§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR W. LAWSON (Cumberland, Cockermouth)
The House will see that on the Notice Paper there is a notice of Amendment standing in the name of an hon. Member who is not here. The notice stands in the name of the hon. Member for the Camborne Division of Cornwall (Mr. Conybeare), and is as folio vs:—On Second Reading of Light Railways (Ireland) Bill, to move that this House, having regard to the principle of action laid down by the present Government as the basis of its Irish policy, namely, that Ireland and Great 887 Britain should be treated on equal terms, declines to advance, for the construction of public works in Ireland, free grants of public moneys, which are refused, except in the case of amply secured loans, for Similar purposes in Great Britain.That appears to me to he a very sound statement of what our Irish policy ought to be, and I should have been glad if the hon. Member had been here to move the Amendment; but, unfortunately, he is not here, in consequence of the policy of the Government in shutting up their political opponents in prison, a policy worthy of the worst period of our history. As a protest against that policy, and against the way in which one of my fellow Members has been treated, I move the Adjournment of the Debate.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
No, I think not. Under the circumstances, I consider it to be an abuse of the Rules of the House. Under the Standing Order I have two courses open to me. One is to put the Motion immediately, and the other to refuse to put it. I refuse to put it.
§ MR. H. COSSHAM (Bristol, W.)
I rise to move the rejection of the Bill. I have noticed that where railways are really needed private enterprise is always found to undertake them, and I have noticed that railways are most successful when they are thus promoted lather than initiated by the Government. It is most unwise of us to allow the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who is a Political Agent, and who owes his appointment to political motives, to be the initiator of a great extension of the railway system. I oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, and I hope the House will reject it on account of the fact that private enterprise would supply what this Bill proposes to do through the Lord Lieutenant. The Bill also deals with the parts of Ireland where railways do not exist, and where it is proposed the Board of Works shall carry out the works. I have been long enough in the House to know that of all the bodies in Ireland that do not meet with the 888 approval of the Irish people the Board of Works stands at the head. Therefore, to grant to the Board of Works the power to control the levying out of considerable sums of money belonging to the taxpayers of this country is in the highest sense unwise. Nearly all the loans made, and nearly all the money given to Ireland under the control of the Board of Works has been spent in a way that has not produced good to Ireland or benefit to England. I find, on looking back, that the only schemes for Ireland's improvement which have worked out well are the drainage schemes under the Act 1863, with which the Board of Works had nothing to do. Another part of the Bill refers to the various loans or advances made by this country in the past in connection with improvement works. I am sorry to say their name is legion, and that for the greater part they have been misapplied. In the last 40 years this country has expended £35,000,000 in various works in Ireland, and will the House believe me when I say that £8,000,000 of that has had to be written off. Is it possible to give the House a better proof of the utter absurdity of prosecuting a policy such as that embodied in this Bill? I am here to protest in the name of the taxpayers of this country against such a policy. My constituents believe that this money will be utterly thrown away, and so do I. I find that on the Shannon Drainage-alone, on which we are to be asked to spend more money, we have spent £860,000 already, of which £573,000 has been written off. The experience of the past does not justify the Government in the proposal they now make. But my objection to this scheme lies mainly in this, that it is part of the policy of bribery and brute force of which this Government is the acknowledged head; it is the policy of carrying a stick in one hand and a money bag in the other. I have not seen that policy answer in the government of nations. The only policy in which I believe is that of doing justice to the people; this mixture of brute force and fraud is the worst kind of government we can have. The object of the Government is to bribe Ireland from the love of self-government. Now, I believe the love of self-government is not only a just, but a most 889 healthy feeling to encourage in any part of the United Kingdom. The Government may throw as many money bags into Ireland as they like, but they will not destroy the desire of the Irish for self-government. My next objection to the Bill is that it is introduced in the interest of a small class—namely, the landowners. The landowners of Ireland have cost this country very dear. Nearly all the legislation of the last 50 or 60 years has been conceived in the interest of the landowners, and they have shown their gratitude by creating more difficulty in Ireland than any other class. I am not disposed to make further concessions in the interest of that class. It is to increase the value of land that the Drainage Bills have been brought in, and as we are led to believe the Government intend to purchase the land, it is manifest we should be purchasing our own money over again. I am also against the Bill because it is opposed to the recommendations of the Royal Commission. That Commission reported that the initiation of all future measures of improvement in Ireland should be vested in the people themselves. This Bill is a direct violation of that principle. My objection to these schemes would not be so great if we had in Ireland a local government who would be responsible for the expenditure of the money. When we have Local Government in Ireland, I shall be the first to grant any money this country thinks fit to grant for the improvement of the country. I admit we owe to Ireland a deep debt. We have wronged her in the past to such an extent that I should be willing to strain a point to improve the condition of the country. But I want when any expenditure is made that it should be made under the control and responsibility of a body selected by the people themselves. I am sure I need not say to my Irish Friends I move the rejection of this Bill in no spirit hostile to their interests. I hope my past conduct justifies me in saying I am not an enemy of any improvement of Ireland. I want to see Ireland improved in every way, but improved under the control of a body responsible to this House and the country for the proper expenditure of the money advanced.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words
This House declines to give or advance money for the construction of Railways in Ireland, except under the direction and responsibility of popularly elected bodies."—(Mr. Handel Cossham.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ * MR. S. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)
To a large extent I sympathise with the speech to which we have just listened. I think that all hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House will be glad when we have some local authority in Ireland other than those at present existing, but I cannot admit that the speech of the hon. Gentleman is one that is properly applicable to the proposals of the Government now under consideration. I think my hon. Friend totally misunderstands the scope and object of the Bill. There is no proposal in the principal part of the Bill to advance money except in the sense that a guarantee will be given by the Government for these light railways, but the guarantee falls through if the railway does not succeed. It is not in the same sense as in the case of the Drainage Bills that the Government are advancing money. My hon. Friend also misunderstands the position of the Board of Works in the matter. The Board of Works has practically no power in connection with the carrying out of the works. All they have to do is to authorise the construction of one of these light railways where they think it is advisable to do so; they will have nothing to do with the actual construction or carrying out of the works; that will be in the hands of the public bodies and public contractors. The position of the Board of Works in regard to these railways is, therefore, totally different to what it is in regard to the drainage schemes. From personal knowledge of some of the districts in which it is intended these light railways should be constructed, I say that if this Bill is passed it will prove of immense advantage not only to the districts themselves but to Ireland generally, and to this country. 891 I do not believe that the money, if properly expended—and I believe that, under this Bill it will be properly expended—will be thrown away. Many places in the West of Ireland are as much as 30, 40, or even 50 miles away from the nearest means of communication. In many of these cases there are fishing and other industries which might be easily developed if there were means of transport, and their development would put the people in a totally different position to that which unfortunately they now occupy. My hon. Friend must not suppose that the Bill creates a precedent. We have passed several Irish Tramways Acts, some of which have worked comparatively well, and this is an endeavour to complete former Acts with reference to Irish Tramways, and to place them on a more satisfactory footing. Under old Tramways Acts complications have arisen as to the barony guarantee and the State guarantee, and that has done much to prevent Companies being formed to create and work tramways. Under this Bill there is a simple Government guarantee of 3 per cent on the capital raised if the line is passed and completed, while the loss—if there is a loss—on the working will be borne, not by the Treasury, but by the locality itself. The hon. Member said that the Bill was introduced in the interests of the owners and not of the occupiers. But it will really be much more in the interests of the occupier; and unless the majority of the occupiers in any particular district give their assent to the line proposed, the line will not be constructed. It is not likely that the occupiers will give their assent unless they believe the line will be of advantage to them. In principle, the Bill is a very good one indeed, and I hope to see it passed. I believe it will be of great advantage to the poorer districts, and I do not think it can result in loss to the Treasury. There are one or two questions I desire to put, though I shall put them in no hostile spirit. I do not quite understand the part of the Bill referring to the position of existing railways. Are they to be allowed to choose profitable lines and to put aside other lines, or will the Executive insist that in any scheme proposed the companies shall make unprofitable lines if they exist, as well as profitable lines? 