HC Deb 29 April 1873 vol 215 cc1141-87

in rising to call the attention of the House to the subject of the purchase of the Irish Railways by the State, and to move the following Resolution— That this House, whilst expressing no opinion on the subject of State ownership or State management of Railways in other parts of the Empire, is of opinion that it is desirable (having regard to the universally expressed wishes and wants of the Irish people) that the Railways in Ireland should be acquired on equitable terms by the State, with a view to their management being conducted in the interests of the public. This measure to be carried out in such a way as not to involve any loss to the finances of the Empire, said, he had a claim on the forbearance of the House as well on account of the importance of the subject as because it came before the House as a matter upon which the people of Ireland were unanimous. It was not a subject of dispute and controversy in Ireland, for all creeds and classes in that country were in favour of the proposi- tion. He hoped the Prime Minister would give him leave to remind him that at one period he (Mr. Gladstone) had upheld the doctrine that Irish affairs should be regulated in accordance with Irish ideas; and he was convinced that in the whole experience of his political life the right hon. Gentleman would not be able to point to a question in which there had been such general accord in Ireland as there was in this case. Already a great majority of the Irish Peers had signed a memorial in favour of the State acquisition of Irish railways. No less than 90 per cent of the Irish Representatives had done the same. The Grand Jury of every county in Ireland had signed Petitions to the same effect. So had the Municipal Corporations and the Towns Commissioners of the smaller towns. The Poor Law Guardians of many unions had taken similar action, and wherever Irishmen congregated public opinion found the same expression. In carrying out this proposal Irishmen were not making a claim upon the Imperial Exchequer, but were ready to bear the burden out of their own means and finances. Therefore, he said, the question now came before the House under a new aspect, and as a subject upon which it was impossible to have greater unanimity of feeling. He did not advocate this plan in the interests of any shareholders or Railway Company; he undertook to promote the object in view on account of the general feeling which prevailed in Ireland in connection with it. If it were carried out it would have a most beneficial effect upon the interests of the Empire at large. Parliament had, with the best intentions, created a sort of monopoly in Railway Companies by Act of Parliament, and had given them great powers, rights, and advantages; but these Companies had not been able by circumstances to exercise their powers and privileges for the benefit of Ireland. The people of that country were, therefore, in an inferior position to any other portion of the Empire in regard to railway travelling and accommodation, and vastly inferior in that respect to the people of other countries in Europe. He trusted that the House—and especially the Members for England and Scotland—would bear with him if he read a short extract from the very able Report of the Commission on Irish Railways in 1866, which was presided over with so much talent by the Duke of Devonshire. The Commissioners said— The main sources of the prosperity of English Railways were derived from the large transport of passengers arising from commercial activity and a wealthy population, and also from the carriage of goods in the great manufacturing centres which did not exist in Ireland. Why did they not exist in Ireland? The House had to consider the manner in which the English Legislature, from motives of jealousy, destroyed the trade and paralyzed the commerce of Ireland, and in bringing this subject before the House he had special claims upon the English and Scotch Members to assist him in taking steps to remedy this injustice. It was hardly too much to say that the commerce, trade, and manufactures of Ireland were exterminated by the jealousy exhibited towards her by the other portions of the Empire. In the reign of William III. the woollen trade and manufacture of Ireland were most prosperous and thriving. The jealousy of England was so strongly excited that the House of Lords addressed the Sovereign, pointing out that the prosperity of Irish manufactures was calculated to injure the English trader, and they begged the Sovereign to discourage Irish manufactures. His Majesty, in reply, promised to do all in his power to destroy the Irish woollen manufacture, and it would, he thought, be generally conceded that the efforts which were made in that direction had proved very successful. The same course had been adopted with regard to the glass manufacture and the shipping interest, and it was owing to the action of the English Parliament in former times that the present absence of commerce, activity, and trade of Ireland was owing. As it was owing to the direct action in times past of the English Parliament that Irish trade had been crippled and destroyed, and Irish railways rendered less remunerative than they otherwise would have been, they had, in his opinion, a strong claim to the generous and liberal treatment of the present House of Commons, as it represented, in the third and fourth generation, the Members who had acted with so much injustice towards Ireland. The cause for which he contended was no new one, for as far back as 1836 a Commission had been issued with regard to Irish railways, and it was felt then that if the railways were to be formed as in Eng- land and Scotland by public companies alone, the country would not be able to meet the requirements of the case, and a recommendation was made that Government should advance a considerable portion of the amount at the lowest rate of interest. That recommendation was adopted by Parliament, and upwards of £2,500,000 were advanced out of the Consolidated Fund to promote the Irish railways—an advance which had not resulted in any injury to the public interest. The whole history of railways was one of Parliamentary control and interference. Parliament, indeed, appeared to look upon the railway system as its child, and had exercised its parental authority at every stage; so that to ask it now to interfere was not to ask it to adopt a novel principle, but merely to carry out that which had been a uniform practice since the railway system was formed. The evils complained of in the present system were rather startling. The general complaints arose from bad management, want of regularity in the starting and arrival of trains, numerous discomforts and changes from one line to another, paucity of trains, the slow rate of traffic, miserable accommodation at the stations, want of harmony between the different railway Boards of Directors, local jealousy, indifference to the wants of different places, and extremely high rates of charge. The third-class fares were so high as to be nearly prohibitory —as high as the second-class fares in Germany, where such excellent accommodation was provided—and the fares for the carriage of articles for market were so high that the ordinary roads were used instead of the railways. One of the great wants of Ireland as an agricultural country, was the cheap and rapid transit of cattle to the ports of embarkation; but the charges were so enormously high that, as a rule, cattle were driven on foot to the ports to their great detriment. Then, again, fish teemed on the coasts, but such was the want of facilities for sending it rapidly to the great centres of population in Ireland or England that the trade was paralyzed and pauperized; thousands of persons who might find profitable employment were deprived of this means of earning a livelihood, and the community at large suffered by a serious diminution of the food supply of the country. The same observation held good with respect to minerals. In England, hundreds of miles of railways were constructed for the sole purpose of mineral traffic; but in Ireland so high were the charges for conveying ore that the small struggling efforts to develop the mineral wealth of the country were seriously impeded. When the Irish people looked at this side of the Channel and saw that railway accommodation was cheap, frequent, and available for all classes of goods, they felt naturally aggrieved at the fact that the Government did not make some effort to meet and remedy the great evil under which they suffered, and which arose mainly from this one cause. The average length of the Irish railways was 43 miles, while in the aggregate they did not equal the lines in possession of one English company. Yet in the case of the Irish railways there were 450 directors, a large number of secretaries, 71 engineers, and as many solicitors, while the London and North-Western Company, to which lie bad referred, was managed by a Board of 30 individuals. Bearing the facts he had mentioned in mind, he asked the House had they the least difficulty in seeing why the Irish railways were not financially successful, and why the Irish people were not accommodated as they had a right to be? About one-tenth the number of the present directors—had they power to carry out amalgamations and make arrangements for through traffic over the different lines—would be amply sufficient. Would it be believed —he mentioned this as a sample of management—that the mail train from Belfast to Dublin, a distance of 113 miles, stopped two hours at Portadown, and an hour and a-half on the journey from Dublin to Belfast? That short distance, too, was divided between three Railway Companies, each with its separate Board, secretary, directors, and staff. For many years these Companies had refused to issue through tickets, and passengers were obliged to take three sets of tickets for that journey. He could multiply instances of similar inconvenience and want of concentrated management, but he know that others who would follow him would produce from their several counties ample evidence of the necessity of State interference. He might mention that the recommendations of the various Committees which had considered the subject had in al- most every case a tendency towards the arrangement which he submitted to the House; while the Commission which had inquired into the subject of the railways of England, Scotland, and Ireland had stopped short of recommending the purchase of the Irish railways, it had elicited a mass of information which could not fail to support the Motion now before the House. Among other witnesses examined was the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General, who pointed out the great want of facilities in Ireland for the transit of ore, cattle, and articles of merchandise. There was one other witness whose evidence, from his great experience, was peculiarly valuable. It was the evidence of Sir Rowland Hill, which was to the effect that the management of the Irish railways was costly and inefficient; that the fares and rates were unnecessarily high; and that the public would derive great benefit from their amalgamation. This evidence was worth more than that of any other witness. It should be remembered what Sir Rowland Hill had achieved. He could well remember how, in 1838 and 1839, he was considered as a dreamer and a visionary, and the idea of a much reduced and uniform rate of postage was deemed irrational. Yet he had so correctly calculated results that he succeeded in bringing about a revolution in our postal system, and in realizing his prediction that, though at first there would be a falling off in the revenue, yet the loss would soon be recouped. There was not a country in the civilized world which had not followed our example in regard to uniformity of postage. When a man like Sir Rowland Hill advocated the purchase of Irish railways by the State, little more was needed to recommend the plan. Mr. John Fowler, Mr. Seymour Clarke, and the manager of the Caledonian Railway, all were in favour of the project. The first Commission was followed by two others, and they gave very important suggestions, though they were not invited to give an opinion upon the purchase of Irish railways, but only to inquire into their state of efficiency, the traffic, and the possible development of the system by the adoption of lower fares. Captain Tyler, in 1871, stated that State management ably administered would be more economical and more efficient; that it could have no possible object but the common good; and that a considerable reduction in fares might be expected. No doubt unity of management in the hands of the State would be of enormous advantage to the country. Of the two last Commissions to which he had referred, one was to collect information, and the other was principally to compare Irish railways with those of foreign countries, especially with those of Belgium. The latter reported strongly in favour of one united instead of a disjointed management. They stated that the traffic of Ireland required a special stimulus, and they proposed that there should be a reduction in first-class fares of 31 per cent; in second-class of 45 per cent; and in third-class of 42 per cent; and that for cattle there should be an average reduction of 32 per cent. They said that the charge for the purchase of the railways would be met by an increase of revenue, and that within 12 years they would receive a large income from this source. The names he had already quoted would give great weight to these suggestions, and prove that they were backed by the most practical public men, and supported by the highest scientific knowledge and experience. The operation of purchasing the Irish railways would not be of the magnitude that some people imagined. The hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) last year said that we were not prepared for such a gigantic experiment; but the fact was that the capital of all the Irish railways, including debentures and loans, was not more than £27,000,000, or not half the capital of one English company alone—the London and North-Western. [Mr. GOLDSMID said, that he had referred to all the railways of the kingdom.] But there was not the slightest intention to interfere with the English or Scotch railways. It would be perfectly ludicrous to attempt it. The Irish railways had not performed the duties expected of them. They had not developed the commerce, opened out the mines, or performed the functions which any well-organized railway system was capable of performing, and which the English railways were already doing. It was because they failed to perform the public service they were constituted to perform that this exceptional legislation was required. The hon. Member said that it was wanted to double the National Debt, to involve the country in an ex- penditure of £600,000,000; but there was no intention of the kind, nor could the present Motion be used in any way as a stepping-stone to interference with English railways. He could assure the hon. Member, and those who might share his alarm, that if the Irish railways at all approached the English and Scotch lines in efficiency of service and moderation of charge, the present Motion would not have been brought before the House. The net receipts of the Irish railways were over £1,000,000; so that at present, taking them altogether they yielded over 4 per cent on the whole capital, although of course the revenue was very unequally distributed among the different lines. If, however, the Government purchased them, it would be at once in its power to get rid of the impediments in the way of their economical and efficient working, by which means they might be made to pay a handsome profit. That was not a new subject. It had been occasionally brought before the House since the year 1865. In 1865 the right hon. Gentleman now at the head of the Government, in conformity with all the other authorities, had fully recognized the propriety and almost necessity of exceptional legislation on that matter in regard to Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman also admitted that— If it should be the desire of the Imperial Parliament to confer a pecuniary boon on Ireland, there would probably he no mode in which that boon could be conferred so free from all taint of partiality, and at the same time so comprehensive and effective in its application, as some measure taken with the view to secure to her the benefits of cheap railway transit"—[3 Hansard, clxxviii. 919.] He further stated that— If the Government could see their way to a useful and practical measure, they would not be disposed, and he did not think the majority of the House would be disposed, to drive a hard bargain with Ireland."—[3 Hansard, ccvii. 1786.] The right hon. Gentleman, he thought, in his speeches had conceded the question of principle, and only reserved the question of time and mode. He hoped, therefore, the Government would not now come forward and say that the task was one which was beyond their power. He could not believe that those who undertook to govern 150,000,000 people in our distant domains in India would shrink, when asked by the whole people of Ireland, to undertake so small an ob- ject as the management of their railways. He hoped they would show they had advanced beyond their former stage, and, recognizing the importance of the subject, would cast aside the cold abstractions of political economy, and the shackles of official prejudice, and meet the wishes of the Irish people in a liberal and enlightened spirit, and thus secure the gratitude of a united nation. The noble Lord concluded by moving his Resolution.


