HC Deb 27 February 1883 vol 276 cc1025-38

moved— That the Notices of Motions and the first six Orders of the Day be postponed until after the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on Motion for an Address to Her Majesty.


said, that he wished to avail himself of that opportunity to make a few observations on a subject which had already been before the House, and which would probably in a short time, if not before the end of the debate on the Address, again occupy its attention. He desired to say a few words on the remarks of the noble Marquess on the part which he (Mr. Yorke) had taken in endeavouring to obtain an investigation into the Kilmainham Treaty last Session, and to obtain from the noble Marquess some definition of his position as Leader of the House in the treatment which he proposed to extend to the Leader of the Opposition. The noble Marquess said the other day that his (Mr. Yorke's) connection with the matter was altogether a casual one, and that it had been very much against his will that he was induced to bring forward the subject, and move for the appointment of a Committee. The noble Marquess also complained that the Government were continually importunating the Opposition, almost, as he said, going down on their knees to them, entreating them to formulate a specific charge, and take some course by which that charge could be investigated and either established or disproved. As regarded his personal connection with the subject, it was true, no doubt, that it was entirely a casual circumstance, and he did not think he was open to any charge of neglecting his duty in not bringing the matter earlier before the House. In the first place, as a private Member, he was under no special duty to bring the matter forward; and, in the second place, if he had done so, the Government being in full possession of all the time of the House, it would have been perfectly preposterous in him, with no claim upon the Government, to suppose that he could obtain the opportunity he might have sought of bringing the matter before the House. Therefore, if it had not been for the manner in which the noble Marquess had alluded to the question again, he should not have troubled the House with his share of the matter. But having regard to the refusal the noble Marquess had now made to permit the Leader of the Opposition to bring the matter before the House, it was necessary to recall to the House what was the specific attitude of the Prime Minister, even to a humble individual like himself. On the 13th of November the Prime Minister having denied that there was any Kilmainham Treaty, stated that he challenged the hon. Member for East Gloucestershire, who scoffed at him for that assertion, which he seriously made, to move for an inquiry. He (Mr. Yorke) said—"Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that he will grant a day?" The right hon. Gentleman replied—"I will agree to an inquiry without a debate." The Prime Minister then went on to say that there was no such Treaty, and that those who made such allegations without proof, instead of fastening disgraceful transactions on their opponents, brought disgrace upon themselves. Having thus been brought, without any deliberate intention of his own, to the position of making disgraceful allegations, which he did not prove, he (Mr. Yorke) then thought that the only course open to him was to urge and importune the Prime Minister for the opportunity he had promised. He did so from day to day, and had nothing to reproach himself with on that account. The Motion he first formulated alluded to the Treaty by name; but, that being objected to by the right hon. Gentleman, he was challenged by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) to state on what terms he would assent to an inquiry. Being taunted with apparently wishing to back out altogether, the Prime Minister replied in great wrath, and said that if the noble Lord did not withdraw the imputation he should decline altogether to answer the Question. The indignation of the Prime Minister then appeared very natural; but, judging by the light of his subsequent conduct, it did not seem so very absurd to impute to him an intention to withdraw from his offer. With the other steps that he (Mr. Yorke) then took he would not trouble the House in detail. He endeavoured to suit the Motion to the taste of the right hon. Gentleman, and made it as colourless and innocent as possible. He did not allude in the Motion to any "Treaty;" he only put it "the circumstances relating to the release" of the three Members from Kilmainham. To that even the right hon. Gentleman demurred, stating that, while he would offer no opposition to the Notice, he had his own opinion about its terms. On the 23rd of November he asked the Prime Minister to adjourn the debate at a quarter past 11 in order that the Notice which the right hon. Gentleman said he was anxious should be brought on should be discussed. The right hon. Gentleman then said that he would not move the adjournment of the debate. Another night, after the debate on Procedure had been adjourned, the right hon. Gentleman's faithful Friends and supporters talked until, by the Half-past Twelve Rule, the Motion could not be brought on. Then came the discussion which he felt bound to initiate, and in which he appealed to the House to judge between him and the right hon. Gentleman, as to the way in which he had been drawn into the matter, and the way in which the right hon. Gentleman had treated him. That was the position