§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."147
§ MR. J. DEVLIN (Belfast, W.)
said he rose to discharge what he regarded as an obvious public duty to his constituency— to move the rejection of this Bill. He had consistently supported measures of municipal enterprise that tended to a public ownership, and he hoped the House would not misunderstand his attitude. He opposed this Bill in the interests of a large and important section of the community in Belfast who regarded it as an attempt to secure Parliamentary sanction for a gross and flagrant job. The property for which the Corporation proposed to pay £60,000 consisted of a single line of tramway, from the foot of Cave Hill near Belfast to Whitewell. It had been known as the road to heaven, because so few people travelled that way. There had been no demand on the part of the residents in the locality for an extension of the line nor any appeal from any section of the citizens for its developement, and the transaction for which the sanction of Parliament was asked was merely inspired by a combination of interested municipal agents and the British Electric Traction Company. The Company owning the tramway was established in 1881, with a nominal capital of £27,000, of which £15,000 was issued in £1 ordinary shares. It was a single line, and the cars were drawn by horse traction. It was largely a wealthy and residential locality which had no attractions for working people. In 1900, the tramway company entered into an agreement with the British Electric Traction Company, which had not so long ago acquired some notoriety in Great Britain, and had been the subject of discussion in that House. It undertook to find the money for the electrification of the system and insisted on the tramway promoting a Bill, on the original capital being increased from £27,000 to £67,000, the issued 15,000 ordinary shares being converted into sixty-two preference shares, and on an issue of 45,000 ordinary £1 shares. Section B. of the agreement read—The tramway company shall as and when required by the British Electric Traction Co. enter into contracts with the British Electric Traction Co. or as the British Electric Traction Co. shall in writing direct for the reconstruction and electrical equipment of the tramway.148 Section C. compelled the Cave Hill Tramway Company to pay the British Electric Traction Company all moneys provided and costs incurred or charges in their books for time and expense of their staff while engaged in reconstruction work and in addition 10 per cent, of their services as and when required. In the balance sheet of the tramway company for 1906 it was stated that the capital outlay on the old line was £13,523 odd, and that the total expenditure on reconstruction of the permanent way, the electrical equipment of the line, the erection of car-shed and depot, and the obtaining of Parliamentary powers, was £54,639 odd. Why the capital outlay on the old line was set down as an asset was not easy to understand, because it had disappeared, cars and all. The stated cost of electrification was £14,639 in excess of the cost, as stated by the town clerk. It was a single line, three and a quarter miles long. The cost of electrification as set forth in the balance sheet worked out at £16,612 per mile. According to an official return for 1903–4, the average capital expenditure per mile was £11,780, or £5,032 less than the alleged cost of this tramway. The line ran along a level road where there was comparatively little traffic, and through a district which was sparsely populated. He was not an expert in tramway construction, but he put it to the commonsense of the House, whether it was reasonable that it should cost over 50 per cent, more to construct this line than it cost to construct a similar line in any of the great populous centres of great Britain. It was also to be noted that this was not for construction, for the line was already there, but for alteration and electrification. That was one of the reasons why he said the price of £60,000 was exorbitant and why he was opposed to a transaction by which the British Electric Traction Company, or J. C. White & Co., who had carried out the work of electrification, were to extort an exorbitant price, even with the consent of the majority of the corporation, one of whose members was actually a shareholder in the tramway company itself, and the manager of whose trams was until 1904 chairman of the company whose property it was now sought to acquire. A curious thing about 149 the balance sheet of the tramway company was that only £91 2s 5d was charged for debenture interest, whereas the interest on £13,000 debentures at 4½ per cent. would be £500. He suggested that this point should be elucidated for the information of the ratepayers of Belfast, who had been most mysteriously dealt with in connection with this transaction. In addition to the tramway the corporation proposed to acquire some 32 acres of land at the Whitewell end of the line on which the company's car-sheds had been built, and which were subject to a rent charge of £130 per annum under the agreement. The total amount set down opposite "rent" in 1906 was £117 17s 5d.
§ MR. J. DEVLIN
said it was perfectly true that he was reading, as one must necessarily do in dealing with figures. He could not only write a speech, but could read one, unlike the hon. Member, who recently came down with a written-out speech, and had not the privilege of delivering it to an expectant House. He would not have the slightest objection in the world if those hon. Gentlemen who were so hypercritical in regard to accurately prepared statements would read their speeches to the House, and then they would not so often be the laughing stock of the world. He would be delighted to see hon. Gentlemen turn over a new leaf, because their inaccuracy in statement and their attempts from time to time to misrepresent the cause of truth had become so remarkable that he was told there was a canvass made to keep them away from the debate lest they should spoil the chances of the Bill. He took it that what he had said included all rents whatever, and they were brought face to face with the extraordinary fact that whilst the total of all the rents payable by the company at present was only £117 17s 3d, the corporation agreed to take over not the whole but only 32 acres of the worst land held by the company, and they had a rent charge of over £13 a year more than the company paid for the whole of the lands at present in their possession. The land which the corporation proposed to 150 acquire had been described as heaps of shingle and quarry refuse of no commercial value. This Bill did not propose to take over the rolling stock of the company which was represented by nine cars, nor the buildings, stables, horses, harness and vehicles which were set out in the balance sheet at a value of £1,368 odd. The Bill did not propose, further, to take over the recreation ground, and this was one of the most important