HC Deb 14 July 1871 vol 207 cc1768-88

, in rising— To call the attention of the House to the recommendations of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the condition of the Irish Railways in 1868, and to move for Copy of the Memorial, signed by seventy-eight Peers and ninety Irish Members of Parliament in 1869, in favour of those recommendations; together with Copy of the Memorials and Resolutions praying for the reform of the Irish Railway system adopted at public meetings throughout Ireland, presented to the present Government since their accession to office, said, the time had come when the Irish public must be made aware of the footing on which that question rested, and he would proceed to sketch the history of it. Motions relating to it were brought forward in that House in 1865 by the Post- master General (Mr. Monsell), and in 1866 by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory), and in 1867 the Postmaster General again called the attention of the House to the subject. The first of these debates was remarkable for having elicited from the present Prime Minister, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the following words:— There would probably be no mode in which that boon could be confered so free from all taint of partiality, and at the same time so comprehensive and effective in its application, as some measures taken to secure to her the benefits of cheap railway transit."—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 919.] The right hon. Gentleman, being in Opposition in 1866, evidently had the same thoughts uppermost in his mind, and he thus expressed himself with still more spirit— 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 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."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiv. 1186.] If he had not changed his opinions, why had not the Prime Minister introduced a measure dealing with the railways instead of the Irish Church Act, which injured a large portion of the community and did no good to the rest? Lord Derby's Government issued a Commission in 1867, which had large powers given it by special Act, and in 1868 it made two Reports, one in April, the other in December. In the three succeeding Sessions he (Mr. Gore) had put on the Paper Questions to the Government, which at their request he had postponed, until Ireland had realized the truth of the proverb that "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick." And now they were entirely at a loss to know whether the Government had sufficiently considered the subject, or had come to any conclusion whatever. The composition of the Commission was such as to do credit to those who selected its Members, and to give confidence in its recommendations. In their Reports they stated that in their opinion a saving of £32,000 a-year would be effected by concentrating the management of the Irish railways into one body, and that a saving of £88,000 a-year would be effected by the Government guaranteeing the interests on the debentures and other borrowed capital of the companies. They also recommended that the fares should be lowered, so as to bear some similarity to fares on the Belgian railways. They calculated that in the first eleven years this would entail a loss, and that in the twelfth year there would be a profit of £50,000, and in the thirteenth of £90,000. Now, he might be answered that no two countries could be more dissimilar than Belgium and Ireland, and with this, in a great measure, he concurred; but what was of infinitely more importance than his opinion, was that of the Commissioners, who, in the 16th, 22nd, and 23rd pages of their second Report, showed that they made full allowance for the different peculiarities of the two countries, and it was only after having done so that they arrived at the conclusions which he had already read. In consequence of that second Report, 78 Peers and 90 Irish Members of Parliament presented a Memorial to the Government, praying them to act on the Report of the Commission; but he (Mr. Gore) regretted they had not taken any steps in the matter. There was no doubt that low railway fares would conduce to the prosperity of the country. There were very low fares in Belgium and in Germany, and even in France they were about to lower their rates with a view to increasing their profits. But the fares in Ireland were even higher than on some of the great railways in England, of which he gave several instances. He would warn the Government that there was a strong feeling on that question in Ireland, and when the agitators for home rule said to their dupes—"Here are your own Peers, and Members of Parliament of all parties, expressing by a large majority of each House their wish that a certain subject should be considered, and a measure introduced, and no notice is taken of the appeal;" could they, with truth, say in return that they had done all that they had a right to expect? No! depend upon it, if they did not grant this boon quickly and freely, they would hear of it in a less welcome tone, and anything that they then granted would be attributed to other motives than a wish to benefit Ireland. In England, the