HC Deb 21 April 1864 vol 174 cc1473-81

moved that the following Members be Members of the Select Committee on the Government Annuities Bill:— The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Mr. SOTHERON ESTCOURT, Mr. MILNER GIBSON, Mr. HENLEY, Sir MINTO FARQUHAR, Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE, Mr. HORSFALL, Mr. GOSCHEN, Mr. CHARLES TURNER, Mr. HERBERT, Mr. HUBBARD, Mr. HENRY B. SHERIDAN, Mr. AYRTON, Mr. HODGKINSON, and Mr. PAGET.

Motion agreed to.


said, it was rather remarkable that a Bill of such importance should be sent to a Committee and at the same time that an objection should be made to taking any evidence. He always understood that when a measure was sent to a Committee it was for them to decide whether they would hear evidence. His right hon. Friend supposed that he wished that witnesses should be called for the express purpose of defeating the Bill. That was not his object. What he wanted was that the Bill should be thoroughly investigated, that the Committee should see how the machinery was to be worked, and above all should hear some persons connected with Friendly Societies, so as to ascertain why they objected to the Bill, where the shoe pinched them, and how they carried on the sort of business which would be transacted by the Government if the Bill passed. He had not the least intention of entering into the insolvency or solvency of these societies, because the inquiry then would be interminable, and the Bill would, as his right hon. Friend said, be "hung up." All he desired was, that the Committee should understand thoroughly the nature of the Bill, and in order that they might do this he now begged to move that they should have power to send for persons, papers, and records.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."—(Sir Minto Farquhar.)


said, he did not desire to impute anything to the hon. Baronet that he had disclaimed, but the intention and the effect of his Motion were two different things; she effect—though he was sure he did not intend it—would be to put off the passing of the Bill for the present Session. His hon. Friend wanted the House to understand the machinery of the Bill and the bearing of its clauses, and to examine the promoters of the Bill as to its probable effect upon Friendly Societies. But his hon. Friend was mistaken in supposing that they could examine the bearing of the Bill and its effect upon Friendly Societies without involving these consequences. The societies would be entitled to show whatever injury might result to them from the measure, and in that way it would be impossible to escape examining how far their own rules and constitution were sound. But there was another broad distinction between a Committee of that kind and such a Committee as was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt), to which the Government had acceded. The hon. Gentleman wanted to examine the real promoters of the Bill. But who were the real promoters? The Government. Sir Alexander Spearman and Mr. Scudamore were the persons with whom they took counsel, but they were not the promoters of the Bill. They might as well ask for such a Committee on Monday next to inquire into the Taxes Bill and examine Sir Thomas Free-mantle. Sir Alexander Spearman and Mr. Scudamore were not the promoters of this Bill, but the assistants of the Government, and it would be an injustice to them and a flinching from responsibility by the Government, if they allowed the Bill to depend upon the examination and cross-examination of these witnesses. The meaning of such a Committee as he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was prepared to send the Bill to was simply this—to enable the Members of it to have more free and familiar communication with the responsible author of the Bill, of cross-examining him more fully, and ascertaining more precisely with what views the Government proposed it than could be done in that House. The House would see there was the greatest difference between a Committee of that kind and a Committee taking general evidence. Let it be shown that a great deal of injury would result to Friendly Societies, and did his hon. Friend mean to say that if independent Assurance Societies came forward and alleged that they also were liable to be injured by the Bill they could be excluded? His hon. Friend would see it would be totally impossible to draw the line which he supposed. He quite agreed with his hon. Friend that the Bill ought to be thoroughly understood. But there were three securities for that. First, there was the responsibility of the Government; secondly, bringing to bear all the intelligence and knowledge of the Select Committee upon it, and afterwards subjecting it to a Committee of that House; and thirdly, and most important of all, giving time to the country to consider it fully after it had come from the Select Committee and had passed the Committee of the Whole House. His hon. Friend might say it was an invidious thing not to hear witnesses — it was like shutting out the daylight. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was responsible for the Bill, in a sense in which no other Member of the Government was responsible, and did his hon. Friend think it would be possible for him, with all the other duties which he had to perform, to go into such an inquiry as his hon. Friend proposed? He could not do it unless he resigned his office for the purpose. He wished it to be distinctly understood that the Motion of his hon. Friend came simply to this—whether the Bill was to be allowed to go forward during the present Session. If his hon. Friend thought fit to propose such a Motion, it was open to him to do so; but it was his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) duty to represent that the effect of such an inquiry as that recommended by the hon. Gentleman, would be to block up the Bill in Committee upstairs until a period when it would be totally impossible to give the country time to consider it so that it might be passed this Session. This Bill had been largely, carefully, and minutely considered in its principle, and the effect had been, that all those who had acted spontaneously upon their own judgment had largely petitioned in its favour. That very day he had received a statement from the whole body of the Life Assurance Societies of Scotland, in which they expressed their approval of the Bill. They thought Parliament must deal with the question how far Government was capable of interfering in a matter of this kind; but if Government could properly undertake it, they believed it would be beneficial to the country. He objected to examining Sir Alexander Spearman and Mr. Scudamore, but they might examine himself. It was impossible to have a Bill of that kind, involving important financial results, without having a responsible Minister of the Crown ready to answer for it. He had already suggested what would be the best possible mode of proceeding—namely, to have the machinery of the Bill, such as it was, laid upon the table of both Houses, subject to be interrupted by an Address from either House, and until it had lain there for a sufficient time it would be totally inoperative. But as for inquiring into the position of other societies, that, though his hon. Friend did not intend it, was merely losing time, and would lead to the indefinite postponement of the Bill.


