HC Deb 31 May 1892 vol 5 cc348-51


Order for Second Reading read.

(3.10.) MR. MCDONALD CAMERON (&c.) Wick,

This Bill proposes to transfer to the Great North of Scotland Railway certain powers which were obtained by the Garve and Ullapool people from this Parliament by the Bill of 1890. What led to the obtaining of these powers was that during the great agitation in the Highlands the people of the West Coast thought that by opening up the district by means of a railway they could very materially develop the fishing industries of that part of Scotland; and, consequently, the Bill of 1890 was presented to the House and passed. After they had obtained this Bill, the promoters went to the Treasury, with the view of seeing whether they could obtain any Imperial assistance for the purpose of building this road. The Treasury informed them that if they could find a regularly constituted Railway Company to build the road and work it for a period of twenty-five years or so, they would grant them a subsidy. When they found the Treasury prepared to do this, they approached the Highland Railway Company, because naturally enough that Company had already a large interest in the country. The Highland Railway Company refused the offer which the Garve and Ullapool people made to them. When the Highland Railway Company refused the offer, then they approached the Treasury again, and laid the matter before them; and the Secretary to the Treasury suggested that they should try some other Railway Company. They accordingly entered into negotiations with the Great North of Scotland Railway Company, and the Great North of Scotland Railway promised to build the road, equip it, and work it for the period stated upon the terms laid down by the Treasury. When the Highland Railway Company found that the Great North of Scotland Railway Company had agreed and were about to come into the Highlands, and that they were also going to get an Imperial contribution, they turned round and said they would be prepared to make the line and work it. But instead of going to the Garve and Ullapool people and entering into negotiations with them as they ought to have done, they went direct to the Treasury, as I am led to believe, and told the Treasury that they had previously offered to build the road, but that the Garve and Ullapool people had refused their offer, and that they were now perfectly willing to do so. A Committee was appointed last year to inquire as to the best means of opening up the Highlands, and they came to the conclusion that the extension of the Highland Line from Strome Ferry was the best. They recommended that, if this was not done, a line should be constructed from Invershin to Lochinver. But neither of these proposals had the advantage which the Garve and Ullapool line possesses. In the first place, the Garve and Ullapool people have their Bill, and are perfectly ready to proceed with the construction of their line, provided the Government will sanction the subsidy and the transfer of powers. Then their line would be very much shorter than the other routes, being only thirty-three miles long. If the line were made to run in connection with the Great North of Scotland Railway the fish caught on the west coast would arrive in the London market two or three hours earlier than at present, and certainly in time to catch the first market. Thus a great stimulus would be given to the fishing industry. I am exceedingly sorry that the Government have thought fit to treat the Garve and Ullapool people in the way they have done. These people were the first to take any steps whatsoever, and the moment the Highland Railway Company saw that there was a chance of the scheme proceeding they came forward to get the Government subsidy in an underhand manner. I think if such a method was adopted by one honourable man of business towards another, that man would not be likely to get much business from him in future. I think it would be very much better if there was a second Railway Company competing with the Highland Railway Company. The promoters were perfectly willing to allow the Highland Railway joint powers over the new railway, or to agree to any such arrangement as would meet the requirements of the country. I have no antipathy to the Highland Railway Company, and the reason why I have been selected to move the Second Reading of this Bill is because I have no interest whatsoever either in their line or any other line of railway in the country. The Secretary to the Treasury, I see, is not here; but I hope that somebody in authority who is acquainted with the case will explain to the House and the country why the Government have taken this attitude. I do not understand for the life of me why they should favour one company more than another. It is the interest of the country they ought to have at heart, and not the interest of the Highland Railway. We know that the directors of the Highland Railway are very influential gentlemen and in favour with the present Government. We know that last year they paid six per cent. dividend on their ordinary Stock. But whenever they have an opportunity of doing anything to help themselves at the expense of others they are always on the alert to do it. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.

(3.18.) DR. R. MCDONALD (Ross and Cromarty)

I beg to second the Motion. I think the Secretary to the Treasury ought to be the first to help the Garve and Ullapool people, because they have been considerably at the mercy of the Highland Railway in the past. I think it would be not only for the interest of the locality, but for the interest of the Treasury, if this railway were made. I have always stood up for this railway in opposition to any of the rest, because I thought it was the best, and I still think so. I should like to know from the Government what they are going to do in this matter. This matter of a railway and other things have been dangled before the Highlands for a long time past; and I think it is time now that the matter should be settled by the Government, and that they should really say whether they are going to assist us or not. Several considerations ought to favour the Garve and Ullapool scheme in the eyes of the Government. It is about forty miles shorter than the Lochinver route, and about fifty miles shorter than the existing route by Strome Ferry. I wish to impress upon the House the fact that the Government have not behaved to the Garve and Ullapool people in the past as they ought to have done. It may be said by the Government that the Lewis people are not in favour of this new railway. I think it is a very small minority of the people of Lewis who say that they are not in favour of it. I know that to be the case.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time,"—(Mr. McDonald Cameron,)—put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.