§ CAPTAIN LEICESTER VERNON
Sir, I rise, pursuant to Notice, to call the attention of the House to the Report of the Packet and Telegraphic Contracts Committee, of which I was a Member, and to Move a Resolution thereon. Now, Sir, I will take the liberty at the outset to read such parts of the Report as bear particularly upon my case. The Committee say:—On the 26th of April, 1859, an agreement was entered into again substituting another contract, further extending the term until the 26th of April, 1870. Your Committee have failed to discover sufficient public grounds to justify this extension, which appears to have been conceded by the Treasury on the recommendation of the Admiralty, but in opposition to the views of the Postmaster General, and, as appears to your Committee, without sufficient inquiry into the grounds upon which the claim for the extension of the contract was preferred.It then proceeds to say:—It is in evidence before your Committee that Mr. Churchward, one of the contractors, on the eve of the last general election, at the time when the extension of his contract was under consideration at the Treasury, volunteered his support, as an influential elector for Dovor, to the hon. Captain Carnegie, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, if he should become a candidate for that borough, on the expectation that his contract was to be extended; and expressed his intention, if required, to vote for two Government candidates for Dovor. Your Committee think it right to add that the renewal of the contract had been recommended by the Admiralty to the Treasury at least six weeks before the date of the conversation referred to. It further appears to your Committee that neither at the Admiralty nor the Treasury were the officers with whom the decision rested influenced in granting the renewal of the contract by any corrupt or political motive. Your Committee consider that the conduct of Mr. Murray, the private secretary of the First Lord of the Admiralty, was open to grave censure; but they have not sufficient evidence to show that any Member of the Government was cognizant of the communications between Mr. Murray, Mr. Churchward, and Captain Carnegie. While most anxious for the fulfilment of all engagements entered into in good faith between the Government and individuals, the Committee submit for the consideration of the House whether Mr. Churchward, in having resorted to corrupt expedients, affecting injuriously the character of the representation of the people in Parliament, has not rendered it impossible for the House of Commons, with due regard to its honour and dignity, to vote the sums of money necessary to fulfil the agreement to extend his contract from the 20th of June, 1863, to the 26th of April, 1870.It is to that portion of the Report which refers to the non-fulfilment of the obliga- 1332 tions entered into by the Government on behalf of the public that I propose to address myself, because I consider it illogical, unjust, striking at the root of all commercial faith, and establishing a precedent dangerous to the public service; and it is in reference to that I propose the following Resolution for the consideration of the House:—That this House, having considered the Report and the evidence presented by the Select Committee on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts, is of opinion that the contract entered into on the 26th day of April, 1859, between the Commissioners for Executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Joseph George Churchward, ought to be fulfilled.I beg to assure hon. Gentleman with whom I was associated on this Committee that it is out of no disrespect to them that I move this Resolution, but solely in the interest of public faith and public justice; and I trust that the House will exonerate me from any charge of presumption in thus putting myself forward to advocate opinions in regard to the maintenance of contracts which have not been held by other Members of the Committee. There are, no doubt, many hon. Gentlemen in this House who have dealt more largely with private contracts than I have done; but I believe there are few that have been more exclusively connected than myself with Government contracts. During the twenty-five years that I served entirely in the Corps of Royal Engineers I lived in an atmosphere of contracts. I cannot, therefore, be considered as ignorant of the subject I venture to bring before the House. I know what Government contractors are. I know that a more honourable body of business men does not exist. I know how they have dealt with Government, and I know how Government has dealt with them. I have often been a party, as a matter of official duty, to exacting from them the very letter of their bond; but never, in the whole course of my experience—extending over a quarter of a century—did I ever hear of an instance in which an attempt like the present was made to upset a contract on grounds having no connection, either directly or indirectly, with the pains and penalties set forth, specified, and embodied in the deed of contract itself. I shall not stop to point out that the Committee, although formed ostensibly for the furtherance of public justice and the interests of the public service, bore on its face unmis- 1333 takeable evidence of its political character. There is no doubt that was the case. My intention is to say a few words, and they shall be as few as the importance of the subject will admit, on the mercantile element contained in the Dovor contract, which contract the Resolution of the Committee calls upon this House to rescind. I cannot, however, refrain from expressing my clear conviction, that this Dovor contract was set up as a stalking-horse, from behind which the late Government was to be assailed, and that the attempt on the Government of the Earl of Derby having signally failed, it is now sought to bind Mr. Churchward, the contractor, to the horns of the official dilemma to be sacrificed as a scapegoat. I shall not drag the House through the mass of evidence contained in the blue-book, but with permission I will give a precis of those parts which bear upon my case and upon which I shall found my observations and objections. Previously to the year 1854 the mails from Dovor to Calais and Ostend were conveyed by Government vessels and not by contract. This having been found to be inconvenient and expensive it was determined to have recourse to the system of contract. Tenders were called for and several were given in. Mr. Churchward's tender was the lowest, and it was accordingly accepted. Some idea of the comparative prices will be formed when I tell the House that the South-Eastern Railway Company demanded £16,500 to execute one-half of a service, the whole of which Mr. Churchward undertook to perform for £15,000. The relative tenders stood therefore as £33,000 to £15,000, a difference of 130 per cent in favour of Mr. Churchward. Now a Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, speaking to that point on the hustings at Dovor, when contesting that borough in 1857, spoke as follows:—The packet service was said to be an Admiralty job; but that was a great mistake. The packet service cost the Admiralty £25,000 per annum. Now this is important; five tenders were sent in, of which Mr. Churchward's was the lowest. The Admiralty gives the contractor £15,500 a year for performing the contract, and as the same service previously cost £25,000 a year, the saving is about £10,000.The Parliamentary Secretary who thus expressed himself is the present hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne), and no person is more competent to form an opinion as to the value of the contract to the public, and as to whether it was or was not an Admiralty job, for the 1334 hon. Gentleman was Secretary to the Admiralty when the contract was taken in 1854, and the First Lord was the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle. In 1855 the first extension was granted to Mr. Churchward. The hon. Member for Liskeard was still Secretary at that time. Now, as the hustings speech to which I alluded was delivered in 1857, it is fair to conclude that the hon. Gentleman's laudatory remarks applied to the extension of 1855, as well as to the contract of 1854. It may not be improper here to mention that in 1857, when the hon. Member for Liskeard was going to contest Dovor, he with great frankness said to Mr. Churchward, that as Mr. Churchward was a Conservative he supposed he would oppose him. Mr. Churchward, with equal frankness, replied, that he should not think of opposing the Secretary to the Admiralty. Now, Sir, I have given great attention to the circumstances under which the first extension of 1855 was granted, and I cannot but think that the extension was granted by the Admiralty in the interest of the public and for the public advantage, and I think the arrangement reflects the greatest credit upon the Admiralty of the day, of which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Halifax (Sir C. Wood) was First Lord, and the Member for Liskeard still the Secretary. Then came the second extension recommended by the Admiralty of which the right hon. Member for Droitwich was First Lord. This extension was made in February, 1859, to which date I request particular attention. Now, Sir, I maintain, and I challenge contradiction, that the same reasons which operated in 1855, and which caused the first extension, operated in still greater force in 1859. This is the arrangement which the Committee recommends the House to repudiate, not on the ground of fraud, not on the ground of non-performance, nor even on the untenable ground of its being a disadvantageous bargain for the public. Then let us see on what pretence Parliament is advised to commit an act of injustice by breaking public faith with a Government contractor. It appears that after the decision and recommendation of the Admiralty in favour of the extension of the contract in 1854, and pending its ratification by the Treasury some six weeks afterwards, a dissolution of Parliament took place, and a general election followed. The Hon. Captain Carnegie, of the Royal Navy, had at that time been 1335 appointed Junior Lord, or "Boots," as he is somewhat irreverently called within the walls, with the distinct stipulation that he should obtain a seat in the House at the earliest opportunity. That Gentleman, it was proposed, should contest Dovor on the Admiralty—that is to say, the Churchward interest. Whilst he was hesitating, "letting I dare not wait upon I would," he had, as he informed the Committee, a conversation with Mr. Churchward, whom he had never seen before, in the room of Mr. Murray, the private secretary to the First Lord, and that then and there Mr. Churchward offered him his support at Dovor, coupling this offer with a hint that he should require his assistance in obtaining the extension of his contract. Captain Carnegie is very clear and distinct upon this point, for he says that in the conversation that took place the contract was decidedly alluded to; while Mr. Murray and Mr. Churchward, also parties to the conversation, have distinctly declared that no allusion to the contract was made in any shape or form. Here is the memory of one set against the memory of two, and to have arrived at their decision the Committee must have allowed the recollection of one to have preponderated over the recollection of two. Now, I would ask the House to consider whose memory was most to be relied on—the memory of Mr. Murray and Mr. Churchward, both of whom knew that all question of the extension of the contract had passed out of the hands of the Admiralty some weeks before, or the memory of Captain Carnegie, who, as I shall presently show, knew nothing about the matter. I will here beg permission to read the questions put by the Chairman of the Committee to Mr. Murray, and his answers thereto, in confirmation of my point:—1586. You heard Captain Carnegie's evidence in which he stated that he had many conversations with you upon the subject of the Dovor election, in which he understood that Mr. Churchward's support was to be given to the two candidates on condition that his contract was renewed?—I am quite sure that I never made use of any such expression as that, that Mr. Churchward's support was conditional.1587. That was the understanding, was it not?—No; it was not.1588. You had not that impression?—Not at all.How the Committee could have arrived at the decision they did with this evidence staring them in the face I confess I am at loss to understand. To be brief, Captain 1336 Carnegie, believing, as he says, that the vote and interest of Churchward at Dovor was only to be obtained by his, Captain Carnegie's, vote and interest at the Admiralty, he declined to stand for Dovor; so he informed the Committee. But when told that Mr. Churchward's second extension had been decided on and passed away from the Admiralty some weeks before his conversation with Mr. Churchward, just observe his answer to question 3855:—3855. If you had been aware that, as far as the Admiralty was concerned, it had passed from that department, your objection would have been removed?And his reply was—In a great measure it would have been removed—almost entirely.Then, I ask, why did he not know it? Why did he not make it his business to become acquainted with so important a fact, instead of keeping this dreadful secret locked up in his own bosom; for it appears in evidence that he revealed to no one the appalling fact of a contractor having attempted to corrupt a Lord of the Admiralty. Why, I say, did he not step into the next room; and if he did not choose to ask the First Lord, why did he not inquire of the clerk who conducted the correspondence how the matter stood? From him he would have learned that the question was decided, docketed, and pigeonholed weeks before this; and Captain Carnegie would have known that Mr. Churchward would have no object in seeking to corrupt him; his mind would have been relieved—his honour would have been satisfied, as it might have been from the first if he had recollected that—True conscious honour is to feel no sin;He's armed without who's innocent within.But, was fear of the taint of corruption the only reason why Captain Carnegie declined to go to Dovor? The evidence proves that it was not. Lord Llanover, then Member for Marylebone, had made a speech on the subject, and stated that Captain Carnegie had declined to go to Dovor because, from inquiries that had been made, his prospect of success was doubtful. Before passing from this subject, I would ask permission of the House to read a reply of that noble Lord to the question I put to him—namely:—4799. Then the last part of this sentence is—'He objected to go to Dovor because he did not believe that he should be a successful candidate, unless he resorted to practices which he disap- 1337 proved of.' Do you think that that reason squares with the one given in the first part of your speech which goes to say that he had received information obtained from a confidential agent that he would have no success?The noble Lord astonished me by replying:—I assure you that when I had the honour of a seat in the House of Commons, which I had for thirty years, I was not so very precise in the speeches which I made as to whether one part of a speech would square with another.But there was another reason which came to the surface during my examination of Captain Carnegie, and not one only, but two. Will the House permit me to read questions 3692 to 3705, both inclusive?—3692. Am I right in supposing that you wish the Committee to understand that the Government wished you to stand for Dovor, but that you were restrained from so doing by scruples with respect to the Churchward contract?To which the reply was—Yes: I think you are mainly right.3693. Did you decline going to Dovor solely and entirely because you thought you would be supported by Mr. Churchward, such support being in your estimation venal, as connected with this contract?—No, not entirely.3694. Had you any other reasons for not going to Dovor?—I considered that I did not like to have a place pressed upon me.3695. Had you any other reasons besides that for not going to Dovor?—Yes; I was in hopes of succeeding to obtain a seat in Parliament for another place.The House will observe the answer to the next two questions, I being still the examiner.3704. Sir Benjamin Hall in the same speech gives a telegraphic message from you to this effect—'I tendered my resignation solely in consequence of a difference of opinion as to the selection of the place which I could hope to represent.' Did you send a message to that effect to Sir Benjamin Hall?—I did.3705. Can you say what was the difference of opinion as to the selection of the place which you could hope to represent? Did it imply a chance of success, or did it imply, an objection to the means by which success was to be obtained?Now mark the answer:—I wished to select my own place, and I wished to select the place which seemed to me most likely to return me, and (mark this) most likely to keep me as its Member.In other words Captain Carnegie wished to invest his money where it would ensure a more profitable return, and who can blame the gallant Captain for that? Thus, then, there being four reasons for not going to Dovor, it is clear that the fear of the taint of corruption was only 25 per cent of the real reason, and that a fraction of a 1338 one-fourth would have entirely vanished if he had known, as he might have known, and was bound to know, that the question of Mr. Churchward's contract had passed beyond the Admiralty some weeks before there was any idea of Captain Carnegie's going to Dovor. Thus the charge against the late administration entirely broke down, and therefore that against Churchward, being dependent upon it, should also have dropped through. But that would have been to admit that the Committee had been performing with great tragic importance the "Comedy of Errors." Parliamentary Committees cannot be expected to sit from the 14th June to the 11th of August for nothing, in a room bounded on the one side by the ill-smelling Thames, and on the other by a lobby redolent of the compound of villanous smells proceeding from the crowd of witnesses in attendance for nothing. Victimized ourselves, we sought to make other victims. The Secretary to the First Lord stood ready to our hands. How that Gentleman, Mr. Murray, got dragged into it is difficult to say. No one for one moment denies that he had a perfect right to converse with a Lord of the Admiralty who was bound to find a seat about what borough he should stand for. Mr. Murray's ideas, however, were in favour of Devonport, not of Dovor. No one for a moment denies that he had a perfect right to converse with Mr. Churchward, a Government contractor at Dovor, as to the chances of success if Captain Carnegie went to Dovor. Yet, with this common-sense view of the ordinary practice, we are told that Mr. Murray is open to grave censure, because, so far as I can understand, he permitted Mr. Churchward to be more about the Admiralty than suits the fastidious tastes of some gentlemen. But surely Mr. Churchward, as long as he was a Government contractor, had a perfect right of free access to the department under which he served. I have found in my small experience contractors in daily, almost hourly, communication with their department, and alway to the manifest advantage of the public. But was this a privilege enjoyed by Mr. Churchward only in the time of Mr. Murray? Why, when Mr. Churchward was unconnected with the Admiralty and was on the staff of a Conservative newspaper, he seemed to have been a sort of familiar spirit at the Admiralty, the âme damnée of the Board. He then was sent for, fêeted and caressed by Admiralty dig- 1339 nitaries belonging to every liberal Administration, from 1846 to 1855. I have scores of letters proving this fact. I will not inflict the whole of them on the House, but I would ask permission to read extracts from a few to prove my position. I must, however, state that I will not give the names of the writers. I pledge my word that they are written by men of standing and magnitude, and not by the mere rank and file of the department. The extracts I shall read cover a period varying from 1846 to 1855:—March 11, 1846.My dear Sir,—I wish you to come and see me as soon as convenient.March 22, 1847.I wish you would use the material enclosed, and let me have it again; it belongs to the Record Office. I hope you are more profitably engaged than in coming here occasionally.June 4, 1847.Just say that I and Barnard stand again for Greenwich.Dec. 13, 1847.Pray read and make use of the enclosed. It is important, as proving that it is to our navy and not to the army that we must look for defence, especially to our steam navy. This will be the groundwork of a good article, and enable you to praise our first sea lord. Wind up with recommending an increase of marine artillery, and that the Coastguard should be placed under Captain Berkeley.Here follows a sentence which almost seems to show that Sam Slick, the Attaché, was in England at this time; and, if so, the writer must certainly have taken a lesson from him in the art of administering soft sawder.I am sure upon these points you will, with your talents, be able to prepare a leader that will please all, and at the same time effect some good to the country, which I feel certain you possess sufficient patriotism to desire.Feb. 23, 1848.It was most essential that the report of our having sent four steamers off to the French coast should be contradicted. I was glad you informed us of it. I sent a notice in consequence, and it was most obligingly entered verbatim as a leader. Their Lordships were glad to see it there.Jan 22, 1849.I think you must give The Times a hint. You have done good service.House of Commons, June 3, 1850.Look into the office (Admiralty) at 6.30.July 1, 1850.I consider your observations on naval matters have been given with marked ability, and are most liberal and free from party.Sept. 16, 1850.I want to see you this afternoon. The article answers perfectly. We have no news from the Pacific.August 27, 1851.My dear Sir,—The First Lord is rather anxious to show that the officers promoted to captains 1340 from commanders lately by the new regulation are men of service, and, if you can, pray go on with an account of their lives. If you are at any loss for a sketch of any of them,—as orders to show you the records of each officer. It is very amusing to see how—gives praise to Cobden and Co., and accuses Baring of want of discretion and decency.The next letter is one in praise of Mr. Churchward himself, and I almost feel inclined to give the name of the officer of high rank who wrote it from the Admiralty:—Oct., 1851.I have always regretted you had not been in the navy, as from your perfect knowledge of the service and your quick mind in ascertaining the value of men of all ranks, your assistance in that branch would have been invaluable. You have boldly advocated many plans that we have brought forward for the good of the navy.Dec. 19, 1851.My dear Sir,—I have never read a better article than yours in the Morning Herald.This was an article in favour of Sir F. Baring.Feb. 4, 1852.Give Houston Stewart a lift, as you have no friend in the Tory interest standing for Greenwich.The last extract I shall quote is written in June 5, 1855, and I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Admiral (Sir C. Napier) is not in his place, because the letter would have been interesting to him:—My dear Sir,—I think the latter part of my speech relative to the late Commander-in-Chief in the Baltic should at least appear in the naval papers, for instance in Devonport, and in others with which you may be connected.The hon. and gallant Admiral, if present, would have remembered whether that speech was particularly flattering to him, or the reverse. This letter was written in 1855, and even then Mr. Churchward was a contractor. On what pretence, therefore, is the House now asked to commit this great commercial injustice, namely, to break the contract with Mr. Churchward? The Committee exonerated the Government from having given the contract upon political grounds, and it was utterly impossible to come to any other conclusion, because the late Administration had only done in 1859 what the previous Administration had done in 1855—both of which acts were for the public advantage. By what juggle could they then fasten on Mr. Churchward the charge of having endeavoured through improper means to get possession of a contract when it was quite clear that the extension of the contract had really passed away from the Admiralty long before the election? If it is admitted 1341 that the Government granted the extension without corrupt motives, on what principle can they say that Mr. Churchward accepted the extension from corrupt motives? Mr. Churchward thought fit to consult his private interests rather than his political opinions, and to vote accordingly. Is that corruption? It should be borne in mind that the case has twice been tried already—by the Contract Committee, to the verdict of which, as far as Mr. Churchward was concerned, I object, and by the Election Committee, which was a judicial court where evidence was taken upon oath. In both these courts the Administration has been entirely exonerated. But whilst in one Committee Mr. Churchward has been sacrificed, as I contend, in the very teeth of the evidence, the Election Committee refused his request to be examined in these words:—"Mr. Churchward, we cannot hear you, as we consider that there is no charge made against you which calls for an answer." Mr. Churchward, so long as he was a contractor, thought it to be to his interest to support a good candidate. Is that corruption? Acting upon this principle, he supported Sir William Russell and Mr. Bernal Osborne in 1857, though his politics differed from theirs. Is that corruption? In 1859 the tide turned; Mr. Churchward's private interest and political principles went together, and he acted accordingly. Am I to be told that that which is not corruption in 1857 is corruption in 1859? It is monstrous to assert that there is any difference. When I contested Chatham against the Liberal Goverment, I was met occasionally by men of station who told me that they did not think it right to support me against a Government whose bread they eat. I could have told them they eat the bread of the public, and not that of the Government. I had not a word to say to men so eminently peculiar. Now, these were not dockyard artisans—men with hands of iron and hearts of gold. No; they were Gentlemen, to whom if you had hinted corruption, would have pinned you to the wall with the swords that glittered at their sides. I have one word to say respecting Mr. Murray. I did not expect that the Committee, having absolved the Government, would have fallen back to take a paltry vengeance upon contractors, secretaries, and such small deer. I agree with an able writer on this subject in the Westminster Review, that few persons would 1342 be pleased with a Report which, while it exonerated the Government, made a scapegoat of Mr. Murray. I submit that what the Gentlemen referred to at Chatham had done towards themselves is, exactly what Mr. Churchward has done for himself, he has voted and acted according to his own interests, hanging up his political views until fairer weather came. If he is to be morally gibbeted for so doing, and if a law is to be passed that shall circumflex all political renegades in its categories, these executions will be rife in "Merrie England," and Mr. Churchward may sing, with Captain Macheath,If laws are made for every degree,To curb vice in others, as well as in me,I wonder we've not better companyUnder Tyburn tree.I hold that a contractor, like every other freeman, has a right to wear his politics as loosely as he pleases. If Parliament say no to that, then pass a law depriving Government contractors of their franchise for the time being; introduce such a clause in your Reform Bill, and hear what the public will say to it. But I urge the House not to take a step, one which will shake to its very foundation the confidence of commercial men in the Government. If you do take such a step as that recommended by the Committee, I ask you what man in his senses will touch a contract involving a preliminary outlay as in this case of thousands, when he knows that the House can at any time break his contract at the breath of a Minister or at the instigation of a political party. Once establish the precedent that the good faith of Government in regard to contracts may be broken, and that they may do without dishonour what a private individual dared not think of without disgrace, and our national prestige is gone, our national honesty will be little better than a delusion, our national compacts nothing but a snare. One word more and I have done. I appeal to the present law advisers of the Crown, and those opposite them who have held the same exalted position, and I ask them if they would dare, for their reputation sake, advise such a course between man and man as that which the Parliament of this mighty empire is now urged to pursue towards an individual who lies helpless at your mercy. I appeal to the other learned Gentlemen, Members of this House, who adorn alike the senate and the bar, and I ask them, will they stand, by, with folded hands, to see this great injus- 1343 tice done? I appeal to those who have themselves been contractors—men who for probity and faith have ever stood forward on the business roll of the world; will they lend the sanction of their great names to proceedings that will establish the right of Parliament to cancel the most solemn obligations on political grounds? I appeal to men of commerce of every class—men known throughout the land, and honoured in this House, whose word is their bond, and who, by their commercial faith as well as by their enterprise, have made England the commercial emporium of the globe—are they prepared, I ask, to deal so heavy a blow against commercial confidence as that which is now contemplated? Lastly, I appeal to the honour and to the right feeling of the House, I ask hon. Members to support my Resolution on its merits. I stand here at the bar of public opinion; my cry is not for mercy but for justice, and I ask them by their votes this evening—votes that will be marked wherever commerce carries the British flag—I ask them by their votes to prove, not only to this country but the world at large, that the British House of Commons will never recognize the arbitrary principle that might is right.
