§ Considered in Committee:—
§ (In the Committee.)
§ [Mr. GRANT LAWSON in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed:—
That it is expedient to authorise the Treasury to make advances not exceeding £1,000,000 at any one time, under any Act of the present Session, to facilitate the construction of Light Railways in Great Britain, and for that purpose to borrow from the National Debt Commissioners the sums that may be required, such sums to be repaid out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, and, if those moneys are insufficient, out of the Consolidated Fund; and also to authorise the payment, out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, of the salary, remuneration, and expenses of the Light Railway Commissioners, and the expenses of the Board of Trade under the said Act."—(President of the Board of Trade.)
§ MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)
said, this that was the only opportunity which hon. Members who were not upon the Standing Committee on Trade would have of discussing this proposal. It appeared that the advances under this Resolution were only to be made in respect of Light Railways which were to be constructed in the interests of those who were engaged in the agricultural and fishing industries. In his opinion other industrial interests were equally entitled to be considered in the matter. Every one must know that to a great many industries Light Railways would be a great benefit. Of course, no one denied that the agricultural interest was greatly depressed. Could 957 hon. Gentlemen interested in agriculture and fishing deny that there might be cases in other industries in which a Light Railway would be of great advantage? He thought that before they allowed this question to pass, they ought to have a distinct promise from the Government that in Committee on the Bill they would give the benefits of the Bill to all the industries of the country. The next point he wished to put was this, that according to the Bill these grants would only be given in the case of railway companies who undertook to work Light Railways. Although the Bill authorised County Councils and Local Authorities to construct and work Light Railways, no free grant of public money was to be given to them. He ventured to say that that was far tool narrow a mode of distributing public money. Another point he wished to bring before the Committee was this: under the Bill no provision was made for these grants being submitted to Parliament when they were granted by the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade with the Treasury had the sole power to determine the particular railway which was to get this public money. He ventured to think that that was the introduction of a new principle altogether in the legislation of this country. The Highland Railway had received grants out of the public purse; but before that Company got the money a Bill had to pass through the House. Whenever previously such grants had been made by Parliament they had always been laid before Parliament. He considered these points were of great importance and ought to be considered before the Committee allowed their Report to be taken.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE, Croydon)
thought the hon. Member was under a misapprehension. Having regard to the fact that this was, a Bill which, in the opinion of the great majority of the House, was going to confer substantial advantages not only upon England and 958 Wales, but also upon Scotland, and, eventually, Ireland, he felt sure that the hon. Member, if he had fully considered the subject, would have been most unwilling to place any impediment in the way of the consideration of the provisions if the Measure in Committee. The House lad resolved that the details of this Bill, should be considered in the Standing Committee, and therefore it was unnecessary to argue that particular question. The hon. Member said that the present was the only opportunity that the House would have of expressing an opinion upon the subject. The hon. Member was mistaken, for the House would have other opportunities when the Bill came back from the Grand Committee, and would be able to consider the whole question of the Bill as settled by that Committee both at the Report stage and on the Third Reading. Then the hon. Member complained that the Bill allocated money for the benefit of particular industries. It was perfectly true that the Bill did so, but there was nothing whatever in the Resolution, to which the Committee were now asked to assent, as to the allocation of this money in any particular way. The Resolution before the Committee simply said that, for the purposes of the Light Railways Bill, certain sums might be advanced. It would be for the Committee upstairs and subsequently for the House itself on Report to say in what manner this money should be allocated, and if the Committee and subsequently the House liked to extend the scope of the Bill and to allocate the money for the benefit of other industries besides the agricultural and fishing industries, they would be at liberty to do so. Then the hon. Member said that the moneys, if voted now, would be withdrawn from the cognisance of Parliament. The procedure provided in the Bill was, however, as follows: When a grant was proposed to be made by the Treasury, with the assent of the Board of Trade and the Commissioners, that money would be voted in a 959 Committee of the whole House, so that the House of Commons in Committee would have an opportunity of expressing its opinion upon the grants which were made by the Treasury. The hon. Member also complained that no Act of Parliament was necessary before a grant of money could be made. He should have thought himself that this would be regarded as one of the chief recommendations of the Bill to those interested in the extension of light railways. Surely it was an advantage that the trouble and expense incidental to obtaining an Act of Parliament would not have to be incurred. The hon. Member suggested that no grant of money ought to be made except by the agency of an Act of Parliament.
§ MR. CALDWELL
explained that that was not his contention. What he had said was that money ought not to be granted without the sanction of Parliament.
§ MR. RITCHIE
thought it was desirable to adopt a more simple procedure than procedure by Act of Parliament. As to the allocation of the money to which the Resolution before the Committee referred, if the hon. Member and his friends thought that they could convince the Grand Committee that the benefit of light railways ought to be extended to other industries besides fishing and agriculture, there was nothing to prevent them from endeavouring to do so, and the House would have ample opportunity afterwards of considering the question.
§ * MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said, that this Bill involved a grant of a million sterling of public money, and the detail raised by the hon. Member was one which might be described as a vital detail—certainly in the case of the constituency he represented, and other constituencies in North Wales. It had been found by practical experience in North Wales that a light railway would not be a success until it had, within the sphere in which it worked, not only an agricultural area, 960 but also an area for industries and mining. Some weeks ago he asked the right hon. Gentleman a question on this subject, and he received the personal assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that the interests of a district like the one he represented would not be neglected in regard to this particular Bill. He impressed on the right hon. Gentleman and the House the great importance of this question. There were parts of the country in which light railways would not pay unless they brought industries within their scope, and particularly mineral industries. He considered it to be of the greatest importance in connection with a clause like the fifth that mineral industries should be distinctively and particularly specified; and, therefore, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give some assurances on that point which would satisfy the House. He trusted that the Committee would take up the question in a serious spirit, recognising that the point which had been raised went to the root of the matter, and that it should take into its own hands the power of determining whether industries should be specified or not, in addition to the agricultural and fishing industries. The hon. Member was proceeding to discuss the fifth clause of the Light Railways Bill, when——
THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. GRANT LAWSON)
said that the Resolution before the House dealt with the allocation of money under any Act of Parliament passed during this Session dealing with light railways. It would not be in order to discuss the details of any particular Bill upon the subject.
THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. GRANT LAWSON)
said, the effect of the Resolution was to authorise the Treasury to make advances.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid),
submitted that as the House was in Committee on the Light Railways 961 Bill, hon. Members were in order in discussing the provisions of that Bill. Was it not possible to spend this money under this Bill as it might be possible to spend money under any other Act? If so, were hon. Members not in order in discussing the provisions of the Bill?
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (continuing)
pointed out that in the allocation of the money Wales expected its fair share. The physical conformation of the country was such that light railways would be more useful probably in Wales than in any other part of the country. Wales depended far more largely in the present than it did in the past on its mineral industry. He entirely concurred in the points raised by his hon. Friend and trusted the House would be fully convinced that in this respect they had a good case.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
pointed out, that if hon. Members wished to insert certain clauses they would have plenty of time and opportunity to do so in the Committee upstairs.
§ * MR. WEIR
said, the Highlands would not get a penny of this money unless the Bill was materially altered. The Highland County Councils were quite unable to contribute towards these railways in anything like the amount wanted. The Bill offered a sorry outlook for the Highlands; and after the promises of the Leaders of the Government, so far as the Highlands were concerned, it was a sham, a delusion, and a mockery.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.