§ (By Order.)—Order for Second Reading road.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Bill be now read a second time.
To leave out the word now, and at the end of the Question to add the words upon this day six months."—(Mr. J. Redmond.)
§ MR. J. REDMOND (Waterford)
Sir, I hope the fact that the House has been engaged now for some time on the consideration of private business will not prevent the House giving its attention to the question which now comes before it upon this Bill. I would have hesitated to intervene in this matter at all upon this occasion were it not that this Bill 724 raises issues of the widest possible character affecting the public in Ireland —issues so large and wide that I feel it is the duty of Irish Members to have them discussed and considered on Second Reading. I suppose the majority of Members who are in the House probably know little or nothing about this matter, but I would ask their permission to state in a few words what exactly it is that the Bill proposes. Sir, this is a Measure for placing in the hands of one railway company in Ireland—namely, the Great Southern and Western Railway Company—practically speaking, all the railway lines in the south of Ireland. Although this scheme does not touch the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford, or some small lines west of Cork, it can broadly be said that this Measure will put into the hands of one railway company all the railways south of a line drawn from Dublin to Galway. The Measure proposes to enable the Great Southern and Western Railway to amalgamate the Waterford and Limerick Railway, the Central Ireland Railway, the Tuam and Claremorris Railway, Claremorris and Swinford Railway, Swinford and Collooney Railway, and the Limerick, Kerry, and Thurles Railway, and by the Act of last Session the Great Southern and Western Railway has obtained possession of the Waterford, Dungarvan, and Fermoy Railway, and, in conjunction with the Great Western Railway of England, the new railway to be built from Rosslare to Waterford, and thence on through Mayo to Cork. So, Sir, I say that this Bill is, so far as Ireland is concerned, of far more importance than the Bill we have just been discussing was with regard to England. Under this Bill, every railway line coming into the city of Waterford, every railway line coming into the city of Limerick, practically every railway line coming into the city of Cork, if you except these little West Cork lines which cannot compete, every line of railway coming into the city of Ennis, every line of railway coming into the town of 725 Tralee, and every line coming into the city of Kilkenny, will in the future be all in the hands of one railway, and this railway will have, in this way, complete control of the ports of Water-ford, Cork, Limerick, and Tralee. Mr. Speaker, to show how wide a Measure this is, 13 counties are affected by it—the counties of West Meath, King's County, Queen's County, Galway, Water-ford, Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, Kerry, Mayo, Galway, Roscommon, and Sligo. I mention this fact in order to try and press upon the House that this is indeed an enormous proposal, one that for good or ill will affect the future of Ireland, and, therefore, a proposal that the House of Commons ought most carefully to consider upon every side. The first question, Mr. Speaker, which would, I think, be asked is—what do the inhabitants of these 13 counties and these cities that I have mentioned say about this Bill? I do not believe any Private Bill was ever more vigorously opposed, or so nearly unanimously opposed, by the people concerned as this Measure. Some little time ago a deputation waited upon the Secretary to the Treasury and the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland upon this question. That deputation certainly was one of the most representative that ever waited upon an English Minister in this country. I think that every one of the 13 counties was represented in that deputation. The Mayors of all the chief cities concerned were there—the Mayors of Waterford, Limerick, Kilkenny, and Sligo, the Town Commissions from all the towns in this area were present; and altogether, as was admitted by the Chief Secretary when speaking in answer to the deputation, it was a gathering most representative of the populations affected by this Bill. Sir, I do not know exactly what course the Debate will take here, but I may express my own opinion. Unless, perhaps, the Members for Mayo support this Measure, I do not believe that the Members for any of the other thirteen counties affected are likely to do so. Certainly, as for the counties of West Meath and Queen's County, Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary, and Limerick, the counties which are most concerned, and Kerry also, no single representative of theirs, I venture to say, will be found supporting this Bill. Sir, may I advert for one 726 moment from this question to the possibility of the Members for Mayo supporting this Bill. I think they are supporting the Bill from the narrow Mayo point of view. If they support the Bill, it will be for the same reasons that we oppose it, because they desire that there-should be competition in their county, that the Great Southern and Western: should come in there and be in competition with the Midland. That is a most reasonable view, and that, Mr. Speaker, is exactly the view that influences the other counties in opposing the Bill. Now, what is the reason of this almost unanimous opposition from the counties affected? The reason is perfectly plain. It is a dread on the part of the cities and counties of a monopoly in the hands of the Great Southern and Western Railway Company, whose history in the past makes, it feared and disliked in Ireland. At present the lines that under this amalgamation scheme are to be bought up by the Great Southern and Western are in active competition with it, and I am the first to admit that that competition, as it stands, is altogether inadequate; but still, the result of that competition has been extraordinary. I have a statement here which was circulated among Members of the House this morning, showing what the result of that inadequate competition has been in the past, and I find that where competition sprung up to the Great Southern and Western Railway, either by the Claremorris extension, or the Waterford and Limerick, or by the Southern Railway from Clonmel to Thurles—in all these cases the reduction has been enormous. The rates from Limerick to Claremorris on grain and food stuffs were reduced by competition on the Great Southern and the Claremorris extension from 12B. 6d. a ton to 7s. From Limerick to Tuam the rates were reduced from 12s. to 6s.; from Limerick to Thurles, 12s. to 5s.; from Limerick to Tralee, 12s. 6d. to 6s.; from Tipperary, 4s. 6d. to 3s. The Limerick and Fergus brought the rates from 30s. a ton to 16s. 8d.; flour from 20s. to 14s., fruit from 40s. to 23s. 6d. per ton, and so on; so that the competition which has been in existence, inadequate as it undoubtedly is, has had the result of reducing the freight of grain and food stuffs about one half, and the inhabitants of these districts, who, before these 727 competing lines came into existence, had to pay the larger freights, naturally enough look forward with dread to amalgamation which will put them absolutely in the power of the Great Southern and Western Railway once again. No one need wonder under these circumstances that the people of these counties view the passage of this Act with dread. Last year there was a Hybrid Committee appointed to consider the Rosslare and Fishguard line, and the House of Commons directed that Hybrid Committee to inquire into the whole question of competition among the railway systems in the South of Ireland. This question of amalgamation, which is now before Parliament in this Bill, and which then was the subject of a grievance between the companies, came under consideration. Now, on this question, let me say a word. I have heard it stated as a reason why this Bill should be allowed to pass that if this amalgamation be not carried the Great Western Railway of England, which is concerned with the Great Southern and the Rosslare scheme of last year, would in some way back out of its engagements, and the Rosslare and Fishguard scheme would be in danger. That has been very freely stated in Ireland, and if it were believed, Mr. Speaker, I think we could quite understand many men's minds being influenced by it, because there are many people in Ireland who are entirely against this proposed amalgamation, but who desire to see the Rosslare and Fishguard line, as sanctioned last year, carried out. I took the trouble to-day to look over the Report of the evidence before the Hybrid Committee upon this point, because it is a most serious one, and I know these threats have been used towards men in Ireland who are hostile to this amalgamation, and I find that the Committee unanimously submitted to the promoters of the Bill two questions upon this point,: and after taking a night to consider then-answer, on the following day their leading counsel said—Before the Committee resumes its labours, I desire to state that I am now in a position, with the authority of the Boards of the two companies, to reply distinctly to the questions.And his reply was as follows—Whether the amalgamation of the Water-ford and Limerick and Central Ireland Railways be ultimately sanctioned by Parliament 728 at any