HC Deb 16 May 1862 vol 166 cc1794-821

said, that in rising to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the double appointment of Sir Edwin Pearson and Mr. Tite, M.P., to the Chairmanship of the Westminster Improvement Commission, he wished at the outset to express his regret that this painful duty should have devolved upon him. The matter, however, was one which, as would be seen, evidently called for explanation. He had also been personally placed in a most disagreeable position by the conduct of the Chief Commissioner of Works, and the only alternative open to him, if he would avoid raising a very unpleasant question, was to abandon a meritorious public servant. Early in May, 1861, the Westminster Improvement and Encumbered Estates Bill was passed by the House of Commons, and it was thereby provided that the Chief Commissioner of Works should, by writing under his hand, nominate some fit and proper person to be the Chairman of the new Commission. As soon as that became known, the Dean and Chapter wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Works strongly recommending Sir Edwin Pearson, on account of "the honourable and business-like manner in which he had previously fulfilled the duties of Chairman of the Commission." That was also the general opinion entertained throughout Westminster. Some years ago he (Sir W. Gallwey) brought forward the disgraceful condition in which one of the most important portions of the metropolis was then, and still remained. He was therefore asked to impress upon Mr. Cowper the expediency of appointing some gentleman as Chairman, so that the work might be immediately proceeded with. Accordingly, he saw the right hon. Gentleman in the lobby, and stated the desirability of appointing a gentleman who had all the details of this matter at his fingers' ends, and who, the Bill being a mere winding-up Bill, would be assisted by his previous knowledge. Mr. Cowper then said he would take time to consider. Some months elapsed, and at last, on the 17th of July, the right hon. Gentleman authorized him directly and positively to state to Sir Edwin Pearson that he would be appointed the Chairman of the Commission. More than that, Mr. Cowper said that Sir Edwin Pearson should hear from him, or should receive his appointment on the following day. He did therefore convey that intimation to Sir Edwin Pearson. The right hon. Gentleman's own letters confirmed his interpretation of what had passed; and although, by the help of the law officers of the Crown, some loophole might be found, he would put it to the House whether morally, as between gentleman and gentleman, it was not in every way a direct and decided appointment. The letter written by the right hon. Gentleman was dated the 2nd of August; it stated— I am required by the Act of this Session to nominate the Chairman of the new Westminster Improvement Commission, and I believe I should best discharge the duty devolved upon me by placing you in that arduous and responsible post. I am encouraged to hope, from the readiness with which you have worked for the public, that you will be willing to undertake this laborious task. On the 3rd of August Sir Edwin Pearson acknowledged the Chief Commissioner's letter of the 2nd, and accepted the appointment to the office in the following words:— I beg to acknowledge your letter of the 2nd of August, in which you do me the honour to nominate me the Chairman of the new Westminster Improvement Commission. I will undertake with much pleasure the office which you offer to my acceptance, and I trust that I may be instrumental, with God's blessing, in bringing to a successful termination the improvements in Westminster, of which untoward circumstances have for so many years prevented the public from reaping the benefit. From that moment the appointment dated; and he thought it was utterly impossible for the Chief Commissioner to withdraw the nomination without in some degree affecting the character of the gentleman who had been appointed. But then came another chapter in the history. On the 7th of August Sir Edwin Pearson, who had already apprised the Westminster Commissioners of his appointment as Chairman, received from the Chief Commissioner the following letter:— I am distressed to find that I must not. give effect to the intention I mentioned to you in my letter on Friday last. Since I wrote to you I have received an intimation that some of the parties at whose instigation the power of nomination was committed to the First Commissioner of Works attach great importance to the Chairman being a person who comes freshly to the work, without any previous acquaintance with it or any bias; and although I have never heard a whisper of complaint against you, nor do I believe that any one could offer the slightest objection to you personally, yet I do feel that if the duty of nomination was intrusted to me under the expectation that I should infuse what is called 'new blood,' and select a person who would take up the affair from its present starting point, rather than from its origin, I should not be acting rightly in giving way to my own feelings, which prompted me to desire to offer it to you. I am only consoled by the reflection that you will be saved a thankless and laborious task, and that you could find no satisfaction in being again concerned in the affairs of this unfortunate undertaking, from which, I believe, you derived no advantage but that of coming out of it with a spotless reputation. Although he (Sir W. Gallwey) had been made the medium of the communication appointing Sir Edwin Pearson, he never heard of that letter, nor did he hear that the Chief Commissioner had changed his mind with regard to Sir Edwin Pearson. He did not mention that in any way to accuse the Chief Commissioner, but to express his deep regret that he had not heard it, because he believed he should have been able to find some way of reconciling the decision with the reputation of Sir Edwin Pearson. He now came to the next letter. Sir Edwin Pearson, he thought very naturally, rather rebelled against that decision, and in a private interview with the Chief Commissioner on the 7th of August, and again in writing on the 8th, he remonstrated with the Chief Commissioner upon it. It was in reply to the latter remonstrance from Sir Edwin Pearson that the greatest contradiction was contained. The letter was dated the 23rd of August; in it the Chief Commissioner stated— It is unfortunate that you should have hastily communicated the erroneous impression you had derived from my first letter before you could receive my second; but, after weighing carefully what you have urged, both by word of mouth and by letter, I am only confirmed in the conviction that the view expressed in my second letter is the sound one, and that by which I ought to abide I feel sure that you are over-sanguine in supposing that an appointment as director would be an advantage to you in regard to past transactions. Persons who, at present, have no inducement to raise questions as to the share attributable to you in those transactions, and