§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
said, he wished to ask Mr. Attorney General, Whether the Mr. H. J. Stonor who has lately been appointed by the Lord Chancellor as Judge of a County Court is the person whose appointment as Judge in Australia was cancelled, in accordance with the Report of the Committee moved for by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and on the ground that Mr. Stonor had been found guilty of corruption?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Sir, since the noble Lord has thought that this was a case on which to found a question, I am glad for the sake of the gentleman concerned that the question has been put; and, in replying to it, I hope the House will excuse me if I make a statement somewhat longer than is usually made in answer to questions. The noble Lord's question misstates more facts than one, but it conveys a most serious imputation on the gentleman named, and of course, by implication, upon those who made the appointment. I say in the outset that the Government are responsible for the appointment, the Lord Chancellor having made it after consultation with, and with the approval of his Colleagues. With respect to the facts of the case, I may say that I believe this gentleman is one who has been as hardly used as anyone whose 564 case was ever brought before this House. In the winter of 1853 the Chief Justice of Victoria, in Australia, was temporarily absent from his duties in consequence of illness, and it was difficult to find a gentleman qualified and willing to accept a temporary appointment without any certainty of its being made permanent. Arrangements were, however, being made with a view to render the appointment permanent, but there was no certainty that it would be so. Mr. Stonor applied at that time to the Duke of Newcastle, who was then Secretary for the Colonies, for this appointment, and sent in testimonials as to general and professional qualifications from Lord Denman, Lord Campbell, Vice Chancellor Stuart, and other persons of eminent authority. He likewise, in a manner highly honourable to himself, sent in printed papers, giving a full account of the circumstances which had caused his name to be introduced into the inquiry before an Election Committee in the summer of the same year. Through an accident, which was explained at the time, and which was the subject of inquiry before the Committee to which the noble Lord referred, those papers were not examined at the Colonial Office, because the permanent Under Secretary for the Colonies, Mr. Herman Merivale, who was personally acquainted with this gentleman for many years, gave him so strong a recommendation on professional and general grounds, that it was not thought necessary, there being no other competitor for the office, to go minutely into the papers which he sent in, and under those circumstances the Duke of Newcastle, when he made that appointment, was totally unaware that Mr. Stonor's name had been introduced before any Election Committee whatever. Mr. Stonor received the appointment, and sailed with his family for Australia, imagining that his character had been cleared and the matter conclusively settled. But in the month of March, when he was on the high seas, the subject of his appointment was brought before this House, and attention was directed to the fact that a Report involving a serious imputation of bribery against him at the election for Sligo had been made in the preceding June. That fact, coming for the first time to their knowledge, the Government felt themselves unwillingly compelled to take the course which they would have taken if they had known it at the time, and cancelled the appointment, notwithstanding the extreme hardship of sending a gentle- 565 man across the world, to be met on his reaching the Antipodes with the statement that he was not to receive the appointment, for the sake of which he had gone out. Still, so much deference was deemed to be due to the Report of an Election Committee, and to the feeling naturally entertained in this House, that the Government thought that, under the peculiar circumstances, and especially so soon after that Report, an appointment of that description ought not to be made. The noble Lord is quite in error in supposing that that appointment was cancelled in accordance with the Report of a Committee, seconded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The fact was not so; it was cancelled in March, almost as soon as it was mentioned in this House. The Committee was afterwards appointed to inquire into the conduct of the Government, and ascertain whether there had been any corrupt electioneering or political motive on their part in making the appointment. I need not say it turned out that there was no ground whatever for any such imputation against them. Mr. Stonor was met at the Antipodes with a communication that his appointment was withdrawn, and he returned with his family. In the meantime he had lost his practice and his position in this country, to which he came back with the stigma attached to him arising from these circumstances. Now, is it true that he had been found guilty of corruption? It is true that the Election Committee, in the discharge of their duty, made a Report in which they pointed out that an Alderman of Sligo, named O'Donovan, was bribed by Mr. Stonor by the promise of a payment of £203, being a portion of an outstanding election account, to forbear giving