HC Deb 05 June 1861 vol 163 cc605-20

Sir, I am sorry to observe that such high authorities as The Times newspaper and a noble Lord who has filled the highest legal office in this country, are both of opinion that further explanation is required to vindicate the honour and gentlemanly feeling of the representatives of Ireland on a recent occasion. When the charge in question was made by my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, I felt it incumbent on me, as early as possible, to declare that it was totally destitute of foundation. The statement of my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary was that, at a moment when an important Motion was pending in this House, the Irish Members had sought an interview with my noble Friend at the head of the Government, with the view—which they must have been madmen to entertain—of intimidating him. When I gave a denial to that statement, the noble Viscount took upon himself to make a reply, which was certainly very amusing, but by no means satisfactory to the honour of those Gentlemen whose conduct had been impugned. My noble Friend, however, admitted that the Rev. Mr. Daly had never asserted to him that he was authorized to request an interview, or to speak in any manner on the part of the representatives of Ireland; and, further, that he himself did not believe Mr. Daly to have received any authority from the Irish Members to make any communication.


No; I did not express any belief either one way or the other.


I understood my noble Friend to state, that Mr. Daly told him he had no authority to speak for the Irish Members. Notwithstanding that reply, I suppose we must infer from the remark which my noble Friend has just made that he had a suspicion that the Irish Members had given Mr. Daly authority for what he said. I have stated positively, on my honour, that every Irish Member I was able to see declared the charge to be utterly groundless; and it is not very complimentary to us that my noble Friend should still seem to harbour a suspicion that it was our desire to have had an interview with him on the subject. I put it to the House whether my noble Friend—unless he placed implicit belief in the statement, which I do not think he will venture to assert—was justified in commissioning my noble Friend the Foreign Secretary to make a charge implicating the honour and gentlemanly character of a certain portion of the Irish Members. I should be sorry to Bay that it was for the purpose of influencing votes on another question that my noble Friend desired that charge to be made. It is perfectly certain that it ma- terially influenced the decision of a number of Members, especially on the Opposition side of the House, who, with the independent spirit of English gentlemen, would not in any way assist an attempt to coerce the Prime Minister by intimidation. Under these circumstances sixteen Members, who, had they voted, would have been more than sufficient to turn the division against the Government, and who were opposed to the repeal of the paper duty, left the House. If we had retorted upon the noble Lord the rumours which are going about that communications have passed between the Government and a number of Scottish and English Members who represent certain steamship interests, we should, to a certainty, have received from the noble Viscount not only an indignant repudiation of any such negotiations, but a severe censure for bringing forward a charge affecting the honour of the Government. And let me tell my noble Friend that the honour of the Irish Members is as dear to them as that of the Government can be to himself and his colleagues. On the part of the Irish Members I again declare that there is not the shadow of a foundation for the statement that they desired an interview with the noble Viscount on this question. I believe, from the communications I have had with them, that no one could so far forget his own character and position as to ask for an interview with my noble Friend under such circumstances. Indeed, such, I believe, is the opinion we all entertain of the noble Lord that we could not anticipate from his independent spirit anything but a refusal to such a request. We certainly never even dreamed of asking him to do anything of the sort. Yet we see in some of the public journals a daily renewal of the accusation, and an assertion that it has been proved to the satisfaction of a great majority of the public. In "another place," also, it has been asserted that we have yet to clear ourselves from the charge. The Rev. Mr. Daly has, in the moat distinct manner, both publicly and privately, denied that he pretended to the noble Viscount to have any authority from the Irish Members; and that the noble Lord must be much mistaken in his impression in that respect.


