HC Deb 21 April 1846 vol 85 cc839-51

, pursuant to notice, rose to submit a Motion to the following effect:— That, with a view to diminish the inconvenience and expense now incurred in carrying through Parliament Bills for the construction of Railways in Ireland, it is expedient that, in the case of Irish Railway Bills, all such inquiries as are now conducted in London by Committees of this House should, after the termination of the present Session, take place in Ireland. In bringing forward this Motion, he did so with the view of giving effect to what appeared to be the nearly unanimous desire on this subject of the Irish public. In Ireland there was a very general feeling of dissatisfaction at the present system of conducting inquiries with respect to private Bills before Committees of that House. It was scarcely necessary that he should remind them that persons engaged in carrying private Irish Bills through Parliament were frequently under the necessity of conveying witnesses to London from the remotest parts of Ireland at an enormous expense. They were also under the necessity of engaging counsel here, and defraying the charges of agents and deputations, all which proceedings were unavoidably attended with considerable expense. Nor was it simply a question of expense. The convenience of professional men in Ireland was deeply involved. It could not but be obvious to every one how exceedingly inconvenient it must be for those who were engaged in professional avocations in Ireland to travel, as they were sometimes obliged to do, 400 or 500 miles, and to cross the Channel twice, for the purpose of giving their testimony on matters connected with those private Bills—testimony which might be just as well given in Dublin or Cork. Besides the present system was exceedingly objectionable, for this if for no other reason, that it caused much unnecessary delay in the progress of legislation. During the last Session, twenty-eight private Bills had been introduced; and the delay to which they were subjected before they received the royal assent was such as to create great dissatisfaction in Ireland. He held in his hand a Return of Bills which had passed that House on the 10th of February, and which had not received the Royal Assent until the 21st of July, being an interval of more than five months. It was clear, therefore, that the objections were numerous and serious, both on account of expense and delay. The Loyal National Repeal Association had taken this matter into consideration late last year, and a Committee of that body, over which Sir Colman O'Loghlin presided as chairman, made a report, in which they showed not only the desirability but the practicability of having those inquiries conducted in Ireland which were now carried on in London. The report in question, as it was one which contained a very clear statement of the case, and suggested a very plain and effective remedy, he could wish that it was in the hands of every Member of the House. Perhaps the House might not be inclined to regard with much favour suggestions emanating from the Repeal Association; but he wished to have it distinctly understood that this question had not been mooted originally, nor was its agitation confined to that body. He believed he was justified in asserting that the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had received from time to time, from most influential persons in various districts of Ireland, expressions of their opinion that it would be well to have those inquiries connected with private Railway Bills conducted, not in London, but in Ireland. In the months of January and December meetings were held in Dublin for the purpose of calling on Government to make arrangements in order to the carrying out of this object. In his own county (Limerick) the question had first been taken up by the Conservative party, at whose requisition a meeting was held at Limerick, at which a memorial was adopted which he trusted the right hon. Baronet would lay upon the Table of the House, together with other memorials of a similar import. He trusted, therefore, that there would not be, on party grounds, any objection to the proposition which he now submitted—a proposition which, besides being signally beneficial to Ireland, by preventing delay, and causing a large sum of money—which was now expended in London—to be spent in Dublin, would also be productive of much relief to the English Members themselves. Surely the English Members could not be satisfied with the present mode of conducting business connected with private Railway Bills. There were no less than 750 measures of this description before the House at present; and surely, when regard was had to the vast pressure of business connected with the affairs of this great Empire which devolved upon the House, it must be evident that it was impossible for Members, with such a multiplicity of work upon their hands, to investigate in a satisfactory manner all the matters of detail connected with these Bills. No doubt he had his own views—views which he believed to be founded on truth — with respect to the liability of Members to serve on Committees on Private Bills. It was his opinion that Parliament possessed no right whatever to compel the attendance of Members on such Committees, in the event of their feeling disinclined to attend. Until very lately it had always been optional with Members to attend or absent themselves as they thought fit; and although the House had passed a Resolution to the effect that Members should attend, he did not think that any such Resolution could have the virtue of an Act of Parliament, which was in point of fact the only mode by which attendance could be rendered a matter of compulsion. He did not think he was called upon to dictate to the House; but various alternatives were suggested—one was, that the investigation should be confided to some Irish Members. Now, if some individual Irish Members were patriotic enough to save expense to the country, and seek to convenience the country, he should thankfully accept their services in Ireland; but he was not prepared to say that this was the best mode of dealing with this business. For his part, he could see no objection to confiding to a commission, appointed by the Speaker, those duties which were now performed by the Members of that House. Let the Speaker, with the assent of the House, at the close or the commencement of the Session, as the case might be, appoint a commission composed of five individuals, one of whom should be a counsel of eminence—another a civil engineer—another possibly a military engineer, or person of high scientific authority—another a person of high commercial station—another an intelligent country gentleman. They could so form the committee as to get the greatest possible amount of intelligence, and they could select the persons to compose it with the utmost impartiality. He thought a commission so appointed would be infinitely more able to conduct, in a manner satisfactory to the public, the investigations that were now carried on with great inconvenience to the public before Committees of that House. The inquiries before the Committees of the House were of two kinds — those relating to the Standing Orders and those for the consideration of the Committees on Bills. He asked whether anything that was brought under the consideration of the Committee on Standing Orders might not as well be established in Ireland as in London? Then there came the questions of fact which were established before the Committees on Bills, and which facts were reported by the Committee to the House. He thought when he read for the House the entire information that those Committees were in the habit of submitting to the House, they would see at once there was nothing in the nature of this information which would render it move difficult that such information should be given in Ireland than in England. It would be at once admitted by any one who read those reports, that all the facts that were supplied to the House in the way of information might be ascertained as easily in Ireland as in London. There then remained for consideration the general policy of the measure. On that question he would be quite contented to accept primâ facie the opinion of such commission. All they wanted was competency and impartiality; and he believed they could obtain competency and impartiality by a judicious selection of persons not Members of that House, as they could obtain by a chance selection from Members of Parliament. He should propose that the Committee to be appointed by the Speaker, with the assent of the House, should leave the power of deciding the questions submitted to them, subject to an appeal to the House on the general policy, as well as on the facts which they were in the habit of eliciting. He (Mr. Smith O'Brien) was quite disposed to leave this question in the hands of the Government. He had, no doubt, his own ideas on the subject; but he was by no means prepared to say that others less objectionable might not be suggested by those who were more experienced. With respect to the general principle, he was strong in his confidence, not so much in his own opinion, as that which he believed to be the universal opinion in Ireland. He now called upon them to make this experiment with reference to railways. There might not be in future Sessions so many calls for legislation with reference to railways as at present; but he did complain that the Government had not paid respect to the opinion of the people of Ireland, pronounced as strongly as it could be on a question of this nature. He complained that the Government did not take measures to give effect to the sentiments of the Irish people. He had now submitted to the House the views of his fellow countrymen on the subject. If the House adopted the Resolution—which he was quite prepared to see negatived, but he felt at the same time it was his duty to submit it—if, he repeated, they adopted it, he would suggest that the same principle should be applied to all private Bills relating to Ireland. In conclusion he moved the Resolution.


