HC Deb 27 July 1866 vol 184 cc1617-8

said, he wished to call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to objections to the present system of voting in public companies, by which shareholders, whose occupation, convenience, or sex, prevent them from attending public meetings or polls, have no means of voting, except by proxy, before they were aware of what is likely to happen at any meeting of the company. He did not want a decisive answer to his question on the present occasion. His object was, that the House should take the matter into their consideration, in order that they might have some acquaintance with it when he introduced a Bill upon the subject next year. On two previous occasions he had brought forward Bills upon this subject, and on both occasions they bad been rejected at the last stages by the combined influence of those who represented public companies in that House. He was desirous of raising the subject now in order that the great railway companies, if they thought it desirable to oppose an amendment of the law, should be able to do so in the next Session, but upon a legitimate stage of the Bill, and in a fair and open manner. He was a proprietor of railway stock, and a creditor of railways, and, consequently, he considered himself qualified to speak on the subject, and he contended that the present system did not represent anything like the true principle of voting, and that it required alteration. He did not pretend to say what that change should be, and all he then contended for was, that the subject required investigation. A Commission was now sitting on railways generally, and he thought this subject might very well be referred to them. The alteration in the stamp on proxies, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) carried out at at his (Mr. Darby Griffith's) suggestion, had been productive of great advantage.


said, he did not think that this was a subject to refer to a Royal Commission; but he agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devizes that it was one which deserved attention, and he thought the hon. Gentleman had done good service in bringing it under the notice of the House. He should be happy to confer with the hon. Gentleman, and endeavour to deal with what was an unsatisfactory part of the railway system. As the hon. Gentleman had put it to the House, there was an objection to the present system of voting by proxies. In certain cases questions arose which were not foreseen when the proxies were given; and the consequence was, that the persons who gave them found that their votes were given in a sense different to that in which they would have voted if they had known the real state of the question. It was, however, easier to point out the evils of the existing system than to devise a remedy for them free from objection. The Bill the hon. Gentleman had introduced on this subject was, on the whole, a good Bill, and he was sorry it had not been passed into a law. He hoped, however, that something might be done next year to remedy the evil, and he would enter into the question with a cordial desire to co-operate with the hon. Gentleman in devising a remedy.