HC Deb 27 July 1899 vol 75 cc481-7

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [26th July], "That the Great Southern and Western Railway Bill and the Waterford and Central Ireland Railway Bill be withdrawn:"—(Mr. James William Lowther:)

Question again proposed:


Perhaps I may be allowed to give a short explanation of the reason why I have put this motion down. These two Bills were grouped with the Great Southern and Western and Limerick and Waterford Railways Amalgamation Bill; and a Hybrid Committee has occupied thirty sittings in considering the latter measure, only coming to a decision upon it at the latter end of last week. The Amalgamation Bill having been disposed of there remained the question of what was to be done with the other Bills. The Great Southern and Western Company were under a statutory obligation to proceed with their Bill, but the Bill is opposed and must occupy some time, and therefore there is little hope of its passing in the present session. Both Bills originated in this House, and it would have been so late before they could be sent to another place that all hope of them passing into law this session would have been dashed to the ground. The Committee therefore presented a special report advising that the order for the committal of the Bill should be discharged and the Bill withdrawn, as the company could not themselves withdraw the Bill. It is only right that, in view of the statutory obligation they are under, they should be granted some sort of Parliamentary release, and it is obvious it would not be fair to compel them to proceed with the Bill, in view of the fact that the great expenditure entailed thereby would be absolutely thrown away by reason of the impossibility of the Bill becoming law this session. I therefore ask the House to order the withdrawal of the Bill. In doing so I take it it will signify its. acknowledgment that the promoters have fulfilled their obligation, and that it was simply due to the efflux of time that they were unable to get the Bill disposed of. The hon. Member for North Louth has a motion down to add words declaring that in the opinion of this House the promoters have discharged their obligations. It is not for me, but for you, Sir, to say if that is in order. I can only say that I fully agree with the spirit of the Amendment, although perhaps it is not desirable, after the statement I have made, that the words should be added to the motion which I beg to move.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

I think that in the course of the history of the Parliamentary oppression of Ireland, nothing equal to the course that has now been taken of the conduct of private business has yet occurred in the course of our relations with England. The motion is absolutely unparalleled and absolutely without precedent except in the case of a dissolution of Parliament. Yesterday, without notice to any Member of the House, a notice appeared on the Paper in; a furtive and almost illicit manner, and at: twelve o'clock, when nobody knew what was going to occur, the respected Chairman of the hybrid Committee marched up the floor, and the whole matter having been opparently arranged and rehearsed, a motion was made that the Bill be withdrawn. The Bill is one which it is the merest common form of Parliament to grant, namely, an extension of time to construct a small piece of railway some twenty or thirty miles in length. No one had a notice against it, and if the opponents of the Bill had gone before the Locus Standi Committee they would have been refused on the ground that on the question of the extension of time the merits had not been considered. There- fore the Midland Company, which has been appearing as an opponent of the Bill, would, if its petition had been opposed, have been refused a locus. What happened? Another great and cardinal measure was before Parliament—a measure of the very first importance to Ireland—namely, a proposal to make an amalgamation between the Great Southern and Western and Waterford and Limerick Railways. That was a great measure, and to deal with it Parliament appointed a hybrid Committee. The second Bill was absolutely divorced from that measure and had nothing whatever to say to it. It was a mere proposal to give an extension of time for the construction of a piece of necessary railway; but, a hybrid Committee having been appointed to deal with the larger scheme, it was decided to refer the second Bill to the same Committee; and that hybrid Committee, which has expended its time during some thirty sittings in dealing with the first Bill, now comes down to the House to propose to withdraw a measure which, as I have said, it is the commonest form to pass without opposition, and which in the case of every English, Welsh, and Scotch Bill is given merely for the asking. Owing, I presume, to the heat, the Committee are unable to deal with the important question as to whether there shall be three years longer allowed to construct the line. I denounce such a proceeding, and very much regret that the Chairman of Committees should have felt himself obliged, owing to this condition of impotence, for it is nothing else, to make a motion of this kind. The comical part of the proceeding is that the Bill, which one hybrid Committee says it is unable to deal with this session, has been brought in by order of another hybrid Committee. By the Rosslare Act last year a hybrid Committee laid a statutory obligation upon these companies to bring in these Bills which another hybrid Committee confesses its inability to deal with. There is not a petty sessions court in the land which would deal out so monstrous and so expensive an injustice. I believe there has been passed for Scotland a measure to enable some kind of local inquiry to be substituted for inquiry at Westminster, and I am sorry to hear the First Lord of the Treasury say it cannot be extended to Ireland, because it is necessary to get some experience of Scotch procedure before we are treated to a measure of the kind for Ireland. This is a matter, not of sentiment, but of hard cash. Scores and hundreds of witnesses were compelled to come to London, and expensive counsel had to be engaged to plead the question before the tribunals, and now the tribunal itself confesses its impotence. It may be some poor satisfaction to the promoters of this railway to get the limited endorsement which I propose by my Amendment, namely, to commence the Resolution with the words:— This House being of opinion that the promoters have discharged the obligation imposed on them by Section 72 of the Fishguard and Ross are Railways and Harbours Act, 1898. For myself I am entirely opposed to the motion. I think it establishes a very bad precedent, and it ought to give us a sickener of these hybrid Committees. The idea I have of a hybrid Committee is that the opponents and supporters of the measure should be equally represented upon it. But in the present case the gentlemen appointed by the House were confessedly all opponents of the measure, and I think it will be necessary whenever this system is resorted to again that the Members who are appointed shall frankly declare themselves friends or foes to the Bill. I can only humbly submit my Amendment as some slight mitigation of the evil of the motion which is now being moved.


