conduct had been most fair and open; but as the collateral interests of the public were likely to be interfered with by the present Bill, he found that his duty compelled him to oppose them. It would be in the recollection of the House, that a sum of 240,000l. was advanced by the Treasury for the purpose of completing the Leith harbour and docks; that money was advanced upon the security of these docks In the present state of the affairs of the city of Edinburgh, there was very considerable difficulty in providing means that the money should be repaid. He did not mean to be understood as saying, that it was to be considered as altogether irrecoverable, but there were considerable doubts on the matter. Now, the interests of the Crown and the public were likely to be much prejudiced by this Bill. If it were allowed to pass in its present state, no doubt the value of the property would become less, and the consequence would be, that the Government could have no other object 1245 left to pursue but that of directing immediate steps to be taken against Leith and Edinburgh for enforcing the rights of the Crown — a course which he should be very unwilling to see adopted, for it might be productive of consequences impolitic to hazard. His right hon. Friend, the Lord Advocate had abandoned his intention of bringing forward his Bill this Session, and, therefore, he was constrained, as an act of public duty, to oppose the further progress of the present measure. The parties had been all along forewarned that, if they did proceed in this matter, they did so at their peril. He had told them, that at some future day he must oppose them; therefore the question of the stage at which the opposition was offered was disposed of. He referred the House to the Report of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the present state of the harbour of Leith, a Committee in every way calculated to inspire the House with confidence, of which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere) was the Chairman. The recommendation of that Committee, was, recommending the Government to abandon the debt. But the Government could not abandon that debt unless they saw that some good were to be the result, which point could not be ascertained without local inquiry. If this Bill were persisted in, under present circumstances, Government would be deprived of that opportunity. He did not oppose the principle of the Bill, and next Session it might be supported by the Government. It was important for the Government to inquire how far the sacrifice of such an immense sum of the public money would be productive of public benefit. Upon these grounds he moved the postponement of the further consideration of the report until that day two months.
§ Mr. Tooke
was ready to give the fullest credit to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his disinclination to interfere with private Bills, but he thought that he had taken a most severe course on the present occasion; the parties had come into the House a second Session in the hope that they might succeed. The question was, whether the Government should, by negotiating for the recovery of a bad debt, obstruct a good measure. He considered it a matter of extreme hardship to those parties that they should be driven to the enormous expense of coming before Parliament a third Session to procure that 1246 which the whole course of the evidence proved to be fraught with great public advantages. There was no pretence for alleging that this harbour was not desirable, but the promoters of it were to be put to the expense and delay of another twelve months, without any compensation for the anxiety and expense of two Sessions, during which they had been endeavouring to get this Bill passed. He did not think that this was a Measure on which the strength of the Government ought to be put forth.
§ Admiral Adam
observed that he had not only considerable local knowledge, but from his profession, great experience on the subject under discussion, and he would state most decidedly, that his reason for opposing the Bill was, that he did not believe it would effect the objects which the public desired, and the Bill professed to keep in view—namely, constructing the best possible low water harbour that could be placed upon the shores of the Frith of Forth. He was of opinion that the harbour, as laid down, would not be the best possible low water harbour. There were so many faults and defects in the plan, that, in his opinion, it would be improper to allow this Bill to proceed, as it would prevent others, at a future period, from constructing an adequate harbour. Looking at the Question in another point of view, he would oppose it. Immense sums had been laid out on the works at Leith, and it would be only justice to the public, who advanced those large sums of money, and to those who were connected with the place, that an opportunity should be given to them to place a low water harbour in such a position as would adapt these great, he might say, stupendous works, to it. It was ridiculous to sacrifice so large a sum of money, when by a small delay, arrangements might be made so as to make the best possible harbour, and profit by the works already constructed. The evidence completely supported him in his opinion, and he had not the least hesitation in opposing this measure.
§ Sir William Rae
unhesitatingly concurred in the remarks that had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member. He did not think there was any hardship in the case, and the House, in his opinion, would do perfectly right in opposing the Bill.
§ Colonel Leith Hay
said, that in taking charge of the present Bill, he considered he was doing that which would not only 1247 be for the benefit of his own country, but of that of the country at large. The situation of the harbour of Leith was such as to render it impossible to be of much service, and the sooner some other harbour was erected the better. He must do his Majesty's Ministers the justice to say, that they had not, during the present Session, concealed from the parties bringing forward this Bill, their intention to oppose it. He, however, put it to the House, whether the measure were necessary or not. Was it right, he would ask, to go on year after year, putting off measures that were calculated for the good of the harbour of Leith? If it were the opinion of the House that the Bill compromised any public good, the House should take its own course. He considered he had done his duty in advocating the introduction of this Measure, which was not a private, but a most important public Bill.
§ Mr. Labouchere
said, that if the House passed the present Bill, they would affect most materially the rights of private property and the claims of the public, the object of the Bill being to erect a rival harbour, to the great detriment of the property belonging to the city of Edinburgh. As the Chairman of the Committee that had been appointed to inquire into the subject, he must say, that they had devoted many weeks to the consideration of the subject, and were unanimous in their opinion. He trusted the House would support his Majesty's Government in the course it had thought right to adopt.
§ Mr. Brotherton
was of opinion, that the postponement of the Bill would be a very great hardship to the petitioners.
§ The Attorney-General
said, that no person was more sincerely desirous than he was of having a good harbour established for Edinburgh, the city which he had the honour to represent. It seemed to him, however, that it would be for the benefit of all parties that this Measure should be deferred till another Session. He should give his vote for the postponement.
§ Mr. Hume
resisted the postponement, because he wished to see a good harbour created for the city of Edinburgh. The whole weight of the evidence taken before the Committee seemed to him to be against the argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman. He trusted the parties would be allowed to judge for themselves in the present case, and if they suffered in their 1248 purses by this speculation, it was nothing to the House, provided the public benefit contemplated were attained. He hoped the House would do justice between the city of Edinburgh and the petitioners. The inhabitants of Leith wished for a good harbour, and admitted that the present was not a good one. Was it not a fact, that no more money could be raised upon the credit of the harbour dues of Leith? Was it not certain that the Government would advance no more money, and these two positions proved the injustice and inconsistency of the present attempt at postponement? If the Government were a creditor to a great amount, that should not tempt them to stand in the way of improvement in other quarters. Such conduct was contrary to every principle of justice and public utility.
§ Sir James Graham
was in favour of postponing the Bill, in order to see whether it were not possible to recover from the almost bankrupt estate of Edinburgh and Leith the large advance which had been so improvidently made by Government.
§ The House divided on the original Motion: Ayes 22; Noes 55—Majority 33.
|List of the AYES.|
|Bish, T.||O'Coner Don|
|Brotherton, J.||O'Connell, Maurice|
|Buckingham, J. S.||Oswald, J.|
|Chalmers, P.||Sinclair, G.|
|Chisholm, A.||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Crawford, S.||Tooke, W.|
|Fitzsimon, C.||Wakley, T.|
|Hector, C. J.||Wallace, R.|
|Lucas, E.||Wilks, J.|
|M'Taggart, J.||Hay, Colonel L.|
|M'Cance, J.||Hume, J.|
§ The Bill postponed for two months.