London and North-Western receipts were £6,682,000; the Great Northern, £4,160,000; the Great West- ern, £4,161,000; while the whole of the Irish railway traffic amounted to £2,025,000—about equal to the receipts of the Caledonian Railway in Scotland, which were £2,005,000. But while the Caledonian Railway was managed by 11 directors, the 24 railways in Ireland were managed by 430 directors, supplemented by 56 solicitors, and 70 engineers. And now, what was it that was asked for? It was, first, that the railways of Ireland should be purchased by the State with a view to the lowering of rates and fares, and increased accommodation; secondly, than any guarantee given should be an Irish guarantee, so that any loss arising the Imperial Exchequer should not suffer. It was not asked even that which was granted to Canada—namely, an Imperial guarantee; but if any loss should result, Ireland should make it good. But the Imperial credit was wanted to raise the purchase-money—the magic name of "Robert Lowe" was wanted at the back of the Bill, he receiving a bond of indemnity from Ireland to keep himself safe. In his opinion, however, the Government ought not to take the detailed management of the railways directly into their own hands. He would recommend that the scheme of the Royal Commissioners should be adopted gradually, although that would involve a loss at the commencement, because Irish Members would not be justified in involving their constituents at once in liabilities amounting altogether to £525,000. The annual loss would be a gradually diminishing one say for nine years, and there would be an undoubted margin on which to work, made up of the £32,000 a-year saved by concentration of management, and the £88,000 a-year gained by the Government guarantee; making £120,000 a-year, which could be applied in the reduction of rates and fares, beginning with a reduction of 15 per cent, and making further reductions of 5 per cent every five years, until at the end of about 30 years the whole scheme of the Commissioners would be carried into operation. In conclusion, he would say, that whatever course the Government might adopt, he hoped they would bring the railway system in Ireland more into harmony with the wants and means of the people, and begged to move for Copy of the Memorial of which he had given Notice.

Amendment proposed, 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 Copy of the Memorial, signed by seventy-eight Peers and ninety Irish Members of Parliament in 1869, in favour of the recommendations of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the condition of the Irish Railways in 1868, together with Copy of the Memorials and Resolutions praying for the reform of the Irish Railway system adopted at public meetings throughout Ireland, presented to the present Government since their accession to office,"—(Mr. William Ormsby Gore,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that unanimity was a rare occurrence in Ireland, but on that subject of railways lions and lambs had laid themselves down together and with one consentient voice landlord and tenant, farmer and shopkeeper, Whig and Tory, had expressed the most anxious desire for a reform of the railway system in Ireland. On another point Irish public opinion had also expressed itself—namely, that the deficit arising from any measure of reform proposed by the Government and deemed satisfactory by the representatives of Ireland should be defrayed from Irish resources alone. Had English Members been present—and he regretted to see only one English Member in the House—he was sure they would have put their hands instinctively to their pockets. But they need be under no alarm. The Irish Members did not ask for one penny of gratuity—they simply asked the rich and flourishing country to give the aid of her credit to the poor and backward sister country; to do nothing more, in short, than to extend the same assistance to Ireland as to Canada. He wished to re-assure the House thoroughly on that point. He had made inquiries recently at the office of the Public Works Loan Commissioners whether any loss had been sustained by them on account of loans to Irish railways, and he received the satisfactory reply that no loss whatever had been sustained. There were two main objects in view in any reform—the first, increased accommodation; the second, the lowering of freights and fares, especially third-class fares. One of the main objections urged by those who, as Members of the Government, considered it their duty to make the largest possible amount of difficulties was this,—that the railway companies in Ireland had given no sign, nor made any application to be dealt with. But was it likely they would do so? There were 66 railway companies in Ireland and 500 directors, as was mentioned by his hon. Friend the Member for Leitrim (Mr. Ormsby-Gore.) They were a formidable body, and if properly drilled and set up—though he would not envy the lot of the officer who would have to take them in hand, might form a portion of our Reserve forces, and be formidable enough so far as inert resistance went. It was too much to suppose that these men would be very ardent in their