§ PERSONAL EXPLANATION.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
I wish, my Lords, to ask your indulgence for a few minutes while I speak of a matter which is personal to myself. During a considerable absence from this country I find that my name has been very frequently used, and allusions made to matters which passed between me and another person on a particular point. I might have thought it necessary to dispense altogether with a full notice of these attacks, as I must consider them, because about two years ago I laid before your Lordships a very clear statement of what occurred on that particular occasion. But, upon 1176 the whole I think I am bound to make an answer, and it shall be a short one. First, I must observe that it is hardly consistent with the usual laws of Parliamentary fairness to wait until a person against whom the attack is made is in such a position as to render it absolutely impossible for him to reply to it. If these allegations which have been made with regard to me were founded in truth, there was no earthly reason why they could not have been said during the whole course of last Summer, when I could have replied to them either in this place or elsewhere; but those who thought fit to make them waited until I had 13,000 miles of sea between me and this country, and then an old story was vamped up with very considerable additions and embellishments. Now, my Lords, I shall confine myself to two allegations which were made—first, because they are the most important, and, secondly, because they were made by one and the same important person. They are allegations which were made by Mr. Parnell now some five or six weeks ago, and they refer to two subjects—first, the Crossmaglen murder conspiracy in Ireland, and, secondly, certain things which I am alleged to have said to him in my conversation with him two years ago. With regard to the Crossmaglen case, your Lordships perhaps will remember that there was a gang of prisoners tried and convicted for, I think, conspiracy to murder, and sentenced to long periods of imprisonment. This occurred at the time when my noble Friend opposite (Earl Spencer) was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. My noble Friend had been repeatedly asked to reconsider his decision, but had always declined to depart from his original decision. I observe that Mr. Parnell stated, or is reported to have stated, with regard to myself that—Shortly before the General Election in 1885 an hon. Friend came to me in Dublin, and told me that he had just been sent for by Lord Carnarvon, and that his Lordship evidently wished him to communicate what he had told to me, and it was to this effect—that Lord Carnarvon had investigated the cases of the Crossmaglen and the Barbavilla prisoners, and had come to the conclusion that the latter were justly convicted, and that he could not interfere, but that in the case of the Crossmaglen prisoners he did not think that there was sufficient evidence for a conviction, and that he intended to liberate them forthwith.Now, my Lords, I hardly regret that 1177 that statement was made, because there is just enough truth in it to give colour to it, and just enough misrepresentation in it to make it an excellent illustration of the nature of some of these allegations which have been made with regard to myself. The real story is simply this. The case of these prisoners, like all others, came before me in the natural course of business. I was pressed by many persons to reprieve the prisoners or to vary their sentences. I was pressed in one particular case by a gentleman, who is now dead, in my own drawing-room after dinner, and I told him that I had considered that case with care, and that in my opinion there was one prisoner out of the whole gang against whom, so far as I could see, there was not sufficient evidence to warrant his detention, and I said that I should certainly consider the evidence carefully in respect of that particular individual. I did do so; I considered the case so carefully that I brought it under the special consideration of the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and of the learned Judge who tried the case and of the Law Officers of the Crown, and it was only after they had sifted and resifted the matter that I came to the conclusion that my own opinion, which was only that of a layman, could not be set up in opposition to those of the law authorities, which were conclusive upon the point; and if anyone will refer to the official records of the time he will find my account of the matter to be absolutely correct. Therefore, this is really what this precious story comes to—that I had undertaken to consider the case of one prisoner, feeling very doubtful whether there was sufficient evidence against him, and that is construed into a distinct promise that I would liberate every one of the gang who were then imprisoned. That is the first point. I observe that Mr. Parnell refers also to the Maamtrasna and the Barbavilla cases, and, with regard to them, I can only say that I undoubtedly refused to reopen them. I was bound as a matter of courtesy, and of official duty, to look into