HC Deb 02 June 1864 vol 175 cc1084-93

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [31st May], That Mr. Bruce be one of the Members of the Select Committee on Education (Inspectors' Reports),"—(Viscount Palmerston,)— —and which Amendment was, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Select Committee do consist of five Members, to be nominated by the General Committee of Elections,"—(Mr. Clay,) —instead thereof.

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

Debate resumed.


said, he regretted he had not been present at the discussion of the previous evening, because the question raised was one of considerable importance, and it behoved the House to decide deliberately and calmly. His opinion was that questions involving imputations on the conduct and business of public departments could not be tried satisfactorily by Committees that were ordinarily appointed. Those Committees were composed of fifteen Gentlemen, who were selected, not because they were supposed to be impartial and unbiassed, but on the principle of taking half-a-dozen Members of strong opinions from one side of the House and balancing against them half-a-dozen from the opposite side. When the Committee came to decide, it was usually found that they were very evenly balanced, and perhaps the Chairman gave his casting vote in an inquiry in which a really judicial decision was required. He remembered a very analogous case which happened a few years ago—namely, the Committee appointed to consider the question of contracts. Upon that occasion he took objection to the construction of the Committee, and the same objection he still retained, which was this—that a Committee so constituted did not properly try questions of that kind or come to a satisfactory verdict; and he must say that the result of the inquiries and the evenly balanced divisions which took place showed that his objection was more or less well founded. The investigation proposed was of an analogous character. There was an accusation of maladministration brought against one of the great Departments of the State, and he was confident the inquiry could be carried on far more fairly, more impartially, and with more of a judicial spirit by five Gentlemen selected from Members of that House, who did not usually act from party motives, than by a Committee of fifteen Members. [Cries of "Divide!"] Those cries showed that all the hon. Members of that House were not really prepared to deal with the question in a fair and judicial spirit. It would be in the recollection of the House, with I regard to another case, with which the late Mr. Stafford was unfortunately mixed up, that the investigation was intrusted to a Committee of five Gentlemen, to whom all in that House looked up with respect, and their verdict was received with satisfaction as on the whole a fair decision. When the Committee was composed of a limited number the result was usually more satisfactory to the House and the country than where the decision might be a mere matter of balance in a larger Committee. The objection taken to a Committee of five, that the members would not be acquainted with the facts of the case, and would not be able to elicit the truth, did not really apply, because such Committees had more recently been appointed with two additional members, one to prosecute and the other to defend, but who had no votes, and whose business it was to bring out the facts. He had himself served on one of those Committees, of which the late Sir James Graham was Chairman, and the inquiry was conducted in a way which was perfectly satisfactory to the members of the Committee. The whole of the facts of the case were brought before them, and the result met with the approval of the House and the country. On these grounds he should give his hearty support to the Motion of the hon. Member for Hull.


said, one who had heard his right hon. Friend might have supposed that he was some ingenuous youth who had just got a seat in the House, and not a Member of that great experience of the proceedings of Parliament which they all knew him to possess. His right hon. Friend told them he wanted to have a perfectly impartial tribunal—[Mr. E. P. BOUVERIE: As impartial as can be got]—and he would wish it to be inferred that Election Committees were perfectly impartial, and therefore that this Committee should be formed upon that model. As far as his (Mr. Baillie's) experience went, he did not think there was any tribunal in this country that could be regarded as so partial and unjust as an Election Committee. That was the result of his experience in that House. Whenever an Election Committee was appointed he had always heard hon. Members ask who was to be the Chairman, and according to the Chairman they at once inferred what the decision of the Committee would be. Now, his impression was that the Committee which had been already moved for, selected, he believed, by the Government, was as impartial a tribunal as the case could be submitted to. Inasmuch as it was a public question, and not one with regard to the character of individuals, he thought it should be submitted to a large and numerous Committee of the House.


Sir, I will detain the House but a few moments. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie) has introduced a new element into the subject. Undoubtedly, while it was felt on the one hand in the former discussion that there would be a considerable advantage in referring the matter to a Committee of five, it was felt on the other hand, and it was strongly urged, that there was this disadvantage, that among the five Members could not be included those who were best acquainted with the case, and most competent to conduct it. Now, the proposal of my right hon. Friend entirely removes that difficulty; and, on the part of Her Majesty's Government, I have to say that we are willing to refer the matter to a Committee formed upon the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock. [Cries of What is it?] The proposal is this, that a Committee of five should be appointed by the Committee of Selection, but together with those five, who alone should have a deliberative vote, there should be joined two Gentlemen, whose functions—following the precedent set upon former occasions—would be to act as assessors, and to assist the Committee, while not at all professing to be judges or perfectly impartial, like the five Members of the Committee. I confess I think that the fairest and most impartial mode of constituting the tribunal for this investigation.


