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legislature should be withheld, at the discretion and
upon the general responsibility of ministers. This prin-
ciple is systematically recognised in all parliamentary
transactions : were it otherwise, it would be impossible
to carry on the government with safety and honour.
Whenever it is declared, by the responsible servants of
the crown, that any information sought for in Parlia-
ment could not be supplied without inconvenience to
the public service, or for other sufficient reasons, the
House refrains from insisting upon its production. 11

In 1869, ministers agreed to an order for certain papers concern-
ing Fenianism, but finding on close inspection that ' their publication
could be attended with no public advantage,' and that ' they con-
tained matter which it is contrary to our public duty as ministers
to be parties to laying before the House,' they determined to ask the
House to rescind the order, 1 which was done on a di vision. J

informa- And if the government object to produce any docu-

tion given c ' . >

and with- ments, on the ground that they are 01 a private and
confidential description, it is not usual to insist upon
their being furnished, k except under peculiar and im-
perative circumstances. 1

e Hans. D. v. 219, pp. 272-313. J Ib. p. 1758.

f Ib. v. 173, p. 1054. k Mir. of Parl. 1834, p. 2774 ;

Ib. v. 232, p. 460. 1835, p. 1634 ; 1838, p. 6999 ; 1840,

h Mir. of Parl. 1828, p. 109 ; p. 1130 ; Hans. D. v. 163, p. 822.

1833, p. 626 ; 1836, p. 971 ; 1837-8, Ib. v. 230, p. 422.

p. 668. And see Ld. Derby in Hans. l See Ld. Hatherton's Memoir on

D. v. 173, p. 1055. the occurrences in 1834, pp. 93-95.

1 Hans. I), v. 195, p. 1469. Mir. of Parl. 1831, p. 524.


[But it must always be remembered that all public transactions of
state are necessarily official ; and that no public officer would be
justified in withholding from official record and access, any document,
emanating from himself in his official capacity, in relation to public
affairs. m ]

This rule extends to private correspondence between
members of Parliament and a minister of the crown,
which ought not to be regarded as official documents. 11
Unless prepared to assert their want of confidence in
the minister who is answerable for the department con-
cerned, or in the government generally, the House
should not embarrass the ministry by insisting on the
production of documents which they feel it their duty
to refuse.

"When ' copies ' of correspondence, &c., are moved for by private
members, it is customary to add, ' or extracts ; ' leaving to ministers
a discretion as to despatches which it may be advisable to lay before
Parliament, and as to those which it may be expedient, in whole or
in part, to withhold.?

In like manner, if the government declare that a dis- p re judi-
cussion on any particular subject could not take place
.without inconvenient and injurious consequences to
the public service, q or without eliciting expressions of
opinion from the ministry, or from members generally,
which it would be premature and prejudicial to make
known, r the debate ought not to proceed.

It would, moroever, be highly irregular to commu- p remature
nicate to Parliament copies of despatches addressed by communi-

r. , ,, Ti i cation of

a secretary 01 state to the governor 01 any British des-
dependency, until the receipt thereof had been acknow- P atches -
ledged by the person to whom they were addressed. 8

m See the case of Ld. Chatham, r Mir. of Pad. 1831, pp. 1109,

ante, p. 267; and Parl. D.v.16, p.2****. 1184. Hans. D. v. 195, p. 1633.

n Mr. Gladstone, Hans. D. v. 204, s Mir. of Parl. 1838, p. 5824;

pp. 651, 657. 1840, p. 1710 ; Hans. D. v. 208, p.

Mir. of Parl. 1839, p. 799. 954. But see Ib. \. 87, p. 669. In

p Hans. D. v. 172, p. 575. Ib. v, 1854 the government consented to

204, p. 650. lay before Parliament copies of in-

Ib. v. 128, pp. U20-1429. struction that had been, ' or here-


But it is contrary to the respect due to Parliament to
communicate, beforehand, to the public, through the
press, important information intended for the use of
Parliament. fc Although it is not unusual to furnish
the press with advance copies of official reports,
with a view to give early publicity to such docu-
ments. 11 For further particulars in regard to the com-
municating of despatches to Parliament, see the section
in the chapter concerning ' Intercourse with Foreign

