§ Lords Amendments considered.
§ Lords Amendment, after Clause 94, to insert Clause 94a:—
§ (As to Satiny of Hallways.)
§ For the purpose of any rate (other than Poor Rate and the Borough Rate) to be made and levied by the corporation under the provisions of this or of any other Act within the City at any time after the passing of this Act all lands used as a railway belonging to or leased or occupied by any railway company and constructed under the powers of any Act of Parliament for public conveyance shall be assessed and liable in the proportion of one-fourth part only of the net annual value of such lands respectively.
§ Mr. M'MORDIE
I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
By this Bill it is proposed to make a great many improvements in the City of Belfast. It is proposed to spend on these a sum of £1,250,000. The Bill itself did not attempt to deal in any way with the question of rates. It did not seek to alter the general law as to railway rating in Ireland, and, accordingly, I consider that the intrusion of the railway companies into this matter requires a little explanation which it has not yet received. The corporation did not seek to interfere with the railways, but the railways are seeking to alter the general law as to the rating of railways without proceeding in the proper way by a Bill in Parliament. They are proceeding as they have done in other cases when they get a corporation in a difficulty. When they find a corporation 658 which is anxious to get a Bill through they avail themselves of the opportunity to seek to interfere with the general law relating to railways. A course like that suggests a process which in war is called sniping, I have little or nothing to say as to the interferences of railway companies on this side of the Channel, though I understand that they have interfered in that way when corporations were asking for powers to do certain things. The only case that I would like to deal with is a case in Ireland, and that is the case of the city of Dublin. The law in Ireland is not the same as the law in England. With regard to corporate towns in Ireland the railways have no privileges whatever.
About a dozen years ago the corporation of Dublin were promoting a Bill. The railway companies took action in the matter. The position of the corporation of Dublin was more unfortunate than ours, because they were bound to get their Bill through, and accordingly they were not able to resist the onslaught made on them by these great corporations. They were obliged to submit, and the result was that a burden was placed on the ratepayers of the city of Dublin, which went to increase the income of the railway shareholders to the extent of £8,000 a year. Capitalising that sum, it works out that the railway companies saddled the corporation of the city of Dublin with about £200,000. Corporate bodies have enough trouble to carry on their operations and to protect the ratepayers. They have seldom a surplus, and if they had I think probably the last purpose to which they should go would be to swell the dividends of bodies such as railways, who enjoy a monopoly and pay large dividends. What they ask does not benefit the railways as such. It benefits certain shareholders. The railways on the average are paying 6½ per cent. They are properly equipped; they are fitted for their work, and their stock sells in the open market at from 20 to 75 per cent. above par. Their dividends are beyond the average of what traders can make in their trade, and yet they now seek to saddle the City of Belfast with a sum of about £2,300 a year in order to increase 659 their dividends. If you capitalise £2,300 a year it will represent a sum of £57,000 at twenty-five years' purchase.
The ability of the railway company is exercised in many directions. It so happens—they draw attention to it themselves—that their properties in Belfast are-valued at about half of their real value. We shall endeavour later on to get those valuations corrected. When those valuations are corrected the amount to be saddled on the City of Belfast, if this Amendment is adopted, will be £4,600 a year, equivalent to a capital sum of £114,000. As they have victimised Dublin to the extent of £200,000 it may seem not unreasonable that Belfast should be put in for this smaller sum; but, as I have said, we are not seeking to alter the general law with regard to railways, which is different in Ireland from what it is in England. With regard to corporate towns there are no privileges granted to railway companies at all under the provisions of any Act of Parliament. Dublin was not embarrassed until it was forced to embarrass itself: neither are Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Londonderry, Drogheda, and, I think, Enniskillen. But having ground the City of Dublin into the dust, they are making their next effort on the City of Belfast, and if they succeed in that I submit that Cork, Londonderry, Limerick, Drogheda and Enniskillen must also go under as opportunity offers. And after all that has been done these greedy monopolists, having once made a start, will then come to the rural districts all over Ireland. What makes the thing particularly absurd is that they appeal to the instance of the City of Dublin as a reason why Belfast should be victimised in this way. One of the most skilfully misleading documents I ever read —and I have read many misleading documents during twenty-five or twenty-six years of legal practice—has been placed in my hands in support of the case of the railway companies.
They state that the principle of the differential rating of land used for railways has been recognised by Parliament, and so on, by the Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act, 1854, and the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878, the reason being that the land used for railways did not derive the same benefit from municipal expenditure as other property, and that the exemption was only in respect of land used for railways, while the full rates were paid as regards the remainder of the property of the railway company. With regard 660 to the effects of municipal enterprise in producing an increase of population and of business, there are no bodies in the community who get such a large return from increased manufacture and increased trading as the railway companies, while they do absolutely nothing to promote any improvement in these directions. If you come to the question of lands used as railways that is represented as if it were a small item. The valuation of the railway properties in Belfast amount to £25,000 per annum. The exemption is only in respect of lands used as a railway. But that applies to £18,000 out of the £25,000, which is by far the larger portion. Then they refer to the exemption of the provincial towns with which we have nothing to do. We are dealing only with the corporate towns. They say that the exemption is now enforced in Belfast for reasons of an occidental character, and in no way because the Legislature has determined that the circumstances in Belfast differ from those of other towns. That is not so. Belfast is exempted, as Dublin was, as Londonderry, Cork and Limerick are, under statute, and these towns can only be got in by efforts such as this when they are promoting Bills. We were exempted under the Towns Improvement (Ireland) Act of 1854, and now by this side effort they are endeavouring to do to us what they have done to Dublin, and what I gather they have done to a considerable number of towns in England.
