HC Deb 19 July 1859 vol 155 cc84-107

said he rose for the purpose of bringing under the consideration of the House the petition of Sir W. Russell, asking that the Select Committee on Contracts should not investigate the matters connected with the contract for the conveyance of mails between Dovor and Calais, made by the late Government, until the Dovor election petition had been disposed of. Sir W. Russell was a candidate at the last election, and had petitioned against the return for the borough of Dovor. In the petition which he (Mr. Bouverie) had presented the day before from that Gentleman, it was stated that Sir W. Russell was advised that the inquiry into the Dovor contract by the Select Committee would be prejudicial to the inquiry on the same subject which would have to be made by the Election Committee. It therefore prayed the House that it would instruct its Committee not to inquire into that portion of the matter referred to them till the election petition had been investigated. He would briefly state the grounds why he thought they ought in justice to comply with Sir W. Russell's application. He regretted that two very distinct subjects had been referred to the same Committee. They had referred to the Select Committee the general inquiry into the policy and character of the contracts which of recent years had been entered into by the Treasury and Post Office for the conveyance of mails and telegraphic messages, and also the investigation of the circumstances connected with the two contracts of the late Government, known as the Galway and Dovor contracts. He apprehended that the first portion of the inquiry might very properly be refer-red to the Select Committee as a fit subject for its investigation, but that the two matters, which touched the privileges of the House and the character of some of its Members, could hardly be properly conducted by the same Committee. It was to be regretted that when personal charges were in question, they should be referred to a Committee, a large proportion of the Members of which were more or less parties to the accusation brought against a certain portion of that House. He looked at the composition of that Committee, and while he saw hon. Gentlemen on it of the highest distinction, and whose character stood high in the estimation of their brother members, he saw other hon. Gentlemen upon it who, however high might be their general character—and he was not there to challenge it—were yet more or less implicated in the accusations which had been freely made. He thought the proper course was to place upon committees of this nature independent Members, along with one or two hon. Gentlemen who would undertake the laborious though somewhat odious duty of eliciting the accusations; but he found that, upon the Committee relating to contracts there were no less than four members of the Government whose proceedings had been broadly attacked, two of them being members of the department the conduct of which was particularly called in question. There were also upon the Committee a number of hon. Gentlemen who had occupied official positions, and, whether justly or unjustly, there was in the public mind a distrust as to the feeling which men who had been in office, or who were in office, might entertain with regard to accusations against public departments. He believed that, from the constitution of that Committee, its investigation with regard to the personal and incriminating charges which were preferred could not be so satisfactory as the inquiry of a Committee which directed its attention to particular cases. If the result of such an investigation was to acquit parties charged with political corruption, he did not think that decision would be regarded as the impartial verdict of disinterested men. ("Oh, oh !") He merely said that that was the necessary consequence of the constitution of the Committee. He had intended to submit the question of the Galway Packet contract specially to the notice of the House, but he had been forestalled by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had proposed the appointment of a general Committee. He regretted the constitution of that Committee, and, as he had stated, he believed that its decision would not be so satisfactory to the public as the decision of a Committee appointed on a different principle. He hoped, however, that the explanations afforded to that Committee would be full and satisfactory, and that the parties whose conduct was impugned would be able to relieve themselves from the imputations made against them. In the case of the Dovor contract, however, the House had another tribunal ready to their hands,—the Election Committee appointed to try the Petition of Sir W. Russell. That petition alleged distinctly that undue influence had been exercised by the Ministers of the Crown for the purpose of securing the return of the gentleman who defeated him. That was a material allegation which would of course be tried by the Committee on the Dovor Election Petition; but the same issue would substantially be tried by the Select Committee on Contracts, if it entered upon the Dovor case. Now, he asked the House to consider what were the allegations repecting the Dovor contract. A certain person of the name of Churchward, who had for some years had a contract for the conveyance of the mails between Dovor and Calais and Dovor and Ostend, applied in 1857 for additional remuneration for the services he performed. A distinct refusal was given to the application. Mr. Churchward renewed his application in the begining of the present year, and set forth particular services which he alleged he had performed without remuneration, and for which he claimed remuneration. The claim was allowed both by the Admiralty and by the Treasury, and when he was requested to name the compensation to which he considered himself entitled for these extra services he requested to have his contract for the conveyance of the mails, which would have terminated in four years, extended until 1870, with large additional remuneration for services to be performed. He (Mr. Bouverie) was merely stating the primâ facie case, to which an explanation, and he trusted a perfectly satisfactory explanation, might be given. ["Oh !"] He could assure hon. Gentleman that the task which he was performing was not a pleasant one. He quite understood that men of character were often obliged to submit to have charges made against them which they did not deserve; but in justice to those Gentlemen themselves those charges when made ought to be inquired into. He begged the attention of the House to the dates, which in this case were material. On the 14th of February, Mr. Churchward wrote to the Lords of the Admiralty to ask for an extension of the Government contract from 1863 till 1870, with an additional allowance of £2,500, while in 1857 he put the extra services at £1,500. On the 23rd of February the Admiralty transmitted the application to the Treasury, re- commending that the offer should be accepted. On the 3rd of March the letter was referred by the Treasury to the Postmaster General, and on the 10th of March the Postmaster General wrote to the Treasury alleging strong reasons why the application should not be acceded to. There was then a long pause; but on the 15th of April the letter of the Postmaster General having been written on the 10th of March, a Treasury minute was issued sanctioning the contract. Now, he asked the House to note what public events had occurred between the 10th of March and the 15th of April. On the 31st of March a division of great importance took place in that House, upon which the Government were defeated, and on the 4th of April a dissolution of Parliament was announced. On the 12th of April certain charges were made in that House respecting the Lords of the Admiralty, and it appeared that Sir H. Leeke, who was then a candidate for a seat in Parliament, had gone down to Dovor to seek the suffrages of the burgesses of that borough. On the 15th of April the Treasury minute sanctioning an extension of the contract was signed, and on the 26th of April the contract itself was signed by the Admiralty. On the 30th of April the polling took place at Dovor. It might be asked what had the polling at Dovor, the dissolution of Parliament, and the discussions which had taken place about the seat for Dovor to do with Mr. Churchward and his contract. That was a question which he thought might fairly form the subject of investigation before an Election Committee, for there were strong suspicions that these proceedings had not been unconnected with political corruption. Mr. Churchward was a gentleman who was not unknown to fame or to the House. He was, from his position, an extensive employer of labour at Dovor, and could command from 100 to 120 votes in that constituency. Mr. Churchward was a gentleman who in 1852 happened to have a commanding influence in the borough of Plymouth, and he was referred to in the report of an Election Committee presented to that House. That Committee reported, that It was proved that George Knapman was bribed by the said Charles John Mare, Esq., the sitting Member, and by Joseph George Churchward, by a promise to use their influence to obtain him a situation in the Excise. That Robert Shears was bribed by the said Joseph George Churchward by a promise of a situation in the Customs for his son-in-law; and that William King was bribed by the said Joseph George Churchward by a promise of employment. Mr. Churchward then went with a tainted character to the hon. Gentlemen who represented those departments; and while he was disposed to hope and believe that there was no ground for the accusations of political corruption in this matter, which were freely launched against them, still there was unanswerable ground for charging them with the greatest incaution and indiscretion in having at a political crisis, and with a contest pending at Dovor, given a reversionary contract that could not come into operation till four years after the termination of the existing contract, to a man whose reputation had been blasted by the report of a Committee of that House as a most notorious briber. That was the issue which the Election Committee would have to try; and he asked the House, whether they were prepared to say that it was convenient that the inquiries should be conducted at the same time by the two committees—the one being a Select Committee, constituted as he had named, and whose decisions would be regarded with distrust; the other being an Election Committee, composed as such tribunals were with every assistance which the presence of lawyers and which the forms of the House could give for eliciting the truth and arriving at a correct conclusion. The members of an Election Committee were sworn to make a just deliverance; they were few in number, responsible, and regular in their attendance from day to day; not varying in number, so that there was no probability of a chance majority deciding one way to-day and another to-morrow. Counsel on both sides appeared before them, who by their keen encounter of wits, and above all, by their examination and cross-examination of witnesses who made their statements upon oath, would probe the matter to the bottom. Could there be any doubt as to which of these two tribunals would he the best instrument for getting at the truth? He presumed that hon. Gentlemen opposite wished to have the truth brought out, and therefore it was perfectly incontrovertible that the question should be tried by the Election Committee in preference to the Select Committee. Sir W. Russell said his case would be materially damaged by having these witnesses, some of whom were of tainted character, brought before a Select Committee and put through a preliminary examination, not upon oath. But suppose a Select Committee came to a conclusion before the Election Committee, would not the Election Committee in that case really he a committee of appeal, not trying the issue submitted to them, but whether the Select Committee had decided rightly or wrongly? Surely, then, nobody who desired to have the truth fully sifted, and to avoid a conflict of jurisdiction between different Committees, could hesitate to prefer an investigation before an Election Committee. He had feebly endeavoured to urge Sir W. Russell's interests in that matter. He begged to say he had done so totally irrespective of the party to which Sir W. Russell belonged; and if any other petitioner to that House could satisfy him that he had a fair claim to a similar Resolution he would do his best, regardless of party considerations, to have justice done to him. His past conduct in respect to Election Committees ought to convince hon. Gentlemen that he was influenced solely by a regard for what was just. In conclusion, he trusted that for the interests of the public, for the character of the House, and, above all, for the sake of hon. Gentlemen who were accused, there would be the fullest investigation into these suspicious circumstances.

