HC Deb 04 August 1853 vol 129 cc1318-22

Order for Committee read.


moved that the Bill should be divided into two parts, so that the clauses which enabled grand juries in Ireland to borrow money from private sources should form a separate measure. He could offer no opposition to such a measure; but he objected to those portions of the Bill which would give the commissioners of Works a power of imposing on the grand juries in Ireland the cost of maintaining all the piers along the coast of that country. These clauses of the Bill were of a most important character; they imposed upon the counties an amount of taxation perfectly indefinite, and to which it was most unjust to subject them. It made the maritime counties liable to the cost of maintaining the piers that had been or existed at any time round the coast of Ireland, without any aid from public money, in any case in which the Board of Works might think fit to put upon them that liability. He would, in a few words, satisfy those Irish Members who had censured him for stopping the progress of the Bill the other night, that this measure was not the boon to Ireland they had described it; he would satisfy the Secretary for Ireland that he (Sir J. Young) was perfectly incorrect in saying that this Bill imposed no new liability upon counties. [Sir J. YOUNG: Not the least.] He would prove that it did put upon the overburdened ratepayers of the maritime counties a weight of taxation that was most unjust. The denial of the right hon. Gentleman made it necessary that he should explain to the House how the matter now stood. Previous to 1831, grants had been made from time to time in aid of small piers and harbours round the Irish coast; a very considerable number had been erected, either wholly or in part, with public money, but no provision was made for their maintenance. In 1831, an Act was passed appointing the Commissioners of Public Works, and authorising them to distribute a large sum in aid of public works, among others of these small piers; they were erected for local purposes after, at the instance of individual proprietors—sometimes wisely, very often unwisely, but without any check on the part of the ratepayers upon that expenditure, and without any liability resulting from it. Under such circumstances, a larger number of piers were built. In 1846 a further grant was authorised, and the Board of Works were then empowered to lend money upon the security of the counties, if the works were of general utility, upon the security of districts, when it was of local advantage, or—he entreated the attention of the House to this—upon the security of individual proprietors, where it was only a personal benefit. Well, this Bill proposed to vest all these piers, no matter how constructed, or where—no matter whether built at the expense of the county, the district, or the proprietors—all were vested in the county. Why, a property in a pier meant nothing more or less than the obligation to keep it in repair. This was the obligation the Bill cast upon the maritime counties of Ireland; it did not leave it to influence. It expressly enacted, that the counties must keep them in repair; and if they did not, the Board of Works were to do it for them, and charge the expense upon the county rates. The counties had no such liability now. In 1847 an Act was passed, giving the Board of Works a power of determining which of the piers so erected should be considered public piers, and of obliging the counties to maintain them. This was arbitrary enough, but the power was guarded by some checks. They were obliged to give notice of their intention to declare any pier a public one. They were to receive the objections of any party, and they were to determine whether the pier was properly a public one—to be supported by the county. The Commissioners had exercised this power; they had in execution of that Act selected the piers which were to be considered as public works. Notices had been published in the Dublin Gazette of the 16th of February, 1849, declaring fifty-four piers to be public works, the maintenance of which was chargeable upon the counties, and for the maintenance of these piers alone the counties were now responsible. Then there was an adjudication upon the question what piers ought to be supported as county works. All others were left in their former state. He (Mr. Butt) by no means admitted that even that charge was properly placed upon the counties; but to this, rightly or wrongly, they were now liable by law. But this Bill enabled the Board of Public Works, not, as in the former Act, upon consideration of the character of the work—not after notice and opportunity of objection, to place on the counties the burden of maintaining every pier of every kind to which public money had ever been granted—and this on the faith of the decision, after investigation, that only fifty-four should be so charged. He did not know the number that remained, but he believed there were hundreds; and it was perfectly certain that in every case in which a storm swept away the works of one of those piers, there would be no one to repair it. The Board of Works would instantly vest it in the county, and oblige the ratepayers to be at the cost of repairing it. Then he (Mr. Butt) was told there was a boon to the counties. "See, (said a friend near him, the other night) what you are doing, you are stopping a Bill that is actually vesting in the counties property that has cost hundreds of thousands." He (Mr. Butt) would be glad to know whether any Gentleman in the House would feel very grateful if to-morrow morning he found that the Legislature had bestowed upon him a magnificent estate by vesting in him the property in Westminster Bridge, with the obligation that he must leave it free to the public, and the burden of maintaining, and if necessary rebuilding, it out of his own private purse. This was just the magnificent gift they made to the Irish maritime counties. He (Mr. Butt) was bound to bear testimony to the willingness with which the right hon. Gentleman listened to suggestions, and his desire to do right; but he (Mr. Butt) asked him, why should be tack these provisions in one Bill? He believed him perfectly incapable of saying to the gentry of Ireland, "There is a measure which you wish for, which it is right and proper to pass; but you shall not have it, unless you will agree to enact at the same time another and a wholly distinct measure of a most objectionable character." Upon what other principle could he refuse to separate the two portions of this Bill, and allow the first part, to which no one objected, to pass without discussion? He (Mr. Butt) was very far from thinking that some legislation was not desirable to provide for the maintenance of these small piers. If the right hon. Baronet were content to limit the operation of the Bill to the fifty-four piers which, under the existing law, the counties were liable to maintain, then, although he was by no means satisfied that the proposed arrangement was the best, he would not offer any further obstruction to the measure. If it were not so limited, but gave powers to the Board of Works indefinitely to tax the maritime counties of Ireland, he would press his Motion to a division; and if that were rejected, would offer the most strenuous opposition to the further progress of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill, that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills."


said, he was ready to accede to the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and to limit the operation of the measure to the fifty-four piers in question. It was not the intention of the Bill to impose any new burden upon the counties. He admitted that, as the Bill was rendered at present, it would have the effect of empowering the Board of Works, if they thought fit, to place the cost of maintaining all piers upon the county rates. But this was not the object of its introduction; and if the Bill went into Committee, he would alter the clause so as to prevent the counties from being held to anything to which they were not liable under the existing law.


said, that he must admit that the hon. Member for Youghal had fairly stated what would be the effect of the Bill, if it passed in its present shape. But it would be very easy to alter it in Committee, so as to limit it to what was its real object, the making better arrangements for the maintenance of the piers which the counties were at present liable to repair.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill considered in Committee.

House resumed.

The House adjourned at a quarter after Three o'clock.