In Belfast the valuation of the railway property amounts to only about 50 per cent. of the real value and it represents 1.58 per cent. of the total valuation. In Dublin it represents 3.1 per cent. But when the Belfast valuations are corrected —and I shall endeavour to bring that about—the amount, instead of being 1.58, will amount to about 5 per cent. As I explained, this document was sent to Members, and it says:—Belfast have, by some of their special Acts, admitted the equity of differential rating in respect of certain classes of property.The only differential rating is a rate of 2d. in the pound. They have got a fourth of 2d. in the pound, and they pay, instead of the 2d. paid by the ordinary ratepayer, the sum of l½d. The matter is so wholly insignificant that it ought not to be referred to in a document of this nature. It goes on to say:—In 1898 the railway companies applied to the Corporation of Belfast to allow them one-fourth rating in the terms of Section 226 of the Public Health (Ireland) Act, 1878.661 They say that this was granted. But this concession was made through very great ignorance of the law, or if it was not ignorance of the law, it arose through accountancy; in any case they escaped £600 or £700 a year for a period of eighteen years. In justice they ought now to return to us £12,000 or £13,000. It was merely a blunder, and there was no concession, nor was it anything to which they were entitled. They further say in this document:—It will be seen, therefore, that the railway companies are not desiring in any way to depart from the general law, but, on the contrary, to get rid of an anomaly in Belfast by applying the general law.It is not Belfast that is interfering with the general law at all; it is they who are endeavouring to coerce us into submitting to this imposition. Under the circumstances we ought not to submit to this contribution of £2,300 a year; we ought not to be put under the imposition of presenting a capital sum of over £57,000, which, on later valuations, will increase to £150,000. There will be great alterations within the next ten years, so that what is apparently an imposition of £57,000 at present will grow to a sum of £150,000, and to a still greater amount, when certain events have taken place. This is a most improper attempt on the part of this great monopoly to interfere with the development of the city of Belfast. We are here as representing the taxpayers, and our first duty is to look after their rights. Certain representations have been made as to this Bill, but where persons are in the position of public trustees, representing and protecting the interests of the taxpayers in the Legislature, there should be nothing in the nature of a personal canvas.
§ Mr. HILLS
I must at the outset complain of the somewhat imperfect statement of the facts of the case made by the Mover of this Motion. May I just go back and show first of all the principle upon which the claim for exemption rests, and then go to the actual law that applies to Ireland now. It has been settled for many years past that railway companies, in respect of certain properties, should not pay rates on the full annual value. As far as concerns the railway line itself, it was felt that they did not get the full benefit of the expenditure of the rates. They pay for the lighting of their stations and lines, they pay for street sweeping, water and 662 police, and all that expenditure did not benefit the railway companies. As far back as 1828, Parliament recognised that certain exceptions were due to the railway companies. The principle has been that they have been rated on one-fourth of their annual value in respect of the land that is used for the railways. As far as concerns the land that is used for buildings, warehouses, and so on, they pay rates on the full annual value. As far as concerns the land used for the line itself they pay rates on one-fourth of the annual value. That has been the settled principle in England. It has been the law for many years past, and still is the law established for the whole of England, with one small exception, the central part of the City of Manchester, where there still exists the right to rate railways on the annual value. I turn to Ireland. The mover of the rejection of the Amendment spoke as though the claim of the railways for exemption in the past was wholly exceptional. The contrary is the case. Over nearly the whole of Ireland the railways are rated at one-fourth of their annual value in respect of so much of their land as is used for the railway only. Of 124 towns in Ireland, 104 have got this exemption, and the reason the exemption does not exist in Belfast is rather curious, and is perhaps worth explaining to the House. The Public Health Act of 1854 was the first which gave exemption to the railways. This Act expressly excluded certain towns of which Belfast was one. That was followed by the Act of 1874. The Act of 1878 was assumed to apply to all towns, but was held by the Court of Appeal in Ireland not to apply to the towns which were possessed of a sanitary authority before the passing of that Act. Therefore all the towns which possessed a sanitary authority before 1878 were still excluded. But so much was it believed——
§ Mr. M'MORDIE
Those exclusions were stated expressly in the Act. It was not a matter of judicial decision.
§ Mr. HILLS
I think my hon. Friend is not correct. The exclusions were stated in the Act of 1854, but the exclusion under the Act of 1878 was a matter of judicial decision. We shall hear that when the Attorney-General for Ireland speaks. It was believed that in the city of Belfast the railways were entitled to this exemption. Twelve years ago they applied to the corporation for exemption. That was granted, and they were repaid the excess that they had over-paid in past years. That 663 state of things continued up to the present year. Then on the strength of this old decision of the Court of Appeal the corporation refused the exemption and put the railways on the full rate. I do ask the House to consider that here you have an exemption that is perfectly fair on principle; it is perfectly fair that a railway-company which does work which is charged for in respect of rates should be given an exemption, for it is quite clear that a large amount of the services which are rendered do not benefit the railways. It is in respect of those services that the exemption is given. The position of Belfast and two or three large towns is quite exceptional, and stands outside the general law. Here again I do quarrel, and rather strongly, with the statement of my hon. Friend. He spoke as though we wanted exceptional treatment in Belfast. We want nothing of the sort. We ask that Belfast should be brought into line with the ordinary law that prevails over England, with a small exception, and over a very large part of Ireland. I believe there are only about six towns in Ireland which do not grant exemption either in whole or part. I feel that I have to meet rather an unusual opposition. I have the somewhat unnatural alliance of my hon. Friend on my right and my hon. Friend on my left, and when I look towards this opposition and feel that the cause of that strange combination is an attack upon that unpopular body, a railway company, I confess I feel somewhat nervous about it.