Motion made, and Question proposed,—
That this House, having considered the Report and the Evidence presented by the Select Committee on Packet and Telegraphic Contracts, is of opinion that the Contract entered into on the 26th day of April 1859, Between the Commissioners for executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Joseph George Churchward, ought to be fulfilled.
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
said, that having sat in the Committee on this subject, he felt himself called upon to offer an explanation in answer to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member. He hoped that in stating his reasons for opposing the proposition of the gallant officer he should not be tempted by the imputation of any motive that had been thrown out to abandon that tone of moderation and strict impartiality which he believed characterized the Committee generally throughout their inquiry, and in the decision to which they had come, and he wished the House to judge of the case, not from party motives or personal feelings, but according to the right and justice of the case. He would only say that no vote had been taken in that Committee which did not include some one or more Gentlemen usually sitting 1344 on the opposite side of the House, and upon the most important vote upon which the whole question depended it had the concurrence of Gentlemen on the other side. When it was thrown out that the object of the Committee was to damage the late Government he thought the fact he had stated was a sufficient answer to that insinuation. He would proceed to notice what had not occupied much of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member—the merits of the case. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had divided his proposition into three points. The first was comparatively a small one, whether the contract was a good or a bad one. The second was whether the Committee came to an unjust or a just conclusion as to Mr. Churchward's affair. The third was whether the contract having been entered into by the Admiralty, the House was not bound in honour, whatever its judgment on the first two points might be, to perform that contract. As to the first point, the gallant Officer said that he thought that the first prolongation of the contract by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Halifax (Sir C. Wood) was advantageous to the public service. Unfortunately the Committee were of a different opinion; and it was remarkable that the hon. and gallant Officer never took any steps to invite the opinion of the Committee on that point, but allowed the condemnation of the Government of the party opposite to his own to pass, without dividing the Committee upon it. Then came the prolongation of the contract in 1859. This again was represented by the gallant Officer as extremely advisable. Now, the Committee did not impute any improper motives to the parties who acted on the part of the Government when they entered into that contract. The Committee were unanimous on that point, and therefore he (Sir F. Baring) must be understood in what he said as not intending to make the least reflection upon the motives of the late Government. But the question was whether it was a wise and good contract. With regard to money the case was this; Mr. Churchward held the contract; he applied in 1857 for an additional sum for the performance of certain duties which he alleged were not included in the contract. In 1857 that application was considered by the Admiralty of that day, and refused. They told him that he was bound by his contract to perform the greater part of those duties, and one of them, which was not included in his con- 1345 tract, he had actually promised to perform. In 1857, therefore, he remained quiet, but in 1859 he came again, applying for payment for the very same things, with one exception, and he got a promise of remuneration for the very same things which he had been refused in 1857. He did not apply for an extension of his contract either in 1857 or in 1859, but it ended with their giving him that which he had not originally applied for, besides the whole of the sum that he had asked; he got the extension of the contract into the bargain. As the thing went on, Mr. Churchward being a very shrewd man, and probably seeing that those with whom he had to deal were not well acquainted with the original transaction, took the opportunity to insist on the prolongation of his contract; but that was more than he at first asked. Now, he (Sir Francis Baring) was not there to contend that in no case ought there to be a prolongation of a contract; but he did say that before such prolongation was granted a careful inquiry should be made into all the attendant circumstances. Those who granted it, however, in this case were so little acquainted with the circumstances, that it was almost amusing. For instance, by the original contract Mr. Churchward was bound to keep six steamers for the English service; and he subsequently made a contract with the French Government to keep three steamers; but what was the way in which he performed his two contracts? One might have supposed that six and three would make nine, but it was not so in Mr. Churchward's arithmetic. He had only six ships, but he had a double set of captains, and a double set of colours; and when a steam-boat which had carried the English colour from Dover to Calais, as an English steam-boat arrived at Calais; down came the English flag, and up went the tricolor, another captain came on board, and it became a French steam-boat. He was not complaining of Mr. Churchward for doing this; but when a contract was to be renewed or prolonged, it ought to be considered that what might be a proper payment for six steam-boats should be refused, when only three, instead of six, were provided. Another point, which disclosed what really was not very creditable conduct, was this: The contract which Mr. Churchward entered into with the French Government contained a clause that, in case of maritime war, Mr. 1346 Churchward should be bound to give two of his steamboats for the French service. Everybody must know with whom that maritime war, if it ever took place, was likely to be; and the hon. Gentleman who was Secretary to the Admiralty at the time when Mr. Churchward's contract was made, had himself declared that if he had known of that clause in the French contract he would certainly not have approved it. Mr. Churchward had been called upon for an explanation, and had said, so far as he could be understood, which was not always quite easy, that it was quite true that there was that clause; but that he had never intended to perform it. He (Sir F. Baring) was not very well satisfied with his getting out of the difficulty in that way. The matter was either not very creditable to Mr. Churchward's patriotism, or else it did not say much for his straightforward dealing. But the thing to be remembered was this indisputable fact that the Admiralty was paying for the service of six steamboats, two of which Mr. Churchward was under engagement to furnish to the French Government in the event of a maritime war. Under these circumstances there might well be some question of the expediency of the contract which the gallant Officer had so much panegyrised. The Committee thought it was a contract which had not been entered into with proper consideration. He ought however to say, in justice to the Secretary of the Treasury and the Lord of the Admiralty at the time the contract was entered into, that many of the papers connected with it, and the previous correspondence, had not been brought before them at that time, and that the particular clause by which those vessels were to be supplied to the French Government for war purposes was not known until it came out before the Committee. He (Sir F. Baring) now came to a very disagreeable part of the affair. The Committee had before them some uncomfortable facts. They had the declaration of a gallant Officer, in which he distinctly stated one thing, and on the other hand they had the declaration of two gentlemen, Mr. Murray and Mr. Churchward, who directly contradicted him. In such cases no doubt it was painful to give a judgment, and not long ago, a case had occurred in that House, which showed how men of the highest character might differ in their memory of particular things. He wished 1347 to throw no imputation on any one, but he thought it difficult even for those who read the evidence carefully not to come to the same decision as the Committee who heard the evidence and saw the witnesses. There was no doubt that a conversation took place in the manner stated by Captain Carnegie; the question was as to the nature of that conversation: the Committee undoubtedly came to a decision to the effect that they relied on the memory of Captain Carnegie, and the House would believe that they did not come to that decision without giving the subject their most anxious consideration. The hon. and gallant Officer had thrown out a challenge, and had spoken of Mr. Churchward's character. He (Sir F. Baring) was not there to go into any private attacks on Mr. Churchward's character. Mr. Churchward, at the time he (Sir F. Baring) was at the Admiralty, was connected with one of the leading journals of that time, and he certainly had access to the Admiralty, though he was not in the habit of coming to him (Sir F. Baring) and he had to remonstrate more than once upon the subject of his too constant access. It was not very easy for the Government to carry on the public business, especially when Parliament was not sitting, without some occasional communication with gentlemen of the press. When, for instance, the great Jupiter of the press was thundering at the Admiralty, backed by the gallant Admiral who sat below him, the House would agree with him that it was not always easy for a public department to avoid communications of that kind, especially in the Parliamentary recess. Mr. Churchward was a very intelligent man, and he (Sir F. Baring) was bound to say that his opinions were generally with the Admiralty of the day. He represented the Admiralty of the day, and somehow or other got a good deal of information from the department. But he was no contractor when he (Sir F. Baring) was at the Admiralty. The House might form their opinions as they pleased as to gentlemen connected with the press having access to a public office or department, but he (Sir F. Baring) thought there was a great distinction between the representatives of the press seeking for early information as to public events, and men, under cover of their connections with a public newspaper, constantly visiting the Government offices for the purpose of obtaining a particular contract. The hon. and gallant Officer claimed 1348 to have had some experience in this matter, for he said he had lived in an atmosphere of contracts. He (Sir F. Baring) could hardly believe that the hon. and gallant Officer when so engaged was in the habit of allowing contractors to be constantly buzzing about, and looking after what was going on in the office. He regretted being obliged to notice some other facts connected with the character of Mr. Churchward. He did not, however, intend to refer to any private communication, but to facts which had been clearly proved before Committees of that House, and he was bound to state that to two Committees of that House Mr. Churchward was not unknown; that by one Committee on the election of Mr. Mare he was reported to have bribed two persons at that election; and on a subsequent inquiry it was also reported that Mr. Churchward had asked for forty places, and had got twenty-five of them. He thought that showed Mr. Churchward was not over particular delicate in using Parliamentary influence to get something good. The evidence showed that such a conversation as he had before referred to on the subject of the contract in connection with Mr. Churchward's offering to canvass had taken place between Captain Carnegie and Mr. Churchward. They had before them the actual words that were stated by Captain Carnegie to have passed on the occasion. When Mr. Murray was asked he denied the words, that is to say, he denied that the conversation took place when he was present, and stated his belief that Captain Carnegie had confounded what passed at the conversation with Mr. Churchward with some things that had been said in previous conversations with himself; but Mr. Murray admitted that in his conversations with Captain Carnegie he had mentioned the offer alluded to. It was an offer on the part of Mr. Churchward that if he got his contract he would assist in the election. Captain Carnegie said that did take place in the conversation with Mr. Churchward, and though not so strong in terms, it meant the same thing. He was asked, "Then, in point of fact, it was not entirely from your being expected to take certain steps contrary to your principles that induced you not to stand for Dovor?" and he replied that that was the main reason. Then there was another point: Mr. Murray was asked about a communication with the Treasury. Now no one would believe that because the 1349 Admiralty had sent the contract to the Treasury the Government could not deal with it afterwards as they liked. Such an argument was entirely unworthy of consideration, though it might do very well for lawyers to argue on it before a Committee. Then it was rather an odd thing for a private secretary to write to a Lord of the Treasury, requesting that business might be got on with. When it had been announced that the dissolution had taken place, Mr. Murray wrote:—"We are anxious to expedite Mr. Churchward's matter, and we want him to go down to Dovor to canvass." From that it was evident that Mr. Churchward had not made up his mind to support the Government candidate, but when his contract was secured, then he would go and use his influence. There were many other details which he might bring before them, but the case stood thus:—The Committee resolved to bring this point before the House, because they believed Mr. Churchward had offered a Parliamentary bribe to Mr. Murray, and that, if the Treasury did not accept the bribe, Mr. Churchward got his contract through the promise of electioneering assistance. The next question was whether the House had, in common honesty and fairness, a right to do what the hon. and gallant Gentleman denominated a breach of contract. This was no trifle—this was a very important question; it dealt with the public faith on the one side, but on the other it affected the rights and privileges of that House. If they had no right to refuse a Vote when it was asked for by the Government, because the Government had promised the money, he should like to know why they did not quietly pass the Estimates straight through without canvassing any of the proposals made by the Government. This was not a question of expediency or of inexpediency; but it was a question of whether or not they had a right of breaking a contract, as it was called. Suppose the Admiralty had entered upon a contract for 100 years, at £100,000 a year—suppose, again, that the Government had promised a public servant a high retiring allowance in order that they might appoint to his place—were they to be told that they had no right on the Vote for such a contract, or such a superannuation allowance, to inquire into the arrangements? If they carried the doctrine of the conclusion of contracts to such an extent it might be put almost beyond the power of Parliament to exercise its autho- 1350 rity in such matters. He had never heard this doctrine so laid down, and the House had never acted upon such a doctrine. A few years ago there was a contract entered into by our Minister at Paris for the purchase of a certain chapel there; that contract was entered into, and part of the purchase money was paid on account of the contract. What happened then? Did the House listen to the statement of the Government of that day? No, the House threw out the Vote, and declined to complete the contract. On that occasion the House went to a division, and among those who were concerned in the commission of that act of bad faith were Mr. Disraeli, Mr. Henley, Sir James Graham, Sir William Jolliffe, Sir John Pakington, Mr. Seymour FitzGerald, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Lord John Manners. These were all laymen; among the lawyers there were the present Judge Advocate, Mr. Serjeant Kinglake, Mr. R. Malins—in whose way he was sorry to interpose any difficulty, but he had probably got ready a speech on the other side for this debate—and last of all a Gentleman who had held a high official position, the late Attorney General for Ireland, Mr. Whiteside. The case of the Paris chapel was in modern times:—he could quote as early and important precedents in which the House had refused to complete a contract made by the Crown. In the case of the Peace of Utrecht there were two treaties—one a political, and the other a commercial one. In the latter of these the Sovereign had distinctly engaged to reduce certain duties;—the engagements of the treaty were not as in modern times conditional on the assent of Parliament, but positive; but notwithstanding that, when the Bill for their reduction came before Parliament it was rejected by the House of Commons. After these examples, was he to be told that the engagement entered into by the Lords of the Admiralty with Mr. Churchward was of so sacred a character that when the Speaker left the chair, and the Chairman of Ways and Means put the question as to the grant of money for its fulfilment, hon. Members would be bound to say "Yes;" that they had no power to say "No;" and that therefore their voting upon it at all would be a mere farce? But had they really entered into an engagement? The Admiralty engaged to pay out of money to be voted by Parliament, and it was therefore clear that there would be no engagement except subject to the assent of Parliament. 1351 More than that, the power of making these contracts was taken away from the Post Office by an Act of Parliament introduced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer on the recommendation of a Commission, in order that no money might be spent without the sanction of the House of Commons. How, then, would that House stultify itself if it now gave up the power which had so recently been secured to it. In conclusion, it appeared to him that this contract was not a good one, that whether it was a good or a bad contract, Mr. Churchward had resorted to expedients which rendered it advisable that it should not be confirmed; and when he was told that that House had no power to express dissent from a contract made on the part of the Crown, he appealed for contradiction of that doctrine to every hon. Gentleman who voted upon the question of the purchase of the English chapel in Paris, to those who were then Ministers of the Crown, but never ventured to oppose the Motion then before the House upon such a ground, and to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General of the late Government, who if he had objection to that Motion upon conscientious grounds would have been the first solemnly to protest against the breach of public faith.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he would not pretend to argue the question upon legal grounds, but he was prepared to say that the right hon. Gentleman had placed the question from the beginning to the end of his speech upon an entirely false issue. He had spoken of this Motion as if it were intended that when the Speaker left the Chair and they went into Committee their hands were to be tied by the Resolution which the hon. and gallant Gentleman asked them to come to, and they were to be bound to vote the money necessary to carry out this contract without inquiry, thus abandoning the undoubted privilege of Parliament. So far was that from being the case, however, that what the hon. and gallant Member for Berks asked the House to do was to untie its hands. The Report of the Committee of last Session said,—While most anxious for the fulfilment of all engagements entered into in good faith between the Government and individuals, the Committee submit for the consideration of the House"—That implied that the House was to take the matter into consideration, which was all that was now asked.Whether Mr. Churchward, in having resorted to corrupt expedients affecting injuriously the cha- 1352 racter of the representation of the people in Parliament, has not rendered it impossible for the House of Commons, with due regard to its honour and dignity, to vote the sums of money necessary to fulfil the agreement, to extend his contract from the 20th of June, 1863, to the 26th of April, 1870.He would ask the House to bear in mind that all that was asked of them was to allow themselves to go into Committee on this Vote, and there deal with it with the same freedom as they would with any other Vote. They were not asking the House to in any way pledge itself on the subject of the Vote. All that was asked of the House was to give a general answer to the challenge or submission of the Committee as to whether the House ought or ought not to consider the Vote. The case of the Paris chapel, to which the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Baring) had referred, was not one in point; the two cases were by no means parallel. The case of the Paris chapel was one in which the Government had expended a certain sum of money without the sanction of Parliament, and in which, when the Government came down to the House, the Vote was refused. The difference between the two cases was, that in the one case the Government had acted in accordance with the usual practice, and in the other they had not. The purchase of the chapel had been repeatedly considered by the House, and had been refused, but in the present case the Government had only pursued the usual course in making and renewing Post Office contracts before submitting them to the House. And what had been the result of the Vote of the House of Commons in the Paris chapel case? As soon as the House refused to vote the money for the chapel the Government tried to dispose of the building, but experienced great difficulty in their attempt to do so. The chapel remained closed in consequence for two or three years, to the great scandal of every one, who saw that the Government of England had made a contract which they were not able to carry out. Ultimately a Despatch was received from Earl Cowley stating that the French Minister of the Interior had received an official intimation that it was the intention of the person with whom the debt had been contracted to put up the debt of the British Government to be sold to the highest bidder. If the late Government had not taken upon themselves to advance money to prevent that disgraceful transaction the debt of the British Government would have been so put up in Paris for 1353 public auction, and sold to the highest bidder. That showed the inconvenience of the course recommended in the present case; and without raising the legal question involved, he would say that, unless the clearest and strongest grounds existed, the House ought to be most cautious how it repudiated a bargain that had been made by those who were authorized to make bargains of this kind on behalf of the Government. In Mr. Stephenson's answer to a question put by Mr. Laing, in the Select Committee, the House would find the matter put in a very fair way. Mr. Laing asked the witness:—Am I correct in understanding your doctrine about the liability of Parliament to be this, that if the Government merely makes a bad bargain, you think, inasmuch as Parliament has, perhaps, been supine in allowing the Government to act as its agent for a number of years, it would not be fair towards a third party to break the bargain because they thought it a bad one; but, on the other hand, if it should be discovered that fraud or misrepresentation or corrupt influence had been used, or attempted to be used, by the party obtaining the contract, you think that both the Government and Parliament would be free in honour in cancelling that contract.The answer of Mr. Stephenson was,—"That is my opinion." He (Sir S. Northcote) laid aside for the present the legal view of the matter, which would, no doubt, be argued by better authorities on such subjects. The position from which he started was that of Mr. Laing—namely,—that the House ought not in common fairness to repudiate the contract merely on the ground that it was a bad one, or that it was not the most advantageous one that could have been made for the public service. He maintained that if, on the whole, their opinion was that the contract had been entered into fairly—entered into on public grounds—because the Government of the day believed it to be for the public service, and that the Government had fair reasons for arriving at the conclusion that it was one of that character, they would, even though they might differ with the Government on the soundness of that conclusion, be taking a most injudicious and most injurious course if they repudiated the engagement. He should now explain to the House