HC Deb 01 March 1887 vol 311 cc895-916
MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

Mr. Speaker—Sir, I ask leave to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the action of the Corporation of the City of London in corruptly expending public money in order to influence the decisions of this House.

The pleasure of the House not having been signified—


called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places; and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen—


proceeded: Mr. Speaker—Sir, I do not make this charge lightly, nor would I have intervened in this manner had there been open to me any other method by which to call attention to a subject so grave and so far-reaching in its consequences. Had the City Corporation been under the Municipal Law of England, another method would have been open to me; but the Corporation of the City of London is not governed by the Municipal Law of England. A statement has recently appeared in a number of London and Provincial newspapers, wherein it is alleged that a large sum of money—corporate funds of the City of London—was expended by a Special Committee of the Corporation for the purpose of preventing the passing of a Bill for the better government of London, brought in by the late Government. In the article referred to I find the name of an hon. Member of this House—namely, the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir Robert Fowler). I have given the hon. Baronet private Notice of my intention to call the attention of the House to this subject, in order that he may be in his place to hear my statement, and not be taken in any way by surprise. It is not a pleasant task; but I hope to be able to do what I consider to be my duty in a way that shall not be personally offensive to anyone, in or out of this House. The article alluded to—a copy of which I hold in my hand—distinctly alleges that a large sum of money was spent in getting up a bogus movement, by bogus conferences and bogus meetings, by hired lecturers, and attended by hired audiences, for the purpose of opposing and defeating a measure then before this House. It is further alleged that tickets were forged in order to get possession of meetings lawfully called for a lawful purpose, with the view of interrupting and upsetting such meetings, and of moving amendments to the resolutions proposed thereat. Now, Sir, if the allegations made in the published statement to which I have referred are true, in sub-stance and in fact, I hold that it is a corrupt expenditure by a public body for an unlawful purpose, and is equivalent to an attempt to unduly influence the decisions of this House. I do not assert that those allegations are true. On the contrary, I hope that an investigation will be instituted by order of this House, and that explanations will be given which will satisfy this House in respect to the charges so circumstantially made. I hope that the hon. Baronet, and other Members of this House, whose names are mentioned in connection with these scandals, will be able to dispel the suspicions which have been aroused. Members of this House should, like Cæsar's wife, be above suspicion; and so also, indeed, should be the members of the Corporation of the City of London, and all other Municipal and Local Bodies. If the source of law and administration should be tainted, corruption will spread through the body politic, poisoning and destroying all that is good and noble in those institutions of which we are all so proud, and which we hope to see handed down unimpaired to our successors. In the absence of any official denial to the allegations I am obliged to assume that the accounts published are generally accurate. No contradiction, so far as I know, has appeared from any of those specifically mentioned, which controverts the main facts as stated. The absence of any such disclaimer justifies me in bringing the matter before this House. If explanations are given in this House which will render any further inquiry unnecessary so much the better, and I shall have done a public service in enabling the hon. Baronet and others to show that the charges made are unfounded, and that the money alleged to have been spent was not spent in the manner described. My assumption of the general accuracy of the published accounts must not, however, be regarded in the light of a reiteration, because I am not responsible for the statements, nor for their publication. But, Sir, before taking action with reference to this matter, I asked permission to inspect the documents upon which the allegations are founded. I have seen the documents, and I am bound to tell the House that, in my opinion, they tell a very sad tale indeed. They indicate, on the face of them, a corrupt expenditure of public money for the purpose of promoting a bogus movement and the manufacture of fictitious public opinion, in order to defeat an important measure before this House—a proceeding which I should think is altogether unparalleled in the political history of this country. I refrain from going into all the details of the expenditure which I have examined, as I do not wish to weary the House. I shall only refer to a few samples of the expenditure. But I may state that in the space of one year some £15,000 were spent by the Special Committee, and other items in the previous year's accounts show some £5,000 more, or a total expenditure of some £20,000. I have been over those accounts, and I think that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London should give some explanation in relation thereto—he being a leading Member of the Special Committee which was responsible for the expenditure. I will refer to a few specific items—

