§ MR. GREGORY said
In bringing forward his notice he was sure the present Government was aware that he had no intention of trying to extort from them any assurances on a subject which they could have hardly fully considered as yet, beyond the assurance that they would, during the recess, give it their fullest attention. The text on which the short sermon which he was about to deliver to the House was derived, emanated from the late Chancellor of the Exchequer at no more distant date than last February. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking on the subject of Irish railways, said—It was true that the difficult problem of intervention by Government in the concerns of railways, was, to a certain extent, limited in Ireland by the circumstances of the case.And he added—No boon could be secured to Ireland so free front all taint, so free from all partiality, so comprehensive and effective in its application, as by some measures taken to secure to Ireland the benefits of cheap transit.With such strong authority as that to support him, with the unanimous and earnest desire of the whole of Ireland that the railways in that country should pass through the heads of the State, he (Mr. Gregory) would venture to lay before the House some portions of the remarkable evidence which had been taken before the Duke of Devonshire's Commission, and which fully sustained the strong language of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the boon that might be conferred on Ireland, and as to the eagerness with which that country looked forward to the action of Government, which alone could deal with such a subject. If any one took the trouble to read the evidence before the Commission, he would remark a strange circumstance in a matter connected with Ireland; and that is a virtual unanimity of opinion both as to the abuses which prevail in the Irish railway system and as to the remedies which should be applied; for, after all, Mr. Haughton, Chairman of the South Western, is the only witness who is enamoured with the present system. He looks upon 1169 men and women and goods to be created to give shareholders the largest dividends with the least possible inconvenience to directors—as for a public, that is an ingredient which he altogether ignores. Forty-three witnesses were examined, the greater number officially conversant with railways and their traffic, either as directors and managers or as large customers. These witnesses testified to the universal dissatisfaction which prevailed throughout the country at the exorbitant rates of fares exacted, superadded to a most remarkable want of accommodation; in short, the minimum of convenience combined with the maximum of extortion. It would appear that the object, the successful object, of the present system was (to employ almost the words of a contemporary writer) to take care—That to as few people as possible, and not to as many, he conceded the privilege of passing from place to place; that such an extravagant charge be laid upon the conveyance of the very necessaries, let alone the conveniences of life, as to enhance exorbitantly their selling price, and put some of the most essential of them permanently out of the reach of the bulk of the population; that the traffic of the country be regulated by a number of distinct co-operations, without any show of concord among themselves, generally with a distinct show of mutual rivalry and antipathy, exhibiting a perplexing variety of fares, charges, bye-laws, and modes of action occupied ceaselessly in hindering each other.Such will appear to be the results of Irish railway mismanagement—mismanagement not in all cases to be attributed to the fault of directors, but to circumstances over which they have no control. Now for the evidence to substantiate this. It came out that in the poorest of the sister kingdoms the fares are often much higher than in England, and invariably higher than in Scotland, as regards passengers. The two great lines of Ireland—the South Western and Midland—exact higher rates than any of the great English lines; but the case is still more remarkable on looking to foreign countries and comparing the tariffs of third-class passengers. We must bear in mind that the produce of third-class traffic is larger, even on Irish railways, which are essentially managed so as to check this source of income, than either of the two other classes:—1863, first-class, £201,000; second-class, £260,000; third-class, £325,000. In Prussia the rate is 3s. 2d. per 100 miles for third-class passengers; in the Rhenish railroads 3s. 10d.; Belgium, 5s.; Great Britain and Ireland, 8s. The result of these charges is this, 1170 a most lamentable impediment in the way of the poorer portion of the Irish public getting into the habits of travelling. It appears, as Mr. Galt shows in his evidence, from the recent Returns of the Board of Trade, that the number of travellers in England and Wales for 1864 was 197,014,661; in Scotland, 20,205,455; and in Ireland, 11,902,049. Taking the population of Ireland at 6,000,000, and that of England and Wales at 20,000,000, we should expect to find three times the amount of passengers, whereas there is twenty times the amount on the part of England and Wales. There ought to be double the amount of railway passengers in Ireland as compared with Scotland, whereas there is double the amount in Scotland. And as for the Continent, Mr. Mulvany's evidence is very striking. He shows how large a proportion of the traffic in foreign railways is derived from third-class passengers. He says—You see the German women coming in with their large baskets of vegetables or fruit a distance of ten or fifteen miles into a market town at a cost of three-eighths of a penny per mile, and