THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I thought it due to your Lordships, to the Government of which I am a Member, and to the high office which I have the honour to hold, that I should make to you a full statement of all the circumstances, so far as I am concerned in them, relating to the resignation of one of our late clerks—the Reading Clerk, Mr. Edmunds—and the grant of a pension to be paid to that gentleman. But, my Lords, although I think it right that that statement should not be for one moment delayed, yet I am by no means disposed to ask your Lordships to be satisfied with it; and I will, therefore, move that it be referred to a Committee of this House to inquire into all the circumstances connected with the resignation of Mr. Edmunds, and with regard to the pension which has been granted to him. My Lords, in order that you may understand the matter—and I am sure you will hear me patiently—it is necessary that I should begin by telling your Lordships that, beside the office of Reading Clerk and Clerk of the Committees, Mr. Edmunds held two other offices—the offices of Clerk of the Patents and Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents. The Clerkship of the Patents is an old office in the Court of Chancery. Originally, under the superintendence of the Clerk of the Patents were all the patents, whether of dignities or estates, or patents for inventions. The office is regulated by a statute passed in 1833, by which the salary, so far as it relates to patents of dignities and estates, is fixed at £400 a year, and the obligation is thrown upon the Clerk of the Patents to pay all the fees received by him into the Exchequer. He is bound to make that payment, and to make his account to the Exchequer; but there does not appear to be in the statute any further provision touching the audit of his accounts. In 1852 patents, so far as they related to patents for new inventions, were placed under different rules, and by an Act of Parliament passed in that year another office was created, called the Clerk to the Commissioners. That office had a salary attached to it of £600 a year; and as Mr. Edmunds was at the time Clerk of the Patents, it was deemed right to give him also the Clerkship to the Commissioners, in order that it might not be in his power 1204 to make any claim for compensation in consequence of loss of emoluments. The duty, I may add, of superintending the Office of Patents was committed to certain Commissioners, of whom the Lord Chancellor is one, the Master of the Rolls another, the Law Officers of the Crown being also included in the Commission. My Lords, in the year 1864, great confusion arose in the Patent Office. Many complaints were brought to me of the conduct of Mr. Edmunds; I consulted my brother Commissioners, and we deemed it right to have a full inquiry into the matter. Mr. Edmunds was one of the first persons to demand that inquiry, and in a letter written to me on the 10th of March, 1864, he used these words—I court and inquire the fullest inquiry into every single point in my conduct of the affairs and business of the Patent Office from its first organization in 1852 to the present day.At that time the Commissioners had no reason to believe that there was any adequate or material ground of complaint against Mr. Edmunds in respect of his receipt of the public money; for under the Act of 1852 the monies received are regularly accounted for to the Treasury, and all the accounts are duly audited by the proper auditors. We appointed two gentlemen—Mr. Greenwood, the Solicitor to the Treasury, and Mr. Hindmarch, the eminent Queen's Counsel—to conduct this inquiry. On the 12th July, 1864, Messrs. Greenwood and Hindmarch presented to the Commissioners their preliminary report, and that report, to our surprise, contained a statement that Mr. Edmunds had received and misapplied public monies which had come into his hands as Clerk of the Patents, to the amount of £2,681. The report continued in these words—The facts we have stated seem to justify, if not to require, the immediate removal of Mr. Edmunds from his office of Clerk of the Patents, and Clerk of the Commissioners of Patents.And it then went on to describe the statutory mode of removing him from his office of Clerk of the Patents, which must be done by the Lord Chancellor with the concurrence of two of the other Judges of the Court of Chancery. On receiving that report I consulted with my brother Commissioners as to the course that ought to be taken; and they agreed with me that it was incumbent upon us to summon Mr. Edmunds before the proper tribunal, consisting of myself and two of the other Judges of the Court of Chancery, that he 1205 might answer this charge, the charge being the misapplication of public money received by him as Clerk of the Patents, which officer is an officer of the Court of Chancery. In consequence of that decision application was made to me by a most respectable gentleman, Mr. Lenian, who was the solicitor of Mr. Edmunds, that he might be permitted to resign. I consulted the Master of the Rolls upon the subject. The Master of the Rolls agreed with me in thinking that it would not be an improper thing to permit Mr. Edmunds to resign these offices. My Lords, I directed my secretary to write to Mr. Leman the following letter:—July 29, 1864.Sir,—I am directed by the Lord Chancellor to inform you that if Mr. Leonard Edmunds thinks proper to surrender his office as Clerk of the Patents forthwith, also his office as Clerk of the Commissioners of Patents, and will undertake forthwith to account for and pay over to the Treasury all sums of money due from him as Clerk of the Patents, the proceedings on Monday next will not be taken. The Lord Chancellor will take the opinion of Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingsdown as to the course which, under all the circumstances of the case, it