§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
My Lords, before the business of the House is proceeded with, I wish to make one or two remarks in reference to a matter with regard to which I see that my conduct has been called in question in the other House. My Lords, it is said that I met Sir Dighton Probyn with the view of enabling a person who was exposed to a serious charge to escape from justice. My meeting with Sir Dighton Probyn happened in this wise. I was coming from France—I think it was on the 18th October. When I landed at Dover I found a telegram from Sir Dighton Probyn asking if he could see me in London. I had no notion what it was about—I imagined it had something to do with Foreign Office business connected with the journeys of the Prince of Wales. I replied that I should be passing through Town, and that he would find me at the Great Northern Railway Station in time for the 7 o'clock train. I missed the 7 o'clock train, but I arrived in time for the half-past 7 train, and Sir Dighton Probyn came to me there. He then informed me what he wanted to do was to ask whether there was any ground for certain charges which had been made in the newspapers against sundry persons whom he named. My reply was, that so far as I knew, there was no ground whatever for them, no vestige of evidence against anyone except one person, whose name it is not necessary I should mention, and I said that, as against that person, I understood that the evidence was not thought to be sufficient in the judgment of those whose business it was to decide. I think I added—but of that I am not quite certain—that rumours had reached me that further evidence had been obtained, but I did not know what its character was. My Lords, I am not ashamed to say that that is all I recollect of a casual interview for which I was in no degree prepared, to which I did not attach the slightest importance, and of which I took no notes whatever. The train started very soon afterwards. The interview 1619 was brief and hurried; and, as far as I know, the rest of the conversation principally consisted of expressions on the part of Sir Dighton Probyn of absolute disbelief in the charges which were levelled against the person whom I have indicated, and of answers of a more reserved character on my part. I cannot give your Lordships any positive; information as to the precise language that was used at that interview; but I can give you negative information. I am quite certain that I never said, as has been imputed to me, that a warrant was about to be issued the next day, because such a statement would have been absolutele inconsistent with what I am certain I did say, that, in the judgment of the legal authorities, the evidence was insufficient. You cannot issue a warrant against a person if the evidence is insufficient. I certainly conveyed no secrets to Sir Dighton Probyn, for the best of all possible reasons, that I had no secrets to convey. I had been abroad, and I had no further information except mere rumour of the precise condition in which the affair stood; and I may add that I can aver in the most confident manner that the suggestion which has been made that a man of Sir Dighton Probyn's character and career could have appointed an interview with me for the purpose of worming out matter which he might use for the purpose of defeating the ends of justice is the wildest and most malignant imagination that has ever been conceived. For the rest, my Lords, the subject is not one that lends itself to extensive treatment, or that commends itself for lengthened debate; but I thought it right to say these few words, in order to give any noble Lords who might wish to avail themselves of it the opportunity of questioning me on the matter, should they desire to do so. To this House I am responsible, and I desire to act fully no to that responsibility.