§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, he rose to ask the Secretary of the Treasury to explain the special circumstances which had induced the Government to propose this measure. Great advantage had been found to result to the public from placing unrestricted confidence in the discretion exercised by the Exchequer Loan Commissioners; and in all the instances in which Parliament had intervened to obtain a loan for the applicants, the result had been unfavourable. He would instance the Thames Tunnel. The trustees of the Dunbar Harbour had made an application 1097 to the Commissioners for an advance for the repair of the harbour, which advance, according to the general rule established by the Commissioners, had been refused. It was now proposed by Parliamentary interference to set aside that decision of the Commissioners, and by an enlargement of their powers to enable them to make an advance which, in the exercise of their discretion under the existing Act, they had refused. There might be special circumstances justifying that interference, but they should be brought directly under the notice of the House, by a statement on the part of the Government. He would state why he looked upon this transaction with more than ordinary jealousy. When ho was at the Admiralty he felt that a harbour of refuge between the Humber and the Forth was absolutely necessary for the safely of the coasting trade, and, guided in his opinion by the highest authority, he thought that Hartlepool afforded the greatest facilities for making at least cost the best harbour of refuge. During the present Session the trustees of the Hartlepool Harbour made an application to the Exchequer Loan Commissioners for an advance, and upon his own recommendation they also laid their case before the Treasury. The Treasury declined to interfere, and in the absence of such interference the Exchequer Loan Commissioners refused to make the advance. He did not quarrel with the decision either of the Treasury or of the Commissioners; but the consequence of that refusal had been to retard, if not frustrate, a work of great importance, which might be carried into execution at little cost and with no inconsiderable prospects of public advantage. Under these circumstances he confessed he was surprised to see a proposal made to Parliament, in defiance of the general rule, with respect to the small harbour of Dunbar, which could not be compared for a moment with that of Hartlepool. He had no doubt, however, that the reasons which had induced the Treasury to depart from the established rule were very strong, and he was quite willing to yield to their force; but at any rate, he thought they ought to be stated to the House.
§ MR. A. SMITH
said, he likewise thought that some explanation was due as to the circumstances under which the Bill was brought forward. The peculiar circumstances of the Bill were embodied in a Report which was issued by the Commissioners of the Fishing Board of Scotland 1098 in November last. The Report stated that the harbour works were of importance to the fishermen, and that a portion of them had been swept away by a storm last winter. Now, the value of Dunbar as a port must, he thought, be extremely small, for on looking over the returns he could not find that it had a single boat of its own engaged either in the herring or any other fishery. He did not deny, however, that the harbour was resorted to by fishing boats belonging to other ports. That it stood in need of repair he had no doubt, but for the dilapidated state into which it had been allowed to fall the trustees were to blame, as the dues ought to have been applied to their repair. It further appeared by the Report that a long correspondence had been going on on the subject between the trustees and the Government, and he felt that this correspondence ought to be produced before they came to any conclusion. He would, therefore, ask the Secretary to the Treasury why this Bill was introduced as a public and not a private Bill, and why it was brought in so late in the Session, and why so large a sum as £20,000 was to be guaranteed, when the Report stated that £6,000 would be sufficient? Besides which the trustees of the harbour had it in their own power to raise the money. He could not see any necessity of passing this Bill. If this assistance was to be given to Dunbar, there were innumerable other cases which would be stronger, and which could not be refused. If a satisfactory explanation were not given, he should move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
said, he fully agreed in all that the right hon. Baronet had stated as to the constitution of the Exchequer Loan Commission, and as to the danger of Parliamentary interference with their proceedings. But the present Bill did not in the slightest degree vary the conditions upon which advances were made by the Commissioners. It was purely an enabling Bill, and did not touch the discretion exerercised by the Commissioners under the existing general Act. The special circumstances which had induced the Government to introduce the Bill might be shortly stated. By the Exchequer Loan Act the Commissioners were prohibited from making advances, whatever the security might be, in eases where the applicants had not Parliamentary power to borrow from them. In the Dunbar Harbour Act the borrowing power of the trustees 1099 was limited to £5,000, but a sum of £20,000 was required to repair the harbour. The Exchequer Loan Commissioners were satisfied with the security and were ready to lend the money, but in consequence of the technical difficulty which he had mentioned they were not at liberty to advance £20,000 to a body which Parliament had not empowered to borrow to that extent. Hence the present Bill. He knew the strong necessity which existed for the construction of a harbour of refuge either at Hartlepool or at some other point upon that coast. An application had been made to the Exchequer Loan Commissioners for the purpose, and under the circumstances stated by the right hon. Baronet, and one of his objects in moving for the Committee which was now sitting on harbours of refuge was to determine what ought to be done with that and similar applications. It was for this reason that the