§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into Consideration."—(Mr. Dillwyn.)
§ MR. J. NOLAN (Louth, N.)
I rise, Sir, to move that this Bill be read a third time on this day six months. I believe that it is an unusual course to take this step, and the third reading of a Bill is, as an ordinary rule, looked upon as a mere matter of formality. I trust, however, that the House on this occasion will agree with me that it is right that it should exercise its prerogative, and throw this Bill out. It is a matter of regret to me that the Motion has not been undertaken by one possessed of more ability and greater experience in affairs of this kind; because I believe that, if the facts of the case were laid before the House as I see them, the House would have no hesitation in following the course which I propose. For the information of hon. Members, I may say that this Bill is promoted by the Dundalk Gas Company, and opposed by the Town 1496 Commissioners of Dundalk. The object of the promoters is, by Parliamentary powers, to secure and maintain certain rights and privileges which they now exercise on sufferance; whereas the object of the Town Commissioners is to stay proceedings in order that they may promote a measure in regard to the lighting of the town of Dundalk in the interests of the great body of ratepayers. It will be necessary, in order that hon. Members may understand the case thoroughly, to state that the Dundalk Gas Company, as it is at present constituted, was only formed last year; but if I may use a phrase which has already been used in this House, it is the apostolic successor of the Dundalk Gas Light Company. It appears to have dawned on the intelligence of the Directors that gas might be used for other purposes than lighting; and, therefore, they have dropped the term "gas." The Dundalk Gas Light Company was formed in the year 1836; and it was subsequently registered with a capital of £5,500. In 1863 the capital was, by a stroke of the pen, increased to £11,000—the profits in the meantime having been 10 per cent. It will be necessary to bear this point in mind in order to understand in full my reason for maintaining that the present capital of the Company has been fixed too high. Last year, upon legal advice, the Company was formed into a Limited Liability Company, with a further increase of capital, making it £16,500. Hon. Members above the Gangway have been threatening us that if the fell designs of the Prime Minister succeed capital will leave Ireland; but I think that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and the rest of us may take heart, because, even if British capital does leave the country, we may feel pretty sure that as long as we have gentlemen possessed of the financial ability of the Directors of the Dundalk Gas Company, who can increase with a stroke of the pen their capital of £5,500 to £11,000, and then to £16,500, we shall continue in a very prosperous condition. Now, the people of Dundalk are a long-suffering people. They endured the treatment they received in this matter of lighting their town with gas for a good number of years. At last their patience gave way, and an application was made by the Town Commissioners for a change 1497 in the method of the operations of the Gas Company. That application was refused, and the result was that the Town Commissioners decided to light the town with oil. I find that the counsel for the promoters of the Bill made merry at the notion of the Dundalk Commissioners incurring the cost of setting up lamp-posts in the town in order to light it with oil; but I would recommend to the attention of those gentlemen, and to others who may be inclined to think that human endurance has no limits, that it may sometimes be better to incur an initial expenditure in order that economy may be eventually effected. The steps taken by the Town Commissioners seem to have aroused the fears of the Dundalk gas monopolists; and they, therefore, sought advice in their difficulty. They had a very good thing in hand, and naturally enough they did not like to run the risk of losing it. They sought advice—I suppose they found that it could not be obtained in Ireland; and, therefore, they came to London, where, I believe, they found a gentleman who undertook to put them in the right way of protecting their interests. I certainly must say, after reading the Report supplied by this gentleman, that the Dundalk Gas Company were well directed, and made a wise choice in selecting him. I have read his Report through, and I find that, having referred to the manner in which the capital had been increased from £5,500 to £16,500, he says in paragraph 4—I need scarcely remark that if the Company had been under Parliamentary sanction this practice would have been irregular and illegal.After having in that way alarmed his clients, this gentleman goes on to reassure them by saying—Constituted as the Company now is, it is not responsible to any authority, and, however inadvisable its proceedings, it has done no legal wrong, nor has it incurred any penalty of any kind.I find that he omits the word "legal" before penalty; but I think there is one penalty which the Directors of this Company ought to have regard for, and that is the disapprobation of all honest men. In paragraph 5 he goes on to say—The time has now arrived when the interest of the proprietors demands that the Company's operations should be carried on under Parliamentary sanction and control.1498 He proceeds to advise—first, that the assets of the Company should be valued; secondly, that a new Company should be formed; and, thirdly, that powers should be