the grounds on which the late Government had conceded the extension of the contract. They had been already explained by his right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty under the Earl of Derby's Government, and by himself, before the Committee, and on another occasion; but 1354 as had been stated by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Baring), very few hon. Members had probably taken the pains to peruse the whole of the great blue-book which he now held in his hand; yet, without they did so, they would have no correct means of arriving at that which was at the bottom of the whole case—namely, whether or not there was good reason for the course taken by the late Government. In the first place the extension of the contract had been asked for on a ground which he did not think a good one, and on which he could not recommend the extension—on the ground, namely, that Mr. Churchward had sustained serious losses in carrying out his contract. That ground, nevertheless had been held to be a good one before the time of the transaction which was under the consideration of the House. It had been recognised by the Admiralty, and the contract had been extended on it in 1855. However, he (Sir S. Northcote) had refused to recognize it by recommending an extension on it. But he had recommended the extension on another ground. Mr. Churchward had been anxious to improve the service. His contract had still a certain time to run, but he was unable to carry on the service as effectually as he wished to do without undertaking a very considerable expenditure for the construction of better packet-boats. It would have been unreasonable to expect Mr. Churchward to undertake that expenditure without a renewal of his contract. It was, therefore, for the public interest that the contract should be extended. That was the ground which he (Sir S. Northcote) took at the time, and in doing so he ventured to think he acted in conformity with precedents set over and over again by successive Governments. There was one very remarkable case in which a contract had been renewed on that ground, though it did not in financial respects present anything like so favourable an aspect as the Dover contract. He referred to the contract of the Royal Mail Company for conveying the mails to the West India Inlands. The subsidy in that case was £270,000; in the present case it was only £15,000 or £16,000. The service in that case was very badly done, and great complaints were made, while in the present case it was very well done. That contract involved a dead loss of £215,000 a year, for the Post-office revenue from letters was very small; while in the present case the contract of Mr. Churchward, instead of 1355 being a contract involving a loss, was one which produced a gain of over £65,000 a year, being almost the only one of the kind that paid its own expenses. Again, the West India contract had never been put up to public competition; the Dovor contract was granted to Mr. Churchward after a very sharp contest. Well, the contractors for the West India service came forward in 1857, when Mr. Wilson was Secretary to the Treasury, and asked for an extension of two years, their contract having at the time four years to run. That extension was granted on the ground that the contractors wanted to build larger and better ships in order to perform their service well. Mr. Churchward performed his service well; but he wanted to build new boats in order to perform it better. Was not his case then a stronger one than that which he (Sir S. Northcote) had just cited to the House? But it might be said, "All this case was got up, and it was believed by you simply because you wished to favour Mr. Churchward." Not at all. His case was perfectly made out and as a proof he would quote a portion of the evidence of Captain M'Ilwaine, who held an official position as superintendent of packets at Dovor. It was Captain M'Ilwaine's duty to know and he had the means of knowing precisely what the service was and how it had been performed by Mr. Churchward. He was a perfectly competent, and not only a perfectly competent, but a perfectly unprejudiced witness. He might almost say an unfavourable witness, because his right hon. Friend the late First Lord of the Admiralty (Sir J. Pakington) had been charged, though without foundation, with having acted unfairly towards Captain M'Ilwaine, whose name he (Sir S. Northcote) heard for the first time on the 12th of April, 1859, in the discussion in which the charge was brought forward. Again, Captain M'Ilwaine had not been selected to give evidence by the late Government, but by those who were most anxious to find out what they thought they would find out from Captain M'Ilwaine's evidence—namely, that Mr. Churchward was not performing the service well. The answer to which he (Sir S. Northcote) now more particularly referred would be found in reply to questions Nos. 3914 and 3979 put to Captain M'Ilwaine. Captain M'Ilwaine having previously said that in the general management of the packet service there had been nothing to disapprove, was asked— 1356Upon the whole, from your experience, did it appear that Mr. Churchward was capable of performing his contract fairly with the boats that he had?—As far as bringing the mail goes he was.Did it appear to you that it would be an advantage that he should put on new, and stronger, and better boats?—I certainly would recommend it; I think that the Ondine, one of his packets, is not capable in bad weather, and she has not the speed for the contract in bad weather.If, then, he were to substitute for some of those boats, which are only just capable of performing the service, better boats and superior boats, would that cause him additional expense, or any considerable expense?—I should say, of course, that it would cause expense.In short, the effect of Captain M'Ilwaine's evidence throughout was that the contract was being carried out in such a manner that the Government could not lay hold of the contractor and subject him to penalties; that at the same time the service was capable of great improvements, which it was desirable should be introduced, but that it was improbable the contractor would incur the additional expense involved unless he had some inducement to do so. That was just what Mr. Churchward himself represented. He had represented that he wanted an extension of his contract that he might build new boats. The late Government granted him that extension, and he proceeded to do what he had said he would do. He had already built one new boat, which he (Sir Stafford Northcote) had been informed was the best one that had ever been on the station. He would not, however, have taken that step if his contract had not been extended. Under these circumstances the late Government had arrived at the conclusion that there was sufficient ground for extending it. It might be that hon. Members did not concur with them, but they had no right on that ground to accuse them of not having acted correctly to the best of their judgment. The next ground was, that Mr. Churchward was not only a contractor with the English, but a contractor with the French Government also. The right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Baring) had quoted an expression of his right hon. Friend the late Secretary to the Admiralty to the effect that, if he had known the nature of the provisions of the contract with the French Government, he would not have extended the contract. That evidence of his right hon. Friend was the only evidence of the kind to be found in the blue-book, but if hon. Members looked to question No. 4889 they would find precisely the same question put to the right hon. Member 1357 for Halifax (Sir C. Wood) as that which had been put to his right hon. Friend, and precisely the same answer given by the right hon. Baronet. The evidence of the Admiralty witnesses also went to show this, that according to the express directions of the right hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Wood) as First Lord, the Admiralty were to take no notice of the French contract. The hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. B. Osborne) who was Secretary to the Admiralty under the Government which preceded Lord Derby's, acted in conformity with those directions, for in his evidence before the Committee, that hon. Member said "I was aware of the existence of the French contract; but did not look into it. I did not consider it a part of my duty to make myself acquainted with it." In reply to question 4774, Mr. Clifton said he was directed in 1855 not to have any official cognizance of the French contract. [Mr. E. P. BOUVERIE: By whom? It was stated by some one that that direction had emanated from Sir Charles Wood. In another portion of the examination before the Committee, Mr. Clifton was asked whether it was by the First Lord that he had been told not to take any official cognizance of the French contract. His reply was—"I think he was present. I presumed it was sanctioned by him." [Mr. BORVERIE: Hear, hear!] At all events, the French contract had existed, and had been known to exist, before the accession of the Earl of Derby's Government to office; and, therefore, if there was any point in the matter it was one which told equally against the preceding as against the late Government. As to that contract, the state of the case was simply this—Mr. Churchward had a contract with the English Government which was binding till 1863, and another with the French Government which did not expire till 1870. The British Government, however, had no control over the French contract, nor over Mr. Churchward in his proceedings in respect of it. He was called on to perform two services in the day, one on the English and the other on the French account, and it had so happened that correspondence and communications had been going on between the authorities of the Admiralty and the Post Office, the French Government and Mr. Churchward, in regard to some important improvements contemplated in the service between this country and the Continent. The suggestions for those important improvements 1358 had originated with Mr. Churchward. This was freely admitted by Mr. Hill, assistant secretary to the Post Office, who in his reply to questions 4443 and 4453 explained the great importance of having those improvements introduced; that the suggestion had originated with Mr. Churchward, and that he considered him to have very great merit in the matter. On looking to the evidence of Mr. Page, the House would again find testimony as to the importance of those improvements; but it was also stated that if Mr. Churchward as contractor under the French Government had refused to give effect to his suggestions the British Government had no power to compel him to do so, however desirable their adoption might have been. Mr. Churchward had them completely in his power as regarded those improvements. He might have refused to carry them into effect, and had he so refused the result would have been that both countries would have been left without that acceleration in the mails which had been so much desired, and which was actually in operation at the present moment. The mail which used to leave this country for France at one or two o'clock in the afternoon, now left at seven in the morning. Letters posted in Liverpool or other parts of the country, say that (Tuesday) evening, would be delivered in Paris to-morrow (Wednesday) night, instead of, as formerly, Thursday morning, with equal advantages in the return posts. Mr. Churchward also had been able to accelerate the whole of the passage between England and France, the average rate of the sea passage being now fourteen knots an hour, instead of eleven knots, as formerly; and the House would bear in mind that these improvements had not been made in the English service, but in the French, over which Mr. Churchward had control, but over which we had none. But for him this country could not have got the benefit of that improvement; and he could not have effected it if the British Government had not given him an extension of his English contract, so as to make its termination coincident with that of his French contract. And it must also be borne in mind that they had got these great and long-desired improvements without any increase of the subsidy paid to Mr. Churchward. Other parties connected with the arrangement had received an increase of pay—the South Eastern Railway, he believed, had received £6,000 a year more from the English Government, 1359 and the Chemin de Fer du Nord an increase of some £4,000 from the French Government. But Mr. Churchward, with whom these improvements originated, and on whom their execution depended, did not receive a single farthing additional; but only a commutation in lieu of certain charges which he was absolutely entitled to under his own contract. In proof of that he appealed to the letter of the Postmaster General, who, disapproving the extension of the contract, admitted that Mr. Churchward was entitled to payment for the enormous additional expenses he was put to in connection with the special services. The doubling of the Indian mails, the Australian mails, and other like matters, it was not necessary for him further to refer to. The whole question was whether the late Government had such grounds for what they did as justified the House in believing that, as honest men, they applied their minds to the matter in the best way they could, and adopted the course they thought most expedient; and if the House believed they had, then it would not only be unjust, but the most excessively foolish and damaging step they could take to throw over the contractor, on the ground that the bargain was not so good as could have been made. And here he asked permission to refer to the Report itself. He denied the premises of the Report which the hon. Chairman (Mr. Cobden) had, in the first instance, laid before the Committee; but he did that hon. Gentleman the justice to say, that if those premises could be borne out by the evidence, the conclusion at which he arrived was consistent and logical. However, as the Report left the Committee, the whole of Mr. Cobden's premises were struck out. The Report as drawn up by Mr. Cobden stated that the Committee—Had failed to discover sufficient public grounds to justify the extension of the contract, which seems to have been conceded to the strenuous solicitations of the contractor, in opposition to the views of the Postmaster General, Mr. Stephenson, the chief official in the postal service Department of the Treasury, and contrary to the first intention of Sir Stafford Northcote.And it went on to say that it was in evidence before the Committee that Mr. Churchward in pressing his claim for an extension of the contract tendered his support as an influential elector for Dovor to Captain Carnegie, "on the understanding that his contract was to be extended, and expressed his intention, on the same condition, to vote for two Government candi- 1360 dates for Dovor." Upon these premises Mr. Cobden based the perfectly just and natural conclusion that it was for the House to consider whether Mr. Churchward had not, in having "resorted to corrupt expedients," rendered it impossible for them to vote the money necessary to fulfil the agreement. The question then was, whether the evidence bore out the premises. But as the Report passed through the hands of the Committee, "the strenuous solicitations of the contractor" was struck out, and in lieu of it the Committee reported that it was on the recommendation of the Admiralty that the contract was conceded by the Treasury. Perhaps it might be said that was much the same thing; but then there was the express assertion by the Committee afterwards, that the recommendation of the Admiralty was six weeks before the conversation of Captain Carnegie and Mr. Murray, and therefore the Admiralty could not have been actuated by corrupt and political motives. But then the Committee said it was done without sufficient inquiry. He admitted that on that ground the Committee did hit the Government a little. They did not inquire into the terms of the French contract, about which they knew nothing; but that was not their fault. It was the fault of the preceding Government who told them not to inquire into it. He did not care to discuss whether every inquiry possible for very suspicious persons to have made was made, but he said that the Report ignored any supposition based upon "the strenuous solicitation of the contractor." What was the conversation between Mr. Churchward and Captain Carnegie? Mr. Churchward did not tender his support "on condition that his contract was renewed," as stated in the draft Report, but it was certainly in conformity with the evidence of Captain Carnegie, as stated in the corrected Report, that Mr. Churchward volunteered his support, when the matter was under the consideration of the Treasury, on the expectation that his contract was to be extended, and expressed his intention to vote for two Governmnt candidates for Dovor. What did Captain Carnegie say passed? He would not enter into the question whether Captain Carnegie's memory was false or not, or whether his representation was correct or not. For the purpose of argument he would admit his statement. He asked the House to look at the very important answer to the question No. 1,374:— 1361Mr. Churchward spoke to me on the subject of the pending election for Dovor, and having volunteered his support, and promised me his assistance in general terms, he made an allusion to his anxiety to obtain the renewal of his contract; and he said that they were anxious to defer signing the renewal of his contract until after the election was over, but he felt that would be too hard upon him.He had no objection to read the whole of Captain Carnegie's answer:—And that he would rather prefer voting for Mr. Bernal Osborne and for myself, inasmuch as he would have a friend in power, whoever was in office. He also added that he thought they wanted him to return two Government Members for Dovor, and if they did so, he should be obliged to comply with it.He did not say how far the connection of Mr. Churchward with the election was right or proper. He was only concerned with what he did with the contract, and there was not a syllable in this statement of Captain Carnegie to show that Mr. Churchward made his conduct at Dovor dependent on what was done about the contract. Mr. Churchward volunteered his support, and when he heard that the Treasury would not sign until after the election, he remarked that that was rather too hard upon him. If there were any corruption, it was on the part of the Government, and he should never be able to hold up his head if he allowed the matter to stand as it did, that he and the Treasury were acquitted of corrupt and political motives, and the whole blame was thrown on Mr. Churchward. He had said so to the Committee, and he had said so all along, that if they considered he was persuaded to assent to the extension of the contract from any improper motives, he was ready to be censured by those who thought him capable of such conduct. He was ready to deny, as he did then deny most emphatically and to the utmost of his power that he had ever been actuated by any motives of the kind. But he asserted that if any inference was to be drawn from the evidence, it was, not that Mr. Churchward said, "I will do this if you will do that," but that Mr. Churchward said, "I am anxious to do this, but I think it rather hard it should be postponed, if it is to be done, for political purposes." There was in reality no occasion for any such conclusion, because what Mr. Churchward said was strictly and literally the truth,—that there was in his (Sir S. Northcote's) mind—and he expressed it— 1362 he did not know whether Mr. Churchward heard it, but it was quite possible he did—that there was in his mind a feeling that it would be better and wiser to defer taking any steps in the extension of the contract until the election was over. Sir William Jolliffe suggested to him that he should defer it until the election was over, and had said that he thought the matter one which ought not to be settled during a general election. But upon consideration he thought it fair and right that a matter which had proceeded so far, which had been put forward in the month of January, when there was no question of a general election, which had been recommended by the Admiralty when there was no question of a general election, which had been approved by the Assistant Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hamilton) and brought under his notice and discussed, should be settled then; and Mr. Churchward justly said, "Why throw the onus on me, when has been kept by official delays it until an election is pending, and why hang it up for a considerable time until this election is over?" The consequence was that the contract was proceeded with. But supposing he (Sir S. Northcote) had said, "I will not do anything," and as soon as the election was over, "Now I approve the contract;" would it not have been said that it was well understood all the time, but deferred to keep out the awkwardness of appearances? On the other hand, supposing he had disapproved, would it not have been said, "You knew you were not going to approve; you wanted to get Mr. Churchward's support; you knew he fully expected he was going to get his contract; you took care not to undeceive him; you let him do everything he could, and then threw him over." He could only take one of two courses. If he did not take the right, he must take the wrong. He did not say that he might not have been unwise in the course which he took, but he still thought that it was the right and straightforward course, and that it would have been cowardly to take any other. The matter having come before him at the time it did, and having been fully considered he thought it fair and right, whether an election was pending or not, that he should decide; but it was quite true that just at the time of this conversation with Captain Carnegie, he had made use of the expression that he did not wish to enter into the question until the election was over, and he thought 1363 it quite possible that Mr. Churchward made use of the expression that he thought it rather hard upon him. If it were not that there was so much of contradiction and confusion in the evidence, he should say that that was the true solution of what passed. He did not know whether it was or not, but he confidently maintained that there was nothing in the conversation or the expression said to have been used by Mr. Churchward which implied of necessity that Mr. Churchward was trying to drive a bargain, in the grammatical sense of the word. At the same time he was bound to say that there was a question and answer in the blue-book which appeared to give a different colour to the transaction, and he would call attention to them for the purpose of showing how the Committee was worked. He had the greatest respect for the public and private character of the hon. Member for Rochdale, the Chairman of that Committee. No one, he believed, was less willing to do injustice than that hon. Member, but the hon. Member had had no experience of the way in which legal inquiries were conducted. If this question had been put in any court of justice, it would have been instantly objected to. The witness was Captain Carnegie. Mr. Cobden asked:—The words used conveyed the impression to your mind, did they not—that there was a negotiation going on; on the one side Mr. Churchward insisting on having the contract signed before the election, and on the other side the party insisting that the support should be given to the two candidates before the election came off; was that the impression upon your mind?The witness answered, "Yes." Now, he thought that if ever there was a specimen of a leading question, that was one, and it was upon the interpretation thus put into the witness's mouth that the matter turned. He did not at the time object to the question, because he knew that in some sense he was a party accused. He had determined to object to no question, because any objection from him would appear as if he wished to stifle inquiry. But he thought it was not a fair question to put, and that the question and answer produced a false impression. But as he had said before he should certainly have felt most heartily ashamed, and he felt certain his colleagues shared with him that feeling if they had allowed it to be supposed that they were ready to ride off under the kind of acquittal given to them by the decision of the Committee, and to allow Mr. Churchward, 1364 the contractor, to be the sufferer—the innocent sufferer—in the matter. He had nothing to do with Mr. Churchward's character or former proceedings. He had to look to nothing but his proceedings in this business. He had never heard anything of that gentleman's former proceedings; but he would say that as far as this transaction was concerned, Mr. Churchward was perfectly innocent, and the House would be setting a bad precedent, and doing an act of gross injustice, if it refused to ratify the contract.
