§ Order for Second Reading read.
SIR ROWLAND BLENNERHASSETT
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that notwith- 1300 standing the difficulty attending the attempt of any private Member undertaking such a bold step as that he was about to do, yet he thought it better to submit the question to the House in the form of a Bill than by an abstract Resolution, inasmuch as the Bill showed in detail, however imperfectly, how his proposal was to be carried into practical operation. The question had often been asked, how it was that railways in Ireland had not stimulated trade, or induced a spirit of change and progress in the Irish people in anything like the proportion which was seen in other countries? The answer was to be found in the evidence given before the Royal Commission, of which the Duke of Devonshire was Chairman. All that evidence showed that the railway system of Ireland was based on radically unsound principles, and that the working of those principles produced evils greatly aggravated by the special circumstances of the country. Almost all the witnesses examined before that Commission agreed that the fundamental evil of the Irish railway system was want of unity of management. All complained of the indisposition on the part of the directors to amalgamate, and of the rivalries and jealousies that existed on the part of the various companies. No accommodation was given for passenger traffic, and nothing was done to promote the trade, to develope the mining interest, or to facilitate the sale of the agricultural produce of the country. Several witnesses showed in detail the want of accommodation for travellers from one part of Ireland to another. One of them complained of the bad communication between Limerick and Dublin, of the delays upon the road and of the slowness of even the fastest train, which took 5½ hours to travel 130 miles. The hon. Member for Waterford deposed to the difficulty of getting from Waterford to the interior of the country, or even of getting to Dublin, owing to the indisposition of the Great Southern and Western Railway to act in harmony with the other companies. At the time that the hon. Gentleman gave his evidence it took a third-class passenger two days to get from Waterford to Dublin, a distance of 112 miles. Exorbitant fares were charged, especially for third-class passengers, and in July some of the railways in the North of Ireland raised 1301 their fares from 10 to 15 per cent. Mr. Macfarlane, a magistrate for the City of Dublin, said that there was less accommodation between the North and South of Ireland now than formerly when there were coaches both by day and night. Now they had only conveyances by day, and the earliest train from the country did not reach Dublin till 5 in the afternoon. Numerous witnesses showed the difficulty which existed in conveying the agricultural produce of the country to the markets. Mr. Meldon, a landowner in Galway, who farmed largely himself, stated he was unable to send his agricultural produce to the Dublin market owing to the high rates. If the rates were more moderate he could send 3,000 or 4,000 tons of farm produce from Galway to Dublin every year. He grew green crops on a very large scale, as a matter of farming necessity, but he was shut out from realizing the profits incidental to their cultivation, by his enforced exclusion from the Dublin markets. With a moderate rate he could send the whole to Dublin and take manure back by the return trucks. The other farmers of the country would soon follow his example, and a better system of farming would thus be introduced. Mr. Forbes, for 10 years manager to the Midland and Great Western Railway Company, said he knew of potatoes being sold in Galway, within a few miles of a railway station, at 1d. or 2d. a stone, while the price was 7d. in Dublin; and he went on to show how the trade in grain, potatoes, turnips, bacon, poultry, eggs, and other commodities would be developed by a better system of railway management and smaller charges. Similar evidence was given by many other witnesses. It was stated, also, that hardly one-seventh of the cattle, sheep, and horses which were moved from one part of Ireland to another were conveyed by rail. On the Bandon line no cattle were carried at all. In the neighbourhood of Dublin, the great centre of the cattle traffic, all the animals were walked to market. Cattle bought in the towns of Limerick and Clare were driven along the roads to Dublin, and not one-twentieth part of those which went to Ballinasloe Fair were conveyed by rail. As regarded the carriage of goods, the same complaints were made. He would mention an instance which happened only the other day. In March last, Messrs. Butler, 1302 very respectable brewers in Tralee, wished to transmit some ale to the Curragh Camp, a distance of 170 miles. The railway, however, would not carry it under 26s. a-ton. As that charge would materially diminish, if not completely annihilate, their profits, Messrs. Butler were compelled to ship the ale at Tralee, have it conveyed round a dangerous coast to Dublin, then by canal to Naas, and thence by cars to the Curragh. The result is, that the Irish railways gave a bonus to the English as against the Irish trades. Mr. Bagot, a Dublin merchant, told the Royal Commissioners that the merchants of Dublin were frequently obliged to send their goods to England and have them re-shipped there and sent back through Dublin to the Western part of Ireland. Mr. Bewley showed that while the rate for goods from Liver-to Castlebar through Dublin was 20s. a ton, the Dublin merchant was charged over the same line 27s. 6d. a ton. So that the English merchant sent his goods to Dublin free, and, having got them there, sent them on to Castlebar for 7s. 6d. a ton less than the Dublin merchant could send his goods for over the same line. The hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Pim) also testified to the fact that sugar, tea, and Manchester goods were carried from Liverpool to Limerick at a lower rate than from Dublin to Limerick. What defence could be set up for such a system as this? Professor Sullivan and Mr. Mallett, President of the Irish Society of Engineers, gave evidence as to the injury done to the mining interest of Ireland by the present system of railway management. A great many mines were scattered through Ireland, yielding produce of only a low value, such as sulphur, iron, and tin ores. Professor Sullivan exemplified the rates which were charged for these products, by stating that the expense of carriage of the sulphur ore of the Wicklow Mining Company from the mine to Kingstown was more than 25 per cent of the total value of the product. The same company found iron ore and worked it extensively. The charge for the carriage of iron ore was 56 per cent on its actual value. Independent of the valuable ores, the smaller ore could not be sent at all, as the carriage of it would be 92 per cent on actual value. The influence of the cost of charge on the zinc mines near Nenah was still more important. Professor Sullivan was of 1303 opinion that if the charges was reduced to the extent of one-half the present rates, the quantity of ore sent away from those mines would be three times what it now was. An attempt was made to export sulphur ore from Tipperary, but the attempt had to be given up owing to the railway charges. He thought this was the more to be regretted when they recollected that sulphur ore was brought in vast quantities from Guernsey to Newcastle, and one did not see why it should not pay to bring it from Ireland. In Leitrim, and Limerick also, there were mines which it would pay to work, if the mineral contained in them could be brought to the sea coast at a moderate cost. Again, there would be, no doubt, a vast increase in mining industry in Ireland, if coal could be distributed at a lower price than it was now. For instance, some of the very finest porcelain clays existed in Ireland, and from these earthenware might be made. But Mr. Mallett showed that by proper arrangement and low freights along the lines of railway, coal could be supplied to over three-fifths of Ireland, and to 2,000,000 of its inhabitants at a considerably reduced price. Cheap transit would also permit the working of marble quarries in Kilkenny and Galway, and the slate quarries of Kerry. Mr. Brady, the Fishery Commissioner, stated that the railways had not given those facilities which would induce the fishermen to follow their calling with diligence. He showed that there was more difficulty in sending small parcels from place to place than there was before the introduction of railways into the country, and he pointed out that the difficulty which the fishermen experienced in sending small parcels of fish to the leading centres was one of the chief causes of the almost utter ruin of their industry. Thus every industry and trade in Ireland was choked and paralyzed by the enormous tax imposed for carriage by rail. The consumer paid far more than he should pay above the cost of production and of manufacture, and these charges operated as direct taxes on consumption and as indirect taxes on production. These taxes fell upon everyone, and if they could be got rid altogether, humanity would be relieved of a burden compared to which all the imposts of the Government were "trifles fight as air," added to which they were aggravated by the 1304 high cost of transport. In Ireland, all those who had given their attention to this subject were agreed in thinking that there was but one way in which the tax of transport in that country could be effectually reduced, and that was by the purchase of railways by the State. This opinion was based upon the savings which would be effected by a better system of management and by the savings which would be effected by amalgamation. According to the Report of the Royal Commission, there were in Ireland 56 lines of railway authorized by Act of Parliament. Their average was 48 miles long. Most of these lines had a separate board of directors, separate engineers, solicitors, and secretaries. There were 430 directors, 56 solicitors, 56 secretaries, and upwards of 70 engineers, who absorbed a large portion of the receipts of the lines. He would give a few instances of the proportion per cent of expenditure on some of the lines. The Irish North-Western line was 195 miles long. Its total receipts were £125,981; net receipts, £48,903; working expenses, £77,078; so that the proportion of expenditure to total receipts was 61 per cent. On the Londonderry and Lough Swilly line the working expenditure amounted to 75 per cent on the total receipts. On the Athenry and Ennis Junction the proportion was 79 per cent; on the West Cork it was 80 per cent; and on the Belfast, Holywood, and Bangor it was 90 per cent. By amalgamation and better management Mr. Forbes reckoned that a saving of £120,000 a-year might be effected in the total working expenditure. The Commissioners estimated the saving at £30,000. There were 1,975 miles of railway in Ireland, with net receipts amounting to £1,043,785. In England the value would be 19 or 20 years' purchase. Taking the value at 22 years' purchase—an extravagant estimate—the Irish railways would, therefore, be worth £22,963,270. Of course, if the State were the purchaser, the railways would not be bought so cheap as if they were bought in the market, but the highest estimate ever made of the Irish railways was £27,000,000. To that, probably, should be added £2,000,000 more to provide for re-stocking the lines and repairing those lines which had fallen into bad condition. There could not, however, be the slightest 1305 doubt that the whole thing could be done for £30,000,000, the interest of which, at ¾ per cent, would be £975,000, and if that sum were substracted from £1,043,785, the net income of Irish