HC Deb 23 June 1899 vol 73 cc401-14
MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N)

Sir, the motion I have the honour to make is an unusual one, and I desire further to say at the outset that, it being an unusual one, I have no intention whatever of dividing the House upon it. I simply bring it forward by way of making an appeal for a further opportunity of consideration being given to it. I feel very much upon this question, and for this reason, that under the system of Select Committees in this House the rules of procedure are admittedly of a very oppressive and difficult kind in dealing with Irish business. If you have a Bill rejected by this House it is final, but if passed by the House the opponents have a further opportunity of opposing it in the House of Lords. Therefore, it is specially hard upon promoters if, for any reason whatever, the Committee consider that a case has not been made out for the Bill, it is thrown out for the whole year, and the promoters have no opportunity of coming again to the House. It is very seldom that the proposal to make a railway in Ireland comes before this House. There has not been for thirty years a Bill to construct a railway, with one exception, unless in the hands of the State. Therefore, when private individuals come forward and propose to lay out half a million of money to construct a line forty miles in length I respectfully say that the proposal is entitled to the generous consideration of the House. Far be it from me to even hint an objection to the composition of the Committee or to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Clitheroe Division who presided over the proceedings. We owe too much to the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the action he took last year as president of the Hybrid Committee on the Rosslare scheme to allow any imputation of unfairness on his general line of action in this matter. I am quite sure that he will not conceive for a moment that in making this motion I am engaged in making any reflection upon him in his character as President of the Committee. On the contrary, if I could imagine that this motion in the slightest degree reflected upon him, I would not make it. Whatever view the right hon. Gentleman takes of the motion, it is not my intention to go to a Division. In the first instance, it will be remembered that, however important a Committee of this House may be in dealing with Irish matters, there are no Irish Members upon it. Whatever be the result of this motion, it must lead us in future years to insist that Irish business shall be so conducted that some infusion of an Irish representative character shall take place in regard to it. We came before the right hon. Gentleman, and he gave a very patient consideration to our case; but before I deal with that, let me state the Irish feeling in regard to the Bill. Forty-five local bodies have declared in favour of this measure, and no single Irish body have declared against it. Trinity College, which owns land in the district—the Provost, Dr. Salmon, and the governing body of Dublin University, have declared themselves in favour of it. My hon. friend the senior Member for Trinity College, if he could have been present in his place, would have supported the motion, and his colleague in the representation of the University has already signed the petition in its favour. Indeed, I may say that more than half the Irish representatives have presented a petition to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lancashire, asking that an opportunity may be given for the reconsideration of the Bill. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman has cast upon him a great responsibility, and I am quite sure that if, in his wisdom, he chooses to assent to our request it would be a very great favour. However strongly he may feel that he was right in connection with his action, I think he must see that there is something to be said on the other side when so large a body of Irishmen petition in regard to it, and when the unanimous voice of the local authorities and the public appeals to him for a reconsideration of the case. Armagh, through which this railway would partially run, is a county which is not entirely National in its character. It is represented in this House by two Conservatives and one Nationalist, and when I say that all three, the County Council, three-fourths of which are Conservatives, and all the local bodies are in favour of it, then I think there is a very strong case for reconsideration. The line would run through the neighbouring county of Meath, all of which is Nationalist, and the Members and local bodies support the Bill. Then, in the adjacent counties of Monaghan and Cavan the entire local bodies support the appeal for reconsideration. Well, I intervene in the matter, not only because my name is on the back of the Bill, but because I have been appealed to by the local bodies to take charge of the motion. I think that as this appeal to the House is supported by the whole weight of the local authorities, it requires very strong arguments indeed to maintain that the motion should not be entertained. There are precedents for this motion. One was established by the Duke of Westminster in a railway case, and there was another case where a similar motion was successful. Now, it may be asked, on what ground was this Bill rejected, and on what grounds do I ask for its reconsideration? Sir, as I understand, the Committee gave no reasons, and do not now give reasons, for the rejection of the measure. As I understand, they decide in camera, and simply announce to the public that the preamble is passed or is not passed; and of course it is left, more or less, to private speculation to arrive at the grounds for the rejection. Looking to the board of directors, it appears to me to be a very solid board of very solid gentlemen. The High Sheriff of the County of Armagh, Mr. Lonsdale, a Conservative gentleman, was one of the directors; Sir Benjamin Baker, the eminent engineer, whose work on the Forth Bridge and in Egypt everyone is acquainted with, was another; Mr. Charles M. Holland, connected with Brunner, Mond, and Co., was another; Lord Greville, an Irish peer, was another; and Mr. Rose, of Birmingham, another. It may be said that this line could be constructed by the promoters with a view to sell it either to the Midland Railway or to the Great Northern Railway. On that point I would say that as far back as 