HL Deb 11 March 1867 vol 185 cc1627-33

Report of the Select Committee on Mr. France's Pamphlet read.


said, that according to the Notice he had given, he proposed to call their Lordships' attention to the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the subject of Mr. France's pamphlet. The Report of that Committee was that the charge made by Mr. France against the Chairman of Committees, of having improperly introduced a clause into the Mold and Denbigh Junction Railway Bill of 1865, was without foundation. This relieved him from any impression the pamphlet might have been calculated to produce: but he regretted in some respects the manner in which the subject was referred to the Committee, because they were prevented reporting in some way upon the character of the clause introduced, and upon the circumstances which led to its introduction. These were matters of some importance, and he wished, therefore, to refer to them. The Bill in question was originally opposed; but the opposition having been withdrawn the Bill came before him as an unopposed Bill, and he then inserted the usual clause to meet the circumstances of a junction Bill. Under the circumstances, it was perfectly reasonable and proper that the clause should be introduced, and he was entirely absolved from the charge of having introduced it improperly by the evidence of Mr. France's own solicitor. In answer to the question whether, supposing the matter had been opposed before a Committee, he could have resisted the clause, he admitted that he could not; and his own impression was that it was a clause which it would have been impossible to have resisted, and that was the reason he gave his sanction to its introduction. Their Lordships would perceive that as regarded the clause, as well as the manner of its introduction, no blame could attach to himself. This was the seventeenth year he had filled the office of Chairman of Committees. In the seventh year of his holding the office a similar attack was made upon him in the Edinburgh Review. Fortunately the charges made were specific, and the editor of that work having allowed him the privilege of an answer to those charges, in the next number he wrote a reply; and he believed those of their Lordships who had seen the publication would admit that in the most complete manner he refuted every one of the charges brought against him. Now ten years afterwards this charge was brought against him; and their Lordships would see from the temper in which it was made that if any other charge could have been made it would have been preferred. He was far from regretting that the charge had been made, because its isolation and the complete answer to it proved by inference that he had discharged the duties of his office creditably to himself and advantageously to the House. Mr. France made his charge in a pamphlet sent to nearly all the Members of both Houses of Parliament; and therefore, although having been somewhat hardened by the experience of office these matters scarcely affected him, he felt he ought not to allow the charge to pass; for had it been brought against anyone more new to the office than he was it might have been more distressing to another Peer than it was to himself. He was for their Lordships to guard their officers against such charges. He believed Mr. France to be so extremely wrong-headed that it was almost impossible to remove any false impression he entertained. For instance, he persisted in asserting that the Select Committee to which the Bill in question was referred passed the preamble of the Bill; whereas the Committee reported that they did not enter upon the consideration of the Bill because the opposition was withdrawn; while the Standing Orders laid it down that when opposition was withdrawn a Bill was referred to the Chairman of Committees, as if it had been originally unopposed. Under these circumstances, it was impossible the Committee could have declared the preamble proved. He did not think it necessary to press their Lordships to take any steps with regard to Mr. France; he was perfectly satisfied to leave the matter entirely in their Lordships' hands, believing that they were the best judges of what ought to be done under the circumstances. He was rather disposed to suggest that Mr. France was utterly unworthy of their Lordships' further attention.


as one of the Committee to which Mr. France's pamphlet had been referred, in answer to the noble Chairman of Committee's complaint as to the form in which the matter was referred to the Committee, said it would have been most improper for the Committee, after the lapse of two years, to revive the original question as to the character of the clause, and to determine whether it was a proper clause or not. The question referred to the late Committee was not whether the clause was a proper or an improper one, but whether it was properly introduced by the noble Lord as Chairman of Committees; and he had no hesitation in saying that there could be no doubt that the noble Lord acted with entire regularity and in accordance with the well-known Rules and Standing Orders of the House. Whether the clause was a right one or a wrong one—on which the Committee expressed no opinion—he was bound, as a member of the Committee, to say that he considered the noble Lord was entirely cleared of the charge brought against him. He was glad to hear the noble Lord say that, under the circumstances, he did not press for any ulterior measures against Mr. France, who did not impute any corrupt motive to the noble Lord, and, after all, the noble Lord, occupying the position he did, must not be too thin-skinned, as to a certain extent his official conduct was exposed to public criticism. He did not deny the right of public criticism on occasions of this kind—on the contrary, he thought the public derived great advantage from criticism when fairly conducted. But on this occasion he thought the noble Lord had not merited the charge brought against him—he had acted strictly according to the Rules of the House, and had exercised a sound discretion. He entertained as high an opinion as any man of the value of the services which the noble Lord rendered as Chairman of Committees.


would make but very few remarks on this subject, as he could only re-echo the opinions of the noble Lord who had just sat down. The question in dispute was one not of opinion, but of fact. The Committee, of which he was a member, had experienced no difficulty in arriving at a conclusion, inasmuch as they had merely to investigate a number of facts, to ascertain whether there had been any irregularity in the conduct of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. There really could be no doubt on the subject, for the question did not depend on the veracity of witnesses. The truth was arrived at by the easiest possible means—there was no difference of opinion—every member of the Committee came to the conclusion that there was not the slightest foundation for the charge brought against the noble Lord who for so long a time, and with such great reputation, had held the position of Chairman of Committees. He did not know what course the House might choose to adopt on the present occasion; but as the statements made with regard to the noble Lord who held so responsible a position in that House might in some degree implicate the House itself, it might, perhaps, be proper that some action should be taken in order to vindicate the propriety and integrity with which the noble Lord had acted.