said, he imagined that this Committee would not be bound by any other rules than those which regulated the proceedings of every other Committee. It would be better to go upstairs to enter upon the clauses, and then, if they required evidence on any point, it would be competent for them to come to the House, and through their Chairman to propose a Resolution similar to that of his hon. Friend, He was able to speak with some authority on this point, because he was Chairman of a Committee to which was referred a Bill in 1850 on this very subject of Friendly Societies, and which was the first instance of a Committee upon a Bill which obtained leave of the House to take evidence. When the Committee entered upon the first clause, it was evident they required further information, He asked the late Speaker whether it was competent to obtain the means of gaining that information on Motion. The matter was considered, and leave was given by the House. His hon. Friend (Sir Mirito Farquhar) had, he believed, persevered with his Motion, because something fell from the Chancellor of the Exchequer which implied an understanding that the Committee should abstain from exercising the power enjoyed by all other Committees, and that there was to be something like a promise or engagement that the Committee should not call for evidence. His hon. Friend had, therefore, very properly raised this question. The House had thought proper to appoint this Committee, and, no doubt, intrusted it with the same independence and control over its proceedings as was possessed by other Select Committees, and with that understanding he should recommend his hon. Friend to withdraw his Motion. On the other hand, he hoped he would not do so unless they had a distinct understanding that when they got into Committee, and it should be the pleasure of the Committee to require evidence, nothing that had hitherto passed, or which should pass, would prevent the Chairman from coming down and making the same Motion. The Committee would have to inquire into three points—first, whether it would be possible by any machinery to carry out the right hon. Gentleman's intentions in proposing this Bill; secondly, in what manner that machinery would be likely to affect similar institutions; and thirdly, as to the risk that the Government would run in undertaking the operations sketched out by the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman had made up his mind that the Committee should not take evidence, he hoped he would say so distinctly, because in that case it would be useless to go into Committee at all. For himself, he could say he was honestly determined to facilitate the passing of the Bill, if he had fair means of satisfying himself on these three points. Suppose they went into Committee, and he wished to know Mr. Tidd Pratt's opinion on these three points, if the Committee were of opinion that his wish was unreasonable, they would negative the Motion, and he should submit. But suppose the Committee agreed with him — were they to be stopped by the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling them he had only allowed the Committee to be appointed on the understanding that they should not take evidence? The character of the Gentlemen named upon the Committee ought to go for something, He had served on many Committees, and he had never heard that a desire to hear evidence implied any degradation or disparagement of the Member who moved for the Committee He trusted that his hon. Friend would withdraw his Motion, on the understanding that the determination to hear or not to hear evidence was to rest with the Committee and nowhere else.


