HL Deb 09 May 1865 vol 179 cc40-5

My Lords, anxious as I am to pay every attention to the request of a gentleman in the unfortunate position in which Mr. Leonard Edmunds stands, I cannot ask your Lordships to sanction any further delay in this matter in order that he may be heard by counsel. A request that he might have the benefit of legal assistance was, in fact, made to the Committee; hut after the application had been entertained, and a disposition shown to accede to it, the request was withdrawn by Mr. Edmunds. If I were now to accede to this Motion I should be countenancing the belief that the facts might readily be changed if professional assistance were obtained. I feel that in this matter I have a most painful duty to perform; and the noble Lord, in the request which has just been made, no doubt is somewhat under the influence of those feelings which, more or less, have been shared by all persons since this unfortunate matter was first mentioned. In the Committee it was proposed by the noble Duke behind me (the Duke of Somerset) that a recommendation to the House to re-consider their grant of a pension should be included in the Report. The majority voted against that proposal, on the ground mainly that it did not properly form part of their business to make such a recommendation. [The Earl of DERBY: Hear, hear!] But I did not understand them in any way to offer an opinion as to the expediency of continuing' or revoking the pension itself. For my own part, I am afraid that, however much we re-consider the subject, there can be but one possible issue. Upon many of the charges brought against Mr. Edmunds the Committee declined to offer any opinion whatever; hut two upon which they did pronounce distinct findings were the second and third charges. The second charge preferred against Mr. Edmunds was— For having improperly retained in his hands or under his control, between the 9th of August, 1852, and the month of July, 1864, without duly paying the same over into tier Majesty's Exchequer, divers large sums of money received by him for fees on Patents, which ought to have been from time to time, during that period, paid by him into Her Majesty's Exchequer. The Committee say, "there can be no doubt that the second charge is fully proved against Mr. Edmunds." The third charge was— For having from time to time improperly caused to be transferred to the credit of his private account with Messrs. Coutts and Co., bankers, from a separate account kept by him with the same bankers for the public purposes of Her Majesty's Patent Office, and having applied to his own use, divers sums of public money for which he was accountable to Her Majesty. The Committee, recapitulating the facts, say they "cannot hesitate to come to the conclusion that the third charge is com- pletely established against Mr. Edmunds." My answer, therefore, to the appeal of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Wynford) rests entirely upon these two points. Both the Commissioners who originally investigated the circumstances and the Committee of Inquiry of the House of Lords arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Edmunds had been guilty of embezzlement—a finding which was corroborated by his own admissions. I wish to say as little as possible to aggravate the charges against that unfortunate gentleman. But, however, much I regret the step which it is my duty to take—particularly in the case of a gentleman with whom for many years we have all held friendly communication at the table of this House and in Committee-rooms upstairs—yet, for the sake of public morality, for the sake of other and meritorious public servants, and for the sake of the honour of this House, it is necessary that we should at once rescind the Resolution by which, under the circumstances already described, a pension of £800 a year was granted to Leonard Edmunds.

Moved to rescind the Resolution of the House of the 24th February agreeing to the Report of the Committee on the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments and Office of Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod made on the 17th February, so far as relates to the Recommendation of the said Committee that a retiring Provision of £800 per Annum should be allowed to Leonard Edmunds, Esquire.—(The Lord President.)


I can only have one feeling upon this subject, in common with the rest of your Lordships. But I confess when an old servant of the House in the position of Mr. Edmunds prays the House of Lords that he may be heard before his case is finally decided upon, it seems rather a strong measure to reject absolutely the prayer of that petition. I do not wish to say anything as to the Committee, but simply as to the course which their inquiry assumed. It seems that Mr. Edmunds was examined and put in the position of giving evidence against himself, becoming thereby his own accuser. Where so much was heard against him it does seem remarkable that something—whatever is capable of being urged—should not now be put forward on his behalf. He has practically been condemned unheard on the charges brought against him; while in a criminal court, even if the verdict went against him, he would still have had the benefit in public estimation of all that counsel could urge in his favour. Under the circumstances, therefore, when a man prays to be heard on a matter deeply affecting himself, the House of Lords will be taking a step that is unusual if they refuse to comply with his petition. It was true that Mr. Edmunds' request to be heard by counsel was acceded to, but it was coupled with a condition which would have rendered it nugatory, for the extent of the professional assistance which the Committee were willing to allow him precluded his counsel from putting any question directly to the witnesses, or from making any address to the tribunal—advantages which the meanest criminal would enjoy before a petty jury. I am always anxious that the proceedings of this House should be conducted according to what appears to be the strictest justice, and therefore I trust the House will not reject a petition praying to be heard. At best it can but involve a delay of a very few days; the matter might, in fact, be entertained to-morrow or next day if the House saw fit to do so.


