HL Deb 24 April 1879 vol 245 cc966-77

in rising to move a Resolution of which he had given Notice, relative to the construction of narrow-gauge Railways in Ireland— That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that facilities should be given for the construction of railways in Ireland on a gauge narrower than five feet three inches in mountainous or thinly populated districts where the construction of railways on the standard gauge would be difficult or unremunerative, said: My Lords, it is not altogether of my own motion that I again trouble your Lordships as to a matter most important to Ireland, so I trust your Lordships will bear with me while I bring forward as a general principle a matter I brought forward as touching a particular railway but a short time ago. Now, your Lordships may not be generally aware that the railway gauge of Ireland—a poor country—is broader, and, consequently, more expensive, than the standard gauge of England. The standard gauge of England is 4 feet 8½ inches, the Irish gauge is 5 feet 3 inches, and the English gauge earns nearly three times as much per mile per annum as the Irish gauge—£4,212 per mile; £1,296 per mile. When the Irish Act 9 & 10 Vict., c. 57, was introduced, it was near the close of the battle between the Great Western gauge of 7 feet and the London and North-Western of 4 feet 8½ inches, which, as we all know, ended in the general adoption of the latter. In short, the Irish gauge of 5 feet 3 inches was a sort of compromise—the feasibility of the narrow gauge, which has proved so successful, was, of course, then unknown. The effect of this in so poor a country as Ireland was very unfortunate. I do not mean to say that railways there were at first made with the strictest economy; but I do mean to say that they were made quite as economically as the early lines in England; and yet, for a long time, many of them paid the shareholders absolutely nothing. I had the honour to be the spokesman of a meeting of Irish railway directors who went to the late Lord Derby to lay before him the expediency of Government buying the Irish lines. Lord Derby, who could say as much in a few words as any man, answered very quietly—"Will you tell me what is the multiple of nothing?" I myself, being anxious to have the power of speaking at the half-yearly meetings of a very important railway into which a small line in which I was interested ran, bought a £30 share for 5s.—the best investment I ever made; for afterwards an amalgamation with another company took place—and £30 shares being turned into £5 shares, and then paying some dividend, I found that I got nearly cent per cent for my money. But your Lordships will observe that the sacrifice was five-sixths of the original property. Such was the effect of an expensive gauge in the poorer parts of Ireland. Now, there are two ways of meeting this. The noble Earl the Chairman of Committees conscientiously objects to pass Bills, on his sole responsibility, in the teeth of an Act of Parliament. I entirely sympathize with him. I trust, even when I differ from him, I do justice to his high motives. One of these courses would be to repeal the Act 9 & 10 Vict., c. 57, which would entirely relieve the noble Earl. I confess, though I am here to-night to advocate a break of gauge when absolutely necessary for the opening of a poor district, I value uniformity when it is possible much too highly to advocate a measure which would impose no check on any amount of differences of gauge. I therefore adopt the second course, and propose to your Lordships the Motion of which I have given Notice, which confines the adoption of the narrow gauge to districts so poor or so difficult that a railway on the normal gauge could not be made with any hope of profit to the shareholders. And yet, while I grant this principle of avoiding, if possible, break of gauge, I must remind your Lordships that the evil is one more of appearance than reality. The inconvenience to passengers—especially passengers who carry little or no luggage, as do the vast majority of Irish passengers in the poorer districts—of stepping across a narrow platform is small; the cost of trans-shipment of goods varies from ½d. to 2d. a-ton. But the economy of a narrow gauge is far more than at first sight appears. It consists in the power to run lighter rolling stock; but, above all, in the power to run safely round sharper curves, thereby obviating the necessity of expensive cuttings—especially in a country consisting much of granite rock. As to the rolling stock, a waggon weighing 2 tons 7 cwt. will carry a load of 6 tons, which load would require a waggon of 5 tons on the broad gauge; while a first-class carriage on the narrow gauge carries six people in a compartment just as comfortably as they are carried on the London and North-Western line. All this has been proved on three narrow-gauge railways in the County of Antrim, and vouched for by the Duke of Marlborough, who opened one of them. At the half-yearly meeting of one of them—the Ballymena and Lame Railway—Mr. Chaine, the Chairman, said— One of the most striking things in their accounts was the cost of their train mile. They would see that cost was 1s. 7d. a-mile. If they took the cost of the leading lines of England, Ireland, and Scotland, they would see that the cost of the train mile was about 3s. I trust I have now made out a case for applying this cheap and convenient gauge to the wilder parts of Ireland. But it may be asked, how is it to be ascertained that the districts through which a proposed railway is to run is of such a nature that the standard gauge would be difficult or unremunerative? The Duke of Sutherland took his usual practical view of the subject when he said that no railway ought to be made in Scotland north of Inverness except on the narrow gauge. The County of Donegal—the county more immediately, at the moment, connected with this matter—contains 1,197,154 acres. Its valuation is only £294,181. The same acreage in England, towns included, would be valued at several millions. Surely it is obvious that to force on that extensive but poor county a gauge broader and more expensive than that of England would be a monstrous proceeding; and yet the alternative is its being deprived of railway accommodation. The noble Viscount then moved his Resolution.