his vote which he had promised to Mr. Somers, and in consequence absented himself during the election. But so unsatisfactory was the evidence on which that finding was arrived at by the Committee, that it was carried in the Committee only by a majority of one, two to three opposing it, those two being Members belonging to opposite sides of this House, who rose in their places to protest emphatically against the decision as not being warranted by the evidence. Having myself read that evidence, I must say I am decidedly of opinion that the decision was not warranted. These very just observations were made by two distinguished Members of this House at the time when the Committee reported—namely, by Mr. Stuart Wortley and the 566 hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. Mr. Stuart Wortley said—He did not accept the decision of the Committee as decisive of Mr. Stonor's guilt. After looking at the evidence laid before the Committee, and considering the divisions in the Committee, he must say that it was extremely doubtful whether or not Mr. Stonor was guilty of bribery.Mr. Roebuck also said—The decision of the Committee was to be held as conclusive with regard to the objects for which they were appointed; but not with regard to personal character.Well, Mr. Stonor did all that a man could do to vindicate himself. He had suffered in his prospects, he had gone across the world, and was met there in the cruel manner I have described. It was naturally felt when he came back that his case required to be considered, and that if this gentleman had not really been proved on sufficient grounds to be guilty of corruption he had some claim upon the Government. In the meantime the Government had changed, and I am happy to say, for the honour of this House, that, in 1857, Mr. Stonor received in this House as ample amends for what he had suffered as he could reasonably expect. Lord John Russell on the 5th of June in that year put a question to Mr. Labouchere, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and after referring to the circumstances, that noble Lord said—Without entering into particulars, I think I may fairly say that there was some misconception with regard to the imputations which were made against Mr. Stonor; at least, I was convinced when I was Secretary for the Colonies that if a vacancy should occur in any office which Mr. Stonor was competent to fill, no imputation rested upon his character, and I should be prepared to recommend him to the Crown for public employment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies is aware of the circumstances, to which I have alluded; and I wish to ask him whether, in his opinion, there is any circumstance affecting the character of Mr. Stonor which would disqualify him for appointment to a public office."—[3 Hansard, cxlv, 1214.]Mr. Labouchere said that, having regard to the circumstances, he did not think it expedient at that time to offer Mr. Stonor a colonial appointment, because he had been sent out to one colony, and if he were then appointed to another, the colonists might not properly understand the circumstances, but, he added—I said that I had looked into the circumstances of the case; that the impression upon my mind was that they formed no permanent disqualification to his employment in the colonial service, and that I should have no difficulty in recommending him to the Crown for any office in this country for which he might be competent."—[3 Hansard, cxlv. 1215.]567 Mr. Horsman and Mr. Malins also addressed the House on that occasion, both stating that they thought Mr. Stonor had been hardly dealt with, and that his case was one which was well entitled to the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. In the next year, 1858, Mr. Labouchere did appoint Mr. Stonor to a judical office of great responsibility and importance—namely, that of sole Judge of the West India Incumbered Estates Court. From that day to this year Mr. Stonor, with great ability and assiduity, and without reproach or question of any kind, discharged the duties of that office, and he has now been permitted—I believe the House will think rightly permitted—to exchange it for the position of a County Court Judge. Sir, for Mr. Stonor's sake I am not sorry that this question has been asked, and I trust that this explanation will be deemed satisfactory by the House.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
Sir, I am desirous of appealing to you upon the fact that the Attorney General, in rising to reply to my inquiry, said that my Question contained more misstatements than one. Now, I appeal to you, Sir, whether one Member is to be allowed to make a statement of that character without another Member personally referred to being allowed the opportunity of a reply?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
I, of course, Sir, meant that the errors made by the noble Lord were accidental errors. He said that the appointment was cancelled in consequence of the Report of a Committee. That is a mistake. The other statement made by the noble Lord was that Mr. Stonor had been found guilty of corruption. That is also, I think, a mistake, because the Election Committee had no authority to try Mr. Stonor.
§ LORD ROBERT MONTAGU
I would ask one more question with reference to this appointment—namely, whether, in the opinion of the hon. and learned Attorney General, it is quite impossible to have found a single honest lawyer to fill it?