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Commons Chamber

Volume 117: debated on Wednesday 28 May 1851

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House Of Commons

Wednesday, May 28, 1851.

MINUTES.] PUBLIC BILL.— 2° County Courts Further Extension.

Coroners' Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that it was identical with the Bill of last year, the principle of which had received the sanction of the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary and a large number of the Members of that House. The principle of the Bill was the payment of coroners by fixed salaries, instead of by fees as at present. There was a popular feeling that coroners' inquests were unnecessary; but he thought the House had evidence before it to show that some jurisdiction of the kind exercised by coroners was essentially requisite. The Amendment which the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Fitzroy) meant to propose, would have the effect of substituting some other jurisdiction for that which now existed; in other words, the hon. Member meant to transfer that jurisdiction to the magistrates. To such a course he (Lord Harry Vane) should have the greatest possible objection, for he thought it would be in the highest degree injurious to the public interests involved in this question. At the same time he was desirous of putting an end to the squabbles which frequently occurred between coroners and magistrates, and he thought that that object would be in a great measure attained by remunerating coroners by fixed salaries instead of fees, as contemplated by this Bill. In Cumberland, Staffordshire, and Norfolk, disputes had arisen between coroners and the magistrates, in consequence of the disallowance of the coroners' fees for holding inquests in cases of accidental death; and in the county of Devon the magistrates had come to a resolution, that whenever the verdict of the coroner's jury in that county was "Died by the visitation of God," they should disallow the fees of the coroner. Under these circumstances, therefore, it had become highly necessary for the House to consider whether or not some general principle could not be laid down to meet the evil; and, he repeated, he thought the method of remunerating coroners by fixed salaries would have that effect. Those salaries could be fixed on an average estimate of the foes at present received by the coroners of each particular district. In the report of the Committee which was appointed in 1840 to inquire into the case of the Middlesex coroners, hon. Members would find ample information on this subject; and with that report already before them, he thought it highly inexpedient that the question should be referred to a Select Committee, as was proposed by the hon. Member for Lewes.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

would move, by way of amendment, that a Select Committee be appointed to consider the state of the law and practice as regarded coroners' inquests, and particularly whether it would be of advantage to transfer the whole or any portion of the duties now discharged by the coroners to any other persons. He was of opinion that the mode proposed by the noble Lord (Lord Harry Vane), of remunerating coroners by fixed salaries instead of by foes, would not tend to advance the ends of justice. The very large amount of charge which had been thrown on the ratepayers of Middlesex particularly, in consequence of the immense number of coroners' inquests which were held from time to time within the county, had induced the ratepayers to memorialise the magistrates on the subject. An immense increase had taken place in the charge for holding inquests in the county of Middlesex during the twenty years between 1828 and 1848. In 1828 the sum amounted to 1,284l., and in 1848 it had increased to 7,557l. This increase, he was aware, had been very much caused by an order of the Poor Law Commissioners, issued in 1835, and by the provisions of an Act of Parliament which raised the fees of the coroner from 1l. to 1l. 6s. 8d. In 1828, the number of inquests held in the western division of the county of Middlesex was 469, and in the eastern division, 415; and in 1848 the number in the western division was 1,067, and in the eastern division 1,027, showing a very considerable increase within that period. That increase could not be accounted for by the average increase of the population; for whilst the population in the county had increased at the rate of 30 per cent, the coroners' inquests had increased at the rate of 120 per cent. In Westminster, however, he found matters somewhat different; for there the increase was only from 250, in 1828, to 326, in 1848, being an increase of 30 per cent—an amount somewhat corresponding to the increase in the population, while that which had taken place in Middlesex: went far beyond it. The question before the House lay, as he thought, within a very short compass. After the decision given in the Court of Queen's Bench, in the case. The Queen v. the Justices of Carmarthen, the magistrates took that decision as a definition of their duty, and determined to put some check on the enormous increase in the number of coroners' inquests. He (Mr. Fitzroy) submitted there was something radically wrong in the machinery by which the coroners' inquisition was set to work. If that wrong were remedied, an enormous saving to the ratepayers would be the result. When they came to investigate the cause of the enormous expense to the ratepayers of holding coroners' inquests, they would find it lay in a very small compass. By the direct pecuniary interest which was held out at present to the parish constable to afford information to the coroner of sudden or violent deaths, in the shape of the fees which that functionary received for summoning juries, the number of coroners' inquests was unnecessarily augmented; and he (Mr. Fitzroy) submitted that the parish constable should be duly remunerated for all the services performed in his official capacity, so as to deprive him of all inducement to step out of his proper province to give information to coroners. Another important question arose as to the class of deaths which were made the subjects of the coroners' inquisition. Was there any necessity for inquests in criminal cases, where the police carried on the inquiry before the magistrates, and where the concurrent jurisdiction only tended to greatly impede the course of justice, and to put the county to the expense of three different inquiries? The experience of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) would not surely lead him to place much stress on the importance of these inquiries before coroners in criminal cases. In the year 1849, out of 2,674 inquests held in the county of Middlesex, there were only thirty-seven criminating verdicts. In cases of suicide an investigation before the coroner might be desirable and important; but the coroners for the county of Middlesex held that in all cases of non-natural death their services were requisite. But that did not appear to be the opinion of some of the best legal authorities. Mr. Cowling had given it as his opinion to the magistrates of Middlesex, that he did not think the circumstance of a death being non-natural, was a safe test for holding an inquest, for it was not easily defined what constituted a non-natural death. Why should not the investigations now conducted by the coroner be carried on as others were, sometimes of much graver import, by magistrates, without the assistance of a jury? He was confirmed in that view by the opinion of Mr. Yardley, the police magistrate, and of Mr. Bedford, one of the coroners for Middlesex; and he believed the feeling of the House would also go along with him. In Scotland there were no coroners' inquests, and no complaints were heard from that country on the subject. He (Mr. Fitzroy) had no objection to see the dignity of the coroners' office upheld as it formerly was, and he would be glad to see the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) holding it in the dignified manner of former days—that is, without salary—but in the meantime, believing that inquiry would be advisable, he would ask the House to agree to his Amendment.

