§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. C. T. RITCHIE,) Croydon
said, he did not suppose that the subject of the Bill which he proposed to ask the leave of the House to introduce would excite any opposition, whatever difference of opinion might exist in regard to its details. The question of greater facilities in railway communication was before the House last Session, when he believed there was a general expression of opinion that Parliament ought to endeavour to supply some less costly means than the existing law allowed for providing more extensive railway accommodation. The Government did not put forward their proposals as a panacea for the evils of agricultural depression. But it was the duty of the Government to do all in their power to remove any impediments which they thought interfered with the development of agriculture, and it was with that view they proposed to introduce the Light Railways Bill. If they could do anything to bring consumer and producer more closely together—if they could make more easy the distribution of agricultural produce—they would have done much to help both the producer and the consumer. This country 737 was possessed of a great network of important railways, and no one would deny that much of the development of our industries was due to the enterprise of railway companies in opening up their great lines of communication. It was quite true that considerable complaints were made in regard to the charges of those great railways for the carriage of agricultural produce, and it was asserted that agriculture suffered in consequence of such charges. ["Hear, hear!"] He was not prepared to deny that there was some ground for those complaints, but, assuming that agriculturists who now possess railway facilities might fairly complain of railway charges, what of those producers who had no railway communication whatever to avail themselves of? If the position of the one class was bad, the House would admit that the position of agriculturists who had no means of railway communication was infinitely worse. The Agricultural Department had had for some time past under their charge the production of maps of various counties containing large tracts of country without adequate means of communication. He found that in one county there were 324,000 acres of cultivated land which had no railway within three miles. In another county there were 286,000 acres, in another 128,000 acres, in another 102,000 acres, and in another 72,000 acres—all large areas of cultivated land—distant more than three miles from a railway station. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen endeavoured to deal with this question last year, and he took a wise and proper course in inviting certain gentlemen familiar with the subject to meet in Conference at the Board of Trade with the view of suggesting some remedy for the admitted evil. The result of that Conference was undoubtedly very useful, but as embodied in the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman it was inadequate. [''Hear, hear!"] The conditions laid down by the right hon. Gentleman at the first meeting of the Conference were somewhat to blame for the inadequacy of the result. The right hon. Gentleman said at the outset:—There is one question which we think it will be entirely unnecessary for you to consider, and which, indeed, ought to be regarded 738 as lying entirety outside the scope of our Conference, and that is the question of anything in the nature of aid by the central Treasury of the country.When the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Bill last year, the complaint which was made of the absence of any provision for help from the State was by no means confined to the right hon. Gentleman's opponents. ["Hear, hear!"] It was true that the Bill of last year provided for facilitating the necessary procedure; but the Government's view was that in a great number of districts, at any rate, where the railways were most needed they would not be made except with some aid both from the locality and from Parliament. [Cheers.] A combination of the State, acting very necessarily within certain limitations, the localities, and individuals outside the local bodies, would be necessary to secure the effectual operation of an Act dealing with light railways; and the question was, How could this combination of effort be best secured and how could procedure be best facilitated? Believing that a little personal investigation and experience would be a very valuable aid in dealing with this question, he, together with Lord Dudley and Sir Courtenay Boyle, went to France and Belgium last year with a view to seeing the nature of the light railways there—how they were made and worked and how their finance was conducted. Nothing could exceed the extreme courtesy of the officials both in France and Belgium, who afforded every facility for obtaining full information as to construction, working, and finance. The systems of light railways in France and Belgium were materially different. In France the light railways were to all intents and purposes secondary railways. They had their bridges, embankments, cuttings, signals, and stations; and the main difference between them and the main trunk lines was that the one had a broad gauge and the other a narrow. In Belgium the system would be more properly described as a great system of steam tramways. The main roads were used for the lines, although occasionally a strip of land by the side of the road was taken or a short cut across country was made to avoid a difficulty. They had very few signals and hardly any 739 stations. The branches leading to particular farms or centres of industry which had to be served were simple and inexpensive; and the loading and unloading of trucks was carried on in simple sidings on the roadside, where the farmers' carts and wagons were drawn up. The natural result was that the light railways in Belgium were constructed much more cheaply than those in France; and they were so superior from many points of view that he was led to ask the manager of the Chemin de Fer du Nord, with whom he had an interview in Paris, how it happened that the two systems, the one paying and the other not paying, should exist side by side. The manager explained that in Belgium, as in England, the system of great trunk lines was practically complete, whereas in France it was by on means complete, and the secondary railways were therefore built as completing the main system, only on a cheaper scale. He added that if a country had the same complete main railway system as Belgium he would unhesitatingly advise the adoption of the Belgian system of light railways rather than the French. The Bill of the Government would, of course, provide for either of these two plans being adopted. It would afford facilities for making branches of existing railways upon a large scale, but with a different gauge if it were desired, and also for making such railways as the Belgian. In Belgium these railways were made at an average cost of about £3,000 a mile including rolling stock; in France the cost was very much greater. It was objected that Belgium was a flat country, and the system which was possible there would not be possible in a hilly country. But part of Belgium was hilly; and he found there that the light railways travelled with the greatest ease up gradients of one in 22 and round the sharpest curves. The development of this system in Belgium had been very great. Within the last 10 years over 1,000 miles of railways had been completed and were in working order; and he was told that projects were now under consideration for another 1,000 miles, which would probably be approved and in operation in a short time. In Belgium the money for the light railways was provided by the State, the province, the 740 commune, and outside subscribers in conjunction. In 1890 the average profit returned was 2.65 per cent.; in 1891, 2.75 per cent.; in 1892, 2.76 per cent.; in 1893, 2.80 per cent.; and in 1894, 2.90 per cent. In 27 per cent. of the whole the average profit returned was 3½ per cent. But these results, progressively good, did not represent the whole of the case. In connection with these railways there were two interests—that of the subscribers and that of the companies which worked the lines. The companies handed over to the subscribers a certain proportion of the gross receipts, and from the remainder derived their own profit. As showing the great advantage that accrued to the country districts by these lines, it was interesting to note that the two provinces where the interest paid upon the outlay was the lowest were pushing for a larger mileage of railway than before. How did the Government propose to extend the advantages he had described to Great Britain? The main difficulties hitherto had been two—first, the unwillingness of Parliament to authorise the compulsory acquisition of land otherwise than by a scheme directly approved by Parliament itself, and the consequent cost of obtaining approval. The second difficulty had been the expense of the requirements for the public safety enforced by the Board of Trade. As regarded the first difficulty he had alluded to, he hoped Parliament would not insist upon keeping in its own hands the sanction of schemes for this useful purpose, and that owners of property would be content with a full, exhaustive, but simply organised inquiry without insisting on an appeal to the Legislature in a matter so largely beneficial to their own interests. As regarded the requirements for the public safety, the public must make up their minds that, if they desired to have these railways, they must of themselves exercise an amount of caution, and not insist upon those elaborate precautions which, on trunk lines, where trains were run at great speed, might be necessary, but which in other countries had been abandoned where great speed was not desired. So the Government proposed not to require the sanction of Parliament to the