Motion made, and Question proposed—
That a sum, not exceeding £26,247, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1898, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of Public Works in Ireland.''
§ *MR. P. J. POWER (Waterford, E.)
commented on the action of the Office of Works in regard to the Waterford, Dungarvan, and Lismore Railway Company, and referred to the large sums which had been contributed by the late Duke of Devonshire on the construction and furtherance of the line. This line was opened for traffic in 1878, the share capital was £280,000, and the loan capital £113,333. This undertaking cost a great deal more than the estimate. The total cost of construction came to £478,000. The late Duke of Devonshire contributed £71,280 to the share capital of the company, as well as subsequent sums to a considerable amount. But for the enormous sums he had advanced, and the deep interest he took in Ireland and in his property there, the line would have been absolutely derelict. The County Grand Jury of Waterford pledged the county cess—a rate to which it should he remembered they did not at all contribute—to the extent of £14,000 a year. It was said at the time that this guarantee would never be called upon. But what had happened? The line had been built 22 years, and during all those years the ratepayers had been paying £14,000 a year to provide the shareholders with their dividends; a most monstrous taxation considering that the people who pay had had no voice whatever in the imposition of the tax. In the barony in which he lived the tax amounted to 11½d. in the pound, and in the adjoining barony it was 1s. 3½d. in the pound. Under these circumstances 1481 he maintained, considering that the ratepayers had paid for the last 22 years £308,000 in the shape of the guarantee, and that they were still liable for another 18 years to pay this £14,000 a year, or a lump sum of £252,000, before any action was taken by the Treasury, it was only just and right that their wishes should be consulted. But the ratepayers who partly owned the line had been treated in the most extraordinary way by the Board of Works. The Board had an inspection of the line eight years ago, and the Report made by the inspector was favourable to the management of the line. In the spring of this year, however, an engineer went down without notice, went over the line and examined it thoroughly and reported to the Board. The Board was asked to give a copy of t he report of the inspection to the local directors. They refused, stating that it was a confidential document; but, they added:It does not appear from the Report that the management of the line was in any sense defective, and no improvements would be suggested by a perusal of the Report.Nevertheless the Board communicated with Mr. Curry, the agent of the Duke of Devonshire in London, that it was their intention to supersede the local director with a director of their own, and it was only at the request of the Duke of Devonshire that this contemplated action was communicated to the local directors. It was it curious thing that if there was any fault to be found with the management of the line those who were managing it should not be made acquainted with what was wrong. Yet he had been informed that the report of the inspector was submitted without hesitation to the directors of the Rosslare and Fishguard Railway Company, who were said to be in negotiation for the purchase, of the line. The tax for the maintenance of the line amounted to 11d. in the pound on the county ratepayers of the County of Waterford, and to 8d. in the pound on the ratepayers of the City of Waterford. This tax pressed very heavily on the ratepayers of what was a very poor county. It was to avoid that heavy taxation that an Act was passed in 1883 guaranteeing from the Treasury 2 per cent. if there was a local guarantee of 4 or 5 per cent. to aid in the construction of railways in Ireland. He maintained that the ratepayers 1482 of the County of Waterford should participate in the advantages of that legislation. The line in question did not differ materially front lines in various parts of the country which had been helped by the contribution from the Treasury. It might be said that there was no congested district in Waterford, but if there were no such districts in the sense of the Act there were districts which were exceedingly poor. In the Union of Dungarvan there were large districts inhabited by people whose valuation did not exceed £5, and in the Lismore Union the total number of valuations were £4,400, or which £3,200 were under a valuation of £10 a year. Then there was a great deal of waste land in the county of Waterford. The total area of the county was 461,552 acres, and no less than 123,742 acres were waste or under water, so that there was nearly a third of the county waste. It might be said that the interests of the ratepayers would be carefully looked after by the Treasury, but those who had any experience of the Treasury in Ireland could have no confidence whatever in them. After very little consultation the Treasury intended to dispose of the line to some company which the ratepayers knew very little about. He could not understand why there should be such hugger-mugger about those consultations. The ratepayers of Waterford had as large an interest in the line as the Treasury had, and the right hon. Gentleman was bound by the promise he had made to a large and influential deputation to place before the ratepayers of Waterford what his intentions were in regard to the line before any action was taken. Under the Act of 1883 the ratepayers would have been entitled to £8,000 a year towards paying their guarantee, and if the line had been constructed a few years after 1883 they would been entitled to some of the free gifts that were given from the Imperial Exchequer for the construction of railways in Ireland. He thought it was too bad that the people of Waterford should be debarred from participating in the benefits of that legislation. The Duke of Devonshire had consented to forego his entire claim of.£70,000 if the Treasury would forego their claim of £93,000. The directors of the line had met, the representatives of the ratepayers and had offered them four out of the 1483 nine seats on the Board of Directors, and whatever the line earned over its working expenses.
§ *DR. COMMINS (Cork, S.E.)
, said he he wished to acknowledge the courtesy of the Secretary of the Treasury, but he thought he could show the right hon. Gentleman that he had been led astray with regard to the case of Kinsale. The Board of Works were responsible for the present impasse. They had dealt with the town as though it wished to repudiate its debts, and there was no ground for such an idea. £6,500 was to be borrowed from the Board of Works for the purpose of constructing a harbour. The Board of Works undertook to do the work, and when it was completed, in 1885, it was found that the cost was over £21,000, or more than £3,000 above their own estimates, and the debt which the local authorities had undertaken, instead of £6,500 as they expected, had been increased to nearly £12,000—a burden which had proved entirely beyond their resources. The population of Kinsale at the last census was 4,600, and the gross valuation was £5,574, while the practical valuation was £5,000, or only £1 1s. 2½d. per head of the population. The enforcement of the claims of the Board of Works had been most ruinous to the town. The rates had been made very burdensome, and nearly all the shipping had been driven from the port by the heavy harbour dues entailed by the debt. In the meantime the fishing trade had gone down. In 1885 there were 876 boats using the pier, and in 1890 there were only 91. Yet the Board of Works had exacted the arrears of the debt by appeal to nearly every court in the land, piling up large bills of costs by the way. Though £5,958 had been paid off the original debt of £12,000, the outstanding claim was only £1,000 less than the claim of 1885. A collector of Customs had been appointed, and also a collector of the port duties, under the Receiving Order of the Court. This collector did what he had never heard of being done elsewhere—instead of taking the usual bond for the payment of the dues, he had seized vessels and detained them till payment was made. The result was that captains of vessels dare not come near the port. If the Secretary of the Treasury would consider the matter he would see that this was not a question in which the 1484 Harbour Commissioners or the Town Commissioners were personally concerned, for all they were trying to do was to stand between the Board of Works and the cruel pressure upon poor people who could not pay. If the Treasury would remit the whole amount of the loan, they would not be guilty of an extreme piece of generosity; at all events, he would ask the Secretary to the Treasury to do something in order to prevent the ruin that threatened the port.