in seconding the Resolution, expressed his gratification at hearing that this question had not been submitted to the House in the interests of the Irish railway shareholders, nor in consequence of the failure of some of the Irish Railway Companies. He supported the Motion simply and solely in the interests of the public, because he believed if the Irish railways were taken up and controlled by the State they would confer a benefit on every class of the community, and not simply on those who had invested their money in making or carrying on these speculations. The railways of the country were becoming similar to what the high roads were in former days, and were, in fact, superseding those roads which had never been left in the hands of private or public companies, but had been intrusted to Imperial or municipal bodies. The feeling in Ireland was perfectly unanimous in favour of the railways being taken up by the State for the general good of the country. In making this proposal the Irish people wished it to be clearly understood that in the event of the Government purchasing those railways, and sustaining any loss by the enterprise, such loss would be cheerfully borne by Ireland, and not by the Imperial Exchequer. Under those circumstances, he thought it was somewhat hard that hon. Gentlemen connected with England should interfere to prevent the success of a proposal which would be beneficial to all classes in that country. If the purchase of the Irish railways by the Government should turn out a successful measure he confessed he saw no reason why the railways of England should not said, he would not be placed under the same system in the event of the English people desiring it. The principle of amalgamation of Railway Companies, which was extending, and which was so much recommended to them, he looked upon as being fraught with danger to the general interests of the people. It appeared to him that if we did not govern the railroads, the railroads would ultimately govern, us, and although many advantages might arise from amalgamation, he did not consider it an unmixed good, and did not regard the formation of enormously powerful corporations such as these amalgamated companies would become, without feeling some apprehension. He, for one, did not share in the feeling of apprehension that the possession of the railways by the State would confer upon it a dangerous amount of patronage. The purchase of the telegraphs of the kingdom did not confer any dangerous patronage upon the Government; and why should they fear any such result by the purchase of the Irish railways by Her Majesty's Government? To grant increased facilities to the companies to borrow money at low rates would not meet the requirements of the case, for this would benefit the shareholders without insuring to the public the improvements which they desired. The people of Ireland were almost unanimous in their desire that the railways should be purchased by the State, and if any expense was to be incurred they were ready to pay that expense themselves, and not come upon the British taxpayers for it.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, whilst expressing no opinion on the subject of State ownership or State management of Railways in other parts of the Empire, is of opinion that it is desirable (having regard to the universally expressed wishes and wants of the Irish people) that the Railways in Ireland should be acquired on equitable terms by the State, with a view to their management being conducted in the interests of the public; this measure to be carried out in such a way as not to involve any loss to the finances of the Empire."—(Lord Claud Hamilton.)