Motion made, and Question proposed,— That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts not to proceed to inquire into the Mail Packet Contract for the Conveyance of Mails between Dovor and Calais, and between Dovor and Ostend, until the Petition of Sir William Russell, baronet, complaining of an undue Election, and Return for the Town and Port of Dovor, shall have been disposed of.


said, he could state for himself as a party very much concerned in that question, and also, he was sure, for the Gentlemen who sat around him; that their only wish in this matter was precisely the same as that expressed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite; namely, that the case should be fully and fairly discussed, and the truth in every possible way sought out and brought to light. If it was of importance to the House, as it undoubtedly was, that the truth in regard to that question should be ascertained, it was of much more importance, he ventured to say, though hon. Gentlemen might perhaps not think so, that an opportunity should be given to the accused to clear themselves from the charges brought against them now on more than one occasion, charges which they utterly repudiated, for which, when they came to be investigated, there would be seen to be not a particle of foundation; but which were repeated one night after another by hon. Gentlemen, in a form that had hitherto prevented them from being fairly discussed. Hon. Gentlemen had obtained a Committee, which it was understood was to have fully and fairly inquired into that matter, and for the judgment of which the late Government had reserved their defence. But now, at the very time when that Committee had actually commenced their labours and the case was about to be examined, the right hon. Gentleman interposed, and asked that the investigation should be postponed until an Election Committee had reported, which would probably not sit that year. Meanwhile, the right hon. Gentleman, and those who sat around him, come forward night after night, launching accusations at the head of the late Government, and taunting them in every way with not answering them. And for what reason was that request made? If the Committee on the Mail and Telegraph Contracts, which was now carrying on its inquiry, were, indeed, to supersede the Election Committee, or if the evidence taken before it would prevent Sir W. Russell in any way from substantiating the charges he had made, the contrast drawn by the right hon. Gentleman between the two tribunals might be fair enough. But how was the inquiry before the Select Committee to prevent the petitioner from bringing forward any evidence he possessed? He would not do Sir W. Russell the injustice to suppose that his petition contained only fishing allegations, put forward on mere grounds of suspicion, but would give him credit for believing that he had some evidence to support his serious charges against the late Government. How, then, could he be precluded by the Select Committee from making use of that evidence before the Election Committee? On the other hand, it was quite possible that something might be elicited before the Select Committee of which Sir W. Russell was not in possession, and of which he might avail himself, there by prejudicing the rights of the sitting Members, if there was any truth in these allegations. And if the present application had come from the side of the sitting Members, and they had prayed that the case might not be examined into till they had had their case heard, one might have understood on what grounds it was based. But, supposing Sir W. Russell's only object to be to get at the truth, why he would have two engines for his purpose—first, the Select Committee, and next the Election Committee. A Select Committee might, perhaps, not be quite so good as an Election Committee for such an inquiry; but, at all events, it would not prevent him from afterwards adducing his evidence. In one way, perhaps, he might be injured. The Select Committee would inquire into the general subject, and when particular contracts were examined, it would turn out, on more light being thrown on the usual practice of Governments in granting them, that things which appeared suspicious on the first blush were not really so much so as they seemed. That Committee, containing hon. Gentlemen like himself interested in these proceedings, would by examination and cross-examination, bring out more stages of those transactions than could possibly appear upon the printed papers. Sir W. Russell would have it in his power to take advantage of any evidence that might be thus obtained, and he certainly could not be prejudiced by the investigation of the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman objected to the composition of the Select Committee, because it comprised several Members of the late Government. Now, that Committee was expressly appointed to enter into the general subject of contracts, and the moment it was appointed the right hon. Gentleman himself, the noble Lord the Member for Forfarshire, and others, rose after he (Sir Stafford Northcote) had spoken, and could not therefore reply to them, and particularly emphasized the Galway and Dovor contracts. [Mr. E. P. BOUVERIE: I abstained from mentioning Dovor altogether.] He thought he was correct in stating that the right hon. Gentleman expressly emphasized the Galway contract, and that the hon. Member for Richmond (Mr. Rich) alluded particularly to the Dovor contract. The right hon. Gentleman had again referred to the Galway contract, and had said that the Select Committee recently appointed was not a proper tribunal to try the Galway contract any more than the Dovor contract. But, as everybody knew that both the Galway and Dovor contracts were to be investigated by the Select Committee, the right hon. Gentleman ought to have objected to the composition of that body at the time it was nominated, and not after it had commenced its labours. As the right hon. Gentleman had again brought forward the same charges relative to the Dovor contract which were formerly advanced by the hon. Member for Richmond, he hoped he might be permitted, as he was the person who happened to be mainly interested in the matter, to address a few observations to the House upon the subject. In the first place, he took upon himself a large share of the responsibility. Packet contracts were dealt with by two departments—by the Admiralty as the advising and ministerial department, and by the Treasury as the deciding department. The final decision rested with the Treasury. In the case of the Dovor contract the judgment of the Admiralty was formed and expressed before there was any question of a dissolution of Parliament. It was with the Treasury that the delay occurred, and in the Treasury, he did not shrink from saying, the responsibility mainly rested upon himself. He was the superior officer there under the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and although in the decision as to the Dovor contract of course he deferred to his right hon. Friend, yet he had the principal investigation of the matter, and the opinion which he formed upon it, and which he communicated to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was that which mainly influenced the granting of the contract. He thought, therefore, he might crave the indulgence of the House while he stated how the case really stood, and he confidently believed that a simple statement of the facts would remove much of the suspicion which, in the minds of certain parties, attached to the transaction. The Dovor contract was originally granted to Mr. Churchward in 1853 by the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen, and he need hardly remind the House that the year 1853 was subsequent to 1852, when those charges were made against Mr. Churchward to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred. He could only say, for his own part, that he had never heard anything of the connection of Mr. Churchward with Plymouth, nor of the accusations which had been brought against him by an Election Committee. But let that pass. It was sufficient to state that the Dovor contract was granted by the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen in 1853 to Mr. Churchward, after an open competition, in which Mr. Churchward undertook the service at a much lower rate than that offered by the other competitors one of whom was the South Eastern Railway Company, or than that at which the same work had previously been performed. The arrangement was that Mr. Churchward should receive a subsidy of £15,500 a year on condition of his performing certain postal services, and in addition a certain number of special services; but for any services beyond those special services he was to be paid at a rate which was to be afterwards ascertained. There was also a clause in the contract which bound him to carry on the Indian mails whenever they arrived. Such was the bargain made in 1853. In 1855, when the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen was still in office, when the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham) was at the head of the Admiralty, when Mr. Bernal Osborne, the late Member for Dovor, was Secretary to the Admiralty, when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer filled the same office which he now occupied, and when the Vice-President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Wilson) was Secretary to the Treasury, Mr. Churchward applied for an extension of his contract, which had then been in operation for little more than a year only. Five years were immediately added by the Government to a contract which had still three years to run. The ground for that extension was that Mr. Churchward had, in 1853, made a bargain very favourable to the country, and had suffered from the loss of one of his vessels. Certainly that was not a strong ground for extending the contract, but it was thought sufficient by the Government of the day. Mr. Churchward, after he had taken the contract with the English Government, took another with the French Government. Subsequently to the extension in 1855, the special services that he was called upon to perform became much more numerous than they had previously been, and many cases occurred in which he had to present bills for work done over and above the conditions of his contract. In 1857, the Indian mails were doubled in number, and a system was adopted of accelerating them through France, so that in almost every instance he was obliged to send a special boat, at a considerable expense to himself, for the purpose of bringing them to England. The Australian mails were also added to his contract, and in short, a large amount of postal service was cast upon him, for which, although by a strict construction of the letter of his contract it might be classed under the head of the service which he was bound to perform without remuneration, he was in equity entitled to be paid. So matters stood when, in the first month of the pre- sent year, Mr. Churchward presented another hill to the Admiralty, which called attention to the whole subject, and necessitated a final settlement. The Admiralty referred the matter to the Treasury, stating their opinion that it was a fair claim, which ought to be paid. On reference to the Postmaster General, he also agreed that it ought to be paid. The Admiralty then requested the opinion of the Treasury, whether it should be done by a mileage rate or by a commuted payment; they referred to the Postmaster General, but he declined to give any opinion on that point. In February the Treasury urged the Admiralty to try to make an arrangement with Mr. Churchward. The Admiralty thereupon called upon Mr. Churchward to state