who have no inclination to blame you, would be driven by the fact of your appointment to take up a different position; they would protest against the appointment, and bring forward their objections publicly. The amount of damage which you would incur from the raising and discussion of these questions would be greater than the benefit you could derive from having been selected by the First Commissioner of Works. The opinion of the objectors would have more effect upon the public than that of the First Commissioner of Works, since the former are cognizant of the circumstances, while the latter has no personal acquaintance with them. It would not be beneficial or advantageous to you to be named the Chairman of the new Commission, and it would not be right for me so to exercise the trust confided in me; and I am therefore compelled to repeat that I cannot appoint you, but have thought myself bound to offer the post to another gentleman. I am extremely sorry that in my desire to gratify you and your friends I should have caused you annoyance, and I beg to assure you that I shall be anxious to make amends in any way that would be consistent with my public duties. It was one of the extraordinary features of the case that at the time, when the Chief Commissioner wrote that letter there was in existence another letter written by him to Sir Edwin Pearson on the 6th of August, 1857, long subsequent to the time when Sir Edwin Pearson had ceased to have anything to do with the Westminster Improvement Commission, to the following effect:— House of Commons, Aug. 6, 1857. Dear Sir,—I have so high an opinion of the services you rendered in transforming those haunts of vice and dens of misery into a wide and handsome street, that I shall be glad to seize any opportunity that may offer of helping to secure for you a suitable acknowledgment of the labours which met with so successful a result. Very truly yours, W. COWPER. He believed the House would now be glad to hoar a few remarks with respect to the conduct of Sir Edwin Pearson while Chairman of the old Westminster Improvement Commission. In 1852 there was a plethora of money in the market. Some extraordinary plans and schemes were proposed to the Westminster Commission. In these wonderful schemes Sir Edwin Pearson refused to concur. He entered a protest on the books, retired from the Board, and had no more to do with it. When he retired from it, he believed the Commission had about £100,000 surplus. In 1852 Sir Edwin Pearson loft the Commission; in December, 1854, the number of the bonds had been largely increased, and the Commission had become hopelessly insolvent. sir Edwin Pearson received letters from Dean Milman, Rev. W. Cureton, Canon Wordsworth, Canon Jennings, the Duke ! of Somerset, Lord Carlisle, and Mr. Phillips, Secretary to the Department of Her: Majesty's Woods and Works, couched in the most flattering terms, and expressing; the highest estimation of his services. The letter of Mr. Phillips was dated in 1852, and since that time Sir Edwin Pearson had had nothing to do with the Commission. It contained this passage— If you have never asked yourself the question—and perhaps your generosity has forbidden it—I have. You owe me nothing; the public are a little in my debt on that account, it is true, but I owe them so much on many others that I have long ceased to keep account with them. Their greatest of all obligations in this affair is due to you. To you they are indebted for an improvement which, for all the ordinary purposes of such undertakings, is only the second of its class in the metropolis; for the moral benefits which it will confer second to none. What I am now stating would, I am sure, be confirmed in every quarter; but it is known, perhaps, only to myself how much its progress was aided by the confidence felt here in the purity of your personal character. Were I to make yon acquainted with all I hear on that point you would see how little you were indebted to me. In a petition of bondholders, holding bonds to the amount of £250,000, presented to I Parliament in March, 1856, he found the following statement:— That Sir Edwin Pearson, who was Chairman of the Commissioners, but who resigned his seat from the conviction that the measure proposed was fraught with imminent peril to the Commission, and was not calculated to promote the interest of the bondholders, or of any persons other than those whose bonds were postponed and were to be exchanged, together with Mr. Kettle, used his best endeavours to explain to the bondholders their position and the consequences of the measure; but those persons, implicitly relying upon the good faith of the scheme, and believing that the building fund would greatly tend to improve their security, yielded to the persuasions of others, and, as the event has proved, were deceived. That statement confirmed the explanation which he had given as to the cause of Sir Edwin Pearson's resignation in 1852. It seemed to have been the impression of the Chief Commissioner of Works that the office had no salary attached to it, for on the very day when he wrote the letter of the 7th of August he also wrote to the Westminster Improvement Commissioners to inquire whether the Chairman would be entitled to any emoluments or allowances. It was quite evident that the Chief Commissioner thought that the laborious task was not accompanied by any remuneration. It had been said that there was really no remuneration, because the salary was not to commence until there was a surplus; but speaking upon the authority of the Act of Parliament, he was enabled to say that the salaries overrode everything. There had not been a farthing of surplus, yet the directors had contrived to receive their salary. But it was not a question of a paltry £200 a year. The Chief Commissioner said it was a very laborious and a very arduous task. Sir Edwin Pearson assured him that the duties would occupy four or five hours every day. Who then was the person whom the Chief Commissioner appointed? Was it a person who had time and leisure? He had obtained a document which showed that the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) filled sixteen appointments. In the name of common sense, he asked whether, if the duties were laborious and arduous, it was likely that the hon. Member for Bath would be able to perform them efficiently. He trusted that he had not exceeded the limits of courtesy, which he wished to observe, and in conclusion he would say that the question was not whether the Chief Commissioner was right in appointing to the office a gentleman who had been before connected with it or not; but whether, having had abundant time—a plethora of time—to consider the subject, and having appointed Sir Edwin Pearson, he was not wrong in seeking to force his retirement by what he must consider insinuations and imputations used for the purpose of intimidation.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the double appointment of Sir E. Pearson and Mr. Tite, M.P., to the Chairmanship of the Westminster Improvement Commission, —instead thereof.


