HC Deb 29 July 1875 vol 226 cc178-80

Sir, it did not take me the whole week, so generously accorded to me by this House, to perceive that it would be impossible to conduct the Government of this great country—impossible to maintain its honour and influence abroad, or the dignity and authority of this House at home—unless its debates were conducted within strict limits. I exceeded these limits on Thursday last. This being so, patriotism and common-sense—and, I may add, right feeling—alike demand that I should withdraw such terms and expressions as have transgressed Parliamentary usage, and apologize to you, Sir, and to this House for using them; and this in no grudging or reluctant spirit, but frankly and sincerely. This I now do, Sir, and hope that you and the House will accept my apology. I trust, Sir, it will not be considered inconsistent with that respect which I feel for and have now expressed to this House, if I add that I do not withdraw any statement of fact. I now submit myself to the pleasure of the House.

Order for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [22nd July], That Mr. Plimsoll, the Member for Derby, for his disorderly conduct, be reprimanded, in his place, by Mr. Speaker," read.


Mr. Speaker—Sir, when I rose a week ago to make that Motion which you have now put from the Chair, I was unaware of any circumstances except those which were patent, in regard to the subject, to every Member present; and I felt that I was doing my duty, painful as it was, to you, Sir, and to the House. But I confess, Sir, that had I been aware then of the circumstances with which we were afterwards acquainted, had that statement been made—that authorized statement—by the Friend of the hon. Member for Derby—had that been made earlier by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan), or had I been acquainted with the circumstances to which he referred, I should not have made the Motion which I then submitted to the House. I should have felt that the case was one of a peculiar character, and to be treated in a very different spirit. I should have looked upon it, as I look upon it now—as a case of over-strained sensibility in a man excited by his devotion to a cause, which—however many of us may differ as to the measures which he proposes as remedies—all must acknowledge to be a great and a good cause. I would even say, Sir, that—with those feelings—had the hon. Gentleman not appeared in his place to-day, I should have declined to press for any distinct opinion of the House. I should have advised them to postpone, and even for a longer period, the Motion which, as an act of duty, I had offered to the consideration of the House. But I am—as I am sure we all are—deeply gratified to know that we have not to consider an issue of that character; that we have seen the hon. Gentleman in his place, restored, I am happy to believe from his tone and bearing, to that state of temper which becomes all who are Members of this Assembly; and I think I may express the general feeling of both sides of the House that they receive the statement which he offered to us as a complete and satisfactory apology for what was, no doubt, in ordinary circumstances, a great indiscretion. The sentiments so expressed have been, I am sure, offered by the hon. Member for Derby in sincerity, and I trust they will be received with kindness. And, therefore, Sir, I take this, the earliest opportunity, of moving that the Order which has been read be discharged.


I do not rise for the purpose of opposing the Motion; but I venture to suggest that there is one other consideration in connection with the question that is just being dealt with which the House is bound not to lose sight of. I do not intend to make any remarks as to the proceedings which led to this discussion; but I wish to remind the House that when the hon. Member for Derby made use of language which called for the interference of the Chair, the hon. Member took that opportunity of uttering the most grave and serious charges against Members of this House. We have now heard the apology of the hon. Member, we have heard his retractation of the language which he used, but we have not heard any retractation of the very grave charges preferred on that occasion by the hon. Member for Derby against Members of this House. I do not think the House will be justified in leaving the case in the position in which it now stands. This House ought not to be made the arena for such discussions; this House is not the place in which such threats ought to be preferred; and if the hon. Member for Derby thinks it right to make the charges which he has brought forward, I think that the House is bound to call upon the hon. Member either to retract entirely or to proceed to substantiate those charges. I would venture to express my belief that a more honourable body of men than the shipowners of this country does not exist within the four seas of Britain. There are, of course, among all classes of the community what are termed "black sheep," and there may be black sheep amongst that portion of the community as well as any other; but I venture to assert that charges so broadly and openly preferred by the hon. Member for Derby against the shipowners of this country are entirely without foundation. I contend that the House, in common justice to those hon. Members, is bound to deal with the question, and call upon the hon. Member either to entirely withdraw his charge or to state what measures he will adopt in proceeding with them.


said, he could not help feeling the justice of the observations just made by his hon. Friend. As might have been expected, the hon. Member for Derby had expressed his regret for the very improper language he had used and the very unusual conduct he had pursued; but the hon. Member, in the last words of his apology, had re-affirmed the grave charges he had made against Members of that House. Such charges ought not, in his opinion, to be passed lightly over. They ought to be substantiated or retracted, and it ought to be shown that no cause, however good, could be advanced in that House by a process of disorder. Willing, therefore, as he was, in common with all other hon. Members, to pardon the indiscreet manner in which the hon. Member for Derby had spoken, he thought the House should call upon the hon. Gentleman to affirm the charges he had made or to withdraw them.

Motion agreed to.

Order discharged.