HC Deb 10 May 1836 vol 33 cc803-12
Mr. O'Connell

On behalf of the Dublin Steam-packet Company, I now move, Sir, for leave to bring in a bill, notwithstanding that the period has elapsed, when by the standing orders this should have been done. In this case a bill was some time since brought into the House, and upon the third reading it was rejected, on the ground that this body corporate were not individually responsible for the additional subscriptions to be made. On that account alone, I say, the bill was rejected. The Dublin Steam-packet Company had previously to this, entered into and made contracts to the amount of 137,000l.; and the great object of those contracts was that of building more steam-boats for the purpose of increasing a special branch of their trade, connected with the naviga- tion of the Shannon, by which party through Dublin a great trade is carried on; and no arguments have been raised against this measure, except that it would have the effect of creating a monopoly, which, however, I am confident was a construction not warranted by the facts of the case. The proposal which I have now to submit to the consideration of the House, and which I hope they will accede to is, that I may have leave to bring in this Bill; that every hon. Member may be put in possession of its object and its contents, and that no arguments may be urged against it, which are not to be justified and confirmed by its provisions. In moving for leave to introduce this bill, I have only to state that it is already printed, and will be deposited in the private bill office; when that is done, the House will decide whether they will entertain the measure or not. In the meantime, however, I must deprecate any premature discussion upon it before the facts and merits of the plan can be known. If, indeed, hon. Gentlemen raise a controversy now, they must do us the justice to suppose that the principle of the bill which we seek to introduce, has nothing in view beyond giving to the public this security— that every person who shall become a subscriber to this increased capital will be liable to the extent of his entire fortune, whatever it may be. Thus you will give an increased and unlimited security to those who may have any transactions with the Company. Under these circumstances, I do venture to hope that it is not too late to appeal to the House for its sanction to the introduction of this bill. The House objected to its principle, as it was before brought in, and this has prejudiced the interests of the Company. I repeat my hope that I may be permitted to bring in the bill, and that then hon. Gentlemen will dispose of it as they like; and let me add, I hope that no local jealousies of any kind will be allowed to interfere, or to bias the judgment of the House. I have only now to move for leave to bring in a bill, to authorise the Dublin Steam-packet Company to extend their capital, with an unlimited responsibility, for the purpose of building six additional steam-vessels.

Mr. Randall Plunkett:

I rise to second the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. I believe that an opinion has gone abroad that in this instance the responsibility of the Dublin Steam-packet Company is limited; but I have no doubt that all the bad parts or objectionable provisions of the former bill have been carefully expunged, and that each and every person who may become connected with this Company will be strictly liable to the whole amount of his property. I know it has been imagined that persons might be added to the new lists of subscribers, who being originally protected by the limited responsibility would continue in that favoured position. Now it is proposed that the former subscribers shall be allowed to become subscribers to this proposed additional capital, in which case they will take upon themselves the whole responsibility, and will be liable to the same extent as they would have been if the Company had never existed. I confess I cannot regard this case in a general way, as one involving the principle of a monopoly; because in the first place it is only proposed to allow the Company to obtain the power of increasing their capital for the positive benefit of the country —which if it be a monopoly, it is elsewhere obtained as in this instance, only by a successful competition. I conceive we are more especially called upon to regard the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin with a favourable eye, seeing that we have not many such advantages in Ireland, as this Company has already conferred, and will yet confer on the people more particularly who are resident along the banks of the Shannon and the adjacent country. I merely wish to conclude by observing that in consequence of the belief which has been entertained that a competition would be prevented in the conveyance of passengers and merchandize between Dublin and Liverpool, and that sufficient means of transport would not be found, this Company is now ready to build six additional steam-vessels to ply between those ports, for which they have entered into contracts, and are liable for a sum of 137,000l. out of the 150,000l. already subscribed. I repeat that every objectionable part of the former bill has been expunged.

Sir Michael Shaw Stewart

—I am very sorry again to put myself forward to oppose the introduction of this Bill, but I am compelled to do so as a matter of public duty; and without following; the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman, or troubling the House by any lengthened observations in support of my objections to this proceeding, I at once throw the question, and I throw myself, upon the rules and orders of this House, overwhelmed as we are with private Bills, and I ask whether the House is prepared to sanction the introduction, or rather the re-introduction of a private Bill, so many as ten weeks after the period prescribed by the standing orders? If the hon. and learned Member for Dublin meant to bring in a Bill involving the principle of unlimited responsibility, why did he not do so at once? No, he did not do this— but having brought in a Bill containing the principle of a limited responsibility, and finding that he could not obtain a monopoly, he moves us to set the standing orders and regulations of the House at defiance, and endeavours to bring in a Bill differently framed. The hon. Member for Drogheda, who seconded the motion, says that the present Bill does away with the principle of a limited liability on the part of the company; but I say that this very Bill sanctions the limited responsibility to the amount of 300,000l. I oppose the motion altogether, and I rest my case upon the grounds which I have stated. I shall resist the motion by dividing the House upon it, and in so doing I feel that I am only furthering the legitimate interests of my constituents.

