From Behind the Speaker’s Chair (69) — Henry Lucy (August 1901)

Another of Henry Lucy’s long-running series of parliamentary sketches for The Strand. This month’s column covers a number of different topics, including, at the end, an allusion to one of the ‘sensation’ trials of the late 19th century: the imprisonment of Florence Maybrick for the alleged murder of her husband. Initially sentenced to death, this was commuted to life (i.e. 20 years) imprisonment, and then eventually she was released in 1904, after 15 years in prison. You can read her own version of events via archive.org.



FAIR TRADE.

According to present appearances the next General Election is afar off. But, as experience in 1874 and 1880 testifies, General Elections sometimes come like a thief in the night. What will be the main plank of the platform on which the present Government will stand to claim a renewal of office? In 1895 they came in as defenders of the Union of Great Britain and Ireland. Last year they were returned to office on the crest of the wave of war in South Africa. What next?

Aware of the risk of prophesying “onless you know,” I, putting it less assertively, will say I should not be surprised to see His Majesty’s present Government go to the country under the flag of Fair Trade. It is probable that in such case his colleagues must be prepared to part with Sir Michael Hicks-Beach. Even that is not an absolute necessity. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a stout Free-Trader, but the exigencies of the hour have compelled him to put a shilling duty on export of coal. That, as Mr. Flavin in an oratorical moment would say, is opening the door to the thin end of the wedge. For the rest His Majesty’s Ministers, one and all, are open to conviction on the question of Fair Trade.

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The basis of my own suspicion in the matter is knowledge of the fact that one of the most powerful and persuasive of them is already converted. Remembering his history and his early personal associations, a very startling conversion it is. But in the present Cabinet there have been others to equal it.

FLEECING THE CHOSEN OF THE FLOCK.

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On his installation the new Bishop of London had his experience enlarged in the field of fees. It is a high honour to be selected for a seat on the Episcopal Bench. The honour bestowed, it seems the most natural thing in the world to take the seat and there an end on’t. But that is only the beginning of it. As everyone knows, whilst the gift of a Bishopric rests with the Prime Minister, the nominee is elected by the Bench of Bishops. Virtually by command of the Sovereign, the Crown Office issues a conge d’elire. This means money, which has to come out of the Bishop’s pocket. The warrant costs £10 the certificate, £16 10s; letters patent, £30; the docquet, 2s. The Episcopal Bench, having duly elected the nominee of the Prime Minister, return the name to the Crown Office and the Royal Assent is signified. This involves duplication of the charges, with the difference that the cost of the certificate is increased by 10s. to make it even money.

Next follows a process known as restitution of temporalities. In pursuance of this duty the new Bishop is fined £10 for the warrant, £31 10s. 6d. for the certificate, £30 for letters patent, and the inevitable 2s. for the docquet, a hardship only partially lightened by spelling the word with a “q” and a “u.” These sums disbursed, the new Bishop reasonably thinks he may retire to his palace, if the See provides one. But the Home Office next steps on the scene and demands Exchequer fees. The conge delire, already handsomely paid for, means another £7 13s. 6d. Equal sums are demanded for letters recommendatory, Royal Assent, and restitution of temporalities. The oath of homage is thrown in for £6 6s. 6d., which the Biblical knowledge of the Bishop will remind him is the number of the Beast. Next comes the Board of Green Cloth demanding £15 0s. 2d. (what was it Mr. Mantalini said about the coppers?), being homage fees to be distributed among the heralds and the Earl Marshal.

On the Bishop taking his seat in the House of Lords, gentlemen in the Lord Great Chamberlain’s Office fob £5. The Cathedral bellringers get £10 10s. for jubilation on the ceremony of enthronization, the choir being paid £6 17s. 4d. On the same happy occasion the Precentor draws £10 10s. and the chapter clerk £9 14s. 8d., this last in addition to £21 6s. 8d., his fees on the Bishop’s election. The Archbishop’s officers are not backward in coming forward to congratulate the new Bishop. The Secretary bringing the Archbishop’s fiat for confirmation collars £17 10s. The Vicar-General draws fees on confirmation amounting to £31 0s. 10d., with £10 5s. to spend on the church where the ceremony takes place. Nine guineas go to the Deputy-Registrar as fees on mandate of induction, the customary fee to the Bishop’s secretaries payable on such occasion being £36 5s.

