HC Deb 07 February 1850 vol 108 cc460-70

Sir, I wish to ask a question of the noble Lord at the head of the Government and of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cockermouth is also present, I would beg to solicit his attention also. No doubt it must be in the recollection of the noble Lord opposite, and of the right hon. Gentleman, that some time since a letter signed "E. Horsman" appeared in the public papers. In that letter—and the reason I put the question is, because I believe the honour of the House is concerned, and that the sooner some explanation of a remarkable circumstance like this is given the better for all parties, and more particularly for the honour of the House and the Administration—the letter charges the noble Lord opposite—I beg the noble Lord's pardon for making use of such phraseology, but such are the terms here—charges him with something like a fraud. The charge is not mine; I hope the noble Lord will under- stand that. It charges the noble Lord opposite with a fraud upon this House—that he, having given a promise to an hon. Member of this House, in the face of this House, employed as the instrument of the fraud—for I can use no other word—the right hon. Gentleman who is now seated on his left hand. And, lest there should be any misunderstanding in the matter, I will read the words of the letter to which I find the hon. Gentleman's name appended, because I wish the House to understand that the charge is not mine; but that there is made against the noble Lord opposite and the right hon. Gentleman a charge which I wish them to explain, and which, I am sure, the country will be glad to have explained. The letter says, respecting the Ecclesiastical Commission— But the subsequent proceedings were still more strange. Interviews were sought with the Prime Minister, and a representation made to him of the unlooked-for character of the Bill; and its objectionable clauses having been pointed out, it was urged that it could not give satisfaction, or be accepted as a settlement of the question, unless framed more in accordance with the recommendation of the Committee. Lord J. Russell took time to see the Archbishop of Canterbury, and replied to me by arrangement on the following Tuesday in the House. His words were to this effect—that having conferred with the Archbishop, he was now ready to adopt the alterations which had been suggested to him, and having done so, he expected the Bill to pass without further opposition. Nothing could be a more satisfactory declaration to us that our suggestions had been adopted, and that the recommendations of the Committee would now be carried out in the Bill. And when the noble Lord proceeded to say that he should invite the House to go into Committee on the Bill pro formâ, in order to introduce those Amendments, and asked for a few days' delay, we readily assented. It was true, the delay was very dangerous—it was late in the Session; every day was now precious; and during, not that Session only, but the three antecedent ones, it had been a constant battle for delay on the part of the Government. Nevertheless, we had now the Minister's word—his assurance that the Bill would be put into such a shape as to secure its passing without difficulty, completely satisfied us—and we thus allowed ten more days to be lost. The House then went into Committee pro formâ on the Bill; it was late at night, and the House impatient. The Attorney General was moved into the chair. The Home Secretary handed in his Amendments—they were put, one after another, from the chair—no one heard a word—and no one tried to hear. It was a matter of course that they were the Amendments which the Prime Minister had promised should be introduced in that Committee. I should as soon have dreamt of keeping my eye on a Cabinet Minister lest he should steal my hat, as of suspecting him of substituting one set of Amendments for another which had been promised. So the business was galloped through, as formal business usually is, at half an hour past midnight. The Amendments were reported to the Speaker, and the Bill ordered to be reprinted; and, though some days more must be lost in the reprinting, we left the House with the conviction that at last one step had been achieved in the great and important work of Church reform, and that the days of the Ecclesiastical Commission, in its then mischievous and irresponsible shape, were numbered. You may therefore imagine, but I cannot describe to you, my surprise when the reprinted Bill came out. I could hardly believe my eyes. Not a single one of the promised Amendments had been introduced; nay, it was impossible to discover, from the beginning of the Bill to the end, that one single line or one single syllable had been altered so as to bring it more into conformity with the recommendations of that Committee on whose report it was professedly founded Where, then, were the slips of paper which I saw the Home Secretary hand in, as the promised Amendments, to his Colleague in the chair? I leave you to judge. On the character of that proceeding I will not permit myself to make a single comment. But its result was, that the Government had succeeded in gaining a whole month at the close of the Session; and the raising a remonstrance or reviving a discussion at that late period, with a view of getting a good Bill passed, was entirely hopeless. The Government had accomplished its purpose of postponing an improvement of the Ecclesiastical Commission now for the fourth year. Now, I heard the hon. Gentleman, when he brought forward a Motion upon this matter the other night, say that he reiterated that charge. [Lord J. RUSSELL dissented.] I beg the pardon of the noble Lord if I am mistaken; I hope I am; but the noble Lord will understand that the charge is one which it is for the dignity of the House and the honour of all of us, should be answered at once. The hon. Member for Cockermouth has not made it hastily—not in a speech in which he could be carried away—but in a letter signed by his name within three weeks of the assembling of Parliament. And he charges the noble Lord opposite distinctly with fraud, and that he employed for his instrument in that transaction the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Now, I want to ask the hon. Gentleman whether that charge which he has so gravely, so sedately made, is one to which he now adheres, and what steps are about to be taken to satisfy the country and the House that the charge is true or untrue?


