§ Order for the further consideration of Lords' Amendments read.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to some considerations connected with this Bill. He thought the hon. Baronet the Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby) had done great public service in pointing attention to the nature of this measure when it was last before the House. He (Sir J. Graham) had since endeavoured to ascertain the facts connected with the introduction of the Bill and the efforts made to pass it, He held in his hand the original prospectus of the Company, issued in August last, in which the substance of the agreement subsequently made by them with the Government was embodied. The Bill containing that agreement was introduced at the commencement of last Session. Private Bills, as the House was aware, were proceeded with either before the public business was entered upon, or at its close; when the rules of the House had been complied with, they passed through very much as a matter of form. The attention of the House was not particularly directed to this Bill, no responsible Member explained the nature of the transaction; the Bill passed, and was carried up to the House of Lords without comment, so far as he was able to ascertain. There it arrived at its last stage immediately before the dissolution, and so drop- 956 ped, though an attempt was made on the part of the late Government to pass it, the late Prime Minister declaring that it was desirable that there should be no delay. The Duke of Somerset, however, stated that he saw no reason why this Bill should form an exception from the treatment of other Bills of a similar class. The Bill was re-introduced in the present Parliament, the same forms were gone through in this House without observation, as it appeared, on the part of hon. Members, and it went up to the House of Lords, where it was on the point of passing, when Lord Stanley of Alderley, in its last stage, insisted as an Amendment, that the whole of the contract between the company and the Government should be inserted in the Bill. That Amendment the Lords made, and that Amendment the House of Commons were now called on to consider. He (Sir J. Graham) had a strong opinion that this Bill contained some objectionable clauses. In the first place, it gave a guarantee of 4½ per cent upon all the capital of this company paid up:—and for what period, would the House believe, that guarantee was given? Why, for a period of fifty years from this time. And that guarantee was to extend over the whole of that long interval without reference to the success of the company. It might be said, that they might confidently rely on the success of the undertaking. Why, that was by no means so certain; yet the guaranteed interest was, even if there were no return, for fifty years. There was another circumstance in which he saw the most serious objection—namely, that the Government was to nominate two ex officio directors. One of those ex officio directors, an intimate friend of his own, was a first-class clerk of the Treasury, a gentleman of the highest honour, and for whom he had the greatest respect; and the other was equally a gentleman of high respectability; but what was the temptation to which these gentlemen were exposed? There was no restraining clause whatever in the Bill against those ex officio directors becoming shareholders in the concern. It seemed to him that the Bill stood on the same footing as the Atlantic Telegraph Bill, and that the extent to which these contracts were now carried required the cautious consideration of Parliament. He thought, under the circumstances, the House would do well to suspend the further consideration of the Lords' Amendments of the Bill for a fortnight or three 957 weeks to enable the Committee on Contracts, which was to be appointed that night, to inquire into the transaction and report their opinion upon it to the House. That being the view he ventured to take of the matter, he moved as an Amendment that the further consideration of the Lords' Amendments be deferred for one fortnight.
MR. ELLICE (St. Andrews)
seconded the Amendment, and expressed his obligations to his right hon. Friend for bringing this subject under the consideration of the House. He (Mr. Ellice) came down to the House for the purpose of asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he intended to nominate his Committee on Contracts, and to raise a discussion with respect to the constitution of that Committee. It was of the utmost importance that the Committee should be composed of independent members. He complained that the Treasury gave their sanction to Bills of this description without the House having before them any of the grounds on which they did so; and he intended to call the attention of the House to that subject, which was altogether contrary to what used to be the practice of the Treasury. By the constitution of the Treasury it was intended to control the expenditure, not to originate it.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the further consideration of the said Amendments be further adjourned till Monday, 25th July."
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
rose to make an explanation. He was in error in stating the Bill had been re-introduced in the present Parliament. It appeared to have been suspended, which, of course, made his case the stronger, as this would be the only opportunity the House would have of fairly considering the arrangement.
