HC Deb 23 April 1849 vol 104 cc618-21

Order for Second Reading read. Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time.


, in rising to move the second reading, said he felt he had a very important and painful duty to discharge, the present being really a public Bill of great moment to the trading interests of the country, and being so, he had at the outset to express his regret at the prevalence of a practice which had been resorted to on this occasion, of making such Bills matter of private canvass, so that they were not decided on proper and public grounds. He thought that this was a most improper practice, and he appealed to the crowded House he beheld assembled to exercise an impartial judgment on the question. Properly speaking, the principle of the Bill was not in question. Seven years ago Parliament had passed an Act for appointing a commission of which he happened to be a member. It had turned out that the powers of the commissioners were not sufficient, and their affairs had become embarrassed; so that hence arose the necessity for the present measure, simply to aid in the promotion of an object already legislatively approved of. The opposition which he had to anticipate arose, firstly, from the Admiralty; secondly, from the town of Gloucester; and, thirdly, from the county of Shropshire. The opposition to the measure out of doors, in various quarters, had been most actively pursued; and he deeply regretted to have it to say that Captain Bethune and Captain Vetch, of the engineers, who had been sent by the Admiralty to inspect the Severn navigation in relation to this measure, had not conducted their investigations with that impartiality which they were bound on all such occasions to exhibit. Every one would agree that the first condition of such an investigation was that such an inquiry should be conducted with entire impartiality. The Admiralty had laid the evidence before the House, but perhaps it was not generally distributed among Members. When the inspectors opened the inquiry at Worcester, the clerk of the Severn commissioners made a statement of a most able character, and then proceeded to adduce evidence. Then a gen- tleman, named Anstey, addressed the commissioners in opposition to the Bill, and also adduced evidence. Now, he called attention to this fact, that the latter statement was printed in extenso in the evidence, whereas every word of the former statement of the clerk to the commissioners was suppressed—an omission at once acknowledged and unaccounted for. Again, a gentleman put in a statement in opposition to the Bill, and an engineer also put in a statement of great importance in favour of the Bill. The first (Mr. Bulgin's) was inserted; the second (Mr. Edwards's) was omitted. Yet the evidence of the two gentlemen related to the same part of the subject, and assertions in the one statement were at variance with those of the other; as, for instance, with respect to the manner in which the river navigation had been attended to. These omissions all told one way against the Bill, and they must have arisen either from utter inadvertence, or from improper partiality. In either case, the report of such inspectors was not worth much. In support of the Bill, the evidence of two of the first engineers in the country had been given; whereas, on the other side, all that could be said was, that two inspectors had sailed down the river, and thought the course pursued by the commissioners was wrong. Under these circumstances, surely the only satisfactory course would be to refer the Bill to a Committee. With respect to the Gloucester opposition, advocated by one of the Lords of the Admiralty, who represented the city, it was only a question of local rivalry, the port of Grloucester apprehending that its exclusive possession of the Severn navigation would be prejudiced by the passing of the Bill. Then, as to the Shropshire opposition—if ever there were a question fit for a Committee to decide, this was that question. This opposition arose from a reluctance to the tolls proposed to be imposed on the trade of that county; and it was contended that this trade derived no benefit from the improvement of the Severn. All he could say was, that if they could establish that allegation, the promoters of the Bill would not press the proposed taxation on that trade. On all these grounds he moved the second reading of the Bill, with a view to its reference, in the usual course, to a Select Committee.


defended the Board of Admiralty, and observed, it must strike the House as strange that those who could be only interested for the public in this matter should have been guilty of any suppression of evidence; and he denied that there was the least foundation for any such charge. In considering the Bill, however, he hoped the House would hear in mind that if the commissioners had commenced operations somewhat nearer to the mouth of the river, they would have occasioned less loss and inconvenience; but they began too near its source. He had further to state that the city of Bristol, which was more interested than any other in the Bill, had declared against it as decidedly as either Gloucester or Shropshire. In the last Session of Parliament, when a similar Bill was before the House, he moved that it be read a second time that day six months, and he now begged to make a similar Motion. The fact was, that a considerable sum had been borrowed from the Worcester and Stafford Canal Company, and the money sought to be obtained under the present Bill was for the purpose of paying the interest on that loan.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."


considered that the hon. and gallant Member was justified by the reports of the Admiralty officers, and other persons in opposing this measure; and as the Bill would injuriously affect the interests of his (Mr. Clive's) constituents in the southern division of Shopshire, he would vote for the Amendment,


said, that though this measure came before the House in the form of a private Bill, it would affect public interests of great extent and importance. When this Bill came before the House last Session, he voted for the second reading, with the desire that it might be referred to a Committee; and, with the same intention, he would pursue a similar course on the present occasion. He would not offer any opinion as to whether there might not be solid grounds for some of the objections urged against the measure; but, considering that it had been brought forward by commissioners appointed under an Act of Parliament, and with the object of improving the navigation of the second and most important river in Great Britain, he thought it would be improper to reject the Bill.


observed, that the question was, whether the Severn could be rendered more navigable up to Worcester than it now was. In order to obtain trustworthy information on the subject, the Admiralty had sent down officers of talent and experience as engineers, who had no connexion with any of the parties, to make inquiries. It was proposed, under the authority of this Bill, to erect a solid weir in the river; and the Admiralty officers stated that, by that means, 14,000,000 cubic feet of water would be shut out every tide. He considered, therefore, that such a proceeding would materially injure the navigation of the river, and he would vote in favour of the Amendment.


said, the commissioners appointed by the Admiralty to inquire into this subject had stated very strong objections to some parts of the Bill, and to those portions the Admiralty could not give their assent: but the commissioners themselves stated that they saw no reason why other portions of the measure should not be adopted. With regard to the charge of suppressing certain parts of the evidence taken by the Admiralty commissioners, he could only state that there had not been the slightest intention of acting with unfairness in this respect.


opposed the Bill, observing that it was impossible large ships could pass up or down the river, in consequence of there being four bridges which were not drawbridges.


said, this Bill would inflict serious injury upon his constituents; he regarded it as a most unjust measure; and he would therefore support the Amendment.


observed, that the navigation of the Severn had already been improved by the proceedings of the commissioners, and was capable of still further improvement; and he hoped the House would allow the Bill to he read a second time, that its provisions might be considered in Committee.


, in reply, stated that the sole object of the promoters of the measure in coming to Parliament was, to be enabled to pay the interest due for advances to a London contractor.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 137; Noes 171: Majority 34.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.

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