§ (THIRD VOTE ON ACCOUNT.)
That a further sum, not exceeding £3,583,150, be granted to Her Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1895."—[See page 1273.]
§ Resolution read a second time.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)
called attention to the case of Mr. W. Leek, who had recently been appointed an Inspector of Metalliferous Mines in the County of Cumberland. So far as he had been able to gather from the Home Secretary at question time that afternoon, it appeared that no qualifications were at present laid down for candidates for such appointments. But he observed from a Paper issued by the Home Office that three necessary qualifications were very properly laid down in the cases of Inspectors of Coal Mines. First, the candidate, within five years of the time of his appointment, must have been employed for two years under ground; second, he must satisfy the Civil Service Commissioners that he possesses certain necessary qualifications; and third, he must be over 23 and less than 35 years of age. If those conditions were necessary in the case of an Inspector of Coal Mines, he could not conceive why they should not be applied to the case of an Inspector of Metalliferous Mines. Mr. William Leck, however, did not satisfy a single one of those three requirements. He had no experience whatever of coal mines; he did not even possess a second-class certificate, and yet he might be called upon to supervise the work of first-class certificated managers of mines under the Coal Mines Regulation Act of 1887. It appeared from Section 39, Sub-section 4 of that Act, that this gentleman, although appointed as an Inspector of Metalliferous Mines, and although he did not possess a single one of the qualifications laid down by the Home Office in the case of an Inspector 1448 of Coal Mines, might be called upon to act as an Inspector of Coal Mines.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
said, that although an arrangement had been come to by the Home Secretary with Mr. Leck that Mr. Leck should not inspect coal mines, that understanding could not be binding on the successor of the right hon. Gentleman in the Home Office; and therefore this anomalous state of things was possible—that a gentleman who had been appointed an Inspector of Metalliferous Mines might at a future time be called upon to inspect coal mines, although he did not possess a single one of the qualifications required by the Home Office. Mr. Leck had not satisfied the Civil Service Commissioners of his fitness for the post, because he had passed no examination, nor was it intended that he should submit to any examination in the future. Besides, Mr. Leck was over the prescribed age, being 40.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
said, that was over the age prescribed, which was 35. He had shown that Mr. Leck had none of the necessary qualifications, and he would now point out Mr. Leek's disqualifications. It appeared that Mr. Leek had been employed as an under-manager in an iron mine belonging to the hon. Member for West Cumberland, and he was also Secretary of the Cleator Moor Liberal Association. In November, 1888, unfortunately an accident took place in the mine, and the coroner's jury added to their verdict words reflecting on three persons, of whom Mr. Leck was one, by declaring that there had been "great but not criminal neglect" on the part of those three officials of the mine. Therefore, so far from Mr. Leck being qualified to act as an Inspector of Coal Mines, he had recorded against him the pronouncement of a jury of his countrymen that he had been guilty of great, though not criminal, neglect in his duties. They did not wish him to be prosecuted. They found there was no criminal neglect. Soon after the inquest Mr. Leck left the service of the hon. Member for West Cumberland—which was not a matter of much surprise—and since then up to the present time, as he (Mr. Lowther) was informed, he had not since been employed in any mine. He (Mr. Lowther) did not think Mr. Leck could be employed as 1449 a manager or under-manager, as he did not hold the necessary certificates. Until May this year his employment had been that which he had combined with the under managership of the hon. Member's mine—namely, Secretary to the Cleator Moor Liberal Association. Mr. Leck in that capacity assisted very largely in bringing about the return of the hon. Member for West Cumberland. Not only did he assist the hon. Member as a Party worker, but he was actually employed by him as one of his sub-agents at the last election, and so valuable were his services that the hon. Member rewarded him with a fee as large as that which he had paid to his election agent—namely, £100, and to this day might be seen in the election expenses returned by the hon. Member for West Cumberland the item of £100 paid to this gentleman. And this was not all that fell into the mouth of this fortunate gentleman. In May of this year the postmastership of Cleator Moor fell vacant, and Mr. Leck was appointed by the hon. Member for West Cumberland, and it was from that humble position he had been chosen as an Inspector of Metalliferous Mines. It was a great pity that an appointment such as this should have been conferred upon a man who had distinguished himself, above all others, in promoting the interests of one political Party.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
