HC Deb 12 May 1835 vol 27 cc1030-9
The Earl of Kerry

, after a few prefatory observations, moved, pursuant to his notice, "that an humble address be presented to his Majesty, praying that he would be graciously pleased to give directions to the Irish Government to take such steps without delay as would appear to them advisable for the purpose of carrying into effect the measures recommended in the report of the Select Committee, appointed during the last session of Parliament to inquire into the state of the Navigation of the river Shannon."

Lord Sandon

was understood to express a hope that the Government would carefully consider the various reports which had been made on this subject before they did anything in the matter.

Sir Frederick Trench

supported the motion, contending that the improvement of the navigation of the Shannon would introduce the arts of civilized life among the Irish, and open a new market for manufactures, would be of more importance to Ireland than whole volumes of legislation.

Mr. William Smith O'Brien

said, that as Representative of a county which was particularly interested in the navigation of the Shannon, he felt it his duty to bear his testimony as well to the great capabilities of that noble river, as to its present neglected condition. At present all trade between Limerick and the Upper Shannon, stopped at Athlone, although, at a trifling expense, more than 140 miles of navigation above Limerick might be rendered available to the purposes of trade; and it was in evidence that the inhabitants residing upon the banks of Lough Allen would be able, if the navigation of the river were opened, to procure all the commodities required for their consumption, such as timber, iron-plate, &c, at a cheaper rate from Limerick than they were now able to obtain them elsewhere. He was rejoiced to hear, that the Government intended to take up this great national improvement. This boon to Ireland was an auspicious commencement of their ministerial undertakings; but he hoped that they would not confine their attention merely to the improvement of the main channel of the river, as they could not do justice to the capabilities of the Shannon, nor fully develope the resources of that district of Ireland through which it passed, unless they opened lateral communications to the river by the improvement of the numerous tributaries which flow into it, and at the same time constructed piers and landing-places for the accommodation of vessels. He hoped that the Government would place the care of the whole river in the hands of one responsible Board, and invest this board by Act of Parliament with the necessary powers for carrying the required improvements into effect, and for raising such tolls as it should be thought the commerce could bear without inconvenience. He was convinced that the counties adjoining the Shannon, which derived the principal benefit from the contemplated improvements, would not object to bear a certain proportion of the expense; and he was not satisfied, that although there might not be an immediate and direct return in the way of tolls sufficient to repay at once the expense of the undertaking, yet, provided the works were judiciously and economically conducted, the public would be amply repaid for any advance which might be called for by the indirect return in the way of an increase to the revenue which had always been found to arise from useful public works in Ireland. This country would also be repaid in the increased consumption of its manufactures; and it would have the satisfaction of knowing that it was the means of affording employment to an industrious and unemployed population—of producing that degree of tranquillity and subordination which is always found to accompany the employment of the people—of introducing habits of improved civilization into the heart of a neglected country, and, to use the happy expression which had been attributed to the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, of opening a mine of national wealth whose treasures had been hitherto unexplored.

Mr. Ewart

said, that his constituents and himself were justified in the support of the proposition. The importation of Irish corn, to which this plan would give increased facilities, was of great advantage to the consumer, inasmuch as it reduced the price, in the market of the English corn. He gave the motion his most cordial support, under the conviction that it would be at once a boon to England and to Ireland.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had been favourable to the proposition when out of office, and should not oppose it now that he was in the service of the Crown. He, however, thought that the motion might in its terms be amended, so as to be more consistent with the views of the Legislature. The motion in its present shape implied a grant of money, and therefore ought properly only to be made after the consent of the Crown had been obtained. The object might also be better defined, leaving it more generally to the Government to interfere. He suggested to his noble Friend the propriety of allowing his motion to be amended in such a way as would not pledge the house to a grant of money, but would leave the question open, to be brought forward by the Government in pursuance of the reports on the subject, the right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving an amendment to that effect.

