§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)
Mr. Speaker, I very much regret to have to bring under your notice and the notice of the House a personal matter, involving as I think the privileges of Members of this House. I exceedingly regret that I feel myself compelled to do so, because it affects one of our daily London newspapers. I desire to say I have no wish to come into collision with the newspaper Press. I am perfectly willing to be criticised, and I am perfectly willing to be absused by such newspapers as choose to criticise or abuse me, but, Sir, when they make statements concerning Members of this House which are absolutely false, I think it is time for Members to ask for the protection of this House. I simply ask for the same measure of justice to be meted out to me as a Member of the minority of Irish Members as was cheerfully given to the majority the other day when a precisely similar charge was made against them. The newspaper I refer to is The Daily Chronicle. What I desire to call attention to is contained in a descriptive article published in that journal on Tuesday. I regret to say I had not seen it in time to bring it under the notice of the House yesterday, but I did not see it until my attention was called 1402 to it by the hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. W. S. Caine), with whom, though he belongs to a different political Party, my friendship remains unchanged. He advised me to put myself in the hands of my friends, and I did so, and it is because of the advice I received from the Leaders of my own Party that I make the personal explanation I am about to offer. The Daily Chronicle of yesterday says:—After the Chief Secretary came an insupportable interval of ' T. W.' Each rasping sentence wound up with the paralytic energy of this tireless mercenary of Unionism.Now, Sir, I do not object to criticism or abuse; the only thing I ask is that false charges shall not be made. I wish to say emphatically to the House that since I entered Parliament seven years ago I have not received one farthing either from the Unionist Party or any other Party, from any individual or set of individuals for any form of service inside this House or outside of it. I say that when a great newspaper undertakes to publish such a charge as this it ought to be called upon to substantiate it. I am not the man to say that there is nothing to be said for mercenaries, for mercenaries have done good service to this country. As I understand it, however, a mercenary is a man who fights for hire in a cause in which he has no interest. Now I say that neither part of this assertion is true as regards myself. I feel the deepest interest in Irish politics. I may be wrong in my views, and I am in a minority in Ireland, but at all events I believe with all my heart and all my soul in the cause I am fighting for. Therefore I am not a mercenary in that sense, and I repeat that I never received a farthing from political parties or from any person or persons in this country or any other country for services in or outside Parliament of a political character. This statement is made by a great newspaper, but it was not written by the editor of that newspaper. I have the pleasantest relations with many members of the Press in many parts of the country, and I wish to say that I believe the editor of The Daily Chronicle is incapable of penning such a sentence. In other days I knew that gentleman well, and I make no charge against him save that he is personally responsible for 1403 the action of his subordinate. It was written by a gentleman who, by the privilege of this House, is allowed access to the Lobby of this House, and I say that makes it all the worse. Having had the opportunity of making this personal explanation, and giving this most categorical denial to the statement contained in that paragraph, I leave myself in the hands of the House, feeling certain that the Prime Minister will mete out the same justice to a political opponent as he has lately meted out, and rightly meted out, to his own supporters.
§ THE FIRST LORD or THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE,) Edinburgh, Midlothian
The first part of my duty after listening to the statement of the hon. Member is a pleasant and easy one. It is to thank him for having had the courtesy to apprise me this morning that it was his intention to raise this question. The second part of my duty, which is the more important, is to make the acknowledgment that the hon. Member has laid before the House a statement perfectly frank and perfectly comprehensive, which will, of course, be received by the entire House with the most absolute credit, and which disposes of every question which could be supposed to lie behind the mere question whether the newspaper to which he has called our attention has or has not gone beyond the limits of privilege. So far, for my own part, I think the matter is perfectly clear. I think the hon. Gentleman has gone to an advanced point of candour in admitting that the word "mercenary" is not absolutely, and under all circumstances a word of condemnation. A mercenary Member of Parliament is undoubtedly different from a mercenary soldier. I do not doubt that the use of the word has been due to a temporary inadvertence, but at the same time, in my opinion, the use of the word, whether it be with reference to a body of Members of this House, or whether it be with reference to a particular Member of this House, is a thing both to be regretted and in the most distinct manner to be condemned. In saying that I believe I am expressing the general sense of the House. I do not know whether we need proceed further 1404 in the matter. I remember we had a proceeding in some degree analogous a few days ago, but there is no doubt that the article which we then dealt with was of a considerably more complex character. It dealt with the question in detail, which I do not understand to be the case in the instance before us, and there was likewise, as you, Sir, in the valuable guidance which you gave us from the Chair, pointed out, on that occasion, unhappily, a distinct reference to Parliamentary corruption. Whether we were right or wrong in the course we then took, that reference unquestionably had a dominant influence upon the House. Now, I do not think that if it were moved that this is a Breach of the Privileges of the House, I could vote against such a Motion; but at the same time I bear in mind the advice which we received upon the former occasion at an intermediate stage of the proceedings; and, acting upon the sentiment which I have generally entertained, that unless there is a strong case, or what appears to be a strong case, we should pass these matters by without taking an absolute vote, I am not inclined to make a Motion myself. I think the hon. Member has, with great good taste, and in a most satisfactory manner, disposed of the whole question as regards himself, and I have no doubt the writer of this article will regret the error and the offence into which he has been betrayed. I hope this will be satisfactory to the hon. Member. Under all the circumstances I do not myself feel justified in submitting a Motion to the House.
§ SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
If I might presume to offer one word by way of counsel to the hon. Member for South Tyrone, it would be that I think he ought himself, or through his political friends, express his sense of the generous manner in which the Prime Minister has treated this question. So far as my advice can be of any service, I would course my hon. Friend to accept the course my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has suggested, and, having received condemnation of the article from the lips of the right hon. Gentleman, not to make any Motion on the subject. I would only suggest to the House in a few words that this is no light matter. The honour of this 1405 House as a whole is composed of the honour of every individual Member, and when a few weeks ago several Members of the House had applied to them the epithet "mercenaries," there was condemnation from every side of the House. Although the Prime Minister has said this statement is not made in such very direct terms, I do not think the effect of the charge is mitigated when a Member is pointed out directly by name and then is attacked as a Member of the House, and not in any other capacity, as being a paid mercenary. I think condemnation has gone forth, and I do not believe the House gains much by passing that which is always a purposeless resolution and placing it upon its Journals— namely, that such writing is a gross and serious libel.
§ MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
May I make a personal explanation r Some mouths ago I asked the permission of the House to make a personal explanation. A few months ago I spoke—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not now refer to a matter of privilege, or quasi-privilege, which occurred so long ago as two months. No doubt the hon. Gentleman is able to vindicate himself from any charge; it is hardly worth while now to bring it before the House.
§ MR. RENTOUL
I simply want to make a personal explanation in regard to myself. The particular instance to which I refer was a charge made two or three months ago, but which has been repeated in one form or another since, and although it has been more difficult to put my finger on it, still I should like to be allowed to explain that I never received a farthing for political speaking or for political work of any kind in the whole course of my life. The statement that I had received payment was made deliberately in a newspaper by the hon. and learned Member for North Louth (Mr. T. M. Healy), in these words:—"That he would not enter into a controversy with an itinerant mercenary like Rentoul." I wrote to the hon. and learned Member, but my letter was 1406 returned. I have only to say that the statement is absolutely false.
§ MR. GOSCHEN (St. George's, Hanover Square)
In the absence of the Leader of the Opposition, I may be allowed to say that, while I think my hon. Friend has exercised a sound discretion in not requesting this matter to be treated as a Breach of Privilege, I gather from what has passed that it will be distinctly understood that this case stands precisely upon the same footing as the other case, which was pronounced to be a Breach of Privilege, that there is no distinction to be drawn, and that we do not refrain from putting a Notice of Motion on the Paper because there is any distinction, but simply because my hon. Friend thinks that his honour has been sufficiently vindicated by what has now taken place. The hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, follow the advice which you gave us on a previous occasion— namely, that, it would be better not to proceed by way of Resolution, unless it was absolutely unavoidable. On that occasion the House, carried away by a not unnatural sentiment, treated the case as a Breach of Privilege. Now, in, colder blood, and looking at this matter as precisely as serious as the other case, I think the House will exercise a wise discretion in following the guidance of the Leader of the House, in whose hands the honour of the House is placed.
§ MR. T. W. RUSSELL
You will remember, Sir, that I left myself entirely in the hands of the House. All that I wish to say now is that I thank the Prime Minister very warmly indeed for the generous way in which he has met this question, and I am entirely satisfied with what has passed.