said, he accepted the statement at once. If the right hon. Gentleman said he was not aware of the great part Mr. Leck had played during the last few years in Cumberland politics, all he could say was he must have been very badly informed by those who represented that particular part of the country. If he had asked the hon. Baronet below the Gangway (Sir W. Lawson) he would have told him that he knew Mr. Leck as a thorough-going Party man. There could be little doubt that it was at the instigation of the hon. Member for West Cumberland and others of that political faith that Mr. Leck had been fortunate enough 1450 to secure this appointment. He had read in the chief Radical organ of the constituency a passage which he thought very instructive. It said—At the request of the working men, Mr. Ainsworth took up the question of getting such an appointment made shortly after the last General Election, and during all the time that has elapsed he has never wearied in his efforts to comply with the request of the working men. Even when he was ill and confined to his house, as we have good reason for knowing, he kept pegging away at his task of convincing the Home Secretary of the wisdom of the course that ought to be adopted. Although Mr. Ainsworth's illness has prevented him from making a big score in the Division Lobby, all those connected with the iron industry know-well how earnestly Mr. Ainsworth has worked with this object, which I am glad to learn is now completely successful, much to Mr. Ainsworth's credit.He was sure they all regretted very much the long absence of the hon. Member for West Cumberland from the House in consequence of illness, but he must say that their regret was a little tempered when they found that even on a bed of sickness he was trying to work what in Cumberland was regarded as a political job. He (Mr. J. W. Lowther) had thought it right to bring this case before the House of Commons. He had also thought it his duty last January, when he heard that it was possible that this gentleman might be appointed, to communicate with the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and he had laid certain facts before him, some of which he had detailed to the House. Other facts which he had mentioned had only come to his knowledge since that period. But when, last January, he heard that the right hon. Gentleman was contemplating the appointment he warned him that it would not be favourably received in Cumberland, and laid certain facts before him as to the verdict of the jury. He was afraid he had not a copy of the letter, but if the right hon. Gentleman had the letter by him he should not object to its being read. He considered it a very important fact that there should be selected for the post of Inspector of Mines a man who was found by a jury of his countrymen to have been guilty of gross but not criminal neglect in the management of a mine. He thought that pretty serious. Subsequent to that other facts had come to his knowledge as to this appointment, so that he had thought it right to bring the 1451 matter before the House. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he knew nothing whatever of the politics of this man was surprising, but he did not blame the right hon. Gentleman as much as he blamed his colleagues in his representation of the county. The right hon. Gentleman had taken six months to consider whether he would appoint this gentleman, and, therefore, he must have had considerable doubt in his own mind. It was not desirable that such an appointment should be given to a man, however deserving he might be, who had taken so active a part in political organisation. In the delicate work which he would have to perform as Inspector of Mines questions would arise—were certain to arise—in which political animus would be introduced, and it would be very difficult for an Inspector to maintain that judicial and impartial attitude in dealing with such matters if he had formerly been a strong political partisan in the county in which he was nominated to serve.