MR. T. M. HEALY
understood there was a promise by the Irish Secretary that a settlement would be made upon this occasion with regard to the Irish railway policy of the Government. With regard to the Irish Board of Works, of course it was natural for the Irish Secretary to appoint a Scotchman at the head of the Department. The Irish Board of Works, so-called, consisted of one Englishman, one Scotchman, and one Irishman. It was in reality a branch of the British Treasury. He had long considered what ought to be done with the Irish Board of Works, and he was prepared to make a suggestion of a practical kind. There was a gentleman for some years very favourably known in this House as an obstructor. He was now in "another place," and would make, he could not help thinking, a capital head of the Irish Board of Works—he referred to Mr. Jabez Balfour. [Laughter.] Notwithstanding all the millions it had had the expenditure of, it could not point to a. single creditable undertaking. Reference had been made to the action of the Custom House officer at Kinsale, who had very harshly put in force the law against the local people, but one little thing had not been mentioned—namely, that the Government, as a reward to this officer for his stringent action, had transferred him to Hartlepool at an increased salary. Now, apropos of the Waterford, Dungarvan, and Lismore Railway, Irish Members had not much to say of the Duke of Devonshire, when he sat in this House as Lord Hartington, but if any man on the Treasury Bench would show him a letter from the Duke to the Treasury saying he was perfectly satisfied with the proposed action of the Treasury, he should be quite satisfied also. If the Duke said he was satisfied, he was quite sure a fair thing would have been done. A shark of an attorney ran a Bill through this 1485 House and the House of Lords saddling Waterford with a guarantee of £14,000 per annum, and the first thing the ratepayers knew of it was that they were liable for the guarantee. Lord Redesdale, in consequence of that scandal, passed a Standing Order making it impossible for any private Bill to pass without the previous sanction of the different local bodies down to the Boards of Guardians. The county had had to find that money for the last 22 years. The Duke of Devonshire provided out of his own pocket first £70,000, then another £70,000, and then again, out of his own pocket, made a line from Lismore to Fermoy. He could say that the Devonshire family had taken a real, practical, and paternal interest in the care of this county of Waterford. For every sovereign the British Treasury had spent, the Devonshire family had advanced two. Not only had they found the sovereigns, but they had provided the rolling stock. And what was the position to-day? The Shylock of the British Treasury came down and proposed to sell out the line, while the Duke of Devonshire, whose family had spent, one way and another, close on a quarter of a million on the line, was left absolutely without a fraction to show for his public-spirited enterprise. Was it not a remarkable thing that a Member of the British Cabinet should have his interests looked after by the representatives of the Irish Benches? [Laughter.] The Duke was in. the position of being a member of the Cabinet, and he could not say a word to defend his own interests against the Treasury, because his interests were those of the locality, and because he had practically made the line. One proposal was to sell the line to the Great Western Midway of England, and another proposal was to sell it to another English company which consisted of the Town Clerk of Birmingham, behind whom was the London and North Western Railway Company, and the generosity of the Town Clerk was shown in the promotion of a Bill on which the name of the Secretary to the Treasury figured in large print to deprive the local pilots of Wexford of their pilotage fees All these things had been done behind the backs of the Irish representatives. The Government urged that they were anxious for the interest of the locality. If he thought that the Town Clerk 1486 of Birmingham and his friends had a real plan for making a harbour at Rosslare and giving a live end to the Rossmore line he would support the scheme provided they did not get the £14,000 which the ratepayers of County Waterford had hitherto been paying. But under the Act passed 23 years ago the £,14,000 a year which the taxpayers of Waterford had been paying would he handed over to the Town. Clerk of Birmingham and his friends to further this scheme. It would be better to hand the line over to the Duke of Devonshire and the people of the locality. The least they could expect from the Chief Secretary was that he should act in the position of Devil's Advocate for Ireland against the Treasury; the right hon. Gentleman's point of view should be the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary to the Treasury. The right hon. Gentleman's point of view should be the Irish point of view, and he should try to make the most for his clients. If it was felt that Ireland was a kind of Old Man of the Sea on the back of this country he prayed the Government to lay down the burden. The Irish representatives would take over the country as a going concern. England had governed Ireland for 700 years, and except the erection of poorhouses, police barracks, and lunatic asylums he did not know what England had to show as the result of her government.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
said that this subject was of considerable interest to Ireland, and the incidents described by his hon. and learned Friend had created much hardship to the ratepayers of the district. Twenty-three years ago this extraordinary Act of Parliament was run through Parliament, and the effect of it was that charge of £14,00 a year for 35 years had been imposed on the ratepayers of the county and city in proportion to the particular district through which the line ran. The ratepayers had to pay 5 per cent. on the money advanced. A few years ago when he was on the Leinster Circuit he had on one ocasion to make an application to the Judge not to permit the Grand Jury to refuse to pass a presentment of £.6,000; but under the Act of Parliament the Judge had to decide that the Grand Jury of the City had no option in the matter, and if they did not choose to pass the presentment the Judge had power to 1487 order the money to be paid; and he ordered accordingly. Thus from year to year this state of things had been going on, and he urged that it was important to see to whom this line was to be disposed. He remembered that some years ago there was a scheme for connecting Rosslare with Wexford by rail and connecting Rosslare with Milford by a line of steamers. That scheme was strenuously advocated by himself as counsel for the promoters, with the assistance of his learned Friend Mr. Healy, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (he thought) as strenuously opposed it.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said his own memory was rather better. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, he recollected, demonstrated that the line would be a failure, and that Wexford would be exactly in the same position as the poor city and county of Waterford; and the Grand Jury very wisely refused to guarantee the line. Now it was suggested that this Waterford, Dungarvon and Lismore Railway was to be sold to some company connected with Birmingham, who would probably run a line to Milford and connect with Rosslare by water. But when they got to Rosslare they would have to get this line through to Wexford; and they would find the same difficulties which the engineers at the time of which he had spoken demonstrated to the Grand Jury of Wexford. They proved that the thing could not be done in effect, and if this bargain was carried out, the result would be that this wretched railway would continue to be the failure it. had hitherto been, and the ratepayers would have to be paying 5 per cent. for the next fifteen years or whatever the time might be. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman who had the conduct of Treasury matters in that House, would take all these things into consideration; and he hoped, whatever was done, that the line would not be disposed of in such a manner as to leave no chance of relieving the ratepayers. That was his sole object in troubling the House. If the line were put up to public competition, it might be purchased by some company who would be able to work it to advantage. But in the meantime, he hoped that the 1488 Treasury would not press forward matters in such a way as to render it hopeless for the ratepayers to get rid of this great burden. [" Hear, hear."] There was another matter to which he desired to refer, if it was in order upon this Vote. It was a matter connected with the Richmond District Lunatic Asylum at Dublin. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury had had his attention called to it. The Richmond District Lunatic Asylum was a most important institution, for it was the asylum for the city of Dublin, the county town of Drogheda, and the counties of Dublin, Wicklow, and Louth, all of which districts contributed in proportion to their population. It was an admitted fact that the building was quite inadequate for the number of lunatics sent there. In fact, the overcrowding was becoming a crying grievance, the excess of occupants over accommodation being something startling. The Board of Control or managers of the Asylum had lately bought a site in the neighbourhood of Dublin as a sort of auxiliary asylum, and they were also contracting to erect a very extensive building on the site, the cost of which would amount altogether to very nearly £200,000. For that purpose of course it was necessary that they should raise money. Last year the Board of Control had to contract (for the purpose of building from time to time) a loan from the Treasury amounting to some £78,000 odd. Under a recent Act the Board of Control could go into the public market and getloans on better terms than they could get from the British Exchequer, because under the Local Loans Act the Exchequer were requiring 3½ per cent. interest, whereas in the present state of the money market with Consols at 2¾, it was obvious much better terms could be obtained. What happened? They wanted to redeem the Treasury loan, and they accordingly applied to the Board of Works to ascertain what sum would be required. The Board of Works informed them that, taking the Local Loan Stock at its present price of £114, the sum of £89,613 6s. 11d. would be required to redeem the debt of £78,000. That meant, in other words, that in order to get rid of this debt to the Treasury and go into the open market the Board of Control would have to pay what would 1489 be in the nature of a fine of £11,000 if they wanted to raise money at a lower rate of interest. He wished particularly to call the attention of his right hon. Friend to that matter in the hope that lie would be able to see his way to accept the £78,000 at par, and not make this profit of £11,000 at the cost of the ratepayers of Dublin and the other contributory counties.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
wished to put the main facts of the Waterford and Dungarvan Railway clearly before the House. The railway, constructed under a guarantee given on behalf of the ratepayers, was worked in such a way that the ratepayers were liable to an annual payment of £14,000. They had thus already paid over £300,000, and were liable for £250,000 more. The line also Owed the Duke of Devonshire between £70,000 and £80,000, and the Treasury something like £93,000. A short time ago it became known by a mere chance that the Treasury were about to foreclose, dismiss the directors, and take the management into their own hands, and sell the line. As soon as this became known a strong opposition developed, and the Treasury were induced to postpone action until the people of the locality had time to consider the matter. During the Easter recess the question was considered by the ratepayers and the directors, and a proposal was made to the Treasury which he thought an admirable one, and one that ought to have been accepted on the spot. It was proposed that the ratepayers should in future have four representatives on the board of directors to five representing the shareholders. The Duke of Devonshire, offered to forego the whole of his £70,000 on the understanding that the Treasury would also forego their debt, as they had done in innumerable cases in other parts of Ireland. The result of t his would have been to relieve the ratepayers to the extent of £2,500 or £3,000 a year. There was a further arrangement that at the end of the period covered by the guarantee one-half of the profits of the line should go to the ratepayers only, one-half to the shareholders. The scheme was universally approved in the locality. The only difficulty was with the Treasury; and although the Duke of Devonshire—who had spent a 1490 quarter of a million in the locality—was willing to forego his £70,000, the Treasury refused to forego their £93,000, and their refusal was of the most, decided character. Their action was niggardly and unwise. He understood that the Treasury had not only decided absolutely to refuse the scheme, but were negotiating for the sale of the line to another company. The shareholders was one in which the rate-shareholders was one in which the rate-payers of the city and county would derive large and immediate relief from this enormous tax, and in any scheme for the sale of the line the relief of the ratepayers must be a leading feature. He joined in what had been said by the hon. Member for Waterford County, that there was a great deal of needless secresy about the proceedings which was offensive and unjust to the people most interested, the ratepayers, who had already paid three times as much as was due to the Treasury and were still liable for twice as much as was due. Was it not monstrous that the whole future of the property should be bargained away by the Treasury behind the backs of the ratepayers who had paid this enormous sum, and were liable still? The Grand Jury of the County of Waterford had passed the following resolution:—Before any decision is made by the Treasury the public should be informed as to the proposals of the various railways offering to acquire the line, so that the county and city of Waterford may be enabled to express opinions on the subject.The City Grand Jury had also resolved that—This Grand Jury, representative of the ratepayers of the city of Waterford, views with indignation the grasping and selfish attitude adopted by the Treasury relative to the W.D.L.R. The ratepayers of this city and county have already paid more than three times, and are still liable for more than twice, the amount advanced by the Treasury. The ratepayers are, therefore, by far the largest creditors, and their interests should receive the first and fullest consideration. We, therefore, demand that no sale or transfer of the line be made until the views of the ratepayers have been ascertained. We refuse to recognise that Mr. Hanbury has any moral or equitable right to he sole arbiter of this, to us, vitally important, matter, and we urgently request the assistance of all Irish Members to resist and defeat the arrangement by which the Treasury proposes to sell the line without competition 1491 to a group of English financiers and professional company promoters totally ignorant of the views and interests of those most deeply affected.In addition to these telegrams, he had received numerous others from important representative gentlemen in the City and County of Waterford, protesting against any sale whatever behind the backs of the ratepayers. Of the relative merits of the two schemes of sale he was not able to speak, because he did not know anything about them. But in the City of Waterford, the feeling was strong against the sale to the Rosslare Company, and as between the two schemes of sale Waterford would favour the scheme for sale to the Great Western. The interest of the Great Western would be to promote the trade of Waterford, but the interests of the other company would naturally be to transfer trade to the new port of Rosslare. What he complained of was that those most interested were kept in the dark. The Secretary to the Treasury told an influential deputation which waited upon him on this subject that he was anxious to consult the views and safeguard the interests of the localities concerned. But how was it that those who represented these localities were absolutely in the dark as to the terms. If the right hon. Gentleman could not state them publicly, let him do so privately. He asked him to reconsider his rejection of the scheme of the directors and shareholders of the company and the ratepayers. If he still maintained his former attitude, he (the hon. Member) claimed that before any sale took place the localities and their representatives should have an opportunity of considering the terms and expressing an opinion upon it. This might be the last opportunity of raising the question on the Estimates. An opportunity would be available on the Appropriation Bill, and he hoped That before the Appropriation Bill the Secretary to the Treasury would give full information of the details of the schemes, and not come to any decision upon them until there had been an opportunity of discussing, them in this House. If the negotiations would continue to the end of the Session and the Secretary to the Treasury did not expect to be in a position to discuss them on the Appropriation 1492 Bill, he asked the right hon. Gentleman to promise, before coming to a decision when the Session was closed, that he would consult, in Ireland or in London, the Members representing the various districts concerned, and such leading gentlemen from the localities as they might desire to bring with them. It would be monstrous if, after the Session was over, the sale of this property was effected to one of these English companies without consulting the representatives of the people most largely interested.
