§ LORD CLAUD HAMILTON
Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I should like to make an explanation with regard to what occurred last night between the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government and myself during the debate on the Irish Question. I stated that the right hon. Gentleman had, during his tour in Mid Lothian characterized a statement in a letter addressed by Lord Grey to The Times as the "apprehensions of an old woman." The right hon. Gentleman denied the accuracy of my statement, and so I said I should feel bound to substantiate it. I have gone through the revised and published speeches of the right hon. Gentleman delivered in Mid Lothian, and I am bound to say I cannot find in them any trace of the statement in question. Fortunately, however, there are other sources of information open to me, and I find on referring to The Times newspaper a speech which has been carefully eliminated from the published speeches of the right hon. Gentleman, and I will, with your permission, in my own justification, read an extract from it to the House. The meeting was held at the Liberal Club in Edinburgh on the 31st of March, 1880, and was reported in The Times of the 1st of April of that year. In that 386 speech the right hon. Gentleman dwelt entirely and solely on that letter of Lord Grey, and he is reported to have spoken thus—He did not agree with Earl Grey as to the enormity of this danger. There was a great deal of difficulty still to contend with in the state of Ireland; but as to the apprehension that the people of Ireland wanted to tear Ireland away from its connection with this country, he told them frankly that he did not share it. He put it away as an old woman's apprehension. Not that he wanted to apply the term 'old woman' to any person! He employed it strictly to qualify the character of the apprehension.
Mr. Speaker, I am not able to admit either the courtesy of the noble Lord's proceeding, or the correctness of his assertion that he was about to substantiate his allegation; and I am obliged to him, in particular, for his statement that I had taken pains literally to eliminate from a set of speeches this particular speech which the noble Lord thinks he has discovered. Sir, I took no such pains. I did not make the collection of speeches, and I did not eliminate any speech from them, or introduce any speech into them. Sir, the noble Lord stated last night that I had described the warnings of Lord Grey, in his letter to The Times, as the utterances of an old woman. I stated that I had not done anything of the kind.
The noble Lord is reported to have said "utterances;" but that does not signify in the slightest degree. He quotes the reports to the letter against me; but he does not seem to like them as against himself. I said that I had stated nothing of the kind. When such a denial is given by a Member the usual course is for the hon. Member who has made the statement to express regret for having fallen into an error. Instead of that, the noble Lord, entirely rejecting my disclaimer, said he should proceed to substantiate his allegation. [Mr. BIGGAR: Hear, hear!] He has not substantiated his allegation. He has omitted from the report in The Times a passage which would show that he had not substantiated it. In the first place, Sir, as regards this meeting. It was not a public meeting at all. It was not a meeting of the Liberal Club. It was a meeting of my committee in a 387 private room, and I greatly doubt whether a reporter was present. My reason for that doubt is that I do not remember being cognizant of, or observing any such thing; and that the report, differing in this from, I think, every other report of a speech which I made in Mid Lothian—where, I must say, the reporting was most admirable—is a report in the third person. Well, Sir, what happened was this. I referred to Lord Grey's letter, and I ascribed to Lord Grey two allegations. I said—Lord Grey added, in relation to the past Government, that two glaring instances showed what a dangerous man Mr. Gladstone would be.They were these—the abolition of the Irish Church and the reform of the Irish Land Laws. These, he said—Were carried by the Government of which he (Mr. Gladstone) had the honour of being a Member; and they had been the cause of the present great danger which the country had to undergo, which he found in the state of Ireland. He did not agree with Lord Grey about the enormity of this danger.That was the mode in which I treated the allegation of Lord Grey. I then went on to deal with the apprehension, which I did not say Lord Grey had expressed, and I am not at all aware that he did express it. I hardly believe he did. That apprehension I described as "a most irrational apprehension," and as "an old woman's apprehension"—namely, the apprehension that the people of Ireland wanted to tear Ireland away from its connection with this country. That was the apprehension, Sir, to which I applied that expression, and I did not apply it to any statements that, as far as I know, were made by Lord Grey. And not only so; but when I had done this, fearful that there might appear to be a connection established between my use of that phrase and the name of Lord Grey—which is a name I hold in honour, and have always held in honour—I went on to say, or, at all events, am reported to have said—Not that he meant to apply the phrase 'old woman' to any person, but to use it strictly as qualifying the character of the apprehensions.Then again—He had now done with Lord Grey, and he wished not to be tempted to say a word derogatory in any degree"—that was after an 388 interval—"to a politician who was a most able man—a man of great talents and undoubted honesty.Then I go on further—He was so anxious about his personal respect for Lord Grey, that if he had said anything that would hurt or wound him in any degree he would wish it retracted.It is in these circumstances that the noble Lord, overlooking the fact that I was speaking of a different allegation from any made by Lord Grey, charges me with having described the utterances of Lord Grey as the "apprehensions of an old woman."