HC Deb 18 March 1850 vol 109 cc1050-4

rose to move that the order for the Second Reading of this Bill (which stood for this day) should be discharged. As the intentions of the promoters of the Bill had been a good deal misunderstood, he begged to make a few observations on the subject. About sis months ago it was thought desirable that an amalgamation of the Caledonian Railway and the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway Companies should, if sanctioned by the various classes of parties interested, be brought about. The circumstances of the Caledonian company had some time since rendered a committee of investigation necessary, and Mr. Blackburn, the chairman of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, made a proposition to that committee with the view of such amalgamation. The Caledonian line had been approved of by Railway Commissioners appointed by Government; and after a severe Parliamentary contest, was sanctioned by a Committee of the House of Commons in 1845. It was constructed in a wonderfully short space of time, and reflected the highest credit on the engineering skill and talent of his hon. Friend the Member for Honiton. It was now universally acknowledged that such a line ought not to have been made, as it not only went through a district noted for bleakness and sterility, but was in addition exposed to the competition of two nearly parallel lines, one on each side of it. The Caledonian company was now proved by the report of its own committee to be, at this time, in a state of utter inability to meet the claims upon it, whether arising from debentures or from guaranteed lines; and the only object of the promoters of the present Bill was to raise the question whether or not means could be adopted by which the business of the two railway companies might be conducted by one establishment—one secretary, one engineer, and one set of clerks and bookkeepers, so that a very large amount of saving might be effected to both companies. He readily admitted that if there had been funds to meet the engagements of the Caledonian company, the proposal would have been a very monstrous one indeed; but it was never intended to do anything that would not be of general advantage. He was not the author of the Bill, but he thought that, preserving the rights and obtaining the consent of all parties, some such arrangement might have been come to before a Select Committee of the House as would have greatly economised the management of both lines. Certainly, he would not have lent himself to anything like a confiscation of property; but he thought Parliament, having deluded the unfortunate shareholders into the construction of this most ruinous undertaking, he held that they were bound, if called upon, to reconsider the case, with the view of ascertaining or suggesting some mode whereby, possibly, a less disastrous prospect might be entertained. A most ruinous competition was at present going on between these two companies as regarded the journey between Edinburgh and Glasgow, to the great injury of the shareholders. He believed the new board of directors of the Caledonian company had been so busy keeping the doors shut against their clamorous creditors, that they had found no time as yet to consider this subject; but he saw from the Times of this morning, that it was intended to bring the matter before the next half-yearly meeting of the shareholders, and that the new board were evidently desirous that opportunity were afforded for the whole proposal being maturely considered. Sufficient time not having yet been afforded for this purpose, he considered that the Bill should be withdrawn; and he therefore begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


would not enter upon the merits of this question. He understood that the one company entirely repudiated the measure, and that the other had not given its consent to it. It would be, therefore, slaying a suicide to say one word upon the matter, except that he could never agree to any Bill of this nature.


was glad his hon. Friend the Member for the city of Edinburgh repudiated the authorship of this measure—he was glad he denied having any participation in the objects of it. One, however, would imagine, from the speech of his hon. Friend, that this Bill was brought in for the advantage of the Caledonian Railway Company, and for the benefit of the great body of the shareholders; but what was the fact? This Bill had been introduced to the attention of the great body of the shareholders at their last meeting, and there was a general cry to oppose it. He was quite sure, if the House went into this measure, they would not entertain it; and he was only sorry that his hon. Friend, instead of moving that the Bill be read this day six months did not propose to negative it, and thus enable the House to mark their sense of the principle it contained, and their opinion that no Bill containing such principles would ever have the sanction of the House.


scarcely considered it necessary to kick the carcass of this defunct and unprincipled Bill, but begged to say it was an insult to the House to propose to its consideration so unscrupulous a measure.


felt assured that if the House entertained any measure of this kind, it would have the effect of spreading a panic through the country. Even the probability of the House agreeing to a Bill of this kind would be most unfortunate. It appeared that his hon. Friend the Member for the city of Edinburgh introduced the Bill in the expectation that the two companies would come to some agreement, and he hoped the House would never consent to the second reading of a Bill—of the main provisions of which they decidedly disapproved—in the vain hope that the parties concerned would come to a settlement. The Bill before them was objectionable, not only in detail but in principle, violating the good faith of parties.


said, he was one of the parties whom the Bill kindly proposed to divest of property. With respect to the particular part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the city of Edinburgh, in which he said he was in hopes that the parties would agree amongst themselves, he (Mr. Gladstone) wished the hon. Gentleman and the House to understand that no opportunity of agreeing had been given. The House had not seen one-half of the case. No doubt the Bill proposed in the first instance to make contracts between two companies, one of which dissented from it, and the other did not assent to it: but, in addition, it proposed to destroy six or eight contracts, all framed under a special Act of Parliament, promoted by mutual consent of the parties, not only without the consent of those parties, but without giving them the opportunity of assenting or dissenting; for though the hon. Gentleman said there was no evil intention on the part of the promoters, and he believed the hon. Gentleman had no such intention, it was rather strange that the promoters, in framing a measure of so extraordinary a character, should have made no communication to those persons with whose property it proposed so unceremoniously to deal. He hoped the public would know and feel, after this discussion, that they were perfectly safe in the honour of the Government and of the House of Commons. He should have taken no part, as an interested person, in a division of this Bill, or no part in the discussion of it, if he did not feel that public considerations were at stake. The introduction of this Bill had given an additional blow to railway property in its depression; and to the rejection of the Bill, and the manner it was received by the House, without exception, did he look for repairing the evil effects of this blow; because, after what had then passed, it was perfectly vain for parties, whether their motives were innocent or otherwise, to solicit Parliament to break the faith the House had given, or to destroy the sanction the House had affixed to contracts entered into by responsible parties. It showed that the House would protect the rights it had created, and on the creation of which the public had given its confidence.


expressed his approval of the Motion of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, and of the course taken by the House with respect to this Bill.


said, that Bills had been read a second time, by which parties got rid indirectly of guarantees which that House had authorised. The most obvious way of protecting persons and their properties from such proceedings would be to insert a clause, similar to that inserted last year, in all unpassed Bills, that nothing in the Bill contained should interfere with or in any way impair guarantees, or other obligations previously entered into under the sanction of the House, If Committees received that instruction, a clause could be put into every Bill that would give ample securities to parties having guarantees under former Acts, and without such a clause no parties could think them selves safe.


thought that if a Bill had passed that would have the effect of repudiating any guarantee created by a former Bill, the hon. Gentleman should take care that the Bill would be brought under their notice.


would move on the following day that it be an instruction to Railway Committees to introduce such a clause.


said, that his name had been put on the back of this Bill, but he altogether disapproved of it, and thought it ought to be thrown out.

Second reading put off for six months.

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