HC Deb 01 June 1896 vol 41 cc264-80

(1.) Where it is certified to the Treasury by the Board of Agriculture that the making of any light railway under this Act would benefit agriculture in any district, or by the Board of Trade that by the making of any such railway a means of communication would be established between a fishing harbour or fishing village and a market, or that such railway is necessary for the development of some definite industry, but that owing to the exceptional circumstances of the district the railway would not be constructed without special assistance from the State, and the Treasury are satisfied that a railway company existing at the time will construct and work the railway if an advance is made by the Treasury under this section, the Treasury may, subject to the limitation of this Act as to the amount to be expended for the purpose of special advances, agree that the railway be aided out of public money by a special advance under this section.

Provided that—

  1. (a) the Treasury shall not make any such special advance unless they are satisfied that landowners, local authorities, and other persons locally interested have by the free grant of land or otherwise given all reasonable assistance and facilities in their power for the construction of the railway; and
  2. (b) a special advance shall not in any case exceed such portion of the total amount required for the construction of the railway as may be prescribed by rules to be made by the Treasury under this Act; and
  3. (c) where the Treasury agree to make any such special advance as a free grant, the Order authorising the railway may make provision as regards any parish that, during a period not exceeding fifteen years to be fixed by the Order, so much of the railway as is in that parish shall not be assessed to any local rate at a higher value than that at which the land occupied by the railway would have been assessed if it had remained in the condition in which it was immediately before it was acquired for the purpose of the railway. The Order may authorise the Board of Trade to extend any such period.

(2.) A special advance under this section may be a free grant or a loan or partly a free grant and partly a loan.

(3.) Any loan for a special advance under this section shall be made on such conditions and at such rate of interest as the Treasury direct.

MR STRACHEY moved to leave out Clause 5, on the ground that it practically gave a monopoly to railway companies. The clause provided that where the Board of Agriculture or the Board of Trade certified to the Treasury that benefit would accrue to a particular district by making a light railway, but that owing to the exceptional circumstances of the district it would not be possible to construct the railway without State aid, the Treasury, if satisfied that an existing railway company would construct and work the railway, after it had been paid for by the State, might make a free grant of public money. There was no provision in the clause to enable this free grant to be made unless the railway company's co-operation were secured, so that a monopoly was given to the railway companies. Then there was nothing to provide that a certain proportion only—such as a fourth or a half—of the cost of construction should be borne by the State. It must bear the full cost in every case, though it was obvious that some advantage to the railway company must result from the construction of the line.


said the speech the hon. Gentleman had just delivered was entirely antagonistic to the speech which he made on Clause 4. In the latter speech the hon. Gentleman asked, was it to be tolerated that assistance was to be given for the construction of light railways in Ireland and that no assistance was to be advanced for a similar object in England? As a matter of fact, the clause was largely based upon the Irish principle, and it so happened that the light railways so assisted in Ireland were the only light railways which had been successful in that country. The hon. Gentleman also objected to railway companies working the light railway lines. If the State gave a free grant or a grant at a reduced rate of interest there must be some guarantee that the light railways would be properly worked, and in the opinion of the Treasury the only proper guarantee was the guarantee of an existing railway company.


said the only explanation he could give of the opposition of the hon. Member for Somersetshire was that his hon. Friend did not understand the clause. [Laughter.] In his opinion, it was the most valuable clause in the Bill, He did not think that there would be many light railways built by the County Councils. What would happen in most cases would be that a number of districts would combine and would come to terms with existing railway companies, who would be induced by the terms offered by the clause to build the light railways as small feeding lines for fishing and agricultural purposes.


did not think his hon. Friend the Member for Somersetshire was guilty of any inconsistency. The hon. Member for Caithness could hardly have read Clause 5. [Laughter.] It was totally different from Clause 4. Clause 4 proposed to lend money on strictly business principles. Clause 5 proposed to give money as a free grant, and he opposed the clause because he objected to the whole system of free grants. He believed that this offer of free grants to the railway companies was not needed to encourage the construction of light railways. He knew something about railway companies, and the objection which railway companies had to embarking on these undertakings was not because they wanted to get money from the Government, but because of the enormous expenses they were put to in order to get the necessary Act; the expenses of local opposition; the claims of landlords, and the unreasonable conditions of the Board of Trade. The Bill got rid, save perhaps, in one respect, of all those difficulties. He therefore thought the Government would have done well if they had waited to see the effect of the Bill before giving the free grants; and then if they found, in the course of a few years, that it was absolutely necessary in the interest of agriculture or fishing to give those free grants, they might do so with a good grace.