will be the duty of his Lordship to adopt with reference to the office of Reading Clerk and Clerk of Private Committees held by Mr. Edmunds in the House of Lords. I am, Sir, your obedient servant,AUGUSTUS B. ABRAHAM, Principal Secretary. "James Leman, Esq.My Lords, that latter paragraph was inserted in consequence of a belief which at that time was entertained that the power of removing Mr. Edmunds from his offices in this House rested with the Lord Chancellor. It was therefore that I declined to take upon myself the responsibility of exercising that power; it was therefore that I stated to Mr. Edmunds's solicitor that that power should be exercised only under the direction of Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingsdown, and if they deemed it necessary that it should be exercised. I admit that that was a misapprehension on my part, because the power of removing an officer rests with the House, and not with the Lord Chancellor. The undertaking which is referred to in that letter was accordingly given and the resignation made, but I declined to receive that resignation unless it was made under the advice and with the entire sanction of Mr. Edmunds's solicitor, and I required that it should be made in writing, and that the signature should be attested by that gentleman. Accordingly this surrender was sent to me, "I hereby surrender the combined offices of Clerk of the Patents and Clerk 1206 of the Commissioners of Patents." It was accompanied by a letter from Mr. Leman, dated the 30th July, which, after stating that he had been authorized by Mr. Edmunds to say that he forthwith surrendered the offices, and that he undertook to account for and pay over to the Treasury all sums of money due from him, went on—Mr. Edmunds hopes, however, that your Lordship will think it right not to take the opinion of Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingsdown as to the course which, under all the circumstances of the case, it will be your Lordship's duty to adopt in reference to the office of Reading Clerk, until after your Lordship is in possession of and has considered Mr. Edmunds's answer to the report of Messrs. Greenwood and Hindmaroh.My Lords, it was a very reasonable request that an opportunity should be afforded for putting in an answer; and, therefore, although I had sent the report to Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingsdown, I desired that no further proceedings should be taken until Mr. Edmunds had given a full answer to the statements made against him. My Lords, Mr. Edmunds put in that answer; and afterwards, to my great surprise, he voluntarily paid into the Treasury the sum of £7,872, the amount of the defalcations mentioned in the report being £2,681. The first report, however, stated that there were divers other grounds of claim against Mr. Edmunds; and accordingly a further report was made in the month of January of the present year, which states that Mr. Edmunds is still indebted to the public in the sum of £9,100. Mr. Edmunds has not yet put in his answer to that report, but he disputes the accuracy of the statement, and his contention is that the sum of £7,872, represents the entire amount of his is debt to the public. My Lords, in this state of things I first of all took the opinion of the Government whether it was my duty—whether it was incumbent upon me—to communicate at once to the House of Lords what had taken place with reference to Mr. Edmunds. It was the opinion of the Government that it was my duty to do so. I accordingly directed an intimation to be given to Mr. Leman that on the second or third day of the Session I should lay the reports, with the answer of Mr. Edmunds to the first report, upon the table of your Lordships' House, and that I should move for a Committee to inquire into the subject and to advise the House as to the course that it would be proper to take. Upon that intimation being given, I received from Mr. Leman an earnest 1207 request on behalf of Mr. Edmunds that I would not make that communication for a few days; and the reason assigned for asking for the delay was to give Mr. Edmunds an opportunity of receiving some communication from abroad. On that earnest appeal I consented to postpone the communication to your Lordships for, I think, four or five days. On the day on which I was about to make the communication a petition from Mr. Edmunds asking leave to resign the office of Reading Clerk was brought down to your Lordships' House, and was delivered to Sir John Lefevre, Clerk of the Parliaments; and immediately before the sitting of the House it was put into my hands. I presented that petition to your Lordships. It not only prayed for leave to resign, but it stated that Mr. Edmunds had been for eighteen years a servant of the House, and that his conduct in that capacity had never been the subject of complaint, and he therefore prayed the usual reference to a Committee in order that a pension might be granted to him in conformity with what has been the usage on like occasions. My Lords, it was your Lordships' pleasure to accede to that request. The petition was placed in my hands. I could not refuse to present it. I presented it, and an order was made in conformity with the prayer. The resignation was thereby complete, and the office held by Mr. Edmunds was rendered vacant. A reference was made to a Committee in the usual manner. Your Lordships are aware that upon that Committee two Members of the Government are, if I may so term it, official Members—namely, the Lord Chancellor and the President of the Council. I need hardly tell your Lordships that it is not the habit of either to attend the Committee, which sits at a time when the Lord Chancellor is unable to be present. I believe the Committee is constituted of several Members, many of whom make a point of attending. Now, I beg your Lordships' attention to a matter upon which there