§ On the order for the Second Reading of this Bill,
MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.) moved to leave out, from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add instead thereof the words:
it is undesirable to assist in making any railway by a special guarantee which would differ materially from the assistance to be given under the Light Railways Bill now before this House.
He complained that, owing to the Votes and Proceedings not having been circulated as usual, the first official intimation he received that this Rill was coming on as the First Order was when he reached the House. There was much misconception as to the origin of this Bill. It did not originate with the Liberal Government; and the present Government were not merely carrying out the pledges of their predecessors. On the 6th August 1894, the right hon. Member for St. George's, Hanover Square, asked the right hon. Member for West Monmouth (then Chancellor of the Exchequer) whether the Government intended to carry out the undertakings of the preceding Government with respect to the West Highland Railway Rill. The answer was: "Of course we shall carry out the undertakings given by our predecessors in this matter." Therefore the origin of the Bill could be traced to the last Conservative Government. This was further shown by a letter from the Treasury to the Scotch Office, dated June 16th 1892, announcing that the Treasury had decided to adopt a certain Scheme for the railway, and promising that in the next Session a Rill should be introduced to guarantee from the public funds the interest at 3 per cent. on £200,000, the estimated cost of the line. His Amendment explained the reasons for which it was moved. There was now a Light Railway Rill before Parliament, and therefore the case for special Measures dealing with particular districts had largely disappeared. Under the Light Railways Rill, the proportion
of State assistance which Scotland ought to receive as compared with England was about £120,000. But under this Rill the Government proposed to give, not to the whole of Scotland, but to one particular district, a sum of £260,000; for to guarantee the interest for 30 years was equivalent to giving the sum. The Government also made a free gift of £30,000 for the making of a pier at the end of this short railway; indeed, they were calling upon the taxpayers of England and Ireland to make a line in Scotland upon very different terms to those on which lines were made in England and Ireland. He did not desire to say anything against the general principle of State aid in this matter, but he objected to Scotland, or a part of Scotland, receiving an undue proportion of such aid. Resides, an examination of the Bill showed that the Government were making a bad bargain. They offered to guarantee 3 per cent. on this quarter of a million sterling. The great railway companies could, and were, borrowing money at 2½ per cent. Why should the Government think their credit was so bad that they offered 3 per cent.? He supposed it was intended as an indirect way of helping the railway company to get a little more out of the working of the line. The proposal of the Government was at variance with the Report of the Western Highlands Commission. That Commission reported that it was desirable that the Government should guarantee, not 3 per cent., but 2½ per cent. on £285,000 for four years. The Government, however, proposed to give 3 per cent. upon a quarter of a million sterling for 30 years. As regarded the free gift, the Commission recommended that £15,000 should be given, but the Government, in their generosity for this particular part of Scotland, proposed to give £30,000. It had been argued that Parliament should vote this large sum of money in the interest of the fishermen and crofters. He, as an English Member, could not profess to know anything about the details of the matter, but he knew that there were Scotch Members who held that this Rill would be of little use from the crofters' or fishermen's point of view, and that instead of the line enabling fish to be brought to market the day it was caught, it would not enable fish to
get there until the following day. The North British Railway Company were to work the line, and at the last meeting of the company the chairman told the shareholders that they ought not to look a gift horse in the face, but ought to accept this generous gift offered by the Treasury. That circumstance alone was quite enough to make hon. Members who represented English constituencies look askance at this proposal of the Government.
