Another Amendment proposed, at the end of the question to add the words,—
And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the present railway rates and charges in Ireland constitute an intolerable grievance to the Irish people, and that Measures should be adopted this Session for the remedy thereof, either by the amalgamation of the management under State control, or by the State purchase of Irish railways, so as to reduce the tariffs, and further to increase facility of transit by utilising and developing the waterways and canalising certain rivers in Ireland:"—(Mr. Field.)
§ MR. WILLIAM FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
This Amendment, which stands in my name on the Queen's Speech, is a question which more or less touches almost every person in Ireland. As a commercial man, and as the representative of the Traders of Dublin on the Chamber of Commerce, I know from the discussions which have taken place there that this question affects all classes of the community and mercantile associations in Ireland. From the report of the Select Committee which sat for months in this House on railway and canal rates and charges I find that the experience of the various places mentioned there shows conclusively that the railway question in Ireland is one which affects every portion of the population. My action in 1296 bringing this matter before the House has been approved of by every section of the community. I have received encouragement in the course I have taken from various quarters. An Ulster Unionist from Kilcock, County Kildare, writes me as follows:I am sorry I have not the pleasure of your acquaintance, but I, with many of my acquaintances, look upon you as our most useful and practical representative, If you could manage to bring the Irish railways to benefit the country, as they should do, you would be conferring an invaluable benefit on Ireland. As it is they are almost useless to benefit agriculture. From my county (Donegal), for instance, it would cost almost the entire value of a ton of hay or potatoes, etc., to bring it to Dublin. The salmon fishing in Ireland might be made a source of vast wealth if rightly dealt with.P.S.—About 80 miles of light railway is being now commenced through the wilds of Donegal, and what use will it be at the present rates of carriage? Very little in deed.Now, Sir, I do not intend to occupy the time of the House by reading private letters here. No useful purpose would be served by reading them all, because they are a mere repetition and reiteration of the same sentiments. I think they all constitute ample evidence that legislative interference is necessary to change the system which exists in Ireland. Mr. Gladstone in introducing his Bill for the State Ownership of Railways, used these remarkable words:There is no likelihood that the great experiment of the greatest possible cheapness to the public will be tried under the present system.Why did Mr. Gladstone use those words? You all know that he called himself "an old Parliamentary Hand," and he used those words because he recognised that the railways should be carriers and not legislators. He also knew that the railway party in this House was the predominant partner, and he knew that the anomaly which exists in this railway legislation scarcely exists in any other nation in the world. It was simply legislation for themselves as directors, and as Members of Parliament. Now, Mr. Speaker, if we had a commercial party in this House—which I hope will soon be formed—public utilities would not be abandoned to chance or entrusted to private enterprise. There 1297 is an extraordinary state of things existing in this country, and more particularly in Ireland, that is not in existence in any other country in the world. There is no Free Trade in railways. We call ourselves a Free Trade country, but we are not a Free Trade country. Our so-called policy of Free Trade is a policy of free imports really. If I understand Free Trade to be anything, it is a level competition between two countries in the interchange of goods, and that does not exist, so far as I know, in connection with the commerce of this country. Therefore, although we are, nominally, a Free Trade country, ours is really a policy of free imports. With regard to the question of transit on the iron road of commerce, and the population, we have a rigidly State-protected monopoly, and in alluding to this question I allude more particularly to Ireland. I do not intend to deal with the English railways, because England is perfectly capable of taking care of her own interests. Now, British railways have invested in them a capital of 1,000 millions of money, and that is a formidable item to deal with from a financial point of view. The Irish railways, however, compared with the English, are a mere insignificant fraction, and only total between 30 and 40 millions. But, such as they are, I maintain that the Irish railways at the present moment absolutely hold a mortgage on the entire community, and that Government monopoly is their title deed. Now, it is evident that it follows that the granting of a monopoly by the Legislature always imposes corresponding safeguards to the public, who are compelled to use such monopoly. In Ireland, however, these safeguards were not fulfilled, because there is no real competition, and there is very little State control. In the first place, the railways were permitted, and they should not have been permitted, to buy out all the canals save one, and so they prevented competition by water. That one canal which they did not buy is now doing an enormous business, almost in excess of any railway in Ireland at the present time. Now, we have this extraordinary anomaly existing in Ireland: You have lower rates for the longer distances than you have for the shorter distances in England, but that is not so in Ireland, because there is want of competition. 1298 There are only just a few stations in Ireland where there is any competition at all, and all over Ireland, practically speaking, the railways absolutely hold the whole business in their own hands to such an extent that they can charge what they like. Of course, the President of the Board of Trade will tell me that there is no branch of the Board of Trade which affects Ireland. We are not supposed to have any trade, for we are restricted simply to the payment of taxes. If the right honourable Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade were here, he would probably say, "Why don't you appeal to the Railway Commissioners?" Well, I say the Railway Commission is useless in Ireland, because, in the first place, it is too expensive; in the second place, its existence is almost entirely unknown to the Irish dealers and traders, and those who are interested in this subject. I have stated that there is no competition on the main lines, as every Irish Member who is listening to me knows. There is the Midland, the Great Southern and the Western, the Great Northern, the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford, the Waterford and Limerick, and the Northern Counties' Railways, and they are managed by an institution of railway managers who manipulate the rates to be charged. Now, Mr. Speaker, I know perfectly well that Gentlemen not acquainted with this subject may think I am exaggerating. Now, how are things worked with regard to amalgamation? We have before us at the present time the proposed amalgamation of the Great Southern and Western Railways. I do not propose to go into this question at any length except to illustrate how things are managed in Ireland. What do these gentlemen do, and what is their proposition? They refuse, and have refused, to give any guarantee as to rates or facilities such as would be freely given in the case of Great Britain. If such a scheme of amalgamation was about to be proposed for a British railway it would not be allowed to pass, either by public opinion or by the President of the Board of Trade, unless such guarantees were given. What do we find? We find that some railways, which are interested in this scheme, absolutely endeavour to intimidate workmen by threatening them with dismissal if they gave any sign of opposing a scheme which might deprive 1299 these working men of their daily bread. They are the kind of railway directors we have in Ireland, and the kind of railway management which exists in that country. I am entirely against this amalgamation scheme—this private amalgamation scheme of the Great Southern and Western Railways. If this private amalgamation scheme is carried, it will affect nine counties in Ireland. It would practically place under this company the whole of the counties in the South-West of Ireland. Judging from what we know of the way in which railway companies have managed affairs in Ireland, we believe that the result of allowing the Great Southern and Western Railway Companies to manage these nine counties will be more disastrous in the future than in the past with respect to the agricultural interests and the commerce in those counties. Now, Mr. Speaker, it is well known that Irish railways enjoy certain advantages. I know that Irish railway managers come to this country and declare that we belong to a very poor country, and that we have a very small number of inhabitants, but they never tell you of the exceptional advantages which they enjoy. Now, what are those advantages? In the first place, they pay no railway duty, no railway passenger duty, which is paid in this country. In the second place, they have not been compelled by Act of Parliament to provide cheap trains for working men, a provision which applies in England and Scotland. That is an extraordinary thing, because it has proved an enormous benefit to the working classes, and it was a remarkable thing to find such a provision extended to England and Scotland and not to Ireland. The Irish railways are free at the present moment from the obligation of providing cheap trains for working men. Now, I have another charge against the railway management, which, in my opinion, is an important one. The railways in Ireland enjoy this unique position: they have received from the Imperial Exchequer millions in free grants, and what return have the Irish railways given to the public for these great concessions under the Railway Act, namely, that they pay no passenger duty, provide no cheap trains for the working men, and the free grants that have been given to 1300 them? What return do they make the Irish people for these concessions? Now I will tell you, because I happen to know personally, as I have been engaged in this matter myself in making investigations. The last time there was an application in this House for a new railway honourable Gentlemen had the nerve and effrontery to come to Parliament and ask us to give them the power to charge 38 per cent, over the present charges as maximum rates. Now I challenge contradiction on that point, because I was over here in London, before I became a Member of Parliament, and I am conversant with the whole facts of the case. What is more extraordinary, and many honourable Members will be surprised to hear it, is this—and I am glad to see the President of the Board of Trade here—that the state of the law is that if an application is made by a railway company to increase their maximum charges, Parliament consents to what they ask for unless some organised body of traders oppose it. It so happened that, with regard to the proposal I have alluded to, an association in Ireland took action, and if they had not done so the railway companies would certainly have obtained the consent of the Legislature and of this House to increase their maximum charges by 30 per cent., and there was no safeguard either by the Board of Trade or any other public board to have prevented them. I always thought that it was the duty of the Board of Trade to step in and prevent railway companies doing this, in order to protect the public. It may be asked, how are these things arranged? Why, there is an institution called the Clearing House, and they hold conferences, at which they arrange railway rates. These railway managers who attend these conferences are very important individuals, who can travel free to all parts of the kingdom. When an organised body of traders give evidence before them, no matter what statements they make, they are invariably contradicted with such an amount of self-assertion that the railway witness is generally believed. Now, there is no such organisation amongst traders, and their representatives will have to pay if they want to oppose a Bill. All these things are settled in conference; they come before the directors, and they arrange these rates. Now, there is a system of what is called through rates in 1301 Ireland. These were settled, and were supposed to be advantageous to importers into Ireland. But, as usual, where commerce is concerned, England generally gets the best of the deal. The result is that although we have these cheap through rates to Ireland, it means that manufactured goods can be conveyed into Ireland from English manufacturing cities cheaper, absolutely, in some cases, than you can get them sent from Dublin and other parts of Ireland. Now, Sir, honourable Gentlemen on the Front Bench are not expected to know as much about commercial matters as I do, but most people are aware that the principal export that we have in Ireland is live stock. Now, in Ireland live stock forms no less than 14 per cent, of the total receipts of the Irish railways. Now, how is live stock conveyed? I think I may be taken as an authority on this subject. In the first place, we have the consignment note, and what does that mean? In my opinion it is an illegal document, and I have been told so by a certain Queen's Counsel, and the significance of it is that that consignment note absolutely contracts the railway or shipping company out of any liability whatever for damage, delay, or absolute loss. I challenge a denial of that, and I have brought this matter before the House once or twice before without receiving any practical result from it. But we have not done with it yet, and I repeat that this consignment note, which contracts the companies out of any liability whatever, is illegal. We had last year a meeting of the Land Transit Company in Dublin Castle, and certain evidence was given there by which it was proved that the Irish railway companies frequently used old goods wagons for the conveyance of live stock. In Ireland, in particular, we have not sufficient accommodation in this respect. We are charged what are called terminal charges, and these are supposed to be charged for services rendered, but as a matter of fact there are sometimes no services at all, and there is very little service given. Now, what is the net result of all this carelessness? Why, that we lose no less than half a million sterling of money every year in consequence of the manner in which live stock is conveyed from Ireland to England. I want to be perfectly fair in this matter, and I do not mean to charge all this upon the railway com- 1302 panies; but I do say that they have a large share of responsibility in the matter. It is an extraordinary thing in this connection that you can have live stock safely, more humanely, and more cheaply carried from the United States to Liverpool and Glasgow than you can from the ports of Ireland. That is a condition of things which ought to be remedied by legislation, and by the co-operation