HC Deb 29 July 1872 vol 213 cc37-42

, who had given Notice of a Question to be put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer relative to the commutation of Mr. Edgar Bowring's pension, granted on the abolition of the office of Registrar of the Board of Trade, said: In consequence of a letter which I have received from the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bowring), and of an explanation made by him on Thursday last, I must beg the indulgence of the House while I make a few remarks before asking my Question. When I came down to the House on Thursday last, I was asked by several hon. Members why I was not in my place at the time for putting Questions, because the hon. Member for Exeter had stated that he had given me Notice to be in my place. I did come down, but later; but the hon. Gentleman, I suppose, instead of sending the letter to my house, gave it to the door-keeper as he passed through, because when I was writing afterwards in the Library, one of the officers of the House brought me the letter, requesting me to be in my place to day at Question time at a quarter past 4 o'clock. If I had received the letter in time I should have been in my place, to answer any Question which he might have had to put to me. I asked what statement the hon. Gentleman had made during my absence, but nobody could tell what was the state of the case; and I therefore had to wait until next morning to see the reports in the papers, where I found the hon. Gentleman represented as saying that—"following up the violent and thoroughly personal attack" [Mr. BOWRING: "Violent and entirely unprovoked personal attack" were the words I used] made upon him in the course of the debate on Governor Eyre, the hon. and gallant Gentleman without any previous Notice whatever, had placed on the Paper a Notice of his intention to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on Monday next, a Question not merely un-Parliamentary in its terms, but, to those who understood its meaning, conveying an improper insinuation. Whatever explanation the hon. and gallant Gentleman might hereafter make, he (Mr. Bowring) should look upon the Question as conveying an imputation upon his honour and veracity; he should object to the Question being withdrawn; and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman was not in his place to put it, he should request some one else to put it. Now, with regard to the violent and thoroughly personal attack—[Mr. BOWRING: "Unprovoked attack" were the words.] Those who were in the House at the time will recollect that I certainly did make the remark that I thought the hon. Member for Exeter should have been the last—or one of the last—Members of this House to lead the attack against Mr. Eyre upon the ground of saving the pockets of the ratepayers of the country, because by the Papers which were in the Library and which had been placed upon the Table of the House, it appeared that the hon. Member himself had received for some years compensation, to the amount of £426 13s. 4d. per annum, for the abolition of the office of Registrar of the Board of Trade, which he filled. I also remarked that I thought the taxpayers of this country, considering that the hon. Gentleman was at the time but 38 years of age, would not feel satisfied that he should at that age, and up to the present time, have received that compensation. The hon. Gentleman did not find fault either with the matter or the manner of my remarks on that occasion. I certainly do hope that whatever I did say was said in a manner calculated not to give pain to anybody; and the only interruption that was made was an observation from the hon. Gentleman himself—"Not one farthing of which ever reaches my pocket." Those were the words he used, according to the report in the newspapers; and I think the report was a true one, because at the time I got up and said—"If the money did not go into his pocket, I certainly should inquire of the Chancellor of the Exchequer into whose pocket it had gone." With regard to not having given Notice, I may say that I gave Notice on Wednesday, and it appeared on Thursday morning, and the hon. Gentleman being a Member of this House, and having the opportunity of seeing the Papers, I did not communicate with him, nor should I have thought it necessary, because the Question was not to be put to the hon. Gentleman, but to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Then, with regard to the Question being un-Parliamentary in its terms, I should be very sorry if any question I put was un-Parliamentary; and I suppose that this one was not, or the Clerk at the Table would not have allowed it to pass. Then, the hon. Gentleman says that he objects to the Question being withdrawn. I cannot understand on what ground he supposed I intended to withdraw it; for I do not think it is the custom of Members of this House to give Notice of Questions, get them printed, and withdraw them. Certainly, I have sometimes withdrawn a Question when I found that it had been previously put by someone else and answered. My attention was next called to a letter published by the hon. Member for Exeter in The Times, in which he states— The gallant Gentleman felt it becoming to taunt me with the fact—as if it had any reference to the grave subject under debate—that I was in the receipt of £426 a-year compensation granted on the abolition of the office of Registrar to the Board of Trade held formerly by me, and stated that on Friday night last that sum had, as he saw by the Estimates, been voted to me, and would have to be paid by what he called the 'ratepayers' of the country. My exclamation was 'Not one farthing of that vote will ever reach' (not 'ever reaches,' as reported) 'my pocket.' The fact is—as I would have proceeded to state but for the evident disinclination of the House to attend to such a miserable personal charge—that the compensation formerly held by me was commuted last financial year (the commutation being paid out of a fund not raised from the taxpayers of the country); and that I was, therefore, greatly surprised to see my name figuring in the Estimates this year. I had intended to move the omission of the sum when the Vote was taken; but was assured by the Government that its insertion was necessary as a mere matter of account between the Government Departments. As I stated, not one farthing of it can possibly be received by me, and I am informed that the Vote will never appear again. I will only add that, previous to my election, I gave my constituents the fullest information respecting this compensation allowance, and voluntarily left it to them to say whether they wished me to draw the amount in future, as I was prepared to make an absolute surrender of it if desired. I was requested by an unanimous vote of an enthusiastic meeting of some 1,500 persons not to do so. Now, I think those 1,500 unanimous and enthusiastic voters do not represent the opinion of the taxpayers of the country.


said, the hon. and gallant Member was not confining his remarks to the subject-matter of the Question, and was therefore out of Order.


