§ Lords' Message [30th March], "That it is desirable that the Great Southern and Western and Waterford and Central Ireland Railway Companies Amalgamation Bill [Lords], the Great Southern and Western and Waterford, Limerick, and Western Railway Companies Amalgamation Bill [Lords], and the Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland Bill [Lords], be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament," considered.
*THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. J. W. LOWTHER,) Cumberland, Penrith
The motion which stands in my name is only the corollary of the one passed by the House about a fortnight ago,* when it accepted the proposal to refer these Bills to a Joint Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Resolution."—(The Chairman of Ways and Means).
§ MR. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
I rise to oppose this motion, and in doing so I wish to explain that I do not do so in any spirit of enmity to the companies promoting the Bills. But it will be remembered that a similar Bill was rejected last year, although for anything I know to the contrary the proposals may be for the good of the districts served by the railways concerned; my objection does not touch the question at all. There is a very strong movement on foot in Ireland to obtain from the Lord Lieutenant a Viceregal Commission to inquire into the working of the railways and canals in Ireland, in furtherance of which a deputation representing Members on both sides of the House, as well as a number of municipal and other corporations, waited upon the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture for Ireland to express the unanimous opinion that it was desirable such an inquiry should be made. I do not speak so much from personal experience, but there can be no doubt that great dissatisfaction exists with the working of the railways and canals as regards rates and fares and the treatment of perishable goods. It seems to me that if this large scheme in the Bills—dealing with the whole railway system of the South of 1240 Ireland—is disposed of, it might be used as an argument against the views of those who are anxious for the Viceregal Commission which there is at present every reason to expect will be appointed. Therefore I hope the Government will not press the matter. As the Bills have been put off before, I think they may be postponed for another year without any great inconvenience. In the meantime we may get a thorough inquiry into the whole railway question, which will enable a Bill to be framed, perhaps, which would be beneficial to all parties.
§ MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Kilkenny)
I also rise to oppose the motion, in the hope of inducing the Chairman of Ways and Means to allow the matter to stand over for a length of time. It is not often I find myself in cordial agreement with the hon. Member opposite, but I do hold with him that if this motion were deferred it would be better for all parties concerned. Many public bodies in Ireland have appealed to the Lord Lieutenant to appoint a Commission to inquire into the railway system of Ireland, and, in my opinion, to rush this matter through now would be to prejudge the case before his Excellency has decided whether he will appoint a Commission or not. There are reasons no doubt which prevent his Excellency attending to the matter at once, but I am sure when he knows the feeling behind this request for an inquiry he will grant one. These Bills have been twice rejected by Parliament, and it is for the House of Commons to say whether its judgment is to be questioned in this way—whether its opinion is to be put on one side and got round, so to speak, as now proposed. If the House of Commons, having twice spent much time on these Bills, has pronounced against them, certainly the Chairman of Ways and Means ought not to be in any hurry to rush them through before any inquiry has been held. One of the principal duties of the Board of Agriculture for Ireland was to inquire into the best way of increasing the produce of the country, and of facilitating its carriage to the best markets. The Board, through its Vice-President the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, is therefore a party to the proposal for a Viceregal Commission. It is entitled to have the advantage of such an inquiry as is proposed before com- 1241 mencing its new duties in earnest under the new Act. The railway companies can very well afford to wait another year. One excuse put forward last year for urgency by the Waterford and Limerick Company was that they were in a tight corner, as their system was not paying very well. They came like Lazarus to the door begging to be relieved, but we know now their line is paying pretty well, and that if it were properly managed it would do still better. As for the Great Southern and Western Railway, their only need for hurry is that they are getting a good bargain. I maintain that from past experience of railways it is dangerous to hand over more than one-half of Ireland to one company. We know that despite opposition certain railways were recently allowed to amalgamate in the South of England, and as a result the public have greater cause of complaint against them than ever. I know it has been asserted that certain guarantees will be given as to rates, but it has been proved to have been all humbug. The whole Irish railway system is a perfect disgrace, and I am free to say that one of the chief causes of Ireland's misfortunes is her treatment by the railway companies. These companies seem to look upon the public merely as goods and chattels out of which a dividend is to be made, and they apparently do not care what becomes of the industries of the people. I appeal to the Chairman of Ways and Means to allow this matter to stand over until we have heard from his Excellency whether or not he will appoint the Commission that has been asked for.