in rising to move— To leave out all the words after the word 'That,' and insert, 'the purchase of the Irish Railways by the State would be financially inexpedient, would unduly enlarge the patronage of the Government, and seriously increase the pressure of business in Parliament,' said, he would not follow the noble Lord (Lord Claud Hamilton) into the question of Irish manufactures, beyond remarking that the wollen manufacture of Ulster was still flourishing. He regretted that the noble Lord had declined to waive his Motion in favour of the Resolution for the purchase by the State of all the railways in the United Kingdom shortly to be moved by the hon. Member for Kidderminster, for the unprosperous condition of the Irish lines, the ground on which he had urged that they should be dealt with exclusively, was rather an argument against his proposal. When he himself stated last Session that the purchase of the Irish railways would be a stepping-stone to the purchase of the English and Scotch lines, he was met by protests, and amongst others the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Kavanagh) said that he had put up ninepins in order to knock them down again; but the truth of his argument was directly and satisfactorily proved, for the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Bass) immediately afterwards supported the Motion on that very ground, and now the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had expressed his willingness to vote for the larger measure if, on the success of the smaller one, the English people desired it. It was all very well for the noble Lord to ask the House to purchase the Irish railways; but that the hon. Gentleman (the O'Conor Don), who was a Home Ruler, should have seconded the Motion on the ground that Irishmen could not manage their own affairs was a remarkable admission and proof of the weakness of those Home Rule principles he had adopted. Shareholders in England, when a railway was ill-managed, found out the natural remedy and applied it by removing their boards of direction and appointing more competent men, and why could not Irishmen do the same? For example the North Eastern Railway formerly consisted of a large number of lines, with numerous boards and divided interests, with no free communication between the various systems, and no possibility of through rates. The shareholders compelled an amalgamation, and now the North Eastern was one of the most powerful and one of the best paying lines in the kingdom. To the argument that under Government management additional convenience and more frequent trains would be offered to the public he opposed the universal experience of travellers on the Continent, denying emphatically that they managed these things better either in France, where the lines were but partially, or in those parts of Germany where they were wholly under the control of the States. The truth was, that when the State owned the railways it esteemed it a duty to make as much money as possible on behalf of the country, and consequently the interests of the travelling public suffered. He would now briefly call attention to the disadvantages which would result to this country from having the railway system under the control and management of the State. The purchase of the telegraphs had been cited as a precedent by the hon. Gentleman, but this was scarcely a case in point; because not only was the capital of the Telegraph Companies small, although the Government paid an extravagant price for them; but also because the question of trust involved in the carriage of telegrams, as of letters, entirely altered, the considerations to be borne in mind. Then the argument that the railways were the highways of the country was wholly inaccurate; because Railway Companies, like Canal Companies, or coaches, were associations formed for the purpose of conveying passengers and goods from one part of the country to another. At all events, if the hon. Member's argument held good, the Government ought to purchase, not only the railways, but the canals, and the steamboats which afforded communication with our Colonies, and possibly tramways and many other commercial undertakings. As to the value of the Irish railways, the hon. Member for Galway (Sir Rowland Blennerhassett) stated last Session that the total capital was £22,963,270, but to-night the noble Lord said it amounted to £27,000,000. But last year, when the capital was only £22,963,270, the hon. Member stated that the Government would not be able to purchase the railways for less than £30,000,000, and if the value went on increasing in the same proportion as it did last year, we should have to pay £36,000,000 or £37,000,000. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had intimated that if the State purchased the Irish railways, it would only be at a reasonable price. But how could he get at the price except by arbitration or agreement. He certainly could not got it by the compulsion of an Act of Parliament. And looking at the valuation of the telegraph system, and considering how the value rose when the purchase was contemplated, who could tell what would be the case with respect to railways? He believed the country would not be able to obtain for less than £40,000,000 the Irish railways, the capital of which did not exceed £25,000,000, and the value of which was little more. And what would be the result? There would be a constant pressure on the Government to reduce the fares, to construct branch lines, which meant nonpaying lines, and these would reduce the value of the purchase. The House ought also to consider the increase of the National Debt which would be caused by the acquisition by the State of the railways. If the State bought the Irish railways the property would be inalienable, and could never be sold. The increase of the National Debt would therefore be a very serious matter. The purchase of the Irish railways would be the first step towards the purchase of all the railways in the United Kingdom. When this subject was recently discussed at the Statistical Society's meeting, the estimates of the cost of the construction of existing railways varied from £600,000,000 to £800,000,000. Whether they cost the larger or the smaller sum the State would not acquire them for much less than £1,000,000,000, and even if they could be got for £800,000,000, that would double the National Debt and raise it to £1,600,000,000. The largest National Debt in the world was now owing by France, and it amounted to between £1,100,000,000 and 11,200,000,000. As France had been unable to borrow the latter portion of her debt for less than 7 per cent, how could we expect to borrow £800,000,000 at 3 per cent? In time of pressure or danger could we hope to borrow so vast a sum on any terms whatever? And consider, too, what our position would be after having raised our debt to such a colossal sum if we ever had to go into the money market again. Then also, there was the possibility some day of some invention—he knew not what —which might supersede railways altogether. [A laugh.] Hon. Members might laugh; but less than 60 years ago people laughed at the idea that coaches and canals would ever be superseded. Something might be invented to override railways, and then the State would have purchased at a high price and at a great risk property of very little value. There was another consideration which the purchase of the railways by the State involved—the question of State control. He wanted to know how it could be expected that a Government already overburdened with work—which had hardly time to consider what had best be done for the public interests, and which had. reason to complain that the House of Commons had also too much to do, could undertake satisfactorily the control of large sums of money, the management of a vast body of men, and arrangements affecting the lives of the community, and the conveyance of enormous quantities of goods and minerals. Some persons affected to believe that if the Government had the control of the railways there would be no railway accidents. Was it, however, possible that a pointsman, because he was in the service of the Government, would be less likely to go to sleep, or that a signalman would never make a mistake, or that a stationmaster would never delay until too late shifting a train into a siding? He ventured to say that railway accidents would be just as numerous as ever. They had been gradually diminishing for many years, and now the proportion of fatal accidents was only one to about 31,000,000 of passengers. Such a result showed great and creditable care on the part of the present railway managers. How was one Minister to manage a number of lines that now required the constant attention of several Boards of Directors? The Chairman of the London and North Western had not long since stated that his Board had nearly as much as it could do, and that it could not undertake any considerable amount of additional labour. That was equally true of all the other great lines, and no Minister could manage to his own satisfaction or to that of the country, the whole railway system of the Empire. He would require for his assistance an enormous Board, far larger than the Indian Board, and a number of officials equal to the number of persons now employed as railway directors. Consequently the argument that State purchase would give greater economy of management would not hold water. The authority of Captain Tyler had been quoted in favour of the purchase of railways by the State; but it was natural he should look for promotion, and if the purchase were made, Captain Tyler would no doubt have a very good place in the new arrangements. Besides, there was a natural acquisitiveness on the part of Government employés. But he would rather rely upon the evidence of one who had been connected with railway supervision, and was so no longer—such a man, for example, as Captain Galton, who had had a largo experience in railways, and who was strenuously of opinion that it would be against the public interest for railways to be purchased by the State. Then came the question of patronage. If the Government had the patronage of 300,000 railway employés, it would disturb the whole machinery of Government. It might be said that, practically, the patronage would not rest with the Government; but even if a graduated system of promotion existed there would be 20,000 places to give away every year and all kinds of influences would be brought to bear in favour of particular persons. It might be said that these persons would be appointed by competitive examination; but he failed to see how pointsmen, signal men, and railway porters could be selected under a system of competitive examination. So large an amount of patronage in the hands of the State would be a source of great evil and danger to the Government of the day, and would be a constant cause of difficulty and trouble to Members of that House. Hon. Members could not have forgotten how they used to be asked to obtain the influence of the Secretary to the Treasury to get places under Government, and how salutary had been the change effected in that respect by the present Prime Minister. If the Government bought the railways this difficulty of patronage as it formerly existed would be more than doubled. Again, many of the great Railway Companies had embarked in other undertakings. The Great Western had extensive works at Swindon for building carriages, &c. The London and North-Western had similar works at Crewe. Some Railway Companies had docks, others steamers and hotels, and recently they had been contemplating the purchase of coal mines in consequence of the difficulty in obtaining regular supplies of coal. If the State purchased the railways it would be necessary to take over all these undertakings. The tendency of the present day was to forget that the duty of a Government was not to trade but to govern. If it traded at all it was only permissible to do so in such matters as dockyards, ships, and the manufacture of arms and uniforms, which were necessary for the defence and therefore for the government of the country. To go into enterprises such as might be legitimate enough on the part of Railway Companies, but which after all were not necessary for the State, was, however, travelling out of the proper province of a Government, and was an error against which Members sitting on the Liberal side of the House were especially bound to protest. Then they would find gigantic Unions organized throughout the country among the railway operatives; and if the Government did not give satisfaction in the matter of wages they would, probably, have gigantic strikes to deal with, and that it was possible for the Government not to give satisfaction he, as a dockyard Member, had ample experience. They had, moreover, a recent instance of this in the discontent which had existed among the employés in the Civil Service. Then, in addition to the questions which would continually engage the attention of the Government in respect to fares, rates, and extensions, and so on, there would be the question of compensation; and we should, probably, find the Government employing half the legal talent of the country in connection with actions brought against them under the Passengers Act and the Common Carrier Acts. All these matters would add greatly to the difficulties of carrying on the Government, and one or two of them alone would be sufficient to counterbalance the imaginary advantages which would accrue from the State purchase of railways. Again, it would, he believed, be almost impossible to overrate the disturbance which would arise from the pressure which might in times of danger be brought against the Government. About one matter, however, there could be little doubt. Whatever was to be done it was above all things desirable that her Majesty's Government should speak out. Last Session the noble Lord the Chief Secretary for Ireland in his speech upon this subject, at one moment implied that Her Majesty's Government were seriously considering the policy of purchasing the railways, and at another said that the Government were not prepared to accede to the proposal that they should be acquired by the State. This ambiguity of phrase had had an unfortunate result, and he had even been informed that the possibility of the State purchasing the railways had been regarded in some quarters in Ireland as so strong that no proper attention had in the case of some lines been paid to the permanent way, it being thought unnecessary, because Her Majesty's Government could do it better. He could not help holding that such speeches as the one to which he referred were calculated to excite false hopes. So much, he believed, had this been the case in the present instance that the market price of the shares in even unremunerative lines had gone up considerably since the agitation of last year. He therefore begged Her Majesty's Government to give a decisive, and he hoped a negative answer to the question raised by the Motion of the noble Lord opposite. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the purchase of the Irish Railways by the State would be financially inexpedient, would unduly enlarge the patronage of the Government, and seriously increase the pressure of business in Parliament,"—(Mr. Goldsmid,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, he thought that those hon. Members who could not concur in the argument of his hon. Friend who had just spoken would at the same time feel the justice of his appeal to the Government that they should speak out on this question, and not only that they should speak out but speak early. He did not accept the censure of the hon. Gentleman upon what had been said last year by his noble Friend (the Marquess of Hartington) on behalf of the Government on this subject. What his noble Friend had expressed, and what Government had expressed, was this—that, looking to the state of the railway system in Ireland and to the wide-spread feeling in Ireland, it was the duty of the Government to do what without very great cause they would not have done at all—namely, to make a thorough examination of the subject, and arrive at a conclusion, aye or no, on the question whether they could propose to Parliament the purchase of the Irish railways. That was the undertaking into which they entered, and of course it followed that when time had been allowed for the redemption of the undertaking they should state the result to the House. He did not go along with his hon. Friend who had just spoken to the full extent as to the connection sought to be established between the Irish and English railways; but in one proposition he had pronounced he did emphatically concur, and he referred to it now, because it must lie at the root of every discussion on the subject. His hon. Friend had said that the business of Government was not to trade, but to govern, and they must not conceive that it was always an open question whether Government should or should not take into its hands the management of some great trade or undertaking. Nothing but a case that might be said to amount to very nearly a rigid necessity could warrant the State in undertaking a trade or business. It was upon that principle that Government had undertaken the business of the Post Office, which was a business that no one else could perform with tolerable satisfaction. It was upon the same principle that Government had undertaken that peculiar system of banking originally involved in the Savings Banks, where the State was the principal agent, and in the Post Office Savings Banks, where the State was the sole agent. It was on the same principle that the State, going one step farther, and acting on perhaps a less rigid definition, had acquired the telegraph system, and the question was now whether it was possible for the State to purchase the railways of Ireland. There were very serious reasons why this subject should be taken into consideration, and for his own part, had the transaction been merely a financial transaction—had it been merely a question of acquiring the proprietorship of the railways, and then of using them as a great landlord used his lands, in leasing them or letting them for a term at a rack-rent to those who could manage them—he should have regarded it as one of great difficulty. He might say, in the first place, that the noble Lord had discussed the question with great fairness. The Irish railway system as it now existed was comparatively a weak system. Ireland itself had great capacity for the development of traffic, and the development of that traffic would be of enormous benefit to that country. In England we had attained magnificent results under a railway system which had extended to every available district in the country, and which had more than met the demands made upon it. In Ireland, however, these results had not been attained to anything like the same extent, for the system, while extremely limited and confined geographically within what they might call very narrow bounds, was also very disjointed and wanting in that union and connection which were so necessary to its efficiency. That the amalgamation of the Railway Companies would be of very great moment he could not doubt, and that Ireland desired that this purchase should be made by the State he also did not doubt. He felt bound to say that he did not see that the adoption of the principle with regard to Ireland necessarily involved its extension to England. He went a little further. Not only would it not render necessary the adoption of the same principle in Great Britain, but it would not have any sensible effect in prejudicing, or weakening the position of Government for resisting any plan in England or Scotland that might be brought forward. The circumstances were so different that he did not feel that the judgment of Parliament would be compromised by any step that it might adopt with reference to Ireland. These admissions he freely made. Before going farther he would urge his hon. Friend (Mr. Goldsmid) not to press his Amendment, because it was not an Amendment in the proper sense of the word; it was a series of negatives, and it would be better that the House should vote on the affirmative or negative of the Motion of the noble Lord (Lord Claud Hamilton.) So far as his own opinion was concerned the consideration he had given the subject had been conducive of disabling him from supporting the Motion of his noble Friend opposite. He frankly admitted the abundance of the declarations they had had from all the organs of Irish opinion with respect to the willingness of Ireland to assume the pecuniary liability which the carrying out of the scheme might involve. He must, however, claim the admission on the other side that no distinct plan for the purchase of railways, and for charging the possible cost of the plan upon Ireland, had ever been presented to Her Majesty's Government. That was a point of great importance. How was the cost of these railways to be charged upon Ireland? Because, he assumed—of course, he did not question for a moment—that if these railways were to be purchased, it must be for the purpose of giving to the Irish people the benefit of a very large reduction of fares and rates. If that were so, a very considerable risk would necessarily be run. His noble Friend opposite had referred with great fairness and propriety to the Report of the Commissioners and others who examined this matter, and who were thought to have taken rather a sanguine than a desponding view, but who showed there would be for a considerable time a charge of no small amount to be met. How was Ireland to supply the deficiency? Was it to be done by a rate upon Irish property? There had been no indication of how the engagement would be met, although the readiness to enter into it had been so freely professed. If it were to be met by a rate on Irish property, they should bear in mind that they were in the midst of a discussion as to local taxation—a subject the extreme difficulty of which they all acknowledged—and also that the three kingdoms—even including Ireland—were suitors for relief from local burdens out of the Imperial Exchequer. And if the local burdens of Ireland were to be augmented by laying upon her people a serious addition, at all events for a term of years, for the purpose of bearing the charge of the purchase of the railways, he had to ask himself whether that would not have a very important effect either in strengthening the case of Ireland for relief from the Imperial Exchequer in respect of her local burdens, or at least quicken agitation in Ireland—he used the word in its legitimate sense—for the purpose of obtaining such relief. So that they might find themselves in this position—that if they imposed on the land and real property of Ireland a direct charge in consequence of the acquisition of the railways, they might find that fact in some degree an incentive to augmented activity in Ireland in urging a demand for the reduc- tion of charges which that property now bore. It should be remembered, too, that the Railway Companies in Ireland during the whole of the discussion as to the purchase of their property, which had extended now, off and on, over a period of 10 years, had never shown the slightest sign of life, or the slightest indication of a wish to give facilities. Everything that had been done had been done by the Irish public. No doubt the holders of shares had shown that they had formed their own impressions as to the bearings of the matter, but the companies had studiously remained on the defensive. Virtually they had said to Parliament—"If this matter is to be entertained you must become suitors and petitioners to us. We are not asking you to purchase our property. If we were, you would have a right to expect us to tender it upon terms of great moderation. But you take the initiative. You ask us to sell, and therefore we have some title to demand our own price, and are not to be dealt with as those who are willing to be expropriated, and should receive a pretty handsome allowance in consideration of our unwillingness." Another view of the case ought not to be left out of consideration. A Royal Commission had been appointed to examine into the whole subject of railways in England, Scotland, and Ireland, and he was the person responsible for the choice of its members. The head of the Commission was the Duke of Devonshire, and its vice-head was the present Lord Derby, then Lord Stanley. The object in view in forming that Commission was to bring together as much experience, assiduity, impartiality, intelligence, and general weight as it was possible to secure within the limits of a Royal Commission, and undoubtedly the Commission was formed of men of whom he could, from his own personal knowledge, say that, in reference to the purchase of the railways by the State, and particularly of the Irish railways, they had not any adverse bias. There were some of them whose leaning was distinctly in that direction; but they were not men governed by any foregone conclusion. Notwithstanding that fact, the result at which they arrived was not only adverse to the purchase of the English, but also of the Irish railways. He did not say that that circumstance ought to govern the opinion of Parliament; but it certainly ought to be borne in mind in considering a matter in which authority must necessarily have something to do. For his own part, he drew a great distinction—he did not know that all his Colleagues were prepared to go as far as he did—between the merely financial and the trading operation. Assuming that they could obtain the railways on reasonable terms, was it possible to deal with the matter as a financial operation only? Would they be justified in expecting that they could instruct the Railway Commissions about, probably, to be appointed, to lease the railways to private persons, so that the management and conduct of the railways should continue to be a matter of private enterprise?—that thus, too, the questions of patronage, of the undue pressure of local interests, of accidents, of strikes, and those other matters to which his hon. Friend (Mr. Goldsmid) had alluded might be avoided? For his part, he did not regard the mere financial operation as a matter of hopeless difficulty, although he was by no means sure that it was one which Parliament would be ready to adopt. There was much in what his hon. Friend had said to the effect that those things were extensions of public liability—new weights laid upon the public credit. But though he was conscious of that fact, he thought the acquisition of the property, which was real property, was a matter which need not alarm them if the public benefit to be attained was very great, if it could be attained in no other way, and if nothing but the financial operation were in question. But here he was met by a difficulty which he, for one, knew not how to get over, even if Parliament could be induced to get over the objection as to the extension of the public credit. He put aside the argument as to the probability of some new invention superseding the railway system. It was too remote, and they could, he thought, afford to part with it. A most important question was this—if it was practicable for the State to become the purchaser of railways, was the State, after it had purchased them, to manage them as a Scotch landlord generally managed his landed property—namely, by leasing it out to cultivators, which cultivators were invested with temporary interest in the soil sufficient to induce them to give all their time to the cultivation of it? He spoke here not of his own authority; but he was assured on all sides that the system of working railways by leasing them had been tried repeatedly, and had not been found practicable upon an extended scale. If it had not been found practicable under private companies, still less, he was afraid, would it be found practicable under the State. Now that lay, he thought, at the root of the whole matter. In trading concerns he confessed that he was not prepared to deal; and he doubted if his noble Friend (Lord Claud Hamilton) was himself prepared to adopt such a principle, because he certainly referred to the leasing of lines as the method to be contemplated. As had been already well said, their trade was not to do the business of trading, but to govern. If the State undertook to work railways, the Government would become involved in a multitude of questions which he knew not how to escape. Was it to be supposed that a Railway Department could be worked under a Railway Secretary of State, or a President of Railway Management responsible to that House? One of the most obvious things to his mind was that that would be totally impossible. It was totally impossible to suppose that if the State attempted to work railways directly, and under principles of Parliamentary responsibility, the persons intrusted with the carrying out of that system would not be liable to pressure, legitimate and illegitimate, in every sense from every quarter. When they spoke of the passenger traffic of the country they spoke of something sufficiently intricate, but the passenger traffic was child's play compared with the goods traffic. In one company alone there were charged not less than £3,000,000 of rates for different goods from different places. [An Hon. MEMBER: £4,000,000.] Whether it were£ 3, 000,000 or £4, 000,000 how was it possible that the Government could have elasticity and flexibility enough to make itself the Guardian of the public interest in such infinite details. A Commission such as that which they were about to institute could never govern in details like these. He would not dwell on the question of patronage. He thought that admissions to: railway service might be managed as admissions to the public Departments were managed; but with regard to promotion under a railway system, that could not be put into the hands of the Administration of the day. It must be given to some public and permanent body like the Railway Commission, which would thus grow to much larger proportions than they had proposed to give it. He was not much inclined to those great Parliamentary creations, whether under the name of a Commission or under any other name. They had not in. them the wholesome constitution which belonged to really popular functions, and nothing but the strongest necessity would induce him willingly to entertain the question of appointing such a body. He had admitted and lamented the evils of the railway system in Ireland, and he was most anxious on this subject, because he thought the delay in remedying those evils might have operated injuriously against Ireland in other respects. He could not help thinking that great benefit might be conferred on Ireland by the extension of British Railway influence into Ireland. He could not conceive that anything would be more advantageous to Ireland than this—that the great companies which now communicated with the West Coast of England and Scotland should communicate with the east coast too. The distinction between the East and the West was gradually being weakened and effaced. It appeared to him that these great companies might, with the greatest advantage, concern themselves further than they had yet done with the development of Irish traffic, and endeavour to establish arrangements between the Irish Railway Companies and themselves. He understood that the Great Western Railway Company had made some step in that direction. He had heard of small railways combined into one in the south-west of Ireland, and forming a system comprising nearly 400 miles. That was a germ of improvement which he hoped would be developed. With respect to the recommendation given in the year 1837, that the Irish railways should receive exceptional treatment, he would say a few words. He had already said that they could not possibly undertake the purchase and working of Irish railways, and the purchase and working were inseparable, and even if they could be separated it would be very difficult to induce Parliament to accept the pur- chase even without the working. As to the State giving pecuniary assistance to Irish railways in the form of loans at low rates of interest, he admitted that it would be advisable to advance money at a low rate of interest if the public were to derive the benefit of a development of traffic; but it was one thing to advance money in order to promote the development of traffic, and another thing to lend money to a Railway Company in order to avert the last extremity—the seizure of its rolling stock. It was impossible for the Government to take the initiative in any plan for the advance of these loans; they must depend entirely upon applications from the Railway Companies themselves; and he was only going to state what was a possible mode or means of conferring a certain amount of benefit on Ireland without entailing undue responsibility upon the finances of the country or in any manner interfering with the general work of the Government, or adding tasks to an Executive that might be already said to be overdone. It was quite plain that there was room for a large economy in Irish railways. In the first place, there would be a very large economy in management if the Railway Companies found it for their own interest to unite. It could not properly be said that they could not unite because one was rich and another poor, because the poor railway could find out what it was worth and the rich railway would know on what terms it would be warranted in paying the poor line; and he knew of no reason why amalgamation should not take place if the parties were so disposed. He had heard it stated, on very high authority, that in this way some £50,000 a-year would be saved. Upon the Irish lines there was an amount borrowed upon debenture and other security of £6,345,000, and he presumed there would be a saving, if it were wise for the public to assume that debt, and become creditor—supposing the security were in all cases perfect—of such an amount as would enable them to make a present to the Railway Companies in Ireland of not less than £70,000 or £80,000 a-year. If to that sum were added the £40,000 or £50,000 per annum which could be saved by economy of management resulting from amalgamation, there would thus be a total sum of £130,000 per annum standing to the credit of the Irish Railway Companies. The income of the Irish railways, after paying the working expenses for the period for which the latest Returns had been received, amounted to £1,050,000, and that sum, together with the £130,000 he had just referred to, would give a net dividend of 12 per cent on the share capital of those lines. There was evidently a clear margin within the limits of which very large reductions might be made in the fares, and especially in the rates of the Irish railways, and thus a great benefit might be conferred upon Ireland without pecuniary risk, without drawing this country into any extended engagements or legislative innovation, and without giving rise to any serious practical difficulty. It was quite impossible, however, for the Government to take the initiative in such a matter, because it depended entirely upon the arrangements and upon the economical management of the Railway Companies themselves. The first and the most essential step would be that the Irish Railway Companies should agree upon some reasonable principle of amalgamation, and should arrange among themselves for the transfer of the debt; and when that step had been taken the initiative would lie with the Railway Companies, because the security could only be accepted in the event of it being perfect. It would be the duty of the Government in the event of the companies assenting to the arrangement he had indicated to take care that any reduction in the fares and rates which the companies might agree to make should be added to the amount of the debt. He had gone thus far into the scheme, because the Government had a most sincere desire towards remedying the admitted defects of the Irish railway system, provided they could do it without interfering with private enterprise and without raising serious political or practical difficulties. He hoped what he had said might be sufficiently intelligible to the noble Lord who had brought forward this Motion, and Ito was sure that it would be taken as an indication of the readiness that was felt by the House in all quarters to provide by any fair measure that did not involve any false or vital principle, for the extension to Ireland of those enormous benefits that this country had so largely derived from the railway system. The principle was not new; it was one that had been already acted upon, only rather for the purpose of meeting overhanging evils and pressing necessities, than as an instrument for drawing forth new and extended energies. He had no means of judging how far any practical result would flow from this expression of willingness on the part of the Government, but of course the matter would depend entirely upon the decision at which the Irish Railway Companies themselves arrive with regard to the course they should pursue in relation to this question. With regard to the purchase of the Irish railways by the State he trusted that in the remarks he had made he had shown that the Government had fully redeemed the pledge they had entered into to give the subject their most careful consideration, and it was with much reluctance on the part of some of them, and perhaps, therefore, with the more authority, that they had felt compelled to arrive at the conclusion that it was their duty to meet the Motion of the noble Lord with a negative, although they at the same time fully sympathized with the motives that had induced him to bring the subject forward.


