§ On the Order for the Second Reading of this Bill.
*MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.) rose to move:—
That this House declines to sanction any scheme for the construction of light railways, which will increase the burden of local rates or add to the weight of Imperial taxation.
He said he desired to refer for a moment or two to the speech of the President of the Board of Trade in introducing this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said there were a great number of acres of land—8,000,000 in all the counties of England—which were three or more miles from a railway station, and he suggested
that if this Bill was adopted it would bring them all into connection with the great lines and shower upon them a number of blessings. If they remembered that statement and compared it with the small and niggardly provisions of the Bill itself, they could not help comparing it with the statements which were found in a prospectus of doubtful articles which were to be sold at a large price. The calculation generally went—"so many millions of these articles are used in the country, and if we sell such and such a proportion of them, a great deal of money will be made." But, usually, people who put their confidence in such prospectuses were only deluded by these large promises. He thought the President of the Board of Trade was, to a certain extent in that position, and if he hoped, by this small Bill and the petty provisions he had put in it, to effect that great revolution of which he spoke he thought he was bound to be disappointed. The right hon. Gentleman also made some interesting remarks about the railways of Belgium, but he would like to ask why he had not presented a report of the interesting visit he had paid to the Continent in connection with this subject, for they might have learned from it lessons as to the construction of these light railways which might have been most useful to them. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that in Belgium these railways paid; that the average interest paid on the capital invested was something like 3 per cent.; that they were built at a cost not exceeding £3,000 a mile and that they were, if he might use a word to describe them, a sort of domestic railways which ran alongside the roads and which might be stopped by the holding up of a hand. In the Bill before them they did not find any security that any one of the advantages which were the features of the Belgian system would be secured to this country. But they need not go so far as Belgium to consider this question. They had had experience of light railways in Ireland first under the Bill of 1883, and then under the Bill of 1889. It would have been very valuable if the right hon. Gentleman had told them what had been the experience of those railways, but he had been profoundly silent on the subject. He thought that they had just
cause of complaint as to the way in which the Bill had been introduced. The Bill was only distributed on Friday, and he had had to work hard in the interval to get to understand its provisions. They ought, he thought to have had a longer time to consider it, and the Bill was of sufficient importance to have been explained in another speech, so that its provisions might have been better understood by the House. He regarded the Bill as a plan for the construction of railways where they were not wanted. A Commission was to be formed to be called the Light Railway Commission. The House had grown very fond of Commissions, but of all the Commissions which were ever suggested to it he thought this was one of the most extraordinary and absurd. Three gentlemen were called into existence. One of these was to be paid at a salary of only £1,000 a year and the other two were expected to work for nothing. All the important questions which were sure to arise under this scheme and all its details were to be entrusted to these three gentlemen. And when they came to consider the duties of the Commission they found they had got no power at all. They were a sort of fifth wheel to the coach. They took a great deal of trouble, and they put the promoters of a Bill to a great deal of trouble, but they could not decide anything. They could only make a report to the Board of Trade, and the whole matter was at the discretion of that Department. He desired to protest against the great interests that would arise under this Bill being entrusted to men, one of whom only was remunerated in the shabby fashion that was proposed. He thought they ought to criticise very severely the constitution of this Commission. Promoters of a Bill under the present expensive system had at least this advantage, that they prepared their case and presented it to a body who could decide on it. That was not the case with the Light Railway Commission, and he thought it was a great pity that business men should be put to the trouble of preparing plans and submitting them to a body which could not approve of them nor express any final decision upon them. He thought it would be better for promoters to go before the Board of Trade at once. Great facilities were given
under the Bill to localities for the construction of light railways. He was not against facilities, under considerable restrictions, being given to localities, but under this Bill every step was taken to seduce the locality into the construction of unproductive light railways, and there was no clause at all which would tend to the protection of the locality in the work they had got to do. His Amendment was to protect the rates of the locality. They wanted some such Amendment as that, for there was not a single provision in the Bill which had the slightest tendency towards protecting the local rates from the charges which might be put upon them by authorities which were carried away with the prospects of these railways. If any hon. Member would turn to Clause 15, he would see that there was the greatest facility given for spending the ratepayers' money and that under Sub-Head 4, local authorities were empowered to pay interest on capital, loss on working capital and the repayment of the capital within a given number of years out of the rates of the locality. Under Sub-head 5, even if the railway should pay—which, he was afraid, it was not likely to do in many cases—the locality would not be allowed to use the profit for the reduction of their ordinary rates, for it must be devoted to the extinction of the rate laid for the railway itself. Therefore, it was 99 to one against the locality making any profit out of these things and they were almost certain to incur a large loss. In connection with this matter he would like to call the attention of the House to one extraordinary provision which appeared in Clause 5, and which enabled the Treasury under certain circumstances to facilitate the building of these railways. That clause provided that when a railway was made the locality could never charge any higher rates on any part of the land occupied by the railway than was charged upon it before the line was made; although the Treasury might have practically made a present to the company of £100,000 to construct the line. What might be the effect of that? The effect of the construction of a railway might be to divert the traffic from the high road from which a village mainly derived its rates, and so lead to the ruin of such a village. On this line
a station might be constructed around which would spring hotels, shops, and various habitations, but all these things would be the property of the railway company on which the locality could never charge a rate.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
Not at all. That is quite a mistake.
§ MR. LOUGH
asked why should not a railway if it destroyed the local traffic, contribute fairly to the rates in accordance with the income it derived. The next feature of the Bill was the Treasury assistance given for the construction of lines in cases where it was assumed that a line could not be made without such assistance. In the Bill it would be found that only £1,000,000 was devoted to this purpose whilst only £250,000 was available for grants. That sum was so small as to be absurd when they considered the great work that was to be done and yet it was dealt with on entirely wrong principles. If the Treasury lent money to a locality, it charged 3½ per cent. interest. Why should the localities have to pay such a rate of interest? If the Treasury approached the localities at all it ought to approach them on honest principles and lend them the money as cheaply as the Treasury could itself borrow it, and not try to make a profit in all these transactions. Free grants were made to railway companies to build these lines. He ventured to think this would be found to be a most dangerous provision. What security was taken in the Bill with regard to these advances? The first was that the Board of Agriculture should send a certificate to the Board of Trade stating that they thought the construction of the line would benefit agriculture in the district. What use was that? It was only a benevolent expression of opinion by the President of the Board of Agriculture. He thought there ought to be evidence given on the point or otherwise all sorts of jobbery would arise here. Pressure would be brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman who would be asked to write a letter stating that he thought agriculture would be 1529 benefited, and forthwith the, Chancellor of the Exchequer was to provide,£100,000 to some company which might have sprung into existence. What was the next protection? The Board of Trade was to certify that a connection would be established between a seaport and a market. If the Board of Agriculture or the Board of Trade interfered at all they should do a great deal more than this, and should fully explain the reasons why they thought a railway was wanted. The Board of Trade should prove that there was a good market for fish, that the seaport it intended to connect with the market had got a good harbour and that there was some prospect of trade to make the line pay. He thought the provisions under which the free grants were made were dangerous provisions which were only too likely to lead to corruption, and the Government which distributed a largesse like this would be placed in an extremely difficult position in administering this clause of the Bill. He asked the House to contrast the limitations imposed upon the Treasury with the absence of all protection to the locality. There was no single provision to protect localities which were led into every extravagance, and no attempt was made to keep them safe. Again, why was this called a Light Railway Bill? There was nothing in the proposed Measure about the gauge, and he hoped the standard gauge of the country would be adopted. There was nothing about cost to justify the use of the word light, and he thought in that respect they might well have the Bill amended when they came to consider it hereafter. The last complaint he had to make about the Bill was that no real facilities were given to the localities. There was no provision by which the land was to be secured cheaply and the promoters were not even preserved from the extra 10 per cent, which they had to pay for the land. In answer to a question the other day, the President of the Board of Trade intimated that he was not even willing to forego the passenger duty in regard to the light railways. No facilities, therefore, were to be given to the localities, the only difference between these and the great railways of the country being that in the case of the light railways the community would be asked to bear the risk instead of the 1530 speculators who had built the line. There was no Member more sympathetic with the difficulties of agriculture than he was, and he was most anxious to see everything done that possibly and wisely could be done for that depressed industry by that House. The localities ought to be facilitated in the construction of the lines, they ought to be protected, and legislation should aim at enabling them to make the lines cheaply and readily without undue risks. He objected to the Bill because it contained none of these conditions. He wanted the localities to give all the assistance they could without risk. It was said they could do nothing without risk. But they had in Belgium, the lines in that country paid, but if the Government here were to adopt the principle that lines ought to be made where they could not pay they would be proceeding in a dangerous direction. There was no effort in the Bill to consider whether the lines were likely to be an economical success, although that was a most important element to take into account in