Sir, if the hon. Baronet felt it necessary to apologize at being obliged to enter into such a personal question as the one which he hag raised, I must feel still more reluctant to trouble the House with the details. I can unhesitatingly say that I grieve exceedingly at the disappointment of Sir Edwin Pearson in not getting the appointment which he expected to obtain. [An hon. MEMBER: Which he did obtain.] Nothing is more unpleasant in the exercise of patronage than being unable to appoint people whom you would like to oblige. If the simple question had been the disappointment of Sir Edwin Pearson at not getting the place, I should not trespass at any length upon the time of the House. But the hon. Baronet has placed the subject in another light. He moves for a Committee of inquiry into the double appointment. I venture to say that there has been no double appointment. It is a fiction of the hon. Gentleman's brain. No such thing exists. There has been no double appointment, and there is nothing to inquire into. Sir Edwin Pearson was not appointed, and I do not think he ought to have been appointed. I will first state the circumstances under which I wrote the letter. I wrote it for the purpose of ascertaining whether Sir Edwin Pearson was willing or not to occupy the post. ["Oh, oh!"] If hon. Members demur to that, I am sorry to say I must go through the whole story. Everybody is aware of the gross mismanagement of the Westminster Commission. The Winding-up Act, which passed in 1861, was for the purpose of bringing that gross mismanagement to a conclusion. The affairs of the Commission were in a state of inextricable confusion. It was established in 1845 on a wrong principle, for it undertook to execute a very large work without sufficient funds. The consequence was that heavy loans were raised without any means to pay them off. It was stated by the Chairman of the Committee a few years ago that £700,000 had been lost in this transaction. A Bill was brought in to wind up the affairs of the Commission, to authorize the sale of whatever land they possessed, and to pay the proceeds into Chancery, to be divided among the creditors, mortgagees, and bondholders, according to their rights. When the Bill was introduced, it contained a clause to the effect that two of the Commissioners should be appointed by the mortgagees, two by the bondholders, and one by the old Commissioners, and the sixth by the First Commissioner of Works. I was anxious to prevent the Government from being mixed up in the matter, and therefore I informed the solicitor that I objected to the provision empowering the First Commissioner of Works to appoint one of the Commissioners. It was not a Government Commission at all, although the Government had given them a loan. Indeed, much of the loss which the shareholders suffered arose from the false pretences which were put forth that, somehow or other, the Government would find security for the repayment of their loans. During the first stages of the Bill the provision in question was therefore omitted; but it was afterwards represented to mo that, in order to secure a Chairman who would act impartially between the different creditors, the appointment should be made by the Government. On public grounds alone I assented to that provision; but I was unwilling to undertake the duty. When the time came to fill up the office, it occurred to me that Sir Edwin Pearson would be a suitable person. I had known him for several years, chiefly as a benevolent man, interested in providing lodgings for the poor. But, as I said in that letter of mine which has been so much misrepresented, I had no personal knowledge of Sir Edwin Pearson's proceedings in connection with the Commission. I believed he was a man of honour and integrity; and I thought it would be an advantage to get a Chairman who was acquainted with the former transactions, fair and unfair, of the concern. I consulted with the hon. Member for Thirsk (Sir W. Gallwey) as to Sir Edwin's fitness for the situation, and what he said confirmed my previous impression. It often happens, however, that no sooner is a gentleman named for an appointment than immediately one hears all that can be said against him; and when it was rumoured that I intended to nominate Sir Edwin Pearson, I received remonstrances from several persons. On the 2nd of August I wrote to Sir Edwin Pearson the letter which, by some strange delusion, has been supposed to be a regular appointment. I will read the letter again— I am required by the Act of last Session to nominate the Chairman of the new Westminster Improvement Commission, and I believe I should best discharge the duty devolved upon me by placing you in that arduous and responsible post. I am encouraged to hope, from the readiness with which you have worked for the public, that you will be willing to undertake the laborious task. When I wrote that letter, I did not know whether Sir Edwin Pearson would be willing to take the office, and that was what I wished to ascertain. There is a vast difference between an offer and an appointment, and no candid person can say that my letter constituted an appointment. To show hon. Members what a deed of appointment is, I will read that conferring the office on the hon. Member for Bath. It is dated the 5th of September, and runs—"Pursuant to the Westminster Improvement Act of 1861, I, the Right Hon. William Cowper, Chief Commissioner of Her Majesty's Works, do by this writing under my hand, within six months of the passing of the Act, nominate William Tite, Esq., M.P.," and so on. This is not a place to discuss the legal effect of my letter to Sir Edwin Pearson. Until the Court of Queen's Bench is moved, on behalf of the hon. Member for Thirsk, or Sir Edwin himself, to issue a writ of quo warranto, we have a right to assume that the latter was not appointed. I do not shrink from the slightest amount of responsibility that may attach to me; I only wish to separate the legal and the moral points of the case. As to the legal question, there has been no double appointment. That is impossible; inasmuch as if one of those gentlemen is Chairman, the other cannot be. I can only say, that I had not the most remote conception that my letter could be construed into a nomination. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members who doubt that, must give me credit for being about the greatest fool possible; for to imagine that any one out of a lunatic asylum would deliberately make an appointment, and then proceed upon the assumption that he had only asked whether a gentleman was willing to serve, is an absurdity about which I need really hardly argue. I say that my object in writing that letter was to intimate to Sir Edwin Pearson that I was intending to appoint him, and that I wanted to know whether or not he would accept the place. After I had written that letter, I received representations from persons interested on behalf of the mortgagees, that they thought this appointment would be very prejudicial to their interests. They said, that Sir Edwin Pearson had neither the ability nor the good sense—that is their opinion—nor the impartiality which would be required in the person who should occupy the chair of this Commission. They said, "We do not desire to have in the chair any one who is mixed up with the previous transactions of the Commission. We think it but fair to us and to our interests that the person who is to occupy that position, and to influence so strongly the march of events in the Commission, should be a man who is not in any way mixed up with its affairs. He ought to be thoroughly competent for the work;" and they naturally alleged a want of confidence on the part of Sir Edwin Pearson; because they said that he, having been Chairman of the Commission at the time when the transactions commenced which ended in their losses, was not a person whom they could trust as likely to prevent the recurrence of similar misfortunes. Of course, it is very invidious and very unpleasant to say anything against the ability, or talent, or judgment of any man, especially when he is not in this House to defend himself; hut I was satisfied, that in the opinion of the parties interested, Sir Edwin Pearson was not qualified for this post, either by his antecedents or by his attainments. I was bound by the Act to select a man who should be a Stand proper person; and although, in the first instance, with the information which I had before me when I wrote the letter of the 2nd of August, I was of opinion that Sir Edwin Pearson was a fit and proper person, on the 5th of August, when I wrote the next letter, fresh information had reached me, and on that information I could come to no other conclusion than that he was not a fit and proper person, and that I should have been betraying, instead of discharging, my public duty if I had given effect to my intention of two days before. And here I must complain of the hon. Baronet, who in rending a letter said, that Sir Edwin Pearson received it on the 7th of August, leading hon. Members to sup- pose that an interval of five days had elapsed between the writing of my first letter and the writing of the second. My first letter was written on Friday, August 2nd; Sir Edwin Pearson's answer was dated Saturday, the 3rd. I did not receive it, or, at all events, did not read it until Monday, the 5th. Did I allow any time to elapse? When did I write? On Monday, the 5th, [An hon. MEMBER: The 7th.] I must ask the hon. Member not to believe the papers which have been privately circulated to my prejudice. By the success with which the hon. Baronet has privately circulated papers, one of which I see in the hands of the hon. Member opposite, a very false and very unfair impression has been produced against me. I hope that hon. Members will discard what they have heard privately, and listen to me, when I assert—and I am ready to prove it—that I did on the 5th of August, the very same day on which I received Sir Edwin Pearson's intimation of the willingness to accept the office, write to him and inform him of the reasons which prevented me from giving him the appointment which I had offered to him. That letter was directed to the address which Sir Edwin Pearson had given in his previous letter, at Wimbledon; but it appears that Sir Edwin Pearson was at that moment staying with the hon. Member for Warwickshire, at Harefield. The letter travelled thither from Wimbledon, but did not reach him until the 7th of August. I do not object to his saying that he received it on the 7th, but in fairness to me he ought to have added that it was dated on the 5th. On the 5th of August I had this matter to consider. I must say that it did not occur to me that this was an appointment that Sir Edwin Pearson, or any one else, would much desire to have. What was the appointment? First of all, I believed that there would be no pecuniary profit attached to it. The hon. Baronet thinks there may be £200 a year. I doubt it; I think there will be no profit at all. Then it is not a permanent appointment. It is only the office of a Commissioner to wind up some very intricate affairs, I should think a most disagreeable office, and one which people would undertake only from a sense of public duty. It did not occur to me that in telling Sir Edwin Pearson that I should not give effect to my previous intention I was inflicting any great annoyance upon him, or depriving him of any special advantage. on the contrary, I thought that he would acquiesce very readily, and probably thankfully, in that decision. I was under the impression that he was probably under taking the task from a sense of public duty, and that he would have no particular objection to be relieved from it. If that is doubted, I may at least refer to the terms which I used in the letter of the 2nd of August, when, after referring to his public services as the ground on which I hoped he would undertake the office, I added, "I am encouraged to hope, by the readiness with which you have worked for the public, that you will be willing to under take this laborious task." I really did believe that he would get nothing but labour. Of course, he might gain some reputation if he did the work well, but I did not think that he would get any pecuniary advantage, or anything which he would greatly desire. Then the hon. Baronet says that on the 6th of August, which, it is true, was before Sir Edwin Pearson received my letter, I wrote to the Commissioners to ascertain whether there was any emolument or not. I had assumed either that there was no emolument, or that it was so small that it was unnecessary that I should take the trouble to ascertain its amount. It seemed to me that that was an oversight, and that I ought to find out what it was. I therefore took steps to learn what was its amount; but after I had written to Sir Edwin Pearson on the 5th. Therefore when I wrote to say that I could not appoint him I knew no more than I did when I wrote to inform him that I was intending to make that appointment.


