§ MR. LONGFIELD
Sir, having given notice of my intention to comment on the Report of the Committee on the Leeds Bankruptcy Court, and to ask the Attorney General what steps the Government propose to take against the parties implicated by that Report, I do not know how far I shall be in order in prefacing my Question by a statement of facts. I shall endeavour to compress that statement into as narrow a compass as possible, in order that the House and the country may understand—[Order, order!]
§ MR. LONGFIELD
I shall put myself in order by moving, at the conclusion of my statement, the adjournment of the House. ["Oh, oh!"] I am aware that the course is an unusual one, and one which I have never before taken; but the circumstances themselves are so unusual as to afford a complete justification for the step. These circumstances, unhappily, are rather notorious. A Member of Her Majesty's Government, holding the very highest station which can be held under the Crown, has within three months given occasion for two separate inquiries into the purity and propriety of his conduct. The general outline of those inquiries is sufficiently indicated by stating that they bear a considerable resemblance to each other. Having in the course of his judicial functions ascertained that certain offences had been committed, the noble and learned Lord took advantage of those offences to force out of offices which they held the persons by whom it was alleged that those offences were committed, and the proceedings thus instituted on the part of the Crown he made profitable to himself by appointing members of his own family to the vacant offices. One of these investigations took place in the House of Lords, and was connected with a gentleman named Edmunds. That inquiry has a considerable bearing upon the inquiry which has just been concluded by this House; for scarcely had that inquiry terminated when another unfortunate circumstance was adverted to in this House. A gentleman named Wilde was forced to resign his appointment at Leeds, and his appointment was at once promised to the Chancellor's son, although, from circumstances which afterwards occurred, that appointment was not actually made. The matter formed the subject of some discussion in this House, and resulted in the appointment of a Committee to investigate the entire transaction. It was stated that the Chancellor courted the fullest and fairest and openest inquiry; and the Committe of Selection named five Gentlemen of the highest character and respectability to inquire into the circumstances which thus, a second time within two months, cast the deepest possible slur on the administration of justice and on the judicial authority. That Committee, following a most objectionable precedent set in another place, fell, I regret to say, into the very grave mistake—for mistake everybody now confesses it to have been—of conducting that most solemn inquiry, which the Chan- 881 cellor had declared he desired to be full, free, and open, with closed doors. They concluded their labours rather more than a week ago; their Report, embodying the conclusions at which they have arrived, has been in the hands of Members for the last day or two, and it is now my duty—a painful duty I feel it to be—to bring the subject under the notice of the House, and to ask the Attorney General what steps Her Majesty's Government feel it necessary to take under the circumstances. The persons involved are members of the profession that I was proud of belonging to some little time ago, though certainly, if two or three more transactions of the same kind should take place, I do not know that we may not all have to hang our heads for shame. It was a noble profession, piquing itself justly on its esprit de corps, on the high character which its members had always borne, and especially on the reputation of those looked up to and revered as the head of the profession. These investigations, however, tend not only to shake our faith in the administration of justice, but to excite something more than suspicion of corrupt practices. Corrupt practices, at least, have been established, in which the Chancellor's family participated. Let me go through this Report, pausing here and there to interpose an observation connecting the dates, and we shall see how grave this matter has become, and how important it is in the interests of the public that satisfactory explanations should be given by the Government. The Government, I assume, have no object in screening the guilty; they can have no proper political object in screening an offender from justice. There is no motive which should animate a Government that ought to restrain them from meting out to him the same measure of justice which he insisted on meting out to others, untried and unconvicted, who were under his power. I will now come to the commencement of this melancholy, dark, and discreditable transaction. The Lord Chancellor seemed to be a great law reformer, and especially a reformer of bankruptcy proceedings. In 1801 he passed a Bill on that subject, but from that time he slumbered and slept upon the matter. No very lucrative appointments fell to his gift, all the good places had from time to time been filled by his predecessors; and this and the other House disappointed him of the opportunity of appointing the Chief Judge in Bankruptcy 882 which was regarded as the prize of greatest amount in connection with the new system. But in 1864 he awoke from his lethargy, and in very disagreeable mood. He found that everything was going wrong in Bankruptcy, in the courts over which he had jurisdiction, and, among other matters, that there were grievous complaints of the impropriety with which some of the officers in the Leeds Court of Bankruptcy had acted. Paper No. 295, referred to in the Report of the Leeds Bankruptcy Court Committee, contain some documents which give us the first insight into the origin of these transactions. I will trace them date by date, and as we pursue the inquiry we shall see that this nobleman for the second time fell into the unfortunate error of ignoring guilt that he might profit by the guilty. On the 6th of April, 1864—and it is essential to bear these dates in mind—Mr. Miller, the Chief Registrar of the Court of Bankruptcy, who was the intimate friend of all the Bethells—of the Hon. Slingsby Bethell, and also of the Hon. Richard Bethell—forwarded a very startling communication to Mr. Wilde, of whose eyes and health we have heard in this House before. The letter was in these terms—Dear Sir—By direction of the Lord Chancellor I lately transmitted to Mr. Commissioner Ayrton the accounts of the official assignees and messengers of the Leeds Court, with a view to an investigation of them, and in a letter dated the 27th ult. Mr. Commissioner Ayrton writes as follows—'I have not yet looked into the accounts of the official assignees, but on opening the large paper returns made to you, I see the words, "Submitted to and approved by Mr. Commissioner Ayrton on the 8th of April, 1862. H. S. Wilde, Registrar."—The fact being that I never saw that sheet or the accounts it refers to, till I received it from you.' I am now directed by the Lord Chancellor to ask what explanation you have to give of this very grave offence.On the 9th of April Mr. Wilde replied, and his letter drew out a further communication from Mr. Miller, dated the 14th of April, in the course of which Mr. Miller said—Mr. Carrick, one of the official assignees, asserts that you owe him £131, and Mr. Needell, one of the messengers, that you owe him £25, all for money borrowed. I am directed by the Lord Chancellor to ask you whether these statements are true?On the 16th of April, by one of those curious coincidences which are found all through this correspondence, Mr. Wilde wrote a reply giving explanations. That brings us to the middle of April, and to the intervention of another gentleman, 883 who, I am sorry to say, is a clergyman—because we must remember that judicial patronage is not the only patronage vested in the Lord Chancellor. The Rev. George Rogers Harding stated, in his evidence before the Committee—That about the end of April, or the beginning of May, 1864, he was at Mr. Bethell's office in Quality Court, and took a letter of introduction from Mr. Bethell to Mr. Welch, who was then in chambers at the Temple; that an arrangement had been previously made that Mr. Bethell should use his influence to procure an appointment from his father in favour of Mr. Welch; that Mr. Welch should pay £500 down, and on obtaining an appointment should pay £1,000 more; that he (Mr. Harding) mentioned this arrangement to Mr. Welch, who acquiesced in it; that the understanding was clear; the £500 was to be paid to Mr. Bethell on the security of his bill at short date, which was to be destroyed or returned if Mr. Welch obtained an appointment, and that he (Mr. Harding), was to receive one-third of the further £1,000, when paid.Now, that transaction brings us to the end of April, the correspondence of Mr. Wilde and Mr. Miller having closed on the 16th with a letter of explanation from Mr. Wilde, which, for nearly a month afterwards, as he heard nothing more, he had reason to believe was satisfactory. Some discrepancy seems to exist from the Report of the Committee between the evidence of Mr. Bethell and Mr. Welch, but there is no dispute on either side that on the 6th of May, 1864, a check was given by Mr. Welch to Mr. Bethell for the sum of £500, as Mr. Harding positively states, there being an arrangement that £500 should be paid down, that £1,000 was to be afterwards paid by Mr. Welch upon obtaining the appointment, and that Mr. Harding was to get a third of it. The bill was at short date, and Mr. Bethell having got the £500 very soon found it desirable to go on the Continent, and nothing more was done just then. Mr. Wilde had sent in an explanation of the charges against him, and that explanation, as I have said, had been received. But some time after the money was obtained by Mr. Bethell, the bill being at short date, Mr. Miller, a friend of the Bethell family, thought it necessary to stir up again the charges which he had allowed before to remain dormant, and on the 16th of May, some ten days after the receipt of the money by Mr. Bethell, he wrote the following letter to Mr. Wilde:—Court of Bankruptcy, May 16, 1864.Dear Sir,—By the same post which carries this you will receive copies of four reports lately made to the Lord Chancellor by Mr. Commis- 884 sioner Ayrton and Mr. Harding on the subject of the returns and accounts of the official assignees and messengers of the Leeds Court, and of the examinations on which these reports proceeded; and I am directed by the Lord Chancellor to request that you will immediately furnish Mr. Commissioner Ayrton with any explanation you may desire to give of the charges against you involved in these documents, and which appear to be:—1. That accounts which ought to have been submitted to and allowed by your Commissioner were certified by you as having been submitted to and sanctioned by him, without his ever having seen such accounts, and that thereby large sums had been improperly allowed to the official assignees. 