Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into certain charges made by Mr. Plimsoll, Member for Derby, against Mr. Bates, Member for Plymouth."—(Mr. Bates.)
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
I should not wish to set myself in any way against the opinion of the House if it appears that the general opinion is that this Committee ought to be granted; but I hope there is no harm in making a few observations, so that we may see really where we are going. In the first place, I should say that the terms of the Motion are very vague indeed for a Motion of this kind. There are "certain charges" made against the hon. Member for Plymouth. I think we ought to have a more detailed statement of what the Committee is to do before we decide upon appointing it. It has been said by the Prime Minister, and quite correctly, that "every man is the guardian of his own honour;" and I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Plymouth thinks it necessary for the protection of his honour that this Committee should be granted. At the same time, before we accede to his request, the House should consider whether he is taking the very best course for securing the object he has in view. As I understand, the case stands thus:—The hon. Member opposite was charged by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Plimsoll) with—to put it shortly—not making proper provision for the safety of the lives of those whom he sent out to sea in his ships. The hon. Member for Plymouth has already twice had an opportunity in this House of defending himself against the charge. The Prime Minister on one occasion moved that the House report Progress on an important Bill—the Agricultural Holdings (England) Bill—at an early hour in order to give the hon. Member the opportunity, and the hon. Member entered upon a full defence before this 341 House. Why are we to have a Committee to inquire into the charges made by the hon. Member for Derby against the hon. Member opposite and not to have one to make inquiries into the charges made against hon. Members sitting on this side of the House? ["Name!"] I cannot name them because the hon. Member for Derby did not name them; but he alluded to Members sitting on this side of the House. The only Committee which we are asked for now is to inquire into the charges made against the hon. Member opposite, who has fully and, to my mind, amply defended himself already from these charges. Well, Sir, we must look to what took place in this matter. I really was most surprised at what took place in this House yesterday. Upon the debate on the Merchant Shipping Bill the hon. Member opposite got up, and made what appeared to be a full and convincing refutation of the charges which had been brought against him. More than that, he stated most distinctly and openly in the House that the charges brought against him by the hon. Member for Derby were "cruel, unwarrantable, untruthful, and unjust." When I heard that I, of course, thought that the hon. Member for Derby would be bound to substantiate his charges. But what happened? The moment the hon. Member for Plymouth sat down the hon. Member for Derby got up, and made a speech about load lines and dock cargoes, and other matters connected with merchant shipping, and did not say one word to refute the statement made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, but, at the conclusion of his remarks on the Bill, took up his hat and walked out of the House. As far as this House is concerned, the vindication of the hon. Member for Plymouth is ample; and until I have some more information—and I make these remarks for the purpose of eliciting information from those who are responsible for the management of this House and its Business—I do not see what better we shall be, in having a Committee to inquire into charges from which this House believes the hon. Member has most amply vindicated himself. I think we have got into some trouble and inconvenience already through having Committees to inquire into personal matters this Session. I do not want to see half-a-dozen 342 influential Members spending time on a matter of this sort. I really think the hon. Member will best consult his own interest by leaving this matter where it is. No one could get up in this House and dispute the statement he made yesterday. I cannot conceive that any hon. Member would come forward and make such a detailed statement without having ample warrant for all he stated; and if we grant the Committee asked for by the hon. Member, it is clearly implying that we do not believe him; but I do believe him, and I do not think that the House should waste its time for the purpose of seeing how that matter stands. Therefore, to raise discussion, and hear how we stand in the matter, I shall venture to move, as an Amendment—That this House deems it unnecessary at present to occupy itself with a special inquiry into the matters in dispute between the honourable Member for Derby and the honourable Member for Plymouth.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House deems it unnecessary at present to occupy itself with a special inquiry into the matters in dispute between the honourable Member for Derby and the honourable Member for Plymouth,"—(Sir Wilfrid Lawson,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, there is no doubt that the proceeding which we are now asked to take is of an exceptional character; but the circumstances are very exceptional. There may have been cases—no doubt there have been cases—in which imputations have been thrown out in this House by one hon. Member against the character of another. But these cases have been met and dealt with at once. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth has twice, as the hon. Member for Carlisle has truly stated, emphatically and in detail, and in a manner which commanded the sympathy and impressed the judgment of the House, distinctly denied—and not only denied, but has given proof in support of his denial of these charges. And, Sir, so far as the opinion of the House is concerned—that is to say, the opinion, as I 343 believe, of every individual Member of this House—my hon. Friend has been perfectly cleared, and is even the more entitled to our respect in consequence of the manly and dignified manner in which, I may say, he has made out his case in this matter. Under circumstances which might have justified expressions of great heat and anger, my hon. Friend has preserved his calmness, not because he has not acutely felt what has been said, but because he has felt that he was superior to the charges which have been made. But let us consider, for a moment, in what position my hon. Friend stands with regard to the House as a whole. Now, the House, as a whole, has not pronounced—nor has it been called upon to pronounce—one sentence upon this matter. The hon. Member for Derby has, in his place in the House, advanced, in the most unmistakable manner, a gross and most severe charge against my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth. The hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle says he also insinuated charges against other persons. It is true that he insinuated that he was able to make charges against other persons, but he did not do so. As the hon. Baronet himself says, he did not name them; and therefore it is impossible for anyone to take those charges to himself. There may or may not have been persons whom he would have proceeded to name; but as he did not do so, they are perfectly out of the question. But my hon. Friend has been singled out. A charge has been made; he has denied the charge—once in the absence of the hon. Member for Derby, and again, more emphatically, and in stronger language, in his presence. In