in which the matter stood at the end of last Session. Then began the second act. He had not yet taken any steps to renew the question, being undecided as to whether it would not be better to wait for the return of the Prime Minister. Then came the revelations in the Dublin trials, which had thrown so much light upon these transactions, and the debate initiated by the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst). In the course of that discussion a good many allusions were made to what were known on the authority of the Home Secretary as the "Kilmainham negotiations," and, strong opinions being expressed, the noble Marquess renewed the challenge. If possible, he did so in more specific language than the Prime Minister used to him last year, and it was immediately taken up by the Leader of the Opposition. On the Motion being put down, the noble Marquess, having presumably consulted his Colleagues, came down to the House and detailed various reasons why, he said, it would be inconvenient and highly mischievous to the Public Service that such an inquiry as was originally suggested, and as was now proposed, should take place. The first reason the noble Marquess gave was that the matter had been already discussed. But the discussion that had taken place had been entirely from the outside. They possessed no facts beyond what they possessed last summer, except that a certain light had been thrown on the matter, incidentally, by the revelations at Kilmainham. The only discussion which would be of any service was one in which the parties called upon to depose to the transactions would be placed upon their oath, and there would be liberty to cross-examine them to see how far their statements tallied. That was the discussion they wished for. They might go on discussing the matter in the House of Commons for ever if no new light was to be thrown upon the subject. Another objection the noble Marquess made to the appointment of a Committee was that it would prolong and revive the controversy. If there was nothing to find out, as he presumed was the contention of the noble Marquess, then he did not see why the controversy would be prolonged or revived by the appointment of a Committee. But if, on the other hand, fresh revelations were made, then, no doubt, the matter might be prolonged; if, however, the noble Marquess was right, that there was nothing to come out, then that argument did not apply. The third point of the noble Marquess was that it would have a tendency to weaken the authority of the Irish Executive. He could understand that it might weaken the Irish Executive if they lay under imputations; but he could not imagine anything more weakening to a Government than to lay under imputations which it was in their power to remove. By assenting to the Committee, if he were right as to there being nothing to disclose, the noble Marquess would strengthen instead of weakening the Irish Executive. The fourth argument the noble Marquess brought forward was the most idle and futile of all; he urged that the inquiry would be a waste of time. If the Committee were assented to without debate, what time would be wasted? The inquiry would proceed in the Select Committee upstairs, and on its conclusion, supposing the contention of the noble Marquess was accurate, the mouths of the Opposition would be shut. He did not believe there had been any example, at any rate for 30 years, of a Leader of the Opposition asking the Leader or Vice Leader of the House for a day to discuss a matter which the Government conceived to reflect upon them, and involving, perhaps, their very existence as a Government, and the Leader of the House refusing to give the opportunity asked. If Parliamentary government was to be carried on at all, the opinions of the Opposition should certainly be accepted from its Leader. The other day they heard with some amusement of a summary plan for disposing of any claims they might have to attention. The Leaders of the Opposition were to have half an hour to state their views in, and then—the clóture. But the noble Marquess went a step further. According to him the Leader of the Opposition was not to be allowed to make a speech on the subject at all; the Opposition were simply to register the decrees of the Government, while the Government had nothing to do except, to dictate. He did not see what end the Government were to come to except the natural decay which he presumed might come upon them like other bodies corporate, because they had secured themselves against violent death. If the Leader of the Opposition was not even to be allowed to hint disapprobation at their conduct, he did not see from what quarter the shaft was to come which was to terminate their existence. He regretted the absence of the Prime Minister, because in matters relating to the ancient procedure of the House he always felt a certain amount of confidence that the right hon. Gentleman would give them due weight, and he could not believe the action of the noble Marquess would be endorsed by the Prime Minister. He could only add that they, as the challenged party, ought, at any rate according to the rules of honour, to be allowed time, place, and the choice of weapons. The Government were in a position to be able to command those three advantages. As they were great, let them be merciful, if not in their own interest, at any rate in the interests of decency and fair play, and to show that they had not yet-emancipated themselves from all the honourable traditions of Party warfare.


