HC Deb 05 August 1890 vol 347 cc1921-3

I wish to ask, with your permission, Sir, and the permission of the House, to make a statement on a matter of privilege, which need not form a subject of full discussion. It may be within the knowledge of some Members of the House that in the course of last week a letter was published in the Times signed "Dartmouth, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire." In that letter, as it appeared to me, Lord Dartmouth presumed to pass a censure upon me as a Magistrate of Staffordshire in his capacity of Lord Lieutenant, in connection with a subject in no way relating to any Magisterial duty, but for a speech actually made in my place in this House. On the next day Lord Dartmouth, on seeing his letter in print, somewhat hurriedly it seems, wrote another letter to the Times, explaining his first letter and conveying what purported to be his real meaning. I feel sure that this was a generous attempt to remedy the first error, bur, unfortunately, it seems to have failed still more to express clearly what was really meant. The error admitted as to the first letter unfortunately characterised the second also. I therefore thought it my duty to send Lord Dartmouth the following' telegram:— Expect letter from me to-morrow. Yours to-day makes case worse. Thereupon that same evening I despatched a letter to Lord Dartmouth, expressed in decided and perhaps vigorous language, which I do not know that it is necessary, so far as relates to Lord Dartmouth, to make public, in view of what I think the thoroughly satisfactory explanation which I am now enabled to read to the House. My letter reached Lord Dartmouth on Sunday morning, and on Monday morning I received the following letter:— Patshull House, Wolverhampton, Aug. 3. Dear Sir,—I beg to acknowledge the receipt this morning of your letter of yesterday, and, in the first place, to express my regret at having given you cause to complain of want of proper consideration on my part for not communicating to you my intention to comment on your speech with reference to the action of the officers of the Guards in not returning the salutes of their men—in a letter to the Times. I, therefore, consider it my duty to offer you my apologies for this omission. Next I have, very decidedly, to assure you that I have no intention to pass any official censure as Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire upon your action in Parliament, my sole object having been in alluding to my official position to emphasise my protest against that action, and I consider that I was protesting against your censure of the officers in my first letter. This really is all I have to say by way of explanation on this part of the matter, having had no wish whatever to question your privilege as a Member of the House of Commons. With regard to my second letter to the Times, published yesterday, I desire to explain that it was the result of a comment made to me personally that I had seemed in my (first) letter to express my regret that you were a Magistrate for Staffordshire, and this being entirely contrary to my meaning, I thought it right to supplement my first letter by my second. I go on to ask you to read the enclosed letter which I yesterday prepared to send to the Times, hut did not post, thinking that after your telegram I had, on the whole, better wait for the letter from you which you led me to expect, but I do not now intend to despatch that letter, although I will ask you to return it at your convenience. No doubt you will gather from it that, under no pressure whatever, I repudiated any intention to pass any official censure upon you, and I have further to add that I claim no right as Lord Lieutenant to censure any Magistrate for speech or conduct, public or private, being well aware that it is not in my power to do so. This will, I hope, satisfy you that I never thought of interfering with your privileges, either as a Member of Parliament or a Magistrate. Merely adding that my private opinions upon the subjects as to which I wrote my letter to the Times of the 30th of July remain unaltered, I beg to remain, dear Sir, faithfully yours, DARTMOUTH. Robert W. Hanbury, Esq., M.P. P.S.—I should, I think, add that, having consulted no one on the subject of writing my protest to the Times, I am solely responsible for the letters which have appeared with my signature. DARTMOUTH. I was doubtful as to the exact meaning of that Inst paragraph, and I received the following explanation of it:— Regret to find myself again misunderstood; never intended to express regret at your being a Magistrate for Staffordshire, which I do not feel privately. DARTMOUTH. That is a very full and very complete explanation, and in its completeness it is certainly most honourable to Lord Dartmouth. It is honourable, I maintain, to make a frank admission even of mistakes much greater than this; and I feel sure that the House will be perfectly ready to receive and to accept with equal frankness so full an admission. With regard to myself and my humble share in the matter, I may say that my sole desire has been to fulfil what is almost my first and highest duty—to see that this House suffers no injury or disrespect from any action or neglect of mine as a Member. I hop?, therefore, the House will consider that I acted rightly in firmly, but, I hope, courteously, requiring a complete recognition of its undoubted rights.