The EARL of DALHOUSIE
presented to the House the Report of the Officers of the Railway Department for 1844 and 1845. He would take the opportunity, in rising to present that Report, to enter into the subject with reference to which his noble Friend (Lord Monteagle) had anticipated it would be his duty to offer some remarks and make some proposals that evening to their Lordships. He (the Earl of Dalhousie) had to offer some proposals that evening to their Lordships, with reference to railways; and he would have given notice for the occasion, but it was desirable that any proposition the Government had to make on the subject should be made forthwith, and before the adjournment of the House. He had to direct their Lordships' attention to the state of the Railway Bills now in progress before either House of Parliament, and the course it would be right for Parliament to adopt. It was hardly necessary for him to draw their Lordships' attention, even incidentally, to the state the country had been in during the last twelve months with respect to those Bills. Even at the close of 1844, the feverish state of the public with respect to those matters was great, and in the Session of 1845 there were pending in Parliament 248 Railway Bills. He believed it would be recollected that at that time they looked upon that number as something that was unprecedented and unmanageable; and Members of Parliament were ready to hold up their hands and thank their stars that it was impossible such a state of things should continue, or that such a number of Bills should be presented to Parliament again. But instead of that being the case, the speculation waxed more hot and furious every day during summer—it increased during the autumn—it spread to every class of the community, rich and poor, young and old; and he was almost ashamed to say, that one sex was as much engaged in it as the other. The practical result of all this was, as shown by the report of the Joint Stock Company's Registration officer, that there were, before the 31st of December, provisionally registered, he believed, upwards of 1,400 schemes: he would not attempt to state the amount of capital that was supposed to be involved in them, for that capital, he believed, had no existence. On the 30th of November, there were deposited with the Board of Trade upwards of 800 plans; on the 31st of December that number had in some slight degree diminished, but nearly 700 were deposited in the Private 653 Bill office. The attention of Government had been very early directed to this subject, with a view to make such arrangements, before the meeting of Parliament, as might guide Parliament towards some course to be adopted with reference to those undertakings. But it was not in the power of the Government to come down to Parliament at the commencement of the Session with any definite measure, inasmuch as the facts on which they should recommend such course to be adopted were not then ascertained. If the Government had come down at the commencement of the Session and said—"However desirable it may, under ordinary circumstances, be, that you should not interfere with the fair course of capital, still, looking to the unheard-of state of things that exists at present with reference to the capital proposed to be employed in railway undertakings, we (the Government) would advise you to restrict them," in some way as was now proposed to be done; the answer would have been, "How do you know what capital is to be expended on them? The test of the deposits is yet to come, and after that the test of the Standing Orders; and it may be that not one-third of the schemes will be brought under the consideration of Parliament." With a view as far as possible to save the time of Parliament, and also as a check upon the parties themselves, the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, at the commencement of the Session, moved for a Committee to inquire how they should dispose of the railway business in the present Session; and he (the Earl of Dalhousie) had moved for a similar Committee in that House. The Committee sat for several weeks. After deliberation on the subject, the Committee of the House of Commons came to the determination that it was not expedient either to select from those Bills during the present Session, or in any way to restrict the course of them. It was not for him to give an opinion upon that decision. He quite admitted—and he had on all occasions, both there and elsewhere, admitted—that it was unsound as a principle to interfere with the free course of capital, with respect to railways as any other business. At the same time, he thought a broad distinction was to be drawn, and which was drawn on the evening that he first brought this question under their consideration, by a noble and learned Lord that was not now in his place. It was a different thing to interfere with persons who proposed to dispose of their own capital without the interference of Parliament, and with persons who proposed to 654 dispose of it after obtaining, and by means of obtaining, from Parliament extensive and, to many, objectionable powers for carrying their undertakings into effect. The Committees were of opinion that no restrictions should be imposed or selections made, and arrangements were made for dividing the business between the two Houses. Since that time public attention had been constantly directed to the subject, and much discussion had ensued. Recently, that public opinion and those discussions had assumed a substantial form: they had been brought under the consideration of Parliament, and under the notice of Her Majesty's Government by means of petitions to the Houses of Parliament, and memorials. Those documents represented, what he was certain was the entire