railways, there would be a surplus of £68,785, and adding to that the smallest possible estimate of the savings arising from unity of management, the State would have in hand some £100,000 at least with which to begin to reduce the fares. He would add, in reply to those who contended that Government management must be more expensive than company management, that although in the spending Departments of the State, such as the Dockyards, there was a tendency to extravagance, the tendency in the Revenue-making Departments was rather towards stinginess. Nobody could say that the business of the Post Office and of the Telegraphs was managed in an exceptionally expensive manner; and on the Continent of Europe, where about 8,000 miles of railway were in the hands of the Government, it was almost invariably found that State was cheaper than company management. There the average working expenses of the State railways were 16,220f. per kilometre, and of the company's lines 16,727f. In Prussia, in 1866, there were 4,538 kilometres of railway worked by the State and 4,678 by companies, the gross receipts of the former being 171,555,357f., and of the latter, 148,765,132f., or 15,817f. and 15,007f. respectively per kilometre, the net profits per kilometre being, in the case of the State, 18,869f., and in that of the companies, 18,444f. He might add that it was becoming more and more every day recognized, both in Europe and America, that it was not sound policy to allow the roads of a country to pass into the hands of irresponsible persons, and he had heard only yesterday that a Committee of Congress was sitting in the United States to consider the question of buying up the railways of the Republic. A Committee of the House of Commons, moreover, which sat in 1846, said that the roads of the country were from the very nature of things public concerns, and were as necessary to the people as the air they breathed. If that were so, it furnished a powerful reason why railways should be managed by an authority responsible to the public. If it was said that his argument applied to Eng- 1306 land as well as to Ireland, his answer was that in England railway property amounted to £500,000,000, while in Ireland the amount to be grappled with amounted to only £30,000,000. He, at all events, ventured to assert with confidence that it would be absolutely impossible to continue for any length of time the system at present existing in Ireland. Public authority would, sooner or later, have to take up the Irish railways, and the longer that step was deferred the greater would be the ultimate difficulty and expense attending it, for five years ago the whole of the railway property in Ireland could have been bought for £5,000,000 less than it could be purchased for now, and he thought that rate of increase would at least be maintained. Some respect, also, he contended, should be paid to Irish opinion. In 1869, 72 Irish Peers and 90 Irish Members of that House signed a declaration, in which they called upon the Government to take some effective measures to reform the Irish railways, and since then resolutions had been carried at meetings of the most influential public bodies in Ireland in favour of the purchase of those railways by the Government; it being, generally speaking, declared by those bodies that any loss which the Imperial Exchequer might sustain by the purchase should be made good by a separate tax on Irish resources. He wished it, then, to be clearly understood that he was not willing that the English and Scotch taxpayer should run the risk of ever having to pay a farthing for the purchase. He should never be a party to asking for anything merely to assist a declining locality, or bolster up a decaying trade, and all he asked was that a comprehensive boon should be conferred for the highest purposes of national welfare, and that as the Queen's highway of other days was under public authority, so the Government of the country should acquire, take into their own hands, and manage the great iron highway of modern civilization. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Rowland Blennerhassett.)1307
, in rising to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, the hon. Gentleman had quoted the Report of the Commission of 1867, when all railway property was at a very low ebb, which consequently was not entirely applicable at the present time; but he (Mr. Goldsmid) agreed that the hon. Baronet had very clearly pointed out that the management of Irish railways was not all that could be desired. But, even admitting that to be the case, it furnished no good reason why the State should step in to buy those railways. All it tended to prove was that there ought to be a better system of regulation and control, and that the Irish shareholders should, as the English had done, step in and tell their directors that they would not allow their resources to be squandered. The result might be that, as in England, companies which did not pay 1d. might come to realize a considerable income. As to the public advantage being involved in the matter, the State was interested in railways just in the same way as in any other means of conveyance; and if the public railways were to be bought up as proposed, why should not the same principle be applied to the purchase of steamboats, tramways, canals—aye, even omnibuses, and all other means of conveyance? The list of complaints made by the hon. Member proved that the railways were badly managed; but when, he went further and said that the boards of management acted on unsound principles, as they were opposed to amalgamation, he would remind him that it had become a very serious question in this country whether it was desirable that the great lines should be amalgamated. A Committee had been appointed to determine the question; at present no decision had yet been come to; and yet it was now proposed, in another case, that a general system of amalgamation should be established, the difference being not only that of the country concerned, but also that it was to be at the cost of the State. If the accommodation afforded by the Irish companies was not, as the hon. Gentleman alleged, sufficient, he thought the result of experience would be to show them that the greater the facilities they gave for traffic the larger would be their receipts. That conclusion had been forced 1308 on the English companies, and the Irish were now, he believed, going through the same process. He would further observe that if fares had been raised recently in Ireland, of which the hon. Baronet complained, it might have been found necessary in consequence of the great rise in the price of coal, iron, and labour, and it was more than probable that if the Irish railways were in the hands of the Government, they, too, would have been obliged to raise the fares. As to coal mines not being worked because of the high fares, he would merely say that there were, no doubt, many small seams of coal in England which, if the rate of carriage was lower, might be worked at a profit; but that kind of argument was hardly one, he thought, which would have much weight with the House of Commons, as it obviously introduced considerations entirely foreign to the question. The hon. Gentleman had referred to France; but there the state of things was entirely different. When railways were first established in that country a central State Department decided what lines should be made from Paris, and those lines were let to various companies on lease; and as the hon. Gentleman ought to know, there was considerable complaint with regard to the management of railways in that country, and the accommodation and facilities for railway travelling furnished in France were much more limited than in England. He submitted to the House that this country was not prepared for the system which the hon. Gentleman proposed to establish—a system involving such a gigantic State monopoly. It had been stated that England would not suffer from the purchase of the Irish railways, because Ireland would give a guarantee against any loss. But when attempts were being made to amalgamate more and more the interests of the three countries, he thought that Irish Members ought not to come down with a proposition for placing Ireland in a different position from other parts of the kingdom, nor did he exactly apprehend what was meant by such a guarantee, or how it could be enforced. It was obvious that if the State bought the Irish railways it would be urged, and the next step would be, that it would be obliged to buy the English and Scotch railways. And consequently the Bill of 1309 the hon. Baronet raised the question whether it was desirable to create a great State Department to take the management of railways in England, Scotland, and Ireland. What amounts would it involve? The value of the English railways was about £600,000,000, and the purchase of them would add that sum to our National Debt of £800,000,000—making £1,400,000,000—giving this country the distinction of having the largest National Debt of any nation in the world, and greatly imperilling her position in case of war. Moreover, the carrying into effect of such a proposition would completely neutralize the endeavours which, he was happy to say, had been made of late years to reduce the amount of the National Debt. See, then, what a terrible national risk would at once be incurred. Besides that, there would be the immense difficulty of management—a difficulty not small with respect to the Civil Service and other great public Departments; but which in comparison would sink into insignificance; for remember what a vast number of servants they would have to employ in working the great railway system of the three kingdoms. Again, owing to the influence which would be brought to bear by that vast number of employés on the Members of that House, a system of political jobbery would be revived which no Government would find it easy to resist; and that, too, in the face of the creditable fact that they had endeavoured to do away with it in the case of the Civil Service by throwing its appointments open to all who chose to compete. He might also remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the great causes which had led to the disasters which had befallen France within the last few years was over-centralization, for municipal government was a nonentity in that country. He should be very sorry, therefore, to see anything done which would have a tendency to impair local self-government in England; and certainly the creation of another great State Department would have that result. As to the value of the argument that a number of Irish Peers and Members of the House of Commons had been induced to sign a memorial in favour of the purchase of the Irish railways by the Government—with which the hon. Member had concluded his statement—he (Mr. Goldsmid) attached but very 1310 little weight to it indeed, for they would naturally do so at the suggestion of any considerable number of shareholders in the various companies who happened to be constituents, or even neighbours, and it did not at all follow that it would be for the interest of the country at large that the hon. Gentleman's proposal should be adopted. Irish Members constantly came down to that House and complained that Ireland was treated unfairly, but they should bear in mind that the unfairness of which they complained simply consisted very often in the fact that some extraordinary and unusual proposal made by them, and not in accordance with the custom of the three countries, was resisted with energy by English and Scotch Members. Such complaints, he was afraid, would only tend to foster that discontent in Ireland of which the House had heard so much; and he thought it would be more desirable if, instead of making such proposals, hon. Members from