§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. COURTNEY
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he wished to ask for the opinion of Irish Members upon it. A Commission was appointed to consider Navigation in Ireland in 1882; and with respect to the Ulster Canal it reported that, in consequence of the lack of traffic, the Canal was worked at a loss of £1,000 to £1,100 a-year. The Government desired to get rid of it, and advertised it for sale in the Northern papers; but, unfortunately, no one responded to the invitation. The existence of the Canal was believed to operate as a check on the conduct of the Railway Companies which came in competition with it; and, therefore, he did not think it wise that it should be altogether given up. Ultimately, an agreement was come to with the Lagan Company, by which the Company agreed to take over the Canal if the Treasury would undertake to put it in order. The sum of £12,000 was proposed to be expended for that purpose, and would be repaid by an annuity. This 1056 agreement would be an advantage to the Treasury, inasmuch as it would relieve it from loss. As he had said, it would not be wise to abolish the Canal, and there would be a great deal of objection to such a course in the North of Ireland. He was ready to receive and carefully consider any suggestions made by hon. Members from Ireland, and he trusted they would accept the second reading.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Courtney.)
§ COLONEL NOLAN
said, he was not going to keep the House for any length of time in discussing this question; but, as neither of the Members from the North of Ireland who were on the Royal Commission on Irish Navigation was present, he should like to say a word or two on this important matter. It was said that the Irish Members were continually asking for money. Well, in this case no money had ever been asked for by the Irish Members, that he knew of. The majority of Irishmen, Peers and others, on the Commission, were in favour of abolishing the Canal altogether. The Government were afraid of the extravagance of giving up the Canal, so they sent over an Indian hydraulic engineer to Ireland to report upon the subject. This officer reported that it was worth while to make some attempt to keep up the Canal, and the Government had therefore become anxious to sell it and hand it over to another Company. There was an important omission from the Bill in regard to lowering the waters of Lough Neagh, which annually flooded the adjoining lands. The farmers in the district complained of this flooding. Some of the Commissioners doubted as to whether they could deal with the matter; therefore there was no specific Report as to whether the Lough should be lowered or not, though they alluded to it in the Report, and said they had obtained sufficient evidence to show that a great tract of country was periodically flooded by it. If this Canal were sold to the Lagan Company without provision for lowering the Lough, and the Lough were then lowered, they would be bound to compensate the Lagan Company. Unless some provision were made, the Treasury would not find the money for lowering 1057 the Lough, and, consequently, they would go on flooding the property of the farmers in order to keep up this navigation. Lough Neagh very much required to be lowered, and now they were about to put a great obstacle against it in the shape of this Bill. The only other navigation which interfered with Lough Neagh was the Lower Bann, which had been condemned as utterly useless. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had given them a promise that he would make it his duty to take an opportunity of seeing that the Bill was drawn up so as to cover the Lagan Company for any injury inflicted on them by the lowering of the Lough. If the Government would spend a few thousands in putting the Canal in order, he had no objection to the Bill being passed, though he certainly believed they would be wasting the money.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, he had an objection to the Bill, because he believed it would not only involve a useless expenditure of money, but continue a very bad system, which had been doing a great deal of harm in Ireland for a large number of years. The Royal Commission to which reference had been made had been a very strong one, having upon it Peers, Members of Parliament, and other persons capable of forming an opinion on the subject. Their Report was very emphatic, indeed, in regard to the Canal. There was one Member of the Committee, Colonel Dickens, who dissented from the recommendations of his Colleagues as to this particular Canal; but even he did not go so far as to propose that the Government should part with the Canal and put it in the hands of a private Company. He said it was undesirable to let the property or the Canal pass altogether out of the hands of the Government, and had said that if nothing else was done with the Canal the Government should retain it in their hands, with the prospect of obtaining a little return for their former outlay. The story of this Canal was a story of a most extraordinary waste of public money. The House would be surprised to learn that the Canal was started, first of all, in 1825. It took 17 years to complete, at an estimated cost of £160,000, the money being obtained by loan from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. This money had never been repaid. Indeed, further 1058 sums had from time to time been advanced, always on much the same grounds as had been advanced by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury that night. The Public Works Loan Commissioners, failing to obtain any repayment, took the Canal into their own hands, as mortgagees, in 1851, and then they leased it to a man named Daniel, who could not make anything out of it. It was handed over to the Dundalk Steam Navigation Company, and on the expiration of the lease it was vested again in the Public Works Loan Commissioners. It had been in such a bad condition that it had become thoroughly derelict. Between 1865 and 1873 the Public Works Loan Commissioners had laid out £22,000 on restoration. In spite of that, the Canal had never paid. It had never