The clerk at the Crown Office is fain to be satisfied with a humble gratuity of half a guinea, less than you would tip your boy at Eton or Harrow. But this moderation is only apparent. He pockets two guineas for what he calls petty expenses, and when the Bishop takes his seat in the House of Lords he claims no less than £14.

The total amount of fees payable on entering a bishopric, made up of these quaint details, is £423 19s. 2d. Curates for whom the Episcopal Bench is on the distant, peradventure unapproachable, horizon will recognise, with secret pleasure, that the high estate has its drawbacks. In parish annals there is a well-known story of a gifted clerk on the occasion of the visit of the Bishop giving out a paraphrased version of the hymn:–

Why skip ye so, ye little hills, and wherefore do ye hop?
Is it because you’re glad to see His Grace the Lord Bi-shop?

That is questionable. There can be no doubt skipping and hopping (figuratively, of course) go on at the Crown Office, the Home Office, the Office of the Lord Great Chamberlain, in the Archbishop’s offices, in the precincts of the Dean and Chapter, and eke at the Board of Green Cloth, when a new Bishop is nominated. The exercise is more vigorous when an Archbishop comes to the throne, since in his case the fees are doubled.

CHAOS IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS.

The casual procedure in the House of Lords contrasts sharply with the well-ordered and strictly-obeyed precepts of the House of Commons. Practically there is no discipline of debate in the House of Lords. Though the Lord Chancellor is called the Speaker, and draws £4,000 a year as emolument of the office, he has no authority over members even remotely akin to that wielded in the House of Commons from the Chair. He cannot call to order a member wandering from the chorus of debate; he may not call upon one peer to succeed another. If, as has occasionally happened, two peers rise together, each declining to give way, motion is made that one or other shall take precedence, and thereupon the House divides.

LORD BEACONSFIELD’S DILEMMA.

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In one of Lord Beaconsfield’s last appearances in the House of Lords it seemed for a while that such collision was imminent. Towards the close of an important debate Lord Granville presented himself at the table to fulfil the appointed duty of Leader of the Opposition, winding up debate from his side of the House, to be followed in due course by the Premier. At the same moment Lord Beaconsfield rose, and began a speech. Lord Granville, gentlest and most courteous of men, found this more than he could stand. He angrily protested, seemed for a while inclined to insist on his right, but finally gave way. A year later, when Lord Beaconsfield was at final rest, Lord Granville told the secret history of the strange incident. In anticipation of making a speech at a particular hour the Premier had administered to himself a medical stimulant calculated to keep him going for the necessary hour he would be on his legs. The debate was unexpectedly prolonged. The time had come when he must speak, and speak he did. Lord Granville took the opportunity of expressing his profound regret that, ignorant of the tragic necessity that environed the aged Premier, he had even for a moment stood in his way.

RATHER MIXED.

The most striking illustration of rather the absolute helplessness of the House of Lords in the absence of Standing Orders such as govern debate in the Commons is within the memory of many now seated in the Chamber. The second reading of the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill being put down for a certain Monday, a noble lord resident in Scotland prepared an elaborate speech and set out for London. Timing his journey so as to reach Euston shortly after noon, he missed connection with the London train, and found it impossible to be at Westminster till the next day. On arriving at the House of Lords he found that the first business was a resolution on the subject of opening museums on a Sunday. He had with him the manuscript of his precious speech on the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill. It was too good to be lost. He might, of course, save it till next year, when the hardy annual would reappear. But life is uncertain; there is no time like the present.

Accordingly, when the noble lord in charge of the resolution on the Opening Museums on Sundays had made an end of speaking, the noble baron, who holds historic rank in the peerage of Scotland, followed, and delivered his speech on the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill. The Lord Chancellor sat aghast on the Woolsack. The few peers present moved restlessly in their seats and deprecatingly coughed. No one had power to stop the bold baron, who went on to the uttermost sentence.

THE STOCK EXCHANGE AND DOWNING STREET.