future time or not, this scheme will be bond fide persisted with, in the spirit in which it has been introduced, and whether this next year, or any subsequent year, Parliament does or does not sanction the amalgamation of the Waterford and Limerick, this scheme will be persisted with perfectly bonâ fide, independent of any such result.So that, I think, disposes altogether of this argument which has been freely used in some quarters. It has been used, in many quarters; it has been used even with myself. Therefore that may be left entirely out of the question. The Great Western Railway are bound by solemn pledges, whatever happens, not to attempt to recede from their position with regard to the Rosslare and Fishguard Railway. The Hybrid Committee to which I referred had this instruction given to them—That it be an instruction to the Committee that they do inquire and report whether the adoption of any or all the proposals would prevent or prejudice adequate competition in the railway systems of the South of Ireland.And in pursuance of that instruction the Hybrid Committee, having considered the matter, unanimously—and it was a very representative Committee, representing the whole of the South of Ireland —declared as follows—Although Parliament cannot in the present Session deal finally with the two proposed amalgamations, because they are not yet embodied in a Bill, your Committee are unable, after the evidence they have heard, to withhold the expression of their unanimous opinion that in the interests of the South of Ireland they will regard with grave apprehension the absorption of these two companies' undertakings by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company; and should either of these two companies become too weak to stand alone, an amalgamation with some railway system other than the Great Southern and Western would be preferable in the interests of such competition.Now, Sir, I say that in the face of that declaration, that unanimous declaration by the Hybrid Committee of last year, it is a strong order to expect that Parliament will pass this Amalgamation Bill into law. The concluding paragraph which I have read contemplates the possibility of these small railway companies becoming too weak to stand alone, and it says that in that case they ought to be amalgamated with some other system rather than the Great Southern. Well, now, I do not know— 729 I hare yet to hear it established, at any rate—that these companies are too weak to stand alone. I do not profess to know much about the position of the Waterford and Limerick Railway Company, but I am within the truth, I think, when I say that they have improved their position of late; their lines have improved, their rolling stock has improved, their income has increased, and so far as their capital is concerned, by paying four or five per cent. to their debenture holders and to their preference shareholders they have actually paid away ever since they have been in existence, or for a great number of years at any rate, a sum annually which would amount to about three per cent. on their entire capital. If that be so, certainly one would think that the Waterford and Limerick Railway was not so bad a concern as it is represented to be, or that it is impossible for it to stand alone. But, Mr. Speaker, even if it were established that the Waterford and Limerick Railway Company could not stand alone, then the position which I and others take up on this matter is this. There are other combinations which were clearly hinted at in the Report of the Hybrid Committee last year—there are other combinations which would enable the Waterford and Limerick Railway to be amalgamated with a stronger company, and yet not introduce a monopoly into the railway system of the South of Ireland, and to leave it with some sort of adequate competition. I do not think that I am called upon to say what these other combinations may be, but one of them has appeared recently in the public newspapers, because the Midland of Ireland, through their general manager, declared in a published letter the other day that if this amalgamation scheme fell through his company would be prepared to make an offer for the purchase of a part of the whole of the Waterford and Limerick system.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY TO THE LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
Would you read that letter?
§ MR. J. REDMOND
Yes. It is dated the 16th February this year, and it is a letter in which Mr. Tatlow said—In the event of the proposed amalgamation scheme not being carried, and an amalgamation of the Waterford and Limerick Company with 730 any other company becoming necessary, this company would favourably consider any proposal for the acquisition of a part of or the entire system by agreement with the Great Western Railway.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
May I point out there is a great deal of difference in a railway company undertaking to follow the offers of others and making an offer itself.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
I am only quoting that to show that other combinations are possible. Surely I am not pushing my argument beyond that. I am not prepared to say whether that would be the best solution or not, but I quote that as an indication that there is at least one other combination possible, and that is with the Midland. There are other combinations which are freely mentioned.
§ MR. CARSON (Dublin University)
Will the honourable Member say what combination is possible for the Waterford and Central Ireland?
§ MR. J. REDMOND
The Midland also. There are other companies besides the Midland which have been mentioned more than once. I read a most interesting article on the whole railway system of Ireland, written evidently by a skilled expert, in which it was suggested, as a possible combination of the future, a combination of the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford. This is only separated from the Waterford and Limerick by 14 miles between Now Ross and Waterford, a connection which ought to have been made long ago, and which I hope will soon be made. There are other combinations possible, and these combinations were clearly in the mind of the Hybrid Committee when last year they unanimously declared that if it became necessary for the Waterford and Limerick to amalgamate with a stronger company, it should be an amalgamation with some other system rather than the Great Southern and Western. Now, Mr. Speaker, my honourable and learned Friend opposite referred to the Central Ireland Railway. There is a point con- 731 nected with the Central Ireland Railway of great importance in this connection. That railway ends at present at Mount Mellick. Powers were obtained by the company to extend their line to Mullingar, and then, by running powers over existing lines from Cavan, they can get direct running to Belfast, and in this way there would be direct communication between the north and south of Ireland through the centre of the island, instead of at present only communication round by Dublin. Admittedly this scheme of amalgamation does not contemplate anything of the kind, and the witnesses that we had before us in the Hybrid Committee last year distinctly declined to give any undertaking that if an amalgamation were carried this line would be extended. I believe myself that if this amalgamation scheme as it now stands be carried into law, all possibility will be at an end of this connection being made between the north and south of Ireland through the centre of the island. There are two other considerations which I would like to address to the House—considerations of distinctly Second Reading importance. The first is this: There are very many people in Ireland who believe that this railway problem can only be finally and satisfactorily settled by something in the nature of State control or State purchase. There are differences of opinion upon that point, but there is a large volume of opinion in Ireland of that view. Well, it seems to me that if that is a possibility of the future, it ought to be carefully considered by the Government before the passage of a Measure of amalgamation such as this. I believe that Measures of this kind would render more difficult and more costly by far any such change in the general railway system of Ireland in the future, and the suggestion has been made that the whole of this railway problem ought again to be submitted to a Royal Commission before the passage of any further amalgamation Bills of this kind, and that suggestion is one which certainly has my approval. But, Sir, there is a second consideration of a general character which ought, I think, to be absolutely fatal in the House of Commons to the passage of the Second Reading of this Bill. I have said that there are 13 counties intimately concerned in this matter. Last year the 732 Local Government Act conferred on the county councils of Ireland the right of petitioning and appearing in opposition to Bills of this character. The county councils have not yet been elected. The ime for petitioning is past, and they cannot appear, and in this way, if this Bill goes through, the county councils of these 13 counties will be deprived of all voice. Mr. Speaker, the case is even stronger than that, because there are four or five of these counties that have actually guaranteed about half a million of money towards the creation of some of these small lines that are going to be amalgamated. And is