Mr. Mark Philips

—I confess, Sir, it does appear to me after all that has been said, that this is a sort of nondescript liability, and that the result of passing this measure will be, that a great difficulty will be created in ascertaining in a satisfactory manner, hereafter, the difference which may exist between those of the shareholders who enjoy a limited or an unlimited responsibility; for the parties will be continually purchasing and exchanging their shares, and in that way both will be released from all responsibility. Now, I should like to have further information on this part of the subject. The powers sought for under the Act are extensive, and if vested in large companies like that now before the House, will be likely to retard the intercourse between the two countries by raising the passage money. This is the opinion which I strongly urged upon the committee which sat in the year 1833, upon the application then made to the House for a Bill connected with this company.

Mr. O'Connell

—I beg to say in one word, that there is no protection whatever given by this Bill to parties who may subscribe one sixpence to the new fund, and it is clearly shown by the provisions of the measure, that there is an unlimited responsibility to the fullest possible extent. On this account it is that I do implore the House to allow the Bill to be read a first time, in order that the case may not be viewed upon any man's ex parte statement; but, on the contrary, that we may have all the facts laid before us.

Lord Francis Egerton

—I certainly feel that the explanation of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin has removed the chief objection which very properly attached to this Bill, and therefore I hope that the House will accede to the motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am aware that in the instance of the introduction of some great measure, involving very complicated details, it would be a good and valid objection to urge the late period of the session, or the noncompliance with the standing orders of the House; but I confess I do not think that such a line of argument holds good in the present case. Now it appears to me, from what I know of the objects of the Bill, that the principle of non-liability does not extend to it, but that, on the contrary, the parties who may take an interest in the company under this new Bill will be fully and perfectly liable and responsible to an unlimited extent. When this company came before the House on a late occasion, they asked for permission to increase their capital on a limited responsibility; they did so in accordance with privileges which they already were in possession of. This was objected to by those who thought their interests might be affected by it, and the Bill was thrown out. Aware of the great private inconvenience it would cause, as respected contracts previously entered into, in expectation of no exception being taken to the measure, and also of the injury it would inflict on Ireland, the parties now come again before the House, removing, as they conceive, all grounds of objection, and now they are met with a like hostility to that which defeated the former Bill. Against such a mode of proceeding I do protest; and I confess it does appear to me to be somewhat inconsistent to hear hon. Gentlemen regretting the deficiency of capital in Ireland, and now, when it is sought to be introduced there by a company which it has been admitted has already conferred so many benefits in the interior of that country, giving it all the opposition in their power. I am not going to make professions about my desire to serve Ireland, but I hold that the introduction of capital should be encouraged in Ireland, and with that feeling, and aware from my connexion with canal property in Lancashire, of the advantages which this company has conferred on both countries, I think it would be an act of injustice, even though the standing orders have not been strictly complied with, to refuse this motion, and I shall therefore give it my most cordial support. It may be urged, indeed, that the system which the passing of this measure will introduce may form a dangerous precedent, and that the principle may be carried too far, and that the company may override the interests of individuals. But if there be any point or force in those speeches which are continually made on Irish subjects, it is a great benefit to encourage the introduction of capital into Ireland. Now, I believe, and I am ashamed to say it, that this is almost a solitary instance in which this system has been brought to bear effectually upon the prosperity of that country, and it will be for those hon. Gentlemen who hear me, and who are connected with Ireland, to say whether I do not state the sentiments of the people at large. I do again implore the House to accede to the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin.

Sir Henry Parnell

I do not see upon what just grounds we are called upon to accede to the motion of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. I cannot conceive, Sir, upon what principle or how it is that we can pass one Act of Parliament, containing the principle of non-liability, and another Act by which we are to get rid of that responsibility. What is the construction to be put upon this Act? Much has been said of the advantages conferred on Ireland by this company. I may admit that fact; but it is my opinion, that if there had been no legislation whatever of this kind, there would have been no want of capital, or of the power of investing it for the promotion of steam-navigation in Ireland. The whole of such legislation is founded on false principles. The true principle seems to be overlooked—that where there is security for making profits, capital will be there employed, and it needs no encouragement.

Doctor Bowring

I trust that the House will not indirectly sanction a principle which they have refused to do directly. The hon. and learned Member has told us, that this company has entered into contracts for the supply of steam-vessels, which I contend they ought not to have done; and in spite of the representations of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin, I am opposed to this measure. It is quite certain that in this case, a number of persons with unlimited responsibility are to be grafted on those who have the limited responsibility. I will not, however, at the present moment detail the objections which I entertain to this measure; but, under all the circumstances, I really think that the better mode of proceeding for this House to adopt will be, altogether to reject the Bill at once. Let the parties come before us again, if they think fit to do so, in the next Session of Parliament.