§ MR. GREGSON
said, that the only Amendment of the slightest importance, except the schedule, was the omission of the clause giving borrowing powers to the Company. The project was before the public for eighteen months before the guarantee was obtained, a prospectus issued in 1857, promising a 5 per cent conditional guarantee from the East India Company, having failed to induce the public to subscribe. He had received a letter from Mr. Cawthorn, the broker to the company, a gentleman of high respectability, who said:—You will recollect the anxious deliberation bestowed upon the extent of guarantee to be given by the Government to the Red Sea Telegraph 958 Company, and the desire felt not to require more than sufficient to float the shares. I can conscientiously declare that I believed at the time, and still believe, that lower terms than those granted to the company would not have been sufficient to raise the capital required for the undertaking. The result of the issue of the shares fully corroborates this opinion, for from the date of the issue of the shares—namely, the 2nd of August last, to the 7th of January, the price ranged from 12s. 6d. premium per share to 5s. premium, the average being 8s. 9d, premium per share, a profit not too remunerating. Subsequently the shares were done at a premium of 15s.; but when an obstacle to the passing of the Act of Parliament arose the shares fell to 32s. 6d. discount. On the passing of the Bill by the Lords, they rose to a premium of ½ to ¾; but without such guarantee by Act of Parliament the price would again fall to a discount, and the shares become unmarketable and great difficulty felt in getting the remaining calls paid.The total length of line from Alexandria to Kurrachee was 3,268 miles, with eight stations. The line was now completed from Alexandria to Aden, a distance of 1,590 miles, and the remaining section to India would be completed by the end of this year. The Stations are:—
Due securities were taken by the Government. All advances of interest by the Treasury were to be a charge against future profits, and all profits beyond 10 per cent were to be at the disposal of Government for the benefit of the public. The Government had the power to fix the tariff, and all the proceedings of the company were subject to the approval of the Lords of the Treasury, who appointed two ex officio directors. The capital was subscribed entirely on the faith of the contract with the Treasury, one of the conditions being that the Company should proceed at once with the work, and enter into contracts for the completion of the line within a given time. Great inconvenience had been caused by the delay which had already occurred in passing the Bill, which went through both Houses in the usual manner, the money clauses having been passed in Committee of the whole House, on the motion of the right hon. Gentleman the 959 late Chancellor of the Exchequer. The following particulars connected with the laying of the cable would, he trusted, be interesting to the House: —
Land Line:— Miles. Alexandria to Suez 220 Submarine:— Suez to Cosseir 260 Cosseir to Suakin 474 Suakin to Aden 636 Total 1590 Aden to Halleani (Koori Moorio) 730 Halleani to Muscat 490 Muscat to Kurrachee 458 Total to India from Alexandria 3268The cable was laid without any difficulty between Suez and Aden, the greatest depth being 500 fathoms, and the bottom soft throughout. It works admirably (according to the engineer's report, better than any line hitherto laid), and has been continually at work, though not handed over to the Company till thirty days after laying. There has been an interruption at Cosseir, caused by an Egyptian steamer dragging her anchor in a gale of wind. It is probably repaired by this time, being in the harbour, and in shallow water Mr. Lionel Gisborne, the engineer, telegraphed by this line the loss of the Alma from Aden to Cosseir in a long message of seventy or eighty words, and received a reply within an hour. The Company's officers have received a reply within an hour. The Company's officers have received the most cordial assistance from all the Turkish and Egyptian authorities, and a slight disturbance among the Hadjis (pilgrims) at Cosseir, who pulled down the telegraph land-mark, was immediately suppressed by the Governor. At Suakin the Pasha entertained all the telegraph staff at a grand dinner, and rendered them every assistance in his power. This morning's mail brings intelligence of the completion of the land line between Alexandria and Suez.Considering the importance of a line of telegraph to India, and that the Bill received the assent of the House in March last, he trusted that the right hon. Baronet would not persevere in his opposition to this Bill.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
thought the hon. Gentleman had entirely missed the real objection to this Bill. The House now for the first time learned the financial hearing of the question through the Lords' Amendments, which were injurious to the rights of that House as the "guardian" of the public purse. He hoped the House would not compromise its rights by assenting to such a course. The House had remained uninformed of the circumstance of an agreement having been come to, and that under certain circumstances the public Exchequer would be subjected to annual payments of £36,000—that was at the rate of 4½ per cent—for fifty years. In the case of £1,000,000 being raised the annual outlay would be £45,000. In every case where financial burden was imposed on the British public the proper formalities for granting public money should be passed through. He thought it might be well to pass a Resolution embodying the duty of observing that principle in every case. He was glad that the right hon. Baronet had called attention to the question, and he was sure that it was not for the honour and 960 dignity of the House that the practice complained of should continue.