commented upon the absence of any authoritative body which could speak in the name of Ireland, and asked whether the Telegraph Companies initiated the movement which led to their purchase by the Government? There were sources of revenue exclusively Irish from which any possible loss arising from the present proposal could be met, and he saw no reason why the new Commission could not manage the Irish railways. He deprecated an increase of such influence as the English companies at present exercised in Ireland, involving, as it did, an unnatural diversion of traffic and in some instances a great sacrifice of public convenience by traffic being forced round. Amalgamation in limited areas was advantageous; but if the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government was well acquainted with the circumstances of Ireland, he would have hesitated to look forward to any great development of the Irish system, either from amalgamation or the extension of the influence of the great English companies in Ireland. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was that if the Irish Railway Companies, having amalgamated to some undefined extent, and having gained £50,000 by that amalgamation, applied to the State, the State should, by advancing the amount of their debts, save them £80,000 a-year, which, added to the £50,000, would amount to a total saving of £130,000. He stated that these advantages would be given to the companies on condition of their giving reciprocal advantages to the public; but he did not show how the reduction of rates was either to be defined or regulated. The scheme could not be carried out by a proportionate reduction of fares, [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!], but only by an entire recasting of the fares. There would also be this difficulty in the way—that the price paid to the different companies would be greatly diversified and inversely to the advantage the public ought to gain, for the largest loans were held by the poorer companies with short lines, on which reduction of rates would yield in the aggregate little relief to the public. The great companies, like the Great Southern and Western, the lowering of whose rates would benefit the public, would gain little by the proposed arrangement—at most a half per cent in the rate of interest they paid. The Government of France, though it supervised, certainly took no part in the management of the railways; and it was rather odd that the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) should pass from the railways of France to those of Germany without taking those of Belgium on the way. In Belgium the State managed almost all the railways, and in the Belgian Parliament, the question having been fully debated whether the State ought to manage the railways with a view to profit or with a view to the advantage of the public, the conclusion which prevailed was that the public advantage should be the great object of their management—not the production of revenue. That principle had been acted upon in Belgium, where the opinion had been largely expressed throughout the country that the State should acquire the management of all the railways. That was the system which he advocated for Ireland. With regard to accidents, he believed they were fewer in proportion under State management in Belgium than under the management of companies in this country. It had been asked—How could one Minister manage the whole of the railways? Nobody had suggested that one Minis- ter should manage all the railways in the United Kingdom; and as to the Irish railways in particular, why a single English company managed a more extensive system. Again, it had been urged that it was the business of the State not to trade but to govern; but in regard to a matter like providing proper means of locomotion throughout the country for the benefit of the whole people, it might well be for the advantage of the public that such functions should be discharged by the State. They all knew how great was the influence of the railway interest at this day even in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister, in a memorable passage, often quoted, had stated, not that legislation in respect to Ireland should always be in conformity with Irish opinion, but that in matters affecting Ireland exclusively or mainly the opinion of Ireland ought to prevail. Well, this was a proposal which concerned Ireland alone; and it was admitted that the Irish people desired that their railways should be purchased by the State. They were practically unanimous in that desire, and they did not seek to involve England in any financial responsibility. No doubt the opinion of the majority of the Imperial Parliament ought to prevail on all Imperial questions; but it ought not to prevail on local questions, and those who sought to overrule the wishes of the Irish people on this question would incur a serious responsibility.


