HC Deb 05 April 1892 vol 3 cc698-701

The Select Committee on Railway Servants (Hours of Labour) have agreed to the following Special Report:— Your Committee, having considered a letter dated 21st February, 1892, from Mr. Harford, General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, and printed in Appendix A., alleging that certain witnesses who had given evidence before them during the last Session of Parliament had been dismissed from their employment in consequence of the evidence they gave, and that other witnesses would be thereby deterred from giving evidence to your Committee, thought it their duty to inquire into the said allegations. Your Committee thereupon examined the following witnesses, who have been reduced or dismissed, namely, John Hood, Edward Kingstone, Alfred Thomas, and Henry Spink, and further took evidence upon the same subject from James Humphreys, John Conacher, Samuel Williamson, John Stokes, James Frederick Buckley, James Thompson, William Birt, John Henry Nettleship, Charles Alfred Randall, Mark Negus, and George Charles Taverner, whose evidence is appended to this Report.

Your Committee report:— (1.) That the aforesaid allegations in reference to the witnesses Edward King-stone, Alfred Thomas, and Henry Spink, were unfounded. (2.) That the witness John Hood was, by a resolution of the Directors of the Cambrian Railway Company, at a meeting held on the 6th day of August last, dismissed from the service of the Company, mainly in consequence of charges arising out of the evidence given by him before your Committee, and laid before the Directors by John Conacher, then manager of the said Railway; and further, that James Frederick Buckley, John William Maclure (a Member of this House), and William Bailey Hawkins, Directors of the said Company, and the said John Conacher, did, at a meeting at Crewe on the 30th September, 1891, held in consequence of an application by the said John Hood for the re-hearing of his case, at which the said John Hood was present, call him to account, and censure him for the evidence he gave before your Committee, in a manner calculated to deter other Railway Servants from giving evidence before your Committee. Your Committee have not deemed it to be part of their duty to express any opinion as to how far the conduct of the said John Hood and the irregularities disclosed by his evidence as well as the character of his evidence, were calculated properly to forfeit the confidence of the Directors of the Cambrian Company.

24th March, 1892."

Special Report considered.


It is now my duty, in accordance with precedent, to move— That Mr. John William Maclure do attend this House in his place on Thursday next, that Mr. James Frederick Buckley, Mr. William Bailey Hawkins, and Mr. John Conacher do attend this House upon Thursday next, at Three of the clock.

SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

I beg to be allowed to second the Motion.


As a question of Order, Mr. Speaker, I beg to suggest that we ought to take this Report into consideration and come to some decision upon it before we summon people to the Bar of this House, because they may well ask what they are summoned here for. It is an arbitrary and absolute power that we have, and I think we ought not to exercise it except against those who have committed a breach of the Privileges of this House; and although we have taken this Report, and it has been laid on the Table of the House, we have not affirmed the principle that these persons named in this Report have committed any breach of the Privileges of this House. I ask you, therefore, whether there is not a link in the chain wanting, and whether we ought not to take this Report into consideration, and go further, and say that So-and-So—the persons named—have committed a breach of the Privileges of this House; and after this we shall be in a proper position to summon them to the Bar of the House. I suppose this House can do anything; but I think it is, if I may use the expression, a strong order for this House to summon to the Bar three citizens who are not told what they have been guilty of.


The House is asked to act, I imagine, on the Special Report of the Committee who have specially inquired into the allegations which were made before them of intimidation of witnesses. These gentlemen are asked to appear at the Bar of this House in order to state anything they may have to say in their defence, or in mitigation or excuse. After hearing these gentlemen the House will decide whether what they have said is any mitigation or excuse of the offences charged against them, and will decide what action they think it right to take, and will instruct me accordingly.


I venture to call your attention to the fact that the Committee have not come to any decision on the point. The Committee have said that So-and-So have done certain things calculated to deter witnesses from giving evidence before the Committee. I say that this is not a breach of the Privileges of this House, because the Committee left it expressly to this House to affirm that principle; and I venture again respectfully to, ask you whether we are in Order in summoning to the Bar of this House persons of whom we have not said yet that they have committed a breach of the Privileges of this House?


The hon. Member will observe that the Committee have not decided that any breach of Privilege has been committed, but only that action has been taken by certain gentlemen which is calculated, in their opinion, to intimidate witnesses. It is upon that allegation that the House would like to hear the gentlemen who are referred to in the Report in order to know whether they can say anything in excuse or mitigation of the allegation which is charged against them. I do not think that any injustice can be done to any gentleman by asking them to attend at the Bar of this House.

Motion agreed to. Ordered, That John William Maclure do attend this House in his place upon Thursday next. Ordered, That Mr. James Frederick Buckley, Mr. William Bailey Hawkins, and Mr. John Conacher do attend this House upon Thursday next, at Three of the clock.—(Sir M. Hicks Beach.)