It is unfortunate that that letter—


The hon. Baronet is out of order.


If there is any doubt as to the truth of that statement, I can refer to the date on which I wrote the letter.


The words "too late" were marked on that letter.


On which?


On the letter of August 5.


This is the first time that I have heard of it. It would have been well if I had been told that before, But that does not alter the fact that I wrote the letter on the 5th—that it is dated on the 5th. The hon. Member corrobo- rates my statement, however unwillingly, because he does not say that it was posted on the next day, but that it was posted on that day, only too late. He was trying to fix on me a statement which is contrary to my assertion, and contrary to fact. I again repeat—and I defy him to prove the contrary—that I did write the letter on the 5th, that I did post it on the 5th, and he has misrepresented the facts when he led hon. Gentlemen to suppose that it was written on the 7th. That is not his only misrepresentation. I say that on Monday the.5th of August I had to consider whether my public duty required me to appoint Sir Edwin Pearson or not. I had no private interest whatever in the matter. Whatever private feeling I had was in favour of Sir Edwin Pearson. I thought well of Sir Edwin Pearson. I had known him in connection with benevolent societies, and my wish was to appoint him. I had no wish to vex or disappoint Sir Edwin Pearson. On the contrary, the natural satisfaction which every one feels in giving pleasure to a person of whom they think well made me desire to appoint him; but it seemed to me that I should not he discharging the duty cast upon me by the Act of Parliament it I appointed a man who was objected to by any of the mortgagees and bondholders, on the ground that owing to the part he had previously taken in their affairs he was not as free from bias, from prejudice, and partiality as they had a right to expect in the discharge of the duties of the place to which he was to be appointed. There was another reason—I am reluctant to give these reasons; they are forced from me—but there was another reason why Sir Edwin Pearson was not a fit and proper person to fill this office. It is this—Sir Edwin Pearson had at that time, and I believe has now, a pecuniary interest in the transactions of the company, and it certainly was not desirable that the Chairman appointed by the Crown as an impartial person should have a pecuniary interest in the affairs he was to wind up. And not only had Sir Edwin Pearson that existing pecuniary interest, but he was one of those who originally contributed money to this undertaking. I understand that his share was,£7,000, and his brother's share £7,000, out of the £50,000 which were originally advanced to the undertaking, which money has been lost; and this circumstance might expose him to a suspicion which ought not to attach to a Chairman of such a Commission. I do not care to defend the judgment which I may have shown; but I can without fear of contradiction say that I had no improper bias or feeling whatever in the matter; that I had no personal, no private interest to serve. On the contrary, if I had been anxious for a quiet life, I should have let matters take their course but I thought that my public duty required me to take another line. In doing so I was naturally anxious to save Sir Edwin Pearson's feelings as much as I could, and with that view I used the expressions which the hon. Baronet has quoted; which I acknowledge are very strong, and which I might not otherwise have used. But I wished in the strongest way to make it clear to him that the decision at which I had arrived was in no way owing to anything I had heard against his moral character. I said that in as distinct terms as I could, and he might easily have understood, that the objections were not against his moral character, but against his conduct in the chair, and were urged by mortgagees, who said that he had been too much mixed up in the previous affairs of this Commission. I wrote to him, believing, of course, that he would acquiesce in the withdrawal—not of the appointment, but of my intention to appoint him. Because, although I had power to alter my intention, I had no power of cancelling or withdrawing the appointment; and such an idea never occurred to me. Perhaps I may fortify my statement with an opinion which has been given by a person who is very conversant with affairs of this nature. [Name, name!] I do not give the name, because the letter is confidential. What was said of Sir Edwin Pearson was, that he had not the firmness, the energy, or the determination.


said, he rose to order. Unless the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to state the name of the writer and the date of the letter, it would be better to refrain from reading that document.


