HC Deb 08 February 1854 vol 130 cc342-5

Sir, I am very anxious to address a few words to the House in reference to myself. Last evening I was unfortunately absent, having had to visit Sunderland on a matter of some interest to the inhabitants—my constituents—in reference to a great public work. Although I returned to town yesterday I did not feel sufficiently well to come down to the House last evening. But had I been aware that a Gentleman—a Member of this House—was going to refer to myself, no inconvenience would have prevented my being here to meet and reply to that hon. Gentleman. I have always understood, that if observations personal to a Member of this House are made, or are intended to be made in this House, it has been usual to give that Member notice of such intention. But would the House believe that on this occasion I received no notice whatever from the hon. Member for Finsbury? nor was I aware that any mention was to be made of myself. Of this I think I have good ground and reason to complain. The charge which the hon. Member has made has been extracted or read from the Times newspaper. I am not about to make any observations upon that paper, but it is unfortunate for theta that generally in their charges against me they have founded their charges on acts which are either totally untrue, or which, if not untrue, have been of a character to admit of a very different construction, and are in fact acts which I shall to the last day of my life be proud of and happy to avow. I should not have complained if the hon. Member, along with the charge which he read from the paper, had thought it right in fairness or in common honesty to have read along with that a letter from my solicitor, which was addressed to the Times, repudiating in the most distinct terms the charges which they have made, and quoting the affidavit made by myself in the suit which has been the unfortunate subject of discussion. Sir I never, on my honour, made, nor intended to make, either privately or publicly, any charge or imputations against any Member of this House. It is utterly impossible, during my long intercourse with this House and with society, for any gentleman, be he whom he may or where he may, to charge me with having said, directly or indirectly, that I ever tampered with any Member of this House, directly or indirectly. Therefore, I say the charge is as false and malicious as it is unjust and untrue. But the hon. Member is not content with reiterating that charge—he also talks of "disgorging." He says that I am called upon to disgorge a large sum of money. I admit that by the decision of the tribunal to which he has referred, I am so called upon. But neither that tribunal nor any other tribunals will venture to say that what I am called upon to disgorge, I ever, to a large extent, received. It is quite true that by a legal construction I am placed in that unfortunate position. Against that position, however, I am advised that I have a good right of appeal. But I say again, that it is admitted, even by my opponents, that a large sum of the money which I am obliged to refund to that company never reached, nor could by any possibility have reached my hands. Therefore, I say my position has been one of misfortune; I have been morally right, but legally wrong. But I have no objection, nay, I invite my accusers, if they think right, to take me from my cradle and follow me to this day, and if they can fix upon me any charge of dishonourable conduct, or of anything which would disentitle me to the confidence of my friends, I will instantly bid adieu to this House and to my public position. But until I am convinced that I have done anything not only legally but morally wrong, I shall abide, amidst the vituperations of the press, or of any other individual who may choose to attack my character or position. If I had perhaps consulted my own feelings or position, I might have pursued that press by prosecutions in the Courts; but through a long life I have abstained from so doing. I have known what it is to live in popularity, and to enjoy the smiles and confidence of the world. And I have had a bitter reverse to bear. I hope I bear it with the fortitude with which a man who is conscious of his innocence should bear it. I may perhaps leave to posterity, and may in after life refer with pride and satisfaction to works which I have either projected or promoted—works of utility, which will bear my name, perhaps, when the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe) and myself are gathered to our forefathers—works which will bear comparison with that hon. Member's conduct, either in public or in private life. I hope the hon. Member will himself pursue the course which he wishes the Government to pursue. I am ready to unravel and unfold everything. I have stood the brunt before a jury of my countrymen, and when attacked by all that the intelligence and the ability of counsel could bring to bear against me, I have left Court, after two or three hours' examination, with the smiles and congratulations of my friends, and the discomfiture of my enemies. I have been subjected to vituperations. There is scarcely a work which I projected, in the plenitude of my power, which has not been condemned at the moment, and with regard to which all sorts of charges have not been brought against me of being actuated by motives of anything but those of a public character. But I have already lived to see nearly every one of those works carried out, and if they have not been, it is the fault of those who censured me and visited me with pecuniary loss. I visited, on Monday, one of those works, as to which, although it was forced upon me by the committee, I have seen my policy recognised as the right policy. They had better have given me a quarter of a million than have forced on me property which is now admitted to be worth 100,000l., although at the time I was told that it was not worth the paper on which the title to it was written. I have seen this and I leave it to that posterity which will do me justice. I have seen times, and have had opportunities given me, when, if money had been my only object, I might have enriched myself to any amount. I have sat at boards when shares have been distributed and have been offered to me, and, on public grounds, I have declined them, and they have been taken by my colleagues. If money had been my sole object—I do not mean to say that the attainment of wealth is not a fair and right ambition—but if that had been my sole object, I say that means were placed in my power of such a gigantic nature that I might have revelled in it to any amount. But my colleagues will do me the justice to say that I rejected it on many occasions; and it is a matter of satisfaction to me that I am enabled on this occasion to meet the hon. Gentleman who has raised the charge, and has also adopted it—for he talks of "disgorging." Disgorging! There cannot be a disgorging of that which you never received. I might make some observations, but I refrain, because I seek to vindicate myself, not to cast imputations on another. I did think that the hon. Member would have felt it his duty, after making this charge, to have attended in his place, either to withdraw or to reiterate it; that, having left the sting, he would have been present to-day, from a consciousness that I should take the first opportunity to vindicate myself. If the hon. Gentleman will move for a Committee to follow me from the cradle to the present day, I am ready to meet that inquiry, and to abide by any decision that the Committee may pronounce.

The House adjourned at One o'clock.