desire to give up positions of emolument, patronage, and importance. There was, no doubt, no desire on their part to do so. No less than 23 years had elapsed since an Act of Parliament was passed to enable the three companies, whose lines extend from Dublin to Belfast, to come to terms of amalgamation; but although various meetings had been held for the purpose, nothing had been effected. The directors of these companies were in too many instances petty potentates at variance with each other at different times, striving to injure and impede the traffic of each other—in other words, doing the greatest possible amount of injury to the general interests of the country. They reminded him of the small principalities in former days in Italy, where instead of encouragement being given to travellers every obstacle and annoyance was placed in their path. The state of things was absolutely intolerable. The united receipts of the whole of the 24 working companies in Ireland amounted only to £2,002,500 per annum, and occupied the attention of 500 directors; while one Scotch Company—the Caledonian—with 13 directors, managed receipts amounting to £2,000,500 per annum. Until all personal considerations were eradicated from the human mind they would certainly find no movement on the part of Irish directors in favour of amalgamation, and of their own "happy"—too happy—"despatch." But the Irish representatives, although many of them were directors—himself, among the number—were totally uninfluenced by mere shareholders' considerations. They wished to improve the condition of the country by the amalgama tion of these various and conflicting boards. They wished by concentration of management to effect a saving stated by the Railway Commissioners at £32,000, and which would be available for the reduction of freights and fares, especially, as he said before, of third-class fares, for he did not attach much importance to a reduction in first-class fares, as it would, not be reproductive. Then, if the debenture capital and other borrowed money were placed under a Government guarantee an additional saving of £88,000 would be effected, and all would be applicable to the same purpose of reduction. He did not wish the House to suppose that he ever ran away with the idea that the reduction of freight would be immediately recouped by an immensely increased traffic. He bore in mind that Irish railways traversed in many instances large tracts of thinly-populated country, from which no great increase could be expected. But of this he was convinced—that the lowering of third-class fares would be an immense boon to the agricultural population, which was only now beginning to be educated into railway travelling; and if freights were lowered a large traffic would spring up in the transmission of agricultural produce, which from high rates now lay congested; and, lastly, there was the question of minerals, and he might say to those who were in hopes of local manufactures springing up, that the high freight of coals rendered all such hopes vain in inland districts. They should bear in mind that in Ireland, the poorest part of Her Majesty's dominions, fares were often much higher than in England, and invariably than in Scotland. How could they expect the poorer classes to avail themselves of locomotion in such a state of things? How could they hope for any amendment when the chairman of the greatest system in Ireland—the Great Southern and Western—in his half-yearly address in 1865 or 1866, spoke thus of the issue of third-class return tickets even on market days. He said—"It is no use to issue them, nor is there any traffic of that kind." On the other hand, Mr. Forbes, traffic manager of the Midland line stated, in his evidence, before the Royal Commission, that— They tried the experiment of carrying third-class passengers at a single fare for the double journey, and the result had been that the trains which then ran empty were now crowded every market-day, and he believed if the same system were carried out every day in the week, it would be greatly to the advantage of the country. As regards freights, the same witness said that— The rates of the carriage of agricultural produce was prohibitory in many cases. That in the county of Galway they were selling potatoes at 3d. a stone at no great distance from a railway-station, while the price of potatoes was 7d. a stone in Dublin, but the high freight prevented the Galway owner from forwarding them. And he added— That if the high rates were lowered, an immense traffic with Dublin in grain, potatoes, poultry, and eggs might be expected from the West. But directors could not lower their freights and decrease their dividends even for one year, however fair might be the prospect of eventually recouping the first loss. They had to deal with shareholders not unpatriotic by nature, but whose necessities did not allow them to exercise patriotism at the expense of their families. He would conclude by saying that he had not come forward with any particular plan; although he was of the same opinion as ever that the best course to pursue would be for the State to purchase up the railways. In saying that, he was entirely