Ireland would endeavour to instil into the minds of their constituents the fact that Parliament laboured to do what it could do for the benefit of the three kingdoms without distinction. As to the railway grievance, it was one which, in his opinion, could be best remedied by the directors and shareholders of the several companies, and he hoped the Government would state plainly that they took this view of the question. The Bill of the hon. Gentleman seemed to him to be a most extraordinary measure. In its Preamble it was set forth that it "would be advantageous to merchants and traders"—at least an unusual form of words in an Act of Parliament, and one in this case involving much doubt. Then in the money clauses of the Bill it was provided that it should be lawful for the Board of Trade to do certain things—"to purchase the whole or such parts as it might think fit" of the railways; so that it was evidently intended not to purchase them all at the same time, and the fatal consequence would be that the Government would be brought into competition with private companies. He also thought Clause 21, which would relieve the companies from all the costs of the negotiations for the sale of their property in the event of Parliament showing any unwillingness to purchase, a most extraordinary proposal. In fact, the proposal for the purchase of the Irish railways 1311 was one of so much importance—it dealt so largely with public funds, it involved questions of principle of such great importance as deeply affecting all three countries, that it should not have been initiated without the approval of the Government; aye, it should not have introduced by a private Member, but only by and on the responsibility of the Government of the United Kingdom. He therefore trusted that the Government would state clearly what they intended to do, and that they would not express any approval of a proposal which would only be the commencement of a new and dangerous policy. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
§ SIR THOMAS BAZLEY
seconded the Amendment. He said that the hon. Member for Galway (Sir Rowland Blen-nerhassett) had very clearly stated the evils in the Irish railway system which required to be dealt with; but the question was, whether the remedy proposed was the soundest which could be suggested. Would it not be better, when the interests of the public and the railway proprietors were not fully developed, that the Board of Trade should revise the railway system both in England and Ireland, and make such Amendments as might be deemed necessary with regard to a complete Government inspection and control over the whole system? He agreed with the hon. Member for Rochester that it would not be wise to introduce a new precedent in the government of this country, which would entail immense labour on the public authorities; and the present was not the time to establish the proposed principle in any portion of the United Kingdom. There existed great commercial and agricultural resources in Ireland, and he believed that that part of the United Kingdom had a great future before it, and was capable of managing its railways.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. Goldsmid.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
said, he did not think it necessary to follow the hon. Member for Rochester 1312 (Mr. Goldsmid) through all the arguments he had brought forward on the abstract question, as to whether it was desirable for the State to interfere and become the owner of all the railways in England, Ireland, and Scotland, for the question whether the State should make such an enormous purchase was not now under discussion. It was no doubt true that some of the arguments which applied in favour of the purchase of Irish railways, would apply also to the purchase of English and Scotch railways; but there were other considerations in the case of Ireland which did not apply to England and Scotland; and he thought that the House would be more disposed to consider the question in a practical point of view, than to be led away by abstract arguments. When the purchase of the telegraphs was under consideration, it might have been said that the same arguments used in favour of that transaction would apply to the purchase of railways and other works by the State; but did anyone suppose that the House would have thereby been induced to go on to the purchase of the railways? There were very many circumstances in the position of the Irish railways entirely different from the case of railways in England. If they were all in the hands of the Government they would not be a much greater concern to manage than some of the English railways, such as the North Western Railway, which was managed by a small body of directors. It was, however, universally admitted that there was very little to be desired in the way of improvement in the English railways, which gave, probably, more accommodation to the public than they would if they were in the hands of the Government; but, as regards Irish railways, it was likewise admitted that they left a great deal to be desired in point of accommodation to the public, and that their management was in many respects defective both as regards the interests of the shareholders and the public. Consequently when the House came to discuss the matter in a practical point of view, it would not be led away by any such general considerations as the hon. Member for Rochester had adduced. Looking, then, at the question as a practical question affecting Ireland, he must admit that Ireland had some ground of complaint, in his opinion, against the 1313 English Government and the Parliament in this matter—not because nothing had as yet been done for the purchase of the Irish railways, but because the question had not yet been thoroughly discussed in that House, whether it would be to the advantage of Ireland that its railways should become the property of the Government. It might be, as in the case of England, so in Ireland, that the management of the railways should be undertaken by private enterprize rather than placed in the hands of the public. That was a question open to any hon. Member to discuss; but it certainly had not been frequently discussed or ever decided in that House. But the real ground of complaint which he thought Ireland had, was that this subject had been waiting for consideration during seven years, and had not received any proper consideration from the House. It had been urged—and he thought that there was something, though not much, in the statement—that Ireland at present did not enjoy the advantages of management by the central Government, and was at the same time debarred to a certain extent from the benefits of the system of management by private enterprize; for while the question remained under consideration and in doubt as to whether the Irish railways should become the property of the State, their management by private enterprize must to a certain extent be paralyzed. He therefore admitted that it was desirable that this matter should be brought to a practical issue as soon as possible. He would confess that the complaint of Ireland on this point might furnish some ground, perhaps, the best, to the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) and those who agreed with him for advocating Home Rule; for, though he entertained as strong objections as anyone to what were called Home Rule principles and arguments, he had never denied that an argument in favour of the demand for Home Rule was furnished by the very small amount of time which during the last two Sessions of Parliament had been devoted to practical questions affecting the interests of Ireland. He would go further, and say that unless the House was prepared in future Sessions to devote more time to practical business concerning Ireland, instead of to the discussion of every ima- 1314 ginable subject that could be brought before the House, the arguments in favour of Home Rule would, in his opinion, acquire more force. It was not, however, his intention to enter into a discussion of the question of Home Rule; but he must say that if the subject before the House was to be considered in reasonable time, it must be considered by Parliament, and not by the Government alone. If, however, the Government had been prepared to announce any policy on the question, Parliament had not, during the last two Sessions, had any time for the discussion of so important a matter, which had been described to be of the greatest possible importance as affecting the prosperity of Ireland, and on which a great difference of opinion prevailed. What he had stated would show that it would be the object of the Government to enable the House to come to some practical issue on this question. He hoped that this would be the case in the next Session, but he was not able positively to pledge the Government to deal with it at that precise time. All he could say was, that this must take its place among the other great questions waiting for consideration; and the Government would not think that they would be doing their duty if they brought it on without the prospect of being able to carry it to a satisfactory conclusion. One point mentioned by the hon. Member for Galway (Sir Rowland Blennerhassett) was a guarantee to be given by Ireland to the Imperial Government against any loss by the purchase of the railways. Regarding that, though much had been said in Ireland on the subject of a guarantee, he had never heard anything to convince him that there was any practical unanimity in reference to it. Some public meeting and some grand juries had expressed their readiness to agree to the guarantee; but the proposal had never taken anything like a definite shape, and he did not think that many of the details on which the guarantee was to be given had at all been unanimously accepted. One difficulty in the way of that proposal was, that the different parts of Ireland were not at all similar, and it might be that railway companies in one part of Ireland would be willing to guarantee the Government against loss, while others in another part would not be disposed so to act; and with that 1315 view, the Government had considered with some care whether any division of districts might be effected, and the ratepayers of those districts empowered to purchase for the public the railways in their districts, guaranteeing the State against loss. Though the plan might not be impracticable, he feared that there would be great difficulties in the way of carrying it out, and that the desired object would not, consequently, be attained. The subject of a guarantee, however, did not necessarily arise on this question, but what brought up the idea of a guarantee was the Report of the Treasury Commission, which suggested very large reductions in the rate of fares. But it appeared to him to be a sounder principle that Ireland, instead of expecting such immediate and sweeping reductions, should look to the advantage resulting from concentrated management and that diminution of fares which a liberal system of management might enable the Government to effect; and then there would not be any reason why the question of a guarantee should arise, for he admitted that it would be possible for the Government to acquire the railways on terms which would not lead to any immediate or prospective loss. The next point for consideration was, if the Government or Parliament ever decided that the Irish railways should be acquired by the State, how was the acquisition to be effected? If any advantage was to be derived from the purchase of the railways by the Government, they must be acquired at a price to render the transaction remunerative to the Government; for any reduction of fares must depend on the profits over the working expenses. Was it possible, then, for the State to obtain