they make their marketing before twelve o'clock in the day, and go away in crowds. That is not so in Ireland, except in the neighbourhood of Belfast, where it does partly exist. The third-class passengers in Ireland are charged the same fare as the rich part of the people are charged in Germany, who travel in upholstered second-class carriages, and the anomaly to anyone who frequently visits both countries is so striking as to remove every shadow of doubt as to the impropriety of the rate which exist in Ireland, and the want of accommodation for the poorer classes.In fact, on the Rhine a second-class passenger is carried for 100 miles for 8s. 9d., and as by these carriages persons almost invariably travel who would be first-class passengers in England, it comes out that in England and Ireland a third-class passenger has to pay only 9d. less in his miserable mode of conveyance than a German passenger would have to pay in his comfortable second-class carriage. And now to show the unwillingness of Irish directors to take a single forward step to provide the immense advantage which facilities for travelling give to every country. Mr. Haughton, the Chairman of the Great Southern and Western line, stated that he was opposed to the issuing of third class return tickets, on the ground of fraud. He objects to them even on market days. He says, "It is of no use to issue them, nor is there any traffic of that kind." This is the system on which the greatest Irish railway is managed! 1171 On the other hand, Mr. Forbes, traffic manager of the Midland Great Western, says—They tried the experiment of carrying third-class passengers at a single fare for the double journey, and the result has been that the trains which then ran empty are now crowded every market day; and I believe that if that system was carried out every day in the week it would be greatly to the advantage of the country.Other witnesses, among them Mr. Hemans, the eminent engineer, gave similar evidence, and proved that everything was done to deter people from going third-class rather than to encourage them. Now, to show a little more the spirit which animate directors. At the Great Southern and Western last half-yearly meeting the Chairman thus delivered his views to the shareholders—It is the decided opinion of the directors that if they consulted solely your interest, and not the expectations and gratifications of the public, they would never run an excursion train. The worry, the expense, and the risk attendant on these trains outweigh any problematical profit we derive from them.But the Rev. Mr. Bagot, in a lecture to the Farmers' Club, at Athy, stated that he organized excursions trains in 1865 on that very line, and that for five successive weeks they started from Athy carrying an average of 230 passengers each train. The average from Carlow was 300 per train; from Sallins, 450. Mr. Bagot stated positively that the company netted £500 by these trains; yet in spite of that, we see the hostility of the directors to any such undertaking, or, in short, to anything "giving worry," to employ the words of the Chairman. Then as to goods. Mr. Barrington, Lord Mayor of Dublin, deposed that, owing to the high fares and want of accommodation, it was cheaper for him to send his goods to Liverpool, and thence by sea to Sligo, rather than from Dublin to Sligo direct. Mr. Bagot, another merchant, makes this remarkable statement:—He complains that parties can actually send goods from England, viâ Dublin, or through Dublin, to various towns of Ireland cheaper than they an get them delivered from Dublin to those towns. He adds—We consider that that is most injurious to us, and that it saps and undermines our trade; in fact, we frequently are obliged to send our goods to other ports in England, and have them stored there and re-shipped, in order that they may be delivered to the western parts of Ireland cheaper than we can have them delivered from Dublin.1172 How can any country emerge from its difficulties with such impediments in the way of its internal traffic? Mr. Forbes, a gentleman of great experience, and manager of the Midland line, stated that the rates of the carriage of agricultural produce was prohibitory; that in the county of Galway they were selling potatoes at 3d. a stone within a few miles of a railway station; whereas in Dublin they were selling at 7d. a stone; and that if the high fares were lowered they would establish an immense traffic with Dublin in grain, potatoes, poultry, bacon, and eggs. He calculated that if the rates were reduced to one halfpenny a ton per mile the traffic would be increased ten-fold, but the directors were frightened and would not hear of it. Mr. Meldon, a gentleman, solicitor to two or three lines, and a large proprietor, gives similar testimony. He states that potatoes come up to London from .Cornwall by rail; but, though his property is on the railway, he is unable to send the produce to Dublin. Mr. Cooper shows that not more than one-seventh of the store cattle in Ireland are sent by rail; they travel on foot, owing to the charges. Mr. Pollok (a Scotch gentleman), the largest farmer in Ireland, has actually taken farms between Ballinasloe and Dublin, as ho is obliged to drive his cattle by the road owing to the high charges of the railway; and Sir Percy Nugent, one of our largest gentleman farmers, sent word to the Commission that he, too, was obliged to drive his cattle by road alongside of the rail—the cost of carriage being so great as to deprive him of all profit. Lord Lucan stated that in his parts all the cattle went by roads, and he was convinced that a reduction would bring every one to the rail. The evidence of Mr. Mallett, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in Ireland, and