HC Deb 03 July 1862 vol 167 cc1337-45

said, he wished to ask, Why the Correspondence between the Treasury and the Board of Works and the Woods and Forests had not been laid on the table, in accordance with a Resolution which had been moved some time ago?


said, he had a further question to ask upon the same subject. He wished the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster to explain how it was that a Resolution which had been passed by the Committee did not appear upon the minutes of the proceedings of the Committee that were first issued. He thought it an act of justice to a deserving officer of the House that some explanation should be given.


said, that after the direct appeal that had been made to him he would, with the permission of the Committee, answer that appeal. But in order that the subject should be clearly understood, it was necessary that he should state how the question originally arose on which the Committee arrived at its Resolution. On the 15th May, almost immediately after the Committee commenced their proceedings, Mr. Hope Scott, who was counsel for the Crown lessees, stated that a memorial had been presented by the Duke of Buccleuch and others to Mr. Gore in the previous September; that some correspondence took place on the subject, and that that correspondence was moved for in the House of Commons on the 20th of February, but was refused on the ground of expense. The Motion to which the learned counsel referred was made by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Kinnaird), and was to this effect— Copy of all Correspondence between the Treasury, the Office of Works and Buildings, and the Office of Woods, in reference to the Report of the Thames Embankment Commission, and any Bill to be founded or introduced on such Report. The notice of that Motion was given on the 15th, and the Motion was made on the 20th of February. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner was, that he did not think the production of the correspondence would be of such public utility as to justify the expense of printing it. Upon the statement of the learned counsel, that it was important that this correspondence should be brought before the Committee, he (Sir John Shelley) moved a Resolution in the exact words of the Resolution moved in the House by the hon. Member for Perth. When the room was cleared, the Chief Commissioner (Mr. Cowper), who was Chairman of the Committee, stated that that correspondence included various matters in relation to Bills and portions of Bills, and other things which had not now been, brought before Parliament; but that if the Committee were content, he would lay before them such portions of the correspondence as he thought bore upon the case. On the 16th June Mr. Hope Scott again alluded to the subject, and said that the Duke of Buccleuch and the Crown lessees thought it was desirable that the whole of the correspondence on the subject should appear, and also a plan of the roadway mentioned in the report of the Treasury. The learned counsel added that he was instructed that that correspondence had an important bearing upon the case, and that it was desirable that it should be embodied in the Minutes of Evidence. Upon that he (Sir John Shelley) proposed the Resolution again, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner then stated that he would produce as much of the correspondence as he thought bore upon the case. The correspondence was laid before the Committee, who, after due deliberation, came to the conclusion, that as it purported to be only a portion of what had passed, it was not satisfactory, and that as the subject had been much discussed out of doors, they were of opinion it was necessary to its being thoroughly understood that all the correspondence should appear. In consequence of that, he (Sir John Shelley) moved, in Committee, on the 20th June, the following Resolution:— That copies of all Correspondence between the Treasury and the Office of Works, and the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenue relating to the Thames Embankment, be referred to the Committee, and also the plans relating thereto. The right hon. Gentleman renewed his objections to that Resolution; and he (Sir J. Shelley) gave as his reason for so doing, that the subject had now shown itself to be a question in dispute between two Departments—the Office of Woods and the Office of Works; and that as the Treasury stood in the relation of umpires in this matter, and it was their duty to protect public interests. As regards the Departments, he (Sir J. Shelley) did not think it just or right that the head of one Department only should have the power of saying what should or should not be given. The Committee were called upon to give their votes, when every Member of the Committee, except the right hon. Gentleman, recorded his vote with the "Ayes;" and under these circumstances the votes were not taken down. That Resolution was come to on the Friday, and the Committee did not meet till the Monday following. When the Resolution had been put, the right hon. Gentleman, instead of handing it to the Committee clerk, took it away with him. He (Sir John Shelley) thought it but just to a most excellent officer of the House—the Committee clerk —that the subject should be distinctly understood. The right hon. Gentleman, having taken the Resolution away with him, certainly had the whole of Friday and Saturday, and, if he had thought proper, a portion of the Sunday, to look over his papers. The Committee met on the Monday, and, after considerable discussion, concluded their Report. During the whole of that day, and until the proceedings appeared in print, he believed there was not one Member of the Committee who had the slightest idea that the Resolution carried on the Friday would not appear on the Minutes of the proceedings. The right hon. Gentleman made no statement to the Committee of not being able to find any papers relating to the Returns, nor—so far as he (Sir J. Shelley) was aware—did he make any observation on the subject. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman could have made any observation of this kind without his (Sir J. Shelley's) knowledge, because it so happened—for his sins perhaps—that during that investigation there was no question asked and answered which he was not present to hear. He now came to a portion of the case which it was necessary should be understood, in order to clear an officer of that House—the Committee clerk—as well as himself and the other members of the Committee, from any charge of irregularity. There was a discussion on the subject in the House on Tuesday last, and he (Sir J. Shelley) incidentally alluded to the Resolution having been passed in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman turned round in his seat and contradicted him. A right hon. Gentleman who spoke afterwards (Sir W. Jolliffe) said he had heard the right hon. Gentleman's contradiction with great surprise. He (Sir J. Shelley) naturally felt hurt that his veracity should be thus questioned, and felt that he must vindicate himself. He therefore induced the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) to go to the Speaker, and state that under the circumstances it was his (Sir J. Shelley's) intention to put a notice upon the paper of a Motion ordering the Committee clerk to appear at the bar of the House on the following Monday. He (Sir J. Shelley) then left the House for an hour or two; and on afterwards returning he met the right hon. Gentleman below the gangway. The House would observe the way in which he held up the paper. [Holding up a paper of which one part was folded over the other.] The right hon. Gentleman, holding the paper in this manner, said—" I have found a copy of the Resolution you moved." The Resolution was in the right hon. Gentleman's own handwriting, and was as follows:— Copies of all correspondence between the Treasury and the Office of Works, and the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenue, relating to the works between Fife House and Westminster Bridge, and the plans relating thereto. On seeing that he exclaimed, with some irritation, that it was not a true copy of the Resolution, and that the words "between Fife House and Westminster Bridge" were not in the Resolution he put to the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman then turned up a loose portion of the paper—thus—and said, "Oh yes! these were the words:—'relating to the works under the Thames Embankment Bill shall be referred to this Committee.' "He (Sir J. Shelley) said; he would have no copies of his Resolution, he would have the original, to prove to the House he had stated nothing but the fact. The right hon. Gentleman then said lie had placed the Resolution in the hands of the Committee clerk. Accordingly, he (Sir J. Shelley) proceeded to find the Committee clerk, and then, in company with that gentleman and the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, went to the Speaker and placed before him the Resolution which he (Sir J. Shelley) had moved in Committee, and it was then found that the Resolution had been altered—a pen having been drawn through the words "works under the Thames Embankment," and "between Fife House and Westminster Bridge" substituted, in the handwriting of the right hon. Gentleman. He (Sir J. Shelley) then insisted upon the exact words of the Resolution so carried in Committee appearing on the Minutes of the proceedings, and the Speaker ordered the Committee clerk to see the printer and insist upon a fly leaf containing the Resolution being printed and delivered to Members on the following Monday. That was done, and hon. Members would find the Resolution in its proper place. But the fact still remained that the House was assembled to discuss the question; and though the plan to which the Resolution referred had been sent to hon. Members that morning, the correspondence was not before them. He was sorry to have to make that statement, but he felt bound to do so in order that the regularity of the proceedings before the Committee should be inquired into. No doubt a great responsibility rested with the Committee clerk, but he thought the House would agree with him that that gentleman was wholly free from blame in the matter. Considering the way the question had been prejudged out of doors, without waiting to see the circumstances upon which the decision of the Committee was based, he depended upon the House to do justice to those gentlemen whom they had intrusted with the inquiry, and who had considered the question with great care, sifting the evidence and being guided in their conclusions only by their sense of what was due to the public interest.


