§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN,
who had given Notice—To ask the honourable Baronet the Member for Tamworth, Whether he is prepared to substantiate or to withdraw the statement made by him during the discussion on the second reading of a Private Bill on Tuesday last, in reference to an alleged issue, by or in the name of a Member of this House, interested in the question involved, of a circular soliciting the honourable Baronet's vote,said: Before putting the Question I pause for a moment to ascertain whether the right hon. Baronet will save me the pain of doing so, or the House the trouble of listening to me, by retracting or apologizing for the statement referred to. As the right hon. Gentleman does not retract or apologize, I throw myself on the indulgence of the House while I make a short explanation, and deny, as I have denied before, that there is any foundation whatever for the statement which the right hon. Gentleman made last Tuesday. The character of a Member of this House for consistency is the property of his constituents, and if it were not for that consideration, and others which I might mention, I should have felt disposed to pass over the right hon. Gentleman's statement in silence, knowing very well that, although in the main and on the average he is in everybody's estimation a Gentleman of a generous turn of mind, yet there are occasions when he speaks in this House in a manner that certainly is not a good 861 imitation of that of his great predecessor. But this is not a mere personal question of injury to my feelings and my character, but a question as to the tone of the debates in this House, and also a question affecting those suitors who come before this House. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Gentleman is quite entitled to make a personal explanation to the House as to his own conduct, and no doubt such explanation will be received by the House with its usual indulgence; but he is not entitled to enter on other matters.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
I of course bow, Sir, to your decision. I should be very loth to move the Adjournment of the House to put myself in Order. I was merely proceeding to say that it appeared to me that when a right hon. Member of this House, who cannot plead youth or inexperience as an excuse, speaks in this House of observations made to it by another hon. Member as "perfectly farcical," and accuses him of "advocating a job," that is not a course which is calculated to promote the character of the tone of our debates. I will not pursue that matter further, but as the statements of the right hon. Gentleman induced hon. Members to vote against the second reading of the Bill, I will, Sir, by your ruling, confine myself strictly to the question whether I deserve the charge which the right hon. Gentleman has brought against me. In doing so I will not trust to my memory, but will refer to the public newspapers, especially to a paper which perhaps may be looked upon with some favour by hon. Members opposite—I mean the constitutional journal, The Standard, where an account of what took place on Tuesday appeared in the debate on the Motion for the second reading of the Northern Union of Railways (Ireland) Bill. The following is the report as given in that journal:—Sir Robert Peel thought the indignation of the hon. Member opposite wholly misplaced, and when he spoke of the conduct of the hon. Baronet he must remind the hon. Member that he (Sir E. Watkin) had himself sent out a circular. At any rate he had received a circular signed with the name of the hon. Member. Therefore it was perfectly farcical for the hon. Member to express indignation against those who came down to discuss this question. It was quite clear, after what had been said by the hon. Member for Worcester, that this was a job.Mr. Sherriff rose to order. ["Order!"]862The Speaker said, the hon. Baronet was in possession of the House, and the hon. Member for Worcester could make any explanation he wished at the termination of the hon. Baronet's remarks.Sir Robert Peel went on to say that the hon. Member for Worcester was a director of a company that had replaced another company which had become insolvent, as most of the mercantile credit companies of London did become. It was one of those companies which went to Ireland for the purpose of upsetting arrangements which were most convenient to the residents in the country, and their proceedings must be watched with a jealous eye. He had not been brought down by a whip of the hon. Baronet, but had come to the House like other hon. Gentlemen to transact the public business of that country, and he trusted the House would take a sensible view of this question and not trouble a committee upstairs with this Bill when their deliberations must inevitably result in the rejection of the Bill.Sir Edward Watkin asked to be allowed to explain. The hon. Baronet said he had received a circular signed by him, inviting him to come down to the House and vote. There was no foundation, in fact, for that statement; and he challenged the hon. Baronet to produce any such circular. He had never sent out a circular soliciting a vote in the House in his life.Sir Robert Peel: The hon. Member is very polite. I merely said what I have no doubt others will bear out, that circulars were sent out, to which the name of the hon. Member was attached, soliciting support.When I rejoined that I had never sent out a circular soliciting a vote in the House in my life the right hon. Baronet said—"The hon. Member is very polite." The right hon. Baronet did me no more than justice; but he went on to say that circulars