I beg to say that I was not reading the paper. I was merely stating the impression conveyed to me, which was, that persons who were interested in winding up this Commission were of opinion that Sir Edwin Pearson had not the energy, the determination, and the business qualities which would enable him satisfactorily to discharge his duties. I had to act not merely upon the opinion I myself might form, but I had to consider the interests of those whose money was at stake; and, from the information which I received, I came to the conclusion that Sir Edwin Pearson was not the right man for the position. Then I had to consider who should he appointed, and, after thinking of various persons, it seemed to me that there was nobody who could give such universal satisfaction to the persons interested as my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Tite), who has had very large and varied experience in the class of business relating to this Commission. I also thought a seat in this House might he of advantage to the Chairman in reference to any future proceedings that might be taken on this question, and I therefore asked him if he would be good enough to undertake this task. [Mr. MALINS: When?] I applied to him on the 8th of August. Having written to Sir Edwin Pearson on the 5th, that gentleman came to me on the 7th, and I then had an opportunity of explaining to him my view of the case, and of stating that I was unable to appoint him, not on account of any reflections as to his moral qualifications that had reached me, but because persons whose interests were at stake were unwilling that he should serve. Having seen Sir Edwin Pearson on the 7th of August, I wrote on the 8th to the hon. Member for Bath, and I put it to him, as I had originally put it to Sir Edwin Pearson—"Will you undertake a public duty, a laborious one, for which you can get very little satisfaction beyond doing your duty and conferring some benefit on the public?" That hon. Member took a long time to consider the proposal; he ultimately accepted it, and on the 5th of September I appointed him to the place. A good deal more correspondence passed, but I believe there is no other point on which it is necessary for me to give explanations. I can only say, with regard to the papers that have been moved for—["No, no !"]—that are about to he moved for, if the notice which has been given shall be carried out—that there is nothing I more desire than that every letter I have written and received on the subject should be read. My wish is that the matter should be thoroughly and minutely sifted. But with regard to the Motion actually before the House, it seems to me that there are many difficulties to be encountered. One is, that it proposes the Committee should consider a point of law—namely, what is called the double appointment. My statement is that there has been no such thing; that I never intended to make, and that I never did make, a double appointment. But if the House wish it to be referred to a Committee, it is not for me to express any opinion. Before I sit down, I wish to say, that if the question raised were whether I am to blame for not appointing Sir Edwin Pearson, I should be quite willing to enter into a statement in my own defence before a Committee in much greater detail than I have now felt it right to do. The question raised, how ever, is altogether different, and implies that I did appoint him. That, I say, is entirely a mistake. I did not intend to appoint him—I do not believe I did; and if I did, the question which. is raised can only be settled in a court of law.