§ MR. LAING
said, that when he heard the first sentence of the hon. Baronet's (Sir S. Northcote's) speech, he hoped the hon. Baronet was about to establish a common basis of agreement upon this question, for the hon. Baronet had referred to a question put by him (Mr. Laing) as a Member of the Committee to a witness early in the proceedings of the Committee, in which he had endeavoured to define the only grounds on which it appeared to him contracts of this description when once made could be impugned. Those grounds were, that if the Government merely made a bad bargain, it was not just to the contractor that Parliament should break it; but if, on the other hand, fraud, or misrepresentation, or corrupt influence had been used or attempted, then Parliament and the Government would be free in honour to cancel the contract. He entirely adhered to the view he then expressed. He admitted the importance of preserving good faith in commercial transactions without reference to the policy of Governments, and he should place this question, as he believed the majority of the Committee had done, entirely upon the specific issue whether corrupt influence had been used or attempted by Mr. Churchward when soliciting the contract. That would at once set aside many of the arguments of the hon. Baronet who had just sat down, who, in his anxiety to vindicate his own character—which certainly, after the Report of the Committee, could not be impugned by any one—had endeavoured to show that the renewal of this contract was a most advantageous thing for the public service. If that were the ground on which the decision was to be taken, he should have had much to say in opposition to the hon. Baronet's views; for he believed, for the reasons stated in the report of the Post Office, that this was not an advantageous transaction for the country. When a contract had so long to run 1365 as to the year 1863, he held it to be undesirable to renew it without putting it up to public competition, in cases, at least where competition was possible. Renewal might be allowed where, from the circumstances of the case, there could be no effective competition; but in this case the magnitude of the contract rendered it perfectly possible to excite an active competition amongst persons possessing five or six fast boats; and beyond that, it was notorious that in the railway company alone there was an element of competition that would have secured better terms for the contract. He, however, freely admitted that the renewal was not so obviously disadvantageous to the public interest that it was necessary at once to jump to the conclusion that there was corrupt motive, and he thought the Report of the Committee showed that there was no disposition in the majority to make political capital out of this matter. Yet the hon. Baronet found fault with the Report as altered from the original draught really on the ground that the Committee had acted in that spirit, and had gone out of their way to pronounce a distinct verdict of acquittal where they thought it was justified and required. He was astonished, however, that a Gentleman of such acuteness as the hon. Baronet could not see the difference between a verdict of acquittal pronounced in regard to A for the acceptance of a bribe and a verdict of guilty against B for the offer of a bribe; because that was the whole case. It was not asserted by the Committee for a moment that the late Government accepted the tender of corrupt influence, but there was a distinct assertion by a great majority of the Committee, and one not confined to any political party, that it was proved by the evidence that Mr. Churchward did attempt to exercise corrupt influence on the Government, in the hope of obtaining the renewal of this contract. He was willing to rest the whole matter upon that ground, and upon the ground derived from the effect of the words which stated that payment was to be made out of monies to be provided by Parliament. This was not a question of law; it was a question of practice of the House of Commons. Practically no doubt the House of Commons had the power to render the renewal nugatory, and a dead letter, by refusing to vote the money for payment. The question was not whether they had the power, but whether a sufficient moral justification existed for exer- 1366 cising the power, and whether the fact that Mr. Churchward had used corrupt means did not justify the House of Commons in declining to ratify the contract. That question turned upon the narrowest possible issue—namely, the credit to be given to Captain Carnegie. Some of the Committee thought he was labouring under a misapprehension, and that the whole thing was a mare's nest. Of these the hon. and gallant Mover was one, and they naturally and consistently arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Churchward was treated with great injustice; and he (Mr. Laing) would admit that if he could take the same view of Captain Carnegie's evidence, he should come to the same conclusion in regard to Mr. Churchward. If Captain Carnegie's evidence were not to be believed, the whole case against Mr. Churchward was gone. But it was not a narrow majority who decided in favour of the credibility of that gentleman; it was a majority of eleven to four, and amongst the eleven were several gentlemen whose political bias would have inclined them to think the other way. When a question of this sort was referred to a Select Committee, which had heard witnesses vivâ voce, and were not regulated by party views in the conclusions to which they had come, he thought it would be a bad precedent for the House, which did not hear the evidence given, even if the majority of the Committee had been narrower than it really was, to upset the decision of the Committee, and come to a different conclusion on the simple issue of the credibility of the witnesses. As to the credibility of Captain Carnegie's evidence, he thought that if it were examined it would be found that this evidence did not differ from the other evidence, and therefore he differed from the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) who put the matter upon the painfulissue—whether credit was to be given to Captain Carnegie or to Mr. Murray? Mr. Murray's evidence was simply this—that he did not hear the conversation. But the recollection of Captain Carnegie was most precise and distinct as to what passed between him and Mr. Churchward in regard to the contract. He said the statement of Mr. Churchward had made a great impression on his mind, and he had the most lively recollection of it. He (Mr. Laing) then would ask the House whether, when a gentleman, an officer, and a man of honour gave this distinct answer, and was opposed by a gentleman who said that he did 1367 not recollect, it could be called a conflict of evidence? Was this evidence upon which they ought to be put into this painful position of not believing one party? The Committee censured the political indiscretion of Mr. Murray, but he, for one, most distinctly acquitted Mr. Murray of anything approaching to a want of personal honour in giving his evidence before the Committee. In his opinion the Committee found their verdict upon the evidence before them, which, in their opinion, convicted Mr. Churchward of having attempted to bribe, and Mr. Murray of serious indiscretion in his position of Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty; but the evidence not only did not affect in any way, but, indeed, distinctly acquitted the higher members of the Administration, and especially the hon. Baronet (Sir S. Northcote) who had most to do with granting the extension. Where there was evidence of condemnation the Committee found a verdict upon it; but where the evidence was for acquittal they did not hesitate, upon any consideration of what would be the more popular course, equally to do their duty in acquitting as entirely as they could gentlemen who belonged to an opposite political party to that to which the majority of the Committee belonged. They had not, in reference to the higher members of the Adminstration, pursued a course which indeed would have been unworthy of them, and insinuated in a disguised paragraph that which they dare not state openly. The point now before the House turned simply and solely upon the credibility of the evidence of Captain Carnegie. In addition to what he had already said he would state that the manner in which Captain Carnegie gave his evidence impressed, he believed, every member of the Committee with the belief that it was given with all the feelings of a man of honour and a gentleman speaking from the best of his recollection. In addition to his being contradicted only by Mr. Churchward, and not by Mr. Murray, there was much in the conduct of Captain Carnegie irreconcilable with any other idea than that he was sincere in his evidence. He sacrificed a high position and the opinion of his political friends for no apparent motive except that he believed to be true that which he asserted to the Committee. What was the substance of Captain Carnegie's evidence? Mr. Murray, in his evidence, admitted that he was in frequent communication with Captain Car- 1368 negie as to the Dovor election, and he went so far as to say that his conversations with Mr. Churchward might have been confounded in Captain Carnegie's mind with conversations on the same subject between Mr. Murray and Captain Carnegie. It was therefore clear that these conversations must have been going on for some considerable time. On the other hand, Captain Carnegie had the most distinct recollection as to what took place in reference to the contract; and if they believed his evidence, they must, as men of common sense, see that it was apparent that Mr. Churchward desired to bribe Captain Carnegie as completely as if he had sent a sum of money to a banker's, and said, "You may draw on it the day after the signature of my contract." He desired to bribe Captain Carnegie by means of his influence in the Dovor election. In considering this evidence it was not immaterial to refer to the character and antecedents of the parties. It must be remembered that Mr. Churchward, who was using the kind of language referred to in the evidence, had been reported by a Select Committee of this House as having been guilty of attempting to bribe voters on a former occasion. Besides, a Committee had since sat on the Dovor Petition, and they could not shut their eyes entirely to those passages which it was then shown took place at the Admiralty between Mr. Churchward and the parties he saw there. The Report that contained these facts had not been printed by the House; and therefore he could only take the circumstances from the accounts given in the newspapers of the day; and he took it that the Committee must have believed that evidence then given, for he found that in the report in the papers—
§ LORD LOVAINE
said, he rose to order. He submitted that it was irregular for the hon. Gentleman to read from Reports in newspapers.
§ MR. LAING
would not, under the circumstances, attempt to carry the matter further. The Report of the Committee not being printed he could not cite it, or he could only cite his general impression from what had transpired of the Report of that Committee. His impression was, that it would be found to throw a very remarkable light on Mr. Churchward, and the agents whom he employed.
said, he rose to order. The Speaker had already decided that no 1369 unauthorised Report could be referred to, and the hon. Gentleman was therefore out of order in commenting on the proceedings of the Committee.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, the hon. Member was not regular in referring to the Report before it was laid upon the table.
§ MR. LAING
said, he understood that the Report had been, in fact, upon the table, though it was not yet printed, but as it was objectionable, he had no wish to pursue this subject further, for the matter, after all, must rest upon the Report of the Contract Committee. Placing the matter, therefore, solely upon the evidence from which he had read extracts, he did not wish to weary the House with any more quotations, because, in his judgment, the question was narrowed down to this simple issue, "Do you believe Captain Carnegie's evidence?" If they did not believe it, the whole question was gone; but if they believed it, it was impossible for any man of sense to doubt that Mr. Churchward did attempt to use a political bribe at the Admiralty in order to get a renewal of his contract. They then came to this, was an attempt to exercise political bribery in regard to a matter of contract a sufficient justification, under the circumstances of the Dovor contract, for the House of Commons to take upon itself the moral responsibility of putting an end to the contract by declining to vote the requisite sums? He thought that question turned upon the construction to be put upon the words which were introduced for the first time into the Dovor contract—"out of monies to be provided by Parliament." The introduction of these words was a great novelty in a contract, for they had never been inserted before; and certainly they were not inserted on this occasion without a purpose. He found it stated, upon the highest authority, that they were not inserted as mere unmeaning verbiage, but that they had a distinct meaning in the shape of a warning to the contractor. The hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Lygon), then in an official station at the Admiralty, stated that in the contract certain words had been introduced which would have the effect of rendering the contract subject to the ratification of the House. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire stated that with regard to the contract which appeared to have excited so much alarm in the mind of the noble Lord, it might be satisfactory to him to learn that it would be 1370 in the power of the House, when called upon to vote the money proposed to be paid, to reject the contract entirely. As an additional proof that these words were not looked on as a mere matter of course, it was stated before the Committee that one of the oldest steam shipping companies in the country had refused to sign a contract with the Government which contained these unusual words. It was absolutely necessary that some provision I should be made with reference to these contracts either by giving the Government power to make the contracts irrespective of the House, or by making the contract subject to the approval of the House. He hoped that this would be adopted in future, and he believed that the insertion of these unusual words had really brought them up to this point. It came I to this, that words of this kind being introduced, and Parliament thus having, in addition to its general jurisdiction of voting money, a special jurisdiction given by words which held out to the contractors a warning that such special power existed—the question was, what course should be taken? What were they do in such a case as this? It was not a case for inflicting a severe and ruinous penalty on the party, because, even if the worst came to the worst, Mr. Churchward had got his contract until 1863.
§ MR. LAING
The course proposed to be taken by the Government in reference to this contract was a very clear one. The House refused last Session to vote the money under the contract now in question, and he supposed that the Government could not properly have taken on itself to reverse the decision of the House of Commons.
§ MR. LAING
The Government could not, after the refusal of the House of Commons, pay the money in the face of such decision; for, if they had done so, they would have rendered themselves, no doubt, personally liable. What the Government said to Mr. Churchward was this: "If the renewal of your contract should be set aside by a refusal to vote the money, inasmuch as you would not have abandoned the old contract except on the prospect of getting a renewal, the Government would have no wish to take away that which you held previously, and you may 1371 therefore stand in the same position as you would have done if this had not taken place." There was, therefore, a contract at £15,000 a year running up to 1863, and the Government said, "You may send in your bill by the piece for any other services performed." Upon this footing the contract was going on up to the present moment, and, in a pecuniary light, he believed it would make no difference to the Government or to Mr. Churchward, until 1863; for the extra services would amount to much about the same sum as under the contract—£2,500. At the end of 1863 Mr. Churchward would be in as good a position as any one else, able to compete with others, or his contract might be renewed from year to year until the Government chose to call for new tenders. Upon these facts, he repeated that the punishment was not severe. On the other hand, the adoption of the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire would practically amount to a reversal of the decision of the Select Committee, and to a renewal of the contract until 1868. What would be the moral effect, after all that was made known by the evidence before the Committee, of Mr. Churchward going scot free? Contractors were practical men, with a practical turn of mind; and how would they look at this case? They would set down on one side that Mr. Churchward being a business man had obtained a contract by an unusual proceeding—a contract which the Post Office, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the chief clerk of the Department were against, thereby rendering Mr. Churchward's case apparently desperate; and, on the other side, they would set down that being in that desperate position, he had attempted to resort to Parliamentary bribery [Cries of "Oh, oh!"]—he said that unless the evidence could be impugned, Mr. Churchward did attempt to resort to Parliamentary bribery, and the result of that proceeding was to get a renewed contract in spite of all adverse circumstances. Now, he would ask the House whether they thought that would be a result consistent with the dignity and the interest of Parliament. They heard a great deal in that House about bribery and corruption at elections. They had been told over and over again that they were not in earnest in the matter, and that if they were in earnest they would punish not only the bribed but the briber. Why should not that principle be applied to a far more im- 1372 portant case? Contracts for the public service involved far more of the public welfare than questions whether A or B should be returned for a particular borough, or whether a candidate had been elected in consequence of a deeper purse and deeper potations of beer. When scandalous whispers were abroad with regard to the manner in which public contracts were given, the character of public men was injured and the most prejudicial effects were produced. It was the proud boast of England that the character of her public departments was pure. All was believed to be honest, straightforward, and above-board. Let them look at what had taken place in the United States of America. It was only the other day that a Committee called the Corruption Committee was appointed there in consequence of the bribery that was used in obtaining public contracts. It was of importance that the House of Commons should make a stand against such practices as that which was now under consideration, and should, when a person attempted to exercise corrupt influence, deny him, if they had the power under the words of the contract, that reward he sought to obtain. It was of the highest importance that the House should not shrink from supporting its Committee, unless it thought, by reference to the evidence, that the Committee was wrong in the conclusion at which it had arrived.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he was not connected in any way with the late Government, but he wished to know whether public faith was to be observed in reference to this contract, upon which it was sought to cast a stigma. This being something of a judicial matter, he regretted that the judges who were now present to hear it were only about fifty in number, while those who would decide it at a later hour of the evening would probably be some 200 or 300. He came to the consideration of this matter without any party bias, as he believed he had never seen Mr. Churchward but once in his life. Mr. Churchward, it was well known, had before the year 1854 been long connected with the public press. He had devoted his attention to a particular department—that of naval affairs, and it was agreed on all hands that he was a man of great information upon that subject. At that time the packet service between Dovor and Calais cost the country £25,000 a year, and Mr. Churchward suggested to the Government that it would be desirable 1373 that the service should be done by tender, and not by the Government boats. The Government adopted the suggestion. He then tendered for the service himself, and his being the lowest tender it was accepted at £15,500. The tender having been accepted, a contract was entered into with him and signed on the 1st of April, 1854, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir J. Graham) being then at the head of the Admiralty. It was, therefore, entered into not by a Conservative Government but by a Liberal Government, of which the noble Lord was a Member. That contract was worked to the satisfaction of the Government until 1855, when Mr. Churchward, as was usual in such cases, entered into a further contract with the French Government, to which, of course, the Government of England could make no objection, seeing that it enabled Mr. Churchward to bring back his vessels full and not empty. In 1855, also, Mr. Churchward applied for the renewal of the contract, on the ground of loss by one of his vessels and the great expense he had been put to, and the Government of 1855, under which the right hon. Member for Halifax was the First Lord of the Admiralty, renewed the contract, with the full knowledge of Mr. Churchward's contract with the French Government. That contract was for £15,500, with certain collateral advantages for extra services, amounting to about £2,500 per annum. After that came the Crimean war and the Indian rebellion. The Indian mail, in consequence, became very heavy, and Mr. Churchward put himself to great inconvenience and expense in having special vessels ready to take the Indian mail whenever it should arrive. Mr. Churchward, in this respect, acted to the entire satisfaction of the Government of the day, and in consequence of this, and of having suggested great improvements in the postal service, by which the mails were greatly accelerated, the Government of Lord Derby, in the early part of 1859, entered into the contract now in dispute, and he (Mr. Malins), begged the House to look at the dates of the transaction. The House would bear in mind that the Government of the Earl of Derby was considered in no danger before the middle of March, 1859. It was not until that time that the noble Lord the Member for the City proposed his adverse vote, which ultimately had the effect of turning out the Government. But it was towards the end of 1858 that Mr. 1374 Churchward first mooted the question of an extension of his contract, which would otherwise have expired in the year 1863. He was admitted to be an intelligent, active, diligent man, and, being anxious to make the postal service between the two countries effective, to do which a greater expenditure on his part would be necessary, he opened a communication with the Government of the day. That communication would have been made equally to the Government of the noble Lord if he had then been in office, and the fact of a Conservative Government being in power had nothing to do with the question. It was on the 6th of January, 1859, that he made a formal application to the Government for a renewal of his contract. His then contract had about four years to run. But he found it necessary to build additional packets for the service, and he naturally said, "A short contract will not pay me." Besides which, the French Government refused to make a contract for less than fifteen years, which would carry him up to 1870. Mr. Churchward had therefore two objects in view. One was to make a contract commensurate with the one he had entered into with France and Belgium, and the other to have such a contract as he commercially would be warranted in entering into. With these two objects in view, on the 6th of January, 1859, he applied for a renewal of his contract. That application was answered by the Government in a Treasury Minute on the 3rd of February, and on the 11th of February Mr. Churchward was invited by the Admiralty to make a formal offer of terms for the proposed contract. The House would bear in mind that under Mr. Churchward's old contract he received £15,500 a year and the casual services. The renewed, contract was for £15,500, with the addition of £2,500 a year for the extra service, making £18,000 a year, undertaking at the same time to build two new steam-boats. The proposal was made on the 11th of February, and the Admiralty formally accepted it on the 23rd of February, and nothing remained to be done but the mere machinery of form. He (Mr. Malins) would ask whether, if a contract of that nature had been made between individuals, it would not have been considered to all intents complete and binding upon the parties. Now when did the conversation with Captain Carnegie take place? Why, on the 1st or the 2nd of April. And what was Mr. Church- 1375 ward's position on that occasion? He had then entered into a contract for two steam-boats at a cost of £16,000, which had since been built, and were running in the service. One of those boats, the William Penn, was one of the finest boats ever built, and was doing the passage between Dovor and Calais in an hour and twenty minutes. What was Mr. Churchward's position during the whole month of March? The division adverse to the Earl of Derby's Government did not take place until the 31st of March. The contract had been entered into, and it was only waiting to be put in writing. The conversation with Captain Carnegie did not take place until the 2nd of April, and the 26th of April, four or five days before the borough elections, the contract was positively executed—the instrument was signed, sealed, and delivered, which gave to Mr. Churchward this contract up to 1870. But did the matter rest there? Not only was the contract signed, sealed, and delivered, but on the 1st of July, when the first subsidy became payable, the Government of the noble Lord having come into office, that Government acted on the contract by paying Mr. Churchward £4,500, the first quarter's payment. Now, the question the House had to decide was whether a contract so concluded and so acted upon was to be set aside upon the ridiculous suggestion of political influence which had been advanced? This was a case