HC Deb 07 June 1888 vol 326 cc1347-61

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. BIGGAR (Cavan)

, in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months, said, it was a Bill which proposed to extend the time for the completion of the railway and causeway and pier authorized by the Ballina and Killala Railway Act so long ago as 1883. During the time which had elapsed since, the promoters of that railway had not endeavoured to raise a single penny of capital for the undertaking, except the amount of money they were bound to lodge in accordance with the usual legal provisions which applied to all Private Bills. Even in regard to that sum of money, the Company did not pretend to have raised it in the form of capital, but appeared to have borrowed it for the purposes to which it was ap- plied under the original Act of 1883. The Company had done a great many unreasonable things. In order to make this railway a nominal capital of £100,000 was authorized, and the district through which the line was to pass guaranteed £40,000. The Act guaranteed payment of 5 per cent upon this capital during the progress of the work, and also gave a guarantee of 5 per cent for 35 years afterwards, to show the bona fides of the promoters in regard to the transaction. But, so far as the capital of £100,000 was concerned, power was taken to cancel the greater part of it, and the ratepayers were made responsible for all the money advanced to the Company. Power was given to borrow a further sum of £20,000, so that the Company had the power to cancel £60,000, and the result would be that the unfortunate guarantors would be in this position—that they would be liable to pay the amount of the guarantee at 5 per cent and the interest on the borrowed money. Power was taken by the guarantors—no doubt very properly—to appoint a receiver in case the money was not regularly paid. The ratepayers of the district, who were liable to suffer seriously in consequence, signed a Petition praying to be heard by counsel in the House of Lords in 1885, when the promoters of the scheme applied for an extended power of taxation, by which they proposed an additional sum of £12,000. The Preamble of that Bill was declared not to have been proved, and the Bill was thrown out. The Committee of the House of Lords altogether objected to the scheme. The present Bill was now proposed in the hope that, if it found its way to a Committee of the House of Lords, it might find a more pliable Committee, and it was further hoped that it would pass through the House of Commons unopposed. As a matter of fact, the promoters had raised an objection in the House of Commons to the locus standi of the ratepayers who wished to petition against the Bill. The practical effect, if they were responsible in that respect, would be that the Bill would come before the House as an Unopposed Bill, unless some Member of Parliament took a special interest in the matter. Under these circumstances, seeing that the promoters had not raised a single penny of capital in the five years allowed them for the purchase of the land and the construction of the railway—that they had purchased no land at all or carried out any of the powers originally taken, he thought the House ought to refuse to give a second reading to the Bill, and save the locality further responsibility and trouble. One of the original provisions of the Bill was that the expense of this Act of Parliament should be borne by the Company, so that the guarantors would be rendered liable, not only for the expense of making the railway, but also for the cost of any litigation, preliminary expenses, fictitious sums run up in the shape of engineers, and so on, while, in point of fact, the railway might never be made. No provision was contained in the Bill as to the payment of money in the event of the line not paying working expenses, nor was it provided that in such a case the guarantee should cease. If the scheme had been a feasible scheme, the Company could have gone before the Privy Council in Dublin and have the payment imposed upon the ratepayers supplied by a loan from the Treasury to the extent of 2 per cent. These gentlemen, however, were afraid to go before the Privy Council in Dublin, knowing that they had no bona fides in connection with the scheme. They were told that the Killala people at one end of the scheme were favourable to it. Of course, the shipowners at Killala were in favour of it, because they expected to get some profit from the outlay, and they hoped to see money raised which would find its way into their own pockets. On the other hand, the people of Ballina, at the other end, the most important town in the district, and a town most exceedingly well situated as a port, were very much opposed to the scheme; and the ratepayers, whom it was proposed to make liable, very strongly objected to it. He might also remark that in the original scheme there was a provision that the landed proprietors should pay one-half of the taxation; and, in addition, there was a provision that they should not be entitled to deduct from that payment any charges upon their own property. Therefore, considering all the circumstances, and especially seeing that the promoters had not been able to advance any money whatever, and that they had really no bona fides, he begged to move his Amend- ment, that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months.

