HC Deb 15 May 1874 vol 219 cc329-37

, in rising to ask the President of the Board of Trade, Whether there is any precedent for an Inspector of Railways under the Board of Trade taking employment under private persons in connection with Railways, whether during leave of absence or at any other time, and to call attention to the subject, said, he could assure the House that until he had put his Notice on the Paper he had no acquaintance with Captain Tyler, to whom he was about to refer, and further, that he had no interest whatever in the railway with respect to the condition of which Captain Tyler had been employed to report. It was well known that the Erie Railway Company was one of the most speculative undertakings in the United States, and its shares had for years past been the sport of "the bulls "and "the bears," being run up one day and down the next by the one party or the other, for the purpose of realizing profits. A considerable number of persons in this country were greatly interested in it; and by one party of them Captain Tyler, one of the Government Inspectors, had been retained and had obtained leave of absence, with a view that he should proceed to America and examine into and report upon, the condition of the railway in question. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stated the other evening that he had nothing whatever to do with the manner in which Captain Tyler was about to employ his holiday, and that after two years' constant work he was entitled to a holiday. He (Mr. Goldsmid) did not at all dispute that fact; but what he said was, that a Government Inspector, although on a holiday, was a Government Inspector still, and that anything he did—particularly in reference to a railway—would, on account of his official character, carry all the more weight with it. Why, he asked, had Captain Tyler been so employed? It could not be for want of eminent engineers in America or in England fit to undertake the duty. He believed it was, because whatever Captain Tyler did would carry the Government mark about it, and would be calculated to induce people either to buy or to sell shares. His report, would, in short, be marked with the Government broad arrow. It was, therefore, he thought, the duty of the President of the Board of Trade to see how Captain Tyler proposed to employ himself during his holiday, as it was obvious that the Board of Trade itself might be compromised. Officers of the Army or Navy could not accept private employment without the assent of the Commander-in-Chief, and it would be desirable to lay down some such rule in reference to Civil Servants. In any case, a gentleman whose official duties might require him to sit in judgment upon the great railway companies of this country ought not to be mixed up in any way, directly or indirectly, in a concern in which directors of those companies might be interested. He had no doubt whatever that Captain Tyler would report fully and truly what he believed to be the case; but still it could scarcely be, that suspicion would not be thrown upon his report, or that it would not be used for the purposes of speculation. Up to within the last few years, it was the well-understood practice that no person should be employed as an Inspector under the Board of Trade who was a director of a railway company, or even indirectly connected with a railway company, or who held shares in one. That rule had been departed from in the case of Captain Tyler, because he was deputy-chairman of the Grand Trunk Railway Company of Canada, and was also a director of the Piræus Railway Company. He did not desire or mean to attack the honour of Captain Tyler, who, he believed, had endeavoured to carry out his duties to the best of his ability; but every one, even unconsciously, was liable to prejudice, and was more inclined to speak well of a friend than of an enemy. If Captain Tyler might take service under private persons and receive pay from them, why should not other Government officials do the same? and where would it end? The principle acted on in this case he believed to be a mistaken one, and therefore he begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Question which stood in his name, and to add to it the query whether there were any precedents for such employment?