§ MR. H. BAILLIE
said, he would not enter into the question as to whether it was desirable and necessary that they should have an electric line to India, but he thought the terms granted to this Company were such that it would have been better if the Government had made the line themselves. He should support the Amendment.
wished to set his hon. Friend (Sir Henry Willoughby) right on one point. His hon. Friend said the first opportunity they had of knowing the financial bearing of the Bill was by means of the Lords' Amendments. Now on that very point a Resolution was agreed to by a Committee of the whole House, which certainly was not carried sub silentio. In every case the course was pursued which the hon. Gentleman said ought to be pursued—a Resolution was passed in Committee of the whole House before the grant of any public money could be agreed to.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, it might be perfectly true that every stage of this Bill had been regularly gone through and all the usual opportunities for discussion afforded; but at the same time this was the first time that the attention of the House had been called to this question. This matter came before the House as a Private Bill; but it was impossible to deny that there were considerations of a public nature connected with it. It was a Bill not merely brought forward by private parties, but a Bill to carry out an arrangement between those private parties and the public, and the House ought to satisfy itself that the measure was a sound one. He was rather surprised to find that the defence of the Bill had been left to the private parties who were promoting it; he should have thought that the Secretary to the Treasury in the late Government would have supported the Bill. He should certainly support the Motion of his right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle. He thought it high time that the serious attention of the House should be called, as the attention of the country was called, to these grants of the public money by the Government. He did not deny that it was of great public importance to have telegraphic communication between this country and India, and he was not prepared to say at that moment that Government was not perfectly right in giving their sanction to this Bill; but in order that the House 961 might have an opportunity of seriously considering the question, he should vote for the Motion for postponement.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he could assure his right hon. Friend that he had no hesitation in rising to address the House on this subject; but he was anxious to hear what course the discussion was taking, because it appeared to him that there were two points, and he did not exactly understand on which of them the Amendment was based. In the first place there was a question raised as to whether the mode in which the Bill had passed through that House was a correct and convenient mode, and whether it brought before the notice of the House the effect of the Bill. Now, no one could feel more strongly than he did that that House should be fully aware of all that it was asked to do in the way of originating or enlarging public expenditure. He was a young Member of the House, and was not very familiar with the practice with regard to Private Bills; but he understood that the usual course had been pursued with regard to this Bill, and that an opportunity had been afforded to any Member if he had been watchful to call the attention of the House to it. He regretted that it had failed to attract attention, and he was quite ready to agree to any such Resolution as was proposed by the hon. Member for Evesham, in order to bring such matters before the House more distinctly. The other point that had been raised was as to the expenditure proposed, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle had stated that he regarded the contract entered into by the late Government as very objectionable, and that the late Government had done something quite unusual in entering into that contract. The matter had been arranged before he (Sir Stafford Northcote) had entered upon his duties at the Treasury, but he believed it was based upon the example of similar contracts made by preceding Governments, and especially upon the contract with the Mediterranean Extension Telegraph Company, from Cagliari to Malta and thence to Corfu, in which case the preceding Government gave a guarantee of 6 per cent for twenty-five years, instead of 4½ per cent for fifty years, as in the present instance. The right hon. Baronet thought the Government had done wrong in interfering to float the line; but the object was one of great importance, and if the only mode of successfully floating the line was by a 962 guarantee, he thought the Government was wise in giving it. The right hon. Baronet also said that the Government were about to pay the public money for nothing. But the contract was not a one-sided bargain: the Company had bound themselves to certain provisions which would compel them to perform their part of the contract. One condition was that when the line was once laid the Company were bound to work it, and if they did not the Government might take possession of the line. If the line were not made, of course the contract did not take effect. There were other conditions in the contract giving the Government certain advantages, such as the right of priority in sending messages. That was an important matter. Let that be contrasted with the stipulations made by some of the lines in this country. The Submarine Telegraph Company had entered into a stipulation with France, by which the French Government got the priority. What an immense importance it was to this country to maintain communication with its East Indian possessions. Let the House consider the case of the late Indian mutiny, and a thousand other circumstances, in which rapid communication with India was absolutely necessary, and it would agree that any arrangement, however extravagant it might seem, that put this country in communication with our East Indian possessions, without making the country dependent on any foreign Government, was of the utmost importance, The contract was very carefully drawn, and the late Government had improved on the terms entered into by their predecessors in regard to the Mediterranean extension line. Provision was made for a reserve fund, and for a reduction of the charges to the public, and all possible care was taken to provide for the good working of the line. He thought the clause empowering the appointment of ex officio directors, having authority to control the whole proceedings of the Company, and to take care that nothing was done to imperil the security, a good clause, though the right hon. Member for Carlisle had objected to it. [Sir JAMES GRAHAM said, his objection was that there was no prohibition of these ex officio directors from being shareholders.] It was true there was not, and that was an oversight. With respect to the adjournment of the consideration of the Lords' Amendments he expressed no opinion. That was a question for the Government and the promoters of 963 the Bill. He thought the agreement made by the late Government a good, proper, and economical agreement; and there was nothing on which he was more ready to encounter scrutiny. Therefore, he did not oppose the Motion for an adjournment of the discussion for a fortnight.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
said, that this being a Private Bill, there were not more than fifteen copies of it printed, and now that he had got a sight of a copy, he found the case infinitely stronger than it was. ["Order."] Did the House desire to know the facts?