2. That you have been in the habit of taxing the bills of the messengers without calling for the production of the vouchers for the sums alleged to have been paid by them; and 3. That you had borrowed money both from the official assignees and messengers of the court, and thereby destroyed your independence and efficiency. I must trouble you to acknowledge the receipt of this letter, and of the copies of the reports and examinations.Yours, &c.,JOHN F. MILLER.H. S. Wilde, Esq.That was ten days after Mr. Bethell had received the cheque, and exactly one month after Miller's letter, in which he said Mr. Carrick had stated he had borrowed the money. For some time nothing further was done. Though the Bill was running on, Mr. Welch did not seem particularly urgent; he relied on the interest which Mr. Bethell had expressed in him, and he probably thought that in a short time the appointment would be made. But having lent the money and having got Mr. Miller as a friend, Mr. Welch soon again solicits the Lord Chancellor for a place. He had paid for it; there was no vacancy, Mr. Wilde having been officially exculpated by the Lord Chancellor, and, curiously enough, contemporaneously with a letter written by Mr. Miller to Mr. Wilde the Lord Chancellor receives a letter from Mr. Welch, soliciting an appointment, and the appointment is made. It will be seen that for some time after the £500 was given by Mr. Welch, little was done, in consequence probably of the absence of Mr. Bethell on the Continent. Until the end of July no letter appears to have been written by Mr. Miller to Mr. Wilde. The next letter of the correspondence is dated the 26th of July. And here, by the way, I may mention that the Committee elicited a most extraordinary circumstance in connection with one of Mr. Miller's letters. The Report of the Committee says—Mr. Miller states that copies of the last-mentioned report and other documents were sent on the 9th of June, with the letter of that date, set 885 forth in the Appendix, to Mr. Wilde and to Mr. Payne. Mr. Wilde denies that the letter and copies were ever received by him or Mr. Payne; and no acknowledgment of the receipt of this report was either asked for or received by Mr. Miller. About the same time, however, it appears that both Mr. Wilde and Mr. Payne received blank envelopes from the Court of Bankruptcy, about which neither of those gentlemen thought it necessary to make any immediate inquiry. Your Committee have directed their attention closely to this matter, because it appeared, on examining the letter-book kept in Mr. Miller's office, that he had with his own hand entered in the book a copy of the letter of the 9th of June, which was the only letter so copied by him; and because, from the state of the page in which the letter was copied, and the erasures and alterations of the paging in the index referring to these and other letters to Mr. Payne and Mr. Wilde, there was grave cause for suspicion that the entry of this letter was a subsequent interpolation. Mr. Miller, however, stated that he copied the letter on the day of its date after his clerks were gone. Copies of the report and other documents were undoubtedly made for the office at the time by the law stationer, and it is certainly possible that in the hurry of business the copies were lost or mislaid, and were not, in fact, sent. Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Stewart, his clerk, were examined on this point, and were unable to explain the erasures and alterations in the index referring to these letters; but the erasures and alterations in the index to the letter-book are not confined to these letters only, and the book generally has not been kept in a creditable manner.There could be no doubt that this letter was an interpolation. It would be seen that it was the only letter copied in the handwriting of Mr. Miller, and that he interpolated it in order to give a colour to his letter of July, which I have just mentioned. Meantime the Bill of £500 become due; if, was not honoured; Mr. Wilde slept in security; he had had no communication with Mr. Miller; he had, indeed, got a blank envelope, but that was all. From the 16th of May Mr. Miller does not appear to have had the slightest communication with Mr. Wilde until the 26th of June. The bill became due, Mr. Welch was dissatisfied lest he should lose both his money and his place, a communication took place between Mr. Bethell and Mr. Welch, and Mr. Miller was put in action between Mr. Welch and the Lord Chancellor; and then again occurred the transactions, the hapless transactions between Mr. Miller and the Lord Chancellor—transactions which if they are permitted to continue without public notice being at once taken of them in such a way as to insure that public reparation shall be made, the purity of official appointments may for ever be despaired of. On the 26th of July, Mr. Miller, 886 finding it necessary to be a little expeditious, writes this letter to Mr. Wilde—Sir,—It grieves me much to inform you that, unless I hear in course of post that you mean to apply to be allowed to retire, I have instructions from the Lord Chancellor to serve you with notice to appear before him publicly in open court, and show cause why you should not be dismissed from your office of Registrar. It is said that your state of health is such that you can have no difficulty in obtaining such a medical certificate as would entitle you to retire under the 33rd section of the Bankruptcy Act, 1861; and, if this he so, I sincerely trust, for your own sake, that you will see the propriety of relieving the Chancellor from the very disagreeable and, indeed, painful duty which is thrust upon him.There are some interesting points connected with this letter. The Committee says—Mr. Miller states that the first part of this letter, including the passage as to the course of post and the application to retire, was strictly in accordance with the directions of the Lord Chancellor, but that for the second part"—which would inculpate the Lord Chancellor, and with regard to which we are asked to believe that noble and learned Lord knew nothing, they say—"he had no instructions." But the fact was the first part of the letter had answered its purpose. Mr. Wilde, the unfortunate Mr. Wilde, could not discriminate between that for which Mr. Miller had no authority and that for which he had. The letter was official, it was imperative, "the course of post" was all the time allowed this gentleman for consideration, and therefore the House would not be surprised, though the country might be, that Mr. Wilde took the hint so kindly conveyed to him, and he at once procured a certificate of ill health and forwarded it. In the course of some professional experience and of a long life I never heard of more disgraceful transactions. The letter, which was peremptory, suggested that Mr. Wilde should escape the discreditable position of being called upon to answer for his conduct before a Judge who had already prejudged his case, and that he should send up a certificate of ill-health. Mr. Wilde had not in fact suffered from anything but some affection of the eyes, and he states that he had consulted Mr. Hey, an eminent surgeon of Leeds, during some months previous, and says that Mr. Hey had suggested his retiring but that he had not felt the inconvenience so great as to induce him to do so. He now applied to Mr. Hey for a certificate, who must be held to be a man of honour and conscience, 887 and who was almost the only one that was not implicated with the Bethell family, then gave the following certificate:—I hereby certify that I have been consulted by Mr. Henry S. Wilde, on account of a failure in his sight, which was a serious hindrance to him in the performance of the duties of his office. Mr. Wilde first consulted me in August, 1863. At his age I cannot look for any improvement in his vision.I have seen the gentleman in question, before the Committee, and I must say a sharper one I have seldom seen, though, "at his age, one cannot look for any improvement in his vision." That was the certificate sent to Mr. Miller, who actually drew up the petition to the Lord Chancellor praying for a pension. The Committee state in their Report—The petition, affidavit, and certificate were submitted by Mr. Miller to the Lord Chancellor on the 30th of June. Mr. Miller states that he called the attention of the Lord Chancellor to the unsatisfactory nature of the certificate, and that the Lord Chancellor said that, coupling the language of the petition, the affidavit, and the certificate together, there was a sufficient case to enable him to make the order.Conscientious and kind-hearted person! "Coupling together"—what a lawyer's phrase !—the petition, the affidavit, and the certificate, he thought there was a sufficient case. Of course this must mean that, taken per se, each of these documents was unsatisfactory. This is Mr. Miller's version. The Lord Chancellor's version makes matters worse—The Lord Chancellor, in his evidence, states that he cannot remember his attention being called to the certificate. He says—'The petition, affidavit, and certificate were presented to me, and I ought in strictness to have read them all.'That is precisely what Mr. Wilde ought to have done. However—That in the captain's but a choleric wordWhich in the soldier is flat blasphemy.And poor Mr. Wilde, who ought to have investigated accounts before signing them, received strong hints that he must retire from his office. Says the Lord Chancellor—I ought in strictness to have read them all. I certainly could not have read the medical certificate, or I should not have allowed it to pass upon that certificate.There is a confession from the Keeper of Her Majesty's Conscience! An officer is guilty of misconduct which is punishable, and for which the Lord Chancellor has summoned him to appear and account for his conduct, and the Keeper of the Queen's Conscience, upon a sham certifi- 888 cate which he did not even go through the formality of looking at, winks at his escape from the punishment of his misconduct! We know it is said that the judge who cannot punish will in time connive at—nay participate in crime. We have the Lord Chancellor not punishing, we have him conniving, and I will presently show that he participated. The Lord Chancellor says—Those papers were certainly all laid before me, and I felt very great embarrassment, undoubtedly. … I felt that the charge against Mr. Wilde was not one upon which I could dismiss him without pronouncing a very severe sentence. I was painfully struck with the great inconsistency of having directed him to be served with a notice to show cause why he should not be dismissed, and then permitting him to resign on a pension.Hero the Lord Chancellor admits that he gave Mr. Miller full authority for part at least of his letter of the 26th of July; and I think that any persons who have attained a judgment more mature than that of children must be of opinion that Mr. Miller had authority for the whole of that letter.
