HL Deb 09 March 1868 vol 190 cc1209-12

, in moving for a Copy of the Instructions issued to the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the State and Value of the Railways of Ireland, said that the matter in question was to his mind of such vital importance that he thought their Lordships ought to be made acquainted with the Instructions upon which the Commissioners acted, and the point to which their inquiries were directed. He believed in his conscience that since the Union a more important measure, with the exception of Catholic Emancipation, was never taken in hand by the Government of the country. That Parliament should deal with the Irish railways was, in his opinion, absolutely necessary for the progress of Ireland; and not only was it absolutely necessary for material progress, but he felt convinced that the earnest consideration and the determination of the subject would have the greatest effect upon the whole feeling and disposition of the Irish towards the Government and towards people of this country. It should be known to their Lordships that in Ireland a conviction was entertained that in matters touching the prosperity, and especially the commercial progress of the country, there was not a sincere desire to promote the welfare of Ireland, but, on the contrary, a jealousy and a disposition to do nothing, except what was forced upon the Government of the day, and upon the Imperial Parliament. He was not going to argue the question, whether this feeling was rightly or wrongly entertained, he merely thought it proper to state it as a fact which could not be too deeply impressed on the minds of the Members of both Houses of Parliament. Under these circumstances, therefore, he thought himself justified in asking Her Majesty's Ministers to allow the House to know what were the Instructions under which the Commissioners were acting. He had no doubt that they were pursuing their inquiries into the financial position of the railways—their liabilities, debts, and the general condition of the property with admirable discretion and judgment, and that they would by and-by form a very accurate estimate of the value of that property. He apprehended that they would not fail to inquire also into all such general agreements as working arrangements, but there were more secret engagements—at least they were secret in the first instance, though he believed in most cases they had come to light—which it was most desirable should be brought to the knowledge of Her Majesty's Ministers and of Parliament before any decision was arrived at as to the course which should be pursued, in treating with this question of railway accommodation. In Ireland the people, being far more feeble than here, suffered infinitely greater grievances from the monopoly of railway companies than were suffered in England. He did not complain of the fact that the large railway companies possessed a monopoly. When Parliament created those bodies they created monopolies from the very nature of the case. But what he said was this, that the result of establishing those great companies without any control was, that grievous loss was occasioned to the country, in proportion to the accommodation that railways afforded. Nothing could be more absurd than to talk as people did when they spoke of the English system of railway management, as compared with the system abroad, as one of free competition. There could be no such thing as free competition in such a case. He differed from the conclusion which had been come to by the Commissioners of 1866, that the competition between railways necessarily lowered the tolls and rates which would otherwise be imposed by canals for the carriage of goods. In Ireland, exactly the reverse had taken place, and it was a fact that goods were now carried across that country to some places at a higher rate than was charged before railways were established, and he was informed that in part of England the case was the same. For what happened? The railway monopolists combined for their own advantage, and the public had no check or control over them. For instance, in Ireland, the Great Southern and Western and the Great Midland, after a short competition, entered into a combination between themselves, and an agreement was come to by which the canals were to be bought up; but the voice of the nation cried out against that project, and it was given up. However, the railway companies came to an arrangement with the canals, and compelled them to charge a certain rate for the conveyance of goods upon their waters. Not only had they thus obtained possession of the canals, but, as was shown at a recent railway meeting, they had even taken possession of the navigation of the Shannon. In his opinion, therefore, it was right that Parliament should know what were the secret agreements into which the railways had entered. In point of fact, partly through the effect of monopoly, partly through the operation of the Standing Orders of their Lordships' House, and partly in consequence of the system, or rather want of system, which prevailed with regard to railway accommodation throughout the Empire, the creation and extension of railways had come to an absolute stoppage in Ireland. The question of this monopoly ought to be inquired into by the Commissioners, and he hoped the House would soon know how the whole matter stood by the production of the Instructions which he now moved for. No matter what might be the necessities of the case, if their Lordships continued to act as they did at present, they would put an end to the making of any railway or even trainway, and the people of Ireland would throughout extensive districts be compelled to do without what was considered all over the world a primary necessary of civilized life. He hoped, then, that their Lordships would obtain full information as to the secret agreements entered into by the companies, and he begged to repeat his conviction that the people of Ireland were fully persuaded that the prosperity and progress of the country depended entirely upon the way in which this question was treated. He could assure their Lordships that it was his conviction, and the conviction of better authorities than himself, that there was no subject—for he would except none—which was of more vital importance to the quiet of the country and to the removal of discontent than the proper treatment of this question, and that was a feeling which prevailed, not only among the ignorant peasantry, as they were called, but among the middle classes and even the upper classes.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty for, A Copy of the Instructions issued to the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the State and Value of the Railways of Ireland.—(The Lord Somerhill.)


said, he would refrain from following the noble Marquess into the general policy of railway administration in Ireland. The noble Marquess was aware that last year a very influential and numerous deputation, which he accompanied, waited upon Lord Derby to bring under his notice a statement in reference to the railways in Ireland, with a view to their being purchased by the State. Lord Derby took the subject into consideration; it was brought before the Cabinet, and a Committee of the Cabinet was appointed to look into it and report what measures ought to be adopted. It was found necessary, before any opinion could be formed as to whether it was wise to purchase the Irish railways, that their value should be thoroughly ascertained—the value of the rolling stock, the plant, and the state of the rails, and that all matters connected with the internal affairs of each company should be investigated before any decision could be arrived at. An Act of Parliament was passed to give the Commissioners power to investigate the accounts of the various companies. In accordance with that Act a Commission was issued. He did not think that the competition between the Companies or the various other matters to which the noble Marquess had alluded came within the terms of the Commission. If the noble Marquess was desirous of having a Return of the various working agreements between the companies, that might be furnished; but it would not be for the public advantage to lay on the table a copy of the Instructions which had been given to the Commissioners, inasmuch as he hoped the Report would be furnished shortly after Easter. That Report would not include the working agreements, but they might be added to it.

Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.