§ MR. ROEBUCK
I called the right hon. Gentleman to order, not because I did not wish to hear him, for I am always desirous of hearing him, but because no Member can speak twice on the same subject.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
I was endeavouring to explain that these ex officio directors were not prohibited from holding shares. So far from that, there is a provision in the Bill that they may hold shares.
§ MR. KINNAIRD
observed that there was nothing peculiar or irregular in the way in which the Bill had passed through its stages. The principle now laid down with respect to these grants was no doubt very correct: but the House was bound to consider the position of the shareholders in this case. The shareholders of the line were now in this position that, after a Government guarantee had been distinctly given, and after they had on its faith expended three fourths of the capital, the guarantee was now disputed, while at the same time they were not able to complete the line because they could not make a call or borrow money until the present Bill passed. Any delay would be most prejudicial to them, and he must say that the present proceeding savoured very much like repudiation. He must warn the House that it would be most prejudicial to the public service if the commercial classes were to find that the guarantee of the Treasury was worth nothing. It should be borne in mind that this undertaking was projected during a great crisis in the affairs of this country—namely, during the Indian Mutiny, when rapid communication between India and this country was of vital importance.
§ MR. CRAWFORD
said, that his hon. Friend who had just spoken had anticipated 964 what he had to say. More than half of the capital of the Company had been raised and expended on the faith of the guarantee, and he wished to know whether it was competent for the House now to consider the Bill otherwise than exclusively in reference to the Lords' Amendments.
thought that the question before the House was whether they were to sanction a system which gave away the public money by a private Bill of which only about twelve or thirteen copies were printed, and by which the matter was not brought distinctly before the House. Until attention was drawn to the measure he was not aware of its provisions, and now he found that by one of the Lords' Amendments it was proposed to give a guarantee of 4½ per cent for fifty years on a sum of £800,000, which might be raised to £1,000,000. He did not wish to raise any impediment in the way of establishing telegraphic communications with India, but it was a great public question whether that House should bind the country for fifty years to pay the sum of £45,000 for this Red Sea Telegraph. Without adverting to the merits of the matter, he raised his voice against binding this country in such a way to give a guarantee on an undertaking not even now in existence. It would be far better to give the Chancellor of the Exchequer the entire power of making these guarantees without referring them to the House at all.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that this was a question of very considerable nicety and delicacy; and he thought it his duty, holding the office he did, to state to the House what considerations occurred to him. He must say that he was a little disappointed when the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir S. Northcote) declined to enter into the question of the Motion of the right hon. Member for Carlisle, stating that was an affair for the Government and the parties to consider; for the right hon. Baronet was the official organ of the Government that made this contract.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he did not mean to state that the right hon. Baronet made the contract, but only that he was the official organ of the Government that did so. He wished simply to state to the House the view he took of the position of the Government 965 in regard to the contract, because the matter was one of the extremest delicacy, and public credit was that which not only ought not to be broken, but ought not to be even suspected of being capable of being broken. What he found to be the case, when the present Government assumed office, was that the present Bill was in the House of Lords, and noblemen connected with the Government in that House, as a debate upon it was about to take place, made application to him to know whether it was the intention of the Government to support the Bill as it stood, His answer was, that in his opinion they were pledged to the Bill as it stood, and that it was too late for the Government to raise a question on its merits. The merits therefore were not entered into by the Government in the House of Lords. It was his intention undoubtedly when the plan was brought to issue, to fulfil the contract, which he found written in the agreement between the Executive Government and the parties to the following effect—That an Act of Parliament (according to the last clause of the Bill) should be applied for in the next Session, for the purpose of confirming and giving effect to the agreement; and that the clauses necessary for the purpose should be submitted to, and approved by, the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, who were to sanction and further the application by the Company for such Act of Parliament. That was the agreement, and on coming into office and finding those terms in existence laid down, and entirely independent of the discretion of the present Government, no choice was presented to them except to give their support to the Bill. On that agreement he felt bound to act; but with respect to the rights of the House, that undoubtedly was a different matter, and it was not for him to determine, but for the House to decide where its jurisdiction