of all the interests concerned. With regard to the rates charged, I think the English rates are the highest in Europe, and I do not think that that will be denied. But in Ireland they were higher, and the accommodation was worse. Ireland is an agricultural country, and unless advantageous facilities of transit are given in that country Ireland could never succeed commercially. It is an axiom in other countries that facility of transit is of equal value to the volume of production, and I think that axiom is so apparent that it does not need to be argued, for commodities are not much use unless you have ample facilities for getting them to the market. Now, I happened to be one of the delegates to the International Conference which was held at Buda-Pesth, and I find that they passed this resolution—All means were to be employed to protect the home markets from being flooded with foreign products, and to aid the export of native produce, without interfering with the free intercourse of agricultural products; the co-operation of the State would be applicable to the creation of low freights on water and railway.Now, exactly opposite to this appears to be what the Government, and all those engaged in private railways in Ireland, appear to be doing. I do not wish to detain the House at any great length, but I am obliged to read one letter on this point. I received the following letter from Mr. Goodbody, of Tullamore—I am not personally acquainted with you, but I am one of your admirers, as I see in you a Member of Parliament of the right sort, who, at all times, takes every opportunity to further the interests of his country by practical action. I manage a large business in Tullamore, in which I am a partner with others of my name.He goes on to say—In England the Rhondda Valley South Wales' Collieries would keep half-a-dozen such going, if we were able to deliver to them at as cheap a rate as the French and 1303 the Belgians do. Every pound of hay and oats used in that district is imported principally from these countries. But, no; the carrying companies of Ireland place a premium on the foreigner, enabling Belgians to outdo us. Last year we brought 500 barrels of oats from Canada to Dublin at a cheaper rate than we could bring oats from Tullamore. Then, again, as to the imports into the town: I will only trouble you with one item, and that is one of the most important, as it is an actual necessity to a farmer, and that is artificial manure, the freight on which has gone up this year, over last, by 30 per cent. We have fought with the railway and canal companies until we are tired of righting. The canal company say 'Put on your own boats, and we will only charge you tolls,' but the tolls on farm produce and the like are so heavy that your own boat becomes a non-paying concern.The sum total of this letter is this, that he cannot carry on his business owing to the high railway and canal charges. He ends his letter by saying—We have a tobacco factory here employing 300 hands; forage mill, saw mill, and general stores in Tullamore; flour mills and jute factory in Clare, employing about a thousand hands; and large flour mills in Limerick employing a large number of hands; and I myself am connected with a large timber and box making place in Cork, employing over 300 hands.Now, some of these hands, on account of the high rates charged by the railway companies, cannot be employed, because their employment would not be profitable. I have just one more case to which I wish to allude. I met a friend of mine the other night, and we got talking about railway rates. He mentioned to me that he was obliged to pay on the South Eastern Line as carriage on three bundles of plain thorn quicks from Roscommon to Kingswood the sum of £2 4s. 8d. Now, that sum was almost the value of the whole concern, but in addition to that it took eight days to bring those thorn quicks from Roscommon to Kingswood by the South Eastern Line. By that time they were all beginning to grow. I have here the receipt from the railway company, but I do not want to be producing bills and returns here, because the House of Commons does not take much interest in them, but I am obliged to do it to show the reality of my case. There is only one other item to which I wish to allude. The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland is present, and I will give him an example, as he 1304 knows something about the Congested District Boards. I quote from their report, which states that the fishermen of Arran caught £6,316 worth of fish, and the greater portion of that fish is sent across to England. Now, if I read the report aright, it cost £3,000 of that sum to secure the transit of the fish. The fishermen of Clegan caught during the season something like £4,814 worth of fish, and the transit of that fish cost them £2,000, or nearly half the money. It is perfectly evident that, under the existing conditions, trade and commerce, and more particularly the industry of the fishermen, cannot possibly thrive. Now, as to the State-owned Continental railways, and these are facts which I desire should be considered by commercial men. Their volume of goods traffic, taken as a whole, is less than one half that of Great Britain, and, strange to say, the rates on this volume of produce is from 20 to 25 per cent, more, and the earnings per train is greater than in Great Britain. Now, I will not go into small local rates, because I want to treat this subject as a great national question—in fact, as an Imperial question. Now, I will deal with the average rates per ton in the three kingdoms, and I will show how the charges in Ireland exceed that of any other country in Great Britain. Now, the averages for the three kingdoms are as follow: Scotch, 5s. 2d.; English, 5s. 6d.; Irish, 6s. 8d. The average amounts per ton for the three kingdoms are: In Scotland, 1s. 5½d.; in England, 1s. 8½d.; and in Ireland, 2s. 4d. Well, we know that the system in Great Britain with regard to the carriage of goods is one under which they charge so much per truck per mile. In America, however, they carry all these things by weight, even as regards live stock, and that prevents a great deal of confusion with regard to the difference in rates. I do not, however, wish to go into that matter, because there is no necessity for it. The Americans also have an improved bogie truck, and, what is more important, in my opinion, they are fitted with automatic self-acting brakes. Our companies do not possess such brakes, and the result is that we have a large number of workmen killed and injured every year, and this does not occur in America, because their system of automatic brakes renders it unnecessary for men to get in between the 1305 wagons. But the most startling figures which I have in connection with my researches on this question are these: The average charge per ton per mile in America for haulage of goods is less than ¼d. per ton. I am glad to see that a couple of directors have just come into the House, because they will be able to appreciate the remarks I am making, and I trust they will help their Irish brethren to arrive at a proper understanding on this question. Now, the average per ton per mile for haulage in Ireland is 1¼d.—that is to say, it costs five times as much for the haulage of goods in Ireland as in America. I see that the Continental State-owned railways show better results even than those countries where we leave everything to private enterprise. What is the motto of the railway men of business, and what has always been their motto? It has been this, and they have openly avowed it—to put on the traffic whatever the traffic will bear. That was the avowed motto of the railway managers who gave evidence before the Select Committee on Railway and Canal Charges, of which I was a member, and I may say that I never sat so long in this House with so little result, and I hope I never shall have the same experience again. Now I read in a book called "The Produce Review" last year that in one year the English merchants and manufacturers paid two millions more for the transit of their goods than they would have had to pay in Germany. We hear a great deal about foreign competition from Germany and the United States, but believe me, Mr. Speaker, this question of cheap transit is almost as large today as it ever was before. Now, in Ireland, remember, we pay more than you do, and, therefore, if the burden of transit is heavy in England, it is heavier still in Ireland. How is this brought about? Well, it is an extraordinary thing that, although we pay more rates than foreign countries, our average train loads are less. How does this work out? In the United States the average train load is 173 tons. Now, America is a competitive nation, but we have no competition at all in Ireland. In Germany the average train load is 132 tons, in France 121 tons? in Belgium 96 tons, and in the United Kingdom it is 70 tons, or only about one-half of what it 1306 is in America. Of course, when we speak of the United Kingdom we in clude Ireland, and probably the average train load in Ireland is only about 50 tons. So much for the goods traffic, but now let us come to the passengers. As I pointed out before, the Irish rail ways are free from paying passenger duty. Now, Great Britain pays some thing like £2,500,000 for passenger duty, while Ireland pays none. How does this work out with regard to the average passenger? The average passenger fare in England is 8½d.; in Scotland 10½d.; and in Ireland 1s. 2½d. Now, although we pay no passenger duty in Ireland, and, as a rule, our distances are shorter, the average passenger rate is much higher than it is in either Scotland or England. We frequently have to complain of loss of connection in Ireland. I was glad when I read that when the Lord Chancellor was in Ireland last summer that peculiar management and supreme contempt for the public convenience which belongs to Irish railway managers was brought to his notice. The Lord Chancellor came in at one station, and, before his train could be connected, he had gone out at the other. The one incident did more to call public attention to the want of proper connection between the services of trains in Ire land than a humble individual like my self could have done in a lifetime. Now, there is just one other remark with regard to this question which I should like to make, and it is this, that apparently a passenger in Ireland has no right whatever, except the right to pay his fare. The companies make their own by-laws and arrangements, and all you have to do is to pay. They do what they like with you, and this statement is absolutely true. The accommodation provided in some of the third-class carriages in Ireland is scandalous, for they are more like antediluvian horse-boxes. Why, if such carriages were put on the lines in England, people would not enter them. I am disposed to be fair-minded in this matter, and let us look at the Great Northern and the Midland lines in England. Why, their third-class carriages are infinitely superior to our first-class carriages, and our third-class carriages in Ireland are what I call horse boxes. I think the Board of Trade ought to interfere, and see that a reason- 1307 able amount of accommodation is given to people who are obliged to travel on these Irish railways. As regards the times of the trains, they are arranged in order to suit the mails, or the directors and others who live on the line. I have known places in Ireland where stations have been made for directors, and where there is absolutely no other traffic but that of the directors. The convenience of the people is not considered in the least. I will not detain the House by reading any long letters, but there is one here from Mountjoy, Omagh, which I will read. It is dated the 9th of February, 1899, and the writer says:By yesterday's paper I see that you are once more going to tackle the railway companies, and perhaps you will permit me to remind you of our local grievance against the G.N. Railway Company of Ireland, about which you so kindly interested yourself some time ago. The company has done nothing since, except that their local manager went through the form of receiving a deputation consisting of the local clergy of all denominations, and a few representatives of the district.You see that upon this occasion the Church was united. The writer proceeds:Nothing, however, came of this, and I believe it was only intended to keep us quiet. You will remember that our case is that this run between Omagh and New-townstewart is the longest without a station in Ireland. Mountjoy is a very populous district, and at the time of the construction of the line, the company's engineers themselves acknowledged that Mountjoy was a proper place for a station by actually showing one on their plans. This station was built, and for several years after was worked by the company. Subsequently, without the consent and against the wish of the inhabitants of the district, the station was closed, the company alleging that it did not pay. We say that it never got a real chance to pay, and that it certainly would now, as within the last eight months a creamery has been erected just beside the station.I will not trouble you with any more of this letter. My point is that if the railways were State-managed the result would be that they would provide proper accommodation for the people, and they would not be treated in this way. Now, just one argument more about the Irish and English railways. The cost of construction of railways in England is from £47,000 to £50,000 per mile; in Scotland £33,000 per mile; and in Ire- 1308 land £15,000 per mile. Now, it is strange that, although in Ireland the railways only cost a third of what they do in England, and less than a half of what they cost in Scotland, yet we have higher rates charged than obtain in both those countries. Of course, I know some people say it is owing to the sparse population, and my reply to that argument is that the railway administration in Ireland has been a powerful factor in producing those evil results by strangling the commerce of the country, and preventing the development of industries. There is one other point I desire to draw your attention to briefly, and that is this question from a labour point of view. I have had a great deal to do with the working men of Dublin and other places, and I know that the Irish railway companies pay lower wages to their employees, and work them longer hours, than any railway company in Great Britain. There has also been on these railways a large loss of life, and the managers have frequently used intimidation towards their workmen. The officials of these companies have prevented their workmen from attending the Congress of the Amalgamated Railway Servants' Society, and in this way they have fomented strikes; and I say that a body of men who will not even attempt to meet together to prevent a strike is a body from whom this power ought to be taken away. Now, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the reason why these charges are so high, and this is really a question upon which a good deal more might be said. I have compressed my arguments as much as I could, and I have no desire to wander into oratory at all. What is the reason these charges are so high? Well, the main reason is this: In Ireland there are some 3,000 miles of railway, and we have no less than 303 directors. Therefore, we have one director for every 10 miles of railway.
