HC Deb 21 July 1845 vol 82 cc797-807
Mr. Hawes

wished to put a question to the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, upon a subject of great public importance; of his intention to do which, he had already given the right hon. Gentleman notice. The question had reference to the Report of the Committee which had sat upon a subject connected with the South Eastern Railway Company. He had delayed putting this question, in order that the Government might be the better enabled to act upon their own discretion and responsibility in a matter of this kind. His question was, whether Her Majesty's Ministers had had under their consideration the Report of that Committee, and whether they had taken any steps in consequence, in reference to the names of certain parties mentioned in that Report—namely, Captain Boldero, Mr. Bonham, Mr. Hignett, and Mr. Wray; and if so, whether they were prepared to state what those steps were which they had taken?

Sir R. Peel

Sir, I am prepared now to state to the House, in consequence of the question which has just been put to me by the hon. Member for Lambeth, and which I understood would be put to me, the course which has been taken by Her Majesty's Government, after a full consideration of the Report of the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Shortly after the Report was presented to the House, Mr. Bonham and Captain Boldero signified to me their wish to tender their resignations of the situations which they respectively held under Her Majesty. They stated, that although—speaking with reference to transactions of the present year which had been brought under the consideration of the Committee—they felt conscious of their perfect integrity, and that their conduct as public officers could not, in the slightest degree, be influenced by the holding of shares in any railway, yet, at the same time, they believed that their efficiency and usefulness as members of a public department were likely to be impaired by that Report. They, therefore, felt themselves called upon to tender their resignations, and I considered it to be my duty to advise Her Majesty to accept them, and Her Majesty has accepted them. In respect to Mr. Wray, who holds the office of Receiver General of Metropolitan Police, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department has forwarded to Mr. Wray a communication, in which he seriously animadverted on the proceedings of this gentleman in reference to this matter, and directed him to confine himself exclusively to the proper functions of his department. With respect to Mr. Hignett, who was Solicitor to the Board of Ordnance, his right hon. Friend the Master General of the Board of Ordnance had felt it to be his duty absolutely to dismiss Mr. Hignett from his situation.

