HC Deb 26 June 1845 vol 81 cc1301-5
Mr. Hawes

said, that he rose to present a petition which had been put into his hands since nine o'clock: if it had not involved some serious charges against certain public officers, he should not have presented it to the House at that hour. It was from the South Eastern Railway Company, and stated that they had prepared a Bill to pass through Woolwich Common, as an extension of a portion of its line, which had been thrown out by the Standing Order Committee, but which was now before the Committee on Railway Bills under Group A, as a project for a railway. The opposing line was the London, Chatham, and North Kent Railway. When the former company proposed to carry their line across Woolwich Common, it was met with an entire objection from the Board of Ordnance. The nature of that objection was stated in a letter which was introduced in the petition. The petitioners then went on to state that they had reason to believe that influence had been used in favour of the Chatham and North Kent line, by the Solicitor to the Board of Ordnance; and in proof of this they had that morning laid before the Committee on Railways, Group A, a letter which had been received from the Solicitor to the Board of Ordnance, directed to the Secretary to the South Eastern Railway Company. On reading the copy of this letter in the petition, he had declined to present it to the House until the original letter had been put in his hands. He now held it in hand, and it purported to be signed by Mr. Hignett, the Solicitor to the Board of Ordnance, and it was to the effect that the tickets for the meeting of the Company at the London Tavern for the following Thursday had been received. It then went on to request that certain shares should be assigned to Captain Boldero, a member of the Board of Ordnance, and that they should be addressed to him at the office, and marked "private." It then stated that the writer had spoken to Mr. Bonham, another member of the Board, on the subject, who had made some difficulty as to taking shares; but it added, send them to him or not as he pleased. After some further observations, the letter was signed "John Hignett." This letter was addressed, as he had stated, to Mr. Whitehead the Solicitor to the South Eastern Company. This letter involved not only a charge against the writer of it, but also involved charges derogatory to certain public authorities; and that therefore he thought that some steps should be taken without delay on the subject. Since he had been in the House, he had spoken on the subject to the hon. and gallant Member for Huntingdon, and the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham. Under the circumstances, he felt it to be his duty to present the petition to the House without delay, for allegations of this kind should not be put forth without at once meeting a proper answer and explanation; and he had no doubt but that a satisfactory explanation could be given of the conduct of the public officers alluded to. The letters which he had mentioned had been laid before the Railway Committee on Bills, Group A, and that Committee had determined, as they involved charges against public officers, that they could not try the matter; and, therefore, it declined to receive the letters. In consequence of this, the parties had placed the petition in his hands. He should make no comment on the matter, and add nothing whatever to the statements in the Committee, other than observing that the charge was at present wholly ex-parle, and doubtless the persons alluded to, could give a satisfactory answer. As he had said before, he held the original letters in his hand. He should then only ask the House to consent to print the petition with the Votes, and he should to-morrow move for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the statements contained in it. He should therefore at once move that the petition be printed; and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would, as it was a Government night, allow him to move for the appointment of the Committee at the commencement of Public Business. He should have stated that the petition was signed on behalf of the South Eastern Railway Committee, and had its seal affixed to it.

Mr. Speaker

observed, that when the conduct of a Member of that House was impugned, it was the rule to ask the hon. Member whether he objected to the printing the petition until an opportunity had been afforded him of explanation.

Mr. Hawes

said, that not ten minutes ago he had spoken to the gallant Member for Chippenham, on the subject, who informed him that he had no objection to the course which he (Mr. Hawes) proposed to take.

Colonel Peel

stated, that his hon. and gallant Friend had no objection to the course proposed to be taken. It happened, however, that the decision respecting car- rying the railway across Woolwich Common, did not rest with the Board of Ordnance, but with the Inspector General of Fortifications. He had only heard of the letters that day, and if the hon. Member for Lambeth had not brought the subject forward, it had been his intention, without any delay, to have called the attention of the House to it.

Motion agreed to. Petition to be printed, and taken into consideration.

House adjourned at two o'clock.