MR. COMMINS (Roscommon, S.)

said, he had great pleasure in seconding the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. Five years ago the promoters undertook to make a railway which was to be completed in the course of five years; but instead of making the railway in five years, and a harbour with a pier at the end of it, they had not even acquired a single rood of land for the purposes of the line. That was clear from their own statements in a document which had been put into his hand since he entered the House. They had not raised one single shilling of the money, nor had they put in force the provision which would have enabled them to have obtained certain advances from the Treasury. Having allowed five years to pass without raising the capital, all they had tried to do having been to take borrowing powers to raise 50 per cent additional capital at the expense of the ratepayers, they had increased their nominal capital from £100,000 to £150,000, on which 5 per cent was to be payable for 35 years. Indeed, the Company had endeavoured to make that payment chargeable for ever upon the unfortunate ratepayers through whose district the railway was to pass. Now, the whole transaction depended upon the bona fides of the promoters. They told that House the object of the Bill was to extend the powers already confirmed by the original Act; and they inserted a provision, which practically amounted to an undertaking, that the Directors would not be guilty of embezzlement. In point of fact, the Bill contained one of the most extraordinary provisions he had ever seen in a Bill submitted to Parliament. The Bill said— The Company shall not out of any money which they are by any Act authorized to raise, pay, or deposit any sum which by any Standing Order of either House of Parliament now or hereafter in force may be required to be deposited in respect of any application to Parliament for the purpose of obtaining an Act authorizing the Company to construct any other Railway or to execute any other work or undertaking. Of course, if they appropriated any of the money authorized by the scheme to any other undertaking, they would render themselves liable to a prosecution for embezzlement, and it was quite superfluous on their part to declare that they had no intention of doing so. The only reason given by the promoters for the Bill was that during the five years which had elapsed since the original Act passed they had done nothing whatever. They had not shown that they had even purchased the land, or a single yard of it, nor had they done one single thing in pursuance of the powers conferred upon them live years ago. Yet they proposed to continue these powers for a further period, so as to enable them for three years longer to speculate on the credit of the ratepayers' money, and try to induce other persons to come in and take this unfortunate project off their hands. He should feel inclined to support any bonâ fide proposal for the extension of railway communication for the opening up of the trade in a district of this kind; but the present proposal was one which was stamped on the face of it with a total want of bona fides, and the Bill was proposed in reality in order to shut other persons out of the field. What was proposed was practically that a concession, as it was called on the Continent, should be given to the promoters, and the railway accommodation of the district handed over to them for a certain number of years. So far they had done nothing, nor had they shown any intention of doing anything; but if this Bill passed, Parliament would practically close the door to enterprising speculators, and prevent them from constructing a railway. He thought the best thing they could do was to let this unfortunate Act expire, and not renew the powers which were given to the Company in 1883.

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. Biggar.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

said, he did not propose to occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes in saying a few words in reply to the remarks of the hon. Member for West Cavan (Mr. Biggar). He regretted the course the hon. Member had taken, and the hostility he had exhibited to a project which had been put forward in order to develop the resources of Ireland. His only reason for intervening at all in the debate was that when he was an Inspector of Irish Fisheries, he had, as a Commissioner on Piers and Harbours, taken part in an inquiry at Killala, as to the desirability of promoting the pier authorized to be constructed under this scheme. He was, therefore, thoroughly acquainted with the circumstances of the district; and, as the result of the inquiry upon that occasion, he was prepared to give his warm and hearty support to the proposition contained in the present Bill. He trusted that the House would not be prevented from giving the Bill a second reading. The Bill itself simply proposed an extension of time for the construction of a line that was authorized five years ago.