1. An entry appears in the published accounts thus—

£ s. d.
Mr. Remembrancer, Disbursements by order of the Special Committee 5,800 0 0
Town Clerk, Sir J. B. Monckton, ditto, ditto, extra assistance 200 0 0
City Solicitor, Sir J. Nelson, ditto 2,950 0 0
Total £8,950 0 0
I leave the other expenditure, and take these items specifically, because Mr. Remembrancer, and, I think, the other officials named, have a peculiar relation to this House, with regard to public measures affecting the City; they are able officially to appear in opposition to Bills—a privilege not accorded to any other Municipality in the United Kingdom. Now, let us see how the expenditure of this sum of money is accounted for. The chief items of expenditure may be classified as follows:—

(1) Hire of halls; (2) printing and stationery; (3) payment of speakers; (4) Committee expenses; (5) cost of stewards (query chuckers out); (6) hire of audiences; (7) cost of advertising the resolutions passed at the bogus meetings and conferences; (8) remuneration of the Secretary, £80 per month, very moderate salary of £960 a-year; (9) remuneration of reporters.

The meetings to which I shall call attention are—

(1) Battersea—Bolingbroke Hall, May 17, 1884; (2) Brixton Hall; (3) Peacock Tavern, Islington; (4) Conferences—Bouverie Street, June 2, 1884; and of delegates from West London Workmen's Organization, May 13, 1884; (5) Hibernian Club, Lisson Grove, Paddington, June 8; (6) Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, May 12, 1884; (7) the Kennington Town Hall meeting, May 24, 1884; and (8) Westminster Town Hall, June 13, 1884.

Let us see how this works out— a. Hire of halls—

£ s. d. £ s. d.
Battersea—Bolingbroke Hall, May 17,1884 2 2 0
F. Sabine, organizer 5 0 0
W. A. Coote, services 3 3 0
b. W. O'Phelan, speaker 2 2 0
C. Wilson, speaker 2 2 0
—Twist, speaker 2 2 0
Captain Ffounds, F.R.G.S., ditto 2 2 0 16 11 0
c. Services of Committee 12 0 0
£ s. d. £ s. d.
d. Services of stewards 1 10 0 13 10 0
f. Attendants to make meeting 15 0 0
g. Payments to reporters 3 13 6
h. Petty cash as per book 7 7 11½
Total £58 4
Printing and stationery seems not to have been required in this case.

Advertisements of this meeting appeared in The Times, Daily News, Telegraph, Morning Post, Standard, Advertiser, Globe, Echo, and other papers.

Resolutions were also forwarded to Members of this House—as, indeed, they should be from so important a meeting and expression of public opinion.

£ s. d.
2. Brixton, Hire of Hall 3 3 0
J. J. Booth, for Lecture £ s. d.
A. J. Dadson, Chairman 2 2 0
F. Sabine 2 2 0
W. O'Phelan 2 2 0 12 12 0
W. A. Coote 2 2 0
— Twist 1 1 0
12 12 0
Reporters 2 2 0 2 2 0
Expenses of attendants to make meeting 13 15 0
Total £31 12 0
3. Peacock Tavern, Islington.—The entry of expenses for this meeting is very simple, as follows:—T. Donati, meeting at Peacock, £6 4s. The reason being, perhaps, that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood knew nothing of it; but the resolutions supposed to have been passed were widely advertised, lengthily reported in The City Press, and copies sent to the Members of this House.

4. Paddington, Hibernian Club, Lisson Grove.—June 8, entry in accounts, O'Phelan, Hibernian Club—see St. James's Gazette—£5. This was the expression of Irish opinion, and cheaply done, compared with other meetings.

5. a. Conference of London Democrats, held at 29, Bouverie Street, Fleet Street, under the presidency of W. F. Sabine. Entered in the accounts thus—June 2, Democratic Conference, Sabine and friends, £5; Price (reporter), £1 1s.

As the resolutions passed at this distinguished conference were several and important, of course the cost was a mere bagatelle—only £6 1s. Five persons only were present.

b. Conference of Delegates from West London Workmen's Organizations, held at the Montpelier Tavern, May 13, 1884. At this important conference a "Mr. Peters" presided, the same person, presumably who, in a letter published in the newspapers, is addressed as "My dear Peters," by Lord Salisbury. At this conference 13 persons were present. The prominent speakers were, in addition to the distinguished chairman, Mr. Kelly, Mr. Price, Mr. Murray, and Mr. Chandler. An eye-witness of this conference avers that drinks were freely paid for at the bar, and at another public-house, by the two chief speakers.

