§ MR. ARCHDALE (Fermanagh, N.)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether he can state what the intentions of the Irish Government are with respect to the appointment of a Viceregal Commission to inquire into the Irish railway question.
MR. LONSDALE (Armagh, Mid)
I beg at the same time to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whether he is aware that petitions have been presented from every county and urban district council in Ireland to the Lord Lieutenant, asking that a Viceregal Commission be appointed to inquire into the working of railways and canals in Ireland; and as, up to the present, no reply has been received from the Lord Lieutenant, whether the question has been considered; and, if so, can he say 246 whether a Viceregal or any other commission will be appointed to consider the question.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
In answer to these questions I have to say that numerous petitions have been received asking for the appointment of a Viceregal Commission to inquire into the working of railways and canals in Ireland. The matter has received the most careful consideration of the Irish Government, but I regret to say that we have been unable to arrive at a conclusion favourable to the request of the petitioners. The Government are not prepared to refer to another Commission, whether Royal or Viceregal, a general inquiry involving such questions as the purchase of Irish railways by the State, or their compulsory amalgamation, subject to control by a public Department, or the cheapening of carriage by rail in Ireland at the expense of the National Exchequer. As regards less ambitious expedients for dealing with the evils complained of, such as a fresh revision of maximum rates and charges, it must be remembered that new schedules of maxima were determined by Provisional Order in 1892 and accepted without objection by the Irish traders. A Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed a year later to consider whether it was desirable to adopt any other than the then existing means of settling differences arising between the companies and the public with respect to the rates and conditions of charge for the conveyance of goods. This inquiry, which extended to the Irish railways, was followed by legislation increasing the powers of the Railway Commissioners; but Irish traders have made comparatively little use of their right of appeal either to the Railway Commissioners or to the Board of Trade. This may be due to the expenses involved in the appeal to the Railway Commissioners. The Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland) Act of last year gave, however, to the Department of Agriculture in that country the power which no English or Scottish Government possesses, of taking a case before the Railway Commissioners and paying the expenses incurred. Until it has been seen how the provisions of this Act work there would appear to be no sufficient ground for opening a fresh inquiry into the rates and charges on 247 Irish railways; but, even were it otherwise, I doubt whether a Viceregal Commission would be the most suitable body to undertake such inquiry.