HC Deb 05 August 1902 vol 112 cc702-16

2. "That a sum, not exceeding £12,377, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March. 1903, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Registrar General of Births, etc., and the Expenses of Collecting Emigration Statistics in Ireland.

3. "That a sum, not exceeding £10,436, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1903, for the Salaries and Expenses of the General Valuation and Boundary Survey of Ireland."

Resolutions read a second time.

First Resolution:—

SIR EDWARD STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

moved to reduce the Vote by £100, not because he objected to this money being spent for the benefit of Irish farmers and others, but to point out that nothing of a similar character was ever done to assist the agriculturists of England, Scotland, or Wales. He desired to know how the money had been spent. In the majority of cases he believed the Government simply guaranteed the money, but in other cases grants were made to poor districts. England was doubtless a richer country than Ireland, but there were parts in which light railways would be of immense advantage to agriculturists and others. He thought everyone desired that they should do their best to make it easier for the small trader to carry on his business. He begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.

Amendment proposed— To leave out '£45,802,' and insert '£45,702.'"—(Sir Edward Strachey).

Question proposed— That,£45,802 stand part of the Resolution.


said the hon. Member would see from the Vote that in the previous Acts of Parliament assistance had been given to industries, and more especially for the development of the fishing and agricultural industries in certain parts of Ireland. Assistance was given in certain circumstances under the English Light Railways Act. The assistance now proposed was limited by the condition that there must be a guarantee before they spent the money for the continuous working of the lines by some existing railway company. He did not think it would be wise to advance money to provide a railway which might not benefit the district it was intended to serve. He hoped the hon. Baronet would not press his Amendment.

MR. J. P. FARRELL (Longford, N.)

said he wished to call the attention of the Chief Secretary to what he considered was a blot on the Acts mentioned in this Vote. The guarantees under the Tramways and Railways Acts in some cases meant a very serious burden indeed to the ratepayers. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in 1896 introduced and passed an Act for the extension of tramways, and he understood that there was u considerable unallocated balance of money upon that account. He thought the amount was about,£40,000 and that was the balance left after the various schemes had been sanctioned. He thought that balance might be used to help the poorer districts which were now suffering under the baronial guarantees which they were compelled to give in order that these light railways might be constructed. These guarantees amounted to an enormous tax upon the people. He admitted that these light railways had been a very great benefit to the people, and had brought them into touch with markets for their produce which would perhaps otherwise not have been accessible to them. He thought, however, that the cost to the ratepayers was far more than the benefits conferred upon them by the railways were worth. He hoped the Chief Secretary would give this matter his sympathetic consideration. He could assure the Chief Secretary that one of the great blots in carrying out these Acts was that they had insisted in the poorer districts on the burdens being placed upon the ratepayers. With regard to the further extension of this system, a great many applications were made after the passing of the Act of 1896. The charges which were now put upon the producers, who wished to get to the markets by these small lines, was a very great burden indeed, and constituted a grave difficulty in the way of economic reform in Ireland. Side by side with other questions, this railway grievance was a very serious matter in Ireland. The Act passed in 1899, to give extra facilities to public bodies in regard to development of agriculture, had been a failure, and no adequate means had been afforded the people of coming before the Railway and Canal Commission. The working of the Tramways Act had involved a very great increase of taxation in the poor districts, and had not conferred upon the people the benefits originally intended by the framers of the measure. Where these Acts had been put in force as feeders to the larger lines in order to develop the railway traffic, no effort, had been made to keep the railway dues and charges within reasonable bounds, and what was gained by the construction of the line was lost by the excessive charges placed upon the carriage of goods by the different railway companies. Unfortunately, it was necessary to go to enormous expense to get the railway companies before the Railway and Canal Commission, and the result was that public and private bodies were deterred from attempting to obtain a reduction of traffic dues. If this matter could be dealt with during the present session, he hoped Irish Members would sec that such clauses were put into the Acts proposed by the Government as would relieve those poor districts which were now so seriously overburdened by the guarantees, and which would also be to the advantage of the public who wished to avail themselves of these lines.

MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said that this Vote amounted to £45,000, but it was only a little more than one-third of the total annual grant, and it was largely supplemented by even a larger grant contributed by the public in Ireland. Therefore, there was a large sum granted by the Imperial and also by the local Exchequer to support these railways. It was little better than a scandal that this should be so. Why was there not some attempt made to make there railways remunerative? Why did the Chief Secretary not look into this matter more sympathetically; and why should these grants be made year after year, with a tendency to increase rather than diminish? The Cavan and Leitrim Railway had made a continuous demand upon the Imperial and local Exchequer. This line passed within about three miles of a coal mine, which supplied the engines of the company with coal, and yet there was no connecting line between the railway and the mine, and all the coal had to be conveyed all that distance by road. That was an example of the absurd way in which this money was wasted. With regard to the small amount of traffic done by the subsidised service of steamers on the Shannon, he thought this was largely due to the fact that the advantages which might otherwise be derived could not be achieved because the line had not been continued to the quay. He did not think there was a single railway mentioned on the first page of this Estimate which had ever paid its working expenses. The Irish railways were a continual burden to the local and Imperial taxpayer, and this was largely due to the fact that no logical attempt had been made to develop the service which was contemplated when the railways were established. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to continue paying these large sums in connection with Irish railway enterprises to make good losses which might be turned to a profit if they were only developed in accordance with the original ideas of the line? There was one very heavy grant for a steamer on the Shannon which he wished to know something about. He had been on this subsidised steamer himself, and upon that occasion his party were the only passengers. He wished to know how much was granted to this particular steamer. An attempt had been made to artificially develop the tourist traffic, but this could not be done while they endeavoured to accommodate the local traffic, at the same time; and at the end of the guarantee he thought the steamers would be withdrawn and no good would have been done. He also wished to know how much money was provided in this Estimate for the steamer service from Sligo, or whether it was likely to succeed or not. He hoped the Chief Secretary would give them some further particulars in regard to the losses on these railways, which, in his opinion, occurred because the railways were not properly worked. The Government had great influence in Ireland with regard to railways, and if it were seen that proper facilities were given upon the Government railways a proper supply would be effected.


called attention to the condition of the Tralee and Dingle Railway. He pointed out that the railway was built nine years ago, and the defects of it were such as to have been the cause of enormous expenditure ever since. An accident to one of the bridges cost the ratepayers £5,000, and prevented people travelling over the railway. The ratepayers of the district were heavily burdened in regard to this railway, and when they appealed to the authorities to make it safe, they met with the reply that there were no fund available. The inspector of the Local Government Board reported the line to be in a dangerous condition, and recommended the expenditure of £12,000 to make it safe; therefore, they were justly entitled to claim that this recommendation should be carried out. The position of the line had become impossible, and the time had come to put it on a business footing. Although they were so heavily burdened with regard to the line, the people obtained no benefit from it whatever, and they were beginning to think that it would be better to tear up the line. At present the line constituted a serious danger to the lives of the people who travelled over it, and he thought the remedy was to make it safe or that it should be turned over to the Great Southern and Western Railway and run as part of their system. If it were properly served, it would, as it ran through the most beautiful part of Ireland, be patronised by a very large tourist traffic.


