HC Deb 18 May 1830 vol 24 cc858-63
Mr. Dugdalesaid

, he rose to move the Order of the Day for the taking the report of the committee on the Birmingham and London Junction Canal Company into con- sideration. The document contained a statement of facts which demanded the attention of the House; and, after the report was received, it was his intention to propose such an alteration in the Standing Orders as would prevent the recurrence of such objectionable practices. The House would recollect that in the commencement of the Session, a petition was presented which contained a list of the subscribers, and disclosed the object of the proposed undertaking. It was then represented that the estimate of the cost of the work was 453,000l., and that 394,000l. of that sum was subscribed by 232 persons; and it has since appeared in evidence, that various names were set down as applicants for shares, not with a view of paying for the shares demanded, but for the purpose of obtaining the expected premium in the market. It was also shown that a great number of the subscriptions were the names of needy and indigent persons of inferior station of life, who were quite unable to pay the sum affixed to their names; and it was further proved, that many names were set down without the privity and consent of those to whom they belonged, and that like wise fictitious names were set down. It was proved that the plan was laid down by Mr. Telford, the engineer, who gave it as his opinion that an undertaking of the nature contemplated might be accomplished. A prospectus was then issued, and two persons, whose names were Moses Levi and John Edward Stokes, combined to set the Company into motion, and to perpetrate a gross fraud on the House and on the country. Levi, who is since dead, appears to have been the first mover of the scheme; and he induced Stokes, who was not affluent, to join in the transaction. Stokes had been called before the committee, and from him information had been obtained as to the mode of forming the Company. He said that Moses Levi came to him, and told him that he had a very fine company coming forward, and an agreement in writing was entered into, by which Stokes was to manage the company on the Stock Exchange, where his business lay, and they were to divide the profits equally after paying the necessary expenses. He was instructed to urge people to write for shares, and he admitted that he had induced 200 persons to do so who were men of no fortune, and were called "premium-hunters," and Stokes declared that he did not believe that these men possessed the value of one share a-piece. The solicitor to the concern was Mr. Eyre Lee; but he (Mr. D.) was bound to say, that so far as he and the committee were able to judge, that gentleman, who was a respectable man, did not seem to be aware of the nature of the undertaking he was embarked in, and it was presumed that he had been imposed upon by other designing people. He had been the agent to deposit the fictitious subscription-list already adverted to, and in doing so he was very culpable. The Standing Orders of the House had been evaded, or rather they were in form complied with, inasmuch as a list of the subscriptions was lodged in the Private Bill-office. To remedy the defect which permitted so unsatisfactory a document to pass through the House was one of the objects of the Resolution with which he meant to follow up the report. It appeared on all sides that Levi was the great planner of the scheme, and that Stokes and his assistants were his agents. Having said thus much to satisfy the House of the necessity of some protection being established in future, he would move, after the report was brought up, that the Christian and surname, the calling and residence of every subscriber be in future deposited in the Private Bill-office; and that no bill should in future be introduced unless one-half of the estimated sum was subscribed for by persons who would consent to bind themselves by contract to pay the sums respectively subscribed.

Mr. Benson

approved of the resolutions so far as they went, but in his opinion they did not go far enough, and he could not help expressing his surprise that some more decided course had not been taken to meet a case of such vital importance. There could not be a doubt but that a fraud had been contemplated to a great extent on the 19th of February, when the list was lodged. In the committee, Mr. Eyre Lee, the solicitor, was called on to produce a list, which he did, and which he gave in. There were two members of the committee who cautioned him against persevering in the attestation of the list, because they were aware that it was a fabricated and fallacious list. They were also aware that the declared consent of" several persons was fallacious, and letters were read to that effect; and he (Mr. Benson) knew from one nobleman that his name had been made use of as assenting to the bill without his sanction, and his tenants had been induced to assent by the use made of his name, under the idea that their landlord had assented. The committee after a painful investigation, found that the Standing Orders had not been complied with, which, with all the other circumstances attending the case, induced him to conclude that there had been a gross violation of the privileges of the House. He begged leave therefore to ask the Speaker, whether he was right in considering the question as one of privilege, and whether further time should not be given before it was brought forward in that shape?

The Speaker

said, as he had been referred to by the hon. member for Stafford, to determine whether the present was a question of privilege or not, he could only say that the subject was before the House, and it was for the House to determine, whether any party was censurable or not, and to what extent that censure ought to go, and whether more time was necessary before the House came to so strong a decision.

Mr. Benson

said, in order to put the question in a tangible shape, he would move that Mr. Thomas Eyre Lee, Solicitor to the London and Birmingham Junction Canal Company, be called before the House, for the purpose of being reprimanded.

The Speaker

said, he hoped the hon. Member would allow him to suggest to him that such a motion ought to be made, independently of the resolutions which were proposed by the hon. member for Warwickshire. It should not be made as an adjunct to those resolutions, but the hon. Member was not precluded from making a distinct motion.

Mr. Hume

said, he had paid attention to the case; but of course he could not know as much as the members of the committee, and he recommended that some time should be given for inquiry, and to allow Members to make up their minds on so important a proceeding.

Colonel Peel

said, the motion of the hon. member for Warwickshire should be taken by itself. It was distinct from that of the hon. member for Stafford, which contemplated the redress of a gross violation of the privileges of the House.

Mr. Hume moved, that the report and the resolution be received and printed, and that the further consideration of them be adjourned to Thursday; and he re- commended that the existing Standing Order or by-law should be printed with them, in order to show Members the difference between the evil and the remedy.

Mr. Benson

was not inclined to assent to the postponement of his resolution.

Sir R. Peel

begged the hon. Gentleman to understand that his motion was perfectly distinct from the resolution; and that he was at liberty to press it or adjourn it as he pleased.

Mr. W. Wynn

deprecated the idea of deciding so strong a point without notice having been given, and he recommended the hon. Member to give notice, and withdraw his motion for the present.

Mr. Benson

then proposed to adjourn his motion till Thursday next.

Mr. Wynn

suggested that the best way would be, to move that the report be taken into consideration on that day.

After some farther conversation, it was agreed that the whole question should be postponed till Thursday.