what he wanted, and then it was that Mr. Churchward made the proposal to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock had referred, He proposed that the extra payment should be at the rate of £2,500 a year for all the services he performed up to a certain number, and he submitted a calculation which showed that if the commutation which he proposed were adopted, the Government would he gainers to the extent of £100 per annum. At the same time he made an application for an extension of his contract, which had to run till 1863, just as he had done in 1853, when it had to run till 1859. The ground upon which he asked for that extension was, that he found, on looking over his affairs, that he had sustained very heavy losses, which put him in a worse position than he had occupied in 1853, when his claim to an extension was admitted by the Government of the Earl of Aberdeen. The late Admiralty took the same view as the Admiralty of 1853, and recommended that his contract should be extended in compensation for his losses. That was the main ground. The matter was then sent to the Treasury, and was referred by the Treasury to the Postmaster General, who raised certain objections to an extension of the contract, saying that although he thought Mr. Churchward ought to be paid for his extra services, he did not believe that the plan of paying for them by a fixed sum would be convenient, inasmuch as the services required to be performed might vary in number. That was the last letter which appeared in the papers presented to the House. It was necessary at this point to explain that, for the purpose of dealing with matters of this kind, the Treasury was divided into departments. Those departments were under the charge of clerks, whose special duty it was to write reports upon the business coming before them, which reports were submitted to the Assistant Secretary, who in turn communicated his views to the Financial Secretary. The matters then became the subject of internal discussion among the diferent Members of the Treasury itself. That was the case in the present instance. The interval which the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out between the 10th of March and the 15th of April was filled up by discussions among the officers of the Treasury themselves, and the various minutes, reports, and other documents which then passed between the different departments of the Treasury would be laid before the Select Committee. He might, however, state generally what the nature of them was. The report of the Postmaster General against an extension of the contract went to the clerk of the department to which it belonged. That functionary was doubtful as to the proposed commutation, but his opinion was decidedly against an extension. The matter was then referred to the Assistant Secretary, who wrote a memorandum upon it, in which he expressed an opinion contrary to the view of the Postmaster General. His argument was that in the case of a contractor who was doing a service well it would not be wise for the period his contract had to run to impose upon him conditions which might render him dissatisfied with his position. It was possible that at the end of three or four years they might have a more favourable opening; but on the other hand they had the certainty that he would perform the service for the remainder of the existing term on unfavourable terms. The matter then came to him (Sir S. Northcote) in that shape. He was of opinion that, having regard to the losses which Mr. Churchward was alleged to have experienced, they afforded no sufficient ground for extending the contract. He had to consider, however, whether it was worth while to allow a contractor to become dissatisfied before the conclusion of his contract, and perhaps on that account to perform it in an inferior manner, upon the chance of getting the service better done by inviting competition at the expiration of the term. That point had frequently been under the consideration of different Governments, and there were instances in which the Treasury against the recommendation of the Post Office had extended the contract on those very grounds. One case he would mention was that of the Pacific service, the contract for which was extended a considerable number of years before it had expired, although the service was carried on not in British territory at all, and was not productive of revenue to the amount of the subsidy. He was free to say, however, that, although he thought there was great force in the argument he had mentioned, he was not entirely satisfied by it, and he therefore drew up a minute, addressed to the Assistant Secretary, in which he said he felt considerable doubt as to the extension of a contract of this kind with so long a term to elapse before it would expire, though from the circumstances in which Mr. Churchward was placed he was entitled to liberal consideration; and he suggested that the Assistant Secretary should communicate with Mr. Churchward as to the increase of his subsidy during the four years which his contract had to run, and endeavour to make a satisfactory arrangement in this way, without renewing the contract. Mr. Hamilton accordingly saw Mr. Churchward, who afterwards wrote strongly urging that no such addition would meet his case, for that his whole arrangements turned upon the extension of the contract; that the English service alone was unremunerative, but that be had in addition the French service until 1870, and had taken the English contract at a low sum in the expectation of making the two work together and pay; that he was anxious to introduce improvements, but was unable to do so, because the French Government would not treat with him on account of the shortness of the term of his English contract, not feeling sure that he could carry out the things which he undertook to perform. After this he (Sir Stafford Northcote) saw Mr. Churchward in the presence of Mr. Hamilton and the clerk in whose department these matters were. The subject was fully discussed, and Mr. Churchward explained that the services which he was performing for the two countries were intimately connected, and that he was then engaged in negotiations with the French Government by which he expected to accelerate the French mail by some four hours, reducing the time from fifteen to ten or eleven hours, changing it also from a night to a day service, and altering the ports of departure. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) pointed out the objections of the Postmaster General, that "any extension of the duration of this contract would be objectionable, as it might probably fetter the Post Office in its negotiations with foreign countries, and increase the difficulty already experienced in improving the continental postal arrangements, through apprehensions of the South Eastern Railway Company that, by a change in the hours of sailing or in the French port of arrival and despatch, the traffic by this Company's own boats may be seriously injured." The most important point which the Postmaster General brought forward was that the South Eastern Railway would be jealous of this arrangement. But the apprehensions of the railway company were founded on the change not in the English service—with which when the contract expired there would be a power of dealing—but in the French contract, which there was no power to upset until 1870. It struck him, therefore, that there was very little in that objection. The Postmaster General also suggested that the Ostend mail service might be changed from a night to a day service. Mr. Churchward said he desired that very much, because a day service would be much more profitable than a night service; and he added that he was in communication with the Belgian Government, and that his prospect of making arrangements with them depended upon the conclusion of arrangements with the British Government. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) would not then go into the subject fully, but the conclusion to which he came, on a patient consideration of the whole facts, was that the contract ought to be extended. It was in these discussions and this correspondence that a considerable portion of the time to which the right hon. Gentleman referred was spent; for he need hardly say that there was a great deal to do in the Treasury, and other matters intervened which occupied time. As to the Postmaster General's remarks on the subject of a fixed payment, he admitted that there were certain things in these papers which primâ facie appeared somewhat suspicious, and that there was one blot in the proceedings respecting the renewal of the contract. After the discussion to which he had alluded he came to the conclusion that the contract should be extended on two conditions, first that Mr. Churchward should bind himself not to enter into arrangements with any foreign Government unless with the consent of the Treasury, inasmuch as it was found that these arrangements overlapped, as it were, the contract with the English Government, and gave Mr. Churchward a great advantage over them; and secondly, in order to meet the objections of the Postmaster General, that instead of having an absolute fixed addition to his subsidy of £2,500 a year he should have a maximum of £2,500 a year, subject to a diminution if the special service should fall off. A minute of the Treasury was thereupon drawn out. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) was sorry to say, however, that having left town in the interval, and the clerk whose business it was to give effect to this decision having also gone out of town, the matter fell into the hands of a junior clerk, and the result was that the contract had been executed without those two conditions. He never found it out until these papers were printed; but he understood now that Mr. Churchward fully acknowledged his obligation with respect to the first of these points. As to the second, the Select Committee would no doubt inquire into it, and Mr. Churchward would be called on to embody this condition also in a subsequent contract. He had now explained the share which he had taken in this business, and he could solemnly and conscientiously assure the House that the negotiations were conducted by him and the decision was arrived at solely upon public grounds. He had given the history of the transaction and of the arguments which weighed with him. He did not deny that he knew an election was pending at Dovor, and that Mr. Churchward was a person of some importance there. He knew, also, that Mr. Churchward was a gentleman who was attached to the Conservative party, having formerly, he believed, been connected with The Morning Herald. He would frankly own that these considerations did so far affect his conduct that they made him doubt for a moment or two whether it was desirable to conclude negotiations thus begun while the election was pending. For the moment he put the papers aside, but then he thought to himself, "How can I, without acting as a coward, put aside papers which have come before me regularly upon any such grounds?" He considered the matter therefore entirely in a public point of view, and acted entirely with an eye to the public interests. As far as he and those of his colleagues who sat upon the Packet Committee were concerned, their wish had been to challenge the fullest inquiry, and if it seemed to the House that the postponement of the investigation by that Committee until it had been inquired into by the Election Committee was most likely to conduce to the discovery of the facts they were quite ready to accede to such an arrangement, for their only wish was to clear their characters, and to elicit the truth of the charges which had been made against them.


