HC Deb 08 August 1839 vol 50 cc89-96
The Attorney-General

, in requesting the attention of the House to the motion of which he had given notice, for a revision of the standing orders requiring a deposit of 10 per cent, on railroads, would only occupy the attention of the House for a very short time. It would be unnecessary for him to say anything on the great advantages which the public had received from railroad communication; they had been generally felt and experienced. On Tuesday he had conducted a prosecution of great importance at the assizes in the town of Warwick, and the same evening, at six o'clock, he was in his place in that House, ready to bring on his motion, if he had not been prevented by the House having been very unfairly counted out by some persons who wanted to get rid of this motion by a side wind. He did not, however, see that he had much cause to regret the course that these persons had thought fit to pursue, because he had now a more numerous attendance, and, therefore, he had reason to expect a more numerous majority than otherwise would have supported him in this question. That question was what amount of deposit should be paid by the promoters before bills of the second class for the promotion of railroads were brought in? It had been most unfairly stated out of doors that his object was to get rid of a deposit altogether. He had no such object in view. He was quite aware of the necessity that some deposit should be made, and was as much opposed to gambling and bubble speculations as any hon. Member in the House. He admitted, therefore, the necessity that a deposit should be made. But the question for consideration was, what should the deposit be? He was aware that a committee of that House had investigated the subject, and, after a very laborious examination, had come to the conclusion, that the deposit should be 10 per cent, on the subscribed capital, before the bill was brought in. On the other hand, the House of Lords had also inquired into the subject, and they had found that 5 per cent, was a sufficient deposit, thug adopting the resolution which he was about to propose totidem verbis. But while a deposit of 10 per cent, was required by the standing orders of that House, that mitigation in the other House of Parliament was wholly unavailable. He considered that state of things extremely inconvenient and objectionable, and that the high amount of deposit required by the standing orders of the House of Commons checked a number of bonâ fide speculations, the completion of which would have proved profitable to those concerned, and highly beneficial to the interests of the public. To remedy those evils, and to introduce a substitute which would give fair facility to bonâ fide undertakings, and act at the same time as a sufficient check on improper speculations, he moved that instead of the deposit of 10 per cent, required to be paid by the standing orders of railway bills, before such bills were introduced, that that deposit should be paid by two equal instalments. The first instalment of 5 per cent, before the bill was brought in, and the second, also of 5 per cent., before the concern was commenced, and that this bill should contain clauses to that effect. As an instance of the injurious effects which resulted from the present rules of the House, he would mention the case of a most important line of railroad now in contemplation from Newcastle to Edinburgh, an undertaking approved of and supported by men of character and substance; but these persons found it was a very serious matter to deposit 10 per cent, on the capital required to carry out the line, which might remain locked up totally useless for a period of two years. The persons who were anxiously concerned in the success of that line of railroad found that the deposit of 10 per cent, acted as a barrier against the progress of that useful measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving that the standing orders be read, which, having been done, he then moved the insertion of words to give effect to his motion.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