Sir, if the hon. Member is convinced that the decision the Government came to the other day, and which I announced yesterday, will not be confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, on his return, it is scarcely worth while for him to have taken up the time of the House by the criticisms he has made upon that decision; inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has just given Notice of his intention to put a Question to my right hon. Friend on Monday next, and if the hon. Gentleman entertains the opinion he has just expressed, my mistake will be very soon rectified. The hon. Member, in the first place, wished to make some corrections in the statement I made the other day as to his personal connection with the matter. I do not understand that I have anything whatever to correct; because the hon. Member himself has just stated that his connection with it was purely of an accidental character, and that if it had not been for the accident of a certain exclamation he made, he never would have felt called upon to take any prominent part in regard to the matter. This is all I said the other day.


What I objected to was, the noble Marquess's statement that, on the part of the Opposition, no definite movement had been made.


I was then speaking of the proceedings in the earlier part of the Session. It is scarcely necessary, I think, that I should follow the hon. Member in his proceedings during the Autumn Sitting. These proceedings were wound up by a formal discussion on the subject. ["No!"] Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to explain what I mean. The hon. Member (Mr. Yorke) availed himself of the opportunity which one of the New Rules gave him. He asked a Question, and received an answer which did not satisfy him. He asked leave to move the adjournment of the House, and was supported in that attempt by 40 Members. He stated his case; the Prime Minister made a reply, and the matter was discussed—formally discussed and debated—on that occasion. That was the concluding scene in that Session. That being the case, I do not think I ought to follow the hon. Member in the various steps that were not taken, or that he was not allowed to take, in reference to his Motion for a Committee of Inquiry. All, I think, that I am called on to notice in his observations is the statement affecting myself—that I renewed the challenge. That is an entire misapprehension, and I shall be very glad if he will mention the words which he considered to bear that interpretation. [Mr. J. R. YORKE: I have the noble Lord's words here.] If there were any such words, they were not words which I used intentionally. What I said was that I rejoiced—although the issue placed before the House by the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was not a very definite one, that at last an issue was to be submitted to the House upon which the judgment of the House could be taken; and, speaking for myself, I said I thought, from the course of the discussion which had taken place, wide as its scope had been, I was able more fully to understand the exact charges which were made against the Government in regard to this transaction than I had ever been before, and to make what may have been a very unsatisfactory, but still to a certain extent a reply for the Government to those accusations. I was very far, indeed, from renewing a challenge to the Opposition to enter upon a discussion of this transaction; because I was convinced at the time, and I am convinced still, that we have been discussing from Tuesday last the subject of these allegations which have been made against us ever since last May. Although I might not have thought the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham raised an issue in the most convenient and clear manner, still I expressed my satisfaction that at last an issue had been raised which could be met and be decided by the House. Nothing in the world could have been further from my thoughts than to address to hon. Gentlemen opposite another challenge to renew another discussion upon this question. The hon. Member (Mr. Yorke) says we have been discussing these transactions only from the outside, and that we did not know all the particulars it was necessary we should know. But I must point out to the House that that is a matter for the consideration of the Opposition, and which, no doubt, they gave due consideration to, and they knew enough last week to censure us without waiting for a Committee of Inquiry. The hon. and learned Member for Chatham formulated a Vote of Censure on the Government. His Amendment was acknowledged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite as being a Vote of Want of Confidence in the Government, which, if carried, would have the effect of turning them out of Office. They knew enough to formulate that Vote of Want of Confidence; and, in my opinion, it is perfectly idle to say that the Amendment pointed to any other definite subject except these transactions which are called the Kilmainham Treaty. ["Oh, oh!"] If it did not point to that, I should be very glad to know what it did point to. It appears to me that the Opposition are in this dilemma. Either the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham was distinctly and directly aimed at what they are pleased to call the Kilmainham Treaty, or Kilmainham negotiations, or else they have been guilty of wasting the time of the House during four nights by discussing subjects of a perfectly vague and a perfectly indefinite character. I always understood, and I believe we have all understood, that the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Chatham did have reference to those proceedings; and we have undoubtedly, in all our speeches, treated it as having such a reference. If that is the case, as I certainly think it is the case, it does not appear to me that the Opposition can, in justice or fairness, come forward, now that their Motion has been rejected by the House. They have been discussing our conduct for four days, and they had information enough for that, and now they want a Select Committee to inquire into it. The hon. Member said there was no precedent for refusing a day to a Leader of the Opposition. I do not know whether there is a precedent or not; but I should like to ask whether there is a precedent for a Leader of the Opposition to raise questions repeatedly on the same subject, and having first challenged the judgment of the House on a certain definite issue, and failed in the attempt, to ask for an inquiry into the very same subject upon which he had already, without such an inquiry, challenged that judgment? The position which the Government have taken up is perfectly intelligible and perfectly legitimate.