sought from Parliament by a Bill, and not by a Provisional Order. I ask hon. Members to observe his reasons for saying that powers should be sought by Bill—A Provisional Order involves local inquiry. There are other reasons in favour of proceeding by Bill which it would not be prudent to state in a document which may fall into the hands of possible opponents.Now, I notice that when he was cross-examined as to what he meant by "other reasons," this very clever gentleman found it convenient to forget them. I come now to the examination of the experts, and I find that as the value of this concern was fixed at the sum of £16,500, they told the Committee there was cash in hand amounting to £2,863 11s., 3d., and that the plant, &c. was valued at £13,660, making a total of £16,523 11s. 3d.; or £23 11s. 3d. more than the sum they asked to have recognized as invested capital. They now ask for an additional sum of £5,500, which raises the capital to £22,000, with a borrowing power sought under the Bill of £8,000; consequently the Bill asks in this way to fix the capital at £30,000. Now, the earnings of one year, according to the evidence given before the Committee, were £1,170, making a dividend of 5 per cent on the £5,500 of the shares held by the new shareholders; and it is a very easy calculation to discover that the old shareholders on this arrangement will receive 15 per cent upon their original share capital of £5,500. It is quite clear, I think, to all who have followed me in this statement that the present position claimed by the Company with regard to invested capital is entirely due to the overcharges which have been made upon the residents of Dundalk in the past. It is a favourite argument in this House—and we have had a good deal of it latterly—that no matter what wrongs may have been inflicted in the past, we have only to deal with those which apply to the present, and that property, however it may have been acquired, belongs to the present owners. Sir, I should like to crave the attention of the House to the method of valuation, according to the evidence given by the 1499 advisers of the Gas Company, which has been adopted in this case. Now, the cost of the plant has always been supposed to have been paid out of the working expenses, and the valuation of the cost of plant is based upon that supposition. Perhaps the House will allow me to direct its attention for one moment to one item aloue—that of the main pipes. The main pipes in the streets, according to the valuation of the expert, are valued at something like their original cost, on the supposition that they are in good condition. Let me compare that with the statement made by the Secretary of the Gas Company before the Committee on page 4 of the Report. He says that the annual quantity of gas provided is 24,000,000 cubic feet, and that the escape through the main is from 22 to 26 per cent. I am not quite sure that he did not say that it reached even 30 per cent. But, taking the escape of gas from the main at 25 per cent, we get an annual escape of 6,000,000 cubic feet, and this, be it remembered, in a town of 14,000 inhabitants. Now, the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, speaking a few days ago, called attention to the fact that while the number of deaths per 1,000 all through Ireland was less than in England, the number of deaths per 1,000 in the towns of England was much less than in Ireland. I would like to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this fact—that here we have a town with 14,000 inhabitants, and that 6,000,000 cubic feet of gas, according to the evidence of the agent of the Gas Company, are allowed to escape from the gas mains in the course of one year. I should certainly like to hear some authority upon sanitation express an opinion in this House as to the possible effect of this escape of gas upon the health of the people. In considering the subject it is necessary to bear in mind that when gas escapes from a main in the streets it does not at once make its way up through the concrete or macadam. I read a short time ago an account of a serious explosion which took place in the heart of London. It arose in this way—a lorry passing along a street pressed heavily upon the surface, and crushed the gas main underneath. The gas, instead of finding its way at once into the air in the street, escaped into a cellar close by, and the result was a terrible explosion. I am 1500 not able to say, at this moment, whether there were any lives lost or not. Bearing this fact in mind, and taking a common-sense view of the case, we know that in a place like Dundalk the escaped gas from the main would not make its way at once through the hard surface of a street, but would pass laterally through the soil, follow the run of some drain, and find its way into a number of houses, to the very great injury of the health of the inhabitants. Now, I think that when these facts are taken into consideration hon. Members will agree with me that such an escape of gas as is allowed to go on from year to year amounts not merely to carelessness of management, but to a criminal disregard for the health of the inhabitants. This is no Party question. Perhaps hon. Members may feel disposed to think that it is so from the fact that the Bill is backed by the noble Lord the Member for the Western Division of the County of Down (Lord Arthur Hill) and the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh (Major Saunderson), and that it is opposed by one who has the honour to be a Nationalist—namely, myself. But if I may be allowed to say so, I have no personal or Party concern whatever in this