HL Deb 18 April 1845 vol 79 cc932-3
Lord Brougham

said, that a case had come under his notice, showing a most extraordinary example of recklessness on the part of the managers of a railroad, and of their sacrificing the interests of the shareholders. He had the very best authority for the statement which he was about to make; but he should not name the railway company, or even the part of the country in which it was. The statement which he was about to make showed the reckless manner in which the powers given to the company by their Act had been carried out; and this not to the injury of individuals, but to the utter ruin of the company itself, in consequence of their hurry to complete their railway, without waiting for an Act giving them new powers. In this instance, this railway was connected with one of the largest railways in the kingdom, many of the proprietors of which were men of great wealth. Near the then proposed line, there was an estate, which was held in trust, as devisee, by an eminent legal gentleman, who was his authority on the subject. The lethal title of the estate was, therefore, vested in this gentleman. It appeared expedient to the managers of the railway company to carry on their works, not confining themselves to the land or line described in the Schedule of their Act. The powers of the Act allowed them to take a line, and they might make some slight variations from it; but not satisfied with this, they wished to take a property situated in a parish not set forth in their Schedule. They went to the parties occupying the property, and by means of their agents made a bargain with them; and by offering four times the value of the land—which he did not object to—they obtained the consent of these parties to their driving their railway through their property. The parties, however, who had given their assent were only tenants for life, and had no power to give assent. The legal gentleman to whom he alluded was trustee of the property as a guardian of infants, and, therefore, without an Act of Parliament, he could not, as a devisee of the property, give his assent to the alienation of it, as he could not make a title to the land. Any lawyer could have told the parties this; and it appeared that nearly all these companies had not only solicitors, but standing counsel; but such was their reckless haste to complete their works, that they could not wait to obtain a new Act giving them additional powers, but at once proceeded, to the most serious injury, if not the ruin, of the shareholders in the company. Another circumstance had been mentioned to him which was also worthy of notice. It appeared that an eminent manufacturer, who was the director of some half-dozen railways, had got shares divided into half-shares, quarters, and even eighths; and he had held out inducements to clubs, artisans, and other workmen, to take them. Those persons had been induced to draw their 20l. or 30l. from the savings banks, where it was deposited for bad times, and to speculate with it in gambling in the share market, to their most serious injury, if not to their utter ruin.