HC Deb 23 July 1889 vol 338 cc1108-13

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to make a free grant not exceeding the sum of £600,000, or an annual payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, in aid of the construction of Light Railways in Ireland; to authorize the Treasury to give a guarantee, not exceeding the sum of £20,000 per annum, on the capital of such Light Railways, and to make an immediate payment of any guarantee for which they would be subsequently liable; and to authorize the payment of the expenses of working any line so far as they are not paid out of the receipts.

MR. STOREY (Sunderland)

I feel it my duty to resist this proposal and to divide against it. The Committee will perhaps note that the proposal is that £600 of public money is to be devoted to railways in Ireland. I should like to point out that this money is not allocated to any specific railway. No plans are placed before us. We are not even informed in what part of the country the railways are to be made. In fact, the proposal is an absolutely speculative proposal. The House of Commons is asked to hand over £600,000 of the public money, as a gift, to be placed under the control of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and this money is to be spent by the Lord Lieutenant and the Board of Works with the consent of the Treasury, how they like, where they like, and when they like. Well, Sir, I submit that this is, to begin with, an absolutely unconstitutional proposal. The ancient practice of the House of Commons has certainly been to spend money. Some of us think that that has been too much the practice, and from of old the desire of all constitutional ministries—and if not of ministries certainly of independent members—has been to carefully scrutinize all expenditure. I myself might be in favour of spending a certain amount of the public money in making a light railway in Connemara, but I should not be in favour of making such a line in any more favoured part of Ireland. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary gives us no information about his proposal. The Government, in fact, have no plans. If they had any plans it would have been their bounden duty to place them before us. Having no plans, they ask us blindly and against all precedent to devote £600,000 as a gift to Ireland for light railways. Granting, for the sake of argument, that it might be worth while to make a gift of public money for the construction of light railways in Ireland, before the House of Commons is asked to give this large sum it ought to have some reasonable knowledge where, how, and when it is going to be spent. It is mainly on this constitutional ground that at the present time I rest my objection to this proposal.

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c)

When I addressed the Committee on this question, I spoke of the Government proposal as one to give £600,000 of public money. I stand corrected by the hon. Member for Cavan (MR. Biggar) and the last speaker. It is a great deal more than £600,000 that is proposed to be given. The total will be more like two millions and a half sterling, including the capitalized value of the £20,000 a year, and what has already been granted. Whatever the sum be, however, I join in the protest of the hon. Member for Sunderland. In Committee I put down an Amendment providing that the House should not grant this money without having some general indication of the way in which the money was to be spent, and I have on the Paper now a notice which expresses that view. I do not desire that the Government should bind themselves to the exact specification of the railways they wish to make, but that it should be an instruction to the Committee to specify the directions and districts in which the railways are to be made. At the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary did not volunteer an answer to the appeals made to him to give us information on the point. His intention seems to be to go about with a bag of money in his hand and to give it to whom he likes and withdraw it from whom he likes. The fact is, the Government know that if they stated their intentions every Member for Ireland whose constituents did not get any of the money would vote against them. I do not deny that the Government are, under these circumstances, wise in their generation in withholding this information. I wish to ask an important question, which I think has not yet been answered. If this Resolution is passed how is the money to be provided? Are the Government going to put it on the Estimates, or is it to be raised by means of loans?

MR. COSSHAM (Bristol)

I think there is one advantage in the bringing forward of this proposition. Many of my hon. Friends around me were under the impression that somehow these light railways were going to be made without taxing the British taxpayer at all. I think this proposal will open their eyes, and give them a rude awakening. We are asked to vote this money blindfold. I refuse to do it. We are asked to vote this money, partly, I believe, for corrupt purposes. I refuse to do that. We are asked to loosen the purse strings in order to demoralize Ireland, and I object to do that.

MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh)

The proper time for discussing this question in detail will be in Committee on the Bill, but I think we ought to know what will be the exact effect of this particular Resolution. As it is worded it is very difficult to understand. As far as I can understand, the first part of the Resolution authorizes a free gift not exceeding £600,000 for Irish light railways, and the second part authorizes a guarantee, irrespective of that, amounting to £20,000 a year, which would equal a capital sum of £600,000. These two sums together would therefore come to £1,200. But there is more than that. The resolution also authorizes the pay- ment of the expenses of working any line, so far as they are not paid out of the receipts. Now, the raison d'être of this proposal is that the promoters of schemes of this kind have hitherto found that they will not produce their working expenses. I therefore wish to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer—because the matter is purely a Treasury one—whether I am right in saying that this Resolution contains a proposal for £600,000 as a free gift, for what may be another £600,000 in respect of guarantee, and £300,000 in respect of these railways not paying their working expenses. Will this Resolution practically amount, in other words, to authorizing the Treasury to spend something like £1,500,000 in connection with these light railways?


Though the right hon. Gentleman's appeal was made directly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I think, perhaps, I can satisfy him in regard to the financial part of the scheme, as to which he has, I think, fallen into one or two serious errors. There are not two sums of £600,000, but only one such sum. That sum of £600,000 may be used for the construction of the railways in one of two shapes, either as a capital sum to be given as a free gift, or as guaranteed interest, the capitalization of which would amount to £600,000. In other words, the Government offer this grant of £600,000 in two alternate shapes. They say—"We may give it if convenient as a free gift, or we may give it if convenient as guaranteed interest." The clause as to the working expenses was inserted by the Treasury to guard themselves. Under the Bill the lines will in certain circumstances come into the possession of the Treasury, and if the Treasury has no power to work them at all they will be obliged to dispose of them at once, and to take any price offered at the moment. The Treasury think that in order to protect their interests, should a line lapse to them, they must have such power as will enable them to work the line for a period which will give them the opportunity of disposing of the line on the best possible terms to themselves; but there is no question or intention of making the Government for any lengthened period responsible for the working of any line whatever.


If that is the explanation of the Government the Resolution is all wrong. It really ought to be altered, because, as now worded, it commits the House to £1,200,000, besides the deficiency in working expenses, which I have estimated at £300,000.


Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not think there is any intention that the various alternatives given in the Resolutions should be added together.


They are not alternatives, that is the point.


This Resolution will cover the various parts of the Bill, but it may be passed by the House without giving the Government authority to incur any expenditure not authorized by the Bill, and the Bill is distinct on the point. This is one of the best known forms of the House to draw Resolutions wider than the provisions of the Bill in order to cover the various alternatives which the Bill may ultimately embody.


I would suggest that the Government should report progress, and between now and Thursday should, in conjunction with the Treasury, again look at the Resolution and bring it up in proper shape.


I think the right hon. Gentleman has taken exception to the Resolution in a manner which is unnecessary. The Resolution has been prepared, I believe, in the usual way, and it seems to me that if it had been prepared in any other way it would have been insufficient for its purpose. As has been explained, the proposal is to place at disposal the sum of £600,000. That sum might be used in either of two ways—either it might be given as a capital sum by way of free gift, or it might be given as a guarantee not exceeding the sum calculated at 3 per cent. But if it is used in one way it cannot be used in the other, and that is clearly laid down in the Bill. With regard to the form of the Resolution, it appears to be necessary that the House should authorize the grant of a sum to the extent of £600,000, and it is also necessary that the House should give the power to exercise to the full extent the giving of a guarantee to that amount, in order that the power may be exercised either in the one way or the other.

MR. S. BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

It is unfortunate that there should be any misunderstanding. It is clear from the Bill that it is not intended that the whole sum should exceed £600,000, whether given as a capital sum or as interest. I so far agree with the hon. Member for Sunderland that I think the Government should state that they intend to specify certain districts as the most deserving districts within which the railways should be made. I have already, on the Second Reading, expressed a strong hope that the Bill will become law this Session. I believe it will be a great advantage to Ireland, but I think precautions ought to be taken in order to prevent the money being snapped up by the richer parts of the country. The richer districts can look after themselves, and this Bill is intended to assist railways where otherwise, in the natural course of things, they would not be made.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 230; Noes 76.—(Div. List, No. 243.) Resolved, "That it is expedient to make a free grant, not exceeding the sum of £600,000, or an annual payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, in aid of the construction of Light Railways in Ireland; to authorize the Treasury to give a guarantee, not exceeding the sum of £20,000 per annum, on the capital of such Light Railways, and to make an immediate payment of any guarantee for which they would be subsequently liable; and to authorize the payment of the expenses of working any line so far as they are not 'paid out of the receipts.

Resolution to be reported to-morrow.