Treasury and the Exchequer Loan Commission had held back and not from any hostility to the application. As to Dunbar, there were two harbours, one of which had been constructed by the Fishery Board, and very badly constructed. In. consequence of the faulty construction the sea last winter broke down one-half of the pier, and unless something was done during the present autumn to secure and strengthen the walls there was a risk that the whole would be broken next winter, and 400 or 500 fishermen would be thrown out of employment. The corporation applied to the Government to authorise them to ask for a Bill for the purpose of raising the money. This the Government refused, and referred the corporation to the Exchequer Loan Commissioners, and the loan would have been granted but for the single defect in the title. The harbour had originally only cost £14,000—it was a pity that it had not cost more—it would have been now in a very different condition. It was only last week that they were aware of the technical defects of the title, and therefore it became necessary to apply to Parliament for a Bill to remove them. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. Smith) said that this application would bring in many others. But there was daily application of this sort, and it was the special object of the Exchequer Loan Commissioners to supply them. The Commission was satisfied as to the security. The Bill was drawn by its own solicitor, and all they wanted was to remove the technical objection. He hoped the urgency of the case would be an excuse for the late introduction of the Bill.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the explanation of the hon. Gentleman was not at all satisfactory. It appeared that an accident had happened at Dunbar, and on the representations of parties, who pretend to represent the inhabitants, and without their opinion having been taken on the subject, the Bill was brought in to remedy the private Act, which only permitted a loan of £5,000 on the security of the rates, so as to enlarge this borrowing power. Now, if they were to take upon themselves to enlarge all the borrowing powers of railway and private Acts, there was no knowing where they were to stop. The effect of the Bill would be to increase the rates and taxes of the place until the larger sum was provided for. It was laying down a dangerous course of proceeding, and ought not to be done as a public Bill. The matter could not now be properly investigated. The private parties on whom the rates are levied might reasonably complain, and might come next year and ask for a revision of the Bill. Under these circumstances, he almost felt inclined to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, as he understood the matter, the corporation of Dunbar had power under the Act to borrow £5,000 and an additional or general power under their Act of Incorporation to borrow money to be secured upon the rates. If the corporation had been able to find any insurance company to advance them money at the same rate of interest as was charged by the Exchequer Loan Commissioners they might have borrowed the money of them, which would in effect lead to a perpetuation of the rates. However, not being able to find any private persons to advance the money, they came to the Commissioners, and he could not see that in so doing the objection which the right hon. Gentleman had raised would apply.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, it appeared to him that they were asked to advance £20,000 upon very doubtful security. He had visited Dunbar and knew that there was very little trade attached to the place, and the only security would be the dues levied upon herrings and lobsters. Moreover, he understood the rates were already mortgaged to the extent of £5000. He would like to know the amount of the charges upon the corporation funds and also the amount of those funds themselves.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, he thought a 1101 very important question had been raised by the observation of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Henry Willoughby). If the tolls were already charged the effect of passing this Bill would be to create a prior mortgage to the extent of £20,000, and that, he thought, ought not to be done in the absence of the parties who would be affected by it.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
remarked, that he wished for an explanation of an apparent discrepancy. It had been stated that the Commissioners had declared Dunbar Harbour to be in a state of dilapidation, and that the sum of £6,000 would be required for its repair. The sum in the Bill was £20,000, and he wanted to know the reason for the increase in the amount? If the Bill were passed the Exchequer Loan Commissioners would offer no opposition to advancing the money, for they would regard the application, not as coming from private parties, but as made with the sanction of Parliament.
begged to be allowed to say a few words in answer to the various objections that had been raised. The observation that the Exchequer Loan Commissioners would view an application made under this Bill as one sanctioned by Parliament would apply to every case, for the Commissioners would not lend money unless Parliament had previously given power to charge it upon the rates. With respect to Dunbar itself, as far as his information went, he believed there was not a single mortgage upon the harbour; but he would undertake before the Bill passed to make inquiries, and if it should appear that there was a single existing charge he could assure the House he would be no party to proceeding with the measure. With regard to the difference between the original estimate of £6,000 and the sum now asked for, he would remind the House that the first estimate was made by Commissioners who were not engineers, but since then further dilapidation had taken place which would render the larger sum necessary according to the opinion of Mr. Stephenson and the Fishery Board of Scotland. He could only add that, as to the security of the loan, the Exchequer Loan Commissioners had already investigated that matter for themselves.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for To-morrow at twelve o'clock.