§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
said he would take that opportunity, which was not altogether irregular, of stating some circumstances connected with railways deeply affecting the interests of all their Lordships and of every man in the country, and which must call for another addition to the Standing Orders, for the purpose of affording a sufficient protection to Members of Parliament. It might be known to their Lordships, and if it were not it would appear strange, that an hon. Gentleman, now a Member of the other House of Parliament, was placed at this moment in a situation in which any of their Lordships might be placed also. This hon. Gentleman, about seven years ago, was invited to become a subscriber and director in a Company for establishing steam navigation to India by the Cape of Good Hope. After looking at the nature of the undertaking, he advisedly declined to become a subscriber or director of the Company. Of course he then dismissed the Company from his mind, and neither directly nor indirectly had he done any act as a director. Notwithstanding this, after five years had elapsed, a demand was made, in consequence of his name being inserted as a director without his knowledge or consent in the Act of Parliament obtained by the Company. The demand made on him was for the amount of all the claims for which the Company had become liable, as the other persons whose names 57 had been mentioned had turned out mere men of straw. His name being found in the Act gave grounds for proceedings being commenced against him in a court of law; and although he could prove that he had refused to be a director of the Company, and although he had never acted as such, an opinion obtained from a high legal authority stated that, inasmuch as the Act of Parliament itself was a legal publication, he was legally represented as a director. Now he (the Marquess of Lansdowne) begged to ask their Lordships whether they were not all in the same situation? Were not all their names inserted in one form or another in all the local Acts that had passed through the Legislature? And were they not all liable to be made a subject of action? To show the extent of the impudence and the audacity of the parties engaged in getting up trading companies, he would state a fact which had come to his knowledge. A Gentleman, a Member of Parliament for one of the counties, was asked to become a director of one of these projected companies, and he refused. A short time afterwards he was told that he had attended at a meeting in the county with which he was connected, and had spoken in favour of the projected scheme. His attention being called to the Report of this meeting, he found not only that he was stated to have attended, which he did not, but he found also that many other persons were asserted to have been there, and to have made speeches, although they did not attend such meeting. The whole of the parties went to the bankers, advertised in a body, and gave notice to them not to pay any money that should be received by them on account of the said scheme after the meeting in question; and it turned out that a very large sum had been subscribed after that meeting, solely upon the belief, and in consequence of its having been publicly reported that the persons to whom he referred had attended it, and had sanctioned its objects. Now, in what a situation might not their Lordships be placed if such things as this were allowed? He could not pretend to point out what ought to be done; but he would merely say that they ought to protect themselves from being involved in such schemes. By what means he left it to their Lordships to consider. But what he did say was, that the names of the consenting individuals to any future schemes 58 ought to be required to be set forth by a Standing Order as having given such consent. He should take an early opportunity of presenting a Standing Order for the purpose of effecting what he had pointed out as necessary.
was sure that the public would be much obliged to his noble Friend for adverting to this class of cases. The difficulty would be how to afford a remedy in the particular instance. He would willingly have concurred in passing an Act in order to relieve a person in the situation described by the noble Marquess, but that in so doing there arose a difficulty which was to him insuperable; namely, that the House, having originally passed a Bill in a negligent and careless manner, could not, by any subsequent Act, reach the cheat who had beguiled them; but any such measure would only affect an industrious and honest person who might have lent his money on the strength of their Lordships' legislation. The man who sued the hon. Gentleman whose situation was described by the noble Marquess, might be, and probably was, as bonâ fide a sufferer as that honourable person himself was; and, consequently, what would relieve the one, would oppress the other. He thought, if the Houses of Legislature passed Acts so thoughtlessly, they ought each to pay their respective portions of the pecuniary losses which they inflicted thereby. This showed the caution that was necessary to be exercised by their Lordships in passing Railway Bills; and the immense consequences that might be involved by their not repressing rather than facilitating this gambling disease under which the country laboured. It was the greatest mistake to suppose that these undertakings were bonâ fide on the part of those who put them forward. All that those parties sought, was to give them an appearance of outward semblance of a bonâ fide railway project, in order that they might go and job in the railway market; and Parliament, from a very honest and conscientious feeling, wishing to give every facility possible, omitted to take any pains to inquire into the real merits of the scheme. Had they done so in the present case, they would have found that Mr. Berkeley had not given his sanction to this measure. Every day showed the ruinous consequences to which this gambling system inevitably tended. Men could not 59 do two opposite things at once. They could not employ their capital in gambling speculations, and at the same time employ it in the legitimate course of trade. Look at your Returns of the Revenue this quarter Within the last two or three months they would find a very great falling off in the amount of revenue derived from the Customs and Excise.
That is in consequence of the great reduction of duties. The quantities consumed are increased.
was not aware that the reductions to which the noble Lord alluded had taken place. He was very glad to find that the deficiency in the revenue had not arisen from a falling off of the consumption of customs and excise articles. His observations were, however, intended to apply to the frauds practised by speculators in railways, who, as one mode of warding off opposition to their schemes, would undertake to insert clauses in their Bills which they never did insert. The whole matter was an evil which demanded their Lordships' serious consideration.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
explained. He had omitted to state, which he now did distinctly, that the hon. Gentleman to whose case he alluded, had no knowledge of the Bill subsequently to the application made to him; and he did not know that it was passing through Parliament until it had received the Royal Assent.
§ Earl Fitzhardinge
said, he had been informed by his brother (Mr. Berkeley) that when this Committee was first conceived, a proposal was made to him to join in it. After consideration he declined, and from that time he had no interference with it; he never attended any meeting of its concoctors, and knew nothing of it until he was sued by a party, who was a shipbuilder, for an amount exceeding 35,000l. To show the hardship of his brother's case, he was informed that the expenses already incurred amounted to 400l., let the case turn out as it might.