Sentai" ' ^e svstem ^ ^ a 7 m g upon the table of the House

reports reports from officers addressed to particular depart-
fidentiai nients of the executive government is most objection-
able.' v And the House ought not to insist ' upon the
production of papers and correspondence which con-
cerned the preparation and preliminary consideration
of measures ; they would thereby put a stop to that
freedom of criticism which was always invited on such
occasions, and which contributed so much to the per-
jection of public measures. ' w If the House were to
insist upon the production of such documents, * instead
of the government getting what we get now, confi-
dential reports, containing the most minute details of
the opinions of officers, given frankly and freely, for
the heads of departments, we shall have a system of
reports framed for laying upon the table of the House
of Commons, and those will be accompanied by " con-
fidential reports for the head of the department alone." ' x
' There have been cases in which reports of a confidential
character from officers of the government have been
laid upon the table of the House, to prepare the public

after might be issued,' to comman- " Ib. v. 231, p. 972.
ders of the Arctic Searching Expe- T Lord C. Paget (Sec. to the Ad-
dition. Ib. v. 132, p. 438. See also mir.), Hans. D. y. 177, p. 961.
Ld. Elleuborough's case iu 1858, w Mr. Disraeli, Hans. 1). v. 193,
ante, p. 228. p. 1273.

' Ib. v. 131, pp. 637, 641, 759, Hans. D. v. 177, p. 1402; and

876. see p. 1455.


mind, and also that of Parliament, to consent to some
large measure, or perhaps some considerable vote of
public money; but, generally, I think it is a course
which the House ought not to sanction.' y

The administration have refused to concur in mo- w* 1611

papers are

tions for the production of papers, whether by order refused by

or upon an address to the crown, on the ground that E

there was no public officer whose duty it was to furnish

the required information. 2 Under these circumstances,

' it is particularly desirable that the House should make

no such orders without, at the same time, determining

by what means they shall be carried into execution.' a

Keturns are sometimes refused on account of their
voluminous character, and the length of time it would
take to prepare them. b In order to obviate this objec-
tion, ' it is very desirable that members, before moving
for very voluminous returns, should communicate with
the department possessing the information, when it
might be supplied in a much smaller compass.' c Some-
times, returns which are not of sufficient general im-
portance to be supplied at the public expense are
granted when the member asking for the return, or
others interested therein, undertakes to defray the cost
of obtaining, or of printing, the same, or both charges. 3
It is not customary, however, to object to motions for
returns merely on account of the trouble and expense Cost of
to individuals that would be occasioned by their pro- return""^
duction, notwithstanding that there may be no funds Parlia -


available for the remuneration of the persons employed
in the execution of the order. In fact, it has been the
practice of Parliament to order from public officers, of

J Mr. Disraeli, ib. v. 178, p. 154. e Mir. of Par). 1830, Sess. 2, p.
z Mir. of Parl. 1830, p. 24; 1830- 501. To pay the expense of pre-
31, p. 50; 1831-32, p. 3254. paring returns to the sec. of state or
Ib. (The Speaker), 1836, p. 887. to Parliament out of county rates
* Ib. 1837, p. 601. has been declared to be illegal. Ib.
c Ib. 1829, p. 1900. 1834, p. 3331 : 1835, p. 245. Ib.
d Hans. D. v. 197, p. 1887. 1841, p. 2014.



various grades, returns which they were not required
by law to furnish, and for which no remuneration was
provided, 'That might be considered a customary right
exercised in the public interests ; ' and although, upon
rare occasions, some remuneration has been given to
the parties employed, in order to accelerate their
labours, yet ' no public officer has any right to refuse
to obey an order of the House until he shall be paid ;
the question of remuneration must not be raised be-
tween him and Parliament.' ' Every public officer holds
his situation under the control of Parliament, and he is
bound to give information.' It is for the executive
government afterwards to decide whether he has any
claim for compensation for such a service.*