legislation of this character. The rates ought to be carefully guarded and they should do all they could to benefit localities without increasing the burden of local taxation. He thought the assistance given by the Treasury under the Bill was given in the most pernicious form; it charged too high a rate of interest, gave away too freely, whilst the whole amount dealt with was far too small adequately to carry out the purposes for which the Bill was intended. The railways of this country had been constructed by private enterprise, and now when the private speculator had got all the good and promising investments the country was asked to take up what was doubtful. What the Treasury ought to do was to give a small guarantee of about 2 per cent. for 10 or 15 years, so as to induce the private speculators to construct lines where they thought there was an economical demand for them. The Treasury should use its vast resources of borrowing money cheaply and assisting in the way he had suggested without throwing any serious burden on the taxpayers and not address itself to the matter in the wholesale way proposed by the Bill. He thought it would have been quite possible to have drawn up a Bill on safe lines, but this Bill was 1531 not so drafted. There were, he believed, some supporters of the Bill, who imagined that if they made a railway in an agricultural district they would do an infinite amount of good, but unless they had something besides agriculture, a railway could not be successfully made and especially a short line of three or four miles, such as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. The lines should be allowed to be made in accordance with the wants of the locality and surrounded by the safeguards the locality would suggest. He asked the Members for agricultural constituencies to show why they were so certain that agriculture would be made profitable if these railways were constructed. He would give the experience of light railways of a little town with which he was acquainted in Ireland. Forty years ago, until a railway was made, letters could be posted to Dublin four hours later than now. The reason was there was not enough traffic for the railway company to supply a good service of trains. The first effect of making a railway was to destroy the means of locomotion, that formerly existed. The coaches, cars, and local carriers disappeared. The old—if not perfectly effective—system of locomotion was destroyed, and there was substituted one which did not meet the wants of the district half as well. Under the old system all the profits accrued in the locality; under the new system they deprived the locality of the profits of carrying goods, and they went to a company of shareholders, perhaps 100 or 200 miles away. He was not against replacing the old methods by machinery. But the machinery must be adapted for the work it had to do, and they must introduce machinery where the interests were small, poor, and easily destroyed, with the greatest care, and the Bill involved too great precipitancy. He would describe the effect of two great light railway enterprises in Ireland. Under the first Bill—a Liberal Bill—of 1883, light railways were built under an extravagant guarantee of 5 per cent. to be furnished by the locality in Ireland, and if the Treasury were satisfied that the railway would be kept at work, it refunded the locality 2 per cent, of the guarantee. Since the Bill became law 18 lines had been constructed and they were about 250 miles long and he asserted 1532 the worst constructed lines in Europe. The service was irregular and unpunctual and the rates were high. The lowest cost was £2,600 a mile, ranging to £6,000. On every one of the local loans the taxpayers had to pay interest on the whole of the capital, and this year,£30,000 would be voted, to be added to £60,000, or £90,000 in all to pay interest on £1,500,000,sunk in these lines, or 6 per cent. Was it not a wicked thing to plunge Ireland into this mischievous speculation in a time of agricultural distress? The working expenses had never yet been covered by the takings, yet the stock of these railways was among the most prized in Ireland. They sold at 50 per cent. premium. If the lines were pulled up the shares would be merrily dealt in at 50 per cent. The House did not construct appropriate industrial enterprise with these railways, but gave greedy capitalists money which they would stick to for ever. Instead of gaily plunging into light railways in England, they ought to be repairing the mischiefs they had done by light railways in Ireland. A rate of 2s. 2d. in the £1 was being paid for light railways which it was dangerous to travel upon. With such experiences in Ireland the House ought to be careful about light railways in England. It would be said that local authorities in England were not as they were in Ireland. Thank God they were not. There was no local authority in Ireland of which any decent Government ought not to be ashamed. The local authorities in England were no more to be trusted than local authorities in Ireland. It was said they would proceed as safely as capitalists. The latter sought interest on their money, and that made them cautious. But county and district councils were trained in money making, and before they would put thousands into a light railway, they ascertained whether it would pay. In the protection of localities from further taxation, English local governing bodies did not give a bit more protection than Irish Grand Juries did. The second chapter in the history of light railways in Ireland began in 1889. The Government recognised the scandal that had arisen out of the heavy tax imposed by bankrupt railways under the Act of 1883. The plan was then adopted of 1533 making grants to the railway companies to make the lines, and £1,500,000 had been distributed for this purpose. He called it a most questionable distribution of public money. The cost of construction ranged from £4,000 to £9,000, and £15,000 a mile. Now, it was proposed to launch a similar system in England. The Government approached private companies and said: "If you are prepared to make a loan we will give you so much money." The companies wanted more and tried to get all they could and grants to the extent mentioned had been made. He believed that most of the companies were paying 5 per cent. on their ordinary shares. He lived near one of these lines when in Ireland. The taxpayers there had no control over the line and the service of trains was most inconvenient. Similar evils to those caused by light railways in Ireland would arise in England if this Bill were passed. Let it not lie thought that the £1,000,000 mentioned in the Bill would be the end of the expenditure. The House would open a little tap that night which they would never be able to close and ultimately £100,000,000 might have to be spent. Because he thought the principle of Bill was unjust to private capitalists who had built over a thousand millions' worth of railways in England; and because he considered the Bill would be oppressive and mischievous to the localities, and likely to be injurious to the State, he asked the House to adopt the Amendment that stood in his name.
§ MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, S.)
in seconding the Amendment said that the Bill in its present form would be of comparatively little use in securing the construction of cheap railways in the rural districts and that unless it was very substantially altered or amended in Committee the House ought not to pass it. As had been pointed out, a light railway was not always an advantage to a district. The use of steam and electricity for motive power must largely diminish the use of horses; there would be a disappearance of carriers' carts; and the customers of country shopkeepers would be tempted to go to the towns. Still, these disadvantages would be outweighed by commercial advantages, although light railways would not be the universal panacea that some anticipated. 1534 They would affect but comparatively small areas, and the farmers who had to load a wagon would prefer to send it to the market town if the distance was not too great. The Government had made one improvement in the Bill as compared with last Session. It was an untenable position to lay down that there should be no support from Imperial funds. Increased trade meant increased public revenue, and there was therefore some justification for Imperial support of local enterprises. Light railways ought to lead to considerable economy in postal arrangements. Localities would not like to burden themselves in order to construct, subsidise, or work light railways; and he should like to see in the Bill greater elasticity in the giving of Imperial support. He agreed that with the adoption of the principle of guarantee there might be openings for great waste in construction, and the absence of incentives to earn dividends in working. That was likely to be so, if interest were paid at a high rate; but, if interest were paid at a low rate, then guarantee was a suitable form of aid. If the Bill took power to give, a two per cent, guarantee over 25 years, that would be a more effective and economical way of using the million of money than would be the subsidising of local authorities. He was not at all sanguine that the Bill would be effective in securing the construction of light railways, owing to the principle of guarantee being ignored altogether. He should like to ask whether the Government would not be disposed to guarantee small sums for the construction of feeder-lines. They were not at all likely to be made by local capitalists; and, indeed, they would have to be made by the companies owning the trunk lines; and the construction of them would not be facilitated by this Bill. It was useless to offer money at 3½ per cent. to established companies, who could borrow at a much lower rate. The House ought to do all it could to facilitate the making of light railways by the trunk lines. Twenty miles of narrow light railway had been made between Barnstaple and Lynton at a cost of £42,000, exclusive of land and stations; and this was a marvellously low figure; but feeder lines ought to be on the standard gauge, and they ought to be made and worked in connection with 1535 the trunk lines. The trunk lines would go into them with a guarantee of two per cent. if they could work the local with the long traffic. If a local authority attempted to work such a line, they must, ultimately, either leave it or sell it; and if there was a break of gauge, profitable working of long traffic would be impossible. It might be provided that future local assessment should not exceed the rateable value of the land before the making of a railway. In a parish in Kent, 70 per cent. of the rates was paid by a railway company, and the man who got the chief benefit of the expenditure was a railway director living in that parish. But he did not see why light railways should be rated for local purposes at all. They would take a large amount of traffic from off the high roads, the repairs of which would cost much less. In 1889, in the Customs and Inland Revenue Bill, the House passed an extraordinary provision, requiring a new company to pay a considerable ad valorem duty before it could start business at all. From that charge these light railways might be exempted. They might be relieved from the payment of a Parliamentary deposit upon the cost of construction, and also from the payment of passenger duty, for it might be expected that, as in tramcars and omnibuses, the passenger traffic would be of but one class. Under the present law, passengers could not be carried by goods trains, but there would be no necessity for that restriction in light railways. There was one very important principle in the Bill which had now been adopted for the first time by a Conservative Government—that was, power was given to acquire land compulsorily without the intervention of Parliament. He was glad to see that, under the auspices of the President of the Board of Trade, they had recognised this principle. They permitted, under this Bill, land to be compulsorily expropriated for public purposes without the interference of Parliament. That was a very important step in the direction of a principle which hitherto the Party opposite had opposed. There was another good thing—indeed there were many good things—in this Bill, and that was the abolition of the present costly process of acquiring land. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on this step which would considerably 1536 cheapen the method of procedure. In conclusion, he urged the President of the Board of Trade to make his Bill a little more elastic in the financial clauses.
