§ MR. A. MORLEY (Nottingham, E.)
I beg to move that Mr. J. Morley and Mr. Lawson be discharged from the Select Committee on Irish Estates and Societies.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. John Morley be discharged from further attendance on the Select Committee on Irish Society and City Companies (Irish Estates)."—(Mr. Arnold Morley.)
§ MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)
As this Motion and that which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Waterford (Mr. R. Power) for discharging Mr. Blane, Mr. Clancy, and myself from the Committee have a common origin, I think it may be convenient if I inform the House of the circumstances which convinced us we had no option but to ask the House to discharge us from the Committee. The Committee is composed of 11 members; six of those members sit on this side of the House—namely, two Liberals, three Irish Nationalists, and one Liberal Unionist; the five Members on the other side are, of course, all Conservatives. The six Members on this side, representing the two Parties in Opposition, unanimously desired the election of Mr. J. Morley as Chairman of the Committee. The day before the first sitting of the Committee I was informed that the election of Mr. J. Morley was assured, owing to the fact that two Conservative 1375 members of the Committee had agreed to support his nomination. Being under that impression, I did not secure the attendance at the first meeting of two of my hon. Friends. Late that night I learned for the first time that some question had arisen whether the two Conservative members in question would adhere to the understanding. It was then too late to secure the attendance at the first meeting of the Committee either of Mr. Blane or of Mr. Clancy. When the Committee met, Sir J. Whittaker Ellis moved the election of Sir W. Marriott as Chairman of the Committee. Mr. Lea, who was, I think, entitled, if he had pressed his claim, to occupy the Chair, moved that Mr. J. Morley be elected. Sir J. W. Ellis, Alderman of the Broad Street Ward, ex-Sheriff and Lord Mayor of London, and Chairman of the Irish Society whose affairs were the subject of the investigation by the Committee, endeavoured to prevent any observations being made on the Motion; but the clerk of the Committee, on being appealed to, stated that the usage on the Committee as to the election of Chairman was the same as the usage of the House respecting the election of Speaker. Mr. Lawson then pointed out that Sir W. Marriott was already Chairman of an important Committee which occupied a considerable portion of his time. I ventured to point out to Sir W. Marriott that amongst his various and multifarious accomplishments, no one could claim for him a knowledge of Irish affairs. I appealed to him not to set himself against the unanimous wish of the Irish Members of both parties on the Committee, and I pointed out that Mr. J. Morley had official and Parliamentary experience which fully qualified him to preside over the Committee. I warned the majority of the Committee present that the action they proposed could but have an unfortunate effect upon their proceedings, if, indeed, it did not entirely paralyse their action. A Division was taken, and Sir W. Marriott was elected Chairman by five votes—namely, the votes of Sir W. Marriott himself; Lord Elcho; Sir J. W. Ellis, Alderman of the Broad Street Ward, Ex-sheriff and Lord Mayor of London, and Chairman of the Irish Society; Colonel Laurie, a member of one of the City Companies; and Sir Richard Temple, a member of 1376 the School Board for London. The three members who voted for Mr. J. Morley were Mr. H. Lawson, representing the English Liberal Party; Mr. T. Lea, representing the Irish Unionist Party; and I myself, representing my hon. Friends. The wish of the Irish Members having been in so conspicuous and unanimous a measure disregarded, I felt I could not regard the future proceedings of the Committee with any hope; and knowing that Sir W. Marriott was the Advocate of the Irish Society and the London Companies, I could not accept his rulings as to the admissibility of evidence and so on. Neither my hon. Friends nor myself could condone by our continuous presence what we honestly felt to be in the nature of a scandal. Under these circumstances we felt constrained to sever ourselves from the Committee, and we ask the House to adopt the Motion.