§ *SIR JOHN COLOMB (Great Yarmouth)
I desire to join in the appeal for an adjournment on the grounds which have already been stated. In view of the fact that so large an area is concerned in this amalgamation, and remembering the remarkably strong representations which have been made to the Lord Lieutenant in favour of an inquiry into the general administration of the Irish railways, I think the demand for an adjournment till after Easter is a reasonable one.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
Perhaps I had better explain briefly the circumstances under which these Bills have arrived at this stage. At the beginning of the session the hon. Member for Water- 1242 ford informed me that he was very anxious that they should originate in this House, but after consultation the Lords Chairman and myself came to the conclusion that, the Bills having originated in this House last session, it was only fair to the promoters that they should take their chance in the other House. But I went this far; I said that although I was unable to agree that the promoters of these Bills should originate them in this House, I would suggest that the Bills should be sent to a Joint Committee, so as to save expense to both promoters and opposers, and to prevent a recurrence of circumstances which I think were universally regretted, which took place at the end of last session, circumstances which led to the very rapid conclusion of the Committee which sat after a very prolonged inquiry, with a result which gave very little satisfaction to the Members of the House generally.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
That certainly was not the view which was put forward in the House at the time, though it might have given immense satisfaction to the hon. Member and some of his friends. Therefore, in order to meet the views of the hon. Member for Waterford, Lord Morley and myself came to an agreement that the matter should be referred to a Joint Committee. I would like to point out to the Member for East Belfast that even if he is successful in opposing this motion he will not stop the progress of the Bills, because they are in the other House. They will go forward in the other House directly after Easter in the ordinary way. There will be no doubt a prolonged inquiry in the other House, and if passed there they will come down to this House and there will be another prolonged inquiry. Therefore the views of the hon. Member will not be met by rejecting the proposal which I now make.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
I will deal with that presently. Obviously the arrangement which was entered into would be broken, and the Bill would have to proceed in the other House in the 1243 ordinary way, and the expenses which I was anxious to save the Irish parties, either promoting or opposing, would be duplicated, and the whole beneficial effects I was anxious to introduce with regard to these Bills would be absolutely thrown away. Then it is suggested that the matter should be postponed until the Viceregal Commission has been appointed. Can the hon. Member say it is to be appointed?
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
The information which I have received is, I will not say in a contrary direction, but it is that it is extremely doubtful whether any such Commission will be appointed at all. I am told that no decision has been arrived at. My hon. friend admits that.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
My hon. friend wishes not only to reject this motion, but also to postpone the consideration of these matters until the Government have come to a decision with regard to the Commission. Then the Commission will have to sit. As the hon. Member himself has said, this is a matter of very considerable and far-reaching importance, and it can hardly be expected that in a month or two months a decision will be arrived at. Therefore, the result of the hon. Member's action would be to stop the progress of the Bill altogether for this session. I do not think that would be fair to the promoters of the Bill. This is the second session in which the promoters have brought these Bills forward, and, in my view, they are entitled to receive the judgment of Parliament upon them. I will go further. I understand my hon. friend says that a Viceregal Commission is required for the purpose of considering generally the question of rates and fares and delays. There is nothing, if the Bills are to go through, which would prevent such a Commission inquiring into these matters, but they would have to be settled by a public Act.
§ MR. MOLLOY
It is one of the points it would be asked to consider, and we fear the passing of these Bills would take that matter out of their purview.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
I am afraid that hon. Members from Ireland ask for a good many things which they do not always get, and it seems to me an extraordinary thing to say that the promoters of these Bills are not to have a hearing in Parliament because at some future time unknown some Viceregal Commission may possibly be appointed to inquire into some of the matters which are contained in these Bills. I hope the House will not fall in with the view of the hon. Member for East Belfast. I would not say that it would be a breach of faith to do so, but, certainly, as far as I am concerned, it would operate very materially against my ever attempting in the future to enter into an arrangement, as I did on this occasion, the object of which is to save expense to the Irish litigants who are concerned, and to meet the views which were represented to me by the hon. Member for Waterford. Under these circumstances, I hope that the House will agree to this proposal, more especially as by rejecting the proposal which I have made it will not prevent the further progress of this Bill in another place.
§ MR. POWER (Waterford, E.)