it not a monstrous thing to say that they shall be deprived of voice in this matter after right to appear has been conferred upon them by Act of Parliament. The suggestion has been made, I am aware, that this matter should be postponed until some convenient date, until the county councils have come into existence, and that the time for petitioning should be extended, so as to enable them to appear. Well, Sir, the county councils will have a good deal of business to do when they come into existence, and I say it is unfair and absurd to suppose that these county councils, the moment they are created, will be able to investigate this matter fully, and to come to a determination as to what course they shall take in opposition to this Bill, and to instruct counsel, and so on. It would be impossible for that to be done in the course of a few weeks, and I say the proper course for the House of Commons to take would be to say that, under these circumstances, even apart altogether from the merits which the scheme might have—which are matters for the Committee—they will refuse to sanction the Second Reading of a Bill which deprives! the county councils of a proper opportunity of appearing and making their voice known. In conclusion, I will make an appeal to the Irish Government and to the House. Whatever view the Chief Secretary individually may take about the merits of this Bill, he must recognise that this is a matter upon which the persons concerned and their representatives have a right to speak and to have their views carefully weighed. It would be a very strong thing for the right honourable Gentleman, even in his individual capacity, to go against the almost unanimous voice 733 of these 13 counties. I say it would be a much stronger thing, and, if I may be allowed to use the word, a most improper thing if he were to use his position in the Government to make this a Government question, and, therefore, to call upon his followers, not upon the merits, but simply because he made it a Government question, to go and vote in his favour. I therefore appeal to him respectfully to leave this matter free to the House of Commons, and the free and unbiassed and independent judgment of those Members who may have taken an interest in it, and I appeal to the House generally to decide this matter not upon Party lines, but upon their judgment of the merits of the case, and if they do that, I am quite convinced that they will defeat the Second Reading of the Bill. Sir, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ MR. A. MOORE (Londonderry)
Mr. Speaker, I rise to second the Motion which has just been moved. It is now proposed to rush this Bill through the House before the local authorities created under the Act of last year have had time to take up the business which has fallen from the hands of the Grand Juries, and without affording them any proper opportunity of explaining their views. That seems to me an argument which is simply unanswerable. Then I come to the question of the wishes of the people who live in the districts affected. I believe the House will be addressed by Members of great weight, and with their usual ability and knowledge, in favour of this Bill, but I would remind the House that nothing is cheaper than good advice, except, perhaps, disinterested advice. The House will receive plenty of that this evening. But I am here, living as I do in the district, to represent those towns on the Waterford and Limerick Railway which will be affected by this Bill, and I say that the feeling is very strong in Tipperary, in Clonmel, in Waterford, and all the principal towns on that line, against it. The reason is that the people dread that you are going to establish a gigantic monopoly—a perfect millenium of monopoly -a The scheme contemplates the absorption of almost the whole of the railway system of the South of Ireland, as well as that 734 passing along to the North. It includes no less than six ports, four of great importance and two of minor importance, and it is a serious thing if the House is going to prevent a man sending his produce by any route he pleases. I would also ask the House to consider in whose favour they are about to take this most exceptional step—a step which I believe is contrary to the traditions of Parliament. The House is asked to take it in favour of a company which has pursued a grasping, unsympathetic course. The business of the Great Southern and Western Railway has been increasing in spite of itself, and in spite of the policy of its directors. We have never received from the company any consideration of our views with reference to the transit of produce. We approached them, and complained to them regarding the state in which our butter arrived at market, while Danish butter came into the Manchester market in perfect condition. It is a serious matter that butter producers should have no proper care taken of their butter in transit. When we brought our views before the company they always turned a deaf ear to us; and this is the railway to whom we are asked to extend exceptional facilities! I now come to a larger question. You have been lowering rents and taking steps in one direction or another to benefit the cultivators of the soil in Ireland. Are you now going to pile up shilling by shilling in railway rates what you have taken off the rents? That seems to me to be a question of the greatest importance. A friend of mine, perhaps the greatest financial authority in Ireland, made a careful examination of railway rates in Canada, and he found that the rates had been lowered to a farthing per ton per mile, whereas the average rate in Ireland is no less than five farthings per ton per mile, and in towns on the Great Southern and Western Railway which have no option or competition the rates are as much as 3¼d., and even 5d. per mile. I think that is a matter which ought to receive the most careful consideration of the House. With reference to the guaranteed lines interest is guaranteed in two was. Under recent legislation the Treasury has to pay 2 per cent., and the local authorities have to pay either 735 2 per cent. or 3 per cent., making it 4 per cent. or 5 per cent. altogether. There is such a thing as giving these local lines fair play, but you cannot expect a board of directors to be angels, and they, having no interest in them, will show them neither mercy nor fair play, and the Treasury and the guaranteeing districts will be bound to make good the interest. That is a very strong point, well worthy the attention of the House. Again, I would ask why it is proposed to refer this Bill to a Hybrid Committee. That would mean a great deal of additional expense. I have not been here long enough to know much about Parliamentary tactics, but it strikes me as most objectionable to appoint a Hybrid Committee—
§ MR. A. MOORE
If the Government take no exceptional line as to this Bill, but leave it to the ordinary consideration of the House, a proper and cautious line will be taken, in view of the recommendations of last year. The only object in sending the Bill to another Committee is to obtain sufficient authority to override those recommendations. This is all I wish to say. What I ask the House to do is to refuse to consent to this amalgamation, unless there is a total revision of rates throughout the South of Ireland. If that were done we might fairly support the Bill.
§ MR. CARSON
Mr. Speaker, I do not intend to follow the honourable Member who has just addressed the House, or the honourable and learned Member who has moved the rejection of this Bill, into questions which properly belong to the Committee stage, in whatever way that may be brought about. But, Sir, I think that the honourable and learned Member who brought forward the Motion to reject the Bill and who asked the House to take the exceptional course of rejecting it on the Second Reading might at least have informed the House that the promoters of this Bill have brought it forward in pursuance of a pledge they gave to the Hybrid Committee on the passage of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway Bill last year. What is more, 736 not only for reasons which I shall shortly state, why this Bill should be promoted, but so careful were the Committee that it should be promoted that they put that pledge into a section of the Act of Parliament relating to the Fishguard and Rosslare scheme. And what the House is now solemnly asked to do is—although an Act of Parliament passed last year expressly enacts that this Bill should be introduced this Session—to reject it on. Second Reading. Any such proceeding on the part of the House would be really stultifying the whole proceeding which took place last year. It would really render it impossible for promoters to know how they could possibly conduct their business if they are put under terms by Act of Parliament to do a certain thing, and, having gone to expense, are not to be given an opportunity of having their scheme inquired into.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
The honourable and learned Member must be aware that what the Committee desired to do was to prevent these companies carrying out the object of an amalgamation without a Bill by a pooling arrangement. They pledged the companies, they compelled them by inserting a provision in the Act of Parliament not to attempt an amalgamation without introducing a Bill. In that way they did direct them to introduce the proposal, with a declaration that they were unanimously against it.
