HC Deb 03 July 1941 vol 372 cc1507-11
Mr. Kirkwood

I want to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make a statement regarding a speech which I made in the House on 29th May, in which I said that many of my people who had been blitzed were treated as if they were criminals. On that day, the Secretary of State for Scotland replied to my speech. On Thursday, 12th June, when I was not present, and without any intimation that it was going to be done, the hon. and gallant Member for Eastern Renfrew [Major Lloyd) rose in his place and tried to refute the statements that had been made by me, in particular about a hut in the place where I live. I described the conditions there. The hon. and gallant Member said that he held in his hand a letter from the parents living in that hut, in which there is a father and mother and 13 children. It is a single-apartment hut and its dimensions are 30 feet by 16 feet. There is no point in my going into this in detail, as the description is in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and is absolutely accurate.

Since I raised the matter all the people around have been very good to these folk. Then somebody drafted the document which I have in my hand; it is the letter which the hon. and gallant Member said that he held in his hand, a letter signed by the parents of the 13 children. I leave this letter to the judgment of the House, and I leave to the judgment of the House whether or not it was signed by the parents. I knew nothing about the letter until I came here on the Tuesday after the hon. and gallant Member's speech, when I was informed that this attack had been made on my veracity. I got a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT, and immediately I read it I could not contain myself. I went and cancelled my hotel booking, and went right back to Scotland, and went to the hut to make inquiries whether these folk really had gone behind me in this fashion. I learned that the people who had started to be good to them had come and submitted this document to the poor woman, the wife of a poor labouring man, with 13 children, and asked whether she would put her name to it. She did not know what she was putting her name to. In the evening, the same people came back to get the husband to sign the document. It then dawned on them that there was something wrong, and he refused. Now, the conditions in which these folk have to live, which I described to the House, are without a shadow of doubt scandalous. I have no objection to anyone having the most opposite point of view to that which I have. We are sent here to put forward opposing points of view; our constituents send us here to do that. What I object to is that the hon. and gallant Member said that he held in his hand a letter signed by the parents. How could he make such a statement in the House? The document is not written by the parents; it is written by someone who is not a parent. It appears to be signed by the mother. The signature raises a strong presumption that she could not have written the statement. It is not adopted by her as her letter, and the signature is not witnessed. I want the House to believe me; when I make a statement here I make it in all sincerity and believe it to be true. I know this case. I know my constituents. I live with them. The hon. and gallant Member who made that statement never went near the place, and he knows nothing about the state of affairs under which I have to labour at the moment; and to finish, I want the House to understand that: Who steals my purse, steals trash; … But he that filches from me my good name, Robs me of that which not enriches him, And makes me poor indeed

Major Lloyd

I am sure the House will join with me in my regret that this unfortunate misunderstanding has arisen between the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) and myself. Nevertheless, this question, like all others, has two sides, and I want to give the House the simple facts without any adornment. The House, I know, will not allow itself to be swayed by the hon. Member's eloquence or his unquestioned sincerity and depth of feeling, to which I gladly pay tribute. What are the facts? The hon. Member made a speech in the House on 29th May which contained one specially invidious remark, namely, that the hon. Member's constituents who had become evacuees through enemy action were being treated like criminals. This remark was, rightly, repudiated by the Secretary of State for Scotland, and it inevitably caused dismay and indeed anger in many parts of Scotland, especially in my own constituency and the neighbouring count', in which I live and where most of these evacuees were being cared for and housed with great self-sacrifice and devotion on the part of their hosts. On my return home next day I immediately became the recipient of indignant protests, and much evidence was forthcoming to show how totally incorrect was the hon. Member's sweeping statement.

Particularly, the hon. Member quoted the case of the family of man and wife and 13 children, to which he has just referred. I received bitter complaints of the; hon. Member's remarks in this connection from the local people who had been making it their business from the beginning to care for this family in the girl guides' hut where they had had to be housed, because, being a family of 13, they had refused to be separated, and it is not very easy to house a family of 13. The chairman of the committee of that hut called on the family after he had seen in the Press a report of the speech in which the hon. Member had stated that the evacuees were being treated as criminals. The family in the interview indignantly repudiated any suggestion of discomfort in the hut or bad treatment. The mother, voluntarily, without any pressure whatever, agreed to sign a statement which had to be written for her, for the simple reason that she was virtually illiterate. This statement emphatically contradicts the suggestion made by the hon. Member. The statement uses the plural "We" throughout and in a covering letter from the chairman, a man of the highest local repute, who has sent me the letter, I was assured that he had seen the father personally in the presence of another member of the committee, and that the father fully approved of the signing of her letter by his wife and said he was in full agreement with its contents. The covering letter, in addition, entirely repudiated the statements about the conditions and amenities of the hut.

Feeling, therefore, that the hon. Member had made publicly a statement which was not borne out by the information in my possession, I took occasion during my speech on the Civil Defence Services on 12th June to take him to task and to express the hope that in due course he would express regret for his statement, which he has not done. If the genuineness and authenticity of my information and the letters which I quoted are doubted I will gladly send the originals to the Secretary of State for Scotland, as, indeed, I have already shown them to the hon. Member himself, so that he may cause an impartial report to be made to him on the authenticity of my correspondence and the probity of its authors. I intensely resent any suggestion that the correspondence is not completely authentic or any suggestion against the probity of its authors. I trust the House will agree that it is right that I should offer these remarks on the hon. Member's statement, and I very much regret that I find myself unable to withdraw one word of my speech.

Mr. Leslie

May I ask whether notice was given to the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) before the matter was raised in the House?

Major Lloyd

Perhaps I may be allowed to answer. Unfortunately I did not know that the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs would not be in the House when my statement was made, and the only opportunity I had of making the speech was during the Debate on the Civil Defence Services. Nobody deplores more than I do that the hon. Member was not there on that occasion.

Mr. Gallacher

May I put this point? The hon. and gallant Member now admits that the letter which he read here and which he said was a letter from the parents, was not written by either of the parents and was not signed by the parents.

Earl Winterton

On a point of Order. I think a very important question of procedure is here involved. To the best of my recollection, no personal statement can be made to this House after Questions, except by way of explanation or withdrawal of a statement previously made. We have had on this occasion something like a Debate and, with great respect, I submit that that is most inconvenient. If one Member makes a series of shall I say, without wishing to give offence, rather strong statements and another hon. Member replies to them. —[AN HON. MEMBER: "Or equally strong denials."] —or equally strong denials, then, as there is no question before the House it means that other Members of the House are precluded from expressing their opinions on the matter if they wish to do so.

Mr. Speaker

With regard to the point which has been raised by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winter-ton), I would point out that when an hon. Member is accused of having made a statement in the House which is inaccurate, it is customary to allow him to make an explanation. It is quite a common practice in this House, when a Member is accused of having said something which is inaccurate, to give him the opportunity of raising the matter, not in order to try to prove whether the thing which he has stated is true in itself, but in order to show that he himself has not been guilty of deliberate misrepresentation. The only question before the House on an occasion of this kind is whether the hon. Member who made the statement complained of did so in all good faith or not. That is for the House to judge, and I think on this occasion the discussion, if it may so be called, which I have allowed, has justified itself. I feel certain that everyone in the House realises that the hon. Member for Dunbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) really believed what he said to be absolutely true.

Earl Winterton

May I, Mr. Speaker, thank you for your Ruling and add that I did not intend to call into comment your action on the matter? I desired merely to call attention to something which seemed rather different from the well-established procedure of the House.