what position are we? The hon. Member for Derby has neither withdrawn the charge nor offered to substantiate it. Can the House leave the matter in the position where it now stands? Two courses only, I think, are open to us; and if my hon. Friend should press for either one or the other to be pursued, I think that, with a just feeling of wounded honour, he has a right to do so. If the House is not satisfied, we may have an inquiry, and set my hon. Friend right by a vote of the House itself, in respect of the matter with which he has been so charged; or, if the House thought fit, we might, by a vote, at once declare that the House considers that those charges are disproved, and that 344 my hon. Friend stands entirely clear in the matter. The Motion of the hon. Member for Carlisle does not reach to that point, and if it were passed it would still be open to anyone who chose to say out-of-doors—"A charge was made; it was not retracted; it was never inquired into; and we have only the ipse dixit of one Member against the ipse dixit of another." I think, under these circumstances, my hon. Friend has shown himself not more than reasonably jealous of his own honour in making this demand; and most assuredly, if he feels bound to make it, I think the House, which is justly jealous of the honour of all its Members, ought, as a matter of Parliamentary justice and feeling, to grant the demand. I am exceedingly sorry that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not present to-day; but I am expressing his own very strong feelings in what I say, and I hope that the House will have no hesitation in agreeing to this Motion.
§ MR. E. J. REED
It seems to me to be a very unfortunate thing that we should be discussing the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into charges which are not before the House in any specific terms. I was present in the House when the language complained of by the hon. Member for Plymouth (Mr. Bates) was used by the hon. Member for Derby. It was to the effect that it was his intention to put a Question to the President of the Board of Trade as to whether the hon. Member for Plymouth was the owner of certain ships. He turned to this side of the House and said it was his intention to put certain questions, or bring out certain things, reflecting on Members on this side also. There were certain sounds made in the House at the time, and the hon. Member for Derby, having already been considerably excited, became considerably more so; and then indulged in language which was, no doubt, highly improper, and no doubt conveyed a most undeserved reflection upon the hon. Member for Plymouth and upon other Members of this House whose names were not given. Since then the hon. Member for Derby has appeared in this House and has apologized for the employment of those expressions. ["No, no!"] Well, I am only speaking in the same sense as the Prime Minister spoke after the hon. Member's apology had been delivered; and I say I am at a loss to under- 345 stand on what principle an hon. Member of this House is to appear in it, to apologize for language used, to receive the compliments of the Prime Minister for having made his apology ample and full, and is then afterwards, when he is not present and is in a state of health which does not enable him to attend here, to have a question of this kind raised with respect to him. Sir, I think that if there was any deficiency in the apology of the hon. Member for Derby, the right time to call attention to it was when he was present in his place to answer any complaint brought against him. But I will go on to say that I would not for a single moment oppose myself to a Committee of this nature if I thought that the compliance of this House with the proposal put before it would result in the simple satisfaction of one hon. Member of this House and have no other results. I think, however, that the results of the appointment of this Committee would be of a most pernicious and most widespread character; and, apart from this, there are good reasons why no such inquiry as is here proposed can by any possibility be satisfactory at the present moment. The first reason is that the hon. Member for Derby is in a state of health which prevents him from attending in his place here, and equally prevents him from entering into such an inquiry, or appearing before such a Committee to give or to produce evidence, or to take any part in its proceedings. I have had a statement of his ill-health and inability to attend to public business from his own hand communicated to me to-day by a nobleman who has been in communication with him, and who himself impressed upon me the extreme importance of the hon. Member for Derby not undergoing further public excitement at the present time, lest his health or brain should suffer. Therefore, I say it is very unfair to the hon. Member for Derby, if this inquiry is not strictly and absolutely necessary, to enter upon it while he is in that condition; because the conclusion of the Committee must, of necessity, be formed when the hon. Member for Derby cannot avail himself of the opportunity to substantiate his statements by any of those facts which hon. Gentlemen seemed to think he reserved when he made his apology. Another reason is that any Select Committee of this House which has to inquire into the 346 business or usages of a shipowner must necessarily inquire into many circumstances and details other than the condition of the ships shown in those documents which were produced here; and such an inquiry to be satisfactory at all must necessarily be a lengthy one. But if you appoint a Committee, and elicit a Report which would merely go the length of removing from the hon. Member for Plymouth any species of imputation which might rest upon him—if that Committee should seem by any language it might employ to give protection, or anything like protection, to negligent shipowners in regard to matters which involve life or the risk of life, your Committee will do more harm than good. We are sitting under very unusual circumstances for the purpose of pacifying the public mind and allaying agitation in regard to the loss of life in mercantile shipping; and I venture to say that by appointing this Committee, with the hon. Member for Derby in his present state of health, and at this period of the Session, you will raise a series of discussions and agitations during the Recess which will do no one any good, which will greatly disturb the public tranquillity of this country, and which will greatly embarrass Parliament in its future actions. Having said so much, I am free to admit that no one of the considerations which I have mentioned would have the slightest weight in inducing me to oppose this request, if I believed for a single moment that anything which fell from the hon. Member for Derby during his moments of excitement had really cast or left a taint, or the slightest stain, upon the hon. Member for Plymouth. I have not met with a single Member of this House, except the hon. Gentleman himself, who does believe that any stain whatever has been left upon his reputation by the language which fell, in a moment of excitement, from the hon. Member for Derby; and I ask whether it is reasonable or right that an Assembly like the British House of Commons should enter upon a questionable course, such as the appointment of this Committee would involve, for the purpose of giving satisfaction to a single hon. Member, who already has the satisfaction of hearing from every Friend and Colleague in this House that his character is under no stain, and that his reputation needs no vindication. 347 After what has fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and after observing, as I have done, the extreme reluctance of Government to make any modification in their proposals, I despair of appealing successfully to anyone except the hon. Member for Plymouth himself. After what has fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle, and after what I have said, I do hope that he himself will feel that in moving for this Committee he is calling upon the House to undertake alike an unnecessary and undesirable duty. I think that this debate may, if I am not wholly mistaken, in itself be taken as a sufficient and perfect assurance to the hon. Member for Plymouth that in this House, at any rate, no stain whatever rests upon his character in consequence of the hasty, improper, and violent words which fell from the hon. Member for Derby in a moment of excitement. That excitement having been fully acknowledged, I appeal to the hon. Member—and I hope other hon. Members will join me in seeking to induce him—not to press his Motion, because it may do harm, and cannot by any possibility do any good, and because the hon. Member's character needs no such vindication as this Committee's inquiry can afford.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