Captain Boldero

Sir, I feel confident that the House will indulge me by its attention for a few moments. I feel that there could scarcely be any position more painful to myself than that which I now occupy, in rising to address you upon the subject which has just been brought under your consideration. The House is aware that the South Eastern Railway Company had presented a petition to this House, accompanied by a letter, in which certain charges were made against my friend Mr. Bonham and myself. That petition was referred to the consideration of a Select Committee; and that Committee, after the most diligent and scrutinizing inquiry, came to this conclusion. In the Report laid upon the Table by the Committee, I find it stated— Though, however, Mr. Hignett admitted that he had written the letter referred to, he declared to your Committee, that when he wrote it, he had no authority to use the name of either Mr. Bonham or Captain Boldero; that he 'had no conversation whatever with those gentlemen upon the subject;' and that he used their names, considering that it would 'give weight to' his application for the shares he was soliciting from the Company. Mr. Hignett further declared, that the statement that he had spoken to Mr. Bonham was 'untrue;' and that the presumption intended to be raised by this use of the names of influential members of the Board, that the demands of the Company on the Board might be assisted by the course suggested by the letter, was without foundation, as 'they had not the power to further the objects of the South Eastern Company'—the questions at issue being deemed of a purely military nature, and the decision upon such questions resting solely with the Master General, and not with the Board. Now, I can declare that this is the undeviating course in every question connected with railways. The Committee further add— That they feel it to be their duty, in the first instance, to state, that nothing which has transpired leads them to suppose that the decisions of the Master General upon any of the questions brought before him by the parties promoting either the South Eastern, North Kent, or the London, Chatham, and Kent lines of railway, were influenced by any other than strictly public considerations. Nor has your Committee any reason to suppose that any act of the Board of Ordnance was affected or influenced by the conduct of Mr. Hignett; however well calculated that conduct was to suggest the suspicions expressed in the petition of the South Eastern Railway Company. Your Committee entertain no doubt that the decisions of the Master General and the acts of the Board of Ordnance, in reference to these railway companies, were the result alone of a desire to protect public interests, and to afford, consistently with them, a reasonable and proper accommodation to the public in the districts through which it was proposed that these railways should pass. Thus the Committee (both on the letter and the petition) enter into a complete exculpation of my friend Mr. Bonham and myself. Sir, when I was under examination before the Committee, I exposed every private transaction connected with the few railway shares, without hesitation, in which I had been engaged. I stated that I had purchased in the North Kent line, and other lines, as I thought them advantageous, but that I was not in any degree influenced by my position as a member of the Board. In the Committee, very few questions were put to me; and I was led to suppose that the explanation I had given was satisfactory, otherwise I should have explained some points in detail, which now appear to me to have been misunderstood by the Committee. If I had not considered my evidence had been conclusive and satisfactory to the Committee, I would have added to its weight. I had not the oppornity of hearing it read by the clerk, nor were the notes of the shorthand writer sent to me. The Committee have done me the justice, in their Report, to notice that oversight. How it occurred I know not. Such is the fact. On a perusal of the evidence, I find I gave one answer which does not appear to be sufficiently explanatory of my intention, and it had reference to my motive for selling forty shares which I then held in the North Kent Railway. The real facts of the case connected with these forty shares I will now state. On Saturday, the 7th June, after the business of the day, I read the public journals; and from the Times newspaper I received the first intelligence that military officers had been examined before the Committee on Group A of railways, touching a powder establishment at Faversham, not the property of the Board of Ordnance. It struck me, then, that possibly the same course might be pursued with reference to the Ordnance property at Chatham and Woolwich, through which the line was proposed to pass; and that perhaps I might be called upon, as a Member of the House, as then holding an official situation in the Board of Ordnance, to explain some acts of the Master General, who was not a Member of this House. I immediately decided upon selling those shares. The 8th was Sunday; on Monday, the 9th, I disposed of the forty shares; and I acted solely on the principle that, should I be called on to give evidence or to take part in a debate in this House, I might do so without the slightest bias, even if it be possible that the small amount of forty shares should bias any gentleman. The sale of these forty shares had no reference, no, not in the remotest degree, to the position I held as a member of the Board. There is a paragraph in the Report worded with extreme severity against me, although I bow to the decision of the Committee. In that paragraph, it states that the progress of the North Kent Bill depended upon the consent of the Board of Ordnance. Of course I am sensible this was the impression then made; but I can assure the House that it is entirely and totally inconsistent with the mode in which public business is carried on in that Department; for the Board has no power whatever in such matters, either in the negative or the affirmative; it is solely in the Master General's hands: the decision and the consent rest with him, the acts of the Board being ministerial only. If there should be any doubt about what I now state, I think the evidence of the Master General of the Ordnance, and of my gallant Friend the Surveyor General, should be brought forward; and I will undertake to say that both will corroborate every word I have uttered; and in that case the paragraph should not have been inserted. However, there is the paragraph; and I am not ashamed to own it deeply affected me; and the more I reflected upon it, the deeper was the wound. I ask the House, with such a paragraph published to the world, what course was open to me but one dictated by an honourable pride—and that was, to place in the hands of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury the resignation of my office as Clerk of the Ordnance? In the letter I then wrote, I thought it my duty to state the only ground which actuated me. The words I used were to this effect:—"It is with reference solely to the impaired degree of usefulness to the Government and to the public service which might arise out of the temporary impression made by recent proceed- ings that I act, but under the most clear conviction and perfect consciousness of the utter groundlessness of any imputations which may be attempted to be thrown upon my character, either in private or public capacity." This is all I have to say. I shall conclude by thanking the House for their kind and patient attention, and I trust that no word has been uttered by me to give offence to any one.

Mr. Hawes

asked the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department, whether he considered with respect to Mr. Wray that the object of the Report of the Committee had been accomplished?

Sir J. Graham

Since the Report of the Committee to which the hon. Gentleman refers, and of which he was the Chairman, was presented to the House, I have thought it my official duty carefully to consider the evidence, and, upon mature reflection, considering that the transaction in which Mr. Wray was involved took place as far back as 1836—that it was not immediately connected with the subject-matter which gave rise to the inquiry, and also weighing the terms of the Report, in which the expression is used, that Mr. Wray's conduct, in the opinion of the Committee, was deserving of serious animadversion, I thought, that upon the whole, I should best discharge the duty of my office by putting on record a public letter addressed to Mr. Wray, in which I animadverted strongly on the conduct of Mr. Wray in the year 1836. It should be observed in justice to Mr. Wray, that at that time, with reference to the terms under which he exercised the function of Receiver, it was open to him to employ himself in another business. Since that time the additional labour which has devolved on Mr. Wray is considerable, involving also some augmentation of his salary; and prospectively, therefore, I have enjoined on Mr. Wray the paramount necessity of devoting his time exclusively to the business of the office; and I have told Mr. Wray that any employment undertaken by him, not immediately connected with those duties, will, in my opinion, be the ground of his immediate removal. I can assure the House I have considered this matter dispassionately, and in my humble judgment the letter I have written meets the full justice of the case.

Mr. Hawes

asked whether the right hon. Baronet would have any objection to produce the letter?

