HC Deb 11 May 1897 vol 49 cc201-3
MR. JOHN MORLEY (Montrose Burghs)

I wish to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he can give the House any information as to the stale of negotiations between the Government of Greece and the Powers. Perhaps I may be pardoned for reminding the right hon. Gentleman of the fact that yesterday in answer to a similar question he appealed to me not to press it, on the ground that negotiations were pending—[The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "Hear, hear !"]—and that therefore it would not be desirable that he should give any information on the subject. But in another place, in answer to what was practically the same Question, a tolerably full answer was given by the Prime Minister, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for submitting to him that such n method for dealing with a Question fairly put from this side of the House is not treating the House with that consideration to which it is entitled, above all from its Leader. [Cheers.]


I think the incident to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is an indication of the inconvenience winch arises from the double demand made upon us by hon. Gentlemen opposite. One demand is that we should give answers to Questions of which the very shortest notice has been sent to us and the other demand is that the information given by Ministers in this House should be identical with the information given on the same day by a Minister in the other House. Let me tell the House what happened yesterday and it is merely an illustration of what has happened two or three times before. At a quarter past three I received notice of the right hon. Gentleman's Question.


I gave it at two o'clock.


I was away at two o'clock; in fact, I was at luncheon. [Laughter.] I actually received the notice a little alter three. I went straight to the Foreign Office. Lord Salisbury was not there, and his private secretary could not inform me where he was. I waited there until half-past three, when I had to come here to answer questions. I carefully considered all the information at the disposal of the Government. and I came to the conclusion that I should be running a risk of making unnecessary difficulties in the conduct of delicate negotiations if, while these negotiations were going on, I were, without consulting with the Foreign Minister, to give any information to this House. [Cheers.] The Foreign Minister, it turns out, as I have since heard, was at Buckingham Palace. He then came down to the House of Lords quite ignorant of the fact that I had received private notice of a question. He was asked a question, and, of course, with that liberty of action which only a Foreign Minister can have—the Minister, in other words, who has all the threads of negotiations in his hands, and who has interviews with foreign ambassadors which no other Minister but the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister has—he very naturally gave all the information in his power. Then the right hon. Gentleman is indignant—no, I will not say indignant—but he makes, not unnaturally, the complaint that the same information is not given in both Houses at the same time. All I can say is, that if either Lord Salisbury or I had received private notice early enough that identical questions were going to be asked, precisely the same answer would have been given in both places. [Cheers.] It may perhaps be to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman to know that if the House of Lords yesterday received information which was not vouchsafed to the House of Commons, I shall be able to-day to give this House information which I presume has not vet been given to the House of Lords. ["Hear, hear !" and laughter.] In answer to the Question he tins put to me, I may inform him that the requisite instructions have been received this morning by all the representatives at Athens, and that mediation was offered by them and accepted by Greece. ["Hear, hear !"] I have no further information at present to give the House.


I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. I do not propose to take up a moment of the time of the House in entering into any controversy with him as to the earlier part of his answer. I was not indignant—[Cheers.]—because we on this side of the House are getting rather accustomed to this kind of treatment, therefore there was no surprise on our part. [Cheers.] I would only say this, that I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have told the Prime Minister that a question was about to be asked, and that he did not feel himself in a position to answer it. Sill, I pass over that, and I hope that in the future the House of Commons will be as well treated as it has been to-day. [Cheers.]