HL Deb 05 August 1845 vol 82 cc1419-24
The Marquess of Clanricarde

presented two petitions, one from George Pryme, esq., of Cambridge, and at present proprietor of certain lands in the county of Huntingdon, through which this line proposed to pass; in one of which it was stated, that when this Company was first formed, the estimated cost of the line was 5,000,000l.; but subsequently, when the lands were surveyed by Mr. Cubitt, the estimated cost of the line lodged in the Parliamentary Office amounted to 6,500,000l. This was, of course, a much larger rate than was put forward when the original subscribers attached their names to the contract deed; and therefore he thought that in a court of equity they could not be called upon to pay more than the original estimate of the line. This was the statement contained in the first petition, which was a subject for the consideration of the Standing Orders' Committee. The second petition stated that this contract deed was entirely false and fictitious; that the names of persons amounting in their liabilities to 500,000l. were either not in existence, or incapable of being found; that they were wholly unable to pay any part of these sums, being paupers. With respect to a petition which he had presented on the previous evening upon this subject, he begged to say that a great mistake had arisen from a similarity of names. The petition to which he referred had alleged that a Mr. Baxter was a person totally unable to pay the sum for which he had subscribed his name. The petitioner, however, had since made fuller inquiry on the subject, and wished now to state that he had been mistaken in his former information, for that Mr. Baxter, who was connected with the line, was a man of undoubted respectability. This was only one case; but there were cases of the same kind infinitely beyond anything in the Dublin and Galway Bill. He would not weary their Lordships by going through all the cases, but would merely refer to a few in order to show their nature. Their Lordships were aware that their Standing Orders required that the addresses of parties signing the contract deed should be correctly stated; and the directors of the Dublin and Galway Company were thought censurable because they had not exercised sufficient vigilance in this respect. One of the names to the deed to which he was anxious to direct their attention was that of John Theobalds, gentleman, said to reside in Finsbury-square, who had subscribed to the amount of 25,000l.; he was informed that no such person was known at that address. There was also in the contract deed the name of an individual who had figured in the Dublin and Galway Railway case (W. Shackell), who was down for 5000l., and who was understood to be a half-pay officer in the receipt of 54l. a year, but who appeared as a subscriber in different railway schemes to the amount of 41,500l. The address of another, E. J. Durham, whose name was down for 12,200l., was stated to be in Watling-street; but it appeared that he did not reside there. In the case of another individual who was down for 12,500l., a false address was found to have been given. This individual was discovered to be a clerk in the Australian Trust Company, and it was therefore impossible to suppose him responsible for so large an amount. Another individual, whom he would not name, was a curate in a parish in Kent. He might be worth all the money for which he appeared responsible in various railway schemes; but his name appeared for 25,000l. in different projects, and stood for 10,000l. in this line. Another individual, who was down for 25,000l., was represented to be in poor circumstances, and had once resided at the address stated in the deed, but had quitted it. He knew these sums to be correct, for he had compared them with the contract deed. Another clerk of the Australian Trust Company was down for upwards of 50,000l. There were several more cases of the same kind, but he trusted he had stated enough to establish the necessity of referring the matter to a Committee. There were also two brothers named Guernsey, sons of a charwoman living in a garret, in Angel-court, one of whom had signed for 12,500l., and the other for 25,000l., the latter being a porter to a wine merchant named Hitchcock. These two brothers, excellent persons, no doubt, but who were receiving about a guinea and a half a week between them, were down for no less a sum than 37,500l. One of them, Charles Guernsey, stated that he never applied for any shares, but that a stockbroker brought him letters of allotment to the above amount. When he signed the deed, the broker took the scrip, and he never received one farthing; that he was only nineteen years of age, and in the receipt of only 12s. a week. He hoped he would institute a suit against the broker, for there could be no doubt that some person or other had sold that scrip at a considerable premium. He need hardly say more to convince their Lordships of the necessity of inquiry. The Houses of Parliament were the only places to which the public could look for security, and it was with this view that the Standing Orders were framed; but the Standing Orders did not afford security where there was no opposition; and even where there was opposition, it was extremely difficult to detect such cases as these. These cases had been only inquired into within the week, the attention of the opponents of the London and York Bill having been directed to the subject by what took place in the Dublin and Galway case; and there could be no doubt that, unless some change were made, it would be almost impossible for any Railway Bill to pass through Parliament. He had omitted to state to their Lordships that a clerk of the Company was down for 5,000l., a fact which brought home blame in the most direct way to those parties who received the thanks of Lord Brougham for the zeal, perspicuity, vigilance, activity, and scrutinizing rigour which they exercised in getting up their reference, and in searching into every matter connected with the railway, and whom that noble and learned Lord held up as an example to all engaged in similar undertakings. The residence of a person down for a considerable sum in the deed was stated to be No. 22, Norfolk-street, Strand, although a reference to the Directory would have shown that to be the address of Messrs. Ommanney. A grosser case of neglect could not be conceived; nothing of this kind was shown against the unfortunate Dublin and Galway Company. He begged leave to move that the petition be referred to a Select Committee to inquire into its allegations. Their Lordships would remember that in the Dublin and Galway case the Bill was delayed until these matters had been investigated.