said, that having taken part in the discussion on this subject last Session, he should like to say a few words on the altered aspect of the question according to the proposals made by the Prime Minister. He thought the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman were exceedingly liberal, and that if they were accepted by the people of Ireland and the Railway Companies in the spirit in which they were made, they would be productive of great good. By adopting that plan no question as to the amount of capital would enter into the discussion at all, and no great disturbance of the existing state of things would take place. But the hon. Member for Longford (Mr. O'Reilly) complained that the Primo Minister had not shadowed forth any mode by which the railways in different parts of Ireland could be grouped together so as to be worked as a whole in the same manner as railways in this country had been grouped together—in particular the north-eastern group of railways had been referred to. Knowing something about the amalgamation of the lines covering a great part of the North of England, he could state that as regards their amalgamation no question of the amount of capital was stirred or required to be stirred. There was no question of capitalizing the railways and saying—this was worth so many millions, and that was worth so many more. The principle upon which the amalagamation took place was this:—One railway, say, earned 1½t, another 3, and another 5, and they united on the principle that as long as the profits stood at these amounts, each company would get exactly its 1½or 5 per cent., as the case might be; but whenever, through the economical working of the railways, the revenue increased 5 or 10 per cent, the dividends which each company had been earning was to be increased to that extent; and since the amalgamation the railways of the North of England had nearly doubled their revenue. In that case there was no question of the amount of capital—it was a simple plan for uniting them together for economical working. If the new Railway Commissioners were to be instructed to divide the railways in Ireland into perhaps three groups or more, as they thought most convenient for their working, and if they were to encourage all those railways forming each group to unite together on the principle he had explained, then if they could save £40,000 or £50,000 in their working expenses, immediately to that extent would the dividends of the shareholders be increased. In like manner, if the Government lent the money at the rate of 3½ per cent, no doubt to the poorer companies it would save 1 per cent, and to the others 1½ per cent, and in that way very great benefit would accrue to Ireland. Moreover, in that case the Government would not require to interfere in regard to the working of the railways. If, on the other hand, the principle which the noble Lord opposite (Lord Claud Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Longford advocated was to be adopted, just look at the consequences that would follow; and he was quite satisfied that while the arrangement would be beneficial to the present rail- way shareholders of Ireland, it would not be quite so beneficial to Ireland as the plan shadowed forth by the Prime Minister. The present capital of the Irish railways was about £27,000,000. He did not suppose that the Government would deal with the Irish railways in the same extravagant manner as they dealt with the Telegraph Companies; but he would assume that the Irish Railway Companies would get one-third more than the present capital; that would bring the £27,000,000 up to £36,000,000. The present net revenue from. those railways was about 11,050, 000 a-year, which on £27,000,000 of capital would give 3¼ per cent. But if the Government were to pay £36,000,000 for them it would only pay 2¾ per cent. Then it was contended that no good would accrue to Ireland from a change in the present system unless there was a large reduction of fares. But assuming only a very moderate reduction to take place instead of a very large reduction, a very moderate reduction would reduce their 2¾ per cent to 2 per cent. Where were they then? The Government would have paid £36,000,000, on which they were to get 2 per cent. But, said the hon. Member for Longford, "Oh! the deficiency will be made up;" or rather lie meant that there would be no deficiency. He (Mr. M'Laren) could not understand how the hon. Member arrived at that conclusion—but supposing that the statement was made in perfect good faith, that the deficiency would be made up, how would it be made up? A deficiency in revenue there must be —perhaps of 2 per cent, and an assessment would have to be laid upon all the property of Ireland in order to replace it. Were the people of Ireland prepared to do that? Was the land of Ireland to be saddled with a tax of £1,000,000 a-year for the purpose of enabling those who travelled by railways to do so at reduced rates, and of putting a bonus of one-third into the pockets of the shareholders? The shareholders of Irish railways were not necessarily Irishmen, as was well known; the shares were held to a large extent by Englishmen and Scotchmen. Well, if they were to give the man who had invested £1,000 in Irish railways, and who resided in London, a bonus of one-third on the value of his shares, what good would that do to the people of Ireland? Or supposing them to be all Irishmen, how would it benefit all Irishmen that individual Irishmen should receive a bonus of 33 per cent on their investment? For that was what it came to. For the reasons he had stated, he entirely sympathised with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. J. Goldsmid.) He thought the plan shadowed forth by the Government was a most liberal measure, and that it would confer greater benefit on the people of Ireland than any scheme for buying up the Irish railways to be worked by the Government.


