§ The EARL of RIPON
presented a petition from the Chairman of the Oxford and Birmingham Junction Railway, and of the Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Dudley Railway Companies, complaining of the conduct of the North Western (London and Birmingham) Railway Company, in collusively purchasing shares of the Oxford and Birmingham Railway Company, whereby they had obtained the means of defeating the object which Parliament had in view when it passed an Act last Session, authorizing the Great Western Company to purchase the Oxford and Birmingham line. The noble Earl stated, that as he was informed, the London and Birmingham Company had purchased a majority of the shares in the Oxford and Birmingham line, in consequence of which they had prevented the sale of that line to the Great Western Company. By this proceeding the public suffered; for the object which Parliament had in view when it sanctioned the arrangement for uniting the Oxford and Birmingham line with the Great Western was, that it should be a competing line with the London and Birmingham. It was also a part of the arrangement that the Great Western Company should reduce their rate of charges, and a Bill was at present before the other House for effecting that object. The public, therefore, would lose in two respects by the manœuvre to which the London and Birmingham Company had resorted.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
said, that the question which the petition brought under the notice of the House was one of great importance. It did not affect two rival companies merely, but intimately concerned the public interests. The facts of the case were briefly these: Last Session a Bill was brought into the other House to enable the Great Western Company to purchase the Oxford and Birmingham Railway. This measure was advocated on the broad ground that the Oxford and Birmingham line was to be a competing line with that of the London and Birmingham Company, and that it was for the interest of the public that such competition should exist. The Bill was opposed by the London and Birmingham Company with the utmost pertinacity and vigour. It passed through Committee; but was subsequently defeated on some technical point. The Bill was then recommitted, and ultimately passed through the House of Commons. Arrived in their Lordships' House, the Bill had to pass the same ordeal which it had undergone in the Commons; all the influence of the London and Birmingham Company was brought to bear against it; but the object of the measure was so manifestly advantageous to the public, that it triumphed over the opposition to which it was exposed, was read a third time, and received the Royal Assent. The London and Birmingham Company having failed to defeat the measure openly, now resolved to effect their object collusively. They proceeded very adroitly. They purchased 38,000 out of the 50,000 shares which formed the stock of the Oxford and Birmingham Company, and distributed them amongst their dependants, whose names were regularly registered. A meeting was then called for the purpose of adding to the number of the board of directors; and, by the proceedings adopted at that meeting, the partisans of the London and Birmingham Company were placed in the direction. It was hardly necessary to state that now the Oxford and Birmingham Company in name, but the London and Birmingham Company in reality, refused to complete the bargain with the Great Western Company, and thus the public was deprived of the advantage of a competing line. It was impossible not to perceive that the London and Birmingham Company had, by collusion, defeated the intention of the Legislature, and he would recommend that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the circumstances of the case.
said, that a primâ facie case of fraud upon Parliament had been established against the London and Birmingham Company, and measures must be adopted to put a stop to such proceedings. If, however, the transaction referred to was about to become the subject of legal investigation, as he was informed was the case, it would be advisable to delay the appointment of a Committee until after the legal tribunal should have pronounced its decision.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
said, that he had made inquiries, and ascertained that no legal proceedings were about to be instituted in the case.
The DUKE of BUCKINGHAM
expressed a doubt as to the propriety of the House interfering in the matter. He understood that the shares of the Oxford and Birmingham Railway were bought and sold openly in the market.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
was not convinced of the necessity of inquiry. The London and Birmingham Company could not purchase the Oxford and Birmingham line without coming to Parliament for an Act, and when they did so, Parliament would have it in its power to take notice of their proceedings.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
said, it was not necessary for the London and Birmingham Company to come to Parliament for a Bill to enable them to purchase the Oxford and Birmingham line, because they had got possession of it already; and instead of it being a competing line with their own, they would make it subordinate to it.
said, there was no doubt this was a matter of public importance, and their Lordships were bound to see that the objects of the former Act were not defeated by fraud and collusion. He questioned, however, whether it would be expedient for their Lordships to interfere at this stage. There was no allegation that Parliament had been imposed upon: the gravamen of the allegation was the manner in which an Act had been carried into execution, which was a matter within the jurisdiction of a court of law or equity rather than of the House. As an Act of Parliament must be obtained before certain parties could effect the object they were said to have in view, no mischief could arise unless their Lordships were parties to it by passing the Bill Both Houses, 1228 therefore, would have an opportunity of investigating the merits of the case.
§ After a few remarks from LORD BROUGHAM,
§ The MARQUESS of LANSDOWNE
remarked that the case divided itself into two parts: one, a supposed infraction of the law; and the other, the bearing upon the public interests, as they might be affected by some system of contrivance, which had been alleged to have been applied in this case, and which might be equally applicable in other railway cases; and he reminded the House that there had been recently constituted, by Act of Parliament, a board, the particular duty of which was to report to the Crown and to Parliament with respect to the manner in which the public interest was affected by railway companies, and suggested that before any further steps were taken in this matter, it should be referred to that board, with an order to report specially to the House in what way the particular circumstances of the case bore upon the public interest.
§ After some further conversation,
§ LORD LYNDHURST
gave notice, that on Tuesday next he would move the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the allegations of the petition. He also begged to move that the petition be printed with the Votes.
§ Agreed to.