said, he doubted very much whether the proposal of his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan would meet the support and approval of hon. Members on that side of the House. He would only remind the House that his hon. Friend had certain little weaknesses, and that among them was the great weakness of objecting to all railway schemes. [Mr. BIGGAR: No.] His hon. Friend had opposed nearly every railway scheme in Ireland that had been produced, and he was sorry to say that after a hard struggle his hon. Friend was successful in defeating a project in which his constituents were much interested, and were most anxious to carry out. He (Colonel Nolan) was, therefore, not inclined to take the opinion of his hon. Friend on railroads, as he would be prepared to take it on almost any other question. He supported the Bill for very much the same reason as that which had been expressed by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Johnston). He had been Chairman of the Commission of which the hon. Member was an efficient Member, and that Commission found that this part of Mayo wanted an harbour, and that Killala offered a splendid position for one. There was a very large quantity of fish there; but the great difficulty was the want of a market, and it was found impossible to get a market without a railway. If he had an opportunity of making inquiries on the spot, he might say he found that Sir Thomas Brady, the senior and best known of the Fishery Commissioners, was also most strong in favour of the Bill. That fact was stated in the document issued by the promoters, and although Sir Thomas Brady was away at that moment, he had no doubt that he was very much in favour of this railway. Personally, he did not pretend to know anything about the place himself; but he believed that a railway would do a great deal of good. He was well acquainted with South Mayo; but this was in North Mayo, and he did not profess to have an intimate knowledge of that locality. The Grand Jury of the County of Mayo had decided in favour of the Bill, and they were not likely to impose a tax on the cesspayers unless that tax was of advantage to the locality. He believed that the Grand Jury of Mayo conducted its business as fairly as any Grand Jury in Ireland, and he would give a reason for saying that. No less than five Members of Parliament belonging to the Irish National Party had been called on to serve upon the Grand Jury, so that it might be said to be as fairly composed as any Grand Jury in Ireland. It was also a most economical Grand Jury. It was in a very different position from other Grand Juries in Ireland, because he knew that in some counties it was the custom not to call Members of Parliament to serve upon it. The Grand Jury of Mayo had decided that the cesspayers should be made liable for this expenditure, which was not likely to be more than 10d. in the pound for the guarantee. He would suggest that it was possible to insert a clause in the Bill that if in the present Session, or any future Session, any further advantage was to be given by the Government in the way of developing railway enterprize in Ireland, the guarantees under this Bill should have the full benefit of it. As to the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for South Roscommon (Mr. Commins), he did not know whether, like the hon. Member for West Cavan, he was opposed to all railways; but he would remind his hon. Friend that this was really a case in which the accommodation was much required, and that the cesspayers of the county were in favour of it. Indeed, he believed it would be found that, as a general rule, the cesspayers of most counties were in favour of the extension of railway enterprise.

MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)

said, the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan) had told the House that Sir Thomas Brady was in favour of the Bill. He was afraid the hon. and gallant Member had been deceived by a statement which the promoters of the railway had put into the document they had just issued. The hon. and gallant Member had given an extract from one Report of the Fishery Commissioners; but he had carefully avoided referring to a recent Report in which it was stated that, as far as the interest of the fisheries at was concerned, the Commission could not recommend this outlay. So much, therefore, for its being a scheme which Sir Thomas Brady had recommended as being for the benefit of these fisheries. He knew it was a very responsible position to be a party to the throwing out of a Bill on the second reading; but there were circumstances connected with this case which, in his opinion, justified that course in the present case. The promoters had put forward a statement in which they had had the hardihood to say that the parties opposing the Bill had presented a Petition against it, and were applying to be heard by counsel. They had not, however, had the honesty to say that they themselves had taken a technical objection to their being heard, and fully counted upon shutting them out from the inquiry. The Petitioners in question were the cesspayers, who would have to provide the guarantee. The promoters of this Bill had been conspicuous by the absence of all bona fides whatever. They had sought in 1885 to have the guarantee of 8d. in the pound raised to 10d., and a Petition signed by more than 2,000 cesspayers had been presented against the Bill, which was then rejected. The promoters said that a Petition was being signed in favour of it; but it certainly had taken a very long time to get it up. This, at any rate, was clear. In 1883 the Company obtained power to construct a railway; in 1888 they had not turned a sod. They said they had taken steps to acquire the land; had they taken steps to acquire the capital? They had not ventured to say that they had raised one farthing of the capital. He found that there was scarcely a single fact stated in the document they had issued which could be relied upon. The project was one of speculators simply, who desired to speculate with the money of the ratepayers of a very poor part of Ireland. The Company in 1885 proposed that they should be able to raise 10d. in the pound out of the rates in perpetuity; but the House would not consent to that. They had in 1883, however, succeeded in getting a guarantee of 8d. in the pound for 35 years. They had obtained that not only for the construction of the railway, but also for all expenses in connection with its promotion. So from first to last the poor, unhappy cesspayers of an impoverished barony would have any liability. They could have gone before the Privy Council in Ireland and have obtained assistance from the Treasury; but they had not done so, because they knew that in the first steps they took it would become apparent that they were simply a body of speculators who were interested in the scheme. He regretted that he felt himself compelled to vote against the hon. Member for Belfast in opposing the Bill, and that he was compelled also to vote against the construction of a railway in a very poor part of Ireland. He did so, however, without any hesitation, because he felt satisfied that if this scheme were put an end to only a short time would elapse before a better scheme was promoted, which would result in the construction of a more satisfactory railway in the district at a very early date.