Well, I am not going into the question of salaries, but I may say they don't work for nothing, and they have free travelling. But besides these directors you have 97 secretaries, and you have 60 other highly-paid officials—that 1309 means 157 well-paid officials, such 'as secretaries, solicitors, or actuaries—that is, one official for every 15 miles. It is easy to see that these gentlemen must cost a great deal of money, and if there was amalgamation and co-operation of the various railways there would be an immense reduction in the cost of management; and with regard to the running of trains, undoubtedly a vast benefit would accrue to Ireland. The Members of this House, and other gentlemen who sat on the Financial Relations Commission, so forcibly saw this that they made a separate recommendation with regard to this amalgamation, for the purpose of reducing these railway rates by at least 50 per cent. Now, if this amalgamation is to take place, it must be controlled by the State, which must be responsible. It could not be managed on the trust system by a body chosen by the Government, or by the owners of the railway, but it should be elected by the County Council. This might be tried for a limited time, when the railway owners should surrender their interests for an equivalent guarantee by the State over a deferred period, with an ultimate reversion to the State, which is the rule at present in operation in India under the British Government, and also in France. Now, I will explain briefly with regard to this trust system, and there are 270 trusts in existence in the kingdom. I will only mention two: They are the Mersey Docks and Harbours Board and the Glasgow Docks. Now, these two have more capital in them at the present time than the Irish railways. Now, the new rates could be arranged by a Select Committee chosen from expert railway officials, with the Government exercising a certain supervising power leading to acquisition. I am not in favour at all of mere amalgamation, for I believe that the nationalisation of the Irish railways would be the only real cure for this disease. It may be objected that this would not be easy to accomplish, but I would point out to the right honourable Gentleman opposite that the legal machinery for accomplishing this is already available in Ireland. Mr. Gladstone said, in the Commission of 1844, at any time after twenty-one years the railways could be acquired by giving twenty-five years' purchase of the average dividends of the three pre- 1310 ceding years. Further than that, in 1868 a Royal Commission sat to consider and report upon this question, and the report of that Commission was favourable to State purchase, and urged the purchase of railways by the Government. So that we have these two facts. We have the financial relations Commission recommending it, we have the Commission of 1844 recommending it, and you have a subsequent Commission also reporting in its favour. Therefore, I think that I am not unreasonable in bringing this proposition before the House at this period. Thirty years ago this matter was favourably reported on by a Royal Commission, and yet nothing has been done. As Captain Tyler once said on this question of State control of the railways, that if the State does not manage the railways the railways must very soon manage the State. Mr. Speaker, I say that if the railways are managing the State. In the continental countries and in our own Colonies they recognise the necessity for State control. In the Continental countries nearly all the railways are State owned. Of course I know very well that many honourable Gentlemen in the House will turn round and say they do not want to learn anything from the Continent. Very well, in that case let them go to the Colonies, within the Empire. Let them go to Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania, New Zealand, the Cape, Natal, the Mauritius, and to India, where the railways are belonging to and are worked by the Crown. At home, the First Lord of the Treasury opened at West Point a new district railway; that railway has been exceedingly useful, and I hope that the work that has commenced there will end by the taking over and working of the railways by the State; by taking them out of the hands of a few privileged persons, who work the country in order that shareholders may obtain dividends. I would just like to point out to this House that in Germany last year the profits of the railways, which are State owned, paid the interest of the National Debt, and left a considerable sum to the credit of the community at large. Now, in my opinion, this is a most important question, and it is particularly important so far as Ireland is concerned, in connection with the financial relations, because, in order to 1311 reduce taxation and bring a benefit to the community at large, nothing more beneficial can be done for Ireland than to nationalise Irish railways. In addition to nationalising the Irish railways, you should also canalise the rivers, and free the canals, so as to open up the country. In France they spent 80 millions of money each year in freeing canals and canalising rivers. In Germany it is the same thing; in Belgiur, Holland, and America, everywhere, in point of fact, except Ireland, the railways and rivers are used for trade and commerce, and the Government should at once free the canals, canalise certain rivers, and use them in connection with the Irish railway systems. I believe that the existing railway system is a tax upon the whole community, traders, commerce, production, passengers, and labourers. In conclusion, I would ask that the right honourable Gentleman will perfect the good work which he has commenced. The question is a very urgent one, and the circumstances are favourable, and Ireland is not over-burdened with railways, and I think it is only right that the inter-communication and transportation should be owned and operated by the State in the interests of the Irish people at large.
§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
After the very able and interesting speech delivered by the honourable Member for the Saint Patrick Division of Dublin, I think he deserves the thanks of the traders and inhabitants of Ireland. There is scarcely a grievance at the present time that comes home to the people of that unfortunate country in the same manner as this of the railway companies and railway company directors in Ireland, and it is for that reason that this matter may not be treated in a way in which it deserves by the Government. An honourable Member of the Government is at the present moment a director of one of the railway companies in Ireland. I regret to say that at the present moment the management of that railway is a disgrace to our civilisation. The third class carriages, as my honourable Friend said, are the next thing to horse boxes, and I ask my honourable Friend when he next goes to Ireland, and travels on that line, to get out of the first class 1312 saloon carriage in which he is, and look at them, and he will find that there is not a single shred of covering on the seats of the third class passengers using that railway. [Laughter.] I say, considering that a Member of the Government is a director of that railway, that it is highly probable that very scant attention will be paid to this matter. I am sorry, Sir, to have to bring this matter before the House, but if any railway in Ireland should be acquired by the Government it is surely this one. There is not at any one of the stations a waiting-room which is fit for a lady to use. This state of things would not be permitted for a moment in any other part of the country, but I suppose that in the opinion of the honourable Gentleman that I have referred to, any sort of accommodation is good enough for the Irish people. The honourable Gentleman that I refer to is the Secretary to the Admiralty, and I hope that when he next pays a flying visit to Ireland in all the comfort of a first class saloon carriage he will take notice of the matters to which I have ventured to call his attention on this occasion. The right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland yesterday stated that it would take some time to formulate Bills in Parliament for the benefit of Ireland. I sincerely hope it will not take long for the right honourable Gentleman to formulate a Bill for the control by he State of the railways of Ireland so that they may be controlled from this House. The railways of Ireland are not made altogether for the purposes of earning large dividends for the shareholders. The trade and prosperity of the country largely depends upon the way in which railways are managed and controlled; but I should imagine from the experience I have of the various railways in that unhappy country that the only idea that ever enters the directors' minds is to acquire the largest amount of dividend and give the least amount of attention to the wants of the unfortunate people of that poor country. The position in Ireland is quite distinct from, and different to, that of any other country that I am aware of. Because all the produce of Ireland, or, at least, the whole of it with the exception of a very small quantity is sent to Port Mattoch, from whence they are exported to Eng- 1313 land, where they have to meet the products of such countries as Belgium, Russia, France, and Denmark, where the railways are owned by the State, and where the costs of transit in consequence are governed by the State and are very small. The railway companies of Ireland and their directors, on the other hand, are allowed to charge any price which they see fit to charge; the idea being to squeeze out of the unfortunate trader the very last penny they possibly can, where there is no competition. Ireland is entirely, or almost entirely dependent upon agriculture, and, in the first instance, the people have to import linseed cake, linseed meal, and seeds, and other matters to feed their cattle, horses, and pigs, and render them fit for the market. They have to import entirely all articles reqired for the people themselves as well as the cattle; so that in the first place, the railway company comes down and makes extortionate charges on the people for cattle, seeds, and forty other matters, which the people have had to import for the purposes of their business. When the cattle are finished fattening and are prepared for the market then the railway comes in again and extorts large sums from the people for transporting the cattle to their destination, and thus makes a double charge on these particular things. Take, for instance, the Great Northern Railway of Ireland; there is not a single line to compete with that, and the inhabitants of the country throughout the provinces through which it works are entirely at the mercy of the railway. In answer to the wish of my honourable Friend that the State should purchase the railways of Ireland, it may be urged that the same request might be made on behalf of England; but to my mind there is no comparison between the two countries in any particular. In Ireland, the produce of the country has to be exported entirely to England and to Scotland. The produce of England, on the other hand, is not sufficient to support the inhabitants of the district in which that produce is raised; therefore in that particular the railway rates in England and Ireland do not compare. Another thing in which they differ is that in the district which I have referred to there is no railway competiton. That is not so in the majority of coun- 1314 ties in England and in almost every town of note or importance in England there are generally two railway stations, or a railway station and a canal. Now all the counties of Ireland are restricted to, and subject to, one line of railway or another, and these lines of railway have such a monopoly and they have such a system for preventing the development of the country that—and it is a sad thing to say in this House—the commodities that we want sent from Belfast to Drogheda, a run of a few hours, are sent out from Belfast to Liverpool and back from Liverpool to Drogheda, because the goods can be delivered at a very much cheaper rate than if they are sent to Drogheda direct by rail. Now, is it fair? Are you as a Government prepared to allow this state of things to exist in Ireland? It is time this state of things was put an end to, and the grasping and greedy railway companies were prevented by law from doing as they please with the traders of Ireland. A short time ago the Midland Railway of Ireland were about to make an extension to Armagh and the Great Northern Railway of Ireland found that if that extension was carried out the new line would considerably injure their traffic. Now, what did the directors of these two railways do? The directors of these two railway companies met and entered into an agreement that there should be no competition whatever between these two lines of railway, as between certain towns, and consequently the unfortunate people of the country have had to pay through the nose owing to this agreement which was entered into between these two companies. The right honourable Gentleman, in reply to a question of mine, said he had no power to deal with this matter; but that is the very thing that this Debate was introduced into the House for. It was brought forward in order to give the honourable Gentleman power to deal with it, so that the matter might not be allowed to remain in the same condition as it is in at present. It was one of the points of the agreement between the two countries when Ireland became a part of Great Britain that the trade and commerce of Ireland should be protected. For a short time that agreement was kept. It was kept up to the forties. Then came the repeal 1315 of the Corn Laws, and from that time to the present Irish produce had been squeezed to a very large extent, indeed, out of the English market, owing to the preference given to foreign products, through the cheaper rates which are in vogue in foreign countries in comparison with the rates in Ireland. A few years ago I was asked to send 25 tons of grass seed—
§ * MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The honourable Gentleman must confine himself to the question which is the subject matter of the Debate.
