HC Deb 19 May 1896 vol 40 cc1684-7

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Colonies, if he will be good enough to state what precedents the Government have followed in proposing to refer the investigation into the conduct of the British South Africa Company to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament?


The form of the Inquiry which the Government proposes to institute has not yet finally been decided, and, as I stated in my speech on the Address, must greatly depend on the nature and scope of the investigation. If it should be an Inquiry into the past administration of the Chartered Company, and the desirability of continuing to intrust it with the large powers it still possesses, with power to make recommendations for the future government of its territories, a Parliamentary Committee would appear to be best suited for the purpose. If, on the other hand a judicial Inquiry into the raid and the circumstances connected with it is all that is desired, there would be some evident advantages in a statutory Commission. Assuming, however, that a Parliamentary Committee were decided upon, it appears that Joint Committees of both Houses of Parliament were frequently appointed before 1695, but were intermitted between that date and 1864. The last Joint Committee previous to the intermission was appointed pursuant to an Act of Parliament for the indemnifying a Sir Thomas Cooke from actions for his discoveries in relation to the East India Company, and all the previous Joint Committees arose out of the great civil war or out of impeachments. During the interval between 1695 and 1864 inquiries were held into the affairs of the East India Company by Committees of the Lords and Commons sitting separately on the same subject and communicating by Resolutions. Such Committees sat with reference to the charters granted to the Company in, 1814, 1834, and 1854—for by the constitution of the Company its charters were only granted for 20 years, so that the occasion for Inquiry arose automatically, and not as the result of exceptional events. This method of procedure was not a very convenient one, and in 1864, Parliament reverted to the plan of Joint Committees, which have frequently sat since that date, and have dealt with such questions as railways and tramways, electric lighting, submarine communication between England and France, private Bill legislation, statute law revision, merchant shipping, etc. On March 16, 1886, it was proposed to appoint a Joint Committee to inquire into the government of India and the Acts relating to the same. The Lords appointed 16 Members, but the Motion to join was opposed in the Commons by the late Lord Randolph Churchill, who objected to the numbers as too large. The General Election took place immediately afterwards, and the matter was not proceeded with.


asked if he might call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to an exact parallel which existed for having a Select Committee of the House of Commons alone to investigate this Charter—namely, on April 12, 1772, a Committee of 31 Members of the House of Commons exclusively was appointed to inquire into the affairs of the Chartered East India Company, and, amongst other things, to inquire into the arbitrary conduct of the Company's servants, and there was no Joint Committee with the House of Lords.


If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to inquire into that perhaps he will put a notice on the Paper, but apparently the affairs of the East India Company were recognised as interesting to both Houses. For the reasons, however, which I have given, and under the circumstances I have stated, those inquiries were conducted for a certain period by Committees of both Houses, sitting separately, who communicated the results of their separate deliberations by means of Resolutions, as I have stated. That is a very inconvenient way—["hear, hear!"]—of recognising the joint interests of both Houses, and therefore, if a new Inquiry is to be instituted in which both Houses are interested, I think we had better fall back on the precedent of 1886 and appoint a Joint Committee.


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if we may take it from his statement that there is no recent precedent of a Joint Committee being appointed for such an Inquiry as the Government proposes to make?


No, Sir; I think there is no exact precedent.

MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

Did I understand my right hon. Friend to refer to Joint Committees in relation to impeachments? As impeachment is a process instituted by the Commons before the Lords, I have a difficulty in understanding how there could be a Joint Committee connected with it.


I am not quite certain whether I heard my right hon. Friend, but I imagine that he referred to something in my answer which was to the effect that previous Joint Committees—that is to say, the Joint Committees previous to the year 1695—arose out of the great civil war or out of impeachments.


If a Joint Committee is appointed, will it inquire into the whole question of this charter and other charters?


Order, order! That hardly arises out of this Question, and the hon. Member must give notice of it.