HL Deb 06 May 1879 vol 245 cc1785-9

, in moving that the Bill be re-committed, said, that it was one which vitally concerned a district as large as Oxfordshire, in a county in which he was the only resident Peer. He made no charge against the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, who had said that this Motion was an insult, and had even announced that he would resign his high Office if it were carried. It was no insult to any man to say that he had made an error of judgment. The Company was incorporated 19 years ago. The promoters were not sufficiently aware that, in a county so thinly inhabited by the upper classes as Donegal, third-class passengers and the port and mart to which they had to take their produce were to be looked to; and the line was run towards Dublin rather than towards Londonderry. This was remedied by an Act of 1863, which enabled them to run direct to Derry by joining a railway called the Lough Swilly line. Up to 1865, £80,000 had been expended. From that time to the present five Acts had been obtained at the cost of private subscriptions for an extension of time, and the efforts of the directors to go on with the work had been unceasing. There were law, land, and engineering debts amounting to £20,000. Assuming that the directors could place two mortgages, amounting to £85,000, there was a third of the £15,000 of no value whatever; and it was in assuming that they could place this, and in forgetting their debts, that the error of the noble Earl consisted. With their £65,000 the directors could find a contractor and make their line, but only on the narrow gauge; and when the line was made they thought they would be able to place the third mortgage of £15,000. They had found it impossible to make a broad gauge line. Narrow gauge lines had been tried with success in Ireland, Scotland, and the Isle of Man; and many shareholders now regretted their lines were made before it was discovered that a 3 feet gauge was as convenient and practicable as the broad gauge; while it was far more easily made and far more cheaply worked. The promoters of the line into which the above would run, which had never paid any dividend, were ready to alter their gauge to the narrow gauge; the people of the district were unanimously in favour of the Bill, and ready to be taxed for a guarantee by a rate on each farm-holding. They thought it strange the noble Earl should think he knew their affairs better than they did themselves. The Standing Orders only gave the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees power, "if he thinks fit," to report to the House that any unopposed Bill should be proceeded with as an opposed Bill. There was an utter absence of any trace of a Resolution giving him the enormous power of rejecting Bills because they were unopposed. His only discretion seemed to be that of either passing a Bill or referring it to a Select Committee; and he asked their Lordships to act on the 95th Standing Order, and refer this Bill, if still opposed by the noble Chairman, to a Select Committee as an opposed Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be re-committed."—(The Viscount Lifford.)


, in support of the Motion, urged that for years the promoters of the Bill had been vainly endeavouring to raise the capital necessary for the construction of a broad-gauge line; they had tried every expedient, and they had utterly failed. Meanwhile, the advance of engineering skill had rendered more easy than before the construction and working of a narrow-gauge line, by which alone it was possible to develop the resources of this part of the country and provide a remunerative traffic for the existing lines. In cases of this kind, it was found desirable that Grand Juries of counties should give a guarantee, in order that lines on the narrow gauge might be made. He was quite aware that it was a breach of the law to make such a railway; but public policy had justified that breach of that law. But cases arose where even the powers of a guarantee failed, and in those instances where narrow gauge lines had been sanctioned they had developed a large part of the district. It should also be borne in mind that the narrow-gauge lines were merely supplemental lines to the broad-gauge railways, and could not be called competing lines. In the existing circumstances of Ireland, it would be utterly hopeless to do any thing to develop railway communication in this part of the country except in the manner proposed by this Bill.


said, that if their Lordships knew what the Private Business of the House was, they would see the necessity of supporting the authority vested in and exercised by the Chairman of Committees. Of the 64 Bills commenced in that House that Session, four, at least, contained provisions which ought not to be enacted by Private Bill legislation. One Bill promoted by a company, and giving them powers in relation to the control and management of their own business, sought to impose fines on offenders in a manner which could not be entertained except in public legislation. In other cases, too, promoters sought to do things by private legislation which were contrary to public policy. This Bill came before him as an unopposed Private Bill; it proposed to alter the line to a 3 feet gauge, instead of the national gauge, and the question for him to consider was whether this was a proper thing for him to sanction. He expressed a doubt about it, and the promoters asked that time should be allowed to enable them to produce more evidence, which he granted. He inquired into the case, and found that the company had been a very unfortunate one. It had been some 18 years in existence, and had done little, except under their first Act they had spent £80,000. Nearly all the land had been purchased, and all the works executed were for a national gauge line. The Resolution passed by their Lordships' House the other evening was that it was expedient to sanction the construction of narrow-gauge railways in districts where there were difficulties in the way, or that national gauge railways would be unremunerative. Now, in this particular case, there were no difficulties in the way of constructing a broad-gauge line; and with respect to its being unremunerative, the same company came to Parliament last year and asked for compulsory powers to purchase certain lands, and an extension of time to complete the line to 1881, but never said a word about requiring more capital or constructing it on a narrow gauge. Under these circumstances, he refused to sanction the scheme. The simple question was whether it was desirable to allow an existing company to lay down an arrow-gauge line. The invariable rule of the House was, when a Bill was reported against in any way, it was never re-committed, except with the consent of the Committee, considering that they had not the proper evidence before them. The whole question turned on this. Had they confidence in the Chairman of Committees? If not, he was no longer fit for the Office he held. He had been 29 years Chairman of Committees, and this was the first time anything of this kind had been brought against him. The jurisdiction he excercised was committed to him by the House for the advantage of the public. His discretion or authority might be questioned, and the judgment of the noble Viscount (Viscount Lifford) might be preferred to his; but if the House should so decide, he considered that his utility as Chairman of Committees was gone, and he was no longer fit to hold his Office. He must say he should pity the man who came after him.


said, he would not go into the merits of this case—the House invariably refused to re-commit a Bill if the Committee were of opinion there was no primâ facie case. The noble Earl in this House represented the Committee, and they had heard what he had stated. The practice was essential to the good working of the private legislation of the House, and he certainly should not be a party to question or weaken the authority of the Chairman of Committees. The noble Earl had been Chairman of Committees, as he had stated, for 29 years, and by the able manner in which he had discharged his arduous duties he had done more than any other individual in the House to maintain the high character of the House with regard to Private Business.

After a few words from Viscount Liepord, which were inaudible,


I remember in the other House of Parliament there was a Rule that Ministers should never vote on Private Bills or anything connected with them. I wish that was the Rule in the House where I have the honour to sit at present. Both my Colleagues and I would then feel free from much painful responsibility. The question is one of some complication, and there are points on which two opinions may be fairly formed; but I think the evils to the public and to the Private Business of the House would be so great if our Chairman of Committees were not supported that I cannot approve of the Motion.

On Question? Resolved in the Negative.