§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, he wished to put a Question to the First Commissioner of Works, with regard to a Motion which stood in his (Sir John Shelley's) 1215 name, for the production of Correspondence which had been alluded to on Friday evening, and which the Committee on the Thames Embankment Bill had unanimously voted should be produced. He observed that the Resolution had that morning been delivered to Members as a fly-sheet to the ordinary printed papers. He wished to know whether he should be permitted to take that Correspondence as an unopposed Return?
said, there was no objection whatever to the Motion of the hon. Baronet; he only hoped the hon. Baronet understood that there was no ambiguity under the name of works—that under "works" were not included the proceedings relating to Bills and Reports which were in his previous notice. To the amended notice there was no objection whatever.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, he begged to move, as as an unopposed Return, for copy of all Correspondence between the Treasury, the Office of Works, and the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues, relating to the Works under the Thames Embankment Bill, and the Plans relating thereto.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
Sir, as there is a Motion before the House, I wish to take this opportunity of addressing a few words of personal explanation to the House, and I hope it will accord to me that customary indulgence which, whether there be a Motion before it or not, is invariably accorded to hon. Gentlemen who have been made subject to attack, or who desire to correct any erroneous impression. The matter that I wish to bring before the House arises out of what took place on Friday last, and I must first put the House in possession of facts which caused me to make the Motion for the adjournment on that evening. On that evening some of the Members of the Thames Embankment Committee met together a little before four o'clock, in order that a rumour, inexplicit in its form, should not remain unnoticed. At that meeting we came to no decision as to our course of action; but at a quarter to six we met again, and it was then agreed that some hon. Gentleman should move the adjournment of the House in order to obtain such explanations as were considered to be necessary, and I was requested to make that Motion. Now, Sir, in the papers of this morning there are three distinct charges brought against me in a letter signed by a gentleman of 1216 the name of Matthew Higgins. The first statement is that "Mr. W. F. Higgins has written to assure me that Lord Robert Montagu has stated what is not the fact, in saying that he had given to his Lordship full leave of mentioning the circumstance of having opened an envelope not intended for him." Now, I beg the House to bear in mind the statement which I made. It was in these words:—" There is a story current in the House"—I made no statement whatever for myself—I merely alluded to a story which was current in the House—and which has reached every member of the Embankment Committee. I think it only fair and just to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner of Works to relate that story in order that he may have the opportunity of explaining it and, I trust, of denying its accuracy. Now, Sir, that rumour was current, and was related to me by the hon. Member for Marlow (Colonel Knox), and he said, "I need not tell you that Mr. Higgins does not object to have it repeated. On the contrary, he wishes use to be made of it," and that the House will see is confirmed by a sentence in Mr. Higgins's letter to me.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The noble Lord is permitted to make any explanation that he thinks necessary in reference to anything which he has stated in this House and which he thinks necessary for his own vindication, but he is not at liberty to make any comments upon the language used by another person in reference to what has taken place in this House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
If the noble Lord thinks that anything which he has said in this House requires explanation, he may give that explanation, but he must confine himself within that limit.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
I rested my statement entirely on general rumour. The only words that had the appearance of being a quotation were to this effect, that there were marginal references on the papers forwarded to Mr. Higgins, and one of them was "I particularly direct your attention to the answer of Mr. Horsman to Question so-and-so." It has been admitted by the Chief Commissioner of Works that there were such marginal references, and that is the only thing approaching to a statement of my own; and that I made because the right hon. Mem- 1217 ber for Stroud told me of it, and that right hon. Gentleman is my authority for the statement [Mr. HORSMAN made a gesture of denial.] The right hon. Gentleman certainly told me that, and said, "Mind you mention that in the House." [Mr. HORSMAN again denied the statement by gesture.] I told the right hon. Gentleman T would not omit to mention it, and it has been borne out by facts. [Mr. HORSMAN: Quite ridiculous!] I will now read to the House the letter which Mr. W. F. Higgins has written to me—3, Chester Place, Chester