compulsory acquisition of land for the purpose of these light railways. Under their Bill a scheme for 741 the construction of light railways might be proposed by local authorities such as a County, Town or District Council, or by a Railway Company, a Tramway Company, a Company ad hoc, or a combination of these. To whom was the scheme to be submitted? In Belgium there was a special tribunal for this purpose, and it was rather remarkable to note that before this tribunal was set up, ten years ago, the Act empowering the construction of light railways was practically inoperative. It was proposed not exactly to follow the Belgian system, but to take a leaf out of their book, and this Bill set up a Light Railway Commission, consisting of three persons, two of whom it was hoped would consent to serve without pay. The Government desired to have on the Commission gentlemen who would act with considerable knowledge of the whole subjects in the interests of the community, and it was not intended that this Commission should be a mere formal Department of the Board of Trade but that it should be a Commission which would not only have these schemes submitted to it, but would give every assistance to local authorities and others in the formation as in the preparation of schemes—giving benevolent assistance in the development of the whole system of light railways. What would be the mode of working of the Commission when a scheme was presented to them? They would have to satisfy themselves that all persons interested had been consulted; they would determine the expediency of the application, elaborate its details, and after consideration of all objections laid before them they would reject the scheme or submit a draft Order for the confirmation of the Board of Trade. As to the action of the Board, they would give notice of the effect of the Order, consider any objections lodged with them, and confirm the Order with or without modification; and the Order when confirmed would have the same effect as if enacted by Parliament. They hoped that in the bulk of cases there would be no necessity for more than one local Inquiry. But they did not shut out the possibility—under circumstances which the Board of Trade might think justified it—of having an Inquiry of a more formal character. The 742 Bill guarded against certain contingencies. It guarded against any attempt to apply the machinery of the Bill to the promotion of great lines of railway. It also provided against lines being made on a cheap and easy system which would unreasonably and improperly compete with existing lines, which had been formed and built under much more costly conditions. Therefore the Board of Trade might reject an order and insist on reference to Parliament—whether by reason of the magnitude of the undertaking, or on account of its effect on existing companies, or, thirdly, for any special reasons which would justify them in so acting. The Lands Clauses Consolidation Act would be incorporated in the Order, but, instead of the difficult and expensive process of deciding as to value under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, all matters in connection with them would be determined by a single Arbitrator appointed by the Board of Trade. As far as the question of public safety was concerned, the Board of Trade was empowered to deal generally in the way of modification with those requirements in their order, and the circumstances of each case would be considered in respect of permanent way, gauge, posts, and brake power. No limitations were contained in the Bill as to any of these requirements, but the Board of Trade would have power to deal with each separate application and the requirements which seemed to be necessary in each case. Power was taken to make other provisions. The House would thus see that the Board of Trade was intrusted with large and wide powers for dealing with all matters of interest in connection with the management and construction of these railways. With regard to finance, it was provided in the Bill that local authorities might themselves construct and work light railways either alone or jointly with other local authorities. It was, perhaps, not generally known that local authorities could not at present make tramways without obtaining Parliamentary powers in some form or other, and even when such powers were obtained, they could not work the tramways except in special cases. This Bill sought to remove those disabilities. It permitted local 743 authorities to subscribe towards the funds necessary to make these light railways, either by taking shares or making debenture loans. Borrowing powers were conferred upon them to enable them to do this. The Government believed that these special facilities for procedure would encourage capitalists to bring forward schemes, and that, as in the case of water supply, gas, electric lighting, and tramways, local authorities would avail themselves of the powers given under this Bill. The Government believed that without State aid from local authorities it would be impossible to obtain the facilities required, and that Parliament might and ought in many cases to join with local authorities in giving financial aid. How did the Bill propose that it should be given? There were one or two ways open to them, e.g., the Bill might guarantee a certain dividend. The Government rejected that system both with regard to Imperial and local money. They did not think the system of guarantees was a sound or economical one, or that railways were as economically constructed or worked as they would be without a guarantee. Therefore the Government rejected that mode, which they believed might entail heavy burdens on the taxpayer and the ratepayer. With regard to the State becoming proprietors, the Government rejected the idea, not without some amount of anxious consideration, for there were arguments to be advanced in favour of the suggestion. They proposed to devote to the objects of the Bill £1,000,000, which would be available in two different ways. One portion would be available for special advances under special circumstances, another would be available for the granting of loans to facilitate the making of these lines. The Bill proposed that an existing railway company should undertake the construction and working of the line. Applications for loans would probably come from districts where it was almost impossible to hope for much assistance either from the local authorities or from outside individuals in the making of lines which were necessary for the carriage of agricultural produce to market. Similar assistance had been given in other parts of the United Kingdom, and they thought that England and 744 Scotland had a right to the same treatment. In the case of large and poor districts the Treasury might take special cognisance of the needs of the case either by a grant or in some other way. Advances of this kind, he was sure the House would agree with him, would have to be considered with extreme caution ["Hear, hear!"] and no step should be taken before careful inquiry had convinced the Treasury that such aid was necessary. He thought it right that the Treasury, when making this advance, should have security given to them by the existing railway company undertaking to make and work the line, as had been done with considerable success, he believed, in Ireland. The other mode which they proposed was that in cases where the local authorities contributed either share or debenture capital to promote a light railway, the Government might contribute the like amount, either in shares or debentures, or both. The total amount contributed by the Treasury must not exceed 25 per cent. of the whole capital required for the making of the line. Two conditions were necessary before the State gave its aid—namely, that 50 per cent. of the capital required should be subscribed by way of share capital, and that 25 per cent. of that capital should be subscribed outside any public authority. The Government must be satisfied that all parties interested in the matter were becoming partners in the undertaking. It had been represented to him that many landowners who desired to subscribe towards the capital required for these railways could not, under the Settled Estates Act, raise the money for the purpose. The Minister for Agriculture would introduce a Bill dealing with that subject enabling landowners to raise money for that object. The Debenture loan of the Treasury would rank pari passu with the Debenture loan of the local authority, and the interest would be fixed at 3½ per cent. These were the proposals embodied in the Bill. It would be seen that they were founded upon the principle of harmonious action on the part of all parties concerned. He hoped and believed that the existing railway companies would be large factors in the success of their proposal, and would recognise that the light railways would 745 become feeders of their own lines. They hoped for co-operation from the road authorities. The interests of the landowners would be adequately safeguarded, and their private rights would not be infringed, nor would these rights, he hoped, be unduly pushed, because, if these light railways were a success, there was no one who would derive greater benefit from them than the existing landowners. [''Hear, hear!"] The Government, therefore, expected their co-operation, and also that of the public, who, he trusted, would consent to some relaxation of the precautions hitherto taken. The Government did not propose this scheme as a remedy for the difficulties with which both the agricultural and fishing industries had to contend, but he hoped it would be recognised as an honest and vigorous attempt to improve the means by which the products of those industries could be brought to market. Whatever criticism might be directed against the Bill, he trusted that at least it would not be said that it was a feeble or halting attempt to deal with a subject of great interest and importance. [Cheers.]
§ MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said, he was glad that Her Majesty's Government should have put this Bill among the first measures of the Session. He had listened with great interest to the very clear statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and he heartily wished that the premature conclusion of the Parliament of 1895 had not prevented this matter having been sooner dealt with by the Bill which Her Majesty's late Government introduced. The discussion of the matter which took place 16 months ago, when the Board of Trade conference met, had continued in the Press ever since, and this would have prepared the public mind to welcome a measure of this kind. As the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out, there were many districts which were still without facilities for the transport of agricultural products; we were, in fact, as much behind other countries in regard to this means of transport as we were in advance of them in regard to our system of main railway lines. He thought it was now generally admitted that no one could say that such a measure as this could give all the help which 746 British agriculture unfortunately needed at this moment. [''Hear, hear!'] Still, he felt, with the present condition of agriculture and the sympathy which they all felt for the agricultural population, every possible remedy and palliative should be applied by Parliament. [Cheers.] If there was no other reason to justify this, one might be found in the fact that it was the oldest industry in the country. There was one other matter to which he would refer. It was that one of the evils of the times was the undue growth of large towns, and these light railways might encourage people to migrate from the large centres of population to small villages and increase there the demand for labour and increase the markets, and at the same time the health of the people, by allowing them to live in the pure air of the country. [''Hear, hear!"] In the subsequent discussion he hoped this point would attract attention. The problem was, how were they to cheapen the working of these railways? He was glad to see that the Bill dealt with the points (1) of the reduction of the cost of obtaining legal sanction to the making of the line; and (2) the cheapening of the requirements as to the construction and working of the line. No Bill would be adequate if these were omitted. On the first point the Government proposed to solve it in a different way from the Bill of last year. As regarded the second point—the cheapening and the dispensing of certain requirements—the Government were in the same position as the late Government were—such as the strength of the staff, the provisions for interlocking points and signals. All these were matters with regard to which great economy in the construction and the working of the line might be effected. Some one had said, utilitas publica periculum privatum. There were cases where there would be a certain amount of risk, and there were level crossings where there was danger; but he believed on the whole that the experience of this and other countries was satisfactory. In the United States they might see trams running at the rate of four miles an hour through populous districts, and children playing about, and yet few accidents happened. He should not be far wrong in saying that 747 this Bill differed from the Bill of last year in three points—(1) in the creation of a Light Railways Commission; (2) in the power given to local authorities; and (3) the giving of a subsidy from national sources.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said, that he thought the Bill of last year provided that the local authority should be authorised to grant a subsidy.
§ MR. BRYCE
said, he had the best reasons for saying that the difficulty as to a subsidy in the Bill of last year would not have been considered as fatal to the Measure brought forward if there had been an opportunity of proceeding with it. The objection to it was on the part of a few Members. [''Hear, hear!"] He should address himself to the three points referred to. As to the Light Railways Commission, he thought that was a proposal which might be fairly considered by the House. The Commission was to consist of two unpaid Members and a paid Commissioner. He thought the power would fall into the hands of the permanent paid Member, and ho would become a sort of light railway dictator. He did not desire then to express any hostile opinion; he only said the point would deserve very careful consideration. As to the next point, they were perfectly willing, when they brought in their Bill, to give the local authorities the power to make, work, and subsidise the lines. The warnings they received—they had not the advantage of a majority of 150 at their back—were to the effect that they should introduce as little controversial legislation as possible. He did not feel any objection to allowing the local authorities to subsidise the lines provided proper safeguards were taken. Then as to the Imperial subsidy, those who came forward with a gift always had an indulgent House, and therefore he should not be surprised if this proposal was received with favour. They must remember, however, that they were inaugurating a perfectly new policy. An appeal was sometimes made to the practice of continental countries, but in all countries of the continent the State had always taken a much more active part in railway construction than it had done here, and in many instances it was the owner of the railways. One of the causes of the greatness of our railway 748 system was that we had relied so much upon private enterprise. Our railways, made at immense cost, were at present enjoying great prosperity, and therefore, he thought, we ought to be loath to embark on the new policy of State railways. He hoped before this proposal was approved by the House, if it was ever approved, these considerations would be very carefully weighed and set against those temporary temptations which were no doubt strongly felt by a good many of his hon. Friends. Besides our hereditary policy in the matter, there was another point worth attention, and it was that the entry of the State would necessarily be a check to voluntary action. Last year when the late Government introduced this Bill they had every reason to believe that the great railway companies were prepared to make these lines without any subsidy. He did not say they would have made them everywhere, but he knew that in many parts of the country—in thinly populated and purely agricultural districts—several of the great trunk railway companies were prepared to make branch lines which would have been of great benefit to the agricultural community. Local landowners and local public spirited-minded men of the towns were preparing to take advantage of the Bill and to enter into arrangements with the great railway companies under which lines would have been made, but if the Government promised a subsidy from the Exchequer to the railway companies it was quite plain that no company would make a line without getting a subsidy if they saw the slightest chance of getting one. Therefore, so far, this plan would operate actually as a discouragement to the action which railway companies would otherwise have taken on their own accord. He did not deny there might be cases even in England where the precedents of Ireland and Scotland might fairly be followed and where a railway company might possibly be entitled to get assistance for the making of a line. There might be cases in Wales and in some of our most thinly populated and poorest tracts of country where claims similar to those which were advanced for some parts of Ireland and the Islands and Highlands of Scotland might be put forward; but the House would recollect that the Irish and Scotch cases were not 749 put forward as matters of general policy, that they were advocated, both in 1883 and 1889, as exceptions to the general policy of the country, and were not, it was said, to be taken as general precedents. Light railways were advocated for Ireland and the congested districts of Scotland because there there was an undue accumulation of population and wages were scarce and low. Those were considerations which could not be advanced, speaking generally, for England—["Oh!"]—not generally and in parts of England where agricultural distress was greatest. He supposed that Essex was the county in England where agricultural distress was perhaps as severe as it was anywhere. He supposed there was no county in England where so large a part of the arable land had gone out of cultivation; but clearly the conditions which applied to the congested districts of Ireland and Scotland did not apply to Essex. He did not know whether the Bill would enable money to be advanced to the Great Eastern Railway Company for the construction of light railways in Essex.
§ MR. RITCHIE
Railway companies who can borrow at 2¾ per cent. in the open market are not likely to come to us for money at 3½ per cent.
