HC Deb 14 May 1888 vol 326 cc171-4
MR. DARLING (Deptford)

(for Mr. HOWARD VINCENT)(Sheffield, Central) asked the First Lord of the Treasury, having regard to the serious nature of the public charge made on the 19th ultimo by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth)— That the London police levy blackmail on the great distributors of goods in London, Whether the promise to furnish Her Majesty's Government with the grounds of the allegation has been fulfilled; and, in such case, if all possible inquiry has been made into the facts, and with what result?

THE FIRST LORD (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

On the 19th ultimo, when the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Firth) made in this House his charge against the police of levying blackmail on the great distributors of goods in London, he was at once challenged by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ritchie), by me, and by other Members for the authority on which this grave charge was made. The hon. Member then said that, of course, the charge was not against the police as a body, and went on to say that he would give me the names of his informants. I at once said that if the names were given it must be under such conditions as would enable the Government to test the accuracy of the statement; and the hon. Member, as I understand, and as I think the House understood, accepted my conditions. Some few days having elapsed, I wrote to the hon. Member to remind him of his promise, and on the 25th ultimo he gave me the names of his informants, but said they objected to have their names brought into public notice, "unless the whole police system is subjected to a public inquiry." I replied that it was not for his informants to make such conditions, and asked him to carry out the pledge given in the House. The hon. Member, in answer, said he understood that I objected to a public inquiry, and expressed approval of the conditions imposed by his informants. My reply stated that I had never objected to a public judicial inquiry into any specific charges against the police; that the accusation was a criminal one; and if he would bring it forward, or if his informants would do so, the Public Prosecutor would at once be directed to take such measures as were necessary to bring the incriminated to justice. The hon. Member, in reply, stated that his charge was merely meant as an illustration to his speech; that he always understood a Member of Parliament took the responsibility of his own statements; and that his informants adhered to their decision. The House has now all the facts before it; and I must leave it to hon. Members to judge how far the hon. Member has redeemed his pledge, and how far "illustrations" which contained criminal charges against a large body of public servants, and which are made on grounds apparently not sufficient to stand judicial investigation, are justified.

MR. FIRTH (Dundee)

was bound to say, with regret, that he took the state- ment of the right hon. Gentleman as amounting to a suggestion that he had not completely fulfilled the undertaking into which he had entered. He trusted he should always be prepared, when he gave an undertaking upon certain allegations, to withdraw both undertaking and allegations unequivocally if he could not, or did not, fulfil them. Throughout he had taken the advice of men whose judgment upon questions of Order in that House they all respected, amongst them being the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread), and they were all of opinion that he had completely fulfilled the letter and spirit of his undertaking. He wished to draw the attention of the House to what had passed between the First Lord and himself. Challenged by the First Lord of the Treasury to produce his authority, he wrote to his informants and then to the right hon. Gentleman, telling him that they were prepared to prove the truth of the allegations, but that they objected to their names being brought into public notice unless the whole police system were subjected to a public inquiry. The First Lord of the Treasury wrote back, saying that his informants had no right to impose the condition which they had laid down, and that he (Mr. Firth) had failed to fulfil his undertaking. He then submitted the case to several Members of the House, who all said that, in their judgment, he had fulfilled, both in the letter and in the spirit, the undertaking which he had given. He wrote again to the right hon. Gentleman, pointing out that as the matter was one of public importance it ought to be inquired into publicly; and that the unsatisfactory nature of the recent police inquiry was hardly such as should encourage a repetition of proceedings of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman subsequently wrote, saying that he had never objected to a public judicial inquiry into specific charges; and that if he was prepared to bring forward any specific charge the Public Prosecutor would at once take steps. That letter he brought to the notice of his informants, and they replied that they were not prepared to modify the conditions on which they would give evidences; that they did not think that a prosecution would succeed; and that their names must not be made public unless a public inquiry were allowed into the whole system. That letter he sent on to the First Lord of the Treasury—

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER (interposing)

said, the hon. Member was, of course, entitled, as a personal explanation, to give his version of the occurrences referred to by the First Lord of the Treasury; but he must not introduce exraneous matters.


in conclusion, said, that he pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that a Member of Parliament might be satisfied as to the truth of statements laid before him without being able to control the decisions of his informants; but that if at a future time the public inquiry which had been asked for were granted, he had no doubt that the evidence of his informants would be forthcoming.


By what I said just now I did not wish to cast any reflection upon the hon. Member. My original request to him was to furnish me with evidence on which judicial action could be taken, and judicial inquiry made into the criminal charges brought against the police; and I understood the hon. Member, from his place in the House, to promise that I should have that information.


said, there was nothing in the right hon. Gentleman's statement as to the judicial inquiry. What he (Mr. Firth) said was that he would give the names under such conditions as to test the accuracy of what he had said.