HC Deb 19 July 1844 vol 76 cc1082-4
Mr. Fitzmaurice

called the attention of the House to the case of Mr. Rolls, who had been dismissed from his situation of landing waiter, because he did not divulge to his superior officer an offer which had been made to him, in 1840, to participate in the Custom frauds. It appeared he made a private memorandum of the fact, which was found in 1842, and on this discovery he was dismissed. The Commissioners of Inquiry had recommended his reinstatement, but though he was paid his salary, and had been offered another situation for a year, the Lords of the Treasury would not agree to re-appoint him. He begged to move that the Petition of Mr. Joseph Henry Rolls be referred to a Select Committee, to report their opinion thereupon, with the Evidence, to the House.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

defended the conduct of the Board of Customs. The Board of Customs made a Report, in which they discussed the circumstances of the case, and stated that they could not place in Mr. Rolls that confidence which should be reposed in every officer of the public service. In these circumstances that letter was written which had been read to the House by his right hon. Friend, in which the Treasury stated, that as he had been deprived of the confidence of his department, they did not consider it consistent with their duty to replace him in the situation he had filled. This communication was accompanied by the intimation that the salary should be paid up to the period when the decision was communicated to him. His hon. Friend stated that an offer of another situation had been made to Mr. Rolls, and this was perfectly correct. It was felt at the Treasury that though Mr. Rolls might not have been deficient in integrity, as was stated by the Commissioners of Revenue Inquiry, there were circumstances of want of judgment, which had entailed on the Customs serious consequences, and which might naturally prevent the Board from having him placed under them in a situation of trust; but still the Treasury did not consider that this ought to operate as an entire disqualification of Mr. Rolls for further employment. An offer was made to him of an office of a temporary character, the only one at the disposal of the Treasury, in testimony that they did not consider his integrity impaired. On the whole, no other course could have been pursued consistently with the interests of the public service.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, the situation offered to Mr. Rolls was that of registrar of births, deaths, and marriages, and it could not have been expected that a man of unimpeached integrity, who had filled an office so much higher, should have accepted of it, particularly as he had a right to insist that he should be reinstated. He was satisfied that the public did not yet know who were the real parties to the Custom-house frauds, and he must complain that the right hon. Gentleman refused to give the evidence on which it was founded.

Sir R. Peel

said, the Board of Customs and the Treasury could have followed no other course than that which, on due consideration of the case, they had adopted. The Treasury had not rested satisfied with a merely verbal objection from the Chairman of the Board of Customs; they had requested that the objections to the reappointment of Mr. Rolls should be placed on record, making it a matter of official reference. Accordingly an answer was received from the Customs, signed by six members of the Board, in which they stated in detail the reasons why they could not recommend Mr. Rolls. He meant no imputation on the integrity of Mr. Rolls; but the Treasury, with that distinct opinion, could not force him upon the department, seeing that there had been some unfavourable circumstances in the case.

Mr. Hawes

said, as regarded the character of Mr. Rolls, there was no imputation upon it; even the Government admitted that. He acknowledged the difficulty of interfering, after the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he hoped that what had passed would not prejudice the expectations of Mr. Rolls.

Lord G. Somerset

said, however liable to suspicion some circumstances in Mr. Rolls' conduct might have been, and however his want of explicitness was to be regretted, he must declare that his conduct had been always that of an honest man. He regretted that the Commissioners of Customs had persisted in their original opinion. It seemed to him that the Commissioners had not enough considered the additional circumstances which were subsequently brought to light. As far as he was individually concerned, therefore, he was desirous that any inquiry should not be stifled; but, upon the whole, he thought it better that he should not vote upon the question before the House.

Mr. F. T. Baring

thought the noble Lord who had just sat down had spoken very fairly considering the position in which he was placed in conducting this inquiry. He regretted that allusions had been made to the system of promotions and appointments at the Customs. Those promotions and appointments were much better left to the Treasury than interfered with by votes of this House. Nevertheless he could not but think that Mr. Rolls had been hardly dealt with, and he concurred with his hon. Friend in hoping his case would not be prejudiced in consequence of this Motion.

Amendment negatived.

Order of the day read.