* MR. ALFRED HOPKINSON (Wilts, Cricklade)

said the principle of giving free grants uncontrolled by Parliament and controlled only by a Government Department, was a vicious principle. The Irish precedent had been appealed to; but the real justification for taking such a course in Ireland was that there was a large number of people needing relief, and whom the Government were bound to relieve either by eleemosynary grants or by public works. The principle of giving free grants uncontrolled by Parliament which the clause introduced for the first time in English legislation was a dangerous principle. It had been tried in the Colonies with pernicious results, for it had been found that the grants were given to districts for political reasons. The clause was unnecessary, and, with its other admirable provisions, the Bill would work without it, and he trusted that it would not be pressed. One condition only would make it possible for some of them to support it, and it was that, before any such grants were made the scheme authorising them should lie on the Table of the House for the usual period. If that were accepted by the Government it would be a great safeguard; if it were not, he thought the clause embodied a principle which it was dangerous for the House to adopt.

MR. W. L. JACKSON (Leeds, N.)

said it had been assumed that the Irish precedent was not in point, because it was said the Irish grant was given to employ people who, but for this work, must have been employed in some other form. This was an entire mistake. It was the fact that, the Bill having been passed, the works were to some extent hurried forward in order to meet an emergency which had arisen in the meantime. It was an entire mistake to suppose that that emergency was a reason for the passing of the Bill. Hon. Members who looked with dread upon this clause seemed to have overlooked the fact that the amount to be given in the shape of special grants was limited to £250,000. The House need be under no feeling of alarm as to the expenditure of that amount, especially as it was to be under the control of the Treasury. It was a pity the hon. Member who objected to free grants was not in the House when it passed a Bill for Scotland which included free grants. The districts intended to be benefited by this clause were districts in which, unless some financial aid were given by the Government, no railways would ever be made; yet they might be districts in which there ought to be railways; and the one object of the Bill was to secure the making of railways where they were needed. He was as strongly opposed as any Member to the giving of free grants in England, but they were told that in some districts the difficulties of agriculturists were so great it was desirable to try to help them, and that could be the only justification for making the grants contemplated by this clause. It was a bad principle, and he doubted whether the application of it would stop at £250,000. Yet the clause as it stood might be fairly accepted by the House as part of the general scheme of a Bill which was well-intentioned, and which was only an experiment to see whether any good would result. In these circumstances the House might well agree to it.


said he was glad to see that the patience of some of the supporters of the Government was being tried by the long succession of doles to landowners. The clause provided that free grants were to be made by the Treasury in cases in which certain representations were made as to the necessity for a railway for the benefit of agriculture. In plain English, that was a free grant to the landowners of this country, for it was they and they alone who would benefit. No doubt, in a few districts of England, agriculture was in a bad state, and the people who ought to come to the help of these districts were the landowners, who were making a good thing of their land at the present moment. The districts which were suffering from agricultural depression were few in number. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, he had made his own estimate after a careful study of the evidence given before the Royal Commission. Be the districts few or many, there was this fact, the landowners to-day were receiving in rent £40,000,000. ["£45,000,000."] Why, then, should the poor taxpayers come to the relief of the landowners? This Bill set a very bad precedent indeed, and it was one likely to be followed later on in a direction that its present supporters little anticipated. If these light railways were made in districts where agriculture was in a bad way, the result would be to improve the position of the men who owned the lands, to prevent a fall in rents, and eventually to raise them. As representing the poorer men who were to find the money, he said it was monstrous to tax poor people in England for this purpose.


said the proposal had been defended on the ground that the rent was limited, but if the proposal were bad in principle the question of the amount did not come in at all. If the sum was only £10,000, the thing was just as bad in principle and ought to be condemned. If the grants were made, it ought to be with the sanction of the House and not that of the Treasury alone. It was a dangerous thing to place the Treasury in a position of that kind. Allegations were freely made that, under the Scotch Act, grants were not unaccompanied by political considerations. Be it so or not, the allegations indicated what would arise if the principle of the clause were adopted without the qualifying operation of the control of the House of Commons.

Question put, "That the words of the Clause down to the word 'Act,' in line 28, inclusive, stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes, 136; Noes, 32.—(Division List, No. 200.)

