HC Deb 16 July 1888 vol 328 cc1376-8

Order for Third Reading read.

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

MR. CALDWELL (Glasgow, St. Rollox)

said, he had placed on the Paper the following Motion:— That the Bill be re-committed to the Committee on Unopposed Bills. That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power, if they think fit, to insert provisions in the Bill that the Bill shall not affect any priority of right or rights of preference under the Law existing prior to the passing of said Bill into Law, which may have been acquired by the Loyal Vale of Clyde Lodge of Oddfellows, No. 2736, of the Independent Order of Oddfellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society, under an action at their instance against the Trustees of the Port and Harbours of Greenock for £600 interest and expenses, raised on 1st March, 1888, and in which action decree has been granted in favour of the said Friendly Society. He knew that it was objectionable to oppose a Private Bill upon the third reading; but the explanation he had to give in regard to the Greenock Bill was a very simple one. A certain Friendly Society had acquired rights of preference against the Trustees of the port and harbours of Greenook to the extent of £600 interest and expenses—an action having been brought by them, and a decree granted in its favour. The contention of the Harbour Trustees was that an arrangement had been made by them in which the Oddfellows had acquiesced, whereby the interest upon their debentures was to be determined by the Court of Quarter Sessions in an action then pending. The Friendly Society, however, maintained that it had entered into no such bargain, and that it considered their funds perfectly free. The result was that the Bill went before the Committee as an unopposed Bill, and no steps were taken to give evidence, because the demand of the Society was then pending in a Court of Law. Since then, and after the decision of the Committee was given, judgment had been given by the Court of Quarter Sessions, which made the demand of the Society a legal one, and he had therefore placed his Amendment on the Paper in regard to the third reading of the Bill. No doubt, it would be said that it was an unusual course to object to a Bill which had been hitherto unopposed, and to abstain from opposing it until it came before the House for a third reading. He thought, however, that the Society had acted rightly in not opposing the Bill before, on account of the extreme expense that would be involved in opposing a Private Bill. In this case the Friendly Society was simply a body of working men, and it would have been very difficult for a body of that kind, having an interest only to the extent of £600, to have opposed a Company with £1,500,000 at their back. The Oddfellows' Society were quite justified in the course they took in pressing their claim before the Court of Quarter Sessions. It might seem to have been a smart action on their part that they should endeavour to secure a right of precedence under the laws that existed prior to the passing of this Bill to the amount of their bonds; but he did not think that such a course was unknown in business transactions. At any rate, the Society had gone into Court, and had acquired a legal preference in respect of their £600 bonds. The Amendment which he had prepared was to prevent the Trustees from using the Bill in order to bar the right the Society had acquired prior to the passing of the Bill. It provided that if, according to law, the Society had acquired a right of preference in respect to their bond, and interest and expenses, they were not to be deprived of their vested interest by an Act of Parliament. It had always been recognized that Parliament was entitled to interfere between rights that were pending; but when a bondholder had got preference as against other existing bondholders, and had acquired by diligence that right of preference, no Act of Parliament should take away from him any right he might have so acquired. That was the contention of the Oddfellows' Society now. They maintained that having acquired by diligence a priority of preference, and having obtained it as late as the present month, they were thoroughly justified in asking the House to insert a clause in the Bill to the effect that nothing should interfere with any vested rights they might have acquired prior to the passing of the measure. Having stated the grounds on which he had put the Amendment down upon the Paper, he thought it right to state that he did not mean to press the Amendment in the present stage of the Bill. It was extremely difficult, on the one hand, to say how far the Oddfellows' Society had acquired a legal right of preference; and, on the other hand, it was doubtful how far the Bill would take away that right, if it had been acquired. Therefore, as the amount involved was not a very large sum, and looking to the immense amount of Stock owned by the other bondholders, amounting in the aggregate to £1,500.000, he did not think it would be to the public interest if he were to detain the House by entering further into the matter. He should, therefore, not move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed, with Amendments.