truth, without a shadow of exagge ration, that great evils had resulted to all branches of trade, as well as to those concerns themselves. The prices of all materials of every description were likely to be greatly enhanced, not only to those undertakings themselves, but to other undertakings. The price of labour was likely to be greatly increased, and he (the Earl of Dalhousie) would be the last person to object to that if the increase were likely to be permanent; but as that increase was only of a temporary character created by peculiar circumstances, he thought it would tend, as it had tended, more to the injury than to the substantial good or improvement of the condition of the working classes. Further, by the great demand for money which now existed, and which was contemplated as likely to continue, all other branches of trade, even not connected with railway undertakings, were cramped in their operations in a way that severely affected their interests; and no one could doubt that this tightness in the money market was telling most severely upon the commercial community. It was not other trades alone that were affected by the present state of things, but the railway companies themselves were affected by it. It was a matter of notoriety, that not only those advancing towards the passing of their Bills would suffer, but also those already in existence and incorporated. Even the old established companies, who were already invested with full powers, who were already in full operation, found themselves, when desirous of increasing their influence and adding to their wealth by the construction of new branches to the old undertaking, encompassed with difficulties; and this was still more the case 655 with those companies who had very recently obtained powers, and were only just beginning to carry their projects into effect. They all found the greatest difficulty in obtaining any satisfactory answer to the calls which they made for the payment of the moneys for which the shareholders had made themselves responsible. In Ireland, as he had stated to their Lordships the other evening, matters were in a still worse state. He understood that already applications had been made to Her Majesty's Government, or, at any rate, that representations had been made from the two that might be fairly considered the best and most promising lines in Ireland, setting forth their desire to obtain assistance from Government to carry on their undertakings. One of these was the Waterford and Limerick Railway—a line which of all others the people of that country seemed interested in seeing successfully directed—a line represented to be a most valuable undertaking—valuable not alone in a commercial point of view, though in that most valuable—but as being strictly an Irish enterprise—originated by Irishmen, with a majority of Irish shareholders, having Irish capital, and having everything connected with it Irish. It was the same line which the Commission appointed in 1837 to inquire into that subject especially recommended; and yet that line was now almost at a standstill. The other railway to which he alluded was the one intended to connect the town of Newry with Enniskillen — that was in precisely the same condition as the Waterford and Limerick; and, so great had been the deterioration in the value of shares in that line, that many of the shareholders had sent in their shares and got rid of them at 2s. 6d. per share. Their Lordships were now engaged and would be engaged during the ensuing Session on Irish railway projects: many of these would be unopposed; many were making their way without difficulty or hindrance through Parliament. Her Majesty's Government desired that no impediment should be offered to the consideration of all such lines this Session, in the belief that the passing of these Bills would be a great boon to the people of Ireland, as likely to afford that employment which was so requisite under existing circumstances; and yet all these objects would be defeated by the evils which he had pointed out. Not only would the promoters of these particular schemes find their wishes frustrated, and their original calculations false; but it 656 would be the means, by increasing the demand for money, of preventing established companies carrying their works into execution; and this last consideration was a most important one, so far as the question of giving employment was concerned, for the older companies were on the spot, prepared, if permitted, to commence, while the other newer lines could not for some time to come be in that condition. With respect to the general state of feeling throughout the country on that subject, he could not state anything stronger than what he had mentioned to their Lordships on a former occasion. As they knew, the progress of a Railway Bill through Parliament had always been watched with anxiety; had been the means of stimulating the hopes of those directly engaged in such a Bill, and the expectations of others desirous of being connected with it; consequently that invariably for that period the value of the stock had increased. But precisely the contrary was the fact now. Formerly, when a Bill was going through Committee, with so intense an interest was its fate awaited, that it was said expresses of every description were constantly sent off from the House of Commons to convey information to the Stock Exchange; and many of their Lordships might have heard, that it was no uncommon thing for carrier-pigeons to be let loose outside the doors of Parliament to wing their flight to the Exchange, in order to give a chance to some on or other to operate successfully, and with the advantage of early information, in railway schemes. But now he had been distinctly informed by parties whose