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Royal Commission On Loss Of Life At Sea—Mr Plimsoll And The Board Of Trade—Question

Volume 217: debated on Monday 28 July 1873

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asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether he has yet had any Reply from the honourable Member for Derby to the inquiry addressed to him on the subject of the charges made by the honourable Member for Derby against the officers of the Board of Trade?

What has happened, Sir, is this—On the 8th July I wrote to the hon. Member for Derby calling upon him to furnish the names of the many officers of the Board of Trade whom he charged with corruption and bribery, or else to withdraw the charge. On the 18th of July I received a. note from the solicitors of the hon. Member for Derby, stating that he was absent from ill-health, and that they had reserved the letter until he should be in a condition to have it submitted to him. I must add that a few clays afterwards I saw a letter addressed to the Editor of The Times by the hon. Member for Derby, in which he referred to a Question asked me in the House of Commons and my answer to it, and said it was necessary for him to take the advice of his solicitors and counsel before he answered my letter. The answer to my letter reached me on Saturday last, the 26th instant. It is a letter of considerable length, which will no doubt be made public without delay. It complains of the violent attack which, in the opinion of the hon. Member, I had made upon him by asking those questions; it alleges that the inquiry into the evils of the merchant service is being steadily resisted by the Board of Trade—the inquiry before the Royal Commission; it goes on to say—

"Here let me say that a money bribe is not the only form of corruption. Underhanded social pressure may he scarcely less mischievous and no less powerful than a gift in bank notes."
The letter then goes on to state three or four cases or classes of alleged misconduct by the Board of Trade which are most inaccurate and unfounded in point of fact and information, and which, if inquired into, would not afford any ground, in my opinion, for anything approaching to a charge of corruption. The letter then contains a passage which I am glad to read to the House. The writer says—
"Nevertheless, I have confidence in the independence, zeal, and ability of the Royal Commission as a whole, and I trust that its labours will result in the accomplishment of the objects I have in view."
The letter ends by proposing to refer the conduct of the Board of Trade to a Committee of this House, to be appointed by the Committee of Selection. What I have to say in answer to that is, that an inquiry into the conduct of the Board of Trade, if necessary, would be most legitimate; but that is not the question I asked the hon. Member. My question was, who were the individuals among the officers of the Board of Trade whom he accused of corruption, and the charges against whom it was my duty to investigate. The result is, that the hon. Member has furnished me with no materials whatever for investigation. He has mentioned the name of no person; he has given no grounds of the slightest validity, even of a primâa facie kind, to enable me to discover the unnamed and imaginary persons whom he charges with corruption. Under these circumstances I will not trust myself to characterize the charges that have been made against a number of officials whose character I am bound to protect. I shall leave it to the House and the public to judge of this case, because I hope the hon. Member will move for the Correspondence.