HC Deb 12 December 1837 vol 39 cc1022-7
Mr. Goulburn

, in rising to move that certain names be added to the Education Committee, regretted that he was obliged to trouble the House with any observations. The real object that he had in view was to secure from the appointment of the Committee a fair representation of the feelings and opinions which prevailed upon the subject on the different sides of the House. Thinking that there had been an attempt made by the Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House to overwhelm the opinions which were supposed to be entertained on the side of the House to which he was attached, he felt it to be his duty to bring this particular case under the consideration of the House; and he did so, not merely in reference to the importance of having the different parties in that House fairly represented in Committees, but in reference to the importance of the object of the Committee itself; for it must be obvious that if an impression were to get abroad that the Committee appointed to discuss so important a matter were not fairly and impartially constituted, whatever the determination of that Committee might ultimately be it would carry no weight with the country, and moreover would excite against the Committee a great deal of hostility. The Education Committee, as it at present stood, was composed of ten Members of the Ministerial side of the House and five only of that side of the House. The direct object that he had in view was to add those Gentlemen to the Committee who he was sure would be regarded as wholly unexceptionable in point of character and acquirement, and who, moreover, had a peculiar claim to be placed upon a Committee of this description. He had taken the trouble to refer to the several Committees appointed by the other side of the House: they were ten in number, and he found that the gross number of Members of which those ten Committees were composed were divided in the following proportions—one hundred and eleven Gentlemen representing the opinions of those who sat on the Ministerial side of the House, and only forty-eight the opinions of those who sat on the Opposition side. It would, he thought, be admitted on every hand that such a disproportion could not be regarded a a fair representation of the feelings and opinions of a House of Commons where parties were so nearly balanced. Two Committees only had been appointed by the side of the House upon which he (Mr. Goulburn) sat; but in each of those Committees a fairer and more equal proportion was observed. Taking the gross number of the two, he found that there were fourteen Members chosen from the ministerial side of the House, and fifteen from the Opposition, making a very manifest distinction between the manner in which Committees were appointed on the two different sides of the House. When Mr. Roebuck moved for a Committee upon the education of the lower orders, he took a more equal course than had been pursued in the present instance. All that he (Mr. Goulburn) requested the House to do was to adopt the same proportion as that observed by Mr. Roebuck. With this view he begged to move "To enlarge the number of the Committee appointed to consider of the education of the poorer classes in great towns in England and Wales, by the addition of the names of Mr. Pusey, Mr. Gladstone, and Mr. Acland."

Mr. Poulett Thomson

, in replying to the motion, thought it would not be necessary for him to enter into any discussion of the general question of the appointment of Select Committees, because it must be notorious to every body that the Committee to which the right hon. Gentleman's motion related could not have been appointed with any reference to the opinions of either side of the House, or to the manner in which parties were separated. The object that his hon. Friend had in the appointment of the Committee was to select, as far as possible, Gentlemen who were not in any way connected with party or influenced by party views—gentlemen who were the most likely to give the best attention to the subject. He thought that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was objectionable on two grounds. In the first place, it appeared to him that as the House had laid down a rule that the Members of Committees should be limited to fifteen, it would be very undesirable, except on some very extraordinary grounds, to deviate from that rule. There was also this further objection: he had already stated that this Committee had nothing to do with the party politics and party views of the two sides into which the House was ranged. Therefore the deduction which the right hon. Gentleman had endeavoured to draw from the disproportion of Members representing the opinions of the two sides was really, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman must himself admit, not applicable to this case. If hon. Gentlemen were anxious to serve upon this Committee, he should greatly prefer, instead of increasing the number of the Committee, that some of those who were already upon it should give way for the new comers. But if that were not agreed to, and even if it were, when they came to the selection of names he should venture to observe that he did not think the names mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman would be the most proper that could be introduced upon a Committee of this description. No possible objection could be taken to them upon any other ground; but it certainly did not appear to him that Gentlemen who were chiefly connected with the landed interest, were the most proper persons to place upon a Committee appointed to consider of the means of extending education to large towns. If it were necessary to alter the proportion of Members upon the Committee, he (Mr. Thomson) should be perfectly ready to retire —he was quite willing to offer his name as a sacrifice; but he protested against the increase of the numbers of the Committee. He trusted, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman would withdraw his motion, or at all events wait a day or two until it was seen whether some arrangement could not be come to.

