HC Deb 23 February 1843 vol 66 cc1260-9
Sir P. Blake

rose, pursuant to notice, to call the attention of Parliament To the great commercial, political, financial, and other advantages which will accrue to the United Kingdom, and to the distressed portion of its population in particular, by the adoption of the safest and shortest, instead of the present dangerous and circuitous, line of packet communication across the Atlantic Ocean; the urgent necessity of giving every due facility to the sliding-scale as enacted by the present Corn-laws; and of forthwith selecting the most commodious port on the western coast of the Atlantic as a packet station to expedite the Post-office intercourse between North America and Great Britain. He thought it right, in the first instance, to show the relation of the different subjects, mentioned in his notice, to each other, his only difficulty in that respect being the want of that degree of talent which he was in the habit of witnessing in the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House. He confessed his total inability to do justice to the subject, and that if at the time he had given the notice he was as fully aware, as at present, of its comprehensive nature and importance, he should have been deterred from the undertaking; but as he was now committed to proceed, he trusted that the importance of the subject would incline the House to give him its attention even at that late hour—a favour he could not expect if he did not avow his determination to be brief in his observations, and if the ability of the advocate was to be its only inducement. If it was inquired why he persevered, when by his own acknowledgment his imperfect advocacy would possibly prejudice the cause which he intended to serve, the answer he feared would not amount to a justification, although he hoped it would be a palliation; it was this—he hoped he was influenced truly by a passion which is said to be the noblest that can animate the human mind —love of country. He was of opinion that his measure, if carried, would tend materially to revive the trade and better the condition of the unemployed manufacturers of Great Britain. Another most material ingredient which influenced him was the improvement of the condition of the unemployed portion of the people of Ireland—the expenditure of capital and the revival of trade there produced by the simple process of converting one of the ports on the western coast of Ireland into a post-office conduit for the mercantile correspondence of Europe. He thought it right to state, that if it was thought fit to select the nearest port to Dublin for the packet-station, the expenses of forming a railroad to that port from Dublin, pursuant to a survey already made, would be under one million; and he was authorized to say that there were parties ready with a capital to that amount to enter upon the speculation without requiring any aid whatever from the Government or from the State, save only that this House or her Majesty's Government will adopt the desired selection of the most convenient harbour to facilitate and expedite the proposed communication. It was the passion for the improvement of his country that urged him unflinchingly, but with regret, to oppose the Administration of which the right hon. Baronet was the head; but he would abhor the miscreant who would for a moment contemplate the dreadful crime of anything approaching to assassination, in order to crush the existing Administration. Fair, open, political hostility was his system—and here it might not be inapposite for him to observe that public policy demanded that in such cases (except in the instance of a raging maniac),the plea of insanity ought, he thought, to be abolished. [Laughter.] Gentlemen might laugh, but there were persons who were not in that House for whose moments of suspense, and anxiety of mind, as to supposed dangers, to which their absent friends might be exposed, it would become that House well to manifest its sympathy and good feeling. With these few preliminary observations it would be now his duty to proceed to vindicate the apparently inconsistent terms of his notice, by showing that the two subjects of the sliding-scale and the proposed communication, could be consolidated. For this purpose he would read a single sentence only from Hansard, being an extract from the speech of the noble Lord the Member for London, on the motion during the last Session of a distinguished Member upon that side of the House (Mr. Villiers). The noble Lord said, that On looking to the capabilities of America for growing corn, they must also remember that there was no inducement to them to send corn to this country so long as they were shut out by a sliding-scale. Intelligent gentlemen from America had represented the working of the sliding-scale as most prejudicial to the trade between the United States and Great Britain; and he then held in his hand a copy of a memorial which had been presented to the right hon. Baronet at the Head of the Government, by the merchants of the American Chamber of Commerce at Liverpool. To this speech the right hon. Baronet answered; but he would not trouble the House at so late an hour by reading the right hon. Baronet's answer; he would merely state the substance of it, namely, that it was said that on account of the distance of the United States from this country, it was impossible for them to compete with Continental Europe in the corn trade to England; but in answer to that the right hon. Baronet would, he said, state an actual fact, to show the facility of import from the United States. An order, he said, was sent to the United States from Liverpool for 1,000 barrels of flour on the 1st of August; the cargo was shipped on the 23rd of August, and arrived at Liverpool on the 13th of September. Now if the alteration which he proposed had been then carried into effect, the order of the 1st of August, transmitted through Ireland, would have been at sea on the broad Atlantic at noon on the following day, and would have arrived at the American port on or about the 11th of August; and the cargo might have been on board on or about the 13th or 14th of the same month, instead of being delayed to the 23rd, thus making a difference of nine days in the transmission of orders and the shipping of cargoes. In order to give due effect, and to make his plan the more perfect, it would be necessary to construct a railroad from Dublin to the destined port, but even without this facility, and by means of the mail-coach communication, as it is at present, a manifest advantage would be derived from the proposed change. This, however, would inevitably lead to the speedy construction of a railroad, and it would, therefore, be satisfactory to the House to be reminded of what had already taken place with reference to the introduction of railroads into Ireland. It would be found that on the 2nd of October, l836, pursuant to an address from the House of Lords, his late Majesty authorized the issuing of a Commission directed to certain Commissioners therein named, To make inquiry as to the port or ports on the West or South coast of Ireland, from whence the navigation to America may be best carried on by steam vessels, and to investigate particularly the facilities for the construction of lines of railroad across Ireland to such port or ports. This Commission was renewed by her present Majesty on the 3rd of November, 1837, and the Commissioners answered in the following words:— If this question were limited to the mere facility with which a voyage could be made from port to port, the answer must necessarily be