§ *MR. T. P. WHITTAKER () York, W. R., Spen Valley
seconded the Amendment, because he regarded the principle of the Bill as a very bad one. He objected strongly to subventions and doles, but if they were given at all they ought to be given with the object of drawing from the locality an effort on its own behalf. That was what this Bill failed to do. He opposed the Bill because if the Light Railways Bill now before the House were passed it would provide Scotland with facilities for getting railways on far more equitable terms to the country than it could under this Bill. He was also opposed to the Bill because the scheme of it was not the one recommended by the Royal Commission which inquired into the matter. He objected to it, further, because the estimates of the cost were of an extremely doubtful character, and because the way in which the promoters of the Measure had endeavoured to induce the Government to alter their plan of giving grants was extremely unsatisfactory. This was a Bill which would benefit the landowners along the line and the railway company who would get the traffic, far more than the fishermen and crofters in whose interest it was nominally brought in. The recommendation of the Royal Commissioners was that there should be a guarantee for four years only. That was a very different thing from one of 30 years, as proposed in this Bill. Besides the recommendations to which his hon. Friend had called attention, the Commissioners in their Report stated that, in their judgment, coasting steamers were the natural and preferable mode of conveying the produce of the fishermen to the markets, and they recommended as an experiment the subsidising of a fleet of steamboats for the purpose at a cost of £10,000 a year for four years. No notice was 404 taken of that suggestion, however, in the Bill, though he thought it was a much better and less costly proposal than the construction of a light railway on the terms now submitted to the House. Further, a Committee of experts, appointed by the Treasury in 1891, investigated the matter, and they reported distinctly that they were of opinion that the estimate of £260,000 for the construction of this railway was largely inadequate for the purpose, and they further pointed out that the scheme possessed no commercial basis or element of success as an ordinary railway undertaking. ["Hear, hear!"] He was confident that the proposed line would never be remunerative commercially. If there had been any prospects of its becoming so, and if there had been any business demand for it, the railway companies and the landowners interested would have constructed it. [" Hear, hear!"] It was clear that the line would not be constructed for the sum set down, and he feared that in the end the result would be that the Government would be called upon to give a yet further guarantee. Having complained that the attitude of the promoters in the course they had adopted with regard to obtaining the guarantee, and with regard to the details of the scheme, was extremely unsatisfactory, the hon. Member called the attention of the House to the fact that the landowners, the districts, and the railway companies would not contribute anything towards the cost of constructing the line. They even wished their own fees as directors to be a prior charge on the receipts of the line to the interest guaranteed by the Government. Moreover, the guarantee of 3 per cent.—which he believed the Government would have to pay—was absurd, considering the present price of Consols and the low rate at which money could be borrowed in the city of London. In his judgment, 2 per cent. would have been sufficient. Two-and-a-half per cent. was ample, and 3 per cent. was extravagant. The conditions to be applied to the construction of this line were very different from those which were attached to the construction of light railways in Ireland. ["Hear, hear!"] In the first place, it was made a condition in the case of Ireland that the counties, the districts, 405 or any railway company interested, should contribute towards the cost of the construction of the light railway, but in this case no such assistance was proffered or exacted. Again, the light railway lines in Ireland embraced several sources of traffic over a large part of their distance, but no such advantage attached to the proposed line in Scotland. ["Hear, hear!"] Yet most of the light railways in Ireland had proved a failure, and many of them were not paying their expenses. In presence of these facts, what success could be expected to attend the proposed line in Scotland? He had no confidence whatever in the scheme, and he did not think it was the best way of developing the fishing interests of the locality. ["Hear, hear!"] Moreover, the Royal Commissioners recommended that grants of public money in such cases should only be made when the counties, or other bodies, were prepared to contribute, and they added that in every case in which they had suggested the grant of assistance from public funds they had endeavoured to couple with it conditions which should have the effect of stimulating local effort and encouraging local enterprise. But there was no condition whatever in connection with the present large grant that would tend to stimulate local, effort and enterprise. ["Hear, hear!"] The Commissioners distinctly stated that in every case in which they had suggested assistance they had endeavoured to couple with it conditions which should have the effect of stimulating local effort and encouraging local enterprise. In that respect, too, the Government was going altogether away from the conditions which the