§ EARL GREY
begged to ask the noble Duke the Secretary for the Colonies, whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to institute any inquiry into the conduct and proceedings of the New Zealand Company? He made this inquiry in consequence of what had taken place during the last Session of Parliament with reference to the affairs of the colony 714 of New Zealand. Their Lordships might remember that during the progress through Parliament of the New Zealand Government Bill, both in that House and the other, accusations of a very serious nature had been thrown out against the New Zealand Company. It was stated that money, which had been advanced to them by the authority of Parliament for public purposes, had been grossly misapplied by the directors. Further, it was stated that certain proceedings had been taken by the Company with regard to some settlers at Nelson, which was designated as a fraud. In the other House it had been expressly stated by two Gentlemen, both of whom now occupied high situations in Her Majesty's Government, that they considered these charges to be of a most serious character. The Gentlemen to whom he (Earl Grey) referred, were the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Works. The latter Gentleman (Sir W. Molesworth) had stated in direct language, on the third reading of the Bill, that he (Sir W. Molesworth) had endeavoured to prevent the fraud, but had failed, and that he was prepared to substantiate before a Committee all the charges which he had made; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had supported a Motion to the effect, that in consequence of these suspicions respecting the conduct of the Company, a certain portion of the Bill then before Parliament, making an arrangement for the repayment to the New Zealand Company of capital sunk in the colony by the further proceeds of the land sales, should be omitted. When the Bill came up to their Lordships' House, the noble Duke now Secretary of State for the Colonies, did not express any decided opinion to the same effect as Sir William Molesworth as to the charges having been proved; but he did state that they were charges of a most serious nature—that there was a strong primâ facie case against the Company—that those charges required to be investigated—and that, pending the investigation, it was not just either to the inhabitants of New Zealand, or to the public in this country, that the clause contained in the Bill should be passed into law. Under these circumstances, he (Earl Grey) thought that their Lordships would agree with him that an investigation was absolutely necessary. The fact that the Bill had passed, made no kind of difference; because, if the Company bad been guilty—as was broad- 715 ly asserted—of misappropriating public money, Parliament had not only the right, but it was its duty, to take measures for causing those sums, so fraudulently abstracted, to be repaid out of the proceeds of those land sales which, under the existing law, were set apart for the New Zealand Company. In the same manner, if it were true that a gross fraud had been committed on the settlers at Nelson, it was the duty of Parliament to see that redress was granted. He (Earl Grey) was, therefore, anxious to know whether an inquiry was intended by Her Majesty's Government. He naturally took a great interest in the subject, because it had been, if not broadly asserted, at all events insinuated in language which could not be mistaken, that he had wilfully connived at the frauds of the New Zealand Company. Now, it was perfectly true that when the question was first submitted to him he had believed, and he had at once said, that it bore a very bad aspect; but on investigating it he had been satisfied that nothing had been done which afforded grounds for imputations on the honour or the fair dealing of the directors, and, being satisfied, he had stated the opinion he entertained. He believed that his successor, the late Secretary of State, had come to the same conclusion; but he submitted that the question now stood in a very different position from last year. When the Bill of last year was going through Parliament, the voluminous papers on which an opinion could be formed had not been printed; they had not been before Parliament, and it had been impossible to go into the subject. Therefore, although upon the second reading of the Bill he (Earl Grey) had made a short, or at least a partial, statement, it was impossible for him to go into the question in the absence of the necessary information. But that information was now before Parliament and the country, and he submitted to their Lordships that it was due both to the inhabitants of New Zealand and of this country that it should be ascertained in the clearest manner if the public money had been misapplied, and, if so, who was to blame; and if injustice had been done to the settlers, that that injustice should be remedied. For these reasons he (Earl Grey) would ask the noble Duke whether it was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to institute any inquiry, either by means of a Parliamentary Committee or otherwise, into the conduct and proceedings of the New Zealand Company?
