HC Deb 27 April 1887 vol 314 cc100-5

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

Since I last had the honour of addressing the House in opposition to this Bill I have received a number of letters from the first preference shareholders denying in the strongest terms the paragraph in the Circular that was sent out by the solicitors of this Railway Company, stating that they had a majority of three-fourths of the first and second preference shareholders in support of this Bill. I find, Sir, that the second preference shares are held in great part by the Chairman, for which the Company received no consideration whatever, and £66,000 has been paid in direct violation of the Companies Acts. The directors are personally responsible for this, and, as a matter of fact, the proceeding is what one may term, in every sense of the word, diametrically opposed to the interest of the public. This £66,000 is included in the £168,000 owing by the Company. At the meeting where it was stated that the first and second preference shareholders gave their consent to the issue of this new stock, it appears that the first preference shareholders were not in attendance at all, and that the resolutions at the meeting were actually carried by the Chairman's vote for the second preference shares. There is another matter to which attention should be drawn, and that is, at the annual, or rather at the half-yearly meeting, only the ordinary shareholders had the power of voting, and the first and second preference shareholders had no power whatever. On these grounds, in addition to what I stated on the last occasion, I implore the House not to give its consent to the passing of this Bill. If it does, it will be giving its consent to the passing of a Bill under which the British public cannot, under any circumstances, see their money back, whatever they subscribe to the amount required. On the last occasion, as the House will remember, I was interrupted by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin) and the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Puleston), who held a sort of brief from the solicitors of the Company. He also supported the Bill in a manner—

MR. PULESTON (Devonport)

I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman is in Order in saying that I held a brief from the solicitors of the Company. I explained in the House exactly what my position was in the matter, that I had no interest in the Bill direct or indirect; nor do I know the shareholders.


The hon. Member will withdraw the expression.


By all moans. I had no wish to say anything hurtful to the hon. Gentleman's feelings; but I did feel a little surprised that the hon. Member should come forward and support the Bill when neither of the hon. Members whose names are on the back of it—namely, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Southport (Mr. Curzon)—did so. I thought it extraordinary that the defence of the Bill should be left to the hon. Member for Devonport, who knows nothing about the case. I certainly felt that he was hardly the right Member to support a Bill of this kind. For myself, I have only one motive in trying to get this Bill thrown out, and that is the public good. In opposing the Bill I am only doing what I am sent here for. I only hope the House will see the necessity of not supporting the Bill, and will not permit it to be read a third time.

MR. PULESTON (Devonport)

The hon. Gentleman, just before he sat down, said he was opposing the Bill for the public good, and that in the course he is taking he is only discharging a duty he was sent here to perform. Well, what right had he to attribute other motives to other hon. Members? As I have said, I have no interest in this matter either directly or indirectly. I came here understanding that the Bill was unopposed. The Chairman of Committees, on the last occasion, gave strong reasons why the Bill should pass, and he explained fully, that though certain conditions were in the Bill it was left to the Company to decide whether they would accept those conditions or not. So that by no possibility can the Bill have an injurious effect upon anyone concerned. It was explained fully that the personal interest the hon. Gentleman has in the railway was not touched—that his priority was not to be interfered with in any way. The hon. Gentleman has no title whatever to come here and claim the virtue of supporting or opposing a Bill in which he is personally interested as "a public duty," and then attribute to an hon. Member, who has no interest whatever in the matter, interested motives. I never heard such an argument in this House. When I opened my remarks on the last occasion I took pains especially to express regret that I felt myself in opposition to the hon. Gentleman—a courtesy which I supposed he would have appreciated. So much for that. I must say it seems to me a very unusual course for the hon. Member to oppose the Bill again, seeing that on the last occasion he did not get a single hon. Member to support him, and you ruled, Sir, that he could not vote on the Bill, but that there was nothing to prevent him from speaking in opposition to it. Not a single Member got up to say a word in his behalf, everyone else, including the Chairman, in explaining the provisions, holding that the Bill was to support a valuable public enterprise, give public value to that which had not hitherto been able to pay, and giving powers to a Company to proceed with a work, which I believe to be a great public improvement. One party, I understand, has put something like £500,000 into the Company, and I think the owners of such an investment are entitled to have such provisions in a public measure as will enable them to be recouped, if it is possible to recoup thorn without injury to the public interest. I believe that that can be done by this Bill, not only without injury to the public interest, but with great advantage to the part of the country through which the railway will pass. I hope, in view of the strong expression of the House the other day, in view of the speech of the Chairman of Committees, who told us, when the Bill was discussed, that it remained with all those interested to say whether they accept the provisions of the measure or not, and in view also of the unusual course pursued for the second time by the hon. Member for Stepney, that the House will pass this Bill.

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I have no intention of rehearsing the debate of last Thursday a second time over. I am sure the House sympathizes with the hon. Gentleman opposite, who has got an investment he does not like. That is obvious.


Pardon me. I am prepared to sink the whole of my investment for the public good.


I am sure the hon. Gentleman's conduct will be appreciated by the debenture holders in this unfortunate railway. Having got this Bill, we, in the House of Commons, have got to see—I have no personal interest in the matter—that the best thing is done for those who, like the hon. Gentleman, have invested money in this unfortunate railway. The shareholders, in general meeting assembled, by a large majority—in person and proxy—agreed to this Bill, which does the best that can be done for the undertaking. They still have it in their power to do what they like with their own property under this Bill, which does not affect the 8,400 of first debentures which the hon. Gentleman holds. Their priority is established, and nothing this Bill can do will rob him of the position he holds in the Company. Indeed, the Bill will improve his position, as I am informed there are £163,000 of floating liabilities. I am told that many of the creditors have agreed to take the second debenture stock—not the first, but the second—rather than press their claims, many of which would come in front of the first debentures. What are we to do for the best in connection with this railway? They say—"Pass this Bill; issue this second class of mortgages, put them in front of the preference and ordinary shares, in order that the thing may be put in a proper financial position so far as it can be under the unfortunate circumstances that have surrounded its birth. As the hon. Gentleman opposite has said, this railway may be good or may be bad, and may have been got up under circumstances of which some of us might not approve; but there it is on the ground. Parliament has sanctioned it, and it is a connecting link between Liverpool and Blackburn. I have studied it on the map, and it seems to me that the only way to carry out the object in view is to accede to the arrangements contained in this Bill. I feel that the hon. Gentleman's position will be secured by the common interest of the Company, and I trust he will not press his opposition further.


May I be permitted to say a few words. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Puleston) has entirely misunderstood my position. I have never for a moment taken my investment into consideration. I have been prepared to sink my own interest from the beginning, and when the solicitors approached me I never would allow them to mention the amount I had invested. I said I would have no interview with the solicitors, because I felt that what I was doing was for the public good. I said I felt that the issue of this stock was contrary to necessity, and that the poor investors and preference shareholders would lose their money. I wish to say—


The right of the hon. Gentleman to speak is limited, strictly to a personal explanation.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.