I ask the House to consider this as a case of ordinary common justice. It will do no more than bring the city of Belfast into the same position as nearly all the towns in Ireland. May I call attention to the fact that the Committee was a very strong Committee. Its chairman was Lord Welby, a well-known public servant, and, I believe, a life-long Liberal. The Committee carefully considered this question, and upon the request of the railway companies, and for their protection inserted the Clause which is objected to. This Bill is to raise a sum we are told of £1,250,000. It is perfectly clear that must impose a very heavy charge on the railway companies. At 4 per. cent the charge would come to a sum of £70,000 per year, which will mean a very heavy charge on the ratepayers of Belfast. Is it fair that the railway companies which do their own work should bear the full amount of that charge? It is a perfectly well settled law that in respect of those charges that are beneficial charges the 664 railway ought to get exemption. That has been settled over and over again for sixty years past, and it is entirely by accident that Belfast has been outside that law, owing to the fact that before the Act of 1878 was passed Belfast possessed the sanitary authority, and the courts held that such towns did not come within the scope of the Act. The fact as to whether a town possessed a sanitary authority before 1878 or not ought not to settle that a railway is to be rated at three-fourths value or at full value. Either the charge is right or not, and the mere chance of possessing a sanitary authority ought not to settle the question. I do not say this is a very big question, but still it is a very substantial question. It will impose a heavier charge on the company from which on principles of law it ought to be exempted. I would like to explain to the House, if I might, that it is possible to defend a railway company without being corrupt. The Mover spoke as if anybody who made a perfectly fair case for a statutory corporation was actuated by corrupt motives. In fact, he went out of his way——
§ Mr. M'MORDIE made some observations which were inaudible.
§ Mr. HILLS
I accept the correction. I ask the House to believe that it is perfectly possible to state fairly a case even for a railway company, and I hope that even on the face of the severe attack that has been made and the severe attack that possibly will be made by the hon. Member who sits on my left that the House, in spite of that and in spite of the fact that it is a railway company which is concerned—and they are well known to be the most unpopular of all bodies in the House of Commons—will do an act of simple justice.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I can assure the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that he need not be alarmed in the least degree by the combination which somewhat scared him when he arose to address the House. He will recognise that, at all events in Belfast, and I hope it will be so in Ireland in the future, that we can unite in great municipalities like Belfast to defend the city which we represent, irrespective of politics, on a matter so vital as that which is before the House for consideration. The position in regard to this Bill is that when it was before the Committee of this House the railway company was represented by counsel. They put their case before the Committee of the House of Commons, and the Committee unani- 665 mously rejected it; but the Clause which they rejected was subsequently incorporated in the Bill in the House of Lords. As the hon. Member seems to be a disinterested advocate of the case which he represents here, I should have been glad if he had stated to the House what are the precise reasons why the railway companies in the city of Belfast should be exempted from the payment of rates. The amount of the rates which railways are compelled to pay is something like £2,500. If the railway companies do not pay it, who will? The amount will have to be paid by the other ratepayers of the city. I think that is a somewhat strange demand to come from great and wealthy corporations who enjoy great monopolies in the city of Belfast and in the country. They have not only a monopoly, but they enjoy all the civic privileges. They use the streets for their vast traffic, they have not merely running powers, but stations, they have officials in the streets, they have hoardings, refreshment rooms, and hotels.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
And yet all these huge undertakings compete with private citizens who have to bear the ordinary burdens, and now they want the additional advantage of being exempted from the local rates also. All I have to say is that it would have taken a more powerful advocate than the hon. Gentleman who has addressed us to commend a proposition of that sort to any democratic assembly in the world. My second objection to the insertion of this Clause and my second reason for its deletion by this House: is that this Bill of the Corporation of Belfast did not affect the rates of the city at all. The rating question did not arise in any of its provisions, and therefore I submit that is was ultra vires for such a question to be raised before the Committee of the House of Commons or subsequently in the House of Lords. I do not know if there is anything to be said for the exemption of railways from the payment of local rates. If there is, why do not the railway interests introduce a Bill and let us discuss the question on the broad principle, and not take advantage of a great measure of this character for the purpose of sneaking their proposal through the House of Lords, After the proposal has been rejected by a Committee of the House of Commons, who sat day after day giving 666 laborious thought to all the considerations placed before them, they go to the House of Lords, and use their powers, not canvassing in the Lobbies, not using such eloquence as we have heard to-night, but simply by the privileged process of wink and nod, they get the House of Lords to insert this Clause in the Bill. The hon. Gentleman stated that this is the general law in Ireland. It is nothing of the sort. It may be the law in England, but it is certainly not in Ireland. In Derry, Cork, Limerick, and Waterford and all the other principal cities in Ireland, the railway companies have to pay rates. Let me take the case of Dublin. The railway interest in the statement which they have issued to Members of the House have quoted the precedent of Dublin. I think they ought to be ashamed to mention it. They actually blackmailed the Corporation of Dublin. When the Dublin Corporation were promoting a Boundaries Bill, they had to face and fight huge interests, and in order to break down one of the greatest of those interests they had to concede this blackmail—for it is nothing else. That blackmail has gone on from that time until now, and the citizens of Dublin have been compelled to bear the burden of local rates which rightly belongs to the railway corporations.
In the printed document it is also pointed out that the valuations in Belfast are considerably lower than the valuations in Dublin. The railway companies have the advantage of the low rating in Belfast, and now they want the dual advantage of being relieved of rates altogether. That is the proposition which they put to Members of this House, who are supposed to apply ordinary common sense to the consideration of these questions. The general purposes rate, which is one of the principal rates, was first imposed in Belfast in the year 1865, and was extended in 1867. If the railway companies had any ground for asking for exemption from rating, that was the time when they should have done-it, as they were properly entitled to be1 heard when new rates were being imposed. Apart altogether from the fact that I represent the city whose interests are involved in this proposal, I say that it is not the business of this House to give any preference to the railways in Ireland. Those railways are practically the enemies of all progress in the country. They are huge monopolies living on self-interest. They do nothing either to develop industries on 667 to promote enterprise. They put obstacles in the way of communities and individuals and of everything that can make for the general prosperity of the country. I trust that this House will reject the Clause, in the first place, because the House of Lords had no right to insert it after it had been rejected by a Committee of the House of Commons; secondly, because it gives privileges to railway companies which would enable them successfully to compete against merchants, shopkeepers and business men in the city who have to bear the heavy burden of local rates; and, finally, because in my judgment, not only should they not be exempted from rates, but they should be made to pay a larger share than they are compelled to pay at the present time.