Moved to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that facilities should be given for the construction of railways in Ireland on a gauge narrower than five feet three inches in mountainous or thinly populated districts where the construction of railways on the standard gauge would be difficult or unremunerative.—(The Viscount Lifford.)


said, he was sorry the noble Viscount should have proposed this Resolution. The noble Viscount, being himself a promoter of a 3 feet gauge line, came there and endeavoured to pledge the House in favour of a narrow-gauge system. What was the practical meaning of the Resolution? It was that this House should pass a Resolution declaring it desirable that facilities should be given for the construction of lines upon a 3 feet gauge. He did not wish their Lordships to do anything to prejudge the question one way or the other, therefore he did not propose to negative the Resolution—what he did propose to do was to move the Previous Question. As the House had no information before it, it would not be justified in coming to any resolution upon the subject. When the question was raised early in the Session, with regard to a Bill now before the House, and another Bill which had been thrown out, he (the Earl of Redesdale) proposed that they should have a Report of the Board of Trade on both those lines as to whether it was expedient that narrow gauges should be allowed; but his proposition was not adopted. It was not well to alter a general Act of Parliament by a side wind; and the noble Viscount was now asking the House to pass a Resolution, without information and without inquiry, which would have the effect of an Instruction to the Committee as to the Bill that might come before them. He thought it was not right that a Resolution of that sort should be adopted. Their Lordships must recollect that a Public Act had been passed sanctioning a particular gauge for Ireland; and they were now asked to alter that gauge without any information being laid before them. He thought he had said enough to show that it would not be a proper thing to accept this Resolution, and, therefore, he moved the Previous Question.

Then, a Question being stated, the Previous Question was moved.


said, that this question appeared to him to be one of national importance. When it was brought before the House last Session it was supported by the best and most direct evidence their Lordships could obtain—that of the noble Duke the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who said that the opposition to the introduction of the narrow gauge into Ireland was not the best way to promote the interests of the country. Speaking from his own experience, he could testily to the advantage of the narrow gauge. Two railways ran in his own immediate neighbourhood which it would have been utterly impracticable, on engineering grounds alone, to have carried up steeps and across bogs, as they were now carried to the great advantage of the country, if the broad gauge had been adopted. Speaking, again, from his own knowledge, he could say that the narrow gauge was equally valuable in a district where mineral wealth was to be found. The great ore district of Antrim had been developed by the aid of the narrow-gauge system alone. Everyone acquainted with Ireland knew that the sanction of a narrow-gauge system was essential to the extension of railways in that country. The noble Viscount had shown good grounds in favour of his Motion, and he should therefore support it.


said, he should support the Resolution proposed by the noble Viscount, as he considered it was very desirable that the House should express an opinion as to the advantage of making railways on the narrow gauge in such cases as those mentioned. He was certain that the whole railway traffic of Ireland could be conducted on the 3 feet gauge without difficulty. Intersecting systems of railway on different gauges could not be sanctioned, and nothing of the kind was proposed; but smaller feeding lines on narrow gauge might properly be introduced.


also supported the Resolution. He was acquainted with two railways constructed on the old system—the Cork and Macroom and the Cork and Bandon—and the former, speaking from an experience gained unhappily only a few days since, having failed to pay at the higher speed, was now going at the rate of 12 miles an hour; while the latter, which used to go at the rate of 25 miles an hour, had reduced its speed to 16. If the principle of the narrow gauge were adopted, whole districts in the South and West of the County of Cork might be opened up; but a railway constructed on the ordinary principle would not pay in Ireland. It was essentially an Irish question; and he believed if the voice of the people of Ireland could be in any way elicited, it would be found to be in favour of the construction of the only lines which would open up the country.


