HC Deb 04 July 1893 vol 14 cc814-20
MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

With the indulgence of the House, I desire to say a few words by way of further explanation with reference to the incident of yesterday evening. In the first place, I beg to apologise to the House for the error into which I was betrayed, and I offer that apology in the frankest manner possible. I will now explain in a sentence or two how the error occurred. When the right hon. Member for Birmingham on a former occasion challenged me about an old speech of mine I asked for a reference, and I consulted the newspapers. While reading the speech the impression conveyed to my mind with singular force was that I had alluded in that speech to the incident I related to the House yesterday, and also to the events at Mitchelstown. I cannot now offer any explanation how that impression arose in my mind, except that I must have made in the autumn subsequent to the events at Mitchelstown a speech of the same character, and reading a speech six years old the impressions from the two speeches got mixed up in my memory. That being so, I threw away the newspaper, and, being accustomed as I have been for many years to similar attacks by the right hon. Gentleman, I did not think the matter of sufficient importance to justify me in raising it by way of explanation, and the whole subject passed out of my mind until the right hon. Gentleman renewed his challenge. I left the House to get a newspaper, but I admit that without inquiry and without investigation I spoke from memory of that old transaction, and was betrayed by my memory into a gross mistake. Every hon. Member who reflects on the character of the mistake will be convinced that I spoke in good faith. Even my bitterest enemy will not suppose that I offered to the House a story which carried on its face its own refutation. I was to blame for not refreshing my recollection, and I have only got to say that my memory, as a rule, has been extremely faithful, and that for the first time in my life on that occasion it failed me. I can only again assure the House that I spoke in perfect good faith without the smallest intention of misleading it; and I think that every Member, no matter on what side he sits, will accept that assurance from me. As other extracts have been read, I may take this opportunity of disposing of the matter, which I shall do in a very few minutes. During the course of the last 10 years I have delivered five or six hundreds of speeches, often under circumstances of great aggravation. Acting in what we conceived to be our public duty, we Irish Members were often subjected to what we thought was extraordinary, unnecessary, illegal, and unconstitutional violence, and we witnessed almost weekly acts of violence and cruelty directed against the people who trusted in us.

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I rise to a point of Order. I desire to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the hon. Gentleman is not now departing from the matter of personal explanation, which he is well entitled to make, and which the House would gladly hear from him?

MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)

As bearing on the point of Order, I wish to say that more than one extract was read yesterday from my hon. Friend's speeches. He is now disposing of the general charge based upon them.


The hon. Gentleman may offer his personal explanation. The thing to be avoided is recrimination.


The only reason I had for intruding further on the indulgence of the House was that during my momentary absence last night the hon. Member for South Tyrone read another passage, which I became aware of first when I took up The Times this morning. With regard to the extracts that have been read, witnessing acts of cruelty and violence to our people, those of us who took an active part in the agitation would have been more than human if our language had been always so calculated and moderate as to be free from criticism and even condemnation. I deny that I now entertain, or that I ever entertained, a purpose of revenge against those opposed to the people of Ireland in the recent agitation, I deny it, and I confidently affirm that no fair-minded man can find any justification for such a charge, making due allowance for the circumstances in which the language was spoken. Out of the hundreds of speeches I have delivered, hon. Gentlemen, no doubt, may find a few passages of heat and passion to criticise, and I regret them; but I think the speeches, as a whole, will bear comparison not unfavourably with those of any political man who has gone through the same political vicissitudes as I have.

MR. HARRINGTON (Dublin, Harbour)

I desire to make a short personal explanation. I made a statement last evening, the accuracy of which was questioned by the right hon. Member for Birmingham.


Did you give him notice?

MR. J. E. REDMOND (Waterford)

He never gave us notice.


I intended to give the right hon. Gentleman notice if he were in the House. I shall merely read an extract from the letter written by himself.

LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)

I rise to Order. I wish to ask whether, in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, it is in Order to read an extract from his letter?


Any personal reflection on the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member would not be entitled to make; but he is entitled to make a personal explanation.


I quoted from memory last night, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham said that what I stated was absolutely untrue, and I merely want to vindicate myself from that accusation. These are the exact words.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

May I rise to Order? As I understand the hon. Gentleman, this is only a question of comparative accuracy of statement as between himself and the right hon. Member for Birmingham. It would be more convenient, I submit, that this explanation should take place in the presence of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, because, as I understand the hon. Gentleman, he can hardly make his own explanation without an attack upon the right hon. Member for Birmingham.


On the point of Order—


There is no point of Order necessary to be raised. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham reflects upon his accuracy he is entitled to make an explanation.