in which the public faith was involved, and unless there was an overwhelming case of public justice this contract ought to be abided by. This was no party question. Public contracts entered into by the Government ought not to be lightly disregarded. He utterly repudiated the doctrine held by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth, and the Secretary for the Treasury, that when a contract was entered into for the discharge of public services, and contained the words, "out of money to be voted by Parliament," it was intended to have no effect unless Parliament afterwards voted the money. When the Secretary for the Treasury used that argument he would ask him if the Government urged that vote on the attention of Parliament? Did they propose it as a Vote that public faith required to be passed? Would the hon. Gentleman tell him that if the Government had come down to the House and submitted a Vote for a contract, and had said that public faith required that the contract should be carried into 1376 effect, that House would have refused to sanction it? That House was never found inclined to disregard public faith. The head of the Government should be more cautious in adopting the principle of repudiation, for if this were a contract with a private individual no doubt as to its validity could exist. He appealed to any gentleman with legal knowledge, to the hon. Member for Suffolk, and to the law officers of the Crown, whether, if a similar, contract existed between Mr. Churchward and any person in private life, such flimsy pretences would be permitted to set it aside. It was admitted that he had given his time and attention, and had been induced to spend his money, on the faith of this contract; but because he had held a conversation which hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench disapproved they sought utterly to repudiate that agreement. Between individuals such an excuse would be contemptible—it would not bear investigation for a moment; but when urged on behalf of the Crown it was all-powerful, because for an individual to assert his rights in opposition to the power of the Crown was next to impossible. He was not personally acquainted with Captain Carnegie, and after the statement which he had given of his own conduct he had no great desire to be so. It appeared that he had been selected to fill the vacant post of Lord of the Admiralty, and in consequence of that appointment, as the Government were naturally anxious that the department should be more fully represented, it was intimated that he ought to take the earliest opportunity of obtaining a seat in the House. Would anybody say that this was an improper condition, or one that ought not to have been imposed? Subsequent to this the conversation with Mr. Churchward, which had been so often read to the House, took place. Giving credit to Captain Carnegie for perfect accuracy, if he believed that the proposals made to him in that conversation were of an improper character, ought he not to have gone to the head of the department, made him acquainted with the fact, and inquired whether it was by his authority that these proposals had been made? But, instead of doing so, he resigned his office on the 6th of April, this conversation having taken place on the 2nd, and in a debate which subsequently occurred he authorized a right hon. Geutleman—now a noble Lord—to state to the House that he had taken that step in consequence of certain 1377 proposals which were distasteful to him, and which he thought inconsistent with his position as a gentleman. He also wrote a letter in which the impression was plainly conveyed to the country that communications had passed between himself and the members of the Board of Admiralty, and that he had resigned because he was asked to stand for Dovor on principles which he considered to be of a derogatory character. But in his examination before the Committee, Captain Carnegie was compelled to admit that the real reason why he declined to stand for Dovor was because he had some hopes of supplanting the hon. and learned Member for Youghal. He declared his belief that the proposals made by Mr. Churchward were of an improper character, yet he admitted that he had never communicated them to the First Lord of the Treasury, nor to any of the officials. Captain Carnegie was an officer and a gentleman, and because he was an officer he presumed his testimony was to be preferred to that of Mr. Churchward; but when, by his own statement, he had been guilty of conduct such as had been described, he confessed he could attach very little importance to his evidence. Did he not, he would ask, owe a duty to his colleagues? Was he at liberty, having accepted office, to throw of all allegiance, and to take a step calculated to embarrass the Government of which he was a Member? He was not, he stated, aware at the time of the interview with Mr. Churchward that the contract had passed out of the hands of the Admiralty five weeks previously. Could the House, therefore, fancy a man resigning an important office to which he had just been appointed, bringing himself and the Government with which he was connected into ridicule by imagining proposals which had never been made to him, and making these the ground of resignation without notice given to a single Member of the Department? It was plain that Mr. Churchward's anxiety in April was to have his contract completed, that he might be enabled to proceed at once to carry out its stipulations. At that very time Mr. Churchward had promised his support to the hon. Member for Dovor (Mr. Nicol), who now assured him (Mr. Malins) that the subject of the contract was never mentioned to him. Without intending to impute anything like wilful mis-statement to Captain Carnegie, the variance of recol- 1378 lection might be explained, as Mr. Murray had suggested that it might be, by the difficulty there was for even the most accurate minds to remember conversations in the order in which they occurred. He (Mr. Malins) had spent his life among Judges and in courts, and had often found this to be the case; but without attributing to Captain Carnegie any desire otherwise than to state the truth, he believed he had fallen into confusion in making his statement. Had it been Mr. Churchward's object, however, to exercise any improper influence it was impossible to suppose that he would select Captain Carnegie, who was hardly warm in his seat at the Admiralty, and who would be the last man he would go to. He would rather go to the political department and the more important heads; but Captain Carnegie had confused the facts, and had arrived at erroneous conclusions. Mr. Murray was asked if his recollection was quite distinct that nothing passed between Mr. Churchward and Captain Carnegie with reference to the contract, and replied in the negative. Captain Carnegie contradicted Mr. Murray on that point, but there was a third person present, Mr. Churchward, and he (Mr. Malins), after all that had been said of that gentleman, was totally at a loss to discover anything that rendered him an impeachable witness. The Secretary of the Treasury, in a tone he hardly expected, and wanting in his usual generosity, had made it a charge against Mr. Churchward that in a Report of a Committee of that House it was stated that in 1852 he bribed two electors. Every one knew how much might be said about Reports of that kind, but the best answer to the charge was that Mr. Churchward had denied that charge upon oath. Even if it were true, surely no one would say that because in the heat of a past election a man may have committed such an offence, that, therefore, he was never afterwards to be believed upon his solemn declaration. He could not agree with the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring) in the grounds on which he thought public contracts ought to be repudiated. The right hon. Gentleman was generally so just and equitable in his treatment of questions before the House, that it was a matter of regret he should have exhibited so much ardour on the present occasion. The contract in question had been concluded and acted on, and value had been given on the one side and received on the 1379 other; and he would ask whether it was not perfectly clear on the face of the transaction, that in the offer made by Mr. Churchward on the one side and accepted by Government on the other, everything was complete at the time except the mere formalities of carrying the contract into effect, and whether, had it been a contract with an individual, it would not have been impossible for him to have escaped. Suppose, between the 26th of April and the time that this contract was repudiated in October, there had been a breach of its conditions on the part of Mr. Churchward, would they not have sued Mr. Churchward? The Secretary to the Treasury said that no injustice would be done to Mr. Churchward, because he was thrown back upon his contract of 1855, which had yet three years to run; but had the Government wanted to sue him, on what contract could they have done it? Why on the contract of 1859, for they could not have done it on the contract of 1855, which was uprooted and gone. What, then, did the Secretary of the Treasury mean by saying that Mr. Churchward was thrown back upon his contract of 1855 and that no injustice was done him, and how did he intend to remunerate Mr. Churchward for the £16,000 he had expended on two new steam vessels on the faith of the last contract? What then was the inference to be drawn from this casual conversation as reported in the evidence—he would not say evidence, for it was degrading the word to call it evidence, it was the mere gossip of the Secretary's room. And was this gossip to be entertained by the House or a Committee of the House, although contradicted by Mr. Murray, a man of as large honour as Captain Carnegie. Looking at the probabilities of the case, he was totally at a loss to find any motive that could actuate Mr. Churchward in making any such proposal as that described by Captain Carnegie, who was scarcely warm in his seat at the Admiralty, and who was the last man to go into the matter, and he would appeal to the justice of the House whether this treatment of Mr. Churchward was fair; and whether it was right to let off the greater delinquents in connection with these contracts? He would ask whether, on such gossip and tittle-tattle, they were determined to adopt for the first time the course of withdrawing the Estimate for this service, upon the pretence of public grounds. Was it fair to Mr. Churchward to say—We repudiate 1380 your contract; we know you have gone into a great expenditure, and that if you do not have your contract, fulfilled you may be a ruined man, but that is unimportant to us. There was a Government opposed to us. You had influence for that Government, and although we are now strong, having vanquished that Government, yet recollecting the petty efforts made by you against us, we, on the part of the British Government, repudiate all these solemn engagements. Public faith is nothing to us. It makes no difference whether it ruins you or not. We repudiate your contract; if your ruin is the consequence we care not. Public faith is nothing to us provided we can vindicate our principle and establish our own point.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wallingford (Mr. Malins) had, in the course of his address, besides the general remarks he made on the case of Mr. Churchward, laid down certain propositions of law, and appealed in terms to the law officers apparently anticipating their support in favour of those propositions. His learned Friend had directed attention to the dates of the various transactions under consideration. Those dates were useful, and he (the Solictor General) adopted them; but he demurred entirely to the conclusion which his learned Friend asked the House to draw from them. The case appeared to stand thus:—Mr. Churchward had a contract with the Admiralty, which would not have expired until 1863, and early in the year 1859 he made a proposal to the Admiralty to replace that contract by a new one, on terms somewhat different and more advantageous to himself, and which was to last for a longer period. He (the Solicitor General) assumed that early in that year the proposal of Mr. Churchward was approved of by the Admiralty, and that their approval was forwarded to the Treasury for consideration there. At that time the Treasury had not expressed their approbation of the proposal, and, moreover,—what would have been Mr. Churchward's safeguard—the contract in point of form had not been ratified, and he (the Solicitor General) was disposed to rely on the absence of any binding acceptance of the contract on the part of the Treasury. Mr. Churchward was a man not inexperienced in contracts, and must have known the importance of the want of the ratification by the Treasury. Under these circumstances there 1381 was an intelligible reason why Mr. Churchward should seek to obtain by corrupt means the object which he had in view. But it fortunately happened, for the interests of public justice and political morality, that in this very contract there was a stipulation which provided that periodical payments should from time to time be made to Mr. Churchward out of moneys voted by Parliament. Into this contract Mr. Churchward entered with his eyes open. The stipulation was a binding one, and no complaint could be made by him if the payments provided for were not made to him in consequence of that House refusing to vote the money, for, in that case, by the very letter of the contract, the payments must cease. It would be a violation of duty on the part of the Government if, in the face of an adverse opinion by Parliament, they were still to attempt to carry out the contract. The question before them was whether the conclusion which the Committee had arrived at was to be reversed by a vote of that House, and he contended that the House ought not lightly to disturb the finding of any Committee. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Malins) said the Government ought not to endeavour to avoid a contract except upon grounds that would be tenable in the case of a contract between two private individuals. He agreed with him in that statement, but he denied that there could be any reasonable application of the rule to the present case. If this had been a private matter no such conduct as Mr. Churchward was said to have been guilty of could have occurred, for his corrupt conduct sprung from the public nature of the contract he was seeking to renew. He was seeking a contract from the Government, and he attempted to corrupt officers connected with the Government, in order to obtain it. But though public or political matters could not have sprung out of a contract between two individuals, his hon. and learned Friend must be familiar with the doctrine that in the case of a private contract, if the inducements to it were illegal or contra bonos mores against the statute or common law, that contract would be null. If this payment had been made to Mr. Churchward with a full knowledge of all the circumstance of the case, and after the Report of the Select Committee, he should have felt bound to admit that this circumstance might be urged in Mr. Churchward's favour. But this was not the case. 1382 The payment was made at the very moment of the change of Government, and before the reference to the Select Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had referred to the dates, but they only showed that Mr. Churchward had obtained an advantage which he ought never to have had. It was also said, that owing to the mere accident that this was a dispute between an individual and the Government, Mr. Churchward would be deprived of the legal ordinary remedy. If Mr. Churchward had suffered a wrong in a matter of contract with the Crown and its officers, he denied that he was without a remedy in a court of law. He could not bring the same kind of action as if a private individual were concerned, and he might have to submit to a somewhat cumbrous and dilatory mode of proceeding, but when a payment became due he might proceed by a petition of right for its recovery, and every facility would be given him by the law officers of the Crown to bring the matter before any one of the courts of law. Therefore, unless the withholding the vote by the House of Commons were held to be a defence to the action, no Resolution of the House of Commons would impede Mr. Churchward's remedy. He had carefully perused the evidence of Captain Carnegie, Mr. Churchward, and above all of Mr. Murray, and he had come to the conclusion that the Select Committee were warranted in finding that Mr. Churchward had sought to obtain a matter of practical advantage by means that were to be reprobated, and which would tend to Parliamentary corruption. Believing Mr. Churchward to have been guilty of the misconduct imputed to him by the Committee, he felt it impossible by a vote in favour of the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member to reverse the decision at which that Committee had arrived.
§ LORD LOVAINE
, having held an official situation at the Admiralty at the time, should not be doing his duty if he did not say a few words on this Motion. The right hon. Baronet opposite had not in his statement made a disclosure of the real facts of the case. He had stated that in 1855 the contract was renewed, and that in 1857 the renewal was again sought. [Sir P. BARING: "I said the application for certain extra services was refused."] The right hon. Gentleman stated that Mr. Churchward had received an allowance for the extra services he had rendered, the 1383 claim for which had been rejected by the predecessors of the Government. He ought to have informed the House that this allowance had been paid under the advice of the law officers of the Admiralty, who adjudged, if his (Lord Lovaine's) memory did not deceive him, that the contractor was equitably, if not legally, entitled to be paid for his additional services. [Sir F. T. BARING: "Where is that in the evidence?"] He affirmed the fact. Mr. Churchward's claim was referred to the Post Office, which also held that he was entitled to remuneration, and he was paid accordingly. Mr. Churchward, under these circumstances, came to the Admiralty with a greater claim for the renewal of his contract than he had before. He thought Mr. Churchward had some slight claim also in the fact that the previous Admiralty had saddled him with the purchase of three vessels which were almost useless, but for which he had to pay a large sum of money. Then the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Laing) had stated that at the expiration of the first extension of the contract, in 1863, tenders for the performance of the service might again be made, and that it might, under such a competition, pass into other hands. That was no doubt true. But he doubted whether even the elastic consciences of hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench would have thought that a contractor like Mr. Churchward was entitled to no consideration whatever. Then it was said that Mr. Churchward had also a contract with France. It appeared to him, however, that it signified extremely little to the House whether another Power had the use of any of his vessels, considering that our Government had the means of enforcing their claim on them at any moment. It was not such an unusual thing for a contractor to do so, and he believed the Pacific Steam Company did exactly the same. In the present instance it should also be remembered the Admiralty had insisted on the contractor maintaining three vessels allowed to be useless. The Secretary to the Treasury had been, he thought, somewhat reticent in his observations as to the South-Eastern Railway. No one was better acquainted with railway matters than the hon. Gentleman; and he must surely be aware that the object of the South-Eastern Company was to run Churchward off the line, to create a perfect monopoly of the whole passenger traffic with Belgium and France for themselves, 1384 and then avail themselves of the opportunity of laying whatever burdens they liked on the public to recruit their finances. He should like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he could give them some idea of what it would be worth to the South-Eastern Company to monopolize this line, when there was another line with contrary interests running down to Dovor, and an amalgamation, sooner or later, between the two lines was inevitable. Perhaps, too, after the charges that had been levelled against the late Government, he would excuse him for asking further whether the political influence of the company had nothing to do with the matter. Were the question to be argued, there would be some difficulty in removing the suspicion that the verdict against Mr. Churchward was altogether unconnected with party feeling, It struck him that the observation might possibly be made, that all the Gentlemen on one side of the Committee belonged to the same party in the House, while those on the other side did not always vote in harmony; and that, supposing Mr. Churchward's conversion to have been the other way, he might have found more favour in the eyes of his judges. It was impossible to exclude a certain amount of partiality from such Committees; and it was therefore the more important, when they had to deal with the property and character of individuals, that the evidence given before them should be on oath and be real evidence. Not one word of the evidence that was to convict Mr. Churchward was on oath, and yet it was proposed to forfeit his property and destroy his character without giving him the common rights to which the basest of his countrymen was entitled. As to Captain Carnegie's evidence, he could not conceive why the evidence of Mr. Churchward and Mr. Murray in that case should not be held to counterbalance that of Captain Carnegie. He did not charge that officer with having spoken untruth, but he must say his whole testimony was given in a confused and extraordinary manner, which rendered it very unsatisfactory. Above all, he thought Captain Carnegie's conduct to his colleagues deserving of the highest reprobation. Captain Carnegie suspected his colleagues of unfair and corrupt practices, yet he conversed and consulted with them on different points, without ever hinting what was passing through his mind. Was that conduct to be expected from an officer, sitting at a board of gentlemen of high 1385 honour and character, whom he was bound to believe as sensitive and tenacious on any point of honour as himself? Was he justified in jumping at once to the conclusion that they were actuated by corrupt motives, without ever giving himself the trouble to inquire into the matter? He must say he thought Captain Carnegie had treated his colleagues in a most unfair manner indeed. He had only to apply to any one of them to have learnt at once how the contract stood, and whether there was anything in the matter involving his honour. Reading the gallant Officer's evidence, it was not difficult to see that the object uppermost in his mind was to get some pretext for not standing for Dovor. He could only say that if on evidence such as had been brought before the Committee, evidence too not given on oath, men's property and character were to be sacrificed, the sooner the House left off the practice of appointing Select Committees to adjudicate on those matters the better it would be both for them and the country.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, the noble Lord had directed accusations against the personal honour of Captain Carnegie; and the hon. and learned Member for Wallingford had also used expressions in reference to that officer on which he (Lord C. Paget) wished to offer a few observations to the House. He was not going to enter at all into the general question; but it did so happen that, from peculiar circumstances, he was able to give some explanation of the conduct of Captain Carnegie in that affair. Captain Carnegie had been for many years an acquaintance of his; they had served together; and although they had always held opposite opinions in politics, he had looked upon that gentleman as one of the most high-minded brother officers with whom he had the pleasure of being acquainted. Very soon after the transaction referred to had taken place at Dovor, Captain Carnegie came to him and asked him as an older officer for his opinion and advice. That was long before there had been any question of a Committee or public inquiry, and he pledged his honour that the words which he was about to mention were, as nearly as he could recollect, those which had actually been used, and he had a very vivid recollection of the conversation which had passed between him and Captain Carnegie. That officer came to him just after the general election, and, while 1386 he exonerated the right hon. Baronet the Member for Droitwich from any participation in the extraordinary proceedings which had taken place between him and Mr. Murray and Mr. Churchward, he stated that he was placed in a very painful position—that he had met Mr. Murray and Mr. Churchward in one of the rooms of the Admiralty, that certain proposals had been made to him to which he felt it was quite impossible to accede with regard to his going to stand for Dovor, and that those proposals were of such a nature that "they would get them all into a scrape." The Government, he stated, must be injured by thorn if they should be carried into effect, and his own character in particular would be gone for ever. Captain Carnegie certainly did not profess any extra amount of honesty in regard to political transactions, for he said to him that he did not pretend to be particularly mealy-mouthed, and was ready to go with his party and make any exertions for them; but he felt that the course proposed would get them all into a very serious scrape, and that it was one which if he adopted his personal character would be gone for ever. [Sir JOHN PAKINGTON: When was that?] It was just after he (Lord Clarence Paget) returned to town from the general election, and before there was any question of the Committee. Afterwards, when it became evident that he would be called on to give evidence before the Committee, he came to him again, and said, "I have the most earnest desire to state nothing that would in any way damage my party; I ask you whether I am not justified in that proceeding." And he there and then told him (Captain Carnegie) he thought he would be perfectly justified, in not giving any evidence whatever before the Committee, not wrung from him, which would damage his party. Captain Carnegie, so far from, deserving to have his conduct described, as he believed the noble Lord described it, as ungentlemanlike—
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he should be very glad to receive from the noble Lord some qualification of that very offensive expression.
