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Honours And Party Funds

Volume 178: debated on Tuesday 16 July 1907

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gave notice that at the earliest opportunity he would direct the attention of the House to the brokerage and sale of peerages under the late Administration, and would move a Resolution condemning peerage preference based on gross metallic corruption.

I desire to make a personal explanation to the House as regards what happened yesterday. An accusation was brought against me of having been guilty of a breach of privilege in publishing a letter in which I stated—first, that honours are bought and sold, and secondly, that out of that war-chest grants are made to candidates who, if elected, are looked upon as secured; and should the Member rebel, he is reproached by the Party whips for not having held to what they looked upon as a bargain. That letter was written because your statement, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister is not responsible to this House for any advice he may give to the Sovereign as to recommendations for honours seemed to preclude any power of calling attention in this House to the subject. If you, Sir, on consideration, adhere to that statement—

If the hon. Member is going to cross-examine me about statements made last week I am afraid I cannot allow him to intervene now. I understood from him that he was going to make some personal statement and apology. I cannot permit him to raise any question of order and cross-examine me on my ruling.

I am endeavouring under great difficulty to make a personal explanation. In view of the fact that I was precluded from attending the debate yesterday, and had to depend for learning what transpired on the reports in the papers this morning, I now desire to say that my explanation was made under a misapprehension. I conceived that the breach of privilege, if any, could not be in the second and minor allegation referred to by the noble Lord the Member for East Marylebone, but in the far more serious allegation that honours are bought and sold. It was to that allegation, therefore, that I addressed the defence I made, without having heard the whole case against me. Upon referring to the reports in the papers, I find that the case made against me, and relied upon, was based on the second, and, as I think, relatively minor allegation I made. I find that upon that allegation alone the debate was conducted, and the House was advised by the Prime Minister not to proceed with the charge, while, with unusual readiness, the Leader of the Opposition was good enough to say that his Party did not intend to proceed against me. With that charge I need no longer concern myself, but the other charge, while kept out of the debate, was not kept out of the division on my conduct. The noble Lord who raised the question took the same view as I took, that the allegation required investigation.

Order, order! The hon. Member has misconceived the whole of the effect of the debate which took place yesterday. I think, if he had listened carefully to the speech made by the noble Lord, he would have seen that the only point in the letter which was charged with being a breach of privilege was that which conveyed an imputation upon his colleagues I am sure that, if, the hon. Member has anything to say upon that point, the House will hear him.

May I also make a personal explanation? In what I said yesterday I did not wish to impute the smallest dishonest motive to the Prime Minister or anyone on the Front Benches. The point I raised was purely a political and Party one, and was not intended to call in question the conduct of any right hon. Gentleman.