HL Deb 25 May 1897 vol 49 cc1234-40

moved, "That this Bill be now read a Second time." His Lordship explained that the Bill was to afford facilities for the establishment and development of industries in Ireland. He trusted that those who were interested in Ireland would support a Bill of this kind. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill consisted of 14 clauses; it had been before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, and had passed without opposition. The promoters proposed to take any water or water rights, or any land in connection therewith, and it was not proposed to take land except in connection with water. To work these industries water was to be used. Such water was intended to be used for producing electricity, provided its employment for such purpose would not injure the water power used for any existing mill, or the water supply of any city, town, district, or locality; that the proposed industry was not of a nature to cause pollution to any stream or river; that any land to be taken was principally barren, uncultivated, or mountainous; that no fishery of any substantial nature should be injured by the undertaking; and that the establishment of such industry would be of general or local advantage. Subject to these provisions, the Local Government Board might, after an inquiry had been held, make an order giving a provisional approval to the application, and such provisional order should be published in the prescribed manner. An order under this Act might contain provisions consistent with the Act for the Incorporation, with the necessary modifications, and subject to such exceptions and variations as might be mentioned in the order, of any of the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts, and of the provisions contained in the Second Schedule of the Housing of the Working Classes Act 1890, and of the provisions of the Waterworks Clauses Acts 1863, with reference to security reservoirs; provided that nothing in the section should authorise any variation of the provisions of the Lands Clauses Acts, as amended by the provisions contained in the Second Schedule of the Housing of the Working Classes Acts 1890, with respect to the purchase and taking of land otherwise than by agreement. Then there was another clause with regard to security for costs, which was very important: — No order under this Act shall be made unless the prescribed sum has been lodged or secured within the time and in the manner prescribed to defray the costs and expenses of the Local Government Board and of successful objectors, and to render any works constructed in pursuance of this Act innocuous in the event of the undertaking being abandoned or the promoters becoming bankrupt or (if a company) being wound up, and such sum may be disbursed or released in such manner as may be prescribed. He hoped their Lordships would support the Bill, because it would encourage other industries than agriculture, and would bring money into the country. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he was cloth to oppose a Bill introduced in the cause of industry in Ireland, but he thought the principle underlying it was not appreciated. The principle underlying the Bill was that private companies and private individuals were to have compulsory powers to acquire land for the purpose of manufactures for private gain. That principle had never been sanctioned by Parliament. In his evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, Sir Courtenay Boyle said that there was absolutely no instance of such powers being granted to private companies. If this principle were to be sanctioned for the future it should be brought forward in a Bill introduced by the Government, and even then it would be of the utmost importance that such a Bill should be most carefully weighed before such an invasion of private property was sanctioned. ["Hear, hear!"]


thought it would be well for him to state at once what the position of the Government was with regard to the Bill. In the first place, it was not in any sense a Government Bill, but inasmuch as it went before a Select Committee of the House of Commons, on which prominent members of the Government Party in the House of Commons sat, and inasmuch as several Amendments were introduced at the instance of the Attorney General on behalf of the Government, the Bill had the sympathies of Her Majesty's Government. They believed that if it passed it would be a useful Measure, and that the harm which some noble Lords seemed to think would result from it, would not really come to pass. Considerable care had been taken to introduce safeguards which the Government believed would be amply sufficient, but if their Lordships thought otherwise he did not think there would be the slightest objection to consider further safeguards. The object of the Bill was to promote industries in Ireland which might be said to be dependent on electrical power. Although the Government could not deny the fact that the Bill introduced a somewhat novel principle, still in view of the fact that Ireland was, perhaps, an exceptional country—["hear, hear!" and laughter]—and that all classes were now doing their utmost to promote industries there, he thought their Lordships might, perhaps, overlook that novel principle provided that proper safeguards were introduced for the purpose of preventing any abuse of its provisions. He could only say that the Bill was believed to be a useful one and Her Majesty's Government hoped that it would pass.