§ MR. J. WILSON (Durham, Mid)
said, that he wished to say a few words in order to remove a false impression which appeared to be in the mind of the hon. Member for Penrith. The hon. Gentleman had not dealt with the appointment of Mr. Leck from the point of view of fitness or ability to fill the office of Inspector, but from the point of view of politics, throwing discredit on the appointment because Mr. Leck had acted as a political agent. Therefore, it was necessary that one who knew the history of the appointment should state what the facts were. The hon. Member had said that Mr. Ainsworth, the Member for West Cumberland, had brought forward Mr. Leck's claims. That was not exactly correct. He (Mr. Wilson) had himself brought the claims of Mr. Leek not only before the present Home Secretary, but before his predecessor. He did so for two or three reasons. Cleator Moor was somewhat far from North Durham and South Northumberland, and he and his friends had therefore considered that the area was too large for the then staff of Inspectors, and that it would be an advantage if they could get a new district formed comprising the metalliferous mines of Cumberland. In the second place, they thought that a man proficient in the technicalities of metalliferous mines would be the best man to inspect those 1452 mines. And, in the third place, they thought that in Mr. Leck they had a man well qualified to fill the office. As far back as five years ago he recommended Mr. Leck for the appoinment. He did so not from any knowledge of the political bias of Mr. Leck's mind, but because he was urged to do so by the workmen of the district. It might not be within the knowledge of all hon. Members that there had been two or three deputations of workmen who brought the claims of Mr. Leck before the Home Secretary, and those deputations had been supplemented by others from the employers, who themselves believed that Mr. Leck was a properly qualified person to fill the office. Despite these facts the hon. Member had dealt with the appointment from a political standpoint. With the exception of a slight reference to a mishap which occurred to a mine in the district over which Mr. Leck had been placed, the whole of the argument was addressed to the fact that Mr. Leck had been a political agent for the hon. Member for the Egremont Division of Cumberland. So far as he (Mr. Wilson) was concerned, he did not know, when he recommended Mr. Leck, whether he was a Liberal or a Conservative. He was bound, however, on this subject to remark that he did not see that it mattered what politics a man might profess, provided he was sufficiently well qualified to fill the post for which he was required. Mines belonged to Conservatives as well as to Liberals, and it ought not to be supposed that because a man was qualifying for any prospective post that he might have open to him, he should not, apart from this, have the right to take part in politics on any side that he pleased. With regard to Mr. Leck, he was confident that if the present Home Secretary were in office for 20 or 30 years to come, he would never be able to appoint a fitter man for the place. And he was confident also that the right hon. Gentleman would never be able to appoint a man who had so large a consensus of approval behind him as Mr. Leck had, both from employers and workmen.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I am not sorry that the hon. Gentleman has seen fit to take this, perhaps, not very convenient opportunity of raising this question, which certainly might more fitly have been 1453 taken on the general discussion on the Estimates. He has levelled against me one of the most serious accusations which could possibly be made in this House against a Minister of the Crown.
§ MR. ASQUITH
He has said that I deliberately appointed to a position of great responsibility a person not competent to discharge the duties, because he happened to be a supporter of the political Party to which I myself belong. That is the charge which the hon. Gentleman made, and it is a charge which I am glad to have the opportunity of meeting, contradicting, and refuting at the earliest possible moment.
MR. J. W. LOWTHER
I must interrupt the right hon. Gentleman. I made no such charge at all. I simply stated the facts, and said that it was very regrettable that the right hon. Gentleman should have been placed in such a delicate position. I accepted the right hon. Gentleman's statement at once when he said that he did not know that Mr. Leck had been employed politically.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I am glad to hear it. But certainly the inference which I drew, and which no doubt the House drew from the language, which the hon. Member used was, that this gentleman would not have been appointed unless the judgment of those responsible for the appointment had been swayed by political considerations. If I misunderstood, or in any way misrepresented the hon. Gentleman in drawing this conclusion, I readily apologise. Now that the question has been raised, I may say that since I have been in Office a great deal of patronage has had to be bestowed, and I certainly feel that no more invidious, and indeed, distasteful, duty than the making of appointments to places of this kind has fallen on me. But I have never appointed any person to any place within my control for political considerations, direct or indirect. Only the other day when I had to make an appointment to that which was the most important place in my disposal—the Assistant Under Secretaryship in my own Office—I appointed a gentleman whom I knew to be strongly opposed to my own political opinions, because I believed him to be the fittest man to discharge the duties of the office. I do not really think that any hon. Member 1454 would believe that I gave any place to any man, passing over a fit man for an unfit man, because he belonged to the Liberal Party. Putting this aside, I must candidly say, since I had given the strongest possible denial to the suggestion that I have had Mr. Leck's political opinions in view—that having looked this afternoon through a number of letters and other documents received by me, some nearly two years ago, in relation, to this matter, I have found a casual statement in one of the letters that this gentleman was a supporter of or active worker on behalf of the Liberal Party in his district. I can assure the House that this statement