To the difficult and delicate question of the private occupations and public appointments of His Majesty’s Ministers, Lord Salisbury, with his accustomed freshness, contributed the appointment of Lord Hardwicke to the India Office. The Under-Secretary of State for India was, at the time of his appointment, a working member of a London Stock Exchange firm. Heretofore it had been regarded as a moot point whether a member of the Ministry might properly hold connection with a business firm. To have one roaming all over the Stock Exchange was an arrangement that nearly took away the breath of so imperturbable a body as the House of Lords. The question being formally raised, Lord Hardwicke frankly explained that he could not afford, for the prize of the temporary emolument of a Minister of the Crown, to abandon his business in the City. All he could promise was that he would cut his connection with his firm as long as he was Secretary of State for India.

There the amazing matter ended, a new and startling precedent having been created in one of Lord Salisbury’s wanton moments. Some of the Premier’s predecessors have taken another view of the matter. Lord Rosebery seized the occasion unreservedly to express his during the debate that arose on the Hardwicke incident. Mr. Gladstone was exigent in insistence on the wholesome rule that precludes possibility of conflict between personal financial considerations and the interests of the State. I remember Mr. Mundella telling me at the time he accepted office in 1892 that he did so at actual pecuniary sacrifice. The salary of President of the Board of Trade did not cover the aggregate amount of income derived by him from various directorships. He resigned a considerable number. Unfortunately he retained his seat on the Board of a New Zealand loan company, whose affairs coming into Court were made the subject of drastic comment by the presiding judge. The consequence was Mr. Mundella’s abrupt retirement from public life honourably pursued through many years.

A DEBIT AND CREDIT ACCOUNT.

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Mr. Childers, more fortunate in the conclusion of the matter, was, like Mr. Mundella, a sufferer in pocket when he first joined a Ministry. When, in 1864, Mr. Stansfeld was driven out of office in connection with the Mazzini incident, Lord Palmerston offered Mr. Childers office as Junior Lord of the Admiralty. Always a business man, the young member for Pomfret, undazzled by the opening, consulted his ledger, and found that, consequent upon necessary resignations of company directorships, acceptance of the post would involve a sacrifice of £2,100 a year. After some hesitation, finding it would be permissible to retain some of his salaried directorships, he accepted the post. This last concession was communicated in a letter from Mr. Brand, then Whip of the Liberal Party, afterwards Speaker of the House of Commons. It is valuable as an authority upon an ever-recurring question.

“Lord Palmerston,” Mr. Brand wrote, “desires me to say he sees no objection to a member of the Government retaining other employment, provided that employment can be carried on without prejudice to the Queen’s Service, which has the paramount claim. Subject to that rule, he leaves it to you to determine what class of business you may, as a member of the Government, properly retain. He thinks that the rule should be applied with strictness to foreign undertakings.”

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This is a pretty generous construction of the problem, quite in keeping with Pam’s easy-going disposition. It will be remembered it was by a breach of the one imperative condition that poor Lord Henry Lennox came to grief. If, in spite of all temptation, he had never become a director of the Lisbon Tramways Co. he might have shared to the end the spoils of his friend Mr. Disraeli’s victory at the polls of 1874.

DOD’S GRAND-FATHER.

An appreciative reader of these pages has sent me a little volume of rare interest. To give it its full title it is: “The Royal Calendar or Complete and Correct Annual Register for England, Scotland, Ireland, and America for the year 1801.” A principal feature is a list of members of the eighteenth Parliament of Great Britain summoned to meet for their first Session in September, 1796. “Printed for J. Debrett, Piccadilly,” it is the progenitor of the volume known to later generations as Dod.

Looking down the list of members sitting in the House of Commons exactly a hundred years ago I am struck by recurrence of names familiar in the House sitting to-day and in others that have immediately preceded it. There is Nisbet Balfour, a Lieutenant-General in the Army, Colonel of the 39th Regiment. He shared the representation of Arundel with a member of the family name of the member for Shrewsbury, and of an even better known Mr. Greene who had a seat in the Parliament of 1874. There is a Samuel Whitbread and a Robert John Buxton, who both had kinsmen sitting in the last Parliament, one still on the Front Opposition Bench.