opposed to the State management of these railways; but after being purchased and got in hand, they might be leased out to two or three companies for certain periods and on conditions favourable to the lowering of freights and fares. He did not go even the length of saying that he was favourable to an immediate and inordinate reduction of fares and freights by placing them on the Belgian level. He wished to proceed safely and quietly—to cut his coat according to his cloth. He had seen the results of the purchase of the telegraphs used as an argument against the Government purchase of Irish railways; but nothing could be more favourable to his views than what had occurred in regard to the telegraphs. The Government had purchased them, and had borrowed the money for the purchase at 3 or 3½ per cent, and it was, he believed, a matter of notoriety that they had obtained a return of 4½ per cent on the capital expended; while the public, who had despatched messages, had gained beween £300,000 and £400,000 in one year—that being the difference between the price charged by the Government and that charged by the telegraphic companies. As to future undertakings, he did not wish to hamper the subject by taking them into consideration. He believed they would be carried out, according as the want of them arose, by private enterprise and local guarantees. He could not admit that there was any weak point in the harness of the Irish Members because they had not proposed a plan. The House knew perfectly well that an unwilling Government would rejoice in having a plan submitted, for nothing was easier or pleasanter to the official mind than to pick holes and to raise up difficulties. What he wanted was that the Government should simply state their own views and introduce their measure, and he was convinced that that measure, if effective to remove the evils of which they complained, would be received with acclamation by both sides of the House. He deeply regretted the long delay that had occurred in dealing with this matter. There was some difficulty in replying to the advocates of home rule when they declared that the first Session of an Irish Parliament would not pass over without legislating for railways, and that other Irish scandal—the condition of the Shannon. He did not wish to press hard on the Government. He recognized with thanks the great measures they had passed for Ireland. He saw all the difficulties which surrounded every attempt at legislation. All he asked was this—that an intimation should now be given that Government would consider this subject during the Recess and introduce a measure next Session, and that the Prime Minister would not forget his notable words only a few years back on this very subject— It was true that the difficult problem of intervention by Government in the case 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 from 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. These words had not been forgotten in Ireland, and the events of the last few years had given the people of Ireland a faith that his professions were in harmony with his intentions, and not more idle words, without significance and meaning.


said, he should support the Motion. The question which it raised was in his opinion one of the utmost importance, and the benefits which would result from its adoption would be two-fold, in that the resources of Ireland would be more directly developed, industry encouraged, and, as a consequence, wealth increased; while another result would be that the hands of the Government would be materially strengthened in the event of any crisis occurring, while in a financial point of view the policy recommended would be remunerative. The present condition of the Irish railways was far from satisfactory. Great loss was inflicted on the country by the jealousies of rival companies, and there was between them an utter want of any sort of co-operation. If the railways were amalgamated under one central authority those evils would be corrected, while there would be a large saving of expense. He found that in 1866 there were 66 lines of railway in Ireland, with 494 directors and 170 other officers, working 1,900 miles of line, the total income being £1,520,000 a-year. Now, on referring to the statistics of the London and North-Western Railway, he found that one board of directors and one staff of officers worked a system of railway which had an income of £5,300,000. It was clear, therefore, that a great saving might be effected by such a system of centralization as was proposed. It was the fact that on some lines in Ireland there was a director for every two miles of railway; and that, he must confess, seemed to him to be a greater number that was absolutely required. Mr. Dargan had estimated that the result of a scheme of centralization under one board would be a saving of one-fifth of the present expenditure, and as to the Government being asked to take up bad speculations, he would only say that the lines in Ireland had, for the most part, been well laid out, and the works properly and cheaply executed. There was not the least doubt that, with proper management, Irish railways would be fairly remunerative.