§ MR. DALY
My honourable Friend, in moving his Amendment, referred to the Royal Commission composed of the Members of this House, and stated that the Report of that Commission stated that it would be for the benefit of Ireland if the railway companies were taken over and put under the control of the State. Now, referring to the report of the Commission, I find that it stated that on long lines of railway in Ireland, above 28 miles the charge for a first-class passenger is 1.90d., and in Belgium the charge is 0.68d. or 68 per cent, less in Belgium than is charged in Ireland. This is one indication of how beneficial it would be to the traders and inhabitants of Ireland if the railways were owned and managed by the State instead of by the companies. The different charges are below the charges of Ireland in different degrees, the extent of which is shown by the following table. On first-class goods in Ireland the charge in Ireland is 2.11d. and in Belgium the charge is 1.37, or 39 per cent, than in Ireland. On the fifth class of goods the charge in Ireland is 6.67 and in Belgium it is 2.20, or a difference of 67 per cent, less in Belgium than Ireland. On class six the Irish charge is 10.73 and in Belgium it is 2.20, or a difference of 79 per cent., thus showing the benefit of the State railways in Belgium over privately-owned railways in Ireland. The Commission, in making their report, said:The consideration of the past and present railway fares and charges in Belgium being the subject to which our attention was specially directed by your Lordships' instructions, we have taken great pains to ascertain through the courtesy of the Belgium Government, and from personal in- 1316 quiry, the effect which the reductions in that country had had on the traffic. The experience of Belgium was thought likely to form a good, basis of estimating what would be the result of a reduction of the charges in Ireland; but the circumstances of the two countries are not analogous; for while in Belgium the chief railway traffic is connected with mining, ironworks, etc., in Ireland it is almost wholly of an agricultural character, and the movements of the people in connection with that industry.That is the very point. It is because Ireland is an agricultural country that the Government should step in and purchase these railways. That is the very point which this report takes.The peculiar feature of the alterations in the Belgian scale of charges is the gradual introduction of a very large and special reduction for long distances, both of goods and passengers, and this as regards goods and minerals has been found to be a great success. The traffic of Ireland on the contrary requires special stimulus and development for short and moderate distances, both for goods and passengers as except in the case of tourists and people travelling for pleasure, it is entirely of local character from town to town. We are therefore of opinion that the reduction in passenger fares in Ireland, to have its full beneficial effect, must be on short and long traffic equally; and that the reductions in goods and cattle charges should be arranged on the principle of a uniform mileage rate for all distances, but subject to a minimum charge. After carefully considering what would be the result of reductions, we have no difficulty in coming to the conclusion that a slight diminution in the charges for the carriage of passengers and goods would be simply a loss of so much money. That to give an impetus to the inter-communication of the inhabitants and the moving of goods from place to place and to and from the ports and to promote the increase of the cattle traffic, already so valuable in Ireland, and generally to develop traffic to an extent calculated to overtake at no distant period the effect of the lowering of charges, it is necessary to make at once a large reduction, and after a certain fixed minimum charge, to make the mileage scale for the several classes of traffic applicable to all distances.Now Mr. Speaker, it is 33 years ago since this report was made to this House, and the Irish railways are in the same position now as they were when it was made. It is not the first time that reports favourable to Ireland have been made by a Railway, Commission appointed by this House, and it is always the same old story. In at one ear and out of the other. I hope now the Government will take this matter into their serious consideration, and consider whether the 1317 prosperity of Ireland is continually going to be marred and prevented by these high charges which are extorted by the railways. This is the opinion that the Railway Commission arrived at—We are of opinion that the following-fares and charges would be sufficiently low to create such a large increase of traffic as would confer a great boon on the public using the railways, and largely develop the great industry of the country. I would particularly ask the attention of the House to the last paragraph. We do not feel it to be within the spirit of the instructions which we have received, to speculate on the degree of mineral prosperity which would be given to Ireland by the adoption of a great reduction of rates and charges and a concentration of management. It is, however, useful to know that if our anticipations of the increase of traffic resulting from the reductions be realised, the public using the Irish railways would pay for such increased traffic during a period of 12 years, the sum of £12,000,000 less than they would have paid for such traffic at the existing rates, but instead of this advantage being obtained by means of any permanent sacrifice on the part of the State, a clear profit of £50,000 would be secured in the 12 years after payment of working charges, cost of increased accommodation and additional rolling stock, and interest on all capital previously advanced, and a profit of £90,000 in the 13th year. This amount of traffic and the larger annual profits for subsequent years (supposing the traffic to continue to increase), would be available for the repayment of the money which had been advanced during the preceding period. These are vast results, and it must always be remembered that calculations of this nature are subject to disturbance from unusual or unexpected circumstances, but having obtained the most accurate information in our power, and having brought our own experience to bear upon the questions submitted to us, we do not hesitate 'n giving our opinion that such results may be fairly expected to follow the suggested reductions.That is 32 or 33 years ago, and yet no steps have been taken to carry out the recommendations of the report. It was made in 1868. Now, Mr. Speaker, this is a very strong report, but strong as It is, no attention has been paid to it by either the present Government or by any of its predecessors. I hope that, as the matter has been raised now, it will be taken seriously in hand, and that in a short time the railways in Ireland will belong to the State. It may be said that it would take a great deal of money to purchase the Irish railways, but, from my point of view, if the State did purchase them they could pur- 1318 chase them very largely with Irish money. I suppose I would not be in order in calling attention to the Financial Relations Report, but in that Report it is stated that vast sums of money have been taken from Ireland within the last 50 years, and that money could be used in taking over the Irish railways. In 1893 during the time of the last Unionist Government a Bill, called the Classification of Rates Bill, was passed, but it is absolutely of no use to the people of Ireland, inasmuch as it only benefits large traders. Now, any person connected with trade in Ireland knows that the people engaged in trade there are rather poor men. The result is that, while the railways give a special rate for a five ton lot of stuff, it is of no benefit to the small traders. One or two traders might be able to buy a five ton lot of goods and so get the advantage of the special rate, but for every one of such traders who could buy a five ton lot there would be 30 traders in the same town who could not buy more than a one ton lot. To give an idea of how this classification of rates works in Ireland, I find that, while a ton lot costs 9s. 9d. per ton, a two ton lot can be carried the same distance for 6s. 6d. per ton. But it must be taken into account that a two ton lot would serve most of these small traders for more than a couple of years, and their money could be much better employed in their shops than in buying such largo quantities, say, of oil, which they could not work off for two years. The next item I shall call attention to is coal, an article of every day consumption in the country. A railway with which I have some business—the Greenore Railway—charges for 14 miles 1s. 1d. per ton, or 6s. 6d. for a six-ton wagon; but if this wagon is run on to the next town, a distance of 14 miles, the next railway company—the Great Northern—charges 13s. I would ask the Government, is this state of things going to be allowed to continue, and are railway companies to be permitted to charge what they please? I think when such extraordinary charges are made it is time the Government stepped in to prevent the extraordinary differences of rates in regard to articles of daily consumption. Take another case. If you send a two-ton lot of oil from Belfast to Castle-blaney, the charge is 16s. per ton, but if you send it eight miles further away, to 1319 Bally Bay, the carriage is only 13s. 4d. But the reason of that is that there is a canal within a few miles of Bally Bay, and lest the unfortunate Canal Company should get the carriage of the oil, the railway charges 3s. 4d. less for the longer distance. I think these facts should waken up the Government. There is another matter I wish to bring before the House. I repeat a question which I put to the President of the Board of Trade in regard to the Great Northern Railway Company refusing to stop the five o'clock train at Castlebay, when this same train stops two stations further down the line if a director—Mr. Foster—wants to get on board.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
To discuss the stopping of a train at a side station is remote from the question before the House, and a very unusual course to take in the Debate upon the Address.