The inconsistency," continues the Lord Chancellor, "was obvious; but, at the same time, unless I determined to dismiss him, I had no alternative but to allow him to remain in that Department. I thought him a bad public officer, and I thought that it would be a gain to the public if he was permitted to resign; and, therefore, having only those two alternatives, either to permit him to remain or to allow him to resign, I certainly decided upon allowing him to resign; and I accordingly signed the order for granting him a pension.Upon this the Committee remark—Such haste and want of caution necessarily give rise to suspicion that a vacancy in the Office is the object sought rather than justice to the officer or the public.In that opinion of the Committee I think no man will hesitate to concur. ["Read on!"] Yes, I will read on—In this instance, however, your Committee consider that no improper motives are to be imputed to the Lord Chancellor.I give the friends of the Lord Chancellor the benefit of this candid statement by the Committee; but there is a Committee beyond the Committee. There is an appeal to the Committee of the public, and the public will not endorse this verdict. You cannot convict the Lord Chancellor by a confession or a document under hand and seal; but coupling this case with another of the same kind in which the Lord Chancellor condoned a criminal offence and got the place, I ask, Is there not connivance? 889 Is there not a wilful shutting of eyes to transactions to which the Lord Chancellor ought to have been awake? Is there not a delay which shows how unfit he is, either by the guilelessness of his nature, which I never heard of before, or by the audacity and insolence of office, which may be characteristic of the man, for the exercise of patronage? Is it possible, upon the evidence cited by the Committee, to say that the Lord Chancellor is not answerable for this second appropriation of public funds for the endowment of misconduct or crime for which he had himself pronounced sentence of dismissal? Sir, the very day that this order was signed by the Lord Chancellor without looking at the papers—thus committing the fault for which he had sentenced Mr. Wilde so severely—that very day the office was filled up, and, curiously enough, it was filled up at Mr. Miller's suggestion, Mr. Miller being the friend of Mr. Bethell, who had been always put in motion whenever it was necessary to extricate Mr. Bethell from embarrassment or make him fulfil his pledges. On that very day the office was filled up, without the slightest appearance of necessity, by the appointment of Mr. Welch, who had lent £500 to Mr. Bethell, and who had applied for the office. The Committee say they—Are satisfied that no imputation can fairly be made against the Lord Chancellor with regard to this appointment.Now, again, I ask, what do the public think on the subject? I should like to know what other candidates applied to the Lord Chancellor for the office? Was Mr. Welch the only applicant? Or was he the only applicant who had lent Mr. Bethell money on that gentleman's flimsy security? Sir, Mr. Welch was not the only applicant, but he was the only applicant who had lent money to Mr. Bethell. Mr. Welch having got the place, Mr. Bethell's credit at once rose. He returned to the country and became as importunate as ever. We then turn back—because the dates are a little mixed up—and we find that shortly after his return to this country—about July or August—having got into credit by fulfilling his engagement with Mr. Welch, he appears to have asked that gentleman for more money. There was an "engagement," to which both Mr. Harding and Mr. Welch were privy, and the latter gentleman frankly admits that he lent the money for the purpose of getting the place. Having asked for more 890 money, we find that on the 10th of September, 1864, Mr. Bethell, after he had become hopelessly insolvent, obtained a further loan of £200 from Mr. Welch without any security. On the 7th of February, 1865, Mr. Welch lent him £50 more, and about the 20th of the same month a further sum of £300; but Mr. Welch states that he had refused him accommodation in the previous November. The fact, however, is that on the 20th of February, 1865, Mr. Welch, then the Registrar at Leeds, had advanced Mr. Bethell £300 in addition to £750 before advanced to him. Then the Report says—Your Committee have given the more prominent facts or statements bearing on this matter. For minute details they refer to the evidence of the parties concerned. The statement of Mr. Harding is irreconcilable with that of Mr. Bethell and Mr. Welch.But is it not possible to reconcile that statement with the facts? We have the fact of the loan, the motives of the loan, the promise of the loan—we actually have the agreement on which the loan was obtained, and evidence that the agreement was carried out; and it is too much to say that we are called upon to ignore the facts and not pronounce an opinion upon them. The facts are clear, and demonstrate a corrupt bargain. Mr. Welch made the further advances in order that he might be advanced to a more lucrative place in London—Mr. Harding's statement, "say the Committee," if true, discloses a corrupt bargain between the three parties; if false, it is a gross attempt at extortion. One or other of these conclusions would be established by a judicial investigation of the facts of the case; but as each of them involves the liability to a charge of a highly penal character, your Committee, not having the opportunity of examining witnesses upon oath, or of bringing the persons inculpated to a formal trial, purposely abstain from expressing any opinion as to which of the two views above mentioned ought to be adopted. They consider it their duty to observe, that the indisputable facts are such as to render it essential to the public interest that the case should, as soon as possible, be made the subject of legal investigation.In that opinion I entirely concur; thus you have the first part of the Report inculpating the Lord Chancellor in the severest way for haste and oversight, for permitting this gross transaction to be blotted out as far as he was concerned, and for granting a pension to an officer whom he believed wholly unde- 891 serving of a pension, and who could never have obtained it but for the connivance of the Lord Chancellor, and the fact that he willfully abstained from looking at this certificate. You then have Mr. Harding, Mr. Welch, and Mr. Bethell implicated in the corrupt bargain for the sale of an office. But now what takes place further? It is clear that the further loan from Mr. Welch was on the condition that Mr. Bethell would obtain his transfer to a more lucrative office in London, Mr. Bethell succeeding to Mr. Welch's place at Leeds. It appears that, on the 22nd of February, two days after the advance of the £300 by Mr. Welch, the Lord Chancellor, at the instigation of Mrs. Bethell or Mrs. Skirrow, hinted that Mr. Bethell might obtain an office in the country, if a vacancy were to take place. Mr. Bethell knew where to look for a vacancy. Mr. Welch was his creditor, the liberal lender of money, without the slightest prospect of being paid in kind, trusting to the honour of a gentleman who appears to have rather fugitive notions of honour. Mr. Bethell went to Leeds on the following day, and saw Mr. Welch at his office on the 24th, and it is clear it was generally understood that Mr. Bethell was shortly to be appointed registrar at Leeds, and that Mr. Welch was to be transfered to London. Mr. Welch had bought one place cheaply, having given only £500 for it, or about half a year's salary. So satisfied was Mr. Miller, the intimate friend of Mr. Bethell and Mr. Welch, that the arrangement was to be carried out, that with great zeal, and without authority, he prepares two appointments carrying out the corrupt agreement, which the Lord Chancellor wilfully abstained from knowing—because he must have been aware that the persons about him were trafficing in his name; that he was appointing a gentleman to a valuable office at the solicitation of a worthless son, and that it was not likely that his influence had been obtained in a creditable manner. The transaction was clearly disgraceful to all concerned. On the 26th the Lord Chancellor states that, in consequence of some information he received as to the misconduct of his son at Paris, he determined not to appoint his son to office. Now I believe I can state what was the real nature of the information that led the Lord Chancellor to come to that decision. On the 24th of February in the present year it so happened that 892 the Edmunds' scandal in the House of Lords was completed, and very shortly afterwards, on the 26th and 27th, it became the common topic of discussion in the clubs and newspapers, and a few days later it likewise became the subject of a Question in this House. The information, the receipt of which induced the Lord Chancellor not to appoint his son was simply the universal outcry which followed upon the other job—the transaction by which the Keeper of the Queen's Conscience ignored the offence of a most unworthy officer, and connived at his getting a pension, which, to the Lord Chancellor's eternal disgrace, has been ignominiously rescinded on the ground that it was improperly granted, and that its continuance would be dishonest and disgraceful to the country. That transaction began to be noised about, and that was the true reason that the appointment of Mr. Bethell was not carried out, and that Mr. Miller's zeal was not successful. The transaction was blown up and disclosed in the House of Lords. A Committee on the Edmunds' case was appointed, and on the 7th of March a question, leading to a discussion, was asked in this House by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn. You see the two things are entirely coherent. On the 20th of February the money was lent, and the appointment was sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor at the instance of his daughter-in-law. On the 24th Mr. Bethell goes to Leeds to carry out the transaction, and on the 27th the appointment was annulled because the country was scandalized by the Edmunds' case, and thought—to