of Professor Sullivan, is also most valuable, showing the extent to which the development of the material resources of Ireland might be carried under a better system, and how prejudicially these resources are affected by the present railway policy. In fact, it is perfectly needless to pursue this subject further. Judgment goes by confession. Even the directors themselves acknowledge the evil. They say, however—and they say with truth—that the shareholders would not submit to temporary loss for a problematic advantage. The loss to them of 1 or 2 per cent would not be at all compensated by the patriotic reflection that 1173 Mr. Barrington was driving a brisk trade in Irish soap, or that Sir Percy Nugent's bullocks were riding instead of being driven to market. It was unnecessary to go further into this branch of the subject. The evidence already alluded to, although an infinitesimal portion of what might be quoted, was sufficient to show that owing to the high rate of freights both passengers and goods traffic was generally impeded, and in some cases actually prohibited. Now, he (Mr. Gregory) came to another grievance connected with the Irish railway system. He meant the want of accommodation to travellers, and the difficulties interposed by the numerous small companies in the way of through journeys. These small companies, generally in difficulties, always jealous of their neighbours, and very often at war were a perfect nuisance. The annoyance, delays, and impediments placed in an unfortunate passenger's way by these wretched little corporations, reminded one of the tales of Italian travellers some seventy years ago, where a stoppage of more or less duration had to be made in the district of every little potentate. Mr. Tinsly, Mayor of Limerick, showed the extreme inconvenience to which the people of Limerick were subjected by the want of unanimity between the Great Southern and Western and the Waterford and Limerick Railways, which commands the exit from, and the ingress into, Limerick. Mr. Ryan showed that it took four days to enable a third-class passenger from Ennis, the capital of the county of Clare, to devote a day to business in Dublin and to return; and on being asked to explain this extraordinary statement, he shows that the passenger has to pass over six different lines. To use his words—Each of those lines is very short, and they have local directories, and they do not hit it off well. They appear not to understand each other, and I have not the slightest doubt that if all those lines of railway were under one central management, the times of the trains could be so adapted to the convenience of the public that it would induce a large amount of additional traffic.This cry from the West is re-echoed from the North. Mr. Macfarlane shows that you cannot go from Omagh to Dublin, and remain long enough to transact a day's business, without being absent three days from home, and yet Omagh is but eighty-six Irish miles from Dublin. If better accommodation were given be was convinced there would be six times the traffic on the line, for the expense was now so 1174 great of being forced to pass two nights in Dublin, that men of business would wait for a fortnight or three weeks to allow commissions to accumulate. Other witnesses deposed to cars being established, say recently running along side of and competing with railways, and others stated that quite as much accommodation was obtainable in the old coaching days. So much for the acknowledged grievances, and now for the remedy. He (Mr. Gregory) already had stated that there was a marvellous unanimity both as regards the evil under which Irish railways were labouring, and as regards the remedy. By that he did not mean that there was no difference of opinion as regards particulars. Judge Longfield proposes that where certain companies reduce their fares, they should be guaranteed against loss by the Government. Judge Longfield considers that the loss would be temporary; but as it might be permanent, and as the loss might fall on the public, he (Mr. Gregory) could not advocate this plan, although backed by such weighty authority as Judge Longfield. Mr. Malcomson's aspirations took a wider flight. He proposed that Government should lend money at 3½ per cent to companies who were unable to borrow at less than 5 or 6 per cent. But, as Mr. Malcomson fails to offer any guarantee, either as to reduction of fares or as to better accommodation, that proposal may be dismissed. All witnesses, however, seemed to agree that the State must interfere, as the only possible means of extricating Irish railways from their present embarrassing condition, and of making them a blessing to the country. In that opinion he (Mr. Gregory) cordially concurred; but he thought there were certain principles to be laid down without which it would be impossible for the State to interfere. If it should be determined to purchase up the Irish railroads, the basis and foundation of the transaction must be this:—1st. That the State shall not lose by the transaction, but, as the purchase has been made for Ireland's benefit, Ireland must be responsible for any temporary deficit which may arise. 