§ Mr. J. H. CAMPBELL
Personally, it is a matter of supreme indifference to me whether or not the corporation succeed in this Motion. Both the corporation and the railway companies concerned have, I am pleased to say, been for many years good clients of mine. But it is just as well that the House should really understand what it is they are called upon to decide, because I do not think that they could possibly understand from the speeches they have heard what exactly is the point in dispute. I am not going to quarrel with the somewhat characteristic observations of the hon. Member for West Belfast (Mr. Devlin) about speaking things through the Upper House, and the policy of wink and nod. I will assume that this matter was discussed as carefully and as honestly in the Upper House as it was by the Committee of this House. They differed, as they often do, but it does not necessarily follow that the one was right and the other wrong. Let us see what exactly is the point that they had to determine. The hon. Member for West Belfast has referred to the fact that the railway companies in Belfast have hotels, refreshment rooms, advertisements, and other matters. But he omitted to state that in respect of every one of those possessions they pay full rates. If he suggested that they have the benefit of certain exemptions in regard to that property, he is entirely in error. As regards every portion of it, they pay full rates, municipal, local and Imperial.
But the hon. Member behind me who moved this Motion was also entirely in error when he said that the general law in England and Ireland imposed this lia- 668 bility upon the railway companies, and that it was only by occasional force or pressure on the English railway companies that these companies got this relief in respect of taxation. It was the general Acts of Parliament 11th and 12th Viet., which gave by statute, in respect to the general district rate in England general exemption to all railway companies as regards three-fourths of the rateable value of their property. In other words, Parliament enacted as regards railway companies in England that for the purposes of the general district rate they should only be rated in respect of one-fourth of the total valuation of their premises.
§ Mr. M'MORDIE
If I may interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman, what I was pointing out was that the corporate towns in Ireland were——
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I was talking about a statement that was made that in England the general law imposed this liability upon railway companies to the full extent, and that it was only by taking advantage of the local necessities of the various towns in England that they could get this exemption. I wish to point out here that that is entirely an error. Parliament, by general legislation applicable to railway companies, and not as the result of the pressure which has been described—by an Imperial Act of Parliament applicable to England—exempted the railways in England in respect of the general district rate with reference to three-fourths of their total valuation. How does this matter stand in respect of Ireland? Here again hon. Members were entirely inaccurate. I do not know which was the worse of the two. First of all, what is the law in Ireland as regards railway valuation? Under the Towns Improvement Act of 1854 every town in Ireland that took advantage of it and came under it was put exactly in the same position as all towns in England in respect of railways; that is to say, they were only entitled to levy taxation upon one-fourth of the total valuation of the railways. And this House of Commons, this Imperial Parliament, in 1854, so far as in its power lay, endeavoured to place Ireland and the railways of Ireland in this matter of taxation in precisely the same position in which they have placed the English railways by 11th and 12th Viet.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
The hon. Member can reply, and I will not interrupt him. I suppose he does not contradict what I say. 669 I do not wish to waste the time of the House, but I suppose they want some information. In 1854, I repeat, Imperial Parliament in the Towns Improvement Act, endeavoured, so far as that Act could do it, to put Ireland and the law in Ireland as regards the rating of railways on the same basis as in England.
§ Mr. MOONEY
Does the right hon. Gentleman wish the House to believe that the Act relating to England was on the same level as the 1854 Act in Ireland?
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
There again I would submit to the hon. Member that that is a matter for reply. If he had done me the honour of listening to me he would have heard that I did not say that the Towns Improvement Act of 1854 is compulsory. But I say that it conferred such benefits that 104 out of 120 towns took advantage of it. As a result of the adoption, the law in these 104 towns as regards the rating of railways became identical with the law existing in this country. Therefore we come to this, that out of 120 towns 104 took advantage of the Towns Improvement Act of 1854, and as a consequence the law regarding the rating of railways became in respect of these 104 towns uniform and identical with the existing statute in England. So much for that as enacting the policy of Imperial Parliament. I suppose the hon. Member will agree that it was in consequence of legislation from England that that came in 1854. But the matter does not stop there. In the Irish Public Health Act of 1874—the Act of 1878 was what the hon. Member behind me referred to, and he was wrong—there was a provision inserted that in the case of every sanitary authority, and every urban council that came into existence after 1874, no power should be allowed to assess the rateable value of railways except to the extent of one-fourth of the valuation. There again Parliament took another opportunity to assert for Ireland the same principle of exemption in regard to railway companies, which was already the general law in England.