6. Prince's Hall, Piccadilly, May 12, 1884:—This was an important meeting. The hon. Member for Devonport presided. The noble Lord the Member for the Ealing Division of Middlesex delivered a vigorous and lengthy speech. The hon. Member for Preston also assisted on the occasion; as did also Lord Algernon Percy, recently a Member of this House. Very important letters were also read from prominent and leading statesmen in this House. The occasion, it appears, was to hear an address by Mr. Oakey Hall, formerly Mayor of New York, and, it is alleged, one of the famous Tammany Ring. The expenses in this instance betoken a public meeting—

£ s. d.
The Hall cost 13 10 0
Printing 34 14 0
Bill Posting and Boardmen 41 16 8
Advertising 57 19 0
Total 147 19 8
And paid to Kenny—132 men 32 10 0
Services of Committee and Expenses 12 0 0
Stewards—outsiders 2 15 0
Gross Total 195 4 8
Numerous other items of expenditure are recorded, mostly for breaking up peaceable meetings and moving amendments by hired speakers, supported by hired bands of men imported, purposely from other districts. For example, on May 20, 1884, a determined attempt was made to break up a meeting at the Bridge House Hotel, the platform being stormed, but unsuccessfully. For this work £26 15s. were paid, the particulars of which are set forth in the accounts. On May 29 and 30 similar interruptions were attempted at Bermondsey and Walworth, and £15 3s. are entered for services, &c. by Mr. O'Phelan, Mr. Coote, and Mr. Sabine.

7. The supreme effort was, however, reserved for the Kensington Town Hall meeting, on May 24, 1884. The total cost of this organized disturbance is entered at £93 12s. 6d.; but I shall further remark on totals immediately. Let us see what the accounts set forth first.

£ s. d.
Organizers, Speakers, Canvassers, and Stewards 25 7 0
Reporters, Shorthand Writers and Clerks 12 0 0
Assistants—Imported Disturbers 26 19 6
Personal Expenses and Petty Cash 12 6 2
Wagonette 1 1 0
Bill Poster 1 2 0
Printer 3 6 0
82 1 8
With regard to the nature of this disturbance we have now some evidence. I have here the documentary evidence of witnesses who saw, as they aver, batches of men paid, primed with beer, and their fares paid from the Temple Station. With the details of this I need not trouble the House. If an inquiry is instituted this evidence can be sifted and tested. The Association which promoted these irregular and unlawful proceedings engaged in another mode of attack. The men referred to endeavoured to promote bogus movements in favour of the incorporation by Charter of Greenwich and Westminster, and other places. I leave Greenwich, as a political opponent of my own had to do with that, and refer only to Westminster. The meeting in the Town Hall, Westminster, on June 13, 1884, appears to have cost the "Association" nearly £100. £50 12s. 6d. seems to have been paid for stewards, &c, £10 10s. for Committee; Mr. Hearne, for organizing, superintending, and speaking, £14 14s. I need not further allude to details. Now, Sir, it might be said that the expenditure for those conferences, meetings, importation of workmen foreign to the locality to disturb peaceable meetings, and the like, was found by the small Association, with a high-sounding name—namely, "The Metropolitan Ratepayers' Protection Association," more properly described as the Metropolitan Peaceable Meetings' Disturbance Association, if we may judge by the action of its more prominent officers and agitators. One fact will dispel the illusion as to funds. The offices were at 42, Palace Chambers, Westminster; the Council numbered among its members many eminent men—Members of this House—and others. The bonâ fide subscriptions and donations amounted to £26! It expended, according to its books and accounts, in 1884 down to July 31, £3,040 11s. The difference between the contributions and the expenditure was paid to the honorary Secretary of the Association by cheques. I have seen the books, and the bankers' pass-book, and I think we can trace the cheques and certain signatures. I mentioned just now that I should refer to the total amounts further on. The published statement to which I have referred does not give a full account of all the payments. For this reason—that some of the cheques, many of them perhaps, were paid not to the "honorary Secretary" of the Association, with a salary of £80 per month, but were paid direct by the City Corporation officials to some of the men whose names are mentioned—the patriots, whose services are given for and against so many movements, in the interest of the working classes. The payments to the Press for advertisements amount to a very large item. One paper especially seems to have been favoured. Its reports were long and gushing. Fortunately its influence is not great, outside a narrow area. I need not pursue the subject further. It has not been a pleasant task to me. I have brought it before the House as a matter of public duty. Purity and honesty in public life are dear to me, and always nave been. The fair fame of this House is dear to me, as dear as to any Member of this House. I am anxious also for the fair fame of our Municipal and Local Institutions. For these reasons I ask that explanations shall be given, or that an investigation should take place into all the allegations. It appears that a member of the Common Council—Mr. A. C. Morton—has demanded an account of the expenditure of the public money by the Special Committee to which I have referred. He is reported to have said that the Special Committee were ashamed or afraid to report to the Council as to how the money was expended. In my opinion it will be for the public advantage that the expenditure should be explained. Why refuse? If nothing is wrong, publicity will allay suspicion. But the refusal to explain will not smother the scandals which are afloat; on the contrary suspicions will be confirmed, and the last days of the Corporation will be overcast by doubt and mistrust. I earnestly urge that the matter should be cleared up, in the interests of all concerned. I thank the House for the indulgence and attention accorded to me. I hope that I have not in any way transgressed the rules of fair criticism in my speech or allusions. I hope, further, that I have said nothing to hurt the feelings of any hon. Member of this House, or of any right thinking person out of it. I make no charges personally; I insinuate nothing; I take the allegations as they are, and simply challenge explanation, or invite inquiry. A complete vindication of the honour and purity of our public life will give me more satisfaction than such disclosures can do. I commend the matter to the earnest attention of this House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Howell.)


