HL Deb 12 April 1839 vol 46 cc1317-20
The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, he was anxious to draw the attention of their Lordships to the subject of two petitions which he held in his hand—a subject upon which considerable misapprehension seemed to have prevailed, both in and out of Parliament. The petitions were from the grand jury of the county of Kerry, and also from a public meeting held in the same county, and they both prayed their Lordships to give their assent to a measure for the introduction of a general and uniform system of railroads in Ireland. These petitions were signed by many most respectable landed proprietors and inhabitants of the county of Kerry. If ever there were a solemn pledge given on the part of Government during the discussion which ended in the passing of the Irish Poor-law last Session, it was, that their Lordships would, with reference to that law, by every means in their power, encourage the employment of the labouring poor of Ireland. Now, of all the means for affording and extending such employment, there was not one so well calculated or so likely to advance the moral improvement of Ireland as the introduction into that country of an extensive and uniform railroad system, which would afford scope for general labour. It became, he was aware, a grave question for consideration, whether their Lordships would deem it most expedient to promote such a system by lending a ready ear and giving great encouragement to private speculation and enterprise, or by adopting the more extensive, and, as he believed, the more efficacious system, of encouraging the formation of railroads, bearing on the whole and every part of Ireland, but, at the same time, without connecting themselves in any way with private speculations. When they reflected on the multiplied resources which a well considered plan of railroads was calculated to bring into play, they ought to consider whether it would not be the wiser course to assist and encourage a general system, without, as he had before said, interfering with individual enterprise. It would be for them to decide, whether they would act on the report of the Commissioners appointed on their address, to consider this subject, and adopt such a general system as he had referred to, and as had been recommended by the Commissioners. The characters of the individuals by whom that report was drawn up, who were unconnected with local or party interests, afforded a fair guarantee that they had performed their duty fairly and impartially. The report had been for some time on their Lordships' Table, and it would be for them and the other House of Parliament, at no distant period, to decide whether they would act upon it or not. A report had gone forth to the public, which was adverted to in both the petitions, and on which he felt it necessary to make a few remarks. Earnestly as the petitioners desired that a general system of railroads should be introduced into Ireland, they expressed their decided opinion, that it ought not, and need not, to be carried into operation at the expense of the public money of this country. What they desired was, that the introduction of a system of railroads should be facilitated by a loan—a loan in the first instance—granted by this country, the interest and repayment of which were not only to be charged on the produce of the railways themselves, but, for the better security of the money, ultimately to be charged on those counties through which the railroads might run. He knew that an opinion prevailed, that when money was once sent to Ireland, it was not very apt to be returned from those shores; but if their Lordships would look at the reports of the Commissioners of Public Works, laid before them from time to time, he believed they would find, that better security did not exist than existed in that country for any sum so advanced. No less a proportion than two-thirds of the Exchequer-bills which had been advanced for the promotion of public works in Ireland were now in a course of being repaid; and if the remaining third were not in that course also, it was because those works were not yet concluded. Those works had besides the effect of calling into useful employment large sums expended by individual proprietors, which could never, under other circumstances, have been expected to be applied to public objects in Ireland. He placed much confidence in the statements of these petitioners, and he certainly believed, that great advantage would be derived from supporting their views.

The Duke of Wellington

had not any intention, on the presentation of a petition, to enter into a discussion of the general question; but he could not help observing the irregularity which had taken place. He confessed, that he was astonished to see the noble Marquess, the President of the Council, and one of her Majesty's Ministers, present a petition to that House, the prayer of which was for a grant of the public money, because although the noble Marquess had endeavoured to shift off the prayer for money, yet the petition prayed for a loan of exchequer bills, and it was thus in effect a prayer for money. He wished to know whether the noble Marquess, or the noble Viscount at the head of her Majesty's Government, would come down and give the consent of the Crown for the House entertaining this petition with such a prayer?—for it was no part of the duty of that House to originate a subject of that kind. There was no man in that House more decidely of opinion that the whole question of railroads should have been taken into consideration before the different lines had been adopted and their bills carried. Indeed, some years ago he had himself added clauses to not less than twenty-five of those bills, enabling her Majesty's Government of that day to frame regulations for the several railroads. If his intention had been carried into execution, and if similar provisions had been introduced into all the acts, it would have prevented some of the evils of which the noble Marquess complained, and which he admitted he felt in as great a degree as he had ever felt evils. Much inconvenience was now felt by the public, and he saw by the votes of the other House, that a right hon. Gentleman had originated a Committee to take this subject into consideration.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

explained, that if there were any irregularity in this petition, every petition which had been presented on the subject of the Corn-laws, a subject relating to the public money, had been improperly received. The present petition did not pray for a specific grant, but for a comprehensive system of railroads in Ireland, and prayed the House to concur in any measure which might be sent up from the other House to effect this object. If such a measure should come up from the other House, he had no doubt that his noble Friend would be prepared to give to it the assent of the Crown.

The Earl of Wicklow

regretted the clamour which had been raised upon the first proposal of this measure. It was his conscientious opinion, that the commissioners had drawn up their report with the utmost fairness and ability. He had read it carefully, and felt convinced, that a system of railways would be most beneficial to Ireland, while the plan which they proposed would not be liable to the objections and difficulties which had been encountered in England.

Petition laid on the Table.