892 Then I think the mode of election might be made simpler; and in reference to the guarantee, I understand it is not to exceed in the first instance 6d. in the £1, but if the railway in any part of the year does not pay its working expenses the promoters may ask the barony for a further guarantee. I believe that portion of the Bill will certainly not work. I do not think that the barony, having once given a guarantee, will be prepared to give a larger one. Again, who will be the authority to decide between two rival lines? I have in my mind two lines, both 40 or 50 miles long, one running through an almost barren country, and the other through a district in which there are many fishing villages. Who will be the authority to decide between these rival lines? Again, will these light railways include all the many different systems, some of which are used abroad, and some of which are now used in England, which do not always go by the name of light railways, but which are very inexpensive. I trust the Government will not confine their Bill too exclusively to so-called light railways, but will include some of the other light systems. In conclusion, I desire to say I regard this Bill as the best Bill the Government opposite have brought in, though that is not saying much. I hope they mean to pass it. I am sure it will not be accepted in Ireland as a bribe; indeed, I agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. H. Cossham) that the Government may offer as many bribes as they like to Ireland, it will make no difference at the election. I believe the Bill will be accepted as a measure to carry on that which already exists to a large extent, and that it will result in good to a large number of impoverished people.
§ MR. RATHBONE (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)
I quite agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham) in condemnation of a policy for Ireland made up of alternations of coercion and bribery. Such a policy is as useless as it is immoral. I quite agree also that the best results of any measures for developing the natural resources of Ireland can only be attained by entrusting those measures to local administration. But I do not admit that we are bound to wait for the time when that Local Government is established before we make amends for 893 our selfish and narrow policy of former days. I look at the proposal before us from a practical point of view, and I find that this promotion of light railways is supported and urged by everybody who has taken practical interest in the question of developing Irish resources. I do not see how we can ever do anything for the congested districts until we provide facilities for sending to those districts what is required, and taking from them what they produce. About the other Bill brought forward for the relief of Ireland I feel considerable doubt, but upon this Bill I have no hesitation. I think this construction of light railways is a matter of vital importance for Ireland, and for the West of Ireland especially, and I think the House would incur great responsibility if it declined to carry out the proposal without delay. At the same time I am bound to admit that there are complicated details in connection with the proposal, difficult to deal with in Committee of the whole House, and in view of this I venture to suggest to the Government that it might be well to refer the Bill to the Standing Committee on Trade, adding to the Committee those Irish Members and others who have shown a practical interest in the subject. I believe then all the details of the measure would be satisfactorily adjusted. As the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade knows, the Trade Committee is a very practical body, and I do not think it would be many days before the Bill would be sent back again to the House with remedies found for all those dangers my hon. Friend (Mr. Cossham) has suggested.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy)
I cannot help expressing my great regret that the Government have not given us more detailed information as to what this Bill means. The First Lord of the Treasury said the other day, in a light and airy way, that all parties were agreed upon it. Well, that does not seem quite to be the case, and there is one party with a considerable interest in the matter who has not expressed any satisfaction, and that is the British taxpayer. Seeing that they are called upon to sink several hundred thousands in the undertaking, I think the British I taxpayers ought to be consulted. I am bound to confess that as the Irish people have not, as we have, the means by Local 894 Government of dealing with the matter themselves, we are called upon to do what is necessary in regard to the congested districts, and so far I agree with my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Carnarvon. My views are expressed in the Motion I have put on the Paper, although I gave way to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol. Pending the establishment of Local Government in Ireland, I am willing to vote the sums required for the impoverished and congested districts, but I decline to do so without a definition of the areas within which the money is to be expended, and an indication of the railways contemplated. My view is that the theory of the Bill is right, but I want to know if the practice is right, and if we really are going to relieve the congested districts of Ireland. I want to be quite sure that we are not merely giving the Government a cheque for £600,000 that they may scatter the money about here and there, bribing Irish opinion under the semblance of assistance given to the development of local industry and resources. I listened carefully to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary when he introduced these Bills, but as regards the Light Railways Bill, that statement was most vague. He told us the general principle upon which the Government proposed to proceed, but he gave us no indication whatever of the particular railways, and the particular parts of Ireland, he intended should be served. While we are still a united kingdom we are bound to render assistance to any specially distressed district in the kingdom. Now, if the Secretary for Scotland were to come forward with a proposal to give assistance to Scotland under such such circumstances, I can quite conceive that the House would not be content with a demand for so many hundred thousand pounds, and the Government would produce a plan of their intentions and would put before us a map showing how half Scotland is not served by railways at all. The large fishing industry of the west coast is only touched by one monopolising railway company, and the fishermen are obliged to send away their fish by a route which makes a long detour, by an insufficient service of trains, and at high rates. The Minister in charge would show, without lending 895 himself to a particular line of railway, what his general object was. This is what I want the Government to do now, when asking us to hand them £600,000 for them to dispose of. I want them in general terms to indicate their project. I have not heard what it is. I have visited Ireland, and I know that there are parts of Donegal remote from railway communication, but I do not know that there are any industries there that a railway would serve to develop. I do not know that there are any great fishing interests there on that Atlantic beaten coast, as there are on the West Coast of Scotland. I may be told that such a railway is not a new project, and I am quite aware that there have been these railway projects before. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) is an authority on the subject, and he told us the other day of a railway that only carried three tons of goods during the year, and this another hon. Member says is the only one that pays its expenses. Well, with such experience before us, I think we may well ask before we present the Government with £600,000 for distribution what their plan is. I do not expect them to be bound down to the narrow limits of one particular line, but they can surely give us some general idea. They must have roughly figured out some project to arrive at this sum of £600,000 upon which they Lave fixed instead of a round half million. Somehow or other they arrived at this sum, and I hope before this Debate closes they will give us the information which I think in the interest of the British taxpayer we are bound to ask for. The Government must have some project, for I understand these railways are to be constructed to serve industries that do more or less exist, and that can be improved by this means of communication. I do not believe in railways as a means of creating an industry, and I doubt very much if there is any great quantity of fish to be caught off the Atlantic coast. Then as regards the details we have in the Bill, I must say I do not very much like them in many respects. My hon. Friend below me seems to think that the baronies are going to guarantee three per cent, but as I understand it, they are not going to guarantee interest on the capital, the only guarantee is against loss on working expenses, a 896 very different thing. Working expenses may be reduced to a minimum. I daresay the three tons of goods carried in the year paid the working expenses if the three tons were carried by one train. That, I say, is a totally inadequate guarantee, and does not give any assurance that the people of the locality have belief in the work they guarantee. It is really no guarantee at all. I have had some experience of guaranteed Indian railways, but there the guarantee was always a guarantee for a certain interest on the money, whereas here the guarantee is to be absorbed in working expenses. Neither do I like the vague terms in which the Bill provides for the subsidising of railway companies for extensions and the promoters of new lines. We have no indication of where the lines are to be promoted, we are only told that light railways are to be provided in the interest of Irish industries, but for all else we are totally without light and leading. Of one thing we may be certain, that Ireland is pre-eminently the land of jobbery, and if there is a country where a job in matters of this kind can be perpetrated it is in Ireland. The hon. Member for Cavan has given us illustrations of what has been done in this way in the past, and looking to what we may anticipate in the future, I again say we ought to have more details in our possession before we pass the Second Heading of this Bill.
§ COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
I was glad to hear the speeches of the hon. Members for Poplar and for Carnarvon. They are such as I should have expected from hon. Gentlemen who have, for a long time, in the House of Commons, taken an interest in industrial questions relating to Ireland. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy sets up a claim for support for the fishing industry of the West of Scotland, and all I can say is that if a Bill were brought in for the West of Scotland, and could be supported on equally good grounds to this I would support it. The hon. Gentleman suspects that in Ireland such a Bill means jobbery, and he is sceptical about the existence of fish in the Atlantic, but I can tell him that all along the west coast there are plenty of fish to be caught and would be caught if only the people had the means of sending their catches to market. Fishing is carried on now in Galway Bay, because we have a rail- 897 Way at hand, but when the railway communication is 30 or 40 miles away of course it is no use catching fish other than -will stand the long carriage. Lobsters are caught to a considerable extent, and curing fish is carried on to some extent, but salting is a troublesome process, and it is not all kinds of fish that are suitable, and the fish do not realise half what they do when fresh. Railway communication is the remedy. I must say this is far and away the best Bill for Ireland that has been introduced for many years, and I sincerely hope that opposition from this side will not prevent it passing. We have heard much about the British taxpayer, and I am quite aware that in this instance he is to supply the bulk of the money, but while we pay £8,200,000 annually into the Exchequer, are we to get nothing in return but police and coercion? Hon. Members have spoken of the money being wasted—and money no doubt will be wasted if a proper check is not kept upon expenditure. But I will undertake to say that every year there is an amount of money jobbed away in the administration of Ireland to twenty times the amount that is likely, with the most lax administration to arise under this Bill. Why attempt to check the development of whatever industrial resources we have in Ireland? The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy will not allow we have fish in the Atlantic.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I thought the hon. Gentleman hazarded a doubt as to the existence of fish there, but I will give him the full benefit of the correction. There is no doubt that this part of the Atlantic is swarming with fish, and I hope when we have this railway the fact will be demonstrated beyond doubt. There have been several propositions in reference to this Bill; one is to refer it to some Committee or other, and another is to add a schedule of lines. Now, these are both favourite methods of killing a Bill. You often hear Members who are disposed to reject a Bill say, "We are not satisfied with dealing with it in the ordinary way, send it to a Committee;" or else they say, "It is necessary for clearness there should be a schedule inserted." Of course to propose either such course on the 18th 898 July, when everyone is desirous of an early close of the Session, is an effectual way of killing the Bill for this year. The Bill is susceptible of improvement, I know; but it is not such a complicated piece of work to deal with. We are accustomed to its machinery under the Tramways Act, machinery of which I do not approve very much; but, eliminating much of that machinery, we could make the Bill simpler in its working, with little to object to in that respect. I would have as much control as possible left to the Lord Lieutenant, because he acts by the advice of those who are responsible to the House of Commons; but over the Privy Council popular Representatives in this House have no control. But this is a question for Committee, and does not affect the Second Reading. Suppose the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy had his way, and a schedule was drawn up, any Irish Member would naturally think his own district was most important, and would expect to find it in the schedule; and, not finding it there, would endeavour to get it added. We should all do that, and from our own point of view would be justified; but to stop the Second Beading until we all agreed on this point would be foolish indeed. There are many points in the Bill to be settled, but not before the Second Beading. Hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway are in many ways excellent friends of Ireland. If they really think it will be a benefit for Ireland to develope her resources by means of money drawn from her own taxation, can they think it is necessary to wait for that benefit until Home Rule is established? We may have to wait for eight or ten years—there is a possibility of that, though I hope we may arrive at it before. But we do not know what may happen; there is much to be done; we may have to abolish the House of Lords to do it. But do you want this benefit for Ireland to be put off for an indefinite period while the great struggle of Parties is going on? I beg and entreat hon. Members not to insist on our continuing the contribution of £8,200,000 a year meanwhile with no return. Give us at least the odd £200,000, to be devoted to a useful purpose.
§ MR. BIGGAR (Cavan, W.)
I think my hon. and gallant Friend has rather "let the cat out of the bag." He has 899 told us that a very large proportion of the Irish Members have a disposition towards jobbery——
§ COLONEL NOLAN
I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I never in my life connected the word jobbery with an Irishman.