SIR JOHN COLOMB (, &c.) Tower Hamlets, Bow

said, he thought it was most desirable to open up this country by means of a railway. The only objection he had heard to the proposed railway was that hitherto nothing had been done; but if that objection was to be raised it would apply to almost every scheme for the development of Irish resources during the last five years. Hon. Members knew very well that the circumstances of Ireland had been such as really to prevent any money from being raised by the public for such works. A better state of things was now anticipated, and there was a better prospect of obtaining money for projects of this character. He, therefore, earnestly hoped that the hon. Member for West Cavan would withdraw his opposition, and that the House would give a second reading to the Bill. The hon. and learned Member who spoke last (Mr. Kelly) said that the hon. and gallant Member for North Galway had not studied the recommendations of the Fishery Commission. He (Sir John Colomb) could retort upon the hon. and learned Member himself, because if he had looked at the Report of the Commission carefully, he would have found it officially put down in the Index that Killala was one of the 12 centres of the Irish fisheries. The House had also received personal and direct information from a member of the late Fishery Board who had inquired personally into the matter. The hon. Member for West Cavan had not always proved a true prophet in regard to these railway projects. The hon. and gallant Member for North Galway told the House that the hon. Member generally opposed railway schemes; and he would remind the House that the hon. Member had opposed, in two successive Sessions, an important Bill for railway extension, which was, in the end, carried, and had been of great advantage to the South of Ireland. In view of the fact that this railway was approved by the representative bodies of the locality, he hoped the Amendment would not be persevered with.


said, he hoped that his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan would not press his opposition at all at this stage, or that, at any rate, he would give some more satisfactory reasons for the rejection of the Bill. He thought that if the House took upon itself the task of throwing out a Bill of this nature, instead of sending it to a Committee, it would set a bad example and dishearten persons who took an interest in the extension of Irish railways. There might be many objections urged against the present scheme; but at this stage of the Bill he was of opinion that the House ought not to reject it. Personally, he believed that the construction of the railway would prove of great advantage to the district. He knew something of Killala, having visited it often, and he believed that it was of great importance that a railway should be extended from Ballina to Killala, in order to give proper railway facilities for the North-West of Ireland. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan would withdraw his Motion.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

said, he sympathized very much with the views which had been expressed by the hon. Member for West Cavan; but he would suggest to the hon. Member that it was not desirable to reject the Bill at the present stage. This was a scheme for the construction of a railway which was approved by Parliament five years ago. The Bill had now been brought before the House—a Bill of an ordinary character, asking for an extension of time for a limited period. According to the Forms of Parliament, at the time the original Act was granted all the details of the scheme were inquired into and examined, and an application for an extension of time simply involved the question whether the promoters had a justifiable excuse for not having put into operation the powers conceded to them. The question now was whether there was a bonâ fide intention and prospect on the part of the promoters of going on with the railway within a reasonably short time? With respect to the fact that the powers obtained by the Company had been neglected during the last five years, he presumed it would be allowed that the circumstances of Ireland had not been favourable during those five years for the execution of public works. The question now was whether there was a real intention on the part of the promoters to fulfil their obligations, and to construct a railway? That was a question which would be carefully considered by the Committee appointed by the House to inquire into the Bill. He had suggested that possibly the promoters would be willing to give the Petitioners an opportunity of referring that question to a Committee without disputing their locus standi in respect of that point if they desired to have it investigated—namely, whether there was now a bonâ fide intention to go on with the railway, and if security could be given as to the future action of the Company? The opponents of the scheme were not satisfied with an inquiry limited to that point, but wished to have the whole question of the policy of this railway re-examined. He could not advise the House to permit such a reopening of the question, without, as far as he could see, there being any circumstances to justify it. If such a course were taken, it would establish a precedent that would be exceedingly inconvenient, and might be attended by the worst consequences. It might be extremely undesirable if, whenever an extension of time was sought, such re-examination was to be entered into. As to the nature of the guarantee given by the Company for the construction of the railway, that was a further subject for examination, and he would promise that it should be inquired into. He thought, under all the circumstances, the House would be well advised if they consented to the second reading of the Bill. He would vote for the second reading.