said, he quite agreed with the remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner of Works at the beginning of his speech, when he expressed his regret that the appointment had been placed in his hands at all. He (Mr Tite), at all events, regretted that he should have been the unfortunate individual appointed. His own part in the transaction had, however, been very simple and straightforward; and, briefly stated, it would afford the best reply to the imputations upon his character which he felt sure the hon. Baronet would regret having made, He knew nothing whatever of the new street, or the dealings or doings of the Commissioner before the 8th of August, when, having gone down to the coast of Suffolk, he received the following letter from the Chief Commissioner of Works:— Dear Mr. Tite,—The Act which has just passed for altering the Westminster Improvement Commission, for winding up its affairs and giving a title to its property, and for making some new streets, and for getting that unfortunate chaos, Victoria Street, out of the mess in which it is, has given me the authority to appoint a Chairman, who is to be one of six Commissioners, of whom two are elected by the bondholders, two by the mortgagees, and one by the existing Commissioners. Is there any possibility of persuading you to become the Chairman? I am afraid it may be rather a troublesome task; but, on the other hand, there is great public good to be done, and some reputation to be achieved by getting the waggon out of such a rut. Pray tell me how you feel about this, for the parties concerned wish, I believe, that my appointment should he made before the election of the others proceeds, Truly yours, Aug. 8, 1861." "W. COWPER. That was the first he had heard of the ap- pointment, or of the Bill itself, and he answered it by requesting the right hon. Gentleman to send him down a copy of the Act, which he received in a day or two afterwards. He read it over with great care, and believed he had mastered the enactments. It was distinctly a winding-up Act, and though it might entail a little trouble on a person who was well acquainted with business, there was nothing that could not be managed in a reasonable time. In two or three years, at most, he believed the work could be completed. There was a clause in the Act under which—if they could obtain the money, of which he saw very little prospect—some remuneration attached to the appointment. The sum amounted to £700 per annum, and was to be shared among six; so that his portion would be a little over £100, probably for a period of two or three years. But that payment was contingent on several considerations. At the present moment there were no funds to meet these fees, or to meet anything. The Commissioners had looked very carefully into the operation of the Act, and he thought he might say that he saw his way. On the 13th of August, not having returned an answer, he received a pressing note from the right hon. Gentleman saying it was desirable that the appointment should be announced as soon as possible, mentioning that the office was not wholly without emolument, and referring to the £700 of which he had just spoken. His answer was written on the 23rd of August, and nearly crossed another letter from the First Commissioner, In the mean time he had been in London and ascertained in society that some claim had been already made in respect of the appointment; and being anxious rather to diminish his own engagements, and being also the last man to interfere with the fair claims of any other gentleman, he wrote in the following terms to the Chief Commissioner:— 17. St. Helen's Place, E.C Aug. 23, 1801. My dear Mr. Cowper,—Thanks for your note of the 21st, and the information it contains. But it has accidentally come to my knowledge that some appointment in favour of Sir E. Pearson had been under your consideration. I presume, how ever, Sir Edwin has no pretence to claim the appointment at your hands, because I would, on no account, expose myself to the chance of any contest with the claims of any other gentleman. If, however, the nomination were perfectly free from any such difficulty, I should be ready to accept it, and to do my best to perform its duties. I am, my dear Sir, your obedient servant, W. TITE. The answer of the right hon. Gentleman was as clear as anything could possibly be— Aug. 30, 1861. My dear Sir,—I was much pleased to get your letter, and to find that you are willing to undertake this task, Soon after the Act had passed Sir E. Pearson was recommended to me by persons connected with the Westminster undertaking. I thought that his experience and intimate acquaintance with the affairs of the Commission during the first period of its proceedings might afford an advantage which no one else could possess, and that his zeal and interest in the cause, and the absence of other occupations, would insure his full and undivided attention to the business of the Commission, and I was pleased at the thought of giving him some opportunity of retrieving the disaster into which he had, I believe, been originally drawn by a patriotic desire to improve the district. Under these impressions, I wrote to him in order to ascertain whether he would be willing to accept the office, and unfortunately it was only after I had written to him that I discovered that the circumstance which I had imagined to be an advantage was felt to be a fatal objection by some who were pecuniarily interested in the winding-up of the concern; and it appeared that the duty of nominating the Chairman had been imposed on me with the expectation that I should select some one who would take up the affair without bias or predilection from previous transactions. I felt it, then, my duty to explain this to Sir E. Pearson, and to assure him of my regret that I could not act upon the intentions expressed in my previous communication. My second letter was written on the third day after the first; but owing to his absence from home it did not reach him immediately, and, unfortunately, he had on receipt of my first letter told his friends that he was to be appointed. I am greatly vexed at having occasioned him this disappointment, but I am now occasioned that I should not rightly discharge my duty by appointing him, so that a refusal from you would make no difference to him. I am truly yours, W. Tite, Esq., M.P." "W. COWPER. It appeared to him that the explanation given by his right hon. Friend was a reasonable one, and that he should have been declining the performance of a public duty if he had not accepted the offer of the First Commissioner. He had no personal interest in the matter, but as a man of taste and an architect the task was one for which some persons might think he had a special qualification. He had been subjected to much inconvenience in his endeavour to discharge the duties which he had undertaken. Sir Edwin Pearson had served a notice on him, stating that every act done under his presidency would be illegal. He really thought that men desirous of having a great public object achieved ought to be prepared to surrender a little private feeling in furtherance of a common object. Such, however, was his explanation. He wished to mention that on one occasion when Sir Edwin Pearson called on him, being particularly engaged, he was unable to see him. A short interview had, however, taken place between them, and Sir Edwin Pearson told him he was desirous of leaving the matter to the arbitration of the noble Lord at the head of the Government. In reply to that offer, he stated that he was perfectly willing to leave the matter to any one. In the conclusion of the letter to Sir E. Pearson, in which he told him that he had forwarded all the documents to the Chief Commissioner, he also stated that he was perfectly ready to surrender the appointment. He ventured, therefore, most respectfully to ask the House whether he had not now cleared himself from any imputation that might have been cast upon him? As to the offer being intended to buy a vote that never was bought it was simply absurd—his politics were perfectly well known, he was the representative of an important constituency, he was well known in the City; and was it to be supposed that he would sell his independence for such a mess of pottage as the emoluments which might be attached to the chairmanship? It was said that he was a much occupied man. He knew it. If he had not been, he should not have a seat in that House; but he had done his best to diminish his occupations; and he appealed with confidence to that House, and to the City, in which he was well known, as to whether he ever neglected any duty which he undertook to perform. He must say that he regretted such an attack should have been made, because it must be offensive to the feelings of any right-minded man to have it supposed by any person that for £100 a year he would sacrifice those considerations to which he had alluded, or undertake any duty for which he was physically or morally incapable.