the railways at a remunerative price? He was sorry to say that he had some reason to suppose that the directors and shareholders of Irish railways were looking to this operation as a means of giving them a very large bonus on their property. That opinion was founded upon the fact that Captain Tyler went by the direction of the President of the Board of Trade to Ireland, to make an investigation as to the working of the Irish railways, and he made some inquiry of railway directors on his own account. He did not mean to say that Captain Tyler did anything contrary to his instructions; but he inquired 1316 as to the probable price the directors would ask for the disposal of certain lines, and the immediate effect was that the railway world came to the conclusion that the Government would buy their railways. The result was an instantaneous rise in the price of railway property, to the extent of at least 7 or 8 per cent, and that showed that Irish railway shareholders looked to receiving a considerable additional value for their shares in consequence of the purchase of the railways by the Government. He did not say that it was possible for the Government to obtain the railways for the actual value at which they now stood in the market; but if they were to be acquired by the Government at all, they must be acquired at no very large addition to their market value at the moment of operation. The Act of 1844, which gave powers to the Government to purchase railways, would not apply in this case, for that Act authorized the Government to buy at 25 years' purchase of the divisional profits when they reached over 10 per cent, and there was not any railway in Ireland dividing 10 per cent. That Act also enabled the Government to purchase railways by arbitration, and the Bill of the hon. Member for Galway would do no more, for it simply provided that the Government should announce their intention to buy the railways. Experience, however, did not give the Government any great hopes that arbitration would place the railways in the hands of the Government at a price commercially remunerative. For instance, the telegraphs had to be purchased on the terms fixed by the Act of Parliament, or by arbitration; and though arbitration gave to the shareholders much smaller sums than they asked, yet the House was aware that the Government had to pay very large sums in pursuance of arbitration. It therefore appeared to him that no scheme which provided that the buying price should be settled by arbitration would give security to the country that the purchase would be effected on reasonable terms, and that the only practical course for the Government to pursue was to deal with the railway shareholders of all classes for the sale of their property. Then, again, the Act of 1844, as well as the present Bill, only enabled the Government to deal with one class—namely, the ordinary shareholders, who would, 1317 no doubt, be ready to sell their property; but the Government, if they purchased it, would be liable to all the claims arising out of preference shares and debentures. Now, if the Government determined to buy the ordinary stock, the value of the debentures and preference shares would rise enormously, for it would be left on the hands of the Government, bearing a high rate of interest, and yet with a perfect security. It was therefore necessary, in order that the Government might be able to buy not only the ordinary shares, but also the preference shares and debentures, at their worth in the market, that negotiations should be entered into with the railway companies for the purpose of obtaining a clear statement of the terms they demanded, and then the first preliminary step would be the passing of an Act of Parliament to enable the preference shareholders and the debenture holders to act in something like a corporate capacity, so that the decision of the majority should bind the minority. It therefore appeared to him that those who took an interest in the matter would best facilitate the attainment of their object by impressing this view on the owners of Irish railway property, and by convincing them that upon the moderation of their demands must depend the question whether the acquisition of the Irish railways by the State could ever be entertained or not. He wished emphatically to state that the Government were not able to lay any scheme on the Table of the House; for until they had made up their minds on the matter, they never would venture, under any circumstances, to go into the operation blindfold, and it would entirely depend on the terms asked by the railway companies whether any definite proposal should be made to Parliament. With respect to the Bill which had been submitted to the House, he thought that there was much in the objection of the hon. Member for Rochester, that it was unusual for a Bill dealing so largely with public funds to be introduced by a private Member, and he believed that there were certain clauses in it which could not be introduced without the consent of the Government, and he was not aware that that consent had been obtained. He supposed, however, that his hon. Friend had no intention of pressing the Bill to a division, and if his object were merely to obtain a full 1318 discussion of the question, the hon. Member deserved the thanks of the House. He therefore trusted that neither the Motion nor the Amendment would be pressed to a division, as such a course might pledge the House in a way which would not be desirable.
§ MR. KAVANAGH
said, he must compliment the hon. Member for Galway (Sir Rowland Blenerhassett) for his able and instructive speech, which did not deserve the epithet weak, applied to it by the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid), whose arguments in reply rather merited that description, for in mixing up England and Scotland with this question, the hon. Member put up nine-pins to knock them down again. The hon. Member for Galway, he thought, had made out a clear case, and he should support the hon. Member if it were necessary to go to a division, which he hoped it would not be. The reply of the Chief Secretary was, on the whole, more satisfactory than he had expected; but he must express his regret of the way in which the noble Lord spoke of future Sessions, looking, as it were, down a long vista into a remote futurity. He said he would not introduce a Bill this Session; next Session he could not; and three years hence was a long time to look forward to. But indefiniteness had characterized all Ministerial utterances on this question; the Ministry had always held out delusive hopes; they ought not, however, to treat in this way a scheme to which it was admitted there was an absence of objection, and which the Prime Minister had described as free from the taint of partiality. After receiving such encouragement, it was too bad that those who advocated this measure from sincere conviction should be put off by these repeated postponements. Ample time had been found in recent Sessions to legislate in an exceptional manner for Ireland, and to pass Acts which would have a tendency to set class against class; and he thought the hon. Member for Rochester, who said he had opposed exceptional legislation, had been a stannch supporter of those measures. [Mr. GOLDSMID said, he was not in the House when those measures were passed.] At any rate, time had been found for such legislation. He complained that a measure approved by every class in Ireland, and presenting the singular characteristic of being the 1319 only proposal ever brought before the House which Irish Members had been able unanimously to support was from time to time postponed. The noble Lord had referred to the question of Home Rule. Whatever his opinions on some points might be, he (Mr. Kavanagh) was not such a supporter of that movement as some hon Gentlemen opposite; but if anything could induce him to give his support to it, the course taken by the Government on this question would do so. Therefore, while he should support the hon. Member for Galway, he would rather the Motion were not pressed to a division, because, small as was the comfort given by the noble Lord, he would prefer not to embarrass the Government by a vote of the House on this question.
§ MR. O'REILLY
held the Irish Members were not open to the charge made against them by the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid), of perpetually advocating exceptional legislation, and defended the hon. Member for Galway (Sir Rowland Blennerhassett) from the imputation of being ignorant of French and Continental railway management. If we wanted to compare State management with private management, we must go not to France, where the lines were leased by the Government to companies for varying terms, but to Germany and Belgium. In those countries there was full accommodation for passengers, particularly for the second and third classes, which were the mainstay of railway revenue, though, perhaps, there was less first-class accommodation than in England; but there was no country in Europe in which the accommodation for goods traffic was equal to what it was on Rhenish railways. The lowest rate at which coal had been carried in England, even during the strong competition of two years ago, was.26 of 1d. per mile; but the ordinary rate for coal on the German railroads was.20 of 1d. per mile, while the rate came down as low as.15 of 1d. Competition on the same line could only be carried on by means of running powers; but as the running company had to pay 80 per cent to the owning company, they would not be used for a lengthened period. Real competition must be between two railroads to the same places, and that involved much waste. What was the result of competition in its best form in England? There was competition, for instance, between 1320 London and Liverpool and Manchester, and for those towns three or four half-empty express trains started every day at the same hour. Was that for the benefit of the public? If the railways were in one hand, would not express trains be run at different hours? Again, with regard to goods, there were cases in which they travelled round a needless circle of 20, 30, and even 50 miles, at rates determined by a shorter route, causing an absolute loss as to time, and unnecessary wear and tear. These facts were adduced in favour of amalgamation, and there could be no doubt that if the railways from the North were amalgamated, one set of lines would be devoted to goods, and another to passenger traffic. It had been said that there were many among the shareholders who hoped to sell the insolvent lines to the Government at a remunerative price. No single Irish Member of any Irish Board had ever made such a suggestion. The first proposition they had ever made was, that the lines should be made over at the present commercial value, and therefore the suggestion vanished into thin air that they wanted to give a bonus to insolvent companies. Then, his hon. Friend said he protested against any exceptional legislation in this matter in Ireland, especially with regard to guarantees; but he was rather late in coming into the field with this protest, because guarantees had existed for 15 years. The Midland Great Western line of railway, from Athlone to Galway, had been made on a territorial guarantee, which was cheerfully borne by the ratepayers, save a question as to the amount; and an Act had been passed giving power to local grand juries in Ireland to guarantee the expenditure on railways. He quite agreed that the risk should be carried out in such a way as to be no substantial risk; but that did not alter the fact that they did not wish in any way to put their hands in the pockets of their fellow-taxpayers of England and Scotland. His hon. Friend spoke of this purchase as if it would add so much to the Debt of the