Sir, I am sure that every one will do justice to the motives and feelings which have induced my hon. and gallant Friend to make the statement he has just made; which, indeed, I think was rendered unnecessary by the disclaimer of my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. Esrnonde), who on a former evening declared, on behalf of the Irish Members, that they gave no authority to Mr. Daly to submit to me any proposal or suggestion on their behalf. I am sure that every one will accept in the most unreserved manner the statements of my hon. and gallant Friend, and of my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford; but in regard to what passed in the interview between Mr. Daly and myself, I abide entirely by what I said on a former evening. My noble Friend the Secretary for Foreign Affairs expressed the inference which he drew from the communication in writing which I made to him almost immediately after the interview with Mr. Daly had taken place; and I am bound to say that a similar impression was produced upon my mind at the time—because when Mr. Daly told me that the Irish Members should take some action in the matter, and that it was important they should know on Monday morning what was the decision of the Government in reference to the Galway Packet contract, in order that they might determine what course they were to take in the evening, I had no reason to suppose that he was not authorized to represent those on whose behalf he spoke. It is now quite clear he was not so authorized, and that with that zeal which has distinguished him upon other occasions he constituted himself as an authority for those for whom he was in no way empowered to appear. As to any further attempt to exculpate the Irish Members I believe that it is wholly unnecessary after the statement of my hon. and gallant Friend. I am sure that every Member of the House will unhesitatingly accept the assertion of my hon. and gallant Friend; and, therefore, whatever blame may arise from any misunderstanding upon this subject must rest entirely with Mr. Daly, who, it seems, in his zeal for a cause in which it is only natural that he should be very zealous, gave me to understand that which, in point of fact, he was not authorized to convey. When I stated a few minutes since that I had no belief one way or the other, I was not in any way referring to my present conviction. I was merely setting my hon. and gallant Friend right as to what I believed at the moment when Mr. Daly had been in communication with me; and, as far as I had any belief at all at that time, I inferred that he was authorized to speak in the name of the Irish Members; but I now find that I have no ground for drawing any such conclusion after the statement which has just been made by my lion, and gallant Friend.


said, he thought the statement now made by the noble Lord must be perfectly satisfactory to all the Gentlemen who are specially interested in the question, and whose conduct had been impugned. He must, however, express his regret that an explanation such as had been now given was not made earlier; and that at the interview between the noble Lord and Mr. Daly it did not occur to the noble Lord to ask the rev. gentleman on whose authority he had come, and whether he had any commission from any Member of this House to make a communication on the subject? He (Lord Naas) thought that would have been a very natural question for the noble Lord to put to a gentleman coming upon so important a mission, and it would naturally have tended to prevent those unpleasant remarks which had been made in that and in the other House of Parliament, as well as in the public press. He could not help further stating that he believed the impression which had prevailed upon that subject had materially affected a recent important division, and that many Members had been influenced upon that occasion by the connection which they supposed to exist between the Gal-way contract and the particular question at issue. But after the declaration of the noble Lord that matter might be taken to be wholly at an end. He regretted that so much undue prominence had been given to it, and that language had been used by very eminent individuals tending to corroborate the views which had been expressed in the public press. Without wishing to anticipate the discussion which must take place in reference to the Galway contract, he wished to take that opportunity of giving a very decided contradiction to some Statements he found published that morning in one of the leading journals. Those statements reflected to a very considerable extent on his personal character, and on the character of many Members of that and of the other House of Parliament who were his colleagues when that transaction took place. It was stated that the Galway contract had been given because a general election was at the time impending. That statement had been made and over again, and had over and over again been refuted. A Select Committee had inquired into the whole of that subject; the doors of that Committee wore open for many months to any person who desired to give evidence before it; and yet the Committee was never told that an election was imminent at the period when the contract was granted. So far was it from being the truth that the contract was given with a view to n general election, that the document which finally closed the contract was signed by the Treasury on the 2nd of February, and the general election did not take place until the end of April. The two events could not have had any connection, for the Reform Bill, which led to the general election, had not been introduced at the time when the contract was signed; and no one could then have imagined that a general election would have taken place at so early a period. Again, it was said that this was au electioneering contract, and that the chairman of the Galway Packet Company had entered Parliament as a supporter of the Government of Lord Derby. But a more unfounded statement was never made. He had no doubt that the person thus referred to was the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Lever). But it so happened that that hon. Member had never been the chairman of the Company. The first chairman and the first vice-chairman of the Company were both at present Members of that House, but neither of them had ever been a supporter of Lord Derby's Government. The chairman was the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. H. Lewis) and the vice chairman was a noble Lord (Lord Bury), who sat on the Treasury Bench, who held an office in Her Majesty's Household. I have also seen it stated that justice to Ireland did not require that the country should expend £72,000 a year for work which was not performed. But the terms of the contract expressly provided that no money should be paid until the contract was fulfilled, and it was impossible that a single shilling should be paid for services that were not actually rendered. He did not wish to anticipate the discussion which was to take place upon the Galway contract, but he had thought it right to take the very earliest opportunity of giving the fullest contradiction to these calumnies which had been often and often repeated and often and often confuted. Their confutation might not be as fresh in the recollection of the public as was the constant repetition of them; but wherever they were met they would necessarily be confuted, and he had only to add that he believed their perpetual repetition could only serve to throw discredit on their authors.


