§ MR. MACNEILL (Donegal, S.)
I wish to renew my Motion of Tuesday, that the votes of three Members be disallowed in reference to the Grant in Aid of the Preliminary Survey from Mombasa to Lake Nyanza. The names of the three hon. Members are Sir Lewis Pelly, Mr. Burdett-Coutts, and Sir John Puleston. I explained on 641 the last occasion pretty well the grounds on which I make this Motion, and I do not think I should be at all justified in reiterating what I then said, because this is a matter which has attained considerable public interest; but I think I have justified myself in one respect from the accusations levelled against me by the First Lord of the Treasury that this matter had been decided before, and that I was pursuing a vexatious course in bringing it forward again. I stated to the right hon. Gentleman that, having looked through all the authorities, it is the reverse of fact that it has been decided against me, but that, in the cases which have occurred, the question has been decided absolutely in my favour. There are only two precedents bearing on this question—those of 1797 and 1664. It has been stated—I do not know on what authority—that the practice has been very much relaxed in later years in reference to this matter, and that, undoubtedly, Directors of Railway Companies have been allowed to vote. But, as I endeavoured to explain, the votes given by these Gentlemen are not votes given by them to obtain money out of the coffers of the House and put into the coffers of the Company they represent. Instances occur every day involving enormous outlay on the part of Railway Companies, but that outlay is not given by the House—it is given by the Company who compromise private rights in order to meet the outlay. It is no transaction between the Government and the Company—there is a distinct transaction in this case between the Government and the Company, whose Directors are represented in this House. And it seems to me to involve a breach of the trust which is reposed in Members of Parliament who ought to hold any public moneys, not for themselves, but for the people at large whose moneys they are. Again, it has been urged that, in contract cases, certain Members of Parliament have voted in matters in which they are interested. I believe both railway cases and contract cases arose in the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), a gentleman whom we all highly respect, and who would do nothing derogatory to 642 the position of the high-minded gentleman he is. But in all these contract cases there has been this distinction that the service was rendered to the public at large. But this is a private Company for doing things they would have been compelled according to the principle of their Charter to do, even if the grant had not been made. It must be recollected that in this case a very objectionable practice was instituted for the first time. The Government, while Parliament is still sitting, makes arrangements with the Directors that if certain moneys are advanced the moneys will be recouped by the next Session of Parliament. If these moneys had been advanced before, possibly there might have been opposition to it. But this contract is rather novel—it was made while Parliament was sitting, and not to be brought forward till the next Session of Parliament, when the thing had been completed, and when the Government had promised to get the money. Having regard to everything, having regard to the great interests entrusted to Members of Parliament, such a thing cannot be done; our votes must be above suspicion, and must not be tainted with the idea of personal interest. And on this simple ground, as a Member of this House, I move that these votes be disallowed, inasmuch as the hon. Members who gave them had a direct interest in the undertaking.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the votes of Sir Lewis Pelly, Mr. Burdett-Coutts, and Sir John Puleston, given on Friday the 4th of March in favour of the Grant in Aid of the Cost of a Preliminary Survey for a Railway from the Coast to Lake Victoria Nyanza, be disallowed."—(Mr. MacNeill.)