I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I must say that the statement impugning my accuracy was brought to the notice of the Chair, and I want to set myself right with the House, as the right hon. Gentleman said that what I stated was absolutely false. The quotation I intended to give was this— I consider that Ireland has a right to a local government more complete, more popular, more thoroughly representative, and more far-reaching than anything that has hitherto been presented, and I hope that the first Session of a reformed Parliament will settle this question, so far, at least, as what is called county government is concerned. But, for myself, I am willing to go even further. I believe that there are questions not local in any narrow sense, but which will require local and exceptional treatment in Ireland, and which cannot be dealt with to the satisfaction of the Irish people by the Imperial Parliament. Chief among these are the Education Question and the Land Question; and I would not hesitate to transfer their consideration and solution entirely to an Irish Board, altogether independent of English Government influence. Such a Board might also deal with railway and other communications, and would, of course, be invested with powers of taxation in Ireland.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

I am very sorry to add a word in this matter; but I think I must put you, Sir, and the House in possession of the real facts.


I am quite ignorant of the circumstances that have occurred; and what I should first wish to know is, how the accuracy or the veracity of the hon. Gentleman is impugned in connection with what he has just read to the House?


I quoted from memory a letter written by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, and, as I stated, for the purpose of being shown to me in common with other Irish Members. My own copy of that letter I mislaid. I had it not by me. The right hon. Gentleman impugned my version of the letter, and I have now read the letter.


Mr. Speaker, in a very few words I will recall to the memory of those who were here last night what did occur. I entirely acquit the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken of any desire—[Cries of "Order!"] I am speaking in defence of my right hon. Friend, who is not present. Justice demands it.


If the right hon. Gentleman is not here to explain for himself, possibly the House may think it not improper to listen to an explanation from a Colleague.


I hold in my hand the report of The Times of the whole transaction, and hon. Gentlemen who were here can listen to that report, and they will see how far it is accurate. The hon. Member for the Harbour Division was speaking, and used these words— He remembered the time when the right hon. Gentleman sent some of his emissaries to Ireland with a letter to the Irish Members, many of whom were in gaol. That was the statement made. The report proceeds— Mr. Chamberlain stood up, but Mr. Harrington refused to give way. There were loud shouts from the Nationalist Members, and cries of "Chair" from the Opposition. Presently, at the height of the din, the right hon. Gentleman cried—'The statement of the hon. Member is absolutely untrue.' That is what the hon. Member considers a reflection upon himself, and which he is allowed to explain. The subsequent account of the transaction is this— Mr. Chamberlain: A charge has been made, and I am bound to meet it at once.…. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Dublin was not allowed to finish, because I should have known what it was that I had exactly to answer. But I can answer his statement as far as he made it. He says that I gave letters to Mr. Duignan, of Walsall, to the Irish Members, in which I made offers to them of some bargain or arrangement. That was the transaction, and further on, the hon. Gentleman having accepted that statement, my right hon. Friend went on— If he said that, it was in error. Mr. Duignan was not a friend of mine; he was a political acquaintance. Mr. Duignan himself, on his own account, entirely without reference to me, went to Ireland, and when he returned he wrote me a very long and interesting account of what he observed of the political situation, and I wrote him, in reply, a letter marked 'private'"—[Laughter]—"in which I expressed my own personal views about the desirability of meeting the demand "—[Nationalist cries of "Go on!"—"in which I stated in so many words"—[Cries of "Oh, oh!" and ironical laughter]—"I do not ask leave to wait for a week before replying; I trust my memory." ["Hear, hear!"] "In this letter I stated distinctly that I could never consent to Home Rule." ["Oh, oh!" and Irish laughter.] "Yes; the letter exists. There is no secrecy about it. The letter was printed. Subsequently I expressed my opinion that something in the nature of a National Council, which I roughly sketched out"—[Laughter]—"in this private letter, might be a settlement of the difficulty, and, as the House knows"— [At this stage Mr. J. CHAMBERLAIN entered the House.] I do not know that it will be necessary for me to proceed further with the quotation.


I really do not think it is necessary to pursue the matter further.


I have a telegram which I ask your permission, Sir, to read.


If the matter goes further I shall have to hear the whole Debate. The House may listen to a personal explanation, but it is impossible for me to go into the whole Debate on one side and the other.

MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)

Mr. Speaker, I have not been in the House long enough to have heard what has taken place in my absence; but this telegram has been put into my hands. It is addressed to the Right Hon. Joseph Chamberlain, and is as follows:— I have read your statement in The Daily Post. It is true and singularly accurate. DUIGNAN.

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