may be a difference of opinion. I sit myself upon these transactions, to judge them with the extremest care and accuracy, and what I think this one open to—possibly open to—is this observation, that it was my duty to have pursued Mr. Edmunds, and to have communicated to the Committee the information which, but for the resignation of Mr. Edmunds, it was my intention to have laid before the House in the shape of a paper, and to have had 1208 the matter referred to a Committee. Now, my Lords, rightly or wrongly, I could not bring my mind to that. I must tell your Lordships that the Law Officers have been consulted, and that they were of opinion that there was no ground for criminal proceedings; and further, that even if these could have been instituted with success they would have been unfair and unjust, because the whole of the information attaching to Mr. Edmunds's defalcations, or at least the principal part of it, had been obtained from his confession. Well, then, it was now a matter of civil liability. Mr. Edmunds said that he had paid the whole amount; the Treasury said that he was still liable in a large sum of money. If it had turned out, or if it should hereafter turn out, that Mr. Edmunds has paid the whole amount, it would have been wrong to deprive him of his pension; and if it should turn out that Mr. Edmunds is still a debtor the pension is liable to be taken, and will be taken, in satisfaction of that debt. My Lords, under these circumstances, I appeal to every one of your Lordships whether, uncalled for, without being required so to do, it was my duty to have followed Mr. Edmunds to that Committee, and to have insisted upon that Committee inquiring into these charges. Now, my Lords, I beg of you to observe that that Committee could not have made the investigation. The Committee could only have found that there was a claim upon Mr. Edmunds, which he disputed. It was not a matter with regard to the execution of his office here, but one which had arisen with reference to the execution of his duty in another office. I do not for a moment intend to insinuate that the members of the Committee acted hastily in granting the pension; but I may be permitted to mention that the circumstances attending Mr. Edmunds's resignation were generally notorious, and I may be permitted also to say that although I did not think proper to send the papers to the Committee under the circumstances, still I thought it extremely probable that inquiries would be made before the pension was granted. Now, my Lords, under these circumstances the Committee came to the conclusion that a pension should be granted to Mr. Edmunds, and I need not say to your Lordships that it would be impossible to allow that pension to be paid to Mr. Edmunds until the subject of this demand against him on behalf of the public has been fully investigated and fully satisfied. My Lords, 1209 these are all the circumstances that have taken place as far as I am connected with them. What may have taken place with regard to others, as to which there are rumours afloat, I know not. With regard to myself, I determined from the commencement to act only under the direction of my noble and learned Friends whom I have mentioned, and when I found that it was incumbent on me to act I determined at once to lay the matter before your Lordships. The question related to the resignation of Mr. Edmunds. Now, I beg noble Lords for a moment to consider that there was a very great difference between stating the circumstance to your Lordships when Mr. Edmunds was an officer of your Lordships' House, and of pursuing Mr. Edmunds in order to prevent his obtaining a pension. It is quite right that your Lordships should be free from the odium of discharging an officer without a pension in the absence of sufficient facts to justify your so doing; but the pension is a pecuniary grant which will remain in force or not according to the issue of the subsequent investigation. My Lords, I have only further to add with regard to the two offices surrendered by Mr. Edmunds—namely, that of Clerk to the Patents and that of Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents—that it was necessary, in order to- comply with the requirements of various statutes, that the office of the Clerk of the Patents, the emoluments of which only amounted to £400 per annum, should be immediately filled up. The patronage of this office is not with the Lord Chancellor, but with the Prime Minister; but it was at my request, and therefore I must assume the responsibility of the act, that the Prime Minister appointed to fill that office, which is a sinecure, a relative of mine. The other office, of more importance, the emoluments of which were much larger, and which was in my own gift, has not yet been filled up, nor is there any intention of filling it up, as I thought it better that it should remain vacant until the question of the amendment of the Patent Law has been considered and determined. My Lords, these are all the circumstances which I think it right to lay before your Lordships; but there are many things connected with the statement I have made which your Lordships will desire to see, and the public will desire to see, fully investigated; and, therefore, I myself desire that this House will afford to the public the fullest possible investigation through a Committee of In- 1210 quiry. In order that there may be the fullest and most searching investigation, I humbly beg leave to move your Lordships—That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into all the Circumstances connected with the Resignation by Mr. Edmunds of the Offices of Clerk of the Patents and Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents, and with his Resignation of the Office of Reading Clerk and Clerk of Out-door Committees in this House; and also into all the Circumstances connected with the Grant of a Retiring Pension to him by this House.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