1837—sixty years ago—this line was recommended by a Royal Commission to be made, and therefore I think that any promoter, be he who he may, who takes it up now, sixty years after, and tries to do the work, ought to be encouraged. You cannot suppose that promoters of railways are merely benevolent persons who wish to spend their time and money for the public benefit. That would be an absurdity. There is an element of public benefit and private gain in every railway speculation. Both motives and interests are always there, and I see no ground for the suggestion that the individual promoters connected with this scheme are actuated by other than the ordinary motives. The second objection is, that if these promoters get hold of the Bill, instead of making the line, they would sell it to the Great Northern Railway Company or the Midland Railway Company. As far as I understand, the Great Northern and Midland Companies have entered into a mutual arrangement by which neither would interfere with the other's spheres of influence or invade each other's territory. But is this line to be regarded as a no-man's line, and is it to be boycotted by both companies, and is it never to be made by reason of this joint agreement? If that be so, then there is surely the greater reason why the private promoter should be encouraged to try and break up this monopoly. If the promoters obtain an Act, I understand that they cannot sell that Act either to the Midland or Great Northern Company without coming to Parliament for sanction; so that both Parliament and either company would have a check upon the sale or barter of the line. Well, then, it might be said that the traffic would not warrant the construction of the line. Now, this line is divisible into two parts—the fat end and the lean end. The fat end is supposed to be from Armagh to Keady, and the lean end from Armagh to Kingscourt. I understand that an undertaking has been given from the Great Northern Railway that they themselves will come to Parliamentary next year and obtain Parliamentary powers to construct the fat end of the line. In other words, the lean end of the line is never to be made. Well, all I can say is, that if the Great Northern Company come to Parliament next year with that scheme, I shall meet it with the most strenuous opposition. We have gone on our knees to the Great Northern Railway Company again and again; our people, both Catholic and Protestant, have crawled to the company and asked them to make this line; and now, because the line has, to some extent, been supported by this Committee, and the conduct of the Great Northern in the past has been exposed, they, in order to suit their through line, say, "We will make this fat end of the line and thereby kill the other scheme." That is not a position which Parliament ought to allow this railway company to take up. While railway companies have rights, they have also obligations. I respectfully say that whoever makes this line, it should be made as a whole. And now we come to the case that was made for reconsideration. It is very remarkable, in connection with the shifts and strategies of the opponents of this line, that I should have received a telegram in Dublin the day before yesterday. I am very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Clitheroe Division is in his place to-day, and I regret that he was debarred by illness from being present last week when I proposed to make this motion. In my innocence I did not know anything whatever of the condition of the right hon. Gentleman except from a private note which I received from him; but on Wednesday last I received the following telegram: Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth too ill to come to the House. Will you be further considerate to him and postpone your motion for re-committal of the Bill until after 4th July? (Signed) DYSON, 9, Great George Street, Westminster. I made inquiry, and found that this was the firm of solicitors for the Great Northern Railway, the opponents of the Bill! By this trick of the Great Northern Company, under the pretence of solicitude for the health of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Clitheroe Division I was to be prevented from coining over from Dublin to move my motion, and therefore I would have been too late to get a chance of the Bill being reconsidered this year. That is a specimen of the tricks of the Great Northern Company of which we have had to complain on every matter connected with this line. I would say, if there was no other ground than that telegram, the opponents of this Bill are to be condemned as a set of tricksters. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman who presided over this Committee may ask upon what point it is that we seek the reconsideration of the Bill. What the promoters of the Bill say is that they made a mistake in considering that the Committee was with them. They say that on the question of traffic, which is stated to be the ostensible reason for objection, when the Royal Commission recommended the making of this line 60 years ago, they conceived that, to some extent, it was unnecessary for them to go closely into that question. One of the opponents of the Bill was the Midland Railway Company, and I find, on looking at the evidence, that when the promoters of the Bill sought to cross-examine the managers of the Midland Railway Company on the question of traffic, they were stopped by the Chairman. On page 156, when Mr. Tatlow, manager of the Midland, was about to be examined as to traffic, Mr. Blennerhassett was apparently stopped on the objection of another set of opponents. For instance, at Question 2173, Mr. Pember said: An opponent has no right to give evidence in favour of the Bill— The Chairman: Certainly not. Mr. Blennerhassett: I am not going to call any evidence in favour of the Bill; you are quite mistaken. The Chairman: Mr. Pember is, of course, right in objecting to that. I think you must be careful to avoid that. Keep yourself strictly to the question of this proposal of running powers, and your objection to it. In other words, an indication was given by the Chairman—and I respectfully say that that was the impression made on the minds of the supporters of the Bill—that they had no right to examine the Midland manager on the question of traffic. It may have been right or it may have been wrong, but I respectfully say that it would have been desirable if the Midland manager had been examined on that point.