I think the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are unfair to the Lord Lieutenant. He says we do not know if a Viceregal Commission will be appointed, but seeing that opinion in Ireland in all directions is in favour of the appointment of the Commission, I do not believe the Lord Lieutenant will be so indifferent to that opinion as to refuse it. A great deal of money was spent on the investigation of 1245 these Bills last year, a certain decision has been come to, and, so far as I am concerned, I do not see that there has been any change in the circumstances since then which ought to lead to another result. Not only did the Committee last year throw out the Bills, but the Committee which sat in the previous year with reference to the Rosslare and Fishguard line went out of its way to declare that the monopoly would be injurious to the south of Ireland, and insisted that the majority of the directors of that line, if the Bill passed, should be directors of the Great Western of England. It is notorious that every Irish Member upon the Committee last year voted against it. If a monopoly is created there will be no power, as experience has proved, to break it, and I therefore say that everything is to be gained and nothing lost by delay in this matter.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND (Clare, E.)
I would not have intervened in the discussion had it not been for the rather remarkable statement of the Chairman of Committees. The right hon. Gentleman has practically told us that we are not to have a Viceregal Commission appointed. Only the other day, however, when the most influential deputation that ever waited upon a Minister from Ireland,—a deputation representing not only Members on both sides of this House, but also the principal municipal bodies and almost every interest in Ireland—waited upon the Vice-President of the Irish Agricultural Board, the Vice-President gave us the greatest possible hope and encouragement that a Viceregal Commission would be appointed to inquire into the whole of the railway system in Ireland. We now suddenly hear from the Chairman of Committees a declaration that practically amounts to an announcement that we are not to have a Commission.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman, I am sure, will recollect that he went much further than that. He said he had information to the contrary.
*MR. J. W. LOWTHER
I have not been in communication with the Irish 1246 Government at all on the matter. I have no information one way or the other, but I have no reason to suppose the Commission will be granted.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman's correction alters to a very considerable extent what he appeared to say a few moments ago. I really must be very much mistaken, however, if he did not say what I have attributed to him.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
The right hon. Gentleman probably does not recollect. Certainly we understood him to use the words that he "had received information to the contrary," and in view of that I think that we are entitled to ask if it is a respectful way to treat that deputation, representing all parties and all interests, to give them this information in this roundabout way. With regard to the question of appointing a Joint Committee of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to examine these Bills, I can only say that speaking generally, the appointment of Joint Committees, particularly on Irish questions, is not a good custom. I regard it as an attempt which will not succeed to popularise the House of Lords. The House of Lords ought to examine questions for themselves, and the House of Commons in like manner for themselves. I think that some guarantee ought to be given by the Government as to the composition of the Joint Committee. Nearly all the members of the House of Lords are supporters of the Government. If five members are appointed by the House of Commons, at least three will be supporters of the Government, and the chances are a hundred to one that the whole of the members appointed by the House of Lords will be supporters or members of the Government, so that of ten Members eight will be supporters of the Government, and only two Members of the House of Commons will take anything like an independent view. I do not say whether the arrangement in this particular case is a good or a bad one, but I do submit that the new system which has cropped up of appointing Joint Committees is one which ought to be very seriously considered by the House of Commons. It appears to be 1247 quite certain that if this proposal is agreed to it will practically put a stop to the examination of the whole system of railways in Ireland. The deputation to the Vice President of the Agricultural Board did not ask for an inquiry into this scheme of amalgamation alone; they asked for one into the whole system of railway rates and workings in Ireland. I think we ought to have an assurance from the Irish Attorney General that if this proposal is carried it will not be used as an argument against the perfectly legitimate demand of the Irish Members and the corporations and county councils for the appointment of a Commission, Viceregal or Royal, to inquire into the whole system of railway rates.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
I intend to take no part either in support of or opposition to this motion. I only rise to say that when this amalgamation scheme was before the House last session the Irish Government took no part in it either on one side or the other. They neither supported it nor opposed it, and it is my intention to adopt exactly the same attitude on the present occasion. I wish, however, to clear up the doubts that appear to exist as to my right hon. friend's remarks concerning the possible fate of the application for a Viceregal Commission. The application was made only a very short time ago, certainly by a most representative deputation, but one which, after all, included some nine or ten of the most vehement opponents of these Bills.