§ LORD LOVAINE
We always ought, if we can, to be correct. What I said was, that it was unfair to his colleagues.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, he was glad that the noble Lord so far retracted that expression. He wished to 1387 make it clear to the House that what Captain Carnegie stated to him was exactly what he stated to the Committee, and that his statement was not trumped up, as the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to imagine.
§ MR. MALINS
said, the noble Lord had entirely misunderstood him. He had taken pains to explain that, exonerating Captain Carnegie from the intention of misrepresenting, yet it was very common for men of the most acute minds to be confused in their recollection.
§ LORD CLARENCE PAGET
said, that he had a very distinct recollection of what Captain Carnegie said to him, and on comparing it with the evidence given by Captain Carnegie it was precisely the same. He believed, conscientiously, that Captain Carnegie's conduct from first to last had been most fair and honourable.
§ LORD LOVAINE
said, he wished to put the matter in the clearest light. When he commented on Captain Carnegie's conduct, it was with regard, to his colleagues, and his colleagues only. When Captain Carnegie knew, or thought he knew, of something wrong, he made no representation to any one of his colleagues, and left an imputation to rest on them when the whole matter might have been cleared up.
§ SIR FITZROY KELLY
said, he was sure that no one could impugn the motives of the Secretary to the Admiralty in the few words which he had addressed to the House, and if Captain Carnegie were then upon his trial, they would have been undoubtedly most appropriate; but even then he (Sir FitzRoy Kelly), as an independent Member of the House, should have demanded that which had been denied to Mr. Churchward, a fair hearing and a fair trial, and he would have been no party to a vote condemning Captain Carnegie without a trial. He rejoiced that at last, in the course of this debate, a law officer of the Crown had been induced to address the House. He had heard with surprise much that had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend, and he hoped that, before the discussion terminated, he should also hear his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General; because he would confidently appeal to every man of business and common understanding, as well as to the bar of England, to say whether, if this had been a contract between any private individual and Mr. Churchward, and all the circumstances which had taken place 1388 and which had been established by the Committee, had occurred, and an action had been brought on that contract by Mr. Churchward, there would have been the slightest shadow of a defence. He felt it to be his duty to call the attention of the House to the circumstances under which this contract had been made, and to what had been done under it, and done with the full knowledge and at the instance of Her Majesty's Government—one of the contracting parties, down to the moment when they thought fit not to repudiate but refuse to perform the contract of which they had received the entire benefit. The speech of his hon. and gallant Friend (Captain Leicester Vernon) involved one or two of the most important questions that could be submitted to the consideration of the House; and one of those questions was whether it was consistent with the constitution and the laws of this country, that the House of Commons should assume to itself the function and jurisdiction of a court of law, and proceed to set aside and annul a contract that had been entered into under the hands and seals of the contracting parties, and that, by an act which would not release both parties from their obligations, and place them at least in the same condition as if the contract had never been made; but whether in the case of a contract under seal, entered into between a department of the Government and one of Her Majesty's subjects, and under which the Government contracted to pay £18,000 a year, and after all had been done in faithful performance of that contract by the other contracting party, this House had right and jurisdiction to dissolve that contract and refuse payment for services which had been duly and faithfully performed. Formerly these contracts were in the hands of the Post Office, but after a time it was thought expedient to transfer the functions of the Post Office to the Board of Admiralty. With the wisdom or inexpediency of that arrangement the House had nothing to do now; but after this had taken place, in the year 1854, Mr. Churchward entered into a contract with the authorities of the Admiralty for conveying the mails between Dovor and Calais and Dovor and Ostend. Now, they had the high authority of the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. Osborne) himself, once Secretary to the Admiralty, and once Member for Dovor, that, by entering into these contracts, not less than £10,000 a 1389 year was saved to the Government, and he (Sir FitzRoy Kelly) ventured to say that, from the first hour when Mr. Churchward put his hand and seal to any one of these contracts down to the present moment, he had strictly and faithfully in all things, at great sacrifices and sometimes under severe losses, performed the contract, and no man could say that at any moment, under whatever provocation or loss, he had departed in the slightest degree from the strict line of his duty to the Government under these contracts. In 1855, when many of those who now occupied the Treasury bench were in power, the Board of Admiralty and Mr. Churchward, upon grounds which were at least thought sufficient by the Board, came to an agreement for extending the period of the contract, without very materially altering its terms, from the year 1858, when it would naturally expire, until 1863. The original contract being annulled, Mr. Churchward, under the extended contract, provided the requisite number of vessels to carry the mails and perform the conditions of his contract until the end of the year 1858, or the beginning of 1859. He had also in the meantime entered into a contract with the French Government for the conveyance of the French mails for a somewhat lengthened period of time, expiring in 1870, and he felt that if he could continue the contract with the British Government for the same period, he would be enabled the better to discharge his duty and provide for the public service in both countries; in fact, to be able to give to both Governments more of money's worth for the money they were to pay under their respective agreements. There were other reasons also why he thought it would be of mutual advantage to himself and the Government. Accordingly, he applied to the Board of Admiralty for a further extension of time; and in the petition which he had presented to the House, he set forth the letter upon which the Government were induced to take the matter into their consideration, and in consequence of which, after conferring with him, and maturely considering the advantages and disadvantages of what was proposed, the Admiralty in February, 1859, came to the conclusion that it would be advantageous to agree to a further extension of the contract. Every commercial man knew perfectly well that from that moment Mr. Churchward must have felt satisfied that it was a mere question of time as to when 1390 the contract was to be executed, and that the approval of the Admiralty signified to him after due consideration of the details, made it as safe as if the preliminary agreement had been signed. It was well known, too, that it was the practice of the Admiralty to submit these contracts to the Treasury for its approval before they were executed. Communications, therefore, took place between Mr. Churchward and the Admiralty, and afterwards between the Admiralty and the Treasury, and Mr. Churchward and the Treasury, and the result was, that on the 26th of April last year, the contract was executed. Under that contract, instead of £15,500 a year, the Government were to pay £18,000 a year; and, instead of the arrangement which had been made for what were called special services between Dovor and Calais and Dover and Ostend, a different arrangement, upon different terms, was come to, and introduced into the contract; and it was agreed that a special service vessel should be provided to carry the Indian mails from Calais to Dovor whenever they happened to arrive after the departure of the ordinary mails. But, besides all this, there was an express and special stipulation that Mr. Churchward should, at an expense of £2,000, procure or purchase a new small steam vessel in order to dispense with what had been the cause of much danger and mischief—the occasional conveyance of the mails in a small boat from the ship to the harbour of Calais at low water. Accordingly, when the contract had been entered into, Mr. Churchward from that moment proceeded, in all good faith, and without sparing time, or pains, or money, to fulfil the contract on his part. Since that time—and the fact had been represented to the Government, who knew that it was true although they disregarded it as if it were not—he had, in the performance of this new and special stipulation in the contract, laid out £2,000 in the purchase of this steam vessel. He had also laid out between £4,000 and £5,000 upon the steam factory which he was carrying on at Dovor, in order to facilitate and improve the performance of his contracts. He had laid out, besides, not less than £15,000 in supplying for the performance of the contract, the best, most effective, and fastest steam vessels that had ever navigated the sea between England and France. This Mr. Churchward had done; and he perfectly relied upon the honour—he would not say the 1391 honesty, because it would not become him (Sir F. Kelly) to use the term—but Mr. Churchward, in what he had done, relied upon the honour and good faith of the country; he had performed his contract till the month of July, when the first payment under the contract became due, and he then sent in his account to the Admiralty for the sum to which he was entitled. At that time the late Government had ceased to exist, and the present Government had come into power, and were perfectly acquainted with all the circumstances. On the 1st of July they paid Mr. Churchward the first instalment due under the contract, and left him to go on in the discharge of his part of it; this continued for three months. Meantime, half of the sums he (Sir FitzRoy Kelly) had referred to, amounting to £20,000 and upwards, had been expended by Mr. Churchward and those associated with him; and towards the close of September he sent in the statement of the account, and demanded the sum of £4,500, the quarterly payment which was due. It was on the 1st of October, four months after the Government had come into power, and what was far more important, two months nearly after the Packet Contract Committee had made its Report, and yet the Government allowed Mr. Churchward to go on expending nearly £1,000 a month, never thinking that any objection could or would be made to the contract—that Mr. Churchward received a communication from the department of the Government charged with the administration of the packet service. The answer was dated October 1, and stated that the Lords of the Admiralty begged to acquaint Mr. Churchward that the contract of April 26, entered into by him for the conveyance of the Dovor and Calais mails, was under the consideration of the House of Commons. And he would, at this point, observe that, according to the doctrine of the Solicitor General, a contractor might go on expending thousands of pounds under a contract, and yet when he asked for payment, with as much confidence as a tradesman would ask for his bill, according to the terms of the contract, be subject to be met with an answer like this.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he had not stated that a vote of the House was a condition precedent to the payment of the money. He stated that if the House, on the matter being brought to its notice, refused to vote the money, that 1392 would form a sufficient ground of objection.
§ SIR FITZROY KELLY
said, the House had never refused to vote the money. He asked whether that was the way in which one of Her Majesty's subjects, who had entered into a contract, the breach of which might be ruinous to a man not possessed of large capital, was to be treated—was he to be met by the argument that the contract was to be in the power of the House of Commons, of which he (Sir FitzRoy Kelly) hoped he might say, without offence, that votes in it were given upon party grounds, and that many might vote that very night who had heard nothing of the debate. He contended, in the first place, that no vote of the House was necessary, and in the next place that the House had no more right, under the constitution of the country, to defeat the full performance of this contract by the Board of Admiralty, than it had to meddle with the estate of any hon. Gentleman then present. In the communication to which he had referred, Mr. Churchward was further requested to be kind enough to present his account up to September, based on the former contract, and was told that an order would be made for the payment of the service performed. Mr. Churchward wrote in reply to the Secretary of the Admiralty, and reminded their Lordships that the contract was negotiated in June, and that the preliminaries had been substantially agreed upon early in March, and had undergone the consideration of Her Majesty's Government, and that the contract was entered upon in full reliance on them. Mr. Churchward further stated that he and his sureties were severally bound, under heavy penalties, for the performance of the contract, which he had performed at great and increasing risk; that he had incurred liabilities to the amount of between £18,000 and £19,000; and it would be impossible for him to do justice to the Government, unless good faith was observed by them, and that, were he dealing with private individuals, he should not hesitate to seek redress in a court of law; he, therefore, hoped that the Lords Commissioners would without delay pay the money. Upon this a payment was made, in order that the public service might not be stopped, which Mr. Churchward accepted under protest, asserting his claim to the performance of the whole contract. Then as to the grounds on which Government proceeded' in rejecting the claims of Mr. Church- 1393 ward. The Government did not say the contract was bad; that something had taken place to render it not binding; that therefore neither party was bound by it, and that accounts should be settled for what was past; but they said they knew the contract was void two months ago, while they allowed £4,000 or £5,000 to be expended by Mr. Churchward in the interval; they maintained that the contract was void from the beginning, and then they revived and set up the contract of 1855, which they had themselves expressly put an end to. And they told Mr. Churchward that he must be remunerated according to its provisions, and in no other way. Neither the Government nor that House had the power to do that. Mr. Churchward was a man of honour, and was also a man of capital enough to enable him to go on in the performance of this contract; but if he had been a man of straw, and through the conduct of the Government in refusing the payment of the stipulated sum, had been led to say that he would provide for carrying the mails no longer; and if the Government had then fallen upon the sureties, he (Sir F. Kelly) should like to know which of those gentlemen would be bound? No lawyer or man of sense would reply, those under the contract of 1855. Then, if the sureties under the contract of 1859 were proceeded against, they might retort that they became sureties under the agreement, by which £18,000 a year was to be paid to Mr. Churchward, and that Government, having failed to carry out their agreement, the sureties could not be liable? As to the argument of the Solicitor General, founded on the Report of the Committee, he (Sir F. Kelly) was disposed to treat the Report of the Committee with all respect; all he had to say was against the purpose to which it was now sought to apply it. If it was meant to convict and condemn Mr. Churchward for an act of bribery, or an attempt to bribe, then he would say it was a judgment and sentence without a verdict or a trial. And he (Sir F. Kelly) claimed for Mr. Churchward the right possessed by the meanest of his countrymen, of being heard in his defence; having his case submitted to a jury, and the evidence heard upon oath. Whether in this matter, or in that of his contract being set aside, there could not be a shadow of a doubt that both legally and constitutionally Mr. Churchward was entitled to that measure 1394 of justice. He (Sir F. Kelly) believed that Captain Carnegie and Mr. Murray were both incapable of intentionally giving an undue colour to the transaction; but the matters that were spoken of by them were treated in a mere cursory conversation; and it was very easy for Captain Carnegie to have confounded the conversations. At page 81, question 1374, Captain Carnegie was asked what passed; and he replied, "Mr. Churchward spoke to me on the subject, &c.; and he promised me his assistance in general terms, and made allusions to his anxiety to obtain a renewal of his contract." He (Sir F. Kelly) hoped that there was no harm in that, when a contract was in progress through Government Offices, and when the question was, not whether the Government would agree to the contract or not, but merely as to the time when it should be executed. It was clear that was the only question that could have occurred; for Mr. Churchward said, "They were anxious to defer signing the renewal of the contract till after the elections," while he, on his part, was anxious to obtain the renewal at once. There was nothing like a promise to vote for Captain Carnegie; but Mr. Churchward made allusion to his anxiety to have the renewal settled; especially as the Government were anxious to defer the signing till after the election. Clearly the alleged bribery was nothing like an offer to do anything illegal; there was merely a kind of complaint that there was a chance that the renewal of his contract might be delayed till after the election. But see how this was met by Mr. Churchward. To question 1879, he stated that at the interview not one word was mentioned respecting the contractor, or as to his anxiety to obtain the signature of the contract. Captain Carnegie, no doubt, stated what he believed to be true; but Mr. Churchward contradicted his statement; and Mr. Murray, at page 90, said he was present, that he believed he heard all that passed, and that nothing was said in his presence about the contract. A Member of the Committee asked, "Do you think that the statement of Captain Carnegie has been altogether a fabrication?" And the answer of Mr. Murray was—and the House would, probably, find in all Christian charity that this gave the real explanation of the case—No; because I had several conversations with Captain Carnegie on the subject, and my impression is, that he is confusing some conversa- 1395 tions with me with his conversation with Mr. Churchward.He (Sir F. Kelly) contended that no jury of Englishmen, if the matter were before a jury, would hesitate a moment to put the same construction on this conversation that Mr. Murray had done—that Captain Carnegie had confounded one conversation with another. He came now to the Report of the Committee, which said, with respect to the enlarging the first contract from 1855 to 1863, "This was agreed to by the Admiralty without previous consultation with the Treasury or the Post Office"—a reason why, by the bye, Mr. Churchward might think that the new contract was safe, although it had not been sanctioned by the Treasury—"and it does not appear according to the evidence to have been made with due care and consideration for the public interest." All this censure upon the Government of 1855 I leave to the Government of that day to answer. The Report went on further to say that—It is in evidence before your Committee that Mr. Churchward, one of the contractors, on the eve of the last general election, at the time when the extension of his contract was under consideration at the Treasury, volunteered his support, as an influential elector for Dovor, to the Hon. Captain Carnegie, one of the Lords of the Admiralty, if he should become a candidate for that borough, on the expectation that his contract was to be extended, and expressed his intention, if required, to vote for two Government candidates for Dovor. Your Committee think it right to add, that the renewal of the contract had been recommended by the Admiralty to the Treasury at least six weeks before the date of the conversation referred to. It further appears to your Committee that neither at the Admiralty nor the Treasury were the officers with whom the decision rested influenced in granting the renewal of the contract by any corrupt or political motive.Well, that was very slight censure. It appeared that the only officer of the Government who expressed an objection, even the slightest objection, to this contract, which was now to be deemed so corrupt and unlawful as to be set aside and treated as a nullity, was the Postmaster General; his judgment, moreover, being opposed to that of the Admiralty and Treasury. And what said the report of Mr. Churchward? That at the eve of the last general election, when his contract was about to be renewed, he volunteered to Captain Carnegie his support, as an influential elector, at Dovor, in the expectation that his contract was to be extended, for the two Government candidates. The Committee also 1396 reported that the officers neither of the Treasury nor the Admiralty were parties to the contract. Well, what was charged against Mr. Churchward was, not that he gave a bribe, not that he offered a bribe, but that he volunteered his support to a Lord of the Admiralty, upon the expectation that his contract was to be extended. He would then ask the Solicitor General in what terms he would frame an indictment for attempting to commit bribery on such evidence? Assuming it to be true, though it was not true, that Mr. Churchward did volunteer his support in the expectation of the renewal of the contract, then he said this was a thing that took place at every election in every seaport town where the Government had influence, and it amounted to no offence—to nothing adequate to vitiate a contract which had been granted and executed with full knowledge on the part of the Government. But the Committee, at the end of their Report, said:—While most anxious for the fulfilment of all engagements entered into in good faith between the Government and individuals, the Committee submit for the consideration of the House whether Mr. Churchward, in having resorted to corrupt expedients, affecting injuriously the character of the representation of the people in Parliament, has not rendered it impossible for the House of Commons, with due regard to its honour and dignity, to vote the sums of money necessary to fulfil the agreement to extend his contract from the 20th of June, 1863, to the 26th of April, 1870.The Committee thus recommended that the House should consider not whether money should be paid for valuable and meritorious services actually rendered, but whether this contract should be extended from 1863 to 1870. Now, in reference to the language of the contract. After mentioning a great number of special stipulations, it went on to say, that the Commissioners, in consideration of the aforesaid premises, and on condition that the contractor should perform all his covenants and agreements entered into,Do, for and on behalf of Her Majesty, agree with the contractor, that they will pay and will cause to be paid to the contractor within seven days from the date at which it shall become due, a sum out of the monies to be provided by Parliament, at the rate of £18,000 per annum, by quarterly payments.Now, he (Sir F. Kelly) did not hesitate to assert, and he challenged contradiction from any lawyer that those words "to be provided by Parliament," were mere words of form introduced by the various depart- 1397 ments of the Government for the mere purpose of defining the particular fund out of which the money was to be paid. The absurdity of arguing that these words meat that the assent of Parliament was required for the payment of the money, was clearly shown by supposing that the payment of the money came due in September or October, instead of during the Session of Parliament. Surely no one would suppose that Mr. Churchward was to go on expending large sums of money for a period of six months during the recess, because, forsooth! Parliament was not sitting to approve of the money being given. The Secretary of the Treasury had relied upon an opinion expressed by an hon. Friend of his (Mr. Lygon) as to the meaning of these words, and he found that on the 14th of July, 1859, that hon. Gentleman did say that—Certain words were introduced into the contract signed on the 6th of April for Dovor, as had been done also in the case of Galway, providing that the contractors should be paid out of money to be voted by Parliament; thus, in fact, rendering the contract subject to ratification by the House."