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
said, he was really not prepared, at this distance of time, to say whether the noble Earl had stated accurately what had taken place in the other House upon this subject last Session; but, as regarded any part that he (the Duke of Newcastle) took in the discussion upon the Bill passing through their Lordships' House, the noble Earl had in the main accurately represented the part which he took, and the opinions which he expressed: At the same time he thought the noble Earl had considerably overstated one part of the accusations brought against the New Zealand Company, while he had dwelt very lightly indeed upon that part of the charge against them which was more immediately under the consideration of both Houses, and upon which alone he (the Duke of Newcastle) at least rested his opinion that it was inexpedient to pass a certain portion of the measure. The noble Earl had said that grave charges were brought against the Company of misappropriation of public funds. He (the Duke of Newcastle) hardly knew to what the noble Earl alluded in making that statement. Misappropriation to a certain extent, he thought, was implied in the charges which were made against the Company; but the main charge in the discussion last year was this—that in a negotiation with the Government of which the noble Earl was a Member, and Sir Charles Wood Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had then under consideration a measure for the relief of the Company from their pecuniary difficulties, the Company had concealed an important fact from the Government, and especially from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or had practised (to use the words of the noble Earl) a fraud upon the public, by representing that they were taking a legal opinion with regard to their liabilities, upon which legal opinion the question of their liability, and consequently the measure for their relief, was to rest; that that opinion was adverse to the Company; that thereupon they took another opinion, and presented to the Government this latter opinion, which was favourable to them, concealing from the Government that they had obtained a previous one which was adverse. That was the charge under consideration last year, and upon hearing which he (the Duke of Newcastle) stated—and he must still adhere to that opinion—that it was inexpedient, when there was a charge of such a suppressio veri, to say the least of it, against the 717 Company—that it was improper and impolitic to give the Company the additional advantage conferred upon it by the Bill of last year. What was that advantage? It was found that the arrangement obtained (as was alleged) by the suppression of this opinion was inoperative to secure for the Company in New Zealand those advantages which were contemplated; that they did not receive that income from the land sales which was intended to be given them by that arrangement; and therefore in the Bill of last year a new arrangement was made, to saddle the debt of 268,000l.—that he thought was the sum—upon the lands of the colony, there being a condition—the concession of the lands of the colony to the colonists. He (the Duke of Newcastle) then stated, as friends of his in the other House also did, that any additional boon to a Company lying under such grave imputations and charges ought not to be conceded without a full investigation into those charges; and, without expressing any opinion upon their truth, he stated that there ought to be investigation before adopting that measure. He remembered he also said he was by no means anxious to place the Company in any less advantageous position by legislation last year, than it had been placed in by the Government of 1848, and that, therefore, anxious as he was that the colonists should receive the great boon of the management of their own land sales, he was prepared to move thè omission of this concession, in order that the whole question might remain open till another year for the full investigation of those charges. He still adhered to the opinion that that would have been advisable and right. But Parliament overruled that opinion. By a division in the other House it was determined that thé concession to the Company should be made without any investigation, and without waiting for the production of that mass of correspondence now lying on the table. In their Lordships' House the Bill came up at the close of the Session, and though he (the Duke of Newcastle) made a Motion to that effect, he found it would be useless to divide the House. The decision of Parliament, therefore, was adverse to his opinion; no inquiry was considered desirable, no inquiry took place. But for what had he said that inquiry was desirable? For the purpose of deciding whether it was right that this boon should be conferred. The boon had been conferred; the question was so far settled; and, though he by no means 718 bound himself or the Government with regard to their future course upon this question, when—as he anticipated—it might be again raised, he must say to the noble Earl that he thought this was, of all times, the least proper for calling for an investigation, Parliamentary or otherwise. He considered that last year, when the question was raised by the demand of the New Zealand Company for an additional concession to those many great concessions which they had obtained from the country, an inquiry would have been right; and he then stated that he believed such inquiry was necessary for the honour of