HC Deb 11 June 1833 vol 18 cc566-73
Lord Oxmantown.

rose to call the attention of the House to the petition respecting the Dublin and Kingstown Railway Bill, for the purpose of having it referred to a Select Committee up stairs. It was fortunate for him, in bringing forward this subject, to be under no necessity of touching on debateable ground. He was certain, that there were facts admitted on all hands, which would be quite sufficient to induce the House to accede to his Motion for inquiry on this subject. The facts were simply these—In 1831, an act was passed for the construction of a railway between Dublin and Kingstown. That work was now in progress, and 75,000l. of the public money had been advanced on it. It would be completed whether this motion was agreed to or not; but the simple question was, whether it should be completed under advantageous or very disadvantageous circumstances. The parties had felt it necessary to apply to the House to make changes in the line of railway laid down in 1831, in consequence of the change of circumstances that had taken place; and the question for the consideration of the House was, whether those circumstances would induce it to make any alteration in the Bill. The circumstances to which he referred were, first, that in 1831, two of the principal proprietors of the county through which the railroad was to pass, had resisted it, but since that period, they had changed their minds. In consequence of that, the line of railway, which was circuitous before, would be altered, considerably shortened, and a saving of several thousand pounds effected. The noble Lord concluded, by moving that the petition should be referred to a Select Committee of Appeal.

Mr. O' Connell

rose to oppose the Motion. This concern was one of the greatest bubbles ever promulgated even in Ireland, a greater bubble than any of the canals, or even that of the St. Patrick Insurance Company, which had ruined so many people. He said this as Chairman of the committee which had sat upon the Bill. That Committee had reported, that the preamble of the Bill was not proved, although the agent for the Bill had had the audacity to tell the noble Lord that it had been proved. What the noble Lord ought to have done was, to have shown that the preamble had been proved, but he had not, because he could not do so. The Company was formed, in 1830, as a public Company, with the intention of getting the public money; and it was curious, that only eight days after the passing of the act in 1831, they had obtained an order from the Commissioners for 75,000l. It was notorious, also, that out of forty members of which the Company originally consisted, eight were stockbrokers or notaries public. The surveyor employed on the part of the Bill, was averse to have it known to the Committee what his charges would be. He called this a professional secret. He was not, it appeared, sent over on account of the first bill—he was not imported there until after that; but one of his first charges on this job was 7,800l. He would say. Heaven help the poor subscribers. The House should remember that it was exceedingly expensive and difficult for individuals to contend against joint-stock companies such as this; and the party who was chiefly interested in opposing this Bill, had been detained in town a long time at a considerable expense. Talk of solicitation, he would say, he had never seen so much solicitation in his life—and it was a most annoying thing for Members to be so much pressed in cases wherein they were acting as jurors. If they were sworn, it would be then penal for them to be so pressed. The petitioners before the Committee had given up, point by point, until they struck at the shortest possible limit, in order that there might be a bill, and that they might have to charge for costs against the Company at large. He complained that the promoters of the Bill had published a garbled statement of the evidence here; they had suppressed four letters which formed part of the correspondence, two of which were of the utmost importance. The members of the Committee knew the situation of the place well, and could not be imposed upon. For himself he would declare, that it was one of the grossest bubbles that had ever been brought into that House. The second declaration of the petitioners was a recital that the money had been subscribed. But there was no particle of evidence in proof of that allegation, and the Committee had determined that the scheme was not likely to be beneficial to the public, nor likely to afford permanent employment on the line of road. Indeed, unless the House felt disposed to promote jobbing schemes in Ireland, he could not see how it could encourage the further progress of this matter, and satisfied with having done his duty, he should now leave the House to deal with it as he thought fit.