Amendment proposed—

"To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'a Select Committee be appointed to consider the state of the Law and Practice as regards the taking of Inquisitions in cases of Deaths, and the appointment and remuneration of the officers employed therein, and whether it is expedient that any and what alterations should be made in any of such matters,' instead thereof."

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

seconded the Motion. He considered it desirable that coroners and all other public servants should be paid by salary instead of by fees, as the latter practice tended to swell unnecessarily the county expenditure. He supported the Amendment, considering the subject required further investigation before they legislated upon it.

said, nothing could be more desirable than to inquire into all the points the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fitzroy) had referred to, but he objected to found so wide a superstructure upon so narrow a basis. The hon. Gentleman ought to have done cither of two things. He should have made a substantive proposition to refer all these matters to the consideration of a Select Committee, or he should have introduced a Bill of his own, instead of moving that this Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. The Bill was not got up for the benefit of coroners, but he thought that the payment of those functionaries by salaries would render them more independent in the discharge of very important duties. Looking at the gradual mode in which the fees allowed to coroners were increased, he considered, in point of money, the coroners would be losers by the adoption of payment by salaries. As guardians of the public purse, then, he was in favour of the proposed Bill; and it would be a far better plan for the House to assent to it, and also to assent to the appointment of a Select Committee.

said, that a similar Bill to this was read a second time last year on the distinct understanding that it should not proceed further during that Session, especially after the very strong arguments which had been urged against its practical operation. Now, he was much in favour of the principle of payment by salaries, which he considered a sound principle; but the House should consider whether they had sufficient securities that those salaries would be in proportion to the duties discharged; and they should also take due care that they had sufficient securities for the due performance of those duties. The Bill before them did not provide for either of these objects. Under the existing law the magistrates had the power of deciding what inquests were duly held, and different rules were laid down in different counties. In some, the coroners had been deprived of fair and adequate remuneration, and in other cases coroners had received very large fees for performing very little duty. Now the present Bill proposed to stereotype that injustice by declaring that the present emoluments should be convert- ed into salaries. It would be unwise to affirm the principle of this Bill without inquiry into the mode of remuneration to coroners, and also into the mode of their appointment. He did not think, however, that the inquiry ought to extend to the transfer of their duties to any other officer, nor could he agree in the opinion that the office of coroner should be abolished altogether. Upon these grounds he felt called on to support the Amendment.

said, that the country was indebted to coroners for preventing many dreadful outrages which had been committed from passing without inquiry. It was very desirable that the office of coroner should be preserved nearly as much as possible in its present shape. He was opposed to the Amendment, because he thought a Select Committee was entirely unnecessary. The subject had been investigated over and over again. In 1840 it had been referred to a Select Committee, and then received an ample and a full consideration. He was opposed to the present passionate feeling which had evinced itself against trial by jury, which he considered one of the dearest privileges of this nation. The appointment of a Select Committee now, would only have the effect of deferring and swamping the Bill; and, if the Committee was to make a sweeping inquiry into the whole institution of coroners, it would certainly put off the measure for many a Session to come.

said, it was the peculiar habit of the remarkably strong Government which existed at present to aid its friends whenever it had an opportunity. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had expressed his approval of the principle of the Bill last year; and now, because a constant, faithful, and determined opponent of the Government to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged, brought forward a Motion opposed to that principle, the right hon. Gentleman, consistently with the practice of the Whig Administration, yielded to the views of his enemy, and forsook his own principle in order to do injustice to his friends. The right hon. Gentleman was the Minister of Justice, and the coroners had a right to expect support from him in the discharge of their functions. The functions of coroners were important; and if they could not be allowed to act independently, the sooner the office was abolished the better, as a public nuisance, which one of the county magistrates, a particular friend of the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, had declared it to be. The coroners did not shun inquiry; on the contrary they courted it. They could not inquire too much to satisfy them. They wished to dispel the cloud of ignorance and misapprehension which surrounded them. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Lewes (Mr. Fitzroy) was anxious that he (Mr. Wakley) should have no salary as coroner. Now, the hon. Member himself was scarcely competent to speak on that point, for he once had had a salary for doing nothing; and he (Mr. Wakley) very much doubted if the hon. Gentleman, when he was appointed a Lord of the Admiralty, knew the main topmast from the bowsprit. He was, however, fully persuaded that if they made the coroner independent, he would exercise his functions more beneficially for the public. Coroners were often brought into collision with magistrates. So late as the year 1822, prisoners could not die in gaols without the summoning of the coroner; and the persons who served upon the juries consisted of the prisoners of the gaol, because their forefathers considered that such an institution would have the effect of giving protection to the inmates against tyranny or oppression. He know that there was an impression that he was holding a much larger number of inquests in his district than Mr. Bedford was doing in the city. Now, that was not the fact; Mr. Bedford was holding one inquest to every 566 persons in the population, while he was only holding one to every 800. Mr. Bedford was absolutely beating him by 20 per cent; but he did not think that gentleman was holding too many inquests; on the contrary, he believed that he held too few. In many instances magistrates had decided that inquests held in cases of suicide were unnecessary, as also in cases of accidents in mines and deaths by burning. Under the present system wherever there was a disagreeable verdict there was always difficulty in getting payment of the necessary expenses allowed. The House would hardly credit the variety of cases where the magistrates disallowed expenses, and this merely at their own pleasure and choice, without acting upon any fixed rule or principle. In one case, where a child that had been left in a a room by itself and had caught fire, to extinguish which the child had been plunged into water, although the coroner was summoned sixteen miles out of London to hold an inquest, the magistrates disallowed the expenses. His (Mr. Wakley's) expenses were less than those of his predecessor, Mr. Stirling. That gentleman was allowed to charge full mileage, hut it had been intimated to him that lie was to discontinue the practice. Anticipating the opposition that he would meet, lie took Mr. Stirling's clerk into his office) and desired him to make no change in the practice from what it was in Mr. Stirling's time; but notwithstanding these efforts he could give no satisfaction. The magistrates had what was called a finance committee—it was an open committee— the coroner was called before it, questioned as to the items, and all further information given as to the nature of particular cases. When he retired, the expenses were disallowed in the most arbitrary manner, without any guide or rule being laid down for the decision. The next day four or five or six members more, who were not in attendance the day before, and were ignorant of the reasons which actuated the decisions of the day before, attended, and the consequence was the utmost variety of decisions. If any persons were hostile to the coroner, it was perfectly easy to disallow a large portion of his expenses. He declared that if he had been aware of the ordeal through which he would have had to pass, he would never have undertaken the office of coroner; nor would he advise any relative of his, or any one in whom be had an interest, to accept it. The constable who gave information to the coroner was allowed his fee, while the coroner was disallowed it. He would mention a case to the House, instances of which frequently happened. At Chelsea, a man was found insensible in his bed; information was brought to him of the fact. As there were no circumstances to justify suspicion that he died of a violent death, he refused to hold an inquest. Subsequently he received a requisition from two ratepayers stating that there wore circumstances to justify suspicion. He went down, and after a post mortem examination, it was discovered that the gentleman had died by poison. Cases of this description constantly occurred. He trusted, notwithstanding the course adopted by the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department, that the House would adopt the principle of the Bill by a large majority.