§ MR. B. L. COHEN (Islington, E.)
said, he had listened very attentively to the two interesting speeches which had been addressed to the House, and he thought they could not fail to remark that the Debate, so far, had been characterised by remarkable unanimity in favour of the principle of the Bill, the rejection of which was desired by those who moved and seconded the Amendment. His hon. Friend and colleague who moved the rejection of the Bill, found his most powerful argument against it, if he might say so, in his peroration, where he warned the House that we were only at the beginning of the experiment ["Hear, hear!"], and that ultimately they would have to incur an expenditure of 100 millions sterling. It seemed to him that, if there was any truth in that exaggerated forecast, it must mean that the House of Commons would only be induced to enter upon the gigantic expenditure if its previous steps in that direction had been attended with that success which most of them on that side of the House expected. But surely his hon. Friend could not pretend that he foresaw all this. The expenditure could only become so large, could only be justified, if previous expenditure had been successful in that direction. Might he say one word more? He could not forbear from an expression of his regret that a speech intended to damage a carefully considered effort to ameliorate the disastrous condition of agriculture, should emanate from a Metropolitan Member. ["Hear, hear!"] And it was in his capacity of a Metropolitan Member that he had ventured to rise as early as possible, in order, not merely to testify the interest which London, and he should have thought every representative of London, had in the improvement, and, if possible, the restoration of agriculture, but also to bear his tribute to what was, he thought, generally speaking, the value of this Bill as being well calculated to contribute to the relief of agriculture. There was no Member of that House who had not a sympathy with agriculture, but he thought his hon. Friend's was a remarkable way of testifying sympathy—a mode of doing it for which 1537 agriculturists would not be grateful. Having said so much, perhaps he might refer to one point in regard to which he felt a little sympathy with his hon. Friend who had moved the rejection of the Bill. In the first place he thought his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had given too little time for the careful study of the details of the Bill—["hear, hear!"]—but he was consoled by the reflection that all they were asked to do was that which he was prepared to do without hesitation and certainly without much discussion, namely to read the Bill a second time. They were asked to affirm the principle of introducing the experiment of light railways into this country. He said this country advisedly, for there was no force in the comparison between light railways existing in sparsely-occupied districts in Ireland and those that he hoped to see spread over populous districts in this country. He thought a better parallel might be found in Belgium, where it was altogether different from Ireland. If he wanted any proof of that it would be found in the interesting anecdote referred to by the hon. Member. The hon. Member would not give free and unfettered communication so as to enable the agriculturists to come into contact rapidly and cheaply with centres of population. He, however, thought there was great force in what had been said by the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment with reference to the 3½ per cent. The hon. Member said he did not think much advantage would be gained to light railways by advancing money at that rate. He shared that view and he thought that more advantage would be gained, and certainly with no more risk to the Treasury, by the proposal of a guarantee. He thought it would be a greater service to the development of light railways, and facilitate the development of these undertakings, if this principle were adopted. He did not think that this rate of 3½ per cent. could be justified by any real or valid argument. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. A. R. SOUTTAR (Dumfries shire)
said, that about 20 years of his life had been spent in connection with railways, light railways, and tramways. He had learnt to regard light railways very highly indeed. He was, therefore, 1538 sorry to hear some of the arguments which had been advanced against the Bill from his side of the House. He thought those arguments a little oldfashioned, coming from Liberal Benches. He allowed that some of the criticism, especially in regard to the financial clauses of the Bill, was warranted. But, after studying the Bill in the light of his experience, he had come to the conclusion that it only needed a little alteration in some particulars to make it an excellent and practical measure. He did not think the Bill dealt sufficiently with a case where a light railway had to pass through two or three different areas presided over by two or three different local authorities. For instance, a railway might pass over two areas with two local authorities by one of which it might be opposed. For instance, there might be a county anxious to have a railway laid to a borough and entering such borough, and the borough might refuse to allow the line within its boundary. The Bill seemed to leave it to the Board of Trade to decide in such circumstances whether or not the railway should be allowed. But he thought it likely that the Light Railway Commissioners or the Board of Trade would refuse the responsibility in such a case, and would demand that the Bill should be laid before Parliament; and, as Parliamentary expenses in connection with railway Bills were extremely heavy, it was very desirable to avoid such a contingency. Besides, before a proposal for the continuation of a light railway was put before the Commissioners or the Board of Trade, considerable preliminary expenses in the way of engineering, surveys and lawyers' fees would have to be borne by the promoters, who naturally would not relish the chance of all their labour and expenditure resulting in failure in the end. What he would suggest, in order to prevent such cases, was that the clause of the Tramways Act of 1870, enacting that where two-thirds of the local authorities interested in a proposed tramway were in favour of the scheme, they should override the opposition of the remaining third, should be inserted in the Bill. He thought such a clause would materially help the promoters of light railways. According to one of the clauses of the Bill a local authority was not to be permitted to 1539 spend more on a light railway than was justified by the probable profits of such a railway. So far as he could see, that clause would prevent a town, having, as in Scotland, a little fishing village within ten miles of it, and desiring to give the fishermen of the village facilities for the carriage of their fish, from building a light railway, because, while such a railway would be a great benefit to the borough, it might not pay for the money expended on it. He thought it would be better to allow the Light Railway Commissioners or the Board of Trade to judge each case on its own merits. Another point he considered important was that a definite gauge should be fixed by the Bill. He entirely disagreed with the suggestion that the gauge should be 4 ft. 8½ in. Such a railway would not be a light railway; it would be a heavy railway, needing heavy rolling stock, and occupying a considerable area of ground, and would cost £40,000 per mile. He thought the gauge should be three feet. [Cries of "No, no!"] He supposed hon. Members who objected considered that the matter should be left to the local authorities. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought that would be a mistake. He hoped that by having a universal gauge a system of intercommunication would be established between the light railways, and while there was very little difference in regard to cost between a gauge 2 ft. 6 in. and a gauge 2 ft. 9 in. or 3 ft., there would, under a system of varying gauges, be a considerable difference in the rolling stock of the various lines rendering intercommunication impossible. Besides, a 3 ft. gauge would allow of the construction of economical light railways. He therefore considered that it would be a very good thing, in the interest of the light railways, that a 3 ft. gauge should be fixed by the Bill, except in such cases where the Board of Trade thought fit to order it otherwise. The Festiniog Railway had a gauge of 2½ feet, but it ran up an ugly road from the engineering point of view. He thought the President of the Board of Trade under-estimated the cost of the lines in stating that they could be constructed for £3,000 per mile. It might be so if the Belgium plan of laying the lines by the side of the road could be followed, but that was impossible in most cases in this country, and 1540 as, therefore, a great deal of land would have to be taken, he was convinced that the railways could not be built for less than £5,000 per mile. He did not think that there would be a threat extension of light railways under this system, unless the proposed rate of interest of 3½ per cent. was reduced. It must be remembered that the interest would be a first charge on the railway, and therefore there would not be much cream left for the promoters. As the railways were wanted most where they were likely to pay the least, the Government would have to alter their financial proposals in a liberal spirit. He did not believe in free advances at all. They might be right in a sense, but they were not always economical, for local authorities were inclined to spend freely and unwisely any money they got from the State. Therefore he thought it would be better to give a small guarantee of not more than two per cent. or at least to reduce the interest. He really thought it would be the best thing for the Government themselves to build the railways in the poor districts. Probably, few Members on either side of the House agreed with him in that, but there were Government telegraphs and Government post offices, and, after all, light railways in the rural districts would be but a great extension of the Parcel Post system. He had seen State railways in India which paid well, and he did not see why we should not have them at home paying well also. He did not mean that the Government should build all the railways, but only those in poor rural districts. He hoped, in conclusion, that the Bill would go through, and that it would be a credit to the Government and a benefit to the country.
§ MR. E. PRYCE-JONES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said, that it was very necessary in Wales that the Board of Trade should have ample power of control over what was proposed to be done, as the circumstances of different districts varied considerably. He was glad that hon. Members opposite recognised so generally that this Bill was an improvement on the Bill introduced by the last Government. It was, undeniably an improvement, but he looked forward to an even better Measure. He was not in love with all the provisions of this 1541 Bill. He did not approve of the introduction of a Railway Commission, preferring that reliance should be placed on the Board of Trade and Parliament. Then he regretted that the interest to be paid for advances by the Treasury was to be so high as 3½ per cent., rather than a low rate of interest. What he desired was to see effect given to the principle of helping those who tried to help themselves.
§ MR. PRYCE-JONES
said, distinctly, it was not the principle of the Bill. It had been laid down that there should be a sort of triple alliance, a co-operation of the State, localities, arid private individuals, but the free grants had no reference to any such co-operation. Clause 13, which gave the Board of Trade, subject to the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, power to make rules fixing a scale of costs applicable in arbitrations deserved warm commendation. He believed that no more useful reform could be made, or one which would do more to make the scheme of light railways successful, than an attempt to reduce the costliness of legal proceedings in connection with them. He should like to see some power added to the clause giving increased power to the Board of Trade, inducing the Lord Chancellor to reduce the legal charges. Though he was not satisfied with all its provisions, he recognised that the Bill was an improvement on that introduced by the late Government, and he could not reconcile the action of hon. Members opposite who, while eulogising the Board of Trade for introducing the Measure, intended to vote against it.