§ SIR W. MARRIOTT (Brighton)
I cannot but regard this as a storm in a teacup. As to any understanding, certainly I never made one myself personally, and I am informed by hon. Members here present that they never had any understanding at all. So far as I am concerned personally, I was asked by Mr. Lea whether I wanted to be Chairman, and I told him "Certainly not." I was asked afterwards whether if I was elected Chairman I would act, and I said, "Certainly I would." Well, I am told the Committee meeting was called purposely at half-past 11 to suit the convenience of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Morley) because he had to be at the Royal Grants Committee meeting at 12. At half-past 11 there were eight members present, and I was proposed Chairman, and Mr. Morley was proposed Chairman. I did not wish to take any part in the proceedings, and retired into a corner of the room while they were fighting it out amongst themselves. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sexton) did make an appeal to me to retire, and I said I would retire when asked by those who were supporting me to retire, but not at the request of political opponents. It was put to the vote, and four votes were given for myself and three for Mr. Morley. I did not want to vote, but I was told I must vote because I was in the room. Well, I had been elected by four to three. I might have stultified 1377 the vote of my Friends by voting with my political opponents. I considered what was my political duty, and I thought it was to support my political Friends and to vote for myself. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sexton) then walked out of the room, but neither Mr. Lawson nor Mr. Lea followed him. Mr. J. Morley never put in an appearance, and Mr. Blane came in a few minutes afterwards. Then it became a question of how we were to proceed. This is not the first time hon. Members on that side of the House have retired from places when the course of procedure was not going quite as they wished. I have known them retire from this House, and we never found that business was retarded by their retirement—in fact we found it was rather accelerated. When I was asked what we should do I said we must go on, as we were commissioned by the House to make a certain inquiry. On Monday we got through a large amount of business, and all I can say is we very much regret indeed the absence of our friends opposite, but we are determined to do our duty as well as we can without them.
§ * MR. W. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)
I would not ask to be discharged from the Committee, did I not believe that there had been a distinct breach of an honorable understanding and of a time-honoured usage of this House. It was agreed by all Members of the Committee that Mr. J. Morley should be elected Chairman. Probably he would have refused to serve on the Committee had that not been the case. It has not been usual to take note of any political distinctions in the election of Chairman, and I would ask whether there is any precedent whatever for rejecting an Ex-Cabinet Minister when he offered himself for election. The whole constitution of the Committee was open to criticism in many respects. It is not a very common thing for those who have pecuniary interests in subjects under inquiry to take a seat on the Committee. The hon. Member for Kingston-on-Thames (Sir J. W. Ellis) with almost indecent haste proposed the election of Sir W. Marriott, and then proceeded to interrupt anybody who wished to offer any remark on his proposition. The meaning was too obvious to be misunderstood. The right hon. Gentleman, I believe, 1378 persuaded my hon. Friend, the Member for Evesham, to reverse the judgment he had first formed to support the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle. Of course the interested parties were well represented on the Committee, and I would point out that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Brighton was already the Chairman of another important Committee. It was not likely that this Committee would terminate its labours this Session, and as the other Committee will also meet again next Session, I ask the House, can the right hon. Gentleman be expected to take the chair in two important Committees in one Session? He is a professional man with a large practice, and I must say, that from my experience of his attendance on Committees on which I have also sat, I should not be inclined—without any reference to Party considerations—to give my vote in his favour. He and I served on the same Committee for some years, and though he was present when the Report was being considered, I do not think he put in one attendance while the evidence was being taken. The right hon. Gentleman will forgive my bringing this to his notice, because I think he will understand from his sense of the fitness of things that when we have an ex-Cabinet Minister of high character offering himself for election as Chairman of a Committee, it is hardly possible that we can reject him under such circumstances in favour of the right hon. Gentleman himself.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I think that this discussion ought not to be left entirely to the Members of the Committee, as it has a wider application than that. I think that this is a striking illustration of the manner in which hon. Members opposite wish to treat Irish affairs at Westminster which they will not allow to be transacted at Dublin. A Committee has been appointed to consider matters seriously affecting the Irish people, and a Member of Parliament interested in these very companies actively employs himself in promoting the election of a Member of the Conservative Party as Chairman, in breach of an understanding to the contrary. The right hon. Gentleman never seems to look at it from any other point of view except that of securing the presidency of a Conservative, and says he is 1379 glad of the course the Irish Members were driven to, and that the Committee can get on much better without them. That is the way in which the Party opposite thinks it best to conduct Irish affairs. You are to get a Committee together, nominate a Chairman of your own Party, and endeavour to get rid of the nominee of the Irish Members. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is satisfactory because he has said he is glad.
