HC Deb 23 May 1882 vol 269 cc1405-7

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether, considering the great interest excited by a recent political incident, he will consider it possible to lay upon the Table the letter already cited in debate addressed by him to the late Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant on learning the contents of the letter addressed by the honourable Member for Cork to the honourable and gallant Member for Clare, and the result of the conversation held by those two honourable Members at Kilmainham?


Sir, I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having postponed his Question until to-day. I have had an opportunity of considering the matter with my Colleagues, as it involves a point of delicacy; and our opinion is that a precedent for producing a letter of a confidential character, written between Colleagues in the Cabinet, would be one of great inconvenience, and so uncompensated for by any advantage or any addition to the real means of judgment possessed by the House, that we cannot agree to produce the letter asked for. The hon. Gentleman may fairly say—"Why did we cite it?" I need not say, of course, that in citing that letter I cited everything that related to the particular point touched on—namely, the reference by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) to the possibility of his being, at some undefined period, in connection with the Liberal Party. The ground taken up by the Government in the whole of this business, as the House may remember, has been this—it has been no part of our duty to produce Papers in relation to the subject at all. What was our duty was to make up our minds whether, under the terms of the Protection of Person and Property Act, there was a reasonable suspicion of a certain tendency on the part of certain persons, with reference to certain intentions under the terms of the Act. The House has never interfered with our responsibility as regards the operation of putting these Gentlemen in prison; and we were not aware of any reason, in the absence of any Motion on the subject, why we should court the House as to its participation in our responsibility on the subject of letting Gentlemen out of prison. The other part of the letter referred to a difference of opinion between myself and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. W. E. Forster); and it appears to us that we are rightly exercising our discretion in declining to produce it for the reasons I have stated. But the letter which was read by the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), and which he had addressed to the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea), contained references to matters outside the Protection of Life and Property Act—namely, the question of this possible relation to the Liberal Party—[Lord JOHN MANNERS: The question of arrears.] There was nothing about arrears. There was nothing cited by me about arrears at all. The reference was exclusively to the relation to the Liberal Party. That was a matter wholly outside the subject of discussion, and I own it did appear to me that the House had a perfect right to know what passed—that the intimation on the part of the hon. Member for the City of Cork was received by me. I believed it, therefore, only due to the House that I should cite the words in which I referred to it. That was the reason why I made that citation. The citation was perfect and absolute as far as it went. The remainder of the letter refers to matters that took place between the prisoners and me when different views arose between us; and there is no rule which applies to the production of personal Correspondence of that nature. We think that public incovenience would result from such production uncompensated by any advantage to the public.


said, he wished to explain that he had based his Question on the precedent of the publication of the Correspondence which took place when Lord John Russell's Government left Office in 1851.