When George III. was King there was in the House of Commons a John Lubbock, banker, in London, as there was through many years of the reign of Queen Victoria. Also there was a Benjamin Hobhouse and a James Stuart Wortley, Recorder of the borough of Boffiney, Cornwall, for which he sat at Westminster. We have a Stuart Wortley in the House to-day. But where is the borough of Boffiney, which a hundred years ago returned two members to Parliament? There is a John Whitmore, a Charles Sturt, a Robert Manners, a Michael Hicks-Beach, forebear of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who a hundred years ago represented Cirencester, and lived at Williamstrip Park, Gloucestershire. There is a Cavendish Bentinck, whereas a recent Parliament had two, familiarly known as “Big Ben” and “Little Ben,” both gone over to the majority. There is a Robert Curzon, not of the family of the Viceroy of India, but a progenitor of the popular Ministerial Whip, Lord Randolph Churchill’s brother-in-law, who last Session left the Commons to take his seat in the Upper House.

The earlier days of the century saw a Sir Henry Fletcher in the House of Commons, as did its closing term. There was John Lowther, Charles Villiers, of course Sir Watkin Williams Wynn; Lord George Cavendish, only brother of the Duke of Devonshire; Cropley Ashley, brother of Lord Shaftesbury; Edward Bouverie, Thomas Wyndham, Sir Edward Knatchbull, a Sam Smith unfamiliar with modern music-halls, knowing nothing of Piccadilly at midnight; William Montagu Scott, who never dreamed a lineal descendant among members of the House of Commons would call himself Scott Montagu and drive a motor-car; Charles Long, of Trinton Hall, Suffolk; Thomas Manners Sutton, later Speaker of the House; Sir Matthew White Ridley, representing Newcastle-on-Tyne; Charles Shaw-Lefevre, another name later on connected with the Speaker’s Chair; Lionel Damer, to whom sixty years after succeeded Dawson Damer, whose eccentricities occasionally disturbed the Parliament of 1874; Edward Stanley; Leveson Gower; Lord William Russell, youngest brother of the Duke of Bedford; Simon Harcourt; William Brodrick, Secretary to the East India Board; John Henry Petty, son of the Marquis of Lansdowne; Lord John Douglas Campbell, second son of the Duke of Argyll.

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Amongst members of this Parliament whose names live in history was Spencer Perceval, who at that time held no higher post than the extinct one, doubtless carrying a good salary, of Surveyor of the Meltings and Clerk of the Irons in the Mint. In 1809 he became Prime Minister, and was done to death by Bellingham, who shot him as he entered the Lobby of the House on 11th May, 1812. The spot where he fell is marked to this day by a brass plate let into the floor of what is now the corridor leading from the Houses of Parliament into Old Palace Yard.

George Canning, member for Wendover, Bucks, was Joint Paymaster of the Forces, a Commissioner for the Affairs of India, and Receiver-General of the Alienation Office, a post long ago alienated from connection with the Exchequer in the way of salary. Charles Fox was seated for the City of Westminster; whilst the Right Hon. Henry Temple Viscount Palmerston, LL.D., sat for Winchester, living during the Session at East Sheen; through the recess at his later more famous country seat, Broadlands. William Wilberforce, not yet having tackled the slavery question, sat for Yorkshire, a broad area, whose representation he shared with Henry Lascelles, son of Lord Harewood.

MINISTERIAL SALARIES.

Considerable variation in the amount of Ministerial salaries has taken place in the past century. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, a hundred years ago Lord Grenville, was paid at the rate of £2,500 a year, against the £5,000 Lord Lansdowne to-day receives. Mr. Dundas, Secretary of State for War, had £2,000 a year, against Mr. Brodrick’s £5,000. On the other hand, the Duke of Portland, Home Secretary, drew £6,000 against Mr. Ritchie’s five. There was then no Secretary of State for India, but Mr. Dundas, President of the Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India, received £2,000. William Pitt did exceedingly well in the matter of salaries. As First Lord of the Treasury he received £4,000. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he had another £1,800, whilst as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports he had not only Walmer Castle for a residence, but a payment of £3,000 a year to maintain it.

