HC Deb 19 June 1854 vol 134 cc335-9

Sir, it is with very great reluctance that I rise to solicit the indulgence and attention of the House for a short time in reference to a matter to a certain degree personal to myself. I have waited for some time, expecting that some hon. Member, by alluding to the late changes in the Ministry, would have afforded me the opportunity of giving an explanation which I was desirous to make with reference to the circumstances under which I resigned the office which I lately held; but no such allusion having been made, and having heard that certain representations have been circulated with respect to these circumstances which are not only erroneous, but which are also, in my opinion, injurious to my character, I feel that it is due, not only to this House, of which I am a Member, and to the large body of constituents which I represent, but also, I hope I may add, to my own character—that that explanation should be no longer delayed, and that I should take the very first opportunity of making a short statement to the House; and, if the House will give me leave and grant me their indulgence, for this purpose I will confine myself as concisely as possible to a brief and simple relation of the facts connected with it. Perhaps, however, I should first give a short explanation with respect to the circumstances in which I was placed when I held the office which I have lately resigned. At the time of the formation of the present Government the noble Lord, who now holds the office of Lord President, (Lord John Russell) did me the honour, acting on behalf of the noble Earl at the head of the Government, to request my acceptance, of the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. That offer was totally unexpected on my part. I knew at that time but little, either of the nature or the extent of the duties of the office which was offered to me. I knew this much—that it was an office of a certain station in the Government—that it was an office which had been held on various occasions by Members of the Cabinet and by persons possessing very much greater pretensions to office than any to which I could lay claim; and I also knew that, although the duties of the office could not be supposed to be very laborious, it had usually been held in connection with other duties, and often by Members of the Cabinet to whom I were assigned other labours besides those which fell to them from the office itself. Under these circumstances, in accepting it I stated to the noble Lord that in doing so I should consider my whole time and any services which I could render to be at the disposal of the Government. After I had held the office for a certain time, I found that, although some of the duties were by no means unimportant, and al- though they afforded me an opportunity, of I which I endeavoured to avail myself, of effecting some improvements in the administration of the affairs of the Duchy, those duties were not more laborious than I had reason to expect, and that they were not accompanied by the discharge of any Parliamentary duties connected with the Government in this House. Under such I circumstances it appeared to me that the office was not one calculated to be satisfactory to any man who was anxious, in taking office, that his whole time and energies should be devoted to the duties of the office intrusted to him. I made no secret of this opinion of mine. I took opportunities of expressing it in official communications which I made with respect to the duties of the office. Under these circumstances, I could not look forward with apprehension to any event which might have the effect of relieving me from the situation in which I found myself placed. Nevertheless, in stating that, I am bound to add that, having stated when I accepted office, that I considered my whole time at the disposal of the Government, it certainly was not my intention to shrink from any duties which had been, or which might be assigned to me, so long as my services were required. Having said thus much with regard to the circumstances under which I held office, I will now proceed to advert to the circumstances which led to my resignation of it. On my return to town, at the conclusion of the Whitsuntide holidays, I received a letter from the Lord President of the Council, to which I lost not a moment in replying. That letter was written by him on behalf of the noble Earl at the head of the Government, and the result of the communication which was made in that letter, and at a subsequent interview which I had with the noble Lord at his own residence, was this—that the Government found themselves placed in a position of considerable difficulty with respect to certain arrangements which they considered to be most important for the public service, and that the disposal of the office which I then held would enable them to relieve themselves from these difficulties. I further ascertained, on inquiry, that all the necessary arrangements had already been made. I ascertained, also, that the acquiescence of all those parties who were concerned in those arrangements had been already obtained, and that, in fact, the final conclusion of them was only waiting for the expression of my concurrence. Under these circumstances, I trust I need not say that I did not hesitate for one single moment as to the answer which I should give. It certainly did appear to me, when such a communication was made to me on the part of the responsible head of the Government, that it was impossible for me, with a due regard to the interests of the public service, and, I may say still more emphatically, with a due regard to my own personal feelings, to take any other course than that of instantly placing the office which I held unreservedly and unconditionally at the disposal of the Government. This is a simple statement of the facts which led to my resignation of the office which I held. But before sitting down I should wish, with the permission of the House, to advert to certain reports which have been circulated on this subject, some of which are calculated to be injurious to my character, and to which I am anxious, therefore, to give a distinct contradiction. I understand that it has been said in some quarters, that my sudden and unexpected resignation of my office could only be accounted for on the supposition that I held it under some understanding, and that in resigning it I was, in fact, only fulfilling some previous engagement. Another report, which has been very general, was, that I had been previously consulted with regard to the proposed arrangements, that I had had the opportunity of giving an independent judgment upon them, and that, in consequence of my strong approval of them, I had tendered my resignation, and had by so doing made myself a party to those arrangements. Another report, which has also been very generally circulated, was, that I was supposed to have attached some condition to my resignation—some condition for my own benefit. Now, Sir, to all these reports I give a most unqualified contradiction, in the face of the House and of the country. They have not the slightest foundation in fact. With respect to the first point, I will only say that I held the office I vacated on precisely the same terms as any other Member of the Government, and I would not have consented to hold it on any other. With respect to the second point, I must say that, whatever view I may have entertained or expressed with regard to the arrangements in question, I knew no more of them than any other Member of this house until they were completed, with the single exception of my own resignation; and of that, not until the time had arrived when I felt that it was impossible to refuse it. I can, therefore, in no respect whatever be considered a party to the arrangements in question. With respect to the last point—namely, that I have myself attached some condition to my resignation—I trust it is scarcely necessary for me to give a contradiction to that statement. I have already said, and I now repeat, that on the first moment this suggestion was made I at once unreservedly and unconditionally, without one instant's hesitation, and without the opportunity of consulting one single Friend, placed my office at the disposal of the Government. In doing so, under the circumstances I Lave mentioned, I certainly cannot claim the merit of any great personal sacrifice, so far as regards the mere possession of office. I performed that which appeared to me a simple clear act of duty, and the only apprehension which I have since had has been lest my conduct and my motives should have been misunderstood. There is only one other point to which I wish to allude. Throughout the explanation which I have just addressed to the House I have been most anxious not to say one single word or utter one single observation with reference to the conduct of any other person in these transactions. I have felt that in the peculiar position in which I found myself placed I should be acting in a manner most consistently with good taste, and certainly most agreeable to my own feelings, if I confined any observations which I had to make to a simple statement of facts, and to a simple vindication of my own character, without making the slightest observation or remark on the conduct of any other person. It is with some pain and some embarrassment that I have made this explanation, but I most cordially thank the House for the attention and kindness with which they have listened to me.

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