HC Deb 21 June 1905 vol 147 cc1322-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, ''That this House do now adjourn."—(Sir Acland-Hood.)

MAJOR SEELY (Isle of Wight)

said he desired to ask a Question of which he had given private notice to the Prime Minister and the legal advisers of the Crown—who, however, had not thought fit to be present to reply—namely, whether the Commission which was proposed to inquire into the stores scandal in South Africa could or could not compel the attendance of witnesses, and could or could not compel the production of documents. From inquiries he had made he believed it could not do either. If that were so, the result of such a Royal Commission must be, to speak quite frankly, under the circumstances, a farce. It could do nothing but throw dust in the eyes of the public, He did not say it was intended to do so, but that must be its effect. What would be the effect on the guilty parties—some of them, perhaps, officers and some of them contractors? The Royal Commission could compel officers to attend as witnesses or to produce documents, because if they refused they could be cashiered, but the other parties referred to in Sir William Butler's Report could and probably would, snap their fingers at the Royal Commission. His Majesty's Government must have known that that was the state of the law, and no worse tribunal could be found for investigating the matter. The Parnell Commission was a statutory Commission, and it was set up in order to be able to compel the attendance of witnesses, to have the authority of one of His Majesty's Judges, to have power to commit for contempt, and presumably to have power to punish for perjury. None of these things would be possible to the Royal Commission now proposed. Was it to be supposed that these contractors and others would obey a summons without any authority behind it? The result would probably be that those who had been foolish would suffer, while all the knaves escaped. The Government had acted either with the intention of deceiving the House, or without due consideration of the course they had proposed, and he respectfully asked that some information should be given to the House before a final decision was taken on the matter.

MR. WHITLEY (Halifax)

urged that some Answer should be given, although the Prime Minister was not present. It used to be the custom for the Prime Minister to attend the adjournment of the House in order that he might answer Questions on important public business, and the House was certainly entitled to some measure of respect.


, in reply, said that he merely waited to see if any other Members desired to ask Questions. He would certainly place the subject before the Prime Minister, but he assured the hon. Member that there was no desire on the part of the Government to deceive the House or the country. He suggested that the Questions should be deferred until Question time.

MR. MARKHAM (Nottinghamshire, Mansfield)

hoped the Patronage Secretary would convey to the Prime Minister the strong feeling of the House that the proposed Royal Commission would be wholly inadequate for the purpose, and also as to the necessity of the Prime Minister's being in his place on such an occasion.

Adjourned at twenty-two minutes, after Twelve o'clock.