So far from it being an exception to have railway companies exempted in the way in which railway companies have been in Belfast the general principle and rule is to exempt. There are only four towns— perhaps five—in the whole of Ireland that are free from the exemption that has been inserted in another place in this particular Act of Parliament. Therefore, it is a ridiculous misrepresentation to state that the whole scheme and policy of Parliament 670 has been to make railway companies as regards all their property rateable and liable in the same way as owners of other property. On the contrary, throughout the whole of England, except one small portion of Manchester where the contrary is the case, every time that Parliament, in public Acts of Parliament applying to Ireland, has got the chance, it has endeavoured to make the law in Ireland uniform with that in England. Well, now, a very curious thing happened in Belfast. The Public Health Act of 1874 enacted that as regards every new urban sanitary authority, and every new set of town commissioners, they were to be deprived for all time of the power of taxing the railway companies beyond one-fourth of the actual rateable value of the premises used for the railways. What was the result? Although that did not apply to the urban districts which were in existence before the Act of 1874, yet the Corporation of Belfast, recognising the justice of it, adopted the principle. And from 1874 to last year the Corporation of Belfast exempted these railway companies in regard to three-fourths of their total valuation. That is the matter, I think, that requires some other explanation beyond the statement that the accountant overlooked it. That is a ridiculous explanation. In face of the fact that the question came up in the court in regard to the city of Dublin as far back as 1880, and it was fully argued, and the cases were reported in the Irish Law Reports. The Court of Appeal in Ireland decided that the railway companies in towns, and in the case of urban sanitary districts that were in existence before the date of the Public Health Act they were liable in respect of the whole of their valuation. That decision given in 1880 was public property, and was known to every solicitor and corporation in Ireland, and notwithstanding that the Corporation of Belfast refuses to act upon it because they did not think it fair, and until last year they followed the principle which is now universal in all urban districts created since 1874, and they only rated or taxed these railway companies in respect of one-fourth of their total valuation. Yet, in face of these facts the hon. Member for East Belfast says these railway companies are claiming something they never had any right to and the principle of which was never admitted.
§ Mr. M'MORDIE
I stated as a fact, and I state it again, that it was only on the appointment of a new accountant in the city of Belfast that attention was called to it.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
Does the hon. Gentleman think that imposes upon anybody? He says that the Corporation of Belfast, who had the advantage of having one of the ablest solicitors in Ireland, and who have had the assistance, as I know, of a succession of the ablest counsel at the Bar of Ireland, advising them, did not know it. The innocent suggestion of my hon. Friend behind me is that it was only owing to the accidental discovery of an accountant that the Corporation of Belfast found that they were violating the law which had been decided thirty years ago and which had been carried throughout the country and was as well known to the Corporation of Belfast as the details of this Bill.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I will assume that the Corporation of Belfast, as represented by their worthy lord mayor, were entirely unconscious of it. That certainly is not very creditable to the corporation. In order to show I am right I will take a case with regard to this very Corporation of Belfast itself. In 1887 they came to Parliament to get powers for main drainage, and actually in that very Bill they inserted a provision giving exemption to the railway companies from this main drainage tax and from the charges and taxes which it became necessary to raise under that Bill. They did that in 1887 which admitted that for fifteen years they had been giving that same exemption in regard to the rates under the Public Health Act. Yet I am told all this was through lack of knowledge on the part of their accountant.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Redmond Barry)
It was not decided for two years after in the Kennedy case.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
Does my right hon. Friend think that that in the least bit assists the Committee? It was not decided until 1889, but what is the fact. Notwithstanding the decision of the Kennedy case the Belfast Corporation have been allowing exemption from 1889 to 1910. Then what point is there in interruption? The Belfast Corporation knew of the Kennedy case as well as anybody. It was published at the time; it was discussed in every paper and discussed in every corporation, yet with their knowledge of the Kennedy case they continued for twenty years to allow this claimant in respect of three-fourths of the rateable value of these premises. Let me come to what occurred in 672 1890. In 1890 the Dublin Corporation came to this House to seek extended borrowing powers and extended areas. The railway companies opposed them with a view to getting concessions. Their opposition was not in any hostility to the Bill. It was only opposition with a view to enabling them to get something out of the corporation; it was in no way injurious. The corporation had no reason whatever to fear them, because the corporation was not attacking them, but the corporation took every opportunity of bringing the railway law in Ireland into line with the general law in England, and they had no trouble whatever. The Corporation of Dublin gave the railways situated in Dublin the same concessions which the House of Lords has given to the railways situated in Belfast, and now, because this has been done, we are asked to believe that some terrible injustice is done to the ratepayers.
What are the facts. There are three rates in Belfast. One is the police rate, which is a 1s. 1d. in the £; the second is what is called the General Purposes Rate which is 2s. 6d. in the £; and the third is the municipal rate, which is, I believe, 4s. 8d. or 4s. l0d. in the £. In regard to the latter, the railway companies have not got exemption to the extent of one brass farthing. They pay every penny of the 4s. l0d. What they have got exemption from is in respect of the police rate and the general purposes rate, and that is obviously right. The general purposes rate applies to cleansing, paving, sewage, etc., in the City, but there is not a shilling expended by the corporation on any of these things for the railway companies. They do it all for themselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is spent on the adjoining streets."] It is said the corporation expend the money on the adjoining streets, but that might be said in the case of any manufacturer. It might be said that a manufacturer should pay not merely for the streets in front of his own premises, but for all the adjoining streets. He pays his share, and in his case he gets the value of the expenditure near his own premises, whereas the railway companies get no expenditure upon their premises. As I said they get exemption, but they are not exempted entirely. They are only exempted in respect of three-fourths of the valuation. The whole sum is £2,500, and for that the defenders of the corporation are going to wreck their Bill. Having regard to the precedents I have given and 673 the whole tendency and course of legislation in this country and in Ireland, I respectfully submit to the Committee that the House of Lords, in doing what they have done, were simply acting in accordance with well settled principles, and were bringing the law in the few isolated cases in Ireland into line with the law in the rest of Ireland and the whole of England, and in so doing they were acting wisely and well.
§ The CHIEF SECRETARY for IRELAND (Mr. Birrell)
Whatever may be said for or against preferential treatment of railway companies in this matter, this is not a Bill in which to introduce a special benefit in favour of Belfast. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman opposite did his duty to all his clients.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
The right hon. Gentleman made a great point that the early legislation which settled the principle of English legislation was not dealing with a particular corporation or altering the law as it was before in respect of that particular corporation, but dealt with the whole subject, whereas now the Belfast Corporation desire to secure a money loan, and when they introduce that Bill, down pops the railway company and seeks to obtain protective Clauses to protect their own property, and those protective Clauses they have obtained. Now they wish to seize this opportunity of altering the law at Belfast, although they wish to leave it in the same condition with regard to a great number of other towns in Ireland.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
Even if there are only four, are we to wait until the corporations of those four towns introduce a Bill of their own for the railway company to take an opportunity to get this benefit and come and threaten the wrecking of the Bill. That is not the way it is done in England.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I did not threaten. What I said was that I thought the course that was being taken would lead to the wrecking of the Bill.