seconded the Motion; but not having been previously aware that the hon. Member for Limerick would then bring it forward, he (Mr. French) cenfessed he was not in the condition to state those figures and facts in support of the proposition which he would be otherwise prepared to state. Still, under the circumstances, and having taken some interest in railway projects, he could not sit silent. The House must remember that the systems adopted for the construction of common roads in the two countries were different; and he thought those iron roads should be classed with the common roads. In England if a road were proposed to be made, the expense of going through the House, on account of the enormous fees to be paid, amounted to something between 700l. and 800l.; but in Ireland the expense was trivial. There were turnpike trusts in England that had become bankrupt for nine millions sterling—two millions of that were for Parliamentary expenses—and why endeavour to force upon them in Ireland a system of that kind, which they never had until the introduction of railways? The expenses of a railway, as every Member must admit, were of enormous extent. No Railway Bill passed in that House could go through it under an expense of 20,000l. It was necessary to bring over from Ireland the persons who served the notices, at an expense of seven or eight hundred pounds to each railway, to prove before the Committee what had already been sworn by them to a Judge of assize. It was necessary also that the witnesses should attend before the Standing Orders' Committee; and all the witnesses were brought over, perhaps, from remote parts of Ireland. The Committee on Standing Orders adjourned for a long period, and the parties were obliged to send back their witnesses. They got notice to bring on the case again; and again they brought over their witnesses, and again there was a notice of postponement. If this inquiry took place in a county in Ireland, this thing could not occur, or at least it would not entail such enormous expense. The right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government had announced his intention to bring forward a measure with reference to railways; and he asked was it fair of him to deal in the manner proposed with companies who had complied with every Order of the House, and say they would stop by a new Resolution of the House their proceeding with measures which probably all the original proprietors of the company wished should be proceeded with? He conceived there was no more necessity to bring them to that House for the construction of a railway, than for the construction of a turnpike road; and they were as competent to do the business in the grand jury as that House was. In conclusion, he seconded the Motion.