Mr. William Roche

The statement of ray hon. and learned friend, the member for Dublin (who has just sat down), in reference to the non-production, by the promoters of the Bill, of formal or official proof of the actual payment of the 160,000l. stated to have been already paid up, in furtherance of the existing railway, is quite correct. It was at my interposition that the promoters of the bill were afforded opportunity by the Committee, of establishing that point, prior to the Committee coming to a decision (which they were just then about to do) whether the preamble of this extension Bill had been sustained or not, in relation to which, such payment would form no immaterial feature. The parties (both promoters and opponents) were accordingly called in, but the promoters were not prepared with such official or legal proof, though I apprehend they offered collateral evidence, the regularity or sufficiency of which being disputed by the other side, precluded the Committee from admitting it. It may, therefore, have been paid in point of fact, although the Committee could not take formal cognizance of it. If I may he permitted to say a few words on the merits of the matter, I should be disposed to observe that the impression, my mind arrived at, through the conflicting evidence and arguments adduced by the promoters and opponents of this Bill was, that, as regards the extension of the railway to the Dalkey Granite mountains, although probably attended with some advantage in facilitating the carriage, and consequently encouraging a demand for that article, yet that such prospective advantage was not likely to be of that magnitude, as to justify the required expense, and the inconvenience of interfering with Dunleary Asylum harbour, over which it was proposed to carry the road, and a considerable portion of which it would cut off from its present purposes; and, moreover, that there already existed a tram-road, from those quarries to Kingstown harbour, which, in consequence of the inclination of the ground, from the mountains to the harbour, answered sufficiently well all the purposes of a more regular railway. As regards, however, the twoother and secondary objects applied for, I entertained a different opinion—I mean, first, that for the shorter, the very short extension of the railway, from its present point of termination to the packet-station at Kingstown harbour—an extension which I conceived, would be equally beneficial to the harbour and to the railroad—an extension not exceeding, I believe, half a mile, and therefore, accomplishable at a small expense. The other point was, the power sought for to authorise an alteration or deviation in the present line of railroad from Dublin to Kingstown, which deviation would, it was represented, save the Company such a sum as 14,000l., and furthermore, shorten and improve the whole line. These two last points, I was and am disposed to concede, as in my mind advantageous, without any concomitant injury.

Mr. John Talbot

thought, that the undertaking would be of the greatest possible benefit. He believed that all the most material parts of the preamble of the Bill had been proved, though he was willing to admit, that it was not clearly proved, that the required portion of the shares had been subscribed for. One of the greatest evils that afflicted Ireland was, the wan, of capital and the consequent employment of labour, and as there had been, in his opinion, a primâ facie case made out in favour of this Bill, he thought it would be unwise to reject it, as it would tend very much to discourage the employment of capital.

Colonel Conolly

said, that notwithstanding his connexion with the noble Lord, the proprietor of Kingstown, he felt no difficulty whatever in expressing an opinion on the subject, inasmuch as he considered the prosecution of the work as calculated to confer benefits on the public, totally extrinsic and independent of those which it might be supposed would accrue to the noble proprietor of the town. It appeared to him, that the mode in which hon. Members had argued the question was not the just and proper one, for a great deal had been said as to the judiciousness of the undertaking. Now, he considered, that the question with which the House had to deal was not whether the persons who engaged in the undertaking in 1831 had acted judiciously or not; but the subject matter for their consideration really was, whether now, when time had overcome many of the difficulties which at first existed—now that Lord Cloncurry and Sir Harcourt Lees had withdrawn their opposition—whether or no the railway was to be constructed, at a saving of 18,000l., on the best possible site, or be constructed on the worst possible line, at an increased expense. He thought the construction of the railway would facilitate the export of stone, and also tend to lower the price of coal in the Dublin markets. By extending the line to the quarries, as proposed by the second Bill, the traffic of Dublin would be increased, and considerable employment afforded to the poor. The cost of coal would be diminished by the export of the stone—as many of the colliers, that now take in ballast of a different description, which is totally useless, would, if the railway were extended, return to the western coast freighted with granite blocks, for which they would find a ready market. He would not arrogate to himself the right of judging whether or no the first undertaking was deserving of national support; but this he would say, that the second Bill was calculated to make the line better than the former Bill. He thought he should be wrong, feeling as he did, were he not to state—and he trusted he was not incapacitated from expressing that opinion in consequence of being connected by blood with the noble proprietor of the town—he thought, he said, that, entertaining the feelings he did, he should be wrong were he not to state, that, in his opinion, the extension of the work would be useful to the city of Dublin—would render the harbour of Kingstown of the utmost importance—and furnish employment to a large portion of the starving population of Ireland.

Mr. W. Wynn

said, that the House was not now called upon to decide upon the merits of the proposed measure. The only question for the House to decide upon was, whether or not the Committee who had sat upon the Bill had done its duty. If there was any allegation that it had failed in that respect, or had refused to hear important evidence, there might be ground for appointing a Committee of Appeal but if the Committee had discharged its duty fairly and honestly (and he did not know of any allegation to the contrary), the House should be satisfied with its decision.