and vital points in his impeachment of the whole policy which had dictated the arrangement and which it was proposed to obtain Parliamentary sanction for. The recreation ground which they had allowed to be retained in the hands of the British Electric Traction Company was what attracted people from Belfast, and that was the only thing that could make the tramway successful. That company retained the recreation ground and it would blackmail the Corporation of Belfast. This was another part of the indecent transaction. The Corporation proposed to tax the ratepayers now to the extent of £60,000 and ultimately at least to the extent of £100,000. Why? In order to provide customers for the recreation ground and the refreshment rooms owned by the company, because, as he had already told the House, the line was of no possible use to Belfast without the recreation ground. Perhaps one of the Unionist Members for Belfast would explain why they did not secure this recreation ground, and why they allowed the British Electric Traction Company to retain it. It had been charged against him that his opposition was purely factious and vindictive. He absolutely denied that charge. He would not sanction anywhere what he called a "scandalous job" but he was ready and willing to agree to a fair and just bargain as between the ratepayers and tramway company. He had proposed this compromise, that for the purchase of the tramway with the recreation ground and the refreshment room thrown in the price should be £40,000. That was not his own valuation, but the valuation put upon the property by the Belfast Corporation surveyor and by the Corporation tramway manager. He submitted to the House that for a bankrupt concern with an overdraft of £262 odd and a balance in hand of only £1 13s. 11d., 151 as set forth in the balance sheet, the compromise he had suggested was of a most generous character. He had made that ofEer a fortnight ago, and the Unionist Press in Belfast had sedulously and consistently prevented the citizens hearing his side of the question and that of the Progressive Party in Belfast. That Unionist Press suggested to the tramway company that they should not take a single farthing less than had been oifered. The fact was that the Unionist reactionary Press in Belfast was more anxious to preserve the interests of the British Electric Traction Company than that company itself. The hon. Member for South Belfast made a canvass in the interests of the Bill and declared that the plebiscite was in its favour. There was no urgency for the Bill. The only argument as to urgency arose from the fact that the tramway company promoted the Bill in order to obtain powers to run their cars to the centre of Belfast. The House was asked to believe that the' great and wealthy Corporation of Belfast was terrified at the threat on the part of a concern, which had an overdraft of £262 odd at the bank and only £ 1 13s 6d cash in hand. The idea of the Corporation of Belfast being intimidated by such a proposal was absurd. One of the considerations put forward in favour of the purchase of this tramway was that the tramway company hid withdrawn their Bill on the understanding that the Corporation was to pay them £60,000, and that the company had threatened if the Corporation did not come to terms with them to promote a Bill and then Parliament would give them powers which would wreek the whole civic tramways enterprise in Belfast. They were the friends ef civic progress, the agents, of unsuccessful enterprise, and the supporters of everything that made for democratic progress, but they could not understand what was the meaning of all this! There was something behind it all; the whole proceeding was sinister from beginning to end. The British Electric Traction Company was behind the tramway company in this matter. The Electric Traction Company, whose £10 shares fed recently been quoted at 27s 6d, would hardly be inclined to throw 152 money away applying for powers to run tramways in opposition to the Corporation of Belfast. Therefore, the argument as to urgency fell entirely to the ground. The Corporation had agreed to pay all the expenses of promoting the Bill. The £00,000 became payable one month after the passing of the Bill. If it was a fair and just transaction, why was the question of price not submitted to arbitration before a fair and impartial tribunal? That was a simple way out of the difficulty. The main argument in favour of this Bill was that at a plebiscite recently taken, a majority of the ratepayers had voted in its favour. He denied that that plebiscite was properly taken, and he also denied that a majority of the ratepayers were in favour of the Bill. He would point out to the House what occurred at the meeting called to consider this measure. A majority of two to one opposed the Bill and voted against it. This Bill which they were asking Parliament to sanction was an outrage on a large section of the ratepayers. Members of the Corporation had also protested, and Councillor Corley, one of the most careful and experienced members, gave it as his opinion that the Corporation were making one of the worst bargains they had made for thirty years. The manager of the Corporation tramways was understood to have said that it would cost £40,000 to double the line, and Councillor Corley denounced that as absurd in view of the vast population of the district. The Bill was not for the development of the outlying districts of Belfast, or to assist in taking the people out to breathe the sweet fresh air of the country. The passengers would be dumped down outside, not the recreation ground, but the large public-houses. Councillor James Johnson, President of the West Belfast Unionist Association, who voted for the purchase, said he thought that though they were all agreed that they were paying too much, yet it was as well to acquire the line. He supposed there was not a city in the world that was more bleak and barren for the great body of the workers than Belfast, nor so bereft of open spaces, and here, in an outlying district for some sinister purpose, they were asked to spend £60,000 now, and £40,000 in the future, for the 153 purpose of satisfying the British Electric Traction Company. The arguments against the proposal had not been answered. On the division they were voted down by a purely party vote. The tramways would be useless when, acquired, until another £40,000 had been spent on doubling the line, and no doubt, if the contract were given to Messrs. White & Co., the £40,000 would run to £60,000 before the thing was completed. The scheme was open to the gravest suspicion, if it were not an outrage and a scandalous and indefensible piece of jobbery. The only point in favour of the Bill was the question of the plebiscite. There had not been a single meeting of any section of the citizens in the area covered by the tramway line, which had passed a single resolution in favour of the Bill, with the exception of the Belfast Conservative Association.