commenced, and what were its duties and obligations, and he had no doubt that it would consider the former and adhere to the latter. He did not understand that the right hon. Member for Carlisle raised any issue as to the merits of the contract; but he merely recommended that as this was a new Parliament, and as the arrangement under which the Bill was brought before them in its present form, and which had prevented the present Parliament from entering into a minute examination of the measure, had been made, not for the convenience of Parliament, but of the parties interested in the Bill, its further considera- 966 tion should be postponed for a term of fourteen days, in order that the House might know what they were going to vote. The right hon. Baronet said, —Arrangements of great importance have been made between the Government and the Company; principles of great moment to the public interests arc involved in those arrangements; and as a Committee is about to be appointed to inquire into the general question, let us have an opportunity of ascertaining accurately what we are asked to do.In that suggestion he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not see anything tending to impugn or to weaken the force of the contract between the Government and the parties, or to impair the nature of the obligation, whatever it might be, which Parliament had contracted with regard to these parties. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Gregson) and other hon. Members would not persist in their objections to the postponement. If they did so it might be supposed out of doors that an issue was raised upon a question of public faith, whereas there was merely a demand for time, with a view to consideration. The concession of such time might he attended with some temporary and limited inconvenience to the parties; but if his right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle thought the House ought not to proceed blindfold in a matter of such public importance, as that view was entertained by so many hon. Gentlemen, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would feel bound to support his proposition. He would only add that in the last Parliament, on the 14th of March, a Resolution was reported by the then Chairman of Ways and Means from the Committee on the Red Sea and Indian Telegraph Company, the effect of which was, undoubtedly, to give the sanction of the House of Commons, so far as preliminary proceedings were concerned, to the agreement which had been entered into between the Government and the Red Sea and Indian Telegraph Company, and in such cases the first Resolution of the House was very commonly, if not universally, regarded as a sufficient foundation to warrant the parties in proceeding with their arrangements.
§ MR. DISRAELI
thought it right to observe that the resolution to support this Company adopted by the late Government was influenced by motives of public policy. The whole question of guarantees was at an early period brought under their con- 967 sideration, when a variety of propositions of a similar character had been preferred. But the late Government came to this conclusion, that it was not advisable that Her Majesty's Government should enter into any unconditional guarantee. But they felt it their duty to make an exception to that principle; and that was for the purpose of securing a telegraphic communication with India, the question at present under consideration. He would remind the House of the political causes at the time existing which prompted the late Government to enter into such an agreement. The late Ministers felt that it was not only an injury, but a disgrace to this country in the present age of science and of progress, that we should be any longer without the means of telegraphic communication with our Indian empire. Well, then, was it possible to obtain that most desirable object in any other manner than the present? Of course the late Government did not enter into this guarantee until they had exhausted every mode of research by which they could ascertain whether there was any prospect of obtaining such a result by any other means than that in question. It was their deliberate opinion, after considerable delay and prolonged investigation, after consultations with the ablest men, and endeavouring by every means in their power to obtain authentic information—that this was the only means by which a telegraphic communication between this country and India could be accomplished. The late Government under such circumstances shrunk from the responsibility they felt they should have incurred before Parliament if they did not do everything in their power to bring about that result. So much for the great object itself, and the conduct of the Government in respect to it. They had also given a guarantee to secure a similar communication with the United States. Now with respect to the feeling of the present House of Commons. No doubt it was natural for a new Parliament, when called on to sanction such an engagement to view it with some jealousy; but they must not forget that according to the laws and regulations of Parliament, this was not a new House in relation to this measure. Though it might, therefore, be natural for that House to view this arrangement with jealousy, it was not a legal and constitutional feeling. It was not open to this House to say that they heard of this matter now for the first time—that it was in consequence of Amendments in the Bill now 968 made by the House of Lords that they ascertained for the first time the important engagements entered into by the previous House of Commons, and which they were now called upon to fulfil. That would not be a fair course of proceeding, nor one consistent with the rules laid down for the guidance of Parliament. They should consider this Bill to have