Sir, it is very important to bear in mind, whatever decision may be come to, that we are called upon to decide, without any previous notice whatever, upon the elements of a tribunal which were not before introduced. I was not aware that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) had made any suggestion for any alteration in the elements of the Committee, until I heard the interpretation which has been put upon his speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Let the House consider its position. First of all, there is the leader of the House now absent proposing that there should be a regularly constituted Committee, and then an hon. Gentleman proposes by way of Amendment that there should be a Committee of five appointed by the Committee of Selection. Well, we are brought here to-night to decide that Question, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock, a high authority in matters in his line, makes a speech without moving anything, and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets up and says it never occurred to him before—it seemed a most admirable mode of proceeding, and he recommends it. Why, we have not the proposition before us; we hare not had any notice of it; and I myself have not heard what the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is. I know there was a great objection to the Motion of the noble Lord, on the ground that all kinds of personal motives would be introduced. But now, according as I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this would be entirely a personal trial; there would be a prosecutor and a defender who would treat the whole question as if the character of an individual were involved. It is impossible to say that there are not some personal considerations involved in the matter. I only regret that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Calne did not consent to sit in the Committee, and I have no doubt that his honour would be in safe keeping. But, though there are personal questions involved, no one will for a moment pretend to say that the political are not greater than the personal considerations. The argument used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock strikes at the very existence of the Committees of this House, and if the House does not defend them it will lose all the powers and privileges which characterize Parliament. I cannot say I entertain the same opinion of Election Committees as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness-shire (Mr. Baillie). I think, on the whole, the decisions of those Committees are influenced by a sense of justice, but if you lay down as a principle that no Committee can be trusted if men of decided political opinions on either side of the House are Members of it, that is opposed to the whole tendency and genius of Parliament; by acting upon it you will debar yourselves of the services of your ablest men, and you will end by striving, as you are now doing, to frame an institution which is not in harmony with the general tenour of your rule. My own opinion is that it is the best to follow the proposal of the leader of the House. The noble Lord, who is unfortunately absent, is not only from his position, but from his experience, of the highest authority. No doubt he consulted with his Colleagues before he made his proposal, and I have no doubt that it was the decided opinion of his Colleagues that a Committee, as usually constituted, was the fairest tribunal. Let us pay to the noble Lord in his absence the respect which we pay him in his presence. The noble Lord is now absent receiving a high distinction at the hands of an ancient University, and when in his absence the Chancellor of the Exchequer turns round and says that he prefers the raw suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman on the fourth bench to the deliberate and mature advice of his leader, I do not hesitate to say that that is a decision in which I, though an opponent of the noble Lord, am not prepared to share, and I shall, therefore, support the original Resolution.


said, that the reduction which, in recent years, had taken place in the number of members on Election Committees was a great improvement, and he approved in the present instance the proposition to constitute the Committee of five Members only. Some hon. Gentlemen might call that a political question, but there was a great deal of personal consideration mixed up with it, and out of doors no one heard of the Resolution condemning the practice of the Education Department without feeling that it was either nothing at all or else a personal implication. There must be some one responsible for the Department, if it had broken faith with the House of Commons, and acted so discreditably as to de- serve censure, and that somebody had a fair right to defend himself. His impression was, that the best plan would be to have five fair and candid men, selected by the Committee of General Elections, to form the Committee. Nevertheless, in such n Committee, there would still be wanting the element necessary to bring out the case of the parties interested on the one side and on the other; but in many instances that difficulty had been met by the appointment of what were called assessors, having, no vote, but being well acquainted with the case and acting as counsel. In that way he believed that as honest a decision was arrived at as it was possible to obtain under the circumstances; and he would appeal to hon. Members opposite to bear in mind that even the subordinates in the Education Office, who possessed no advocates in that House, had a right to a fair trial before the Committee, and ought not lo be condemned without inquiry.


said, he very much regretted that the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire was not present on the evening when the Question was discussed, for if he had been he would not have supposed that the noble Lord at the head of the Government had not adopted the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hull. The noble Lord gave that proposition his cordial support; and, probably, if the right hon. Gentleman had been present he might have come to the same conclusion. The right hon. Gentleman described the proposition of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock as taking the House by surprise; but any man of his experience might have known that the plan there suggested was constantly adopted in respect to Committees like that under discussion, and the Chairman of Ways and Means the other night distinctly pointed out that mode of proceeding, which seemed to meet with the approval of the House. He dissented from the statement of the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, that the question of policy in that instance was of more importance than the personal question, for he thought that the personal honour of a Member of that House and of the servants of the Crown was certainly of greater importance than the question whether the Reports of the School Inspectors should be curtailed or not. Hon. Gentlemen seemed to think that the individual expression of opinion which had taken place was a complete vindication of the right hon. Member for Calne, but he could still understand the right hon. Gentleman desired to obtain a more formal recognition of the accuracy of his statements. It should also be remembered that many of those hon. Members who exonerated him still maintained that the Resolution of the 12th of April was true. If so, somebody had been guilty of the grossest misconduct; and he claimed, on behalf of the servants of the Department, that a tribunal might he constituted which would carry out the principles of equity and justice. On the ground of fair play, he did not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite would deny that a Committee of five men selected for their impartiality and calm and dispassionate judgment would be a more satisfactory tribunal than a larger Committee composed in some measure of partisans. He, therefore, trusted that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Hull would not be opposed.


