HC Deb 29 March 1928 vol 215 cc1345-8

I wish to raise a question of Privilege. I desire to call attention to the issue of the "Times" of to-day which contains a report of the speech made two days ago by Mr. Lionel Curtis at a special meeting of the Commonwealth Trust. The speech has been communicated and inserted as an advertisement in the "Times," and it occupies five columns. In that speech occur the following passages: In the inquiry for which your directors are asking more is involved than the questions whether a remedy for wrong is due, and to whom. The much larger question is raised how far our domestic institutions are to be used for their own purposes by foreign interests. The speech goes on to say: Now a Member of Parliament who champions a foreign financial interest should be called upon to state the exact nature of his previous connection with its promoters. … Lord Templetown should be given an opportunity of explaining under cross-examination the history of his previous relations with Herr Preiswerk-Imhoff. Later on in the speech it says: The persons other than Lord Temple-town who championed Herr Preiswerk Imhoff's claim in Parliament were"— and he mentions several members in another place; and Mr. Wedgwood and Sir Robert Hamilton. He concludes by saying: I realise the gravity of what I am saying, but beg you to remember that I have asked to be allowed to say it only where I could be cross-examined in a court of inquiry. I do not suppose that there is any Member of this House who imagines or believes that any question put down by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) or myself was ever intended to be in anything but the public interest, and, so far as he and I are concerned, we are really not interested in the allegations made in this paper, but it is the privilege of this House that is at stake. If it can be alleged that the ordinary question in this House must be assumed to have behind it some nebulous financial interest, then I think that this House ought to enter the normal protest against a breach of its privilege. So far from having a financial interest contrary to that of the company, I am a substantial shareholder in it. I heard the speech delivered, and I can tell this House that the speech as delivered was far worse than it reads in the "Times" to-day. It has been severely edited. But the point is, are Members of this House—Lord Templetown and the others can look after themselves—are Members of this House to have charges levelled 'against them which every Member of this House knows, both for himself and his colleagues, are utterly unjustifiable?


Perhaps the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will give me the paper. He was good enough to draw my attention to this matter before the House met, and I thought it my duty to read with the most careful scrutiny the whole of the speech to which he has referred. I may say that every Member of the House knows the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for New- castle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) and the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir It. Hamilton) well enough to accept at once what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] With regard to the matter of privilege, after a most careful scrutiny, I cannot find in this speech any matter which comes technically within our Rules of Privilege, and which, therefore, is a matter that I can submit to the House on a question of Privilege.


I ask the indulgence of the House in order to make a personal statement with regard to the subject-matter of the statement made by my right hon. and gallant Friend. On the 23rd instant, the "Times" newspaper published a letter from Sir George Craik which reflected on the Parliamentary conduct of certain Members of Parliament, and which contained unfounded insinuations against myself. The offending paragraph reads as follows: But what I want to ask is, Why does this interest Mr. Walter Baker, M.P.? It evidently does, because he asked questions in the House of Commons on 12th March and again yesterday. We know that the foreign company which is laying claim to our properties is represented in the House of Lords by Viscount Templetown. Have they now secured Mr. Baker as their representative in the House of Commons? At the earliest possible moment, Mr. Speaker, I brought the matter to your notice, and you were good enough to express the opinion that the insinuations were not sufficient in themselves to justify my troubling this House with them; and, while I can hardly say that I agreed with that opinion, out of courtesy to yourself and to the Chair I decided not to raise the matter at that particular moment. But, in view of what has been said here to-day by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), I feel that it is important that I should make it perfectly clear that there is no justification whatever for the insinuations contained in the letter to the "Times," nor for any of the insinuations which were uttered at the meeting of the Commonwealth Trust. I have no financial or personal interest either in this matter or in any other matter which I have ever brought before the House of Commons, and I would beg the House to accept that statement. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I have received no communication, written or spoken, from any foreign source, and I would like to tell the House that the whole of my information was obtained from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Parliamentary Debates in another place, and in subsequent consultation with gentlemen of more than one party in this Chamber. I ventured to put those Questions because I felt that a matter of first-class public policy was involved, and, modestly, if I may say so, in the hope that I might strengthen the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I am sorry to have troubled the House with this matter, but I felt that in the circumstances such a statement was necessary.