HC Deb 14 February 1899 vol 66 cc971-92

Another amendment proposed, at the end of the Question, to add the words,— And we humbly represent to Your Majesty that 25 out of the 44 Ministers of the Crown who constitute Your Majesty's present Administration hold among them no fewer than 41 directorships in public companies, and that we consider the position of a public company director to be incompatible with the position of a Minister of the Crown, and that the union of such offices is calculated to lower the dignity of public life.


Mr. Speaker, I would ask the House to turn from the consideration of the sanitary condition of Calcutta to the consideration of the moral condition of the House of Commons. My object in raising this Amendment is to try and do an honest man's part in endeavouring to prevent the Treasury Bench from being made a roost for the decoy ducks of fraudulent finance. I want to make the position of the Front Bench as a "front pager" impossible. I would suggest that my right honourable Friend the new Leader of the Opposition should go to the country with one cry, and one cry only, "Down with the 'guinea pigs.'" Now, Sir, I am, of course, confining this Motion simply to the incompatibility of a Minister of the Crown being a director and a company promoter. I would, first of all, say, and say very briefly, how incompatible the position of a director and a company promoter is to that of a Member of Parliament, but this incompatibility is intensified tenfold when the Member is a Minister of the Crown. Now, Sir, we all know what the guinea pig nuisance in the House of Commons is. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Member for West Monmouth (Sir William Harcourt), and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer have both condemned it. The Member for West Monmouth said in this House, in 1891—and this is all-important, be cause the right honourable Gentleman spoke before Jabez Balfour adorned these Benches—that in his opinion the position of membership of this House was often greatly abused and used for the purpose of advertisement, adding— I do not, however, wish to … make any imputation against anyone who may happen to be a Member of this House, and who may happen, in the regular course of his life, to be a director; I think that, under the circumstances, no one can condemn him; but what I do condemn is the use of the membership of this House to advance the interests of directors of companies. Now, Sir, I shall go from that to a speech of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a speech we all remember, for other reasons, delivered at Swansea on the 17th of January of last year, he said— He was afraid there were few Members in the Gilded Chamber—what that is I do not, know—who were not in favour of what were known as guinea pigs. He did not deny that individuals of the same kind might be found in the House of Commons. Now, Sir, I will proceed to another eminent man, not so eminent as the two I have mentioned, but a Gentleman on the other side of the House, whose testimony in reference to this I only saw in a Dublin paper this evening. The honourable and learned Member for East Dublin (Dr. Rentoul) has been interviewed lately, and this is what he is reported to have said— I would forbid Members of Parliament to have anything to do with the promotion or direction of public companies. It is not good for the House of Commons that it should be worm-eaten with company promoters and directors. Now I come to the action of a Member of Parliament who uses his Parliamentary position in the interests of his company or its other directors. No matter how high honourable Members' mansions in May-fair may be, if I were a betting man I would bet that every room in them could be papered with the prospectuses sent out in a period of six months on which the magic letters "M.P." appeared on the front page. There has been a slump in these prospectuses since the Hooley revelations, as I imagine company promoters are at a discount at present. My contention is that if it is wrong for a private Member to advertise his position in Parliament it is infinitely worse for a Cabinet Minister to utilise his Parliamentary position for the pur- pose of company promotion or in the interests of a company in which he is concerned. In 1896 there