§ MR. CARSON
I think the Committee of which the honourable and learned Member was a distinguished ornament had a great deal more common sense than he gives them credit for. I can hardly imagine that they had solemnly inserted in an Act of Parliament a provision that this Bill was to be introduced into this House, for the purpose of turning it out. That is the character he gives to the Committee, but I think I can satisfy the House in a few minutes that the honourable and learned Member is under a misapprehension of what is really the effect of what the Committee did. He says that the Committee introduced this clause to prevent what would really be an amalgamation by agreement or a pooling arrangement. 737 Yes, Sir; but for how long? For one year, until this Bill could be brought in. What the honourable and learned Member says, in effect, is—"Let the House reject this Bill, and then, under the Act of Parliament which my Committee enacted last year, the companies will be able to effect a practical amalgamation which will bring about practically the same results." Really, an argument of that kind has only to be stated to show its absurdity. How did this matter stand, as I understand it, with reference to the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway? The Waterford and Limerick Railway were, under an Act passed in 1886, enabled to enter into a working arrangement with the Great Southern and Western, the present promoters, and the Great Western of England, and the result of the investigation last year was that it was evident to the Committee that those arrangements must come to an end. One result was that the Great Western of England would withdraw a rebate they pay for an interchange of traffic with the Waterford and Limerick Railway Company, which last year amounted to £10,000 or £12,000. In that event the Great Southern and Western Railway would no longer be dependent to the same extent on the Waterford and Limerick. They would modify their arrangements, and the Waterford and Limerick would then become too weak to stand on its own legs. It specially provided in the section to which I have referred that neither the Great Western of England nor the Great Southern and Western should in any way modify the arrangements with the Waterford and Limerick Railway for fear it should become so weak that it would be unable to supply the public with a service, so they were put upon terms to carry out their existing arrangement with the Waterford and Limerick until they could get the sanction of that company to the present Bill. Now, let us face this question. What will happen if we reject this Bill? The whole arrangement made by the Hybrid Committee of last year falls to the ground. The Great Western Railway will have a perfect right to terminate their arrangement by which they gave £10,000 or £12,000 a year to the Waterford and Limerick, and the Great Southern, which now wants to 738 amalgamate, will have the power to enter into the working arrangement which the Committee did not wish them to have. They would have a virtual amalgamation without the responsibility for it. In other words, the Waterford and Limerick would in reality be worked by the Great Southern and Western, whereas the Great Southern and Western would not be at liberty to improve the rolling stock or the stations, or to do the other things which the capital at their command would enable them to do. Apart altogether from the evidence that may be given, it seems to me that it is an argument in favour of passing the Second Reading that, while the Committee were opposed to the amalgamation if they could see any better scheme, they thought it necessary and proper to put the promoters under the necessity and expense of introducing this Bill. All we ask is that the Bill should be inquired into before a Committee. A great deal has been said about the amalgamation of these small lines, many of which probably some Members have never heard of. My own individual opinion is that, so far as the management of railway companies in Ireland is concerned, it is a great pity there is not a great deal more amalgamation. I was very much struck with one fact mentioned by the honourable Member for Dublin, namely, that while they had about 3,000 miles of railways in Ireland they had about 300 directors, or about one director for every ten miles, and that at any time we propose to amalgamate with the great companies, such as the Great Southern and Western, we are told that we are going to build up monopolies, and, as a result, the interests of the country will be ruined. It is not the interests of the country that would be ruined, but the interests of a few directors. Another argument of the honourable and learned Member for Waterford is that he hopes that the Government will in the future purchase the Irish railways. But does he think because some of these small railways have been amalgamated with larger ones that that is any the less reason why the Government should be induced to purchase? One other matter was mentioned by the honourable Member for Derry. He stated that it was an unanswerable argument against the Second 739 Reading that the county councils, which have not yet been called into existence, have not had an opportunity of expressing their views on this Measure. As I understand, there is at the present moment upon the Paper a Motion by my right honourable Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant which provides that the county councils shall have the fullest opportunity of appearing before the Committee, and, therefore, the argument of the honourable Member for Deny falls to the ground. Of course, everybody knows that the country ought to get a hearing. It is said that this Bill is being rushed through the House. One would think we were on the Third Reading. We are not asking anything of the kind. All we ask for is that a Bill which has been brought forward in pursuance of a statutory obligation should be sent to a Committee to investigate it. Let the matter be so arranged as regards time that the county councils shall have the fullest opportunity of appearing, and let the Bill, if it be rejected at all, be rejected only after the fullest consideration.
§ *MR. M. HEALY (Cork)
Mr. Speaker, I do not know whether the honourable and learned Member for Waterford intends to press his Motion to a division. For my part I trust that he does not, and I entertain that hope principally in the interest of the very district whose rights he takes upon himself to champion and protect. In making that observation I do not at all suggest that the Debate which the honourable and learned Member has originated is other than quite proper and necessary. It would be little to the credit of Irish Members if they let a Measure of this kind pass without a full and ample discussion. I agree with every word that has been said as regards the importance of this Bill, as regards the large nature of its proposals, and as regards the vital manner in which it may, if carried into law, ultimately affect many districts in Ireland. But while admitting its importance, and having no quarrel with a great deal that the honourable and learned Member for Waterford has said, I ask the House to take the opposite course to that proposed by him. I can conceive that the Committee which would consider this Bill might for good reasons reject it. I can conceive also that the 740 Committee might for good reasons entertain the Bill and pass it into law; but one course I cannot conceive, and that is that this House should refuse to consider it when it is put forward in the manner in which it is now submitted. That is all we are asking the House to do in proposing that it be read a second time, and that is all I will contend for in the speech I am about to make. I am not here as a partisan of the Great Southern and Western Railway. The honourable and learned Member for Waterford has said some strong things in condemnation of that railway, and in that line of comment he has been followed by the honourable Member for Derry. With what they have said I cannot bring myself publicly to dissent. I took myself last year some small part in a railway struggle in which that company was interested, and I have no doubt that in the course of that contest I said about the Great Southern and Western many things quite as severe as have been said by either of the honourable Members who have spoken; and I was glad to read the other day a remark of the Chief Secretary which I trust the directors will take to heart, reminding them that the fierce opposition which they have encountered in the railway discussions of the last two years was the inevitable Nemesis overtaking them for the narrow policy they have pursued in the past. That observation was perfectly justified. I will not say that what the honourable and learned Member for Waterford has said here to-night is not also perfectly justified, and I trust the directors of that line will learn by the experience of the last two years that by the course of conduct they have pursued in the past they have not served either the interests of the company or of the shareholders. But I refuse to consider this Bill as if it were to be finally judged by the conduct of the Great Southern and Western Railway in the past. Be the action of the directors right or wrong in the past, the company now comes before us to put forward a large scheme affecting Irish interests for good or evil in an important manner, and I say they are entitled to claim from us, and we are bound to give them, a consideration of their scheme on its merits. A great deal has been said about monopoly, and 741 justly; but when we have exhausted that topic, and painted in the most vivid colours all the evils which monopoly brings in its train, we have not said the last word to be said on this Bill or on the question of railway interests and railway development in Ireland. It is quite true that monopoly is objectionable. It is also quite true that if this Bill is carried it will confer a monopoly on the Great Southern and Western Railway. It is also quite true that if there is any means open to Parliament of securing the object to be secured by this Bill which will not create a monopoly at the same time, Parliament should take that course, but those who are best acquainted with railway matters in Ireland and those who have taken some humble part in those railway struggles in the past know, unfortunately, that in Ireland it is not possible to combat monopoly by the same means which can be employed for the purpose in England or any other country. How do you combat monopoly in England? You combat it by competition, and if in Ireland it were possible to combat monopoly by competition I would be a warm opponent of these Bills. But, unfortunately, Ireland is not rich enough to support two efficient rival systems between any two important points. We cannot support two lines between Dublin and Cork, Dublin and Belfast, or Dublin and Galway. I challenge anyone to say that it is possible to get in Ireland competition by means of two trunk lines