said, he should not attempt to defend himself against the imputations made in the House and in some of the English papers, which had been made, because, independently of the Galway Packet Contract, no one would doubt that he should have voted against the abolition of the paper duty. But he protested against the assertion which was made by some portion of the press and by some Members of the House, that Irish Members were actuated by other motives than those which actuated English Gentlemen. It was said by an hon. Member who had spoken in this debate, that sixteen hon. Gentlemen had left the House before the division on the paper duty, because they suspected that force was being used by the Irish Members to induce the Government to reconsider the Galway contract. Now, after the statement that had just been made, he recommended those hon. Gentlemen to look for the future after their own honour, and to leave to the Irish Members to do the same duty to themselves. He thought they had quite enough to do to defend their own conduct without imputing misconduct to other people. It was the same with the press. The leading journal stated that seventy-five Irish Members voted against the Government for the sake of £72,000. Now the number was sixty-nine, and the assertion as to the influence under which they voted was untrue, for of the seventy-one who had voted, sixty-nine had voted in precisely the same way on the first division before the question of the Galway contract had been raised at all, and the others had not voted at all in the first division. An insinuation of corruption in this contract had been levelled against Lord Derby and Lord Eglinton. He was private secretary to Lord Eglinton at the time. He saw the communications which passed between Lord Derby and Lord Eglinton, and he could undertake to state that they proved that no contract was ever made with more caution. AH the friends of Ireland pressed the Government to do something to assist direct communication between Ireland and America. They conceived that they had a right to that assistance, and that if ever there was a case for a subsidy this was it. The country was a poor one, and had not the internal resources necessary for getting up a steam-packet company. It was said, why was not the service thrown open to competition? The point was not overlooked by the Government of the day; but the answer was obvious that if they attempted open competition there would be no company at all—that the contract would be taken in England for the purpose of preventing it being carried out. It was impossible to have competing companies in Ireland, because they had not the wealth; and if an English company were admitted to tender, the contract would be taken for the purpose of not performing the service proposed; and thus by non-performance, preventing the establishment of any Irish packet station, which would be the real object of such a tender. He assured the noble Lord that if Ireland had a right to have direct communication with America, it could never be accomplished by any other means than by making a bargain without competition, either with a new company, or with this company resuscitated. The reason there was such a strong feeling in Ireland towards this company was scarcely understood in this House, but he would tell them that this was not a company in the ordinary sense of the term, or rather was not formed in the way in which companies were formed in this country. There were few large capitalists in Ireland, and in. England capitalists would not subscribe to it. But the sympathy of Ireland being enlisted in favour of the company, people of small means invested small sums in the undertaking. Their feelings were now roused by the consciousness that if the contract did hot go on they would lose their money. From the moment the present Government came into office, the Galway contract was used for the purpose of attacking Lord Derby, and they determined in one way or other, per fas et nefas, to break it. They began by the Chancellor of the Exchequer attacking it, and the Government granting a Committee to impeach its validity, and thus by their own acts they made it impossible for the company to perform the conditions into which they had entered. He did not impeach the conduct of the Postmaster General. There had been, no doubt, breaches of contract, but those breaches were caused by the acts of the present Government. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer held the subsidy in doubt for sixteen months was it any wonder that the company had failed in their engagements? Could any one suppose that a capitalist would subscribe to a speculation which depended on the decision of a Committee of the House of Commons moved by a hostile Ministry? As to the accusation of corruption made against the Irish Members, he despised it. As to Mr. Daly, he had done a great deal for Galway; but to say that he had any authority to go in the name of the Irish Members and mate a bargain for them was too contemptible to notice. He then thought it possible that Mr. Daly, totally regardless and thoughtless of the impending division, went to procure an interview for some Irish Members. Whether he thought that the juncture would have any effect he could not tell, but at least this was certain, no one gave him any authority to speak in the name of the Irish Members. He protested against it being supposed that Irish Members acted differently from English Members; and as to the sixteen Members who were so chary of the honour of the Irish Members, as he had said before, they had quite enough to do to look after their own.