said, he wished to revert to the real question before the House, which was the Petition of Sir William Russell. There were two modes of action which this House adopted—one based on its judicial capacity, and the other on its character as the grand inquest of the nation. Now, the Petitioner asked that they should view this matter in their judicial capacity, and he thought the House would do wrong not to grant its prayer. Sir William Russell, being the claimant of a seat in that House, declared that he had been advised by counsel that his case would materially suffer if the subject of the mail contract were first investigated by the Select Committee. He (Mr. Cowper) thought the Petitioner was to be considered the best judge of his own case, and should in justice be allowed to conduct it as he was advised. The accusation made against the late Government, that they had used the influence of the Crown to corruptly sway the election, was a very grave allegation, which he thought ought to be treated judicially. He knew the history of the steam contracts from the beginning, and although there might have been many charges of neglect and want of caution with regard to them, the Dovor and Galway contracts were the first in which an allegation had been made against any department of a Government that it had entered into such an agreement with the view of influencing the return of Members to that House. The question involved was one, therefore, which ought to be treated judicially, and with the utmost seriousness, inasmuch as the honour and integrity of the House were implicated in its solution. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had made a statement which he was glad to hear, but then he could not help thinking that it would be more satisfactory if that statement were made before an Election Committee. He was sincerely desirous that hon. Gentlemen opposite should be able to come out of the transaction with credit, and he hoped they would not deem it their duty to oppose the Motion before the House.


