HL Deb 09 March 1914 vol 15 cc412-8

*THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE rose to move— That the following Peers be named of the Select Committee to inquire into the charges and allegations made in the public Press against Lord Murray of Elibank, viz.:—The Earl of Halsbury, Earl Loreburn, Lord Sanderson, The Earl of Desart, Lord Charnwood.

The noble Marquess said: My Lords, more than a fortnight has passed since your Lordships agreed to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into certain charges and allegations made against Lord Murray, and it is, perhaps, due to the House that I should explain how that delay came to pass. I do not think we are entirely without excuse. We had a very difficult task assigned to us. In the first place, it was made clear to us from the first that we could not look for that assistance, that co-operation which usually takes place between the two sides of the House when a Committee of this kind has to be selected. The noble Marquess who leads the House was perfectly frank with us. He told us that in his view this inquiry was superfluous, to say the least of it. He said that be could assume no responsibility for it, and could take no active part in the formation of the Committee. On the other hand, he said that he would offer no opposition to its appointment, and in particular that he would not attempt to deter or dissuade his friends from serving upon it. He also was good enough to express agreement with our suggestion that the Committee should be small in number and composed as judicially as possible, and with the understanding that its proceedings would be conducted in a judicial spirit.

If I might venture to describe the attitude of the noble Marquess I would say that it was one of dignified and imperturbable neutrality. I wish I could say that a similar attitude had been observed by some of the noble Marquess's colleagues. Two days after the discussion in your Lordships' House, the occasion on which the noble Marquess used the language which I have described, Mr. Illingworth made a speech at the Idle Liberal Club from which I take a few words, and I must say that that speech was characterised neither by the dignity nor by the neutrality which I ventured just now to attribute to the noble Marquess. Mr. Illingworth spoke as follows— I loathe hypocrisy, and Lord Lansdowne and his friends, with an air of unctuous piety, professing that their motive is a search for purity, are really conducting an unscrupulous and relentless persecution of a political opponent.

He suggested that we were actuated by a desire to punish Lord Murray for the brilliant services which he had rendered to his Party as Chief Whip, and he said that we were pursuing him with a vindictiveness which is "only worthy of a vendetta." He concluded by saying that our action was "mean and contemptible," and he said that if this Committee went on people would look with hatred and contempt on the spectacle of the attempted persecution of a political opponent for political ends. That speech is, if I may be allowed to say so, another illustration of the kind of contrast which we often notice between the. speeches of Ministers who have still some regard for the great traditions of public life in this country and other Ministers who have completely forgotten them. An utterance of that kind was not very likely to assist us materially in our endeavour to get a strong and well-composed Committee together.

We encountered a further obstacle. We very earnestly desired that the judicial element on the Committee should be as strong as possible, and we not unnaturally looked for assistance to those members of this House who sit in it as Lords of Appeal. But we found that the Lords of Appeal, after considering the matter, had come to the conclusion—a conclusion in which I think the Lord Chancellor concurred—that it was not consistent with their other duties that they should assume the responsibility of taking part in this inquiry. But, my Lords, in spite of these difficulties, we have, I venture to think, succeeded in forming a Committee which the House will regard as unexceptionably composed. My noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury, who might well have pleaded to be excused from undertaking so onerous a task, was good enough to promise us his assistance. He brings to the Committee all the authority derived from a long career at the Bar, on the Bench, and in Parliament, and from the occupancy of the Woolsack for a period of no less than fifteen years.

With my noble and learned friend we are glad to be able to associate Lord Loreburn, an ex-Chancellor, respected as much upon this side of the House as he is by those who sit around him on the other. I think it due to Lord Loreburn that I should say that his acceptance was not unconditional. He made it clear that if he was to serve upon this Committee it would be upon the understanding that the charges made against Lord Murray were specific and duly formulated; that the inquiry should be limited to the charges made against Lord Murray and matters strictly relevant thereto; that the methods of the Committee should be as judicial as possible; and that its investigation should be carried on in a wholly judicial spirit. It will obviously be for the Committee itself to interpret the reference which your Lordships have given to it, and I can only say that, so far as we are concerned, we took no exception whatever to the conditions which Lord Loreburn attached to his acceptance of a place upon the Committee. Lord Loreburn attached a further condition. He intimated to us that he was not prepared to undertake this task unless he was made aware distinctly that both sides of the House desired that he should do so. I can, of course, only speak for noble Lords who sit around me on this side of the House, but I am sure that I may be allowed to say for them, and to say emphatically, that in our view there is no member of this House whose accession to the Committee could bring to it a greater weight of authority or ensure for it a wider measure of acceptance. For the other side of the House it will be obviously the duty of the noble Marquess to speak, but I shall be surprised if he says anything inconsistent with what I have said on behalf of my friends who sit behind me.

