HC Deb 22 July 1914 vol 65 cc603-6

12.0 M.


I want to raise a question arising out of some answers of the Prime Minister this afternoon to which I think I can refer without touching on the subject matter of the Conference, on which the questions arose. The reason why I want to raise it principally is that I think after all the Private Member of this House is entitled to a little more information about what is arranged either by our own Front or between our own Front Bench and the Front Bench opposite. I should like to call the attention of those in charge of business that when the original statement was made to this House it was made in such a way that no discussion could arise upon it, and only questions could be put, which of course could be closed down by yourself, Sir, going on to other business. I do not object to that: I think that is a form of the House that can be used. But I want to point out that it prevented us at that moment from discussing the particular point.

The second point I have to raise is this: Members of this House know that the question was with regard to the publication of facts in particular newspapers. I do not mind how they got the information. It may have been by a newspaper coup, or it may have been given away. That does not concern me. But what does concern me is that I have yet to know, and this House has yet to know who are the Members who are attending that Conference. In so far as I have been able to ascertain, all the information that I can glean is from the columns of the daily newspapers, and from illustrations which appear in the halfpenny illustrated papers, presumably gleaned at the gates of Buckingham Palace. I do think that we are entitled to obtain our information in some other way, and to know, from the Prime Minister, who is attending that Conference. I put a question to the Prime Minister to-day as to whether those attending that Conference had laid down any conditions as to what position they should take up in entering upon the Conference. The Prime Minister said he could not say. Apparently he could say with regard to a good many other things, and I do not know why we should not be told whether the Conference is being held unconditionally or under certain conditions.

I wish to protest as a private Member of this House that we should get our information with regard to those who are attending this Conference from the columns of the newspapers, and no responsible Minister has yet told us who are attending that Conference. There is no record of it or any record I know of in this House of Commons, and I think we are entitled to take note of the fact. I also asked the Prime Minister why it was being held in Buckingham Palace. I put that question because this House in which we sit is also a Royal Palace, and as this Conference is composed of Members of the House of Lords and of the House of Commons, I should have thought seeing that it differed from all other kinds of Conferences, with you, Sir, presiding at that Conference, that it would be much more appropriate that it should have been dissociated altogether from the domestic Palace in which it is being held, and held in this Palace where I think it is fitting all such Conferences should be held. The fourth point, and the last, I want to make is that the Prime Minister told us from the Front Bench this afternoon that he assumes all responsibility for the Speech which has appeared in the Press. I want to be quite clear about that. I do not want to elaborate on that point to-night because presumably at some other period we shall have the opportunity of discussing the whole affair, but the Prime Minister made it quite clear that it was by the unanimous vote of the Conference that that Speech was published.

I should like to know if the Cabinet itself considered that Speech, and approved of it being published or whether the publication depended entirely upon the unanimous vote of the Conference, which is not the Cabinet, and which does not represent all the opinion in this House, and which contains Members of whom we entertain different opinions. I want to be quite clear that at the present moment the Cabinet has not allowed this Conference to supersede it in directing those in authority as to their position on the Irish Home Rule Bill. I think those are questions which a Private Member is entitled to have answered. I do not mind the Prime Minister saying that he was not going to be here to-night. He is a very hard worked man at present, a man who has a great many responsibilities, and do not complain of his absence, but probably somebody else on the Front Bench can reply on these points. I should like to emphasise that a great deal of the misconstruction and misconception arising on these points would be cleared up if the private Member in this House was taken more, not into confidence, but at any rate given the information to which they are entitled as Members of this House from that Front Bench, and these questions would not require to be put. I do not want to say more than that. I think the House will agree I have carefully avoided raising the issue of the Conference, and that nothing I have said in these remarks can in anyway be deemed to be interfering in any sense with what is going on, but is simply an attempt to assert the right of the Private Member to information so far as it can be given on those important points.


I will make it my business to convey to the Prime Minister the effect of of what my hon. Friend has said to-night. My hon. Friend is aware that the Prime Minister could not be here, and he will realise that it is for the Prime Minister himself to deal with the matters to which he has called attention. I do not think it can fairly be said that the Prime Minister does not make every effort to give all reasonable information to the House on matters which it is proper for the House to know, and I feel certain that anything the Prime Minister can properly add to what, he said at question time will be in due course added. He stated that there was nothing that he could add at the moment, and I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that the Prime Minister would not have said that unless he had good reason to do so.