use the language of the Duke of Wellington—that"it was too bad." These were unfortunate transactions for this unfortunate family, and left beyond hope the possibility of wiping a way the stain on the pure administration of justice. The highest officer of the Crown has been twice convicted and twice pardoned for having connived at and sanctioned, for the advantage of his family, perhaps in the hope that things might be done secretly and pleasantly, the grant of an improper pension. I may say, and I am sure the country will re-echo my sentiment, that it is wonderful that the person now filling the situation of Lord Chancellor, who is the highest judicial officer of the Crown, is still Lord High Chancellor. Has the pension granted by his gross misconduct been withdrawn? Is there no pride in him, and is there no attempt to make his 893 conduct pure in the eyes of the country? Is he insensible to shame, and is it possible that he is destitute of the merest glimmerings of those feelings which operate upon gentlemen? If he have not a virtue, why does he not affect one? Why does he not tender his resignation and thereby make some return for the outrages he has committed? The questions I am about to ask are connected with the last observations in the Report of the Committee on the Leeds Bankruptcy Court. It is there stated that—Although some of the questions asked in your honourable House, which led to the appointment of this Committee, were founded on information which was not thoroughly accurate, yet the general impression created by the sudden retirement of Mr. Wilde, and the pecuniary transactions which took place between Mr. Bethell and Mr. Welch, coupled with the representations made by Mr. Bethell on his visit to Leeds, were calculated to excite the gravest suspicions; and your Committee are of opinion that the inquiry which they have conducted was for this reason highly desirable for the public interests.I wish to ask the Attorney General, whether the pension to Mr. Wilde has been re-called; whether Mr. Welch has been dismissed from his office; whether Mr. Miller has been dismissed from his office; and whether the Lord Chancellor has been kindly asked to retire on a pension in justice to those officers who were guilty of no greater misconduct, but who were not equally protected by the arm of the law?
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Longfield.)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Sir, The hon. and learned Gentleman has imposed on me a task of no ordinary difficulty. The difficulty which I feel is much more owing to my own determination not to permit the feelings which I entertain to get too much mastery over me, than to any inability to deal with the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman or with the questions he has addressed to me. I thought that in this assembly, of all others, the highest in England and the world, even the meanest man might expect justice, and I should have imagined that the same measure of justice would not have been deemed unfit to be extended to one filling the highest and moat dignified position under the Crown. It appears that there are hon. Gentlemen sitting opposite, whose ideas of justice are far different from mine. I thought that in order to judge 894 and condemn it was necessary that we should he in possession of the evidence on which our opinions might properly be formed. The Report of the Committee on this occasion was in print on Saturday last, and no time will be lost in printing and distributing the evidence. On Thursday next—two days hence—or on Friday at the very latest, the evidence will be printed and in the hands of all Members, who will then be able to form their opinions on it; and those who are disposed to attack will have legitimate materials for their object, while those who have to meet the attack will also be in possession of materials for reply; but I never before heard, whether in the case of a man of high degree or a man of low degree, that it was deemed a course worthy of this House or of any Member having the honour of a seat in it, that there should be made a deliberate attack, founded on a Report, itself based on evidence, without waiting until the evidence was in the hands of Members. If anything could aggravate the wrong done on this occasion it is the fact that the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Longfield) does not adopt the decision of the Report; for in that Report I find it stated as the deliberate judgment of the Committee, founded on the evidence and the facts, which they considered to be established by the evidence, that they acquit the Lord Chancellor from all charge except that of haste and want of caution in granting a pension to Mr. Wilde. Well, that may or may not be the conclusion which the House will adopt when the evidence is before it; but to ask the House not only not to wait for the evidence, but to reverse that decision of the Committee, is a course which I believe has hitherto been unprecedented, and which I trust will never again be followed. It is not competent for me to follow the example of the hon. and learned Gentleman and go at full length into all the matters to which he referred; but to a certain extent I am able from information which is public, and with respect to which we need not wait for the evidence, to point out the wrong that has been done by many of the hon. and learned Member's remarks. The hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken as if the House had no grounds for believing that there were in the Court of Bankruptcy any abuses to be inquired into.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
All I can say is that I think it would have been at least more candid to believe that the head of that Court, who was bound to discharge the grave function of superintending its administration, might, in the inquiries which he instituted into the manner in which subordinate officers had performed their duties, have had some other motive than that of obtaining appointments for his own advantage. And unless the House, departing from the judgment of the Committee, are really prepared to presume and believe that the Lord Chancellor was cognizant of the corrupt means which are stated to have been used by a particular individual to procure an appointment in the Court of Bankruptcy, then I say that upon grounds which are apparent to all in this matter, the Lord Chancellor cannot possibly have been actuated by any improper motive. For what are the facts? They are these—that he instituted inquiries which commenced on the 6th of April, 1864, when the son of the Lord Chancellor, who has been named, was already in possession of an office more valuable than that at Leeds, and could have no possible reason for desiring to have that office; and it was after these inquiries had been instituted that the Lord Chancellor called upon and required his son to resign the appointment which he held, on account of his being in pecuniary embarrassment. And the Lord Chancellor from that day to this, so far from having been open and accessible to influence exercised by his son in any matter of appointment, has not since then even seen him, nor had any communication with him, even by letter, except upon the occasion of a family event to which I need not refer, and when letters were written by him on the subject of these very inquiries. So that whatever may have been the culpability of that person—and it is the deep misfortune of the Lord Chancellor to have a member of his family so little worthy, I regret to be obliged to admit, to bear his name—I should have thought that a generous House of Commons would not have regarded that, at all events, as a ground for believing all sorts of evil against the highest judicial officer in the realm. It will be seen, when the evidence is before the House, what ground there is for believing that, after Mr. Bethell was compelled by the Lord Chancellor himself to give up a more lucrative appointment in London, 896 in April, it was impossible for him to exercise any influence in obtaining any appointments whatever. Were these things done in a corner? Far from it. In June the Committee of this House on the Law of Bankruptcy was sitting, and the Lord Chancellor then communicated to the Committee the whole of the proceedings that were being taken in the matter of Mr. Wilde, at Leeds, and the evidence connected with that matter was printed and laid before Parliament before Mr. Wilde's resignation occurred. It is impossible, therefore, to believe for a moment that in the conduct of these proceedings the Lord Chancellor had or could have had any motive whatever except a desire to discharge his duty to the public. With regard to the appointment of Mr. Welch, the Lord Chancellor never saw Mr. Welch in his life. ["Hear, hear!"] Does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to say that recommendations coming from professional and creditable sources may not be such as to justify the appointment of an individual who is personally unknown to the Officer of State who makes that appointment? Mr. Welch had been long before recommended to the Lord Chancellor for a similar office by Sir William Atherton, by Mr. Edward James, the Attorney General of the County Palatine of Lancaster, by Mr. Manisty, one of the leading counsel of that circuit, and other gentlemen of eminence. And whatever may have been said in his favour by the Lord Chancellor's son was said long before these transactions of which we have heard with so much sorrow. Mr. Welch had been recommended by competent persons in the ordinal way; and unless the House is capable of believing, against the judgment of the Committee, that the Lord Chancellor knew of this attempt to bribe (supposing such an attempt to have been made), what possible motive of an improper character could the noble and learned Lord have had in appointing Mr. Welch? But it is not this alone. There was another person in the same position as Mr. Welch—namely, Mr. Payne, who resigned a little later, and the Lord Chancellor appointed another perfect stranger in his place. There could never be a more unworthy and unjust accusation than upon these materials to say that the Lord Chancellor was actuated by anything like a corrupt, personal, or improper motive, either in the steps which led to Mr. Wilde's resignation, or in the appointment of Mr. Welch in his stead; 897 and the Committee have arrived at that conclusion. The hon. and learned Gentleman, using the language of an advocate at the bar, of a counsel addressing a jury at the Old Bailey, and departing from the language of the Committee, said the Lord Chancellor had thrown out hints that there might be circumstances under which he would consent to his son having an appointment in the country. Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in the absence of the evidence, might have limited himself to what the Committee said about the candid statement made to them by the Lord Chancellor. ["Hear, hear!"] Gentlemen might do better if they suffered their own feelings to guide them in such a matter instead of party spirit and personal animosity. ["Oh!"] I think there are few Gentlemen present who would severely condemn a father for no more than this—that on intimate personal friends and near relatives coming and representing to him that there was a prospect of improvement in the conduct of the son for whom, after all, a father may be permitted to have a father's feelings, he did not say that he would or could then accede to what he had at all former times refused to do, but simply said he would take what they had represented to him into consideration; for it never went further than that. After a consideration of three or four days more, he finally decided that it could not be done; and he candidly told the Committee that in coming to that conclusion he was influenced by information he had received as to the unsatisfactory conduct of his son in Paris. What is the sum and substance of the Lord Chancellor's offending here? Why, that for a period of four days he suffered himself to consider whether it was possible to justify a more merciful and lenient course towards his son than he had previously thought it was his public duty to take, and arrived at the positive conclusion that he could not do so. The Committee have given their verdict upon these transactions, and have found that there was no ground for imputing to the Lord Chancellor anything but a want of caution with respect to the pension to Mr. Wilde. But the hon. and learned Gentleman, without waiting for the evidence, desires the House to infer that in some way or other the Lord Chancellor has been guilty of corruption in this matter. With respect to the pension to Mr. Wilde, the Lord Chancellor states that 898 Mr. Wilde's offences were quite serious enough to justify him in giving him the notice which was served upon him, but that it would have been a harsh and severe course of proceeding to have summarily dismissed him. Therefore, the pension, although it was granted in a hasty manner, was given from no really improper motive. I must now deal with the questions which the hon. and learned Gentleman has put to me with respect to the persons implicated in this matter. I will state what the Government has thought it their duty to do. As soon as the Report was in print they took it into consideration, and on Saturday last this Resolution was come to by my noble Friend at the head of the Government—to cause the Report to be laid before the Law Officers of the Crown, in order that, if they found that sufficient grounds existed, those criminal proceedings might be instituted against the persons implicated in the charge of corruption, which the Committee appeared to think ought to be taken. I think the House will be of opinion that that was the right course for the Government to adopt. I also think that the House will, probably, be of opinion that, if these proceedings ought to be taken, it would not be right now to discuss the grounds upon which a criminal charge may be brought. As to the other persons concerned, who, if the Committee came to a right conclusion, may be subjected to criminal prosecution, I think it would be unjust towards Mr. Welch, pending those proceedings, to remove him altogether from his office, but my impression is that, if a criminal prosecution is resolved upon, it would be proper to suspend him from the discharge of its duties under the circumstances. With regard to Mr. Miller, I do not understand the Committee to have done more than to express their disapprobation of his mode of proceeding, and his officiousness on several occasions. I do not understand them to consider that he was implicated in any act of corruption, although the hon. and learned Gentleman seems to be of a different opinion. Whether there are grounds for a prosecution against him we shall be better able to judge when we see the evidence. As to Mr. Miller also, the evidence ought to be seen before we determine whether any steps ought to be taken with regard to him. I think that I have now answered all that the hon. and learned Gentleman can expect me to 899 answer; and I believe the House will agree with me that it is to be regretted that he did not deem it right to postpone this discussion till a future opportunity.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
Sir, I do not rise to say many words on this subject, particularly after what has fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General), who has stated that if the evidence bears out what is contained in the Report with respect to certain parties to these transactions, prosecutions will be instituted against the parties implicated, by direction of the Government. But, while I pass by that part of the case, I cannot help adverting to that part which does not require the support of extraneous evidence. Having regard to the position which the Lord Chancellor holds, and actuated by no party feeling, I must say, looking to his own admissions, that it appears to me they do affect in the strongest degree that dignity and integrity which ought to attach to a person holding the high office which he fills. And when we consider the course which has been pursued with regard to the pension of Mr. Wilde, the dissolution being so near at hand, and no one knowing when the evidence will be ready, the House would have neglected its duty if it had not taken the earliest opportunity of calling attention to the Report of the Committee. What are the facts of the case? There was a charge made by the Lord Chancellor on the 16th of May against Mr. Wilde, consisting of three items—first, that accounts had been certified by him which had never been seen by him; second, that he was in the habit of taxing the Bills of the messengers without calling for vouchers for the sums alleged to have been paid by them; and, third, that he had borrowed money both from the official assignees and messengers of the Court, thereby sacrificing his independence and efficiency. These were three grave and serious charges against a man in the position of Mr. Wilde, and certainly called on the part of the Lord Chancellor for scrutiny, and punishment if the offence imputed had been committed. I shall not go into the merits of the case, nor pronounce any opinion upon them—I proceed entirely on the admissions which have been made. It appears that on the 26th of July, by direction of the Lord Chancellor, according to Mr. Miller's account, and by the Lord Chancellor's direction to a certain extent, according to his Lordship's own account, 900 Mr. Miller wrote a letter to Mr. Wilde in these words—Court of Bankruptcy, July 26, 1864.Sir,—It grieves me much to inform you that, unless I hear in course of post that you mean to apply to be allowed to retire, I have instructions from the Lord Chancellor to serve you with notice to appear before him publicly in open court and show cause why you should not be dismissed from your office of registrar.The Lord Chancellor, therefore, must have supposed that the charges against Mr. Wilde were such as, if committed, would have rendered him liable to be dismissed. I do not quote the latter part of the letter, because the Chancellor says he did not sanction it. I will refer to nothing but what the Lord Chancellor himself admits. Mr. Miller, whom the Attorney General, to my great surprise, says has been acquitted of all blame, whereas the Committee charge him with the grossest falsehoods, with having acted officiously, with having undertaken duties which did not belong to him, and other things which seem misdemeanors in his office—Mr. Miller then suggested that Wilde had better get a certificate of ill-health and ask to be allowed to retire on a pension; and Miller, after denying that he had drawn up the petition, and asserting that he knew nothing about it, admitted that he had drawn up the petition containing the certificate which Wilde had so obtained, and upon that petition the pension was granted to Mr. Wilde. What was the certificate? It was of so remarkable a character that it ought to have challenged the scrutiny of any man of ordinary intelligence and desirous to do his duty. Mr. Miller said he called the attention of the Lord Chancellor to it. The Lord Chancellor, on the other hand, said his attention was not particularly called to it. But the House must remember that it was a certificate respecting a man who had been called upon only four days before to resign his office of registrar, or appear before him in open court to answer for his misconduct. On the 30th of July the Lord Chancellor received an application from Mr. Wilde to be allowed to retire with a pension founded on a certificate which does not say that his health is in the least affected, but only that he had consulted some one, at some unknown time, on account of failure in his sight, which was then a serious hindrance to him in the performance of the duties of his office. There is this material fact also in reference to that 901 certificate, that the date appears to be in a different handwriting from the body of the certificate itself. The Lord Chancellor says his attention was not particularly called to this certificate; but when it is considered that the Lord Chancellor had called upon Mr. Wilde to appear and show cause why he should not be dismissed, and Mr. Wilde said he would resign, but asked for a pension of nearly £700 a year—when without a moment's delay—upon