Sir, as the hon. and learned Gentleman has come down to this House for the purpose of reading a paper making a personal attack upon my character, I think it would at least have been civil—perhaps right to the House—that he should have given me some notice. I say that that was the more necessary course, because I have never read one word of the production to which he has alluded. I was told that there was an attack upon my character, signed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cockermouth, and I thought that, if he had an attack to make, he would come forward in this House and make it, and then I should have been able to answer him on those particulars, so stated. I have, however, I repeat, never read, though I have heard in conversation, some small part of the statement which the hon. and learned Gentleman has read to the House. Now, Sir, with regard to these particular allegations, though I can't say that my memory will enable me to answer as to each particular transaction that took place, yet I will state generally what has been my course in this matter. And, in stating that course, I hope I shall be allowed this credit with the House—that in a matter which concerned the composition of the Ecclesiastical Commission, very much affecting the state of the Church and its welfare, it was my object to obtain the assent of this and the other House of Parliament, including the distinguished prelates of that Church, to an arrangement as beneficial to the Church and the country as possible. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Cockermouth, in the speech he made the other night, totally omitted one part—and, I think, very essential part—in the history of these transactions am sorry that I am obliged to refer to them; but, after the hon. and learned Gentleman has made the statement, and read the paper he has done, I think there is but one course open to me. In the year 1846, when I came into office, I communicated with some persons connected with the Church, and with the Ecclesiastical Commission, that, though I had never made any public remarks upon the conduct of that Commission, I was very ill satisfied with its composition, as being too numerous, as being ill-adapted to conduct the business, and, therefore, requiring amendment. In the beginning of the following Session—that was, in April, 1847, I introduced a Bill which, among other provisions, provided that there should be a paid chairman of an Estates Committee appointed by the Crown—that he, with six others appointed by the Commission, was to form the Committee of Estates, and that without his presence no business should be transacted in that Committee. Another part of the Bill which I intro- duced provided that the offices of treasurer and secretary, formerly united, should be separated, and be no longer held by the same person. I no sooner introduced that Bill than the late Archbishop of Canterbury gave me notice that it would be opposed; and still more strongly, soon afterwards, that he believed it would be opposed in the House of Lords by all the members of the Ecclesiastical Commission belonging to the Church. Upon that course being taken, it appeared to me that the Bill, which had not attracted much public attention, would not, if it went up late, have had much chance of success in the Session of 1847; and that it was advisable that the public generally, and the House especially, should be acquainted with the composition of the Ecclesiastical Commission, and the mode of carrying on business. My hon. Friend the Member for Malton had given notice that he meant to move for a Committee; and I informed the late Archbishop of Canterbury, that as he had taken that step, my only course would be to give my support to the proposition for the appointment of a Select Committee. Now, in the appointment of that Committee, it was stated that there was some arrangement, some understanding, with the late Archbishop of Canterbury. That is so far from being the case, that the Archbishop entirely disapproved of, and dissented from, the appointment of any Committee, which was, however, nevertheless, appointed in the face of that dissent. I state these facts to show that it was not from the House that the proposal to reform and to alter the composition of the Ecclesiastical Commission to a certain extent originated, but from my view and those of each of my Colleagues concerned, that the composition of that Commission had not been satisfactory. I think that that is of some importance, because this part of the case has always been represented in a manner at variance with the facts. Many very able Members of this House were appointed upon that Committee, and they took a view even stronger than I had done, thinking that it was necessary to appoint, not one, but three paid Commissioners, to assist the business of that Estates Committee. I come now to the hon. Gentleman's statement, that he was about to bring forward some question—that he applied to me as to the difference that there was between the Bill which I had introduced and the report of the Select Committee—and that he requested that that Bill should be altered so as to meet his views. I certainly, after hearing his suggestions, communicated with the late Archbishop of Canterbury, and learnt his views upon the subject. I likewise communicated with other members of the Committee, more especially with my right hon. Friend near me, and I learnt from him as well as from others, that they did not put the same interpretation upon the recommendation of the Committee which the hon. Member for Cockermouth had put. I agreed, however, that it was advisable to make some considerable alterations in the Bill as I had proposed it, and especially that several of the proposed members of the Committee should be omitted in the Bill. With regard to other points I certainly did not concur, and I don't remember exactly what were the words I used, but I think I could not have said more than that the suggestions of the hon. Gentleman had been considered, and that we meant to make some alteration in the Bill. If I said that everything he proposed was to be adopted, I certainly used the words that did not imply my meaning, because I had not found any person, either the late Archbishop of Canterbury or any other person, who took exactly the same views as to his recommendations. But after I had gone thus far, upon further communication with the present Archbishop of Canterbury, I found that he had very strong objections to the appointment of more than one commissioner to be paid out of the revenues of the Church. He stated that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners whom he had consulted, and the bishops with whom he had conversed, had concurred in thinking that one Commissioner paid from the revenues of the Church would be quite sufficient, and that any further payment would be depriving the Church of those means of supplying spiritual instruction in the larger parishes which they considered was an object to the Commission and to the country at large. I did not entirely agree with that view, but I certainly did propose to make amendments in the Bill which should, to a certain degree, conciliate the opinion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and enable us to pass the Bill through the other House of Parliament. In so doing, if I may be allowed to state it, my motive was a double one. First, it was, that I should be enabled to make what I considered was a very great improvement in the construction of the Commission, by which there should be an Estates Committee, having on it a person receiving a salary, and responsible for all the business of that Committee. In the second place, I thought that, unless I carried with me, to a certain extent, the consent of the prelates at the head of the Church—the Ecclesiastical Commission being kept up, and that Estates Committee being decided on by a majority of the House of Lords—there never would be any harmony between the two bodies in the Commission, and the successful working of the Commission would be greatly impeded. With that view, therefore, after many consultations and much consideration, I framed the amendments. With regard to the manner of introducing those amendments, it was done in the same way in which amendments pro formâ are always introduced, namely, the clauses with the alterations are put in at once. The chairman of the Committee does not put the separate question, but the Bill is afterwards printed for the consideration of the House, and some time is allowed before the House is asked to go on with it. Exactly the same course was taken with this Bill. It is very likely that I ought to have explained sooner to the hon. Gentleman, and more in detail, after the various communications I had with him, how far I had adopted the suggestions he had made, and how far the Bill I had introduced was to be altered. I confess it would have been proper that I should have made that communication; but as the Bill was to be printed—as it was to be brought under the consideration of the House again, I own I think the hon. Gentleman's saying he would as soon have thought of my right hon. Friend stealing his hat as putting in any amendment that was not exactly in accordance with his views, appears to me an expression, I won't say exhibiting bitter hostility on his part, but rather the result of inflated vanity. With respect, therefore, to that charge of fraud, I am not going to fly into a passion on that subject. I can only say that I entirely despise any such charge, and that I must rely not on any detailed proof that I can give to the House as to what took place day by day, and what I proposed day by day; but that, having been many years a Member of this House, I may obtain credit for being incapable of the baseness that has been attributed to me. I must rely upon the House, and upon the position which I hold in the House—a position which I should indeed be unworthy of holding if I were capable of committing a disgraceful fraud for the purpose of deceiving the hon. Gentleman about the composition of the Ecclesiastical Commission. I will only add, on the matter of patronage, that any alteration that could he made, proposed rather to diminish than increase any patronage that might be in the Crown. It was very desirable, in a matter of such importance, in which we thought some reform should be made, that the heads of the Church, and especially that he for whom as a man, independently of his high position, I entertain the highest respect—I mean the present Archbishop of Canterbury, should be satisfied. Anxious as I believe he is for the reform and for the spiritual welfare of the people, I thought it but right that I should in some degree conciliate his support and his goodwill towards the measure. These, then, have been the motives on which I have acted. I do not know that I can give any further explanation to the House. I do not think it necessary for me to resent any further the charge that has been made. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman might have given me notice of his question; but, on the whole, I am very well satisfied with the matter as it stands.