§ *THE SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. R. W. HANBURY,) Preston
said he would first of all reply to the question raised with regard to the loans made to the Richmond Lunatic Asylum. There were general rules fixed with regard to the repayment of all such loans, and those rules applied more severely in England than in Ireland. The authorities of the Asylum had power to borrow in the open market, but they found they could obtain better terms from the Treasury, and were anxious to borrow from it accordingly. The rule was that every £100 borrowed should be repaid at the market price of the Local Loans Stock, which was now about £113. But the Treasury were considering whether to allow the Asylum Board to borrow for a short period and repay at the rate of £100 instead of £113, and that he thought would be considerate treatment. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for South-east Cork respecting Kinsale Harbour, no doubt the estimate for the contract was largely exceeded, partly owing to the fact that the local land owners required more for their land than originally estimated, and partly owing to the subsequent failure of the contractor. There were several ways of dealing with this matter. In the first place there arose the question of the reduction of the rate of interest, and upon that he might say that he thought there was some possibility of introducing a Bill dealing with local loans during the present Session, by which it was possible that some relief might be. given. He also admitted that there was something to be said for a reduction in the amount of the loan; but he was under the impression that the Kinsale Town. Commissioners were desirous to avoid all responsibility. If the Town 1493 Commissioners were ready to meet the Treasury as the Treasury was ready to meet them, the difficulty would to a great extent be got over; but the Treasury did not want to deal with a body of Commissioners who desired to shirk their legal responsibility. With regard to the question of the Waterford and Dungarvan Railway there were, as he, understood it, two distinct issues. The first was, ought the Government to forego its loan altogether, and secondly, if not, what was the best thing to be done in regard to the loan. He had already announced that the Government were not willing to forego the loan, though they might be willing to forego the large amount of accumulated interest, which amounted to an extra £30,000 or £35,000. It had been said that they ought to forego the loan in the interest of the ratepayers of the district, and the hon. Member for Louth referred to the fact that some twenty-three years ago the scheme for this line was rushed through Parliament. There was a. great deal of truth in the hon. Member's account of the history of that Measure, but the House must recollect that when this large loan was made to this Company, one of the elements for the consideration of the Treasury was that the guarantee under the Act was assured by the ratepayers of the district.
§ *MR. HANBURY
said that might be true, but he thought that would go towards the repayment of the Government interest.
§ *MR. HANBURY
said that after all the Treasury had not made this a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence. It should be remembered that they had a very good offer indeed front an Irish Company, the Great Southern and Western, which was many thousands higher than anything they were likely to get from an English Company; but that offer they refused simply in the interest of the locality. One would have gathered from one or two speeches that had been made that the amounts hitherto paid had gone into the Imperial Exchequer.
§ *MR. HANBURY
No; but anybody not conversant with the facts would have thought so. After all, why should this amount be totally or even partially remitted? Parliament had drawn a distinct line between the various districts in Ireland which ought, and which ought not to receive a free grant for railways, and this district was not one which ought to receive direct support from the Treasury in that way. The ratepayers gave a guarantee in the interest of the locality because they thought that the district would be greatly benefited by having a good line running through it. What was wanted in this district was efficient management, and a thoroughly good line running through it. Nothing had yet been concluded, and he had always promised that nothing should be concluded until he was able to put himself in communication with those Members principally interested. Two classes had to be considered in this matter, the Imperial taxpayer and the local ratepayer, and they ought, in his opinion, to be considered pari passu. The Treasury had already to a great extent foregone the interest of the Imperial taxpayer by refusing a very high offer for this line. He did not think it was right to state the exact figure of the offer, but it was £20,000 or £30,000 more than they were likely to get anywhere else. Up to a. few days ago the only other Company tendering was the Rosslare Company. They hoped to get Parliamentary powers to make a line running through from Rosslare to Cork, which would be of enormous benefit to the district. Against that there was the fact that that line would be very unpopular in Waterford. A few days ago the Great Western Company approached the Treasury with the object of being allowed to tender—not for purchasing the line, for the Treasury had never proposed to sell it, lock, stock, and barrel, but for purchasing the Treasury's interest in the line, by which neither the shareholders nor the ratepayers would be in a worse position in the future than they were now in. His idea was that as regarded a sale, the ratepayers would be greatly better off. The position then was this. He felt that it was very necessary that there should 1495 be as much competition in this matter as possible, and he was very glad when a second company came in, and at once agreed that no definite offer should be accepted up to Thursday morning next, so that both companies should have an opportunity of tendering. He felt that it was not very likely that, so far as the interest of the Imperial taxpayer was concerned, there would be any great difference between the offers of the two companies. Therefore they were left with only the interest of the locality to consider. Even in the locality there were contending interests to consider. There was the whole county of Wexford to consider, and the district through which the line would run, whose interests would directly clash with the City of Waterford; but he felt that in a matter of this sort, when one of the chief interests at issue was the interest of the locality, the Treasury ought to do as much as they could to gauge the views of the locality, and he would be perfectly willing to put himself in communication with those who represented the ratepayers, or those Members who represented the locality. He should not feel himself bound by their opinion, but he would consult them very fully in the matter, so that by concerted action they might be able to arrive at a decision which would be the best for the locality. He need hardly say that the opinion of the Duke of Devonshire in his character not only of a large shareholder, but as one who had behaved very handsomely with regard to the Lismore line, would carry great weight.
§ MR. J. REDMOND
asked whether the Members representing the localities interested would have an opportunity of consulting with the right hon. Gentleman and of hearing what the rival schemes were. He also wished to know whether he could bring with him one or two gentlemen from Waterford who would put before the right hon. Gentleman the views of the ratepayers?
§ *MR. HANBURY
promised that as soon as the final tenders had been received, he would communicate with hon. Members connected with the district. He would be glad to hear their views and also the views of other gentlemen as the hon. Member suggested.
MR. T. M. HEALY
observed that the right hon. Gentleman had said that he 1496 only intended to sell the Treasury interest in the line, but surely anyone who bought that interest would be able to sell the line as a whole, and whether the Government sold the line or the incoming mortgagee sold it was pretty much the same thing. The whole transaction demanded careful consideration, and there was no reason why the business should be carried through with such dispatch. When a tender had been accepted it would be necessary for the successful company to come to Parliament, and of course a Bill could not be passed for the purposes of the line this Session. Any scheme would probably be opposed, so that the Parliamentary proceedings could not be disposed of at once. He thought they were entitled to know who were the capitalists who were going to finance the Rosslare project. He remembered how, after a private Bill passed through the House some five or six years ago, the scheme which it sanctioned broke down for want of capital. Before the line now under consideration was sold, they ought to be certain that the people who wished to acquire it were in a position to do all that ought to be done in the interest of the locality concerned. Who constituted the Rosslare Company, and what was the amount of their capital? There was reason that he could see why this transaction should be concluded by Thursday next.