question. I do not know a single shareholder or Director of the Gas Campany; and, so far as the Town Commissioners of Dundalk are concerned, all I know about them is—and I should like to recommend the point to the attention of some hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway—that they are a mixed body of Catholics and Protestants, returned by a constituency which is almost entirely Catholic. The Catholic voters of Dundalk, recognizing the fact that it is well to have gentlemen of property upon their Town Commission, have always allowed a certain number of them to take seats on the Commission without regard to creed; and I may add that the gentleman who now occupies the position of Chairman of the Town Commissioners is Mr. Maxwell, a Protestant, elected by Catholic votes. I should be very glad if any hon. Gentleman could give me an instance of the same kind of thing having occurred among the Loyal minority. In conclusion, Sir, I appeal to hon. Members to vote against this Bill on the broad principle of justice, and also taking into consideration the tendency of legislation at this time, which is that 1501 the duty of lighting a town should rest with an elected body. I believe that that system has been found to work with admirable result in Manchester, Birmingham, and other towns in England; and we have certainly reason to believe that an elected body would pay more regard to the health of the inhabitants than has been paid in the past by this particular Gas Company. There is this additional point—that if any profits arise from the manufacture of gas it is well that they should find their way into the pockets of the ratepayers, instead of those of a few shareholders of a private undertaking. One objection may be urged against my proposition to throw out this Bill, and refuse to give Parliamentary powers to this Gas Company, and that is that there may be suburbs in Dundalk outside the municipal boundary in which the inhabitants might possibly be forced to pay more by the Local Authorities for the gas supplied to them than they would by a private Company; but I beg to assure the House that with regard to these points it will be found, on referring to the evidence given before the Committee, that there are no suburbs in Dundalk which are now lighted by gas, or which are likely to be lighted in future. I thank the House for the patient attention it has given to me, and I ask it to agree with me in the Amendment which I beg now to move—that the Bill be read a third time on this day six months.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Motion now before the House is not the third reading of the Bill, but the consideration of the Bill as amended. The proper Motion for the hon. Gentleman to make is to leave out the word "now," and to move "that the Bill be considered this day six months."
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA (Monaghan, S.)
I beg to second the Motion. I hope that the House, before giving its assent to the third reading of the Bill, or to go to any further stage, will allow sufficient time to elapse in order that hon. Members may become acquainted with the whole merits of the case. Except the statements which have been made in the Press and in letters 1502 and printed papers, and what I have now heard from the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. J. Nolan) since I came down to the House, I knew nothing whatever about the merits of this case. It certainly does appear to me to be an attempt on the part of the proprietors of this Gas Company, and other persons who may be interested in the Bill, to obtain the sanction of the House to an undertaking which is altogether adverse to the interests of the population who will be affected by it. I am quite certain that if the promoters had brought such a Bill before Parliament in the past it would never have received the sanction of this House; and we have been told that not only is this concern without the ordinary sanction of a Parliamentary enactment, but that it is altogether an irregular undertaking. I think that, under such circumstances, the House will be disposed to refuse its sanction to the further prosecution of the Bill. No injury will be done to the promoters of the Bill. They will be left, as far as their property is concerned, with all the rights they have now. They will simply be deprived of the sanction of Parliament to any irregularities they may have committed in the past. All that the law of the land sanctions will be continued to them as enjoyed at the present time; but I think there is great objection to our being called upon in the present day to sanction by Act of Parliament irregularities which have taken place in the past, and which have not received the sanction of Parliament.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Nolan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)
As Chairman of the Committee upon this Bill I may say that the measure was carefully considered upstairs, and that the Committee had not the shadow of a doubt in giving their acquiescence to it. We had every reason to believe that if the powers now asked for are conferred upon the Gas Company it will be of great advantage to the consumers of gas in the town of Dundalk, and that the Company will not only be enabled to supply better gas, but to supply it under better conditions. 1503 The Gas Company has been in existence now for nearly 60 years; and, so far as the opposition was concerned, it must be understood that the only persons who opposed it were the Town Commissioners of Dundalk, and that the general public did not appear in opposition at all.