between any two even of the most important centres such as those I have mentioned. Now, of course, between Waterford and Limerick two competitive lines exist, but the honourable Member for Waterford frankly admitted that the service which that competition gave was an inadequate one, and the issue now arises whether it can continue to exist at all. It is not, therefore, enough to pronounce the word "monopoly" in order to decide the question. It is necessary to go a step further and tell the House and the country how it is possible to get rid of the evils which monopoly create. We last year made a desperate fight with a view to create a great competitive trunk system between Cork and the South of England, but in that struggle we were beaten. The force of circumstances was too strong for us, 742 and we were ultimately obliged to take the Great Western and Southern Railway as partners in a scheme which was intended to create a rival system, and that will be the history of railway enterprise in Ireland so long as Ireland remains a poor country without the resources necessary to create two rival railway systems. For us in Ireland, therefore, I am forced with regret to the conclusion that the remedy for the evils of railway monopoly is not competition, which we can hardly hope for, but the effective and continuous interference of the State in the management and control of Irish railways to prevent abuse of the great privileges conferred on railway companies. Will the House allow me to say a single word as regards the history of the project which is now before the House) How does it come that we are to-day discussing this proposal? The honourable Member for Waterford has confined himself to describing in strong language the desperate things which would happen if this scheme passes into law. I wish he had addressed himself to the question—what is to happen if the Bill is rejected? I undertake to say that none of the evils predicted will follow from the passing of the Bill, and that all the evils prophesied will occur if the Bill is rejected. Last year the House witnessed a very important development in the history of the Irish railway world. Hitherto Ireland had practically only one port of communication with England—namely, the City of Dublin—and all effective traffic between the two countries, whether from Belfast in the north, Galway in the west, or Cork in the south, had to pass through the port of Dublin; but last year, for the first time, the Great Western made a bold bid for some of the Irish traffic, and it proposed to set up in the South of Ireland a line of through communication between the two countries, which would do for the South of Ireland that which had hitherto been done only through Dublin. It joined hands, as counsel used to say, with a strong railway company, the Great Southern and Western, and invited that company to come into the port of Waterford and open through that port a system of railway communication which would be an effective rival to the Dublin route. It succeeded in that project, and 743 induced the Great Southern and Western of Ireland to come to Waterford, and then the struggle originated which eventuated in an alternative route being established, having as its port not Water-ford, but Rosslare, in county Wexford. Until this new movement in the Irish railway system the companies sending traffic to the Great Western of England were solely the Waterford and Limerick and the Central Ireland lines. Both were weak lines with single rails nearly throughout their whole length, without through express trains, and unable to give a through and effective route from Ireland to England. Such, however, as their through traffic was, it was worth the while of the Great Western of England to pay them a handsome subsidy for it. The Waterford and Limerick received £10,000 a year, and the Central a subsidy less in amount but equal in importance. The effect of the combination between the Great Southern of Ireland and the Great Western of England is that the interest of the Great Western in paying these subsidies has come entirely to an end. It is under no sort of obligation to continue them, and the evidence taken before the Hybrid Committee last year went to show that it was in the power of the Great Western to terminate its arrangement with the Waterford and Limerick in 12 months. Now, what I want to ask is this: Has the honourable Member for Waterford faced the situation which would arise in the South of Ireland if this Bill is rejected, and if the Great Southern and Western of England withdrew that subsidy from the Waterford and Limerick? If that happened it would be impossible for the Waterford and Limerick to pay dividends even on its preference shares, and it has never lately paid dividends on its ordinary shares. If the subsidy is withdrawn all dividends will disappear. The same observation applies to the Central Ireland, and I ask the honourable Member for Waterford to face the problem which will arise if this Bill is rejected, and tell us what he considers will then happen to those lines. The only suggestion which he has to make throwing light on that contingency is a letter from the Midland Company of Ireland which suggests that they might, under certain conditions and contingencies, buy up the Waterford and Limerick line. Now, the 744 South of Ireland, taking it as a whole, would not welcome the Midland as a purchaser in preference to the Great Southern and Western, in spite of the hard things which have been said of the latter company, and if it had to choose, would not accept it in preference. But I do not believe that the Midland Company is a possible purchaser for the whole line. The Great Southern of Ireland, taken as a whole, is the richest railway company in Ireland. It has the largest mileage of lines, the largest receipts, and, though not paying quite the largest dividends, is the strongest railway company in the whole of Ireland. Now, what has been the effect upon that company of this proposed amalgamation? Its shares fell in value to the extent of half a million. The general manager of the Midland and Great Western, therefore, may, for the purpose of this controversy, and without engaging his company in any real responsibility, write in a jaunty strain about the purchase of those two lines, but the day that his directors dare to make such a proposal in the face of the shareholders would, I venture to say, be the last day that they would hold their position as directors. I do not, therefore, believe that if this Bill is rejected some other company would undertake that purchase. No company will buy the Waterford and Limerick or the Central Ireland Railway. They will remain in their present position, absolutely depending upon the Great Western of England, and as that company is now in alliance with the Great Southern of Ireland, these unhappy companies will be surrounded by a ring of fire, so to speak, and will be driven to do by ft pooling arrangement what they are trying to do by amalgamation. Where, then, is the assurance that the rejection of this Bill will secure to Limerick and the other competitive points the competitive rates which they at present enjoy? A pooling arrangement which can be effected without Parliamentary sanction will most certainly deprive them of them. An amalgamation with proper safeguards can as certainly secure them to them. It is not, then, the interests of all the districts concerned to send this Bill to a Committee, which can hear their case and decide upon what terms the Bill can be allowed to pass? If I find, when this Bill returns 745 to the House, that by this amalgamation the districts interested will be deprived of the low rates which competition has given them; if I find that the Committee have not taken precautions to preserve on all competitive points the rights which the public have hitherto enjoyed, I will reserve to myself perfect freedom as to my future action. If, however, the Bill is now rejected, the competitive rates will not remain for a day beyond the good pleasure of the Great Western and the Great Southern. That is the explanation of the clause in the Report of the Hybrid Committee on the Rosslare Bill to which reference has been made. That Committee did view with apprehension the possibility of amalgamation, and for that reason the clause referred to was introduced, I believe, at the instance of the honourable Member for Waterford. It was the honourable Member for Waterford who last year was apprehensive that what the present Bill proposes would be effected outside the walls of Parliament by a pooling arrangement, and it was he who suggested that the amalgamation scheme should be submitted to Parliament. I regret to have troubled the House at such length, but we are under the difficulty of having to deal with this most important Irish matter in an English House of Parliament. This is a Measure dealing with vital interests for our country, which we are compelled to discuss as a petty Private Bill, when, if it were debated in an Irish Parliament, the fate of a Government might depend upon the decision on the Measure. I do not believe that the opposition to this Bill is universal, as stated by the honourable Member for Waterford.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
I did not say the Bill was universally opposed. What I said was that I did not think more than one or two of the Members for the localities concerned would support it.
*MR. M. MEALY
I do not know how that is. At any rate I speak for Cork, which favours the scheme, though no doubt its interests are not so nearly concerned as those of the other localities concerned. Two public bodies, representing the trade and commerce of Cork —namely, the Harbour Board and the Chamber of Shipping and Commerce, have declared in favour of the Bill. 746 I consider this is not a case for a summary rejection on Second Reading. I consider this to be a case for inquiry and examination. Last year we had a Bill before us which excited most conflicting views in Ireland. It brought forward opponents from all parts. It was referred to the Hybrid Committee, and that Committee, after hearing all the interests concerned, were able to come to a unanimous conclusion. The history of that Bill is a good augury of the possibilities before this Bill. A similar course is now proposed by the Government. I invite the House to take that course, and I must say that in my opinion the honourable Member for Waterford will be imperilling the very interests which he wishes to defend, and which I am sure he has at heart, if he presses his Motion to a Division.
§ *COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, Ince)
I was a member of last year's Committee—we found that there was no competitive route from Cork to Dublin, though one could easily be made—the Committee put a clause into the Bill to prevent any amalgamation of the companies without the consent of the House of Commons. Speaking for myself, I venture to say that unless all competition in the South of Ireland is to be done away with this Bill should be opposed.
§ MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)
I do not intend to follow honourable Members who have already addressed the House into large questions touching the interests of the South of Ireland involved in the Measure. I speak only for my own constituency in the county of Mayo. My constituents have requested me to give expression to their feelings, and to voice their interests in connection with this Bill. From that point of view I appeal to the House to read the Bill a second time, and send it to a Select Committee. The honourable Member for Waterford, knowing what the feeling of Mayo is, alluded to the fact that the Members for Mayo would probably take up that position. I do not express any opinion as to the effect of this Bill on the traffic of the South of Ireland. That question has been studied by the honourable Members for Waterford and Cork with a thoroughness 747 to which I can lay no claim. On the contrary, I abstained from attempting to get upon the Hybrid Committee last year, or from suggesting that any Member from the West should go upon it, because I did not consider that the West of Ireland was so closely concerned in the matter. But in the proposal now before the House the county of Mayo, and, indeed, the province of Connaught, is deeply concerned, because, while it is true that this Bill affects the traffic of the South, it is a large Measure concerning the interests of Connaught as well as those of the South and Centre, if in a less degree. I would direct the attention of the Chief Secretary to the letter of the manager of the Midland and Great Western, which has already been referred to by the honourable Member for Water-ford, because, so far as I am instructed by my constituents, it is mainly because of this suggested alternative scheme that they are prepared to support this Bill. The Midland and Great Western would probably absorb the portion of the Limerick and Waterford line if the present system fell through. What our people are afraid of is that if this scheme is defeated by Parliament, the Waterford and Limerick system will collapse, and portions of it will be picked up by other companies, and that the portion between Athenry and Sligo will come into the hands of the Midland and Great Western. That would be a great disaster to the people of Mayo and Connaught generally, who now have the means of having their produce brought down to Waterford in competition with the Southern and Great Western. In this instance one is compelled to speak frankly. I am speaking simply for my constituents. This is a question of great perplexity and difficulty, but I hope the Bill will be referred to a Select Committee, and that a representative of the province of Connaught will have a seat upon the Committee. I agree with the honourable Member for Cork that it is necessary that there should be proper protection afforded the public against any increase in the fares and goods rates, and, in the belief that this can be done, I support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick's)
At this late hour of the evening I have no desire to intervene at any great length in this Debate. I have 748 always interested myself in railway affairs generally, while the general disposition of honourable Members is to take a personal, a narrow, or a constituents' view of any railway scheme brought before the House. It appears to me that the proposed amalgamation means practical ruin to trade in the South-west of Ireland. When amalgamation of railway lines is proposed in England there is the Board of Trade to protect trade interests. But there is no branch of the Board of Trade in Ireland. The Railway Commissioners also protect the English public, but the name of the Railway Commission is almost unknown in Ireland, and Ireland has not the same safeguards against the railway rates and charges with respect to amalgamation which exist, and which are easily obtainable, in England. To my mind any process of amalgamation which is granted in Ireland will make it more difficult to obtain what is really the cure for the situation, and that is the nationalisation of the Irish railways. In Ireland the state of the railway system is absolutely exceptional, for they are neither State-owned nor State-managed, nor is there any competition. We are in a different position economically to that of the railways in England, and I entirely agree with what the honourable Member for Cork said, that there is no room for two parallel lines of railways from one city to another. But if this amalgamation is passed our position will be worse than it was before. The right honourable Member for the University said the Great Southern and Western were paying from £7,000 to £10,000 a year for the sake of keeping up a second railway. Will any Gentleman tell me, if this amalgamation takes place, that this process of giving a certain amount of money to obtain traffic will cease? I think, as far as I am acquainted with the commercial ways of the English people, they never give away anything without they are paid for it; and I do not think these companies will give anything to the Irish people unless they have a quid pro quo. I hold no narrow view upon this question from my constituents, but what I want is to have this railway question brought before public opinion, and public attention focussed upon it, and if the course suggested by the honourable Member for 749 Mayo is correct, then I have no objection whatever. This idea of the amalgamation of railways in Ireland should be closely watched, because our experience of Irish railways is that they are the most expensive, the worst managed, and the dearest to travel upon in the world. Under these circumstances, I would beseech this House to be very careful in any amalgamation scheme which is introduced, and it must be remembered that we have no competition in Ireland. There has been a good den said in the course of this Debate with respect to the different districts through which these railways pass. The honourable Member for Cork, who represents a very large amount of public opinion, expressed certain views, and I am not in a position to differ from his assertion; but I do say that the vast majority of this House are against railway amalgamation. I have myself received letters from various merchants in different parts of Ireland, and I do say unhesitatingly, and without fear of contradiction, that unless this amalgamation is carried out in a proper way we ought to vote against it. If we are to have amalgamation, it should be public, and it should be responsible, and it should not be left to the Great Southern and Western Railway Company alone, but public opinion should have some share in the management. I want to know from the Chief Secretary for Ireland, or from those promoting this Bill, are we going to establish a system of trusts, monopolies, and "corners" such as exist in America? In America they have competition, but in Ireland you have no such thing. If you go to any of the great cities in America you find parallel lines, brought five or six times over, from one great city to another. The result is that there is a very keen competition. Of course, I know that in Ireland you must accommodate yourself to circumstances that exist, and we do not want in Ireland either "railway kings" or great corporations in the shape of trusts, which can squeeze the vitals out of the commerce altogether in the districts through which these railways run. I do not wish to detain the House, but I think this is a matter which should be discussed at greater length than the House can afford time at present; but I would appeal to those honourable 750 Members who are so much in favour of amalgamation to remember the different circumstances which exist in Ireland to what exist in England. As I have said before, we have no competition, and there is very little State control, and if the powerful Irish railway company gets hold of these 13 counties out of the 32 counties in Ireland, when the benefits promised come to be analysed they will be found to be very different. I have had a great deal of experience in my capacity as president of a large trading association of the Irish railways, and I know how they treat that branch of the trade with which I am connected. And now I would address myself more particularly to the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I know that the right honourable Gentleman is doing his best, but if he places too much reliance upon railway directors and grants them amalgamation, without having proper guarantees, the condition of things will be made worse than it is. There are only two ways of managing railways, and they are either by amalgamation or competition. Now we have no competition, and, if we are to have amalgamation, there must be certain conditions introduced with regard to the reduction of rates. Soma honourable Members may say that this new company will not be allowed to raise the rates. Well, the rates are too high now, and we want a reduction of rates and proper facilities for carrying it out. We want the trains, and especially the third-class carriage accommodation, improved. I have drawn attention to this matter before in this House, and I take this opportunity of again appealing to honourable Members, and I say that there is no country in Europe where the accommodation provided for third-class passengers is so wretched as in Ireland. I travelled up-to-day from Liverpool to London in a third-class carriage, and—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I would remind the honourable Member that the condition of Irish and English railway carriages is not the subject of this Debate.
§ MR. FIELD
Then I will obey your ruling, Mr. Speaker. In conclusion, 751 I would impress upon the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland, if he intends to press his Motion, to be very careful about the manner in which this amalgamation is brought about, because, as I said before, if amalgamation is to be carried out, it must be public, and it must be responsible. It must study the community, and not give too much power to the railway companies, and, until I have heard what the right honourable Gentleman has to say, and what he proposes to exact in the way of security, I cannot say at the present time how I shall vote. I am, at the same time, entirely opposed to amalgamation,' because I think it makes it more difficult to accomplish the nationalisation of the Irish railways, which is the only real cure for the disease which exists in Ireland.
