HC Deb 04 June 1896 vol 41 cc492-7

Resolution reported. 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.


asked the Secretary to the Treasury in what respect the Government proposals differed from the previous Bill; whether the Committee of experts had reported upon this matter, and, if so, was he going to lay the Report on the Table of the House; and also, whether the landlords through whose land the railway would pass had given their land free?


said in reply to the last question, that he did not know, one way or the other, whether the landlords had given any undertaking to that effect. There was no difference in the present Bill as compared with the Bill of the late Government. The only variation was that the deductions from the 50 per cent. of the receipts payable in respect of the guarantee were limited to the Government Duty and certain rates. The report of the experts in 1891, he was informed, had already been presented to the House.

MR. J. H. DALZIEL (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

said this proposal was first put forward by the last Conservative Administration. The right hon. Gentleman would not deny that.


I do.


said that when the matter was last before the House he read an announcement which purported to be a telegram from the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself to a Conservative candidate, in which he promised that the Government would bring it forward. The right hon. Gentleman would not dispute that fact. It was true the late Government brought forward a Resolution with regard to this matter, but it was stated that they did so not because they were peculiarly in love with it, but because they felt themselves bound by the pledge which had been given by their predecessors. It was, therefore, beside the mark to talk of this Bill as the Bill of the late Government. He was surprised at the answer of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the landlords and their land. The landlords were the promoters of this matter, and were bringing pressure to bear on the Government, and yet the right hon. Gentleman had not taken the trouble to acquaint himself with the fact of whether they were giving their land free or not. The secret of the opposition to this matter was that, as they contended, the landlords were not showing the public spirit which landlords were asked to show in England, and that they themselves were going to gain a large pecuniary benefit from the very scheme that they were proposing. Then there was the point with regard to representation. Surely, it was not too much to ask, when they were going to pledge the public credit to this enormous extent, that they should have some kind of representation in regard to the money that was to be spent. He would not dispute whether the Report of the experts had been presented to the House or not, but he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would not dispute that that committee of experts reported against the line which they were now proposing to have. It was perfectly clear that there were other considerations in this matter beside that of the line. He wished to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, if this was allowed to go to-night, he would undertake, when the Bill was brought forward, that they should have an opportunity before 12 o'clock at night to consider the matter in all its bearings. In view of the importance of the matter it was not too much to ask.


said the hon. Member suggested that the Government were not anxious to hear facts. But the hon. Member's speech was not entirely composed of facts. [Cheers.] He stated that the Bill was promoted by the landowners. As a matter of fact, he himself believed it would be of slight advantage to the landowners. The persons to whom it would be of great and vital advantage were the fishermen of the west coast of Scotland, and by these fishermen, in more than one place, he was informed that the hon. Member was burnt in effigy last autumn. [Laughter.]


Immediately after the House rose I was in the vicinity, and had one of the best receptions I ever had in my life.


was afraid the hon. Member had not had much experience of good receptions. However that might be, the hon. Member stated that the late Government were pledged to bring in this Measure on account of the pledge of the previous Conservative Government. That was contrary to the fact. The fact was that the First Lord of the Admiralty, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, made an offer of the precise terms included in this Bill to those connected with the district. That offer was not accepted at the time, and the late Government were perfectly free to deal with the matter as they thought fit. In the exercise of their discretion, having carefully examined the subject, they made the identical proposal to the last Parliament that was being made now. The only change was that in the agreement they concluded with the promoters of the Bill, and which virtually bound them and the present Government to introduce the Bill, certain deductions were allowed from the 50 per cent. receipts from traffic on the railway, which was to go to the Government against the guarantee. On inquiry, it appeared to him that the deductions allowed were too large, and after negotiations with the promoters these were cut down, and under the agreement now concluded, no deductions were to be allowed, except for certain rates and taxes. Reasonable opportunity would be given for discussion on the Second Reading. He could not give any promise as to whether it should be before 12 o'clock. If hon. Members opposite would treat the Government reasonably, they would treat them reasonably. He asked the House to confirm the Resolution of the Committee, and allow the Bill to be introduced.


said the right hon. Gentleman admitted that they were justified in their opposition.


The hon. Member is wrong even there. [Laughter.] I may tell him why—because I made an agreement with the promoters last Session by which similar concessions were to be made.


regretted that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to make an announcement.


You did not give us an opportunity for the discussion of the Bill.


hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not say that. They were only too anxious the Bill should be discussed. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, hon. Members had to do their duty in the House, whether they were burnt in effigy or not. He wanted to know why this proposal had been kept back so long, and why the arrangements which might be necessary in the circumstances could not be carried out under the Light Railways Bill. The price asked in this Resolution was 3 per cent. interest for 30 years; but he thought that 2 per cent. for 15 or 20 years would be quite enough, and would induce the North British Company to make the line. He would be glad to know before the House made up this amount by guarantee under this Bill, whether the Railway Passenger Duty would apply to the line, and whether attention had been directed only to the new line to be constructed, or whether the Government had taken into consideration the advantage that might accrue to the whole system of the North British Railway Company. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had met them reasonably in promising a fair opportunity for the discussion of the Bill, and if the Committee might understand that it would be taken before 12 o'clock at night, the Resolution might be agreed to.

MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York, W. R., Spen Valley)

asked whether the landlords were going to provide the land free?


thought it was undesirable in the interests of the House to discuss a Bill in detail on the Motion to introduce it. The proper time was when the Bill was in print.

Resolution agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Hanbury.