said a larger field of debate had opened than he had anticipated would be the case when he entered the Chamber, but all the speeches had been addressed to one subject, however, with the exception of the hon. Member for Somerset, who seemed jealous of the assistance given to Ireland to provide better railway facilities. The hon. Member should realise that the help had not been of a lavish character, and had not been in any sense favoured-nation treatment. Whenever grants were made to other parts of the United Kingdom a claim arose for a counterpoise in Ireland, and it had been recognised that the grant should be allocated to Ireland's greatest need—the development of steam traffic. In the absence of such facilities it was impossible for agriculture to thrive under any land system. Therefore, preceding Governments had followed the sound course of devoting money fairly due to Ireland to the development of means of transit. The hon. Member for Longford had referred to the Cavan and Leitrim Railway. In that case there had been no free grant; there had been baronial guarantees from the counties mentioned, and if the baronies still continued to pay, so also the Exchequer suffered in respect to this and another line in the district to the extent of £5,000 or £6,000 a year. In view of this fact, it was of interest to consider if any business-like arrangement could be entertained which would turn that loss into gain. Such a discussion, however, would scarcely be indulged in at the moment. What was needed at the moment was that all those interested in the welfare of Ireland should put their heads together and devise a plan to put the Cavan and Leitrim Kailway in a better condition. It would be quite possible to turn the railways to better account, and he had felt surprise that private enterprise had not come forward for the purpose. The hon. Member for North Longford seemed to think that a large sum was available under the Act of 1896. The total expenditure authorised under that Act was £500,000, and the whole of that had in a sense been hypothecated, with the exception that part of the expenditure under that Act was avowedly of an experimental character. For example, the Sligo and Belmullet steamer was to run for a certain number of years to see if through traffic could be developed between Sligo harbour and Belmullet, and it would not be right to interrupt the experiment until a fair trial had been given, and in view of the local expenditure on Sligo Harbour, upon which many thousands of pounds had been expended. About £25,000 still remained unexpended. There was no immediate prospect of the steamer's paying, but there was a marked and continuous development in the traffic returns. He regretted that the Marine Works Bill should be delayed, because there was a provision in it which would enable money raised under the Railways (Ireland) Act, 1896, to be applied to works under the Bill. He would have been very glad to get to work on that Bill as soon as the House was up, but if they must wait till October, there was no help for it. The time had come for taking stock of the experiments of 1896. He had done so, and he believed that savings might be effected under that Act. If there were a better coastwise traffic along the West coast of Ireland, it would be possible to work the mineral resources of that part of the country which at present could not be carried out except at a loss. He could not undertake to spend anything more on experimental tourist routes, and that would find employment for a number of people. He said frankly that he thought enough had been spent in that direction, and if they were to be developed it must be by private enterprise. It would be better for the Government to concentrate their efforts in providing better transshipment facilities for working the produce of the West of Ireland. As to the Dingle Railway, a hope had been expressed that it might be made to pay and might be made safe. He believed it ought to be made safe, but if it was made safe it did not follow that it would pay, and he could not admit that the barony could altogether complain because they had to go on with a guarantee, though he admitted that the charges in respect of the railway were a heavy burden on County Kerry. He would very much regret if, on account of such burdens, the mind of any one in Ireland were turned against reproductive works, for he believed that in that way a great deal might be done for the West of Ireland. As to the suggestion that the Dingle Railway should be handed over to the Great Southern and Western Railway Company, he doubted that would be possible, seeing that the cost of changing the gauge would be almost eight times the cost of making the line safe with the present gauge. Moreover, it was impossible to get the great railway companies to take over such lines when they were subject to legislation in respect of rates which they considered unjust. Agricultural rates were high, but no one could say that the railways made a great deal of money, and it would be futile to kill one industry in the hope of saving another. He did not know whether he was justified in saying so, but it appeared to him that many of those who complained did not avail themselves of the means of redress that they had at their disposal. They made general complaints, where, if they made specific complaints, he thought they would be remedied or at least receive greater consideration.

MR. MURPHY (Kerry, E.)

said the line and the carriages of the Dingle Railway were utterly unsuitable for the purposes intended, and recently, in consequence, during a severe storm a train was blown off the line. The hon. Member then referred to the Kilorglin line, for which he said a guarantee of an unreduced amount had still to be paid, although it was worked by the Great Southern and Western Company. Every effort had been made on the part of the ratepayers, by means of representation to the Irish Government and to the Department of Agriculture, to have the accounts of the Great Southern examined in order to obtain a reduction of the guarantee rate, but so far without avail. In the case of the Headfort and Kentnare line there was the competition of a waterway, by means of which traders were able to bring up their goods at a lower rate than would otherwise rule, but the pier was so much out of repair that the waterway stood a fair chance of being knocked out of the competition. Recently the Chief Secretary said nothing could be done in the matter, but surely there might be an examination of the accounts of the railway. If there was, he was satisfied the fact would be disclosed that the traffic along the line had gone on increasing.