§ MR. J. DEVLIN
said there were only four of them present at the meeting. If there was such a tremendous interest in the Bill, surely the Belfast Conservative Association could have whipped up more than four or five people at their meeting. If they voted against this proposal the Empire would go down. That was one of the chief arguments adduced in the local Tory Press. Leading Conservative shopkeepers in Belfast had written to him stating that they were sending communications on the subject, as the local Tory Press would not publish their letters. Belfast Trades Council had issued a manifesto against the Bill; it had been condemned by an association representing one of the largest groups of ratepayers in the city and by others. He asked the hon. Member for South Antrim if Mr. H. L. Grant was a Socialist? They were Socialists because they were opposed to the Bill. Was not Mr. Grant one of the most seasoned Tories in Belfast? In addition to being a seasoned Tory, he was an eminently able business man. He had commented unfavourably on the general transaction, remarking that the result of the vote was a very poor compliment to those who were responsible 154 for the purchase. In order to silence criticism and to smother any dissatisfaction with the Bill, when the necessary advertisements for the purpose of having the Bill legally presented were given out to the newspapers, they were given out, at least in the case of some newspapers, with the condition attached that, unless the Bill was passed into law, no money would be paid for the advertisements. He thought he was within his right as a Member of that House in denouncing that as one of the most bare-faced attempts on record to cover up, by bribery and intimidation, the Press of the city, which should have left its columns open and impartial for the citizens to discuss the matters that vitally affected the ratepayers. Yet he had been told—not by Nationalists, Socialists, Labour men, or Liberals—but by leading Conservatives that they were not allowed to insert argumentative communications against this Bill in the local Tory Press. He now knew the reason why they would not publish these communications. He was himself connected with a paper in Belfast, which, although the least wealthy of all the newspapers in that city, would have regarded that offer as an incitement to public dishonesty. The issue was a mere party issue; the Unionist Party and the local wire-pullers made it so. Party spirit rose higher in Belfast than in any other community in the United Kingdom, but, nevertheless, the majority for the scheme was not a very large one. The opposition to it was not altogether well organised, yet out of the total number of voters entitled to take part in the plebiscite, 67,000, only 54,000 actually voted and 24,733 balloted in favour of the scheme, and 12,573 against. That was to say, the scheme could only command the support of less than a third of the electors. The manner of taking the vote was also open to grave censure 13,000; voters were unaccounted for, and he himself had in his possession a large number of voting papers marked against the scheme which had never been collected, and he knew that hundreds of them were left at the wrong houses. He had also been informed that the method of counting the votes was most irregular and that no one was present representing the opposition, while the president and other officials at the 155 counting were notorious partisans for the scheme. It was, he contended, an insult to the dignity of the House of Commons for the Corporation of Belfast to come there in support of a scheme on the strength of the result of that plebiscite. If such a thing had occurred in Great Britain, Parliament would have marked its indignation in the most unmistakable manner towards those responsible for the proceedings he had described; but the majority in the Belfast Corporation had long been accustomed to do what they pleased. He trusted that in this instance the Corporation would find out that they had overshot the mark, and that they had mistaken the composition of this great Assembly. He asked the House to reject the Bill, and if that were done he was sure a compromise would be arrived at by which the London Electric Traction Company would accept £40,000 for an undertaking which was worth only £20,000, and the Corporation would be able to obtain the recreation ground which was the only thing that made the tramway- worth anything to the city. The alternative was for the Corporation to introduce a Bill for the compulsory purchase of the tramway, the price to be fixed by arbitration. He would support that. At all events, he trusted the House of Commons would vote against this Bill in the interests of civic purity and sound municipal administration and also in the interests of the citizens of Belfast who were already over-burdened with rates. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ MR. MULDOON (Wicklow, E.)
seconded the Amendment. This was not the first time that what was popularly known in Ireland as a "job" had taken the shape of a private Bill brought before Parliament, and where the game itself was not included in the sections of the measure but was hidden away in a schedule in order to be foisted on the House. He wished to make it clear that they on the Irish Benches supported the proposition that all - public utilities like electric lighting, water supply, gas, and tramways, should be managed by the local authority. It was because that in this particular instance the Corporation of Belfast had made a bad bargain which could not 156 stand the light of day that they asked the House of Commons to make an exception to their well known rule. It was usual where a corporation wished to acquire an existing undertaking that it should be done only by Act of Parliament. As trustees for the ratepayers the corporation mustshowthatthebargain they had entered into was a fair one, and that was a proposition in reference to this Bill upon which nobody would be able to satisfy the House of Commons. It did not appear from any information supplied to hon. Members, or from the Bill itself, that there was any valuation of this company's undertaking before the Belfast Corporation offered £60,000 for it. Nor had any accountant investigated the books of the company to ascertain whether the company had earned anything until they had struck this bargain. In fact, the Belfast Corporation had entered into the bargain without any inquiry at all. It was natural that when the Belfast Corporation had extended the boundaries of the city they should include-the area served by the Cavehill and Whitewell Tramway Company; but what they should have done was to promote a Bill in Parliament for the compulsory acquisition of that company's undertaking at an equitable price to be ascertained by arbitration. That, however, was not the course pursued by the corporation. The Cavehill and Whitewell Tramway had been running their line, three-and-a-half miles in length, since 1881. The company had been the subject of no less than four local Acts of Parliament previous to the present Bill being introduced. The company had never paid a dividend, and there was no suggestion that it ever had the capacity to earn anything. That was the company for whose undertaking the Corporation of Belfast without any inquiry had agreed to pay £60,000. When the Corporation in the course of its career arranged to extend the boundaries of Belfast, a syndicate from the Strand, London, the British Electric Traction Company, came on the scene and took possession of the Cavehill and Whitewell Tramway Company by the head and shoulders. A syndicate, as everyone knew, was a combination of philanthropists, who took up bankrupt concerns for the purpose of rendering them disinterested service If 157 he was told that this transaction was a bona-fide one and that the Belfast Corporation was dealing not with a syndicate of philanthropists but with the tramway company, he would ask those who put forward that suggestion to look at one clause in the Bill, which was expressed in ingenious and legal terms, though perhaps capable of interpretation in English—The receipt of the Cavehill Company shall be a sufficient discharge to the Corporation for any purchase or other moneys paid to the Cavehill Company by the Corporation under or in pursuance of the scheduled