said, that question had naturally enough excited considerable attention in the minds of Irish Members, and it was quite natural that there should be some impatience and dissatisfaction produced in their minds by the fact that it had not resulted in any satisfactory consequence; but those who complained that the Government had not and did not bring this question to a practical conclusion should remember that with the Irish Church Bill in one Session, with the work of last year, and the Business which the House had undertaken that Session, it would have been impossible, even if it had been thought advisable, for the present Government to attempt to deal with the subject; while, as regarded himself, he would ask hon. Members whether it was possible, looking at the short time he had been in office, for him to have made himself acquainted with a subject so difficult and intricate? It had been said that if the Government had brought forward any well-prepared scheme, it would not have occupied much of the time of the House, and it would have received the unanimous support of the Irish Members, but though, no doubt, there was unanimity enough among Irish Members as long as the question was left in a dubious state, he doubted whether that unanimity would be enlisted in support of any specific and defined method of dealing with the subject, more especially when that scheme involved that dangerous article of contention, an Irish guarantee. Some years ago a Royal Commission appointed to consider the subject of railways and to inquire particularly into the subject of the Irish railways, reported directly against any increased interference on the part of the State with the railways in Great Britain and Ireland. They were told that the Report of the Commission which had been appointed since that date was to the contrary effect, and that was perfectly true; but the Commission referred to was not appointed to report upon the expediency of purchasing railways, but merely as to the time that would elapse before the immediate cost of the reduction of fares would be recovered. That Report placed a great impediment in the way of anything but a great and sweeping change, because it stated that a slight reduction of fares would only result in the throwing away of money, and that a reduction to be of any value would involve a loss of £525,000 a-year. They went on to say that in 11 years time that loss would probably be converted into a gain; but as that calculation was founded upon the experience of Belgium, which was exactly opposite to that of Ireland, he failed to see in what respect it could be regarded as trustworthy. Since that Report was published, a Committee of Peers and Members of that House had been formed to direct the attention of Parliament and the public to this question; but, though they had brought forward no particular scheme, and had contented themselves with urging that something must be done, their action did not, as far as he could see, appear to have been ratified by any considerable section of the Irish people. They were now told that what was proposed could be done without the expenditure of English money, as Ireland was willing to furnish a guarantee from her own resources to the Government, that no loss should be incurred by the acquisition of Irish railways; but even if that were so, it was the duty of a Government, before making such a proposal as that now suggested, to decide whether it would be wise to allow the Irish people to take upon themselves that liability, even if they were willing that it should be imposed—a fact which he very much doubted, as he was not aware of any public meetings that had expressed a decided opinion in favour of an Irish guarantee. But even if the Irish public were willing to incur some liability of this kind, the Government and Parliament could not be insensible to the consideration that that guarantee would assume a different aspect when the benefit would be reaped, and the liability undertaken. It would be a question whether it was wise of the Irish people to undertake that guarantee. It would also be a matter of consideration in the event of Parliament deciding upon taking action in respect to the Irish railways, whether the benefit would be worth the price to be paid for it, and whether the liability should be left entirely upon Ireland, and not to be shared in by the Imperial Parliament. Moreover, he was not aware that any request had been put forward by the railway companies themselves in reference to the interference by the State. The purchase of the telegraphs was instanced as a precedent for the consideration of the Government; but it should be remembered that the telegraph companies were doing a good and an increasing business, and paying good dividends, while the reverse was the case with respect to the Irish railways. There was nothing un- reasonable in the supposition that, if the change advocated were desired by so many Irishmen, some overtures should be made to the Government by the companies themselves. At all events, the present position of affairs was not one likely to lead to a speedy settlement of the question, and he could not see that the Government were in any way open to the reproach of not having acted more speedily in the matter, inasmuch as nothing whatever had as yet been done to conduce to a settlement of the question in the way desired by Irish Members. Gentlemen were urging the Government to buy concerns which were not lucrative, and the railway companies were being told that they might turn moderate investments into good ones. That was not the way in which it was desirable that those matters should proceed. If the Committee wished to produce speedy action, why did they not see whether some effect could be produced on the railway companies themselves? It was not for the Government or Parliament to go cap in hand suing the proprietors of unremunerative speculations