Sir, though the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield has not given me either any notice of his intention to bring forward this question, I wish to say a few words, being somewhat differently circumstanced from my noble Friend, as I had the misfortune to read some weeks ago the letter to the inhabitants of Cockermouth, to which allusion has been made. Having read that letter, I did, at the close of my speech the other night, notice the charge contained in it, though, at the same time, I felt that it was really beneath my notice. ["Hear, hear!"] I noticed it under the apprehension—I use the word advisedly—that if I had not done so, the hon. Gentleman might, in the course of the next twelve months, write another letter to his constituents taunting me with the fact that he had written the former letter containing a charge of wilful fraud against me, and that I had admitted its truth by abstaining from alluding to it. I read the letter, I confess, with feelings of astonishment, not un-mingled with shame—astonishment, not at the charge having been made, but that it should not have been made until the month of December or January last, referring, as it did, to a transaction that had occurred, according to the statement of the hon. Gentleman himself, in the last Session of Parliament, and six weeks before its termination, though every night of that period the hon. Gentleman might have brought forward, in the presence of my noble Friend and myself, the charge which he has thus dressed up for his constituents at Cockermouth, when the charge and the answer to it would have gone forth together. I shall not enter into the subject now, further than to state that I unequivocally deny the imputation that has been made by him against me. I may also say that, from all the communications that I have had with my noble Friend on the subject, I never had the slightest reason to suppose that my noble Friend intended to adopt the suggestions that emanated from the hon. Gentleman. That Bill having been entrusted to my charge, and my noble Friend thinking that the Bill ought to be committed, pro formâ, with a view of having the Amendments printed prior to being considered by the House, I did that which every Member of the House does under such circumstances, and which the hon. Gentleman knows is always done in this House—namely, not hand the Amendments separately, on slips of paper, to the chairman of the Committee, but move that the Bill, as amended, be committed, pro formâ, when the chairman reports the Bill to the House, with a view to its future consideration on a subsequent day. Nothing was gained by the adoption of that course further than meeting the convenience of the House. The Bill was, on the 14th of June, committed, pro formâ, and on the 20th of June it was reprinted—the House sitting until August—and yet this charge was never brought forward by the hon. Gentleman until December, 1849, or, I believe, until January, 1850.


