Sir, I desire to make a personal explanation, which I had intended doing on Friday last, but then deferred in consequence of the absence—I regret to say through ill-health—of the Secretary to the Admiralty. Being under the impression that Supply would not be taken until Thursday, I was, unfortunately, not in my place on Wednesday last, but on the following day my attention was called to a report of some observations of the Secretary to the Admiralty, occupying some 25 or 30 lines in The Times newspaper, which were devoted to impugning the accuracy of the statement I had made on a previous occasion to the House. Immediately on seeing that report I thought it right to give the hon. Member for Montrose notice that I should take an early opportunity of making the explanation I am now about to give the House. In reply to my communication I received the following letter from the hon. Gentleman:—
"Dundee, Aug 5.
"Dear Sir John Hay,—Tour favour of yesterday has been sent to me here. I am not well, and unable to return to town, and you will please for that reason excuse me employing an amanuensis. I have not seen any report of what I said on Wednesday; but I did not impugn your accuracy. All that I said in regard to your quotations from the Coal Return was that you should have read the last sentence of the note at the top of the page, and I went on to remark that as the statements of the small stocks on the last day of January, if unexplained, might cause apprehension in the country, I would state the stocks at present in these depôts, and the quantities shipped but not arrived. There was a good deal of talking in the House at the time, and it is quite possible the reporters did not catch my words; but I said nothing about you except what I have just stated, and of course you are at liberty to make what use you please of this letter.
Believe me, truly yours,
"W. E. BAXTER."
The Return was a very long one, and I read only such portions of it as I believed bore out my statement respecting the great diminution that had occurred in our stocks of coal. I may observe that the Return does not show the specific number of tons of coal that were at sea and on their way to the respective depôts, but it was in the power of the hon. Member to have quoted any portions of it he thought fit. Another point upon which the hon. Member impugned my accuracy was with reference to the statement I made relating to the quantity of coal in Pembroke Dockyard. The statement I made was founded upon information given to me by the late storekeeper of that dockyard, from whom I have received the following letter:—
"3, Cranleigh Villas, Watford, July 29.
"Dear Sir John Hay,—I called a few days ago at the Admiralty, on Mr. Baxter, to offer him a suggestion, as I had been invited to do. Before I could enter on the subject Mr. Baxter informed me that he could hold no communication with me until I had written a letter to correct or to deny the accuracy of a statement made by you in the House of Commons, from information supplied by me, with reference to supplies of coals at Pembroke. I had not then seen, and until yesterday was unable to find The Times report of your speech, to which Mr. Baxter referred me, but, having seen it, I can find nothing to correct, and it appears to me that Mr. Baxter has drawn inferences which are not supported by what you said.
"I have the honour to be, dear Sir John Hay,
"Your most obedient servant,
"Admiral Sir J. C. D. Hay, Bart, M.P., &c."
I have read that letter with the view of showing that I accurately stated the nature of the information I had received, and which I believe to be correct.
Sir, I do not know whether the House will expect me, in the absence of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Admiralty, to volunteer any explanation of the first part of the hon. and gallant Baronet's remarks, which relate to something that occurred here the other evening. I think that the note of my hon. Friend, which has just been read, gives a very satisfactory explanation of that part of the subject. The hon. and gallant Baronet has, however, thought fit to import into his explanation something not relating in any way to what had been said Try any person on this side of the House, but which referred to a statement he made some time ago, founded upon information he obtained from a gentleman who has no longer any relations with the Admiralty. What the hon. and gallant Baronet said upon the occasion to which he refers was this—that he had received information that a particular officer in Pembroke Dockyard had taken a particular course in the purchase of coal, and that that officer had been severely reprimanded by his superiors or had been complained of.
If the right hon. Gentleman desires it, I will read what I then stated to the House. ["Order."] I merely wish to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he is inaccurate in his version of the statement I then made.
I have only one word further to quote from the hon. and gallant Baronet's observations "and that he was superannuated."
That is not what I stated.
Then I have nothing more to say in the matter. That, however, is what the hon. and gallant Baronet is reported to have said.
I have The Times report in my hand. I will hand it to the right hon. Gentleman to read to the House. It certainly does not contain the words he professes to quote.