SIR U. KAY - SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)

The objection was raised because the impression was that he was going into evidence arising in support of the Bill, whereas, he appeared as an opponent. The witness was allowed to proceed.


All I can say is that the impression left on the mind of the promoters was not the same as that left on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. Well, the right hon. Gentleman made his recommendation, and on page 180 he says: The Committee have decided that the preamble is not proved, but in doing so they take note of the assurance given on behalf of the Great Northern Railway Company, that a railway will be constructed from Armagh to Keady. It appears to me that if an alternative line is practically taken note of and sanctioned, a cross-examination should have been allowed. Both on the ground of the mistake made by the promoters, and of the general anxiety and feeling of the district, I think this is a proper scheme for re-consideration, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept the motion.

MR. ARCHDALE (Fermanagh, N.)

I do not often agree with my hon. friend opposite, but in this matter I am bound to do so, as the whole of the inhabitants of the district are in favour of the recommittal of the Bill and of there being a further hearing. I second the motion for the re-committal.

Motion made and question proposed, That the Kingscourt, Keady, and Armagh Railway Bill be re-committed to the former Committee.—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)


Speaking, not as a member of the Irish Government, but as the re- presentative of a constituency which contains the towns of Armagh and Keady, I support the motion. There are two rival lines put forward at present for this district, and there are influential partisans of both schemes. I have not the materials to decide between the relative merits of these two lines, and I think that the safest guidance under the circumstances is the judgment of an independent Committee of this House. Now, Sir, in this case there has been, I need not say, an absolutely fair inquiry; but there are certainly a large number of people in my constituency who think that in the evidence justice was not done to the traffic facilities, traffic capabilities, and traffic prospects of the scheme. Sir, I think it is most desirable, speaking as a representative of the district, that there should be no feeling that before this matter is finally disposed of something was left unsubmitted to the Committee which ought to have been submitted to them. I understand that the further consideration of this Bill would not occupy more than a day, and I also understand that the promoters are willing to make any reasonable undertaking to provide for the costs of the opponents necessitated by such reconsideration. I therefore suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, who is the Chairman, whether he cannot see his way to give that further consideration to the Bill. There could not have been a better Committee, or one more representative of both sides of the House, and there could not be a more respected or more experienced Chairman than the right hon. Gentleman. I sincerely trust, having regard to all the circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept the suggestion made.

MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)