My Lords, I cannot pretend to feel any surprise, considering the great amount of observation which the resignation of Mr. Edmunds and the pension which has been granted to him has called forth, that the noble and learned Lord should have taken the earliest opportunity of making the statement he has done this evening. And, my Lords, the concluding sentence of the noble and learned Lord's speech, following up the information he gave us at the commencement, will, I trust, satisfy your Lordships that it will not be expedient upon the present occasion to enter into details as to the circumstances, with which we are at present but very imperfectly acquainted. My Lords, there are three parties who are on their trial before the public in this inquiry. There is the case of Mr. Edmunds himself; there is the case of the Committee of your Lordships' House, who, upon imperfect information, as it would appear to be, has recommended him for this pension; and lastly, if your Lordships will allow me to say so, there is the course which has been pursued by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The noble and learned Lord has invited the fullest investigation of your Lordships into the circumstances connecting him with the transaction. I believe that it would certainly be premature and highly improper with the imperfect knowledge we possess to propose to give any opinion whatever on the present occasion. I have no doubt that the Committee whom your Lordships appointed to inquire into this case are also desirous that their acts should be fully brought before the public through the medium of your Lordships. I am also informed that Mr. Leonard Edmunds—whatever amount of indiscretion or imprudence, or even, if you like to use so hard a word, of criminality he may have been guilty of—is himself anxious to face the fullest inquiry, and to make a statement of all the circumstances before the Committee. But your Lordships will observe that we come 1211 to the discussion, if there should be any discussion, at a great disadvantage. The noble and learned Lord has had an opportunity of making his statement, and I do not in the slightest degree complain that he should have made it in the way he has done—but the one point upon which the whole matter turns—namely, the amount of indiscretion or criminality which may attach to Mr. Edmunds—is not at this moment before your Lordships, and yet that is an essential condition upon which alone you can judge as to the propriety of the course which the noble and learned Lord has pursued. I am told that there are extenuating circumstances with regard to the defalcations which occurred in the accounts of the Patent Office. No doubt there were irregularities; and I am informed—it may be mere rumour—that the charge against Mr. Edmunds was, that instead of having handed over a sum of money which he had received on behalf of the Government, he had placed it in a deposit bank, and that he had received the interest upon it until called for. I am further informed that since the case was brought forward—since this complaint was made—the whole sum in which Mr. Leonard Edmunds was indebted to the public, and certainly a larger sum than that in which he had been accounted a defaulter, has been paid in, and that, as far as he is aware, he is no longer indebted to the public. Now, my Lords, it was extremely imprudent, extremely improper, that the money coming into his hands should have been so invested for a time, and that he should have derived an advantage from the accruing interest; but I must say if that were the whole case—I know nothing about it; I am in entire ignorance of this matter myself—but I say that if that be the whole case it falls far short of that which was imputed to him, and which would have been a criminal act. Ought he, then, to be as seriously visited as if the case had preserved the aspect which it presented at the first blush? I do not for a moment doubt the Report of the Commissioners, which we have not seen, but which of course the Committee of your Lordships' House will see—I am alluding to the preliminary report—but it appears that after the Gentlemen who inquired into the affair made their preliminary report, Mr. Edmunds at once resigned the office of Clerk of the Patents and the corresponding office of Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents. There remained to him then the office of 1212 Reading Clerk and Clerk of Committees; and, my Lords, I confess I am not at all satisfied that with regard to that office a somewhat hasty course was not taken by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The noble and learned Lord has informed us that his first impression was that dismissal from that office rested, not with the House of Lords, but with the Lord Chancellor himself, and that with that responsibility attaching to him, he proceeded to take such advice as he considered necessary to fortify him in the course which he proposed to adopt. Subsequently, it appeared to the noble and learned Lord that the dismissal rested, not with the Lord Chancellor, but with the House of Lords; and here arises the question whether the proper course was pursued by the noble and learned Lord. My Lords, if I am not misinformed, the Lord Chancellor, before the meeting of Parliament, intimated to Mr. Leonard Edmunds that it was his intention to bring the whole case before this House; but that, if he consented to resign his office, instead of being dismissed by the House of Lords, in that case he would place no obstacle in the way of his receiving a pension as a retiring clerk. My Lords, if the dismissal from that office be in the hands of the House of Lords, then I say the matter ought not to have been put on that footing—that the good offices of the Lord Chancellor would be used in procuring Mr. Edmunds a pension to which he is not strictly and fairly entitled. But the question ought to have been fairly put.