As a friend of some years' standing of the hon. Member for Plymouth, I hope the House will allow me to say a few words upon this question; and I will endeavour to add nothing to the feeling of natural excitement which prevailed a few days ago. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the facts as they are before us. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has spoken of the attack made upon my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth as if it were one solitary attack made in a moment of excitement. I would entreat the House to remember that when the hon. Member for Derby returned, after a week's retirement, to this House, and after he heard the deliberate assertion of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth as to the facts connected with the loss of his ships, the hon. Member for Derby rose in his place, and calmly and quietly made a deliberate and well-considered speech. But not one word of apology, not one word of regret, not one word of withdrawal or qualification did the hon. Member for Derby utter with regard to 348 those attacks—those cruel attacks—upon the fair fame of the hon. Member for Plymouth.
§ MR. E. J. REED
One word of explanation. I regret having omitted to state that on the occasion of his presence in this House on Thursday last the hon. Member for Derby was under the greatest possible pressure on the part of his friends, to avoid being drawn into any personal altercation. I am sure the House will wish to bear in mind this fact. I say that the hon. Member for Derby appeared here in a condition of thorough ill-health, and under the greatest possible pressure on the part of many of his friends, who advised him as to the course he should pursue. I believe the noble Lord will be generous enough to admit that, in rigidly conforming to the advice of his friends, the hon. Member for Derby was exercising discretion; although I freely confess that I should not probably have been content to leave the matter as he did.
§ VISCOUNT SANDON
I am the last person to wish to press hardly upon the hon. Member for Derby; but I have to consider the fair fame and reputation of another hon. Member of this House. And I would remind the House that that took place on Thursday; and there is no reason why a letter should not have passed since Thursday expressing at least a qualified regret for what had been said of the hon. Member for Plymouth; but the hon. Member for Derby closed the handsome apology he made by saying he withdrew none of the facts he had previously mentioned. The accusation against my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth was one of fact—his alleged misconduct was the loss of certain ships. I do say we are treating the hon. Member for Plymouth with very great want of consideration if we overlook the cruel position in which it is proposed to leave him as a Member of this House representing a marine, a mercantile, a seafaring constituency, and if under these circumstances we decline to occupy ourselves with the matters in dispute between him and the hon. Member for Derby. According to the hon. Member for Carlisle, they are to hang over his head during the winter, and perhaps be brought forward next year. This is one of those cases in which we are bound to assent to inquiry. We have to be as 349 jealous of the character of every Member of this House as of our own individual characters, and I cannot see why after all that has passed we should not, with regard to the character of this House as well as to that of the hon. Member for Plymouth, allow a Committee to sit, and that appears to be the simplest course. But, whatever happens, it seems to me to be perfectly impossible to leave any hon. Member in such a position as my hon. Friend would be left in during the winter with this accusation hanging over him.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I cannot agree with what has fallen from the hon. Baronet the Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) and the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed), that we can properly pass over this matter on this occasion. The point I wish to bring under the consideration of the House is the manner in which other Members stand affected by the language of the hon. Member for Derby. No doubt it may be said that they were not singled out by name. The hon. Member for Derby distinctly stated that he would put the Question whether the Edward Bates who owned certain ships was a Member of this House, and though there may have been something objectionable in the form of putting that question, there was nothing objectionable in the notice that need have led to disputes of this kind nor to investigation by a Committee. There is nothing more in the charge which has been made than in several charges which, by implication, the hon. Member for Derby has on former occasions brought against other persons and even against Members of this House. But he went on to say—"I shall ask a question, too, about Members sitting on this side of the House." Then, with reference, as it appears to me, to both the intended questions, and not to one alone, he said—"I will unmask the villains who send sailors to their death; I am determined to expose them." He was asked whether he applied these words to Members of the House, and he said he did. It seems to me that, in every sense except that of merely mentioning the name of the hon. Member for Plymouth, the hon. Member for Derby did apply these expressions of extreme violence to certain Members sitting on this side, as well as to the hon. Member opposite: and it would, I think, be most unfortu- 350 nate, taking the point raised by the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon), that a Committee of this kind should be appointed to consider only a charge against one hon. Member, because as the noble Lord has said, we owe it to this House to clear the character of the House as a whole and of every Member of it. But if the Committee sat to examine into those charges, possibly the hon. Member for Derby might not pursue them, and the Committee would have to report that they had no evidence. The Committee ought to go further, and, as these charges have been made, if we appoint a Committee, we might also instruct them to go further and report, "Aye" or "No," whether there is any foundation for the charges made against other hon. Members. With the view of raising the question I would move, if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Carlisle should be negatived, to add to the Motion the words, "And against other Members of this House."