THE MACE AND THE SOVEREIGN.

The following interesting note, which reaches me from a well-known member of the House of Commons, further illustrates two points dealt with in the May Number: “I have been reading The Strand Magazine, and there are in relation to your remarks two incidents which perhaps may be worth your notice. At the Thanksgiving Service at St. Paul’s which took place shortly after my father was first elected to the Chair of the House of Commons many and earnest discussions took place as what was to be done with the Mace when the Queen entered the Cathedral. One person suggested that the Serjeant and Mace should pop behind a pillar when Her Majesty entered. Eventually it was arranged that a velvet covering should be thrown over it as the Queen entered.

“The second matter is, that I was Treasurer in Her Majesty’s Household in Lord Rosebery’s Government, and when one dined with the Speaker the funniest operation had to be gone through. By the antiquated table of precedence I ought to have gone in first. In order to obviate this Sir W. Harcourt walked in boldly first, and my name was then halloaed by the Secretary. I was forewarned as to all this; but it was very funny.”

MRS. MAYBRICK.

Since the appearance in the November Number of The Strand of some remarks therein made in connection with the late Lord Chief Justice and Mrs. Maybrick, I have received many evidences of the interest the case still excites on the other side of the Atlantic. I have refrained from recurring to the matter, my part in the controversy being to contribute to its guidance some statements made to me by Lord Russell of Kiilowen, Mrs. Maybrick’s advocate, and Lord Llandaff, the first Home Secretary whose duty it was to revise the judgment arrived at in the Criminal Court in Liverpool, presided over by Mr. Justice Stephen.

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I have, however, been much struck by a passage in one of the newspapers forwarded to me. “When,” it is written, “Mr. Lucy holds up his hands in astonishment at the marvellous consensus of opinion of various Home Secretaries he seems to us to manifest remarkable blindness–for one so long Behind the Speaker’s Chair–as to the vicarious nature of that opinion. It is more possible that the conclusions of Mr. Matthews, Mr. Asquith, and Sir Matthew White Ridley were all drawn for them by the same gentleman, or at least that the same gentleman helped these various Home Secretaries to come to the same conclusion.”

HOME OFFICE DOCUMENTS.

I confess that this touches an important point. The papers which at his request were furnished to Lord Llandaff when he was at the Home Office were doubtless selected and submitted under the direction of the judge whose evil opinion of the prisoner was unconcealed. The Home Secretary of the day having dealt with the documents, they would be pigeon-holed for future reference. Unless some important fresh evidence in the meantime turned up, Mr. Asquith would have precisely the same data on which to form a judgment. Sir Matthew White Ridley would in turn be sirnilarly limited, and so with Mr. Ritchie.

Assuming the possibility of animus being shown in the selection of the papers, of which there is no proof, this state of things, to a certain extent, diminishes the effect of the opinion in which a succession of Home Secretaries have shown themselves united.

HOW THE HOME SECRETARIES PROCEEDED.

Lord Llandaff’s precise position is set forth in his public statement of the reason that induced him to commute the capital sentence to penal servitude for life. “Although,” he said, “the evidence leads clearly to the conclusion that the prisoner administered and attempted to administer arsenic to her husband with intent to murder, yet it does not wholly exclude reasonable doubt whether his death was in fact caused by the administration of arsenic.”

That sentence coldly and accurately conveys the impression Lord Llandaff enlarged upon in private conversation some time after he quitted the Home Office. He, indeed, went so far as to declare his belief that Mrs. Maybrick, having deliberately planned and systematically carried out murderous design, she ought to have been hanged. But, eagerly catching at doubt of the efficacy of her efforts, he advised the Queen to respite the wretched woman.

In that view, arrived at, I believe, by the same pathways, two successive Home Secretaries have concurred. Mr. Asquith, challenged on the subject, protested that “As in every criminal case coming before me, I carefully examined the case of Mrs. Maybrick. I did not feel bound by the decision of my predecessor in office. I brought to bear upon it such judgment as I possess, and I decided honestly, conscientiously, with absolute impartiality.”

Everyone who knows Mr. Asquith will accept that assurance to its fullest extent.

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