§ Mr. BIRRELL
What is the point of that that interruption? That is the situation of the matter. The right hon. Gentleman 674 tells us that the 104 towns out of 124 towns under municipal government under the adopted Act are entitled to be rated at one-fourth. I do not ask for a list of the 104 towns, as he has been good enough to call them, but there are twenty towns which are exempted from the operations of the Towns Improvement Act, of 1854, and they are important places. Anybody having a knowledge of Ireland knows that Dublin came under the Act of 1900. Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Belfast, and Londonderry are not subject to the present law. So far as towns are concerned these 104 places to which the right hon. Gentleman refers would not be what are called towns in England. They include non-county boroughs, like Sligo and numerous other towns under special Acts. I want to know why Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and Londonderry should be left free from what he considers the equitable rule that they should be exempted so far as their works are concerned from three-fourths of the taxation?
Why should you single out Belfast on this occasion? There is a good deal to be said on both sides, but people are not absolutely persuaded, because it is the law of England, that it is a principle of equity which everybody will recognise without argument. It is not the general law of Ireland. I know there is a good deal to be said from the point of view which has been put forward, although I do. not think the railway company can distinguish so nicely all parts of its property and say a certain portion of it gets no benefit from expenditure in the town. It must get the benefits which accrues in any civilised community from the flow of passengers and goods to the line. You cannot distinguish between railway companies in this way. At any rate, these are questions which ought to be considered for the whole country, and not for Belfast only. I hope the House will not agree to this Clause.
§ Mr. DILLON
There is no counsel at the Irish Bar I would rather have if I were in a tight corner than the right hon. Gentleman, and I never heard him plead a case with greater astuteness than he has done on the present occasion. This Bill came before a Committee before which the railway company and their interests were represented by counsel. They were heard by the Committee of the House of Commons, and afterwards the House of Lords put in a special Clause which is really a taxing clause. That is an aspect of the 675 case which I wish to commend to hon. Members. Somebody has got to pay these rates. This Clause proposes to put a burden of £2,500 on the ratepayers, and if this sum was to be lifted off the shoulders of the railway company it will have to be paid by the general ratepayers of Belfast. This Clause has been put in by the House of Lords, and the right hon. Gentleman, who is so impartial in this matter, knows what is going on behind the scenes, and yet he declares that if the House of Lords is disagreed with on this point, the Bill will be wrecked.
§ Mr. CAMPBELL
I must again correct this misrepresentation. What I said was that I was afraid that the action and the course taken by hon. Gentlemen who are supporting this Motion would wreck the Bill.
§ Mr. DILLON
I can see nothing in that interruption, except a confirmation of what I said. What action are we to take? According to what has been said, we are entering into an unnatural alliance with the Lord Mayor of Belfast to defend the ratepayers of Belfast against the unjust claims of this railway company. If that is a monstrous proceeding, I hope it will be an omen of what will occur in Ireland. It has been described as an unnatural alliance. I hope it is an alliance that will last and that it is symptomatic of much that is going to occur in the near future in Ireland. Let me deal with some of the general considerations which were touched upon in the extremely able speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. H. Campbell). He spoke about the injustice of making the railway companies pay for these services, which he attempted to show are not enjoyed by the railway companies. A more mistaken representation of the case, a greater misrepresentation of the merits of the case could not possibly be imagined. The hon. Member (Mr. Hills) supported the case of the railway company as representing the railway interest. I am myself in a sense a representative of a railway. I am a shareholder in the Great Northern Railway Company of Ireland, and I may be accepted, therefore, as having an interest in it. I believe it is the best-managed railway in Ireland and one of the best-managed concerns in the whole of Ireland. It is as well managed as any railway in this country, and it pays as good dividends as any of them. But if it enjoys that prosperity, what does 676 it owe it to? In a large measure to the enterprise of the merchants of Belfast, and therefore it is a fair and natural thing that it should bear its due proportion of the burdens of that most progressive city. The right hon. Gentleman went on to make a great appeal, which I am afraid fell on unsympathetic ears, to hon. Members opposite and to Members in all parts of this House as to the great desirability of bringing the law in Ireland into harmony with the law of England on this particular question of dealing with railway companies. I think the railway companies have always had too good treatment from this House.
