HL Deb 09 May 1834 vol 23 cc768-78
Lord Plunkett

reminded their Lordships, that, in giving notice of his intention to bring forward this measure, he had also given notice, that he should throw himself upon their Lordships' indulgence, to make a statement which, strictly speaking, did not relate to the measure, but which was personal to himself. He did not know that he owed their Lordships an apology for claiming that indulgence. He should rather have thought himself bound to ask their forgiveness if he had not come forward to make some observations upon the subject to which he was about to refer. It would be in their Lordships' recollection—if, indeed, they called to mind anything connected with so humble an individual as himself—that many remarks of a harsh character had been made upon his conduct in another place. He did not complain, nor had he any right to complain, of such remarks having been made; and, however he might have been wounded by the manner in which those observations were made, it was the undoubted right of every individual in the other House of Parliament to censure public conduct, and to make such remarks upon it as a sense of propriety might suggest. He had no right to complain of those observations having been made in a place where he had not, and could not have, any opportunity of defending himself. But it was not unnatural that an individual who had been attacked, should be anxious to embrace the first opportunity of defending his conduct; and, therefore, he was sure their Lordships would excuse him for detaining them with what he was about to say. He was not ashamed to repeat, that he had been deeply wounded,—hurt more than he could express,—more, perhaps, than belonged to the nature or degree of the attack which had been made upon him—since the moment when he first heard of it having being made. He considered that the character of a public man was public property; but, at the same time, the fact of his filling the situation which he had the honour to hold under his Majesty, was very likely to create, on the part of their Lordships, an anxiety to hear whether there was any foundation for the imputation of the motives which had been charged against a Member of that House, and which, if true, would render him unworthy of a place in it. He would not unnecessarily occupy a moment of their Lordships' time; but he owed it to himself and to the House, to state the matter fully and clearly. The charge made against him two months back, in another place, was, that he, having been a member of the Commission which had issued in Ireland, in the year 1830, for the purpose of inquiring into certain points connected with abuses in the Church Establishment, into the propriety of disuniting certain parishes, and other subjects mentioned in the Commission,—having, in the month of April, in the year 1831, signed a recommendation for disappropriating the union of the Deanery of Down, with a full knowledge of its having been made, did, in the month of October following, solicit the situation of Dean of Down, which had then become vacant, from his noble friends, the members of his Majesty's Government, in behalf of his son; and that he did, with that knowledge in his mind, conceal from them the fact, that such a recommendation had been made. When this charge was first made, he felt indignant, that an individual, who had been a public man more than thirty years—and he might say, without arrogating too much to himself, without stain or imputation—should be liable to have such an accusation preferred against him. If such a charge had been made by the meanest person in the community, it would have been sufficient to affect the feelings of any man, but it was rendered more galling, by having been preferred by persons who occupied a high station in society. He did not cast any censure upon those with whom the accusation originated. He was willing to suppose, that they were actuated by a sense of public duty. His character had been defended by friends, to whose exertions he was deeply indebted; but when the charge related to a certain fact, not at the time the charge was made within the knowledge of any but the individual accused, no person could meet it with a proper denial, except that individual himself. On that account he came forward, and declared solemnly on his honour, that the charge had no foundation whatever. Perhaps he was entitled to say, that after a fact which rested merely on assertion, had been denied, no further defence need be made. He could not, however, rest satisfied with a bare denial. He had stated the extent of the charge against him, and his case in answer to it was this:—First, he did not know, at the period when the honour—which he never solicited—was conferred upon his son—nor had he any reason whatever to suspect at that period, that any such recommendation had been made, that he never signed such a recommendation, and that he had no reason to believe, that such a recommendation had been signed at all. Next he said, that as soon as he did learn, which was not till July 1832, of this recommendation having been made in the month of April, 1831; he immediately came forward, and in the most explicit manner declared, that he thought, his Majesty's Government ought not to be embarrassed by his son having been appointed to the Deanery of Down; and unconditionally, on his part, he at once took upon himself to waive the unconditional appointment, and to beg, that the living might be considered as vacant. These were the two points which he was bound to make out. With regard to the first, he should refer to a few passages in the Report of the Commissioners. He did mean to say, that it was charged in the precise terms which he had used, that he had signed this recommendation; but, he had no doubt, that ninety-nine persons out of the hundred, considered that the charge against him was, that he suffered his son to be