§ MR. CHARLES HARRISON (Plymouth)
, in dealing with the Bill from the points of view of local taxation, said, in his view there were two objectionable points in it. One was the clause referring to loans by the Treasury, and the other was the clause dealing with special advances. The Treasury advances were fixed at 3½ per cent. Hon. Members were familiar with the every-day proposals on the part of local authorities to repay money to the Public Loan Commissioners, because they can now borrow at a lower rate of interest. The clause could be easily amended if the President of the Board of Trade thought fit 1542 to adopt the suggestion of altering the rate of interest to be charged. The second class of loan was called a "special advance." He hardly knew why the term "advance" was introduced in the clause. "Advance" implied an advance by way of loan, and was dealt with under Clause 4, but the fifth clause proposed a free advance or grant. The object was for the purpose of making light railways. For some time past, owners of settled estates have had the power to make these railways, and to borrow money and charge it on the fee simple of the estate. If, therefore, they had thought that it would be a profitable transaction, they could have resorted to that system. They might also have borrowed from one of the Land Improvement Companies and have obtained an advance as loan on the estate, and the railway company might construct the line. Owners of settled estates did not adopt that course because the outlay involved only loss. As regards properties not in settled estate, but in occupation, what difficulty, if the outlay had not been a loss, was there in the occupiers or landowners borrowing on their property for the purpose of constructing those railways which were to develop their property and bring their produce to market? Experience had shown that neither the settled owners nor the landowners had adopted that system from the unprofitable nature of the transaction. Hence the proposal in the Bill was that an outlay which had not been successful in private hands, was now to be treated as a free grant out of Imperial funds. It was really a proposal to lend or to give to the landed interest of the country moneys raised from the taxation largely imposed upon the urban occupiers of property. The urban occupiers were to contribute to the expense of constructing light railways for the benefit of the rural landowner. The system of Imperial grants had been introduced since 1888, and the experience of past years showed that no more vicious system than that of grants from Imperial taxation for the relief of local taxation could be devised. The present Bill intensified that vicious system. The urban districts paid the larger proportion of Imperial taxation, whether in the form of house tax, licences, or stamps, and urban occupiers were 1543 taxed far heavier than rural landlords. In London and other towns the system of taxation was such that the percentage was no less than 20 per cent. on the rateable value in London, 24 per cent in Plymouth, 34 per cent. in Devonport. The taxation was levied on a system which undoubtedly produced a fair systein of rating at the highest possible maximum rateable value, but in the country it was different. In Middlesex, for example, the Receiver General found that a certain locality in the country was so lowly rated that he had the area revalued so as to bring the valuation up to the level of the Metropolis, and thus equalise somewhat the rating in the area of the police levy. The rateable value in London and the large towns was very different from rateable value in the country. Whilst they had the towns taxed as high as 24 and 34 per cent., on the rateable value, the country was taxed at from 9 to 16 and 17 per cent. And yet in what proportion was the distribution from Imperial Revenue in the form of relief of local taxation? He found that out of Imperial Revenue London received only 15 per cent. on the rateable value, while Westmorland got 32 per cent., Essex 22 per cent., and Norfolk——
§ MR. C. HARRISON
, bowing to the Speaker's ruling, said that, if it was unprofitable for settled landowners or occupiers to raise the money, he failed to see how it could be profitable for the Government to make a free grant or special advance in the way proposed. If the Imperial purse was to contribute to the construction of light railways in arid about London, that was taking money out of the Imperial purse for the purpose of getting into the London market the produce of those adjoining counties, and as all the London markets were in the hands of capitalists and the Corporation, the result would be that London occupiers would be still more excessively taxed than at present for the purpose of paying off the very large sums which had been expended in bringing that produce to market. He trusted the President of the Board of Trade would be induced to omit the clause which related to the procedure of the 1544 advance, or, rather, free grant, by the Treasury for the purpose of the construction of the light railways.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
pointed out that, although the advance was in the form of a free grant, it was in the option of the Board of Trade whether it should be by way of advance or by free gift. The Debate had shown very little difference between the two sides. He believed there was a pretty general feeling on the Ministerial side that the rate of interest asked was too high. If it was suggested that it should be left to private enterprise to carry out these railways, he replied that private enterprise hitherto had not been induced to try it. It was hoped that by means of the Government scheme, lines of communication between different parts of the country would be opened up; but hope was not a sufficient inducement for private capitalists. This was a matter of general concern which the Government were taking up, not the hope of immediate or even perhaps of ultimate profit, but in the full expectation that the locality would benefit and the residents be better off than before. The hon. Member opposite had drawn a picture of what the local authorities would do. He had himself some acquaintance with local authorities and he could assure the hon. Member that in England their tendency, at all events in the country districts, had been exactly in the opposite direction. Besides, the local authorities did not take the initiative. It was the people in the localities who went to the local bodies and told them what they wanted, and these local bodies were perfectly able to judge whether or not it was desirable to make the experiment. There was precisely the same security for money advanced by the Government to the local authorities as there was to the Treasury itself. The Treasury and the local authority were placed in exactly the same position. Whatever rate of interest the Government get the local authority will get. He agreed that the powers to be given to the Commission were extremely limited. He should like to see some definition of a light railway laid down in the Bill.
§ MR. RADCLIFFE COOKE
In that case he would like to see the matter left either to the Commission or the Board of Trade. He should like to see included in the Bill as light railways metalled tracks, for traction engines and motor cars, laid by the roadside. The land there was not so valuable to the landowners; and by such lines the steep gradients of a hilly country might be surmounted. He entirely agreed with the Bill in principle, and such details as had been criticised might very well be left for the Committee stage.
§ MR. CHARLES GOLD (Essex, Saffron Walden)
, in a maiden speech, said, he did not propose to take up the time of the House by going into the details of the Bill, as this had already been done so fully by many hon. Members, but to confine his remarks to the main question of granting State aid for the purposes of the construction of light railways. He could quite understand a difference of opinion on this subject, as constituencies varied so much in their local requirements, but that if hon. Members represented such constituencies as his, they would be unanimously in favour of State aid for these railways. Essex, which was a purely agricultural county, demanded that State aid should be liberally given. The landowners had difficulty in balancing their accounts; the farmers were failing in every direction; the wages of labourers had been reduced from 11s. or 12s. a week to 9s. or 10s.; and there was no wealthy commercial class on which to fall back. There were in Essex at least twenty populous places, including one large town, distant from any railway station from seven to ten miles. The result was either that the land was not cultivated at all, or else that the produce cost so much to take to market that there was no profit left for the producer. Any means by which agricultural produce could be carried quickly and cheaply to the great consuming centres must be a great benefit to the country at large. Essex, which was but thirty or forty miles distant from London, had thousands of acres of land uncultivated; and the people of Essex looked to this and to other Bills promised by the Government to bring 1546 about a better state of things in the condition of agriculture. He thanked the President of the Board of Trade very heartily for introducing this Bill; but he trusted that the right hon. gentleman would not overlook the insertion of a clause which would enable tenants for life to co-operate in this most important movement.
§ MR. CHARLES BILL (Staffordshire, Leek)
said, that representing a constituency as badly served with railways as any in England, he thanked the President of the Board of Trade for bringing in this Measure. One hon. Member had said that there was nothing in the Bill to protect the local ratepayers. The hon. Member must have failed to observe. Clause 7, which provided that the Commissioners, before deciding on any application, should give a full hearing to any objections. The hon. Member for West Islington contended that the Bill would increase the burden on the local rates; but a little later the hon. Member described the Belgian system of light railways as affording a desirable precedent to be followed in this country; and that system was pretty nearly followed by the Bill He should, however, like to see the contribution of the State placed at one-third; that of the County Council at one-third; and the remainder divided between subscriptions and the District Councils. There could be no doubt that this Bill was a great improvement on that introduced last year by the late Government, and he hoped that it would be passed in its integrity. He agreed with an hon. Member who had urged that, if two-thirds of the local authorities were in favour of a light railway, it ought not to be in the power of a single local authority to put a stop to the scheme. The Government might introduce a provision, which would be most valuable, dealing with this point. He hoped the Government would not attempt to determine what the gauge of a light railway ought to be. Such an attempt would be very ill-advised. It was the great object of this kind of legislation that all sorts of gauges on all sorts of lines should be carried through all over the country. Generally speaking, a light railway was something less elaborate and perfect than a main line as at present constituted. He gave a 1547 cordial support to the Bill, which would be of great advantage to many struggling districts in the country.
§ MR. VAUGHAN DAVIES (Cardigan)
earnestly appealed to the President of the Board of Trade not to give way on the question of gauge. It was of the most vital importance to a country like Wales that the decision of such a question should be left to the localities. Englishmen unacquainted with the Principality could not possibly understand how difficult it was to get round the mountains and down the valleys of that country. The Festiniog Railway was of narrow gauge, it annually carried something like 100,000 tons of goods and many thousands of people, and its successful working ought to have some bearing upon the question of the construction of light railways generally. It had been argued that the main line companies ought to make these offshoots or feeders. In his county the main line company had got one leg in the Bankruptcy Court; how, therefore, could it be expected to construct light railways. The people there had nobody but Government to look to. He was very much astonished to find the representative of one of the districts of the Metropolis opposing the Bill. He should have thought every representative of a great town or city would have been very glad, through the means of the Measure, to hold out to agriculture the right hand of friendship. Another argument advanced against the Bill was that it would ruin the van proprietors and small shopkeepers, but, strange to say, a large party of these very classes recently travelled up to London from his district to attend the conference presided over by the hon. Member for South Islington. It was said light railways would set up class distinctions. There were class distinctions now in the case of vans, because first-class passengers rode all the way, second-class passengers walked up the hills, and third-class passengers pushed the vans up the hills. There was one thing he wished to strongly urge upon the right hon. Gentleman, and that was the consideration of the question of finance. To ask very poor people in an outlying, wild country to pay 3½ per cent. upon the money advanced was simply to put the last straw oil the camel's back.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
, considered that the Bill marked a great advance in public opinion, and an advance in the right direction. It was only a few weeks ago that, at the Board of Trade, at a Conference representing to a large extent practical experts, resolutions were passed to the effect that there should be no State aid and practically no rate aid. Yet that conference did not contemplate the obvious conclusion that, without those aids, according to all experience, practically no light railways were at all possible. They had to thank the right hon Gentleman for realising that fact in his Bill. His hon. Colleague in the representation of Islington took exception to State aid, and said Ireland afforded instances of the undesirability of it. Yet the hon. Gentleman spoke of some of those railways yielding 5½ per cent.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