During the many years I have sat in this House, whenever a question concerning railway companies comes on, the usual expression has been that which we frequently hear as to the methods of our statesmen in foreign politics—the matter is brought out of the mire of party politics. The railway directors on that side of the House generally agree with the railway directors on this side, and they lift it into a higher sphere. The railway companies in this House have obtained more than justice. What I want to direct attention to is that it has been a recognised principle, which has been very rarely departed from, that no public law—and particularly that no public law affecting taxation— should be altered by a clause in a private-Act. I think that is against the general policy of the House of Commons. What does the right hon. Gentleman say? He told us to look at the case of Dublin. I could hardly believe my ears. I thought I was transported behind the looking-glass, like "Alice in Wonderland," when I heard the right hon. Gentleman calmly assert that the City of Dublin consented to this clause from a pure desire to bring the law of Ireland into harmony with the law of England, and from no other motive but that and the justice of the case. The fact is that the unfortunate city of Dublin brought up bill after bill, and was blackmailed hero and in the House of Lords, with the result that over £100,000 of costs fell upon the city in buying off that blackmail and the opposition of railways and others. He says they consented to that clause, but it was not by consent, it was not after a hearing in the House of Commons, it was an agreed clause, what I may describe as a blackmailing clause. If the City of Belfast had been intimidated by threats such as the right hon. Gentleman has now used, and had agreed to pay £2,500 a year as blackmail, we should also have been told that the City of Belfast 677 desired nothing else but to bring the law of Belfast in. harmony with the law of England. Belfast is a very loyal city, but I think the loyalty of Belfast will stop at that. We have the best proof of that in the person of the Lord Mayor of the City of Belfast, we have proof that the loyalty of Belfast does stop at that point, and that the citizens are not likely to pay £2,500 a year to the Great Northern Railway Company in their great desire to harmonise the law of England with the law of Ireland. This is an attempt against the best practice and precedent in this House to blackmail the Corporation and the City of Belfast in the interests of a railway company. The railway companies in Ireland are very prosperous institutions, and they are well able to pay their share of the general burden. The Great Northern Railway is one which we are all proud of. It is a very prosperous concern, and it pays those of us who are fortunate enough to have shares very good dividends. But that prosperity is based upon the commercial enterprise of cities like Dublin and Belfast, and it is a mean thing to hold up this Bill in order to enable them to shirk and shift this burden from the railway company to the city. It is not a question only of exemption, because somebody must pay if the railway company does not. It is a question of taxing the ratepayers of Belfast. Therefore, I most heartily support the Motion which has been made by the Mayor of Belfast, and I trust it will prove to many men in this House that if the temperature of politics was a little lower in Ireland, as I trust it will be soon, even the people and merchants of Belfast and those of us who represent the south of Ireland will be quite willing and able to co-operate for the best interests of our country.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I hope this question will be settled by the vote of this House, and those of us who represent constituencies in England must make up our minds one way or the other. I do not think any Radical can hesitate for any moment as to which side he is on. We have an opportunity of standing by the united representation of Ireland, and as I understand, the great metropolis of Belfast and the people there are desirous that we should do that. I would like to speak from the standpoint of a commercial man trying to look at this question impartially. I have been utterly astonished as one who has had something to do with local government and rating to 678 hear the doctrine laid down from the Front Opposition Bench. The principle of rating of this country is not as he says, that because you have some streets adjoining your property therefore you must pay rates. I never heard of any rating authority laying down a rule of that kind. Is it really to be suggested that if an owner of a valuable property does not happen to have an opening on a main street he is exempt, and another unfortunate individual happens to have a large amount of streetage around his premises, he is the person who ought to pay. Looking at it from a common-sense standpoint, it will not hold good. The railway companies are traders in common with their neighbours, and we have never recognised such a difference as that described by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Campbell). Those of us who usually look sympathetically upon the large railways of this country and desire to further their enterprise are amazed at this action which is proposed by the railways of Ireland. Surely a municipality should be encouraged when it comes forward with a "Bill for the improvement of its own area," and to seize that opportunity to try and wring from a great city like Belfast that which they cannot get in a general Act seems to me totally unreasonable. I understand these railways—particularly the Great Northern—try to be above the law. It does not want to comply with the law as it is now, and it takes advantage of this Bill to try and get it altered. This is the railway which has a great deal of manure near the town of Lurgan, and which was prosecuted by the public authority of Lurgan, who considered it a menace to the health of their district. The company fought them in the law courts, and, unfortunately, succeeded, and I believe the public health of that town has suffered. If the railway companies of Ireland are going to rely on the support of commercial men in this House, I want to warn them about the policy they are pursuing. They are presenting themselves to-night in an exceedingly unfavourable light. I hope, if they bring in a Bill of their own, we shall try and treat it without prejudice, but it will be most difficult after the speech of their spokesman in this House
I am rather inclined after that speech to look forward to the time when there will be a nationalisation of the railways in Ireland, because, if this is the way this rail- 679 way company regards its duty in an important city like Belfast, it seems to me to be proving unworthy of its trust. Although, as the hon. Member for Belfast pointed out, it has refreshment rooms, hotels, and all the paraphernalia of a great railway company in Belfast, it does not want to associate itself with the general life and with the merchants of Belfast. It is something superior when it comes to paying its proper share of the rates, but I venture to say it dare not, when seeking either passenger or goods traffic, suggest it is a thing apart from Belfast. It seeks to show then it is quite in with the whole of its life and is participating in it. When it comes to paying its first share of the rates, it seems to me to want to contract out of its liabilities. That is a weak and a paltry position for a great railway company to take up. I say, as one who has some considerable connection with the railway companies of this country, that I should be ashamed if they took up such a selfish attitude as that. I cannot understand it, and I would urge the House not to encourage a railway company paying high dividends to take an opportunity like this of extorting such a concession. I say they ought not to seek to detach themselves from what is a recognised custom in Ireland. They have made out no such case. I therefore appeal to the House, and particularly to those who usually act with me, to stand by the great municipality of Belfast on this occasion.
I think it is about twenty years since there was a definite issue of this kind between the two Houses over a Private Bill. I have tried to look at this as impartially as I can. Earlier in our proceedings there were several Amendments which came
§ down from the other House to Amendments of the Commons. We passed those Amendments. Some of us had scrutinised them, but the great bulk of Members had to take them on faith. Still, as a rule, if an Amendment from the Lords is an improvement, we pass it by general consent. I myself in the last few months have gone over scores of them, and I freely admit that, at any rate, in the great majority of cases, they improved the measure. I hope, therefore, no hon. Member opposite will hesitate from any fear of offending the other Chamber. We pass them, as a rule, without any discussion, and I think it is about twenty years since this House was invited, as it is now invited by the Lord Mayor of Belfast and his colleagues, to dissent from an Amendment inserted by the House of Lords. If this were an Amendment to improve the working of the Bill or if it were a drafting Amendment, I think we should receive it with pleasure, but it is a deliberate insertion, of a Clause which our own colleagues on a Committee of our own House deliberately rejected. That is a very important thing. It is not something they overlooked or something upon which evidence can be brought to bring it in a better light. They examined it faithfuly and well, and rejected it as being against the interests and unfair to the city of Belfast. Under those circumstances, I think we may one and all on this unique occasion decide to stand by the Committee of this House, and to uphold the privileges of the ancient city of Belfast.