said, he thought it must be admitted that the history of the question was not wholly satisfactory. No doubt, the condition of Mayo was an additional excuse for the Company not having carried out the works that were authorized during the five years they had had the power of doing so. He was quite willing to admit that the condition of Mayo during those five years had not been favourable; but he would remind the House that that could not have been the sole reason that influenced the minds of the Company in not carrying out the scheme, because they approached Parliament in 1885 in order to got a further and heavier guarantee from the locality than they had obtained by the Act of 1883. He must say also, in respect of the speech of his hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees (Mr. Courtney), that to a certain extent he thought that the cesspayers of the district were rather harshly treated, although, no doubt, they had, through their Local Authorities, assented to the scheme of 1882 and 1883. It was possible, and not very improbable, that since then circumstances had convinced them that the burden was not one which they ought lightly to impose upon themselves. Arguments had been laid before him which would indicate—although he did not attach value to them either one way or the other—that the railway, when made, would be illusive, and that it would not be specially useful to the area that was to be taxed in order to guarantee it. Something had been said in the course of the debate about the opinion of the Royal Commission. The opinion of the Royal Commission he could very shortly criticize. The Royal Commission desired that there should be a railway from Ballina to Belmullet; and, on the whole, the Commissioners were disposed to think that the railway should pursue the coast route rather than the inland route. They certainly expressed their opinion in that direction, although not very strongly; but they did emphatically say that they did not expect the harbour of Killala would be of much use to the fishing industry. Therefore, the Commission did support a part of this scheme which he understood this Company desired to promote. Although he did not think that the House at this stage ought to throw out the Bill, and although he should be sorry to be in any way instrumental in checking, in the smallest degree, railway enterprise in the West of Ireland, there was a warning which he should like to give to the Gentlemen connected with this scheme. The hon. and gallant Member for North Galway (Colonel Nolan) said he desired to see a clause introduced into the Bill which would give the Company the benefit of any Government assistance which might be hereafter given in the case of railways in Ireland. Now, if any Gentleman connected with this Bill were speculating on any Government assistance, he begged to warn them against any such expectation. If this Bill passed, it must in no way be considered that the Government were pledged in the matter at all. No doubt, there might be a desire to know what the general intentions of the Government were in regard to Irish railways, and the Gentlemen who were promoting this Bill might be anxious to have some notification of that nature; but he specially refrained from giving it. With that warning, he would recommend the House not to reject the second reading of the Bill, but to allow the measure to go before a Select Committee in the ordinary course, and there to be judged upon its merits. He would remind hon. Members that if the Bill appeared to be unsatisfactory when it left the Committee there would still be an opportunity of rejecting it.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford N.)

said, he thought that, after the statements which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland and the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees, some time should be allowed for the promoters and the opponents to reconsider their position. The promoters had now had a very candid statement from the Government—in which he (Mr. T. M. Healy) entirely concurred—that they considered themselves in no way bound to give any future assistance, or any guarantee under any possible future legislation, to the development of Irish railways; and it might be, under those circumstances, that the promoters might feel themselves no longer justified in going on with the Bill. Indeed, they might have been engaged in a fishing expedition with regard to the present measure, and he thought it was desirable to give them power to examine their own consciences, and see if they really intended bonâ fide to go on with the Bill. In the second place, it was desirable, after what had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees, that the question of locus standi should not be raised between the petitioners and the promoters. The question of locus standi was a most unfortunate one, and, if a promise were given that the promoters would not oppose the locus standi, it might mitigate the sufferings of the opposition which the Bill might meet with in that House. Under the circumstances, he thought the proper course would be to say that the House would defer for a week any action upon the measure, and that there should be an adjournment to enable the parties, who were not at arms' length, to come together and see if they could not arrange their difficulties on the question of locus standi. An opportunity would also be afforded to the promoters of ascertaining whether, after the statements of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary, which he altogether approved of, as far as the guarantee was concerned, they would proceed with the Bill. As to what had fallen from the hon. and gallant Member who spoke from the Opposition side of the House (Colonel Nolan) with regard to the opposition of his hon. Friend the Member for West Cavan to guarantee legislation, he could only say that he gave a cordial assent to the views of his hon. Friend. The history of guaranteed legislation in Ireland showed that it had been throughout a system of failure and fraud. He thought that, under all the circumstances, the best course to pursue would be to adjourn the debate, and he, therefore, moved that the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. T. H. Healy.)


said, there was an objection to the course proposed, which he thought the hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) would at once see. Under the Rules of the House of Lords the Bill must reach that House by a certain time if it was to be considered at all this Session. Therefore, the course which it was proposed to take would imperil the progress of the Bill. He would, therefore, suggest that the hon. and learned Member would, in these circumstances, withdraw the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.


asked, whether an adjournment until Monday would be objected to?


said, he hoped his hon. and learned Friend would withdraw the Amendment, which was certainly a most objectionable way of defeating a Private Bill. He thought the question ought to be determined one way or another upon its merits, and that it was not right to impose additional expenses upon the promoters of Private Bills by protracting the period of inquiry.


said, he would withdraw the Motion for Adjournment.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 227; Noes, 51: Majority 176.—(Div. List, No. 128.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.