§ MR. HORACE PLUNKETT (Dublin County, S.)
also declared that there was no reason why the transaction should be pushed forward as an urgent matter, and pointed out that deliberation was desirable, because the whole railway system of the south of Ireland might be affected by the scheme sanctioned by the Treasury. The Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford Railway Company were promoting a line which might be seriously damaged by this Rosslare project, and an opportunity ought to be given to the company's representatives to be heard. In regard to the policy of the Government respecting loans for railways in Ireland, he had understood his right hon. Friend to say that Parliament had drawn a. broad line of distinction between congested districts and districts which were not congested, and that loans which could be made in the case of the former could not be made in the case of the latter. But he believed 1497 that Parliament departed from that principle last year, when half a million was advanced. Did not Parliament then refuse to restrict the application of the money to congested districts?
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
explained that the principle was that in congested districts it was open to the Government to advance the whole of the money that was required, while in uncongested districts half the amount was the maximum that could be advanced.
§ MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)
suggested that it would be well to defer the Rosslare scheme until the promised local councils should have been set up in Ireland.
explained that he had not said that the whole transaction would be completed by Thursday next. What he had said was that two rival lines were going to tender, and that their tenders must be sent in by Thursday morning. The tenders would be considered at once, but some time must be devoted to consulting the wishes of hon. Members who represented the localities concerned. It was never contemplated that the whole thing should be disposed of next week.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £25,247, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 90; Noes, 177.—(Division List, No. 288.)
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he undertook, when this Vote was under discussion, to make a statement respecting the application of the funds provided by the Railways Act of Ireland last year. He might say at once that, although he was not responsible for this Vote, the Irish Government took the whole responsibility for the application of these funds. The responsibility had been placed on the Irish Government, to a very large extent, by the Acts of Parliament, because the Treasury could not move in connection with any scheme, or make any advance, until the scheme had been first certified by the Lord Lieutenant. Prior to 1889 the Railways (Ireland) Acts applied indiscriminately to all parts of Ireland. The 1498 Act of 1889 made a new departure in this respect, for under that Act a grant could not be made except in the case of a light railway which was declared by the Lord Lieutenant to be desirable for the purpose of developing fishing or other industries. Similar conditions were laid down in the Act of last year, with one rather important difference—that the Lord Lieutenant, before any steps were taken for granting State aid to any railway scheme, had to certify to the Treasury that the making of the railway under the Act was necessary for the development of the resources of the district. They had deliberately substituted the word "resources" because they foresaw that it would be desirable to open up various tracts of country, not alone for developing the industries of the district, but also for developing the tourist traffic. The second condition which the Act of 1889 contained was also repeated in the Act of 1896, and was to the effect that the Lord Lieutenant in certifying to the Treasury must certify that owing to the exceptional circumstances of the district the railway could not be constructed without special assistance from the State. The limit of the Treasury grant was fixed in one direction by the fact that an existing railway company must agree to work and maintain the line before an advance was made. The limit on the other side was fixed by the condition that the Lord Lieutenant is not to certify a railway under the Act except it was necessary for the development of the resources of the district and unless owing to the poverty of the district the railway could be constructed without special assistance. It would, therefore, be seen that in the case of a district sufficiently prosperous to provide the railway itself, or in the case of an enterprise of so hazardous a nature that no railway company would agree to work and maintain it, the Treasury would be unable to advance money under the Act. There was an important and novel clause introduced by the Government into the Act of last year, by which advances could be made, not merely in the case of a railway, but also in the case of a steamboat line or for establishing communications by means of coaches, cars, or other vehicles. The Irish Office had taken very considerable 1499 advantage of that provision in the proposals they had made to the Treasury. The only railway scheme that had yet received the approval of the grand jury was that of a narrow gauge railway from Buncrana to Carndonagh in the county of Donegal, a distance of 18½ miles. The grand jury of Donegal had made a presentment for £5,000 in aid of that line, which represented the assistance required under the Act to be given by the landowners and local authorities interested in the line. The Lough Swilly Company had agreed to work and maintain the railway free of cost to the county; but, of course, under the provisions of the Act, if the railway company became bankrupt the working of the line would fall upon the county. The railway ran almost wholly through a congested district, and he believed it would be of great service in promoting the cottage industries of that district. In addition to this railway the Government had also laid proposals before the grand jury of Donegal for the construction of a railway between Letterkenny and Burtonport, a distance of 50 miles. South Donegal had already been amply provided with railways under the Act of 1889, and this line, which he trusted the Grand Jury would see their way to approve of, would serve the northern and western part of the county, which had hitherto received no assistance in that way. In addition to those proposals the Government had, at an earlier period, offered to provide the funds for the construction of a line from Ennis to Scariff, and also to restore the derelict line between Portumna and Parsonstown. Unfortunately the Clare Grand Jury had refused to make a presentment in the case of the first railway, and it had fallen through; and as neither the landowners in the district between Portumna and Parsonstown nor the Great Southern Railway Company were prepared to find the balance necessary for the reconstruction of the second line that also had fallen through. That represented the railway portion of the scheme of the Government. Coming to the steamer portion of the scheme, the Government proposed to subsidise a steamer communication on the Shannon between Killaloe, in the county of Clare, to Dromod, in the county of Leitrim, a distance of over a hundred miles. This communication would be for passengers 1500 only, and would of course be principally of use in promoting tourist traffic; but it was an exceedingly convenient line of communication, as it cut all lines of railway passing from east to west, and increased very largely communication in the centre of Ireland. It did not come into competition with existing lines, which was always a matter that was most carefully attended to in any scheme put forward by the Government. This line was to be run by a company who would provide the steamers and also intended to build hotels at Dromod, Killaloe, and at other convenient points on the route. The service would commence on August 1st. The subsidy of the Government would last for seven years, and it was provided that the service of steamers was to last for 12 years. In regard to both coaches and steamers the Government had invariably adopted the principle of subsidy. The Government hoped that the lines of service which they proposed to help for a considerable number of years would ultimately become self-supporting; and if not they should at all events know at the end of the seven years whether it was worth while to continue such services. The Government also proposed to provide steamer communication from the terminus of the Midland Great Western Railway at Achill Sound across Black-sod Bay to Belmullet. It was, however, possible that owing to certain difficulties they might not be able to carry out that scheme, and if so they would fall back upon a steamer service between Sligo and Belmullet. The people of Belmullet not unnaturally were anxious for a railway from Achill Sound, Killala, or Ballina, to Belmullet; but the cost of constructing such a railway would be too great, and it was very questionable besides whether it could be made to pay. The cost of the steamer communication would not be one-fourth the cost of the construction of the railway; and besides they did not find the Midland Great Western Railway Company prepared to say that if the Government constructed and equipped such a line they would work and maintain it in perpetuity. He himself was strongly of opinion that even with a free construction it would have been impossible to have worked the line without a subsidy, and a subsidy in addition to free construction was not 1501 permitted by the terms of the Act. The distress which had unfortunately prevailed in the Belmullet district the Government had endeavoured to meet to some extent by beginning already with the pier and the approaches necessary in the immediate neighbourhood of Belmullet, and even if the original scheme were not carried out as he hoped it would be—in any case the labour expended upon this work would not be wholly wasted. In addition to the two steamer services he had mentioned, the Government also proposed to subsidise a steamer service for seven years, between Tarbert and Kilrush, at the mouth of the Shannon, and this last proposal was really part of the larger proposal to open up to tourist traffic the whole of the western part of Clare. From Killarney to Listowel there was already a railway, and it was proposed to establish a coach service between Listowel and Tarbert, a distance of 12 miles, running in connection with the principal trains from Killarney, and a steamer running from Tarbert Pier to Kilrush on the West Clare Railway. He ought rather to correct this statement, for the service was actually in existence, having been started on June 1. There was already a service of coaches to Lisdoonvarna, and at Lisdoonvarna it was proposed to establish a line of coaches to Ballyvaughan. There was at present between Ballyvaughan and Galway a steamboat service running two or three times a week, and the coaches between Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan would run in connection with that service. There would thus be opened up a route all the way from Killarney to Connemara, either by steamer, by rail, or by coach; and he should hope as the district was an extremely tranquil one, that this would be the means of attracting a large number of tourists from this country who might be induced to leave their money there and carry away with them pleasant recollections of their experience. [Laughter and "Hear, hear !"]The hon. and learned Member for North Louth had asked him whether he could state the sum it was proposed to advance in connection with these schemes. For the reasons he had explained, it would be inexpedient to do that, but he might mention that the total expense of all time schemes he had outlined would be something short of 1502 the £500,000 which Parliament provided in the Act last year. Of course it was necessary to leave a margin for safety, and he believed they had left one which would prove sufficient. He trusted that when they came actually to carry he schemes to completion they might still find they had got a few thousands of pounds over which they could use for some other purpose. [" Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
replied that it did not bear interest under the terms of the Act, because it was not advanced by the Treasury until the necessity actually occurred, and he did not suppose it was in. fact raised until the necessity actually occurred. He trusted the scheme he had explained to the Committee would be regarded as satisfactory by hon. Members representing Ireland. ["Hear, hear !"] He had done his best to pick out the most useful schemes he could. He had been over most of the ground himself, and he had spared no pains to come to the wisest conclusion he could [Cheers.] Whether he had succeeded or not was another matter, and it only remained for him to express his appreciation of the co-operation which he had met with at the hands of the chairman and officers of the Board of Trade, and the great energy and ability which they had brought to the carrying out of the very heavy additional labours which this Act had thrown upon them. [Cheers.]
