§ * MR. HOUSTON (Liverpool, West Toxteth)
I beg leave to trespass upon the time of the House for a few moments in order to mention a personal matter which, I think, deserves the attention of the House. It has been a matter of public knowledge for some time past that the British and South American Steam Navigation Company, Limited, of which I am chairman, has had contracts with the Government; and I presume it was owing to my special knowledge of the subjects to be dealt with that I was appointed a member of the Select Committee to inquire into the alleged frauds perpetrated on the War Office. It was certainly in that belief that I consented to sit on the Committee. This morning I received a letter, a copy of which, I understand, has been addressed to every Member of the House, I from a firm of solicitors representing 1069 one of the parties alleged to have committed fraud upon the War Office. Immediately on the assembling of the Select Committee this morning I called the attention of the Committee to the letter and tendered my resignation, for I would not for one moment allow it to be suggested, even by the writers of such a letter as this, that a Select Committee of the House of Commons is not an absolutely fair and impartial tribunal. It was pointed out to me by the chairman and other members of the Committee that, as I had been elected or appointed to the Committee by the House, whether I should be allowed to resign was a question for the House. I refrain from comment upon the letter beyond stating that the insinuations and statements contained therein are untrue. [An HON. MEMBER: Read the letter.] It is for the House to say whether I should read the letter or not; I believe a copy of the letter has been sent to every hon. Member. [Cries of "No, two!"] I will read one or two passages which I distinctly state are untrue. It is said that—It was Mr. Houston—despite the fact that a board of officers at Tilbury passed the hay on the Manchester Port—who refused to allow the vessel to sail.That is absolutely untrue. The statement that I, or any other member of my firm, had any contracts with any Department of the Government is also untrue. The company of which I am chairman has had contracts with the Government Departments at the special invitation of those Departments. As to the allegations which the writers of the letter make, I have not heard a single word about them. Therefore I assume they only exist in the imagination of the writers. As I have no desire to sit upon the Committee, and certainly no object to gain by sitting upon it or retiring from it, I prefer to retire from it. At the same time, as I was appointed a member of the Committee by this House, it is only right to the House that I should place my resignation in their hands. I leave it unreservedly with hon. Members to decide whether I should continue to sit upon or retire from the Committee. At the same time, I assure hon. Members that whatever I can do to assist the investigations of the Committee in any capacity whatever I shall be only too pleased to do.
§ MR. JACKSON
I think it is due to the hon. Member that I, as Chairman of 1070 the Select Committee, should at once state that at the commencement of the proceedings of the Committee this morning, the hon. Member for West Toxteth drew attention to the fact that the letter to which he has now referred had been circulated. The hon. Member desired to at once resign his membership of the Committee. It was pointed out to him by me and by other Members that as he had been nominated by the House the Committee had no power to discharge him from serving on the Committee. The hon. Gentleman then decided to take the course he has now taken—to make a personal explanation in the House. It is only fair to the hon. Gentleman I should say that that action was taken by the hon. Member immediately on the assembling of the Committee, and was not in any sense the result of any action taken by the Committee.
§ MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN (Kilkenny)
I think we ought to have the letter read at the Table of the House. I consider that the letter constitutes a breach of the privileges of the House. The hon. Member has my sympathy, and I think he has done quite right in bringing it before the House. I propose, if no one else does so, to hand the letter in at the Table, and move that it be read by the Clerk.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
It would not be regular simply to hand in the letter to be read at the Table without any intention of making a motion on it; but if the hon. Member desires to move that the words read at the Table constitute a broach of privilege, he will be quite in order in handing it in to be read.
§ The HON. MEMBER then handed a copy of the letter.
The CLERK at the Table then read the following—
Rees and Hindley, Solicitors.
43, Castle Street, Liverpool.
7th May, 1900.
Army Contract Scandals.
Dear Sir,—Below is copy letter of even date forwarded by us to Mr. Powell-Williams, M.P., herein:—'As you are aware, we act for Mr. John Brown, of Brunswick Street, Liver-pool, against whom allegations have been made with regard to the quality of hay supplied by him to Her Majesty's transports. Our client's
extensive dealings with the War Office, and more particularly the circumstances connected with the hay shipped on her Majesty's transport "Manchester Port," will be a subject matter for inquiry by the Select Committee on Government Contracting recently appointed.' … Further, it was Mr. Houston, -despite the fact that a board of officers at Tilbury passed the hay on the 'Manchester Port'-who refused to allow the vessel to sail -it was chartered by you from him-until the hay had been unloaded. Why, therefore, should he, who has prejudged our client, be allowed to sit in biassed judgment upon him? We hope to examine him before the Committee, and it is common knowledge to yourself and ourselves that he will be an important witness.
§ MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN
I do not propose to take up much of the time of the House. I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, a portion of the letter of Messrs. Rees and Hindley, solicitors, of Liverpool, reflecting upon the character of the hon. Member for West Toxteth, Liverpool, constitutes a
breach of the privileges of this House." I wish to direct the attention of the House to the words particularly constituting a breach of privilege—
Why, therefore, should he who has prejudged our client be allowed to sit in biassed judgment on him?
These words, in my opinion, constitute as gross a breach of the privileges of the House as has, perhaps, ever been brought before it. I beg formally to make this motion and leave the matter to the House to decide.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That, in the opinion of this House, the passages in the letter of Messrs. Rees and Hindley, read at the Table of the House, constitute a breach of the Privileges of this House."—(Mr. Patrick O'Brien.)
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 192; Noes, 100. (Division List No. 116.)1073
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Cotton-Jodrell, Col. Ed w. T.D.||Haslett, Sir James Horner|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F.||Cripps, Charles Alfred||Heath, James|
|Allhusen, Augustus H. Eden||Crombie, John William||Henderson, Alexander|
|Anstruther, H. T.||Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)||Hermon-Hodge, R. Trotter|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Cruddas, William Donaldson||Hoare, Edward B. (Hampstead)|
|Arnold, Alfred||Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)||Hobhouse, Henry|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Curzon, Viscount||Hogan, James Francis|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh||Hornby, Sir William Henry|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Howell, William Tudor|
|Bainbridge, Emerson||Dilke, Right Hon. Sir Charles||Hozier, Hn. James H. Cecil|
|Balcarres, Lord||Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon||Jackson, Rt. Hon. W. Lawies|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Donelan, Captain A.||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J. (Manch'r)||Doogan, P. C.||Jenkins, Sir John Jones|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W., Leeds||Dorington, Sir John Edward||Jessel, Captain Herbert M.|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Doughty, George||Johnston, William (Belfast)|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Kimber, Henry|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Doxford, Sir William Theodore||King, Sir Henry Seymour|
|Beach, Rt. Hn Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Drage, Geoffrey||Knowles, Lees|
|Bethell, Commander||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)|
|Bhownaggree, Sir M. M.||Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.||Leng, Sir John|
|Biddulph, Michael||Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir. J. (Man.)||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn (Swansea)|
|Blakiston-Houston, John||Finch, George H.||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine|
|Bolitho, Thomas Bedford||Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham)|
|Bowles, Capt. H. F. (Middlesex)||Fisher, William Hayes||Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Liverp'l)|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Fitz Gerald, Sir Robert Penrose-||Lonsdale, John Brownlee|
|Brassey, Albert||Fitz Wygram, General Sir F.||Lowe, Francis William|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Fletcher, Sir Henry||Lowther, Rt. Hn James (Kent)|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Garfit, William||Loyd, Archie Kirkman|
|Butcher, John George||Gedge, Sydney||Macartney, W. G. Ellison|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn J. A. (Glasgow)||Gibbs, Hn. Vicary (St. Albans)||Macdonna, John Cumming|
|Carlile, William Walter||Giles, Charles Tyrrell||MacDonnell, Dr. M. A.(Qn's C)|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Maclure, Sir John William|
|Cavendish, V. CW. (Derbyshire)||Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Goulding, Edward Alfred||M'Arthur Charles (Liverpool)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.)||Green, Walford D (Wednesbury)||M'Ghee, Richard|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r)||Gull, Sir Cameron||Maple, Sir Jodn Blundell|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Gunter, Colonel||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Halsey, Thomas Frederick||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Hamilton, Rt. Hon. Lord G.||Milner, Sir Frederick George|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robt. W.||Milward, Colonel Victor|
|Colomb, Sir John C. Ready||Harwood, George||Monk, Charles James|
|More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)||Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlep'l)||Vincent, Col. Sir C. E. H. (Sheffi.)|
|Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Charles T.||Walrond, Rt. Hn. Sir Wm. H.|
|Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Muntz, Philip A.||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel Walter||Weir, James Galloway|
|Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)||Welby, Lt-Col A. C. E. (Taunton)|
|Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)||Schwann, Charles E.||Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)|
|Newdigate, Francis Alex.||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Nicol, Donald Ninian||Sharpe, William Edward T.||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Norton, Capt, Cecil William||Sidebottom, T. H. (Stalybr.)||Wilson, Fred K. W. (Norfolk)|
|O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Sidebottom, Wm. (Derbysh.)||Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)|
|O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Phillpotts, Captain Arthur||Smith, J. Parker (Lanarksh.)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Pierpoint, Robert||Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.||Woods, Samuel|
|Pilkington, R. (Lancs, Newton)||Stanley, Sir Hy. M. (Lambeth)||Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart-|
|Pollock, Harry Frederick||Stevenson, Francis S.||Wrightson, Thomas|
|Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart||Wylie, Alexander|
|Purvis, Robert||Stone, Sir Benjamin||Wyndham, George|
|Rankin, Sir James||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Rasch, Major Frederic Carne||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E.)||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Redmond, John E. (Waterford)||Thorburn, Sir Walter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. Patrick O'Brien and Mr. M'Kenna.|
|Renshaw, Charles Bine||Tomlinson, Wm. Ed. Murray|
|Richards, Henry Charles||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Gold, Charles||Pease, Sir Joseph W. (Durham)|
|Asher, Alexander||Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury)||Pickard, Benjamin|
|Ashton, Thomas Gair||Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||Pilkington, Sir Geo A (Lancs S W)|
|Baker, Sir John||Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale-||Price, Robert John|
|Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe||Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich)||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert|
|Billson, Alfred||Horniman, Frederick John||Reckitt, Harold James|
|Birrell, Augustine||Howard, Joseph||Reid, Sir Robert Threshie|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Brown, Alexander H.||Hutton, Alfred E. (Morley)||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Jacoby, James Alfred||Runciman, Walter|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez E.||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Jones, D. Brynmor (Swansea)||Shaw, Charles E. (Stafford)|
|Burt, Thomas||Kay-Shuttle worth, Rt. Hn Sir U||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire)|
|Caldwell, James||Kennaway, Rt. Hn. Sir John H||Soames, Arthur Wellesley|
|Cameron, Sir Charles (Glasgow)||Kinloch, Sir John George S.||Spicer, Albert|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Kitson, Sir James||Steadman, William Charles|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Lambert, George||Strachey, Edward|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Langley, Batty||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Colville, John||Lloyd-George, David||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Tennant, Harold John|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Macaleese, Daniel||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Daly, James||Maclean, James Mackenzie||Whiteley, George (Stockport)|
|Denny, Colonel||M'Killop, James||Williams, John Carvell (Notts)|
|Dewar, Arthur||Maddison, Fred.||Wilson, Henry J.(York, W. R.)|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Emmott, Alfred||Mather, William||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (Southampton)||Mendal, Sigismund Ferdinand||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Wilson, Jos. H. (Middlesbrough)|
|Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmund||Morley, Rt. Hon. J. (Montrose)||Woodhouse, Sir J. T. (Hu'd'rst'd)|
|Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.)||Morris, Samuel||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)|
|Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis||Oldroyd, Mark||TELLEES FOR THE NOES—Mr. Kearley and Mr. Wallace.|
|Fry, Lewis||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert J.||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlingt'n)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)|
§ Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the passages in the letter of Messrs. Rees and Hindley, road at the Table of the House, constitute a breach of the Privileges of this House.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
The House will expect to be informed of the course the Leader of the House intends to pursue.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman cannot ask a question now of that kind. There is no question before the House.
§ * SIR CHAELES DILKE
Is it the intention of the First Lord of the Treasury to give his guidance and advice to the House, now that the motion has been carried on which he did not give the House any advice, by moving that the persons who wrote the letter should attend the House on a given day?
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
I beg to move that Messrs. Rees and Hindley be ordered to attend at the Bar of the House on Thursday at three o'clock. The House has determined that the letter is a breach of privilege, and consequently the next step the House ought to take is to act upon that resolution according to the usual practice.