Prece- On February 22, 1859, Mr. Cowper called the attention of the

dents. House of Commons to a circular from the Education Committee of

the Privy Council, dated May 22, 1858, which directed that, instead

Education of the annual reports of the inspectors of schools being published in
Office: in- f u ll ( as had been done from 1844 to 1858), relevant extracts only of
such reports should be appended to a general report from the Edu-
cation Committee to her Majesty. The new regulation had been
made on account of certain objectionable matter which had appeared
in a report, and which had been complained of by members of the
House of Commons. Mr. Cowper contended that the Education
Committee ' had it in their power to lay down the strictest rules with
regard to the character and nature of the reports they desired to
have sent up to them,' but asserted ' the expediency of allowing the
original reports to appear unaltered and unabridged.' He concluded
by moving that an humble address be presented to her Majesty,
praying that the reports of school inspectors, when prepared in ac-
cordance with the instructions of the Committee of Council on
Education, should continue to be laid before Parliament unaltered
and unabridged. Mr. Adderley (vice-president of the Education
Committee) opposed the motion, on the ground that so much irrele-
vant matter had been introduced into these reports, that a new rule
on the subject had become imperatively necessary, for economical
reasons, as well as on the score of propriety. A specimen of the new
form of report would shortly be submitted to Parliament, when, if it
should appear objectionable, the House could ' agree to a resolution


f Mir. of Parl. 1841, p. 2190; 1835, p. 1700. Hans. D. v. 182, pp. 1644, 1775.


requiring, on its own responsibility, that the reports furnished to the Pre
executive should be published by them in extenso.' After some fur-
ther debate, the motion was withdrawn, with the understanding that
government would endeavour to meet the views of the House in this
matter, s Accordingly, Mr. Adderley abandoned his plan of reducing
the inspectors' reports under specific heads, and thenceforth per-
mitted the reports to be printed without abridgment ; but he never-
theless insisted on his right to strike out therefrom all superfluous
and irrelevant matter. h [Subsequently, in his evidence before the
Commons' Committee 011 Education, in 1865, Mr. Adderley declared
that the sum of the instructions to the inspectors which were issued
up to the time he left office was, that their reports should be upon
the facts which came within their inspection, and that their sugges-
tions should be practical, and not abstract disquisitions upon edu-
cational philosophy : but he never meant to limit their suggestions
to one side of the question. 1 The inspectors were then, and still are,
at liberty to object to particular minutes," on the ground that they
did not work welU] But this concession failed to give complete satis-
faction. On March 27, 1863, enquiry was made in the House of
Commons, whether the reports of certain inspectors had been mate-
rially altered, or wholly suppressed, in the annual report from the
Education Office ; and if so, why so ; and whether there was any
objection to communicate such suppressed reports to Parliament.
Mr. Lowe (who had succeeded Mr. Adderley as vice president of the
Education Committee) replied that considerable difficulty had always
been experienced in confining these reports within proper limits ;
_ that a new minute had been lately issued embodying the substance
of previous instructions requiring the inspectors to confine their
reports to the state of the schools they had examined, and to prac-
tical suggestions for the management and improvement of the same :
that whenever a report contained irrelevant matter, it was sent back
to the inspector, with an intimation that, unless it was altered in
conformity to the minute, it would not be printed or laid before
Parliament (the particular passages objected to, however, were
never specially indicated) : that last year three reports had been
returned to their authors, who had declined to amend them to the
satisfaction of the Education Office, and therefore they had not been
printed with the report of the department. This year a similar
number had been sent back, including one from an inspector whose
report had been rejected in 1862. He could not consent to lay these
reports on the table, as this would be virtually offering a premium to
the inspectors to disregard the rules of the department, and would

Hans. D. v. 152, pp. 696, 702, ' Com. Pap. 1865, v. 6, pp. 73, 74
714. J Ib. p. 77.

h Ib. v. 171, p. 727.