thought the hon. Gentleman would find the absence of that return was very largely due to the want of proper connection. For instance, some of the railways did not connect with the waterside when their obvious purpose was to develop the fisheries. The light railways of Ireland were not light railways either in construction, conditions of cost, or in any other form. But so far as they had had a fair trial they had benefited both the fisheries and agriculture of Ireland. Only the other day an hon. Member from Ireland told him his produce from the West of Ireland had been made saleable in London under a permanent contract supply by the construction of the, Headford and Kenmare line. They who advocated light railways did not say they did everything for agriculture, but they did say they would do much, and what, perhaps, would be their best service would be that they would put this country on a par with some continental nations in the adoption of the best modern system of co-operative agriculture. But it was not a question wholly of agriculture. The Chambers of Commerce of this country had for years past carried resolutions in favour of the construction of such lines on the ground 1549 of general commerce. His hon. Friend (Mr. Lough) said such lines would extinguish trade. He admitted that in some cases railways passing through a riverside place did not develop trade. The tendency was, perhaps, towards the establishment of long-distance traffic. But the present proposal was to have railways of such a character that they should make traffic as they went on, stop not at a particular station, hut where-ever goods were to be got or conveyed, and form connections with most remote rural districts. He was satisfied that in Yorkshire light railways would be of the greatest advantage in the development of the fisheries. But in the case of fisheries he thought the Bill made a rather undue limitation. It was said a grant was to be given where the railways made a connection with a market. He thought it should be rather where they made a connection with a railway generally. [Mr. RITCHIE: "Certainly."] Then the Bill spoke of connecting a railway where there was a harbour. A mere landing in certain cases was quite sufficient. Another consideration was the increase of movement a system of light railways would develop between town and country. The case of the line from Headford to Kenmare was an instance in proof of this, for it had opened up one of the best districts in the three kingdoms for picturesque scenery. He could imagine no better means for enabling the people to enjoy the scenery of their own neighbourhoods, and for preventing them from travelling abroad. He did not say that the Bill was perfect or incapable of improvement, but it would go far to increase the prosperity of many districts in the country. The proposed Commission, however, was one point to which exception might be taken ["Hear, hear!"], on the ground that it might lead to a double tribunal and a second hearing—first, the local inquiry held by the Commission; and, secondly, the confirmation of the proposal by the Board of Trade.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, the idea of the Bill was that the Board of Trade should consider any objection lodged with it in written form, but that would not be a second hearing.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
said, he was glad to hear that explanation, but he doubted whether ultimately the Board 1550 would confirm, or reject a proposal without hearing the parties, except, perhaps, in rare instances, and that would involve a second hearing. The local Commission should be made the only tribunal; otherwise the costs under the Bill might be increased to a great extent, and thus become a great objection to it. He should have been glad if the Bill went further than it did in regard to the question of compensation. The compulsory purchase payment of 10 per cent. ought, after full payment, to be reduced, or even extinguished. He admitted that there might be some difficulty in dealing with the point, but he thought it would be well if some average of compensation based on a certain number of years' purchase could be adopted, a plan which would relieve many difficulties in the way of introducing those light railways. A very good proposal in the Bill was that which would make the special grant dependent on the free gift of the land for the lines. He agreed with many hon. Members in thinking that one million would not go very far in constructing such railways, but the amount could be increased. On one point he feared the Bill would be prohibitive; the charge of 3½ per cent. on the loans might make it so. It could scarcely be expected that Government assistance would be asked for, when much better terms could be obtained in the neighbourhood from any railway company or local authority. The rate of interest referred to exceeded that on Consols, and the interest charged on Consols at the time should be the maximum of interest charged by the State. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not agree with his hon. Friend the Member for West Islington in taking exception to loans by the State in this matter. There was hardly a town in the country that was not greatly indebted to the State for loans which had enabled it to carry out permanent local improvements and necessary public works. ["Hear, hear!"] The only point was to take care that, as far as possible, those public works should be made of a reproductive character. The Bill gave adequate safeguards in respect of the loans that might be applied for under its provisions. They would all approve the principle of private enterprise; it had done much to make the country what it was. But private enterprise 1551 could not do everything, and in works such as this Bill proposed State aid might he usefully granted and accepted. They might learn something from the manner in which great public works had been carried out by the power and organisation of the State in several foreign countries, where, for instance, railways had been constructed, and were worked by the State on such principles of economy that the people had the advantage of travelling at much lower rates than were charged in this country. It was for Englishmen to consider whether they were quite in accord with the principles of the day in leaving everything to private enterprise. He thought, therefore, that the proposal to make special grants to the poorer districts of the country was to be commended. Guarantees had been suggested in lieu of them, but the system of guarantees had become much discredited in Ireland. It was a system which was likely to lead to extravagance, and he thought that special grants on the principles proposed by the Bill were preferable in every respect. He understood that his right hon. Friend limited the contributions locally to share capital—[Mr. RITCHIE: "No, no!"]—and he could not understand why debenture capital should be excluded. [Mr. RITCHIE: "It is not excluded."] The best example of light railways was to be found in Belgium, and there the railways were constructed on similar principles to those embodied in the Bill. In Belgium there were 14 of those railways which paid more than 3.½, per cent, In which paid 3 per cent. and six which paid 2½, per cent., and the success of the system in Belgium was the best justification of the lines on which this Bill had been drawn. They all lamented the depression under which the agricultural interest had for a long time suffered. It might not be in the power of legislation to retrieve that position to any great extent, for he believed that enterprise in public and private works could alone raise agriculture to the position it once held, and ought to occupy, as one of our greatest national industries. Left to their own resources, with their funds depleted, neither landlords nor tenants could achieve this result, but if, by the aid of the State, on the conditions laid down in the Bill, that House could help them to do so, hon. Members 1552 would, by granting that aid be benefiting, not the agricultural interest only, but the trade and commerce of the whole country. [Cheers.]
§ MR. E. STRACHEY (Somerset, S.)
said, that as the President of the Board of Trade had stated that it was his intention to refer the Bill to a Grand Committee, it was for hon. Members who were not Members of that Committee to take the present opportunity of criticising the Bill. He might say at once that he could not agree with the hon. Member for West Islington in so far as he would exclude State subsidies, but he; did agree with him in his references to local rates. The hon. Member did not object to the granting of subsidies by the State for the purpose of constructing light railways in Ireland, and he was at a loss to understand why he should do so in this case. ["Hear, hear!"] The local Inquiry by the proposed Light Railway Commission, and the part to be subsequently taken in the matter by the Board of Trade, would lead to a double hearing of the proposals under the Bill, and to the expense of taking action, as had already been said, being much increased. He thought the appointment of the Light Railway Commissioners was unnecessary, seeing that under the Bill it would be the duty of the Board of Trade, practically to make an Inquiry in all cases. To his mind, with the provisions in those clauses, this Commission would be little more than a mere branch of the Board of Trade itself; of course, it would mean additional expense. It would have been better, he thought, if the President of the Board of Trade had followed one of the suggestions made in the Report of the Conference on Light Railways of 1894. Briefly, that Conference suggested the relaxation of the requirements of the Board of Trade in the case of light railways in rural districts, and that County Councils should have the power to authorise the construction of light railways in their districts, subject to an appeal to the Board of Trade, except where land was taken compulsorily. That was a much simpler procedure, and would simplify matters very much. The County Councils would be much better judges of the wants of those living in the localities than the Board of Trade or the official 1553 who went down to hold the Inquiry, and it would entail much less expense. That recommendation of the Conference was signed by the hon. Member for East Northampton and the hon. Member for North Hampshire, who was at the time the Chairman of of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and by the Secretary of the Chamber. He would like to refer to the question of the loans by the Treasury. These loans were allowed to be made under Clause 4, and he entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Islington (Sir A. Rollit) when, he said that the interest was simply prohibitive. At the present moment, Consols only produced 2½ per cent., if they produced that; yet the Board of Trade wished that the depressed agriculturists should pay one per cent. more than the Government paid on Consols. He could not help thinking that the term of years for the repayment was too small. The term for loans given to local authorities under the Local Government Act of 1888 was restricted to 30 years, and under this Act it was 60 years. But he could not help thinking that even 60 years was too short a term for what they must consider would be a permanent matter. It was not fair to expect two generations to pay the whole of the construction capital. In so doing they would be throwing an unnecessary burden upon those two generations for a matter which would last much beyond their time. The maximum loan was to be one-fourth of the total amount, and it was to be entirely permissive. He ventured to think the right way would be—even if they wished to limit it, that there should be some principle of sub-division and allocation to various districts. At any rate, it should not be a mere matter of generosity on the part of the Treasury, whether they would contribute one in one district and not in another district. He was afraid that in some cases partiality might be shown, and that some districts might be unduly favoured in this matter. Anyhow, there would always be a risk of undue Parliamentary pressure on Ministers and of undue pressure on hon. Members by their constituents. He thought it would be much better to make the loans compulsory on the part of the Treasury, and at the same time ho would suggest that they 1554 should apply the system of Irish Light Railways Acts with a certain exception. He would make the grants by the Treasury as in the case of Irish Light Railways with this difference, that instead of the local authority having to guarantee the interest, he would substitute private enterprise. An hon. Member on this side of the House suggested that landlords might raise the money under various Acts there were for that purpose. It seemed to him a very proper proposal, and there should be no reason why, in a particular district where a light railway was required, the landlords should not be quite ready to guarantee half the capital required if they knew the Treasury on their part would come forward and supply the other half. Besides, he thought, not only landlords, but other people interested in the locality would be prepared to contribute towards a guarantee. He disagreed with the proposal to encumber the local rates as regarded this matter, and he entirely endorsed the resolution which was carried in the Central Chamber of Agriculture in February of last year. That resolution, which was carried unanimously, approved of the construction of light railways provided no additional burden was thrown on the ratepayers by their construction. It had the support of the hon. Member for Hampshire, of the Vice Chamberlain of the Household, and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet. These hon. Gentlemen were all interested in agriculture, and they could have no stronger proof than this that those who represented the agriculturists both on that side of the House and on this objected to the proposals of the Government, by which local rates were likely to be increased. He should not be so much afraid of charging the rates if the County Councils were the sole judge. Under this Bill, however, the matter was not left to the County Council alone, but to the District Council as well. In some cases a particular District Council might desire to have a line constructed in a district not suitable for that purpose, or where such an undertaking could not possibly prove remunerative. In such a case the District Council would have power to construct the railway, and give a charge upon the rates. It was a doubtful thing to place such a power in the hands of a 1555 District Council, unless there was an appeal to a higher authority, such as the County Council. The system of free grants by the Treasury also lent itself to the objection that partiality might be shown, or undue pressure brought to bear upon the subject, and, at any rate, it was a very invidious matter for the Board of Agriculture or the Board of Trade to say what districts ought or ought not to have free grants. He hoped that that provision would be taken out of the Bill.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
observed, that he took it the Bill was introduced practically in redemption of the pledge given by the various Members of the Government to do something to relieve the depression which existed in agriculture. They must all deplore that depression, but, speaking frankly, as a borough Member and as a representative of an urban constituency, and one, moreover, who all his life had been connected with trade and commerce, he said—though with a certain degree of fear and trembling, seeing the locality in which he was sitting—he anticipated these Measures, as foreshadowed, with a certain amount of uneasiness. He was distrustful they might either contain in them thin-veiled or diluted Protection, such as existed in one of the Bills of the Government now before the House, or might, perhaps, lead to a greater transference of the burdens the agricultural shoulders were now bearing to those of the commercial and industrial classes, than he himself should be willing to vote for. With regard to this Bill, he did not think any of the objections he had suggested could arise. He should like, however, to say a word on Clause 5. That clause, which dealt with free advances by the Treasury, contemplated such loans being made for the construction of light railways in districts where such undertakings would benefit agriculture, or where they would open up means of communication between fishing harbours and markets for fish. He asked, why was the clause limited and restricted in this fashion? Why was it not extended to the various industrial communities dotted up and down the country. In the county to which he belonged they had many villages that were industrial communities in which there were one or 1556 two mills, but which were distant from the broad trunk lines and away from the general trend of events. These communities, and mills, and manufactories, were gradually dropping out and becoming extinct, owing to the severe competition they had to meet. If the Government were going to benefit agricultural and fishing communities, they ought, also, to extend the same advantages to those village communities such as he referred to. He hoped the President of the Board of Trade would give his serious consideration to this point. The benefit of the Bill ought not to be confined to any particular section or district, but every section of the community, and every district where light railways were necessary, should share equally in its advantages.