said, that everything which the hon. Member (Mr. Wakley) had urged, convinced him of the necessity of referring the Bill to the con- sideration of a Select Committee. He thought the present system faulty. The initiative in an inquest was taken by the parish beadle or constable, who was responsible to no one, and was paid by mileage. It therefore was his interest to get up as many inquests as he could. He could not subscribe to the doctrine that coroners were the best and ought to be the sole judges of the propriety of holding inquests; for he remembered that the hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House once wished to hold an inquest on all still-born children. That would have been an indelicate investigation. Instances had come under his notice where coroners held inquests in cases of fire, and their bills and expenses had been disallowed by the magistrates, and the Judges had expressed their disapproval of them. From his own experience, which was considerable, of coroners' accounts, and of the whole working of the system, he was strongly in favour of sending the whole subject before a Select Committee to examine and report upon it.

dissented from the reflections cast by the hon. Member for Finsbury on the Government and magistracy of the country. The question was simply this—whether the House would now decide upon the principle of the Bill, or would they adopt the recommendation of referring the whole question to a Select Committee. He contended that no possible advantage could arise from referring it to a Committee; and that the House was quite as competent now to decide the question of fees or salaries as any Committee could possibly be. Nobody doubted the fact that there might have been cases in which unnecessary inquests were held; but then occasionally coroners had not held inquests which were necessary. He thought the objection to the payment of coroners by fees invalid. If they were paid by salaries they would become idle, whereas if they were paid by fees their vigilance would be manifested.

said, that the hon. Member for Finsbury treated the subject as if he supposed a desire prevailed to get rid of the office of coroner. On that point, however, he was entirely mistaken. The coroner's was an ancient office—more ancient than that of justice of the peace. It was, likewise, a most useful office, and the magistrates were anxious that it should be made efficient for the public service, as well as remunerative to the individual discharging its duties. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) said he regretted very muck he had accepted the office. Well, the hon. Gentleman had his remedy. The fact was, that resignations, though often talked of by gentlemen in office, very seldom occurred. The question was, were the public satisfied with the present state of the office of coroner, and were the coroners themselves satisfied with it? The public were not satisfied. They were dissatisfied with the amount of money that was paid, not on account of the sum that was actually given; but they were not satisfied that the money was always fairly earned. If they could satisfy the public that the money was fairly earned, and that the inquests had been fairly held, and that cause existed for such inquiries, the public were entirely satisfied with the coroner; but when they heard the remarks made by magistrates, and found that they occasionally, in discharge of their duty, struck out the allowances to coroners, the public got an impression on their minds that inquests were often held unnecessarily. When they saw the jury's verdict of "accidental death," or "died by the visitation of God," it was natural for them to think that many of these inquests ought not to have been held. He (Mr. E. B. Denison) was now trying merely to describe the impressions that had been made on the public mind, and to show that an opinion prevailed that many inquests were unnecessarily held. When coroners' accounts had been presented before him, as a magistrate, he confessed he frequently had not the means of ascertaining whether the inquests were property held or not. The magistrates in such cases had a very painful duty to perform. It was impossible for them to go into all those inquests, and they were unwilling in many instances to strike out the allowance sought to be obtained, because they put confidence in the coroner. It was proposed by this Bill that they should pay the coroners by salaries; but there were other more important matters that should in the first place be taken into consideration; and if they did not go into an investigation of all those matters, but satisfied themselves with adopting the proposition for payment by salary, they would at once come to a conclusion on the point that should be reserved for the very last. They should first see what business was to be performed, and then decide whether or not the coroner was to be paid by salary. If they did pay them by salary, they must have a graduated scale in proportion to the number of inquests held, for that was the only security they could have for the due performance of the duty. It would be difficult to decide, according to the plan proposed by this Bill, whether the coroner had performed his duty or not. Who were to be the jury and judge to decide it? [Mr. AGLIONBY: The county courts.] If they raised that question before those tribunals, they would have to go through the inquest over again. He was of opinion that the whole subject ought to be investigated by a Select Committee. He admitted the importance of it, and that inquiry ought to be immediately made in consequence of the dissatisfaction existing on the part of coroners, of magistrates, and of the public.