(6.30.) MR. FLYNN (Cork Co., N.)

said that the whole story of the construction and management of the light railways was deplorable. These lines were managed by people who were in no way responsible to the commercial classes of the community. With regard to specific complaints, the complaint they made was that the Agricultural Department did not seek for power to audit the books of the Great Southern and Western Company, with a view of seeing whether the Kenmare line was properly worked or not. Then there was the case of the Tralee and Dingle Railway and the Sehull and Skibbereen line. He had no expectation that any expenditure of money would result in greater facilities of transport or in any considerable development of the industries of the country as long as the present system of management obtained, under which the people found the money, but had a very little share in the control. The whole story of light railways construction was a deplorable one. In many cases the lines had been badly constructed, and were carried on without any regard to the views of the commercial classes. If the whole control could not be given to the people, there ought, at least, to be a qualified inspector appointed to represent the Board of Works, whose duty it would be to go into these various matters, and see what improvements could be effected in the management, with a view to making the railways more useful to the districts through which they ran.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

hoped the Chief Secretary would reconsider his decision to postpone the Marine Works Bill until the autumn. The measure might be passed after a very moderate amount of discussion unless it were blocked by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Antrim. Nothing could be devised better calculated to relieve the poverty along the North-West coasts of Ireland than measures to enable the fishermen to pursue their calling. The fishermen in the islands off the West coast had been lifted, by such measures, out of chronic poverty into comparative comfort. No expenditure was morn promising than that under the Marine Works Bill, which would give the people a chance of becoming self-supporting and moderately prosperous. With reference to the question of light railways, he hoped there was not going to be a reversal to the policy of the Act of 1883, under which a heavy burden was cast upon the ratepayer. Since the adoption of the new policy the railways had been excellently constructed in all respects. The question of railway rates was, no doubt, a burning one, but, in spite of all that had been said, he held that the only true and practicable policy, from a business point of view, was to build these railways with a view to their being handed over to and worked by some of the great companies. These feeder lines must be at the mercy of the main trunk lines, which, unless they got hold of them, would not grant them the facilities necessary to their proper development. These main lines were undoubtedly selfish and always would be until they were nationalised under a Home Rule Government. Pending that, these great railway companies had to be dealt with. Furthermore, these branch lines would not pay unless they were worked in conjunction with the main lines. He had alluded to this matter chiefly because something said by the Chief Secretary aroused in his mind a suspicion that the right hon. Gentleman might be considering a reversal of that policy by going back to the narrow gauge lines. In Ireland they ought to stick to the broad guage, because if they did not it would be impossible to lower the railway rates if they had to continually tranship the goods from one line to another.

MR. O'MALLEY (Galway, Connemara)

said he wished to join in the appeal to the Chief Secretary not to postpone the Marine Works Bill, which, inadequate though it was, would yet confer advantages on one of the most interesting but poverty-stricken districts of the country. It would be a great disappointment to his constituents if the Bill was not carried this session. He urged the Chief Secretary to make every effort to pass the Bill this week, so that Connemara might get the advantage of it.

MR. TULLY (Leitrim, S.)

called attention to the case of the railway from Cavan to Leitrim, which, having been constructed by local guarantee under the Act of 1883, had been a very severe burden, especially on the people of South Leitrim. The railway had never paid, and for nearly 20 years the ratepayers had had to pay 5 per cent. interest on the capital and also to make up a deficiency on the working expenses. In the case of a farmer who bought his land the repayments would not come to 5 per cent, and why should the ratepayers have to pay a bigger sum than the tenant farmer who bought his land. It had been stated that in return for their contribution the ratepayers had some control over these lines, but they had no control whatever over the election of directors. It was the grand jury who represented nobody who appointed the baronial directors. In regard to the Cavan and Leitrim line the ratepayers had no voice whatever in the appointment of the directors, although they had to pay 5 per cent. upon the capital, and also had to contribute to the working expenses of the line. The only way to relieve the ratepayers would be to municipalise these light railways. He hoped that when the right hon. Gentleman came to deal with these light railways he would bear in mind the very heavy burden they were to the poorer districts. If the Cavan and Leitrim railway had constructed a few branch lines it would have been a paying concern, instead of which the ratepayers had to make up the loss.