2nd. That the railways so purchased shall not be managed by the direct action of the State. These postulates were absolutely necessary, as, no doubt, English and Scotch Members would by no means approve of their constituents being taxed for that from which they would derive no benefit, and Parliament would be naturally unwilling to place in the hands of Ministers 1175 the extensive patronage connected with the railway system of Ireland. Now, it would appear at first sight a bold proposal to advocate the purchase of all the railways in Ireland; but the whole of the Irish railways in mileage but little exceed that of the London and North Western, and as to traffic theirs is about equal to that of the Great Eastern. Compare the smallness of Irish railroads with the greatness of English. The Irish capital is between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000; the English capital, £400,000,000. The gross receipts from Irish, £1,518,000; from England, £30,000,000. The difficulty of dealing with Ireland is but as the levelling of a molehill. According to the generally received calculations it would take about £25,000,000 to buy up all the working railways, together with those being actually constructed. This calculation takes a very liberal view of dealing with the share-holders, and as many of the working lines are entirely unremunerative to the original shareholders, and as many of those in process of construction can hardly be said to be progressing from want of funds, it is very clear that most shareholders would gladly come to terms. Now comes the question, what could be saved by such a transaction, or rather, what would be gained for the public benefit. There have been different calculations made, but be (Mr. Gregory) would take Mr. Galt's as it has been deeply considered, and was thoroughly sifted by the Committee. Mr. Galt divided the Irish railways into three classes. He says there are forty railways in full operation. Of these fourteen pay dividends on original stock, and consequently on preference shares and loans. The second-class are those who pay dividends on preference and guaranteed stock; of those there are thirteen. The third-class, ten in number, pay no dividends either to the original or preferential share-holders. Mr. Galt is of opinion that by offering the holders of preferential shares and debentures in the three classes 3½ per cent Government stock and a bonus of 10 per cent in lieu of their present securities, there would be made a profit on Class 1 of railways which pay dividends to the original and preferential shareholders of no less than £95,000 per annum, out of Class 2 by the same process £34,000 profit would be made, out of Class 3 £11,000, in all £140,000 per annum. Then he looks to £110,000 annual saving from amalgamation, taking a lower esti- 1176 mate than Mr. Dargan—the total annual saving being thereby £250,000 or one-third of the present working expenses of the Irish railways which amount to £750,000. But now to the debtor side of the account. Of course the first object of this operation is the reduction of fares. It has been calculated that a great relief would be given by a reduction on passenger fares to two-thirds of the present tolls that is throwing the chief reduction on third-class passengers, and by a reduction on goods one-half. Nothing less than that would be satisfactory. But this would involve an immediate though not an ultimate loss of about £200,000 per annum on passenger traffic, and of £100,000 on goods traffic. But there remains another item not yet considered; and that is, the payments that would have to be made to holders of railway stock which has absolutely no marketable value at present, and which does not, and will not, in all probability, ever pay the original shareholders one shilling. Still they live in hope, and their shares cannot and ought not to be confiscated. The amount of these shares come to £3,836,000, or £4,000,000 in round numbers. Now, if these shareholders were offered 5s. in the pound for their shares they would be most handsomely treated, and the offer would be received with thankfulness. That would amount to £1,000,000, and would represent an annual sum of £35,000. Now, by this transaction, if the charge on passenger traffic were reduced one-third, and the charge on merchandise one-half, that would be equal to a reduction of Irish taxation to the amount of £1,000,000, and the holders of nonpaying stock would receive one-fourth of their original outlay, which is now apparently worthless. And what would remain to be made up? Here is the balance-sheet—
The loss, therefore, would be under £100,000, and could be provided for by an additional penny in the pound income 1177 tax. But this loss would be no more than temporary. Reduced fares always increase the amount of goods and number of passengers; and if the history of conflicts memorable in railway annals be perused, it will be seen that, even with the most extraordinary lowering of fares, the loss in dividend is but small. One of the most memorable of these battles was that of 1857, between the London and North Western and the Great Northern during the Manchester Exhibition. Excursion tickets were given between London and Manchester; the distance run was 400 miles. The first-class fares were lowered from 60s. to 7s. 6d.; second-class from 40s. to 5s. The loss was only ½ per cent on the dividend. Some years since another contest arose between the Edinburgh and Glasgow and the Caledonian for the Edinburgh and Glasgow traffic. The fares which was 8s., 6s., 4s. for first, second, and third-class passengers were reduced to ls. 9d. and 6d. The battle raged for a year and a half. Yet the Edinburgh and Glasgow paid a dividend less than ordinary of only 1 per cent, the Caledonian of ½ per cent. These were exceptional eases no doubt, but there could not be a difference of opinion but that a lowering of fare would increase the traffic. Take the other side of the question and see how the raising of fares decrease traffic. Mr. Chadwick read a paper at a late social science meeting and showed the effects of railway fares in various cases, of which two may be quoted. In 1858 the receipts per train at ld. fare from Shrewsbury to Upton were £11 15s. 8d. The fare was raised in November, 1859, to 3½d., and the receipts per train fell to £4 4s. 11d. The receipts per train in the same year from Shrewsbury to Walton at 1d. fare were £14 17s. 7d., but they were raised to 6d., and fell to £4 5s. 8d. All the chief witnesses, except Mr. Haughton and Mr. Ennis, agree that the lowering of fares would be only temporary loss. Such were Mr. Dargan's views. Mr. Bidder is asked Question 4,391—