§ MR. E. BAINBRIDGE (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)
, in a maiden speech, remarked, that he desired to support a Bill of so wise and benevolent a character as this, and would like to refer to one or two points which had not been touched upon by previous speakers. The Bill had been described by its advocates as necessary for dealing with those parts of the country where agriculture was very hopeless and the land very bad. But there was a great need for light railways in districts where the land was rich, but where, from want of capital, it was not properly cultivated. He spoke for a large area of the county of Lincolnshire, where, in farms of 500acres, as much as 7,000 tons of produce and manure were dealt with in one year, and which had to be carried by carts distances of five or six miles. If the development of the land was promoted by the construction of light railways, a large area, which was now practically uncultivated, could be made most productive. It had been said by the Mover of the Amendment that this was a Bill for making railways where they were not wanted. Anybody familiar with the making of railways knew that there were large patches of land where railways had been promoted in the past, but where, owing to the fact that the several railway companies working the district had come to terms, the projected lines had never been made. These districts could be excellently served by light railways. It was, he urged, of extreme importance, if the Bill was passed, that some provision should 1557 be made for establishing through rates. Without through rates the Bill would become a dead letter because the utility and success of such railways would depend on the maintenance of cheap rates. With regard to the interest on capital, they should remember that the Government proposed not to make a grant but a loan. This was very different from the grant the House agreed to by a large majority the other night in the case of Dominica. That was a grant of £15,000. This was only a loan to benefit agriculture, and he quite agreed that 2½ per cent was enough to charge as interest. He had pleasure in being able to support the Bill. It seemed a strange coincidence that they had been dealing that night with a question of a large grant to maintain the warlike defences of the Empire. There would probably be general acquiescence with regard to that, and he expected then; would be unanimity with regard to this Bill. The bark of the Amendment was worse than the bite. The Mover of the Amendment only sought to protect the local ratepayers from further taxation.
§ SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON (Stafford, Handsworth)
agreed with the hon. Member for Hereford that local authorities might well be trusted to look after their own interests. The hon. Member for Leek had defined a light railway. The difference between light and ordinary railways was that of speed. The latter ran at a great speed, while light railways were limited to a certain speed, because there were a number of stations and sidings. The hon. Member for South Somerset thought it would be a good thing if they set to work to make light railways without outside assistance. It reminded him of saying that you could not make an omelette without breaking eggs.
§ MR. STRACHEY
said he was opposed to pledging the local rates, but was in favour of Imperial assistance.
§ SIR H. MEYSEY-THOMPSON
said, he was sorry he had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. Then the hon. Member for Plymouth spoke of settled estates, and said the owners had power to make light railways but had not done so. No doubt the supporters of the Amendment, in their election addresses or speeches expressed themselves as only too anxious to do anything in their power for agriculture, but now there was an opportunity 1558 for doing so they opposed this Bill. Foreign countries had, with one consent, put on protective duties. There was no question here of protective duties. With the sole exception of the United States, in every other country the State had an interest in the railways, and had given large contributions towards them. In India we had guaranteed interest on railways to the extent of £71,000,000, at an interest of 3½ to 4 per cent. Why should not the Railway Commissioners and the Board of Trade have power to grant loans at 2½ per cent. If the large sum of £100,000,000 were expended, the State was only asked to advance £25,000,000, and a difference of one per cent in the contribution of the State would be £250,000 a year, which was not a large contribution, and the Board of Trade or Railway Commissioners might regulate the amounts according to the circumstances of the district. His own personal belief was that these railways would be made by the existing railway companies. They had all the machinery and understood the business, and would have many more inducements to make them and more; facilities for working them, He had been a railway director 22 years, and had heard this question much discussed by railway experts, whose conclusion generally was that it would be fatal to light railways if they were not of the same gauge as trunk lines. In a very hilly county it might be impossible to adopt the ordinary gauge, but such a case would be a rare exception. Was the paid commissioner to be entirely occupied by the service and to give his whole time to it? If he was to do that £1,000 a year would not be enough to command the services of a first rate man. It would be an important position and he would have to give decisions affecting the welfare and fortunes of many persons. He ought not to be an amateur but a first rate man of business. The price of land was to be determined by an arbitrator; was he to be a permanent official, or was a local man to be picked up casually in each case? For the first time they are going to put into the hands of one man a power hitherto exercised by this House alone. Was there to be any appeal from his decisions, either to the Railway Commission to the Board of Trade or to that House? He 1559 might chance to be a man of peculiar opinions or at times he might be a little off his head, and he might decide to hand over property in a way that ought not to be allowed without being subject to appeal. A respectable town council had applied to him to take up a railway they wanted to have constructed, and they made some extraordinary proposals as to the taking of anybody's land at a low market value without allowing for amenities or anything else. If a town council wanted to do this, what might not an individual attempt if there were no appeal from his decision? There ought to be some limitation of the amount of compensation from accident that could be claimed on these railways. There had been amounts awarded in compensation exceeding what would be the capital of some of these lines. Suppose a Lord Mayor of London were injured on a light railway on what scale would he be compensated? One way of limiting compensation would be to say that the maximum should bear a cash property to the fare paid. It ought to be possible for the promoters of such a line to obtain official approval of the general plans without producing the costly engineer's plans and levels which were required in other cases. He could not approve of the suggestion that these lines should be made by the Government because the competition of personal and local interests would lead to a vast amount of lobbying in that House which it was most desirable to avoid. They had been told that it ought to be possible to obtain free grants of land from landowners, but inquiry would probably show that many owners had not the power to give land for such a purpose. There were a great many colleges and trusts of various kinds holding land, and he should like to hear what was to be done with regard to these and other charities. He had gone through all his points. He was anxious that the Bill should pass.
