HL Deb 27 June 1881 vol 262 cc1338-43


Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."


in moving that the Bill be read a third time that day three months, said, that the rule which had been laid down by the House was that no new railway should be sanctioned by any Committee which was proposed to run alongside, or in close proximity to, an existing line of railway, unless it could be shown that the circumstances of the country imperatively required a new line. He contended, from his knowledge of the country through, which this line would pass, that it was not required, the present railway affording all the accommodation which was necessary for all purposes. He had never heard any person say that this new line was wanted. It would also be an injustice to the existing line, as that line was constructed on the broad gauge, while it was proposed to construct the new line on the narrow gauge, at considerably less expense. For these reasons he should oppose the Bill.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the motion ("this day three months.")—(The Viscount Templetown.)


said, as Chairman of the Select Committee who had approved of the Bill, he thought that the noble Viscount had taken a most unusual course in moving the rejection of this Bill at this stage of its progress through the House. He would not complain of the Vote of Censure proposed to be passed upon the Committee. Whether they had fallen into an error of judgment in taking the course which they had done was a matter of opinion; but they had, he might say, fully inves- tigated all the circumstances of the case during the four days on which they sat. As to the character of the opposition, he wished to point out to their Lordships that no landowner and no owner of property opposed the Bill. It was opposed only by two Railway Companies, of one of which the noble Viscount was Chairman, and of the other a Director. He complained of a statement which had been circulated among their Lordships by the opponents of the Bill, and pointed out that this statement was calculated to leave a false impression on the minds of their Lordships. The opposition of the noble Viscount now went much further than that of the learned counsel before the Select Committee, who desired that the section to Ligoniel should be made, as it would be of great public advantage to the country. The noble Viscount had not referred to the evidence given before the Committee, but had stated his own impressions of what he thought was necessary for the locality. It was contended that no narrow gauge line should be allowed to be made which would come into competition with a broad gauge line; but he could point to the fact that Parliament had allowed that to be done on several occasions. Again, although it was said that the new line would run very near to the existing line, yet the evidence showed that, from the peculiar character of the country, the district through which the new line would pass was not now in some oases served at all, and in other cases was very imperfectly served, by the existing line. The opponents of the Bill had also attempted to prove that the proposed line could not possibly pay; but their case on that point had entirely broken down. Another allegation was that the line was not to be made by local subscriptions, but by the money of a speculative company in London. That, however, was a strange objection to come from Irishmen, who were always asking for the development of the resources of their country by means of English capital.


said, he trusted he should be able to show, in the few observations he had to make, exactly how this matter stood. Their Lordships, he thought, were much indebted to the noble Earl the Chairman of the Committee which had sat on that Bill for stating so clearly the view he took on that Question. He also acknowledged that their Lordships' House in ordinary cases of Private Bills exercised a wise discretion in not canvassing the decisions of the Committees to which they were referred, and in accepting those decisions as being probably the best that could be arrived at under the circumstances. But their Lordships had always reserved to themselves, whenever those Bills involved a matter of national and Imperial importance, the right of reviewing, whether at the third reading or at any other stage, the conclusion to which the Select Committee had come on the question. More especially had they done so on that very matter of the gauges of Irish railways. In 1846, after a Royal Commission had considered most deliberately the question of the difference of gauges, a general Act of Parliament was passed requiring that every railway constructed in Ireland should be constructed on a certain gauge; and it was made a penal offence to construct a railway on any other gauge, any Company which did so being subject to a very heavy penalty. It was not now a question whether the gauge decided upon was the best; but the fact was that all great undertakings had been carried out on such gauge, and it would be highly inconvenient if a change were made. He reminded their Lordships that the owners of the great systems of railway were put to great expense, both in the construction and the working of the railways, and it would be very unjust to them if, after they had gone to great expense to construct a line in a poor country, others should be allowed to construct a cheaper description of line in competition with them. He thought that his noble Friend the Chairman of the Select Committee would not like to take the responsibility upon himself of altering the general law of the Kingdom. The whole principle upon which these narrow-gauge lines were permitted to be made in Ireland was settled by the discussion which took place upon the subject in 1879, which led to certain railways being exempted from the general law. The national gauge was 5 feet 3 inches; but in mountainous districts, where the physical character of the country was such as to render the adoption of the national gauge impracticable, or where the district through which the railway ran wag too poor to support it, there these nar- row 3-feet gauge lines might be made; but he never heard that they could be made in districts where a wide-gauge line was already in existence. The question then arose as to who was to be judge of the circumstances of the district that were to justify the adoption of the narrow gauge; and in the debate on the Donegal Railway Bill it was arranged that an Inspector of the Board of Trade should visit the district and report to the Board of Trade whether the district was such as to justify the adoption of the narrow gauge; but no such inspection had been made in this case, and no Report whatever had been made. He understood, too, that the Select Committee had not been unanimous in agreeing to the Preamble of the Bill. There were, undoubtedly, places in Ireland where they could not have the wide-gauge railways; but to have them where there were already broad-gauge railways in existence would be a positive national evil. If this measure were to become law, a most dangerous precedent would be established, and it would be impossible to restrict this difference of gauge to Ireland alone. It would be extended, in course of time, to England and Scotland; and by doing so, they would abandon the principle which they had established by their general legislation. He, therefore, hoped that their Lordships would agree to his noble Friend's Amendment, and reject the present Bill.