information might be relied upon, and whose interests were affected by the results, that in this Session—so altered were the circumstances—just in proportion as railway schemes appeared to be favourably advancing through Parliament, and as they had a prospect of success, exactly in that proportion did the value of the stock fall in the market. In Scotland—in his own country—he knew that not only was this description of railway affairs correct, but it was also the fact that there was a most earnest desire on the part of all those engaged in these undertakings to free themselves from them—to disconnect themselves altogether, for the present, from railway enterprise. He had himself read that day in a Scotch paper of three—he knew of two—railways which had already passed through several of the stages in the House of Commons, which had gone through Committee, met with no 657 impediment, and floated unrestrainedly down the stream, but which, the very moment they had got through Committee, had had their subscribers called together in Scotland, with a view of inquiring how and when they could wind up their affairs, and into the mode by which they could put a stop to the undertaking. Well, now, that was the state of things; and the very palpable inquiry which would be made would be—if they did wish to get out of these schemes, to get disentangled from the after liabilities—if all these public benefits and private advantages would result from such a course—if that were so, why on earth did they not wind up? Why, the answer was, simply for this reason, that the law, as it at present stood, would not admit of such a proceeding—they could not wind up. Now, he might observe here—and it was unnecessary to enter into any arguments to justify the opinion—that though he agreed with those who hold it unwise for Parliament to interfere for the purpose of restricting the free course of capital towards any given undertaking; yet it was in no way objectionable—it was in fact, most desirable—that all parties might be furnished with the means of directing and restraining the flow of their own capital. He thought it would be most advantageous, that those who, having engaged in these concerns, subsequently saw good reasons to change their minds, and to desire to escape from the trammels with which they were surrounded, should have the opportunity afforded to them of repairing the error; and he was also of opinion, that as such persons were now applying to Parliament for facilities by which to enfranchise themselves, it was not only the policy, but it was also, strictly, the duty of Parliament, to offer every facility in its power for the effecting, in a legitimate manner, of that object. He would not go into the details of the laws by which such transactions were regulated. There was, it was true, in existence an Act giving powers for the winding up of the affairs of joint-stock companies; but that Act applied only to companies which had already obtained their corporate character. A railway company was called so commonly even before it got its Act; but it was no more, in reality, than a simple partnership; and it was not in the power of those who were of that partnership to free themselves, without the consent of every Member and every partner. It would, therefore, be manifest to their Lordships, that it was impossible, in these great concerns, in which hundreds or 658 thousands of persons were engaged, that such a freedom as that he spoke of could in the ordinary way be obtained within any reasonable time, if it could be obtained at all. A case had been stated to him, which had also been mentioned elsewhere, of a railway company in this position:—they had subscribed a capital of 100,000l. which was deposited; they saw reason not to press their project, and they desired to wind up their affairs; and an opinion was taken to inquire if that were possible. Of the 100,000l. there had been spent about 10,000l., and consequently there would have remained to be divided among the shareholders a sum of 90,000l., which would have given them 2l. 5s. on the 2l. 10s. paid upon each share. The proposition was very generally agreed to; but it was objected to by a very few; and consequently it was found impossible to divide, or to come to the desired arrangement. It would be allowed to be undesirable that such a state of things should continue; and the law, as he was informed, required, not only that the absolute consent of every individual interested in this partnership should be obtained in winding up affairs, but even if there should be a determination at a general meeting of the proprietors to wind up — even if the affairs actually were wound up—if the deposits had been divided after the full discharge of the liabilities, still it would be in the power of one single Member who had withheld his consent, to require all the parties to replace those funds in the original state. Now, he said, that such a law was not solely impolitic—it was most unjust; and it had been determined to make some alteration. It was the intention of Her Majesty's Government, as early as possible after the Easter recess, to introduce a Bill, the object of which would be to enable railway companies who were now before Parliament, and had not obtained their corporate capacity, to wind up their affairs, with a view of putting an end to the undertaking to conduct which they were associated. He would as shortly as possible, and avoiding detail, lay before their Lordships this proposition, the principle upon which the Government desired to legislate as regarded railways, and the main objects to which their efforts would be directed. Her Majesty's Government proposed by a machinery to be provided, that means should be given to those who were the actual holders of