trusted that he would not be accused of attempting to discourage industry in Ireland if he expressed his strong sympathy with the views of the Earl of Arran. ["Hear, hear!"] This Bill had a very innocent and almost frank appearance, and he must confess that until his attention was called to it, he had no idea that it contained the principle they had heard explained that night. He had looked in, vain for the safeguards of which the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading had spoken. This Bill went against every one of the principles that had hitherto been observed by Parliament in the granting of compulsory powers of purchase. In the first place, with very few exceptions, compulsory powers were only given by Parliamentary Committees before which the opponents had the right to appear. That was almost, though not quite, the invariable practice. The second condition was invariable—namely, that no powers of compulsory purchase under the Lands Clauses Acts should be given, except for a public undertaking, in which the public at large had a distinct advantage to gain—["hear, hear!"]—and in all cases, without exception, provisions were carefully made that the public should reap advantage from any undertaking sanctioned. The third condition, which was not absolutely universal, but almost so, was that compulsory powers should be given only to public companies established under the Companies Clauses Acts and incorporated by Act of Parliament. The reason of that was that Parliamentary companies were subject to certain restrictions and conditions, one of which was that the undertaking- which the company promoted was for the public advantage, the public advantage being paramount to the advantage of the company or its creditors. Moreover, no Parliamentary company was allowed to raise a loan on its property, so that no public undertaking could be stopped. It must be carried on for the public advantage. Thus it would be seen that in all cases the public advantage was the reason for giving compulsory powers. ["Hear, hear!"] In the case of individuals and limited companies, compulsory powers of purchase were only given for the purpose of improving communication in towns, sanitary improvements, the widening of streets, or matters of that kind; and he was quite certain that to give to a private undertaker these compulsory powers for his own private gain was absolutely unprecedented. ["Hear, hear!"] Every year all the large railway companies brought forward omnibus Bills, which almost invariably contained provisions for the construction of branch lines, and it was his duty to inquire whether those branches were really for the public advantage, or to serve a private manufactory or a coal-pit. If the promoters said they merely concerned a private undertaking, it was his duty to refuse compulsory powers of purchase, though not to refuse powers of construction. He did not for a moment wish to go into the details of the Bill, but it seemed to him to contravene all the principles he had stated as guiding Parliamentary practice at the present time. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill proposed that the requisite powers should be granted by the Lord Lieutenant in Council. No doubt the Lord Lieutenant in Council was an excellent tribunal, but it was a question whether powers of that kind should be transferred from Parliament to another body, however distinguished. ["Hear, hear!"] In Clause 2 there was a curious provision that the power was only to be used for the purpose of producing electricity. Why on earth should the power not be used where wafer power was to be used directly? ["Hear, hear!"] Clause 3 provided that no land was to be taken unless it was principally barren, uncultivated, or mountainous. That was rather ambiguous; but that did not in any degree detract from the value of the water power. ["Hear, hear!"] The last provision was that the establishment of an industry under the Bill should be of general or local advantage. Was there any value in that qualification? He assumed that any industry was of local advantage, and he would be extremely sorry if any action of his tended to discourage local industry; but to say that it must be proved that an industry was of local advantage was an utterly futile and worthless condition. It was curious to find in the second Subsection of the clause that the Local Government Board, who were to issue this order, which was to be final, were not to be bound by the conditions which he had just mentioned. They were to have the power—in any case where they thought they could exercise it without public or private injury—to dispense with those conditions and to make the order absolute upon the private individual. Clause 7 gave promoters power to conduct their pipes—it did not say for what purpose, but he supposed it was for hydraulic purposes—in or through any land or road, and to divert any right of way, and to alter or reconstruct any bridge, provided that the change did not cause any serious inconvenience to the public. Surely a provision of that kind would be likely to cause great injustice and great inconvenience. ["Hear, hear!"] He thought he had said enough to show how greatly this Bill encroached upon the principles and rules respected hitherto by Parliament. He objected to big principles being dealt with in this fragmentary and piecemeal fashion. If Parliament wished to alter the application of the Land Clauses Acts let it do so by all means, but let the change be effected by a properly considered Measure based upon some ascertained principles. But if they now passed a Bill of this kind applying to electricity, they would inevitably have to pass another very soon applying to other industries, and so they would have to go on. To deal with these large and important questions in this fragmentary manner would not be creditable to Parliament. In his opinion the importance of the objects of the Bill was not commensurate with the importance of acting in contravention of what had hitherto been the invariable practice and recognised principles of Parliament.


observed that Lord Denbigh, speaking on behalf of the Government, had given reasons for supporting the Bill, one of them being that this was an exceptional Measure. He hoped that English and Scottish Peers would appreciate the value of flint argument. It had been heard before in 1870 and 1881, and they might feel sure of this—that whatever Irish Measure they passed as an exceptional Measure to-day would be applied to themselves tomorrow. Lord Denbigh had told them that the Bill had the support of the Government, and he wished to ask the noble Marquess whether a Measure which had been shown to be objectionable by the Chairman of Committees really had their support, and had been considered by the Cabinet?


My noble Friend Lord Denbigh distinctly stated that this was not a Government Bill.


He said that it had the support of the Government.


No, the sympathy of the Government; and the sympathy of the Government is, I think, precisely what it deserves. It does not deserve much more. [Laughter.] I mean that the intentions of the promoters of the Bill are admirable, and the object which it has in view of setting up industries in the more desolate parts of Ireland, and especially the object of putting to useful purposes the splendid water power that exists there, are admirable objects, and for them I have the deepest sympathy. But I confess that this beautiful spirit has been embodied in a less admirable frame, and, after listening to my noble Friend who sits fit the Table, and whose authority we all regard so much, I am compelled to say that the Bill appears to me to have defects. [Laughter.] I do not think, though legal care was devoted to its preparation, that sufficient regard was paid to the consequences that might follow from some of its enactments. After the speech of my noble Friend the Chairman of Committees, I do not think the House ought to pass the Second Reading of this Bill. We trust to him, and never in vain, to guard our proceedings and to take care that important principles of property and legislation are not transgressed in Bills that are brought before us. I think, in the circumstances, it would be wiser not to press the Bill to a Division.


observed that Lord Morley, after saying he did not wish to discourage industries in Ireland, proceeded immediately to tear to pieces this Bill for the encouragement of such industries. The scope of the Bill was really very small. Its promoters did not ask for the use of the fat land of Ireland. They only wanted a few places in the mountains, where there was strong water power, which could be used for industrial purposes. Of course, sneers and ridicule were likely to kill any Bill. No comparison could be drawn between the case of Ireland and the case of England in matters of this kind. In Ireland there were tracts of country where land could be got for nothing, and where nobody lived, but the use of this land and the water could not be obtained without special powers, and it was for these necessary powers that the promoters of the Bill asked. This subject would be heard of again and again, and he should look to their Lordships to assist in removing any defects in the Measure, so that the promotion of industry in Ireland which would do so much good to the country might go on. After what had been said by the Prime Minister and the Chairman of Committees he realised that it would be useless to attempt to proceed with the Bill, but it was with the greatest reluctance that he withdrew it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn; original Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.