stated that his hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Wakley) informed him that out of 7,000 inquests he had held, only thirty had been disallowed. He (Mr. Williams) had heard that the highest compliments were paid the hon. Member by the magistrates, not only with regard to the charges, but also with regard to the necessity of holding inquests. He ventured to say that the office of coroner was held in as much veneration as any of the ancient offices, and, elected as they were generally by the votes of the county freeholders, he did not see any necessity for sending before a Select Committee the question of withdrawing and transferring the duties of coroners to some other persons. He hoped the House would not sanction such an alteration, for a proposition more unpopular to the people out of doors could not be submitted. The only question was, whether coroners should be paid by salary, or continue to be paid by fees. He believed the payment by salary was the best mode —that great improvement in the working of the system would be thereby effected, and therefore he should support the second reading of the Bill.

believed that no one wished to disparage the office of coroner, for those who were acquainted with the manufacturing districts where burial societies existed were convinced that the number of inquests were not too many. A circumstance was related to him by an hon. Friend not then in the House, the Chairman of the Manchester Quarter Sessions, of a person, by means of a coroner's inquest, having subsequently been tried and executed for the murder of her son; and it turned out she had committed three or four murders before, in which cases no inquest was held. That showed to his (Mr. Evans's mind that there were not inquests enough held. There was a mutual check now existing between the coroners and the magistrates. The magistrates were anxious to preserve the public money from useless expenditure, and the coroners naturally wished to get as much as they could, by which the public were protected. The principle of payment by salary was bad. It had been tried in the Court of Chancery. The Masters were formerly induced to use diligence by the payment of expedition money; but since the alteration they would attend only during office hours, and business was neglected. In every case payment by salary had failed to obtain greater diligence on the part of the officers. On the grounds of the importance of the office of coroner, and the dangerous character of the suggestions made by the Bill, he thought it ought to be referred to a Select Committee.

thought it his duty to vote for the second reading of the Bill; but, as far as he was able to follow the debate, it did not appear that the two parties who were about to divide were really at issue. The question was, would the House allow the Bill to go to a second reading? The answer of his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Fitzroy) was, "No; he did not like to have the Bill read a second time; he would rather have a Committee on the whole subject." If a Committee on the whole subject was necessary, by all means have it. But his impression was, that if they passed this Bill, the existence of complaints would soon cease, and general inquiries would not be necessary. It was now a subject of general complaint throughout the country that coroners' inquests were increasing, and unnecessary inquests were held. He meant no disrespect to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Wakley) and those who acted as coroners in England; but he believed that unnecessary inquests were held, and that a very great temptation to holding unnecessary inquests was the payment by fees. He was glad to see the principle of payment by salary adopted. Adopting that principle, only two points remained to be guarded against. One was met by the second clause, as to the proper regulation of the salary; and he submitted that that clause might be improved. The other, as to compelling coroners to hold inquests where inquests were necessary, was met by the sixth clause, which might also be amended. But with regard to those points, he saw no insuperable difficulties. The hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. E. B. Denison) said, there was much more to be investigated as to the conduct of these officers. He (Sir John Pakington) confessed that he had heard no complaint against these officers, except the general complaint, that they had a direct pecuniary interest in holding unnecessary inquests. As to any apprehension that by payment by salary necessary inquests would not be held, he entertained no fear. It was well known in a locality when a person died from violence or otherwise; and there could be no reasonable doubt that inquests, when necessary, would be held; but by all means have an enactment to guard against that danger; and with that proviso he believed great practical improvement would be effected by passing that Bill. If inquiry were necessary, by all means have it, but do not refuse to adopt the principle of paying by salary, by which he was convinced public economy would be promoted, and existing abuses removed.

said, he and his hon. Friend (Mr. Fitzroy) were perfectly ready to admit of any alterations which should best meet the objection, that the Bill would encourage negligence on the part of coroners. As to another point, it had been stated by the right hon. the Secretary of State for the Home Department on a former occasion, that great injustice would accrue to certain coroners by commuting their fees to an average of five years. He and his hon. Friend had endeavoured to meet that by introducing words giving magistrates a certain discretion, and not absolutely binding them down to that average; but, as a matter of detail, they would be happy to admit of any alteration which should place all the coroners in the United Kingdom on a more equal footing. At present he proposed to postpone the second reading to a future day, that the hon. Mover of the Amendment (Mr. Fitzroy) might name his Committee.

would not pledge himself either to the principle of salary or that of fees, until he saw the report of the Committee.

admitted that the law as to coroners required considerable revi- sion and correction. In Ireland, he feared it was no exaggeration to say that the number of deaths from want of food within the walls of the workhouses exceeded 1,000 per week. No inquests were held, because those who had the government of the workhouse did not wish, as they sometimes stated, to put the union to the expense, and they did not wish to expose the malpractices that occurred, lest they should be censured by the public. He hoped the Select Committee would never assent to giving a fixed salary to coroners, but would retain the present system of payment up to a certain maximum. At all events, it ought to be imperative on the governors of all gaols, workhouses, and establishments where human life was destroyed for want of the common necessaries of life, to give notice to the coroner to attend, and if he did not attend, that he should not be entitled to any fees whatever. He did not like to arm the magistrates with the power of dealing with the salary of the coroner at all, as it would be opening an avenue to favouritism, corruption, and malpractices, which would produce more evils than were produced by the present law, even with all its defects.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Select Committee appointed.

Audit Of Railway Accounts Bill

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the Chair.