stock in railway companies to call a meeting of the proprietors, and determine whether the affairs of that company should be 659 wound up or not: that that meeting should decide by a majority—the proportion of numbers probably being according to the number of shares possessed—whether the company should be wound up or not: if the proposition to dissolve should be negatived, the Bill, of course, was to be proceeded with: if the determination should be to wind up, then a certain machinery would be applied; an official assignee, probably, would act as trustee of the funds of that company to satisfy all the demands of the creditors on that fund; and, after every creditor should be satisfied, the remaining sum would be divided rateably among those who were entitled to a share of the deposits. If there should be a deficit, which was not likely to occur, but was a possible event, it was not proposed that there should be any exemption to the parties now by law liable for the payment of all the expenses that might be incurred. He (the Earl of Dalhousie) thought that under the operations of such a Bill, every facility would be given to companies who were desirous of winding up their affairs. But it was clear that a scheme of this nature required some time for formation, and that some little time must elapse before such a measure as that contemplated could pass; and in the mean time the railway measures before Parliament were proceeding and in progress through the two Houses. He believed that many of those measures were of the character he had described to their Lordships; many of the shareholders in many of these companies would have been desirous of such a machinery as would enable them to wind up their affairs; but inasmuch as the shareholders were at present devoid of all power to effect that object, those measures would — if some arrangement were not made — pass through Parliament before they could secure the operation of the Bill which they intended to introduce, or obtain for it the sanction of Parliament. To remedy this evil, he intended to propose a Resolution, "that if a petition shall be presented, signed by a majority of the holders of the shares in any given undertaking, praying Parliament to suspend the progress of that undertaking until such time as the measure giving facilities for the winding up of railway affairs shall have been adopted, then the progress of such undertaking shall be stayed accordingly." There were some few Bills which had already come from the other House up to their Lordships' House, and they would come under the operation of such a Resolution of that House; and those which had 660 commenced in that House, and were going towards the other, with those in the other House, which had not passed through all the stages, would be equally affected by the Resolution of the other House. He had now detailed the broad outlines of the measure which he proposed to submit to their Lordships. The principle of the measure was, that facilities should be given to railway companies to wind up their affairs as soon as possible after a determination to that effect had been come to; that that power should be given to those actually interested in the funds of the company; that such a course should be decided upon only by a proportion of shareholders to be stated in the Bill; and at such determination ample security should be taken for the safe custody of the funds of the company, for the liquidation of every substantiated claim, and for the return of the residue to those possessing the right to receive it. There was also included the continuance of the liabilities of those who were now liable. And also with respect to Bills in progress through Parliament, and expected to be passed before the Bill he now described should have the consent of the Crown, and, consequently, before the shareholders could have an opportunity of availing themselves of the power which they now had not; a Resolution would be proposed, that, on a petition being presented, showing that a majority of those interested in the concern were desirous of availing themselves of the provisions of the proposed Bill, the progress of the particular Railway Bill should be stayed—not rejected—until such time as the required opportunity was available. As he had stated before, he thought it extremely desirable that the intentions of Government should be indicated previous to an adjournment for the Easter recess, principally in order that time should be saved, and likewise that the parties affected by the Bill might be enabled to consider the matter; that they might not be surprised; and that they might have the full opportunity of taking whatever preparatory step they might think proper. As soon after the Easter recess as possible, he would submit the Bill to their Lordships, and they would then be enabled to discuss its provisions in detail.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