Sir, I have, in the first place, to thank the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Howell) for his courtesy in giving me Notice, some time ago, that he intended to bring this matter forward. I received a note this afternoon, intimating that he proposed to select the present occasion for doing so. I would venture to suggest, Sir, that the more natural course would have been for the hon. Member to move for a Committee of Inquiry in this House. In regard to the matter, I have listened with great care and attention to the remarks of the hon. Member. I do not apprehend that he stated that he is personally acquainted with the allegations he has brought forward, nor has he given the names of any persons who are personally acquainted with them. He has only spoken of eye-witnesses. Well, Sir, I can only regard the statements that are made as anonymous tittle-tattle, which deserve the reply that was made in an earlier portion of the evening to a Question put to a right hon. Gentleman below me in regard to anonymous statements. I think that charges contained in anonymous statements, whether affecting a Minister of the Crown or a great public body, ought to be made with the names of those who make them attached to them. I think that they ought to be supported by the names of those who make them. The hon. Member has interested the House with the statement he has made; and if he likes to move for an inquiry, I can assure him, on behalf of the Corporation of London, that we do not shrink from inquiry. There is only one thing that I think we have a right to stipulate for; and that is that if this House thinks the matter is sufficiently deserving of attention to justify the appointment of a Committee, that that Committee should be one which should possess the confidence of the House and of the public. I feel, Sir, that we have a right to ask that three right hon. Gentlemen from the Treasury Bench and three right hon. Gentlemen from the Opposition Bench shall take part in such a Committee, and that it shall be a Committee composed of eminent Members of the House, in whom not only the House, but the public and the Corporation of London will have the fullest confidence. Sir, having said so much, I will not detain the House longer. I have described the statements as "anonymous tittle-tattle," and after that I do not think I need take up the time of the House. I am well aware that many hon. Gentlemen opposite would not complain if the whole evening were taken up with this question; but after what has been stated about Obstruction I do not think I should be doing my duty if I were to further take up the time of the House.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