had entirely dropped out of my mind, and I had no idea of anything of the sort when the appointment was made. I wish to say, unhesitatingly, that in all the patronage which I have had to dispose of, I have never had such a remarkable combination of opinion from opposite quarters as in the case of this gentleman. Very shortly after I came into Office, I received a deputation from the Miners of the Cumberland and the North Lancashire district, who strongly urged on me the appointment of an additional Inspector for that district, and they recommended Mr. Leck as the man which commanded the confidence of the miners of the whole of the locality. This was the first I heard of the matter. Some time elapsed, and when I had the advantage of going into the matter I arrived at the conclusion that the staff of Mining Inspectors did need strengthening. I then proceeded to consider what were the conditions under which Metalliferous Mines Inspectors had before been appointed. I followed in this case the precedent set by every one of my successors. [An Irish MEMBER: Predecessors.] Yes, predecessors. I am glad that it is a Member from the Sister Isle who has corrected me. There is not, so far as I know, a single case of a Metalliferous Mines Inspector who has not been appointed under precisely the same conditions as Mr. Leck and the two gentlemen who were appointed at the same time for North Wales. The appointment of Inspectors of Metalliferous Mines has always been treated by successive Secretaries of State for the Home Department, and by the Treasury, as coming under the 4th sec- 1455 tion of the Superannuation Act, 1859. The powers of that section both exempt the candidate from limitations as to age which are exacted in the case of Coal Mines Inspectors, and from the passing of the qualifying examination. There are quite a number of cases in which the Treasury and the Secretary of State have acted on that view. I have laid the whole of the facts before the Treasury, and stated that in my opinion it would not be desirable, having regard to the peculiar conditions of the iron mines and quarries, to take only men who have passed the coal mines examination, and who must have spent two years underground in coal mines, and that I thought that I had found men who were qualified by special experience for this particular kind of work. There was, therefore, nothing exceptional in the appointments. Some reference has been made to the provisions of the Coal Mines Act of 1887. But the 39th section of that Act, which has been referred to by the hon. Member, does not mean that the Secretary of State should be debarred from appointing as a Metallierous Mines Inspector any person unless he is a Coal Mines Inspector, but that if the Inspector is sufficiently qualified he may be required to act either in the one capacity or the other. There were a large number of applications for the appointment, but I can unhesitatingly say that there was no one who had anything like the support Mr. Leck had. The whole of the local Mining Associations passed resolutions and forwarded them to me, asserting that Mr. Leck was the man who possessed their confidence in the largest degree. A Memorial was signed by no less than 14 of the largest mine-owners in this district in favour of Mr. Leck, the output from their mines ranging from no less than 500,000 to 20,000 tons. The hon. Member for West Cumberland also urged his claims. I also had a conversation with the hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr: Burt), than whom there is no man more qualified to pronounce an opinion and less open to suspicion, and he took the same view as did the hon. Member for Mid Durham who has just addressed the House. I have never had experience of the claims of a candidate for an office having so large a consensus of opinion of workmen and employers in the trade. There was one dissentient voice, that of 1456 the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment. The hon. Gentleman wrote a letter nearly a year ago in which he said that if it was proposed that Mr. Leck should be appointed he desired to make some representations on the subject. I wrote to the hon. Gentleman and asked him to state what he knew against Mr. Leck. The two allegations made against Mr. Leck by the hon. Gentleman were, first, the verdict of the Coroner's Jury in the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, and next the fact that Mr. Leck did not possess a certificate. There is not a syllable in the documents sent by him to me warning me that Mr. Leck was a political partisan, or that his application had been promoted by persons of my Party. I remained as ignorant after the letter as I was before that Mr. Leck belonged to my political Party. There is one fact to which I attached great importance, and that is the verdict of the Coroner's Jury. I paused for a long time in the face of that verdict in giving this gentleman the place I have given him. I thought the mere fact that such a verdict had been recorded was a strong argument against his appointment. But I examined the case most carefully, and I will tell the House what it amounted to. It amounted to this: that a fire broke out in the Cleator Ore Mine in 1887. There were two pits, No. 9 and No. 6. The fire broke out in No. 6. Mr. Addison was the general manager and Mr. Leck was the manager, and a person of the name of Crawford was the overseer. When the fire was discovered it was not disputed that Mr. Leck and Mr. Addison not only used energy but displayed something approaching to heroism in their attempts to extinguish it and prevent it spreading. These efforts were successful as regarded No. 6 shaft. What happened was this. Addison, the general manager, was weak, and injured by his exertions. Leek, the manager, was also injured by his exertions; and Crawford, the other man, whose duty it would have been to warn the men not to descend the other, or No. 9, shaft, was disabled by his exertions, and under these conditions, there being some misunderstanding as to whether Leck or Addison ought to have told Crawford that it was his duty to warn the men the accident happened. I do not think I can say that a man in that state of physical and mental depression 1457 having failed to give an order, which it is admitted somebody else might have given, ought to be disqualified from discharging duties which everybody in his district agreed he was thoroughly qualified to discharge.
