HC Deb 06 May 1867 vol 187 cc7-13

I wish to make an appeal to the hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn), and I hope the House will permit me to say a few words in explanation of that appeal. The question between us has assumed somewhat of a personal character, which I am sure the House will allow me to explain so far as my part in it is concerned. I should not have revived this subject at all, being perfectly contented to leave the matter as it stands at present, had it not been for the somewhat involved and obscure explanation of the hon. Member, reported in the Times newspaper on Monday last, and the equally obscure and involved position in which the compound-householder now stands. The hon. Member gave me notice in explicit terms that on Monday the 29th of April it was his intention to put to me a question as to where I obtained the copy of the memorandum from which I quoted. He moreover suggested the propriety that I should keep and produce the copy memorandum, to compare it with the original. I did not think it necessary to attend on Monday the 29th, being more agreeably employed, because the question which the hon. Gentleman was about to put to me had been answered in The Times of the 16th by our respected mutual Friend the right hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Brand). Therefore, the hon. Gentleman could be under no mistake as to where I obtained the information and the copy of the memorandum. I have adopted his suggestion. I have kept the copy memorandum, and I intend to produce it. I hope he will receive in an equally good spirit my suggestion that he preserve the original memorandum, and that he will give me the opportunity of comparing it with the copy. I can assure him if I have been wrong, and if I have been the unwitting means of misleading the House into the gigantic "mare's nest," which we were told it was in the other night, I shall feel bound not only to apologize to the hon. Gentleman and his band of twenty-one, but also to the House. I can only do this of course on the production of the original document. It has been thrown out in the heat of debate that this was a private communication; but I think the House will now see that it is not a private communication in any sense. It was a public document, drawn up in the lobby, for the purpose of influencing votes on a very material division. Moreover, it did influence votes, and the hon. Member has not denied in his place that this document was not of a private character. It has been shown to many people. The hon. Member for the Anglesea boroughs (Mr. Owen Stanley) is not the only Gentleman who communicated it to me. The copy, so far from being as affirmed by the hon. Member for Swansea, totally incorrect in form and substance, is in substance with one exception quite accurate. There is certainly a material exception relating to Lord Derby, whose name I believe has been taken in vain. If it is only in justice to Lord Derby, let the hon. Gentleman produce the original document. But I say this, and I am ready to maintain it, that the document is substantially correct, with that exception, both in form and substance. If there be any difference, being ready to produce the copy, I say to the hon. Gentleman that he has no alternative but to get up in his place and read the original. Again, the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Taylor), who so ably performs his part as a "whip," and who gives so much satisfaction to both sides of the House, has written a letter to The Times. I have nothing to say against him. I never found fault with the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I think he was acting in his vocation ably and well. He was not a "whip" on that occasion, he was a fisher of men, and he caught a miraculous draught of fishes. I take the opportunity of apologizing to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the mistake that happened in his not having had sufficient notice of my intention to bring this matter forward. I repeat to him what I said on a former occasion, that had I known he had been labouring under pain from the effects of an accident I would have dropped the matter altogether, because I value his good opinion and his feelings more than I do bringing this matter before the House. I was not aware of the cause of his absence, and I am glad that he has resumed his place. In justice to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the hon. Member has no alternative but to produce the original memorandum; because in the letter which was written by the hon. and gallant Gentleman on the 13th, the day after this discussion, he gave an unqualified contradiction to the assertion that Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli had said they were favourably disposed to the granting of Mr. Hibbert's Amendment. Mr. Hibbert's Amendment and the adjournment of the House have been jumbled up together all through. Let the hon. Gentleman recollect that this paper was signed and promulgated long after the adjournment of the House was decided, and could only have referred to Mr. Hibbert's Amendment. But if I am in any error the hon. Gentleman can set me right immediately. He has nothing to do but to produce the original paper. I say produce the memorandum, the whole memorandum, and nothing but the memorandum. I have never for a moment impugned the motives or the honourable intentions of the hon. Member. I believe him to be a sturdy and independent Member of Parliament, and to be possessed of the best intentions. At the same time, I cannot disguise from myself that, in this case, he has rather acted the character of a decoy-duck, and has allured fifty feathered and confiding dupes to follow him. I have nothing more to say; but I am ready to apologize to hon. Members, and especially to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, that the name of Lord Derby has, as I believe, been introduced by mistake. If the matter is to be set right, there is but one thing for the hon. Member to do, and that is to rise in his place, and let us see this document which materially influenced the division of the 12th ultimo.


