HC Deb 15 July 1853 vol 129 cc270-5

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Third Time."


said, that he was anxious to learn from the hon Member for Sandwich (Mr. J. Macgregor), who was chairman of the South Eastern Railway Company, whether that company had given an undertaking to the Chairman of the Committee of the House of Lords with respect to the course which the South Eastern Company would take, in the event of a Bill being introduced in a future Session for extending the East Kent Railway from Canterbury to Dovor. If the hon. Mem- ber for Sandwich would state in his place in Parliament the facts of the case, he (Mr. Rice), acting on behalf of his hon. Friend the Member for East Kent (Sir E. Dering) would consent not to press the Motion of which he had given notice for postponing the consideration of the Lords' Amendments.


said, that all the Amendments which had been introduced during the passage of the Bill through the House of Lords were merely verbal and literal, with the exception of those which had been introduced at the instance of the company which was represented by the hon. Baronet the Member for East Kent—and this being the case, he was unable to understand what object the hon. Member could have in proposing that the Amendments should be postponed. In reply to the question put by the hon. Member for Dovor, all he had to say was, that an undertaking, under the common seal of the South Eastern Railway Company, had been deposited in the Private Bill Office of the House of Lords, by which that company bound themselves not to oppose any efforts that might hereafter be made by any parties to promote a Bill for extending a line of railway direct from Canterbury to Dovor.


said, he should move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read the third time this day three months, on the ground of the injury it would do to the property of the preferential shareholders.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


as a Member of the Select Committee to whom the Bill had been referred, said he must defend the Bill, and would urge the House to assent to the third reading. He did not believe that the Bill would prove prejudicial to the interests of the preferential shareholders; on the contrary, they had themselves, at a meeting held at the George and Vulture Tavern, approved it, and had presented a petition to Parliament to that effect. He further contended that they were the best terms they could hope to receive; and if any alteration were made in them by the House, a guarantee given by Mr. Brassey would be completely nullified.


said, he should support the Amendment, for if the Bill was passed as it stood, many of the pre- ference shareholders would be involved in irretrievable ruin.


denied that Mr. Brassey had given his consent to the arrangement said to have been made with him; he contended that no case had been made out to justify the House in assenting to the Bill. What had taken place at any private meetings of the preferential shareholders could not be placed in opposition to their appearance before the Select Committee.


said, he wished to know if the Committee were supplied with any evidence of the proportion of the preferential shareholders who had assented to the measure?


replied in the negative.


would submit, under these circumstances, that the House ought not to pass the Bill. The preferential shareholders, by an Act of Parliament which was passed last Session, were guaranteed six per cent upon their stock, and now it was proposed to reduce that guarantee to four per cent, which would be a most unfair proceeding, unless the preferential shareholders were consenting parties to it. When a large proportion of shareholders had a Parliamentary bargain, and Parliament was asked to alter the terms of that arrangement, it became the House of Commons to be cautious how they assented to such a measure. Looking at the preamble and clauses of the Bill, he must say that unless he heard stronger arguments in its favour than had been yet adduced, he should vote against the third reading.


said, that as one of the directors of the company, he should support the measure, and would remind the House that the preferential stock having been issued in the first instance without the proviso, registration was illegal; but the directors, for the sake of securing the line from the creditors, whose claims amounted to between 300,000l. and 400,000l., consented to legalise the stock by the Act which was passed last Session. For precisely the same reason, the majority of the preferential shareholders had since elected to exchange the six per cent for a four per cent guarantee, with a power of redemption at the rate of 100l. for every 100l. stock; and he considered that the House would act unwisely if they rejected this Bill.


said, he wished to know whether the meeting of preferential shareholders referred to by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, had beet convened by public advertisement, so the all might have an opportunity of being present, or whether it was a private meeting?


said, the meeting was convened by public advertisement to petition the House of Lords to throw out the Bill; but instead of that a counter-proposition was carried to support the Bill.


said, the question was an important one. On the one hand Parliament was asked to annul a contract between two parties; and, on the other there was a unanimous Report from the Select Committee stating that the preference shareholders had received such particular advantages as rendered this proposition a just one. The position of the House was this:—Having taken extreme regard of the interests of preferential shareholders, it was provided by a Standing Order that changes with regard to them should never be made, except upon a special Report from the Committee alleging the reasons on which their decision had been founded. He had carefully perused the Report of the Committee, am he did not find such a statement of concurrence on the part of those concerned as he thought was desirable. He regretted to suggest anything like delay at this period of the Session; but they were compelled to judge of the decision of the Committee before they sanctioned it. He was of opinion that sufficient doubt had been cast over this case to render it impossible for the House to pass the third reading at this time, If, therefore, an arrangement could be made for printing the evidence in a short time, so that the House could ascertain for themselves, whether the Committee had had sufficient evidence before them of the advantage, gained by the preferential shareholders he thought that delay for that purpose, would be desirable.


said, that this case showed how careful they ought to be before they allowed parties to issue then preference shares, because when the preference shares were taken up by the public, and the concern was really bankrupt, these parties might turn round on the preference shareholders, and say, If you don't agree to such and such conditions you will lose your money. He had no interest whatever in the present question; but although he might not think that the ar- rangement would be so prejudicial to the preference shareholders as they themselves supposed, he did not think that a sufficient case had been made out for violating the contract.


said, that he was instructed to say on the part of Mr. Wason, that so far from repudiating the bargain, he was anxious to carry it out, and did not desire to oppose the third reading, if certain clauses were inserted in the Bill, so as to carry it out equitably. He understood also that four-fifths of the shareholders had declared their opposition to the measure, and, under these circumstances he appealed to the House whether they could sanction the arrangement. It had been said that Mr. Brassey was ready to give a guarantee, but there was no such guarantee in the Bill.


said, the question before the Committee turned upon whether the shares were preferential or guaranteed. The highest legal authorities had, however, decided that they were preferential, and he thought the Committee had decided justly in giving them a bonus of 9l., as they would not, in their position of preferential shareholders, be entitled to any continuous dividend, in the same manner as guaranteed shares.


said, he could not quite agree with the proposal of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, as it would lead to what should be avoided—namely, throwing over the decision of the Committee. He suggested, therefore, that the order for the third reading should be discharged, and that the Bill should be recommitted to the same Committee, with directions for the Committee to make a special Report. The House would then be in a situation to judge of the expediency of passing the Bill, without impugning the decision of the Committee.


said, he was persuaded that the preference shareholders would be most benefited by the Bill, and that if there was any repudiation it was on the part of the preference shareholders, who withdrew from an arrangement on the faith of which the creditors of the company had agreed to suspend their rights. Most of the preferential shares had been purchased at a discount, and although they had risen lately, that rise was to be attributed to an offer on the part of Mr. Brassey to purchase them at 9l. premium. As Chairman of the Committee be could assure the House that the directors had no desire to press the third reading now, if the House thought they could not put confidence in the Report of their Committee without further information.


said, he concurred in thinking the Bill should be recommitted, and the Committee could then inquire into the proceedings of the meeting to which allusion had been made. With that view he would move that the order for the third reading be discharged.


said, that Motion could not be made unless both the Amendment and the original Motion were withdrawn.


said, he must refuse to withdraw his Amendment.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 82; Noes 26: Majority 56.

Original Question again proposed, and, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading discharged; Bill re-committed to the former Committee.

Back to