HL Deb 30 April 1888 vol 325 cc863-77



, in rising to call attention to the First and Second Reports of the Royal Commission on Irish Public Works; and to ask, Whether Her Majesty's Government pro- pose to take any steps during this Session to carry out its recommendations, especially those not involving legislation? said, his object in doing so was to endeavour to reinforce and to further the policy with regard to Irish public works which was laid down in the recommendations contained in those Reports. The question of encouraging public works in Ireland had frequently been brought under the notice of Parliament, and various attempts had been made from time to time to carry into effect the different proposals which bad been made on the subject. He did not propose to detain the House with a long historical review of what had been done in past times in reference to those works; but he might say that nearly 50 years ago a great opportunity was lost for carrying out large improvements in the country by means of public works. In the year 1836 a Commission was appointed by the Liberal or Whig Party then in power for considering the question of railway development in Ireland. Their Report on the main lines was very similar to the one now before the House; but, unfortunately, when the Report of that Commission came up and the question was brought before Parliament in a substantive shape, the Bill which passed through the House of Commons was rejected in this House by the Conservative Party of that day. He could not refrain from saying that it was a happy augury that the initiative which then came from the Liberal Party, now came from the Conservative Party with the same object, showing that the subject was regarded as one of a non-Party character. Nothing further was done until certain Bills were brought forward in 1883 by the noble Earl (Earl Spencer) who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, whom he now begged to thank for his action in the matter. The great public interest that was taken in reference to this subject in Ireland was shown by the fact that a large number of copies of these Reports had been sold in that country, and he hoped that Her Majesty's Government would use every despatch in giving some tangible shape to the recommendations of the Commission. The questions with which the Commission had to deal were eminently practical ones, while the Commissioners themselves were experts, and the conclusions at which they unanimously arrived were of an extremely comprehensive and practical character. The main conclusions at which the Commissioners arrived were based upon the principle that the time had arrived when the Government was bound to take the initiative, and not only to assist the movement by means of money, but also by counsel and advice. The first question to be dealt with was that of arterial drainage, and upon this point the Commissioners had made a recommendation that would relieve the different localities from all the expense and responsibility of the initial survey and preliminary engineering. This subject was of considerable importance, and the noble Earl (Earl Cadogan) would probably be able to tell them whether Her Majesty's Government had undertaken any of these preliminary surveys at present, and what surveys were to be made in the future. They further recommended that a Conservancy Authority should be appointed in Ireland similar in its character to those which had been recommended for England. As a preliminary survey of the country would not involve any legislative action, he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would see their way to accepting the proposal of the Commissioners upon the point. He understood that Bills were in course of preparation in "another place" to deal with the three great rivers—the Shannon, the Barrow, and the Bann—which were not capable of treatment by the Local Authorities; but no mention had been made of the very important schemes of arterial drainage which had already been commenced and partly carried out—namely, the Suck and the Erne. He hoped that when dealing with the other three rivers the Government would also see their way to include the two he had mentioned in the scope of their measures, and to help those who had helped themselves. One of the most important objects, he should like to remind the House, which the noble Earl had in view in promoting public works in Ireland, was the relief of the congested districts in the West. But this matter of arterial drainage would not touch in the slightest degree the distress of the West. With regard to the development of the deep-sea fisheries, he might remark that harbours constructed for fishing purposes could not be expected in certain localities to become remunerative until after the lapse of a great many years. Therefore, he thought there was a strong case for assistance to harbour works by means of State grants. He would also suggest to Her Majesty's Government the expediency of giving effect to the recommendation of the Commissioners that the fishing grounds should be surveyed by one of Her Majesty's ships ordinarily employed in taking surveys for hydrographical purposes. In many places there were good harbours which afforded ample protection to fishing-boats, but which could not be safely approached at all by night and hardly by day, except by men who were thoroughly acquainted with the coast, in consequence of there being no lights or buoys. The comparatively small sum of £10,000 or £20,000 expended in lighting and buoying would effect an enormous improvement in those respects, and would enable fishing-boats to use the harbours. Any measures for developing Deep Sea Fisheries would also do much to relieve distress in the West. With respect to the question of railways, there could be no doubt that the construction of such works in Ireland would have the effect of greatly relieving the distress that prevailed so extensively, and would unquestionably do a great deal of good. He was strongly in favour of the amalgamation of the Irish railways; but as that subject involved the important question of policy of the State purchase of railways, he did not propose to go into it at the present time. The appointment of a separate Railway Board for Ireland was strongly recommended by the Commissioners, and he was of opinion that the appointment of such a separate tribunal for Ireland would be much more advantageous than the existing Railway Commission as amended by the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill. If such a Board were appointed it could deal with the question of the fish traffic and railway rates generally. There was one question he should like to ask the noble Lord with respect to railway management, and that was whether the Board of Trade had power, in the interests of public safety, to insist upon the adoption of continuous brakes by Railway Companies? It was a great scandal that they should not be in use on some Irish railways.


