HC Deb 15 March 1905 vol 143 cc144-56

I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

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


said he was sorry to have to trouble the House on a matter which he had already raised at Question time. He had then not received a satisfactory Answer to the Question which he had put to the hon. Baronet the Member for Wandsworth. In anything he had to say he had no intention of making a personal attack upon the hon. Member for Wandsworth, and he did not wish to make any insinuation against him. On public grounds, however, he objected to the hon. Gentleman acting as Chairman of a Committee appointed to consider a group of Railway Bills, the hon. Baronet being a director of two railway companies and the London agent for a third. He remembered three or four years ago he happened to be on a Committee which considered a Great Southern and Western Railway Bill. On that occasion the hon. Baronet came to the Committee to preside over it; but objection was taken to him as Chairman because he was chairman of several railway companies and the hon. Member for Camberwell, was appointed Chairman of the Committee in his place. When he read in the Order Paper on Friday last that the hon. Baronet had been selected to preside over a Committee to consider a group of Railway Bills he communicated with the Chairman of the Committee of Selection, but was informed that the hon. Baronet was determined to stick to the position to which he had been appointed by the Committee of Selection. He did not consider that the Committee of Selection had displayed care in their selection of a Chairman of the Committee which was to consider this important group of Bills; and he questioned whether any other hon. Member would have had the bad taste to persist in taking the Chair after the manifestations of opinion which had been made against that course being taken. Two Members chosen to sit on that Committee had resigned, and one of these hon. Members told him that, taking all the circumstances into account, he did not think the hon. Baronet was a proper person to preside over the Committee. The hon. Baronet was a director of two railway companies, and the agent in London of a third; and if he was an archangel he could not, under these circumstances, be absolutely disinterested. There were seventy-two railway directors in the House, and, in his opinion, the House was becoming railway ridden. He complained that the Committee of Selection were not more particular in selecting the Chairman of these Committees. He did not say that the hon. Baronet had any personal interest to serve, but, as a railway director, he would be animated by a spirit of trade unionism. He held that in all the circumstances the hon. Baronet should retire from the position, and he hoped that the Committee of Selection would not allow the chairman of a railway company to take that position again.

SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devonshire, Honiton)

said that as the Chairman of the Committee of Selection was unable to be present in his place that night, he had asked him to explain the practice which had generally been followed in these matters by the Committee of Selection. It was very often very difficult to get an hon. Member to undertake the very arduous and responsible duties involved in presiding over Railway Committees. When the hon. Baronet the Member for Wands worth was asked to take this post, it was his duty to see that the hon. Member had no personal interest in the Bills to be considered. It had always been thought that it was quite within the power of a railway director, or railway shareholder, to preside over a Committee to consider a railway in another part of the country from that with which he was connected. He knew that the hon. Member was interested in a railway in India, but it never occurred to him, or any other member of the Committee of Selection, that that was a disqualification to the hon. Baronet acting on this particular Committee. The Committee of Selection did not consider that the business connection of the hon. Baronet with railways in so distant a place as India was any disqualification for his acting on a Committee on a railway in which he had no interest. The position of the hon. Baronet had never been challenged before.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

Yes, my hon. friend says it was challenged.

*SIR HENRY KIMBER (Wandsworth)

I deny it.


said that he was a member of a Railway Committee of which the hon. Baronet was nominated Chairman; but the Committee elected another member Chairman—he thought it was the hon. Member for Cambridge—and the hon. Baronet retired from the Committee and would not serve at all.

MR. FLAVIN (Kerry, N.)

He was redistributed.


said that he had no knowledge of that to which the hon. Member referred. All he could say was that the appointment of the hon. Baronet by the Committee of Selection was made in the ordinary way, and he had been very much surprised when he heard that the appointment was objected to.

MR. SULLIVAN (Westmeath, S.)

said he wished to say that on account of the hon. Baronet's connection with various railway companies he could not sit on the same Committee with him. In his opinion the hon. Gentleman would be acting more in harmony with the traditions of the House if he refrained from acting as Chairman, or even sitting as a member of the Committee to consider Group 1 of Railway Bills. He most respectfully declined to sit on a Committee under the Chairmanship of the hon. Member for Wandsworth. With any other Chairman he would be pleased to act.


said it was sometimes very difficult to say where private interest ceased and public interest began. As a matter of principle, he thought that Gentlemen who where connected with railway interests, especially if they were chairmen of railway companies, should not be Chairmen of Railway Committees. The hon. Baronet the Member for Wandsworth was a director of no fewer than three railway companies, and everybody knew that railway directors had facilities for travel given them over other lines than their own. The railway interest was a very powerful and dangerous one in that House. They could not expect that the system would be altered under the present Government, because there were twelve railway directors in the Ministry, and two of them Whips of the Tory Party. No hon. Member should sit on a Committee of whom the slightest suspicion could be felt that he was giving his votes as a guinea-pig. The hon. Gentleman should, in his own interest and in the interest of decency and good taste, retire from the position to which he had been appointed.


said it had been ruled by former Speakers that no discussion could take place of the personal character now indulged in by the hon. Gentleman.


said that that did not prevent him pointing out that the hon. Baronet the Member for Wandsworth held several directorships; and the whole thing reeked of corruption.


