HC Deb 23 July 1845 vol 82 cc964-9
Mr. F. French

said, he should not detain the House more than two or three minutes, whilst he addressed to it a few observations which he felt it necessary to make. He had seen in the public papers a report to the effect that a breach of the privileges of that House had been committed in regard of a speech being published in the Times newspaper of yesterday morning which had been attributed to him, and which had been declared to have been incorrectly attributed to him; in point of fact, that he never made such a speech at all. Now, he dared say that there were many Members then present who could bear him out in stating that every single word in the report of the speech alluded to had been uttered by him in that House. He stood beside the noble Lord the Member for London on that occasion, and on the Ministerial bench were the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department; and he believed that those Gentlemen, as well as every one who had been within hearing when he addressed the House, could vouch for the fact that the report was literally and wholly correct. He came into the House on the occasion to which he referred without any idea of speaking; but an opportunity appearing likely to occur of addressing himself to a particular subject, he made a short note, which he had still in his possession, and which he compared with his speech as reported in the paper alluded to, and that note bore out the full and literal accuracy of the report to the very letter. Now, a reply had come to that speech from a powerful quarter, and he admitted it was perfectly true that long practice had given to the individual who made that reply a power of wielding his weapons with greater dexterity than he could command; but, nevertheless, he had yet to learn that, if the occasion required it, he could not strike as hard a blow as that individual. He had neither courted that individual nor did he fear him; but, at the same time, it was not his intention to carry on with him a war of abusive words, which was neither consonant with his own feelings, nor consistent with his position in that House. As an allusion had been made in a report in the public papers to a company with which he was connected, he trusted the House would give him its attention for a few minutes, whilst he stated the facts relating to his connexion with that company. The House was probably aware that he had for many years taken an interest in the construction of railways in Ireland, and that he had opposed a plan which was suggested by his noble Friend Lord Morpeth, when Secretary for Ireland, for the construction of railways principally in the south of Ireland; the view which he then took, and which he took still, being that a line to the west of Ireland would tend more to the interest of the United Kingdom, and to the development of the resources of Ireland. In 1841, shortly after the accession of the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) to power, he brought the subject at some length under the consideration of the House. He wrote four or five small pamphlets on the subject, and from all the circumstances which he had stated, he thought he was entitled to say that he had given a good deal of consideration to the subject. The railway with which he was connected was the Irish Great Western Railway. It was not got up by solicitors or engineers, as those things generally were, it having originated principally with a noble Friend of his, now no more, the Marquess of Downshire, and himself. The undertaking was not in any shape connected with stockbrokers or stockjobbers, and consequently it experienced the greatest possible hostility, not only from a rival company, but from stock jobbers also, and there was nothing that could be possibly done, fair or unfair, which was not practised in opposition to it; but, notwithstanding that opposition, applications for shares were made to the amount of three millions sterling. He would now state shortly how the shares were allotted. He was opposed to any shares being given to persons in Ireland, from his experience of the Drogheda Railway, where parties after taking shares, and when they were at a large premium, refused afterwards to pay up; and he desired, therefore, as much as possible to place the shares in the hands of capitalists here, and all the applications were accordingly transmitted to the Board of Directors here. It was stated that a good deal of negligence had been shown by persons in the management of the company; but he could show that no such negligence had been exhibited. They appointed the Messrs. Pillans and Co., brokers in Edinburgh; and he believed the Scotch Members pre- sent would admit that no more respectable parties could have been appointed: in Liverpool, they appointed Mr. Barber; in Dublin, they appointed Mr. Latouche; and in London, Mr. Heseltine; and in those towns which he had named, no shares were given to any individual who applied for them without being approved by the broker in each town. The list was left in London for a long time with Mr. Heseltine, and inquiries were made into the respectability of parties applying for shares. Mr. Heseltine was the broker in London, Mr. Harris was the solicitor; a parliamentary agent of eminence was appointed, a provisional committee was also appointed, after which they went over the list of allotted shares, and the result of their scrutiny was, that applications amounting to two millions sterling were rejected as bad. At that time, advertisements were sent round to the newspapers in England, to state that the company was about to be dissolved, and in consequence of those advertisements a great number of shareholders refused to pay up. The Company, in consequence of this, put advertisements in the papers, stating that all those shares which were not paid up should be forfeited; but notwithstanding that, many refused to pay up, and great numbers of the shares remained unpaid: he would call particular attention to that fact, as it had been skilfully imputed that