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I beg to assure the House, and to assure the noble Earl, that the statement which has been made to him is utterly without foundation. It is utterly and entirely untrue. I cannot account for it. I cannot imagine how it could have originated, except from the circumstance I have mentioned to your Lordships—namely, that an application was made to me to postpone the statement I intended to make, and I was told at the time that Mr. Leonard Edmunds expected to receive some communication from abroad. I consented to withold the statement and the papers, in accordance with that communication; but I never held out to Mr. Edmunds that if he would resign I should use my good offices to obtain a pension for him. That allegation is quite destitute of any foundation.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I am bound to accept without hesitation the state- 1213 ment made on the personal honour of a noble and learned Lord, holding the high position he does in this House, and made in presence of your Lordships; but, at the same time, I am bound to say that I never would have ventured on such a statement as that which I repeated to your Lordships if it had not been stated to me in the most positive manner, that the resignation never would have been sent in but for the declaration made by the noble and learned Lord on the subject of the pension, which was to the effect I have stated to your Lordships. I again say that I at once accept the denial of the noble and learned Lord, and conclude that I am misinformed; but, of course, this is one of the points on which the Committee will feel it necessary to satisfy themselves. The parties will be brought before one another face to face, and we can have the matter fully inquired into. I will, however, say that the course which, in my mind, ought to have been pursued was this—inasmuch as the House of Lords and not the Lord Chancellor was charged with the dismissal or the acceptance of the resignation of Mr. Leonard Edmunds, the case ought to have been brought before the House, and the House with these two Reports and the statements in reply to these Reports before it, would have had to decide in the first place—not whether, being dismissed, Mr. Edmunds ought to receive a pension—but whether the amount of blame imputed to him in his other offices would warrant the House in dismissing him from the office he held here. But, my Lords, that case was prejudged; this question alone remained for your Lordships—this question alone arose here—whether he was entitled to a pension? I say, therefore, we are in this dilemma—either his criminality was not so great that he ought to have been dismissed from the office he hold in the House of Lords; or, if his criminality was such that he ought not to have been employed in the House of Lords, then a pension ought not to have been granted, and an application for a pension ought not to have been made. But, my Lords, the petition for the pension was presented by the noble and learned Lord himself. The noble and learned Lord has himself adjudged or decided that it is the duty of the House to dismiss Mr. Leonard Edmunds; he must consequently be of opinion that he is not entitled to receive a pension; but, being so convinced, he himself presents a petition, he himself lays 1214 that petition on the table, and by his sanction a Committee is appointed under the ordinary circumstances to consider whether an officer who has served in his office for eighteen years should or should not receive a pension. I say the Committee should not have been appointed under the ordinary circumstances. It should have been appointed to consider whether Mr. Edmunds ought to be dismissed, and the circumstances connected with the Patent Office, which the noble and learned Lord says were matters of notoriety, should have been laid before it. That was not the course taken. Mr. Edmunds resigned, and after his resignation an appointment was made—an appointment about which I shall say nothing, knowing as I do nothing of the merits or demerits of the gentleman who has been very suddenly placed in the office of Reading Clerk. Very fortunately for himself, I believe, since the noble and learned Lord's accession to the Woolsack, that gentleman has been appointed to two or three offices successively. But, as I said before, the House of Lords should have decided, not whether Mr. Leonard Edmunds ought to get a pension, but whether he ought to be dismissed. I complain that this question never was submitted to the House; I complain that when the resignation was accepted, the merits of the case as regards his petition for a pension never were laid before it. But we are now told after the House has granted a Committee, in pursuance of the petition presented by the noble and learned Lord, that his pension may be taken from Mr. Edmunds and applied to the liquidation of his debt. There are rumours in circulation as to the cause of Mr. Leonard Edmunds's embarrassments which I will not enter into; but there are parties who bring serious charges against persons in high station, and I think it impossible that we can appoint this Committee without having a full and searching inquiry by the Committee we appoint into all the circumstances connected with the appointment to and the holding and resignation of the offices held by Mr. Edmunds. I know we cannot have this case fairly discussed on the present occasion; but this I say, that, as the noble and learned Lord has laid his case before the House, it would be rather hard, if on the part of the gentleman impeached on his high authority, such circumstances were not suggested as might mitigate—if not counteract the ex parte statement against him. I have not had 1215 the slightest communication with Mr. Leonard Edmunds. I have seen a copy of the answer which he sent, I believe, to the first statement; but I have had no communication with him. I have no personal motive whatever; no feeling whatever against the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I have received from him particular courtesy and kindness, for which I feel most grateful. I only ask your Lordships not to condemn a man in his absence who has had no opportunity of defending himself, but to adopt the straightforward and manly course suggested by the noble and learned Lord, and not anticipate the verdict which will be given when the case has been fully inquired into by a Committee of this House.