said, he should be sorry, as an Irishman, to support this Motion unless it was distinctly understood that the Irish should be fully prepared to bear the brunt of any shortcomings that might arise—and that in a manner the most satisfactory to the Government. It was hard to charge the Representatives of Ireland with having spontaneously originated this movement. The best way of ascertaining what the Railway Companies would take for their shares would be by appointing a Commission to inquire into the matter, and if their demands were extravagant he would not expect the Government to enter into the scheme. There were certain points and characteristics in the purchase of Irish railways connected with the industry and prosperity of that country that required relief. Immediate relief should be given to the manufactures of the country and the fishing interest in the reduction of transit fares. If that were done, a large quantity of fish might be transported to the English market. Conger eels and other coarse fish that could not be eaten in Ireland, would then be sent to England at a fair profit. If the directors of the various Irish railways were to adopt a liberal policy it would very soon amply repay itself.


supported the Motion. He desired to express his disappointment at the proposal of the Primo Minister, which would, no doubt, be a boon to the companies, but would be of very little benefit to the Irish people. What they complained of was that the fares and rates were very much too high; that the accommodation was not sufficient; and that the interests of the public were entirely sacrificed to those of the shareholders. For instance, on the line which ran near where he lived the fares for first-class passengers for 100 miles were 18s. 8d.; whereas on the Lancashire and Yorkshire line first-class fares for the same distance were only 12s. 2d. Second and third class passengers, who were a class more deserving of consideration, paid in proportion. Then in Ireland, while people had to pay seven-eighths of a penny per ton per mile for carrying coals, the charge in England was only three-eighths of a penny, or less than half. Many persons were under the impression that the Irish railways were very badly managed. That was not so, as far as the present profit of the shareholders was concerned; but with a view to ulterior profit the companies would study their own interest better if they lowered their fares very considerably. Under the present system of management the interests of the public were totally set aside, and so it must be as long as the railways were in the hands of directors acting only on behalf of their shareholders, and in support of this he could not do better to express the real state of affairs than by quoting the few but very concise words of Captain Tyler, who said— The object of company management is within certain limits to keep the charges at the figures which yield the highest dividends. and he described the result of State management and though the hon. Member would not commit himself so far as to declare himself a supporter of that system, nor was it the only alternative to the present system, yet it was very worthy of consideration. Captain Tyler in contradistinction to company management, said— The object of State management would be to reduce the charges to the utmost, consistently with the avoidance of loss and the realization of a moderate margin of profit. It cannot be doubted that under State management a fair return would be obtained with charges very much reduced and a traffic enormously increased, nor that such charges would be of incalculable benefit to the country. The Prime Minister had said the Railway Companies had shown no inclination whatever to sell their property; but the right hon. Gentleman could not have known that last autumn the shareholders of the Great Southern and Western were consulted and 95 per cent of them assented most gladly to the proposal to accept for their interest in the railway the price of the shares on the last day of the previous year, plus 25 per cent. This showed as clearly as possible the disposition of the largest railway in Ireland.


said, that a Petition signed by 90 of the Irish Members and all the Irish Peers had been presented praying the Government to take this matter into their own hands, and it was expected that they would take the subject into consideration and give the result of their deliberations, and he was therefore amazed at the speech which had been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government. If there was any one measure on which the Irish people were of one mind and on which the Irish Members would go into the lobby it was the question of Irish railways; and yet the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) protested against the boon being granted lest the people of England and Scotland should desire the same thing, and he had no doubt that the English and Scotch Members would unite to defeat the Motion of the noble Lord (Lord Claud Hamilton). The hon. Member for Rochester had asked why the Irish people did not manage their own affairs. He answered, because the hon. Member would not allow them. The Prime Minister had proposed a scheme by which the Railway Companies would be helped out of their difficulties, a proposal which would be very acceptable to the holders of railway shares, but would be no boon to the people who wished for lower fares and cheap transit for their produce. Whilst assistance to the extent of £79,000,000 had been granted to India, and guarantees had been given to Canada and New Zealand, what had been granted to Ireland? The way in which the Irish railways were treated by the Treasury was certainly not encouraging. In one case a Railway Company—the Dunmanway and Skibbereen, of which he was a director—obtained the sanction of Parliament to borrow money to the extent of two-thirds of its capital, or £53,000, and that sum they proposed to borrow from the State upon a baronial guarantee worth £150,000 a-year. But the Treasury declined to entertain the application, although it was pressed upon them several times, and although the security was ample. In the end the directors, who owned large and valuable estates, offered to borrow the money on their own personal security, under the provisions of the Act 1 & 2 Will.IV., but still the Treasury declined to entertain the matter. The State was ready enough to give guarantees to Indian, Canadian, and New Zealand undertakings, and why might not similar help and a similar guarantee be given in the case of Ireland? As it was, the Irish Commissioners of Works, who should surely be the parties to decide whether loans were to be made for Irish purposes, had to communicate with the Treasury in this country, and the result was that endless difficulties were thrown in the way. What was the result of the many interviews with the Government to induce them to help Irish Railway Companies, and of the agitation that had been carried on upon this subject for years? Merely this—the right hon. Gentleman expressed a hope that Railway Companies in Ireland would unite, which he knew perfectly well they would not do. He (Mr. M'Carthy Downing) wished the people of Ireland were at liberty to manage their own local affairs. He would endeavour for the rest of his life to obtain for them that liberty, for it seemed that nothing was to be done for Ireland by the British Parliament.