to dispose of them; it would be much more natural that they should come to the Government seeking to be relieved from the difficulties in which they found themselves. He was not able to discover any trace of the unanimity which had been alleged. There were two schemes before the country than which nothing could be more unlike; and, probably, when the question had assumed a practical shape, there would be half-a-dozen more schemes. There was, indeed, no unanimity except in the belief that something ought to be done; and, therefore, no harm had been done by delay on the part of the Government. If the Government had rushed forward with enthusiasm to accept the proposals made, the companies would have been more than human if they had not made extravagant demands. They had, however, seen that, although the Government might ultimately think it necessary to do something, they were not extremely anxious to embark in unprofitable undertakings; and so far, if the expectations of the companies had been moderated, good would have been done by delay. He was not going to deny that if the companies would not come to the Government, it might ultimately be the duty of the Government to go to them; but he greatly doubted whether any such plan as that contemplated by the second Report of the Commission ought to be undertaken by the Government. No doubt there was fax too great a sub-division of railway enterprise in Ireland; but was it not possible that that might be reformed without the intervention of the Government? It was possible that the attention of Government and Parliament might be directed in the way of an arrangement to correct the admitted evils of the present system, to the principle of encouraging and effecting amalgamation, without plunging into any wild and extensive scheme such as that proposed. He was not in a position to announce any intention of the Government for next Session; but he could use the interval to make himself acquainted with the details of the question, and to enter into communication with those who took an interest in it, with the view of seeing whether any practical plan could be suggested, or whether there was in Ireland any such unanimous feeling as had been represented, and whether in the opinion of the Irish people they would be justified in taking upon themselves an onerous guarantee. That was all he was in a position to say, and the Government did not believe it would conduce to a speedy settlement of the question if they made a premature disclosure of their intentions.


said, he was disappointed with the reply made on behalf of the Government, and he believed the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not paid much attention to the subject. He (Mr. Downing) had expected the views of the Government would have been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chichester Fortescue), who, he believed, was specially addressed in the speeches that had been made. He could testify from attendance at public meetings to the feeling in Ireland on this question, and he denied that money had been lent to Irish railways which had not been repaid. He never heard a better speech than that of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland in favour of "home rule," for all that the Irish people asked was that they might be permitted to mortgage their own property, and that the State would do for Ireland what it had done for Canada and for India. He main- tained that there could not be better evidence of unanimity than the memorial of Peers and Members of Parliament, and said that the Representatives of the people were obliged to approach the Government, because, as the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. W. H. Gregory) had said, the railway companies never would do so. After all that had been said and done it was really too bad to assert that there was no unanimity of feeling in Ireland, and he would warn the Government, as the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) had done, against the consequences of maintaining the attitude they did.


said, he felt an interest in that question, in consequence of having been a Member of the Commission appointed to consider the subject. The result of the deliberations of that Commission was adverse to Government interference with Irish railways; but, as an English Member of Parliament, he was ready to admit that the question was one in respect to which the greatest deference should be paid to Irish feeling, and if the Government or any private Member of that House were to propose a scheme which would meet with the support of the majority of Irish Members, he should refuse to oppose it, though in his own judgment he might think it objectionable. He did not think that on this subject there was in Ireland that unanimity which the hon. Member for Galway described, and he conceived that there existed insuperable objections to every proposition which had been suggested; but, as there was great evil in leaving the matter open, the Government ought, if they could not think of a scheme which they could honestly propose, to state that circumstance candidly and decisively to Parliament, for at present the expectation that the Government would deal with the matter in some way prevented a reduction of fares and a system of amalgamation from being effected.


said, that the Irish people would hear with regret that the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland could not pledge the Government to bring forward a mature scheme next Session. He must, in contradiction to what the noble Lord had asserted, maintain that the Irish people were unanimously of opinion that the Government should introduce a measure dealing with the subject. With regard to the subject of Belgian fares for railway travelling, although they were only one-half the amount of the Irish ones, yet they were found to be highly remunerative to the State.