was, as honourable Gentlemen are aware, a Select Committee appointed to investigate how far a Member of Parliament could even vote in the House in reference to matters in which he was personally interested. The rule of Parliament is that an honourable Gentleman is not permitted to vote in any matter in which he has a pecuniary interest of a personal kind, or of such a nature that it might interfere with public legislation, or be hardly distinguishable from the public interest. That is briefly the rule, but I wish to state to the Committee that it ought to be extended. The following Amendment was only lost by a majority of one, and as I happened to be a member of the Committee I know that two honourable Gentlemen would have voted for it if they had not been prevented by uncontrollable circumstances from attending. The Amendment was as follows— Your Committee think it desirable that the position and votes of Members who are directors or shareholders in companies affected by private Bills should be regarded more strictly than has been the case in late years. Such instances as those of directors or shareholders who have undertaken to represent their companies in conducting Bills through the House appear to come within the spirit, if not the letter, of the rule. Question put. 'That this paragraph be inserted in the Re-port.' Ayes 5: Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man, Mr. Courtney, Mr. Haldane, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. MacNeill. Noes 6; Mr. Bonsor Sir William Hart Dyke, Mr. Halsey, Mr. Grant Lawson, Mr. Solicitor-General, Mr. Woodhouse. Now, I wish to show how the director element prevailed in that Division. There was only one director among the five Ayes, my right honourable Friend the Member for Bodmin, and he had only one directorship, but the other six gentlemen had 16 directorships between them. As my honourable and learned Friends on both sides of the House are taking an interest in the matter let me state how tremendously and shamefully different is the voting in this House, when we have not only a judicial but a personal interest, from justice as administered in the meanest Petty Sessions Court. Why, Sir, a judge who would decide a case in which he was knowingly implicated would be hustled off the bench; and it is a remarkable thing that in 1852 a judgment of the Lord Chancellor was reversed in the House of Lords by Lord Campbell because Lord Cottenham, having an infinitesimal interest as a shareholder gave a decision. Lord Campbell said— No one can suppose that Lord Cottenham could be in the remotest degree influenced by the interest he had in this concern, but, my Lords, it is of the last importance that the maxim that no man should be judge in his own case should be held sacred. And that is not to be confined to a cause in which he is a party, but applies to a cause in which he has an interest. Since I have had the honour to be Chief Justice of the Court of Queens Bench we have again and again set aside proceedings in inferior tribunals because an individual who had an interest in the cause took a part in the decision. And it will have a most sanitary influence on these tribunals when it is known that this High Court of last resort, in a case in which the Lord Chancellor of England had an interest considered that his decree was on that account a decree not according to law, and was set aside. I hope we will act up to this principle in this High Court of Parliament. I now come to the position of a Member of the Government as a director, and my contention is that, however objectionable it may be for a private Member of Parliament to be a director or a company promoter, the position of a member of the Administration as such is ten times; worse. First of all, if a Motion in which a member of the Ministry has a direct personal pecuniary interest is assailed, the whole company of Ministers troop out into the lobby to support him at his request, just as if they were soldiers on parade. Take, for example, the instance which occurred last March, when I impugned the vote of one of the Ministers. We heard to-night an interesting speech about Ministerial power. Fancy a Minister with direct influence in the Cabinet proposing a grant out of public money for a company in which he was interested! It is inconceivable.


