HC Deb 21 May 1857 vol 145 cc692-8

MR. J. D. FITZGERALD moved that this Committee do consist of seventeen Members.


objected to the Committee, which was now composed of fifteen Members, being enlarged so as to consist of seventeen Members. There were already three Government men on it, and to add a fourth would be giving, what was undesirable, a preponderating weight to the Government. If the Committee were to consist of seventeen Members, he should propose, instead of the two Members now named, the addition of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Jackson), who was on the last Committee, and the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Nicoll), who was probably more conversant with the question of the clothing of the army than any other Member.


did not know on what principle the Committee was nominated. It was usual in Committees of inquiry to reappoint the Members who had previously conducted the inquiry, but in the nomination of the present Committee several of the previous Members had been passed over.


said, that the object of adding to the number of the Committee was to place on it two Gentlemen who would assist its deliberations by a great deal of practical knowledge—namely, his right hon. Friend, who had been Chairman of the Committee before, and the hon. and gallant Member for Northampton. He hoped, though, on general principles, a Committee of fifteen Members was quite large enough, yet as the two Members now named would be found most useful for the inquiry for which the Committee was constituted, that the House would agree to make the Committee consist of seventeen Members.


said, he thought it important to have some system for the composition of these Committees. The other night the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary maintained that, looking to the amount of private business likely to come before the House, and to the number of Election Committees which must be nominated, no Select Committee ought to consist of more than fifteen Members, and the same opinion was enforced by the Chairman of Committees (Mr. FitzRoy). He, therefore, thought that it was the intention of the Government to proceed on that principle during the present Session. The proper time for making such a Motion as the present would have been when the names of the Committee were proposed.

After a few words from Sir C. NAPIER and Colonel BOLDERO, both of whom objected to so many Members connected with the Government being on the Committee, Motion made, and Question put, "That the Select Committee on Contracts (Public Departments) do consist of seventeen Members.

The House divided:—Ayes 136; Noes 83: Majority 53.


then moved, that the names of Mr. Monsell and Colonel Gilpin be added to the Committee.


said, the Committee was one of considerable importance. Lately the Government had changed the system of contracts for supplies for the army, and in 1856 the House sanctioned the appointment of a Committee on the subject. That Committee, of which he (Colonel Boldero) was a member, did not meet until late in the Session. They had sixteen sittings, and on the 15th July agreed to report the evidence to the House, recommending at the same time that in the ensuing Session of Parliament another Committee should be appointed to investigate the subject. At the beginning of the present year an hon. and gallant Friend of his moved the re-appointment of the Committee, which was agreed to, but the second Committee only sat four times previous to the dissolution, and the inquiry still remained incomplete. He had taken upon himself the responsibility of moving the appointment of another Committee, and in doing so he advisedly selected several Members to be upon it who did not sit in the last Parliament. There were four interests concerned in the Committee—namely, the Government, the Army, the Navy, and the Mercantile interest. There were three Members of the House on the Committee who were supposed to represent the Army, three who represented the Navy, four the Mercantile interest, and three connected with the Government—namely, the Secretary of the Admiralty, the Under Secretary of War, and a Lord of the Treasury. He thought three Members connected with the Government were sufficient, and he had, therefore, to object to the addition of a fourth, as giving an undue preponderance to the Government in the Committee. He had proposed as members of the Committee several independent country gentlemen, with some of whom he was personally unacquainted, but who were entirely unconnected with the army and navy, or with trade, and whose good sense would check any improper bias on the part of their colleagues. He thought it unfair to the House and to the public that a Committee of this nature should be overwhelmed with Government officials. He had moved the appointment of the Committee, and gave the names of the members to the Secretary of the Treasury, who had disapproved of many of them; but he believed that he had acted with the most perfect fairness in the constitution of the Committee. Usually, when Committees were struck, the mover was allowed to have eight members to seven, but he had only selected five members from that (the Opposition) side of the House, while he had taken ten from the Ministerial side. It was, therefore, impossible that the Committee could be more fairly constituted.