were sent out to which my name was attached soliciting support. I spoke to the right hon. Gentleman immediately after the division, and assured him he was entirely wrong. He then altered his mind a second time, and said he had not stated that he had seen a circular with my name attached to it, but that he simply received a circular. I wrote to him on the following Monday, stating—I never in the whole course of my life, so far as I can remember, wrote to you or authorized to be written to you a single line upon any subject, and it is quite impossible that my signature or my name could ever have been used in the solicitation of your vote upon any question whatever of any kind. Prior to the discussion which ended in the rejection on second reading of the Metropolitan Railway Bill, you and other hon. Members received a private circular from Lord Claud Hamilton asking you to attend the House and vote against the second reading of that Bill, which, as the circular stated, was to be moved 'by Sir Edward Watkin.' It is probable that you had in your mind yesterday this circular of Lord Claud Hamilton, and that may 863 be the reason of a mistake made in a hasty speech.To this letter I received the following reply:—Whitehall, June 28,1876.Sir,—I am in the receipt of your letter of yesterday's date, and in reply beg leave to say that, prior to the discussion which ended in the rejection on second reading of the Metropolitan Railway Bill, I did receive a circular in which your name appeared, asking me to attend the House and vote in favour of the second reading of the Bill.This is what I said, and it is probable that you had not in your mind yesterday this circular, and that may be the reason of a mistake made in a hasty speech.I am, yours faithfully,Robert Peel.Sir E. W. Watkin, M.P.I pass over the impertinence—["Order!"]—contained in this repetition of my own words in the closing sentence of the letter. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, such an expression as had been used by the hon. Member could not be allowed in this House.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
No one could be more ready than I to withdraw any expression to which you, Sir, should object; but when a Gentleman writes to another, repeating the last sentence of his letter, I think it can hardly be considered courteous. ["Withdraw!"] Of course, I withdraw anything I may have said that may not be in Order, and apologize. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's charge that I had solicited his vote, I at once sent a copy of his note to the Parliamentary solicitor for the Bill, who wrote in reply that neither by himself nor by the Parliamentary agents had my name been used in any circular in reference to the second reading of this Bill. Such a circular was issued, but it was a dry statement of facts, containing no solicitation to Members, and certainly not using the name of any Member. I was further assured that that was the only statement issued; and under those circumstances I am entitled to say that the charges of the right hon. Baronet are without foundation, and to hope that, even now, late as it is, the right hon. Baronet will retract them. I beg now to ask the right hon. Baronet, Whether he is prepared to substantiate or to withdraw the statement made by him during the discussion on the second 864 reading of a Private Bill on Tuesday last, in reference to an alleged issue, by or in the name of a Member of this House, interested in the question involved, of a circular soliciting the right hon. Baronet's vote?
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
I hope I shall be able to reply to the Question which has been proposed to me, and to the satisfaction of the House, which is all that I desire. The hon. Member has spoken of me in very harsh terms, and in language not quite Parliamentary or proper for one hon. Gentleman to address to another. I shall endeavour to reply to him in perfect good humour; but I must say that in the charge he has made it seems to me that he intends to convey to the House that I have said something that is not true, or that I have said something that is not founded on fact and which I cannot substantiate. Now, the House is aware, and I am aware, that this is not the first time that the hon. Member for Hythe has launched his accusations without any ground for them. ["Oh!" and "Order!"] I recollect that four or five years ago—["Order, order!"]—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The right hon. Baronet has been asked to answer a Question referring to a debate in which he made some observations reflecting on the personal character and conduct of the hon. Member for Hythe, and in answering that Question it will be desirable, according to the practice of the House, that the right hon. Baronet should confine himself to that matter.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
By your ruling, Sir, I will confine myself to that matter; but I would ask permission of the House to say that this is not the first time—["Order!"]—I recollect some years ago—["Order, order!"] This is to the point, and I am determined to say it. [Laughter, and renewed cries of "Order!"] The hon. Member accuses me of having said that which is not true, and I say this is not the first time—["Order, order!"] When Mr. Chichester Fortescue was at the Board of Trade, the hon. Member for Hythe accused me—["Order, order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
After what I have said, I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not travel beyond the limits of Parliamentary practice in the observations which he wishes to address to the House.
