HC Deb 20 July 1877 vol 235 cc1564-72

Sir, it will be in the recollection of the House that on Monday last, on the Motion that you should leave the Chair in order to go into Committee of Supply, the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. J. Holms) moved as an Amendment the following Resolution:— That, having regard to the recommendations made in 1874 by the Select Committee on Public Departments, Purchases, &c, this House is of opinion that the recent appointment of Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office is calculated to diminish the usefulness and influence of Select Committees of this House and to discourage the interest and zeal of officials employed in the Public Departments of the State. That Amendment having been put to the House, it became my duty to make an answer to the speech with which it was introduced by the hon. Member, and I made the best answer I was able to give upon that occasion. But I must confess to the House that at that time, from circumstances which I will explain in a moment, I was not fully prepared for some of the statements that were made by the hon. Member for Hackney. I was of course aware of the recommen- dations of the Select Committee. I was aware they had recommended that upon the occasion of a vacancy in the office it should be filled by a gentleman possessing certain technical qualifications, and I was also aware that the office had been subsequently filled up on its becoming vacant a short time ago by the appointment of a gentleman who did not possess those technical qualifications, but who had served in an honourable way in one of the Departments of the State, and whom the Prime Minister had selected for the appointment in question. I was prepared, therefore, to hear from the hon. Gentleman the objection which he took to the departure on the part of the Prime Minister from the course recommended by the Select Committee, and I was prepared to state the grounds generally upon which that decision of his had been taken; but I was not prepared to hear some of the personal statements that were made by the hon. Gentleman, which I believe had considerable weight with the House, with regard to the supposed private relations between the Prime Minister and the gentleman whose appointment was in question. Now, Sir, I only desire to say this—soon after the Committee had reported, the question of the manner in which its recommendations should be acted upon was brought under my notice, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary of the Treasury. There was then no question of a vacancy in the office of Controller, and the arrangement which was come to between my hon. Friend and myself was that my hon. Friend the Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. R. Winn), a Lord of the Treasury, should give his personal attention to the business of the Stationery Office, in constant communication with the Secretary to the Treasury, and when necessary with myself, and that the business should be carried on as best it might be in that manner. At the same time, the Financial Secretary and myself had some conversation as to whether it was or was not desirable to appoint hereafter a gentleman having the technical qualifications which had been spoken of. Subsequently, when it became probable that Mr. Greg would be obliged by ill-health to retire from the appointment, I had a further conversation with the Financial Secretary on the subject, and we then agreed in the view that it would be inconvenient to fill up the appointment whenever it fell vacant by the appointment of any gentleman taken from the stationery or printing trade, and we came to that conclusion on the grounds, which I mentioned to the House on Monday last, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to induce a gentleman who was engaged in a successful business to abandon that business for the purpose of taking such an appointment, and that, on the other hand, there would be serious objections to taking one who had either failed in business, or who was connected with a particular house. These things were considered and talked over informally by the Financial Secretary and myself, there being then no immediate prospect of a vacancy in the office. From that time until I saw the hon. Member's Notice on the Paper the subject never came before me again, and I did not hear of the actual time of the resignation of Mr. Greg, nor of the selection of Mr. Pigott to succeed him. As Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have nothing to do with questions of patronage, and I have no desire to interfere with those who are responsible in the matter. Accordingly, when the Notice was first put on the Paper, I spoke to my noble Friend (Lord Beaconsfield) on the subject. I asked him what I was to say, and if there was anything he wished particular to be said in the matter. He gave me exactly the views which I had already in conversation with the Financial Secretary seen reason to entertain myself. He said—"I don't think it would be possible to take a gentleman from the trade, and it would not be advisable to take a person who had failed in trade," and he added—"In consequence I have selected Mr. Pigott, of whom I have heard an exceedingly good character. He seems to be an able public servant, and I will give you a note of his services." My noble Friend said very little indeed about Mr. Pigott himself, except that he had heard an exceedingly good character of him from the Department in which he had served. He also said—"I know very little about him except that he is the son of a former vicar of Hughenden, and I have heard a good report of him as a public servant." Under these circumstances, I thought I was sufficiently prepared to answer the Resolution proposed by the hon. Mem- ber for Hackney, and thought I was doing all that was necessary in pointing out the difficulties of giving