HC Deb 19 June 1833 vol 18 cc993-7
Lord Sandon,

in moving the third reading of the St. George's Steam Packet Company's Bill, stated, that in the original Bill there were some clauses to which objections had been made, as they gave a power to that Company over several others; but as the Bill stood at present, it was simply to enable the Company to sue and be sued, and to make some other regulations for the management of its concerns. The only reasonable objection that could now be made to it was, that it placed the Company in competition with others; but in his (Lord Sandon's) opinion, so far from its giving the Company greater powers than others were invested with—it, in fact, contained less provisions to that purport than other Companies had. It would be a new line of policy if the Legislature were to discourage the formation of Joint Stock Companies, but he would wait until he heard what objections were to be offered against the Bill before he presumed to go at any greater length into the subject.

Mr. Wallace

said, the object of the Bill throughout was to give the St. George's Steam Packet Company the power to increase their capital to an immense extent, though it was not yet subscribed. The Bill had for its chief object to obtain a monopoly of the transmission of goods and passengers across the Channel. He contended that the preamble, which stated them to be a Joint Stock Company, was not proved. They claimed to be an Irish Company, but on reference to the list of subscribers, he found the balance as nearly as possible between England and Ireland, for he found that eighty-seven of the subscribers belonged to Ireland and seventy-four to England. It could not, therefore, be called an Irish Company. It could not be said, that his objections were made with the view of protecting Scotch interests, for he found that the English subscribers belonged chiefly to the western coast, namely, from Cornwall round to Liverpool—so that it was very natural that the inhabitants on that coast, including Wales, would not offer any objections to the Bill. The Company claimed the power of chartering all other vessels that professed to go on the same line as their vessels, and therefore a monopoly would be established, by which they might charge what prices they pleased. A more predetermined system of monopoly was never heard of. It was a frequent ground of complaint against encouraging the accumulation of large masses of wealth by any one Company; but the present Bill would have the effect of enabling the Company to accumulate very great wealth, as it would enable them to increase their capital by 30,000l., and to form a sinking fund from various sources, of 80,000l.; and that, too, in the face of the Standing Orders of Parliament, which required a certain sum to be already subscribed. It would act as an exceedingly hard measure on all the other Companies, if, indeed, it did not entirely prevent those Companies' vessels from navigating altogether. The St. George's Steam Packet Company was already a very powerful Company. He had no doubt of the respectability of the subscribers; but he felt hound to oppose the Bill, conceiving it to be an injurious monopoly. He concluded by moving that it be read a third time that day six months.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

declared that the Bill came before the Committee originally in the most exceptionable form, such as must have convinced any man of the motives of the promoters. The hon. Member stated the advantages derived by competition, since the original establishment of steam-packets between Liverpool, Bristol, Dublin, Cork, and other places in that Channel. It was stated, he said, that the Bill was intended to facilitate commerce; but this could not be the case when the effect of the monopolies already existing was to keep the freight of Irish produce to this country, of pigs in particular, as high as 30s. per ton. The noble Lord who moved the third reading of the Bill had said, that it asked for no immunities but such as were possessed by other companies; but this was no argument, as the House was not bound to follow a bad principle; and that, too, just at she time when the House was doing away with other corporations. This Bill did, in fact, go to establish a corporation on the high seas. [Lord Sandon: It is a Joint Stock Company.] Whatever it might be called, it was in effect a corporation. Although much altered in the Committee, the Bill was still, in its present form, as likely to be of as much injury as in its original shape; and, he should, therefore, second the Amendment of the hon. member for Greenock.

Mr. Wilson Patten

asked what monopoly the Bill would give which was not enjoyed by the Company already? As to the bye-laws of the Company, they would not be at all affected by the passing or rejection of the Bill, the provisions of which merely gave the Company the power of suing and being sued as a body. He would admit that several petitions had been presented against the Bill; but the clauses of which these petitions complained, had been expunged; and he could now see no objection to the Motion of the noble Lord, that the Bill be read a third time.

Mr. Anthony Lefroy

objected to the Bill as giving to the Company a much greater capital, and consequently, reducing the scope for competition, by which alone the public could be benefited. From Water-ford and other places, petitions had been presented against the Bill, which objected to it as a whole, as well as to certain clauses which had been expunged.

The Earl of Ormelie

considered that, although the Bill only asked for an increase of 30,000l. to the capital of the Company, it was still most objectionable in principle. As far as the Bill went, it was pro tanto a monopoly; for the provision for suing and being sued was a privilege beyond the common law. Not a single public ground had been adduced in support of the Bill, upon which alone it should be granted. The object and the practice of the Company had been to throw out every competitor, and the parties now came to Parliament to enable them to perpetuate the system. He drew a marked distinction between bills for Steam Packet Companies, and those for Railways: in the former, all parties could plough the ocean without hindrance; in the latter, it was necessary that the sanction of the Legislature should be given before the grounds of private individuals could be cut through.

Major Beauclerk

supported the Amendment. Every one would see, that the consequence of giving a monopoly to this Company would be, that they would run down all smaller Companies; and it appeared to him extraordinary, that this Bill should now be pressed forward, at a lime when the House was anxious to do away with all monopolies. He therefore, hoped that hon. Members who were opposing monopolies would not give their sanction to this Bill.

Mr. Jervis

said, the House should protect the public, and take care the public should have as cheap and expeditious a conveyance from one part of the country to another as possible. It had been said that what the Company were seeking to do by this Bill they could do without; but their comings to this House for powers which they could not do without proved quite the reverse. In his opinion, this Company ought not to be countenanced in keeping up their unnatural coalition, which would have the power of ruining other Companies, and prevent the public from having a cheap, and what was more material, a safe conveyance. In his opinion, no sufficient reason had been given why they should have a privilege which they could not have without the assistance of the House. But it had been said this Company was composed of different persons who had subscribed their money to keep up the concern. It was merely in effect this—that certain persons who had been proprietors of vessels, were willing to contribute their vessels, to keep up the competition, and to that extent, and to that extent only, they were willing to become shareholders. These individuals wished to have the assistance of the House to carry on their coalition, and that being the case, he should certainly give his support to the Amendment.

Mr. Baldwin

also felt it his duty to oppose the third reading of this Bill, because it would have the effect of completely putting down all sailing vessels trading between England and Ireland.

Mr. Barron

thought that no man, after reading the Resolutions of the Company itself, could doubt that their object was monopoly, and that they would, as a matter of course, do away with all minor companies, by which the public would be exceedingly injured; and not merely the public, but all the great outports of the United Kingdom; and that this company would charge whatever price they pleased. He should, therefore, support the Amendment.

Lord Sandon,

in reply, hoped the House would not be led away by the vague cry of monopoly, which in no way whatever had been proved as to this Bill. The Bill had been subjected to the adverse investigation of a scrutinizing Committee for many days; and the Company did not claim a limited liability. On the contrary, every proprietor would be liable to the whole amount of his property.

The House divided on the question, that the Bill be now read a third time—Ayes 24; Noes 47: Majority 23.

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