Sir, I think the proceedings which have just taken place are exceedingly irregular. They are undoubtedly so in a Parliamentary sense. It is remarkable that I should be singled out, because I am the promoter of this Bill, for a series of malicious and un- founded attacks. The other clay the noble Lord, whom I see opposite (Lord Robert Montagu), was made a cat's-paw of to bring an accusation against me for a thing which turned out to be utterly trumpery and insignificant—that, after the Committee had concluded their Report, and after the House had ordered a blue-book to be printed, I gave to a friend a printed copy of what the House had itself ordered to be printed. Well, what charge could be more trumpery and insignificant? Who would have thought of bringing that matter before the House if they who did so had no ulterior and worse motive? And the House thought it trumpery.


The right hon. Gentleman cannot impute motives.


Sir, I beg pardon; I have no wish to speak about motives, except as throwing light on acts; and what I have said as to motives I beg to retract. I wish to speak only of acts. Upon inquiry, it turned out that somebody had done a thing not usual among gentlemen—had not respected the privacy of a document which fell into hands for which it was not intended. Well, I do not care upon whom the responsibility of that proceeding rests, whether upon the gentleman into whoso hands the document fell, or upon the noble Lord opposite or any of his advisers; but this I say, that this attack, coming after the other, shows me that there is a great desire in some quarters that this Embankment Bill should not be considered upon its proper merits, and that the attention of the House should be diverted from the real point in question. It reminds me of the brief given to the defendant's counsel in a trial — "No case, abuse the plaintiff's attorney;" and so it was said, "Here there is no case, abuse the promoters of the Bill." Now, I say the hon. Baronet has given a colour to the transactions which he related which is not warranted, nor is it right.


I hope my right hon. Friend will excuse me. I think I could corroborate what I said in two words.


I say the hon. Baronet has given an unfair colouring to the facts to which he referred. The case was a very simple one. The counsel for the Duke of Buccleuch applied to have all the correspondence relating to the question at issue—the case before the Committee—whether the roadway should go in front of the House of the Duke of Buc- clench and the other Crown lessees, or in another direction. I at once said that all the correspondence which had passed should be granted. It appears, however, that there was some other correspondence of which I was not cognizant—not belonging to my department, but which the Committee were desirous to have. A Motion was accordingly made in Committee for all the correspondence relating to the works. My impression was that the Committee wanted correspondence similar to what had been already granted, relating to the question at issue—that of alternative roads. Therefore I said, "I will give it you;" and at the close of the sitting I took away the original Motion with me in order to send it to the other offices, so that I might get the information for the Committee as rapidly as possible, because, as it was very near the close of the proceedings of the Committee, there would not have been time to get all the correspondence in the ordinary way by the Committee clerk writing an official letter to the office. So, instead of leaving the cleric to write, I took the Resolution home with me, in order to get the correspondence in time. I looked at the correspondence in my own office, but I could find nothing which I thought came within the order of reference. I then sent the Resolution to other departments; but before Monday, when the Committee terminated its proceedings, no further correspondence was furnished. When the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster (Sir John Shelley) brought the subject before the House, he proceeded to give notice of a Motion different in terms from the Resolution agreed to by the Committee, and which had reference only to works. But the hon. Baronet put a notice on the paper for correspondence relating to the Bill and the Report of the Commission; and when I contradicted him, it was, because he asserted, as I thought, that he had given notice of the same Motion as had been passed in Committee. I contradicted him flatly, because he had made a mistake, and I thought he would be glad to be set right. I entirely concurred in the Motion being made in the House, as it had been agreed to by the Committee. I never made a single objection to it at any time, and I cannot see what blame is to be attached to me in that matter. The papers have not yet been delivered by the printer. I suppose they are in the printer's hands, and will be delivered in the ordinary course of time, probably in the course of to-morrow. I believe I took away the original copy of the Resolution before the clerk had entered it, and I am accused of doing so instead of taking a copy. But I was not aware that the clerk had not made an entry of it; an entry was of little importance, for we all agreed that the correspondence should be produced; there was no objection, and the matter seemed of no importance. I made no opposition to the printing of the papers, and I am accused of a thing for which there is no foundation. [Mr. A. SMITH: But as to the alteration?] Oh! the alteration. My explanation of that is this:—After the notice had been drawn up there was a discussion in the Committee whether it would not be right not to extend the reference to the works of the whole Embankment, but to limit it to the works of that particular portion of the Embankment about which there was a dispute, and I remember saying to the members of the Committee, I think you do not want to have the correspondence, if there is any, about the whole of the Embankment, but only about that portion of it which is between Whitehall, or Fife House and Westminster Bridge," and some of the Members agreed with me, and said, "Put in Whitehall Stairs or Fife House." I heard no objection, and took it as a unanimous decision. It was a matter of indifference to me. I would feel obliged to any Member of the Committee to confirm my statement, if it is correct, that the Committee agreed that the words should be altered. Not expecting such a statement as the hon. Baronet has made to-night, I wrote the alteration with my own hand. I did not suspect anything, and therefore, unfortunately, I am open to his false accusation. ["Oh, oh!"] I did not mean to say anything uncivil; but the statement of the hon. Baronet was not founded on fact.


said, he begged to confirm the statement which had been just made by the right hon. Gentleman. It was said in the Committee, that if all the papers were produced, there would be a great deal in them relating to Hungerford Market and other places which they did not care to see, and that they wanted merely the correspondence which related to part of the Embankment. The alteration was therefore suggested after the Resolution was passed, and the Committee assented to it.


said, he could confirm what had been stated by the noble Lord.