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)
The last argument of the hon. Baronet who has just sat down seems to me to be of a somewhat remarkable character. He says that the only persons who opposed the Bill were the Town Commissioners, who were, in reality, the Corporation of Dundalk. I should like to know who else could oppose the Bill? The general inhabitants would have no power and no locus standi whatever to come before the Committee, seeing that the only persons who had a right to speak on behalf of the inhabitants of Dundalk were the Town Commissioners or the Town Council, who are the very persons who have protested against the Bill. Allow me to call the attention of the House to the fact that the hon. Member who has moved the rejection of the Bill represents the Northern part of the county of Louth, and that the electors of Dundalk form part of his constituents. Therefore, as far as the public opinion of the district is concerned, it is quite evident that they are practically unanimous against the Bill. I am strongly disposed to protest against conferring upon any public or private Company power to tax the ratepayers of the district for purposes of this kind; but in this instance it is proposed that the Company should, in point of fact, create a certain amount of fictitious capital, with the object of taxing the inhabitants of Dundalk for all time to come to a larger extent than they are fairly entitled to, not for the benefit of the town of Dundalk, but for the interests of this private Company, who desire to put the money into their own pockets. I must say that one of the clauses of this Bill is of a character which it is impossible to defend—namely, that which relates to the price which the Company propose to charge the ratepayers for the gas which they supply. They propose to charge 4s. 6d. per 1,000 cubic feet. Clause 54 fixes 4s. 6d. as the standard price, provided that the Company may increase or reduce the price above or below the standard price subject to the 1504 reduction or increase in the dividend payable by the Company on their ordinary share capital. Now, the price charged in the town of Belfast is only 3s. 6d. per 1,000 cubic feet; and why should there be this difference of 1s. per 1,000 cubic feet? The experience of the past has proved that it is of great advantage to the ratepayers of any locality that the supply of gas should be in the hands of the Corporation, and not of a private Company; and some years ago, owing to the gas supply of Belfast being in the hands of the Corporation instead of a private Company, the price of gas was reduced by 10 per cent, in addition to which the quality of the gas was rendered much superior. I think it is the duty of this House to refuse to extend the powers of this Company for the purpose of taxing the people of Dundalk against the will and desire of the inhabitants.
§ COLONEL WARING (Down, N.)
I think it would be a most inconvenient course for the House to rediscuss every Private Bill which may come down to them from a Select Committee upstairs. I take it that in all these cases the subject has been thoroughly threshed out in Committee, and I believe that in this instance the Report of the Committee was unanimous in favour of the Bill. It is quite true that the opponents of the Bill were the persons who would naturally represent the town of Dundalk; but they seem to have entirely failed to prove their case before the Committee. A curious argument has been made use of by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Nolan) who moved the rejection of the Bill—namely, that the health of the inhabitants of the town has not been sufficiently considered by the Dundalk Gas Company. Perhaps it may surprise hon. Gentlemen to hear what the facts of the case are. The Town Commissioners of Dundalk have of late prohibited the Gas Company from breaking up the streets for the purpose of repairing their mains, and therefore any poisoning that may take place lies at the door of the Town Commissioners, and not of the Gas Company. I may add also that not very long ago a very serious charge of gas poisoning was brought against the Corporation of Belfast, and steps were taken to compel the Corporation to abate the nuisance. This fact would tend to show that the 1505 Town Commissioners and other Corporate Bodies are not more careful of the public health than a Gas Company. As to the question of the price of gas, it is perfectly clear that no Company or Corporate Body could supply gas to a town of 14,000 people at the same price as they would be able to charge in a large city like Belfast. I do not, therefore, think that there is any force in the objection raised by the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar). I believe that this opposition has been got up at the instigation of persons who are interested in the matter pecuniarily and otherwise, and I sincerely hope the House will allow it to pass its present stage.
§ MR. O'MARA (Queen's Co., Ossory)
I rise to support the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Nolan), and in doing so I do not propose to follow the arguments of the hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down. The only argument in point of fact which the hon. and gallant Member used against this Motion is that actions have been brought against the Corporation of Belfast for gas poisoning, arising from a certain percentage of waste and escape of gas in the streets of Belfast. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Nolan) has, however, brought before the House very serious facts indeed in reference to Dundalk. He states that the amount of waste which this Company permit from their gas pipes in the town of Dundalk amounts to no less than 25 per cent, which is a very serious matter indeed, and entirely justifies the hon. Member in calling the attention of the House to it. More than that, this 25 per cent, of waste which the hon. Member has pointed out, calculating the price of gas at the rate which the Dundalk Gas Company propose to charge, amounts to an absolute loss of £1,200 a year. £1,200 are thrown away in the streets of Dundalk every year in consequence of the escape of gas from the Company's mains. That is a strong argument, to my mind, why this gas concern should not be allowed to remain in the hands of the present Company. I should not, however, support the Motion for the rejection of this Bill if I did not understand that the Town Commissioners, who are the only proper authority for the lighting of the town, are perfectly prepared to undertake the duty.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Fermanagh, N.)