Mr. Fitzstephen French

said, I regret, Sir, that what has fallen from the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer renders it necessary for me to trespass on the House. Under ordinary circumstances, and in an ordinary case, I might have allowed the amendment that my right hon. Friend has proposed, to pass without a remark, but I feel the improvement of the river Shannon is a subject too important to be passed over with a vague resolution such as this. The interest of the United Kingdom demands that it should no longer be trifled with; some assurance ought to be given to us of the nature of the measure to be brought forward, and a definite time ought to be named within which such measure should be laid on the Table. The House must recollect three years have elapsed since the able and comprehensive reports of Mr. Rhodes on the state of this river have been before the public; the estimates of which these reports have been founded were submitted to the Board of Works in Dublin, and were examined into by a Committee of the House last Session; their accuracy was not nor could not be questioned by them—it is distinctly shewn the entire of this great river can be made available for commercial intercourse, the uncertain time of passage from Killaloe to Lough Allen now varying from a month to six weeks, reduced to the certainty of a daily one. The quays necessary for trade erected, in which the river is deficient to an extent scarcely credible, the necessary allocations of the old bridges, and the building of the new ones, effected for the small sum of 153,163l. Let Government bring forward a measure founded on those reports, and I am confident the House, always so liberal in measures of real utility, will not refuse their assistance. Centuries ago, when a King of England threatened to remove the seat of Government to Oxford, the reply of the Londoners was—his Majesty could not take away the river Thames. True, you cannot take away the river Shannon, but you can, by refusing your assistance, deprive us of its advantages. Is it your object so to do? Is it the interest of England so to do? Are not the two countries so identified that you cannot depress the one without injuring the other? I consider Government are bound to remedy the evils which have resulted to the country from what I will term the negligence, but what others might call, and with some foundation, the downright dereliction of duty of their predecessors, with the property of the river vested in them. The guardians of its navigation, the existing laws, have not been enforced—eel weirs and other obstructions destroying its navigation, and injuring thousands of acres of the country adjoining, have been suffered to be erected not only without opposition, but without remonstrance. The Limerick navigation, to which since the union considerable pecuniary assistance had been given—the great key of the river remained for years designedly blocked up, until the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, during his secretaryship in Ireland, forced it to be opened. The middle Shannon, which was in 1806 given up to the grand canal company, with a grant of 54,000l. remains to this day with that contract unfulfilled—vessels drawing three feet water constantly grounding where they were bound to have six feet in depth at least. Mr. Williams, the enterprising and able director of the inland steam navigation company, states he found the works in this portion of the river in a state of dilapidation, the contract with Government unfulfilled, and intercourse almost impracticable. He has since, at considerable pecuniary loss, induced the company to put their works into somewhat better order; but was it not the duty of Government to have seen the con- ditions of the contract performed, for which they gave up the navigation of so considerable a portion of the river, where the trade must be of importance, as here are situated the towns of Athlone, Banagher, and Portumna; on the upper Shannon, under their own immediate control, and to which also considerable assistance has been given, a portion of the works remain unfinished—those that have been executed, originally badly and imperfectly constructed, are daily and rapidly sinking to decay. The House may judge the care, caution, and judgment, with which the money granted for this part of the river was laid out, from the following fact:—In the specification of the contract for the canal from Battlebridge to Lough Allen, no mention was made of tow paths for the horses drawing the boats to travel on; no mention of levelling, or removing to a certain distance the stuff excavated, in its formation; the consequence was, a consequence which every practical man must have foreseen, that shortly after it was declared finished it was rendered nearly useless by the sliding in of its banks, and so has it remained to the present hour. These circumstances, I consider, give us a right to call for the assistance of Government—an assistance the more imperatively required, when we consider that without it, it is impossible to get a work of this description, or any other improvement in the inland navigation of our country effected, as it might be here by the private capital of the inhabitants. The failure, as a matter of pecuniary speculation the mismanagement of the chief works of this description already undertaken in Ireland, such as the Grand and the Royal canal, have created a prejudice in the minds of the people which can only be overcome by Government following the course pointed out by other countries, and proving by example that works of public utility can be combined with a profitable outlay of capital. I have said the works to which I have alluded failed from mismanagement, and from mismanagement alone. I think I am fully borne out in that statement. One of these canals cost upwards of 19,000l. a mile, the other upwards of 18,000l., while the eminent engineers of the present day consider 3,000l. a mile would have been ample for either; the want of professional skill was so great that on the Grand canal after it was declared finished, it was found necessary to erect intermediate locks to correct the level. Seven miles of this canal after being finished were abandoned, and a new line chosen—two miles of the royal canal cost 70,000l., one