§ (4.5.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
I beg to move—That the letter addressed to Mr. Speaker by Mr. Justice A. L. Smith respecting the conviction before the Central Criminal Court of Captain Edmund Hope Verney, member for North Buckinghamshire and the record of the proceedings upon his trial be taken into consideration.Before I discharge the most disagreeable duty which is cast upon me, I wish to address a question to you, Sir, with regard to the course which in your judgment ought to be followed in this matter. I believe it is usual, when the conduct of any Member of this House is brought under the serious consideration of the House, that notice should be given to that hon. Member, and an order be made that he should attend in his place to answer any charges which may be brought against him. I do not know, Sir, whether you are of opinion that any difference is to be made in dealing with the particular case which is now to be brought under the consideration of the House, with which the House is unfortunately charged; but, Sir, I should wish to ask your view, as it would be certainly a cause of great regret to me 574 if I asked the House to depart from the usages which have always governed its action, or generally governed its action, unless the circumstances should in your judgment, and in the judgment of hon. Members of this House, be so clear and so sufficient for the action of the House for it to be unnecessary to serve the order upon the hon. Member and to require his presence in the House—a circumstance which would, I think, cause pain and sorrow to many besides the hon. Member, and to many whom this House would desire to spare the pain and grief which must accompany all the circumstances.
§ (4.8.) MR. SPEAKER
In reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I have to say that, looking at the precedents in these unhappy cases, it is certainly customary that notice should be given to the incriminated Member to attend; but the House will remember that in the letter which he wrote to me the learned Judge states that the hon. Member has been convicted of a misdemeanour on his own confession. I think, therefore, that that constitutes a difference which the House will, no doubt, take into account. But I am informed that in order that nothing might be done which might seem to prejudice in any way, or to be unfair to a Member of this House in the position in which the hon. Member has been placed, he has been informed by those who are best entitled to advise him of the course which the House is about to adopt in this case, and therefore everything has been done to avoid any kind of undue haste or the taking of any course which might in any way prejudice the hon. Member. Under these circumstances, if I may be allowed to say so, I think it is perfectly competent for the House to proceed on the information now before it, and that the attendance of the hon. Member is not necessary.
§ (4.10.) MR. W. H. SMITH
I do not conceive there is any opposition on the part of any hon. Member to the view which you have expressed, and I have now only the painful duty to make the Motion which stands in my name. I think it is usual in a case of this kind that the Judge's letter should first of all be read before any Motion is made. 575 The letter (see page 259) addressed to Mr. Speaker by Mr. Justice Smith respecting the conviction before the Central Criminal Court of Captain Edmund Hope Verney, Member for North Buckinghamshire, read.
§ MR. W. H. SMITH
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in my absence, moved for a copy of the record of the proceedings of the crime or indictment against Captain Edmund Hope Verney, a Member of this House. That record is now in the possession of hon. Gentlemen. [Opposition cries of "No!"] At all events, it has been placed in the Vote Office, and is accessible to any hon. Member who may desire to obtain it. It is within the knowledge of the House that the hon. Member pleaded guilty to the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth counts of the indictment to which I now refer. I do not know whether, in order that we should be perfectly regular, those counts should be read by the Clerk at the Table[Cries of "No, no!"] But I should hope the House will dispense in the present circumstances with what I take to be a formality. Every Member can be put in full possession of all the facts of the case if he thinks fit. I am at least glad that in the position in which I find myself it is not necessary for me to enlarge upon the crime which has been committed, or on the offence of which the hon. Member has been guilty. I think I carry with me the united sense of the House when I say that the circumstances are such, painful to us as they are, as to render it impossible for the hon. Member to remain a Member of this House, and to associate with Members of this House in the discharge of the duties which belong to Members of this House. I think that, although the sentence passed by the Judge may not indicate the greatest offence which a man may commit, the character of the offence is such that we should all feel it impossible to associate with the hon. Member in this House, and we should feel that it is utterly impossible for the hon. Member efficiently to discharge his duties to his constituents and to the House of Commons longer as a Member of this House. I will not enlarge upon the facts of the case. They have been sufficiently referred to in the public prints, in the charge of the Judge, 576 and in the address of counsel; but I may, Sir, be allowed to express the hope that there will not be a Debate upon a question of this character, which would only be most painful to those connected with the hon. Member, whose names are held in high esteem in the country, who have served the country faithfully and well, and who deserve the utmost sympathy of every Member of this House and of the whole country at the undeserved misfortune and the great sorrow which has befallen them, and in the great trouble with which they are afflicted. In deference to them—in consideration for them—I trust the House will dispose of this most painful question with as slight a discussion as may be fit under the circumstances. I can only say that in taking this course I have discharged a duty which has been the most painful that has ever fallen to my lot.
Motion made, and Question proposed'
That the said letter and the record of the proceedings upon the trial of Captain Verney be now considered." —(Mr. William Henry Smith.)
§ (4.15.) MR.CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling, &c.)
I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion which the First Lord of the Treasury has just made. No more solemn, no more distressing duty could ever fall to be discharged by this House than that which now devolves upon it of pronouncing judgment upon the conduct of one of our colleagues, and upon his fitness to continue to discharge the trust imposed by the Constitution upon an elected Member of Parliament. I wish to associate myself most cordially with all that the right hon. Gentleman has said on the personal aspects of this case. The hon. Member who is the subject of the Motion has not been long in the House, but he has exhibited a degree of zeal and capacity which gave promise of a future career of usefulness; and we all knew that he had served his country in his earlier years with gallantry and distinction. If we were ready to welcome any promise for his future that was shown, we were the more ready to do so—those of us at least who sat at that time in Parliament—from the vivid recollection we have of his venerable father, who during the many years he sat here was regarded on all sides of the House 577 as a model and type and example in all the public and private relations of life of what an English gentleman—of what a high-minded and public-spirited English gentleman—should be. But, Sir, the terrible facts which are brought formally to our notice by the letter from the Judge cannot be set aside, and I imagine in no quarter can there be any hesitation as to the course which it is oar duty to pursue. I presume that there cannot be any hesitation, and that the more keenly we feel the stain that has fallen upon an honoured name, and also the amount of discredit which may be brought even upon this august Assembly by the misconduct of one of its Members, the more imperatively shall we recognise the duty which lies upon us to assent to the Motion which the right hon. Gentleman has made. I feel sure, with him, that the desire in every part of the House will be that, having this painful duty to discharge, we should accomplish it in as speedy and simple a fashion as possible. At the same time, I think it right to say that it behoves us on every occasion, and especially on an occasion such as this, to see that we duly protect the rights and privileges of the individual Members of this House. However plain the facts may be—and they are very plain in this instance—we may possibly, by some ill-considered action, create a precedent which in some future case, perhaps not altogether analogous to this, may have the effect of compromising the rights and privileges of Members of this House. In the present instance, as you, Mr. Speaker, have pointed out, our course is made plainer by the fact that the incriminated person has him self pleaded guilty to the charges on which he was arraigned. On the understanding that the hon. Member cannot have the occasion or the desire to address the House by saying anything in extenuation of his offence—on that understanding, and in that belief, I beg, without any further qualification, to second the Motion.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ The said letter and record considered.
§ Resolved, "That Captain Edmund Hope Verney be expelled this House."—(Mr. William Henry Smith.)