§ MR. BIGGAR
I will not say my hon. and gallant Friend used the word "jobbery" in this direct connection; but I understood him to say that a very considerable number of Irish Members of Parliament were disposed to make efforts to get a part of this plunder for their particular constituencies. Well, I suppose that is very near to jobbery, if it is not quite so. I am opposed to this Bill, for, as I understand it, it proposes to take £60,000 a year permanently from the British taxpayer. Now that, I think, is an unreasonable proposition. I may be mistaken in the exact sum, but I think it is about that amount, and capitalized it really means something like two millions sterling, rather a heavy attack to make on the British taxpayer at once, and for an object acknowledged by the Bill to be of a very problematical character, for in addition to the advance, there is to be a guarantee that the railways shall pay their working expenses. Now, after a confession of that sort at the outset, it seems to me there is an acknowledgment that the thing is not feasible. The general principle I always apply to the outlay of money, public or private, is, is it going to be reproductive? The Government say, practically, this is not going to be reproductive; that these railways, if constructed, will not pay their working expenses; and I think the Government ought to be ashamed to make this proposal to the British public. It has been said these railways are necessary for the congested districts; but I ask, what are the congested districts to send any produce—what produce will the rail-ways carry? You do not wan t to construct a railway to carry the people away. The fact of the matter is, it does not make men richer to have a railway passing before their doors. What is the use of the railway to a district if there is no produce to send by it? As to the fishing industry, we know that Galway Bay is remarkably well situated, with a railway running round it, the Midland Railway to Dublin; but the Galway fishermen are in the same 900 state of poverty with which they have been familiar for generations. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy spoke of three tons of goods carried by a line in a year, and what he was referring to, probably, was the line in County Clare, from Miltown Malbay to Ennis, over which, in a year, three tons of fish were carried. Are you going to make railways to develope the fishing industry to this extent? Surely all this about the fishing industry is an absurdity, and not worth consideration. A very objectionable feature in the Bill is that promoters of new lines are to be subsidised. Now if there is any one class of the community more open to suspicion in connection with these undertakings than another it is the promoters; a more unscrupulous lot of people I do not know, and the promoters of Irish light railways are about the worst of the class. There is only one part of the Bill for which any justification could be advanced, the first part. By this I understand it is proposed that existing Railway Companies shall be assisted to make extensions to their lines. But I do not acknowledge that even this part of the Bill is entitled to the support of the House, because if these extensions which are contemplated were really feasible and likely to pay anything over their working expenses, the Directors of the existing companies would be almost certain to make the extensions. I do not believe, as a matter of fact, that any extension could be made in any part of Ireland that would pay expenses. This first part of the Bill is the most innocent part by a very long way, and in the next part it is proposed that promoters shall have the opportunity of making a line on their own responsibility, and the county through which the line passes shall provide the working expenses, for the Government does not undertake to pay 3 per cent unless the line is worked. The limit is in one part of the Bill to 6d. in the £1, but then it goes on to say that if this is not enough the guarantee may be extended to an unlimited extent, and there is no limit to the taxation that may be laid on the unfortunate taxpayers to enable the promoters to get their 3 per cent from the Government. Suppose the people of the district come to the conclusion that undoubtedly 901 the line cannot pay, still the promoters will have the whip hand of them, and may force the ratepayers to pay a continual charge towards the working expenses of the line. In the proposed representation in this happy family of the promoters, the Government, and the ratepayers, the promoters will have voting control, and will have full control over funds and management. The worst evils of the Light Eailway Bill of 1883 are continued, and the ratepayers are to be plundered to a greater extent than ever. The Bill is open to so many objections, that even if it passes the Second Reading I do not see how it can become law this Session. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Nolan) found fault with the Privy Council. Now, the great objection to the Privy Council in Ireland is that it is a judicial body, consisting of a great many honorary members and a certain number of Judges, who sit and hear evidence. Now, I am not one of those who are disposed to praise Judges in a general way; but, at the same time, I think this Privy Council, in regard to these tramway schemes, did a good deal of good. They, having heard evidence, threw out the whole of the Bills. Chief Justice Morris is rather entitled to the gratitude of the Irish people for saving them from being robbed under some of the schemes promoted by the friends of my hon. and gallant Friend. There is another part of the Bill I think particularly unreasonable. I am not in the habit of referring to the Grand Jury in terms of affection; but at the same time, I do not see why all power of criticism in reference to these works should be with drawn from that body. These railways are to be of the ordinary gauge, or the three-feet gauge; but I should like to know how can these new railways be expected to carry traffic with any success or profit except in connection with the existing railway system? How can they carry on the traffic economically unless they can join other lines without unloading goods, and how can they meet all emergencies unless they can borrow rolling stock when necessary? I think I never read a Bill more carelessly drawn, more open to criticism in every part. I think the Government would do well, even if they succeed in passing the Second Reading to-night, to hang up the Bill for another 902 Session to give time for more mature consideration.
§ * Mr. PINKERTON (Galway)
We have oftened listened to my hon. Friend on this subject, but I cannot say I feel any sympathy with the views he expresses, or in his solicitude for the British taxpayer, and I hope the House will not be influenced by them, for, in truth, my hon. Friend has a craze against all railway extension. Why, if it were possible to construct a railway from earth to heaven, my hon. Friend would oppose it, and give as his reason, forsooth, that the passenger traffic would not pay. I confess that having the interests of my constituents at heart, I am strongly in favour of this Light Railway Bill. If we are to wait for all reforms in Ireland until our friends and enemies are agreed upon remedial measures, then a long farewell to all improvements. It is impossible to bring forward any measure of reform that will not run counter to some person's peculiar notions. My Radical Friends are so very upright in their notions as to these reforms that they remind one of Mark Twain's good little boy whose honesty was so extreme as to be simply ridiculous. A railway will not be forced upon a district against the interest of the population. I will not say that in all cases the railways will be a financial success, but something must be done to help the congested districts. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) has strangled the Drainage Bills; but I hope he and his Friends will restrain their ardour and allow this trifling remedial measure to pass unchallenged.
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
I do not think that the British taxpayer stands in need of the championship of the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham), or that he is likely to have a large following on this occasion. I hope, too, that hon. Members will not take the advice of the hon. Member for Cavan, because, to say that no railway is to be sanctioned but one that is likely to be a financial success, is tantamount to saying that we should do nothing in this direction for the relief of the congested districts of Ireland. If we are to do nothing for the congested districts, what are we to do for Ireland? Are we to allow the present evils to go on year after 903 year—a disgrace to this rich country—and offer no assistance? The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy wants to know where the congested districts are; he wants a map prepared, to be hung up, I suppose, on the Speaker's Chair, so that the districts proposed to be served may be explained. But surely there is no difficulty in finding out where the congested and impoverished districts are? The hon. Member talked about fish and Irish fishing, and the hon. Member for Cavan also talks of this industry with contempt; but I think I have heard of Bills being introduced by Members of the Party to which the hon. Member for Cavan belongs, dealing with Irish fisheries, and which were not dealt within that contemptuous way in which the hon. Member has spoken of Irish fisheries to-night. I put it to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy, What is the use of the Irish fishermen catching fish if the fish are simply used as manure, because, in the absence of railway communication, they cannot reach a market? That is a sufficient reason for not catching fish. The fish are there, and the fish will be caught if the means of transport are provided. The only difficulty about the Bill is that we are now reading it a second time on the 19th July. I think I may take it for granted we shall not have an Autumn Session. Now, the difficulty we have is this—when we look at the working of the Tramways Act of 1883 which was passed at the tail end of the Session——
§ * MR. T. W. RUSSELL
Not in a satisfactory way, I must admit, and it has not accomplished all that we desired or expected. Now, in view of this fact I think that the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Rathbone) is worthy of consideration. The Bill is undoubtedly one of detail, and if it were referred to the Committee on Trade, adding to that Committee a certain number of Irish Members interested in the question, there would be a better chance of those details being thoroughly threshed out than at this time of the Session in Committee of the Whole House. I am sensible of the danger to which the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) has referred; I know that referring a Bill to a Committee has sometimes been found a convenient 904 method of shelving it, and, therefore, I do not press this unduly; but it is a question to consider whether the balance of advantage would not be with the reference of the Bill to a Committee rather than by undertaking it in Committee of the Whole House. The hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) has talked about the question of gauge, but that certainly is not a question for decision upon the Second Beading. The Government have deliberately refused to settle the question of gauge in their Bill. There are advocates of both gauges in Ireland, and the Government are content to leave it to local decision. I may remind the hon. Member for Cavan of the fact that the longest and most successful of these light railways is constructed on the three-feet gauge, and the cost of transfer of cargo to the ordinary gauge line is only about 4d. per ton. But as I say, this is not a question for Second Beading. The Government have not chosen to decide between the gauges, and we may now leave that question alone. I believe it is absolutely necessary, if we are to do anything for the congested districts, that these light railways should be made, and with considerable confidence I appeal to the House, believing that we cannot do better than pass this Bill.