§ MR. BRYCE
said that, if the Bill would apply to Essex, he could only say the circumstances were entirely unlike those of Ireland and Scotland, where money was advanced on the grounds that the special conditions of the population required it. They must look upon the proposals of the Government as constituting a new point of departure for England which might be followed up much more largely afterwards. In the case of grants of money from the public Treasury, the beginning was always comparatively small. The right hon. Gentleman proposed now to allot only a million sterling. That was a sum which was more likely to stimulate than to satisfy the appetite for the creation of light railways, and the right hon. Gentleman and his successors would find themselves pressed very soon to enlarge the amount. He did not believe that, if the grants were to be 750 confined to instances in which a case similar to that made on behalf of Ireland or the Islands and Highlands of Scotland could be made, the demands of the bulk of the English agricultural population would at all be satisfied; and on the other hand, if they were to be extended to the relief of agricultural districts generally, one million would be altogether inadequate. He would not dwell upon another aspect of the subject, that was the political objection which applied to grants of money from the public Treasury. They could hardly estimate how far the dangers of political pressure had been guarded against until they saw the particular safeguards with which the Bill proposed to surround the grant of public money, but it would be a serious matter if grants of public money were made in such a way as to enable competing localities and competing railway companies to come to the Treasury and endeavour to apply pressure, whether privately or publicly in the House, to give them grants out of a comparatively small sum like a million sterling. Where there were a great many claimants, it was perfectly obvious a new element of difficulty and danger would be introduced. He would not, at this stage, discuss any further the provisions of the Bill, but content himself with expressing the hope that the House would not only not follow the lead which the right hon. Gentleman had given it in proposing to abrogate the functions of Parliament, and provide some tribunal to enable these railways to be made, would not only not consent to dispense with the requirements they had hitherto applied to the working of railways, but would also give most careful consideration to the proposal to make grants from the public Treasury, bearing in mind that a case had not yet been made out to show that they were necessary, but that so far as they knew, and had heard from the right hon. Gentleman, there was nothing to show that private enterprise, and the action of the great railroad companies, would not make these light railways without the subsidy which was offered.
SIR W. HART-DYKE (Kent, Dartford)
asserted that no more serious proposals with reference to the future of agriculture in England and Wales had been placed before the House for a great many years. The right hon. Gentleman 751 the Member for Aberdeen who, not unnaturally, was a little jealous of this Bill, had endeavoured to show that in one or two respects only the measure differed from the Bill which he introduced last year. He did not know that ever any two measures were more dissimilar. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to have a great terror of the proposal of a subsidy from the public purse, and argued that such a proposal had only been made in cases where a great emergency had arisen. When would the right hon. Gentleman, and those who sat around him, appreciate the fact that for many years past there had existed, not only a local, but a great national emergency as regards the present deplorable state of agriculture. [Cheers.] He admitted there was novelty in the present proposal, but if ever there was an emergency which deserved novelty, which deserved a little courage on the part of a Minister and of Parliament, that emergency was with us today. He congratulated the Government on this bold move on behalf of a great industry, and he asked those hon. Friends of his who had expressed some dislike of the scheme to set up light railways, to recollect that the proposals contained in the Bill were wholly permissive in their character. He hoped the scheme set forth in the Bill would be worked in encouragement of, and not in antagonism to the existing railway companies. ["Hear, hear!"] It would be found to be all important, not only to local authorities, but to those of the Board of Trade, that in the working of such a measure efforts should be made to fasten the scheme as far as possible on the present railway system. The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to dread that, under the system proposed, subsidies would be handed over to the great railway companies by the State. But those companies had long since discovered that the best way of promoting their interests was to extend their lines and thus increase their traffic and receipts for transit of goods. ["Hear, hear!"] For this reason he was confident the great companies in the country would meet the scheme of light railways in a liberal spirit—in fact, that they would give every assistance to it without regard to the subsidies from the State, and with the view of extending their own systems and traffic. One 752 admirable element in the scheme foreshadowed by the right hon. Gentleman was that it was essentially elastic in its character, and he hoped that feature of the scheme would be utilised to the fullest extent, so as to bring it into working, as far as possible, with the existing lines. In view of the state of trade in the country, and especially in view of the extremely depressed condition of agriculture, some scheme of this character was absolutely necessary, and he believed that if the Bill was adopted and energetically carried out, full advantage being taken, where necessary, of the elasticity of the proposals, it might be made to confer great advantage on the country, especially on the particular counties in which there was exceptional distress. He admitted that there was somewhat of novelty in the financial proposals of the Measure, and that it might be a wrong principle to hand over the money of the State to a poor locality to make a light railway without asking that locality to rate itself to a certain amount in order to prove its interest in the scheme, but he thought this difficulty might be overcome under the elastic conditions of the Measure. In many of those localities the landowner would be only too ready, for his own sake as well as for the interests of the district, to materially assist in the carrying out of a scheme of light railways by taking advantage of the Settled Estates Act. Living in a county to which a scheme of the kind proposed would be of the utmost value, he could not help rising to heartily thank the Government for bringing in the Bill, and he would ask hon. Members, to whatever Party they belonged, to remember that the question could not be tortured, in any sense, into one of a Party character. [Cheers.] Many of them had been engaged for a long time in Conference considering the adoption of various schemes of light railways, and at least one fact had been made clear—that there was a unanimous feeling among men of all Parties that some scheme of the kind would be of immense value to the country, and especially to Wales. He earnestly hoped the Session would not be allowed to slip by without the proposed measure being carried. [Cheers.]
§ MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)
said, the subject was one to which he had given a great deal of attention of late, and he had come to the conclusion that, not only from an engineering, but a business point of view, it was necessary that if light railways were to be constructed in such an industrial country as England, it was advisable that they should be worked by the existing railway companies. It was all very well to say that light railways meant narrow gauge and lighter rolling stock, but they could not convey agricultural produce to market upon such railways without transhipping goods on to the broader gauge lines, and the cost and difficulty of this would be great. It was on that ground that he believed the proposed light railways would have to be worked by the existing great railway companies. There was no doubt that a system of light railways was required in this country, and he was glad that the President of the Board of Trade had brought in such a socialistic Measure. ["Hear, hear!" and laughter.] He did not think the pecuniary aspect of the question should be raised at all. The money required would be spent for the purpose of the public good, and, therefore, all Radicals should vote for the Measure. The right hon. Gentleman said that those railways would cost £3,000 per mile, but that would depend on what was paid for the land, and he would have to watch the matter very closely to make sure that the sum he had named was not exceeded. Another aspect of the case which struck him was that he did not think they could allow County Councils, who would generally be found to have interested parties among their members, to settle this matter without a final reference; and when a County Council came to propose a light railway through a county, the true solution would be to leave the matter of cost to some independent authority. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that there should be a Light Railway Commission, composed of gentlemen free from all local influence and independent of all political bias. He was glad the Government had introduced such a Measure, and he hoped there would be no cavilling over a paltry million of money for such a purpose. The more railways we had in the country the better, and what had startled 754 him was the lateness of Great Britain in promoting a scheme of light railways. He hoped there would be no objection to the Bill on the Opposition side of the House.
§ SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.),
said the case of Wales in this matter was exactly on all fours with that of the Highlands of Scotland and Ireland. He was perfectly certain that, without some financial support from the Treasury, these light railways which were expected to benefit the poorer agricultural districts so much, would altogether fail of their purpose.
§ MR. A. F. JEFFREYS (Hants,) Basingstoke
congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on having the pleasure of introducing such a Measure, which would be a source of gratification not only to the depressed agriculturist but to the country generally. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen said there was riot much difference between his Bill and the present Bill. The whole difference was in the subsidy which the Government was going to give to these light railways. This made all the difference in the world. The whole thing was a question of money. In depressed counties like Essex and Lincolnshire, and in parts of Scotland, no doubt these light railways would not pay by themselves. In thickly populated districts, where there was a great deal of trade—as in Lancashire—there were light railways at the present time, and they paid very well indeed. It was, however, a totally different thing when they were going to make light railways in the depressed counties. Then they must get a subsidy from the Government. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Gateshead say that he did not grudge this £1,000,000. It was, after all, a very small sum to give to England and Wales. Much greater sums had been given to Ireland. Under the Land Purchase system alone £33,000,000 were given to Ireland, and hundreds of thousands of pounds were given to light railways. Some of them thought it was to be £1,000,000 a year, but they now knew it was only to be £1,000,000 altogether. Still they were thankful for small mercies. He must maintain, however, that in his opinion these light railways would never pay unless they were made feeders 755 to the great systems. If this could be done, he believed it would be a good thing for the country, because they would require less money and there would be more to share in the subsidy. The great difference between light railways in England and in Belgium was, that Belgium was one of the most thickly populated countries in Europe. From a return he found that the receipts from the Belgian railways consisted of 72 per cent. for passenger traffic and only 28 per cent. for the goods traffic. It would be just the reverse here. They wanted their railways to carry goods, and therefore he was afraid they must make up their minds to the fact that the railways would not pay themselves. Still with the subsidy from the Government they might possibly work them in some of the counties. He could not help being rather afraid of the power which the right hon. Gentleman gave to the local authorities to either work the railways or else to subsidise them. He thought it was a very dangerous power because it might be a source of a great waste of money, and they knew that whatever was spent by County Councils or local authorities meant money which was coming out of the rates. Therefore this was a power which ought to be carefully guarded. What he should like to see in the Bill was a clause to enable County Councils to contribute as much as the subsidy from the Government to a particular district. As to the question of the width of the roads, he would like to point out that in foreign countries the roads were very much wider than their own and it was, therefore, a comparatively easy thing to run the railway alongside the road. In England, owing to the narrowness of the roads, this would not be possible. The taking in of an extra strip of land, the levelling of the banks and the taking away of the fences would add very greatly to the cost of the right hon. Gentleman. An hon. Member had expressed the hope that the landowners would not charge too much for the land. He did not think the land would be charged at a very high rent. Indeed in some counties, he had no doubt some of the landowners would give the land in order to attract the railway. He gave a hearty support to the Bill, because he was sure it was an attempt in the right direction.
§ MR. C. T. MURDOCH
(Reading) from the point of view of a railway director, said, that one of the greatest difficulties that the railways had had to contend with was in getting the agricultural produce on to their system from the districts which, at present, were not served by railways. They welcomed the Bill of the Government because they believed it would enable them to do away with this difficulty. Hitherto, the two causes which had prevented railways from extending their system had been the extreme cost of construction, and also the restrictions which the Board of Trade thought it necessary for the safety of the general public to put on the cheap working of the lines. The removal of these restrictions would enable railway companies, if they made these light railways, to work them very cheaply indeed. What was more, the not having to come to Parliament and to spend so much in obtaining an Act, would be an important factor in making these lines cheaply. If he was correct in supposing that £3,000 per mile would be the average cost of the construction of light railways, he believed that the existing railway companies could certainly make equip, and maintain these lines far more cheaply than any other body could do. They had experience; they had the staff; and they would, he thought, be able to use up a great amount of their surplus material in making the lines, and a great deal of the stock which at the present time they could not use on their main lines. He doubted whether it would be wise to have any different gauge with regard to these light railways. Such a difference would, he believed, be very detrimental to the transference of the produce on to the main systems, and would be more expensive. He really did not believe that the making of a narrow gauge would be an economy. On the contrary, the small additional cost that would be incurred in the first instance in making the gauge the same as on the main systems would be amply repaid afterwards. If he understood the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman aright, he reckoned that the £1,000,000 subsidy would enable over 1,200 miles of light railways to be made in the first instance. He did not think that, as a first start, would be at all a bad addition to the means of conveyance of agricul- 757 tural produce. From every point of view he heartily approved of the scheme which had been laid before the House by the Government; and in carrying it out he believed the Government would have the most cordial assistance of the great railway companies.
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (North Hants, E.)
congratulated the President of the Board of Trade upon the general construction of his Bill. The suggestion of a Light Railway Commission was an exceedingly happy one. The first difficulty that would suggest itself in that connection would be that of having two authorities, which might lead to a multiplication of inquiries and expenses; but he imagined that the Commission would be to all intents and purposes an independent authority, that it would be in effect a subordinate Department of the Board of Trade. He wished to impress upon the President of the Board of Trade the necessity of providing that where an independent company started a light railway it should have the right of obtaining through rates and other conditions of access to existing railways with which it formed a connection. He had nothing to urge against the proposals of the Government except that perhaps the House might regard them with some reserve until it was seen how far the rates might be used in any way as a guarantee for the loans advanced.
§ MR. RITCHIE
If the hon. Gentleman means that the local authorities should in any way guarantee interest to the State, no such guarantee is proposed.
§ MR. CHANNING
said, that he must express his dissent from that part of the proposal. It was in his opinion of the greatest importance that when large sums were advanced by the Treasury for local objects, the local authority should be brought into co-operation in some way as guarantors. Many witnesses before the Royal Commission on Agriculture stated that, notwithstanding the depressed condition of agriculture, they were perfectly willing to take upon themselves a guarantee which would fall on the rates. He thought the policy of spending their money in the form of gifts, without any conditions whatever ought, after Irish experience, to be viewed with caution and reserve. With regard to the proposal as a whole, so far as it had been laid before the House, he might 758 say it would have the most cordial support of many Members on his side of the House, and no part of it more than the provision which enabled the County Councils and other local authorities to take a public and active share in promoting these undertakings.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
said, he would hardly have ventured to take part in the Debate, had it not been for one or two expressions that fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that it was only in congested districts in Ireland and in the Highlands of Scotland that these railways were necessary. Representing a large agricultural constituency in the south of Scotland, he might say that this Bill would be hailed with acclamation in that part of the country. There were many districts separated by a long distance from the main systems of railways, and in his own district they had to transport dairy produce 15 or 20 miles to a station. He felt it would be a most important thing to have the usual gauge in order to avoid the necessity for transferring the goods. More damage was done by that process than by any other. He questioned much whether it would be wise or prudent to give uncontrolled powers of borrowing to County Councils. There was great temptation to them to spend money that was not their own, and he rather thought there should be some limit to their borrowing powers. He thought 25 per cent. of the cost would be a proper limit. He believed that these railways might be made along the roads for less than £3,000 a mile.