The hon. Baronet who has just sat down has carefully refrained from denying the accuracy of any one of the specific charges made, and I am very glad that he has so refrained. There were two statements made by the hon. Member who moved the adjournment from which I absolutely disagree. One was, "I do not assert that these allegations are true;" and the other, "I feel that the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London could not have been aware of the expenditure." On my responsibility as a Member of this House, I accept the challenge put forward by the hon. Baronet. I am ready, if an inquiry, with power to examine witnesses on oath, and to compel the production of bankers' books and cheques, be granted, to prove that money has been corruptly expended in the direction, if not in all the details, put forward by the hon. Member who moved the adjournment; and I undertake specifically to connect the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London with the issue of City funds under conditions which compel knowledge on his part that they were corruptly used for the purpose of influencing the decision of this House. I do not think that I should be consulting the dignity of this House, after having made a specific charge, if I were to utter any word of taunt; but I do not pretend to think, with the hon. Member who moved the adjournment, that it may be possible for the hon. Baronet to acquit himself. If the means of investigation on oath—[Opposition cheers and laughter.]—yes; no one more than the hon. Baronet should insist on the oath. I only said "on oath" because I have read, in connection with one of the names referred to, evidence given which, if correctly reported, was, within my own knowledge, untrue, and was associated with cheques which I can trace. On an inquiry such as I ask, I will show expenditure from the knowledge of which the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London cannot disconnect himself. I will not do more than make that distinct and clear pledge; and I am sure that if such an inquiry be granted, which I understand the hon. Baronet to challenge, I can prove the statement up to the hilt.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London has said that the statements made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green are mere anonymous tittle-tattle, and has said that anybody responsible for them should give his name. Well, Sir, I am respon- sible for them, and I give my name. I was asked to publish these statements, and I naturally asked for information and evidence respecting them. I was given the book of the Secretary of the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Association, I of which the noble Lord the Member for Ealing (Lord George Hamilton) was the Chairman. This book was in shorthand. It contained all the statements of the payments made to individuals, with their names, by the Secretary of the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Association. I was also given a bank-book of the Secretary, showing how that money was paid, and through what bank it was paid. I was informed—and I believe truly informed—that the money was placed at the disposal of the Secretary of the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Association by the late Sir Thomas Nelson, the City Solicitor. Now, I naturally turned to the accounts of the City. The accounts, I believe, are not given to the public, but there is no great difficulty in obtaining a copy of them. I found what my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green has stated, that there were the payments in the City accounts. My hon. Friend has pointed out that the sum of £5,800 was disbursed by order of a Special Committee appointed, to act against the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt)—disbursements by the City Remembrancer of £5,800; besides disbursement for Parliamentary agents of £630; counsels' fees, £500; printing and advertising, £750 In addition to these, there were—Printing, £200; hall-keeper, £100; Town Clerk, £200; Sir Francis Wyatt Truscott, Chairman of the Special Committee, £100; and this particular sum of £2,950 to Sir Thomas Nelson. I was further given letters from City officials to the Secretary of the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Association, in order to show the connection there was between the City Corporation and this Metropolitan Ratepayers' Association. I have these letters, this book of payments, bankers' book and other papers of the Secretary, locked up in a burglar-proof safe, and there, Sir, they will remain until we come to some agreement respecting this Committee, which, I understand, the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London says he will agree to. It seems to me the only difference is that my hon. Colleague asks that the evidence shall be taken upon oath. I suppose the hon. Baronet will not object to that.


Not so far as I am concerned.


I hope before this debate is closed we shall have some declaration from some Member of the Government—possibly from the noble Lord the Member for Ealing—that the Government assents to this Committee. I will lay before the Committee these books, and they will form their own judgment with respect to them. But it seems to me that after the statements made by my hon. Friend, and the facts I have given, and the positive fact that I have these documents in my possession, some inquiry ought to be made into this abominable expenditure.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

said, that his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green would be only too pleased to accept the Committee which the hon. Baronet wished for. He was surprised that the City Corporation should from 1884 down to the present time have allowed accusations with regard to these bogus meetings to be made against it, and to have appeared in print, without attempting to disprove them. In 1884, a publication, with responsible men at its back, had made these charges as to the expenditure of City moneys in support of bogus societies. As secretary of the Islington branch of the Municipal Reform League, he had had some experience of what was done at meetings in 1883–4. One meeting held by the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Association at the Peacock Hotel, Islington, was of a most bogus character, while at one of the League gatherings they had to send for the police to remove roughs brought there from all parts of London to break up the meeting. He did not suppose that hon. Members from the country knew of the serious magnitude of this question; but there certainly was a very definite reason why it should be dealt with at that particular moment.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said, he wished to supplement the information given by his hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell). The gentleman to whom his hon. Friend referred, but whose name he did not give, was Mr. Stoneham, who was engaged in obtaining a Charter for Greenwich. As to him, it was said in the Press at the time that he received money from the City of London for the purpose. At that moment he was Chairman of the Coal and Wine Dues Committee; and he appeared not very long ago, in conjunction with the hon. Baronet the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board of Works (Sir James M'Garel-Hogg), as the head of a deputation to the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) on the subject of those dues. It was wished by the deputation to continue dues that were repugnant to the feelings of the great majority of the people of London.