§ MR. DALY
Well, this matter is a great grievance to my district. I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but this is the only opportunity I have of raising the point. To go back to Belgium, I find that in that country the carriage of a ton of butter for a certain distance costs only 7s. per ton, while for the same distance in Ireland the carriage amounts to 22s. per ton. In Belgium the lines are owned by the State; in Ireland the lines are owned by railway companies. When a certain article is carried in Belgium for 7s. per ton, and the same article in Ireland is charged 22s. per ton, it is time for the Government to interfere, and to see that Irish traders are not treated just as the railway companies please. Then, again, the carriage of flax from Belfast to Donegal costs 18s. per ton for the three hours' run, while a ton of flax carried from Belgium to Belfast, a five days' run, costs less. Is it any wonder that the trade of Ireland has become strangled, and that the country is day by day becoming poorer? I admit that it must be very difficult for my honourable Friend and myself to get the Government to take up this question, considering that there are Members of the Government who are directors of Irish railways, but, all the same, this is a grievance which the Irish people have taken much to heart. I hope that the Debate inaugurated by my honourable Friend will bear good fruit, 1320 and that public attention will be fastened on this great grievance of the Irish people, and that it will not be long before the produce of Ireland can be placed on the English and Scotch markets on as favourable terms as the produce of other countries at the present moment.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
I regret that the honourable Gentleman who seconded the Motion should have introduced into the discussion a personal element. He referred directly and by name to my honourable Friend the Member for South Antrim, and suggested that the cause of reform in the management of Irish railways was prejudiced by the fact that my honourable Friend is a director of an Irish railway. I do not think for a moment that the House will accept a suggestion of that sort, and' I hope the honourable Member, in his cooler moments, will not continue to maintain it.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Of course, I accept at once the honourable Member's disclaimer, but he will probably agree with me, on reflection, that if he did make a suggestion such as I have referred to, it is not likely to assist the cause he has at heart. The Amendment sets forth—That the present railway rates and charges in Ireland constitute an intolerable grievance to the Irish people.Without associating myself to the full with the strength of that statement, I am not prepared to say that I do not to a very considerable extent sympathise with the complaints made by the honourable Member who moved the Amendment. The honourable Member, in an interesting, but at the same time somewhat rambling, speech, went into a large number of details into which he will hardly expect me to follow him. It would require more expert knowledge than I have were I to attempt to do so. I can, therefore, only treat the question in its more general aspects. I think that in some respects the honourable Gentleman over- 1321 stated his case. For instance, it is hardly reasonable to expect, in a country like Ireland, that it would be possible to have rates and charges universally as cheap and low as in countries like England, where there is a very much larger amount of traffic to be dealt with. Indeed, if the Legislature had imposed upon Irish railways maxima rates as low as those he quoted in the case of other countries, probably many of the Irish railways would not have been constructed at all. Even as it is, there has been considerable difficulty in securing the construction of the railway system in Ireland. I may remind the honourable Gentleman that the State has, with the view of promoting the construction of railways in Ireland, lent during the last 50 years no less a sum than £4,000,000 sterling. In discussing this question we must consider not merely the probable shortcomings of the railway companies, but the difficulties which the boards of directors of Irish railways necessarily have had to encounter in developing the traffic of a poor country like Ireland, as compared with those to be met with in rich countries like England and Belgium. Then the honourable Member spoke of the cheaper cost of construction of railways in Ireland as compared with those in England and Scotland. One reason of that is that the permanent way in Ireland is, as a rule, lighter than in England and Scotland. And another reason is that the value of laud in Ireland is less than in the other two countries. Another point made by the honourable Member was that rates and charges were kept unnecessarily high because the different companies came to an arrangement on the subject. But I do not think it would be possible under any system of ownership by private companies to exclude traffic arrangements between the companies. The honourable Member is somewhat inconsistent when he argues that the rates are high because there is competition, and then goes on to advocate amalgamation of the companies; for if all the companies were amalgamated the result would be that there could be no competition. While I have made these remarks on the honourable Member's observations, I must say again that I have considerable sympathy with the general nature of his case against Irish railway management. I think it is true that 1322 Irish railway directors are too apt to consider the somewhat narrow interests of their shareholders rather than the interests of the general public. It is true that there are in Ireland a very large number of companies in comparison with the number of miles of railway, and it is true that these companies do not always work smoothly and harmoniously together, and undoubtedly the public convenience must suffer from that cause. And I think it is also true that the companies in Ireland have shown themselves somewhat unenterprising. That may be partly due to their being insufficiently equipped with capital; but even the wealthier companies have not realised that they could improve the dividends for their shareholders by a larger traffic at lower rates than by small traffic at high rates. All these complaints urged against railway management in Ireland are, to a large extent, well founded. I cannot help agreeing also with the honourable Member when he says that the Railway Commission, so far as Ireland is concerned, has not proved of very great utility to the public, and that for two reasons. In the first place, it is an expensive matter to have recourse to the Commission; and, in the second place, the Commissioners rarely hold sittings in Ireland, and when they do come to Ireland to hold sittings they are a body almost unknown to the general public. A similar view was taken in 1888 by the Allport Commission, which reported—As regards Ireland, the practical working of that (the Railway) Commission appears not to be considered as satisfactory. It has, it is true, power to sit in Ireland, and has done so occasionally, but the delays and the legal expenses involved in an appeal to it are considered such as to make it of but little practical utility in a country where the interests involved in any particular complaint are comparatively small, as compared with the cost of the procedure. The most practical part of Irish opinion appears to be, on the whole, to the effect that what is wanted under the present railway organisation, in the absence of State purchase, is a cheap and expeditious machinery for securing attention to complaints and redress where a genuine grievance is substantiated; and that no strengthening of the present Railway Commission, and no mere improvements in the facilities of access to it, would suit the circumstances or satisfy the legitimate and reasonable requirements of the country. In these views we largely agree, and we think that they would still be true 1323 under a simpler and more centralised system of management.Well, that view was taken by the All-port Commission, in 1888, and although since then we have had two important Measures relating to railway traffic—the Act of 1888 and the Act of 1894—it does not appear that there has been very much improvement as regards Ireland. At all events, I find that in the year 1896 there were altogether 136 appeals to the Railway Commission, and only two of these came from Ireland, and only one of these two had reference to rates. As regards this matter, the honourable Member may perhaps recollect that in a Bill which I introduced two years ago for creating a Board of Agriculture in Ireland, which was not carried further than the first reading, there was a clause enabling the Board to appear as complainants in any matter the Commission had power to determine, and it is my intention to include a similar clause in the corresponding Bill to be introduced this Session. I now come to the remedies which the honourable Member suggests for the improvement of the existing condition of things. These remedies are either State purchase, which is the remedy particularly approved by the honourable Member the Seconder of the Amendment, or the amalgamation of the existing systems under State control, leaving it open to the State to purchase afterwards—which seems to be most approved by the Mover of the Amendment. Now, these are very big proposals. As regards the purchase of railways in Ireland by the State, I may say that the honourable Member was incorrect in stating that the Commission of 1868—the Devonshire Commission—reported in favour of the State purchase of the Irish railways. The honourable Member who seconded the Amendment read evidence from a report of a Commission on Irish Railways, but if he looks more closely into it I think he will find he was reading from a minority report made by a single member of the Commission. Both the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment seem to have fallen into the mistake of confusing the report of a single member with the report of the Commission as a whole.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
I have not got the report of the Devonshire Commission of 1868 with mc, but I feel sure I am right in saying that the majority of that Commission did not report in favour of State purchase. In support of that statement, I may refer to page 45 of the Report of the Allport Commission of 1888, where I find this statement as the conclusion to which the Devonshire Commission arrived—We are of opinion that it is inexpedient at present to subvert the policy which has hitherto been adopted, of leaving the construction and management of railways to the free enterprise of the people, under such conditions as Parliament may think fit to impose for the general welfare of the public.In paragraphs 76 to 80 they deal with the special case of Ireland, with regard to which they say—We consider that there is not sufficient reason for excepting Ireland from this general conclusion.In the report of the same Commission it is stated that—As the result of various inquiries and discussions, we think it may be stated that while the preponderance of local opinion in Ireland has been in favour of State purchase of the Irish railways, the weight of expert judgment, of successive Governments, and of the House of Commons has been against that course, whether considered as an end or as a means. On the other hand, there has been a general agreement at all times and in all quarters that the railways of Ireland may be, and ought to be, treated separately from those of Great Britain.And in another paragraph of the Allport Commission Report it is said—As the analogy of the Post Office is often cited, we should wish to point out that one essential and important difference between the management of a railway and that of the Post Office is, that the former involves great commercial knowledge in order to keep touch with the requirements of trade; whereas the work of the Post Office, whether as respects letters or telegrams, is to a large extent routine, and questions of adjustment of rates and charges and other matters of commercial management are almost entirely absent. We ourselves completely agree with the consensus of practical opinion, which is unfavourable to State management.1325 There are many obvious and very well known objections to any course of that kind. I do not speak merely of the financial risks and responsibilities involved, which are, of course, considerable, but, over and above that objection, it has not been the view held—in this country, at all events—by experts that the State development and State management of railways is carried on so well as by an independent company. But there are other considerations. If the State purchase the railways, all the men employed on the railways would become the servants of the State, and I do not think that our experience of government in this country is such as to encourage us, without the greatest necessity, to largely increase the number of persons employed in the service of the State. I would just ask the House to consider what would be the immediate result if the railways in Ireland were to be managed by a State Department, with a Minister at its head responsible to Parliament, and sitting in this House. That Department would be expected by all honourable Members from Ireland, whatever part of Ireland they represented, to secure that the railways, and those who were carried by the railways, and whose goods were carried by the railways, should be managed entirely from their point of view. The necessity of economical management would be absolutely, or nearly, lost sight of.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Well, I have no hesitation in saying that I think that would be the result, The unfortunate Minister would be absolutely bombarded with questions from day to day as to why this or that had not been done, and as to whether the rates in this or that district were fair, and should not be made lower. That would be the result of placing the management of railways in Ireland in the hands of the State. It is a singular thing that while there are no people in the world so ready to quarrel with the Government, and so ready to find fault with Government management, as are the Irish people, there are also no people in the world so anxious to entrust every possible thing to the Government. That is a curious thing, which I only note in passing. Sir, I 1326 think it must be clear to the House that for us to undertake during the present Session, as we are asked to do by this Amendment, a Measure of State purchase of the Irish railways, is to ask us to do the impossible. Personally, I very much doubt whether the policy is a wise one, for reasons that I have pointed out. In any case, it would be absolutely impossible for us to deal with so enormous, so complicated, and so difficult a question in this Parliament. I will just say one or two words on the subject of the amalgamation of the railways in Ireland, which is recommended as an alternative to State purchase. No doubt there is a good deal to be said in favour of amalgamation. I think a plausible case may be made out for it. I think it probable that, if carried out under proper regulations, it would result in increased convenience to the public, and it would certainly result in a very great saving in the expenses of management; and such amalgamation might lead to a considerable reduction in rates and charges. On the other hand, I see also very considerable difficulty in a policy of amalgamation. Amalgamation, I take it, is amalgamation of universal application; all the railways in Ireland should be united under one management. Well, Sir, if that was done, of course it would at once do away, as I have already indicated in the early part of my speech, with everything in the shape of competition. It would, therefore, involve the establishment of a Board of Control, which would have, to some extent, judicial and to some extent administrative duties. Personally, I should be very sorry to be trusted with the task of laying down exactly what the powers of such a board should be. I do not think that any Government could undertake that task without finding in this House almost as much opposition to any proposal of that sort as to State purchase itself. Therefore, all the objections which I have urged to the proposals of this Amendment, so far as the necessary claims on the time of the House are concerned, would apply equally to a scheme of universal amalgamation under State management. On the other hand, it has been suggested by others that this amalgamation should not be universal, but only partial; in other words, that you should have Ire- 1327 land divided into certain railway districts, let us say into three districts, with the railway systems under a single management in each of those districts. That, I think, is also a possible policy to pursue, but it is a policy which would not necessarily involve the interference of the State. A universal amalgamation can only be accomplished by legislation, but partial amalgamation—that is to say, an amalgamation of the numerous companies in Ireland, the numerous small companies in Ireland, into two or three large companies—that, I think, possible without legislation. The honourable Member has referred to a large scheme of amalgamation which is to come before the House during the present Session. That is a question which the House will have ultimately to decide, and I do not wish to go into it now; but, personally, I am rather inclined to believe that the best hope of improvement in the condition of Irish railway management lies 'in the direction of this voluntary amalgamation. You would then have, at all events, powerful and enterprising companies controlling the system, companies who, in my opinion, would see that it is to their interests to develop the traffic to the utmost by cheap rates and cheap fares. That is what I regard myself as probably the best solution of the difficulty. At all events, I cannot, on behalf of the Government, undertake those large and very difficult schemes of legislation which are put forward by the honourable Member as the only remedy; and, beyond this voluntary amalgamation, of course, under proper conditions, I can hold out no hope that we shall be able to do anything towards dealing with the matter in the present Session.