Square,June 28.My Lord,—It has been with feelings of very great regret that I have read in The Times of this morning a speech of your Lordship's on the question of the Thames Embankment; and from what followed the public has been led to believe that a private letter, sent through the post, and intended for another Mr. Higgins, has fallen into my hands, that it had been intercepted by me, and that I had made public use of its contents. Now, the facts of what did occur are simply these:—On the evening of Monday, the 23rd inst., a packet addressed as follows:—'Private, W. F. Higgins, Esq., 3, Chester Place, Chester Square' (my correct initials and correct address), was left at my house, not by the postman, but by a messenger. I, of course, opened it, and found that it contained no letter whatever, but a memorandum referring to certain questions and answers in the evidence taken before the Embankment Committee; copies of which were enclosed. There was no signature in the corner of the envelope; there was no signature to the memorandum; there were no initials; there was, in fact, nothing to lead me to a knowledge of the writer of it, and the only clue I had to the source from whence the packet came was the official seal, which bore the impression of the Board of Works. To that office I accordingly went on the next day, and there learnt from the messenger in the hall, to whom I put the question, that the packet was addressed to me in the handwriting of Mr. Cowper. I asked to see Mr. Cowper, and handed back to him the packet, which, in the mean time, had never been out of my possession. I do not for a moment deny that I mentioned the circumstance to many friends, both in and out of the House, and I certainly never bound them to silence. I never showed the contents of the packet to anybody; and if I am asked if I ever authorized the circumstance being mentioned in Parliament, I must decidedly answer in the negative. Had any letter, private or not private, reached my hands, that was not intended for me, I should, of course, have returned it in the most honourable way to its writer. I feel sure, that as your Lordship introduced my name into this discussion, you will, in justice to me, avail yourself of the earliest opportunity of publicly reading my explanation of the facts.I have the honour to be, my Lord,Your obedient servant,W. F. HIGCINS.Lord Robert Montagu, M.P.On receiving that letter on Saturday morn- 1218 ing I instantly replied that I would inquire what the forms of the House would permit me to do. I found that I might read the correspondence to the House, and I wrote on Sunday to say that this should be done. After writing this I was astonished to find the grave charges made against me resting on the faith of Mr. W. F. Higgins, in the letter signed by Mr. M. Higgins; and thereupon I wrote the following letter:—Monday, June 30.Sir,—I have just read a letter in The Times, signed 'M. Higgins,' and request you to inform me whether the last paragraph of that letter be true. As you say you read the report in The Times of Saturday, you are aware that on Friday I related in the House of Commons merely 'a story current in the House,' which 'I thought it fair and just' to do, in order that Mr. Cowper might 'explain it or deny the accuracy of it.' You were also informed by the same report that Mr. Cowper acknowledged to have forwarded papers and minutes of evidence, and that he wrote on the papers some references to the conversation which he already had with Mr. Higgins.' You must therefore perceive that Mr. Higgins has written to say that you 'assured' him of that which you were aware was not the case. I assume that the paragraph in Mr. Higgins's letter is not correct. On Saturday forenoon, immediately on the receipt of your letter, I wrote to you, saying that I was anxious to put the House in possession of a correct version of the story, and would inquire how this could be done in accordance with the rules of the House. On Sunday I wrote to you to say that I was prepared to read your letter to the House. Before I can consent to take that course I must know whether you wrote to Mr. Higgins a letter such as that which he describes. "Your obedient servant,R. W. MONTAGU.To W. F. Higgins, Esq.Just before going to the House that evening I received the following answer:—Monday, June 30.My Lord,—In reply to the letter which I have this morning received, I beg at once to inform your Lordship that I am quite convinced that your statement was based merely on a 'story current in the House," and that, as you professed to have no information from me, you cannot, of course, be accused of having 'stated what was not the fact.' As to the 'marginal references,' I cannot really say whether they existed or not, as, when I found that the documents were not intended for me, I paid no attention to what they contained. From the terms of your letter, I am sure you had a wrong impression of the note which I wrote to Mr. Higgins.I have the honour to be, my Lord,Your obedient servant,W. F. HIGGINS.To Lord Robert Montagu, M.P.I must conclude by stating that I should regret exceedingly if I have used any words calculated to give pain to Mr. Higgins—I mean Mr. W, F. Higgins, and not 1219 the tall gentleman; but I should like to know how the tall Mr. Higgins could profess to know anything about a letter which he never saw.
