HC Deb 13 March 1891 vol 351 cc1014-6

2. "That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £136,200, be granted to Her Majesty to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1891, for Expenditure under The Light Railways (Ireland) Act, 1889,' and upon certain Railway Works not yet included in that Act."

(12.0.) MR. CRAIG (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

I wish to ask two questions in connection with this Vote. The first is, Whether the expenditure on the two light railways which are not yet brought under the Light Railways Act, 1889, can be properly included in a Vote for the year ending the 31st of March, 1891? The other question is, In what clause of what Act does the Secretary to the Treasury find that a light railway means a railway of 5 feet 3 inches gauge?


The House has power to vote monoy for any purpose. It was distinctly stated to the House by my right hon. Friend (Mr. A. J. Balfour) that as regards the expenditure on the two lines referred to—one of which has since been brought under the Act of 1889—the sanction of Parliament had been anticipated. Parliament has, however, been good enough to sanction the provision my right hon. Friend thought it right to make under the circumstances of the case. The hon. Gentleman also asks me about light railways of 5 feet 3 inches gauge. I am afraid I must answer that question by asking him another—namely, whether he can point to any Act, or any clause in any Act, which prohibits a light railway being 5 feet 3 inches gauge? The term "light railway" has no reference to gauge, but refers to the weight which can be carried over the line. As far as I know that is the only definition, and you might if you liked make a light railway with a gauge of 10 feet.

(12.3.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

The definition which the right hon. Gentleman has just given us is interesting and, I believe, novel. I should like to know in what Act it is to be found, as it is entirely at variance with recognised practice in railway matters. I challenge the Government to deny that it is a definition which has been improvised for the purposes of their own Light Railways Acts. I do not, however, think this question should be fought out on a purely technical and limited point like this. What I object to is that we should have to pay for these railways. There is no more reason why English people should be called upon to pay for light or heavy railways in Ireland than there is why people in Ireland should be called upon to pay for the construction of mineral railways for the development of the mines of Cornwall. I object to the way in which this Vote has been obtained. It has been elicited that the Government have deliberately spent money in anticipation of the sanction which this House might or might not accord to such expenditure; such a proceeding divests this House of any sort of control over the expenditure of the public money by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) was complaining the other evening of the way in which the control of this House had been withdrawn from Naval expenditure. To-night we complain of the way in which the Government have anticipated the sanction of this very irregular expenditure, which they admit is really a sort of charitable dole to the people of Ireland owing to the miserable condition in which they have been placed in consequence of the tyranny and the disgraceful misgovernment to which they have been subjected. If it were not for the tyranny of the landlords there would be no perpetually recurring famines there. If it were not for absentee landlords, who sit on the opposite side of the House, we should not be constantly seeing the hat sent round to provide for the distressed tenants. It is through our maladministration of Ireland that we are called upon in this way to put our hands in our pockets for the relief of the starving peasantry. If we on this side cannot prevent this policy, we have a right to protest against it as much as we can. I have no doubt that throughout this business there has been the amount of jobbery and robbery of the public which is usual in Tory transactions. We have a duty to perform to our constituents in this matter, and we avail ourselves of this opportunity of protesting against a deliberately unconstitutional method of evading Parliamentary control. We shall do our best to make it known to the country that the Party in power are deliberately robbing the taxpayers for the purpose of executing jobs.

(12.14.) DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

The hon. Member who has just sat down has talked about jobbery and robbery. Jobbery indisputably exists; robbery may be a fact. Many of my friends supported the Government in this Bill. They did so because their constituents were starving, and they thought it well to get what they could out of the Government. Anything is better than nothing. I would not vote for the Government for the simple reason that I got nothing. I wanted to have three lines of light railway constructed. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary disappointed my constituency in the matter, and I voiced the dissatisfaction of those poor people in the only way open to me last night.

Resolution agreed to.