I have only one word to say. I would like to ask English and Scotch Members, whether they do not consider that it is desirable, in a matter of this kind, which affects purely local interests, that it should be determined as far as possible by the wishes of the people themselves, expressed through their elected representatives? One of the greatest grievances of which the Irish people complain arises out of matters of this kind, and is brought about in this way. Persons go behind the representatives of the people in the locality and come here with statements which result in legislation being imposed upon them which is distinctly contrary to their wishes. Now, this is not a matter which concerns either Englishmen or Scotchmen at all; and I cannot conceive how any English or Scotch Member can honestly vote in favour of this Bill, when he knows that the persons who are actually to be affected by the measure are unanimously opposed to it, and have expressed their opposition to it, before the Committee to whom the Bill was referred. What will be the result if the House sanctions this Bill? The result will be that the people of Dundalk and those who are entitled to represent them will be justly indignant at the course taken by the House. They do not want this measure, and they object to have it forced upon them. I would, therefore, ask hon. Members to consider in this matter the wishes of the people of the locality, who have already asked through their representatives, the Town Commissioners, that the scheme of the Gas Company should be rejected.
§ MR. A. E. PEASE (York)
As one of the Committee which sat upon this Bill, and which came to a unanimous decision on its merits, I must protest against the inconvenient and rather unusual course which is now being taken by hon. Members below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House. I am afraid that they are endeavouring to introduce a Party spirit into the discussion of a very simple question. For two days the Committee had this Bill before them; a considerable amount of evidence was produced, and the whole question was thoroughly discussed. The Town Commissioners were represented by counsel, who stated the case of the Town Commissioners with, perhaps, even more 1507 ability than has been displayed by hon. Members below the Gangway. I would respectfully ask the House to support the Committee in regard to the Report which is now before us.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Mr. COURTNEY) (Cornwall, Bodmin)
I will not detain the House for more than a few minutes. This Bill is one of the most ordinary character. The Gas Company who are promoting it has existed for 50 years, but hitherto it has not been incorporated according to the provisions laid down by Parliament. It now comes before the House, seeking to be incorporated and to acquire rights which are subject to certain obligations. The Bill has already gone before a Committee of this House; the opponents of the Bill—the Town Commissioners—were heard before the Committee; both the opponents and the promoters were represented by counsel, and every statement of fact and argument which has been adduced in this House has already been before the Committee. The Committee, however, were unanimous in their decision in favour of the Bill. Under the circumstances, therefore, and considering that both sides have already been fully heard, I can see no reason why the House should re-examine a state of facts already fully inquired into upon the evidence of sworn witnessess; and, after hearing the arguments of counsel, I think the House has no alternative but to support the decision of the Committee. The only suggestion which has been made against the Gas Company is that they seek to extend their capital; but everybody knows how the capital of a Gas Company is fixed when it is incorporated. Its value is ascertained by taking a valuation of its plant, property, and assets. That has been done in this case. The valuer appeared before the Committee, and was subjected to a most severe cross-examination by the counsel of the opponents. The capital was established to the satisfaction of the Committee, and as to the price which the Company propose to charge for the gas witnesses were also examined, and in the end the Committee came to the conclusion that the price fixed in the Bill was reasonable. Upon these grounds, I would ask the House not to reject the Bill.
§ MR. SEXTON (Sligo, S.)