in the affirmative; for not only are the southern and western harbours of Ireland nearer to America, but they are also more favourably situated as regards the prevailing winds and currents of the Atlantic—the saving of distance is of peculiar value where the voyage by steam is to verge on a point which will scarcely admit of the carriage of fuel sufficient, exclusive of any other cargo. Under these circumstances the noble Lord, the Chief Secretary for Ireland, and a distinguished Member of the late Administration, in 1839 applied to Parliament for a grant of 2,500,000l., to be expended by the State in constituting a railway, not across Ireland, as directed by the Commission, but extending longitudinally to the port of Cork, being a distance of nearly twice the extent of that leading to the nearest port to Dublin, on the western coast, and requiring double the amount of expenditure in order to execute a railway. The Administration of which the noble Lord was a Member ceased to exist before his project could be carried into execution, and then, in the last Session of Parliament, the hon. Member for Roscommon, with great ability, made his motion, the object of which was substantially to follow up the application of Lord Morpeth for the construction by the State of railways in Ireland. To this motion the right hon. Baronet, now at the head of her Majesty's Government, offered with effect the most strenuous opposition. He objected to the interference of the State in railway speculations, and contended that such operations ought to be left to private enterprise. He denied that the gratuitous expenditure by the Government of 6 or 7,000,000l. would benefit Ireland. His words were,— My opinion is, that if what was asked were given, it would be a fatal gift. My belief is, that an undertaking to construct an expensive railway in Ireland would not pay the expense; but even if it did, what would be the consequence? Why, you would bring together an immense mass of labourers; but when the works were finished, and these labourers could find no employment, was it not probable that the evils of Ireland, instead of being mitigated, would be increased. He could not omit to give expression to his utmost astonishment at this unstates manlike declaration by the right hon. Baronet. He thought the right hon. Baronet was better acquainted with the industrious habits of the humbler class of the Irish people; and he could assure him and the House, that if the most destitute of those who seek employment in that neglected country could be sure to obtain constant wages for three years, they would be thereby raised to the possession of a sufficient capital to render them individually, not alone, comparatively independent for life, but also enabled to support their now famishing wives and children, and also their aged and infirm parents, whom it would be their highest pride to keep from the degrading refuge and distressing confinement of a poor-house. Independent of all other considerations he was armed with further evidence in support of his motion. He would refer particularly to the documents and papers relating to the western harbours of Ireland, ordered by the House of Commons on the 11th of August, 1834, and from the evidence taken upon oath on that occasion (many of the persons then examined being still alive and of high station) he would read a few short extracts. He would begin first with the evidence of a person who must be considered of the very highest authority, because he had been since selected to represent, and now represented the town of Liverpool. He said,— I think the point of departure should be the westernmost point of the United Kingdom, for notwithstanding the improvement in steam machinery, so as to increase space for freight and passengers, it is of the first importance to the success of the contemplated measure that the voyage from land to land be made the shortest possible. The dangers of the Channel may be best understood from the statement made at a public meeting at Liverpool, in contemplation of effecting a ship canal across Ireland, to escape the dangers of the Channel navigation, where it was stated that the average losses within the Channel amounted to 340,000l. annually. Now he would beg leave to remark, that this estimate only related to the actual losses, and not the wear and tear, which, he had authority for stating, taken together (without including port duties), amounted to a sum little short of 2,000,000.l. The next record to which he would refer was the minutes of the evidence taken before a committee of the House of Lords, appointed to inquire into the existing facilities for the intercourse between the United Kingdom and the colonies of North America, and the expediency and means of improving them, dated the 13th of June, 1836. The first witness examined was Colonel John Jose Burgoyne, in whose evidence he found the following statement:— But if these advantages could be obtained (meaning the facility of intercourse through Ireland), with the present state of communication, how much more will the case be strengthened by taking into consideration the progress of the railway system? Railways are in progress to connect London with Liverpool. Here he, (Sir V. Blake) would remark, that that there was now a railway seriously contemplated, that would greatly shorten the distance between London and Dublin, by a line through Wales. The passage by them and the present packets to Dublin, will be effected in twenty-four hours easily; twenty-four hours more will convey a mail by coach to any port in Ireland and that time may be reduced by more than one-half, by the application of a railway through Ireland. The next witness was the Duke of Wellington. He stated, that It would be a great convenience to the military department, to be quite certain of carrying on their reliefs from that particular point (meaning the west coast of Ireland). The next was an extract from the evidence of Vice-admiral Sir Robert Walter Otway. He said, I was in the West Indies early in the war, and we lost island after island, when, if the troops could have come out immediately, the country would have been saved some millions. Mr. Charles Vignolles, the next examined, observed, I have no doubt, the whole correspondence of Europe would pass that way (still alluding to the western coast of Ireland); I consider that the introduction of steam is likely to increase considerably the danger of our shipping in the Channel in time of war; we should be liable to be attacked, supposing the French our enemy, I have thought for a long time, the whole course of our military operations must be changed in case of a war with France. I conceive that the choice of a suitable harbour for steam-vessels on the western coast of Ireland, would considerably increase the naval means of these countries in time of war. He would not abuse the marked indulgence of the House (for which he was truly grateful), by extending his observations much further; although, if the lateness of the hour had not prevented him, he would have trespassed upon them for some time longer. He hoped, however, that he had said enough to satisfy all reasonable men, that he had established a case to show that vast commercial, political, financial, and other advantages would accrue to the nation by the adoption of his suggestions, according to the terms of his motion; and, after repeating the expression of his thanks for the patient attention with which he had been heard, he would conclude by moving, That the House should resolve itself into a committee of the whole House (pursuant to the notice he had given).