expressed his satisfaction at the Government having at length become sensible of the propriety of taking some decisive step in this matter; but he was sorry that they had not adopted the requisite proceedings long ago, as he 661 feared that much injury had resulted from the delay that had taken place. Much injury had, he believed, resulted to persons interested in railways, and to the public generally, from the fact that shareholders appeared to be very generally ignorant of their right to petition Parliament praying the House to stay the progress of exceptionable Bills, or even to withhold their assent from such Bills altogether. He knew not to what this delusion was to be attributed, unless indeed it was to interested persons having the charge of Railway Bills, who might have used their exertions to keep the shareholders in the dark on this important question; their main object being that, no matter what might be the ultimate fate of such Bills, sufficient money might be subscribed on account to indemnify them for their expenses and other costs. The plan which the noble Earl proposed was one in the administration and carrying out of which much precaution would be necessary. The first indication of the necessity of some measure such as that which the Government was now about to pursue, had come from the portion of our countrymen generally considered the most shrewd and sensible above all others when their interests were in question—the people of Scotland. It was the North Britons who took the earliest alarm on this subject, and first represented the wisdom and good policy of affording to those who had perhaps been tempted to speculate incautiously, an opportunity for retracing their steps, and appealing to Parliament to annul or suspend the progress even of their own Bill. But great precaution would be required in carrying out such a plan as that contemplated by the noble Earl. For instance, in the case of competing companies, interested parties might seek to run down the credit of a particular railway, for the purpose of purchasing the shares at a very low discount, and then dividing the deposits, thus obtaining a large profit by the transaction. Such a proceeding as this was not unnatural; but it was knavish and discreditable in the last degree, and Government should take care to guard against it. Infinite mischief also had already, and probably would, continue to result from what already had been found a frequent source of evil—the system of permitting railway speculation on an insignificant scale, by allowing the capital to be raised in shares of a very small amount. This peddling description of speculation had been attended with most disastrous consequences. Government and the Legislature 662 should retrace their steps in this respect; and while they gave encouragement to the bonâ fide investment of capital, they should take care to discountenance in the most marked manner the "little-go" system of speculation, which the humblest, and he had almost said the most destitute, classes, were enabled to traffic in. No one could be more averse than he to depriving the humble classes of the power and opportunity of investing their savings with security according to their limited means; but in matters of speculation those classes were not the most competent judges of what was likely to prove of advantage to them; and therefore into this field of adventure they should not be encouraged to enter. On the grounds of public morality, if for no other reason, he hoped that the Government would perceive the propriety of putting an end to a system which had been productive of that reckless and irrational practice of low gambling in railway speculations, the injurious effects of which were now so painfully felt in the stagnation of our commerce, and the paralyzation with which our banking and trading interests had been afflicted. The evils which were now experienced in so distressing a degree were assuredly to a certain extent to be ascribed to the neglect or inefficient conduct of the Government itself. Take as an example their conduct in relation to railroad deposits. The point for which he was now contending had been urged on the consideration of Government when the question was discussed of first compelling shareholders to pay in their deposits in money; subsequently of investing their deposits in stock; and finally, selling out that stock in order to commence the execution of their works. If the Government had at an earlier period taken this matter into consideration, and introduced some such measure respecting it as he was now happy to learn was in progress in the other House, much benefit would have long since resulted, and some portion at least of that derangement of the trading, commercial, and banking interests which they had now so deeply to deplore, would have been prevented. He concurred with the noble Earl in thinking that it would have been unwise and inexpedient for Government to have interfered with ordinary commercial speculation, or the legitimate flow of capital; but it was to him a matter of deep regret that they had not perceived the wisdom of adopting a course which that noble Earl had recommended as likely 663 to prevent great public inconvenience, and to promote much public good. He alluded to the system of classifying the application for railways. Surely nothing could have been easier for a Committee of their Lordships' House than to have reported that the public interests would be advanced by giving precedence in order of discussion to Railway No. 1 over Railway No. 2, and to No. 3 over No. 4. This it was thought could not have been advantageously done in their Lordships' House, because all the Railway Bills were not before their Lordships, but before the Commons. Still the plan was a rational and a just one; and if it had been successively and firmly urged by the Government in the lower House, the consequences to the trading and banking interests, and to the public generally, would have been most beneficial. He deeply regretted that the Government had not, at an earlier period of the Session, taken some such step as they now appeared to understand the necessity of adopting. With respect to the course of policy proposed by the noble Earl to be adopted at a future day, his objections to it were on account of its extreme vagueness and indistinctness. It merely rested on the noble Earl's speech: he introduced no Bill, he proposed no definite resolution; there was nothing tangible about it—nothing that could be considered—nothing that could be measured, though it affected an amount of property almost incalculable: all