It is not.


The honourable Gentleman does not know history. It is supposed that a Minister is only a Minister in his own ampit, and in his own department, but everyone knows that the Cabinet and the Ministry act as a harmonious whole, and therefore it is perfectly possible for a grant to be made by one Minister for a company in which another is interested, and that possibility can only be removed by having no directors in the Ministry at all. It is another curious thing that if these gentlemen act as Cabinet Ministers, or Ministers of departments, and at the same time do justice as directors to their companies, they must be the most hard-worked and miserable of living creatures. But my contention is that they do not attend to their duties as directors. I now and again look at the reports of company proceedings, partly for amusement and partly for the pained interest they give me, but I have never found in any report of any meeting, however stormy, that a Cabinet Minister or a Minister of the Crown had been impugned for non-attendance. It is obvious that he was not wanted to attend at all—his name was enough. That is the meaning of it. I shall be happy to pay the First Lord of the Treasury a compliment in return for the one he paid me. The right honourable Gentleman's compliment was not a serious one, but I am intently in earnest. I ask the First Lord not to reply to me in this matter, because he is the most ignorant man in this House on the subject of companies. He said some time ago that he was a mere child in these matters, and I would advise him to take to heart the words of the phophet Jeremiah in which he said, "Oh, Lord, I cannot speak, for I am a child!" I do ask, then, for the right honourable Gentleman not to speak on these matters. Perhaps I should not have introduced this subject at all, because the Amendment is a very serious one, and I only mention this by way of personal explanation. I can recall, Sir, a man whom we all greatly admired—the late Mr. Mundella: I can recall that scene when he spoke from the last seat just behind the Treasury Bench. That was the most touching scene I ever saw: the dear old man, who had won a magnificent position, and Mho then became the victim of misfortune, from which no one is exempt. On that occasion he indicated his personal character, but how much better it would have been for him if he had never been a Cabinet Minister and a company director at the same time! Mr. Mundella said this, and it is no exaggeration when I say that I can hear his tones, and I can almost see him now if I close my eyes—I mean that I can see him in imagination. Mr. Mundella said this on the 24th of May, 1894— I think that the public have a right to be sure that there is not the slightest suspicion of conflict between personal and public consideration. I say, with great respect, that that absolutely applies to the quarter of a century of company directors holding office in the present Government, and that, therefore, their positions are not free from blame. Now, these observations are strictly impersonal, and will continue to be impersonal, but I am bound to ask this question. Is there not an appreciative danger that the Treasury Bench will in due course of time become a sty for guinea-pigs? That is a typical question to ask, but at the same time I will endeavour to guide the House. I say that it is a well-known fact that Minister after Minister of the Crown has been in former times expelled from this House for corruption. One Minister of the Crown has been, during the present century the subject of a searching examination, from which he did not escape; and within the Parliamentary memory of the Father of this House, the right honourable Gentleman the Member for Oxford, a gentleman was expelled from the Treasury Bench for company finance and for fraud. That was the notorious John Sadleir. I looked into a biographical dictionary a day or two ago to see how they would describe John Sadleir, and the first line I saw was "John Sadleir, Swindler and Politician." Well, Sir, we want the swindler to be separated from the politician. I will not trouble the House with a list of John Sadleir's directorates, but, just to show what a respectable man he was, I may say that he was Chairman of the London Joint Stock Banking Company from 1848 to a few days before his death. But now I am in a difficulty, because if I ask for a list of the various Ministers who are directors of companies, and of the various companies that they represent, I should not be given a list. I see the First Lord of the Admiralty is not here. Well, in 1891 the right honourable Gentleman who is now the First Lord of the Admiralty was leading the House in the temporary absence, through illness and sub- sequent death, which we all deplored, of Mr. W. H. Smith, and he was asked by a Member to give a list of the members of the Government who were company directors, and of the companies whish those gentlemen directed, and this is the reply he got— The honourable Gentleman is probably aware that there are means of information within his reach which would show what directorships are held by any particular persons in which the names of the directors are given. Then he proceeded on strong Imperial principles— I do not think it would be right— you can imagine the way in which he said it— that the Government should have recourse to what might be looked upon as an invidious return. I have been under the laborious and painful duty of making that invidious return myself, and I have got it here. Now, here is, under broad and general terms, how the matter now stands. There are no fewer than 19 members of the present Cabinet, which is the largest that ever existed, and therefore the wisest one, and of those 19 gentlemen (their benevolence extends beyond the reach of mere public details, they work to do good in commercial undertakings) there are 11 company directors, and they are divided pretty well between the Lords and the Commons. Five Lords divide eight directorships amongst them, and of these one Peer heads the list with three directorships. That is Lord Balfour of Burleigh. Now, leaving the Cabinet Ministers, and coming to the budding Ministers—that is to say, Under Secretaries and gentlemen of that description—there are 25 of them, and of those 25, 15 do pretty well, for they hold 24 directorships amongst them. Now, Sir, I think I can show exactly how matters stand in reference to directorships affecting the performance of public duties. I see here the President of the Board of Trade, whose answer we all recollect in a case between directors