§ [SECOND READING].
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. O'MARA (Kilkenny, S.)
said the object of the Bill was to extend the operation of the Light Railways Act. The Light Railways Act had not been used for the benefit of agricultural districts, as was intended by Parliament, but had been taken advantage of by speculators, who had obtained permission from the Board of Trade to construct tramways 854 on very easy conditions. The Act had not been administered in the spirit in which Parliament intended. It had only benefited big railway companies and promoters of tramway companies. He begged to move that the Bill be read that day three months. He would withdraw his opposition to the Bill if he received a promise from the President of the Board of Trade that the proposed additional Commissioner to be appointed under the Bill at £1,000 a year would only be appointed for a year, and that the whole subject would then be reconsidered.
To leave out from the word 'now' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. O'Mara.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."855
§ MR. COGHILL (Stoke-on-Trent)
said he would second the rejection of the Bill. The Light Railways Act had not been worked in the way Parliament intended. The Commissioners had done their work badly, and he did not think they should have any salary at all. The Act had been worked in a way that was never intended. He approved of the object for which it was originally brought in, namely, to assist the agricultural districts.
§ MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)
asked the President of the Board of Trade why this Bill should be necessary. He thought they had got rid of the Light Railways Bill till next year. Why was another Commissioner to be appointed at the salary proposed in the Bill?
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
said those who were in favour of municipalisation, if they understood their true interest, should have supported the President of the Board of Trade. He thought the right hon. Gentleman had been subjected to some needless criticism by those who had not taken an intelligent view of the question. He could say for himself that, if the President of the Board of Trade could show any reason for giving this money he would not oppose it. They had recently had a visit of American capitalists. He believed that American capital was likely to do an enormous amount of good in Ireland, but was it because of the visit of these American millionaires that work of the Light Railways Commission was to be increased?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUR, Leeds, Central)
said he did not think it necessary to make a defence of the policy of the administration of the Light Railways Act in Ireland. That Act had been successful beyond expectation, and had led to an immense increase of enterprise in this country. He wished to say a few words as to the reasons why this comparatively small proposal had been made. The work under the Act had been much greater than was anticipated, and of the three Commissioners appointed under the original Act only one was paid, Lord Jersey, who had been Chairman for five years, and Mr. Gerald FitzGerald being 856 unpaid. Mr. FitzGerald had resigned, having found that he could no longer continue his services, and it became necessary to appoint another Commissioner in his place. Having regard to the extent and arduous character of the work, he thought the House would see that they could hardly find a successor to Mr. FitzGerald without paying a salary. It was necessary to appoint a qualified successor, and it was hoped that such would be found at a salary of £1,000. The Act would be continued for a year, after which he hoped the whole matter would be dealt with in a broader and more comprehensive spirit.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
Simply and solely because it would have given rise to a large amount of discussion.
§ *MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said there were several large questions connected with this Bill into which he would gladly have entered, but this was not the occasion to discuss them. As the President of the Board of Trade had said, something must be done, because the Act must go on. He should like to join the President of the Board of Trade in stating that the work of the Commission had been done at a very small cost to the country. Men of ability and experience had given a great deal of time to it, and the country was in particular much indebted to Lord Jersey for his assiduous and very valuable services as chairman. He thought that the request of the Government for a salary for another Commission was reasonable, although he did not know whether it would be possible to get a man of Mr. FitzGerald's experience and ability for a salary of £1,000 a year. It was certainly very desirable that the Government should bring in a Bill early next session, for there were a great many outstanding questions to be considered. One point which gave rise to difficulty was that the light railways should be made on the highways as proposed in the original Bill. His opinion always had been that they ought to be made on highways rather than across country; and it was in the hope that this would be largely done that he had brought in the original 857 Light Railways Bill of 1895. But he was the last person to desire that the power of using highways, which in his belief already existed, should be used to deprive local authorities of the power of acquiring tramways which they possessed under the Tramways Acts. It did not, however, follow that the purchase provisions in regard to tramways should in their existing form be necessarily applicable to light railways, and particularly to light railways worked by electricity, in which the initial cost was heavy, but in some way or other he conceived that the powers and rights of the local authorities ought to be safe-guarded. He suggested that when the promised Bill was brought in early next session a Select Committee might be appointed to consider on what principle the terms should be fixed for the purchase of the undertakings by local authorities.
§ MR. MOSS (Denbighshire, E.)
said he did not wish to say one word against the Light Railway Commissioners. They had done their work exceedingly well at a comparatively small cost. But if this Bill was to be the means of perpetuating the Light Railways Act in its present form he would be strongly opposed to it. His experience had been that the great hulk of the Orders made under the Light Railways Act might have been more properly called Tramway Orders. He did not think that the President of the Board of Trade could point to more than two or three cases where Light Railways had been made within the provisions of the Light Railways Act. They were almost exclusively tramways.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! I must say the debate is drifting from the subject matter of the Bill. A discussion of the administration of the Light Railways Act will be out of order.
§ MR. MOSS
said his reason for opposing the Bill was because he had been given to understand by the observations of the right hon. Gentleman that, unless this Bill was passed, the Light Railways Act was likely to come to an end and that there would not be a Commission to carry on the Act. For his part he should not be sorry to see it discontinued 858 because the Act had been carried out so differently from what had been intended. He hoped that some Bill would be introduced next year to amend the Act so that the old Tramways Act should not he evaded.
said that what they wanted to know was who the man was to be appointed to this position. He had introduced early in the session a short measure dealing with light railways in his own county.
§ MR. O'DOHERTY
said he was only about to point out that the Bill was an extension of the Tramways Act of 1860. He would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to inform the House who was the gentleman about to be appointed. Was he a man conversant with the Tramways Acts and the Light Railways Act of 1896, and was he an engineer, or a railway manager, or an ex-railway manager.
§ MR. F. W. WILSON (Norfolk, Mid)
said that the Light Railways Act in his part of the country had hitherto been used for a number of abortive projects by which money was lost. He did not think light railways would develop until permission were given for them to run along the highways.
§ MR. O'MARA
said that in view of the pledge given by the President of the Board of Trade, that the whole matter would be revised, he would withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.