MR. GIBSON BOWLES
I beg to second the motion. I regret that the whole of the letter was not read at the Table of the House. I think that the most offensive passages of the letter were not read to the House. There are imputations of unfair conduct in the appointment of the Committee, under which the House could not properly rest. In my opinion the House is very much indebted to the hon. Member for Kilkenny for bringing the question forward by way of a motion, and although I am conscious of the gravity of the step this House takes when it enters upon matters of privilege, and begins to exercise its undoubtedly large coercive powers, no one can doubt that when the House has passed such a resolution as has just been adopted it must follow up the action taken. I therefore beg leave to second the motion.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Messrs. Rees and Hindley do attend at the Bar of this House on Thursday next, at Three of the clock."— (Mr. James Lowther.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I did not quite anticipate my right hon. friend the Member for Thanet would have got us out of the difficulty in which we are in consequence of the hon. Member for the Toxteth Division having thought it desirable to call attention to this letter. There can be no doubt whatever in my judgment that, as the House has already affirmed, these solicitors have committed a breach of the privileges of the House, and though I do not think it was very wise, if I may say so, to raise this question, the question having been raised there was no alternative left to the House but to affirm, as it has affirmed, that a breach of privilege has been committed. But if we are asked to go further, as we are asked by my right hon. friend, whose motion was seconded by the hon. Member for King's Lynn, we enter into a very different order of ideas, and I should strongly advise the House, as I have advised it on previous occasions, not to enter, upon such provocation as this, on a course which, in my judgment, will not conduce either to the dignity of the House or to any great useful purpose. On 26th July, 1898* it appears that the same hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilkenny, who has moved to-day, made a similar motion with regard to a breach of privilege by the Board of Guardians of Mullingar, who had attacked an hon. Member representing an Irish constituency for a speech he made in this House, and the House unanimously decided that it was a breach of privilege. I then advised the House that the cumbrous and antiquated machinery at our disposal for dealing with questions of this kind could not with advantage be put in motion. The House took the advice I then gave, and the matter was allowed to drop. I suggest now that it would be the best course, in our interest and in the public interest, that this very recent precedent should be followed on this occasion. The hon. Member opposite, with an authority which has almost* See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxii., page 1343.1077 become a habit of his, has called attention to words which constitute a breach of the privileges of the House. We have asserted that he is right, and, having made that assertion, I think we have done all that is necessary, and I beg to move, as an Amendment, "That this House do now proceed to the business of the day."
To leave out from the word 'That,' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House do now proceed to the business of the day.'"—(Mr. Balfour.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
The right hon. Gentleman has expressed himself as being exceedingly desirous, and no one can doubt that he must be desirous, to maintain the dignity of the House and to avoid leading the House into, or advising the House to enter upon, any course inconsistent with its dignity. I cannot conceive any course less dignified than that which, and without his guidance, he has allowed the House to enter upon. A letter has been read at the Table which alleges that a certain Member of the House, if he was to serve on a certain Committee, would necessarily give a biassed judgment on the matter before the Committee. So far as I can understand the terms of the letter, that was the worst that was said of the hon. Gentleman. The House was then called upon to say that this was a breach of the privileges of Parliament, and the right hon. Gentleman not only did not rise to give any advice to the House, but, to our universal astonishment, did not even look as if he meant to give any advice.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. Unfortunately I was consulting the Clerk at the Table upon a point of order at the time the question was put, and I could not rise to address the House. Had I done so all I should have said would have been that, in my opinion, undoubtedly a breach of privilege was committed, and then I should have gone on to give the advice I have since given to the House. So that I do not suppose the loss is very great.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
Of course I accept the explanation of the 1078 right hon. Gentleman that he was engaged in consulting with an officer of the House. I was under the impression he was in his place at the time.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN
At all events, the House has decided that this is a breach of privilege, and now we are to follow a course which apparently was taken on previous occasions and to be content with this solemn assertion that a breach of privilege has been committed; and then with great severity of countenance and in the most impressive manner we can assume we are to allow the matter to drop. The word "farcical" has been used. Anything more farcical than such a proceeding I cannot conceive. I am not a stickler for privilege, though I am not altogether disregardful of it; but of this I am certain, that if the House ever thinks it worth while to brand a statement as a breach of privilege, it might then, out of respect for its own dignity, follow up that statement in such way as the rules of Parliament prescribe. In this case what are we to do? Most of us on this side of the House do not think that this was a breach of privilege. The right hon. Gentleman, who thinks it was a breach of privilege, says he does not want anything more to be done. There might be some logic in our conduct if we on this side were to proceed to insist upon the further course that is necessary on the supposition that it is a breach of privilege, but we have just declared that, in our opinion, it is not a breach of privilege; and, in those circumstances, I am disposed myself to acquiesce in the advice given to the House by the right hon. Gentleman. But I do deplore that this fresh instance has occurred of the way in which the House of Commons sometimes plays with its undoubted rights. The way to preserve those rights, and to preserve the respect of the country for those rights, is never to assert them unless you mean to carry them to their ultimate issue.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
We have had before us a very offensive and impertinent letter, which we have thought it right to brand as a breach of privilege Many people in this House think that it 1079 was a breach of privilege, and some think that it was not; but all must agree that in future we must make up our minds whether we are to call any document a breach of privilege at all, because if we are not in a position to do anything more than make our declaration a brutum fulmen, instead of adding to the dignity of this House we are simply making this august assembly ridiculous. I would point out to hon. Members that not many weeks ago an infinitely grosser breach of privilege was made by the St. James's Gazette. That newspaper charged a Member of this House with a criminal offence—with purchasing documents well knowing them to be stolen. Now, that charge was entirely ignored by the House, although it was an offence which, if proved, would have involved the expulsion of the Member from this House, and if not proved was the grossest breach of privilege possible to conceive. Now, although every Member of the House knew of that breach of privilege, not the slightest notice was taken of it, and I think it is ridiculous to make so much fuss about such a little matter as that brought before the House this afternoon, and to take no notice of that other infinitely grosser breach of privilege.
§ * SIR CHARLES DILKE
I cannot conceive how the Leader of the Opposition can bring himself to believe that this is not a breach of privilege. Whether it was wise or unwise to call attention to it is not to the point. A plainer case of breach of privilege has never been brought before the House than to charge an hon. Member—whether the charge is true or not true is not the question—with going on to a Committee to give a biassed opinion in the exercise of his Parliamentary duty, as a Member of this House, and in the name of this House. That it is a gross breach of privilege I cannot for one moment doubt. We are told we ought not to follow up the motion by any further action, because on a previous occasion of breach of privilege no further action was taken. That was a wholly different case. In the Mullingar case you were dealing with an elected board of guardians, and certain hon. Members said that the board did not really know what they were doing, and that if time were given them they would apologise. They did apologise, and that apology was informally communicated to and 1080 accepted by the House. But this is a totally different case, where there is grave public suspicion of public corruption. It seems to me that if ever such a matter should be followed up it ought to be in this case, when the first motion that a breach of privilege had been committed has been carried.
§ COMMANDER BETHELL (Yorkshire, E.R., Holderness)
I agree with the Leader of the House that nothing more should be done in this case. If we are to inflict punishment for these offences we shall have to devise some other means than that of dragging a person to the Bar of this House in order that you, Mr. Speaker, should in solemn and weighty words inform him that he has committed a breach of privilege, and that the House is indignant and dissatisfied with him. In that process, so far as my experience goes, there is very little dignity to the proceedings of this House.
