HC Deb 20 May 1887 vol 315 cc647-50

Order for Third Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Dodds.)

MR. COX (Clare, E.)

I do not rise for the purpose of offering any opposition to the third reading of the Bill. I did not do so yesterday, and all that I wish now is to direct the attention of the hon. Baronet the Member for South St. Pancras (Sir Julian Goldsmid) and the House to certain grave charges and serious imputations which have been made upon his character as Chairman of a Committee of this House, with which I was associated, in dealing with the Bill now before the House. I will not detain the House for many minutes; but it will be necessary for me to state, shortly, how these charges came to be made. This Bill, when it was before the Committee, was opposed by the Limerick and Waterford Railway Company, of which Mr. Spaight is Chairman, and the statements of which I complain are contained in a speech made by that gentleman at a meeting of the Limerick Harbour Board, over which he presided, and in a letter which Mr. Spaight wrote on the 9th of May. The importance of these accusations consists in the fact that Mr. Spaight occupies a very important position in the City of Limerick. As I have said, he is not only Chairman of the Limerick Harbour Board, but also Chairman of the Limerick and Waterford Railway Company, who opposed the Midland Great Western of Ireland Railway Bill. Speaking at Limerick, Mr. Spaight said— Mr. Grierson, manager of the Great Western Railway, gave important evidence; but he was not listened to. The Chairman, Sir Julian Goldsmid, absolutely turned aside, put his arms over the back of his chair, and affected to go to sleep. From the very commencement of the inquiry the Chairman seemed to have made up his mind on the question. He knew from the start that they had no chance owing to the apparent bias of the Chairman. Speaking of the evidence, Mr. Spaight characterized it as laughable and absurd; but said that it seemed to have considerable weight with the Committee, or rather with the Chairman, who appeared to be the Committee. Later on he said— It was the duty of Limerick men to make some final effort to get themselves heard before the House of Lords' Committee, where they would get a fair and impartial hearing; implying, in so many words, that they had not received an impartial hearing at the hands of the Committee presided over by the hon. Baronet, and thereby casting a serious reflection upon the hon. Baronet and the Committee. I will now read an extract from a letter written on the 9th instant by Mr. Spaight to The Daily Express, containing more serious charges against the character of the hon. Baronet— We complain," says Mr. Spaight, "that the Chairman of the Committee held and expressed such a strong feeling in favour of the promoters and against the Petitioners from the opening of the case, that everyone who listened 'to the proceedings was quite satisfied, from the first day, what the decision would be. Our opponents will, I think, admit that such was the general impression, thereby imputing that the hon. Baronet had made up his mind as a partizan of the Midland Company. Now, I was an opponent of Mr. Spaight on that occasion; but his evidence was attentively listened to. It is not for me to defend the character of the hon. Baronet; but, having attended the Committee, I am decidedly of opinion that the hon. Baronet's conduct was fair and impartial. He gave, I think, a very fair and a very attentive hearing to the whole case. In submitting the case to the House, I do not propose to suggest any particular line of action. I have considered it my duty, as my attention has been directed to the subject, to bring it before the House. I think it is a great hardship and a serious matter that any Committee of this House should be liable or open to an attack by the promoters or the opponents of any Bill that may come before the House simply because they have happened to be unsuccessful. I do not propose to make any Motion on the matter; but, having brought the question under the attention of the House and the hon. Baronet, I will leave the House to deal with it as it thinks best.


Copies of the letters written by the gentleman referred to were sent to me from time to time; but I thought they were very little worthy of notice, and that the best plan I and the Committee could adopt was to ignore them altogether. The gentleman who wrote them was formerly a Member of this House, and, therefore, knows something of the duties of the House. I myself have served as Chairman of many Committees; but I have never maintained that Committees are infallible. I am free to admit that they sometimes make mistakes, and, as far as I am concerned, I may sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong. In this case, however, I con- sider that the Committee arrived at a right decision. This gentleman, Mr. Spaight, has no ground of complaint whatever. It so happened that he attacked personally several witnesses who came before the Committee on account of the evidence he gave, and it became my duty as Chairman to call him repeatedly to Order. I think he did not like it, and the result is that he has amused himself by writing these letters. Under these circumstances, as far as the Committee is concerned, I do not think it necessary to take any further notice of the matter.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

I wish to ask you, Sir, whether—as this question has been raised, and the House is not asked to come to a decision upon it on the ground that it is scarcely of sufficient importance—whether you think it is proper or right that persons examined either in support of or against a Private Bill should, after the inquiry was over, go away and make at public meetings, or in the newspapers, attacks upon the conduct or character of the Gentlemen who have been sitting on the Committee? I understand that Members serving on a Private Bill Committee have the same right to the protection of the House as they have when discharging their duty in the House itself, and that, under such circumstances, an attack made upon the Members of a Private Bill Committee is equivalent to an attack made upon the House itself.


In substance the view of the hon. Member is perfectly correct. An attack made upon the Members of a Committee is equivalent to an attack made upon the House itself. No witness has a right to go away from a Committee Room and then impugn the character of the Gentlemen who compose the Committee. The hon. Member for Clare (Mr. Cox) was good enough to show me the grounds of his complaint before bringing it under the notice of the House. I think he was undoubtedly right in bringing it under the attention of the House, and having done that I am of opinion that the charges are of such a nature that I think the House may well take no further notice of the matter.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.