Perhaps it will be just as well that this discussion should close. Therefore, I will state in half-a-dozen words what course Her Majesty's Government will be prepared to sanction. Serious charges have been made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. These charges have, so far as my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London is cognizant of them, been denied by him. [Cries of "No!"] At any rate, my hon. Friend intended to do so. I thought he had done so; but if his words were not, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, capable of that interpretation, he has since then given me authority to make that statement on his behalf. The Government will be ready to assent, if the House wishes it, to a full inquiry into this matter—an inquiry which will not confine itself to the operations of any one particular Association. With that statement I should be content to sit down if the senior Member for Northampton had not pointedly alluded to the fact that I was Chairman of an Association known as the Metropolitan Ratepayers' Protection Association. It was an Association which, no doubt, was a rival of the Municipal Reform League Association. The hon. Gentleman who opened this debate said he had a great objection to the manufacture of bogus public opinion. What constitutes bogus public opinion? A bogus agitation is an agitation which is conducted for the purpose of misrepresenting the opinions of those in whose midst the agitation is conducted, and of deluding Parliament as to what are the feelings of the people. The subject upon which this agitation took place was in reference to the municipal reform of the City of London. Now, there are 60 Members who represent Metropolitan constituencies, and 50 of those 60 hold my views and 10 hold the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The fact is that an agitation was carried on in many parts of London under the auspices of the Municipal Reform League which was absolutely misleading. It so misled the late Parliament that the late Prime Minister and the Home Secretary introduced a Bill which they believed was in accordance with the opinions of the majority of the people of the Metropolis; but the moment the Metropolis was appealed to, it rejected the Bill by an overwhelming majority. Never in my experience of Parliament—and I have had the experience of 20 years—has there ever been so successful an attempt to mislead the Imperial Parliament as to the opinion of a locality as was effected by the Municipal Reform League. The Metropolitan Ratepayers' Protection Association was an organization which was started for the purpose of enabling the other side of the question to be stated. That opinion, as hon. Gentlemen know, was stated with considerable energy at the last two Elections. Statements have been made that a considerable amount of money was spent in corruption. If such expenditure took place, those who indulged in it ought to be punished. But when the hon. Member for Northampton unguardedly said that he had certain books in a burglar's safe—


No; I said a burglar-proof safe.


When the hon. Gentleman made that statement it seemed to me an appropriate one, for I read a statement in the journal of which he is the editor, and which we may well know is called Truth, which indicated that the person who made these statements had either stolen or purloined the books. Therefore, I hope the House will not go away with the impression that statements made upon authority like this are reliable.


I can assure the noble Lord that the books were neither stolen nor purloined.


I may remind the noble Lord that I have pledged myself to prove the charges I have made before a Committee of Inquiry.


I stated that upon evidence which was afforded by the article in Truth these statements are not of a reliable character. No names, so far as I know, are given in support of the allegations which it contained. Therefore, the House must not be under the impression that if we assent to this inquiry we do so because we in any way believe these allegations to be well founded. They have been made publicly in the House, and the person against whom they are mainly directly has denied them. [Cries of "No!"] At any rate, he has challenged substantiation before a public Committee, or some body specially constituted for the purpose. The Government will acquiesce in a Motion for an Inquiry; but the Motion must be of such a nature as to enable those upon that Committee to go thoroughly and impartially into the whole circumstances of this agitation and the allegations which have been made.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