§ *SIR J. COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
This question was raised in an indirect way last year, and I do not, therefore, propose to go over the whole ground. In view of the action of the Hybrid Committee in reference to the Great Southern and Western Railway, I could not agree that we should throw out this Bill. For there was a clause inserted in the Bill which made it a condition that, until Parliament had disposed of their application for this Bill, the state of things which this Measure was introduced to deal with was to continue in the meantime. Therefore, I do not see that we should be justified in rejecting the Bill, but, on the other hand, I see no reason why we should not postpone it. It has been suggested, and will be suggested, that arrangements can be made by which the matter might be postponed till a later period of this Session, when the county councils will have met; but anybody who knows Ireland knows that it will be perfectly impossible for the county councils—which have only just been called into being, and which meet for the first time on the 1st of April— to be in a position for months to come to deal with such a difficult and critical matter. And, therefore, it all comes to this—that, while I agree with my right honourable and learned Friend that it is desirable that this Bill should go upstairs to a Committee where all 752 matters can be inquired into, my contention is that, under the circumstances, until the county councils have come into existence in April next, you cannot have the matter thoroughly inquired into this Session upstairs, because the county councils cannot arrange to consider it before. We must remember that this Bill affects 13 counties out of 32 in Ireland where the ratepayers are under an obligation to pay guarantees out of rates, and I do not think Parliament will be right in sending this Bill to a Committee to be inquired into until the county councils are in full working order and are able to give the matter full consideration. The county councils meet, I believe, on the 6th of April, and they have to elect their chairmen, their officers, and form their committees, and settle down to business of which they have had no experience whatever. Now, if anything is likely to upset the fair start of the Local Government Bill in Ireland, it will be, I think, for the House now to send this Bill upstairs to be dealt with just as the county councils have assembled, for that would be like putting a bombshell amongst them. Anybody who understands the condition of Ireland at the present time, and remembers the fact that these new bodies have had no experience at all, will see that this proposal will be putting upon them an unfair burden. In my opinion the proper course to pursue will be simply to adjourn this Debate.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH (Lancashire, Clitheroe)
I think, on a Bill of this kind, the House should generally be very much guided by the advice and the opinions of the Members of this House who represent the districts which are specially affected by the Bill, and, therefore, the views of the Members from Ireland ought to have very great weight. But not only have the Members from Ireland spoken with a divided voice, but Members who formed the Committee over which I presided last Session on the Rosslare and Fishguard Railway have also spoken with an uncertain voice upon this question. Under these circumstances, I shall detain the House a few moments, because I have had occasion to consider this matter in all its parts during the last Session of Parliament, 753 and, therefore, I may be permitted to say a very few words. I still hold the view which the Committee expressed last Session—namely, that this proposed amalgamation of the railways in the South of Ireland should be regarded with grave apprehension. What the Committee did was this: we had an instruction from the House which obliged us to consider carefully the whole question of competition, of adequate competition, in the railway system in the South of Ireland, and almost immediately after the Committee commenced its sittings we were made aware of this agreement between the Great Southern and Western Railway Company, who were one of the promoters of the Bill, and the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway Company. There was this agreement to enter into amalgamation, and we were bound to consider, what would be its effect upon the condition of the South of Ireland. After a very careful consideration of the matter, we came to the conclusion which has already been quoted to the House—Your Committee are unable, after the evidence which they have heard, to withhold an expression of their unanimous opinion that, in the interests of the South of Ireland, they would regard with grave apprehension the absorption of these two companies' undertakings by the Great Southern and Western Railway.Well, we were unable to deal effectively with the question, because the Bill now before the House was not then before the Committee, but the intention was to introduce it. It was pointed out, and brought to our notice, that what has been done in the South-east of England in the way of virtual amalgamation, without the consent of Parliament, might be done in the South of Ireland, and that, without coming to Parliament, those companies might amalgamate; and I believe the Committee did the right thing, and took the only course open to them, when they bound the companies not to pool or amalgamate, or alter their rates against the interests of the public, until Parliament had disposed of their Bill, and that Bill is now before the House. Something has been said as to what members of the Committee ought to do and ought not to do under these circumstances. I will, however, venture to give my 754 opinion. I think members of the Committee are perfectly at liberty to dispose of the Bill on the Second Reading, or, if they prefer it, to send the Bill up to the Committee, so that it may be further considered. If the second course were taken, it would still be open to Members on the Third Reading of the Bill to deal with it. I will venture to give my own individual opinion to the House, and it is this: It seems to me that a Committee is absolutely necessary unless that is to happen which the Committee of last Session carefully guarded against. What is there to pre vent the Great Southern and Western Railway Company from entering into an arrangement which will be a virtual amalgamation if this Bill is disposed of by its rejection upon the Second Rending, and thus the companies would be released from the binding effect of clause 72, which was introduced by us last year in the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway Bill? Under these circumstances, I would suggest that the Bill be sent to a Committee, and I hope that that Committee will most carefully consider, supposing they are inclined to reject the Bill, whether some special report should not be made to Parliament to enable the House again to guard against the danger of an amalgamation which is not desired by that Committee, by an agreement between the companies resulting in an amalgamation behind the back of Parliament. My honourable Friend the Member for Cork, whose valuable assistance on that Committee I should be very ungrateful if I did not acknowledge, argued just now that competition was practically impossible in Ireland, and said that you could not have two competing lines between Limerick and Waterford.
*SIR U. KAY-SHUTTLEWORTH
I was quite sure the honourable Member had made a slip of the tongue, but let me just take that point. What is the existing state of things between Limerick and Waterford? There is a direct line, and another indirect line, in the hands of the Great Southern and Western Railway, and what is the effect of their 755 existence? In those parts of the country where this competition exists the rates give great satisfaction to the agriculturists and others, and they would be very sorry indeed to have amalgamation take place unless their interests were properly safeguarded. It is absolutely necessary, either by this Bill or by some general legislation in the interests of those parts of Ireland which now enjoy the benefits of competition, low rates, and extended facilities, that those benefits should be safeguarded. If the Committee should make some such interim report as that which I have suggested, whilst the companies are still bound by the undertaking given to Parliament and by the clause existing in the present Act, Parliament would intervene, the Government would legislate, and steps would be taken to safeguard the interests of the public. That leads me to say just-one word upon the general question of amalgamation. I was very much impressed during the inquiry to which I have referred by the fact that the Irish railway system is too much divided among different companies, some of them very small indeed, and the Report of the Commission of 1888 draws attention to that fact. But there is a very great danger if you allow amalgamation to take place that certain districts will be deprived of that competition to which I have already alluded; and the precautions which should be taken by Parliament were pointed out by the Royal Commission. One of them is that there should be some external controlling authority, with powers to inquire into and remedy grievances. For various reasons the Railway Commissioners are not often appealed to from Ireland, and there is a great need of some authority to which the traders and those interested can easily have access, and before which they can place their grievances. Another necessary precaution would be that clauses should be introduced, preserving the existing privileges of such districts as I have mentioned. There is one other point. Allusion has already been made to the necessity for the county councils considering this matter. In a few days we shall have the election of these Irish county councils, and I would strongly urge that it is of immense importance that sufficient time should be given 756 to enable the county councils to thoroughly consider the Bill before the House and to be heard by the Committee.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