§ MR. TIMOTHY HEALY (Louth, N.)
It is a remarkable thing that the speech to which we have just listened contains even less hope of anything being done by the Government than was promised to us exactly a quarter of a century ago, when the right honourable Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Secretary for Ireland. Anyone who turns to the saddening pages of "Hansard" to find the manner in which it was then dealt with, the manner in which it has slumbered ever since, will get a further 1328 lesson, if lesson be needed, of the utter neglect of every question affecting the material interests of Ireland by the shifting and vacillating courses of this country. Sir, I do not complain of the speech of the right honourable Gentleman. He is only a link in the miserable chain that forms the system by which we are ruled. He has only done what he conceives it is necessary he should do—made a few observations which suggested themselves to him with reference to the time of this House and the difficulties of this question. Sir, what is the time of this House to us? When you took away our Parliament you took away from yourselves any right to reply that you have no time to deal with our affairs. If you are going to deal with our affairs, deal with them. Then, with regard to the difficulties, I admit there are enormous difficulties in dealing with the question. I am not enamoured of the system of State purchase of railways, but, slowly and gradually, and reluctantly it has been forced upon my mind that some means must be found for dealing with the glaring injustice involved in the present system. What did the right honourable Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was Irish Secretary, say, in 1874?—and let me point out that this matter has gone on not merely for a quarter of a century—you must go back to 1837 to find the beginnings of this question. I am not going back any further than 1868, when circumstances gave rise to the appointment of the Royal Commission already alluded to by my honourable Friend the Member for Monaghan. In 1868 a declaration was signed by 72 Irish Peers and by 90 Irish Members, out of 105, there being four Irish Members in the Government who refused to sign it. In 1868 the Peers and Commoners of Ireland united in a declaration, stating that if in the eleven years which might be required to make the Irish railways pay their own way there should be any loss, that should be met out of Irish resources, and that nothing would be more easy than to raise the money by a tax upon Irish property, which would improve in value by the proposed change. In other words, the Irish Peers and the landlords who then sat in this House put forward a proposition asking for a tax upon their own property to enable 1329 them to improve the railway system. What was done? Mr. Gladstone, as soon as he came into office, appointed a Commission. The Lords Commissioners of the Treasury constituted a special Commission upon this question. They were desired to report on—1.—An approximate estimate of the immediate loss which would probably be occasioned by such a reduction of the fares on the part of the Irish railways as would assimilate them to the principles upon which charges are levied on English lines, and their opinion as to the probable period that would elapse before the increase of traffic would overtake the loss occasioned.2.—An estimate of the saving to be effected by concentrating the control of the railways under one or more administrative departments.3.—An estimate of the diminution of charge which would be effected by placing the whole of the debenture capital on a uniform rate of interest under Government guarantee.And to that these Gentlemen gave answer, every one of them, in favour of the Irish line upon this question; these five Gentlemen, every one of them, gave answer in favour of the view put forward by the united declaration of Irish Peers and Commoners. My honourable Friend was not quoting from a minority report, he was quoting from an important State document by a Commission of which Mr. Hancock, the well-known statistician, was the secretary; and from that hour until the present day—31 years ago—the British Government has not done, so far as the important main question is concerned, a single stroke. I turn to the Debate initiated on the 24th April, 1874, by Mr. Blennerhassett, to see what the then Irish Secretary said. Sir, it is perfectly true that this quesion is surrounded by enormous difficulties, but when English opinion is unanimous upon any question, when the Conservative and Liberal parties are united to a man, does the English Minister, be he President of the Board of Trade or Secretary of State, get up and trot out the enormous difficulties of dealing with the question? No, Sir, if he did he would lose his place within 24 hours. He has to bow to English opinion, to conform to English opinion as expressed by English votes. We have no such remedy; and we have got to-day a 1330 speech which, while admitting our grievance, gives us even less hope of redress than did the speech made so long ago by the right honourable Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is a very remarkable thing that the case of the amalgamation of the Waterford and Limerick Railway, which formed a portion of the speech of the honourable Member for Dublin, was then one of the chief points of illustration touched upon by both sides of the House. Consider what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, by way of giving us some hope, that an attempt would be made to alleviate our grievances—and I ask the House what is to be thought of this system of governing a country when this admitted grievance exists, and has existed, for over a quarter of a century, and yet nothing is done. While you are able to legislate for perpetual Coercion Acts and other Acts of that nature, you never find it to your interest to deal with matters that are of immense importance to the country. The right honourable Gentleman said—I have stated this to show what improvements in railway communication may be made by Irishmen themselves, or by Irishmen in concert with Englishmen, without any aid from the State. Parliament might beneficially lend its assistance in promoting amalgamation, and possibly facilities might be given by the Government, by which it might be rendered easier and cheaper than at present.What have you done since then? Nothing. And if we allow you, you never will do anything. And yet it is made a grievance that we are always appealing to the Government to do something. In the name of Heaven, who are we to appeal to? Are we to be mute in this House? You have undertaken to rule our country and govern it for us. Are you, then, to make it a subject of complaint that we should venture to open our mouths to express the sentiments of our constituents? It is true that nobody is more willing to appeal to the Government than are the Irish. You have our money; you stick to it. You have got hold of the government. You have the whole thing in your hands. What are we to do except come here? What power have we? About as much power 1331 as the rats and the cockroaches. That is the position into which you have reduced the vast body of our population, and because at times the Irish raise a feeble complaint—once a quarter of a century—upon a question of real concern, are we to be put down? Sir Michael Hicks Beach went on to say—Both this question, and also the suggestion whether some provision compelling amalgamation might not be introduced into every Private Railway Bill brought before Parliament, require very careful consideration.And it has been getting it ever since, and nothing has been done. Then he went on, and he dealt with the suggestion made by Mr. Gladstone himself in the previous year. Mr. Gladstone had put forward some scheme for endeavouring to arrive at a remedy, and this is how the right honourable Gentleman the then Irish Secretary dealt with the speech of the then late Prime Minister. He said—It was evidently to meet such cases as these that a suggestion was thrown out last year by the right honourable Gentleman the late Prime Minister, to the effect that the Irish railway companies should first agree upon some reasonable principle of amalgamation, and should arrange among themselves for the interchange of traffic, and that then, as if in return for changes to be made by them for the better service of the public, loans should be granted to them by the State upon terms which should place them in a better financial position.To that suggestion the right honourable Gentleman gave no assent, although it had the approval of a man of the great financial position of Mr. Gladstone. Lord Hartington was then Leader of the Opposition. Every Irish Member then in the House, Conservative and Liberal without exception—except only Mr. Percival Vaughan and the Member for Waterford—voted for the Motion of Mr. Blennerhassett. Well, Lord Hartington in his speech dropped one or two observations, in which he said—The previous Government of honourable Gentlemen opposite certainly did not approach it in an unfriendly spirit by appointing a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of Irish Railways, with instructions so worded as almost to show that, if a case could be made out at all in favour of the purchase of Irish Railways, the Government would be ready to consider it.1332 And he said—Certainly the late Government"—Mr. Gladstone's Government—"also approached the question in an equally willing spirit.He said—I know that my right honourable Friend at the head of the late Government would have been exceedingly glad if he could have seen his way, by any interference by the Government, to remove the evils of Irish Railway management: and, speaking for myself personally, I may, perhaps, say I approached the subject with a desire still more keen than most of my colleagues, that we might see our way to meet the wishes of a large number of Irish people. Perhaps I ought even to plead guilty to the charge that by too open a statement of my own views on the subject I may have raised hopes which I was not able to fulfil. I certainly did think that some reparation might be due to Ireland for having sanctioned a system of railways there that did not give the country the fullest advantages which it is entitled to enjoy.I think the way this House has approached the subject of Irish railways affords us a very striking illustration. Why was a 5ft. 6in. gauge started in Ireland and a 4ft. 6in. gauge in England? If you had given the same gauge to both countries we might have bought an occasional second-hand engine and second-hand carriages, and you would have had what little advantage there is in English manufacturers and coach-builders making their goods upon a particular standard, a particular plan, instead of having to have separate machinery for making different machines, You foisted upon us the 5ft. 6in. gauge, with its more expensive bridges, more expensive tunnels, more expensive carriages, and so on, while taking a 4ft. 6in. gauge yourself. And how was it arrived at? Sir, I am creditably informed it was arrived at on the principle upon which, in a breach of promise case, the jury arrive at a decision on the question of damages. There had been ten different gauges recommended for England and for Ireland. The Committee first decided that because there was a sea road between the two countries, and we had a Lord Lieutenant of our own, there should be a separate gauge for Ireland, and then it added up the ten different suggestions and divided them by ten, by which means they arrived at 5ft. 6in., and upon that intelligent system the 1333 railway gauge of Ireland was settled, and so it has remained until the present time. What did you do next? There was an excellent system of canals in the country; and certainly, if anything is due to the credit of the Irish Parliament—and that was at the time when engineering was at, perhaps, its highest development and skill—it is the magnificent system of canals then developed and projected. Almost the first act of the English Government after it had obtained, by the unhappy Act of Union, some control over these canals, was to sell the Royal Canal to the Midland Railway, which has done nothing to promote it, and since that day every effort has been made by the British Treasury to get rid of the canal control. Take the case of the Ulster Canal. Why, in conjunction with the late Mr. Biggar, how often did we represent the case of the Ulster Canal to the British Government, until at last the British Treasury brought in an Act giving it away for nothing, with a sum of £5,000 in addition, to some Belfast jobbers. Now the whole thing is in a state of bankruptcy, and its last state is worse than the first. Only two years ago you passed another Bill, getting rid of another canal connected with Drogheda. That is the way in which the English govern Ireland. Instead of looking at her case paternally, you are mere tax-extracting machinery. The whole idea is to shoulder off responsibility. You see processions of Ministers, now Tory, now Liberal, anxious simply in their day and generation to draw their salaries quietly, to get what little popularity and honour they may by acting as Irish Secretary, using our country as a spring-board from which to get elevation to other jobs. We know that this railway question has become one of the most extraordinary and pressing grievances of the people, and there is no suggestion of redress except that we might go to the Railway Commission. The right honourable Gentleman is going to give us the offer to go to the Railway Commission through this