and working men of one of the railways. This answer was, of course, to the effect that the directors were right, and that, equally of course, the workmen ought not to have done as they did do. The right honourable Gentleman is not a director of a railway company; he has got directorships on his own account, and it may be said that he had no interest whatever in a question affecting railways; but my answer to that is that he has 10 colleagues who are railway directors, and that, under those circumstances, when you have 10 railway directors in a Government, it is impossible to ask for, and certainly impossible, to get, real railway reform. Now there is another Gentleman, and I will deal with him very gently, because he is in another place—that is, Lord Selborne. I am more anxious to deal with him gently for this reason, that he in 1893 brought charges of wholesale corruption against the Irish Members, charges which he had in this House to apologise for. What do I find? I find that Lord Selborne is a, director of a company which he ought not to be a director of as Minister of the Crown; he is a director of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. That company is in constant privity with the Crown, and Lord Selborne must take judicial notice of that fact. He is not only Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, but he is a close relative of the Prime Minister. ["Oh! oh!"] Oh, very well, honourable Gentlemen who are angry at these observations will console themselves with the thought that there are four quarter days in the year. I again repeat that, having regard to his position as Under Secretary for the Colonies, and having regard to the relations which exist between him and the Prime Minister—perfectly legitimate relations—he has no right to be a director of such a company as the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company. Now I come to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The right honourable Gentleman was, as we all know, Under Secretary of State for War. When he was in that position he was a three-barrelled director, and one of the companies of which he was a director was a submarine telegraph company, but since he has become Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs he has been reduced in the ranks of directors—the submarine telegraph company he has given up. In regard to the Foreign Office and telegraphs, I think I may say that it would be better if a Minister of the Crown who is con- nected with the Foreign Office were not a director of such a company. Then comes the Attorney-General, and this gives me an opportunity of saying something pleasant. The Attorney-General is a director of the Law Life Assurance Society, and I believe that is a directorship which has been held by his predecessors in office as a matter of course. That is quite right and proper. I may, however, suggest to the Administration that after they have deprived the right honourable Gentleman of the privilege of practising at the Bar in order to confine himself to his work as Attorney-General, they might follow the example and deprive themselves of their directorships whilst Ministers of the Crown. I will just read one example more, and I think it will now be right that we should go to Scotland, because the Scotch are proverbially fond of the Saxon—I will take the case of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and the Lord Advocate. They divide six directorships between them, and those are largely bank directorships, and they might very well sing that glorious duet, "I know a bank." What I do say is this, that I do not think it right for the Chief Secretary of State for Scotland and for the chief law officer of the Crown to be directors of the Bank of Scotland itself—a bank that must certainly be brought into contact again and again in litigation with the Crown. If I am wrong the House will correct me, and the public too; but, in my opinion, this is quite inconsistent. I will say this much, that this list is remarkable not only for what it contains, but for what it does not contain. I find that two right honourable Gentlemen who, of all others, from family associations, from commercial training, and from business capacity, ought to have, been directors are not directors, namely, the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the First Lord of the Admiralty. They are conspicuous in this list by their absence. And why is that? Because they know, as business men, that the position of a Minister of the Crown and of a public director are utterly and wholly incompatible. It is no more possible to be a company director and a Cabinet Minister, and to do your duty in both, than it is possible to serve God and Mammon. I have the Chief Secretary for Ireland on the list also, but I will spare him. I must thank the House, before sitting down, for the kindness with which it has listened to me. You, Sir, sometimes in the exercise of your high office are bound to call men to order for unkind and disagreeable observations in respect to the Judicial Bench, but you have no right, and if you had I do not think you would exercise it, to call Members to order for expressing gratitude to one of the highest Members of the Judicial Bench for his conduct in this matter. The nation owes a deep debt of gratitude to Lord Russell of Killowen for what he has said in this respect. I could, if I had liked, have said many unpleasant things about Ministers and public companies, but I do not choose to do so. I have simply stated what I have had to state on general lines. If in so doing I have given offence to any Gentlemen, I ask them to forgive me, but I would use the same arguments and make the same charges again if I considered it necessary to do so, because my wish is, if I can, to save from pain the poor and the defenceless. I wish, if I can, to spare from financial shocks some of the most defenceless and some of the most gullible members of the community—the poor clergyman, and the poor, unmarried, elderly woman, who are deceived by promises of 20 per cent, interest on their capital, and put it into these concerns, instead of being content with 2½ per cent. in "Goschens." I also wish to spare those innumerable people who are deceived, demoralised, and defrauded by this state of wholesale corruption, and the first step in this direction will be—and I shall bring it forward again and again—to weed out from the Treasury Bench all the company directors that sit there, and the foul associations with which the name of company director is inevitably associated. I beg, Sir, to move.