agreement, notwithstanding the existence of any mortgage, debenture charge, or other incumbrance affecting the undertaking of the Cavehill Company or any part thereof, or affecting the tramways or other property agreed to be surrendered or sold to the Corporation by the scheduled agreement or any part thereof respectively, provided always that nothing herein contained shall prejudice or affect any rights or claims of any mortgage debenture holder or other incumbrancer of the Cavehill Company against any such moneys.That was to say that, although they were nominally dealing with the Cavehill and Whitewell Tramway Company, the real company with whom they were dealing was the syndicate in the Strand, who were going to put this £60,000 in their own pocket. What he said was that there had been no inquiry of any kind into this undertaking; that the bargain was an improvident one — and this was the salient feature of their opposition— which could not be sustained by any speaker in support of the Bill, and the House of Commons ought not to carry it out. It was said that the Resolution was approved by the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but he might say at once it was a purely formal matter. The Chief Secretary consented to its being thrashed out, but he had given no assent in the formal way that was suggested. This House was asked to ratify and make legal an agreement which was null and void ab initio, absolutely illegal, and would have to be abandoned unless the House supported it. One material point in their opposition was the fact that there was something sinister in this transaction, that the syndicate was found getting its claw on to this company which the Corporation of Belfast ought to have stepped in and bought out, and not allowed the middleman to get in. The price to be paid was three or four times as much as would be paid in England for the same 158 mileage. While they took their stand on the improvident and fraudulent nature of the bargain which had been struck, the Corporation of Belfast had supplied Members with a statement in order that they might support the Bill in this House. Would it be believed that not a word of explanation had been given as to the reason for the payment of £60,000 for three miles of tramway. It was not suggested in this statement that there-was any valuation by an independent man. No single idea was put forward in favour of this thing except that a, plebiscite of the people of Belfast was taken. Under these circumstances that had a most sinister meaning, and the House of Commons ought not to ratify it or pass this Bill.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months." (Mr. Devlin.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
said he and the hon. Member for West Belfast had been in this House for many years, and during the whole of that time they had seen a great many Bills brought in for Belfast, but whether they were-brought in by the Corporation or the Harbour Board or the Water Board, the hon. Member had opposed them all.
§ MR. J. DEVLIN
said he had never opposed any Bill that came into this-House proposed either by the Harbour Board or the Water Board.
§ MR. WOLFF
said he apologised if her had misrepresented the hon. Member, but that was his impression. No Bill had been brought in by the Corporation that had not been opposed by the hon. Member. This Bill was opposed on the ground that the sum that the Corporation was prepared to give for the-tramways was excessive. It was also said that the plebiscite was not a fair and. straightforward one. Then the hon. Member for East Tyrone, who seconded the rejection, talked about the fraudulent bargain, though perhaps he did not quite mean what he said. Under these circumstances, he might be allowed to state to the House something about the origin of 159 this tramway. It was built in 1888 from the boundary of Belfast, and went three and a half miles along the road skirting Cavehill on the one side, and on the other it went to a place called Glengormley. In 1896 the Corporation got a Bill which extended their boundaries very much, and a mile and a half of the tramway which had been outside the boundary was brought within it. In 1902, the Electric Traction Company got hold of the line by some financial arrangement, some exchange of shares, and obtained power to electrify it. This was strongly opposed by the Belfast Corporation who had always desired to get the line into their own system, half of it being already within their boundary. They went so far as to offer £20,000 for a line which only cost £13,000 to build in order to get it in their own control. They did not, however, succeed, and the company got the right to electrify the line. From that time on there were constant negotiations on the part of the Corporation to get the line, and on the part of the company to sell it. It was very doubtful if the company would have electrified the line at all except chat they hoped to run trams over the Corporation line. Not having succeeded in that they worked the line from Chichester Park to Glengormley, and everbody knew that it was impossible to make a line of trams three and a half miles long pay with only a twenty minutes service. The line which ran up to Chichester Park from the centre of Belfast was one of the best paying parts of the Belfast system. That had a two-and-a-half minutes service; but it stopped at Chichester Park, when the Cavehill and White well tramway ran a twenty minutes' service. It was not to be expected that the people would build houses on the land between Chichester Park and Cavehill when there was only a tram every twenty minutes; but if a tram went from the centre of Belfast Tight through every two and-a-half minutes many houses would be erected. The hon. Member for West Belfast thought that £60,000 would be an excessive price to pay for this line, but the annual cost would only be £6,150 That was the amount which would pay the interest and principal for thirty years, at the end of which time the line would be free of all charge. The last balance sheet of the Cavehill and 160 Whitewell tramways showed a profit of £1,100, and if that profit was made on a twenty minutes service and the Corporation put on a five minutes service it was quite evident that a very much larger profit would be made, and the establishment charges would at once be removed, because the offices of the present company would be done away with, and the work done in the offices of the Belfast Corporation. The hon. Member for West Belfast had stated that nobody cared about this transaction, and that no meetings had been held in its favour. On the contrary, meetings had been held throughout Belfast and the necessary resolution carried by the statutory majority. The opposition to any great extent came from the liquor trade, and it was a very common thing that almost all the public houses in Belfast were owned by Nationalist Catholics. The strong point in the case for the Bill was the plebiscite. The hon. Member for West Belfast had endeavoured to throw doubts on its fairness. He (Mr. Wolff) had never heard any doubt expressed before. The papers were delivered by the police, who did not care twopence about the politics of any man, and were collected and returned by them. The proportion of those who did not vote—12,265 out of a total of 64,800 ratepayers—was a large one, it was true, but in every large town there was always a considerable section of the community who did not take any interest whatever in municipal affairs. There voted in favour of the Bill 24,700 ratepayers and against it 12,570, and under these circumstances it was non-sense to say that there had not been fair play. Everybody in Belfast knew perfectly well the price that was going to be paid, and the question was, could the Corporation have got the tramway for less? He did not himself think that too much had been paid. The Corporation might have been wrong in the way they had gone about the business, but in any case their action had been thoroughly approved by the majority of the electors. One of the great principles of the Liberal and Labour Parties was that the will of the majority must prevail. He hoped they would stick to that principle when it came to voting on this Bill, and that they would vote in favour of what the majority of the people of Belfast had determined should be done.