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Earl, in his anxiety to have fair play in this matter, had stated that the Lord Chancellor has decided that Mr. Leonard Edmunds ought to be dismissed. Now that is the very thing I never would decide; and the noble Earl, in his desire to be candid, ought to have felt that I had carefully refrained from deciding that question, and would not form an opinion on it. But when I thought at first that I had the power, and when I consulted Lord Cranworth and Lord Kingsdown, and when I felt sure that I had the power, I proposed to lay all the papers on the table of the House, and let your Lordships decide. Yet you are told by the noble Earl, who says he does not wish to discuss the matter otherwise than with much forbearance, that I had decided Mr. Leonard Edmunds should be dismissed.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
Except I am very much mistaken, it is not denied that the noble and learned Lord did intimate to Mr. Edmunds that the whole case would be brought before your Lordships' House by him unless he sent in his resignation.
§ LORD REDESDALE
My Lords, as Chairman of the Committee which has been referred to, I wish to say a few words on this subject. It should be distinctly understood that it was not a Committee appointed to inquire into any of the circumstances connected with Mr. Edmunds' resignation. It was one of the Sessional Committees ordinarily appointed on the Office of the Clerk of the Parliaments and the Black Rod; it comprised two of the members of the Government—the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President—and other noble Lords from both sides of the House. That Committee was appointed on Friday, the 10th 1216 of February, and on the following Tuesday the petition was presented by the noble and learned Lord. The Committee met on the following Thursday to consider the petition. There was nothing before them but the petition itself, which simply stated that Mr. Edmunds wished to resign, and prayed that a pension might be granted to him. The subject was discussed before the Committee, and the pension which was proposed was one which, after consulting the precedents, considering the length of service, the amount of salary he had received, and all the other circumstances, was thought to be of the amount which was fit to be granted. The Report of the Committee was made on the following day (Friday) 17th, and it was sanctioned by the House on Friday 24th. Those are the proceedings of the Committee. There was nothing unusual or hurried in the course which was taken. The Committee was not appointed to inquire into any of the circumstances connected with the resignation; they could not have done anything of the sort without a direct reference from the House, nor did they know that there was anything before them which was of a character which would call for such an inquiry. It ought to be remembered, as was fairly stated by the noble and learned Lord, that the answer from Mr. Edmunds to the second Report had not been received. That he altogether denies what is there stated, and the charge, therefore, at present is an imperfect one. If I were to express my own opinion, I should say that a great deal which has arisen has been caused by his own indiscreet haste in resigning his office in this House—a resignation which I very much regret if, as he says, he has a perfect answer to the charge. I confess that it is not without considerable reluctance that I should agree to the Committee proposed by the noble and learned Lord, particularly after what has been said. We must remember that the noble and learned Lord has stated here that after taking the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, proceedings in the shape of an action will probably be taken against Mr. Edmunds to recover the sums supposed to be due from him to the Exchequer. Supposing proceedings of that character to take place, I think it extremely awkward that we should have a preliminary inquiry into these matters, because before our Committee Mr. Edmunds himself will, of course, be examined; and then the question will arise whether it is fair that 1217 any future proceedings should be taken against Mr. Edmunds in reference to this matter. Altogether I confess that I feel great reluctance in agreeing to this Committee without knowing what course will be pursued as to the prosecution of Mr. Edmunds by the Crown. At the same time, if your Lordships think it right to appoint such a Committee, it is not for me to object. I only thought it right to lay this point before you. I think that it ought to be carefully considered before such an inquiry is instituted, in order that your Lordships might determine what is the safest and the most dignified course to take, and at the same time most consistent with the discharge of your duty.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
As a Member of the Committee, I desire to make a few observations in answer to the sort of charge which the Lord Chancellor has thought fit to bring against it. The noble and learned Lord has thought fit to blame the hastiness of the Committee in granting the pension—
