HC Deb 11 April 1893 vol 11 cc22-9
MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

I ask the leave of the House to offer a personal explanation which shall be extremely brief. Last night I referred to the hon. Member for Waterford, and I said he had stated that the Party to which he belonged would never agree to any supremacy in the English or Imperial Parliament over strictly Irish affairs. The hon. Gentleman asked me to give proof or evidence of that statement. My allusion to him was unpremeditated, and I consequently had not brought down with me the quotation which I then had in my mind, and which I now beg to read. It occurs in a speech made by the hon. Member and reported in the Independent newspaper of July 2, 1892, and is as follows:— When Mr. Gladstone says that the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament means that that Parliament could have the power in it, if it liked, whenever it thought tit, to interfere in purely Irish affairs, I say that is a statement which, to every Irish Nationalist, is most unsatisfactory. We do not deny that the Imperial Parliament would, technically and physically, if you like, through its Army, have the power of taking away the Irish Parliament in the future after they gave it. That supremacy we cannot take from them. But we do say, and we shall insist in our places in Parliament, that the Home Rule Bill shall contain a provision declaring that so long as the Irish Parliament is allowed to exist it shall have free and unfettered control of its affairs, without any meddlesome and stupid interference over every exclusively Irish interest, and that we will never rest content until we have such a control over our own business. I think it will be seen that the quotation exactly carries out the reference I made to the opinions of the hon. Member, which was that he had stated that his Party would not consent to the interference of the British Parliament or the Imperial Parliament in strictly Irish affairs. One other reference which I made was also questioned in this House. I referred to an expression used in the past with regard to those who were then leaders of the Irish Nationalist Party, and who were likely to be leaders in the Irish Nationalist Parliament. I stated that my right hon. Friend, speaking of some of them, had said that they had preached the gospel of plunder, and that they were marching through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire. My right hon. Friend interfered to say that these remarks of his, which he thought I did not accurately quote, were applied strictly and entirely to Mr. Parnell. Now, Sir, I beg to read his remarks.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)

If my right hon. Friend wishes to read anything he must read several pages from the speech I hold in my hand, and to which he is referring.


I propose to read what I think is essential, and of course my right hon. Friend will be able to add anything that he thinks essential.


I rise to Order. Mr. Speaker, I ask you whether this is a personal explanation?


A personal explanation should be restricted to very narrow limits, otherwise it may obviously give rise to debate. A personal explanation such as the right hon. Gentleman is now going into will require another personal explanation. A personal explanation should be confined to the very strictest limits.


My personal accuracy last night was questioned, and in defence of my personal accuracy I propose to read to the House the remarks to which I referred. I shall make no comment upon them, and I submit to you, Sir, that on the previous occasion, in reference to a speech I made on the First Reading of the Home Rule Bill, my right hon. Friend himself made a personal explanation of precisely a similar character, reading extracts which he thought gave a different construction to what I said. The first extract I read is from a speech made at Leeds on October 7, 1881. This is what he said— Now, gentlemen, I have a painful duty of dealing with very different conduct. For nearly the first time in the history of Christendom a body—a small body—of men have arisen who are not ashamed to preach in Ireland the doctrines of public plunder. I make that charge advisedly in the situation which I hold, and I wish to ask you to judge with me whether it is not wrung from me by demonstrative evidence and by the hard necessity of the case. And in a subsequent part of the speech he referred to Mr. Parnell as "a representative." Sir, in the second speech, which was made at Knowsley, and which was reported on October 28, 1881, my right hon. Friend said— It is idle to talk of law, or order, or liberty, or religion, or civilisation if these gentlemen are to carry through the reckless and chaotic schemes they have devised. Rapine is their first object, but rapine is not their only object. It is perfectly true that those gentlemen wish to march through rapine to the disintegration and the dismemberment of the Empire.