I thought the House had had nearly enough of this matter, but courtesy compels me to respond to the hon. Gentleman. The document was not promulgated, to my knowledge, after the Motion for Adjournment was decided on. My notice for the sitting of the 29th of April was given before the letter of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Brand) had appeared. The simple facts as to the part I have taken in the matter are these. When I saw an inaccurate version of a memorandum described as a correct copy of it, I felt bound to state to the House that the memorandum was different from the published version, and I gave the hon. Member notice of my intention to bring the matter before the House. It is not always easy to distinguish between a private and a public document. It is evident that this memorandum was a private, though not strictly confidential document. It was shown first to my Friends, and there was no secresy in reference to it. It is evident that a private document may, under certain circumstances, if the public interests require it, be made public. Accordingly, I shall have no objection to produce it if the House wish. But I do not think I shall be wanting in courtesy if I decline to do so at the instance of the hon. Member. A certain amount of fair play as well as common caution is necessary upon occasions such as that to which the memorandum refers. What is imparted privately should not be unnecessarily blazed abroad. Still, if the House should think fit to make an inquiry into the conduct of myself and the hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Taylor) I shall be quite prepared to produce the memorandum. At the same time, I would remind the hon. Member that the proper time for him to assure himself as to the correctness of the document was to have come to me before he took action in the matter, and put to me the plain question, "Is this a true version of the memorandum?" The hon. Member did not do so. I have since compared the original document with the supposed copy of it, which appeared in The Times, and find the latter inaccurate. If he had come to me at the proper time I should have set him right upon the facts of the case. As it is, I respectfully decline to do so.


I am unwilling to occupy the time of the House with any matter personal to myself; my remarks will therefore be few. When the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne) first thought it necessary to bring forward this subject I was unfortunately absent, and I thought myself justified under the circumstances in sending an explanatory statement to the newspapers on the day after the adjournment. That statement was published, and I do not wish to alter or add to any part of it. I wish to say that I think now, as I have always thought, that the conversation I had with the hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn) was of a private nature, and I am not surprised that he has declined to comply with the request of the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne). He has indeed done nothing but observe the rules which should be observed between two honourable men.


The House will allow me to point out to the hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn) that if he has anything to complain of it is his own fault. When the document was read it was never supposed to be a copy of his document. It was written from my recollection of the contents of the document. If the hon. Member had to object that the document read was not correct, he should have taken that objection when the hon. Member (Mr. Osborne) read it. The hon. Member never said that the document was correct or incorrect. I told him immediately after the discussion, in the lobby, that I should be sorry if anything I had done should be taken amiss. On that occasion he did not say that the document was private.


As the discussion affects the Amendment of which I have given notice, I wish to state that, as far as I am concerned, I was entirely ignorant of the memorandum in question. This fact, therefore, tends to show the private nature of the document. I was not consulted about it, and I never heard anything about it until the following day, when it was communicated to me by the hon. Member (Mr. Owen Stanley). That hon. Member asked me if I had seen the document. I replied I had not, nor had I heard of it. The only part I took in respect to my Amendment was that I put a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to whether the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to accept it or not. The answer which the right hon. Gentleman gave me was that he would give it fair consideration. I therefore consider that it is perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman to take any course he may think proper in respect to my Amendment. I do not think that either the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the party with whom he acts are in any way committed by what has taken place on the subject. Whatever I have done in this matter I have done openly in the House.


It seems to me, Sir, that though we are not to have the document of the hon. Member (Mr. Dillwyn) produced, there is enough before this House to justify a single comment which I am anxious to make. The hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Taylor), in his letter in The Times, said that he told the hon. Member in the dialogue he had with him that his attention had been drawn by many hon. Members to the Amendment of the hon. Member (Mr. Hibbert), that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was favourable to it, and that the right hon. Gentleman would, no doubt, bring it before the Cabinet. I am not quoting the words, but that was the sense of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's letter. The division took place. If votes were influenced by that document the influence was over. What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer then do? He gave a notice to the House, and in giving that notice took the opportunity of saying that that very clause of Sir William Clay's Act on which the Amendment of the hon. Member—to which he had been represented as favourable—is founded, was a bad clause, and that he intended to propose its repeal. I think that that is worthy of observation and of explanation, if any explanation is to be offered. The hon. and gallant Member, the authorized agent of communication between the Government and the House, represents to Members before a most important division that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is favourable to the Motion of the hon. Member for bringing compound-householders under £10 within the clause of Sir William Clay's Act, and that he will no doubt bring the question before the Cabinet. After the division, after these reports have had whatever effect they may have had, the right hon. Gentleman comes down and says that the clause is a bad one, and, instead of consenting to bring other people under its efficacy, gives notice of a Motion to repeal it altogether. That seems to me to require explanation.


Sir, I do not know whether there is any Question before the House. If there were, I should take the opportunity of making a few remarks upon this subject, and also upon the Question put to me by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster).


It is merely a matter of personal explanation.


Well, I will defer my observations until we go into Committee.