said, he did not think the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chatham (Mr. Gorst) was one which clearly raised before the House of Commons the question of the Kilmainham negotiations. That certainly was not the opinion of the noble Marquess upon Thursday last; because, if his memory served him correctly, the noble Marquess said the Amendment only indistinctly shadowed forth the nature of the charge to be made against the Government. [The Marquess of HARTINGTON assented.] The noble Marquess had just now said they were asking the House of Commons to discuss a question already fully dealt with; but the noble Marquess himself had confessed that the Amendment only indistinctly shadowed forth the charge. [The Marquess of HARTTNGTON: Hear, hear!] Her Majesty's Government had expressed the opinion that the charges formulated, rightly or wrongly, against them were most serious. The Home Secretary the other day went so far as to say that charges had been made against the Government which, as gentlemen and men of honour, it was almost insupportable on their part to sit down under.


The right hon. Gentleman must remember to what that applied. It was the distinct statement of the right hon. Gentleman that we had made communications without the knowledge of the right hon. Member for Bradford. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowther) stated that he knew that I said there was no colour of foundation for that, and, if true, it was dishonourable conduct.


remarked that that was one of the very points that they wished to have cleared up. He never said all the negotiations were conducted behind the back of the right hon. Member for Bradford. What he stated was that a portion of the negotiations did go on behind his back. Was the noble Marquess content that the Government should rest under that as well as under other imputations? What were the charges against the Government in connection with this matter? They were, as he understood them, that they under took, on the one hand, to afford the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and his associates their personal liberty, and the means of awarding a very heavy bribe to those who had been co-operating with them in illegal agitation—part of that bribe being derived from the pockets of the owners of land in Ireland, and part—


I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is irregular to re-open a debate upon an Amendment that has already been disposed of by the House.


said, he would avoid recurring to the subject-matter of that debate; he would merely say that the bribe was offered in return for support of the Liberal Party, and it was further hoped that the efforts of the gentlemen in question would be used to promote the restoration of law and order. But the reminder, just now very properly addressed to him, was another instance of the extreme inconvenience of the course that had been forced upon Members by the conduct of Her Majesty's Government. The noble Marquess intimated the other night, and had done so now again, that this subject had come before them again and again without being brought to any satisfactory termination. Whose fault was that? [The Marquess of HARTINGTON: It has now.] He begged the noble Marquess's pardon. The Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Gorst) gave occasion, no doubt, for some remarks on the subject; but there was no threshing out of the question of the negotiations for the best of all reasons, that the House was not in possession of all the circumstances upon which a distinct judgment could be formed. Many Members had formed their opinions, and he had formed his own, upon the slender evidence that was before them; and for himself he did not hesitate to accept the whole responsibility of expressing the opinion he had so formed. The matter now stood thus—challenges had been addressed to the Opposition by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Prime Minister distinctly pledged himself to the House to grant an inquiry. He did not think that his hon. Friend (Mr. Yorke) was serious when he urged that any material difference of opinion prevailed on this subject amongst the Members of the Government; but he believed that if the Prime Minister were there he would have thought it incumbent upon him to offer an explanation why he distinctly pledged himself, in the face of Parliament and the country, to grant a Committee without debate, and that his Colleagues in his absence had run back from that promise. That was a matter which concerned the consistency—he might use a stronger expression—of Her Majesty's Government. He trusted that the Government would not allow the matter to rest in the position in which it stood at present. Charges had been made against them, and the Home Secretary considered those charges of a very serious character. It was difficult, indeed, to conceive any charge more serious than that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to sanction the taking away of money from one section of Her Majesty's subjects and giving a grant out of the Consolidated Fund for the purpose of purchasing support for their Party. That was the main charge; and until there had been a full judicial inquiry into these matters, the Government could hardly be surprised if the impression prevailed that their reason for refusing inquiry after having challenged it was the fear of unpleasant disclosures.