MR. J. REDMOND (Waterford)

I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that I will not trespass for more than one minute in this personal matter on the indulgence of the House. I have, I think, some reason to complain of the action of the right hon. Gentleman. He has come down here to give his personal explanation, and quote from a speech of mine to which he did not refer last night. He has done so without notice to me, and it is by the merest chance that I happened to be in the House at the moment the right hon. Gentleman made what he calls his personal explanation. Last night the right hon. Gentleman attributed to me a statement that I would never consent to any scheme of Home Rule which reserves, in Irish affairs, the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. I questioned that statement, and I asked him to read my words. He said then that he had not the words by him, but that they were taken verbatim from an article of mine in The Nineteenth Century. He has come down here this afternoon and, by the assistance of some of his friends, he has attempted to fortify his accusation against me, not by referring to anything in The Nineteenth Century, but by a reference to a report of a speech made in July, 1892. Now, I have had personal experience of the right hon. Gentleman's method of quoting speeches before now, and I have reason to complain that no opportunity has been given to me of referring to the report of the speech, because I do not hesitate to say that I am convinced that the report of that speech contains the very qualification which I have always put in every statement of that character made in the House or out of the House.


But I read it.


My position in this matter is perfectly plain. I have always recognised that this House has an inalienable supremacy, and that if Home Rule is granted it will have the power to continue to legislate, in the theory of the Constitution, for Ireland just as well as before Home Rule is passed. I have always said that unless Parliament makes a bargain with Ireland that in purely Irish affairs it will let these powers remain dormant, no possible chance will remain for the success of the Home Rule Parliament. That is a perfectly different thing. I submit to the intelligence and the fairness of the House whether that is not a different thing from stating that I would not consent to any Home Rule scheme which preserves the supremacy of the Imperial Parliament. That supremacy would remain, and could and would be used in every instance where we were guilty of any intolerable oppression or of any conduct which would justify its use.


Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I rise to make an appeal to the intelligence and fairness of the House, and I must also animadvert on the conduct of my right hon. Friend in claiming to make a personal explanation for purposes entirely offensive and not defensive. It is most menacing, I submit, in the strict sense of the word, to the convenience of the House and to the prospects of Public Business that these things should be done. The hon. Member for Waterford said that these things were done without any notice to him, and they are done without any notice to me.


My right hon. Friend gave me no notice under similar circumstances.


I do not understand the legitimacy of that interruption. If it is a charge against me with regard to any proceedings in this House I can only say that I have not the smallest conception to what my right hon. Friend refers. No; I have no knowledge. Though I have had no notice yet, as reference was given to one of the two speeches, at my request, I have referred to that speech; but with regard to the second. I do not know where the second quotation came from. My right hon. Friend gave no reference and no notice, and, consequently I can take no notice of it. With regard to the first, and perhaps it is the most important because it was a lengthened and detailed statement made at Leeds, my right hon. Friend, if he will allow me to say so, has not recollected, and therefore misquoted it yesterday in the statement he made to the House. The statement yesterday was that I proposed to give the government of Ireland into the hands of a body of gentlemen whose leaders I had denounced in certain terms with reference to public plunder. To-day he says "these leaders or some of them"


I said "Some of them."


Does he say that his statement was in that modified form? [Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN: Yes.] I cannot set my recollection against his, but I do not think the statement was made in that modified form. It is not possible for mo to give a full explanation without inflicting on the House a statement much longer than I wish to make, and longer extracts than I should like to read. I am sorry to say, also, that I am not in possession of those powers of vision which enable me to make out more than a few lines of the extract. The state of the case is this: I do not in the least question the words which have been read by my right hon. Friend. I stated that the most formidable doctrines had been propounded in this country by Mr. Parnell and certain of his followers. Anybody who reads this speech will see that in the main, as far as I refer to followers, I referred to the Land League; but I stated at the same time in a lengthened passage, of which my right hon. Friend must have cognizance, that I would not charge the Land League as a whole, as I was convinced that many members and branches of it would repudiate his doctrines. I then referred to the followers of Mr. Parnell elsewhere, meaning in this House, and there I said that I would entirely refuse to identify any individuals with them. These words are in that speech, and I think my right hon. Friend in what he has now said, if he has quoted the truth, has not quoted the whole truth, and that he ought to have seen that it entirely disposes of the substance of the accusation, because I distinctly declined to identify any individuals—except Mr. Parnell—among the Members of the House with the doctrines that I had denounced. The terms I used were these. I must ask my right hon. Friend to read them for me.


read the extract as follows:— And even with regard to them, so hard it is to understand how far it may be with them a matter of compulsion and how far a matter of will that I do not attempt to identify them.