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am not answerable for what the noble Marquess understood. Certainly, I did not say so.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
Then, I will say that I myself heard the Lord Chancellor say that the rumours as to Mr. Edmunds were matters of such notoriety that they must have been within the cognizance of the Committee, and that they did not influence its conduct with regard to the granting of the pension. But, however, if I understand that the noble and learned Lord does not think any charge of haste and indiscretion will lie against the Committee I have no wish to say any thing further.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry to have to interrupt the noble Marquess so frequently, but what I said was this, and the noble Marquess, I should think, will recollect it. I said that I did not for one moment intend to insinuate the least charge against the Members of the Committee. Those were the words which I used, carefully abstaining from any statement that they had acted otherwise than rightly.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
In reference to the decision of the Committee with 1218 regard to the pension, I think the Committee has great cause of complaint against the noble and learned Lord, and the Government. Certain irregularities are said to have been committed by an officer of your Lordships' House, sufficient to induce him to believe that his conduct would be brought before the House if he did not resign. Everything connected with Mr. Edmunds's conduct was, it appears, known to Her Majesty's Government, and the Lord Chancellor—I think it was not fair to the Committee that they should be allowed to go into the consideration of the question whether a pension should be granted or not without any assistance either from the Lord Chancellor or the Lord President of the Council, who were Members of the Committee, and who ought to have stated what they knew, and have given their opinion whether it was right or not that the pension should be granted, and I say that your Lordships ought not to have been placed in the position of being charged with having granted unadvisedly, hastily, and imprudently, a pension to this individual; so that, having granted it, your Lordships should be in the position of being called upon at a future date to say whether that pension should be continued or not. I think that is not a position into which this House should have been put; and I think it was a neglect of duty on the part of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord President of the Council to have allowed such a state of things to arise. I should not have made these remarks, but when a question of hastiness is raised, and the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Bath) said he wished to exculpate the Committee from that charge of hastiness, the Lord Chancellor got up and took him to task in a manner certainly showing some degree of irritability. I think it only reasonable that Members of the Committee should state circumstances to show that the Committee, upon the information before them, acted reasonably without being subject to such attacks.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I venture humbly to suggest to your Lordships to follow the precept, and not the example, of the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Derby). The Lord Chancellor has made a personal statement, which the noble Earl acknowledges he was justified in making. I listened to him most carefully, and I appeal to your Lordships who are not interested in the matter one way or the other, whether the noble and learned Lord, did not studiously abstain from making any attack 1219 either on Mr. Edmunds or the Committee which decided upon granting him a pension. Feeling that it in the sense of the House that this Committee should sit, I agree entirely with the noble Earl that the discussion on this subject is premature, and must be unsatisfactory; and I suggest to your Lordships to follow the precept and not the example which the noble Earl set at the beginning of the debate.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
There is another part of this subject about which considerable anxiety has been manifested out of doors, and that is the circumstances connected with Mr. Edmunds's original appointment, and his holding of the offices he has now resigned. I should wish to know whether the noble and learned Lord will have any objection to the Committee inquiring into those circumstances as well as the circumstances connected with his resignation.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
Facts may certainly come before the Committee which may induce them to inquire into the circumstances under which Mr. Edmunds held the office; but there is nothing now before the House which can induce them to make that a formal condition of the reference.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
There are rumours notoriously flying about town in reference to Mr. Edmunds's appointment to the Patent Office, which make it a matter of justice that the circumstances of Mr. Edmunds's appointment, and the terms on which he held the office, should be inquired into.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
There is no desire on the part of the Government to conceal anything connected with this affair, and when the Committee is appointed it will find that the Government is most anxious to give them all the information in their power. But I think it would not be consistent with the dignity of the House to make that a formal part of the order of reference on mere rumours, the purport of which has not even been stated.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I understand the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) to desire that the circumstances connected with the original appointment, and the holding of the office by Mr. Edmunds, should be inquired into?