(3.50.) MR. J. LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
This is a matter which I think the Committee will be of opinion should be treated in a pre-eminently judicial spirit, and not in any Party spirit. The hon. Member (Mr. Mac Neill), who has brought the matter before us, has carefully avoided the introduction of any Party spirit in the matter. It is sometimes difficult to approach questions of this kind without some Party feeling. It might have happened that the Division was a close one, and that the 643 votes of the hon. Members whose names have been challenged might have had some effect upon it. And it might sometimes happen that the House, by expunging the name of a Member from a Division, might appear to cast some personal slur upon the Member whose vote is challenged. In this case we have, happily speaking, none of this. Whether the majority be 98 or 95 is absolutely immaterial, and fortunately we all know that the hon. Members whose votes are challenged appear on this occasion as shareholders in an undertaking which, without knowing anything of the details of it, I think I may say, partakes largely of a patriotic and philanthropic character, and they can in no shape or form be charged with unworthy motives. We all know perfectly well, as one of the Members concerned told us, he went into the Lobby without having given a thought to the matter from the point of view which has since been raised. Of course, when a vote of this kind is challenged, the Committee would be wrong if it were to regard the matter simply from the immediate surroundings of the case in point. £20,000 is a very small sum, relatively speaking, in the cost of a large undertaking, but the same principles would be involved if the Vote under consideration of the House had involved several millions. And, in the course which we may adopt, we must remember that we are laying down a precedent for our own guidance, and for that of future Parliaments, in which very different issues may be involved. As to this particular case, I think hon. Members may very naturally be permitted to take into account that as this matter was originally put before Parliament last Session, the grant which was proposed was one to be made to Her Majesty's Government to be by them expended on an undertaking of their own, entirely independent of the Directors or agents of the Company concerned. But, in consequence of the failure, during last Session, to bring this matter under the notice of Parliament a different course was adopted, and what I understand to have been done was that the Company undertook to do certain things, the Government giving a personal undertaking that they would do their 644 utmost to secure the subsequent consent of Parliament to reimburse the sum for which the Company were responsible. Therefore, the Vote which was before the House the other day was a proposal to vote a certain definite sum of public money to be paid to the Company concerned, of which these hon. Members were shareholders and-Directors. I draw no distinction between shareholders and directors as such. It may often happen that a shareholder who is not a Director may have a much larger pecuniary interest in the concern than even a Director himself. Unquestionably, the practice of the House has been to distinguish between an interest which is immediate and personal and one which is general and remote. A great deal has been said about precedents. I am not going to weary the House by going into precedents, beyond saying that almost all of them refer to a comparatively different state of affairs. There were the cases of Sir John Marjoribanks and Mr. Pascoe Grenfell, in the Leith Docks Bill and St. Katherine's Docks Bill, in 1825, and that of Sir Samuel Whalley, in the Grand Junction Railway Bill, in 1836, in all of which cases the votes were disallowed. In all the cases I know of, it was established that there was a direct personal connection of a Member with the scheme. If, for instance, a Bill was brought in which enabled leaseholders, who had bound themselves, by covenant, to pay the whole of the rates, to cast upon lessors burdens which they had covenanted to bear themselves, and the result of which would be to put money into the pocket of every Member who was a leaseholder, while inflicting pecuniary loss upon every Member who happened, to be a lessor—in such a case, in accordance with established usage, both lessors and lessees would be entitled to vote, because that would be what is termed by the recognised authorities a general and remote interest, for it would be an interest held in common with the community at large, and not an immediate and personal interest, as such is defined in the various precedents already referred to. There was the precedent referred to of the First Commissioner of Works. His vote 645 was challenged because, in addition to the important public duties he discharges, he also is a Director of one of our main railway lines. Well, it was laid down on that occasion that an application for statutory powers having been made by the Company to which the right hon. Gentleman belonged did not preclude him from taking part in a Division in this House, as the granting of statutory powers do not by any means involve a certainty of pecuniary profit, as, I fear, hon. Members have found to their cost that the boot is often upon the other leg. Parliament has on various occasions declined to disallow votes when the interest of the Member was simply that his Company were endeavouring to obtain statutory powers. This is quite a different case, this is a direct pecuniary Vote of the money of the taxpayers which is asked for actually to re-imburse the Company in which these gentlemen are shareholders for money they are out of pocket, and which would have remained out of their pockets if the Vote of the House had been the other way. That is a distinct immediate and personal object. I would cast no reflection whatever on those gentlemen who, from inadvertence, without having for a moment recollected the circumstances of the Vote, did take part in it. I in no way impugn their honour or question the course of action they adopted. They are hon. Gentlemen who deserve our respect, and the circumstances of the Vote in no way reflect upon their honour. We know that representative institutions elsewhere have afforded no protection against lobbying and log-rolling, with temptations which have been held out to Members of public bodies, and which I think you would not desire to introduce amongst ourselves. If we do err, either upon the side of laxity or undue strictness, I think it is desirable that any divergence from the actual necessity of the case should be rather on the side of strictness. On these grounds, I think the hon. Member has made out a fair case for these votes being disallowed. I hope it will be thoroughly understood that the House disallows these votes on the ground that they desire to lay 646 down a strict rule for the guidance of Parliament; and I would desire to protect this House from the slightest suspicion that in any possible circumstances could any reflection be cast upon those Gentlemen whose names have been mentioned.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR,) Manchester, E.