said, that though he was sensible that the employment of leave of absence given to public officers, in particular ways might be open to serious question, yet he believed it would be difficult to lay down such a rule as the hon. Gentleman suggested. There existed no regulation on the subject of permanent officers of the Civil Service not taking employment if they so thought fit, during the time at their disposal when on leave of absence. The subject was a difficult one, and deserved consideration; but, for his part, he thought that no hard-and-fast line should be laid down in reference to it. Each case should, in his opinion, rest on the discretion of the responsible head of the particular Department in which the officer was employed, and he was willing to bear the responsibility in this case. The principle which he had laid down for himself, and acting on which he had given his sanction to Captain Tyler employing his holiday in the manner referred to, was that no officer of the Civil Service should take any employment which was at all inconsistent with his duty to the Government, or which would occupy time or strength due to Government, or which would in any way compromise his relations to the Government, of which he was a servant, but that when the employment he undertook was not inconsistent with such duty, and could not lead to any such compromise, his engaging in it was not only justifiable, but might be extremely desirable. He could quite conceive that brief employment, such as that in question, of a Royal Engineer in the line of his own profession in another country might very much improve his knowledge of his business, and it might, therefore, be even detrimental to the public service if he were refused the leave which in this instance had been asked for and granted. [Mr. GOLDSMID: I did not ask you to refuse.] The whole question was, whether properly or not, he (Sir Charles Adderley) had sanctioned it. However that might be, the hon. Gentleman seemed to think that the whole time and strength of a public servant was so completely due to the Government that either he should have no holiday at all, or should spend it in complete idleness to recruit his strength. A man of active mind would be none the better if compelled to spend his holiday in absolute idleness. The hon. Gentleman's argument in that respect reminded him of the Yankee employer, who, finding his workman in a long fit of sneezing, exclaimed—"I do not give you a dollar a-day to waste my time in sneezing." He seemed to forget that by such a rigid rule an officer might be tempted to escape to freer life and occupation just at the moment when his services had become most desirable. As regarded precedents for the particular case in point, he could cite a number of cases in which officers of the Board of Trade, and even the President of the Board himself, had acted as arbitrators even between railway companies in this country. The Erie Railway had been described as a speculative concern. Well, no doubt, it was formerly in bad hands; but it was now trying to get itself into good hands, and competent investigation and publication of its affairs was one of the modes by which it was endeavouring to attain that object. The company desired to get the report of an eminent engineer on the state of the works and plant, and accordingly, they consulted the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. T. C. Bruce), who recommended Captain Tyler as the most impartial and competent man to make the report, and the company acted upon his suggestion. As the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) admitted, nobody could suspect Captain Tyler of giving an unfair or biassed report, and how, then, could a true and authoritative report damage any honest interest? According to the report, the shares of the railway would either go up or down, and a statement of actual facts would promote only the interest of those who wanted daylight and truth. Surely the hon. Gentleman did not represent any interests that would fear a plain statement of facts. Under those circumstances, he certainly did not feel called upon to refuse leave of absence to Captain Tyler, or to make any objection because he intended to occupy his time in inspecting the Erie Railway. On the contrary, he thought that officer could hardly spend his holiday better, for the interests both of the railway and of the Board of Trade. It might be desirable to lay down a rule to regulate the Civil Service in this particular; but he could not suggest any; and if any were made, it should be an elastic one, and laying down general principles, as he had attempted to do, leave each case to the discretion of the responsible head of the Department.


thought the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was highly unsatisfactory, for, in his opinion, the permission ought not to have been given, neither ought the engagement to have been undertaken by Captain Tyler. However, the affairs of the Erie Railway Company would for the first time be in good hands. He failed to perceive that Captain Tyler's undertaking could be a laudable one, unless we were to allow all our Railway Inspectors to inquire into bankrupt lines in America, which would be very reprehensible.


said, he thought the hon. Member for Rochester had done right in bringing the question before the House, for he certainly objected to any Government Inspector of Railways holding property in any railway company; but, taking a common-sense view of the subject, he could not see that the Government had a right to dictate to a public servant how he should spend his holiday, as long as the duties he undertook did not affect the office he held in England. In America matters were not conducted quite so carefully as in England, and it was not unnatural that the Erie Railway Company should ask a gentleman holding a high official position to report on the affairs of the line.


said, there was not a more able man in England than Captain Tyler, whom he had known for many years, and he warmly approved of the permission granted to him. The House ought to be thankful to him for going to America, for however eminent a man might be, there was always something for him to learn, and in this case he had no doubt that Captain Tyler would return to this country with some new and useful ideas. There was just another point on which he wished to say a word. Captain Tyler was not half paid by the Government, not half so well paid as many men were by the railway companies who employed them, and of whom he was the equal in every respect.


said, there was not a more able man in the service than Captain Tyler, but, on the whole, he did not think it was desirable that Railway Inspectors should be employed in work of this kind. During the time he was at the Board of Trade, and his right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) was at the head of that Department, this subject was accidentally discussed, with reference to Captain Tyler himself. At that time he was Deputy Chairman of the Grand Trunk Railway Company. The conclusion at which his right hon. Friend arrived was, that it was not desirable that a Railway Inspector should be connected with railway companies, even if they were foreign. But as the permission had been granted by a former President, and as it was represented that the office which he held was only temporary, therefore no action was taken on the occasion. His right hon. Friend, however, gave instructions that it was not desirable that Railway Inspectors should be employed in that manner. He could not agree with his right hon. Friend opposite that it was desirable that Railway Inspectors should be employed in such work as he had referred to. Captain Tyler, he was sure, would give an impartial report, but it would have the official stamp of an Inspector of the Board of Trade. It was true that there was no general rule laid down at the Board of Trade, and, indeed, it was not desirable that there should be such a rule; but he could not help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Charles Adderley) had thought more about it, he would in this case have withheld his consent.