Dr. £ Cr. £ To Loss on Passenger Traffic 200,000 By Profit on Class of Railway 1 95,000 To Loss on Goods 100,000 By Profit on Class 2 34,000 Annual Interest on £1,000,000 at 3½ per cent 35,000 By Profit on Class 3 11,000 By Profit on Amalgamation of Railway roads under One Management 110,000 £335,000 £250,000It has been represented to the Commission that the traffic of the country is a fixed quantity, and that there is really no prospect of any material increase even under the inducements held out by lowering fares—is that your opinion?To that Mr. Bidder gives this remarkable answer—I do not believe in that; on the contrary, I am certain that if the whole of the Irish railways were under one management, traffic would grow 1178 up through the country that nobody has any notion at all of; and if you could quote a rate for the transport of materials and produce according to the fluctuations of the market I am certain that freight would arise, and other sources of income and traffic present themselves of which there is no appearance now.4,392—The same thing might have been said before the days of railways as to the traffic of this country?—Yes; in the Great Eastern district we have increased at the rate of about £80,000 to £100,000 a year in agricultural produce, but the increase was arrested for many years before additional facilities were given and the charges lowered.Lord Clancarty, one of the directors of the Midland line, is so confident of the rise of receipts by the lowering of rates that he offered to guarantee his board from all loss by a reduction of 10 per cent on the charges on passenger traffic. The offer was refused, but Lord Clancarty still remains of opinion that a large increase of traffic might have been expected. Now, of course, it would be very foolish and rash to assert that the loss on such reductions as he (Mr. Gregory) contemplated would be immediately recouped. The habits of a people cannot be changed in a day. They must be, as it has been said, uncrystallized of the freezing restrictions which have hitherto confined them, and this holds particularly good of the third-class passengers, who will be so materially benefited by this operation. It will therefore be necessary to give time, and to look to time, to establish the new system with success. To sum up, he therefore would propose that the State should become the purchasers of the Irish railroads; that they should be intrusted to a paid board appointed by the State, but exercising all its functions and patronage free from Ministerial control; the board should be composed of men of the highest character, experience, and intelligence; it should be appointed for five years; that a large reduction in fares should be made; that the lines in process of construction should be finished and come into the system, and that no new line should be constructed without the approbation of the Commissioners during their term of office. There might be short lines necessary to complete a system, and those might be undertaken, but certainly if Ireland could get her unfinished lines completed, and her finished lines made available for public use, she would have done enough for the next five years. At the expiration of that period the lines might be handed over to three or more companies under 1179 certain stipulations. Now, he (Mr. Gregory) had concluded his observations. He was aware that he had laid himself open to the remark that he might as well have awaited the Report of the Commissioners, but he demurred to that objection. In the first place, the evidence was before them, and the people of Ireland were unanimous in opinion that the evidence amply sustained the views he had expressed. In the second place, he knew not when the Report of the Commissioners might be issued, and it was all essential that this important subject should be considered before the recess; and lastly, but not least of all, the Report of the Commissioners might, and probably would be, influenced by the views of several witnesses who insisted that the loss should be borne by the Imperial Treasury, but all doubt on that point was removed by the proceedings of the great meeting held in Dublin in February last, of which the Commissioners could not take cognizance. At this meeting, attended by most influential persons from all parts of Ireland, it was unanimously resolved that Ireland, and Ireland alone, would be responsible for any loss occasioned by the transaction. He (Mr. Gregory), therefore, sincerely trusted that the Government would favourably consider this proposal. He was confident they would have the valuable assistance of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. It was the boast of Conservative Governments that while their antagonists rested their claims on Irish gratitude, from concessions in abstract politics, they rested their claims on the sedulous desire to improve the material prosperity of the country—to put, in short, pounds and shillings in those pockets where only halfpence had congregated before. It was the laudable desire to improve the country that had endeared Lord Eglinton to men of all classes and creeds and politics in so short a space of time; and he (Mr. Gregory) sincerely trusted that, by the manner with which they would treat this great question, the principles of Lord Eglinton and their success had not been forgotten by those who now directed the Government of Ireland.