said, he had been asked by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce—a Body which, as there Lordships knew, represented the wealth and loyal intelligence of Ireland—to support the appeal made by his noble Friend to the noble Marquess. His noble Friend, in his able and exhaustive statement, had left him nothing to say on the first two recommendations of the Royal Commission presided over by Sir James Allport. He would, therefore, confine the few words he had to trouble their Lordships with to the third recommendation, which dealt with the Irish railway system. On that subject the Report had very special authority, as Sir James Allport was the highest authority in the United Kingdom on railway matters. The portions of the Report and evidence which dealt with Irish railways were not very pleasant reading. He did not think he used too strong language when he said that the system of their management was scandalous and disgraceful. The cost of their management was so great that the reduction of the working expenses of Irish railways to the Scotch proportion of 50 per cent on the gross receipts would produce an annual saving of £74,000 a-year. Their total receipts were under £3,000,000. There were 20 Boards of Directors and 313 Directors. The receipts of the Great Western Railway of England, with about the same as the Irish mileage, were about £5,000,000. It had one Board and 19 Directors, who administered a property representing £70,000,000 or £80,000,000 of capital. With short railways under different management, it could not be wondered at that there was a general complaint of the difficulty of obtaining through rates in Ireland. Certainly, in these cases too many cooks spoilt the broth. On some classes of goods the rates charged were so high as to be prohibitive of trade. First-class fares were higher than they were in England, and second-class fares so much higher than those on the best English lines that the excess in some cases ranged as high as 50 per cent. So little care was taken to develop third-class traffic that, while it had nearly tripled in the last 15 years in England, in Ireland it had made hardly any progress. The high prices, and the want of through rates he had described, affected especially the poorest parts of the country, which were the furthest removed from the English market. The facts he had mentioned were not new to anyone who had paid any attention to the subject. Twenty-three years ago he brought them before the House of Commons. It was no Party question, and his right hon. Friend the late Chief Justice Whiteside seconded him. They were supported by almost every Member connected with Ireland. His right hon. Friend Mr. Gladstone, Leader of the House under Lord Palmerston's Government, received their Motion with favour. He recollected he said that if any pecuniary boon were to be conferred on Ireland, in no way could that boon be conferred so comprehensive and effective in its application as some measure taken with the view to secure to Ireland the benefits of cheap railway transit. Lord Derby's Government came into Office, and his noble Friend the late Earl of Mayo, who was Chief Secretary for Ireland, vigorously took up railway reform, and had, he believed, when the Government of which he was a Member was turned out, almost matured a Bill for carrying it out. Since then, whether through want of time or apathy he could not say, no reform of any kind had been made. Now, as then, they had a system following the English model, but proved by disastrous experience to be utterly unsuited to Ireland. Could it be good policy to leave a grievance of so gigantic a character unredressed? Agitators and revolutionists would not touch such grievances. They were the sharpest weapons in their armoury. He had constant experience of their policy in another matter in which he took a deep interest. Their University system was the last relic left of the Penal Laws. While the minority had ample University endowments, there was not one Catholic endowed College from the Giant's Causeway to Cape Clear. When he had tried to remedy this strange and cruel anomaly, he met with no sympathy from that Party—far otherwise. But there was a large Party in Ireland, very Irish in feeling, not a little distrustful of what they called English rule, but utterly disgusted with the methods which had been recently used to overthrow it, who would be won over to the Constitutional cause if they saw the Imperial Government set earnestly to work to remove every real grievance, and to adapt Irish institutions to the character of the people and to the requirements of the country. He recognized fully the courage and the great abilities with which Mr. Balfour had restored the reign of law in those districts where it had been rudely shaken. He could give no greater blow to the enemies with whom he had been victoriously contending, and to the revolution they abetted, than by devoting that same courage and those same abilities to improving the material condition of Ireland and to removing those few moral and religious grievances which still remained unredressed. He earnestly hoped that, as a step in that direction, the noble Marquess would that night accept the suggestion of his noble Friend to carry out the recommendations of his own Commission.