I think, Sir, this is not a question in which the Government, as a Government, desires to take part, because these matters have always been left by the Government under which they have arisen, and by the Speaker and Chairman of Committees, as the case might be, entirely to the decision of the House itself, and the House has always taken the matter into its own hands. I think, however, especially after the speech of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down, I should say a few words upon the principles which should guide the House in its decision on a matter of this kind. The hon. Gentleman who raised this question quoted, in defence of the course he asked the House to take, the analogy of Private Bill Committees, and pointed out that a member of a Private Bill Committee had to state in the most positive and explicit manner that he had no personal interest whatever in the matter on which the Committee had to come to a decision. But if the hon. Gentleman had borne, in mind the inference to be drawn from the second part of the declaration, he would see that the House does not attempt, and never has attempted, to put limits of the same stringency on Members of the House acting in their ordinary capacity as Members of the House, and not as members of a Private Bill Committee, because it is also laid down that no Member is to serve on a Private Bill Committee, or take any part in the decision of, or deliberation on, a Private Bill in which his constituency is interested. Now, Sir, that is not a principle imposed on the ordinary Members of Parliament, acting in their ordinary capacity, and it is directly contrary to the invariable practice, and, I would say, to our views of what the duties of Members of Parliament are. Our view of a Member of Parliament, dealing with ordinary questions 647 coming before the House, is that he is acting as the Representative of his constituency, and as such he gives his vote, even if it be a vote on a Bill, in accordance with the wishes of his constituency. Therefore, I would point out that whatever conclusion may be drawn from the Rules as laid down for Private Bill Committees, I do not think the inference which the hon. Gentleman has drawn can be properly deduced from that fact. Another point has been raised to which great, and, I think, undue importance has been attached in this matter. It was said that we were here dealing with a contribution from the public funds, and that the interest of three gentlemen being concerned in money voted by the taxpayers differentiated the action of my hon. Friends in giving their votes from the action of Members voting on Private Bills in which they have an undoubted pecuniary interest. I cannot follow the distinction. What we want to avoid, and what my right hon. Friend, desires to avoid, is that we should be guided in our votes on public affairs by private motives. That is the thing which the House has to guard against. Whether the private motive arises from money voted by the taxpayers or from the fact that legislation, as in the case mentioned by my right hon. Friend, involves some pecuniary advantage, it makes no difference at all. The source of the money is not the point in question, but whether the money affects the vote of the man who gives it, and I agree that we should do everything we can to avoid any suspicion of that kind attaching to the action of any of our Members. No suspicion of that kind attaches to my hon. Friends. The principle which has been laid down from the Chair, and which I think is embodied in most books on this subject, is that no man shall give a vote if his interest in it be of a direct personal kind, and that principle must evidently be interpreted by the particular occasions on which the House is called upon to apply it. Now, Sir, allusion has been made to a very recent case, when my right hon. Friend sitting on my right (Mr. Plunket) was concerned as a director of the North Western Railway in a Private Bill, and voted in favour of that Bill, and in 648 favour therefore of the Company of which he was a shareholder and director. How did my right hon. Friend deal with that case? He said no doubt it was a Private Bill promoted by a Company of which my right hon. Friend was a shareholder and director, but it did not follow that because the Railway Company got statutory privileges from Parliament they might get any pecuniary benefit from them, and that statutory advantages given by Parliament often led to very small pecuniary benefit to those who had them. It may very well be that this Mombasa Railway may injure the Company, but the point is, was there a direct motive applied to the will of my right hon. Friend when he gave the vote which he cast, which might prevent the impartial exercise of the duties with which he was entrusted as a member of that Committee by the House? I cannot conceive a more crucial case than this of the North Western Railway, because no great public interest was involved. The Railway Company desired power to improve their accommodation, it was a Private Bill, and if the House, after hearing all the circumstances, decided by an overwhelming majority that in that instance there was no such direct interest on the part of my right hon. Friend as would invalidate his vote or require us to expunge it, I fail utterly to understand on what principle we should come to a different conclusion in the case which is before us. It is to be observed that the pecuniary advantage to the Company is really not of a direct kind. The object for which this money was voted is a survey. Very likely that survey will only end in the expenditure of a large amount of money on the part of the Company; possibly not end in a railway at all; possibly, if it does end in a railway, it will not bring any benefit to the