As representing a very large district interested in this railway, I wish to add my voice to that of hon. Members in asking that the Bill should be re-committed. At a representative meeting at Carrickmacross a unanimous desire was expressed that the Bill should be re-committed, and a resolution was passed to the effect that the people of the district were very much disappointed that the Bill was not passed by the Committee. It would take a man living in the district to understand how necessary this Bill is. As coming from the district, my belief is that the Bill is of the greatest importance as affecting a district of some 20 miles, and that importance is recognised by the Irish people generally, by benches of magistrates, district councils, boards of guardians, and other bodies, all of whom are of opinion that the Bill is very much wanted and would prove of the greatest service to this district. It having come to my notice some time ago that the Midland Railway Company were thinking of constructing a line to Carrickmacross, an understanding was arrived at, most unfortunately for the district, between the Great Northern and the Midland, the result of which will be to hit very hard the people in the district, for the arrangement was that there should be no competition in future between two lines of railway, and the result of that, of course, is that we shall have to pay any rate that the Great Northern Railway Company may demand. Sir, I will read the resolution which was passed by the Carrickmacross District Council last Tuesday: That this Council is greatly surprised at the action of the Parliamentary Committee in throwing out the Bill for the Kingscourt to Keady line of railway, and they cannot see how the Committee could possibly come to the decision they arrived at, taking into account how badly this line is needed for the purpose of opening up the country through which it is proposed to build it, and that we call on Mr. Daly, our representative in Parliament, to use his influence in having the matter reconsidered. This Council think that the throwing out of this necessary Bill is another proof of the necessity of having matters of this kind, which are of such importance to Ireland, considered in Dublin, and by Irishmen. I hope, before long, matters of this kind will he considered by Irishmen, and not by people who do not understand the necessities of Ireland. The Committee went fully into the subject, but there was a great deal too much weight placed upon the evidence of the traffic-manager of the Great Northern Railway Company, and that in itself is a very strong reason why this Bill should be re-committed. Carrickmacross is 56 miles from Dublin by the new line, and no changes would have to be made, while on doe present route the distance is 70 miles, and there is the trouble and danger of three changes. Castleblaney, to which is being connected Carrickmacross, and Kingscourt are both important towns. At present, if a person wishes to go to the market at Castleblaney, he has to leave Carrickmacross at five minutes to eight in the morning, and does not reach Castleblaney until 18 minutes past ten—two and a half hours to reach a town nine miles away; while by the new line the distance would be covered in 10 or 12 minutes. All Members from Ireland, both Conservative and Nationalist, are in favour of the Bill, and I respectfully ask that it may be recommitted.


An appeal has been made to me in a memorial signed by a large number of the Irish Members, and supported by the Solicitor-General opposite, and by another hon. Member on that side of the House, to consider whether the Committee would not sit again, after reporting to this House that the preamble of this Bill was not proved, and consider the matter afresh. Being desirous of doing full justice, I have listened carefully—but without success—for any suggestion of new facts or of any mis-statements made before the Committee by which they might have been misled. It is without precedent that a Committee should be called upon by this House to sit again after reporting the preamble of a Bill not proved, except under such circumstances as I have suggested, and circumstances recognised by the Committee itself as being of a character requiring further consideration. It was stated that this line was recommended by a Royal Commission 60 years ago, but the House was not informed that that was before the present railway system of Ireland in that part of the country existed, and before the line which now connects Belfast and Dublin had been built. It might have been good to run a line as suggested by this Bill, but another route was chosen, and this is a proposal to construct another line, 36 miles long, parallel with the other, and only about 10 miles to the west of it. I may say at once that the Committee, if they were convinced that they had not had all the facts before them, would not have any feelings of amour propre or anything of the kind; but I would rather leave it to the authorities of the House to consider whether, when a Bill has been thoroughly considered and no new facts brought forward, a Committee should be called upon to sit again, and the parties put to the trouble and expense of coming before the same Committee again to lay before them the same set of facts as before. We stopped no relevant evidence. The point which has been referred to was a purely technical point, and when the technical point had been decided the witness was allowed to go on and give the evidence he wished to give. The promoters were represented by five of the leading counsel at the Parliamentary Bar—four Queen's Counsel and one junior—but their case was, throughout, a weak one, and the weakness was shown to be fatal when the evidence of the opponents—the Great Northern Railway—was laid before the Committee. This railway was to connect two systems of railways, the Great Northern to the north of Armagh, and the Midland and Great Western south of Kingscourt. In the opinion of many of the witnesses the northern part of the line was really needed, but it was in the wrong place, as it was on the high-level, while what is wanted in that district is a low-level railway passing from Armagh to Keady, which would have supplied places that have no railway at all. As the outcome of the proceedings before the Committee, I have in my hand a formal promise, on behalf of the Great Northern Railway Company, that a Bill to construct such a line shall be promoted in the next session of Parliament.