country; but it was not like the National Debt, which was spent and gone; it was rather like a man borrowing money to purchase property, and was not the incurring of any charge to the country. Then, coming to the question whether it was for the advantage of Ireland that the 1321 management of the whole of the railways in Ireland should be in the hands of the State, he said the interests of the shareholders were by no means the same as the interests of the general public, for if the carriage of goods at 2d. a-mile produced £100, it would be for the interest of the shareholders to retain that, so long as the reduction of the rate to 1d. would only produce £90, though the diference of £10 would by no means represent the gain to the public at large. In fact, the interest of the public was opposed to that of the shareholders, which meant obtaining the highest rate of dividend possible; if, however, the Government owned the lines, greater accommodation would be given, and he believed the railways would be better managed in the hands of the State than by the present agency. No doubt, amalgamation in Ireland would proceed as it had proceeded in England, by the great railroads eating up the smaller ones; but the larger would never amalgamate with, the whole of the smaller lines. And so long as there was not this complete amalgamation, there would be always competition between the several companies, and that competition had ended in this—that, while the traffic of the country tended from West to East, it was the interest of the railway companies, though it was adverse to the interests of the nation, to cut off the cross traffic from North to South. The results of that condition were these—that a passenger or a pound of butter at Wexford, in order to reach South Wales, must come round by Dublin. Were the lines, however, in the hands of the State, traffic would speedily circulate in its natural channels to the advantage of the public, and the rates would be diminished to the lowest paying point. What that reduction might be was shown by the fact, that on comparing the present rates in England and Ireland, he found that coal was carried 100 miles in Ireland for 7s. 2d., and in England for 4s. 10d.; and the 25-mile rate in Ireland was 4s. 4d., with a minimum of 2s. 6d., while in the centre of England coal was carried 25 miles for 1s. 6d. Then, beer was carried from Tralee to the Curragh for 2d. a-mile, from Dublin to Mullingar, 50 miles, for 11s. 6d.; whereas it was carried from Burton to London, 130 miles, for 14s. That showed, not that it was the direct interest of the Irish shareholder to dimi- 1322 nish his rates at present, but it showed that a paying rate might be instituted at far less than the present rate, and that was the key note of the difference. The statement of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary in dealing with the subject was satisfactory, because practical; he said the Government was prepared to take steps with a view of putting the nation in a position to purchase the railroads; and no Government would be likely to declare an intention to facilitate a purchase which did not at all contemplate making it. The declaration indicated that the Government seriously intended to consider this as a practical question. The noble Lord was right in saying that no plan had been proposed by responsible persons in Ireland with definite details for the guarantee of any contingent loan; but he had received a representation from the grand jury of his county advocating the purchase, and expressing the opinion that the liability for a contingent loan should fall upon Ireland. For such a purely Irish purpose the Irish people would never ask England to recoup any loss. The suggestion of the noble Lord was a very rational and practical one, for arbitration always went against the State, the powers of the Act of 1844 were insufficient, and the security of the preference shareholders and bondholders would be immensely increased the moment the Government bought up the ordinary shareholders. There must consequently be a power of purchasing those liabilities at their intrinsic value. He remembered an illustration of this difficulty in the case of a short English line with £28,000 share capital, but with preference capital and Lloyd's Bonds making up the amount to more than £1,000,000. A great company desirous of purchasing the concern, found that it could only be effected by an Act providing that the majority of each class of creditors should bind the minority. There would, however, be few cases of that kind in Ireland, for nearly all the lines of any length were paying 5 or 6 per cent. This was a question of local advantage, which should be decided by those personally interested, and though it did not provoke popular demonstrations, the noisiest stream had not always the deepest current, and educated and intelligent opinion was strongly in favour of this policy. He hoped, therefore, that be- 1323 fore long the Government, disregarding abstract considerations as to the general purchase of railways, would see their way to the purchase of the Irish lines.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
said, he had not understood his noble Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland to give any pledge to the House that Government would introduce a Bill on this subject; and it was only fair to the House and his noble Friend that he should take an opportunity of setting that right. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. O'Reilly) was quite right in saying that if the noble Lord had pledged the Government to bring in such a Bill, it would be impossible for the Government to draw back, unless the terms demanded by the companies were such as the Government would not be justified in giving. The noble Lord's observations had tended very much to clear the ground for the future, for he had simply laid down rules, in which he (Mr. Chichester Fortescue) quite concurred, which must govern any action in the matter. Both duty and inclination had led him to look closely into the matter, and he agreed with his noble Friend that for practical purposes the recommendations of the Treasury Commissioners as to a great and immediate reduction of rates must be set aside, for those recommendations were so alarming as to give little inducement to the Government to embark in the undertaking. If it was ever entered upon, a reduction of rates must be gradual, and must result from economical management. He also agreed with his noble Friend that the Act of 1844 was quite inapplicable, and he believed no fixed terms of compulsory purchase could be laid down beforehand. The companies—if they were ever to be dealt with—could only be dealt with singly, to see whether any reasonable terms would be accepted, such terms protecting the State from loss, and not much exceeding the market value. The discussion had been somewhat theoretical, for nobody could tell what the final conclusion would be; but it had laid down certain lines which must certainly be followed; it had simplified the issue, and had facilitated a positive announcement of policy one way or the other, which in the interests of the public and of the shareholders ought not to be very long deferred. The Government were not yet able to make such an announcement, 1324 nor had they been able to invite Parliament to discuss the subject; but the question was in a better condition for solution one way or the other, than he had remembered it within the last few years, and the discussion so ably opened by the hon. Member for Galway (Sir Rowland Blennerhassett) had tended to this result.
MR. M. T. BASS
said, he was anxious for the serious consideration and early solution of the question. He had for many years been a strong advocate for the purchase by the State of all the railways in the three Kingdoms, believing that that would be to the advantage of every class of the community. He should expect from it a saving of at least 20 per cent. Having paid last year £140,000 for railway carriage, he might be thought an interested party, but so far from being hostile to railway companies, he held shares in the principal lines. Considering that the amount of business of all the Irish railways was less than half what was transacted by the London and North Western line alone, he did not see that there would be much difficulty in taking the whole of the railways and placing them under one central management, a course of proceeding which would obviously be very economical, and would materially benefit the commercial interests of the country. He believed the Belgian rates for merchandize were at least 30 per cent lower than the English, and 50 per cent lower than the Irish. This difference must seriously interfere with the commerce in low-priced articles. A Committee or Commission possessing the confidence of the country might have the general direction of railways, and the united abilities of railway managers, in whom he had found great ability and business aptitude, might effect a reduction of rates by 50 per cent within two years. He was confident that sooner or later this measure would be adopted.
§ MR. SYNAN
urged that the longer this question remained unsettled the argument that Irish interests were disregarded by the British Government and Parliament would be held to have great force. He was sure the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) had not intended to impute any personal motives to Irish Members for their conduct in this matter. [Mr. GOLDSMID disclaimed any such imputation; he had simply said that they urged the interests of 1325 their constituents, as every Member was bound to do.] The Reports of Commissions issued in 1867, 1868, and 1869 had all recommended this measure, provided the Imperial Revenue did not suffer; the only misgiving expressed in the first Report being that it would provoke a demand for the purchase of the English and Scotch railways. The hon. Seconder of the Amendment (Sir Thomas Bazley) had enforced self-help as the great hope for Ireland, but it was an insult to recommend self-help in this case, for Parliament alone was able to give effect to the wishes of the Irish people. The only fault in the speech of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland was, that it gave no pledge; but its tone was favourable to the plan, and he had fairly stated that the Act of 1844 was inefficient, and that there would be a difficulty in dealing with the companies' creditors. Captain Tyler's visit, it appeared, had not been encouraging; but much depended on what companies he sounded, for there were some which were so bound up with English lines that, they would not sell on any terms. In 1866, when the late lamented Lord Mayo gave a less promising answer than that given to-day by the noble Lord, the present Prime Minister, then in Opposition, said no greater boon could be conferred on Ireland than the development of its railway system, which was free from some of the complications of the English system. He could only infer from that remark, and from the speeches made on behalf of the Government to-day, that the majority of the Cabinet were favourable to the plan, but that they were held back by hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House, and by an evil genius among their own Members which paralyzed their action. He knew of nothing that could tend more to develop the material resources of Ireland, or that could bind Ireland closer to the Imperial Government, than to carry this proposition; but if this thing remained unsettled, notwithstanding that the Irish people were unanimous on the subject, and notwithstanding that a guarantee had been offered against loss to the public Exchequer, it would exhibit the most melancholy and unstatesmanlike want of capacity and power that could be shown by any Government.