Company through whose territory it will be constructed. The pecuniary interest is obviously remote, but that is not the main point; the main point is, whether the public interests involved are of such a kind that a Member may give a vote on the subject even if he had a pecuniary interest in it. My right hon. Friend raised this point. He said a Bill might be brought 649 into this House which would transfer the burden of the rates from occupiers to freehold owners, in the result of which every single Member of this House who owned a ground-rent or freehold house would be pecuniarily interested, and it would be possible by calculation to show the exact amount of pounds, shillings, and pence which would be transferred. Yet nobody would pretend for a moment that a Member ought to be excluded from voting on a Bill of that kind. And why? Because the general interests are so great that you cannot exclude a Member of Parliament from dealing with those interests, even though it may affect his private interests. Is not that the case with regard to this railway; or, rather, I ought to say, with regard to this survey? We have never come before this House with the desire of bolstering up a private company. We have not supported it on the grounds put forward by the Company. As far as the survey is concerned, we are using the Company merely as our instrument. What we desire to attain by this survey and the railway, if constructed, are the very largest possible public objects; public objects dealt with by international agreements; public objects involving such great questions as the Slave Trade; and I confess if you are going to exclude hon. Gentlemen who may happen to have some pecuniary interest in them from giving their opinion upon matters of such great magnitude, I do not think you can logically stop there. I think you would have to examine the financial investments and pecuniary position of every man in the House before you allowed him to give a vote on the question at all. I think you would have to exclude Members whose constituencies were pecuniarily interested. For instance, there are constituencies in Lancashire who believe, and, I think, are right in believing, that the result of this railway would be to open up a route for British trade, and especially for their particular products, and, therefore, they desire that the general taxpayers of the country should be obliged to contribute in order to give an outlet to trade, which may benefit the manufactures in which they are interested. I think, if you are 650 going to press that doctrine to the extreme to which some people desire, we ought to follow the precedent set in Private Bill Committees, which excludes alike from a Division on a question the Member who is personally interested, and the Member whose constituency is interested. That is a course which the House would never think of adopting, and it is the one required to be adopted if the principle laid down for the Private Bill Committees were generally accepted. I entirely agree with what my right hon. Friend has said as to the dangers which have attached, and, perhaps, do attach, to democratic Governments and representative Assemblies. It is, unfortunately, the fact that many representative Assemblies and great communities and great nations have not been free from the suspicion of corruption and jobbery in the decisions they have come to; and my right hon. Friend says let us, as far as we can, preserve ourselves from the reproach of log-rolling, which has been rightly brought against other great representative Assemblies. But what is log-rolling? It is that I should vote for a measure in which I am not interested, in order to induce others to vote for a measure in which I am interested. No rule, however tightly you are going to draw it, would touch that kind of process; you cannot touch it by any legislation, however rigid your line. The principle of it is that the man who votes is not the man who is interested.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
That is a very crude form, and is usually called bribery and corruption. Log-rolling is a more refined species of the corrupt genus. But you will observe that it is not by rules of that kind that the honour and credit of this Assembly is to be kept up. One of the worst forms of Parliamentary corruption is that which induces a man to give a vote in order to further and forward some stock-jobbing operation in which he is concerned. You cannot touch that. That it is which would taint the high honour of such an Assembly as this, and you will not be able to avoid a vote of that kind by any rules your ingenuity may draw up. What we have to do is to foster as far 651 as we can a high sense of honour in all our deliberations, making it not only illegal but disgraceful for a man, on account of any profit or pecuniary interest alone, to give a vote in this House contrary to his opinion on any question of public policy whatever. No hon. Gentleman has suggested that my three hon. Friends were animated by any such motives; I am sure that is not suggested or believed by any man in this House. I would ask the House, therefore, in coming to a decision, to bear in mind that if you decide against votes of this kind you can hardly rest there, you will have to scrutinise with microscopic care the investments of every Member of the House, and so exclude from our Division Lobbies Gentlemen whose constituencies are pecuniarily interested in the result of the Division, and the result may be that you will not only be, for the first time in the history of Parliament, disallowing the vote of a Member on a Public Bill, but you will be creating a precedent which I am afraid will greatly embarrass our future proceedings on occasions of no less public importance than the present.