§ * THE CHIEF SECRETAEY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I hope that the House is now in a condition to come to a determination upon this stage of the Bill, and as I am anxious to avoid being the cause of unnecessary delay, I now interpose to make such observations as occur to me in reference to the Debate. Perhaps the House will allow me to deal lightly with some of the remarks made—I will not say upon the Bill—but upon topics which some hon. Gentlemen have suggested as relevant to the Bill. I should myself have been very much surprised, I might almost say disappointed, if we had not had our old friends "bribery and coercion" trotted out, the whip in one hand, the reward in the other, and all that sort of thing. I do not know why I should bore the House and bore myself by repeating what I have said on former occasions in reference to arguments of this kind, and I turn to criticisms more directly relevant to the discussion. The hon. Member 905 for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) has told us that these railways are not wanted in congested districts because he says there will be nothing for the railways to carry, that the people are so poor that they have nothing to send or receive by railway and that they cannot afford to travel by the railway themselves. Well, I hope the hon. Member for Cavan will recognize hereafter that it will not be open to him to say, at all events, that these people are not eminently deserving of any assistance the community can safely or usefully provide. If they are really sunk so low in the depths of poverty as the hon. Member describes, if they are really so incapable of supporting themselves as he says, I hope that when he and his friends refuse to give facilities for emigration, for making railways or for building piers, he will suggest some other means by which material assistance may be given to these unhappy people. For our part, we admit with the hon. Member that the amount of commerce is not great; we admit that these railways are not likely to pay on any large scale; but what we do believe is this—that any germs of industry—fishing or agriculture—will be fostered by these railways, We believe that the means of communication between these congested districts and the outer world will conduce to their civilization and prosperity, and it is on these considerations, and not because we anticipate any large commercial return, or in some cases any commercial return at all, that we have adopted this Bill. The hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham) repeated the old familiar argument that the Bill is introduced by the Government simply to improve the condition of the landlords at the taxpayers' expense. Well, the most ardent advocates of the Bill are persons not commonly supposed to be favourable to the interests of landlords. If the hon. Member goes to the West of Ireland and to the districts where, as I hope, these railways will be constructed, he will find every class of the community—priests and politicians alike, and every person who is, or fancies he is, qualified to represent the people—is ardently in favour of these railways; and the very people who conceive it to be their duty to attack the landlords are most in favour of our 906 proposal. I do not know that I need discuss the prospect the hon. Gentleman held out of waiting until Home Rule is established in Ireland. I understand perfectly well the arguments, such as they are, in favour of Home Rule being i granted; but is there a man in the House who really believes that the proper system of administering Imperial assistance on a large scale is to do this through a local body in no sense responsible to the taxpayer or to those in this House who vote the taxes? The hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham) attacks the Board of Works. The Board of Works are accustomed to attack, and I do not say the Board of Works has never made mistakes; but, at all events, the Board of Works is responsible to this House, and it carries out its functions under the eyes of this House, and a Minister responsible for the action of the Board of Works is in this House; but if we were to carry out the scheme recommended by the hon. Gentleman, by which the money provided by Parliament should be administered by the localities alone, I conceive that the most ardent Irishman will admit that the last guarantee for economical administration would finally disappear. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) has asked where the congested districts are—but I see he has gone away, and so I may neglect his argument. I will only say upon this and another point raised by another hon. Member that we scarcely think it is necessary to specify the congested districts to be dealt with, but anybody who has read the Report of the Royal Commission, or who is familiar with the condition of Ireland, will be perfectly well aware that the difficulty will not be to find congested districts, not to find areas through which a railway might be usefully constructed, but to get rid of claims that will be pressed upon us, in order that we may use to the best advantage the limited funds given by Parliament. The Royal Commission recommended certain lines, but the Government do not commit themselves to these lines. We offer no final verdict as to which are the railways that should, in the first instance, be constructed—we shall take the recommendations of the Royal Commission as a basis, to be modified if necessary as 907 further reflection may suggest. The hon. Member for Poplar has asked me who is the authority to decide through which district a line should go, and if, in the competition of two R0ailway Companies, the line would go through the richest or the poorest district. It will not rest with the Railway Companies to determine the question; the control will be with the Executive Government, and they will base their decision not on what will be profitable to the railway company, but on their estimate of what is useful to the country at large. I am asked also whether a more simple plan could be proposed for taking the votes by which a district may express approbation or disapprobation of a railway scheme. We shall be quite ready in Committee to consider any other plan that may be suggested, but ours, I think, is a very simple one, and it has, as the hon. and gallant Member for Galway (Colonel Nolan) says, the advantage of being familiar to the Local Authorities in Ireland. I do not think that any difficulty is likely to arise in the working of the plan we propose; but if any hon. Member can offer us a better one, we shall offer no obstinate resistance to the suggestion. Hon. Members opposite have advised the reference of the Bill to the Standing Committee on Trade, and I do not know that much is to be said in opposition to such a proposal, except that it might cause a delay that might possibly be fatal to the Bill for this Session. I learn that the Committee on Trade have several Bills before them, and that they will not meet until Thursday. Under these circumstances, I think we should be risking more than we are likely to gain by taking the course of referring the Bill to the Trade Committee. I need only say, in conclusion, that the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham) and his friends take a singular view of their duty when they acknowledge that they owe this measure as a debt to Ireland, but yet would defer the payment of this debt indefinitely until they can pay another debt they conceive they owe to Ireland. I would say to the hon. Member, let him be honest while he can. The other debt I understand to be Home Rule. Well, the payment of that debt, as the hon. and gallant Member for Galway has said, must be in the dim and distant 908 future. [Cries of "No, no," and "Next Election!"] I am only quoting the hon. and gallant Member for Galway.
§ * MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, I will put it in more qualified terms, the hon. Gentleman anticipated that it might be eight or nine years. But I would seriously advise hon. Gentlemen in. public as well as in private affairs to pay their debts while they can, and when they can, and not to refuse to pay an instalment because they have to postpone for an unknown period the clearing off the whole. The hon. Gentleman is one of those who are fond of casting in our teeth that we do not sufficiently consider Irish opinion. Well, on this question of light railways Irish opinion is more unanimous than I have ever known Irish opinion on any other question. Every Irish Member on this side is in favour of the Government Bill and every Irish Member on the other side, with the single exception of the hon. Member for Cavan. ["No."] At any rate, the hon. Member for Cavan is the only Irish Member who has spoken against it, and those who agree with him are in a very small minority. The hon. Member for Bristol has now an opportunity of showing his practical belief in two fundamental articles of his creed in regard to Ireland. The first article is that we should pay our debts towards Ireland (and here is a debt we all acknowledge); the second article of his creed is that we should act in Ireland as Irishmen desire, and here is a chance of carrying out this article of his creed also. But I am afraid that brought to this practical test the airy theories of the hon. Gentleman dissolve into nothingness, and make manifest to the world their inherent emptiness and vanity. I hope the House will now be content to go to a Division, if Division there is to be.
§ MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
The right hon. Gentleman has been obliged to admit that he does not expect that the public money expended under this Bill will bring any commercial return whatever. I think that such an opinion as that, coming from a Minister of the Crown, is not very encouraging to those who are asked to 909 squander public money. The way in which the proposal has been treated by hon. Members from Ireland shows that they are going to get the money very cheaply, and that they are indifferent as to whether there is any return for it. I want to know where these railways are to be made, and where is the traffic that is to keep them going? We hear something about the fisheries, and I have no doubt that good will be done on some of the coasts if these light railways are made. But if you are going to treat Ireland to light railways in one district you must do it in others also, and if you are going to do that, the sum proposed under this Bill will be totally inadequate. I think the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was not far from wrong in saying that when these projects are carried into law jobbery is inevitable. We have had some illustrations lately of the impartiality of the Government in dealing with these questions. Can anyone doubt that these railways will be made in the North of Ireland, inasmuch as the Government have to determine the localities? The West of Ireland, where the greatest distress prevails, will be neglected. We have had illustrations within the last 12 months of how public money is used when it is under the control of Government. The course that has been followed with regard to the Irish Drainage Bills is an illustration of the one-sidedness of the Government. Four Bills were brought in, and the one that was put forward was the Bann Drainage Bill, the Bann being in the loyal part of the North of Ireland. That Bill having been secured, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary has shown marvellous philosophy in abandoning the others. I have no faith whatever in a project of this kind, organized in this way, and carried out by the machinery proposed. One of two things must happen; either the generosity of the House of Commons will be exhausted in one or two projects, or Parliament will be applied to over and over again to grant money to some favoured district in Ireland, other districts being left disregarded. The avenues there are for jobbery under this Bill leave us very little hope that this is a means whereby Ireland can be solidly and permanently benefited. I deny that we are really going to benefit Ireland, and to meet the obligations we 910 owe to her, by squandering public money in this matter. The first thing is to get Irish self-government. All these exotic means of stimulating Irish enterprise can only have one miserable ending. Ireland is strewn with experiments of the kind in which enormous sums of money have been wasted. Public money expended in this way is never worth more than 10s. in the £1, because it is impossible for the Government to superintend the expenditure properly and economically. It has hitherto been the function of Parliament to scrutinize with the greatest vigilance schemes originating outside this House, but this scheme is of the most hasty and vague character, and nothing has been put before Parliament to pledge the Government as to what they are to do, and how they are to do it. Under such circumstances you are suspending the duties of the House of Commons, and I do not hesitate to say that even if I had some belief that good would come out of this and kindred measures I should say—"Let more time be given for the consideration of the question, and let the scheme be more definitely put before us."
§ MR. BLANE (Armagh, S.)
This Bill will not meet with much opposition from me, although I have not much regret for the British taxpayer. If he is good enough to expend this money, I hold no brief from him, and I am content that he should do as he likes. On the face of it this Bill looks very fair, but I know something about the working of elections and so forth in Ireland, and I know that this Bill is confined to what are known as the immediate lessors. The schemes must no doubt come before the grand juries, but in certain districts grand jurors would scarcely get two nominations for any Parliamentary or municipal appointment. And it is to these men and to the Secretary to the Grand Jury and the County Surveyor, the payment of whose salaries are in the hands of the grand juries, that the decision as to the making of these railways will be entrusted. In every case in which you confide in the grand jury you have jobbery of the worst description. The Chief Secretary will probably make a railway in Donegal. Well, so would I. But whom will that railway benefit? It will benefit certain land- 911 lords. I have driven for miles through Donegal without making any progress [Laughter.] I have driven miles through Donegal and have made very little progress, for the reason that it was a circular road which led me to within about half a mile of where I started. It apparently is a laughing matter for the Government that the land-grabbers would have these circular roads. I can refer the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary (Mr. A. J. Balfour) to maps in this House to show that such roads exist between Dunfanaghy and Letterkenny. They are made to go along the margin of the property of landlords so that the latter can get the benefit of the purchase. The County Surveyor is not a free agent in the matter. The people who are rated under £4 5s. a year will have no voice in the decisions respecting these schemes, though anyone who has travelled through Donegal knows that there are people there rated as low as £2 a year. You give these people a right to elect a Member of Parliament, but you will give them no voice in the making of a rail way. There is no tribunal to which they will be able to apply to prevent jobbery. It is to the interest of the grand jurors to have jobbery, and so they cannot apply to them. Under this Bill the landlords will be made judges in their own cause, and they will execute their own judgments. I think the Bill should be amended so that every householder entitled to vote for a Member of Parliament should have some voice as to whether a railway should be made or not. The Board of Works, which is to execute these schemes, is a notoriously expensive body. There are piers built by it on the Donegal coast well within a line of reefs so that no ship can get near them; and yet it is into the hands of these men that you are going to give the making of the line.
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
I do not intend to vote in favour of the Bill, because I should be sorry to be responsible either for some of the principles which the Bill contains, or for any of the as yet unauthorised schemes which may be brought forward; but, regarding the question from the point of view of an Irish Member, I do not feel justified in voting against the Bill, because it proposes to devote Imperial funds to projects 912 ostensibly of public utility in Ireland. Some hon. Members regard the Bill as a bribe. The only way of testing the efficacy of a bribe is to give it. For my part I do not think the Bill will operate successfully as a bribe, but I shall be glad to let the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) carry his folly out. The right hon. Gentleman evidently believes that by subventions like this he can favourably affect public opinion in Ireland with regard to his policy, and I think, Sir, there will be a certain political usefulness, and even a certain moral utility, in allowing him to offer his policy or his bribes to the Irish people. I shall be pleased to see the Bill passed into law, because I believe that its working will destroy the last pretence that any policy of Imperial subvention can divert the Irish people from the path of moral rectitude or political justice.