(7.0.) MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)

said that the only policy to pursue in respect of the Irish light railways was for the State to purchase them and nationalise them. The traffic rates on Irish railways could be reduced by 50 per cent, and then be made to pay. Some of the railways which had been mentioned were broad gauge lines, but in his own constituency they had the narrow gauge which was difficult and costly to work, and this was rendered far more expensive by the cost of transshipment which would not have been necessary had the line been constructed upon the broad gauge system. There was one point which he thought in a great measure had been lost sight of, and it was that no matter how much money they spent upon developing agriculture and railways, it would not be of the slightest use to the producer and to the people generally unless those enormous and ruinous charges made by the companies wore considerably reduced, for at the present time they would not enable the agriculturist to exist. The first thing that ought to be done to bring anything like prosperity to Ireland was that the Irish railways should be acquired by the State. He believed that if the railways of Ireland were placed in the hands of commercial people they would pay and be of enormous benefit to the country. If they were properly managed, the traffic rates could be reduced by 50 percent., and still be made to pay. It was an absolute absurdity that a poor country like Ireland should have to struggle against these enormous railway charges. It was a fact that they could get butter from Denmark in this country cheaper than from Dublin. Many of the suggestions which had been made would have been no use unless they went right to the bottom of the difficulty, because the lines instead of being conducted in their interests were of no benefit whatever because they were mismanaged.


The hon. Member will not be in order, on this Resolution, in going into the general question of the management of Irish railways.


said if it was not in order to speak of their management he could only ask the Chief Secretary to inquire into that matter. He had for many years taken a deep interest in the piers and harbours of Ireland, and he was certain that the best assistance that could be given to them was by providing railways.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

said he was sorry to intervene, but he did so because he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would say a word in answer to what had fallen from the hon. Member for East Mayo as to the Marine Works Bill. The suggestion was that it might be taken in front of the Public Works Loans Bill, and at an hour when they would be able to obtain the discussion necessary. There was an understanding which had now become impossible that they were to have another sitting for the discussion of those Bills. A comparatively short time would be sufficient for the discussion of the Marine Works Bill, and if the suggestion of his hon. friend were followed it would save this Bill from going over to the autumn session with all the risks which must necessarily attend its going over to that time. Really this was a matter of arrangement, and if the right hon. Gentleman would come to an understanding with the hon. Member below the gangway, who was the chief opponent, it might be possible to get the Bill through before they separated.


said it would be impossible for him to respond definitely to the suggestion of the hon. Member in the absence of the Leader of the House. He was anxious to see progress made with the Bill, but it was necessary to include the Public Works Loans Bill in the financial business of the ordinary session. If it was not obtained now, the Commissioners would not have sufficient money to carry on their work until the Autumn session, and would be unable to make advances under the loans already sanctioned.


said that what he suggested was that the Marine Works Bill should be put on the Paper before the Public Works Loans Bill.


said he would most gladly assent to the proposed arrangement on the understanding that on the Second Reading of the Public Works Loans Bill it should be treated as a non-controversial measure. If the latter Bill were not passed the greatest inconvenience would be caused to municipalities and other public bodies in England.


said he was not in a position to say that the Public Works Loans Bill would be treated as a non-controversial measure. All that he asked was that the Marine Works Bill should be placed in front of it. The discussion of it would take a limited time, and to that extent only would the Public Works Loans Bill be delayed.


said that if there were a disposition to facilitate business any machinery would serve the purpose. He was only afraid that the discussion on the first Bill might be prolonged to delay the second.

Second Resolution:—


called attention to the statements of statistics with regard to emigration, and other matters which were prepared by that office. It appeared that last year there were 40,000 emigrants, and during the last fifty years the total number had been about 4,000,000. No one ever paid the slightest attention to the statistics presented. The Chief Secretary in a recent speech stated that what Ireland wanted was that some step should be taken to stop emigration, which was the real grievance of Ireland. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman and wished to know whether any steps were to be taken. Were these terrible statistics to be collected every year for no practical purpose?


said that by statistical information was gauged the size and nature of a problem, and that at least was the condition precedent to dealing with the problem. The subject

of emigration was a most important one; but he must respectfully decline to discuss it on the present occasion.

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