§ MR. PIM,
in seconding the Motion, said, he could bear testimony to the strong feeling which existed among the mercantile classes in Dublin with respect to the importance of the proposition brought before the House. There existed such a number of small railway companies in Ireland that he thought the good management of the 1180 lines was, under the circumstances, impracticable, and if these lines were amalgamated, he believed that they would not even then be conducted so well and usefully as under the arrangement proposed by his hon. Friend. A large reduction of fares would without doubt tend to develop the resources of Ireland. If any large numbers of persons in Ireland travelled, it must be at low fares. It was well known that in consequence of the high fares on the Irish railways many persons travelled by the second or third-class who might fairly be expected to go by the first or second. Between Belfast and Dublin there were three railway companies which had not always co-operated very harmoniously. The arrangements for communication between those two important towns was therefore by no means so good as it would be if the three lines were in the hands of one company. The fact that there is only one train in the day by which a third-class passenger could perform the journey must greatly interfere with the number of travellers. There might no doubt be an apparent loss for some time if the Government interfered in the manner proposed, but it would be made up by the increased number of persons travelling, the consequent improvement of trade, and the increased consumption of taxable articles. Ireland had certainly improved within the last ten years; but that improvement was, after all, so slow, as compared with the improvement of England and Scotland within the same period, that she appeared to the casual observer to have gone back. The relative difference between the prosperity of Great Britain and Ireland was much greater at the present moment than at the time of the Union. In such a state of things dissatisfaction and jealousy must naturally arise. It was, therefore, incumbent on the Government to endeavour to raise the condition of Ireland, as far as lay in their power, without injury to any other portion of the Empire, in order to bring it as nearly as possible to the same level with England and Scotland; and in his opinion there was no way in which that improvement was so likely to be effected as by fully and fairly carrying out the proposition which had just been submitted to the House by his hon. Friend the Member for Galway.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words
"there be laid before this House, a Return of all Foreign Railway Tariffs which may be in the possession of the Board of Trade,"—(Mr. Gregory,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. DUTTON
said, he had listened with much attention to the statement of the hon. Member for Galway, and he trusted that the Government would take the matter into their consideration, and be prepared with some scheme next Session which was likely to raise Ireland from the difficulties of the position in which she was now placed. It appeared to him that unless something effectual was soon done many of the Irish railways must stop their traffic altogether. Those difficulties had, he thought, arisen in a great measure from mismanagement. As compared with the English railways that management was very bad indeed. For a poor country like Ireland the passenger fares were undoubtedly too high, and unless they were very greatly reduced it would be impossible to tempt the people to make much use of the railways. With respect to the conveyance of goods, although the farmers in some parts of the country, from the great demand that now existed for their produce, and the high prices they obtained, might be able to pay the charges according to the present scale, those charges were, nevertheless, far too high. If the Government intended to interfere with the management of the Irish railways, he trusted that in doing so they would observe great deliberation and caution. What they wanted was not any increase of Irish railways at present, but that the lines already existing should be developed, put into good order, and their credit re-established. At present the Irish railways had no credit. If those advantages were secured English capitalists would be only too glad to invest their money in Ireland. Considering that the Irish railways had been admirably constructed and at the small cost of about £5,000, £6,000, or £7,000 a mile on an average, there was no reason why they should not pay a good dividend if placed under a proper system of management. But Ireland had not the means to throw open the existing lines. Government might help them without any loss to the State. The scheme pointed out was therefore worthy of consideration. The rate of interest now payable was 5 per 1182 cent; but debenture-holders who were unable to get any return for their money would be glad, on Government security, to leave it for five years, at 3 or 3½ per cent, with the certainty that these debentures would be paid at the end of that period. Unless the Government stepped in mortgages would foreclose and some of the railways would be shut up altogether.