thought it was very clear that the House was hardly prepared for the discussion which the hon. Gentleman had brought forward. There were so many Motions, so many connected with Ireland of which previous notice had been given, but suddenly withdrawn, that many Gentlemen scarcely expected that a Motion of such consequence would be brought forward. He could not give a stronger proof of what he stated than that the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion scarcely thought it would come on. [Mr. F. FRENCH: I have just returned from Ireland.] That was a stronger proof still. The hon. Gentleman had referred to a Motion not before the House, of which he had given notice that night. His speech was directed to the Motion of which he had given notice for Thursday night. The Motion he then proposed to make was, that the House should not read a Railway Bill a third time unless a certain number of scripholders should give their assent. That was his (Sir R. Peel's) Motion for Thursday night; and the hon. Member (Mr. French), on the Motion of the hon. Member for Limerick, made a speech on that Motion. The hon. Gentleman said that the Irish grand juries were as capable of discussing questions with reference to railways as with reference to common roads. But that was not the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick. He did not propose to give the power to the Irish grand juries. That also showed in what an imperfect state the question was for discussion; but his proposition was that the Speaker should appoint a commission of five persons. It was a great question whether or no they might conduct certain preliminary inquiries by some other tribunal. That was a question equally interesting to every other part of the Empire, for the purpose of saving expense, and Ireland as well as every other part of the Empire would of course receive the benefit of any such saving. He very much doubted whether, in any future Session of Parliament, there might not be much less pressure in this respect than in the present. He thought, however, that the experience of the present Session would prove very important in enabling them to determine the best course to pursue on future occasions. But the hon. Gentleman said there was a debt due by turnpike trusts to the amount of nine millions of money, and that two millions out of the nine millions had been incurred in Parliamentary expenses. If that were so, and if Ireland could save them any reduction in that respect, he trusted that she would not grudge them the amount. If a measure were proposed, containing all due precaution against any improper interfere- ence with property, then they could take it into consideration. It was quite clear that they should not sacrifice or interfere with private property, except on grounds of public policy; but at the same time he thought the hon. Gentleman should not press them to come to any affirmation of a principle after a discussion such as that which had now taken place on this subject. What would the hon. Gentleman propose? Not that a commission of five individuals should have a power to legislate—should have a power to take, for instance, land. Legislation by that House would still be necessary, for it was quite impossible, from all they knew of Irish feeling, that the people of Ireland would submit to allow a commission of five persons, named by the Speaker of that House, to have the power of legislating for them.


explained. He should prefer local administration to the grand jury system. He should wish to see local bodies similar in some respects to grand juries, but dependent on popular control, to have a commission formed by that House on the authority of the Speaker similar to other commissions.


said, the commission would then be confined to making certain preliminary inquiries which might be submitted to engineers or others, perhaps, as well as to that House. He did not wish to offer an opinion adverse to that proposal, as such an arrangement might have the effect of saving the time of the House as well as the public money; but it should be recollected that after the Commissioners had made their report, legislation on the subject would still be reserved for the House of Commons, and therefore the attendance of Irish Members would be required as before. Besides it was quite clear that the parties to whom the report would be unfavourable, would seek to be heard in that House, and that the inquiry would be transferred from the Committee-rooms to the floor of that House, and would take place, according to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman, on the second reading. He thought there must be a general feeling in the House that they were not prepared for a discussion on so serious a matter that night; and he, therefore, thought it would be much more satisfactory that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw the Motion, than that they should be under the necessity of discussing it farther at present. It was impossible that they could assent to the proposition. All that could be discussed on the question was a matter common to Ireland, and other parts of the United Kingdom, namely, whether if this pressure of private business should continue, they might not appoint some tribunal over which the House of Commons would maintain complete control. As he said before, he thought the experience of the present Session would probably throw great light on this subject. He should be sorry to give a direct negative to the proposition at present, and he trusted that other hon. Gentlemen would also feel that they were not now in a position to discuss it in a satisfactory manner.