I do not intend to make any observations whatever on the Galway contract—that is a matter which had better be discussed when we can enter into it more fully. But as my noble Friend the Member for Galway (Lord Dunkellin) is not in his place, and as I took a prominent part in the transactions which have called forth all these explanations, I wish to say a few words on the subject of the meeting which was called of Irish Members. There have been two charges thrown out—first, that we endeavoured to tamper with the Prime Minister, and by means of a threat to extort a promise from him; and secondly, that we endeavoured to make terms with the Opposition. As to the last, I utterly deny that there is a shadow of a foundation for it. My noble Friend opposite is aware that we never, either directly or indirectly, held the slightest communication with Gentlemen on the other side of the House. As to the endeavour by means of threats to extort concessions from the Minister, I give that an equally emphatic contradiction. If the subject was ever mentioned at that meeting it was solely for the purpose of repudiating such a course, not merely as derogatory to our own honour, but as the most unwise course which could be pursued to obtain the end in view. So chary were we at the meeting of taking any step which could give occasion for such an imputation that we determined not to go as a deputation to the Prime Minister, al- though at that moment our constituents were most anxious to know how the case really stood. We determined that we would not go to the Prime Minister, lest our motives should be misconstructed. But not only that; so careful were we that in sailing this meeting we only addressed those Members who usually supported Her Majesty's Government, lest any course savouring of intimidation might be suspected. Had we for a moment imagined that the Government, however great the emergency, would submit to dictation of this kind, we must have known that the indignation which would be called forth would utterly overthrow the object which we had in view. When, therefore, the noble Lord the Member for the City of London came down to the House and said "better that a hundred Ministries should be overthrown, better that a hundred dissolutions should take place, rather than any Government should submit to such dictation," I think I may say that the noble Lord's indignation was utterly thrown away, if such indignation was not entirely simulated. It was nothing more nor less than an energetic battle with phantoms invoked for the occusion and for a purpose, in which purpose, I regret to say, the Minister succeeded. Allow me to add that, if we had not been influenced by the lower incentives of prudence, I trust that we should not be so forgetful of the position in which Irish Members stand as part and parcel of the whole Legislature, as to lend ourselves to such a proceeding. I entirely approve the abstract propriety of the sentiments of the noble Lord, because I know that no course is so calculated to bring the House of Commons into contempt and disrepute as to make it possible that its decision could be influenced by concessions or subsidies on the eve of a great emergency. I have seen the working of that system in another country. I have seen it in full blow in Canada, where majorities are obtained by expenditure for local purposes, or the Government is sustained by a grant to this or that municipality; and that is one of the principal causes of the Legislature of Canada having been brought into discredit. I can only say for myself, that last Session I voted against the third reading of the Paper Duties Repeal Bill for reasons into which I am not going to enter now, and that in the present Session I refrained from voting. Although I was most anxious not to sacrifice a large amount of revenue, I was at the same time most auxious not to be instrumental in producing a Ministerial crisis. But when the Government did, in a harsh and unnecessary manner, close a contract which was not the affair of a locality, or of a company, but of a nation, I voted against that Government. I thought the vote perfectly consistent with my previous conduct, and I considered the vote which I then gave as a vote of want of confidence. I conceive that although the vote was on "paper," we had a perfect right to express our confidence or want of confidence in the Government, and that such a course was justified by Parliamentary precedents. In 1846, the majority by which Sir Robert Peel was thrown out was upon a Coercion Bill. That was the issue before the House; but the cause of Sir Robert Peel's Government being upset was not the merits of the Coercion bill, but because he had forfeited the confidence of his followers by his conduct in regard to the Corn Laws. Again, in 1857, a vote of want of confidence, which drove the noble Viscount now at the head of the Government from office, was taken upon the question of a Conspiracy Bill. It was not any difference of opinion as to the right of the French Emperor to protection against assassination, but private piques, small ambitions, and sectional jealousies, which drove the noble Lord from office in 1857; and the vote on that occasion had as much reference to assassination as our vote had the other night to paper. When gross imputations are being cast upon Irish Members, I wish some Members would look at home. It was only yesterday that a Liverpool paper was put into my hands containing a letter addressed to the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Hors-fall), in which he was appealed to to vote for the Government in spite of his position in this House as a Member of the Opposition, and he was told that the issue was not paper—the question was Liverpool or Galway. He was told that, not only was it a steam-packet question, but a question for the whole shipping interest, and that he would be called to account for any vote which might give sanction to an opposition inconsistent with the interests of the town which he claimed to represent. The appeal is put in the broadest manner—"Liverpool or Galway—Galway or Liverpool—for which will you vote?" I know the Member for Liverpool to be the last man to be influenced by any appeal against what he considered to be just and right; but I quote the Liverpool papers to show how readily in England the attempt is made to force Members of Parliament to be guided by local interests rather than by the merits of the case submitted to them. When all these stories are being told of the pressure put by Irish Members on the Government, it is fair to mention that other stories affecting Members of a sister country are afloat. There was a story about town that a deputation of Scotch Members waited on the Prime Minister, previous to the late division, to indurate the inflexibility of the noble Lord with regard to the Galway contract, and threatening him with defection should he make any concession to Irish Members. I never for one moment believed that rumour, and I only said and claim for ourselves that same charity which we extend to others.