Parliament. His opinion was, however, overruled; and he asked what immediate cause there was at this time for an investigation? He anticipated the time might arrive when such an investigation might be necessary, and that time would be when they knew the manner in which the Colonists had received the measure of last year. He could not anticipate that the legislation of Parliament in that respect would be received with entire accord or acquiescence—certainly not with satisfaction. He did not express this opinion from any communications he had had with the colony, but in consequence of the mode in which the colonists received the anticipated measure of the noble Earl at the close of the Session before last—a Bill for a concession to the New Zealand Company, though of a different character, and to which, as throwing a burden upon their finances, they strongly objected. Before he came into office two or three petitions upon this subject were intrusted to him by the colonists of New Zealand; and from their general tone he could not but anticipate that there would be some remonstrances addressed to this House when the Act passed at the close of the last Session should reach the colony. He must, therefore, say that he thought they ought not now to enter upon an investigation without any distinct object, and that they would be prejudging a question that might be brought under their attention by the colonists within a few months, or even within a few weeks, of the present time. After the concessions which had been made to the New Zealand Company, with the assent of the noble Earl himself, without investigation, he (the Duke of Newcastle) could see no necessity now for reopening the question, the proper moment for its investigation having passed. He hoped it was unnecessary for him to assure the noble Earl that neither in anything 719 that ever fell from him, nor that was ever conceived by him, did he intimate or believe that the noble Earl, either in his official capacity or in any private way, was a party to conniving at or screening any transactions of the New Zealand or any other company, which he believed not to be in accordance with good faith or with the public interests. He (the Duke of Newcastle) had certainly had no time to peruse the enormous "blue book" which had been presented to Parliament on this subject, and he had not had an opportunity of reading more than three or four letters in that book; but two of those letters, which appeared to have been private and confidential letters of the noble Earl, showed what his feeling was on receiving the first information of this transaction, and would completely exonerate him from any charge of the nature alleged; and those letters, although addressed to private friends of the noble Earl, showed that he treated the matter in the way in which any highminded and honourable gentleman would have done. He (the Duke of Newcastle) abstained from expressing any opinion as to the course taken by the noble Earl in his subsequent official communications, convinced as the noble Earl appeared to have become of the erroneous view which he took in his private communications, and of the guiltlessness of the New Zealand Company, because he thought, as it was not the intention of the Government to propose at this moment an investigation into these matters, that it would be unadvisable for him in his official capacity to express any such opinion; but he felt bound in justice and honour to say that, as far as the noble Earl was concerned, whatever might be the case with respect to other parties, he (the Duke of Newcastle) entertained no opinion that his honour was compromised in any of these transactions.
§ EARL GREY
said, he was obliged to the noble Duke for what he had said personally of himself; but he must express his great regret that the noble Duke did not propose that this subject should undergo a sound and searching investigation: and he must add, that he did not think the Government would do their duty if they allowed the question to be passed over. He must be permitted slightly to correct the noble Duke's impression as to what passed on this subject last year. He would first remind their Lordships that there was a distinct understanding in the 720 other House, which he remembered referring to in the debate which took place in their Lordships' House, that though an investigation was impracticable last year, since the voluminous papers could not be collected and printed in sufficient time, Her Majesty's late Government, if he was not greatly mistaken, fully intended that an investigation should take place in the present Session of Parliament. But further, he must beg leave to say that the nature of the question had not been quite correctly stated by the noble Duke. The only point arising between the New Zealand Company and the Government with respect to which, so far as he was aware, blame was thrown upon the Company, was that they had concealed certain contingent liabilities which might be thrown upon the Government. Now, he apprehended that time had set this matter at rest, because if these liabilities were to arise they would have arisen ere this, and the Government would have been called upon to make the payments:—so that between the Government and the Company, with regard to this subject there was hardly any question left. The really serious part of the charge with regard to the two opinions obtained from two different counsel was, that by sending out one of those opinions, and suppressing the fact of the existence of the opposite