SIR W. HAECOUET
I only hope that to-morrow the papers will correctly report what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I speak under the correction of the House when I say the right hon. Gentleman stated that he had observed that when the Irish Members retired from the House Irish affairs were better conducted. That is the manner in which hon. Gentlemen opposite propose to transact Irish affairs; that is the admirable—I will not say, manœuvre—but piece of generalship, if I may use the phrase—by which the Judge Advocate General has brought to bear his great powers of combination and secured the position of Chairman of the Committee, in which he has so triumphed that his foes have retired before him. The right hon. Gentleman is proud of his achievement, and the worthy Alderman (Sir R. Fowler), who presides over the London Companies, whose action is to be inquired into, has not only got his own Chairman, but has got rid of everybody likely to oppose him. The hon. Gentleman has his faithful band who will make a Report entirely to his mind and that of the London Societies, and I have no doubt that the Government will gladly act on that Report.
§ SIR G. BADEN-POWELL (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I rise to order. I wish to know whether the right hon. Gentleman is in order in imputing motives to a Member of the Committee, and of this House?
SIR W. HAECOUET
I have only intimated that it was extremely likely, from the constitution of the Committee, that such a Report would be made, and I also expressed an opinion that the Government would act on the Report of the Committee, which enjoys the confidence of hon. Gentlemen by whom they are supported. This, I say, is a fair 1380 illustration of the manner in which Irish opinion is treated at Westminster, and also of the way in which Irish affairs are to be treated by the Party opposite.
THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. A. J. BALFOURE,) Manchester, E.
The right hon. Gentleman has said this discussion ought not to be confined to Members of the Committee, and I may express my regret that he has thought it necessary and exemplify his own principle, seeing the manner in which he has tried, with an ingenuity all his own, to turn what I understood to be an important discussion on the constitution of a Committee into a Home Rule Debate. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that this is a characteristic illustration of the method in which Irish affairs are treated by this House, and of the unfairness with which Committees on Irish questions are constituted. But I would point out that this Committee was not constructed according to the ordinary rule, inasmuch as one more Irish representative has been placed on it than would have been appointed had the ordinary precedent been followed. That, therefore, instead of being an illustration of the proposition the right hon. Gentleman laid down is precisely the opposite, and goes to show that we are glad to arrange that Irish opinion should have weight in matters of this kind.
§ * MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that my hon. Friend opposite was there. The question, by the admission of the right hon. Gentleman, is one as to the City Companies alone; and if we were to divide the Committee according to Parties my hon. Friend opposite ranks with the Irish Members, and not with those on this side of the House. Three of the Nationalist Party were placed on the Committee, whereas by the ordinary rule there should only have been two. The hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) has asked whether there is any precedent for a gentleman of Cabinet rank not being made Chairman of a Committee of which he was a member, I think there are many precedents, and to lay it down 1381 that a Cabinet Minister or an ex-Cabinet Minister should necessarily be Chairman of a Committee of which he is a member is a totally untenable position. I will admit, however, that the efficiency of the Committee was greatly impaired by what has occurred. The value of a Committee depends upon the Report which it makes, and if on a Committee only one Party is represented, the Report, from the nature of things, however impartially the proceedings of the Committee are conducted, cannot carry weight with the House. It is perfectly true that Committees have a right to nominate their Chairman, and that is a right with which the House ought not to interfere. I am very far from giving an opinion as to the merits of the controversy. There has evidently been a misunderstanding, but it is not for me to say who is right or who is wrong; but the result is, in my opinion, extremely regrettable, not merely from a general point of view, but because I fear the efficiency of the Committee in carrying out the work entrusted to it by the House is greatly impaired, if not destroyed, by what has occurred.
§ * MR. LEA (South Londonderry)
I am extremely sorry that this unfortunate dispute has arisen, and also that any attempt should have been made to bring it into the arena of Party politics. The inquiry which the Committee was appointed to make was extremely important to Irish interests, and I cannot help agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken that the efficiency of the Committee is seriously damaged, and I hope he will see his way to the appointment of a Royal Commission to pursue the inquiry which the Committee was appointed to make. I was very much disappointed with the conduct of the hon. Gentleman opposite. I do not want to do anything except throw oil on the troubled waters; but I am bound to say that, as far as I can gather, there was a sort of understanding that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle was to be Chairman. I assured him on the evening previous to the Committee meeting that it was the wish of men of all parties to make him Chairman, and I knew that was the wish of certain Members opposite. I think I am right in believing that it was the wish of the 1382 Government. The right hon. Gentleman assented with a certain amount of reluctance, and I felt, under the circumstances, I was bound to propose him. It is not for me to go into the reasons which induced hon. Members opposite to change their minds. If I were to do that I should not be throwing oil on the troubled waters, because I believe those reasons were very unsatisfactory. But what I wish to point out is that there are serious interests devolving upon the Report of this Committee, and the harmonious working of that body is a matter of the utmost necessity. I can understand hon. Gentlemen belonging to the City Companies not wishing this Committee to be very efficient; but I do not think that is the wish of the Party opposite, and certainly not of the Government, and if any other method of inquiry can be devised I should be extremely glad of it. If a Royal Commission can not be appointed I hope the Motion will not be pressed, and that hon. Members will attend the Committee and do what they can to make the Report as perfect as possible.