said, that as far as he understood the speech of the First Commissioner, the right hon. Gentleman objected to the wording of the Motion as prejudging the question of a double appointment; but that, subject to a verbal amendment of the Motion, he did not object to his conduct in the matter being referred to a Select Committee of that House. It was greatly to be regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had gone so far as he had done, not in casting imputations himself, but in disseminating in that House the result of imperfect information, filtered through him from suspicious sources, and calculated to prejudice the case of Sir Edwin Pearson. The right hon. Gentleman ought to have known that Sir Edwin Pearson had never been implicated in any of the scandals or the doubtful proceedings which had occurred in connection with the Westminster improvements. The Act of Parliament was passed in 1845; and Sir Edwin shortly afterwards became Chairman of the Commissioners, a situation which he held till 1852. During the time that Sir Edwin was Chairman of the Commission its proceedings wore not impeached; they were a success. Sir Edwin Pearson had the entire confidence of every public body and of every private individual who had any interest in the affairs of the Commission, including Lord Carlisle, one of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessors in office. In 1852, however, certain propositions were made at the Board, from which Sir Edwin Pearson dissented. He thought he saw in these propositions the seeds of future misfortunes; but the majority were against him, and he left both the chair and the Commission, and from that day to the present had never had any connection with either. It was after 1852 that the scandalous proceedings which led to the issue of those bonds took place. Under those circumstances the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner was not warranted in expressing an opinion that there were some grounds for bringing forward a charge against Sir Edwin Pearson in connection with those transactions. On the contrary, he ought to have suspected that any opposition to Sir Edwin's appointment arose from the persons or the representatives of the persons who were interested in carrying out the proposals against which Sir Edwin had protested. After the passing of the Act of last year, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to have made inquiry in every quarter from which sound information on the subject was to he obtained, and the result was, he arrived at the conclusion that Sir Edwin Pearson was a gentleman whose appointment to the chairmanship would be a perfect unexceptional one. The right hon. Gentleman then wrote the letter of the 2nd of August, offering Sir Edwin Pearson the appointment. Sir Edwin Pearson wrote to accept the offer, and the right hon. Gentleman's letter and the answer constituted, as he maintained, an appointment to the office. He believed it was familiar to the House that a letter from a Minister of the Crown, offering an appointment to a Member of the House, and the acceptance of that appointment, rendered it necessary for the Member to vacate his seat. If the right hon. Gentleman had been hiring a clerk or a servant, such a letter, and the acceptance of the offer of employment, would have constituted a contract by which both parties would be bound. The right hon. Gentleman contended that the appointment was not perfect without the execution of some instrument beyond and besides the writing of a letter. He was perfectly at liberty to use that argument, and much good might it do his case; but it did not place his conduct in so satisfactory a light as could be wished. The right hon. Gentleman then communicated, on the 5th of August, his change of mind, and the language of that letter painfully conflicted with the tone of the right hon. Gentleman's observations with regard to Sir Edwin Pearson which the House had just heard. On the 2nd of August the right hon. Gentleman believed Sir Edwin Pearson to be capable, competent, and exempt from all taint. When the appointment was known, of course calumniators came buzzing about. On the 5th of August the right hon. Gentleman was in possession of all that was insinuated against Sir Edwin Pearson; at all events, he ought to have been in possession of all that was necessary to warrant him in retracting the offer. In that letter the right hon. Gentleman said— I am distressed to find that I must not give effect to the intention I mentioned to you in my letter on Friday last. Since I wrote to you I have received an intimation that some of the parties at whose instigation the power of nomination was committed to the First Commissioner of Works attach great importance to the Chairman being a person who comes freshly to the work, without any previous acquaintance with it or any bias; and although I have never heard a whisper of complaint against you, nor do I believe that any one could offer the slightest objection to you personally, yet I do feel that if the duty of nomination was intrusted to me under the expectation that I should infuse what is called new blood, and select a person who would take up the affair from its present starting point rather than from its origin, I should not be acting rightly in giving way to my own feelings, which prompted me to desire to offer it to you. He did the right hon. Gentleman the justice to believe that he had not been prompted by his feelings to make the offer, but that he had taken that step after full examination, and after satisfying himself of Sir Edwin Pearson's fitness. When the right hon. Gentleman wrote that letter, he had not heard one whisper against Sir Edwin Pearson personally, and therefore he had not heard that he was personally incapable, or that he was either by suspicion or otherwise connected with the doubtful proceedings of the Commission. The right hon. Gentleman disclosed on the face of the letter what was in his mind when he wrote it—namely, that he had been overcome by representations that certain persons did not want to have Sir Edwin Pearson as Chairman; and the right hon. Gentleman, instead of consulting the Act of Parliament which cast upon him the decision, was weak enough not only to act on the gossip which reached his ears, but to give it publicity. Did the right hon. Gentleman receive the information which led to the third letter after the 5th of August, or was he in possession of the information conveyed in the letter of the 23rd of August when he wrote the letter of the 5th? If he was well founded in what he wrote on the 23rd of August, and had received the information before the 5th, he ought never to have expressed himself as he did at the latter date. If, on the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman received his information after the 5th, it only showed that when he retracted his offer on the 5th he was not acting on the grounds laid down in the letter of the 23rd. So far as it was possible for an injury to be done to a private gentleman by a Minister of the Crown, such an injury had been inflicted on Sir Edwin Pearson by the set of the right hon. Gentleman, and the language of the letter he addressed to him when, under the threat of possible charges, he tried to induce him to withdraw from his position. The fact was that after 1852, when Sir Edwin Pearson ceased to have anything to do with the Commission, they issued fictitious bonds to the amount of £500,000, when they had first mortgaged their property beyond its value. He understood the right hon. Gentleman did not object to inquiry, and an inquiry by a Select Committee of that House was the only means by which the matter could be settled to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman, and so as to give redress to Sir Edwin Pearson. He would therefore propose to amend the wording of the Resolution so as to direct the Committee "to inquire into the circumstances connected with the appointment of Mr. Tite."


said, that it had happened in August last that Sir Edwin Pearson was staying at his (Mr. Newdegate's) house near Uxbridge, where the letter from the Chief Commissioner of Works, attempting to revoke the appointment he had made, reached Sir Edwin Pearson. He had had the honour of knowing Sir Edwin Pearson for many years: that Gentleman was extremely distressed at the letter, and referred the matter to him (Mr. Newdegate) as a friend. He approached the subject with every inclination to prevent anything like a disagreeable collision; he calmly considered the whole case. He had to take into account that ever since the resignation of Sir Edwin Pearson in 1852, in consequence of his strong opposition to the inception of the transactions which had afterwards disgraced the Commission, he had been the victim of false and malicious calumny. On resigning, Sir Edwin Pearson wrote to every bondholder, warning them, that if such proceedings as were then proposed to be taken were carried into effect, they would lead to disaster. This was an act of honesty and of duty, but was probably the cause of anger among those implicated in the subsequent transactions of the Commission. Since that period Sir Edwin Pearson had been the victim of calumny. He claimed for him the sympathy of the House, because he pledged himself to show that expressions had been used in that House on several occasions connected with the passing of the Act for Winding up the Affairs of the Commission, which gave currency to those unjust calumnies. On the 10th of May, 1861, Sir Edwin Pearson addressed a letter, which he (Mr. Newdegate) then held in his hand, to the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Commissioner of Works, in which he said, "I trust I am not asking anything but what is most just and reasonable, when I very respectfully request that you will take the opportunity on the third reading of the Westminster Improvements Bill to remove the erroneous impressions made upon the public with all the weight and authority of your official position." Therefore before his re-appointment to the chairmanship was ever thought of, before the present Act passed, expressions had been used by the Chief Commissioner which, in his (Mr. Newdegate's) opinion, had necessarily elicited, had rendered inevitable the appeal contained in the letter. The fact was, that the present Motion was the result of a long story. He (Mr. Newdegate) found that the circumstances of the case must have been known to the Chief Commissioner for many months, and he urged Sir Edwin Pearson to go to the Chief Commissioner and put the matter to him as between one gentleman and another, since it was evident that the attempt to cancel his reappointment must affect Sir Edwin Pearson in a manner quite different from the mere cancelling of the appointment of a person who had not previously been connected with the improvements in West minster. The letters which had been rend were then written. He felt that this was a question between one gentleman and another, and he had used every means, direct and indirect, both by appealing to Members of the Government and to mutual friends, to induce the right hon. Gentleman to adhere to his decision in making the appointment, the revocation of which had given great strength to current calumnies. The case, then, was that of an honourable and ill-used man, who had proved himself capable of serving the public, but who had been grossly and most unjustly calumniated, and he (Mr. Newdegate) hoped that this gentleman would have an opportunity of vindicating himself before a Committee from the calumnies which had been circulated.


said, that as he happened to have been the Chairman of the Committee to whom the Bill was referred, he wished to offer a few words in explanation. The Committee, having understood that the right hon. Gentleman the First Commissioner did not wish to make the appointment, took the subject into consideration; but, not desiring to assume the responsibility of the step, they requested him (Mr. Baillie) to address a letter to the Chief Commissioner of Works, and to request him as a public duty to make the appointment. He (Mr. Baillie) did not wish to enter into the question whether the Chief Commissioner was justified in appointing Sir Edwin Pearson or not; but this he could affirm, that it was the unanimous opinion of the Committee that no person connected with the former state of things ought to be appointed. No opinion of the Committee was more clearly entertained than that. He was fully convinced that the right hon. Gentleman could not have made a better appointment than the hon. Member for Bath.