said, he agreed very much with what had been said by the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw-Lefevre). It was known that the railway company referred to was the most speculative affair going. As Captain Tyler had received permission from his right hon. Friend, he exonerated that gentleman from blame; but the discussion, he thought, would do good, as it was a subject which deserved serious consideration.


said, that as the right hon. Baronet had mentioned his name as having recommended Captain Tyler, he must explain how it came about. He had no sort of interest in the Erie Railway, and did not care whether the shares went up or down; but it happened that the present directors of the Erie Railway Company, being desirous that their books should be examined, and the condition of their line inquired into, asked him if he knew anyone whom he could recommend to undertake the task. He told them at first that if they wished to have an impartial report of the state of their affairs, the best thing they could do was to apply to the Board of Trade to allow one of the Railway Inspectors to go out to Canada. He gave them that advice because Railway Inspectors were accustomed to that kind of work, and were men of integrity. Afterwards, remembering that Captain Tyler had had connection with American railways, he mentioned that gentleman's name, and on being applied to, he said he could do the work during his holidays. He knew it was not the first time Captain Tyler had done something of that kind. Captain Tyler was now, and had been for some time, a director of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, and at one time that company's stock was a subject of very considerable speculation. No application was made to the Board of Trade; but an arrangement was at once entered into with Captain Tyler. This was only a question of degree, and he (Mr. Bruce) thought if Railway Inspectors were employed abroad during their holidays on business similar to that which was their regular work, their usefulness in this country would be increased. He did not think that the fact of Captain Tyler being a Government Inspector would make much difference in the value of his report upon the Erie Railway Company's affairs. Captain Tyler's experience in conducting such investigations was greater than that of any gentleman. Moreover, his connection with the Grand Trunk Railway Company had made him ac- quainted with the American system of railways.


said, the question raised by the hon. Member for Rochester (Mr. Goldsmid) was really part of a very large and very difficult question, which was continually cropping up—namely, how far gentlemen who were in the employ of the Government were to be held entitled to take other employments. As far as he could see at present, no rule could be laid down, and the matter must be left to the discretion of the heads of Departments. He should be glad, if it were possible, to lay down a rule on the subject; but the difficulties were so great, and cases shaded off so in relation to each other, that he did not see how it was to be done. The question had arisen with reference to the writing of books, sometimes containing information derived from official sources, and deriving importance and value from the position the writer held in the public service. We might go on from one thing to another, and lay down positions which would render it difficult indeed to take a stand and say we were not to advance to the next position. The right hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), when his attention was called to the matter, did not think it necessary to require Captain Tyler to give up his connection with the Grand Trunk Railway, or to lay down a rule that no one should take such an appointment hereafter. The hon. Member for Rochester seemed to think the later engagement undertaken by Captain Tyler was the more objectionable, and accordingly rested his case upon it; but, comparing the two, and considering the second merely as an undertaking to report on a foreign line, apart from its particular character, the temporary undertaking seemed less questionable than the permanent appointment. Of course, no one doubted the questionable character of the Erie Railway; but, according to the explanation just given by the hon. Member for Portsmouth (Mr. T. C. Bruce), the intentions of those who were now charged with the management of it appeared to be unobjectionable. The question was, whether it was prudent that a Government officer should be allowed to render a service which in itself was by no means open to censure or question. That was of course a question of discretion. It was put to his right hon. Friend in this way—"I am going abroad; have you any objection to my undertaking this job?" And it could never have appeared to him that in saying, "We have no objection," he was in any way giving the sanction of the Government to what Captain Tyler was about to do. It would be unfortunate if it should be supposed that there was any Government sanction for Captain Tyler undertaking this business. Nothing could be more unfortunate than having it supposed that when officers of the Government undertook private business they carried with them their official character. In the matter of books, remonstrances had been made against expressions and arguments used by gentlemen connected with the public Departments by which those Departments were supposed to be compromised. The conclusion he drew was that, if we allowed public servants to take part in private business, we ought as far as possible to make it clear that they undertook it on their own private account, and that the Government was in no way responsible. We must make it clear that such business was undertaken by them in their private capacity, and not as representing their offices. If the application had been made to the President of the Board of Trade for an officer to inquire and report, it would have been impossible that the application could have been entertained; but it was a different thing when the officer said—"I am going abroad; I mean to do so and so," and the Minister replied—"I do not object, but you must do it on your own responsibility." It was quite right that attention should have been called to the subject by the hon. Gentleman, and he could assure him it was one that continually caused the Government thought and anxiety.