must oppose a motion which at this period of the Session called upon the House to alter a standing order that had been in force for some time, and which had been adopted on the suggestion of a select committee which had minutely investigated the subject with great attention, and who had come to an almost unanimous opinion on the subject. His learned Friend had really brought forward no good grounds to induce the House to agree to his motion. Although his learned Friend had made some vague allusions to useful undertakings having been prevented by the present standing order, yet the only instance he had adduced was that of an intended railroad from Newcastle to Edinburgh. His learned Friend knew better than he could pretend to do of the situation and circumstances of his constituents, but he thought it was rather too much for his learned Friend to come down to that House, and say in effect that the inhabitants of such a city as the metropolis of Scotland were so poor, so miserable, and so badly off, that they were unable to pay up 10 per cent, on the sum required for the construction of an undertaking from which they expected so much benefit; and that for such a reason the standing orders of that House should be repealed. It would have been a better, at least a plainer course for his learned Friend to have asked the House to repeal the standing order in regard to Edinburgh alone. That would have been intelligible. But instead of that, his learned Friend proposed, that for such a reason they should repeal the standing order in regard to all cases. His learned Friend said, that the security of five per cent., to be paid before the bill was brought in, and five per cent, before the work was in operation, would be a sufficient check on gambling speculations. He denied that it would be so; and whoever would read the evidence of the select committee of 1836 and 1837, moved for by the hon. Member for Bridport, would be of the same opinion, and see the mischief which the present standing order had checked. Shares were frequently as low as 20l., and a deposit of 1l. only was required. That was done by attorneys and engineers, who deluded people into their schemes by bringing them into the Stock Exchange, requiring only such small deposits, and thus inducing persons of small means to embark in them with the prospect of sell- ing soon after at a premium. He did not believe that the regulation had stopped the progress of really useful public undertakings. Unless some security were preserved, the public would be exposed to constant annoyance from solicitors and engineers with endless schemes, which would interfere with their properties, and keep the people in constant anxiety and alarm. He really thought that his learned Friend, instead of bringing forward this motion, should have followed the example of his respected predecessor, who gave his casting vote in favour of the resolutions of the committee on this subject.

Mr. O'Connell

would support the motion of the learned Attorney-general, the success of which would be of great use to Ireland. It might perhaps be a calumny for the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, to say that the people of Edinburgh were poor, but it was known to him, that the people of Dublin were so. Many important schemes were stopped in Ireland, in consequence of this standing order requiring a deposit of 10 percent. The House had thought fit to refuse to the people of Ireland, a loan to enable them to carry on their railroads; they were thrown on their own means, and so long as the standing orders continued, he saw no prospect of the-being able to make any progress. He thought five per cent., was a very substantial deposit. The argument of the President of the Board of Trade, that the payments might be frittered down to 1l. or 2l., by proving too much, established nothing at all. He trusted the House would consider a deposit of five per cent., before the bill was brought in, and another five per cent, before commencing the undertaking, a sufficient security; and that they would agree to the motion of the Attorney-general.

Mr. H. Hinde

said, the House had now two years' experience of these standing orders, and the result had been that no new line of railroad had been since brought under the consideration of the House. The Stone and Rugby was not a new line, but the continuation of a line which had received the sanction of the House. When the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, spoke of the small sums which might be paid by each individual, he forgot the large aggregate amount. The capital required for the Newcastle and Edinburgh Railway, was 2,000,000l., and the deposit of 200,000l. would be locked up for years, till the work was completed. He cordially supported the motion, and was exceedingly glad, that it had been brought forward by the hon. and learned Gentleman, and that he had been able to support his own views, and those of his constituents, and at the same time to act in a manner consistent with the duties of his public character.

Mr. Warburton

The committee of 1837 had investigated two cases in particular. In one of these, they found that thirty-three parties had each paid 5s., and subscribed to the amount of 234,000l. In the other case, twenty individuals paid 10s. a-piece, and subscribed for 23,000l. It was to stop such proceedings as these, that the standing order was made. At that time the standing orders required deposits of 2l. 10s. How, then, could they expect to stop these proceedings by merely doubling the deposits? He did not think that the House could do real bonâfide undertakings, greater benefit than maintaining these resolutions, and he should therefore oppose the motion.

Mr. Freshfield

said, that if the House agreed to this motion, they would be encouraging in railroads, that system of gambling, which they had put a stop to in lotteries. There would be no prospect of getting the remaining ninety-five per cent. paid up by the promoters of these speculations, if they could get their bill on paying five per cent, deposit. Speculators would bring forward schemes on such terms as would give them a right to gamble, with the intention of getting other persons to take up the concern which they themselves never intended to carry into effect. The interests of the public required that this standing order should not be disturbed.

