§ MR. ASHMEAD-BARTLETT
I wish, with the indulgence of the House, 825 to make a personal explanation. On Tuesday the Prime Minister made this serious charge against me. He said—The hon. Gentleman incesssantly making grossly inaccurate statements, which he coolly ascribes to me.I immediately rose and asked the Prime Minister to give an instance in which I had quoted him inaccurately. I then quoted the precise words he used on April 24, and asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he really considered he was justified in stating that I had grossly misquoted him? The Prime Minister then repeated his charge in these words— "Yes, Sir, I do say so, both to-day and yesterday." [Mr. GLADSTONE: Hear, hear!] Now, I felt I could not allow so serious a charge to pass unnoticed. I therefore asked the Prime Minister, by letter, whether he would be so good as to state what was the substantial difference which, in his opinion, existed between the expressions I attributed to him on Monday and Tuesday, and the words which he actually used? I have received to-day a reply from the Prime Minister, in which he neither proves nor explains the charge he has made; but he makes this additional statement. ["Read!"] I am going to read. This is what the Prime Minister says with regard, to use his own words, "to what it was that required notice in my method of proceeding." His statement is classified under four heads—First, citation so inaccurate as to materially vary the sense; second, this erroneous citation delivered positively as if notorious and beyond question; third, and introduced into a Question put to another person, who could not have proper means of correcting it; fourth, and this in two cases on two successive days.And the Prime Minister adds—As you justly observe, you did, after exception was taken, read an actual report of the words.Well, Sir, I feel no one can really compare the words in which I first summarized the Prime Minister's statements with his precise words subsequently quoted, and say that they were "erroneous" and "inaccurate," and that they "vary the sense," or in any way substantially differ from the words he actually made use of. I venture to think that the reports of the Prime Minister's utterances in the public Press and in Hansard are "notorious and beyond question." The 826 two Questions put to him on Monday and Tuesday arose out of replies by another Minister on the same subject. The first was addressed directly to the Prime Minister himself, and the second to the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in his presence. Had the Prime Minister deemed it necessary to ask Notice of these consequential Questions, they would, of course, have been postponed. I will read to the House the original words in which I summarised the statements, and the precise words in each case which I subsequently quoted when my summary was challenged. On the 17th I said—The Prime Minister gave information to the House on a previous occasion that the fall of Berber would not seriously affect the safety of Khartoum.The precise words used by the Prime Minister on April 24—and I have carefully verified these words by examining the reports in the newspapers and in Hansard —were—We believe, according to all the information we possess, that there would be no essential change in the position of Khartoum in consequence of that change in the position of Berber.On the 16th I asked—If the Prime Minister withdraws his statement that there is not the slightest risk of the garrison of Berber meeting with the same fate as that of Sinkat?The right hon. Gentleman having been asked, on April 24—Whether there is any danger that the garrison of Berber may he subjected to the fate of the garrison of Sinkat?said—We have no reason to believe that there is any risk to Berber of any such thing.I think it right to say that one report phrases it "of any such catastrophe." I now leave it to the judgment of the House to say whether there is any practical difference in the language in which I first summarized the statements of the Prime Minister and his actual words, which, in both instances, I immediately quoted to the House; and whether there is any justification for the Prime Minister's charge that I had made a "grossly inaccurate statement" of his expressions. I beg to thank the House for the indulgence with which they have listened to me. I felt bound to notice so grave an accusation, coming from one of the high position and power 827 of the Prime Minister. I repudiate most emphatically the charge he has brought against me, and I protest against it as baseless and unjust.
MR. GLADSTONE (after receiving from the hon. Member the documents from which he had quoted)
said: If the hon. Gentleman had been kind enough to give mo Notice that he was going to make this statement, I should have taken care not to have troubled the hon. Member for his Papers.
I received the Notice as I came into the House. Did the hon. Member send his Notice to Downing Street?
The hon. Member left it here, and it was put into my hands as I entered the House to transact my business; and that is what the hon. Gentleman calls giving me Notice. I must notice an expression used by the hon. Gentleman two or three times. He speaks of what he chooses to call "summarizing" my statements in a certain manner. There was no question of summary or summing up my statements. They were citations—supposed citations of the few words I used, and were supposed to correspond with them.
From memory says the hon. Member; but if this thing is done from memory it should be done in such a way as should raise fairly the question between us. These citations of the hon. Member are made, not with reference to elicit information, but they are made as parts of argumentative Questions, and sometimes made in parts of argumentative Questions, not addressed to me, but addressed to other persons, Members of the Government. That I think to be a most inconvenient practice, and is one that ought to be discouraged. The declarations of Ministers in this House are always held to carry a great responsibility with them. That being so, when they are cited by hon. Members they should be cited with corresponding accuracy. The hon. Gentleman is of opinion that he has made his citations with substantial accuracy. I am of opinion that 828 he has not, and that he greatly varied the sense of what I said. I will take one of the cases that he has mentioned. [Laughter.] This is not a thing to be laughed at; but that is another matter. I am reported to have stated to the House —and I have no doubt that the report is substantially accurate—that we had no reason to believe that there was any risk of a massacre of the garrison at Berber. This statement the hon. Member in his Question the next day converted into a positive statement on my part that there was not the slightest risk of such a massacre occurring. My statement was as to what was our opinion and belief, founded upon an examination of the facts that had come to our knowledge, and that statement the hon. Gentleman converted into a categorical assertion; and, having so perverted the meaning of my words, he says that there is no difference between my stating that to be our opinion, and my stating it as a fact beyond all question. I leave this matter, therefore, to the judgment of the House. In my opinion, his version and my statement most seriously varied one from the other, and this indicates a carelessness of habit on the part of the hon. Member which I hope he will not cultivate in future.
MR. J. LOWTHER
Yes, Sir. I wish to ask a Question of the right hon. Gentleman arising out of the answer which he has just given.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Then I am bound to say that there is no point of Order involved. The hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett) has offered a personal explanation; and as the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has answered the statement made by the hon. Member for Eye, I do not think that the matter ought to go further. There is no Question before the House.
MR. J. LOWTHER
I have no wish to continue the discussion; but I merely wish to ask a Question. ["Order!"]
§ MR. SPEAKER
I have already settled the point of Order. No question of debate can arise out of the explanation of the hon. Member for Eye and the 829 reply of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
I wish, Sir, to ask you a Question upon a point of Order. When you were standing in your place, and called upon the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst) the hon. Member rose, and the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire still remained standing in his place; and I wish to know whether it is not the fact that Mr. John Dillon, a former Member of the House, was named and supended by your Predecessor in that Chair for committing the same offence? I venture to submit that the breach of Order committed by the right hon. Gentleman came clearly under your observation.
§ MR. SPEAKER
It was clearly an inadvertence on the part both of the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member. I regarded it purely as an act of inadvertence.