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
I certainly think that the circumstances under which Mr. Edmunds held his offices are circum- 1220 stances which must necessarily arise in considering the question of the alleged defalcation of public monies; but if I am assured by the Lord President of the Council that the inquiry of the Committee will not be stopped merely because the mere formal words of the Motion state the inquiry into the circumstances attending the resignation of Mr. Leonard Edmunds, and that their non-insertion will not preclude inquiry into the circumstances under which he held the offices he has resigned, I will not call upon the noble and learned Lord to insert the particular words. It must, however, be distinctly understood that the inquiry is to extend to all the circumstances connected with the various offices held by Mr. Edmunds.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
I have no hesitation in saying on behalf of myself and my Colleagues, that, so far from opposing, we are most anxious to promote a most searching inquiry. I think it would be improper to add the words suggested by the noble Earl. So far from wishing to throw any difficulty in the way of the fullest inquiry, I opposed the addition of those words as likely to embarrass the Committee, and I think it is for the noble Earl himself to consider whether that would not be the effect of the addition he proposes.
§ LORD REDESDALE
I still entertain great objections to the appointment of the committee without our first knowing in what manner this gentleman could be proceeded against, by civil action or otherwise; but if the House think fit to appoint the Committee I shall not press my objection. I think the Motion should be "to inquire into all the circumstances connected with the resignation by Mr. Edmunds of the Office of Reading Clerk and Clerk of Out-door Committees."
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
There is no mention here of what is the foundation of all—the compulsory resignation of the office of the Clerk of Patents. The inquiry would be imperfect if the whole subject be not included, because the evidence upon which a judgment can be formed is the Report of the Commissioners, which referred not to the office of Reading Clerk, but to the offices of Clerk of Patents and Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents. I think the terms should be "to inquire into all the circumstances connected with the resignation by Mr. Edmunds of the offices of Clerk of Patents and Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents, and of Reading Clerk and Clerk of Out-door Committees."
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I have not the least objection to the Motion in that form, and I think it will be reasonable to inquire into the whole subject.
§ LORD REDESDALE
I still think that the inquiry should be limited to what occurred before the Committee.
§ LORD COLCHESTER
As a Member of the Committee, perhaps I may be allowed to state what we really did. We were summoned in the usual way, and a petition was presented from Mr. Edmunds in which he stated that he had resigned his office as Reading Clerk and Clerk of Private Committees, and praying that a Retiring Allowance might be granted him. We had then to consider what pension the Reading Clerk ought to have, taking into consideration the number of years he had filled the office and his conduct in the discharge of the duties attached to it. We had nothing else before us, as no charge was made against him. The pension was considered and was agreed to unanimously; and that was really all that the Committee had to do with the matter.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into all the Circumstances connected with the Resignation by Mr. Edmunds of the Offices of Clerk of the Patents and Clerk to the Commissioners of Patents, and with his Resignation of the Office of Reading Clerk and Clerk of Out-door Committees in this House; and also into all the Circumstances connected with the Grant of a Retiring Pension to him by this House."—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ And on Thursday next, the 9th of March, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—
- Ld. President.
- D. Somerset.
- E. Derby.
- E. Graham.
- E. Clarendon.
- E. Malmesbury.
- V. Hutchinson.
- L. Panmure.
- L. Stanley of Alderley.
- L. Chelmsford.
- L. Taunton.