the same day—the resignation was accepted and the pension was granted—did the Lord Chancellor consider him a culprit or did he not so consider him? If he considered him a culprit, liable to dismissal, by allowing him to retire upon a pension he was disgracing the office which he held; and by allowing a man whom he had considered a culprit only four days before to escape inquiry into his conduct and the consequences which attached to it, and to retire upon a pension on a certificate which was only a subterfuge and an evasion, he made himself a party to the transaction, and ought to take the responsibility and the consequences. The Lord Chancellor's statement is that the certificate and affidavit were presented to him, and that he ought to have read them, but he does not think that he did. Now, I can readily conceive that the Lord Chancellor might at times be overwhelmed with business and obliged to trust to the officers under him; but here was a man who had been charged with offences, and called on to show cause why he should not be dismissed from his office; and by allowing one whom he alleged to be such a culprit to escape the consequences of his misconduct he has not only grossly neglected his duty, but perverted justice, and made the country a party to the transaction by conferring a pension of £600 a year on a person who, according to the Lord Chancellor's own view, had rendered himself liable to dismissal if not more serious consequences. These are the circumstances of the case as they appear upon the Lord Chancellor's statement; and I repeat that it seems to me that the House of Commons would have grossly neglected its duty if it had not at the earliest opportunity taken this matter into consideration. We could not tell whether the evidence would be produced before Parliament was dissolved, and we have known cases where papers have been delayed to the end of a Session so that no notice could be taken of the sub- 902 ject to which they referred. That might have been so in this instance. The Lord Chancellor upon his own showing had grossly neglected his duty; he had not done that which in his office he was bound to do—he had allowed a man whom he considered a culprit to receive a pension and retire into private life, as deserving the thanks of the country instead of receiving its condemnation—and the House would have failed in its functions if it had not, without waiting for evidence, which might not have been forthcoming in time, expressed its opinion on his conduct.
§ MR. E. C. EGERTON
Sir, as a Member of the Committee, I must say I think it premature in the House to enter into this discussion until the whole of the evidence is in its possession. It would have been most fair to those whose conduct has been impugned, and also to Members of the Committee, who endeavoured to discharge their duty honestly, faithfully, and impartially, that the House should have had an opportunity of reading the whole evidence and taking a full, impartial view of the whole circumstances, before it was called on to pronounce an opinion on this subject. I rose, however, chiefly to impress on the Attorney General the necessity of having the evidence produced with the greatest expedition. There is naturally grave suspicion in the public mind with reference to this subject. The Report of the Committee has been circulated by the press through the whole length and breadth of the land—the Committee have been violently attacked for having dealt lightly with some of the evidence; and it is most important for the public interests that the whole evidence in the case should be produced as soon as possible. The House, I am sure, is too just and too honest to come to any decision till it has read the evidence in extenso.
THE LORD ADVOCATE
As I also was a Member of the Committee, I am anxious to say a few words before the discussion closes. I entirely agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. E. C. Egerton), that it is impossible for the House to come to any just conclusion without the evidence on which the Report of the Committee is founded. The hon. Gentleman says Parliament is about to be dissolved, and the time is short; therefore he is anxious to call the attention of the House to the subject. But this surely can be no excuse for doing injustice, 903 or attempting to draw conclusions when you do not know the facts on which those conclusions are founded. That was exemplified in the strongest manner in the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Mallow (Mr. Longfield). I listened to that speech with the greatest possible wonder and surprise; for he not only chose to draw his own conclusions as to motives from facts he found stated in the Report, but he also chose to assume other things as facts which he cannot find there. I shall mention one or two of these. He said that Mr. Miller was a friend of Mr. Welch, and he wished the House to believe that Mr. Miller was cognizant of the transactions between Mr. Bethell and Mr. Welch. There is not one tittle of evidence to that effect. On the contrary, Mr. Miller says distinctly that he knew nothing of Welch until the Lord Chancellor had appointed him. The hon. and learned Member made another statement that startled me—he said that, between the time the money was paid to Mr. Bethell and the time Mr. Welch was appointed, communications passed between Bethell and Miller, and that in consequence Mr. Welch was appointed. There is not one word of that in the Report. On these grounds and on grounds like these the hon. and learned Gentleman, with a strength of language unexampled in this House, as far as my experience goes, and with a profusion of epithets I never heard before, charged the Lord Chancellor substantially with being privy to corrupt practices in regard to this office. I am not going into the evidence; but what I state is this—the Lord Chancellor knew nothing of Welch except from the recommendations he had received of him from persons of eminence, and the conversation with his son in 1863. The inquiry into the matter of the Bankruptcy Court of Leeds took place in 1864, at a time when public attention had been called to the state of the Bankruptcy Courts all over the country, and called certainly not without reason, as the Report showed. When the Lord Chancellor commenced his inquiry that inquiry could not by any possibility have been instituted for the benefit of his son, because that son was at the time in possession of a still better office in the Bankruptcy Court in London. That inquiry, too, was not confined to Mr. Wilde, but included the whole of the officials connected with the Leeds Bankruptcy Court. It concerned not only Mr. Wilde, 904 but the other Registrar, Mr. Payne, the official assignees, and the messengers. That inquiry had, he believed, led to the repayment of over £20,000, which had been improperly retained by the officials of the Leeds and other Bankruptcy Courts. In the course of these proceedings the Lord Chancellor instructed Mr. Miller to send notifications, not only to Mr. Wilde, but to other officials, that unless they forwarded sufficient answers to the charges he should call upon them to show cause in Court why they should not be dismissed. This was on the 16th of May. On the 14th Mr. Richard Bethell, for whose sake it is asserted the Lord Chancellor was privy to a corrupt bargain, was compelled by his father to resign his office. The hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to insinuate that Mr. Bethell and his father were in communication upon the subject of this office. Now, from the 14th May down to the month of February of the next year the Lord Chancellor had had not only no communication of any kind or description with his son, but, notwithstanding the expostulations addressed to him by Mr. Miller, the Chief Registrar of Bankruptcy, he refused over and over again to retain his son in office. Is it not too bad that under those circumstances the Lord Chancellor should be accused of plotting at the end of April, 1864, to make a vacancy for his son, when his son was at that time in possession of a better office, and when he compelled him to resign that office a fortnight afterwards? Was there anything more improbable? Even with the evidence before the House, he believed the attack of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Mallow would have been inexcusable, but it was still less excusable in the absence of that evidence to make such an attack at the close of a Parliament upon the character of any man, high or low, when the means of defence would, to a certain extent, be soon withdrawn. The whole affair spoke for itself. The Lord Chancellor had and could have no personal motive for insisting upon the resignation of Mr. Wilde. But it was argued by the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Lord Chancellor knew nothing of Mr. Welch. The Lord Chancellor, however, knew that Sir William Atherton and the leaders of the Northern Circuit had recommended that gentleman for an appointment of this nature. The question as to the conduct of the Lord Chancellor in permitting Mr. 905 Wilde to resign at all was entirely unconnected with the question as to his participation in the corrupt transactions detailed before the Committee. The Lord Chancellor did not require Mr. Wilde to resign, but he directed Mr. Miller to send to him the same notice he was to send to other officials. Whether the Lord Chancellor ought to have weighed this certificate more cautiously was a question entirely separated from anything else; and, supposing that that certificate had been thoroughly correct, he could not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Mallow in believing that the Lord Chancellor did wrong in permitting Mr. Wilde to resign. The charges against Mr. Wilde did not, as in another unfortunate case, involve any question of personal dishonesty. Mr. Wilde was, no doubt, accused of practices which had brought the Court into considerable disrepute, but the charge against him was simply that of permitting the official assignees and the messengers to retain certain sums of money in their hands, and with exhibiting a laxity in reference to the taxation of the accounts. It should be remembered also that