Do I understand the hon. Member to move his Amendment?


Yes, Sir.


Then it becomes necessary for me to state that it is out of order.


Perhaps I may be allowed to make a short statement with regard to the proceedings of the hydrid Committee whose conduct is now before the House. I was Chairman of that Committee. It is not altogether the case, as suggested by the hon. Member, that we declined to deal with the short extension of time Bill. What happened was this: Having disposed of the Amalgamation Bill, we came to the deci- sion to proceed, next with the Central of Ireland Railway Bill: and, lastly, with the smallest Bill. Had it been only a question of the small Bill, I think the Committee would have been willing to go on with it, but, having come to the determination to take No. 2 Bill, they decided to go into the room and ask whether No. 3 Bill was opposed or not. The Committee were told from two quarters that it was opposed, and that it would be bitterly opposed. Having sat for 30 days over the first Bill, and paid the greatest attention to it, the Committee decided that it would be absolutely useless and a waste of time and money to proceed with the other two Bills, inasmuch as it was known that they had to go to another place and be endorsed there before becoming law. The Committee, I think, were wisely advised in the course they took. The Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for North Louth has my entire concurrence. I stated to the Committee more than once that, in my opinion, the promoters of this Bill had purged the promise or pledge which they gave to the Rosslare Committee last year by coming to Parliament and doing their best to carry it out. I think that they have done their very best to redeem their promise; and I believe that every member of the Committee will say the same thing. It should be borne in mind that just when these large Bills of great importance to the people of Ireland were introduced, a grave and serious change had taken place in the representative bodies in the south and west of Ireland. The grand juries had ceased to exist, and the county councils and district councils had been substituted. When your Committee were appointed, the members of these new bodies had not got tight in their saddles, and this House, and your Committee, both felt it was well that those bodies should have time to maturely consider the grave issues put before them in Bills like these. Let me point out to hon. Members who have not the honour of being Irishmen——


Order, order! I think it would be better not to go into matters arising upon a Bill not now before the House.


The hon. Member cast a slight aspersion on the Committee by suggesting we ought to have gone on with this Bill; and I am giving reasons why we did not commence our inquiry earlier, and thus have secured the possibility of concluding the Bills. I am stating that the county councils, having been appointed so recently, it was necessary, in order——


I did not understand the hon. Member to say anything in criticism of the first Committee having lasted so long. What he complained of was that, having disposed of one Bill, they did not go on with the others. It would be out of order to go into the reasons why the Committee sat so long.


I was dealing with the accusation of incompetence. I have shown we sat thirty days, and that had the Bill been submitted to us earlier in the session we might have been able to deal with all three.


"Impotence" was the word I used.


I think I have said enough to show that the Committee have honestly and straight-forwardly carried out the injunctions of this House, and after the expression of my opinion that the Amendment of the hon. Member for North Louth is just, I hope we may be allowed to proceed to other business.

MR. CARSON (Dublin University)

This is a very important matter. The promoters were under a statutory obligation to promote this Bill, and the section of the Act of Parliament which imposed that obligation prevents them from annulling or varying certain contracts for the working of railways in Ireland until that statutory obligation has been disposed of by Parliament. They have, in fact, to continue the old arrangements at very great expense to themselves. They came to Parliament with this Bill under a statutory obligation, and the question now is, whether they are to be considered as having discharged the obligations placed upon them by the Act of last year. I hardly think that the motion before the House is a sufficient disposition by Parliament. It certainly Mould be a cruel thing to the promoters and shareholders to tell them later on that they have not discharged their statutory obligation, and to put them to the great expense of bringing the Bill forward again. The addition of the words of the hon. Member for North Louth would make the matter perfectly clear. It might be argued, however, that as the motion now stands it is in no sense a disposition of the Bill by Parliament, but a withdrawal at the will of the promoters themselves. The promoters objected to withdraw the Bill; they were asked to do so several times, and declined. I am very anxious that this matter should be made clear, so as to save expense. I had something to do with sending this Bill to a hybrid Committee, and I would suggest to the Chairman of Committees whether the use of some such words as that "the Order for the Bill be discharged" would not be more apt, and not leave the matter open to the very scathing criticisms which lawyers always pass on the Acts of this House. It may not altogether satisfy the promoters, who have spent thousands of pounds in trying to fulfil these obligations, but it certainly would make their position more definite and clear.


I think we are all agreed as to the course it is desired to pursue, and the question is, how best to achieve the end. In reply to the right hon. Gentleman who last spoke, I must point out that there is no order which could be "discharged." I submit that if the House accepts my motion, the House will order the Bill to be withdrawn. That will appear on the Votes and Proceedings to-morrow, and then the application made by the promoters to Parliament will have been disposed of by the House of Commons. Although I am very anxious to meet the views of my right hon. friend in the fullest possible way, I have not been able to discover any other plan than that I have suggested, viz., that the House itself should order the withdrawal.

Question put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Great Southern and Western Railway Bill and the Waterford and Central Ireland Railway Bill be withdrawn.