said, there was one point to which he desired to call attention. The noble Lord opposite had said that the Commission had entered upon their duties in a very comprehensive manner. But in his opinion the terms of Reference were not so comprehensive as they ought to have been. There was no doubt that all the small fishing piers built during the last 50 years on the West Coast of Ireland were much more used for commercial purposes than for the fisheries. He was supported in this opinion by Mr. O'Doherty, the Nationalist Member for North Donegal, who was better qualified to speak on the subject than almost any other man; by General Sankey's Memorandum, by the county surveyors of Galway and Donegal, and by Mr. Ernest Hart. Yet, whenever witnesses addressed themselves to this point, the Royal Commissioners informed them that they had nothing to do with commercial purposes. No doubt, objection might be taken to State interference in commercial questions, but it was certainly desirable that some comparison should be instituted with regard to the usefulness of these piers for commercial as opposed to fishing purposes. At a comparatively small cost these small piers might be greatly improved, both for general trade and for the fisheries, besides affording a refuge to fishermen in case of stormy weather. The Report stated that the general idea of the people was that railway extension was of secondary importance, the natural means of communication being the sea. Mr. Findlay, the manager of the London and North-Western Railway, expressed in his evidence his surprise as a railway man that all the traders and shopkeepers looked at the shipping interest as the main factor of Irish prosperity. It was in fact only by opening up the western seaports that the condition of the fringe of people behind the coast line could be much ameliorated. He used the term "fringe" advisedly, as the inland parts of Donegal and the western counties were wholly unimprovable and unproductive. Complaint had been made that the £250,000 had been frittered away on small piers. He did not join in that complaint, as it was absolutely necessary that a considerable number of small piers should be established to satisfy the wants of the Irish fishing population, and of a character to suit the boats in general use. Large piers also might be serviceable if brought into immediate connection with railways; and it might be also said that considerable sums had been thrown away in piers on the West Coast. But there was no doubt that these small piers had been extremely useful to the people. With regard to railways and tramways, he might say he entirely agreed with some evidence which he had been able to examine. He did not think that the grand juries would be the best authority to deal with it, because they were locally interested. There might be two claims before the grand jury, one from the northern part of the county and another from the south, and there would be a great temptation to vote for one scheme if a particular member agreed to vote for the other. He hoped the Government would steer clear of that. He had not gone into the Report at length, but had merely dealt with matters of which he had a personal knowledge.


said, it would be quite impossible to go into details. He had a confident expectation that Her Majesty's Government would take up this question in a serious and practical spirit, and the reason he expressed that opinion was that the Royal Commission, which had now reported, had been appointed by the Government immediately after they took Office. The subjects brought before that Commission were most import- ant for the material development of Ireland; and last year Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, when Chief Secretary for Ireland, gave a strong expression of opinion that the Government would do their best, and that before long some measure would be proposed to relieve the unfortunate inhabitants of the congested districts in Ireland. It was with reference to those districts he desired to speak. They deserved the attention of Parliament on historical grounds, for it was well known that the population of those districts were driven there by the English settlers, and it was pretty clear that neither the Land Act of 1870 nor that of 1881 had affected the congested districts. Both as regarded history and recent legislation there was a great demand for dealing with this question. There was also reason for urging it on, upon grounds of mere expediency, in the interests of the English taxpayer. If anyone looked into the Reports of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, he would find no less a sum than £8,000,000 of public money, originally lent for various purposes, had been remitted. Where distress existed no Government could tolerate it without relieving that distress. Why, even within the last few years there had been Acts of Parliament for the purpose of giving relief to the congested districts in Ireland. Although throughout the whole of Ireland generally a great improvement had taken place in the last 40 years, yet that improvement had not extended to those parts of the country where the population were poorest, and the result was that in those districts, whenever the ordinary food of the people failed, not only did such distress arise as shocked the feelings of every Englishman, but extensive and illusive measures were hastily taken which left no good effect behind. That being the case with respect to the congested districts, surely it was right on the part of the Government that they should have on several occasions expressed their intention and desire to deal vigorously and comprehensively with this state of things. In doing so, they could not find any opposition from those who sat opposite them, whatever opinions these might hold upon other subjects connected with Ireland. The question came up during the Administration of Mr. Gladstone, of which he had the honour to be a Mem- ber, and in 1883, besides supporting a measure giving a large contribution to fisheries, Sir George Trevelyan deliberately took a new departure, and it was declared in the debate that in dealing with a poor country like Ireland it would be absurd to apply principles which had worked well enough in England, but nowhere else in Europe. By an Act which he introduced, rather curiously called the Tramways Act, the system of Government guarantee to railroads in Ireland was established for the first time. Besides that, which was the most important part of the Tramways Act, there were provisions for the formation of companies to buy up estates in the congested districts, and for the encouragement of emigration. Therefore, the principles upon which the Government might act in dealing with the congested districts had already been embodied to a certain extent in former Acts of Parliament. No two questions could be more important in this connection than those of fisheries and railroads. The fishing industry could not profitably be carried on off the West Coast unless the fish could be sent to some market regularly and quickly; while, as regards railways, it had been well pointed out that England was the only country in Europe where railways had been carried on without some assistance from the State in the shape of guarantees. In India the system of guaranteeing railways has been one of the most beneficient, far-sighted, and successful measures of the Indian Administration. He ventured to submit, however, that a direct system of Government guarantee should be introduced rather than the somewhat complicated plan of the Act of 1883, which had not worked satisfactorily. The result of that legislation had not been to benefit the very districts which the Government of that day intended to reach; only a few of the lines which had been made at all affecting the congested districts. He threw out that suggestion for the consideration of the Government as indicating a way in which it would be possible in connection with the existing railroad companies, to complete some, at any rate, of the most important lines of communication in Ireland to the congested districts. It was not well for an Englishman in giving an opinion upon any Irish question to generalize. He believed different districts might require different measures; but, at any rate, he relied upon it that the Government were very sensible of the importance of this question, and they were considering the recommendations of the Commissioners, and above all things, that they would direct their most earnest efforts to remedying what was almost a scandal in the administration of the Sister Isle.


