I wish, Sir, to claim the attention of the House while I put to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question of which I have given him private notice. In doing so, it is perhaps unnecessary that I should assure the House I am actuated by no party feeling against the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great personal regard; but as the matter is one personal to myself, I trust I may claim the indulgence of the House for a few moments. I was unavoidably absent from the House on Monday evening, when the Select Committee on Holyhead Harbour was nominated, having been compelled to leave town on Friday. I did not return until late on Monday night. Yesterday I was informed, that when the nomination of the Committee was discussed, the right hon. Gentleman made some remarks by no means complimentary to the proposed Committee. I was told that he stated, or, if not, distinctly implied, that the Committee was not fairly constituted—indeed, so unfairly, that its decision, whatever it might be, ought not to have and therefore would not have any weight with the Government. Now, I beg to assure him that he is altogether mistaken, at all events so far as I am concerned. I have no personal interests, nor have, as far as I am aware, any of my constituents an interest in this matter—though it is perfectly true that the Holyhead line passes through Cheshire, as it does through Middlesex. My mind is perfectly free and unbiassed on the subject. I should never have consented to serve on the Committee, did I not feel perfectly satisfied that I could exercise the freest and most impartial judgment on any question which might be brought under its consideration. I now beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in reference to what I have said, I have been correctly informed; whether he is satisfied with the statement I have made; and if not, whether he will take the straightforward course of moving that I be discharged from attendance on the Committee? If he does make that Motion, I promise him I will second him.
Before the right 326 hon. Gentleman replies, I wish to make to him a similar application on my own part. When asked by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Queen's County (Colonel Dunne) whether I would serve on the Committee, my answer was that I would much rather not; but when he represented to me, that being acquainted with the locality in question, it was desirable I should do so, I consented to be nominated one of its members. I may add that I have no interest whatsoever in Holyhead. I own no property in the neighbourhood. I do not possess a single acre of land in the Island of Anglesey, and I have no interest in the line of railway which runs through it. I am as independent, in regard to this question, as anybody can be. I have been Member for Carnarvonshire for twenty-two years, and in any local proceedings in which I have taken a part it has been rather against Holyhead than in its favour.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think the hon. Member for Cheshire (Mr. Tollemache) labours under a misapprehension when he refers to the remarks which I made on a former occasion as having been of a personal character. Those hon. Gentlemen who were present on Monday night, when the discussion on the nomination of the Holyhead Committee took place, will bear me out when I say that nothing of a personal nature occurred; or if there did, it consisted in remarks made by two or three hon. Members in censuring myself.Si rixa est ubi tu pulsas, ego vapulo tantum.I was placed in that predicament. My hon. Friend, I may add, has been informed partly right and partly wrong. What I stated was, that in my opinion, and in the opinion of the Government, the Committee had not been impartially constituted. I referred to the position occupied by many hon. Members who sit on it; but I at the same time very carefully guarded myself against being supposed to convey that there was a single Member placed upon the Committee against whom, in his individual capacity or on personal grounds, the slightest objection could be urged. It is invidious to draw distinctions; but if there are any two Gentlemen in whose impartiality I feel confidence, they are my two hon. Friends who have addressed the House. If my hon. Friend will himself study the list of the Committee, and likewise the discussion which took place on Holyhead Harbour, he will sufficiently understand why I should hare felt it necessary to 327 record that opinion; but I beg to assure him that he was entirely misinformed by any one who stated to him that I ever presumed to say that the decision of that Committee, whatever it might be, would meet with no attention from the Government. I said nothing of the kind. It was a construction put by an hon. Friend near me on what I had said, and so much did I resent it that I felt compelled to interrupt him and say that I had said nothing of the kind and that such an idea had never entered my mind.
§ MR. HERBERT
Sir, I happened to be present on the occasion referred to, and I am able to state—["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The matter brought before the House is one of personal explanation; and the two hon. Gentlemen having spoken, and the right hon. Gentleman who was personally referred to having given some explanation in reply to their remarks, it is not competent for the hon. Member to continue the discussion.
§ MR. HERBERT
I will conclude with a Motion for the adjournment of the House. I do not wish to detain the House long; but having been present on the occasion referred to, and having listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend said, I must say that never since I have had the honour of a seat in this House have I heard anything said more calculated to wound the personal feelings of the gentlemen concerned, or even, I may say, more insulting to them. When the right hon. Gentleman says that he was obliged, inconsequence of the constitution of the Committee, to make the remarks that be did, I entirely disagree with him in the course he then took; and many hon. Members, of high standing in this House, whom I have consulted, have told me that I am entirely right in that opinion. I believe, that when the Government cannot make those arrangements which are usual with the Member who moves a Committee, it is the universal practice for both sides to give notice of the names of those whom they wish to be on the Committee, and to fight the matter in a fair and open manner in this House. Instead of that, what does the right hon. Gentleman do? He gets up and says that the Government acquiesce in the Committee proposed; and, although he did not actually use the words that the decision of that Committee would not be attended to by the Government, he did state that it was a most unfairly-constituted Committee; and certainly the only inference which any 328 hon. Member would draw from the words which the right hon. Gentleman used was that which has been drawn from them. I certainly never listened with greater egret to any words than I did to those which on that occasion fell from my right hon. Friend. I move the adjournment of the House.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
It appears to me that my right hon. Friend uses very strong language when he states that words fell from me which were insulting to hon. Members. I am not aware that that is a phrase which falls within the usual Parliamentary courtesy. If my right hon. Friend did hear me use words insulting to him or to any hon. Gentleman, it was his duty to take notice of them at the time, or else to have remained silent now. Acting, perhaps, under some momentary warmth, he has used expressions which be will regret hereafter. It was also, I think, due to the House, that if words used in a debate were to be described as insulting to hon. Members, those words should be quoted.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It is a well established rule of this House, that if exception be taken to words spoken in debate, that exception must be taken at the time they are uttered. It is now totally past the time at which reference can be made to the general subject of the debate now in question. Two hon. Members expressed a wish, upon grounds of personal explanation, to refer to what had taken place. The right hon. Gentleman also said that he felt personally in the matter, in consequence of allusion to words supposed to have then fallen from him, and upon that ground he made an appeal to the House to be heard. But to go back now to the general subject of a debate which took place some evenings ago, upon the Question of Adjournment of the House, would be entirely contrary to the rules of the House.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
If these words cannot be quoted, I would say thus much out of respect and deference to my right hon. Friend, notwithstanding what he has said, quite as much as on my own behalf. At this moment I have not the smallest idea what 329 they were—not the smallest in the world; but I entirely disclaim the intention of using any words which should be insulting or painful to anybody. I did think it my duty to state, that in the opinion of the Government that Committee was not impartially constituted. That was the whole length to which I desired to go. Into my particular reasons I was careful not to enter further than to point to what is notorious to every man, and discreditable and dishonorable to no man. The intention of giving pain was entirely absent from my mind: if it has been caused, especially to my right hon. Friend, I regret it extremely; but I have not the smallest idea what can be the words alluded to.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
The very words which have now fallen from the right hon Gentleman are of themselves offensive. He says that the Committee is not impartially constituted. What does he mean by that? Is it because it is a different Committee from what is generally proposed by the Government, and one which will not be obedient to their orders—a Committee with brains and a knowledge of the subject?