Commissioners appointed by their own Party distinctly recommended. The Light Railways Bill provided conditions very distinct, and although, in his judgment, that Bill was bad enough, it was infinitely better than the present Measure. This line was to be 40 miles long, and, of that, so far as he had been able to make out, only four miles of the land was required to be given. For the remainder they had got to buy it from those very men who were to benefit from the line when it was constructed—who were the promoters practically. Yet in the Light Railways Bill it was a condition of the special grant being given that the land- 406 owners were to make a free grant of the land that was required. It seemed to him that the Light Railways Bill would provide the locality with exceptional facilities for getting such a railway as was suggested was wanted, and, whatever might have been the case a few years ago, there was now no necessity for the passing of the present Bill and the making of this special arrangement. But why should this arrangement be confined exclusively to Inverness-shire? Why should it not be available for all parts of the country? He could not help thinking that every fishing district in Scotland and elsewhere which was to be competed with by the fishermen in this part of the country, would feel it a very great hardship that they were placed on a very different footing, and that their fish was not to be carried on easy terms by railways specially constructed under Government guarantee. He was very much struck in reading the Report of the Commission of 1889 with what was said of the character of the people in this district. They needed stimulating. From the nature of the circumstances in which they lived they had become inert and unenterprising, and they wanted stimulating to help themselves, and the best way to do that was to meet them in their own efforts and to make the grant conditional upon their doing something themselves. The Commissioners spoke very strongly upon this point, and pointed out that where the fishing industry was successful on this west coast it was carried on by east coast fishermen. The Commissioners also pointed out that it was not desirable to increase the population in the district, and said—that whatever development of the fishing industry there may be, if there is to he substantial improvement in the material prosperity of the population a considerable reduction of their numbers is urgently required.This was not, and never would be, a wealthy district, and he did not think it was desirable for them to go out of their way to encourage, as they would do by this Bill, an increase of the population in the district by attracting men from other parts of the country to it. A large number of schemes were submitted to the Commissioners, and if they once sanctioned this present scheme they 407 would be having all the others coming along, and there would be no end to the making of these railways.
§ *THE CHANCELLOK OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir MICHAEL HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
said they had heard some very remarkable opinions with regard to the conditions of the Highlands and of the Western Islands of Scotland from the hon. Members who had spoken. The hon. Member for Somerset seemed to think that the people were as comfortable and as well able to help themselves in those districts as they were in any part of his own constituency. The hon. Member grudged that Parliament should give them in their position any more help than it was willing to give for the construction of light railways in Somerset. The hon. Member who had last spoken suggested that the population had better be decreased by way of improving their condition, and the very idea that it was possible that the laud of one landowner should be benefited by the construction of this railway was quite enough to excite his wrath against any scheme of the kind. He must call the attention of the House to the fact that years ago, he thought, Parliament was practically unanimous in the opinion that something was necessary to be done in order to develop the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and that it was impossible to treat them on the principles of political economy which they could properly and rightly apply to more populous and more well-to-do parts of the kingdom. Therefore a Commission was appointed in 1890, which carefully investigated many schemes for improving the communications in the western parts of Scotland, and reported upon them at considerable length. This was one of the schemes they recommended. The hon. Member said that the Bill made proposals which were contrary to their recommendations. He denied that altogether, because they recommended that this line should be constructed. No doubt it might be the fact, as had been stated, that in their opinion that result might have been obtained by a lower guarantee on a smaller sum and a less grant for the harbour. But, as a matter of fact, it was found that those terms were insufficient to elicit the necessary aid from any 408 railway company or from the district to enable the work to be done. Therefore when the Government of that day came to consider the question, it was decided that an offer might be made which was embodied in the agreement concluded by their predecessors with this company, and which was proposed to be carried into effect by the Bill now before the House. The hon. Member for Somerset appeared to think that he had attributed to the late Government the origination of this scheme. He never intended to do so. What he had always said was that he