§ MR. MOONEY (Newry)
said the hon. member who had just spoken, and who was the official spokesman for the Bill, had told them that if the Corporation had made a mistake Belfast had approved of it. If Belfast had approved of it that was no reason why that House should do so, and it was because they said that Belfast had made a mistake that the opponents of the Bill asked the House to reject it. If this was a measure for giving the municipal authorities of Belfast the control of the traction powers inside the City area, he did not think that any member of the Party to which he belonged would oppose it. But it was nothing of the kind. It was in their opinion a deliberate attempt by a Corporation of which they knew a good deal, to blackmail the ratepayers of the city of Belfast. It was a Bill ostensibly to ratify an agreement between the Cavehill Tramways Company and the Belfast Corporation. It was nothing of the kind. The real parties were the Belfast Corporation and the British Electric Traction Company. The Cavehill Tramways Company, Limited, had never paid a dividend. Some years ago it went to the British Electric Traction Company when there might have been a chance of its being acquired at a proper price, and the latter company took forty thousand pounds worth of debentures in the undertaking. It was said that was a free bargain. The Corporation argued that if they did not agree to the Bill the British Electric Traction Company would go to the House of Commons and obtain powers to run trams in the City; therefore they must give a fancy price. Was that the hon. Gentleman's idea of a free bargain? The price to be paid was £60,000. What were the Corporation going to get for this— the capital outlay on the old line as reconstructed was £13,500. Why that should be taken as an asset he was at a loss to understand. The next thing they got was the expenditure on reconstruction of the permanent way, the electrical equipment of the line, erection of car shed and depot, and the cost of Parliamentary powers, which was placed at £54,600. His hon. friend had already dealt with the average cost per mile of equipping a single line of tramways in this country, and had shown how excessive was the sum of £54,000, but the Belfast Corporation did not even go to the trouble of making sure when they 162 made statements in that House that they did not issue public documents contradicting those statements, because the Town Clerk of Belfast had furnished to the Chief Secretary for Ireland information on those figures, and this was what the Chief Secretary said on the 10th inst., in that House. He said the Town Clerk of Belfast had told him that the last balance sheet of the company showed a capital outlay on the old line of £13,500, but the cost of reconstruction and electrification had been estimated at over £40,000, in addition to the £13,500 paid for the old horse line. It was a curious thing that if they added the £40,000 to the £13,500 they got practically the figure of £54,639. They were therefore charging for the old line twice over. The Belfast Corporation were not, however, even going to get that, because the expense of issuing debentures was put down as an asset. He had yet to learn that that expense was a valuable asset to any company. There were also freehold lands put down as an asset. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had talked a good deal about the advantage which would accrue to the workers of the city by being able to get out to Glengormley. In the appeal issued by the promoters of the Bill and sent to every Member of the House, it was stated that the acquisition of the line by the Corporation would not only provide accommodation for those citizens beyond the terminus of the Corporation system, but would afford facilities for the population to get out to the suburbs. Then why not buy the Glengormley Gardens? The property of the company was a line three miles long, run out to those public gardens, which were also the property of the company. They were part of those extraordinary assets going to make up the £60,000, but the British Electric Traction Company deliberately cut them out of the bargain with the Corporation. The deliberate intention of the appeal was that if the tramway was taken over by the Corporation it would provide facilities for the working classes to get out there, and that was deliberately misleading. The opposition would never have been heard of if the British Electric Traction Company had agreed to go to arbitration for a fair price and allowed the public gardens to remain open. Under the Bill, if passed, the gardens would be closed, and the public would have no right of admittance. 163 When they had spent the ratepayers' money on the trams going out to those gardens, which were valued at £2,000, the company would say to the Corporation, "You can have these grounds, but you will pay our price for them." It was a ridiculous argument. It was not often that such a strong step was taken as moving the rejection of a Bill of that kind on Second Reading; it had always been the habit of that House to declare that such Bills should go to a Committee upstairs. He hoped that the Chairman of Ways and Means would not take the usual course that night, for this was a most unusual Bill. He had had some experience of Private Bill Committees upstairs, and knew the careful attention and scrutiny they gave to such Bills, but this was sued a carefully framed Bill that under the Standing Orders of the House no single opponent of the Bill could be heard upstairs against it, and they were debarred under the Standing Orders from appearing before that Committee. He hoped therefore the House would reject the measure. This was really a corrupt bargain, detrimental to the interests of the ratepayers. Because the Corporation had not agreed to go before an independent tribunal, he asked the House to teach the Corporation a lesson by throwing out the Bill.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS (Mr. EMMOTT)
said he rose with reluctance to intervene in the debate. He did not know the place nor the cost of constructing a tramway line; he did not know any of the things that he ought to know in order to form an opinion as to whether the Bill ought to have a Second Roading on its real merits or not. Therefore, he was afraid he must say that, having listened very carefully to the debate, he did not see that any question had been raised which could not better be considered in Committee, by the right kind of Committee, than it could possibly be done on the floor of the House. After all, whether the price to be given for those tramways should be thirty, or forty, or sixty thousand pounds they could not decide intelligently there. Therefore, it seemed to him distinctly to be one of those questions that ought to go to a Committee upstairs. But he said again that he thought that it ought to be the right kind of Committee. His hon. friend the 164 Member for Newry had said correctly that in the ordinary course, this being technically an unopposed Bill, it would go to the Unopposed Bill Committee.
