§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. FINLAY
suggested that the third reading should be deferred for a few days in order that an opportunity might be afforded for the introduction of a clause which would prevent the letting of the canals to parties who were not prepared to use them for the accommodation of the public.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS moved that it be read a third time that day three months. Nearly £1,400,000 had already been spent 817 on the canal without any adequate return. Some time ago a Committee sat on the subject, and the majority consisting chiefly of Members, having an interest in that part of the country and the canal, recommended that it should be transferred to any one who would take the management of it, but nobody could be found bold enough. In no one year had it ever produced as much as had been expended on it; in the last year, for which a return had been made, the tolls and dues amounted to £5,080, while £6,951 had been spent on it in the same time. Yet this Bill proposed to raise £20,000 more from the Loan Commission. It was a perfect waste of public money. Some years ago, after it had cost £1,300,000, it had been offered as a gift to any one who would take it, and no person was found to avail himself of that offer. It had been made the subject of not less than 17 Acts of Parliament, and he regarded the whole proceedings connected with its construction or its repair as the grossest job that had in his time been perpetrated. If the Commissioners granted this money they might as well throw it away.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, this was the first time that an effort was made to relieve the public from the drain of money to which it had been subject from year to year, in respect of those canals; and it was extraordinary that, under such circumstances, they should receive such a blow from the hon. Member. No one could doubt that this Bill was conceived in the interest of the public, it being the opinion of the Commissioners that the public should be relieved from a regular standing demand on account of those canals, and yet when an effort was made to-give the public relief, his hon. Friend was the man of all others to stand up to intercept the Bill. The hon. Member spoke of this measure as if it were a grant of public money, but though, undoubtedly, power to lend a certain sum on adequate security was given to the Exchequer Loan Commissioners, it could not be in any way considered as a grant. It was the duty of the Commissioners to satisfy themselves as to the solvency of the undertaking to which the advance was made, and he knew no body of men in whom the House of Commons could 818 more safely repose confidence than in the Exchequer Loan Commissioners. He was not aware of a single important instance in which they were chargeable with an error in discretion, and the Committee might rest assured that they would not make any advance without ample security to the public both for principal and interest.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, the working of the Crinan canal from the time it had passed from the hands of the Campbell family into those of the Exchequer had entailed a considerable loss. It was unquestionably the duty of the Commissioners not to make loans upon any but valuable security, but it must be equally the duty of the Government, and peculiarly of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to grant power to make loans to concerns which had never paid their working expenses.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he did not intend to enter at large into the merits of the Bill, but after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there probably was not a single instance in which the Exchequer loan Commission had advanced money to an undertaking of doubtful utility, he (Lord J. Manners) should like to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought the advances to the Thames Tunnel Company justified such a statement. He (Lord J. Manners) doubted whether that undertaking afforded any great security, and therefore he could not place implicit reliance in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, that the Exchequer Loan Commissioners never made advances to any undertakings that had not a reasonable prospect of success.
§ MR. LAING
said, there was a wide difference between cases in which advances had been made in compliance with the direct orders of Parliament, in furtherance of acts of public policy, and those in which the Commissioners, acting on their discretion, were satisfied that the security for the loan was ample. This was not a compulsory, but a discretionary clause, and he would appeal to the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Williams) in the name of that virtue of economy of which he was so stanch an admirer, not to oppose the Bill. The result of his Amendment, if carried, would either be to cause this work to crumble to pieces the monument of a national mistake, or else it would be necessary to apply to the Treasury year after year for grants to meet the current expenses. It was estimated that the in- 819 creased tolls would not only pay the working charges but leave a sufficient margin.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, that the Caledonian canal was made at a time when it was believed that it would be an advantage in periods of war, but from the moment of its construction up to the present it had been a tax upon the country. If the Bill were thrown out an annual expenditure would be required, but as it afforded them a fair prospect of getting rid of that constantly recurring expense, he hoped that it would be allowed to pass.
§ MR. STEUART
said, he thought the passing of the measure would save the country expense, and hoped the hon. Gentleman would not insist upon a division.
§ MR. CAIRD
denied that the Scotch Members had any interest in the canal, and said that unless it could be shown that its maintenance was a national object, no penny of the public money should be voted in its support. The tolls which were already charged were considered too high, and if the effect of the Bill would be to make them higher it would be better if it were withdrawn.
§ MR. LONGFIELD
said, that if the hon. Member pressed this question to a division he should conscientiously vote with him. The security offered was not of the kind that any prudent man would advance money upon.
said, that the canal was continually swallowing money, and he never heard that it had been of use to any one. It was now proposed to increase the tolls, although the result of modern experience showed that by reducing them more money was got. The nimble ninepence was better than the slow shilling. Still if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could assure the House that he believed the outlay of the money to be borrowed to promote the undertaking would be so usefully expended that the increased traffic would repay the expenditure he should have no objection to vote for the Bill.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
supported the Bill, and urged that the maintenance of the canal was of national interest and importance.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, he hoped the House would assent to the Bill, as the best mode avoiding those demands on the public resources which had hitherto arisen in connection with the canal in question. 820 That canal might not be so useful as it was supposed it would be when it was constructed, but it would be, he thought bad policy to refuse to pass a measure which, by levying toll on those who used the canal, would afford some prospect of maintaining the necessary communication, without at the same time applying to Parliament for grants of public money for the purpose. Those who professed to be the guardians of the public purse ought not to object to a Bill the object of which was to protect that purse.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he wished to have an answer to the question put by his right hon. Friend, the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), because both his vote and the vote of his right Friend depended upon that answer. He wished to know whether it was absolutely necessary to keep these canals. Could they not be given up?
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
stated that he believed an increased toll would, judiciously applied, afford the sole chance of materially improving the revenue of the canal, so as to relieve the public from an annual charge on its account. The contemplated expenditure would, in his opinion, prove to be of a remunerative character, and tend to improve the general resources of the canal.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 98; Noes 47: Majority 51.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 3°, and passed.