considered himself absolutely bound by the agreement which the late Government entered into. That agreement was entered into because, in their opinion, they were bound to implement a promise made by the previous Government. They entered into an agreement in May 1895 with the promoters of this undertaking, and when he came into office he found that agreement binding upon the Government, and it was impossible for him to do anything else but bring it before Parliament with a view of passing it into law. The hon. Member said that if a district was to be aided in this way it should be done by the Light Railways Bill now before the House and not in the manner proposed. His first answer to that was that they were bound by agreement, and his second that this was one of those special cases to which the President of the Board of Trade and he himself had always admitted that the provisions of the Light Railways Bill could not possibly be applied. Here they had a proposed railway 40 miles in length, running through a poor district, at the end of which a harbour was to be constructed. It was not the fact that the district had done nothing to help itself. Poor as it was it had actually supplied £40,000 for this purpose, including some land taken in shares, and also four miles of land, and the necessary land for the construction of the harbour had been given free. ["Hear, hear!"] It had been said that no other aid had been given. Very material aid had been given by the West Highland Railway Company and the North British Railway Company, and especially the latter, in undertaking such engagements as, in the first place, would secure the completion of the line by the pro- 409 vision of any necessary capital in addition to that now proposed to be guaranteed; and, secondly, by providing for the future maintenance and working of the line in perpetuity. It was said that the proposed guarantee was too expensive. What were the terms of that guarantee? It was proposed that Parliament should guarantee the payment of 3 per cent. interest on a capital of £260,000 for a term of 30 years, and the hon. Member opposite said that in these days, when money could he raised at 2½ per cent. by some of their largest municipalities, that was too high a rate. The hon. Member had forgotten that this was no guarantee of capital. It was merely a guarantee of interest, and anyone investing money on the faith of a guarantee of interest must necessarily provide himself with a sinking fund, in order to be certain of replacing his capital at the end of 30 years. It was not, therefore, to be compared with an ordinary guarantee of a municipality or railway company or Government, which not only guaranteed the interest, but also the capital. It was purely a guarantee of interest, and imposed no further liability. What was that liability likely to amount to? The North British Railway Company undertook to maintain and work the line in perpetuity for 50 per cent. of the gross receipts. The other 50 per cent., with the exception of the Government duty, which, of course, would be a small sum, and certain rates and taxes, also of small amount, was to go towards this 3 per cent. guarantee. Assuming that after a few years the line earned as, looking to the receipts of the West Highland Railway and other Scotch lines in the same position, it might earn, £7 gross traffic per mile per week, half of that would go towards the fulfilment of the guarantee of 3 per cent., and the result would be that not more than £520 a year would be paid by the Treasury towards the fulfilment of the guarantee. [" Hear, hear!"] He confessed he was rather astonished at the importance which hon. Gentlemen who had spoken seemed to attach to the extent of the obligations into which the Government were proposing to enter. It had been said that the estimates were doubtful, and that the line would probably cost more than 410 the £260,000, He had no doubt it would, but the North British Railway Company and the West Highland Railway Company had undertaken to construct it, and the Government and Parliament would not be liable for one single penny under this Bill until the railway was actually open for traffic, from which date the guarantee would begin. They had, therefore, one very powerful railway company practically pledged to construct, maintain, and work the line, and the liability on the country was no more than he had stated. ["Hear, hear!"] The Seconder of the Motion had referred to the proposal as if it was one for the interest solely of landlords. In his belief, though no doubt some landlords might be benefited by the line, it was not a proposal that could be said to be mainly in the interest of landlords. It was with a view to developing the fishing industry of the West of Scotland, to opening up communication with a part of the West of Scotland that had no railway communication at all at present, and with the southern parts of the Island of Skye, that this proposal was made. He could not tell whether the view of Parliament might be changed in this matter, whether they thought these were objects worth attempting to achieve at so small a risk. In his judgment they were, and seeing that this was a proposal which, owing to its magnitude, could not possibly be carried out under the provisions of the Light Railways Bill, seeing it was a proposal to open up a large district which had no railway communication at all now, and would result in great benefits to a population that were extremely poor, and perhaps enable them to provide for themselves in future, he hoped the House would sanction the proposal that had been made by the Government. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN () Glasgow, Bridgeton