§ An hon. MEMBER: What about his age?
§ MR. ASQUITH
There is no qualification about the age of Metalliferous Inspectors. There is nothing to prevent me appointing a man who is 60 years of age, but I agree that it is desirable as far as possible to follow the analogy of the Rules laid down in reference to the Coal Act. There the maximum age is 35, and this man was, I was told, 37, which I do not think a disqualification under all the circumstances. There is one consideration which I think was at the bottom of this Motion. Mr. Leck was a workman.
§ An hon. MEMBER: A postman.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I know nothing about that. The greater part of his life had been spent in mining underground, and he gradually attained by industry and energy the position of manager. After being manager for five or six years he carried on mining operations for a short time on his own account. These operations were not successful. This was a new departure. [Cries of "No!"] Yes, this was a new departure to appoint workmen to Metalliferous Mine Inspectorships. He could not help thinking that a good deal of the feeling which had been caused by this particular appointment was due to the fact that they had gone out of the ordinary run and had taken a man from the ranks. He was satisfied that Mr. Leck had the confidence both of employers and employed, and that he would discharge his duty with efficiency and despatch.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)
regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had degraded the discussion to the lowest depths of Parliamentary partisanship by the totally unjustified insinuations he had made in the concluding part of his speech. The example had been set to the right hon. Gentleman by his Conservative predecessors to appoint workingmen Inspectors of Mines and Factories.
§ MR. STUART-WORTLEY
said, the right hon. Gentleman founded himself on 1458 a frail distinction. It was true that working men were not appointed to Inspectorships of Metalliferous Mines. Why? They were appointed when they were qualified to make the inspections. The two Inspectors appointed to districts containing only Metalliferous Mines had hitherto been men of high scientific qualifications like Professor Foster and the late Sir Warington Smyth. Was the right hon. Gentleman going to compare men like Mr. Leck with these men? He asserted that the appointment of Mr. Leck was a new departure to which attention ought to be drawn. He could not think that the fact that a man was recommended by all the Trades Unions in the districts and some of the employers was a recommendation. An Inspector armed with rights of entry and with power (should he have the inclination) to discriminate between one employer and another should not feel that he owed his appointment to those to whom he was to stand in such a delicate position. That was contrary to public policy and a thing which the right hon. Gentleman ought to give more attention to. The right hon. Gentleman said it was pressed upon him that this new district wanted creating, but this proposal to create a new district came repeatedly accompanied by a recommendation to appoint a particular personage, and the requirements of the district ought to be heavily discounted in view of this most improper proposal to usurp patronage which did not belong to them, and which they ought not to have. Let the last part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman be forgotten, but while accepting his repudiation of being influenced by a political motive, it is well that attention had been brought to that case. Whether it be right or wrong to create these new districts or class of Inspectors, I wish that the first example of the creation had been of a less objectionable kind.
