HC Deb 20 August 1894 vol 29 cc28-31

I wish to ask the attention of the House for a brief time while I recall the circumstances under which the Draft Report of the Chairman of the Select Committee on the Irish Land Acts was published in certain papers, and in doing so I desire to make a personal explanation. It may be in the recollection of the House that on Thursday last the hon. Member for North Kerry drew the attention of the House to the publication in The Times of the particulars of the Draft Report of the Chairman of the Select Committee, and the Chief Secretary, who intervened in the observations which followed the statement of the hon. Member for North Kerry, told the House that that question had been raised very properly at the meeting of the Committee, and that the feeling of the Committee was that whoever had made this communication to the Press had been guilty of an act of impropriety, and to some extent an act of disloyalty to his colleagues on the Committee. The hon. Member for North Louth then put the question to you, Mr. Speaker, whether the newspapers which published these particulars should not be deprived of the privilege they enjoy of reporting the proceedings of this House, and you stated, in reply, that the newspapers might not be so guilty as the person who communicated the news. I now desire to call attention to a paragraph which appeared in the London correspondence of The Free-man's Journal of Friday, August 17, this being a paper with a large circulation in Ireland managed by a Board of Directors, the Chairman, and a member of which sit in this House, and a member of which was also, I believe, on the Select Committee. The paragraph ran as follows:— Mr. Sexton rendered a public service in drawing attention yesterday to the breach of faith committed by the representatives of the Orangemen in giving copies of the Draft Report to a certain newspaper. I need not say that the publication of that document does not include any special amount of enterprise, and if the Nationalist Members of the Committee took the same low view of their obligations as the Orangemen it could have been published in The Freeman as early as in any paper. A certain Scotch newspaper, I am told, had six columns of the Report, giving many paragraphs since omitted. The Committee sat again yesterday, and the revision of the Report was proceeded with. That revision was of an extensive character, and rendered the published Reports completely misleading in nearly every important respect. I desire to point out that that paragraph, in my judgment, casts a very serious reflection upon all the Members of the minority on the Committee, if it does not amount to an absolute and distinct allegation that they are responsible for the publication of the Reports. It certainly circumscribes the area of the charge, and points out that the Members who were responsible for the breach of Parliamentary etiquette were the Orange Representatives. That can only apply to myself or the hon. and gallant Member for North Down (Colonel Waring), as we are the only two persons on the Committee who are supposed to represent in any way the Orange interest in Ireland. I desire at once to give the most emphatic denial to the allegations contained in that paragraph. Neither I nor my hon. and gallant Friend ever communicated any Report to any newspaper on the subject, and no Member of the minority on the Committee has had any share whatever in conveying to the Press what purported to be the full Draft Report of the Chairman of the Committee. I hope that the House will not think that I have intruded in any way upon its time in making this personal explanation. The paragraph is couched in very serious language, and seems to convey an imputation upon Members of this House, amounting in effect to a breach of the Privileges of this House. I am, however, quite content with the opportunity which has been given to me to call attention to the subject, and of denying for myself and my hon. Friends the Members of the minority that we have had any share in conveying to organs of the Press the Draft Report of the Chairman.

MR. SEXTON (Kerry, N.)

The only observation I will make upon the statement of the hon. Gentleman is that I believe Members of the House are bound to accept his assurance as far as concerns himself; but I am not aware that he is in a position to give an assurance on the part of others—[Cries of "Oh!"]—I am entitled to say that, and certainly I am not aware that there is any law or practice of the House which binds the House to accept the assurance given by a Member on behalf of others who ought to be here to give it themselves.


I may say that I was asked, and other Members of the minority of the Committee were asked, to communicate to the Press this Draft Report. We were told by representatives of certain newspapers that if we did not other organs would get it, and were in possession of it. I consulted my friends, and we all agreed together that whatever might occur in any other quarter we would be bound by the confidential nature of the Draft Report until it was presented to the House, so that I am in a position to speak on behalf of my hon. Friends who are not here, as we all agreed to act together.