Clause 8.

moved, as an Amendment—

"In page 4, line 42, after the word 'payments,' to insert the words, 'And the Auditors shall, in like manner, once at least in every year, require to be produced to them accounts of every sum of money paid to any engineer employed upon the Line of Railway and works of each Company, and also of every account due by the Company for any work done upon such railway; and it shall be lawful for the Auditors, if they shall think fit, to refer all such accounts, whether paid or unpaid, to some competent person to examine the same, and to report to the Auditors upon the charges in such accounts, and as to the expediency of submitting the same to the decision of a competent court.'"

thought the addition to the clause would, in point of fact, stop the progress of all railways. He was inclined to think that the Bill, as a whole, would work well for railway companies, in providing an efficient audit. But if it was made to interfere with the common discretionary power of the directors, the effect would be to drive the present directors from their position. If these words were added, at the proper time he should move that the whole clause be omitted.

thought there wore so many objections to the Bill itself, that if by any means he could get it rejected, he would adopt that course, and, therefore, he should not object to the introduction of these words, because their introduction would make the Bill more objectionable than it was before.

had stated the other day that he objected to the principle of the Bill, as tending to drive out fit persons from the direction of railway companies, by establishing an imperium in imperio. If it was intended the Bill should be a safeguard against the frauds of the directors, he could only say that less had been lost by actual fraud, than by extorting from railway companies exorbitant remuneration, and squandering money on the professional services of the officers. Directors had thought more of the names than of the cost of obtaining the services of gentlemen in the two departments—of law and engineering-—which he wished this clause to touch. That House had already adopted the principle of auditors examining the accounts of gentlemen of the legal profession, and he saw no reason why that should not be extended to the accounts of the engineers; though, whatever course was taken, he should vote against the third reading of the Bill.

had, on a former occasion, stated to the House that, although he did not think the Bill was framed on the principle which he thought most advisable to adopt for the audit of railway accounts, he was disposed to think it would effect a considerable improvement in the present system of audit. He was glad to hear that his hon. Friend the Chairman of the London and North Western Railway (Mr. Glyn), who was justly considered to be the highest authority in railway matters, was of opinion that this would be an improvement on the existing system. That being the case, it was his (Mr. Labouchere's) duty, in taking part in the discussion, not to put forward the opinions he individually held as to the best mode of dealing with the question. He admitted that it was a very difficult question to deal with; but, thinking that the Bill was framed upon a principle of practical improvement, he would not consent to any alteration inconsistent with that principle. It seemed to him that if they struck this clause out altogether, the Bill would become mere moonshine. The question more immediately under consideration was, whether they would place the accounts of engineers on the same footing as the accounts of gentlemen of the law? He thought it would be invidious to make any distinction between them. He could not help thinking there had been great abuses, and most unreasonable charges, on the part of lawyers and engineers. He did not believe any respectable engineer would object to a fair examination of his accounts; and to the directors it must be a great relief and comfort to be able to refer to a competent authority the consideration of those accounts. He did not think any respectable engineer would be thereby debarred from serving a railway company; still less did he believe that any director would be driven to resign. It was of the utmost importance that men of the highest integrity and ability should fill the onerous and responsible situation of directors of railway companies. He should, however, support the Amendment, and also resist any attempt to strike the clause out of the Bill.

thought that among the various difficulties which the Committee had to contend with on this somewhat difficult subject, the greatest was to ascertain what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade thought about it. On the last occasion when the measure was discussed, he understood that the right hon. Gentleman, though he voted for going into Committee upon it, was very much opposed to the Bill, and thought it would by no means work well. Now he (Mr. Ricardo) believed that no alteration had been made in the Bill, with respect to which the right hon. Gentleman now seemed to entertain so much more favourable an opinion; and he confessed, that when he heard the right hon. Gentleman saying that he suspected the hon. Member for Kendal (Mr. Glyn) wished to have an Audit Bill which should be no Audit Bill after all, he (Mr. Ricardo) could not help suspecting also that the right hon. Gentleman, believing it to be his duty to produce an Audit Bill, and finding it rather a difficult matter, was glad to see the question shelved by the Bill before the House. There was an Audit Bill already in existence. Had the right hon. President of the Board of Trade forgotten the Companies Clauses Consolidation Act? The present Bill was incompatible with that, and the two could not work together. He was surprised that the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, considering as that right hon. Gentleman did that an Audit Bill was necessary, had not brought in one of his own. If the Amendment were pressed to a division he should vote for it, believing it would add one other absurdity to the measure, and tend to its total rejection.

did not agree with his Friend and Colleague of the North-Western Railway (Mr. Glyn), that any good would be derived from this Bill. He believed the less they had of it the better, and he should do his best to destroy it. Undoubtedly there would be some ground for legislation if railway companies could not take care of themselves; but that was a proposition he was prepared to deny.

wished to know if it was not patent to the world that the malpractices in the accounts had destroyed one-half the marketable value of railway property? Whatever might be the fate of the Bill, he rejoiced in the circumstance that the public would know by the division who were the faithful trustees of the interest of railway proprietors.

wished to know how they could put the engineers on the same footing as the solicitors, without establishing a taxing office for engineers similar to that which existed for solicitors. The Amendment merely gave a power to the auditors to refer the accounts of engineers to some person to examine, and report as to whether it was expedient to submit the same to the decision of some competent court; in other words, it referred the Bills to somebody else, who was to look into them, and, if fit, to tell them that they might go to law.

said, he could not see that there was that great difficulty which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) supposed. The auditors would be enabled to represent the matter to the shareholders, if they conceived an examination of the accounts expedient, and, after being examined, the shareholders would know whether there was primâ facie such a case as would justify them in resisting the payment of the accounts, and referring them to some competent authority to take proper and legal means to diminish and cut them down. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that no railway company ever resisted the demands of an engineer; but it was quite a common case to appeal to the courts of law in resisting exaggerated demands.

thought the general power to inquire into sums received or expended by the directors would include sums paid to the engineer as well as anybody else. They were about to give a special remedy, and the special remedy was to be referred to the decision of a competent court. The more simple course would be for the directors to refuse payment of unreasonable demands, and allow engineers, like other parties, to bring actions for the amount. The Bill professed also to deal with moneys already paid; but if the engineers had the money he should like to know how they were to set about getting it back again?