That is the charge which my right hon. Friend, after referring to the speech, and after 24 hours' consideration, says that I fixed upon them. I did mention one. I mentioned Mr. Dillon, the Member for East Mayo, for the purpose of commending him, because he had said that the Land Law was to receive a fair trial, but I distinctly declined to identify any person or to hold up any one individual as identified with these objectionable and dangerous doctrines as I thought them then, and as I think them now. In the course of that speech I incidentally referred to Mr. Dillon as a person who had severed himself from them. I think that the fairness and the intelligence of the House will say whether my right hon. Friend was justified in saying that I laid on hon. Members opposite the charge of agreeing with the dangerous opinions which I would not have ventured to have charged upon Mr. Parnell if I had not have quoted them from his own mouth.


I am not going to pursue the matter further. I only want to correct what my right hon. Friend said just now. I have since been able to look at the report of my speech in justification of the correction. I said— I have never said—I do not wish my right hon. Friend to misunderstand me—I have never supposed that he applied that indiscriminately to every Irish Leader. He may explain himself to which of the Leaders who now sit on that Bench he applied it.


I distinctly said, in my own words, that it applies to none of them. I did not identify any one of them with the opinions which I denounced.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

Mr. Speaker, I wish to claim your indulgence for a moment for the purpose of repudiating a speech attributed to me yesterday by the hon. Member for West Belfast. I do not do so because of its importance to myself, but because it illustrates the manner of Unionist proceedings in this respect. As I am informed, he occupied a portion of the dinner hour yesterday in quoting a speech alleged to have been delivered by me at Mitchelstown some five or six years ago. I never saw a report of that speech—it was not reported in any of the Dublin newspapers—until I saw it on the Notice Paper of this House standing in the name of Mr. Smith-Barry; but strange is the fact that when this question came to be put to the present Leader of the Opposition, then Irish Secretary, Mr. Smith-Barry never put the question. I sailed up to Mr. Smith-Barry and said, "Why on earth did not you put this question in regard to my speech?" "Oh," said he, "it had served its purpose, and I did not wish to continue the matter any further." But now, Mr. Speaker, this quotation, which has garnished a whole series of speeches of the Unionist Party, and particularly the speeches of the hon. Member for West Belfast, was trotted out again yesterday for the hundredth time. I believe the hon. Member referred to it as "brutal." I denied it as soon as I saw the question on the Notice Paper, and, as I say, it was never put. I will now give the House the reason. There was a police notetaker present on the platform at the Mitchelstown meeting—and a prosecution afterwards arose out of it—they usually arose out of any Nationalist meeting then held in Ireland—I refer to the prosecution of the hon. Member for North-East Cork. At the trial his speech was put in evidence against him, when the police notetaker was examined, and I was curious to hear what sort of a report the notetaker had of my speech. I got him to read it, and it was wholly and entirely different from the speech quoted yesterday by the hon. Member for West Belfast. In that speech I said that one of the Walkers, of Belfast, about whom a question was asked in the House to-day, had killed a policeman, had wounded another, and had also killed a soldier in Belfast. Mrs. Gardiner, widow of Head Constable Gardiner, applied to the Grand Jury of Belfast for compensation, and the Grand Jury of Belfast kicked out the bill on some technical point, and Lord Justice Fitzgibbon commented very strongly upon the state of facts. But the Grand Jury of the County of Cork, in reference to the case of the three men who were killed at Mitchelstown, gave one of the policemen named Leahy, who was engaged in the murder of those three men, £1,000 compensation. It is now not worth while troubling the House with the words which I used, and I have only to say, in conclusion, that if my speech was a brutal one, and if, in consequence, I am a brute, there is one portion of the brute creation that I wish to disassociate myself from, and that is the tribe of jackasses.