said, the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had called upon the House to treat the question under consideration judicially and seriously, while the right hon. Gentleman who had made the Motion had declared himself to be a lover of justice, and had then proceeded to attack the composition of the tribunal before whom all the parties concerned were to appear—namely, the Select Committee which had been appointed to inquire into the subject of Government contracts. Nay, more, the right hon. Gentleman who was so ardent a lover of justice had gone on to state that, if by that Committee the late Government should be acquitted of all corrupt motives in dealing with those transactions, a similar verdict would not be pronounced by the public at large. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, seemed to forget what had been done in the House so recently, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the conscientious discharge of his duty, refused to change the composition of the Committee on Contracts, although he had been called upon to do so by several hon. Members who objected to it on other grounds than those which the right hon. Gentleman has advanced. The right hon. Gentleman, notwithstanding all that had taken place in connection with the appointment of that Committee, did not hesitate to stand up in that House and to pronounce the Committee to be most unfortunately constituted for the investigation of the subject to which his Motion related. But how, let him ask, could the assumptions on which the argument of the right hon. Gentleman proceeded be justified? How could the trial which would take place before the Election Committee be prejudiced by the fact that the truth had been previously elicited? The Committee on Contracts had been appointed by the House to inquire into the question whether that political corruption existed by the very mention of which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to be so much distressed. The conduct of the late Government in making those contracts had been impeached. They challenged inquiry, and because, forsooth, the right hon. Gentleman was apprehensive that justice would not be done, he made an appeal to the House on behalf of the Petitioner whose cause he advocated that the investigation, which it had been deliberately decided should be entered into, should be postponed. And what was the ground upon which the appeal was based? Upon the fact that the Peti- tioner alleged that injury would otherwise be done to him, and that his counsel concurred in that opinion. Was that, he would ask, a sufficient reason for putting off indefinitely an investigation which some hon. Gentlemen but a few nights ago appeared to think ought to be so promptly proceeded with, that not a moment's delay in its prosecution ought to be allowed to occur? The right hon. Gentleman had in effect cast another imputation upon those who already stood accused, inasmuch as the tendency of his speech had been to prove that the Members of that House who were nominated to sit on the Committee on Contracts were incompetent to elicit the truth, and that in order to attain that object the whole matter must be referred to a tribunal before which evidence would be taken upon oath. He should submit to the House, however, that the late Government had a right to demand that the charges which were made against them should be without delay inquired into by that Committee, in whose honour every hon. Member ought to be prepared to repose the most implicit confidence. Indeed, the whole of the present proceeding was an attack on the privileges and independence of that House, and as such the House would be prepared to deal with it.