§ SIR MARK STEWART
said, he had not understood that. With regard to railway companies taking this matter up, he could state from experience that he had gone from company to company, to ask them to make railways running into agricultural districts, and he had always been met with a negative, especially in those times when dividends had been got together with some difficulty. Although 3½ per cent. might frighten them in one sense, he believed that this assistance would make them keener to make and equip these railways. If the Bill had the effect of producing 1,000 or 759 1,200 miles of light railways, this Government would have done a great deal to assist agricultural distress, and what they were doing would be remembered. In consequence of the narrowness of the roads in some parts it would be necessary to make the railways off the roads, but a great deal of the land traversed would be moorland, and fencing would not be required. He thought, therefore, that the regulations as to fencing might be relaxed. Thousands of miles of railway in America were not fenced at all, and it was not likely that many accidents would be met with on the moorlands. He thanked his right hon. Friend very warmly for his proposal which he believed would prove a very useful measure.
MR. M. VAUGHAN DAVIES (Cardigan),
wished to offer his congratulations to the President of the Board of Trade for the generous Bill he had laid before the House. The great question in a poor country like Wales was that of finance, and he was sure that in those districts which would not be able to meet a great expenditure necessary in a matter of this kind, the knowledge that the Government would come forward and help them would be very welcome. He hoped, however, that the question of gauge would be left open, and as regarded signalling and taking care of the public, he thought that they generally took a great deal too much care of the public and themselves. In France a man had to take care of himself, and if he got run over he had to pay the people who ran over him. In Russia also the public had to take care of themselves. Then there was the question of transfer. In North Wales, where there were a few short lines of narrow gauge railway, that difficulty had been proved not to be of any consequence. Some thousands of tons of slates and coal were annually transferred from lines of one gauge to those of another, at a cost of only sixpence per ton. He did not, therefore, think that that could be a bar against the narrow gauge they required for Wales. He welcomed the Bill and intimated that he should be delighted to give the right hon Gentleman who had introduced it every support in his power in order that it might be passed into law with as little delay as possible.
§ MR. C. W. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Hereford)
said it must be gratifying to the President of the Board of Trade to find how thoroughly well appreciated was the message which he had so lucidly explained to the House that evening. Both sides of the House recognised that it was a practical Measure framed on thoroughly bold lines, and that it was an earnest attempt to redeem the pledges given to the agricultural interest by the Government at an early period of their career. When he heard that the right hon. Gentleman had gone to Belgium to see the system of light railways there, he felt that the Government meant business. As was known to many hon. Members, and as was shown by the Blue-book last year, Belgium was par excellence the country of light railways, and it was there that the system was seen to the greatest advantage. The present measure appeared to be compounded of a judicious mixture of the Bill of the late Government and of the system which prevailed in Belgium as far as regarded the financial part of it. The right hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Mr. Bryce) complained that the course followed by the Government in subsidising light railways was contrary to its general policy as regarded this country. The right hon. Gentleman was a little at sea in regard to this matter. For many years Ireland had been subsidised in this way, and last Session there was a discussion with regard to the Government guarantee of interest in respect of a Highland railway. A good deal was heard about differential tariffs and preferential rates on the part of the railway companies, but he did not see why the farmer in Ireland and Scotland should be treated more preferentially than the English farmer. Why was it that the English farmer was placed at a great disadvantage as regarded the rest of the community? He was exposed to foreign competition at the hands of producers who, perhaps, with a soil not so fertile as our own, had yet a virgin soil, and who were able to place their produce on the shores of this country at a very much less cost than the English producer. It was only by reducing the cost or by increasing the yield that the English farmer could compete with his foreign rivals, and one of the ways in which to 761 help him to do this was to reduce the cost of carriage. This was the reason why this Measure would help the English farmer. Something had also been said as to the capital of the railway companies being enormous, but it should be remembered that a great deal of the capital was sunk, and paid no interest. Even if a million were sunk to aid light railways the facilities created thereby would remain as a permanent source of benefit to the general community. He thought, however, that 3½ per cent. was rather a high rate to pay for a Government loan, especially when they considered how cheap money was at the present time. It was interesting to note that the local authorities and the Government practically obtained the only security obtainable, namely, by the debentures. He wished to know from his right hon. Friend whether there would be any provisions in the Bill enabling an existing railway which did not pay, to reduce itself to the condition of a light railway? He had an instance in his mind at that moment—that of a railway which he believed had never paid and which was now kept going almost by the charity of the people in the neighbourhood. There was the line and the rolling stock; and if the railway could be reduced to the status of a light railway, a great deal of the cost of maintenance and of running the railway would be saved, making the line pay in all probability, and benefiting the district generally. If there was no such provisions in the Bill, would the right hon. Gentleman be disposed to favourably consider an Amendment which would practically give effect to this suggestion?
§ MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)
said, he was one of those who supported good legislation from whichever side of the House or political Party it was proposed, and he heartily congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the present measure. It was a step in the right direction. At the same time it did not provide anything like an adequate sum of money from Imperial sources. The Highlands of Scotland alone could easily absorb the greater part of it. The President of the Board of Trade referred to thousands of acres of cultivated land in the south that were three miles distant from a railway station. Why, in the 762 great county he represented he could go 120 miles away from a railway station into the Island of Lewis, but even on the mainland there were populous places 30 and 60 miles distant from any railway. According to the scheme of the President of the Board of Trade, special grants would only be made to existing railway companies that would construct and work a light railway. But no railway company would cross the Minch to construct railways in Lewis. Therefore, that part of the scheme would not work in the Highlands. The question of gauge in mountainous districts, should, he thought, be left to the local authorities. For places like Lewis or Skye, the Long Island or Harris, the narrow gauge might be very well, but in flat districts of the mainland, he was afraid it would be disadvantageous. Reference had been made to the County Councils providing 25 per cent. of the cost, but in the counties in the Highlands the ratepayers were too poor to provide anything like that percentage. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would consider that point. In connection with the acquisition of land, he understood that the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act was to be incorporated in the Bill, but if he was not mistaken, proceedings under that Act were extremely costly, and his fear was that hungry landlords in the north would ask so much money for their land that, instead of the money going to the construction of light railways, a large portion of it would go into the pockets of the landlords and the lawyers. Then with regard to the Light Railway Commission, would these gentlemen have power to call witnesses and to take evidence, and would the costs be so minimised that the money would not be swallowed up by solicitors and barristers and by bringing witnesses to London.