§ (4.17.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
I certainly do not intend to widen the field of this discussion by giving an opinion on the present occasion as to the comparative advantages of Democratic and non-Democratic Government. The upshot of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is that the House having adopted a rule—I do not speak now of the possibility of giving full effect to the rule—having for many generations recognised and sanctioned a rule that individual Members are not to vote on questions in which they are personally interested, I do not think I state the matter unfairly when I say the upshot of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman comes to this, that the Rule ought to be altogether abolished. I do not say that is the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman at all; I say it appeared to me to be the upshot of his speech. I did not perceive from what the right hon. Gentleman said that he in any way gave room for a practical application in any cases such as those which ordinarily occur of that rule to the particular 652 instances. He said if the Motion of my hon. Friend succeeded, it would be the first time in which such a vote had been given on the subject of a Public Bill. This is no question of a Public Bill, but a question of a vote in Committee of Supply. The right hon. Gentleman said, and here I agree with him, to a certain extent, that we are not to look to the source from which the money comes, but to the nature of the transaction itself. Now, Sir, I would put this: whether the consideration that this was a question of a Vote of public money ought not to be the vital and determining consideration which ought to stand in the place of every other? But this I must say: I think it has always been held that if ever there can be a distinction in the sacredness of the duty, in the obligation, to watch with the utmost jealousy the performance of this duty, so far as the House of Commons is concerned, the voting of public money is the first, the highest, the most essential of all its duties, and it is that with regard to which you are bound to apply the closest scrutiny and adopt the most rigid rules of action. I cannot consent to exclude from view the point that this was a Vote of public money. Now, Sir, I wish to go as far as I can with the right hon. Gentleman, and I will make this concession, that the obligation imposed on members of a Private Bill Committee is not unconditionally and absolutely applicable. Unquestionably there are considerations applicable to members of Private Bill Committees which cannot apply with the same stringency and force to Members when voting in this House. In the case of a member of a Private Bill Committee the individual vote is reckoned with a small number of other votes and carries with it, not indeed the final authority, still very great weight which is pleaded afterwards in the discussion in this House, and I take it that the illustration is one germane to the vote, but we cannot push it to an extreme, for we do not require the same declaration in votes of this House as in Private Bill Committees. I thought the case quoted by the right hon. Gentleman himself, of his right hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Dublin 653 University (Mr. Plunket), would assist us a good deal in the consideration of this matter. He said, It is true that the vote of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket) was allowed in the case of the Bill promoted by the North Western Company, of which the right hon. Gentleman was himself a director. I think that vote was, upon the whole, wisely and properly allowed. What was the purpose of that Bill? The North Western Company is engaged in a gigantic undertaking in which it endeavours, by affording advantages and facilities to the public, to earn profits for itself, and this Bill was an improvement and extension of the means by which it was to carry on that beneficial and extensive business. It is quite plain, I think, that if the interests of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) were concerned in that Bill in such a way that some infinitesimal fraction of profit might possibly accrue to himself, it was a profit immensely remote, a profit absolutely uncertain, and a profit which, if it were obtained, would be obtained in common with a body of shareholders—I know not how many, but I think probably numbered by hundreds of thousands. The right hon. Gentleman argues from that Bill that a case of this kind is covered, and why? Because here, also, the East Africa Company is engaged in an undertaking where it proposes to afford great public benefits, and, at the same time, to earn profits for itself.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I do not mean to make any assumption as to the state of the balance sheet of the East Africa Company, but I said it was analogous, strictly, so far, to the case of the North Western Company—that was an admission in the right hon. Gentleman's favour—in so far as the East Africa Company intends to give benefits, and in consideration of the benefits, or in connection with those benefits, to 654 earn money for itself. Now, supposing that the Bill on which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) voted had been not for enlarging that vast undertaking, with all the chances of loss or profit, supposing instead of that it had been for some particular work of the North Western Company, and for that particular work it had been proposed to vote money by Parliament, and not only so, but suppose that in respect of that particular work the Company had incurred liabilities, and the Division had been about refunding the money; that, Sir, was the character of the proposal. I think I have said enough to show that, whatever be the general merits of the case, the assumed analogy between it and the case of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Mr. Plunket) has no existence. Another general proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, in which I certainly agree, is that no rule of this kind can universally and certainly attain the great object which we have in view, namely, the absolute purity of action of Members of Parliament in questions in which they are interested. This rule must be more or less imperfect in practice, as it cannot be applied in a multitude of cases in which substantially it ought to be applied. Our reliance must mainly be upon the conscience of individual Members, and I think we shall all feel—there is no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will feel—that what is desired is that, in cases of this kind, we should pause and determine for ourselves whether we will vote or not vote, and we should always give the doubt against ourselves. That individual action of the mind is our greatest, and widest, and last security, and the question is, whether the total abandonment of the rule, which the right hon. Gentleman suggests should be our action in the present instance, is not the abandonment of a rule which is a just assertion by the House of a sound public principle; and whether, when on rare occasions a definite case comes before us, it would not be a safe rule to go by? I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I have not the smallest intention to impute reproach, great or small, direct or indirect upon him, who frankly and 655 ingenuously confessed that the idea had never occurred to him that he should not take part in the Division, or to the other two gentlemen who have not seen the necessity for making the same acknowledgment. The matter really depends in the main upon these two questions: Is the benefit conferred by the Vote concentrated on the persons themselves, or some combination of persons, or is it diffused over a very wide field? Second, is it a direct or an indirect benefit? Those are the points, I think, that were indicated by the right hon. Gentleman. How do they apply? It is not a benefit spread over a very wide field; it is concentrated in a very narrow field, in the narrow field of a limited number of gentlemen belonging, as Directors or shareholders, to the East Africa Company. Is it a question of benefit—direct or indirect? It is, direct in the highest and most immediate form. It was a proposal to re-imburse from the public funds outlay for which these gentlemen themselves were personally responsible, within what limits I do not know. Therefore, it appears to me, although I admit that the operation and application of a Rule of this kind must at all times be quite insufficient for the main purpose we have in view, yet it is contributory towards it; and if it be true that in a large number of cases we cannot trace the matter home and fix responsibility in the exact measure in which it ought to lie, I say that is an additional argument for tracing it home and asserting the Rule of the House in those comparatively few cases where the principles which ought to govern us are perfectly clear, and where their application to the case is entirely beyond dispute.
