LORD HENRY LENNOX.
T ORD HENRY LENNOX was quite right in resigning his post as First Commissioner of the Board of Works, and Mr. Disraeli was quite right in accepting his resignation. The Member for Chichester made the best defence for himself possible under the circumstances, and he is personally so popular, that much sympathy was felt for him in the House of Commons, where he has sat for thirty years ; but nothing could be politically and socially more dangerous than to con- done the error of which he admitted himself to have been guilty,—that of accepting paid-up shares as recompense in advance for his services as Director of the Lisbon Tramways Company. The British Administration is choked, and will be choked for years to come, with the younger sons of the great families,—men with very little money, very great pretensions, great popularity in society, and in many cases a certain apti- tude for minor official work. They are known personally to the men who actually distribute appointments, they have the means of making themselves agreeable to them, and as they retain their charm for the constituencies, they obtain much more than their share of places. As " place " in England means usually a good deal of work and responsibility and very little pay, and a necessity for conciliating all kinds of men, the members of the caste are often specially well qualified, and perform their duty at least as well as those who half applaud and half grudge the prefer- ence accorded to them. There is no particular harm and some good in the favour shown them, but then they must earn it, by displaying the quality with which they are prima fade credited, the aristocratic indifference to pecuniary gain, whenever gain is incompatible with honour, or with the sensi- tive self-respect which, even more than the sense of honour, keeps the State service pure. Their trouble in life is want of income equal to their position in society, and that trouble they
must accept patiently, as the price they pay for the preference they undoubtedly enjoy in this country in official regard. They, of all men, cannot be permitted to make money in any way out of either social rank or official position, and any reprimand which brings that home to them, however hard it may occasionally be on the individual, distinctly tends to maintain a tone which is for their good, as well as that of the public service. Lord Henry Lennox may well have accepted the Directorship of the Lisbon Tramways Company in perfect sim- plicity, as he says he did, knowing nothing whatever of the back-parlour arrangements, or of Mr. Grant's advice to the Board to return the money, and only hoping to make a little out of a promising concern ; but still he must have known very well that the shares given him were given him for the use of his name, and that his name would be an attraction to the public ; and knowing that, his duty was either to insist on knowing everything about the Company's arrange- ments, or to leave the Company alone. Even if a gift of shares had been the ordinary way of paying Directors, as he thought —not perceiving that no secret remuneration can be ordinary remuneration, or else it would be publicly recorded as a temp- tation to valuable aid—there was still no reason, except his name and position, for giving them to him, rather than to a capitalist or man of business, and it was therefore to that name and posi- tion he owed an obligation which, as he admits, with a good deal of manliness, he did not fully discharge. His penalty is a heavy one —the loss of a good income, of an influential post, and of a qualification, for some years at all events, for the public service ; but suppose the House and the Ministry to have con- doned it, what would have been the result? A less scrupulous man with similar social position would have been emboldened to sell it consciously, till some day we should have an American scandal over here, and a permanent distrust of the Executive Depart- ments would have spread among classes whose steady confidence is the very basis of the British system of administration,—a system which, if surrounded with the checks deemed necessary on the Continent, could not be carried on. Lord Henry Lennox may have offended in the most absolute ignorance— and we are quite ready to accept, as the House did, his own statement that he thought payment in shares quite customary —but that does not alter the character of the offence. The public which buys shares on the strength of a name does it in the full belief that the owner of that name is risking his own money in the concern, because he thinks it a good thing ; and if he is not risking his own money, but taking pay for the use of his name, the public is deluded. That does not apply absolutely to Lord Henry Lennox, because while accepting a hundred shares as a gift—half of which he gave back when he resigned—he bought 800 shares more with his own money ; but it does apply to him so far, that he had a temptation to enter the Company which was unknown either to the shareholders or the public, and which, if known, would have rendered the use of his name in attract- ing investors simply nil. As it was, country folks said to themselves," Here is a keen man of the world buying so many shares, that they have made him a Director. He would not have done that, unless he thought the project sure to be pro- fitable,"—an opinion which would be all the stronger among those who knew that Lord Henry, as he stated, was ac- quainted with Portugal, and who could not therefore imagine that the gradients of the Portuguese capital made the specu- lation very nearly impossible. An impression was created which was false, and though Lord H. Lennox created it with- out intention, still he must be held responsible for his error.
The Government, in accepting Lord Henry Lennox's resig- nation, has done all that was required, and we do not quarrel with the kindliness of the House for an old and popular Member, but we very much doubt whether the Commons would not do well, now that there is time, to make their rules as to the incidents which vacate a seat a little more stringent. They already decree that whenever a Member is bankrupt, though his bankruptcy may have arisen from mere misfortune, his seat shall be ex facto considered vacant ; and we do not see why-- the acceptance of secret pecuniary advantages, when proved in Court, should not also in future operate as a disqualifica- tion. Such advantages are very rarely fair or consistent with perfect honour, and in the few conceivable cases in which they are so, Members ought to endure their ill-luck, just as they now do if they happen, in perfect innocence, to be made bankrupts. At the present moment, there are dozens of men in both Houses who might, say, in a great war, or after a great commercial crash, or through fraud, be made bankrupts, not only without fault of their own, but in the most absolute
ignorance of the facts to which they owed their downfall. Suppose, for example, Overend Gurneys had had a sleep- ing partner who happened to be a Member of the House. Yet the rule is held to operate in all such cases, and we do not see why it should be relaxed when transac- tions indefinitely more destructive of public confidence are proved in open Court. We know perfectly well that the rule against bankrupts arose at a time when imprisonment for debt was legal, and was intended to protect the independ- ence of Members, but that independence is quite as much forfeited by the search for secret advantages, or by pecuniary interests in undertakings which the Government can either help or injure. They part with their independence, quoad that undertaking, and they ought to go, on precisely the principle which compels them to go if they accept a Govern- ment contract. It may be alleged that on these terms no railway director, or dockyard director, or telegraph director could sit in Parliament ; but the distinction is sufficiently obvious, the director of that kind being perfectly known by his constituents, by the House, and by the public to be interested in undertakings which may deflect his judgment. Nobody is injured, and public business is benefited when a great Director fights for the removal of the Railway Passenger Duty, or a banker scolds against the admission of Scotch bankers into London, for everybody knows and he probably avows that he is pleading a cause, just as a Member may be pleading for some fancy of his constituents. But suppose a Member to be Chairman of a Committee on opening the London Bridges, and to be the largest holder of bridge shares. It is secrecy which in all such cases constitutes the offence, and secrecy ought to be more heavily visited by the rules than is now the case. The matter, just at this moment, may not signify, for the House is penetrated by the English aristocratic tone—that is, by the tone of a highly placed body which wants nothing—but it may be before long a very different place, full of esurient men, whose consciences will be precisely as elastic as the rules under which they are permitted to hold their seats. There will be a relaxation yet of a very danger- ous kind, and the more strict the House can make its rules, the less dangerous will that relaxation be, not only to the service of the State, but to the public welfare. Business men are crowding into the Administration, and it is among business men that the tolerance for sharp practices and acute manage- ment spreads itself most rapidly.