HC Deb 26 April 1864 vol 174 cc1618-21

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Select Committee on Standing Orders of the 8th of March, 1864, in the case of the Sheffield, Chesterfield, and Staffordshire Railway Bill, and to move— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the operation of the Standing Orders of this House, and of the Act 9 & 10 Vict. c. 20, which regulate the depositing of money, or of public securities, with the Courts of Chancery in England and Ireland, and the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, in respect of works and undertakings requiring the authority of Parliament by Private Bills. The Select Committee, of which he had the honour to be chairman, had reported that there had been, in the case of the railway brought under their consideration, a clear evasion of the conditions laid down by Standing Orders of the House in regard to the deposit of money with the Accountant General. The Committee stated that the deposit for the occasion was borrowed from other parties wholly unconnected with the undertaking, and that, in order to secure the transfer of the stock, the promoters were constrained to hand over the control of the Bill to those parties. It was, however, only fair to the parties engaged in the transaction to say that they considered they had only followed an example which others had set, and that the only difference between this case and others was that it had been found out. There could be no doubt that this practice, which very generally prevailed, set aside the proper necessary restrictions imposed by Parliament on Railway Bills, and this being the first case in which it had come officially to the knowledge of the Committee, they in consequence considered it of so important a nature as to require the attention of the House. It was highly desirable that the House should express their opinion upon the practice, and at once condemn it, unless they wished to establish it as a precedent to be followed hereafter by other Companies. In this particular case the fact was made out to the satisfaction of the Committee; and the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Selwyn) was in possession of documents relating to another case, but showing how, and under what circumstances, a deposit of stock was usually made. There were various reasons why they should not allow the existing restrictions on the introduction of Private Bills to be relaxed. The object of Parliament in requiring the deposit was to have something like an assurance that a Company started with sufficient capital for their project, but from what was revealed to the Committee, it appeared that this particular Company started with a debt, namely, that due upon the deposit. Again Railway Companies had large powers granted to them, and in London especially they interfered with the comfort and threatened to take away the livelihood of many persons. The time of the House ought not to be unnecessarily occupied by a multitude of Bills which had not in. their first initiation complied with the conditions laid down by Parliament. He desired, therefore, to see the existing securities on the subject enforced, so as to prevent the substitution of a species of legerdemain for the faithful performance of a legitimate obligation. He, therefore, hoped the House would consider the subject was a proper one for inquiry.


said, he had no objection to offer to the Motion.


said, he did not oppose the Motion, but he would suggest that something should be done to facilitate the withdrawal of the deposits from the office of the Accountant General in Chancery, and also to lessen the expenses attending it.


said, that the Standing Orders of the House had been so systematically and continuously evaded that they had been rendered ridiculous. Without mentioning names, he would read one of the documents referred to by the hon. Member, and if necessary he would place it in the hands of the Speaker or the officers of the House. It was an agreement entered into by the promoters of a company, and was to the following effect: —That, in consideration of certain other parties having advanced a deposit of £10,400 to the Accountant General of the Court of Chancery in the names of A, B, as the Parliamentary deposit of the Railway Company, the promoters undertook that, unless the amount was repaid before the Bill was read the third time in the House of Lords, they would withdraw the Bill and do all that was necessary to enable the parties who advanced the deposit to obtain its repayment. The solicitor of the company and the Parliamentary agent also entered into agreements, by which they undertook, in pursuance of instructions from the Board, that the Bill should not be read a third time in the House of Lords unless the sum deposited was previously paid or satisfactorily secured to the bank who advanced it. Therefore the orders of the House, which obliged the promoters to give a guarantee that they were in a position to carry their undertaking to a successful issue, resulted in their putting themselves entirely in the hands of other parties, who might be called the fourth estate of the realm, as they had the power to set aside the authority of Parliament; for although Committees of both Houses might have determined that the scheme was for the public advan- tage, and the Bill might have arrived at its final stage, it could not pass into law except at the pleasure of this banking company. He would not then discuss the matter, but he could not refrain from reminding the House that the real interests of landowners, shareholders, and the public were deeply concerned in the matter, and he would express a hope that so long as they retained the Standing Orders they would take care they were adequate and effectual for the purposes for which they were designed.


said, he wished to point out that the practice referred to seriously affected owners and occupiers of property through which projected lines of railway were to pass. Notices were given to owners and occupiers in all directions, without the slightest real responsibility on the part of the promoters. He was not only of opinion that the responsibility of promoters of undertakings should in all cases be reliable, but that owners of property ought not to be called on to pay fees in defending their property against projectors.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, To inquire into the operation of the Standing Orders of this House, and of the Act 9 & 10 Vict. c. 20, which regulate the depositing of money, or of public securities, with the Courts of Chancery in England and Ireland, and the Court of Exchequer in Scotland, in respect of works and undertakings requiring the authority of Parliament by Private Bills."—(Mr. Scourfield.)

And, on April 29, Committee nominated as follows:—

MR. SCOURFIELD, Mr. MILNER GIBSON, Mr. MASSEY, Lord HOTHAM, Colonel WILSON PATTEN, Mr. SOTHERON ESTCOURT, Mr. EDWARD EGERTON, Colonel FRENCH, Mr. ADAIR, Mr. HEYGATE, Mr. SELWYN, Mr. KIRKMAN HODGSON, Mr. CRAWFORD, Mr. WESTHEAD, and Mr. THE:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.