HC Deb 23 March 1847 vol 91 cc326-32

moved— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the conduct of Captain Wynne, during his employment in the county of Clare in November and December, 1846, and January, 1847, as Inspecting Officer under the Board of Works, and into the statements contained in the printed Letters of the said Captain Wynne and Samuel Gamble, Esq., addressed to the said Board, and laid upon the Table of this House, and Report thereon; and also to inquire into and report whether the said Board of Works have or have not suppressed certain Letters or Reports made, or alleged to have been made, by the said Captain Wynne to them on investigations held at Ennistimon on the 10th, and at Liscannor on the 17th day of December, 1846, and also certain Letters in the possession of the said Board connected with these subjects. The hon. Gentleman was understood to declare, that the charge which Captain Wynne had made against the gentry of the county of Clare, and particularly against the representatives of that county, was most calumnious and unfounded; and that the only object which Captain Wynne could have had for making such a charge was to hold the landlords of Ireland up to the execration of the people of this country. If the charge against him could be made out, he would not continue in the House five minutes. He had been a general supporter of the Whigs for fifteen years, and so had his Colleague; and this was the way in which he had been rewarded by one of their officers. All he wished for was a searching inquiry into the imposition which had been practised on the House and the country by Captain Wynne; and he hoped, notwithstanding the unfavourable disposition of the Government towards him, that the House would grant him a Committee of Inquiry.


seconded the Motion. He could confirm the statement of his hon. Colleague in all respects.


regretted that the hon. Gentleman had not postponed his Motion for a very few days. On the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, certain documents had been ordered by the House, which were now in the course of printing, and would be in the hands of Members the day after to-morrow. Those documents would throw a great light on the whole of these transactions; and in his opinion, the House would act more correctly if they did not grant this Committee before those papers were in the hands of Members. The hon. Member had stated that the Government had received a general support from himself and his Colleague for a length of time, and that this was the ungracious return which they met with from him (Mr. Labouchere). Now, he really thought it was impossible for the Government to have taken a different course from that which they had taken in this matter. It was no desire of his to estrange any supporters from the Government. The Government had not so numerous a body of supporters in the House of Commons, as to make him anxious, as a Member of the Government, to alienate any one from their side; but on a question of this kind, if he were to alter that line of conduct which in his conscience he felt bound to pursue, when the proceedings of an officer of the Government were brought in question, and if he shrank from the defence of an officer of the Government in such circumstances when he thought that officer was deserving of being supported by the Government, for the purpose of conciliating votes in the House of Commons, he should think himself disgraced. He contended that a servant of the Crown had no choice in such a case, but was bound to defend in the House of Commons any officer of the Government who might be assailed there, when it was clear to the Government that such officer had discharged his duties to the best of his ability and according to his conscience. He could not, therefore, allow himself, out of regard to the consideration alluded to by the hon. Member, to alter the course which, on deliberation, he had found it his duty to pursue. No time whatever had been lost in producing all the papers bearing on the subject; and when those papers were presented, then it would be the time for the House to consider whether it were right or not to grant the Committee for which the hon. Gentleman moved. Saying this, however, he was very far from meaning that when the papers were before the House, it would not be right to grant the inquiry, if those papers were not satisfactory to the House; for grave charges had certainly been made against the Members for Clare, and it might be that the House would think it right to investigate them; but be could not assent to an inquiry moved in terms which reflected on the conduct of Captain Wynne. He maintained that there was no such primâ facie case against Captain Wynne as could justify the House in dragging him before a Committee as a criminal; and if they did, it would operate as a discouragement to officers employed in the service of the Government in Ireland, who had arduous and important duties to perform, and who, if this Committee were granted in this form, would be naturally much more anxious in future to shape their course so as to avoid offending Members of Parliament, than to discharge their duties boldly and conscientiously. As to Captain Wynne, he would say again, as he had said on a former occasion, that the opinion of the Government was not, that on every occasion Captain Wynne had acted with perfect discretion; but that in circumstances of a most difficult nature, and amidst opposition the most formidable, he had acted with the most conspicuous courage, and with entire integrity. That was the opinion of the Board of Works in Ireland; that was the opinion of the Lord Lieutenant, and of every Member of the Irish Government; and he would not shrink from declaring it. He had recently seen Captain Wynne for the first time in his life; and that officer had said, that, although he could not retract one word of what he had said, yet that nothing was further from his intention than to impute to the Members for Clare a deliberate design of procuring his assassination. He (Mr. Labouchere) wished the sentence had been otherwise worded; but some allowance must be made for the circumstances under which people acted; and, making a fair allowance for a man writing under those exciting circumstances in which Captain Wynne was placed at the time, he (Mr. Labouchere) did not think that such an interpretation could be fairly attached to it. The words used by Captain Wynne were these:— I and the other officers of your board have strong reasons to complain of the conduct of the two county Members. Now, he must say, that if a man meant to say that another had attempted to get him assassinated, it was a very mild way of stating that to say he had strong reason to complain. The letter went on— Who appeared to come to the meeting for the sole purpose of holding us up one and all to assassination, and hallooing on a mob of a thousand of the worst description who were present. Can it be wondered that the stewards and overseers will not discharge their duties, and that the men on the works are doing literally nothing but what they please? He had the express authority of Captain Wynne for giving a public assurance to the two hon. Members for Clare, that, although he still maintained his opinion of their conduct, which he thought, in the state of public feeling in the district at the time, was reprehensible, and such as he had a right to complain of; yet that he never intended to impute to them designedly the purpose of assassination. He was bound also to say, that in the county of Clare, there had been a gross neglect of duty on the part of the relief committees; and he would tell them what another officer said; Captain Fishbourne said, that about 60,000 persons were employed on the public works, being almost all the adult population; and that he believed one-half of the money which had been expended in the county of Clare in furnishing employment, would have provided for the whole destitution, if the relief committees had done their duty; but, as it was, there still remained many who were in a state of destitution, and many persons were starving, whilst farmers, and others of a like class, had been put by the relief committees on the public works. He mentioned this injustice to Captain Wynne, to show the difficulties with which he had to grapple in the county of Clare. He would not enter into the subject further than to state, that Captain Wynne bore the highest character for his personal conduct and his public exertions; and that Sir Lucius O'Brien, the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and others, bore the highest testimony to his merits; and to express a hope that, under the circumstances, the hon. Member would withdraw this Motion for the present; and if the papers, when produced, should not be satisfactory, such an inquiry should be instituted as would afford an ample opportunity of investigating all the circumstances connected with this case.