I rise, with great unwillingness, to oppose the suggestion of the noble Lord. But I doubt whether it would really be an act of mercy towards Mr. Edmunds to grant his petition, for there can be little doubt on the mind of any noble Lord familiar with the evidence as to the result of any further investigation, whether Mr. Edmunds enjoys the benefit of professional advice or not. A great deal of time and attention has been already devoted to the consideration of the case in all its bearings. Every question that could be suggested in the interest of Mr. Edmunds was put. If there had been any points capable of being raised in his favour, I venture to say that there would have been every desire on the part of the Committee to elicit them. But this House is in possession of the Report of the Committee; and I say that if this House is to maintain the character which it has hitherto held, and ought always to enjoy in public estimation, there is but one course for it to pursue, and that is to rescind the Resolution granting the pension, whatever may be the legal mode of doing so. I should state that in Committee I voted against the recommendation to that effect proposed by the noble Duke, and I did so upon these grounds:—First, I doubted whether the Order of Reference was sufficiently wide for us to entertain the point; and, next, I believed that the opinion we had already expressed in the Report, to the effect that the original Committee, if they had had the facts before them, would probably not have granted the pension, was in itself sufficiently strong. I had a third reason, which was, that I really did not know what was the proper legal course to pursue in a case where it was sought to revoke a pension regularly granted by the House upon the recommendation of the proper Committee. I hope the noble Earl (Earl Granville) has taken legal advice upon this matter, and is certain that the course he now asks us to adopt is the right one.


said, he also had voted in Committee against a recommendation to withdraw the pension, feeling confident that the House would do justice to its own character in such a matter. There could not be the least doubt that under the circumstances it was impossible for this unfortunate gentleman to remain in possession of a pension the receipt of which was in itself a certificate of honourable service.


stated that he had conferred with and taken the opinion of two noble and learned Lords in that House, and their opinion was that it was in the power of the House to rescind their Resolution, and that sufficient cause had been shown for so doing.


would venture to ask the House, for the sake of its own honour, and that it might stand well before the public, to pause before it gave its assent to the Resolution. Mr. Edmunds, it should be recollected, was not the only person whose acts and conduct were animadverted upon in the Report of the Committee. They had only had the Report and evidence before them forty-eight hours—except the Members of the Committee—and that was a short time to determine on the evidence what course ought to be pursued; and although he entertained no doubt that the grant of the pension to him ought to be rescinded, yet it would be unfair to refuse to him that opportunity of being heard, and for which he prayed, which was not denied to the commonest criminal. The character of the House would, he thought, suffer in the estimation of the country if an impression were created that a friendless and ruined man was thus dealt with, while others in a more exalted position were allowed to pass with comparative impunity.


wished some noble and learned Lord would inform the House whether, when a petition was presented on behalf of an individual praying to be heard, as in the present instance, he was not entitled to have his prayer granted.


said, he was the only learned Lord in the House who had not taken any part in these proceedings. Of course, as an abstract proposition, if any accused person desired to be heard in his defence, it was not a question for a lawyer but a question of common fairness whether he ought not to be heard. The question before the House, however, was not whether Mr. Edmunds was, as an abstract proposition, entitled to be heard, but whether, having appeared before the Committee, he was entitled to be heard again. Having been, when he held the office of Lord Chancellor, in frequent communication with that gentleman, he could truly say that it was to him most painful to mix himself up in any way with the matter; but then he felt bound, in answer to the question of the noble Lord, to give it as his opinion that justice did not require that Mr. Edmunds should be heard any further.

Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at Nine o'clock, till Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.