HC Deb 16 February 1847 vol 90 cc33-6

I hope I may trespass on the House very shortly with a few words by way of explanation, and with the view of setting the House right as to the statement of an hon. Member, calculated, however unintentionally, to mislead them. They will agree with me, that it is essential the facts should be correctly stated; and I hope I may state, without any vanity, that it is essential to the dignity of the office I have the honour of holding, that I should not be left under the imputation of having made statements to the House founded on misconception. I stated, in the course of this debate, on the authority of a person well acquainted with railways, that only 25 per cent of the whole outlay was expended in the employment of labourers, and that thirty labourers per mile were all that were employed on a railroad of ordinary character. Last night the hon. Member for Shrewsbury stated, first, that I said only twenty-five men per mile would be employed; and, secondly, that he had seen, or had held communication with, the gentleman from whom I had received my information, and that that gentleman stated to the hon. Member, that I had entirely misconceived the information he had given me; and that what he stated was, that twenty-five men per mile were employed permanently on the railway, and not engaged in making it. I now hold in my hand a letter from the gentleman in question, and who gave me this information. He is of great rank and experience in the construction of railways. I will take the liberty of reading three very short paragraphs, which will, I think, show I did not misunderstand the meaning of his information:— Of the total cost of a railway, 25 per cent, at the outside, is what is spent on the ground in labour. I find from a large number of results, that the average number of labourers employed in the construction of a railway of ordinary character, may be taken at twenty to thirty men per mile for a period of two to three years. Now, Sir, I took the maximum number here stated, that is, thirty men; and, assuming the datum of the noble Lord's calculation of 1,500 miles of railroad, I stated that the number of men for whom he would find employment would be 45,000, at the rate of thirty men to the mile. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury went on to say, I received this information from the gentleman who had communicated with him, and that I had entirely misconceived it. I hold in my hand a letter from the same gentleman whose information I have already quoted. It was dated subsequently to the speech of the hon. Member last night, and was received this morning, I will just read the passage:— I certainly never called upon Mr. Disraeli, or spoke to him, or communicated with him in my life. My information to you was fact. I have no business to do more than to put this fact correctly before the House; but I think it will be evident to the House, first, that the person who wrote this letter did not communicate with the hon. Member for Shrewsbury; secondly, that he did not tell him I had entirely mistaken the information I had received; and, thirdly, that I did not incorrectly state the information I had received. If the House were to hear the writer's name, they would admit he was a competent authority, and that the statement I made was fully borne out by him. I beg to assure the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, that I do not suppose he stated a fact he did not believe; nevertheless, after what I have stated, I think it will appear the hon. Member has been somewhat misled or imposed upon; and, if he will forgive me for making a suggestion to him, I venture to recommend that for the future he should not make statements on which he cannot very accurately rely, and the authority of which he has not carefully sifted.


I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, that if I used any expression in, I will not say the heat of debate, for there was no heat of debate, but in the haste of speaking, last night, which caused the right hon. Gentleman the slightest annoyance, I very sincerely regret it. I entertain for the right hon. Gentleman that deep respect which his character, his talents, and his high position cannot fail to command. But the right hon. Gentleman has fallen into a mistake with regard to what was stated by me yesterday evening, and I will at once explain and correct that mistake. I stated that the individual whose authority I quoted—a gentleman of great experience and of peculiar knowledge on scientific subjects—a gentleman, not known of course to all, but known to very many Members of this House, informed me that he supposed from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that he had been the person who had communicated to the Government the information used by that right hon. Gentleman. This individual had given some information to the Government; and when he read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he believed that the facts stated by the right hon. Gentleman were deduced from his information. He therefore made a communication to me, and he stated to me, "I suppose that I am the person to whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded; and if I am, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has completely misunderstood the information I sent him." But all this confusion and misunderstanding arises from using anonymous communications in this House. If the right hon. Gentleman had given us, as I always take the precaution to give the House, the name of the writer of every document and opinion which I bring forward, we should not be led into such mistakes as these. But when we know the number of persons who communicate directly or indirectly with the Government, not perhaps with persons in as exalted a position as the right hon. Gentleman, but with persons in a very high position, I can readily understand twenty or thirty or even fifty of these anonymous individuals going about London, and believing that they are the authorities whose statements the Minister has repeated to the assembled Parliament. And the House will do me the justice to recollect that what I said was, not that I had seen the individual who was the authority, but that I had received a communication from an individual, a highly-respectable gentleman, who believed himself to be the authority cited by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A nice, but a complete and perfect, distinction. Without the letter, however, which the right hon. Gentleman has read, his declaration alone would have been quite sufficient that the facts were as he had originally stated them. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with every possible courtesy, communicated to me his intention to offer this explanation. I, therefore, called upon my authority, who laboured under the delusion that he was likewise the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and in the most gallant manner he permitted me to use his name. If the House requires it, I shall be willing to give it; but as this gentleman is a professional man, and as this circumstance might possibly place him in an invidious position, perhaps the House will not demand it. Nothing would induce me to publish it, but an eager desire to satisfy the House of the correctness of my statement. It is, however, agreeable to my feelings, and it will be satisfactory to the House, that the statement was not made to me alone, but was made in the presence of my noble Friend the Member for Lynn, who is quite ready to confirm what I have stated. But the right hon. Gentleman has read me a lecture as to the necessity of sifting the authorities upon which I make statements to this House. I don't think it was needed. I take all the precautions in my power to ascertain the accuracy of every fact I may happen to mention in this House. But if persons in high places—whose every word has its weight—will seek to influence our opinions by anonymous authority, these equivoques will occasionally occur.