§ MR. CHARTERIS
said, seeing the noble Lord the First Minister in his place, he rose to ask the question of which he had given notice. Before he did so, however, as considerable misunderstanding existed as to the object which he had in view, it being supposed by many that his question was directed against some individual Member of the House, than which, he assured them, nothing could be further from his intention; and, besides, as many of those present might not have a printed copy of the report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the financial affairs of the Eastern Counties Railway Company, he should read a short extract from that report, the bettor to explain the purport of his question. The Committee said—In the investigation of the disbursements under the head of Parliamentary expenses, there are several items, the precise character of which your Committee could not arrive at. The items referred to are the following—
§ In reference to the amount of the items marked A, namely, 7,606l, 17s 6d., the explanation given to your Committee by Mr. Waddington and Mr. Duncan was, that the sums, as stated, were disbursed by the company through them, for services rendered, and in a manner which did not leave them at liberty to give particulars, as these could not be given without implicating other parties."
§ Now, he had to remark that some of these parties affected by this report were Members of the Legislature, and that rumours 1394 of an unfavourable character were abroad that this sum of 7,606l. had been expended in facilitating the passage of Bills through that House; in other words, and in plain English, in corrupting Members of the House of Commons. He could not believe that hon. Members had been guilty of conduct so degrading and disgraceful, but he could not think at the same time that they ought to pass the rumour without notice. He did not think they ought to leave such a rumour to poison the public ear uninvestigated, and therefore he thought they must institute an inquiry into a statement such as that, not only affecting as it did the character of the House, but exciting grave suspicions as to the private honour and character of individual Members of the House. He thought they ought to institute an inquiry into the items of this expenditure. He believed that an inquiry would show that there was no foundation for those rumours; but if it should turn out otherwise, they should yet have the satisfaction of detecting the individual Members who had been guilty of corruption, and of holding them up to the reprobation of all honourable men. He, therefore, bogged to ask the noble Lord whether his attention had been drawn to the report which had been recently published by a Committee appointed to inquire into the management of the affairs of the Eastern Counties Railway Company, in so far as it affected the general character of this House?
§ LORD J. RUSSELL
I agree with the hon. Gentleman, that the words alluded to do tend to excite suspicions affecting the character and credit of this House. For my part I do not believe there is any foundation for the rumours, affecting still more deeply the private character of individual Members; but I do agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is not right to leave these words given forth by a Committee, a public Committee of persons of known name and character, without inquiry. I do not think it would be any advantage that that inquiry should be instituted by one of the Members of Government, although, if it seems desirable, and is the general wish of the House, I shall not refuse to ask some Member of the Government to move for a Committee. But I think the hon. Gentleman, having turned his attention to the subject, and the question being a question affecting the character of Members of the House, it were bettor that the inquiry should be conducted by the hon. Gentleman, assisted, as 1395 I believe he will be, by leading Members of all parties, than that it should be undertaken by the Government. I trust that, after considering the subject, and taking what means he thinks proper for ascertaining the opinion of Members of the House as to the best mode of instituting and conducting the inquiry, he will undertake this important inquiry himself, and that he will not let it rest till he has investigated the matter to the foundation.
said, he did not rise to offer any remarks with a view of stopping any inquiry which the House might think fit to make; but he wished to inform the House that he was not aware of the remarks quoted by the hon. Gentleman till he saw them in print, or that other observation made by the Committee, when they said—"The Committee did not further press this question, as it appeared to be one which Mr. Waddington could not answer, lest it might be asked again 'in another place.'" He assured the House that he had named no hon. Member whatsoever before the Committee, but quite the contrary; he had made no observation or remark with regard to the House of Commons, reflecting on individual Members, or in any way implicating any Member of the House. As soon as the Committee's report was published, the directors of the company took the only course which could gain them the public attention, by issuing a series of observations in reference to that report. These observations had been issued, and he would now read the remarks of the directors in reference to this sum of 7,606l. They said—In reference to an expenditure, however, of 7,606l., which is referred to in the Committee's report, the directors think it right to say that it was made to bring about important benefits for the company, by assisting a Committee in April, 1846, called the Size-lane Committee, formed for the purpose of carrying out the scheme of amalgamation with the Eastern Counties and London and York interests, which had been proposed by Mr. Hudson at the meeting in 1845, and which had been received with such unbounded satisfaction by the shareholders; and of that Committee Mr. William Cash was a member. Had the objects of that Committee succeeded, an enormous amount of expenditure. Parliamentary and otherwise, would have been saved; and that these objects were legitimate and proper, are sufficiently established by the fact that a gentleman of such respectability acted upon the Committee.That was the answer the directors had given to the proprietors in reference to this sum. He now begged to assure the House, as a man and a gentleman standing before 1396 a great and honourable assembly, that no Member of the House, directly or indirectly, had received a single shilling of that sum. He thought it due to the House, and to individual Members, to contradict this rumour, and to assure the House that if he had heard it said that any one Member of the House had received a single shilling of that sum, he would have repelled it as a calumny.
§ MR. CHARTERIS
said, with all respect for the hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding the declaration which he had made, he still believed it would be more satisfactory to institute an inquiry. And he, therefore, now begged to give notice, that on Thursday next, he would move for a Committee to inquire into the circumstances of this case.
§ Subject dropped.