agreed with the noble Viscount who had last spoken (Viscount Midleton), that there were many districts of Ireland which, if a narrow gauge were not sanctioned by Parliament, would be left entirely without communication. He was, however, not satisfied with the form of the Resolution, though he would be sorry to vote against it. It did not in all cases follow that because a district was thinly populated a narrow gauge was therefore necessary. All that it was necessary for the House to affirm was that a Railway Bill should not be rejected merely on the ground that it proposed a narrower than the ordinary gauge. But this had been, in fact, already done before Easter, when the House referred to a Select Committee a Bill containing a proposal for a narrow gauge; and he was not sure that it was necessary for the House to express an opinion in a more formal way.


said, there was no person in that House who had a greater respect for the opinion of his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees upon all matters connected with the Private Bill legislation of the House than he had. He did not think that any persons who had not been connected with the Private Bill legislation in that House could have any knowledge of the very difficult and responsible position in which his noble Friend was placed upon almost all occasions of dealing with Bills of this character. They were much indebted to his noble Friend for his trouble in these matters, and they ought to view with some suspicion any cases in which they might be compelled to differ from his opinion. He agreed with the noble Lord who had last spoken (Lord Carlingford), that the form of the Resolution was not altogether a happy one—and in that respect he also agreed with his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, who did not wish such a vague and general Resolution as that of the noble Viscount to be passed—although he (the Duke of Richmond) by no means desired to assert that no narrow-gauge railways should be constructed. He fancied that the real point at issue was the same as that in the Letterkenny Railway Bill and the West Donegal Railway Bill, which were formerly under discussion in that House. He understood that the Letterkenny Railway Bill had been before the Committee presided over by the Chairman of Commit- tees, and that the West Donegal Railway Bill would be referred to a Select Committee, and was only waiting for the Members to be named. It seemed to him that when it came before the Committee the promoters would be required to bring forward such evidence as would satisfy the Committee that the district really required narrow-gauge railways. He would venture to propose, if his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees would give his consent, that an inquiry upon the points raised in the Resolution should be made by the Board of Trade in the case of the Letterkenny and West Donegal Railways; that a Report should be made upon both these railways; and that the noble Viscount who had brought forward this Resolution should be satisfied with having called the attention of the House to the point, without asking their Lordships to agree to the more general terms of his Resolution. This, he thought, would be a just way of meeting the difficulty. It would not pledge the House to a universal system, and yet, at the same time, it would do substantial justice to those parts of the country which would be intersected by the railways he had referred to.


said, he could not altogether agree with what had fallen from the noble Duke in reference to the Letterkenny Railway Bill. He had proposed the very inquiry which the noble Duke now suggested in reference to that Bill, in order that the Board of Trade might report upon the question of the Irish railway gauge, and his proposal being opposed by Her Majesty's Government, it was rejected by a very small majority. The Letterkenny Bill, consequently, came before him in his capacity of Chairman of Committees as an unopposed Bill, in the usual manner. He desired further information and adjourned its hearing in order to give the promoters an opportunity of bringing over from Ireland witnesses in its favour. And what was the result of that evidence? It was shown that the original Bill for the construction of this line had been obtained 16 years ago, with a capital of £100,000; that about £80,000 had been expended in the purchase of land and in the construction of works on the broad-gauge system; that a few years ago the Company had again come before Parliament for powers to in- crease their capital by another £100,000. That also was granted—they got the second £100,000, more land had been purchased, and some further work done. How did the matter stand last Session? In the last Session of Parliament they came forward asking for an extension of time for the construction of the line—but they said nothing about an alteration of the gauge—this Session, however, the promoters had come before Parliament for the third time—and now, for the first time, sought leave to adopt the narrow gauge. He thought that he should have been taking a very odd course if, under those circumstances, he had passed the Bill authorizing a 3-foot gauge; and he, therefore, felt it his duty to report to the House that it was inexpedient to proceed with the Bill, and that measure was now dead. He must remind the House that he had arrived at that decision after a full consideration of the evidence brought before him, and with that evidence before him he did not think that he could have come to any other conclusion. Did the noble Viscount who had brought forward this Motion (Viscount Lifford) suppose for a moment that he had arrived at his decision on the matter without having carefully considered the question referred to in his Resolution? It was an insult to him to suppose that he had done so. If he were not to be trusted to deal with a Bill of this nature, he was not fit to hold his present Office. If, therefore, any Resolution were passed which should have the effect of directing the Letterkenny Bill to be re-committed, he should at once resign his position as Chairman of Committees.