§ MR. DISRAELI
I do not wish to enter into the personal controversy, but, in vindication of the proper management of the business of this House I think it right to say that it is not the duty of a Government to consent to the appointment of a Committee which they at the same time announce that they believe is not an impartially constituted Committee. If that was the opinion of the Government, they ought to have opposed the appointment of the Committee so proposed.
§ MR. HENNESSY
This is a far more important question than the right hon. Gentleman and the Government seem to imagine. I took the liberty of consulting some experienced Members of the House about calling attention to it as a question of order, and I now beg to do so. The House unanimously decided that a certain Committee was one which the House ought to appoint, and we are now told by a Minister that it is not an impartially-constituted Committee. I believe that it is a well-established rule of the House that no Member may impugn a decision of the House unless he is prepared to make a Motion to rescind it. We have heard the right hon. Gentleman telling us that this is not an impartially-constituted Committee. I put it to you, Sir, as a question of order, whether he is at liberty to make that statement 330 without announcing that the Government intend to move to rescind the Resolution for the appointment of the Committee.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I suppose it is because this is a question half Welsh and half Irish that so much excitement has been created about it. I do not know much about the Committee or about Holyhead, but from the feeling that has been excited I have a great suspicion that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not far wrong. I must ask hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friend below me (Colonel French) not to get warm about a statement such as that made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have known Governments—I do not know whether this, but certainly former Governments, and I think this—ask the House to agree to Committees which I thought were fair and impartial, and I have heard Members on both sides of the House get up and protest against their appointment, and tell the Government that they were merely appointing a packed Committee to support some conclusion at which they had already arrived. Well, such things as this are said frequently both from the Treasury Bench and from both sides of the House; and therefore I am, I confess, somewhat astonished at the angry tone which has been taken, especially by the right hon. Gentleman on this side (Mr. H. Herbert). What is meant by a Committee not being strictly impartial is, not that any hon. Member goes into the Committee with the view of doing something wrong, but that a large proportion—a majority it may be—of the Committee have opinions so decided that we know exactly what it will do before it goes up-stairs to discuss the question. I have read what the right hon. Gentleman said as reported in the papers; I was not here to hear it, but I did not gather that he had transgressed any rule of the House, or had done anything more than I have heard and seen done many times since I have had a seat in this House.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
—I think that the hon. Member for Birmingham has totally misapprehended the point of the objection. He tells us that he remembers Committees proposed to be appointed commented upon as partial in their constitution. I have not the slightest doubt that such has been the case; but what has been the practice is this, that when it occurs to an hon. Member that the proposed constitution of a Committee is partial, he gets up in his place, and expresses that opinion, and divides the House on the Question that 331 names shall be rejected and others inserted, which will, in his opinion, make it more impartial.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Beyond the explanations on personal grounds of the hon. Members who felt it necessary to make explanations, the whole of this proceeding has been one which is contrary to the rules of this House. If any observations were to be made on the composition of the Committee, or on words spoken with regard to it, that should have been done when the words were spoken and the Committee constituted. What I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say was, that he did at that time make use of the expression that he did not think the Committee impartially constituted. It was competent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to express that opinion with regard to the names which were then placed before the House, with regard either to the balance of parties or to the general constitution of the Committee. I must now request, for the sake of order, that this conversation may not be prolonged.
§ LOR ROBERT CECIL
I must rise to order. ["Order!" and "Hear, hear!"] I think, Sir, that you have misunderstood the point of the objection taken by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hennessy) who sits behind me. It was not that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the occasion of moving the Committee, condemned it as not impartially constituted; but that he has this evening deliberately repeated it as his opinion that this Committee, which has received the sanction of this House, is, notwithstanding, not an impartially-constituted Committee. The point which was submitted respectfully for your decision, Sir, was whether it is competent for a Minister of the Crown, when a Committee has been appointed by the unanimous sanction of the House, to cast a slur upon it, and say that it is not impartially constituted.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I do not interpret the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the manner in which the noble Lord has done. It does not appear to me that anything which has fallen from him is irregular.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
My intention was simply to recite, that I might not appear disingenuous, what I said on a former occasion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.