Sir, the noble Lord, and still more the right hon. Baronet, have in their speeches, done that which I shall very carefully avoid; they have infused a great deal of warmth and heat into the discussion upon a question which I intend to make one merely of facts and evidence. As I said the other night, I have been some years in this House. I wrote a letter deliberately. I knew the high position held by those who were affected by the charges I made. I knew the cheers they were sure to meet with in this House when they alluded to those charges. I knew the sympathy that men standing in their position ought to command in this House when charges so seriously affecting their charac- ter were made against them. And I knew, as I said the other night, that I must prejudge every honourable and highminded man in this House who either regarded the character of the House or of public men, by the boldness and gravity of the charges which I made. I knew, also, that I must have the greatest difficulty in substantiating those charges if I were called on to substantiate them. And I knew that if I were so called on and could not substantiate them, I must have been held mad to make them. I remember only a few years ago, when a right hon. Gentleman, holding the position which the right hon. Baronet now holds, had similar charges brought against him—I know the course he took. The Member making those charges was asked if he were prepared to substantiate them; and the right hon. Gentleman said, that he could not consent to sit in that place whilst those charges made against him remained unanswered. He offered the hon. Gentleman a Committee. He took that course which, I think, as an honourable man, he was bound to take; and the Member making those charges against a high Minister of State, failing to substantiate them, had the censure of the House pronounced upon him. Well, I knew that that might he my fate, and, as I valued my future position or usefulness in this House, a fate I should look to with dread. Knowing all that—feeling it—foreseeing it—I deliberately made that charge, I advisedly published it, and I stand here, in the presence of this House, to avow, to maintain, to reiterate, and to offer to prove it. I now leave the matter in the hands of the House. The noble Lord speaks of his position in this House and his character as a statesman; well, Sir, I am well aware of that, and it is an appeal to this House which a Prime Minister never can make in vain. It is one I foresaw he would make; and I knew it would meet with sympathy—knowing all this, I repeat, I reiterate that charge in the presence of the noble Lord, in the presence of the right hon. Gentleman, in the presence of this House; and I say to the House that I am prepared to prove it. The hon. Gentleman sat down, but presently after again rose and said—I I have stated that I am prepared to prove that charge; but, at the same time, I wish to remark that I stand here in a different position from the noble Lord or the right hon. Baronet. I stand here unsupported; but having sat in this House for some time, and lest it should appear that this offer on my part is unworthily made, I do say that I think the Government, from a sense of justice to me, and I think I have a right to add, from a sense of justice to themselves, ought to allow me the opportunity which I claim of proving my charge. Supported as I am by no party in this House, I shall leave the question to be decided by the House.


The hon. Gentleman says he has made a charge, and that he reiterates it; but he does not state to the House what that charge is. He refers to some letter which he has written to his constituents, and he says that he reiterates what he states there. What I think the hon. Gentleman should do, if he wishes to prove any charge against my right hon. Friend or me, is to come forward and state what his charges are, and to ask for a Committee to investigate them. I shall not oppose the appointment of such a Committee when he has made his charges and satisfied the House that there is a case for investigation.

Subject dropped.

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