Sir David Roche

seconded the motion.

Sir Robert Peel:

The motion of the hon. Baronet, if agreed to, would involve a great expenditure for the construction of a suitable harbour in Ireland. The idea of a safety harbour in the Channel was suggested by others, as a great and necessary improvement. He did not, however, repudiate the proposition of the hon. Baronet as to the superior advantages of a packet station in Ireland; but he could not sanction the hon. Baronet's motion, as it was objectionable in point of form. It was a motion for a committee of the whole House, to which he could not accede; and he hoped the hon. Baronet would not press it to a division.

Viscount Palmerston

could not but applaud his hon. Friend for the propriety and ability with which he brought forward his motion. The question deserved the most mature deliberation. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, the head of her Majesty's Government, that the form of the notice was objectionable, and he would suggest to his hon. Friend the propriety of withdrawing it, and giving a notice for another day for a Select Committee, to inquire and report as to the advantages to be derived from the establishment of a packet station on the west-coast of Ireland, and as to which particular port would be most eligible for the purpose. He thought his hon. Friend was mistaken by the right hon. Baronet. His hon. Friend expressly stated that the alteration would not involve the State in the expenditure of a single shilling; but that, on the contrary, it would be a spur to private enterprise for the formation of a railroad to the selected port from Dublin. He particularly recommended his hon. Friend to withdraw the present motion, and to bring forward the subject in the form of an application for a Select Committee; an application to which he could anticipate no objection upon the part of the Government.

Sir V. Blake

was desirous to conform himself to the wishes of the House. He begged to express his acknowledgments to the noble Lord, and would adopt his suggestion. He hoped, however, that the right hon. Baronet would render his further interference unnecessary, by intimating his disposition to consider the matter favourably, or at least, that he would encourage him to hope he would not object to the Select Committee, when moved for. He assured the right hon. Baronet, that there were several ports on the west coast of Ireland already prepared, and in a condition to receive the whole navy of England; but there was no trade, and this measure would create a trade there, without injury to the trade of Liverpool. He stated that the trade of Liverpool was too old and too gigantic to be transplanted to Ireland, and the effect of the redoubled intercourse with America would be to improve, and not to diminish that trade.

Sir Robert Peel

would not be seduced by the sweet words of the hon. Baronet into a pledge to support a motion for a Select Committee; but he would strongly recommend the hon. Baronet to adopt that course, and to take his chance for the consequences.

Sir V. Blake

would conform himself to the recommendation of the right hon. Baronet, and would give notice accordingly.

Motion withdrawn.

House adjourned.