Mr. R. Stewart

said, the question was one of great importance to Scotland and Ireland, and he should support the motion of his learned Friend the Attorney-general. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, had endeavoured, with great tact, to stir up the pride of Scotland by an allusion to their poverty. The "pride and poverty" of Scotland was proverbial. In this case, however, he would sink the pride, and freely admit the poverty, because, unless the motion were carried, he feared that every intended line of railway in Scotland would be stopped. The motion would fix the deposit 50 per cent, higher than was paid under the old system, and also in addition to that, before a stone of the work could be laid, 50 per cent, additional must be paid up, so that before the land of any proprietor could be taken, the whole sum must be paid for which the House had stipulated.

Lord G. Somerset

objected to such a proceeding being taken at this late period of the Session, when three-fourths of the Members had left town. He thought, the present rule had not produced any practical inconvenience, and he should, therefore, vote against the alteration.

Mr. Macaulay

said, it appeared to him that, with regard to the general principle, they were all agreed that it was inexpedient to place obstructions in the way of bonâ fideundertakings; and that on the other hand, they should endeavour to check parties from bringing forward improper speculative schemes. The hon. Member for Bridport said, there had been abuses under the old standing orders, when 2l. 10s. was paid, and that these abuses could not be stopped by doubling the deposit. Undoubtedly, he was not prepared to say to demonstration what the precise amount might be,—he could not name the absolute multiple that would produce the desired effect, nor could he at once say that 10 per cent, was the actual thing. But he knew that many persons of the highest respectability, integrity, and substance, were prevented from going on with the line of railroad to which his hon. and learned colleague had alluded, and who would proceed with the execution of the plan if this motion were carried. That was a fact which showed that if the old amount, 2l. 10s., was too low, 10l. was too high, and he should, therefore, vote for the intermediate proposition of his hon. and learned Friend.

Sir R. H. Inglis

said, the whole question here was about one railroad between Edinburgh and Newcastle. It was said that the alteration would benefit Ireland, but the hon. and learned Gentleman would not have brought the measure forward, except in his zeal for the interests of Scotland, and the city of Edinburgh in particular. It was said that the notices had already been given. If so, they would be legislating ex post facto. On general principles, as well as in reference to this particular case, he should oppose the proposition of the Attorney-general.

Mr. Easthope

understood, from what had taken place in the debate, that a contemplated line of railroad from Newcastle to Edinburgh had been retarded by the standing orders, which required a deposit of 10 per cent, before the bill could be introduced to that House, and which could not be paid, owing to the poverty of the people of Scotland. The hon. Member for Honiton admitted, that the poverty of the people of Scotland was so well known and complete, that that was the reason why that railway could not be proceeded with. If that were true, he begged to ask how it was, that a large proportion of the capital embarked in railroads in this country was invested by Scotchmen, and that some of their largest subscribers were inhabitants of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and the other great towns of Scotland? The fact was, that this railroad, if forwarded at present, must be forwarded by gamblers, who would possess no ultimate interest in the concern. The Scotch were a very rich and a very wary people. They did not embark their money without considering the probability of a return; and if they could get other people to make the first investment they would be willing to permit them, knowing, that although the undertaking might not be worth 100 per cent., it might be worth 70 per cent. If the House agreed to this motion, railroads would again fall into the hands of gamblers. A committee would again be called for by the hon. Member for Bridport, and the Attorney-general would find it his duty to prosecute those concerned. The hon. and learned Member for the city of Dublin said he should support the motion, because he thought the present rule prevented the progress of railways in Ireland. He put it to the knowledge and sagacity of his hon. and learned Friend, whether the carrying of the motion would answer his expectations. Persons of capital, in any country, desirous of embarking their money in such undertakings, would look to the practical result, and not be guided by the amount of deposits they might have to make, but by their expectation of an advantageous return. If the concern showed a fair prospect of success, there would be no want of subscribers to provide the necessary capital; and if not, it was not consonant with the character of the House to encourage such schemes; and he was sure it was not for the benefit of the country that they should be proceeded with.

