HC Deb 05 March 1880 vol 251 cc533-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Select Committee do consist of Twenty-three Members."—(Viscount Sandon.)


said, he wished to point out the difference which existed in the rates of premium on grain-laden vessels from Transatlantic, as compared with some other ports, the former being fixed at about 4 per cent, while in the latter case it stood at only 2 per cent, although the latter voyage was three times as long. That was the deliberate estimate of the risk by men who spent their lives in studying their relative values, and was much more valuable, in his opinion, than the Report of any Royal Commission which might be appointed to inquire into the subject. He should spare no pains to obtain the passing of the Bill which he had introduced. As to the question before the House, fixing the number of the Committee at 23 Members, he had seen at once that the Gentlemen charged with the formation of Committees had a difficult and invidious duty to perform; but he was obliged to point out that on the present Committee no less than six shipowners had been appointed, while, at the same time, it included not one single shipbuilder. For the purposes of arriving at a just conclusion in this matter, the opinion of a shipbuilder was, in his view, of far greater value than that of a shipowner. He thought that while they had the hon. Members for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) and North Durham (Mr. Palmer) sitting in that House, not to ask them to advise and assist upon that Committee was a great oversight. In his opinion, it would be extremely desirable that those hon. Members should be appointed, because in the course of the discussion which had taken place a great deal of nonsense had been talked with respect to the raising of the centre of gravity, which would have been exposed in a moment by the hon. Members to whom he had referred.


said, he should move that the debate be now adjourned, for the purpose of enabling the Government to re-consider the appointment which had been made to the Committee. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had already pointed out that six shipowners had been nominated on this Committee to deliberate on a question concerning their own interests. It was perfectly true that a certain number of Members were added who were interested in the general question; but he could not help thinking that it was very unfair that one-fourth of the whole Committee should be shipowners. But there were other points of difference to which he desired to call the attention of the House. He noticed, besides, that the Committee numbered among its Members some regular Committee hacks. There was a certain number of Members who seemed to have the monopoly of Committee nominations; and it was extraordinary that there should be so many Members able and willing to serve who were entirely overlooked, whilst a system of plurality was carried on to its fullest extent. That evening, on the nomination of two Committees, he found the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. W. S. Stanhope) nominated to the Committee of Public Loans and also on the Committee then under consideration. He asked whether it was calculated to give satisfaction that the hon. Member referred to should be so appointed, and whether it was likely he could give his attention to the duties required of him upon these two important Committees? He observed the name also of his hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Onslow), who was an opponent to the second reading of the Bill. Why, he asked, was the hon. Member for Derby, the promoter of the Bill, not placed upon this Committee? The more one looked at the constitution of the Committee the more he was dissatisfied. It contained the name of only one Scotch Member—namely, that of the hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. Stewart), who had already been appointed on the Sugar Bounties Committee. He wished to know why the hon. Member for Greenock had been nominated, and the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Grant) left out? In order, therefore, to give the Government time to re-consider the matter, he moved that the debate be adjourned.


said, he would second the Motion in the hope that the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade would allow the matter to be adjourned; because he was sure that, with some little further consideration, there would be no difficulty in appointing a Committee which would give satisfaction. It would be very unfair that the shipowning interest should not be adequately represented on this Committee; but he was bound to say that there were Gentlemen who had been left off the Committee who were clearly entitled to be appointed. He had understood the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) had shown some disinclination to serve. Now, that hon. Member had probably given himself more pains with regard to this question than any other Member in the House, and, were he appointed, he would come upon the Committee with that full information which would enable him to assist the other Members. He believed that the hon. Member's sense of public duty would induce him to yield to the wish of the House if his name were adopted. He knew the difficulty in which the hon. Gentlemen who performed the office of Whips were placed, and what pressure was often put upon them by certain Members of the House, and they wore not expected to go up and down the House asking Members to sanction their names being placed on Committees. No doubt, names were often suggested by persons who had charge of the nomination of Committees; but there some hon. Members who pressed upon the Whips that their name should be put on Committees while other hon. Members were left out. There were many most able men who were never put upon Committees, while there appeared to be a number of pluralists whose names were constantly met with. This was a matter of such great importance that the Committee should be one which would command the public confidence; and he thought that in the nomination which had taken place there had not been due consideration of what was required in the public interest. He therefore pressed upon the noble Lord the desirability of deferring the nomination, and of consulting with the hon. Member for Derby, whose opinion upon one or two points, at all events, should be taken. If the noble Lord would allow the debate to be adjourned, he believed he would thereby promote the great object which he had in view.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. E Jenkins.)