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE moved after the words "under this Act," to insert the words "by any Council." His object was to limit the operation of the clause as to subsidies to light railways constructed by the Council of any county or district. He did not think it was fair that the State should be called upon to subsidise railways built by the great railway companies. If the clause were passed as it stood, it was quite true that so long as a railway company which had made a light railway could prove that the light railway did not pay they would be entitled to come to the Treasury for a subsidy, but the reason of his objection was that, after all, these branch lines would be feeders of the great trunk lines. He begged, therefore, to move the Amendment.


said that one of the principles upon which this clause had been framed was that the lines should be made and worked by existing railway companies. The object they desired to attain was twofold—first, that there should be a guarantee on the part of some existing railway company that the railways so assisted by the State should be worked in perpetuity; and, secondly, that they should be worked as part of a great system. There would be no guarantee if the railways were made by the local authorities suggested. Their proposal was based upon experience in Ireland, and whether the system of free grants were good or bad it ought to be made upon some basis that would guarantee a good result. That result had been achieved in Ireland, and conditions which existed in Ireland were those which they desired to see in England, and, therefore, they could not accept the Amendment.

MR. COURTENAY WARNER (Stafford, Lichfield)

said he did not see where the guarantee came in. When they were giving a sum of money like this for nothing there ought to be some popular control. If they were to give the subsidy only to railways constructed by the local authorities as required, this money would be given strictly to commercial enterprise. The great railway companies, he contended, were rich enough to do without subsidies.


said that the intention of this clause was not to benefit the great railway companies, but to protect the ratepayer. If the Amendment were carried a district might find the money, which would be supplemented by aid from the Treasury, and construct a railway, and then find that the loss on working the line every year was more than the total amount of the rate which they were enabled to levy. The clause was really based upon the Irish experience, that in many districts where these railways were provided partly at the cost of the ratepayers, there was still a large loss left on working in some cases.


asked if the right hon. Gentleman would say whether the experience in Ireland had not been in the case of these lines that there had been a considerable increase in the receipts and profits of the great trunk lines? If the great trunk lines were to have feeders, what he said was that if these feeders were to be constructed largely for the benefit of these great railway companies, then at all events free grants from the State ought not to be given.


said that under the Bill power was given to the County Council or local authority to construct light railways, but under this clause there was no proviso that the local authority should be responsible for the working of the railway. Did they think it fair that while they advanced money to a railway company they did not advance one copper of free grant to the County Council which was going to construct the railway? What was proposed to be introduced then by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire was that the privileges should not be limited to the case of a railway company which agreed to construct, but should also be given to the case of County Councils who had undertaken the construction and working of light railways. It would be better not to give them any power if they had any doubt whether it was safe to advance the money. The result would be, if the Bill stood as it was, that the local authority would have no power to approach the Government and get assistance for the railways unless there was a particular railway company willing to work the railways. He thought that the clause was far too limited, and that the Amendment was quite justifiable. ["Divide."] There was no reason why the County Councils should not have the same privileges and claim the same privileges as a private company.


wished to know whether any County Councils would meddle with light railways at all under such conditions. Whichever party made the line, how were they to compel the company to work it? How could they compel an old company any more than a new company to work the line? As to finance, nothing was being done to aid the County Council. There was no necessity to keep in Sub-section (a).


said the clause was open to two great objections—they were offering inducements to railway companies to construct when there was a doubt of the lines succeeding as commercial lines. As the grant was to come out of the Imperial Treasury, if there was a loss it would fall on the taxpayers of the country. The right hon. Gentleman said this free grant was to relieve the ratepayers. No doubt it would, but was that it would his chief objection relieve the ratepayers at the expense of the general taxpayer. He could not understand why, if free grants were to be given at all, they should not be given to the local authorities instead of to the rich railway companies who were quite able to take care of themselves, and who had sufficient business capacity to make any light railway pay which had a ghost of a chance of paying.


said the right hon. Gentleman stated that one great reason for making this exemption in the favour of the great railway companies was that the railway companies would have to work the lines in perpetuity. He could not see anything in the clause or in the Bill which compelled a great railway company to work a line in perpetuity. He thought his hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield was quite justified in asking whether there was any guarantee that the railway companies would use these branch lines to the best advantage. No valid reasons had been given why the County Councils should not be allowed to have these free grants and be allowed to make light railways with State aid. Although the Government had made some objection to it, it was rather surprising that no Gentleman sitting behind them, save one, who was a railway director, had ventured to say that County Councils could not be trusted. He believed that if hon. Gentlemen representing agricultural constituencies and sitting on County Councils had spoken, they would, if they were not also railway directors, have advocated the giving to County Councils the same assistance it was proposed to give to the great railway companies, who had already too great power. He hoped his hon. Friend would go to a Division in the interest of the County Councils, and as a protest against the Government giving them no explanation as to the working of the lines in perpetuity, which they said was a great safeguard which would not be obtained in the case of County Councils.