The hon. Gentleman is not in order in using such language.


said he did not wish to cast any personal imputation; but he thought it was extremely objectionable having Gentlemen connected with railways on such Committees.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

said that he understood that this Railway Committee was to meet to-morrow, and he desired to ask the hon. Baronet what was to be done. One member of the Committee had actually resigned; another had declined to serve; so that to-morrow the Chairman would be alone, and he could not make a Committee of himself. If the hon. Baronet persisted against the opinions of his colleagues and the House, what would happen? He would have to appear in the House and report the Member for South Westmeath. Had not the Patronage Secretary lo the Treasury sufficient trouble on his hands without raising a debate on a question of this kind? There could be no previous Question moved there. It would lead to a debate, and to the suspension of the Irish Member if he refused to act on the Committee. He wanted to know when that debate was likely to end. He thought the Committee of Selection should look into this question, and that the Chairman of that Committee should have been present, or somebody properly qualified to represent him. He must say that the House was getting into a very serious position. The hon. Baronet admited that he was a railway director of two companies and the agent in London of another. Railway directors ought not to preside over Committees on railways, the members of which should be above suspicion.

CAPTAIN ELLICE (St. Andrews Burghs)

said that as a member of the Committee he was ready to serve under any Chairman appointed by the Committee of Selection. Until recently he himself had been a railway director; but when he was appointed a member of the Committee he at once sent in his resignation to the chairman of his company. He did not take that course entirely because of his appointment to the Committee, for he had been previously in communication with his chairman on the subject, but the fact that he was appointed to the Committee hastened his I resignation. He had no feeling in the matter, and was perfectly ready to serve under any Chairman.

MR. CAWLEY (Lancashire, Prestwich)

said there seemed to be no doubt that a previous Committee declined to serve under the hon. Member for Wandsworth, and he could not help thinking that if any other Member had been appointed in the same way by the Committee of Selection to the Chairmanship of this Committee he would have mentioned that fact to the Committee of Selection.

MR. MALCOLM (Suffolk, Stowmarket)

confessed that, in his opinion, the work done by the Committee of Selection was perhaps the most important done by any other Committee of the House. It was carried on with the unanimous confidence of the House of Commons, and if that confidence was at all shaken the work done by that Committee would be, tremendously impaired. He asked his hon. friend the Member for Wandsworth to reconsider his decision to preside over this Railway Committee. He did not think the Committee would lose, or that the hon. Baronet would lose by so doing. No one would object to his being Chairman of an equally important Committee. If the hon. Baronet declined to reconsider his decision, he must say that if a question of privilege arose to-morrow afternoon out of the matter he would be obliged to throw in his lot with hon. Gentlemen opposite. He hoped that his hon. friend would think it compatible with his dignity to reconsider his position and allow his valuable services to be transferred to another Committee.

MR. SYDNEY BUXTON (Tower Hamlets, Poplar)

said he was sorry that the Chairman of the Selection Committee was too unwell to be present, and he felt a little difficulty in saying a few words on this question. As a member of the Selection Committee he would explain to the House what the position was in making appointments to Chairmanships of Committees. That was a very onerous task put upon their shoulders. He could assure the House, and he was certain that the House would accept what he said, that their one object was to put on these Committees, Members who, as far as they could judge, would be absolutely impartial. The Selection Committee did not of themselves appoint the Chairman of Committees on railway groups. They appointed a Chairman's Panel which reported to the Selection Committee that so and so had been appointed Chairman of the Committee on such and such railway group. In selecting the Chairman's Panel only men of experience and likely to be acceptable as Chairmen were appointed-He understood that no Member of the House made any reflection on the Chairman's Panel. He believed that the hon. Member for Wandsworth had been on the Panel for two or three years, but since then some things had happened-In the first place, on a previous occasion when he had been made Chairman of the railway group he was objected to for various reasons and another Chairman elected, whereupon the hon. Member withdrew.

*MR. BOND (Nottingham, E.)

said that he had been a member of the Committee referred to by the hon. Member for Kilkenny and the hon. Member for Poplar; but so far as he could recall there was no discussion on the question of the appointment of his hon. friend as a member of that Committee; and he was appointed to the Committee on the understanding that he was to be Chairman. The hon. Baronet was not, however, appointed Chairman, but he could not charge his memory to say that he was objected to because he was Chairman of a railway company. Indeed, he thought that was not mentioned, and that it had nothing to do with his not being appointed to the Chairmanship. It was because it was felt by the Committee that, as Irish Bills were concerned, an Irishman should be appointed to the position.