rrfi - be subversive of all disciplined On June 11, 1863, a member com-

*_^' plained to the House of Commons of the suppression of several re-
Education ports from school inspectors, and enquired of the vice-president of
Office : in- the Education Committee upon what conditions he would allow the
publication of such reports for the information of the House. He
argued that the House had a right to full information, and should be
permitted to judge between the Education Office and the inspectors
as to the suitability of the reports for publication. Mr. Lowe replied
that it would be impossible to lay down any exact conditions under
which the reports might be printed, but that, whenever they con-
tained irrelevant or controversial matter in regard to questions
decided upon by the department itself, they could not be allowed
publicity. Mr. Adderley defended the conduct of the Education
Office, and urged that if objection was taken thereto by any member,
he should move for the particular report which he considered had
been too stringently dealt with, instead of laying down a general
proposition that would be disadvantageous to the public service.
After some further debate the subject was dropped. 1 But on
April 12, 1864, it was again revived, upon the motion of Lord R.
Cecil, to resolve, ' that in the opinion of this House, the mutilation
of the reports of her Majesty's inspectors of schools, and the exclu-
sion from them of statements and opinions adverse to the educational
views entertained by the Committee of Council, while matter favour
able to them is admitted, are violations of the understanding under
which the appointment of the inspectors was originally sanctioned
by Parliament, and tend entirely to destroy the value of their re-
ports.' His lordship cited, from a paper which was privately circu-
lated amongst members during the debate, m cases in support of his
position, and asked the House whether it could trust reports thus
expurgated. Mr. Lowe denied any knowledge of the cases referred
to, and repeated the arguments formerly adduced in justification of
the department. He said, ' It is quite open to the House to express
an opinion that the inspectors should report directly to Parliament,
and not to the Privy Council, and thus exonerate us from all respon-
sibility in the matter ; ' but so long as the present system prevails,
departmental discipline must be enforced. He rejoiced to add, that
the reports for the past year had all come in, and that it had not
been necessary to return one of them to the inspectors. Secretary
Sir George Grey said, that in the Home Office, and in other depart-
ments of state, similar regulations were enforced," and that he con-
sidered it absolutely necessary that the head of a department should

k Hans. P. v. 170, p. 24. Mr. Lowe's explanation, Il>. p. 1206.

1 Ib. v. 171, pp. 717-733. " As, for example, in the case of

m Lord Granville's speech in House factory inspectors. (See Huns. 1).

of Lords, II,, v. 174, p. 1183; and v. 174, p. 1501.)


have such a power. Nevertheless, on division, the motion was Pre-
carried against the government by a majority of eight. On April 18,
Earl Granville (the president of the Committee of Council on Edu-
cation) called the attention of the House of Lords to the foregoing
resolution, and, as the official head of the department, assumed full
responsibility for Mr. Lowe's acts. Moreover, he gave explanations
of the routine pursued at the Education Office, which entirely corro-
borated Mr. Lowe's statements, and exonerated him from any sus-
picion of unworthy conduct. On the same day, Mr. Lowe informed
the House of Commons that, in vindication of his own honour, he had
felt it necessary to resign his office ; and at the same time he entered
into detailed explanations in disproof of the charges brought against
him. Mr. Lowe afterwards stated that he did not understand that
the sending back a report to an inspector, to be corrected according
to the regulations of the department, without marking any objection-
able passage, could be regarded as ' mutilation.' ' The House resolved
in a contrary sense, and I resigned my office, not because my depart-
ment was censured, but because I considered, in fact, that the House
gave me the lie in resolving, after the statement I had made, that I had
mutilated.' He added, that if he had supposed ' mutilation ' to mean
simply carrying out the official minute, according to his understanding
of it, ' I should not have thought it necessary to resign my office ; the
department was censured, but that would not have concerned me :
that would have been the government's look out. I considered that
my personal honour was struck at when, as I understood, the state-
ment which I had made appeared to be disbelieved by the House.'
_This view of the degree of official responsibility attaching to the office
of vice-president was afterwards confirmed by Lord Granville, who
declared that, as lord president of the council, he was technically
the one who was bound to resign ; whilst technically the vice-
president might have retained his office, notwithstanding the vote
of censure passed on the department. But, in fact, Mr. Lowe's
resignation was dictated by a sense of personal honour : Lord Gran-
ville wished to resign, but was induced by the premier to await the
result of the reconsideration of the question by the House of
Commons. p The marks on the reports which had been privately
circulated amongst members on the night of the adverse vote
had been made by subordinate clerks in the Education Office
without the knowledge or sanction of the official heads. They were
intended to direct the attention of the secretary to particular pas-
sages. He himself had never, in any instance, struck out anything
from an inspector's report, and had forbidden others to do so, or

Com. Pap. 1804, v. 0, p. 81. P Ib. 1865, v. G, p. 105.