said, he should support the Bill on the ground that the peculiar circumstances of the case warranted a departure from the rule requiring all Irish railways to be made on one gauge. He contended that the existing lines and the proposed line were not side by side, but separated by a considerable extent of ground. The new line would tend to develop the trade of the district. With reference to the Reports from the Board of Trade, lie would remind their Lordships that they had been frequently set aside for inaccuracies; and as regarded the general law, the Chairman of Committees almost every day set it at nought in respect to the baronial guarantees.


in opposing the Bill, said, he was convinced that nothing could be more unfortunate for Ireland than that the contests between broad and narrow gauges involved in this Bill should be allowed to commence.


said, he supported the Bill, believing that the opposition to the introduction of narrow-gauge railways into Ireland made by the noble Earl was due to a misconception on his part of the wants of the country. He was also of opinion that the opposition to the Bill rested upon no grounds of public policy whatever; but was merely the opposition of one Railway Company to a scheme carried out by another. The line which would be constructed if the Bill were passed would form, a link of 13 miles, connecting two narrow-gauge lines. If, therefore, the line were to be made at all, being, as it was, largely desired by the neighbourhood, it must be on the gauge set down in the Bill. He held that the Bill did not violate any principle of public policy, and maintained that it would be very unwise for their Lordships to override the decision of the Select Committee by whom the subject had been considered.


said, he regretted that this question had not been debated on the second reading, because they were now placed in a most difficult position, their own Committee having reported in favour of the Bill. He did not think that the reasons offered by the noble and learned Earl (Earl Cairns) were sufficient to override the deliberate decision of the Committee.


said, he entirely agreed with the opinion expressed by the noble Earl (the Earl of Limerick). The general principle ought to have been contested on the second reading of the Bill if it were objected to, and not at this stage, and their Lordships then ought to have refused either to sanction the second reading or have given some general instructions to the Committee. The rejection of the measure now would inflict great injustice on the promoters of the scheme and on those who seemed to profit by it. He had been told that a Parliamentary summons, announcing that the noble Viscount intended to move the rejection of the Bill, had been issued. If his information was correct, he must say that he deprecated the step that had been taken in issuing a summons of that kind on such an occasion. When first he entered the House of Commons canvassing on Private Bills was the practice was the cause of great scandals, and was put down with difficulty. The House would be ill-advised if it should agree to the Re-solution of the noble Viscount, the Chairman of the defeated railway. The Bill had been passed by a Select Committee, before whom counsel had represented both sides of the case; whereas, on this occasion, they had had one of the ablest counsel, well instructed to speak on one side with no learned person to reply. Ever since he had been in their Lordships' House he had supported the authority of the Committees; and he was afraid that, if their Lord-Ships were to develop a habit of throwing over their Committees, great reluctance would soon be shown by individual Members of their Lordships' House when asked to serve on Select Committees.

On question, that (" now ") stand part of the motion, resolved in the affirmative; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

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