§ MR. MOONEY
I said that we who are opposing this Bill could not appear before the Committee, because the ratepayers of a city could not appear against the Corporate Seal.
§ MR. EMMOTT
said he was coming to that point. The hon. Member was a very valuable member of the Unopposed Bills Committee and would probably agree that in a Bill of this kind, where there was any sort of ground for supposing that an improper bargain had been made and where a considerable section of the ratepayers were opposed to confirming that bargain, the Unopposed Bills Committee was not a very satisfactory tribunal. In that Committee they heard only one side, and that the side of those who were in favour of the Bill, and except by cross-questioning those who came before them to make an ex parte statement they could not get at the objections that would be raised by the opponents. That being the case, what other course was there that he could suggest to the House? He must honestly say that he hoped the Bill would be read a second time, for this reason, that it would be most unusual to throw such a Bill out on its Second Reading. If there was anything wrong with it, it would be better to throw it out at a later stage. Such a course as throwing it out now might lead to reprisals, and reprisals in those matters often cut very deep, their effect lasted for a long time, and caused a very great deal of inconvenience, to that House, because they took up so much time in being discussed on the floor of the House. He thought it would be his duty to report to the House that the Bill should go to an Opposed Bill Committee, but if it did, as things were, the hon. Member for Newry was right in saying that the opponents of the Bill could not appear. There was, however, a way of getting over that. The House could pass a resolution, and had done so in similar cases, that petitioners presenting a petition so many days before the Committee met should be heard, and so far as he was concerned he should not oppose any Motion of that kind, and if it would lead to general 165 agreement he would be ready to promise to move it. He did not see that he could add anything of use by protracting his remarks, and his suggestion was offered in the interests of peace.
§ MR. SLOAN (Belfast, S.)
said that after the statement of the Chairman of Ways and Means, it was hardly necessary for him to go into details in favour of the Bill, but there were one or two items in the speech of the hon. Member for West Belfast which he thought required attention. So far as he was concerned, in the few years he had been in the House, he had consistently voted for municipalisation, whether in Ireland or out of it, and on this question he was thoroughly convinced that not only the Corporation of Belfast, but the citizens of Belfast, by an overwhelming majority, were in favour of the transaction proposed in the Bill. He would support any Bill for the good of the people he represented. The licensed victuallers were the only people who had made any public statement in opposition to the Bill. When the promotion of the Bill was before the Corporation not a single Labour Member opposed it. In so far as the Belfast Corporation was concerned they had nothing to fear from any public investigation that might be made in reference to the Bill. It was unfortunate that sometimes in municipal affairs, politics seemed to take a more prominent position than the welfare of the citizens themselves. He had done his humble part to try to remove that spirit by his own action and speeches, but there were six members in the Corporation who attended a meeting which was being held for the purpose of the promotion of the Bill, and they opposed the Bill simply because there was a street in which they were interested, and which they wanted widening, and the Corporation could not see their way at that particular time to accede to their request; they opposed the promotion of the Bill in consequence. After their amendment was rejected by forty-two to six, they allowed the original resolution to promote the Bill to pass without a division. It was a hardship to municipalities to think that the ratepayers' money was to be spent in the promotion of Bills which were undoubtedly in the interests of the citizens and that solid arguments should 166 be ignored and thrown to the winds. He knew every inch of the tramway line in question, and he knew the advantages, that the citizens of this particular district would obtain from its construction. When they had a private company they paid 2d and 3d for a journey, but since municipalising and electrifying, the Corporation had been able through its managers to give a penny service to every part of the city. He had not the slightest doubt that the citizens of this district as time went on would be the very first to cry out against being compelled to stand fifteen or twenty minutes on a damp bleak night waiting for a Cavehill tram to come. Apart from that there were facilities by means of the Bill for the working class community to get out in thousands to the country for fresh air. There had not been a single meeting or letter of protest. A great many assertions had been made about a plebiscite, and they had been told about the marking of papers in a different way from what the people wanted. But he had been told himself that the West Belfast Nationalist organisation agents had gone round, got the papers, and marked them. But this was a question on which it did not matter what political parties said. The Corporation had decided more than once in favour of purchasing the tramways, and they could not have done so unless they had the support of the people. The Corporation was divided when the historic meeting took place, but a plebicsite was taken and 24,000 voted in favour, 12,000 against, 15,000 papers were returned blank, and 400 were sent with the wrong names. Surely that was a strong case. He was not considering the Corporation in this matter. He had never heard of the British Electric Traction Company to any advantage in his life, and he knew the hostility to it. He was not concerned with the Company. He was concerned about the people of Belfast, and he declared that it was unfair in an off-handed manner and without any consideration or justification to throw Out the Bill to gratify the only public body that had made any opposition to the Bill—the licensed victuallers. He appealed to the House to look at this from a distinctly municipal point of view, and to give them the opportunity of preventing any possibility of running powers being sought for 167 over the municipal lines. They might not always have a democratic Parliament, and at some future time running powers might be canvassed for. This very company had got a Bill passed in opposition to the Corporation and last year they had made application for running powers. He looked upon this as a very serious and gross interference with the right of municipalities, which might be a continual annoyance and worry to the citizens for some years to come.