Sir, I think the hon. Baronet who made this Motion ought to be satisfied with having attained what I feel persuaded is his main object—that of having vindicated the character of his friend from any imputation that might have been cast upon it. But, if he be resolved to persist in the Motion, I think he might add a rider; whereas he proposed to appoint a Committee to inquire into the double appointment which he says has been made, he might also move for a Committee to inquire into the double Motion made by the hon. Baronet himself, because he has given a notable example of that change of mind which he condemns in my right hon. Friend. The hon. Baronet, upon full consideration, makes a Motion which, after he finds it inapplicable, he consents, in accordance with the suggestions from another quarter, to alter into a Motion of inquiry into the conduct of my right hon. Friend. Now, I maintain there is no double appointment. The result of the discussion has boon to convince the Mover of this Resolution that there has been no double appointment. He gives up his Motion on that subject, and is content with a Committed to inquire into the conduct of my right hon. Friend. With regard to the appointment in question, nothing could be more absurd than to suppose that the letter offering the appointment constituted the appointment itself. It is childish to suppose such a thing. Does any man imagine, that if Sir Edwin Pearson were to walk into the Commission with that letter in his hand, and to say, "I am your Chairman," he would not be asked, "Where is your appointment?" And when he could not produce it, would he not be told, "Your appointment must be contained in some document from the responsible authorities. You have it not; therefore you are not our Chairman"? Therefore, I am glad that the hon. Baronet has himself acquiesced in the absurdity of his own Motion, and has seen the propriety of altering it into a Motion for a Committee of inquiry into the conduct of my right hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend, perhaps, made a mistake; but it was the first act that was the mistake, and not the second act. He might have made a mistake in offering the appointment to Sir Edwin Pearson—not that any moral imputation rested upon that Gentleman. Indeed, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) has given a very good reason why Sir Edwin Pearson should not have been appointed, because he said, that from the time that Sir Edwin Pearson ceased to be Chairman up to the present day he has been the victim of calumny with regard to the transactions relating to the Westminster improvements. Sir, I say that a man who has been the victim of such calumny is not fit for the appointment. But when my right hon. Friend found, whatever might be his own opinion, or whatever might be the integrity of Sir Edwin Pearson—and I maintain that no imputation which ought, for a moment, to be listened to has been cast upon his integrity—that all the parties whose interests were at stake were adverse to that appointment, I say he would have been wrong had he persisted in his intention; and he was perfectly right, and only discharging his duty, in making another arrangement. The hon. Baronet moves for inquiry into the conduct of my right hon. Friend for not having persisted in the appointment of Sir Edwin Pearson. Why, it has been demonstrated that Sir Edwin Pearson, by the fact of his having been Chairman when all this confusion arose, was not a fit person to be Chairman of that Commission; and we have a confirmation of that opinion from the Chairman of the Committee of the House of Commons, who has just told us that the right hon. Gentleman would have been wanting in his duty if he had made such an appointment. We have it, then, from the best authority—not a political friend, but a political opponent—who gets up with a determination to tell the truth, and who boldly tells you that my right hon. Friend would have been wanting in the performance of his public duty if he had appointed Sir Edwin Pearson to that position. Well, Sir, it often happens in this House that a Member of the Government is brought to task for appointing a wrong man to a wrong place—we often hear of a wrong man in a wrong place—but here the hon. Baronet wants to censure the conduct of my right hon. Friend for not appointing a wrong man to a place which he ought not to occupy. Why, Sir, it is, I believe, the most unheard-of ground of censure that was ever taken up in the House of Commons. My right hon. Friend, as was well admitted by the hon. Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. H. Baillie), judged rightly that he had too hastily offered the appointment to Sir Edwin Pearson, that he would not he discharging his duty if he fulfilled his original intention, and he offered the appointment to my hon. Friend the Member for Bath. And I must say that I heard with regret, and I think the hon. Baronet himself must regret, that he should have stated that that was done to purchase the support of the hon. Gentleman in this House. That was an unworthy assertion, totally devoid of any foundation whatever, and which, I think, any man, when he reflects, would feel ashamed of. I contend, therefore, that the Committee which is moved for would have nothing to inquire into except this:—Whether my right hon. Friend was right in abstaining from making a wrong appointment and determining to make a right one? That is not a ground on which this House would be justified in appointing a Committee to make inquiry. I have not the least objection to the Motion for the production of papers; and therefore, if the House disposes of this Motion as I hope and trust it will, and if the hon. Baronet makes another Motion, he will have the papers which he wishes for, and the House will then have a still better opportunity than this discussion has given of seeing the grounds upon which my right hon. Friend has, as I maintain, and as the hon. Member for Inverness-shire bears me out in saying, properly performed his duty as a responsible officer of the Crown.


said, he was astonished at the statement the noble Lord had made as to the point at issue. They were not there, like a body of attorneys, to determine whether the Chief Commissioner had given a legal bond or made a legal contract, but they were there to decide upon a point of honour. It would be disastrous if the noble Lord, and those who were going to support him, failed to see that that was the point at issue. The character of the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Tite) had never been called in question. But what they wished to determine by the inquiry of a Committee was the grounds upon which the Chief Commissioner was entitled in honour to cancel the nomination which he had made. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had cancelled it upon grounds which reflected upon the character of Sir Edwin Pearson; and Sir Edwin Pearson had a right to ask for an inquiry.

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

The House decided:—Ayes 139; Noes 128: Majority 11.