Sir J. Graham

said, that although on ordinary occasions he did not think it advisable to notice the terms in which the Secretary of State was under the painful necessity of reprehending a public officer, yet, considering all the circumstances of the present case, he was prepared to lay the letter on the Table.

Mr. Roebuck

observed, that he learned from the right hon. Baronet that, on the appointment of Mr. Wray, it was understood he might employ himself as a barrister, or, in other words, that he was not to withdraw from Westminster Hall. He wanted to know whether that was considered by the right hon. Gentleman as any palliation of the proceedings of a gentleman who did not confine himself to Westminster Hall, in the proper discharge of his duty as a barrister, but employed himself in the business of canvassing for votes for the private purposes of the South Eastern Railway?

Sir J. Graham

readily agreed that the permission given to Mr. Wray to employ himself as a barrister was no palliation for the circumstance to which the hon. Gentleman referred; but admitting that such conduct was indefensible, he thought that, considering the lapse of time, and other circumstances to which he had adverted, and not wishing to act with undue severity, the letter he had written would meet the justice of the case.

Mr. Ward

wished to say a few words in justice to a gentleman who had not the advantage of making any observations on his own case, and with whom he had been on intimate terms for many years. He did not defend that portion of his conduct for which he had received the censure of the right hon. Baronet, and he had told him so himself; for he thought nothing could justify a transfer of shares by a gentleman who held an official situation for services rendered in a Committee of the House; but, in justice to Mr. Wray and Mr. Bonham, the House must recollect how disgraceful was the constitution of Committees a few years since, how impossible it was for any person having a Bill to get through the House to have a chance of obtaining attention to the facts of the case, unless some person of influence and standing lent his name and took charge of the Bill, which he understood was the position in which Mr. Bonham stood; and as to canvassing, he told his hon. Friend near him, when he first saw the Report, that it was useless to pretend to impracticable purity. He held it to be impossible ever to procure attention to the facts of the case, if the Report of the Committee was to be acted upon. Hon. Members were all canvassed. His hon. Friend, who was largely connected with the railway madness, must be constantly in the habit of being canvassed. [Mr. Hawes: I am not connected with any railway, nor do I hold shares of any kind whatever]. His hon. Friend must be canvassed at times. It was impossible that he should not be so. What he understood by the word "canvassing" was attempting to induce a Member to come down and pay attention to the question before them. What hon. Member had always nerve enough to say no? He had not the slightest wish to extenuate the conduct of Mr. Wray; but he begged leave to remind the House that in 1836 a very different system prevailed in regard to Committees from that which was now in force. He recollected very well being on a Committee which was presided over by a noble Lord who had done much to improve the manner of conducting the private business of the House (Lord G. Somerset); it sat a long time, he believed forty days, and he was canvassed to go down to give his vote. He refused, on the ground that he had not heard one word of the evidence; but it was asked whether he would give his vote if twenty-six Members were pointed out in the Committee-room, not one of whom had ever been there before, and who were prepared to vote? The twenty-six Members were pointed out to him, they having been marshalled by the Duke of Buckingham. He then gave his vote, and assisted the noble Lord to maintain his Report. There was another point on which Mr. Wray had cruelly misrepresented himself. It was in that part of his evidence wherein he stated that he had acted as umpire between the South Eastern Company and Lord Strangford. Upon inquiry, he found that the fact was not so, and that, in that case, Mr. Wray acted as the agent for the railway, and not in the capacity of umpire at all.

Lord John Russell

I heard with considerable surprise what has been stated by my hon. Friend, and I am hardly less surprised at the conduct of the Government with respect to Mr. Wray. I confess I am surprised at what I have now heard, that in 1836 the constitution of this House was so deficient that it was necessary to pay a Gentleman who was appointed on a Committee the sum of 300l. for attending and giving his vote—for that is the effect of the statement which has been made in this House in defence of Mr. Wray. I have read the evidence relating to that occurrence, which, it is true, took place in 1836; and if that is a reason for keeping this gentleman in the public service, I do not see why it should not be a reason also for keeping Mr. Bonham in the public service, for what has happened most to affect his character took place in 1836. It was stated that Mr. Wray was employed as a barrister to promote the interest of the South Eastern Railway in 1836, and that, after the Bill passed, the Company thought fit to show their gratitude to Mr. Bonham, who had acted, in reference to that Bill, in his capacity as a Member of Parliament, and had voted in that capacity. The Committee had a reserved fund of 100 shares, and it was agreed accordingly to give those shares to Mr. Bonham; but he did not incur any risk of the market by these shares, as it appeared, from an answer of Mr. Wray to Mr. Duncombe, that Mr. Bonham never saw the shares. There was a profit of 3l. per share, and this amounted, on the 100 shares to 300l. which were paid over to Mr. Bonham. Now I consider that a culpable transaction on the part of Mr. Bonham, but not less culpable on the part of Mr. Wray, who knew well that he was giving those shares to Mr. Bonham in consequence of his conduct as a Member of Parliament. If this be passed over with a slight reprimand to Mr. Wray, I cannot understand the distinction between that conduct and 300l. given by the Secretary of the Treasury to any Member of Parliament in consequence of his vote. The Bill on which Mr. Bonham voted was part of the legislative business of the House; and we should take care that the interests of the public in such matters are properly attended to. That Gentlemen should, in 1836, have come down to this House, and have voted on Bills which they knew nothing about, was a very great abuse; but it does not diminish the evil of giving 300l. to a Member of Parliament in consequence of the course which he took in this House. It appears to me, as Mr. Hignett has been dismissed, which was the proper course, and as the resignations of Captain Boldero and Mr. Bonham have been accepted, that a different course should not have been pursued with respect to Mr. Wray.

