HC Deb 06 April 1925 vol 182 cc1837-9

I rise for the purpose of calling the attention of the House to a statement made by the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) during the Debate in this House on Friday last, which I consider to bear the construction of a very serious implication so far as my personal character is concerned. Not only is my personal character involved, but so, if I might suggest, are the traditions and dignity of this House, for if the privilege attaching to statements made on the Floor of the House of Commons is to be used for making statements that are derogatory to the personal character of any Member of this House, it is a most serious handicap, leaving no opportunity for those statements being disproved in a Court of Law. The statement made by the Noble Lady to which I refer was: If I told all that I knew about the hon. Member, I would give the House something to think of to-day. I might go into some of the company that the hon. Member has kept that would not reflect credit on him or his party.—[OFFICIALREPORT, 3rd April, 1925. col. 1735, Vol. 182.] That is, perhaps, one of the most serious implications that has ever been made across the Floor of the House, from whatever party it may have come, and I feel that the consequences to a Member suffering under the disability of these most damaging implications and inferences throughout the country and throughout his constituency are so serious and severe that the matter calls for no play-time phrases, but for a definite and unqualified withdrawal and an expression of regret at the same time. I wrote on Friday to the Noble Lady a letter, of which this is a copy:

"Dear Lady Astor,

During the Debate this afternoon you stated, 'If I told all that I knew about the hon. Member, I would give the House something to think of to-day. I might go into some of the company that the hon. Member has kept that would not reflect credit on him or his party.' This is a most serious and unwarranted attack upon my personal character which I cannot permit to pass. I propose raising the question on Monday with the Speaker as a matter of privilege and a question of personal honour. I think, upon reflection, you will see the gross imputation, and I trust you will either make a statement in the House on Monday, or send me a letter unqualifyingly withdrawing the imputation, so that I may read same to the House of Commons. Trusting to hear from you,

Yours sincerely,


I received a letter from the Noble Lady which I propose to read to the House.

Viscountess ASTOR

It was not from me. It was from my political secretary.


That is the difficulty, but I had better not say anything more. When interruptions are complained of, it is really bad grace to say that "it is not from me but from my political secretary." I take it, however, that the Noble Lady accepts responsibility for this letter.

Viscountess ASTOR indicated assent.


This is the letter:

"4th April, 1925.

Dear Sir,

Lady Astor desires me to thank you for your letter, and to say with reference to the statement you quote, that she has already publicly withdrawn it. If, however, you wish to re-open the matter by raising it in the House on Monday, it is, of course, open to you so to do.

Yours faithfully."

I say, Mr. Speaker, that the tone of that letter is worse than the original. The public withdrawals, qualified as they were, conveyed a further imputation that whilst it may not be my moral character it was intended to question, it was that I was associated with the liquor trade, inferring that I receive payment from the liquor trade.

Viscountess ASTOR indicated dissent.


That I deny. I am more concerned about the record of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I ask from the Noble Lady distinctly and definitely an apology, and an unqualified withdrawal of the statement made on Friday.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am rather surprised that the hon. Member has made reference to-day to what I said on Friday in answer to an interjection by him, because I thought I had made then a complete withdrawal of the words I used. But if the hon. Member thought I did not, I will do so now most unreservedly. I only wish to add, what I hope he understands, that in what I said I had no intention of making any reference whatever to his personal character. The hon. Member has just made a reference to drink and temperance. As a matter of fact, what I had in mind on Friday, in using the words I did, was his sympathetic attitude towards the activities of a certain body dealing with drink. But I will not go into that matter, since I only desire to assure the House and the hon. Member that I entirely withdraw the words to which the hon. Member took exception.


I am much obliged.