said, that, having a Motion on the Paper, he should feel, in ordinary' circumstances, satisfaction in giving way at the request of Her Majesty's Government; but he could have no such satisfaction now, because he felt that an insult had been offered in the person of the Leader of the Opposition, not only to the right hon. Gentleman, himself, but to every Member on the same side of the House. He very much doubted whether the Government would find that the course they had taken would promote the transaction of Public Business. When the Government had deliberately insulted 240 Members of the House, they could not complain if these 240 Members did not do everything in their power to aid them in forwarding their measures. He always believed the noble Marquess to be a man not only of very great ability, but of very great courtesy; and, therefore, he preferred to attribute the conduct of which they complained, not to the noble Marquess himself, but to the Government. It might be very inconvenient to Her Majesty's Government, notwithstanding all the challenges they had thrown out, to discuss this subject. But the Opposition were driven out of the House to discuss it, though they would prefer to do so in the presence of the noble Marquess. They had only one course left to them, and that was to proclaim to every meeting of their fellow-countrymen which they had the honour to address that Her Majesty's Government dared not face an inquiry into the circumstances of the Treaty of Kilmainham.


said, he had a personal matter to refer to. A Motion of great interest to a large number of people would be displaced by the Motion of the noble Marquess to take the discussion on the Address that evening. He was not prepared to oppose the course which had been taken. He could only express his great and bitter disappointment. He did not complain of the Government. They had been forced to take the present course by the action taken by the Opposition. He hoped the country would mark the grievous waste of time which had proceeded under the name of legitimate discussion, but which had really become a system of wrangling and recrimination, which could benefit no human being, but which was delaying legislation, and delaying the discussion of questions of social legislation required by the House and the country. Those interested in such legislation ought to take an early opportunity of expressing their condemnation of the waste of time in the House. It was, he believed, almost unprecedented for the Opposition to move two Amendments to the Address, and to be preparing a third. He would also take that opportunity of asking the Government to be prepared to meet this question of the Contagious Diseases Acts at an early day. He assured them that they would have to declare their opinion for or against the present Acts, and he had no doubt that they must ultimately accept those views of which he had been one of the indicators. It was certainly their intention to proceed with it, and he asked with all firmness that the Government would come to an early determination to assist in the repeal of these Acts.


reverting to the Kilmainham Treaty discussion, said, that the main fact which appeared before the country in connection with it was that Her Majesty's Government, having thrown out two distinct and formal challenges to the Opposition to demand and institute an inquiry into transactions which the great bulk of the people regarded as unprecedented, mischievous, and disgraceful, were now seeking to withdraw from them. There was an old method of war adopted by the Chinese Tartars of painting themselves hideously, and making wild and hideous cries before the enemy; but if the enemy showed fight, the makers of them turned and fled. First, with a display of bravado, the Government challenged the Opposition, and then they prolonged a debate until half-past 12 o'clock, so that the Motion could not come on. From May or June to the end of the Autumn Session, the Government had all the time of the House at their disposal. They knew very well, if this Committee were granted, there would be details discovered of interviews between the agents of the Government and the Leaders of a Party accused in that House within the past few days of terrible and unnatural crimes, and also negotiations between the hon. Member for Clare (Mr. O'Shea) and Her Majesty's Government. It was because the Cabinet was afraid of these revelations that they had refused this reasonable demand for an inquiry. It was because they know it would be shown that they were willing to use gentlemen whom they had described as "marching through rapine to the disintegration of the Empire," and were also willing to employ the worst instruments of these men, who were planning and conniving at murder. Never was there a more direct challenge than that of the noble Marquess; and he should have adopted one of two courses with respect to it—either have formally withdrawn it or carried it out. The discussion on the subject last year was nothing but a scratch debate. No doubt, the facts already in their possession were sufficient to justify a Vote of Censure on the Government; but it was better, before moving one, to be in full possession of all the facts.

Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That the Notices of Motions and the first six Orders of the Day he postponed until after the Order of the Day for resuming the Adjourned Debate on Motion for an Address to Her Majesty.—(The Marquess of Hartington.)

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