would be left vague and indistinct up to the time the proposed Bill itself should be introduced. It would have been well had the precaution been even taken of printing and publishing the Bill which it was intended to introduce after the Easter recess; for parties interested in railway matters would more clearly understand their position, and would have an opportunity of comprehending what were the intentions of Government in their behalf. The principle of the Bill, as far as he could understand it, he cordially approved of; but it was a matter of regret to him that the noble Earl had not been more distinct, more circumstantial and minute, in his statement of the policy intended to be adopted by the Government. The noble Earl made some general observations about the machinery of the plan that was intended to be adopted; but he did not enter into details or particulars, and it was to be feared that nothing but doubt and confusion would result from the vagueness and indistinctness of his proposition. He would respectfully urge his noble 664 Friend to the consideration of this question, whether it would not be possible for him at once to give to the public in extenso, or at all events, in all its material parts, the plan which the Government intended to carry into effect. He had one suggestion to make, of which he thought the noble Lord would see the necessity. Care should be taken to limit the applications for dissolutions of companies by wise and salutary restrictions, so that such applications might in all cases be bonâ fide and legitimate. Abuses might otherwise arise. Thus, for instance, in the case of two rival and competing schemes, one might endeavour to obtain a certain interest in the other by buying up their shares; and having done this, they might endeavour to throw their affairs into confusion, in order that there might be a pretext for applying to Parliament by petition for a dissolution. Such an evil as this should be strictly guarded against; and care should be taken that what was designed as a remedial measure should not be converted into an instrument for harassing and annoying competing lines. He thought the measure should have been made to take effect from a certain day, namely, the day of the present declaration, in analogy to the effect given to a resolution for the reduction of a duty: such resolution took effect from the date of the passing the resolution. He considered a company that could not or did not propose to carry out its undertaking, was a great injury to the community. An unfinished railroad would be found one of the greatest nuisances that could be inflicted on the country. In 1824, when the tide of speculation was high, when the "bore" was running up the river, as rapidly as at the present time, many of the schemes were foreign ones; and the money embarked in the Columbia Pearl Fishery, or the Sandwich Islands Sandalwood Company, was simply lost and wasted. But in the case of an unfinished railroad, the agricultural districts would be left with a great dry ditch cut through the centre of the country, without rails, and without any possibility of completing the plan. Then in what a position would the landholders along the line be placed? For three years they would have the compulsory powers of the Act hanging over their heads, which might deprive them of the most valuable part of their estates. With respect to Bills now before Parliament, it was to be hoped that both Houses would perceive the necessity of suspending their further progress until 665 the measure which was in the contemplation of Government should have been introduced. Most assuredly he (Lord Monteagle) would not consent to the passing of any Bill, even through a single stage, until their Lordships should be in possession of the Government measure. There was another point in reference to which much care and caution would require to be used. The noble Earl proposed that Bills should be suspended in compliance with a petition signed by a majority of the shareholders; but here a difficulty arose: for how were their Lordships to know whether the proportion of shareholders signing the petition did in truth constitute the majority or stronger part of the company, either in respect of members or in respect to the amount of stock which they held; or how were they to be sure of either or both of these facts, first, that the signatures were authentic, and secondly, that the parties signing were indeed shareholders at the period of the presentation of the petition? These were all matters which should be taken seriously and carefully into consideration. One word more, and he had done. Allusion had been made by the noble Earl to the difficulty which some Irish railway companies had experienced in getting their capital paid up. This might perhaps be the case in some instances; but he denied that the rule held good in the case of all Irish railway enterprises. The rule was the other way. With respect to the majority of railways in Ireland, it was perfectly consistent with truth to allege of them that they were admirably conducted, and presented instances of as judicious, careful, and effective management as could be found in any country in the world. He might particularize the cases of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, and, as far as its operations had as yet extended, the Dublin and Cashel. Difficulty in obtaining capital for such enterprises might perhaps be felt to some extent just at the present moment in Ireland; but it was not experienced in a greater degree than in England, where it was well known that whereas money might be had in plenty at two and a half per cent last year, now some of the best established English railroads had found it difficult to raise a capital at five per cent.