said, he had no intention of departing from the tenor of the language he had formerly used, as quoted by the hon. Member for Galway (Sir. W. H. Gregory); and he thought that no greater or safer boon could, at the time when he spoke, have been bestowed on Ireland than by a measure, if such could be devised, for securing to the different classes in that country the immense advantages of easy and cheap communication, but he had been careful to avoid committing himself as to the time or shape or the practicability of adopting a plan of that kind. To desire an object was one thing, and to see one's way to it was another, and there could be no greater mischief than for any persons likely to hold office in that country to give grounds for expectations which there might be no means of fulfilling. At the same time, he must say that to the full he shared in the responsibility of his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland. In the time of the Government of Lord Palmerston, a Railway Commission composed of persons of the greatest weight, authority, and experience was issued, and it was issued with the hope that some measure for the benefit of Ireland in reference to railways would be suggested by the inquiry; but the result was entire disappointment, for the Commission reported very unfavourably to the proposals which were suggested. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) complained that Ireland was treated unequally with Canada and with India in respect to the railway question; but the fact was in regard to Canada the guarantee was given not to a railway company, but to the Legislature of Canada, and expressly on the ground that it was not given as a specimen of future policy, but because that country desired to wind up and close a vicious system. Then, what was the case with regard to India? India had never had an advance or a guarantee of a sixpence; not a sixpence had been advanced to a railway company in England; assistance was refused even to the Holyhead Railway; but there had been inequality, in favour of Ireland, for valuable assistance in the shape of loans had been given to Irish companies; and assistance had been given to Ireland which had been refused to England and Scotland. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Leveson-Gower), who was a stern freetrader, said that if he found there was a practical accord among the Irish Members and people on that subject, and that their demands involved nothing intolerable, he, for one, would waive his own personal disinclination, and would be ready to give his assent to a reasonable measure; and, for himself, he was Irishman enough to hail that declaration. That was approaching the subject in a spirit of equity and justice, and he would go so far as to express a belief that English and Scotch Members while approaching the question with a considerable amount of adverse prepossession on the merits, unaccustomed as they were to such interference, and while justly demanding strong reasons, would, in such a state of things, give their assent to any reasonable measure. When he heard it stated that no measure had been submitted to Parliament on the subject, and that no legislation had been effected, he would ask in what year did they live and in what circumstances did they stand? Was there a man in that Assembly who held that it was competent for the Government to deal with all subjects at any time, to deal with subjects in a manner that was desirable; to examine everything that could be examined; and to come immediately to conclusions as to what was to be done? The real question was, what were the powers of the Government in that House for practical legislation? He held that Ireland had no reason to complain of her share in the legislation of the last three years. During that time Ireland had occupied the attention of that House so exclusively that general legislation was in arrear, while English and Scotch legislation had been reduced almost to absolute stagnation. Therefore they had to consider the capacity of Parliament to dispose of public questions of that kind, for that was a difficult and complicated matter, not to be disposed of by an unopposed measure; and his hon. Friend the Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) had overlooked the main reasons why the Government had made no serious effort to arrive at a definitive judgment upon it—namely, the total impossibility of their doing so in the state of Public Business. If there was one matter which it was the fashion to reproach the Government for more than another, it was the practice of bringing in Bills which they were not able to carry. What benefit would they have confered upon Ireland if they had brought in a Bill upon this subject, novel in its character, complicated in its provisions, and raising many difficulties, without a reasonable prospect of carrying it forward; or could hon. Members be appeased or propitiated if, in the present state of Public Business, Government ventured to fix a time when they would make a proposal? Under existing circumstances, his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland had given Irish Members useful advice. It was important to consider not only what Government and Parliament could do, but how far and in what way parties in Ireland would meet them. Could there be a better way of showing friendliness than pointing out difficulties which in some quarters no attempt had been made to solve? Was it not reasonable to point out the attitude of the companies, keeping up high fares, waiting to be bought out, asking for the prolongation of miserable loans, and making no serious rational endeavour to realize some of those economies which were within their power, and by which £32,000 a-year was to be saved? Why was no advance made on their part? Let the hon. Member for Galway, and other hon. Members who were Irish railway directors, influence their own boards and good might be done. The best position of the question would be that those of the Irish companies which were not flourishing showed a disposition to move. Those Peers