Mr. Ward

said, that the noble Lord had cruelly misrepresented him. He said distinctly that no word could be too strong to express the feeling of reprehension with which he regarded the interference with any man in the discharge of his official duty; and he added, that the only excuse or palliation which could be given was the constitution of private Committees at that time.

Sir James Graham

felt it necessary to say two or three words, in consequence of what had fallen from the noble Lord opposite. He had never, since be came into the Home Office, had any personal communication with Mr. Wray, who was personally unknown to him, and towards whom he had but acted judicially. He looked at the Report of the Committee, and weighed carefully the precise expressions which were applied to his conduct, namely, that it was deserving of "severe animadversion;" and in writing the letter to Mr. Wray he had acted solely on his own responsibility, exercising, to the best of his judgment, a dispassionate consideration of the facts; and whatever he had urged, he rejoiced was urged at the side of lenity. He hoped the House would pause until they saw the letter which he had written. It was a letter which contained "severe animadversion," and if it was the pleasure of the House to take any ulterior course, it would be a subject of future discussion, subsequently to the production of the letter.

Colonel Sibthorp

had already expressed his opinion of the advantage which would arise from calling on every Member to state whether he possessed railway shares or whether he did not. For his part, although he had not been asked to serve on any Railway Committee, yet he was ready to go to the bar of the House and swear that he had no interest, directly or indirectly, in railways. Let all Members be examined—let them all make such a statement, and then they might have what they might call something like a pure House of Commons. It was his opinion, however, that as at present constituted, instead of being a reformed and purified House, it was more muddy and dirty than ever.

Mr. French

considered that the House was perfectly correct in watching with a jealous eye the conduct of those to whom it delegated its authority. He would state this generally, as it appeared to him that it should not be limited in its application to parties only who had been mixed up in pecuniary transactions; there were other still graver delinquencies than any that had been alluded to that evening. Could the House for a moment conceive the person who had been selected in this or the other House of Parliament as a Judge, placing himself in secret communication with the agent of one of the parties, receiving and acting upon the information he acquired in this manner from the individual who had been selected to get up the opposition to the case which he had been appointed to try—browbeating every witness brought up by those who were defending themselves—having the indecency in a railroad case to demand "were their shares at a premium?" and being answered in the affirmative, declaring that "he would have them speedily at a discount!"—and ultimately suppressing the evidence which disproved the case he was anxious to establish? Would not the case be worse if this individual had occupied a high legal station? Perhaps they would tell him that conduct such as this can only be accounted for by the individual being fitter for being placed as an inmate in a large establishment on the other side of the water, than for occupying a seat in either House of Parliament. Conceive a company placing before him every document in their possession in reference to the case—the minute book of all their proceedings, their banker's accounts, showing all their money transactions, and into which they courted an investigation—tendering their chairman for examination, whom he refused to call, but behind his back basely attempted to calumniate—asking "had he ever been a candidate for a lucrative employment in a rival railway?" Possibly such a question should be regarded with contempt, as coming from one who had shown himself incapable of either thinking, acting, or speaking as a gentleman; but as he (Mr. French) was the person about whom that question was put, and feeling that, were there the slightest foundation for that base and dastardly insinuation, he should be unworthy of a place in that House, he had deemed it his duty to call attention to the fact. The individual about whose conduct he had spoken (and he was prepared to establish every statement he had made) was Lord Brougham and Vaux! and the case was the Dublin and Galway Railway.

The following Motion made by Mr. Hawes was then agreed to:— An Address for Copy of the Letter addressed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department to Mr. Wray, the Receiver General of Metropolitan Police, in consequence of the Report of a Committee of this House upon the South Eastern Railway Company's Petition; and, also a Copy of the appointment of Mr. Wray to the office he holds.

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