HC Deb 23 February 1885 vol 294 cc1036-9

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether his attention has been called to certain proceedings reported in The Times of the 20th of February, as having taken place in a police court of Birmingham, in relation to the Aston riots; whether he has considered the confession made then by one Charles Smith, alias Cultry, alias Caughtry; and, whether he is now prepared to retract and apologize for the allegations put forward by him, which were founded on depositions and other similar documents forwarded to him by his friends and supporters at Birmingham, and which now appear to have been perjuries?


Mr. Speaker, I have read this Question of the hon. Baronet, and I do not doubt that the House will appreciate the animus with which it appears to have been framed. I am, however, glad to have the opportunity of stating to the House what has actually occurred. It appears that Charles Smith was one of a number of persons who tendered evidence to the Liberal agents in Birmingham as to the origin of the Aston disturbances. His statement was made in the first instance on oath, and was subsequently reduced to a statutory declaration. I am informed that he was rigorously cross-examined at the time of making the statement; that it was compared with the statements of other persons; and that, in fact, every effort was made to verify it. The man was subsequently proceeded against by the Tory Party; and a few days ago, when the case came on, before it was gone into, he expressed a desire to make a statement to the Tory solicitor, and I believe in the presence of that gentleman and other gentlemen, including some agents of the Liberal Party, he made a second statement, in which he said his first statement was entirely false, and that it had been concocted with certain other persons he named in a room in a public-house in Birmingham. The moment this statement was published it was contradicted; in the first place by the landlord of the public-house, who stated it was absolutely impossible for any such interview as Mr. Smith declared had taken place could possibly have been held at the time or under the circumstances named. It was also contradicted by several men who were implicated in this so-called confession. Under these circumstances, there was only one thing certain—namely, that anything which might be said by Mr. Charles Smith is totally unworthy of credence. I am informed that after this confession was made communications took place between the Leaders of the two political Parties, and that it was agreed between them that there should j be a mutual interchange of notes. Accordingly, Mr. Dixon, the Chairman of the Liberal Association, wrote to Mr. Hopkins, Chairman of the Conservative Association, that having found the evidence on which the Liberal Party had rested their charges to be in many respects untrustworthy, he desired to withdraw all reflections which had their origin in those statements; but that he hoped Mr. Hopkins would recognize that they had been made in good faith, after every effort had been made to verify them. Mr. Hopkins accepted this withdrawal, and, on his own part, withdrew all imputations against the Leaders of the Liberal Party. I believe the whole matter is now considered to be at an end, and that both Parties have agreed to bury the hatchet; and I do not know in whose behalf, or with whose authority, the hon. Baronet wishes to disinter it. I am prepared to accept, without comment, the arrangement come to between the two Parties in Birmingham; and I do not feel inclined to do or say anything which will re-open a controversy which appears to have been amicably closed, so far as the parties chiefly interested are concerned.


As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to the "animus" of the Question, I will ask the permission of the House to make a personal explanation. My sole object in putting this Question was in order to give the President of the Board of Trade an opportunity to apologize for some unfounded statements which he made which imputed dishonourable motives to certain respected members of our Party in Birmingham. I was in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman would have thought fit to make as ample an apology as was made by the members of the Liberal Party in Birmingham. I am only sorry the right hon. Gentleman has not taken advantage of the opportunity I offered him.


The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the tendering of evidence of Charles Smith. Will he be kind enough to state what steps took place to lead to that tender of evidence?


I rise to a point of Order. I wish to ask you, Sir, whether a Minister of the Crown, having, in the face of this House, deliberately stated certain facts to prove his case, or in aid of some other case, when those facts I have been found in a Court of Law to be utterly inconsistent with what really took place, it is not his duty, as a Minister of the Grown, to apologize to the House?


I have only to say, in answer to the appeal of the hon. Member, that there is no point of Order before me, nor any point upon which a direction from the Chair is necessary.