doubted whether the Bill was not a very cumbrous and complicated piece of machinery; but having great confidence in the railway experience of the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Locke), he was ready to accept it. His only complaint was, that it did not go far enough— that the Bill did not protect the public. He did not see how this particular Amendment could be carried out. It would have the effect of involving railway shareholders in unnecessary disputes in courts of law. They should do them justice at all events, and keep them out of courts of law and equity if they could. If, when railway directors had paid an engineer's account, that account was reopened and referred to a legal tribunal, they would inflict upon the company most painful litigation and expense.

was ready to yield to the superior judgment of the hon. Members who had objected to the form of the Amendment, and was ready to make such alteration in it as would meet their views, and at the same time answer his purpose. He would therefore omit the last word of the Amendment.

Amendment proposed to the said proposed Amendment to leave out the words "and as to the expediency of submitting the same to the decision of a competent court."

believed, as far as he could understand, that no objection was made to the principle of this Bill, except by those who were directors, solicitors, or the employés in some shape of railway companies. That fact was significant, and the House was bound to take notice of it. One great objection to legislation at all in respect to this matter was founded on the assumption that if the directors were faulty in their conduct, the shareholders had the remedy in their own hands. That was theoretically the case, but practically not so, nor was it difficult to discover the cause. Some of the chairmen of railways represented 8,000 or 10,000 shareholders, while at any meeting it would be a remarkable attendance if as many as 1,000 or 1,500 shareholders were present. A great body of the shareholders consisted of children, whoso property was in the hands of trustees, not moved by any personal consideration to attend the railway meetings; and many were women, widows of military men, &c; and others were clergymen spread over the country, whose duties made it almost impossible for them to travel to the places of meeting. From all these circumstances the meetings, no matter what was the subject under consideration, were invariably—unless for a short time during the panic, when gross cases with regard to particular boards were notorious—in the hands of the directors, who might require them to do whatever they chose. He agreed with the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Aglionby), that the interest of the public was not provided for in the present Bill; but at any rate its object was to obtain for the shareholders something like a clear and common-sense balance-sheet once a year. Speaking, however, in reference to the public interest, and supposing that before long the Court of Chancery would recognise the investment of trust money in railways, he asked under what circumstances would the property of children be now invested in them? In many instances, under the most fallacious circumstances; for cases had been known of railway companies so exaggerating their prosperity as to induce the public to purchase the shares at double their worth. Under such circumstances, it was wise to provide that a perfectly correct balance-sheet should be submitted to the shareholders; and though he entertained but small hopes of a beneficial result from legislation, as the evil must cure itself, still, as there was a Bill before the House on the subject, they were bound to make it as efficient as possible.

wished to know who were to be the persons referred to as "competent" to examine the accounts?

said, his interpretation of it was, that the accounts should be referred to such persons as the auditors should consider competent.

said, the Amendment proposed that the bills of the engineers should be looked into after the money was paid, while the bills of the solicitors were to be taxed before payment. He thought they should both be placed on the same footing, and that both sets of the bills should be examined before payment.

said, the auditors could not be limited to unpaid accounts, but they would pass an opinion on examining the paid accounts as to the propriety of the course the directors had taken.

did not really understand what the Amendment now before them was. The clause, and particularly this part of it, ought to be taken not by itself, but with the whole Bill, and then the extraordinary complication of the machinery would be seen. First, the accounts were to be kept by the directors in a particular form; then the accounts were to be overhauled by auditors appointed by the shareholders. Then an accountant was to be employed who was to report to the auditors, who were to report to the directors, who were to report to the shareholders. But that was not all. After this there were twenty shareholders to examine the accounts again, who were to have the power of calling in special auditors, and they were to have all the powers of the former auditors. Where was all this to stop? When hon. Gentlemen said they wished shareholders to understand how their money was disposed of, they should take care they did not make a double mystification of the accounts by these various processes, and get them into an inextricable complication of knots which no man could disentangle. This clause would just enable such directors as were disposed to be rogues to be greater rogues than they had been. He could not let this opportunity pass without protesting against legislation which proceeded entirely on the assumption that all directors of companies were laying their heads together to plunder the shareholders.

considered that the Amendment, as now amended, was an improvement on the clause, and afforded additional protection to the shareholders and the public. It would give the auditors fresh powers in reference to accounts paid as well as those unpaid.

disclaimed the intention of imputing unworthy conduct to railway directors, but thought it could not be denied that they did some things in their capacity of directors which they would shrink from doing as private individuals. The Committee had now an opportunity of saying whether there should be an intelligible audit of railway accounts, for it was proposed to give the auditors the power to inquire into every item which was paid. The Bill afforded greater facilities for a good audit than could be attained by the Companies Clauses Consolidation Act.

said, that by the Companies Clauses Consolidation Act the acccounts wore open for inspection a fortnight before and a month after the balance.

thought that equal power should be given for inquiring into all the transactions of engineers as well as others, whether paid or unpaid.

would recommend the hon. Member who had moved the Amendment not to make any distinction between engineers and others.

said, that after an hour and a half's discussion it would appear that they had been debating on an Amendment which was not in exact accordance with the principle of the Bill. The Bill itself contemplated a continuous audit, and the Amendment began by stating that auditors once in every year, at least, should require the production of accounts. He would not oppose the Amendment, seeing that it touched on the question of engineers; but he held it to be quite inconsistent with the principle on which the Bill was framed.

said, that the Amendment was not his, but had been drawn up with great care by a person of considerable experience in these matters.