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member above the Gangway (Colonel Waring), 1508 as to the inconvenience of reopening in this House the decisions of a Committee upstairs; but I cannot agree with what appears to be a kind of chronic determination on the part of the Chairman of Committees that the decision of the Committee shall never be questioned. Fortunately the House, in the course of the present Session, has refused to accept the judgment of the hon. Gentleman in more than one instance. It refused to do so in the case of the Manchester Ship Canal; also upon the Hayling Common Bill; and it refused to do so the other night in reference to the scheme submitted for Lowe's Charity. I trust that it will take a similar course on the present occasion, and will disregard the hon. Gentleman's recommendations altogether. The Chairman of the Committee (Sir Edward Birkbeck) has certainly confirmed me in my opposition to the Bill, because the hon. Gentleman made an extraordinary and unsophisticated remark that the Bill was opposed in Committee, not by the public, but by the Town Commissioners of Dundalk. Now, what are the Town Commissioners if they are not the representatives of the public? They appeared before the Committee in their official character, and as they opposed the Bill we are entitled to assume from that fact that the general community of Dundalk are opposed to the Bill. Not only has this remark of the Chairman of the Committee confirmed me in my conviction that the Bill ought to be rejected, but there is one other matter upon which I should like to say a word. The hon. Member for York (Mr. E. A. Pease), who only recently entered the House, and who is one of the most juvenile Members of it, has presumed to lecture Irish Members, who have been in the House for years, upon what is usual and what is inconvenient. I protest against the manner in which this Bill has been treated throughout. It was referred to a Committee upstairs upon which not one single Irish Member had a place. The decision arrived at by the Committee is one which is protested against by 85 out of the 103 Representatives of Ireland. I certainly think it would have been more proper if the Bill had been referred to a Committee entirely composed of Irish Members; and I certainly think that legislation of this kind ought to be suspended at this stage until it is decided 1509 whether or not it is to be dealt with in Dublin. The Town Commissioners of Dundalk appeared before the Committee and opposed the Bill. They pleaded that the gas supplied by the Company was very bad, that the price was too high, and that they intend to apply to the proper authorities for a Provisional Order to enable them to supply the town with gas themselves. Is it decent, when the Local Authorities of the town say that they are ready to supply it with gas—and they already supply it with water—to hand the ratepayers over to a Gas Company who propose to charge 4s. 6d. per 1,000 cubic feet for the gas supplied? We know that in many other instances the duty of lighting a locality with gas has been handed over to the public authorities, and in all these cases we know that the result has been an improvement of the quality and a cheapening of the price. I must say that it is a shameful thing to plunder the town of Dundalk by inflating the capital of the Gas Company at this moment, when we are on the verge of considering a measure which is to give local autonomy to Ireland. This Company has been in existence for 50 years, and they have never I applied to Parliament for a Bill before. Then how will they be prejudiced or injured by being asked to wait till next year before a determination is arrived at upon their Bill? In the meantime, if the Town Commissioners do not ask the Local Government Board for a Provisional Order this year, the Company will be able to promote their Bill in the next Session with a much better grace. The original capital of the Company was £5,500; they are already paying upon that capital 20 per cent, and they are not only extorting that profit from gas consumers of the town of Dundalk, but they are extorting it to the extent of plunder, seeing that they have already increased their original share capital from £5,500 to £11,000. The intelligent Chairman of the Committee, who holds that the Town Commissioners did not represent the town, is simply desirous of enabling the Gas Company to multiply their original capital sevenfold. What was originally adequately met by capital of £5,500, is now, by a clause in this Bill, to be met by a capital of £37,500, for the obvious purpose that this enormous and monstrous dividend of 20 per cent may be kept up. I claim 1510 from the House, in the name of the great body of Members from Ireland, that a decision of four English Members in regard to an Irish matter should be reversed. I say that this is purely a matter of Irish legislation, and we ask that the Bill should be suspended until next year. If in the meantime the Town Commissioners do not take proper steps for obtaining a Provisional Order to supply the town with gas themselves, the Company will be able to go on with their Bill. Certainly, the Irish Members are of opinion that questions of this kind can be more cheaply and conveniently dealt with in Dublin than it is possible to deal with them here.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS (Leicestershire, E.)