said, all he wished the House to do was to affirm the principle of the Resolution.


said he should decidedly object to such a course. The question was one of detail, and not of principle.


said, he did not understand his hon. Colleague to propose that the legislation should be transferred to Ireland, but merely that the preliminary inquiries should be conducted in Dublin.


said, he thought the point had been very well explained by the right hon. Baronet opposite, namely, that it was extraordinary they should have been called on to affirm a principle without knowing how it could be carried into effect. Still the opinion was so strong on his part that injury had been done to Ireland by the constant drainage of money, and that a large expenditure was going on in this country that ought to take place in Ireland, that if the hon. Gentleman wished to divide the House he would undoubtedly vote with him. He, however, thought it would be better for the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his Motion for the present, and to bring it before the House on another occasion, when he should be prepared to submit some plan by which the principle would be carried into effect. There was a general feeling existing that Ireland was an ill-governed, neglected, and persecuted country; but it could not be said that the present Government was unfriendly to Ireland, the Irish Members themselves having admitted that no measures had been brought forward more advantageous to their country, than some which had been introduced by Her Majesty's present advisers. He, therefore, thought that, notwithstanding the Coercion Bill being introduced, the Irish Members should not look upon the Government as hostile, more especially as the right hon. Baronet did not seem to be opposed to the principle of the hon. Gentleman's Motion. He thought nothing could be more unsound than the proposition respecting county boards. He need not remind the House of the great improvement which had taken place in the Committees of that House since local influence had been removed from them. He took it for granted that if local boards were selected in Ireland, they would be adopting the very worst principle of the old Committees of Parliament which had been so justly objected to.


said, he agreed with many of the observations which had fallen from the hon. Mover and Seconder of the Resolution, as to the necessity of lessening the expense. He would, however, wish to ask the hon. Mover whether he meant his Motion to apply prospectively or retrospectively? He thought that some facilities might be adopted; but still he should vote against the proposition, as it would be an injustice to English shareholders, who would not have embarked their capital in Irish lines if they had thought they were to be left to the management of local boards.


was of opinion, that the crude and undigested matter brought before the House by the hon. Members, the Mover and Seconder, tended to defeat each other. One had said that the plan was the unanimous voice of Ireland. It might be the unanimous voice of Limerick, but to say that Limerick was Ireland was rather too much. The greatest portion of the capital used in Irish railroads came from English pockets, and he should be sorry to adopt any plan by which the use of that capital should be checked. That the plan suggested might be a bar to the introduction of capital was a serious objection, and one that weighed greatly with him. He was of opinion that the suggestion made by the hon. Member who had seconded the Motion, namely, that a county should decide how fast a railway should traverse its own district, tended fully to destroy the eligibility of the scheme. How could harmony be found in large undertakings, when counties could not agree even about constructing a turnpike road, on which a few hundred pounds were expended? If the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government acceded to the modified suggestions of the hon. Member proposing the Motion, he (Colonel Conolly) might then support the measure, but not in its present shape.


really thought the arguments about the introduction of English capital into Ireland had been long since exploded. English capital had made its way to all parts of the world, and he believed there was as much of it in Ireland as was good for them. The question now, however, was—not whether English capital should be sent to Ireland, but—whether Irish capital was to be wasted in having persons hanging round that House, or dodging in the neighbourhood of Westminster Hall? The great bulk of the capital embarked in Irish railways belonged to Ireland, and the majority of the English subscribers were, he believed, now classed by zoologists as a new denomination of the stag species. All they wanted was, that the preliminary inquiries should take place in Ireland. They should recollect that every Railway Bill that came before them, cost at least 3,000l. in preliminary expenses in bringing over witnesses from Ireland to this country. Although he should have wished the Motion to have been brought forward at an earlier period of the evening, that it might be the more fully discussed, still so convinced was he of its propriety that he trusted his hon. Friend would not withdraw his Motion.