said, the question was one of great scope, dealing not only with the land but the rivers and lakes of Ireland and the seas which bound the coast. It was, therefore, not surprising that the subject should be taken up by their Lordships and discussed by many noble Lords who had a practical acquaintance with Ireland, and who, like the noble Earl opposite, had done a great deal towards developing the trade of the district in which they lived. He felt some diffidence in joining in the discussion, but he thought their Lordships would understand that anyone who had been for a long time in the position cf Lord Lieutenant of that country must have been mixed up a great deal in all those difficult subjects, and that if he had evinced any real interest in the country he must have taken a deep interest in all the matters referred to. He did not propose, however, to go at length through all the matters dealt with in the Report. Any one of the subjects specified might with advantage occupy an evening's debate. Arterial drainage was of enormous importance, and had been discussed time after time in Parliament and had been dealt with in a great variety of ways. It was of the utmost importance to Ireland that they should arrive at sound principles in dealing with this subject. He did not think it would bo right to go at length into the question now. No doubt the matter would be dealt with boldly and comprehensively, and if the Government produced any measure he should be glad to give it his attention. The fishery question was also of very great importance, affecting as it did the population of Ireland all round the coast. It would, however, be inconvenient to go into the matter now, because their Lordships had not yet received the evidence on which the Commissioners based their Report. He thought it was exceedingly inconvenient to discuss such a subject at any length on an important Report without having been able to study the evidence. The same remark applied to railways; no evidence with regard to that part of the question had been presented. He confessed that he was inclined to differ from the opinion of the Commissioners on certain points. There was the point referred to by the noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim) with regard to the policy of the Commission which had charge of a grant from the Church Fund as to piers and harbours. He agreed with what the noble Earl said on that head. He thought the recommendation and the criticism of the Commissioners in that respect were open to very considerable objection. At the same time he should not like to make any lengthened statement about it without having the evidence produced which had led to the Report. It was only respectful to a Commission of such importance to consider the evidence before any criticism was made on the Report. Those remarks applied with greater force to the criticism which the Commissioners made on an Act passed in 1883. Sir George Trevelyan introduced that Act in "another place," and though from his position of Lord Lieutenant, he himself was not able to take any part in debate in Parliament with regard to that measure, he, at the same time, had taken the greatest interest in the preparation of the Act; indeed, he was to a great extent responsible for it. He had observed somewhat severe criticisms of the Commissioners, not only with regard to the framing of that Act, but also with reference to its administration. If he was responsible to a great extent for the framing of the Act, he was to a still greater degree responsible for its administration. He thought he had a most complete answer to the criticisms made by the Commissioners, both as to the policy of that Act and its administration. It would be better, however, to reserve what he had to say on those points until the evidence was produced which led the Commissioners to make those somewhat elaborate criticisms—almost attacks—on the policy and administration of the Act. It had been stated with great truth that when the Liberal Government introduced that measure they hoped to do a great deal towards developing and improving what were called the congested districts in Ireland. That was a hope which he had personally entertained. He was responsible for the Act and the shape in which it was produced. At the same time, he might say that during the discussion before the Act was introduced he had to give way on various points, and the Act in its final shape, for which he was responsible, was not exactly such as he should have liked to see with regard to congested districts. It would, however, be inconvenient to go at length into the reasons why the Act had failed until they had the whole of the evidence before them. He admitted with great regret that the Act had not succeeded in those districts, and he greatly feared that it had not penetrated them on account of the immense difficulties resulting from the poverty of the people. Another opportunity would arise later on to go fully into these questions when the Government introduced a measure, as he understood they intended to do, with regard to these subjects. He was sure their Lordships would give any proposal of the Government the most careful consideration, and consider at the same time the opportuneness of them, and whether or not they were likely to succeed.