Mr. Speaker, I took no share, nor did my Friends who are near me, in promoting the discussion of this subject at the present time, because, although we perceived at once that the matter was one of the greatest importance, yet we did not feel satisfied that it was one which ought to be brought forward to the prejudice of all other important matters and the Business before the House. But my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) has stated his case to the House in a manner which I should have thought it was impossible to mistake. As I understand it, Sir—and if I am wrong I shall be corrected—my hon. Friend did not propose that there should be an inquiry into the whole proceedings by all persons who may have taken part in agitation on one side or the other with respect to promoting or opposing the passing of a particular measure. Of course, if we are to have an inquiry into the general proceedings it must be an inquiry into the proceedings of both sides; but the hon. Gentleman's proposal, if I understand it aright, has nothing to do with such an inquiry. As regards what is termed the manufacture of public opinion, a use of illegitimate argument might be deemed manufacture of public opinion, and probably each Party in this House might indulge rather largely in this belief—that the Party with which he does not agree is very much given to the manufacture of public opinion. That is an important subject, and it embraces, as it appears to me, almost all proceedings upon almost all questions by almost all parties in this country at almost all times. My hon. Friend proposed, if I understood him rightly, a perfectly definite matter; and so he was understood apparently, and I think indubitably, by the hon. Member who followed him. What I understand the Mover of this Motion for Adjournment to contend was this—that he had proofs in his possession, or he believed that it could be shown, that the public funds had been used by a public body for a purpose which was undeniably illegitimate and apparently corrupt. It is a misuse of trust by the greatest Municipal Corporation in the country; that is the matter now charged. I agree entirely with the noble Lord in the opinion that it is desirable that this discussion should cease; but I am bound to say I think it can only do so upon one perfectly distinct and definite understanding, and that is that Her Majesty's Government will assent to the appointment of a Committee to examine into the specific charges which have been brought by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and the hon. Member for Northampton against the Corporation of the City of London. If any charge amounting to corruption, if any charge involving the betrayal of a public trust, can be brought against the Ratepayers' Protection Association or the Municipal Reform League, by all means let such charge be included in this inquiry; but there is not the least reason to suppose from anything stated in this House during the present debate that such charges will be or can be brought. If my hon. Friend can prove his case it still would not be proved, as far as I can understand, against private persons—matter of which serious notice would probably be taken by this House, although on this subject I will not venture to give at the present moment a definite opinion. The question before us is the misuse and misappropriation of the public funds of a great Corporation. That which the House desires to know is whether Her Majesty's Government are disposed to assent to an inquiry with that object in view, and with a field so defined. I would venture to suggest to my hon. Friend that he should define in few and simple words what is the charge he makes, and against whom it is alleged, and then the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House will be in a position to judge whether he can or cannot assent to such an inquiry on the part of Her Majesty's Government. Sir, although I point to the Municipal Corporation of the City of London as an object of this charge, I entirely feel how exceedingly wrong it would be if we recognized at the present any fact more than that certain Members of this House have made certain allegations which appear to constitute a primâ facie case so as to require an answer. I will not assume that anyone is to blame; but considering the extreme gravity of the matters laid before us and their perfectly definite character it will be our duty to obtain an understanding before this discussion closes that this debate shall not evaporate in mere generalities, and that we shall, as becomes the character of this House, put matters in a train which will insure a thorough search into allegations of the gravest and most important nature.

THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

I will lose no time in replying to the challenge of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone). The Government will be perfectly prepared to adopt the course which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested; and if the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell) will place on the Paper the charges he makes and the Reference to the Committee which he desires to obtain, the Government will at once consider the proposal of the hon. Gentleman, and will indicate the course which they intend to take. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Gentlemen appear to suppose that there will be some hesitation on the part of the Government in securing a full and complete inquiry into allegations which affect the character of a great Corporation and of an hon. Friend of mine in this House. Sir, there will be no such hesitation; but in a matter of this kind, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian has said, it is only fitting that we should see the precise character of the charge to be brought and the Reference which it is proposed to be made to the Committee. There is one remark which I wish to make, and that is with reference to the constitution of the Committee. The hon. Baronet behind me has suggested that there should be on it a certain number of Gentlemen from both the Front Benches. It seems to me that in a matter of this kind, which involves grave allegations against an hon. Member of this House and against the Corporation of the City of London, the Committee should be nominated by the Committee of Selection, and that no Party elements should be permitted in the constitution of this Committee, which is a Committee intended to try a question judicially.

MR. LIONEL COHEN (Paddington, N.)

said, he must utterly repudiate, and he desired to challenge, the assertion of the hon. Gentleman the junior Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) that the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir Robert Fowler) could be specifically connected with a corrupt knowledge of the way in which the money had been spent. Such an assertion could not, by any possibility, be well founded. No man had more conspicuously received the confidence of the citizens of London than his hon. Friend, who might be well content to pitt his past life against the assertions of the hon. Member for Northampton.

DR. TANNER (Cork Co., Mid)

said, he would urge that the scope of the inquiry should be so enlarged as to include the proceedings of the Primrose League, as a body which, by corrupt practices and intimidation, worked in antagonism to the welfare of the country.