remarked that the House was placed in a very inconvenient position in relation to the question at issue. It would seem that two Committees were likely to take cognizance of the matter under consideration, and the House was nevertheless engaged in discussing that very matter itself. The right hon. Gentleman, indeed, who had introduced the subject had dealt with it as fully and as enthusiastically as if he stood in the position of a counsel submitting his case to a jury, and that course was taken, it would appear, under the pretence of doing justice. The right hon. Gentleman had gone into a large amount of criminatory matter to prove that Sir W. Russell would be prejudiced if the prayer of his petition were not granted, and yet he had really failed to show in what respect Sir W. Russell would be injured if the House should not agree to the Motion. The House, however, was asked to accede to that Motion on the grounds of justice. It was asserted that the late Government were accused of acts which were, to say the least of them, not very decent, and that the charge demanded investigation. Now, everybody concurred in that opinion; but then the right hon. Gentleman must not endeavour to induce the House to believe that the issue in the matter lay between Sir W. Russell and somebody else who had been returned for Dovor, and that hon. Gentlemen whose names were implicated in these transactions should not be allowed to defend themselves. Was that, he should like to know, the view of doing justice which the right hon. Gentleman entertained? Was it right that when all the circumstances of the case might come out collaterally upon oath, and when the characters of hon. Members might be whispered, or rather sworn away, they should have no opportunity of presenting themselves before the tribunal before which such proceedings took place? There was not, in his opinion, even the semblance of justice in such a proposal. Indeed, it would appear, when the fact that the Election Committee was not likely to sit for some time was taken into consideration, as if it were sought to shut out from the possibility of refuting the accusations which were brought against them those hon. Gentlemen whose conduct had been assailed. He could therefore see no justice in the course which the right hon. Gentleman opposite wished the House to sanction.