MR. T. M. HEALY
was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman had done his best in the matter, and the complaint he had to make was not as to the mode in which the money had been expended, but that two or three things had been left undone. There was, for instance, a necessity for completing the little bit of a canal from Lough Mask to Bullinrobe in the county Mayo, which would be the means of opening up a district of the most picturesque character, and would also for a comparatively trifling expenditure bring the population of that district within touch of the railway system. Considerable work had been done in the way of making a quay and so on, and the amount required to carry the work to completion would be very small. He thought the Government ought to undertake to finish the project, and expressed 1503 the opinion that on a true construction of the Act of last year, they had the power to do so. He thought the whole of the steamer proposals were excellent, and would be productive of great benefit. Dealing with the fact that the whole of the railway work had been confined to one particular district of the country, he fully admitted that Donegal, with its poor population, was entitled to the utmost consideration, and he had not one word to say against spending the whole of the money for railway construction in that county. He hoped, however, the Government would, upon some other occasion, see their way to consider the condition of the poor people of Belmullet, and have a railway constructed there which would benefit them far more than the steamer service. He quite agreed that a broad-gauge railway would probably not pay even if constructed free, but a narrow-gauge railway, in the construction of which the people of the district could take a part would, once made, at all events, pay expenses. ["Hear, hear !']
§ MR. T. D. SULLIVAN (Donegal, W.)
fully appreciated the spirit of the proposals of the Government in the schemes which had been laid before the Committee. He felt that, to some extent, they were exceptional, and that similar proposals were not made to the House in reference to other portions of Great Britain. But the case of Ireland was exceptional. Every man acquainted with the history of Great Britain and Ireland knew that the latter country had been kept back in the race of prosperity and civilisation, and now, when more liberal ideas were beginning to obtain, Ireland was entitled to exceptional treatment in these matters. Such was his plea, and this was justification for any proposal of an exceptional nature in regard to Irish affairs which might now be placed before the House of Commons. Donegal was one of the most backward, most necessitous, parts of Ireland, and was entitled to exceptionally generous treatment at the hands of the House. He quite recognised that the present Government and the present Chief Secretary seemed to appreciate these facts and circumstances, and he tendered his thanks on behalf of the poor congested districts in the west of 1504 Ireland. If Ireland had a native Government these districts would receive exceptional treatment, and at last the House of Commons was beginning to recognise that it ought to do for Ireland what an Irish Government would do for its own people. As between schemes for mail steamers and railways and other projects he would say nothing, he declared no preference for one scheme more than for another, he simply maintained the broad principle that the west of Ireland in its necessitous condition had a claim for special treatment. He tendered his thanks to the Chief Secretary for the manner he proposed to deal with these poor districts, and he would do all he could to encourage and support the propositions of the Government.
§ MAJOR JAMESON (Clare, W.)
said, as his constituency was among those which would come in for a small portion of the good things promised by the Chief Secretary, he would like to say a few words on the subject. There was one proposition the right hon. Gentleman laid down in regard to the advances for making light railways he heard with regret. The limiting condition was practically this, that unless the Government could get another railway company to take up the light railway they would not advance the money for construction. He would like to point out to the Committee that why light railways could not be effective and economically constructed in Ireland was because the Irish railway gauge was 5 ft. 3 in. This gauge was fixed, as most Irish arrangements were by an English Parliamentary Committee sitting at Westminster, probably no better and no worse than those which sat in the present day, but the manner in which that Committee arrived at the Irish gauge was by striking an average between the broad and narrow gauges. So there was imposed on Ireland the 5 ft. 3 in. gauge, which would not allow of the trunk lines taking over the narrow-gauge trains. If the gauge had been fixed at 4 ft. 8½ in. it would have been perfectly possible to have made light railways of that gauge, and to have run the traffic directly on to the trunk lines, saving the cost, time, and labour of transhipment. The only objection that could be raised to that was that the weight of the engines used on the trunk lines would prevent these engines being used on the light railways, 1505 but that was not the case, for the rate of speed required on the light railways would not necessitate the same weight of engines as on the trunk lines. But it was held to be a necessary condition that unless a trunk line company would nurse the light railway, the Government advance on behalf of the poor congested districts would not be forthcoming. It was a hard condition to attach to the offer of assistance to improve means of communication in the congested districts. With regard to the running of steamers between Tarbert and Kilrush, he hoped the Chief Secretary would see his way to expenditure for the widening and deepening of Kilrush Harbour. Going down the Shannon from Kilrush to the mouth of the river, he, on the last occasion, saw 25 fishing smacks busily engaged in fishing, but none of them were Irish—23 were French and two were Welsh. A mine of wealth for the western counties of Ireland was lost for lack of a small part of the money England owed to Ireland. A small instalment expended on the construction of light railways would enable the hardy fishermen to find a market for fish, which now were often left to rot on the ground. He was not deprecating the benefits the Chief Secretary proposed to give, but he asked for more to repair the neglect of 97 years. In the only place where money had been advanced to build a fishing harbour, every shilling of the loan had been repaid; and that loan was made by a private benefactress, the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. If the Chief Secretary would see what he could do in this direction he would receive every assistance from the local authorities. He thanked the Chief Secretary for subsidising a steamboat service from Torbert to Kilrush and acceding to the many earnest representations made to him on the subject. He was also obliged to him for having sent Government engineers to survey and report on the proposed deepening of Kilrush Harbour and the extension of the pier at Kilrush, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman to get this work completed. It was a work which would help the trade and the prosperity of what ought to be a flourishing commercial port, and it would be of great assistance 1506 in making the steamboat service the Government now subsidised thoroughly efficient. It would also make Kilrush one of the first ports in the west of Ireland for commercial purposes. He warned the Chief Secretary that the Waterford and Limerick Railway, by refusing to book through fares via Tarbert and Kilrush, were endeavouring to impair the good that would be done by the steamship service now subsidised by the Government from Tarbert to Kilrush, and this he believed was done in order to support the so-called Lower Shannon service, which had hitherto refused to help in the matter. There were two light railways, or rather two extensions of light railways, which he urgently desired to see made. One was from Kilkee to Carrigaholt, which would be of the greatest service to the fishing industry of West Clare, and the other from Ennistymon to Liscannor, which would be the making of the great slate industry at Liscannor, and be of great service to the poor and industrious fishermen of that place, while it would also help to increase the visits of tourists to the beautiful scenery of Ennistymon and neighbourhood. The right hon. Gentleman knew from personal inspection in his frequent visits to Ireland something of the wants of the people of West Clare. On the subject of the Ennis and Scariff railway—the promised money for which was lost by the packing of the Grand Jury—he urged upon the Government the importance of re-organising the Grand Jury system in Ireland, in order that such action might no longer be possible.
§ MR. J. G. BUTCHER (York)
said that as a native of Kerry he had heard with the greatest pleasure that facilities were to be given for visiting that attractive county. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would take care that the fares charged on the subsidised steamboats and coaches were reasonable. The point mentioned by the hon. Member who spoke last, as to the Limerick and Waterford Railway, was well worthy of attention, as in the past that company had not given all those facilities for traffic which had been desired.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
said that he had no reason to grumble at the programme of the Chief Secretary, which had been formulated in a generous spirit. There were reasons justifying 1507 the right hon. Gentleman in spending so much money in Donegal. That county was not encumbered much with the 5ft. 3in. gauge, as some other parts of Ireland. The results of the policy of the right hon. Member for North Leeds, when Chief Secretary, in constructing that considerable narrow-gauge system had amply justified the experiment. Then the shirt trade of Londonderry was in its social and economic effects one of the most useful of the few industries remaining in Ireland. It gave employment not only in the city, but to the women in every place in railway communication with Londonderry; and in that way it had done a great deal to prevent Donegal from becoming depopulated as rapidly as some other parts of Ireland. The railway extension proposed by the right hon. Gentleman would be very beneficial in increasing the employment in this trade; but he thought that the proposed route might be improved by a deviation by way of Dunfanaghy. Owing to the ease of construction that deviation would not materially increase the cost of the line. It was not so important in the case of these light railways to take the shortest route; the chief object was to open up the district and to bring the railway as near as possible to the largest number of persons. He was not to be understood as saying that the line would not be useful; he believed, on the contrary, it would be of the greatest advantage to Donegal and to the north-west, but in addition to the scheme which the Government were supporting there was another scheme for which a Bill had been passed, and the capital, as he believed, would be subscribed, and therefore indirectly they were helping themselves, while they freely and thankfully admitted the right hon. Gentleman was doing his best to help them.