appointed to the Deanery of Down after having signed this recommendation. He did not sign it. He had brought down, for the purpose of laying before any noble Lord who might be disposed to look at it, that Report, as it was ordered to be printed by the Commissioners. It was made on the 18th of April, 1831, the Commission having issued in the month of October preceding. The Report, and the body of evidence on which it was founded, occupied 1619 folio pages. To no part of that had he been in any respect a party—to no part of it had he sub-scribed his name, except at the end of the first sixteen pages, which contained the Fourth Preliminary Report. The remainder was the Appendix which belonged to it; the Report was signed by the seven Commissioners, of whom he was one. Now, he begged to state, and the fact would be apparent on the face of that Report to any one who would take the trouble of examining it—that in it not one syllable was contained with respect to the Deanery of Down,—not one syllable with respect to any deanery, or to any specific benefice; but there was a general declaration in this Report, in which he perfectly and entirely concurred, that it would be right and proper, on vacancies arising in the ten dioceses therein referred to, forming the province of Armagh, to disappropriate the livings of some of them, although not of the whole. The Commissioners stated, in page 10, that there were 110 unions in these dioceses; not specifying any one of them by name, but declaring, that a certain number would be fit for disappropriation, and that the remainder would not. They then went on to state, that it would be necessary to have some general measure introduced for the purpose of carrying their recommendations into effect; and added, that it would be necessary to give all the cases further consideration, and to require additional evidence before any other stops were taken. The Appendix containing the application of this general principle,—in which he entirely concurred,—to each of the livings, was exclusively framed by the three clerical Commissioners, whom it was only necessary to name, to ensure for them respect; the Lord Primate of Ireland,—the Bishop of Dromore, Dr. Saurin,—and the Bishop of Down, Dr. Mann. There were not fewer than 100 schedules annexed to the Report with recommendations to each of them. They were exclusively and entirely framed by those right reverend persons, who had appended their signatures to each, without any communication whatever with him upon the subject, he was not in attendance on the Commission, he had not an opportunity of knowing any one of their proceedings, they were never laid before him, they were never adverted to in his presence, nor was any communication made to him calculated to bring under his observation any of the recommendations respecting the Deanery of Down, or any one of those ten dioceses in the province of Armagh. He had no particular connexion with the subject; it was not one for him to take up, and he begged their Lordships to understand, that he was not appointed a member of this Commission, as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, because he had not the honour of filling that office when the Commission issued. His noble friend whose administration in Ireland was marked by the best and wisest measures, begged of him, in the month of October, to allow his name to be placed in this Commission; in the December following he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Reports were made in December, January, and February, during the whole of which period he was engaged in the arduous duties which had devolved upon him, in consequence of the heavy arrears of business which he had to transact on succeeding to office. He could not, and did not, attend the meetings of the Commissioners. When he was not actually engaged in the Court of Chancery, he was under the necessity of attending his duties in that House; and when he returned to Ireland in April, the Report had been made, and the Appendix drawn up; in fact, everything was done without his knowledge. The Preliminary Report of sixteen pages was read in his hearing, but the Appendix was not read at the meeting of Commissioners, nor was any observation made upon it, nor did any conversation take place with respect to it, calculated to direct his attention towards it. He objected, in the first instance, to signing even the Preliminary Report, on two grounds; one was, that at (page 9, he thought), a passage occurred relative to proceedings in the Court of Chancery in Ireland, and he expressed his apprehension, that he should, perhaps, by signing the Report, forestall some of his duties as Chancellor. The charge against him was, that he signed the Preliminary Report without having read it. He should show their Lordships presently, that he refused to verify a particular part of the Report. The second objection which he made to signing the Preliminary Report was, that he had not any acquaintance with the details of the Appendix, and, therefore, he did not consider that he ought to sign it. The reply made by some of the Commissioners, for whom he entertained a very high feeling of respect, was, that if he declined to sign the Preliminary Report, the conclusion would be, that he disapproved of the principle; and that, by signing it, he was not necessarily pledged to the details of the Appendix, That being pressed upon him, and he, approving completely and entirely of the principle of the Report, consented to sign it. He did not mean to say, that he was entitled to be exempted from the responsibility of the recommendations contained in the Appendix; but, without going through that, which he could not have done consistently with the other duties he had to discharge, and taking into consideration the high character of the distinguished Commissioners, he thought he was perfectly secure in signing the Preliminary Report, and