there had been a good deal of jobbing in that respect. The money required by the Standing Orders was not to be had; the shares were at a discount of 7s. 6d.; no Report had been made by the Board of Trade; and at this time several directors, amongst them an officer of great distinction and wealth, came forward and said that they would take the shares which had been returned as forfeited—that they would pay up the deposits, and enable the Company to go on. An allotment of shares was then made by the Company, and not a single share was reserved for any director, or the relative or friend of any director. He (Mr. French) held forty shares. He never held more in that or any other railway. He held them all at that moment, and up to that time he had never parted with one of them; and, under those circumstances, an imputation was made against him that he was desirous for the success of that railway for the advancement of his own personal interest. Now, under any circumstances, all that he could lose by those shares was 30l., and that could scarcely tempt him to take the course which had been imputed to him. There were a number of other things which he might state to the House in connexion with the history of the Company, but he would not trespass on the time of the House; and he would, therefore, go at once to the reference which had been made to the speech which had been attributed to him, and the accuracy of which he fully admitted. An answer had been attempted to be given to that speech, and in the answer to which he referred, he was represented as having canvassed the support of an eminent individual in another place. It was true that he did see that individual for a few minutes, and that he asked that any opposition might be withheld until his (Mr. French's) noble Friend, who was then absent, should be in his place to answer any objection which might be urged. It was said, indeed, that he used very flattering terms to that individual; but he (Mr. French) never knew that he possessed such powers of flattering as to be able in two minutes to change the opinions of one of the most eminent men of the day. He had made four statements, one of which was, that private interviews had been held with an agent, and that letters had been written; but that had been since explained by the statement that the agent had not been allowed to open the subject, and that the letters had not been read; and it was stated that instead of the individual to whom he alluded having said that he would bring down the shares to a discount, that that would be the result of the evidence. The evidence, however, had not been published, and he had no opportunity of seeing it. With respect to the charge of browbeating witnesses, as that was a Secret Committee, he had to take his impression from what the witnesses told him. It was not to Mr. Parkes's evidence that he particularly alluded, although it went to show that in the case of forty other railways the rule of reference had not been required. He, in speaking of the witnesses, particularly alluded to Mr. Mitchell, and the evidence of the secretary; and having stated these facts, he did not now deem it necessary to pursue the matter further. The other part of the answer applied to a portion of his obsevations which was caused by the application, as he had been given to understand, of a peculiarly offensive expres- sion relative to himself—in consequence of which he felt peculiarly hurt, greatly irritated, and, consequently, he spoke of that expression with strong excitement. The individual to whom it was attributed had since said that he had not used the expression; that it was written by a Quaker, who was a stockbroker in Dublin, and handed to him, and in that way it appeared in the form of a question. As the individual to whom he had alluded had stated that the question was not invented by him, he would not, therefore, say anything more in reference to it. He was prepared to state that, having used strong personal expressions, which he applied to an individual under mistaken feelings, but finding that he did not use the expression which he (Mr. French) was under the impression when he spoke had been used against him, he had no hesitation in saying that he at once withdrew all the expressions which he had used with regard to that individual; and he would further say, as every man of proper feeling would say, that he regretted having used an expression which was painful to that individual, or to any other person.

Mr. Clive

, who was nearly inaudible, stated (as we understood) that the question of reference had not been entered into before the Committee of that House to which the Bill had been referred.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

trusted that the statement which had been just made by the hon. Member would have the effect of allaying any irritation which the expressions the hon. Member had been described as having used on a former occasion appeared to him calculated to create. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should be the last person in that House to prolong a discussion of that nature; but perhaps he might take the liberty of suggesting a more cautious observance of the rule of that House, not to comment on acts of individuals of the other House of Parliament, either in their legislative or their judicial capacity. The only mode in which they could secure themselves from attack was by a due observance of what was due to others; and if they wished to preserve their own privileges, they ought to be careful to set the example of not violating the privileges of the other House of Parliament. The best way to act was, to abstain from acting or speaking upon what rumour stated occurred in another place. He thought it his duty to make those few observations in consequence of what had occurred.

Mr. B. Escott

said, that he was in his place when the hon. Gentleman (Mr. French) addressed the House, and he did not hear one single word of what he said.

Subject at an end.

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