gone through all its stages in the House of Commons now sitting, and he thought it had been shown indisputably that every Parliamentary form to guard against any misapplication of the public money had been observed. With regard to the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir James Graham) he had not had the advantage of hearing what its object was; but if it were to be interpreted in the manner in which it had been by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should not care to oppose it. It was of importance that the public mind should be satisfied on all these transactions; and if no great public injury or inconvenience could occur from this delay, so far from its being disadvantageous, on the contrary, it might be desirable that the matters in question should be referred to a Committee. Of course the Government were better informed as to the proceedings connected with this subject than Her Majesty's late Ministers; whether the line had been carried on to Aden; whether any arrangements necessary to continue and accomplish the line might be injuriously delayed by the postponement of this question he could not at that moment decide. The Government had received, no doubt, the latest information upon those points. All he wished to impress on the House was this: that the work itself was a great national object of the highest importance and magnitude; and the Committee themselves would soon discover that which the late Government had already found out, that it was only by the present mode this great national object could be achieved.
said, he was at a loss to understand what object could be attained by the postponement of the Bill with a view to its consideration by the Select Committee to be appointed to-night. Even if the contract should prove to have been improvident, so far as the public were concerned, the matter had gone so far that the faith of the House of Commons was pledged to the arrangement, and it would now be too late to back out of it. He thought this case showed that the forms of the House were defective, and that this discussion 969 might have been avoided if a full statement of the circumstances connected with the contract had been submitted to the last Parliament. The right hon. Baronet asked for delay that they might ascertain if the forms of the House had been complied with; but the Lords had introduced no Amendment into the Bill; they had only appended a schedule containing the terms of the contract, and the real question, a mere technical one, was, would the House approve of that schedule, for the principle of the Bill had been already passed by the House, The Company had made a call, spent their money, and executed a great part of their project, and the case was one in which the public credit required that there should now be no repudiation on the part of Parliament. The bargain might or might not have been an improvident one, but advantage could not honourably be taken of a pure technicality to get rid of it.
§ MR. SPEAKER
wished, before putting the question, to say a word on a point of form. In the case of this Bill and two other Bills of a similar nature—namely, the Indian and Australian and the Atlantic Telegraph Bills, in which there were guarantees of public money, the clauses containing the guarantees not having been printed in Italics the first copies of the Bills had been by his direction withdrawn, and fresh Bills presented, with the clauses in question printed in italics, and therefore specially inviting the attention of the House to them. The merits of this question did not come within his province. If there had been anything informal or irregular—anything that contravened the rules and privileges of that House in the Amendments made by the Lords—it would have been his duty to bring them under notice. But there was nothing of that nature in those Amendments. With respect to the inquiry addressed to him by the hon. Member for London—namely, what was the exact Question now before the House? the answer was "Whether the House would agree to the Amendments of the Lords." The Question certainly was not whether the House would revise or reconsider parts of the Bill to which it had given its assent, and which the other House had also accepted.
hoped the Speaker would inform the House how many copies of private Bills were circulated among hon. Members.
§ MR. WILSON
said, he had understood the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) to say that there had been two exceptions in the time of the late Government to the principle of a contingent guarantee— namely, the Red Sea Telegraph and the Atlantic Telegraph. This was the first time he had heard that an absolute guarantee had been given to the Atlantic Telegraph Company, which, he always understood, had received only a contingent guarantee. He must, however, bear his testimony to the accuracy of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the late Government had exhausted, but in vain, every means in their power to find parties ready to take up the project of a Red Sea Telegraph on the principle of a contingent guarantee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that copies of private Bills were printed by their promoters, and circulated in considerable numbers among hon. Members on both sides of the House, and that it was in the power of any hon. Member to obtain a printed copy of any private Bill, by applying to the Doorkeepers of the House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
explained, that he had been in error in saying that the guarantee to the Atlantic Telegraph Company was an absolute one. He had been misled by the original agreement, which had been cancelled.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 130; Noes 177: Majority 47.
§ Lords' Amendments further considered, and agreed to. (Special Entry.)