§ MR. BENTINCK
My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) will forgive me if I tell him that he has not stated his case with his usual force. He says we are discussing charges and questions which are not really before the House; but the charges made by the hon. Member for Derby were not only made before the House, but were persevered in in a manner somewhat unusual in this House. And I would appeal to the House to say whether there have not been ample opportunities for retracting those charges of which the hon. Member for Derby has not availed himself. My hon. Friend says the hon. Member for Derby has made an apology; but I contend that, so far from it being an apology for the attack made upon the hon. Member for Plymouth and other Members not named, he virtually—by the words in which he offered an apology to the House for irregularity in his con-duct—confirmed his intention of preferring those charges; and therefore, so far from giving an apology, the hon. Member had aggravated the case by the manner in which he apologized for his misconduct. I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken (Viscount Sandon). I should be the last man to wish to bear hardly on any Member of this House or upon any man suffering from ill-health; but I think that plea scarcely holds good 351 in the present case. We regret exceedingly, I am sure, to hear that the hon. Member for Derby is suffering from ill-health; but surely his condition is not such as to justify or explain the course which he has pursued. The hon. Member for Derby upon three separate occasions had the opportunity of withdrawing the charges which he preferred against my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, and in the most pointed manner he declined to do so. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. E. J. Reed) says, in effect, that the House has entirely acquitted my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth of any and every imputation which has been made against him. Well, that is perfectly true; but that is not sufficient to satisfy a man properly and justly jealous of his own honour. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth is perfectly right in claiming the only means by which these charges against him may be investigated, and either justified or negatived; and I venture to say that the House would be guilty of a gross act of injustice if it refuses the opportunity which he seeks. But I would say one word more. I wish to speak with every possible feeling of deference for the distinguished Assembly of which I have so long had the honour to be a Member; but I cannot help feeling that in the present case the course pursued by the House of Commons has not been a fortunate one. I consider that an hon. Member having risen in his place to prefer charges against another hon. Member in language of the most violent character, and the House having censured such a course, it is scarcely right to allow the Member making the charge to retire without explanation or apology. I say this with every feeling of regret that any action on the part of the House should diminish the high position which it has always maintained; and I regret and feel that the mode in which this House has dealt with this case has been extremely unfortunate.
