§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he had a petition to present and a question to ask of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. It appeared that in 1852 a railway company, called the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company, was formed, and obtained an Act of Parliament, under which they had the power of borrowing £600,000, when they had raised half their share capital. It appeared that a return of their capital was made to the Board of Trade, from which it was clear that a fraud had been practised on the House. In 1854 a return was made to the Board of Trade of the shares issued and paid for amounting to £552,000. The directors in their report stated the amount at £480,110, while the sum really subscribed by the public was £287,878. In 1859 another incorrect return was made. There were a great number of other frauds charged in the petition. By the Act of Parliament the company was compelled not to have upon their direction less than five persons, but no more than four were at any time directors of that company, and for a great part of the time there were only three—Mr. Jackson, and his son, and Mr. Robert Watson, who acted as secretary as well as director. The company had since become 1746 bankrupt. They had borrowed a very large sum of money, and they had made fictitious and fraudulent returns to that House and the Board of Trade, and thereby taken in and swindled the public to the amount of £2,000,000 of money. He now presented the petition, and wished to ask the President of the Board of Trade, Whether he was prepared to direct the Attorney General to prosecute these persons for the fraud they had committed?
§ MR MILNER GIBSON
said, that the attention of the Board of Trade had been called to the subject of the petition which had just been presented by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. The returns, the accuracy of which were impugned, were made by the company to an order of that House. The order was sent to the Board of Trade, and they communicated with the company, but whether the return was accurate or not the Board of Trade had no means of ascertaining. The petitioner alleged that the returns were false, and the solicitor to the petitioner addressed a letter some time ago to the Board of Trade, in which he made similar allegations to those contained in the petition. He (Mr. Gibson), in reply, explained that the returns made by the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company were returns to an order of the house of commons, and not to requirements of the Board of Trade, which obviously had not the means and had never assumed to verify the statements made by companies of the amount of their paid-up share capital and of their outstanding loans; and therefore if any legal criminality attached to the making of false returns to the order in question of the house of commons, the parties making it were responsible not to the Board of Trade but to that House. Such was the purport of the answer he addressed to the solicitor of the petitioner when he made his statement to the Board of Trade.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
then said, that he would ask the permission of the House to have the petition printed, and sent round in the Votes of the House preliminary to a Motion which he should make on the subject.
§ Petition ordered to lie on the table.