* COLONEL LAUEIE (Bath)
As my name has been alluded to as member of a City Company it is only due to myself to say that I was perfectly prepared had the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Morley) been elected to serve under him with complete confidence in his impartiality and fairness. I am also anxious to say, on behalf of the City Companies, that they are anxious to afford every information and all facilities to the Committee, and they desire that their affairs may be fully investigated. I believe the hon. Member for Southwark, who is a member of a City Company, will confirm me in saying that the City Companies are most anxious to give every possible information to the Committee, whose labours they would be very glad to see completed.
§ * MR. CAUSTON (Southwark)
The hon. Member opposite has alluded to me as a member of a City Company. I should therefore like to take this opportunity of expressing my regret at the unwise conduct of those gentlemen who are associated with City Companies, and who are on the Committee. Such conduct as that we have heard described to-night does immense harm to the City Companies. As a member of one of 1383 the great City Companies, whilst I believe they act to the best of their lights, I say that if they are doing wrong, by all means expose their evil deeds; but conduct such as that we have heard described does harm, because it conveys to the mind of the public that there is something bad to screen.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOAED OF TEADE (SIR M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
I do not think the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down are a very valuable contribution to this Debate. The real question at issue is how we can get a full and impartial inquiry into this matter, which I think all sides equally desire. Now, a Motion has been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Belfast to discharge certain Members of this Committee. I venture to suggest that if those Members are discharged, it is impossible that the Committee can satisfactorily proceed with the inquiry. I venture to hope that, after the expression of opinion from my right hon. Friend (Mr. Balfour), in which I cordially concur, the proposal to withdraw those Members will be re-considered, and an attempt may be made to arrive at an amicable understanding, as to the conduct of the business. If that be impossible, then it would be better that the whole Committee should be discharged, and that a fresh Committee should be appointed to consider this matter either next Session, or during what remains of the present Session. As the matter requires further consideration, and as it cannot be decided to-night, I beg to move that the Debate be now adjourned.
MR. J. MOELEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
I reciprocate very cordially the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Balfour), and of the President of the Board of Trade. But I should like to explain my own action in asking to withdraw from this Committee. Certainly, I do not in the least admit that there is any feeling of wounded vanity on my part. I did not aspire to be Chairman of the Committee, and I simply joined the Committee for the purpose of acquiring information on the subject. I have no feeling whatever against the City Companies, and I should have done my best to form a sound and useful judgment. I only wish to say 1384 now—and I am certainly not putting myself in any personal opposition or antagonism to my right hon. Friend—that I agree with what has fallen from the President of the Board of Trade, though I cannot hold out any hope whatever that my friends and I—I, at least, shall not do so—will serve on the Committee now constituted, because the action which has been taken impairs our confidence as to the method in which the proceedings would be conducted. However, if the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is adopted, and a new Committee is constituted, that, in my opinion, would be the best way out of the difficulty.
SIR E. N. FOWLEE (London)
I do not wish to take part in this Debate. I spoke at considerable length on a previous occasion. Mention has been made that the hon. Member (Sir J. W. Ellis) is member of a City Company. That is quite true, but his Company has very little to do with this question. The Merchant Taylors' Company sold their estates in 1727. The hon. Member for Bath is member of a Company who have also sold their estates; so that those two Members have nothing to do with the interests of the City Companies in this matter.
§ MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, North-wich)
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman (Sir W. Marriott) will now make a graceful motion towards the rear.
It is perfectly impossible now to propose that the present Chairman should retire, and that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle should take his place. And independently of the personal aspect of the case, it turns out that there are members of the Livery Companies into whose management it is proposed to inquire who have been appointed to the Committee; and under the circumstances, therefore, it will be best to discharge the Committee and appoint a new one, as the President of the Board of Trade has suggested.
§ Debate adjourned till Monday next.
§ House adjourned at one minute before One o'clock.