—[3 Hansard, cliv. 1222.]He did not hesitate to say that his hon. Friend was entirely in error in making this statement; and it was an error that was at once corrected by Mr. Wilson, who explained that—The stipulation that the contracts should be paid out of money voted by Parliament was not new. Why, from what fund could they be paid, except money voted by Parliament? The words said to be a new introduction, and to involve a new principle of Parliamentary revision, had been in use, at all events, since 1854, and were mere surplusage, because the contracts could not be paid out of money unless it was voted by Parliament. He did not object to the use of the words, but they should not be set up as proof of extraordinary vigilance. If the words had been 'subject to the approval of Parliament,' the case would have been very different."—[Ibid. p. 1223.]After this explanation he thought that no Gentleman upon the Treasury bench at least would contend that this contract depended for its validity upon the ratification or approval of Parliament. He submitted, then, that public confidence would be seriously shaken in respect to such contracts, if Government should seek to avail themselves of a quibble of this kind, and refuse payment of the money to which Mr. Churchward was entitled, on the ground that it had not met "the approval of Parliament." But what had the Admiralty done in consequence of the Report 1398 of the Committee? Mr. Churchward, when he entered into the contract, had never been told that the money agreed to be paid to him must in the first instance be approved of by Parliament. The Board of Admiralty had never once submitted the question to the House whether it was expedient that the contract should be continued from 1863 to 1870; but the Board had adopted the present extraordinary course towards Mr. Churchward merely upon the ground of a recommendation contained in a Report of a Committee of the House. After allowing two months to pass by without giving Mr. Churchward any intimation of their intention, they suddenly informed him that, in consequence of the Committee of the House believing that he had said something improper to Captain Carnegie, they would punish him by declaring the contract void; and they then insisted upon taking off about 35 per cent from the money they had to pay him according to the terms of the contract of 1855, upon which alone they were then determined to act. He would venture to say that nothing had occurred which could authorize any court of law or equity to impeach the contract under which Mr. Churchward was acting. Nothing but misrepresentation on the part of Mr. Churchward, or the production of positive evidence to prove that the contract was originally given solely on the condition of the Government candidate being supported by Mr. Churchward, could justify the avoidance of that contract. Now, there was no charge of misrepresentation ever brought against Mr. Churchward, and the Committee completely exonerated the Government from any corrupt motives in giving the contract to that gentleman. But what did the present Board of Admiralty do? If they had determined to treat the contract as void, they were bound to do so promptly, and to give immediate notice of their determination to the contractor. And further, they should have ceased to take to themselves the benefit of the contract. If they had acted upon principles of fair dealing and justice they would have told Mr. Churchward that they did not intend to recognize the contract. Instead of doing that, they had allowed him to carry the mails day by day, for six months and more, and it was only when he had called upon them for payment that they had told him he had done something of which they disapproved, and therefore they would not pay him. 1399 They had, it was true, offered him some 60 or 70 per cent of the sum due, but only on condition that he would act upon the contract of 1855. If the late Government had corruptly executed a contract in favour of Mr. Churchward, then, indeed, the contract would have been void, but even then they could not avail themselves of their own wrong. But the Select Committee expressly cleared the Government from any participation in any corrupt or improper act, and the whole case came to this—that while the constitution wisely withheld from the House of Commons the power of imposing a fine, the House supported the present Board of Admiralty in the course they had taken, which was neither more nor less than the imposition of a fine of about £2,000 per quarter upon Mr. Churchward by reason of his having without a trial or a hearing been declared guilty of offering some improper inducements to Captain Carnegie. He differed altogether from the opinions expressed by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Solicitor General when they spoke of the necessity of this contract being approved of by a vote of the House before it could be performed. The Government had never raised the question as to whether the House would, if it had the power, refuse the money for the contract. Parliament had sat last year for a considerable time after the Committee's deliberations, and had assembled again at an earlier period of the present year; yet up to that 27th day of March, the opinion of the House had never been taken on that question. Mr. Churchward had faithfully and to the full performed his contract; and he (Sir F. Kelly) should deeply lament a vote of that House which should have the effect of setting aside a contract entered into between the Government and an individual, after that individual had faithfully performed his part of the engagement, and of establishing a precedent for the assumption by the House of the powers and jurisdiction of a court of justice.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
said, he differed from most of the conclusions of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just addressed the House. The present was not a lawyer's question, to be decided upon merely legal considerations, but one in which the House, acting as guardians of the public purse, was bound to exercise the strictest supervision. The hon. and learned Member for Suffolk (Sir P. Kelly) did not seem to have read the evidence 1400 taken before the Select Committee. If he had he would have known that the late Secretary to the Treasury stated before the Committee that the words "out of moneys to be provided by Parliament" were introduced by him with the consent of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the view of providing for the very contingency which had arisen—the refusal of the House to vote the money. Both technically and legally speaking, the contractor could not complain if the House refused to vote the money for the contract; for he had entered into it with his eyes open, and with a complete knowledge of the clause which made the contract subject to the future decision of Parliament. As the person whose duty it had been to bring under the notice of the House last year the charges made against right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, Members of the late Government, he (Mr. Bouverie) thought it right to say that, after a careful perusal of the evidence, he concurred in the opinion of the Committee that there was no reason whatever to impute any blame to those right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. The late Secretary of the Treasury (Sir Stafford Northcote) had given a very full and fair explanation to the Committee, and had shown himself to be a high-minded man by refusing to take any part in the deliberations of the Committee after he had given that explanation. The hon. Baronet had shown himself indeed to be only too innocent, for he had accepted as matter of fact, without investigation, the statements of a man of tainted reputation and remarkably astute in pursuing his own interests. He thought that if the hon. Gentleman had exercised a little more caution in his dealings with this contractor, he would not have been led into this difficulty. The transactions on this subject took place in the beginning of last year, and the first step appeared to be an application by Mr. Churchward to Mr. Hamilton, then Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury. On Mr. Hamilton's recommendation, Mr. Churchward next wrote to the Admiralty. He was not now going to argue the corruption or innocence of Mr. Churchward. He thought the presumption and weight of argument were on the side of the decision of the Select Committee. What was the use of referring these investigations to a Select Committee if their finding of the facts was not substantially binding on the House? In what a position would the House place 1401 itself if it followed the course recommended by the hon. and gallant Member for Berkshire? That hon. Member did not ask the House in terms to find that Mr. Churchward was not guilty of corruption, but called on the House to say that, having considered the Report and evidence, it was of opinion that the contract ought to be fulfilled. Thus, the Select Committee having found that Mr. Churchward attempted to enter into a corrupt bargain with the Government for his own interests, the House was called on to declare that that contract ought to be fulfilled; and such was the record proposed to be handed down to future times. On the 11th of February of last year the Admiralty, instead of taking a businesslike course of proposing the terms which they would agree to for the payment of Mr. Churchward's extra services, asked him what he would like to have, and then he asked for the extension of the contract for seven years and an additional sum of £2,500 for extra services. On the 23rd of February the Admiralty recommended the proposal to the Treasury, the head of the department in the Admiralty, to whom the matter had been referred, having given his decision in its favour on the ground that the contract of Mr. Churchward was unremunerative. On being asked his reason for thinking the English contract unremunerative, this functionary, (Mr. Clifton) replied that a gentleman employed in copying accounts for a suit in the Court of Chancery informed him privately, to his surprise, that it was not remunerative, and that the expenses were very great. That appeared to be all the investigation made into the ground on which the renewal of the contract was founded. On the 1st of March the Treasury referred the application to the Postmaster-General, and on the 10th of March the Postmaster-General reported to the Treasury strongly against it. Upon that day Mr. Stephenson, a clerk in the Treasury, made a memorandum concurring in the Postmaster-General's report; and here he might observe that none of the gentlemen connected with the public offices appeared thoroughly to understand the business relating to these contracts, and the principles on which they ought to be granted, except Mr. Stephenson. The papers were then sent to Mr. Hamilton in due official course, and Mr. Hamilton made a memorandum twelve days after, namely, on the 22nd of March, taking a strongly 1402 opposite view. On the 1st of April the late Secretary to the Treasury (Sir S. Northcote) made a minute, according to which he felt considerable difficulty in coming to a conclusion, but on the whole he was disinclined to renew the contract, and desired Mr. Hamilton to see whether Mr. Churchward would not be satisfied with a larger money concession, and abandon all claims for extension. On the 4th of April, Mr. Churchward wrote a long letter to Mr. Hamilton, stating that he could not abandon his claim for the renewal of his contract. These dates were of importance, because, although the conversation that took place between Mr. Churchward and Captain Carnegie on which the Committee founded their decision had no fixed date, yet Captain Carnegie, on being asked to fix a date, stated that it occurred between the 4th and 9th of April. So that at this moment Mr. Churchward was in an agony of doubt, and it was most important for him to get his contract renewed. Now as to the mode in which business appears to have been conducted by the public departments in this case, which was a most important question. The Treasury minute of the 15th of April, assenting to Mr. Churchward's proposal, stipulated for the insertion in the contract of three conditions, the first being that Mr. Churchward should engage to make no fresh contract with the French or any foreign Government for the conveyance of the mails, without the consent of the Board; the second empowering the Board to change the hours of sailing, and the third declaring that the payment for special services should be reduced, if those services were cut off. Mr. Churchward had already a contract with the French Government, which would terminate in 1870, and it was considered so important that the termination of the two contracts should be made concurrent, that this was the main ground on which the Treasury recommended the renewal. Hence the condition first mentioned. But it would scarcely be believed that notwithstanding the assent of the Treasury had been given to the extension of the contract only provided the three conditions alluded to were inserted, the contract was actually renewed without those conditions being inserted. Not only so, but they were never even communicated by the Treasury to the Admiralty. The Admiralty was, therefore, not to be blamed for not inserting them. But Mr. Stephenson had told them that it 1403 was the practice of the Admiralty to return such contracts in draft to the Treasury for revision. But even that was not done; and further, a fresh condition was inserted by one of the Lords of the Admiralty, sanctioned by the board, and never communicated to the Treasury, and the effect of it was to relieve Mr. Churchward from the obligation previously imposed upon him, that the use of his vessels should be confined exclusively to the public service. Such a privilege as this ought not to have been made matter of pecuniary bargain. The Departments had not therefore discharged their duty in a very creditable manner in this instance; and though it was but an affair of £18,000 a year, yet, if this was the style of management in small matters, it might affect the whole of the packet contracts, involving nearly £1,000,000 a year. On the whole he submitted that no ground had been shown for reversing the finding of the Select Committee. Again it ought not to be supposed that any injury to the public interest would result from the House availing itself of the loophole offered through which they might escape from the performance of this contract. On the contrary, their refusal to ratify the contract would be of the greatest possible public advantage, for they would prevent persons buzzing about public departments. He had heard great complaints of favouritism and jobbery with contractors arising from this system. He had tried to sift these complaints to the bottom, but had always found persons from whom he received them draw back from the statements they had made; but still he knew there was a deep impression abroad that the mode in which contracts were negotiated by Government was not fair.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said there were two things in the discussion of this question against which it was most necessary to guard, political prudery and political corruption. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) had said that the House of Commons had a loophole through which they might escape from the contract in question. He would venture to say that if the right hon. Gentleman had been a juryman, and had had such an argument addressed to him by a counsel, he would have resented it as an attempt to draw his attention from the real merits of the case to some paltry quibble. The question under discussion was of the simplest character. The right hon. Gentle- 1404 man (Mr. Bouverie) was perfectly right in criticising public departments—they all deserved it, and he (Mr. Whiteside) would not say a word in their favour. Committees of that House had investigated the mode in which arms had been provided, soldiers and sailors lost, and steam companies had performed their duties, but it was found generally that whatever might be said as to public departments, private individuals performed their duties. The question at issue now was one of common sense and justice—namely, whether an individual had performed his contract; and if the House of Commons was of opinion that Mr. Churchward had safely and properly carried the mails from London to Paris, they need not inquire into his character or whether he had been reported against by an election Committee. The House of Commons might have the power to escape through a loophole from their contract. He admitted their power, but he denied that their dignity would not suffer from such conduct, and he indignantly denied that their sense of justice would permit them to pursue such a course. A right hon. Gentleman who spoke early in the evening had reminded them of the contract respecting a place of worship in Paris, the purchase of which had been repudiated by the House. But the two cases were totally dissimilar. In that affair of the parish church no one in France had any authority to purchase the building at the expense of the nation, and the House of Commons had properly declared that those persons who went abroad should provide a place of worship for themselves. He would take the liberty of reminding the right hon. Gentleman of what took place some years ago, when he (Mr. Whiteside) was young and innocent of Parliamentary affairs. The contract for supplying postage stamps expired, and a gentleman named Archer sent in a contract for a machine for engraving and perforating the sheets, the price, including the machine, to be 4½d. per 1000 stamps. The Board of Inland Revenue had the letter containing this offer in their hands on the 16th of May, and instead of putting themselves in communication with Mr. Archer, or offering the contract to public competition, they sent to the contractor to offer him the work at 6d., he having before charged 7d. He agreed to do it at 6d., and thereupon he (Mr. Whiteside) moved for a committee to inquire into the matter. He was opposed by one 1405 of the greatest of living financiers, who was now engaged in settling the affairs of India, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer laid down the principle that the House should by no means delegate to select Committees the duty of making Government contracts, and it was declared by a majority of votes that although officials might make improvident contracts the nation was not thereby released from the contract itself, though the persons who made it might be open to censure. In this case he thought it would puzzle the right hon. Gentleman to discover the parties who were exposed to censure, for the Report of the Committee took pains to acquit every person connected with the transaction. "It appears," they said, "that neither at the Admiralty nor at the Treasury were the officers with whom the decision rested influenced in granting a renewal of the contract by any corrupt or political motives." On what ground, then, was the contract to be set aside? He maintained that a public department, like a private individual, ought to pay, having made a contract, for there was nothing which would enable a private individual to set aside such a contract as this. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Laing) said he would set aside law and its technicalities, which was a cool way of getting rid of the merits of the case; and that he would decide, he presumed, on general principles of suspicion, imagining corruption where it had no existence. It was said that the contract could be set aside, because Mr. Churchward had resorted to a corrupt expedient, but was that a ground for getting rid of a contract? Now, what was the corrupt expedient? As the hon. Baronet the Member for Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote) said, there was a conclusion on this subject but no premises. The whole affair rested on "conversation," but he would do these Gentlemen the credit to state that they annihilated their Report by the fact which they stated first—that the renewal of the contract had been recommended by the Admiralty to the Treasury six weeks before this conversation relied on took place; so that six weeks before the conversation which was to get rid of this contract, the contract was virtually entered into. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite had lived in the days when, in cases of high treason, the laws of evidence were set aside, and charges of such a kind were made, the heads of none of the present occupants of the 1406 Treasury Bench would be worth five minutes' purchase, and on evidence such as had been taken by this Committee it would be impossible lawfully to hang a dog. Captain Carnegie, in his evidence with regard to the conversation, said Mr. Churchward spoke to me on the subject, and having volunteered his support and promised his assistance at the Dovor election, he made an allusion in general terms as to his anxiety to obtain a renewal of his contract." If that witness had been before a Judge the latter would have said "state what was said; do not say 'made an allusion.'" Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to tell the House that a contract under seal between two parties—the Crown and the subject—was to be got rid of by reason of the fact that one of the contracting parties had, while volunteering political support, made an allusion to his desire to obtain a renewal of it? What meaning did the word "allusion" convey to any honourable man, and was the House gratuitously to infer that it meant corruption? That was contrary to every principle of law and morality. He did not like suspicious men. The House was bound to take the most reasonable view of every man's conduct, especially where its own interests became mixed up in the question. If the Government were to act on these principles no contract would be safe, and it would become a matter of duty not to pay Cunard without a previous searching inquiry. What was it they were proceeding upon? It certainly was not evidence, and it was not entitled to the phrase "gossip." Nothing, he thought, was more easily conceivable than that a man should talk to a new candidate about a matter in which he felt personally interested; he did not want to discompose the nerves of hon. Gentlemen, but he doubted whether the Whig Government itself might not have done something as bad as that. It had been deposed that the remark complained of took place in a conversation of five minutes' duration; one of the parties to that conversation positively denied the statement, and a gentleman who was present said he did not hear it. A prudent Scotchman, when asked by Charles II. a question which had puzzled several philosophers, said "Please your Majesty I doubt the fact;" and in this case he doubted the fact. The whole matter lay in the conversation, and Captain Carnegie, who was asked if he ever stated it 1407 to any member of the Board, said he did not. If the case were brought before a court of justice, it was admitted that nothing could be made of it. The contract was at present being performed, and could not be set aside without infringing the just rights which existed between man and man; and the House should never be called on to refuse its sanction to a work which was admittedly carried out in an honest and faithful manner.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I rise to enter my protest against what I understand to be the doctrine of the right hon. and learned Gentleman with respect to these contracts, which he says it is the duty of the State to fulfil. He lays down one condition as that on which yon are solely entitled to act—namely, that if a man fulfil his contract you are bound to perform your part of the agreement; and, according to the doctrine of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, you will not be permitted to cancel any contract on the ground of corruption.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Pardon me, I am not speaking of any particular case; I am speaking of the doctrine of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which was that, if persons travelling between Holyhead and Dublin were carried safely, there was nothing else to be looked to, and there was an absolute obligation to recognize the contract. I believe that doctrine to be fatal to the powers and privileges of this House.