made so much as would pay the wages of the lock-keepers; and the Lagan Company, to whom it was now proposed to hand it over, was only paying a dividend of 1½ per cent. The Canal had only a depth of five feet six inches, and the Ulster Canal had only a depth of four feet. The work of deepening the latter would be very costly and troublesome, and it would have to be undertaken, otherwise the Lagan boats would not be able to float in it. The Lagan Canal was 16 feet wide, and the Ulster only 12 feet. Sir John M'Neill, in 1861, had reported that the only plan by which a return could be obtained from the undertaking would be to take off the lock gates, drain the Canal, and let the land for grazing purposes, and let out the locks and the basins in the Canal, which were, some of them, of considerable extent, for purposes of tillage. This was the precious concern which was to be handed over to a Company to deal with on the chance of their being able to get it into working order. There was not the least prospect of the Canal ever paying its expenses. He complained of the injury which was done by these navigation schemes to the agricultural interests of Ireland, not only in connection with the Lagan Canal, but also in connection with the Shannon navigation. In order to keep up the connection between Limerick and other towns, an enormous amount of land in Ireland was flooded, and a great deal of property injured every year. To test the value of these navigation schemes, he had last year gone from Athlone 1059 nearly as far as Limerick, in order to find out the amount of traffic which was on them, and the result of his investigation had been that he had found that there was not as much traffic on the whole of the Shannon during the day he was on it as passed the building in which they now were on the Thames in the course of half-an-hour; whilst the amount of damage done to the property of the farmers in the previous four or five months was incredible. People had been obliged to leave their houses for weeks together, and to go into such towns as Athlone, because of the floods; and people living along the line of the river had for many miles had their crops and houses injured; and this was of almost annual occurrence. If the Canal this Bill dealt with were treated as Sir John M'Neill recommended it should be, there would be some prospect of seeing an end, or, at any rate, an abatement, of the floods which annually did so much damage in the neighbourhood of Lough Neagh. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had not told the Committee whether he proposed to take the Vote of £15,000 this year.
§ MR. ARTHUR O'CONNOR
said, that £3,000 would be the first instalment of the total of £15,000 to put this thing in order. There would be a further sum of £12,000 to be taken. It was to be repaid to the Government by the Company, if the Company could do so; but the Government could not have much expectation that there was any chance of the Lagan Company being able to pay the money, for there was a provision made in the Bill for mortgaging the property to the Government, and over and above that there were special powers given to the Company for the extension of their borrowing powers. He did not know what might be the personal and private interests which were promoting this Bill; but he was certain that no national interest could be served by the Bill. It certainly might bring about a large outlay of public money. It would involve the throwing of more money after the hundreds of thousands which had been already thrown into the bog in connection with these undertakings. In conclusion, he wished to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Arthur O'Connor.)
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he could not entirely agree with everything which had fallen from the hon. Member who had just sat down, in regard to the Ulster Canal. There were so many different opinions given on both sides that it was a matter the House could not be expected to [...] into at such an hour as 10 minutes to 2 o'clock in the morning. He did know something about this Canal, and what he knew was that it was perfectly useless. He (Colonel King-Harman) represented a barony which had to pay a great deal of money for keeping up the Canal system, and he was thoroughly convinced of the uselessness of a great deal of that expenditure.
I must call the hon. and gallant Gentleman's attention to the fact that the subject before the House is the adjournment of the debate.
§ COLONEL KING-HARMAN
said, he was trying to give his reasons for supporting the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. His main reason was that, so far as he could see, this Canal business was not sufficiently known or understood to be discussed in the House at that moment. For that reason, he took leave to second the Motion for Adjournment. He did not think the House was in possession of sufficient information to enable it to vote this large sum of money for this measure.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, the Motion for Adjournment was very cleverly put, as it prevented anybody from saying anything about the Canal; but he might perhaps be permitted, by the courtesy of the House, to say that the course which hon. Members seemed to be in favour of—that was to say, the retention of the Canal by the Government—would simply leave them in the possession of that which cost them £1,000 a year.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, that the Government could not abandon it. In order to do that, they would have to introduce another Bill, which would be opposed by another section of Members. The system proposed was the cheapest way of getting rid of the Canal.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said, he was aware of that. The cheapest way to get rid of it would be to sell it to a Company that was solvent, and in a position to carry it on. The Government were in possession of a Canal which was a constant drain upon them; and they therefore thought it desirable to get rid of it in the manner proposed in the Bill, believing that the Company which was about to acquire it was perfectly capable of carrying it on.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.