said the hon. Gentleman had stated that no supporter of the Government who was not connected with a railway company had supported the action of the Government in regard to this matter. What he thought was not sufficiently understood was that if local authorities were to spend their own money, it might be taken for granted they would have some regard for their expenditure. A free grant would be extremely popular, inasmuch as its expenditure would mean the employment of labour in the district. In his opinion, if the Government were to fling sums of money at the heads of local authorities in the way suggested they would do no end of mischief.

MR. DONALD NICOL (Argyllshire)

said the Amendment of which he had given notice was very largely covered by the present Amendment. He had had considerable experience of County Councils, and he was not much in love with grants in aid or free grants, but if they were to be given by the Government of the day he did not see why they should not be given equally to all portions of the country. The Island of Islay had a rent roll of £47,000 a year, and, therefore, under Clause 5 it would not be able to take advantage of the free grant. It was, he thought, a hardship that portions of the country should be shut out of benefit by the clause as it now stood. He had no intention of in any way opposing the Government in the introduction of this Measure, because he believed it would be of considerable benefit to agricultural districts whether in reference to agriculture or fishing. But he did say they should offer some facilities to these districts, which were as much entitled to the benefits of the free grants as other portions of the country. He hoped the Government would see their way to remove this anomaly, and give the benefit of these free grants equally to all parts of the country.


said the discussions they had had showed the dangers of the course which the Government had embarked upon in Clause 5. It had been pointed out with great truth that it would be a very dangerous thing to encourage County Councils, or other local authorities, by grants of Imperial money to enter upon enterprises which might prove unremunerative, and it had been pointed out, with no less force, that it was very hard on some of the poorest districts of the country that they should be deprived of any share of the grant which was to be made from the public Treasury because they had no railways to which they could make branch lines. Take the Island of Lewis. There was no railway there, and the people there could not possibly have any benefit from this grant. They were by a clause of this kind, which introduced the novel principle of Treasury subventions, raising a very great difficulty between different parts of the country, and creating a sense of injustice. He was unable to support the Amendment because he did not think they would be doing any service to County Councils if they were to tempt them with this Treasury grant, and still less could he support the proposal of the Government.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The House divided:—Ayes, 44; Noes, 152.—(Division List, No. 201.)

MR. CALDWELL moved to leave out the words "would benefit," and to insert instead thereof "is required in the interest of." He said if hon. Members referred to the clause they would find that different language was used as between the different interests affected by a railway. A light railway might be promoted if it was certified by the Board of Agriculture that it would benefit agriculture, and again, if it was required in the interest of fishing, but in the latter case it said if the railway were the "means of establishing communication between a fishing harbour or fishing village and a market." The clause went on to speak of a railway in the interest of some industry, and there, again, the words were of a different character, namely, "or that such railway is necessary for the development of some definite industry." What he desired was to secure that the words should be the same whether they regarded agriculture, fishing, or any other industry. The words in relation to agriculture were "would benefit agriculture," but it was insisted there should be no grant under this clause unless, in the case of an industry, it was necessary for the development of some industry that the light railway should be made. In order to establish a claim to the privileges of this clause it was sufficient, where agriculture was concerned, to say it "would benefit" that interest. That meant nothing at all, and the clause should read "is required in the interest of agriculture." In order to obtain the exceptional privileges of this clause, he asked that the same words should be used in the case of agriculture as were used in the case of any other industry. If the words "would benefit" were retained, then let them also be made applicable to the fishing or any other industry. He begged to move the Amendment.


could understand an hon. Member moving such an Amendment if his object was to make it difficult to obtain a grant. The hon. Member was anxious to put in words which would make it necessary that the Treasury should be convinced that the money was absolutely required in the interest of agriculture. The Government considered that where a claim could be established that it would be for the benefit of agriculture, that ought to be sufficient ground for the Treasury making the grant under the clause. Agriculture was a great national industry, and if in order to benefit that industry it could be established that a grant under this clause was necessary, they considered the Treasury should be empowered to give that grant. The hon. Member desired to make the conditions much more stringent, and he trusted the House would not accept the Amendment.


remarked that the right hon. Gentleman had said that the Amendment was intended to make these grants as difficult to obtain as possible. What the hon. Member desired however was that some discrimination should be exercised in the making of the grants, and such discrimination was absolutely necessary when dealing with the sums of public money that would be voted under the Bill. What was asked was that the same words which were used with reference to agriculture should be equally applicable to any other industry.