* MR. BIRRELL () Fife, W.

Anybody who attempts to follow my honourable and learned Friend the Member for Donegal naturally places himself at a great disadvantage. Panting Time toils after him in vain, and I shall detain the House but for a very few moments indeed. In spite of the laughter which this subject has given rise to, I think on both sides of the House there is a very strong feeling that this is an exceedingly grave question. The general estimation in which both Houses of Parliament are held by the country at large is one of the most valuable of all our national assets, and anything which endangers it and exposes it to vulgar and, it may be, absurd criticism is a thing which is to be deprecated, and which we should do all we can to avoid, or give even the occasion for offence to the weakest brethren. I do not share all the opinions which have been expressed by my honourable Friend, I do not believe for a moment that any of the companies of which right honourable Gentlemen on the Front Bench are directors are at all likely to rob the tender infant or the elderly lady in the way his somewhat too fervid fancy depicted. There are companies of that sort with which we are only too familiar in the records of the newspapers, but I do not think it is desirable, or in the interests of the Amendment which my honourable Friend has at heart, that he should seek to associate the kind of business which right, honourable Gentlemen do, as directors of companies, with affairs of that sort, and we have nothing to go upon which would in any way justify such an association. But, Sir, having no experience in these matters beyond the observations I have been able to give the subject in this House, I am thoroughly persuaded that the duties of a Minister of the Crown, who is also a devoted servant of the public, will occupy all his time and place a tax even upon his understanding. Now, the understandings of Ministers vary. Like the intelligence of the lower animals, they differ in degree. My experience is that the more marked the intelligence of the Minister, the more devoted he is to the office which he holds, the less time and also the less inclination he has to spread himself over commercial affairs and undertakings. I believe that the duties of a Minister of the Crown absorb his time and put a heavy tax upon his understanding. I am very sorry not to see the right honourable Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies in his place this evening, for I should have been glad to hear him express an opinion upon the subject, for, I confess, I would take his opinion sooner than I would take that of almost anybody else in this House. The right honourable Gentleman has been at the head of a great business; he has been the Mayor of a great city, and he has also filled responsible offices under the Crown. I should like to ask him whether, when he was the governing head of a great business, he could have devoted himself to the municipal affairs of Birmingham; or whether, when he was Mayor of Birmingham, he could have discharged properly his duties at the Board of Trade and the Colonies, in which, as a man of business and a Minister, he has excelled. I should like to ask him what his conception of the labours attaching to those high offices is, and whether he could have discharged them in the way he has done if he devoted himself carefully to private trading concerns. I feel sure he would say that the two things are incompatible. My contention is that either these Ministers of the Crown do their duty to these public companies, or they do not. If they do, then they cannot do their duty to Queen and country, and if they do their duty to Queen and country, they must of necessity neglect their duty to their shareholders, who, at all events, think them worth paying for. In any case it is pessimi exempli, and ought not to be allowed to continue. Mr. Gladstone took that view, and I want to know why Lord Salisbury does not. Mr. Gladstone had large experience of public affairs, and he had a large experience of business affairs. He was the last man in the world to speak lightly of business duties or of business obligations; he was the last man to spare himself in any public office which he held, and knowing and appreciating the duties appertaining to public offices and to business obligations, he came to the conclusion that in his Ministry those persons who sat with him as colleagues should give up their private trading concerns. I want to know what has happened since his time to render a change of opinion—a difference of opinion—a contrary view—to be considered as properly held by the Prime Minister at the present time. There is no reason whatever. It is not simply whether a Minister of the Crown has time to spare, or whether he can, in the plenitude of his ability, devote some of his leisure to trade concerns. The ques- tion is, Is it or is it not the right thing to do? There is also another question we are bound to consider, and that is whether it is desirable, in the interests of the country, that public men should place themselves in a position where, at all events, it is possible that their public and private interests should collide. I have very little doubt that, if and when they do collide, the private interests would give way to the public interests; but here we have to deal with the general belief of the outside public, and of an investing public, which certainly does not appear to me to be the most sensible portion; and there are a great many persons who, when invited to invest money in debentures or shares of companies in which they see names of Ministers of the Crown, are disposed, vulgarly, to say, "Oh, it is always a good thing to have a friend at court; he will look after our interests; contracts will turn up, in the giving away of which he will have a hand; it is a good thing, and I am quite satisfied." Of course really it would be a bad thing for the company that there should be a Minister of the Crown sitting upon the directorate. But I am not so concerned with that as I am with the general voice, the general opinion, of the outside world in matters of this kind. I say, therefore, for these two reasons, that I think the rule laid down by Mr. Gladstone was a wise and a proper rule; and if ever there was a time when people should be anxious to avoid even the suspicion of corruption in this House among the general body of Members, or of the Front Benches, this is the time. We all hear remarks, things which we do not believe people are running about huckstering and trafficking in stocks and shares: fortunes are made in a few minutes; a great many things are done which ought to be left undone, and a great many things are said which I hope are untrue. I rejoice to think that we have in power men with clean hands, and names which are above suspicion. I recognise that as fully as it is possible for anybody to do. At the same time, corruption is a most terrible word to be used in a country governed as ours is governed—by the representatives of the people. It is a word so terrible and so serious that I think we should strive in every available way to lock every possible door and erect every barrier that we can against this the common enemy of all democratic institutions. I do not desire to mix myself up with personal attacks or imputations. I believe it is quite possible for Gentlemen opposite to be directors of insurance companies without giving up very much of their time to the discharge of their duties, and certainly with perfect consistency to their own honour. I nevertheless think they would do well to submit to this self-denying ordinance, and to impose upon themselves, while they fulfil the honourable office of Ministers of the Crown, the sacrifice of renouncing directorships of trade concerns. Therefore I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion.