expressing his concurrence in the general recommendations. What he stated in his defence was, that he did not know of the recommendation when the appointment of his son took place, and that as soon as he knew of it, he interposed for the purpose of having the living considered vacant. He could state, for their Lordships' consideration, a hundred circumstances which occurred at the time to prevent his having the most distant suspicion of the existence of any such recommendation. Their Lordships would observe, that the Report did not state, that certain acts were to be done, but that further consideration was required, that Acts of Parliament were necessary, and that the Commissioners would have to call for further information. That Report was laid on the Table by the Commissioners, in 1831; and until the month of July, 1832,—six months after the appointment of his son,—he never heard anything concerning the Report. A debate took place, in this House, on the subject of that appointment, and a noble Marquess took occasion to animadvert upon it; but there was no complaint, at that time, of the absolute impropriety of its being made, or of the existence of any such recommendation as that to which he had referred. He entreated their Lordships' attention to the evidence which he was able to lay before them. But, before he produced that evidence, he begged to ask whether, under the circumstances he had stated, his assertion on his honour, that he did not know of any such recommendation in the Report ought not to be conclusive? He would not say that he was humiliated, but wounded, by being called upon to give evidence on such a case. On hearing the charge made against him, and having in his own mind an entire conviction that he had heard nothing whatever of the particular recommendation to which he had alluded, he wrote to the Lord Primate of Ireland, to ascertain what was his Grace's impres- sion as to this recommendation being brought under his notice. His Grace answered in the following terms:— March 18, 1834. My Lord,—In reply to your Lordship's letter, I can have no hesitation in stating, that, to the best of my recollection, your Lordship had not any share in framing the Report of the Commissioners of Ecclesiastical Inquiry, nor did any conversation take place in your presence calculated to bring to your mind or knowledge the recommendation of the Commissioners with respect to the Deanery of Down. The analytical digest appended to the Report was prepared by the Bishop of Down, the Bishop of Cloyne, and myself, as will be seen by reference to it, our initials being the only ones attached to it. The Report drawn up by the Bishop of Down upon this, our Preliminary Report, was submitted to the Commissioners, and some alterations were suggested by Mr. Ratcliffe, and adopted, as I understood. The Report which was thus approved of was read over at a meeting of the Commissioners, summoned for the purpose (at which meeting, if I am not mistaken, your Lordship attended), and was unanimously agreed to. He wrote a second letter to the Lord Primate, stating that he was apprehensive, that when the Lord Primate said, that the Report was read, it might be misunderstood as being the General Report. In answer to this, his Grace stated, that no person could he mistaken on the subject, because, if they looked at the document, itself, they would perceive, that the Report read at the meeting of the Commissioners was merely a Preliminary Report. His Grace stated further, that the ground of his (Lord Plunkett's) declining to sign the Report, was an objection to a passage in page 9 of the Report. He would next trouble their Lordships with the statement of Dr. Ratcliffe, with whom he also corresponded on the subject. Dr. Ratcliff stated, there was another ground why he (Lord Plunkett) had not signed the Report. 'I perfectly recollect, he said, that you, for some time, at the last meeting of the Commissioners of Ecclesiastical Inquiry, refused to sign the Report, because you were unacquainted with the details of the Appendix, but you were persuaded to do so, on the suggestion being made, that you could not be considered as committed to the details of the Schedule, but only to the body of the Report, and that your disapprobation of the Report itself would be inferred by your refusal to sign it.' The Secretary to the Commissioners had also written him a letter, in which he stated that he (Lord Plunkett) did refuse to sign the Report, on the ground that he was not acquainted with its details. The letter was very precise. The Secretary said, 'In consequence of a conversation between Dr. Ratcliffe and me, I take the liberty to communicate to your Lordship my impression of what took place at the last meeting of the Commissioners. I perfectly recollect that your Lordship objected to sign the Report, inasmuch as the business of the Court of Chancery had prevented you from attending to the details of the proceedings on the subject.' This was the evidence which he had felt it necessary to lay before their Lordships, and he begged leave to ask whether he had or not brought home to every candid mind, a conviction that, under the circumstances in which he signed the Preliminary Report, there was no ground of inference that he had a knowledge of certain things contained in the Appendix of that Report, which he solemnly said he had not? The appointment of his son to the deanery of Down was made in the month of October, 1831. On that subject he heard nothing more till the month of July, 1832. In that month a right hon. Gentleman in the other House of Parliament stated that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland was one of the Commissioners who had recommended that the deanery of Down should not be filled up in case of a vacancy, and yet, notwithstanding this recommendation, he had got his son appointed to it, and the right hon. Gentleman called upon the right