§ (4.34.) THE CHANCELLOE OF THE EXCHEQUEE (Mr. GOSCHEN,) St. George's, Hanover Square
My right hon. Friend (Mr. A. J. Balfour) desires me to say that the Government entirely adhere to the view suggested by the right hon. Gentleman that the Rule which exists must be maintained. The Government is as decided as the right hon. Gentleman opposite that it is undesirable to take any steps which would lessen the force of that Rule; but we do venture to think that, in its application, the very speech of the 656 right hon. Gentleman shows the extremely delicate ground upon which we are embarking. Hon. Members will perceive that the right hon. Gentleman bases the application of the rule upon the diffusion of the benefit which is to be derived, and not on the nature of the purpose to which the Vote generally is to be applied. I am anxious not to press the point of the right hon. Gentleman too far; but we may fairly gather from it that in a small Company hon. Members who are shareholders ought not to vote, because it would clearly benefit them; whereas, in the case of the North Western Railway, where there is a vast number of shareholders, the benefit is so indirect and diffused that the vote might fairly be allowed. Is not that a difference that might lead us to embark upon very great difficulties in many cases? Is the share list to be examined in order to see what degree of pecuniary benefit would be derived by any hon. Member who may give his vote? The right hon. Gentleman has referred specially to the case of the North Western Railway, and he thought in that case it was right to allow the vote.
§ MR. GOSCHEN
Yes; it was right to allow the vote on the whole because of the nature of the enterprise. But that enterprise was limited, so far as the shareholders were concerned, distinctly and solely to pecuniary benefit. Are we to draw a distinction between the benefits derived from a railway in one country and the benefits derived from a railway in another country? I think hon. Members will agree that such a distinction cannot be drawn. It is too fine a distinction to draw, and I cannot but feel that in the case of the North Western Railway there were more motives why the vote should be disallowed, because the benefit was more direct than in the present case, where the advantage is more indirect and where very large questions of policy are opened up. If the House is anxious to deal with this case in the same spirit which actuated it in the instance of the North Western Railway, I think this is a case in which the same course should be followed. In 657 taking that view the Government are as strongly of opinion as anyone on the opposite side of the House, that it is desirable in every possible way to maintain the view that every individual Member who gives a vote should consider whether he would derive any pecuniary benefit by that vote, or whether he would by voting at all infringe upon the general principles which govern the conduct of Members of this Mouse.
§ (4.37.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I desire to support the Motion. Although I raised the question on Friday last, previous to the Vote being taken, I should not have thought it necessary to say anything now if I had not gathered, both from the speech of the Leader of the House and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that they are going to oppose the Motion made by my hon. Friend. I hoped that they would have followed the advice of the Member for Thanet. I think we ought to thank the hon. Member for South Donegal for the trouble he has taken in hunting up all these precedents. All I desire to say now is, if we have not yet precedents enough in this matter, we ought to make them. (Interruption.) I do not know why hon. Gentlemen should make this noise; whether they are afraid of the question being discussed or not I do not know. To my mind they are disturbing the Debate on a most important question, and I trust that, if necessary, to-day we shall make a precedent that in future will guide this House. I will not intervene longer with the Committee, but I am exceedingly glad that this question has been raised.
§ (4.40.) Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 154; Noes 149.—(Div. List, No. 29.)