hoped that his hon. Friend would not press his Motion after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet. He should be sorry to vote against his hon. Friend; but he believed that it would be better for the attainment of the object in view to leave it to the Government at present. If towards the end of the Session the Government did not bring forward some measure, then would be the proper time to revive the subject.


said, the hon. Member for Roscommon had alluded to 20,000l. having been expended on an Irish railway. He presumed that he alluded to the Dublin and Galway Railway; and if so, it was not surprising, as they had not complied with the Standing Orders. It was proved that one man had assumed three different names, and signed three signatures. He could only say that the Cork and Bandon Railway did not cost more than between three and four thousand pounds.


hoped the hon. Member who had introduced the Motion, would not be induced to withdraw it. No time could be better than the present for the discussion of Irish affairs. The Irish Members had been told, when asking for a separate Legislature, that they were carried away by delusions; and now, when they brought forward a practical proposition, they were told this was not the proper time for its introduction—that Ireland must wait. But Ireland could not wait—she would not wait—she should not wait.


observed that the proposition as it stood on the Paper, was obviously against the rules and orders of the House, and was one which the House could not sanction, for it went to bind the Committees of the other House as well as this. It was better that the whole subject be left over for consideration until the commencement of the next Session.


said, that this Motion did not interfere with the legislative proceedings, but with the preliminary inquiries. He would not vote against the proposition of his hon. Friend; but he thought that the mode of carrying it out might be well left to the Government.


said, that if the right hon. Baronet would promise to introduce some measure on the subject, to carry out the principle involved in his hon. Friend's proposition, he would recommend him to withdraw his Motion. He thought that such matters connected with private Bills might be left to be dealt with in the localities affected, as the persons in them were best able to consult their own interests. Of course he would leave all measures dealing generally with property to the general Legislature.


begged to substitute "the House" for "both Houses;" and on the Resolution in the amended form,

The House divided. Ayes, 25; Noes, 69: Majority, 44.

List of the AYES.
Blake, M. J. M'Carthy, A.
Bowring, Dr. O'Brien, J.
Bridgeman, H. O'Brien, T.
Browne, R. D. O'Connell, M.
Butler, P. S. O'Connell, J.
Chapman, B. Powell, C.
Collett, J. Power, J.
Crawford, W. S. Rawdon, Col.
Dawson, hon. T. V. Roche, E. B.
Esmonde, Sir T. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Evans, Sir De L. Wakley, T.
Fitzgerald, R. A. TELLERS.
Grattan, H. O'Brien, W. S.
Kelly, J. French, F.
List of the NOES.
Attwood, J. Baring, rt. hon. W. B.
Baillie, Col. Bennet, P.
Barkly, H. Blackburne, J. I.
Bowles, Adm. Kelly, Sir F.
Bramston, T. W. Lindsay, hon. Capt.
Brotherton, J. Lockhart, W.
Bruce, Lord E. M'Neill, D.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Mahon, Visct.
Cardwell, E. Masterman, J.
Carew, W. H. P. Meynell, Capt.
Carnegie, hon. Capt. Moffatt, G.
Clerk, rt. hon. Sir G. Morris, D.
Clive, hon. R. H. Neville, R.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Newdegate, C. N.
Conolly, Col. Newry, Visct.
Corry, rt. hon. H. Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.
Damer, hon. Col. Peel, J.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Rolleston, Col.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Somerset, Lord G.
Escott, B. Somerton, Visct.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Stuart, H.
Flower, Sir J. Tancred, H. W.
Frewen, C. H. Thesiger, Sir F.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Thornely, T.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Trench, Sir F. W.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Tyrell, Sir J. T.
Greene, T. Villiers, Visct.
Hale, R. B. Waddington, H. S.
Hamilton, W. J. Walpole, S. P.
Hamilton, Lord C. Warburton, H.
Hawes, B. Wellesley, Lord C.
Hayes, Sir E. Williams, W.
Herbert, rt. hon. S. Wortley, hon. J. S.
Howard, Sir R. TELLERS.
Jermyn, Earl Young, J.
Jones, Capt. Cripps, T.

House adjourned at half-past Twelve o'clock.