HL Deb 03 August 1866 vol 184 cc1996-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Earl of Belmore.)


said, he did not oppose the Bill, but he wished to remind their Lordships of its object, which was neither more nor less than a power to lend public money to certain railway companies in Ireland that, either through mismanagement or misfortune, had reached such a position that they were unable to borrow money, and consequently the traffic was in danger of being stopped. In this extraordinary and altogether exceptional state of things, considering the circumstances of the time and the extreme inconvenience which would be caused to the country by the stoppage of the railways, this measure was, he thought, justifiable. At the same time, it was necessary to proceed very cautiously, otherwise efforts would be made to extend into England the principle which had been introduced into Ireland; and their Lordships probably would not have occasion to look very far from the House in which they were now sitting to discover a line with regard to which plausible grounds for a similar grant in aid might be put forward, though any such grant from the Consolidated Fund, if made, would certainly be productive of very mischievous consequences. This Bill was identical with that contemplated by the late Govern- ment. Under the exceptional and very painful circumstances of the time, he had therefore no alternative but to support it.


said, he entirely agreed with the caution given by the noble Earl. In principle nothing could be worse than to advance public money to promote companies, and it was only to be justified by the exceptional state of things in Ireland.


said, he did not know what there was exceptional in the state of the railways in Ireland, or why the same resort might not be had to the Consolidated Fund by English railways, some of which were in quite as great distress as the railways in Ireland. He could not see any difference between them; and he regarded the principle to which Parliamentary sanction was thus about to be given as one of the most mischievous that could be conceived.


said, noble Lords who had previously spoken failed to indicate the principal of the exceptional circumstances which afforded a reason for this application. The Fenian conspiracy had paralyzed the credit of the country, and until very recently nothing was done by the Government to arrest its spread; so that when it broke out as a developed and organized system the value of all Irish property fell immediately. The noble Lord who had last spoken was well aware that sales in the Landed Estates Court had been of necessity suspended, because there were no buyers, and it would have been utter confiscation of the property to have gone on. Thus, the value of property was depreciated by political reasons, and assistance not alone became necessary, but he believed it was deserved to a greater extent than under this Bill would be afforded. If the same state of things existed in England the same plea for an advance of public money might be sustained. When the people took shares in these railways there was no question of Fenianism, and, therefore, though he should not deny that the state of the railways was also influenced by the state of the money market, as were those of Great Britain, yet in the main it was not a question of money, but a question of the depreciation of Irish property arising out of political causes. As far as the Government was concerned he would say that there was no danger of their losing a shilling of these advances; yet if they lost it all he believed the Government would be more than repaid by the main- tenance of the duties and revenue of the country at their ordinary rate, instead of suffering the loss which must inevitably follow if the railway communication of the country were interrupted or seriously affected.


said, he had been induced to make the remarks be had in consequence of the late Lord Lieutenant saying that the circumstances were exceptional, without saying what the exceptions were. Fenianism was certainly an exceptional circumstance of the time. After this Bill had passed he hoped they would hear no more of Fenianism and no more of advances to Irish railways.


said, it seemed to him that the Government, having afforded great facilities to the Irish railway companies to obtain public money, ought to acquire over that body some right to deal with the fares, rates, and charges of the companies beyond that which they would acquire from those companies that were solvent and did not need their aid. His own conviction was, that those rates and charges were unduly high as regarded the public, and unduly high as regarded the development of their own prosperity. They were enormously higher than on the Continent of Europe. And on this subject be could not but recall the wise words of his noble Friend (Lord Taunton), who said that in the competition with foreign manufacturers it made little difference practically to the manufacturers of this country whether import or export duties were levied by Government on goods, or whether high charges were levied on the means of transport, not for the benefit of the Government, but for the benefit of railway companies. They had lately seen something of the intensity of that competition in the fact that French locomotives had been imported into England; and though he believed that had more to do with strikes than with railway charges, yet he believed that those high charges did act prejudicially to the trade of the country.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.