Pre- even to mark objectionable paragraphs. Lord R. Cecil expressed his

cedents. complete satisfaction with these explanations, and stated that, had
Education * ne ^ been given before the adverse vote was taken, it would not
Office : in- have been pressed, or agreed to by the House. Lord Palmerston
specters' passed a high eulogium on his retiring colleague, and intimated his
intention to move for a committee to enquire into the question of
fact involved in the charges which had been preferred against him ;
but the general feeling of the House appeared to be adverse to any
further enquiry, after the satisfactory explanations given by Mr.
Lowe. However, the resolution of April 12 being regarded by the
government as conveying a grave and serious censure on a public
department which was deemed unmerited, on May 12, upon motion
of Secretary Sir George Grey, a select committee was appointed to
investigate the matter, by enquiring into the practice of the Com-
mittee of Council on Education with respect to the reports of her
Majesty's inspectors of schools. In deference to the wishes of the
House, the government agreed that the committee should be nomi-
nated by the General Committee of Elections. On July 11 the
committee made a report, which briefly reviewed the matter at
issue, confirmed the statements made to the House by Mr. Lowe,
and entirely exonerated him from the imputation of personal mis-
conduct. After pointing out that the resolution of censure, which
led to the resignation of Mr. Lowe, was passed from a ' want of
information,' which ' was the cause of a double misunderstanding,'
the committee declared that they had ' carefully considered the
action of the department, and had come to the conclusion, that the
supervision exercised in objecting to the insertion of irrelevant
matter, of mere dissertation, and of controversial argument, is con-
sistent with the powers of the Committee of Council, and has, on
the whole, been exercised fairly, and without excessive strictness.'
' Some such power is essential to the effectual working of the de-
partment, so long as it retains its present constitution and func-
tions.' In conclusion, the committee recommend, ' that all instruc-
tions which may hereafter from time to time be issued to the
inspectors, either as to their general or tabulated reports, should be
laid before Parliament.' 1 On July 25, Lord Palmerston moved that
it be resolved, that having considered the foregoing report, the
House was of opinion that the resolution of censure passed on
April 12 should be rescinded. After a debate, in which the pro-

i Com. Pap. 1864, v. 9, pp. 17, 18. unnecessary.' (Hans. D. v. 176, p.

The House was afterwards informed 1804.) For a decision in 1876 in re-

' that it was the unanimous opinion gard to the future publication of In-

of the committee that the resignation spectors' Reports, see Hans. D. v. 230.

of Mr. Lowe was totally and entirely p. 615.


moters of the vote of censure stated their willingness to agree to Prece-
this motion in the sense in which they understood it to be proposed dents-
namely, as acquitting the department of being influenced by im-
proper motives in the course it had pursued, whilst adhering to the
opinion that the course was improper the motion was agreed to
without a division.

On June 16, 1863, a resolution was moved, in the House of Rivers in
Commons, to declare the opinion of the House that it was the duty I relari "'
of the government to carry the law into effect by immediately re-
moving stake and hand weirs in certain rivers in Ireland ; but no
sufficient evidence of neglect of duty on the part of the authorities
having been adduced, the motion was withdrawn. r

The sovereign having determined, upon the advice of the Privy West
Council, and under the authority of the Act 3 & 4 Will. IV. c. 71, y^kStoJ
to constitute the West Riding of Yorkshire into a separate assize assize
district, of which Leeds should be the assize town, an attempt was town,
made in the House of Commons to obtain the nomination of the
town of Wakefield instead of Leeds, by a motion, made on February
19, 1864 (previous to the formal issue of the Order in Council in
favour of Leeds), for an address to the Queen, setting forth the
claims of Wakefield to be the assize town, and praying that it
might be selected for that purpose. The home secretary (Sir G.
Grey) did not deny the right of the House to address the crown
upon this subject, but urged that no sufficient cause had been given
to justify an interference with the ordinary course prescribed by
law, and to set aside the decision of the Privy Council. Upon a
_di vision, the motion was negatived. But on June 13, an address
was carried in the House of Lords (against ministers), praying that

Online LibraryAlpheus ToddOn parliamentary government in England : its origin, development, and practical operation (Volume 1) → online text (page 42 of 85)