§ MR. CRILLY (Mayo, N.)
I am going to vote in favour of the Bill, and I prefer not to give a silent vote. I want to repudiate once for all the idea that because I am going to support the Bill I am going to accept it as a bribe. It shows a very poor confidence in the patriotism and the strength of the Nationalist sentiment of our people for anyone to say the National cause will be weakened in Ireland for a moment by allowing the Government to spend this money in the development of the fishing and other industries of Ireland. Perhaps I would pursue the same course as some of my Colleagues if I did not represent one of the congested districts of Ireland. This may be a bribe, Sir, but I know what poverty and wretchedness exist in the district of North Mayo I represent—a district stretching from Ballina to Belmullet, a distance of 40 miles—and I am perfectly confident that if by some means you can open up that large tract of country you will contribute very largely to the happiness and comfort of those unfortunate people. I am willing to confess that there is very much indeed in the criticism that has been passed upon the Bill. I am aware that the two bodies that will be entrusted with power under it are bodies in which we have no confidence at all. I would, however, point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), in opposing the Bill, said he had every 913 confidence in the Privy Council, because when the Privy Council was applying the Tramways Act they threw out a number of worthless schemes. I have no doubt that if worthless schemes under this Bill come before the Privy Council and Chief Justice Morris they will reject them also. I found my justification for supporting the Bill partly on the statement of my hon. Friend and Colleague, but, as far as I can judge, the opposition offered to the measure by some of my hon. Friends and Colleagues around me relates more to matters of detail than to the main principle. I repudiate the idea that this can bribe the Irish people, because I have more confidence in the strength of the patriotism of my countrymen than to think that they would be turned aside from the pursuit of self-government by a consideration of so trivial a character, and I would hesitate, knowing the poverty and wretchedness of these districts, before I rejected such a measure as this. For my own part, I do not particularly care for the British taxpayer. England has taken a large amount of money out of Ireland, and I think we are justified in getting some of it back when we have the opportunity. You have made the poverty and wretchedness of Ireland by your misgovernment, and it is therefore your duty to make us some sort of compensation. I am aware that if we had self-government—if the principles advocated by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Illingworth) were applied to Ireland—it would undoubtedly be better to receive that money from an Irish Parliament, and have it applied by Irish Local Authorities, created and nurtured by an Irish representative body. But at present there are people in the West of Ireland who are undergoing daily and hourly suffering, and anything that will help to develop the fishing industry of that part of Ireland we ought to welcome, and certainly ought not to oppose. If some sort of communication were opened up with the part of Ireland which I represent, you would find the same sort of testimony from Mayo and Galway as I have here in the Report of the Inspectors of Irish Fisheries. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir G. Campbell) has asked where are the fish to be caught, if these railways are made? Now, in this 914 Report of Sir Francis Brady, which extends over 120 pages, it is shown that the fishing industry of Ireland, if properly looked after, would bring enormous capital to Ireland, and great comfort to countless people. I see from page 11 of the Report that last year we had a large demand for salted mackerel for America, as many as 4,000,000 of mackerel being caught, or over 53,000 barrels, a quantity representing 1,500 tons, or a money value of over £17,000 to the fishermen and curers. If this result can be produced in regard to one item of export to one country in the world, what might not be expected if you developed the fisheries sufficiently to enable fish to be supplied in the same way to the London and other markets? Some of those around me seem to sneer at what I am stating. My hon. Friend the Member for West Meath does not seem to agree with me, and I hope he will rise in his place and give the reasons for the faith that is in him. At all events, I, for one, am not content on this occasion to give a silent vote. I intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill, and I propose to go a step further than my right hon. Friend and Colleague the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Sexton.) I do not wish to thwart the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary in his act of folly—if it be an act of folly. If it is found to be an act of folly the consequences will fall on his head; if it is not an act of folly, but one the benefit of which will fall on the Irish people, then let them have the advantage of the boon. If it be read a second time, the measure can either be referred to a Select Committee or be considered in Committee of the whole House. But it strikes me that you are proposing to put the application of the Bill into the hands of the wrong people. The Grand Jurors of Ireland are bodies in whom the people have no confidence. We believe that the money will, to a large extent, be wasted—that it will be, perhaps, misused to some extent; but, nevertheless, if you desire that the British taxpayer should pay us £600,000 we are willing to take it, in the expectation that it will do some good to our unfortunate people whom you have robbed and oppressed and degraded down to the present time.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 113; Noes 31.—(Div. List, No. 230.)
§ Main Question again proposed.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)
I am sorry the Government are not going to send this Bill to a Select Committee; if they did I think they would find that in many parts of Ireland the Bill was not regarded with favour. The Chief Secretary has told us we ought not to wait for the passing of this Bill until the Local Government Bill for Ireland has been passed. I do not think it would be such a terrible time to wait, for was not the Government programme an English Local Government Bill for last Session, a Scotch Local Government Bill for this Session, and an Irish Local Government Bill for next Session? We should therefore only have to wait eight or nine months, and surely it would be better for the Irish County Councils to deal with this matter than to attempt to force the Bill through this House at the tail end of a Session. Now we are asked to add to our National Debt, in order to make a present to Ireland. For my part I am rather sorry to have to vote against making railways anywhere. I am inclined to hold that the railways should be in the hands of the State, but that is not the nature of the Government proposal; under this Bill the Government is to spend public money in making the railways, and the promoters will reap the benefit. I notice that the second clause of the Bill begins very curiously. It says the Bill shall not extend to England or Scotland. Why not? There are many places in Scotland where light railways might be constructed at the public expense with considerable advantage to the people of those districts; there are, for instance, one or two villages in my own Division, which have no railway communication, but which would be greatly benefited by having it. I object to the Bill being framed in this way; if its provisions are good for Ireland, they must be equally good for England and Scotland; if it is a bad Bill, then it ought to be thrown out altogether. The Irish Members themselves are divided in opinion about it; the hon. Member for Galway is strongly 916 in favour of it, while the hon. Member for Cavan and other Irish Members are equally strong against it. I admit that it is a difficult thing for an Irish Member or any other Member to vote against a Bill which, whatever it may do for the public generally, must, for a time at least, be a benefit to his own district, because it is a benefit to any place to have money spent on it, English or Scotch Members would be put in a difficult position if the Government proposed to make say an unremunerative railway or canal in their districts. Their constituents would say that the spending of money among them was beneficial, and they would not understand the action of their Member, if on public grounds he voted against the scheme. I am glad to know that some Irish Members are opposing this Bill, despite the fact that it will temporarily benefit their districts. I have been sorry to hear one or two of them say they do not care a penny for the interests of the British taxpayer, for I do think that utterances like that lose the Irish cause some support. The hon. Member for Galway asks us not to check Irish development, or to delay it some eight or ten years until the Home Rule Bill is passed. I do not think so long will elapse before the grant of Home Rule to Ireland, and I do not hold that