§ * MR. PATRICK O'BRIEN
I rise to support the motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Thanet. The right hon. the Leader of the House referred to me as not having made this motion to bring the offender to the Bar myself, and as not having made such a motion on a previous occasion when I brought another breach of privilege before the House. I certainly intended to move the motion now under discussion, but left it to one of my hon. colleagues, who I thought could, from his superior knowledge of the rules of this House, deal with it better. It was not my intention to allow the matter to drop. In this case I think the House will be in a ridiculous position if it does not—having discovered the offenders—bring them to the Bar of the House. I remember a case when this power of the House to punish breach of privilege was, in my opinion, unfairly exercised, and as a result an hon. Member who sat on the opposite side of the House had to rise from his place and take his position at the Bar. But why should you treat differently two members of a firm of solicitors who have done what, to my mind, is worse than anything alleged against the Mullingar Board of Guardians? As was pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Forest of Dean, in that case we were dealing with a whole board of guardians; and it will be 1081 in the recollection of the House that I said on that occasion that I was prepared to move to bring the whole board here if they persisted in their threat to punish in a certain way the hon. Member for Roscommon for certain action of his in the discharge of his public duty in this House. The reason why I did not take the second step on that occasion was because the board had a notice of motion before it which was to be debated in a week from the date of my privilege motion, and at the suggestion of the Leader of the House —which had the advantage of your approval, Mr. Speaker—the matter was allowed to stand over for a week to see whether they would persevere with their resolution. As the board of guardians climbed down my purpose was served, and I did not persevere with the consequential motion to bring the offenders to the Bar. I can only say that if the House, having competently decided that this is a gross breach of the privileges of the House, is not going any further, then the next step should be to remove the rule altogether. I heartily support the motion of the right hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon)
I confess I am rather disappointed with the advice given to the House by the Leader of the House and the Leader of the Opposition. I ask the House to consider very seriously, the position in which it is about to place itself if it follows that advice. Here is a Committee appointed to investigate certain charges against Army contractors, and it is a matter of the greatest consequence, especially at the present moment when the war is still going on, that that investigation should be thorough and complete. A charge is brought against a certain hon. Member of corruption. A respectable and very responsible firm of solicitors suggest that an hon. Member of this House is guilty of corruption in regard to certain Army contractors. They have embodied that charge in a circular which has been distributed amongst the Members of this House. That is undoubtedly a breach of privilege, and if true, a very gross libel. These gentlemen make their charge on their full responsibility, and knowing that if it is untrue they can be ruined by a libel action. I say it is a matter of great consequence when a Committee has been 1082 appointed that there should be no kind of attempt to hush up a matter of this sort. It is of the greatest possible importance to encourage evidence, and to give an opportunity to those charged with corruption in regard to the Army contracts of examining and cross-examining witnesses by counsel. We know that there has been corruption, but we also know that it is a most unpleasant public duty for anyone to come forward and bring these charges when the House goes out of its way to discourage them. It is all very well for hon. Members of this House to shelter themselves behind the bulwark of privilege, but this responsible firm of solicitors, knowing that they can be ruined by a libel action, still bring this charge of corruption against a Member of this House. Very well; I say there ought to be a full opportunity given to these gentlemen to justify their statement before this House. I know that they are perfectly prepared to do so. But what has the House done? Ex parte, and without any investigation, it says that this is a breach of privilege. Surely the next step is to give an opportunity to these gentlemen to justify their statement, and not to condemn them without hearing their defence. I submit that this is a matter of the greatest possible importance. I do think that this House should not place any obstacle in the way of a full and searching investigation of these charges, whether the man is a Member of this House or not. When charges of this character are brought forward, especially on the responsibility of persons of such position, I say the fullest possible fair play should be given to them. They have done it on their own responsibility, and it is only fair that they should be given an opportunity of stating their case to the House.
§ MR. SWIFT MACNEILL
I confess that I am myself in considerable difficulty in this matter. I think that undoubtedly there has been a primâ facie breach of privilege, and it is the absolute duty of every Member of the House who regards the honour and dignity of the House to vote that this is a breach of privilege. Then comes another question upon which I shall ask you, Sir, whether I am stating the case correctly. A breach of privilege motion has been held over and over again to be only a preliminary step. The next step is, the House having condemned such and such an action to be a 1083 breach of privilege, that the primâ facie offender should be brought to the Bar. I voted for the motion on the faith that the parties concerned would be brought to the Bar and have an opportunity of justifying themselves, so that we might acquit them, if possible, of what is, prima facie, a breach of privilege. I would ask whether that is so or not. The precedents in my mind are very clear. One occurred on May 5th, 1887, when Mr. Gladstone said a breach of privilege motion was only passed by the House for the purpose of enabling the prima facie offenders to be brought before the House.* That view* See The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vol. cccxiv., p. 988.
§ was confirmed by Sir Charles Russell, now Lord Russell. We are doing these men the greatest wrong if we impute corruption to them, and do not give them the opportunity of defending themselves.