The House will no doubt expect me to say a few words before this discussion comes to a close. First of all, I may respond to the appeal of the honourable Member for Water-ford, by saying that it is not my intention to make this in any sense a Party question. I have formed an opinion, but it is my desire not to bring any Party pressure to bear on this side of the House, and I would rather leave honourable Members perfectly free to judge this Measure upon its merits. The honourable Member for Waterford described it as an enormous proposal, and said it was a proposal which Parliament should most carefully consider at every stage. Well, I have no occasion to quarrel with an argument of that description. This is a proposal with momentous issues, and it is undoubtedly the largest amalgamation proposal which has ever been made in Ireland; but I observed that when the right honourable Member went on to say that because this is; so enormous a proposal Parliament should most carefully consider it at every stage, if the Motion which the honourable Member has now made were carried, there would be no further stage at which it would be open to the House to consider it at all. Now, what is the question which lies before us at the present time? It is not whether this scheme of railway amalgamation should be passed by Parliament, but the question is whether it should be summarily and unceremoniously rejected, without any opportunity being given for that examination and consideration which it would receive from a Committee upstairs. There is this difference between a private Bill and a public Bill—when the House passes a public Bill it accepts the principle; but when it passes the Second Reading of a private Bill it does not exactly accept the principle, but it lays down that there is a prima facie case for inquiry, and therefore the adoption of the Second Reading of this Measure is not exactly an acceptation of its principle. I shall certainly vote myself for the Second Reading of this Bill, and I claim, as strongly as was claimed by the hon- 757 ourable Member for Cork, full freedom in my action with regard to any proposals in the Bill which do not seem to pay full regard to public interests in Ireland. Therefore, what the House is now called upon to decide is whether there is a prima facie case for inquiry. Personally, I think there is a prima facie case, and a very strong one. I will not go at length into the arguments which have been so ably set forth by previous speakers, but I would just like to say what I think their case consisted of. In the first place, I do not think it would be altogether fair to the companies concerned if this Bill was summarily rejected upon the Second Reading; for, as he has pointed out by my right honourable Friend the Member for Dublin University, this Bill was introduced under statutory compulsion, and the company had no choice in the matter. With regard to what the honourable Member for Waterford has said upon this point, so far as the company is concerned, it only makes their case much stronger still. The two companies are not only bound by statute to bring in this Bill, but coupled with that obligation there are conditions imposed upon them that in the meantime they are not to do things which might be to their advantage, and if under the circumstances Parliament was to summarily reject this Bill without going to the length of considering it by a Committee it would not only be prejudicial to the public, but it might be also somewhat hard upon the companies. That is one reason why I think this Bill should go before the Committee. But, in addition to that. I think it is in the interest of the railway companies in Ireland also that the Second Reading should be adopted, because, as the honourable Member for Cork has justly pointed out, we have to consider what will be the result in this respect if the Bill is rejected. The first result will be that the hands of the Great Southern and Western Railway and the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway Company will be free, and they will be able to enter into a traffic arrangement which may be very prejudicial to the interests of the public without any of the advantages which might accompany amalgamation. My honourable Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth suggested that we should get over this difficulty 758 by adjourning the Debate, and in that way we should not come in opposition to the Bill. I cannot help saying that that would be an evasion of the intention of Parliament, and I think if we are to deprive the company of this power we should not do it by resorting to a device of this kind, because that really is equivalent in effect, though not in form, to a rejection of the Bill, if by an adjournment it means that it should never come on again. That course would practically be considering the Bill this day six months, and I do not think that that is a proposal which the House ought to sanction. But, supposing no traffic arrangement is arrived at between the Great Southern and Western and the Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway Companies in consequence of the rejection of this Bill on the Second Reading, even then the position would still be a most unsatisfactory one. The honourable Member for Cork has pointed out with great force that in the event of this Bill being rejected the natural position of one of the companies will still further be weakened, because they have already received notice that their arrangement with the other company will bo brought to a conclusion on the completion of the Rosslare and Fishguard line, and that will still further damage the financial position of the Waterford and Limerick lines. The Waterford and Limerick lines at present suffer from insufficiency of capital, and if some change is not made it would be impossible for this company to maintain its present condition, and the last state of affairs would be worse than the first. There is a third reason which occurs to me why the House should pass the Second Reading of this Bill, and it is this: that the House up to the present to a very large extent has been working in the dark. We have only got the Bill before us in the form in which it is printed, but we do not know in what form it will emerge from the Committee, if, indeed, it emerges at all: but we may be quite sure that it will not emerge from the Committee without the introduction of a great many safeguards. Do not let the House imagine that it will not be in the power of the Hybrid Committee, should this Bill be sent to one, to introduce changes of a wide and far-reaching character. If any honourable Member 759 is prepared to look at the changes made in the Rosslare Bill by the Hybrid Committee, they will at once see how great the power of such a Committee really is. I Should just like to say one word in reference to the point which has been referred to by several speakers, and by the right honourable Gentleman opposite. It has been said that the county councils will not have an adequate opportunity of expressing their views should this Bill be sent to a Committee during the present year. I understand that the promoters of the Bill are ready to consent to the postponement of the Committee stage, and to agree that it should not be taken before the 15th of May. That arrangement would give the county councils a whole month to consider what action they would take. It has been said that a month is too little, but I do not think it is too little for county councils to take such action as county councils should take in matters of this kind. I do not think it would be wise that county councils should expend their money in fighting subjects of this kind. It appears to me that they would be doing a very foolish thing if they were to take upon themselves at the present time a burden which is being undertaken for them. But, in addition to this, I am bound to say that I do not think any expression of opinion which the county councils may make will affect my judgment as to whether this Bill should or should not be read a second time. It might affect my judgment as to what should be ultimately done, but not as to whether it should be read a second time or not, for this reason: the county council can only judge of the Bill as it has been presented to us, for it cannot be expected to go into questions of a hybrid, difficult, and complex character, and they cannot be expected to be in a position to consider the various changes which it is possible to introduce, and they will certainly not be in a position to adequately judge as to the full effects of such changes which may be made by the 760 Committee. In any case, I am sure of this, that I must feel more or less in the dark as to what my ultimate judgment may be. It requires a considerable amount of study, and I do not think the judgment of any county council is likely in their present condition of enlightenment upon this question to be very much better than my own. My opinion is that in order to have a final judgment on the Bill that it is desirable that it should be referred to a Committee, for I can hardly think that the county councils can be expected to form a judgment without the assistance which is only to be derived from an inquiry before the Committee. And just one word more. The honourable Member for the St. Patrick's Division of Dublin referred strongly to the necessity of adopting safeguards, but I am not in a position, to say what safeguards may be considered wise to introduce, because that is a matter for the Committee upstairs. Therefore, to sum up—although I do-not wish to make it in any sense a Party question—my own private view is that it would be most unwise and most inexpedient that the House should not pass the Second Heading of this Bill.
§ MR. TIMOTHY HEALY (Louth, N.)
I should just like to ask whether it is proposed to send this Bill to the Select Committee which is already appointed, many members of which have already pronounced an opinion against the principle of amalgamation. It appears to me that it is absolutely essential that this Bill should go to an absolutely new Committee, the members of which have not pronounced their opinion upon the question. The honourable Gentleman opposite is a member of that Committee, but although I have the greatest possible respect for him I should very strongly object to any Committee on which he sat considering this question if I were one of the promoters of this Bill, because I should be inclined to say, "You have already pronounced against this amalgamation."
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The honourable Member is now dealing with the nomination of the Committee—a question which is not before the House.
§ MR. TIMOTHY HEALY
I understand that with regard to the exclusion of a gentleman who sat last year on this Committee it might be invidious to move such a Motion, although I think it would be competent to do so. I would suggest that we should have some expression of opinion from the Government as to the manner in which this Committee is to be formed. I have no opinion as to how it should be formed, but all I desire that it should be a fair Committee to consider the interests of the country as well as the interests of the railway company. My right honourable Friend, who was chairman of the Committee last year, and who sacrificed so much time in the interests of Ireland, I, for one, should not object to.
§ MR. DILLON
There is just one point I should like to impress upon the Chief Secretary, and it is this—I trust that he will not take the same course with regard to the appointing of this Committee as was the case in the House of Lords with regard to the questions that might arise, for I really think that it would not be fair to this House.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
As regards the members of this Committee I can only say that my object and aim as far as I am concerned will be to get that Committee as fair and equal as possible, and my own feeling in the matter it this: The Committee that sat on the Rosslare and Fishguard line was a Committee of great ability and competence, and I would ask the honourable Member whether we should commit ourselves to a proposition at this moment that the honourable Member for Cork and the honourable Member for Waterford should he shut out.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
If the honourable Member will only enter into communication with the various sections of the House there will be no difficulty. There was no difficulty last year, and there will be no difficulty this year. I agree that it would be better to have no members of the old Committee, and certainly, as a member of that Committee, I distinctly object to serve.
That the word 'now' stand part of the Question.
§ Agreed to.