THE MARQUESS OF HARTINGTON
It is impossible to avoid sympathizing with the hon. Member for Plymouth, against whom charges have been made from which it is quite natural he should take an early opportunity of freeing himself. I sympathize not only with him, but also with the other hon. Members who have been alluded to scarcely less pointedly than the hon. Member for Plymouth himself. At the same time, 352 I must say I sympathize also with the motives which have induced the hon. Member for Plymouth to take the course which he is now taking, in preference to that which I will endeavour to point out, and which I think would have been a more strictly correct and Parliamentary course. I must acknowledge I very much agree with the hon. Member who has just sat down that the course which was taken by this House on Thursday last, although marked with great and proper consideration for the hon. Member for Derby, was not, strictly speaking, a technically correct one. The hon. Member for Derby apologized to the House in the most ample manner for the language which he had used. He, however, distinctly stated that he withdrew no statement of fact. Thereupon, after a short debate, the Order of the Day relating to him was discharged. I confess I sympathize with the motives which prevented the hon. Members attacked from taking an opportunity which I think, if they had desired, they would have been justified in taking at that moment to vindicate themselves. If the hon. Member for Plymouth had wished the House to consider that it was necessary for his reputation that further notice should be taken of these charges, it would have been competent to him to rise in his place at that time and ask the House, before they absolved the hon. Member for Derby from the consequences of his conduct, to require him either to withdraw or to substantiate the statements he had made. The hon. Member did not take that course. I sympathize with the motives which induced him not to take that course, and not prolong a painful discussion which had been brought about by the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby. At the same time, I cannot help feeling that the course he is now taking is one which is calculated to lead the House into a position of some difficulty. I must say I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Lawson) as to the indefiniteness of the terms of the Motion. The hon. Member (Mr. Bates) moves for a Committee to inquire into certain charges which have been made by one hon. Member against another. I really am not aware what these charges are; I am not aware in what form they are to be found. The words of the hon. Member for Derby were not taken down. 353 Is that which is to he inquired into to he furnished by a newspaper report; or is the Committee, as indicated by one speech made this evening, to meet in order to call upon the hon. Member for Derby to substantiate certain charges, and, if he does not come forward, is it to report without taking evidence? I cannot think that would be any satisfaction to the hon. Member for Plymouth; and really, if that is not the course to be pursued, I am at a loss to know what are the charges, and where they are to be found, which the Committee is to be appointed to investigate. Even if the charges are to be found in a more definite shape than they are, it appears that would be a most inconvenient course. I do not know there is any precedent, except, perhaps, one, for the course of appointing a Committee to inquire into charges against a Member of this House for acts not done in his capacity as a Member of this House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated that the case is an exceptional one and the circumstances rare. I do not know that the circumstances are so extremely exceptional. In my opinion, they are not altogether dissimilar from circumstances which have already occurred during the course of this present Session. The House has found itself placed in a position of difficulty already. Questions of Privilege have been raised through statements made, and questions of Privilege have been raised affecting the character of hon. Members through acts not done in their capacity as Members of this House; and I think what has occurred at an earlier period of this Session should induce the House to be rather careful before they proceed to make a precedent in such a matter as this. There was the case of Thirtell Harvey, in which a Committee was appointed to inquire into circumstances affecting his character; and, although I cannot say I am well acquainted with the facts of the case, I believe that in the opinion of some authorities a mistake had been made by the House in going into questions which the Committee went into on that occasion. Now, this is a subject, no doubt, on which it is extremely desirable that the House should come to an unanimous decision if possible, and I have pointed out what I think the inconveniences of the course recommended by the hon. Member and the Government. If, however, 354 the Leader of the House recommends the House to take this course, I should be most unwilling to offer opposition; but I do not think it can be one that can be satisfactory to the House or to the hon. Member for Plymouth. From the fact of a Committee being appointed at this period of the Session, it is, of course, impossible that we can enter into a minute investigation as to the mode in which the hon. Member for Plymouth conducts his business. If it is merely to inquire into the fate of certain ships, I do not think that, without fuller information, there can be given such an inquiry as would be altogether satisfactory. I venture, however, to hope that if the Motion for a Committee is persevered in, it will not be impossible to suggest some terms of Reference more precise than those now before the House.
§ MR. HUNT
I wish to call the attention of the House to the position in which the hon. Member stands at the present moment. If the accusation and insinuation made by the hon. Member for Derby had been made against my hon. Friend outside the House, my hon. Friend would have had his remedy by an action at law. He might have applied for a criminal information against the utterer of the calumny, or he might have sued for damages. But the charges having been made in this House, the only way in which my hon. Friend can clear himself on the present occasion in this House, and in the absence of retractation, is the one he has adopted, and I think that he is fully justified in the course he has taken. It is asked, what were the charges? Hon. Members and the noble Lord who has just sat down endeavoured to mix up the case against the hon. Member for Plymouth with charges made against other Members who were not named. But what are the facts? The hon. Member for Derby said "he gave Notice of a Question that he would put on Tuesday next to the President of the Board of Trade," and then he mentioned certain ships by name, and the years in which they were lost, and the number of lives that were lost in them, and then he went on to say—"I will ask whether the owner of these particular ships—whether the owner—Edward Bates—is a Member for Parliament or some other person of the same name." Now, there was a particularity in the charge made against 355 the hon. Member for Plymouth which was not to be found in the case of a charge made against any other Member of this House, nor was any other Member of this House named. My hon. Friend has taken every opportunity afforded by the Forms of the House of setting himself right with the House and the public, and after his speech the other night, straightforward and manly as it was, it was the bounden duty of the hon. Member for Derby, whatever his health was, to have either retracted his accusation or have been prepared to substantiate it. I want to know what is the meaning of the Amendment which has been put into the hands of the Speaker by the hon. Member for Carlisle. He says that this House deems it unnecessary at present to occupy itself with a special inquiry into the matters in dispute between the hon. Member for Derby and the hen. Member for Plymouth. What would be the effect of carrying such an Amendment? Why, it would be in effect that, in the opinion of this House, there are still matters in dispute between the two Members—that is to say, that the House, if they passed it, would refuse to admit the truth of the statements made by the hon. Member for Plymouth, and would admit the possibility of the accusations of the hon. Member for Derby being true. I say it would be unsupportable for my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth to sit down under such a Resolution as that. What says the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed)? He gets up to support this, leaving open the question whether the charges are true or not. He says the hon. Member for Derby, by the apology he made, virtually withdrew the charges against the hon. Member for Plymouth.