I do not rise to discuss the question, of the Galway contract. I think the hon. Member who last spoke has exercised a very wise discretion in abstaining from that discussion. Neither shall I make any remark for the purpose of controverting his right to express by his vote his want of confidence in Her Majesty's present Government. I rise merely because the hon. Gentleman in the course of his remarks stated that my noble Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs exhibited "simulated indignation" upon a recent occasion, and appeared rather to intimate that my noble Friend used undue means for the purpose of influencing the votes of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I wish to call attention to what took place on that occasion. Early in the evening questions had been addressed to my noble Friend at the head of the Government with respect to negotiations on the subject of the Galway contract. My noble Friend was unable to state anything more than that a communication had been recently addressed to the Postmaster General on the part of the contractors; that that communication was under consideration; and that an answer would shortly he given to it. My noble Friend did not state what answer would be given, because it was impossible for him to do so; and, therefore, he may have been understood to have left the House in uncertainty as to what answer would be given and as to whether negotiations with this company would not be opened. It must also be in the recollection of the House that a statement was made by a widely circulated newspaper on that morn- ing, that the Government had made a bargain with the Galway Company, the details of which were mentioned and specified. I believe, myself, from what came to my knowledge, that an impression prevailed in this House most derogatory, as it seemed to me, to the honour of Members of Her Majesty's Government, that negotiations were going on with the Galway Company, and that it was sought to purchase the support of Irish Members by concession on that subject. As reports had been circulated in London to that effect, and in the House to my knowledge, after my noble Friend gave his answer to the questions, it became absolutely necessary that my noble Friend the Secretary of State should give a distinct denial to the truth of those reports. I can only speak as to my own feelings. I conceived my honour personally implicated in a distinct denial being at that moment given to what I considered most injurious reports which were then in circulation, and I confess I never heard any statement with greater pleasure than I heard the declaration of my noble Friend, which put an end to all uncertainty upon the subject. So far from the indignation being simulated or resorted to as an unfair contrivance for the purpose of influencing votes, my noble Friend took a course which he was actually forced to take by the state of belief in the House, and he did not in the smallest degree exceed the bounds which were his strict duty, and which were incumbent on him as a man of truth and honour.


said, he had no wish to prolong this discussion, but his attention had been drawn to the statement in The Times newspaper, that it was incumbent on the Irish Members to clear up the matter. So strongly had he felt this imputation that it had been his intention, but for the notice of the hon. Member for Roscommon, to call the attention of the House to the matter as a breach of privilege. It was an old French proverb that Qui s'excuse s'accuse; and, therefore, he felt extremely indignant that the noble Lord should have said he was glad the Irish Members had exculpated themselves.