As to the other members of the Committee, we have obtained the assistance of my noble and learned friend Lord Desart, who has legal experience of no ordinary kind, who has taken part in a number of important inquiries and investigations unconnected with Party politics, and who not long ago had the honour of representing this country at the International Court of Arbitration at The Hague. My noble friend Lord Sanderson has had a long and distinguished career at the Foreign Office— an Office which, fortunately for the public, makes it its business to know as little about Party politics as possible. All who have had the advantage of being associated with my noble friend are aware of his great business aptitudes and the soundness of his judgment. The remaining member of the Committee, Lord Charnwood, after a distinguished University career, held a seat first in the House of Commons and lately in this House, and he has from time to time taken an honourable part in our discussions.

To sum up then, my Lords, we have secured the assistance of two ex-Lords Chancellor, of two noble Lords who sit on the Cross Benches, and one noble Lord who sits on the Benches opposite, and I venture to say that the House is fortunate in having secured the assistance of such a Committee. We regret that it should be necessary to institute this inquiry, but we desire to lift it out of the rut of Party politics as much as we possibly can, and it seems to me that the fact that we are able to recommend these five names to the House is the best answer that can be given to those who see in this Committee nothing but a partisan inquiry and an attempt to persecute a political opponent. I beg to move.

Moved, That the following Peers be named of the Select Committee to inquire into the charges and allegations made in the public. Press against Lord Murray of Elibank, viz.:—

—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)


My Lords, on Thursday last I stated that I should desire to-day, when this Committee was formally moved, to make one or two observations affecting in particular my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn, with reference to the way in which the Committee had been brought together. The manner in which the noble Marquess opposite has described the various steps which have led up to the formation of the Committee has in many respects made my task easier, and I need only detain the House for a very few minutes.

The noble Marquess reminded the House how, on February 19, when the matter was discussed here at some length, I stated on behalf of the Government our belief that such a Committee was unnecessary and uncalled for, and I need not repeat the arguments which I then used. My noble friend Lord Loreburn took the same general view as regards the necessity of a Committee that we did, but, as the noble Marquess has stated, it was suggested to him by those who were engaged in constituting the Committee that he should become a member of it. He, of course, was naturally unwilling to take part in conducting an inquiry which he did not believe to be necessary. However, the noble Marquess opposite, anxious, as he has already told us, that the Committee should possess so far as possible a judicial character, still desired to put forward Lord Loreburn's name. The noble Marquess has told us of the conditions under which Lord Loreburn consented to serve. He regarded it as indispensable that the Committee should work on strictly judicial lines and that it should deal exclusively with definite charges made against Lord Murray of Elibank and against him alone.

On this side of the House we still adhere absolutely to the views which I expressed in the debate on February 19, that this Committee is not required by the circumstances of the case; but since, by the decision of a majority of the House, a Committee has to be appointed, we agree that it ought to be constituted as strongly and as judicially as may be. We think— and here we are in agreement, I am glad to say, with the noble Marquess opposite— that nobody on either side of the House satisfies such a test more completely than my noble and learned friend Lord Loreburn, and on that account it would have been, and it would now be, a matter of regret to us if my noble and learned friend had found himself unable to give his guidance to the proceedings of the Committee.

The only other point I have to mention is the somewhat severely critical treatment which the noble Marquess gave to a speech made by my friend Mr. Illingworth at a place called Idle, in Yorkshire, on February 21, two days after the debate here. It is quite clear that, after the statement made in this House by my noble friend Lord Murray, which I think everybody will agree was a full, frank, and fair statement, Mr. Illingworth took the view—and this view is held by a great many others outside—that any further inquiry could only be inspired by a desire, so to speak, for a faction fight in which there was a chance of breaking the heads of one or more of the opponents of noble Lords opposite. I have stated that in our belief the noble Marquess opposite desires this inquiry to be of a strictly judicial character, and I am glad to know that he has accepted the views which Lord Loreburn has put forward. I also have pleasure in stating that the same is true of the noble and learned Earl opposite, Lord Halsbury, who also desires that this inquiry should be judicial. But it cannot be pretended that that is the view of everybody—I am not pointing to members of this House—who belongs to the Party of the noble Marquess opposite. In view of the tone of a number of articles which have appeared in the public Press, some of them merely scurrilous, some highly ingenious in innuendo, I think it cannot be altogether surprising that a number of critics outside, including my friend Mr. Illingworth, who, it must be remembered, feels strongly in such a case as this because he is the successor of Lord Murray in the office of Patronage Secretary—it cannot be altogether surprising that they do not draw a precisely accurate line between those of the Opposition who take the view so honourably taken by noble Lords opposite and those whose proceedings in the Press I have indicated. Consequently, I cannot share the astonishment which has been expressed by the noble Marquess opposite at the utterances of my friend Mr. Illingworth.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

The Committee to meet on Friday next, at Eleven o'clock, and to appoint their own Chairman.

Ordered, That the Committee have leave to hear Counsel and to examine witnesses on oath: The evidence taken from time to time before the said Committee to be printed, but no copies to be delivered out, except to members of the Committee and to such other persons as the Committee shall think fit, until further order. (No. 23.)