said, if he had anything to regret in connection with this important discussion it was the fact that it must be considered at this moment premature. It was true that the Report had been in the hands of their Lordships for a short time. The first Report of the Commission had been accompanied by the minutes of evidence; but with regard to the second Report, to which the greater part of the noble Lord's speech referred, their Lordships were not even in possession of the evidence upon which the Commissioners arrived at their conclusions. It was, therefore, impossible for him to enter into the large and important question which had been raised. In his view, the proper time for the Government to answer such a question as that put to them by the noble Lord was when they introduced a measure which it would be their duty to lay before Parliament at no distant day. On a recent occasion, in reply to a Question, he informed the House that, in accordance with the action taken by the Commissioners in dealing first in their Report with the subject of arterial drainage, and postponing the other and still larger question which had been referred to them, it was the intention of the Government to deal as soon as possible with the question of arterial drainage, and bring forward a measure in furtherance of the recommendations. He had now to state that his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary for Ireland proposed to lay two Bills on the subject of arterial drainage in Ireland upon the Table of the House of Commons before the Whitsuntide Recess, and it was hoped that Parliament would at once be able to turn its attention to the matter, which involved a very important question. With regard to fisheries, harbours, the amalgamation of railways, Government gurantees for railways, and similar questions, those were matters which were under the serious and anxious consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and he hoped that the House would not accept that intimation in the somewhat limited extent which was generally applied to an official statement of that kind, because his right hon. Friend was carefully considering those questions, and he hoped, before any undue time elapsed, to lay before Parliament his proposals in connection with them. The Commissioners in their Report had deprecated undue haste in deciding upon matters of such great difficulty and uncertainty as those he had indicated; and he trusted their Lordships would not consider him wanting in courtesy in any respect if he declined on the present occasion to go at any length into the suggestions which had been made during the discussion. He could only say that the Government had been from the first alive to the enormous importance of the question of public works in Ireland, as was shown indeed by the fact that one of their first acts on coming into Office was to appoint this Commission. Nothing was nearer to their hearts than the wish to carry out to the full the recommendations of the Commission, many of which seemed to the Government such as they were prepared to recommend to Parliament. They would do so with as little delay as possible, and with an anxious desire to do all they could to promote the welfare and the prosperity of Ireland.


said, Ireland was the only civilized country in the world in which the sea fisheries had not been thoroughly considered. What he wanted to say and press clearly upon the noble Earl was, that the Government should take into earnest consideration the recommendations of the Report to have all the bays, seas, and fishing grounds of Ireland surveyed immediately and without delay on the same system as that which had been adopted with so much success in America, because it must be clear to their Lordships that it was idle to be talking about piers and harbours and other things, when the Minister of the day was not aware of the actual amount of fish that existed round the Irish coasts.


asked, what was the nature of the legislation proposed by Her Majesty's Government?


said, that the two Bills, which would be immediately introduced into the House of Commons, dealt with the drainage of the River Barrow and the River Bann.


asked when the evidence upon which the second Report of the Commission was based would be circulated?


said, he believed that it would be circulated among their Lordships very shortly.


asked, whether the Government intended before long to bring forward other measures dealing with Irish railways and fisheries?


replied, that he could only say that those subjects were under the careful consideration of the Government. It was impossible to state when legislation with regard to them would be attempted.

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