HC Deb 11 June 1936 vol 313 cc413-6

3.54 p.m.


No Member of this House ever addressed it under such painful circumstances as I do to-day, and I know I express the sentiments of all parties when I hope that never again will any Member be similarly placed. I emphasised in my letter of resignation to the Prime Minister that no Member of a Government had any right to consider his personal position; the best interests of his country must always be the paramount consideration. Therefore, when the Tribunal concluded its public sittings I immediately tendered my resignation from the Government, and gave my reasons. I feel sure the House will agree that I took the only course open to me in my position. The Tribunal has now given its report and it is public property. The Members of this House will be able themselves to form their own judgment on the evidence and the findings. I ought, however, to state that I made it clear to my personal friends that, whatever the findings of the Tribunal, I intended to accept them without challenge, not because a judicial body is infallible and unable to make mistakes—indeed, if that were so there would be no need of the provision made for a Court of Appeal, although in this case there is none—but because I believed, and still believe, there is no fairer or more impartial court in the world than a British judicial tribunal, which, I am certain, is not influenced by either party prejudice or class bias. I believe that of this Tribunal, however keenly I feel the bearing of the report upon myself. I do not, therefore, intend to go into details. I must let those who have read all the evidence and the report judge for themselves. I am, however, entitled to say, and I do say, to this House, regardless of any report, that I never consciously gave a Budget secret away. That I repeat, in spite of the Tribunal's findings. To attempt to deal in detail with some of my private affairs would be as painful to me as it would be unfair to this House. This much, however, I will say: My vices, if they are vices, have always been open, and never disguised, even from my own family.

I ask the House to bear with me a few moments while I explain my future attitude. After resigning my Cabinet seat I am still a Member of this House. Very naturally I have received much advice, and the course I have decided upon is a course that I know will cause keen disappointment to many, but it is a course which follows the dictates of my own conscience, and in so grave a personal matter that is the sole test. I was urged, and especially by my most loyal supporters in Derby, to stick fast, and not resign. I appreciate their reasoning and their loyalty, but all my life I have urged the people of this country to look up to this House as the greatest democratic assembly in the world; to do nothing and allow people to say, as they would be entitled to say, that democracy was not being given a chance to express its view, would belie all my past principles, and I refuse to do it. I have been urged to resign and fight Derby again. Many of my friends still believe I should win. Sir, I have not the strength left at present to fight a by-election; but even if I had, and if I won, that victory in a constituency could not wipe the stain of the Report from me—I should feel every day and every hour that it was a mockery; my conscience and my better self would revolt from it. I have rejected that advice.

I, therefore, intend to resign immediately. In thanking all parties in this House for their kindness, thought and generosity over a period of 27 years, I can only hope that during that long period I have made some contribution of benefit to what to-day is almost alone the bulwark of democratic Government the world over, and which I still want to go on unimpaired. I will only say that no words in this Debate can wound me more than I have been wounded; nothing can be ever said that can humiliate me more than I have already been humiliated. But I can at least go to the one who shares all my trials and all my triumphs, and who still believes in me in this, the darkest hour of my life.

4.2 p.m.


I ask the House to bear with me while I make a personal explanation in what will be my last address to this Parliament. Until to-day I had not the slightest intention of resigning my seat, but having regard to the action taken by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) I feel that it would be impossible for me to take up a different position. I wish to reiterate emphatically that neither the right hon. Member for Derby nor any other Cabinet Minister has ever consciously or unconsciously disclosed to me any information whatsoever of a confidential nature. I would only ask the House to hear my reasons. When I received information of the appalling decision of the Tribunal, I had one definite conviction. Conscious as I was of the grave injustice done to me, I knew I could rest assured, after reading the recent speech of the Lord Chancellor, that the matter would not be allowed to remain where it is, and that I should have an absolute right to be tried in a court of justice, where my case could be tried alone, where I should have full notice of the charge made against me, where only properly and admissible evidence would be given both for me and against me, but where no matters concerning other people of which I had never heard and whose very existence was unknown to me, would be introduced, with all the prejudice that such introduction might invoke. To my horror I learned yesterday for the first time that no such opportunity was to be afforded to me. There is to be no prosecution; my case is never to be tried.

I would ask right hon. and hon. Members to visualise the position in which I now find myself. I have been condemned, and apparently I must suffer for the rest of my life from a finding against which there is no appeal, upon evidence which apparently does not justify a trial, and there is now no method open to me by which I can bring the true and full facts, before a, jury of my fellow-men. With the greatest respect, Mr. Speaker, I cannot conceive that the combined ingenuity and learning of the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General could not have devised some method by which the vital issues raised could be properly and fairly tried in a court of justice in the usual way. Personally, I should have been quite prepared to risk the prejudice referred to by the Attorney-General in his statement yesterday. If, therefore, these hon. and learned Gentlemen have failed to devise a method of giving me a trial, how can I ask this House to acquit me?

If any good may come from this, the most miserable moment of my life, I can only hope that my position may do something to prevent any other person in this country being subject to the humiliation and the wretchedness which I have suffered, without trial, without appeal and without redress. Can it be wondered that I feel from the bottom of my heart that I am the victim of a grave injustice? I have tried to serve this House and my constituents faithfully to the best of my ability for 14 years, and I now leave it with only one consolation—absolute knowledge of my innocence, although I am, apparently, to be denied the opportunity of proving it. Even now I hope and pray that some means may still be available in future to enable me to prove my integrity. Mr. Speaker, I propose immediately to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds.