HC Deb 26 June 1873 vol 216 cc1445-51

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Nomination of the Committee [23rd June],

"That Mr. Dodson be one of the Members of the Select Committee on the Cape of Good Hope and Zanzibar Mail Contract."—(Mr. Bouverie.)

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


moved, as an Amendment— That the Committee do consist of Seven Members, Five to be nominated by the Committee of Selection and Two to be added by the House. He wished it to be clearly understood that in making this proposal he was actuated, not by any invidious feeling towards those hon. Members whose names had been proposed by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Bouverie), but by a desire to act strictly in conformity with precedent. In his opinion, the Committee ought to be chosen by the especial machinery provided for this purpose in the form of the Committee of Selection. In former times, Committees of this nature were chosen by the Committee of Elections; but since the House had surrendered its jurisdiction over Election Petitions, the Committee of Selection had generally nominated five, and the House itself two of the Members of the Select Committees. In the ease of the Select Committee appointed to inquire into the circumstances relating to the Inman and Cunard contracts which he, when Chancellor of the Exchequer, had entered into in 1868, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely), it was ordered that five Members of the Committee should be nominated by the Committee of Selection and two by the House. That Committee was so nominated with the consent of the present Government, and he submitted that the present was on all fours with that case, and that, therefore, the precedent then set should be now followed.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "the Committee do consist of Seven Members, Five to be nominated by the Committee of Selection and Two to be added by the House," —(Mr. Hunt,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, that this was a matter which, except as a question of precedent as to the mode of appointing Select Committees, was really not of much importance. The proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) had suggested itself to him before he had brought forward his Motion for the appointment of the Committee, and he should have been glad had it recommended itself to his judgment, because had it been adopted he should have been relieved from the very invidious and ungrateful task of himself selecting the names of those who should serve on the Committee. He had, however, discovered that there were great objections to its adoption. In the first place, the Committee of Selection strongly objected to having this duty cast upon them. The right hon. Gentleman was accurate in his statement of facts connected with the precedent that he had referred to; but the decision of the House in that case had not been arrived at deliberately, after mature consideration by the House, but hastily, on the spur of the moment, in consequence of hon. Members opposite having declined to serve on the Committee. Moreover, on one or two previous occasions a similar proposal had been rejected by the House on the ground that the Committee of Selection had been appointed for a totally different purpose—that of nominating Members of Select Committees on Private Bills. In this instance the right hon. Gentleman said that he had no objection whatever to the hon. Members whose names he had submitted to the House, and who were gentlemen of unexceptionable character, bearing considerable weight in that House. The first name on the list, that of Mr. Dodson, was one universally respected in that House, and that Gentleman happened to be a Member of the Committee of Selection, who could not, therefore, have selected him to perform the duty he was so well calculated to discharge—that of Chairman of this Select Committee. He was aware that objections had been taken to the proposed constitution of the Committee on the ground that it was highly desirable that members of the legal profession should have been appointed; but he did not consider it a question for lawyers at all, and he deprecated the principle of referring subjects even of a simple character on all occasions to lawyers. As the poet Gay had said— We know that lawyers can with ease Twist words and meanings as they please, All they wanted in the Committee was good sound sense, honesty, and independence. He was sure that those qualities would be found in the names already placed upon the list. He had originally contemplated proposing a Committee of five Members; but, in consequence of what had occurred with reference to the Committee appointed to inquire into the case of Mr. O'Keeffe, when the House appointed seven in order that the Chairman should not have too great a preponderance, it had occurred to him that seven would be a better number than five. He had originally contemplated appointing two more members to represent the opposing views of this subject, and without votes; but then it was suggested that they might as well vote, as they would always vote contrary ways and thus neutralize each other. He had accepted this suggestion, and as both these Members sat on the same side of the House, he had thus destroyed the original balance of the Committee between the two sides of the House. But he did not think this was a question between one side and the other. It was a question as to what were the facts, and they would be easily ascertained by seven or eight Gentlemen of honourable and independent minds. He did not think it mattered whether the Committee was nominated by the Committee of Selection or by the House; but if the names he submitted met with acceptance it would be best to adhere to the usual practice, and to allow the Mover for the Committee in this case himself to nominate it, rather than to follow a precedent adopted in a hurry, and which was protested against by the Committee of Selection.


said, he had very little to say on the subject. The Government should be very happy with either of the two alternatives proposed. He knew of no substantial objection to be taken to the one or the other. The precedent quoted by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt) was perfectly fair and unexceptionable; but the Resolution was adopted at a moment's notice, and that diminished its weight as a precedent. He should have been glad if there had been such an indication of opinion on the part of the House as would have enabled the Government to judge what was the prevailing sense of the House upon the subject, for by such indication they would have been guided. But if the House should remain mute, and give no utterance of their opinion before they went to a division, he thought, considering that the right hon. Member (Mr. Bouverie) had been at the pains to make a selection, which on all hands was admitted to be unexceptionable, and the Gentlemen had been requested to serve, he should be inclined to vote with his right hon. Friend, at the same time declaring that they did not object to the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite if the House thought fit to adopt it.


said, the House in considering this question should have regard to possible future proceedings. There could be no doubt that the names proposed were those of Gentlemen of character and position who would deal with the subject with ability and justice. If this Committee was appointed the House would feel sure that the inquiry would be conducted in a manner which was satisfactory and creditable. But the important consideration was whether it was a tribunal which would command public confidence. There had been many occasions on which the House had proceeded, not on the principle of allowing a Member of the House to submit a number of names to to be voted upon—and with respect to whom it was always rather delicate and invidious to vote—but of arranging these matters by the intervention of an intermediate body. It was stated in Sir Erskine May's book on the Law and Practice of Parliament, to which they had been accustomed to look as authority of late years— Where the inquiry has been of a judicial character it has been usual to delegate the nomination of a Committee to the General Committee of Elections. A good number of cases occurring between 1848 and 1864–5 were mentioned. No doubt an impression prevailed that Committees named by the House were constituted by private arrangement, and when a list was presented it was difficult to vote upon it without appearing to reflect on the names it embraced. The proposal to refer the choice of names to the Committee of Selection was met by the reply that they existed for a wholly different purpose, and that they were not particularly well fitted for the duties of the former General Committee of Elections, which, indeed, might be disagreeable to them. As the Committee was not likely to be renewed, was the House to abandon nomination through an intermediate body? That was the question rather than the eligibility of the names submitted. It seemed to him more desirable to conform to the old practice than to set it aside by making a precedent which might be found inconvenient in the future.


remarked that the practice of referring to a Committee upstairs the appointment of a Select Committee was comparatively modern, and ought to be restrained within precise limits. It had been adopted when the characters of Members of the House were involved, or when the questions at issue were of a similarly delicate nature, which it was thought desirable should be investigated by a body appointed in a judicial manner. The present inquiry related to a matter of primary interest to the House—namely, the proper expenditure of public money; there was nothing in it of a delicate nature, and he did not think it was necessary to delegate the appointment of the Committee. On the contrary, it was the duty of the House to take upon itself the responsibility of appointing this Committee. Here, there was no question involving the character of any of the Gentlemen concerned in the transaction, for during the discussions he had heard on the subject not a shadow of an imputation had been cast on the motives of any GI the parties concerned in making what, according to the present impression in the House, was an improvident contract. He saw nothing which ought to induce the House to depart from the practice of appointing a Committee in the ordinary way. The General Committee of Elections that formerly existed was certainly a very convenient tribunal, it being constituted for the express purpose of nominating gentlemen to try judicial questions. He would suggest that in a future Session the Committee of Selection might be advantageously reconstituted with a view to particular exigences.


as a Member of the Committee of Selection, thought that tribunal ought not to be charged with the duty of nominating a Committee on this subject. The business of the Committee of Selection was to choose gentlemen to consider Canal, Railway, Gas, and other Private Bills, and there was, in fact, no reason why all its Members should not be taken from either side of the House exclusively.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 124; Noes 85: Majority 39.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Select Committee nominated:—Mr. DODSON, Mr. BENYON, Mr. LEATHAM, Sir ROWLAND BLENNERHASSETT, Mr. WATERHOUSE, Sir EDWARD COLEBROOKE, Viscount SANDO.N, Mr. HOLMS, and Mr. GOSCHEN:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.