§ MR. SLOAN
said he did not know what the interruption meant unless the hon. Member was as interested in the British Electric Traction Company as he was in Sunday closing. If he thought the British Electric Traction Company was playing a game or that there was any jobbery he would stand up and oppose it with any Labour man or Nationalist. He had never refused to associate himself with any man because of his politics in that which he thought was for the benefit of the people. He believed this was for the benefit of the people of Belfast and that the Corporation were right. It was affirmed by a vast majority of the citizens and was opposed by a great interest which indeed had no love for him while he had no particular love for their trade either. He asked the House to consider the advisability of adopting the suggestion of the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Corporation would have no objection to the fullest inquiry. They had nothing to hide, and in that debate they hardly had anything to defend. The Bill spoke for itself. There had been no real argument against it, though there had been some assertions with regard to blackmailing which were uncalled for. He hoped the question would be settled free from partisanship and prejudice.
§ MR. ANNAN BRYCE (Inverness Burghs)
said he would appeal to Members opposite whether a matter of this kind 168 should be made a party question. He had a great many friends who were Home Rulers and Liberals in Belfast, and if the House decided against the Bill it would embitter the relations between the parties.
§ MR. ANNAN BRYCE
said that one-might know something about the matter though one had not heard the debate. Gentlemen below the gangway opposite knew perfectly well what his opinions were in regard to their main policy, and that he was absolutely in sympathy with them. Therefore it was that he deprecated the introduction of party feeling on the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind.
§ MR. SCOTT (Ashton-under-Lyne)
thought that an English Member who knew something about tramways might be allowed to say a word or two upon this Bill. For a tram line three-and-a-half miles long that could only support a twenty minutes service, it was preposterous to pay close upon £18,000 per mile. The hon. Member for South Belfast had told them that they ought to respect the expenditure of the ratepayers' money. No one did that more than he did, but he wished to point out that there was no company which had cost the ratepayers more money than the British Electric Traction Company, because other municipalities had been placed by this company in precisely the same position as Belfast, The people of Belfast had not been allowed to vote freely on this matter.
§ MR. SCOTT
said it had been stated that the people of Belfast believed that the British Electric Traction Company, which was a powerful body with great capitalists behind it, could seek powers to acquire a competitive service. That, however, was not so, because if Parliament granted this company running powers, conditions would be imposed, to protect the Corporation. What he protested against was that municipalities should be humbugged with these associations coming on their border ground and 169 acquiring these interests, not with the object of serving the public, but simply in order to squeeze from municipalities exorbitant prices for their undertakings.
§ MR. JAMES PARKER (Halifax)
said in regard to this measure he agreed with the views expressed in the speeches of hon. Members below the Gangway. Nobody who had paid any attention to the Bill before the House or the balance sheet about which they had heard something in the debate would go into the Lobby and vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. This Bill was neither more nor less than the giving of a large sum of money to a company which was notorious for opposing municipal undertakings and putting the ratepayers to great expense. He was much interested in the speech of the hon. Member for East Belfast and the figures
§ he had placed before the House. Whether hon. Members were in favour of or opposed to municipal enterprise, he would ask them was there any justification for handing the powers of Parliament to a body which was using those powers, not to help, but to injure municipal enterprises. In West Ham they only paid £5,000 per mile for a double tramway track, whereas in this case the city of Belfast were proposing to pay over £18,000 per mile for a single track. But that did not end the story. Before that track could be used by the Belfast Corporation probably another £40,000 would be spent.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 130; Noes, 176. (Division List No. 27.)171
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch)||Craik, Sir Henry||M'Arthur, Charles|
|Allen, Charles P. (Stroud)||Dalrymple, Viscount||M'Micking, Major G.|
|Armitage, R.||Davies, David (Montgomery Co.||Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston)|
|Astbury, John Meir||Davies, W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Moore, William|
|Baker, Sir John (Portsmouth)||Doughty, Sir George||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Gov'n||Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw)|
|Banbury, Sir Frederick George||Emmott, Alfred||Nicholson, Charles N.(D'nc'st'r)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Evans, Sir Samuel T.||Nuttall, Harry|
|Barker, John||Everett, R. Lacey||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torens|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Fell, Arthur||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Barrie, H.T.(Londonderry, N.)||Fiennes, Hon. Eustace||Price, C. E. (Edinb'gh, Central)|
|Barry, Redmond J.(Tyrone, N.)||Forster, Henry William||Price, Robert John(Norfolk, E.)|
|Beale, W. P.||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol, West)||Rea, Russell (Gloucester)|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Gladstone, Rt. Hn Herbert John||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarboro'|
|Berridge, T. H. D.||Glendinning, R. G.||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Berridge, T. H. D.||Goulding, Edward Alfred||Ridsdale, E. A.|
|Black, Arthur W.||Gretton, John||Robinson, S.|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Hamilton, Marquess of||Rose, Charles Day|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis||Russell, T. W.|
|Brocklehurst, W. B.||Haworth, Arthur A.||Rutherford, John (Lancashire)|
|Brunner, J.F.L.(Lancs., Leigh)||Hedges, A. Paget||Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)|
|Brunner, Rt Hn Sir J.T(Cheshire)||Helme, Norval Watson||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Herbert, T. Arnold (Wycombe)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley George D.|