§ MR. E. P. BOUVERIE
I rise to order. Any Gentleman who is misrepresented is entitled to explain, but not when another Gentleman is in possession of the House.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
Subject to your correction, Sir, I think I have a right to interpose upon a question of order. The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I distinctly said in the first instance that no political corruption was imputed.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I will not say another word upon the subject. I had not the least intention to misapprehend nor misinterpret the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but the mat- 1408 ter is in the recollection of the House. After what has fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Suffolk (Sir F. Kelly), I must say he is mistaken if he supposes that the present Government has done any act recognizing the contract which has been condemned by the Committee. He says a payment has been made to Mr. Churchward under the contract, but that payment was made before the present Board of Admiralty was fully constituted, and when the civil Lord, whose duty it was to look into these matters, had not taken his seat. The present Government has never recognized this contract in any way. It is also a mistake to say that Mr. Churchward is suffering in his receipts in consequence of any proceedings of the present Government. The difference between the old and the new contract is this—that the new contract gives Mr. Churchward a claim to a fixed sum, whereas, under the old contract, he was to charge for the special services which he performed. Mr. Churchward has been invited to state those charges, and has declined to do so; but, as far as the Government is aware, there is no foundation for the assertion that the annual sum payable to Mr. Churchward at present under the Resolulution of the Committee for services he is actually performing will be less than that which he would be entitled to claim under the new contract. The real difference lies in the renewal of the contract from 1863 to 1870, and the course which Parliament may think fit to take upon the point is a matter hereafter to be decided. If any case is made to show the sufferings of Mr. Churchward in consequence of that renewal being withheld out of proportion to the offence he has committed, that case is entirely open to consideration; but we must not be misled by extravagant and groundless misrepresentations upon the subject of that gentleman's sufferings to overlook a great constitutional principle that is before us. I wish to state frankly what is the position of the Government. The circumstances that occurred last year must have escaped the recollection of the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is not the Government, but the House of Commons, which is primarily responsible for what Mr. Churchward has suffered, because at a time when the Government had done no act in derogation of his contract a discussion took place in this House, and the general opinion of the House seemed to be that it would not be becoming in us to 1409 submit the Vote for this particular contract, which was a tacit concurrence with the decision of the Committee. The Government, therefore, did not take the initiative; they only followed the course laid down by the House, and such is still their wish. We have no desire to overbear Mr. Churchward by the exercise of Government influence. Our position is this:—We came into office and found a contract had been made, by our predecessors which we thought was detrimental to the public interests. At the same time it was a contract which bound them, and they would have been bound to give it effect; but the House of Commons chose to appoint a Committee, and that Committee, after careful deliberation, adopted a report which greatly changed the position of the Government. I trust the House will lose no time in coming to a vote upon this subject, and in giving our votes we shall do so as private Members of Parliament, and from conscientious opinions, without presuming as the Executive to suggest the course the House should take. I think nothing can be more unfair than the criticisms that have been pronounced both upon the original appointment of the Committee and of the proceedings of that Committee. It is said there was unfair influence in the constitution of the Committee, but let it be remembered that my right hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Bouverie), whose intelligence and honour we can all rely upon, was not placed upon that Committee, because he had previously expressed a decided opinion upon the merits of this question. That was the spirit in which the Committee was appointed and the proceedings of the Committee justified the proceeding of the House. What is the decision that we are called upon to reverse, but which I hope the House will refuse to do? Does not the impartiality of the Committee stand forth prominently upon the pages of their report? When the Committee found that a proceeding of a former Government was open to objection, although a majority of that Committee agreed politically with that Government, they did not hesitate to say that the first renewal of the contract had taken place without due care and consideration. They thus vindicated their impartiality, and proved that all the Members of the Committee were prepared to do full justice to all parties. It has been said that all the Members from this side of the House voted together in the divisions which went to 1410 censure Mr. Churchward's contract, and for that their impartiality is impeached. No wonder they voted together, for they were supported by some Members from the other side. [The blue-book was handed to the right hon. Gentleman by Mr. Lygon]. Well, here is the most important division on the Committee, and I find the name of the hon. Member for Evesham (Sir H. Willoughby), so that it supports my statement. The proceedings of the Committee were governed by the same impartiality which directed their appointment. They have presented a solemn and important judgment. They do not find fault with the preceding executive Government, but they say that the person with whom the Government made the contract "did resort to corrupt expedients which affected injuriously the character of the representation and the dignity of Parliament," and they say, further, on account of the offence of that person, that it is not possible for the House, with due regard for its own dignity, to take those steps without which the contract would become a dead letter. Is it alleged that the finding of the Committee is untrue? Is it untrue that Mr. Churchward resorted to corrupt expedients affecting injuriously the dignity of Parliament. I stand in the main upon the Report of the Committee, and we should be most unwise, with our imperfect means, if we undertook to override the conclusion they came to. But even on the face of the matter there is none of the obscurity which the hon. and learned Gentleman appears to discover in it. He quoted very imperfectly a portion of an answer given by Captain Carnegie, in which he says that Mr. Churchward made an allusion to his anxiety to get a renewal of his contract, and says that if the matter had been before a Judge, the Judge would have asked him to explain what he meant by an allusion. But there would be no necessity for that interference, for Captain Carnegie went on to explain that Mr. Churchward said they were anxious to defer signing the renewal until after the election, but that he felt it was too hard upon him, and he would prefer voting for Mr. Osborne and himself, so that he might have a friend in power whichever party was in office. Preference has been made to what has been stigmatized as a leading question at the close of the examination, but although that is a leading question it contains nothing which is not substantiated 1411 in preceding answers, and combines the effect of the whole of those answers. Independently of the Report of the Committee, I would stand upon those answers to prove that this gentleman did resort to corrupt expedients, affecting injuriously the dignity of Parliament. If that be so, is it true, on the other hand, as the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite contends, that this House is tied and bound to vote the money for the fulfilment of the contract which has been made with a party who has resorted to corrupt expedients in his endeavours to secure that contract? It is entirely an error on the part of the hon. and learned Gentleman to suppose that this contract was complete when the Admiralty had agreed to recommend it. Nothing but a want of acquaintance with the usages of a public department could have justified the hon. and learned Gentleman in saying that. [Sir FITZROY KELLY: I never said so.] I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that when the Admiralty had agreed to the contract it had the force of a preliminary agreement and that it was virtually complete. [Sir FITZROY KELLY: Mr. Churchward thought so.] That is stating what is wholly irrelevant, for we have it in evidence that Mr. Churchward went from the Admiralty to the Treasury and made his application there, knowing perfectly well that it was there the real authority lay. I must say, I cannot help taking a broad objection to the manner in which the hon. and learned Member for Suffolk treated this question. He appears to bind it up in legal forms, which I do not hesitate to say are inadequate to do justice to the case. It is impossible to suppose that this House can be content with the observation of the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he asks, in what form would you have framed an indictment against Mr. Churchward for bribery? Therefore, because he cannot see his way to framing an indictment against Mr. Churchward for bribery, he says, on that ground—and on that ground alone—you have no option, that your liberty is gone, and that you are bound to vote the money necessary to give effect to this contract. I entirely dissent from that doctrine. I cannot admit, in the case of a contract which is to be satisfied out of the public money voted by the House of Commons, that the House of Commons and the public are to be bound under whatever circumstances of fraud by the first act of the Executive. There is no allegation that 1412 there was fraud in the contract; but the allegation of the Committee is that fraud was attempted by the resort to corrupt expedients on the part of Mr. Churchward to obtain it. What, I ask, is the office of this' House in regard to the voting of public money? Are we to be told that the House of Commons, under circumstances such as these, is bound to vote the money without taking notice of these proceedings? On what principle is such a doctrine to be sustained? I maintain, on the contrary, that the Executive has no constitutional authority to make a contract binding on the House of Commons. It is a pure question of policy for the House of Commons to say how far it will allow that practice to extend. I ask, can a proceeding be justified where parties attempt to enter into a contract by the use of means which may be held to constitute a breach of the privileges of the House, tending to degrade it and the representation of the people? With respect to the chapel at Paris, mentioned by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside), there was no allegation in the case of the contract either of imprudence or of fraud. There was no question in the world except a question of money; whereas now we are called on to take notice of circumstances which, if permitted to pass, would be degrading to the House of Commons. When the contract was made, Mr. Churchward's attention was pointed to the fact that the moneys for satisfying' it were not at the command of the executive Government, but were to be voted by the House of Commons. Does not every man, woman, and child know that the moneys so voted by Parliament are freely voted; and can it be supposed that Mr. Churchward in accepting that contract was not aware that it was subject to the free exercise of the discretion of Parliament. We are now arrived at the time when it is necessary to exercise that discretion, and I will grant that we are bound to exercise a just, wise, and liberal discretion. But does wisdom, justice, or liberality bind us to support a contract of this nature by our own free, voluntary vote, when an impartially selected Committee of this House has reported that the party, in order to obtain that contract, has resorted to corrupt and degrading considerations? That is, in I point of fact, the whole question; and on that question the House will vote. The Government do not wish to influence the vote of the House; they look rather for an 1413 indication of its will; and by that indication their future course will be directed.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
—Sir, My name has been so much mixed up with this subject, that I shall, even at this late hour, request for a short time the attention of the House. It has been imputed to me that in giving my evidence before the Select Committee I was led into some considerable discrepancies. I confess I regarded the idea of any imputation founded upon those discrepancies, such as they were, with, I was going to say, the greatest contempt; and, but for their having been made the subject of newspaper comment, and having also been revived in the Dovor Election Committee, I should not have deigned to notice them. My statement before the Select Committee was this—that my communications with Captain Carnegie had been verbal and not written; and that they had been direct and not through a third party. I do not believe any one can suppose that I intended to mislead the Committee by that statement. What motive could I have had for doing so? I was perfectly candid with the House last year in the statement I made with respect to those communications with Captain Carnegie, and whether those communications were made direct, or through a third party, I think was an unimportant matter; but shortly after I made that statement before the Committee, two notes were produced—one written by myself to Captain Carnegie, and the other written by my private secretary to that gentleman. My explanation is, that I gave evidence unexpectedly and without preparation, four months after the writing of those unimportant notes, and that I had forgotten the writing of them after that lapse of time. If I had recollected writing those notes, probably I should have adverted to the fact; but that would have made no material difference in my statement to the Committee, because the notes were wholly unimportant, except in the degree in which they related to previous conversations on the mornings of those days with Captain Carnegie; and, now that the notes have been produced, I repeat and adhere to my original statement—that in substance that statement is correct, and that every communication I made to Captain Carnegie of any importance was made by myself directly, and by speech, and not in writing. I hope this explanation of a very trivial matter will be satisfactory to the House. 1414 Nothing whatever passed on my part in those conversations with Captain Carnegie which might not equally have passed if I had known a shorthand writer was present, and that every word I uttered was to appear in the newspapers the following morning. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Liskeard hardly believed it possible that I was unconscious of the conversation held between my private secretary and Mr. Churchward and Captain Carnegie, and, he would not believe it unless I myself distinctly denied it. Having already made this denial before the Committee I think I had some reason to complain of the hon. Member holding that language; but I desire, in the face of the House of Commons and the nation, to give him satisfactory and distinct assurance on the subject, and I tell him that I know nothing whatever about this conversation having taken place between Captain Carnegie, Mr. Murray, and Mr. Churchward. I hope the hon. Gentleman has now received as distinct an assurance as he can desire. It now remains for me to touch on the conduct of the late Government generally with regard to these transactions. The conduct of the late Board of Admiralty is hardly now in question, because it will be recollected that the Board of Admiralty passed their opinion on this contract as far back as February, when there was no question of an election and when there could be no ground of suspicion in connection with election proceedings. My own feeling is that I am personally open to blame for knowing rather too little of the contract than too much. The matter was before the Board of Admiralty, as I have said, in February, when I was much occupied with the plans for the increase of the navy, which it was my duty to submit to the House of Commons about that time, and the truth is I did not give the attention to it that I ought to have done. And here I will say, from my experience of the Admiralty, that I entertain a strong opinion that these contracts ought not to be thrown on the Admiralty at all. They have enough to do in attending to the interests of the navy, and I am glad to find that the present Government have taken the proper and prudent course of transferring these contracts from the Admiralty to the Post Office. As to the part taken by the Treasury, it would be presumption in me to say one word on the subject after the candid, frank, and open manner in which the hon. Member for 1415 Stamford (Sir Stafford Northcote) has explained the course taken by that department. But it has been imputed to me that, although the Board of Admiralty had passed this contract in February, at a subsequent period, when the general election was at hand, I was cognizant of attempts on the part of Mr. Churchward to make a corrupt bargain with the Admiralty, and to make the consent of the Government to the fulfilment of the contract a condition of his supporting the Government candidate at Dovor. Twice has this charge been brought before Committees of Parliament—first before the Contract Committee, and secondly before the Dovor Election Committee, and by both these Committees the late Government have been acquitted. The hon. Member for Liskeard said that in the case of the first Committee it was a verdict of not proven only, and not a verdict of acquittal; but, there is no form of words—I care not how solemn or how sacred—in which I am not willing to declare that I had not the slightest knowledge or suspicion of any impropriety whatever in regard to these matters. I cannot say more; I can not give my denial more strongly than I have done, and, with that fair dealing which the House always shows in such cases, without respect to parties, I am certain that the assurance I have given will be accepted by the House. I will now touch for a moment on the conduct of Mr. Murray, my private secretary. I was much pained by the censure cast on him by the Committee, because I believe in my conscience that no censure was ever more undeserved. That he was strictly prudent in all that he did may be a question, but that he did anything fairly and justly to expose him to the censure of a Committee of the House of Commons I do not for a moment believe. I am sorry that when the hon. Gentleman who presided over the Committee (Mr. Cobden) drew up the Report without that painful paragraph, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring) should have felt himself called on to go out of his way to throw into the Report an attempt at censure that has been held to be unworthy even by party reviewers writing on that side. But I have been still more pained to hear the right hon. Gentleman repeating the attack on this young man, who never offered any offence to him, and whose public conduct did not deserve it. I was deeply sorry to hear the right hon. Gentleman this evening use 1416 language to the effect that Mr. Churchward had attempted to bribe the Government into granting his contract, and that Mr. Murray had been a party to that bribe,' Do I accurately represent what the right hon. Gentleman said? [Sir F. BARING:—I did not say that.] Did you mean to imply it? Perhaps you did not directly say it.
§ SIR FRANCIS BARING
I wished to explain that I was perfectly satisfied with the Report as drawn up by the Chairman; but an hon. Gentleman not of my way of thinking, but connected with the other side, insisted that there should be an entire acquittal of those in office at the time. I assented to that, but said that if that was done it was our duty to convey our opinion as to the conduct of the whole of the parties who came before the Committee. I do not say or think that Mr. Murray was a party to corruption, though I think it was extreme indiscretion and great impropriety for a private secretary of the First Lord of the Admiralty to be at the same time a party to a contract and a Parliamentary election.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
The right hon. Gentleman withdraws what he said in the early part of the evening. ["No no."] He has at least explained his language, for I certainly understood him, in plain terms, to say that Mr. Murray had been a party to an attempt at bribing. The right hon. Gentleman says there was a great deal of indiscretion on the part of Mr. Murray in being connected with a contract and an election at the same time; but it should be recollected that the contract was not brought before the Admiralty at the time of the election, and therefore Mr. Murray could not at that time see Mr. Churchward about the contract. In his examination Mr. Murray distinctly denied having made use of any language to Mr. Churchward at the time of the election with reference to the contract, and, though it was true that Mr. Murray wrote a letter to the Treasury with reference to the contract, yet it will be recollected that he had written a similar letter in January when there was no election whatever. The conclusion the right hon. Gentleman has come to is therefore a rash conclusion. I do not pretend to speak without bias in the case of Mr. Murray. He is a near connection of my own—a young man of considerable ability, and of as high a character as any one of those who presumed to make themselves his judges. I believe that Mr. Murray will 1417 regard the Report of the Committee with the same indifference ["Oh, oh!"]—with the same indifference with which I would myself have regarded it had they presumed to censure me. I say this for two reasons—the first is that the Select Committee exceeded its order of reference in dealing with the case of Mr. Murray at all; and, secondly, because if they were at liberty to consider Mr. Murray's case and to report upon it I maintain with confidence,—and I do not think any lawyer who hears me will deny it,—that the evidence does not support the finding in his case. I cannot conclude without touching upon this matter as it affects Mr. Churchward himself. I have no acquaintance with Mr. Churchward. I never spoke to him except on one day when I was down at Dovor officially to look at the pier. I never wrote to him that I know of, and I have therefore no personal bias in favour of Mr. Churchward. All that I desire for Mr. Churchward is that for high considerations of public policy the House should deal with Mr. Churchward with strict justice. I can take no exception to the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has dealt with this subject. On one point, however, the right hon. Gentleman was in error. He said the Government had offered Mr. Churchward to make these payments for extra services. I apprehend that when the right hon. Gentleman made that statement he was under the impression that if the present Government and the House refused to confirm the new contract the old contract revives, under which Mr. Churchward has a claim for special services. The right hon. Gentleman does not contradict me. But I appeal to any lawyer if that is the case. On the contrary, the new contract has cancelled the old, and therefore Mr. Churchward has no claim under that old contract for special services, and the greatest injustice will be done to him, because there is no rule or regulation under which he can be compensated for extra services. There is only one more point, and it is the point on which the House must decide this Motion. The right hon. Gentleman said there is but one question before the House—whether corruption is proved against Mr. Churchward. This is the real issue before us. The right hon. Gentleman has expressed a wish that the House should deal with this question in a just, wise, and liberalt spirit. In the name of justice I ask the 1418 House to deal with Mr. Churchward now as any man in England would be dealt with by a court of law in this country if he were arraigned for any malpractice before that Court. What is the evidence against Mr. Churchward? I know no evidence against him, or pretence for taking away the grants under the new contract, unless it be that conversation between three persons—Captain Carnegie, Mr. Churchward, and Mr. Murray. Captain Carnegie has stated one thing about that conversation and Mr. Churchward and Mr. Murray another. Both parties are equally positive. I do not want to make charges of intentional misrepresentation; but will any one deny that speaking of this conversation months afterwards it is not only possible, but probable that the memory of one party or the other may have failed, and that without any intention of saying what is not true either of them may be mistaken? What would be the charge of a Judge under such circumstances? I ask the House to be wise, liberal, and just. Is it not one of the rules of law, most justly accepted, that in case of doubt the party charged shall have the benefit of it? For the sake of the character of this House, and for the sake of justice, I trust that this House is not about to afford so dangerous and formidable a precedent as to brand a man with corruption, and to take a course which is likely to reduce him to ruin, upon a conversation with parties equally worthy of credit, but who differ in their recollection. I accept the language of the right hon. Gentleman, and I ask the House to follow out his own expressions, and to act justly, wisely, and liberally. If they do so, that finding of the Committee, which in my judgment was not just, wise, or liberal, will not be sanctioned by this House.
§ MR. G. W. HOPE
said, that he was the Member of the Committee who proposed the paragraph inserted in the Report acquitting the late Government—the Committee accepted that paragraph unanimously. Then came the question of acquitting Mr. Murray. He (Mr. Hope) could not say that Mr. Murray had committed a great offence. It was, indeed, in his opinion, wholly unworthy in the Committee to take notice of it. But when the question was raised distinctly, and he was obliged to say aye or no upon it, he felt it impossible to say that Mr. Murray's conduct had been otherwise than indiscreet. He was, however, young and an 1419 active partisan, and the charge against him was not one that affected his personal character. The right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir Francis Baring) it is true, offered to leave out the paragraph respecting Mr. Murray if the other paragraph acquitting the Government were to be left out, but such an arrangement appeared to him unjust to the late Government. As he had stated, he thought Mr. Murray in fault, and he came to that conclusion on Mr. Murray's own evidence. Thinking so, he felt he would not be justified in omitting the paragraph acquitting the Government, only because it was coupled with a censure on Mr. Murray, although he regretted that that paragraph had been inserted. He should vote for the Motion of his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Captain L. Vernon). They had the distinct verdict of the Committee that the officers who granted the contract were not actuated by political or corrupt motives; and it was too much to ask that it should be forfeited solely on account of an incidental conversation while the transaction was passing through the public offices, in the course of which the contractor said he should support the Government candidate.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 117; Noes 162: Majority 45.
§ House adjourned at Two o'clock.