The House divided:— Ayes, 165; Noes, 43. —(Division List, No. 202.)

MR. CALDWELL moved an Amendment to provide that any means of communication in respect of which the Treasury made an advance should be a "much needed" communication.


I will accept the word "necessary."


assented, and an Amendment to that effect was agreed to.

MR. CALDWELL moved an Amendment providing that special advances by the Treasury might be made in cases where it was certified by the Board of Trade that a railway would benefit some definite industry. The clause said that such advances might be made when a railway was "necessary for the development of" some definite industry. For the words "necessary for the development of" he wished to substitute "benefit," that being the word used in respect of agriculture. He held that other industries ought to be placed in precisely the same position as agriculture.


could not accept the Amendment, as in the opinion of the Government the word "benefit" was not applicable to industries other than agriculture. It must be shown that a railway was necessary for the development of some definite industry, and it was not intended that railways should be constructed merely because one person here and another there had a business and would like to have the advantage of improved railway communication.


said that last autumn he asked the President of the Board of Trade whether the Bill would benefit districts like the lead district of Flintshire, and he understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Measure would certainly apply to such districts. He maintained that the Amendment was necessary in order to place localities of that kind and agricultural localities upon the same level.


observed that if any lead district in Wales was undeveloped through the absence of means of communication the Bill would apply to it. All he had said to the hon. Member was that the Bill would assist Wales as it would other parts of the country.


supported the Amendment, and contended that the Attorney General had not answered the argument of the hon. Member for Mid Lanarkshire.


hoped the President of the Board of Trade might see his way to meet the objection raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite by expunging the word "development" from the clause. There were many cases in manufacturing districts where it was desirable to assist industries and keep them going.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes, 161; Noes, 38.—(Division List, No. 203.)

MR. CALDWELL moved to omit the words— the Treasury are satisfied that a railway company existing at the time will construct and work the railway if an advance is made by the Treasury under this section. He pointed out that in such districts as the Islands of Skye and Lewis there was no railway which could construct and work a light railway, yet in those very districts light railways were particularly required. He objected to such districts being specially and definitely excluded by Act of Parliament, especially as the Treasury had the power to make whatever rules they pleased as to the granting of the money.


said that the question had been already argued. In giving a grant under exceptional circumstances, the Treasury ought to have the assurance that the end in view would be secured; and that assurance could only be given where an existing railway undertook to work the lines. He did not understand what security the Treasury could have that a light railway in the Island of Lewis, assisted in a small degree by the State, would continue in existence. Even after the passing of the Bill there would possibly be localities and conditions requiring special consideration on the merits of each case. But they could not be treated in a general Bill, where the security required by the Treasury should be insisted on.

MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)

supported the Amendment. There were other districts, such, for instance, as Mid Cornwall, where there was a great deficiency in railways, and yet these were to be the very districts where no light railways were to be built.


hoped that the Amendment would not be pressed. An exceptional state of circumstances such as was mentioned by his hon. Friend would not come under the provision at all. As to the Island of Skye, the Highland Railway had reached a point on the mainland almost opposite to the island, and separated from it by a very narrow isthmus.


said he was sorry he could not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Caithness. [Laughter.] He opposed the clause because it placed the districts absolutely at the mercy of the railway companies. In order to get a grant from the Treasury the district must first go to the railway company and ask them to construct the light railway. The company might then say, "before we agree to construct the line you must consent to certain terms in regard to rates and tolls." The company would then be in an autocratic position in the matter of conditions. If this Amendment was not accepted the President of the Board of Trade ought, at least, to preclude the possibility of a railway company imposing unfair conditions on a district.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided:—Ayes, 161; Noes, 36.—(Division List, No. 204.)

And, it being Midnight, further proceeding on consideration, as amended, stood adjourned.

Consideration, as amended, to be resumed To-morrow.


, in reply to Mr. BRYCE, said, the Bill would not be the first Order To-morrow.

Forward to