Mr. Thornely

was cognizant of many frauds with respect to lists submitted to the committees of the House; but he had always doubted whether it was necessary to inflict the penalty of 10 per cent, on parties coming to Parliament for railway bills. He held in his hand a list of thirty-four railways in operation, twenty-four of which were at a discount, and if the shares were sold at the market price there would be a loss on them of three millions.

The Attorney-General

As to the argument that it was too late in the Session, this was the very time for revising the standing orders, that those likely to engage in such projects next Session might know the intention of Parliament, and not be subject to regulations made at the commencement of a Session, and which must necessarily have an ex post facto operation. It could not be said that the orders of the Standing Orders Committee were as irrevocable as the laws of the Medes and Persians, and that they could not be altered on consideration. How had the regulations of the other House of Parliament been impugned, which fixed 5l. as the sum? He did not dispute that when it was fixed at 2l.10s. abuses existed, but the onus lay on those who wished it to be 10l. to prove that necessary; and for that he had heard no argument. Let it be recollected, that he did not object to deposits of 10l.; he only asked that modification which should enable parties to divide this sum into two parts, one to be paid before the bill was introduced, and another before it came into operation. He believed this would be ample security against abuses, and that no interest in the community need be under any apprehension on account of it.

The House divided.—Ayes 45; Noes 62: Majority 17.

List of the Ayes.
Aglionby, H. A. Finch, F.
Barnard, E. G. Hinde, J. H.
Boldero, H. G. Hodges. T. L.
Bramston, T. W. Hodgson, R.
Bridgeman, H. Howard, P. H.
Broadley, H. Hutton, R.
Brotherton, J. Maule, hon. F.
Buller, C. Morpeth, Lord Visct.
Callaghan, D. O'Connell, D.
Cave, R. O. O'Connell, J.
Craig, W. G. O'Connell, M. J.
Dalmeny, Lord O'Ferrall, R. M.
D'Israeli, B. Oswald, J.
Divett, E. Paget, F.
Ewart, W. Pechell, Captain
Pryme, G. Stock, Dr.
Rich, H. Thornely, T.
Rutherford, rt. hon. A. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Scholefield, J. Vigors, N. A.
Shiel, R. L. Wakley, T.
Somerville, Sir W. M. Wilbraham, G.
Stanley, hon. E. J. TELLERS.
Stanley, hon. W. O. The Attorney-General
Steuart, R. Macaulay, T. B.
List of the NOES.
Anson, hon. Colonel Loch, J.
Arbuthnott, hon. H. Lushington, C.
Ashley, Lord Lushington, rt. hon. S.
Blackburne, I. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Blake, W. J. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Bowes, J. Palmer, G.
Burroughes, H. N. Parker, J.
Chetwynd, Major Parker, R. T.
Chute, W. L. W. Parnell, rt. hon. Sir H.
Cochrane, Sir T. J. Philips, M.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Powell, Colonel
Darby, G. Redington, T. N.
Donkin, Sir R. S. Rice, right hon. T. S.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Round, J.
Duncombe, T. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Easthope, J. Russell, Lord J.
Estcourt, T. Seymour, Lord
Fielden, J. Smith, R. V.
Forester, hon. G. Somerset, Lord G.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Surrey, Earl of
Grey, rt. hon. Sir C. Thomson, rt hon. C. P.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir. G. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Grimsditch, T. Vere, Sir C. B.
Hamilton, C. J. B. Williams, W.
Hector, C. J. Wilmot, Sir J. E.
Henniker, Lord Wood, C.
Hill, Lord A. M. C. Wood, G. W.
Hodgson, F. Wood, Colonel T.
Hope, hon. C. Wrightson, W. B.
Hoskins, K.
Howick, Lord Visct. TELLERS.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Freshfield, J. W.
Labouchere, rt. hon. H. Warburton, H.
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