said, he should be the last person in the world intentionally to appoint a weak and unsuitable Committee for the consideration of this important question. On the contrary, the greatest care and trouble had been taken in selecting an impartial Committee to deal with it. One of the complaints raised against its constitution was that the list of Members contained the names of too many shipowners. But it must be borne in mind that a difference of opinion existed among shipowners as to the proper manner of stowing grain cargoes; and if a sufficient number of shipowners was not appointed the Committee would be placed in a difficult position. He appealed to the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) as to whether he did not consider it was quite essential to have a certain number of shipowners upon the Committee who would know what questions to address to the witnesses from their own point of view, and he reminded the hon. Member that three out of the six had expressed themselves in favour of his views. The House of Commons was not rich in shipbuilding Members, and the only shipbuilders that the hon. Member referred to sat upon the opposite side of the House. He agreed that it would be desirable that they should have the assistance of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer), and he did not know that the Government would raise any opposition to his appointment. No one lamented more than himself that the hon. Member for Derby had declined the office. In asking the hon. Member to serve upon the Committee he had gone out of the proper course, inasmuch as he had no right to ask any hon. Member to serve. He had done so however, and had said to him—"Whatever happens, I hope you will serve on the Committee." But after that he heard to his dismay that he had refused to serve. He was not surprised at the hon. Member for Burnley remarking upon this point; but he (Viscount Sandon) had done everything in his power to secure the services of the hon. Member for Derby, and he should still be happy to consult with him farther upon that subject. He could not consent to call the Committee a weak one, and it appeared to him a strong expression to apply to the Members who had been nominated. He hoped the hon. Member for Derby would re-consider the view he had taken of the matter and consent to serve on the Committee; but, in the event of his not doing so, he would, of course, offer himself very early as a witness. He suggested that they should put down for Monday the name of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer); and he would, on his part, move for the appointment of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. Hamond), who, everybody would agree, would be a suitable Member. He hoped the House would now proceed with the question, and that, having looked over the names, they would admit that the Government had done everything that was possible to secure the most impartial Committee which could be obtained. He would on Monday put down the names of the hon. Members for North Durham and Newcastle; but beyond that they could not go in the direction of extending the Committee.


said, that if another winter was to pass without legislation he must decline to serve. There was no difference of opinion as to the necessity of legislation with respect to grain cargoes laden in bulk.


said, the hon. Member was not justified in saying that no difference of opinion existed. He (Viscount Sandon) had very carefully studied the subject, and wished to state that he differed entirely from the view expressed by the hon. Member; and there existed, moreover, a great difference of opinion amongst shipowners upon the subject in question.


said, that underwriters, being engaged in insuring cargoes from all parts of the world, made it the business of their lives to estimate the risks attendant upon certain voyages; their opinion, therefore, was of greater value and was more conclusive on points of this kind than the Report of any Committee. It was found by them that they could not insure grain from Transatlantic ports at a less rate than 4 per cent, while the same cargo shipped from San Francisco could be covered at 2 per cent, although the latter voyage was three times as long as the former.


The hon. Member for Derby is now discussing the general question. I must remind him that the Question before the House is that the Committee do consist of 23 Members.


said, that he should be most happy to withdraw from the Committee if, by so doing, he could in any way facilitate the settlement of the question. He had not asked to be appointed.


said, that, in striking a Committee, they were placed in a very difficult position by trying to please everybody, which, unfortunately, they never could do. He could assure the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. E. Jenkins) that he had done his best in the present case to get as fair and impartial a representation as could be obtained of all the interests concerned. He could only say that the hon. Member for Derby was the first person he had asked to serve; and when he found that he was out of town he sent him a telegram, to which he received the reply that "he did not want to serve on the Committee." If, however, the hon. Member would consent to serve, he ventured to think that his presence would add strength to the Committee, and very much contribute to the success of the cause which he had at heart.


said, he observed that among the 23 Members nominated there was only one from Scotland; and he wished to suggest that as the number of persons interested in shipping in Scotland was very large the hon. Member for Leith (Mr. Grant) should be added to the Committee.


said, he would suggest that the matter should stand over until Monday, and that a smaller number—say 10 or 12 Members—should be nominated by the Committee of Selection.


said, that to nominate Members of Committees upon important non-political questions simply because they sat on this or that side of the House was a most ludicrous system. He gathered from the discussion that there were two or three Members on that side of the House who ought to have been appointed, and that there were two or three others on the opposite side whose names ought not to have been placed on the Committee. The noble Lord, he thought, had made a mistake in making the suggestion to the House that upon a non-political question there must be a balance of hon. Members from the two sides. In his opinion, it would be better to adjourn until Monday to give the Government time to re-consider the matter.


said, that the hon. Member for Rochester (Sir Julian Goldsmid) had criticized severely the system by which Select Committees were now appointed. He would inform the hon. Baronet that last year the whole question with reference to the appointment of Committees was brought before the House, and an unanimous decision arrived at in favour of the present system. Having been engaged in the duty of selecting Members for Committees for some years, all he could say was, with reference to this particular Committee, that he had given more personal attention to its constitution than usual. He thought that if any hon. Member would read the names of those constituting the Committee, he could not but come to the conclusion that it would be admirably calculated to deal with the subject in a fair and impartial spirit. For instance, the hon. Member for one of the Hidings of Yorkshire, to whose name some exception had been taken, was, he considered, eminently calculated to do good service on the Committee. He thoroughly agreed with the observation of the hon. Baronet the Member for Rochester that it would be a great mistake to treat this question in a Party spirit. It was essential that the hon. Members constituting the Committee should be useful for legislative purposes generally, and should be specially qualified to deal with this measure. With regard to the appointment of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer) upon the Committee, he should be very glad that the name of the hon. Member should be added to the list of those to be appointed.


said, he was at a loss to understand the desire of some hon. Members to serve often and to serve longer upon Select Committees of that House. If there was one thing for which he felt extremely grateful it was that he had so seldom had to sit upon a Select Committee. He was sure the House would not suppose that, in making these observations, he had any desire to speak of the inquiries of Select Committees with disrespect. He should like to say, however, that, in his opinion, it would be highly desirable that they should have upon this Committee one or two hon. Members who were familiar with the construction of ships. In justification of that view, he might say that he had read some letters which had recently appeared in the public Press I upon the question of grain stowage, and with not one of those letters could he entirely agree. To arrive at correct conclusions on such subjects it would be highly desirable that some of the Members of the Committee should be familiar with the construction and calculations of ships. In looking over the constitution of the Committee, he noticed the names of two or three Gentlemen upon the other side of the House who he should consider were eminently well qualified to deal with this question. The right hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Stamford (Sir John Hay) had very considerable acquaintance with the subject, as also had the hon. Member for Downpatrick (Mr. Mulholland) whose names appeared in the Committee. But, at the same time, there was very great scope and even a necessity for some addition to the Committee. He rose for the purpose of suggesting that the names of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer) and the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Samuda) should be added to the Committee. The inquiry was one that would require close scientific attention, and he felt that it would be a very great advantage to have those two hon. Members on the Committee. He should like to add further that, in his opinion, the idea of a Member's judgment upon such a matter being, in the slightest degree, influenced by the side of the House he sat upon appeared to him absurd.


said, that he agreed very much with several of the observations which had fallen from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Reed) as to the importance of having upon the Committee one or two Gentlemen who were well informed upon the purely scientific side of this question. For instance, he was perfectly certain that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty and the right hon. and gallant Admiral the Member for Stamford would bring much experience to bear upon the important questions that would come before the Committee. But he, for one, would extremely regret if the question of the appointment of Select Committees should ever come to be treated in accordance with the view suggested by the hon. Baronet the Member for Rochester. For many years past—certainly ever since he had been in the House, and, he believed, ever since the Reform Bill—the basis of the selection of Select Committees had been that Members should be taken equally from both sides of the House. It would, he thought, be very unwise for the Opposition, who were at present in so large a minority in that House, to endeavour in any way to interfere with that practice. For if that system were once departed from, and it was not recognized that the Opposition was entitled to form half of the Committee, then the Government would naturally employ their majority to obtain the control of Committees, and all their decisions would be in the nature of Party victories. He, therefore, thought that it would be very much wiser to leave things as they wore, than permit Select Committees to be chosen on a political basis. At the same time, he hoped that they would never appoint Committees consisting exclusively of experts. He remembered that in one Committee of which he once was Chairman everybody knew all about the subject, and the Report was a foregone conclusion; so that, with so many experts, he did not think a Committee could come to a good conclusion. In his opinion, they required upon a Committee a fair number of persons who had taken no part in the discussion of the question that had been referred to the Committee—in fact, persons who would act as common jurymen, and who would be able to form an unbiassed opinion upon the questions at issue after they had been well discussed by the experts. It was from a body of men so constituted that he believed the soundest conclusions could be derived. He noticed that there were 13 or 14 Members upon this Committee who had taken part in the debates, and eight or nine who had taken no part whatever in questions of this kind. They would thus have a body of experts; and, secondly, a number of independent Members, who would be able to judge between them. He might say that, in his opinion, the names of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer) and of the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) might be very well added to the Committee.


said, he hoped that, after what had been said, and especially after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Pontefract, the Motion for the adjournment of the debate would not be persisted in. It would be a very-great pity if the nomination of this important Committee were postponed. After the discussion that had taken place, it would be seen that there was very great difficulty in striking a Committee of this sort. It must be borne in mind that the House could not, as a whole, discharge the duty, and that they must delegate it to certain of their Members. It was always desirable to have as many Gentlemen as possible who were interested in the particular subject before the Committee; and there was always a disposition to facilitate the attendance of Gentlemen who were desirous of taking part in the business of any Committee. In the selection of the Members to form the Committee, it was necessary that there should be a good deal of care taken that all the various views that ought to be represented on the Committee were so represented. But the House was also bound to place upon the Committee certain Gentlemen, upon whose judgment and knowledge of business they could rely, to form an unprejudiced opinion upon the matter before the Committee. To select hon. Members with the qualifications he had mentioned was, he need scarcely say, no light task. Gentlemen had been selected to serve upon this Committee who represented the different opinions upon the subject; and his hon. Friend had stated that he would be perfectly ready to add, and, indeed, it was important that the Committee should include Gentlemen thoroughly acquainted with the construction of ships. With that view, he agreed in thinking it would be well for the names of the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Palmer) and the hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne (Mr. Hamond) to be added to the Committee. This would be done on Monday, if the Motion for the adjournment were withdrawn.


said, he should like to state that, in his former observations, he had intended nothing personal, but merely an illustration of the system. He agreed with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and should, therefore, ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Select Committee to consist of Twenty-three Members:—Committee nominated:—Mr. ARTHUR PEEL, Mr. J. G. TALBOT, Mr. BIDDULPH, Mr. ALGERNON EGERTON, Mr. THOMAS BRASSEY, Sir JOHN HAY, Sir HARCOURT JOHNSTONE, Mr. BATES, Mr. MUNDELLA, Mr. JAMES CORRY, Mr. GOURLEY, Mr. GORST, Mr. NORWOOD, Mr. KAVANAGH, Mr. O'SHAUGHNESSY, Mr. BIRKBECK, Mr. STEVENSON, Mr. ONSLOW, Mr. JAMES STEWART, Mr. MULHOLLAND, Mr. SPENCER STANHOPE, Lord ARTHUR RUSSELL, and Mr. MAC IVER:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.