and representatives who were bringing pressure to bear upon Parliament would exercise a wise discretion if they endeavoured to bring those who could do so much to assist them into an attitude of greater readiness for the change desired. As to Government keeping the question open, Government had done nothing to open it; but they were ready to approach it when there was an opportunity of dealing with it in a practical way, and they would be exceedingly wrong if, in order to curry favour for the moment, they were to hold out large and vague language about the desirableness of mea- sures of that kind. It was more friendly to Ireland to state at once the difficulties that stood in the way, and to endeavour to turn the attention of the Irish railway directors, and of the representatives of Ireland to the means of overcoming those difficulties, and in justice to his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland, he must say he had shown no symptom of indisposition with respect to dealing with the question. There was no desire on the part of the Government to plead rigid hard abstract principles of non-interference in the case; they desired only to be governed by practical considerations, but those considerations were not of a kind that could be disposed of in a day. With regard to the difficulties attending the settlement of the question, for instance, equitable principles, alternating between a charge upon local rates and the income tax, had been laid down as to a guarantee, but it was not easy to decide upon the form in which those principles were to be applied. If it was suggested that the income tax could be made available for local purposes, it might be said with equal truth that the income tax could be used in the same way in England and Scotland; so that by pursuing this argument they would clog the question of railways with the necessity of solving, as a preliminary, one of the most difficult questions of Imperial or local finance. He did not go quite so far as the hon. Member for Galway, in saying that £525,000 would be nothing to pay, if it contented the people of Ireland; but if the Government could see their way to a useful and practical measure they would not be disposed, and he did not think the majority of the House would be disposed, to drive a hard bargain with Ireland; and at the proper time there would be willingness to deal with that subject upon those terms of equity which the Imperial Parliament had usually been ready to adopt when questions of that class had arisen between the two countries. The real reason why Government, had not dealt with this matter was, that Government had no wish to deal with it until they could see the means of dealing with it effectually. He counselled the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leitrim (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) and those who adhered to his Motion, to endeavour, in the interval before the question could come to a full Parliamentary solution, whether negative or affirmative, to bring the plans and views of the Irish people to a state of maturity, so that it might be comparatively easy, instead of being difficult to deal with the question when brought before Parliament for consideration.


said, he must express his disappointment at the answer of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, which he considered very unsatisfactory. He believed that what had been done by individuals in England laboriously, slowly, and at a great cost in the way of railway reform, might be done quickly and effectually in Ireland with the aid of the Government. The opinion of Ireland, he believed, had been clearly expressed in favour of dealing with that question, though he felt that it would be wise to abstain from advancing any specific proposal until they could do so with some effect. All that they asked was a pledge that between that and the next Session the Government would fairly consider the question, so as to be able to announce whether they thought it definitively desirable to leave the railway management of Ireland to the chaos and contention of individual interests to which it had been decided to leave it in England, or whether it was desirable in Ireland to encourage some other and better system. That proposal did not come from the Irish railway companies, who, as their property was to be purchased at no more than its value, had really no interest in the matter.


observed that the Irish Members did not hope for or expect immediate action on the part of the Government, neither did they wish the adoption of any intermediate scheme; but they had ground for complaint from the fact that hitherto they had always met with official repulse and cold criticism at the hands of the Government, who had shown no disposition to meet them even half-way upon the subject. He believed there was no objection on the part of the Irish community to making the guarantee a mere Irish guarantee. He did not see why Ireland should be treated differently from Canada.


remarked that the arrangement with Canada was entered into with parties who had power over the revenue, and there were no such parties in Ireland.


hoped some plan would be adopted by the Government with a view of satisfying the general desire in Ireland for a reduction of fares and the development of railway traffic. He thought the Government should not undertake the working of the railways, but they should guarantee the interest on the debentures, and have a control over the tariff.


said, it was the wish of all parties that the railway fares in Ireland should be reduced; but no reform could be effected except by the intervention of the Government.


said, the Government were in possession of all the information necessary to make up their minds on this subject, and any course they might think it necessary to pursue must be considered on Imperial grounds. If, however, they interfered at all, they must exercise control over the railways of Ireland, and there must be some security in return for the guarantee they gave.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.