I shall detain the House but a very short time, because I do not think it is necessary to go at any length into this question. We have had two speeches—one amusing, as is always the case from the honourable Member for Donegal, and the other serious—but I will venture to say that both were inconclusive, because the speech of the honourable Member for Donegal was based on the most extraordinary, and, if I may say so, with due respect to him, ridiculous conception of the great majority of public companies, and the speech of the honourable Member for Fife was based upon ignorance of the undertakings in which alone the principal Members of Her Majesty's Government are engaged. The honourable Member for Donegal was good enough to commence his observations with the statement of his respect for myself, for which I thank him. Having done that, he then proceeded to describe himself and my colleagues on this bench as "roosting here like the decoy-ducks of finance;" and he continued to speak about us as connected with— fraudulent finance, engaged in advertising and promoting companies, and log rolling by way of obtaining grants to companies.


I must really correct the right honourable Gentleman; he must not take my character away in that manner. What I said was that I wanted to prevent any possibility of such a state of things arising on the Treasury Bench. I did not impute or think of corruption in connection with any honourable Gentleman.


The honourable Member distinctly mentioned the name of the Earl of Selborne as a director of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and drew plainly the inference that Lord Selborne's position would count in the making of any contract by the Government with that company. I certainly wish to take nothing that the honourable Gentleman says in an offensive spirit. I know very well that he often allows his tongue to outrun his argument, and says a good deal in this House which he really does not mean; but, really, before he suggests charges of this kind, he ought to have some little evidence of the truth of those charges. He ought to have been able, at any rate, to show that some of us had been engaged in the kind of work which he deprecates. The honourable Member for Fife took a very different line. He says—there is great force in his argument—that he did not agree with the views of the honourable Member for Donegal, that all public companies were anathema, and that they were all corrupt. We know in these days of joint stock enterprise, that the vast majority of the business transactions of this country are carried on by directors of companies, and that the mere fact of a man being a director of a, company certainly could not bring any slur on his honour, or on his position; and yet the honourable Gentleman the Member for Donegal says in his Amendment— We consider the position of a public company director to be incompatible with the position of Ministers of the Crown, and that the union of such offices is calculated to lower the dignity of public life. Now I altogether deny that assertion as to the position of a director of a public company. There are companies and companies; there are directors and directors. There are companies with which no honourable man would care to have his name associated, and there are others to which it would be an honour to belong. But the question is whether it is right that the Members of Her Majesty's Government should occupy the position of directors of a company, however honourable in itself, and however deserving. Now the honourable Member for Fife asserted that Mr. Gladstone laid down as a rule in this matter, which he said Lord Salisbury ought to have laid down also, which was to the effect that no Member of the Government should be a director of a company, but I am told that four Members of Mr. Gladstone's Administration were directors of companies. That is a matter of fact. But what is the nature of the directorships held by Members of Her Majesty's Government to whom the honourable Member for Donegal alluded? Some of us are directors of mutual insurance societies. I am a director of a mutual insurance society myself. It is a society in the welfare of which I have great private interests, affecting not only myself, but many of my relatives; and I have been a director of it for many years. No one can tell how an insurance company is going on unless they are within the charmed circle and in touch with the business. I contend that I have a perfect right to give a little of the time—and it is a very little—which I should otherwise give to recreation, to an occasional attendance at the board of that society. Does the honourable Member for Fife really believe that it is possible or desirable for any Minister, the most conscientious and most hard-worked—never to do anything but the work of his office, excepting eating and sleeping? Does he think it would be in the best interests of the country that it should be so?