found it acknowledged that there should be a competent body to look after the solicitor's accounts; and that being admitted, it was only fair that the engineers should be subject to the same treatment. It was the practice where differences arose between contractors and companies that the whole matter should be placed in the hands of the engineer. He was anxious to relieve the engineers from such responsibility, and it was, therefore, requisite that they should have a competent court to which matters of difference and dispute might be referred.

did not see how the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Locke) could accede to an Amendment which he deemed wholly inconsistent with the Bill. The hon. Member said the Amendment was inconsistent with the Bill, and yet he wished to have it. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had said that he did not approve of the Bill, and yet he wished to have the Bill.

said, that he had not introduced the Bill. At the same time, believing that it would produce a certain amount of improvement, although not such as he should have introduced on the part of the Government, he thought it due to his hon. Friend (Mr. Locke) who brought it forward, and to whom the House was much indebted for it, to attend in his place and give him the best assistance in his power. His hon. Friend the Member for St. Andrews (Mr. Edward Ellice) had proposed an Amendment to place lawyers and engineers in the same situation; and, after having listened to the objections that had been made to it, he could not say it appeared to him to be of so unworkable a description as might be supposed from those objections. If the Committee divided on the subject, he would support the Amendment, seeing that it was in his estimation quite a reasonable proposal.

said, that what he had said was, that the Amendment was inconsistent with the principle of the Bill, because the Bill provided for a continuous audit. It would have seemed invidious in him to have refused assent to the Amendment, as he would then have been in the position of opposing the application of its provisions to engineers.

Question, "That those words stand part of the said proposed Amendment," put and negatived.

Question put—

"That the words, 'and the Auditors shall, in like manner, once, at least, in every year, require to be produced to thorn accounts of every sum of money paid to any engineer employed upon the Line of Railway and works of each Company, and also of every account due by the Company for any work done upon such Railway; and it shall be lawful for the Auditors, if they shall think fit, to refer all such accounts, whether paid or unpaid, to some competent person to examine the same, and to report to the Auditors upon the charges in such accounts,' be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 77; Noes 42: Majority 35.

proposed in the same clause the following Amendment:—In line 8, after the word "payment," to strike out "or transaction, whether pending or completed."

regretted that the hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill should have assented to the Amendment. He would not bring any sweeping charge against railway directors, who were, generally speaking, men of integrity; but any system of audit must rest upon suspicion of misconduct, and if there were to be a real check, they ought to examine into "transactions," as well as "accounts." In a railway where there was a Government auditor, it turned out that a most improper contract for iron had been entered into by the directors. The efficiency of the Bill would be much impaired by this Amendment, and deprive the auditors of a most useful power of scrutiny.

thought the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman a strange one. He gave his support to a Bill which he admitted would now by this Amendment be deprived of a most desirable provision. It was a most extraordinary declaration for a Member of the Government; and for his (Mr. Ricardo's) own part, he would suggest a postponement of the clause, so that the whole measure might be revised, and that proper powers of audit might be conferred.

defended the course he had taken, and thought, considering the tone and temper in which these subjects were treated by the Committee, there was no encouragement for the Government to introduce such a measure. He had considered, upon the whole, that the Bill was an improvement on the present system, and had therefore given it his support.

said, that if the word "transaction" remained in the Bill, it ought to be called not a Bill for the audit of railway accounts, but for the control of the conduct of railway directors. If directors were not trustworthy, dismiss them; but if they were, let them not be treated as objects of suspicion, and their actions embarrassed by the proceedings of another board.

The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) said, the Amend- ment would weaken and damage the Bill, and yet he would support it. That was to say, the Government would pass a law which the right hon. President of the Board of Trade admitted would he a very had and inefficient law. If they struck out the word "transaction," what would they do with the word "pending," in the Bill? The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Locke) had stated that the first Amendment was inconsistent with the Bill; and then, by way of showing his consistency, supported an Amendment which he owned was inconsistent with the Amendment he had proposed.

admitted, with the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley), that the words "pending or complete" were governed by the word "payments," as well as the word "transactions," and therefore, that if the Amendment were agreed to, the auditors would not have the power to inquire into payments which had not been actually made. He suggested that the words should be retained, and that, to meet objections of hon. Members, the word "pecuniary" should be inserted before "transactions."

said, that the insertion of the word "pecuniary" would leave the clause quite as vague and indefinite as it stood at present.

supported the retention of the words, with the insertion of the word "pecuniary." If they decided to strike out the words, they would afterwards find that it was necessary to reinsert them with the addition of the word "pecuniary." Without the word "pecuniary" the clause might make the powers of the auditors too extensive. He deprecated the course pursued by some hon. Members in the last division, who had voted for the purpose of making the clause bad in order that they might throw out the Bill altogether. It was not a fair way of proceeding.

must remind the Committee that the Bill was not for the purpose of auditing the policy of railway boards, but for the audit of railway accounts. He could see no reason why the clause should be left so open that an auditor might have power to interfere regarding transactions pending in the board of direction.

said, the whole policy of a railroad was a pecuniary transaction, and therefore if they allowed auditors to interfere in pecuniary transactions, they allowed them to interfere with the policy of the whole line, and made them superior in every respect to the directors. He thought, when the hon. Member (Mr. Locke), who had charge of the Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, who represented the interests of the public, had agreed to the omission of the words as suggested by the hon. Member (Mr. H. Brown), that there would have been an end to all further discussion on the question.

said, he thought the Bill was a series of inconsistencies. He should therefore move that the Chairman leave the Chair.