said, he hoped the Motion would not be withdrawn except on the distinct understanding to the effect stated by the last speaker. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he took upon himself the responsibility of the Bill, and suggested that he alone should be examined. This was not satisfactory. The Bill consisted of two clauses, one of which was accepted, the other objected to. An investigation of the subject was asked for; but were the Committee to investigate with their hands tied, and if we are told that they were not to examine into the only point which was important, he thought there ought not to have a been Select Committee at all. The only question was whether the business was to be undertaken by an already overworked Department of the Government — the Post Office. He did not object to giving the facilities for insurance to the poor people, but he doubted whether Life Assurance was what they wanted. What they wanted was security, not for a provision in case of death, but in case of sickness. A Select Committee had been appointed to examine into the question—let them examine whether the provisions of the Bill were expedient, but unless the Committee had full power to call witnesses they would never have the question satisfactorily answered.


was willing to withdraw his Motion, but only on the distinct understanding that the Committee should have full independence, and be able to call for any evidence they might want.


said, he was willing to afford every information that should be given with respect to the clauses, and he thought that information might be afforded by those who assisted the responsible Ministers; but that was altogether different from taking general evidence on the principle and bearing of the Bill. He entirely must decline to hold out any expectations that the Government would be parties to examining into the effect of this Bill on Friendly Societies.


observed, that as the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not given the pledge that he had been asked to give —namely, that the Committee should go upstairs unfettered, to decide for themselves whether they should have evidence or not, it was obvious that there must be some concealed meaning in his refusal to consent to that arrangement. It was inconsistent with usage, and with the respect due to the House, to say that a Committee on a Bill should not receive any information which they might think it necessary to ask for.


thought, that as the Committee would have power to direct their Chairman to come down and ask for leave to take evidence, it was merely fighting with a shadow to contend for the permission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the examination of witnesses.


understood the declaration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to mean this — that if the Committee thought they ought to call witnesses, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the force of the Government at his back, would oppose the Motion. He understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not unwilling that they should have information, but that he himself was willing to give all the information that could be required. If he (Lord John Manners) were a Member of the Committee, he should say, "We have heard sufficient information from that quarter; we desire to hear other statements." If the House received no further explanations of a more satisfactory character, he saw no other course than to support the Motion of his hon. Friend.


would remind the House that to take independent evidence on the whole merits of the question, and on the bearing of the Bill on Friendly Societies, would be quite a different thing from receiving information on the clauses. An inquiry such as the former, in the case of a Bill, the principle of which had been affirmed by a second reading, would be against all precedent, and would be fatal to the Bill.


said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to say, "I will answer questions as I think fit, and if you are not satisfied you must be an incorrigible Committee; but if you ask for independent evidence, then your proposal is so unparliamentary that we cannot hold out any hope of its being adopted." Why should he not have said at once, "You shall only have such evidence as I like on the clauses of the Bill?"


was sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had no fear for the Bill on its merits. What he feared, and properly feared, was that a general inquiry into the principle and bearings of the Bill, and an examination of the officers of the various Friendly Societies, would consume so much time that the measure would be shelved.


The question has really been put upon its true footing, and I wish the House to understand what it is we are going to vote on. It is whether this Bill shall be thrown over entirely. ["No!" "Cheers!"] That this was the real effect of the Motion must be evident to any one who reflects for an instant—because what is the object of the proposed inquiry? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has explained that it necessarily involves our going into the affairs of all those who wish to prevent the Bill passing into law. ["No!" "Hear, hear!"] It would be much more fair to vote that the Bill should be read this day six months, and the effect would be the same. ["No!" "Hear, hear!"] Let the House understand that what is now proposed is not to obtain information. It is not Parliamentary to impute motives, but let me say that the Motion, if carried, would render it perfectly impossible for the Bill to pass this Session.


said, the House had before it two conflicting statements. At one side it was urged that the Motion, if carried, would defeat the mea- sure; at the other they had the positive declaration of Gentlemen supporting it that they entertained no such intention. Between two interpretations so diametrically opposed the House must he left to decide, He confessed himself unable to see the purpose of the Committee if they were to be bound by every statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however dark, and were to make no attempts at elucidation.


explained that so far from desiring that his voice should be the only voice to be heard before the Committee, he had expressly intimated that they might ask for further information; but he said that the responsibility for the measure must rest with the Government and the Government only. He desired to give the Committee every information, and for that purpose would lay before them explanations and conversations of the official advisers of the Government.


thought the Committee ought to be placed in a position to express some opinion, and not merely to return the Bill as sent to them.

Question put.

The House divided: — Ayes 104; Noes 127: Majority 23.

Five to be the quorum.