Agricultural Board. It is very curious that exactly the same contention was made by the then Irish Secretary in 1874. The right honourable Gentleman has told us that two only out of 150 appeals came from Ireland. Well, how is the owner of a farm of ten acres 1334 to go to law with the Great Southern and Western Railway over the carriage of his turnips, when his whole consignment probably does not amount to more than 30s. The cost of such, a proceeding is by no means inconsiderable; and I have been informed that the cost in the case of "Goddard v. the London and South-Western Railway Company," recently heard by the Railway Commission, in which the decision was given in favour of the plaintiff, was only £3 11s. 6d. Yes, Sir; but it is unfortunately the case that all the consignments which reach the Irish railways are the consignments of small men; £3 11s. 6d., the cost in "Goddard v. the London and South-Western Railway Company," is a cost which no small farmer could pay. Many of them are too poor even to go into Court against their landlords to get a fair rent fixed, because they are unable to find the preliminary charges. How are they to fight one of the strongest monopolies in the world? Here we have a country which is purely pastoral. It is becoming more and more pastoral every year; the country is going to be one vast grazing farm. We have no minerals, we have practically no merchandise of any account. Take the railway upon which I worked some time myself, the North Eastern Railway. Why, Sir, upon that line, you have, I may say, at every five minutes of the day a goods train, a mineral train, or you have a passenger train; and how does it happen that these wretched Irish railway companies, who have not all the minerals of England, all its vast merchandise, all its goods, to carry, as well as its teeming population—how is it that the Irish railway companies, which only have Biddy's cow and Paddy's potatoes to carry, are able to pay as big dividends as your English companies? Is it not a condemnation of your system? And how are these lines managed? I hate the British Government in Ireland. I do not want to give them, if I can, any additional element of power, and I would be very careful, very guarded, in any Bill that is brought in to see that the control of the central authority, so far as it is the control of the Treasury Bench and of Dublin Castle, should be reduced to a minimum. But how are they managed at present? Why, Sir, we from time to time in this House see, per- 1335 haps it may be as through a glass darkly, a great many millionaires springing up, or a great many rich men in this House. They are the people who control our industries. Did you ever know a millionaire who was fit to be trusted on any question? We do not put millionaires upon the Treasury Bench to manage the Government. Was Mr. Gladstone a millionaire? Is the First Lord of the Treasury a millionaire? No, Sir; when you go to manage this great Empire you look for brains. But brains will not purchase Great Southern stock. It is by the money franchise, by the mere ownership of money, that these great undertakings are all controlled and managed, absolutely in entire disregard of the true interests of the country. And the Government stands by, year after year, and sees them carrying away our population, carrying away our merchandise, sees them screwing the last farthing out of the unfortunate shipbroker, sees them ruining our industries—the few industries that still exist in the country—by piling up the load of freights and charges. It does nothing except to give us an occasional Railway Commission, whose reports never are useful. Look at the condemnation by the Allport Commission with regard to the Castlecomer Collieries. The Southern and Western Railway runs within 20 miles of that district. There is coal there, and coal most valuable, as we know, for exporting purposes and for steam purposes. And such is the great enterprise of these railway people that, having got their five or six per cent., they are content to go to sleep upon it; they will not run a little railway from the closest point on their system to Castlecomer to enable these collieries to be worked. You are the Government of the country, yet you do nothing, although your Royal Commission has condemned the system. This is one of the things by which the people of Ireland judge you and condemn you. Your whole management of the country is fiscal and political. You do not enter into the domestic affairs or manufactures of the people. You are not concerned in 1336 them, and it is impossible that you should be. I cannot see myself how any Scotchman can love any country but his own, or any Irishman love any country but Ireland, and so long as we are ruled by people having no interest in our country, or caring nothing for our affairs, and only anxious to make a decent exit from office, it is impossible to expect right honourable Gentlemen opposite to engage in those enterprises and experiments which it should be the duty of the natives to undertake. One word more. It is said that this Amendment is for State control. There are many evils connected with State control. A whole army of officials—railway porters, ticket collectors, guards, and other officials—all over the country, wearing the uniform of the State, and bearing its badge, would not be a grateful thing to any of us to see established. Sir Rowland Blennerhassett brought forward his Motion in 1874; he calculated the then value of Irish railways at 22 millions—a mere bagatelle. My honourable Friend the Member for the St. Patrick's Division of Dublin estimated that it would now take 40 millions to buy up the Irish railways. I am not a financial expert; I know nothing of the question. But if you will not allow us to manage our own affairs, hear our voice, accept our views, and govern the country as we desire to govern it in matters that do affect the stability of the British Empire. You must remember that Ireland is a small island getting more and more out of proportion in wealth and population as compared with England. The sun is always shining on the British Empire. Yes, Sir, but it is also shining on fewer Irishmen in Ireland every day. Our country is becoming less important to the interests of the Empire at large, and it behaves the individual Irishman to look with much more concern and anxiety to the well-being and welfare of the unfortunate diminishing population left behind. We have our Department of State to look after our railways; but what is your Board of Trade to us? What can it do for us? Would not the shoulders of an angel be almost borne down by the multifarious duties carried on by some of your great officers of State? You deal with the question from an official point of view; but our country—our fallen and unhappy island 1337 —requires especial attention. She has one Minister—and he not even a Cabinet Minister—to manage her entire affairs. When we show you that our railway rates are double yours, that our dividends are greater than yours, you give us the answer you gave us a quarter of a century ago—that you will put a clause into the Agriculture and Industries Bill to enable us to go to law with the railway companies. That is no remedy. I sympathise to some extent with the helplessness of the right honourable Gentleman. If he were a fixture in his office, and if he had to bear the brunt of Irish opinion, he would take an entirely different view. All he does is to point out difficulties. It is this unfortunate spirit—however amiable be the Minister who exhibits it-—it is this constant neglect of our material interests day by day that makes Ireland more and more intolerant of your rule and more determined to shake it off.
§ * MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanark, Partick)
Mr. Speaker, it appears to me that most of the arguments used by the honourable and learned Member would have been more appropriate last night. He has abused successive Governments for doing nothing and for not listening to the voice of Ireland. I am not aware that the voice of Ireland has been heard in this matter for 25 years. I have heard and read many Irish Debates, but I cannot recollect that this matter has ever been raised since the occasion in 1874 by Gentlemen from Ireland in the House of Commons. I am sorry for that, because it seems to me an extremely practical question, and I should really like to ask the Government, and especially the Chief Secretary for Ireland, to consider whether something should not be done in regard to it. There are, of course, very great difficulties in the way, But I do think that the scheme suggested by the honourable Member for the St. Patrick's Division of Dublin is a matter which deserves the attention of the Government. I have had occasion to look into the question of Irish railways to some extent as a member of a committee which sat in Dublin. I have also taken an interest in railway matters generally, and I do think that what one sees of Irish railways shows that the present system is far from being satisfactory. We have imagined that what 1338 is good on this side of the water should also be good on the other, and we have left the British system of competition to take its chance in Ireland. But the whole circumstances of Irish railways are absolutely different from the circum stances of British railways, and the conditions under which our present system here has grown up are also different in the two countries. The problem is absolutely different with regard to Ireland. In England the amount of paid-up rail way capital is 784 millions, in Scotland 114 millions, and in Ireland not more than 39 millions. That is the amount of paid-up railway capital in Ireland, and I do not suppose the market value of Irish railway stock is far from that sum. In England the average cost of rail ways is £53,000 a mile, in Scotland £33,000, and in Ireland only £12,500. That shows that Irish railways must be entirely different from either English or Scotch railways. It shows that Irish railways are far more of the nature of Indian railways, and ought to be treated as such. In India the average cost per mile is very similar to what it is in Ireland. We have exactly the same difference, though even more exaggerated, with regard to receipts. The gross receipts in England are 75 millions, in Scotland 10 millions, and in Ireland, with a mileage only 300 miles less than Scotland, they are only 3½ millions. That is to say, that the gross receipts in Ireland are only a third of the receipts in Scotland with very nearly the same mileage. Look at the question from the number of journeys taken, which is a very fair test. In England there are 898 millions of passenger journeys, in Scotland 106 millions, and in Ireland only 26 millions. That is to say, every inhabitant takes about 31 railway journeys in a year in England, 26½ in Scot land, and only 5½ in Ireland. That shows that the railway system in Ireland is entirely different to that in either England or Scotland. The receipts per mile per week in the three countries show the same difference. In England they average £97, in Scotland £56, and in Ireland £21. The last figure closely concurs with the receipts per mile in India, and the same kind of system that suits India satisfactorily ought, if possible, to be applied to Ireland. The rail ways of Ireland are numerous; they have rival boards of directors, and they ex- 1339 pend an excessive amount on administration in every direction. The facts I have just stated show that Ireland requires a railway system different from that which admirably suits England and Scotland. No man in his senses would dream of proposing that the railways in England or in Scotland should be bought up by the State. But the problem in regard to Ireland is very different, and the question of buying the railways in that country should be very gravely taken into account by the Government. The Chief Secretary has put forward what I feel are very great difficulties in the way—difficulties which, I think, have been emphasised by some of the speeches made in support of the Motion. It would take a great deal to persuade the House of Commons to enter voluntarily into a system under which every detail, such as every place where a train ought to stop, would be brought up in the House in the style to which we are accustomed with reference to other Irish matters. I do think that the political element in the matter—the pressure that would be brought to bear on the Government Department responsible for it, the amount of employment and patronage which would come into the hands of the Government, and the political pressure which would be used in regard to it—is a very serious consideration. But the Government have already faced this question in many cases in Ireland. They have undertaken much of the risk in connection with light railways, such as the choosing of sites and the expenditure of the money in different districts. Surely if they were able to face that without having been subjected to undue pressure and influence, it is not too much to ask them whether this larger problem cannot also be solved, and whether these Parliamentary objections, which to us probably seem larger than they do to people outside, cannot be faced in the same way, and the railway system of Ireland brought into harmony and worked more economically. I am not throwing any blame on those responsible for the present system, because when we were in Ireland we found the companies most anxious to work their lines satisfactorily. In many cases it was the poverty of the lines which we found prevented them from adopting the measures which the Committee thought necessary.