thought that every one who took an interest in Irish affairs must feel very much indebted to the hon. Member for Galway for having brought this important subject under the consideration of the House. All must admit the great evils which exist in respect to the management of Irish railways. The arterial lines in existence are quite sufficient for the main wants of the country. They have been constructed in the best possible manner, on admirable principles, and at no very great cost. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the Irish railway system, as a whole, has failed in a great measure to give that accommodation to the public which the public naturally expect. It appeared to him that the present condition of Irish railways was largely due to the divided state of the management. He believed there were between thirty and thirty-five different railway companies, and that their affairs were arranged by about five-and-twenty different boards. The operation of such a system as that must be patent to everybody, and nearly all the witnesses who were examined before the Commission expressed themselves strongly adverse to this plurality of small boards. Mr. All-port, the manager of the Midland Company, and who was one of the most experienced railway managers in this country, is of opinion that there is no difficulty in amalgamating the present Irish boards of railways to this extent that in a short time the whole might be intrusted to two or three boards at the most. Mr. Cawkwell, the able manager of the London and North-Western Railway, gave a similar opinion; while Mr. Dargan, who, perhaps, knew more about Irish railways than any other man, stated that £200,000 or £250,000 might be saved at once in the working expenses by an amalgamation of the boards; and when it is recollected that the working expenses of the whole of the Irish railways amount to £750,000 a year, and that the dividend paid in 1864 only amounted to £434,000, the House would see what a very large proportion the sum of £200,000 a year bears to the expenditure. 1183 Mr. Dargan, though very much in favour of Government interference to a certain extent, stated, that even supposing the Government were unable to see their way to take such a step, he apprehended no very great difficulty in an amalgamation taking place by the spontaneous action of the companies, and had no doubt that, though not yet quite prepared for such a course, they would be so before long. Now, if at Borne future time whatever Government happened to be in power, might see their way to assist in the establishment of a better state of things, in approaching such a question the difficulty would be very much diminished if they found these undertakings in the hands of fewer bodies than at present existed, and he hoped that during the recess the railway companies would themselves take this view of the matter, and would to some extent agree to an amalgamation of the different boards. Two propositions, he believed, were submitted to the late Government in this matter. The first proposal was that they should put in operation the provisions of the Act of 1844, which was passed at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone), and at once buy up the whole of the railways in Ireland. The other proposal which was afterwards submitted to them was that they should extend assistance to the companies on a very large scale, and that in return for such assistance a great alteration should be made by the railways in the fares both for goods and passenger traffic. He understood, however, that the late Government did not feel themselves in a position to consider either of these schemes, and in coming to that conclusion he certainly thought that they acted with great prudence; for the House would recollect that a Royal Commission, composed of gentlemen of the greatest experience and presided over by the Duke of Devonshire, was at present investigating the subject, and that consequently it was impossible to expect that any Government could come to any decided conclusion on such an important matter until the Commission had made their Report. He did not know what prospect there was of the Commissioners coming to a speedy conclusion of their labours, but he thought the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the Commission should take the Irish case first, was a very wise one, the result having been that a mass of the most valuable 1184 evidence had been collected, so that by the time the Report was presented the matter would be thorougly understood by all interested in it, and the Government would be in possession, not only of the opinion of the Commission, but of that which had been expressed in the most authoritative manner by competent persons. Great difficulties would no doubt present themselves in the consideration of the question. Every one must admit that direct Government interference with such undertakings as these was open to strong objection; still, at the same time, it was possible that a scheme somewhat similar to that enunciated by his hon. Friend (Mr. Gregory) might be found practicable. It was quite clear that such action on the part of the Government and the Legislature was contemplated in 1844, and there was no doubt that many of the objections, and he thought they were almost insuperable, which existed to the Government taking advantage of the provisions of that Act as far as English railways were concerned did not apply to Ireland. The whole railway interest in Ireland was comparatively small; the capital was very limited compared with the enormous amount invested in this country; and the lines, moreover, had been made at such a moderate cost that many financial difficulties which would attend the English question would not arise in dealing with the Irish question. Great objections, nevertheless, existed to such a measure, and he believed no little difficulty would be found in devising a scheme that would be generally acceptable to the public on the one hand and to the proprietors on the other. The House, he was sure, would not expect from him now any definite opinion on the subject, but he could only say that during the recess the Government would be in possession of valuable information on the subject, which would receive its most serious consideration. They were cognizant, however, of the great difficulties in which the question was involved, and if they were not prepared in another Session to deal with it it would not be on account of any indisposition to devote all their energies to its consideration, but because those difficulties had been found to be insuperable.