§ MR. ATKINSON
The application is now under the consideration of the Lord Lieutenant, and no one has a right to assume either that it will be granted or that it will not be. But I can assure hon. Members that the passing of the Bills will no more prejudice the appointment of the Commission than the appointment of the Commission will prejudice the passage of the Bills. I was rather astonished at the disapproval which the hon. Member for East Clare expressed of the appointment of the Joint Committees, in view of the fact that only half an hour or so ago he allowed one to pass with reference to the Boundaries Bill without a murmur of disapprobation.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to correct him. I offered no opinion as to whether the application of the principle, of a Joint Committee to the Bill was good or bad. I simply asked for some guarantee as to the composition of the Committee, for my objection to it was based on the ground that such a Committee will in the ordinary course be swamped by Government supporters.
§ MR. ATKINSON
The hon. Member certainly spoke about popularising the House of Lords, and I was pointing out that that was an argument he failed to advance in connection with the preceding Bill.
§ MR. MOLLOY
May I inform the right hon. Gentleman that in addition to the deputation which has been referred to, another one even more widely representative has been organised in Ireland, and is awaiting an appointment with the Lord Lieutenant to receive it. The right hon. Gentleman referred to me as a vehement opponent of these Bills. I am not. I only fear that their passing will interfere with our chances of securing railway reform. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely in error when he says there were ten opponents to these Bills on the deputation. I ought to know, for I organised it myself. The members of the deputation were not opponents of amalgamation. The impression that they were was circulated by interested railway companies for the purpose of prejudicing the House in favour of the Bills. All we want is to obtain better facilities on the Irish lines, and that object can, we think, be best attained by asking for a Commission to inquire into the whole of the existing system. I regret to see that the Government are ranging themselves on the side of the promoting companies, in opposition to the most strenuously expressed views of both Nationalists and Unionists, county councils, and nearly all the Irish public bodies.
§ MR. MOLLOY
But I understand the Government Whips are to tell in favour of the motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, and therefore it is clear the Government are taking the side of the promoting companies against the unanimous views of the Irish Members, as well as against the opinions of all the great Irish corporations, and of the twenty-six county councils and thirty-six urban and district councils, and of all the representatives of agricultural and trading associations in Ireland. I cannot congratulate the Government on the anti-Irish position they have taken up.
§ MR. WILLIAM JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)
Although I was a member of the deputation which waited upon the Vice-President of the Department of Agriculture for Ireland, I should like to explain that I intend to support the motion for a Joint Committee on the ground that it will effect a great saving of public money. It has been often complained that the promotion of Private Bills costs an excessive sum of money, and we ought, therefore, not to reject this chance of reducing expense. I must express my surprise that the hon. Member for East Clare passed over in silence the motion for the appointment of a Joint Committee on the Dublin and Clontarf Boundary Bills, and then poured the vials of his wrath upon the present proposal. I still hope the Attorney General will use his influence to secure the appointment of the Viceregal Commission which has been asked for.
§ *MR. BLAKE (Longford, S.)
The difficulty I feel in agreeing with some of my hon. friends is this: The Bill is about to be committed. It will be proceeded with no matter what the vote on this motion may be. The question, therefore, is not whether the Bill should be stopped; for we cannot stop it; but what is the best mode of proceeding with the Bill. My opinion is that the method which has been adopted with regard to the Dublin Boundaries Bill is the best, and for my part I see no substantial ground for opposing the motion. I am glad to hear that the consideration of the Bill at this juncture will not prejudice the proposal for a Commission on Irish Railway Administration.
§ MR. CARSON (Dublin University)
Last year when the Great Southern and Western Railway Amalgamation Bill was before this House I supported it. But as regards the present motion I desire to enter my protest against this method of sending Irish Bills to Joint Committees. I made this protest the other day, when the exceptional course was taken with the view to forcing the Corporation Bill through the Houses of Parliament. I did so because no argument has been adduced or can be adduced for making these exceptional arrangements in regard to Irish Bills. We are told that the object is to save expense, but that is an argument which should apply equally to Bills from all parts of the United Kingdom, and not merely to Irish Bills. I look upon this attempt to introduce a novel procedure solely in regard to Ireland as little less than a scandal. It is done in order to force these Bills through, and although I am in favour of a certain amount of amalgamation I shall vote against this motion if a division is taken.
§ MR. WOLFF
After the explanation of the Chairman of Committees, and in view of the pledge of the Attorney General for Ireland, that the appointment of this Joint Committee will not prejudice our claim for a Viceregal Commission, I have no wish to divide the House, and I will not press my objection.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Ordered, That a message be sent to the Lords to acquaint them with this Resolution.