HC Deb 05 March 1850 vol 109 cc402-4

said, he had given notice of his intention to introduce a Bill for the more affectual Audit of Railway Accounts. It might be in the recollection of the House that he had inquired, early in the Session, whether it was the intention of the Government to bring in any Bill relative to the audit of railway accounts, and that the President of the Board of Trade then stated that the Government were not disposed to introduce any Bill on the subject, but that if no measure was proposed by any independent Member on behalf of the shareholders, the Government would be prepared to take up the question. It might be recollected that a Bill relating to the audit of railway accounts had been originated in the other House in 1848, but had been rejected by that House; and last year a nearly similar Bill, which had been introduced in the House of Lords, had also shared the same fate when it came down to the House of Commons. He did not believe that any system of audit which was tainted by Government interference would have the confidence either of the railway shareholders or of the country; and he thought that in this case the trite quotation was particularly applicable— Timeo Danaos, et dona ferentes. He understood that a Bill for establishing an audit of railway accounts had been introduced last night in the other House, and he believed, from what he had heard of its nature, that it was a measure to which he could give his support, as it very closely resembled that which he had intended to submit to the House. He was convinced, although there was an almost unanimous opinion against Government interference, yet the opinion was equally universal that it was high time some steps were taken to establish an affectual audit with regard to the vast amount of capital embarked in railway speculations. It was uuneccssary to recall to the recollection of the House the painful disclosures which had been made as to the waste, extravagance, misapplication, and frauds which had occured in railway concerns; and it had been a matter of surprise to every man acquainted with business, that some measures had not been taken earlier to protect the bonâ fide investers in such speculations. He considered that to render any system of audit efficient it must be continuous in its operation, the accounts must be published half-yearly upon a uniform model, and the audit must be untainted by what was called Government interference. He had had six or seven years' experience as a shareholder and bondholder in most of the large railway companies, and had become familiar with the ill consequences resulting from the want of an efficient control over the financial departments of those companies, and, having applied his attention to the subject, he had framed a Bill, which he was ready to lay on the table, with the view of establishing an efficient system of audit. He considered that any measure that might be adopted on this subject should be framed in a spirit of courtesy towards railway directors, because, although there had undoubtedly been much extravagance, and in some cases gross frauds, yet he believed that, with some few exceptional cases, the directors were honourable men, who exerted themselves to promote the interests of the shareholders. Under the circumstances, however, he did not think the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had acted upon the pledge he gave when he said the Government would only introduce a Bill, provided no independent Member took up the subject—

Notice taken, that forty Members were not present; House counted; and forty Members not being present.

The House was adjourned at a quarter after Ten o'clock.