quarter of a mile of the grand canal 60,000l. Is it a matter of surprise that works such as these did not pay? But had the outlay been judicious, had the expense been within the bounds of moderation, the return would have been ample, as the Grand canal, after the payment of all expenses, returns 300l. a mile; and the Royal returns 300l. a mile, out of which the expenses are to be deducted. In 1822, 20,000l. was granted for the survey of the Shannon, 40,000l. was before that expended on the bog reports, and after having laid out 60,000l. in ascertaining the practicability and expediency of these measures, are we now to hesitate in carrying them into effect? will the small sum of money which is required tempt you to defer, or, call it by its proper name, to abandon, a measure of immediate benefit to Ireland, of proportionate advantage to England? Are the sums of money already laid out to be considered as wasted in establishing an idle and useless theory—in demonstrating the truth of a proposition no rational man ever doubted; is now for the first time, when Ireland is the object, a fit of petty economy to seize on his Majesty's Ministers, an economy which did not govern them when the barren hills of Scotland, or the distant regions of Canada were in question? Is a sum of money to be refused, the benefit the nation will experience from which is not questioned, the return of which is beyond all doubt? The hon. Member for Middlesex may shake his head and intimate his doubts as to this fact, but I will ask him to look to the effects already produced in Ireland by the application of public money when judiciously expended, to the increase of revenue wherever navigation has been assisted or internal intercourse established, and till we are independent of the higher political principles which ought to govern, and which I trust do govern his mind, as a matter of pounds, shillings and pence, has not the nation been amply repaid? He has the evidence of Mr. Nimmo, that in consequence of the expenditure of 160,000l. in Connaught in seven years, the annual increase of the revenue was equal to the entire of that expenditure. Mr. Griffith expended 60,000l. in the Cork district, and the increase of the Excise and Customs was 50,000l. a- year. Mr. Blake tells us in four years the Excise and Customs in Galway more than doubled, indeed nearly trebled. All agree as to the moral effect on the people. Does not that improvement in their condition alone repay you? Does not an annual increase of your revenue, equal to the entire of your expenditure, repay you? But must the hon. Member struggle for his Jew's bargain, his triple interest, and three-fold usury? And is Ireland a country so to be dealt with? Compare the state of her inland navigation with that of England, or with a portion of it, equal in square miles to Ireland, and you will find the one has in canals and navigable rivers upwards of 5,000 miles, while the latter has not 500. In water communications alone there has been expended in England thirty millions, in Ireland not four. The different aspect of the two countries shows the vital importance of furnishing the means of rendering labour available—of bringing the fruits of industry to market. The hon. Member for Liverpool has properly stated that this should be considered a measure not of local but of national importance. In corroboration of his opinions he has referred to the declaration of the Liverpool merchants last Session, a body probably better qualified than any other to pronounce what would promote the interests of both countries; but independent of the opinion of the Liverpool merchants, although I consider it of great importance to have their authority on this occasion, I would ask any hon. Member who hears me, whether it would be possible to consider a measure merely one of local importance, which would add 230 miles in the main river, and 150 in the tributaries, to the navigation of a country now so deficient in that great element of national prosperity; which would open to the commerce of England a river running through the centre of Ireland, affording the advantage of 500 miles of coast; which would bring a market to the doors of the inhabitants of two millions of acres in the valley of the Shannon; which will afford to a third of the counties in Ireland a facility of disposing of their agricultural produce; which will encourage the outlay of private capital, and create amongst the people, now utterly neglected, habits of industry and civilization? No, it is not, it cannot be considered merely of local importance; nature has done her part, let man do his; let not this magnificent river longer be permitted to remain neither contributing to the convenience, nor adding the wealth of the nation. Let the few obstructions which now impede its navigation be removed; the elements of traffic are in abundance; the busy hum of commerce will soon succeed to that dreary stillness that now marks its wide waste of water; internal intercourse will be established, and the national resources of the country will be developed; respect for the laws, peace and prosperity, will succeed to illicit distillation, discontent, and disturbance; a disturbed pauper population will be converted into an orderly and profitable class of consumers; the impulse given to our agriculture will be communicated to your manufactures; the rising prosperity of Ireland will be fostered, while the meridian greatness of England will be secured; and if it is necessary to say more, I would call on you to recollect, that all this so practical in its nature, so easy in its execution, so trifling in its expenditure, will be permanent in its result. I have now only to return thanks to the House for the attention with which they have listened to me, and to assure them, that nothing but the position in which I stand, as Representative for the county in Ireland most interested in the improvement of this river—70 miles of it border my county, 60 miles of the great tributary, the Inch, separate it from Galway, the two tributaries, the Casindoe and Boyle waters intersect it. Joined to all this, the capital is so placed that a four miles' canal would join it to Lough Ree. These circumstances and these alone have induced me to trespass on the House at the length I have done.