Mr. Wilde said he had only followed the practice of Mr. Payne, a gentleman of more than eighty years of age, and that the Lord Chancellor, severely condemning the conduct of both, had permitted both to retire. There was no imputation against their honesty, though there were great imputations upon the mode in which they had conducted the business of the Court. That is an element the House ought to entertain when they are considering this question, but it is a totally different matter to that of which the hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken. From May, 1864, until February, 1865, the Lord Chancellor had nothing to do with Mr. Richard Bethell. He had been warmly appealed to by his family on behalf of his son, but he had absolutely refused in the strongest manner to give him an appointment. But in February, 1865, he did say, that if his son's debts were adjusted and his creditors satisfied, he would consider whether he could not give him a country appointment. Was there anything wrong in that? I think if it is so held it will be dealing out a measure of injustice to the Lord Chancellor, because no man would so deal with a stranger, much less his son. That was on the 22nd of February, and on the 26th Mr. Skirrow, the person to whom the statement was made, went to the Lord 906 Chancellor at his own request, and was told by his Lordship that he was resolved not to give his son any appointment at all. The hon. and learned Member for Mallow threw out the insinuation that it was in consequence of the scandal in another place that the appointment was not made; but he did not go into the dates. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the appointment of Mr. Bethell was announced on the 24th; but two days afterwards the Lord Chancellor announced that he would do nothing for his son. In the interval nothing had taken place. The Question was asked in this House on the 3rd of March, and no proceedings took place in the House of Lords until the 27th. It is an injurious and an incorrect insinuation. It is manifest that the Lord Chancellor had resolved from the beginning not to give the appointment to his son; that he was for a moment overcome by strong pressure to say that he would not finally exclude him from office; but when he came to inquire how his son had been conducting himself in the interval he returned to the sternness he had maintained for eight months previously, and resolved that he would not appoint him. So far from there being any imputation upon the Lord Chancellor's conduct, as far as these matters are concerned, I say, on the contrary, that the noble and learned Lord has suffered under imputations founded on no facts whatever, and that he has suffered the still more grievous hardship of having been brought into that position by a member of his own family, although he himself has acted in a firm and honourable manner, however painful it was to the feelings of a father to do so. The disclosures in the Committee in regard to other characters in those transactions are very painful certainly—upon these I do not wish to say a word; but the impression on my mind is that, so far as the purity of his motives are concerned, the Lord Chancellor had no object whatever except on the one hand to do—as I believe he has done—call the attention of the public to the state in which the Bankruptcy Courts of the country were placed, and to deal with a strong hand with those who seemed to require it; and, on the other hand, to deal out the strictest and most impartial justice even to a member of his own family.
I do not rise to say much in reference to this subject, because I concur in the opinion that it was not desirable that those who have 907 their knowledge on hearsay only should enter into such a discussion. But I am bound to say that, although one must excuse a good deal of the language which falls from advocates who have received a brief for the defence in rather a difficult case, the imputations which have been thrown out against the hon. and learned Member for Mallow are wholly without foundation. That hon. and learned Gentleman, at all events, has not spoken without a knowledge of the evidence, for he was present during the investigation; and he has not spoken to a Government ignorant of it, because the evidence was furnished them from day to day.
Then I regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman should have been so ill instructed. But the Lord Chancellor had seen the evidence. It was not, therefore, true that either the attack or the defence had been made in ignorance.
§ COLONEL DOUGLAS PENNANT
rose to explain. The Lord Chancellor, in his evidence, stated that so far from making any complaint of not having received the evidence, he wished to come before the Committee and be examined before he was aware of what had been said. The Committee, however, considering that it was virtually a trial of the Lord Chancellor, thought it to be their duty, in strict fairness to all parties, that the hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Ferrand), who made the accusation, and the Lord Chancellor should be furnished with the evidence from day to day.
That bears out my statement accurately, and so disappears that whole fabric of virtuous indignation with which the Attorney General, almost bursting into tears——
That is another proof of the amount of cordial harmony and co-operation existing between the Members of this admirably constituted Government. We can, of course, understand that the Lord Chancellor may not have thought it wise to intrust the evidence of his proceedings to the Attorney General, We are all of us acquainted with the high character of that hon. and learned Gentleman, and we can well understand that the Lord Chancellor may not hare cared to submit to him the details of 908 these disclosures. In defence of the hon. and learned Member for Mallow, I desire just to say that the natural indignation which any one would have felt at hearing these details affords a very sufficient explanation of the course he has taken in laying before the House his own conclusions on the subject, and also for asking the Government the questions which he has put. I heard with regret from the Attorney General the statement, which on reconsideration I think he will feel it wise to retract, that no proceedings whatever were to be taken against Mr. Miller.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I stated that until I saw the evidence it was quite impossible for me to judge whether any and what proceedings ought to be taken. But I do not find that the Committee charge Mr. Miller with being a party to any corruption.
That is precisely the point to which I wanted to draw the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman—the bearing of the Committee on the evidence of Mr. Miller. I am not now speaking of the motives of the Lord Chancellor; but what appears to have been the case is, that the Lord Chancellor's patronage was set up for sale; and not only the patronage of the Lord Chancellor, but something infinitely more sacred and important—namely, his judicial power of inflicting penalties. I do not say that Mr. Miller was cognizant of the circumstances, though he certainly was a warm friend of Mr. Bethell; but Mr. Bethell, for the sake of certain money transactions, appears to have used his influence with Mr. Miller, and to have induced him, without authority, to write to Leeds this summary letter, and to take steps for procuring Mr. Wilde's resignation, and afterwards to draw up the appointment in Mr. Bethell's own name, which the Lord Chancellor subsequently refused to confirm. These appear to me to be circumstances full of grave suspicion. When a corrupt transaction has taken place, and a public officer, a friend of one of the parties, has been an instrument, it is difficult to avoid entertaining a suspicion that he was cognizant of the transaction. The Government, therefore, will not be doing their duty unless they institute a close investigation into the facts, and ascertain how far Mr. Miller was really cognizant of what Mr. Bethell was doing, and also, I am bound to add, unless they inflict some punishment upon 909 Mr. Miller for his extreme and singular misuse of his official trust.
§ MR. DENMAN
AS I understand it, what the Government have undertaken to do is precisely what the noble Lord (Viscount Cranbourne) suggests that they should do—namely, examine closely the evidence when it is in their possession. The noble Lord, who rose for the purpose of justifying the hon. and learned Member for Mallow, put forward a very odd ground of justification. He said that the hon. and learned Gentleman had been present when the evidence was given. The position of the hon. and learned Member for Mallow was that of a juryman in waiting, who may be called on to discharge important functions in the next case; but whose opinion, as a mere spectator, without responsibility, is worth nothing in this case, in which he so glibly volunteers an opinion. In this case he was not called on to act as a Member of Parliament at all, nor did he, as the Committee were bound to do, remain in the Committee-room from hour to hour and from minute to minute taking notes to corroborate his own recollection. I rose, not for the purpose of justifying the Lord Chancellor, but to beg the House to do justice to the Committee, upon whom the responsibility of the inquiry was cast, and who, I think, have been hardly dealt with in this discussion. Five Gentlemen were appointed on that Committee, in addition to the two who conducted the case; three were Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House, and two of them sitting upon this side. From the very moment that their names were mentioned they found acceptance, because those names were felt to afford a guarantee that they would approach the inquiry with a sole desire to do justice in the matter. We are in this position now, that we have not the evidence before us; yet an hon. and learned Gentleman volunteers in its absence, not only to impeach the Chancellor, but to overrule the Committee from whom the Report has emanated. Such, I apprehend, has never been the practice of this House, and it ought, I think, to be discouraged.