|Carlile, E. Hildred||Higham, John Sharp||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.||Hills, J. W.||Sloan, Thomas Henry|
|Cave, George||Holland, Sir William Henry||Smeaton, Donald Mackenzie|
|Cavendish, Rt. Hn. Victor C.W.||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Smith, F.E.(Liverpool, Walton)|
|Cawley, Sir Frederick||Hunt, Rowland||Soares, Ernest J.|
|Cecil, Lord R.(Marylebone, E.)||Jacoby, Sir James Alfred||Stanley, Hn. A. Lyulph (Chesh.)|
|Cherry, Rt. Hon. R. R.||Jones, Leif (Appleby)||Starkey, John R.|
|Churchill Rt. Hn. Winston S.||Kearley, Hudson E.||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Clough, William||Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir John H.||Taylor, Theodore C. (Radcliffe)|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.||Kincaid-Smith, Captain||Thomson, W. Mitchell (Lanark|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Lee, Arthur H.(Hants, Fareham||Valentia, Viscount|
|Corbett, C.H.(Sussex, E. Grinst'd||Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David||Verney, F. W.|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John||Lockwood, Rt. Hn. Lt.-Col. A. R.||Walker, Col. W. H. (Lancashire)|
|Courthope, G. Loyd||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Waring, Walter|
|Cox, Harold||Lupton, Arnold||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Craig, Charles Curtis (Antrim, S.||Lyell, Charles Henry||Wedgwood, Josiah C.|
|Craig, Captain James(Down, E.)||Maclean, Donald||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Whitehead, Rowland||Wilson, J. W. (Worcestershire, N.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Whiteley, Rt. Hn. G.(York, W.R.||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-||Mr. Wolff and Mr. George|
|Wilson, A. Stanley (York, E.R.)||Younger, George||Clark.|
|Abraham, William (Cork, N.E.)||Herbert, Col. Sir Ivor (Mon., S.)||O'Kelly, James (Roscommon, N|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Hobart, Sir Robert||O'Malley, William|
|Ambrose, Robert||Hodge, John||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.|
|Baker, Joseph A.(Finsbury, E.)||Hogan, Michael||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Baring, Godfrey(Isle of Wight)||Holt, Richard Durning||Pearce, Robert (Staffs Leek)|
|Barnard, E. B.||Hope, W. Bateman(Somerset, N.||Pease, J.A (Saffron Walden)|
|Barnes, G. N.||Horniman, Emslie John||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)|
|Barry, E. (Cork, S.)||Hudson, Walter||Pickersgill, Edward Hare|
|Benn, W.(T'w'r Hamlets, S.Geo.||Hyde, Clarendon||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Bennett, E. N.||Illingworth, Percy H.||Radford, G. H.|
|Boland, John||Jenkins, J.||Raphael, Herbert H.|
|Bottomley, Horatio||Johnston, John (Gateshead)||Reddy, M.|
|Brace, William||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Buckmaster, Stanley O.||Jowett, F. W.||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Joyce, Michael||Richards, Thomas (W. Monm'th|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Kekewich, Sir George||Richards, T.F.(Wolverh'mp'tn)|
|Byles, William Pollard||Kelley, George D.||Richardson, A.|
|Cameron, Robert||Kettle, Thomas Michael||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Law, Hugh A. (Donegal, W.)||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Leese, Sir Joseph F.(Accrington||Robertson, Sir G. Scott(Bradfrd)|
|Clynes, J. R.||Lehmann, R. C.||Roche, John (Galway, East)|
|Collins, Sir Wm. J.(S. Pancras, W||Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwi'h)||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||Levy, Sir Maurice||Rowlands, J.|
|Cooper, G. J.||Lewis, John Herbert||Rutherford, V. R. (Brentford)|
|Cotton, Sir H. J. S.||Luttrell, Hugh Fownes||Seaverns, J. H.|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Seddon, J.|
|Cremer, Sir William Randal||Macdonald, J.M.(Falkirk B'ghs)||Seely, Colonel|
|Crosfield, A. H.||Mackarness, Frederick C.||Shipman, Dr. John G.|
|Crossley, William J.||Mcpherson, J. T.||Snowden, P.|
|Cullinan, J.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.||Stanley, Albert(Staffs, N.W.)|
|Curran, Peter Francis||Mac Veagh, Charles (Donegal, E.||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Dalziel, James Henry||M'Crae, George||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Davies, Ellis William (Eifion)||M'Kean, John||Stuart, James (Sunderland)|
|Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||M'Kenna, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Summerbell, T.|
|Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||M'Killop, W.||Sutherland, J. E.|
|Dilke, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles||M'Laren, H. D. (Stafford, W.)||Taylor, John W. (Durham)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Maddison, Frederick||Thomas, David Alfred(Merthyr)|
|Duckworth, James||Manfield, Harry (Northants)||Thompson, J. W. H. (Somerset)|
|Duffy, William J.||Mansfield, H. Rendall(Lincoln)||Thorne, William|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness||Mason, A. E. W. (Coventry)||Wadsworth, J.|
|Dunn, A. Edward (Camborne)||Meagher, Michael||Walsh, Stephen|
|Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)||Middlebrook, William||Ward, John (Stoke upon Trent).|
|Erskine, David C.||Mond, A.||Wardle, George J.|
|Fenwick, Charles||Mooney, J. J.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Flynn, James Christopher||Muldoon, John||White, J. D. (Dumbartonshire)|
|Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Murphy, John (Kerry, East)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Fuller, John Michael F.||Murphy, N. J. (Kilkenny, S.)||Whittaker, Sir Thomas Palmer|
|Fullerton, Hugh||Murray, James||Wiles, Thomas|
|Furness, Sir Christopher||Myer, Horatio||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Glover, Thomas||Nannetti, Joseph P.||Williamson, A.|
|Goddard, Sir Daniel Ford||Nicholls, George||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R,)|
|Gulland, John W.||Nolan, Joseph||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Gwynn, Stephen Lucius||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Wilson, P. W. (St. Pancras, S.)|
|Hall, Frederick||Nugent, Sir Walter Richard||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Halpin, J.||O'Brien, Kendal (Tipperary Mid||Wood, T. M'Kinnon|
|Harvey, A. G. C. (Rochdale)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)|
|Harvey, W. E.(Derbyshire, N.E.||O'Connor, James (Wicklow, W.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Haslam, James (Derbyshire)||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Mr. Devlin and Mr. Scott.|
|Hayden, John Patrick||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Henderson, Arthur (Durham)||O'Grady, J.|
Question put, and agreed to.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.