Sir, I think the difficulty the House is in is that it has attempted to do something which everybody feels is unnecessary. I understand the noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) makes no imputation upon the right hon. Member for Calne, and I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster) on one occasion say the same thing. I believe that the impression made upon the House when the right hon. Gentleman made his explanation was such that every Member of the House—I believe without an exception at that moment—wished that the Resolution of the 12th of April had not been passed. I think the general opinion of the House was, as regards him, that if that Resolution was an imputation on his character it was unfortunate and unjust. Well, I think the right hon. Gentleman is highly unfortunate, too, in the way he has been treated by the Government. I do not know how many weeks—some five or six at least—have passed since this unfortunate matter occurred, and the proper course for a powerful Minister defending a Colleague, whom he believed and knew to be innocent, would have been to ask the House to rescind the Resolution. The Government, however, did not take that course for reasons of its own, and after the Question is dragged on week after week in this manner, and in a way which must be excessively unpleasant to the right hon. Gentleman most concerned, there is now a question—What kind of Committee shall be formed? We all know that a Committee of fifteen is a most unsatisfactory tribunal in a matter of this kind—I think for the reason just stated. If hon. Gentlemen opposite will only try to put themselves into the position of the right hon. Member for Calne, there is not one of them who will go out of the House and vote against the proposition of the hon. Member for Hull. I have had no communication with the right hon. Member for Calne; but I have heard from those who are likely to know his views in this case—in which, to some extent, his character arid reputation are involved—that the matter will he much better and more justly tried, and tried more to the satisfaction of himself and all those who feel an interest in what may become of him, by a Committee of five members than one of fifteen. Now, I believe that there is not an hon. Member on the opposite side of the House who, if he were placed in the position of the right hon. Member for Calne, would not feel when there is a proposition on the one hand to nominate a Committee of fifteen, and on the other to name a Committee of five, that the House would do him great injustice, if it refuses to appoint that tribunal which would be satisfactory to himself and his friends, and which has been appointed on many former occasions. I believe there is no necessity for a Committee, but if the House is to divide between the two propositions, I shall give my vote in favour of the hon. Member for Hull.

Question put, and negatived.

Question proposed, That the words 'the Select Committee do consist of five Members, to be nominated by the General Committee of Elections,' be added, —instead thereof.


said, he wished to know from the Chancellor of the Exchequer how he proposed to carry out the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. He might be wrong, but he certainly did not understand that suggestion had been made the other evening by the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Clay); for, speaking after him, one objection he took to his proposal was, that in a Committee of five chosen by the Committee of Selection no one would be present to act the part of counsel, and considerable difficulty might therefore occur. Although he still thought that a Committee of fifteen would be the most just, yet after what he had just heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham he thought it would be hardly fair to the right hon. Member for Calne to insist on his own opinion.


said, the noble Lord was right in stating he did not absolutely make the suggestion that assessors should be appointed. He took it for granted, from the instances he had named, that as a matter of course two assessors would be named, one, the gentleman most interested in the attack, so far as it was an attack; and the other, probably, the Vice President of the Committee of Council on Education. The practice was to move for a Committee of five; and two assessors were afterwards added. In the case of Earl Granville, on whom an attack was made, only one assessor was appointed, that noble Lord declining to have one.


remarked that the position of prosecutor in such a case would be a very invidious one, whoever might be appointed.


said, he proposed to follow the course adopted in the case of Mr. Stonor some ten years ago. He should, therefore, now move That two other Members of the House be named by the General Committee of Elections, and appointed to serve on the Select Committee, to examine Witnesses, without the power of voting.

Amendment proposed, To the said proposed Amendment, by adding, at the end thereof, the words "and that two other Members, to be named by the General Committee of Elections, be appointed to serve on the Select Committee to examine Witnesses, but without the power of voting."—(Mr. Edward Pleydell Bouverie.)


said, he was aware there had been instances of the kind; but he wished to know whether Gentlemen so named to serve in the capacity of assessors would have an option, or would be compelled to serve on being appointed.


said, he believed the two assessors would be appointed only after communication was had with them.

Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.

Amendment, as amended, agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Select Committee do consist of five Members, to be nominated by the General Committee of Elections, and that two other Members, to be named by the General Committee of Elections, be appointed to serve on the Select Com- mittee to examine Witnesses, but without the power of voting:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records.

And, on June 7, Committee nominated as follows: — John George Dodson, Esq., Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton, Bart., Lord Hotham, the Hon. Charles Howard, Edward Howes, Esq. Also, The Lord Advocate, and Lord Robert Cecil, but without the power of voting.