§ Question put, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 134; Noes, 42.681
|Division No. 305.]||AYES.||[9.55 p.m.|
|Abraham, William (Dublin Harbour)||Clancy, John Joseph||Fletcher, John Samuel (Hampstead)|
|Adamson, William||Clough, William||Gill, A. H.|
|Allen, Arthur Acland (Dumbartonshire)||Collins, Stephen (Lambeth)||Glanville, H. J.|
|Allen, Charles P (Stroud)||Compton-Rickett, Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Goldstone, Frank|
|Baker, Joseph A. (Finsbury, E.)||Condon, Thomas Joseph||Griffith, Ellis Jones|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Lanark)||Cotton, William Francis||Gulland, John William|
|Barry, Redmond John (Tyrone, N.)||Cowan, W. H.||Hackett, J.|
|Benn, W. W. (T. Hamlets, St. Geo.)||Crooks, William||Hancock, J. G.|
|Bentham, G. J.||Crumley, Patrick||Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry|
|Bethell, Sir J. H.||Dalziel, Sir James H. (Kirkcaldy)||Haworth, Sir Arthur A.|
|Birrell, Rt. Hon. Augustine||De Forest, Baron||Henderson, Arthur (Durham)|
|Booth, Frederick Handel||Delany, William||Herbert, Col Sir Ivor|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Dillon, John||Hope, John Deans (Haddington)|
|Boyle, D. (Mayo, N.)||Donelan, Anthony Charles||Hudson, Walter|
|Brady, P. J.||Doris, W.||Hughes, S. L.|
|Brigg, Sir John||Duffy, William J.||Illingworth, Percy H.|
|Bryce, J. Annan||Duncan, C. (Barrow-in Furness)||Jardine, Sir J (Roxburgh)|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Edwards, John Hugh (Glamorgan, Mid)||Jones, Leif Stratten (Notts, Rushcliffe)|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Esmonde, Dr. John (Tipperary, N.)||Jones, William (Carnarvonshire)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Ffrench, Peter||Jones, W. S. Glyn- (Stepney)|
|Cawley, Harold T. (Heywood)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||Joyce, Michael|
|Keating, M.||Moiteno, Percy Alport||Rea, Rt. Hon. Russell (South Shields)|
|Kennedy, Vincent Paul||Mond, Sir Alfred Moritz||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Kilbride, Denis||Mooney, J. J.||Reddy, Michael|
|King, J. (Somerset, N.)||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Redmond, John E. (Waterford)|
|Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Muldoon, John||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Lansbury, George||Munro, R.||Roberts, G. H. (Norwich)|
|Lardner, James Carrige Rushe||Nicholson, Charles N. (Doncaster)||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Lawson, Sir W. (Cumb'rid, Cockerm'th)||Nolan, Joseph||Roche, Augustine (Louth)|
|Levy, Sir Maurice||Nuttall, H.||Rowlands, James|
|Lewis, John Herbert||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Samuel, J. (Stockton)|
|Logan, John William||O'Connor, John (Kildare, N.)||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Lundon, T.||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Sheehy, David|
|Lynch, A. A.||O'Donnell, Thomas||Smith, Albert (Lancs., Clitheroe)|
|Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||O'Dowd, John||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)|
|Macdonald, J. M. (Falkirk Burghs)||O'Shaughnessy, P. J.||Verney, Sir Henry|
|McGhee, Richard||O'Sullivan, Timothy||Walton, Sir Joseph|
|Macpherson, James Ian||Parker, James (Halifax)||Ward, John (Stoke-upon-Trent)|
|MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Phillips, John (Longford, S.)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Marshall, Arthur Harold||Pointer, Joseph||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Martin, J.||Power, Patrick Joseph||Young, W. (Perthshire, E.)|
|Meagher, Michael||Price, C. E. (Edinburgh, Central)|
|Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||Pringle, William M. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. M'Mordie and Mr. Devlin.|
|Molloy, M.||Radford, G. H.|
|Agg-Gardner, James Tynte||Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Salter, Arthur Clavell|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Eyres-Monsell, B. M.||Sanders, Robert A.|
|Amery, L. C. M. S.||Fetherstonhaugh, Godfrey||Spear, Sir John Ward|
|Balcarres, Lord||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue||Talbot, Lord E.|
|Barrie, H. T. (Londonderry, N.)||Forster, Henry William||Thompson, Robert (Belfast, North)|
|Bathurst, Charles (Wilton)||Gordon, Hon. John Edward (Brighton)||Tobin, Alfred Aspinall|
|Boyle, W. L. (Norfolk, Mid)||Hall, Fred (Dulwich)||Touche, George Alexander|
|Boyton, J.||Hope, Harry (Bute)||Tullibardine, Marquess of|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Horne, W. E. (Surrey, Guildford)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Brunner, John F. L.||Houston, Robert Paterson||Wheler, Granville C. H.|
|Burn, Col. C. R.||Locker-Lampson, O. (Ramsey)||Williams, Col. R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Campbell, Rt. Hon. J. H. M.||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine)||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Campion, W. R.||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Peto, Basil Edward||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Hills and Sir. Pollock.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Pryce-Jones, Col. E.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Remaining Lords Amendments agreed to.
§ Committee appointed to draw up reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing with one of their Amendments to the Bill.
§ Ordered, That Mr. Devlin, Mr. Hills, Mr. M'Mordie, Mr. Muldoon, and Mr. Robert Pearce be Members of the Committee.
§ To withdraw immediately.
§ Order, That three be the quorum.— [Mr. M'Mordie]