§ SIR ROBERT PEEL
Of course, Sir, I bow to your decision, and will not refer to the matter again; but I may say this, that it is not the first time—[Laughter.] I myself consider, as the hon. Member for Hythe has said, that this is really not a question which ought to occupy the time and attention of the House, inasmuch as I am sure that every one who heard me the other afternoon knows perfectly well what I meant, what I intended to convey, and, not only that, but what I actually did say on that occasion. The House will give me the opportunity of illustrating the remarks I have made in further replying to the challenge of the hon. Member for Hythe. He says I made three statements. I say I did nothing of the kind. I stand by the recorded statement in the newspapers, and I am in the hands of hon. Members on both sides who heard my statement, and I propose to substantiate what I then said. Now, everyone who is conversant with the proceedings of the House of Commons—and for nearly 30 years I have had a knowledge of the proceedings of this House—any one conversant with those proceedings knows, and I appeal with confidence to experienced Members, and even to you yourself, Sir, and to the Clerk at the Table, when I say that it has been the invariable practice upon Opposed Private Bills, as well as upon many Public Bills, for solicitations to be sent round. Whether the practice is a good one or not I do not say; but such notices have invariably been sent round, asking hon. Members to vote for or against particular measures; and it is perfectly obvious, therefore, that no one would take the trouble to send round a circular in support of or in opposition to any Opposed Private Bill, if it were not at the instance of those who are directly or immediately interested. There are, no doubt, many hon. Members now in the House who were not pressed on the occasion in question, and I must therefore refer to what did take place on that occasion. This is not a mere personal matter, but one of considerable importance as affecting the position of Members of this House. There was a Private Bill discussion on last Tuesday. I knew nothing about the matter, excepting what I read in the statements submitted to me from both parties, from each of whom I received a solicitation for my 866 support. I came down here and said what I did. From what I had heard and read, I came to the conclusion, and many thought with me, that there was a "job" connected with the matter, and it is well, Sir, that in these days such things should be exposed. What I said was, that there was a Mercantile and Credit Company (Limited) in London which proposed to go to the North of Ireland and construct six railways there. We knew from "another place"—the House of Lords—that there were nine railways already bankrupt in that part of the country, and the hon. Baronet (Sir Thomas Bateson), who moved the rejection of the Bill, said it was not necessary for the interests of the district. One of the Imperial directors said that it was, and so did another hon. Member, and finally the hon. Member for Hythe. The hon. Member for Hythe said the statement of the hon. Baronet was one from which he dissented, but he especially complained that he had asked 160 Gentlemen to come down to that House to support his views, and he added that he hoped it would be the last time he should hoar of an attempt to commit a private injustice through political influence; and then he spoke of maintaining the dignity of the House. Now, I was in the House of Commons in 1862, before the hon. Member for Hythe was in it, and when he was only plain Mr. Watkin, and I know some of the antecedents of the hon. Member. I followed the hon. Member for Hythe, and I said that his virtuous indignation was misapplied, because it was not an unusual proceeding to send out these invitations, and that in his (Sir Edward Watkin's) case, as regards the Metropolitan Extension Bill, I had received a solicitation to vote. I did not say his name was attached. ["Oh, oh!"] I said I had received a solicitation—[A Voice: A circular?] Yes, a circular. [A Voice: And from him?] I deny it. ["Oh, oh!"] I never said I received it from him. I said that I did not receive it directly from the hon. Member. ["Oh, oh!"] I could not say from whom I received it; but I mentioned, and I still maintain, that I did receive a solicitation for my vote in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member says he never in any case sent out a notice with reference to any Bill in which he was engaged. Now, I hold in my hand a 867 notice sent out relative to the South Eastern Railway Bill. It is a statement of the promoters, and the hon. Member for Hythe is Chairman of that Company. I ask, could any one of the promoters of that Bill send forth that statement without the knowledge and consent of the hon. Member for Hythe? I maintain I was perfectly justified in what I said. Many hon. Gentlemen on this, as well as on the other, side of the House have received the same circular. I have received assurances from several hon. Members that they have received it. I hope the House will receive with satisfaction the statement I have made—["Oh, oh!"]—I have been too long in this House—["Hear, hear!"]—I have been too long in this House—[Renewed cries of "Hear, hear!"]—not to know what is due to the House and to hon. Members in it. I hope I will never shrink, as I have never done during the 30 years I have been a Member of this House, from honestly, candidly, and fairly expressing my opinions, or from withdrawing any opinion that I find not justified by the facts of the case. But in this case I cannot conscientiously do so. I cannot do so because I have received—and more than once—solicitations to support Bills in which the hon. Member for Hythe has been directly interested.