§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ MR. HIBBERT
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, expressed a hope that hon. Members would allow that stage to be taken, because he proposed, after it was read a second time, to refer it to a Select Committee. It was merely an enabling Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Hibbert.)
§ MR. SEXTON
asked whether the hon. Gentleman had yet made up his mind as to the proportion of Irish Members to be placed upon the Select Committee?
§ MR. HIBBERT
replied that it was practically the same measure. He certainly hoped to be allowed to place a fair proportion of Irish Members upon the Committee.
§ MR. KENNY
said, it was quite necessary that they should have a clear understanding upon that point. There had been an impression that it was intended, not to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but to a Hybrid Committee. Last year there was an arrangement to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; and it was understood that at least one-half, or seven or eight Irish Members altogether, should be upon the Committee. He hoped that a similar arrangement would be made now; and there ought, also, to be a further understanding that the Committee should have power to summon witnesses from the various districts affected by the proposals in the Bill. It would be impossible for the Members sitting upon the Committee to understand the local opinions unless persons were brought from the locality to explain the views of the locality. He had himself received a large number of communications, and especially from the town he represented (Ennis), with regard to the probable bearing of the Bill upon the pier of Clarecastle. The history of the pier of Clarecastle was an extraordinary one. It had been in the hands of the Board of Works, who had spent something like £5,000 in repairing it. Each time they repaired it, it broke to pieces, and he believed that result was due to the defective engineering of the Irish Board of Works. As he had said, they had expended £5,000 upon the repairs, and towards that sum they had confiscated £2,000 out of the surplus dues. The pier had now fallen to pieces again, and, owing to the bad engineering of the Board of Works, the river had been so narrowed that vessels passing up and down found it extremely difficult to get inside the pier. Yet the Board of Works now wanted to raise £2,000 for the purpose of repairing the damage which they had thus occasioned. The action of the Board of Works was, in reality, about the most stupid piece of jobbery, with regard to engineering arrangements, which had been perpetrated in Ireland for some time. Owing to the contraction of the river, vessels inside the pier were detained for a considerable time until the state of the tide enabled them to go out; and the consequence was that vessels in perfect readiness to go out were unnecessarily de- 1873 layed. Under these circumstances, he considered that it was absolutely essential for the Select Committee to have the views of Irish Gentlemen who were locally interested in these questions. He complained that the Commissioners of the Board of Works in Ireland had too much power under the Bill. In point of fact, the Board of Works might do this, might do that, and might do nothing. The Bill also gave power to transfer various harbours to individuals. Now, he knew the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill objected to the transference of the local harbours to individuals. [Mr. HIBBERT: Hear, hear!] He was quite aware of that; but, with regard to the Port of Kilrush, he believed that a Memorial had been sent up seeking to have that port transferred to certain persons named in the Memorial. What did the Board of Works do? They said that a sum of money had been spent by a local landlord on the pier, and that it was necessary to consider his claims before those of the Trustees, proposed to be appointed, were considered. If that sort of thing were allowed to go on, it would be better to withdraw the Bill. Certainly, if it were passed, there should be a clear understanding that, although powers might be transferred to Local Bodies, whether Trustees or otherwise, yet they certainly would not be transferred to landlords and persons having pecuniary interests in the pier. He hoped there would be a clear understanding upon that point, at any rate. There were many provisions in the Bill with which he quite concurred, and he believed it would have a salutary effect if these local harbours were placed under the control of local gentlemen. That was an object that had long been desired, especially by persons who were connected with the town of Ennis. He was constantly receiving applications from merchants and others, asking him to obtain the establishment of a Harbour Board for the Port of Clarecastle. He was told that Lord Monteagle had put in a claim to have the entire control of the harbour of Foynes. At present a certain class of vessels could not get beyond that point, and it was necessary to transfer the goods they carried and send them up to Limerick by other means. Lord Monteagle was the owner of the soil, and, having spent a certain 1874 amount of money, he wished to obtain the sole control of the harbour. If the noble Lord were to have his way, it would be disastrous to the interests of the people of Limerick, who wished to have this harbour, which could only accommodate vessels up to 800 tons, under their own control. It was highly essential to the people of Limerick that they should have control of Foynes Harbour as well as of the river. In point of fact, one was virtually part of the other, and it would be necessary to hear local witnesses, in order to show clearly what the claim of Limerick was to have control of the harbour of Foynes. As Foynes was not part of the City of Limerick, it would be necessary to examine gentlemen belonging to Limerick Harbour before the Select Committee, in order that they might substantiate their claim to have full control of Foynes Harbour. In the main, he agreed with the principle of the Bill, which was to establish local control over local harbours; and if the hon. Gentleman in charge of the measure would agree to the examination of witnesses from Ireland before the Committee, he would assent to the second reading, and also to the proposal to refer it to a Select Committee.
