HL Deb 26 February 1864 vol 173 cc1179-81

inquired, pursuant to notice:—1. Whether the Case against the late Directors and Auditors of the West Hartlepool Harbour and Railway Company has been laid before Her Majesty's Attorney General; and what decision has been given on the subject: 2. Whether it is the intention of the Government to propose any Measure in the present Session of Parliament to carry out the Recommendations in the Report of the Select Committee on "Railway Companies Borrowing Powers" of last Session? He had no personal interest in the matter, and had no connection whatever with the district of country through which this railway passed. He had had the misfortune to be Chairman of the Committee which inquired last Session into the West Hartlepool Bill. He would not recall the attention of the House to the facts disclosed in the special report upon that Bill. It was sufficient to remind them, that the House was unanimously of opinion that such practices should be put a stop to, otherwise Parliamentary limits upon Borrowing Powers would become useless. The noble Lord on the Woolsack had promised, on behalf of the Government, that the evidence should be referred to the Attorney General, with the view to ascertain whether there were grounds for a prosecution of the late directors and auditors of the Company. He wished to know whether this reference had been made, and whether a prosecution would be instituted. In consequence of the facts that came out last year, a Committee was appointed to inquire what means should be taken for the purpose of restraining Companies within the Borrow- ing Powers of their Act. The Committee came to a Resolution that a half-yearly Return setting forth the amount of Borrowing Powers possessed by each Company, and how far they had been exercised, signed by the Chairman and Secretary, should be deposited at the Board of Trade; and also that every bond issued in pursuance of their Parliamentary powers should bear a certificate signed by the Chairman and Secretary, certifying that it was issued in pursuance of the Act or Acts, and was within the limits of the Borrowing Powers. There was another point before the Committee of a much larger nature, but which was not thoroughly discussed—namely, the question of the registration of Railway Securities for the purpose of giving greater security to the public. He wished to know whether, during the recess, this matter had been under the consideration of the Government, and whether they were prepared to submit to Parliament any Measure to carry into effect the recommendations of the Committee?


My Lords, the statement which the noble Earl (the Earl of Donoughmore) made to the House last year appeared to me to present a case of a very grave and serious nature. One of the principal circumstances of that case was, that some railway directors had at various intervals of time issued to the public debentures to an amount far beyond what they were empowered to issue. They had, therefore, succeeded in obtaining from the public large sums of money by fraudulent representations. I stated to the House, that I thought the case required investigation. At the same time, your Lordships will remember that if it was maintained there might be some difficulty in making it the subject of prosecution, as the parties from whom the money had been obtained had in some measure condoned the offence by coming into certain terms embodied in the Act passed last Session. But there were other circumstances of the case of a fraudulent nature which I thought deserved strict inquiry. Accordingly, the next day after the noble Earl's Motion, I directed instructions to be laid before the Solicitor of the Treasury to make them the subject of inquiry. That Gentleman in a most energetic and industrious manner investigated the whole matter, and prepared a case for the opinion of the Attorney General. That case, which was a document of some length, was laid before the then Attorney General in the beginning of August. Unfortunately, Sir William Atherton was then Buffering under the beginning of that illness which afterwards increased from time to time, until it rendered necessary his resignation in October; and the same circumstances, I am sorry to say, prevented his giving any attention to the subject. When my hon. and learned Friend the present Attorney General succeeded him in office, the papers were immediately transferred to him. They received due attention, and he has given two opinions on the subject; but the opinion on both parts of the case concludes with a statement, that, under all the circumstances, he is not prepared to say that a conviction could be reasonably expected to be obtained, and therefore he does not think a Government prosecution is advisable. It belongs to my hon. and learned Friend entirely to administer that part of the law, and advise the Government. Having, therefore, directed his attention to the subject, and received the expression of his opinion, I am obliged to concur in it, that I do not think it desirable that any proceeding should be taken.


said, that two of the recommendations of the Committee had been referred to a very competent authority to consider how far they could be carried out. The Committee had not had time sufficiently to investigate the subject.


said, that all the inquiries before the Committee led them to conclude that no part of the money raised had been applied by Mr. Jackson to his own purposes.

House adjourned at a quarter before Seven o'clock to Monday next, Eleven o'clock.