Allow me to interrupt the hon. Member, for the purpose of preventing my being misunderstood. What I said about "exculpated" was as to the Irish Members having authorized Mr. Daly to introduce a deputation.


was happy to find the objectionable word either explained or retracted. It was said that the indignation of the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary was induced by the prevalence of certain reports. Who put those reports in circulation? They were circulated by an organ of the Government, The Times newspaper, and not by the Irish Members. The purpose was to gain votes, and they did gain votes by rousing a natural feeling of indignation among English and Scotch Members. It was the Government who required to be exculpated from lending themselves to such slanders on the Irish Members. He found he had used an expression to which he ought perhaps to except, because he objected to their being called Irish Members. They were as much the representatives of the whole country as the Scotch or English Members. No one was more entirely free from these imputations than himself. He had expressed no opinion in the House, cither on the paper duties or on the Galway contract. His opinion on the Galway contract was very well known out of doors. He did not think Galway the best of Irish ports, but that the contract had been useful in bringing the steamers to Cork. If one of the 105 Irish Members was liable to imputations, it was the habit to take the one black sheep as the type of the whole flock; but if the English had a black sheep they drove it out of the flock remorselessly. He thought the noble Lord might have easily ascertained whether Mr. Daly had any authority or not; but it seems to have suited him better to remain in a state of blissful ignorance. And then, when called upon for an explanation, his conduct towards the Irish Members had been characterized by so much finesse, and he gave such unintelligible answers that it was necessary to put up the next in command to explain. He did not, however, intend to insinuate that any Member of the Government wrote-the article in question. He was not fond of going upon deputations, but he had once accompanied a deputation to the noble Lord, as to Cork Harbour, because it was less trouble than to give an explanation to his constituents why he had absented himself; and upon that occasion he told the noble Lord he did not think any good would be derived from the deputation except the pleasure he must always feel in paying his Lordship a morning visit. The noble Lord was very facetious in his description of the interview with Father Daly. He knew less of Father Daly than either the noble Lord or the leader of the Opposition; but upon one occasion he had seen Father Daly in conversation with some hon. Members outside. One of them said, "I hear you had a very satisfactory interview with the Premier." "Yes," said Father Daly, "very satisfactory indeed, and, therefore, I ask all you Gentlemen to go at once and vote against him." "Was he civil to you?" was the next question. "Oh yes" said Father Daly, "all great men in eminent positions are civil and courteous; he was exceedingly civil, and I have nothing to complain of in that respect." Thinking to take a rise out of the poor parish priest, the Gentleman said, "Have you been to any of his Lordship's 'evenings at home?'" but Father Daly was ready with his answer—"No, Sir, I don't care for high society at all; I would just as soon sit at the board of an humble man like yourself." He himself had had an interview in the lobby—it was with a Member of the House connected with the Government, and he would not look round the House lest he should see him in his place—who said, "Surely, you will not lend yourself to this dirty work?" He replied, "I was born an Irish gentleman, as you were born an English gentleman; and I do not understand expressions of that kind being addressed to me." The Member said, "You Irish are very hot; you take in earnest what is meant in joke." He answered, "No Irish gentleman would use such expressions either in jest or in earnest."


said, he had attended the meeting alluded to, firmly convinced that those who went to it would vote against the Government on the same evening. So far from thinking that course derogatory, he believed it was the one which it was their duty to take, and which was in accordance with the wish of their constituents. He put it to Irish Members whether it was not the course their constituents wished them to take, irrespective of any considerations as to tea or paper? There seemed to be an attempt made to bind Members to vote on abstract considerations without reference to any other considerations. For himself, he did not mean to be bound by such a rule, nor did he think it was one which had before been recognized and acted upon in the House. He had no doubt that his vote on the occasion in question was influenced by the conduct of the Government on the Galway contract, and that it would, on future occasions, be equally influenced if similar circumstances arose. He trusted that some pressure would yet be brought to bear upon the Government in reference to that contract.