I think the House may judge a little, from the tone and temper which have been shown in this discussion, of the manner in which even private legislation is likely to be discussed and disposed of in the new Irish Parliament.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I confess that I do not see the point of the noble Lord's remark. I am not aware that much temper has been imported into this discussion, and I certainly think that the tone which has been imported into it has had a thoroughly good cause to justify it. The question is this—Are the wishes of the people of Dundalk to be considered in regard to the manufacture of their own gas; or are four Gentlemen, who never, probably, have been able to tell to this day in what part of Ireland Dundalk is situated, to say who is to make and supply gas to the town of Dundalk? We have had a good specimen of how well qualified English Members are to decide upon Irish questions when one of them has been induced to get up in his place in this House and declare that he considers the fact of the Town Commissioners of Dundalk being the only people to oppose the Bill affords good evidence that the Bill ought to be accepted, because the general public are not opposed to it. We have been accused of importing tone and temper into the discussion; but I may inform the noble Lord that when the Irish Members conduct their business in Dublin they will not invite Englishmen to go over there and do it for them. I trust that if this Dundalk Bill ever comes before an Irish Legislature it will be Irishmen who will deal with 1511 it. They will certainly know where Dundalk is situated, and will endeavour, in dealing with a question of this character, to consult the wishes of the inhabitants. I earnestly appeal to the Government not to allow this Bill to go forward, and, at any rate, to allow the discussion to be adjourned until a fuller opportunity can be afforded for ascertaining the wishes of the people who are affected by it. It is a most remarkable thing that when we come to look at this Bill we find on it the names of two Members who have no connection whatever with the town of Dundalk. They may have some connection with and interest in the Gas Company; but, without desiring to cast any imputation on their motives, it is certainly a singular thing that hon. Members from another Province of Ireland, representing altogether different constituencies, are promoting a Bill for Dundalk. If this Bill is really approved of by the inhabitants, why did they not ask their own Representatives to take it up? It ought to be known to the Members of this House, as an additional proof of the feeling of the ratepayers of the town, that of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Nolan) fully one-third are ratepayers in the town of Dundalk. If any evidence is needed as to what the feeling of the inhabitants is, surely it will be sufficient to convince every fair-minded Englishman, when it is found that the promoters of the Bill are strangers, that the Town Commissioners are unanimously opposed to it, and that an hon. Member representing the Division in which Dundalk is situated, and his constituency, composed to the extent of one-third of the ratepayers of the town of Dundalk, are united in their opposition to it. We have been taunted with adopting the inconvenient practice of re-opening the discussion of a matter which has been settled in Committee. We should have been unwilling to enter upon that course if any other had been open to us; but are we to sit here and allow a Bill which vitally affects the interests of the town of Dundalk to be thrust upon the ratepayers, when no one can get up and say that the inhabitants themselves want it? If any hon. Member can point out any other course we could have taken in the interests of these ratepayers, we shall be happy to withdraw 1512 our opposition to the present stage of the Bill. Unfortunately, these matters are not so closely watched at the time of Private Business as they ought to be; and I am afraid that this Bill has been allowed to slip through in its former stages unnoticed. This is the last opportunity we have of defending the interests of the people of Dundalk. I think it cannot be for a moment urged that, however inconvenient our course may be to the general body of the Members of this House, it is not perfectly justifiable. If hon. Members think it is inconvenient, I would urge on them that the lesson they are drawing from what has occurred this evening is that, pending a final settlement of the question of Local Government in Ireland, Bills of this kind, if introduced at all, should be dealt with by Committees composed entirely of Irish Members. I do not think that that is an improper suggestion; and a Committee so composed would have this natural advantage—that they would know all about the matter submitted to them. I am quite certain that if we had had Irish Members sitting upstairs upon these questions, in due proportion to our strength, the House itself would never have been troubled with a measure like this. Hon. Members have come privately to me, one after another, and told me how anxious they are to see the present system got rid of. It certainly is a reductio ad absurdum to intrust Irish Business to English or Scotch Members; and I can assure the House that, so far as the Irish Members themselves are concerned, they have every wish to spare the House the trouble and annoyance of having to deal with questions which they are really incompetent to decide.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
It has been stated that it is inconvenient to review in this House a decision arrived at by a Select Committee upstairs. Now, I really do not know what the object of the third reading of a Bill can be if it is not to afford the House an opportunity of reviewing any decision of the Committee by which it is reported. It is quite clear that a Committee may sometimes arrive at a decision which requires the interference of this House, and if ever there was a case of that kind I think this is one, and that the House ought to reverse the decision 1513 of the Committee. Gas and water are articles of the utmost importance in our modern civilization, and I hold that the only proper authority to provide both gas and water is the Representative Body of the community which requires those articles. I believe that the past experience of every municipal town has been that there is great practical inconvenience in having other authorities than the Municipal Authorities interfering with the streets and pulling up the roads. Another thing which the House will do well to recognize is that there is nothing better known among monopolies than the spirit of jugglery in which the financial position of these private Companies is dealt with. Parliament has intended to impose a limit upon the dividends paid upon undertakings of this kind; but they have left such wide doors open that it is quite possible to drive a coach and four through all the financial provisions which the Legislature has laid down. I know from personal knowledge of more than one instance in which a Gas Company has been handed over to a Corporate Body, and it has been found that a discreditable system has been pursued in manipulating the Company's accounts. I hope the House will listen to the appeal which has been made to them by the Irish Members generally, and that they will reject the Bill. The only consequence of that course will be to suspend for the present the powers asked for by the Dundalk Gas Company, and leave the question an open one. Certainly in such important matters as the supply of a town, either with gas or water, whatever decision may have been arrived at by a Committee upstairs, I hold that the matter should be suspended by Parliament until the representatives of the locality have had a full opportunity of stating their case.