1340 The railways in Ireland, both as regards the expense of fitting out insisted on by the Board of Trade and also the attitude of the Government as to their working, must be regarded differently from railways in either England or Scotland, and, I believe, there are few things which would tend more to enrich Ireland than if the present system could be overcome, and a uniform system of railways throughout the country, worked by one single authority, could be brought into harmonious existence.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
Mr. Speaker, the honourable Member who has just sat down commenced by jeering at the honourable and learned Member for North Louth for the speech he made, but the honourable Member himself has given greater support to the Amendment than was given by all the arguments of my honourable and learned Friend. I think the House ought to be indebted to the honourable Member for the figures which he gave. There are two things about these statistics that might strike the mind of the House. One is how extraordinarily the figures of England and Wales and Scotland march together. The honourable Member stated the capital invested, the number of journeys, and the cost of the railways in these countries, and although they were not exactly the same, they brought home to us a lesson recognised by statisticians, that certain parts of these islands march together. We had a remarkable illustration of that from the honourable Member to-night. Then he went on to speak of Ireland, aid what did the House notice—the greatest possible contrast between the conditions existing there and the conditions existing in Great Britain. I think every Irishman ought to thank the honourable Member for his speech. It was a most powerful argument in favour of the claim which has been put forward. But why did he jeer at the honourable and learned Member in his first sentence? What would he do if the House did not listen to his pleading? As my honourable and learned Friend said in his most beautiful and eloquent speech, "How long will we go on applying to you—how long entreating you?" We have had repeated Commissions. We had a Commission in 1837, another in 1847, and one in almost every decade since. The 1341 same reply has always been made by the Government, but that cannot continue. The present Government have done a great deal for Ireland. Nearly every Session has been occupied with Irish legislation, and now they are asked to buy up the Irish railways and institute a national system. But the problem will have to be faced, and if right honourable Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have not the sense to face it others will have to do it. I ask the House to notice the nature of the reply given by the Government to-night. Did honourable Gentlemen observe that the President of the Board of Trade sat on the corner of the Front Bench during the Debate. Why did he not reply? The Board of Trade is one of the two offices charged in the Irish Estimates as Imperial offices. In theory the Board of Trade does something for Ireland. This is a Board of Trade matter, and why did the right honourable Gentleman throw on that long-suffering Minister—the Chief Secretary—the duty of making a reply? I say that when the historian of this half-century comes to examine this question he will blame next to the Treasury—which is the worst of all—the Board of Trade for the infamous system carried out in Ireland. It does nothing for Ireland except charge a portion of its expenses to that unhappy island. Look at how the right honourable Gentleman treats the whole question of Irish commerce. He will not supply any statistics, and there is not an island in the seas that does not know something about its commerce except Ireland. And when matters for the amelioration of the existing system are being discussed he sits by and listens to the eloquence of the Chief Secretary. But something will have to be done, whether the question is argued on the broad lines of the honourable Gentleman who spoke last or looked upon from another standpoint. I have been in Ireland twice during the Recess, and the house in which I resided is on a small spur of the Midland Railway, built at the cost of the State, and for which £600 a year must be locally paid for interest. The village at the end of that branch of railway became absolutely dependent on the line. All other means of locomotion, such as horses and donkeys were destroyed, End we are absolutely at the mercy of the railway. How does it treat us? I may 1342 mention one illustration. The distance between my house and the market town is nine miles. Coming home on a market evening it takes 1½ hours to make the journey. There is a junction at which we have to stop for two hours, and although we have protested again and again the railway company only laugh at us. The Grand Jury also protested, but they have no power whatever in the matter. Take another case: In the little village to which I have referred we have, as in other parts of Ireland, with the co-operation of the right honourable Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, started a creamery. We try to get our own butter to Lan. What is the result? The freight from that village to Lan is 56s., whereas the freight from Canada to Lan is only about 20s. But there are other difficulties. The other day a parcel of butter was lost. It was properly put on the train, and a goods receipt was given for it, but it was never found afterwards. The railway company was prosecuted, and it made the good defence, that having delivered the parcel over to another carrying company it was no longer responsible. The point was taken to the High Courts, and they decided that if any company receiving goods can prove delivery to another carrying company it is not responsible. Think of the meaning of it. Between the village to which I have referred and Lan there are probably five different carrying companies, and how can a villager sue under such circumstances.
§ MR. LOUGH
I think it is very peculiar to Ireland, and we cannot get the Board of Trade to put it right. Take another case: In certain parts of the district of which I am speaking fuel has become very scarce, and in summer hardly a fire is lighted. Yet eight or 10 miles away is a district which is one vast bog. But there is no means of getting fuel from that bog to the village. Honourable Members travelling in Ireland must have felt that the thought never entered the minds of the foolish people who built the railways to make them suitable for the people for whom they were constructed. Of course, in such a district there should be peat wagons and 1343 cheap rates in order that fuel may be taken from where it is plentiful to where it is scarce. I have been going into the details of the system in my own place in Ireland. Let me give another instance: In that village of 500 inhabitants there are 10 policemen going about idle all day long. The right honourable Gentleman objects that we cannot have State Railways in Ireland because of the multiplication of Government servants. Why on earth should we not have three or four Government railway servants in that village and only six or seven policemen instead of 10? You might easily provide a staff of railway servants if you made the police do some useful duty instead of loafing about the country doing nothing. There is nothing in the argument which the right honourable Gentleman has presented to the House. The contrast between Ireland and Great Britain is this—in Great Britain we have competition; in Ireland there is none. Where you have a system of private enterprise without competition that system becomes a vast and cruel monopoly. You want competition and control to enable people to do with private enterprise at all, and we get on in this country because we have the control of the Board of Trade in addition to effective competition. In Ireland there is no such control. I am sorry the President of the Board of Trade has not thought fit to stay and listen to our Debate, or to say a word upon it. In Ireland there is not a vestige of competition throughout the country, and the situation is very different to what it is in Great Britain. An honourable Member opposite told us that this Debate should have taken place last night in connection with the Home Rule Question. I venture to say that points such as this will crop up again and again whenever we discuss Home Rule in this House, and the sooner we hear that question approached from a practical standpoint the better it will be. The question is, is the Government justified in destroying a prosperous and fertile country by an infamous system which it could easily cure, but which it has maintained for so many years?
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
Before 1344 the discussion closes I wish to say a few words on this matter, and I shall be glad to take this opportunity, although I will not long detain the House. I have listened with a great deal of sympathy to the appeals made by the Irish Members. They have raised one of the gravest problems. Ireland is a country which, above all things, requires cheap transit, and the people cannot get it on account of the way in which the railways have been constructed. The railroads have been built on a scale commensurate, in a general way, with that which we have adopted in England and Scotland, where there has been a large traffic to deal with. It is true the expense of construction per mile has been much smaller than in England and Scotland, but, then, according to the figures given by the honourable Member for Partick, the land is of much less value. At the same time, the expense in Ireland has been far in excess of what the railroads ought to have been made for in that country. We are told that the average cost is £12,300 per mile. It is quite possible to make railroads at half that expense, and in Ireland many light railways are being made for less than that. It is to be regretted that when the railways were first built an endeavour was not made to bring them more into line with the economic conditions of Ireland. That is the first great difficulty which the position presents. The second difficulty is that there is no competition. The Member for Islington will surely agree that in order to have competition there must be traffic able to bear it, and the difficulty in Ireland is that the traffic is barely sufficient to enable the payment of dividends on the existing line.
§ MR. BRYCE
I do not think that the Midland pays more than 5 per cent. on its capital, and we cannot expect that a company shall be forced to reduce its 1345 rate of dividend very much below that. If we could have more manufacturing and other industries in various parts of Ireland the problem would be less difficult. The suggestion is made that there should be a better control over the railways. But in what respect is that control to be exercised? I understand from my right honourable Friend the Member for Islington that there are two ways in which he thinks that control might be exercised. One is to make the companies adapt their relations with each other so as to better meet the public convenience. I admit that my knowledge of Irish railway matters is not very great. But, so far as it goes, it is unhappily the fact that the foremost complaint made has reference to that matter. It is suggested that the companies do not manage their business nearly as well as they could, and that they pursue a policy of controversy and of captious interference with one another which is very much to the disadvantage of the travelling public. In that respect, I think, the Board of Trade might interfere more actively than it has done. But my honourable Friends must remember that the powers of the Board of Trade in these matters are very limited. The Board of Trade does not quite deserve the charges which have been brought against it, because it can only act in those cases by bringing a sort of indirect pressure to bear, and if a company chooses to stand out in a stiff and obstinate way against that pressure the Board of Trade may find itself at the end of its resources. It may be said that the Board of Trade should have larger powers. I am not prepared to say that in the case of England it is desirable, in the long run, that the powers of the Board of Trade should be greatly increased, but I am well prepared to believe that it should be so in the case of Ireland. I think it well deserving of consideration by the Board of Trade whether, next time it comes to Parliament for legislation with regard to railways, it ought not to take power to extend considerably its right of interference with and control over the railways of Ireland. Certain powers are undoubtedly invested in the Railway Commission, but to tell Irish traders to go to that body for relief is not much good, for they would probably get a stone instead of bread. The Railway Com- 1346 mission is not suited to the Irish railway problem, and this is a matter which the Chief Secretary might well take into his consideration. It is much to be desired that there should be given an opportunity of dealing with this difficult problem in a cheaper way than is possible by going before the Railway Commission. Another question, however, which has been suggested by the Motion, and reverted to by several of the speakers, is that of consolidating the Irish railway system—in fact, of amalgamating the lines. Now, the question of amalgamation must be considered in connection with the question of control. If you force the companies to amalgamate you make them at once a dangerously powerful body in Ireland, and you will require to impose much greater State control than you now have. Whether it is wise to entrust that power to the State or to the Chief Secretary is certainly a difficult question. I am not prepared to say it will be found impossible to give Ireland the cheap railroad transit she requires in any other way. The other plan which has been suggested for dealing with this question is that of State purchase, and several Members have pointed out obvious objections to, that. I confess, it appears to me at present that Ireland is one of the last countries to which the experiment of State purchase should be applied. I think the objections to having a large body of additional persons in the service of the State in a country like Ireland are extremely great, and I should be prepared to exhaust almost every other plan before coming to that. Those who know the result of State purchase in some of our Colonies, where the conditions in several respects are more favourable than is the case in Ireland would be very reluctant to try the experiment. That is all I think I ought to trouble the House with on this occasion. I hope the House will not think that we on this side are at all indifferent to the force of the appeal made by my honourable Friend the Member for Louth, for we do feel that in this matter of railways is to be found one of Ireland's grievances, which comes out most clearly and strongly. We must not forget that the Irish Question is still with us, and, as my right honourable Friend the Leader of the Opposition said last night, the view that it is our duty to give Ireland 1347 the management of her own affairs remains unchanged.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.