§ MR. DENIS KILBRIDE (Galway, N.)
suggested that it was in the power of the Chief Secretary and the Secretary to the Treasury to do a great deal for his constituency, not by way of spending money, but by way of remission. He called attention to an item on page 196 of the Estimate—£200 for recovering by special agents of repayments in arrear. He believed that referred to proceedings taken for the purpose of recovery of taxes under the Sub-Drainage Acts. 1508 Now the Sub-Drainage Board constituted under the Act of 1878 consisted of 21 members, all of whom were members of the landlord class, the occupiers having no representation upon it whatever. He found that £45,000 of the total expenditure had been spent by this wholly non-representative body. Under the Act of 1886 the membership was increased to 28, thus giving the occupying elements, who were as much liable as the landlords were for the repayment, a representation of 7, 21 being still landlords and landlords' agents. One of the last Sub-Drainage Acts again altered the constitution of the Board, and indeed created a new Board, consisting of 14 landlords and 14 occupiers. He did not say that as regards the money expended by the joint Board, on which the occupiers had a moiety of the representation, he desired for any reduction at all in the interest on the money expended, or any increase in the number of years for repayment. But he maintained that as far as £90,000 was concerned, expended previously to the Act of 1889, it had been spent by a body from which the occupiers had been partially or wholly excluded. Nevertheless, when he looked at the award made by the Board of Public Works in determining the amount to be paid by the landlords and occupiers respectively, he found that they had divided the sum almost equally between them—namely, occupiers £3,013, and owners £3,189. The Government had been obliged to set on foot 500 or 600 prosecutions for the recovery of the money, but he took leave to doubt whether they would ever be able to recover it, because it was irrecoverable—not because the people were dishonest, but because they felt they had received no corresponding benefit, and further, because they felt they had had nothing to do with the making of the guarantee. He could not understand by what system the Board of Works arrived at this division of liability. But what he directed the attention of the Chief Secretary to was this, that in. the case of men who were leaseholders at the time of the passage of the Act, these leaseholders, if they held for a term longer than 21 years, became liable both as occupiers and proprietors. There was the case of a man who was in this position, and who was charged a sum almost amounting to 1509 as much as the judicial rent. There were many grave cases of hardship that had occurred in this connection, and where the money charged to the tenant was entirely out of proportion to any benefit his land had received. There was the case of Thomas Scott, who was charged £2 5s. 8d. a year for the improvement of ten acres of his land. He had been over the whole of this holding, and he fearlessly asserted that nothing like ten acres could be improved by the drainage of the River Suck. As a. matter of fact, his land had not been benefited by the drainage of the river. His land, which used to be flooded in winter time, was now never flooded, and there were consequently none of the deposits on the land which used to be left after a flood. As a result, his grass was now not so long or so succulent as it used to be. He had been struck with the extraordinary ability of the gentlemen who made the estimates to appraise the improvement which had taken place in the land almost to a penny. There was the case of John Tiernan, who had to appear under a civil bill for the sum of 6d., which was the estimated value of the improvement to his land by the drainage. It appeared to him a peculiar amount for the Government to proceed for, and it also showed to him that the gentlemen who made the estimate had a nicer sense of the improvement of the land than any other man lie had come across in all his life. It was also open to the suggestion that the Government, having advanced so much money for the drainage of the Suck, had come to the conclusion that they must apportion the amount over the drainage area irrespective of whether the land was improved or not. He asked the Chief Secretary to get some one who knew the value of land in Ireland—the Court valuers or Land Sub-Commissioners—to walk over the whole of this land to test whether his statement were true or not, that many of the lands charged with a considerable amount of money for improvement had not benefited to the amount charged, and, in some eases, had not benefited at all. Did they mean to tell him that five or six hundred poor Irish tenants were going to allow themselves to be decreed and seized upon by the Sheriff in respect of this money? It was said that there was a combination against the payment of 1510 these Estimates. The reason of the combination was that the tenants did not receive any corresponding benefit for the money they were charged, and that was why they refused—he said rightly—to pay. It was unworthy of this Government, which was spending so much money in other parts of Ireland for the development of its resources and the relief of the poor and congested districts of the country, to have their agents and their bailiffs running about gathering up the few pounds that remained of this £3,167. They had issued 500 civil bill decrees against the occupiers, but how many had they issued against the owners? The right hon. Gentleman told him some time ago, in reply to a question, that the whole of the owners' liability was not paid, and he wanted to know why they were not proceeded against as well the occupiers? They all knew that the owners were supporters of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government; and the Treasury had proceeded against the occupiers because they were opponents of the Government and supporters of those who sat on those Benches. He wanted to ask the Secretary to the Treasury to remember that £90,000 of this money was expended prior to the time that the occupiers had any representative element on the Board, and that they had no voice in the imposition of the money from which they received no corresponding benefit. This was a. matter which was well worthy of the attention of the Chief Secretary as well as the Treasury, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to see his way to relieve these people front the excessive charge from which they honestly believed they were suffering. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman to pay special attention to this matter, otherwise he would have in the coming winter, what he had last autumn, last winter, and last spring—the people in revolt against this extortionate charge of the Government.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said there was only one point on which he should like some information from the Chief Secretary. In the course of the speech in which he so fairly and lucidly unfolded his scheme to the Committee, he stated that he was not prepared to spend the entire sum of £500,000 because he alleged it would be necessary to keep in 1511 reserve a certain portion for contingencies. As he read the Act of Parliament the bounty of the Government was not at all limited to £500,000, because the section said that—the total amount advanced by the Treasury under this Act shall not at any one time exceed £500,000.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
(who was indistinctly heard) was understood to say that the Bill as drafted contemplated the possibility not merely of free grants from the Treasury, but also further grants in the way of loans which should be repaid. As a matter of fact, he did not propose to make any loans, and the particular passage in the Act to which the right hon. Gentleman was calling attention had in view of the possibility of loans being made and repaid. The whole of the money proposed to be distributed would be in the nature of free grants.
§ MR. SERJEANT HEMPHILL
said this section dealt with advances, and he thought the fair meaning of it was that the total amount advanced by the Treasury should not at any one time exceed £500,000, but that next year or the year after a supplementary scheme might be framed and a further sum of £500,000 awarded by the Treasury.
§ MR. MICHAEL DAVITT (Mayo, S.)
referred to the hopeful promise which had been made by the Chief Secretary, with reference to the small scheme for opening up Lough Mask. He understood that the scheme was now under the consideration of the Irish Government. He had recently visited this portion of his constituency, and he found that all parties were anxious that the scheme should not be indefinitely postponed. Many of his constituents had stated that in order to take their live stock to the market, the journey very often took from Saturday to Monday morning. If, however, the scheme could be carried out, and flat-bottomed boats were placed on Lough Mask, the journey could be performed in three or four hours. No one in the locality was opposed to the scheme, and he trusted that the Chief Secretary would continue to give his sympathetic consideration to it. The scheme would also open up the country to tourists.
§ MR. W. O'MALLEY (Galway, Connemara)
said, that although there was a railway from Galway to Clifden 1512 it was to a large extent useless. The railway assisted, no doubt, the development of the tourist traffic, but the only industry which could be developed was the fishing industry. To a large extent the railway was almost useless for that purpose. During the last two or three years the seas round Connemara had been teeming with fish, but a half or two-thirds of the fish were lost owing to the fact that they could not be conveyed to the railway station at Clifden. It was thus absolutely necessary that a harbour should be constructed at Clifden which would allow fishing boats to enter and so reach the railway terminus.
