§ MR. TORRENS M'CULLAGH
moved for leave to bring in a Bill, to enable Grand Juries in Ireland to make Presentments in aid of Railways, in certain cases. He felt it was not necessary to trespass, at any length, upon the time of the House, in advocating the introduction of this measure, for, if he had been at all successful in sounding the intentions of hon. Members, there was no probability of the Bill being 373 opposed at this stage. It would be in the recollection of the House, that, at the close of last Session, a numerous deputation received from the noble Lord at the head of the Government an assurance that he had no objection, provided a general opinion should be expressed in favour of such a measure, to raise the question in Parliament of the propriety of giving to Grand Juries a power to make presentments in aid of railways under certain conditions. Acts of Parliament had been obtained for the construction of a great number of short lines of railway, but the rail fever having passed away, there was no likelihood of any of them being made at present; and without stimulus of some kind being given them, it was hard to say if ever they would be completed. A general opinion prevailed in Ireland that the localities and towns which were likely to be benefited by those lines ought to bear the expense of their completion, and that the proper way to effect this was by giving Grand Juries a power to make presentments. He proposed, therefore, to lay before the House a scheme by which this should be permitted, fixing the maximum which should be placed upon any district, or county, or borough, through which the proposed lines were to run; and with a power to levy a rate, to give the company the power to assign that rate to persons who would advance the sum required. He sought by this means to obtain in the market the use of money without resorting to the Government; and he mentioned this, in order that English Gentlemen in that House might not think it was a Bill to obtain money from the Imperial Exchequer. Every Irish Gentleman would have in his mind the system under which the old post roads were completed in Ireland, and he had sought to appropriate in his measure as much of the principle of that plan as was fairly applicable to the present railroad system. He proposed that, before any rate was made, the company should have estimates prepared, which should be certified by the Board of Works to be reasonable and correct; and he did not propose that the Board of Works should have anything more to do with the transaction. When such estimates and certificates were lodged with the town-clerk, or any other official that might be agreed upon, the Grand Jury might present for the whole sum; but, instead of making the county liable for the whole at once, he had adopted the old post- 374 road arrangement, and proposed that payment should be extended over ten years or twenty years, between which periods he would leave the House to decide. In this way he hoped to give a great stimulus to a branch of industry which was closely connected with the prosperity of the country. He did not seek to bind those who assented to the first reading, or the Government, in any way to the details of his measure; and with that understanding he trusted the House would permit the Bill to be printed and submitted to the Grand Juries of Ireland, which would shortly be assembled. When their opinion was taken, he should propose the second reading; it would be time enough then to discuss the details, and if any of them were objected to be would not oppose the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee upstairs. The reason he had taken upon himself to introduce this Bill was, first, because he found the Government had no intention of laying any such measure before Parliament; secondly, because he represented a community particularly interested in the passing of some such law; and, lastly, not being connected in a pecuniary way with any railroad in Ireland, he thought himself quite free to take the course he had adopted.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he did not rise to make any objection to the Motion; on the contrary, he was glad that this measure should be placed before Parliament and the public in Ireland, the principle embodied in the Bill having received so general an assent in the course of last Session. As his hon. Friend had just stated, the principle of the Bill was brought under the attention of the Government at the close of last Session, by a deputation composed of various parties, when his noble Friend at the head of the Government expressed his willingness to agree to such a measure, provided there was a general assent to its principle on the part of the people of Ireland. Since that time the Government had not received any assurance from any of the Grand Juries of Ireland that they were anxious for such a measure. Had they received any such assurance, they were so convinced of the importance of extending the railway system in Ireland, as conferring great benefit on the country, that they would have brought the subject before the House. But they had not hitherto received any such assurance as would induce or justify 375 the Government in bringing such a measure forward. In regard to railway legislation in Ireland, he held that the Government was scarcely justified in proposing any great difference between it and the railway legislation for England, unless there was a clear expression of opinion on the part of Irish Members themselves that that diversity of law was required and justified by the circumstances of the case. Where such an expression of opinion existed, the Government had never shown any disposition to act on it. Last Session he had proposed and carried through the House a measure, represented to be necessary, regulating the power of purchasing land for railways. He certainly should not oppose any plan of extending railways merely because it was different from what was acted on in this country. He, therefore, rejoiced that the measure had been brought forward, and hoped it would be the means of eliciting public opinion in Ireland. He had not had the advantage of seeing the Bill, and therefore he did not wish to commit himself to its details, which would require to be carefully considered, particularly the question of appropriation. He hoped the measure would be fairly considered in Ireland; and should it receive the general assent of those interested in the extension of railway communication in that country—and every Irish proprietor ought to consider himself so interested—he would render every assistance in maturing the measure and promoting its success.
§ COLONEL DUNNE
believed that the feeling of the Irish Members generally was in favour of this Bill, though he, for one, did not wish to commit himself on details. With regard to what the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had said, that no Grand Juries had signified their assent to the principle of the measure, the reason of that was, that no assizes had been held since the question was mooted; but if the second reading was fixed at a reasonable period, the Grand Juries would have met in the interim, and the Government would then have the advantage of knowing their opinions.
§ MR. FITZSTEPHEN FRENCH
gave his hearty assent to the principle of the Bill. It was his belief that the counties would be fully compensated by the returns of the railways. There was a case in this country, of the river Weaver, in Cheshire, the receipts from which went in reduction of the county rates. There was no attempt 376 on the part of the Government to develop the resources of Ireland by means of railways. It was most desirable that there should be a railway communication between Belfast and the west of Ireland. Belfast wanted flax, while his constituents wanted a market for flax, as the difficulties in the way of its transport at present made it not worth the growing. He trusted, therefore, that when the Bill was fairly before them, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would convert his present non-opposition into strenuous support. He believed that sufficient money could be easily raised under the proposed plan to carry it into effect.
§ MR. GROGAN
was glad that the professions of friendship to Ireland, which had been so often made by Her Majesty's Government, and which had been so long barren, were now likely to be productive in the way of not opposing, at least, a Bill that promised to be of the highest utility to that country. If the Grand Juries of Ireland were willing to tax themselves and their fellow ratepayers for the construction of railways, he thought it was not asking too much of Her Majesty's Government that they should support a measure of legislation that was calculated to enable them to do so.
§ Leave given.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. M'Cullagh and Mr. Wyndham Goold.