§ MR. HUNT
The hon. Member for Derby was guilty of disorderly conduct by reason of the expressions he used with regard to Members of this House. He used the expressions "villains" and "murderous shipowners." He was out of Order by reason of the terms he used; 356 but he was not out of Order by reason of saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth was the owner of ships sent to sea in an improper state; he would not have been out of Order in making such a statement as that. He was called to Order by the Speaker; a Motion was made that he should be reprimanded for having used un-Parliamentary expressions in making these charges; and the apology he made had reference to the un-Parliamentary character of the language he used, and had nothing to do with the question as to what was the direct statement of fact he had made. The hon. Member for Derby by his apology satisfied the House by withdrawing the un-Parliamentary expressions he had used; but at the end of it he expressly said he did not withdraw any statement of fact. I want to know whether the hon. Member for Pembroke, who appears to represent the hon. Member for Derby, is now prepared on his behalf to withdraw and retract the accusations made by the hon. Member for Derby.
§ MR. E. J. REED
In reply to that question, I am perfectly prepared to look over the question he puts, and, if I see nothing improper in it, I am prepared to answer.
§ MR. HUNT
The accusations that the hon. Member for Derby made against the hon. Member for Plymouth with respect to a person named Edward Bates sending six ships to sea in 1874 and 1875 which were lost, and the interrogation whether the hon. Member for Plymouth was the owner of those ships. Language of this kind was also used—"I am determined to unmask the villains who sent these sailors to death."
§ MR. E. J. REED
I am prepared, on the authority of the hon. Member for Derby himself, to affirm the accusations 357 —if he calls them accusations—as to matters of fact, which is all the hon. Member did.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the right hon. Gentleman is in possession of the House. If the hon. Gentleman desires to make any explanation he may do so with the consent of the House, so soon as the right hon. Gentleman has concluded his speech.
§ MR. HUNT
What I want to know is, whether these accusations are withdrawn and retracted, or are they not? I think the hon. Member for Plymouth has a right to know that. The hon. Member for Pembroke concluded by saying that after the explanation of the hon. Member for Plymouth there was no stain on his character. Will the hon. Member for Carlisle (Sir Wilfrid Law-son) withdraw his Amendment? And will the hon. Member for Pembroke propose a Resolution as an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for Plymouth, declaring that this House, having hoard the explanation of the hon. Member for Plymouth, is of opinion that no stain rests on the hon. Gentleman's character with regard to sending those ships to sea which were lost in 1874 and 1875? If the hen. Gentleman will take that course, and the House will approve it, the honour of the hon. Member for Plymouth will be satisfied, and there will be no occasion to ask for a Committee.
§ MR. E. J. REED
Mr. Speaker, before you put the Question, I have no hesitation whatever in responding to the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman has made in conformity with what I have already stated. I am not aware of any accusations, except such—["Oh, oh!"] If we are not to discuss this subject, we had better adjourn the debate at once. I say that, so far as I know, I am not aware of any accusations, and the right hon. Gentleman has not been able to produce any, except those of two classes, one class of which the hon. Member for Plymouth has himself confirmed—if yon please to call them accusations—I mean he has confirmed all 358 the recitals contained in the question of the hon. Member for Derby. With regard to those of the second class, I say that the hon. Member for Derby has withdrawn all those offensive imputations conveyed in that offensive language. ["No, no!"] Very well, I say he has; and in proof of my conviction that I am not misinterpreting his intentions as well as his words, I fool perfectly at liberty to move a Resolution to this effect—That, in the opinion of this House, the imputations conveyed against the character of the hon. Member for Plymouth on a certain occasion have not been in any degree substantiated before this House.I think it would be very wrong of the right hon. Gentleman, or of any Member of this House to proceed—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is exceeding the bounds of an explanation. He cannot speak a second time upon the Question before the House.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
Although a humble Member of this House, I hope I may be allowed to put in a word of protest against the mistake the Government are about to commit by sanctioning a Committee of Inquiry. I must confess that I have a feeling of sympathy with the hen. Member for Plymouth, and I feel that if the hon. Member demands this Committee he is almost entitled to it; but I think that if Her Majesty's Government and Members of this House go into a judicial investigation of this sort without any idea of the data before them, or any knowledge of what they are doing, they will not only find themselves in a great difficulty, but they will be embarking on an inquiry which would last six months. What did the hen. Member for Derby, in his intemperate attack, say? He said six ships were lost, and that they belonged to Mr. Bates, and then he proceeded to use violent language, which I will not repeat. He is called upon to apologize. He does so in this way—"I withdraw everything I said which could be offensive, except the facts." Now, what were the facts? The only residuum of facts are the facts that Mr. Bates, a Member of this House, owned six ships that went to the bottom. ["Oh, oh!"] The hen. Member for Plymouth has acknowledged that to be the fact, and has given us a satisfactory explanation of what the cause has been. What could this Committee do, unless it is to pass a 359 Vote of Censure on the hon. Member for Derby? and I suppose, from the feeling displayed by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hunt), that that is what is meant. Are you to have an inquiry like a Board of Trade inquiry, with nautical assessors, into the case of every one of these six ships to find out the cause of its loss? Let any hon. Gentleman look at the difficulties—the technical difficulties—in the way the gathering of evidence scattered all over the world, which would require to be brought together. Do you think that such a Committee could possibly report before we meet again next February? If this is a Committee to pass a Vote of Censure on the hon. Member for Derby for his want of taste in not coming forward and saying—"I retract," although there is nothing to inquire into; if it is nothing but that, you will get into a most horrible difficulty, and you will find us at the end of a week not knowing what to say, or what to do.