had made no allusion to the support he had given the Government; but what he complained of was a want of courtesy in the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland, in not communicating to him the charge of meditating assassination made against him and his hon. Colleague.


said, that though the right hon. Gentleman had asked for the indulgence of the House, he had shown very little towards the hon. Members for Clare, who had been paraded throughout the country for the past two months as instigators of assassination. He would ask whether the English language could in a more pointed manner, convey such a charge? And, if it could not, what could be more fair than for the hon. Members to say, "We challenge investigation, and we court the fullest inquiry?" With regard to the terms of the Motion, he was sure that the hon. Members would take the Motion in any terms which might be assented to. Of Captain Wynne he knew nothing, and he was glad to hear of his brother's testimony in his favour; but there had been a delay in producing the papers, and there was good ground for inquiry.


said, that his right hon. Friend did not object to an inquiry into the statements which had been made; but he had said that the papers which would enable the House and the Committee to judge of the subject, had not yet been printed and delivered to the House, and, therefore, that it was not yet the time for the House to come to a decision on the question; but if the hon. Gentleman would frame his Motion in such terms as were unobjectionable, and if the naming of the Committee were deferred till the papers should be delivered and in the hands of the Members, there would be no objection on the part of the Members of the Government to the appointment of a Committee.


said, that an inquiry was due to the character of that House, as well as to the hon. Members themselves.


said, it was quite clear that if it was intended to allow a Committee to be appointed, the less preliminary discussion there was, the better would it be for the ends of justice. He thought it better upon that occasion to abstain from any allusion to the conduct of Captain Wynne, and that the inquiry should be unprejudiced by anything which passed now; and he suggested that such an alteration should be made in the terms of the Motion that it should not prejudice any party, and should be now agreed to.


had no objection to the appointment of a Committee, if it were done in such a manner as should not cast any imputation on any parties.


said, it was quite clear that the matter could not rest where it was, and that the question was only one of time and form. Serious charges had been brought, in official documents laid upon the Table of that House, against two hon. Members: they had come forward and demanded an investigation, and he therefore thought that a Committee of that House, for the purpose of a full and fair investigation of all the facts and circumstances of the case, could not be refused. As an observation had been made by the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Williams), reflecting upon the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Labouehere), he (Mr. Shaw) felt bound to say that he admired the manliness and high feeling with which the right hon. Gentleman had defended an absent public servant, acting subordinately to his department, who, he believed, had acted honestly and uprightly. He had no personal acquaintance with Captain. Wynne, but he had heard him highly spoken of as a public officer. The Motion could not be agreed to in its present terms, for they implied a censure of Captain Wynne's conduct, as well as of that of the Board of Public Works. He therefore would suggest the convenience of withdrawing it for the present—and then letting it be brought forward at the end of the night as an unopposed Motion—the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. C. O'Brien) and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouehere), having in the mean time agreed upon words which would not cast an imputation upon any party, but simply ensure a full inquiry into the whole transaction.


suggested that the whole object would be met by appointing a Committee— To inquire into the Statements contained in the printed Letters of Captain Wynne and S. Gamble, Esq., addressed to the Board of Works, and laid on the Table of that House, and report thereon.


thought that the hon. Member for Clare was right not to give way; this was a grave charge, and, as they had only to settle the terms of the Motion, to put off such an investigation after such a charge, would not conduce to the dignity of the hon. Members themselves or of that House; for if a public officer who made such a charge were to be protected by delay, the Members of that House would be placed in an invidious position; and he therefore trusted that the hon. Gentleman would press the Motion in the terms suggested by the noble Lord.


said, that if the terms of the Motion were strong, the charge was strong also. No doubt the character of Captain Wynne was very high, but the character of his hon. Friend was equally high; and he must remark, that if some check had been held over the officers of the Board of Works, he thought it would have been better. He should certainly support an inquiry.


said, that in satisfaction to the feelings of the hon. Members, he was sure the right hon. Gentleman would accede to a Motion now appointing the Committee. He agreed that it was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman to defend a public servant who had done his duty, and that some allowance was to be made for doubtful language; but as a Committee was assented to, he would suggest that the terms of the Motion should be— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the statements contained in the printed letters of Captain Wynne and Samuel Gamble, Esq., addressed to the Board of Works, in reference to the county of Clare, and to report thereon; and into the circumstances connected therewith which may appear to them fit subjects for investigation.


said, the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment opened the door so wide, that he had no objection to it.

Original Motion withdrawn, and the words proposed by Sir Robert Peel were put in a substantive Motion, and agreed to.