said, that before the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken could cut loose the moorings of Ireland from England there were others to be consulted, and England was determined that these moorings should not be cut away. England was very anxious for the interest and welfare of Ireland, and that Ireland should be governed by just laws and by every means that would conduce to her advantage; but she was not going to do for Ireland what she was not prepared to do for herself or for Scotland. Now, he, for one, was not prepared to purchase the railways of Ireland, England, or Scotland. [Mr. M'CARTHY DOWNING: Allow me to say that I have not said one single word in favour of the purchase of the railways.] He asked what the hon. Gentleman's speech had been about, then. Had he been giving the House another example of Ireland by not knowing what he was talking about, or even the subject before the House? The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had said that after mature deliberation the Government had come to the conclusion that they could not advise Parliament to sanction the purchase of the Irish railways by the State; but he should have gone a little further, and have removed all false hopes on the subject of the purchase of any of the railways of the United Kingdom by the State. He blamed those who sat on the front benches on both sides of the House for leading the people of Ireland to believe that something was to be done in the matter of the purchase of the Irish railways by the State; but whatever they would have done, it was a proposition from which the sound sense of the House would have revolted by a large majority. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government had announced that he was prepared to advise that a certain amount of money should be lent to the Irish Railway Companies, at a less percentage than they could obtain it elsewhere, with which to take up their debenture stock. But had the right hon. Gentleman considered that the result of this course would in all probability be to bring forward infinite claims on behalf of other Irish enterprises for similar loans? If Ireland was anxious to prosper she should learn the secret of prosperity. Irish Railway Companies should learn how to amalgamate and how to make their lines pay, and Ireland generally should take care not to frighten away capital, as had been done in the case of the recent riots among the fishermen in Bantry Bay. The proposition to purchase the railways was outrageous and unsound, and one no Government would have a right to undertake. He trusted that the Railway Commissioners who were to be appointed under the Bill which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would be able to do something to benefit the Irish railways. He should deeply regret that a patronage as extensive as that of the railways should devolve upon any Government, who would be sure to use it for the purpose of serving political purposes.


said, that the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) lad complained of unfair treatment that he and some friends of his had sustained in not receiving a loan from the Commissioners of the Treasury through the Irish Board of Works for the purpose of finishing a railway between Skibbereen and Dunmanway. He should be unwilling that Irish Gentlemen should think there was any unfairness in the treatment of the hon. Member, and he would therefore state the facts of the case. The railway was founded by an Act of Parliament, in a plain and sensible manner, and it was to cost £80,000, to be raised in two portions; £40,000 by shares, and £40,000 pari passu by mortgaging the lands and buildings of the railway. In the original Bill a clause was inserted to the effect that the baronies through which the line passed would guarantee that the dividend for 35 years should not be less than £5 per cent. When the Bill came before the House of Lords a clause was inserted in it under which power was given to authorize the Irish Board of Works to lend such sums as might be required to complete the line, on the security of the guarantee to which he had referred. [Mr. M'CARTIIY DOWNING remarked that this provision was contained in the original Bill.] Well, that made no difference. One would suppose that the Railway Company had nothing to do under these circumstances but to set to work to raise its £40,000 of share capital, and to raise the remaining sum required by mortgage, especially considering the boundless wealth possessed, as the House had been informed by the hon. Gentleman, by those interested in it. But the promoters took a different view of it, and this was the plan they devised for making the railway. They proposed to raise £16,000 by debentures, and to borrow £53,000 from the Irish Board of Works, without raising one single sixpence of capital by means of shares. This plan being submitted to the Treasury, he found, among other objections, that though the £53,000 was to be borrowed "upon the said guaranteed portion of the share capital," there was no such guaranteed capital. There was the guaranteed dividend of not less than 5 per cent after the railway had been opened, but that did not guarantee any capital, and would not come into effect till the railway was opened; thus the railway was to be made by money borrowed on the strength of the dividend it was to earn when made. He pointed out, what nobody could doubt, that there being no guaranteed capital in the Act of Parliament, there was nothing on which this money could be borrowed, and therefore he had no security. It was true the directors offered their personal security, and he was sure the hon. Gentleman was a most excellent surety, but there was no power in the Act for him to lend money on personal security, and therefore he had no power to do it. Under these circumstances he was reluctantly obliged to refuse to have anything to do with lending the money, and this railway, which was in the hands of those wealthy gentlemen, remained, he was sorry to learn, unmade, because they could not make up their minds to raise £40,000 in shares.


said, he could not admit the validity of the objections which had been urged to the Motion. He was in favour of placing the railways in the hands of the State, as also turnpike roads in the hands of the county authorities. As a free trader he held that every facility should be given for the transit of goods and passengers. The notion of patronage was absurd, for as Chairman of two railways he could testify that appointments were made by the heads of departments, and that if the directors interfered they would have "all the fat in the fire." If the Government, after purchasing the railways, were to attempt the exercise of patronage, they would be pulled up before the country and punished for their misdeeds. This objection, was therefore, all a bugaboo. For the last 10 years successive Governments had held out hopes of purchasing Irish railways. The present Government had held out such hopes, and had concealed the feeling, only disclosed to-night, of intense hostility to such a measure. Why had they not disclosed it before? Why had they humbugged the country? His belief was that had parties been closely balanced as in former Parliaments, the same humbug would have been continued; but the present Government, thinking themselves too strong to care for the Irish vote, had thrown Ireland over. This would be the feeling in Ireland; but for his own part they had never humbugged him, for he had always said they would never buy the railways. As to State loans, with their unpractical conditions, he would not touch them with a pitchfork. It would be slavery to have anything to do with them, and as to going near the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, nothing would induce him to do so. A loan had been granted to a line in Carlow and Wexford at 5 per cent, but when the company applied for a reduction to 4 per cent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer peremptorily refused, and on himself repeating the application he was contemptuously refused. The Irish companies were disposed to do their best for the country, and they had constructed 2,000 miles for £27,000,000, or £13,500 a mile; while in saving, economic Scotland, the cost had been £25,000; and in England £50,000 a mile. Ireland was unfairly dealt with by the Union. The Irish laws were made by a parcel of Dublin Castle hacks, the Dublin Castle lawyers framing the laws, while the Chief Secretary, a "shave-beggar," as O'Connell called him, passed them through Parliament. There were no business representatives of Ireland in the House, and the many Acts passed for England by business men were not extended to Ireland, on the grounds that the Irish Government took care of that country, and badly they had taken care of it. If Ireland had retrograded it was on account of legislation being in the hands of Dublin Castle. He was for any system which would drag Ireland out of the present sort of legislation it received. Of course a population of 30,000,000 was more effectual than a population of 5,000,000, and if the Prime Minister were to raise the flag of equal legislation for England and Ireland he would have all Ireland at his back; but instead of that he busied himself with sentimental grievances and year after year brought Irish Members over to this country to consider measures that wore not worth talking of in comparison to a question like this. The hon. and gallant Member for Sussex (Colonel Barttelot) was mistaken in thinking that Ireland was at the present moment prosperous, she was nothing of the kind. The people were flying out of the country like red shanks, and if there should be a bad harvest for two years successively none of them would stop there. As it was, the population was not larger now than it was at the time of the Union. If England had gone through the same crucial ordeal as Ireland, its population instead of being 22,000,000 would have been only 9,000,000 at the present time. If England through bad laws had her manu- factures and trade destroyed and her population reduced like unto Ireland, the country would have passed through many revolutions. What he wanted for Ireland was the same business laws as prevailed in England, and so long as the Prime Minister and Parliament refrained from granting her that boon he maintained it was not disposed to do justice to Ireland. He trusted the result of this discussion would be, not that the Irish would be treated as beggars, but that they would enjoy the same laws as England. The Dublin Castle legislation ought to be abolished, and English business-like laws extended to Ireland. If this were done he did not hesitate to say that Ireland would go ahead "like a house on fire." He hoped the Prime Minister would initiate some movement to give Ireland the benefit of Parliamentary representation, which that country certainly did not now enjoy. Why, he challenged any Irish Member to say that the Irish Members had anything to do with the making of Irish laws. In 1870, for instance, the hon. Member for Armagh (Mr. Vance) introduced a Bill to assimilate the coroner's law of Ireland to that of England; but although four-fifths of the Irish Members were in its favour, the English Members voted against it, and caused its rejection simply because the then Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Dowse) opposed the measure. He hoped that henceforth another system of legislation would prevail, and all he could say was that he would not be satisfied with Ireland for the Irish, as he wished to have Ireland, England, and Scotland too for the Irish. Upon that principle he would stand or fall.


said, he saw no reason why the capitalists of the country should be called on to pay towards the making or support of Irish railways when the result was the nonpayment of capital or interest, and constant applications to the Government for an extension of the period within which their loans were to be repaid. If the railway referred to by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) were as prosperous a concern as he represented it to be, there ought to have been no difficulty in procuring any money that was required in the ordinary way. It had been too much the practice of late years for Irish Railway Companies to knock at the door of the Treasury. The hon. Gentleman who last addressed the House had some reason to complain that the decision of the Government, which was announced this evening, had been so long delayed; because the speech of the noble Lord (the Marquess of Hartington) last year led to the belief that the Government intended to purchase the Irish railways. He was glad that at length some decision had been reached, though he could not say much for the result, when he considered what was the panacea for the grievances of which complaint was made. As to the £5,000,000 or £6,000,000 proposed to be advanced by the right hon. Gentleman at the Head of the Government, he did not see what inducement had been held out to Parliament to make a sacrifice in order to reduce the rates and fares for goods and passenger traffic in Ireland. This question only interested a small number of the Irish railways, as most of them were in a flourishing condition, and he did not think that any case had been made out for an advance such as that which the right hon. Gentleman had proposed. Then again as to the saving anticipated to be made by the amalgamation of Irish railways. It should be borne in mind that the right hon. Gentleman made it a condition that there should be a harmonious union among all the Railway Companies before this could take place; but if they were capable of bringing about such a union they would be in a position to carry out all his suggestions and be quite independent of any assistance from that House. Beyond this, if a reduction of £50,000 a-year were effected in the expenses by amalgamation, such a saving must of necessity be accompanied by £20,000 to £30,000 dead weight of compensation, because it must not be imagined that gentlemen would sacrifice their lucrative positions without stipulating for some compensation.


said, he had been greatly disappointed when the Prime Minister announced that it was not the intention of the Government to purchase the Irish railways, seeing that if ever reparation were due to Ireland it was for the mistakes made by the Government and Legislature of England in regard to the railway system of Ireland and in defiance of the recommendations of the Railway Commissioners. He had been still more deeply grieved to hear the Premier refer to the absorption by the great English companies of portions of the Irish lines as a desirable thing in itself. [Mr. GLADSTONE: I did not use the word "absorption."] He (Mr. Murphy) wished to see the closest communication between the lines of the two countries; but he failed to see in the measures shadowed out by the Premier any hope of developing branch lines, reducing mileage rates, and generally developing the railway traffic of Ireland. With respect to the amalgamation of the railways for the purposes contemplated by the Government, would it be necessary that every railway in Ireland should unite in coming to the Government, or would it be sufficient that groups of railways should associate together, so that they might expect to obtain the advantages promised by the Government? [Mr. GLADSTONE indicated his assent to the latter proposition.] He regretted that the Prime Minister, while declining to purchase the Irish railways, had not propounded any plan for the development of them.


said, that the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government hail no peculiar application to Ireland. They were equally applicable to the purchase by the State of similar property in any other country. He confessed he distrusted all such arguments. The relations of Government and governed differed in different countries, and the wisdom of the world was not centred in England. He found that in France, Germany, Belgium, and even Egypt the railways belonged to the State, and in no one of those countries were they worked at a loss. No doubt, as a rule, he thought that the Government ought not to embark in a trading concern; but there were some exceptions in which immense advantages accrued to the public by the State doing so. The Post Office Department was one of them, in which the Government had never lost by any system of management. The railways were somewhat analogous to the Post Office, inasmuch as whilst the latter was the medium of communication given to the people of one kind, the former was the medium of communication they had of another kind. He did not wish the State to embark in their purchase without experience; but in Ireland the amount -to be advanced was small and the matter was comprehended within a limited and defined area. What was asked was that an experiment should be tried there. The request was not made on behalf of the shareholders. He advocated the purchase by the State because he thought that the State would not be a loser in the matter, and because there would be enormous advantages gained by the accomplishment of this object. The railways would be governed with a view to the good of the community rather than the dividends of competing shareholders. In the first place, the good of the community would be vastly promoted in the shape of reduced fares and more convenient means of locomotion; secondly, there were vast and important military and other purposes, with which private individuals had no concern; and if the railways were in the hands of the State that would be a great advantage if there should ever be a trial of strength with the English Government. If it were conceded there would be no pecuniary loss, what were the objections to the purchase? Why should not the country give a guarantee against loss? What was the difference between taking a guarantee from each county under a coercive Act and taking a voluntary one from a county grand jury. Such guarantees had been given and no loss had resulted. It was not fair to compare the railways in Ireland to those in England. The multiplicity of engagements in Ireland was not by any means so great as those in England. The right hon. Gentleman evidently looked at Ireland in connection with this subject through the medium of his knowledge of the gigantic mediums of communication existing in England. He agreed with hon. Members opposite in thinking that there had been certain indications given by the Government in respect to the Irish railways which were not to be met or answered by a mere loan of money. The loan would be a direct benefit to the shareholders—many of whom were English—who were not disposed to give the slightest assistance to the proper development of their usefulness. The reason why the Government interference was now asked was because the railways in Ireland were not managed with that skill and judgment necessary for the benefit of the country. What was asked for was that which they knew would benefit the country and at the same time give safety and security to the Government. His own opinion was that in the course of time those railways, in the hands of the Government, would produce an increased and safe revenue. It had been asked by the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) why it was that so much had been done by the Government for India and our other Dependencies, and so little in the way of pecuniary benefit for Ireland. He was unable to lay the whole blame of this upon the Government; but he recalled the proposition of Lord George Bentinek, supported by Mr. Drummond, to provide Ireland with a well-considered scheme, which would develop her resources, and which was defeated by the Irish Liberal Members. If the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government found that the Irish Members, though sometimes failing him in debate, never failed him in the lobby, why was he to incur the opposition of his English and Scotch supporters, who might not entertain, perhaps, such generous views as himself? The Chancellor of the Exchequer last night used a phrase which elucidated and explained this point. He spoke of the rebellion which had occurred on the Ministerial side of the House. What was rebellion? Rebellion implied the relationship of Sovereign and subject. Who were the subjects that rebelled? For once the Irish Members, who ventured to oppose by their votes the Education Bill of the Government. They were rebels—he trusted repentant rebels—and he hoped that in their repentance they would remember the language of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that night, and the end of the promises of Her Majesty's Government on the subject of the purchase of the Irish railways.


said, he regretted that the Government had not acceeded to what were the unanimous wishes of the Irish people. He believed that if the State acquired control over the Irish railways it would lead to great economy of management and much benefit to the entire country. Under the present system there was waste and mismanagement, as might be shown by the fact that in the county of Cork lines which together were 72 miles in length were under the care of 32 directors, and other lines, 78 miles in length, had the benefit of being looked after by 44 directors, four traffic managers, four secretaries, and several solicitors and engineers. He denied that in the question of railways the Irish people had shown any want of enterprise.


said, the question of the purchase of railways generally by the State might be at once dismissed without any serious consideration. He was convinced that a system of Government management of railways in the United Kingdom would be totally unsuited to the wishes and habits of the community; but, at the same time, he admitted that the Irish railways might be looked upon as an isolated case, entirely separate from the English railways. The area was limited; the railway system was not extensive, and required simplicity of management, coupled with as low a tariff as possible. He thought the Prime Minister in estimating that a consolidation of the railways in Ireland would save £50,000 or £60,000 a-year was quite within the mark; and as regarded the fares, he (Mr. Laing) believed that a reduction of one-half, though attended with some temporary loss, would, in five or six years, be recouped. The Irish people offered to give a guarantee that there should be no loss to the taxpayer, and if the guarantee was valid in the abstract their proposal was a reasonable one, and might be fairly entertained. The practical question was how to give effect to it. There were two ways. They might adopt the compulsory purchase of the railways by the State, and then lease them to a company to work. That solution was adverted to by the Prime Minister, and he seemed to think that if it were a financial question it might be entertained; but that there were great practical difficulties in the way. The difficulty in his (Mr. Laing's) mind was entirely a financial one. If that were removed, it would not be difficult to find companies to work these lines on lease, for terms of years and at fixed rates, to be settled by the State. The proposal of the Prime Minister was a practical one, and as a condition of such assistance the companies might be required to reduce their fares by 20 or 25 per cent, and to agree to a periodical revision. The adoption of an abstract Resolution would raise exaggerated expectations and enhance the value of the-shares, and the most convenient course would be to negative the Motion, on the understand- ing that if hereafter the companies would amalgamate or offer to sell on reasonable terms the question would be considered. He doubted if the question of purchasing all the railways of the kingdom by the State would be ripe for practical solution in the lifetime of the present generation.


said, he regretted that he could not vote for the Motion, for, though sensible of the evils of the existing system, he felt the evil of an intimation by the Government of an intended purchase, the result in the case of the telegraphs having been that the price went up so considerably previously to the completion of the purchase that it became doubtful whether a reasonable bargain could be made. The hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Downing) had said that the Irish railways were treated differently from those of England; but he would not consent to any treatment of the one different from that of the other. On the contrary, knowing the difficulties that Ireland laboured under in that respect, he would consent to no difference of treatment for Ireland except in a direction favourable to Ireland. In fact, the statement of the hon. Member for Cork showed that that was the case; because the manner in which he stated he had raised money for railway purposes would not be permitted to be done in England. While English railways were not allowed to borrow more than one-third of the amount of their capital, Irish lines were allowed greater latitude, and the Standing Orders Committee, whenever practicable, relaxed the Standing Orders in view of the difficulties which those lines encountered. A proposition of this kind should emanate from Ireland, by the shareholders, or other persons interested, stating on what terms they would sell, whereupon the country could consider the matter. The railway system of Ireland was disunited; the different companies were jealous of each other, and he would advise those interested in Irish railways to follow the example of England and unite themselves under one management, when their position would be considerably improved. A healthy competition, would remedy the grievance; but as the latter was not likely to be accomplished, the next best thing was amalgamation, which would lead to a saving in management. He suggested the appointment of another Committee to inquire into the subject, a mode by which the House would be able satisfactorily to deal with it both in the interest of shareholders and the public generally.


said, in deference to the opinion of the Prime Minister, he would withdraw his Amendment, in order that the division might be taken on the original Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 65; Noes 197: Majority 132.