§ SIR WILFRID LAWSON
Of course I only proposed my Amendment to get at the opinion of the House on this Committee. It is far from my wish to set my opinion against that of the House, although I still maintain my own opinion that a Committee will be an un-satisfactory affair. Seeing what is the general opinion of the House, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment. Some one said it would be wrong to leave the charges hanging over the head of the hon. Member for Plymouth. I put the words "at present" into my Amendment in order that it might be open to move for a Committee if the charges were renewed.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. E. J. REED
After what has passed, I hope the House will support this Motion as an Amendment which I now move—That, in the opinion of this House, no stain rests upon the character of the hon. Member for Plymouth in consequence of the statements made in this House by the hon. Member for Derby.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
I will move an Amendment to that. I move to amend the Amendment, by inserting, after the word "Plymouth," the follow- 360 ing words:—"or on that of any other Member of this House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The House must first of all dispose of one Amendment. After that the words can be added.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, no stain rests upon the character of the honourable Member for Plymouth in consequence of the statements made in this House by the honourable Member for Derby on the 22nd of this instant July,"—(Mr. E. J. Reed,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I cannot tell how my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth may look upon this proposal, and we ought to very much consider the mode in which it has struck him; but, for my own part, taking it at very short notice, and connecting what has been moved with the unanimous expression of opinion elicited from all parts of the House, I think my hon. Friend would not be doing any wrong to his own honour in accepting it. At the same time, I think this is one of those matters in which, as has been well said, every man must be the guardian of his own honour; and if my hon. Friend is of opinion that he still desires a more formal inquiry, or that he desires time for the consideration of the proposal, I should certainly desire to consult and meet his wishes. But I again repeat that, looking at the course of the discussion, at the unanimous expressions of feeling which have been elicited, and at the fact that no kind of excuse has been offered for the language of the hon. Member for Derby, except that very peculiar excuse of the state of his health and the excitement under which he was labouring, which makes it more difficult to deal with this charge than if it had been brought forward under other circumstances, I think my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth will not be doing himself any wrong, and that there can be no misconception as to his motives, if he were to accept the proposal which is now made. If he does accept it, it must not be understood that my hon. Friend, in so acting, shrinks, in the slightest degree, from that which he himself would prefer—the most searching and full inquiry into the whole of these transactions. That 361 is a most natural and honourable feeling on his part; and, recognizing that feeling, I think the whole House will understand that if he accepts the Amendment he does so as a full acquittal and apology, or rather a full vindication of his conduct on the part of that body of which he is a Member.
§ MR. BENTINCK
I cannot but think that if we leave the question where it now stands we shall be in an unsatisfactory Position. Let me remind the House that, so far as the hon. Member for Plymouth is concerned, his vindication is complete; but what I want to ask the House is this—Is the House prepared to sanction as a precedent that any hon. Member should make charges against another and then refuse to retract those charges? Would it not be a precedent of a most dangerous character? I would submit, as an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member for Pembroke, the addition of the following words—And this House condemns the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby in preferring charges which he was not prepared to substantiate.
§ MR. BIGGAR
thought it unreasonable that the House should be called upon to declare these charges unsupported, without any evidence upon the subject having been submitted to them. He should prefer the original Motion to either of the Amendments, because to get a full acquittal in the eyes of the world there should be a full inquiry at a time when the hon. Member for Derby could be present to substantiate any charges, if he could.
§ MR. BENTINCK
I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth accepts the Motion of the hon. Member for Pembroke, and in that case I beg, at his request, to withdraw the Amendment which I have moved. At 362 the same time, I think it right to add that nothing but a personal request made to me by the hon. Member for Plymouth would have induced me to withdraw it. I must express my regret that the House has not thought it incumbent on them to censure the conduct of the hon. Member for Derby.
§ Amendment (Mr. Bentinck), by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. WHALLEY
Was understood to say that he could not allow this matter to pass without referring to the statement of the hon. Member for Plymouth when he said, in reference to the hon. Member for Derby, that "he would not kick a man when he was down." He could not admit that the hon. Member for Derby was in any respect "down." With respect to the charges made, the Board of Trade were continually stopping ships, and the fact that six ships went down in one year, or a little more, although it might have been an insufficient ground for these statements, must be accepted in extenuation. He was not about to justify those statements, and he considered the explanation of the hon. Member for Plymouth most satisfactory to his own character and credit.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
That the words in the opinion of this House, no stain rests upon the character of the honourable Member for Plymouth in consequence of the statements made in this House by the honourable Member for Derby on the 22nd of this instant July,' be added to the word 'That' in the Original Question.
§ Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, to insert, after the word "Plymouth," the words "or that of any other Member of this House."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I think that these words are very much out of place; they seem to put my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth into a very difficult and rather false position. We have been endeavouring to meet his just sense of wrong. My hon. Friend has been singled out by a special and definite charge, and I think he has shown great judgment and forbearance in accepting, as he has done, 363 the Amendment which was proposed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. E. J. Reed) in the spirit in which it was tendered. If we are to mix up definite and distinct charges with matters which, though they were not expressed in the form of charges, were insinuated in a manner even more painful than direct charges, because they are more difficult actually to bring to book—if we are to mix up these charges with the insinuations which it is stated the hon. Member for Derby was going to make against other Members of this House, we entirely change the character of the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth has accepted the proposal which has been made; but I am not at all sure that he would have accepted an addition which would entirely alter the Motion. The suggestion was that there should be a Committee to examine into very distinct and definite charges, and the proposal now made would neutralize that by dealing with charges which are not of a distinct character.
§ MR. DILLWYN
I have only one word to say I think it is absolutely necessary that we should insert the words which my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea has moved. The hon. Member for Plymouth has, in the opinion of the House, satisfactorily answered the charges which have been made against him; but the words of the charge preferred by the hon. Member for Derby were these—"I am going to unmask the villains who send these sailors to their death, and I intend to expose them." Coupled with that charge was one against the hon. Member for Plymouth, of having, I think, sent six ships to sea in an un-seaworthy state. I think, if the House is prepared to exculpate the hon. Member from that charge, it should also be prepared to exculpate other hon. Members on this side who were involved in the allegations.
§ SIR H. DRUMMOND WOLFF
observed that the hon. Member for Plymouth had been referred to by name, and had explained the circumstances satisfactorily; but hon. Members who had not been referred to by name had had no opportunity of explaining.
§ MR. BIGGAR
said, the Leader of the Opposition ought to fight for his supporters as strongly as the Government did for Tory shipowners. He thought that if this Amendment were agreed to, 364 they would be whitewashing the whole party without the slightest evidence.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
I am anxious to explain the reason why I shall vote against the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea. The hon. Member for Plymouth has asked for a Committee in relation to certain charges made against him, and the hon. Member for Pembroke has moved that no stain rests upon the hon. Member in reference to those charges. But both the Motion and the Amendment relate to the hon. Member for Plymouth; and if the Amendment of the hon. Baronet is thought necessary, it ought to be brought forward as an affirmative Motion, and not as an Amendment to a Motion having reference to the hon. Member for Plymouth. There is another reason why I shall vote against the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea. It appears by implication to carry a censure on the hon. Member for Derby further than the hon. Member for Plymouth and his Friends would wish to go. We feel it is just to the hon. Member for Plymouth to accept this Amendment; but we have had no explanation from any other shipowner, and probably the reason is that their consciences do not accuse them, and therefore they need not make any answer. Having heard the hon. Member for Plymouth, I am not disposed to put everybody else in the same category, and to declare that everybody is entirely free when no one else has come forward to offer an explanation.
§ Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.
§ Words added to the word "That" in the Original Question.
Main Question, as amended, proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, no stain rests upon the character of the honourable Member for Plymouth in consequence of the statements made in this House by the honourable Member for Derby on the 22nd of this instant July.
§ MR. MONK
I beg to move to add to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Pembroke the words, "and unsupported by evidence." I think the House ought to give the ground on which it makes the affirmation contained in the Amendment, and that ground is that no evidence has been adduced by the hon. Member for Derby.
§ MR. BIGGAR
seconded the Amendment, and expressed his wish to see the House act with something like common sense.
§ Amendment proposed, to add, at the end thereof, the words "and unsupported by evidence."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, these words would be a serious rebuke to the hon. Member for Derby. "Without evidence" would imply that he had an opportunity of bringing evidence. He neither had the opportunity, nor was he called upon to do so.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I cannot understand how the House can think of destroying the grace of what has been done on both sides in all parts of the House within the last two or three minutes by such proposals. Consider what the position really is. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth was singled out and made the subject of charges which remain unsubstantiated. He lost no time in offering, on the spur of the moment, a refutation of them, and subsequently, in the presence of the hon. Member for Derby, by whom the charges had been made, he took occasion, in the face of the House, to deny the charges made against him. It is not because those charges are not supported by evidence, but because they have been refuted by evidence, which would have been more complete if the opportunity had been given which the hon. Member desired of going before a Select Committee, that we are passing this Resolution. That is the reason why I object to this Amendment, and why I object to having others put in the same category.
§ MR. E. J. REED
I certainly join the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the appeal he has made to the hon. Member for Gloucester to withdraw the words he has moved. I think it is only fair that we should place the hon. Member for Plymouth in the same honourable position which he occupied before these charges were made. The Resolution does that. If it reflects on anybody it reflects upon the hon. Member for Derby, and the man who gets excited and loses control over his language is the person who ought to suffer in such a case. We are bound to 366 put the hon. Member for Plymouth right with the country, and, to the best of my ability, I am trying to do so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, no stain rests upon the character of the honourable Member for Plymouth in consequence of the statements made in this House by the honourable Member for Derby on the 22nd of this instant July.