thought it would be most unjust to compel all Irish railways, in all circumstances, to adopt the broad-gauge system, simply because, some years ago, that system was thought to be the best. They remembered the battle of the gauges in this country, and they intended to avoid the contest in Ireland; but, unfortunately, they imposed an expensive gauge on a poor country, and experience had now proved that the narrow gauge was not only the cheaper to construct, but by far the cheaper to work.


expressed his willingness to adopt the proposition of the noble Duke the Lord President of the Council.


inquired whether Her Majesty's Government were prepared with any alternative proposal in lieu of the Resolution of the noble Viscount? If not he should certainly vote in favour of the Previous Question.


thought that a Resolution to the following effect might be conveniently adopted by the House:— That in the opinion of this House the construction of railways in Ireland on a gauge narrower than fire feet three inches where the construction of railways on the standard gauge would be neither remunerative nor practicable is desirable.


hoped the Government were prepared to bring in a Bill to that effect, for then there would be statutory provisions on the subject.


said, he would accept the Resolution of the noble Viscount, and withdraw his own.


said, he thought it an unusual proceeding to pass a Resolution which would have the effect of setting aside an Act of Parliament.


said, that, of course, no Resolution could override the Act regulating the gauge of railways—it was simply an expression of opinion of the House that a departure from the strict letter of the law was desirable in a particular case. It seemed to him that the Resolution pointed, not to general legislation, but to a particular case. He had not forgotten what had passed some time before, or what had been done to show the opinion of the House that there should be, in cases of necessity, departures from the law; while it had been understood that for the future, whenever application was made for the introduction of the narrow gauge, there should be a Report by the Board of Trade. That was the understanding to which both sides of the House had come, though it was not in the form of a Resolution. Now, there had been two Bills relating to narrow-gauge railways before the House; and it had been their Lordships' opinion, as shown on a Division, that, as the Bills were already before them, it would be harsh to tie the hands of the promoters till the Board of Trade had made their Report. For that reason, in those two cases, there had been no Report; but it was perfectly consistent for the House to express its opinion, as a general principle, that, in future, there should be a Report of the Board of Trade. The only question was, what was to be done with the two Bills? and, perhaps, it would be well to agree to the proposal of his noble Friend.


asked if the Report of the Board of Trade was awaited in one case, what course would be followed with regard to the other Bill? Was the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees willing to accept the proposal of the Government in respect to the Letterkenny Bill.


said, that, as far as the procedure of the House was concerned, the fate of one Bill was decided; and if the course were adopted of referring the other to the Board of Trade all would be done that was really necessary. He believed that it was not usual in either House for general legislation to follow in consequence of such a Resolution as that to which they were now asked to agree.


hoped that the noble Earl was not correct in saying that the fate of the Letterkenny Railway Bill was already decided, and trusted that if the Resolution were carried the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees would still consent to take back the Bill. Evidence could be given to show that the Bill came within the terms of the Resolution, and the case for it was much stronger than that for the West Donegal Railway Bill, which had been read a second time before Easter.


said, that the case of the West Donegal Railway Bill was not entirely similar, and that, with regard to the Bill now under their consideration, ample time and the usual opportunities had been afforded for giving evidence in its favour. He had heard the evidence adduced, and had decided on the evidence before him. If the Bill were re-committed now, it would be tantamount to saying that he had come to a wrong conclusion on the evidence brought before him on that occasion.


said, he understood the proposal of the Government was that the Letterkenny Bill should be re-committed.


We proposed that the Bill should be re-committed with the consent of the Chairman of Committees—and that we have not obtained.


hoped that after the intimation of the opinion of the House to-night the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees would consent that the Letterkenny Bill should be re-committed, and that it and the West Donegal Bill might be considered by the same Committee.


said, he was unable to agree to that proposal. The Bill had come before him in the ordinary course, and if it were referred to another Committee the inference would be that the House was dissatisfied with the conclusion at which he had arrived. If the House passed a condemnation of his action in the matter, he should not be fit to occupy the position which he held.

Then the said Motion and original Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Then it was movedThat in the opinion of this House the construction of railways in Ireland on a gauge narrower than five feet three inches, where the construction of railways on the standard gauge would be difficult or unremunerative, is desirable.

On Question? Resolved in the Affirmative.