§ MR. HENNESSY
It is said that we have only the Report before us, and, therefore, can do nothing; but the whole of the evidence given before the Committee was actually printed on the 17th of June, ten days before a word of the Report was in type. The Committee very wisely had the evidence printed from day 910 to day, so that every word must have been in type before the preparation of the Report was approached. Ten or eleven days have elapsed since the Committee closed its inquiry, and the evidence is not yet produced. According to an announcement made in another place—which the noble Lord will no doubt repeat—the dissolution will take place nine days hence. Having waited ten days already, if we wait ten days more Parliament, consequently, will be at an end. In the papers presented to Parliament some weeks ago with reference to the Leeds Bankruptcy Court, and in the present Report from the Select Committee, the hon. and learned Member for Mallow had, I think, abundant information to warrant his remarks.
§ MR. AYRTON
The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hennessy) seems to think that somebody has grossly failed in his duty because the House has not already received this evidence. That, I think, is jumping to a very summary conclusion, regardless of the facts; because, although the inquiry may have closed, some days are usually allowed to have the proceedings regularly indexed and examined by the Clerk. I say this upon general grounds merely. I know nothing about the evidence, and therein I fancy I am in precisely the same position as the hon. and learned Member.
§ MR. AYRTON
We all know as well as the hon. Member that the evidence is printed from day to day; but beyond that fact I venture to think that the hon. Member knows nothing to justify him in imputing motives. The noble Lord (Viscount Cranbourne) also appeared to labour under some misconception with regard to Mr. Bethell's share in this matter, and one might have thought that a reasonable amount of imputations was to be found in the Report without exaggerating or adding to them. As far as the Report goes, there is nothing whatever to show that Mr. Bethell in any way counselled the steps taken in connection with Mr. Wilde's resignation, or derived any advantage from it. I mention this to show how injurious it is to embark in a discussion of this personal nature, without having proper materials before us; for if the noble Lord has evidence in support of his statement outside the contents of this Report, he is speaking of something with which 911 the House is not acquainted. But I take it for granted that the Report is correct on the point; and if so grave a matter had been proved to their satisfaction, the Committee would not have slurred it over or concealed it, and therefore that the noble Lord fell into error. From the terms of the notice given by the hon. and learned Member for Mallow, I had no notion that he was going to travel into anything outside the four corners of the Report, or to build up a much wider case than could be made up from the materials supplied in that document. I scarcely think that he was right in travelling beyond its statements. Some hon. Members appear to think that the Government ought to possess a perfect knowledge of all the proceedings of the Committee. I cannot help thinking that a very gross assumption. Copies of proceedings in Committee, when furnished to any person, are always held to be confidential, and it would be a breach of faith to let documents which were thus supplied for a particular purpose go out of a person's hands and be applied to objects entirely distinct. I therefore cannot see how the Attorney General or how the other members of the Government can be expected to have cognizance of the proceedings before the Leeds Committee. It is very easy for us to sit in judgment upon the delinquencies of other people; but if any one were to sit in judgment upon the acts of any Member of this House, upon our sins of omission and commission, I think we should find it very difficult to escape without censure.
§ SIR LAWRENCE PALK
I desire to say only one or two words in connection with this subject. I beg the House to observe that through either the extreme leniency or negligence of the Lord Chancellor upon two occasions pensions have been granted to persons unfit to receive them. I trust that this fact will not be forgotten, and I feel convinced that the country will ask whether a high official who has twice been guilty, under circumstances of peculiar suspicion, of permitting pensions to be given to unworthy persons, is one who is deserving of the honour and respect of the profession of which he is the leader.
§ MR. SCULLY
I must express my regret at the tone the discussion has taken. I am in the same position as the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton). From the terms of the Question which the hon. and learned Mem- 912 ber for Mallow put on the paper, I did not think it possible that such a discussion could arise, and, therefore, I did not take the trouble to bring the Report with me to the House. I hold that it is quite premature to enter into this question at present. We have not got the evidence, and therefore we must take the decision of the Committee for the present, and they say that they "acquit the Lord Chancellor from all charge except that of haste and want of caution." What, then, are we to do? We all know that when a witness gives his evidence it is printed by the next morning; but the usual course for Committees is to report first, and then the evidence is afterwards laid before the table. I do not think it fair to sit in judgment upon the Lord Chancellor without having the facts before us, or to try to damage the character of a distinguished dignitary, because it is supposed that certain evidence is given before the Committee, which evidence we have not seen. It would be more worthy of the dignity of the House and in better taste not to act in a hostile manner towards the Lord Chancellor, when the evidence may probably show that he has been unjustly suspected.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I am sorry to prolong this discussion even by a few words; but I cannot let it close without expressing the pain, and—if the hon. and learned Member for Mallow (Mr. Longfield) will allow me to say so—the indignation with which I listened to his speech. Sir, this House is composed of opposite parties, and it is perfectly right for Members of one party to take advantage of any fair ground for commenting upon the conduct of persons belonging to the other party, and especially of persons who happen to hold office. But hitherto it has been the characteristic of this House that, however great our animosities or strong the party feeling which divides Gentlemen on one side from the other, at all events the persons accused should have fair play. Now, the Lord Chancellor has not had fair play from the hon. and learned Member. It appears that the hon. and learned Member for Mallow was present during the whole investigation; he knows, therefore, exactly what the evidence given was; and yet it is stated by those who were also present that the hon. and learned Member has made assertions of matters, as if contained in that evidence, which will not be found in the evidence when it is produced. It 913 will be for the hon. and learned Member to justify his conduct by making out the correctness of what he has asserted.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
I was also, I must say, much grieved to hear the bitterness of invective which the hon. and learned Member threw into the charges which he made against the Lord Chancellor. He might be slightly justified in stating that which was borne out by the evidence, and which, he says, he heard; but he was not justified in indulging in that bitter personal invective which was not unjustly characterized by the Attorney General as more suitable to the practice of the Old Bailey than to the ordinary practice of the profession to which he belongs. But I complain, moreover, of the manner in which the hon. and learned Member has brought the subject under discussion. If he had intended to make an attack upon the Lord Chancellor, founded on evidence not in the hands of Members, but of which he had cognizance, he ought, at all events, to have given notice of his intention. But the notice which he gave was of a question to be asked; and so little did that notice indicate his intention of making a virulent personal attack on the Lord Chancellor that I was going to answer the question instead of the Attorney General, believing that the real point which he wanted to know was what course the Government was to take when the evidence was produced. I was going to tell him that it was the intention of the Government to submit the evidence to the Law Officers of the Crown, in order that such legal steps might be taken as might be justified by the state of the case. And so much did the Question put upon the paper imply that it was directed against other persons, and not against the Lord Chancellor, that it asks what steps are to be taken against "the parties implicated?" Sir, I can only regret that the hon. and learned Member has taken a course which, I think, is so entirely different and so much opposed to that which even the most violent party Members are in the habit of pursuing; and I am convinced that when this evidence is in the hands of Members they will come to a very different conclusion from the hon. and learned Member, and that they will find that, so far from 914 that evidence being the foundation of charges such as those which the hon. and learned Member has made against the Lord Chancellor, it will bear out the Report of the Committee, which acquits him of being actuated by any improper motives throughout the whole course of these transactions.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and negatived.