Then, Sir, without further preface, the Question I have to ask of Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer is, Out of what fund, not raised from the taxpayers of this country, Mr. Edgar A. Bowring received, according to the Return No. 304, just issued to the Members, a lump sum of £5,274 in commutation of the sum of £426 13s. 4d. per annum, granted to him as compensation for the abolition of the Office of the Registrar of the Board of Trade, held by him, and the date when that commutation was granted? All I have to say is, that if the House is of opinion that I have mis-stated one single fact, I shall be happy to apologize to the hon. Gentleman, and to withdraw any statement I may have made under a misapprehension; but so far as I am aware I have not done so, and I hope I have not said anything which the House will consider evinces a want of courtesy.


Sir, the hon. Member for Exeter is entitled to a pension of £426 13s. 4d. for services to the Board of Trade. On the 16th of January last he applied for leave to commute that pension. That leave was given, and on the 12th of February the pension was commuted for the sum of £5,274, which was on that day paid over to the hon. Gentleman. That sum was borrowed from the Trustees of the Savings Banks, who advanced it to the Government on these terms—that it should be repaid by a Terminable Annuity of £636 13s. 4d., which would last for 10 years. The loan so made would be repaid by 10 instalments of that amount.


Mr. Speaker, as the Question just answered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer relates exclusively to myself, and therefore involves a Question of Privilege, I trust the House will extend to me the indulgence which it always allows to every hon. Member under similar circumstances. I may, perhaps, correct a slight mistake in the Answer given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He stated that my application was made on the 16th of January, and I have no doubt that is the date on which it reached the Savings Banks' Trustees; but it was made by me to the Board of Trade in November or December last, and accidentally mislaid in that Department for some weeks. I must, in the first place, state that the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire (Colonel North) is a perfect stranger to me, and I have never spoken to Mm in my life, except to offer him those minor courtesies usual amongst hon. Members of this House. During the four years in which I have had a seat in this House, I have never to my knowledge said one single word personal to any hon. Member whatever; still less have I said anything designed to give pain to any hon. Member; but least of all has it ever entered into my mind to say one word that could be considered as conveying any imputation upon any hon. Member. Now, Sir, the complaint which it was my duty to make on Thursday last with reference to the Question of the hon. and gallant Member for Oxfordshire was the following. It is unfortunate that he was not in his place when I made it; but I hoped my letter would reach his hands in time, as I gave it to the doorkeeper at 2 o'clock. The newspapers, however, on the following day gave a sufficiently accurate report of what I said. The first complaint I made against the hon. and gallant Member was that, following up the violent and utterly unprovoked personal attack upon me made by him a few nights previously when the House was in Committee of Supply—an attack which was indignantly repudiated by the House at the time—the hon. and gallant Member felt it becoming, under the guise of a Question addressed to a Minister of the Crown, to attempt to convey, by way of insinuation and inuendo, an imputation which he would not have ventured to make openly, and the purport of which was understood only by those acquainted with the circumstances of the case. My second complaint against the hon. and gallant Member was, that when he thought proper to place upon the Notice Paper a Question relating to myself exclusively he gave me no Notice whatever of what he was doing, but left me to discover it by accident. I understand that in the case of a Question addressed to a Minister, it is quite sufficient to put it on the Notice Paper, because the Minister is supposed to read the Notice Paper; but, in the case of a private Member that is held not to be sufficient. My third charge against the hon. and gallant Member is, that having been a Member of this House for 20 years, and being, therefore, necessarily acquainted with its elementary rules of procedure, he has purposely worded his Question in a manner which must strike everyone as un-Parliamentary. My last complaint against him is this—that being desirous, doubtless from motives of patriotic and benevolent curiosity, to ascertain the meaning of certain words addressed by myself to The Times, instead of applying to the only human being who could by possibility inform him what my meaning was—namely, myself—and if he had done so I would have given him the information he wanted—he has adopted the extraordinary course of publicly applying to a third person, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for an explanation of my meaning, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could only give by means of information which I myself have supplied to him. I leave the House to judge of the conduct of the hon. and gallant Member in this respect. In conclusion, I beg to give Notice that I shall move that there be laid upon the Table of this House, a Copy of a Letter which I addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 25th instant, when I first heard of the attack of the hon. and gallant Member, and which gives the fullest information respecting the whole subject.