Mr. Wakley

was decidedly of opinion that this Education Committee was very badly constructed, and the discussion which had arisen upon the present motion clearly showed that the system upon which Select Committees were appointed required to be changed. When the object of the Committee was a fair one he did not see what possible objection there could be to a short delay of one day to scrutinize the names of the Members of whom it was proposed that the Committee should be composed. He knew it would be said that this would give rise to discussion; but if the proposed appointment were a fair and equal one what dread need any one have of the result of a discussion? In the present instance it certainly appeared to him that the selection of Members was not a fair one, and it too frequently happened that those who succeeded in obtaining a Committee upon a pet subject appointed only those Members to set upon it whom they knew to be tolerably favourable to their views. It was said that the great object of the present Committee was to extend education to the large towns, yet it was singular that not one Member connected with the county of Middlesex or with any of the metropolitan districts was attached to it. A Committee of this kind ought, in his opinion, to be compounded only of county Members and the Members of large towns. Under all the circumstances, seeing that the matter was one of very great importance, he thought the right hon. Gentleman would do well to withdraw his present motion, with the view of bringing the subject forward in a more formal manner after the recess.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that the discussion which had just taken place strongly confirmed the impression under which he spoke the other evening with respect to the policy of requiring that those who appointed Committees should give some short notice of the names they proposed to place upon them. Under the existing system they had fallen into a sort of habit of considering the appointment of Select Committees as a sort of patronage to be exercised by the gentleman by whom a Committee had been obtained. It was said that if notice of the names were given it might serve to provoke discussion, which would be inconvenient and objectionable. He thought quite the reverse. What was it that gave rise to the present discussion? The disproportion that existed in the Committee as to the representation of the feelings and opinions of the two sides of the House. This would be avoided if proper notice were given, so that the House might become aware of the manner in which it was proposed to construct Committees. If the Committee proposed were not a fair one, there could be no harm in the discussion; if it were perfectly fair, in all possibility there would be no discussion. With respect to this particular motion, it was said that the subject to which it referred was not a party question. He totally dissented from the truth of that assertion. It certainly was not a question upon which any party struggle was likely to take place; but the House would be miserably mistaken indeed if it supposed that the country did not take a deep interest in many questions that were not considered nor treated within the walls of Parliament as party questions. Party questions often turned upon mere straws. They were of importance to them in that House; but they were regarded as of but little or no importance to the country at large. Many of the most important questions—questions affecting the welfare of the country generally, and in which the country generally took the deepest interest—were not party questions. Upon all such questions it was of the utmost importance that the feelings and opinions of the Members of the Legislature should be fairly represented. Education was not a party question; but yet if a Committee were appointed in which the opinions of the two sides of the House upon the subject of education were not fairly represented, no report that the Committee could make would be satisfactory to the country. It appeared to him that the House ought at all times to require from a Member who obtained a Select Committee some short notice of the names of the Members he proposed to place upon it. He became the more impressed with this idea when he remembered how nearly parties were balanced in that House, and yet perceived the vast disproportion that existed in all the Committees appointed by the hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side.

Mr. S. O'Brien

hoped, that the right hon. Baronet would not allow this matter to rest, but would come forward with some distinct proposition upon it. He (Mr. O'Brien) had no doubt that the great majority of the house would agree with the right hon. Gentleman that some distinct notice ought to be given of the names proposed to be placed upon the Committee.

Sir H. Inglis

said, that with respect to the observation of the President of the Board of Trade that the Committee was to consist of the magical number of fifteen, he begged to say that Committees originally consisted of twenty-one; it was quite clear, therefore, that the House had the option of altering its own rules. At present there was a certain prestige attached to the reports of the Committees of the House, because it was supposed that they expressed the opinion of the whole of the Committees, whereas possibly they only expressed the opinion of a bare majority, which in the present instance would consist only of eight.

Mr. Goulburn

understood that the President of the Board of Trade and the hon. Member for Lambeth had agreed to withdraw their names, if the House would allow it; he therefore, saw no difficulty in the House agreeing to his motion.

Motion agreed to, and names moved by Mr. Goulburn added to the Committee.

The Speaker

thought, it proper to state that the rule of the House was, that on any Gentleman proposing the names of fifteen persons to constitute a Committee, he must previously obtain the consent of those individuals to stand on that Committee.