§ MR. JOHN DILLON (Mayo, E.)
referred to the question of sub-drainage and the very great hardship inflicted on the poor occupiers in Galway and Roscommon in connexion with the charge for the work. He called attention to what he-described as an extraordinary passage in the report of 1895–96 of the Irish Board of Works in which it was stated that "in most cases it is clear that there was a deliberate, and in many cases a combined, attempt to evade payment." This was another piece of evidence showing that the various public bodies, including the Irish judges on occasions, did not understand the proper sphere of their functions in Ireland. He next called attention to a civil bill in which the Irish Attorney General sued a tenant for 6d. as his amount of liability, 1s. being added for the Receiver's fee. He thought that the Irish Attorney General ought to be summoned before the Select Committee on Money-lending to explain the procedure of the Irish Board of Works. Some of the evidence given before that Committee was no worse than the proceedings disclosed in this document. He quoted another document in which a man was sued for a debt of 10s. 5d. The actual debt of the man was 2s. 8d.—["Oh, oh !"]—but 6s. 9d. for costs and 1s. for a certificate had been added. In order to recover 2s. 8d. the Government would, in all probability, spend £30 or £40 in the employment of police. That was a fair sample of the method of government in Ireland. In the case of many of the farms, the money was not honestly due, because no value had been added to the land by the drainage. Many of the farms were charged either 1513 in respect of land that had not been improved at all, or in respect of land that had not been improved nearly to the extent of the charge laid upon it. They were entitled to know before they were called upon to vote this £200 what the nature of these special proceedings was, who was the special agent employed, what was the present condition of affairs with regard to the proceedings, and also what machinery the Board of Works made use of in determining the addition to the value of the land when they were estimating the charges to be made on the various farms. So much for the question of sub-drainage. As to the question of the general administration and constitution of the Board of Works, the first item in the Estimate which struck him as remarkable was the monstrous, bloated, and indefensible salary of the present chairman of the Board. For many years the salary attaching to the chairmanship was £1,500, but for the last two years they had been called upon to vote £2,500. The Committee were entitled to a full explanation of this unexampled increase. The present chairman was a Scotchman, and formerly the manager of a railway. He could not see that because a man was a successful manager of a railway he would be a good chairman of the Board of Works, especially seeing that the Board had very little to do with the management of railways. If he were asked what were the two most important departments of the Board he should reply the engineer's and the architect's—["hear, hear !"]—and yet neither the chairman nor either of the two commissioners had had any special training as an engineer or an architect. He had a great admiration for the Scotch nation, but he would like to know what would be the feeling of Scotchmen, if an Irishmen were appointed Secretary for Scotland, and if that gentleman placed under him as his chief official another Irishman. He imagined that the Debates on Scotch questions would be a little more lively than they usually were. Judging from the information which had reached him, Mr. Robertson's administration had given general dissatisfaction, and therefore he was anxious to know what were the qualifications of that gentleman which induced the Government to appoint hum chairman of the Board, and, secondly, 1514 why they increased the salary of the office by £1,000. Mr. Robertson not only received an increased salary, but he had appointed an additional assistant secretary at a salary of £500, rising by increments of £50 to £600. That assistant secretary was not a civil servant, but a man imported from the Great Northern Railway, like his chief, and placed over the head of all the civil servants in the office. The Government were bound to lay before the Committee very strong reasons for such a condition of things, which on the face of it looked exceedingly bad. As he had said, the engineer's and the architect's departments were the two chief departments of the Board of Works. In the engineer's department there was one engineer with a salary of £750 rising to £900, an assistant with a salary of £400 rising to £600, and a clerk of the works with a salary of £150 rising to £200. In the architect's department there was a senior surveyor with a salary of £700, and two assistants with £600. It appeared to him that these two departments had been starved in order to pay the chairman of the Board a high salary. He came now to the question of the recovery of the loans. He put a question the other day, in consequence of numerous complaints, as to the amount of fees charged by the Board of Works under Section 6 of the Public Works Act 1892. He had been told that the power of imposing these charges had been used with extreme harshness since Mr. Robertson came into office; and he, therefore, put his question in the House and received the following reply:—The fees imposed under the sanction during the past five years were—14s. 9d. in 1892–93; £4 8s. 5d. in 1893–94; £121 12s. 1d. in 1894–95; £195 in 1895–96; and £717 in 1896–97. That was to say, that within the last year these penal fees had jumped from £195 to £717. That was a monstrous increase, and there was nothing to account for it, either in the number of instalments due or the amounts recovered. ["Hear, hear!"] He understood also that much hardship had been caused by neglect to insure due service of warnings. ["Hear, hear!"] Another point to which he wished to draw attention was the question of contracts, especially to mention a case the particulars of which had been furnished him by tradesmen at Dublin. He 1515 gratefully acknowledged that the Secretary to the Treasury had in all such matters as these met them with extreme fairness, and had given them pledges which he had faithfully redeemed. Whenever they could substantiate a case of a contractor breaking a fair-wage rule, he had taken action to enforce the rule. ["Hear, hear!"] The special case to which he wanted to refer was the contract for Portrane Lunatic Asylum, in the county of Dublin. It was alleged that the contract had been given to a firm of sweating builders in the district of Dublin, at £1,500 higher than the lowest tender; and that these builders were paying their carpenters 28s. a week and their labourers 12s., when the average wages in the district were 36s. and 19s. respectively. If the facts were as alleged, the fair-wages resolution had been distinctly broken. He had no doubt the right. hon. Gentleman would inquire into this matter, and, if the facts were correctly stated, he would see that the fair-wages resolution was observed. ["Hear, hear!"]
On the return of the CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS after the usual interval,
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
drew attention to the fact that out of the total sum of £38,000 odd, no less than £17,160 went in salaries for the head officials of the department and the clerical staff. For the engineering branch of the department, which was the most useful branch, only £3,180 was set aside. Considering the importance of the building and drainage work entrusted to the engineering branch, it was surprising that so small a sum should be allocated to it, while so large an amount was expended on the merely clerical staff. He was of opinion that the items of the Vote were not distributed wisely. In connection with the system of loans to Boards of Guardians, he wished to call attention to the treatment which the Listowel Board of Guardians had received at the hands of the Board of Works. He had already drawn attention to this matter in a question which he put to the Chief Secretary two months ago. It appeared that there was an instalment of about £1,750 due by the Listowel Guardians to 1516 the Board of Works on the 1st of August last. The Listowel Board was informed that the instalment should by paid by August 31. For some reason—he believed owing to the absence of the clerk—there was some delay, but the instalment was sent on October 1, that was in 31 days. What did the Board of Works do? They demanded £87 18s. as interest. When it was pointed out to them that this was interest at the rate of 60 per cent. the reply came that it was not interest at all, but money due for receiver's fees. He had been informed that as a matter of fact no receiver was appointed in this case, but whether a receiver were appointed or not he asked whether such a demand by the Board of Works was fair. It was but poor encouragement to the Board of Guardians, who had many difficulties to contend against, to treat them in such a manner as that.
§ CAPTAIN DONELAN (Cork, E.)
said that they had listened with great interest to the scheme expounded by the Chief Secretary for the development of the tourist traffic in Ireland. He admitted readily that it was very desirable to develop the tourist traffic on the River Shannon, but he wished to remind the right hon. Gentleman that there was another river that deserved as much attention—namely, the Blackwater. He thought that everybody who had any acquaintance with the scenery of the Blackwater would agree that it equalled if it did not excel, any river scenery in Ireland. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consider favourably the expediency of subsidising a steamer on this river.
§ MR. MICHAEL AUSTIN (Limerick, W.)
was afraid that the Chief Secretary had confined his attention to the development of the tourist traffic on the Upper Shannon, and that other parts of the river which were perhaps more picturesque were to be neglected. The intention was to run a steamer from Tarbert to Kilrush; but from Tarbert up to Limerick there was to be no new communication. If the steamer called at Glin and then went on to Foynes—at both of which places there is excellent pier accommodation—and round to Limerick, the tourist traffic on the Shannon might be greatly extended.
§ MR. J. GILHOOLY (Cork Co., W.)
complained that whereas formerly an Irish 1517 tenant farmer could borrow money from the Treasury to the extent of live times the value of his holdings, now, owing to a Treasury minute, he could not borrow more than three times its value. The former Chancellor of the Exchequer consented to the advance of £10,000 from the Board of Works provided that the Congested Districts Board and the Cork and Bandon Railway would give an equal sum. The Congested Districts Board seemed to have agreed to give a third of the £10,000 and the Cork and Bandon Railway to give a third. But the railway directors found they bad no power to advance the money. He desired to ask whether the Treasury would give two-thirds of the money out of the Board of Works in addition to the third the Congested Districts Board had agreed to. A deep-water pier was wanted at Baltimore to develop the fishing industry there, and make the line of railway which had recently been constructed more useful.
drew attention to a sum of £20,313 down for receivers' fees under the Local Loans Fund. He asked whether this represented profits which the British Government expected to make in the year out of money-lending transactions in Ireland. Fees in respect of loans were exacted from local authorities in cases where he doubted whether the Treasury had any legal right to exact them. The point would shortly be before the Courts in Ireland. Receivers' fees had been exacted from poor tenants without any legal right whatever. The Suck Drainage Loan was authorised by an Act of 1892, but the money had been issued before the Act was passed. The Act of 1892 said that—in addition to any sum in respect of principal and interest and any loan hereafter created or in respect of any rent-charge hereafter granted by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, there shall be paid 1s. in the pound receivers fees thereon.These loans were wholly or partly issued before this Act was passed. Sixpence was a month overdue in respect of loans granted before the Act of 1892, but the Treasury went and sued for the 6d. and for ls. receiver's fees. He contended that there was nothing to allow them to sue for the apportioned part. These forms of petty chicanery were really 1518 most irritating. In point of law no receivers' fees could, under the Act of 1892, be exacted in respect of Suck Drainage Loans. But even if he were wrong on that point it was clear that 1s. in receiver's fees could not be excluded where 6d. was the total sum due in the first instance. Local bodies in Ireland should understand that receivers' fees were levied if any sum borrowed was a month overdue, but that no further sum could be levied even if the loan continued overdue for a longer period. Therefore the advice he would give to any local authority which happened to be liable for receivers' fees was to take as long as they could. He hoped they would strain their legal rights to the utmost. This charge had not been made upon borrowers in England or Scotland. It was levied in Ireland, and Ireland only; and it should be made as profitless to the Treasury as possible. He believed that with a little ingenuity it would be quite possible to make it not a gain to the Treasury but a loss.