Mr. Sham

felt himself placed under rather peculiar circumstances with regard to the question. He was a member of the Committee, but was not able to bestow upon its duties as much attention as he desired. He was bound, however, to admit, that from such consideration as he had it in his power to give the subject, he was inclined to support the Bill, and had he been present at the vote which was now appealed from, he should have been in the minority. But he considered it a very different question whether or not the House would reverse the decision deliberately come to by the Committee—the intention of the House in passing the Resolution under which the appeal was made being clearly not to correct any error in judgment of a Committee sitting on a private Bill, but to control any impropriety in their conduct; and on principle he was always strongly opposed to withdrawing from the ordinary tribunal the decision of a case within its competency. Though his Judgment differed from that of the majority, he did not on that account feel justified in drawing their judgment into question. Nor was he prepared to give a vote condemnatory of and necessarily casting a censure upon, their proceedings. He was sorry so much feeling had been mixed with the case. The petition brought a charge of canvassing against the opponents of the Bill. Now he must say, that if solicitations to attend the Committee be properly termed canvassing, he found such made stronger on the part of the promoters of the Bill than on the other; but so far as regarded soliciting Members to give their time and attention to any particular business, he could not consider that as improper. On the contrary he thought it the duty of the agents and others concerned on both sides; and certainly no person on either side presumed to canvass him in respect of his vote, nor he supposed any other Member, to vote or act in any other way than according to the best of their judgments upon the merits of the case as they might appear in evidence. Papers had been circulated, stating that accusations had been made against the promoters of the Bill, of which accusations he had never heard until he read the papers purporting to be a refutation of them. Another observation upon the case was, that the House would be going a great way in concluding the question in favour of the Bill, were they now to vote for an Appeal Committee, whereas on the other hand by refusing the appeal in any degree, they would prevent the promoters of the Bill from again bringing it forward at the commencement of the next Session. For the reasons he had stated, though he had been and was inclined to support the Bill, he should certainly feel it his duty to vote against granting an appeal.

Mr. Christopher Fitzsimon

said, he had paid great attention to the whole evidence, and it was, his conscientious belief, that this work, if completed, would not be productive of public benefit. If any person could be benefited by it more than another, it was himself, because it would shorten the road from his property to the city of Dublin full seven miles.

Mr. Halcombe

said, that the petition stated, that evidence had been given by which the preamble of the Bill was fully proved, but that nevertheless the Committee decided, that it was not proved. The petition referred the House to the evidence, and maintained that the House was unable to come to a sound decision on the subject until the evidence taken before the Committee should be laid on the table.

Lord Oxmantown

, in reply, observed that the petition stated, that certain members of the Committee had determined to throw out the Bill at all hazards ["Name"] He referred hon. Members to the petition for information on the subject. With respect to the charge brought against him by the hon. member for Dublin of not having attended the Committee regularly, he saw that the discussion was assuming so much of a party question, that he thought it useless to attend. The hon. and learned Member said, that no affidavit was produced, showing that the money had been regularly paid up. He (Lord Oxmantown) held the affidavit in his hand, and it had been in the possession of the Committee's clerk. After the observations of the right hon. member for Montgomeryshire, who stated, that the only question for the House to decide was, whether the Committee had done its duty to the best of its ability; he should not go into the merits of the case, if the Speaker informed the House that the right hon. Gentleman's opinion was well founded; and not being prepared to impugn the conduct of the Committee, he should ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

The Speaker

was sure that the noble Lord did not mean that he (the Speaker) should give an opinion on the merits of the question before the House, but merely that he should endeavour, as far as his judgment went, to put the House in possession of his opinion of the origin and intention of this plan of referring the Petition to the Committee of Appeals. He took it for granted that it never was intended that this should be a new mode of trying the merits of any question: the only meaning could have been to give redress to persons complaining of irregularities before private Committees, by which the interests of the petitioners might be prejudiced. If the complaint were that the private Committee had come to a wrong decision, not owing to an erroneous judgment, but by misconduct—for instance, by the exclusion of material evidence, and that by such exclusion of evidence they had come to a premature decision on the case—the decision of the House, in referring the petition to the Committee of Appeals, would then be, not on the merits of the question, but on the conduct of the private Committee. That he took to be the question before the House. The merits of the case were out of the question; and it was not intended, by the vote of the House, to decide upon those merits, except in so far as they were in-involved in the culpability of the Committee.

Motion withdrawn.