Can the hon. Gentleman say why the hon. Member for Wandsworth retired from the Committee?


said he did not know.


said that, so far as the Committee of Selection was concerned, this matter had not been brought to their notice. The fact that the hon. Baronet had been refused as Chairman of a previous Committee did not come before the Committee of Selection, and therefore in putting the hon. Baronet on the Chairman's Panel that was not in their minds. He did not remember the actual circumstances in which the hon. Baronet had been put on the Chairman's Panel. What was done in ordinary circumstances was to consider whether an hon. Member or his constituents had persona interests, in any of the Bills in the railway group. They considered the knowledge of affairs possessed by hon. Members, and the fact that the hon. Baronet was a director of an Indian railway would not, in itself, in the opinion of the Selection Committee, have made it impossible or disadvantageous for the hon. Baronet to be put on the Panel. His hon. friend said that as the hon. Member for Wandsworth was a director of two or three railway companies and the agent of another, that marked a difference in regard to his qualifications as Chairman of this particular Committee. In all these very delicate matters of Private Bill procedure they desired that no human being should allege that there was the slightest shred of suspicion in regard to any member of a Committee, and especially in regard to the Chairman. This was a very painful subject, and he would really like his hon. friend, against whom, of course, no personal accusation was made, to withdraw from this particular position to take another.


said it was due to the House that he should make a statement, although he was at a loss to know what was the particular matter that he had to answer. He was objected to as Chairman of a Railway Committee, on the ground, as he understood, of his being, and having been for many years, to the knowledge of the House, of the public at large, and especially of the commercial community, the chairman of an Indian railway company which had been a great success and paid large profits to the benefit of the Indian exchequer and taxpayer. That was the objection. The hon. Member for Poplar had pointed out that there might be a difference. That hon. Member admitted that the fact that he was chairman of that Indian railway company was in the knowledge of the Committee of Selection when he was appointed to the Chairman's Panel; but the hon. Member thought it made a difference when he heard from the benches opposite that he was a director in two or three other railway companies. What were the facts? He was not the chairman of any railway company in England, and never had been; and only of one in India, for the second one mentioned, the Pondichery, was only a small branch of the South Indian and in French territory, and therefore nominally a separate company; nor was he a shareholder in any English railway company. He, it was true, held a power of attorney from the board of a New Zealand railway company, and he believed that people who held that position were called agents, but it was merely a ministerial office. How, by any possibility, his position as chairman of a great Indian railway company could Subject him righteously to what on the Irish benches they had called an imputation, and what even the Member for Poplar called a suspicion, he was at a loss to conceive: and he was not disposed to give way to it. The hon. Member for Donegal had indulged in very high invectives on suspicious cases; but at the same time the hon. Member said there was no reflection on his honour. If there was not the slightest connection between an Indian railway company, 10,000 mlies away, and one of the great railway companies in England, it seemed to him there was no case for him to answer. The House might have noticed that the true secret of this personal attack—for it was a personal attack—was to be found, not in his connection with an Indian railway company or with an English railway company, but in an incident which took place last year, and which was indicated by the ejaculation from the Irish Benches just now of the word "Redistribution." It was not a question of order, but a question of personal prejudice.


said he would remind the hon. Baronet that this was not a question of privilege, and he did not think the hon. Baronet was entitled to go into any question other than that he was a director of a railway company.


said he ventured to submit whether he was not entitled to show that there was no basis for this personal attack and to show what the real facts were.


said he had already ruled that the hon. Baronet was not entitled to go into these other questions.


said he had shown what was the real basis of this personal attack. He held that there was no reflection on his honour. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had not attempted to prove that there was anything that could affect his personal interest or judgment in any matter which would come before the Committee. He could conscientiously comply with the only rule of the House which regulated the propriety or right of any Member to sit on a Committee. That was a declaration required from every Member of such Committees that neither he, nor his constituents, had any interest in the Bills that would come before the Committee of which he had been appointed chairman. That being so, he declined very respectfully to bow to the criterion which came from the Irish Benches, and from some English Benches, as to what was good or bad taste; and he refused to bow to the demand of the Nationalist Members that he should retire from the position of Chairman of this Committee.


said he wanted to explain what was the view of the Government in this matter. The Government had never interfered with the Committee of Selection. That Committee was chosen from among the very best and most respected Members of the House; it was not moved for by him, and it was an independent Committee. He therefore did not think the Government could be charged with interfering with it in any way. It would be a great mistake if the Government of the day did interfere with it.


said in regard to what took place on the Irish Bill, that Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and he was nominated to that Committee by the Committee of Selection. It was a Hybrid Committee, the Chairman of which was always elected by the Committee itself at its first meeting, he was not even proposed, and therefore could not have been and was not objected to on any ground as Chairman, and the hon. Member for Cambridge was selected, in which he himself concurred.


asked why the hon. Baronet retired from the Committee.


said he surely had a right to retire from any Committee he chose. He considered that the hon. Member for Cambridge as an Irish gentleman better qualified to act as Chairman than himself.

MR. J. A. PEASE (Essex, Saffron Waldon)

said that nobody accused the hon. Baronet of contemplating to influence anyone in regard to this particular group of Railway Bills.


said hon. Members opposite were seeking to set up an entirely new rule for the selection of members of Committees.

And, it being One of the clock, Mr. Deputy-Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at One o'clock.