§ MR. ROEBUCK
rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the truth of the allegations contained in the petition of Benjamin Coleman, presented on the 18th inst., charging fraud on the part of the Directors of the West Hartlepool Railway and Dock Company. The hon. and learned Member said, he had no personal knowledge of the facts, he knew nothing of the parties, and he had no interest in the case. As he was informed, this Railway Company obtained their Act of incorporation in 1852. A certain sum of money was fixed by the Railway Act as forming their capital, and borrowing powers to the extent of one-half their paid-up capital were conferred on them. That House required that every railway company should make a statement of the sums paid up as capital in their undertaking, in order that the sums which they were at liberty to borrow might be made known to the public. The fraud which it was alleged the Company had committed was in respect of their statements as to paid-up capital and interest. Three several returns of paid-up capital had been made by this Company. In their return to the Board of' Trade, in 1854, under the heading "Amount of Share Capital of the Company actually paid up," there appeared the sum of £552,000. In the same year the sum stated to their shareholders was £403,110; while the actual issue, as appeared by the books of the Company, was £287,878. In the return of 1859 the paid-up capital was stated to the Board of Trade as £815,000; the same amount was stated to the shareholders; while, in point of fact, no more than the £287,878 had ever been paid up. It was further alleged that the Company had borrowed to the extent of upwards of £2,000,000, which the House would see was greatly in excess of what was authorized by their borrowing powers. The actual interest paid by the Company was £59,497 1s. 4d.; while the amount returned to the Board of Trade was £26,076. In 1859 the actual interest paid was £84,427 3s. 6d.; the amount returned to the Board of Trade £31,897 4s. He knew it might be said by way of objection to his Motion that this matter was sub judice, as proceedings were pending in a court of law; but what he complained of was, that if the allegations in the petition 108 were true, the House of Commons had been imposed upon, and had been made the medium by which a fraud had been perpetrated on the public. He now left it to the House to deal with the case, and begged to move for the appointment of a Select Committee, at the same time intimating his intention of declining to serve on such Committee.
Motion made and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the truth of the allegations contained in the Petition of Benjamin Coleman, presented upon the 18th day of this instant March, charging Fraud on the part of the Directors of the West Hartlepool Railway and Dock Company.
§ MR. CONINGHAM
said, he could not help remembering, when the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Roebuck) was the other night applying the terms "swindling" and "swindler" to those concerned in this matter, that last year he had shown excessive indignation when he (Mr. Coning-ham) asked for an inquiry into the Galway Company, with which the hon. and learned Member had been connected. He (Mr. Coningham) knew of no valid reason why inquiries of this kind should be instituted by the House. He found counter allegations circulated among the Members of the House, in which reflections were made upon the person whom the hon. and learned Member represented. [Mr. ROEBUCK: No; I do not.] In a statement it was put forth that Benjamin Coleman, at Preston, had proposed to withdraw all proceedings on payment to him of £6,000, and it had also been stated by those connected with him that it was expected to make £20,000 by proceedings of a similar nature against other companies. He (Mr. Coningham) thought the House of Commons had far better business to attend to than to meddle in matters of this kind.
§ MR. FARRER
thought the House would arrive at the conclusion that there was no reason for appointing a Select Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) had stated that he had no interest in the case, and that he knew nothing about it. No one would suppose that he had any interest in it; and his speech was sufficient to show that he knew nothing about it. Was it fair, right, or generous, or was it consistent with the character of English gentlemen, to seek to prejudice the case of persons which, at the present moment, was undergoing inquiry in a court of law? 109 Personally, he had not the slightest acquaintance with Mr. Coleman, nor had he any interest in the Hartlepool Company; but he felt bound to put the House in possession of a few facts, as the subject had been introduced. Owing to an injunction issued by the Court of Chancery, the evidence could not be published till the whole case was concluded; but he might state that Mr. Coleman's Solicitor had said he hoped when this business was over, or words to that effect, they should be able to realize a large sum—he believed £20,000 had been mentioned—by adopting similar proceedings against other companies. Such an expression went far to confirm the opinion entertained by many persons that it was a scheme set on foot to extort money. On the 30th of November, at Preston, Mr. Coleman himself offered to withdraw all further opposition if the Company would give him a sum of £6,000. He by no means defended all the acts of the Company, and he was not prepared to deny that the gentleman at its head might, in the zeal of the moment have transgressed the power given by Parliament; but he maintained strongly that he was incapable of being influenced by any dishonourable or improper feeling. The objections now raised ought to have been brought before the Committee which sat last year, but there would shortly be another opportunity for the hon. and learned Gentleman and his friends and supporters.
§ MR. FARRER
was glad to receive that assurance. From the warm manner in which the hon. Gentleman had brought the matter before the House, coupled with his previous assertion that the Company had committed an act of swindling, the inference which he had drawn was not unnatural. It had been stated that Mr. Jackson was indebted to the Company in a very large sum: the fact being that at the present moment the Company were actually indebted to Mr. Jackson to the extent of £40,000. This was a most unwarrantable attack on a most respectable Company.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
reminded the House that the decision arrived at in this case would doubtless form a precedent; and if, on the mere presentation of a peti- 110 tion complaining of inaccuracies in a return made by a railway company, they were to appoint a Select Committee, they might have to inquire into the pecuniary transactions of all the railway companies in the kingdom. He himself had been the medium of procuring these returns; but they were ordered by the House, and the Board of Trade had no means whatever of testing their accuracy—although, if they were false, he presumed that a contempt of the House had been committed. Last Session the Company applied for power to raise further capital, and the Board of Trade pointed out the discrepancy between the statements contained in their returns and in the Bill itself. The returns alleged that the Company had not exercised any powers of raising money beyond the statutory limits, whereas by the Bill it was sought to legalize loans in excess. An inquiry of this kind could not be so successfully conducted by a Committee of that House as by a court of law. He understood that all the allegations of the petition were about to be investigated by means of a Bill in Chancery, and he thought that under those circumstances they should be careful not to prejudge the question. So far as the Board of Trade was concerned, he did not think it would be expedient to grant the Committee.
§ MR. ROEBUCK
said, he had no earthly interest in this matter. An attempt had been made to direct the feeling of the House against him for bringing this subject forward; but he had brought it forward on public grounds alone. He had used the word "swindling," and the way he had used it was this. He said, that if the allegations of the petition were true, it amounted to "swindling" upon the public. He had had evidence laid before him which appeared to him to sustain the allegations. In doing so he had done his duty, and it was now for the House to do theirs.
§ Question put, and negatived.