wished to point out to the Committee that the adoption of this Amendment would place him in a position of peculiar hardship. It might be very well for Gentlemen connected with the director interest to oppose this Railway Audit Bill, independently introduced, on the allegation that a Railway Audit Bill ought to be introduced by the Government; but let the Committee call to mind that when the Government did propose a Railway Audit Bill, these very directors went up in deputation to the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) and induced him to withdraw the measure, on their promise to bring in an effective Bill of their own; and they did, indeed, after a time, frame a measure, but a measure so totally inadequate to the just requirements of the general railway proprietary, that they were fain to withdraw it, and to leave the matter in the hands of the shareholders themselves. The shareholders, accordingly, did frame a measure— that now before the Committee; and what was the course of the director interest in that House? Why, to oppose the very measure which they themselves had been, of mere shame, fain to recommend to the shareholders the preparation of. The grand principle with the director interest was to oppose every Railway Audit Bill, by whomsoever brought in; if an independent measure, they opposed it on the pretext that it was not a Government measure; and, if a Government measure, they opposed it on the pretext that it was not an independent measure. Of this railway shareholders might rest assured—that, until some effective Railway Audit Bill was enacted, they could rely upon no constantly vigilant and equitable administration of their affairs.

was free to confess that he had been much surprised at the course taken with respect to this Bill by Gentlemen connected with the direction of railways. He had himself been compelled to take a course with regard to this Bill in opposition to the views of those with whom he acted. He had never, indeed, said that this measure was without defects, There were several provisions in it which he desired to see amended; but he was bound to say that the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Locke) was in this matter fairly and bonâ fide carrying out the views of that large body of the railway interest which he represented, and a committee of which, sitting in London pending the past Session, had framed the measure. He was therefore surprised at the course taken with reference to the Bill by many of those Gentlemen to whom the railway proprietary had committed the conduct of their affairs. He thought it would be only proper that the Government should bring forward such a Bill as they might think necessary on the subject of railway audits. He thought it only fair to say that the Bill now introduced was introduced under a pledge given to the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) and that the Government Bill was withdrawn on the express condition that they, the railway directors, should bring forward such a measure.

considered that the railway directors who were opposing this Bill deserved, at the hands of the Government, the most stringent measure that could be devised. They had heard a great deal of the impolicy and impropriety of appointing auditors who might control the directors; but he felt that till auditors were placed in a proper position, no railway property in this country would be safe, nor would it assume that position as an investment which it intrinsically deserved. He was the chairman of two railway companies, and there was no act of his own or his colleagues which he was not prepared to submit to the most searching examination at the hands of any auditors, honourable and high-minded men, whom the proprietary might appoint. If any other than honourable and high-minded men were appointed to such an office, he would at once withdraw from the company, believing that the fact of such an appointment would show that he was no longer entitled to the confidence of the proprietary. He regretted that the whole day had been wasted in discussion as to proceeding with this Bill; but he thought that waste was to be attributed, not to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Locke), who brought in the Bill, but to the hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. Edward Ellice), and those who had acted with him. He trusted the Committee would not agree to the Motion that the Chairman leave the Chair.

would support the Motion of the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Packe), because he thought it was of no use to attempt to carry a Bill the very first clause of which was declared to be perfectly inefficacious.

thought he was not open to the charges that had been made against him. He had stated frankly that he had voted against the second reading of the Bill—that he thought it would be better to leave railway companies to settle their own affairs for the next year or two, without any interference of the Legislature—that while he would not oppose endeavours to render the Bill efficient, he did not give up his opinion against the measure—and that he intended to vote against it, should it reach the third reading. He had no personal interest in this matter, for he was only connected with one company, and it was the practice of that company to employ two of the most eminent accountants, entirely unconnected with the company, who had access to the accounts every month.

hoped the hon. Member for South Leicestershire would not press his Amendment. He thought if it was determined to throw out the Bill, it ought to be done in another manner, and one more worthy the Committee, and the hon. Member.

said, the question was, whether the measure was for the good of society or not? Now, he entirely disapproved of the principle of the measure. He did not see why railway people were to be placed in a different situation from any other people. If they passed this Bill, why should Parliament not also provide for auditing the accounts of canal companies, of gas companies, and, indeed, the accounts of every man, if he could not or would not audit them himself? He was not a director, and he did not wish to be a director, of any railway company, and therefore he was not at all personally interested in this subject; but he thought this Bill was an attempt to do what never could be done by Parliament, to the satisfaction either of the shareholders or the public. If the shareholders were too idle and indolent to look to their own affairs, let them pay for the consequences. He would, on these grounds, vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Packe).

notwithstanding what he had heard, would persist in his Amendment, which he thought would have the effect of saving the time of the Committee.

hoped the Committee would not agree to the Amendment, which would have the effect of disposing of the Bill in a very summary manner. He believed one result of the discussion which had taken place on this subject would be, that the Committee and the public would see how vain it was to expect that any great alteration in the system of audit of railway accounts would emanate from the directors themselves. The conduct of the Government had been arraigned in no very measured language, on the ground that they had not brought forward some measure on this subject; but he might remind the Committee that a very numerous deputation of railway directors, who had, on a former occasion, waited upon the noble Lord at the head of the Government, urging him to withdraw a Bill introduced by the Government relating to the audit of railway accounts, pledged themselves that in the ensuing Session of Parliament, a measure for improving the system of railway audits should be submitted to Parliament on their behalf. He rejoiced to hear that statement; but no such measure had been brought forward, and he had no doubt the Gentlemen who contemplated the task, found that they had great difficulties to encounter from the proprietors. He would certainly prefer seeing any measure on this subject proceed from the railway directors themselves; but he thought the discussions that had taken place must convince the public how hopeless it was to expect a measure to emanate from that quarter.

said, that though he was a member of the deputation to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, he had to learn that, though he was a party to the promise, he was bound to subscribe to any Bill on the subject that might be brought before that House. This Bill had been under discussion several times; but no one Member had had the courage to express his unqualified approval of any one of its clauses. He was most anxious for an efficient audit of railway accounts; but, as a Member of that House, he reserved to himself the right of discussing any Bill that might be proposed with the object of imposing restriction.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do now leave the Chair."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 62; Noes 56: Majority 6.

House resumed.

The House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock.