HC Deb 11 April 1907 vol 172 cc385-90
MR. CLEMENT EDWARDS (Denbigh District)

I greatly regret to have to trouble the House with a personal explanation, but certain circumstances have arisen which constrain me to ask the indulgence of the House for a few minutes. An hon. Member of this House has seen fit to go into my constituency and to make allegations against myself amounting to this: That the votes which I have given in support of the Government from time to time are not votes which have been freely and conscientiously given, but are votes which, in effect, the Government have purchased by monetary payment to me through the Liberal Party. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil, speaking in Wrexham, in my constituency, on 24th March, said— Clement Edwards is paid by Liberal money. Clement Edwards and I have been friends for twenty years; but remember, if the Liberals are going to pay your member they are going to claim his vote in the House of Commons. I had hoped, Mr. Speaker, that I should not have found it necessary to trouble the House, but that I should have been able by means of correspondence with the hon. Member to have got a withdrawal of the statement. I wrote to him on 28th March, as follows:— My dear Keir Hardie, From the local papers I see you are reported as saying in your speech last Sunday in my constituency that Clement Edwards is paid by Liberal money. I need not say that this statement that I am paid by the Liberal Party is entirely false, and I must ask you to withdraw it. You and I may differ, as we do, in political methods, but this difference does not justify you in abusing your Parliamentary position by going into my constituency and deliberately circulating statements of a personal character which you must know to be untrue. Awaiting your reply, yours truly, CLEMENT EDWARDS. On the following day I received a reply from the hon. Member as follows:— Dear Edwards, The terms of your letter are such as almost to preclude reply. I have not seen the paper from which you purport to quote, nor do I recognise in the alleged quotation anything said by me at Wrexham on Sunday last. Yours faithfully. KEIR HARDIE. On the following day I sent the following letter:— My dear Hardie, I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of March 29th, and have taken the trouble to procure the report of your speech in three local papers winch I enclose. You will see that you are reported in all of them as laving said that 'Clement Edwards is paid by Liberal money.' This, as I said before, is entirely untrue, and I must ask you to withdraw the statement without qualification so that the withdrawal may have the same publicity as the original statement. Awaiting your reply, yours truly, CLEMENT EDWARDS. The newspaper cuttings I sent were from the North Wales Guardian—a Conservative paper—and the Wrexham Advertiser, a Liberal Paper.

I waited for a week and did not get a reply. Thereupon, on 8th April, I wrote to the hon. Member as follows:— Dear Keir Hanlie, In default of a letter from you withdrawing your untrue statement at Wrexham that I am paid by Liberal money, I have had consultation with the Speaker on the matter. With his sanction I propose raising the question in the House on Thursday afternoon, unless in the meantime I get a withdrawal of the statement from you. If you are not able to be in your place on Thursday afternoon I shall be glad of a note from you saying which day you will be. Yours truly, CLEMENT EDWARDS. The hon. Member replied on the 9th April, 1907:— Dear Edwards, On my return to London last evening I found your letter dated 2nd April and also your further communication of 8th April. I have again to repeat that I do not recognise in the Press cuttings anything that I said at Wrexham. I hope to be in my place on Thursday when the House meets. Yours very truly, J. KEIR HARDIE. To this I answered on the same day:— Dear Hardie, I have yours of this date. You repeat that you do not recognise in the Press cuttings anything that you said at Wrexham. This is neither conclusive nor satisfactory. The passage in question could not have been invented by all the newspapers. Perhaps you will kindly tell me in what respects the Press reports are inaccurate, and what you really did say, Yours truly, CLEMENT EDWARDS. The hon. Member's reply, dated 9th April, was as follows:— Dear Edwards, Had the question with which yours of yesterday's date concludes been put in either your first or second communication, I should nave answered it. Since, however, you have seen fit to give the Press notice of your intention to raise the matter in the House, I shall wait until I have heard your statement before making any reply, and make it in such form as to ensure equal publicity with your statement. Yours truly, J. KEIR HARDIE. I only desire to add that there is not one single word of truth in these allegations. It is perfectly true that, in common, I believe, with the poorer Members of every Party in this House, I received a small portion of my election expenses, I myself, out of my own pocket, finding the great bulk. No pledge, however, was asked of me, and no pledge was given. The statement that I have been paid by Liberal money, and that in consequence I have been required to vote in a certain way in this House, is absolutely and entirely untrue. I leave it to the hon. Member for Merthyr either to substantiate the statement or to withdraw it.

MR.KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)

I made no such statement. I was not referring to the hon. Member. I was addressing a meeting in what I subsequently learnt to be his constituency. I was conducting an argument to show that the Labour Party, since it paid its own Members by funds subscribed by trade unionists, was an independent Party. I pointed out that, because the working people of North Wales had trusted the Liberal and Conservative Parties, not one Labour Member had been returned from North Wales. That is the point at which the hon. Member takes up my statement, and tells half the truth concerning it. At this stage someone in the meeting shouted "Clement Edwards," and his supporters cheered. Others derided the statement, and in the midst of the noise I replied, "Clement Edwards has his election expenses paid by the Liberal Party." Someone said, "No, no," and I repeated, "paid by the Liberal Party," and proceeded with my argument, that if a Party paid its Members it expected their votes. I do not suppose the Liberal Party would pay Members to vote against it [An HON. MEMBER; It is a quibble.] The point I want to make is that, but for the interruption, the hon. Member's name would never have been introduced. It was the pure interjection of his name by one of his own supporters that led to the matter being mentioned at all. I repeat what I said in my letter, that if he had not blazoned abroad that he was going to raise this question to-day, if he had not assumed that the report in the Press was correct, he would have had a correct report, as I have now given it to him; but he preferred to assume the report was correct, and proceeded to demand a withdrawal and a public apology.


I did not ask for a public apology.


I shall read the letter.


Do so.

MR. KEIE HARDIE (reading the letter)— This was entirely untrue, and I am asking you to withdraw the statement without qualification so that the withdrawal may have the same publicity as the original untrue statement.


Where is the demand for an apology?


The apology was demanded in the first letter. [Cries of "Read it"!]


I regret the time of the House has been wasted over this matter. If I had cared to bring every case of this kind before the House in which I have been charged by hon. Members and the Press tipsters of the Party opposite with being in the pay of the Tory Party, supported by Tory gold, this House would never have been free of such complaints. I repeat that what I said was that the hon. Member had his election expenses paid, and I went on to add that I had no personal feeling against the hon. Member. I was not referring to him, but it was a general statement of principles. I said, and I repeat, that a Party which pays a Member or pays the expenses of a Member expects that Member to vote for the Party in the House of Commons.


Do I understand that the lion. Member—


I think the incident should close now.


asked whether the statement made by the hon. Member at Wrexham was not a breach of the privileges of the House.


I do not think there was any breach.


I meant the original statement made at Wrexham.


No, I did consider the matter from that point of view, and I came to the conclusion that it did not amount to a breach of privilege.

The subject then dropped.