§ MR. M'LAREN
Sir, I wish to say a few words on this important subject. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland has stated that the Irish railways can be exceptionally dealt with without affecting England and Scotland. Now, I entirely deny that proposition. I say that the thing is impossible. The speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. Bass), who contended that the railways all over the United Kingdom should be purchased by the State, is, I admit, perfectly logical, although I do not concur in his opinion. That is a simple question, but there is a distinction to be drawn between it and the proposal now before the House. The noble Lord stated clearly that he would not willingly be a party to purchasing these railways, if they were purchased at all above their fair and commercial value. But what is the fair and commercial value of anything? Changes occur from day to day. The commercial value of the railways in Ireland will, in consequence of the speeches made on behalf of the Government with regard to this subject, be £200,000 or £300,000 greater to-morrow than they are to-day; and should Her Majesty's Government bring in a Bill next Session for the purchase of the Irish railways by the State, their commercial value will be £500,000 more than it was previously to the announcement of such a measure by the Government. Therefore, when you say you will purchase the railways at their fair and commercial value, you are doing very little in the way of security. The noble Lord the Chief Secretary also dealt with the preference shareholders and bondholders. He said he should ask for power, if anything were done, to call a meeting of the preferential shareholders and bondholders, and to bind the minority by the vote of the majority. That no doubt looks specious, but as a scheme for getting at the real commercial value of the concern, it is altogether imaginary and delusive. The noble Lord seems to think that the majority of the shareholders will be perfectly prepared to sell the shares at their real value without any view to prospective advantage; but, surely, that is contrary to all experience in the world. Of course, the great majority of the preference shareholders will so act as to get the highest possible price for their shares, and so will the bond- 1327 holders. If you give a great deal more for these railways than they are now worth, the result will be that, under any system of management, the loss will be greater than it is at present. How, then, could that be done without affecting England and Scotland? I hold that the thing is quite impossible. Any deficiency which may arise must be made good more or less directly out of the national Exchequer, and therefore Scotland and England will have to pay their proportion of the loss. The hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) gave us a good illustration of the effect which would be produced. He said the interest of the present railway companies was to get the highest possible dividend, but that if the Government owned the lines, it would be their interest to accommodate the public to the greatest possible extent. But how was any deficiency to be made good if not out of the national funds? We know very well from the Returns that, as a matter of fact, the railway fares are generally the same in Scotland, England, and Ireland—namely, 1d. a-mile third class, 1½d. a-mile second class, and 2d. a-mile first class. Now, are the people of England and Scotland to be taxed indirectly in order that their brethren in Ireland may be enabled to travel ½d. a-mile? Yet, that is what the argument of the supporters of this Bill inevitably leads to. ["No, no!"] I am perfectly aware that that is not asked for, and I am also aware of all the safeguards which are proposed. Therefore, I give all hon. Gentlemen who support the measure full credit for the most pure and upright motives; but, at the same time, I may remark that they are liable to prejudice and hallucination, which may lead them further than they intended. Indeed, I feel strongly that such would be the case. By way of example, let us take three great railway companies in the North. There is the North Eastern Railway from York to the Borders; the North British Railway, which is an elongation of it; and the Caledonian Railway, which runs to the remote Highlands. Take these three railways, and you will find that the mileage of them is greater than the mileage of all the railways in Ireland. How, then, are these companies constituted? I had the honour of being a director of the North Eastern Railway for a great 1328 number of years, and therefore I know something about it, and about railway management generally. That great company absorbed all the little companies round about; the North British did the same; the Caledonian did the same; and why should not the Irish companies do the same? Why should they not be absorbed into three great groups, and why should not Parliament help them to do this? The directors of the North Eastern Railway said to those of the small companies—"Your profits for the last year have been so-and-so. We have been able to pay £5 6s. 8d. per cent. Tell us what you have been able to pay?" The little company says—"We have been able to pay £3 3s. 4d. per cent." "Very well," say the directors of the large company; "we will bargain on that principle. You shall be held to have an interest in the concern equal to £3 3s. 4d. per cent—or whatever it may be—and we shall have an interest equal to £5 6s. 8d. per cent." All the railways were united on this principle, each having an equal interest in the prospective profits. Now, what is there to hinder the railways in Ireland from doing the very same thing? If it be said that some of the railways in Ireland are very badly off, and pay scarcely anything to the shareholders, that, I think, is hardly an Irish question, for most hon. Members are well aware that the great bulk of the stock of the Irish railways is held not by Irishmen, but by persons resident in this country. Consequently, if there be a loss to the shareholders, it falls more heavily on this country than on Ireland. In the course of this discussion, it has been asserted that these are circumstances which prevent the Irish railways from, working smoothly. Now, I should be very unwilling to admit that. It would, indeed, require a good deal of investigation to convince me that such is the case, when I find that from the remote corners of the Highlands to London you can travel without any inconvenience, without even a change of carriage, or any trouble whatever. The fact is, that it is the interest of the railway companies to work their lines smoothly, because if they do not do so they cannot fully develop the traffic. The hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) stated that most of the Irish railways pay 5 per cent already. I do not know whether that is the case or 1329 not; but all I can say is that if the statement is true, the best course to adopt with regard to the Irish railways will be to leave them alone. I say that the profit will soon increase to 6 per cent, in consequence of the natural development of trade and the wealth of the country. It has been argued from the Report of the Royal Commission that the Government would not have lost by buying up the Irish railways, but that, on the contrary, they would gain £50,000 a-year. But it should be borne in mind that the Commissioners proposed to make large reductions. They admitted that losses would be incurred in the first 11 years, and it was not until the twelfth year that the estimated profit of £50,000 would be gained. Consequently, it would be necessary to put the losses of the first 11 years as a set-off against the subsequent gain; and it is obvious that those losses could not be without their effect on the people of England and Scotland, because if the plan succeeded—and after all it might be a matter of moonshine—the losses would fall just where the general taxation of the country falls. For these reasons, I strongly object to any proposal for the purchase of railways by the State. Knowing as we do the unfitness of Government appointments, and how frequently the Government puts a round man into a square hole, and a square man into a round hole, I think that if the State purchased the railways they would be infinitely worse managed than they are at present, and that the change would be nothing less than a calamity to the nation.
§ COLONEL WILSON - PATTEN
observed that this matter had excited great attention in Ireland. Anybody who looked at the map of Ireland would see that the people there laboured under a disadvantage which was peculiar to that part of the kingdom. One of the great defects of the railway system in Ireland was that there was not that competition between one line and another that there was in England. Without this competition, how were companies to be induced to meet the wishes of their customers? The present system caused great inconvenience to the commercial classes in Ireland, and it was necessary that in some way or other the matter should be considered by the Government. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. M. T. 1330 Bass) had complained of railways in this country; but still, if he were dissatisfied with one company, he could go to another, an advantage of choice which could not be obtained in Ireland. That being so, the question of the Irish railways had a peculiar claim upon the attention of the British Legislature. He understood that the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland had promised that the attention of the Government should be bestowed upon the matter; and that being so, he (Colonel Wilson-Patten) would recommend the promoters of the Bill to wait and see whether the Government brought forward any proposition next Session upon the subject. Any difficulty that existed in former times did not exist now. The late Lord George Bentinck proposed the very principle embodied in this Bill; but it was opposed by the Government of the day, and by almost every Irish Member. At that time the purchase might have been effected at a very much less cost than now. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) that any system of amalgamation would meet the evil complained of, because amalgamation would only increase monopoly, and lessen any power of control that there might be. He was entirely in favour of the question to which the Bill related; but, as the second reading of the Bill could lead to no practical result, he hoped the Motion would not be pressed. Meanwhile, however, he would suggest to Irish Members the advisability of moving for a Committee to investigate the evils to which the commerce of Ireland was exposed by the existing railway system.
