§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. J. W. LOWTHER in the Chair.]
*MR. HANBURY moved:—
That it is expedient to authorise the Treasury to guarantee the interest, at the rate of three per cent. on £260,000 of the capital of the West Highland Railway Company, and to pay a sum of money, not exceeding £30,000, to that Company; and to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, and, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund, of such sums as may be necessary for those purposes.
§ MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said that he could find no information as to the amount or form of the guarantee in the Orders of the Day; and, therefore, he moved to report Progress.
§ * MR. HANBURY
said that he was perfectly ready to give a full explanation. It was a proposal to guarantee the interest on the capital of a railroad, about forty miles long, to run from Fort William to Mallaig Bay, and also to provide £30,000 to construct a harbour at the latter place. This proposal was initiated by the Conservative Government in 1892, and was supported by the late Government also. The scheme was originally suggested by the Western Highlands and Islands Commission in the year 1890; and in 1891 an expert Committee appointed by the Treasury to consider railway schemes for the West of Scotland strongly supported the proposal. In 1892, the Government said that in the following year they would bring in a Bill, the proposals of which were intended to be the same as the proposals of the present Measure—namely, to guarantee 3 per cent. on £260,000, which was the capital of the company, and advance £30,000 towards the construction of a harbour at Mallaig. There were four conditions imposed. The first was, that the promoters should themselves obtain an Act for the undertaking. Next, that the promoters should make an agreement with the North British Railway Company to work the line for 50 per cent. of the gross receipts. These two conditions were carried out by the West Highland Railway Act of 1894. The next condition was, that 50 363 per cent. of the gross receipts must be applied, in the first instance, towards the payment of the 3 per cent. on the £260,000. That was settled by an agreement between the Treasury and the promoters in the present year. A further condition was, that the harbour to be constructed should receive the approval of the Government. That, also, had been settled by the same agreement. All the conditions had, therefore, been carried out. In 1895 the late Government moved the preliminary Resolution for a similar Bill, but the Dissolution prevented any further steps being taken in that session. The present Bill, therefore, carried out the intentions of both Governments.
§ MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset S.)
said that in this matter the late Liberal Government had felt themselves bound to carry out the intentions of the previous Conservative Government.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It was the late Government who actually made the agreement, though the offer had been made by the previous Government. The late Government gave notice for the introduction of Bill which circumstances prevented them from carrying out, and we succeeded to their undertaking.
§ MR. STRACHEY
said that it came to this—an offer was given and was made by the Conservative Government in 1891, and when the late Liberal Government came into office they considered that they ought to carry out the pledge of the previous Government. But it was not worth while splitting hairs. What he wanted to make clear was that this proposal originated with the Conservative Government of 1891. Practically, the Government were asking the Committee to advance over a quarter of a million to this railway company to provide a railway in a very small area. This proposal was all the more extraordinary, having regard to the fact that under the Light Railways Bill now before Parliament, only £100,000 was applied for light railways through the length and breadth of Scotland. [Ministerial cries of "Divide!"] As a protest against the interruptions he moved that the Chairman do report Progress.
§ MR. W. ALLAN
supported the Resolution. He had gone over the whole district 364 of the proposed line, and could assure hon. Gentlemen that it was most needed, and that the proposed harbour was also required in the interests of the fishermen. What was a quarter of a million to spend for the benefit of the Western Highlanders? Did not they deserve it, if it would enable them to get their fish to market? They still supplied the best men for the British Army. It was a small boon to enable them to send their fish to the Glasgow market. Was there any Englishman who would object to it? He sincerely hoped that the Motion for reporting Progress would be withdrawn for the sake of the Celts.
§ MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York, W.R., Spen Valley)
said, if there was any traffic to be got, the railway would be made by capitalists. [Mr. W. ALLAN: "It is a poor country."] Yes; and the railway would never pay. If railways were to be made to develop trade, there would be no end to it. The truth was they were making railways for the benefit of landlords. If they were to make railways for the development of fisheries they would have to do it all over the country. ["Hear, hear!"] This railway would benefit the landlords in the district, but it would not benefit the people who had to pay the taxes out of which the grant was to be made. Harbours were wanted in other parts of the country as well as in the Western Highlands. This railway was really suggested by the former Conservative Government, and was simply taken up by the late Government at the point at which it had been left. The House ought to pause before it carried further the policy of granting subsidies, in which they were doing a good deal that Session. He therefore hoped that the Motion to report Progress would be persisted in.
§ MR. PHILIP STANHOPE (Burnley)
said he was exceedingly sorry that no Member representing a Scotch constituency had arisen. He could ascribe it only to one cause, which was that they were in favour of the Government. He was not astonished at it, because it was a matter which had been carefully considered by two Governments. He was astonished that those who were in favour of local self-government should oppose the granting of this assistance to the poorest district of Scotland.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said the Resolution proposed to give a guarantee of a quarter of a million for a single railway, which was exactly the sum allotted to light railways in Great Britain. The scheme had varied very much from year to year. He was strongly opposed to the construction of a harbour where there was no population and no fishing. [Cheers.] They ought to have from the Government a pledge that the Second Reading should be taken at a tune when the Bill could be fully discussed.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the question be now put."
* THE CHAIRMAN
said he accepted the Motion for the Closure, because it was a purely formal Resolution which was before the Committee.
§ Question, put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 162; Noes, 52.—(Division List, No. 211.)
§ Question put accordingly.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 168; Noes, 43.—(Division List, No. 212.)
§ Resolved, "That it is expedient to authorise the Treasury to guarantee the interest, at the rate of three per cent., on £260,000 of the capital of the West Highland Railway Company; and to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, and, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund, of such sums as may be necessary for those purposes."
§ And, it being after Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Resolution to be reported upon Thursday.