Sir Robert Peel

did not understand what public object was to be gained by pressing the noble Lord's Motion, especially after the assurance on the part of the Government that they would take into consideration the reports which had been made on the subject, an assurance which ought to satisfy the supporters of the proposition. To say the least, it was unusual to address the Crown to direct the Government to do that which the Government had already undertaken to do. This would certainly be an anomalous proceeding. If an opinion was to be implied by concurring in the Motion, let the House have the papers and sufficient information before it, in order to form a correct judgment, before expressing an opinion on the subject. He thought, however, that in the absence of the necessary information, and after the observations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would be the more prudent course to give the Government the time which they demanded to consider the subject. The report recommended that the whole subject should be taken up and considered together, and a question would arise in what proportions the districts to be benefited by the navigation ought to contribute, and what should be the amount of tolls. These points could not now be satisfactorily adjusted. If any great public good, or if an important national object connected with the pacification of Ireland, were to be attained, he would be willing to give a grant of money; but it ought to be demonstrated that the poposition came within the prescribed conditions; otherwise, if a merely local benefit were to be effected, the district interested in it should contribute to its accomplishment; or the matter might be carried into effect by private speculation, if there were a probability that the outlay would be repaid. The hon. Member for Liverpool intimated that the proprietors of land on the line of the Shannon would be enabled to undersell the English grower in the corn market, if the desired communication were effected. Now, it was too much to take money out of the pockets of the English to enable their Irish neighbours to undersell them. If the corn-growers of Ireland were to gain this advantage, it ought to be at their own expense; it was not fair to take the money for carrying the project into effect out of the pockets of those who would be injured by it.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said that there would be no economical objection to the proposition, if a clear case were made out in its favour. He hoped his noble Friend would see that it was better not to hurry the Government in its proceedings, especially as he (Mr. S. Rice) was willing to take on himself the responsibility of introducing a measure founded on the reports in question.

Mr. Lynch

thought that the noble Lord had obtained all he wanted in the promise of the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward a proposition founded on the reports after due investigation. He fully agreed with the right hon. Baronet opposite, that the proprietors on the proposed line should contribute to a plan by which they were to be benefited; but he also thought that the manufacturers of this country ought to bear a portion of the expense, by which the introduction of their commodities into the Irish market would be facilitated.

The Earl of Kerry

had no objection to withdraw his Motion after the assurance offered by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer. At the same time he begged it to he understood that he had no wish to take a large sum from the people of this country without requiring any contribution from Ireland towards the accomplishment of the object in question.

The motion, by leave, withdrawn.