contended that those members of the late Government who felt that their conduct was impeached might present themselves before the Election Committee, and thus have an adequate opportunity afforded them of clearing their characters upon oath. The real objection to the Election Committee, however, which was felt by those Gentlemen, and those by whom they were supported, was that they would not form part of the tribunal to try themselves. The Secretary to the Treasury said part of the case of the late Government would be one of recrimination. [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE dissented.] He (Mr. Collier) contended that if it was the object of hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side to satisfy the public in this matter, they would not do themselves justice by opposing the Motion before the House.


said, he for one felt the force of the appeal made to the House that they should treat this matter in a spirit of impartiality, and strictly refuse to look at it from a party point of view. Endeavouring to approach the question in that spirit, he did not doubt his right hon. Friend (Mr Bouverie) had made this Motion with no other aim in his mind than the advance- ment of public justice. He thought, however, the speech of his right hon. Friend was not calculated to present his Motion altogether in that light of impartiality, because he undoubtedly founded his Motion on the allegation of the Petitioner that he would suffer in his interests, as a party asking the seat for Dovor, if this matter underwent a prior investigation before the Select Committee. But he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) put it to the recollection of the House whether his right hon. Friend did not likewise in great part found his Motion on the doctrine that the Select Committee which the House had appointed to investigate those packet and telegraph contracts was a Committee competent indeed to investigate the general questions of policy and prudence submitted to it, but not worthy of the confidence of the House or the public with reference to the particular cases of Dovor and Galway. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) confessed—and the Government shared that feeling—that he was most unwilling to take any step which should by the remotest implication appear to indicate a participation on the part of the Government in that want of confidence in the Select Committee, whether for the one purpose or the other. That Committee was not appointed for the purpose of conducting certain cases of criminatory accusation against any Government in particular. It was not to try the case of Dovor or Galway in any other spirit than that in which it would be its duty to examine every other case of contract that might come before it. It appeared to him that each of those inquiries, whether before an Election Committee or a Select Committee, had its own advantages. Undoubtedly, an inquiry before an Election Committee would be better for some purposes, and an inquiry before a Select Committee, with its larger and more comprehensive aspect, would be better for other purposes; but it was only a question which inquiry should be prior. Endeavouring to look fairly at the case, he received the allegation of the Petitioner that he would be prejudiced if this matter were first tried before the Select Committee, but he thought it would have better suited the convenience of the House if that allegation had been somewhat more explicit. But, treating that as a bonâ fide allegation, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) asked what course the House ought now to take? The Chairman of the Select Committee was, absent at that moment from his place in the House, and they had no means of ascertaining whether the Committee had been regularly made cognizant of this petition, and whether they were prepared to give an opinion upon it. The question was, should the House undertake—with that allegation of contingent damage before them which had not been developed in explanation, and into which they could not there institute any scrutiny—on that ground to step in and limit the inquiry of the Select Committee which they themselves had appointed? The other alternative seemed to be a simple one. He did not think the House was bound to treat this petition with disrespect, and if it was competent to him to make such a Motion, he should be disposed to propose that the Petition of Sir William Russell be referred to the Select Committee itself. That Committee would then be in a condition to examine if they pleased, and with closed doors if they pleased, the persons who had made or had advised Sir William Russell to make the allegations contained in his petition. They would also be fair judges of the question whether that investigation prior to the sitting of the Election Committee would be likely to prejudice the interests of Sir William Russell. Judging between those two alternatives, he confessed he thought it would be the safer and more prudent course that they should allow the Select Committee itself to form its opinion on that subject; and if it were competent to him he would, therefore, move that the Petition of Sir W. Russell be referred to the Select Committee on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts.