§ MR. WEIR
was glad to hear that. He only hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take care to set aside a large share of the million especially for the poorer districts in the Highlands, in order to give practical effect to the statement of the First Lord of the Treasury that the Highlands would be greatly benefited by the Light Railways Bill.
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
joined in the congratulations which had been most properly given to the right hon. Gentleman, both for the general terms of the Measure and the manner of its introduction. He had some confidence that these light railways would be the means of bringing better times to agriculture. It was not merely a question of traffic to the railways, but that he believed the scheme, when carried out, give a great stimulus to the consumption of agricultural produce in the towns by the working-classes. Light railways would give great facilities for the organisation of the business of farming, a point in which this country was very defective as compared with some countries abroad. They would aid that co-operative effort which was essential, not only for obtaining improvement in carriage rates, but also to the success of the industry itself. The Bill would be further advantageous in that it would facilitate personal locomotion, by carrying town people into the country, and country people into the towns, thus enlarging their acquaintance with the best and most recent methods. To the fishing industry the Bill would be of incalculable value. This would be evident to anyone who could compare Baltimore in Ireland to-day with what it was a quarter of a century ago. Father Davis taught the people what they could do for themselves; and from what they had done no one could doubt what an advantage a tramway would be to a fishing community.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
replied that it was not altogether a question of paying immediately; it was also a question of paying in the future through the immense facilities given to the people. When we considered what had been done by the municipalities of Glasgow and other towns in affording facilities to their people, the question of whether a particular line paid or not was not one that ought to weigh in the first instance. At a fishing village a line could not be a complete success if it communicated with the quay, because transhipment was fatal to the industry. In Yorkshire, at such places as Flamborough, this Bill was looked for with the greatest interest, because it was hoped that this Bill would 764 be the means of resuscitating their industries. He had seen most of the light railways in Belgium and Holland, and the best of them had been provided on the principle of this Bill, that of the triple co-operation of the State, the locality and private enterprise. In a village in Holland he saw a whole street blocked by a train, and a villager said to him "we have to take the rough with the smooth." One of the smooth things connected with light railways and tramways was that workmen engaged in industrial centres like Frankfort could live out on the hills. In the South of France these lines were material feeders to the great railways; but we had also to consider the needs of districts in which there was no railways. It was unfortunate that where they might have been made by the association of private individuals, we had interposed the obstacle of Private Bill legislation or Provisional Order, and we were yet depending upon the Tramways Act of 1870 for the making of light railways. In this country enterprise had been too much hampered by the regulations of the Board of Trade, which did not seem able to keep up with the public wants and had greatly delayed the adoption of the electric light. With respect to railways and the requirements for public safety, the Board was guided very much by public opinion; but he believed those requirements might be relaxed without any real unnecessary public danger. We ought to have stations wherever there was traffic to be obtained. Near turns, level crossings might be dangerous; but in the country trains might well run along the main roads. In America, at one time he was apprehensive of danger, but an American gentleman said to him "In your country you protect people by legislation, but here we teach them to take care of themselves." It was a matter of education, and in the end people were safer in these matters when thrown upon their own care than when they were protected by law. The great principles to be followed in the authorisation and working of the lines must be their simplicity and cheapness. He was disappointed in the change with regard to the authority that was to grant licences, believing that there were advantages in entrusting that matter to the local authority, which had the best knowledge of local needs. Still 765 the scheme proposed was better than that of a Railway Commission to which they were not reconciled by experience. Of course where a local authority took the initiative the licence must be granted by another authority; but to fix upon the Board of Trade was centralisation. However, it was to be hoped that the encouragement and support of the local authority by the people in the neighbourhood, would counterbalance any disadvantage from this feature of the Bill. He noticed that the Lands Clauses Act was to be incorporated in the Bill, but he hoped the Government would find some simpler machinery than jurors, arbitrators, and umpires to assess compensation. He hoped that landlords would realise that it was to their own interest to be reasonable in the matter of compensation, seeing that they would gain indirectly by the development of their estates. ["Hear, hear!"] Owing to the payment of excessive compensation in the past—of from 10 to 100 per cent. for compulsory purchase, our railway system was over capitalised to the extent of 50 per cent., and that was one cause of the excessive rates which crippled agriculture and other industries. The question of State aid had been discussed very temperately, and for one he was not at all afraid of State Socialism. There was a State socialism that was unwise, inexpedient, and extravagant, but there was another State socialism which, by initiating public undertakings, was most valuable in aid of local enterprise. It was impossible to forget the immense services which this country owed to private enterprise, but when undertakings on the Continent were compared with undertakings at home, the great advantage that the power and organisation of the State was to such public projects was at once apparent. The great point they should keep in view was that, while they assisted the poorer districts they should seek to make public works reproductive, and, if possible, paying concerns. He hoped that when the Bill came into force the localities would prove themselves enterprising, and would avail themselves of the advantages offered them to the benefit of agriculture. But he thought the million of money available under the Bill would not be, at all sufficient; and that the proposed rate of interest—3½ per cent.—would 766 have to be reduced They could not expect the localities to pay the Government so high a rate of interest, when they could borrow elsewhere on much easier terms; and he was sure that if that rate was adhered to it would prove a stumblingblock to the project. As the system of guarantees had been discredited by experience in Ireland, he hoped that whatever assistance was given to localities it would be in the form of loans or grants-in-aid. He did not appreciate the precedent set in the case of the Highland Railway. He thought gifts of this kind should be confined to the poorer districts; but his recollection of the Mallaigh railway scheme was that the £30,000 was to be given to one of the richest railway corporations in the Kingdom. The Bill avoided the rock on which the conference of the Board of Trade and the Bill of the late President of the Board of Trade were wrecked. What made that scheme unacceptable to the agriculturists, for whose benefit it was designed, was that under it the State would not advance anything. With nothing, nothing could be done. He was, therefore, glad the right hon. Gentleman had in his Bill avoided that mistake. The right hon. Gentleman had founded his Bill on the excellent principles of liberal aid from the Central Government and substantial guarantees from the districts to be benefited.
§ MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock)
said, there was no doubt that increased railway facilities would prove a great advantage to tenant-farmers, but the House should avoid taking a too optimistic view of the merits of the Bill in the way of relieving agriculture. The President of the Board of Trade gave an interesting description of the tour of inquiry he made on the Continent during the Recess. He had followed the example of the right hon. Gentleman, and had made some inquiries into the light railway systems of France, Italy and Belgium, but the conclusions he had come to were different from those of the right hon. Gentleman. He was inclined to think that the right hon. Gentleman took too optimistic a view of the advantages of light railways, and he thought, also, that the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of the cost to the localities was altogether 767 too low. The right hon. Gentleman gave the House his experiences in Belgium only; and said nothing about France, Holland, Germany and Italy. There were light railways in those countries as well as in Belgium; and the experience of those countries was that, while light railways were of great advantage to agriculturists, they cost money. What he wanted to impress upon the House was that they should not expect that the railways would be no burden to anybody, for a burden they undoubtedly would be either to the local rates or to the Imperial Exchequer. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for South Islington as to the importance of making the undertakings paying concerns, if possible. But it should not be forgotten that they might be extremely advantageous to the country, without being paying concerns, and it was in the sparsely-populated districts where they would pay less that they would be most useful for agricultural purposes. The right hon. Gentleman laid great stress on the case of Belgium, as showing that the railways could be made to pay. But in Belgium they paid under 3 per cent., and as the conditions of that country were totally different from the conditions of England in regard to population—the number of inhabitants to the square mile in Belgium being 514, whereas in this country the number of inhabitants to the square mile was only 503—Belgium was, therefore, not a fair comparison with England. He would prefer the House to say: "We believe these railways will cost money, but they will do good to agriculture, and it is necessary that that industry should be assisted." Let them not lead the public to suppose that they were going to relieve agriculture without costing anybody anything whatever. To come to the details of the Bill, the two most important questions to be determined were—who was to be the body which was to be made responsible for selecting the localities in which railways were to be made; and who was to pay for the railways? He was glad to notice that not only the County Councils, but the District Councils were to have a voice in the determination of the question as to where the railways were to be constructed. But he thought the proposal that the railway companies 768 should also be allowed to send up their advice to the Railway Commissioners on that point deserved the most careful consideration, in order that the companies might be effectually prevented from making use of the money of the State to advance their own selfish purposes. He also considered that the mistake made in Ireland at the instance of the railway companies, in adopting a large gauge for the light railways should be avoided, and that they should insist that the railways should be constructed on the small gauge. He noticed that the preventives which, in the opinion of the President of the Board of Trade, had checked the construction of light railways in England had been, mainly, the necessity for going to Parliament for powers and the expenses for public safeguards. In his opinion there was another preventive far greater than those, and that was the cost of land. In many cases landowners had refused to sell the land unless they got an exorbitant price for it. This would be prevented to a certain extent by the provisions of the Bill; but he was sorry that that antiquated measure, the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, which had been the root of all offence, was to be made use of. It would have been better to get rid of the old ideas of compensation altogether as a guide to the Board of Trade Arbitrator which was to be appointed; and in these arbitrations new considerations ought to be brought in. For instance, not only should the damage inflicted on the landowner be considered, but also the benefit to be conferred; and there should be a graduated scale. While great damage might be done to a small owner, to the owner of thousands of acres good was almost invariably the result. The sum which the Treasury was to provide would soon grow to large proportions. On both sides there was a desire that more should be given, and it would be better to face the question at once. If anything were really to be done, one million was not enough. It would only permit of tentative efforts. And surely the Government might provide more than the proposed 25 per cent. of the whole sum required. In Belgium the State provided 27 per cent. It was laid down in the Bill that if extra facilities were to be given by the State for any line, it must 769 be worked by one of the large railway companies. That was a blot on the Measure. There were districts in which light railways were most required, and in which there was no large railway company able or willing to work them. Apart from this, the Measure as a whole was a good Measure, and it would receive support from both sides of the House. As an agricultural Member he accepted it as an honest attempt to remedy the depression in agriculture.
§ MR. JASPER MORE (Shropshire, Ludlow)
said that great interest was taken in this question in his constituency, and he wished to make his acknowledgments to the right hon. Gentleman for the introduction of the Bill. Agriculturists would have learnt this lesson from the Debate—that those questions which were well organised outside the House first, and in connection with which pains were taken to bring about an agreement among those interested in them, had the best chance of railway precedence and success. On the Committee which sat on this subject, under the chairmanship of Mr. Storey, he acted as Secretary, and the first act was to apply to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to be supplied with information as to the method of financing these lines in foreign countries; and he could therefore appreciate the value of the President of the Board of Trade's action in personally visiting France and Belgium. Acknowledgments were due to the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. K. Rollit), who had organised the Light Railways Association, with Mr. Walter Davies. Laudatory to the President of the Board of Trade as the speeches in the Debate had been, the right hon. Gentleman could not yet appreciate fully how deeply grateful many mineral as well as agricultural districts would be for this Measure. As to the acquisition of land, there might have been at one time a prejudice against railways among landowners. But nowadays it would be hard to find an instance of a landowner who would not be perfectly willing to give his land for nothing, if there were any chance of these lines being made.
§ DR. TANNER
congratulated the President of the Board of Trade on having brought in a Bill, on behalf of the hon. Gentlemen who sat behind him. It 770 was always possible to discount nearly nine-tenths of the philanthropy of these schemes. Grattez le Russe et vous trouverez—he would say the landlord. A short time ago a Conservative friend of his, who was not very well off, told him that a light railway was to be run through his land. This gentleman, so far from being displeased, expressed the hope that means would also be found for making a junction on his land. Much was said about land being given for these purposes, but when it came to the point it was found that the land had to be bought, and too often dearly bought. Supposing a line of light railway were run through the estate of some great Yorkshire landlord, owning perhaps 20 miles of country, what could it be but a benefit to that landlord? Of course, it was all philanthropy; but, ultimately the money found its way to the pockets of the landlords. If the rated occupier were to be most heavily taxed, the taxation would fall upon the poorer portion of the community which was served by the line. Therefore it was most necessary that the area of taxation should be fairly and thoroughly adjusted. These things created anomalies. The injustice was appreciated in the long run, although it might not be recognised at first. Out of the same mouth proceeded blessing and ''the other thing,'' and they had to try and deal with these matters satisfactorily for every one concerned. The money proposed by the Bill to be devoted to these light railways was altogether too little. Then in nine cases out of ten these light railways when carried out nearly always fell into the hands of existing railway companies. An hon. Member who was interested in the Great Western Railway Company of England had given this light railway project his blessing. He said it would be a "feeder" to his line. If any of these light railways should turn out to be feeders to the existing great railways those railways should be called upon to take the incidence of any taxation that might possibly be brought about, off the backs of the poorer people. [''Hear, hear!"] "Once bitten twice shy.'' He knew the difficulties these light railways had caused in Ireland, and having seen the effect of them there—they were, it was true, to be introduced under a rather different system in England 771 —he asked the President of the Board of Trade to kindly consider some of the points he had urged in this Debate. Being an Irish Member he was not called on for any remarks [laughter], but he offered them in fulfilment of his duty, in the sincere hope that the Measure would prove to be beneficial.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he was grateful to the House for the manner in which it had received the Bill. He had made a note of the various suggestions that had been made in the course of the Debate, and he would give them his best consideration.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ritchie, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Walter Long, and the Lord Advocate; presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Monday next. [Bill 94.]