MR. T. P. O'CONNOR (Liverpool, Scotland)

said, he confessed that he was not quite satisfied with the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House (Mr. W. H. Smith), who had given a promise which was fair-sounding to the ear, but which, he thought, was dead in the spirit. What he wanted to know was whether the right hon. Gentleman would assent now—not at some future date—to the terms of a Motion calling for a Committee to inquire into certain definite and specific matters? He would say nothing whatever regarding the statement of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir Robert Fowler), for even his political opponents, as well as his supporters, must have felt considerable pain and humiliation at the spectacle which he presented to the House. But the noble Lord the Member for Ealing (Lord George Hamilton) had endeavoured to lead off the House on a red-herring trail. The question which the House had to decide was not merely the abuse of public funds by a public body, but definite charges against Members of the House. The noble Lord had been very eloquent about the action of hon. Members on that (the Opposition) side; but when a Member on that side sat with the cast-down look of conscious and trembling guilt, it would then be time enough for the noble Lord to use his tu quoque. No such charge had been brought, and the Leader of the House showed less sense than usual of the dignity of it when he tried to lead his followers away from the real charge.

MR. CAINE (Barrow-in-Furness)

said, he was desirous of offering a few remarks to the temporary absence of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Howell), who had gone out of the House to prepare the terms of the Motion which he intended to make presently. He desired also to protest against the action of the noble Lord the Member for Ealing (Lord George Hamilton). So far as he (Mr. Caine) was concerned he would resist to the uttermost any proposal to bring the Municipal Reform League into the inquiry. That League was an Association supported by private contributions; it had a treasurer and auditors, it published an annual balance-sheet, and against it, up to that moment, not a single word of blame had ever been uttered. The question before the House was an alleged misappropriation of public funds on the part of the Corporation of London. He knew that for some time past a huge conspiracy had existed against a certain class of meetings in the Metropolis, and was glad that that conspiracy had been tracked home. He did not understand the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir Robert Fowler) to contradict the charges which had been brought against him, but the charges against the Corporation remained uncontradicted. He trusted that his hon. Friend (Mr. Howell) would insist on the Reference to the Committee being confined simply and solely to the one issue.


said, that he had been at meetings which had been broken up by roughs. He contended that an organized system prevailed for the breaking up of meeting in opposi- tion to the Bill of the late Government, and that the Municipal Reform League was connected with it.

MR. O. V. MORGAN (Battersea)

said, he was not afraid of the inquiry taking a general scope. He would be glad if the inquiry included the affairs of the Municipal Reform League—with which he was connected—the Primrose League, and the Conservative Association in the City. He believed the present representation—or misrepresentation—of the Metropolis was due to the Conservative Association in the City. He would make a statement that would be borne out by the hon. Member for North Paddington, who had just spoken (Mr. Lionel Cohen). During the Election of 1885 a certain person was sent to a constituency, and that person had been for five years an uncertificated bankrupt. Charges had been made against this man by his own father-in-law of misappropriating Stocks. These facts were known to the governing body of the Conservative Association in the City, and yet they said they would go on with their man.

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

said, he thought the Committee should have power to inquire where the money came from to support certain Socialists and other candidates at the last Election?


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury would accept and agree with the terms of the proposed Reference, which he begged leave to submit, and which were— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon certain charges, brought under the notice of this House by Mr. Howell, Member for the North East Division of Bethnal Green, and Mr. Bradlaugh, Member for the Borough of Northampton, alleging improper use and malversation of public funds of the Corporation of London, by or with the consent of members and officials of such Corporation:—That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they do take evidence on oath:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records.


Mr. Speaker, I think that it is almost without precedent for a Member of the House to call upon the Government to say, during the short time he has been absent from the House, whether they will be prepared to accept a Motion the Notice of which has just been read. My own inclination would be to accept it; but I do not think it is reasonable that I should do so until I have seen this Notice in print, and thus I should be enabled to consider it, and to state the course which the Government would be prepared to take under the circumstances. In saying this, I am sure the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman opposite will not suppose that I wish to evade any responsibility, nor to lengthen the debate, or desire to postpone the question. I feel, however, that I have a responsible position here, and that I should not be justified in at once assenting to a verbal statement. Therefore, if the hon. Member will put his Notice on the Paper, I will give an answer on Thursday morning.


Perhaps I may be permitted to say—as I made an appeal to Her Majesty's Government—that I think the demand of the right hon. Gentleman is a fair demand. This is a serious charge—and as, on the one hand, my hon. Friend may see fit to amend the words of his Motion, so I think that, on the other hand, it is quite fair that the right hon. Gentleman should have an opportunity of considering—and carefully considering—the terms of Reference, in justice to all the parties concerned. I would, therefore, suggest that the Motion for the adjournment of the House should be withdrawn.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.