remarked that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had explained with great clearness the financial position of the question, and must have reassured the House that the bargain made was of a much more favourable character to the Treasury than many bargains which they had made under the same motive of desiring to assist a district that stood in need of special 411 assistance. He trusted hon. Members would look upon this matter as an inheritance of the Government and of the late Government, and he thought also of the House of Commons, from a state of feeling on the part of Parliament that might or might not have passed away, but that most undoubtedly did exist to a very strong degree. It was a state of feeling under which the strong sense of the duty they owed to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland influenced Parliament to that degree that first of all a Royal Commission was appointed and then the recommendations of that Commission were largely adopted, with such modifications as the superior judgment of the Ministry pointed out. One of these proposals was a railway of this character, and it was quite true that the assistance that was to be given to the railway was of a different nature to that ultimately given. But he thought the Government of the day were justified in thinking it was better to take one or two schemes and do these thoroughly, and not give any partial assistance in many quarters, which might have led to no good results. He did not consider himself bound to argue whether Parliament or the Government were right in thinking the Highlands ought to be assisted in this matter, but he could show as strong a chain of promises and pledges as could possibly bind the successive Ministries of the hour. On the 16th June 1892, the then existing Government went so far as to say they would be prepared next Session of Parliament to introduce a Measure guaranteeing from public funds a dividend of 3 per cent. for 30 years on a capital sum of £260,000, the estimated cost of the railway, and intimated that they would also at the proper time ask Parliament to vote the sum of £30,000 towards the cost of a harbour to be constructed at Mallaig, the contribution to become payable on the completion of the work. There was a distinct pledge and promise from which he thought the Imperial Government had never been able to go back. The gentlemen with whom they were then acting found themselves unable to provide a sufficient sum to meet the construction of the line, and accordingly on the 29th July the Gov- 412 ernment regretted they were unable to make good their promise until the necessary money was provided. The then Government went out, and the Liberal Government succeeded, and the gentlemen to whom he had referred came forward once more and again renewed negotiations with the Treasury. On that occasion the Secretary to the Treasury (Sir J. Hibbert) said that the Government could entertain no modification of the conditions laid down by their predecessors, and asked that this decision should be communicated to the directors of the West Highland Hallway. Then the directors—the same body of men, essentially—came forward and said they had found themselves in a position not only to do that which the Government had demanded, but to secure that the railway should be made through the medium of an extremely powerful, trustworthy, and great railway company, and under these circumstances the late Government felt they had absolutely no choice but to supplement the promises of their predecessors. He thought they would have been deeply to blame if they had come to any other conclusion. To decide whether pledges were binding on successors they had to look at the circumstances to whom the pledge was made, and when it was made. If the pledge of a grant of public money had been made to a class interest or creed, no Government was bound to fulfil the pledges and promises of their predecessors. Then it became a political question and not a business question. But it was a very difficult question when a promise was made to a particular body of individuals or a particular locality. In that case Governments were solidaire, and absolutely bound to take up the pledges and promises of their predecessors. But if personal interests were no longer the same, if the circumstances were changed, it would be quixotic to say that the Government were bound by the pledges of remote Governments that preceded them. But in this instance a pledge was given to a special body of individuals and to a special locality, quite recently under circumstances which had not altered, and so far from thinking it was forbidden on grounds of broad public policy he did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer went too far in saying it was recommended on grounds of public 413 policy, and accepted on these grounds by Parliament and the Government seven or eight years ago. Hon. Friends who had spoken from that side had said they must not only implement all the promises of the Government, but the recommendations of the Royal Commission. He did not feel that at all. Only a certain amount of public assistance was due. The Government gave £45,000 to improve communication at an important point and the late Government promised to give a larger sum for the purpose of the railway. These two sums together constituted a considerable grant for the advantage of the Highlands, and he did not think they were bound to take up any other scheme of this nature. But with regard to the present scheme they were bound by the previous Government.