said, that as the noble Lord had alluded to him as the person who had made the communication respecting the letter to Mr. Higgins, he wished to say, that having heard the rumour, he came down to the House, but was accidentally too late to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he had written a certain letter to Mr. Higgins. He had no further knowledge of the circumstance than that he was called out of a club by Mr. Higgins, who waited to see him, and who stated that he had received the letter in question, containing enclosures, with the seal of the Woods and Works, and that he thought the members of the Committee ought to be made acquainted with the circumstance. He (Colonel Knox) thereupon told it to the noble Lord (Lord K. Montagu). As the noble Lord had stated that there was a meeting of gentlemen at six o'clock on Friday evening to determine what to do in the matter, he had only to state that he was not invited, although, under the circumstances, it would only perhaps have been fair if he had been asked to attend. As the noble Lord had mentioned his name as his authority, he begged to say that he could not endorse the statement he had made as being accurate in any way. He thought that the noble Lord after what had taken place might have clone him the honour to communicate with him before he used his name. Mr. Higgins had sought him (Colonel Knox); he had not sought Mr. Higgins. He had told the noble Lord the story because it had been related to him without any conditions of secrecy.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, that as his name had been used by the noble Lord—somewhat unwarrantably—he wished to state exactly what had occurred, and leave the House to form its own opinion. He was walking home along Whitehall between four and five o'clock on Friday evening, when he met the noble Lord near the office of Woods and Works. The noble Lord told him what had occurred, and said it had been determined to bring the matter before the House at six o'clock. He said he was deputed to bring it on, and that he was on his way to the Chief 1220 Commissioner of Works to give him notice of his intention to do so; so that before he met the noble Lord a meeting had been held, and the determination to bring the matter before the House had been taken. Just as he parted from the noble Lord at the door of the Woods and Works, he understood from him that there was to be a further meeting of hon. Members at a quarter past five o'clock that evening to consider the subject. He had nothing to do with that meeting, and he avoided attending it; but when he came down to the House at six o'clock he went to the library, and found some of the Members still assembled. He said he had heard that his name, among others, had been mentioned in the matter. He gave the statement afterwards made by the noble Lord as a rumour. But he was so far from saying that the noble Lord should mention the matter that he never was so amazed as when he heard a private remark repeated to the House. As to his desire that the noble Lord should mention his name as occurring in the document, he could have had no possible motive for such a desire, and was amazed to hear it repeated to the House. He certainly came into the House on Friday evening and took part in the discussion, but the original determination of hon. Members to bring the matter before the House was taken before he heard of the matter.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
There is nothing in the world more calculated to lead to no result than a discussion about what "I said" and "you said," and somebody else said, because it is quite certain that no two individuals will agree as to what was said by either party. I should hope, that the noble Lord having disburdened himself by—I will not say a recantation, but an explanation—this conversation may be allowed to drop. The noble Lord, if he will allow me to say so, is in the position of having found a mare's nest. He thought he had made a great discovery, but it amounted only to this— that my right hon. Friend did what every member of a Committee considers himself at liberty to do, when the Committee have ended their labours, and sent one or two sheets of the evidence to a private friend. ["No, no!"] From what has been said, one might suppose that the Committee was a secret Committee, and that its proceedings ought to be known to no one but the Members; whereas the Committee was in fact attended by fifty or sixty persons 1221 every day, and every word that passed in the Committee was known all over London by all persons whose interest or desire it was to be acquainted with what occurred. If there has been a breach of confidence, the House would be best able to judge who committed it; but as to accusing my right hon. Friend of a breach of confidence, you might as well say that it was a breach of confidence to send to a person, not being a Member of the House, a statement at seven o'clock on the Wednesday evening of what passed in the House in the morning, because by so doing you would anticipate The Times of next day.
§ SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE
said, he did not wish to enter into details as to what had taken place in the Committee; but as the noble Lord had entered into various statements, he was sure the House would feel that full justice ought to be done to the members of the Committee. For himself he could say that he had entered on the duties cast on him by the House free from any bias, and with the determination to discharge them to the best of his ability, and he had heard with great pain— ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
informed the right hon. Member that it was competent for him to make a personal explanation as to words spoken in that House, but not to enter upon the general substance of the proceedings of the Committee.
§ SIR WILLIAM JOLLIFFE
said, he would confine himself to personal explanation. He had heard for the first time that night of certain meetings held by members of the Committee, but he did not attend them. On one occasion he went into the library a little before six o'clock, without knowing that there was a meeting, and he found several members of the Committee there. He supposed he was behind the rest of the world; for when on Friday night he addressed the House, he had never heard anything of what had occurred, nor of the gossip that was flying about. He did not allude to it; he merely alluded to a suppression which by accident or some means had been made in the report of the proceedings of the Committee.
§ Motion agreed to.
Of all Correspondence between the Treasury, the Office of Works, and the Commissioners of Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues, relating to the works under the Thames Embankment Bill, and the plans relating thereto.