You will never get it.


If they do not get it, it will be because of opposition that may be brought against it. Keady will be served by the railway to be promoted next session. Then comes the question of the rest of the country south of Keady. The line proposed in this Bill will only pass through two places—Castleblaney, with 1,721 inhabitants, and Carrickmacross with 1,175; and besides those two places there is on the route no hamlet, no village, no factory, and no prospect of any mineral traffic. Kingscourt, at the southern end of the line, and these other two places, already have railway stations, while Castleblaney and Carrickmacross have immediate communication with the coast. Keady is the only place on the whole route which has not railway facilities. As to the nature of the country through which the line will pass, from Keady to Castleblaney is a very poor agricultural part.


May I ask upon what grounds the right hon. Gentleman makes the statement that this is a poor country?


That was the evidence given before the Committee, and Members who are more acquainted with that part of Ireland than I am will be able to judge whether or not it is correct. The Committee came to the conclusion that there was no prospect of a financial return on the capital which was proposed to be expended, and that this line would take away from the chance of the promotion or completion of a better line from Armagh to Keady, which would serve the latter. Well, Sir, the Committee saw that the only chance of raising the traffic and making a profit would lie in the geographical position of this line between these two great systems of railway. The line could not have made a profit itself, but it would be possible for the promoters of the line to approach one or other of the great companies and sell the line. The Committee were of opinion that that would be the ultimate use to which the line would be put, and they thought that that was not a thing which the Committee would accept or sanction. They thought it was sometimes beneficial for a railway contractor to construct a line, provided always he could show that there would be a financial return, but in this case there could be no financial return unless by a sale to another company; and, under all the circumstances, the Committee were unanimous in coming to the conclusion that this was not a Bill which they could properly pass, and they consequently came to the conclusion that the preamble was not proved; and I hope their decision will receive the support of this House.

* MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

I think that the House would feel that the circumstances would have to be very exceptional before it would reverse the decision of the Committee. If we were to be called upon to reconsider all the evidence and the arguments urged on Private Bills, our work would be endless. On the other hand, the House will naturally desire to preserve its full authority over the decisions of the Committees, and I think the House must concede that circumstances might exist under which the House would send a Bill back to the Committee, though they had not passed the preamble. That, however, would only be done upon the ground that there had been a mis- carriage of justice, and I think that the hon. Member for Clitheroe will vouch that no miscarriage of justice has occurred in this case. He, as the Chairman of the Committee, is as well qualified as any man in this House to direct the consideration of a Committee, and the knowledge he has acquired in Irish matters is a guarantee that he gives attention to all the arguments put forward. All the promoters can allege is that some evidence which the promoters had was not placed before the Committee, but they were assisted by able counsel, and I think there can be very little doubt that they put their best evidence in first. If that did not convince the Committee, I doubt whether any further evidence which the promoters could have brought would be able to throw any light in that direction. Under the circumstances, it seems to me that the House would be taking a most unusual course, and one which I would venture to advise it not to adopt, against the views of the Chairman, in sending this Bill back to the Committee.

MR. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)

I quite recognise the strength of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman, but I also recognise that there is a unanimous opinion in Ireland that this matter should be reconsidered. A claim has been made that certain evidence which was not before the Committee could now be introduced. As that claim comes from Irish Members on both sides of the House, I submit that it is a case in which the House might give way. It comes from persons acquainted with the needs of the district, and who know that unless something is done the Great Western Railway of Ireland will swallow up everything. I hope that the time is not far off when the existing management of these railways will be changed, and facilities will be given to the inhabitants of this district to send their produce to the great markets of the world on fair and reasonable terms. No less than nine representative bodies of the district are in favour of this Bill, and I contend that the very fact that the representatives of Fermanagh, Armagh, and Tyrone are sent up to this House to advocate the recommittal of this Bill shows that the claim of the district is a strong one.


Perhaps I may give one reason which the right hon. Member for Clitheroe did not give for the rejection of this Bill, which he now opposes the recommittal of. It only affects a small railway in a small district, but the right hon. Gentleman is such a staunch Home Ruler that he rejects this as an instance of the incompetency of his Party to deal with Irish affairs. I beg to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.