Certainly not.


My right honourable Friend the First Lord of the Treasury takes recreation at golf. I take mine by a walk along the Embankment, and by a short attendance at a meeting of directors. The essence of recreation is change of occupation. Looking at it from that point of view, and confining it to these particular matters, in which close attention and hard work are by no means required, what harm can there be in a Minister of the Crown being a director of one of these societies. Take again the fact that some of my colleagues are railway directors. Why are they railway directors?


In order to keep up the railway monopoly.


My right honourable Friend the Home Secretary is a director of the North Eastern Railway. My right honourable Friend the Member for Liverpool is a director of the Great Western Railway. My right honourable Friend the Member for St. Augustine's—the First Commissioner of Works—is a director of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway. Why were they put on the boards of these companies? Because of their connection as representatives or landowners in the districts through which those lines run. Do you suppose that now they are in office they devote as much time as before to attendance at the board? That is a matter not for this House—it is not a question with regard to the performance of their duty as Ministers of the Crown; it is a question as regards their performance of their duties as directors, and I am certain that if any one of my right honourable Friends felt that he was of no service on those boards, either to the shareholders or to the inhabitants of the district, he would resign his directorship; and equally so I might go through the other posts which other Members of the Ministry fill. Take the case of the Duke of Devonshire, for instance. As everyone knows, the Duke of Devonshire is a very large landowner, and he has very great interests in Barrow-in-Furness. He is a director of the Furness Railway and of the Barrow Hematite Steel Company. That is his own private affair practically. Can the time of Ministers not be devoted to what are practically their own private affairs? Some of us are wealthy, some of us are poor, but we all have some private affairs to which we are enttled to devote a little of our time. I do not wish to press this argument one bit further. What were the rules laid down when we accepted office? They were stated by my right honourable Friend. The first was this, that no Member of the Government should enter into any engagement that would occupy the time that would properly belong to the public. The second was this, that he should not undertake any responsibility in connection with public companies that could be supposed to diminish his influence or usefulness as a Member of the Cabinet or the Minister of a Department. Now, Sir, in my belief those rules have been rigidly adhered to. Under those rules, many directorships have been resigned. I resigned one myself as soon as I accepted office, and many of my colleagues have done the same. When the honourable Member states in this Motion that 25 Members of the Government hold 41 directorships, I remember that when this question was first mooted it was stated by some honourable Member who asked a question on the subject, that 24 Members held 61 directorships. Now, I entirely agree that any action by a Member of the Government which could in the slightest degree be contrary to those principles which were laid down by my right honourable Friend would be detrimental. I have every confidence that there is not one of my colleagues who, if he thought that their tenure of any directorship affected those principles, would not immediately resign it. But I do protest against the idea that all directors are corrupt, that all companies are rotten, that there is no honesty in the commercial world, or that there are no positions connected with the private affairs of individuals, which these individuals, even when Ministers, can legitimately hold.


