HC Deb 08 May 1900 vol 82 cc1068-87
* 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 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.


I think it is due to the hon. Member that I, as Chairman of 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.


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.


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.


I will do it.

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.


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.)

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.


The House will expect to be informed of the course the Leader of the House intends to pursue.


Order, order! Is the right hon. Gentleman about to make a motion?


I was going to ask a question, Sir.


The right hon. Gentleman cannot ask a question now of that kind. There is no question before the House.


Is there power to move the adjournment?


It is hardly a matter of "urgent public importance."


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?


If the hon. Member desires to make a motion of that kind he is at liberty to do so.


I want to ask if the Government intend to make such a motion.


The right hon. Member is not at liberty to ask a question.


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.


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.)


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. 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."

Amendment proposed— 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."


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.


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.


Of course I accept the explanation of the 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.


Oh, no. Altogether wrong.


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 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.


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 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.


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 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 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.


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 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.


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.)

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.



I beg to ask the Leader of the House whether the hon. Member for the West Toxteth Division of Liverpool has resigned his seat on the Select Committee on War Office contracts, and whether any steps will be taken to fill up the vacant place soon.


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.


At once?




By the House, of course.


Mr. Speaker, I understand that the hon. Member for the Toxteth Division is to be discharged.


No, I shall not move anything. If in the ordinary course an hon. Member desires to leave a Committee he puts down a motion.