Lord Monteagle

presented a petition which had been entrusted to him by most respectable parties subscribers to the said railway, declaring that the statements in the petition presented by Henry Bruce, of Mincing-lane, surgeon, with respect to the fictitious and false insertion of names, were unfounded, and that the petitioners were perfectly prepared to prove this, if their Lordships would direct an investigation, which they prayed might be granted without delay.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, if the case were precisely in the same position as the Dublin and Galway Railway was, he should not object to the same course being adopted, although the noble Marquess had by no means made out so strong a case as had been established in reference to that line. The difference between the cases was this. The Dublin and Galway Bill was not, in the first instance, opposed, and passed the Standing Orders' Committee without opposition. Now this he conceived to be an opposed Bill; it had not yet been brought before the Standing Orders' Committee, and these petitions had been presented in due time for the Standing Orders' Committee to investigate their allegations, and it was not, therefore, necessary to appoint a Select Committee specially for that purpose. Such being the case, he certainly should oppose the Motion of the noble Marquess.

The Earl of Shaftesbury

said, it would not fall within the province of the Standing Orders' Committee to investigate the matters referred to in the petition; they could only inquire whether the parties whose names appeared in the contract deed had actually subscribed it.

The Earl of Devon

was understood to say, that if cases such as these were established, the contract deed, instead of being a safeguard to the public, would only serve to delude them. He had foretold, on a former occasion, that instances of this kind would be brought forward in every case; and the result would be, that it would be impossible to pass any Bill through Parliament. Now, here was a Railway Bill which had undergone the most searching inquiry ever known in such a case before a Committee of the House of Commons, which sat upwards of eighty days; and now, after undergoing such an ordeal — after the enormous expense entailed on the parties—it was proposed that they should not be allowed to proceed, because it was alleged that a certain portion—not a very large one—of those who had subscribed the contract deed were not persons of substance. With regard to the facts stated in the first petition, in reference to the difference between the original amount of the capital stated—namely, 5,000,000l., and the last estimate of 6,500,000l., he presumed that in this, as in all other Bills, a power was given to borrow a sum which would be sufficient to make up the difference. He could not accede to the proposition of the noble Marquess.

Lord Beaumont

had totally disapproved of the proceedings in the Dublin and Galway case; but having adopted that course, he did not see how they could depart from it now. He perfectly agreed with his noble Friend opposite in thinking that contract deeds were useless as a protection to the public; but, at the same time, he was of opinion that to abolish altogether the present system, would be equivalent to defeating railway projects altogether. He would not go so far as some, and maintain that the original subscribers were only to serve as conduits by which the shares might reach the hands of responsible parties; but he believed that unless they allowed parties to be put down for larger sums than perhaps on full consideration they might be thought able to pay, they would totally defeat the construction of railways.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

What security would the public have that the work would be carried out?

Lord Beaumont

The parties who had obtained shares would always be able to dispose of them, although, perhaps, at a reduced rate. Some loss might be sustained; but he maintained that the real liability of the parties to the contract was limited to the deposit paid; for the shares became property, and might be disposed of like any other description of property.

Lord Redesdale

supported the Motion. A certain number of errors might unavoidably creep into a subscription list; but it would be for the Committee to decide whether proper care had been exercised by the company. In the Dublin and Galway case, it was decided that due care had not been taken; in the London and York case, the Committee might possibly decide that due care had been used, and the Bill might be allowed to pass. Subscription contracts had undoubtedly been much neglected; but he hoped that, in consequence of what had taken place, the case would be different in future.

Lord Campbell

said, that in his opinion, that application could not be refused. It should be remembered that the Standing Orders' Committee could not institute any inquiry into the most important allegations in the petition. It followed, therefore, inevitably, that the appointment of the Committee moved for by his noble Friend should be granted.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that as the Standing Orders' Committee could not inquire into the whole of those allegations, he thought that the House could not refuse the appointment of the Committee.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

said, that the correctness of the subscription list was the only guarantee which the Legislature or the country had that the works could ever be completed. He hoped that his Motion would at once be agreed to.

Motion put and agreed to.

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