HC Deb 08 March 1887 vol 311 cc1587-8
MR. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)

asked the Secretary to the Admiralty, Whether his attention has been called to the publication in The Times of what purport to be extracts from the evidence given before the Contracts Commission; whether these extracts are correct; and, whether he can explain how that journal obtained the evidence which has not yet been circulated amongst Members of this House?

THE SECRETARY (Mr. FORWOOD) (Lancashire, Ormskirk)

In reply to the Question of my hon. Friend, my attention has been called to the publication. The few extracts furnished to The Times from the evidence are of an ex parte character, and do not convey the effect of the large body of evidence placed before the Committee. In answer to the last portion of the Question, I, at the urgent request of the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Sir William Plowden), more than once preferred, consented to his confidentially reading the Report; and I have to ask your permission, and that of the House, to read some correspondence I have had with that hon. Gentleman, which, I think, will clearly show how the evidence came to be made public. On Friday, the 4th of March, I received the following letter:— House of Commons, March 4, 1887.—Dear Sir,—Referring to our conversation of last night, I shall be at the Admiralty to-morrow morning at 11, and shall be glad to see the proof of the Report on Contracts, which you were good enough to say I might look at. Will you give the necessary instructions? Yours faithfully, W. PLOWDEN. On Saturday, the 5th, the hon. Member called at the Admiralty, and was shown the Report and the evidence on which it was based. After seeing the Report in The Times I wrote yesterday to the hon. Member— Admiralty, March 7, 1887. Dear Sir,—When you asked me on Thursday for a copy of the Report of the Contracts Committee, I stated that until it was presented to the House I could not furnish you with one, but that you might peruse it at my Office as a confidential communication. Accordingly, on Saturday, my private secretary informs me that he placed it before you, and that, with his permission, you took the print of the evidence away. This morning I notice an article on the subject in The Times, with copious extracts from the evidence. As the copy given to you was the only complete copy of the evidence published, I am constrained to believe it must hare been used for the purpose of these extracts. Having asked you to regard the matter as confidential, I feel that I have a right to inquire if you can throw any light upon this communication to the Press. As you were informed on Saturday, and as the article states, the Papers were only laid before the House in dummy, pending their receipt from the printers. Very respectfully yours, A. B. FORWOOD.—Sir W. Plowden, K.C.S.I.,M.P. To which I received a reply as follows:— House of Commons, March 7, 1887, 4.15 p.m. Dear Sir,—I beg to reply to your letter of to-day, which has just been placed in my hands. On visiting the Admiralty on Saturday I was permitted to read, and to take notes of, the Report on Contracts. I was told it was confidential, and as such I have regarded it. But with regard to the evidence separate from the Report, which was given to me separately from the Report, I did not understand it to be confidential. On the contrary, the gentleman who gave it me gave me permission to take it away, which he refused to permit in the case of the Report, and he added words which impressed me with the public character of the evidence, saying, 'We do not care about it.' If I had understood for a moment the evidence was of the same confidential character as the Report; it would have been treated by me with the same reserve. I have had no communication with The Times or its staff on the matter; but as, after looking it over, I gave the evidence to a friend, it is quite possible this copy of the evidence, which I gather from you is the only one given out, may have furnished the extracts in The Times of this morning. Yours faithfully, W. PLOWDEN.—A. B, Forwood, Esq., M.P. The hon. Member was good enough to enclose for my information the following letter he received on Friday, March 4, from Mr. H. C. Burdett—the friend to whom, I presume, he refers in his letter of the 7th—the day he wrote appointing Saturday, the 5th, on which to peruse the Report—namely, Dear Sir William,—Will you come over here, as I want to explain how it will be easiest for you to get out the facts, and to understand the Report to-morrow. Believe me, faithfully yours, H. C. BURDETT. I am sorry the hon. Member does not state what he did with the notes which he states he took of the Report, seeing that some of the comments of The Times had reference to extracts from the Report. As the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton is not in his place, it is right I should add that I communicated with him, and received his assent to my reading the correspondence.