the English taxpayer ought to be called upon to give money as proposed in the Bill. The hon. Member for Galway has worked it out in his own mind that Ireland pays £8,200,000 to England and gets no benefit for it; and he argues that every penny raised in Ireland should be spent in that country—not necessarily in remunerative works. But is that principle one capable of general adaptation either to Great Britain or Ireland? Is it possible for money raised in a given district to be spent solely in that district? How, under such circumstances, could the Government of the country be carried on? I hold that money ought not to be given as a free gift, except in times of famine and distress, and that it should only be advanced when there is a fair chance of its being repaid. I regret there is no single Member on the front Opposition Bench present to give us his views on this Bill. We, below the gangway, suffer much from the tu quoques hurled at us in these matters. We are told 917 that our own leaders when in office agreed to spend money in this way. We do not care if they did. We should oppose such a proposal if submitted by a Liberal Government just as fiercely as we are now opposing this Bill. It has been said outside that the Radicals below the Gangway are something like the tail wagging the dog. I believe we are getting to wag it harder every day, and the sooner the Front Bench recognise that fact, the better it will be for the Liberal Party as a whole. [Cheers.] I do not think the Conservatives need cheer that statement as they are doing, for the harder the tail wags the dog the worse it will be for them. I beg to move that the Bill be read again this day three months.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
That Motion may not be made. The House has ordered that "The words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. BIGGAR
I do not want to speak at any length on this stage of the Bill. At the same time, I wish to make some remarks upon the former discussions of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland has appealed to me to propound a scheme for the relief of the congested districts of Ireland. There is not the slightest doubt that in some parts of Ireland the bulk of the people live on small holdings of very indifferent land. In very many cases there is adjoining these holdings comparatively good land owned by the same landlord. It does not require a very great sketch of ingenuity to point out a very convenient way of remedying the present state of things. The great complaint in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland was that the crofters were kept to small pieces of land, while the grazing land was taken from them for deer forests and sporting lands. I am disposed to suggest the inversion of that principle in the case of Ireland. I suggest that in the congested districts of Ireland the land adjoining the present holdings, and from which in all probability tenants have been evicted, should be taken by compulsion and cut up into small farms and added to the holdings of the people. That would afford the people a larger extent of land on which to employ their labour, and as a rule it would be better land than that they now hold. This talk about congested 918 districts is all moonshine and claptrap. There is plenty of land ready for cultivation in the immediate neighbourhood of every one of the so-called congested districts, and which could be let to the people at reasonable rent if the landlords were so disposed. The letting of this laud would at once do away with the cry of congestion. To talk of improving the condition of these people by making railways amongst them is the merest nonsense in the world. Hon. Members say it will give some employment to the people while the lines are being made. Of course it will, but after all that benefit will only be temporary. The difficulty will recur as soon as the money is spent. If you will give increased holdings, which you are able to do, the benefit will be permanent. There is no occasion for the people of Ireland to emigrate. There is not too large a population now. The population has been cut down from eight to five millions, and the advocates, of emigration would bring it down to three millions. They would emigrate the stout and young, and leave the old behind, and of course poverty would continue.
§ MR. A. O'CONNOR
I desire to say a word or two in explanation of the fact that, though I am one of the Members representing a county supposed to be specially interested in the passing of this Bill, I do not find myself able to support the Bill. If we had an Irish Parliament and the Bill were introduced, then I should not be able to support it. The fact of its being introduced here makes no difference in my judgment. The fact that the money is drawn from what is called the British Exchequer makes no difference in point of principle. I must admit I am rather sick of hearing about the British taxpayer and the British Exchequer. The money in question is not British money; it is Irish money, and if you doubled or quadrupled or multiplied by ten the sum you propose to advance or give under this Bill, the sum would not touch the fringe of the debt you owe to Ireland. When sums of money are to be voted as under this Bill for purposes in this country, we do not hear much of the interests of the Irish taxpayer. When you raised eleven millions sterling for fortifications abroad and spent it along your own coasts, you had 919 very little regard for the taxpayers of Ireland, and therefore the interests of the British taxpayer, which are not at all touched in the matter, influence me very little. But as I said, if this were an Irish Parliament I should not be disposed to support the Bill. In the first place, I doubt altogether the policy which is embodied in the Bill. I doubt very much whether it is really for the good of the community that the Executive Government should undertake, in whole or in part, works of this description. If these works are likely to be reasonably remunerative there is plenty of capital even in impoverished Ireland to meet the case. When a thing likely to pay is in the market in Ireland plenty of money is forthcoming. Guinness's Brewery and the Freeman's Journal show that. It is perfectly plain from the mere fact that you cannot get private capital to venture itself in this business that there is no reasonable prospect of the undertakings suggested being remunerative. If they are not remunerative who is to bear the burden? Not those who decide upon the lines, but the unfortunate occupiers—in my county, at least, very poor people—and the people who will have to bear the burden if the undertakings are not remunerative, are not the people who are allowed to have a voice in the management. The men who are to determine whether the undertakings are to be adopted and pushed on are men who in many cases have no interest in the country whatsoever. The Grand Jury of Donegal, which is to be the deciding authority in Donegal, is composed chiefly of men who have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the county, who have no property there, who very seldom, if ever, are seen within the county, and some of whom have no property at all in Ireland. How they have got on the Grand Jury is a mystery, but there they are and have been for years. And these are the men who have to decide whether the whole barony are to be taxed for an undertaking which, under the most satisfactory and the most hopeful circumstances, could scarcely be expected to pay its way, and which are to be taken in hand by a body as unsatisfactory as the Grand Jury itself—namely, the Board of Works. As already remarked this evening, the coasts of Donegal are at this moment studded 920 with monuments to the folly and incompetency of the Board of Works, and you are going to give the Board of Works power to spend more money—tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands—on works which you have no reasonable ground for supposing ever can pay their working expenses. Under these circumstances, I certainly could not find it in my power to support such a Bill, even if brought forward by an Irish Administration. Certainly I cannot support it now; but, at the same time, because I believe that some good may be done to some poor people if the lines, however botched, however badly managed, are undertaken and carried out at the expense of the Treasury to which they have contributed according to their means, I do not find myself in a position to oppose the Bill. I regret the reckless, bad, and shameful maladministration which has marked this kind of work in Ireland before. I see nothing in the present proposal to lead me to hope that the present instance will be an improvement on what has gone before, and therefore I decline to have a hand in passing the Bill, or to assume any responsibility in connection with it. But, in the interest of the poor people who may be benefited by the expenditure of the money, which might otherwise be spent on fortifications in this country, I shall certainly not oppose the measure.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 103; Noes 28.—(Div. List, No. 231.)
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I beg to give notice that on Monday I propose to refer the Bill to a Standing Committee.