§ DR. CLARK () Caithness
said this Bill was intended to carry out the pledge of the Conservative Government of 1889. He did not agree with the reasons that had been urged for rejecting the Bill, though he hoped in Committee to obtain some of the alterations asked for in the Amendment. If he could not obtain them, they must consider on the Third Reading whether they would oppose the Bill or not. Two proposals were made by the Royal Commission on this subject. One was to give a subsidy of £115,000 to extend the Highland Railway from Strome Ferry to Hyle, a distance of 10 miles alongside a lough where sea and railway ran only 20 yards apart. The other proposal was that £200,000 should be guaranteed to make a competing line down to the coast. This would open a new route for tourists which would bring money into the country. It was thought there would be competition between these railways, but a few facts would show the absurdity of this. From Strome Ferry to Glasgow by rail was 278 miles, from Mallaig to Glasgow was 165 miles. By the one line there would be 100 miles less for fish traffic to travel from the sea to market. Certain landlords, one of whom was formerly a Member of the House, Mr. Cameron of Lochiel, also Mr. Baird, tried to form a company; they were practically the promoters of the Bill before Parliament. Their object was to improve their property. A deputation of Scotch Tory magnates waited on Lord Lothian, then Secretary for Scotland, and asked that the proposal of 414 the Royal Commission, which was only for four years, should be extended to 30 years or £100,000 should be given as a free grant. The Scotch Office recommended that 3 per cent. on £260,000 should be voted by Parliament, and £45,000 as a direct grant. But Mr. Cameron and his friends wanted £340,000, and when the Treasury desired that one half of the money should be used to pay the 3 per cent. guarantee they said they were prepared to sell their lands, they would act as trustees for the Treasury and become directors of the company, receiving fees. Three and a half per cent. had been guaranteed for the rest of the money to construct the line and the cost of getting the Bill had been defrayed by the promoters of the company. Now, the House had to determine whether the money should be given or not. Even if it benefited the district, he would not vote for a single penny. There were few people in the district which would be traversed by the railway, and most of those were merely the servants of sporting gentlemen, and if railways were to be made through a district of the kind they should not be at the public cost. There was the Highland Railway Company and also the Oban Railway Company. Undoubtedly the Caledonian Company built the Oban branch for the tourist traffic, but it might be used for the fish traffic as well. He was not sure whether the money might not be bett spent by having a better service of steamers from Mallaig to Oban. He thought the money would be well spent in the development in the steamship traffic to the islands, in making roads on the islands. He thought this would be better for the Highlands. He was under the impression that there would be very little risk incurred by the Government. They would have a considerable amount of tourist traffic, sufficient he thought to pay for the Government guarantee. It might not pay in the first or the second year, but he thought it would soon pay. Still, if the public credit was used, they ought to get a return as they did in connection with the railways in India, and he thought if this plan were carried out they would be able to recoup themselves the loss sustained at the outset. He did not think, however, that there would be any 415 loss incurred. In two or three years the railway ought to pay 3 per cent. The North British Railway Company would gain by an increase of the general traffic, so that as far as public money was concerned he did not think there was much risk taken by them. As to the formation of a harbour, that was another matter. It was almost impossible to form a harbour there which would be properly protected, and he thought that more money would be required before the great breakwater was constructed. However, looking at the matter from every standpoint, the Treasury was protected against Cameron of Lochiel and his friends. He was not going to oppose the Bill but he should try to amend it in Committee.
§ MR. J. H. DALZIEL () Kirkcaldy Burghs
said the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was remarkable for one admission, that this line would be able to pay 3 per cent. He regretted that the hon. Member had not been able to convince the directors of the North British Railway Company on this point, because if they had been convinced that the company would pay 3 per cent. they would not be engaged in discussing the Bill. The directors of the North British Railway Company had not the remotest idea of such a thing. So far as the Debate had gone he had not heard any speaker declare that he was prepared to take a small portion of responsibility for the Bill. The Members on the Front Benches cast the responsibility for the Bill on their predecessors. What was the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? He did not take any responsibility; he said that he regarded himself bound by the pledge given by a previous Administration. They had the assurance, however, that this would be the last Bill of this character. He was not so sure that it would be the last. Since last year they had an important alteration in the Bill, and he congratulated the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the increased security obtained for the Imperial Exchequer. He had never been an out-and-out opponent of the Bill, but what were the points brought forward in its support? They had in the first place a proposal to present to a railway company and a number of local landlords 416 in the Highlands a sum of £290,000. If the money was going to Scotland and to the Scottish people he should not vote against the Bill, but it was not voted to Scotland at all. It was a Vote to a locality where there was practically no population. They had references to the population that this Bill was going to benefit, would the House believe that from beginning to end of this route there were not more than 400 or 500 people? So far as they knew there had not even been a suggestion that they were to have a station at any period of the route. It was the landlords who were going to gain if the Bill was