effect to the recommendations of the Committee, and at the same time in saying that Lord Beaconsfield had selected Mr. Pigott from no other consideration than that of his efficiency as a public servant. But in the course of the hon. Gentleman's observations he stated that Mr. Pigott was the son of the vicar of Hughenden, and he made observations with regard to what he supposed to be the terms upon which Lord Beaconsfield and Mr. Pigott's father had formerly lived and the services which he said had been rendered by Mr. Pigott's father to Lord Beaconsfield. I was wholly ignorant that any such propositions were to be made. I was not, therefore, in a position to contradict them, or to state what I should have stated if I had expected them, and I am fully convinced in my own mind that those observations which the hon. Gentleman addressed to the House not being answered at the time had a very material effect upon the vote of the House which was come to. Since that time I have been more fully informed by my noble Friend, and he has also, as the House is aware, publicly stated some particulars with regard to this appointment. In the first place, he has stated that he never knew Mr. Pigott, the son, at all. He has also said that it is 30 years since Mr. Pigott's father was the vicar of Hughenden; that that gentleman had left the parish for many years; and that, so far from being a political friend and assistant of my noble Friend, he had in politics taken a line adverse to him, and had recorded his vote against my noble Friend's return. My noble Friend further stated what, if I had been aware of it at the time, I ought to have stated, and should have stated, and I have no doubt it would have produced a considerable impression upon the House—namely, that when the vacancy occurred, and my noble Friend was seeking for some one to fill it, he had no less than six names brought before him, all of them names of gentlemen holding positions in the Civil Service; that he considered these names, and that it was only after a comparison of them and of their respective merits that he decided that Mr. Pigott was the gentleman who held out to his mind the best promise of being well qualified to discharge the duties that the Controller of the Stationery Department would have to perform. My noble Friend also stated that he had had no application whatever from Mr. Pigott; that no private friend of that gentleman had in any way pressed or asked for his appointment; and that there was no person upon whom the appointment came more completely by surprise than Mr. Pigott himself. Mr. Pigott, as the House is aware, has been discharging not only the ordinary duties of a clerk in the War Office, but he has been selected on several occasions to fulfil duties, either as private secretary to a Minister or Secretary to a Commission, and he has given ample proof of his general ability and his administrative aptitude. Under these circumstances, Lord Beaconsfield considered he was doing the proper and right thing by the Public Service in selecting for this important post a gentleman whom he believed to be thoroughly qualified to discharge the duties, and one who, from his general knowledge of official business, from his business habits and his character, and his coming to this office with no preconceived opinions with regard to its business, but with an entirely fresh mind, would be able best to discharge the duties that were to be assigned to him. Sir, I wish I had been sufficiently well acquainted with these facts on Monday to have been able to have brought them more prominently under the notice of the House; but as it happened I must admit that I was imperfectly prepared, and that I had not taken perhaps all the pains I ought to have taken, and should have taken, had I known what the nature of the charge was going to be, to make myself thoroughly acquainted with all the circumstances of the case. The House is aware, I have no doubt—at all events, I must state it to them—that, in consequence of the vote which was to come, Mr. Pigott immediately placed his resignation in the hands of the Prime Minister. They are also aware, or I may communicate to them, that Lord Beaconsfield, looking at all the circumstances of the case, felt that it would be quite impossible for him to accept that resignation. I may say that, although the responsibility of making selections for appointments rests entirely in these cases with the Prime Minister, he has the cordial support of all his Colleagues in the decision to which he arrived. The whole of his Colleagues, myself included, are firmly convinced, not only that he made the selection upon grounds and no other grounds than those of public advantage, but that he was entirely right, and could have taken no other course than that which he has taken in declining to accept the resignation of Mr. Pigott. Under these circumstances, and after having made this statement to the House, I can only say that I feel the difficulty in which we are placed. There is standing on the Books of the House a formal Resolution which amounts to a Vote of Censure on the Government with respect to the appointment of Mr. Pigott to this Controllership. That Vote has produced no practical effect, because the Government have declined, to accept the resignation of Mr. Pigott, which he had tendered in consequence. At the same time, I feel there is a difficulty in allowing such a Resolution as that to remain on the Journals of the House without any notice being taken of the terms in which it was couched, or the circumstances under which it was passed; but it does not lie with myself, or the Government to propose any course to the House. Therefore, having made this statement as to the circumstances under which the appointment was made and the course which we have pursued since the Resolution was adopted, I must leave the matter now in the hands of the House.


said, it would be clear to the House, having listened attentively, as he had done, to the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that an opportunity should be given to it of re-considering the decision which it came to on Monday last, that decision being virtually a Vote of Censure upon Her Majesty's Government. He would, therefore, with the permission of the House, venture to read a Motion which he would propose on Monday next, to this effect— That the Resolution [16th July] be now read. That this House, while most anxious to maintain the usefulness and influence of its Select Committees, and to encourage the interest and zeal of officials employed in the Public Departments of the State, after hearing the further explanations concerning the recent appointment of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office, withdraws the censure conveyed in the said Resolution.


Sir, I think it may be convenient to the House if I say a few words before my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney rises to address the House, if he should so think fit; and in rising, I do not intend to make any comments or observations on the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That statement undoubtedly, as I conceive, has been irregular both in form and character; but, possibly, in the peculiar circumstances of the case, a sufficient justification may be found for it. I think, however, that the inconvenience of having a statement made of such an irregular character would only be aggravated if the House were to enter now upon a further discussion of the subject to which it bears reference, especially as, in answer to the indirect appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman, the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir Walter Barttelot) has given Notice that he will call the further attention of the House to the subject on Monday. I expect that my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Holms) may complain that he and those who voted with him are placed in a somewhat unfair position by having statements made both in "another place" and here to-day which should have been before the public before, so that they might be properly examined or canvassed; still, considering the period of the Session at which we have arrived, this subject, important as it is, is hardly of sufficient gravity to warrant the House devoting a considerable portion of two Sittings to it. I think, therefore, that it is better that the discussion should be postponed until the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite comes before us. I assume that the Government will give an early opportunity for the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman; and if that is the case, I trust that my hon. Friend and the House may be induced to postpone any observations—and, no doubt, my hon. Friend has some—that they have to make upon the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer just delivered. I trust also that, in the circumstances, the rule of the House which prohibits reference to a former debate will not be too rigidly insisted upon by hon. Gentlemen opposite when the discussion comes on. My hon. Friend would be placed in an unfair position if he were not allowed, when the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is brought forward, to comment on the statement which has just been made, somewhat irregularly, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, he was placed in a difficulty with respect to this matter. He would admit, from what had been said by the noble Marquess, that it would be better to defer the discussion upon the subject until Monday. But an inconvenience would arise from that course, for an important statement had been made last night in "another place," and a very important statement had been made in that House by the right hon. Gentleman, and both those statements would remain unanswered until Monday. He had come down to the House prepared, willing, and anxious to enter into the discussion, and to take exceptions to several parts of the statement made by the noble Lord the Prime Minister, and he would now ask whether the statements so made, or those which had been made on Monday last, were the statements which the House of Commons was to accept? Seeing that they were not permitted now to enter on the discussion, he hoped the Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite (Sir Walter Barttelot) would be brought on without delay.


rose, and was received with cries of "Order."


I must point out that the discussion is of a somewhat unusual character. A statement has been made by a Minister of the Crown, the Leader of this House, and upon that Notice has been given of an intention to bring the matter before the House by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for West Sussex. A few observations have been made by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, and also by the hon. Member for Hackney; but I trust there will be no debate on the subject, because Notice has been given formally to the House that this subject is to be brought under its consideration on Monday next, which will be the proper occasion for further discussion.


said, he wished merely to observe, as a private Member of the House, that he regretted that on Monday evening last, on hearing the speech of the hon. Member for Hackney (Mr. Holms), he had been so far led away as to support his Motion.


It may be for the convenience of the House, Sir, that I should give Notice that on Monday I will move that the Orders of the Day be postponed until the Notice of my hon. and gallant Friend has been brought forward.