hon. Secretary for Ireland for an explanation. His right hon. friend (Mr. Stanley) informed him of this. He (Lord Plunkett) instantly declared to his right hon. friend, as he stated to their Lordships, that he was altogether ignorant of any such recommendation being in the Report of the Commissioners, and declared, that he would not suffer the Government of the country to be in the least degree embarrassed on his account, and, therefore, authorised his right hon. friend to say, that there was an actual vacancy in the deanery of Down. A statement to this effect was made in Parliament, and his right hon. friend said, that he would bring forward a Bill to carry the recommendation of the Commissioners into effect. Shortly after this the right hon. Secretary brought in a Bill for the purpose, and after that he (Lord Plunkett) was not more concerned in the matter than any other member of his Majesty's Government. The right hon. Gentleman who had made the statement was satisfied, and he heard, then, nothing more on the subject. The Bill for the purpose he had stated was brought forward by Mr. Stanley, and received the Royal Assent in August, 1833. This Bill authorized the Government to deal with the deanery of Down and Raphoe as if there was an actual vacancy. The question, then, was whether any unnecessary delay had taken place? The tribunal constituted to take the necessary steps to carry the discontinuance of the deanery into effect was composed of the Commissioners appointed under the Church Temporalities Bill. He was a member of it, but he had laid down a Resolution from which he had not departed, that he would take no part in their proceedings. He believed, that a right reverend Prelate, who was a member of that Board, could explain if it were necessary what had been done. He (Lord Plunkett) would, however, state that as far as he and his son were concerned, he felt that the Commissioners were not proceeding in the matter with that activity which he wished to take place, and he had, therefore, sent to them to make the Return, so as to enable the Lord Lieutenant to carry the object of the Bill into effect, and they stated, that it should be done as soon as the Returns passed the Privy Council. It was not till the 13th of March, that the charge that he had alluded to had been made against him. He was as much surprised at hearing such a charge brought against him as any of their Lordships would be at hearing a similar charge. He had to apologize for having taken up so much of their Lordships' time, but he felt he was bound, not only to himself but in justice to their Lordships, to vindicate himself from such an accusation. The matter had been completed, and the result was, that the deanery of Down had lost half its patronage. He ought also to state, that when his son accepted the deanery he gave up a living which he held of 1,200l. a-year, and that by the result he would be a loser of some hundreds a-year. He did not bring any charges against those who accused him, but he felt called upon to vindicate his character, which he trusted he had done to the satisfaction of their Lordships.

Earl Grey

wished to address a few words to their Lordships on the present occasion. Anybody, he was sure, who knew anything at all of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Plunkett) must have been quite satisfied, without a word being said, that the charge which had been made against him was totally destitute of any foundation whatever, and all who might have entertained a more unfavourable opinion of him, after the satisfactory explanations which had been given in another place, must have been convinced of the propriety of his conduct throughout the transaction, and that he was altogether free from any of the imputations by which his feelings had been so deeply wounded. Although, therefore, any further explanation or vindication was altogether unnecessary, it was yet natural and right that the noble and learned Lord, following up the sort of accusation which had been brought against him, should state—what he alone could do fully and satisfactorily—the share he had personally in the matter. His noble and learned friend had amply vindicated himself. Their Lordships, he was sure, were quite satisfied that his noble and learned friend had not been aware of the recommendation—indeed, he could not; and as the preferment had been given without his noble friend's solicitation, so it had been accepted without any knowledge of the recommendation of the Report. As a person having some concern in that part of the transaction, he (Earl Grey) felt himself called on to state most distinctly, that when he recommended the dean of Down to the preferment, he certainly had no knowledge of the recommendation of the Commissioners; he had taken that course with great pleasure, being satisfied on inquiry that his character and qualifications eminently fitted him for the preferment, that his promotion would tend to the benefit of the Church, while he was not insensible to the satisfaction such an appointment would naturally give to his noble and learned friend behind him. He did not think it necessary to say more than this. The preferment had been given without the solicitation, and even without the knowledge, of his noble and learned friend, and under circumstances which, without going further, rendered it impossible for any one to doubt that his noble and learned friend's conduct on the occasion had throughout been pure and disinterested. Besides, the dean of Down had actually sacrificed, in order to obtain the preferment, a much more valuable living. He had thought it right to bear this testimony in favour of his noble and learned friend, and to state what everybody who knew him would concur in stating along with him—that the characteristic purity and uprightness of his intentions had completely been confirmed by all that had taken place.

The subject was dropped.