said, he entirely agreed with what had been said by the two last speakers as to the integrity with which the noble Lord had performed his duties, and that there was no ground whatever for the charge which had been made against him. He agreed, too, with the statement of his noble Friend who had just sat down as to the facility with which the Committee had arrived at its conclusion. He, in common, he believed, with all the other Members of the Committee, had that morning received a letter from Mr. France, and had been requested to read it to their Lordships; but this he should decline to do, because he thought no further proceedings ought to be taken with reference to the merits of the clause or of the Bill. He was glad the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees had brought this matter before the House, and he hoped this occurrence would be considered deeply with a view to amend the system of legislation respecting Railway Bills. He had on several occasions drawn attention to the subject, and it was well-known that his opinion in regard to it differed from that entertained by many of their Lordships. This Bill was a striking illustration of the mischievous and ruinous results of our system of legislation for railways. The effect of the system was felt all over the, kingdom, and it had caused such a waste of money, labour, and time as no other country could have endured. In the present instance the railway was not one which had been got up by contractors. The Bill was introduced and referred to a Committee of the House of Lords. It was opposed by a great Company, and the parties interested in the Bill were consequently put to the expense of counsel, witnesses, and so forth. Sow what happened? When the Bill was opened, the counsel for the opponents got up and declared on the part of his clients, the great Company, that he did not think it necessary to offer any further opposition to the Bill, which, therefore, went straight to the Chairman of Committees as an unopposed Bill. When it got into his room the agent of the opponents of the Bill appeared before the noble Lord and proposed the insertion of a clause which was said to be a usual one; but if that were the case it might be asked why it had not been introduced into the Bill at an earlier period? About £200,000, he understood, had been already expended upon the railway, which, however, would under this clause be entirely delivered up to the mercy of the great Company which opposed it, unless another Act of Parliament were passed on the subject. The agent for the opposition told the Select Committee that it was intended to effect a compromise before the Bill was withdrawn; but that the clerk omitted to carry out this intention by inserting the clause. But the agent did not state that the clerk had received instructions to make any such condition or compromise. He did not wish to throw any doubt whatever on the statement of the Parliamentary agent; but, supposing that that gentleman was acting solely in the interest of his clients, he knew well enough that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees thought it was right to insert the clause. Of course, his noble Friend acted upon his own judgment, and he did not for a moment say that he had arrived at a wrong conclusion. What he objected to was that in the case of an unopposed Bill there was no protection whatever against the introduction of clauses except the decision of his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees. Such a system could not be regarded as satisfactory. The subject was of the highest importance, and some measure to remedy the defects of the existing system would, he hoped, be introduced by the Government.


said, the noble Marquess had carried them a little away from the subject; he would endeavour to bring them back to it. His noble Friend the Chairman of Committees had placed himself entirely in the hands of their Lordships as to the mode in which they should deal with the Report of the Committee on Mr. France's pamphlet. After the observations which had been made by several of their Lordships, he had little difficulty in stating his opinion as to the course which the House ought to pursue—not for the purpose of vindicating his noble Friend from the charge of having improperly exercised his functions as Chairman of Committees, which he had for so long a time discharged so ably and impartially, but for the purpose of dealing with Mr. France. After the observations of the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Clanricarde), it would be perhaps as well that their Lordships should be reminded of what had so offended Mr. France as to lead him to publish the pamphlet. Mr. France was a contractor and a promoter of the Mold and Denbigh Junction Bail-way Extension Bill. The opposition to the Bill in question having been withdrawn, it went before his noble Friend, in accordance with the Standing Order, as an unopposed Bill. He considered the Bill in the common way; and the proviso having been proposed by the agents of the London and North Western Railway Company, his noble Friend heard those gentlemen and also the agents of the promoters. The clause proposed was, he understood, a very common one in Bills for junctions; and the Chairman of Committees, in the exercise of his judgment, came to the conclusion that it was one which ought to be inserted in the Bill before him. But the way in which it should be introduced by the House was on the third reading; so that before it was made part of the Bill, Mr. France and all other persons interested had full notice. Mr. France, being ignorant of the forms of the House, when the opposition was withdrawn thought that the Committee had necessarily declared the preamble proved, and that therefore no alteration could be made in the Bill, although, before their Lordships' Committee, evidence was given in Mr. France's presence to show that it was a justifiable proceeding. He was then displeased at finding this Amendment and wrote the angry letter which nothing could justify; a Select Committee had inquired into the charges made, and reported that they were utterly unfounded. Their Lordships would observe that Mr. France did not make any charge against the character of the Chairman of Committees of having acted partially or improperly. What he did charge was, that the noble Lord had inserted the clause under an arbitrary exercise of authority. From the tone of Mr. France's pamphlet, from his correspondence with the noble Lord, and from his conduct before the Select Committee, he believed nothing would give Mr. France greater pleasure than being called to the Bar of their Lordships' House and reprimanded by the Lord Chancellor. He, for one, was not disposed to afford Mr. France that pleasure. As the judgment of the Select Committee and of their Lordships' House would, he felt sure, be ratified by the public, what Mr. France might think of his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees must, he presumed, be a matter of indifference to that noble Lord. Under these circumstances, he would ask the House to deal with the matter by passing the following Resolution:— That this House adopts the Report of the Select Committee on Mr. France's Pamphlet, which was arrived at after an Inquiry in which Mr. France had an Opportunity of being fully heard, and expresses its entire Confidence in the Integrity and Impartiality of the Chairman of Committees in the Discharge of his Duties."—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, agreed to.