§ MR. DILLON
asked why this year the proportion of refusals of applications for loans for the erection of workmen's dwellings in the towns in Ireland was greater that it had ever been before. He thought every possible encouragement should be given to the building of national schools, but he noticed that last year only £30,000 was given to the National School Commissioners, instead of £40,000 as was promised. Why should this deduction of £10,000 be made? There ought to be no undue check on the building of national schools in Ireland. Every grant had to run the gauntlet of the National Education Commissioners, and then of the Board of Works, and unless it were approved by both the money was not issued. Why then was this limitation placed upon the sum given to the Commissioners?
§ MR. J. BRIGG (York, W. R., Keighley)
called attention to the fact that a serious attempt had been made in order to make use of the water power in Ireland for industrial purposes. This would be exceedingly useful to the country and the manufacturers of the country. The Bill passed through Committee, he believed; but, owing to a great many objections which were raised, it was thrown out in another place. He thought that any attempt to benefit the 1519 manufacturing industries of Ireland should be encouraged.
§ *MR. HANBURY
pointed out that the contract which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Mayo was one given out by the Board of Control, and, therefore, was not a Government contract, and he should be put out of order in discussing it. With regard to the question of the workmen's houses, there were five refusals out of 17 applications for these houses. Loans could only be granted, he believed, up to 50 per cent. of the value of the building, and the question arose as to what was the value of the building. The Board of Works decided that it was not the actual amount spent on the building, but what the building would fetch in the market if it were sold. That was not necessarily, however, the reason for the refusals; he thought that in every case in which a loan of this kind had been refused it had been because the building was not a bonâ fide workman's house. It was quite clear that this provision ought not to be extended to buildings which were not of that character. With regard to another point which had been raised, £40,000 a year for three years was the sum assigned to the Commissioners of National Education in Ireland for building grants, and he did not think it could be said that they had been stinted. That only £30,000 was to be paid in the third year was due to the fact that after the arrangement had been made the Commissioners found that they had orders for a larger number of buildings than they had supposed would have to be paid for at once, and had asked that they might be allowed to anticipate £10,000 before the commencement of the three years, and instead of deducting that amount from the grant for the first or second year, they had charged it on the last of the three years. It had been asked why the chairman now received a very much larger salary than his predecessor. There were several very good reasons for that. The present chairmanship was not a permanent appointment; it was only for five years, in addition to which the present chairman sacrificed a very good appointment in order to take his position. Moreover he would not be pensioned. He thought that by the step they had taken in 1520 appointing an expert man of business even at a higher salary, a large amount of money had already been saved, Having regard to the large sum that was being expended in connection with railway works, it was especially necessary that they should have at the head of the Board of Works a railway expert. If there were any men in our public service who were often thought not sufficiently paid it was the experts. At attack had been made upon the chairman because he was a Scotchman; but he was at any rate a Scotchman who had been in Ireland, and had been connected with the industries of Ireland for a long time. It had been said that the assistant secretary was not a Civil servant in the ordinary sense of the word, but in special cases special qualifications were required, and in this case the necessary qualifications had not been possessed by other members of the staff. The chairman of the Board of Works had been attacked for his action in connection with the recovery of the Seed Loans; but he would remind hon. Gentlemen that it was not the permanent official, but the chief of the Department who was responsible for him in the House that should be attacked. ["Hear, hear."] The reason of the large increase in the processes for the recovery of the Seed Loans since the appointment of the chairman of the Board of Works was that it had fallen due last year and this year. It was said that it was very hard for the Treasury to have adopted this particular process of recovery; but the Treasury had no discretion whatever in the matter—they were simply acting under the strict directions given by the Act for the recovery of loans. Then, again, the so-called fine of 1s. in the £1 was not a fine at all, but represented the cost of the recovery of the loan.
§ MR. CARSON
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to say that he only exacts the exact amount of the cost of recovery
§ *MR. HANBURY
Yes; I believe 1s. in the £1 is nearly in all cases the approximate cost incurred; and, indeed, is sometimes below it.
§ MR. J. C. FLYNN (Cork, N.)
The only expense in the Listowel case was the letter sent to the Board of Guardians. [Laughter.]
§ *MR. HANBURY
said that the Listowel Guardians paid up at the last moment; but in most cases the Treasury had to put in force the process of recovery. It was said also that this was a usurious Government—that they charged 60 per cent. for the Seed Loan. But that case was entirely given away by the hon. Member for Londonderry when he advised the people not to repay the Loan.
§ *MR. HANBURY
was sure the hon. Gentleman would not have given the people that advice if he thought they would have to pay 60 per cent. interest while the Loan remained unpaid. The way the hon. Members arrived at the 60 per cent. was this: The Treasury charge 1s. in the £1 if the Loan is in arrear, and 5 per cent. for one month was 60 per cent. for 12 months. [Laughter.] With regard to the whole question of the Suck Drainage, any one listening to the hon. Member for Galway would have assumed that the whole burden fell upon the occupiers, and that they had practically received no benefit from the expenditure of this money. Whilst not denying that the results had been by no means commensurate with the amount expended, it was only right to say the arrangement was that in respect of these large sums the occupiers should pay nothing except to the extent of the enhanced value of the land, and that the whole of the infructuous amount should fall upon the landlords; thus there was primâ facieno hardship to the occupiers. ["Hear, hear!"] The valuations as to the enhanced value in all these cases had been made by Mr. Roberts, who was admitted to be one of the most expert valuers in connection with the Land Commission. Complaint had been made of the iniquity of the Board of Works collecting arrears of sixpences. He admitted that an arrear of 6d. was not a large sum, but when a great number of persons owed small sums which had to be paid periodically the total would represent a large amount, and, after all, he did not know why there should be a greater iniquity in collecting a small sum than in collecting a large debt. He would make the further admission that the cost of collection was 1522 out of proportion to the amount involved, and he was not at all quite satisfied that in very small debts like these they were entitled to charge 1s. in the pound. He would inquire more fully into the matter. The hon. Member for Mayo had stated that it had been admitted that certain landlords were also in arrear with their payments, whilst the Government proceeded against the occupiers and not against the landlords. He agreed with the hon. Member that both ought to be treated alike and that they ought to recover equally from the landlords as from the occupiers. ["Hear, hear!"] As to the loans to small farmers, until recently they could borrow up to an amount representing five times the valuation of their property. The maximum amount had now been reduced to three times the valuation, unless collateral security was given, and the minimum sum had also been reduced from £50 to £35, the reason for the change being that experience had shown it was very difficult to recover the loans from the smaller tenants. If, however, any case of hardship could be shown to have resulted from the new arrangement he should be perfectly willing to inquire into it.
§ MR. DILLON
thought the right hon. Gentleman must be mistaken in his impression that the shilling in the pound represented the cost of collection. He had in his hand a civil bill which had been served on one of the Suck Drainage tenants for a claim of 2s. 8d., together with 1s. in the pound for receiver's fee, there being a memorandum stating that the cost of the process if settled before entry would be 2s. The costs of all these proceedings for recovery were separately fixed and were recoverable in the case of all proceedings instituted by the Board of Works, as they were before the passing of the Act of 1892. He, therefore, believed that the fine of 1s in the pound did not represent the cost of collection, but was a special fine confined to Ireland, not applicable to England, although the Public Works Loan Act of 1523 1892 applied to both countries. The Act did not provide that with respect to any loan created in England, there should be a charge of ls. in the pound. It would only be fair play, therefore, to put a clause into the next Public Works Loans Act repealing the provision as far as Ireland was concerned.
§ DR. TANNER (Cork, Mid)
said that this discussion on Irish public works went on year after year, and nothing was done. The position of things now was just what it was 50 years ago. A man was prosecuted in connection with the River Suck Drainage for a sum of 6d., and the railway fare to Galway was 6s. 3d. He moved the reduction of the Vote by £2,000.
§ Question "That a sum, not exceeding £24,247, be granted for the said Service,"—put, and negatived.
MR. T. M. HEALY
said as the Works Department had now spent the necessary sum on Kingstown roads, could the Secretary hold out any hope of the sum of 1800 being paid to the Kingstown Commissioners?
§ *MR. HANBURY
said no, he was afraid the bargain as a whole must be carried out. The hon. Member knew why the Bill could not be passed this year. The whole arrangement would have to stand over until next year.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported.