HC Deb 14 March 1884 vol 285 cc1548-50

I wish to call the attention of the House to a matter which is personal to myself, and to put a Question to you, Sir, as I consider the matter to be one of importance in a public point of view. I am a Member of the Select Committee on Indian Railways, and that Committee met, according to the usual notice, at 3 o'clock on Wednesday last. I deemed it my duty then to raise a protest to which I will not further refer, as I am under the impression that everything stated in the Committee Room is strictly private and confidential. When I went into the room I think there were three Gentlemen present, one reporter for the Press, and two gentlemen connected with the India Office. Some Member of the Committee remarked that the proceedings were private, and we had the room cleared of all except the Members of the Committee. It was then that I made my protest; and to-day a friend of mine remarked that he had seen that I, as a Member of the Committee, had objected to a certain Gentleman as Chairman. I immediately said to him—"How do you know anything about that? Everything said there was strictly private and confidential, and there was no reporter present." My friend replied—" I think I saw an account in The Times or The Standard." I looked into those papers, but found no reference to the matter. Unfortunately, I did not see The Daily News of yesterday, but I have obtained a copy since; and I will read to the House the paragraph which appears in that paper— A remarkable incident took place yesterday at the meeting of the Committee on East India Railways. Mr. J. K. Cross proposed Mr. Baxter as Chairman. Mr. Onslow, protesting that such an appointment would be unpopular in India, proposed Mr. W. H. Smith. Mr. Smith declining to he nominated, and Mr. Onslow's proposition finding no Seconder, it fell to the ground, and Mr. Baxter was elected Chairman. I may say that that is an entirely garbled and grossly untrue statement of what took place, and I do not feel it my duty to state exactly what did take place; because, as I said before, the proceedings were of a private and confidential character. But if these garbled statements are to appear of what takes place on confidential matters in a Committee Room, I fail to see of what use Committees will be. Hon. Members know very well that, time after time, a Committee Room is cleared when the Committee are engaged in discussing matters in private; but if these private conversations are to get into the newspapers in a way that is grossly untrue, the whole object of appointing Committees of this nature will, in my opinion, be defeated. I do not bring the question before the House as exactly a matter of Privilege; but I have deemed it my duty to say these few words, because the same thing has happened time after time, and may be constantly repeated. There can be no doubt that, when a Committee Room is cleared, what afterwards takes place in the Committee should not be allowed to appear in the newspapers. If nothing is done to check the system, I am afraid the wretched habit we have of lobbying in the House of Commons, by members of the Press, will go on increasing more and more every day. I am sorry that the paragraph should have appeared in a newspaper, because there is a semblance of truth in it; and, as far as I am concerned, I can honestly say that I should have been the last person in the world to have said a word outside the Committee Room of any of the transactions which took place in the Committee Room itself. I wish to give the House an assurance that I have had no part whatever in circulating the report which I have read.


In reply to the hon. Member for Guildford, I have to say that no doubt the hon. Member has rightly stated the Rule which applies to the proceedings of Select Committees of the House of the nature to which he has referred. They are of a strictly private and confidential nature; and it is a circumstance very much to be regretted, and highly irregular, that the details of what passed in the Committee, after the room was cleared of strangers, should have been made public, especially as I understand an erroneous version has been published.