HC Deb 28 June 1869 vol 197 cc648-52

said, he rose to ask the Secretary to the Treasury, Why the Board of Works have not made the fish passes in the weirs built by them across the River Shannon, which by the Act 5 and 6 Vic. c. 106, they are bound under a penalty of £25 a day to have done; and, what steps are in progress to carry out the recommendations of the Select Committee of 1866, to inquire into the manner in which the drainage and navigation of the River Shannon have been carried out under the direction of Her Majesty's Government, and to report what steps should be taken to complete the works, for which £300,0000 has been levied on the adjoining counties? The Fishery Commissioners had sent Mr. Brady down to inquire into the matter of the fish passes, and he reported that the passes were not made, or were made in places where the salmon could not avail themselves of them, and that in consequence the salmon were shut out from many places which used to be their breeding grounds. He wished to know what had been done with the £600 which had been advanced to the Board for the purpose of making the passes fit for use? With regard to the other question he had raised, the House in Committee had declared that the Government were bound to execute the works according to the estimate given; but, according to the report of their own engineer, the works were so badly executed that an additional sum of £300,000 would be necessary to carry them out as proposed originally, though a smaller sum might suffice to secure sufficient depth for the navigation of the river. He thought he was justified in asking the Government whether they meant to carry out, in a modified way, the views of the Committee of 1866, and whether they meant to propose to grant any additional sum this year?


said, in answer to the first part of the Question, that the subject had been much considered two or three years ago, and the then Board of Works in Ireland advised the Government that it was essential to erect two fish passes, and no more, on the Shannon, and money was voted for that purpose. He was not aware that anything ad since happened to alter the judgment then arrived at, especially as since that period a contention had been going on as to whether the whole system of dams across the Shannon should not be altered, in order to improve the drainage. With regard to the second part of the Question, he could not discover any evidence of what the right hon. Gentleman appeared to assume, that the Government undertook an important obligation towards the landowners of the Shannon Valley, further than that which was clearly denned by Act of Parlia- ment. What Parliament decided was that works should be undertaken for the improvement of the navigation of the Shannon, and the adjacent counties were to contribute to the expense in proportion to the benefit they received from that improvement, and for nothing else. At that time there were no railways in Ireland, and it was thought that very great benefits would be conferred upon the counties by opening up the navigation. Her Majesty's Government were not the first to go and offer to do these works; they were asked to make a contribution out of the public revenue in aid of the works; and, so far from the landowners having any claim upon Her Majesty's Government, it was rather the Government that ought to have demanded that the money they had advanced should be re-funded in the Treasury. There had been a provision to the effect that if improvements were effected in the lands of the riparian proprietors they should be called upon to contribute individually to the expense of those improvements. But this they had repudiated, and not a single proprietor had been called upon to pay in respect to the improvement of his land; and therefore no obligation had been undertaken by the Government towards any landed proprietors. The right hon. Gentleman was well aware that an Act had been passed to enable districts in Ireland to form themselves into Drainage Boards, and facilities were given in the shape of loans to enable them to carry out their operations. One might naturally ask why had not the proprietors on the banks of the Shannon constituted themselves into Boards for the sake of carrying on those works? But, instead of that, there was a constant repetition of complaints which he ventured to assert were based on an entirely erroneous view of the statute. Her Majesty's Government would be most anxious to meet the communities of the valley of the Shannon if they were prepared to propose any scheme for the drainage of that valley similar to those which had been proposed for the drainage of other valleys. At the instance of the Committee of the House of Lords which investigated this subject, a competent engineer was appointed by Her Majesty's Government to examine carefully into the whole circumstances of the case, and the conclusion at which they had arrived was this, that the gross estimated cost would be £290,000 or £300,000, and that the interest upon this sum would very considerably exceed the estimated annual value of the improvement to be effected, which was estimated to amount only to £6,113 a year. That was the only scheme brought before Her Majesty's Government, and what were they to do? Were they to expend £300,000 in order to produce an estimated return of £6,000 a year? That was an estimate of the improvement of the estates of the riparian owners. But if Her Majesty's Government had embarked in such a scheme, they would probably be afterwards met by the objection that as much injury had been done by taking away the water from the estates as benefit by relieving them from excessive floods, as had been said before. He hoped the House would not look with any favour upon the idea that it was the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take the initiative and to devise schemes for the improvement of the estates of the riparian owners.


said, the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Ayrton) did not appear to be any better acquainted with the circumstances of the Shannon drainage than he was with the river itself. His hon. Friend spoke of the drainage of that great river as it were a little bit of arterial drainage, and asked why did not the country gentlemen form themselves into Boards and drain the Shannon? But how would persons on the lower part of the Shannon like that gentlemen on the upper portion should form themselves into Boards and send down floods into the lower parts? It was utterly impossible that the riparian owners could do what his hon. Friend suggested. It was the most arrant nonsense he had ever heard in the House of Commons. But suppose they did form themselves into Boards to drain it by sections, the Government would instantly step in and say they would not allow them to drain it because a certain depth of water must be kept up for summer navigation. The course that would be best for the interest of the country would be to reduce the depth of water to what was originally intended by the Act of Parliament. The whole tonnage which would be affected would be insignificant, and now that railroads ran alongside the river the navigation had not the importance it formerly had. At this moment the depth of water kept up was over six feet; but nothing could, be more preposterous. Anybody who knew the great rivers of India or America must know perfectly well that it was the greatest mistake to keep up such a depth in the Shannon. A story was told of two American captains on the Mississippi, one of whom boasted that he could float his vessel in six inches of water, but his rival retorted that he could float his wherever there was a heavy dew. It was not true to assert that any liability had been repudiated. Every shilling which it had been agreed to pay in Ireland for the Shannon drainage had been contributed, but the advantages expected from that contribution had not been obtained.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.