§ (The Earl of Devon.)
§ THE EARL OF DEVON
, in moving that the House resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill, said its object was to authorize the Commissioners of the Treasury to compound a debt with its interest, owing by the Limerick Harbour Commissioners. The Bill had been read a second time by their Lordships without discussion, on the understanding that it should be discussed at this stage. The debt and interest due from the Harbour Commissioners to the Government amounted to £230,000. At various periods from 1817 to 1847 sums were advanced by the authority of the Treasury, under various Acts of Parliament, for the improvement of the harbour and the construction of a bridge; and the principal at last amounted to £179,000. The bridge was to have cost about £23,000, but £89,000 had been expended upon it, and that outlay drew largely upon the funds available for the improvement of the harbour. It had therefore been found necessary to keep up shipping rates and other port dues to an amount which had been found to interfere most seriously with the progress of the city of Limerick. While Waterford, Cork, Belfast, and other places had been rapidly increasing in the amount of their tonnage, Limerick alone was going back. At last a memorial was presented to the Treasury, and the result was that a Minute was prepared by the late Government for the extinction of the debt. The change of Government occurred before effect could be given to it, and this Bill would give effect to a corresponding Minute prepared by the present Government. In the other House the Bill had gone through the ordeal of a Select Committee. That Committee had agreed unanimously to adopt the Bill. It was proposed to compound the debt for the sum of £65,000, of which sum £55,000 is to be paid to the Commissioners of Public Works by an annual rent-charge, calculated at the rate of 4.0729 per cent, to be paid by half-yearly instalments for a period of fifty years, and the remaining sum of £10,000 is to be a first charge on the tolls of the bridge at 3¼ per cent per annum. Power is given to the Commissioners to sell the bridge at any time for £10,000 to any 1183 Grand Jury or other public body. The Bill further enabled the Public Works Loan Commissioners to advance a sum not exceeding £20,000 for the purpose of constructing a graving-dock and otherwise improving the port. A good deal of evidence was given before the Committee of the House of Commons respecting the causes of the decay of the port, and the best means of restoring its prosperity; the desirability of constructing a graving-dock being particularly dwelt upon. He hoped their Lordships would go into Committee on the Bill, not only because it would relieve the city of Limerick from the difficulties under which it at present laboured, but also on the more important and public ground that the probable effect of the measure would be to provide additional employment for the poor of Limerick and the neighbourhood.
§ THE EARL OF POWIS
greatly objected to the Bill, and particularly to the 13th clause, which authorized additional advances to be made. Altogether the large sum of £179,000 had been advanced already, and the rates had been raised four times in succession by the Harbour Commissioners in order to provide security for the different advances. He wished to point out, that according to the Return which had been laid before their Lordships, the revenues of the port would not suffice to pay the interest on both the new and old grants. In his opinion, if this debt were to be compounded by the Treasury, it ought to be compounded absolutely. The reason assigned for making a further advance was that it would enable the port to compete with rival ports on more favourable terms; such rival ports being afterwards stated to be Dublin and Gork. But if they were to allow such a reason to have weight, they might be asked at no distant time, to enable other ports on the Shannon, such as Foynes and Tarbert, to compete with Limerick. The whole gist of the Bill and memorial was that the tolls were too high; but by a Bill now passing through Parliament 250 articles would be free from paying toll, and the deficit which had been mentioned would be thereby increased. He asked them whether advancing the money asked for would not be throwing good money after bad, and whether it was reasonable, after expending £179,000, which had been augmented by arrears of interest to £220,000, to ask Parliament to spend £24,000 more upon insufficient security.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
stated that 1184 the acts of the Government in respect of the matter touched on by the noble Earl who had just spoken were originated by himself. No one could complain of the tone in which the noble Earl (the Earl of Powis) had approached the Bill, because it was one demanding most careful consideration. The memorial stood on better ground than was usual in such cases; a large sum of money had been expended upon a bridge which had proved to be of very little use to the harbour, although the harbour dues had been charged with the principal and interest of the cost. The making of that bridge was no doubt the result of a mistake on the part of the Treasury, and the people of Limerick now came to the Treasury for relief; and not unreasonably so, for the raising of the harbour dues to pay the interest had tended to diminish the trade of the port. He therefore supported that portion of the Bill which dealt with this matter, on the ground that it was the rectification of a mistaken policy. Upon the other point touched on by the noble Earl he was not so well able to speak, because the advance of money was not proposed by the late Government. If, however, the present Government felt convinced that the construction of a graving-dock would greatly improve the port of Limerick, the proposition should be considered on its merits without respect to the solvency of the port. On the whole he thought their Lordships would do well to let the Bill pass.
§ LORD CAIRNS
said that both on local and national grounds it was advisable that the Bill should pass. He would remind their Lordships that the Bill had undergone the scrutiny of a Select Committee of the House of Commons. With reference to the objection of the noble Earl (the Earl of Powis) to the 13th clause, no one acquainted with the Port of Limerick would deny that a graving-dock was absolutely necessary for placing the port upon a proper footing. If such a dock could be constructed without the loan asked for, it would be most improper to grant it, but it would be vain to hope that £20,000 could be obtained on the public market for that object; and it would be most improper to grant the loan if the only end in view was the local one of enabling Limerick to compete with Cork. There was however the great public object to be gained of providing a refuge for ships in distress. The security provided was as good as any offered for capital to construct 1185 Public Works, and as the noble Earl who had last spoken had said, it would be very wrong to deny Limerick this assistance, and thus make it atone for the error of a Government which authorized the advance of £80,000 to build a useless bridge.
THE EARL of LIMERICK
said, that the bridge was not only of no advantage to the shipping of the port, but a positive disadvantage, inasmuch as the small trading craft had to lose a considerable amount of time on each occasion that they passed the swing bridge. A graving dock was much wanted and would be of great benefit to the port, and he hoped their Lordships would agree to the Bill as it stood.
§ Bill considered in Committee; Bill reported without amendment, and to be read 3a To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'Clock till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'Clock.