passed, and yet the principal promoter of the Bill, Cameron of Lochiel, would not give one single inch of his land without being paid for it. Advantage would be derived by the local landlords, for the immediate effect of the railway would be that land would almost double in value in that particular locality, and estates which could not let before would now be let freely. Shooting estates, he had no doubt, would be in considerable demand, where at present there was some difficulty in finding tenants. He had listened to the Debates, and read the evidence, but he had failed to be convinced that there was any case made out for the interests of the population in the locality. There had been rival proposals, and the whole balance of opinion was against rather than in favour of this particular line. [Sir M. HICKS BEACH: "No."] That was his opinion after reading the whole of the Report. This particular line was proposed to be carried out in such a way as practically to give no inconvenience to anyone of any influence along the line of route. He could give a very important case with regard to a house on the line of route, where it was actually proposed to have a tunnel in order that the trains might not be seen from the windows of a certain eminent gentleman, who was not unknown in that House. It was the general taxpayer who was to pay for this, and who was not to have any representative on the Board, or any voice in the management of this Company. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not seen his way to accept the suggestion he made last year that some provision should be inserted in the Bill to give them some representation on this Board. He cited the case of the Caledonian Canal, where 417 representation was provided for. He thought there was no Scotch Secretary who could look back on his connection with the promotion of this Measure with any satisfaction. For at least 6 or 8 years deputations had been organised in order to bring pressure to bear on the Government to bring forward a proposal of this kind. On the very eve of the Election in this particular county, in 1892, a letter was read from the right hon. Gentleman himself—he knew perfectly well that the right hon. Gentleman never intended it to be used as it was—in which he said he would do his best to carry through this Bill in the succeeding Session. Not only financial, but political capital was made out of this undertaking. It was impossible to allow this Bill to go through without a very searching examination. As the Scheme stood at present, there was every inducement on the part of the Board to prevent the railway from being successful. If they did, they would have the possibility before them that the Government grant would be materially lessened. But if the line were a success the money would not be paid back, as it might be, at the end of 30 years. In short, they were making a present of this money to the Board of the North British Company and the landlords interested in the Scheme. He did not think a case had been made out for the Bill. If it had been really in the interests of the poor people, he, at any rate, would never have raised his voice against it; but it was because this Bill was brought forward simply to carry out pledges which no one had desired, and as the result of certain pressure, the character of which he would not inquire into, and because it would not be to the interests of the people in the locality, that he would not give his vote in favour of the Bill.
§ MR. A. URE () Linlithgowshire, West Lothian
said the hon. Member had said that nobody had spoken in favour of the Bill, and that no Member would take the responsibility for it, but private Members in the House were not asked to assume responsibility for railway undertakings. Surely it went without saying that any Government who undertook a guarantee of this sort could only do so on one consideration, viz., that they approved of the Measure and thought 418 it would be useful to the country. The Government offered this guarantee because they thought the Scheme was good on its own merits. The very fact that a harbour was going to be made on this hostile coast, and that money would be advanced for the purposes of the Bill, would stir up the fishing population to greater industry. It had been said that the Bill was a bad one, because the monetary terms which the Government had assented to were onerous. That contention had, however, been completely disposed of by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who had told them that the terms were the very best that could be secured. Successive Governments were pledged to this Measure, and he was surprised that any hon. Member should advocate a course involving a public breach of faith with the parties concerned.
§ MR. J. CALDWELL () Lanark, Mid
said that he would be very sorry if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was discouraged by any thing that had been said from proposing further guarantees such as that which was to be given under this Bill. The policy upon which this transaction was founded was similar to that initiated for Ireland by the present Leader of the House when he was Chief Secretary. The condition of the Highlands was analogous to the condition of the congested districts in Ireland, and railways were wanted in the West of Scotland to improve the position of the people. The object of the Bill was to supply railway communication in the congested districts on the west coast. It was impossible to run a railway straight along the coast, and so communication must be made between the inland line and certain points on the coast like Oban, Mallaig and Strome Ferry. The fishing population of the West would derive considerable benefit from this new railway communication. This scheme he could assure the House had not originated with the landlords. Nor was it the scheme of the North British Railway Company. That company was, in fact, pressed to join in it. The new railway would enable crofters to send their produce to market, would promote a tourist traffic, and would aid in developing the Highlands. The Bill had, therefore, his hearty support. He might add that under the provisions of the Light Railways Bill 419 it would be possible to obtain the land which would be required for the purposes of this Measure upon very reasonable terms.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes. 235; Noes, 67.—(Division List, No. 303.)
§ Main Question put and agreed to; Bill read a Second time, and committed for Thursday.