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Galway made a reference to me, I am desirous to say a very few words before the Motion is disposed of. The noble Lord opposite has spoken very fairly on the question before 1185 the House. But I think that on one point he slightly overstated one of the points that bore upon the case—I mean with regard to the intention with which Parliament passed the Act of 1844. The noble Lord said that interference with railways by the State, of the nature of their purchase or a step in that direction, was contemplated in that Act. The fact, however, is that words were inserted in it for the express purpose of preventing any Government at any subsequent period acting upon the assumption that such an intention was entertained at that time. The opinion of the Parliament of 1844 was that it was desirable to take measures for leaving their successors in a condition of perfect freedom to interfere with and acquire property in railways in case such a measure should be thought advisable. As I had myself some of the responsibility for that Act, the noble Lord will excuse me for pointing out the exact conclusion which was then arrived at, the matter having been the subject of much consideration, and, indeed, of contest between the Government and the railway companies of that day. I am also desirous that no exaggerated construction should be put upon some expressions which fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other evening in referring to a measure which had been prepared by the late Government, and which had, he said, been very properly adopted by the present Government. I was apprehensive lest it should be supposed that some considerable advances to the Irish railway companies were contemplated. The measure, however, is really one of moderate scope, for the total sum contemplated to be advanced under any circumstances is within the limit of £500,000, and the Treasury Minute now adopted is only capable of being applied to a considerably smaller sum. The general policy of the Treasury, especially of late years, has been to confine advances at low rates of interest to cases where new undertakings were set on foot, it being obviously proper that the public funds should be applied, not in extricating existing undertakings from pecuniary embarrassment, but rather in stimulating new enterprizes. In this instance there is undoubtedly a deviation from the principle; but it is not one which has taken place for the first time. Similar measures have been adopted before, especially in the case of Ireland, and such measures may be justified. In the very peculiar state of the money mar- 1186 ket of this country, combined with the unsatisfactory condition of the Irish railway system, and always, of course, upon the assumption that no advances should be made except with absolute certainty of the sufficiency of the security, it was thought that we might be justified in taking some steps to prevent severe pressure upon some of the Irish railways. In point of fact I apprehend that, though I do not refer to any railway in particular, there were fears that, unless some such steps were resorted to, the great accommodation which the public derive from the railway system of Ireland, even in its imperfect development, might be suspended by absolute inability on the part of some of those bodies to meet their engagements, and possibly, therefore, by a temporary stoppage of their lines. As regards the question raised by my hon. Friend, it would be premature to pass any opinion upon the main point involved. Considering the fact that a Commission is sitting, considering the manner in which that Commission is composed and the amount of labour they have bestowed upon the inquiry, I think that none of us would be wise in giving any opinion upon the subject without reserving perfect freedom to re-consider the matter when the Report of the Commission shall be published. One conclusion, however, I have certainly come to. I know of no boon that could be conferred upon Ireland so comprehensive in its application, so impartial, so free from the taint or suspicion of ministering to any particular interest or to the views or convenience of any particular class, so far-reaching in its effect upon all classes and conditions of persons without distinction—I know of nothing that would be so universal in its effect as a better development of the railway system of Ireland. We must not be led, through entertaining that conviction, to any premature conclusion as to the measures which should be adopted. The Irish railway system, however, is so free from some of the most complicated considerations which belong to the English system, that we may say that the question has not grown out of our reach. At all events, it is in a state in which it may be carefully and impartially considered. Whether it is desirable, as the noble Lord seemed to think, with a view to consideration by the Government, that the first step should be the amalgamation of the Irish Boards I do not feel altogether sure. But there cannot be the least doubt that whether it 1187 is desirable or not with a view to its consideration by the Government, in the interests of Ireland, it must be most desirable that the weakness, the inconsistency, the want of continuity in arrangement, and the immense waste of resources both in money and material which is inherent to such an extreme division and subdivision of interests should be got rid of. I heartily concur with the noble Lord in his opinion that, quite irrespective of the question whether we shall or shall not find it practicable to resort to any kind of satisfactory interference, the parties connected with the management of the Irish railway interest should, for their own interest and that of the country, seriously consider that most important subject. Beyond these few remarks, I think this is a matter in which—I will not say party opinions, because about that there need be nothing said, but in which abstract ideas and mere theories should be cast aside, and we should look the question fairly in the face, when the proper time arrives, in order that we may deal with it upon practical grounds alone. If, after maturely considering the difficulties of the question and the Report of the Commission, the Government think it is a matter which they can in any way approach with a prospect of conferring real benefit upon Ireland, I can only say that any proposal issuing from them will receive the fairest and most candid consideration from those who sit on this side of the House.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."