§ MR. LEGH (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)
said, that the innocence displayed by Mr. Asquith was positively refreshing, seeing the history of Mr. Leck and the fact that the persons who recommended him were supporters of the Government. Out of the testimonials from millowners, the only Conservative expressed the opinion that Mr. Leck was not a suitable person for the appointment. They naturally accepted the 1459 assurances of the right hon. Gentleman, but he thought they might legitimately complain that his inquiries were not pushed a little further into this matter. He was convinced that there would be a widely disseminated opinion that one of the qualifications for an Inspector of Mines were that he should be a partisan of one political Party. It was unfortunate that such an impression should have been created, and especially that it should be due to the action of the Government, which claimed to have done more for the working man than any Government of recent times. He thought his hon. Friend was well advised to bring his question before the House, and if he went to a Division he would support him.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, that in the appointment of Inspectors of Mines the principal object to secure was the safety of the miners, and the only consideration which should have weight was, that the man proposed to be appointed was the best qualified man to fulfill that condition. The principle ought to be laid down that no one should be called on to act as an Inspector of Mines who had not the minimum knowledge of mines required for those whose operations he was called on to inspect. The question was left in an unsatisfactory condition when it was said that Inspectors might be appointed without having given evidence of knowledge of these subjects, but simply on the opinion of their fitness expressed by workmen and employers. In the case of one of the candidates the applicant had been told that he was not eligible for the reason that he was over 40 years of age.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
Yes. The right hon. Gentleman would not be surprised if this man and his friends held the view that favoritism had been displayed, seeing that the candidate appointed was over 35 years of age.
§ MR. ASQUITH
I do not think any such intimation was made to the candidates; but I will make inquiries into the matter.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)
said, he had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Penrith, and it had appeared to him not only a plausible but a powerful indictment of Mr. Leek. He had discounted in his own mind all arguments founded on political partisanship—though 1460 he thought that politics had a great deal too much to do with nominations of this kind. If a vote had been taken on the question simply on the statement made in regard to Mr. Leek's non-examination and want of qualification he (Mr. Burns) would have been found in the Lobby with the hon. Member. But they had heard the other side of the case, and though the Home Secretary had not altogether exonerated his Office from blame he had shown that under a certain section of the Metalliferous Mines Act the candidates might be exempted from undergoing examination.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
Yes; the Treasury. It did seem to him that the time had arrived when an irresponsible body like the Treasury, which was an irresponsible body never brought into contact with miners, should have the power taken away from it of dealing with these appointments, and that the power should be vested in the Home Office. The hon. Member for Penrith had based his charge on the ground that Mr. Leek was not qualified and had proved his contention, he (Mr. J. Burns) should have had pleasure in seconding his Motion; but, unfortunately for the hon. Member, he had not been able to sustain his charge. It had been shown that this man had been a mining engineer and, subsequently, the manager of a mine. That would indicate that he was qualified for an Inspector ship of Mines. They had gathered from the Home Secretary that this person had only recently come under his view; but they had heard from other hon. Members that for the past six or seven years there had been a strong attempt, not only on the part of Members of Parliament; but on the part of miners and mine-owners, to get Mr. Leek appointed. He deprecated these attempts on the part of Members of Parliament in regard to Factory as well as Mine Inspectorships. Although Mr. Leek's conduct had been censured by the Coroner's Court, an examination of the facts considerably palliated that conduct. The Home Secretary said the appointment had been made because strong recommendations came from all quarters, and because Mr. Leek was such an excellent man, so popular and so well qualified. If it was the case 1461 that this man was strongly recommended, that he was popular and well qualified, why not subject him to the ordinary mining examination. One of his qualifications wag that he was a working man, but there was no particular virtue in being a working man. A man ought to be in possession of other qualifications than that of being a working man for a post of this kind. There was only one safeguard against political partisanship in such appointments, and it was to be found in a thoroughly sound system whereby all men were put through the mill of an examination which proved their qualifications. He sincerely hoped that the Home Secretary would bear this discussion in mind, and would systematically put into the waste-paper basket the hundreds of letters he received from Members of the House of Commons asking him to speak in favor of Tom, Dick, or Harry who was a candidate for the post of Factory Inspector or of some other appointment. He trusted also that the right hon. Gentleman would try and induce the Postmaster General (Mr. A. Morley) to put an end to the jobbery in regard to Postmasterships in which Members on both sides of the House indulged to an extent that in his opinion was most discreditable, and that resulted in frequently causing one man to be appointed rather than another for purely political considerations.