§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BROTHERTON moved the Second Reading of the Caledonian Railway (Glasgow, Garnkirk, and Coatbridge, Pollock, and Govan, &c., Railways), Amendment and Continuation, &c. Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ SIR R. H. INGLIS moved, as an 1313 Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He had no direct or indirect interest in the measure, but he felt as satisfied now as he did last year, that the Bill proceeded on a very irregular and fallacious principle, and that it was in no way entitled to the favour of the House.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
MR. J. B. SMITH
said, the Bill was merely permissive, and that, if passed, it would enable the Caledonian Railway Company to fulfil its engagements to a class of Shylocks who were determined to have their "pound of flesh." He thought it should be left to independent and impartial parties to decide the claims due to the creditors; but, as the Bill gave a simple sanction to an agreement, and was not compulsory, he would support its second reading.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
called upon the House to bear in mind the magnitude of the question now before it, because he could assure hon. Members that the Bill did not only relate to the interests of the parties mentioned in it, but that it involved a public principle. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken said, that certain Shylocks were determined to have their "pound of flesh," and he then went on to observe that the object of this measure was to empower those Shylocks to make an arrangement with the company. Now, it was very true that a portion of the Bill was permissive, but another portion of it was of a totally different character, enabling the Caledonian Company, which had obtained an unhappy notoriety for proceedings of this nature, to borrow 600,000l. for certain purposes, over the heads of creditors who now had claims on that company under specific Acts of Parliament. A more deceptive measure than the permissive portion of the Bill he had never heard of. According to the law of debtor and creditor in this country, creditors were entitled to have insolvent concerns delivered over to them; but this Bill absolutely repealed the money rights and privileges of some of those parties, without any reference to their consent whatever. One of the companies not only held an interest in the net profits of the line, but was a creditor for the redemption money of its 1314 rights at a fixed rate; and yet the Bill proposed to repeal the clauses affecting that creditor's claim altogether. So far as the measure was permissive, it was wholly unsound in principle, because it sought for a settlement between debtor and creditor not upon equitable terms. It involved the important question whether the House would sanction the principle that Parliamentary contracts on specific terms were to be dissolved in the face of the reclamation of the parties interested in these contracts.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
would support the Bill upon the ground that it would enable parties to pay their just debts. He hoped the House would not be led away with the idea that there was anything wrong in the permissive character of the measure—a measure which, in his opinion, was deserving of inquiry before a Committee.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
considered that, in reference to the situation he had the honour of holding, the only private business in which he was 'justified in interfering, either by speech or vote, was when some important public principle was involved. When he conceived that some clear public principle was involved, in such a manner as that no amendment in Committee could do away with it, then he ought, he considered, to tender his advice. There was a material difference between the Bill of this year and the Bill of last. Last year's Bill interfered summarily with guaranteed and preferential interests, thus giving no security to the great mass of the shareholders. According to the present Bill, these guaranteed and preferential shares could not be interfered with without the sanction of four-fifths of those interested in them. The Bill contained some of the most startling provisions and some most objectionable clauses; such, for instance, as that empowering a loan of 600,000l., and those by which former acts of the Caledonian directors had been sanctioned; and, if it went to a Committee, he would feel it his duty to call special attention to many important points connected with it. Any proposition to deal with guaranteed and preferential shares should be carefully watched; at the same time he could not say that there was no supposable case in which such shares should be dealt with. He did not find anything in the principle of the Bill so objectionable as to induce him to vote against it; indeed, he should not vote either one way or other upon the question.
§ MR. CARDWELL
had no opinion on the case either one way or the other; but he thought the merits of the Bill would be best understood through the investigation of the Committee.
§ MR. FOX MAULE
said, that this railway had been a persecuted railway from its very commencement, but, notwithstanding the opinion of the Marquess of Dalhousie and the misrepresentations to which it was subject, he believed that it was a good design, and he should certainly vote for the second reading.
§ MR. WILSON PATTEN
said, that there was an immense amount of capital at stake, 5,000,000l., and if the directors of the Caledonian Company gave an undertaking not to avoid any arrangements made, the House might be induced to agree to the second reading. He considered the clause empowering the loan of 600,000l. most outrageous; and if an understanding of this kind were not come to, the directors might raise the money and avoid the arrangement. Sould the House come to a division, he would certainly vote against the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the debate be now adjourned."
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 214; Noes 67: Majority 147.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed, and referred to the Committee of Selection.