Viscount Sandon

I am one of those who are of opinion that all these matters are much better and more properly discussed whenever the Bill shall be brought fairly before the House, and I therefore hope that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin will be allowed to bring it in. When we consider the real benefits that this company has conferred upon Ireland, fulfilling what we have always in this House said should be done by encouraging the industry of that country, I think that we should regard it favourably. It appears to me that it would be rather hard to make the Company pay for any indiscretion they might have committed in regard to the former Bill by the rejection of this. The House rejected the former Bill because it allowed the Company to add 300,000l. to their capital, and on the principal of limited responsibility. By the present Bill they seek only for an increase to half that amount, and on the principle of unlimited liability. The objection upon public grounds to the increase being thus removed, I shall vote for the motion.

Viscount Clements

considered the hostility with which the motion before the House had been met, was quite uncalled for. What were the facts of the case? This Company were desirous of increasing their capital for the purposes of their business, and in doing so they availed themselves of the privileges which they enjoyed under their Bill. That was dissented from, and their application was rejected. They then came before the House a second time, and complied with what was required of them; and strange to say, they were again opposed. All who were acquainted with the interests of Ireland must be aware of the advantages conferred on it by the introduction of steam-vessels, which was mainly owing to this Company, who by their exertions and enterprise carried improvements into the interior of the country, particularly in those neglected districts adjoining the banks of the Shannon. It was argued by those connected with the interests of Scotland, that the Scotch companies should have similar privileges; but that was not objected to by this Company, who had not interfered with any other company. However, he could not avoid saying, that from the extent of the opposition directed against the Dublin Steam-packet Company, it appeared to him that the object was, to remove competition, that the Scotch companies might avail themselves of the advantages that would be gained by competitors being out of the field. This was no new company; it was a successful one, that had done much good in Ireland, and if the present motion were defeated, it would make a bad impression on his (Lord Clement's) side of the water, where the outlay of capital was so much sought for. He could not conceive how hon. Members could support every railroad humbug brought before them, and oppose such a measure of utility as that under consideration.

Sir George Clerk

said, the question before them was whether sufficient had been shown by the hon. Members who introduced and supported this motion for violating the standing orders of the House-Here was a Bill that was rejected by the House, and with a slight alteration introduced again at that late period of the session, with no other recommendation than the statements of interested individuals. If the House were to agree to such a proposition, as well might they legislate on the presentation of a petition. The Bill on the former occasion had been opposed by numerous influential parties, who had the trouble of attending, but who were not prepared for its being brought forward a second time. He thought there should be a minute inquiry instituted before the motion was acceded to. He would oppose the granting leave to introduce the Bill.

Mr. George F. Young

was sorry that those who supported this motion did not follow the example and exercise the discretion of the hon. and learned Member who introduced it. Either this Bill was or was not the same in principle as that which had been thrown out before by the House. If it was the same Bill, they could have little hesitation in rejecting it; if it was not, the promoters of it should show a very great necessity for introducing it at this late period of the Session before the House gave it their sanction, and that in direct violation of the Standing Orders. The object of this company was to increase their capital to a sum of 150,000l.; and on the rejection of the Bill, they complain of the hardship of their case, as they had already entered into contracts for the building of steam vessels to the amount of 137,000l. How that expenditure was to promote the internal improvement of Ireland he (Mr. Young) was at a loss to understand. The lion, and learned Member said, that it was necessary to build these vessels to enable the company to enter into competition for conveying the mails for the Post-office; he thought that would not be a sufficient reason for the House departing from the general rule laid down for the regulation of private Bills, and acceding to this motion.

Mr. O'Connell

the hon. Member accuses me of having stated that this company had entered into a contract with the Post-office, and that that was what induced them to build additional steam-vessels, one word of which never escaped my lips; but some observations were made during the discussion which would bear that import, but the hon. Member was so puzzled and confused that he could not distinguish one from another. He (Mr. O'Connell) considered that he had much reason to complain, and complain bitterly at the hostility he had met with on introducing this motion, which should have been reserved until the Bill was on the table, and then they might with propriety have stated their objections, and it would be his (Mr. O'Connell's) duty to explain and remove them. Let the Bill be brought before the House, and if it did not contain the principle of an unlimited responsibility on the part of every shareholder to the full extent of his property, reject it; but do not on mere form and technicalities defeat a measure calculated to impart so many advantages to Ireland. Hon. Members were often heard to indulge in what he (Mr. O'Connell) would not term "cant," about the introduction of capital info Ireland; here was an opportunity of doing so, not experimentally but practically, and he would be glad to know on what substantial grounds they could refuse assent to it. He had not a particle of personal interest in the measure: his support was derived from his consciousness of the advantage it would be to Ireland. Complaints had been made, that sufficient notice had not been given of an intention to bring in this Bill, but that would not appear from the manner in which hon. Gentlemen opposed it from all sides of the House. All he would ask was for leave to place the Bill upon the table of the House, and he would give it up and allow of its being rejected the moment any hon. Gentleman said that it was not what he had described it to be.

The House divided: Ayes 106; Noes 65:—Majority 41.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.