opinion, the settlers at Nelson had been induced to agree to an arrangement into which, had they been aware of the facts, they would not have entered. That was a point in which justice to the settlers and the honour of Parliament were concerned, and the fact of Parliament having passed a Bill last year, did not, in his view, render inquiry the less necessary. In their Lordships' House there was not much said on the pecuniary part of the question; but in the other House he could speak very confidently—for he had refreshed his recollection by referring that morning to the records of the debates—it was asserted that of the sum advanced by Parliament to the New Zealand Company for public purposes, a considerable portion had been misapplied by the directors of that Company to puposes in which they were individually interested. He found, from Hansard, that at the conclusion of the proceedings one of the Members of the present Government—the President of the Board of Works (Sir W. Molesworth)— having made those charges said—That his only object had been to prevent what he considered to be a fraud. Having failed 721 in his object, he could only say that he would be ready to prove the charges he bad made before any Committee of Inquiry, and he challenged contradiction of them."—[3 Hansard, cxxii. 896.]:Now, their Lordships could not fail to perceive, that if 8,000l., or 10,000l., or even a larger amount of the public money, had been misappropriated and misapplied, it was a duty of Government, from which they could not shrink, to investigate the fraud; and if the fraud had really been committed, to cause that money to be repaid: and there was an easy means of obtaining repayment—by stopping a portion of the sums which became due to the New Zealand Company. He considered that there was no necessity for deferring an inquiry until they heard what had passed in the colony, because all the facts were alleged to have occurred in this country. And it was alleged that the misappropriation of certain sums placed at the disposal of the directors had occurred in this country. He said, then, that this charge of direct pecuniary malversation, so brought forward by a Member of the present Government, was one which it was the duty of the Government to investigate, with the view either of causing the money alleged to have been misapplied to be repaid, or of relieving from an undeserved stigma those upon whom imputations had been cast.
§ The DUKE of NEWCASTLE
wished to remind the noble Earl that he had distinctly said that he anticipated the time would come when an investigation would be necessary. Although, however, he considered that there ought to have been an investigation last year, he could not see any reason for an investigation at this moment, because he thought it most desirable that before any investigation took place they should be in possession of the views and opinions of the colonists upon their part of the case. With reference to the Nelson settlers especially, he thought that, after handing over to them the management of their own land funds, and giving them a free constitution, Parliament would be acting very imprudently in entering upon a wide field of inquiry affecting their interests before their opinions were ascertained. With regard to the charge of malversation in respect of public money, he (the Duke of Newcastle) could only say that he never made any such charge in that House, and he was not aware, until the noble Earl's statement that night, that any charge of that kind had been made in such distinct terms in the other House. 722 He frankly admitted that such charges had been bruited about in public, but he had never heard that they had been brought forward in any substantial form. He must remind the noble Earl, who called upon the Government to institute an investigation of this nature, that there were other parties equally interested—namely, those against whom the charges were made, and who, if he remembered rightly, last year were not very anxious for an investigation.
§ EARL GREY
must state, in justice to the New Zealand Company, that last year, and this year also, they had expressed their wish for the most full investigation, although they certainly had not wished that the New Zealand Bill should be delayed until the investigation took place; but an inquiry into this matter was not in the least affected by the fact of the Bill being passed. He could state that the directors of the New Zealand Company had directly called upon a gentleman who was supposed—and who, as he understood, did not deny the fact—to have been the means, through the public press, of bringing forward this charge, to move for a Committee of the House of Commons during the present Session, with the promise that a seconder should be found for his Motion; but the offer was declined. He thought, after that, it was a little unfair to the New Zealand Company to say that they had shrunk from inquiry. He could only say that if he had brought forward charges of this kind, he should have thought it his duty, when he was in a situation to do so, to take care that the charges should not drop; and he hoped and trusted that this would be a lesson to those who had brought forward these charges, of the groundlessness of which he was convinced, from their obvious reluctance to press them, they were now satisfied. He hoped this would be a lesson to them to be a little less rash in scattering scandalous imputations upon men of as high honour as themselves.
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.