Amendment proposed,— To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'the Petition of Sir William Russell, [presented 18th July], be referred to the Select Committee on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts.'

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that in the absence of the Chairman he, as a member of the Committee, wished to explain that they had the agent of the petitioner before them, when he made the same statements as were laid down in the petition. There were, however, no particulars of any inconvenience likely to arise laid before them. The Chairman informed the agent that it was the opinion of the Committee that if the case were referred to them they would not alter the ordinary course of proceeding unless they had instructions from the House, but that they would not go on till an opportunity had been given of presenting their petition to the House. He (Sir Francis Baring) had no authority to state the opinion of the Committee; but he believed the general impression of the Members was that no statement of inconveniences likely to ensue having been made, the proceedings of the Committee ought not to be impeded, especially as there was no prospect of the Dovor election committee being proceeded with this year.


said, he thought that after the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Francis Baring) the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hardly expect the House to support the suggestion he had made for referring the petition to the Select Committee. He should himself— though he had great doubts as to the expediency of such a course—have agreed to the suggestion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and left the Select Committee to decide the question, But there could then be no reason for taking that course, seeing the conclusion at which the Select Committee had arrived. He gave full credit to the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this business for all the impartiality of feeling which he had evinced. He held a deservedly high position in the opinion of the House, for he had on many occasions performed the difficult and arduous duties of Chairman of Committees; but he might be allowed to express the hope that he would not be Chairman of the Committee that was to investigate this matter. He thought the Members of the late Government had some claim on the consideration of the House in present circumstances. As there was really no prospect of the proceedings at the Dovor election being examined before a Committee this Session, it would not be fair to deprive the Members of the late Government of the opportunity that presented itself of promoting an investigation into all the circumstances of this case. His own anxiety was, he confessed, much alleviated by the full and manly statement which his hon. Friend (Sir Stafford Northcote), without asking it, had had an opportunity of making. That statement must have carried conviction to the mind of every Member in that House. So interesting was it from the candid and ingenuous spirit that pervaded it, and so characteristic of the nature of his hon. Friend, that it must have been felt to be a complete answer to the charges brought forward by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. He thought, with reference to the exact case before the House, that it was of importance to maintain the authority of the Select Committee in the important labours they were pursuing. By so doing they would be taking a course that would elicit truth, and that would do no injury to the interests of Sir William Russell. It was, no doubt, possible for a clever counsel to give an opinion that it would be of advantage to his client that the investigation before the Select Committee should not be pursued; but he should be surprised, and the character of that House would he changed, if they fell into so easy a trap, and allowed the authority of the Committee to be interfered with at the adroit suggestion of an anonymous counsel.


said, he considered that the functions of the two Committees would lie in different directions, and that they were not connected the one with the other. There was no ground for interfering with the Committee on contracts, because the Election Committee would be likely to inquire into one or two of the cases which the other Committee had to take into consideration. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had suggested that the Petition of Sir William Russell should be referred to the Committee on Contracts, as it was thought that Committee would judiciously use its discretion in the matter, but since that proposition was made the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring) had informed the House that the Committee had already taken the question into consideration; that they had, in fact, taken the step which it was the intention of his right hon. Friend's Amendment to enable them to take. In these circumstances, his right hon. Friend would probably be of opinion that the Amendment was not now called for, and that the sense of the House should be taken on the main question, as to whether there should be any interference with the inquiry of the Contract Committee.


said, he did not think that the case had been met by the assertion that the inconvenience to Sir W. Russell had not been stated. If this issue were tried by the Select Committee it must also be tried by the Election Committee. Assume for the sake of argument that the Select Committee came to ore decision and the Election Committee to another, in what a position would it place the House of Commons? For these reasons he should put the House to the trouble of a division.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put.

The House divided: —Ayes 61; Noes 223: Majority 162.

House adjourned at a quarter after Two o'clock.