§ MR. PIM
said, he had listened with satisfaction to the speech of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland, because the noble Lord had admitted that Ireland had just ground for complaint on account of the indecision with which the question had been treated, and he had promised that the attention of the Government should be directed to the subject, and that an opportunity should be afforded, at some early day, for such a consideration as might lead to some practical result. He would, however, have been much better pleased if the noble Lord had spoken more definitely as respected time. The right hon. Gentleman who had last spoken (Colonel Wilson-Patten) had referred to 1331 the proposal for the construction of Irish railways which had been made by Lord George Bentinck. He (Mr. Pim) might be permitted to remind the House that a much earlier movement had been made in this direction—namely, that in 1839, when the late Lord Carlisle, then Lord Morpeth, was Chief Secretary for Ireland. The Government had previously appointed a Commission to inquire into the subject; and that Commission, after having had surveys made, and various lines laid out for railways in Ireland, had made their Report; and upon consideration of that Report, Lord Morpeth, on behalf of the Government then in power, laid a proposition before the House for the construction of a line of railway from Dublin to Cork, with branches to Waterford and Limerick, the total length of which would have been 213 miles, and the estimated cost was £2,556,000. That proposition was, after long discussion, adopted by the House—the division showing 144 Members for, and 100 against it; but it was never carried into practical effect. Lord Morpeth, in the course of his speech in support of the proposal, had referred to a large meeting in Dublin on this subject, and had read the resolutions passed at that meeting, and he (Mr. Pim) would ask the House to permit him now to read a portion of those resolutions, because he thought they did credit to the foresight of the people of Ireland at that early date, when railroads were in their infancy, and expressed sound views on this important subject. The resolutions stated—That railways, in the hands of individuals or chartered companies, however valuable and important the advantages and facilities which they afford to the public, are necessarily and unavoidably monopolies, and, as such, irreconcilable with the public interests…… That the advantages and facilities possessed by the Government over individuals or companies, in the accomplishment of such an undertaking [the construction of a railway] are manifest. Capital would be obtained at a much lower rate of interest, and the enormous law costs, and those consequent upon Parliamentary investigation, almost entirely saved. …. Central management would also be found not only the most efficient and economical, but its general effect would be to establish a system of such strict regularity and responsibility, as it would be impossible to attain under the direction of separate local boards."—[3 Hansard, xlv. 1069–70.]The resolution, of which he had just read a portion, was adopted in Dublin 1332 in the year 1839. The opinions expressed in it appeared to him (Mr. Pim) to be sound, and to cover the whole ground of the question before the House. Railways were and must be monopolies, and a monopoly ought not to be in the hands of a private individual or a chartered company, to be managed for private profit, but should be controlled by some public authority, and managed for the general benefit of all. On this subject he would, with the permission of the House, read a short extract from the speech of Mr. O'Connell, who then represented the city of Dublin in that House. Mr. O'Connell said—He was very far from admitting that they had acted wisely in England in giving to private individuals a monopoly of these great highways. If there were one principle in law better established than another, it was that every possible accommodation should be given to passengers on the King's high road—that it should be free to all. When the road from Horsham to London was first cut, it was the King's highway, open to all; when it was laid with gravel, at the first stage of improvement, it was still the King's highway; when, in the further progress of improvements, it was macadamized, still it was the King's highway; but another step was made—railways were invented, and they ceased to be the King's highways and public property. They were locked in the bonds of private monopoly."—[3 Hansard, xlv. 1099, 1100.]The opposition to the proposal of the Government was led by the late Sir Robert Peel—a great statesman, but who, in his (Mr. Pim's) opinion, had shown himself singularly short-sighted as respected the future of the railway system, then just rising into prominence. His opposition was founded on the benefit which he expected from private enterprize and competition. That had now been tried, and had covered England with a network of railways, generally well constructed but at an enormous cost—fully one-third more than was necessary. It had constructed railways in Ireland also; but the benefits which were derived from them were not at all such as they ought to be, or as they would be if the railways were properly managed. Competition had, in fact, proved a delusion. Railways were essentially and necessarily monopolies, and no monopoly should be in the hands of private persons or managed for private profit. There were many other monopolies—such as harbours, waterworks, and, he would add, gas-works—all of which he contended should be 1333 managed not for private profit, but for the public benefit. Why, he would ask, did they blame the Great Southern and Western Railway Company for not giving the public sufficient accommodation? The road was their own property. The directors were honest men, and did the best they could for their shareholders; and on the whole, so far as the shareholders were concerned, the line was well managed. Did they blame a grocer or a linendraper if he did not give sufficient accommodation, or if his charges were too high? No! they left him, and went to another grocer. But they could not do that with a railway company. They had nowhere else to go to. It was maintained that it would be for the interest of the railway companies, as well as of the public, to afford greater facilities for traffic. That was no doubt true, if they looked to the future—it might, perhaps, be a distant future—but, in many cases, it was the interest of shareholders to look for immediate results, and they could not afford to place the present in jeopardy in the hopes of being compensated by an increased trade hereafter. Irishmen were usually taunted with their divisions; but on this subject they were almost unanimous, and now they were taunted with their unanimity. It was called jobbery. It was said that the Irish shareholders of bankrupt railway companies wanted to sell their property to the State, and the Irish Members wanted to help them! But there was another party in the transaction—namely, the Irish public who used the roads, and who travelled by them; and it was solely in the interest of that public, and not in the interest of railway shareholders, that the present measure was advocated. It was not that Irishmen were unable to manage railroads. He thought that, on the whole, Irish railways were managed as well—that was, as much for the interest of the shareholders—as the railways in England, and the pecuniary results were not very different. The hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) had said that the great bulk of the stock of the Irish railways was held by persons resident in England and Scotland. He (Mr. Pim) did not think that statement was correct—at least, as respected the best and most thriving railways—though it might be the case as respected the bankrupt con- 1334 cerns, which had been so often referred to. The people of Ireland asked for the purchase of the Irish railways by the State because they wanted amalgamation and unity of management, and that not for private benefit, but in the interest of the whole community. It had been urged that the various railway companies might unite, and that they ought to do so; and, certainly, if the whole of the Irish lines were amalgamated, and managed by a single Board of Directors, it would not, he believed, be a larger concern, or more difficult to manage than some of the larger companies which now existed in England. But what would be the result as respected Ireland? Would it not place the whole internal traffic of the country under the control of an irresponsible, and, practically, self-elected Board; and would not such a Board be dangerously powerful—an imperium in imperio—dangerous to the welfare of the community? To attempt to control the directors of that amalgamated company would be to hamper their powers for usefulness in the attempt to prevent them from doing wrong. If it were a private company, worked for private profit, its directors must do what they considered would be the best for the shareholders, and they could only hope that an enlightened sense of self-interest would lead them to do that which was also best for the public. He (Mr. Pim) had no doubt that the time would come when all the railways in the three Kingdoms would become the property of the State. Most of the arguments for the purchase of the Irish railways applied also to those of England and Scotland; but there were some which were peculiar to Ireland, and among these were the facts that the Irish system stood by itself as a whole, and that the cost of purchase would be only a small fraction of the cost of purchasing the railways of England and Scotland; and therefore the experiment might be tried which, if successful, as he fully expected it would be, would naturally lead to the acquisition by the State of the others also. The purchase of the telegraphs had proved a success, and was now applauded by many who nevertheless said it was radically wrong in principle, but that it worked so well in practice that it was well to set aside the rules of political economy, with respect to the telegraphs. It was nonsense 1335 to speak of setting aside the rules of political economy, or of anything working well, which was contrary to its principles. You might as well talk of setting aside the principles of gravitation; but many people argued from false principles when they spoke of political economy, and in particular when they applied principles applicable to open competition to cases of monopoly, in which it was impossible for competition to exist. He was glad to believe that public opinion in England and Scotland was changing as respected this subject, and was coming round to what it had been in Ireland since the question of the construction of railways was first mooted in the year 1839. At all events, the question now brought before the House ought not to be left undecided for any length of time. The present state of uncertainty was very injurious to all parties concerned. But it was unreasonable for the Government to expect the railway companies of Ireland to come forward and offer their lines at a price. The proprietors were not anxious to sell; it was the public who were anxious to buy; and therefore the public, as represented by the Government, should take the initiative in the matter. The means of effecting a purchase would not, he believed, be really difficult. If one or two of the larger lines were bought on fair terms, and the Government stated its willingness to purchase the remainder at corresponding prices, they would all come in before long. But the value was rising, and the railways of Ireland were worth several millions more now than they were worth five years ago, and in five years hence they would probably be worth several millions more than at the present time. Therefore, if anything was to be done, it was for the public interest that it should not be long delayed.
said, the question embraced considerations affecting the public Revenue and the responsibility of the Government. Two very important admissions had been made by the last speaker bearing upon the question as it affected public Revenue; the lines, he said, were fairly managed, and if so, what was to be gained by the Government taking them, and the proprietors of some of them were likely to stand out for high terms. Then it was expected the Government would take the lines 1336 with a view to reduce the fares, and upon that the question would arise whether the Government should lower the fares to a loss, and come upon the taxpayers of England and Scotland to make good the loss, that the Irish might travel cheaply. Inevitably, the first demand of the Irish people would be reduction of fares; it would become an election cry, which would be renewed from time to time until some Government in a moment of weakness would give way to it. Next, would come demands for branch lines; complaints would be made that such a town had its branch line, while such another was left to starve for trade. Was the Government prepared to meet those demands? The assertion that England and Scotland would be guaranteed against loss arising from this speculation was a mere assertion; the Bill contained no such guarantee. And having regard to the main question, he thought the Bill was utterly uncalled for by the circumstances of the country. Wages were rising throughout Ireland; her produce was commanding increased prices; and if her tolls were high she was no worse off than England, especially in the case of our Southern lines.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, he must proclaim himself a convert to the proposal contained in the Bill, although up to within the last year or two he had been absolutely indifferent upon the subject. The recent management of the Great Southern and Western Railway, however, had convinced him that, if the railways were not purchased by the Government, it would be absolutely necessary that they should be placed under the control of some central authority responsible to the public. He had recently condemned the management of that line in the course of a discussion on a private Bill, and did not hesitate to repeat that the bad management of its directors made the line a curse and a calamity to the South of Ireland. So blind were they to their own interests, and so careless of the interests of the country, that a petition to afford greater facilities for third-class passengers had been met by a statement that they did not want third-class passengers. They were equally impolitic in their treatment of goods traffic, for importers of grain in the South of Ireland were met with the statement that they had no trucks to 1337 carry foreign corn to the North. The importation of corn, therefore, in the South of Ireland was completely stopped. Suspicion seemed to exist in the minds of some hon. Members that the guarantee to England and Scotland would not be honoured by Ireland. On what grounds did that suspicion rest? Local guarantees were honoured in Ireland. It was fair, therefore, to presume that a national guarantee would be honoured. [An hon. MEMBER: Home Rule.] Home Rule had nothing to do with the question; it should be considered wholly apart from Home Rule; and it behoved the Government to pronounce upon the question, one way or the other, at once. It should not be left as a question to be used for party purposes; and nothing could be worse for Ireland than that the question should become a subject for speculation in stocks. The Government would act unwisely if it postponed the matter beyond next year. There was no knowing where the Government would be then. The days of big majorities were gone, and after the next election either the party opposite would have a majority, or the Liberal majority would be so small that it would fall to pieces at the first brush. Nothing, however, would do the Government more service than honest dealing. Let the Government deal with this question honestly and at once, and let Ireland be saved from a threatened agitation; let them bring forward a proposal of their own which, would lead to some satisfactory solution of the question, and he could assure the House that the people of Ireland would be found quite willing to bear their responsibilities without expecting any undue assistance from the resources of England or Scotland.