§ * MR. SPEAKER
All I can say, and all I ought to say, without going beyond my province, is that both the motion of the right hon. Member for Thanet and the Amendment are in order.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided: —Ayes, 139; Noes, 192. (Division List No. 117.)1085
|Abraham, Win. (Cork, N. E.)||Harwood, George||Pickard, Benjamin|
|Allhusen, Augustus H. Eden||Helder, Augustus||Pilkington, Sir G. A. (Lancs S.W)|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Hogan, James Francis||Price, Robert John|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Horniman, Frederick John||Rankin, Sir James|
|Archdale Edward Mervyn||Howell, William Tudor||Reckitt, Harold James|
|Ashton Thomas Gair||Jacoby, James Alfred||Redmond, J. E. (Waterford)|
|Austin, M (Limerick, W.)||Jones, David Brynmor (Sw'nsea)||Renshaw, Charles Bine|
|Jones, Wm. (Carnarvonshire)||Rickett, J. Compton|
|Bainbridge, Emerson||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Baker, Sir John||Kearley, Hudson E.||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Balcarres, Lord||Kimber, Henry||Rothschild, Hon. Lionel W.|
|Barnes, Frederick Gorell||Kinloch, Sir John Geo. Smyth||Runciman, Walter|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Kitson, Sir James||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C. B.||Lambert, George||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Billson, Alfred||Langley Batty||Scoble, Sir Andrew Richard|
|Birell, Augustine||Leng, Sir John||Soames, Arthur Wellesly|
|Bowles, Captain H. F. (Mid'sex)||Lewis, John Herbert||Spicer, Albert|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Lloyd-George, David||Stanhope, Hon. Philip J.|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Stevenson, Francis S.|
|Brunner, Sir John Tomlinson||Lough Thomas||Strachey, Edward|
|Lyell, Sir Leonard||Strutt, Hon. Chas. Hedley|
|Caldwell, James||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Cameron, Sir C. (Glasgow)||Macaleese, Daniel||Tennant, Harold John|
|Cameron, Robert (Durham)||MacDonnell, Dr M. A.(Q'n's C.)||Thomas, Alfred(Glamorgan, E.)|
|Carlile, William Walter||Maclean, James Mackenzie||Thomas, David Alfred (Merthyr)|
|Channing, Francis Allston||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|Colomb, Sir John C. Ready||M'Dermott, Patrick|
|Colville, John||M'Ghee, Richard||Vincent, Col. Sir C E H (Sheffield)|
|Crombie, John William||M'Kenna, Reginald||Wallace, Robert|
|Curran, Thomas (Sligo, S.)||Maddison, Fred.||Warner, Thos, Courtenay T.|
|Daly, James||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Wason, Eugene|
|Dewar, Arthur||Mather, William||Weir, James Galloway|
|Dillon, John||Mendl, Sigismund Ferdinand||Whiteley, George (Stockport)|
|Donelan, Captain A.||Monk, Charles James||Williams, J. Carvell (Notts.)|
|Doogan, P. C.||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Douglas, Charles M. (Lanark)||Morley, Rt. Hon John (Montrose)||Wilson, Fred. W. (Norfolk)|
|Morton, E. J. C. (Devonport)||Wilson, H. J. (York, W. R)|
|Ellis, John Edward||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid.)|
|Emmott, Alfred||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan)||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Wilson, J. H. (Middlesbrough)|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton)||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Farquharson, Dr. Robert||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Woodhouse, Sir J. T. (Hudders.)|
|Fenwick, Charles||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Woods, Samuel|
|Finch, George H.||O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)|
|Goddard, Daniel Ford||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Gold, Charles||Oldroyd, Mark||Yoxall, James Henry|
|Goulding, Edward Alfred||Paulton, James Mellor||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—Mr. James Lowther and Sir Charles Dilke.|
|Gourley, Sir Edw. Temperley||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlin'ton)|
|Gull, Sir Cameron||Pease, Joseph Sir W. (Durham)|
|Halsey, Thomas Frederick||Philipps, John Wynford|
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir Alex. F.||FitzGerald, Sir Robert Penrose-||Milward, Colonel Victor|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Fitzmaurice, Lord Edmond||Monckton, Edward Philip|
|Arnold, Alfred||Fitz Wygram, (General Sir F.)||More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, Sir Ellis||Flannery, Sir Fortescue||Morton, A. H. A. (Deptford)|
|Asquith, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Fletcher, Sir Henry||Moulton, John Fletcher|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Foster Harry S. (Suffolk)||Muntz, Philip A.|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Foster, Sir Walter (Derby Co.||Murray, Rt. Hon. A. G. (Bute)|
|Baillie, James E. B. (Inverness)||Fowler, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Murray, Chas. J. (Coventry)|
|Balwin, Alfred||Fry, Lewis||Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r)||Garfit, William||Newdigate, Francis Alexander|
|Balfour, Rt. Hn Gerald W. (Leeds)||Gedge, Sydney||Nicol, Donald Ninian|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans)||Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)|
|Barry, Rt. Hn A H Smith- (Hunts)||Giles, Charles Tyrrell||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur|
|Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert J.||Pilkington, R. (Lancs. Newton)|
|Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe||Godson, Sir A. Frederick||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Bethell, Commander||Goldsworthy, Major-General||Pollock, Harry Frederick|
|Biddulph, Michael||Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Blakiston-Houston, John||Green, W. D. (Wednesbury)||Purvis, Robert|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Greene, H. D. (Shrewsbury)||Quilter, Sir Cuthbert|
|Bolitho, Thomas Bedford||Greville, Hon. Ronald||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Grey, Sir Edward (Berwick)||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Brassey, Albert||Gunter, Colonel||Richardson, Sir T. (Hartlepool)|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George||Ridley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.|
|Brown, Alexander H.||Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm.||Ritchie, Rt. Hon. Charles T.|
|Bryce, Rt. Hon. James||Hanson, Sir Reginald||Robinson, Brooke|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Hayne, Rt. Hn. Charles Seale-||Royds, Clement Molyneux|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Heath, James||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Burt, Thomas||Henderson, Alexander||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)|
|Butcher, John George||Hermon-Hodge, Robert Trotter||Seton-Karr, Henry|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Hoare, E. Brodie (Hampstead)||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Campbell, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Glas.)||Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich)||Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Hobhouse, Henry||Sidebottom, T. H. (Stalybridge)|
|Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Hornby, Sir William Henry||Sidebottom, Wm. (Derbyshire)|
|Cavendish, V.C.W. (Derbysh.)||Howard, Joseph||Sinclair, Capt. J. (Forfarshire)|
|Cayzer, Sir Charles William||Howorth, Sir Henry Hoyle||Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Hertford, East)||Hozier, Hon. James Henry Cecil||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)||Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset)|
|Chamberlain, J. A. (Worc'r)||Jenkins, Sir John Jones||Stanley, Sir H. M. (Lambeth)|
|Coddington, Sir William||Jessel, Capt. Herbert Merton||Steadman, William Charles|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Johnson-Ferguson, Jabez Ed.||Stephens, Henry Charles|
|Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Stewart, Sir Mark J. M. Taggart|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Kay-Shuttleworth, Rt Hn Sir U||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Kennaway, Rt Hn. Sir John H.||Strauss, Arthur|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||King, Sir Henry Seymour||Thorburn, Sir Walter|
|Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H.||Knowles, Lees||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Cripps, Charles Alfred||Lafone, Alfred||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)||Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool)||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Cruddas, William Donaldson||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks)||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Curzon, Viscount||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn (Swans)||Welby, Lt.-Col. A. C. E. (Ta'nt'n)|
|Dalbiac, Colonel Philip Hugh||Lockwood, Lieut.-Col. A. R.||Whitmore, Charles Algernon|
|Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Denny, Colonel||Long, Col. C. W. (Evesham)||Williams, Joseph Powell-(Bir.)|
|Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Long, Rt. Hn. W. (Liverpool)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Dixon-Hartland, Sir F. Dixon||Lowe, Francis William||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Dorington, Sir John Edward||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.)|
|Doughty, George||Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R. (Bath)|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Doxford, Sir W. Theodore||Macdona, John Cumming||Wrightson, Thomas|
|Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Wylie, Alexander|
|Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn E.||M'Iver, Sir Lewis (Edinburgh W)||Wyndham, George|
|Fergusson, Rt. Hn Sir J. (Manc'r)||M'Killop, James||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||Maple, Sir John Blundell||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Firbank, Joseph Thomas||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—Sir William Walrond and Mr. Anstruther.|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton|
|Fison, Frederick William||Milner, Sir Frederick George|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Resolved, That this House do now proceed to the Business of the Day.1086
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I beg to ask the Leader of the House whether the hon. Member for the West Toxteth Division of Liverpool has resigned his 1087 seat on the Select Committee on War Office contracts, and whether any steps will be taken to fill up the vacant place soon.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I believe it is the fact that my hon. friend has resigned, and if that is so, of course the vacancy will be filled up.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Mr. Speaker, I understand that the hon. Member for the Toxteth Division is to be discharged.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, I shall not move anything. If in the ordinary course an hon. Member desires to leave a Committee he puts down a motion.