§ MR. T. P. WHITTAKER (York, W.R., Spen Valley)
said, he wished to express his sympathy with what fell from the Member for West Islington. He thought that it would be well to remove restrictions on construction and working in order to reduce cost, arid it might be well to give local authorities power to raise money. If these undertakings 1560 were to be remunerative, there would, however, be no difficulty in providing the money outside the local authorities and outside the Government. They were different from Belgium in that respect. The fact was these railways would never pay where public bodies had to be relied upon to provide the capital. Where they could be made to pay, the railway companies could get the capital at lower rates and would be glad to build these railways. It had been said that 3½ per cent. was too high a rate for the Government to charge. The outside people were to provide only one quarter of the capital. The local authority and the Government were to provide three-quarters of the capital, and therefore he contended on such security, with such a small margin, 3½ was very low. The experience of Irish Light Railways had been referred to, and he thought it was very instructive. There were 16 of these railways in Ireland under the Acts 1860 to 1883. Of 11 of them the accounts were published. The receipts in 1894 were £52,000, and the expenditure was £58,000. There was not a penny for the capital, while the income fell £6,000 short of the working expenditure. All the money taken for goods traffic was £20,000. It would be something like the same here. His great objection to this scheme was, to put it in plain English, that it was part of the policy of the Government to tax trade and manufactures to enable agricultural landlords to get their rents. ["Hear, hear!"] There was one particular reason why the towns objected. They objected to be taxed to pay other people's rents. ["Oh!"] The towns would have to pay the interest on money which was to go to the country districts. Apparently agriculture was going to be subsidised in all directions, and at the same time it was to pay less in rates and taxes. That meant that traders and manufacturers would have to provide more money for the agriculturists to pay their rents with. They all sympathised with, and recognised the very serious trouble which agriculture had to pass through, but it was no greater trouble than many manufacturers had to pass through. ["Oh!"] Yes. Traders had to face severe foreign competition, and in many industries they had suffered a greater fall in prices than had taken 1561 place in agriculture. They might, if they went about, see mills and ironworks lying derelict, hut the proprietors did not come begging there. They did object, however, to be taxed in order that somebody else should be relieved from their share of taxation. The fact was that although agriculture had suffered seriously, it had not suffered more than many trading communities had suffered. [Laughter.] The value of agricultural land to-day was as great as it was before the Corn Laws were repealed. [Laughter.] In 1844 the annual value of the agricultural land of England and Wales assessed under Schedules A and B of the Income Tax was forty millions, and in 1894 it was forty millions. In 1815, at the close of the great war, it was thirty-six millions. There had been a bad time, but land had not gone back from where it was when the Corn Laws were enforced. That did not take into account the great increase in the value of land that had been absorbed for building on owing to the growth of great towns. ["Hear, hear!"] It made no account of extra income from land now used for minerals, quarries, and collieries. He would venture to suggest in conclusion, that the root of the agricultural trouble was not to be found in relieving the rates, or light railways, or devices about foreign produce. The evil lay much deeper than that, and in this connection he directed the attention of hon. Members to what had transpired in the case of the Southampton Docks. It was there shown that, so far as a number of articles of agricultural produce were concerned, it was not a matter of railway rates at all. The local farmers could not supply the wants of the neighbourhood in competing with foreign producers. If they were beaten at their own doors it could not be high railway rates that prevented them from selling elsewhere. The solution of the difficulty was not, therefore, to be found in forming light railways. And if they were to be provided at all, they should be provided on a commercial basis, so that they might pay a reasonable return on the capital invested, and not increase the burdens of the commercial classes, which had enough difficulties of their own to contend against.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, the hon. Member for Plymouth had advanced the perfectly true statement that 1562 the County of Essex might gain some advantage under the Bill. It was also stated that the eastern counties were worse off now than they had been 50 years ago. Of course, everyone knew that the value of land in the eastern counties had dropped to "£8 an acre. Fifty years ago the value of land in Essex was something like £55 per acre. An hon. Member for a county constituency in Wales told the House that the agriculturists of that county had one leg in the Bankruptcy Court. In Essex they had both legs in the Bankruptcy Court [laughter], and they were not likely to be able to extract them. He could assure the hon. Member for West Islington that they had no "bloated capitalists" in the eastern counties. If the arrangement proposed by the hon. Member in his Amendment were carried out, it would destroy the Bill. It would reduce the Bill to the level of the Bill brought in last Session by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, which if carried would have been absolutely useless. He appreciated the value of the work which had been, done by that right hon. Gentleman. He knew the right hon. Gentleman had done his best for the agricultural interest. The right hon. Gentleman had called a Conference on Light Railways, and had brought in a Bill—not a good Bill, but a Bill according to the right hon. Gentleman's lights. He presumed that the pressure the Treasury brought to bear on the right hon. Gentleman was too strong for him. But, as the district railways made in the eastern counties by the Great Eastern Company did not pay; it would have been absolutely impossible under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen for the railway companies to be induced to make light railways. He was, therefore, delighted that the President of the Board of Trade should have the courage to introduce the financial clauses of the Bill before the House. Of course, they were not perfect. He did not know anything that was perfect in the House, or indeed in the world. He would like to have the money given at a lower rate of interest than 3½ per cent., and thought a Treasury guarantee of 2½ per cent. on the capital promised would be better than the arrangement proposed in the Bill But after all they should be glad that 1563 they had found a Minister to make the financial proposals which the Bill contained. He thought they should also be thankful to the right hon. Gentleman because, in the case of light railways, he removed the grandmotherly restrictions imposed by the Board of Trade on the working of railways, and relieved the schemes from the crushing liability of a Parliamentary inquiry in the rooms upstairs—rooms in which promoters and shareholders were sweated, and in which the expenses of every project brought into them were almost doubled. They could not expect the right hon. Gentleman to bring in the millennium by return of post, or control the quinoxes, or put up the price of wheat, but the Bill he had introduced was intended to serve the agricultural interest, and as such every Member, on the Government side of the House at least, would do his best to pass it.
§ MR. J. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
congratulated the Conservative Party on the boldness with which they had adopted the two sweeping novelties which the Bill of the late Government contained—he meant the provisions by which some other authority than Parliament was given the power of directing the compulsory expropriation of land for light railways; and by which the too numerous and burdensome inquiries which the Board of Trade, carrying out the intention of Parliament, had hitherto imposed on the promoters of such schemes were removed. He hoped that, by reading the Bill a Second time, the House would sanction those sweeping Measures which he was delighted to see adopted by the Party opposite. Apart from the participation by the local authorities in an Imperial grant, the Bill was substantially the Bill of the late Government. He did not take the credit of that Bill for the late Government. It really belonged to the Conference, which produced a report which so affected public opinion that the late Government were able to bring in the Bill of last Session. One point in which the Bill differed from the Bill of the late Government was in substituting for an inquiry before the County Council an inquiry before three Commissioners. Perhaps that course would be more convenient. There was no doubt that more uniformity would be secured 1564 by such an Inquiry than an inquiry before a County Council. In his opinion it would be extremely difficult to obtain the services of a really first-rate paid Commissioner for a salary of £1,000 a year, and they knew very well that if there were one paid Commissioner and two unpaid Commissioners the bulk of the work would fall upon the paid Commissioner. He thought, therefore, that the Government would have to consider the desirability of increasing the amount of the remuneration that the paid Commissioner was to receive. There were several other points to which he would briefly refer. One ground of complaint that had been made against the Bill was that it did not sufficiently define the meaning of the phrase "light railway," but in his opinion the Government were right in not inserting such a definition in the Bill, as otherwise they would have narrowed the scope of the Bill and have greatly increased the difficulties of those who had to administer it. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade would give the House some assurance that the passenger duty would not be levied upon these lines. Last year the late Government intended that this duty should not be levied on these light railways, and he had then understood that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board was of the same opinion. He, however, found no provision in the Bill exempting the lines from the duty. The discussion on. this Measure that night had turned almost entirely upon questions of finance. Of course nothing could be more popular than for a Minister to come down to that House and propose to give Government grants in aid of these undertakings, and no doubt each lion. Member was willing, in his individual capacity, to go much further in that direction than the House collectively would be inclined to do, the latter being more prepared to keep guard over the national purse. The House ought, however, to look very carefully at these proposals, and to consider whether they ought to be carried out. As to the question of allowing the local authorities to give subsidies towards the construction of these light railways, it depended very much upon the character of the local authority in each case. It was said that 1565 the local authorities were sometimes incompetent to conduct financial matters, and that they did not always consist of business men. Moreover, they all knew that County and District Councils were apt to take too sanguine views, and that they were often under the influence of two or three men who had their own crotchets. After subsidies had been granted by one set of Councillors a new Council might come in and change the whole policy, to the disgust of the ratepayers. He did not see any objection in. principle to allowing local subsidies, provided the power of the local authority was safeguarded, with a view to securing that the local authorities should take more precautions and be a little more guarded in their policy. Then he came to the question of a subsidy from the Treasury. The hon. Member for Staffordshire had complained that the State had done nothing for the railways in this country. Might he suggest that, if the State had done nothing, the railways had still done pretty well. There was no country in Europe that had so efficient a rail wax-service as had this country. The only fault that could be found with it was that it was, perhaps, too costly; but that was a fault which they were trying to remedy by this Bill. His view was that they could not rely too much on private enterprise, and he did not think that any case had been made out to show that private enterprise would not deal as energetically and efficiently with this new proposal as it had done in the building of the existing railways. It must be remembered in this connection that these light railways were going to be something entirely different from what we had hitherto had, and the experience they had had of the way in which private enterprise had dealt with the normal railroads led him to believe that it would be as much displayed in dealing with railways of the description proposed in the Bill. He would not deny that, if it were found that under the new conditions which the Bill proposed no light railways were made, a case might be established for the benevolent interference of the State; but there were many points in the present proposal which encouraged the belief that the Bill would be availed of. In the first place, all the preliminary expenses of 1566 carrying a Bill through Parliament would be dispensed with. Another consideration was the enormous reductions in cost that would arise from the sanctioning of lighter bridges, lighter rails, fewer station buildings, fewer signals and interlocking points. The Bill simplified and cheapened so much that it brought down the cost of construction by hundreds and thousands a mile. He supposed that the average cost of construction for a normal railway was about £10,000 a mile, and that would be reduced under this Bill to about,£3,000 or £3,500 a mile, and the difference between these sums made all the difference between success and failure. The old companies would find these lines useful as feeders to their established systems; and he thought it was obvious that, if a line like the Great Eastern or the North Western could make further lines at a cost of £3,000 a mile, a large number of such lines would be made. That was why he submitted that no case had been made out for Government intervention. There was also the objection that the proposal to relieve the agricultural industry would excite jealousy between the town and country districts. He was not going so far as to say that there might never be a case in which a particular industry, or a particular class of industry, might not be entitled to special consideration; but he did say that it was a drawback