HC Deb 17 April 1837 vol 37 cc1301-5

The adjourned debate on the appointment of a Select Committee to examine whether any false evidence bad been knowingly and wilfully given before the Sub-Committee on petitions for private Bills in respect of Stephenson's line of Brighton railway was resumed.

Mr. Curteis

said, he was always unwilling to take up the time of the House; it was his wish to have seen the matter settled when the question was last under consideration. The case was simply this: —The petitioner (Mr. Mills) stated, that the plans and sections delivered in by the parties to Stephenson's line, were not in accordance with the standing orders, tend it was alleged, that in 131 instances the orders had not been complied with. It was further alleged, that notwithstanding' these deviations, the evidence given before the Committee went to show, that the orders had been fully complied with, and it was complained, that that evidence had been knowingly and wilfully given, with an intention of imposing on the Committee. When such allegations had been made, he thought the House was bound to grant investigation, and all the petitioner prayed for was a Committee, before which he might prove the charges he had brought forward.

Lord G. Lennox

contended, that the motion for a Committee was not for the purpose of proving that the parties to Stephenson's line had acted improperly, but was made with a view of having Mills's line again introduced to the House, He therefore trusted the House would not allow Mr. Milk's line to be again brought forward, or take any step which would have the effect of injuring or retarding Stephenson's line.

Mr. Greene

wished to rescue the House from a difficult position in which it would have been placed, had they consented to the original motion. It was against the practice of the House to enter into any investigation in regard to the standing orders, after the second reading of any Bill, and he thought the House would act most justly by adhering to the rules which it had laid down. Now, as the motion was framed, the Committee would have had to inquire whether the standing orders had or had not been complied with, and it was for that reason he had wished the discussion should be postponed.

Lord G. Somerset

thought the time was gone by, for the House to enter into any investigation, in regard to compliance or non-compliance with the standing orders. He did not wish to give encouragement to parties making factious opposition to Bills; and taking into consideration all the circumstances of the present case, he was prepared to vote for investigation, although he would oppose any attempt to introduce Mills's line again, or to retard the progress of the Bill for Stephenson's line. Fraud having been alleged, he considered the House bound to grant the Committee.

Colonel Wood

believed, that the present proceedings originated with a disappointed engineer, whose own line having been thrown out, was now attempting to defeat the Bill for a rival line, and he would therefore vote against the appointment of a Committee.

Captain Pechell

would vote for a Committee, as he was persuaded it was not the object of the hon. Member for Sussex to attempt, by a side wind, to throw out Stephenson's line, or to procure the reintroduction of Mills's line.

Mr. C. Barclay

opposed the motion. The Committee were to go into all the evidence which had been brought forward in regard to Stephenson's line, the whole remaining portion of the Session would not be sufficient for the investigation; and yet it would be necessary to go through the whole, in order to establish whether fraud had or had not been practised. It It was said, too, that the investigation would not affect Stephenson's line, but if the Committee reported, that fraud had been practised, he would put it to the House whether they could allow the Bill for Stephenson's line to go on. Could the House send the clerks and agents to Newgate, and yet allow the Company, the parties profiting by the fraud, to proceed with their Bill? The thing was impossible. The truth was, that they were to look upon the matter as a dispute betwixt two rival companies, one of which having been thrown over by the House, now attempted to throw over the other; and if the House were to grant the Committee prayed for, how long, he would ask, would it be before they had petitions presented from other rival companies, praying for similar Committees? In every case they would have disappointed parties looking out for small departures from the standing orders, and thus offering vexatious opposition to every undertaking. In the present case, the deviations were small, and he thought, therefore, it would be better to refuse the Committee, than establish a precedent which might be attended with the worst consequences as regarded the transaction of business by the House. He had been favourable to the Committee, but the opinion which had been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman in the chair, had convinced him that it would be wise to refuse the prayer of the petition, as from that opinion he had been persuaded of the danger of the precedent which would be created, were they to comply with the petition for investigation.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

could not see how Stephenson's line could go on, were the allegations proved, and, were a Committee granted, it would be necessary to put a stop to the proceedings in regard to that line, till its report was made, which would give the other competing lines an unfair advantage, supposing no fraud should be established.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

was afraid, that owing to the great importance of this railway, and in consequence of the excitement which had been produced on this question, hon. Gentlemen might be apt to look at it merely with reference to this particular Brighton railway, and not, as he was disposed to regard it, with reference to the future proceedings of that House. They would do well, in his opinion, to consider, before they established a precedent of this nature; for if he were not much mistaken, in no case had a Select Committee of Inquiry been appointed, either when the Bill had passed the second reading, or been before a Committee. But he found from the petitions on the table, from which he had carefully endeavoured to make himself acquainted with the merits of this case, that Mr. Mills made certain allegations respecting the conduct of agents on Stephenson's line; but he did not show that, at the time when these questions were dealt with by the Committee, he was not cognisant of the practices himself, and therefore the House was called to afford this Committee to inquire into false evidence, of which he was cognisant at the time the Bill was before the Committee; or of which, at least, he did not show that he was not cognisant. If the House were to yield on this occasion, there would be nothing to prevent any parties from trumping up a petition for a Select Committee upon every recurrence of a case at all similar to the present. There was another point well worthy the consideration of the House, viz., whether it would be possible for them to sanction further proceedings on the part of the promoters of Stephen son's line, in case the Committee asked for were to report, that the initiative of their Bill had been obtained on false grounds? If this Committee were appointed, there would be nothing to prevent the time of the House from being occupied, day after day, with petitions of a similar prayer. Let it be considered also; that all that could be done by the Select Committee would be, to inquire whether the allegations of the petitioner were true or false; but if they were false, the Committee had no power to punish the petitioner. If the House were to grant the Committee, the probability was, that they would be involved in application after application for Committees of Inquiry, by which the time of the House would be much occupied, and he could not help thinking great injustice done to parties concerned in railway and similar undertakings. He was willing to admit, to a certain extent, that it was necessary, for the support of the dignity of their proceedings, that conduct such as that complained of, should be investigated; but he did not admit this fully, for he did not think that Mr. Mills had shown that he was unaware of the circumstances he now stated, when the Bill was before the Committee; and, therefore, he did not think the House ought to allow Mr. Mills to do that then, which he had omitted to do before the proper tribunal. The injustice which it had been contended would be done, by allowing this Bill to proceed upon false evidence was, in his opinion, as nothing, when compared with the inconvenience which the contrary practice would entail upon the House. The great object of the House in its resolutions respecting private business, in the appointment of the Committee of forty-two, and in its other regulations on this head, was, in his opinion, to provide that there should be no application of this nature to the House, but that the Sub-Committee should decide; because it was clear that the House was not the fittest body to try those questions. He was decidedly opposed to the appointment of the Committee, and he thought that the House might as well rescind all their Resolutions respecting questions of this kind, and debate them in full House, as appoint that Committee.

Motion negatived.

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