did not attach blame to the Government for not having brought forward this question at an earlier period, but thought that considerable blame attached to them for not having interfered 666 with the question of deposits. He thought, however, that it would have been better if the proposition of the Government had come two or three days earlier, because it would then have been more satisfactorily discussed. He begged to suggest whether it might not be possible to devise some expedient, even with the powers which their Lordships already possessed, to remedy, at least in a temporary manner, the evil now felt, and to prevent shareholders from being further involved in projects which they feared would prove far from profitable. There was already a Standing Order, that, in the case of companies already established seeking for fresh powers, the application could not be entertained unless it could be shown that it had been approved of by a majority of the shareholders at a special meeting. Now he suggested whether it might not be possible to introduce a Motion directing that, in the case of projected companies, when the question arose as to whether the Bill should be advanced a stage, it should be rendered imperative on the applicants to show that the assent of the shareholders had been obtained.
§ LORD WHARNCLIFFE
concurred in the expediency of adopting some such measure as that proposed by the noble Earl, and he took this opportunity of expressing his satisfaction at the proposal that had been made. He, however, was of opinion that the Government should have taken this course at an earlier period of the Session, when they could have made a reasonable calculation of the amount of business they would have to deal with. He wished to ask the noble Earl, in the plan he proposed for preparing the way for those measures which he intended to bring before their Lordships, whether he proposed to effect his object, in respect to pending Railway Bills, by means of the Standing Orders Committee, or whether he merely intended to leave the question to be disposed of in the way he had stated—namely, by the presentation of petitions on the part of the shareholders? He thought it would be better upon the first day of their re-assembling after the recess, that some Standing Order should be agreed upon which would expressly declare, to all parties concerned, the conditions and mode by which they would be enabled to take advantage of the proposal of the noble Earl. There were five Bills now on their Lordships' Table waiting for a third reading. He trusted that no further progress would be made in respect to these Bills until this 667 question be settled. He also wished to ask whether the Government had considered the expediency of adopting some arrangement in respect to the Bills passed last Session, so as to render them all subject to any general rules that might be recommended by Parliament?
The EARL of DALHOUSIE
said, that such a clause would be introduced as would bring all those Bills referred to by the noble Lord under the one arrangement, and no Bills would obtain the force of law until this clause was agreed to. In reply to the other question asked by the noble Lord, it was his intention to propose that in any Sessional Orders that might be agreed to, the condition and mode should be distinctly specified by which the different companies should be enabled to avail themselves of the proposal of the Government. He believed that a proposition would be made in the other House of Parliament to postpone the further progress of Railway Bills until the 27th or 29th of April. It was his intention, on the first day of their meeting after the recess, to submit a Resolution, the object of which would be, to make it a Sessional Order of the House that, in respect to those Railway Bills proceeding in their course through Parliament, the further progress of them should be stayed upon the presentation of petitions signed by a majority of the shareholders, containing a prayer to that effect. With respect to the charge that was made against Government for not having taken this course at an earlier period of the Session, he had again to state to their Lordships that during the months of September and October, the Members of the Government had repeatedly met together with a view of considering this subject. They did not think it right to restrict the investments to any particular amount; but it was generally agreed upon that a selection should be made of those schemes to which priority would be given in the consideration of them by the two Houses of Parliament. Great trouble was then taken in classifying the whole 800 schemes. They were classified according to the relative importance of each. It was true that this plan was never specifically submitted in the form of Resolutions to the Committee of the other House of Parliament. It was, however, perfectly well known. Although it would be most important to pass these Resolutions as rapidly as possible, yet the fullest opportunity would be afforded to noble Lords after the recess to discuss their merits in every particular.
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
said, he did not think that the noble Earl had distinctly stated what he meant to do in respect to the Bills on the Table of the House that were waiting for a third reading.
The EARL of DALHOUSIE
said, that considering the other House intended to come to similar Resolutions, he had thought that this fact would be considered as a sufficient check on the progress of these Bills. On the first day of their re-assembling after the recess, it was his intention to propose a similar Resolution to that which he supposed would be this evening-agreed to by the House of Commons, that no Railway Bill should be read a third time till the 27th April.
§ House adjourned to Tuesday, the 21st instant.