and objection to plans of this kind that they did tend to excite jealousy between town and country districts. Another objection to a State subsidy was that they might be quite sure that people would not make railways without subsidies if they could get subsidies. There would be a great competition between the railway companies for Government assistance, and the probability was that those which had intended to make branch lines would hold their hands until they saw whether they had a chance of getting a subsidy. He understood the proposed procedure to be that the Board of Agriculture was to certify that there was a case of exceptional necessity in a locality. He wished to know whether these grants were to be made to companies like the Great Eastern and the Great Western, simply because their lines passed through some districts suffering severely from agricultural depression. Or were these grants 1567 in aid to be confined to cases where the country was poor, thinly populated, hilly or remote, and where it would not be worth while for a company to do anything without a subsidy? If, by "exceptional circumstances," were meant circumstances similar to those which had been thought sufficient to warrant exceptional treatment in the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland and in the congested districts of Ireland, the scheme would be reasonable. But if the intention was to include within the operation of the clause any county where the agricultural depression had been severe—Lincolnshire or Norfolk for example—the sum of £250,000 set aside for this special purpose would go a very little way, and there would be a great competition to share in it. There was a difficulty attending the policy of making grants from the Treasury, a difficulty which was perhaps not sufficiently realised. Undue pressure was likely to be brought to bear upon the Treasury. Inexperienced countries where a ruling of that kind had been adopted, showed that there was great competition between districts for grants, that the pressure exerted took the form of applications by members of the Legislature and others to the Department in charge of the fund, and that they did not refrain from suggesting that Party purposes might be served by an opportune grant. In some of our colonies this policy had been a fertile source of trouble, annoyance, and sometimes even of something approaching to corruption. He felt sure that in this country the Treasury would do its best to resist such pressure, but his view was that the Department ought not to be subjected to it, and of course they could not affirm that it would be resisted in all cases. He hoped, therefore, that the element of free grants would be expunged from the Bill. He feared that the million mentioned in the Bill would not go very far in the direction which the President of the Board of Trade desired, and that the expectations which the Bill would 1568 raise would be far in excess of the benefits that could be conferred. He was afraid also that, by establishing this precedent, they were preparing for themselves serious difficulties in future years. He sympathised with parts of the Amendment of the hon. Member for West Islington, and it had been the means of eliciting some very valuable statements. He did not, however, think that it need be pressed to a Division. If the Government sent the Bill to a Grand Committee they would be taking rather a new departure. The questions which had been raised, and which must be discussed still further, were questions of high policy, and were such as they had been accustomed to treat in Grand Committee. Then there were many Members representing both urban and agricultural constituencies who had a claim to be heard, and who could not be included in a Grand Committee. Even if fifteen Members were added to that Committee he doubted whether it would contain all the Members who were justly entitled to discuss the details of this Measure.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, he had no reason to complain of the tone of the Debate which had taken place, nor of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. A large number of questions of great interest had been discussed, and he was glad to think that, though there had been a great deal of criticism of details, the speeches made against the principle of the Bill and the local and Imperial grants had been confined to one or two Members. The Mover of the Amendment was almost alone in his attack on the proposal to give financial assistance by the State and the local authorities for the construction of the railways. While it appeared as if the Amendment was an attack on such assistance being given, the Mover of it was not averse, under certain conditions, from welcoming such assistance. What there remained to answer in the speech which the hon. Gentleman had not himself answered was answered by the Seconder. A more 1569 curious exhibition of divergence of opinion between the Mover and the Seconder on the same subject had rarely been seen in that House. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment was rather antediluvian in his views. [Laughter.] The hon. Member called himself an advanced Liberal, but it appeared that he did not like railways, and as for local authorities, he was prepared to vote for the suspension of the Standing Orders in order to give the London County Council complete control of the tramways in London, though apparently he had no confidence in any other local authority in the country contributing towards the construction of a railway. [Laughter and cheers.] There was thus a difference of opinion as to whether or not Parliament should suspend the Standing Orders in order to allow the London County Council to do a thing which local authorities throughout the country had not power to do.
§ MR. RITCHIE
pointed out that the London County Council was only constituted in 1888, that it had not the management of tramways, and, if it was a question of experience in local affairs, he thought that there were a large number of local authorities throughout the country with more experience in the management of their own affairs than the London County Council. He asserted that each local authority might be trusted to consider the welfare of its community and to safeguard its financial security. Local authorities had at present the power to make steam tramways throughout the district if they chose, and to pay for them from the rates. He admitted that he had taken the Bill of the late President of the Board of Trade and had made it as far as he could the basis of the proposal he had now submitted to Parliament. While he would not be blamed for taking advantage of the great attention 1570 which the right hon. Gentleman had given to the subject, he had always thought the proposals in his Bill were wholly inadequate. It had been said that the effect of the Bill would be to discourage private enterprise. Well, the main, trunk railway system of this country was almost complete, and yet we were face to face with the fact that large areas of country were without any communication whatsoever, to the enormous disadvantage of those who were engaged in agricultural pursuits. The first consideration of a railway company before making a branch railway would be whether it would pay. If it would not pay, the branch railway certainly would not be made. He hoped that local authorities and landowners in agricultural districts would have regard to other considerations, that they would think of something more than mere return of interest, and would keep in view what was likely to contribute to the well-being of the locality. He hoped that, under inexpensive conditions, some lines would return a moderate rate of interest, but they could not look forward for the present to such a rate of interest as would induce private enterprise to embark in them. In Belgium, where there were a large number of such railways, the average rate of interest was 3 per cent. He doubted whether they would get private enterprise in this country, either in the shape of existing companies or private contractors, to make railways at a possible return of 3 per cent. and a probable return of something much less. He hoped that, where the circumstances of the district were such as were set out in Clause 5, railway companies would come in and ask for a grant, because, unless they were encouraged to do so, the railway in many cases could not be made. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment had given abundant illustrations to show that where the State had assisted in making railways in Ireland by means of a guarantee of interest the result had 1571 been disastrous. For his part, he objected to guarantees altogether, because, generally speaking, they did not bring about economical administration. The hon. Gentleman suggested a 2 per cent. guarantee, but the result of that would be practically to double the contribution from the Treasury. Why, only last year there was a Bill passed through the House authorising the Treasury to compound with an Irish railway where a guarantee of 2 per cent. had been given in order to get rid of a position which they considered intolerable. The Government believed that the course which they proposed was best. Some hon. Members had urged that 3½ per cent. was too high a rate of interest, and had mentioned that Consols only paid 2½ per cent. But there was a vast difference between advancing money on Consols and on the security of a light railway. The Treasury lent this money at 3½ per cent. practically without security, because the railway could not be of great value if it did not pay; and the Treasury only stipulated for the same rate of interest as the local authority. If the time should arrive when the local authority considered that 3½ per cent. was an onerous rate of interest, the Treasury would be only too glad to have its loan repaid. As to the special grant under Clause 5, it might be open to objection. But there were districts in England, Scotland and Wales where the locality was so impoverished as to be quite unable to contribute money to the expense of making the light railway. It would be useless under such circumstances for the Treasury to say it would lend money on the same conditions as to local authorities in more favoured districts. The Treasury took the power which it had already successfully exercised in Ireland. Hon. Members would admit that the provision had been surrounded with all the safeguards that could be invented, and if any others were suggested in Committee, he should be happy to consider them. He agreed that a time 1572 might come when the railway would have become a paying concern, and the conditions of the Treasury loan ought to be revised. As to the gauge and a great many other details, he was sure that such details must be settled on each separate application, acccording to the circumstances of the case. It was said that the salary proposed for the paid Commissioner was too small, and he had been spoken of as a paid chairman. That was not his idea of this Commissioner's position. The intention was simply to render assistance to the localities in forming their schemes. He hoped he would be able to get two gentlemen to join the Commission who would command the confidence of all concerned, and who would hold benevolent inquiries, so to speak, with a view to assisting localities in formulating schemes. It was essential there should be an appeal to the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen appeared to think otherwise.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, it was agreed by some hon. Gentlemen that an appeal to the Board of Trade was superfluous. The Board of Trade must be the Court of Appeal both as to questions of safety, and whether or not the proposal made was one which ought to come between the four corners of the Bill. As to passenger duty, he stated the other day that in his opinion it would lead to considerable inconvenience to make a charge in respect to passengers. It was really not a matter of practical difficulty, because no duty was levied on fares not over a penny a mile, and it was not likely the fares on these lines would be more than a penny a mile. It was, therefore, not worth while to make any exception from the general law. They had gone very far to meet those who desired 1573 to have a simpler and less expensive form of taking land than now prevailed, and they could not go beyond their proposal. His hope and belief was there would not be much difficulty, as landlords would be quite ready to afford facilities for the making of the lines. He had not, as the hon. Member for West Islington suggested, held up the Bill as a panacea for agricultural depression, but he did think the Measure would do something to improve the agricultural industry. There were now large areas in the country from which agriculturists could not get their produce to a market without a large expenditure of money, which made their return almost nil. There were hundreds of thousands of acres of land far away from a railway station which must derive enormous benefit from the operation of the Bill. The State, local authorities, and landowners would be benefited, and he did not think the Bill would have that effect upon the rates which the hon. Gentleman, imagined. He trusted local authorities would take into account what was for the benefit of the community over which they presided, and he believed that in the end they would reap their reward by a condition of things greatly improved upon that which now, unhappily, existed. [Cheers.]
§ MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said, he intended to support the Bill because he believed light railways would prove to be of great advantage in bringing country produce into the towns, and would thus enable poor people to get many articles, especially some descriptions of fruit and vegetables at much less prices than were now charged for them. He regretted that the Bill did not do anything for the Highlands of Scotland, where light railways were needed more, perhaps, than in any part of the United Kingdom. The First Lord of the Treasury was a Scotchman, and it had been said that he laid claim to belong to a particular clan. [Laughter.] Therefore Scotchmen might have reasonably expected that he would have given some 1574 special consideration in the matter of Light Railways for the Highlands, especially as, when the right hon. Gentleman was in opposition, he was very loud in his expressions of interest in the welfare of the people of the Highlands. But not one word of promise to do anything for them had he been able to extract from the right hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.] And he confessed that he was much disappointed in consequence.
§ At two minutes before Twelve o'clock
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 215; Noes, 67.—(Division List No. 23.)
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2a.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be Standing Committee on Trade, &c"— (Mr. Ritchie.)
§ Debate arising.
§ And, objection being the taken to further proceeding, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.