wished to say a few words in explanation on this subject. The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Boldero) having moved for the Committee showed him a list of fifteen Members who he proposed should constitute it, and he was surprised to find that there was not on the list the name of a single Member of Her Majesty's Government. He, therefore, suggested to the hon. and gallant Officer that as such a Committee would necessarily have to make inquiries connected with the War Department the Under Secretary for that Department should be placed upon the Committee. He also suggested that some Member of the Government connected with the Naval Department should be a member of the Committee. At the head of his list the hon. and gallant Member had placed five or six names which were bracketed with the memorandum—"Upon the last Committee." His (Mr. Hayter's) impression was that those were all the Members of the present Parliament who served upon the former Committee. He asked the hon. and gallant Member whether he had a list of the old Committee, and he replied that he had not. He (Mr. Hayter) might perhaps be blameable for not having made more strict inquiry on the subject, but his impression certainly was that every Member of the existing Parliament who had been upon the former Committee had been placed by the hon. and gallant Member upon the proposed Committee. Acting upon that impression, and seeing that certain public departments to which the investigations of the Committee would apply were not represented upon it, he suggested that the names of some hon. Members of those departments should be placed upon the Committee, and he must say that the hon. and gallant Officer at once acceded to his suggestion. Subsequently, however, the hon. and gallant Member for Bedfordshire (Colonel Gilpin) told him that although he did not care about being upon the Committee, he thought it was not quite fair to strike him off without reason, and that hon. and gallant Officer said he had understood from the hon. Member for Chippenham (Colonel Boldero) that he (Mr. Hayter) had objected to his name. He (Mr. Hayter) assured the hon. and gallant Colonel (Colonel Gilpin) that he did not even know that his name was not upon the list, and that it was a total misapprehension to suppose that it had been omitted at his suggestion. The hon. Member for Ashburton (Mr. Moffatt) was also upon the former Committee, but his name was omitted from the new Committee. He had afterwards ascertained that the name of his right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell), who had moved for the former Committee, and had presided over it, had been omitted from the new list. Now, he certainly thought that Members who had been engaged in an investigation in a former Session would naturally be the persons best fitted to renew it in another Session; and he hoped the House would see the propriety of placing on the Committee the names of his right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick, and of the hon. and gallant Member for Bedfordshire.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hayter) had described with perfect accuracy the conversation which had taken place between them. Until he saw in The Times, as he was coming up to town that day, the Parliamentary notices for the evening he was not aware that a proposal was to be made by the hon. Member for Berwick to add his name to the Committee. He had felt some surprise that after having served on the Committee during two Sessions, that his name was not on the Committee, but he had had no communication with that hon. Gentleman on the subject, and although he was ready to serve upon the Committee if it was the desire of the House, he should feel no disappointment if he were excluded from it. He was also surprised that the name of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Monsell), who had originally moved for this Committee, and who had paid the greatest attention to the subject, had been omitted from the list.


said, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hayter) had entirely misconceived the nature of the opposition to this Motion, and he had therefore defended himself against charges which had not been made, and which he felt sure were never imputed to him. His hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Boldero) said that he at once acceded to the names which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, and he thought that what the right hon. Gentleman had stated would be of great value to hon. Members in appointing these Committees. The hon. and gallant Member went to the representative of the Government, and submitted to him a list of Members, heard what he had to say, acceded in the frankest manner to all his suggestions, and agreed in fact to everything; and then, after several days had elapsed, he found that another hon. Member on the benches behind the Government, without giving any notice whatever to the hon. And gallant Member, and without assigning any reason, intended to propose the addition to the list of two more names. On the opposition taken to this course not a voice, except that of the noble Lord at the head of the Government, was raised, and there would have been no division if the noble Lord himself had not wished it.


said, he had served on the former Committee, and when he had found that his name had been omitted from the proposed new one, he had spoken upon the subject to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Mr. Hayter), who had appointed him to serve again upon that inquiry.


said, it was a practice of the House that when Committees which had sat for a considerable length of time investigating important questions were reappointed in succeeding Sessions, the Members who had previously served should, if possible, be replaced upon such Committees. The obvious reason for this course was that Members who had heard evidence and who had become familiar with the details of any subject were much more competent to arrive at a satisfactory decision than new Members, who might be altogether unacquainted with the matter, and would have to read up the minutes. He thought the hon. and gallant Officer who had moved this Committee ought, in the first instance, to have proposed the reappointment of all those hon. Gentlemen who were Members of the Committee in the last Parliament. It was not necessary for him to inquire what reasons had induced the hon. and gallant Member to deviate from the ordinary practice of the House, but it was quite clear, from the statement of his right hon. Friend the Member for Wells, that he was under the impression that the list shown to him by the hon. and gallant Officer did contain the names of all those Members of the present Parliament who were members of the Committee during the last Parliament. That impression was, however, erroneous—although he did not accuse the hon. and gallant Member of intending to produce an erroneous impression, and the result was that two Members of the last Committee—his right hon. Friend the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell,) and the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Gilpin), had been omitted from the new Committee; the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Monsell) having originally moved for the Committee, having been its Chairman, and being from his official position and experience, of all persons, perhaps, the most competent to assist the Committee in their investigations. He (Lord Palmerston) must protest against the assumption of the hon. and gallant Officer that the subject of the Committee's inquiry was one in which the Government were personally interested. The only interest of the Government was that the system of contracts should be placed upon such a footing as was most advantageous to the public. The Government had no interest in maintaining a system of contracts which was disadvantageous to the public. On the contrary, the Government were the parties who had the greatest reason to desire that the investigations of the Committee might result in improving the system of Government contracts. In order to effect that object, however, it was necessary that the Committee should consist of persons who were acquainted with the present practice regarding contracts, and his right hon. Friend (Mr. Monsell) was especially qualified to guide and inform the Committee as to army contracts. He thought it would be most unreasonable if the House refused to place that right hon. Gentleman upon a Committee of which he had been Chairman for twelve months, and which he had assisted by his advice during two Sessions. The hon. and gallant Officer opposite (Colonel Gilpin) would also bring great zeal and information to bear upon such an inquiry, and although he (Viscount Palmerston) agreed that in the present Session it was not desirable that Committees should consist of more than fifteen members, he thought the peculiar circumstances of this case would justify the House in making an exception.

Mr. MONSELL and Colonel GILPIN

added to the Committee.

House adjourned at half after Eleven o'clock.