§ MR. J. WATSON (Shrewsbury)
As a Member of the Committee to which this Bill was referred, I wish to make one reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon). The hon. Member presumed to say that the Committee of four English Members to whom the Bill was referred did not even know where Dundalk was situated. He also said that we were going to give 20 per cent to the existing shareholders in this Gas Company. Neither of those assertions is correct. This Gas Company 1514 was established in 1836, and have divided for very many years only 10 per cent. There were also accumulated profits, but those profits they did not choose to divide. After taking stock last year they found that their undertaking was worth £16,500, and I know of no reason, as a business man, why the property which they possessed, but which they have not chosen to divide, should not belong to the shareholders just as much as if they had put the profits year by year into their pockets. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Committee were not biased in any way by any Party spirit, and that they were not influenced either by a Nationalist or a so-called Loyalist feeling. We devoted two days to the consideration of the Bill; we gave most careful attention to the evidence, and we endeavoured, as far as we could, to do justice to all parties concerned. It seems to me that, although this Company was established in 1836 for the purpose of supplying Dundalk with gas, it has never occurred to the authorities of Dundalk that they should apply to Parliament for Parliamentary powers to provide gas for themselves. When this Bill was brought in it did occur to the authorities of Dundalk that they should oppose it. I have not a word to say against the course they took; it was clearly within their right to oppose the Bill; but when I am told that the Committee who considered the Bill knew nothing of the merits of the case from a business point of view, and were so ignorant that they did not know where the town of Dundalk was situated, I beg to assure the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. Dillon) that he is acting under a very erroneous impression. It was perfectly immaterial to us who should supply the town of Dundalk with gas; but I will say at once that when people have entered into a speculation for 50 years, they are clearly and fairly entitled to enjoy the full value of their property. There appears to have been recently some schism in the town of Dundalk, and we were told that the Company who are now supplying the town with gas have had difficulties and obstacles placed in their way by the Town Commissioners in regard to breaking up the streets. Of course, under such circumstances, without the enactment of Parliamentary powers, the town of Dundalk must be left in darkness; and we have some 1515 evidence before us that some parts of the town have been lighted with oil lamps. The passing of this Bill will put a stop to that state of things; and, seeing that the Committee devoted so much time and attention to the inquiry, I trust that the House will support the decision at which they arrived.
§ MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
This discussion seems to me to illustrate very seriously the inconvenience of this House having to deal with Irish local affairs, and to show the necessity for passing some measure which would enable the Irish people to deal with such questions as the Belfast Main Drainage and the Dundalk Gas Supply for themselves. Most hon. Members here must be altogether ignorant of the merits of these purely local schemes. I intend to vote against the further consideration of the Bill on the ground put forward by the hon. Member who has just spoken. The hon. Member says that the Company have done very well without special statutory help, and have for the last 50 years paid a dividend of 10 per cent. [Mr. SEXTON: Of 20 per cent.] Besides this, they have accumulated a large reserve fund. If the Company are doing as well as that, I think the best thing for this House to do is to leave them to the mercy of the Irish Government which is about to be inaugurated.
§ MAJOR SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
My name appears on the back of this Bill, and I only desire to say a word—namely, that if the Government will limit the action of Home Rule to a measure which will enable the Irish people to deal with their own sewage and gas, I shall have no objection, nor do I think that hon. Members on this side of the House will entertain against that measure the strong objections with which they now regard the Government of Ireland Bill. Hon. Members below the Gangway have tried to make it appear that this is a fight between a private Gas Company and the people of the town of Dundalk as represented by the Town Commissioners. I think the House will be surprised to learn that only one of the Town Commissioners appeared in opposition to the Bill—namely, the Chairman of that Body—and no Resolution was produced on behalf of the Town Commissioners against the measure. Therefore, considering the number of years which the Gas Company 1516 have rendered good service to the town of Dundalk, and considering also the expense to which they have been put in promoting the Bill, I trust that the House will now consent to pass the measure.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 169; Noes 210: Majority 41.—(Div. List, No. 100.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Consideration, as amended, put off for six months.