any memorial relating to the matters which was brought before me, but I never gave any hope whatever that I would vary the sentences which had been awarded or alter the decision which my noble Friend opposite had come to. If Mr. Parnell, in his place in the House of Commons, gave a contradictory account 1178 of the matter, I can only say that such an account is absolutely contrary to the fact. Now I come to the second allegation, which is, after all, the more important of the two. Mr. Parnell came to me and entered into conversation with me, and his statement of what occured at that interview was this—Lord Carnarvon expressed to me the strongest belief that only by the concession of an Irish Parliament could the Irish question be settled, and that it was to be a Parliament, and that it was to be called a Parliament, that it was to have most extensive powers, even going as far as the right of protecting Irish industries by the imposition of protective tariffs… Lord Carnarvon's views, as convoyed to me, or rather as we exchanged them in our interview, were absolutely identical.Now, my Lords, it is perfectly true that all Mr. Parnell said with regard to an Irish Parliament was said in that conversation, but it was said, not by me, but by Mr. Parnell; and as regards even my concurrence in what he said, Mr. Parnell has allowed his imagination to run away with him, both in his conversation and in my replies. That conversation consisted in the main of questions on my part, and of answers and explanations on his part, and I never made any promise nor gave any assurance in the direction he has indicated. I repeatedly warned him that he came to me for the purpose of giving me information, that he was speaking to me and me alone for the sake of information, that I alone was responsible for that meeting, and that no responsibility in respect to it was to be attached to any of my Colleagues in the Cabinet. I could give a version of what Mr. Parnell said—a great deal passed which was no doubt intended to be confined within the four corners of the room. Mr. Parnell may forget that the conversation was private as between gentleman and gentleman. "As between gentleman and gentleman" was the formula I remember using, and ho assented. A great deal of the conversation might have been interesting, and some of it amusing if repeated, but for my part, I should not repeat it. My right hon. Friend in the other House of Parliament was good enough to make a reply for me upon the subject, and I take this opportunity of expressing my obligations to him for that speech, which was a very manly, straightforward reply in many ways, and indeed was one which in some degree does away with the necessity for 1179 my making these observations to-night. Among other things, Mr. Balfour said—Lord Salisbury in 1886 said—' Lord Carnarvon treated me absolutely without reserve, and I know what passed at that interview with Mr. Parnell. The statement that he gave any ground to believe that the Conservative Government would favour the establishment of an Irish Legislature is absolutely without foundation,'I can confirm every syllable that Mr. Balfour uttered on that occasion. I should have been wanting in my duty if I had failed to inform my noble Friend at the head of the Government of my intention of holding that meeting with Mr. Parnell, and still more should I have failed in my duty if I had not acquainted him with what had passed between us at the interview at the earliest possible moment. Accordingly, both by writing and by words, I gave the noble Marquess as careful and as accurate a statement as possible of what had occurred within 24 hours after the meeting, and my noble Friend was good enough to say that I had conducted that conversation with perfect discretion. Your Lordships will consider whether it was likely that I should have made such preposterous statements as those which have been charged against me. I think, my Lords, that I have now disposed of this unfounded and ridiculous story. My opinions have been frequently alluded to during the past few I months, but I do not think it necessary to go into them at the present time. I have already indicated more than once in this House what my opinions are, and when the opportunity arises I shall be perfectly willing to do so again. Nor do I think it necessary to justify the meeting I had with Mr. Parnell, as I have justified it on a former occasion. I can see no reason whatever for thinking that I was guilty of imprudence or unwisdom in the matter. Looking at the circumstances of that time, it was common sense to ascertain the opinion of the most important person in Ireland, and therefore I did not, when I went to that country, shut my ears to information that could be obtained from any person who was entitled to give it. It would have been absurd if I had consented to hear only subordinates and had refused to listen to the leader of the most important Party in Ireland. There might have been, as I have been sometimes told there was, an error of judgment on my part, but if there was such an error 1180 of judgment it consisted in my accepting such a meeting without the presence of witnesses.