I greatly regret to have to say that the right honourable Gentleman appears to me to have entirely failed to grasp what is the real intention and purport of my honourable Friend who proposed this Amendment. The right honourable Gentleman makes an appeal as to whether any of his colleagues can be supposed to be guilty of corrupt intent in connection with the directorships which they hold. He says they are men of honour, and that they would at once resign their connection with any company if it brought them within an equi- vocal position to their knowledge. That is not the question at all. We say it is their business to avoid the very suspicion and the possibility of anything of the sort occurring. I myself feel strongly on this subject, because it has occurred to me as one of the things that we can dwell upon with the greatest satisfaction in this country, that certainly for the last 40 or 50 years at least there has been no case not only of corruption or of money-making out of public offices on the part of any Ministers of the Crown, but that such a thing has never been imputed or hinted at in the hottest of our Parliamentary and political contests between the two sides. I will quote one instance which I am sure will show the House the sort of thing I mean. There was a sudden and almost a surreptitious purchase of shares in the Suez Canal. What an opportunity that was for those who were in the knowledge of it before it actually occurred to make money! What an opportunity it was, we will say, for Mr. Disraeli himself to have helped himself or his friends financially with the knowledge they held of what was taking place! Mr. Disraeli, we all know, was a poor man. There was a great deal of feeling in politics at that time, but I have never heard the slightest whisper or murmur of a suspicion that anyone connected with the Government, high or low, was a penny the richer on that occasion. I will not be invidious in my references to other countries, but there are countries where Ministers have gone into office poor men, and have come out rich men, simply owing to the opportunities they possess, or avail themselves of, of making money. We wish to guard that immunity in fact, and not only in fact, but in reputation, before the world in every possible way. The right honourable Gentleman says that he himself is on the board of some innocent insurance company, and that he walks along the Embankment, and that is his recreation. But the right honourable Gentleman has another function. He is at the head of the Civil Service of this country, and is it not a rule of the whole Civil Service that not a member of it shall take a directorship, but that all his time shall be at the disposal of the Government? Is not this rule rigidly enforced throughout the whole of the Service, and is it the right thing that we should have the Cabinet itself—the supreme governing body of this country—holding a position of this kind? The right honourable Gentleman says that the directorships held by his colleagues have all been of an innocent nature. I do not wish to say anything in the least degree offensive or invidious of anyone among you. I know there is no consciousness of evil amongst you, but I am bound to say that I think it is not on the face of it a very suitable thing that the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies should be a director of a great steamship company, which is receiving subsidies from the Government, and, as the right honourable Gentleman went a little out of his way to mention the Duke of Devonshire, I thought at the time that it was rather an odd arrangement that the Duke of Devonshire, who was, from circumstances of which we are aware—from his family position—necessarily at the head of a great armaments company, should at the same time be the chief of the Committee of the Cabinet which was to determine upon points connected with the defence of the country.


I understand that that position was resigned by the Duke.


I may be wrong, and I am very glad indeed if I am. I was only following what was said by the right honourable Gentleman, and I can only say that there is not a man amongst us who believes that the Duke of Devonshire was actuated by any personal consideration. Our wish is to avoid the appearance of evil, to be above suspicion of anything connected with this sort of work, and the only way that I can see by which that can be accomplished—the only sound rule to lay down—is that Members of the Cabinet, at all events, if not all the Members of the Government, shall renounce, when they accept office, all connection with public companies of whatever kind, whether their connection with such companies is direct or merely by implication. If that were done, we should have no occasion for any remarks to be made. I hope it will be distinctly understood, on behalf of those who take this view, that we make no sort of imputation or attack upon the Government, or any individual of it. We only wish to express our strong opinion that this self-denying ordinance—and I do not know that it is much self-denial after all—this rule of discretion and propriety ought to be applied to the head of every Government Department.

MR. FIELD () Dublin, St. Patrick's

I have no desire to intervene at any length on this subject, and I will not make any personal allusion, but I think this is a matter which should be settled by principle rather than by personality. The right honourable Gentleman who spoke from the Treasury Bench mentioned that under Mr. Gladstone's Government there were four Ministers who were directors of companies. One of those was Mr. Mundella, and the very fact of Mr. Mundella being obliged to resign his position as director shows how dangerous that position is when occupied by a Government Minister. I think it is unnecessary to labour that point. I am about to draw the attention of the House to this fact, that since the democracy has come into power in this House no charge of corruption can be brought against the members of it; therefore it is perfectly plain that when public opinion is adequately represented, corruption naturally ceases. That is a very sound point. There is just one point that has been alluded to, and that is this, that the directors of any company who sit in this House occupy a dual position. They represent, in the first place, the company to which they belong, and they represent, as Members of Parliament, the public to a certain extent. The right honourable Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to railway directors. Every member of this House knows perfectly well that this House is ruled by the railway interest, and it is ruled by the railway interest not only by the three directors whom the right honourable Gentleman named, but by numerous directors who sit on both sides of the House, and by numerous shareholders on either side of the House. We have an imperium in imperio, and therefore it is impossible to obtain any real rail way reform so long as that railway interest predominates the House in the manner that it does. The time has come when the House should take seriously into consideration the power of directors in regard to public affairs. The name of the Duke of Devonshire was mentioned. I do not desire to attack any gentleman, but I am told that where he has a supreme interest, in Barrow, where he is chairman of a large company, and where he is at the same time director of a railway, that notices were posted up recently that no man should be employed who was over 50 years of age—


Order, order!

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."

Debate arising,

And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed this day.