§ SIR FRANCIS GOLDSMID
said, the reply of the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland was unsatisfactory to the Irish Members because he did not at once pledge himself for the Bill. It was unsatisfactory to others, however, because he had not pronounced decisively against it. One great objection to the proposal seemed to be the price at which the railways would be offered. The hon. Baronet (Sir Rowland Blennerhassett) had computed them to be worth £22,000,000, and then candidly admitted that it would be hopeless for the State to expect to get them for less than £30,000,000—certainly a very moderate 1338 profit to be extracted by the fortunate vendors from the public Treasury. Moreover, it was all very well to say that Ireland was willing to bear her own responsibilities in relation to this Subject without assistance from the sister countries, but there was no provision to that effect in the present Bill. He (Sir Francis Goldsmid) objected to the proposal, however, chiefly on the grounds—First, that it would enormously increase the patronage in the hands of the Government, and more than undo all that Ministers and Parliament had done towards reducing Government patronage for many years past; and, secondly, that it would add to the business of the House of Commons, and augment the danger of a dead-lock. Endeavours had been made, by altering the Standing Orders and otherwise, but at present with little success, to enable that Assembly to find time for the constantly growing number of matters which required its attention. But what was to be the result if this proposal were adopted? The House would become the Court of Appeal for every passenger delayed in his journey, and for every merchant who thought himself overcharged for the carriage of his goods; the lowering of fares and rates would become a hustings cry; and the country would be in danger of being taxed for the benefit of those who used the railways more than their neighbours. Those were reasons to his mind perfectly conclusive against the Bill.
said, he did not wish to see the House reduced to a mere debating society, but if ever there was a question of a practical nature, it was the present one. If he could have foreseen the speech made by the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland he should have been tempted, had he been in the habit of dealing on the Stock Exchange, to give a practical turn to that discussion by going to buy shares. That was a perfectly legitimate subject for Irish Members to bring forward. As to bankrupt railways, he came from a part of the country (Wales) where they could enter into a competition with the Irish in that respect, and he did not know that Wales might not have its grievance as well as Ireland, if its case were not considered. They must at once face that whole question. He agreed with the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) 1339 that if the Government did not seriously intend to bring forward a measure in unison with the views of the proposer of that Bill, they were scarcely justified in using the language they had held that day. The Government ought to give a distinct and definite expression to their opinions; they had no right to excite expectations among Irish Members by employing vague language which, might be construed into a promise, and yet next year they might find themselves no further advanced than they were now.
§ SIR DOMINIC CORRIGAN
said, that in common with the hon. Gentleman who had introduced the Bill (Sir Rowland Blennerhassett), he held that railways were the highways of a country, and ought not to be in the possession of a company any more than its rivers and seas. He was also of opinion that the shareholders in the Irish railways would not be unreasonable in their views; but if they should prove so, he did not consider that they ought to be allowed to stand in the way of a necessary public improvement in Ireland. When any great question in which the Irish people were interested was brought forward in that House they were always told to wait; and no good had resulted from the policy of delay.
§ MR. DENISON
said, that whatever opinion he might form on the merits of that Bill, he could not deny that the management of the railways in Ireland had been for many years a source of great grievance to that country; and it was, therefore, only natural that the Irish Members should endeavour to throw daylight on that management. It was, however, a very different thing to say that the evils of which they complained were to be met at once by the Government taking over the railways. A proposition of that character and magnitude ought not to be brought forward through the medium of a Bill like the present, unless there was some intention to press it to a division. He objected to a Member of the Government giving a sort of half-and-half answer, as much as to imply that at the present moment they could do nothing in the matter, but if the proposal were persevered with, perhaps in another Session they could give it some support. That had the appearance of political strategy rather than of a serious interest in the question. He concurred with what the hon. 1340 Baronet (Sir Francis Goldsmid) had said in regard to the constitutional considerations involved in that measure. Some years ago a proposal was made for an amalgamation between the London and North Western and the Midland Railway Companies, and the question was considered by a powerful Committee, of which the late Sir James Graham was a Member. One of the most experienced of witnesses was examined before that Committee, and on Sir James Graham asking him, whether there was any other consideration which he wished to lay before them, he replied there was but one, and that was, that if those great amalgamations were allowed to proceed he thought they might find the inconvenience of it within the walls of the House of Commons—that the amalgamated companies might become too strong for that House. By a parity of reasoning, if the whole patronage and control of the railways of Ireland, and perhaps also of England and Scotland, were in the hands of the Government, surely the political consequences of such a change must be of the gravest character. Again, remembering the inquiry connected with that subject made some years ago by Mr. Fowler and Mr. Seymour Clarke, he felt satisfied that the difficulties in the way of the Government taking over the railways were far more formidable than hon. Members had any conception of. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not be asked to divide on that Bill, because if they were he thought they must in common prudence vote against it.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, he had been rather surprised to hear the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) say, first, that he was a "Home Ruler," and afterwards repudiate "Home Rule" on that occasion, simply, it was to be presumed, because he was anxious to get the money for those railways, and he felt he was not so likely to get it if he presented himself to them as a "Home Ruler."
§ MR. MAGUIRE
explained that he deprecated the introduction in that debate of the question of "Home Rule," which would be decided on other grounds.
§ COLONEL BARTTELOT
said, that he had risen mainly to protest as strongly as he possibly could against the line taken up by the Government in that discus- 1341 sion, and also by those who sat on his own side on the front Opposition bench. It was a monstrous thing at that time of day that Governments should be dishonest enough to lead the Irish people to believe that they were going seriously to consider that question. Irish Members had a right to bring forward anything which they thought in the interest of their country, and English and Scotch Members would readily give them every assistance in their power for the proper consideration of their proposals; but as an independent Member of that House, speaking what he believed to be the sentiment of many other independent Members, he said that when a Government did not mean to do a thing, they should say distinctly that they did not mean to do it, instead of seeking by vague and uncertain language to catch the votes of hon. Members below the gangway. It would be far better to state in plain terms what they intended to do concerning Ireland, whether in regard to railways or religious matters, or any other question; and he protested any against Ministry whatever not dealing as honestly with Irish affairs as with English or Scotch.
§ MR. M'ARTHUR
said, he differed altogether from the hon. and gallant Gentleman who had just spoken, for he believed there was no question more intimately connected with the social welfare and happiness of Ireland than that of the railways, and held that the Government would fail in its duty if it did not take up that subject, on which the most unanimous feeling existed among all classes of Irishmen. When the question was brought forward next year he hoped it would be discussed on its merits, and that the Government would see that it ought to accede to the wishes of the Irish people.
§ MR. J. MARTIN
said, the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Maguire) thought that the question of "Home Rule" ought not to be introduced into the discussion of that question, but it appeared to him that the question of "Home Rule" for Ireland forced itself irresistibly on the intellect and the feelings of every Irish Member present at that debate. For what did the Irish Members now ask the House to do? Why, to do for Ireland what it was perfectly evident she would do for herself if she had the power. A majority of the Irish Representatives, a 1342 great number of Irish Peers, and the public opinion of all classes and sections of the Irish people had declared themselves, not merely now, but for the last six or seven years, in favour of the State owning the roads of the country, including the railways. It was objected by the hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) and other hon. Members for Great Britain, that a loss might fall on the taxpayers of England and Scotland in consequence of the administration of the Irish railways by the State; and to that the Irish Members who supported the Bill said that all classes of the Irish people were willing to guarantee the English and Scotch taxpayers against such loss. Was not the entire property of Ireland within the power and control of that Parliament? It was quite easy, therefore, for the hon. Member for Edinburgh to introduce a clause to meet his own objection. The only objection he himself had to the Bill was that, in the present relations between England and Ireland, the State would not be an authority responsible to the public opinion of Ireland, nor sympathetic with the feelings and interests of the Irish people. However, he was quite aware that the public opinion of Ireland had declared itself in favour of that measure. He had in his hand a resolution sent to him to be laid before that House from the grand jury of the county he had the honour to represent (Meath), which strongly supported the purchase of the Irish railways by the Government. That measure had been under the consideration of Committees, or recommended from time to time by the Irish Members, for the last six or seven years; and it was only after the lapse of all those years that the Government woke itself up so far as to say that it would now begin to consider the matter. That fact was, he thought, a very important one to Irishmen with reference to the question of "Home Rule."
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. O'Conor.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes 63; Noes 84: Majority 21.
§ Yet it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.