§ MR. DAWSON
said, the harbour of Foynes was one of the most important interests affected by the Bill; and anyone who was acquainted with the town of Limerick knew that the Harbour Board of Limerick was the proper authority to have the management of the harbour of Foynes. Foynes was practically part of the harbour of Limerick, and a comparatively small expenditure of money would enable larger ships to be accommodated. He very much feared that that expenditure would not be under-taken if the harbour were not placed under the control of Limerick, because persons connected with Foynes Harbour would be of opinion that they were acting against their own interests, unless they set up an authority in Foynes which was hostile to, and in rivalry with, that of Limerick. Now, the City Harbour Board of Limerick piloted, vessels up the Shannon from its mouth, and had the sole jurisdiction over the river. Apart from that fact, if it was intended to hand over this important harbour to private individuals, the most natural course was to place it in the 1875 hands of the harbour authorities of Limerick, who had always been, up to a recent period, the controlling power. Foynes occupied an important position on the Shannon, and was likely to become, in the near future, a Transatlantic station; but with the appointment of any other Trustees than the Harbour Board of Limerick the harbour of Foynes would never obtain that development to which it was entitled. Limerick, with its great trade and position, would be able to develop the harbour of Foynes into what it was really capable of. He hoped the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury would take a broad view of the matter, and that no great public interest would be allowed to be compromised for the sake of private and individual interests. He had every confidence that a Select Committee, properly constituted, would afford every facility to Limerick for developing the trade of the Shannon; and the harbour authorities of that city ought to be allowed a fair opportunity of stating their case. Ho, therefore, trusted that the Select Committee would have power to hear the evidence of local witnesses.
§ MR. O'SHEA
remarked, that if the Government consented to send the Bill to a Select Committee, and agreed to allow witnesses to be heard, a very small amount of evidence would, be sufficient. Reference had been made to the Harbour Board of Limerick; and he was certain that that Board would be prepared to send up one or two representative men. With regard to the Port of Kilrush, he also believed that the evidence of one or two individuals would be quite sufficient to satisfy the Committee. It was, however, absolutely necessary to hear their case, because Kilrush was a very important port on the Lower Shannon, and there existed a large amount of dissatisfaction. He trusted that, under the circumstances, the Bill would be read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee, with power to call evidence.
MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
, referring to the composition of the Select Committee, suggested that there should be an arrangement between the Secretary to the Treasury and the Irish Members, by means of which the appointment of a higher proportion of Irish Members upon the Committee would be secured than was usually the case. He added, 1876 as a precedent, that in the case of a Committee nominated two years ago, at the instance of the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. Herbert Gladstone), where the inquiry affected Irish interests of great importance, the Committee was composed almost entirely of Irish Members.
§ MR. HIBBERT
said, he should be quite prepared to nominate upon the Committee a large proportion of Irish Members selected from both sides of the House. In all matters affecting Ireland he thought it was desirable that a large proportion of the Members nominated upon the Select Committee should be drawn from that country. He proposed to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and not to a Hybrid Committee; and he had no objection to give the Committee power to call witnesses. But, in assenting to that proposal, he hoped that hon. Members who served upon the Committee would not be too pressing to have a large number of witnesses called. He did think it desirable to hear witnesses in regard to the piers and harbours affected by the Bill; but ho did not think it would be necessary to call too many. His idea of the provisions of the Bill was that they should be made to serve the interests of the people who were most materially affected by them.
§ MR. HEALY
said, that nevertheless it was a Bill of last year, and ho believed that the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Synan), who was now absent, had a strong objection to it, because it would raise the tolls in some of the places situated along the shore of the Shannon. Of course, whenever he found a Bill of this kind brought in in regard to Ireland by Her Majesty's Government ho always regarded it with suspicion, because it was generally introduced with the object of transferring some charge from the Treasury to the people, or for some other scheme of that kind. He understood 1877 that the object of the present Bill was to take away the charge and control of the harbour dues from the Board of Works, in whom they were now vested; and he had reason to believe that upon that ground the hon. Member for Limerick entertained a strong objection to the measure. It must be borne in mind that they were proposing to deal with a very poor class of persons who had to pay the dues—poor persons who ran turf along the shore in boats, and who would be called upon to pay 3d. for harbour dues. These persons required to have their interests properly represented; and in the absence of the hon. Member for Limerick no guarantee whatever ought to be given as to the number of witnesses to be called, seeing that it was proposed to place these dues upon the shoulders of the people. If he had had any idea that the Bill was likely to come on, he would have blocked it upon principle. Whenever they found a Bill introduced by Her Majesty's Government for the purpose of dealing with rates and charges in Ireland, they might be sure that it was a bad Bill, and that it certainly deserved to be blocked until the nature of its provisions were fully explained and clearly understood. The plea that any such Bill could be introduced by the Government from a wish, on their part, to do good to the people of Ireland was simply absurd.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.